The draft kicks off in under an hour, so here is my one and only mock draft of the season. This has been one of the more difficult ones to put together, as there are so many questions at the top end. Will Houston select a QB? Do the Cardinals trade down? The questions go on forever, but they will be answered shortly. I made my best guess as to what each GM will do tonight.
1. Carolina Panthers: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
It has become clear in the past week that the Panthers have honed in on Bryce Young with the top selection. While Young is not a perfect prospect, he certainly has the ability to compete at the NFL level. It will be interesting to see what Frank Reich can do with Young to mold him into a franchise cornerstone.
2. Houston Texans: DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
This pick is where the draft truly starts. The Texans can shake up the plans of every team behind them with this pick, as they have not tipped their intention ahead of draft time. It seemed that a quarterback would be a lock at this spot heading into draft season, but now it is truly up in the air. I could see new head coach DeMeco Ryans pushing for an edge rusher like Wilson, who has the build of a prototype rush defensive end. While he needs to work on his get-off and initial strike, Wilson could be coached into a very good edge rusher in the NFL. He showed consistently that if you give him an inch, he will take control of the backfield.
3. Arizona Cardinals: TRADE- Titans trade #11, 2023 2nd, 2024 1st, 2024 3rd, select QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
With the Texans passing up on a QB, we now have our first trade of the night. The Titans, who have reportedly lost confidence in the future of Malik Willis, get aggressive and come up to get their QB of the future. Head coach Mike Vrabel undoubtedly got the inside scoop on Stroud due to his Ohio State connections, so there is a logical fit here. Stroud gets to sit behind Ryan Tannehill for a few weeks, or even the entire season, to get used to the NFL game and be ready to take over.
4. Indianapolis Colts: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
The Colts now have missed out on the top two quarterback options, but they may be just fine with that. They reportedly are fans of Will Levis, so now they have a defendable reason to take Levis. I’m not sure if Levis will be able to perform up to this draft slot, but head coach Shane Steichen could try to develop him in a similar fashion to Jalen Hurts, though Hurts was far more effective in the run game before being drafted.
5. Seattle Seahawks: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
This pick could also go in multiple directions, and I seriously debated putting Anthony Richardson here, as he could sit behind Geno Smith and learn. However, I think that the Seahawks want to show support for their newly extended QB, so they instead opt to bolster the defense. Witherspoon is a physical corner that can fit what Pete Carroll would want in order to create a new Legion of Boom.
6. Detroit Lions: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Gonzalez is a long corner with intangible traits that defensive coaches salivate over. He had 11 pass deflections and four interceptions last year at Oregon, using his wingspan and fluidity in all coverage sets. Many scouts have Gonzalez as the best corner in this draft, and they are potentially correct.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
The Raiders need consistency in their lineup. After multiple blown double-digit leads last year, the Raiders need to avoid mistakes and find their game. With Jimmy Garropolo under center, they may be able to do that. However, with Jimmy G’s injury history, he’ll need protection in order to stay in the lineup. Enter Paris Johnson Jr., who started 13 games each at right guard and left tackle without missing a game. He’ll need to clean some things up to eliminate mistakes, but he can be a great protector in Las Vegas.
8. Atlanta Falcons: DE Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
The Falcons have an overall lack of impact players across the board. Van Ness is a monster athlete and is often referred to as “Hercules”. A former ice hockey defender, Van Ness is a freak-of-nature type that could provide a strong presence on the Falcons defense.
9. Chicago Bears: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
There have been many rumors surrounding this pick, as GM Ryan Poles could look to trade down yet again to accumulate assets. However, with Paris Johnson already off the board, the Bears opt to not miss out on another tackle prospect and select Jones. Justin Fields was often scrambling for his life last season, so adding Jones should offer him some more time in the pocket.
10. Philadelphia Eagles: DT Jalen Carter, Georgia
Once considered the best overall prospect in this draft, Jalen Carter experiences somewhat of a slide here, in large part due to his off field issues. His agent Drew Rosenhaus claims that Carter won’t fall out of the top 10, so here we are on the very edge of that. The Eagles replace some of their departed defensive firepower, pairing Carter with former Georgia teammate Jordan Davis.
11. Tennessee Titans: TRADE Cardinals select OL Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The Cardinals took advantage of the QB-needy Titans, sliding back and adding more picks for their rebuild. Kyler Murray is reportedly a fan of Paris Johnson Jr., but he is long gone by now. Instead, the Cardinals take Skoronski, who is a versatile lineman that projects as a guard but played all of his collegiate snaps at tackle. He can be a good piece to protect Kyler as he recovers from last season’s ACL tear.
12. Houston Texans: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Houston is rewarded for its patience and gets Richardson to fall into their lap here at 12. Some believe that Richardson has the highest upside of any QB in this class. While I don’t necessarily buy into that, his value at this draft slot makes much more sense than at #2. The Texans get a high-risk high-reward talent that can potentially take over under center this season.
13. Green Bay Packers: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
With the Packers finally moving on from Aaron Rodgers, all attention moves to creating the best situation possible for Jordan Love. The front office will be looking to give Love everything he needs to have success immediately in order to defend their decision to trade Rodgers. Ironically, this would be the first time they draft a receiver in the first round since before Rodgers was their QB.
14. New England Patriots: TRADE: Steelers trade #17, 2023 3rd, 2024 5th, select CB Joey Porter Jr.
Pittsburgh has been rumored to be very active on the phones in the leadup to draft night, so they decide to pull the trigger on a move here. The Steelers need secondary help and cannot afford to let their guy get away, so they move up to get the son of a Steeler great.
15. New York Jets: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
Jets fans everywhere rejoiced after seeing Aaron Rodgers officially be traded to New York. He automatically becomes the best QB they have had in at least the last 15 years. They already signed the receivers requested by Rodgers, so now they get him extra protection up front.
16. Washington Commanders: DE Nolan Smith, Georgia
After declining the 5th year option on former #2 overall pick Chase Young, the Commanders look to the future and select another edge rusher. Washington has consistently had a strong stable of pass rushers, so if they elect to move on from Chase Young or Montez Sweat, as is being reported by ESPN, then Smith makes a lot of sense at this spot.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: TRADE: Patriots select DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson
New England is always a difficult team to read on draft night due to Bill Belichick’s shroud of secrecy. Many experts believe that they will be looking to add a true #1 weapon for Mac Jones on the perimeter, but after Jaxon Smith-Njigba is selected ahead of their draft slot, I have New England trading down. Scouts believe that there aren’t many true #1 receivers in this draft, so if Belichick agrees, he instead goes with Bresee, who can beef up the interior of his defensive line and occasionally get to the quarterback.
18. Detroit Lions: DT Calijah Kancey, Pitt
The Lions get another very talented player who can have an immediate impact on their defense in Kancey. While undersized, Kancey has the speed necessary in order to get to the QB consistently, racking up 14.5 sacks in the last two years at Pitt. After all, we know what happened the last time an undersized defensive tackle was drafted from Pitt (Aaron Donald).
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OG O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
With the retirement of Tom Brady, the Buccaneers are inevitably facing a down year. They need to look to the future as they begin their rebuilding process. Torrence is a big body that can play either guard position and is likely ready to play now. He can protect Baker Mayfield in the interim until the Bucs find their next franchise QB.
20. Seattle Seahawks: TRADE: Cowboys trade 2023 3rd, 2024 6th, select TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
Dallas watches the way the board is falling and pounces to get their guy. With the departure of Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys need another reliable #2 target behind Ceedee Lamb. Mayer is a versatile tight end that was once considered a top talent in this class. He can step in and become a headache for opposing defenses.
21. Los Angeles Chargers: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah
The Chargers are also in the market for a tight end, and despite missing out on Mayer, they still might get their preferred target. Kincaid is a gifted pass catcher that could have been the top tight end in the class if not for injuries. While those question marks could linger, if Kincaid stays on the field, he will be a viable and dangerous weapon for Justin Herbert.
22. Baltimore Ravens: TRADE: Cardinals send #34, DeAndre Hopkins, select WR Jordan Addison
This is a direct result of the Lamar Jackson contract fallout this afternoon. Jackson’s deal is supposedly structured with a low cap hit in the first year, which suggests that the Ravens plan to utilize that space. They go out and get Hopkins, who has been connected to them for some time now, making this the best receiving corps in the league if it was still 2015.
The Cardinals, now in need of a weapon for Kyler Murray, get Addison, who some consider to be the best receiver in this class. The former Belitnikoff winner immediately becomes Arizona’s top target.
23. Minnesota Vikings: CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State
Forbes is reportedly rapidly moving up draft boards, and with good reason. He has natural ball hawking ability, as showcased by his 14 interceptions over the last three seasons. The Vikings bolster their perimeter following the loss of Patrick Peterson.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
This pick will be very interesting, as news broke this morning that Jaguars starting left tackle Cam Robinson will be suspended multiple games for a PED violation. He is also only signed through 2024. With most of the top tackles off the board, the Jaguars reach a bit with Dawand Jones. Jones has monstrous physical traits, as he stands at 6’8 and has a 87 ⅞” wingspan, breaking a Senior Bowl record. These measurements alone could allow Jones to sneak into the back end of the first round.
25. New York Giants: CB Deonte Banks, Maryland
Joe Schoen is rewarded for his patience, as they get a physical corner that fits defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s scheme. Banks ran a blazing 4.35 second 40 yard dash and is best suited in a press-man system, which is ideal for the Giants. With no true #2 on the roster and a low chance of re-signing Adoree’ Jackson after this season, Banks can become an important piece on this defense.
26. Dallas Cowboys: TRADE Seahawks select DE Myles Murphy
Pete Carroll continues the trend of rebuilding the defense, this time looking to the trenches. Murphy is a long and explosive rusher, and while he needs some refining, can create pressure and sacks. Seattle is in need of players like these after how badly they were torched by opposing offenses last season.
27. Buffalo Bills: LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas
The Bills lost a key piece in Tremaine Edmunds in free agency, so they immediately look to replace his production here. At 6’4, Sanders is a big linebacker with the speed to be able to match up in coverage. He can become an important piece to the Bills defense, especially in this age of athletic tight ends and pass catching running backs.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: S Brian Branch, Alabama
Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell both departed this offseason, leaving Cincinnati’s backend depleted. Branch can step in and play in a high safety role while also working in as a slot nickel, offering the Bengals versatility in a secondary that suddenly needs it.
29. New Orleans Saints: DE BJ Ojulari, LSU
The Saints big move of the offseason so far has been the addition of Derek Carr. As long as the offense can stay healthy, Carr should have some success in his first year in New Orleans. However, that might be a tall ask considering their recent history. Nonetheless, the Saints add a pass rusher, as Cameron Jordan is 33 years old and there is not much depth past that. In a division that is almost guaranteed to have weak QB play this year, having another pass rusher to disrupt them can never hurt.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
This is a bit more of a slide for Bijan Robinson than most are expecting. I tend to be biased away from selecting running backs early in drafts, as their shelf life is the shortest of any position group. It is entirely possible that Robinson goes far before this pick. However, if he is still here, there is very little chance that Howie Roseman passes on him, giving the Eagles yet another weapon as they reload for another playoff run.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: DT Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern
Most draft experts are mocking receivers to the Chiefs, but I’m not sure that the value matches at this point. Kansas City has a glaring hole next to Chris Jones on the interior, so they add a former edge rusher to their interior, as his 4.49 speed and versatility across the defensive line could be very valuable at the next level.