One of the biggest events on the NFL calendar is just around the corner as the 2023 NFL Draft takes place at Kansas City’s Union Station from April 27-29. Every year, a plethora of intriguing prospects wait anxiously in the wings waiting to hear their names called before taking their first steps into their NFL careers. This year, the number one overall pick has never been more unpredictable. After last year’s draft saw just one quarterback go in the first round, at least three are projected to go into the top five this year. The Carolina Panthers enter this draft with the No. 1 overall pick after making a blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bears that included a haul of picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore. The question is: who will they choose? Will it be Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s CJ Stroud? We’ll have to wait and find out, but for now, we can only try and predict what the future holds for each of these prospects.
#1: Carolina Panthers (from CHI)
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Who knows what the Panthers are thinking? Both Young and Stroud have limitless talent in their own ways. If you want an athletic QB who can still sling it down the field and hurt you with his legs, you’d take Young. If you wanted a bigger QB that’s limited in the pocket but makes up for it with pinpoint accuracy, you’d take Stroud. With that said the Panthers should not let the 5’10” frame of Bryce Young fool them. Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, can bring a whole new dynamic to the team offensively. Despite his small frame, he has incredible pocket awareness and the ability to make every throw at all three levels. New head coach Frank Reich said he didn’t rule out Young over his size and that Young draws similar comparisons to nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson, who is only an inch taller. It should also be noted that Young broke the Tide’s single-season passing yards record (4,872) without having a single receiver top more than 700 yards. Yes, he’d be the unanimous No. 1 pick if he was just a few inches taller, but regardless, he plays at a high level that not many quarterbacks his size can’t match. Carolina can’t go wrong with either choice, but in terms of overall success and potential, Young has the higher ceiling.
#2: Houston Texans
CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Even though it’s only the second pick, this is where the draft could ultimately implode. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Texans won’t rule out the option of passing up on a QB and trading down in the draft or even taking a defensive player at No. 2. This is the type of buzz that could shake the draft entirely. Because that option doesn’t seem logical for the long term, we’ll assume the Panthers take Young before Stroud becomes the next man to hear his name called. The Ohio State product possesses many physical traits that Young doesn’t have. Stroud has the size advantage at 6’3″ and a strong build. His accuracy is off the charts (71.9% in 2021) and he has shown the ability to be an outstanding team leader. What Stroud did against the No. 1 defense in America (Georgia) in the CFP semifinal tells you all you need to know about him (348 passing yards, 4 TDs, 0 turnovers). One topic that will be discussed in the coming months is how he’ll adapt outside of the Ohio State offensive scheme. A big part of Stroud’s success was his ability to rely on No. 1 receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., a projected top-10 pick in 2024. Unless the Texans ultimately grab him an offensive weapon with their other first-round selection at No. 12, Stroud will be throwing to a group that includes Robert Woods, Nico Collins, and John Metchie III who has yet to play a down in the NFL. If Stroud is there at 2, the Texans should not hesitate to take him right away. The floor might be lower than Young’s, but he’ll look to replace Deshaun Watson as the new face of the franchise and lift Houston back to its winning ways.
Projected trade: Colts trade 4th overall pick, second-rounder, and 2024 second-rounder to Cardinals for 3rd overall pick
This is the only trade I’m going fully in-depth into because there will be numerous trades in this mock edition and there won’t be enough space to fit all the information in. There aren’t many teams near the top looking for a quarterback and given how well the top four quarterbacks in this class stack up, a trade is bound to happen in this spot. Teams have already inquired the Cardinals about trading the No. 3 pick since Arizona isn’t in the running for a quarterback and looking to stock up on draft capital. It seems unconventional for a team to move up one spot in the draft, especially in the top five. But if you’re the Colts, the last thing you want is for another team to leapfrog you and potentially steal the quarterback that you preferred. Yes, it’ll cost some picks, but the trade-up is worth the price by guaranteeing they’ll have the guy they want. Meanwhile, the Cardinals would gain a couple of picks and harmlessly move back just one spot, which still keeps them in a favorable position to grab a premium prospect. The Colts would be gambling either way by moving up a spot to grab their franchise player or staying put at No. 4 and hoping that another team doesn’t trade up ahead of them. I’ll go with the former.
#3: Indianapolis Colts (from ARI via mock trade)
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
The arrival of former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to Indy could be the first sign that the Colts trade up and grab the most athletic QB in the draft in Richardson. At 6’4″ and 231 lbs, Richardson has elite athleticism and a lot of arm talent. He’s very mobile in the pocket and willing to make explosive passes downfield. Richardson’s speed will be hard for any quarterback to match after he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. Inconsistency and a lack of experience at the QB position will be an issue for teams evaluating him as he didn’t produce eye-popping stats during his time at Florida (2,549 passing yards, 17 TDs in 2022 but only appeared in seven games in 2021). It’s also tough to judge Richardson’s tape since he didn’t exactly play in the best offensive system compared to Young at Alabama and Stroud at Ohio State. He’ll be an excellent fit under Steichen and imagining him and Pro Bowl RB Jonathan Taylor in the same backfield sounds frightening to the rest of the AFC South. The Colts are hoping that whatever Steichen did to develop Jalen Hurts into the MVP-caliber player he is today, they’re hoping he can do the same to Richardson.
#4: Arizona Cardinals (from IND via mock trade)
Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
The Arizona Cardinals are a dysfunctional mess right now. All-Pro Budda Baker requested a trade, WR DeAndre Hopkins is seemingly on his way out of Arizona, and QB Kyler Murray’s relationship with the organization has turned sour. The good news is that they have plenty of options to choose from with the No. 3 pick. With another rebuild likely in their sights, the first step would be to draft Anderson. He’s the safest pick on the board because he checks all the boxes of being a premier defender in the NFL. He’s dominant off the line of scrimmage, fluid with his footwork, and tactical around the edge. His long wingspan allows him to attack the middle and disrupt rush paths. New Cardinals HC Jonathan Gannon can work him into a 4-3 defense that will allow him to play wide and use his length to his advantage. Even without defensive linemen J.J. Watt and Zach Allen, Anderson can salvage a Cardinals pass rush that ranked in the bottom ten of the league in sacks (36).
#5: Seattle Seahawks (from DEN)
Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
It seems that Seattle won the Russell Wilson trade after making the playoffs with journeyman Geno Smith at quarterback last season and still managed to lock down a top-5 pick in the draft after the Broncos finished with a disappointing 5-12 record under Wilson. After signing DT Jarran Reed and returning LB Bobby Wagner, the Seahawks’ pass rush would be complete with Carter on the defensive line. He’s a versatile defender with a rare blend of explosiveness and lateral quickness at 314 lbs. Carter also takes advantage of sloppy guard play by using swim and club moves to get to the backfield and once he gets past the line, he finishes the play. While the talent is there, his character is something that will have to be monitored throughout the next few months. After being involved in an off-the-field incident, many teams have been assessing his maturity level. He was reportedly not finishing drills during his workout at the Chiefs’ facility and not giving “100% effort.” The Seahawks have an experienced roster and the staff to straighten him up. If he can mature and learn how to adapt to the pro level, he’ll be the most complete prospect out of this whole draft class. Adding Carter to an already menacing defensive line will make the Seahawks’ defense extremely tough for opposing O-lines to guard.
#6: Detroit Lions (from LAR)
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The CB class is stacked with loads of talent as there are currently four CBs projected to go in the first round. The Lions made moves in the secondary by adding CB Cameron Sutton in free agency and then proceeded to swipe safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, the NFL’s leader in interceptions last season, from the defending NFC champion Eagles. But they also traded former first-round corner Jeff Okudah to the Falcons while Gardner-Johnson and newly acquired corner Emmanuel Moseley enter the 2023-24 season on one-year deals. So the point of emphasis will continue to be focused on a secondary that gave up the 3rd-most passing yards per game last season (245.8). Gonzalez is explosive on the outside and plays loosely at the position. He’s incredibly fast and can match any deep-threat receiver with his ridiculous acceleration. The technique will be an issue for him in his rookie year, but Gonzalez has all the traits to become a star in the future. For a team on the rise, Detroit would be a fantastic place for him to start his NFL career as he would instantly become a Day 1 starter and, hopefully, be the star that we thought Okudah could be.
#7: Las Vegas Raiders
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
It would be oddly satisfying to see two corners go back-to-back in the top 10. Maybe Witherspoon falls to the middle of the round. Maybe he doesn’t. That being said, the Raiders are also in desperate need of help in the secondary after giving up the 4th-most passing yards per game last season (242.9) and would be willing to take Witherspoon in this spot. The All-American corner was dominant at Illinois, recording 14 pass deflections that ranked 10th in FBS. Witherspoon is outstanding in coverage (he can play press or off-ball coverage) and he’s designed to fit multiple defensive schemes. He isn’t the fastest corner but rather the most active as he’s shown great route recognition and awareness of the ball. With the Raiders entering the season with a young secondary, Witherspoon would provide much-needed depth and reunite with college teammate Nate Hobbs, the Raiders’ primary CB. Having Hobbs and Witherspoon on the outside gives them a chance to compete in a tough AFC West division including some of the best pass-catchers in Travis Kelce, Keenan Allen, and Jerry Jeudy. Unless the Raiders trade up for one of the top quarterbacks, there’s no reason for them to pass up on Witherspoon given the talent of this cornerback class and the pressing need for one.
#8: Houston Texans (from ATL via mock trade)
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Former 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is at the helm of Houston, which means he will emphasize drafting defense throughout the three-day event. Atlanta seems to be a favorable trade partner at this spot looking for extra picks to bolster that defense. With another first-round pick, Houston will jump the gun and trade up for a top-tier pass-rusher with tremendous upside that somehow fell past the top five. Wilson’s draft stock has skyrocketed immensely over the past month after having an impressive combine and pro day at Texas Tech. He has a jaw-dropping wingspan, clocking in at a whopping 86″ (only one inch shorter than Giannis’!). His length allows him to become a mean run disruptor, record tackles from distance, and more importantly, knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. The scary part about Wilson is that he’s still growing and becoming stronger by the day despite his already elite frame. Houston’s run defense was the worst in the NFL a year ago (170.2 rushing yards per game allowed) and it’s clear that if Wilson is still on the board by then, don’t be surprised if the Texans play chess and move up for him.
#9: Chicago Bears (from CAR)
Paris Johnson Jr, OT, Ohio State
Chicago had the No. 1 pick before trading it to Carolina for a boatload of picks that will immediately lift the Bears into the next step of their rebuild. When you look back at the 2022 season, one problem stood out among the others: Justin Fields got sacked a lot, and I mean, a lot. He was tied with Russell Wilson for taking the most sacks (55) last season. The obvious choice here is offensive tackle, but which one? I’ll go with Johnson over Skoronski solely on the fact that he’s more lengthy and capable of handling the edge better than Skoronski. Johnson is a move blocker who fits the bill of what the Bears are looking for as they try to find a tackle that can set the edge and give Fields more room to maneuver outside the pocket. Once he’s positioned on the left side of the Bears’ O-line, that’s another cushion for Fields to rely on. This is all about putting Fields in the best possible position for him to succeed and selecting Johnson would further validate that goal.
#10: New England Patriots (from PHI via mock trade)
Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
When it comes to the draft, Bill Belichick rarely trades up. He’s the type of coach to let the board play out before it’s his turn instead of making an early move (the Patriots have never traded up in the top 10 of the draft during the Belichick era). Unlike previous years though, New England has 11 picks in this year’s draft. With Skoronski being passed up by the Bears and the Eagles possibly waiting for a trade partner, a move makes sense here. Skoronski plays more like a guard with good positioning and excellent anticipation of pass-rushers. He can counter twists and finesse moves even with his short arms. Not only would Skoronski provide more comfort for pocket-passer QB Mac Jones, but it’ll open more running lanes for RB Rhamondre Stevenson as Skoronski thrives more in a run-blocking scheme. Jumping the OL-needy Titans and Jets to upgrade the line would be a clever move despite New England’s hollow history of trading up in the draft.
#11: Tennessee Titans
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The last few years have been middling for the Tennessee Titans and a change of scenery is needed in the Music City. Ryan Tannehill is entering the last year of his contract and Malik Willis’ future looks bleak in Tennessee. It seems far-fetched for the Titans to take a quarterback in round one when they could be building around Willis, but if they don’t believe in Willis, Levis seems ideal for the long term. He’s not the most polished quarterback in this class but has the prototypical build for an NFL quarterback. At 6’4″, Levis is athletic and has the tools to thrive in a full-read passing scheme. He dealt with injuries in his final year at Kentucky and struggled mightily with his rhythm, raising some concerns from scouts evaluating him as a potential top-10 pick. He’s also 23 years old, not an ideal age for a rookie QB that teams want to develop. Levis has a wide draft projection range from top-5 to outside the top 20. It’ll be a transitional year for the Titans as they figure out what to do with Tannehill and Willis, but even if either of them leaves, there’s a real possibility that Levis sits a year behind whoever is starting for the Titans in 2023.
#12: Atlanta Falcons (from HOU via mock trade)
Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
The Falcons trading back works out in their favor as they find another pass-rusher steadily rising up the draft boards. Smith isn’t the biggest defender, but surprisingly, he’s an excellent run defender and can shoot the gaps in the middle. He’s tough to neutralize even with his undersized frame and he could also take snaps at linebacker to patrol crossing routes and medium pass plays. Atlanta had trouble getting to the quarterback a year ago (22 sacks, second-worst in NFL) but that total will go up with the arrival of Smith. Adding veteran defensive end Calais Campbell was a good start, but they’ll need to do more to ensure they have a fierce pass rush that can compete against the likes of Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr, and presumably the Panthers’ No. 1 pick. Nolan Smith is sneaking his way up draft boards and it’d be hard for Atlanta to pass up on the Georgia product.
#13: Green Bay Packers (from NYJ)
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
It’s the end of an era in Titletown. Aaron Rodgers is no longer a Packer and the reins have been handed over to Jordan Love. So the Packers will have to do everything they can to make him comfortable heading into the 2023-24 season. Adding another playmaker in Mayer immediately fills the void that TE Robert Tonyan left and gives Love an extra weapon in his arsenal. Mayer excels in run-blocking and high-pointing heavily contested catches. He’s like an extension of your offensive line, which will give RB Aaron Jones more room to maneuver on the outside. While Mayer isn’t great at route running, he can make big plays by moving the chains with his unique combination of blocking and making contested catches. GM Brian Gutekunst has been known for his popular failures in past drafts. Let’s hope he sees Green Bay’s future as well as we do.
#14: Philadelphia Eagles (from NE via mock trade)
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Taking a running back in the first round doesn’t sound like the most appealing choice given the fact that teams don’t value the running back position in the first round since it’s the least valuable position on an NFL roster. But with RB Miles Sanders’ departure from the Eagles, there’s a giant void at the position. Bijan Robinson is just different from RB prospects in the past. He has the perfect build for a modern NFL running back (6’0″, 220 lbs) and a unique skill set. Robinson can bounce off defenders, make them miss with lateral cuts, and even outrun them with his track-level speed. In the passing game, he can run designed wheel routes and swing passes, making him another threat for defensive backs to cover. Pairing Robinson in the same backfield with Jalen Hurts instantly makes the offense ten times better than it was a year ago because it’ll spread the playbook for more RPOs and give defenses another threat for them to worry about. In an offense that already features playmakers such as A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert, Robinson going to the Eagles makes too much sense.
#15: New York Jets (from GB)
Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Aaron Rodgers is finally a Jet. Six long weeks removed from his emphatic statement, “I’m a Jet.”, Rodgers will be playing in a darker shade of green in 2023. New York swapped first-round picks with Green Bay (13 to 15) but it shouldn’t alter their draft plans despite the trade. Offensive tackle should be the right path to go if they want to protect their new QB. Jones is an athletic tackle that can drive his defenders back to the line of scrimmage. He played basketball in high school, which tells you all you need to know about his athleticism. Jones also started all 15 games at left tackle for the championship-winning Georgia Bulldogs. The Jets have to fill the void at right tackle so they may have to move Jones to the other side of the line. New York must be smart here and take the best available tackle off the board for the soon-to-be 40-year-old Rodgers.
#16: Washington Commanders
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
If only the Steelers were a pick higher, Joey Porter Jr. could’ve followed in his dad’s footsteps and played for the team that All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter Sr. won a Super Bowl with. The Commanders could end up taking an offensive tackle instead but the value is too low at this spot. They need help at cornerback and Porter would be too easy of a prospect for them to pass up. “JPJ” is excellent at rerouting receivers and closing out catch windows. He can get very handsy at the top of the route, but all great corners have that issue in their rookie year. Washington’s star-making front-seven has been overly relied on due to the secondary giving up numerous big plays over the last few years. Porter will immediately become a Day 1 starter and help alleviate the Commanders’ defensive struggles on the back end.
#17: Pittsburgh Steelers
Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
I know I said teams would be devaluing offensive linemen in this spot and trading down isn’t out of the question. But if the Steelers were to miss out on Porter Jr., I wouldn’t be surprised if the tackle position is still on top of their needs list. Wright, who played right tackle in all 13 starts at Tennessee last season, immediately fills that void. He has a massive frame (6’5″, 333 lbs.) that allows him to become a drive blocker. Wright uses power and tactical hand usage to drive his opponents back. If there’s any evidence that he can be a dominant protector in the NFL, just watch his tape from the game against Alabama when he shut down projected top-5 pick Will Anderson Jr., holding him to just three tackles and zero sacks. Wright can play both left and right tackle (preferably the latter) so the Steelers can move him to the blindside spot to ensure QB Kenny Pickett has enough time to maneuver in the pocket. Now here’s where his old teammate comes in. . .
#18: Seattle Seahawks (from DET via mock trade)
Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
If you want madness in the draft, here’s one for you. The Seahawks will shake up the board by moving up two spots to take the fifth QB off the board: Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker. You might be thinking, “That’s way too high of a pick.” or, “They have Geno Smith.” At some point, Seattle has to think about the long term. Smith just re-signed with Seattle on a 3-year, $105 million contract, but he’s 32 years old and can opt out of his contract at any time. Fans forget that Hooker was one of the best quarterbacks in college football and even in the running for the Heisman before his brutal ACL tear. He thrives on a half-read offense (spacing and speed routes) and he’s more accurate outside the pocket. Hooker is at his best when the offense is spread out and not bunched up altogether. He’s the oldest QB prospect in this class at 25 years old but he’s shown to be the most mature out of all the quarterbacks. If Seattle HC Pete Carroll has the chance to take him under his wing just like he did with Smith and Russell Wilson, Hooker would be in a fantastic spot.
#19: New York Giants (from TB via mock trade)
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
I think Tampa would be willing to trade down if a quarterback doesn’t fall to them at 19. New York, a team with 10 picks in the draft, is a suitable trade partner for the Bucs with the 25th pick. The wide receiver class isn’t being valued much unlike in previous years because teams are putting more focus on this talented defensive class. Smith-Njigba is a guy the Giants would love to pair with QB Daniel Jones. “JSN” shattered multiple records at Ohio State, including the Rose Bowl and Ohio State single-game record for most receiving yards with 347 in the 2022 Rose Bowl Game. He rarely drops passes and knows where to find the soft zones in the teeth of the defense. He’s at his best when he plays in the slot, which could balance out the passing attack by giving outside wideouts Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton more space to move the ball downfield. With the Giants staying committed to Jones under center, getting him a No. 1 receiver would elevate the passing offense to heights it couldn’t quite reach last season.
#20: Detroit Lions (from SEA via mock trade)
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt
After going corner with their first pick, the Lions should stick with the defensive formula and upgrade their front seven. Even after drafting DE Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick in last year’s draft, Detroit’s sack total last season was still middle of the pack (39 sacks, 18th in NFL). Kancey, who recorded 14.5 sacks in two years at Pitt, can help boost that total and provide the Lions with another force up front. He’s undersized for a defensive tackle, but he’s quick and not afraid to shoot the gap and finish plays in the backfield. He has a motor that no other defensive tackle has and that will terrorize any guard who has to block him. If they can add some more speed along the defensive line with the selection of Kancey, that could go a long way toward matching up with some of the best offenses in a competitive NFC.
#21: Los Angeles Chargers
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
No team in the NFL dealt with more injuries in 2022 than the Los Angeles Chargers. WR Keenan Allen missed 10 games and WR Mike Williams played through an ankle injury for much of the season. Third-string wideout Jalen Guyton is also playing in the final year of his contract. Giving Herbert a third playmaker makes this offense more dangerous than ever. Flowers is another fantastic slot receiver with sudden acceleration and a fast route-running ability. Dropping passes is a nagging issue for him, but the explosiveness could prove to be valuable for a team like Los Angeles. Flowers would immediately fill the void at the slot with Allen and Williams on the outside and could blossom into new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s aggressive big-play system.
#22: Philadelphia Eagles (from BAL via mock trade)
Brian Branch, S, Alabama
After trading down to take Bijan, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eagles GM Howie Roseman makes another move with his second pick. Bolstering the secondary after losing CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency seems like the next logical move for Philadelphia. Branch is a player that shouldn’t be overlooked just because he plays the safety position. He’s got the range and instincts to be a high-level safety in the NFL. He can match up with some of the best slot receivers and disrupt throwing lanes on the outside as well. What’s most impressive about Branch is that he doesn’t have any real weaknesses in his game. He has often been compared to All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and that’s a comparison that bodes well for him and any team that’s been doing their homework on him. This could be a massive steal for the defending NFC champs.
#23: Minnesota Vikings
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Quarterback remains a need as Kirk Cousins was denied an extension and got his contract restructured instead, making him a free agent in 2024. Unfortunately, five quarterbacks have already gone off the board and they may have to look to another need. Losing WR Adam Thielen to free agency creates an obvious hole that the Vikings are also willing to fill at 23. Johnston is a tall receiver with long strides that help him create separation downfield. He’s also got freak athleticism and would benefit from having an accurate, deep-ball quarterback like Cousins throwing the ball to him. Johnston’s production is slightly concerning (he only caught 6 of TCU QB Max Duggan’s 32 touchdown passes a year ago) but the length and athleticism he provides on the outside can be enough to overcome his limitations. Playing alongside star WR Justin Jefferson will allow him to play against single coverage in his rookie year. That’s a major factor in why Johnston should be at the top of Minnesota’s draft board.
#24: Jacksonville Jaguars
Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Some players are bound to rise in the first round. And others are bound to fall. Van Ness could easily be the latter since not many teams in the middle of the round have the term “edge rusher” listed as their top need. The Jaguars did draft pass-rusher Travon Walker with the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, but he transitioned to outside linebacker in his rookie year, leaving a spot on the defensive end open. Van Ness tallied 7 sacks as a freshman at Iowa and 11 tackles for loss the following season. He’s an agile defender that can take down mobile quarterbacks and push the pocket. In a 3-4 defense like Jacksonville, Van Ness can play out wide and open pass-rush lanes for linebackers Walker, Josh Allen, and Devin Lloyd to get sack opportunities. Add in his ability to recognize developing run plays before the handoff and Van Ness has all the traits that the Jaguars are looking for in pass rushers.
#25: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from NYG via mock trade)
Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
The Buccaneers are going to have to look for a quarterback in the later rounds and shift their focus to the secondary instead. They are thin at cornerback with the departure of Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean entering the final year of his 4-year, $52 million contract. Forbes is a game-changer who lives off of takeaways. He can pounce on quick throws and get his hands on the ball quicker than most receivers can. At Mississippi State, he recorded 14 interceptions, six of them returned for touchdowns. He can be overly aggressive and off-balance when making tackles, but there’s a lot to love about Forbes and his ball-hawk skills. Bucs HC Todd Bowles would be thrilled about this pick.
#26: Dallas Cowboys
O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida
There are plenty of directions that the Cowboys can go here. Fans are split on whether Dallas should be eyeing an edge rusher, a pass-catcher, or even an offensive lineman this late in the draft. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility of them trading down and finding better value early on Day 2. That being said, the offensive line remains the top priority with the selection of Torrence. He’s broad all around and a difficult guard for interior pass rushers to get around. Torrence sustains blocks with his hands well without getting penalized (zero penalties committed last season). If you watch the tape of him in his matchups with Georgia DT Jalen Carter, you’d be impressed. His size and slow foot movement will limit him from taking on the most athletic pass-rushers, but the Cowboys would value size over athleticism in this case. With OT Tyler Biadasz entering a contract year and LG Connor McGovern leaving for Buffalo, it’s clear that they need to fill the glaring hole at the position. Take notes, Jerry Jones.
#27: Los Angeles Rams (from BUF via mock trade)
Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
A trade out of the first round? At this spot, Buffalo can easily afford to give up their spot and take extra picks since they’re entering the draft with only six picks in total. Meanwhile, the Rams, who have a whopping 11 picks, make the rarest of moves and jump into the first round for their first selection in the round since 2016 when they drafted QB Jared Goff at No. 1 overall. Banks falling to 27 could very well instigate a trade considering the Rams just traded All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey to the Dolphins last month. Banks is a well-rounded defender with smooth hips and the ability to mirror releases off the line of scrimmage. With a blend of speed and strength, he can play in any defensive scheme, which could come in handy for teams wanting to use him in various coverages. He needs to do a better job of anticipating routes and recognizing where the ball is at all times, but his versatility and skill set fit the traits of a quality defensive back. Banks would be a perfect replacement for Ramsey and a foundational piece for the Rams to build around in what should be a rebuilding year.
#28: Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense are going to be dominating the league for years to come. The WR core of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd remains the top core to stop. They’re just missing one valuable piece: a game-changing tight end. Kincaid is a premium pass-catcher known for his fluid route-running and insane ball skills. He’s a matchup nightmare, taking advantage of mismatches and tracking the ball as well as any receiver can. He led all tight ends in receiving yards with 890 at Utah, proving that he can be a difference-maker in any pro-level offense. Kincaid needs to work on his blocking skills, which could do Burrow no favors in terms of pass protection. But the talent and the potential are there for him to succeed as an elite pass-catching tight end who plays like a wide receiver. Drafting Kincaid gives Burrow another playmaker to throw to and makes this offense seemingly impossible to stop.
#29: New Orleans Saints (from SF)
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Pass-rusher seems to be the most logical path for the Saints here. Whether it’s a defensive tackle or an edge rusher, they need another defender to stop DE Cameron Jordan from constantly being double-teamed after right DE Marcus Davenport left for the Vikings. Murphy will probably go earlier in the round, but if he’s still on the board this late, he would be the clear answer to replacing Davenport. He’s the most consistent pass-rusher in terms of stats and his long arms allow him to bull through his opponents. He’s got the scheme versatility and the motor to dominate as a pass-rusher, but the question is whether his ceiling’s higher than all of the edge rushers in this class or not. Murphy is a big hit-or-miss prospect.
#30: Baltimore Ravens (from PHI via mock trade)
Jordan Addison, WR, USC
The Lamar Jackson saga continues to be the story of the offseason and should we expect a trade to happen sooner rather than later, maybe the Ravens do end up trading him on draft night for a top-5 pick and blow this whole thing up by grabbing one of the top QBs like C.J. Stroud or Anthony Richardson. But we’re going the logical route here, which is trading back in the round (Baltimore enters the draft with 5 picks) and eyeing a position in desperate need of improvement. Addison, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner, is a small but dynamic route runner with good hands and quick bursts. He’s slippery in the open field and not afraid to run the most complex routes. He lacks catch strength and his catch radius isn’t wide enough for off-target throws, but he’s athletic enough to become a star inside wideout. Bringing Addison to the mix with Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham Jr. would be a smart move for a team that ranked dead last in the NFL in total receiving yards last season.
#31: Kansas City Chiefs
Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech
To end round 1, the defending Super Bowl champs enter the draft with no urgent or glaring needs. Unless they trade out of this spot, “best prospect available” seems to be the route they’re taking. White can easily fill the depth at edge rusher to pair up with George Karlaftis and give the Chiefs a 1-2 combo at the position. While he struggles to shed blocks, he’s got blazing speed around the edge to blow by his opponents. He’s super athletic and a guy that could sneak into the first round. Kansas City needs some speed along the defensive line and White could be the guy they end up taking with the final pick of the round.