Todd McShay’s early first-round predictions for 31 picks
Todd McShay’s early first-round predictions for 31 picks
Sure, the 2023 NFL draft is still more than four months away, but I’m starting to get excited about this class. What better way to heat up the conversation than dropping my first mock draft of the season? Let’s predict how first-round picks will fall, where the top quarterbacks will land and which top prospects will be early selections.
Obviously, there’s a lot we still don’t know. There are still a few more weeks to the 2022 NFL regular season, and 43 bowls lie between us and college football’s offseason. All-star events, pre-draft workouts and interviews will then follow, and that means plenty of risers and fallers. NFL teams are already building their boards, but their needs and evaluations will change right up until April 27, when the league descends on Kansas City for Round 1.
Oh, and there’s the matter of the draft order, which won’t be totally set until the clock hits zeros in Super Bowl LVII in February. For now, we’re relying on ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), which projected the order based on simulations of the rest of the season (through Sunday’s Week 14 games). And remember, there will be only 31 first-round picks after the Dolphins were stripped of their selection because of tampering violations.
Let’s get to it. Here is my current prediction of how the first round of the 2023 draft will play out. Be sure to check out our “SportsCenter” mock draft special for more on the mock’s selections (Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
Rankings | Big questions
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
According to ESPN’s FPI, the Texans have an 82.6% chance to land the top pick. And considering their 25.7 Total QBR is better than just the Panthers this season, there shouldn’t be any surprise about their intentions here. Houston simply has to upgrade on Davis Mills/Jeff Driskel, and Young — my QB1 in the class — can be the franchise building block it desperately needs.
Scouts will knock Young’s frame (he’s listed at 6-foot), but there is no debating his high-level processing ability, excellent ball placement to all three levels of the field and mobility when forced to go off schedule. He has regularly lifted a lackluster offensive supporting cast in Alabama this season, and he can do it again with the Texans. Plus, he’d be matched up again with John Metchie III, the former Bama receiver who missed his rookie season while being treated for leukemia but caught 96 balls from Young in 2021.
Todd McShay shares his predictions on where the top QBs in college football will end up in the NFL draft.
Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
This pick is a higher than Seattle thought it would be when it sent Russell Wilson to Denver in March — and it will have options here. First, if the Seahawks aren’t sold on Geno Smith long term, they can happily select Ohio State passer C.J. Stroud and let Smith walk in free agency. Second, they can trade back with a team that wants Stroud and pick up even more picks for their ongoing rebuild. Or third, they can add a difference-making defender.
It’s still early to project trades or truly evaluate Smith’s future, so I’m opting for the third option — and going with Carter over Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. Seattle has a bigger need on the interior than edge, and I think Carter could be dominant there with a lightning-fast first step and plenty of disruptive power. He reminds me of Quinnen Williams.
Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama
Bears GM Ryan Poles would be thrilled with this scenario. Chicago is another trade-back candidate here, because Stroud is still out there. But then again, my No. 1 prospect is still available. After dealing away Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, the Bears need edge rushers, and Anderson is explosive, instinctive and overpowering. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged more than a sack per game (27.5) and has piled up 56 tackles for loss and 131 pressures. That kind of production would be welcomed to a defense that has just 16 sacks this season (last in the NFL).
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Everything fell perfectly for the Lions here, allowing them to draft their signal-caller of the future without moving up. Stroud has thrown 37 touchdown passes this season — and still has as many as two games left — and is third in the nation in QBR (87.7). Jared Goff has played well under center of late, but he’s not the long-term answer. Stroud — who makes good decisions with the football, displays great touch and has a big arm — could learn behind Goff for a season before Detroit moves on and builds around a talented passer on a rookie deal. Detroit has a top-five offense right now (26.2 points per game), and a very good supporting cast is already in place.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
This is a serious luxury pick for the 12-win Eagles after landing this selection from the Saints in the 2022 offseason. Per ESPN Stats & Information research, the last time a team went to a Super Bowl (as ESPN’s FPI projects) and then had a top-five draft pick was 1992, when Washington won the championship and then drafted Desmond Howard fourth overall via a trade-up. I considered Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee here, because GM Howie Roseman values the interior defensive line, and pairing Bresee with Jordan Davis up the middle would give Philadelphia quite the run-stopping duo. However, Miles Sanders is set to be a free agent, this offense leans heavily on the run (433 rushes, second most in the NFL), and Robinson is a special prospect with elite size, speed, power and elusiveness.
I know the “it’s too early for a running back” arguments are coming, and I agree 99% of the time. But why spend heavily on re-signing Sanders or bringing in another back in free agency when Robinson — who is an upgrade — is available here on a rookie deal? Robinson cruised to 1,580 yards and 18 TDs on the ground this season while breaking 91 tackles. Dropping him into the league’s best offense would be scary for every other team. Philly also has another first-rounder down the board …
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The Falcons are yet another team that needs an upgrade at QB. Marcus Mariota flashed this season but ultimately hasn’t been a solution, and we’ll see what they get out of Desmond Ridder, who is set to start in Week 15. I’m envisioning Levis — who probably has the strongest arm in this class — driving the ball on a rope to Drake London and Kyle Pitts, or using his mobility and sturdy 232-pound frame to extend plays and contribute to Atlanta’s strong run game. Levis still needs some developing, especially when it comes to decision-making, but the traits are outstanding.
With the rest of the NFC South all scrambling for answers under center after this season, Atlanta could be primed to emerge from the pack once Levis settles into the pro game and cleans up his mistakes.
Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Everyone knows Indy needs a quarterback, but it shouldn’t be reaching for the fourth-best passer in the class at No. 7. I’m sure the Colts will attempt to move up, but let’s not forget about the other problems with this roster. You can’t blame all 46 sacks allowed (tied for the NFL’s most) on Matt Ryan‘s lack of mobility, especially considering the offensive line’s 46.8% pass block win rate is dead last in the NFL. Skoronski might not have ideal length at 6-foot-4, but his quickness and technique pop on tape. Plus, he is a stout run-blocker, which would open things up for Jonathan Taylor. Skoronski could slide into the left tackle role and help fix a unit that fell off quite a bit in 2022.
Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech
I thought a little about quarterback — Derek Carr isn’t due any guaranteed money after this season — and offensive tackle, but only four teams have fewer sacks over the past two seasons than the Raiders (60). Chandler Jones and Clelin Ferrell have both been disappointing, and Ferrell is a free agent after this year. I just moved Wilson up to fourth in my rankings, and teaming him up with Maxx Crosby and Jones would spark this juiceless pass rush.
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
Offensive line is the biggest need, and Johnson is an easy mover with quickness, power, improving technique and versatility to play multiple positions. He settled in as the Buckeyes’ left tackle this season, allowing just one sack, and he’d go a long way in helping protect Kenny Pickett. The Steelers didn’t use any draft picks on the line in April and have allowed 34 sacks this season (tied for ninth most). It’s time to get a cornerstone for this unit.
Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
Defensive linemen J.J. Watt and Zach Allen are both free agents after this season, and Leki Fotu is set to follow after 2023. Bresee could help fill that need on a struggling defense. His numbers won’t wow you, and he missed some time this season, but when he’s 100 percent, Bresee is an incredibly talented run-stuffer with the length and bend to make a big impact and play a role as an interior pass-rusher. Cornerback (Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr.) and edge rusher (Myles Murphy, Bresee’s teammate at Clemson) could make sense, too.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
OK, this one is going to raise some eyebrows. Full disclosure, taking Richardson this early is way too rich for my blood. He lacks experience and isn’t NFL ready. We’ve seen a QB with 13 or fewer starts go this high only two other times since 2000, per ESPN’s Stats & Information (Alex Smith and Mitch Trubisky). But what choice do the Panthers have? If they can’t find an answer in free agency and end up picking outside the top 10, they might resort to desperate measures in desperate times.
Richardson’s physical traits are excellent, too, including elite mobility, great size (6-foot-4 and 232 pounds) and a rocket arm. If Carolina can make a savvy coaching hire and get the right staff in place to develop him, then this could absolutely work. The Panthers have been outside the top 20 in QBR for the past four seasons and are last this year (21.9), so it’s time to invest in a signal-caller in the draft — even if that means reaching a bit. One other thing to watch: I think the Panthers could try to get ahead of the Falcons and Colts to draft Will Levis.
Anthony Richardson turns on the burners and finds pay dirt to give the Gators the lead.
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
We got Houston a quarterback atop the board, so how about a security blanket target for Bryce Young here in the middle of the first round? Mayer is a big target with a wide catch radius and the strength to run over defenders after the catch. And after back-to-back seasons with 800-plus receiving yards and seven or more TD catches, he might be the safest prospect in the class. He’d be a reliable pass-catcher, a go-to option in the red zone and an effective in-line blocker for the Texans. Pretty solid Thursday night for GM Nick Caserio.
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
The Jaguars spent on Christian Kirk, Evan Engram and Zay Jones, and all three pass-catchers have played well this season. Plus, Calvin Ridley should be in the mix next season after Jacksonville acquired the suspended wideout at the deadline. But Trevor Lawrence still needs a big receiver. He excelled with Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross in college, and Johnston fits that same mold at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. With 903 receiving yards through 12 games, Johnston has a wide catch radius, strength after the catch and good vertical speed. I love this fit.
Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
The Packers took a step backward this season and have a bunch of needs, including safety, receiver, offensive line, tight end and edge rusher. I’m going best available in Murphy, my No. 8 prospect. He brings burst, power and bend off the edge, and he’d prove versatile in Green Bay’s scheme. Rashan Gary will be coming off a torn ACL next season, and the Packers have managed only 24 sacks this season (tied for 26th). Murphy has the tools to be a force in the NFL.
Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Simply put, the Patriots won’t find significant success with Mac Jones at quarterback if they can’t keep him upright. They’ve allowed 32 sacks and posted a 57.8% pass block win rate this season — both registering as 19th best in the NFL. Jones has the size, quick feet and upper-body strength to improve this unit. He hasn’t allowed a single sack this season in 13 starts at left tackle, and Isaiah Wynn is on an expiring contract, so there will be a need at one of the team’s tackle spots in the offseason.
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
OK, time to address the Lions’ defense. We’re all excited about the potential of Will Levis in that offense, but if they keep giving up 6.2 yards per play (last in the NFL), it won’t matter too much. Jeff Okudah has been up and down after being the No. 3 overall pick in 2020, and Amani Oruwariye and Mike Hughes are both expected to be free agents in the spring. Porter — the son of former Steelers edge rusher Joey Porter — is my top cornerback, showcasing high-level recognition skills, and he’d give that defense more scheme flexibility. He didn’t have a pick this season, but he did have 11 pass breakups. Detroit walks away from Round 1 with two hard-nosed, physical playmakers on either side of the ball.
O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida
This Jets offensive line is still very thin despite a handful of recent moves. Mekhi Becton has played one game over his past two seasons, and George Fant, Connor McGovern, Nate Herbig, Dan Feeney, Mike Remmers and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are all free agents after 2022. Alijah Vera-Tucker — a 2021 first-rounder — has been very good but is out for the season because of a triceps injury.
Enter Torrence, who has allowed one sack over 47 career starts. His 347-pound frame is tough to get around, and he plays a technically sound game. Not only would Torrence provide interior protection for whomever starts at QB in 2023, he’d also help spring Breece Hall (also out for the year) as an excellent run-blocker.
Brian Branch, S, Alabama
It’s all defense in Round 1 for Seattle, after it took Jalen Carter at No. 2 — and Branch can impact every area of that side of the ball. You’ll see him down near the line of scrimmage trying to make a run stop, blitzing through gaps, holding up in coverage and showcasing his range and instincts on the back end. He fits this system and would be a great complement to rookie corners Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant. Jamal Adams is turning 28 next season, while Quandre Diggs will be 30, so adding to the safety room would be prudent. But Branch has played quite a bit of slot corner, and that’s where I’d expect him to make an impact early in his career.
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Tampa Bay will definitely need offensive line help, though the top four linemen are all off the board. It will also have to solve its quarterback future elsewhere if Tom Brady retires. So I’m focusing instead on the cornerback spot opposite Carlton Davis III, because Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are both pending free agents. Gonzalez is a strong press corner with good speed, physical traits and versatility, and he picked off four passes this season. The Bucs have only seven interceptions this year (tied for 24th), so a ball-hawking defensive back like Gonzalez would be welcome.
Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Finding a Daniel Jones replacement on Day 1 likely won’t be an option this late, and I’m guessing the Giants stick with Jones on a short-term contract and add some competition for him in free agency or on Day 2 of the draft. But New York has to add pass-catchers, regardless of who is throwing to them. Sterling Shepard can’t stay healthy, Kenny Golladay has been a massive disappointment, and Kadarius Toney is now in Kansas City. The current depth chart reads Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins and Richie James. That isn’t going to get it done. So how about pairing Wan’Dale Robinson (out because of a torn ACL) with Addison, an explosive receiver with ability to come down with 50-50 balls, stretch the field or pick up extra yards in open space? That should boost an underwhelming pass offense.
USC QB Caleb Williams airs it out to Jordan Addison, who shakes off a tackle and completes the 75-yard touchdown play.
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Here come all the corners in a hurry! Washington moved on from the struggling William Jackson III at the trade deadline and now needs depth at cornerback. Ringo has the length at 6-foot-2 and man coverage skills to perfectly fit Jack Del Rio’s defense and help boost the Commanders’ takeaway count (seven interceptions this season, tied for 24th). He has great speed, and I’m expecting him to rise draft boards after he shows off those wheels at the combine.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Only the Bears and Ravens have fewer WR receiving yards this season than the Titans (1,303), and rookie first-rounder Treylon Burks has just 25 catches and hasn’t stayed healthy. Worse, Tennessee has watched A.J. Brown dominate in Philadelphia after it traded the star receiver there on draft night in April. The offensive line and edge rush spots should be addressed, too, but receiver has to be fixed.
Smith-Njigba’s five-catch, 43-yard season might be concerning, but the hamstring injury that limited him in 2022 shouldn’t impact him in his rookie year. And he’s only one year removed from more than 1,600 receiving yards and nine TDs while fighting for targets alongside Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. This guy is a smooth route runner with good acceleration and soft hands, and he’d be a prime target for Ryan Tannehill/Malik Willis out of the slot.
Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
J.C. Jackson signed a big-money deal with the Chargers this past offseason but then struggled and went down for the year with a knee injury. I like Asante Samuel Jr., but Los Angeles needs some depth here. Its nine interceptions and 7.3 yards allowed per attempt are both middle-of-the-pack numbers, and when you face Patrick Mahomes twice a year, supporting the secondary is never a bad call. Smith is versatile, instinctive and quick, and he ended up with six pass breakups this season.
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
This is a tough one. The defense is solid, Denver doesn’t really need another receiver, and Russell Wilson is locked in as the quarterback. I’d love to get the Broncos another offensive tackle, but there’s a decent drop-off in talent there after Broderick Jones. Gibbs is pretty intriguing, even for a three-win team. My 20th-ranked prospect, he’s elusive with burst in and out of cuts and is a very effective pass-catcher out of the backfield. Gibbs not only rushed for 850 yards so far this season but also caught 42 passes. He could make the sort of impact we see regularly from Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook. And while Javonte Williams will return after tearing his right knee’s ACL and LCL, it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be off that injury while entering the third season of his four-year rookie deal.
Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah
The Ravens are tied for second in interceptions (14), and Phillips would only add to their ball-hawking ways. He had six picks this year and shows the fluid hips and speed to stick with receivers in coverage. Toss in that Marcus Peters and Kyle Fuller are both on expiring deals, and this makes sense. And yes, I hear the cries for a receiver, but with the top three off the board, I think Baltimore might lean on the position that presents better value here and defer its search for another wideout to Day 2 (or free agency). Don’t count out Boston College’s Zay Flowers or UNC’s Josh Downs, though.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Six cornerbacks in the past 11 picks, and the Bengals get a good one here. Witherspoon allowed fewer than 10 yards as the primary defender in eight of 12 games this season, and he had more interceptions (three) than TDs and 20-plus-yard catches against combined (two). Plus, Cincinnati’s CB group thins out a bit after the season with Eli Apple and Tre Flowers hitting free agency. I love Witherspoon’s physicality, and while he’ll need to run well at the combine to lock down a first-round spot, his tape is a treat to watch. If not cornerback, the Bengals could maybe reach for an offensive lineman because that unit is still very flimsy (38 sacks allowed, sixth most).
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
If one of those six corners slides, I could see them landing here. Or maybe the Vikings reach down the board for linebacker Drew Sanders (Arkansas) or center John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota). But with Adam Thielen turning 33 this offseason, they should be looking for another complement to Justin Jefferson at receiver. Flowers has terrific instincts and elusiveness, forcing missed tackles and scoring 12 touchdowns this season. He’s only 5-foot-10, but he could do damage out of the slot in this offense immediately as a rookie.
Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M
Johnson is great working close to the line of scrimmage, making plays against the run and in underneath coverage. With Jordan Poyer (turning 32 this offseason) headed toward free agency, and Micah Hyde (will be 33 late in the 2023 season) set to do the same after next year, it’s time for the Bills to think about their future at the safety position. Johnson played only nine games this season, but he still had 72 tackles and forced three fumbles.
Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa
Van Ness could be a steal this late on Day 1. He has footspeed and power as a pass-rusher and the versatility to come off the edge or bump inside. I wouldn’t rule out a cornerback, receiver, linebacker or lineman here, but this one is all about the value. Bringing in Van Ness — who has six sacks this season — would help shore up the edge rush and continue to allow the Cowboys to move Micah Parsons around.
Jared Verse, DE, Florida State
The Chiefs pieced together an effective pass-rush this season, but 17 of their 42 sacks have come on blitzes. Carlos Dunlap is under contract for only this season, and Chris Jones and Frank Clark are set to be free agents after next season. Kansas City drafted George Karlaftis in Round 1 in April, but it needs more. Verse overwhelms blockers with his speed and power and is disruptive in the backfield (14 tackles for loss). Alternatively, Kansas City has both starting offensive tackles unsigned after this season, and it could still use more receiving options, so either of those positions could warrant a look.
Isaiah Foskey, DE, Notre Dame
ESPN’s FPI has the Eagles winning the Super Bowl in this projection and closing out Day 1 of the draft. After getting Bijan Robinson earlier, Philly would likely pivot to the defensive side of the ball. Brandon Graham is in the last year of his deal, Derek Barnett tore his ACL in September, and Robert Quinn is just a rental after coming to town at the trade deadline. So while the Eagles lead the NFL in sacks (49), they will still be looking for pass-rush help opposite Josh Sweat after the season. Foskey uses his great initial burst to put offensive tackles on their heels, and he had 11 sacks in each of the past two seasons. Other spots for the projected champs to consider would be the secondary and linebacker.
Who would be the best available for Day 2?
Andre Carter II, OLB, Army
Keion White, OLB, Georgia Tech
Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
Siaki Ika, DT, Baylor
Drew Sanders, ILB, Arkansas
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