Heavy Sports’ 2023 NFL Mock Draft: Inside Scoop From Coaches, Execs & GMs

Bryce Young

Getty Images Former Alabama quarterback Bryce Young speaks with the media at the 2023 NFL Combine.

In a matter of hours, smokescreen season will come to an end, and the 2023 NFL draft — one of the more uncertain and unpredictable drafts in recent memory — will get underway on Thursday, April 27 in Kansas City.

Leading up to the draft getting underway, I’ve spent the past several days working the phones with coaches, scouts, executives, and general managers across the NFL, trying to get a feel for how this class is viewed and how the first round will shape up.

Unlike in years past, there are few consensus selections, maybe even fewer players ready to step in and make an immediate franchise trajectory-altering impact. Especially at the quarterback position.

Here is my lone mock draft, compiled with the help of sourced information gleaned from conversations with the league’s decision-makers leading up to the Panthers’ making their selection with the No. 1 overall pick:

1. Carolina Panthers – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

All of the smoke emanating from Charlotte seems to indicate Bryce Young will be the Panthers’ selection, and their franchise quarterback of the future. Young represents head coach Frank Reich’s first opportunity to mold a young quarterback since he helped develop Carson Wentz into an MVP Candidate, in his second NFL season, back in 2017. Some are skeptical of the fit.

“Bryce doesn’t really fit what Frank does,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy. “He’s always coveted bigger stature quarterbacks, and Young isn’t really a runner.”

If Young is the Panthers’ pick, Reich may need to build his scheme around his new quarterback, rather than dropping his preferred passer into his system.

2. Houston Texans – Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama

The Texans could easily trade out of this spot. But, if general manager Nick Caserio stays put, adding one of this class’s most dominant defensive players could be the surest way to add a player with high-value upside to a defense that finished ranked No. 30 in the NFL last season.

3. Arizona Cardinals – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

The Cardinals might have the most talent-deficient roster in the NFL, and nowhere is that more evident than along the front seven, where Arizona finished No. 23 in sacks last season. Wilson produced an elite 22.3 pass-rush win rate last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

4. Indianapolis Colts – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Indianapolis lands a potential franchise quarterback, in a similar mold to the quarterback new head coach Shane Steichen helped develop into an MVP candidate last season in Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts. Stroud, 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds passed for 3,688 yards with 41 touchdowns to 6 interceptions last season in Columbus.

“I Like his effortless ability to rip it,” an NFL offensive coordinator told Heavy, of Stroud. “He’s a good athlete, but can make all the throws.”

5. Seattle Seahawks – Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

Multiple league sources insist that the Seahawks “love” Jalen Carter, and the indication is that if he is available when Seattle goes on the clock, that general manager John Schneider will hurry the card with his name on it to Commissioner Roger Goodell. Carter was viewed by many as the premier prospect in this class, prior to a tragic pre-draft season that saw the George game-wrecker plead no contest to racing and reckless driving stemming from an accident that killed Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy.

6. Detroit Lions – Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

Detroit plugs a hole in the midst of an ongoing rebuild in the secondary. After trading Jeff Okudah to the Falcons, the Lions pluck Devon Witherspoon, who plucked 3 interceptions and broke up 14 passes last season. “He’s arguably the toughest and most competitive cornerback in a pretty deep cornerback class,” an NFC personnel executive told Heavy.

7. Las Vegas Raiders – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

It wouldn’t be surprising if a bit of a cornerback run happened here. Especially continuing in Las Vegas, with the Raiders staring down the barrel at two games each against Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Russell Wilson inside the AFC West.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Nolan Smith, LB, Georgia

Atlanta has quietly had one of the more productive offseasons across the NFL, with the additions of Calais Campbell and Jeffrey Okudah having the potential to make significant improvements on defense. Those improvements continue, with Smith staying home after producing 11.5 sacks as a key cog of the Bulldogs’ defense.

9. Chicago Bears – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

Bears GM Ryan Poles had three goals this offseason; maximize the value of the No. 1 pick by creating future optionality, rebuild a once proud but downtrodden defense, and set quarterback Justin Fields up for a Year 3 breakout. Poles has made major inroads in the first two objectives, and adding arguably the premier offensive tackle in this class to a porous Bears’ offensive line will go a long way toward unlocking Fields’ potential. Johnson allowed just 2 sacks in 449 pass-blocking snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

10. Philadelphia Eagles – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

Philadelphia’s depth across the roster and talent on offense allows GM Howie Roseman the opportunity to select an explosive running back that can raise the Eagles’ ceiling through the first four years of quarterback Jalen Hurts’ new extension. Robinson averaged 6.12 yards per carry last season, while rushing for 18 touchdowns. Landing in an offense that includes Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert gives Robinson the potential to be a multi-faceted game-altering weapon.

11. Tennessee Titans – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Coming out of the first round with a quarterback feels like a top priority for the Titans. Levis has garnered plenty of buzz this pre-draft season, and his mobility and arm strength have fueled a meteoric rise as the draft approaches.

12. Houston Texans – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

Houston needs to load up on blue chip talent, regardless of who the quarterback of the future is. This could easily be a spot for a quarterback, but Smith-Njigba is viewed higher than most of the passers in several buildings around the NFL, and for good reason. The former Buckeyes standout caught 95 of 112 targets in 2021, his most recent fully-healthy season, and averaged 16.8 Yards per Catch that year. Smith-Njigba is an upgrade over recently departed burner Brandin Cooks.

13. Green Bay Packers (via New York Jets) – Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

This pick feels earmarked to helping Jordan Love get his tenure as the Packers’ franchise quarterback off to a fast start. Green Bay could certainly go wide receiver here, pick the best remaining edge rusher, or even take one of the more dominant tight ends in a loaded tight end class. But, nothing adds more value to a quarterback than an elite offensive tackle, and Skoronski is the best on the board when the Packers go on the clock.

14. New England Patriots -Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

The Patriots have a definitive need along the offensive line, and Wright checks a lot of boxes as a franchise offensive tackle. Wright did not allow a sack last season and produced an 80.2 pass-protection grade from Pro Football Focus.

15. New York Jets (via Green Bay Packers): Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

Aaron Rodgers represents the Jets’ best chance to win a Super Bowl over the next two seasons, but a fortified offensive line keeps New York’s window open for years to come. Broderick Jones, 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds is a big step in that direction. Jones didn’t allow a sack in 933 total snaps last season, which will make his new quarterback quite happy, if that translates.

16. Washington Commanders – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Porter Jr. has the prototypical frame that defensive coordinators covet, at 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds with the requisite length to match up against top NFL receivers. One of the premier press corners in this year’s class, Porter Jr. was rarely targeted last season, while still breaking up 11 passes. However, as one NFC personnel executive suggests “Joey could slide out of the top-15 because teams are afraid he can’t play off ball.” The Commanders benefit from Porter Jr.’s slide and can start him immediately opposite Kendall Fuller.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Lukas Van-Ness, EDGE, Iowa

Playing in a division that houses Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson, Pittsburgh needs to generate consistent pressure both off the edge and up the interior. Van Ness produced 9 sacks and 31 hurries last season, as a total game-wrecker up front for the Iowa Hawkeyes. His versatility will make him a prototypical “Steelers” defender.

18. Detroit Lions – Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt

The first round feels like the opportunity for the Lions to bolster talent both on the front and back end of its defense. Kancey produced an impressive 22.7 pass-rush win rate last season at Pittsburgh. In a league that’s all about pressuring the quarterback, Kancey’s skill set makes him a solid fit in the middle of Detroit’s defensive line.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

After moving on from Donovan Smith this offseason, the Buccaneers need to revamp and get more affordable up front, which could make offensive tackle a top Round 1 priority. Harrison Backstopped the Sooners’ offense, going all season surrendering just 1.0 sack last season, and could anchor a rebuilt line in Tampa Bay.

20. Seattle Seahawks – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

There’s a chance that Richardson goes long before this, but multiple sources inside the league believe that the media is much higher on this year’s quarterback class than the teams making the decisions. If Richardson slides, there might not be a better fit for team or player than Seattle, where the Seahawks can let Richardson sit for a season behind Geno Smith, and provide significant upside for the future.

According to one current NFL general manager; “Richardson is a total freak, in every way. And, he has the work ethic to match.”

21. Los Angeles Chargers – Jordan Addison, WR, USC

Improving the supporting cast around quarterback Justin Herbert remains a top organizational priority, especially after hiring new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Addison’s 4.49 40-yard-dash offers hope he can stretch the field alongside Mike Williams, and Keenan Allen. “Jordan’s a really good player,” an AFC executive told Heavy. “He’s slightly built, but he’s skilled, for sure.”

22. Baltimore Ravens – Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

The Ravens stay in their backyard, and pluck Banks out of Maryland, after the lanky 6-foot and 200-pound cornerback allowed just 26 completions in 60 targets last season. “Banks is a kid who plays with more athletic ability than instincts, he has very good speed and height, and has very consistent on the ball production.” Banks has extensive experience lining up outside, in the slot, and even crashing the box in run support, which will make him an ideal fit for Baltimore’s system.

23. Minnesota Vikings – Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee

In the weeks leading up to this draft, Hendon Hooker has been surging up boards, after passing for 3,135 yards with 27 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions last fall, prior to tearing his ACL. Former NFL Executive of the Year, and Heavy contributor, Randy Mueller agrees with this assessment of the Vikings being an ideal landing spot for the Tennessee passer. “He’s an NFL passer in terms of all the intangibles,” Mueller explains. “He has the arm strength, the accuracy, and the ability to process information. Makes perfect sense for him to have a redshirt year, and take over that offense in 2024.”

24. Jacksonville Jaguars – Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

Forbes’ length and 6-foot-1 frame give him the chance to be a real ballhawk against bigger-bodied NFL receivers. Forbes’ tracking ability and propensity for making plays on high-point passes give him the chance to make an immediate impact in Jacksonville’s secondary.

25. New York Giants – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

After conversations with multiple sources, the feeling is if Zay Flowers somehow makes it to the Giants at No. 26, he won’t make it a pick further. After trading for Darren Waller, the Giants drop another explosive weapon into Daniel Jones’ supporting cast with the addition of Flowers, who averaged 13.8 yards per reception and caught 12 touchdowns last season.

26. Dallas Cowboys – Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

According to a rival executive, the expectation is the Cowboys will target one of the top tight ends in this year’s class, especially after allowing Dalton Schultz to walk via free agency. Kincaid is as reliable as they come in a dominant tight end class, dropping just two passes last season and averaging an elite 2.42 yards per route run, according to Pro Football Focus. “Dalton’s vertical speed pops the moment you turn on his film,” an NFL tight ends coach told Heavy. Kincaid could make the Cowboys’ offense more prolific.

27. Buffalo Bills – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

In Buffalo’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, Joe Burrow was only sacked one time, for a two-yard loss. That simply isn’t good enough, in a conference where Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Aaron Rodgers, and Lamar Jackson are among the roadblocks to a Super Bowl. Murphy’s a dominant and explosive pass-rusher who produced 96 pressures during his time at Clemson, in addition to 20 sacks.

28. Cincinnati Bengals – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Cincinnati boasts arguably the most complete wide receiver trio in the NFL, and can add a game-changing weapon to Joe Burrow’s arsenal with Michael Mayer, who caught nine touchdowns last season while leading a loaded tight end class with eight deep catches, and 17 contested catches, according to Pro Football Focus. “Mayer is as steady as you’ll find at the position, an NFL tight ends coach told Heavy. “In all phases”

29. New Orleans Saints – Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa

Linebacker is sneakily one of the biggest needs on the Saints’ roster. Campbell is arguably the most athletic linebacker in this year’s class, and is always around the football. Last season in Iowa City, Campbell produced 123 total tackles and could be a plug-and-play starter in New Orleans.

30. Philadelphia Eagles – Brian Branch, S, Alabama

The Eagles let safety C.J. Garnder-Johnson walk via free agency, and replace him with one of the top safeties in this year’s class. A versatile defender, Branch showed he can be reliable playing center field or dropping into the slot in coverage.

“I love Branch,” an AFC scouting director told Heavy. He’s a Day 1 sub-package starter, you can line him up at nickel or safety and an immediate big-player for a team.”

31. Kansas City Chiefs – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

Don’t be surprised if Kansas City invests this pick in adding yet another weapon to Patrick Mahomes’ arsenal. Johnston, at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds has the frame of a prototypical possession receiver with the ability to be a playmaker in the red zone. Johnston’s ridiculous catch radius helped him pull down eight contested catches last season, while averaging 17.8 yards per reception.

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