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The NFL regular season is over. That means it’s officially NFL Draft season! With the first 18 picks in the draft order set, we decided to take a crack at projecting those spots in our first mock draft.
1. Indianapolis Colts (projected trade with Bears) – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
We’re starting this NFL mock draft off with a bang. I’ll be writing a longer piece about why the Bears should trade Justin Fields and draft a quarterback, but ultimately I don’t think they have the stones to do it. More likely, they stick with Fields and trade this pick for a stockpile.
Colts GM Chris Ballard already said he would do “whatever it takes” to get a quarterback. Moving up from fourth is certainly doable. Bryce Young is the clear prize of this draft and after years of shuffling washed veterans like Phillip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan into the lineup, it’s time to go get their guy.
2. Houston Texans – CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Houston is going to have to do a lot of homework on the three quarterbacks. If they fall in love with one, they could try to trade up one spot to guarantee they get their guy. However, I think Chicago will get a better offer from a team like the Colts (as projected) or maybe even the Seahawks. So, the Texans take whichever guy they like most here. Right now, I think that will be Stroud.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
A perfect replacement for the now-retired JJ Watt, Arizona gets their pick of the best defensive player in the NFL Draft after quarterbacks go in the top two spots. They could consider Jalen Carter here, but I think they’ll value an edge rusher over an interior defender.
4. Chicago Bears (projected trade with Colts) – Quentin Johnson, WR, TCU
If the Bears ultimately stick with Fields, they have to get some talent around him. That starts here. Chicago has admitted Fields has a ways to go as a passer — what better way to help him than grabbing a 6’4″ monster who can make contested catches and take short passes to the house?
5. Seattle Seahawks – Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Seattle’s defense was laughably bad across the board and they have holes all over the place. Geno Smith isn’t the long-term answer, but I don’t think the Seahawks will fall in love with Will Levis. Instead, they grab one of the top defenders on the board who can beef up their weak interior.
6. Detroit Lions (acquired from Rams) – Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Speaking of laughably bad defenses, that was Detroit in 2022. That’s what really held them back from making the playoffs. Although I don’t think Jared Goff is the answer, he’s shown he can do enough to keep the team competitive. I think it’s important for this franchise to make the playoffs next season and with Aaron Rodgers on a downturn (or possibly heading towards retirement or a new team), the NFC North is available. Because of that, I think they use their two first-round picks to improve their current team and not look as much toward the long-term future by taking a quarterback.
7. Las Vegas Raiders – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Las Vegas has Maxx Crosby on the edge, and he’s a stud. But playing in a division with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert (and Russell Wilson if he remembers how to play football), you need more than one guy. Clelin Ferrell and Chandler Jones are both below average, and the Raiders have an opportunity to upgrade big time. Maybe the Ferrell pick (#4 in 2019) will scare them from taking another Clemson edge rusher, but it shouldn’t.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Atlanta has loaded up on offense the past few drafts, grabbing QB Desmond Ridder, TE Kyle Pitts and WR Drake London. But their defense stinks. They don’t have a single edge rusher ranked in the Top 60 in the NFL according to PFF, so this feels like a no-brainer. They grab the best edge player available, which right now is Wilson.
9. Carolina Panthers – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Like it or not, someone is going to convince themselves that Will Levis is a Top 10 talent. Right now, I think that team is the Panthers. Somehow, they stayed in the NFC South race until Week 17, but you can’t make the playoffs with Sam Darnold. The Baker Mayfield experiment didn’t work. Levis has all the tools of an elite QB, but he hasn’t really shown it on the field. That seems important. Still, teams easily fall in love with tools and the Panthers aren’t exactly the best judge of quarterback talent.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (acquired from Saints) – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Having a Top 10 pick coming off the best regular season in the NFL is such a massive W for Eagles GM Howie Roseman. The Eagles don’t have a ton of weaknesses, obviously, and could look to move this pick for even more draft capital to improve depth. But for now I think they look to get a young, stud CB and they stay in-state to do it. James Bradberry had a good season, but he’s going to be 30 next season and is on a one-year deal. Their other top corner, Darius Slay, is 32.
11. Tennessee Titans – Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
For a team that nearly made the playoffs — literally one play away — the Titans are an actual mess. They have no quarterback, despite drafting one last year. Malik Willis got benched for Josh Dobbs, a guy who was bouncing around practice squads. I think Tennessee adds a veteran like Derek Carr and he’s going to need to be protected. The Titans had arguably the worst offensive line in football. Thanks to the teams ahead of them having bigger needs, the Titans grab the best tackle on the board without a Top 10 pick.
12. Houston Texans (acquired from Cleveland Browns) – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Houston gets its quarterback with the second pick and what better way to make him comfortable than by drafting his teammate? The Texans are bereft of playmakers on the outside, Brandin Cooks is going to demand a trade, and they need an offensive upgrade in the worst way. Smith-Njigba was likely going to be the #1 wide receiver on the board, but an injury-plagued and lost season drops him down to where Houston can scoop him up just outside the Top 10.
13. New York Jets – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
Another team that I think brings in a veteran QB, the Jets aren’t that far from competing. Just like the Titans, their biggest need is on the offensive line. There’s a decent drop-off between Skoronski and Johnson, mostly because Johnson is a former guard who just started playing left tackle this season. But that versatility can be an asset to a team that needs help everywhere up front.
14. Baltimore Ravens (projected trade with Patriots) – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
The Patriots could use an offensive tackle, but with the two top guys off the board, I think they slide down to acquire more capital and get their guy later. Belichick loves stockpiling picks. We saw a pair of trades last season to move up and acquire top-level WRs and I think that’s what we get here. Baltimore badly needs a guy on the outside, so I think they make the move to get the best receiver available.
15. Green Bay Packers – Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Without knowing what’s going to happen with Aaron Rodgers (who has another new girlfriend, by the way), the Packers are a tough team to project. Rashan Gary is a solid edge rusher, but the Packers could use a bookend to round out the front. They love to use their first round picks on defenders and their below-average defense is in need of help. They scoop up one of the better ones still on the board, the senior out of Georgia.
16. Washington Commanders – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The Commanders were held back by terrible QB play, but rookie Sam Howell showed some upside in his lone start. Terry McLaurin is a strong outside threat, so I think Washington tries to grab someone who can exploit the seams and create matchup problems. They get the #1 tight end in the NFL Draft by a wide margin by snagging Mayer.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
Uncharacteristically, the Steelers defense was below average this season. They have their quarterback of the future, and they have weapons at running back, tight end and wide receiver. They could use some offensive line help, but I think that comes later. For now, I think they beef up the defense. Cameron Hayward is strong in the middle, but he’s going to be 34. Chris Wormley is a free agent coming off an ACL tear that will keep him out for the start of next season. Breece is a highly-ranked prospect and this is great value for Pittsburgh at 17.
18. Detroit Lions – Brian Branch, S, Alabama
The Lions defensive overhaul continues. After grabbing a high-level CB talent with their first pick, they stay in the secondary and scoop Branch. Branch will be valuable in the NFL because he will play mostly safety, but can also slide down and guard the slot. The Lions desperately need backend help, as neither of their current safeties rank inside the Top 40 according to PFF.
Stay tuned for updates after Wild Card Weekend gives us six new teams locked into their NFL Draft position!
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ