We’re in for a wild NFL Draft this weekend, folks.
It’s a class with fewer-than-average bonafide first-rounders but a large pool of Day 2-like talent, which will lead to wide-ranging grades across the league depending on particular preferences.
Whether it’s the most accomplished analysts in the industry or a common shlub like me, it seems like everyone has struggled to peg what teams might do in the first round this year. However, one characteristic we all share in common is the love of a good thought exercise.
Let’s give it our best attempt!
1. Carolina Panthers - Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
I can’t say I’m inclined to believe saleagreeable2834 on Reddit, who seemingly created a seismic shift in draft betting odds single handedly by unfoundedly claiming Will Levis has told friends and family he’s going to Carolina at No. 1 overall.
In a Gamestop short squeeze kind of situation, social media can have a powerful influence but this time it won’t affect an entire NFL franchise’s decision-making process (can’t say the same for peoples’ wallets though). The industry has seemingly centered on Young here, and his incredible football smarts and accuracy justify the belief.
2. Houston Texans - Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
This spot is vexing, as all the smoke of Houston’s quarterback apathy is hard to fathom. The organization has become very tight-lipped, but it does make some sense that they might prefer to add a high-floor, high-ceiling cornerstone for the defense with Young being out of play.
There shouldn’t even be a strong debate between Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson in this scenario. Take the better player, and that’s Anderson by a mile right now.
3. Las Vegas Raiders (trade with Arizona) - C.J. Stroud, QB,Ohio State
This is a fair scenario for the Raiders and Cardinals. Jimmy Garoppolo is a bridge quarterback basically on a one-year deal, and he’ll help span the divide between Derek Carr and the new franchise signal caller. The Raiders have other holes, but everything is secondary to securing the game’s most important position – especially in a division with Pat Mahomes and Justin Herbert sticking around long-term.
Giving up Day 2 assets from this draft and next, Las Vegas hops ahead of everyone else to grab Stroud. Plenty was made of Stroud’s cognition test results, but the inventors of the S2 themselves said those reports were out of context, and Raiders reportedly don’t care about the test anyway. With plenty of public and private vouching for Stroud’s intelligence and demeanor, he’s perfectly suitable to be a top 5 pick.
4. Indianapolis Colts - Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
I’m not quite buying the Levis hype here. He’s basically a Carson Wentz clone without the poor attitude, and the Colts just jettisoned the actual Wentz a year ago.
No, their choice could very well be the highest-ceiling prospect in the entire draft. Richardson is an athletic marvel with clearly desirable traits as a passer; he simply lacks seasoning. New head coach Shane Steichen has worked with projects before in Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts, and both of them turned out pretty well. As a prospect, you could make the argument Richardson combines some qualities from both of those guys.
5. Seattle Seahawks - Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
The Seahawks could go several ways here, but they have to continue building a front 7 that got beaten up far too often last season.
Wilson is like Travon Walker-lite. He’s a freaky height-weight-speed player who embraced a diverse scheme fit at Texas Tech. A sky-high ceiling will keep him in the top 5 even though the actual on-field results leave something to be desired. Potentially concerning medicals focused on a foot injury are something to watch here.
6. Detroit Lions - Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Lions can take either of the top cornerbacks here and experience no regret in the moment. They’ve already done much to overhaul their secondary, and Witherspoon is the final piece.
His edgy on-field demeanor and physicality should make him well-liked across the NFL and with the fiery Dan Campbell. Detroit wants to continue to install a winning culture as well, and that should be even more true after their little gambling scandal. Witherspoon will help with that to go along with his playing prowess.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (trade with Arizona) - Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
The Eagles build through the trenches and do not invest much in the players who run behind them. What does that mean? No running backs or off-ball linebackers in the first round – especially not in the top 10.
Is Bijan Robinson a great player? Yes. Do the Eagles like him enough to depart from their philosophical bedrock? Not so sure about that. The team made it to the Super Bowl in large part to their dominant pass rush, and they should continue to invest in that. They’ll likely be aggressive about it too, as Howie Roseman is no stranger to trading up.
While Smith doesn’t fit any traditional archetype, he’s supremely talented and definitely has the chops to be an impact EDGE defender. He ironically profiles closely to Haason Reddick, who was one of the most dominant edges in football with Philly last year.
8. Atlanta Falcons - Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Falcons have definitely put in the work to get their roster on the right track, and their defense might actually be problematic for other teams, rather than themselves, given all of the additions they’ve made.
The final piece to unlocking an elite tier may be another outside corner to pair with A.J. Terrell, and Gonzalez would be a home-run pick. He’s one of the prospects who doesn’t require overthinking. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s scheme versatile, and he’s well-regarded off the field. The Falcons don’t need to make this difficult for themselves.
9. Chicago Bears - Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
“And that is destiny fulfilled.”
We all thought the Bears and Carter were the perfect match at No. 1, but it ends up being true at No. 9 instead. The personality concerns are well-noted with Carter, but at least a few teams will convince themselves that they can work with him and provide him with a stable environment.
Perhaps Chicago will be rewarded for that belief, time will tell. On paper, there is no doubt that Carter’s game-wrecking potential as a three-technique is an ideal fit for what Chicago needs.
10. Arizona Cardinals (via Philadelphia) - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Cardinals’ roster is in tatters, and they need selections more than any one player at 3. Not one, but two trade-downs net them a trove of capital while still having a pick of excellent prospects on the outer rim of the top 10.
They reportedly love Paris Johnson, no doubt partially due to their franchise passer Kyler Murray’s admiration for him. Investing in the offensive line to protect their minuscule quarterback is a smart way to go, and Johnson arguably has the best pure talent of any tackle in the draft. He can line up at guard as a rookie and then kick out to either tackle spot next season, as it seems likely D.J. Humphries will be a cap casualty and Kelvin Beachum will retire or move on.
Them staying put at 7 in this scenario and securing Johnson makes plenty of sense as well, depending on how picks 3-6 play out.
11. Tennessee Titans - Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The Titans absolutely need to consider the future at quarterback, as Ryan Tannehill is a declining 35-year-old and Malik Willis looked like a disaster when he piloted the offense last year.
If one of the top 4 falls into their laps, it’s hard to believe that they will pass on him. Levis is a big, strong dude with a huge cannon and good football smarts. Did I mention that he’s large and throws the ball far? His erratic accuracy and inconsistent decision-making are concerning, but he’s absolutely closer to pro-ready than Willis is and would have a good chunk of the season to sit behind Tannehill.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers (trade with Houston) - Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
The Steelers might convince another team to trade with them sooner, but either way it feels like they’re determined to get one of the best available guys to take over the left tackle spot on their rebuilt line.
Jones is athletic, long, powerful, and tailor-made to play the blind side in Pittsburgh’s zone-heavy scheme. He’s young and inexperienced, but the team does have other options to start in the short term if Jones needs more seasoning.
13. Green Bay Packers - Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
The Packers will begin a new era for the first time in 18 years after shipping out Aaron Rodgers. For some reason, people think this will immediately lead to investment in positions that the team historically avoids in the first round.
The more likely truth is that the offense will likely lean even more heavily on the run game with Jordan Love under center, and investing in the offensive line makes a lot of sense. Skoronski isn’t the longest player, but he has the best technique in the draft and can play all across the line. He could even potentially take over the blind side if the team decides to move on from oft-injured David Bahktiari.
14. New England Patriots - Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Attempting to predict the Patriots in the first round is largely pointless. I’ve been doing mock drafts for 16 years, and I think I’ve correctly predicted their first selection once (Dominique Easley in 2014). I know many others share a similar experience.
That said, Bill Belichick loves to stock versatile, athletic guys along the front 7, and they have some uncertainty amongst the long-term statuses of guys like Josh Uche, Deatrich Wise, and Matthew Judon – none of whom are guaranteed to be on the roster within a couple of years.
Van Ness is a perfect candidate for a rotational role to begin his career, as he played limited snaps in college but possesses all of the physical characteristics you’d want in an edge-type player.
15. New York Jets - Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
The Jets can finally breathe as they now have their very own ayahuasca-slurping 40-year-old to lead their offense instead of a mommy-chasing toddler. To say that move makes this roster a championship contender feels immature, but it’s closer than the Jets have been in more than a decade so that counts for something.
If they want to continue bolstering their chances of success, they must seek answers in the trenches. Mehki Becton and Duane Brown can hardly be labeled as reliable, so drafting a nasty bear like Darnell Wright feels like a savvy move. Wright can immediately plug in at right tackle but has left tackle experience as well.
16. Los Angeles Chargers (trade with Washington) - Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
The Chargers will likely part ways with Austin Ekeler sooner rather than later. They need to back the Brinks truck up for Justin Herbert, and paying a running back directly complicates that much bigger priority.
Ekeler is a great asset, but Los Angeles could receive excellent three-down production from Robinson for a much lower cost. A season of both in the backfield could be monstrous before Robinson takes sole possession of the reins next year.
17. Houston Texans (via Pittsburgh) - Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Here’s a spicy meatball.
Alright, the Texans don’t love any of the four QBs projected to go in the top 15, fair enough. What about outside of the top 15? Reports are out there that the team has done extensive work on Hooker, and he’s still likely available at this point due to his recent ACL injury and age (25).
He has intriguing traits, like his strong poise and mechanics, and he knows how to keep an offense in rhythm. At this point, a trade-back gives the Texans further assets and a relatively low-risk, high-reward option behind center. Hooker will get a year to grow and potentially show what he’s worth, and the team can still revisit the position in 2024.
26. Dallas Cowboys (trade with Detroit) - Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Mayer was built to be a Cowboy, and this feels like one of the chalkiest picks of the first round. The team lost Dalton Schultz and needs another target for Dak Prescott, and Mayer may remind Jerry Jones of Cowboy great Jason Witten in some ways.
That’s obviously a lofty comparison, but the shades are there as a blocker and pass catcher. It’s hard to envision a future where Mayer isn’t at least a solid No. 1 tight end for a long time. It feels likely that a trade-up will be necessary here.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
We already covered this one in our complete seven-round Buccaneers mock. The team’s most glaring needs reside in the trenches, and it’s in a strong position to grab the last best offensive tackle in the class.
Harrison isn’t a finished product and will likely take some lumps in Year 1, but the future combination of him and Tristan Wirfs leaves the offensive line, and whomever is throwing behind it, in a hopeful spot moving forward.
So, Anton Harrison isn’t getting enough attention. I see an early starting tackle with upside for a lot more. Will be just 21-years old throughout his entire rookie year with excellent play strength already + room to keep growing/maturing. Nasty demeanor. Always on his feet.— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) February 23, 2023
20. Buffalo Bills (trade with Seattle) - Jaxson Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
The first receiver finally comes off the board as the Bills get aggressive to round out their offensive arsenal. Several scouts and coaches have spoken about how this receiver class is rough, and Smith-Njigba looks like a quality player but not a dominant one.
That’s alright though, as Buffalo’s expectations would just be for him to serve as the No. 2/3 option behind Stefon Diggs. JSN is a smooth, tough, sure-handed receiver who should consistently create opportunities in the short and intermediate parts of the field, giving Josh Allen a more reliable option in those areas.
21. Washington Commanders (via LAC) - Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
I think Washington will heavily debate between Banks and Joey Porter Jr., but it’s hard to deny the insane athletic profile and more diverse scheme potential of Banks.
Banks lit up the combine’s athletic testing, touts desirable size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), and shows an encouraging blend of patience and physicality on film. There’s room for growth with his eye discipline and positioning, but that’s not uncommon for players of his archetype. He absolutely has a No. 1 cornerback ceiling.
22. Baltimore Ravens - Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
This one will sting for Steelers fans.
That said, it’s hard to deny how well Porter fits the Ravens’ typical mold of cornerbacks (long, physical, and aggressive). Porter needs to dial back his aggression in the pros and display a more measured approach though, or the more savvy receivers of the league will feast on him (so will referees). He’s definitely not everyone’s flavor, but his athletic traits and demeanor are definitely starter-worthy.
23. Kansas City Chiefs (trade with Minnesota) - Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Kansas City doesn’t need to invest first-round capital in receivers. They just won the Super Bowl in a season that predominantly featured Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Mecole Hardman (outside of Travis Kelce, of course).
However, Hardman and Smith-Schuster are gone and MVS could be a cap casualty after this season. So the team’s top three is currently Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, and Kadarius Toney.
There might be some pause when you see all of the small frames in their receiver room, but the Chiefs run an unconventional offense and value players who get open above all else. Flowers is dynamic, shifty, and confident on contested catches. He’s an impact player at all three levels of the field despite his short stature; he draws a strong comparison to Tyler Lockett.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars - Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
The Jags have a Todd Bowles disciple as defensive coordinator in Mike Caldwell, and he too understands the value of versatile defensive backs, which the Jags don’t really have right now.
Branch is an unspectacular athlete but he knows how to maximize his impact with superior smarts and technique. He’s instinctual and versatile, so let him play a majority of snaps in the slot or mix it up with single-high or split safety looks. Branch has the profile of an immediate contributor and leader and is arguably the most pro-ready player in the class. He’d be a top-15 pick with better physical tools.
25. New York Giants - Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
The Giants could use offensive weapons, but they’re vulnerable in the secondary and likely won’t reach for anybody who doesn’t excite them.
Forbes is wire thin, but he’s the best ballhawk in the class, and the Giants tied for the league-low in interceptions last year with just six. Turnovers are partly based on luck, yes, but it’s nice to have players who create their own luck like Forbes.
He’s instinctive and focused, and he should immediately slot in as a starter inside or outside.
26. Detroit Lions (via Dallas) - Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
The Lions must continue to add to their pass rush if they want to be a true competitor, and getting more interior pressure in particular would be useful.
Kancey clearly offers the highest upside of anyone left who fits that criterion, but he doesn’t come without his limitations. Chiefly, he’s small…like historically small. There is no precedent for a player of similar size succeeding at the next level, but Kancey does possess rare burst and a built-in leverage advantage that he knows how to utilize. And it’s worth noting that GM Brad Holmes supported the Rams drafting Aaron Donald, another undersized player at the same position.
27. Seattle Seahawks (via Buffalo) - O’Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida
The Seahawks can fall back here to acquire future draft capital, which will give them further flexibility for the next draft. They can keep their options wide open here, too, and they might see the offensive line as another good position to invest in.
They got their tackles of the future last year, and now they add a young guard to the mix in Torrence to finally nip a longstanding issue in the bud. Torrence’s overwhelming size and strength profile well at right guard, which Seattle had no answer for last year.
28. Cincinnati Bengals - Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
The Bengals must address big contracts coming up with Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, and they don’t have the cap space to pay Joe Mixon his inflated contract number that goes through 2024. That’s especially true when Mixon doesn’t consistently contribute on all three downs.
The team can reduce its cap number and add a new dimension to its offense by throwing Gibbs into the fold. He’s easily one of the best pass-catching backs to come out in recent memory, and combining that with his slasher mentality creates an Alvin Kamara-like weapon.
29. New Orleans Saints - Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
The Saints heavily emphasize their defensive line, and they took some heavy casualties in free agency by losing Marcus Davenport, Shy Tuttle, and David Onyemata. Former first-rounder Payton Turner looks like a complete bust, and Cam Jordan is another year older (he’ll be 34).
In a stacked edge class, it’s hard to envision them passing on the group here at 29. In typical New Orleans fashion, you might even see a trade-up. Ultimately, Murphy will fit the team’s archetype with his overall size, length, and first step. The pass rush toolkit needs a big upgrade, but the parts are all there.
30. Green Bay Packers (trade with Philadelphia) - Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
If the Eagles trade up from 10, it’s almost certain they’ll move from 30 where teams will be hunting for fifth-year options on players they covet. Philly likes picks, and they’re notably short on them this year, but the Packers now have capital to spare and a glaring need at tight end.
So Green Bay makes a decent jump from No. 42 to 30 and recruits Kincaid as a new weapon for Jordan Love. Kincaid is the most naturally talented “move” tight end available, but a deep overall class, notable injuries to his shoulder and back, no documented athletic testing, and older age (he’ll be 24 as a rookie) might all push him further down the board than some expect.
He could definitely go higher than this if teams love the tape enough to override those other variables, and there is plenty to like, but picks 20-30 feel like the sweet spot.
31. Minnesota Vikings (via Kansas City) - Jordan Addison, WR, Southern California
The Vikings falling all the way back to the final pick of the round is unsexy, but they’re not going to completely mortgage their future unless a quarterback they truly love is within reasonable striking distance. With only five picks in this draft and their 2024 third-rounder already gone, the team would be wise to recoup some capital.
The roster is still built to compete, especially in a wide-open division, so replacing Adam Thielen is smart given how bare the team’s receiver room is outside of Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn, who is in the final year of his deal. Addison shows the necessary agility and route savvy to create plays at all three levels of the field, but he lacks a particular standout trait and is very lean. That said, he’s a good player with a fairly high floor.