The 2023 NFL Draft is mere hours away from kicking off.
The quarterbacks continue to dominate the headlines. Alabama’s Bryce Young appears like a lock at first overall. The fate of Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud hangs in the air with reports he may fall out of the top seven selections. Then Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis stack up as a pick your preference on developmental guys. Reports that the Houston Texans could pass on a quarterback at pick No. 2 opens up a new can of worms in projecting where these quarterbacks land.
Quarterbacks are not the only storylines heading into the NFL Draft. The fate of Georgia’s Jalen Carter continues to hang in the air. The player many analysts view as the best non-quarterback prospect in this class could find himself in free fall in the early first round.
The 8 p.m. EST start to the first round of the NFL Draft is quickly approaching. In this final mock draft, I go beyond just drafting for the Detroit Lions. I predict the entire first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
(Note: When this entire mock draft is turned on its head because the Carolina Panthers surprise us all with Bijan Robinson going first overall, feel free to make fun of me. If you have any sympathy your jeers will be a “haw haw” like Nelson Muntz.)
Pick No. 1: Carolina Panthers (via Chicago Bears)
Bryce Young, Quarterback, Alabama
The Panthers have been on the clock since acquiring this pick from the Chicago Bears. Stroud opened as the favorite to go to Carolina with this pick, but recent reports have favored the Alabama product instead. Young has the physical tools to be a franchise quarterback at the NFL level. His best trait is his ability to read defenses before and after the snap. If he were two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, there would be no argument Young is the best quarterback in this class.
Pick No. 2: Houston Texans
Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama
This whole Texans are not sold on a quarterback with the second overall pick thing could easily be the mother of all smoke screens. However, if the team truly does not believe any of the three remaining guys are surefire franchise quarterbacks, it makes sense to go elsewhere with this pick. Anderson has the highest floor of any of the pass rushers in this year’s class. He plays with good bend around the edge and possesses an explosive burst off the line of scrimmage. The Texans get a guy DeMeco Ryans can build his defense around.
Pick No. 3: Tennessee Titans (via Arizona Cardinals)
C.J. Stroud, Quarterback, Ohio State
Ryan Tannehill is entering the final year of his contract, and Malik Willis has reportedly fallen out of favor with the team. If the Titans wish to stay relevant over the next few seasons and avoid a rebuild, finding their next franchise quarterback is crucial. Stroud is the most naturally accurate passer in this year’s class. He makes smart reads and has an NFL-caliber arm. What stands out is his ability to attack the intermediate areas of the field. If it is not the Titans making this trade, it is easy to see another team moving up for the Ohio State product.
Pick No. 4: Indianapolis Colts
Will Levis, Quarterback, Kentucky
Levis and Richardson are both boom-or-bust quarterback prospects. Both have rocket arms, and both have accuracy issues. The Colts take Levis here. Gardner Minshew is an adequate starter for a rebuilding team, but ownership is going to want to see results sooner rather than later. Of the two remaining guys, Levis is the most NFL-ready. He has the tools to be a franchise quarterback, but he is not a finished product yet. In time he could get there, but he may not ultimately receive that in Indianapolis.
Pick No. 5: Seattle Seahawks
Jalen Carter, Interior Defensive Line, Georgia
Carter’s fall ends before it gets out of hand. The interior rusher could be the best talent in the entire draft class. However, the off-field concerns have tanked his draft stock. Chris Simms noted the Seahawks have done their homework on the Georgia Star. “They’re not afraid of personality up there, in fact, to me, that’s the perfect place for the guy. They can handle personality, they can handle those type of guys,” he said on his podcast. Carter fills a need for a Seahawks team that needs to add talent to its defensive front. If his off-field concerns are nothing but a blip on the radar, Seattle could have the steal of the draft.
Pick No. 6: Detroit Lions
Devon Witherspoon, Cornerback, Illinois
As much as a potential franchise quarterback would be a good fit here, that is not the likely route the Lions take. The team heavily invested in cornerback during free agency, but trading Jeff Okudah opened the door for the team to add Witherspoon. Christian Gonzalez’s technique may be better than Witherspoon’s, but the Illinois product has a better feel for the game. He diagnoses play designs well and can be left on an island in coverage.
Pick No. 7: Las Vegas Raiders
Anthony Richardson, Quarterback, Florida
Tackle is a possibility here. The team needs to protect the often-injured Jimmy Garoppolo. However, Garoppolo’s contract is essentially only a two-year deal, and the team needs to think about its plans for the quarterback position long term. Richardson has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in this year’s class, but he also may have the lowest floor. He needs time to develop, and with Garoppolo at the helm, Las Vegas can offer him that time. The combination of size and physical tools he offers are too enticing for him to fall out of the top 10. If the Raiders do not select him here, some other team will trade up for him. With Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock out of the picture, the Raiders might start making better decisions in the first round of the draft. If not, prepare for the team to reach for Cody Mauch or Kelee Ringo here.
Pick No. 8: Atlanta Falcons
Tyree Wilson, Edge, Texas Tech
Atlanta stays put and lands an upgrade to its defense. The lengthy Wilson has the size and athletic profile to be an NFL team’s top edge rusher. Wilson’s arm length will make it difficult for offensive linemen to get their hands on his pads. There is not much else to say. The Falcons need an edge, and Wilson is the best player available on the board that fits their roster.
Pick No. 9: Chicago Bears
Peter Skoronski, Offensive Line, Northwestern
Skoronski can play all five positions on the offensive line. For a Bears team looking to upgrade their offensive line in any way possible, Skoronski’s versatility is a good fit. There are concerns about his arm length limiting his ability as a tackle, but his former Northwestern teammate, Rashawn Slater, shorter arms do not ruin a prospect’s ability at tackle. Protecting Justin Fields is a priority for Chicago. Skoronski is the best offensive lineman in this class. What position he ends up playing is another matter.
Pick No. 10: Philadelphia Eagles
Bijan Robinson, Running Back, Texas
The Eagles are in a position to make luxury picks early in the draft. The team’s roster continues to be flush with talent at critical positions. Robinson could take the Eagles’ offense to a tier above the rest of the league’s top offenses. Robinson replaces Miles Sanders and provides a significant upgrade over Rashad Penny. The running back is a playmaker. If the Eagles land him here, their offense will be scary in 2023.
Pick No. 11: Arizona Cardinals (via Tennessee Titans)
Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia
Smith’s abilities as an edge rusher are not a perfect fit for Arizona’s scheme, but the Georgia product fills a need for the Cardinals. The team lost J.J. Watt to retirement and its edge rush group is slim. Smith plays with speed and a solid first step. Will Anderson Jr. was a serious consideration if the team stuck to third overall. However, the draft capital the team will receive for the third overall pick is well worth the move down.
Pick No. 12: Pittsburgh Steelers (via Houston Texans via Cleveland Browns)
Paris Johnson Jr., Tackle, Ohio State
In his final Steelers mock draft, The Athletic‘s Mark Kaboly projected the team to move up to his spot to land Johnson. It makes a lot of sense. Pittsburgh has two pressing needs in this year’s draft: tackle and cornerback. The team found a band-aid option at corner in Patrick Peterson. Incumbent tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor left a lot to be desired in 2022. In Johnson, the Steelers land a franchise left tackle to protect Kenny Pickett’s blindside. This year has a deep cornerback class. The Steelers pass on talents like Joey Porter Jr. with this move, but there is talent to be found in the later rounds.
Pick No. 13: Green Bay Packers (via New York Jets)
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Wide Reciever, Ohio State
After moving on from Aaron Rodgers, the Packers start making moves to add offensive weapons early in the draft. A tight end or receiver make the most sense, and Smith-Njigba provides a reliable pass catcher out of the slot. Smith-Njigba breaks well out of routes and has good change of direction after the catch. He will be a good safety blanket for Jordan Love in 2023.
Pick No. 14: New England Patriots
Broderick Jones, Tackle, Georgia
The Patriots find their franchise left tackle with this pick. Jones may ultimately have the highest ceiling of any tackle prospect in this year’s class. He plays with power and bullies edge rushers who try to rush through him. He is a stout pass protector who is still developing into his full potential. New England can move Trent Brown back to right tackle and feel much better about its offensive line with this pick.
Pick No. 15: New York Jets (via Green Bay Packers)
Darnell Wright, Tackle, Tennessee
Tackle is the biggest need for the Jets. While it would have been nice to stick at 13 and land Broderick Jones, the cost of Aaron Rodgers is well worth moving down. Wright is a solid consolation prize. He will likely be limited to playing right tackle, but he will help shore up a Jets’ offensive line that lacks critical depth at the position. Wright wins with power and can move bodies in the run game. New York is still relying on the health of Mekhi Becton at left tackle, but they exit the draft feeling better than they did entering it.
Pick No. 16: Washington Commanders
Christian Gonzalez, Cornerback, Oregon
The Commanders luck into Gonzalez here. There are teams who will look to trade ahead of them if Gonzalez falls outside the top 10, but with so many tackle-needy teams not willing to move down, the Commanders land the steal of the NFL draft. Gonzalez has the prototypical length and speed to be a lockdown corner in the NFL. He can play zone, man, press and off coverage. The team selects the best player available here.
Pick No. 17: Houston Texans (via Pittsburgh Steelers)
Joey Porter Jr., Cornerback, Penn State
The Texans pass on a quarterback this year. Maybe they take a crack at trading for Trey Lance with one of their later picks. At 17 the team lands a corner to play opposite Derek Stingley. Porter is one of the best press corners in this year’s class. He adds another piece to a Texans defense that looks much improved over its 2022 lineup. Wide receiver is another possibility here, but the value of remaining guys is not quite there at 17th overall.
Pick No. 18: Detroit Lions
Calijah Kancey, Interior Defensive Line, Pittsburgh
The interior defensive line is the last critical need for this Lions roster. The team missed out on Carter with the sixth pick, so it takes the next best interior rusher available in Kancey. The Pitt product is undersized, but his athletic traits test through the roof. Kancey can provide an immediate boost to the Lions’ pass rush. His size creates some concerns as a run defender at the NFL level, but Kancey’s upside is simply too high to pass on with this pick. If the team were to look for a safer option, Clemson’s Bryan Bresee makes sense as well.
Pick No. 19: Tampa Bay Buccanneers
O’Cyrus Torrence, Guard, Florida
The Buccs need to upgrade their offensive line in the draft. Both guard and tackle are major needs for the team. With the top tackle prospects already off the board, the team makes a move for a guard. Torrence is the best pure guard prospect in this year’s class. He possesses good size and plays with power. He pushes defenders around in the run game and can throw them in the dirt in pass protection. If the team fails to find a tackle later in the draft, Matt Feiler has experience at the position. Torrence is the best lineman left on the board, Tampa Bay should not overthink this.
Pick No. 20: New York Giants (via Seattle Seahawks)
Jordan Addison, Wide Receiver, USC
The Giants jump ahead of other receiver-needy teams to land Addison with the 20th pick. The USC product offers a natural ability to create separation and excels as a route runner. There are some concerns about Addison’s size at the NFL level, but he is a crafty route runner who can avoid getting jammed early in his routes. He does not have the top-end speed or size of a true No. 1 receiver, but his diverse route tree and high floor make him a reliable No. 2 receiver at worst.
Pick No. 21: Miami Dolphins
Forfeited, but this pick is exactly where Michigan State punter Bryce Baringer should go.
Pick No. 22: Los Angeles Chargers
Dalton Kincaid, Tight End, Utah
The Chargers need to add weapons for Justin Herbert to work with. Receiver and tight end are the most commonly mocked positions for Los Angeles in the first round. Here they land Kincaid. The Utah product would have been off the board much sooner if it were not for a back injury holding teams back. Kincaid is the best receiving tight end in this year’s class. He is not the best blocker, but he is serviceable for NFL standards. The Chargers find Herbert a safety blanket and potential star with this pick.
Pick No. 23: Baltimore Ravens
Zay Flowers, Wide Receiver, Boston College
The Ravens have a lot of work ahead of them to appease Lamar Jackson into returning to the team. Adding yet another weapon for him to work with is one step in the right direction. Another step would be paying him what he is worth. Flowers is an undersized but speedy wideout. He possesses solid change of direction, agility and acceleration. The Ravens can line him up in the slot or on the outside, and Flowers will make plays.
Pick No. 24: Minnesota Vikings
Deonte Banks, Cornerback, Maryland
The Vikings are at a stage where they should seriously consider tearing this roster down and rebuilding. The window has closed, and Kirk Cousins is almost guaranteed to be out the door after 2023. However, cornerback is still a need for the team regardless. Banks is the best corner remaining on the board, and his size and ability to shadow receivers will be instrumental to reconstructing a Vikings defense that has seen better days.
Pick No. 25: Jacksonville Jaguars
Brian Branch, Safety, Alabama
This draft does not boast a particularly deep group of safeties. Sitting at the top of a pile of meh is one potential star: Brian Branch. The Alabama product can play as a hybrid safety in Jacksonville’s defense. He can sit as a strong safety in base defense and move into the slot in sub-packages. Branch plays the run and pass well out of the slot. Hybrid safety is a growing necessity in the NFL. His versatility can take the Jaguars’ defense to another level in 2023.
Pick No. 26: Seattle Seahawks (via New York Giants)
Lukas Van Ness, Edge, Iowa
The Seahawks found their interior rusher in Carter, now they find a threat off the edge. Van Ness excels as a power rusher. He gets low off the snap and bullrushes offensive linemen back, crashing the pocket in the process. Van Ness would benefit from adding other moves into his bag of tricks, but as a pure power rusher, they do not make any much better than the Iowa product.
Pick No. 27: Dallas Cowboys
Mazi Smith, Interior Defensive Line, Michigan
Smith provides a reliable run-stuffer who can generate pressure on the quarterback. He may never rack up elite sack numbers, but Smith can push the pocket and force opposing quarterbacks to escape the pocket or make a hurried pass. The Cowboys could make good use of Smith in their defense.
Pick No. 28: Buffalo Bills
Myles Murphy, Edge, Clemson
Von Miller is not getting any younger. The Bills need to put in place a succession plan for the veteran edge rusher. Murphy could be the ideal fit. Murphy’s tape in 2022 left a lot of meat on the bone. However, his raw physical tools provide a glimpse into a potential perennial Pro Bowler. There is no guarantee Murphy works out at the NFL level, but if he hits, the Bills will continue to boast a high end pass rusher for the next five-plus years.
Pick No. 29: Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Mayer, Tight End, Notre Dame
The Bengals need a starting-caliber tight end in their offense. Mayer may be the most well-rounded tight end in the class. Mayer offers a combination of run blocking and receiving ability that the other tight ends in this class do not possess. He is not an amazing athlete, plays with physicality in the run game and in creating space as a receiver. There are better receiving tight ends in this class, and there are better blocking tight ends. Mayer is a combination of both, providing him a high floor at the NFL level.
Pick No. 30: New Orleans Saints (via Denver Broncos via Miami Dolphins via San Fransisco 49ers)
Will McDonald IV, Edge, Iowa State
The Saints need an edge rusher to pair with Cameron Jordan. McDonald is the best of the remaining bunch. He is an explosive speed rusher. The Saints are another team that would be best to tear it down and rebuild, but as long as the team expects to win games, taking an edge rusher early is the best decision.
Pick No. 31: Philadelphia Eagles
Bryan Bresee, Interior Defensive Line, Clemson
The Eagles have found their success by building from the inside out on both sides of the ball. A potential replacement for Lane Johnson could make sense here, but with the top tackles off the board, finding an immediate replacement for the departing Javon Hargrave is the next best thing. Fletcher Cox is getting older, and the team needs a long-term plan for an interior lineman to pair with Jordan Davis. Bresee will be a stout run defender upon entering the NFL, and he possesses untapped potential as a pass rusher.
Pick No. 32: Kansas City Chiefs
Quentin Johnston, Wide Receiver, TCU
Juju Smith-Schuster is out the door, and the Chiefs could use some more talent at the receiver position. Depending on who you ask, Johnston is either the best receiver in this class or nowhere near a first-round pick. The 6-3 receiver moves well for his size and offers big-play potential as a deep threat or running after the catch. Adding another toy for Patrick Mahomes to play with is never a bad decision.
For more from the author, Thomas Chavez, check him out on Twitter here: @tlchavez43
Featured Image Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
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