2023 NFL Mock Draft: B/R NFL Scouting Dept.'s Picks Ahead of NFL Season

BR NFL Scouting DepartmentContributor ISeptember 7, 2022

2023 NFL Mock Draft: B/R NFL Scouting Dept.'s Picks Ahead of NFL Season

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    AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

    Dragons and elves will no longer dominate television, streaming services or watercooler conversations, because the NFL is back this week with the start of the 2022 regular season.

    As attentions turn toward professional football, the status of individual teams will be under far more scrutiny. With roster needs quickly becoming clear, how to address those issues will become a hot topic.

    An early look at what the future holds can be found in Bleacher Report's projection based on how each squad appears going into the season.

    Unlike this year, quarterbacks aplenty can be found, particularly near the top of the draft. Top defensive line prospects continue to dominate the conversation. And wide receiver may not be quite as strong as everyone has seen in recent years, though still quite talented.

    Mock drafts at this time of the year provide an insight on certain prospects to watch and areas to identify when it comes to current roster construction. The evaluation process is just beginning, but B/R's Scouting Department of Brandon Thorn, Cory Giddings, Derrik Klassen and Matt Holder is already hard at work.

    Right now is arguably the most exciting time of the year. The season is just beginning. Everyone and every team is filled with so much hope and potential. This mock draft serves as the impetus of a long and fraught journey.

    [Editor's Note: Selection order determined by DraftKings' current Super Bowl odds.

    Also, the first round includes only 31 picks after the NFL stripped the Miami Dolphins of their selection because of tampering charges.]

1. Houston Texans: Edge Will Anderson Jr., Alabama

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    Myles Garrett is the last defensive prospect to run the table as the preseason favorite for the No. 1 pick to actually hearing his named called first among his draft class. Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. could be the next.

    Anderson posted eye-popping numbers as a sophomore. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year recorded a staggering 17.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss. Comparatively, the likes of Garrett, Chase Young, Nick Bosa, Joey Bosa, Aaron Donald, Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh didn't eclipse any of those numbers during a season, and they're the top defensive front prospects of the last 12 years.

    To be the No. 1 prospect in a class that features legitimate quarterback talent, a defender must be truly special. Anderson is.

    "Anderson gained notoriety last season for his pass-rushing skills by leading the nation with 17.5 sacks. However, he might be even more impressive against the run," Holder argued. "At the point of attack, he’s strong, physical and plays with great leverage to set the edge against offensive tackles who are approximately 60 pounds heavier than him."

    The Houston Texans are probably in a position where quarterback is at the forefront of the conversation depending on how Davis Mills develops.

    Then again, the possibility of selecting at the top of the draft serves as an indication that Mills doesn't live up to expectations. Instead, this pairing is a testament to just how good Anderson is. The 6'4", 243-pound edge-defender wrecks games unlike any defender in recent memory.

2. Atlanta Falcons: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia

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    A defensive tackle hasn't heard his name called among the top two selections since Ndamukong Suh in 2010. History indicates how rare of a talent Georgia's Jalen Carter really is.

    "On a defensive line that featured three first-round picks last season, Carter might have been the most impressive of the bunch," Holder mentioned. "He’s both strong and athletic, and he’s a top-tier run defender and pass-rusher to be worthy of a top-five selection. That being said, he’ll have a bigger spotlight on him this season, so it will be interesting to see how the Bulldog fairs with the offense focusing on him."

    Carter is taking on the added responsibility of being a starter and getting full-time first-team reps, after being a rotational piece on last year's ultra-successful defensive front.

    The 6'3", 300-pound junior is active, athletic and explosive. The ability to consistently create pressure along the defensive interior is invaluable. Most interior defenders can't collapse the pocket or shoot gaps on a regular basis to harass opposing quarterbacks. Carter posted the highest pass-rushing grade of any defensive tackle last season, according to PFF's Mike Renner.

    Carter can be seen consistently slicing between offensive linemen and excelling when asked to stunt. He and Grady Jarrett have the potential to be the NFL's most disruptive duo along the defensive interior.

3. Detroit Lions: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

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    A bottom-three finish in year two with Jared Goff behind center is more than enough to push the Detroit Lions into a major investment at the quarterback position.

    Ohio State's C.J. Stroud enters this season as college football's QB1 with the potential to eventually become the No. 1 overall pick.

    "Stroud is a classic dropback passer with a smooth release, ample arm strength and effective accuracy to every level of the field," Klassen said. "Despite his youth, 20, Stroud already shows a good baseline for when and when not to be aggressive, as well as how to manage the situation when the pocket breaks down and he is forced to make a play.

    "Now, Stroud must continue to develop as a processor and speed his process up a hair, but his improvement over the course of last season suggests he can get there."

    In this instance, Will Anderson Jr. is simply too good not to be the top guy, and Jalen Carter isn't far behind him. The Lions benefit by getting the future face of the franchise without being the worst team in professional football. Still, this slotting will be a disappointment. The team plays hard for head coach Dan Campbell, and improvement in the overall record should be seen this fall.

    The chance to land Stroud provides a silver (and Honolulu) blue lining if things don't go exactly as planned.

4. Chicago Bears: WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU

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    A clear case of need, while banking on potential, developed with the fourth overall pick.

    The Chicago Bears must spend next offseason building around quarterback Justin Fields after failing to adequately do so this offseason. Beyond Darnell Mooney, the Bears feature very little at wide receiver, which is why they jump at the chance to land LSU's Kayshon Boutte, even this early in the process.

    "Boutte is sort of in the mold of A.J. Brown as a thick YAC monster," Klassen explained. "Boutte's best work is on in-breakers, as he does an incredible job transitioning from pass-catcher to ball-carrier, immediately exploding up the field when the ball hits his hands. Boutte is also very sure-handed. He does well to find passes outside his frame and when boxing out defenders in contested situations."

    The problem with this particular pairing is how highly Boutte eventually goes once he declares for the draft.

    Obviously, the Bears are banking on his growth potential. To Klassen's initial point, the LSU receiver led all returning Power Five receivers with an average of 7.6 yards after the catch per reception heading into last year, per Pro Football Focus' Austin Gayle.

    At the same time, his 2021 campaign ended prematurely because of an ankle injury, and a transition to a new coaching staff and system may limit opportunities this fall. In LSU's opener, Boutte caught only two passes for 20 yards.

5. Seattle Seahawks: QB Bryce Young, Alabama

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    Ten years ago, the Seattle Seahawks took a chance on an undersized quarterback when no one invested a high-round draft pick in a sub-6'0" quarterback.

    Russell Wilson worked out OK.

    Alabama's Bryce Young isn't Wilson, but he'll face a similar stigma throughout this year's draft cycle.

    "Purely from a skill perspective, Young is the class' best passer," Klassen stated. "Young is already a sharp processor, showcasing the ability to identify blitzes pre-snap and handle them correctly as well as the comfort to cycle through dropback progressions.

    "The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is quick to adapt to chaos, too, and often excels when forced to make a play outside the pocket, be that swinging for a home run or finding the easy outlet. Young's issue, more than anything, will be convincing NFL teams that a 194-pound quarterback can work."

    Wilson turned out to be a third-round pick because of his shortcomings. Height isn't the same issue today as it was then. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray both heard their names called with the first overall pick despite being under 6'1". But all three mentioned are solidly built and weigh over 200 pounds.

    How does Young handle the beating he'll inevitably take at the professional level?

    General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll showed they're more than willing to overlook traditional metrics in order to acquire a superb talent. In that regard, Young could be the Seahawks' next Wilson.

6. New York Jets: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

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    The New York Jets face a massive decision next offseason because Mekhi Becton's fifth-year rookie option will be on the table.

    Since becoming the 11th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, Becton's career has been filled with flashes of promise, questions about commitment and injuries. Currently, the 6'7", 363-pound blocker is on injured reserve after suffering an avulsion fracture of his right kneecap during training camp.

    The Jets may even choose to move on from Becton. If so, Northwestern's Peter Skoronski comes in as the top offensive tackle prospect for the 2023 class to finally provide an anchor for the unit.

    "The Jets are selecting a polished, technically sound option for their offensive line in Skoronski. He's someone who could fill in at potentially any position on the line with the upside to stick at one of their two tackle spots long-term," Thorn stated.

    "Skoronski is an efficient player who shows an advanced understanding of playing balanced and sustaining blocks in the run and pass game. With accurate, sticky hands and a strong lower half, his ability to control defenders from snap to finish consistently is the mark of an immediate starter at the next level.

    "The first-team All-Big Ten performer has been the starting left tackle since stepping onto campus as a true freshman in 2020 after replacing first-round pick Rashawn Slater. If Skoronski continues on the upward trajectory that he has established since becoming the starter, he has a shot at going even higher than Slater in the draft in what appears to be a weaker offensive line class at the top."

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson

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    The amount of money the Jacksonville Jaguars already invested in their defensive front seven is staggering.

    Travon Walker's selection with this year's No. 1 overall pick is just the tip of the iceberg. Walker's bookend, Josh Allen, is a former top-10 draft selection as well. Interior defenders Folorunso Fatukasi and Roy Robertson-Harris signed free-agent deals with a total worth of $53.4 million. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun came along on a three-year, $45 million deal. K'Lavon Chaisson, Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma are first-, first- and third-round draft picks, respectively.

    At the same time, all of those moves show how much the team values that area.

    Clemson's Bryan Bresee brings another elite talent into the fold. He's a defensive tackle, who's more than just a space-eater. The 6'5", 305-pounder defender displays the initial quickness to beat blockers off the snap, particularly when rushing the passer, which is vital considering his recent history.

    "Since a torn ACL limited Bresee to just four games as a true sophomore last year, he’s a bit of a tough evaluation heading into the campaign since it’s a rather small sample size," Holder noted. "But when you go back and flip on the tape from the 2020 season, it’s easy to see why he was widely considered the top recruit in the '20 class with his size, strength and athleticism combination. This season, Bresee just needs to stay healthy, prove he’s fully recovered from the knee injury and clean up some of the technical flaws he had as an 18-year-old."

8. Carolina Panthers: QB Will Levis, Kentucky

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    The Carolina Panthers are all in with Baker Mayfield...for now.

    The organization made the right decision to acquire the 2018 No. 1 overall pick at a severely discounted price. In doing so, the team upgraded the game's most important position.

    Whether Mayfield is actually the long-term solution the Panthers have desperately searched for is another matter altogether. The 27-year-old signal-caller experienced his share of ups and downs as the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. He went from setting a rookie record for touchdown passes to falling apart under Freddie Kitchens' disastrous leadership to helping lead the Browns to their first playoff berth since 2002 to regressing badly during an injured plagued '21 campaign. He's also on the last year of his rookie contract.

    As such, quarterback is still very much in Carolina's crosshairs, with Kentucky's Will Levis presenting an intriguing combination of size (6'3", 232 pounds), athleticism and natural arm talent.

    "Levis is a well-built pocket passer with a booming arm, but he needs a little more time in the oven before he is ready," Klassen said. "Kentucky's offense last year was NFL-like, giving Levis chances to prove himself as an NFL processor.

    "While up and down at times, Levis did flash impressive moments of working through his progressions and firing the ball into tight windows, even on the backside of concepts. Levis could stand to not be as zealous about his arm strength and hone his accuracy some, but it's easy to see how he could become a strong passer in a downfield, play-action-laden offense."

    Interestingly, the Kentucky quarterback will be 24 before his rookie season begins. For the Panthers, a mature prospect may be exactly what they need.

9. New York Giants: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida

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    Daniel Jones has this season to prove he's the New York Giants' franchise quarterback, or the organization will be forced to go in another direction.

    The 2019 sixth overall pick is operating on the last year of his rookie deal after the team chose not to pick up his fifth-year rookie option. Nothing ties the quarterback to the current regime.

    Both general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll are coming into the situation with fresh eyes—which could be good or bad for Jones. The quarterback can impress and play well in the new scheme, thus allowing him to remain the starter beyond this season. If not, the team's brass will decide to go in a new direction whenever it gets a chance to do so.

    In this scenario, Jones won't be in New York for the 2023 campaign and Florida's Anthony Richardson enters as the new top prospect thanks to the 6'4", 232-pound quarterback's tantalizing natural skill set.

    "Richardson is more theory than reality right now, but his tools are off the charts," Klassen said. "Richardson commands the arm strength of a cannon and has all the speed, quickness, and balance to instantly become one of the country's best runners at the position.

    "Better yet, Richardson got off to a wonderful start against Utah, showing a better command of the pocket and processing skills than he did in limited action a year ago. The young Gator quarterback still has a ways to go, but he didn't look overwhelmed at all against a Top 10 team, which is a great place to start for a prospect with his profile and lack of experience."

    Who better to develop a raw prospect like Richardson than Daboll, the man who spent the last four years helping Josh Allen realize his immense potential?

10. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a transitory phase.

    The franchise's all-time leading passer, Ben Roethlisberger, retired this offseason, and the team is now leaning on Mitchell Trubisky to lead the way. The offensive line still isn't particularly good. Stephon Tuitt abruptly retired and left a void on the defensive line that free-agent signee Larry Ogunjobi will try to fill. The organization brought in Levi Wallace to try to replace Joe Haden.

    All the while, the team is still loaded at wide receiver and have two of the best defensive players in the world with T.J. Watt coming off the edge and Cameron Heyward controlling the line of scrimmage.

    Pieces are still in place to be competitive. But the team is lacking at certain premium positions. Cornerback is chief among them. Cameron Sutton is a free agent after this season, and Wallace may only be a one-year rental since he can be released next year and the team pays only $1.5 million.

    Enter Georgia's Kelee Ringo as the top cornerback prospect for the 2023 class.

    "Ringo is a long corner (6'2") with a full body who comes in weighing over 200 pounds," Giddings said. "He is versatile enough to play in coverage but also shows the ability to play close to the line of scrimmage as a blitzer. When in pass coverage, he has the instincts to locate and play the ball in the air, as well as the ball skills to catch and capitalize on potential interceptions. When playing the run, his thicker frame allows him to insert and be a force out on the edge."

    A true top cover corner can change the entire dynamic of the Steelers defense with how talented it already is up front.

11. Washington Commanders: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

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    A commitment to Carson Wentz as the Washington Commanders quarterback clears the path for the team to build a long-term plan for the offense.

    Wentz always enjoyed targeting his tight ends, specifically during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. Zach Ertz averaged 116 target between the 2016 and '20 campaigns. Obviously, Ertz is an outstanding tight end, and his presence dictates a certain amount of attention. The Commanders can have a similar setup with the selection of Notre Dame's Michael Mayer.

    "Mayer is a throwback Y-tight end living in a spread world," Klassen said. "At 6'4" and 251 pounds, Mayer is an absolute tank, both with and without the ball.

    "The third-team All-American is a good blocker who can be the lead man for run concepts his way, as well as a hard-nosed YAC-earner who runs with the zeal and power of a wild bear. While not the fastest or most explosive tight end, Mayer's ability to work short-to-intermediate zones, box players out and consistently win the ball in the air will make him a weapon right away when paired with his blocking chops."

    Clearly, Mayer and Ertz present different skill sets since the latter served more as a glorified slot receiver. Yet the position's importance shouldn't be overlooked with Wentz behind center.

    Washington already has Logan Thomas under contract. But the one-time quarterback convert has never started a full slate of games. He's also 31 and coming off a knee injury. Mayer's selection doesn't serve as Thomas's replacement. Instead, both could be on the field in 12 personnel to make Washington a difficult matchup.

12. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

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    The Houston Texans may not walk away with a quarterback in this projected first round, but the team gets significantly better with the additions of Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. and Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

    The crux of the approach leans on Davis Mills and how he progresses this fall. The Texans are giving the 2021 third-round pick every opportunity to claim the job as the franchise's long-term starter behind center.

    Houston will also enter the phase of its rebuild where it needs to compete sooner rather than later. A year of tearing down the roster followed by a slow buildup sets the stage for rapid improvement. The No. 1 overall prospect coupled with the best available wide receiver to complement Brandin Cooks definitely keeps the Texans on that trajectory.

    Last season, Smith-Njigba emerged as the Buckeyes' top target despite two future first-rounders—Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave—being on the same squad.

    "Smith-Njigba was primarily a slot receiver last year, as he was flanked by Wilson and Olave, but he was dominant in that role last year and has the tools to do more if asked to," Klassen noted. "Smith-Njigba is a smooth, smart mover over the middle of the field, and he sports a huge catch radius that helps make life easier on the quarterback. He isn't the fastest receiver around, but the rest of his skills make up for a lack of top-end speed."

13. New England Patriots: WR Jordan Addison, USC

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    Jordan Addison took full advantage of the new world of college football in which we all currently live. The reigning Fred Biletnikoff Award winner, as the nation's most outstanding receiver, saw the writing on the wall and chose to leave the Pitt Panthers after the departures of quarterback Kenny Pickett and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.

    Addison is now a member of the USC Trojans, as part of Lincoln Riley's high-flying offense where the receiver can build upon last season's 100-catch, 1,593-yard effort.

    "What Addison lacks in ideal size (6'0", 175 pounds), he makes up for with, well, everything else," Klassen said. "Addison's route-running features the right blend of explosiveness and control, allowing him to work himself free at all levels of the field. Additionally, Addison is a significantly better ball-winner than his size would suggest and an absolute terror with the ball in his hands.

    "Though not a direct comparison, expect Addison to be a receiver who overcomes his perceived weight issues similar to DeVonta Smith a couple of years ago."

    The New England Patriots made significant investments to improve at wide receiver over the past year. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and second-round rookie Tyquan Thornton are in the mix. The foursome doesn't mean the team should pass on another top-end talent, like Addison, with Agholor being a free agent after this season and both Bourne and Parker having only one more year on their current deals.

14. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State

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    Alex Leatherwood's release after only one season with the Las Vegas Raiders came as a major shock. The organization drafted Leatherwood with the 17th overall pick in the 2021 class, but he immediately struggled when placed at right tackle.

    A move to guard helped salvage what could have been a completely lost rookie season. But the Raiders' new regime chose to try him at right tackle again. Obviously, the second-year blocker didn't prove up to the task. He's now a member of the Chicago Bears after being plucked off the waiver wire.

    The decision didn't necessarily help the Raiders beyond simply cutting bait with what they viewed as a lost cause. Right tackle remains a mess. Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. injects a massive amount of natural talent into the group.

    "The former 5-star recruit as the top tackle in the nation started 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2021 and is set to move out to left tackle this season. Johnson has a big, hulking frame and build (6'6", 310 pounds) with flashes of jarring power, and he brings a tone-setting demeanor to the unit," Thorn said. "His head was spinning a bit last season in what was his first time playing guard, and it likely led to much of the erratic technique that caused him to fall off of too many blocks.

    "Johnson should have a natural transition back out to the position he played throughout high school, but it is no guarantee that it will instantly shore up the considerable balance, timing and hand placement issues that plagued him inside at guard. The underclassman is oozing with the physical traits and demeanor to become a longtime NFL starter but will need to demonstrate more body control, balance and nuance this season before declaring for the draft and maximizing his value as a prospect."

15. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans): Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson

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    The Philadelphia Eagles are never without a loaded front under Howie Roseman's direction. Their defensive approach is to come at opposing quarterbacks in waves.

    Change is likely coming soon, though.

    Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are all free agents after this season or next. Derek Barnett is under contract through the 2024 campaign, though the defensive end has little to no guaranteed money on the deal beyond this year.

    A potential bookend to Josh Sweat isn't just a possibility, it may very well be a necessity. Clemson's Myles Murphy is the caliber of prospect the Eagles aren't going to pass on if he's still on the board.

    "You’re not going to find many 275-pound dudes who can move like Murphy can," Holder said. "He’s quick and smooth and has impressive acceleration to be a lethal pass-rusher when he turns speed to power. If he can be more consistent with his use of hands and leverage against the run, the Clemson product can sneak into the top 10 and maybe even top-five category."

    The Eagles defensive front could be reborn in a year with some of the older veterans leaving and a quartet of Sweat, Murphy, Jordan Davis and Milton Williams leading the way.

16. Arizona Cardinals: Edge Nolan Smith, Georgia

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    Georgia's Nolan Smith won't be a prospect for every team, since his skill set doesn't fit into every situation.

    Smith is an undersized (6'3", 235 pounds) edge defender who's more likely to be effective in a 34 base and specific sub-packages. Despite the potential limitations, no one can deny Smith's suddenness or explosivity when working off the edge. He can turn the corner on offensive tackles and quickly close on quarterbacks.

    "The 21-year-old defender can defeat blocks with quickness and athleticism, both as a pass-rusher and run defender," Holder stated. "However, he could afford to add some size and strength to hold his ground against bigger/NFL-level offensive tackles against the run. Similar to teammate Jalen Carter, Smith also will get his time to shine on Georgia’s defensive line this season as he was lost in the fold a bit among last year’s impressive group."

    For the Arizona Cardinals, Chandler Jones and Devon Kennard are no longer part of the team's edge rotation. Markus Golden is now 31 years old, and Dennis Gardeck steps into a much bigger role.

    Smith fits into Vance Joseph's defensive approach and potentially gives the Cardinals a new featured edge.

17. Tennessee Titans: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas

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    Derrick Henry suffered his first major injury last season with a Jones fracture, and he turns 29 in January.

    Maybe the 6'3", 247-pound freight train of a running back can overcome age and wear and tear to some degree, much like Adrian Peterson once did. Though the Tennessee Titans can't bank on Henry always holding up and being counted among the league leaders in rushing yardage.

    Furthermore, Henry isn't currently signed beyond the 2023 campaign.

    As such, a succession plan could be put in place. Usually, this type of discussion centers on quarterbacks. In the Titans' case, their running back defines the entire franchise. Texas' Bijan Robinson could do the same.

    "Robinson is a human encapsulation of explosiveness," Klassen described. "He excels at making people miss in a phone booth, both thanks to his lateral quickness and unique ability to contort his body to avoid full contact. Likewise, when Robinson decides to go 0-60, he gets to his top speed instantly and rips through the second level with ease. The 20-year-old ball-carrier is a chunk gain just waiting to happen any time he touches the ball."

    Robinson doesn't need to be the featured back straight out of the gate. Henry wasn't. In fact, DeMarco Murray led the Titans in carries during the 2016 and '17 campaigns. The league's two-time leading rusher and the first-round rookie can share the backfield for at least a season before Robinson takes over as the new workhorse.

18. Minnesota Vikings: Edge Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame

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    Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's first draft as Minnesota Vikings general manager was quite interesting. He prioritized extra assets through trade-downs more than the best player available at the time. Furthermore, the executive came from the Cleveland Browns organization, where the front office invested in premium positions during the opening frame. Instead, Adofo-Mensah chose to draft safety Lewis Cine.

    Next year could bring a different approach on both fronts.

    Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey gives the team another option beyond Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith—both of whom had serious injuries over the last year. A neck injury cost Hunter the entire 2020 campaign, and then he suffered a torn pectoral muscle last season. Smith played in only one contest last fall because of a lingering back issue.

    Foskey injects some youth and potential as an ideal system fit for Ed Donatell's defensive scheme.

    "With six forced fumbles in 2021, Foskey has seemingly mastered the art of the strip-sack," Holder started. "He also has a handful of outside moves that he can win with, to go along with at least decent bend to win around the edge. Being more aggressive at the point of attack can help the Golden Domer be stouter against the run, but he’s got an NFL-ready frame at 6’4” and 265 pounds."

19. Indianapolis Colts: CB Garrett Williams, Syracuse

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    After four seasons with Matt Eberflus as the defensive coordinator, the Indianapolis Colts turn to Gus Bradley.

    Bradley's system remains one of the most simplistic yet proven approaches. The Colts don't exactly feature Legion of Boom-caliber talent on the outside, though.

    Even at 31, Stephon Gilmore remains a high-level performer, as long as he stays healthy. Opposite Gilmore, Brandon Facyson and Isaiah Rodgers are far more suspect. Kenny Moore II, meanwhile, excels as a nickel corner, though the 27-year-old didn't get the contract extension he wanted during training camp.

    At 6'0" and 189 pounds, Syracuse's Garrett Williams isn't a traditional Seahawks-inspired Cover 3 corner. However, the redshirt sophomore plays much bigger than his size indicates.

    "Williams broke onto the scene with an outstanding freshman season and has continued to back that up with his play since," Giddings said. "An active player, Williams shows excellent instincts not only in the pass game but also in the run game, where he attacks with physicality to take on and defeat blocks, and he has the willingness to make plays on the other side of the ball. One of the most well-rounded cornerbacks in this class, Williams plays best when he has his eyes on the quarterback."

    In a zone-heavy scheme, the 21-year-old defensive back should thrive, especially in a situation where he can learn under the tutelage of a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

20. Philadelphia Eagles: CB Cam Smith, South Carolina

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    Back-to-back selections of prospects at premium positions is a smart way for the Philadelphia Eagles to build their roster.

    When an organization plays the long game, as the Eagles have by leveraging picks into future assets, an opportunity exists to build an outstanding roster at every level. The approach doesn't always work (ask the Las Vegas Raiders), but the Eagles can, in this scenario, offset potential losses along the defensive front and then look to address their secondary.

    South Carolina's Cam Smith brings excellent ball skills as a much-needed outside corner.

    "A cover corner who shows quick feet and fluidity," Giddings said. "Smith allowed multiple catches in just two games last season. Why? Smith has shown the ability to play the ball in both press and off coverage. A patient defender, he can play the ball in the air, as well as playing through the receiver with his back to the ball. A tough player, Smith is a willing tackler who throws his body around in the run game and occasionally delivers big hits."

    The Eagles were fortunate to land James Bradberry this offseason after the New York Giants released the veteran defensive back. He's not under contract next year, though. Smith can serve as Darius Slay's bookend.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech

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    The Cincinnati Bengals defense is well-positioned to play complementary football opposite Joe Burrow and the high-flying offense.

    In an offense-driven league, a defense isn't going to simply stonewall opponents. But the unit can have a drastic effect on the game by harassing opposing quarterbacks and creating turnovers.

    With that in mind, the Bengals can continue to invest in their pass rush despite Trey Hendrickson being everything the organization hoped he'd be last season and Sam Hubbard getting a contract extension.

    Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson is a unique talent based on his build. He's a powerful defensive end who can reduce down to defensive tackle. His inclusion creates even more flexibility to a front when opponents are forced to throw the ball when trailing.

    "Wilson has elite size at 6’6” and 275 pounds and carries it well, as he’s lean for a near-300-pounder, if there is such a thing," Holder admitted. "That gives him some power as a rusher to execute hump-by moves and fight off chip blocks. He also holds his ground pretty well against the run. The Red Raider will have to get a little more athletic and bendy to stick on the edge at the next level, though."

    The Bengals drafted a similar talent a few years back in Carlos Dunlap. That move worked out well for the team.

22. Dallas Cowboys: DL Siaki Ika, Baylor

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    Mammoth nose tackles aren't nearly as common as they used to be. Today's interior defenders need to be more than space-eaters. Their value decreases based on how little they affect opposing passing games.

    The Dallas Cowboys aren't particularly big along their defensive interior and haven't been for some time, which has been by design. Rod Marinelli served as the Cowboys' defensive line coach for seven seasons before the team brought in Dan Quinn as coordinator. Both tend to prefer lighter defensive tackles who shoot gaps.

    Baylor's Siaki Ika is a mountain of a man. He's also a much better pass-rusher than his build indicates. According to Pro Football Focus, Ika finished with the third-best pass-rushing grade among returning defensive tackles.

    "At 6’4” and 358 pounds, Ika is someone offenses must double-team on just about every play," Holder said. "If not, he’ll reset the line of scrimmage against the run or bull-rush the center into the quarterback’s lap as a pass-rusher. But perhaps even more impressive, he’s got some quickness and is a good athlete for his size to be a big riser this fall."

    They key is being valuable on every down. Ika doesn't need to post a 10-sack season. However, he must show some of the same disruptive qualities Vita Vea did before becoming a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If so, he could be the perfect addition to a Dallas defensive front, while allowing athletes like Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence to run wild.

23. Baltimore Ravens: WR Josh Downs, North Carolina

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    AP Photo/Chris Seward

    The Baltimore Ravens feature a run-first/tight end-centric offense. The previous statement doesn't mean the team should continue to pass on top wide receiver talents, as the organization did in April's draft.

    Rashod Bateman steps into the role as WR1 after being a first-round pick last year, while Devin Duvernay and James Proche II will be featured more regularly.

    In reality, first-team All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews is the Ravens' top target. General manager Eric DeCosta added fellow tight end Isaiah Likely in this year's fourth round, and he's expected to be a threat during his rookie campaign.

    Another target certainly isn't out of the question, especially once who can create after the catch.

    "This may be rich for North Carolina's Josh Downs, but he has enticing traits as a YAC threat," Klassen said. "A smaller receiver (5'10", 175 pounds), Downs has some quickness to him and shows natural ball-carrying skills, comfortably weaving through defenses and finding open creases to squeeze out yardage. Likewise, Downs has enough long speed to threaten explosive plays any time he touches the ball."

    Bateman, Downs, Andrews, Likely and possibly another addition or two down the road would give quarterback Lamar Jackson multiple different weapons to create explosive plays.

24. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver): Edge Andre Carter II, Army

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    The Seattle Seahawks already landed their franchise quarterback in Alabama's Bryce Young. The organization should take another chance on an extremely talented defensive lineman with some potential obstacles toward immediate playing time.

    As a player for one of the military academies, Army's Andre Carter II must fulfill his active duty commission after graduating from West Point. However, military athletes can file paperwork to request a delayed assignment.

    For example, the New Orleans Saints drafted defensive lineman Jordan Jackson in this year's sixth round. Jackson received a deferred commitment, and he can be currently found on the Saints practice squad. Each request is individually assessed, though.

    The 6'7", 260-pound Carter is an impressive and unique prospect. He managed 14.5 sacks last season.

    "After receiving no Division I offers as a wide receiver coming out of high school, Carter spent a year at prep school, switched to the defensive side of the ball and found his home as a pass-rusher," Holder said. "His speed around the edge puts pressure on offensive tackles vertically, and he has a handful of inside counters to keep them honest as well. The Army product has a lot of work to do against the run, but in a passing league, there’s certainly going to be a team that will take a chance on him in the first round."

    The Seahawks are still searching for a consistent edge-rusher, with Carter being an ideal candidate.

25. Miami Dolphins (from San Francisco): CB Eli Ricks, Alabama

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    AP Photo/Vasha Hunt

    The Miami Dolphins already have huge investments in their secondary. How could another first-round corner hurt?

    In all seriousness, the Dolphins are implementing a new defensive scheme with their new head coach, Mike McDaniel. Previous investments don't necessarily translate.

    Byron Jones, who's currently on the physically unable to perform list because of an ankle issue, can be released next offseason with a June 1 designation and the team will save $14.1 million, according to Over The Cap. Miami will also want to see more from Noah Igbinoghene with a decision on his fifth-year rookie option coming next year. Even Keion Crossen, who signed a three-year extension in March, doesn't have any guaranteed money on his contract beyond this year.

    The situation remains more fluid than it appears on paper, and the addition of another top-flight corner prospect can bring some clarity.

    Eli Ricks is now in his first year with the Alabama Crimson Tide after he began his career with the LSU Tigers. The 20-year-old is in the right location to learn from one of the best secondary coaches ever, Nick Saban, while increasing his standing among the 2023 class.

    "Ricks is another long corner (6'2", 190 pounds) in this year's class," Giddings said. "A ball hawk who often plays press, he uses his length to reroute receivers at the line, while also using great timing and physicality at the catch point. Ricks attacks the ball in the air, looking for interceptions first but ultimately competing to ensure that there are minimal receptions on his watch. Not just a cover corner, Ricks shows the willingness to support the run as well."

26. Los Angeles Chargers: LB Noah Sewell, Oregon

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    This selection might have as much to do with the linebackers on the Los Angeles Chargers roster as it does Noah Sewell's talent.

    Injuries basically destroyed Kenneth Murray Jr.'s 2021 campaign, and an ankle surgery kept the linebacker from practicing. At this point, veteran Kyle Van Noy is slated to start next to Drue Tranquill at inside linebacker.

    Murray must get healthy and show he can stay on the field before reclaiming his job. Neither Tranquill nor Van Noy is signed beyond this season. Los Angeles' second line of a defense has the potential to be a mess.

    Whereas Sewell is a rare off-ball linebacker worthy of first-round consideration.

    "You won’t find many 250-pound linebackers in today’s game," Holder mentioned, "but that’s because most backers can’t carry the weight and still move like Sewell can. He’s got decent speed and agility to make plays on outside runs as a middle linebacker. The first-team All-Pac-12 defender displays violent hands to shed blocks from offensive linemen against inside runs. He’ll have to sure up his tackling form and improve his eye discipline in zone coverage. But if there’s a first-round backer in this draft class heading into the campaign, it’s Sewell."

    The Chargers are loaded along their defensive front and secondary. Sewell can serve as the connective tissue between those two levels.

27. Detroit Lions (from LA Rams): CB Joey Porter Jr.

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    Certain fits just feel right. Joey Porter Jr. to the Detroit Lions is one of them. The Penn State cornerback brings a certain level of grittiness to the position that aligns with the type of culture Dan Campbell is trying to instill in his locker room.

    "Porter is a long corner with very good physicality who likes to get hands on to disrupt routes," Giddings mentioned. "The two-time third-team All-Big Ten performer uses his length and long strides to make up for any ground given at the line of scrimmage. He shows to have good awareness and instincts, allowing him to play the ball with optimal timing. Showing shades of a ball hawk, Porter attacks the ball when targeted. A physical tackler, Porter does a very good job of chopping down ball-carriers and wrapping them up for minimal extra yards."

    The Lions may need significant cornerback reinforcements after this season anyhow.

    Amani Oruwariye, Will Harris and Mike Hughes are all free agents going into next offseason. Plus, the team is still waiting to see what it has in Jeff Okudah. The 2020 third overall draft pick struggled mightily as a rookie and then suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in last year's season opener. His development will go a long way in elevating what could be a very inconsistent Lions secondary.

    Whether Okudah becomes the player Detroit expected two years ago or not may not entirely matter since a second corner is definitely a necessity.

28. Green Bay Packers: OT Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland

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    David Bakhtiari may have said he's capable of opening the season in the Green Bay Packers lineup, but the team can't overlook how long it took the soon-to-be 31-year-old left tackle to recover from a torn ACL he suffered in December 2020.

    The two-time first-team All-Pro even mentioned that he'll have to "manage" throughout the season.

    By drafting a left tackle prospect in Maryland's Jaelyn Duncan, one of three things could happen. Bakhtiari could be released next year with a June 1 designation and the Packers can save $17.5 million, according to Over The Cap. Or Duncan can serve as Bakhtiari's protege for a couple of seasons and become the veteran's eventual replacement. Or Duncan can move to right tackle, with Elgton Jenkins bumping back inside to guard.

    Right now, all three possibilities need to be on the table because Duncan is a tackle prospect packed with potential.

    "Duncan is a three-year starter at left tackle with excellent size (6'6", 320 pounds), length and light feet. His game against Michigan's Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo in 2021 was an impressive display of all three facets of his game, especially in pass protection," Thorn noted.

    "Duncan will struggle to expand his set points up the arc to protect the corner against rushers who know how to set up him and get his feet to stop, which is something he will need to show improvement on this season to be considered a bona fide first-round pick. Duncan can end reps quickly against most competition in college due to his sheer size, movement skills and strong hands once he's locked in, but the finer aspects of the position such as strike timing, hand placement and anticipation are a work in progress."

29. Kansas City Chiefs: DL Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida

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    AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

    The Kansas City Chiefs defensive front could look drastically different a year from now and may require reinforcements.

    Defensive tackles Derrick Nnadi and Khalen Saunders, as well as defensive end Carlos Dunlap, are free agents after this season. Frank Clark holds a $30.1 million salary-cap charge for the 2023 campaign, which means he won't stay at that number. Four significant contributors may simply be gone after this season.

    Florida's Gervon Dexter Sr. could be the ideal replacement for Nnadi as the team's 1-technique.

    "Dexter is a strong run defender who plays with a great base to be hard to move against both one-on-one blocks and double-teams," Holder stated. "He also has some power as a rusher to put centers on skates with a bull rush, but his pass-rushing arsenal is limited outside of that. Improving his get-off will go a long way toward elevating his draft stock."

    The 6'6", 312-pound defensive tackle can physically overwhelm opposing centers and excels as a pass-rusher when he does so. His inclusion to the lineup would make him an ideal complementary piece to Chris Jones and create a hellacious tandem to block along the defensive interior.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Tyler Van Dyke, Miami

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    Eventually, Tom Brady will retire. Maybe. Who knows, really? Whatever the case may be, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must be prepared for the possibility.

    Kyle Trask doesn't appear to be the answer even though the organization selected him in the second round last year. Despite the investment, Tampa Bay brought in veteran Blaine Gabbert to serve as backup this season and last year. Besides, a non-first-round quarterback isn't guaranteed anything.

    Miami's Tyler Van Dyke brings significantly more upside as a third-year sophomore who already shows top-shelf touch and the capability to easily layer throws to all three levels.

    "Van Dyke is a bit of an odd prospect right now, but you can see the outline of a pro passer in the young Hurricane quarterback," Klassen mentioned. "Aesthetically, Van Dyke looks awkward thanks to his tall (6'4", 224 pounds), lanky frame and trebuchet-like throwing motion.

    "That said, the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year handled Miami's offense exceptionally well for a freshman last year, pared down as it may have been. Van Dyke also showed great command of the pocket and nary an ounce of fear when it came to testing tight windows or downfield opportunities. Like any young player, Van Dyke could stand to iron out his processing speed and trigger, but he has time to work on those things before he heads to the NFL."

    Very few situations will be better for a young quarterback to step in, learn from Brady and eventually take the offensive reins further down the road.

31. Buffalo Bills: S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

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    AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    The last pick of the first round means the Buffalo Bills won a Super Bowl. The moment would serve as a cleansing for a fanbase that still remembers four straight losses in the big game. It would also allow Bills brass to make some tough decisions without receiving much backlash.

    Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have been arguably the league's best safety duo since the two signed with the Bills during the 2017 offseason. The duo can't go on together for much longer. Hyde turns 32 later this year, and Poyer is already looking for a contract extension—he didn't receive one during training camp. The latter, who also turns 32 in April, is a free agent after this season.

    The addition of a talented, young safety prospect, particularly when the team has the opportunity to select one it believes is the top option in the entire class, will go a long way to filling the potential void.

    "At 6'3" and 195 pounds, Texas A&M's Antonio Johnson is a defensive back with excellent length," Giddings said. "He has the footwork and coverage skills to play in the slot, as well as deep safety. As a versatile defender, Johnson can blitz off the edge, as well as play with great physicality to take on and defeat blocks. The junior has the ability to do just about anything he wants on the football field, and the Texas A&M staff puts him in position to do so."

    A changeover from Hyde and Poyer to Antonio Johnson and Jaquan Johnson should keep the Bills defense trucking along as one of the league's best.


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