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2023 NFL Mock Draft: Andrew Erickson (5.0)

2023 NFL Mock Draft: Andrew Erickson (5.0)

NFL Free Agency has come and gone, which means NFL rookie mock draft season is FULL GO. And with less than two weeks till the NFL Draft — NFL Mock Draft 5.0 is LIVE.

Teams’ needs have changed drastically with all the transactions in free agency, impacting how they approach the top prospects in the draft. Some teams that looked to be in the market for certain positions among the 2023 NFL rookie class may be going in a different direction than a few weeks back.

Hence, I’ve created the 2023 NFL Draft Needs For All 32 NFL Teams Post-Free Agency — as my guide to align this latest mock draft with what NFL teams will do when they are on the clock.

And as an extra bonus (we love extra content) we will take a look back at how past Round 1 mock drafts have fared since 2018. Just some food for thought as you put the final touches on your own personal mock draft.

Let’s dive in.

*As noted, this mock draft is based on what I think will happen, not necessarily what I would do in each team’s position.*

Round 1 Track Record

By leveraging Grindingthemocks.com‘s historical mock draft data, I was able to compare how accurate mock drafts were by position, team, etc. leading up to the real-life NFL Draft.

Here were my major findings that you should keep in mind as you finalize your own mock drafts prior to draft night.

  • Safeties and cornerbacks represent the positions that NFL mock drafters have undervalued the most with the largest negative difference in mocked ADP versus real-life. Scheme disparities across the board mean teams value safeties and cornerbacks much differently than the public. Therefore they can get drafted in a different order versus the pre-draft consensus.
  • Case in point from last season, Derek Stingley was drafted over Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner — one of the few correct calls I had last season — despite the latter being viewed as the CB1 throughout the draft process until much closer to the draft.
  • The consensus was correct about Trent McDuffie being CB3, but Andrew Booth Jr. was not the CB4 and fell out of the 1st round altogether. He had injury concerns, which likely caused the slip. Instead, Kaiir Elam was selected as the CB4 — the last one in the first round. 
  • The fringe 1st-2nd round cornerbacks I would bet are not selected in Round 1 include Emmanuel Forbes, Kelee Ringo, and Cam Smith. They have taken a lot of pre-draft top-30 visits, suggesting teams still have question marks about them. None of them were invited to the 2023 NFL Draft either. 
  • Deonte Banks could possibly overtake Joey Porter Jr. as the CB3 considering some teams might prefer Banks with his superior athletic profile and higher scheme versatility. The Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora reports that the Washington Commanders and Pittsburgh Steelers are “head over heels” on Banks, despite many mock drafts pegging Porter to those teams.
  • In 2021, Patrick Surtain II was viewed as a consensus CB1 throughout the entire pre-draft process but ended up going one spot behind Jaycee Horn.
  • I view the current Devon Witherspoon/Christian Gonzalez situation in a similar light to the last year’s top two CBs. Watson was out in front for most of the pre-draft process until Witherspoon’s pro day put the odds in his favor to be the No. 1 cornerback in recent weeks. 
  • In every mock I have done since Mock Draft 1.0, I had Witherspoon as my No. 1 cornerback going to the Detroit Lions at No. 6 overall. Just wish I had trusted my process and bet him to be the No. 1 cornerback selected when it was at plus money. He is currently -110 to be the 6th overall pick on DraftKings Sportsbook. -250 to be the first cornerback drafted. 
  • Current betting odds have the top three cornerbacks as Witherspoon  (-250), Gonzalez (+150), and Joey Porter Jr. (+3000). Followed by Brian Branch (viewed as a safety in most publications, +4000) Deonte Banks (+5000), Kelee Ringo (+5000), and Cam Smith (+10000). 
  • Last season, safety Kyle Hamilton was the pre-draft S1 (12.7 EDP) and he was selected 14th overall. But it was two late safeties between Daxton Hill and Lewis Cine that snuck into the 1st round at 31 and 32 respectively. Both players did have pre-draft EDPs inside the top-32. 
  • So although safeties are no longer valued at the same rate they were in years past, Branch’s status as a safety/slot cornerback (very similar to Daxton Hill) nearly guarantees he gets selected in Round 1. He was also one of the 17 players to receive an invite to the 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City. 
  • Running back, defensive end (edge), and offensive tackle are the next three positions that differ most from pre-draft mocks.
  • Last year the following differentials for running backs were Breece Hall (0), Kenneth Walker (+17), James Cook (+36), Rachaad White (+49), Brian Robinson (+15), Dameon Pierce (+21), Zamir White (+9) and Isaiah Spiller (-42). 
  • Of the eight highest pre-drafted 2022 rookie running backs, seven went were drafted much earlier than mocks projected.
  • That brings us to the curious case of Bijan Robinson with a current EDP of 20.4. I’d be HAMMERING the under, betting at plus money to be a top-10 pick (+150 per DraftKings Sportsbook).
  • Especially when one considers how high NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah (and other NFL draft personnel) has Robinson ranked in his overall draft rankings. Historically speaking, he has just slightly overvalued RBs in his rankings based on where they are actually drafted. 
  • Seems more and more likely that Robinson won’t get past the Falcons at No. 8 overall. That’s my bet. 
  • I will also note that I wouldn’t rule out Jahmyr Gibbs being selected in Round 1. Robinson’s “generational” status has overshadowed how great Gibbs is in his own right, especially as a receiver. 
  • And a win-now team selecting a running back at the end of the first round would hardly be abnormal, as this is when the majority of top-end rookie RBs are selected. 
  • The teams with the shortest odds to draft Gibbs include Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Kansas City (all teams selecting 26th or higher in Round 1).
  • 1.5 Running Backs Drafted in the First Round is also +400 toward the over per DraftKings Sportsbook. 
  • Among the edge rushers last season it was a clean sweep with Travon Walker, Aidan Hutchinson, and Kayvon Thibodeaux going as the first three pass rushers. 
  • However, after the top-3, there was a stark fall-off for Jermaine Johnson. Going into the draft, he was being mocked inside the top-10. He fell to 26th overall as the fourth edge rusher. DT Jordan Davis was also drafted ahead of him.
  • Devonte Wyatt ended up being selected extremely close to his EDP (26 vs 28), but No. 5 edge rusher George Karlaftis fell to 30th overall (EDP 23 overall).
  • In this year’s class, the top-3 edge rushers seem pretty dialed in between Will Anderson, Tyree Wilson, and Lukas Van Ness, but there’s always a chance there’s a mixup based on historical tracking. DT Jalen Carter’s off-the-field issues also throw another factor into the mix. 
  • But I’d fully expect a shake-up in the second tier of edge rushers/defensive tackles between Myles Murphy, Nolan Smith, Bryan Bresee, Calijah Kancey, and Will McDonald. Same with Mazi Smith, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and Keion White.
  • As it stands right now, the first six names are the ones mocked the most in Round 1. 
  • Clemson’s Bryan Bresee has been knocked due to his injuries the last few years, but his lack of top-30 visits tells me that teams feel comfortable with their evaluations of him as a first-rounder. 
  • Keion White might also get a bump in upcoming mock drafts because he was invited to the NFL Draft, but every year the NFL invites one if not multiple players that do not get selected in Round 1.
  • Among last year’s tackle class, the mock drafters were correct going five-for-five in the projected order of the top offensive tackles. However, the top-4 tackles were over-projected by specific draft positions. 
  • And at the same time, the mock drafters were severely under-drafting guards and centers by 5-10 draft slots on average between Kenyon Green, Zion Johnson, Tyler Linderbaum, and Cole Strange (lol). 
  • That suggests OL with “guard/center” profiles at the next level such as Peter Skoronsoki, O’Cyrus Torrence, Joe Tippman (center) and John Michael Schmitz (center) may go much earlier than anticipated. 
  • The media’s most overvalued position is quarterback. Shook I know. The narrative that teams fall in love with a QB is stronger in public perception than in actual reality. 
  • So in a 2022 quarterback draft class that was particularly poor, it was not too shocking to see the QBs fall. 
  • Recall that Malik Willis was -145 going over pick 12.5. 
  • Kenny Pickett was -115 on both sides of pick 16.5. I recommended the overs on both of these props last season. Winner winner chicken dinner. 
  • This year is slightly different with a much better QB class. However, even in a stacked 2021 class where five quarterbacks were projected to go top-10, only three did so. The 2020 class was pretty chalk — besides the media being much lower on Justin Herbert than NFL teams. Same thing in 2019, but with Daniel Jones. 
  • Can’t help but get Will Levis vibes here — as the quarterback the media is not hyping up is the one that actually goes earlier than expected. The latest reports claim the Colts are higher on Will Levis than they are on Anthony Richardson.
  • C.J. Stroud has also fallen slightly from being the No. 1 favorite to sometimes being the third or fourth QB selected. I seriously doubt he isn’t one of the top-2 quarterbacks selected (-160 to be the second quarterback drafted on DraftKings Sportsbook). 
  • Interior linebacker is the second-most overvalued position by the public. They just aren’t as valuable as they have been in years past, but the market has somewhat adjusted.
  • Currently, no linebacker is projected to go in the first round. And some view Drew Sanders as more of a pass rusher than a traditional middle linebacker.
  • Last season, two linebackers were drafted in the first round: Quay Walker (22nd by Green Bay) and Devin Lloyd (27th by Jacksonville). Lloyd fell 7 spots behind EDP, while Walker beat his by 11 spots (31 EDP). The next LB was not selected until 58th overall. 
  • The positions where there’s the least variance between mock drafts and real selections include defensive tackle, tight end, outside linebacker, and guard. The public and NFL are more in lockstep with these positions. So if you are looking to follow the field with certain picks, these tend to be the positions to gravitate toward.
  • Obviously, the IOL was a bit wild last season, but the defensive tackle and tight end positions were pretty spot-on based on the expected draft position.
  • Therefore you should expect both Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid to be drafted in Round 1.
  • From a specific team perspective, the Steelers, Seahawks, Raiders, Giants, Packers, Saints, Raiders, and Texans have the largest difference in players going much earlier than mocks predicted pre-draft. If you plan on going “off-the-rails” and getting away from chalk in a particular selection, these are the teams to do it with. Keep in mind that some of these teams — Giants, Texans, and Raiders — have newer GMs, so the historical trends don’t hold as much weight. 
  • Last year, the Packers overvalued a linebacker 22nd overall. Houston took a guard 15th overall, nearly ten spots ahead of EDP. The Raiders didn’t have any top-end picks due to the Davante Adams trade, so there’s not much we can take away from last year’s draft. 
  • Pittsburgh’s numbers are heavily skewed due to their outlandish selection of safety Terrel Edmunds in 2018. Their more recent first-round picks — Devin Bush, Najee Harris, Kenny Pickett — have been easier to predict. 
  • Simply put: Mike Tomlin and company aren’t afraid to show their love for particular prospects and it’s worth chasing. 
  • The Seahawks being on this list also has me convinced the market has them incorrectly pegged as the Jalen Carter firewall team. I think they take somebody that’s being mocked later as opposed to selecting the Georgia defensive tackle.
  • The Saints went surprisingly chalky last season, but it was definitely a different approach. I wouldn’t be shocked if they do something more off-the-wall with the 29th overall pick (Hendon Hooker alert). 
  • The NFL teams that have been most aligned with pre-draft projections include Washington, Denver, New York (Jets), Arizona, Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and the Los Angeles Chargers. Don’t anticipate many of those teams to go way off the board with their Round 1 pick(s). 
  • Anticipate they also don’t pass up on the best player available if the value falls to them.
  • Note that Arizona/Minnesota/Chicago are under new GMs so I’d anticipate they will be a more difficult team to project. 
  • Carolina’s alignment with pre-draft projections also makes it more likely that Bryce Young is the quarterback they want to select No. 1 overall. 
  • As for specific college teams, there are a few that stand out in terms of the mock drafts not being high enough on their players. The football factories that lead the way include Ohio State, Georgia, TCU, San Diego State, and Houston. 
  • Schools like San Diego State and Houston can be linked back to specific wild first-round picks (Rashaad Penny, Payton Turner), but it’s interesting nevertheless that these less polarizing schools produced first-rounders. 
  • The top prospects from Ohio State, Georgia, and TCU include C.J. Stroud, Jalen Carter, Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Nolan Smith, Quentin Johnston, Dawand Jones, Kelee Ringo, Darnell Washington, and Steve Avila. 
  • Ohio State and Georgia have plenty of players that project to go high in this year’s draft, so you might want to be higher on prospects that mock drafts have going later and vice-versa.
  • TCU’s Quentin Johnston has fallen far from grace in recent months, but it may not be warranted.
  • Among the Georgia players, I’d bet the uber-athlete Nolan Smith goes earlier than his EDP (17). Take advantage of that in the betting markets and your mock drafts. 
  • Because Georgia players are often under-mocked by the consensus, don’t be afraid to fill your mock draft with them to your heart’s desire. By my account, I’d say there are four or five Bulldogs who easily could be Round 1 players.
  • While scraping Grindingthemocks.com I discovered that since 2018, eight players with an EDP of 50 or more were drafted in the first round. 
  • Other than Cole Strange, the highest EDP (35th) for a first-round player was safety Lewis Cine (from Georgia). 
  • EDGE Will McDonald, RB Jahmyr Gibbs, TE Darnell Washington, WR Jalin Hyatt, C John Michael Schmitz, OT Dawand Jones, DT Mazi Smith, EDGE Adetomiwa Adebawore, EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and C Joe Tippman are the next closest in consideration as Round 1 picks with EDPs outside the top-32. Two of the named players are in my mock draft. 

Dynasty Rookie Draft Kit

  1. Carolina Panthers: Bryce Young (QB – Alabama)

The new heavy-betting favorite (-1800 on DraftKings Sportsbook) to go No. 1 overall, Bryce Young is the selection for the Carolina Panthers. The team is too enamored by his football IQ and off-script playmaking ability to be overly concerned about his size. Besides, if we look back at Panthers GM Scott Fitterer’s draft track record with Seattle, there is a connection to a similarly undersized QB that found success with Russell Wilson. And although most of Frank Reich’s quarterbacks have been profiled as bigger pocket passers, that didn’t always create the best results. In fact, the two highest-profile quarterbacks he worked with — Carson Wentz and Andrew Luck — both had their careers derailed by injuries despite boasting superior height/weight. 

  1. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud (QB – Ohio State)

I am not buying that the Houston Texans are not interested in taking a quarterback at No. 2 overall if Bryce Young is gone. The NFL is a QB-driven league, and teams that don’t have franchise QB are trapped in purgatory. DeMeco Ryans said that the team wants to add a young quarterback to their team. He also said there are two good guys at the top, suggesting that they will get one of their “guys” regardless of who Carolina selects No. 1 overall. Stroud is listed at plus odds to be the second overall pick (+150) per FanDuel Sportsbook.

  1. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Richardson (QB – Florida) (Trade with Arizona Cardinals)

If you look at the current betting markets, quarterback Anthony Richardson and edge rusher Will Anderson are the favorites to be the No. 3 overall pick (with Stroud also mixed in). Ergo, this pick has a strong chance to be traded with the Arizona Cardinals set at quarterback with Kyler Murray. The team is looking to trade down (potentially on draft night for leverage) for additional assets.

And wouldn’t it make all the sense in the world for the new general manager Monti Ossenfort to make a splash move by trading with his old team (Tennesse Titans), who have the second shortest odds (+190) to take Richardson despite currently holding the No. 3 pick?

The Titans were on board with trading up for Malik Willis last season in the 3rd round, so there’s a sense in the building that quarterback is an area of need – especially with Ryan Tannehill on the last year of his contract. New Titans GM Ran Carthon also has ties back to the University of Florida, where he played in his college ball.

And just imagine opposing defenses trying to stop two Derrick Henry-level athletes. Madness.

I’d also imagine Willis could be part of the trade package to the Cardinals, considering the Titans aren’t exactly high on his prospects after a disappointing rookie season. The team signed Josh Dobbs off the street at the end of the season to help win games instead of the Liberty quarterback. Also, ex-Titans GM Jon Robinson said in an interview after Willis was selected in last year’s draft that he was their pick because he was the best player available, not necessarily because he was “their” guy. And if anything from last year is apparent, Willis is not head coach Mike Vrabel’s “guy.”

Arizona also has major question marks at quarterback. They re-signed David Blough, but both Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy are coming off injuries. Willis’ rushing upside could be the perfect replacement and stop-gap for the Cardinals while Murray comes back from injury. New head coach Jonathan Gannon knows the upside and damage that mobile QBs can deliver from his two seasons spent watching Jalen Hurts in Philly.

  1. Indianapolis Colts: Will Levis (QB – Kentucky)

The Colts need to face the reality that they can’t run back another retread at quarterback. They need a young franchise quarterback in 2023 and having a top-five pick allows them to acquire one. Insert Will Levis at No. 4 overall.

  1. Seattle Seahawks: Tyree Wilson (DE – Texas Tech)

Just when you thought it was safe to trust Seattle to make a chalky pick…they draft Tyree Wilson as the first edge defender. Wilson finished eighth in pass-rush win rate on true pass sets and first in pressures per game (4.4) among his 2023 draft class. The 6-foot-6, 271-pound edge rusher did not test at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

  1. Detroit Lions: Will Anderson Jr. (DE – Alabama)

Two years in a row the Detroit Lions get arguably the best player in the draft without the No. 1 overall pick. Brad Holmes is doing backflips. 

  1. Las Vegas Raiders: Devon Witherspoon (CB – Illinois)

With Jimmy Garoppolo settled in at quarterback, Las Vegas should shift their draft focus to their defense, which ranked 31st in pass defense DVOA in 2022. They have multiple cornerbacks on expired contracts — Anthony Averett, Rock Ya-Sin, Sidney Jones — and need to add to the position. It was smart for them to bring back Brandon Facyson on a two-year deal and sign safety Marcus Epps from the Eagles but it’s not enough.

I will also note that had I not chosen the Titans to trade up to No. 3 overall, I would have picked the Raiders to move up to that spot for a quarterback (Levis or Richardson) instead. Ossenfort has ties to both Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler from his time spent in New England. 

  1. Atlanta Falcons: Bijan Robinson (RB – Texas)

Arthur Smith wants to establish the run. We all know it. That being said, there’s no better way to execute a run-first offense, than with generational talent in the backfield. Bijan Robinson, you are a Dirty Bird. 

I’d also like to point out that the Falcons have made a flurry of moves in free agency akin to a team in a win-now mindset. The division is essentially up for grabs, and they have a rookie quarterback on a cheap deal. Why not go all-in with a final piece in Robinson? 

  1. Chicago Bears: Broderick Jones (OT – Georgia)

Getting Justin Fields an offensive line is essential. Right tackle Riley Reiff was signed by the Patriots, and the Bears don’t have any reliable in-house options between Larry Borom and Alex Leatherwood as plug-in starters. Nate Davis can play guard, but tackle is still a question mark. Hence, the selection of Broderick Jones.

Jones allowed zero sacks last season at left tackle as PFF’s sixth-highest-graded pass blocker in the 2023 draft class. The 6-foot-5, 311-pound lineman also ran the fastest 40-yard dash among tackles at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine (4.97, 93rd percentile).

Jones also fits the archetype of tackle prospect that new GM Ryan Poles may tend to draft toward. Last year’s fifth-round draft selection, Braxton Jones, is best comparable to Georgia tackle Broderick Jones. Braxton Jones started all 17 games for the Bears at left tackle last season. He ran his 40-yard dash at 4.97 (93rd percentile) and 10-yard split at 1.74 (80th percentile).

Another close comparison to Broderick Jones is Ikem Ekwonu, whose highlight tape was filled with him mauling guys in the run game. He was also the first OL selected last season. Currently, Broderick Jones is +700 to be the first OL selected on DraftKings Sportsbook (+800 FanDuel). His draft position prop is listed at 13.5, with massive juice toward the under at -250.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Carter (DT – Georgia)

The rich get richer. Jalen Carter falls to No. 10 overall amid his red flags due to a legal situation and lackluster testing. With two first-round picks and a pulse on the Georgia defense from Jordan Davis/Nakobe Dean, Philly acts greedy while others are fearful.

The former Bulldog graded out as PFF’s third-highest-graded defensive tackle in 2023 and his run-stop percentage ranked second-best in the nation. He is the best player available and also fills a need along an Eagles’ defensive line that looks different in 2023 due to losses in free agency.

  1. Arizona Cardinals: Christian Gonzalez (CB – Oregon) (Trade with Tennesse Titans)

Considering Mossenfort’s track record of drafting cornerbacks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team pull the trigger on a cornerback at third overall (or in this case when they successfully trade down). Especially when you consider his background with the Patriots organization, who are notorious for valuing coverage over pass rush.

New head coach Jonathan Gannon also got his start coaching defensive backs from 2014-2020 before being hired as defensive coordinator of the Eagles.

Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez could be a great option in the draft. He can tackle — he earned the 12th-lowest missed-tackle rate in class at 4.9% — and make plays on the ball.

Additionally, Gonzalez has hardly hit his peak since a 2022 breakout campaign; he still has yet to turn 21.

  1. Houston Texans: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR – Ohio State)

Houston got their quarterback of the future with the second overall pick and now they double down on offense to build around their young signal-caller with the selection of Jaxon Smith-Njigba — who is AMPED to catch passes from his college quarterback in the pros. Not like we have seen that work out in the NFL…

  1. New York Jets: Peter Skoronski (OT – Northwestern)

The Jets will “hopefully and eventually” upgrade their quarterback (paging Aaron Rodgers, hello darkness, my old friend), making this selection easy, with offensive line being an area of need due to some expiring contracts and underwhelming incumbents. The team also finished as PFF’s third-worst-graded pass-blocking unit in 2022. 

Northwestern’s left tackle Peter Skoronski finished as PFF’s No. 1-graded pass blocker in 2022 and New York can be flexible with how they deploy Skoronski across the OL. Skoronski is +110 to be the first OL selected. 

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

  1. New England Patriots: Darnell Wright (OT – Tennessee)

Addressing the offensive line is likely what the Patriots will do at some point in the draft, even as the team back-filled right tackle snaps between Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon. Yodny Cajuste was re-signed. New England signed 11-year veteran tackle Riley Reiff and former Denver Bronco Calvin Anderson in free agency. However, with Reiff’s age and Trent Brown entering a contract year, they could really use a staple future franchise tackle.

Darnell Wright was a four-year starter (42 games) at Tennessee and performed 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 led by Will Anderson. Also, per Sports Info Solutions, Wright finished with the second-lowest blown block percentage in the class (0.7%).

Wright should be a plug-and-play option as the team’s right tackle in Year 1 and for the foreseeable future. He also fits the bill of a typical Bill Belichick 1st-round offensive lineman.

  1. Green Bay Packers: Brian Branch (S – Alabama)

Three of GB’s eight-highest draft picks have been on defensive backs since 2018. 

Safety Adrian Amos played the most snaps against the run but will be a 30-year-old free agent. He was also a major liability in coverage as PFF’s fifth-lowest-graded safety in coverage. His teammate, Darnell Savage, ranked fourth worst in that category.

Needless to say, a safety with coverage skills needs to be on top of the Packers’ draft priorities.

Brian Branch has experience playing the nickel/slot — second-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.

  1. Washington Commanders: Deonte Banks (CB – Maryland)

Deonte Banks could possibly overtake Joey Porter Jr. as the CB3 considering some teams might prefer Banks with his superior athletic profile and higher scheme versatility. The Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora reports that the Washington Commanders and Pittsburgh Steelers are “head over heels” for Banks. Washington beats the Steelers to the punch, selecting Banks right ahead of them.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Paris Johnson Jr.  (OT – Ohio State)

Former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert routinely passed on the tackle position in Round 1 because they’ve had such a great line in recent years. That’s no longer the case.

However, there’s reason to believe this could be the year that bucks the trend for Pittsburgh avoiding offensive linemen in Round 1. Colbert stepped down as the team’s GM after the 2022 NFL Draft, being replaced in-house by Omar Khan. Khan has been with the Steelers since 2001, and last served as the Vice President of Football & Business Administration from 2016 to 2022.

It’s worth noting that the team was aggressive in improving the interior offensive line during the free-agency period, perhaps a foreshadowing of what’s yet to come in the draft in the form of a future franchise tackle. They’ve met with potential first-round tackle Paris Johnson Jr., and that’s why he is the selection at No. 17.

In Johnson’s first season as a left tackle in 2022, the 6-foot-6, 313-pound OT finished as a consensus All-American with zero holding penalties to boot.

  1. Detroit Lions: Joey Porter (CB – Penn State)

The Lions inject their pass defense with 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%).

Per Sports Info Solutions, Porter also boasted his classes’ highest hands-on-ball percentage (2.9%). Witherspoon forced the second-most incompletions and played the second-most man coverage snaps last season.

Detroit finished third in man coverage snaps under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn last season.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Nolan Smith (DE – Georgia)

On the defensive line, Rakeem Nunez-Roches (Giants), Akiem Hicks, and William Gholston are no longer on the roster.

The Buccaneers will look drastically different on defense in 2023, with so much overhaul needed to last year’s squad. They start rebuilding with NFL Combine workout warrior and edge defender Nolan Smith.

Smith tested in the 99th percentile in the 40-yard dash and 10-yard split, running a blazing 4.39 at 238 pounds. He also jumped 41.5 inches in the vertical (98th percentile) and jumped 128 inches in the broad (95th percentile). Before his injury in 2022 (Weeks 1-7), Smith led the Bulldogs in pressures, hurries, and PFF defensive grade.

  1. Seattle Seahawks: Zay Flowers (WR – Boston College)

Geno Smith was one of the better QBs passing from 11 personnel in 2022, ranking 10th in yards per attempt (7.2), seventh in TD-INT ratio, and sixth in passer rating. However, Seattle ran it at the seventh-lowest rate without any worthwhile third-receiving option

That changes with the addition of No.3 WR Zay Flowers.

Boston College’s Zay Flowers has spent previous offseasons training with Smith (and Antonio Brown) and is expected to be selected in the first round. Per Sports Info Solutions, Flowers led his class in yards after the catch per game (42.5). He also finished third in the class in unique routes run, sixth in target share (30%), and third in deep route percentage (49%).

His closest comparable, per Mockdraftable.com, is Seahawks 2021 second-rounder D’Wayne Eskridge. Eskridge has caught 17 passes for 122 yards since being drafted two years ago. Woof.

  1. Los Angles Chargers: Jordan Addison (WR – USC)

Per ESPN’s Jordan Reid, the Chargers are leaning toward a WR with the 21st overall pick. Reid has a “read” on the situation by connecting the dots to USC’s Jordan Addison with the Chargers because the team’s current WR coach Chris Beatty played a role in recruiting Addison at Pittsburgh. 

They add Addison out of Southern California to the mix to become Herbert’s big-play wideout. 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). More importantly, the 6-foot, 175-pound wide receiver proved that he could play more outside after spending most of his time in the slot at Pittsburgh.

  1. Baltimore Ravens: Lukas Van Ness (EDGE – Iowa)

The defensive end spot is one of the Ravens’ glaring needs, as they ranked as a bottom-10 pressure unit.

Free agent and 34-year-old Justin Houston led the team with 12 sacks.  Jason Pierre-Paul is also a free agent and is 34 years old. JPP played the second-most snaps as a pass rusher and most as a run defender among the Ravens’ defensive ends. Calais Campbell was also released and signed with the Falcons.

Lukas Van Ness’ 37 pressures on true pass sets ranked fourth in the FBS in 2022. His true pressure rate – Sports Info Solutions’ pressure rate that isolates straight dropbacks, which are more likely to be similar across situations – tied Jalen Carter for the highest mark in the class at 16%. He also impressed all 32 teams during the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. Per PlayerProfiler.com, Van Ness tested in the 92nd percentile in the 40-yard dash, achieving a 96th-percentile speed score at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds. He’s got Travon Walker (last year’s No. 1 overall pick) freakiness with shades of current New Orleans Saints pass rusher Cameron Jordan to his disruptive game.

  1. Minnesota Vikings: Quentin Johnston (WR – TCU)

On offense, a No. 2 wide receiver would be a wise investment. Adam Thielen signed with the Carolina Panthers and K.J. Osborn will be a free agent in 2024. Enter Quentin Johnston, the current betting favorite (+450 per FanDuel Sportsbook) to be selected by Minnesota. 

Draft Wizard

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Will McDonald IV (EDGE – Iowa State)

Defensive needs for the Jags include defensive linemen with Corey Peters hitting free agency. The team was able to retain Adam Gotsis, signing him to a super-cheap two-year contract.  Pass-rush reserves Arden Key (Titans) and Dawuane Smoot are both gone, and they combined for 11 sacks in 2022. 

Iowa State’s Will McDonald boasts a 90th-percentile arm length and a 98th-percentile broad jump (132 inches). His body type helped him tremendously as a pure edge rusher, earning him accolades as PFF’s third-highest-graded pass rusher on true pass sets in 2022. McDonald definitely fits the “Trent Baalke type” with his long arm length. Baalke owns a strong reputation and a tangible drafting record of gravitating toward players with long arms.

  1. New York Giants: John Michael Schmitz (C – Minnesota)

John Michael Schmitz is a super experienced center from Minnesota, that can be an immediate contributor to an NFL team looking for a plug-in starter. He started 35 games at the college level and finished third among centers in his class in positive run when behind rate per Sports Info Solutions.

JMC can start immediately for the Giants, who are in need of a center after losing Former starting center Jon Feliciano and his backup Nick Gates in free agency. 

  1. Dallas Cowboys: Michael Mayer (TE – Notre Dame)

More weapons for Dak Prescott? Yes, please. Michael Mayer can immediately step in and provide a major boost to an offense that can’t have enough playmakers. 

Mayer 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 fifth-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. This past season he caught 5.6 passes per game as the team’s featured weapon. Mayer offers the complete package at the tight end position. He’s just not an uber-athletic tight end that could hinder his upside at the next level. Jason Witten-esque. Perfect for Dallas

  1. Buffalo Bills: Myles Murphy (DE – Clemson)

As one of the most complete teams in the league, Buffalo has a variety of ways they could approach the 27th overall pick.

Addressing the needs at WR, OL, or EDGE will most likely be Buffalo’s approach in Round 1, and the choice will be dictated by who is the best player available. After forgoing the defensive line last year in the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Buffalo head back in that direction with Clemson’s Myles Murphy.

After all, the Bills’ pressure rate fell dramatically after the team lost Von Miller due to injury. They generated just a 5.1% pressure rate – a mark that would have ranked 31st compared to season-long standings.

During his Murphy’s pro day workout, he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash (96th percentile), 7.20 3-cone (49th percentile), and 4.35 short shuttle (66th percentile). He also possesses a relentless motor as indicated by his 5% broken and missed tackle rate – a mark that ranks No. 1 in the 2023 EDGE class.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals: Dalton Kincaid (TE – Utah)

Hayden Hurst signed with the Panthers in free agency, making tight end a prime position the Bengals will be forced to address. No. 2 blocking tight ends Drew Sample was re-signed, but Mitchell Wilcox is a free agent. Look for them to draft one in a talent-rich class and if they choose to go the tight end route in Round 1, they will land a stud like Dalton Kincaid.

Kincaid spent his first two seasons at San Diego playing a limited role, but he made the most of every touch he got, averaging nearly 19 yards per reception. His 21.0 yards per reception in 2019 ranked second among all TEs in both the FCS and FBS. After the impressive showing, Kincaid transferred to Utah in 2020 but missed the majority of the season due to COVID implications. It wasn’t until 2021 that Kincaid truly got his shot, and he absolutely dominated. Kincaid posted a 25% dominator rating as the 11th-highest-graded tight end in the nation per PFF. Kincaid followed up his impressive 2021 campaign nicely in 2022 with another eight-touchdown season. His dominator rating jumped to 26% as he led the nation in PFF receiving grade and finished 3rd in yards per route run. 

Kincaid led Utah with 70 receptions (5.8 receptions per game, 22% target share), the most by any tight end in the nation. At 246 pounds, Kincaid is on the smaller side of the tight end spectrum, making it likely he takes on the role of a move tight end at the next level. He ran 55% of his routes from the slot in 2022. Kincaid also did not do any pre-draft testing due to injury, but he reportedly has passed all his physicals regarding his health.

  1. New Orleans Saints: Hendon Hooker (QB – Tennessee)

Hendon Hooker’s draft stock has been on the constant rise. He’s generated first-round interest from multiple teams, including the New Orleans Saints, after finishing first in yards per attempt in his class last season (9.5). With the expectation that he can fully recover from his torn ACL sitting behind Derek Carr, Hooker can become the Saints’ full-time starter with them free of any guaranteed money in Carr’s contract after the 2024 season.

I also want to note that it might not be the Saints that make this selection here because I could easily see a trade with a team to get back into the first round that hasn’t drafted a quarterback yet, like the Indianapolis Colts, Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks or Detroit Lions. Perhaps New Orleans’ “interest” in Hooker is just a smoke screen to get a team to trade up for him at their benefit.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: O’Cyrus Torrence (OG – Florida)

On the offensive line, guard Isaac Seumalo is now in Pittsburgh. Seumalo inked a three-year deal with the Steelers. His former backup, Andre Dillard, signed a starter-level deal with the Titans. Cam Jurgens could be a candidate to fill the void at guard with Jason Kelce coming back at center.

But either way, the Eagles could use more depth along their interior with Kelce a candidate to retire at the end of the season and Jack Driscoll set to be a free agent as well.

The Eagles get rich (again) 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. Per Sports Info Solutions, his blown block percentage (1%) ranks No. 2 in the 2023 guard class.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs: Bryan Bresee (DT – Clemson)

The Chiefs’ defensive interior might also need some fine-tuning behind Chris Jones. Free agents Khalen Saunders (Saints) and Derrick Nnadi ranked right behind Jones in snaps played from the defensive interior in 2022. The team re-signed Nnadi, but he’s not any good. Among DLs with at least 400 snaps, Nnadi finished as PFF’s 83rd-graded interior defensive lineman among 87 qualifiers. 

Clemson’s Bryan Bresee can transition smoothly into the KC B-Gap and impose his will after he showed out a year removed from a torn ACL. His 12% pressure rate and pressures per game ranked inside the top five among his 2023 DT class, while his quick pressure rate tied for first. Quick pressure rate is the percentage of pass rushes that resulted in a player generating pressure on a QB in 2.5 seconds or less per Sports Info Solutions. 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.

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