Hodgkinson’s 2023 NFL Mock Draft: Panthers Get C.J. Stroud, Bijan Robinson Replaces Austin Ekeler, Jets Build Around Aaron Rodgers

The Panthers get their guy in our latest 2023 NFL Mock Draft as C.J. Stroud becomes the first Ohio State QB to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Writing a 2023 NFL Mock Draft in the midst of free agency is like buying a chocolate fireguard. It’s dangerous and essentially useless. That said, we already know some of the key moves that will shape the 2023 NFL Draft, so let’s take a look at how that could shake up the selection process come April.

2023 NFL Mock Draft

1) Carolina Panthers (From CHI): C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

“If there’s a guy in this class that you like, you got to go up and go get him. We’re in a position now where we have the defense, we have an offensive line. We built around this for this opportunity. So if you have conviction, go get him.”

Speaking ahead of the NFL Combine, Carolina Panthers GM Scott Fitterer spoke about his team’s approach to addressing their QB situation. Not too long after the annual testing and measuring event in Indianapolis, the Panthers appear to have made up their mind.

Trading with the Chicago Bears to acquire the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft means one of two things. The Panthers are either set on who they want to take first overall, or they have two guys and want to be in the position to control the rest of the teams below them. Either way, they’re in the pound seat.

In this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, the assumption is the guy that they have conviction over is Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. He has NFL measurables, an NFL arm, and has demonstrated that he has the pocket presence and creative mobility to extend plays at the NFL level.

2) Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

The Houston Texans could have held the first overall pick — and control of their own destiny — if not for the final weekend win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Still, sitting at two in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, they’re in position to snag whichever of the top two QBs the Panthers don’t want to select.

Despite his weigh-in at the NFL Combine, there will still be some questions about how Bryce Young’s frame will hold up at the NFL level. Regardless, there won’t be any questions about his poise, precision, and professionalism as the face of a franchise that is crying out for leadership at the sport’s most important position.

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

Kyler Murray’s presence on the Arizona Cardinals roster means that Jonathan Gannon doesn’t need to worry about finding a quarterback in this class. In fact, the Cardinals could be in a prime spot for any team wanting to leapfrog the Indianapolis Colts to land their signal-caller of the future.

In this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, the Cardinals are in a perfect position to snag a player of need who just so happens to be the best player available. For some, Will Anderson Jr. is also the best player in the class. His explosiveness as a pass rusher is weaponized by power that belies a smaller frame. Plus, he’s an underrated component in the run game.

4) Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

Anthony Richardson blew the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium with his performance at the 2023 NFL Combine. With the Colts in desperate need of a quarterback, the chances are that he’ll return there as the fourth overall selection in April. GM Jim Irsay has already alluded to the Colts as “going to have to find a young quarterback to develop.”

MORE: Will 3 Quarterbacks Go Within the Top 4 Picks?

Meanwhile, Richardson’s magical athletic ability and arm talent gives Shane Steichen a quarterback capable of rattling off the punishing deep shots that he likes to dial up in his offense. Richardson’s ability to manipulate the pocket and NFL frame should help him avoid an early battering in the NFL.

5) Seattle Seahawks (From DEN): BJ Ojulari, EDGE, LSU

The Seattle Seahawks bolstered their defensive front in free agency, adding Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed. With the line beefed up, Pete Carroll’s team uses this 2023 NFL Mock Draft to add further pass-rushing presence off the edge.

While this might seem rich for the fifth overall pick, LSU’s BJ Ojulari might be one of the most criminally underrated defensive players in the draft. In addition to his athletic prowess as an explosive pass rusher, Ojulari is as technically advanced as any EDGE prospect this year, with an elevated understanding of how to utilize the moves in his pass-rush toolbox.

6) Detroit Lions (From LAR): Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

If I’m the Detroit Lions — which I am for the purposes of this 2023 NFL Mock Draft — I wouldn’t let the free agency additions of Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley deter me from pulling the trigger on one of the most exciting defensive players in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez likely cemented his CB1 candidacy with his outstanding performance at the NFL Combine. The impressive testing numbers quantified what was already apparent on tape. The former Colorado cornerback boasts the speed, fluidity, explosion out of breaks, and ball skills to be a lockdown cornerback in the NFL.

7) Las Vegas Raiders: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

With the free agency signing of Jimmy Garoppolo to replace Derek Carr/Jarrett Stidham, it would appear that the Las Vegas Raiders are not interested in getting involved in this 2023 NFL Draft quarterback class — especially with Stroud, Young, and Richardson off the table.

While off-field concerns circle around Jalen Carter in the draft process, the Raiders landing arguably the best player in the class would be a huge boost for their defense. The 6’3″, 310+ pounds defensive tackle is an explosive force from the interior. His appearance on the Raiders’ defensive front forces teams to make a business decision on how they protect their quarterback.

8) Atlanta Falcons: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

There’s a temptation to add further pass rushers to the Atlanta Falcons. Meanwhile, the quarterback position is a legitimate question mark as the Falcons enter the 2023 NFL league year. However, it feels like Desmond Ridder gets another year to prove his worth while there is a more glaring need defensively.

Adding a cornerback of the caliber of Joey Porter Jr. to the Falcons’ defense alongside A.J. Terrell makes the Atlanta defense a terrifying prospect to throw against. Porter’s frame, aggression, and physicality should see him hit the NFL field early in his career. The Penn State product’s athleticism and ball skills enable him to make plays all over the field.

9) Chicago Bears (From CAR): Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

When the Chicago Bears traded out of the first overall pick, they put themselves in the perfect draft range for a player that meets their needs in protecting quarterback Justin Fields. Paris Johnson Jr. is comfortably the best offensive tackle in the class, with the size, strength, and athleticism to hold firm in pass protection while getting out ahead of the run game as a multi-phase beast.

10) Philadelphia Eagles (From NO): Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

Cornerback was arguably the biggest need for the Philadelphia Eagles even prior to the decision to allow Darius Slay to test free agency. The departure of linebacker T.J. Edwards also brings that position into play. Except, historically, the Eagles won’t touch either position in the first round of the NFL draft.

That’s why in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, they turn to upgrading on the edge with Texas Tech standout Tyree Wilson. A built-in-a-lab physical specimen, Wilson has been a productive force for the Red Raiders, using his size, length, power, and speed, to put opposing offensive tackles in a bind.

11) Tennessee Titans: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

Does the free agency capture of Andre Dillard move the needle for the Tennessee Titans at tackle? The former Eagles first-round pick has shown flashes of the talent that earned him such high draft capital. At the same time, he’s started just nine games in his entire four-year NFL career.

As such, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Titans use their first-round pick as a genuine long-term replacement for Taylor Lewan — as they do in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft. Broderick Jones is the perfect plug-in-and-play tackle for the Titans’ ground game. He’s a violent people-mover with explosive athleticism in both phases.

12) Houston Texans (From CLE): Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

With their quarterback selected with the second overall pick, the Texans turn to the defensive side of the ball with the 12th selection of this 2023 NFL Mock Draft. They require a defensive tone-setter off the edge, and with his 6’5″, 275-pound frame and impressive strength, Clemson defensive end Myles Murphy brings some J.J. Watt-eque qualities to the Texans. That isn’t a comp, to be clear.

13) New York Jets: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

As the world awaits the news of an official Aaron Rodgers trade to the New York Jets, the team has been actively adding key components of Rodgers’ former team — like Allen Lazard — in free agency. Supporting their presumptive new QB in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft takes the form of an offensive line upgrade.

Peter Skoronski has been a highly-rated offensive tackle prospect since setting foot on the field for Northwestern. There are few tackles in this class who possess his football intelligence, technical ability, and athleticism to be a force both in the run game and as a pass protector.

14) New England Patriots: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

Losing an experienced cog of the secondary like Devin McCourty adds further pressure on a unit that already needed some attention this offseason. Landing a game-changing playmaker at cornerback should be a focus in the NFL draft, and Devon Witherspoon fills that role perfectly.

MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

Witherspoon’s sheer physicality against the run and at the catch point, combined with alluring movement and ball skills, should secure the Illinois corner a birth in the first round.

15) Green Bay Packers: Brian Branch, S, Alabama

It’s Jordan Love season in title town! It would be some kind of irony if the Green Bay Packers decided to use their first-round pick on a WR to support their new QB1. However, the most likely move feels like adding a player who shores up the Packers’ secondary.

Alabama’s Brian Branch has become a popular fit for Green Bay, and it’s easy to understand why. The ultimate utility man in the secondary who has played multiple roles at the highest level of college football, there isn’t a more reliable tackler in this class. Branch also brings coverage capability with his fluid movement and ball skills.

16) Washington Commanders: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

With Sam Howell seemingly entrenched as the starting QB for the 2023 NFL campaign, and free agency additions on the offensive line, the Washington Commanders can focus on another significant area of need in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Emmanuel Forbes instantly upgrades the Commanders’ cornerback room, improving one of the worst passing defenses in the league from last season. Forbes has eye-popping career statistics, but they’re backed up by high-level route recognition, exciting footwork, top-tier athleticism, and physicality beyond his slight frame.

17) Pittsburgh Steelers: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

“He’s a really talented guy,” former Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin told me when discussing his long-time teammate. “I think he’s the best offensive tackle in the draft, honestly. You see the guys he went against this year — the guys he shut down. He was a huge reason why our offense was the way it was this season.”

If the Pittsburgh Steelers want to get the most out of second-year QB Kenny Pickett, adding a player of Darnell Wright’s talent is a no-brainer. He has experience at both bookends, is a powerful and violent pass protector, and adds value in the ground game.

18) Detroit Lions: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

With their second pick of this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, the Lions add another weapon to their receiving group. Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s absence from the majority of the 2022 college football season had appeared to raise enough question marks to tank his stock.

However, his Combine performance answered some athleticism questions, and there’s no doubting the Ohio State WR’s impressive route-running ability. With the football intelligence to find soft spots in zone coverage and his ability to convert at the catch point, Smith-Njigba should become the latest Brian Hartline protégé to find success in the NFL.

19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

As I was writing this 2023 NFL Mock Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handed Baker Mayfield a one-year deal to presumably be their starting QB over Kyle Trask this season. That shouldn’t stop the Bucs from investigating whether Will Levis can be the long-term successor to Tom Brady.

Humorous concerns about his eating habits aside, Levis has alluring attributes as a potential NFL quarterback. He generates effortless velocity on his passes. At 6’3 “, 222 pounds, he’s built to withstand the rigors of the NFL game and has shown he can strap a team on his back and lead them to victory.

20) Seattle Seahawks: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

The Seahawks invested in Geno Smith this offseason, and with their second pick of this first-round 2023 NFL Draft, they invest in him a little more. Forget a lackluster Combine performance — Jordan Addison is an explosive jitterbug from the slot who adds yards-after-the-catch potential on every play. Try defending DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside and Addison in the slot. You can’t.

21) Los Angeles Chargers: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

Bijan Robinson is arguably one of the best players in the 2023 NFL Draft. His ability to manipulate space as a pure rusher while possessing the route running and ball skills as a receiving back are almost incomparable.

The value of running backs in the NFL could facilitate a fall beyond his actual talent, and the Los Angeles Chargers snagging him as an Austin Ekeler replacement in the latter picks of the first round would be tantamount to larceny.

22) Baltimore Ravens: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

Who knows how the Lamar Jackson situation will end, especially as the former MVP appears to burn bridges by tweeting about his contract offer from the franchise. One thing is for sure, whoever the QB is, the Ravens’ WR situation requires attention. Adding a big-bodied pass catcher with the speed to be a three-level NFL threat — like Quentin Johnston — should do the trick.

23) Minnesota Vikings: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

Justin Jefferson is one of the best wide receivers in the league, but his supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired — especially following the departure of long-time slot savan Adam Thielen. Boston College WR Zay Flowers is a dangerous after-the-catch threat who combines long speed with ludicrous lateral agility as one of the most exciting and explosive receivers in the draft.

24) Jacksonville Jaguars: Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina

Combining Tyson Campbell with South Carolina’s Cam Smith gives the Jacksonville Jaguars a commanding presence at both outside cornerback positions.

Smith flashed his athleticism at the NFL Combine, quantifying the explosiveness, ability, and speed that is apparent on his tape. Like the Gamecocks CBs before him, Smith also plays the games with relentless physicality.

25) New York Giants: O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida

Although there’s a lot of depth at guard on the New York Giants roster, the departure of starter Nick Gates should at least see them entertain the idea of bringing in a top-tier talent at the position. O’Cyrus Torrence is comfortably the top guard prospect in this class, with roadblock size that acts as a powerful plow in the run game. His pass protection technique is also impressive.

26) Dallas Cowboys: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

If Bryan Bresee slides this far down the 2023 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys should absolutely plug the monster defensive tackle into their front. The Clemson standout is 6’5 “, 300 pounds of power, and blessed with the strength and length to punish offensive linemen at his will. Bresee also moves with uncommon ease for a man of his size.

27) Buffalo Bills: Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

With Tremaine Edmunds making his way to Chicago as a free agent, the Buffalo Bills have a Drew Sanders-sized hole in their linebacker room that they fill with the Arkansas talent in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft. Sanders is a hyper-athletic, physical playmaker who can come downhill with unnerving ferocity but has the fluidity of movement to be impactful in coverage.

28) Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Adding a tight end of the pass-catching capability of Michael Mayer to an offense that already features a triple-headed monster at wide receiver feels unfair to the rest of the NFL. Furthermore, the selection of the Notre Dame tight end in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft benefits QB Joe Burrow as a pass protector, too, adding value in multiple phases at the back of Round 1.

29) New Orleans Saints (From SF via MIA via DEN): Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh

Between checking in bigger than his Pitt-listed measurements and quantifying his on-tape athleticism with a series of ludicrous testing results, Calijah Kancey may have solidified himself as a first-round pick in April. The New Orleans Saints land an explosive and dangerous pass rusher with a loaded toolbox who also brings an unrelenting motor in the run game.

30) Philadelphia Eagles: Adetomiwa Adebawore, DT, Northwestern

4.49 40-yard dash. 1.61 10-yard split. 37.5″ vertical. 10’5″ broad. Those are ridiculous numbers for a 6’2″, 282-pound defensive lineman. Boosting that athletic potency, Adetomiwa Adebawore has 33 7/8″ arms that allow him to bulldoze through offensive linemen.

MORE: Pro Day News and Rumors — Adetomiwa Adebawore, Cam Smith, and Bryan Bresee Impress Teams

The sheer explosion capability should see a team like the Eagles take a shot on Adebawore sooner rather than later in April. With Javon Hargrave out the door in free agency, the versatile Northwestern defensive lineman could step in at 3-tech in Philadelphia despite playing the majority of his college snaps on the edge.

31) Kansas City Chiefs: Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa

The Kansas City Chiefs have a penchant for big-bodied defensive ends, landing George Karlaftis last fall. They land a long-term stable mate at the opposite end of the line in this 2023 NFL Mock Draft in the form of Lukas Van Ness. The Iowa standout can generate unfathomable power from his 6’5 “, 275-pound frame while possessing impressive bend capacity for a man of his size.

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