2023 NFL Mock Draft: C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young headline seven first-round quarterbacks

Headlined by quarterbacks, this 2023 NFL Mock Draft features seven first-round signal-callers and franchise-changing decisions.

The 2023 NFL Draft may come to be known as the year of the quarterback. When mocking this iteration of the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s hard to see a situation where a bevy of signal-callers are not selected. In fact, they dominate the first 12 picks of this 2023 NFL Draft.

To craft the draft order here, we reversed the order of our season-ending Power Rankings. Then, of course, removed San Francisco’s first-round choice as well as the Los Angeles Rams’ first-round selection after their trades to acquire quarterbacks last season. I then adjusted those rankings based on expected roster turnover, head coach and general manager continuity, free-agent signings, and 2022 NFL Draft acquisitions.

As such, the New York Jets finished 32nd in our season-ending rankings, but I fully expect a jump in Year 2 for Zach Wilson and Robert Saleh. The Jets then moved up in the order. The Green Bay Packers finished the season as the No. 1 team on the season. However, as the murky situation between Aaron Rodgers will undoubtedly reach an offseason fever pitch again, they were moved down in the order. I guess we could call this Cam Mellor’s projected 2023 NFL Draft order.

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

Some quarterbacks have already separated themselves from the pack. Which teams can change their franchise, and who will need a quarterback?

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

It’s only a matter of time before the Houston Texans realize that Davis Mills isn’t their long-term answer at quarterback. C.J. Stroud, however, could be that answer. Stroud’s linear growth as the 2021 season progressed was special (as is his arm talent). Stroud can layer passes over coverage defenders all the same as he can laser balls into tight windows.

What separates Stroud from the rest is his prototypical size mixed with his intangibles and ever-improving accuracy. Stroud stepped up his game in the 2022 Rose Bowl, setting bowl records for passing yards in a performance for the ages. That connection with his incredible cast of young wide receivers will be on full display in 2022.

2) New York Giants: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

With a massive turnover in the front office and at head coach, the New York Giants don’t get much love in terms of prospects for a good 2022 season. If the new regime can’t turn Daniel Jones’ career around in Year 1, expect this to be a no-brainer.

Bryce Young is the selection here to lead New York into the next decade. Young played well above his age with the Crimson Tide this season, poised under pressure at every turn. He hits every level of the field with precision and utilizes savvy maneuverability in the pocket to buy time while standing tall in the face of pressure. Young is everything you’d want in a franchise quarterback.

3) Detroit Lions: Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina

This pick is fully expectant upon two things happening from now until April 2023. One of those things is Detroit not selecting a quarterback with their first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. The other is even more important: Spencer Rattler taking that proverbial next step in his development.

Rattler has to shake off the 2021 season and prove he still has that it factor. That same it factor made him a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate and the odds-on favorite to be the first player selected in the 2022 season. It all unraveled for him and Oklahoma, and Rattler has now moved on to South Carolina. If he can showcase those 2020 skills he put on tape in a full-season role for the Gamecocks, expect him to rocket back up draft boards.

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

The first non-quarterback taken is also perhaps the best overall player available. Will Anderson Jr. transforms a Jacksonville Jaguars defensive line that will be void of playmakers in 2023. Anderson can rush the passer from all over the field, including off the edge in a 3-point stance or standing up in a 2-point stance a la Micah Parsons. An impact like that cannot be overlooked here.

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

On record now, officially, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is the best Ohio State receiver from the illustrious class of 2019 that included Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams. Smith-Njigba is in a class of his own. Short or long, contested or wide open, Smith-Njigba comes down with just about every pass thrown his way.

Smith-Njigba runs crisp routes and has an innate high-point ability to snatch the ball out of the air. He also understands defensive coverage schemes with an elite football IQ. That allows him to find even the smallest holes in the defense and exploit them for big gains. There isn’t much more Smith-Njigba needs to prove, but he very well may win some serious hardware in 2022.

6) Chicago Bears: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

If the season finale had anything to tell us, it was the fact that Kelee Ringo is special. He’s a cornerback in a linebacker’s body at 6’2″, 205 pounds. But he moves around with great fluidity. Ringo is sticky in coverage but pawns off his man well. He’ll pass off his receiver with a keen understanding of route concepts and make plays on balls not even in his coverage. Ringo is every bit of a lockdown cornerback in man coverage and has plenty of run-defense skills to play all three downs for a long time.

7) Denver Broncos: Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State

A rocket for a right arm, the big-armed kid from California heads to Mile High. Jake Haener teased the transfer portal only to return to Fresno State for the 2022 season. Had he entered the 2022 NFL Draft, he would’ve been considered a potential first-round pick. With another year in a new offense with the Bulldogs, he can absolutely raise his draft stock to a surefire first-round pick with a great year.

He throws well from all platforms and has uncanny arm strength. What separates Haener’s arm from the rest of the quarterbacks in the 2023 draft class is the fact that he doesn’t need to wind up to get the ball from Point A to Point B. He can drive throws with a flick of the wrist in the vein of Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. His deep strength isn’t quite as good as those two quarterbacks, but Haener’s arm is just as special.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Phil Jurkovec, QB, Boston College

The fifth quarterback in eight picks signifies a couple of things. First off, it showcases just how depleted the 2022 NFL Draft class is at the position. It also shows how much meat is left on the bone with the expected free-agent class at quarterback this and next offseason. Phil Jurkovec returns to Boston College in 2022 with several goals. Still, we can’t overlook Kenny Pickett‘s emergence after returning for a fifth and final season at an ACC school this past season.

Jurkovec and Pickett are different quarterbacks but find themselves in similar situations just a few months apart. If Jurkovec returns to form following an injury sustained this past season, he can rise back to first-round status. Jurkovec’s arm is special, as evidenced by his breaking Matt Ryan’s record at BC for most 300-yard passing games. He could absolutely replace Ryan in Atlanta all the same.

9) New York Jets: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

By all accounts, the 2021 season was a disaster for LSU. Still, Kayshon Boutte hauled in 9 touchdowns in just six games. He had over 100 yards in two of them and even sat for the majority of their non-conference games.

Boutte has 14 career touchdowns on 82 receptions in two seasons at LSU. If he can harness his ability for a full season as the featured receiver, he can absolutely vault into a position to challenge for the second-best wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft. Boutte just needs a quarterback.

10) Seattle Seahawks: Malachi Moore, DB, Alabama

The season may have ended on a sour note for Malachi Moore, but there is no denying his all-around ability. The Seattle Seahawks make an easy decision to rely on the versatility and ball skills shown by Moore to plug him into their secondary as a Day 1 starter. He’ll have to answer the inevitable question of “What position does he play in the NFL?” Nevertheless, Moore is as solid as they come.

Moore excels in coverage and could become a valuable addition to the Seahawks’ defense in what is expected to be a dramatically different unit over the next few years. He can play from the slot or as a free safety. Want him to rush the passer as an off-ball linebacker? He can do that, too. Don’t even knock his ability to play out wide on the boundary, either. Moore can, quite literally, do it all.

11) Minnesota Vikings: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

The big man on a huge line, Jalen Carter may have been the best player on the Georgia defense in 2021 that likely features 10 draftable players in the 2022 NFL Draft. Carter has to wait his turn to hear his name called, but he may have the brightest future ahead of him in the pros.

He can rush the passer from the middle of the defensive line with great ease. Carter also stuffs run fits and breaks up blocking schemes on power or counters all the same. He’s a younger, faster, more technically skilled Warren Sapp.

12) Miami Dolphins: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

A new head coach will be instituted in Miami for the 2022 season. The plan surrounding current starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will ultimately show itself through the season next fall. If recent history has shown us anything, the demands of a starting quarterback are higher than ever. If Tua doesn’t win games — and win them right away — it’ll be time to move on.

With a new head coach, the likelihood that the Dolphins win too much in 2022 is low. As such, the Dolphins take their next first-round quarterback and the future of the franchise.

Will Levis enters the fold in South Florida as the next signal-caller. Levis can hit all levels of the field and has tremendous arm strength. He had some inconsistency issues in 2021, but this was his first time as a full-time starter for a major football program. If he irons out those inconsistencies in 2022, he’ll absolutely hear his name called early in 2023.

13) Washington Football Team: Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama

The second Alabama DB drafted in Round 1 of this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, Eli Ricks actually hasn’t played a snap for the Crimson Tide yet. He transferred to Alabama after two years with LSU. Ricks is a raw talent with great upside and even better measurables. He’ll test off the charts if the 2020 tape has anything to say about his ability.

In that 2020 season, Ricks played better than his now-former teammate Derek Stingley Jr. did. He also may have played better than Stingley’s infamous 2019 freshman season. At 6’2″, 195 pounds, Ricks has the new-age prototypical NFL cornerback size and the coverage skills to back the hype.

14) Baltimore Ravens: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

Like many on this list so far, Bryan Bresee will be looking to rebound in 2022. Bresee played just four games last year before sustaining a season-ending injury in Week 4. As unfortunate as a torn ACL can be, Bresee is well on track to be at full strength for the 2022 season. If he’s the same mauler in the run game and dominant player when rushing the passer, the sky is the limit.

The big man plays a smaller game. Despite his 6’5″, 300-pound frame, Bresee squeezes through even the tiniest of gaps and utilizes quick hands to win at the point of attack. Don’t get me wrong, he’s also thrown a blocker out of the way with his strength. He’s just that multi-talented in the trenches.

15) Las Vegas Raiders: Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma

Don’t get his smaller stature wrong, Marvin Mims is a big deal. Mims is a dominant route runner with exceptional hands. In 2020, he set a new Oklahoma freshman record with 9 receiving touchdowns. He followed that up with 5 more touchdowns in 2021, leading the Sooners in receiving yards as well.

A big-play threat, Mims is yet another addition for the Las Vegas Raiders in the receiving corps. This is also in addition to what we could only assume is signing a free-agent wide receiver and even drafting another in 2022 to help Derek Carr out. Still, Mims is a valuable slot receiver in an era that covets slot receivers.

16) Pittsburgh Steelers: Myles Murphy, DT, Clemson

You could say Myles Murphy had an awakening in 2021. After Bresee’s injury, Murphy became the premier pass rusher for the Tigers. From Week 5 onward, Murphy was a force to be reckoned with. He recorded sack after sack, pressure after pressure, putting forth some dominant efforts that showcased his own versatility.

The 1-2 punch of Murphy and Bresee return looking for a full season of dominance together. Murphy’s size/speed combination rivals only his teammates entering 2022.

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