2023 NFL Mock Draft: A Texans trade up, 4 Day 1 QBs and late-round luxury picks
Christian D'Andrea January 19, 2023 7:30 am ET
Let’s get this out of the way right now.
The Chicago Bears have the first selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. They will not be taking a quarterback. The Bears failed upward into the premier pick in this spring’s draft. That puts them in prime position to select Alabama passer and former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. They will not — or, since this is Chicago and logic is merely a suggestion, should not — do this with Justin Fields behind center. The second-year quarterback was electric in 2022 and single-handedly served as the optimism engine for a team that surrounded him with terrible blocking and an anonymous receiving corps. Fields deserves the opportunity to see this through with a true NFL roster and the talent to bring the Bears to the postseason. Chicago will have no shortage of avenues to beef up its roster around him. First will be through an estimated league-high $92 million in salary cap space. Second will be via auctioning off the top overall selection to the highest bidder. This puts our latest mock draft in a tough position. The Bears are unlikely to keep the first pick. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts are both in prime position to trade up thanks to their spots at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively. So while past rules have kept these mocks trade-free until the weeks leading up to the draft, we’ll have to bend that now that we know how the top three-quarters of the order will shake out. Chicago is on the clock, but won’t be making its pick — not without a pressing need at quarterback and many holes to fill elsewhere. So who’ll step up and pay the Bears a franchise-building ransom? 1 Houston Texans (via projected trade with the Chicago Bears): QB Bryce Young, Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports Team needs: QB, WR, EDGE, LB, OL The Texans’ Week 18 win over the Colts didn’t just stamp the Jeff Saturday era with one final (?) moment of schadenfreude; it also shoved Houston out of the first overall pick. Fortunately they can buy their way back into the top spot, where Young awaits to serve as the team’s next franchise quarterback. Here’s the deal: Texans trade their 2023 first round pick (second overall), 2023 second round pick (33rd overall) and 2024 second round pick for the Bears’ first overall pick and fourth round pick (likely 103rd overall after compensatory selections are awarded). Young isn’t perfect, but his penchant for playmaking and spinning hay into gold is a true NFL quality. He’ll have his work cut out for him behind a bottom five offensive line and a receiving corps led by free agent Chris Moore and 30-year-old Brandin Cooks, who doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild (but re-signed with the team two years ago anyway). 2 Chicago Bears (via projected trade with the Houston Texans): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Team needs: OL, WR, EDGE, DT, LB This would be another great place to trade back — especially if the Indianapolis Colts don’t think their quarterback of the future will last until the fourth overall pick. That would give the Bears whomever drops between Carter and Will Anderson while securing a war chest of high value 2023 and 2024 picks. But that’s a theoretical for another time. Today, three months from the draft, Carter is the guy. His ability to be a disruptor in the middle of the field gives him Aaron Donald/Chris Jones potential. Those are two players who make lives easier for every pass rusher around them while commanding double-teams up front. The Bears desperately need talent. Even at No. 2, they still pick up the draft’s most talented player. 3 Arizona Cardinals: EDGE Will Anderson, Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports Team needs: EDGE, CB, DT, OL, WR Arizona, coachless after a four-win season, needs help just about everywhere — but not at quarterback. That makes the Cardinals a prime trade-back candidate. If they stay, however, they could add the draft’s top edge rusher in Anderson. The Alabama star had 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss and his 2022 was a disappointment. That’s how absurd his 2021 (17 sacks, 31 TFL) was. The Cardinals blitzed on 34 percent of their snaps last season (second-most in the NFL) but generated pressure on 22 percent of opponents’ dropbacks (13th-best). Anderson would reduce the reliance on blitzes and bolster a pass rush that had only 36 sacks in 2022. 4 Indianapolis Colts: QB CJ Stroud. Ohio State Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch Team needs: QB, CB, S, OL The Colts stand pat and still grab the draft’s second-best quarterback. Unfortunately, we don’t quite know who that’ll be. Kentucky’s Will Levis has gained steam among draft experts for his mechanics and accuracy. But Stroud, despite a relative downturn from his prosperous 2021, remains an explosive, game-changing passer. He torched Georgia for 348 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in the Peach Bowl — a feat made all the more impressive by TCU’s bed-wetting the following week. Sure, he profits mightily from one of the NCAA’s top receiving corps, but the modern NFL repeatedly tells us young passers thrive when paired with playmakers. With the right core in place, Stroud could follow the lead of Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow. 5 Seattle Seahawks (via Denver Broncos): EDGE Myles Murphy, Clemson USA Today Sports Team needs: EDGE, S, LB, IOL, DT, CB Anderson is off the board, but Seattle still has its pick of impactful edge rushers as it works to build a new Legion of Boom. Murphy is a 275-pound nightmare with 14.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss in his last 23 games. He’s capable of bending around offensive tackles or punching them backward and slicing inside. While he remains a bit raw, his physical tools and flashes of pure pocket-crunching ability make him a worthy top five pick — ahead of rising Texas Tech stud Tyree Wilson and teammate Bryan Bresee. 6 Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams): DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson AP Photo/Phil Sears Team needs: CB, S, LB, DT, QB Detroit finished 2022 ranked 26th against the run in defensive DVOA and gave up 5.2 yards per carry. Adding Bresee not only gives the Lions a versatile interior lineman who can play multiple roles to clog running lanes, but a player who can shoot gaps, get upfield and make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The 300-pound tackle can play over the center or in the gaps. While he doesn’t have the eye-opening stats of the defenders in front of him, he’s the kind of player whose presence allows others to thrive. Detroit, with young studs like Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill up front, will benefit from his services. 7 Las Vegas Raiders: QB Will Levis, Kentucky USA Today Sports Team needs: OL, DB, LB, DT, QB The Raiders still have Derek Carr under contract, but he’s already penned his goodbye to the only franchise he’s ever known and Jarrett Stidham is not the answer. A free agent quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo or … Tom Brady? A deal for Lamar Jackson? may be owner Mark Davis’s call. With solid draft position, however, the path of least resistance would be to sign a lesser stopgap (a Teddy Bridgewater type) and draft Levis. Levis lost some key contributors from his 2021 breakthrough season but managed to record a more efficient 2022 despite Kentucky’s disappointing season. He’d be immediately propped up by a solid triumvirate of Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, though how much time he’d have to throw to them behind an offensive line that remains a work in progress is a vital question. 8 Atlanta Falcons: DL Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports Team needs: QB, OT, EDGE, LB, DB The Falcons need a quarterback and would likely be part of the bidding for the No. 1 or No. 3 overall pick. But instead of panicking for the draft’s fourth-best passer, they can give Desmond Ridder another shot at the starting role and address one of their many other needs with the eighth selection. Grady Jarrett led the Falcons in sacks in 2022. He had six. Atlanta’s edge rushers had 9.5 between them for a team with the second-worst pass rush in the NFL. That makes Wilson a popular pick for the Falcons at No. 8. The Texas Tech star had seven sacks in each of the last two seasons and is a looming, bullying presence capable of creating havoc along the corners or cutting his way inside to swallow up blockers and allow blitzers to thrive. At 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds he plays like an angry redwood come to life. 9 Carolina Panthers: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon Todd Kirkland/Getty Images Team needs: QB, RB, OL, EDGE, LB Like the Falcons ahead of them, the Panthers need a quarterback. This would be a reasonable place to add whomever rises in scouts’ estimation through the pre-draft process. Reaching for Anthony Richardson is a popular choice here, but I’m going to wait until his pre-draft workouts and Pro Day throws before I buy in on the streaky Florida passer as a top 10 pick. Instead, let’s add Gonzalez to a secondary that already features Jeremy Chinn and Jaycee Horn to give Charlotte one of the league’s best, youngest defensive backfields. Gonzalez is 6-foot-2, has low 4.3-second 40 speed and had four interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2022. He’s like a smaller, more polished version of Tariq Woolen, the big, speedy, raw UTSA prospect who went to the Seahawks in the fifth round and was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Corner isn’t the Panthers’ biggest need and other options could be in play here — but Gonzalez feels likely to rocket up draft boards thanks to his physical attributes. 10 Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans Saints): CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports Team needs: EDGE, LB, RB, CB, DL James Bradberry is a pending free agent and Philly may not have the salary cap space to re-sign him. Instead, the Eagles can use the top 10 pick gleaned from last year’s trade with the Saints to draft his replacement. A top ranked passing defense has been instrumental to this team’s success and adding a local(ish) star would help that unit reload on the fly. Porter Jr. is a rock solid player who improved each year at Penn State. He allowed a minuscule 4.8 yards per target in coverage last season while knocking down 11 passes on 30 balls thrown his way. He has a very strong case to be 2023’s top cornerback and the first defensive back off the board. In this case, he slides slightly and winds up in position to win a Super Bowl, or at least make a long playoff run, in his first season as a pro.