The NFL Combine is in full swing.
The 2023 draft class has taken an unexpected and significant blow. Jalen Carter faces misdemeanor charges, which has completely dismantled the top of the non-quarterback prospects. Furthermore, the combine is assist prospects in being able to scoot up boards. This was written after the first day of workouts, with DL and LB prospects testing out.
I have decided to not include trades for this first mock draft of the offseason.
The Predictions: How Will NFL Draft Day One Go?
Pick 1 – Chicago Bears – EDGE Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama)
Alabama EDGE prospect Will Anderson Jr. has elite tools. Arguably the best overall player in the draft, he provides the Bears with a cornerstone pass rusher to build their defense around for the next decade-plus. This is a very easy selection should the Bears not trade this draft pick.
Pick 2 – Houston Texans – QB Bryce Young (Alabama)
While Bryce Young has significant size concerns, he is likely to be the highest-picked QB in the 2023 NFL Draft. He earned a stellar 91.5 overall PFF grade in his 2022 collegiate season, amassing 3,325 yards and 32 touchdowns. The Texans grab their franchise signal caller and begin to expedite their rebuild.
Pick 3 – Arizona Cardinals – CB Christian Gonzalez (Oregon)
Recently, this would have been a foregone conclusion, prior to the news of Jalen Carter and the warrant for his arrest. Instead, the Cardinals pass on the Georgia interior defender and snag perhaps the corner with the best tools, Oregon prospect Christian Gonzalez.
Pick 4 – Indianapolis Colts – QB Will Levis (Kentucky)
This just feels like a Jim Irsay selection. While Levis is brimming with physical tools, he will require some development. He has a sizzling arm, fantastic build and will have a high ceiling. This ends the Colts’ merry-go-round with QBs as they attempt to build for the future.
Pick 5 – Seattle Seahawks – IDL Calijah Kancey (Pittsburgh)
Kancey is the fastest DT in the NFL Draft Combine, and recent memory. He is an explosive pass-rusher who has exploded up boards ahead of the draft. While not fair to compare Kancey to his similarly-built fellow Pitt alumni Aaron Donald, the former does have some of the explosiveness. He provides Seattle with a surefire interior pocket pushing presence that can further bolster this developing defense.
Pick 6 – Detroit Lions – CB Devon Witherspoon (Illinois)
You want to see some kneecap biting? Dan Campbell will fall utterly in love with the Illinois prospect. This feisty, hard-hitting cornerback is tough as nails, has incredible instincts and will fit right into the culture of the Lions locker room.
Pick 7 – Las Vegas Raiders – T Broderick Jones (Georgia)
The Las Vegas Raiders are likely to pursue a veteran quarterback in free agency, and here they take the path of grabbing an elite tackle prospect to protect him. Jones did not allow a sack in 2022 and has the flexibility to play guard if needed.
Pick 8 – Atlanta Falcons – EDGE Nolan Smith (Georgia)
Back to back Bulldogs are picked here, and with little surprise after the Georgia prospect’s combine performance. Smith gives the hapless Falcons a semblance of a pass rush after being 32nd (11 less than 31st) in sacks in the 2021 season and 31st in 2022. His 25.5% pass rush win rate should translate well to the NFL.
Pick 9 – Carolina Panthers – QB Anthony Richardson (Florida)
Richardson is exactly the type of QB that the Panthers must take a swing on. They have a solid defense, some young pieces on offense and are desperately attempting to get away from the carousel of signal callers and cast offs they have attempted to win games with. If his incredible physical tools can develop into more consistent play at the next level, Richardson has the chance to be the best QB in the draft class.
Pick 10 – Philadelphia Eagles – T Peter Skoronski (Northwestern)
This feels like a luxury. Howie Roseman has always emphasised the trenches and emphatically repeats this philosophy here. Incumbent guard Isaac Seumalo is a free agent, so Skoronski can kick inside and replace him. Furthermore, under the tutelage of esteemed offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, the Northwestern prospect can replace Lane Johnson when he hangs up his cleats. Skoronski has the potential to be a perennial Pro-Bowler at whatever position he plays.
Pick 11 – Tennessee Titans – T Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State)
Johnson has better tackle size than Skoronski, and has some real nasty to his game. The Titans have released Taylor Lewan and must find a franchise left tackle to supplant him. Johnson has the ability to be a ten-year starter for the Titans, and add a little attitude to the run game as well as be a sound pass protector.
Pick 12 – Houston Texans – EDGE Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech)
The Texans certainly could go receiver here to help out rookie QB Bryce Young. Tyree Wilson presents too much value here at pick 12, and gives new head coach DeMeco Ryans a young weapon to build his pass rush around. He has the tools, with an astonishing 86 inch wingspan, which was in the 98th percentile. Wilson has elite size and strength, and will be a bully in the NFL on the edge.
Pick 13 – New York Jets – QB C.J. Stroud (Ohio State)
It is almost inevitable that a quarterback slides if the Las Vegas Raiders go and get a veteran signal caller. The Jets snatch C.J. Stroud, which is a perfect fit amongst an offense full of weapons. The Ohio State prospect can accurately place the ball into the likes of Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall’s hands. Stroud provides this team with the necessary stability to recover from the Zach Wilson experiment and propel an amazing defense into the playoffs.
Pick 14 – New England Patriots – IDL Jalen Carter (Georgia)
This is purely a projection. As Jalen Carter faces misdemeanour charges due to suspected involvement in a tragic car accident that left two fellow Georgia football program members dead. The status is unknown. The analysis is not really necessary here, and it feels wrong to mention football in the context of this story’s development.
Pick 15 – Green Bay Packers – TE Michael Mayer (Notre Dame)
Well, the Green Bay Packers are nothing if not stubborn. That being said, they desperately need a pass catcher, and their resistance to first-round receivers continues here. Instead, they get the man who The Ringer’s Danny Kelly touted as shades of “Heath Miller and the berserker Uruk-Hai from Helm’s Deep”. Mayer is a beast, who had an outstanding 92.5 PFF overall grade in 2022. He will help which ever quarterback is slinging the rock in 2023.
Pick 16 – Washington Commanders – G O’Cyrus Torrence (Florida)
Torrence is huge, nasty and extremely physical. He did not surrender a sack in his 2022 season, as well as showing the ability to be a physical run blocker that can circle defenders out of gaps. I have done a more detailed profile on O’Cyrus Torrence when mocking him to the Eagles, but the Commanders get a reliable interior lineman to man a guard spot for at least a decade.
Pick 17 – Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State)
The Pittsburgh Steelers need some help at cornerback, and what better prospect to land than the son of former star linebacker Joey Porter. He has long arms, is physical at the line of scrimmage and will bring an attitude and ferocity that the Steelers covet. Although Pittsburgh are in need of offensive line help, they have two other top-50 selections and get one of the top three cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Pick 18 – Detroit Lions – S Brian Branch (Alabama)
After bolstering the cornerback room, the Lions return to the well in the secondary and add versatile weapon Brian Branch from the Crimson Tide. The defensive back played primarily in the slot for Nick Saban’s defense. He received praise from the esteemed coach, who said that Branch “played well all season long“. He ended the 2022 season with 90 tackles (14 for loss), three sacks, two picks and seven passes defended. The addition of Branch and Witherspoon turn the Lions secondary into a major point of strength on the roster.
Pick 19 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Bijan Robinson (Texas)
After the release of Leonard Fournette, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are clearly rebuilding for the future. Despite their desperate need to get younger throughout the roster, they take the opportunity to grab a top-5 prospect in the draft and build their identity around a superstar running back. Robinson can do everything and looks the part of an elite ballcarrier in the NFL. His 96.1 rushing grade, PFF record 104 broken tackles and 1071 yards after contact were all absurdly elite.
Pick 20 – Seattle Seahawks – EDGE Myles Murphy (Clemson)
Once viewed a consensus top five selection, Myles Murphy has plummeted down boards due in part to a lack of collegiate production in 2022. His 14.3% pass rush win rate in 2022 was above average, but his physical tools suggest the potential for more dominance. Regardless, the Seahawks bet on his tools and double down on the defensive line, grabbing Kancey and Murphy to form an intimidating defensive front.
Pick 21 – Los Angeles Chargers – WR Jordan Addison (USC)
The Chargers must get faster. QB Justin Herbert is an elite processor, with a fantastic arm and MVP like potential. LA get him some weaponry here to go with the ageing Keenan Allen and oft-injured Mike Williams, to give him some pass target stability. Also, Addison seems to be pro-ready and will likely contribute right away.
Pick 22 – Baltimore Ravens – WR Quentin Johnson (TCU)
This feels like a perfect pairing. If the Ravens are able to bring QB Lamar Jackson back, he could build a formidable connection with Johnson. The TCU prospect has all the physical tools with size, speed and strength in spades. He can use that in designed quick routes, deep threatening go balls and in the inevitable scramble drill that Jackson can create. Truly a special potential here with Lamar.
Pick 23 – Minnesota Vikings – LB Drew Sanders (Arkansas)
While the Vikings have multiple needs at receiver, offensive line and the secondary, they could use some young weapons on the defensive side of the ball. At this stage, that is exactly what Sanders is. The Razorback prospect stuffed the stat sheet all season in 2022. He had 9.5 sacks, 103 tackles (13.5 for loss), five passes defended, three forced fumbles and an interception. The Vikings can deploy Sanders in a myriad of different ways, on their way to being able to competently contain opposing offenses and get younger on defense.
Pick 24 – Jacksonville Jaguars – IOL John Michael-Schmitz (Minnesota)
The Jaguars also have multiple needs on the roster, but the first point of call must be to assist Trevor Lawrence’s development. While the most pressing need may seem to be receiving help, Zay Jones and Christian Kirk both played solidly this past season, and the team may be getting Calvin Ridley back from suspension. John Michael-Schmitz is a significant upgrade over Luke Fortner, who had a dismal 49.6 overall PFF grade this past season.
Pick 25 – New York Giants – WR Zay Flowers (Boston College)
This one is easy. Zay Flowers is explosive, and gives the Giants the ability to stretch the field and have a moveable weapon with excellent after the catch ability. He is definitely undersized but has experience lining up out wide. The Giants have moved on from their expensive mistake in Kenny Golliday, and now take the chance to inject some youthful dynamism into their offense.
Pick 26 – Dallas Cowboys – WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State)
Smith-Njigba was arguably the consensus WR1 entering the 2022 season. Unfortunately, injuries prevented him playing all but three games for the year, and he has slipped down the draft board. With Ceedee Lamb established as a number one option, the Cowboys grab a receiver that had 1,606 receiving yards in a season alongside Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who combined for 1,994 yards before both went in the first round. This is a steal, and will give the Cowboys a well defined slot target.
Pick 27 – Buffalo Bills – IOL Steve Avila (TCU)
Entering the 2023 NFL Season, the Bills were not only a favourite to win the Super Bowl, but seemingly had a complete roster. After a disappointing end to their season, the team now sees multiple deficiencies on the back end of their defense, pass rush and offensive line. They address the trenches first, assisting the pass protection with a prospect with ready-made technical skills.
Pick 28 – Cincinatti Bengals – CB Kelee Ringo (Georgia)
Ringo was touted before the season as the CB1 in this draft class, and has slowly dipped down boards. He now ranks 75th on PFF’s NFL Draft Big Board. There is no denying his physical tools though, and the Bengals are in dire need of better cornerback play. They are unlikely to bring back Eli Apple and will have Ringo developing alongside Cam Taylor-Britt to man the secondary.
Pick 29 – New Orleans Saints – EDGE Lukas Van Ness (Iowa)
The New Orleans Saints refuse to rebuild. As Van Ness slides, the Saints seem like the most logical team to snatch him. The Hawkeye edge rusher earned the nickname “Hercules”, undoubtedly due to his strength and ferocious playing style. He has the flexibility to play multiple positions along the defensive front, and even had two blocked punts this season.
Pick 30 – Philadelphia Eagles – IDL Bryan Bresee (Clemson)
Roseman dips back into the trenches, this time on the less glamorous side of the ball. With the potential departures of one or both of Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave in the interior, the Eagles scoop up one of the best athletic profiles in the draft class in Bresee. At 6’5″, 300 pounds, the Clemson prospect plays violent and has the body to dominate at the next level. His development will likely be expedited in the culture of Philadelphia.
Pick 31 – Kansas City Chiefs – WR Kayshon Boutte (LSU)
Boutte has all the tools. The Chiefs take a risk here, as the LSU receiver had a poor season in 2022. After initially opting to return to college, the wide receiver prospect declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, hoping that his physical tools and flashes on tape will overcome his disappointing numbers. He goes to the Super Bowl Champions to play alongside explosive pass catchers Travis Kelce, Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney. This will give the Chiefs a bevy of weapons to bolster their already strong pass game.