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The Carolina Panthers have the first pick but the intrigue to the 2023 NFL Draft begins Thursday evening with the Houston Texans at No. 2. And what they will do is a mystery.
Do the Texans pass on Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud as the persistent rumors suggest? Do they trade the pick? Do they make the pick and trade it? And what about that relationship between Texans GM Nick Caserio and Las Vegas GM Dave Ziegler, dating back to their years with the Patriots?
Then what happens to the other top quarterbacks in this draft? Who falls to the Colts? Everyone says they go with Will Levis, which is a real thing based on what sources are whispering. But this mock goes a different direction.
In Tennessee, new GM Ran Carthon wants to emerge from this draft with a quarterback if he can. And the Eagles, who need help along both their offensive and defensive lines, are threatening to pick … a running back.
This is my annual mock draft. It’s Version 1.
There will not be a Version 2.0.
Bryce Young The No. 1 Overall Pick
1. Carolina (from Chicago): QB Bryce Young (Alabama) — He’s 5-foot-10 and that is seriously concerning for multiple reasons, but he never struggled finding passing lanes and showed durability playing in the SEC. Plus his intangibles, leadership, confidence, and maturity are off the charts.
2. Las Vegas (in mock draft trade with Houston): QB C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) — The Texans have been a mystery because they’ve been lukewarm about Stroud. But they’ve been open about the idea of taking calls to trade down. Yes, they could also take Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson. But the lure of adding a good player plus a first-round pick is tempting. One more thing, watch out for Atlanta moving here as well. And why Stroud to Vegas? Because he’s arguably the best QB prospect in the draft and Jimmy Garoppolo is not the forever QB for the Raiders.
3. Arizona: Edge Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech) — The Cardinals would love to trade down and add more picks because they are definitely in rebuild mode and know that with a new coach, new GM, and injury to QB Kyler Murray, that 2023 is going to be a looong year. But with Stroud gone, it’s going to be a struggle to get someone to trade up for Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. So the Cards pick the best edge guy on the board and fill a need.
4. Indianapolis: QB Anthony Richardson (Florida) — Perhaps the most gifted arm in the draft. Certainly the most athletic quarterback in the draft. And those accuracy issues you’ve heard about are overstated. New coach Shane Steichen helped develop Justin Herbert in Los Angeles and then helped develop Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia.
Jalen Carter Floor Is Seahawks
5. Seattle (from Denver): DL Jalen Carter (Georgia) — The Seahawks are swinging for the fences and take perhaps the most talented but troubled player in the top 10. Carter can dominate any given play. But one scout noted he’s prone to taking some plays off, has a roller coaster personality and the legal issues are a concern. Despite this, his talent is simply too much to resist.
6. Detroit (from Los Angeles Rams): Will Anderson (Alabama) — His ceiling is nowhere as high as Carter but his floor is not quite so low because he’s simply a good player, with good character, good tape and good measurables. He’s, in a word. good. Teamed with Aidan Hutchinson on the other side of the line, the Lions’ pass rush will present problems.
7. Houston (In mock draft trade with Las Vegas): QB Will Levis (Kentucky) — I’m not a fan of the Texans’ draft because I would take Stroud. But Houston absolutely, positively cannot depart this first round without a starting quarterback prospect. And with Atlanta and Tennessee coming up, the possibility would be real if they don’t act here.
8. Atlanta: CB Devon Witherspoon (Illinois) — The Falcons have done a lot of work on their defense this offseason but it is definitely not complete. They need a pass rusher, even with the addition of Calais Campbell. They need an elite corner because the addition of former first-round Jeff Okudah might only be a one-year move. Witherspoon goes here, he instantly gives the Falcons a cornerback room with versatility as well as talent.
Bears Going To Paris … Johnson
9. Chicago (from Carolina): OT Paris Johnson (Ohio State) — The Bears allowed 58 quarterback sacks last year. And in an offseason designed to insulate third-year quarterback Justin Fields from failure, addressing that issue is a must. The Bears are going offensive line here regardless who the pick is.
10. Philadelphia (from New Orleans): OT Broderick Jones (Georgia) — I want to slot running back Bijan Robinson here because he is outstanding and they love him. But this is no longer the same league in which Todd Gurley was once a prize at No. 10. The Eagles want to trade down and pick up more picks because that’s what GM Howie Rosen does as well as anyone. Failing that, they pick the young Jones, who has the highest upside among the top three offensive tackles.
11. Tennessee: QB Hendon Hooker (Tennessee) — They would love to trade down from this perch to get more value because Hooker should not go this early. But make no mistake that new Titans general manager Ran Carthon would love to come out of the first round with his future QB because Ryan Tannehill’s has only one year remaining on his contract and the Titans have concerns whether Malik Willis can develop quickly enough.
12. Houston (from Cleveland): Edge Nolan Smith (Georgia) — He ran a 4.39 time in the 40 yard dash at the combine. Let that sink in. Because he’s as fast or faster than most receivers but is chasing the quarterback in a 238-pound frame. The beauty here for the Texans is they get their QB and a playmaker on defense, which will look like a great first round for them if it plays out.
Fallout From Aaron Rodgers Trade
13. Green Bay (from New York Jets in Aaron Rodgers trade): TE Michael Mayer (Notre Dame) — The truth is Mayer isn’t the best prospect in a loaded tight end class but he’s probably the most complete in that Dalton Kincaid comes with better pass-catching traits but inferior blocking ability. Mayer is a plug-and-play inline tight end who might be Jordan Love’s best friend in a pinch when Green Bay’s new starter needs to absolutely get rid of the football.
14. New England: OT Darnell Wright (Tennessee) — I wanted to mock Zay Flowers here because the Patriots have had great success with smaller wide receivers in their time and Bill Belichick believes a smaller receiver can be a great asset regardless of size. But the problem is Mac Jones needs to be upright to complete passes and Riley Reiff starting at RT for 17 games, much less longterm is not realistic.
15. New York Jets (from Green Bay Packers in Aaron Rodgers trade): OL Peter Skoronski (Northwestern) — They moved down to this pick in the Aaron Rodgers trade and now the Jets want to protect Rodgers. The best way to do that is by picking Skoronski, who projects as a right tackle once he develops but can move inside and play immediately.
16. Washington: CB Joey Porter (Penn State) — The Commanders need a quarterback but their stated confidence in Sam Howell is now going to be put to the test as they cannot reach for one here. Maybe in a trade down? Anyway, Porter is big (6-2 1/2), fast enough (4.46) and productive enough to factor almost immediately.
17. Pittsburgh: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State) — The Steelers have been amazing over the years finding great wide receiver talent later in drafts. But this draft is by all accounts thin at receiver so general manager Omar Khan gets QB Kenny Pickett the best prospect at the position who comes with quickness, body control and great coaching.
Draft Feeds Christian To Lions
18. Detroit: Cornerback Christian Gonzalez (Oregon) — The last time the Lions invested heavily in the cornerback spot it didn’t work out. Early pick Jeff Okudah was often injured and is in Atlanta now. So the Lions address their need with a long, smooth, physical corner with very good ball skills.
19. Tampa Bay: RT Anton Harrison (Oklahoma) — Red alert, red alert! Everyone on Earth has the Bucs taking Wright or Jones or some other tackle. The problem is this mock correctly and brilliantly has those guys going earlier because protecting the QB is kind of important. So the Bucs will be trying desperately to trade down or pluck the best player available which likely is CB Deonte Banks.
20. Seattle: DL Myles Murphy (Clemson) — The Seahawks would love to trade down from here but if Murphy is there when they select, they are the floor for him being drafted. And this selection effectively remakes the entire defensive line that was in part responsible for the team allowing 150 rush yards per game last season, the third-worst mark in the NFL.
21. Miami (Choice Forfeited) — They broke NFL tampering rules by trying to lure both Tom Brady and Sean Payton when both were under contract to other teams. They got neither Payton nor Brady but lose this pick.
Bijan Robinson Makes Ekeler Potential Short-timer
21. Los Angeles Chargers: Bijan Robinson (Texas) — The Chargers want to add receiver help but this pick gives them the best running back in the draft who can take over when/if Austin Eckeler moves on in trade or after the season as a free agent. And Robinson has shown a great ability to play in the slot and arguably had the best hands of any player on the Longhorns offense.
22. Baltimore: Zay Flowers (Boston College) — The Ravens are eager to find weapons for Lamar Jackson — yes, they believe he’s going to be their QB in 2023 barring a major stunner — and this plus the free agent addition of Odell Beckham Jr. makes the offense potentially very dynamic.
23. Minnesota: CB Deonte Banks (Maryland) — His tape suggests he’s a bit of a liability in man coverage but is quite comfortable and productive in zone. That makes him an interesting pick because new defensive coordinator Brian Flores grew up teaching man press and using zero blitzes behind all out pressure up front.
24. Jacksonville: CB Emmanuel Forbes (Mississippi State) — The Shaquille Griffin experiment flamed out when a back injury derailed the big free agent addition from 2021. So there’s a need here even though the Jaguars have reached that stage in development where they can bypass need and go with best player available.
New York’s Other Team Gets Its Turn
25. New York Giants: WR Jordan Addison (USC) — They want to find playmakers for newly minted franchise QB Daniel Jones. And because this is not a year with an abundance of receiver talent, the move here with Addison probably comes a bit earlier than his draft grade suggests. The Giants also reportedly have interest Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt.
26. Dallas Cowboys: TE Dalton Kincaid (Utah) — Pass catching tight end Dalton Schultz got too expensive and left in free agency so in comes a potential upgrade in that Kincaid is a bigger matchup problem in space. He’s not a good blocker at this stage, but scouts believe he’s willing.
27. Buffalo Bills: WR Quentin Johnston (TCU) — Whatever the pick here, the Bills will be addressing a glaring need that showed up late last season or in the offseason. The offensive line late last year was unable to run block consistently. The receiver group, beyond Stefon Diggs was disappointing. And middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds left via free agency, leaving a void. So think WR, MLB, OL here. Johnston has elite physical tools but didn’t quite live up to that on tape.
28. Cincinnati: CB D.J. Turner (Michigan) — The Bengals lost both starting safeties in free agency and moved on from cornerback Eli Apple, at least for now, as he remains unsigned. So the secondary is glowing in neon as an area of need. Unfortunately 1990s Deion Sanders is not available so the Bengals might wish to trade down before addressing the issue with a player such as Turner, who is a solid second-round prospect.
Two Running Backs In The First Round
29. New Orleans (from San Francisco through Miami and Denver): Edge Lukas Van Ness (Iowa) — He’s a perfect No. 2 pass rusher who fits perfectly with Cameron Jordan on the other side. Van Ness is actually a great value here but he needs to find moves beyond the power rush.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama) — He runs a 4.36 and catches the football with ease while rarely if ever fumbling. All those traits make him perfect for an Eagles run attack that will be headed by Rashaad Penny.
31. Kansas City: Edge Keion White (Georgia Tech) — The Chiefs always hope to find another offensive weapon for Andy Reid to deploy but truth is they gave up three touchdowns per game last season and could probably use more depth and rotation flexibility on the defensive line. White, still developing but seemingly capable of playing both outside and as an inside pass rusher, fits the bill.
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