2023 NFL Mock Draft: B/R NFL Scouting Dept.'s Post-Regular-Season Picks
For 18 NFL teams, the offseason has already begun because they missed the postseason. While 14 other squads battle for an opportunity to play in Super Bowl LVII, the 2023 draft cycle is now in full swing.
How do those teams that didn't earn a playoff nod get better? What areas should they address? What type of moves lie ahead? Which changes should be made from coaching and personnel perspectives?
Plenty will be decided in the coming weeks and months.
Even those franchises still in the hunt must keep one eye on the future since only one will hoist the Lombardi Trophy just over a month from now.
The first half of evaluations are essentially done. The on-field portion of a prospect's profile is laid forth for everyone to see. The next steps include all-star festivities, the NFL combine, medical evaluations, interviews, pro days, visits and workouts. But this setup shows how things currently stand at the end of professional football's regular season.
NOTE: The Miami Dolphins forfeited their original first-round selection after they broke the NFL's anti-tampering rules, and this projection does not include any trades.
1. Chicago Bears: Edge Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
The Chicago Bears need to do everything in their power this offseason to build around their electrifying quarterback, Justin Fields. Yet that approach shouldn't blind the team to what else is available.
With the first overall pick, the Bears are better positioned to select an elite defensive talent rather than make a slight reach for someone to help Fields on the other side of the ball.
Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. is the top-ranked prospect for the entire 2023 class. Had he been eligible, his name would have likely been called with the No. 1 pick in the '22 draft. With suitors potentially clamoring to trade up and select one of the quarterback prospects, the Bears should still stand pat and land a defensive game-wrecker of the highest order.
"If the Bears end up staying in this spot, an Anderson selection is a no-brainer," Holder stated. "They're set at quarterback with Fields but could use a cornerstone defensive player, which is exactly what Anderson is. He'll step in and immediately improve their pass rush to help an already young and talented secondary while also beefing up their run defense."
The 21-year-old is the most disruptive defender seen since at least Aaron Donald at Pittsburgh. Anderson has the speed and bend to turn the corner against less athletic offensive tackles. His power allows the defender to work through blockers as well, either as a pass-rusher or run defender.
Anderson is the complete package and the best overall defensive prospect since Myles Garrett went No. 1 overall six years ago.
2. Houston Texans: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
The Houston Texans have remained rudderless since Bill O'Brien's tenure as head coach/general manager imploded. Since then, the organization has spent the past two-and-three-quarter seasons stuck in a constant rebuild.
The team has little talent and only a handful of players—Laremy Tunsil, Tytus Howard, Kenyon Green, Dameon Pierce, Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre—who should be viewed as building blocks for the coming years. What the squad truly lacks is stability at the game's most important position.
Davis Mills showed promise as a former third-round pick, but he simply didn't develop enough this past season. As such, the Texans can concentrate on a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft. Alabama's Bryce Young is the current target.
"Houston's offense desperately needs the spark Young can provide," Klassen stated. "With Mills at the helm, the offense struggles to do anything beyond safe, on-schedule throws inside of 10 yards. Young is the antidote.
"Though still well-versed as an on-schedule passer, Young thrives the longer the ball is in his hands. He's bouncy in the pocket and tough to catch outside of it—a combination that unlocks creative answers other quarterbacks in this class cannot rival. At a listed 6'0" and 194 pounds, Young's main question mark is size. It's concerning not only from a durability standpoint but in terms of how Young will be able to see the field and throw over NFL defensive linemen."
Young plays the position at a higher level than anyone else in this year's draft. If the Texans still aren't entirely sold, they'll strongly consider Ohio State's C.J. Stroud or Kentucky's Will Levis.
3. Arizona Cardinals: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
The Arizona Cardinals need help everywhere besides quarterback after making a hefty investment in Kyler Murray prior to the 2022 campaign.
Because of a deteriorating roster, the Cardinals can go in a myriad of directions. However, the defensive line is particularly strong near the top of the draft, and J.J. Watt's retirement only made the setup more urgent.
"With Watt's now retirement now official after Week 18 action, the Cardinals get their immediate replacement in Georgia's Jalen Carter," Holder said. "Like Watt, Carter can play up and down the line of scrimmage.
"The unanimous All-American is very good against the run and as an interior pass-rusher. Arizona typically likes to draft the best player available over a team need, but it satisfies both requirements with this selection."
Surely, Watt's presence will be missed, even the version of him that played in the desert. However, Carter showed throughout his time at Georgia that he can be a game-wrecker. He presents quickness, relentlessness and rare movement skills for a 300-pound defensive lineman. Those traits made him arguably the best player on the field when the Bulldogs won the national championship in 2022.
Another talented defensive lineman adds to the rotation of Zach Allen, Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders. The group will be loaded with potential and possibly provide the Cardinals with an identity after they emerge from the post-Watt (and possibly Kliff Kingsbury) world.
4. Indianapolis Colts: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Murphy's Law went into action for the Indianapolis Colts during the 2022 campaign. What could go wrong certainly did and snowballed from that point forward.
The organization dealt with a mid-season firing of its offensive coordinator, then its head coach. A meddling owner demanded the team's veteran quarterback be benched. He then hired an unproven entity in the coaching ranks to serve as the interim boss. The team spiraled into the abyss and won only four games after being projected as the favorite to win the AFC South.
The Colts have hit rock bottom, and finding a young franchise quarterback to develop is the only solution to its problems after cycling through Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles over the past few seasons.
Fortunately, the team owns a top-four pick to make that wish a reality. In this instance, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud provides the perfect elixir to cure most of the organization's ills.
"Stroud is an excellent on-schedule passer," Klassen said. "He scans the field effectively, plays within the rhythm of the offense, and rarely puts the ball in harm's way. Ohio State's offense makes that easier than most, but he still showed a clear command for the scheme.
"The two-time Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year also has a very good arm when he's set. Far-hash throws breaking to the sideline are no problem, and he's got just the right blend of velocity and touch to control his ball placement over the middle at a high level.
"Stroud's biggest area for improvement is how he operates off-schedule and in tight pockets, though he started to answer those questions against the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff. Stroud can get a bit finicky in cluttered pockets and conservative when working on the move. Hopefully, the Colts sort out their offensive line situation to protect him better in 2023."
5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver): Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
The Russell Wilson deal may go down as the worst in NFL history—or the best, if you're the Seattle Seahawks.
Thanks to the franchise dumping its all-time leading passer, the Seahawks miraculously got better with Geno Smith under center yet will benefit from a top-five draft pick from the Denver Broncos.
This particular selection comes down to how the Seahawks feel internally about Smith. The longtime backup-turned-starter hasn't performed as well during the second half of the season, and he's a pending free agent. But he's proved himself more than capable of leading the squad. Maybe a franchise tag will come into play for next season. Or, general manager John Schneider could consider a quarterback in this slot.
Right now, Smith's return, coupled with the addition of an elite defensive talent, seems to be the Seahawks' most likely plan of action. Clemson's Myles Murphy presents the physical skill set and potential worthy of a top-five selection.
"The Seahawks head into the playoffs with 35-year-old Bruce Irvin starting at one of their edge spots and could use someone else who can play multiple positions along their defensive line, as Murphy can," Holder said. "At 275 pounds, Murphy is athletic enough to drop into coverage. The first-team All-ACC defensive end also has the size and strength to hold up as a run defender in the trenches. He'd also be an excellent complementary pass-rusher to Uchenna Nwosu."
Head coach Pete Carroll loves to pound the ball and play stout defense. This pick will signify the organization's back-to-basics approach.
6. Detroit Lions (from LA Rams): CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
The Detroit Lions had been torched throughout the regular season as one of the league's worst defensive units. The offense, meanwhile, maintained top-five status.
As such, a concentration on the defensive side of the ball seems prudent, starting with the draft class' top cornerback prospect: Joey Porter Jr.
"The son of the former Steeler great had a fantastic final season at Penn State, which launched him into being the top cornerback in this year's draft," Giddings said. "A physical player with very good length, Porter excels in man coverage.
"The Lions must shore up the other cornerback spot opposite 2020 third overall draft pick, Jeff Okudah."
Okudah's continued development is only part of the equation. Both Mike Hughes and Amani Oruwariye are pending free agents.
Porter's toughness and hard-nosed approach, even as a cornerback, should help rub off on the rest of the Lions defense while simultaneously giving the unit a standout cover man. His inclusion will help the franchise continue to build upon the successes it experienced through Dan Campbell's first two seasons at the helm.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
Like other franchises in front of them, the Raiders need to decide whether they're going to go all-in with a quarterback in this year's draft or find a veteran solution elsewhere.
"The possibility of going after a quarterback like Kentucky's Will Levis or Florida's Anthony Richardson might be tempting," Holder agreed, "but either of those two can be considered reaches here based on B/R's draft board.
"Meanwhile, the Raiders desperately need to get Maxx Crosby some pass-rush help, especially along the interior. Clemson's Bryan Bresee steps in and picks up some of the slack since he's a great athlete for the position and can really get after the quarterback.
"However, he's missed quite a bit of football due to injuries over the last couple of seasons. The former 5-star recruit is more tools and traits than a finished product."
Purely from a talent perspective, Bresee is as gifted as any prospect in the class. Yes, the majority of his reps come from working along the interior. But film can be found of him lining up at defensive end and beating offensive tackles, too.
Granted, the difficulty level among the professional ranks increases significantly. Yet the defensive lineman's ability to do so against good collegiate opposition provides a glimpse of the damage he can inflict for a defense.
Bresee's medical check-ups will be the most telling aspect of his entire evaluation after missing 12 out of a possible 24 games across the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
8. Atlanta Falcons: WR Jordan Addison, USC
Whoever starts at quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons next season will feel like he showed up at one of Oprah's once-famous prize giveaway episodes.
"You get an offensive weapon! You get an offensive weapon! You get an offensive weapon!"
[Insert obligatory Oprah GIF.]
The Falcons spent back-to-back top-10 picks on tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Drake London. Both are promising young targets who can be dynamic threats when used correctly with the right personnel around them.
A strong cockpit is the best way to make the Falcons an intriguing option for quarterbacks if the team isn't entirely comfortable drafting one at this juncture. As such, the addition of yet another standout wide receiver comes under consideration.
"The Falcons offense already has two oversized ball-winners," Klassen said. "What they need is someone with high-end movement skills to open up the field.
"USC's Jordan Addison brings that exact skill set. Though a bit thin at 6'0" and 175 pounds, Addison is electric. The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner has snappy feet as a route-runner and dangerous stop-start explosiveness, which makes him especially dangerous in the underneath area and at the goal line. Addison also brings wicked burst and high-end speed as a ball-carrier to make him dangerous as a screen and jet-motion option. Both specialties fit perfectly within head coach Arthur Smith's system.
"Addison will get bullied sometimes by stronger corners, but this offense has other big, tough targets anyway."
9. Carolina Panthers: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Kentucky's Will Levis is the enigma of the 2023 class because the quarterback looked like a future top-10 selection a year ago but failed to capitalize on his momentum during his final season on campus.
Beggars can't be choosers in the case of the Carolina Panthers. The organization has been dead set on acquiring a franchise quarterback since David Tepper became its owner. Yet the Panthers failed to do so at every turn.
Carolina can rationalize this pick based on two factors. First, Levis fits the prototype as a 6'3", 232-pound quarterback prospect with a big arm and good movement skills. Secondly, his downturn in production could stem from losing his top two wide receivers, the Wildcats' best two blockers and their offensive play-caller from the previous season.
"Levis is a roll of the dice to get a player somewhere on the Ryan Tannehill to Matthew Stafford spectrum," Klassen said. "As a 23-year-old prospect with years of experience in a Kyle Shanahan-like system, Levis provides the advantage of walking into the league more prepared than his peers.
Levis' brightest moments comes when he's ripping play-action posts or firing backside dig routes, both of which showcase his arm strength. With that being said, the Kentucky product isn't a complete prospect. His accuracy is subpar for a first-round quarterback, which was true even in 2021. Also, he's not a particularly creative player who can excel off-schedule.
"Thankfully for the player and team, Carolina has a good enough offensive line to keep Levis propped up and tap into his strengths as a thrower."
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans): CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
The Philadelphia Eagles own the NFL's best record and deepest overall roster. Yet, the organization finds itself among the top half of the first round thanks to a shrewd draft-day trade this past spring by general manager Howie Roseman.
With the New Orleans Saints providing a quality selection after an underachieving season, the Eagles can address a premium position with one of the class' best in coverage.
"South Carolina's Cam Smith is another long cornerback who does his best work in man coverage," Giddings said. "He is a bit raw in his technique but presents great upside.
"The Eagles have aging cornerbacks and a strong front seven. The addition of a top cornerback prospect in this draft would only help solidify an already very good defense. Smith could earn a starting spot on the outside or over the slot. Maybe he just adds quality depth in his first year."
Darius Slay turned 32 at the start of the new year, and his salary-cap figure balloons to $26.1 million for the 2023 campaign, according to Spotrac. Opposite Slay, James Bradberry isn't under contract after this season. Furthermore, both Avonte Maddox and C.J. Gardner-Johnson both experienced stints on injured reserve.
A team can never have too many good corners, and Philadelphia should abide by the cliché.
11. Tennessee Titans: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The Tennessee Titans know exactly who they are. They're going to run the ball, play stout defense and excel with their understanding of fundamentals and situational football.
Without the possibility of drafting one of the top three quarterbacks not on the table in this scenario as Ryan Tannehill's future with the franchise hangs in the balance, the next best option is to address a disappointing offensive front.
Northwestern's Peter Skoronski could easily be the class' highest-rated offensive tackle or guard prospect. His standing depends purely on each team's draft board and how they project their blockers. For Tennessee, his positional designation doesn't really matter.
"Tennessee would land arguably the class' most polished blocker outside of the top 10 for a line in desperate need of an upgrade at multiple positions," Thorn stated. "Skoronski is an experienced, proven starter at left tackle with very good quickness, understanding of leverage and overall technique. He can fill in on the blindside if the organization parts ways with Taylor Lewan or even kick inside and play guard or center.
"For a team that needs to solidify the offensive line with a high-floor, dependable player, Skoronski is the draft's best option."
The Titans can save $14.8 million by releasing Lewan, which will create significant concerns on the left side of the ball. Skoronski is an immediate answer to provide an anchor on the blindside for whoever starts behind center next fall.
12. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
The Houston Texans couldn't ask for a better setup during the 2023 NFL draft.
First, the team gets its pick of the incoming quarterback class to finally set that position for the foreseeable future. The Texans come back around thanks to the Deshaun Watson trade, with the chance to select the best overall talent at wide receiver.
What a wonderful way to start building toward something of substance in Houston.
"Who better to pair with a creative, playmaking quarterback in Bryce Young than the big-bodied wide receiver who can score from anywhere?" Klassen asked. "TCU's Quentin Johnston brings a familiar presence back to Houston since he sports a similar build and skill set to DeAndre Hopkins.
"Johnston does his best work the more he can stride out, serve as a downfield threat or when he's hit on the run during underneath routes. The 6'4", 215-pound target is a legit mismatch on go balls, post routes and deep over routes. The Texans offense clearly lacks a similar presence in the offense.
"Additionally, Johnston is a solid ball-winner, which will be highly beneficial since Young will certainly put him to the test early and often."
The Texans will be appointment viewing with Young and Johnston leading the way. At worst, their offense won't be boring anymore. A potential move at head coach to bring in an offensive mind and a new system can make the setup even more tantalizing.
13. New York Jets: IOL O'Cyrus Torrence, Florida
If at first Joe Douglas doesn't succeed, he needs to try, try again.
The New York Jets general manager already spent two first-round picks on Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, while also making significant investments in George Fant, Connor McGovern and Laken Tomlinson.
Yet New York's offensive line still isn't settled. Clearly, Douglas places an emphasis on trench play, and his approach shouldn't change simply because some of those previous moves may not have exactly worked out in the Jets' favor.
Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence is the class' top-graded guard prospect. He's a ready-made NFL blocker to provide a physical presence along the offensive interior.
"Torrence was dominant at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and replicated that level of play this season after a big step up in competition in the SEC," Thorn said. "At 6'5" and nearly 350 pounds, Torrence has the size and power to deliver knockback power and create movement in the run game with a strong anchor in pass protection.
"In an NFL slowly morphing into more of a power-oriented game, Torrence fits into that style while offering some juice as a puller to thrive inside a gap-run scheme. The Jets are a more zone-oriented team but do mix in gap concepts and would be wise to incorporate even more, with Torrence and Vera-Tucker offering the skill set to do both at a high level.
"Torrence does have some question marks about striking and connecting with his hands consistently against shifty, sub-package pass-rushers. However, the Jets' play action-centered system limits those scenarios and allows him to lean on his strengths."
14. New England Patriots: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
The New England Patriots made significant investments in their passing game over the last two years, yet a former undrafted free agent remains their best threat when quarterback Mac Jones drops back.
Jakobi Meyers deserves more credit for the player he's become. Even so, the lack of production from Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and tight end Jonnu Smith after they were big free-agent acquisitions two offseasons ago is disheartening.
Jones isn't the type of quarterback who can shoulder the offense. He needs a good supporting cast, and the Patriots don't have one. Thus, an opportunity to land the class' best tight end, who happens to be a top-10 overall talent, seems to be right up head coach Bill Belichick's alley.
"Michael Mayer is the ideal Y-tight end," Klassen stated. "Not only does the consensus All-American bring prototypical size (6'4", 265 lbs), but Mayer also is the definition of a quarterback's best friend. He is a smooth, reliable route-runner who does a great job of presenting an easy target.
"Mayer is also elite at the catch point. It's hard for defensive backs of any size to outmuscle him, and he finds a way to get his mitts on everything in his vicinity.
"As a blocker, you'd wish for a little more from someone his size, but Mayer will play just fine in New England's system. He's still got the size and strength to win many matchups. Ideally, Mayer will help simplify the team's plan and bring more to table alongside Hunter Henry than Smith has to date."
New England can designate Smith a post-June 1 release later this year and save $4.8 million from the $17.4 million balloon payment that is his 2023 salary-cap figure, per Over the Cap.
15. Green Bay Packers: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
Well, the Green Bay Packers didn't draft a wide receiver in the first round yet again in 2022. But everyone can forgive the organization because A) Christian Watson developed into a legit weapon this season, and B) Georgia tight end Darnell Washington can be viewed as the unicorn in the upcoming draft class.
"Marcedes Lewis plays a key role in the Green Bay Packers offense as a blocker and short-range target," Klassen said, "but he'll be 39 years old next season and isn't set to return. Washington gives the Packers what Lewis provided as a blocker and a chance to be so much more.
"The 21-year-old prospect sports a massive 6'7" and 270-pound build and plays to his size in the running game by regularly burying defenders to clear space for his backs.
"As a pass-catcher, Washington has dangerous potential. He's not yet as dominant at the catch point as a team might like, but he has rare movement skills for a player his size, which is worth betting big on his upside."
The addition of a talented tight end prospect is even more important, considering both Robert Tonyan Jr. and Lewis are free agents this offseason. Plus, another physically gifted target to go alongside Watson should make quarterback Aaron Rodgers happy as well, which is always a major factor in these decisions.
The thought of the 6'5" Watson and the hulking Washington on the same side of the formation is nightmare fuel for opposing defensive coordinators.
16. Washington Commanders: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
A quarterback could enter the chat if he's not blocked by the Washington Commanders' moderator, i.e., Ron Rivera.
A plan could come together to replace Carson Wentz, or Washington could go into another season with Wentz behind center. But the Commanders are far from settled at signal-caller.
The best way to make a poor quarterback setup look better is by placing a strong supporting cast around the position. Thus, Washington turns to their offensive line.
"Washington is in desperate need of help along the interior but could use an upgrade at tackle if a prospect of Paris Johnson's caliber fell to them at 14," Thorn reasoned. "Charles Leno Jr. still has two years on his contract, and the team drafted Sam Cosmi in the second round just a couple of years ago.
"But Johnson's movement skills trump both and offer legitimate Pro Bowl upside. The 21-year-old consensus All-American has only played left tackle for one year at the collegiate level. Despite his inexperience, Johnson is a refined, potent run-blocker with the athletic ability and range to play on an island in the NFL.
"The early entrant does must get stronger in his lower half and refine his use of hands to transition into his anchor more efficiently. Both issues are workable, while he offers clear strengths to make an impact right away in the run game."
A ripple effect should occur. Johnson can start his career guard, as he did at Ohio State, or move to right tackle while Cosmi can bump inside to improve the interior.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: DL Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
The Pittsburgh Steelers are further ahead in their attempt to rebuild on the fly than expected. They found a way to compete for a playoff spot despite a 2-6 start to the campaign. In doing so, rookie Kenny Pickett emerged as the team's starting quarterback and a young leader for the franchise as it moves into the future.
Some restoration projects are necessary for the rest of the roster, though.
Pittsburgh's defensive line has long been considered a strength, but Stephon Tuitt's surprise retirement before the 2022 campaign placed the Steelers in a bit of a predicament.
"Larry Ogunjobi played on a one-year deal this season, and Cameron Heyward will be 34 years old next season," Holder added. "Pittsburgh has always been known for having tough, physical defensive linemen, and Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson fits the bill.
"Wilson's tape this past fall ranks right up there with Will Anderson Jr.'s as one of the most physically dominant players in this year's draft class. Wilson looked like a man amongst boys at times against those Big 12 Conference offensive tackles."
The 6'6", 275-pound first-team All-American is an intimidating presence. For the Steelers, he's an ideal fit because he can play along the interior, line up as a 5-technique and even stand up in two-point on the edge when necessary.
18. Detroit Lions: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Don't look now, but the Detroit Lions are coming in hot with a quarterback selection. But the pairing of Florida's Anthony Richardson with Jared Goff can be viewed as a wise investment to secure the burgeoning squad's long-term future.
"Richardson could use a year of development, and there's no better destination for him to do so than Detroit," Klassen argued. "Richardson has an unmatched athletic profile in this quarterback class.
"At 6'4" and 232 pounds, the 21-year-old is built like a slightly thinner Cam Newton and sports similar athletic tools, both in his mobility and arm strength. Richardson also plays with excellent pocket management and awareness. He's not nearly as inconsistent of a processor as his one-year-starter status suggests.
"To be fair, Richardson is a bit of a scattershot, which is where the year of development becomes important. Though fairly adept at playing the position for someone with so little experience, Richardson has three to five stunning misfires per game, which are enough to swing a game's outcome if those come at the wrong time.
"A year or two of ironing out those issues can unlock the rest of his game and give the Lions a real threat at quarterback rather than a point guard."
Goff is arguably playing the best football of his professional career, yet his limitations as a passer and athlete are obvious. Furthermore, the Lions are now in a position to get out of his contract in 2023 or the following year, depending on when the organization prefers to make a move behind center.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge BJ Ojulari, LSU
How the Tampa Bay Buccaneers proceed after this offseason will be fascinating to watch.
Tom Brady's pending free agency could change the organization's direction. If Brady returns, the Bucs will be all-in for one more campaign. If not, a reassessment of the roster will be forthcoming.
Veterans Lavonte David, Julio Jones, Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Aaron Stinnie, Keanu Neal, Carl Nassib, Logan Ryan, Jamel Dean, Anthony Nelson and Scotty Miller are about to enter the open market as well.
Those potential departures will also play a part in Tampa Bay's plans. In this instance, the Buccaneers can capitalize by selecting a supremely talented prospect at a premium position because he might not be a fit for every defense.
LSU's BJ Ojulari is a 6'3", 250-pound defender who's still working on part of his game, particularly against the run. However, the first-team All-SEC performer's explosiveness and pass-rushing prowess make him a legit first-round target.
"The early entrant might have the widest array of pass-rushing moves in this year's class," Holder said. "By coupling another first-round edge with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, the Bucs will field a nice, young tandem for the next few years."
Tampa Bay features an ultra-aggressive defense under head coach Todd Bowles, and Ojulari's inclusion gives the unit even more punch.
20. Seattle Seahawks: DL Siaki Ika, Baylor
After selecting Clemson's Myles Murphy with the fifth overall draft pick thanks to the Russell Wilson trade, the Seahawks double down on their defensive front.
Baylor's Siaki Ika will provide a massive presence along Seattle's defensive interior. The team needs the addition too, since Poona Ford is on the verge of entering free agency.
Ika, Murphy, Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor would provide frightening potential for the Seahawks' defensive line rotation.
"Good luck trying to handle the Seahawks' front after this draft, " Holder said. "With Murphy already headed to the Emerald City and Nwosu under contract through next season, Ika's inclusion gives Seattle added interior push to pair with a secondary that features up-and-comers Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant.
"The Baylor product is a physical force and hard to move against the run while also being a pretty good athlete for his size. If Ika can keep his weight down to around 340 pounds, he has excellent quickness that he can use as a pass-rusher.
"Of those five players already mentioned, Nwosu is the oldest at 26."
Such a massive infusion of talent in this year's first round should help Seattle make a significant leap in 2023 after finishing in the bottom 10 in total defense. The group may never replicate the Legion of Boom, but all the pieces will be in place for Pete Carroll's unit to once again be counted among the better ones in the league.
21. Jacksonville Jaguars: S Christopher Smith, Georgia
The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't drafted a safety in the first two rounds of the NFL draft since the selection of Johnathan Cyprien 10 years ago.
"It's been some time since the Jaguars have selected a safety in the earlier rounds of the draft, and it makes sense to select the top-rated player at the position," Giddings said. "Georgia's Christopher Smith has the ability to play at all three levels. At a listed 5'11" and 195 pounds, Smith isn't the biggest safety. But his top-notch skill set will help offset any potential concerns.
"The unanimous All-American plays a physical downhill style with solid ball skills. He should be expected to enter the lineup and immediately compete for one of the starting spots."
Besides, Rayshawn Jenkins can be a liability coverage, and Andrew Wingard is a pending free agent.
Smith's selection allows the Jaguars to continue their rebranding of the secondary after this past offseason's free-agent signing of Darious Williams, as well as the recent draft selections of Tyson Campbell, Montaric Brown, Gregory Junior and Andre Cisco.
The addition of the class' S1 should help solidify an already young and talented group and provide Jacksonville with a strong backbone on defense.
22. New York Giants: CB Clark Phillips III, Utah
The New York Giants organization face significant decisions regarding the statuses of quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley after the team's postseason appearance is complete.
As of now, the assumption is both will be back next season under some combination of the franchise tag or some sort of extension. Though who will land what is far less predictable.
Until those moves are known, the defense can receive more attention.
"The Giants currently have starting cornerbacks with experience and age," Giddings noted. "They have tried to bring in younger guys in the past, such as Sam Beal and DeAndre Baker, but they haven't panned out for them.
"With Utah's Clark Phillips II, New York brings in a younger, versatile performer with the ability to play in the slot and outside the numbers. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is a dynamic player who brings lockdown coverage, as well as providing elite return ability. The only negative to Phillips' game is his lack of size at a listed 5'10" and 183 pounds."
Coming out of this season, Fabian Moreau is a free agent. Adoree' Jackson and Darnay Holmes will enter the final year of their current deals. Those are the team's top three corners with no long-term plan at the position. An addition the caliber of Phillips is a necessity to steady the secondary.
23. Baltimore Ravens: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Anything is better than nothing at wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. Currently, their players at the position don't scare anybody. Granted, injuries have taken their toll with Rashod Bateman out for the season because of foot surgery. Devin Duvernay is also dealing with a foot injury.
Even with both in the lineup, Baltimore's wide receivers lineup is thin. The fact that the Ravens were forced to rely on DeSean Jackson and Sammy Watkins, who both joined the team midseason, says so much about the lack of depth.
For the Ravens to be considered a realistic Super Bowl contender, tight end Mark Andrews can't be the only reliable receiving threat.
"Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba can inject a bit of life into the offense," Klassen said. "He does his best work between the numbers. His speed doesn't pop off the screen, but he's a smooth route-runner with just enough punch out of his breaks to snap defensive backs off.
"It doesn't look much different when he has the ball either. Smith-Njigba won't run away from many defenders, but he brings a good short-area burst and change-of-direction skills to catch defenders taking bad angles and make them pay. The Rose Bowl record-holder for most receiving yards in a game (347) also presents reliable hands and a forgiving catch radius. Both are necessary traits to be a high-level slot target."
The Ohio State product did miss the majority of the 2022 campaign because of a lingering hamstring injury, though his draft status shouldn't be greatly affected. For the Ravens, the addition of a potentially great slot receiver can help make the offense thrive.
24. Los Angeles Chargers: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
The Los Angeles Chargers landed a great one when the team chose Rashawn Slater with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. But Slater's bookend has been a question mark since he entered the lineup.
Whether it's been Storm Norton, Trey Pipkins III or Foster Sarell serving on the strong side, the Chargers lack stability at right tackle. All of that can be changed with the selection of Tennessee's Darnell Wright.
"The Chargers have an opportunity to solidify their tackle spots," Thorn agreed. "By adding a 6'6", 335-pound tone-setting presence with the body control and balance to become a long-time quality starter, Wright can be the right piece to the puzzle.
"The versatile lineman has left tackle and right guard experience but looked much more comfortable at right tackle. Wright does a nice job getting to his landmarks in pass protection, mixing in aggressiveness and patience when necessary and striking with heavy hands to stun defenders on contact.
"It's easy to see why Wright graded as a 5-star recruit. This past season, the first-team All-SEC performer had several signature performances against the likes of Alabama's Will Anderson Jr., LSU's B.J. Ojulari and the Georgia Bulldogs' vaunted front."
Wright playing next to this past year's first-round draft pick, Zion Johnson, presents an intimidating duo and a strong right side to properly protect quarterback Justin Herbert.
25. Dallas Cowboys: CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
The Dallas Cowboys defense is built upon a ferocious front and an opportunistic secondary.
Because of all the big plays, Dallas' penchant to give up yards tends to be overlooked. As a whole, the unit finished outside of the top-10 defenses in each of the last two seasons under Dan Quinn's supervision. No guarantee exists that Quinn will even been back for a third year, since he's one of the league's top candidates to become a head coach.
Instead, the Cowboys should concentrate on fortifying a talented group with more consistency, particularly in the secondary. Eli Ricks present premium potential in the late first round.
"After transferring from LSU, Ricks struggled with some injuries and getting a feel for the Alabama Crimson Tide defense at the beginning of the season," Giddings mentioned. "After overcoming both issues, Ricks returned to his previously elite form. He is a top-shelf cover corner, who displays fantastic ball skills.
"With a premier ball hawk in Trevon Diggs already on the roster, Ricks' addition is a no-brainer for the Cowboys organization."
As Micah Parsons and Co. create havoc up front for opposing quarterbacks, the combination of Diggs and Ricks will be salivating at the opportunity to steal a possession or two. All the while, the rookie upgrades one cornerback spot since Anthony Brown is an upcoming free agent.
26. Cincinnati Bengals: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
The Cincinnati Bengals will be entering their third offseason with concerns along the offensive line.
To be fair the unit is far better today than it had been during the previous two campaign. However, the group still isn't entirely settled. A selection of Georgia's Broderick Jones may finally provide the critical component to put this group on track for long-term stability and success.
"Jones is an extremely gifted player in terms of movement skills and power, with an imposing demeanor that will appeal to a lot of NFL teams that value traits," Thorn said. "Jones has obvious some rawness to his game that has resulted in a lot of clean losses and ugly reps. His relative inexperience (16 starts) is important to consider when determining how much stock to place in those lapses in technique.
"The 21-year-odl could benefit from returning to school for another season and has yet officially declare for the draft. Because of the relatively thin high-end talent among this specific O-line class, teams will likely be more liable to draft for upside at a premium position."
For the Bengals, Jones can immediately move into the left tackle spot, while Jonah Williams bumps over to the right side and replaces La'el Collins, who turns 30 later this year after suffering season ending ACL and MCL tears. Cincinnati can save $6 million by releasing Collins and designating him a June 1 cut, according to Over the Cap.
27. Minnesota Vikings: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Off-ball linebacker isn't a position that often demands a first-round selection. In many cases, the position itself is seen as devalued compared to quarterback, offensive tackle, pass-rusher, cornerback and wide receiver.
One benefit of being a division champion, like the Minnesota Vikings, is high-quality prospects at perceived lesser positions are often available later in the first round. In this particular case, the Vikings land the class' top-ranked linebacker in Clemson's Trenton Simpson.
"The Vikings don't have a ton of needs but both Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks are both about to turn 31 years old while entering the last year of their contacts," Holder mentioned. "Also, Minnesota can save $5 million in cap space by cutting Hicks and $9.5 million by getting rid of Kendricks, if they want choose to do so.
"Simpson can immediately enter the lineup and fill either's role since he's athletic enough to fulfill the modern-day linebacker's coverage responsibilities but also plays with an old-school mentality with physicality against the run."
Interestingly, this projection places Simpson in the same division as uber-athletic quarterbacks Justin Fields and Anthony Richardson, whom the Lions drafted earlier.
28. Denver Broncos (from Miami via SF): OL Cody Mauch, North Dakota State
The Denver Broncos appear stuck with Russell Wilson as their quarterback. At this point, the best path forward is simply by making his life as easy as possible.
Every quarterback loves investments in the offensive line, and the Broncos will need some.
"The Broncos' starting left guard Dalton Risner, as well as tackles Calvin Anderson, Billy Turner and Cameron Fleming, are all slated to hit free agency this upcoming offseason," Thorn noted. "This will make adding bodies to the offensive line a priority.
"North Dakota State's Cody Mauch is a player with the skill-set to fill in at multiple positions.
"Mauch has the athletic ability to stick at tackle, even though he's been rarely tested or asked to protect in drop-back situations due to the Bison's heavy run scheme. Thus, his experience calls into question how soon he can even start at tackle in the NFL.
"Along with good movement skills, the 6'6", 303-pound blocker has vice grips for hands and a nasty attitude. Mauch is a consistent finisher who sustains blocks at a high level. His skill set likely translates into a starting guard during the early portions of his professional career, which the Broncos could use to possibly replace Risner if he chooses to leave."
An interior of Mauch, Graham Glasgow and Quinn Meinerz can be a tone-setter for the entire Broncos offense.
29. Buffalo Bills: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
The rich get richer.
The Buffalo Bills already feature one of the NFL's most talented and deepest rosters. Texas' Bijan Robinson, meanwhile, is a top-five talent among the incoming class, when positional value is taken out of the mix.
A possible plummet on draft day shouldn't be totally unexpected, since organizations simply don't value running backs the way they once did. Devin Singletary may be an upcoming free agent, but the Bills already traded for Nyheim Hines prior to this season's deadline. Even so, Robinson is simply too good to pass up late in the first round.
"Robinson changes the dynamic of the Bills offense," Klassen declared. "The reigning Doak Walker Award winner is an explosive and complete back.
"As a runner, Robinson brings better balance, acceleration and long-speed than anyone the Bills have right now. Robinson is also exceptional at softening blows and navigating tight spaces, with the type of skill set that consistently moves a 2nd-and-8 to a more manageable 2nd-and-6.
"More importantly, Robinson solves Buffalo's unending search for a great third-down back. Robinson is a tough, smart pass protector and he's about as nimble as a 220-pound running back can be in the passing game."
A set of triplets in Robinson, quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs just might morph the Bills into the game's best offense, since they've already been setting on the precipice over the last few years.
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Edge Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
Back-to-back first-round edge-rushers for the Kansas City Chiefs may be considered going overboard by the organization. However, the progression of the roster is dependent on finding capable pass-rushers to maximize the Chiefs' defensive effectiveness.
"The Chiefs have the opposite problem as their AFC West rival, the Las Vegas Raiders," Holder noticed. "Unlike Las Vegas that has Maxx Crosby working off the edge with little-to-no help at defensive tackle, Kansas City has a great interior pass-rusher in Chris Jones but the Chiefs have struggled to get edge pressure.
"Frank Clark has underproduced over the last few years and the Chiefs can gain $19.6 million in cap relief by cutting the defensive end. By pairing Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey with George Karlaftis, the duo can provide great support to Jones."
Foskey leaves Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish's all-time leader in sacks. While the statistic doesn't date back to the program's glory days, it's an impressive accomplishment nonetheless.
The added benefit of landing another quality edge presence is the fact Kansas City has the caliber of offense to consistently play with the lead, which will allows these defenders to pin back their ears and get after opposing quarterbacks.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Edge Andre Carter II
Governmental oversight worked in Andre Carter II's favor. Last month, Congress reversed a ruling where the Army cadet would immediately honor his service commitment upon his graduation from West Point.
Now, Carter can play in the NFL before he returns for active duty. The 6'7", 260-pound edge-defender provides plenty of length and athleticism to a pass rush. The Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, definitely need an injection of youth into their defensive front.
"The pairing for Carter and the Eagles is perfect because Philadelphia loves drafting pass-rushers and it gives the defensive lineman some time to bulk up and get better against the run," Holder said. "Carter is an excellent pass rusher who can win with speed around the edge and has a nice inside stick move to keep offensive tackles off-balance.
"But Carter's run defense is ugly. He has plenty of room for growth on his frame and getting into an NFL training program should help correct that issue."
Philadelphia is staring down the possibility of losing Brandon Graham, Robert Quinn, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh this offseason. Jordan Davis, Josh Sweat and Milton Williams will remain. Maybe the best outcome is the Eagles bringing back one or two of those long-time veterans while Carter gets a chance to learn as part of the defensive line rotation.