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It’s that time of year where we start the very early look at next year’s draft class. We get caught up in the appeal and excitement of what could be. I’m guilty of it. I just published my Way-Too-Early 2023 Mock Draft this past Monday.
However, I wanted to do something a little different. I want to compare my Way-Too-Early mock from last year to the actual draft. I think it is really interesting to compare expectations for teams and players to what actually happened in the past year. Hopefully, there are a few lessons I can learn in the process as well that will help me better identify prospects that are true first-round players.
There are some major takeaways here for sure. One, I thought this quarterback class was going to be good a year ago. Meanwhile, Travon Walker was not even on my radar. Good reminder to everyone that so much can change over the next year as we start to look ahead to 2023.
As a reminder, I did not set the draft order last year. It was the reverse Super Bowl odds at the time from William Hill with strength of schedule used as a tiebreaker. You can check out the mock for reference, but I listed all of the projected picks here as well. Let’s go back in time and take a look at how I did with my projections.
1. Way-too-early prediction: Houston Texans – Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
What happened to the player: Transferred to South Carolina
Actual selection: Jacksonville Jaguars – Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
Ah yes. May 2021. Back when we thought this was going to be a good quarterback class. Rattler was a Heisman candidate at Oklahoma and seemed poised to become the latest quarterback under Lincoln Riley to go No. 1 overall. Instead, he lost his job midseason to Caleb Williams and ultimately transferred to USC. I did not include him in my way-too-early mock for 2023, so he definitely has a ways to go to rebuild his draft stock. As for the Texans, they ended up picking just a couple spots later, but seem to have their quarterback to develop in Davis Mills.
2. Way-too-early prediction: Detroit Lions – Sam Howell, QB, UNC
What happened to the player: Drafted 144th overall by the Commanders
Actual Selection: Detroit Lions – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
This didn’t pan out too well either. Howell entered the year as one of the top quarterback prospects, but uneven play and a drop in production without his top weapons caused him to tumble all the way to the fifth round. I still think he fell further than he should have, but there is no question he is a bit of a project. That being said, as I talked about on my podcast last week, I think Howell could wind up being the Commanders starter in 2023. Turns out that William Hill was spot on with their odds. Detroit did in fact pick second and they still need a quarterback. It will be a big focus in the 2023 draft for the Lions.
3. Way-too-early prediction: Cincinnati Bengals – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
What happened to the player: Drafted 3rd overall by the Texans
Actual selection: Houston Texans – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Hang on, I’m going to play the lottery real quick. I can’t pat myself on the back too much, but Stingley entered the year as likely the No. 1 overall prospect. At worst, he was No. 2 behind Kayvon Thibodeaux. He was an elite prospect, but injury struggles seemed to be pushing him down draft boards. A fantastic pro day somehow rebuilt his draft stock to the point where he went back to being a top-five pick. The fact that the Bengals were slated to take him third overall is laughable now. Cincinnati reached the Super Bowl behind stellar seasons from Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase and an underrated defense. Cincy could still use some corner help, but obviously was nowhere close to being able to snag Stingley.
4. Way too-early prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
What happened to the player: Drafted 7th overall by the Giants
Actual selection: New York Jets – Ahmad Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
Another one that I feel pretty good about, Neal wound up going just a few spots later to the Giants on draft day. I still maintain that the Jaguars would have done well to take Neal and move on from Cam Robinson, but I digress. Neal delivered on the hype in his 2021 season, making the move to left tackle look fairly easy. As it turns out, Jacksonville was even worse than this, with the Urban Meyer experiment failing miserably. Now we will have to wait and see if the Jags can avoid becoming the first team to ever draft No. 1 overall three years in a row.
5. Way-too-early prediction: New York Jets – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
What happened to the player: Drafted 5th overall by the Giants
Actual selection: New York Giants – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Right city, right draft slot, just wrong team on this one. The Jets ended up picking one selection earlier, in the end passing on Thibodeaux in favor of Ahmad Gardner. The Giants seem pretty happy with that. Thibodeaux came into the year as one of the best prospects in the draft. In fact, he was the top player at that point. He didn’t quite live up to the expectation, but he put together more than enough good tape to justify going in the top five.
6. Way-too-early prediction: New York Giants – Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
What happened to the player: Transferred to Pittsburgh
Actual selection: Carolina Panthers – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
To quote myself from 2021: “If the Giants are picking this high, Daniel Jones’ days in New York are likely numbered.” Well after the team declined his fifth-year option, it sure seems like that is the case. However, the Giants opted not to take a quarterback in this class. Slovis wasn’t available anyway, because he didn’t enter the draft. This is a good reminder to not always bet that a player that flashed as a freshman will be able to sustain that. Slovis has come nowhere close to matching his 2019 production. He threw 30 touchdowns that year. He threw 28 in the next two combined. His completion percentage has also dropped each of the past two seasons. He can still turn things around, especially moving to a Pittsburgh program that just lost Kenny Pickett, but he has an uphill climb.
7. Way-too-early prediction: Philadelphia Eagles – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
What happened to the player: Drafted 23rd overall by the Bills
Actual selection: New York Giants via Chicago Bears – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
Give the Eagles some credit for way outperforming this projected draft slot. Philly was one of the surprises of the season as Jalen Hurts and company ended up reaching the playoffs. As it turned out, the Eagles ended up passing on Elam twice in the first round, before he finally landed with Buffalo. I think Elam was a bit overhyped in the offseason, but he was clearly still talented enough to go in the first round.
8. Way-too-early prediction: Las Vegas Raiders – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
What happened to the player: Drafted 84th overall by the Steelers
Actual selection: Atlanta Falcons – Drake London, WR, USC
Reviewing this is I think a microcosm for Texas A&M this past year: they were good, but not as great as we expected. Leal fits that description. He had a solid season, but fell well short of the expectations I had for him entering the year. He ended up going in the third round to the Steelers, which feels like a really good spot for him to develop. Meanwhile, the Raiders, much like the Eagles, shocked everyone by making the playoffs. I still don’t really know how, given how much of a mess the organization was all season.
9. Way-too-early prediction: Carolina Panthers – Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
What happened to the player: Returned to school
Actual selection: Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
As it turns out, I had the Panthers targeting the right position here, just the wrong player. Oh and they ended up picking even earlier than this. Zion Nelson’s draft hype never really materialized in high level play. He was forced into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2019 and struggled mightily. He has improved since then, but I am excited to see what Mario Cristobal and his staff can do to aid his development. He definitely made the right call in returning to school.
10. Way-too-early prediction: New York Giants via Chicago Bears – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
What happened to the player: Drafted 75th overall by the Texans
Actual selection: New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
I remember watching Christian Harris in 2020 and thinking “that guy plays linebacker?” He was built like an early 2000s safety, flying around the field and making plays. Unfortunately, flying around the field is what he does best. Harris struggles reading his keys and positioning himself to make players. He is athletic enough to compensate for that sometimes, but it hinders his game. I had him as a late-second-round prospect by draft day, but he slid into the third. As for the Bears, they wasted most of Justin Fields’ rookie season and might end up wasting his second year as well if they cannot put more talent around him.
11. Way-too-early prediction: Atlanta Falcons – Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State
What happened to the player: Returned to school
Actual selection: New Orleans Saints via Washington Commanders – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
This was an example of assuming that Ohio State’s next five-star edge rusher up was going to continue on the trend of dominating when it was their turn. Nick Bosa did it in 2018. Chase Young did it in 2019. Harrison didn’t quite match those guys. He only posted two sacks in his junior season, showing a lack of true pass rushing polish that his predecessors had. He will have a chance to rewrite the scouting report on him during his senior season, but he will need to step up big time if he hopes to crack the first round. This ended up being pretty close to where the Falcons picked as well and they could still use edge rushing help, along with a lot of other things.
12. Way-too-early prediction: Washington Commanders – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
What happened to the player: Drafted 74th overall by the Falcons
Actual selection: Detroit Lions via Minnesota Vikings – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Desmond Ridder had some late first-round hype around him heading into the 2021 draft, but decided to return to school. It didn’t quite workout as he would’ve wanted. It wasn’t that Ridder didn’t play well, it’s that NFL teams had a chance to really pick apart his game. He was not accurate enough to warrant going in the first round. He is a bit of a project at this stage, but there is still plenty to like about his game. One pick off for Washington’s original draft slot is pretty impressive by the folks at William Hill. Trading for Carson Wentz meant they didn’t have to get overly aggressive in drafting a quarterback. They wound up taking Sam Howell on Day 3 as well to give them a player to develop.
13. Way-too-early prediction: Minnesota Vikings – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
What happened to the player: Drafted 14th overall by the Ravens
Actual selection: Philadelphia Eagles via Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
I ended up being just one pick off from where Hamilton was ultimately drafted. The Notre Dame safety slid to the Ravens after not running well at the combine. I was probably a bit lower on him than most in the early stages last season just because I am skeptical of taking safeties too high. Still it was a bit of a surprise to see him fall to the Ravens. Meanwhile, the Vikings were also just one slot off from their original selection before trading out with the Lions.
14. Way-too-early prediction: Arizona Cardinals – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
What happened to the player: Drafted 61st overall by the 49ers
Actual selection: Baltimore Ravens – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Arizona still struggled down the stretch, but got over the hump and made it to the postseason. The Cardinals got bounced in the first round, but it was progress. On the other hand Jackson entered the year with the expectation that he would take the next step in his development during a full season. He posted 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a freshman, but never quite matched those numbers again. He projects well as a situational rusher for the 49ers.
15. Way-too-early prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
What happened to the player: Drafted 9th overall by the Seahawks
Actual selection: Houston Texans via Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
I ended up being six spots off where Cross ended up being selected. I think this would’ve been better value for him, as I didn’t quite have him in my top 10. Still, Cross ended up being one of the most experienced pass blockers to ever come out of the college ranks. He still has some fine-tuning in that department and is a relative unknown as a run blocker, but he checks every box from a physical perspective. On the Steelers’ side of things, they probably could have used some reinforcements along the offensive line. They outperformed expectations and actually reached the postseason.
16. Way-too-early prediction: Los Angeles Chargers – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
What happened to the player: Drafted 11th overall by the Saints
Actual selection: Washington Commanders via New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Well a receiver did end up going with the 16th overall pick. I just chose the wrong Big Ten school. I also find it hard to believe that this is the first receiver I had projected to come off the board. Not because Olave was undeserving, but because this ended up being a really good receiver class. Anyway, Olave ended up going five picks earlier as the third receiver to be selected. I’m sure Chargers fans would have loved him, but they never got the chance.
17. Way-too-early prediction: Tennessee Titans – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
What happened to the player: Drafted 52nd overall by the Steelers
Actual selection: Los Angeles Chargers – Zion Johnson, OL, Boston College
This one was undoubtedly all about projection. Pickens had just undergone ACL surgery when I wrote my way-too-early predictions for 2022. I assumed that his upside and physical attributes would be enough to keep him in the first round. Not quite as he went 35 selections later, so I guess I was about a round off on him. The Titans did end up drafting a receiver, but it was to replace A.J. Brown, not add around him like I had anticipated.
18. Way-too-early prediction: New England Patriots – Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
What happened to the player: Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Eagles
Actual selection: Tennessee Titans via Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Woof this one was bad. Jobe was expected to be the next great Alabama corner, but he ended up going undrafted. It’s hard for me to understand exactly why he fell that far. He has measurables to play outside corner in the NFL, even if he did struggle a bit during his senior year. Not running at the combine makes me believe that there were some concerns about his speed and quickness. Still, most expected him to go in the fourth round. It was definitely a bit of a shock no one took a chance on him. Looking at the Patriots, they did need cornerback help and they still could probably use a bit more.
19. Way-too-early prediction: Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
What happened to the player: Drafted 13th overall by the Eagles
Actual selection: New Orleans Saints via Philadelphia Eagles – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
I wish I could’ve bet on this one way back then. Not that I would have because why on Earth would I have ever believed I would get this right, but the odds for Jordan Davis being selected by the Eagles a year later likely would have been incredible, assuming any sportsbook would have been willing to give them to me. Philly traded up a couple spots on draft day to land him. He will be the long-term replacement for Fletcher Cox. The Eagles did originally own the 19th pick, but flipped it to the Saints as part of a pre draft trade. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, who were expected to make the playoffs this past year, struggled out of the gate and never fully recovered.
20. Way-too-early prediction: Dallas Cowboys – Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
What happened to the player: Transferred to LSU
Actual selection: Pittsburgh Steelers – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
This was a swing and a miss. I actually heard from a bunch of Buckeye fans immediately after publishing last year that Sevyn Banks was being overhyped. Once I dove a little deeper into the film, I realized they were right. I got caught up in scouting the helmet, not the player on this one. I wasn’t alone. Banks was a popular inclusion in way-too-early mocks this time last year. He only played four games in 2021 and will now attempt to rebuild his draft stock at LSU. For the Cowboys, this was not too far off from where they ended up finishing even playing in the weakest division in the league.
21. Way-too-early prediction: New Orleans Saints – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
What happened to the player: Drafted 10th overall by the Jets
Actual selection: Kansas City Chiefs via New England Patriots – Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
So the Saints did wind up selecting a first-round receiver from Ohio State. I just didn’t have them taking the right one. Not that Wilson was even on the board when New Orleans ultimately picked at No. 11. He put together a fantastic junior season and pushed himself into the top ten. Personally, I’m thrilled he landed with the Jets. As far as expectations for the Saints, this was not too far off. They came close to the playoffs despite dealing with major injuries across their roster.
22. Way-too-early prediction: Indianapolis Colts – Thayer Munford, OT, Ohio State
What happened to the player: Drafted 238th overall by the Raiders
Actual selection: Green Bay Packers via Las Vegas Raiders – Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
In retrospect, this pick should have belonged to the Eagles. I fully expected Carson Wentz to meet the requirements to convey the Colts’ first-round pick. Simply an oversight on my part. Let’s talk about Indy though, because it definitely needed a new left tackle. The Colts brought in Eric Fisher as a stop-gap solution, and more recently drafted Bernhard Raimann to compete for the starting spot. As it turns out, Munford was not a great choice to fill that void. He ended up kicking inside to play guard during his senior season and fell to the seventh round. His versatility is undervalued and I think he will stick around the league for a while.
23. Way-too-early prediction: New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks – Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
What happened to the player: Drafted 15th overall by the Texans
Actual selection: Buffalo Bills via Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
What a fall for the Seahawks. Seattle suffered through a lost season with Russell Wilson missing time due to injury only to ultimately trade him to the Broncos. Their own first-round pick, which belonged to the Jets as part of the Jamal Adams trade, became the 10th selection. Let’s just say I’m not complaining as a Jets fan. New York could have used a player like Green, but it is hard to fault Joe Douglas for how he handled the draft. The offensive lineman from Texas A&M ended up being gone by this point anyway.
24. Way-too-early prediction: Denver Broncos – Perrion Winfrey, DL, Oklahoma
What happened to the player: Drafted 108th overall by the Browns
Actual selection: Dallas Cowboys – Tyler Smith, OL, Tulsa
I was shocked by this in 2021 and I still can’t believe it now. William Hill had the Broncos at 20-1 odds to win the Super Bowl this time last year. That makes more sense with Russell Wilson at quarterback, but Drew Lock? Not really sure what happened there. Either way, Denver did need some help along the front seven and Winfrey seemed to be an ascending player. He actually did put together a much more impressive senior campaign with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks but ended up sliding all the way to the fourth round. He could wind up being a very productive player in Cleveland.
25. Way-too-early prediction: Cleveland Browns – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
What happened to the player: Drafted 2nd overall by the Lions
Actual selection: Baltimore Ravens via Buffalo Bills – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
Speaking of the Browns, this is where they were expected to pick after a sensational 2020 season. That fell apart quickly as Baker Mayfield got hurt and the team seemingly never recovered. Then there is Hutchinson, who ended up soaring up draft boards thanks to a phenomenal senior season. He finished as the runner up for the Heisman and will now get to play the role of hometown hero with the Lions.
26. Way-too-early prediction: Green Bay Packers – John Metchie, WR, Alabama
What happened to the player: Drafted 44th overall by the Texans
Actual selection: New York Jets via Tennessee Titans – Jermaine Johnson, EDGE, Florida State
I should really know better by now. The Packers don’t draft receivers in the first round! In their defense, I think that was the right call this year after six of them went in the top 18 picks. I wonder if John Metchie might have worked his way into the first round had he not torn his ACL in the SEC title game against Georgia. He became Bryce Young’s go-to receiver this past season, catching 96 passes for over 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns. His speed is legitimate as well. The Texans might end up with a steal in the second round.
27. Way-too-early prediction: Baltimore Ravens – Cade Mays, G, Tennessee
What happened to the player: Drafted 199th overall by the Panthers
Actual selection: Jacksonville Jaguars via Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Injuries derailed the Ravens season, which was actually my rationale for mocking them to take Mays before the year even happened. Keeping Lamar Jackson healthy will be priority number one for Baltimore and likely a large part of the thinking into drafting Tyler Linderbaum in the first round. Mays ended up sliding all the way to the sixth round. He is a former five star recruit with experience at just about every position on the offensive line. I was definitely a bit too high on him entering the year, but he should have gone earlier than the sixth round in my opinion.
28. Way-too-early prediction: Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
What happened to the player: Drafted 18th overall by the Titans
Actual selection: Green Bay Packers – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
There have been a few prospects that I projected to make the jump in 2021 that fell short of expectations. That was not the case with Burks. He took a huge step forward with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns in a fantastic campaign. He was a bit inconsistent and posted some questionable times at the combine, but clearly the Titans felt like he was going to be a worthy replacement for A.J. Brown. Looking at who this pick originally belonged to, William Hill was pretty close with the Rams. Matt Stafford and Von Miller just pushed them over the top.
29. Way-too-early prediction: Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
What happened to the player: Drafted 27th overall by the Jaguars
Actual selection: New England Patriots via Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers – Cole Stange, G, Chattanooga
Well William Hill was spot on for this one. This ended up being the 49ers pick, even if it did change hands several times before the selection was ever made. Lloyd was one of my favorite prospects heading into the 2022 draft cycle. That didn’t change at all and it turns out I just missed out on where he would go in the first round. I think there are big things to come from him in Jacksonville.
30. Way-too-early prediction: Buffalo Bills – Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M
What happened to the player: Signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bills
Actual selection: Kansas City Chiefs – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
My second prediction that went horribly wrong. Wydermyer joins Josh Jobe among my first-round hopefuls that went undrafted. Wydermyer looked like the latest athlete to learn how to play tight end. His tape showed quickness and burst that made him seem like a player just scratching the surface of his potential. Then he actually went on to put up worse numbers in 2021 despite having two more games. He skipped running at the combine and then posted some horrible times at his pro day. I don’t exactly know what to make of him at this point, but this was a huge miss for me. Ironically, he did sign with the Bills.
31. Way-too-early prediction: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
What happened to the player: Drafted 30th overall by the Chiefs
Actual selection: Cincinnati Bengals – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
Another one where I was off by just one pick. Karlaftis enters the draft much like he entered his final college season, a developing player who has been unable to replicate his freshman year success. He managed to stay healthy in 2021, but his production did not bounce back all the way to his 2019 campaign. Still, he is an enticing prospect with his burst off the line and ability to disrupt plays. He needs to become a bit more disciplined in the run game, but there is clear upside. Tampa always loves grabbing edge rushers to develop. I think Karlaftis would have been a good fit there, but the Bucs traded out of the first round and he was gone by the time they were up again.
32. Way-too-early prediction: Kansas City Chiefs – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
What happened to the player: Drafted 42nd overall by the Vikings
Actual selection: Minnesota Vikings via Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams – Lewis Cine, S, Georgia
I still wonder if Booth had been healthy enough to run at the combine if he would have pushed his way into the first round. He had a strong career at Clemson and did not go much later than this when the draft actually rolled around. Minnesota will be hoping he can finally put an end to the revolving door they have had at cornerback. The Chiefs came up just short of a third straight trip to the Super Bowl, blowing a lead that prompted them to trade up for some cornerback help in Trent McDuffie.
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