Sports Commentary: 2023 NFL First-Round Mock Draft 

Jake Hawkins, Staff Writer

The National Football League season concluded in February, fans waited for the free agency period to occur in March. Now that April has begun, fans have directed their attention to the upcoming NFL draft, which typically takes place in late April. This year, the first round occurs on April 27 and rounds two through seven are on April 28-29. Kansas City, Mo. is hosting the draft as college prospects from all across the country fly in, hoping to be selected to an NFL organization to further their career. 

A mock draft is one’s prediction of which teams will select which players in the draft based on various reasons. This mock draft will not include picks being traded — when teams trade draft picks and/or players to other teams, fluctuating a team’s draft picks.

Listed below are the abbreviations used for the positions of players selected:

CB – Cornerback, EDGE – Defensive Edge Rusher, WR – Wide Receiver, OL – Offensive Lineman, S – Safety, DT– Inner Defensive Tackle, QB – Quarterback, LB – Linebacker, RB – Running Back, TE – Tight End 

1. Carolina Panthers (Pick acquired from The Chicago Bears)

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

As of now, most have Stroud as the pick to go number one. Various reports, including one from the Panthers’ quarterback coach, reportedly made it clear they would be selecting him. The Panthers traded up to the number one pick, as they believe they have found their future franchise quarterback.

2. Houston Texans

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

The Texans have been in search of a new QB since it was revealed that the previous star, Deshaun Watson, refused to play for Houston and had 22 women file sexual assault/harassment reports against him. Many believe the current QB Davis Mills will not be the future in Houston, as his past season was not very special. Young is expected to be a star despite only being 5’10.

3. Arizona Cardinals

Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

With the Cardinals’ injuries this season along with their mix of unpopular coaching and lack of overall success, most would be surprised to see the Cardinals this high in the draft. Some analysts believe that Arizona would eye somebody like Christian Gonzalez. Anderson Jr. has way too much talent and potential for the Cardinals to pass on.  

4. Indianapolis Colts

Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

The Colts will try to land themselves a generational talent in Anthony Richardson, despite what many believe to be a controversial pick. Richardson’s sophomore season at the University of Florida revealed insane potential, but he has a lack of experience that led to the occasional questionable decision. However, his uncommon yet spectacular athletic plays made it up to fans. Having missed the 2022 playoffs, The Colts do not want to go into rebuild mode as they still hold arguably the best running back in the NFL with Jonathan Taylor, 6 ‘4, 244 pounds, runs a 4.43 40-yard dash and has a 40.5-inch vertical jump. Easily, Richardson ranked first in terms of athleticism for quarterbacks in this draft class.  The Colts will likely make the call to convert the former Gator to an Indianapolis Colt. 

5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver)

Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Even with the controversy surrounding reckless driving and racing connected to killing a teammate, the Seahawks will most likely take Jalen Carter, as they lack a defensive lineman and Carter dominates the offensive line. In his previous season with the Bulldogs, he recorded 32 total tackles, 16 solos, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. If not for Carter being double-teamed on nearly every play this past season, he most likely would have recorded more statistics.

6. Detroit Lions (from L.A. Rams)

Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech 

With the Lions’ great improvement this past season and their achievement of nine wins for the first time since the 2017 season, Head Coach Dan Campbell will look to pair defensive rookie of the year finalist, Aidan Hutchinson, with another EDGE threat on the other side, making for a dangerous defensive line. 

7. Las Vegas Raiders

Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

After pairing Jimmy Garoppolo with Josh Jacobs and Davante Adams in order to address the QB position, both easily some of the best players at their position in the world, the Raiders can now address defensive – a big concern. Drafting Gonzalez, likely the best corner,  would be the best way to start as the Raiders are weakest at the corner by far in their depth chart. 

8. Atlanta Falcons 

Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa 

Myles Murphy is not the necessary pick as the Falcons still have Grady Jarrett; so, the discussion about taking Murphy is out the door. The Falcons might use Van Ness in a few different ways, not just for rushing, as a very athletic and versatile player — just what the Falcons need to make their defense a little more special. 

9. Chicago Bears (from Carolina)

Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern

With the Bears having traded away their number one pick, Justin Fields is clearly the QB they want leading the Bears after proving his worth this past season with impressive rushing yards and breaking the record for most rushing yards ever by a quarterback in a single game. The Bears should focus on protecting their young star by drafting Skoronski, who appears to be a promising offensive lineman that should fit in nicely with the Bears’ scheme. 

10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans)

Brian Branch, S, Alabama

Though most predictions seem to have the Eagles going to the offensive line, a great unit the whole season, with most of them getting older, if the Eagles really want replacements they should draft an offensive lineman in the second round or later. The Eagles lost in the Super Bowl, but still have the same roster exempting safety C.J. Gardner Johnson who went to Detroit — exactly why the Eagles should draft an incredible safety like Branch, who can fill in for Gardner Johnson and help the Eagles get right back to the Super Bowl.

11. Tennessee Titans

Quentin Johnston, WR, Texas Christian

Torn between the receiver and offensive line, I concluded that Quentin Johnston would be the best pick for WR. Currently, the WR for the Titans is Treylon Burks, who has had an unimpressive career on the Titans so far, along with the rest of the WR room. As great as Derrick Henry is, this Tennessee offense needs stronger options and Johnston gives them that at 6’3, 208 pounds, with a 40.5-inch vertical jump and a 4.49-second 40-yard dash. He is athletically gifted and has incredible ball skills that will tremendously help the Titans if they select him. 

12. Houston Texans (from Cleveland)

Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

The Texans would benefit from Nolan Smith, being three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Myles Murphy. He also ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash. The Texans already have Maliek Collins, Sheldon Rankins and Jerry Hughes on their defensive line. They could use somebody different — a smaller, quicker EDGE rusher that can pressure the QB faster than the rest of the defensive line collapses. 

13. New York Jets

Paris Johnson Jr., OL, Ohio State

The Jets had a fantastic draft last year and could look to do the same this year with Johnson. Assuming the Jets do get Aaron Rodgers, they still need to protect him or whoever will be under center for the Jets next season, as the offensive line is the Jet’s biggest concern on their depth chart. Johnson would fit in perfectly at 6’6 and 313 pounds. 

14. New England Patriots

Broderick Jones, OL, Georgia

Every year, Bill Belichick never ceases to amaze me with his decisions in the draft, being nearly impossible to decide who the Patriots will select. Every year Belichick loves to pull a wild card and select somebody out of the blue that nobody was expecting. I have the Patriots selecting Jones with the thought that DeAndre Hopkins does get released and acquired by the team, who have been speculated to select him for some time now. Jones is a lineman — quick on his feet despite being 6’5 and 311 pounds. He is also a lighter offensive lineman, an archetype the Patriots have usually preferred selecting in the past. 

15. Green Bay Packers

Darnell Wright, OL, Tennessee

This pick could shuffle between the positions of OL or WR, but Darnell Wright as the offensive line would aid the Packers, as they lack WR depth with Christian Watson being their only future WR with good potential. I expect the Packers to select Wright with Rogers most likely leaving Green Bay, and I am sure the Packers will want to protect their new quarterback Jordan Love. I have faith that Wright will be able to keep the Packers’ offensive line just as dominant as it has been for the past few seasons. 

16. Washington Commanders 

Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois 

The Commanders have tons of gaps in their roster that need replacement, but I think they will select Witherspoon to try and take their defense to the elite level in the coming years. Witherspoon would pair nicely with Kendall Fuller, especially with the potential Washington’s defensive line has. If the Commanders picked Witherspoon, they could be on the verge of creating one of the best defenses in the league. 

17. Pittsburgh Steelers

Anton Harrison, OL, Oklahoma

As old and weak as the Steelers cornerbacks at the moment are, I believe Harrison will be headed to Pittsburgh. Yes, the Steelers defense lacks depth at the cornerback position, but this defense seems to get the job done every year as the Steelers’ offense is what usually causes their problems. QB Kenny Pickett was solid last season, but not amazing. The Steelers want to see if this kid has what it takes to make the jump to becoming a better player and ultimately the future of Pittsburgh. That being said, I think Mike Tomlin wants to help fix up the Steelers’ offensive line all while giving Pickett the path to success by building him a better offensive line. The first step to doing this will be drafting Harrison.

18. Detroit Lions

Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

This pick took me a while to decide because the Lions recently got Tyree Wilson in this mock draft, a great EDGE rusher to pair with Aidan Hutchinson. With the Lions’ roster being so impressive, I found myself conflicted between tight end and defensive tackle. Ultimately, I went with defensive tackle, as the Lions are probably weaker in that position than cornerback and tight end. Bresee fits the Lions — he’s 6’5 and 300 pounds, but fast for his size. With Bresee, Wilson and Hutchinson coming off the edge, Detroit is going to look extremely scary. 

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State 

It seems the Buccaneers are looking to start Baker Mayfield, so I do not think they will go QB and McDonald IV becomes the correct decision. He is a big and strong EDGE rusher that will provide the Buccaneers with pressure on the QB, something they do not have a ton of at the moment. They need a primary EDGE threat — which McDonald IV gives. 

20. Seattle Seahawks 

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

I could see the Seahawks trading back here to get more draft depth, but I decided to have them go all in and get great value at their draft pick. In the Pro Football Focus draft rankings, Smith-Njigba ranks 12 out of every player in the draft and at pick 20 this value benefits the Seahawks. Now that they have selected Jalen Carter earlier in this draft, they, similarly to the Lions, have left me with a tough decision. Yes, the Seahawks do have DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but Lockett is 30-years-old, and by looking at the rest of the Seahawk’s WR core except for the two names just mentioned, the players are relatively unknown. Seattle lacks so much depth at WR. Smith-Njigba would help Geno Smith even more and make the Seahawk’s offense more elite — making him the right pick for the Seahawks. 

21. Los Angeles Chargers 

Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

With the Chargers already having a stacked roster, it is hard to think of how they never got far in the playoffs last season. Flowers being added to the Chargers would be a blessing in disguise to most Chargers fans. Looking at their depth chart, most would think the last thing they would need is another WR, but consider this: Keenan Allen is 30 and Mike Williams is 28 — both definitely not on the young side of the NFL — and both got injured multiple times last season. Flowers would be great for the Chargers because the Chargers’ four main receiving threats are 6’ 1, 6′ 2, 6’ 3 and 6′ 4. They are a big receiving group, but Flowers is 5’9 and extremely quick. His speed allows him to be the only receiver on that team to run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. Flowers would not only be used as a receiver, as he could be used in jet sweeps or in little bubble screens. He makes this offense more diverse, which could be the missing piece in taking this incredible roster to the next step. 

22. Baltimore Ravens 

Jordan Addison, WR, University of Southern California

There is no denying that the Ravens are in dire need of help at the receiver position. While Bateman, Duvernay and Agholor are all extremely fast and quick receivers, the Ravens need a true number one WR and Addison could be that guy for Baltimore, only only 21-years-old and a great route runner who will be able to create space and help Baltimore out a lot. Even though the Ravens did just get Odell Beckham Jr., I think they will go with Addison. Beckham Jr. signed a one-year deal with $15 million guaranteed and $18 million potentially. That is a lot of money, and I do not think the Ravens will bring him back next season unless he makes a tremendous impact and turns Baltimore’s franchise around. I think he remains there to help these young receivers learn and be more of a mentor to help this young WR core. Another reason I think the Ravens will go for Addison is that he can learn a lot from one of the most talented WRs of all time. 

23. Minnesota Vikings 

Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland 

After Patrick Peterson left Minnesota, their CB depth has declined with no true CB one, and without a doubt, they will take a corner at this pick whether it is Banks or not. Although it would be unintelligent not to take him — he might be the most athletic player in the draft, at six feet tall, weighs 200 pounds and ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash, an extremely fast speed. He also has an impressive 42-inch vertical jump. Between his height, weight, speed and vertical, Banks could be an underrated contender for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year at the end of the season.  

24. Jacksonville Jaguars

Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Similar to the Vikings, the Jaguars have essentially no depth at the cornerback position, so Porter Jr. seems like the obvious choice. A lot of pro analysts in their mock drafts have Deonte Banks and Porter Jr. switched in what draft pick they will be in, but I believe Porter Jr. will fall to Jacksonville and help improve their defense so that the Jaguars’ incredible offense will be able to flourish this NFL season. 

25. New York Giants 

Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State 

As much as the Giants lack a true number one wide receiver, I think they will go with Forbes as they went out and got Darren Waller, a great receiving TE and already has tons of depth at the receiver position with Hodgins, Campbell, Slayton, Robinson, Shepard and Crowder. The Giants have all these solid, middle-tier WRs for a reason, and it would be wise to go and draft somebody like Josh Downs, a great receiver, but with all the receivers the Giants already have it is clear they have an offensive scheme in mind. Going with Forbes would help take this defense to the next level. He and Adoree’ Jackson would work really well together, along with McKinney over the top and Lawrence, Williams and Thibodeaux coming after the QB. 

26. Dallas Cowboys 

Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

This seems like an obvious pick for the Cowboys. With the media constantly criticizing Dak Prescott, why would Jerry Jones not want another weapon for him, especially when the Dallas defense is already outstanding and definitely do not need to have a first-round pick? Kincaid can be a monster for the Cowboys, as he had 70 catches for 890 yards at Utah this past season. 

27. Buffalo Bills

Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh 

The Bills roster, like other teams’, looks to not have any major holes. However, Kancey would be great value for the Bills, as in the Pro Football Focus draft rankings he ranked 13 out of every player in the draft. Especially with Von Miller getting old (34), the Bills will need some form of pressure on the QB going forward. 

28. Cincinnati Bengals 

Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina 

CB proves itself the more obvious pick for Cincinnati, as their offense works incredibly, but their defense lacks and a corner could help a lot. Smith, a tremendous player, has a great build for a CB and can help give the Bengals that extra boost to get back to the Super Bowl. 

29. New Orleans Saints (from San Francisco through Miami and Denver)

Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan

New Orleans has lost their spark in the past years, but with their current mediocre roster, I expect this team to make a jump this season, and that starts with taking Smith,  a great interior force who can drive the offense out. He would be a great fit for the Saints and their climb back to the top of an NFC South division — wide open with no clear favorite. 

30. Philadelphia Eagles 

Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

An uncommon pick I have is the Eagles addressing the secondary by drafting Brain Branch at the 10 pick. With the rest of the Eagles roster looking great, this proves the perfect opportunity with Robinson. He has a ton of talent and is all-around just a great RB who could easily be a star. I could see a running back trio with Robinson, Rashad Penny and Kenneth Gainwell. With how successful Philadelphia’s run game was last season with Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders, it could continue this year as Penny is a very similar player to Sanders — one of the reasons I think the Eagles acquired him. Nonetheless, if the Eagles get Robinson, the rest of the NFL needs to watch out for the Eagles again this coming season. They would get much better in the secondary with Branch and potentially an even better and more talented RB in the backfield with Hurts. 

31. Kansas City Chiefs

Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State

When looking at this Chiefs roster, I find it hard to believe they beat the Eagles in the Super Bowl, as their roster is not as good as one would think. I went with defensive EDGE and chose Anudike-Uzomah,  a great EDGE who could help the Chiefs make their defense much better and try to win back-to-back Super Bowls. 

One notable name that I did leave out was, of course, Will Levis, regarded as being an obvious first-round pick. I left him out because I really do not think a team will take him in the first round, and for good reason. I do not see skills that make him unique from all the other QBs in this draft class. Everyone seems to be amazed by him after an amazing pro day identifying him as “a franchise quarterback,”  but I think Levis will not meet expectations and be another extremely average or middle-tier QB.