The day has finally come: My 2023 NFL Mock Draft 1.0 is LIVE, and I am hyped.
With the pre-draft process in full swing, I had to put out my initial NFL mock draft before I inevitably blow it up after the NFL Scouting Combine. Players will fly up and down big boards based on testing, and there will be draft trades executed after the combine concludes.
Lucas Oil Stadium is the quintessential schmoozing spot for NFL executives and coaches.
So best to get this baby out before chaos ensues. Enjoy!
2023 NFL Mock Draft
*Note this mock draft is based on what I think will happen, not necessarily what I would do in each team’s position. And the Miami Dolphins will forfeit their 2023 first-round pick…hence the 31 selections.
1. Chicago Bears: Jalen Carter (DT – Georgia)
The Chicago Bears’ defense was a mess in 2022, ranking dead last in total DVOA. 32nd versus the pass and 30th versus the run. They need playmakers on the defensive line. Head coach Matt Eberflus needs to find his Chicago version of DeForest Buckner to disrupt the B Gap. That player is Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. The former Bulldog graded out as PFF’s third-highest-graded defensive tackle in 2023. His run-stop percentage ranked second-best in the nation. Even if the Bears end up trading this pick to a QB-needy team, there’s a strong chance they land Carter anyway.
2. Houston Texans: Bryce Young (QB – Alabama)
The Houston Texans showed us last draft season the kinds of players they want to target. Among their first six selection in the first four rounds, five came from SEC. Including two players from Alabama. It’s clear the front office has done their homework on the Crimson Tide, which pushes me in the direction of Bryce Young as their future franchise QB. They obviously liked what they saw from John Metchie III (selecting him in Round 2 of last year’s draft) when he caught passes from Young during his tenure with Alabama from 2020-2021. Young followed up his 2021 Heisman Trophy campaign as PFF’s highest-graded passer in the nation (91.3) in 2022. His 94.2 PFF passing grade at the intermediate level (10-19 yards downfield) also ranked first.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Will Anderson Jr. (DE – Alabama)
The Cardinals look like a team that’s rebuilding. Kliff Kingsbury is gone, Kyler Murray is coming off a major knee injury, and DeAndre Hopkins is on the trade block. The only constant is defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, but he needs help in the form of a cornerstone defender. That piece on the defensive line is pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. from Alabama. The 6-foot-4 and 243-pound edge rusher finished fourth overall in total pressures in 2022.
4. Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud (QB – Ohio State)
The Colts need to face the reality that they can’t run back another retread at quarterback. From Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz to Matt Ryan, they need a young franchise quarterback in 2023. And having a top-five pick allows them to acquire one. C.J. Stroud is just 21 years old and finished the 2022 college football season second in both passing TDs (41) and yards per attempt (9.4). In two years as a starter at Ohio State, Stroud has totaled 85 passing TDs and just 12 interceptions.
5. Seattle Seahawks: Tyree Wilson (DE – Texas Tech)
The Seattle Seahawks offense looks set on paper, assuming Geno Smith reprises his role as the team’s starting quarterback. But the defense needs help with key members of the defensive line entering contract years. They inject more youth into their defensive front by selecting Tyree Wilson. The Texas Tech edge rusher finished eighth in pass-rush win rate on true pass sets among his 2023 draft class.
6. Detroit Lions: Devon Witherspoon (CB – Illinois)
The Lions addressed the defensive line with the addition of Aidan Hutchinson last season, and he helped boost their defense upfront over the second half of the season. However, the Lions were slaughtered in their secondary even though former top-5 pick Jeffery Okudah had his best season to date. They shore up their secondary by drafting another Illinois Fighting Illini in cornerback Devon Witherspoon. Detroit hit on drafting safety Kerby Joseph from the same college program in the 3rd round of last year’s draft, as Joseph was named First-Team All-Rookie by a number of publications.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Gonzalez (CB – Oregon)
Derek Carr is as good as gone from the Raiders, but Davante Adams doesn’t want a rookie quarterback under center. Therefore Las Vegas looks for a veteran through trade/free agency and shifts their draft focus to their defense that ranked 31st in pass defense DVOA in 2022. They have multiple cornerbacks on expired contracts and need to add to the position. Christian Gonzalez is their guy. He can tackle – earned the 12th-lowest missed-tackle rate in class at 4.9% – and make plays on the ball. Gonzalez has hardly hit his peak since a 2022 breakout campaign; he has yet to turn 21 years old.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Myles Murphy (DE – Clemson)
Death taxes and the Falcons’ sheer lack of a pass rush. Atlanta finished last in pressure rate (14.6%) in 2022. They spark the pass rush with the freaky Myles Murphy. The Clemson product stays close to home with the Dirty Birds.
9. Carolina Panthers: Will Levis (QB – Kentucky)
New head coach Frank Reich addressed the media, saying that quarterback stability was at the forefront of the Panthers’ offseason plans, whether that be with a quarterback they draft or one they add during free agency. We’ve seen Reich work his “magic” with veteran retread QBs before, but the success has sizzled out as of late. I’d imagine he’d like to get his hands on a young QB with ample upside to pair alongside a veteran. At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, Kentucky’s Will Levis offers an Andrew Luck-type build paired with mobility/rushing to extend drives. When a healthy Levis played in an NFL-style offense under former Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen in 2021, the Kentucky product finished as PFF’s tenth-highest graded QB in the Power-Five. Levis also rushed for nearly 40 yards per game which is close to the rushing marks set by Joe Burrow and Josh Allen during their respective college tenures. Levis is a name that fantasy managers should be keen on in Superflex formats.
10. Philadelphia Eagles: Lukas Van Ness (EDGE – Iowa)
It’s a rarity that a team finishing as Super Bowl runner-ups finds itself picking inside the top 10 in the next draft. But the Eagles have been smart with how they have accumulated draft picks, providing them this luxury to re-tool their defense that will likely look much different with so many impending free agents, especially across the defensive line and in their secondary. They start their revamp upfront with Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness. LVN’s 37 pressures on true pass sets ranked fourth in the FBS in 2022.
11. Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson Jr (OT – Ohio State)
The Titans’ obvious need is across the offensive line. PFF graded them as the worst pass-blocking unit in 2022. That makes the pick Paris Johnson Jr. from Mike Vrabel’s alma mater Ohio State. Tennessee drafted a Buckeye offensive lineman in the 3rd-round last season (Nicholas Petit-Frere), so it’s no surprise they decide to run it back with another. Except for this time, they are getting the much superior option. In Johnson’s first season as a left tackle, he finished as a consensus All-American.
12. Houston Texans: Quentin Johnston (WR – TCU)
Houston got their quarterback of the future in Round 1. And now they double-down on offense to build around their young signal-caller with the selection of Quentin Johnston. The 6-foot-4 and 215-pound behemoth totaled 1,067 receiving yards finishing fifth in his draft class with an elite 3.05 yards per route run. Johnston was a menace with the ball in his hands, finishing seventh in his draft class in yards after the catch per reception (8.9, 19 forced missed tackles). He will make life much easier for Young.
13. New York Jets: Peter Skoronski (OT – Northwestern)
The Jets will “hopefully” upgrade their quarterback in free agency, making this selection easy with offensive tackle an area of need due to some expiring contracts and underwhelming incumbents. Northwestern’s left tackle Peter Skoronski finished as PFF’s No. 1-graded pass-blocker in 2022.
14. New England Patriots: Anton Harrison (OT – Oklahoma)
My New England Patriots are up. And I would be ecstatic if they drafted a wide receiver here. But chances are they won’t do that based on Bill Belichick’s draft history. Addressing the offensive line is likely the move here, with the team’s four snap leaders at right tackle all hitting free agency. Anton Harris has played left tackle for the Sooners for three straight seasons, capped off by a great 2022 campaign where he allowed zero QB hits on 447 pass block snaps per PFF.
15. Green Bay Packers: Michael Mayer (TE – Notre Dame)
There’s still a lot to unpack with the current Aaron Rodgers decision that will undoubtedly influence this pick. It’s a true wait-and-see until Rodgers emerges from his four-day darkness retreat. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, the adults working the draft room in Green Bay are looking to bolster their roster. The best move they can make is in the form of Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer. They only have one tight end under contract entering the season (Josiah Deguara), and Mayer might just be the best player available on the board at this time. He graded out as PFF’s highest-graded tight end in the country, leading the FBS in receiving TDs and yards per route run (2.44). Mayer was also PFF’s 5th-highest graded run-blocking tight end. The Fighting Irish tight end finished his college career with 180 receptions for 2,099 receiving yards and 18 receiving touchdowns.
16. Washington Commanders: Joey Porter Jr. (CB – Penn State)
Washington’s defensive line is loaded. And it’s because the front office has fluttered that area of the field with 1st-rounders. But that has had a negative impact on the secondary, which has been by far the weakest part of the defense over the last two seasons. Washington injects their pass defense with the fiery Joey Porter Jr., son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. The Penn State cornerback was a pass-breakup machine in 2022, posting college football’s second-highest forced incompletion rate (41%).
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Broderick Jones (OT – Georgia)
The Steelers desperately needed help along the offensive line entering the 2022 season and did nothing in last year’s draft to address the roster hole. As a result, neither of the Steelers’ two starting tackles – Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor – finished inside PFF’s top-60 graded tackles. Hence, the selection of Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones. Jones allowed zero sacks last season at left tackle as PFF’s 6th-highest graded pass-blocker in the 2023 draft class.
18. Detroit Lions: Calijah Kancey (DT – Pittsburgh)
The Detroit Lions addressed their secondary with the No. 6 pick, but their defense still needs help. More ankle-biters up front to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey fits the bill. He posted the nation’s highest pass-rush grade among interior defenders in 2022 (92.4) with 47 total pressures (7th), eight sacks (tied for second), and first in PFF’s PRP rate that combines sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer. Kancey earned college defensive player of the year for his efforts. It was the first time since Aaron Donald won the award back in 2013 that it was awarded to a Pittsburgh Panther.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Richardson (QB – Florida)
As of this writing, Kyle Trask is the only quarterback on Tampa’s roster. And he has to learn a brand-new offensive system under a new coordinator (yet to be named) in 2023. Needless to say, he’s hardly a sure-fire bet to be the Buccaneers’ future at the position. Therefore, Tampa takes a chance on a high-upside player in Anthony Richardson. The former Florida Gator offers rushing ability – nearly 1,200 rushing yards in two seasons – and can drop it in the bucket downfield. Nine of his 17 TDs came on 20-plus air-yard throws.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Bryan Bresee (DT – Clemson)
Seattle acquired a top-tier pass-rusher with their first pick, setting them up nicely to go with an interior defender at pick 20. They have plugs to hole on their line with Poona Ford and L.J. Collier hitting free agency. Clemson’s Bryan Bresee can transition smoothly into the front and impose his will after he showed out a year removed from torn ACL injury. Back in 2020, prior to his injury, Bresee won ACC rookie of the year. In his two fully healthy college seasons, Bresee has been a top-21 PFF-graded interior pass-rusher (including his highest grade in 2022) at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds.
21. Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Addison (WR – USC)
Rumors of Keenan Allen becoming a cap casualty have convinced the Chargers are looking to draft a replacement wide receiver for Justin Herbert. Look no further than in LA’s backyard than WR Jordan Addison out of Southern California. Addison transferred to USC for his junior year after winning the Biletnikoff Award at Pittsburgh in 2021. He led the Trojans with 59 catches for 875 yards and eight receiving TDs (79 targets). But more importantly, the 6-foot and 175-pound wide receiver proved that he could play more outside after spending most of his time in the slot at Pittsburgh.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR – Ohio State)
The Ravens plan to use the exclusive franchise tag on Lamar Jackson, making him a Raven for at least 2023 unless he is traded. To keep their quarterback happy, they need to add more weapons to his disposal at the wide receiver position after being decimated in that area in 2022. Baltimore drafts WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba to address the glaring hole. Smith-Njigba led the nation in yards per route run (4.01) at just 19 years old in 2021 despite playing alongside two future first-round picks in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. The Ohio State Buckeye also finished third in the FBS in receiving yards (1,595) and ranked first in PFF receiving grade (91.9) in 2021.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Cam Smith (CB – South Carolina)
Defense. Defense. Defense. The Minnesota Vikings ranked 26th in DVOA in 2022, “boasting” the league’s second-worst mark in passing yards allowed per game (265.6). They brought in Brian Flores as the new defensive coordinator, and his presence will be most felt in the team’s secondary. Enter Cam Smith. The South Carolina defensive back checks off the marks as a defensive back poised to get his hands on the ball. In 2021, he earned PFF’s second-highest coverage grade in the FBS. And over the last two seasons, Smith has broken up 15 passes.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Brian Branch (S – Alabama)
The Jaguars have a nice starting cornerback with Tyson Campbell, but question marks at the other defensive back positions. Tre Herndon is a free agent, Shaquill Griffin has one more year on his deal, and Darious Williams struggled from the slot in his first year in Jacksonville. But the worst issue might be starting safety Rayshawn Jenkins. He posted the sixth-worst PFF coverage grade among safeties and whiffed on 28 tackles (18.3%) – the second-most in 2022.
Therefore the Jaguars look to improve their 30th-ranked DVOA pass defense and backend by bolstering their secondary with Alabama safety Brian Branch. Branch has experience playing the nickel/slot – 2nd-most slot snaps among college safeties in 2022 – and is a fierce tackler. Per PFF, Branch has missed just four tackles on 170 attempts (2.3%) against the stiffest competition the SEC has to offer.
25. New York Giants: Zay Flowers (WR – Boston College)
The Giants simply lack the requisite juice at the wide receiver position to take them over the top in the NFC East. They need to feature weapons around quarterback Daniel Jones for him to continue improving. They add Boston College product Zay Flowers to the mix to become Big Blue’s newest No. 1 wide receiver. Flowers’ senior year was truly special as the 5-foot-11, and 175-pound wideout racked up 78 receptions for 1,077 yards and 12 receiving TDs. The senior standout turned heads at the East-West Shrine Bowl, cementing himself into the Round 1 conversation come April. He’s got explosiveness and burst that looks so similar to that of Antonio Brown. Not surprising for him to have “Brown-like tendencies” as he studied Brown exclusively as he developed his receiver skills. He also got the chance to work out with Brown during his off-season training.
26. Dallas Cowboys: Kelee Ringo (CB – Georgia)
Dallas’ secondary got shredded after No.2 cornerback Anthony Brown tore his Achilles. As an impending free agent, Brown is no lock to return to the Cowboys coming off an injury. Jerry Jones is no stranger to investing high-draft capital into defensive backs, so perimeter cornerback Kelee Ringo is the selection. The Georgia product has the converted size at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds to fit in the Dan Quinn defensive scheme.
27. Buffalo Bills: Bijan Robinson (RB – Texas)
Brandon Beane has been no stranger to investing in the running back position through the draft. And after being tied to both Christian McCaffrey and Breece Hall at times last season, he simply cannot pass up on the uber-talent that is Texas running back Bijan Robinson with Devin Singletary hitting free agency. Consider Robinson the thunder to James Cooks’s lightning as Buffalo looks to establish some semblance of a ground game in 2023 and beyond. B-Rob finished the 2022 college season as PFF’s second-highest-graded rusher in the FBS, tallying 18 rushing TDs and 1,575 rushing yards en route to a 37% dominator rating in his final year as a Longhorn. He forced 104 missed tackles (40% broken tackle rate) – a metric that has shown to be super predictive of success rushing at the NFL level.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: Antonio Johnson (DB – Texas A&M)
Defensive backs Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates, Eli Apple, Michael Thomas, and Tre Flowers are all hitting free agency. Bell, Bates, and Apple combined for three of the four most snaps played on defense (1,100-plus snaps). They drafted Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt with their top two picks in last year’s draft, but the team still needs additional bodies in the secondary to mitigate their potential losses. Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson offers a versatile skillset with the experience covering as a slot cornerback combined with sure-tackling. He has been a top-15 PFF-graded run defender for the past two seasons.
29. New Orleans Saints: O’Cyrus Torrence (OG – Florida)
New Orleans has an obvious need at the interior offensive line position. Guard Andrus Peat has been unreliable due to injuries the last two seasons, and the team can save almost $12 million versus the cap if they designate him a post-June 1st cut, per John Sigler of Saints Wire. The Saints elect to get younger and draft Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence as the No. 1 guard in the 2023 Draft Class. He finished 2022 as the highest-graded guard in the nation in his first season as a Gator after transferring from Louisiana-Lafayette.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: Emmanuel Forbes (CB – Miss State)
The Eagles might not be able to bring back James Bradberry after his impressive season (albeit before his hold in the Super Bowl), creating a major roster hole in their secondary opposite Darius Slay. Philly addresses the glaring need with the selection of Emmanuel Forbes. He’s battled tested, spending three years as a Mississippi State Bulldog in the ultra-competitive SEC. And he improved every year, capped off by a junior season that saw him finish with PFF’s fourth-highest graded coverage in the 2023 class. Forbes allowed just a 44.7 passer rating when targeted – a mark that ranked inside the top 20 across the nation.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Darnell Wright (OT – Tennessee)
Kansas City would be wise to re-invest into the tackle position with their top two starting tackles (Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wiley) slated to be free agents. Darnell Wright was a four-year starter at Tennessee and showed out extremely well during his senior year. He finished fourth in his class in PFF pass-blocking efficiency and performed admirably versus a fierce Alabama pass-rush unit. Wright should be plugin-play as the team’s right tackle in Year 1.