In a few weeks, all 32 franchises will be adding new playmakers in the 2023 NFL draft, although just 27 of them are set to pick in the first round. It’s no easy process, and I know firsthand. It wasn’t that long ago that I was making draft selections as a general manager and executive with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
Well, I’m giving it another go with a twist on the traditional mock draft style. Draft analysts’ mocks are true projections of what they believe will happen based on what they’re hearing — my colleague Mel Kiper Jr. just unveiled his newest last week — but I’m going a different route with my third annual GM mock. I’m sliding into the general manager chair for each team with a first-rounder and making my own picks. This isn’t what I’m expecting but rather how I’d personally approach each Day 1 selection. And what follows is based off my own evaluations, preferences and philosophies.
So here are my GM selections for the first 31 picks — Miami was stripped of its first-round selection this year — starting with a tough call for Panthers GM Scott Fitterer at No. 1. And be sure to check out my “SportsCenter” special at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday (ESPN2).
Fits for teams without a first-rounder
McShay’s QB pro day takeaways
Kiper’s newest Round 1 mock
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
After several years of uncertainty and stop-gap options at the quarterback position, the Panthers have to find a long-term answer. And after trading up to No. 1, I’d be going all-in on Young. It was a tough call for me, and I just narrowly picked him over Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. But while Young’s 5-foot-10, 204-pound size is a concern, his talent is unquestionable. He’s the guy I’d lean on to turn the passing game around in Carolina. Since 2019, no Panthers QB has thrown more than 17 touchdown passes in a season. That would change in 2023 with Young, who had 79 TD passes over the past two seasons, tossing precision passes.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
No sweat for Houston after Young came off the board. I have Young a sliver ahead of Stroud, but when you consider Stroud’s outstanding performance against Georgia in the Peach Bowl, his tremendous throwing performance at the combine and his overall college tape, it wouldn’t shock me if the Texans wind up with the best quarterback in this draft.
Davis Mills has had a chance to take the reins under center, but in two seasons, he has thrown 33 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions while failing to produce more than 3,200 yards in either campaign. Stroud, meanwhile, threw 75 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions and had more than 7,200 yards across two seasons as the Buckeyes’ starter.
Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama
The Cardinals ranked 19th in pressure rate (29%) and 23rd in sacks (36) last season. After they lost Zach Allen to free agency and J.J. Watt to retirement, this is an easy decision for me. Anderson is a long, quick pass-rusher who shows shades of Von Miller in his game. No player has had more sacks (34.5) or pressures (134) in the FBS over the past three years.
Alternatively, I could see Arizona moving back a spot in a trade with the Colts. And if I’m GM Monti Ossenfort, I’m taking phone calls right up until I have to turn the pick in, seeking the best possible deal.
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
The Colts are starved for stability at quarterback. Since losing Andrew Luck to an unexpected early retirement, they have failed to find a long-term option, trying Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan over four seasons. They will be looking to the draft for their next signal-caller, though, and I’m giving them Levis.
Although we saw inconsistency last season at Kentucky, Levis’ physical traits and upside remind me of Ben Roethlisberger when he came out of Miami (Ohio) in 2004. He threw 19 touchdown passes last season playing in a pro-ready scheme.
Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
OK, this one might raise some eyebrows, but hear me out. I think Hooker is really under-scouted right now, largely because he’s coming off the torn ACL in his left knee. But I love his strong arm and 6-3 frame. Before the injury, Hooker looked great for the Vols. He led the nation in yards per attempt (9.5), threw two interceptions over 11 starts and was a top-10 passer in terms of completion percentage (69.6%). I see a potential franchise quarterback and someone who can lead an offense. Go watch his performance against Alabama if you disagree.
The Seahawks recently re-signed Geno Smith, but this is an excellent opportunity to draft and develop Hooker while also letting him rehab the knee. Smith turns 33 this season, and his new contract offers Seattle various outs over the next three seasons.
Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech
The Lions allowed the second-most yards per pass (7.9) last season and ranked 20th in sacks per dropback (6.1%). They added Cam Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley through free agency, and I thought about another defensive back here. But Wilson had an outstanding career at Texas Tech after transferring from Texas A&M and logged 14 sacks over the past two seasons. He’s long and plays with heavy hands. Wilson paired with Aidan Hutchinson provides Detroit an outstanding duo of pass-rushers for the next decade.
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
With the top four quarterbacks off the draft board and Jimmy Garoppolo now their starter, the Raiders can attack another weakness. Last season, the Raiders ranked 30th in defensive efficiency and 25th in yards allowed per pass (7.3). Gonzalez, a transfer from Colorado, is long and can play in man and zone coverages. He intercepted four passes last season. I love his length and quickness, and I think he has all the makings of a star CB1.
Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
Atlanta needs help up front after fielding a moribund pass rush last year. In 2022, the Falcons ranked last in sacks per dropback (3.5%) and pressure rate (20.2%). They signed defensive tackle David Onyemata and returned edge rusher Lorenzo Carter, but they need someone like Murphy off the edge. Murphy had 18 sacks and 31 tackles for loss over three seasons at Clemson.
Peter Skoronski, OT/G, Northwestern
I loved what Bears GM Ryan Poles did in maximizing the value of the first overall pick with his trade with Carolina, and he has spent well in free agency. But the Bears still have a ton of holes on their roster. Rebuilding always starts up front for me when developing a young quarterback, so I am going with a tough, dependable and local offensive lineman in Skoronski, widely considered the most refined pass-protector in this class. After all, the Bears allowed the fourth-most sacks last season with 58. I’d start him at guard and then slide him to tackle down the road, similar to what we did with Laremy Tunsil after drafting him in Miami.
Damien Woody calls Bears’ haul for No. 1 pick a ‘slam dunk’
Damien Woody explains why the Bears did an excellent job with the haul they got for the No. 1 pick.
Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Philadelphia remarkably held on to both starting cornerbacks and already has replacements for linebacker T.J. Edwards (Nakobe Dean) and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (Jordan Davis). But the Eagles lost two offensive linemen in Andre Dillard and Isaac Seumalo. Jones was nearly flawless last year at Georgia, and he is a plug-and-play guy at guard in Year 1 who could slide out to his natural tackle position when Lane Johnson moves on.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Ryan Tannehill turns 35 years old in July, and the early returns on 2022 third-rounder Malik Willis haven’t been encouraging. The Titans make a lot of sense for Richardson. He has compelling upside but needs more time to develop, and Tennessee wouldn’t have to rush him with Tannehill under contract for another year.
Richardson started one full season in college, and his 53.8% completion percentage ranked 116th in the country last season. That must greatly improve for him to be an effective NFL quarterback. No college quarterback, however, broke more tackles as a runner in 2022 than Richardson (22), and he showed off 4.43-second speed in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Plus, he has a huge arm. Richardson’s ceiling is as high as that of any prospect in this class.
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
I got the Texans their quarterback of the future at No. 2, but who would be catching Stroud’s passes next season? Although they should get John Metchie III back after he missed last season while undergoing treatment for leukemia and they signed Dalton Schultz, Robert Woods and Noah Brown, the Texans still need receivers. That’s especially true after they traded Brandin Cooks to Dallas. Johnston reminds me of Mike Evans because of his 6-3 size and solid speed. He was eighth in the country in 2022 in yards per route run (3.0) and went over 1,000 yards. Johnston could become Stroud’s go-to pass-catcher right out of the gate.
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
The Jets allowed a sack on 7.1% of their dropbacks last season, which was the 10th most in the league. Assuming Aaron Rodgers becomes a Jet at some point, selecting an offensive lineman in Round 1 is a no-brainer. Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker have dealt with various injuries, so the Jets have to bolster their offensive line, and Johnson — who has 26 career starts — allowed pressure on 2.4% of his snaps last season with Ohio State.
Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
I was impressed with Wright’s tape, especially when the 6-5, 333-pounder faced Will Anderson Jr. and neutralized him in Tennessee’s huge win over Alabama. Wright allowed just one sack all season and also excelled during Senior Bowl week. The Patriots allowed a sack on 8.0% of their pass snaps, which was the third-highest mark in the NFL last season.
New England has not been the same on the offensive front, and although it has signed Riley Reiff, he is not a long-term answer. The Pats have to do a better job of protecting Mac Jones, and Wright would help.
Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
A 25-game starter, Jones measured in at 6-8 and 374 pounds with an 87⅞-inch wingspan. He allowed pressure on 1.2% of his snaps during his college career and gave up zero sacks over 12 games in 2022. The Packers’ current left tackle, David Bakhtiari, turns 32 in September and has missed 26 games since 2020.
There is no better way for the Packers to build around a young quarterback in Jordan Love (assuming Rodgers does end up in New York) than with a young, powerful offensive tackle. I see some Jones comparisons to Orlando Brown Jr. because of their similar size and versatility.
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
The Commanders are loaded at every offensive skill position besides tight end, although Logan Thomas has flashed. Kincaid has yet to work out for teams but proved incredibly productive last season, catching 70 passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns. Look no further than his 16 receptions for 234 yards and a touchdown against USC to see how effective he can be as a receiver. I think Kincaid would immediately impact the Commanders’ offense and provide Sam Howell and/or Jacoby Brissett with a reliable target.
Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Steelers allowed the fourth-highest yards per pass attempt (7.5) and tied for the second-most touchdowns passes against (29) in 2022. Cam Sutton has been replaced with Patrick Peterson, but Pittsburgh still needs a young cornerback. I love Witherspoon’s fit in the Steelers’ scheme; he is tough, competitive and an effective tackler. And among FBS qualified defenders, Witherspoon allowed the second-fewest yards per pass attempt (3.3). I consider him the most physical cornerback in this year’s draft, too.
Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Detroit performed poorly in a number of defensive categories last year, including bottom-three figures in passing yards against per attempt, rushing yards against per attempt and opponent third-down conversion rate. I got the Lions an edge rusher earlier, but I’m not done building up this defensive line. A team with multiple first-round picks can take a calculated risk. Carter is just that. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing after an arrest during combine week, and he appeared out of shape at his pro day in mid-March. But despite just six sacks over the past two seasons, his talent is on another level, and this could end up a great pick at No. 18.
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Tampa Bay has moved on from Leonard Fournette and could land the best running back in the draft with its first-rounder. Robinson is a top-five talent who can score any time he touches the ball. He averaged 6.3 yards per rush as a Longhorn and tallied 33 career rushing touchdowns. Having a dominant running back is a fantastic way to alleviate pressure on the team’s uncertain quarterback position, which is currently occupied by Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask.
Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa
I went with a quarterback at No. 5, but Seattle ranked 27th in third-down defense (42.3%) last season, so there’s also work to be done on the other side of the ball. Van Ness played 899 snaps and logged 14 sacks across two years at Iowa despite his role as a rotational player. With outstanding physical traits at 6-5 and 272 pounds, he is a perfect defensive playmaker for coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt. I could see Van Ness lining up all over the place in Seattle’s defense.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both have injury histories, and Allen is turning 31. Plus, Smith-Njigba is an ideal fit for a Justin Herbert-led offense. Smith-Njigba played in three games (five receptions) last season, but when healthy, JSN is a tremendous route runner and has exceptional hands. His record-breaking 15-reception, 347-yard, three-touchdown performance in the 2021 season’s Rose Bowl is difficult to forget.
Watch the plays that make Jaxon Smith-Njigba a top NFL prospect
Check out some of the plays from WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s special time at Ohio State.
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Mark Andrews led the Ravens in receiving last season with 848 yards. The next-closest player? Demarcus Robinson at 458 yards. No Ravens wide receiver scored more than three times, and the only addition this offseason has been Nelson Agholor. Rashod Bateman, a 2021 first-rounder, has missed 16 games over the past two seasons, too. Long story short, the Ravens desperately need a difference-making wideout. Flowers has game-breaking speed and quickness, and he posted tremendous numbers last season with 78 catches for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
The Vikings could not stop opposing quarterbacks last season, allowing the third-most passing yards per attempt in the NFL (7.7). Now they’ve lost their best cornerback in Patrick Peterson. They did sign Byron Murphy Jr., who can play inside and out, but the Vikings could use another corner in Brian Flores’ man-to-man scheme. Porter is tough and physical, and he has rare 34-inch length for the position at 6-3 and 193 pounds. And despite zero interceptions, Porter did break up 11 passes last season for the Nittany Lions.
Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
The Jaguars allowed 28 sacks last season, fifth fewest in the NFL. Their underlying blocking numbers were below-average, however, and they lost starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor to the Chiefs in free agency. Harrison has ideal size at 6-4 and 315 pounds, and he started 24 games in his collegiate career. After allowing zero sacks last season and just two over a three-year career at Oklahoma, Harrison could be an immediate starter for Jacksonville.
Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
Darius Slayton led Giants receivers with just 724 yards last season. Despite re-signing Slayton and Sterling Shepard and adding a few pass-catchers in free agency, it’s safe to say the Giants need a standout wide receiver. I love how Hyatt flourished in Tennessee’s offense when Josh Heupel stepped in. He is slightly undersized at 6 feet and 176 pounds, but he has a lot of speed and posted 67 catches for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Hyatt could be the Giants’ WR1 as soon as the draft card is turned in.
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
I love this fit to replace Dalton Schultz. Mayer is 6-5, blocks well and provides high-end receiving talent. He was very efficient last year with 67 catches, 809 yards and 9 touchdowns — each of which ranked top three among FBS tight ends. Schultz accounted for 14.8% of the Cowboys’ receiving yards and scored five of their 28 passing touchdowns, but I think Mayer can immediately fill that void at a high level.
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
If you take away quarterback contributions, the Bills ranked 27th in rushing yards (1,470) and tied for 26th in rushing touchdowns (eight). Yes, Buffalo drafted James Cook in last year’s second round, signed Damien Harris and traded for Nyheim Hines, but Gibbs’ explosive play is too good to pass up here. He is a dynamic runner, and he averaged more than 6 yards per rush attempt and recorded a remarkable 44 catches last season. Gibbs is a perfect fit for this offense.
Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
The Bengals had a solid pass defense last season — they were second in opponent QBR at 46.8 — but safety Jessie Bates III signed in Atlanta and cornerback Eli Apple is a free agent. Depth at corner could help keep the Cincinnati pass defense a strength, and Forbes is a great value pick. He is slender at 6-1 and 166 pounds, but check out his on-the-ball production. Forbes had 14 career interceptions, including six that were returned for a touchdown. He can be a Day 1 starter for the Bengals.
Jordan Addison, WR, USC
With Derek Carr joining this offense, I’d want to add octane to the receiver room. The Saints re-signed Michael Thomas, but it is a one-year deal, and Thomas has missed 40 games since his record-breaking season in 2019.
Addison produced at an All-American level in two places during his college career, with 219 catches and 3,134 yards over three years at Pitt and USC combined. He is an elite route runner who could emerge as a fantastic option opposite Chris Olave.
Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia
The Eagles retained edge rusher Brandon Graham, but their long-term outlook on the defensive line is murky. Outside of Graham, Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett, the depth has taken a hit. Smith had an injury-shortened 2022 season (torn right pectoral muscle) and is undersized at 238 pounds, but he had an incredible workout at the combine. He ran a 4.39 in the 40 and posted jumps of 41.5 inches (vertical) and 10-foot-8 (broad). Smith would not be asked to start in Philadelphia in 2023, which would give the team a year to add much-needed bulk to Smith’s frame.
Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
The Chiefs performed well against the pass last year, allowing the seventh-fewest yards per pass attempt at 6.7. And they loaded up at cornerback in the 2022 draft, selecting Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson. But I don’t think Kansas City could pass on the value of Banks, especially with L’Jarius Sneed in the last year of his deal. Banks performed well at the combine and allowed 20 completions last year. He has all the makings of a future starting corner. And you can never have enough of those, especially in the AFC West.
Just missed: Will McDonald IV (Iowa State), Adetomiwa Adebawore (Northwestern)