• Richardson, Stroud, Young go quickly: The run on quarterbacks begins as soon as the draft opens, with the top three prospects off the board by the Colts' No. 4 pick.
• A surprise with the first defender drafted: While many have projected one of the top edge rushers to be the first defender off the board, it's Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez in this mock.
• Will Levis falls to Titans: An early run on defensive linemen allows Tennessee to snag one of the draft's top quarterback prospects.
Estimated Reading Time: 21 mins
1. CAROLINA PANTHERS (VIA CHI): QB C.J. STROUD, OHIO STATE
Carolina traded up to No. 1 overall with the Chicago Bears to once and for all land their next franchise quarterback a dozen years after taking Cam Newton with the top pick in 2011. They genuinely don’t seem fully committed to one specific player as of today, with reports claiming they’d at least entertain a trade-down, but we have them sticking here and taking the guy quarterbacks coach Josh McCown plans to play pick-up basketball with soon in Charlotte.
Stroud was charted as accurate on 68.2% of passes in 2022, the second-best rate in the country, and led the nation with 28.2% of passes deemed “accurate-plus,” which factors in things like leading a receiver away from coverage. The one main knock he had throughout the year was a lack of creativity off-script, and then he had the performance of a lifetime in that regard against Georgia in the College Football Playoff.
2. HOUSTON TEXANS: QB BRYCE YOUNG, ALABAMA
Houston still lands an elite quarterback prospect here in Young, dodging a bullet after a miraculous come-from-behind victory in Week 18 booted them from the No. 1 overall pick. The only concern you can really have about Young is his size, because he was as good as it gets in every aspect of quarterback play throughout his Alabama career.
Young’s college tape is some of the best we’ve ever seen when it comes to a quarterback’s pocket presence, poise and calm under pressure. While he can certainly produce early in the shot clock, what makes Young special is what he does when the play breaks down. He earned a 92.2 grade when his time to throw was more than 2.5 seconds, third in the country, with his 79.1% adjusted completion percentage on such plays ranking second. He doesn’t take bad sacks and manufactures offense out of nothing; that’s how you win in the modern era.
3. DETROIT LIONS (VIA ARI): QB ANTHONY RICHARDSON, FLORIDA
Trade: Detroit sends Nos. 6, 48, 81, 2024 1st, 2024 4th; Arizona sends No. 3
The Lions had a strong free agency period that truly enabled them to have no “needs” entering the 2023 NFL Draft, though one could argue the interior of their defensive line still needs the most work — more on that later.
With this pick, Detroit shows they have no plans to draft this early again any time soon. They make a bold move up for the most athletically gifted quarterback we’ve seen in a long time. Jared Goff has two years and $52.95 million remaining on his contract with nothing guaranteed, and while he’s been solid in Detroit, the only way the Lions truly see their rebuild through to the finish line following the quarterback swap with Matthew Stafford is by using the extra draft capital acquired to land a potential difference-making quarterback. Goff does not elevate the talent around him, but Richardson certainly could.
Richardson is also not a total project like he’s often made out to be, with his 9.2% pressure-to-sack rate in 2022 the 11th-lowest mark in the country. He can certainly stand to improve his accuracy and occasional poor decision-making, but the sky's the limit, and these are the lottery-ticket draft picks the NFL has begun to gravitate toward at quarterback.
4. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: CB CHRISTIAN GONZALEZ, OREGON
Gonzalez was built in a lab to be an NFL cornerback, with a sturdy 6-foot-1, 197-pound frame, 32-inch arms and freakish athleticism. Gonzalez’s 4.38-second 40-yard dash places in the 89th percentile among cornerbacks in PFF’s database, his 41.5-inch vertical ranks in the 97th percentile and his 11-foot-1 broad jump is in the 96th percentile.
Explosive, straight-line-speed athletes sometimes struggle with agility and fluidity, but if you looked up “oily hips” in the football cliché dictionary, you’d see a picture of Gonzalez.
We saw cornerbacks get drafted at No. 3 and No. 4 overall last year, and with the Colts boasting a fairly loaded defensive line, they instead land their replacement for All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore, whom they recently traded away to the Dallas Cowboys.
5. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (VIA DEN): EDGE WILL ANDERSON JR., ALABAMA
What a dream scenario this would be, with the Seahawks having arguably the best prospect in the entire draft fall in their laps at No. 5 overall. A historically good 2022 draft class plus a major spending spree in this year’s free agency has this roster in a great spot. While the above logic for the Detroit Lions taking a quarterback also applies to Seattle, with Geno Smith securing no guaranteed money beyond 2023, Anderson is too good to pass up here at a position Seattle could stand to add a true top dog.
The Seahawks' brain trust has made sure to tweet out a selfie with every quarterback prospect in this year’s class on the pro day trail so far, so perhaps they will make sure to land their signal-caller of the future no matter what. But the player with 14 more quarterback pressures over the past two seasons than any other college football player works nicely, as well.
6. ARIZONA CARDINALS (VIA DET): EDGE TYREE WILSON, TEXAS TECH
Arizona begins overhauling its roster with a trade-down to stockpile draft capital, then they take a prospect with insane traits and tools who could develop into a special player under the tutelage of new head coach Jonathan Gannon. Wilson’s 35 5/8-inch arm length is in the 98th percentile, and his 7-foot-2 wingspan is one inch shorter than Giannis Antetokounmpo's. At 271 pounds, Wilson can generate a lot of power and drive back opposing tackles and guards, allowing him to line up all over.
Wilson isn’t just a tantalizing prospect because of his measurables, either. His 34.6% pass-rush win rate on true pass sets ranked seventh among FBS edge defenders in 2022, and his 28.4% pressure percentage tied for fifth. He could be the franchise cornerstone to help jumpstart the new Cardinals regime, and he addresses the roster’s biggest weakness.
7. LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: DI JALEN CARTER, GEORGIA
It’s still impossible to know how far Carter may fall as a result of his legal situation, but he has a strong case as the most gifted player in this entire class. The Raiders are another team that could look to add a quarterback after striking out in their attempt to trade up to No. 1 overall with the Chicago Bears, but here we’re operating under the assumption they had a particular player in mind and will now wait until 2024 or beyond.
Carter’s 89.1 pass-rush grade in 2022 ranked seventh among FBS interior defenders, and his 91.2 run-defense grade ranked fifth. He’s as good a prospect on the field as we’ve seen since PFF started grading college football in 2014.
8. TENNESSEE TITANS (VIA ATL): QB WILL LEVIS, KENTUCKY
Trade: Tennessee sends Nos. 11, 41, 2024 2nd; Atlanta sends No. 8
Chicago at ninth overall and Philadelphia at 10th overall are prime trade-down spots, as well, so this isn’t Tennessee jumping ahead of teams that need a quarterback necessarily; it’s them boxing out teams like New England, Washington and Tampa Bay.
Levis played through multiple injuries in 2022, but in 2021 he earned a 90.6 overall grade that ranked 10th among Power Five quarterbacks. He has the occasional errant throw that leaves you scratching your head, but he’s come a long way since serving as a dual-threat short-yardage quarterback at Penn State, flashing a quick release that packs a lot of zip. He also needs to dramatically improve on navigating pressure, but it didn’t help that his offensive line was very porous this past season.
9. CHICAGO BEARS (VIA CAR): OT PARIS JOHNSON JR., OHIO STATE
After the first few waves of free agency, one thing seems certain: Whether offense or defense, this Bears pick will be a trench player. Johnson is a versatile offensive lineman with the size and athleticism to play on the inside or at tackle, with his 36 1/4-inch arms landing in the 97th percentile among tackles.
The former Ohio State teammate of Bears quarterback Justin Fields started in 2021 at right guard before moving to left tackle, but he’s a perfect fit in this scheme wherever Chicago ultimately puts him, with great movement skills at the second level for Chicago’s outside-zone rushing attack. Johnson’s 85.5 run-blocking grade on outside-zone runs in 2022 ranked sixth among FBS tackles, and that was at a new position on the other side of the offensive line. If he can get more consistent and continue to develop in both facets, he’s the exact type of tackle that Chicago’s new brass covets.
10. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (VIA NO): OT PETER SKORONSKI, NORTHWESTERN
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t lose just starting guard Isaac Seumalo to free agency. In fact, former first-round tackle Andre Dillard actually signed a larger contract in terms of total value with the Tennessee Titans. Skoronski may ultimately have to be a guard at the NFL level because of his short arms, but he also could make sense as the eventual heir to Lane Johnson at right tackle in a few years after beginning his development on the interior.
Skoronski’s 93.0 pass-blocking grade in 2022 led the FBS, with his 1.3% pressure rate allowed the third lowest among tackles. He was also one of just eight tackles in the FBS to grade above 80.0 both as a pass protector and run blocker.
11. ATLANTA FALCONS (VIA TEN): EDGE NOLAN SMITH, GEORGIA
Prior to suffering a torn pectoral muscle, Smith was routinely mocked in the top half of the first round. After an absurd NFL Combine performance, we’ll vault him back into the upper part of the draft, with Atlanta adding a much-needed pass rusher off the edge.
Before his injury, Smith posted a 22.6% pass-rush win rate that ranked 19th among FBS edge defenders. Despite his 238-pound frame, Smith is also a tenacious run defender, with his 82.4 grade in 2022 ranking 16th in the FBS. He needs to primarily be deployed as a wide-nine outside linebacker, but new Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen should be able to make that work given Smith's ridiculous explosiveness.
12. HOUSTON TEXANS (VIA CLE): WR JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA, OHIO STATE
The Texans immediately get a top wide receiver for their new quarterback. Smith-Njigba fits perfectly in the slot alongside a blend of different wide receiver skill sets on the outside. After trading Brandin Cooks to the Dallas Cowboys, Houston needs a new top option, and Smith-Njigba is just that.
His lateral agility and clean footwork in and out of breaks will enable him to continue creating separation with ease, and his ceiling is a player who could haul in over 100 receptions in a season. As a true sophomore in 2021, Smith-Njigba earned a 90.2 receiving grade that ranked fifth among FBS wide receivers.
People often point to the presence of 2022 first-round wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave opening things up for Smith-Njigba in 2021, but he seemed quite all right without them in the Rose Bowl when he put up an FBS bowl game record 347 receiving yards on 15 receptions, with three touchdowns to boot. In the process, he set Ohio State season records for receptions (95) and receiving yards (1,606). There’s a reason Wilson and Olave sing his praises every chance they get.
13. NEW YORK JETS: OT BRODERICK JONES, GEORGIA
The Jets have invested major resources into their offensive line every year under general manager Joe Douglas, but there’s no reason to stop now. With 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton struggling to stay on the field, 2021 first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker looking great but tearing his ACL this past season and veteran Duane Brown turning 38 years old before Week 1, Broderick Jones makes a lot of sense here.
The biggest question may be whether Jones knows on draft night if he’ll be blocking for Aaron Rodgers. Jones’ 85.4 pass-blocking grade in 2022 ranked ninth among FBS tackles, and his 1.4% pressure rate allowed tied for fifth. The redshirt sophomore still has room to grow, but he’s already a high-level pass protector on the outside.
14. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: CB DEVON WITHERSPOON, ILLINOIS
Witherspoon is as physical a cornerback as you’ll see in today’s game, boasting the ability to jam receivers at the line in press and drop the hammer as an open-field tackler. You better keep your head on a swivel whenever he’s on the field, with his experience in college enabling him to diagnose plays before the ball is even snapped, often blowing up screen passes in the backfield after covering a lot of ground to get to the ball carrier.
Witherspoon’s 92.5 coverage grade in 2022 led the FBS, and he also ranked first with 18 forced incompletions. The only thing that may keep him out of the top 10 is weighing in at 181 pounds, but who cares if he plays like he’s the biggest guy on the field.
15. GREEN BAY PACKERS: EDGE LUKAS VAN NESS, IOWA
Van Ness has recently been projected to go a bit higher than this, and it will be interesting to see if he’s deployed more as an edge or an interior pass rusher at the next level. He saw roughly equal splits inside and outside the tackles at Iowa.
His strong agility testing numbers and comparatively poor strength and explosiveness numbers may suggest he’s best suited over or outside the tackle, and that’s what we expect from Green Bay, much like Rashan Gary coming out of Michigan.
16. WASHINGTON COMMANDERS: RB BIJAN ROBINSON, TEXAS
Robinson is the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley in 2018, and while the current view of the position league-wide may not see him go second overall, his lasting this long may not be realistic. Robinson led the nation in forced missed tackles in 2022 with 104 — a record since PFF began recording the stat for college football — and placed fifth in yards after contact with 1,071. Importantly in today’s game, he’s also a very capable receiver.
It’s understandable to wonder why this is the pick with Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson on the roster already, but Gibson is entering a contract year and Commanders top personnel executives Martin Mayhew and Marty Hurney have never been afraid to use premium draft capital at the position in their various stops across the NFL.
17. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: CB JOEY PORTER JR., PENN STATE
This is almost too good to be true, but the Steelers' top need by far is at cornerback, and why not take the Penn State product who grew up around the facility where his dad was an elite player from 1999-2006?
Porter’s 34-inch arms enable him to bother wide receivers at the line without overshooting, illustrated by his 81.6 grade in press coverage — which ranked 18th among cornerbacks in the FBS. Pittsburgh keeps it in the family and hopefully lands another Joey Porter to start for nearly a decade and earn a few All-Pro accolades.
18. DETROIT LIONS: DI CALIJAH KANCEY, PITTSBURGH
We mentioned the Lions need to add more juice on the interior, and here they do just that. Kancey’s lack of size may cause him to fall even further down the board, but Lions general manager Brad Holmes was the Rams' director of college scouting in 2014 when they selected another undersized interior defender by the name of Aaron Donald out of Pittsburgh 13th overall.
Kancey’s 92.4 pass-rush grade and 18.1% pressure rate led all FBS interior defenders in 2022, with his 22.7% pass-rush win rate placing second. He was as productive an interior pass rusher as you can find, and even if he has a bit of a specialized role early in his career, it’s a very valuable specialty.
19. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: OT ANTON HARRISON, OKLAHOMA
The Buccaneers released tackle Donovan Smith one year into a two-year extension and need a replacement opposite one of the game’s top young talents in Tristan Wirfs. The expectation in Tampa is that Wirfs may slide over to left tackle, but the good news is Harrison spent some time on the right side this past season and could likely fill either spot.
Harrison allowed a pressure on just 2.1% of pass-block reps in 2022, tied for the 15th-lowest rate in the FBS. Perhaps best of all, he’s just 21 years old with a lot of room to grow.
20. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: WR JORDAN ADDISON, USC
After addressing the defensive side of the ball throughout free agency and earlier in the first round, Seattle kicks off a run on receiving weapons here. Tyler Lockett is entering his age-31 season and played through injuries for much of 2022, but this isn’t about replacing him just yet; it’s about adding a complementary wide receiver for quarterback Geno Smith and the heir apparent.
Addison is a good, not great athlete, but his precision route running is what enables him to consistently create separation. His 2.91 yards per route run over the past two seasons ranks 24th among FBS wide receivers, and his 56 explosive receptions are tied for first.
21. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: TE DALTON KINCAID, UTAH
Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will be entering the final year of their contracts in 2024, and tight end Gerald Everett will be a free agent after the 2023 season. The Chargers add an elite pass-catching tight end prospect who can use a season to develop at a position that has a steep learning curve. That would go a long way for Kincaid, who is still relatively new to competitive football.
Kincaid led the FBS in 2022 with 2.55 yards per route run, 23 explosive receptions, 15 missed tackles forced and a 92.3 receiving grade — a clean sweep of receiving metrics. At just 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, however, there will be questions about his blocking ability at the next level.
22. BALTIMORE RAVENS: CB DEONTE BANKS, MARYLAND
Marcus Peters remains unsigned after his contract expired with the Ravens following the 2022 season, so Baltimore replaces him with a Baltimore native who could develop into an outstanding cornerback in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s system. Banks tested off the charts, including a 4.35-second 40-yard dash highlighting his recovery speed and a 42-inch vertical demonstrating his ability to go up and contest targets.
He allowed a completion rate of just 43.3% in 2022, 22nd in the entire FBS, and stands to get even better with more coaching of his elite athletic tools.
23. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: WR QUENTIN JOHNSTON, TCU
Minnesota parted ways with longtime wide receiver Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn is entering the final year of his contract in 2023. Here, they add a No. 2 option alongside Justin Jefferson who can win on jump balls downfield and also rack up yards after the catch.
Johnston ranked in the top 25 in yards per route run across the FBS in 2022, with his 17 missed tackles forced tied for 13th. While he got shut down against Georgia in the national championship game along with the entire TCU offense, he stepped up in the first round of the College Football Playoff against a stout Michigan defense with a 6-163-1 stat line and did all he could to avoid defeat against Baylor in the Big 12 title game with four receptions for 139 yards. Johnston can become more consistent and use his size more effectively, but there’s a lot to like about his ability going forward.
24. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: DB BRIAN BRANCH, ALABAMA
Jacksonville needs a slot defender and all-around savvy, rangy defensive back to deploy all over the secondary. That’s what Brian Branch brings to the table.
Branch’s 19 defensive stops in coverage in 2022 were tied for the most in the country, his 24 run stops were tied for 10th and his nine forced incompletions were tied for eighth. While he’s something of a tweener position-wise, he’s a perfect fit for the modern game. Jacksonville couldn’t do anything against Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in their playoff defeat, surrendering 14 receptions and two touchdowns. And Branch, in theory, is an answer to the league’s growing list of quality receiving tight ends.
He could develop into a neutralizer who can excel in man coverage against the top receiving weapons in the slot while also showing tremendous football IQ and the ability to make plays on the back end with his instinctual approach to the game.
25. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (VIA NYG): EDGE MYLES MURPHY, CLEMSON
Trade: New Orleans sends Nos. 29, 115, 165; New York sends No. 25, No. 240
Saints 2018 first-round edge defender Marcus Davenport just departed in free agency to the Minnesota Vikings, and 2021 first-round edge defender Payton Turner has come along slowly with just 315 total snaps over his first two seasons.
The beauty with Murphy is that while he builds his arsenal as a pass rusher, with some technical refinement necessary to add to his nasty bull rush and long-arm moves, he can be a positive against the run early in his career. Murphy’s 80.2 run-defense grade over the past two seasons is a top-30 mark among FBS edge defenders, and his 21.2% positively graded play rate against the run is 20th. He has a rare combination of high-end strength to set the edge and disrupt plays at the point of attack and speed to pursue ball carriers.
Interior offensive line makes a lot of sense here, as well, but New Orleans will likely be able to target the position with their second-round pick at No. 40 overall.
26. DALLAS COWBOYS: TE MICHAEL MAYER, NOTRE DAME
Mayer was second to Dalton Kincaid in receiving grade, yards per route run and explosive receptions in 2022, but where he separates himself is with his ability as a blocker. Mayer’s 82.1 run-blocking grade ranked sixth among FBS tight ends, whereas Kincaid’s 62.2 mark ranked 80th. Oh, and Mayer is almost two years younger.
The Notre Dame product has been generally dropping in mock drafts, which we may look back on as a silly development where we were overthinking a very complete player who dominated in college from the minute he stepped on the field.
27. BUFFALO BILLS: WR ZAY FLOWERS, BOSTON COLLEGE
The Bills have been in on a handful of speedy wide receivers throughout the free-agent process, and they did come to terms with New Orleans Saints game-breaker Deonte Harty on a two-year pact, but here they continue to load up at the position with the smooth, sharp, sudden Boston College product.
With opposing defenses focusing their attention on Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, Flowers will get open at will and could help Josh Allen mitigate some issues with running the ball too often. If he gets lost at the line, he’ll be walking in for six on a bomb from Allen. Or if he has enough room in space, he can zoom past defenders.
28. CINCINNATI BENGALS: OT DARNELL WRIGHT, TENNESSEE
Wright started 2020 at right tackle and 2021 at left tackle, then shifted back over to right tackle in 2022. He’s an above-average pass protector on either side with the ability to bulldoze defenders in the run game, which perhaps is more valuable on the right side. Wright allowed just six quarterback hurries and zero sacks in 2022.
Cincinnati signed one of the most team-friendly deals of the offseason by inking tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year, $64 million pact. However, the signing was a catalyst for 2019 first-round tackle Jonah Williams to ask for a trade. Bengals tackle La’el Collins has also battled injuries throughout his career, which continued into 2022.
29. NEW YORK GIANTS (VIA NO): C JOE TIPPMANN, WISCONSIN
The Giants are a trendy spot for a wide receiver in mock drafts, but we went a different direction here after they missed out on the only true X receiver with first-round buzz in Quentin Johnston since they have plenty of playmakers in the slot.
Tippman didn’t test at the combine, but The Athletic's Bruce Feldman featured him on his “Freaks List.” Tippman has the size to play guard, as well, if that’s where a team views him long term, but regardless, the Giants get newly extended quarterback Daniel Jones some protection on the interior after adding extra draft capital. Tippman’s 88.3 run-blocking grade over the past two seasons ranks eighth among FBS centers, and he could fit in any scheme at the next level given his size and athleticism.
30. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: DI ADETOMIWA ADEBAWORE, NORTHWESTERN
While you never want to overreact to athletic testing when college tape is available, Adebawore was arguably used out of position a bit at Northwestern as an edge defender on the majority of snaps. This pick gives the Eagles a double-dip of Northwestern players in the first round, with Adebawore joining Peter Skoronski.
At 6-foot-2 and 282 pounds with his ridiculous explosiveness and get-off, Adebawore belongs as a three-technique interior defender at the next level, and the Eagles need to add more talent there following Javon Hargrave‘s departure in free agency. Adebawore posted a higher pass-rush win rate when lined up between the tackles as compared to when he was out wide, which is counter to the averages at each alignment and illustrates his explosiveness and power up the middle. Give him a few years of coaching with the Eagles, and he could be a terror alongside Jordan Davis.
31. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: EDGE FELIX-ANUDIKE-UZOMAH, KANSAS STATE
The Kansas City, Missouri, native did not test at the NFL Combine but displayed great bend throughout the 2022 season and could be the quick-twitched pass rusher Kansas City needs opposite 2022 first-round pick George Karlaftis.
The true junior is just 21 years old, and while there isn’t the largest sample of plays here, his 34.0% pass-rush win rate on true pass sets in 2022 ranked eighth among FBS edge defenders and his 28.0% pressure percentage placed seventh.
Clemson interior defender Bryan Bresee could also make a lot of sense here, and if a tackle prospect the Chiefs are high on falls to No. 31, they could look to help fill the void left by Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie signing elsewhere in free agency.