Mock draft season is back! While I generally detest doing mocks this early in the process, it is a helpful exercise to get a sense for potential team needs and how the order may play out.
Three things to keep in mind: First and foremost, a mock draft is not what I would do or what I think teams should do. All of my mock drafts are strictly what I’m hearing based on my conversations with scouts and front office personnel contacts around the league. Second, if the draft happened today, this would be the order based on win-loss records and strength of schedule (the second tiebreaker). I know many will be hoping to see their team trade down, but there are no trades in this projection.
And finally, we have five months to go until the 2023 NFL Draft, so this will be a fluid process. The phrases “things will change” or “it’s just too early” came up multiple times when I discussed players and potential landing spots with NFL scouts and personnel execs.
(Notes: An asterisk represents draft-eligible underclassmen who haven’t officially declared for the draft. There are only 31 picks in the first round this year, because the Miami Dolphins forfeited their selection.)
The Texans have an obvious need at quarterback. General manager Nick Caserio, however, has been working in the NFL for 22 years and has never been part of a front office that drafted a quarterback in the top 50 picks. It will be interesting to see how he attacks the position this offseason.
Opinions on Bryce Young will be split from team to team because his undersized frame (under 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds) makes him a complete outlier, especially for a potential No. 1 pick. But Young has special instincts along with the accuracy, poise and processing that should translate very well to the NFL.
Bryce Young using his legs to make things happen for the Crimson Tide. pic.twitter.com/ulndIpah2e
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 26, 2022
2. Chicago Bears: Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama*
Although quarterback Justin Fields is steadily progressing, the Bears are trending toward a top-three pick, which would be a positive in the long run. Will Anderson has the talent and intangibles to be a cornerstone player and defensive game-wrecker, both as a shutdown run defender and disruptive pass rusher off the edge.
If the draft plays out like this, it would be the first time in more than two decades that the first two players drafted were from the same college team. Penn State’s Courtney Brown (Cleveland Browns) and LaVar Arrington (Washington Redskins) went 1-2 in 2000.
Suttles: Bryce Young, Will Anderson deserve every bit of appreciation at Alabama
3. Detroit Lions (from L.A. Rams): Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia*
With Matthew Stafford out for the foreseeable future, the Rams are circling the drain and the Lions could wind up with a top-three pick as a result. With his body control and explosive power, Jalen Carter is a tough player to contain on the interior. In Carter and Alim McNeill, the Lions would have one of the best young defensive tackle duos in the NFL.
For a lot of the same reasons why Travon Walker went No. 1 last year, Myles Murphy should come off the board early on draft weekend. At last year’s combine, Walker posted a 4.51-second 40-yard dash and a 35 1/2-inch vertical at 272 pounds. With his speed and explosiveness, the 275-pound Murphy should be close to those numbers. He is an ideal fit for the Seahawks and the profile they covet at pass rusher.
The league is split on where C.J. Stroud will land. Some think he will be a top-10 draft pick, while others don’t see that level of prospect. Stroud’s inconsistencies creating outside of structure worry me for his next-level transition, but he is a smart, rhythm passer with the talent to start in Carolina. It feels like the Panthers are currently without a compass, which makes it almost impossible to predict what they will do with this pick.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 26, 2022
General manager Howie Roseman won’t need any convincing to target a defensive lineman, especially a prospect like Bryan Bresee, who has the athletic traits and intangibles worthy of the top 10. Jordan Davis and Bresee on the same interior would be a problem for blockers.
The Cardinals’ offensive tackles have been inconsistent this season, especially with D.J. Humphries hurt. Paris Johnson Jr. is an impressive mover for his size. Even when he misfires with his punch, he can recover and win because of his natural gifts. Johnson is still learning, but his mistakes are fixable and mostly due to inexperience, not lack of ability.
Of the last 12 first-round picks by the Packers, only one (Jordan Love) came on offense. An offensive lineman is possible here — Peter Skoronski playing for the Packers just like his Super Bowl-winning grandfather, Bob Skoronski, would be an awesome story. But no one should be surprised to see another defender, specifically along the line, where Tyree Wilson can be a versatile weapon.
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The Raiders need playmakers on defense, and Christian Gonzalez is a long, athletic cover man with the talent to grow into a team’s top corner. Though he has the physical traits, one of the main questions for Gonzalez’s evaluation heading into the season was: Can he do a better job making plays on the football? The Colorado transfer leads the Ducks with 11 passes defended and four interceptions, which both rank top three in the Pac-12.
GONZO!@chrisgonzo28 with his second pick of the season and a 36-yard runback in his return to Boulder!
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) November 5, 2022
10. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): Peter Skoronski, OT/G, Northwestern*
Around the same time that Caserio joined the Patriots in 2001, the franchise drafted Matt Light, an offensive tackle out of Purdue who had been downgraded by many because of his arm length. Light went on to make three Pro Bowls and was an essential part of three Super Bowl titles in New England. Peter Skoronski has even shorter arms than Light, but he is just a darn good player who will have multi-position versatility in the NFL.
Trying to figure out where the first wide receiver will come off the board was maybe the biggest challenge in this mock draft. Quentin Johnston hasn’t been the most consistent performer this season, but his athleticism and receiving traits at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds are enticing, especially for a team like Jacksonville that needs more size in its wide receiver room. Johnston, Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk would be a nice trio for Trevor Lawrence next season.
watching Quentin Johnston do things like stay tight when breaking on his underneath routes is such a bonus on top of his downfield ball skills.
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) November 13, 2022
Although his route instincts are undeveloped, Kelee Ringo is one of the freakiest athletes in the draft, with the size (6-2, 210 pounds) and speed (4.3 40-yard dash) to match up against NFL receivers. Ringo, the only player this season who has intercepted both Hendon Hooker and Will Levis, boasts the skill set to make plays in either man or zone.
13. Detroit Lions: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State*
Joey Porter Jr. is a long, physical athlete and owns the traits that would appeal to head coach Dan Campbell and the Lions’ decision-makers. Yes, he is overly grabby and needs to scale back his contact mid-coverage, but his aggressive nature will be viewed as more of a strength. A draft haul of Porter and Jalen Carter would pay immediate dividends for the Lions’ defense in 2023.
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Where the Colts go from here to address the quarterback position is a mystery. The veteran route obviously hasn’t worked, but is there a quarterback in this year’s draft worth targeting in the mid-first round? Though Will Levis has struggled to elevate the Kentucky offense this season, the Wildcats’ recently-fired play caller (Rich Scangarello) and a shaky supporting cast deserve blame as well. Levis still should check enough boxes (well-built, athletic, power arm, super competitive) to entice a quarterback-needy team, like the Colts, in the top half of Round 1.
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15. Atlanta Falcons: Jared Verse, Edge, Florida State*
The Falcons rank near the bottom of the league in generating pressure from the defensive line, especially off the edges. A transfer from FCS-level Albany, Jared Verse is an active pass rusher with get-off speed and power through his frame to deconstruct blocks in different ways. He is among the best in the country at making plays in enemy territory (14.5 tackles for loss this season).
16. Seattle Seahawks: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama*
Playing the “STAR” position in Nick Saban’s scheme, Brian Branch is an impressive nickel defender because of his coverage in the slot and his tackling ability near the line of scrimmage. Though rookie Coby Bryant has done an admirable job in the nickel for the Seahawks, this pick would allow Bryant to move back outside, strengthening the Seattle secondary in two areas.
At 6-5 and 275 pounds, Lukas Van Ness can provide a pass rush from multiple spots on the defensive line. With his power and twitch, he rushes like a grizzly bear, using his body quickness and fierce hands to tear through blockers. His profile would give the Chargers flexibility up front. Van Ness’ best football is in front of him.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 5, 2022
Some scouts think Jordan Addison is a slot-only, while others think he can live outside. Some are worried about his smallish body type; others are unfazed by his size. Disagreements aside, every evaluator I’ve asked has agreed that Addison is an electric route runner with the play speed to work all levels of the field. His play style would add a spark to New England’s passing attack.
Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean are both free agents after this season, making cornerback a potential need for Tampa Bay. With his light feet, length and physicality, Cam Smith is similar in several ways to his former teammate, Jaycee Horn. Though his route anticipation and early contact must improve, Smith’s play personality and skill set fit what the Buccaneers target at the position.
The Commanders need to address the offensive line in the offseason, which might include some shuffling to get the best five blockers on the field. If Sam Cosmi moves inside to guard, Broderick Jones could compete for the starting right tackle job in 2022 and be the eventual starter at left tackle.
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The Ravens drafted J.K. Dobbins to be a difference-maker in their offense. With his future uncertain because of injuries, Bijan Robinson can fill that void. Using his vision and elusiveness, the Texas product can consistently force missed tackles and offer versatility as a detached wide receiver. Robinson and Lamar Jackson in the same backfield would be a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
The best running back in the nation.
➡️ @Bijan5Robinson ⬅️
— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) November 25, 2022
22. New York Jets: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson*
C.J. Mosley is getting older and Quincy Williams is in the final year of his deal, so linebacker might be a position the Jets examine in the early rounds next April. With his position flexibility as a blitzer, run stopper and cover man, Trenton Simpson offers the athletic versatility that will appeal to Jets coach Robert Saleh.
It was 10 years ago that the Bengals drafted a Notre Dame tight end (Tyler Eifert at No. 21), and it’s possible they could do it again with Michael Mayer. With his play strength, toughness and coordination, Mayer has outstanding catch-point skills to be a dependable chain mover. Growing up just south of Cincinnati, the Bengals are Mayer’s team and Joe Burrow is his favorite quarterback, plus his cousin (Luke Maile) is a catcher for the Cincinnati Reds.
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) November 27, 2022
The NFL feedback on Drew Sanders lands anywhere between the first round and third round, so it will be interesting to see where he falls on draft weekend. A former five-star recruit at Alabama, Sanders transferred to Arkansas and is in the midst of a career year. He leads the Hogs in tackles (103), tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (3). Sanders is a long, athletic defender with experience all over the front seven.
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25. Denver Broncos (from San Francisco): Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia
The Broncos need to address the offensive line, but if their top blocking options aren’t available here, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they switch their focus to the pass rush. Nolan Smith has a twitchy get-off and the pass-rush upside to be an impactful NFL edge defender.
One of the most unique prospects in the draft class, Darnell Washington is a big-framed athlete (6-7, 275 pounds) with outstanding blocking skills and ascending pass-catching ability. He is still far from his football ceiling and would be an ideal fit for the Titans’ offensive identity.
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The Cowboys’ cornerback depth chart is full of question marks after Trevon Diggs. Anthony Brown is set to hit free agency, Jourdan Lewis has been hurt and has only one year left on his deal, and neither of Dallas’ Day 2 corners from the 2021 draft class (Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright) have proven they should see more defensive snaps. The Cowboys would love Devon Witherspoon’s competitive drive and route anticipation.
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) November 29, 2022
For the Bills to take that next step and beat the Chiefs (and other contenders in the AFC), they should prioritize upgrades and additional depth on the offensive line this offseason. O’Cyrus Torrence has vise grips for hands that allow him to strike with authority, position his feet and quickly gain control. He will be a plug-and-play guard.
The Adam Thielen contract is tricky, but the Vikings could clearly use an upgrade there. Although it has been a lost season for Jaxon Smith-Njigba because of a hamstring injury, he has more than enough tape for teams to understand what he offers. With his route prowess and ball skills, he would be a great fit for what Kevin O’Connell wants the Vikings to be on offense.
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30. Kansas City Chiefs: Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee*
Jalin Hyatt has “see ya” speed that can stretch out a defense, along with the tracking skills to go get the football. If the Chiefs move on from Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason, Hyatt would make a lot of sense to fill that role. He’d give Patrick Mahomes and the offense a true deep threat.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 12, 2022
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama*
The Eagles haven’t drafted a Round 1 running back since 1986, but with two picks in the opening round and Miles Sanders set to hit free agency, maybe they’d break trend for the right player. Jahmyr Gibbs is a sudden athlete with the vision, acceleration and receiving skills that are ideal for the Eagles’ offense. The Eagles also could go with an edge player like Ohio State’s Zach Harrison instead, but an offensive backfield of Jalen Hurts and Gibbs would be fireworks.
The first pick for the NFL teams that currently don’t have a Round 1 selection:
Los Angeles Rams: BJ Ojulari, Edge, LSU*
The Rams’ pass rush has been very inconsistent this season, especially off the edge. BJ Ojulari is a disruptive pass rusher thanks to the strength in his hands, body flexibility and burst to close. A team captain this season, he is averaging 4.5 pressures per game, which is second in the SEC behind only Anderson (4.9). Ojulari obviously isn’t Brian Burns, but he is in a similar mold and has the talent to eventually compete for Pro Bowls.
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The Saints are in quarterback purgatory right now, so we could always see a quarterback here (Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker?). If New Orleans doesn’t like the second-round QB options, defensive tackle is another potential need. The No. 1 player on Bruce Feldman’s preseason Freaks List for a reason, Mazi Smith has an impressive mix of athleticism and power and is expected to be an early second-round pick.
Cleveland Browns: Keeanu Benton, DT, Wisconsin
The interior of the Browns’ defensive line has been a profound problem this season. At 6-4 and 320 pounds with 34-inch arms, Keeanu Benton is a massive player who can control double teams and also provide a pass rush. A prolific wrestler in high school, he will only be 21 years old on draft weekend and is still figuring out how good he can be.
Miami Dolphins: Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M*
Strengthen your strengths: I love this philosophy for the Dolphins. The foundation of Miami’s offense is speed, and Devon Achane would add another dynamic element to that attack. The Texas A&M product might run the fastest 40-yard dash at this year’s combine, but his 2022 tape also showed he is more than just home-run speed.
Devon Achane had a feast on Saturday 😤 @AggieFootball
✔️ Career high carries (38)
✔️ Career high rush yards (215)
✔️ 1,000+ rush yards on season
✔️ 3rd straight 100-yd rush game pic.twitter.com/CIETXaHz5A
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 27, 2022
The 49ers dealt their original third-round pick to the Panthers in the Christian McCaffrey trade, but they are projected to receive a pair of third-round compensatory picks. Zacch Pickens looks the part (6-4, 305, 34-inch arms) and plays with the body control and power to line up at different positions on the Niners’ defensive front.
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic;
Photos: Michael Reaves, Emilee Chinn / Getty Images)