2023 NFL Mock Draft: First round, version 2.0

Dec 31, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) passes the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the 2022 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

2023 NFL Mock Draft: First round, version 2.0

Welcome to my second NFL mock draft of the season!

With “lying season” (and sometimes accidental truth season) fully underway and the draft order finalized after the Super Bowl, here is a look at potential candidates for each team in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

1. Indianapolis Colts (via mock trade with Chicago Bears): Bryce Young (QB, Alabama): It isn’t a surprise to place this mock trade atop the board since Colts’ general manager Chris Ballard is on record saying that he’s prepared to “do whatever it takes” to move up for the quarterback they like. Since that time, owner Jim Irsay may have tipped his hand during the presser to introduce new head coach Shane Steichen when he let slip regarding Young “the Alabama guy doesn’t look bad, I’ll tell ya.” Irsay isn’t the type of owner associated with sleight-of-hand style games, so he was almost assuredly giving an honest appraisal of Young. They will pay through the nose to get to the top spot, but they will get there.

2. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud (QB, Ohio State): If you have read any of my multitude of columns on Texans targets or my previous mock draft, you know that I consider both Stroud and Young to be equally worthy of the top pick. Stroud played his best on the biggest stage against the toughest opponent when Ohio State faced Georgia in the CFP Semifinal. Stroud was tremendous in that game, going 23-of-34 for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for an additional 34 yards, showing the athleticism to escape the pocket and gain yards against a Bulldogs front with several future NFL players. There are zero logical reasons for the Texans to surrender assets to move up one spot when they have as many needs as they do. They should be thrilled to land Stroud at two and build around him.

3. Arizona Cardinals: Will Anderson Jr. (OLB, Alabama): The Cardinals have multiple needs, but edge rusher is likely at the top of the list, especially with J.J. Watt retiring. Anderson is the highest-graded edge rusher in the draft and could make an immediate impact on the Cardinals’ defense.

4. Chicago Bears (via mock trade with Indianapolis Colts): Myles Murphy (DE, Clemson): Chicago gets a boost to their NFL-worst pass rush with Murphy, who is an absolute freak of an athlete. The Bears managed only 20 sacks in 2022, making pass rush their most pressing need.

5. Seattle Seahawks (via completed trade with Denver Broncos): Jalen Carter (DL, Georgia): Seattle was absolutely brutal against the run, surrendering over 150 yards per game on the ground. Getting the best defensive tackle in the draft is a great way to address that need. As a bonus, not only can Carter stuff the run, but he can push the pocket in pass rush.

6. Detroit Lions (via completed trade with Los Angeles Rams): Bijan Robinson (RB, Texas):  Reportedly the only player in the draft to grade out as elite, the fourth-ranked Lions’ offense gets the monster impact back they’ve been searching for since Barry Sanders retired. With the team committing to Jared Goff at quarterback and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson returning, the Lions’ offense, with the addition of Robinson, could be the greatest scoring unit in franchise history. They will deal with the defense later in the draft.

7. Las Vegas Raiders: Peter Skoronski (OT, Northwestern): Whoever the Raiders’ new quarterback will be, they need to find a way to protect him. Vegas’ two biggest needs after releasing Derek Carr are quarterback and offensive tackle. They will likely address QB in free agency/trade, so addressing OT in the draft makes sense. Skoronski is the top-rated tackle in the draft and already has excellent technique. At 6-foot-4, 315, he can both pave road in the run game and protect the passer at an elite level. Skoronski did not allow a sack and only allowed one pressure the entire Big Ten season.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Tyree Wilson (DE, Texas Tech): The second-worst pass rush in the NFL gets some much-needed help in Wilson. At 6-foot-6, 275 pounds, he’s strong enough to set the edge and fast enough to get to the quarterback.

9. Carolina Panthers: Quentin Johnston (WR, TCU): Many people have the Panthers drafting a quarterback, but it seems everyone has forgotten they drafted Matt Corral last year, and he was injured before he could play. It would make sense to give him a chance before spending more high draft capital on a quarterback that isn’t one of the top two in this draft. Injury was the only reason Corral wasn’t a first-round pick last season. Getting an alpha dog stud receiver with elite measurables to give Corral a top weapon to build with makes more sense.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via completed trade with New Orleans Saints): Joey Porter Jr. (CB, Penn St): Porter is a 6-foot-2 press corner with NFL pedigree and should be an impact player immediately. The Eagles continue to get better with perhaps the top player in the draft in their biggest position of need.

11. Tennessee Titans: Jordan Addison (WR, USC): The Titans were never able to overcome the loss of A.J. Brown offensively, and it should not be a surprise Brown helped elevate the Eagles’ offense to a Super Bowl unit. Tennessee needs weapons in the passing game, and they get one with Addison.

12. Houston Texans (via completed trade with the Cleveland Browns): Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR, Ohio St): Houston is getting the Buckeye band back together, as Stroud will have a very familiar face to grow with in Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba is pure speed and had a Rose Bowl for the ages after the 2021 season. Injury kept him off the field for almost the entire 2022 season, but part of that was choosing to prepare for the draft. Now healthy, he should return to looking like the player who entered 2022 as arguably the highest-rated wide receiver in college football.

13. New York Jets: Paris Johnson Jr. (OT, Ohio St): The Jets already have a terrific defense, but they need linemen and playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. They will get the best available tackle on the board here, even if he may be a few picks early. He has NFL size, length, and athleticism, and as he gains more strength should be a force. He is already good enough to plug and play at left tackle.

14. New England Patriots: Christian Gonzalez (CB, Oregon): Bill Belichick adds a player many consider the best corner in the draft to his scheme in New England. Facing the likes of Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Garrett Wilson twice a year each, The Hoodie grabs the kind of talent that he can mold to try to keep those explosive receivers in check.

15. Green Bay Packers: Michael Mayer (TE, Notre Dame): Addressing perhaps their biggest need with the top player in the draft at the position, the Packers will get themselves the tight end they have been looking for. Whether it’s Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love under center, TE is a weapon that head coach Matt LaFleur wants in his arsenal.

16. Washington Commanders: Will Levis (QB, Kentucky): Whether they decide to play him right away or give him a year to watch and learn, Levis is simply too good of an opportunity for the QB-needy Commanders to pass up at 16. Levis has a big arm and surprising mobility for a player his size but has struggled with turnovers. There is plenty of reason for optimism though, with his natural abilities. New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy could be exactly the right person to finish developing Levis and unlock all of his potential.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Bryan Bresee (DT, Clemson): The Steelers upgrade on the D-line with the highly talented Bresee. Bresee plays quick and powerful and may project best as a 3-technique. Bresee commands doubles, gets into his gap, and forces pressure in pass rush. He has overcome injury and personal tragedy while at Clemson, which limited his playing time some, but the talent is undeniable.

18. Detroit Lions: Cam Smith (CB, South Carolina): After grabbing the best running back in the draft early to potentially turn their offense into a juggernaut, the Lions address their top need at 18 with Smith. Smith is a 6-foot corner who plays physical and presses, as well as demonstrates strong ball skills.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kelee Ringo (CB, Georgia): Ringo has the kind of size and speed teams dream for at corner. He’s 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, and has a background as a sprinter clocking a 10.43 100-meter dash. He has terrific straight and closing speed, can undercut balls, and has the hops to high-point passes.

20. Seattle Seahawks: Isaiah Foskey (DE, Notre Dame): Seattle continues to build their defensive line, this time getting an outside edge rusher in Foskey. Foskey racked up 11 sacks on the season and really stood out as a disruptive force against USC.

21. Los Angeles Chargers: Broderick Jones (OT, Georgia): At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Jones has unbelievable athleticism to go with his strength. He started at left tackle for UGA’s back-to-back national champion teams. He demonstrates impressive agility, allowing him to handle stunts and a powerful punch to stop onrushing defenders. He offers the kind of physicality in the run game to pancake defenders.

22. Baltimore Ravens: Jahmyr Gibbs (RB, Alabama): The Ravens have maintained their identity as a physical running team but had to work their offense with a constant rotation at running back due to injury and ineffectiveness. J.K. Dobbins was the team’s leading rusher among running backs, with only 520 yards over eight games. Gibbs would give them a legit three-down back with big-time burst and good hands out of the backfield. Gibbs finished 2022 averaging 6.1 yards per carry and 10 total touchdowns.

23. Minnesota Vikings: Devon Witherspoon (CB, Illinois): The Vikings address their top need with the best-remaining cornerback on the board. Witherspoon is fast and a terrific athlete, and his ball skills showed significant improvement this season. He accumulated 40 tackles, three interceptions, and 14 pass breakups in 2022.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dalton Kincaid (TE, Utah): Coming off a career-high in receptions and receiving yards, Jaguars tight end Evan Engram is now a free agent. Going into his age-29 season and with a history of drops, the Jaguars can both upgrade and get younger with Kincaid. The 6-foot-4, 242-pound Kincaid has a basketball background and only played one season of high school football. However, Kincaid demonstrates excellent athleticism and ball skills, the ability to high point the football, runs strong routes, and has tremendous hands. He can be a threat at all levels of the field.

25. New York Giants: Trenton Simpson (LB, Clemson): Simpson is a big hitter who knows how to finish and has terrific range in pass coverage and pursuit. He may be best used in a hybrid role, allowing him to attack offenses from various positions and moving him around the scheme as opposed to being a traditional stack linebacker, where his speed and instincts can be best utilized.

26. Dallas Cowboys: Brian Branch (S, Alabama): Branch has drawn comparisons to current Steelers star Minkah Fitzpatrick as a player who can play a hybrid role. He was at his best in the Sugar Bowl against Kansas State with 12 tackles, including three for loss, and an interception. Branch finished the season with 90 tackles, two interceptions, and three sacks.

27. Buffalo Bills: Antonio Johnson (S, Texas A&M): Despite missing some time with an injury, Johnson finished with 71 tackles and three forced fumbles. He has the flexibility to play safety, nickel corner, and dime linebacker. The Bills fill one of their top three needs late in the first round.

28. Cincinnati Bengals: Anton Harrison (OT, Oklahoma): It’s already scary for opposing defenses that have to face Joe Burrow and that cast of receivers. Now imagine the Bengals could pass protect. Burrow continues to be one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league because of poor protection, and since Cincy already has elite weapons, their top priority should be protecting their franchise quarterback. They start to achieve that here with Harrison, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound tackle with the strength and athleticism to handle speed rushers and still has some room for growth. Harrison could be a starting left tackle for a long time.

29. New Orleans Saints (via completed trade with Denver Broncos via Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers): B.J. Ojulari (DE, LSU): The Saints pick up this pick as part of the Sean Payton trade and get to work on their defensive line. Ojulari, younger brother of NY Giants linebacker Azeez Ojulari, has a strong first step, a well-developed hesitation move, and excellent athleticism that allows him to be at his best as a stand-up rusher off the edge. Ojulari was also a team captain and leader on LSU’s defense.

30. Philadelphia Eagles: Siaki Ika (DT, Baylor): “Apu” is a mammoth of a man at 6-foot-4, 358 pounds, yet has surprising mobility as both a pocket pusher in the pass rush as well as a space-eater in the run game. He has tremendous raw strength and is incredibly tough to block one-on-one. It’s possible he could shed some weight and become even faster and stronger. At the least, he should provide instant improvement for the Eagles’ run defense by clogging lanes, demanding double-teams, and keeping blockers off linebackers.

31. Kansas City Chiefs: Dawand Jones (OT, Ohio St): Patrick Mahomes is already the most elusive quarterback in the league, posting league-low sack-to-pressure rates. Now try to get through his new 6-foot-8, 360-pound bodyguard. Jones is a monster who just absolutely mauls people in the run game. He has great length that he is able to utilize in pass protection to keep rushers on the outside. He could drop some weight at the NFL level and not compromise his strength. He has started at right tackle for the past two seasons at Ohio State and did not allow a QB hit or sack in 2022.

Note: The NFL announced in August that the Miami Dolphins will forfeit their 2023 first-round draft pick following an investigation into whether the organization violated league policies pertaining to the integrity of the game.

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