It seems as though everyone is posting mock drafts this week, so I figured that I should follow suit. These are just fun exercises at this point because we know nothing about trades or how teams feel about individual prospects. We’re merely giving our best current guesses based on team needs and perceived fit. I only did one draft last year, and that version will return, but I’m starting off earlier this time. As with most other mock drafts, trades are not included here, but I might mention that option if I think it’s warranted. Welcome to version 1.0 of my 2023 NFL mock draft!
Note: The Miami Dolphins lost their original 1st-round pick due to tampering violations by their owner Stephen Ross.
- Chicago Bears – DE Will Anderson, Alabama
I knew with that roster and Justin Fields at QB that the Bears would pick first! They’re likely to field trade calls for this pick. I personally believe a QB is warranted, but they don’t, and I have nobody I value this highly anyway. Thus, we pick from one of their numerous other needs and go with the most premium position. Anderson doesn’t have the best measurables, but his production is undeniable. He put up monster sack and TFL numbers in the difficult SEC, so he’s a good option to ensure you don’t whiff at #1 even if higher-upside options are available.
- Houston Texans – QB Bryce Young, Alabama
The reason the Bears should have suitors for the #1 pick is that teams want to get in front of the Texans to grab a QB. Houston’s cycling between Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel tells you all you need to know about where they stand. It seems as though CJ Stroud and Bryce Young are the options, and Nick Caserio’s background with the Patriots has me leaning toward the Alabama QB at the moment. His size (5’11” or possibly shorter and under 180 lbs) is a concern, but his field vision, pocket movement, and accuracy are phenomenal. I think his arm strength is fine, but the size has me worried.
- Arizona Cardinals – DT Jalen Carter, Georgia
Since they won’t take a needed QB due to Kyler Murray’s abhorrent contract, the best defensive lineman available is a smart pick for the Cardinals given that JJ Watt just retired. Carter might be in play at #1 and could have been the surefire option if he were a DE and not a DT. Regardless, he’s a premier talent on the nation’s best defense, and some scouts insist that he surpasses Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt, former Bulldog DTs who were both first-round picks last year. I am a bit skeptical as I have an ultra-high opinion of Davis, but Carter is excellent in terms of both speed and size. He pushes the pocket well and stuffs the run, making him a complete package.
- Indianapolis Colts – QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State
I think Indy is a candidate to trade up over their division rival Texans, but in this no-trade draft, they take CJ Stroud or Bryce Young—whoever the Texans decide against. In skill terms, Stroud is the better player. He has size, a good arm, mobility, and accuracy. That said, he’s coming from Ohio State. QBs from that system never perform well, and Stroud doesn’t feel like an outlier. Regardless, the positive traits I mentioned will make several teams fall in love with him, especially the poorly run Colts. They’re also desperate to get off the Rent-a-Veteran QB cycle of the past few seasons.
- Seattle Seahawks – DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
I think the Russell Wilson trade has worked out swimmingly for Seattle. This is the second of two 1st-round picks the team got from Denver in that transaction. Another team looking for help all across the defensive line, I have the Seahawks taking Wilson here because of his freaky athleticism. That type of player has been a hallmark of the John Schneider-Pete Carroll era (see Tariq Woolen), and Wilson has been rising up boards lately. I have one edge rusher rated higher (see below), but this is a projection pick; Wilson can be a homerun with development, but his college production is a bit lacking.
- Detroit Lions – DE Myles Murphy, Clemson
The Matthew Stafford trade didn’t go too badly for Detroit either. The Lions think they have their starter in Jared Goff, and this pick is way better than expected due to the Rams’ injuries. Though James Houston came on late last year, Detroit still needs edge rushing talent (they need talent all over the defense honestly). Pairing Murphy with Aidan Hutchinson and building from the trenches would fit Dan Campbell perfectly. I’ve written about Murphy before, and I really think his best football is in front of him. He could test very well at the combine and see his stock rise further.
- Las Vegas Raiders – QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Presumably, Derek Carr will be cut or traded well before the draft takes place, and Jarrett Stidham is not the answer. I’m not high on Levis, but NFL teams are. His pro-style experience and cannon arm will make Josh McDaniels drool, and Patriot transplants at GM like Dave Ziegler aren’t known for elite drafting. This kid has all the tools, but his scattershot accuracy terrifies me. His mechanics seem alright, so that will be really hard to fix. I never saw him dominate at the college level, as Kentucky ran the offense through the ground game. The Raiders might be changing QBs for the worse.
- Atlanta Falcons – DE Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
Picking #8 overall for the second year in a row, the Falcons once again have many needs. To their dismay, the 3 clear-cut best edge rushers are off the board, but they have to take #4 because their pass rush is so awful. Foskey broke out with 11 sacks in 2022 and contributed 45 tackles as well. I’m not sure Atlanta can go wrong with any defensive player here as long as he doesn’t become an abject failure. The bar is that low.
- Carolina Panthers – QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Carolina passed on all the QBs last year until the third round despite needing one, which was smart. This year, I’m not sure they’ll show the same restraint. But they should. Based on talent alone, Richardson would go #1 overall. He has a Josh Allen-type arm and Cam Newton-like running ability. He’s big and tall, demonstrating prototypical size. He simply isn’t a good QB right now. His field vision, accuracy, and pocket presence are all terrible, as he is anything but a polished prospect. Carolina would be banking on his immense ceiling, but they shouldn’t start him on day 1 if they make this pick.
- Philadelphia Eagles – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
I was not fond of New Orleans trading this year’s first-round pick to get another in last year’s weaker draft, and this is why. The Saints had the potential to bottom out, and that they did. Thus, Philly gets a top-10 pick while playing in the Super Bowl. I’m guessing that the Eagles will want a CB here, assuming that they can’t afford to retain impending free agent James Bradberry. The hard part is figuring out which one. For now, I’ll go with Witherspoon, who profiles to be most like Bradberry. He has good length and technique, and he’s more than willing to tackle.
- Tennessee Titans – OT/G Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
You’ll note that I have two positions listed here. Like many scouts, I’m unsure if Skoronski’s arms are long enough to allow him to stick at tackle in the NFL. If not, he’ll be a good guard. Tennessee needs help at both spots, as their offensive line almost single-handedly sunk the team this past season. Skoronski isn’t quite at the level of Rashawn Slater (the last Wildcat lineman to go in round 1), but he’s widely viewed as the best in this class. He’s an athletic mauler, which seems a bit paradoxical but is somehow true.
- Houston Texans – WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
This is another of the Deshaun Watson picks from Cleveland. So far so good on that trade. With their second 1st-round selection, they finally take my top-rated WR. Johnston honestly belongs higher than this, but I hadn’t seen a spot that made sense until I reached this pick. As I’ve discussed, Johnston is a true #1 wideout for the next level. He has size, speed, natural hands, good route running, and contested catch ability. This receiver class isn’t quite as strong as last year’s group, but Johnston might be the top wideout taken even if we included those players.
- New York Jets – OT Paris Johnson Jr, Ohio State
When Duane Brown and Alijah Vera-Tucker got hurt last season, New York’s offensive line crumbled. They have no other viable tackles, and Brown is getting older. To keep whoever plays QB next year upright, the team MUST address their line. Johnson played RG in 2021 but moved to tackle in 2022. He dominated at that spot, even against strong defensive lines (like Michigan’s). Putting him at one of the tackle spots opposite Brown and keeping Vera-Tucker inside would create a suddenly potent unit. Breece Hall is sure to like that.
- New England Patriots – WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
The Patriots need help everywhere on offense except at RB. They’re replacing mismatched OC Matt Patricia, and they don’t seem ready to move on from QB Mac Jones. Since the top 2 tackles are off the board, I’ll give them the other premier receiving talent in this draft. We might be talking about Smith-Njigba in the top 10 if he didn’t miss most of 2022 with injury. On a team with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, both top-15 picks last year, Smith-Njigba might have played better than either of them. He has tremendous athleticism and catches everything. This might be the guy to unlock NE’s bland attack.
- Green Bay Packers – DL Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
The Packers feel stagnant, yet we know they won’t draft an exciting WR in the first round. They’ll pick something practical, like a versatile defensive lineman. Van Ness can play both on the edge and in the middle (thus his “DL” description). He’s a pretty safe pick in that he’s strong against the pass and the run without any obvious weaknesses, but he also possesses the physical tools to be even better. His ceiling is very high, and players with both high floors and ceilings don’t last long on Thursday night of the NFL draft.
- Washington Commanders – CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
These corners could go in pretty much any order right now. There’s not much separating the top few guys in the eyes of NFL teams, and we don’t yet know which style of player each prefers. I am getting the sense though that Ron Rivera likes Gonzalez. It makes sense: Gonzalez is tall and athletic, with smooth hips and good closing speed. That fits the profile of a Rivera corner, and he’d make an immediate impact on a defense that is already very strong up front but has deficiencies in the secondary.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
There’s a drop-off at tackle after Johnson, but Pittsburgh has no choice. Their terrible offensive line risks hampering QB Kenny Pickett’s growth in year 2, which would be inexcusable. RB Najee Harris also needs to be able to get back to the line of scrimmage before being hit. Nobody seems to agree on who the third tackle should be, but right now, I’m going with Jones. He took over for Jamaree Salyer (who had a nice rookie season for the Chargers) and didn’t miss a beat. Jones kept Stetson Bennett clean en route to a second consecutive title, and he has the physical talent to play on the left side.
- Detroit Lions – CB/S Brian Branch, Alabama
I intended to mock two defensive players to Detroit no matter what. Even if Jeff Okudah finally breaks out, the Lions have nothing else in the secondary. Thus, a guy who can play both corner and safety seems like an ideal fit. Branch covers well, but he also has experience at SS, so his tackling is strong, too. The Lions are likely to add more defenders in free agency or the later rounds of the draft, so having someone who can move around depending on the other pieces that are acquired is exactly what Detroit needs.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
Again, I’m guessing where these CBs are going to go, but I like the fit with Smith here. He has length at 6’0″, and he plays best in man coverage. With Todd Bowles’ blitz-heavy attack, he needs corners who can play on an island in press man and match up 1 on 1 with opponents’ receivers. The team may lose Jamel Dean soon, and Smith can clean up his penalty issues with good coaching while he waits for his opportunity. With life after Tom Brady, Tampa might be in a full rebuild, no matter how unwilling they are to admit it. Building blocks like Smith are where you start.
- Seattle Seahawks – DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson
I don’t know why, but this feels like such a Seahawks pick. It fills a need, and it involves a player that mostly has second-round grades but is likely to be adored by Seattle. Bresee’s best tape came in 2021, not 2022, but I think that’s understandable given that he was dealing with the death of his sister this past season. He might be undervalued at the moment; he’s a key leader on an elite Clemson defense, and he stuffs the interior much like Christian Wilkins who came before him. If he comes out of nowhere to be a 1st-round pick for a savvy team, don’t be shocked.
- Los Angeles Chargers – CB Joey Porter Jr, Penn State
With this pick, we get to see what talented prospect coach Brandon Staley can waste! We’re almost done with the CB picks. I don’t see many people mocking a corner to LAC, but I don’t know why. JC Jackson didn’t exactly have a good year in his debut with the team, and Asante Samuel does best in the slot. Porter has great pedigree as the son of a Steeler legend, and he has great length. He has a few LB traits like his father, so he might be a tweener who can move up toward the line on plays when the Chargers want to deploy Michael Davis as well.
- Baltimore Ravens – WR Jordan Addison, USC
If Baltimore doesn’t take a WR in the first round, Lamar Jackson might not show up to camp. The Ravens have the worst WR corps in the league, with former first-rounder Rashod Bateman looking mediocre. Addison is a very polished receiver who won the Biletnikoff Award with Pitt in 2021. He continued to do well with Caleb Williams at USC. He’s a smooth route runner who does a lot of things well. With Mark Andrews taking up a ton of attention in the slot, Addison could feast on one-on-one coverage…if Jackson can get him the ball.
- Minnesota Vikings – CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia
It seems like we do this every year. We complain about Minnesota’s secondary, they spend a high draft pick on the problem, and then they get no better somehow. That’s where we find ourselves again, so why not try once more with a new DC? Ringo is a boom or bust prospect. His size and speed match up with anyone, but he also tends to bite on double moves and miss assignments due to poor technique. With good coaching, he can be a star. He isn’t a ball hawk though, so he’d need to be more of a Byron Jones style of player in the NFL.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Mazi Smith, Michigan
Doug Pederson saw in Philadelphia (both now and when he was coach) that a great, deep defensive line can do wonders for a team. It can also mask coverage deficiencies. With no CB worthy of this pick available, the Jags target the defensive line. A great complement to Josh Allen and Trayvon Walker on the edges, Smith is a huge human being who eats double teams and clogs the center of the line. His underrated athleticism may shine in workouts, and his stock could rise from its current high second-round level to somewhere in the first.
- New York Giants – WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
Another team that can’t afford to pass on a WR, NYG takes the 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner here. What Daniel Jones needs is a speedster who can take the top off a defense and find space when plays break down. Too often, Jones has to sit back and hold the ball because his possession receivers can’t break away from CBs. Hyatt is known for big plays, and Brian Daboll could use him to unlock the next gear of his offense. RB could also be in play if Saquon Barkley departs, but I can’t see GM Joe Schein letting him walk.
- Dallas Cowboys – LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas
I imagine that owner/GM Jerry Jones will find it hard to let a former 5-star talent from his alma mater pass him by. Leighton Vander Esch is always an injury risk, and Micah Parsons, who was drafted as his replacement, turned out to be too good of an edge rusher to play off the ball for very long. Sanders didn’t play often at Alabama, but he broke out for Arkansas, registering 103 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and an INT. He’s large enough to play downhill but versatile enough to play in coverage. If he reminds me of Lavonte David, he must be pretty good.
- Buffalo Bills – RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of needs, but their playoff loss to the Bengals showed how bad the team is at running the ball. GM Brandon Beane has thrown midround picks at the position, but it’s time to take a truly elite talent. Robinson might be the best pure football player in this draft. He’s fast and strong, has great vision, can catch the ball out of the backfield, and is extremely hard to bring down. His issue is his position: RBs just don’t get drafted super high anymore. That’s Buffalo’s gain though, as Robinson is special and might fix their rushing woes in 1 pick.
- Cincinnati Bengals – S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
Last offseason, the Bengals franchise tagged S Jesse Bates and endured tense contract negotiations without reaching a deal. Tagging him again would be cost-prohibitive, and as good as he is, he’s not likely to be back. Cincinnati seemed to prepare for this by selecting Daxton Hill in the first round last year, but he didn’t see the field much as a rookie. The idea here would be to plug the versatile Johnson at FS while having Hill replace Eli Apple at CB. Cam Taylor-Britt would man the other side until Chidobe Awuzie returns from his ACL tear. All of them could play at once at times in Lou Anarumo’s scheme.
- New Orleans Saints – DE Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
Cameron Jordan isn’t getting any younger, Trey Hendrickson left last year, and the Saints aren’t likely to retain Marcus Davenport, who never developed as they’d hoped. This time, they go with a less freakish athlete but someone who is a lot more productive. Tuipulotu led the FBS in sacks with 13.5, demonstrating a knack for taking down the QB. The Pac-12 has some good offensive lines, so it’s not like he was racking up sacks against weak foes. Tuipulotu might be able to have a rookie of the year type of season against lines like those of TB and Atlanta.
- Philadelphia Eagles – RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
These last two picks would switch positions if the Eagles win the Super Bowl , but I don’t think it matters for our purposes. Miles Sanders seems likely to fetch a better free agent deal from another team. That would put them in the market for a new lead back, and Gibbs is a 3-down player. His receiving ability far surpasses that of Sanders, and he can even play in the slot on occasion. Though not the biggest back, his elusiveness lets him evade tacklers and find open space. This might feel like a luxury pick, but it’s one Philly can afford to make. They already used the #10 pick on a more premium position, and the roster really doesn’t have many holes.
- Kansas City Chiefs – WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
Offensive tackle might be a need if contract talks with impending free agent Orlando Brown don’t go well. However, I think the team traded Tyreek Hill because they preferred to spend their cap space on Brown. Thus, WR is the next-most pressing need. JuJu Smith Schuster is on a 1-year deal, Kadarius Toney has injury issues, and Mecole Hardman is as good as gone. Flowers would give Patrick Mahomes an all-around weapon who would complement Travis Kelce well and free Marquez Valdes-Scantling to return to his primary deep threat role. The rich get richer in KC.