It has been a long time since I have done a mock draft. With the first 18 picks of the draft officially set, I figured this would be a perfect time to dive back in. I will go through and project all 31 first-round selections soon, (remember the Dolphins forfeited their first round pick for tampering), but I wanted to run through all the picks we already know first. Let’s kick this off with a big trade.
Indianapolis trades 1.4, 2.36, 2024 1st to Chicago for 1.1, 4.103
It seems like a lot, but that’s the price you have to pay to land a franchise quarterback. It’s the only deal I’ve made in this mini mock, so let’s see how the first 18 picks could turn out.
1. Indianapolis Colts via Chicago Bears (3-14) – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
The Bears earning the No. 1 pick opens the door for a really interesting offseason of wondering what they will do with the pick. Chicago could certainly stay put and take the top player on their board. However, this team is more than just one player away and this still puts them in a position to get a talented difference maker while adding more draft capital. For the Colts, they have had a revolving door at quarterback since Andrew Luck retired. Bryce Young would end that carousel. He is undersized, but there are few players who play with the poise the Alabama quarterback brings to the table. He is incredibly consistent and has a great arm. The Colts would finally get their franchise signal caller.
2. Houston Texans (3-13-1) – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
It is hard to fault the Texans for playing for the win, but it could cost them the top quarterback on the board. C.J. Stroud is a hell of a consolation prize. The Ohio State quarterback dominated in 2021 and followed it up with another strong campaign in 2022. He answered a ton of questions scouts had with his performance against Georgia, even in a loss. The question will be how he handles playing without a world class receiving corps. Or will he? Remember the Texans have another first-round pick courtesy of the Deshaun Watson trade.
3. Arizona Cardinals (4-13) – Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
Exit J.J. Watt. Enter Will Anderson Jr. Make no mistake, Anderson will not replace the void left by the future Hall of Famer, if for no other reason than Watt outweighs him by roughly 40 pounds. Anderson would be an outside linebacker in that Cardinals defense. And he has the potential to be a game-changing player. He is one of the most productive edge rushers we have seen in recent memory, racking up sacks and tackles for loss like it was nobody’s business for the Tide. Adding an elite pass rusher like Anderson would go a long way to turning around this Cardinals defense that ranked 24th in sacks this season.
4. Chicago Bears via Indianapolis Colts (4-13) – Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
This is a great scenario for the Bears. Jalen Carter would fill a massive need for Chicago’s defense and is arguably the most talented player in this draft. He is my No. 1 prospect right now, but the gap between him and Anderson is tiny. Putting Carter into a 4-3 scheme would be a great way to maximize his skill set. He does a great job collapsing the pocket and shedding blocks. With that Bears defense in for a major rebuild, Carter would be a fantastic player for Matt Eberflus to build around.
5. Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos (5-12) – Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
Through one year, Seattle seemingly crushed the 2022 NFL draft and won the Russell Wilson trade. The Seahawks rebuilt their offensive line and added a dynamic running back in Kenneth Walker III. However, Seattle still has some room for improvement on their defensive front seven. Bryan Bresee would be a great fit as a 3-tech defensive end for Pete Carroll and company. He has the size and strength to control the line of scrimmage and the speed to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. Putting him on a defensive line featuring Poona Ford and Shelby Harris, who could be a potential cap casualty, would create an exciting unit.
6. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams (5-12) – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
It was a very successful season for the Lions, who wound up right on the cusp of their first playoff berth since 2016. With a pair of first-round picks this year, Detroit is in a real position to push themselves over the edge in 2023. Myles Murphy is a dynamic edge rusher who seems to just be scratching the surface of his potential as a pass rusher. His first step and power to battle with offensive tackles off the edge are impressive. He needs to improve his pass rush planning, but playing under Aaron Glenn and across from Aidan Hutchinson should help unlock his potential.
7. Las Vegas Raiders (6-11) – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
This is going to be a very interesting offseason for the Raiders. Derek Carr’s future is currently up in the air and whatever Las Vegas decides to do with their long-time quarterback will dictate every move they make after that. The likelihood is, Carr will be playing elsewhere next year, which opens up a clear need for a quarterback. There is a chance the Raiders would go after a veteran option, but being in a position to draft a young quarterback is not one I think this front office will pass up. Will Levis is a bit raw, but has some fantastic traits and tools for Josh McDaniels to work with. I think long term, he could be a really solid player for the Raiders and brings a ton of upside to the position.
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10) – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
The Falcons have been searching for pass rushing help for what feels like a decade. Atlanta finished the 2022 season ranked second to last in sacks, tallying just one more than Chicago. While the Falcons have invested in some young options like Arnold Ebeketie and DeAngelo Malone, they need to have someone lead the charge. That could be Tyree Wilson. He is a better run defender than pass rusher at this point, but he had solid production, posting seven sacks each of the past two seasons. I like him best as a 5-technique defensive end, but I think he has the range to be an outside linebacker, especially if he is allowed to play in a more attacking role.
9. Carolina Panthers (7-10) – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Carolina finds itself out of a position to draft a quarterback and perhaps willing to give Sam Darnold one more year to bridge the gap to whoever the long-term answer winds up being for this franchise. While the Panthers have some intriguing young talent on the roster, most of it is on the defensive side of the ball. They need another playmaker on offense, particularly after trading away Christian McCaffrey at the deadline this year. Enter Quentin Johnston, who is bound to make any quarterback better with his catch radius and yards after the catch ability. His 6’4″ frame and breakaway speed make him a matchup nightmare for opposing teams and a unique chess piece for whoever winds up running this Panthers offense next season.
10. Philadelphia Eagles via New Orleans Saints (7-10) – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
It is rare for a team to finish with the No. 1 seed in their conference and a top-10 pick, but that’s where the Eagles find themselves. I would consider selecting an offensive tackle here with Lane Johnson getting older, but Darius Slay is 32 and James Bradberry is a free agent after this season. Both could be back, but the Eagles need to address the position for the long term. Joey Porter Jr. has incredible length that allows him to disrupt passing lanes and break up throws all over the field. He had an impressive season for Penn State and is in the mix to be the first corner selected this year. I will be very interested to see how he runs at the combine, but I love his frame and length.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-10) – Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Seven straight losses saw the Titans go from a contender in the AFC to picking just outside the top 10. Tennessee fired Jon Robinson midseason and now will look to retool this roster for another run at winning the division. Adding Peter Skoronski feels like a good place to start. He turned a lot of heads with his play at Northwestern this season and will be right in the mix to be the first tackle selected come draft time. He would fill a major need for the Titans and hopefully allow the team to maximize whatever time they have left with Derrick Henry in his prime.
12. Houston Texans via Cleveland (7-10) – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
I teased this move during the first Texans pick, but pairing C.J. Stroud with one of his former targets in college feels like a really good way to get him acclimated to the NFL. Jaxon Smith-Njigba will have a number of injury questions to answer after missing pretty much the entire 2022 college season due to a hamstring issue. However, we saw him light it up a season ago when at full strength, leading a Buckeyes team that featured Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Marvin Harrison Jr. in receiving yards and touchdowns. He is a reliable playmaker who can line up in the slot or out wide. Houston desperately needs receiver help as well, so this feels like an obvious move.
13. New York Jets (7-10) – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Jets feel like they are a quarterback away from competing with the best in the AFC. They knocked off the Bills this season and seemed poised to snap their league-leading 12-season playoff drought. Instead, the offense went from average to anemic down the stretch and New York failed to score a touchdown in its final three games. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s future is uncertain at the moment as is the outlook for the Jets at quarterback. I imagine the team will opt for a veteran rather than rolling the dice on Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. If that is the case, Joe Douglas needs to ensure whoever is throwing passes has time to do so. Paris Johnson Jr. could step in at either tackle or guard from Day 1 and provide some much-needed stability. He has the experience and versatility to be invaluable to this New York offense.
14. New England Patriots (8-9) – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Mac Jones took a clear step backward this season. The blame for that could belong to a number of factors ranging from questionable coaching to a lack of weapons. Don’t overlook the impact of poor protection either. New England finished the season 17th in pass block win rate as Jones had the 12th-highest sack rate in the league. For a quarterback that struggles with mobility, pass protection is crucial. Broderick Jones should help resolve some of the protection issues. He is slated to suit up for Georgia again in the National Championship Game. He has started every game at left tackle for the Dawgs this year after starting the final four games of the regular season in 2021. He has faced elite competition and more than held his own. He could start at right tackle next season for New England or even left tackle if Trent Brown is a cap casualty.
15. Green Bay Packers (8-9) – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Aaron Rodgers needs more weapons. Plain and simple. They invested a good amount of draft capital at receiver this past year with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs and you could still argue for more. However, I think tight end is a clear spot to upgrade here, especially with the top one in this class on the board. Mayer is well-rounded and brings the prototypical size to the table at 6’4″, 250 lbs. His production was elite as far as college tight ends go. He topped 2,000 yards in his career and hauled in 18 touchdown catches. Adding him will improve the running game as well. I really like this move for Green Bay.
16. Washington Commanders (8-9) – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
What should the Commanders do at quarterback? Carson Wentz is as good as gone. Taylor Heinicke has not been consistent enough to win the job. Sam Howell showed a little something against the Cowboys, but not enough to dissuade the Commanders from selecting someone else. Especially if that someone else has the upside of Anthony Richardson. The former Florida quarterback has absurd athleticism and one of the strongest arms we have seen recently. However, he is very raw and will need to improve his passing mechanics and footwork if he is going to succeed at the next level. Washington can rely on Heinicke to bridge the gap until Richardson is ready.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8) – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Mike Tomlin very nearly dragged this team into the playoffs. While he came up short, he showed that the Steelers are closer to competing than we originally thought. Pittsburgh has some clear holes though and with the top three tackles off the board, I think corner is a good move. Christian Gonzalez is a long, rangy corner who bounced back after a rough start to the year and impressed scouts with his play in the Pac-12. They won’t need him to cover for too long either, just long enough for T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith or Cam Heyward to get home.
18. Detroit Lions (9-8) – Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
The Lions defensive makeover continues, this time on the backend with a tall corner. Smith measures at 6’0″ and is coming off a 2nd-team All-SEC season with South Carolina. He has some solid numbers in his career with 6 interceptions and 18 pass breakups. I’m excited to watch more of him in this draft cycle. He could create a very fun tandem with Jeff Okudah in that Detroit secondary. The Lions defense played better down the stretch, but this team would have been in the postseason if it was not giving up 30 or more points per game to open the season.
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