I’m going to do a few NFL mock drafts for the entire league, and before we got into the combine and free agency, I wanted to take a quick crack at the first round. This will be a chalk edition without trades, and as unpredictable as trades are, I’ll take a crack at a few as we get closer to the draft. If you want to read my 2023 5 Round Falcons Mock Draft 1.0, you can check that out here. I’ll be starting my scouting soon, so these profiles will get more in-depth as we go along. This is less of a prediction, and more of what I think teams SHOULD do, but I’ll take what I think teams will do into consideration. We’ll do predictions as the draft gets closer, especially as potential Lamar Jackson and Derek Carr trades unfold.
1. Chicago Bears: DT Jalen Carter — Georgia
With no trades, I’m going with the best player on the board regardless of position. I think Will Anderson is in play here as well, but Jalen Carter could pull a Travon Walker and blow the doors off of GMs in Indianapolis. If you watch his tape, it’s clear Carter is the most dominant player on the field at all times. The Bears gave up the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (31), six more than the Texans. They also gave up the second most yards (2674) and sixth most yards per carry (4.9). They also had the fewest amount of sacks in the NFL with 20, one less than the Falcons who finished with 21. Carter’s ability to disrupt and collapse the pocket should help fix a lot of those issues.
2. Houston Texans: QB Bryce Young — Alabama
I had a lot of faith in Davis Mills going into 2023, but with Lovie Smith gone, I expect Houston’s new coach to hand-pick their quarterback of the future. There are concerns with Bryce Young’s size, but if you’ve ever seen him throw a football, you just know he’s different than a lot of guys. He seems like a coach’s dream, and I fully expect him to (rightfully) be the first quarterback off the board.
3. Arizona Cardinals: EDGE Will Anderson — Alabama
The Cardinals are perfectly content with sitting at the third pick and grabbing one of the best EDGE prospects in a while. Anderson is a very physical player, and as good as he is as a pass rusher, he’s also an exceptional run defender. The Cardinals only finished with 36 sacks in 2022. 12.5 of those came from JJ Watt, who has since retired, and 5.5 came from Zach Allen, who is an impending free agent. Whoever the coach is has a great starting point to rebuilding this defense with Anderson.
4. Indianapolis Colts: QB CJ Stroud — Ohio State
The revolving door of quarterbacks in Indianapolis finally stops. The Colts haven’t found an answer at Quarterback, knowing their style, I bet they’re in on Derek Carr. Matt Ryan didn’t work out as a player, but he could still help mentor Stroud and make the transition under their new head coach a bit easier.
5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver): EDGE Tyree Wilson — Texas Tech
Wilson just feels like a Seahawks type of player. He has a rare blend of athleticism, length, and size for a guy who can play inside-out. Wilson is more of a pass rush specialist, but he’s no slouch in the trenches as a run defender. The Seahawks gave up the third most rushing yards in the NFL with 2554, and the fifth most rushing touchdowns with 21. Bruce Irvin also isn’t getting any younger. Wilson could be a big piece in rebuilding what used to be a menacing Seahawks defense.
6. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles): CB Christian Gonzalez — Oregon
The Lions could have made the playoffs in 2022 if it wasn’t for the aforementioned Seahawks dropping 48 points on them, and I fully expect them to heavily focus on defense in this upcoming draft. The Lions were pretty much bottom five in the league in every major defensive category, and their secondary could be losing safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Mike Hughes. The Lions are building something special, but their defense has to improve. Gonzalez is a sticky, alpha dawg type man-to-man corner — I expect Dan Campbell to love his style of play, even if he isn’t my CB1.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: QB Will Levis — Kentucky
Josh McDaniels and Derek Carr are going through a very public divorce, and I doubt McDaniels has much of a leash. If Mark Davis could afford to fire hime, he may have already done it by now. McDaniels is going to swing at his quarterback of the future, and with the Raiders being notoriously bad picking in the first round, Levis is a huge gamble. Still, he has a lot of upside, and he fits what McDaniels likes to do. They’ll either fly high or crash and burn together, but this feels like a very risky pairing.
8. Atlanta Falcons: CB Devon Witherspoon — Illinois
My favorite cornerback in this draft, Devon Witherspoon is the definition of nasty on the perimeter. Witherspoon has the perfect blend of physicality, aggressiveness, and ball skills you want in an NFL cornerback. He has also cut his teeth on special teams, which I know will appeal to the Falcons. Atlanta ranked 24th in passing yards allowed and gave up 7 yards per pass attempt in 2022, which was tied for fourth worst in the NFL. Witherspoon’s tape may be the best in the draft, and pairing AJ Terrell with another superstar cornerback could be the recipe for Atlanta if they get the right guys in free agency to pressure the quarterback. Terrell, Witherspoon, Isaiah Oliver, and Darren Hall would be one of the best young cornerback rooms in the NFL.
9. Carolina Panthers: EDGE Myles Murphy — Clemson
The Panthers reportedly (and very foolishly) turned down three first round picks from the Rams for Brian Burns, but even with Burns still in Charlotte, the Panthers need help on defense. 12.5 of Carolina’s 35 sacks came from Burns, and 7 came from linebacker Frankie Luvu. Murphy, Burns, and Derrick Brown would give the Panthers a very imposing front. Make no mistake, quarterback is in play here, especially with a new head coach coming in.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans): IDL Bryan Breese — Clemson
What do you get a team that has everything? Jokes aside, the Eagles are potentially losing multiple key pieces of a defensive front that posted an absurd 70 sacks in 2022. When Jordan Davis was sidelined with injury, the Eagles were getting absolutely gashed to the tune of 5.1 yards per carry, compared to 3.9 yards per carry with Davis on the field. Fletcher Cox also isn’t getting any younger, nor is Brandon Graham. The very talented Breese not only might be the best player available, but he also helps ease some of those issues that Philly has.
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Broderick Jones — Georgia
Taylor Lewan is a cut candidate, and he has publicly stated he is considering retirement. Broderick Jones is the perfect replacement. The last tackle out of Georgia the Titans took didn’t work out, but Jones is a different beast. Jones is the classic nasty Kirby Smart branded run blocker, and he didn’t give up a single sack in Georgia’s 15-0 National Championship season. The Titans gave up 49 sacks as a team, tied for the fifth most in the NFL. Their run game took a dip as well, as they only ran for 2131 yards as a team (20th) compared to 2404 in 2021 (4th) and 2690 (2nd) in 2020. Not all of that is due to offensive line play, but Jones can absolutely help their offensive line set the tone again — against the run and pass.
12. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): OT Peter Skoronski — Northwestern
I considered a few options here, but Skoronski felt like a pretty solid pick. The Texans didn’t give up a ton of sacks, but they rushed for the second fewest yards in the NFL with 1476. Once again, that’s not all offensive line play, but Tytus Howard and Laremy Tunsil are both free agents after the 2023 season. Skoronski can handle guard duties in the meantime, and if you’re going to draft a quarterback like Bryce Young — you better make sure you protect him.
13. New York Jets: OT Paris Johnson — Ohio State
Three offensive tackles in a row. This pick may belong to the Ravens or Raiders eventually, but for now, the Jets are going to address their continuing woes at tackle. They have some solid weapons, an incredible defense, and Breece Hall should be healthy in 2023. Quarterback would probably be a reach here. Once again, this isn’t entirely the fault of the offensive line, but the Jets allowed 44 sacks in 2022. George Fant is 30 and coming off of a bad season. Max Mitchell is dealing with blood clots. Mehki Becton hasn’t been healthy or reliable since he was drafted. A clean, safe prospect like Paris Johnson makes a ton of sense as they figure out their quarterback situation.
14. New England Patriots: WR Quinten Johnston — TCU
The Patriots were a mess at times last year, mostly due to playcalling. Grabbing a gamechanger like Johnston is a good idea, especially with Jakobi Meyers hitting free agency. The Patriots only scored 19 touchdowns through the air in 2022. 6 of those came from Meyers, 3 came from DeVante Parker, and 2 came from Nelson Agholor. All of those guys are hitting free agency. Johnston’s size and big play potential could really help out Mac Jones and whoever is calling plays for them in 2023.
15. Green Bay Packers: WR Jordan Addison — USC
I like Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, but the Packers still looked really stale at times on offense. Allen Lazard is also an impending free agent. Giving whoever starts at quarterback for the Packers this season some weapons is a wise move. The Packers still have some issues on defense, but they still have talented players all over the roster. I think betting on the big play potential of Addison is a better move than reaching for an EDGE here.
16. Washington Commanders: CB Joey Porter Jr. — Penn State
Anthony Richardson is a trendy pick here, but I think Sam Howell could have shown enough that the Commanders decide to roll with him in 2023. Kendall Fuller is a free agent after 2023, and Washington needs help at the position regardless. The Commanders gave up 26 passing touchdowns in 2022, tied for 5th most in the NFL.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: DB Brian Branch — Alabama
The Steelers finished tied for the second most passing touchdowns allowed in the NFL with 29, and their best corner Cam Sutton is hitting free agency. Even if Sutton is retained, they could use some help in the secondary. Like Minkah Fitzpatrick, another Bama product, Branch can play all over a defense and is super sticky in coverage.
18. Detroit Lions: TE Michael Mayer — Notre Dame
TJ Hockenson was fantastic for the Vikings after Detroit shipped him to their division rival, so with a luxury pick, they can replace him. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams are fantastic downfield threats, and Mayer should give Jared Goff a good safety valve that can win vertically when attention is on St. Brown and Williams. A defender is in play here, as is a quarterback, but the Lions seem like a best player available type team under Holmes & Campbell, and that’s Mayer at this point.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Anthony Richardson — Florida
One of the most controversial prospects in this draft, Richardson and Tampa Bay seem like a good fit. It will be a new era in Tampa Bay post-Tom Brady, and the Buccaneers are a team that may be without a direction. Richardson has a lot of upside, and the Bucs are a team that will still have enough talent at the skill positions to support him. I don’t know where Tampa goes with this pick, but Richardson really feels like he could thrive there with the right playcaller.
20. Seattle Seahawks: CB Kelee Ringo — Georgia
Once again, this just feels like a Seahawks type of player. Ringo could fly up draft boards with a big combine, and he has already showcased some blazing speed while training with his mentor… Richard Sherman. Ringo and Tariq Woolen would be a great young pairing for Pete Carroll, and could help bring the Legion of Boom back to Seattle.
21. *Miami Dolphins (Forfeited)*
22. Los Angeles Chargers: LB Trenton Simpson — Clemson
This was one of the more difficult picks for this entire draft. The Chargers are a weird team, but one thing I know for certain is that they badly need help against the run. They gave up 2478 yards on the ground (5th worst) and 5.4 yards per carry (worst). Chargers fans may be gunshy when it comes to taking another linebacker in the first round with Kenneth Murray’s struggles, but Simpson has a rare blend of size and athleticism that is perfect for the modern NFL. He can help a lot of their woes on the interior, and they’ll need to address it more in the later rounds and free agency.
23. Baltimore Ravens: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba — Ohio State
Whoever is playing quarterback for the Ravens in 2023 will need weapons. Rashod Bateman has been good, but Smith-Njigba is a true number one receiver that can create a nice stable of weapons along with Bateman and Mark Andrews. Part of this was due to Lamar Jackson’s injury, but the Ravens only threw for 3202 yards — third worst in the NFL. Smith-Njigba should be able to help their 6 yards per passing attempt, as well. It’ll make life easier on whoever their new offensive coordinator is.
24. Minnesota Vikings: CB Emmanuel Forbes — Mississippi State
One of my favorite sleepers in this class, Forbes is the type of physical, ball-hawking cornerback the Vikings should covet. Their achilles heel was clearly their defense, especially a pass defense that allowed the second most yards in the NFL with 4515 and the third most yards per attempt with 7.3. Throw in the fact that Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, Kris Boyd, and Chandon Sullivan are hitting free agency — the Vikings would be wise to consider a cornerback here.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Clark Phillips III — Utah
Back-to-back cornerbacks for the Jaguars, who have to be feeling good after the 2022 season. They really aren’t boxed into anything here, so I’ll go with the best player on the board — Clark Phillips III. Phillips is a physical, versatile defensive back that can join a secondary that doesn’t have much outside of Tyson Campbell. The Jaguars gave up the fifth-most passing yards in the NFL with 4055 and the ninth-most yards per attempt with 6.8, so getting a younger piece to pair with Campbell makes sense. Jacksonville has a good pass rush and a stingy run defense, so getting a ballhawk like Phillips could really help transform their defense at multiple positions.
26. New York Giants: WR Zay Flowers — Boston College
The next two teams out of the NFC East were difficult to pick for, as the Giants could use help in their secondary as well. However a lot of the good cornerbacks are taken, although Cam Smith out of South Carolina is in play. Instead, I’ll give Brian Daboll a dynamic weapon. The Giants finished with 3431 passing yards, sixth-fewest in the NFL and easily the lowest out of any playoff team. They also only threw for 17 touchdowns, tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL. With Daniel Jones likely coming back, Zay Jones is the type of big-play explosive receiver that can make life easier on him. Not to mention they have six wide receivers hitting free agency.
27. Dallas Cowboys: IOL O’Cyrus Torrence — Florida
The Cowboys have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers, and four interior offensive linemen hitting free agency. Connor McGovern is replaceable, so I’ll go with Torrence out of Florida here. The Cowboys are at their best when they enforce with their offensive line. With Tyron Smith aging and his health a concern, tackle isn’t out of the question here either. They only gave up 27 sacks, but only ran for 4.3 yards per carry in 2022, which is a tad lower than you would expect. Build on your strengths, because a bulk of this roster isn’t going anywhere.
28. Buffalo Bills: RB Bijan Robinson — Texas
This just makes way too much sense. Yes, the Bills ranked near the top of the NFL in rushing yards with 2232, but Josh Allen accounted for 762 of those yards. Their leading rusher Devin Singletary chipped in 819, but Brian Robinson is the type of player that can really take this offense to Super Bowl caliber. The inability to run the ball effectively has doomed the Bills multiple times in the playoffs, and possibly the best player in the draft regardless of position could really fix that. The Bills have a lot of needs, but Robinson is too special to pass up on here.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Darnell Washington — Georgia
I promised my buddy JP who’s a Bengals fan I would do this, and the pairing just makes way too much sense regardless. What else is there to say about Darnell Washington? I think Washington is the best player in this draft at the position. He stands at a menacing 6’7 and 270 pounds. Not only does he move like a guy half that size, but he also has soft hands and is a tenacious run blocker. Not only could he help out Joe Burrow in pass protection, but he’s a real threat with Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, and Joe Mixon surrounding Burrow. The Bengals O-Line will be better when healthy, and Washington will only add to their prowess.
30. Denver Broncos (From San Francisco): CB Cam Smith — South Carolina
The Broncos are a mess, frankly, and they’re stuck with Russell Wilson for the foreseeable future. Denver fielded a stingy pass defense, per usual, but they could use a true answer at corner to pair with the All Pro Pat Surtain II. You can go a million directions here, but I think they should stick with the best player available. Right now, that player is Smith. If they lose Dre’Mont Jones to free agency, the next guy I’m going to talk about is also an option.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: EDGE Lukas Van Ness — Iowa
I’m having deja vu. Last year, the Chiefs snagged a big, athletic edge rusher out of the Big 10 named George Karlaftis, and he rewarded them with six regular season sacks and one huge sack in the AFC Championship. Carlos Dunlap is hitting free agency, Frank Clark is about to be 30, and they could be losing a lot of their interior depth to free agency. Van Ness’ athletic prowess and upside makes him a solid gamble at the back end of the first round, especially with his ability to play inside-out.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: EDGE Nolan Smith — Georgia
This is a spot where I could absolutely see a team swooping in to grab a quarterback like Tanner McKee, but in a chalk edition, I’ll got with best player available. BJ Ojulari was in play here as well, but I think Nolan Smith is going to blow up the combine. Before his season ended early, Georgia’s best pass rusher was well on his way to being a big part of another historic Georgia defense. Smith is a very high-character kid, which will do him a lot of favors during the draft process. With Brandon Graham getting older and Robert Quinn hitting free agency, Smith makes a lot of sense as a high-upside, high-motor developmental piece.
Photographer: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire
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