Merry Christmas! I mean, Happy Draft Day! For those of us that love the NFL draft, this does feel a bit like Christmas morning. With the anticipation of waiting to find out where all of these prospects will land and which one will end up holding up our favorite team’s jersey, it’s hard not to feel like you are just waiting to open your presents.
To celebrate, I had to put together my final mock draft of the year. Unlike the mock I dropped on Monday, this is what I would do if I were the general manager for each team, not what I anticipate will happen tonight.
Reminder, the first round is only 31 picks this year because the Dolphins were penalized their first-round selection for tampering. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my final mock for the 2023 draft!
1. Carolina Panthers via Chicago Bears – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
I know Young does not have the size of a prototypical quarterback, but he plays the position as a point guard. He describes it that way himself. You can see it in the way he approaches the position. He is a distributor with excellent leadership skills, great arm strength and impressive ball placement. He is exactly what the Panthers need to kickstart their rebuild.
2. Houston Texans – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
For all the waffling about what the Texans will or won’t do tonight, I think this should be a no-brainer. Stroud is an excellent passer with the athleticism to play the position in a modern NFL offense. He has excellent touch on his passes and more than enough zip to reach every part of the field. There is no doubt he will need to improve the mental side of his game, most notably reading defenses and post-snap progression, but I think he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
There has been a lot of buzz about the Cardinals trading out of this spot. That would probably be the best move, but I wanted to avoid projecting trades in this mock. Plus, as I wrote in my final player rankings, Anderson is the player in this draft I feel most confident in reaching the Hall of Fame from this draft class. He is a great athlete with incredible collegiate production. He will need to introduce some more varied pass-rush moves to truly thrive in the NFL, but I really like his upside. He would be a great building block for Arizona’s defense.
4. Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Let’s make this clear, Richardson is one of the least pro-ready quarterbacks in this class. He is inconsistent and inaccurate, two traits no NFL quarterback should have. That being said, he also has the highest ceiling of arguably any player in this class. He has elite arm strength, good anticipation and unbelievable mobility. His ability as a runner will make him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league. However, he needs a coaching staff that will be patient with him. I think a first-year coach like Shane Steichen gives Richardson the best chance to be successful long-term.
5. Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos – Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
The Seahawks have been burned by players with character concerns before, but I think Carter is worth the gamble. He is a dominant force on the interior and exactly the type of impact player the Seahawks need in their defense. His play strength is impressive and he is very capable of collapsing the pocket. The production has not quite been there to this point in college.
6. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams – Devon Weatherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Lions have invested in their secondary this offseason, but there is still room to add. Especially, after trading away Jeff Okudah, taking Weatherspoon would give Detroit a true No. 1 corner to lead this group. He is an aggressive corner with decent size and length. I think Dan Campbell will really like what he brings to that table.
7. Las Vegas Raiders – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Corner could definitely be an option, but I think Wilson is the best defensive player on the board. He is long and dynamic off the edge. He will be an asset in the run game from Day 1 and has the skill set to develop into a really strong pass rusher. The Raiders would love to pair him with Maxx Crosby after the Chandler Jones experiment failed so miserably.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Atlanta has been searching for an edge rusher for years now. In this scenario, they wouldn’t have to look too far from their own backyard to find Smith. He absolutely flies off the edge, posting an absurd 4.39 40 time at the combine. He is coming off a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season, but should be ready to contribute right away in the NFL.
9. Chicago Bears via Carolina Panthers – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
If I am the Bears, I am doing everything I can to protect Justin Fields. That means taking the best offensive tackle on the board. Johnson is a former teammate of Fields as well. He is a smooth mover with good power and above average athleticism. I think he will be a Day 1 starter in Chicago.
10. Philadelphia Eagles via New Orleans Saints – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Yes, the Eagles brought back Darius Slay and James Bradberry for another run. However, they don’t really have the future at the position figured out. As we saw last year, Howie Roseman likes to plan ahead. Porter has incredibly long arms and a good awareness for the position. I think he could be a lockdown corner in a couple of years.
11. Tennessee Titans – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
I toyed with the idea of taking a quarterback here, but I think Tennessee needs to rebuild this roster in a big way. How much better would adding Hendon Hooker make them? I don’t think he would be in a position to impact much with a lackluster offensive line and few reliable playmakers on the offense. Adding Jones would give the Titans a long-term solution at left tackle with great length and athleticism.
12. Houston Texans via Cleveland – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
If you want to make your rookie quarterback comfortable, adding one of his college receivers seems like a good place to start. Smith-Njigba is coming off an injury-plagued season, but he is an incredible route runner with good quickness and versatility. He can line up outside or in the slot. With Houston trading away Brandin Cooks this offseason, adding more pass catcher should be high on the to-do list.
13. Green Bay Packers via New York Jets – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The Packers are suddenly flush with draft capital. Good thing too, because they need to put weapons around Jordan Love. With Robert Tonyan gone, Mayer would be the top tight end on the roster from the moment he arrives in the facility. He is a proven receiver who should have no problem contributing to a running game that features two of the better backs in the league.
14. New England Patriots – Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
As a Jets fan, I never want the Patriots to get better. This is especially hard here because I am a big fan of Banks. He is a sticky corner with great speed. His technique needs a bit of refining, but I believe he has all the tools to be a No. 1 corner. New England could use a boost in their secondary. Banks would pair nicely with Jack Jones and give this defense an exciting young cornerback tandem.
15. New York Jets via Green Bay Packers – Peter Skoronski, G, Northwestern
I would have preferred Paris Johnson Jr. or Broderick Jones be on the board in this spot. The Jets have a clear need at left tackle and I worry about Skoronski’s ability to handle long edge rushers given his short arms. That being said, I think he is going to be an All-Pro guard at the next level. New York’s offensive line was decimated by injuries last year. There are much worse things than adding a player capable of lining up at truly any position on the line. Skoronski was a high school center before moving to tackle at Northwestern.
16. Washington Commanders – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Kendall Fuller is in the final year of his contract and Benjamin St-Juste has still yet to truly prove himself as a starting corner. Gonzalez would be a Day 1 starter with good size, speed and positional awareness. His biggest knock is that he needs to get stronger. Too often, he was bullied by bigger receivers in college. If he can find a way to increase his play strength without compromising his movement skills too much, I think Gonzalez is going to be a hell of a player.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
With the top four corners off the board, offensive tackle makes so much sense for the Steelers. Wright has experience at both tackle positions, but seems best-suited to start on the right side. He is powerful and experienced. He will need some technical fine-tuning, specifically with hand placement and pad level, but he should wind up being a huge upgrade Pittsburgh.
18. Detroit Lions – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
In my opinion, the Lions should continue to invest in their defense. Adding Murphy opposite Aidan Hutchinson would give Detroit another athletic edge rusher capable of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Murphy is still a bit raw, but had good production at Clemson. His physical traits are fantastic and I fully expect him to be a three-down player in the future.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Tampa seems to lack a true succession plan to Tom Brady. Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask don’t inspire a ton of confidence. Bringing in Hooker would give them a potential long-term solution. He is coming off a torn ACL, but has told teams he will be ready for Week 1. Ironically, he is the same age as Trask, so the Bucs would not be getting younger at the position, but Hooker should be a much better pro than the former Florida quarterback. He has a great deep ball and is a better athlete than people give him credit for. He will need to show he can consistently hit the target every week to be a successful starter, but I like the idea of him competing with Mayfield for the starting job.
20. Seattle Seahawks – Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Seattle has shown they have no problem doubling down when they have a position that needs addressing. In 2022, they invested two top 50 selections at offensive tackle. This year, it should be on the defensive line. Adding Carter solves some problems on the interior. Van Ness can play on the edge and give the Seahawks a nightmarish front to deal with. I think he has the size and strength to play the LEO position in this defense. Van Ness is still a little bit green, but his power and drive are clear when you put on his tape. I think Pete Carroll will love getting him in the building.
21. Los Angeles Chargers – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
At long last, Robinson comes off the board. With Austin Ekeler rumored to be on the move, Robinson could be his successor and a potential upgrade. That is saying something when the player he would be replacing scored 38 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Robinson is an impressive runner with great elusiveness and power. He is a receiving threat out of the backfield as well. I don’t think Justin Herbert would mind having Robinson to shoulder some of the load on offense.
22. Baltimore Ravens – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Baltimore needs to find more playmakers. Flowers is about as reliable as they come. He produced solid numbers at BC despite mediocre quarterback play. His size will be a concern for some teams and could pose some problems, but I trust in his ability to separate and find space against zone defenses. If the Ravens are going to sell Lamar Jackson on returning to the team, finding him a new safety blanket would probably help the pitch.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Should the Vikings be in the market for a quarterback? It seems like this new front office is laying the groundwork to find Kirk Cousins’ successor. The more I think about it too, the more I like the idea of Levis going to a situation where he would not have to start right away. He has a rocket for an arm, but lacks a lot of the refining that an NFL passer needs to be successful. He will also need to learn how to better protect his body because he is one of the most reckless runners I have ever seen at the quarterback position. I could see him having long-term success though playing in Kevin O’Connell’s offense.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars – Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
One of my favorite players in this draft, Brents is a long corner with great fluidity. He dominated the combine and has some solid tape to back it up. I think he has the tools to develop into a high-level starter within his first few years in the league. For the Jaguars, finding another big body to start opposite Tyson Campbell would only make the talented front seven of this defense more lethal.
25. New York Giants – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
With many of the top corners off the board, I think the Giants have to pivot to receiver here. Addison is a polished route runner with elite college production. It helped that he played with Kenny Pickett and Caleb Williams, but there is a reason he was their go-to target. That is exactly what Daniel Jones needs. A player he can look to when it is third down and New York needs to convert. With his ability to line up inside or outside, I like Addison’s fit in Brian Daboll’s offense.
26. Dallas Cowboys – Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
With Dalton Schultz leaving in free agency, the Cowboys have a pretty big hole at tight end. Kincaid is not a true like-for-like replacement, but he would be another receiving option in a Dallas offense that seemed to lack them at times in 2022. Kincaid is best-suited to be a slot or hybrid-type player, who is not asked to block much. I’m not quite sure that fits Mike McCarthy’s vision for the position, but Kincaid would definitely help Dak Prescott get back on track this season.
27. Buffalo Bills – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Buffalo has some good playmakers already in this offense. However, they don’t have a player with the size and speed of Johnston. He is a big play threat any time he touches the football and he has a great catch radius. With Stefon Diggs getting older and Gabe Davis in a contract year, adding Johnston gives the Bills a short-term boost with long-term value.
28. Cincinnati Bengals – Steve Avila, G, TCU
Back-to-back TCU players off the board is not something you see very often, especially in the first round. I am in the camp that believes Joe Burrow still needs more protection. Jonah Williams demanded a trade and seems to have no interest in playing guard. Avila could slot in at left guard from Day 1 and immediately improve this offensive line. He is a great pass blocker and would be playing in one of the best passing offenses in the league.
29. New Orleans Saints via San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos – Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
Marcus Davenport is gone. Cam Jordan turns 34 in July. The Saints need some help along the front seven. McDonald turned a lot of heads at the combine, but I feel like the buzz around him has cooled down a bit. He had great production at Iowa State, with 34 career sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss. He is also a great athlete. I think he would be a great fit as a defensive end for New Orleans.
30. Philadelphia Eagles – Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
Two running backs in the first round??? I know the Eagles typically don’t invest first-round picks at the position, but there is a ton of value in being able to exercise that fifth-year option. Plus, this is their second selection of the round. Gibbs is a home run hitter with great receiving skills. He would be a nightmare to deal with a zone-read scheme. If there is any hesitation from the defense about who to carry, Jalen Hurts or Gibbs, the latter can turn the corner and you will never catch him.
31. Kansas City Chiefs – Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Chiefs trade out of this spot if the board falls this way. With a run on receivers, corners and edge rushers, Kansas City can look to the future. Chris Jones is in the final year of his contract and Derrick Nnadi has yet to make much of an impact. The future at defensive tackle is murky at best. Adding Bresee would give the Chiefs an athletic prospect to develop.
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