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NFL mock draft 2023: Updated first-round projection after Bears-Panthers trade

As free agency is set to begin, let’s fire up one more mock draft before chaos ensues

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Ohio State v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The 2023 NFL season begin in earnest on Monday, with the opening of the league’s “legal tampering window.” NFL teams can begin speaking with free agents, and while deals cannot be finalized until Wednesday, the new season is now upon us.

So what better way to celebrate than with a mock draft that may be obsolete in a few hours?

Of course, a lot has changed since our most recent mock draft, namely the team at the top of the draft board. As expected, the Chicago Bears traded out of the first-overall spot, in a deal with the Carolina Panthers.

What could they do with the first pick in the draft? Select a quarterback.

But which one?

Let’s dive into that, and more, with this pre-free agency mock draft. We’ll take a look at the updated first round, and make some picks for teams without a first-round selection. Something for everyone.

Pre Free Agency Mock Draft

Pick Team Selection Postion School Class
Pick Team Selection Postion School Class
1 Carolina Panthers (via CHI) CJ Stroud QB Ohio State Junior
2 Houston Texans Bryce Young QB Alabama Junior
3 Arizona Cardinals Jalen Carter DT Georgia Junior
4 Indianapolis Colts Anthony Richardson QB Florida Sophomore (RS)
5 Seattle Seahawks (via DEN) Will Anderson EDGE Alabama Junior
6 Detroit Lions (via LAR) Christian Gonzalez CB Oregon Junior
7 Las Vegas Raiders Will Levis QB Kentucky Senior
8 Atlanta Falcons Tyree Wilson EDGE Texas Tech Senior
9 Chicago Bears (via CAR) Peter Skoronski OT Northwestern Junior
10 Philadelphia Eagles Devon Witherspoon CB Illinois Senior
11 Tennessee Titans Broderick Jones OT Georgia Sophomore (RS)
12 Houston Texans Lukas Van Ness EDGE Iowa Sophomore (RS)
13 New York Jets Paris Johnson Jr. OT Ohio State Junior
14 New England Patriots Myles Murphy EDGE Clemson Junior
15 Green Bay Packers Dalton Kincaid TE Utah Junior
16 Washington Commanders Kelee Ringo CB Georgia Sophomore (RS)
17 Pittsburgh Steelers Joey Porter Jr. CB Penn State Junior
18 Detroit Lions Nolan Smith EDGE Georgia Senior
19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cam Smith CB South Carolina Junior (RS)
20 Seattle Seahawks Jordan Addison WR USC Junior
21 Miami Dolphins FOREFITED
22 Los Angeles Chargers BJ Ojulari EDGE LSU Junior
23 Baltimore Ravens Quentin Johnston WR TCU Junior
24 Minnesota Vikings Deonte Banks CB Maryland Junior (RS)
25 Jacksonville Jaguars Dawand Jones OT Ohio State Senior
26 New York Giants Brian Branch S Alabama Junior
27 Dallas Cowboys Josh Downs WR North Carolina Junior
28 Buffalo Bills Jaxon Smith-Njigba WR Ohio State Junior
29 Cincinnati Bengals Darnell Washington TE Georgia Junior
30 New Orleans Saints (via SF) Keion White EDGE Georgia Tech Senior
31 Philadelphia Eagles Bijan Robinson RB Texas Junior
32 Kansas City Chiefs Derick Hall EDGE Auburn Senior
37 Los Angeles Rams Emmanuel Forbes CB Miss. State Junior
43 Cleveland Browns Keeanu Benton DT Wisconsin Senior
52 Miami Dolphins Calijah Kancey DT Pittsburgh Junior
68 Denver Broncos Tuli Tuipulotu DE USC Junior
99 San Francisco Jayden Reed WR Michigan State Senior

Is C.J. Stroud really the top pick?


By moving up to the first-overall selection now, the Panthers accomplished two goals. First, they put themselves in position to draft the top quarterback on their board.

Second? They bought themselves some time to make that decisions.

It is possible that the organization has identified the QB they want to draft. But there is a lot of time left in the pre-draft process. We have pro days, Top-30 visits, and more chances for the Panthers to finalize their evaluation process, and identify the quarterback they want to draft with the pick.

While Stroud has perhaps slid under the radar during this process — due to the excitement over Anthony Richardson and the box-checking that Bryce Young did in Indianapolis — he is, in his own words, a ball-placement specialist. Beyond that, however, he answered perhaps the biggest question facing him during his final college game, as he flashed the athleticism outside of the pocket evaluators were waiting to see from him.

And he did it against the top team in the nation.

So, he might be the pick, and in this world, he is. However, the Panthers have bought themselves some time to sort that out. Perhaps the best thing the organization has done, outside of this trade, is assemble the apparatus in place around the quarterback position. From Frank Reich to Josh McCown, Duce Staley, Parks Frazier, and Jim Caldwell, the Panthers have a lot of coaching power in place to develop a quarterback. Whichever passer winds up in Carolina has a good chance at success given this staff.

Now they just have to decide which one.

What do the Bears do now?

Now that Chicago has traded out of the first overall pick, they have a lot of options when it comes to teambuilding. Those are the benefits of literally tearing the team down to the studs last season. However, priority should be around the development and growth of their QB, Justin Fields. Trading out of the top pick means they’ve put all of their faith in him, and now they have to surround him with the requisite playmakers and protection. In the trade with Carolina, Chicago netted WR DJ Moore, who raises the floor and ceiling of that wide receiver room massively. Now, they can work a little bit more on the protection.

In this mock draft, we have them taking Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski at 9. Many have him projected to slide inside to guard, but Chicago can start him out at tackle and see how he operates there. His arm length is below the threshold that scouts and GMs like, but he plays with the necessary footwork and technique to negate most problems with arm length.

If the Bears decide to go away from building the offensive line with the ninth pick, don’t be surprised if they take a defensive lineman. Bears head coach Matt Eberflus comes from Indianapolis, where they spent countless picks on building that defensive line.

Is Dalton Kincaid really TE1?

Next to cornerback, tight end might be the deepest position group in the draft. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network stated in his pre-Combine conference call that he has 11 tight ends with grades in the top three rounds, which is the most he has ever had. “In terms of the number of guys, I have 11 tight ends that I have top-three round grades on, which is a ridiculous number,” Jeremiah said before the Combine. “It is just a really, really good group.”

For Jeremiah, Dalton Kincaid is the top tight end in the class, thanks to what he can do in the passing game. I think he’s a big-time player. He’s one of my favorite players to watch in this draft,” Jeremiah said back in February. “I think he’s one of the best players in the draft. He’s just sudden in everything that he does, he separates, he’s outstanding after the catch, he can win on contact over the middle of the field,” Jeremiah added. “He’s really, really good after the catch.”

What might make Green Bay an ideal landing spot for him is the fit. Kincaid probably projects best as a move-type tight end, as noted by Jeremiah, but in the Packers’ offense, he will find lots of opportunities for yardage after the catch, thanks to Green Bay’s bevy of play-action designs and Matt LaFleur’s offensive system. In addition, the Packers were a heavy 12-personnel offense a season ago — using two tight ends on 37% of their first downs, third-most in the NFL — so adding a tight end makes sense for that reason as well. Plus ,with Robert Tonyan is entering free agency, there is a chance Tonyan signs elsewhere, making the position even more of a need.

Also, in this world, the Packers have just one pick in the first round. Perhaps we learn later today, or later this week, they will have more than the one...

Would the Lions really double down on defense?

In this world, they would.

There is a chance for Detroit to add their quarterback of the future in this draft. Holding the sixth-overall selection, if a quarterback the Lions love falls to them at seven, it might be wise to add that player, even if Jared Goff is their full-time starter for 2023.

Why? Because they have a solid out from Goff’s contract after the 2023 season. Moving on from Goff during the 2024 league year would incur only $5 million in dead cap space. Plus, if Goff plays well in 2023, there might be a push from his camp for a new deal, and having the next quarterback in place could be a smart move.

However, in this scenario three of the top four quarterbacks are off the board when they are on the clock with the sixth-overall selection. Instead of drafting QB4 in this world, they move to the defensive side of the football. Cornerback is a need, and while Jeff Okudah showed flashes last year, this is a thin position group.

As for the second pick, Georgia pass rusher Nolan Smith, pairing him with Aidan Hutchinson would pose problems for opposing offensive lines.

Lots of problems.

Without a first-round pick, these five teams deserve attention too

The Rams have already dealt Jalen Ramsey for pennies on the dollar so adding a corner in Emmanuel Forbes as a part of the rebuild makes sense. The Browns, Dolphins and Broncos all beef up their defensive line but in different ways.

Cleveland could go with lighter players in free agency, making Benton a better fit. Miami is looking for impact and gets it with the smaller, dynamic defensive tackle (Kancey) while Denver gets a pass rusher (Tuipulotu) to replace Bradley Chubb.

Adding a receiver (Reed) for Kyle Shanahan to work with seems unfair but the Niners have a lot of picks starting at pick #99 so they get a weapon first.