Author’s Note: This draft is not meant to predict what will happen, but rather what I would do if I were every team’s GM.
Carolina Panthers – Pick 1: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
This one is pretty easy for me. Carolina has a solid roster, but has been missing that “it” factor under center since Cam Newton suffered a string of injuries that set his career back. Young is an electric QB capable of extending plays, making highlight reel throws and has the poise needed from an NFL quarterback. There are certainly height questions to consider, and he isn’t the highest ranked player on my board, but in today’s NFL you simply must swing the bat at a QB.
Houston Texans – Pick 2: Jalen Carter, IDL, Georgia
My logic with this pick is as follows: The 2023 DL class is better than the 2024 DL class, and the 2024 QB class is better than the 2023 QB class. Houston has a need at both spots but can’t fix them in one offseason, so it makes the most sense to capitalize off of both talent pools. Carter is a demon on the interior and can collapse the pocket, in addition to stopping the run. Carter will instantly help this Texans front that has been abused in recent years. In regards to Carter’s off-the-field issues, I can only say that there is risk, but all accounts from the program state that he is a great person who is a plus on and off the field.
Arizona Cardinals – Pick 3: Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
Arizona suddenly has a lot of holes in their roster. Both the offensive and defensive lines are questionable at best, Hopkins and Baker may be moving on, and the secondary needs work. Will Anderson can fill at least one of those needs. In the NFL, Anderson will play as a true edge rusher. He is at his best when attacking the QB from outside the tackle, and I expect him to do more of that in the NFL than he did in college. He should contribute instantly and be a career double-digit sack guy.
Indianapolis Colts – Pick 4: CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Stroud is the second QB off the board. He is a traditional, hyper-accurate QB who can dissect defenses and deliver passes with pinpoint accuracy. He has struggled at times under pressure and in weather, but Indy is guaranteed to play over 50% of their games in a dome every season. The Colts have a solid but not dominant collection of weapons, but have been hurt for three consecutive years by older QBs on rental deals. Stroud finally provides long-term stability for a franchise burned by their treatment of Andrew Luck.
Seattle Seahawks – Pick 5: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Richardson is the highest ceiling player in this entire class. He’s got the arm talent and physical intangibles to dominate at the next level- but there’s a long way to go until then. Seattle recently inked Geno “they didn’t write back” Smith to a three-year deal with an opt-out after the first season. Letting AR develop behind a smart, mature and seasoned vet is exactly what he needs to reach his full potential. Until then, I would utilize his freaky athletic frame on some gadget plays to keep defenses guessing in the red zone and other short yardage situations.
Detroit Lions – Pick 6: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
As weird as it is to say, the Lions are my pick to win the division next season. Last year, they were one win away from the playoffs but a defensive meltdown against the Panthers (320 rushing yards allowed) would end up keeping them out. Detroit has a future star in Aidan Hutchinson, but pairing him up with another stud edge defender is exactly what this team needs. Tyree Wilson is one of the freakiest players in this draft. His monstrous wingspan paired with his immense power and strong motor make him a blender on the defensive line. He will certainly help to dominate NFC offenses next season.
Las Vegas Raiders – Pick 7: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Las Vegas needs boundary help. They’ve gotten productive play from Nate Hobbs in the slot, but their outside cornerbacks have long struggled. Gonzalez is the medicine they need. His amazing change of direction skills make him look smoother than water on a football field and he plays with that classic Raider flare that fans love. Look for him to develop in a true shutdown cornerback out in the Nevada desert.
Atlanta Falcons – Pick 8: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Atlanta is looking for its QB of the future after parting ways with franchise legend Matt Ryan. It’s unclear whether Desmond Ridder can be that guy, but Atlanta should ensure that he (or whoever they draft in 2024) has a great situation to work with. They locked up a pair of key offensive lineman already this offseason, but the receiving room looks a little light after trading Calvin Ridley. Drake London can be the X receiver on the outside, but they still need an automatic slot weapon to take some pressure off London. Smith-Njigba is a quick-twitch receiver who runs crisp routes, has great hands, and has shown the ability to make miracle plays in the past.
Chicago Bears – Pick 9: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
Chicago committed to at least one more season of polarizing QB Justin Fields by trading down from the No. 1 overall pick. Fields has flashed, but still must develop consistency passing to be a true franchise QB. Either way, that offensive line is sketchy at best. Skoronski is probably the safest OL in this draft due to his firm technique and position versatility. I am drafting Skoronski as a “best five” lineman as opposed to a true left tackle, but I truly think he can play both inside and outside. I almost put Darnell Wright at this spot, but I felt Skoronski was a little safer.
Philadelphia Eagles – Pick 10: Devon Witherspoon, DB, Illinois
The only real hole in the Eagles roster is safety and Witherspoon is probably the best safety in this class. Despite playing his college ball at CB, Witherspoon has shown the ability to be physical, diagnose plays and get around the ball. Eagles fans should love his violent run support and ability to play multiple spots and he slides into an already stacked Eagles lineup.
Tennessee Titans – Pick 11: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Oh boy. Tennessee looks to be in a downward spiral. The Titans struggled last season, and now could be moving Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill, sending them into full rebuild mode. As a draft strategy, the best way to get ahead of an otherwise mid roster is to stack up the trenches, and Wright is a great start. He’s a hulking player who weighs in at over 330 lbs, but can move very well for his size. He should start at right tackle instantly and be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Houston Texas – Pick 12: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
It’s deja vu for the Texans as they select yet another Georgia defensive lineman. Though this time, they grab a fiery prospect off the edge. Smith has a smaller frame, but his first step, pass rush arsenal and shocking power make him an elite prospect. It would not shock me if Smith finishes his career with the most sacks of any 2023 prospect. Drafting a second defensive lineman may seem redundant, but this is a massive need, and new head coach DeMeco Ryans does not play around when it comes to stacking dogs up front.
Green Bay Packers – Pick 13: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
The Packers’ secondary allowed seven yards per carry last season, and has holes at safety and nickel. Branch has experience at both positions, so I would expect him to see starting reps next season. At Alabama, Branch showed that he could cover well in both man and zone, blitz effectively and lay the big hit on ball carriers. Adding a dynamic nickel DB means that Green Bay can help limit the plethora of NFC superstar receivers that work out of the slot.
New England Patriots – Pick 14: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
Defense isn’t the Patriots biggest need, but Banks is just that good at football. New England desperately needs a true outside cornerback, and Banks is a perfect fit. He is elite when shutting down go routes, changes direction well and can play the press coverage that Bill Belichick loves. He may not be the fastest player in the class, but the Patriots have a couple of other ace athletes in the secondary that can help cover whatever speed demons may lurk in Miami.
New York Jets – Pick 15: Paris Johnson Jr., OL, Ohio State
Welcome to Gotham City, Aaron Rodgers! The Jets have gone out of their way to give Rodgers his favorite targets at WR, and now it’s time to make sure he can deliver the ball. Johnson will come into camp to fight Mekhi Beckton for the left tackle spot, but if Beckton can make good on his first round pedigree, Johnson will have no problem fitting in at guard. Johnson is a very cerebral yet athletic tackler who recently went viral for his ability to mirror his pass sets almost perfectly. Look for him to be Rodgers’ favorite rookie.
Washington Commanders – Pick 16: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Same thing you’ve heard a few times in this mock draft already: Protect the QB, build up the trenches, win more football games. Got it. Jones is a special prospect, though. He weighs in at 310 pounds and boasts a 68-inch wingspan, yet he can somehow pull across the formation as a tackle. He’s one of the rare offensive tackles that can actually open up your playbook with his mobility. He can develop into an elite pass protector as edge rushers get more and more athletic.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Pick 17: Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
The NFC North is a division for goons, and Van Ness is the definition of a goon. His corn-fed 270-pound frame packs about as much power as a tractor with a jet engine, and he is ready to put it to work. Van Nesshas shown a lot of elite traits in his limited college tape, but will need to round out his skill set with some counter moves to his Pamplona-esque bull rush. If he can add some finesse to his game, he will be a wrecking ball. Until then, he will simply scalp whatever offensive tackle stands in his way.
Detroit Lions – Pick 18: Keeanu Benton, IDL, Wisconsin
This is probably not who you expected to see at 18, but I don’t care. The idea of having four stud defensive lineman all under the age of 23 is too exciting to pass up. Benton has a rare burst for interior defensive lineman, and has showcased a deep bag of moves that he can use to blockers. He should add a lot of value to a Lions front looking to kill QBs and beat offenses with a metal bat.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Pick 19: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
This is another boom or bust pick. Levis is very far from being a finished product, but he does have a rare skill set that you sorta just need to bet on. He’s like a diet Richardson in terms of prospect grade, but Tampa Bay could benefit from letting him develop under a wily veteran in Baker Mayfield. This is a weird pick; it will either go very well or very poorly.
Seattle Seahawks – Pick 20: O’Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Florida
Seattle already got their QB of the future, now it’s time to get a mauler up front. Seattle has long had offensive line problems, but landing a pair of starting tackles last year was more than clutch. Unfortunately, what lies in between Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas sorta sucks. Torrence gives the Seahawks some tooth on the inside, and can help open running lanes for star rookie Kenneth Walker.
Los Angeles Chargers – Pick 21: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Robinson ties Carter for my highest graded player in the class. He is hellfire in pads. He runs through linebackers, around cornerbacks and over safeties. He can run routes from the slot, catch screens and block passes. Do the Chargers need another running back? No, but if you give a millionaire a check, he’ll cash it.
Baltimore Ravens – Pick 22: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Odell Beckham Jr. does not solve the WR issue in Baltimore. The Ravens have not had a competitive group of wide outs for years–maybe since before Lamar Jackson was even there. Their unwillingness to draft adequate pass catchers has nearly driven one of the brightest stars in professional football out of the building. Addison is a fast, fluid receiver who has a very polished skill set. He should allow Jackson to connect on the deep ball more often.
Minnesota Vikings – Pick 23: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
This may seem like a weird pick given the Marcus Davenport signing, but one must remember that is just a one-year deal. Getting Murphy at 23 is almost criminal. He is a great athlete who looked the best on tape in 2021 before a new defensive coordinator hurt his draft stock. Having a three-man combo of Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport and Murphy spells disaster for opponents in 2023 and beyond. Look for Murphy to rotate in 2023 before taking over as the starter going forward.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Pick 24: Clark Phillips, CB, Utah
Honestly, this was the hardest pick of the draft. Phillips projects best as a slot cornerback at the next level, and the Jags could use his skill set now. He is a willing tackler who brings flair to the secondary, and he has demonstrated the scrappy mentality loved in Duval county. Phillips has some inside/outside versatility as well, but given Jacksonville’s needs at the slot position, that’s where I would put him to start his career. Look for Phillips to create turnovers and make plenty of plays around the line of scrimmage.
New York Giants – Pick 25: John Michael-Schmitz, IOL, Minnesota
Michael-Schmitz is a really fun prospect for New York. Much like Broderick Jones, he has very impressive mobility skills and can pull either direction from the center spot. New York just brought back Saquon Barkley, and I expect the offense to run through him in every manner. Giants fans will be refreshed by the athleticism Michael-Schmitz brings to the position. Adding Michael-Schmitz and moving Ben Bredeson back to guard helps the G-men get their best five on the field.
Dallas Cowboys – Pick 26: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The Cowboys are loading up on offense. CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup and Tony Pollard are one of the scariest groups in the league. The only issue is that Jake Ferguson is slated to start at tight end right now. Mayer will likely be really good, but really boring in the NFL. He’s a good blocker, runs good routes, plays physical over the middle and can make some great contested catches. He is probably going to be a 800-1000 yard receiver every year. Nothing special, but any time you can get a safe starter it’s a good day.
Buffalo Bills – Pick 27: Mazi Smith, IDL, Michigan
The Bills seriously struggled to stop the run after DaQuan Jones went down with an injury late in season. Mazi Smith is going to be the band-aid for that injury. He is another hulking nose tackle who can come in as a 0-tech and absolutely eat up space in running situations. His freaky athleticism can let him kick out to a three or four technique and be just as effective getting to the ball carrier. He is a true lawnmower who can dismantle blocks, generate push as a pass rusher and cripple offensive run games.
Cincinnati Bengals – Pick 28: Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
After three years of struggling, Cincinnati finally has a good starting five on the offensive line. Signing Orlando Brown to protect the blind side was a great first step, and Dawand Jones is the perfect guy to come in on the other side. At 6-foot-8 and 370 pounds, Jones blocks out the sun. He is nearly impossible to get around, can move bodies in the run game and is generally a mammoth of a person. Joe Burrow should be relieved that the Bengals finally surround him with a quality group of blockers after years of suffering.
New Orleans Saints, Pick 29: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Derek Carr likes his tight ends, and Kincaid is probably the best pure pass catcher at the position in this draft. He routinely flashes elite ball tracking and quick reflexes to make catches away from his body, a skill that is rare to find in a body his size. New Orleans is looking to win a very, very soft NFC South this season, and adding a weapon over the middle may give them the leg up they need. Juwan Johnson played solid last season, but Kincaid gives them a much higher ceiling and the ability to utilize dual TE fronts.
Philadelphia Eagles, Pick 30: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
The Eagles are all in for next season. Philly already boasts a strong receiving core with AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, but the pickings get very slim after that. Flowers will slide in instantly as a big play threat who adds a lot of yards-after-catch ability. Expect the Eagles to use him in the slot and on plays designed to get the ball in Flowers’s hands early to maximize his big play potential. It’s an arms race in the NFL next season, and Philly does not want to get left behind.
Kansas City Chiefs, Pick 31: Will McDonald, EDGE, Iowa State
Kansas City is going to need to replace Frank Clark. They have a number of strong pass rushers, but all of them seem to be power-first guys, and a curveball is much needed to diversify the defenses portfolio. McDonald is an explosive athlete who can get after the passer by beating tackles to the corner. At Iowa State, McDonald fell victim to the three man front schemes commonly employed to stop spread offenses, so he was not allowed to fully flourish in college. He was able to flash an advanced menu pass rush moves, though, so his transition to the NFL should be pretty seamless.
The first round of the NFL Draft is on Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m. CDT on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network.