Caplan’s 2023 NFL Mock Draft: Latest on C.J. Stroud, Nolan Smith, Jordan Addison, and Others

Just one day away from the big event, Adam Caplan rolls out his final 2023 NFL Mock Draft, with one top QB taking a surprising tumble down the draft board.

Putting together an NFL mock draft is always interesting, but much easier when there are a decent number of elite players. This year’s NFL Draft, however, lacks star power, which is why so many personnel sources I’ve spoken to are having a big challenge pegging players to any particular team.

So, with that, let’s take one final look…

2023 NFL Mock Draft

1) Carolina Panthers (From CHI): Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

There’s been nothing to substantiate that the Panthers moved off Bryce Young here. What they’re looking for is a decisive quarterback with high character and a program builder, which Young certainly is.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Bryce Young
Other Possibilities: None

Pre-Draft Needs: QB, EDGE, WR, CB

2) Houston Texans: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

While Tyree Wilson has some injury concerns, he has the most upside of any pass rusher and perhaps any defensive player for this draft other than Jalen Carter. And the Texans are in dire need of pass-rushing help.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Tyree Wilson
Other Possibilities: Will Anderson Jr./EDGE/Alabama

Pre-Draft Needs: QB, EDGE, DT, CB, WR, G, LB

3) Arizona Cardinals: Will Anderson Jr., DE, Alabama

From talking to a personnel source who has worked with head coach Jonathan Gannon in the past, he has said that as long as he has a good pass rush, he doesn’t have to have great talent at the cornerback position. With that in mind, Will Anderson Jr. is the best edge rusher left on our board, and it’s a need position for this team.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Will Anderson Jr.
Other Possibilities: Jalen Carter/DT/Georgia

Pre-Draft Needs: G, C, RT, WR, DT, CB, EDGE

4) Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

While there’s some steam for Will Levis here from some personnel sources I spoke to this week, C.J. Stroud is the safest of the two, and it’s hard to find a legit knock on him, from talking to various coaches and executives.

1st Mock Draft Selection: C.J. Stroud
Other Possibilities: Will Levis/QB/Kentucky

Pre-Draft Needs: QB, CB, DE, WR RG

5) Seattle Seahawks (From DEN): Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

As I noted in our first mock draft, the Seahawks have taken chances on players with very questionable character in the past and have had some successes.

MORE: 100% FREE NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

Jalen Carter is one of the few elite players in this draft, but if he doesn’t go off the board here, you would have to wonder where he does.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Jalen Carter
Other Possibilities: (If they fall to 5) Will Anderson Jr., Tyree Wilson

Pre-Draft Needs: DT, C, OLB, ILB, WR

6) Detroit Lions (From LAR): Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

What gives him the nod over Christian Gonzalez is his versatility. Devon Witherspoon can line up inside in nickel, as he did that quite well during his time at Illinois. Personnel sources love his toughness and physical play, and so will head coach Dan Campbell.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Christian Gonzalez/CB/Oregon
Other Possibilities: Christian Gonzalez

Pre-Draft Needs: DT, CB, TE, OLB, S

7) Las Vegas Raiders: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

Their defense, on the back end, needs to be reshaped for the future, and Christian Gonzalez, arguably the best player available at his position for this draft, is the selection.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Devon Witherspoon
Other Possibilities: Myles Murphy/DE/Clemson, Peter Skoronski/IOL/Northwestern

Pre-Draft Needs: RT, G, CB, TE, LB, DT, DE

8) Atlanta Falcons: Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson

The Falcons’ pass rush was pathetic last season, which is why they don’t have much of a choice here but to go with a pass rusher like Myles Murphy. Otherwise, this could be the earliest Bijan Robinson goes off the board.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Myles Murphy
Other Possibilities: Bijan Robinson/RB/Texas, Lukas Van Ness/DE/Iowa

Pre-Draft Needs: OLB, WR, CB, G, RB, QB

9) Chicago Bears (From CAR): Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa

The Bears badly need a 3-technique for their 4-3 front, but they also need edge rushers. Lukas Van Ness, as he did at Iowa, can line up inside, and he’ll do that in nickel at the next level. Also, I don’t sense that Chicago is totally set on their offensive line, which could still use some upgrading.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Peter Skoronski
Other Possibilities: Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr./OT/Ohio St.

Pre-Draft Needs: DE, DT, IOL, OT

10) Philadelphia Eagles (From NO): Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

I realize Paris Johnson Jr.’s 2021 tape wasn’t good when he was asked to play inside, but from what I’m told by personnel sources, he’s pretty smart and just needs time to develop the technique and footwork at the position.

The position on the offensive line that’s open for the Eagles is at right guard, the same one that Johnson played in 2021.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Lukas Van Ness
Other Possibilities: Peter Skoronski

Pre-Draft Needs: S, DT, DE, OLB, ILB, CB, RB

11) Tennessee Titans: Peter Skoronski, IOL, Northwesterm

The Titans have several needs, and it’s been a while since they have put together a quality offensive line. From what I’m told, head coach Mike Vrabel wants to be more forward-thinking with the offensive scheme, and to do that, they have to address the starting unit that will be protecting veteran QB Ryan Tannehill.

Peter Skoronski is the top-rated offensive lineman from talking to personnel sources but will have to make the transition inside at the next level due to his lack of ideal size. And the Titans are not set at all at guard for the future.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Jaxon Smith-Njigba/WR/Ohio St.
Other Possibilities: Broderick Jones/LT/Georgia, Nolan Smith/OLB/Georgia

Pre-Draft Needs: WR, G, C, OLB, ILB, RB

12) Houston Texans (From CLE): Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

I generally ignore internet rumors, but when they’re from people who work for NFL teams, that gets my attention. And while Texans GM Nick Caserio keeps a strong lid on his intentions, some high-ranking personnel executives say they keep hearing how much this team likes Will Levis.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Anthony Richardson/QB/Florida
Other Possibilities: Anthony Richardson

Pre-Draft Needs: QB, DE, DT, CB, WR, G, LB

13) Green Bay Packers (From NYJ): Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

While the Packers don’t have a history of selecting wide receivers in the first round (2002-Javon Walker was the last time), finding an interior player at the position is evident. Making Jaxon Smith-Njigba the first wide receiver off the board makes sense.

MORE: Packers, Ravens, and Others That Could Trade Up in Round 1

One more note: Starting LT David Bakhtiari’s salary cap number for 2024 — the final year of his contract — is an unhealthy $40.565 million, which is way too high. Thus, this could be Bakhtiari’s last year with the team, so we’ll be keeping an eye on Broderick Jones and Darnell Wright here.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Dalton Kincaid/TE/Utah
Other Possibilities: Broderick Jones, Darnell Wright/OT/Tennessee, Michael Mayer/TE/Notre Dame

Pre-Draft Needs: TE, WR, S, OLB

14) New England Patriots: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

As I noted in our first mock, Joey Porter Jr. would give New England the ability to play more man coverage if they drafted him here. It should also be noted that both offensive tackle spots are major question marks past this season, which is why we’ve listed Jones and Wright as possibilities here.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Joey Porter Jr.
Other Possibilities: Broderick Jones, Darnell Wright

Pre-Draft Needs: RT, CB, LT, WR, TE, IOL

15) New York Jets (From GB): Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

The one key position the Jets really need to address on their offensive line is at left tackle, where the future of Mekhi Becton remains up in the air. Broderick Jones, by our mock, would be the highest-rated left tackle remaining, so he’s the call here.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Paris Johnson Jr.
Other Possibilities: Darnell Wright

Pre-Draft Needs: OT, DT, C, S

16) Washington Commanders: Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia

With the decision to decline DE Chase Young’s fifth-year option, the pass-rushing department becomes a larger focus for 2024 and beyond for the Commanders.

While some teams may have an issue with his weight (238), Nolan Smith’s tape is outstanding. Additionally, for a guy who is known more for his pass-rushing skill, he actually plays the run well.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Broderick Jones
Other Possibilities: Darnell Wright

Pre-Draft Needs: G, DE, CB, OT, S, OLB

17) Pittsburgh Steelers: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

The Steelers have a major need at cornerback, and the very talented Deonte Banks — a favorite in some scouting circles — is the call here. Banks would start right away.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Deonte Banks
Other Possibilities: Mazi Smith/DT/Michigan, Bryan Bresee/DT/Clemson

Pre-Draft Needs: CB, DT, LT, ILB, OLB

18) Detroit Lions: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

While defensive tackle is Detroit’s top need by far, tight end isn’t far behind. Dalton Kincaid should be the first player taken off the board at his position and no worse than second. His addition would pretty much complete the Lions’ offense, and they can address their remaining issues on defense the rest of the way.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Mazi Smith
Other Possibilities: Michael Mayer, Bryan Bresee, Mazi Smith, Nolan Smith

Pre-Draft Needs: DT, CB, TE, OLB, S

19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

This would be a good spot for Anthony Richardson to go, as Kyle Trask and Baker Mayfield can give him more time to develop. Then Richardson could take over in Year 2.

From talking to personnel sources this week, they’re having a hard time putting Richardson with a particular team. But this spot would make sense since Tampa Bay doesn’t have their starter of the future.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Will Levis
Other Possibilities: Brian Branch/DB/Alabama, Nolan Smith

Pre-Draft Needs: QB, OT, ILB, S, CB, OLB

20) Seattle Seahawks: Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

This might be a little early, but the Seahawks are still in search of a slot receiver, and Josh Downs is one of the best available for this draft.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Nolan Smith
Other Possibilities: Zay Flowers/WR/Boston College

Pre-Draft Needs: DT, C, OLB, ILB, WR

21) Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

Jordan Addison is likely going to be graded higher on most draft boards because of his positional versatility (can play inside or outside) and his hands over Johnston, which is why he fits in with the Chargers here.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Quentin Johnston/WR/TCU
Other Possibilities: Quentin Johnston

Pre-Draft Needs: CB, RB, WR, DT, S, OLB, TE

22) Baltimore Ravens: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

The Ravens have addressed the wide receiver position in the offseason, but not enough for the future, which is why Zay Flowers, a favorite of many offensive coaches around the NFL, is the selection here.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Zay Flowers
Other Possibilities: Emmanuel Forbes/CB/Mississippi State

Pre-Draft Needs: WR, CB, IOL, RB, DT

23) Minnesota Vikings: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

The Vikings are in deep need of help at cornerback, and Emmanuel Forbes is the best one left on our board here. From talking to scouting sources, they aren’t too concerned about Forbes’ lack of weight. The feeling is, because of his ball skills and intellect, he would start right away.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Emmanuel Forbes
Other Possibilities: Bijan Robinson, Quentin Johnston, Hendon Hooker/QB/Tennessee

Pre-Draft Needs: CB, WR, OLB, DT, ILB

24) Jacksonville Jaguars: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

The Jaguars, based on the current status of starting LT Cam Robinson, could be looking for his replacement in 2024. Robinson has no guaranteed money left in his contract past this season, so adding Darnell Wright would make a ton of sense.

MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

The team is also on the lookout for a cornerback, but unless someone drops to them, they likely won’t find any with good enough grades this spot. Guard is another position I’m told they’re looking at.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Darnell Wright
Other Possibilities: O’Cyrus Torrence/G/Florida

Pre-Draft Needs: CB, G, OT, OLB, DT

25) New York Giants: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

New York made some moves at wide receiver in free agency, but none were major or for the long term. From talking to offensive coaches this offseason, Quentin Johnston is one of the few big-bodied receivers for this draft, and while his hands have been in question, he can run and will go after the ball. He would start right away if the Giants grabbed him here.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Jordan Addison
Other Possibilities: Brian Branch

Pre-Draft Needs: WR, CB, C, OLB, IOL, S

26) Dallas Cowboys: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Due to offseason moves, the Cowboys don’t have a lot of remaining needs. But one they have to address, that really stands out, is at tight end. Most personnel sources I asked about what they thought Dallas would do point to that position.

Michael Mayer should be one of the top two tight ends to go off the board. He can do it all.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Michael Mayer
Other Possibilities: Luke Musgrave/TE/Oregon St., Darnell Washington/TE/Georgia

Pre-Draft Needs: TE, RB, G, CB

27) Buffalo Bills: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

There are three to four teams who could still snag Bijan Robinson before he makes it to the Bills, who also need pass-rushing help. Yet, Robinson is seen around the NFL as one of the truly elite players for this draft, and he would immediately upgrade Buffalo’s offense from the first day of offseason practices.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Bijan Robinson
Other Possibilities: Keion White/DE/Georgia Tech, Felix Anudike-Uzomah/DE/Kansas St., BJ Ojulari/DE/LSU

Pre-Draft Needs: MLB, DE, WR, S, DT

28) Cincinnati Bengals: Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State

Luke Musgrave‘s 47 career receptions won’t wow anyone, but his Senior Bowl Week and NFL Combine performances really opened a lot of eyes in the scouting world, which is why we see Musgrave still going in the first round.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Luke Musgrave
Other Possibilities: Brian Branch, Darnell Washington

Pre-Draft Needs: RB, CB, TE, S, WR

29) New Orleans Saints (From SF via MIA via DEN): Will McDonald IV, DE, Iowa State

From talking to personnel sources, Will McDonald IV may not fit the prototypical Saints DE because he’s not as big physically as others. Yet, his explosion off the ball and ability to play inside gives him first-round value here for this team.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Will McDonald
Other Possibilities: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, BJ Ojulari

Pre-Draft Needs: DE, DT, WR, RB, S

30) Philadelphia Eagles: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh

We’ll learn a lot more about the inclusion of analytical data here if the team selects the talented, but undersized interior defensive lineman.

Calijah Kancey has excellent short-area quickness (see his 10-yard split time of 1.64 during the NFL Combine) and burst off the ball (his tape shows this repeatedly), but he doesn’t have ideal arm length or height, which some teams that are heavy into analytics may have an issue with.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Brian Branch
Other Possibilities: Brian Branch, Keion White, Mazi Smith

Pre-Draft Needs: RG, S, DT, DE, OLB, ILB, CB, RB

31) Kansas City Chiefs: Jamyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama

With RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s fifth-year option being up in the air, the future of the position could be addressed late on Thursday evening. The speedy Jahmyr Gibbs would be an excellent complement to 2nd-year RB Isiah Pacheco’s power running.

1st Mock Draft Selection: Keion White
Other Possibilities: Keion White, Felix Anudike-Uzomah

Pre-Draft Needs: DE, DT, WR, RT, RB

The Miami Dolphins forfeited their first-round pick due to a violation of the integrity of the game policy.

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