It’s time to go inside the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
My selections and pre-draft needs are mostly based on discussions with league sources (coaches or executives) who know these teams and players inside and out.
So, when I make a pick, you’ll know a lot of my intel comes from people who are qualified to evaluate game tape from college but also who know NFL teams quite well.
And with that, let’s get started with the team who traded up for the first pick…
2023 NFL Mock Draft
1) Carolina Panthers (From CHI): Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
A league source familiar with their thinking told PFN recently that the team didn’t have an issue with Bryce Young’s lack of size.
The source said the Panthers got to see him up close and have enough information that they’re comfortable in making Young their next franchise quarterback since they selected Cam Newton with the first pick overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Ideally, you want your signal-caller to be at least 6’0″, and Young measured only 5’10 1/8″ during the NFL Combine. But because of his ability to manipulate the pocket and handle traffic coming toward him, the Panthers and some of the other teams that are quarterback-needy feel that the size issue is overblown.
Pre-Draft Needs: QB, DE/OLB, WR, CB
2) Houston Texans: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
From talking to a personnel source who has worked with GM Nick Caserio in the past, he doesn’t think he’ll force a pick just because it’s a major need (QB). Rather, he’ll select the best player on the board, and that’s Tyree Wilson, who is one of the few truly elite players for this year’s draft.
Pre-Draft Needs: QB, DE, DT, CB, WR, G, LB
3) Arizona Cardinals: Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
The Cardinals are in a total rebuild, and I definitely can see them trading the pick, but since we’re not doing that in this mock draft, they’ll go with Will Anderson Jr. here, who is one of the top pass rushers for the class.
And new head coach Jonathan Gannon can use all of the help he can get in the pass-rushing department.
Pre-Draft Needs: G, C, RT, WR, DT, CB, OLB
4) Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
The Colts know they have to come out of this draft with a quarterback, and C.J. Stroud, who is one of the top two for this draft, is the call.
While Young may be a little better processor of information at the snap, Stroud, from talking to some position coaches around the NFL, would be ready to start right away.
Sure, the team is in major need of help at cornerback, but they have to solve their long-standing quarterback issue now — Stroud would get that done for them. And there will still be plenty of solid cornerback options in Rounds 2 or 3 for them.
Pre-Draft Needs: QB, CB, DE, WR RG
5) Seattle Seahawks (From DEN): Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
The Seahawks have been willing to select players with character issues in the past, and Jalen Carter, who I’m told is the top player graded for this draft just based on game tape from several teams, will be the pick if Seattle didn’t take him off their board due to character concerns.
Carter is seen as one of the top interior defensive line prospects in the last 10 years and would be a Day 1 starter for any team that drafts him — he’s that talented.
Pre-Draft Needs: DT, C, OLB, ILB, WR
6) Detroit Lions (From LAR): Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Lions are clearly just a few quality defensive players away from being one of the NFL’s elite teams — yeah, call me crazy.
But it’s true.
They need someone to start opposite veteran CB Cam Sutton on the outside, and Christian Gonzalez, who is likely the top-graded player at his position on a lot of draft boards, would start on Day 1.
Pre-Draft Needs: DT, CB, TE, OLB, S
7) Las Vegas Raiders: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Devon Witherspoon is clearly one of the top players at his position for this draft and, from talking to some NFL position coaches, will start right away at the next level.
What personnel executives love is Witherspoon’s competitiveness and versatility.
The Raiders would be making a home-run pick if they go with Witherspoon here, and cornerback is a major need for now and the future.
Pre-Draft Needs: RT, G, CB, TE, LB, DT
8) Atlanta Falcons: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
This is where the conversation starts for Myles Murphy in this draft.
From talking to some defensive coaches who have graded his tape, he can line up at a variety of defensive line positions and probably can play inside in nickel.
The Falcons need edge rushers badly, and he’ll help them immediately and in the future, which is why Murphy goes off the board inside the top 10.
Pre-Draft Needs: OLB, WR, CB, G, RB, QB
9) Chicago Bears (From CAR): Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
From talking to offensive line coaches and personnel executives, Peter Skoronski will have to transition from playing left tackle to guard at the NFL level due to his lack of ideal size.
However, word around the NFL is that he truly is one of the 12-13 players who carry a true first-round grade for this draft. Each year, teams typically have anywhere from 10-15 players who have been graded with a first-round value, according to personnel sources.
Skoronski put together outstanding college tape, and he would start immediately for a team that is badly lacking blue-chip talent on the offensive line, such as the Bears.
Pre-Draft Needs: DE, DT, IOL, OT
10) Philadelphia Eagles (From NO): Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
The Eagles are one of the most forward-thinking teams in the NFL, and when they’ve gotten it right with their first-round picks in years past, they do so with more of an eye on the future (see: DeVonta Smith) rather than the current season.
Lukas Van Ness, who several personnel executives I’ve spoken to of late believe won’t make it past the Eagles here, can line up at a few defensive line positions due to his size and versatility.
With veteran DE Brandon Graham turning 35 recently, they’ll be able to replace him for the long term with Van Ness here.
It’s worth noting that the Eagles had some interest in former Cardinals DE Zach Allen during free agency, according to a league source, who has a similar skill set to Van Ness.
Pre-Draft Needs: S, DT, DE, OLB, ILB, CB, RB
11) Tennessee Titans: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
This team has a ton of needs, but from talking to a plugged-in team source, they are going to rebuild some areas of their offense if the board falls right, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba would help them do that right away.
While he barely played last season due to recurring hamstring problems, his 2021 tape was so dominant that I’m told some teams are still willing to select him in the first half of Round 1.
Pre-Draft Needs: WR, G, C, OLB, ILB, RB
12) Houston Texans (From CLE): Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Anthony Richardson is the true wild card in this draft. He could go anywhere from fourth overall to the late teens.
History shows that quarterbacks who only start one year at the collegiate level struggle to find a long-term career at the NFL level.
And while Richardson only started one full season, his skill set is so immense that he’ll be too hard for the QB-starved Texans to pass up here.
Pre-Draft Needs: QB, DE, DT, CB, WR, G, LB
13) New York Jets: Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
GM Joe Douglas had one of the best drafts last year that I’ve seen by any team over the past few cycles, but he has to find some improvement on the offensive line, particularly at the tackle spots.
Paris Johnson Jr. can play inside if needed (he did in 2021) but is projected by scouts and offensive line coaches I’ve spoken with to play left tackle.
Let’s face it; fourth-year LT Mekhi Becton has been a major disappointment since being selected in the first round in 2020 due to injuries and weight issues. He has ONLY played in 15 games in his career, and while I’m told he is in much better physical shape, he can hardly be counted upon to hold up.
The team has until May 2 to exercise Becton’s fifth-year option, which is pretty much a lock that they’ll decline due to the salary of well over $10m, which would be fully guaranteed at the time they exercise it.
And Johnson, one of the top tackles for this draft, would be his long-term replacement after this season concludes.
Pre-Draft Needs: QB, OT, DT, C, S
14) New England Patriots: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
From talking to a pro personnel source over the years, the Patriots will lean toward more man coverage if they have the players at the position who can handle it.
Well, as fate would have it, Joey Porter Jr. is the best man coverage cornerback for this draft. And he has elite length at over 6’2″.
Pre-Draft Needs: RT, CB, WR, TE, IOL
15) Green Bay Packers: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Dalton Kincaid is clearly the best player available at his position in what could be the deepest tight end class we’ve seen in more than a decade.
Veteran TE Robert Tonyan signed with the Bears, and the team has no one to replace him as the pass catcher at the position.
Kincaid, based on his college tape, could easily beat coverage and line up in the slot at the next level.
Pre-Draft Needs: TE, WR, S, OLB
16) Washington Commanders: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Head coach Ron Rivera, who has personnel control, has done a nice job of building his defense but has done little of significance to address their long-time issues on the offensive line.
Broderick Jones, who is widely regarded as one of the better offensive linemen for this draft by personnel sources, would wind up being the long-term solution at LT.
Veteran LT Charles Leno is signed through 2024, but the guaranteed money in his contract expires after this season, and his salary cap number jumps to $14.25 million next year.
Pre-Draft Needs: G, DE, CB, OT, S, OLB
17) Pittsburgh Steelers: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
The Steelers lost starting CB Cam Sutton in free agency, and that position is by far the weakest on the team.
Deonte Banks, a clear top-five player at his position, will start immediately if he’s still there for the Steelers to pick.
Pre-Draft Needs: CB, DT, LT, ILB, OLB
18) Detroit Lions: Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan
From talking to NFL personnel sources, teams don’t seem to be scared off by Mazi Smith’s off-the-field issue, and he still has a chance to go off the board in the first round.
It should be noted that Smith was always projected to go off the board within the top 40 selections but was never a lock to go even late in the first.
Smith, a two-time academic All-Big Ten honoree, will be seen as a nose tackle by some teams, but some will see him as a defensive lineman who can be moved around, and he has more upside as a pass rusher than his stats would indicate.
Pre-Draft Needs: DT, CB, TE, OLB, S
19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Will Levis figures to drop a bit due to his fall-off from last season. But some of that wasn’t his fault due to the lack of help at the wide receiver position and issues at offensive coordinator.
From talking to some quarterback coaches and some scouts, Levis’ 2021 tape was outstanding, which is why he’ll still be a first-round pick.
With the Buccaneers, he can sit Year 1 behind Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask while the coaches get him back on track, as there’s so much untapped talent with him.
Pre-Draft Needs: QB, OT, ILB, S, CB, OLB
20) Seattle Seahawks: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
The Seahawks transitioned to more of a 3-4 defense last season, and Nolan Smith, who is known in NFL personnel circles as one of the most explosive pass rushers for this draft, is the easy call here.
He could use a little more weight, but that won’t scare off GM John Schneider if Smith falls to them here.
Pre-Draft Needs: DT, C, OLB, ILB, WR
21) Los Angeles Chargers: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
You can make the case for a lot of players here, but the Chargers typically prefer size at this position, and Quentin Johnston is that guy for this draft.
From talking to wide receiver coaches recently, they like his ability to track the ball, and he runs well, but his hands are a concern, which is why he could still be on the board. And also, keep an eye on Zay Flowers here as a potential replacement for veteran WR Keenan Allen. And Jalin Hyatt, who can fly, is also under consideration, as a league source said the Chargers are still looking to add speed at the position.
Pre-Draft Needs: CB, RB, WR, DT, S, OLB, TE
22) Baltimore Ravens: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
From talking to multiple high-ranking NFL personnel executives, Zay Flowers should go off the board anywhere from 11-25 in Round 1.
He’s clearly one of the top players at his position, but he won’t be highly coveted by every team due to his size and some teams do question whether he can play on the outside at the next level.
The Ravens have no answers at WR past this season, and it won’t take GM Eric DeCosta more than 30 seconds to turn the card in if Flowers is still there.
Pre-Draft Needs: WR, CB, IOL, RB, DT
23) Minnesota Vikings: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
The Vikings are in dire need of help at cornerback, and Emmanuel Forbes, who personnel sources say is clearly one of the better players at his position for this draft, is the pick.
He’s still on the board because of his wiry frame (weighed just 166 at the Combine), which will be an issue for some teams, but the hope here is that he can bulk up over time.
By the way, this is where the discussion should start for QB Hendon Hooker.
He won’t have to play this year while he rehabs an ACL injury, and starting QB Kirk Cousins is in the last year of his contract.
Pre-Draft Needs: CB, WR, OLB, DT, ILB
24) Jacksonville Jaguars: Darnell Wright, OL, Tennessee
From talking to NFL personnel sources on this pick, they expect it to be an offensive lineman or a cornerback.
Darnell Wright is clearly the best offensive lineman on the board here, and keep in mind, starting LT Cam Robinson has no guaranteed money left in his contract after this season, and the right tackle position hasn’t been handed to third-year pro Walker Little just yet. Plus, the Jaguars lost starting RT Jawaan Taylor in free agency.
Pre-Draft Needs: CB, G, OT, OLB, DT
25) New York Giants: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
I know many Giants fans will want them to address the interior of their offensive line, particularly at center, and while it’s a need, so is wide receiver.
The team was not very aggressive in free agency at wide receiver, rather they signed a few players at the position for bargain prices, so they’ll address the issue here with one of the top players rather than reach for an offensive lineman who doesn’t have quite this high of a grade.
In speaking with multiple receiver coaches from around the NFL, Jordan Addison gives a team a player who is polished, has very good hands, and will go get the football down the field. He’ll start Day 1 if the Giants select him here.
Pre-Draft Needs: WR, CB, C, OLB, IOL, S
26) Dallas Cowboys: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Eagles fans won’t want to hear this, but the Cowboys have put together a very good offseason so far and have narrowed the gap in terms of their roster vs. Philly’s.
I know some Cowboys fans feel the team has to address help at the running back position behind starter Tony Pollard, but they can do that later in this draft.
A pro personnel source who knows this team well said he sees tight end being a much bigger need for now and the future after the loss of Dalton Schultz. And he thinks they need a better athlete at the position than second-year pro Jake Ferguson.
Michael Mayer, who is one of the most well round players at this position for the draft, would start immediately.
Pre-Draft Needs: TE, RB, G, CB
27) Buffalo Bills: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
While the team selected James Cook to be their long-term starter, and running back isn’t much of a need, they simply can’t pass up a generational talent in Bijan Robinson here.
Sure, they don’t want to be a running team, but Robinson is absolutely a three-down back, and he can be lined up all over the formation as a pass catcher.
Pre-Draft Needs: MLB, DE, WR, S, DT
28) Cincinnati Bengals: Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
There are plenty of good players still available at their positions of need, but Luke Musgrave makes the most sense for the Bengals.
I’m told by a league source that they tried hard to re-sign veteran TE Hayden Hurst right before he signed with the Panthers, which is a clear sign that they still value that position very highly.
Pre-Draft Needs: RB, CB, TE, S, WR
29) New Orleans Saints (From SF via MIA via DEN): Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
After losing former first-round pick DE Marcus Davenport in free agency and with veteran DE Cam Jordan turning 34 in July (where has the time gone?), this selection is about now and the future.
Pre-Draft Needs: DE, DT, WR, RB, S
30) Philadelphia Eagles: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
From talking to various defensive coaches, they see Brian Branch as a multiple-position defender at the next level, which is why we’re not listing him specifically as a CB or S.
Branch is capable of playing inside (he did in college) and in the either safety position. And the Eagles lost both starting safeties in free agency and really lack a good coverage player at the position.
Branch may scare some teams off due to his 40-time (4.58 at the Combine), which is why he may drop this far, but his tape is outstanding, and the Eagles have shown the willingness to draft players who run slower than ideal timed speed.
Pre-Draft Needs: S, DT, DE, OLB, ILB, CB, RB
31) Kansas City Chiefs: Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech
While they have other needs, the Chiefs need a long-term replacement for veteran DE Frank Clark, who was released earlier this year.
Fourth-year DE Mike Danna is a solid subpackage rusher, but I don’t get the sense that their coaches see him as a starter, and veteran Charles Omenihu has a one-year structure on his two-year deal. And his salary cap number jumps from $4.85m to a whopping $11.15m in 2024. So, we could be looking at a one-year-and-leave situation with Omenihu. Danna, by the way, is on the final year of his rookie deal.
Keion White, who was invited by the NFL to attend the draft in person (that typically means he’s seen as a potential first-round pick), has a strong build and has the ability to play inside in nickel, which offers solid value for teams.
Pre-Draft Needs: DE, DT, WR, RT, RB
Note: The Miami Dolphins forfeited their 2023 first-round pick due to a violation of league policies.
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