Coming back with my first mock draft since last April, one thing stands out to me: It's way more fun when we have a bevy of quarterbacks in the top half of first-round projections, right? That's the case in this simulation, with four QBs among the first 11 picks -- and another signal-caller coming off the board at No. 20. But that isn't the only intriguing aspect of this draft ...
What about the four teams picking in the top 10 that also have a second first-round selection? How will Houston, Seattle, Detroit and Philadelphia navigate the draft board? How strongly will each consider potential trade scenarios?
Long story short, Round 1 in Kansas City could provide a whole lot of delicious drama on the night of Thursday, April 27. So, with that in mind, let's have some fun with this no-trade projection of the first 31 picks!
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.
Big, prototypically framed quarterbacks have been the constant in Frank Reich's coaching history, but "playmaker" was the characteristic he identified this offseason as most important when searching for a franchise QB. Young's ability to create, which is all over his two years of tape at Alabama, certainly fits the bill.
The best pure passer in this draft uses ball placement as his superpower, elevating the skill players around him by allowing them to showcase their talents after the catch. Stroud’s stellar postseason performances at Ohio State give Houston a glimpse of the player he can be when the lights shine brightest, as he’ll be tasked with leading this team back to big-game situations.
This is the first obvious trade spot of the draft, but if the Cardinals stick and pick, Anderson checks all the boxes. With immense production coming off the edge for 'Bama -- 34.5 sacks over his three seasons in Tuscaloosa -- Anderson also represents the safest pick in this draft. Plus, Arizona needs a proven winner.
Arguably the biggest wild card of the draft, Richardson also possesses the highest upside. The Colts must come away with a QB of the future, and if they’re deciding between Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis, who have similar floors as prospects, then why not take the player with the higher ceiling? To me, that's the uber-athletic, rocket-armed Richardson.
The Seahawks find themselves in a great spot in this simulation, with two of the three best defensive players still available. I'm giving them Wilson here simply because he provides explosiveness off the edge, something Seattle has needed for years. That said, they could definitely go with the interior pass-rush option in Jalen Carter.
Carter’s off-the-field troubles send him falling into the Lions’ lap and under the workmanlike tutelage of head coach Dan Campbell, who might have just the right temperament to maximize Carter’s supreme talent.
The Jimmy Garoppolo signing allows the Raiders to be patient in the draft. If they love Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, they could certainly take him here. In this case, though, Las Vegas instead opts to select arguably the best defensive player available while also addressing an area of need.
The Falcons have been searching for an impactful edge presence since Vic Beasley led the league in sacks in 2016, so why not turn to another talented Clemson product? Murphy has flown under the radar during the pre-draft process due to a hamstring injury that prevented him from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine and the Tigers’ official pro day, but his ability and impact was easy to see throughout his collegiate career.
The Bears clearly signaled their intention to build around Justin Fields as their QB1 when they traded out of the first pick. So, how do you best support the third-year signal-caller? With playmakers and protectors. They got the former in the trade with Carolina, adding an established stud in receiver D.J. Moore. Now they snag the latter, picking the best offensive lineman in this class in Skoronski. Staying in the state of Illinois, the Northwestern product offers position versatility along the line, giving Chicago flexibility in simply getting its best five players out in front of Fields.
It's no secret the Titans have been doing their work on this QB class. Ryan Tannehill's been a quality starter for Tennessee, but he's in the last year of his contract and carries a $36.6 million cap hit. Levis brings a similar skill set to the table with athleticism and arm talent while also feeling like a more polished product at this point than last year's third-round QB, Malik Willis.
The muscled-up Iowa Hawkeye finds a home in Houston with first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans. The defense Ryans led in San Francisco was consistently among the best and most productive in the league, and Van Ness gives the Texans a big piece to build that type of foundation up front.
Love that Mekhi Becton looks to be in great shape on his road to recovery, but the Jets need some insurance based on how many different O-line combos they had to work with last year. Johnson also started at guard in Columbus before excelling on the blind side this past season, which could give New York some flexibility up front.
Feels like the Patriots also could've gone this route at No. 14. With Jones still on the board and the Packers' recent string of unfortunate injuries to key pieces along the offensive line, the athletic Georgia bookend gives Green Bay some piece of mind as Jordan Love prepares to take the reins.
The Commanders did well selecting lengthy CB Benjamin St-Juste in the third round two years ago and could go back to that well to snag a better prospect with similar length.
The Steelers' offensive line has not performed up to Pittsburgh's standard over the last couple of years. Wright presents an opportunity to upgrade one bookend spot for years to come.
Detroit's roster has seen major improvements under GM Brad Holmes. Consequently, the Lions are in a good spot here to take the best player remaining on their board. For me, that'd be Kincaid, who is the top tight end in a stellar positional crop. Kincaid gives Jared Goff a big, physical target to pair with young receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams.
The Bucs need some juice coming off the edge. Smith, who blew up the NFL Scouting Combine with a mind-bending 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 238 pounds, certainly fits the bill. If the top four tackles weren't already off the board at this point, I'd have given that serious consideration, so Tampa could also be looked at as a team that might benefit from trading down.
If not for the November ACL tear against South Carolina, Hooker's talent, decision-making ability and production would've seen him more prominently featured in the top-QB conversation in this class. Even with the injury, Hooker remains a not-so-distant future starter in this league -- and the presence of Geno Smith to hold down the QB1 spot in Seattle for at least another year makes this an easy projection.
Los Angeles corners the market on smaller-than-prototype defensive tackles who hail from Pitt! Kancey's frame and athletic profile are strikingly similar to those of Aaron Donald. While nobody is saying the 22-year-old's going to have an AD type of impact right away -- ever? -- Kancey's interior-disruption potential could give Brandon Staley flashbacks to when he was calling the Rams' defense with the first-ballot Hall of Famer as the centerpiece.
Does the Odell Beckham Jr. signing alone get Lamar Jackson back in the building? Probably not. Could grabbing arguably the best receiver in this class further help the cause? Couldn't hurt! A healthy Rashod Bateman and OBJ on the outside with JSN in the slot and Mark Andrews at tight end could make this the top 11-personnel grouping in the league!
Hendon Hooker is off the board here, and the Vikings could use some help on defense ... but the potential of pairing a big-bodied physical specimen with Justin Jefferson might be too appealing to pass up in this scenario. Johnston has some work to do on his hands, but he offers terrific run-after-the-catch ability and could alleviate some pressure on Jefferson.
Similar to what I mentioned with the Lions, the Jaguars' roster is in a much better place now than it was when they were making back-to-back No. 1 overall picks. And in the AFC, if you're not supporting your quarterback, you better be building your defense to defend the elite signal-callers across the conference. Banks helps fortify Jacksonville's secondary for another playoff run.
The run on receivers continues with team need and positional value aligning here at No. 25. Addison, the smoothest route runner in this class, would give Daniel Jones someone he could trust to get open consistently on the perimeter.
Four wide receivers in the first round, and the fourth off the board -- Flowers -- has just as much potential as the previous three to end up with the best production when the dust settles on the 2023 season. A smaller body type at 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, but rarely does Flowers' size limit his impact.
Is there a better match between prospect and fan base than this jovial North Dakota State mauler and the Bills Mafia? Mauch played left tackle for the Bison, but could kick inside to guard and also took center reps at the Senior Bowl, thus providing valuable versatility to the Bills' O-line. Plus, Josh Allen generates many first downs for Mauch to emphatically celebrate.
Tight end is the one place on offense where the Bengals haven't significantly invested. While Mayer isn't the best receiver or blocker in this TE class, he is the prospect who provides the best mix of both.
Interior offensive line feels like a possibility here with O'Cyrus Torrence and the top centers still on the board, but Washington is often affectionately referred to as a sixth offensive lineman in the run game, so that kind of counts, right? I think his ability as a dominant blocker also overshadows his talents as a receiver, which might blossom down in New Orleans with Derek Carr now running the offense.
Continue to build at a position of strength. It's a draft philosophy we've seen the Eagles employ often, and that theme continues here. White is capable of playing outside in an edge-defender role, but his bigger frame and strength also give him the potential to kick inside when needed. Another versatile piece for Philly's deep D-line.
Looking to build one of the better defenses in football with young talent on reasonable contracts continues to be the trend for the defending Super Bowl champions. FAU gives the Chiefs a pass rusher to help fill the void left by the release of Frank Clark -- and at a much more palatable cap number.