Post-NFL season can be a drag for NFL fans. After the conclusion of the Super Bowl, fans of the sport have to wait six months to see any kind of football again. The draft cycle (and, to an extent, free agency) can be an exciting time for some as a result.
The process of getting to the NFL Draft, however, is an exhausting one. You have the NFL Combine, and then you have various pro days. Pre-draft circuits include scouting reports from every corner of the internet.
But we’re almost there! The draft is a little over a month away, which means I can kick things off with my first mock draft of the cycle. Each week, I’ll be offering a first-round-only NFL Mock Draft. During the draft week, I’ll create a mock for each day of the draft itself.
For those unfamiliar with the draft process, it’s broken into three days. Day 1 is the first round. Day 2 is the second and third rounds. The last day of the NFL Draft is the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds.
Here is my first 2023 NFL Mock Draft:
- Carolina Panthers (via Chicago Bears) select C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
- Houston Texans select Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
- Arizona Cardinals select Jalen Carter, iDL, Georgia
- Indianapolis Colts select Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
- Seattle Seahawks select Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
- Detroit Lions select Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
- Las Vegas Raiders select Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
- Atlanta Falcons select Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
- Chicago Bears (via Carolina Panthers) select Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
- Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans Saints) select Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
- Tennessee Titans select Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
- Houston Texans (via Cleveland Browns) select Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
- The New York Jets select Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
- The New England Patriots select Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
- The Green Bay Packers select Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
- The Washington Commanders select Christian Gonzales, CB, Oregon
- The Pittsburgh Steelers select Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
- The Detroit Lions select Calijah Kancey, iDL, Pittsburgh
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Bryan Bresee, iDL, Clemson
- The Seattle Seahawks select O’Cyrus Torrence, iOL, Florida
- The Miami Dolphins forfeit their selection
- The Los Angeles Chargers select Jordan Addison, WR, USC
- The Baltimore Ravens select Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
- The Minnesota Vikings select Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
- The Jacksonville Jaguars select Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
- The New York Giants select Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
- The Dallas Cowboys select Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
- The Buffalo Bills select Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
- The Cincinnati Bengals select Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
- The New Orleans Saints (via San Francisco 49ers) select Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
- The Philadelphia Eagles select Steve Avila, iOL, TCU
- The Kansas City Chiefs select Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Here are some draft pick breakdowns:
Pick 3: Jalen Carter over Will Anderson
Both of these players are going to be stars in the NFL. Anderson is a foundational piece as a pass rusher who should immediately offer double-digit sack potential as a rookie. However, Jalen Carter remains the number one prospect on my board. If not for the behind-the-scenes concerns, I still think Chicago would stay at #1 and drafts Carter. Remember, scouts were saying Carter was the highest-ceiling player on a Georgia defense last season that featured Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, and other first-round picks.
Pick 8: Nolan Smith to the Atlanta Falcons
It’s no secret that the Atlanta Falcons need a ton of help on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve started to address these concerns already in free agency. They added former Bengals star safety Jessie Bates III on a four-year deal. Former Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss and defensive tackle David Onyemata have joined Atlanta on three-year deals as well. Nolan Smith can be another defensive addition to the Falcons roster. The former Georgia standout had an immensely successful NFL Combine – posting a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 238 lbs. He also posted an insane 41.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump. The Falcons keep local talent on their team and improve their defense mightily as well.
Pick 9: Jaxon Smith-Njigba (JSN) to the Chicago Bears
Drafting college pairs on offense is all the rage now. Joe Burrow has Ja’Marr Chase. Tua Tagovailoa has Jaylen Waddle. Jalen Hurts has Devonta Smith. Now Justin Fields gets to join the fun when the Bears reunite him with JSN, one of his star wide receivers at the Ohio State University. JSN is the most complete route runner in the entire class and would be a threat to win Offensive Rookie of the Year playing with Fields. Imagine if the Bears offense goes from having Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool as its top-2 WRs last season to D.J. Moore and JSN this season.
Pick 14: Brian Branch to the New England Patriots
There are surely going to be Patriots fans who are upset that I didn’t select a wide receiver here. There’s validity to that outrage – as the Pats do need a legit wide receiver to join their offense, particularly if Jakobi Meyers leaves. That said, Brian Branch just feels like a New England pick. He’s extraordinarily versatile, being able to play cornerback or safety. His ability to diagnose plays pre-snap, matched with his high football IQ, and both scream “Bill Belichick player.” The Patriots also have a need in their defensive backfield since this will be the first time since 2009 that they haven’t had Devin McCourty at safety.
Pick 28: Bijan Robinson to the Buffalo Bills
I’m all for the devaluation of running backs in today’s NFL, but this is a scenario where the rich get richer. The Buffalo Bills are in a unique position to draft Robinson in the first. They don’t really have another guy in his stratosphere on their offense currently, and I think James Cook is best utilized as a third-down, pass-catching back. Robinson is the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley entered the NFL. Adding him to an offense with Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs just feels unfair.
Pick 32: Michael Mayer to the Kansas City Chiefs
I thought about the Chiefs drafting a guy like Jalin Hyatt at this juncture, but when I realized Mayer was still on my board, the choice was easy. Mayer can learn from Travis Kelce, one of the greatest tight ends of all time, and provide Patrick Mahomes with another sure-handed target in the intermediate passing game. Can you imagine trying to defend a Mahomes-led offense with Andy Reid at the helm, featuring the best tight end in football plus a young stud like Mayer? Good luck.