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Well, ladies and gentlemen, the time has almost come. After all the speculation and conjecture, the NFL Draft begins tonight. If you’ve been following along with my mock draft coverage since January, you’ll notice some big changes. Even from the most recent version.
If you want more information on any of the players below, check out my latest NFL Draft Big Board.
Reminder — the Miami Dolphins forfeited their first-round pick as punishment from the league for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton, which is why there are 31 picks and not 32.
1. Carolina Panthers (acquired from Bears) – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
It seems Carolina finally came to its senses and are poised to pick my #1 player in this year’s draft, Bryce Young. Yes, Young has size limitations but he’s the best prospect available and the Panthers badly need a quarterback. This is a no-brainer.
2. Houston Texans – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
To be perfectly honest, the worst thing the Houston Texans can do is stay here and take a defensive player. They should take a quarterback, CJ Stroud preferably, or trade down. But I believe they do not love Stroud, and quite frankly, no team really wants to move into this spot. That’s the theme of this NFL Draft. Everyone wants to move down because the top of the draft is rather weak. Without a trade partner, though, new head coach DeMeco Ryans — a defensive coach — gets a cornerstone edge rusher. Though Will Anderson is safer, Wilson’s ceiling is much higher.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
The Cardinals face the same problem that the Texans face: all they want to do is dance (trade down) but can’t find anyone to dance with. Carter has red flags all over the place (legal issues, weight issues), but if Arizona is forced to stay here and make a pick, they might as well take a big swing. There’s a chance he’s the best player in this draft if he corrects all the issues. That’s a big IF, but at #3 the Cardinals take the risk.
4. Indianapolis Colts – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
I believe Indianapolis senses that they’ll have an opportunity to draft either Will Levis or CJ Stroud without giving up capital, so they stay put. It seems Levis is the guy, and that’s not surprising. He looks every bit the part of a franchise NFL quarterback. Stroud, to me, is a better player. But the Colts aren’t exactly the best evaluators of quarterback talent, as evidenced over the past few seasons, so they take Levis.
5. Seattle Seahawks (acquired from Broncos) – Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
Despite the quarterbacks not exactly flying off-the-board, I think Seattle still likes its spot. They’re almost certainly going to get one of Wilson, Carter or Anderson. In this scenario, the only one left is Anderson. That’s fine for them and they’d be happy to select to him here.
6. Detroit Lions (acquired from Rams) – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
This mock draft is an absolute disaster for Detroit. They want the quarterbacks to go, leaving them with their choice of defensive player. But in this scenario, all three guys I think they really want are gone. Many people believe Detroit is taking a cornerback, but I don’t agree with that assessment. They massively upgraded their entire secondary in free agency. Robinson is an elite prospect and Detroit is drafting from a position of strength. They add an elite prospect — albeit in a non-premium position — though probably earlier than they would like.
7. Las Vegas Raiders – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Raiders appear comfortable with Jimmy Garoppolo and head coach Josh McDaniels is not interested in rebuilding. Using this pick on a quarterback seems less likely by the day. Their secondary is bad and with this pick they have their selection of the best cornerback on the board. Personally, I think that’s Joey Porter. But teams like Witherspoon and Gonzalez more. Because it’s the Raiders and they love speed, I have them taking the kid that showed elite athleticism at the scouting combine.
8. Atlanta Falcons – CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
I’ve not had the Falcons taking a quarterback once throughout this draft season, but with Stroud still on the board, Atlanta has to pull the trigger. The Falcons met with Stroud on the very last day for teams to meet with players, which likely means they feel he could be available — something they probably didn’t believe earlier in the process. Desmond Ridder didn’t show enough last year to guarantee the Falcons don’t take a quarterback and they only invested a third-round pick so moving on isn’t out of the question.
9. Tennessee Titans (mock trade with Bears) – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
The Bears trade down, again, because the Titans panic that some team is going to jump them and take a quarterback. I think they want to trade Ryan Tannehill and they know Malik Willis isn’t going to work. But they clearly like big, athletic quarterbacks and Richardson is a much better version than Willis. Plus, they can keep Willis as the backup without having to change the offense much. Just like the Falcons, they move on from their former third-round quarterback.
10. Houston Texans (mock trade with Eagles) – Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Houston has holes all over the roster, but the Texans cannot select twice in the first 12 picks and not get a quarterback. If they don’t take one at #2, it’s because they think they can get a guy at #12. But after Stroud and Richardson go at #8 and #9, the only one left is Hendon Hooker. They can’t risk another team jumping up so they do it themselves. Houston walks away from the first round of the NFL Draft with a difference-maker on defense and a difference-maker on offense — which should be their exact goal on Thursday night.
11. Chicago Bears (mock trade with Titans) – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Bears should acquire as much capital as possible and surround Justin Fields with the best talent they can. Though I don’t think he’s long-term answer at quarterback, they need to find that out as soon as possible. Although the Bears offensive line was actually much better last year than most realize, getting a franchise left tackle is a need. With no offensive lineman selected to this point, the Bears get their choice of the best on the board. That’s Johnson.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (mock trade with Texans) – Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
Not only does Philadelphia have two first round picks coming off a Super Bowl appearance, but the Eagles trade down and add more capital. That’s how you build a yearly contender. They need to replace Javon Hargrave, who left in free agency, and Bresee is a perfect fit. Bresee needs a coaching staff that can help him finally translate his massive physical gifts into on-field success. What better place to go than the first team to have four players record 10+ sacks in a season? Match made in heaven.
13. Green Bay Packers (acquired from Jets) – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
With no wide receivers selected yet, Green Bay gets its choice. Smith-Njigba is the perfect complement to Christian Watson. Watson can burn on the outside and Smith-Njigba is going to be incredible in the middle of the field. It’s a great fit for both parties. Plus, it’s a nice eff you to Aaron Rodgers. The Packers famously never picked a skill-position player in the first round during Rodgers’ tenure. So, they trade Rodgers and use that pick to draft a wide receiver. Hilarious.
14. New England Patriots – Brian Branch, S, Alabama
Branch to the Patriots is a perfect match and the reason they didn’t sign Jessie Bates in free agency. Branch is a Belichick-type player and can captain the defense for years. Some people think this might be a reach, but I don’t. Branch is one of the more underrated players in this year’s NFL Draft.
15. New York Jets (acquired from Packers) – Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
Skoronski’s short arms may prevent him from being a franchise left tackle, but that’s OK for New York. He’s polished and NFL-ready, plus versatile enough to move around the line. Left tackle Mekhi Becton is coming off a season-ending injury, as is guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. Right tackle Max Mitchell is dealing with blood clots. Skoronski can fill-in for any of them should they need it, or could find a home at left guard where Laken Tomlinson struggled should everyone else stay healthy.
16. Washington Commanders – Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Commanders lack a true #1 corner and I think Porter Jr. is a better fit. But, the NFL community seems to be more behind Witherspoon. I’m skeptical because he only had one great year in college and didn’t test all that well at the scouting combine. Still, they need secondary help a lot of big defensive backs are still on the board. Good spot for Washington.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Joey Porter Jr, CB, Penn State
The run on cornerbacks starts as the Steelers also need help on the backend of their defense. Joey Porter Sr. is beloved in Pittsburgh and now they have the opportunity to draft his son, who played locally at Penn State, too. This is another great fit.
18. Detroit Lions – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
After taking Robinson with their first pick, the Lions turn to the defense. Murphy has great pedigree and incredible size and athleticism. He didn’t quite live up to expectations at Clemson, but could be a good defensive end at the NFL level. This is tremendous value for the Lions in this spot and they walk away from the first round of the NFL Draft with a great prospect on each side of the ball.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
This NFL Draft goes perfectly for Tampa Bay, as several offensive lineman fall to this spot. Outside of Tristen Wirfs, the Bucaneers O-line was brutal last season. The Buccaneers need help everywhere and after signing Baker Mayfield, they really need to protect him. The only thing worse than having Baker Mayfield as your starting quarterback is having an unprotected Baker Mayfield as your starting quarterback. Darnell Wright is a “big riser” this NFL Draft season, which should make anyone nervous, but the tools are undeniable.
20. Seattle Seahawks – Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
After grabbing an edge rusher at #5, the Seahawks snag a cornerback. They need to overhaul their terrible defense. In today’s NFL, teams have to rush the passer and defend receivers. So, Seattle addresses both, which were major problems for the team in 2022.
21. Los Angeles Chargers – Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
I’ll stick with Nolan Smith to the Chargers, a change made in my last mock draft. Los Angeles just cannot pass on him at #21. Smith showed out at the Combine and is a former #1 recruit out of high school (Class of 2019). He adds speed and athleticism to a defensive line that needs it.
22. Baltimore Ravens – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
This is a great mock draft for the Baltimore Ravens who badly want to draft a top-flight receiver. In this iteration, the only one off the board is Smith-Njigba. Johnston’s speed-size combination is perfect for the Ravens after signing Odell Beckham. Plus, it shows Lamar Jackson that they are committed to getting him help this year. They need to repair that relationship.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Another defense that held back a team last year, Minnesota has to revamp quickly. The NFC North is still ripe for the taking and the Vikings are in position to grab it. Though they’d probably like someone with a little more experience, it’s hard to argue with Van Ness’ raw physical traits. He adds some speed, grit and toughness to a defense that lacked all three last season.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
I can’t see any way that the Jaguars don’t use this pick to address their offensive line issues and there are four guys deserving of going in the fourth round. With three off the board, the Jags snap up the last one remaining in Jones.
25. New York Giants – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
After signing Daniel Jones, tagging Saquon Barkley, and trading for Darren Waller the Giants … still need wide receivers. It’s the worst-kept secret in the NFL. Ideally, they need a threat on the outside and I don’t rule out the idea that they try to trade up and grab Johnston. But if not, they can stay here and take Flowers. He’s good with the ball in his hands and great in space, so adding him to a team that needs guys who can make plays makes a lot of sense.
26. Dallas Cowboys – Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas
Sanders is a former top high school player out of Texas, so this would be an incredible homecoming for him. I love the fit, too, because Dallas’ linebacker play was nothing short of horrendous this past season. Linebacker isn’t the best value in the first round, but this late they can get away with it. Plus Sanders tested well at Arkansas’ Pro Day and no college linebacker in this class was more productive than him.
27. Buffalo Bills – Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
There’s a decent chance Kancey doesn’t get this far because of his incredible combine, but in this version he does. If that’s the case, Buffalo should sprint to the podium. Their defensive line got pushed around against the Bengals in the playoffs and Cincinnati’s offensive line wasn’t great. The Bills need someone to help control the line of scrimmage, making Kancey a great fit.
28. Cincinnati Bengals – Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
Everyone thinks Cincinnati is going to take a tight end in this spot, but that would be a mistake. Tight ends are notoriously bad first-round value in the NFL Draft and the Bengals can get a good one in the second round or later. They really have to address their secondary issues and this is a great draft to do it. Cam Smith could be a much higher pick in a leaner year for DBs, but this class is stacked. Because of that, the Bengals can still get a good one late in the first round.
29. New Orleans Saints (acquired from Denver Broncos, via Miami Dolphins, originally from San Francisco 49ers) – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
I’m not the biggest Addison fan, but the Saints need playmakers for Derek Carr. They drafted Chris Olave last year, but who knows that the future holds for Michael Thomas. That in mind, Addison is probably the best wide out left on the board, so the Saints pull the trigger on the former Trojan.
30. Philadelphia Eagles – Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
As mentioned in the Bijan Robinson write-up for Detroit, running back is a position of luxury to draft earlier. No one is in more of a position of power than the Eagles. They’re coming off a Super Bowl appearance and already used a high pick to help replace some lost production on defense. Now they can turn their attention to Miles Sanders replacement and Gibbs is a natural fit having played in the same Alabama system as franchise quarterback Jalen Hurts.
31. Kansas City Chiefs – Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan
The Chiefs would have loved to get Gibbs, too, but Smith is a great consolation prize. Pairing Smith with Chris Jones gives the Chiefs a really formidable defensive line, something modern NFL teams need to have. The rich get richer.
That’s it for mock draft season, as the the NFL Draft is finally here! Can’t wait to see how it all shakes out on Thursday night.
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ