Fragoza’s 2-round 2023 NFL Mock Draft: C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. battle for first overall

It may be too early for a 2023 NFL Mock Draft, but at PFN, it is always draft season. In this two-rounder, five franchises select QBs.

Is it too early for a 2023 NFL Mock Draft? For some, maybe. But here at PFN, it’s always draft season. Projecting the NFL draft can be a fruitless endeavor in June. However, it allows us to discover and discuss potential future NFL stars. In this two-round 2023 NFL Mock Draft, five franchises pull the trigger on quarterbacks, two tight ends go on Day 1, and names you should know grace the second round.

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2023 2-round NFL Mock Draft | Round 1, Picks 1-16

1) Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

6’3″ and 215 pounds. A compact release and coveted pocket awareness. Athleticism to escape if needed. Laser-guided launcher for a right arm. Is there any box C.J. Stroud doesn’t check? The aesthetic is nice, but so is the tape. Now, it’s much easier to look like the No. 1 overall pick when you are throwing to what may go down as the highest-drafted receiving corps in college football history.

But Stroud delivered passes with anticipation and accuracy, especially down the stretch last season. If he picks up where he left off, there won’t be much of an argument against him as the first player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.

2) Atlanta Falcons: Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

It was a legitimate battle for who would go first overall in my 2023 NFL Mock Draft. In the end, I leaned toward positional value. However, in a vacuum, Will Anderson Jr. may very well be the most talented player in the country. His bend, explosiveness, and flexibility off the edge are unparalleled.

After registering 10.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks as a true freshman, Anderson erupted for 31 and 17.5, respectively, in 2021. So even if he didn’t take a snap this season, a top-five pick would still have his name on it.

3) Detroit Lions: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Should Bryce Young be the QB1 over C.J. Stroud? Personally, I believe so … at least at this point in time. Young diced defenses up last season, hoisting the Heisman trophy for his efforts. Despite his smaller stature (6’0″, 194 pounds), Young is fearless in the pocket and doesn’t have a blind spot in the middle of the field. He isn’t the same rushing threat as a Kyler Murray, but he’s no slouch in that area either. Detroit hands Young the keys to the franchise and reaps the rewards.

4) New York Jets: Paris Johnson Jr., OL, Ohio State

Paris Johnson Jr. was a five-star prospect in the 2020 cycle and saw his first starting season last year. He proved worthy of the first-team reps, allowing zero sacks and being a force in the ground game. Entering 2022, he will kick out to left tackle and protect C.J. Stroud’s blindside. At 6’6″ and 315 pounds with swift feet, Johnson profiles more as a tackle than guard — but versatility is never a negative. If he holds up well this season, he shouldn’t have to wait long to hear his name called in the 2023 NFL Draft.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Much was made of Georgia’s national championship-winning defense last season — and for good reason. While the unit sent five players to the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, possibly their best prospect returned to school. Jalen Carter is a 6’3″ and 310-pound DT with imposing arm length, immense twitch and burst, and a vat of stored power. Drop him into any scheme, and he will thrive. Fifth overall may ultimately be his floor, as genuine pass-rush threats from the interior are increasingly rare.

6) Carolina Panthers: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

My personal WR1 in the 2023 NFL Draft, Kayshon Boutte makes the two-hour flight from Baton Rouge to Charlotte after the Panthers make him the first WR drafted. The end zone is Boutte’s home, and he can give the house a call whenever he feels like it. It was the final game of his freshman season that put Boutte on the map. Against Ole Miss, he exploded for 14 catches, 308 yards, and three scores. He is the next great LSU receiver fresh off the heels of Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase.

An ankle injury ended his 2021 season after just six games, but Boutte has little left to prove. He can improve as a contested-catch threat, although even that isn’t a large part of the game.

7) New York Giants: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

If you watched Florida football last season, you likely witnessed the video game-esque abilities of Anthony Richardson. Even if you didn’t tune in to the Gators, there is a chance you caught a glimpse of Richardson’s athletic gifts in the form of his pregame backflips. Well, the 6’4″ and 237-pound QB isn’t just a pregame hype machine. On the field, he tormented defenses with his legs and right arm. He can dart past defenders if given a hole or leave defenders grasping at his shadow as he breaks them down in the open field.

But it’s not all fun and games. Richardson has only thrown 66 passes in his career for 556 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions. He simply hasn’t played enough to truly earn top-10 consideration. Yet, if he puts it all together in 2022, the sky is the limit.

8) Chicago Bears: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

Garrett Wilson (10th overall) and Chris Olave (11th) went back to back in the 2022 NFL Draft. That’s two top-15 picks playing the same position at the same school. Even more fascinating: the best WR in that Ohio State group may be the one returning to campus. Jaxon Smith-Njigba might not be a physical freak, but he netted 500+ yards over either Wilson or Olave last season. He was Stroud’s top target, and it was easy to see why on tape.

Smith-Njigba owns a compact 6’0″ and nearly 200-pound frame, leading to a more tangible brand of football. Outside of the measurables, he is an intelligent player with the knowledge to find holes in zone coverage, attack leverages, and adjust to passes when needed.

9) Seattle Seahawks: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Will Levis exploded on the college football scene last year. In his inaugural season at Kentucky after spending time at Penn State, there were the usual ebbs and flows of a first-year starter. But Levis displayed the arm talent necessary to be one of the first QBs off the board in a pro-style offense headed by now-Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen. His pocket presence and overall technique should improve this season, and it will have to for Levis to be worthy of a first-round selection.

10) Washington Commanders: Arik Gilbert, TE, Georgia

What is a mock draft without some seemingly out-of-this-world picks? While this selection seems crazy right now, Arik Gilbert could prove to be worth it come the season’s end. After flashing his potential as a true freshman at LSU, Gilbert committed and de-committed from Florida before transferring to Georgia. He would go on to “step away from the team” due to personal reasons. Then, in January, he reportedly weighed around 300 pounds.

That’s a dramatic weight change as he shined at LSU at 6’5″ and 250 pounds. However, Kirby Smart has stated Gilbert is currently in the 265-270 range and will stick at TE (early talks were he would transition to WR). The raw talent and physical gifts are there for Gilbert to be the first tight end drafted in 2023 — even in the top 10. But he will need to keep his head on right and show he hasn’t lost an iota of his electric playmaking ability as a receiver.

11) Pittsburgh Steelers: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

Georgia’s defense was well known for their front seven, but Kelee Ringo is a star in the secondary. Measuring 6’2″, 205 pounds, Ringo checks the size and length boxes. With two interceptions and eight pass breakups, he also owns the ball skills to hinder opposing passing attacks. He would be Pittsburgh’s top man corner from Day 1.

12) Philadelphia Eagles: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

At 6’5″ and 275 pounds, Myles Murphy is a massive human. Not only that, but he has been an edge setter since landing in Death Valley due to his staggering strength. Across two seasons, Murphy has notched 25 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and four forced fumbles. Those stats may not scream first-rounder, but you have to take into account Brent Venables’ scheme, which asked his D-line to stunt and slant more often than creating one-on-one opportunities.

13) Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

After bolstering their defensive line, the Eagles turn their attention to the WR corps in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft. Jordan Addison leaves one Heisman finalist at Pittsburgh (Kenny Pickett) for another Heisman hopeful at USC (Caleb Williams). Addison already hauled in 100 receptions for 1,593 yards and 17 TDs, garnering the Biletnikoff Award. That’s pretty much as good a season as you can expect from a receiver. And yet, Addison could come close to those marks once again in Lincoln Riley’s high-octane offense.

A twitchy, game-breaking wideout, the new Trojan has a propensity for big plays. Whether reeling in insane tight-window throws or breaking multiple ankles in the open field, Addison can pick up a chunk gain on any given snap.

14) New England Patriots: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

The way the board fell in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft allows the Patriots to nab the former No. 1 overall recruit in 2019. Nolan Smith’s closing ability is one-of-one, and his physical capabilities are first-class. So why is he only at 14th overall? Well, Smith’s pass-rush repertoire is a bit barren, and he is a tad undersized at 6’3″ and 235 pounds. Should he add muscle mass and more moves to his toolbox, he has unquestioned first-round upside.

15) Las Vegas Raiders: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

With Rashawn Slater off to the NFL two years ago, Northerwestern’s starting left tackle job fell on the shoulders of then-true freshman Peter Skoronski. And boy, has he been a spectacle to watch. Standing 6’4″, 294 pounds, he won’t win many matchups with brute force. But Skoronski is one of the most consistent OTs in the class, leading to a higher perceived floor. The Raiders can’t swing and miss on the offensive line. Skoronski is as close as to a surefire prospect this early in the process.

16) Miami Dolphins: Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson

Myles Murphy isn’t the only Clemson defensive lineman worthy of first-round attention in 2023. Bryan Bresee was the No. 1 recruit in 2020, yet he hasn’t lived up to the billing. Of course, tearing your ACL four games into your sophomore season doesn’t help matters. Regardless, Bresee possesses an interesting build at 6’5″ and 300 pounds. With the power stored in his frame, he can play multiple positions on the line, offering sought-after versatility at the next level.

James Fragoza is a Writer and News Editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter @JamesFragoza.

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