There seems to be less certainty and more speculation than ever in this 2023 NFL Draft. This year in my final mock draft, I'm going back to basics, rather than believing some of the bullish reports I'm hearing. That means looking at team needs, consensus draft boards, and player fits in particular. Thanks to Arif Hassan for his consensus draft board on PFN.
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Carolina is a great landing spot for a rookie QB. Young's consensus draft ranking: 3rd.
There reportedly isn't a consensus QB beyond Bryce Young in Houston, so they may have to go with the cleanest prospect in the class at a massive need for defensive-minded coach DeMeco Ryans, who happened to play for Alabama, too. It's possible Tyree Wilson's size makes him the pick here, but there are some negative reports with his foot. With other Round 1-2 picks at their disposal, Houston may play it safe here before making some bolder moves later. Remember, this coaching staff comes from San Francisco, who has punted off QB for some time. Anderson's consensus draft ranking: 1st.
I broke down the trade up options in this column, but everything comes down to how much the NFL loves these QBs. I fear the media has overhyped them. Even if they do trade down (with IND, DET, LV, TEN as a short list of teams), Wilson could be in play because of a potentially concerning foot injury that could cause a slide. This coaching staff prioritizes the front seven, and Arizona has nothing there (or at CB). I expect Arizona's target list to be Wilson, Anderson, Gonzalez, Witherspoon, and Johnson. Wilson's consensus draft ranking: 6th.
I have heard connections between Indianapolis and Richardson, Stroud, and Will Levis. I wouldn't be surprised at any of them, so I'll stick with consensus draft rankings, which typically have Stroud, Richardson, then Levis. There is a dual-threat history with coach Shane Steichen (Jalen Hurts) and his QB coach (Kyler Murray, Cam Newton), but Stroud has been viewed as a tier above throughout the draft cycle. Stroud's consensus draft ranking: 4th.
The sweet spot reportedly is 5-10. Late steam has been on Carter to Seattle, where he would certainly fill a massive need after getting killed by the run last year. Pete Carroll has taken off-field chances before (with varying success), but a Tyree Wilson foot injury could make their decision easier. As for QB, Geno Smith has more 2024 guaranteed money than Jared Goff and Jimmy G, plus Smith has more "face of the franchise" buzz right now. Carter's consensus draft ranking: 2nd.
I've been very tempted to place a QB here or in a trade up to 3rd overall, but there's been a lot of late buzz connecting Witherspoon and Detroit. In addition to that, this is a completely perfect match, as Witherspoon plays aggressively and is used to playing man coverage. His consensus draft ranking: 8th.
Las Vegas sucks on defense. They have more EDGE talent than they do at CB, and the board falls towards CB anyways here. Witherspoon is more physical and played more man coverage in college compared to the more athletic, zone-defending Gonzalez. The Raiders have so little in the secondary that they can go either direction under versatile DC Patrick Graham. Gonzalez's consensus draft ranking: 7th.
The range of outcomes is wide with these QBs, but let's connect some dots. Ryan Tannehill is on the trade block and even if he can't be traded, his contract expires after this season. Tannehill could groom Richardson before the dual-threat outlier takes over late in the year. Not only does Richardson fit this smash mouth Tennessee identity, but new GM Ran Carthon played football at Florida. ESPN's Dianna Russini reported that the Titans have called teams about trading up in the draft, likely for a QB. I believe her, especially with Tennessee news. I once saw her eating dinner with Mike Vrabel. Richardson's consensus draft ranking: 10th.
Jalen Carter likely is in play if he slides, but if not, an OT makes too much sense. Their current starter played fine last year, but is a 5th-rounder at the end of the day. Johnson has pedigree, size, and athleticism, plus is the consensus top LT in the class. Peter Skoronski has just as much upside, but he may be a guard and may not meet the Bears' length standards. Johnson's consensus draft ranking: 11th.
In a perfect world, one of the elite DL prospects slide enough where the Eagles, who only have six picks, can make a slight trade up. I sadly couldn't make it work, but Smith is quite the consolation prize. Philadelphia has taken on more tweener body types than most teams, knowing they can maximize their skills with a rotation. Smith has rare bend, plus holds up against the run better than others think. He's also a universally loved dude off the field. Smith's consensus draft ranking: 16th
Atlanta attacked their secondary in free agency and have attacked their offense in recent drafts. Leaving their DL out to dry has to hurt GM Terry Fontenot, who built New Orleans rosters from inside out. If they trade down, which they want to do, it could be for an edge rusher. Smith would be awesome there, but Van Ness has the size and athletic traits Fontenot has been drawn to historically. Van Ness's consensus draft ranking: 17th.
I don't think GM Nick Caserio has much say with DeMeco Ryans as the current face of the franchise. He loves defense, and the 49ers definitely valued an elite RB after trading for Christian McCaffrey (and drafting others on Day 2). That's the blueprint here, especially with Anderson and Robinson universally loved on and off the field. They punt QB with Will Levis, Hendon Hooker, Trey Lance, Ryan Tannehill, and other options ready to compete with Davis Mills. This is a very unique situation in Houston. Robinson's consensus draft ranking: 5th.
The pick swap in the Aaron Rodgers trade (read: theft) is a big deal because the Jets, Patriots, and Packers share some similar needs at WR, EDGE, and OL. The ultimate troll to Rodgers would be going with a receiver, and that aligns with a massive need alongside low-volume play maker Christian Watson. JSN would give the inexperienced Jordan Love a security blanket underneath. This would likely be too early for a TE, but that's also a major need in Green Bay. Smith-Njigba's consensus draft ranking: 12th.
The Bill O'Brien signing seems like an admission of fault for the 2022 offense, one that cratered Mac Jones' stock. Finding upgrades at OT would be another way to make things right. Big, athletic early declares from Georgia typically go very high, especially at premium positions. If not OL, New England can use help at CB, EDGE, and WR. I'd argue there are more EDGE and WR options in Round 2 versus OT. Jones' consensus draft ranking: 15th.
I don't expect Skoronski to make it this far, but he'd be a great fit in New York. If Mekhi Becton is truly ready to go at LT, Skoronski can play LG where many teams believe he can be an All Pro. If he's not, Skoronski could battle outside. The Jets also can use another EDGE, which is music to Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh's ears. Skoronski's consensus draft ranking: 9th.
Ron Rivera likely wants to re-tool his defense, as his seat is massively on fire with new ownership coming in. They could easily go DL with Chase Young and Montez Sweat potentially on their way out of town following 2023, but their CB group is very weak in general. Forbes can sit in zone coverage, while making plays on the ball. Forbes's consensus draft ranking: 37th.
There are reports that Wright could slide due to character concerns, which we've seen with some insulting DMs to reporters. There were rumors of him being in the top-13 conversation, so this would slightly qualify. The Steelers have solidified the interior, but their two OT spots are ripe for upgrades. The other primary need is at CB, where Deonte Banks has connections to Mike Tomlin via his son. Wright's consensus draft ranking: 22nd.
This is a long shot, but let's have some fun. Detroit has done their homework on Hooker, who has taken strays for being a 25-year-old with a torn ACL. Those are facts, but there are reports that he's crushing interviews. That's right up Dan Campbell's alley. Beyond that, he lit up the SEC for two years in a row, particularly in an offense that new-aged OC Ben Johnson can steal from. The Lions haven't extended Jared Goff yet, nor have many guarantees beyond 2023. Hooker stylistically plays like Goff and should be ready after Goff makes a run this season. Perhaps most importantly is Josh Norris' tweet: "Think I'm going to plant my flag as the Lions -> QB guy". Hooker's consensus draft ranking: 51st.
Relative to the rest of the class, the OTs look pretty good this year. Harrison isn't universally loved by the scouting community, but 21-year-old early-declare LTs from Oklahoma with above average length and quickness typically go highly. The Bucs front office and coaching staff needs to win this year or else they'll be fired, so leaning into their biggest team need (aside from QB) is a safe bet for them. Harrison's consensus draft ranking: 32nd.
I expect DL or QB at 5th overall, and either option would leave Seattle with a need at playmaker given their top-heavy WR group. Addison can play in the slot as a rookie before taking over in the Tyler Lockett role, which his skill set does fit. There's an obvious USC connection with Pete Carroll, but more importantly, Geno Smith loves attacking the seam where Addison was highly effective. His consensus draft ranking: 23rd.
Addison's college WR coach now coaches for the Chargers, but there's an argument that the Chargers are more desperate at TE than WR this year. Although he's not a freak athlete, Mayer has the size, production, and role of some of the top players at the position. Part of the problems in LAC's offense has been TE blocking. Mayer helps there. His consensus draft ranking: 20th.
Baltimore has 3rd- and 4th-rounders starting next to Marlon Humphrey at corner right now, and it's a premium position that this organization has valued recently. Banks has the elite athletic traits they are attracted to, too. If not CB, the Ravens are a trade down candidate. Banks's consensus draft ranking: 25th.
His profile is iffy enough to believe he could slide into Round 2, but the Vikings need size at receiver after releasing Adam Thielen. He also checks a lot of the analytics boxes that this analytics-based front office likely values. If not WR, CB is the next obvious need, assuming a player like Stroud or Richardson doesn't fall far enough to warrant a trade up with their six draft picks. Johnston's consensus draft ranking: 19th.
A young team with fewer holes than expected, I tend to think Jacksonville will go relatively best player available rather than filling in a minuscule draft need. Branch is a slightly below-average athlete, but he's physical, extremely football smart, and will have Nick Saban's support. One of the Jaguars' minor needs is nickel CB or SS, where Branch has positional versatility. I expect OL and TE to also be in play here. Branch's consensus draft ranking: 21st.
This would be a fall, but there's a chance his name brand has made him an overvalued asset in media circles. With that said, Porter is aggressive and would be a great scheme fit for man-heavy DC Wink Martindale's defense, one that lacks talent in the secondary. They could also use interior OL or a big WR, but the strength of those positions is arguably on Day 2. Porter's consensus draft ranking: 13th.
This would be a fall due to some medical concerns and positional value, but Dallas has been rumored to be looking for one more playmaker. He's ranked highest of the remaining pass-catchers and happens to fit a hole left by Dalton Schultz, who is a less nimble version of Kincaid. Other positions of need are interior OL, RB, and nickel, but those are usually Day 2 positions. Kincaid's consensus draft position: 24th.
Rumored to be looking for a splash move, Buffalo lets the falling WR drop into their lap. Flowers' size, production, and age aren't typical of a first-round player, but he's explosive, universally loved, and fits the Bills' need of a yards-after-the-catch slot. If they don't get a WR in Round 1, a trade for DeAndre Hopkins can't be ruled out. Other positions of need are LB (I really wanted to mock Jack Cambell here because of his athleticism and connection to Luke Keuchley), DT, and OL. Flowers' consensus draft position: 28th.
One of the outliers of the class, Kancey has early Round 1 explosiveness and production, but his lack of size likely eliminates him from a handful of draft boards. Cincy may be more willing to gamble on him because they have a need at 3-tech and found massive success with the undersized Geno Atkins in the past. Kancey's consensus draft ranking: 29th.
This is one of the shallowest EDGE and DT depth charts the Saints have ever had, thanks to big investments on offense in the last 12 months. They also value size historically, and the Clemson pass rusher checks both of those boxes. In fact, I could even see the Saints trading up for him. Murphy's consensus draft ranking: 14th.
The Eagles only have six draft picks and have moved around the board more than most teams under GM Howie Roseman. They do so again here...
He could go 2nd overall. He could go 4th overall. He also could tumble further than many expect. This would be a crazy outcome, but there have been some reports that his personality doesn't fit team's desired cultures. In fact, some big media members struggle to find him a home if the Texans or Colts don't get involved early. There's also the tape, his production (or lack there of), and age. He didn't declare after his redshirt-junior season, then struggled mightily in 2022. I don't know what to think of Levis' draft stock to be honest. I just know I gave him a second round grade. In this simulation, the Texans go with the Triple Podium picture: Will Anderson (for DeMeco Ryans), Bijan Robinson (for the fans), and Levis (for ownership). Levis' consensus draft ranking: 18th.
There hasn't been much Round 1 buzz on him, but he's my sleeper this year. Anduke-Uzomah is a 21-year-old early declare from Power 5 Kansas State with NFL size, a 94th-percentile three cone, and plenty of production. There isn't a major box he doesn't check, especially for the EDGE-lacking Chiefs. Anudike-Uzomah's draft position: 45th.
Others highly in consideration but barely left out:
RB Jahmyr Gibbs (size and positional value)
WR Jalin Hyatt (slender and scheme worry)
TE Darnell Washington (medicals and role)
OT Matthew Bergeron (23yo and mid athlete)
OG O'Cyrus Torrence (23yo and mid athlete)
DT Bryan Bresee (inconsistent and mid athlete)
DT Mazi Smith (mid production)
EDGE Will McDonald (23yo and size)
EDGE Keion White (24yo and mid production)
LB Jack Campbell (positional value and older)