2023 NFL Mock Draft: Will Anderson Jr., Jalen Carter headline a star-studded affair

Never too early for a mock, the 2023 NFL Draft brings franchise-changing quarterbacks and cornerstone defensive players aplenty.

The 2023 NFL Draft is officially on the clock – it’s never too early to do a mock draft. Viewers and fans entered the 2022 NFL Draft with a less-than-favorable view of the most recent draft’s crop of athletes, but make no doubt about it, this 2023 NFL Draft class could be something special.

With 10 quarterbacks inside our initial Top 100, this 2023 NFL Mock Draft will heavily feature the quarterback position. As it is officially on the clock, here is the first 2023 NFL Mock Draft.

2023 NFL Mock Draft Picks | 1-16

As with any mock draft this early, this is all about names and players to be mindful of. We’ve taken the draft order based on the projected standings and playoff finish from the most current Las Vegas odds from DraftKings and FanDuel Sportsbooks. Once again, multiple teams will have multiple first-round picks thanks to past trades as well.

1) Houston Texans: Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

The Houston Texans could very well be in the market for a quarterback here. After all, they are selecting with the first overall pick with Davis Mills at the helm. But this was always a long-haul rebuild for the franchise.

And Will Anderson Jr. is clearly the most talented player returning to college football. He’s a true game-wrecker with his combination of speed and strength. What he demonstrated in 2021 gave glimpses of perhaps the best pass rusher we’ve ever seen in college football.

2) Atlanta Falcons: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Likening Jalen Carter to Warren Sapp is all too easy. The comparison is so good that the Hall of Famer happens to also hail from the same high school as the younger Carter. Like Sapp, the Georgia Bulldog defensive tackle is a smart and athletic player.

Carter will jump from gap to gap with anticipation, routinely finding himself in the right position because of his instincts. He’s a monster in the middle and is the rare interior pass rusher to get excited about. He’ll change the Falcons’ defense for the better.

3) Detroit Lions: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

The Detroit Lions didn’t go quarterback at the top of the 2022 NFL Draft, signaling their desire to move on one here. C.J. Stroud showed linear growth over the course of the 2021 college football season and is returning as the top overall draft prospect in the early part of the process.

He has anticipation in his throws, plenty of zip, and the ability to hit every level of the field. Some of Stroud’s middle-of-the-field throws are already better than the majority of starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

4) New York Jets: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

The college football world saw a bit of what Jaxon Smith-Njigba can do during the 2021 Rose Bowl. After torching a depleted Utah secondary, Smith-Njigba returns with his quarterback to pair arguably the best QB-WR combination we’ve seen in some time.

Smith-Njigba has speed and size, quicks and hands. He’s a well-rounded route runner and possesses an uncanny ability to find the open spot on defenses with no wasted motion.

5) Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

The quarterback situation, unlike the situation at LSU, is settled for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite a shaky quarterback situation, Kayshon Boutte has routinely demonstrated his unreal ability to win at every level of the field. He has great hands at the catch point and an ability to separate anywhere on the field. The Jaguars get a true WR1.

6) Carolina Panthers: Emil Ekiyor Jr., G, Alabama

After grabbing their left tackle of the future at the top of Round 1 in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers grab their guard of the next decade in Emil Ekiyor Jr. The big man from Alabama stands tall, has a great anchor, and some of the best balance we’ve seen from an interior lineman in some time. Ekiyor does it all — and does it all incredibly well.

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

Kelee Ringo is a rangy cornerback with sticky man-coverage skills. He’ll give cushion when necessary and is never lost on the back end. Ringo has oily hips and a terrific burst at the catch point. After a dominant 2021 season, Ringo enters the 2022 season as a favorite to win the Jim Thorpe Award.

8) Chicago Bears: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

The thought of drafting a tight end in the top 10 of any NFL Draft is a lofty one. However, Michael Mayer transcends the position. He has the receiving skill set of a dominant wide receiver and the after-the-catch skills of an elusive running back in space. He’s strong both at the catch point and at the point of contact in the blocking game. Mayer is a rare blend of pass-catching weapon and plus blocking on the outside.

9) Seattle Seahawks: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Similar to the Lions, the Seattle Seahawks were so adamant about not wanting to take a quarterback in the top portion of the 2022 NFL Draft that they tried their hardest to trade down. After unsuccessfully doing so, the Seahawks have a pair of bookend tackles for new quarterback Bryce Young.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Young possesses an elite right arm and a moxie that rivals the most seasoned NFL quarterback today. He stands tall in the pocket and delivers the ball accurately and on time to every level of the field.

10) Washington Commanders: Malachi Moore, CB, Alabama

The Washington Commanders passed on quarterbacks early in the 2022 NFL Draft before landing Sam Howell to compete with Carson Wentz late. As such, the Commanders are clear to take a big position of need early.

With their penchant for Alabama defensive players, Malachi Moore is the choice. A smart cornerback with terrific instincts, Moore has 4 career interceptions and a plethora of forced incompletions. He’s incredibly sticky and has a knack for finding the football.

11) Pittsburgh Steelers: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh

Calijah Kancey has the ability to play a bevy of positions at the NFL level. Though smaller in stature, the road map for his dominance at the NFL level is that of former Pittsburgh Panther Aaron Donald.

At 6’0” and 275 pounds, Kancey has shown enough through two seasons that he is much stronger than his size and doesn’t lose any speed with his strength. Kancey has elite hands to fight off blocks and a high motor on the inside. Sound like someone we’ve already referenced?

12) Philadelphia Eagles: Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama

Another Alabama cornerback, but this time around, it’s a lot of projection. Eli Ricks transferred from LSU to the Crimson Tide and projects to start opposite Malachi Moore. Ricks is a long and rangy cornerback with a healthy recruiting background from his days in high school. He doesn’t allow much in coverage, amassing 5 career interceptions despite playing just a handful of games a season ago for the Tigers.

13) Philadelphia Eagles (from NO): Brandon Joseph, S, Notre Dame

Back-to-back picks in the secondary for the Philadelphia Eagles in this NFL Mock Draft as they grab Brandon Joseph from Notre Dame. Similar to their first pick, Joseph’s selection is also a major projection at this time.

He thrives in zone coverage as a free-ranging safety, intercepting a national-best 6 passes in 2020. After he decided to return to college and spurn the 2022 NFL Draft, he transferred to Notre Dame, where he fits their system perfectly.

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

The Georgia defense was historic in the 2021 season. After depleting their roster via the 2022 NFL Draft, Nolan Smith returns with Jalen Carter to anchor the defensive front. Smith has been a lock for first-round consideration since he was a five-star high school football prospect.

He’s demonstrated that was no lofty expectation for him throughout his two years so far — he has great speed and plenty of bend to get around the edge. He can rush with his hand in the dirt or as an off-ball linebacker, allowing the New England Patriots to deploy him from several alignments.

15) Las Vegas Raiders: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

It was a down year for the Clemson Tigers in the 2022 NFL Draft, but that will change this time around. Myles Murphy is dominant at the point of contact and can use his strength to bully smaller tackles on the edge.

He can also stunt and use his speed to bend around the edge all the same. Pairing Murphy’s speed and strength combination with Maxx Crosby on the Las Vegas Raiders’ front is terrifying for AFC West quarterbacks.

16) Miami Dolphins: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

It’s rare to select a running back in the first round nowadays. But Bijan Robinson is even rarer. A special kind of player with three-down ability, Robinson is the best running back prospect since perhaps Saquon Barkley.

He’s dependable and racks up yards after contact with the best of them. Robinson has speed, elusiveness, power, and the ability to take any touch to the house. He does this all while standing at 6’0” and 215 pounds.

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.