Hello, everyone. Welcome to the official start of draft season: My annual mock draft ... with a twist!
If you're new to this piece and think the twist is going to be some sort of M. Night Shyamalan ending where the Bears wind up with Will Levis, well, it's not like that.
Here's the deal: This isn't a predictive mock. Instead, this is a recommendatory mock. It's what I would do with each pick. That way, if I get it right -- like back in 2020, when I told the Eagles to draft Justin Jefferson -- I can talk about it forever. On the other hand, my whiffs ultimately get lost in the shuffle of our national mock madness. Perfect! (Although, in fairness to me, Jordan Love could still be better than Justin Herbert. No? Let's just move on.)
Without further ado, here's what I would do in each Round 1 draft slot.
NOTE: The NFL announced in August that the Miami Dolphins will forfeit their 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick following an investigation into whether the team violated league policies pertaining to the integrity of the game.
Love your aggressiveness in trading up to get the No. overall 1 pick from Chicago. And I write that not just as a Bears fan who is happy my team landed D.J. Moore in the deal, but as a fan of sport. Locking in your franchise quarterback is life-changing. I'm recommending Young here because I don't think his much-discussed size will be an issue. As a former five-star recruit and Heisman Trophy winner, he's transcended this shortcoming at every level. That said, I understand if you prefer the more prototypical package that is C.J. Stroud. It's like if we're at a pizza place and I recommend the Hawaiian pizza, but you say you hate pineapple. I'd respond, "Fine -- get the sausage on the tavern-style cracker crust." It comes down to finding your QB of the future, whatever your preference might be.
Houston, take the quarterback. I've seen the quote from GM Nick Caserio about how your focus is on "building a good team" rather than concentrating on one position, but let's not play coy: Draft your quarterback or trade out of this spot. (But take the quarterback.) As for which quarterback? Well, we can return to the metaphorical pizza place from the Panthers blurb. If somebody takes that last slice of Hawaiian pizza I had my eye on, I can easily readjust and just get the tavern-style sausage. Not my first choice, but still pretty good. And that's where I'm at with Stroud.
What you should be doing is trading for Lamar Jackson. What are you waiting for? It's like that trip to watch the Masters you dream about but never follow through on, and another year passes without you even putting in an application for tickets. Make the trade! Or regret it forever.
Any team drafting Carter clearly has to take into account the off-field issues. Personally, I see two squads in the best position to take him in the first round: you guys and the Lions. I love the coaches for both teams. I love what we can see of the culture in both organizations. Both are playoff teams with bonus picks, thanks to previous trades with the Broncos and Rams. (I know readers are saying, "But the Lions weren't a playoff team," to which I'd say, "Sure, but they were better than the Giants and Vikings last January, so I'll stick to it." I also know I'm going to get a note from my editor telling me I can't say the Lions were a playoff team, and then I'll be all, "I explained that they weren't a playoff team but essentially were like one," and we'll end up in a stalemate, with me eventually giving in. Unless all of this made it through, in which case: Yay, me!)
Carter could end up being the most talented player in the draft, and he makes way too much sense for the 'Hawks here. Pete Carroll would get the most out of him. If everyone's comfortable on the character front, I can't imagine you guys wasting too much time before making this pick.
If the Seahawks pass on Carter, you should totally look into it -- he could be a real Aaron Donald type of force for you up front. But in this case, Seattle is listening to me and taking Carter, so he's off the board. (If you both pass on him, I see a big slide happening.)
You still have to go defense here, though, and since you did such a good job landing cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley in free agency, I would pass on Christian Gonzalez, even though he seems like the best player available. Wilson tracks for me as the choice in this spot, giving Detroit another QB hunter to join last year's dynamic rookie duo of Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston.
Some of your fans have wondered if you will take your quarterback of the future in this spot, but to me, that's something you should save for a trade back into the end of Round 1, if that's what you want to do. At No. 7 overall, what you need is a player who can contribute immediately. And you can't have enough corner help in the NFL, so take Gonzalez.
I'll tell you what I told the Colts: You should trade for Lamar Jackson. But since that doesn't seem to be happening, let's give you some help on the defensive line. You had trouble rushing the quarterback (31st in sacks) and stopping the run (23rd in run defense) in 2022, and Van Ness can do both. Put him on a retooled defensive line with free-agent signees Calais Campbell and David Onyemata, as well as incumbent stud Grady Jarrett, and you've got something.
Honestly, with the way this exercise has played out thus far -- with Anthony Richardson and Will Levis still on the board -- I'll be surprised if you stick-and-pick here. GM Ryan Poles has said this team will be built through the draft, and I can't help but think of the haul the Bears gave up in 2021 (including future first- and fourth-round choices) to jump from No. 20 to No. 11 for Justin Fields. Imagine pulling in a package like that from another QB-needy team for this spot and adding it to the draft capital already acquired from Carolina to drop down from No. 1 (a second-rounder this year, plus a first-rounder in 2024 and a second-rounder in 2025). This is my dream for you -- for us.
If you stay at No. 9, though, take Smith-Njigba. I know, you already traded for D.J. Moore. But you're not quite complete. You can never have too many great receivers. And if Darnell Mooney or Chase Claypool don't work out, Smith-Njigba will be ready to go. You will also need to give new contracts to Fields and Moore at some point, and having a receiver on a rookie deal for up to five years would help a lot. (Yes, the offensive line remains a need, but I trust Poles to find another Braxton Jones with one of the three picks he currently has in the range from No. 53 to No. 64 overall.)
There is nobody in the world today who remembers Mike Mamula, so don't worry about those comps flying if you use the extra first you acquired from New Orleans to select this workout warrior. The bottom line is, you need to start replenishing some of the depth you lost during free agency. And you have the luxury of doing that while also landing the best player available. (You might be thinking about Bjian Robinson here, but you just signed Rashaad Penny; you're good.)
There are people who are going to mock one of the remaining quarterbacks to you here, but I can't tell you with certainty that any of those QBs are better than Malik Willis -- or that they're a threat to start Day 1. If you really want a signal-caller, my suggestion is to target Hendon Hooker later. Right now, though, you have to add a skill player. I'm still good with last year's first-round receiver, Treylon Burks, but give him some help. You're trying to make up for trading away A.J. Brown, and having two young studs under team control for a number of years could go a long way toward accomplishing that.
I know that you could go with a receiver -- and if the teams above don't listen to me and leave Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Jordan Addison available, then you jump at that opportunity. I'm not sure I'd take Quentin Johnston here, however. There seems to be a lot of wide receiver depth, and you can grab a target for your new quarterback at the top of the second round. I'd address defense at this spot.
The thing I like about White is that he looks like a defensive tackle, plays like an edge rusher and runs like an outside linebacker. He's a freak athlete who has somehow managed to stay under the radar, mostly because he didn't play for a college powerhouse. Reminds me a lot of John Franklin-Myers.
You absolutely killed last year's draft, ultimately sweeping Offensive (Garrett Wilson) and Defensive (Sauce Gardner) Rookie of the Year honors. Now it's time to get a lineman to help protect your (presumed) quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. I like Skoronski because he's from Park Ridge, Illinois, where this mock drafter was born. But he also grew up a Packers fan because his grandfather played for the team, so he can fanboy out with his (presumed) new quarterback.
I know offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. would solve a huge issue for you. I get that. But one of the hallmarks of the great Patriots teams of the past was great cornerback play. With Porter Jr.'s dad, Joey Porter, having played in the NFL, this seems like a really good match. And seeing how the elder Porter is identified so strongly with Pittsburgh, it could upset Steelers fans -- who, for some reason, feel like they are your rivals -- making this extra fun. (Now, if the report of shopping Mac Jones means you end up looking at Lamar Jackson, then, honestly, that is what I want. Forget what I told the Colts and Falcons. You should be all in on him.)
Look, Packers, I'm going to be honest with you: Your team needs offensive playmakers. Christian Watson is going to be a good one. I like Romeo Doubs, too. But with Bobby Tonyan now a member of the Chicago Bears, you have to draft a tight end. I know it's not necessarily the biggest need, but I would love this for you. Jordan Love would love this for you -- and himself. Give the 24-year-old as much talent as possible to go out and prove himself as the long-term answer at quarterback.
I know, this might seem like a reach to some, but hear me out. You signed Cameron Dantzler with the hope that he can return to the promising form he showed early on in Minnesota. Even if that ends up being the case, I'm going to continue hammering home a theme in this mock: You can't have enough capable cover men. Branch is the kind of guy who can play slot corner, like he did at Alabama, and provide an instant impact. I know your fans will hate me for this, but it's a good move.
If this dude is still available for you at this junction, run -- don't walk -- to get the pick in. This long, athletic bookend is going to be a star. I'm a Bears guy, and I wouldn't mind if Chicago took him at No. 9. You cannot resist him here, especially considering your offensive line has been lacking in recent years.
Oh man, Lions. You could go for your quarterback of the future here if you wanted to. But I'm telling you that you're not that far away from really making a run at the 'ship, so you should be thinking more short-term. I'm not kidding. Add Washington here to replace that guy you traded last year, and your offense is going to be completely loaded. Again, go QB if you want. But I say you make a pick for this year and get a guy who can help you out right now.
Sure, you could take a QB. But from the outside looking in, I think you're a year away from going down that road. And I just can't recommend Anthony Richardson or Will Levis here, given the significant uncertainty that surrounds both raw -- albeit intriguing -- prospects.
Like the Lions and Bucs above you, you could draft a QB of the future -- after all, you're playing with house money on a second first-round pick. I'm not doing that, though. Instead, I suggest you add to a receiver corps already headlined by the imposing duo of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I'm tempted to say Zay could end up in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, but you run too much for that to happen. Still, your offense would be really nice.
I know, I know ... I truly believe you're going to end up hanging on to Austin Ekeler for another season, though I would give the Commanders a call to see if we could work on a deal for Chase Young. You know what? I'm thinking out loud. That would be stupid. I'd still keep Austin for 2023.
Regardless, you need somebody who can run between the tackles, giving you a nice 1-2 punch before Ekeler likely departs in free agency next offseason. You hired former Cowboys OC Kellen Moore, who got a lot of great work out of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Make some magic happen here.
All eyes were on Anthony Richardson at Florida's pro day, but Torrence looked pretty damn good, too. I know receiver is a need, but I've already recommended numerous dudes at that position -- and you can wait until later, even though you don't have another pick until the third round. With Ben Powers now in Denver, you have an opening at guard. This makes a lot of sense. At least to me.
The Bears and Lions are loading up. Maybe Jordan Love is the real deal. You need this for your defense. I know some have you going receiver or quarterback here -- resist those urges. There is no reason for that. You MUST improve the porous D, first and foremost. You could even consider D-line help, because there are still some good values on the board right now.
Protect Trevor Lawrence at all costs. I was on the NFL Network set with Brian Baldinger last week, and he got me hyped on Wright. After watching some tape myself, I believe he is indeed going to be a big-time player. (You see how he stymied Will Anderson Jr. all game long?) I'm not saying this is the next Tony Boselli or anything like that. But he can be an anchor for you on the offensive line.
Oh, and while I'm here ...
Tony: Make sure you somehow get CM Punk to return, because I want to see him against The Elite. Thanks.
You guys -- you did it last year! I'm still mad I didn't pick you to beat the Vikings in the playoffs; it was so obvious. Anyway, you need more help for Daniel Jones. You traded for tight end Darren Waller. Huge fan of that move. But you can't go into the season with your current WR room. I wouldn't be mad if you explored moving up in the draft for a different receiver. Hyatt is good. He's fast. I'm a little worried about his route tree, but the dude hits home runs.
I will say this about you, Cowboys: You do a great job in the draft. So maybe you don't need my advice. But alas, that's my role in this here file.
I like you getting some disruption on the defensive interior in this spot. The Aaron Donald comps are indeed overcaffeinated, as the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is one of one. But nabbing the next Russ Maryland wouldn't be bad. Offensive line's also an option. Maybe you look at Steve Avila out of TCU? Avila and Kancey are both acceptable picks to me.
If I'm you, Bills. I follow what the Cowboys do. Watching your team over the last two years, it feels like you're lacking a true identity -- other than just standing around and hoping Josh Allen bails you out. I'd love to see Buffalo get a bit tougher up front. Run the ball more with James Cook. Avila is the kind of guy who can bring some true grit into the mix.
I'm probably dreaming, thinking Mayer could make it this far into Round 1. But with this being one of the deepest tight end classes in recent memory, teams could wait. I love this for you, Cincy, because Mayer is a beast as a run blocker. And he makes some tough catches. More help for Joe Burrow, too. Seems automatic to me.
Look, I was thinking of taking a quarterback here. I know everyone's freaking out that Anthony Richardson and Will Levis are still on the board. You could look to move down, too. But with so much offseason attrition on the defensive line, this is way too good a value to pass up. Murphy would immediately come in and make your team better. Keep the phone lines open, in case someone's trying to get back into Round 1 for a QB, but I think you're good.
I had you guys go with an edge rusher at No. 10. I think you might be in a position right here to garner some more picks from a QB-needy team looking to pounce on Anthony Richardson, Will Levis or even Hendon Hooker. I'd be down with that. But if you stick with this pick, continue to replenish the defensive line. The buzz has been building on Smith in recent weeks. This would be a solid selection.
I know that all of your fans think I hate your team. But outside of the Royals eliminating the Angels in the 2014 MLB playoffs, I have no real beef with Kansas City.
The world is your oyster right now, as the defending champs with an all-timer under center. Travis Kelce is still the best tight end in the game, but good lord, getting the speedy Musgrave on this team might be criminal. I say you take a swing here.