Every year the lead up to the NFL Draft is a whirlwind of smokescreens, leaks, and above all else, excitement. The draft is a chance for NFL franchises to take that next step towards the ultimate goal of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. For play off teams it’s a time to find that missing piece to push them over the top and for bottom dwellers to begin their build for a better future.
While every NFL Draft is unpredictable, this year appears to be one for the record books with few insiders, draftniks, and fanbases having any idea what could happen in Kansas City. There’s been plenty of rumours and some may have a modicum of truth to them, but ultimately this could be an unprecedented first-round in terms of shocking picks.
The combination of there being four quarterbacks potentially selected in the top-five and it being a weaker draft class overall (most have fewer than 20 first-round grades) feeds into the uncertainty of it all. It would seem that outside of the Carolina Panthers taking Alabama’s Bryce Young No. 1, nobody really has any idea what will happen. So, this seven-round mock will lean into the chaos of it all with plenty of first-round trades and surprising picks. Welcome to the chaos mock.
*Trade value points based on Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Trade Value Chart
1. Carolina Panthers (from Chicago)- Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
It seems like a forgone conclusion at this point that the Panthers will kick off the Frank Reich era in Charlotte by taking Bryce Young. Even this pick has some chaos to it with Reich and GM Scott Fitterer initially seeming like they’d moved up for Ohio State’s CJ Stroud before Young won them (and owner David Tepper) over during the pre-draft process. Despite his unprecedented size, Young’s knack for playmaking out of structure, leadership, and unquantifiable “It” factor have propelled him to the top pick
Pro comparison: somewhere between Doug Flutie and Drew Brees
2. Houston Texans- CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
This is where the NFL Draft gets really fun (or nerve-racking?), and the media seems split on whether the Houston Texans will go with the top pass rusher on their board (Alabama’s Will Anderson or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson) or finally reward their fanbase with hope by taking a quarterback. Head coach DeMeco Ryans comes from the 49ers (and hired former 49ers passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik as his OC) where accuracy and decision making from the quarterback are imperative to run Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
CJ Stroud is the most natural pocket passer in the class and the most accurate on every level. While unfounded character assassinations and an obsession over the S2 test has hurt him in the media’s eyes in recent weeks, he’s still the type of prospect NFL teams covet. This pick could also cool GM Nick Caserio’s seat.
Pro comparison: Matt Ryan
3. Trade: Indianapolis Colts (from Arizona)- Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
- Colts receive 3rd overall pick (2,443 points)
- Cardinals receive 4th overall pick, 79th overall pick, 138th overall pick, 2024 first-round pick (5,186)
New Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort has plenty of work to do to breathe life back into the team’s roster; that starts with trading the third overall pick. To ensure the Indianapolis Colts get new head coach Shane Steichen’s preferred quarterback prospect, they’ll need to move up one spot and GM Chris Ballard will likely have to pay a king’s ransom to get it done. Kentucky’s Will Levis is the fourth best quarterback prospect to most, but he has the makeup of what the NFL falls in love with at the position with a rocket arm, unquestioned toughness, and a moxie teammates gravitate towards. Steichen’s success with Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts should help Levis reach his potential as a Ryan Tannehill type quarterback.
Pro comparison: Ryan Tannehill
4. Trade: Tennessee Titans (from Indianapolis via Arizona)- Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
- Titans receive 4th overall pick (2,297)
- Cardinals receive 11th overall pick, 72nd overall pick, 2024 first-round pick, 2024 third-round pick (approximately 4,963)
If Ossenfort really plays his cards right he could acquire a ridiculous amount of draft capital by moving back one spot and then moving back again by trading with a team desperate to get their hands on the last remaining first-round quarterback. New Tennessee Titans GM Ran Carthon could look to make a splash and get head coach Mike Vrabel the type of quarterback talent he’ll need to compete in the AFC.
Florida’s Anthony Richardson is the most athletic quarterback in NFL history, which raises his floor as a prospect with the ability to utilize his running ability while he develops as a passer. But Richardson isn’t as raw a prospect as the narrative will lead you to believe, he’s got the physical tools on top of impressive pocket navigation skills and field vision. Richardson, who doesn’t turn 21 until May, could also sit behind Tannehill for a year.
Pro comparison: Daunte Culpepper
5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver)- Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
No team will benefit from a run on quarterbacks more to start the 2023 NFL Draft than the Seattle Seahawks. Head coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider will have their choice between the top two prospects in the class with Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Alabama’s Will Anderson. While Carter is more of a game wrecker, Anderson is the safest prospect in the class who could immediately help the Seahawks run defense and provide a true power rusher opposite Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor. Anderson’s motor and character are the types of things Carroll tends to value.
Pro comparison: Khalil Mack
6. Detroit Lions (from LA Rams)- Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Despite the cloudiness of how this NFL Draft will play out, one consistent linkage of player and team has been Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon with the Detroit Lions. Witherspoon not only fills a need, but his demeanour is what head coach Dan Campbell will love most. There’s no player in this class with more dog in him than Witherspoon, he’s a forceful tackler who has tremendous cover instincts and the scheme versatility to play outside or at nickel in man or zone. He screams Dan Campbell.
Pro comparison: Jaire Alexander
7. Las Vegas Raiders- Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
If the Las Vegas Raiders can’t put themselves in play for one of the top quarterbacks, they can default to selecting the most talented cornerback in this NFL Draft class. Raiders GM Dave Ziegler comes from the New England Patriots where having a true No. 1 corner is a major part of the team philosophy and Christian Gonzalez can be just that. He’s one of the smoothest athletes in the class with crisp footwork and fluid hips to go with the speed to cover vertically. He’s got All-Pro upside.
Pro comparison: Patrick Surtain II
8. Trade: Houston Texans (from Atlanta)- Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
- Texans receive 8th overall pick (1,946)
- Falcons receive 12th overall pick, 73rd overall pick (2,567)
If the Texans do in fact go quarterback at No. 2, they could use their draft capital to make a move up back into the top-10 to get Ryans a defensive cornerstone. Tyree Wilson is gargantuan and uses that length to bully offensive linemen with his power. He’s got the ability to play inside as a 3-tech or 4i and outside as a 9-tech or stand-up rusher; he also plays with an infectious motor. If Ryans and the Texans staff can develop his pass rush plan, Wilson can become a Pro Bowl player.
Pro comparison: Jason Pierre-Paul
9. Chicago Bears (from Carolina)- Jalen Carter, IDL, Georgia
The best case scenario for the Bears is that quarterbacks lead to one of the top tier defensive prospects falling into their laps; if that doesn’t happen they can still grab a talented offensive linemen. The most impressive prospect based on tape in this class is Georgia’s Jalen Carter but an off-field incident and a narrative about his work ethic (that doesn’t really show up on tape) could cause a mini slide for him. He’s the exact type of player Bears head coach Matt Eberflus needs to help turn Chicago’s defense around. Carter has rare fist step explosion, a developed pass rush plan, and the violent hands needed to win in the NFL. Bears GM Ryan Poles saw firsthand the way an interior defender can change a defense with Chris Jones in Kansas City. Carter has more upside than any non-quarterback in the class.
Pro comparison: Quinnen Williams
10. Trade: LA Chargers (from New Orleans via Philadelphia)- Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
- Chargers receive 10th overall pick (1,833)
- Eagles receive 21st overall pick, 85th overall pick, 125th overall pick (2,759), plus running back Austin Ekeler
It’s not in Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman’s nature to sit and pick if he can get more value by trading here. Will the LA Chargers be desperate enough to make a money move to get a top-three talent in the draft? Texas’ Bijan Robinson is the best playmaker in the class but he plays a devalued position, so it’s hard to say where exactly he’ll land. In a draft lacking blue chip talent and star wide receivers, a team will (and probably should) bite the bullet for Bijan.
That doesn’t mean moving up for him would be a smart play by Chargers GM Tom Telesco, but both he and head coach Brandon Staley need to get the most out of this team in 2023 while Justin Herbert is still on a rookie contract; not to mention Austin Ekeler demanded a trade. Robinson could immediately provide a physical and explosive running threat that does just as much damage as a pass catcher for a Chargers offense in need of more playmakers.
Pro comparison: Edgerrin James
11. Arizona Cardinals (from Tennessee)- Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
If the Cardinals are able to pull off the double trade back and still end up with the best offensive lineman in the class, that would be one hell of a start for Ossenfort as GM. With so many needs, Arizona going best player available wherever they pick makes the most sense. In this case Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski gives them a plug-and-play offensive tackle or guard with Pro Bowl upside. Skoronski plays with incredible balance and bend in pass protection to go with physicality and quickness in the run game. He’s scheme versatile and can play whichever spot up front Arizona needs him at most.
Pro comparison: shorter Ryan Ramczyk
12. Atlanta Falcons (from Houston via Cleveland)- Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
There are rumours that the Atlanta Falcons will take Bijan Robinson at No. 8, but it just seems like bad business to take a offensive skill player top-10 for the third straight year; especially when head coach Arthur Smith just had fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier hit 1,000 yards as a rookie. Instead, the Falcons need to finally address the pass rusher position (they haven’t had a consistent one since John Abraham) and in this scenario they add draft capital in the process.
Georgia’s Nolan Smith brings impressive football character to the locker room and elite athleticism to the field. He’s one of the twitchy defensive prospects in the class and despite his lack of size, he’s a phenomenal run defender who uses his quickness to knife through gaps and his heavy hands to stack and shed blocks. Smith might take time to develop more as a pass rusher but he can bring major juice from day one and be an impact run defender.
Pro comparison: Haason Reddick
13. Green Bay Packers (from NY Jets)- Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The Jordan Love era is about to begin in Green Bay and to ensure it goes off without a hitch, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst will need to add a few more weapons on offense for Matt LaFleur to get the most out of his young passer. With a massive hole at tight end, it makes a ton of sense for Green Bay to grab the best one in a deep class. Michael Mayer is among the safest prospects in the class with his strong ball skills, ability to win contested catches, and his understanding of how to create separation and move the chains. If he can continue to develop as a blocker, he’ll start for a decade as the Packers Y tight end.
Pro comparison: Heath Miller
14. Trade: Detroit Lions (from New England)- Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
- Lions receive 14th overall pick (1,663)
- Patriots receive 18th overall pick, 81st overall pick (2,308)
With two first-round picks, Lions GM Brad Holmes could make a move to jump up if there’s a prospect the team really likes; they’re also in a great spot to sit and pick the best player available at 18. If they’ve identified a pass rusher they love to pair with Aidan Hutchinson, they may want to move up before someone else does to ensure they land him. Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness is polarizing, on one hand he’s an explosive and powerful pass rusher dripping with so much upside that he may go top-10, on the other hand he’s unrefined and has little pass rush plan. The Lions are a perfect team to get the most out of him with Hutchinson taking pressure off of him as the defensive cornerstone.
Pro comparison: Trey Hendrickson
15. New York Jets (from Green Bay)- Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
Boy oh boy, things are looking up for Gang Green (sort of). New York Jets GM Joe Douglas gave up a ton to get Aaron Rodgers, but that’s what must be done when you think you have a roster that’s a quarterback away from competing for a Super Bowl. He managed to keep a first-round pick this year by swapping with the Packers and moving back two spots. That should allow the Jets to still be in play for a top offensive tackle, but they may need to move up to land one. Here they get lucky with all the quarterbacks and defensive studs causing a slide for Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. The Buckeyes left tackle is the exact pass protector the Jets need to protect Rodgers blindside with his length, nimble feet, and lateral quickness allowing him to mirror and fend off pass rushers with ease.
Pro comparison: D’Brickashaw Ferguson
16. Washington Commanders- Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
No team defines being in NFL purgatory like the Washington Commanders. The future of head coach Ron Rivera and GM Martin Mayhew remain uncertain as the team transitions towards new ownership. To rub salt in the wound, they recently declined the fifth-year option of former second overall pick Chase Young; which speaks to the inconsistency in the NFL Draft of this current leadership. While Rivera and Mayhew remain as the shot-callers, they could continue to prioritize defense and get the top cornerback on their board. Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. is a boom-or-bust type of player with his length, fluidity, and physicality giving him plenty of upside, but his inconsistent footwork and penchant for penalties being major concerns. Still, he would give the Commanders a big corner who can smother receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Pro comparison: Carlton Davis
17. Pittsburgh Steelers- Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
The absolute best case scenario for new Pittsburgh Steelers GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl would be one of the top-three offensive tackles being there when they pick at 17. Otherwise, they could be looking to trade up or default to a cornerback like Maryland’s Deonte Banks. If Georgia’s Broderick Jones is there, they’ll pounce because of the potential he brings as a tone setting run blocker with absurd athletic traits. Jones is still raw in pass protection with his technique, but the potential is there for him to be a star at left tackle in Pittsburgh; especially as the team trends towards a run-first approach.
Pro comparison: rawer Ikem Ekwonu
18. New England Patriots (from Detroit)- Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
From all accounts the New England Patriots love Boston College’s Zay Flowers, and rightfully so, he’s a dynamic pass catcher in a class lacking them. If he’s their target, moving back a few picks to acquire capital before taking him makes a lot of sense. Flowers’ efficient route running, field stretching speed, and pinball-like movements after the catch should help in Mac Jones’ development. Alternatively, Bill Belichick and the Patriots could cause some jaws to drop if they move Jones during the draft, move up for another quarterback, or acquire one through trade.
Pro comparison: Tyler Lockett
19. Trade: Baltimore Ravens (from Tampa Bay)- Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
- Ravens receive 19th overall pick (1,508)
- Buccaneers receive 22nd overall pick, 86th overall pick (2,177)
If the Baltimore Ravens want to make Lamar Jackson happy, signing Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year contract won’t be enough. They need to swing for the fences and nab a high-floor ready-made NFL receiver and Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba is just that. If he begins to slide, Ravens GM Eric DeCosta has to get above Seattle to land him. JSN can start in the slot immediately with his smooth route running, trusty hands, and coverage recognition giving Jackson the type of receiver he’s never had in Baltimore.
Pro comparison: Amon-Ra St. Brown
20. Seattle Seahawks- Bryan Bresee, IDL, Clemson
The Seahawks have two clear options with this pick, taking a third receiver to complete their corps with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett or continue to add on the defensive line. If both Flowers and Smith-Njigba are off the board, Schneider and Carroll could opt for the latter; that’s reinforced by the lack of interior D-line depth in the class. Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, the former No. 1 recruit in the 2020 class, has all the talent in the world, but never consistently put it together at Clemson. He’s the type of player the Seahawks bet on, develop, and get the most out of with his physical traits providing a basis of hope. Bresee’s fluidity as a pass rusher and quickness as a gap shooter are reasons to be excited about what he could be in a year or two.
Pro comparison: Leonard Williams is he puts it together, Jerry Tillery if he doesn’t
21. Philadelphia Eagles (from LA Chargers)- Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
The ideal situation for the Eagles is for the opportunity to wheel and deal to present itself to Howie Roseman. Roseman loves to add in the trenches and if he has his eye on a pass rusher then this is a great class for the position to be addressed. Moving back 11 spots is major, but a prospect like Myles Murphy could still be on the board due to the sheer amount of talented pass rushers in this class. Murphy would give the Eagles a powerful pass rusher who doesn’t make a ton of splashy plays, but is an all-around consistent player who can help in the run game. He’s a high-floor player with great length and athleticism.
Pro comparison: Montez Sweat
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Baltimore)- Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Could Tampa Bay be a wildcard team looking to move up into the top-10 and grab a quarterback? Perhaps, but they seem more likely to address the position in next year’s class in hopes of landing USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye. With no clear player-team match, moving back would be in GM Jason Licht’s best interest and if Tennessee’s Darnell Wright is available they should jump at the chance to take him. All-Pro Tristan Wirfs potentially moving to left tackle, Wright could step in at right tackle and give the Buccaneers a mean people moving punisher. He’s got technical flaws, but Wright’s strength, length, and attitude are terrific building blocks.
Pro comparison: La’el Collins
23. Minnesota Vikings- Calijah Kancey, IDL, Pittsburgh
Another team that could potentially look to draft a quarterback, the Vikings would probably be better off trading back than reaching on Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker if they can’t get up high enough for one of the other four. If they stay at 23, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may look to add more pass rushers and despite being a size outlier, Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey is a bonkers athlete on the interior D-line with major college production. Kancey’s lack of length is a massive concern, but he’s such a smooth mover with impressive body control and a deep pass rush repertoire. The NFL seems hellbent to gamble on Kancey in round one.
Pro comparison: pint size Jurrell Casey
24. Jacksonville Jaguars- Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
There’s nothing Jacksonville Jaguars GM Trent Baalke loves more than long and explosive athletes (see: selecting Travon Walker No. 1), and he can get one at a position of need if Deonte Banks falls this far. Banks could be a casualty of the depth at the corner position in this class, but he’s got top-20 traits and tape. He’s a physical press corner with oily hips to change direction and speed to burn when running with receivers. Banks has one of the highest ceilings in this class after putting on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Pro comparison: Marlon Humphrey
25. Trade: Las Vegas Raiders (from NY Giants)- Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
- Raiders receive 25th overall pick (1,311)
- Giants receive 38th overall pick, 109th overall pick, 2024 second-round pick, 2024 third-round pick (approximately 3,540)
If Ziegler wants to extend his and Josh McDaniel’s tenure in Las Vegas after its bumpy start, he may look to make a major move. Signing Jimmy Garoppolo made sense as a placeholder, especially with the out in his contract after the 2023 season, and that’s why they’ll be in play for Stroud, Richardson, and Levis. However, what will they do if they can’t move up for one of them? Plan B could be jumping back into the first-round for the fifth quarterback on their board. Is the Hendon Hooker first-round buzz for real? It’s hard to fathom given the offense he played in at Tennessee, but it does seem plausible an NFL team would sell themselves on his high character and arm talent.
Pro comparison: Geno Smith
26. Dallas Cowboys- Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants to win now and the roster looks like it’s only a few pieces away from truly competing. Coming away with a tight end with Pro Bowl upside could really help complete the offense. The question is whether that’s Mayer, Utah’s Dalton Kincaid, or one of the other talented tight ends. If Kincaid is available here, he’ll be hard to pass up. He’s got the best ball skills in the draft class among all pass catchers and brings natural route running ability and a prowess for making eye-popping contested catches. Kincaid is an F tight end who can move around head coach Mike McCarthy’s offense.
Pro comparison: Zach Ertz
27. Buffalo Bills- O’Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida
Another team that could be a few draft hits away from bringing a championship to its city, Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane must focus on getting tougher in the trenches. The Bills biggest downfall under head coach Sean McDermott has been the teams inability to run the football. That could put them in play for a running back, but a better solution is addressing the offensive line. Taking Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence might not be the sexy pick, yet it’s the pick they need. He’s a massive mauler that can plug in at guard and give the run game a boost while providing an injection of nastiness the Bills O-line is missing.
Pro comparison: Kelechi Osemele
28. Cincinnati Bengals- Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
Tight end is a need, but Cincinnati Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin knows that can be addressed on Day 2. Instead, Tobin will likely look to add an impact defender in the secondary or on the defensive line. In this situation the Bengals have a few options but the playmaking upside of Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes might be hard to pass up. Forbes is a ballhawk who set the FBS record for career pick sixes (6) and frequently jumps routes to make plays. While he’s a willing tackler, his size is the big concern that’s pushed him down the board. He’s yet another outlier in a class full of them.
Pro comparison: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
29. New Orleans Saints (from San Francisco via Miami and Denver)- Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
Using the pick acquired by trading Sean Payton to the Denver Broncos, Saints GM Mickey Loomis could either jump at a pass catcher or a defensive lineman. Usually the Saints buy into long, athletic, and powerful pass rushers in the first-round, but what if they looked for the same traits in a pass catcher? That’s how they could end up with Georgia’s Darnell Washington. Washington is a massive mismatch with his size and he can immediately give a boost to the run game with what he can do as an in-line blocker. Despite a lack of production as a pass catcher for the Bulldogs, Washington thrives in 50/50 situations and can be scary after the catch.
Pro comparison: Marcedes Lewis
30. Philadelphia Eagles- Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
When a team is really good and has a rich draft history it makes every prospect they select seem like a slam dunk. That’s how it will feel regardless of who Roseman and the Eagles select, but there may be no more mouthwatering prospect-team fit than Alabama’s Brian Branch with Philadelphia. Branch is a top-15 player in the 2023 NFL Draft, yet he plays a position that ultimately lacks value. If no team bites on him before the Eagles second first-round pick, it’s hard to imagine Roseman passing on him. Branch is one of the smartest football players in this draft and has the best take on skills of any defensive back. He’s a true weapon at nickel and has the range and route awareness to play back at safety.
Pro comparison: Tyrann Mathieu
31. Kansas City Chiefs- Keion White, DL, Georgia Tech
Last time the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, GM Brett Veach made a luxury pick with the final selection of the first-round and took running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. This time the Chiefs have clear needs on the offensive and defensive lines. They could go a few directions, but they’ve historically gravitated towards power rushers and Georgia Tech’s Keion White is the best one available. The former tight end is a freaky athlete who plays with plenty of pop in his hands, sets a strong edge, and frequently makes backside run stops. He can also kick inside on passing downs.
Pro comparison: Deatrich Wise