We are only a couple of days away from the ball dropping in Times Square and the calendar flipping to 2023.
While two weeks remain in the NFL regular season and 14 teams will soon prepare for their second season, the other 18 teams (and their fan bases) will soon turn their attention to free agency and the draft.
The focus on the new year—and season—has the potential to energize us all with the optimism it brings.
The typical caveats apply to any December mock draft. The draft order will change, perhaps significantly. Undecided prospects have until Jan. 16 to declare for the draft. Team needs will change following free agency.
With all that said, here is how the first round could play out in 2023.
Note: Draft order is based on current standings, per Tankathon. And there are only 31 picks, because the Dolphins have forfeited their first-round pick in 2023.
1. Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Davis Mills had a disappointing sophomore campaign as he was temporarily benched in favor of Kyle Allen this season. Unless Nick Caserio has his sights set on a 2024 signal-caller, such as USC’s Caleb Williams or UNC’s Drake Maye, Young is likely to be the pick here. Other than his slight frame (he’s listed at 6’0″ and 194 pounds), Young has everything else you’d want in a franchise quarterback. Whether carving up opposing secondaries with his quick processing and accuracy from the pocket or using his instincts to make plays outside the pocket, Young has the poise, awareness, confidence and composure to consistently raise the play of the offense.
2. Chicago Bears: Will Anderson Jr., edge, Alabama
Ryan Poles & Co. face the “good problem” of deciding between Jalen Carter and Anderson (assuming a quarterback goes No. 1). After trading away Khalil Mack before the season and Robert Quinn during it, no team has recorded fewer sacks through Week 16 than the Bears (18). There is little that Anderson can’t do, as he uses his strength, length and explosiveness to disrupt opposing offenses against both the pass and run. Through 40 career games in Tuscaloosa, Anderson has racked up 34.5 sacks and 62 tackles for loss. Anderson’s blend of physical traits, production and intangibles warrant being the top pick in the draft.
3. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos): Jalen Carter, IDL, Georgia
As a true sophomore last season, Carter was arguably the best defender on Georgia’s championship-winning defense that yielded five first-round picks this past April. With his combination of power, first-step quickness and burst, he consistently wreaks havoc behind the line of scrimmage as he dominates opposing interior offensive linemen. While he missed a couple of games in 2022 with a knee injury, Carter has seven TFLs and three sacks over his past five games.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Bryan Bresee, IDL, Clemson
Like the Bears and Seahawks ahead of them, the Cardinals would be a prime spot to trade down a few spots, as any of the next four or five teams could be in the market for a quarterback. In that scenario, they’d still potentially get Bresee (or they could address their offensive line). It’s not often that multiple interior defensive linemen are selected with top-four picks, but those who (potentially) are picked there are disruptive on passing downs like Bresee (and Carter).
5. Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Presumably, the Colts will have a new coach in 2023, even though Jeff Saturday would like Jim Irsay to drop the interim tag from his title. What’s clear, however, is that their long-term solution at quarterback is not on the roster after cycling through Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles to start games this season. Stroud doesn’t shine the way Young does when the play breaks down, but he throws with touch and anticipation and outstanding accuracy to all three levels when given time in the pocket.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Myles Murphy, edge, Clemson
Only the Bears have generated fewer sacks in 2022 than the Falcons (22), who ranked last (by a wide margin) in that category last season. Rookie second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie ranks third on the team with 2.5 sacks, but the team clearly needs to add reinforcements to its pass rush. Murphy ranked third on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List, as the 6’5″, 275-pounder is extremely powerful and has run a sub-4.6 40-yard dash (not that an edge should have to run 40 yards often). Through 35 career games, Murphy has a total of 36 TFLs, 18.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
7. Detroit Lions (via Rams): Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Despite a rough 1–6 start, the Lions have won six of their past eight games and trail the Commanders by only a half game for the final NFC playoff spot. While it’s certainly possible they could draft a successor to Jared Goff, it’s their defense (last in total and scoring defense) that’s been the problem. Ringo, who won’t turn 21 until the summer, has an ideal combination of size, speed and physicality for the position. After ending the 2022 season with a pick-six to clinch the national title, Ringo will get a chance to showcase his skill set in a tough matchup in the College Football Playoff against Marvin Harrison Jr., who likely would have been this year’s WR1 if he were draft-eligible.
8. Carolina Panthers: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Like the Colts, the Panthers have started three different quarterbacks this season and are prepared to go in a different direction next year. Levis is a former Penn State transfer and an older prospect who will turn 24 before the start of the 2023 NFL season. While his supporting cast hasn’t done him many favors this season, he has been inconsistent and has thrown 23 interceptions over his two seasons as a starter. That said, he has a big, sturdy frame, strong arm, good mobility and leadership qualities that could entice a franchise desperate for a quarterback upgrade to take a chance on him.
9. Las Vegas Raiders: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Skoronski is the grandson of Bob Skoronski, who was a captain on all five of Vince Lombardi’s NFL championship teams. He immediately stepped in as Northwestern’s starting left tackle when Rashawn Slater opted out of the 2020 season, but he has the versatility to play anywhere along the offensive line. Skoronski is technically sound with the foot quickness and balance to minimize any concerns about lack of arm length. Given that the Raiders have Kolton Miller at left tackle, Skoronski would immediately provide an upgrade at one of the other spots along the line.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Saints): Tyree Wilson, edge, Texas Tech
As tempting as it would be to slot Bijan Robinson, a running back with top-10 talent, to the Eagles, it’s more likely that Howie Roseman will do what he typically does and focus on the trenches. Wilson has the size and versatility to play inside and out and uses his power, bend, athleticism and length (nearly 36″ arms) to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. A foot injury prematurely ended Wilson’s collegiate playing career, but he still led the Big 12 in total pressures (50) this season and finished with at least 13.5 TFLs and seven sacks in back-to-back seasons.
11. Houston Texans (via Browns): Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
The Texans tried (and failed) to move Brandin Cooks before the trade deadline, which clouds his status beyond this season. Adding receiving talent to pair with their young quarterback (see first pick) makes sense given the uninspiring crop of free-agent wide receivers (scheduled to be) available next March. Johnston’s combination of size, speed, leaping ability and wide catch radius allow him to make plays down the field and win in contested-catch situations.
12. Seattle Seahawks: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
General manager John Schneider hit a home run with last year’s draft class, and the Seahawks got a stud in Carter with the third pick of this mock. While Geno Smith isn’t currently under contract for 2023, he’s played well enough to earn a contract to return and start next season. The potential for Smith to return would allow the Seahawks to draft and develop Richardson without forcing him into action before he’s ready. While he’s only a one-year starter, he has a unique blend of dual-threat traits and immense upside.
13. Tennessee Titans: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Titans have drafted a corner within the first two rounds of the past three drafts—Kristian Fulton (61st, 2020), Caleb Farley (22nd, ’21) and Roger McCreary (35th, ’22). Farley recently had back surgery, and he has a long injury history dating back to his days at Virginia Tech. Gonzalez has an outstanding combination of size and speed and has four interceptions this season and is in the mix to be the first corner off the board.
14. New England Patriots: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
The Patriots could benefit from an upgrade to their receiving corps, and their best receiver (Jakobi Meyers) is scheduled to become a free agent in 2023. Even if Bill Belichick would prefer to add a veteran receiver, a weak class awaits them in ’23 as Meyers arguably tops the list of free-agent receivers. In addition, Nelson Agholor is a free-agent-to-be. Addison isn’t the biggest receiver, but he has the ability to consistently separate and play in the slot or outside.
15. New York Jets: Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
George Fant will be a free agent in 2023, former first-round pick Mekhi Becton has played just one game in the past two seasons and Duane Brown will turn 38 next August. In other words, it wouldn’t be surprising if Joe Douglas used this pick on a tackle, especially if one of Johnson’s caliber was still available here. While he played right guard last season, the former five-star recruit moved to his more natural position of left tackle this season and has excelled.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
It’s been a decade since the Steelers last drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (David DeCastro, 2012). Jones made his first four starts to end the ’21 season and was named first-team All-SEC in his first season as a full-time starter in ’22. He has the nimble feet to stay in front of pass rushers and get to the second level as a run blocker. The former five-star recruit’s combination of length and movement skills provides the Steelers with a long-term upgrade at left tackle.
17. Green Bay Packers: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
There is a lot to like about rookie receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, but both Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis will be free agents in the offseason. Mayer led the team in receiving in each of his three seasons in South Bend as the focal point of Notre Dame’s passing offense. He finished 2022 with 67 catches (next closest teammate: 30) for 809 yards (350) and nine touchdowns (three). While he isn’t an elite athlete, he has an above-average all-around skill set as a receiver and blocker who can play in line or be moved around the formation.
18. Detroit Lions: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
As noted earlier, the Lions currently rank last in the NFL in defense and need to get better on that side of the ball. Simpson is a true junior, but he graduated in just three years. Simpson has sideline-to-sideline range and the versatility to defend the run, be deployed as a blitzer or drop in coverage.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Shaquill Griffin is out for the rest of the season, but could the Jags move on from him after the season? Griffin and Darious Williams combine to count for $30 million against the cap in 2023, per Spotrac. Meanwhile, second-year cornerback Tyson Campbell is playing well this season. Porter is a physical corner with good size and length, but he can get overaggressive at times. While he has only one career interception, he’s having his best season with 11 passes defended.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Perhaps Tom Brady’s unretirement was too hasty and the Bucs could look quite different next season, but they still control their destiny to win the NFC South. The offense ranks last in the NFL in rushing yards per game (77.0) and per carry (3.4), as both Leonard Fournette (3.6) and Rachaad White (3.9) are averaging fewer than four yards per carry. Robinson won the Doak Walker Award as the top college running back, and the do-everything back is one of the best prospects at the position in several years. He has outstanding size, speed, contact balance and elusiveness and is a talented receiver out of the backfield. Per PFF, Robinson averaged 4.17 yards after contact per attempt and forced 104 missed tackles.
21. Washington Commanders: Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
A repeat pick from my Mock 2.0, Smith would join a secondary that lost William Jackson III at the trade deadline. In addition, Kendall Fuller will enter a contract year in 2023. Smith is a confident and physical cornerback who is sticky in coverage and a willing tackler in run support. He finished his South Carolina career with six interceptions.
22. New York Giants: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Few teams, if any, have a worse receiving corps than the Giants. Kenny Golladay has been a free-agent bust, former first-rounder Kadarius Toney was traded to the Chiefs and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson has missed most of 2022. The team’s top two leading receivers—Darius Slayton and Richie James—along with Sterling Shepard are impending free agents. A Week 1 hamstring injury ultimately derailed his junior campaign, but Smith-Njigba led the Buckeyes in receiving last season with 95 catches for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns on a team that also included a pair of top-11 draft picks (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave). JSN will provide whomever is under center in ’23 with a reliable target from the slot.
23. Los Angeles Chargers: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
Built like a hybrid OT/TE at 6’7″ and 270 pounds, Washington is like an extra offensive tackle on the field who is dominant as a run blocker. Georgia sophomore teammate Brock Bowers would be TE1 if he were draft-eligible, but I expect Washington to be a more productive receiver at the next level given his combination of size and athleticism.
24. Baltimore Ravens: Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
When the Ravens are at full strength, they have an elite tight end in Mark Andrews and a talented young intermediate threat in Rashod Bateman, who’s out for the rest of the season. What their passing attack lacks, however, is the vertical threat that Hyatt would provide. The breakout Biletnikoff Award–winning receiver finished the year with 67 receptions for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns, eight of which were scores of at least 45 yards.
25. Denver Broncos (via 49ers): Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
Do the Broncos have buyer’s remorse with what they have given up for Russell Wilson? No team has allowed more sacks than the Broncos (57), who have just fired their less-than-one-and-done head coach, Nathaniel Hackett. Garett Bolles had surgery on a broken leg, and the Broncos have five offensive linemen scheduled to be free agents in 2023 including three tackles (Cameron Fleming, Billy Turner and Calvin Anderson). Harrison has the size and movement skills to upgrade a tackle spot and help keep Wilson upright.
26. Dallas Cowboys: O’Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Florida
Rookie Tyler Smith has exceeded expectations this season. While Tyron Smith has returned from the injury he sustained in training camp, he’s 32 years old and has missed a minimum of three games per season since 2016. Both Connor McGovern and Jason Peters will be unrestricted free agents, and Terence Steele will be a restricted free agent after this season. The Cowboys are at their best when their offensive line is elite, and they would add the draft’s best guard here with Torrence. He’s a bully as a run blocker, moves better than one would expect for someone nearly 350 pounds and (after transferring from Louisiana) handled the jump in competition from the Sun Belt to SEC well.
27. Cincinnati Bengals: Antonio Johnson, DB, Texas A&M
While the Bengals selected Daxton Hill in the first round in April, both Jessie Bates, who is playing on the franchise tag, and Vonn Bell are scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March. Johnson is one of the most versatile defensive backs in this draft class, who can make an impact defending the pass and run. He’s a tall, long-limbed and athletic defender, who could use his length to occasionally match up with tight ends in a division that includes Mark Andrews, Pat Freiermuth and David Njoku.
28. Kansas City Chiefs: Jared Verse, edge, Florida State
Given the potency of Kansas City’s high-powered offense, opponents are often in catch-up mode. In other words, the Chiefs can never have too many pass rushers. Verse made the jump from FCS-level Albany, and the explosive edge rusher has showed well in his first season with the Seminoles. He has 7.5 sacks and 14.5 TFLs in 11 games, including sacks in three of his past four games.
29. Minnesota Vikings: Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah
The Vikings are 12–3, but they have surrendered the fifth-most points (373) while also allowing the most passing yards per game (281.5) this season. Only the Lions (8.1) have allowed more passing yards per attempt than the Vikings (7.9). Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan will be free agents in 2023. Phillips may lack ideal size, but he has a nose for the football. CP3 uses his quickness, agility, intelligence and instincts to jump routes, and has six interceptions including two returned for scores with an additional six pass breakups this season.
30. Buffalo Bills: Brian Branch, S, Alabama
The team’s top two safeties—Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde—are both over 30 and free agents in 2023 and ’24, respectively. Given the versatility that the Bills covet in the safety position, and Branch’s versatile skill set to play anywhere in the secondary, this makes for an ideal pairing.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Eagles have the luxury of having no glaring needs at any premium position. While I slotted Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs here in Mock 2.0 (a luxury pick?), reinforcing a premier position that is a current strength makes sense given that James Bradberry will be a free agent in the offseason. Witherspoon, who didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school, is a three-year starter for the Illini. While he isn’t the biggest cornerback, he’s physical and competitive at the catch point and as a tackler. Witherspoon was described by Illinois DB coach Aaron Henry as “brilliantly intelligent” based on his understanding of what opposing offenses and receivers are doing, and he finished his final season with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
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