What a couple of months it has been. Most mock drafts were torn apart once Chicago traded the #1 pick to Carolina, but there’s more to it than that. We all expected the Bears to trade that selection, but we didn’t know yet how teams would fare in free agency. Many needs have been filled with veteran players, and new needs have been created by departures. I’m trying again to project the first round of the draft (still not counting trades), knowing full well that it will all change in a few weeks when I do my final mock. To see what changed, you can find version 1.0 here. On to version 2.0 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.
- Carolina Panthers – QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State
There’s no doubt that this pick will be a signal caller. You don’t trade a massive haul and move up to #1 for any other position. The only remaining question is: which QB? Rumors suggest that ownership likes Bryce Young, whereas the coaching staff likes Stroud. David Tepper is a strong-willed owner who may push for his way, but he just hired Frank Reich, so deferring to his choice of QB would be the right move. I am inclined to believe that Stroud is that QB. Reich has an aversion to QBs under 6’2″, which instantly puts Stroud over Young. His pocket passing skills also match Reich’s offense much better. Do I trust an OSU QB yet? No. But this is about what Carolina thinks, not me.
- Houston Texans – QB Bryce Young, Alabama
This pick doesn’t change because Carolina passes on Young in this mock. I still believe that Young is Houston’s preferred QB. The Texans and their poor roster may value intangibles such as leadership more than the Panthers, and Young is the clear-cut #1 in that department. The Combine revealed that Young is even shorter than we thought (5’10”), but he’s not quite Kyler Murray small. LT Laremy Tunsil should keep him upright, which is what Young needs to pick apart defenses with his precision and vision. You’re still betting on Young to be an outlier due to his size, but he’s got as good of a chance as anyone.
- Arizona Cardinals – DE Will Anderson, Alabama
I still have Arizona taking the best defensive player, but that player has changed. Anderson is now available as Chicago traded the #1 pick to a QB-needy team. Perhaps more importantly, Jalen Carter is out of the running for this spot. The former Bulldog has a myriad of character concerns, and he’s being removed from entire draft boards. Carter’s agent insists that he won’t visit a team without a top 10 pick because they won’t have a shot at him, but that feels like wishful thinking. Conversely, Anderson is super clean. He has impeccable character and a ton of production. Arizona needs building blocks everywhere but ESPECIALLY in the trenches. If they can’t trade down, they won’t overthink this pick.
- Indianapolis Colts – QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
This is where my “no trades” rule makes things hairy. Indianapolis may very well prefer the idea of trading for Lamar Jackson to drafting QB3 or QB4 on their board. Regardless, this pick is earmarked for a QB, so it came down to Will Levis or Anthony Richardson. I don’t have a read on who Indy likes, but I do know this: Levis’ stock is falling. He’s not interviewing well, and teams watching his tape are finally seeing my concerns. Thus, I’m tentatively slotting Richardson here. His athleticism makes scouts drool, and his cannon arm will have coaches think that they can fix his passing woes. Why not Nick Sirianni, the man who groomed Jalen Hurts?
- Seattle Seahawks – DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
I’m keeping this pick the same. Seattle tends to choose the high-upside athlete over a strong producer with a slightly lower ceiling. Wilson seems like their kind of player. He is far from a polished edge rusher, but his potential is tantalizing. Some teams believe he can be better than Will Anderson, but to be clear, he’s nowhere close just yet. He had 14 sacks and 27.5 TFLs over the past two seasons, so it’s not like he has no history of production. Seattle badly needs edge rushers, and Wilson might be the guy who anchors that group.
- Detroit Lions – DE Myles Murphy, Clemson
I thought about putting Jalen Carter here, as the fit is fantastic. I just don’t think Dan Campbell’s culture is a match. As in version 1.0, Murphy remains the pick here. I’m not sure how much Detroit needs another pass rusher, but you can never have too many. The Lions have also been (correctly) drafting the best players available. To me, that’s clearly Murphy. Like Tyree Wilson, Murphy’s best football is in front of him, but he too had quality production in college. I’m still very high on Murphy, and we might look back and say that he should’ve gone even higher.
- Las Vegas Raiders – CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Las Vegas might be interested in making a trade with Arizona to move up to #3 for Anthony Richardson. The team is high on the Florida product, but they won’t seem to be as interested in Will Levis. If the guy they want is gone, they no longer have to take a QB because they acquired Jimmy Garoppolo. Since Richardson is off the board, the Raiders may eschew the QB position and select a CB to fix their awful secondary. Last mock draft, nobody had a clue about who the top CB was. That has come into focus, and teams have settled on Gonzalez. He’s tall and fast, making him a great fit for man coverage. Gonzalez has moved past the other corners because of his upside, which is what LV wants.
- Atlanta Falcons – EDGE Nolan Smith, Georgia
For some reason, Atlanta gives me trouble every year. They just aren’t a very good team, so value and need could align with several different players. One thing they’ve been clear about is their love of measurables. Kyle Pitts and Drake London, the team’s last two first rounders, were both freakish athletes. Smith definitely qualifies if his Combine performance is any indication. Some scouts don’t think Smith is big enough to be a powerful force on the edge, but that’s not his game. He’s strictly a pass rusher, and Atlanta happens to have two stout DTs (Grady Jarrett and Calais Campbell) to handle run defense.
- Chicago Bears – OT/G Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Paris Johnson is getting some buzz here, and that’s a possibility if Chicago doesn’t think Skoronski has long enough arms to play tackle at the next level. However, for a team that needs so many linemen, a polished and versatile player who is likely the best lineman in the class at SOME position is the way to go. Skoronski is very stout at the point of attacking, suggesting a stellar run blocker. He also demonstrated great athleticism at the Combine and his Pro Day, giving him pass blocking chops. Truly, his only concern is his arm length, but he’ll be great at 4 of 5 line positions at minimum.
- Philadelphia Eagles – DE Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
Howie Roseman will never turn down a pass rusher if that player happens to be the best remaining option. Brandon Graham re-signed, but he’s getting older and will need a successor. Van Ness has blown past Isaiah Foskey as the 4th or 5th edge rusher in the class. His athletic testing confirmed his incredible upside, but his tape showed his high floor. That combination has Van Ness rising up draft boards. Adding to his appeal, he’s versatile enough to play inside and stuff the run, showing that he is a complete player. The Eagles can use him to replace the production they lost when Javon Hargrave departed while Jordan Davis fills in that interior slot.
- Tennessee Titans – QB Will Levis, Kentucky
I tried to find a reasonable spot for Levis. As much as I think he’s not a first-rounder, many teams do. His chances of going in the top 10 are dropping, but 11 is pretty good. The Titans have been clear (through actions not words) that they don’t love Ryan Tannehill. Malik Willis was drafted to replace him, but that was a whiff. This landing spot gives Levis a chance to develop for a year before taking the reins in 2024. That’s the optimal situation for him long-term, though I don’t love it for Tennessee. Let me provide another reminder: this is what I think may happen, not what I would do myself.
- Houston Texans – WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
Houston still wants a WR to pair with their new QB. That’s doubly true after the recent trade of Brandin Cooks. Thus, it’s easy to slot Johnston here because he’s the clear #1 WR in the draft. Johnston’s stock appears to be falling along with the other receivers, and I’m not sure why. Some scouts question his hands, but that’s not a new concern. In fact, he steadily improved throughout the season. His size and speed form a fantastic combination, and he presents an obvious mismatch. The only thing I’d like him to do is clean up his route running, but that’s coachable. See here for more on Johnson.
- New York Jets – OT Paris Johnson Jr, Ohio State
I think New York wants the best tackle they can get (assuming this pick isn’t sent to Green Bay for Aaron Rodgers). In this draft, that’s Johnson. He might actually be the best tackle overall depending on your feelings about Peter Skoronski. At the very least, Johnson has stellar upside. He moves well, blocks with power at the point of attack, and has long arms. As his technique improves, he’ll be able to line up against any style of edge rusher. Rodgers’ injured offensive line was a problem that wasn’t discussed enough last year, so the Jets have to do whatever they can to make sure theirs is better than it was in 2022. Better health and a promising rookie can make that happen.
- New England Patriots – OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
New England whiffed on one recent first-round tackle from Georgia (Isaiah Wynn), but that was due to injury. Perhaps they’ll go back to the Bulldog well once again. Jones is the last of the true LT prospects on the board, and Mac Jones badly needs one. Poor pass protection was one of the (many) reasons Jones struggled last year, and the team needs him to perform well in year 3. Some teams have character concerns about Jones, though I haven’t heard about any specific shortcomings. New England is a good place for him because Bill Belichick will keep him in line. A stout LT in the rugged SEC, Jones has the talent to be a stalwart on the offensive line for years to come.
- Green Bay Packers – S/CB Brian Branch, Alabama
Green Bay badly needs a receiver. A TE would work too, and many mock drafts have them selecting Michael Mayer. But come on. The Packers taking a pass catcher in the first round? HA! I know they’d enjoying sticking it to Aaron Rodgers by doing just that, but the team doesn’t believe in taking pass catchers so early. Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson are their proof that WRs can be obtained later. Instead, I think they’ll address the secondary. Aside from Jaire Alexander, the unit has no blue-chip players, particular at safety, as Darnell Savage has not developed as much as the team hoped. Branch provides versatility to play corner, but his more natural fit is at safety. Nick Saban trains some stellar defensive prospects, and Green Bay enjoys their defenders from the SEC.
- Washington Commanders – CB Joey Porter Jr, Penn State
Washington isn’t very happy in this mock. They probably wanted Branch but saw him go right before their pick. Instead, they have to take the next CB on their board. For me, that’s Devon Witherspoon, but I think Ron Rivera likely prefers Porter. Having possessed Josh Norman in Carolina, we know that Rivera wants a big CB with athletic traits that can shut down one side of the field. Porter fits that better than Witherspoon. At 6’3″, the younger Porter inherited plenty of his father’s traits, including his big hitting. Rivera also wants his CBs to tackle; while Porter may miss some of those, he’s certainly willing. This is one of my more uncertain picks though because of the general lack of consensus after Christian Gonzalez.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – DT Jalen Carter, Georgia
Carter’s slide comes to an end. It’s completely possible that another team (perhaps Seattle, Philly, or Chicago) clears Carter and takes him in the top 10, proving Drew Rosenhaus right. If he DOESN’T go in the top 10 though, I don’t see a logical fit until here (barring a trade). The value is obviously tremendous; if Carter had no character concerns, you could argue that he’s the best player in the class. Obviously, the red flags are numerous. Check out this page for his off-field issues, but also know that he was overweight at his Pro Day and couldn’t complete the workout. When he’s focused, he can be a game-wrecker, though not quite at Jordan Davis’ level from the 2021 Bulldogs. Mike Tomlin strikes me as one of the few coaches who can and would deal with a troubled talent like this.
- Detroit Lions – RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
My understanding is that Robinson is the best player in this class regardless of position. To me, he’s a generational RB talent (better than Saquon Barkley by far). I still have no clue who’s taking him. His position hurts his stock, and the run on edge rushers will likely push him down. I know Detroit signed David Montgomery and has D’Andre Swift. The team appears to have soured on the latter though, and Robinson is too special to ignore. I stated above that Detroit wants to take the best player available. No remaining prospect has the pedigree of Robinson. He has a speed and power combination that few NFL backs possess, and he’s #1 on many teams’ boards. With 2 first round picks, Detroit can afford this luxury.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
Now that they’ve released LT Donovan Smith and somehow re-signed CB Jamel Dean, I’m switching this pick from a corner to a tackle. It’s unclear who Todd Bowles and Jason Licht would want, but I’ll go with Wright for now. He’s only a right tackle (I don’t envision him on the left side), but Tampa already has one of those. As good as Tristan Wirfs is on the right side, I think he’d also be stellar on the left, and he may have originally been drafted for that purpose. In this scenario, Wirfs upgrades the LT spot, while Wright replaces him at RT to give whoever starts at QB a great pair of tackles for protection.
- Seattle Seahawks – DT Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
As they did at #5 with a DE, here, Seattle takes a high-upside player at DT. Unconventional picks are the norm for Seattle, and Kancey’s Combine workout undoubtedly piqued their interest. Although Kancey is undersized, his speed is undeniable, just like his connection to star DT Aaron Donald. Kancey actually bested Donald’s 40 time, and both are undersized DTs who played at Pitt. Expecting Kancey to be anything like Donald would be foolish, but his stock is currently rising. A creative team like Seattle can get him into good pass rushing situations and minimize the amount he has to play the run, because he’s likely to get overpowered in that scenario.
- Los Angeles Chargers – TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah
This is another team that often confuses me. Brandon Staley is certainly an enigma. Their run defense is abysmal, yet it appears that the Bolts want another weapon for Justin Herbert. Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Gerald Everett apparently aren’t enough. With that in mind, the only one that makes sense here is Kincaid. He appears to have passed Michael Mayer as the top TE prospect. I talked about him in my sleeper TE picks article, but none of them seem to be sleepers anymore. An injury marred his 2022 season, but everything else about him is great. Size and speed are both accounted for, and he’s been wildly productive for Utah. I don’t know why LAC would be taking a TE here, but they’re leaning toward an offensive skill player, so that’s what I’m giving them.
- Baltimore Ravens – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
We learned this week that Darius Slay almost became a Raven. This tells us that the team wants another starting corner across from Marlon Humphrey. Witherspoon was and remains my top CB, and that argument has been bolstered by his 4.42-s 40 time. We now know that he has length and speed, but that’s on top of his already good technique that he learned from Bret Bielema at Illinois. He actually strikes me as somewhat of a Sauce Gardner-type of player, and we all saw how he turned out. As usual, a talented player drops to Baltimore’s late draft slot, and they never hesitate to pounce on those steals.
- Minnesota Vikings – WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Had Smith-Njigba played in 2022, he’d likely go higher than this. He was arguably the best WR on a team that had Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave during the 2021 season. For the NFL, he profiles more as a slot receiver, as he’s a bit smaller but very quick. His routes are crisp, and he has great hands. There’s no denying his production, but durability is becoming a legitimate concern. Minnesota needs a WR to replace Adam Thielen across from Justin Jefferson though, and Smith-Njigba is the best available. Assuming he’s finally healthy (he looked good at the Combine), he’ll be ready to start week 1 without any sort of learning curve because he’s already so polished.
- Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
This pick will either be a tackle or a corner. Someone has to replace Jawaan Taylor, but I’m not sure any remaining OT is a reasonable value at this juncture. Therefore, I’m opting for a corner. Once again, I’m guessing who that CB will be. It appears teams have soured a bit on Smith, so this pick could change in my final mock. He’s tall and he’s fast, but his technique needs some work. Smith occasionally commits some penalties and misses assignments, but the physical talent is all there. He has also been thrown into the fire that is the SEC East, so he’s battle-tested. Based on Jacksonville’s pick of Tyson Campbell a couple of years ago, Trent Baalke might like another high-upside CB with tools.
- New York Giants – WR Jordan Addison, USC
The Giants have done a good job restocking their receiver room in free agency. They’re still missing a high-end option. The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner is the best WR available, and he’s another highly polished receiver entering the NFL. Unlike a few of the receivers I’ve mentioned, Addison’s best trait is his route running. His smooth footwork enables him to get instant separation. He’s not particularly big or fast, but he is fast enough to me. Overall, the man produces, both with Kenny Pickett at Pitt and with Caleb Williams at USC. Addison would be a great fit for Brian Daboll’s scheme and culture, and he’d instantly become Daniel Jones’ #1 option.
- Dallas Cowboys – LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
I had an LB from Jerry Jones’ beloved Arkansas Razorbacks here before, but Campbell has passed him as the top ILB prospect. Everyone knew he could flat-out play, but his athletic testing numbers greatly exceeded expectations. The 2022 Butkus Award winner is a true 3-down LB, with the size to stuff the run and the range to cover TEs. This was going to be Micah Parsons’ role, but he turned out to be too special of an edge rusher to keep him away from that spot. Dallas will never complain about that, but they still do need a traditional LB. Campbell will make DC Dan Quinn very happy.
- Buffalo Bills – RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
There are a ton of mock drafts giving Buffalo a receiver, and I don’t get it. Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis are plenty good. On the other hand, a dynamic RB who can catch as well as a receiver? That sounds much better. Like Bijan Robinson, Gibbs is a consensus first-round talent whose position is hurting his stock. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception in 2022, demonstrating his explosiveness. My best comparison for him is Alvin Kamara; you don’t want him handling 20 carries a game, but he’ll make the most of the touches he gets. Damien Harris has been signed as the thunder, which would give Gibbs the ideal role as the lightning.
- Cincinnati Bengals – CB Deonte Banks, Maryland
TE is a need, but that can be addressed in round 2. More importantly, Cincy has lost a ton of secondary talent, with both starting safeties (Jesse Bates and Vonn Bell) leaving in free agency. Last year’s first-round pick, Daxton Hill, can fill one of those holes. That still leaves an issue at corner. Cam Taylor-Britt did well as a rookie last year, but Chidobe Awuzie’s torn ACL means Eli Apple is still CB2. That won’t work. Banks is raw, but he has tools that teams will love. At 6’0″, he has plenty of length, but he’s also extremely athletic. His ball production is an issue (2 INTs in 4 years), but he did cover much better in 2022. A high-upside CB, Banks would do well as a CB2 before growing into a bigger role.
- New Orleans Saints – DE Keion White, Georgia Tech
I’ve changed my DE pick because it seems as though the Saints go for a particular type. The failed selection of Marcus Davenport aside, they like long, powerful edge rushers that can play the run in addition to getting after the QB. Like Davenport, White started his career in C-USA, playing well for Old Dominion in 2019. He took a bit to get going, but he had his best year in 2022 with the Yellow Jackets, earning 7.5 sacks and 14 TFLs. I worry about him being a 1-year wonder, as he really had only 1 season of high production in the ACC. New Orleans needs young developmental talents though, and White has plenty of upside with his long, athletic frame.
- Philadelphia Eagles – G O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
Losing Isaac Seumalo is a bigger deal than it may seem. He’s a mauler in the running game and will be sorely missed. To replace him, the Eagles select the best pure guard in the class. At 6’5″ and 346 lbs, Torrence is a massive human being, but his feet are surprisingly agile. His game is not very complex; he simply blasts the guy in front of him out of the way. On a run-centric team like the Eagles, that’s very important. With Jason Kelce, Jordan Mailata, and Lane Johnson flanking him, any agility woes will be masked, and Torrence will be able to do what he does best: move people by force.
- Kansas City Chiefs – WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
Anything KC does here is probably a luxury pick unless they address the offensive line. The value at this spot isn’t right though, so they might opt to fill the void left by the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. Andy Reid loves WRs with speed (see his picks of Tyreek Hill and Hardman), and Flowers fits the bill. He’s also a good value at this spot, as some teams have him ranked higher than Jordan Addison. Flowers probably belongs in the slot due to his size, but the Chiefs can move him around to create mismatches. Give Patrick Mahomes another weapon here and grab a lineman in round 2 or 3.
Just missed: DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson; OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State; DL Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern; TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame; LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas; DT Mazi Smith, Michigan