What, you thought we were going to wait for the offseason? Who has that kind of time when the NFL season has ended for 18 of the league’s 32 clubs, all of whom will soon be searching for the next crop of contributors? Not these two reporters, that’s for sure.
See, that’s how it goes. There’s Football Season, and there’s Draft Season — and while it might still be the former for 14 worthy teams, it is decidedly the latter for everyone else.
Obviously, there are levels to this. The final draft order will be revealed in the coming weeks, and there’s a lot more to be learned about this class in the next few months. For the purposes of this mock draft, we want to keep it nice and basic. There will be no trades this early in the process, just picks.
Think of it as an early primer for what each team might need, and some names to know for 2023.
And with that, off we go:
Carmen Vitali: Since we conducted this mock without trades, the Bears have to use the No. 1 overall pick, and Anderson is the best bang for their buck at this spot. It may be some form of inherent positional value bias but an interior defensive lineman going first overall just doesn’t seem plausible, even if he is as athletic as Jalen Carter. The Bears need help everywhere and in reality, I expect Chicago to trade down in order to fill as many holes as possible.
David Helman: It feels unlikely Houston will get lucky enough to have the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner fall to them, but it’s early January and we’re not conducting trades yet. This would be an absolute best-case scenario for a Texans team in desperate need of a quarterback.
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Vitali: Carter didn’t fall too far. Just like the Bears, the Cardinals also need a lot of help. They also just fired their head coach and their general manager stepped away for health reasons, so Arizona could be looking at a full-blown rebuild. Carter would be a great defensive cornerstone.
Helman: Another best-case scenario for a team that has to hope no one trades in front of them. C.J. Stroud played the best game of his career against a loaded Georgia team, which has to spark confidence that he can be a franchise quarterback.
Vitali: Too rich for a corner? Too rich for Ringo? Maybe. But the rangy, athletic DB has spent the last couple seasons on what is essentially an NFL team (the Georgia Bulldogs) and could figure it out quickly, if not immediately — even after getting torched by Marvin Harrison Jr. in the semifinal. Pete Carroll has also always bucked convention a bit and is still chasing the ghost of the Legion of Boom’s past.
Carmen: I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing recently about Jared Goff’s resurgence and how good the Detroit offense was all season, which has been validated by the fact that offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s head coaching interviews are up to three already, but I don’t think that precludes the Lions from taking a quarterback. If anything, they draft perhaps the most Dan Campbell-y signal caller in this year’s class and let him develop behind Goff for another year. Either way, the Lions are going to be dangerous next season and this year’s draft is going to help tremendously.
David: This one will be tough to figure out until we know what’s happening with the quarterback situation. But what we do know right now is that the Raiders ranked 30th in the league with just 27 sacks. Maxx Crosby could use some help, and Murphy could provide it.
David: The QB need is obvious, but the Falcons are stuck in no-man’s land at this spot. Rather than do something desperate, why not just take a high-upside player at an impact position?
Carmen: I’ll admit, the Panthers need to figure out who is throwing the ball first, but with the blue-chip players off the board in this situation, we’ll assume they address that position in free agency (I think they are prime trade-up candidates). That moves their priorities to weapons, which they absolutely need more of. Johnston, though his team got smacked in the title game, is still one of the best receivers to come out in recent years.
David: Already sitting on one of the best rosters in football, Philly has the luxury of drafting for value rather than need. Bresee is one of the best defensive linemen in this class, and Fletcher Cox isn’t getting any younger. Yet another level up for a defensive front that’s already stacked.
Carmen: Anyone who knows me, a proud Wildcat, knows that I take extra special pride in this one. In all honesty though, Skoronski may not last this long and whoever ends up under center for the Titans next season will be better protected.
12. Houston Texans (via Cleveland) Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
David: When you have as many needs as the Texans do, just keep adding foundational pieces. With a quarterback in place, adding a top-flight corner to pair with Derek Stingley Jr. sounds like a fun way to go.
Carmen: The Jets had a stellar draft last season and I don’t expect this one to be any different. Tight end is a huge need for them but then again, quarterback could be one. They could be a trade-up team but for now, they add to their offensive arsenal.
David: The Patriots have only drafted a receiver in the first round once in the last 20 years (N’Keal Harry) and it didn’t go very well. Still, they’ve got to give Mac Jones some talent to work with. Addison is slight, but he separates, and he’d make for a reliable, open target.
Carmen: Do the Packers need another wideout? Yes. Will this be the year they finally draft a receiver in the first round? No. They don’t need much help on defense, which is already chock full of first-round picks, but they could use a young safety to help usher in a new era on the back level, especially for as often as they play two-high.
David: I bet it stings to watch Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff, originally drafted in D.C., anchor offensive lines for playoff teams while the Commanders sit at home. There’s talent at the skill positions, but this team could stand to upgrade its offensive line. What better place to start than at left tackle?
David: I’ll be honest with you, this is mostly a narrative pick. The Steelers could have a need at corner, with Cameron Sutton currently slated for free agency. And how cool would it be if they addressed the need with the son of a franchise legend — who is a hell of a player in his own right? Don’t get it twisted, Joey Porter Jr. is a good player regardless of his bloodlines, but it’d be fun to see him wind up in the city where his dad became a star.
18. Detroit Lions: Jaylon Jones, CB, Texas A&M
Carmen: The Lions are an extremely young team who were built through the draft and they don’t slow down with all the draft capital they have this year. They need corner help badly. Fortifying their secondary should reinforce an improving defense.
Carmen: For a team that finished with a losing record (yet still made the playoffs and won their division), the Bucs have a shockingly low number of needs. Any new additions will likely have to come from the draft with the team in cap hell going into 2023. Their edge-rushing rotation could use some juice.
David: It feels like a good guess that Seattle will find a way to keep Geno Smith in the fold, but what exactly does that future look like? Smith is having an incredible season, earning his first Pro Bowl in the process, but he will turn 33 this year. On the off chance that they don’t want to commit to him for the long-term, Richardson is going to be one of the most interesting prospects in this class. The raw talent is tantalizing, even if the results have been a mixed bag.
David: Trevor Lawrence announced himself in his second season, and the Jags would be wise to keep building on that. Smith-Njigba’s 2022 season was marred by injury, and it never really allowed him to build on that incredible Rose Bowl performance from two years ago. He’s still plenty talented, though, and it’d be fun to watch him pair up with one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the game. The Jags’ receiving corps could be scary with him, Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk and Zay Jones.
— Miami Dolphins‘ 2023 first-round pick forfeited —
22. New York Giants: O’Cyrus Torrence, OL, Florida
David: It’s very hard to know where the Giants are going in Year 2 of the Joe Schoen/Brian Daboll era. Is Daniel Jones coming back? Is Saquon Barkley? What’s the identity moving forward? It’s tough to predict. Until then, it feels logical to keep bolstering an offensive line that’s showing promise on the outside, but could use a lot of help on the interior.
Carmen: The Ravens defense is getting older, but given their recent track record with the Irish, they can add another pass rusher to their outside rotation that will inject more youth into the unit.
Carmen: Why do the Chargers always need offensive linemen? It’s hard to say. But Justin Herbert will take the help.
25. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
David: Stop me if this sounds familiar, Cowboys fans, but Gonzalez is a rangy 6-foot-2 cornerback who played at the highest level of college football. Obviously, we don’t know if Dan Quinn will be back for a third year as defensive coordinator, considering he’s a head-coaching candidate elsewhere. But it’s a good bet Dallas will look for the same profile when scouting for a potential starter opposite Trevon Diggs. Gonzalez is originally from the Dallas area, too, which is just an added bonus.
David: You know what sounds fun for Cincinnati? Adding a 6-7, 270-pound mountain of a man who can both catch and block to what is already one of the league’s best offenses. Washington would give Joe Burrow yet another fun weapon to work with — not to mention a guy who can make the Bengals’ ground game even scarier.
Carmen: Minnesota is a relatively complete team that mostly lacks depth, but they do have some key weaknesses on defense, corner being one of them. The Utes produce some high-quality defensive prospects and the Vikings need all the help they can get on the outside.
David: Denver’s best hope for improving on a dismal season is to help Russell Wilson rediscover his form. The best bet for doing that might be buying him more time. This late in the first round, adding a first-team All-Conference tackle feels like a heck of a value.
Carmen: The Bills have struggled to protect Josh Allen at times this season and key injuries exposed their lack of depth along the line, especially on the interior. Vorhees is a top-three guard in this class and spent this past season blocking for this year’s Heisman winner in Caleb Williams, so he’s used to accounting for mobile quarterbacks with big arms.
Carmen: The Chiefs need some youth in their edge rotation and Ojulari could be the spark that allows Kansas City to continue getting the most out of their veteran starters.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
David: The Eagles can afford to have a little fun with such a loaded roster. Robinson is unquestionably deserving of being a first-round running back, and Philadelphia might lose Miles Sanders to free agency this spring. If they’re lucky enough to add a back as talented as Robinson, they’d pick up right where they left off — and potentially take a step forward.
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David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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