Early look at teams vying for 1

- Safid Deen

There are six weeks left in the NFL regular season, and nearly half of the league could be in line for the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NFL draft in April.

That is, of course, as long as the Houston Texans don’t string together some wins down the stretch because, at this point, they are in position to have the No. 1 pick with their 1-9-1 record through 12 weeks.

At least 14 other teams have a real shot to land the No. 2 pick.

Early 2023 NFL draft projection­s have Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud as the top two quarterbac­ks who could be taken with the first two picks, while an early run of defenders could also occur in the top 10.

In 11 games, Young has thrown for 3,007 yards, 27 touchdowns and five intercepti­ons. He has rushed for 195 yards and four TDs as well. Stroud has thrown for 3,340 yards with 37 touchdowns and six intercepti­ons in 12 games.

Here’s an early look at each NFL team’s outlook, with regards to quarterbac­k, heading into Week 13:

No. 1 Texans (1-9-1)

Coach Lovie Smith is in charge of an uninspired group. The aftermath of trading away two first-round picks and a second-round pick to Miami in 2019 and quarterbac­k Deshaun Watson’s trade to Cleveland have drained their talent. The No. 1 pick is exactly what Houston needs to rebuild.

No. 2 Bears (3-9)

The only other team with nine losses this season, the Bears shipped away two of their best defenders before the trade deadline and have lost five in a row. Unlike other teams, Chicago has its quarterbac­k of the future in Justin Fields. If the Bears stay at No. 2, they could trade the pick to replenish the defense.

No. 3 Rams (3-8) to Lions

The Rams look nothing like the team that won the Super Bowl last season, and the opportunit­y to inject new life with a top draft pick won’t exist. Instead, the pick goes to the Lions as part of the Matthew Stafford deal. Detroit, with two first-round picks, will be a candidate to take a quarterbac­k to replace Jared Goff, including trading up to do so.

No. 4. Broncos (3-8) to Seahawks

The Russell Wilson trade could pay big dividends for Seattle if Denver’s disappoint­ing season continues. Geno Smith is serviceabl­e, but the Seahawks could quickly find their next franchise quarterbac­k. Seattle has two first-round picks and two second-round picks to make a deal.

No. 5 Panthers (4-8)

While Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks is 3-4 since taking over for the fired Matt Rhule, it’s not ideal for the Panthers’ future if they keep winning and other teams jump ahead of them in the draft order. Rhule was fired, in part, because Carolina did not get solid production at quarterbac­k, and the Panthers will stay in this rut if they’re unable to draft one this year.

No. 6 Saints (4-8) to Eagles

Life after Drew Brees hasn’t been great for New Orleans, and this won’t be the year the Saints keep a potential top 10 pick. Thanks to their draft-day trade last April, the Saints’ first-round pick goes to the Eagles, who could shore up their defense or look to add to their offensive line with Jalen Hurts proving his worth this season as Philadelph­ia’s franchise quarterbac­k.

No. 7 Cardinals (4-8)

Quarterbac­k Kyler Murray, coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim all inked new contracts before the season, but picking in the top 10 would mean their season was a failure. Maybe this draft pick is a missing piece to help the Cardinals put it all together.

No. 8 Packers (4-8)

Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers locked up for $59.5 million guaranteed next season, while Jordan Love is still on a rookie contract. So quarterbac­k is squared away. Maybe the Packers take the first receiver off the board if they stay in the top 10.

No. 9 Raiders (4-7)

Not high enough to draft Young or Stroud, or maybe even Kentucky’s Will Levis, who is considered the next-best quarterbac­k prospect. Even worse: The Raiders locked up Derek Carr through 2025.

No. 10 Browns (4-7) to Texans

Deshaun Watson makes his debut for Cleveland this week after an 11-game suspension, while the Browns’ first pick going back to Houston is in the top 10. Two picks in the top 10 could do wonders for Houston’s future.

No. 11 Jaguars (4-7)

After two straight drafts with the first overall pick, the Jaguars’ first draft pick would be outside the top 10 for the second time since 2007. If quarterbac­k Trevor Lawrence plays well down the stretch, this will become reality as the Jaguars address other areas of need.

No. 12 Steelers (4-7)

Rookie quarterbac­k Kenny Pickett is progressin­g, but it’s too early to tell if the Steelers made the right choice by taking him 20th overall in last year’s draft. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season in 15 years, which tells you everything you need to know about Pittsburgh’s stance on draft position.

No. 13 Lions (4-7)

Here’s where Detroit’s own draft pick would land. As said above, two firstround draft picks give the Lions the opportunit­y to select or trade up for a franchise quarterbac­k.

No. 14 Colts (4-7-1)

You’d think the franchise with quarterbac­ks Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck as No. 1 picks would understand the value of a franchise QB. But since Luck’s abrupt retirement in 2019, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett and Brian Hoyer have started. The Colts desperatel­y need a quarterbac­k. And interim coach Jeff Saturday sticking with Ryan, 37, to stay competitiv­e is telling since Ryan has not played that well.

No. 15 Falcons (5-7)

The Falcons are winning with Marcus Mariota, and perhaps rookie thirdround pick Desmond Ridder is being groomed in coach Arthur Smith’s offense behind the scenes. Atlanta might not admit it, but it must have some regret passing on Justin Fields for tight end Kyle Pitts in the 2021 draft.

 ?? JOSEPH MAIORANA/USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Ohio State quarterbac­k C.J. Stroud likely will be high on NFL teams’ draft lists.
JOSEPH MAIORANA/USA TODAY SPORTS Ohio State quarterbac­k C.J. Stroud likely will be high on NFL teams’ draft lists.

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