2023 NFL rookie QB report: How have the top five fared?

Four months after hearing their names called on draft night -- three within the first four picks -- the league's rookie quarterbacks are nearly through their first preseason. Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson were named starters early, and C.J. Stroud could be named a starter soon. Will Levis is competing for a backup spot, while Hendon Hooker is rehabbing a torn left ACL.

As these five quarterbacks have progressed through camp ahead of their first NFL season, they all have found themselves in varying stages of their young careers.

With less than three weeks until the start of the season, here's a look at their progress so far:

Bryce Young (Round 1, pick 1)

What's the overall impression so far?

As advertised. Young has demonstrated all the qualities the Carolina Panthers coveted when they traded from No. 9 to No. 1 before the draft to get the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama. His ability to process and lead was evident from the get-go. He has shown poise and the ability to move on from bad plays -- and there have been plenty of those around him in two preseason games because of shaky protection and suspect route running. He has been accurate and has shown daily his uncanny ability to keep plays alive when protection breaks down. Young has also shown he can take a hit. He has been, as general manager Scott Fitterer said before the draft, "Like chill.'' It's why he was promoted to the first team ahead of the veteran Andy Dalton during offseason workouts and named the starting quarterback after the first practice of training camp.

What's the coaching staff saying?

Young has thrown six passes in each of his two preseason starts so far, completing seven of those passes for 56 yards with no interceptions or touchdowns. "He's in control," coach Frank Reich said. "He knows what he wants and how he wants it done. That's a good place to start from.''

Fitterer added, "He's unflappable. We saw that at the [pre-draft] dinner. He looks young in the face. He looks really young. But he's a grown man.''

His teammates have noticed as well, like tight end Hayden Hurst comparing Young to 2020 first-round pick Joe Burrow, saying that "he's not in your face" like some quarterbacks, and he's just watching film and preparing.

Center Bradley Bozeman has also been impressed with Young's demeanor.

"I couldn't tell you a time [he was rattled]," Bozeman said. "One of the most impressive things as a rookie first coming in -- there's a lot going on, a lot being thrown at you, a lot in terms of [the] playbook -- and he comes in and Coach gives him the call, he turns around, looks at us -- just pure confidence -- and just rattles off the call right back to us. He's come in and just absolutely dominated this role.''

What's the forecast for the season?

Wide receiver D.J. Chark said it best during a mandatory minicamp in June: "Everybody is here for him. And we believe he can take us to some really high places." That doesn't necessarily mean this season, but owner David Tepper said on draft night that Young meant "Super Bowls'' to the organization. Notice, the plural.

Again, a lot to ask in Year 1, but there's confidence Young can lead Carolina to a playoff berth in an NFC South that has no clear-cut favorite.

Has there been a 'Wow, this kid is going to be good' moment?

Almost every practice there's one. But the biggest came the day before a joint practice against the New York Jets and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a player Young modeled his game after in terms of arm angles. He stepped up to avoid pressure and unleashed a side-armed strike to Chark that never got more than 5 yards off the ground. "That was an elite throw,'' Reich said.

What was Young's 'Welcome to the NFL, rook' moment?

It happened on his first pass attempt in his preseason debut against the Jets. With pressure coming from his blindside, Young drilled an 8-yard pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen for a first down. He was nailed in the back by the defender as he released it, but he bounced right back up to get ready for the next play. Reich actually called it Young's "Welcome to the NFL moment,'' and when he asked Young about it, he said he barely felt it. This showed two things: Young can excel under pressure, and he's not going to break because he's only 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds. -- David Newton

C.J. Stroud (Round 1, pick 2)

What's the overall impression so far?

Stroud's ball placement, at times, has been impressive. When he has his feet set with a clean pocket, he tends to place the ball wherever the pass needs to go. Against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 of the Houston Texans' preseason games, Stroud had two throws to wide receiver Noah Brown on the run and placed the ball where only Brown could catch it. Stroud's third-down throw in the first quarter to wide receiver Robert Woods also showcased ball placement. The pass was only in an area where Woods could catch it. The next step for Stroud is turning those flashes into consistency.

What's the coaching staff saying?

The coaches rave about Stroud's ability to improve week to week and avoid making the same mistake. And his improvement was on display after throwing for 60 yards on 7-for-12 passing against the Dolphins. The previous week, he went 2-for-4 for 13 yards and an interception in his preseason debut against the New England Patriots.

"He was able to talk through the mistakes that happened. He was able to talk through other people's mistakes that people may not know happened, and he was ready to improve upon them if given the opportunity," offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik said about Stroud's debut.

In a youthful wide receiver room, Woods brings a veteran presence, so he was able to speak on what he's seeing from his QB.

"I think he's growing and growing as a quarterback," Woods said. "I think this is our first joint practice going into preseason [Game] 2, and he's grown and learned so much since we first got here."

Where does Stroud clearly need work?

Through two preseason games, Stroud has had issues against man coverage. He's 2-for-8 passing for 25 yards with an interception in a limited sample size. But that's not all on the former Ohio State standout, as his receivers must help him by giving him bigger windows to fit passes into.

When will he get his first regular-season start?

All signs point to Stroud starting in Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens. Coach DeMeco Ryans hasn't announced a starter, but Stroud has started both preseason games and takes all the first-team reps in practice over third-year quarterback Davis Mills. It would be odd to start Mills over Stroud when Week 1 rolls around after not giving him first-team reps for weeks.

What's the forecast for the season?

There will be ups and downs, just like his camp and preseason. One game that left fans uneasy and another after which they felt relieved. He's a rookie working with a wide receiver corps that has to prove itself. That's a combination for a roller-coaster ride. -- DJ Bien-Aime

Anthony Richardson (Round 1, pick 4)

What's the overall impression so far?

Richardson is further ahead than many thought he might be given his thin college resume (13 starts at Florida) and his relative inexperience at quarterback. He began sharing practice snaps with the first-team offense a few weeks into offseason workouts, and by the time training camp began for the Indianapolis Colts, he had made significant strides in his command of the offense. Richardson's demeanor and leadership capacity have also been refreshing for a quarterback who only recently celebrated his 21st birthday. It has made quite the impression on teammates, who have embraced him because of his combination of confidence and humility, and his infectious personality. On the field, Richardson has shown the inconsistency everyone expected, but he has flashed the rare skills he possesses by uncorking some impressive deep throws and showing his tantalizing running ability.

What's the coaching staff saying?

Richardson was named the starting quarterback Aug. 15 and has consistently impressed coaches with his progress. Richardson threw an interception on the first drive of the Colts' preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, and it ended up being a pivotal moment in the Colts' decision-making process.

"You throw an early interception, and the way he bounced back was awesome," coach Shane Steichen said. "Is there going to be ups and downs throughout the season? Absolutely. For a rookie, it's a long season. It's a 17-week grind. There's going to be ups and downs, and we fight through those together, and that's all of us. It starts with myself and then the whole team building the trust together."

Where has Richardson excelled the most?

His deep-ball ability was evident throughout college and continues to show at the pro level. Richardson has hit several deep throws in practice that demonstrate why the Colts might have more big-play potential than last season when quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles struggled to stretch the field. Perhaps the best throw Richardson made in the preseason was a perfectly thrown strike to Alec Pierce for a would-be 34-yard touchdown had Pierce not dropped the ball.

Where does he clearly still need work?

Richardson continues to be a work in progress when it comes to his rhythm throws. When he throws on a three-step drop -- i.e. slants and curls -- he has a tendency to rush and get a bit sloppy. That impacts his accuracy in a negative way, and the throwing windows in the NFL are too tight to overcome this.

What was Richardson's 'Welcome to the NFL, rookie' moment?

This came on the aforementioned interception, giving Richardson an example of how slim the margin for error can be in the NFL. The Bills sent a safety blitz off the right edge, creating the need for a "hot" throw. When Richardson's primary receiver didn't adjust his route quickly enough, Richardson threw prematurely and was intercepted. It was a great learning experience for the young QB, who is bound to see similar scenarios in the regular season. -- Stephen Holder

Will Levis (Round 2, pick 33)

What's the overall impression so far?

The Tennessee Titans coaching staff likes how Levis has competed with and supported second-year quarterback Malik Willis for the backup job to starter Ryan Tannehill. Willis is getting more reps than Levis, who missed the second preseason game after suffering a lower-body injury in practice last week, and he seems to have a slight lead in the competition. Quarterback coach Charles London described the battle as "competitive but not combative." Levis has effectively handled the operation. Everything is smooth, from getting the play called in the huddle to making the correct adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Levis' best work has come when working in the red zone, where he's connected with receivers Reggie Roberson and Gavin Holmes for multiple touchdown passes. His decisiveness with the football and superior arm strength have been on display on multiple throws into tight windows. Levis has also shown the ability to roll out and make plays on the run when things break down. Overall, Levis has been as advertised and has gotten better throughout training camp.

What's the coaching staff saying?

Coach Mike Vrabel said Levis is allowing the game to come to him. "Just taking what they give you," Vrabel said. "When you see them drop out of there, just being OK to take the checkdown."

London says he feels Levis is adjusting to the NFL. "He played in a pro-style offense in Kentucky, so he's been in the huddle and called plays," London said. "He's been under center. That kind of helped him with his transition so far."

Levis had impressed offensive coordinator Tim Kelly with more than just his physical traits. "He's big, strong, fast and has a quick release," Kelly said. "He's really smart. We've thrown a lot at him early on. Will's done a good job of coming in and doing things the way that we want to."

Where does Levis clearly need work?

Levis has to work on his touch passing. There are times when Levis throws lightning bolts instead of leading his receivers. Levis is looking to improve his accuracy and touch on throws that call for anticipation and give his targets a chance to make a play on the ball and potentially put them in situations to pick up yards after the catch.

What's the forecast for the season?

If things go according to plan, Levis will not see the field this season -- unless there is a blowout. Having played in a pro-style scheme in college makes Levis less of a developmental prospect than Willis. But ideally, Levis gets to sit his first season, unlike Willis, who was thrown into the fire as a rookie.

Has there been a 'Wow, this kid is going to be good?' moment yet?

That moment for Levis came a week into training camp. The Titans were in a red zone 7-on-7 period, and Levis got three reps, all of which resulted in touchdown passes. Levis' pass across the middle to Roberson showed the arm strength and accuracy that earned him being considered one of the top quarterback prospects. He finished with five touchdown passes on the day. -- Turron Davenport

Hendon Hooker (Round 3, pick 68)

What's the overall impression so far?

Ahead of training camp, coach Dan Campbell said this would be a "redshirt year" for Hooker as he recovers from his knee injury. Hooker has been present for training camp but isn't participating in any on-field activities as he continues to rehab. Veteran quarterback Jared Goff is the clear-cut starter for the season, and the Lions have added veteran Teddy Bridgewater as a backup.

Hooker often throws after practice, but the organization isn't rushing his progress. Hooker was placed on the non-football injury (NFI) list ahead of training camp, and so far, the Lions haven't decided if he'll remain on the list to start the season. If he is on the NFI list by the start of the year, Hooker wouldn't be able to play or practice through the first six weeks of the season. The Lions say they aren't putting a timetable on his return.

What are the coaches saying?

Though the Lions aren't saying much, Campbell gave a brief update on Hooker and how they are handling their 25-year-old rookie.

"It's been more about let's get him back," Campbell said Thursday. "[Lions quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell and assistant coach J.T. Barrett] have done a great job with him, and I know that he's starting on it, he's getting it, he's learning it and he's got some really good guys to learn from in there. And then everything else, his rehab, he just continues to come along and get better, but honestly, [general manager] Brad [Holmes] and I haven't even discussed him at this point."

The Lions aren't putting pressure on him to return, and he has an opportunity to learn under Goff and Bridgewater. Hooker was drafted despite the Lions knowing his injury status, and although they have faith in his ability, the goal is for Hooker to develop and help them in the future.

"He has been fun to have," Goff said of Hooker in June. "He's a great kid and is learning quickly and has been fun to have in the room." -- Eric Woodyard