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NFL Mock Draft 2023: Surprise pick at No. 2 as Bryce Young falls to Colts at No. 4


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Amid all of the free-agency moves, the trade talk surrounding Aaron Rodgers (and now Lamar Jackson) and the owners’ meetings this week in Phoenix, it’d be easy to forget that the NFL Draft is just a month away.

As NFL team representatives attend the various pro days around the country and meet with players at their headquarters, there is still plenty of research and planning to be done ahead of the first round on April 27. And with players like Rodgers and Jackson theoretically available, there’s bound to be more wheeling and dealing.

But in our latest mock draft, experts Diante Lee (selecting on the even-numbered draft slots) and Nate Tice (on the odds) eschewed trades as they made their first-round selections for each team (minus the BrownsDolphinsRams and 49ers, who don’t have a first-round pick). We’re not sure how things will play out that Thursday evening, but it might look something like this:

1. Carolina Panthers (via CHI): C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

The Panthers lit the fuse for the draft cycle, making a deal with the Bears and moving up to pole position. And after sending their contingent of decision-makers to Ohio State’s pro day, Carolina tabs Stroud as their quarterback of the future.

Stroud rapidly improved in his two years as a starter and is a polished and accurate passer with underrated arm strength and athleticism. He should be able to start early, and he slides into a favorable situation behind a strong offensive line and a talented defense that should help carry the load every week. The Panthers may have traded away a No. 1 target in D.J. Moore, but they signed tight end Hayden Hurst and wide receivers Adam Thielen and DJ Chark to surround their young quarterback with solid weapons and help him hit the ground running. — Nate Tice 

2. Houston TexansAnthony Richardson, QB, Florida

What does Houston ideally want with the second pick? I’d venture to guess that Nick Caserio would prefer to trade it to a team that is after a quarterback (maybe Las Vegas?) and take the additional draft capital while still getting one of the class’s top passers. Under these parameters, though, the best thing to do is take Richardson, a quarterback they can take their time with as they build out the rest of the roster.

The hope for Richardson is that his trajectory compares to that of Jalen Hurts, a quarterback who may still have some warts in his mechanics and accuracy but has developed a viable enough skill set to be the engine of an efficient offense. Davis Mills isn’t anyone’s idea of a long-term option, but he’s the right kind of young quarterback to take the rebuilding lumps you’d rather your prized franchise QB avoid. While DeMeco Ryans and his staff build this offense in Kyle Shanahan’s image, Richardson can wait in the wings. — Diante Lee

3. Arizona CardinalsWill Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama

The Cardinals stand to benefit from a QB-centric top of the draft and nab the talented and productive Anderson. Anderson is a versatile player who affects both the run and pass. He is deceptively strong, is dynamic as a penetrator on the defensive line and can bend and turn sharp angles.

Anderson racked up tackles for losses and sacks in college, but he should align farther outside in the NFL as a nine-technique instead of the 4i (inside shade of the offensive tackle) that he was often asked to do at Alabama. That would take advantage of his athleticism, strong hands and get-off even more. We aren’t including any trades in this exercise, but new Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort also could be looking to move down and trade with a QB-needy team. — Tice

4. Indianapolis ColtsBryce Young, QB, Alabama

I wonder if the fans in Indianapolis would feel squeamish about going all in on a player of Young’s size to be their franchise QB, but his tape is worthy of a top-five pick. In his career at Alabama, Young checked all the boxes of a pro-ready passer. He evades pressure without bailing out of the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield and will take a chance on a tight-window throw if that’s the best decision within the progression.

Young is willing to stay in the pocket (almost to a fault), and he only threw 12 interceptions in his 949 collegiate passing attempts, which speaks to his processing skills as Alabama put the entire offense on his shoulders. I worry about the kind of punishment Young will take behind the Colts’ offensive line, and he will have to master his timing on throws over the middle of the field. It’s an appealing prospect to marry him with Shane Steichen, who demonstrated how to build an offense around his quarterback’s skills. It should allow Young to open up Steichen’s playbook even more as a drop-back passer. — Lee

5. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN): Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

The Seahawks are doing their homework on the top quarterbacks in this year’s class, and even with three already off the board, they still might take a gander at Will Levis to take over in a post-Geno Smith world. But they instead select the disruptive Carter to pair with their big free-agent signing, Dre’Mont Jones. Jones and Carter would be a mauling duo with positional flexibility up front that would allow the Seahawks to fill in the rest of their defensive line as they see fit.

Carter’s stock has slid since the start of the draft process, and teams will continue looking into the offseason incident that was reported just before the combine. But the Seahawks under Pete Carroll and John Schneider have shown they are willing to take players with character concerns, and Carter’s talent is undeniable. If they are comfortable with Carter, the Seahawks would have a building block to continue refurbishing their defense to go along with what could be a top-tier offense in 2023. — Tice

6. Detroit Lions (via LAR): Myles Murphy, Edge, Clemson

Pass rush is the priority if the Lions hope to take the next step, and Murphy is the best edge in this class not named Will Anderson Jr. He steps in across from Aidan Hutchinson, who was runner-up for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and looked like a legitimate foundational piece. Unfortunately, it did little to cover the holes across the rest of the defense. After bringing in a host of veteran defensive backs during free agency, having two productive pass rushers on rookie contracts means Detroit can continue loading its roster with role players while it waits for the right superstar or two to launch the franchise to the top of the NFC North.

Schematically, Murphy fits what Detroit’s version of the 4-3 looks for: tall edges with long arms who look to fire off the ball and rush with power. Murphy has the best first step of any pass rusher in this class and adds value as an edge setter. — Lee

7. Las Vegas Raiders: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

The Raiders sniffed around about moving up to take a quarterback — and they still might. But Levis would give the Raiders a strong-armed quarterback who is comfortable working from under center and can push the ball off of play action, both of which Josh McDaniels leans into heavily on offense. Levis is also a good athlete with play strength that can be used on designed runs, something that McDaniels might want to unlock again after his one-season stint with Cam Newton in New England.

The Raiders signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year, $72 million contract, but they can get out of it after this season. Having Garoppolo as insurance in case they aren’t able to nab one of this year’s top quarterbacks makes sense, but he’s also a player who can keep the seat warm as a young QB develops. And Levis’ ability to drive the ball all over the field would fit nicely in this type of offense. — Tice

8. Atlanta FalconsTyree Wilson, Edge, Texas Tech

With the hiring of Ryan Nielsen as the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, the players’ body types need to reflect what we know matters to coaches from Dennis Allen’s tree. Wilson is enormous in stature, standing at 6-foot-6 and striking blockers with 270 pounds behind his 35.5-inch arms. He is a bit raw as a pure pass rusher, but he does understand how to create proper angles to crush the pocket as a power rusher, and he’s quietly more explosive and smooth than his frame would suggest.

Wilson can be a powerful run defender at his best, too, and Texas Tech regularly moved him inside to play defensive tackle. His skill set fills a severe need for the Falcons, whose defense has been woefully unproductive in creating havoc in the backfield. — Lee

9. Chicago Bears (via CAR): Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

Though tempted to take a hometown player in Peter Skoronski, the Bears instead opt for a different Big Ten offensive lineman. Johnson is a long and athletic tackle with a nasty play demeanor, and he became more and more comfortable on the blindside during his last season at Ohio State after switching from guard.

He has quick feet that align perfectly with the Bears’ preferred zone-blocking scheme. He is able to consistently cut off defenders on the back side and has the balance and movement ability to climb to the second level in a controlled manner. Johnson isn’t a finished product as a pass protector, but he has the length and agility to turn into a bona fide left tackle who can protect Justin Fields for years to come. — Tice

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO): Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

When it looked like Philadelphia would lose at least one of James Bradberry or Darius Slay, the assumption was that the Eagles would go after a young cornerback with the 10th pick. With both players returning, they can address other spots here. With two star receivers, a pair of corners and their quarterback set to get a large extension, the Eagles’ best move here is to address the trenches.

In steps Skoronski, who has the best tape of any lineman in this class and the versatility to play almost anywhere along the line. Skoronski has light feet, a high football IQ and enough anchor and play strength to move defenders — even though power is not his calling card. Skoronski can fill a similar role to the one Cam Jurgens filled last season — spot starting in case of injuries — or he can win a starting job outright at guard before eventually moving back to tackle whenever Lane Johnson hangs up his cleats. — Lee

11. Tennessee TitansDarnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

Wright has experience at both tackle positions and goes to a team that simply needs as many warm bodies on the offensive line as it can get. Luckily, Wright is more than just a warm body — he matches the Titans’ preferred body type (i.e., gigantic) under Mike Vrabel and has Pro Bowl upside. But he’s not just a speed bump. Wright moves well for any lineman — especially one who weighs more than 330 pounds. He’s rarely on the ground and can sustain blocks with surprising balance and agility. He also displayed strength and advanced hand usage in both the run and pass games.

The Titans are remodeling their whole roster. Wright will give them a talented player to build their offensive line around, and he carries the added bonus of being from an in-state school. — Tice

12. Houston Texans (via CLE): Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

This would be a coup for Houston, which would leave the top 15 with a quarterback of the future and a young tackle to play opposite Laremy Tunsil, who just signed a $75 million extension. Jones is a powerful right tackle capable of moving bodies in the run game. His skill as a pass protector grades out between solid and good, with plenty of growth potential given his athleticism and frame. Tunsil and Jones both have the burst to execute the outside-zone scheme Houston wants to run, setting up an explosive play-action game. — Lee

13. New York JetsAnton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

The run on offensive linemen continues! Though this pick might end up in the Packers’ hands via a potential Aaron Rodgers move, we’re not making trades in this mock draft. The Jets have talented pieces all over their defense and weapons on offense, but outside of quarterback, the area in which they need an influx of talent is their offensive line.

Getting Alijah Vera-Tucker (who was having a strong 2022 season) back after his season-ending injury will help shore up the interior. The tackle spots remain question marks. Harrison is athletic enough to slot in at either one. He is still raw as far as technique and strength, so there will be a learning curve. But he has a clear path to improve into a very good starting tackle in the NFL. — Tice

14. New England PatriotsChristian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

Because of the run on quarterbacks in the top 10, another premium position will inevitably slide in the draft. It just so happens to be cornerbacks in this one. Gonzalez is every bit a top-10 talent, and Bill Belichick would like nothing more than to add to his long list of shutdown corners in New England. Gonzalez has the size and length to take away outside receivers, and plenty of experience in the slot — exactly the kind of versatility the Patriots love in the defensive backfield. — Lee

15. Green Bay PackersMichael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Regardless of whether it’s Rodgers or Jordan Love under center for the Packers in 2023, they are going to love having Mayer as an option in the passing game. The Notre Dame product checks a lot of boxes at the tight end position and for how the Packers like to use them. He is a solid blocker with the upside to play tight at the line, but he also has the athleticism and route-running versatility to line up anywhere in the formation. He might lack the elite athleticism to be a true mismatch, but Mayer is a strong pass catcher with reliable hands in the short and intermediate zones. — Tice

16. Washington CommandersBrian Branch, S, Alabama

Washington is in an interesting spot, with needs in the defensive backfield and offensive line in a draft full of both. Most of the top linemen are already off the board, so it makes sense to go with a perimeter playmaker who can be moved around the chessboard as needed. Given Kamren Curl’s ability to perform well close to the line of scrimmage as a slot defender, Branch can join Darrick Forrest as a deep safety and execute Jack Del Rio’s zone-coverage principles. Building up the spine of the defense remains the ethos in D.C. — Lee

17. Pittsburgh SteelersDevon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

Joey Porter Jr. might get the Steel City legacy nod here, but I ended up going with a different aggressive Big Ten cornerback. Witherspoon is a competitive and intelligent player who has a knack for being around the football. He plays with great eyes in zone coverages and is able to consistently discern offensive pass concepts and blow them up. Witherspoon’s demeanor fits well with the type of defender the Steelers have historically loved, and he will give them another exciting player in the defensive backfield — along with the superb Minkah Fitzpatrick — and help replace Cam Sutton. — Tice

18. Detroit Lions: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

In 2022, the Lions struggled to stop the run, tackled poorly as a team and gave up all manner of explosive plays. So this pick gives Dan Campbell an immediate answer. With C.J. Gardner-JohnsonEmmanuel Moseley and Cam Sutton, the Lions have added slot defenders, a No. 2 corner and a safety to pair with Kerby Joseph. Porter is 6-2 with long arms, 4.4 speed and great instincts, which should give him as good a chance as any DB in this class to develop into a star. — Lee

19. Tampa Bay BuccaneersLukas Van Ness, Edge, Iowa

As the Buccaneers attempt to navigate the seas in a post-Tom Brady world, they start their retooling process with the very toolsy Van Ness. Far from a finished product, Van Ness would be given some time to harness his size and athletic traits. He is an explosive player with the versatility to play across the line in different fronts and situations. Plopping Van Ness alongside Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Logan Hall would give the Bucs a trio of players with positional flexibility to build around up front. Van Ness could eventually become the best of the bunch. — Tice

20. Seattle Seahawks: Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia

Seattle needs better bodies up front like I need air to breathe, and it makes sense for Smith to join his college teammate Jalen Carter in the Pacific Northwest. Smith has some size issues, but he makes up for them with an undying motor and elite speed for the position. Smith logged a 4.39 at the combine, and his 41-inch vertical confirms the explosive burst you see on tape. He’s capable of chasing down quarterbacks as they scramble and can set an edge as well as the 270-plus-pound edges in this class. Smith can comfortably drop into coverage, too, adding important versatility to Seattle’s 3-4 scheme. — Lee

*Miami Dolphins: pick forfeited*

21. Los Angeles Chargers: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

The Chargers are doing the best they can to keep their contention window propped open for 2023, before they attempt to rebuild their aging roster after this season when they’re expected to pay Justin Herbert the GDP of a small country. Though Gerald Everett is a nice auxiliary weapon in a passing attack, his blocking — as is the case with every other tight end on the roster — leaves much to be desired. Enter the jumbo-sized Washington (6-7, 264 pounds). He is far from a finished product as a blocker, but he would be a significant improvement over what the Chargers currently have in that regard. He also has the hands and athletic gifts to be a fantastic secondary weapon in the red zone and over the middle. — Tice

22. Baltimore RavensQuentin Johnston, WR, TCU

In light of Lamar Jackson’s publicly announced trade request, the air of excitement around finally addressing the Ravens’ receiver problems escapes me. Still, Johnston would be a welcome addition as a vertical or yards-after-catch threat across from Rashod Bateman. Johnston runs routes well for his height (6-3) and has impressive change-of-direction skills with the ball in his hands.

With new offensive coordinator Todd Monken in the fold, a combination of Johnston, Bateman and Mark Andrews with Baltimore’s offensive line would make for an intriguing foundation to pair with a Jackson-esque quarterback. If only there were such a player available … — Lee

23. Minnesota VikingsDeonte Banks, CB, Maryland

Even after the signing of Byron Murphy this offseason, the Vikings have a desperate need for cornerbacks. Luckily, there is a deep crop of them at the top of the draft. Banks is an athletic player with plus ball skills whose testing numbers aligned with what he showed on film. Banks also excels in man coverage with his ability to mirror wide receivers, which would be a great fit for new defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ preferred scheme. — Tice

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

In Doug Pederson’s first season as head coach, the Jaguars found the offensive concepts that fit their personnel best and helped Trevor Lawrence achieve his best stretch of football since he was at Clemson. With the offensive skill-position core intact for another season, Jacksonville can focus on the trenches and defensive backfield.

Ringo provides the bump-and-run physicality and straight-line speed to play alongside the improved Tyson Campbell. If Travon Walker and the young linebackers can make a leap in their development, an above-average Jaguars pass defense should push the team back toward playoff contention. — Lee

25. New York Giants: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

Drafting slot receiver Wan’Dale Robinson in the second round last year shouldn’t preclude the Giants from taking Smith-Njigba here. Even if there are concerns about how Smith-Njigba will operate on the outside, he is a true needle mover working from the slot and has already put some concerns about his game — namely his speed — to bed at the combine and Ohio State’s pro day. He would give Daniel Jones someone truly deserving of a lion’s share of the targets and allow Isaiah Hodgins, a pleasant surprise in 2022, to stay outside.

Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka showed the ability to adapt to his personnel during his first season as a play caller. I have faith he can make the Giants’ hodgepodge of weapons work, especially with tight end Darren Waller— Tice

26. Dallas Cowboys: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

Dalton Schultz is out in Dallas, leaving the Cowboys in dire need of a tight end — preferably one who can create yards after the catch and stretch the defense up the seam. Kincaid can do both, and his willingness to make tough catches through contact over the middle would also open up more opportunities for Mike McCarthy to move around CeeDee Lamb or utilize him as a downfield threat. Kincaid needs a little work as a blocker, but the Cowboys offense has been putting more on Dak Prescott’s shoulders as a passer every year, and Prescott will need the receiving options to meet the demands. — Lee

27. Buffalo BillsO’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida

Brandon Beane will probably have to be strapped to a pole to fight the instinct to take Bijan Robinson with this selection. But Torrence would give the Bills another stout offensive lineman to help reinforce their run game as the season goes on and the weather gets colder. Torrence will be a Day 1 starter and provides excellent play strength to keep the middle of the pocket clean for Josh Allen to do Josh Allen things and make the Bills’ run game more physical.

Combined with the signing of guard Connor McGovern and a running back, Damien Harris, who does his best work downhill and from under center, Torrence would match the Bills’ desire to bring a different element to their already potent offense. — Tice

28. Cincinnati Bengals: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

Robinson is the most talented offensive skill player in this draft, and adding him to the collection of talent around Joe Burrow feels unfair. Samaje Perine is already gone as the third-down back, and with Joe Mixon effectively in the final year of his contract, it seems doubtful that he’ll be extended as Burrow’s extension talks loom large. Bringing in Robinson would give Cincinnati an every-down option in the mold of Christian McCaffrey, and with defenses forcing the Bengals to run the ball and throw it short more often, he could punish any light box or soft zone opponents throw at him. — Lee

29. New Orleans Saints (via SF): Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt

The Saints could go in several directions with this pick. But with several interior defensive linemen leaving in free agency, they need reinforcements. Enter the undersized but disruptive Kancey. Kancey is a different type of player than what the Saints have trotted out up front in recent years, but his gap-shooting style will fit perfectly in Dennis Allen’s preferred four-down fronts. — Tice

30. Philadelphia Eagles: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

The Eagles address a loss of defensive depth with Bresee, and he and Jordan Davis position themselves as the next-generation replacements for Javon Hargrave (signed with San Francisco) and Fletcher Cox (playing on a one-year deal). Objectively, Bresee underperformed given his status as a top high school recruit and starter since his freshman year, but his injuries and the death of his sister brought some fits and starts to his college career.

At his best, Bresee is explosive and strong, and Philadelphia can use him without needing him to be an every-down contributor right out of the gate. — Lee

31. Kansas City ChiefsMazi Smith, DT, Michigan

Offensive tackle and wide receiver are definitely in play here for the defending Super Bowl champions. But the Chiefs decide to add another piece up front to their young and rejuvenated defense.

Smith has excellent size with plus athleticism and will likely be a traditional interior plugger who will make running the ball a chore for offenses. Pairing him with the disruptive Chris Jones on the inside while keeping linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay clean to run around and make plays in the run game is an appealing proposition. And forcing offenses into third-and-long will surely make Steve Spagnuolo giddy to get to his Rolodex of blitz packages. — Tice

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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