Our NFL mock draft 2023 was conducted after thorough video scouting and data analysis. It’s important to note that this exercise is based on what teams should do, not what they will do.
We opened last year’s mock draft with “trying to predict the NFL Draft is always an exercise in futility.” Well, entering Opta Analyst’s NFL mock draft 2023, that remains true.
It does feel especially prevalent this year, because of the wide range of opinions and play styles on the leading quarterback candidates.
We’ve created one this year by going through some video and a whole lot of data to determine teams’ needs and the best fits. For some teams like the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, who pick 10th and 30th, their current roster may have few weaknesses. In these cases, we’re selecting the best players available from our rankings in key positions.
For other teams, like the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, positional need played a major role in who we ultimately selected for them. That leads us to our key caveat of this exercise: Our selections were based around what we thought teams should do, not what we thought teams will do.
Picks 1-5: Three quarterbacks and the top two defensive prospects in this class fill out our top five. Bryce Young of Alabama gets the nod for the Carolina Panthers after their trade up because of his proven ability to facilitate both outside of the pocket and when facing extreme pressure. With a new coach in Carolina, Young gives them a culture setter. C.J. Stroud goes second to the Houston Texans as DeMeco Ryans gets the top QB in quarterback rating over the last two seasons. The Arizona Cardinals at No. 3 was our first positional debate between the defensive and offensive lines, and ultimately, we settled on Will Anderson Jr. for the Cardinals because of new coach Jonathan Gannon’s defensive background. The top four picks in this draft all belong to teams that have new head coaches, and with Shane Steichen’s success as Jalen Hurts’ offensive coordinator, we settled on Anthony Richardson and his dual-threat upside as the best player for the Indianapolis Colts. Georgia product Jalen Carter is a game-wrecker and pairing him with free-agent signing Dre’mont Jones made a lot of sense for a Seattle Seahawks team that has to face Kyle Shanahan’s run-heavy San Francisco 49ers every season.
Picks 6-10: The Detroit Lions remade their secondary over the offseason with the additions of Cam Sutton and Emmanual Mosely, but Devon Witherspoon out of Illinois gives them a true blue-chip player that should put that group in a great spot to improve upon a 55.6% burn-allowed rate that was the second-worst mark in the NFL last season. Paris Johnson Jr. was our choice for the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 7 as he should pair well with left tackle Kolton Miller to create great bookends on the offensive line for new QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Will the Raiders then take a chance on Hendon Hooker in the second round? No teams rushed more than the Atlanta Falcons (55.3%) and Chicago Bears (56.2%) and they did so in part because they had young, mobile quarterbacks playing behind mediocre (at best) offensive lines. So it made sense to give those two teams Peter Skoronski and Darnell Wright as the top three offensive linemen come off the board back-to-back-to-back. The Eagles made the Super Bowl on the strength of their defense and with two veteran cornerbacks, Oregon product Christian Gonzalez gives them an injection of youth and speed that should enable the Eagles to better deal with injuries to either incumbent.
Picks 11-15: The Tennessee Titans were one of the toughest teams to nail down with quite a few holes up and down their roster. Ultimately, the top four offensive linemen in this class separated themselves from the rest of the pack, so offensive tackle Broderick Jones was the pick here as the Titans’ adjusted sack-allowed rate was almost three percentage points higher than league average. There’s some buzz about Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson going second to the Texans, but in our mock, they get him at 12. It creates a dream scenario in which they get their franchise quarterback and a cornerstone defensive player. Fifty-eight tight ends had at least 14 receptions last season, but the Green Bay Packers only had one of them. With Jordan Love now at the helm, the Packers buck their trend of not selecting weapons in the first round and take Notre Dame standout Michael Mayer. The New England Patriots had great success with Kyle Dugger last season, so double dipping for Brian Branch, a similarly versatile player from a program that they’re familiar with, makes sense for Bill Belichick’s defense. We discussed Jaxon Smith-Njigba as an option for about eight straight teams and new New York Jets QB Aaron Rodgers is sure glad he fell all the way to 15. Smith-Njigba was second in the FBS in 2021 with an 80.5% burn rate and 11th with 15.9 burn yards per target. The Jets get the chance to pair him with fellow Ohio State alum Garrett Wilson to create a dynamic and deadly wide receiver room.
Picks 16-20: With news of the Washington Commanders declining Chase Young’s fifth-year option and their history of taking defensive linemen in the first round, Will McDonald IV makes a lot of sense here. Cornerback is a weak spot for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to draft Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. in this spot after his dad made three All-Pro teams and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers back in his playing days. The Lions are one of the most fun teams entering the 2023 season, and with their smashmouth style of football, Darnell Washington acting as a pseudo sixth offensive lineman while also providing receiving capabilities was a perfect match. It’s unlikely that Kentucky’s Will Levis makes it this far, but in a mock with no trades, the Buccaneers were the team in the teens that made the most sense to pull the trigger on a quarterback. The Seahawks already selected a game-changing talent with Carter and pairing him with collegiate teammate Nolan Smith to help fortify a defense that blitzed at one of the lowest rates in the NFL last season (21.6%) should help Seattle generate more pressure while maintaining its low blitz rate.
Picks 21-25: There’s a conspicuous name missing from this exercise until now, but the ability for the Los Angeles Chargers to pair Bijan Robinson with Justin Herbert given Austin Ekeler’s trade demands was too intriguing to let Robinson slide any further. Calais Campbell was a productive player along the defensive line for the Baltimore Ravens last season, and they didn’t truly address the position in free agency. Pittsburgh product Calijah Kancey, therefore, makes a ton of sense. There might be some better players available at this point, but maybe the biggest weakness for the Minnesota Vikings on offense last season was the interior offensive line, and O’Cyrus Torrence out of Florida is the best pure guard in the class. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid might be the best pass-catching tight end in the class and is likely only to fall this far because of some medical red flags with his back. But Trent Baalke, the Jacksonville Jaguars general manager, has proven that he’s willing to draft players despite injury history. Kincaid paired with Doug Pederson could be a match made in heaven. Cornerback might be the deepest position in this year’s class and the New York Giants stressed their cornerbacks to the max last season by blitzing at the highest rate in the NFL last season (45.9%), so Maryland product Deonte Banks would be a great match with the Giants.
Picks 26-31: If cornerback is the strongest position in this draft class, linebacker might be the weakest. Drew Sanders is the best of the bunch and essentially acted as his team’s Micah Parsons, lining up either off the ball or on the edge and rushing the passer. And if he’s going to be a first-round pick, why not have it be to a Dallas Cowboys team that is reaping all of the benefits from drafting Parsons? The high-powered Buffalo Bills have an excellent tandem of outside receivers in Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, but they’re missing a true playmaking slot receiver. Enter Jordan Addison. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals have quietly produced an outstanding postseason record the last two years, led by that incredible offense of course, but also by an outstanding defensive line. That line, however, dips severely in quality after the starters. Bryan Bresee, who can potentially line up at edge or on the interior, would provide the Bengals with an electric option to back up their starters. With Marcus Davenport gone and Peyton Turner underwhelming so far, the New Orleans Saints edge rushers after Cameron Jordan are all question marks, making Iowa star Lukas Van Ness the clear pick here for a team that has demonstrated previously that they value the defensive edge position highly. He gets the nod over Clemson pass rusher Myles Murphy. If Anthony Richardson won the combine amongst the offensive players, then Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore was the clear defensive winner. He ran his 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds, becoming the first player ever over 270 pounds to reach the sub-4.5 barrier. He gets a year to learn behind franchise-legend Fletcher Cox before tag-teaming with Jordan Davis to hold down the interior of the defensive line for the Eagles over the next decade. Pop quiz: Of the pass catchers (so not Jerick McKinnon) still on the Kansas City Chiefs, can you name who finished third in receiving yards last season behind Travis Kelce and Marquez Valdes-Scantling? No? Well, that probably means an influx of young talent and athleticism at the wide receiver position makes a ton of sense for Patrick Mahomes. Boston College star Zay Flowers averaged seven receptions and 96.5 receiving yards against the four ranked teams he played last season and is among the smoothest route runners in this class and a fine replacement for JuJu Smith-Schuster.
And by the way, the answer to the trivia question? Noah Gray!
Enjoy the draft.