Mellor’s 2-round 2023 NFL Mock Draft: C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, and Will Levis go in the first nine picks

This iteration of a 2023 NFL Mock Draft is headlined by four signal-callers hearing their names called in the top 10 picks.

We’ve officially reached single-digit months until the 2023 NFL Draft, and of course, it’s time for another mock draft. The collective knowledge of the upcoming draft class is growing, and as such, it’s imperative to set the tone early on.

Without trades, we go through the first two rounds with a projected order using current betting odds of how the standings will shake out. Inferences have been made regarding how each team landed with those current odds, which has altered the team’s top need(s) for the first two rounds of picks.

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

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

If the Houston Texans are selecting first overall, it’s clear the Davis Mills experiment has gone awry. It may be no fault of Mills’ as the roster still has holes all over, but an influx of talent and a surefire starter in Year 1 is what this roster would need after finishing last in the standings. C.J. Stroud enters the league with bonafide star qualities.

Stroud possesses an elite arm and perhaps even better accuracy. His throws over the middle of the field are layered beautifully with pop and drive, thrown away from coverage or in holes that few quarterbacks can hit. With prototypical size and a pattern of linear growth, Stroud should be everyone’s QB1 and have enough in his repertoire to bank a franchise’s hopes on.

2) Atlanta Falcons: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Drawing easy comparisons to Warren Sapp, Jalen Carter is built like a tank yet moves like a fighter jet. He’s an elusive man to block, not just with his quick first step off the line but also with his ability to instinctually move to the play side or a favorable gap matchup pre-snap. Carter is a monster of a man with quicks, both in his hands and feet, who is equally as impressive as a pass rusher or run stopper. He’ll dramatically change this Atlanta Falcons team in a way few could.

3) Detroit Lions: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Like the Texans, if the Detroit Lions are picking with the third overall pick like current odds place them, it’s clear that the time to move off Jared Goff is now. As such, the next-best quarterback prospect is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. Playing well above his age a season ago, Young stood tall in the face of pressure and dominated college football. He has plenty of arm strength and talent to lead an NFL team despite a smaller stature as a quarterback. Young is wise beyond his years and a true leader of a team.

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

Adding versatility to the list of things Paris Johnson Jr. does incredibly well shouldn’t come as a surprise after this season. Johnson is apt at breaking expectations, even lofty ones, and is one of the top character players in this draft.

He’ll slide to left tackle ahead of the 2022 college football season after playing inside in 2021. His rise to the fourth overall pick means we’re projecting his place among the country’s top offensive linemen and essentially stating he kept Stroud clean from pressure more than not, something he’s done very well to date.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars: Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Travon Walker with the first overall pick, asking the former Georgia standout lineman to limit his facets of play in the process. Similarly, the Jaguars can keep up with that path for Walker (to play along the interior of the defensive line) by selecting Will Anderson Jr. The way the board fell, the best available player may just be the best player in the draft as Anderson brings with him a high pedigree and insanely talented athletic ability off the edge.

6) Carolina Panthers: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

WR1 miraculously comes from a program that saw two (okay, fine, three) former teammates of his drafted within the first 13 picks a season ago. Somehow, despite Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and yes, formerly Jameson Williams, on the depth chart, all Jaxon Smith-Njigba has done in his time in Columbus is impress. He’s got the class’ best body control, shifty routes, an ability to win inside and outside, and is sure-handed with speed to boot. He’s got everything you want in a No. 1 wideout.

7) New York Giants: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

The first cornerback selected heads to the New York Giants as they badly need playmakers on the back end. Kelee Ringo has incredible range and speed to burn. He brings with him plenty of size and great length as well as an extensive background in making plays when his defense needs him to.

8) Chicago Bears: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

Transferring to USC for his junior season in college, Jordan Addison is likely to cement himself as a top-10 pick, with Caleb Williams throwing him the football in 2022. A season after dominating with Kenny Pickett, Addison will reap the benefits of a future NFL signal-caller at his disposal with the Trojans. Addison, the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner, has incredible short-area speed that he uses to defeat defenders off the line, break off his routes, and create natural separation.

9) Seattle Seahawks: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Here we go — the third quarterback selected may be a bit of a shock to some but not those in the know about Will Levis. Perhaps the top senior signal-caller returning to the SEC (yes, that’s a play on words as technically Spencer Rattler isn’t returning to the SEC but transferring in), Levis has all the intangibles that you’d want in a future franchise passer. Even if the Seattle Seahawks are in on the Baker Mayfield sweepstakes, as unlikely as that seems now, Levis gives them hope and upside with his natural throwing motion and quick decision-making.

10) Washington Commanders: Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina

Now is Spencer Rattler‘s turn. After passing on drafting a quarterback in the top portion of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Washington Commanders pull the trigger on the fourth quarterback in the top 10. Even after drafting Sam Howell on Day 3 this past April, Rattler presents a large upgrade at the position if all goes to plan in 2022. After a much-needed change of scenery, this projected selection means Rattler gets back on track and returns to that fabulous 2020 form that had everyone penciling him as the top overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

11) Pittsburgh Steelers: Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

With Ben Roethlisberger out and Kenny Pickett in, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be headed for a middling 2022 season. At least that’s what the odds currently state. The Steelers need to build around their first-round quarterback, and securing youth and size on the offensive line is a must. Anton Harrison presents a challenge for defenders to get around, and they’re certainly not getting through him. With a strong base, great anchor, and terrific footwork, get ready to hear this name a lot.

12) Philadelphia Eagles: Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama

Vying to become CB1 in this draft class, Eli Ricks transferred from LSU to Alabama in hopes of putting his coverage skill set on display. Ricks naturally gravitates toward the football and has incredible athleticism and fluidity in his movement. He’s a ball hawk in every sense of the word and has the moxie and mental makeup to challenge opposing No. 1 wide receivers down in and down out.

13) Philadelphia Eagles: Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon

Largely seen as a big need heading into the 2022 NFL Draft, we’re back at it for the Philadelphia Eagles, selecting a linebacker in Round 1. Noah Sewell, the younger brother of Detroit Lions LT Penei Sewell, is as hard-nosed as his brother and as well trained in his craft. Sewell is a large linebacker but moves much faster than you’d expect. His instincts carry him to multiple plays behind the line of scrimmage as he’s quick to read and react and faster to hit the hole. He’s a three-down linebacker in every way.

14) New England Patriots: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

One of the top interior prospects to come around in the past decade, Bryan Bresee has battled through it at times during his Clemson career. Still, he’s flashed incredible ability to get after the passer. He has great athleticism that allows him to dominate over more sluggish offensive linemen, but his strength is completely underrated. He’ll bull rush lineman or simply pull them to the ground on his way to the ball carriers.

15) Las Vegas Raiders: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

A former highly-ranked recruit, Nolan Smith has been in the limelight since his high school days. The Las Vegas Raiders need an influx of youth on the edge opposite Maxx Crosby, and Smith presents a challenge to block in all facets. He has a high motor and a great natural balance through contact with the ability to bend the edge. But his pursuit of the ball carrier both when rushing the passer and in run defense is uncanny.

16) Miami Dolphins: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

A valuable pass-catching option, Michael Mayer is a near-unicorn in today’s NFL. He’ll not only rip off big chunks after the catch, but he also offers a large catch radius and sure hands. What separates him from the rest of the tight ends — and ultimately makes him a first-round pick — is his ability to play every down. He’ll block well, in both facets, as he’s a road grader on the ground and offers plenty of help in pass protection. (It’s too early to draft a running back, Dolphins fans.)

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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