2023 Mock Draft: Seahawks move to No. 1 for the best player in the 2023 class

There have been three defensive tackles taken with the first overall pick in pro football history: Junious “Buck” Buchanan by the Kansas City Chiefs in  1963, Russell Maryland by the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, and Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1994. Results have been mixed. Buchanan was a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest defensive players in AFL history, Maryland made a Pro Bowl and has three Super Bowl rings, and Wilkinson played decently for four NFL teams without any specific accolades.

Based on what we’ve seen from draftable prospects over the last two seasons, it would be difficult to argue that Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter isn’t the best prospect in the upcoming 2023 draft. The splash plays are all over the place, the flaws are few and far between, and given the necessity for interior pressure in today’s quick-game league, it’s possible that Carter could find himself as the fourth such player to go first overall.

As the Chicago Bears, owners of the first overall pick at this point, don’t need a quarterback, the likelihood of such a scenario increases. Or, perhaps another team trades up with the Bears for that first pick, and comes away with Carter as their future star.

For the purposes of this mock draft, that team is the Seattle Seahawks. We have Seattle trading the fifth, 20th, and 53rd overall picks to Chicago, and taking Carter as the first new piece in a much-needed overhaul of Pete Carroll’s front seven. That would leave the Seahawks with six picks in the draft, including the 38th and 84th as things stand now. And as we have seen over the years, from Percy Harvin to Jimmy Graham to Jamal Adams, Carroll and general manager John Schneider are not shy at all about trading first-round picks for assets they deem to be highly valuable. Previous results in these instances have not been great, but anybody watching a lick of Jalen Carter tape would be hard-pressed to call the Seahawks foolish for pushing their chips in on a player like this.

As for the Bears, they’re in a position where they need as many picks as possible to re-stock a relatively talent-barren roster, so this could be a win-win.

With that in place, here’s one version of how the first round of the 2023 NFL draft might go.

1. Seattle Seahawks (from Chicago Bears): Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

(AP Photo/Brett Davis, File)

Seattle would obviously have to be all in on Geno Smith for this to happen, and there are multiple reasons for them to be. The thing about Carter that puts him above most players at his position, college or pro, is the complete skill set. Carter can wind by blockers with estimable power, killer speed and quickness, and an impressive technique palette which should be even better with the benefit of NFL coaching.

As for the idea that an edge-rusher would be more valuable to any team… well, remember the current priority on interior pass rush, and consider that Carter can also demolish offensive lines from the edge. When you’re 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, that’s kind of terrifying, and it’s one of many reasons I see a lot of Aaron Donald in Carter’s game. Kentucky’s Will Levis discovered that to his consternation last season.

2. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

(Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch)

There are two primary questions in the Bryce Young-C.J. Stroud debate. The first is, will NFL teams get nervous about Young’s size (unofficial 6-foot-0 and 194 pounds), especially if those numbers drop at all after official combine measurements?

The second is, will Stroud’s impressive mobility against Georgia in the CFP semifinal make teams believe that he can be more than an in–the-box quarterback without second-reaction skills? That game was a revelation for Stroud evaluators, and Stroud himself won in that game, even if the Buckeyes lost.

Some will say of Stroud that you want to see that kind of growth in more than one game before you can take it seriously. My counter to that would be that Stroud showed it against the NCAA’s best defense, in a situation that could not have been much more highly pressured. That told me all I needed to know, and it’s why I think Stroud could leap over Young as the first quarterback taken.

3. Arizona Cardinals: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

(Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

The Cardinals are in need of a new general manager and a new head coach. It’s highly likely that the first thing that duo will do is to trade DeAndre Hopkins, so those people will also need a new alpha receiver. Johnston absolutely qualifies after a 2022 season in which he caught 60 passes on 97 targets for 1,067 yards, six touchdowns, and explosive plays all over the place.

There are legitimate questions about Johnston’s ability to run a full NFL route tree right out of the gate, but there’s also something to be said for taking a guy like this and putting him on the Early Randy Moss Plan: Take the 2-4 routes he runs well (hitches, posts, overs, and straight verticals), and spam defenses with them until he gets the hang of everything else.

And maybe Johnston has more on the ball than some people think.

4. Indianapolis Colts: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

(Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports)

Now onto Mr. Young, and his addition to a Colts team that has tried and failed to address the quarterback position ever since Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement. I don’t think there’s any question that if Young was two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, he’d be the first overall pick, or at least, the undisputed No. 1 player in the class at the position. Perhaps there still wouldn’t be an argument if C.J. Stroud hadn’t turned into a different player against Georgia. As I posited in a recent study of Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, NFL teams simply don’t draft players with Young’s (or Bennett’s) size profile and expect them to be immediate starters. Even Deshaun Watson (my comp for Young on an on-the-field basis, obviously) came out of Clemson at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.

So, it’s on to Young’s skill set. And in terms of everything else you want in a quarterback — arm talent, processing speed, field vision, and the ability to hold an offense together — he’s as good as it gets. Bryce Young has what it takes to succeed in the NFL, and quickly. We’ll just have to see how many teams clench their sphincters when it’s time to turn in the card.

5. Chicago Bears (from Seattle Seahawks): Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

(Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports)

The Bears move down and still get the transcendent defensive lineman they need. No FBS edge-rusher had more sacks than Anderson’s 14 in the 2022 season, and his 65 total pressures ranked third among FBS edge-rushers, behind Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks, and San Jose State’s Viliami Fehoko. Anderson is a ready-made, plug-and-play NFL prospect who has the potential to sidestep the usual first-year growing pains at the position.

6. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams): Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

(Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch)

As we will see later in this mock, the competition for best cornerback in this class is tight at the top, but Porter has made a credible case. He’s a perfect fit for an ascending Lions defense that wants to get after you in man coverage. Porter will need a second to improve his transitional speed at the top of routes, but he’s got just about everything else you need when acquiring top-tier, No. 1 cornerback talent. Quarterbacks targeting Porter in 2022 completed just 15 of 30 passes for 143 yards, 51 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, no interceptions, nine pass breakups, and a passer rating of 63.6.

7. Las Vegas Raiders: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

(Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

We’re assuming that the Raiders will take care of their quarterback issues in free agency — perhaps with an old friend of head coach Josh McDaniels? The draft should be for Las Vegas’ multiple needs on defense, and we’ll start up front. Maxx Crosby needs a bookend; he’s a top-five edge-rusher in the league, but outside of the 32-year-ols Chandler Jones, there wasn’t much else to brag about. Murphy finished his final collegiate season with six sacks and 34 total pressures, and at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, he’s got an appealing combination of speed to the pocket, and the power to bull offensive tackles right out of their stances.

8. Atlanta Falcons: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

(Syndication: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

The rebuilding Falcons finished the 2022 season with 21 sacks and 88 total pressures — only the Chicago Bears finished lower in each category. Adding Wilson, whose freaky measurables added up to eight sacks and 50 total pressures in just 261 pass-rushing snaps last season, would do a lot to turn that around.

9. Carolina Panthers: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

(Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports)

Where you stand on Richardson probably has a lot to do with how raw you think he is as a prospect, versus how much stock you put in the growth he clearly showed in most areas in the second half of his first season as an NCAA starter. The Panthers could slide along for a year as Richardson develops, or they could set things up for him to have a Justin Fields-style impact early on. Either way, the upside is something this franchise hasn’t seen since it took Cam Newton first overall in the 2011 draft.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints): Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina

(AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman should be the lead-pipe lock for Executive of the Year, and one reason is that Roseman’s team has two luxury picks in the first round, while still fielding perhaps the strongest overall roster in the NFL. Cornerback would be a good area for Roseman to go with the 10th overall pick acquired from the New Orleans Saints. Even if impending free agent James Bradberry is re-signed, pairing Smith and his controlled aggression in coverage with Bradberry and Darius Slay would be pure evil for every opposing offense. And Smith has enough going for him to make a quick impact if he’s the guy outside opposite Slay in 2023.

11. Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

(AP Photo/David Dermer)

The Titans are very much in quarterback limbo. Ryan Tannehill’s contract-versus performance ratio might make him a candidate for release, and rookie Malik Willis showed that he was not yet ready for prime time. So, maybe Tennessee goes quarterback here. But were I in charge of their draft, I would want to reinforce a left tackle position that is equally nebulous. Even if veteran Taylor Lewan is ready to go for the 2023 season, he’s in the last year of his contract, he hasn’t played a full season since 2017, and backup Dennis Daley was in over his skis. Johnson has the best overall skill set among offensive tackles in this class, and while he’ll need to polish up a few technique things, he could be an asset from Day 1 at a position of huge need — both now and in the future.

12. Houston Texans (from Cleveland Browns): Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

(Syndication: USA TODAY)

You have to back to Smith-Njigba’s 2021 season to see the full skill set, because he had just 39 snaps due to injury. But teams will be highly intrigued by his explosive potential and developed palette both outside and in the slot. He’d be a fine addition to a Texans receiver group in need of assistance all along the formaation.

13. New York Jets: Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee

(Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)

Here’s where things get interesting. We’ll talk about Will Levis down the road, but once you get past the top two quarterbacks in this class, you’re betting on things you may not have seen yet. In Hooker’s case, there is the frequent debits — he was a half-field reader, he benefited from his place in Josh Heupel’s offense, etcetera. But when you watch Hooker from snap to snap before he suffered a torn ACL in November, I think he showed enough to be a Geno Smith-style starter in the NFL. The Jets are fairly loaded for success in the 2023 season outside of the quarterback position, and Hooker would provide a snap-to-snap consistency that would pay off sooner than later.

14. New England Patriots: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Now that the Patriots decided to put a guy (Bill O’Brien) with offensive coordinator experience back in as their offensive coordinator (what a concept), it’s time for Bill Belichick to figure out what was wrong with his offense in 2022 outside of the obvious issue that Matt Patricia was running it. New England’s offense has historically been about option routes and overall design awareness — this was true when O’Brien was running it in 2011 — and Addison would be an excellent fit with his ability to create separation with a well-developed sense of what is required of an inside/outside receiver.

15. Green Bay Packers: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Like the Titans, the Packers are in a position where they have left tackle who’s great when he’s in there, but he’s not in there a lot. David Bakhtiari’s injury history had prevented him from playing a full season since 2019, and Bakhtiari’s contract presents some interesting financial decisions over the next couple of years.

Skoronski is the grandson of Bob Skoronski, who won five NFL championships with the Vince Lombardi Packers in the 1960s, but that’s not why Green Bay should take him. The Packers should avail themselves of the younger Skoronski’s skills because he’s got a very good chance to excel outside, and even if his measurables force him to guard, he’s got the potential to be a Pro Bowler in that role.

16. Washington Commanders: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

So… back to the discussion regarding the best cornerback in this draft class. You’d have a tough time ignoring Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, and were he the first cornerback taken, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. 2022 was Witherspoon’s season to make it clear that he was ready to do it all at a high level, and mission accomplished. In 2022, Witherspoon’s coverage metrics were ridiculous, and the tape backed it up all the way.

The Commanders have other issues to consider, especially at quarterback, but the combination of need at cornerback, and Witherspoon’s special skills in every aspect of coverage, would make a nice fit.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Trenton Simpson, LB/EDGE, Clemson

(Syndication: The Greenville News)

The Steelers have been trying to find their next franchise linebacker since Ryan Shazier’s unfortunate spinal contusion in 2017. Devin Bush has not been that guy. Robert Spillane, Myles Jack, Tae Crowder… the list of names has not been exceptional. Perhaps it’s time for Mike Tomlin to take a different tack in this regard — instead of trying to find the next great traditional off-ball ‘backer, maybe look for one of the new iterations of positionless linebackers who can do multiple things in multiple ways.

Simpson, who looked great in 2022 for the Tigers in every aspect from tackling off-ball to edge pressure to coverage, would be a fascinating addition to a defense that has been looking for a star in the middle for far too long.

18. Detroit Lions: Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon

(Syndication: The Register Guard)

Of course, the Steelers could take Sewell with the 17th pick if they do want that more traditional excellent off-ball linebacker, but as Noah Sewell’s older brother Penei already plays right tackle (and occasional receiver) for the Lions, and the Lions have similar needs at the position, why not make it a family affair?

The younger Sewell can do everything from driving running backs back to short and intermediate coverage. Moreover, his combination of athleticism and proper play diagnosis allows him to get to the ball more quickly than a lot of other linebackers at his approximate level.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

(Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel)

We don’t know what Tom Brady’s future is, and apparently, he’s going to get pretty salty if we ask him about it. Fair enough. But if Brady does return for his 24th (!) NFL season, it’s tough to imagine him returning to a Buccaneers team that has all kinds of offensive issues. This puts Tampa Bay in an obvious quarterback conundrum, unless you think that Kyle Trask can be the future, which we do not.

However, this is not the Buccaneers’ only problem right now. There is also the matter of a cornerback group that allowed 17 touchdowns and had just five interceptions in 2022. So, maybe the Bucs try to address quarterback in free agency, and save their first-round pick for the best cornerback available. You could argue for different players at the 19th pick level, but Ringo, despite a few coverage lapses in the 2022 season, allowed just one touchdown on 546 coverage snaps. That would be a good way to start a much-needed secondary turnaround.

20. Chicago Bears (from Seattle Seahawks): Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Bears’ talent-light roster is perhaps most light at the receiver position, so let’s fix that with one of the two first-round picks Chicago got in the Seattle trade. There’s a growing buzz around Flowers’ name as more people get a good look at his tape, and there are good reasons for that. Flowers floored it with his explosive potential in Boston College’s offense last season, with 12 catches of 20 or more air yards on 27 targets. And he’s not just a speed merchant — as he showed on this 33-yard catch against Syracuse, Flowers can turn route sharpness into defensive frustration in a big hurry

We imagine that Flowers would become Justin Fields’ new best buddy very quickly.

21. Los Angeles Chargers: Bryan Bresee, DI, Clemson

(Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley’s preferences for light boxes and interesting coverages have taken the league by storm, but in Staley’s case over his two seasons in his current position, that’s also led to some serious run defense deficiencies. The Chargers ranked 28th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive Adjusted Line Yards metric in 2021, and they ranked 29th in 2022, so we’re rowing in the wrong direction here.

At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Bresee isn’t the massive run-plugging monster you’d get in a Jordan Davis or Dexter Lawrence, but he proved perfectly capable of creating tackles for loss in his own anarchic fashion. No. 11 can be a real problem as a head-over nose tackle…

…and overall, he’s been a huge pain for opposing offenses through his college career.

22. Baltimore Ravens: Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee

(Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Lamar Jackson will be back with the Ravens in 2023, whether it’s on the franchise tag or with a new contract, so let’s do something the team has been trying to do for a while now — let’s give him a receiver who can foil defenses from all areas of the field. Hyatt had eight deep touchdowns in 2022, but he’s more than just a one-trick pony. The Ravens and Jackson could use a receiver with the ability to explode forward on any route, and Hyatt certainly qualifies.

23. Minnesota Vikings: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

(Syndication: The Register Guard)

Speaking of NFL teams and desperate needs, there’s the Minnesota Vikings and cornerbacks. In the 2022 season, Duke Shelley was an underrated defender who really showed up late in the season, and Patrick Peterson padded his Hall of Fame resume a bit. Other than that… well, there’s a reason you see this position posted to Minnesota in most mock drafts.

This mock draft is no exception, and the Vikings would appreciate a rookie cornerback who allowed 39 catches on 64 targets for 495 yards, 209 yards after the catch, three touchdowns, four interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 74.7. Gonzalez would provide a graphic and much-needed improvement.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

One of the many things that marked Doug Pederson’s genius-level first season as the Jaguars’ head coach was the sudden and shocking impact of tight end Evan Engram, who looked several steps better than he ever did in five years with the Giants. Pederson and his staff turned Engram into the quick-catch YAC guy with the occasional vertical threat, and as Engram has said he’d love to come back to Jacksonville, maybe let’s pencil that in.

Now, think about this: In 2022, Trevor Lawrence had just 111 dropbacks with two tight ends on the field, but he managed four touchdown passes and just one interception. What if the Jaguars added Mayer, by far the best tight end in this class, to that offense? Methinks Lawrence would enjoy not only throwing to Engram again, but adding a target who can indeed do silly things like this:

25. New York Giants: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

(Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports)

Levis is this year’s divisive quarterback. There are those who love his toughness, leadership, and athletic potential, and believe that in the right system, he can make the same leap from gifted but unfinished player that Josh Allen did with the Buffalo Bills. Then, there are those (and I am among them) who warn against turning the outlier into the norm, and whose overall reaction to Levis’ college tape it, to put it succinctly, “Ugh.”

That said, I believe that Levis will be taken somewhere in the first round because there are enough scouts, coaches, and executives who believe that they can perform a quarterback miracle. I’m highly suspicious, but if that’s to happen, why not give Levis a really good chance of beating the odds with the guy who not only helped Josh Allen become what he has become, but turned Daniel Jones into a functional NFL quarterback after three seasons of darkness. That would be Giants head coach Brian Daboll, your clubhouse leader for Coach of the Year. If Daboll can do for Levis what he’s done for Allen and Jones, it might be time to name him Coach of the Decade.

26. Dallas Cowboys: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

(Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)

If there’s one thing we learned in Dallas’ 2022 season, and certainly in their 19-12 divisional round loss to the 49ers, it’s that this offense cannot live on CeeDee Lamb and a bunch of roleplayers alone. That showed up a lot in Dak Prescott’s more interception-prone moments, and it’s time for Prescott to have more help both outside and in the slot. Boutte’s stock dropped a bit due to a slow start to the 2022 season, but he turned it on just fine as things progressed. His six-catch, 107-yard game against Georgia in the SEC Championship game allowed Boutte to show how he can house just about any route against a great defense.

27. Buffalo Bills: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

(Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

The Bills have a lot of questions to answer on offense this offseason, but that doesn’t make them exempt from issues on the other side of the ball — particularly in the secondary. Jordan Poyer, perhaps the NFL’s best safety, will be a free agent. Micah Hyde missed most of the 2022 season, and he turned 32 on December 31. Cornerback Tre’Davious White has not been the same player since a group of injuries took him down from top-two status at the position a few years back. And the Bills are more than $8 million over the projected 2023 salary cap of $225 million, so there isn’t a lot of room to move. Buffalo selected Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam with the 23rd pick in the 2022 draft, and it might be time for general manager Brandon Beane to double down with another first-round defensive back.

At 6-foot-0 and 193 pounds, Branch has played all over Nick Saban’s defense over the last three seasons. His box/slot profile wouldn’t seem to fit Buffalo’s nickel-heavy defense, and the Bills already have Taron Johnson to man the slot. But Branch can drop deep in single-high and split-safety looks, and he might be able to work outside in certain situations. In any event, the Bills really need a versatile defensive back like this.

28. Denver Broncos (from Miami Dolphins): Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame

(Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

The Broncos traded Bradley Chubb to the Dolphins to get back in the first round after the Russell Wilson trade (such as it was), and while Denver’s defense is a top squad, that absence was felt. The underrated Baron Browning led the Broncos with six sacks and 38 total pressures in 2022, and if you’re going to compete in any league, you’re going to need more than that.

I prefer Foskey to some of the other edge defenders who might go in this range, like Georgia’s Nolan Smith or LSU’s BJ Ojulari, because there’s some power along with the speed rushes. At 6-foot-5 and 265, Foskey can annoy quarterbacks from either edge, and he can also move inside in more exotic packages.

29. Cincinnati Bengals: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Bengals shocked a lot of people in their divisional round win over the Buffalo Bills by running all over Buffalo’s defense despite being down three starting offensive linemen due to injury. That said, Cincinnati does have a bit of a left tackle problem even when everybody’s healthy — Jonah Williams, who the Bengals selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, allowed 13 sacks and 45 total pressures on 748 pass-blocking snaps in the 2022 season, and that marked Williams’ second-straight season in which he allowed double-digit sacks.

Williams is on the last year of his rookie contract, so maybe it’s time for reinforcements. As well as Joe Burrow is playing, the Bengals are at their best when they can throw a balanced attack at enemy defenses, and there are few better fits in this class than Broderick Jones, who can maul people in the run game, pass-protect with authority, and get out to the second level, looking to dominate.

30. Kansas City Chiefs; Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The Chiefs have re-designed their offense to great effect over the last two seasons, but there are still a few things to fix. One of those things is a problem at left tackle. Orlando Brown Jr., who is playing on the franchise tag, is a decent blindside blocker who has serious issues dealing with edge-rushers on the back half of the arc. This was an issue in 2021, Brown’s first year in Kansas City, and it was still a problem in 2022. It has also been a problem in 2023, as we saw early in the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Who to replace Brown? Were I Chiefs general manager Brett Veach or head coach Andy Reid, I would be looking intently in the direction of Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison, who allowed just one sack and nine total pressures in 2022, and has the skills to do everything from pinching inside to establish running lanes to dealing with those quicker edge guys.

31. Philadelphia Eagles: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

(Syndication: Austin American-Statesman)

The Eagles already have a nice running back rotation with Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell. But imagine the Eagles’ run-dominant offense with a back of Robinson’s caliber? Think of how Saquon Barkley would look in that offense, and you have a pretty decent idea of how it could go. At 6-foot-0 and 220 pounds, Robinson is an absolute load to bring down (he forced 104 missed tackles on just 257 attempts last season, which is completely ridiculous), and he’s an explosive play waiting to happen (he had 41 carries of 10 or more yards, and 21 carries of 15 or more yards in 2022). Adding a back this good to an offense that already presents all kinds of unsolvable problems would be patently unfair.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire