It’s difficult to envision the Indianapolis Colts selecting anything but a quarterback if they hold a Top 5 pick going into the 2023 NFL Draft. With the team’s recent 5-game losing streak, the Colts have jumped up to No. 5 on the first-round draft board.
At No. 5 in his latest mock draft, USA Today’s Doug Farrar predicted the Colts to land one of the top signal callers of the 2023 class in Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
“We, of course, have no idea what the Colts will be doing with their head coach and offensive staff this offseason,” Farrar wrote in his previous mock draft on December 15. “But as much as Stroud has proven to be an ideal version of the modern pocket quarterback, with some movement skills, he could be the guy the Colts need to start their rebuild on that side of the ball.”
Stroud could still see his draft stock rise or fall based on how he plays in the College Football Playoffs. But Stroud does already have a pair of 3,000-yard passing seasons and 81 career passing touchdowns on his college resume.
Stroud Compared to NFC Champion Jared Goff
Accuracy is widely considered Stroud’s strength as a quarterback. That’s worked well at Ohio State. Stroud’s exceptional ball placement has allowed the talented Buckeyes receivers to make tremendous plays after the catch the past two seasons.
“He is smart and accurate from the pocket, and he possesses the best touch in the entire class,” wrote Hicks. “I see a player that is very similar to Jared Goff in a lot of ways.
“Goff was a number one overall pick due to his accuracy in college, and he wowed evaluators with his highlight reel touch throws.”
Goff once led the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl, but the Rams eventually soured on Goff, trading him with several high draft selections to land Matthew Stafford.
With great pieces around him, Goff has excelled in the NFL. He’s even begun to help turn around the Lions late this season.
But he turned out to be a generational talent like many Top 5 quarterbacks are. Hicks acknowledged that draft evaluators could be concerned that Stroud won’t be a generational talent either.
“Stroud is seen as the “safe” QB prospect in this draft class, and he embodies that in a lot of ways,” wrote Hicks.
“There are a lot of reasons to be worried about his transition to the NFL.”
Goff has thrown 152 touchdowns versus 70 interceptions while averaging 7.4 yards per pass in 98 career NFL games. He made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and 2018.
How Stroud Potentially Fits With the Colts
While there’s questions about Stroud’s upside, Hicks still argued that Stroud’s talent makes him an upgrade behind center from what Indianapolis already possesses at the position.
“While he may not have a high ceiling, he would still be a big upgrade over what the Colts’ have trotted out there the past two seasons,” Hicks wrote. “If he is available when the Colts are selecting, I wouldn’t mind them taking a swing on the productive Ohio State QB.”
Quarterback has become an absolute disaster for the Colts in 2022. Matt Ryan was expected to stabilize the position after years of turmoil behind center, but instead, he has struggled with 13 interceptions and 15 fumbles.
Ryan has recorded 5 fourth-quarter comebacks this season, but that still wasn’t enough to save his job. The Colts have benched the 37-year-old twice this season — the first time for second-year signal caller Sam Ehlinger and the second occasion for veteran Nick Foles.
Ehlinger and Foles have combined to make 3 starts, but those games went even worse than Ryan’s starts. Together, Ehlinger and Foles have thrown zero touchdowns and 4 interceptions, and in their 3 starts, the Colts have been outscored, 63-22.
In two of those Ehlinger/Foles starts, Indianapolis failed to score a touchdown.
The Colts can release Ryan and save about $17 million in salary cap space next season. Indianapolis could also cut Foles and only face $1.5 million in dead cap money in 2023.
Those two moves would allow the Colts a fresh start behind center. It’s still possible that Indianapolis could add another veteran such as Derek Carr, who left the Las Vegas Raiders after getting benched on December 28.
But again, if the Colts finish the season with a Top 5 pick, it makes the most sense for the franchise to start fresh with a young quarterback, especially one with as much accuracy as Stroud has.
“Stroud doesn’t shine the way Young does when the play breaks down,” SI‘s Kevin Hanson, who also projected the Colts to draft the Ohio State quarterback in his latest mock draft, wrote. “But he throws with touch and anticipation and outstanding accuracy to all three levels when given time in the pocket.”