Tampa Bay BuccaneersThe Bears-Panthers trade and free agency craze adjusts draft boards, with the Buccaneers selecting a versatile safety at number 19Brianna Dix
Anticipation grows for the 2023 NFL Draft as various moves render previous mock drafts utterly meaningless. The Carolina Panthers moved from No. 9 to No. 1 overall for an opportunity to grab their franchise quarterback, sending shockwaves through the NFL. Subsequently, the Bears became the beneficiary of draft capital and receiver D.J. Moore in the process. That move sent ripples throughout the remainder of the draft order, reshuffling mocks. The Draft is over a month away, and yet, it has already changed drastically. Here is our latest mock draft in the height of free agency chaos and the aftermath of the Bears-Panthers exchange.
Mocked Trade: Atlanta trades up from Pick Eight to sixth with Detroit to snag a quarterback, adding competition to the room alongside Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder - costing them a third this year and a fifth in 2024.
On to the first-round picks:
1) Carolina Panthers (from Chicago) : QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
"If you have a conviction on a guy, you go get him," General Manager Scott Fitterer stated at the Combine about potentially trading up for a quarterback. This move assures them one of the top passers in this year's draft and provides clarity for the franchise heading into free agency. The Panthers sent the Bears the ninth overall pick in this year's draft, the second-rounder acquired from the 49ers (61st overall), along with next year's first-round pick, a 2025 second-rounder, and wide receiver D.J. Moore in exchange for the No. 1 overall choice in this year's draft. With the top slot, the Panthers select C.J. Stroud, who produced arguably the most impressive throwing session at the Combine. Stroud leads receivers with precise ball placement and makes throws to targets on all areas of the field. Although he did not consistently attack defenses by using his legs, Stroud showcased improved improvisation skills against Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinal, extending plays outside of the pocket.
2) Houston Texans: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
The Texans are in a rebuild mode and select Bryce Young, the most heralded signal-caller of this year's class. If Young were 6'2 instead of 5'10, there would likely be a comp to the likes of Drew Brees, however he has been invariably linked to concerns at the pro level regarding long-term durability due to size. Young has experience playing in a pro-style system at Alabama and possesses a calm demeanor on the field, compact release, mobility, awareness against the blitz and stellar field vision. Young has the intangibles and instincts to succeed at the pro level.
3) Arizona Cardinals: Edge Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
With the release of Markus Golden and the retirement of perennial Pro Bowler J.J. Watt, the Cardinals need fresh legs in the trenches to bolster the club's pass rush. Will Anderson Jr., the first player in Alabama history named a unanimous All-American twice, has a lethal first-step and an arsenal of tactics to threaten the edge. His footwork, juice, closing speed and powerful hips set him apart. His jaw-dropping production against top-tier SEC talent is an indicator of a successful career in the pros.
4) Indianapolis Colts: QB Anthony Richardson Jr., Florida
Following the retirement of Andrew Luck, the Colts targeted veteran, short-term fixes at the position, including Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and most recently Matt Ryan. Now, they will opt to develop a young rookie quarterback, taking Anthony Richardson Jr. Richardson has become one of the most polarizing players in the 2023 draft class with potentially the highest ceiling, but holds concerns regarding inconsistency and inaccuracy during his limited full-time role at Florida. Richardson drew eyes at the Combine, recording a record of 40.5 inches in the vertical leap, and ran a speedy 4.43 (first among quarterbacks) in the 40-yard dash. He is a dual-threat quarterback with a tantalizing physical profile but needs refinement in order to reach his potential. Richardson can make explosive plays as both a rusher and a passer, including his potential to gash with the deep ball.
5) Seattle Seahawks (from Denver): Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
In 2022, the Seahawks finished 29th in the NFL in pressure percentage (4.7 percent) and 22nd in sacks (34), ranking in the bottom third in both categories. They graded out at 30th overall in rushing the passer (63.5) as a team per Pro Football Focus, finishing ahead of only the Broncos and Falcons. Bolstering the edge is on the Seahawks' offseason priority list and Tyree Wilson could become a key component in revitalizing the team's pass rush. Wilson's athletic traits make him a nightmare for opponents, consistently generating early control of reps. His length and lateral quickness make him a disruptive force against the run. With his power, Wilson can plow through blockers with a bull rush. As Wilson's strength, hand usage and rush plan become more developed in the NFL, he can be an impactful scheme-versatile defensive lineman.
6) Atlanta Falcons (from L.A. Rams through Detroit): QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Although the Falcons signed veteran Taylor Heinicke as a backup to projected starter Desmond Ridder, Heinicke's inclusion does not prevent the Falcons from drafting a quarterback if they decide one has more upside than Ridder. Atlanta takes the plunge, selecting Kentucky's Will Levis. Levis told reporters at the Combine that the Falcons were his first interview in Indianapolis. A Penn State transfer, Levis showcased his arm talent during the on-field portion at the Combine and drew attention from evaluators during the week in Indianapolis. Levis struggled to put elite-caliber production on tape in 2022, but dealt with injuries to his foot, finger and shoulder. Like Young, Levis has experience playing in a pro-style system which requires full field reads and possess the conventional build of an NFL quarterback. Levis has the arm-talent to beat defenses at all three levels and is a serviceable runner outside of the pocket but needs to develop his mechanics for the pros.
7) Las Vegas Raiders: T Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The Raiders released longtime starter Derek Carr last month and filled the quarterback need with Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo agreed to a three-year, $67.5 million deal with Las Vegas and reunites with Josh McDaniels, who served as the Patriots' offensive coordinator during Garoppolo's stint in New England. Now that the Raiders have their quarterback, they turn their attention to the trenches. The Raiders' new-look offense will be dictated by the production of the offensive line. The club is bringing back right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor and although most spots on the line are filled with Kolton Miller at left tackle, Dylan Parham at guard and center Andre James, there is an opening at guard. Northwestern's Peter Skoronski, the technician, is projected to have the highest ceiling at guard in the NFL. With textbook footwork, active hands, instincts and understanding of angles at the point of attack, Skoronski has the talent to become an immediate starter at guard.
8) Detroit Lions (from Atlanta): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
Jalen Carter was charged with misdemeanor reckless driving and racing in relation to a tragic fatal car crash on Jan. 15 in Athens Georgia, raising question marks amidst the ongoing investigation. With additional information to be disclosed at a later date, Jalen Carter does not fall far in the draft order. The Lions need to bolster their defensive front after addressing the cornerback position by signing Cam Sutton, and Carter is the most disruptive three-technique of the class. Carter fires out of his stance, disorienting guards. With violent hands and an understanding of leverage, Carter is difficult to redirect. He has the flexibility to play in an odd or even front, profiling as a three-down talent in the NFL.
9) Chicago Bears (from Carolina): OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
Providing Justin Fields with better protection up front is paramount for the Bears, prompting an overhaul this offseason. Chicago lands one of the best tackles in this year's class, Paris Johnson Jr. Johnson has the versatility to play guard or tackle and has the movement skills to match edge rushers around the arc. His agility allows him to be effective as a pull blocker and against linebackers on combo blocks. Johnson has the tools to bolster the Bears' front.
10) Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans): Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
Prior to the free agency window opening, the Eagles re-signed James Bradberry and Darius Slay, keeping their stellar corner tandem intact. Philadelphia will lose Robert Quinn in free agency but selects Clemson's Myles Murphy in the first round. Murphy possesses a rare size, length and strength combination. He is known for a lethal long-arm rush move that collapses the pocket. With a sudden first-step and an elite motor for pursuit, Murphy would give the Eagles' front a boost as a projected power rusher.
11) Tennessee Titans: WR Jordan Addison, USC
The Titans desperately need an infusion of young talent to the receiver room. Treylon Burks, who played just 393 offensive snaps in his rookie 2022 season, is the most experienced receiver on the team's roster. Tennessee rolls the dice with USC's Jordan Addison. Addison established himself as an elite receiver, recording 59 receptions, 875 yards, and eight scores in his lone season with the Trojans after transferring from Pitt, where he led the Panthers with 100 receptions, 1,593 yards and 17 scores en route to winning the Biletnikoff Trophy as the nation's best college receiver in 2021. Addison possesses the coveted speed (4.39-40), suddenness, precision on routes and run-after-catch prowess to make an impact between the hash marks. Although his size has generated concerns vs. press, Addison has the agility to be a threat at all three levels of the field with savvy footwork that beats coverage leverage.
12) Houston Texans (from Cleveland): WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Although the Texans' signed former Cowboys' receiver Noah Brown, that will not prevent them from dipping into options via the draft to strengthen the receiving corps. Brown primarily served as a blocker in-line or large target for Dak Prescott over the middle of the field. Houston needs a player that defenses will have to game-plan around; enter Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He impressed during agility drills in Indianapolis and would elevate the Texans' offense around a young quarterback. Smith-Njigba is a zone-beater, consistently making catches in traffic. Despite missing most of the 2022 season due to injury, he is a first-round grade talent. Smith-Njigba has a knack for working to open space and would be lethal weapon for Houston vs. shell coverage, exploiting the underneath area of the field.
13) New York Jets: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
The Jets have a need at tackle and snagging Broderick Jones fills the void. He started all 15 games at left tackle for the Bulldogs in 2022, positioning the team to win back-to-back titles. Jones is a superior athlete, effective at working in space with second-level blocks to create run lanes. He possesses quick feet for recoveries against the rush and has the potential to develop into a full-time starter on the left side. Jones will need to improve his play strength as a pro but has undeniable athletic gifts worth pursuing.
14) New England Patriots: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
The top three tackles are off the board and in a pass-heavy league with top-tier receivers in the AFC West, Bill Belichick selects the best player available in Christian Gonzalez. At 6-1, Gonzalez has the desired combination of explosiveness, size and speed. His hip fluidity allows him to match receivers. Gonzalez can bully releases with his strength/length and has the speed to smother receivers downfield with the burst to close when the ball is in the air. Cornerbacks with both the aforementioned qualities are highly coveted in the NFL - the way Jets' Sauce Gardner and Seahawks' Tariq Woolen performed as rookies cemented the trend.
15) Green Bay Packers: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Robert Tonyan signed with the Bears in free agency and Notre Dame's Michael Mayer shores up the Packers' position group. Green Bay has reportedly met with all four of the top consensus tight ends in this year's class and Mayer is the most well-rounded of the bunch, profiling as the prototypical Y tight end, who can serve as both a pass-catching threat and stout blocker inline. He can make chain-moving catches on intermediate/underneath routes and possesses a strong blocking technique. Mayer is adept at finding soft spots in zone, boxing out defenders and making himself available to the quarterback.
16) Washington Commanders: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Joey Porter Jr. spoke with the Commanders multiple time during the pre-draft process, and it is no secret that Washington likes to draft from the Penn State pool, with several of Porter's former Nittany Lion teammates on their roster: Jahan Dotson, Shaka Toney and Tariq Castro-Fields. Porter fits the bill of an aggressive press corner who could solidify the Commanders' secondary. He can reroute releases with a physical play style and can win high-point battles. In man, Porter stays in the receiver's pocket and is a matchup potential with tight ends in the NFC East.
17) Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
The Steelers signed All-Pro Patrick Peterson to provide short-term relief, however, his addition will not preclude Pittsburgh from going after a corner via the draft. The Steelers met with all of the potential first-round cornerbacks in the draft and the club needs additional depth. Devon Witherspoon would help round out the position group. Witherspoon plays with great ball-tracking and awareness from zone coverage and is a tenacious tackler both limiting yards after the catch and in run support. With impressive route recognition and instinctual play, Witherspoon accumulated 14 pass breakups in 2022. His ball-hawk mentality would help fortify the Steelers' defense.
18) Detroit Lions: Edge Nolan Smith, Georgia
After adding Jalen Carter to help fortify the interior, the Lions take Nolan Smith, who became the first player since 2003 to weigh 238-plus pounds and post a sub-4.40 40-yard dash and a vertical leap of at least 40 inches at the Combine, to boost production on the edge. There are concerns regarding Smith's sack production at Georgia -12.5 sacks over four years - however, the Bulldogs use players interchangeably and Smith was not simply asked to get after the quarterback. Due to Smith's impact as a run defender, he projects as a three-down player. Selecting a player that can get to the quarterback, stuff the run and drop into coverage effectively will likely pay dividends for the Lions in both the short and long-term. Smith leverages his strength at the point of attack and is a force when firing into gaps.
19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Brian Branch, Alabama
Many previous mocks, including mine, had the Bucs taking a cornerback. Tampa Bay was able to re-sign Jamel Dean to a four-year deal, keeping its stellar tandem intact for 2023 and beyond. Safety Mike Edwards signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, capping off the first week of free agency. Edwards earned the reputation of "ballhawk" while donning a Bucs jersey and the club could lose key depth options in both veterans Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan. With highly coveted and versatile defender Brian Branch still on the board, the Bucs take advantage. Branch is sticky in man coverage and is effective in run support. He was primarily responsible for nickel coverage at Alabama but has the awareness and range to line up as the single-high or split-safety in certain looks. Branch is fluid in movements and strong, showcasing the ability to match up with slot weapons and pass-catching tight ends. Branch takes effective angles in pursuit of rushers. He could become a defensive catalyst quickly with a diverse skillset. Todd Bowles likes versatility and Branch fits the mold.
20) Seattle Seahawks: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
Heading into the offseason, the Seahawks' most pressing issues were in the trenches, in the interior and on the outside of their defensive front. After selecting Tyree Wilson earlier in the Draft, Seattle bolsters the middle with Clemson's Bryan Bresee. Bresee dominated in Clemson's front as a true freshman, but his last two seasons were hindered by injuries. He is an explosive force with the ability to take on double teams, maintain his run fits in space and push the pocket with a quick get-off. Bresee should continue to develop with gained experience in the NFL as both a run defender and pass rusher and possesses the instinctive qualities to make an impact for Seattle.
NA. Dolphins: Forfeited
21) Los Angeles Chargers: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
The Chargers have given Austin Ekeler permission to seek a trade and seemingly the two sides are headed for divorce. L.A. needs to add to the running back room, and Bijan Robinson is worth the first-round grade. Robinson is electric with the ball in his hands, possessing a rare blend of vision and power. The Doak Walker Award winner is an effective inside/outside runner, combining a lower center of gravity with elusiveness. Robinson is the complete package in all phases, projecting as a three-down back. He makes defenders miss in a variety of ways and has elite contact balance. Robinson stacks moves together, which is a nightmare for defenses to contend with, and pairs acceleration with top-end speed. It may not be popular in the modern NFL to draft a running back in the first round, but Robinson is worth the gamble.
22) Baltimore Ravens: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
The Ravens are hopeful that new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken can revitalize the offense, but to do so the club needs firepower. Other than dealing with the Lamar Jackson contract situation, reloading the receiver room should be the main prerogative. TCU's Quentin Johnston offers tremendous upside with a desired combination of size, length and speed. Johnston is a vertical threat who can take the top off a defense and boasts an above-average catch radius. His long strides generate separation when moving in space and he could help open up the Ravens' deep-passing attack. Drops and erratic production are concerns but Johnston's freak athleticism provides intrigue.
23) Minnesota Vikings: Edge Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
The Vikings held the NFC's worst pass defense in 2022 and that starts up front. Minnesota needs to add juice and Lukas Van Ness is the player to do it. Van Ness was not a starter for the Hawkeyes this past season and because of that, would likely start in sub-packages and sole passing downs; however, he plays with explosive power. Van Ness will need to add variety to his rushes beyond a bull rush but possesses projectable traits. Nicknamed, "Hercules," Van Ness has the strength to anchor, quickness out of his stance to disrupt the pocket and agility to help immobilize dual-threat quarterbacks.
24) Jacksonville Jaguars: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
The Jaguars placed the franchise tag on Evan Engram but given Head Coach Doug Pederson's utilization of multiple tight end sets - Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert in Philadelphia - adding to the tight end room would open up the offensive playbook in Jacksonville. Darnell Washington is an imposing run blocker and has not hit his ceiling as a pass-catcher. As an inline tight end, Washington has unique power at the point of attack and with a large frame, creates an advantage near the goal line and in contested catch situations. He would create a dynamic duo with Engram.
25) New York Giants: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
The Giants resolved their two biggest free agent problems heading into the 2023 offseason, giving Daniel Jones a four-year contract and freeing up the franchise tag to use on their top offensive playmaker, Saquon Barkley. With both locked up, the Giants will shift gears to the receiving corps by adding Tennessee All-American receiver Jalin Hyatt. Hyatt has top-end speed that could force defensive coordinators to alter coverages, allocating more resources to the back end with a lighter box. Hyatt could provide the Giants with the deep threat that they desperately needed in 2022. He is adept at running crossers and field-stretching patterns. Hyatt exploits off-man coverage and could be the "burner" Giants' fans have longed for.
26) Dallas Cowboys: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah
The Cowboys opted not to re-sign free agent Dalton Schultz and instead go after the Utah product with the same first name via the Draft. Dallas needs another quarterback-friendly target for Dak Prescott and Dalton Kincaid would help address the vacancy. Kincaid is a smooth route runner with an elite catch radius. He needs to develop his strength and technique inline as a blocker but in one of the deepest tight end classes in memory, Kincaid is the best receiver. Schultz became Prescott's go-to target over the middle of the field vs. shell coverage and Kincaid could be a dynamic weapon out of the slot. He possesses fluidity in and out of breaks to separate from coverage and ball-tracking skills to locate the football. Kincaid has great initial burst on releases and sticky hands.
27) Buffalo Bills: OL O'Cyrus Torrence, Florida
The Bills need to upgrade the overall ceiling of the unit and solidify long-term options along the interior of the line. The club signed Connor McGovern in free agency to become a short-term fix, but additional depth is needed. The Bills have to do a better job of protecting quarterback Josh Allen, whose aggressive style of play often leads to hits. Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence has the potential to be a plug-and-play guard in the NFL. Torrence followed his Louisiana head coach, Billy Napier, to Florida for the 2022 season, where he earned first-team Associated Press All-American honors, in addition to first-team All-SEC notice for his contributions in 11 starts at right guard. Torrence's wide base creates a challenge for interior pass rushers, often neutralizing the man across from him. He held his own in matchups against some of college football's top interior defensive linemen, including Jalen Carter.
28) Cincinnati Bengals: TE Luke Musgrave, Oregon State
The Bengals could opt for help along the offensive line but with the departure of Hayden Hurst, they need to address the tight end position. Cincinnati looks to Luke Musgrave, a top size/speed athlete, to fill the void. Musgrave will need to bulk up for blocking purposes in the trenches but profiles as a desired slot option with smooth hips and agile feet. With tempo shifts on routes, Musgrave is able to elude contact. He has starter potential and would add versatility to the Bengals' offense.
29) New Orleans Saints: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College
With Derek Carr now commanding the huddle, the Saints need a young receiver who could contribute quickly. After retaining the services of Michael Thomas to pair with Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, some might come to the conclusion that New Orleans is loaded at the position. However, health and availability concerns are invariably linked to Thomas and the club has been plagued with injuries over the previous few seasons. Adding another option at the position would help down the stretch and the Saints go after Zay Flowers. At 5-foot-9, Flowers does not impress with size but showed off his first-round credentials at the Combine, hauling in passes both high and low on out routes and snagged several deep balls over his shoulder. Flowers was predominately used as a gadget player on jet sweeps during his freshman season, but when Jeff Hafley took over he gave Flowers a shot as an outside receiver. Flowers developed over the next several seasons, making an impact as a deep threat and in the intermediate game. Flowers is slippery in the open field, making it difficult for defenders to anticipate what he will do.
30) Philadelphia Eagles: DL Caljah Kancey, Pittsburgh
Philadelphia needs to invest in the defensive line after losing Javon Hargrave and potentially Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh - who signed one-year contracts with the team in November. Alongside Jordan Davis and Milton Williams, Caljah Kancey would add reinforcements. Kancey's leverage, motor, explosion and first-step quickness often overwhelm guards in one-on-one scenarios. The one-gap penetrator terrorizes the pocket, finding an angle to exploit. Kancey is regarded as being "undersized," but has the disruptive traits that should translate to the NFL. He has drawn comparisons to Aaron Donald and although unfair to Kancey, that connection should speak for itself. Kancey's burst off the ball and violent hands have drawn intrigue and the Eagles make their move.
31) Kansas City Chiefs: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
The defending Super Bowl Champions conclude the first round by targeting an offensive lineman, addressing their need at right tackle. Darnell Wright would help bolster the front five in Kansas City around their prized possession, Patrick Mahomes. Wright reverted to the right side for his senior year, earning first-team All-SEC honors for his play in 13 starts - including a stellar performance against Will Anderson Jr. He blocks with rare power and fights through double teams and combo blocks. Wright stays square in pass protection and has the developmental traits to become a stalwart tackle in the pros.