With the Senior Bowl and East West Shrine Bowl already in the books, the 2023 NFL Draft season is already in full swing. And while the top of the draft will likely be shaken up by trades in the coming months, I will do my best to predict where teams go with their first-round selections this April.
- Chicago Bears: Jalen Carter, IDL, Georgia
Given the amount of quarterback-needy teams this year, it is hard to imagine one not trading up for this top pick. Between the Texans, Colts, Raiders, Panthers, Jets, Buccaneers – not to mention teams like the Falcons, Saints, Titans and Commanders, whose signal callers all seem to be on unsteady ground – it seems likely that one would offer the Bears a pretty package to jump up to the top spot to ensure that they land their guy. However, the Bears would do well to stay pat and add the best player in the draft to their talent-depleted roster by selecting Georgia’s Jalen Carter, a dominant interior defender with every trait you could want in a defensive tackle.
- Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Newly minted Houston head coach DeMeco Ryans will have the inside scoop on Young as a former Crimson Tide star himself. Young is a quick processor with excellent accuracy and a strong ability to navigate the pocket; he and Ryans will usher in a new era of Texans football.
- Arizona Cardinals: Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
Anderson is far-and-away the best pass rusher in this draft class. After losing JJ Watt this season and Chandler Jones last year, the Cardinals are in desperate need of juice on the defensive front; Anderson should step in and be a Pro Bowl caliber talent from day one.
- Indianapolis Colts: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The veteran quarterback carousel finally ends for the Colts as they take the high-upside Levis with their first pick. Levis has a cannon for an arm but threw 23 picks over his last two seasons at Kentucky. But if there is anything to be learned from glancing at the quarterbacks leading the league today, it is that taking fliers on high-upside talents can pay massive dividends (see Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, etc. for reference).
- Seattle Seahawks (via DEN): Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
After the Seahawks’ season ended in January, head coach Pete Carroll made it clear to the media that the team’s defensive front must get better. Drafting Tyree Wilson would be a big first step towards that goal. Wilson is a long, rangy and athletic pass-rusher with incredible upside – everything Seattle GM John Schneider looks for in his defenders.
- TRADE: Carolina Panthers (via DET): CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
With the Raiders and Falcons both potentially in the market for quarterbacks, the Panthers leapfrog the competition to grab their future franchise signal caller in Ohio State’s CJ Stroud. Stroud flashed against Georgia in the CFB Semifinals this year to cap off a stellar run with the Buckeyes in which he racked up 81 touchdowns and nearly 7,800 yards in two years as a starter. An accurate, creative and mobile passer with prototypical size, Stroud looks pro-ready and should be productive right out of the gate in Carolina.
- Las Vegas Raiders: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Whoever starts at quarterback in Las Vegas next season will need much better protection than the Raiders offensive line provided this season. Skoronski is the best offensive lineman in the draft and could plug in immediately at any position on the line; I see him starting at right guard and eventually moving out to tackle opposite Kolton Miller, giving the team a duo of excellent bookend tackles for years to come.
- Atlanta Falcons: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
The Falcons need help at a lot of different positions, but the defensive line is in truly dire straits. Murphy’s production at Clemson was somewhat lackluster given his talent but his athleticism will likely push him up draft boards. Murphy is scheme-versatile, has NFL size and plays with excellent effort.
- Detroit Lions (via CAR): Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Lions trade back here and grab the guy they likely would have taken if they had stuck around at No. 6. Gonzalez is explosive and boasts impressive size at 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds. Detroit’s league-worst secondary would be much improved by the addition of a potential lockdown cornerback.
- Philadelphia Eagles (via NO): Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
This pick will depend heavily on how GM Howie Roseman and team prioritize their impending free agents. With much of their defense potentially slated to leave town, the Eagles may find themselves drafting for need with this pick rather than stacking up depth as they have in years past. I have them adding Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness with this pick, expecting them to prioritize their secondary in free agency and allowing at least two or three of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Linval Joseph, Ndamukong Suh and Robert Quinn to find homes elsewhere in 2024. Van Ness plays with incredible power and flashes pass rush upside.
- Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Titans had one of the worst offensive lines in football this season and are in desperate need of help at the tackle position. Johnson started at left tackle for the Buckeyes in 2022 and was outstanding; he will be a plug-and-play starter in Tennessee.
- Houston Texans (via CLE): Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
The Texans add a huge weapon to their new quarterback’s arsenal in the 6-foot-4 Johnston, who will likely test off the charts in Indianapolis. With outstanding size and speed, he is a natural WR1 who will ease Bryce Young’s transition to the NFL with a wide quarterback-friendly catch radius.
- New York Jets: Brian Branch, CB/S, Alabama
A versatile, high-IQ defensive back with the skillset to play free safety, nickelback or even outside corner, Branch would help the Jets secondary become one of the best in the NFL.
- New England Patriots: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
This may seem like a reach given Campbell’s athletic limitations, but the Patriots will covet his instincts, size, leadership and consistency. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 246 pounds, Campbell was dominant last season for the Hawkeyes and fits the Belichick linebacker mold perfectly. He earned the 2022 Butkus Award as the top linebacker in college football as well as the William V. Campbell Trophy as a scholar athlete; he will be the centerpiece of the new Patriots defense for years to come. He will immediately top Defensive Rookie of the Year watchlists come next season.
- Green Bay Packers: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
With or without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers need more help on offense; Mayer gives them upside in both the pass and run games. A stout run blocker with strong contested catch ability, Mayer will be a high-volume target and immediate-impact playmaker for Green Bay.
- Washington Commanders: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Commanders could go elsewhere with this pick but Witherspoon will be too good for them to pass up at No. 16. A uniquely instinctive zone cornerback with playmaking ability, Witherspoon will add juice to the Washington secondary playing behind an already terrifying defensive front.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Broderick Jones did not allow a single sack as the Bulldogs’ left tackle last season; he would step in right away as Kenny Pickett’s blindside protector. A true dancing bear with a mauler mentality, Jones would quickly become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.
- Detroit Lions: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Jared Goff deserves his flowers; no one expected him to play as well as he did this past season. And while the team is in rebuilding mode, a steady, mistake-averse signal caller was exactly what the team needed. However, the Lions are handicapped by his unspectacular ceiling and hefty contract. Richardson is a project reminiscent of Cam Newton with near ridiculous running ability and a truly live arm; the Lions are perfectly positioned to redshirt Richardson in the final year of Goff’s contract. They would head into a future with nearly $20 million freed up in cap space after Goff’s departure, a quarterback with sky-high upside and a roster rebuilt and hungry after decades of mediocrity.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Calijah Kancey, IDL, Pittsburgh
Pitt’s Calijah Kancey lived in backfields across the ACC last season, posting 14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss in two years as a full-time starter, and could end up going much higher in the draft come April. Undersized but explosive, Kancey could be a stellar pass-rusher at the next level but needs to play alongside a space-eating 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme – Vita Vea and the Buccaneers defense are the perfect fit.
- Seattle Seahawks: John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota
A highly consistent and experienced zone-scheme center, Schmitz would be an excellent fit for the Seahawks run-heavy offense. Schmitz would give the young Seahawks offensive line stability and leadership.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Bryan Bresee, IDL, Clemson
What Bresee lacks in production he makes up for in athleticism and explosiveness. A former No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school, Bresee moves incredibly well for his size, but will need to develop more discipline in the run game to be an impactful starter at the next level. The Chargers have needed help in their interior defensive line for the past few seasons; Bresee could end up being a steal if LA can make the most of his talent.
- Baltimore Ravens: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
It seems like the Ravens have needed wide receiver help for the past half decade. Adding Addison would give them a well-rounded receiving corps with complementary skill sets. Addison is a superb route runner with excellent agility; he would become an early favorite target in the Baltimore offense.
- Minnesota Vikings: Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Porter Jr. is a tough press-man corner with an NFL pedigree – the latter trait could push him up draft boards. With Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan hitting free agency, the Vikings go back to the well for another cornerback with this pick, giving them a young, talented duo in Porter Jr. and their first rounder from last year, Andrew Booth Jr., who showed promise in limited snaps this past season.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
Oregon State’s Musgrave showed out as a route runner and an in-line blocker at the Senior Bowl, measuring out at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. Whether or not the Jaguars resign Evan Engram, they could use more help on offense; Musgrave gives them dynamism in both the pass and run games.
- New York Giants: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
JSN exploded onto the scene in 2021, breaking the 20-year-old Big Ten receiving yards record with his 1,606 yards before a disappointing 2022 season in which he caught just four balls and was sidelined with a hamstring injury. The Giants could be getting a steal in the former five-star recruit who flashed dominance at times in college. He may not impress at the combine but Smith-Njigba is a strong route runner with outstanding hands and willingness as a blocker.
- Dallas Cowboys: Siaki Ika, IDL, Baylor
The 6-foot-4, 358 pound Ika is a stout run defender with excellent movement ability for his size; he consistently draws double teams and will force opposing NFL offensive lines to leave offensive tackles without backup against DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons on the edges. A two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, Ika stays in state with this pick.
- Buffalo Bills: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Nearly every mock draft I have seen over the past few weeks has slotted Bijan Robinson to Buffalo; the pick simply makes too much sense. The Bills offense struggled mightily to get anything going against the Bengals in the divisional a few weeks back and a big part of that is the one-dimensionality of their offense. The team has needed a star running back for some time, and Texas’ Robinson is one of the best to come out of college football in years.
- Cincinnati Bengals: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
Many of the Bengals’ key contributors are free agents this offseason, so the team could go a variety of different ways with this pick. Regardless, their cornerback position is thin. Banks is a toolsy prospect with all of the traits teams look for in an outside cornerback.
- New Orleans Saints (via DEN): Mazi Smith, IDL, Michigan
An incredible athlete whose production did not match his talent at Michigan, Smith will be a much better pro than college player. This may seem like a reach now, but I would not be surprised if he goes even higher after he puts on a show at the combine. The Saints need help on their defensive line and the former Wolverine will give them some serious juice.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
The Gamecocks’ Cam Smith has all the makings of a future starting NFL cornerback. Meanwhile, the Eagles need secondary depth and may be losing James Bradberry in free agency; Smith could start at CB2 on day one.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech
This year’s edge class is deep; the Chiefs could go a couple of different ways here. I considered Auburn’s Derick Hall, Army’s Andre Carter II, Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV, Georgia’s Nolan Smith and LSU’s BJ Ojulari; all of these players will be in the running for this pick. I went with White because of his outstanding blend of size and athleticism. He is the biggest of the remaining edge group and could develop into a bona-fide star if the coaching provided catches up with his unique physical gifts.