Thursday night is going to be exciting. No one knows for sure what the Texans will do at No. 2. Quarterback landing spots are very much still up in the air. And there’s plenty of buzz around teams looking to trade up or down the first-round board. Putting together my final mock for the 2023 NFL draft was no easy task.
After all the prep work, including numerous last-minute calls with sources around the league, I’m projecting all 31 picks in Round 1 one more time. Remember, these predictions are based on what I think each team will do, rather than what I think it should do. (And you can tune into ESPN/ABC/ESPN+ or follow live on Draftcast at 8 p.m. ET to find out what every team actually did do.)
The fun starts early in this mock, and I even projected a trade for one of the first round’s more interesting teams. Where will the top quarterbacks land? Which prospects could be surprise selections? How will teams with multiple first-rounders approach their picks? And will we see some chaos in the top 10? Let’s take a look with my final projection of Round 1 for 2023.
Mel Kiper’s final mock draft
McShay’s top 350 prospects
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
We’ve been projecting Young here for a while, and there’s no reason to change anything now. He appears set to become the No. 1 pick and the new franchise quarterback for the Panthers — who desperately need one. You won’t hear any arguments with the choice from me; Young is my No. 1 overall prospect. I love his poise and off-platform ability, and he can make every NFL-level throw. But can Carolina improve his supporting cast on Day 2?
Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech
We’ve heard the buzz about Houston passing on the quarterbacks in this spot all week. This defense needs reinforcements — it allowed 5.7 yards per play last year (26th) — and Wilson is coming off his second straight seven-sack season. Why Wilson over Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr.? Look at the kind of player that new coach DeMeco Ryans had success with during his time in San Francisco — guys like Nick Bosa. The Niners thrive with length and power off the edge, and that’s what Wilson would bring to Ryans’ new team in Houston.
PROJECTED TRADE: Titans move up for a QB
If Houston does not take a quarterback, as we projected here, I expect Tennessee to get aggressive in exploring a trade up. And it’s no secret that Arizona wants to move out of the No. 3 spot. The Titans can jump a handful of QB-needy teams, while the Cardinals can slide back into a more favorable range for some of the prospects they might be targeting. The price of doing business for Tennessee would likely be something in the ballpark of a 2023 second-round pick (No. 41) and a 2024 first- or second-round pick.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
The push over the edge for the Titans here is Stroud still being on the board at No. 3. He is the best pure passer in this draft class, showing excellent ball placement and touch to all three levels of the field. Ryan Tannehill is turning 35 years old, and Malik Willis didn’t look like the answer when he saw the field last season. Stroud could take the Titans’ offense to another level — if their front office finds a way to upgrade the team’s pass-catchers.
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The Levis love in Indianapolis is real. The Colts obviously want to halt the swinging door of underperforming veteran quarterbacks, and using this high pick on a potential franchise signal-caller has always been the plan. With Levis, the physical traits are really exciting — he’s 6-foot-4 with a huge arm and mobility. If he puts it all together, the ceiling is high. But the question will be whether new coach Shane Steichen can iron out his footwork issues and improve his touch. Levis threw 23 interceptions over the past two seasons.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Similar to Levis in the previous slot, Richardson’s potential is off the charts, but he has some work to do. That’s why I like this fit. In Seattle, he can learn behind Geno Smith, who signed a new three-year contract that could end up being just a one-year deal. It would be hard to pass on top-tier defensive linemen, but the Seahawks have four picks in the first two rounds and are presented with an opportunity to land their QB of the future. Richardson has the strongest arm in the class and is electric as a runner. Sitting behind Smith would give him the chance to improve his accuracy.
Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama
I think there’s a solid chance this ends up being Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, but I also don’t think there’s any shot the Lions would pass on Anderson if he’s on the board here. This would be two straight years that they were gift-wrapped the class’ top edge rush prospect (Aidan Hutchinson in 2022). Anderson, with an explosive first step and powerful hands, paired with Hutchinson and James Houston would take this Detroit defense to another level. Anderson had 27.5 sacks over the past two years at Alabama.
The plays that will have NFL QBs dreading Will Anderson Jr.
Check out LB Will Anderson Jr.’s highlights over his career at Alabama ahead of the NFL draft.
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
I considered offensive tackle here, as neither Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. nor Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski would surprise me for the Raiders. But the bigger need is at cornerback, where Las Vegas lacks impact playmakers and depth. The Raiders tied for last in the NFL in interceptions last season (six), too. Gonzalez has great size, speed and length, and he picked off four passes last season.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
What a pick this would be for the Falcons, who could put Witherspoon opposite A.J. Terrell to shut down opponent receiving corps every Sunday. I love Witherspoon’s physicality and instincts in coverage, and he can make plays on the ball. He intercepted three passes last season and broke up 14 more. As an aside, I do think Texas running back Bijan Robinson could be in consideration, but more so if Atlanta moves back from No. 8.
Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
I mentioned this on Monday in my buzz file, but I think the Bears at No. 9 is the floor for Carter. Imagine moving back from No. 1 to No. 9 and adding a package of picks and a new WR1 in DJ Moore, and then still somehow getting arguably the top prospect in the entire class? What a huge win this would be for GM Ryan Poles. Yes, there are off-field concerns with Carter, as he just pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in connection with a fatal January crash. But I believe he’s going in the top 10, and he has every necessary tool to quickly become a star interior pass-rusher in the NFL while also plugging gaps against the run. Coach Matt Eberflus’ defense relies on the 3-technique position, and Carter’s potential there is very high.
Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia
The Eagles are an interesting team at the back end of the top 10. I could see a trade back happening, maybe connected to Bijan Robinson. I could see them targeting an offensive lineman here. I could see a powerful edge rusher like Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness being in play, too. But I ultimately went with Smith, who has terrific speed and suddenness off the edge. He actually reminds me quite a bit of Haason Reddick, who turned in 16 sacks for Philadelphia last season. With the defensive line aging, Smith could have an immediate impact both as a pass-rusher and run defender.
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
I’ve heard that the Cardinals like Johnson, and they can still get him here at No. 11 after the projected trade-down. The Arizona offensive line is a big need, especially with Kyler Murray returning from a torn ACL. Johnson not only has the size, length and quickness to improve protection but also the versatility to play multiple positions.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
There is still a chance Houston gets a first-round quarterback, and I wouldn’t rule out a trade up from No. 12. After all, the Texans have 12 picks in this draft to work with and an issue under center. But with or without a new QB, this offense lacks playmakers. Smith-Njigba is such a good route runner, and he is so smooth transitioning upfield after the catch. He could immediately become the Texans’ WR1 and give their offense a whole new dimension. Remember, he might have been limited to three games last year (hamstring), but he went for 1,606 yards the previous season.
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Aaron Rodgers was in Green Bay for 18 years, and the Packers didn’t use a single first-round pick on a pass-catcher over that time. So of course they’ll do it three days after he’s traded to the Jets with one of the picks that came back in the deal. Poetic, isn’t it? But seriously, if the Packers are going to find success with Jordan Love under center, they have to help him out. Kincaid is a 6-foot-4 target with speed to threaten vertically or pick up yards after the catch. He’d be a huge addition for Love and the Pack after catching 70 passes for 890 yards in 2022.
Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Yes, Skoronski’s shorter arm length means he might ultimately kick inside to guard at the next level, but there’s no doubting his skill set as both a pass protector and run blocker. The Patriots have two older players at offensive tackle — Trent Brown (30) and Riley Reiff (34) — and their quarterback struggled under pressure last season, as Mac Jones turned in the NFL’s worst QBR in those situations (4.1). This should be a focus for New England on Day 1, and Skoronski is a plug-and-play starter.
Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Despite moving back two spots in the Aaron Rodgers trade, the Jets can still get him one of the top three tackles as a much-needed boost to the protection. Jones was only a full-time starter for one season at Georgia, but he didn’t allow a single sack in 15 starts in 2022. He has the size, length and quickness to solve the Jets’ growing issues at tackle and keep their new 39-year-old quarterback upright.
Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
There’s a lack of cornerback depth in Washington, and Kendall Fuller is entering the final year of his contract. Forbes is slender at 166 pounds but has really good speed and recognition skills. I thought about Maryland’s Deonte Banks or Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr., but Forbes makes more sense because the Commanders mix in a lot of zone coverage — and that’s where he really excels. Oh, and after Washington finished 28th in the NFL in interceptions last season with nine, Forbes’ 14 career picks (and six pick-sixes) would be welcomed.
Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
The Steelers could try a trade up the board for an offensive tackle, but if they stay home at No. 17 and the top three tackles are gone, I could see a pivot to their other top need. They replaced Cameron Sutton with soon-to-be 33-year-old Patrick Peterson, and they could use more help in the cornerback room. Banks excels in press-zone coverage and does a great job re-routing receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Deonte Banks’ NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights that contributed to a stellar college career for Maryland CB Deonte Banks.
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
Remember when the Lions allowed 6.2 yards per play last season, by far the worst in the NFL? Well, I liked what they did in free agency on that side of the ball, and using their two first-round picks to continue shoring up the defensive line could be a savvy move. There are questions about where Kancey plays at the next level since he’s only 281 pounds, but he has the speed and explosion to be a disruptive presence however Detroit uses him. He had 7.5 sacks last season and can make plays against the run on the interior.
Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
This is a team in transition after Tom Brady’s retirement, and Tampa Bay has a big hole at right tackle opposite Tristan Wirfs. The best one in the class is Wright, who excels as a run blocker and has the foot quickness to help give Baker Mayfield and/or Kyle Trask time in the pocket. The Buccaneers only allowed 22 sacks last season, fewest in the league, but they also had Brady getting the ball out faster than any other QB. That won’t be the case in 2023, and Brandon Walton — the current starter at right tackle — has two career starts under his belt, neither of which were on that side.
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Flowers will separate and get behind the defense with his speed, instincts and acceleration. He’d serve as a fantastic third receiver alongside Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, and if the Seahawks turn to Anthony Richardson (our projected pick at No. 5) down the road, I think you’d see a lot of long TD catches for Flowers. He caught 12 touchdowns at BC last season, and four of them were on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
This was a tough one for me because I really don’t think he ends up falling this far. Most of my intel says Robinson should go in the first half of Round 1, potentially as high as No. 8 overall. But with the way the board fell here, he’s available for the Chargers, whose running back (Austin Ekeler) just requested a trade. Robinson is my No. 2 overall prospect, and he does it all. He’s a patient, physical runner with burst. He’s an asset in the pass game. He’s nearly impossible to tackle in the open field. Robinson in this Los Angeles offense could be a lot of fun.
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
The Odell Beckham Jr. signing lightens the need for a receiver a little bit, but I could also see USC’s Jordan Addison here. Still, opponents completed 66.4% of passes against the Ravens last season, and there is currently a hole at cornerback opposite Marlon Humphrey. Porter is physical in coverage, and he forced incompletions on 37.9% of passes thrown his way last season, best in the nation.
Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker is getting legit first-round buzz, and Minnesota makes sense. But without a second-round pick and holding just five selections in the draft, the Vikings have bigger fish to fry. Justin Jefferson is among the elite receivers in the game, but he needs a new running mate with Adam Thielen off to Carolina. Addison is an elusive route runner who had more than 2,400 receiving yards and 25 TD catches over the past two seasons (one at Pitt).
Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa
I could see Van Ness going as high as No. 10 overall, but he could also fall into the latter parts of Round 1. Jacksonville has Josh Allen and Travon Walker off the edge — two recent first-rounders — but Van Ness would bring an element of power. He didn’t start at Iowa but still managed 14 sacks over two seasons and would be starting with the Jags in short order. Van Ness is ranked 15th on my board.
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Yes, the Giants just traded for Darren Waller, but he’s turning 31 years old and hasn’t played a complete season since 2020. And besides, the top three receivers are off the board and Mayer — my No. 19 overall prospect — is still available. He’s a different kind of tight end than Waller; he’s a reliable target in the pass game and displays awesome strength after the catch, but he will also take care of business as an in-line blocker.
Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
Dallas missed out on the top two tight ends but can go next man up with Musgrave, who is a 6-foot-6 target with a wide catch radius. NFL teams are really intrigued by his physical traits, and he could immediately become a favorite target of Dak Prescott, offering him a security blanket over the middle of the field and in the red zone. The Cowboys have to get more playmakers on offense.
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Maybe Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs comes to Buffalo? Perhaps the Bills reach to fill the void at linebacker? Maybe there’s a trade down the board that would make sense? I could see any of those options, but to maximize Josh Allen and take some pressure off Stefon Diggs, Buffalo could use another top-tier receiver — especially with Gabe Davis entering a contract year. Johnston is the biggest of the Day 1 receivers at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, but he also has downfield speed.
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
Gibbs has been mentioned a lot to me this week, and I really think he ends up in the first round. At 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds, he isn’t going to be a true three-down back, but he can change an entire offense because of his open-field elusiveness, pass-catching traits and speed. Joe Mixon‘s future in Cincinnati is unclear, and the running back depth chart is light behind him. Want to get back to the Super Bowl? Team Gibbs up with Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The Bengals have two picks on Day 2 and could take advantage of a deep tight end class to further stack the offense, too.
Jahmyr Gibbs’ NFL draft profile
Check out the best highlights that contributed to a stellar college career for Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs.
Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
The Saints were last in pass rush win rate in 2022 (28.5%) and lost Marcus Davenport in free agency. Cameron Jordan had 8.5 sacks last season, but he’s turning 34 years old in July. So it’s definitely time to restock the pass rush. Murphy is a big, long force off the edge who wins with his great take-off quickness.
Brian Branch, S/CB, Alabama
We went with an edge rusher at No. 10, and I think Philly could stay on defense with its second first-rounder. Adding a defensive tackle like Clemson’s Bryan Bresee or Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton fits with how the Eagles build their roster, but what about the versatility and diverse toolbox of Branch in the secondary? The Eagles lost C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps (but signed Terrell Edmunds), and they could benefit with someone like Branch who can play nickel or safety and help in coverage, against the run and even as a blitzer.
Will McDonald IV, OLB, Iowa State
Let’s close out Round 1 with my No. 25-ranked player for the defending Super Bowl champs. McDonald knows how to get to the quarterback, registering 16.5 sacks and 63 pressures since becoming a starter in 2021. The Chiefs added Charles Omenihu to replace Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap, but this unit still has room for improvement. McDonald’s explosion, bend and burst stand out on tape.