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2023 NFL Mock Draft: Andrew Erickson’s Final Picks & Predictions (7.0)

2023 NFL Mock Draft: Andrew Erickson’s Final Picks & Predictions (7.0)

Welcome to my final release of the 2023 NFL Draft mock draft! As the draft approaches, I have carefully analyzed the top prospects and made predictions on which 31 players will be selected in the first round and which teams they will go to. It’s important to note that my focus is on the players’ destinations rather than the actual pick numbers within the first round. After all, we care more about player-team pairings rather than the actual numbered slots. This also adheres closely to the rules of The Huddle Report’s mock draft accuracy competition which I will be participating in.

So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at my predictions for the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

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2023 NFL Mock Draft

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

The Carolina Panthers are expected to select Bryce Young as the No.1 overall draft pick. Despite being undersized, the team values his football intelligence and ability to make plays outside of a structured game plan. The Panthers’ GM has a history of successful draft picks with similarly undersized quarterbacks, i.e., Russell Wilson. Additionally, the height and weight of previous quarterbacks coached by Frank Reich did not guarantee success, as both Carson Wentz and Andrew Luck suffered injuries despite their larger builds.

  1. Houston Texans: Tyree Wilson (EDGE – Texas Tech)

I’m in the camp that believes the Houston Texans will take the best defensive player at No. 2 overall and finagle their way into another quarterback later. They know Tyree Wilson won’t be there at No. 12, but there’s a chance one of their other quarterback targets is available.

  1. Arizona Cardinals: Paris Johnson Jr.  (OT – Ohio State)

The Cardinals have been open for business to trade out of this selection, but they have not been able to find a suitable partner. Therefore, they are stuck with the third overall player and select the No. 1 tackle prospect, Paris Johnson. I like this team-player fit for multiple reasons. Monti Ossenfort has overseen plenty of draft room with teams such as the Patriots and Titans that invested high-end first-round draft capital in the offensive line. Protecting their franchise quarterback Kyler Murray should be the team’s main goal. And linking Johnson with the Cardinals could still also happen even if Arizona ultimately trades back with Johnson likely available until the Bears’ selection at No. 9 overall.

I love the +270 odds on Johnson going as the third overall pick; +350 to be a top-5 pick is probably a slightly safer bet in case the Colts-Cardinals swap picks based on what Houston does at No. 2 overall.

This exact top-3 order: Young, Wilson, and Paris Johnson Jr. is listed at +700 odds on FanDuel Sportsbook.

  1. Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud (QB – Ohio State)

All I know is that the Colts are going to take a quarterback. Who it remains to be seen. But considering the Texans are the least connected to C.J. Stroud, I figure he has the highest chances of still being on the board (in case Houston does go QB at second overall). Whether Stroud is the highest on the Colts’ draft board… we will just have to wait and see.

FWIW, that’s the pick I’d make if I was in Chris Ballard’s chair. I also think Stroud checks off the most boxes for a rookie quarterback prospect between Ballard and new head coach Shane Steichen.

5. Seattle Seahawks: Will Anderson Jr. (DE – Alabama)

The betting market is going heavily against me here, with Jalen Carter the heavy favorite to be selected by Seattle 5th overall. But I am still skeptical that Seattle would draft the Georgia defensive tackle with his off-the-field issues.

I’m not convinced that the Seahawks under John Schneider are the team “slated” to stop the potential fall of Carter. Schneider drafted Malik McDowell in the second round (35th overall) back in 2017 despite character issues as a prospect. McDowell never played a down for Seattle. And since then, Seattle hasn’t drafted players highly with major red flags, opting for players with strong character to build their roster.

During the pre-draft process, Seattle was also just one of a few teams that Will Anderson visited. Pete Carroll is doing shirtless backflips if Anderson falls to them at No.5. The former Crimson Tide edge rusher finished fourth overall in total pressures in 2022 (third in the class with 4.1 pressures per game) while lining up primarily outside the tackle.

Anderson is listed at +600 on FanDuel Sportsbook to be the fifth overall pick.

  1. Detroit Lions:  Jalen Carter (DT – Georgia)

It was ludicrous that you could get plus-money odds on Jalen Carter under 6.5 with the Detroit Lions likely his firewall team. It’s been heavily bet down to -330. Carter 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.

Carter is listed at +430 odds to be the sixth overall pick.

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

The Raiders feel “okay” enough with Jimmy Garoppolo not to select a quarterback that isn’t named Young/Stroud with the 7th overall pick. Instead, they opt for an elite defender with CB Devon Witherspoon.

Las Vegas ranked 31st in pass defense DVOA in 2022. They have multiple cornerbacks on expired contracts — Anthony Averett, Rock Ya-Sin, Sidney Jones (Bengals) — 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.

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

Arthur Smith wants to establish the run. We all know it. 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. The Texas RB is -110 to be a top-10 draft pick (+100 odds on FanDuel Sportsbook).

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 by drafting Robinson?

Atlanta has also been rumored to be a team looking to trade down. But Robinson’s devalued position status keeps them in the running to take him, even if they move lower than 8th overall.

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

The Bears really like Paris Johnson, but he’s not available, and I don’t believe he will be. I’m going off the board here with Broderick Jones with OL an obvious need. Even though the next consensus-ranked OL in Peter Skoronski is available, I have an inkling the Bears might prefer Broderick Jones. I also know that a team like the Raiders could take Skoronski, or another team might trade up for him to jump Chicago.

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 a top-10 pick and +1400 to be the ninth overall selection (FanDuel). His draft position prop is listed at 14.5, with plus money toward the under at +185. It was previously at -250 on DraftKings Sportsbook.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles: Nolan Smith (EDGE – Georgia)

Nolan Smith fills a need along an Eagles’ defensive line that looks different in 2023 due to losses in free agency.

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.

Smith is +110 to be a top-10 pick and +500 to be the 10th overall pick on DraftKings Sportsbook. I don’t think he escapes the top 10 with his freakish traits.

11. Tennessee Titans:  Anthony Richardson (QB – Florida)

Anthony Richardson is no longer the betting favorite to be selected by the Titans (+350 per DraftKings Sportsbook), sitting behind the Seahawks and Colts.

His -700 odds to be a top-10 pick and +100 odds to be selected top-5 do suggest he only lands there with a trade-up by Tennessee. That may not end up being the case if another team trades up, potentially resulting in the super polarizing passer falling into the Titans’ laps at 11.

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.

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

  1. Houston Texans: Will Levis (QB – Kentucky)

Now the Texans have their quarterback. The interest in Kentucky’s Will Levis is real, just not with the second-overall pick. Should be a nice system fit in Houston, with Bobby Slowik drawing his offense from the 49ers. Former NFL coaches Liam Coen and Rich Scangarello have ties back to the Kyle Shanahan scheme, and both coached Levis at Kentucky.

  1. Green Bay Packers: Christian Gonzalez (CB – Oregon)

Green Bay loves to draft defensive backs highly in the draft, especially ones that possess uber-athleticism. Three of the team’s eight-highest draft picks have been on defensive backs since 2018. CB Christian Gonzalez fits the mold.

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

The Jets got their upgrade at quarterback with Aaron Rodgers making this selection easy, with the 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 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.

16. 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 beat the Steelers to the punch, selecting Banks one spot ahead of them.

I absolutely love the under on Banks’ draft prop position slot at 20.5.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Lukas Van Ness (EDGE – Iowa)

I wouldn’t put it past the Steelers to go with another pass rusher because you can never have too many. And the team struggled without T.J. Watt setting the edge. Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu remain unsigned in free agency. Cameron Hayward isn’t getting any younger at age 34, and eventually, his production will tail off.

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, 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. Detroit Lions: Joey Porter Jr. (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: Will McDonald IV (EDGE – Iowa State)

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 Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV.

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.

The Iowa State edge rusher has -340 odds to be a 1st Round Pick on FanDuel Sportsbook (-300 DraftKings Sportsbook).

20. 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, 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: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR – Ohio State)

Baltimore needs to add more weapons at the wide receiver position after being decimated in that area in 2022. Baltimore drafts WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba to address the glaring hole by pairing him with Odell Beckham Jr. on his one-year deal. 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.

At the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, Smith-Njigba measured in at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds. He did not run the 40-yard dash or perform well in the jumps, but he flashed his short-area quickness with the best time in the 3-cone drill at 6.57 seconds (96th percentile) and 3.93 short shuttle time (97th percentile).

  1. Minnesota Vikings: Myles Murphy (DE – Clemson)

Minnesota desperately needs to bolster the defensive line in Round 1. They lost Dalvin Tomlinson to the Browns. The only worthwhile defensive line additions were ex-Saints defensive lineman Marcus Davenport and ex-Packer Dean Lowry.

The Vikings drafted EDGE Esezi Otomewo in the fifth round last season, and a close comparable to him in this year’s class is Clemson’s Myles Murphy.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Brian Branch (S – Alabama)

The Jaguars have a nice starting cornerback with Tyson Campbell but question marks at the other defensive positions. Shaquill Griffin was released, and Darious Williams struggled from the slot in his first year in Jacksonville. Bringing back slot CB Tre Herndon was a smart business decision because it allows the team to kick Williams back to the perimeter, where he played much better last season.

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. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Jenkins loses playing time to Andrew Wingard off his new three-year extension.

Therefore, the Jaguars need to improve their 30th-ranked DVOA pass defense and backend by bolstering their secondary. Alabama safety Brian Branch is a potential option from the draft. 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. 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 need a center after losing Former starting center Jon Feliciano and his backup Nick Gates in free agency.

His current odds of being selected in the 1st round are listed at +170 (FanDuel Sportsbook). The Giants selecting an OL with their first pick are listed at +380 (DraftKings Sportsbook).

  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, who resides as the betting favorite to land the Notre Dame tight end.

  1. Buffalo Bills: Mazi Smith (DT – Michigan)

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 Michigan’s Mazi Smith.

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.

Smith finished first in the class in pressures per game among the 2023 nose tackle class. The 323-pound mammoth of a man also finished top 10 in the nation in run stops and tackles among interior defensive linemen in 2022.

  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: Calijah Kancey (DT – Pittsburgh)

The defensive line — particularly the pass rush — needs to be bolstered for New Orleans. They finished with the fourth-worst pressure rate in 2022. And they have a boatload of defensive linemen that aren’t under contract anymore, headlined by David Onyemata (Falcons), Shy Tuttle (Panthers), Kentavius Street (Eagles), and Marcus Davenport (Vikings). The only true additions along the defensive line were Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders.

They get a major interior disruptor with Pitt’s Calijah Kancey.

He posted the nation’s highest pass-rush grade among interior defenders in 2022 (92.4) with 47 total pressures (seventh), eight sacks (tied for second), and ranked first in PFF’s PRP rate that combines sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer.

  1. Las Vegas Raiders: Hendon Hooker (QB – Tennessee) (Trade with the Philadelphia Eagles)

The Raiders have been connected to Hendon Hooker throughout the pre-draft process, and they pull the trigger on a trade with the Eagles to get their future franchise quarterback in Round 1. Jimmy Garoppolo can never stay healthy, making a quarterback prospect addition an ideal fit for the Black Hole.

The Raiders current director of pro scouting, Dwayne Joseph, spent five years with the Eagles before coming to the Raiders in 2019.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs: Jahmyr Gibbs (RB – Alabama)

The last time the Chiefs took a running back at the end of the first round, it didn’t work out. But that’s heavily based on the player (Clyde Edwards-Helaire) they selected. KC picked the wrong running back that year. But this time, they choose the right running back, Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs. At 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, Gibbs measures the same size as Brian Westbrook. Except he offers elite pass-catching and top-tier speed with 4.36 wheels.

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