The draft season is upon us. I wanted to wait until the full order was set, if not until after the combine, to write one of these but I just can’t help myself. Anyway, here is Mock Draft 1.0.
#1 Indianapolis Colts (F/CHI) – QB Bryce Young, Alabama
Colts Receive: #1
Bears Receive: #4, #35, 2024 first rounder
I recently laid out Chicago’s trade market with the first pick of the draft. At this point I think the Colts are the most logical trade partner. Jim Irsay must be out of patience with this veteran roulette, Chris Ballard is on the hot, and new coaches are often paired with new quarterbacks. The Bears, meanwhile, can stay in the top 4 and, assuming Houston takes a quarterback themselves, still land one of Will Anderson or Jalen Carter.
The one added layer I did not realize is that Ballard worked with Ryan Poles for four years in the Chiefs’ front office. That relationship could make hashing out a deal a simpler process.
#2 Houston Texans – QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Stroud’s performance, particularly in the first half, against Georgia has to be one of the most impressive showcases in at least 15 years. Seriously, not since Rodgers went into SC and out dueled Leinart have I been so impressed. Maybe this is part recency bias, part I am forgetting plenty of other standouts, but that’s the first thing that comes to mind.
There seems to be a unanimous effort to push Will Levis up draft boards by the media. He has all the physical ability, and the order in which the top three quarterbacks come off the board is going to come down to personal preference. For now, however, I don’t see Stroud falling out of the top two. His accuracy and ability to read the field are prerequisite traits to succeed in the NFL. Maybe teams don’t feel Stroud’s upside is there due to a “lack” of mobility (he looked plenty spry against Georgia), but given Young’s size concerns and Levis’s poor play in 2022, Stroud may be deemed the “safest” quarterback, and Houston cannot afford to get this pick wrong.
#3 Arizona Cardinals – Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
This pick, assuming it isn’t traded, will be either Anderson or Carter. It’s hard to project which before the Cardinals have their coaching staff in place, so for now we’re just going to go with positional value being the tie breaker.
#4 Chicago Bears (F/IND) – DT Jalen Carter, Georgia
In this scenario Chicago just takes who Arizona doesn’t. If I were the Bears, however, I would try to trade down again (between Levis and Carter, someone will want this pick), and get into territory where your favorite offensive tackle or receiver isn’t a reach. Fields’ development must be priority one, two, and three for this franchise. Accumulate picks and surround him with everything he needs.
#5 Carolina Panthers (F/SEA/DEN) – QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Panthers Receive: #5
Seahawks Receive: #9, #39, #60, #92, 2024 third rounder
Your initial reaction to this may be “no future first?! Who let you have a keyboard?!” First off, the Apple Store let me have a keyboard. Second, neither the Darnold or Josh Allen trades involved a future first. Third, Seattle may be most incentivized to seek out the mythological value bump of present-year picks over future picks. Unlike other potential bidders for this pick (Las Vegas, Atlanta, Washington, Tampa Bay), Carolina has two seconds this year, which might be more attractive to the 72-in-September Pete Carroll.
Besides, if Carolina sent just 9, 39, 60, and 92 for 5, the Seahawks would be profiting 21.9 points according to the Chase Stuart draft chart. For those keeping track at home, when building out potential trade packages for the Bears, we were looking for a profit range 22.7 – 29.1 based on historical precedent of top 5 trades. 21.9 is pretty close, but the Panthers still add a 2024 third to sweeten, and close, the deal.
The Carolina motivation is obvious. David Tepper, like Irsay, must be sick of quarterback musical chairs. Also like the Colts, the Panthers will have a new coach who very well could pair himself with a new quarterback. The NFC South is wide open, especially if Brady leaves. I actually think one of the Panthers or Falcons will end up trading for Carr (I’d say more likely Atlanta) and the other will trade up for the 3rd quarterback off the board.
#6 Detroit Lions (F/LAR) – Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
In the two seasons since signing his extension, Romeo Okwara has played in 9 total games and totaled 3 sacks. Cutting him would save the Lions $7.5 million in cap space. Tyree Wilson has a claim as the best player on the board and pairing him with Aidan Hutchinson would create an elite young-pass-rushing duo.
#7 Las Vegas Raiders – CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
The Raiders need so much help it’s easy to envision them trading down to accumulate picks. It’s also possible they trade up if they fall in love with one of the three quarterbacks. For now, we’re going to have them sit right here and take their favorite corner. This defense is so bad, ranking 31st on DVOA, and it needs a boost. I think a handful of the corners are going to rise during the pre-draft process, and one of them will find their way into the top 10.
Given Gonzalez’s size, ball skills, and what people anticipate him doing at the combine, he’s my bet for shooting up the draft the most. In a division where Las Vegas has to deal with Mahomes, Herbert, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Jerry Jeudy, and Courtland Sutton, they need better coverage.
#8 Atlanta Falcons – RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
I agree that Tyler Allgeier is not getting the credit he deserves for his rookie season. Yes, Cordarrelle Patterson is a legend. Hell even Avery Williams looked nice during the year. But none of that is going to stop this team from taking Bijan Robinson if that’s what they want to do. The Colts traded up to get Jonathan Taylor despite Marlon Mack coming off a 1,000-yard, 8 touchdown season. The Jets traded up to get Breece Hall despite Michael Carter’s near 1,000-total-yard rookie year. The Seahawks traded up to get Kenneth Walker despite Rashaad Penny putting up 671 yards and 6 touchdowns over the last 5 games of 2021. These types of running backs don’t prevent teams from getting a stud if that’s what the team wants to do.
We all know Sir Arthur wants to #EstablishIt. Run schemes are his wheelhouse. He can rotate the current three backs, or he can just have a workhorse like he had in Tennessee with Derrick Henry. As for Terry Fontenot, the first draft pick he (and Smith) made was Kyle Pitts. Point being, they took a tight end over a quarterback (Fields or Mac), wide receiver (Ja’Marr Chase) and offensive tackle (Penei Sewell), so they don’t seem to be beholden to positional value.
#9 Seattle Seahawks (F/CAR) – Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
The trade down with Carolina makes a lot of sense. First, the Carroll/Schneider regime is always liable to trade down. Second, picking in the back half of the top ten, I’d image three prospects would top Seattle’s wish list; Tyree Wilson, Myles Murphy, and Brian Bresee. If the Seahawks drop from 5 to 9, they know they’re trading 5 to a team taking a quarterback. Therefore, all three of those players would have to come off the board from 6-8 in this scenario for Seattle to get screwed, and I’m going to peg that as very doubtful.
Murphy, along with Wilson and Bresee, all make sense for the Seahawks as they fit what Seattle wants out of lineman. Additionally, Pete Carroll specifically called out needing better play up front after the loss to San Francisco.
How far away from the 49ers are the Seahawks in terms of talent? "There’s a distance here," Carroll said. "It’s really because of what they have up front. Their front seven is really, really well equipped." Said Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead are a "problem every snap."
— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) January 16, 2023
#10 Philadelphia Eagles (F/NO) – CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Howie Roseman is going to trade at least one of these first rounders. He may be inclined to utilize this one, however, since he’s assuming he won’t have the opportunity to pick this high again any time soon (if all goes according to plan).
James Bradberry is a free agent and it doesn’t seem as if Philadelphia will be able to retain him.
#11 Tennessee Titans – OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
Taylor Lewan is entering his age 32 season, coming off injury, and is a free agent in 2024. Neither Dillon Radunz nor Nicholas Petit-Frere have shown enough in their brief careers to prevent the Titans from taking the best offensive tackle in the draft here.
#12 Houston Texans (F/CLE) – WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
It is very commonplace for teams to pair their shiny new quarterback with a brand new weapon. The Jets drafted Elijah Moore in the second after taking Zach Wilson. The Bengals drafted Tee Higgins in the second after selecting Joe Burrow. The Cardinals took Christian Kirk in the second after taking Josh Rosen. The Lions took Brandon Pettigrew after taking Matthew Stafford (lol).
Brandin Cooks wants out of Houston. Whether or not the team grants that wish is TBD, but the Texans need more weapons regardless. I do think Johnston ultimately lands in the top-15 and is the first receiver off the board, as he has size (6’4″ 215lb) in a small receiver class will be coveted, and he’s expected to light up the combine.
#13 New York Jets – OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
George Fant is a free agent and entering his age 31 season. Duane Brown has another year left on his deal but played poorly last year and is entering his age 38 season. And who the fuck knows what to expect out of Mehki Becton at this point, plus he’s only under contract for one more year. I don’t care if it’s Zach Wilson, Mike White, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers, or Anthony Richardson, the Jets need to fix this mess.
#14 New England Patriots – S/CB Brian Branch, Alabama
An assignment sound, matchup chess piece that has experience playing all over the field and was coached by Nick Saban? This has to be Belichick’s dream player at 14.
#15 Green Bay Packers – OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
I don’t know how the Packers are viewing their offensive tackle position long-term. Bakhtiari has missed 22 games over the past three seasons. Does the team want Elgton Jenkins to settle in at tackle or guard? Did they see enough out of Zach Tom to bet on his development? I don’t know. But what I do know is they cannot allow themselves to be put in a position again where Yosh Nijman is playing significant snaps.
#16 Washington Commanders – DT Brian Bresee, Clemson
I have no clue what Washington is going to do with Carson Wentz. They can cut him and save $26 million in cap space. Even if they do that, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll spend what is necessary to keep Da’Ron Payne in the building.
Brian Bresee was the top high school recruit in the nation in 2020. Due to injuries he never quite maximized his potential at Clemson, but the ability is still visible. He moves differently than most men that weight 300lbs and he can be lined up all across the defensive front. I do think he works his way into the top 15 of the draft assuming he lights up, and clears the medicals at, the combine.
#17 Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
If the Steelers are going to have to deal with this Burrow-Chase connection for the next billion years, they need someone to cover Chase. Good for Cameron Sutton for working his way into a competent corner after spending his first three seasons not getting much playing time, but the team may not be able to retain him in free agency. Even if they do, they could still use either an upgrade across from him or a true number one corner.
#18 Detroit Lions – CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
Last year when the Lions had two first rounders they went flying up the board to get Jameson Williams. Armed with a second first and two seconds, Detroit may again get aggressive and move up from 18, perhaps with Howie at 10 if Philadelphia does want to fall back.
Anyway, the Lions spend another resource in an effort to fix their 28th ranked defense by DVOA. Jeff Okudah’s career has unfortunately been marred by injuries, but even he if does fulfill his potential Detroit still needs someone across from him as well. Cam Smith is an aggressive corner who knows how to get his hands on the football. He has 4 INTs and another 15 pass breakups on 70 targets over the past two seasons. I think he’ll be someone Dan Campbell covets.
#19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OT Anton Harrison, Oklahoma
The Bucs, who are in cap hell, can save almost $10 million by cutting Donovan Smith. I’m not saying they will, but hard decisions will be made. If Brady leaves they might just tear the whole thing down. Regardless, Smith is a free agent in 2024, at which point Brady will definitely be gone, and the franchise will be resetting. Investing in a future bookend to pair with Tristan Wirfs can ease the forthcoming turbulence.
#20 Seattle Seahawks – OG O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
It wouldn’t be the NFL draft without Seattle doing something weird. The Seahawks can use better interior offensive line play, and Torrence is a powerful guard that can create holes in the run game which will sure grab Carroll’s attention.
#21 Los Angeles Chargers – DT Siaki Ika, Baylor
Remember last year when everyone’s favorite mock draft pairing was the Chargers and Jordan Davis? Well, despite the investments in free agency, Los Angeles still finished 29th in rush defense DVOA last year. Siaki Ika is a 6’4″ 358lb monster that can eat double teams and apply some pressure on the quarterback.
#22 Baltimore Ravens – WR Jordan Addison, USC
Baltimore needs more weapons, we all know this. It’s two years later and we’re still not sure what Rashod Bateman is (though he’s probably pretty good). This pass game just needs more, and Addison is a crafty route runner with the speed for all three levels of the field.
#23 Minnesota Vikings – S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
If you watched the Vikings playoff game you are also assuming this pick is going to be used on defense. Johnson has safety/nickel-corner versatility and a wide tackling radius given his length. Minnesota can deploy him in multiple ways in their defense.
#24 Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia
I’m curious to see what happens with Ringo as it appears he’s all over the place on boards right now. He’s a massive corner with ability but he never really put it all together while at Georgia. Jacksonville could use the secondary help.
#25 New York Giants – TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
The Giants selecting a receiver is going to be a common mock draft projection this year. However, the buzz is already how the value at receiver this year is in the second round, so instead New York grabs the best tight end in the class.
#26 Dallas Cowboys – CB Clark Phillips II, Utah
The sixth(!) corner off the board in the first. Dallas has a nice find in DaRon Bland and Jourdan Lewis will be back, but team can still use an upgrade across from Diggs.
#27 Buffalo Bills – WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
The Bengals may have exposed Buffalo’s defense as not a truly elite unit, but let’s stay a little level headed here. The Bills finished 4th in defensive DVOA, so while Joe Burrow and Company embarrassed them, they’re not garbage. I will say, however, while I don’t know the splits are for Buffalo’s defense with and without Von Miller, he is now headed into his age 34 season coming off a torn ACL.
The bigger point is, I don’t think Buffalo is going to force anything at this pick. They can go a receiver, offensive line, or corner and we’re all going to say “yea, ok, that makes sense,” even with them taking Elam in the first last year.
Let me just remind you how good Jaxon Smith-Njigba is: in 2021, with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave on the team, Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes for 1,606 yards and 9 touchdowns. In the Rose Bowl against Utah he put up 15-347-3. Don’t let his hamstrings make you forget who this dude is.
#28 Cincinnati Bengals – LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Cincinnati fans may not like this since both Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt enjoyed breakout seasons in 2022. First off, you shouldn’t just assume this is their new normal (though you can’t rule it out either). Second, the Bengals are about to enter a whole new world of cap management after the 2023 season. The team will have to pick up Borrow’s 5th-year option for 2024 and hand him an extension. Upcoming Cincinnati free agents in 2023 include Jessie Bates, Von Bell, and Germaine Pratt, while 2024 free agents include Tee Higgins, D.J. Reader, Jonah Williams, Logan Wilson, and Akeem Davis-Gaither.
The Bengals simply cannot keep everyone. Both Hayden Hurst and Drew Sample are free this year too, so I did considered Luke Musgrave here. Ultimately, Cincinnati opts for the defensive infusion and banks on Burrow producing enough offense.
#29 Denver Broncos (F/MIA/SF) – Edge Nolan Smith, Georgia
Denver acquired this pick for trading Bradley Chubb to Miami. It’s hard to know if Smith would fit this defense due to his size limitations before a coaching staff is in place, but he presents a tremendous amount of upside at this point in the draft.
#30 New Orleans Saints (F/PHI) – QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Saints Receive: #30
Seahawks Receive: #40, #71
Howie and Loomis strike another deal. The Eagles move around the board, because that’s what they do, and the Saints go and get what they hope is their long-term solution at quarterback.
#31 Kansas City Chiefs – Edge Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
The Chiefs can save $21 million against the cap by cutting Frank Clark. Van Ness is a powerful edge defender with upside due to his physical tools.
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