EDITOR'S NOTE: This mock has been updated to reflect the Green Bay Packers and New York Jets swapping first-round picks as part of their agreed upon trade for Aaron Rodgers.
The annual onslaught of mock drafts is coming to a close. The finish line's rapidly approaching, as the real thing starts Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. We'll be in Kansas City, Missouri, covering every pick, from No. 1 to No. 259, of the three-day event.
In my final projection of Round 1, here's how I think the top 31 selections could go -- and trust me, this was no easy feat. The 2023 NFL Draft is among the tougher drafts to predict in recent memory.
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.
It's become obvious that Young is Carolina's choice. Talent-wise, he has the goods to get it done with his anticipation, vision and creative genius. Can he hold up for a 17-game slate every season? We'll see. But his charisma, leadership and rare intangibles should take Young a long way if he can stay healthy.
The Texans passing on a QB at No. 2 appears to be a real possibility. I think there could be an earnest debate between Anderson and Tyree Wilson, who might fit more into the DeMeco Ryans prototype. But Anderson has similar length to reigning Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa and could be just a shade less destructive in Houston.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH ARIZONA CARDINALS
Keep an eye on the Titans as a possibility for Stroud here, too. But if the Raiders view Stroud as one of their blue-chip QB prospects, they should not hesitate to slide up four spots to get him. Jimmy Garoppolo's deal essentially boils down to a one-year guarantee, and his injury history is well-documented. Stroud could give Josh McDaniels the kind of low-pulse QB he wants to build around.
I think GM Chris Ballard liked Kenny Pickett a year ago, enough to have taken him had the Colts not traded away their first-rounder for Carson Wentz. That prompted me to project Levis to Indianapolis in my first mock, way back in early February. We've come a long way since then, but I've ended up back where I started. Levis' toughness, experience and confidence would make him a Day 1 starting candidate in Indy.
With Wilson on the board, I could see the Seahawks feeling comfortable passing on Jalen Carter -- and they always could trade up from 20 if they really want him. But Wilson gives Seattle a toolsy, long, explosive edge who can elevate the defense's front-seven makeover.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Arizona needs talent, plain and simple. Gonzalez has great length and athleticism, won’t turn 21 years old until late June and addresses a big positional need. The Cardinals allowed 29 TD passes a year ago; this pick makes sense for the defensive-minded Jonathan Gannon. If Jalen Carter is still on the board, Arizona could look to flip this pick (perhaps to the Eagles at No. 10?) and still possibly land the Oregon corner.
There has been some Bijan Robinson buzz at this spot, but the Falcons will likely look to upgrade their pass rush, which has been stagnant for multiple seasons now. The Savannah native and University of Georgia product would add energy and leadership as a 3-4 outside 'backer in first-year defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen's system.
"Trader" Howie Roseman certainly could move down ... or maybe up to leapfrog Chicago for Jalen Carter? Everything is on the table. The Eagles have the freedom to target specific players with how loaded they are. But here, they land a gifted, long, smart blocker with positional versatility in Johnson, who could challenge Cam Jurgens for the starting right guard spot this year and eventually be Lane Johnson's replacement at right tackle.
Would the Texans just let their division rivals stand pat at No. 11 and get the last of the top-four quarterbacks? Maybe. My guess is the Titans like Richardson better than the Texans do, and this allows Tennessee to keep Ryan Tannehill around for one more year while the raw rookie develops. The Malik Willis experience could give Titans brass pause, but this is a different caliber talent here.
I'm not sure which route the Texans would take to find a quarterback if they bypass the position with both of their first-rounders. Perhaps they could pry Trey Lance from the 49ers for quarters on the dollar or take Hendon Hooker at No. 33 overall. But if they're not in love with any of the top QBs in this class, they could pivot to a crafty, high-volume producer like Smith-Njigba, who can win the same ways that Cooper Kupp does.
I debated here between Lukas Van Ness and Murphy for longer than I care to admit. Both very much feel like Packers types. Van Ness would give them a little more versatility, but Murphy is almost exactly how Green Bay's scouts like their edges to be cut. The Clemson product would benefit from adding a changeup to his fastball approach.
Skoronski has a very clean scouting report, with his arm length the lone area of concern. But New England has played smaller tackles before (Isaiah Wynn) and might not be as concerned. The Patriots could certainly use more youth at the position, with both Trent Brown and Riley Reiff in their 30s and only under contract through 2023.
Jones is not a perfect prospect, but he has natural athleticism and appears to have a frame capable of carrying more mass. If coached up properly, Jones could have Pro Bowl upside. With Aaron Rodgers finally headed to New York, protecting the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer is now a massive priority.
There’s a reasonable argument to be made that Wright is the most talented of all of this year's tackle prospects. There’s also a debate as to whether he plays up (or down) to his competition, and he might need a demanding OL coach to maximize his immense talent. Either way, the league-wide need for O-line help is dire, and the Commanders need it at tackle now.
Van Ness could go higher than this, though he’s still an upside pick who might never develop into a true standout player. But at the very least, the Iowa product gives you toughness, energy and positional flexibility as a hockey-enforcer type of defender. He kind of screams Pittsburgh, if you think about it.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH DETROIT LIONS
And the K.C. draft crowd goes crazy! The Chiefs might need to leapfrog a number of WR-hungry teams to land Flowers, if he’s indeed their guy. No. 18 overall could feel high for Flowers, but this is right where he ranked in my latest top 100 prospect list, and GM Brett Veach has picks to burn. Flowers would be a clear upgrade in the Mecole Hardman role. From the Lions’ perspective, trading down with Bijan Robinson still on the board would be an interesting litmus test for GM Brad Holmes.
One of his two top-30 visits was to Tampa, and what better way to kick off the post-Tom Brady era than to help out the team’s new starter with a stronger run game. In addition to being a rare talent as a runner and quite underrated as a receiver, Robinson also could give a tense Tampa locker room a breath of fresh air. Teams have raved about his character and uplifting personality all draft season.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
The Giants badly need to add juice to their receiver room. Whether they have too many slot-receiver types is a fair question to ask if the 173-pound Addison is the pick. He’s also not really a burner, but his elite route-running skills are what set him apart. It was pretty obvious late in the season how limited New York's offense was because of the receivers' difficulties separating.
Jahmyr Gibbs was awfully tempting here as another weapon for Justin Herbert, but that would be four straight years of drafting for offense with the team's top pick. Corner remains a big need, especially with J.C. Jackson’s injury timetable unclear. Porter has the length and athleticism to tempt Brandon Staley, and the Chargers seem to put stock in prospects with NFL bloodlines (Joey Bosa, Asante Samuel Jr., Nasir Adderley, et al.).
The clarion call to draft another receiver high remains loud, but here the Ravens address a different priority. Pairing the athletic Banks with Marlon Humphrey could really pay off down the line. Banks’ injury history is a bit worrisome, but he has the talent to become a starter-grade corner in the NFL.
Forbes’ slight build (6-foot-1, 166 pounds) will be highly scrutinized, but his playmaking prowess is unquestioned (14 INTs over three seasons, with an NCAA-record six pick-sixes). He’d be a strong replacement for Patrick Peterson on what was the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense a year ago. New defensive coordinator Brian Flores could use a man corner with Forbes’ length and skill set.
Branch isn’t big (6-foot, 190 pounds) and didn’t test that well athletically at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he’s an extremely smart and instinctive player who can wear a lot of hats in the secondary. Jaguars secondary coach Deshea Townsend (a 'Bama grad) spent time with Branch at his pro day, and I think defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell could unleash Branch the way Caldwell’s mentor, Todd Bowles, has used Antoine Winfield Jr. in Tampa Bay.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH NEW YORK GIANTS
Tight end isn’t a glaring, immediate need, but it’s a position the 'Hawks could stand to upgrade, especially with Colby Parkinson and Noah Fant set for free agency next offseason. Mayer is such a rock-solid prospect and could eventually grow into Geno Smith’s third receiving option, taking some of the pressure off of DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
I strongly considered some front-seven options here, but the Bills have gone defense with their top pick four years running and there was no perfect fit in my mind. Trading down feels like the preference. Hyatt's game still needs refinement, but this is an environment in which he could thrive: as a low-volume, high-return deep threat out of the slot. Josh Allen had trouble connecting on vertical shots late in the season, and Hyatt can help fix that.
I’m not certain the Bengals would draft a back this high -- they haven’t since 2004 -- but desperate times and all that. Samaje Perine is gone, and Joe Mixon's recent legal issues cloud an already-uncertain future with the team. Gibbs would be a massive improvement in a receiving-heavy role. The Bengals targeted their backs a whopping 133 times last season but averaged just 6.0 yards per target, with a long of 35 yards.
The Saints have long favored mass and length in their defensive linemen, which is why I went with Smith over, say, Calijah Kancey. Bryan Bresee might be another option here, but Smith checks a lot of boxes for New Orleans. He might never fill up the box score, but he can help occupy blockers and close down running lanes and passing windows.
Bresee’s medical evaluation (ACL tear in Sept. 2021 and shoulder surgery in Jan. 2022) will hold the key to his ultimate landing spot; he could potentially go 15 picks higher than this, or 15 lower. The Eagles lost Javon Hargrave and his 11 sacks in free agency, and 2023 could be Fletcher Cox’s final season with the team. Philadelphia will likely look to add to the D-line early. And, as always, moving up or down is in play with this team.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Doubling down on defense wouldn’t be the worst idea for Detroit, as Round 2 still should be rich with TE talent. Kancey is smaller than Levi Onwuzurike but could provide more pass-rush juice than the injury-riddled Onwuzurike has to this point. And given Brad Holmes’ Rams background, taking an undersized penetrator would not be shocking.