No, it’s not too early. And, yes, we’re doing this.
This week, our expert statistician Austin Mock served up his projected win totals for all 32 NFL teams, which means we also can piece together a (very hypothetical) 2023 NFL Draft order. Time to get a jump on things.
Using Dane Brugler’s preseason top 50 prospect rankings as a guide, Nick Baumgardner and Nate Tice take a spin through the entire first round and see what comes up.
1. New York Jets: Will Anderson Jr., edge, Alabama
Obviously, Jets coach Robert Saleh would rather not be picking No. 1 overall after his second season in New York. But Anderson would be a fine anesthetic. The Jets have added premium talent on both sides of the ball over the last two draft cycles, including two first-round defenders this spring: Ahmad Gardner and Jermaine Johnson. Johnson is likely going to be more valuable in the NFL versus the run than as a pass rusher, though it appears New York’s plan with him is to take things slowly. Gardner, meanwhile, looks incredibly comfortable already.
If Saleh can pair his possible star corner with Anderson, a legit star playmaker in the front seven, then the Jets shouldn’t be picking in the top five come 2024. — Nick Baumgardner
2. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Even with the surprisingly competent career start from 2021 third-round pick Davis Mills, the Texans should understand the need for a difference-maker at QB — Mills still needs to show more glimpses of being the true guy there.
Stroud certainly benefits from great talent around him at Ohio State, but he maximizes it with his accuracy and timing on throws. He improved throughout the 2021 season, culminating in a fireworks show at the Rose Bowl against Utah. (Some of which came against a Utes running back, Micah Bernard, who was forced into playing cornerback. But at least Stroud understood the matchup, right?). Stroud has the ability to place throws at all three levels, and the size and maturity that oozes NFL starter. If he continues to produce and uses his athleticism a tad more as a runner, he would be an easy choice for the Texans. — Nate Tice
3. Atlanta Falcons: Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Atlanta might feel a lot different about its quarterback situation in four months — rookie Desmond Ridder has played some good football so far this preseason, albeit primarily behind presumed bridge starter Marcus Mariota. The Falcons would love nothing more than to have Ridder take off so they wouldn’t have to worry about where they land in another QB derby next spring. If that happens and Atlanta has a chance to take arguably the best defensive lineman on Georgia’s historic 2021 national title defense (you read that correctly), then general manager Terry Fontenot can send in this pick without blinking. If Ridder struggles, Atlanta could be in great position to take another QB swing. — Baumgardner
4. Chicago Bears: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Bears fans will want my head on a stake for selecting another defensive back instead of a wide receiver or offensive lineman to help QB Justin Fields. But this Bears regime just needs to fill its hole-ridden roster with as many building blocks as possible, and Ringo is that type of prospect. He has jaw-dropping traits, and if he continues to grow his game under Kirby Smart in 2022, then the Bears would be plopping Ringo in a defensive backfield currently occupied by promising rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon. Hey, the Bears would have their day-two picks and the most projected cap space in the NFL (nearly $92 million) next year to give Fields some support. We hope. — Tice
5. Seattle Seahawks: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Geno Smith and Drew Lock will have opportunities to stop this from happening. But easy money right now says they won’t be able to. Frankly, if Smith works out as a capable starter and is able to bridge the franchise through the development of its next QB, maybe that works all the better. Lock would have to do something we’ve never seen from him at this level to change the math in his favor.
Like Stroud at Ohio State, Young’s entire college career has come with the benefit of a totally stacked roster — including the most consistent offensive line situation in the country. The size concerns here (Young is 5-foot-11, 197 pounds) are going to be real. But Young sees the field as well as any quarterback here, he makes plays, and he does it all consistently. — Baumgardner
6. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
The Jaguars raised the bar in their receiver room this offseason by signing Christian Kirk and Zay Jones to, shall we say, interesting free-agent deals. But they’re still searching for a bonafide No. 1 target to help QB Trevor Lawrence. Enter Boutte. The LSU star not only can create on his own after the catch, but he’s able to win inside and out. He can create separation underneath with his burst, and down the field with a fairly refined route tree. The perfect type of receiver to be a target-eater for Lawrence. — Tice
7. New York Giants: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Let’s party. It’s prove-it time in New York for Daniel Jones (maybe beyond prove-it time; we’ll see) — the Giants declined his fifth-year option this spring. Like the rest of the quarterbacks currently playing on perceived QB-needy teams, Jones should have a chance to win a long-term job in 2022. If he outperforms expectations relative to what we’ve seen from him so far, the Giants won’t likely be drafting in the top 10. If they are, they’ll need to draft a quarterback.
Levis needs a big year at Kentucky in terms of consistency with both his decision-making and overall processing skills. But, physically, he’s a beast. A special talent at 6-4, 230, with the goods to do everything in the NFL. — Baumgardner
8. Detroit Lions: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
Under Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes, the Lions have left little to the imagination about how they want to build their roster. And Simpson would just be another part of that emerging image. He is a top-tier athlete in space while also being versatile in coverage as an off-ball linebacker and as a blitzer. He’d be a perfect piece to add to a Lions defense that needs players for its front seven.
Quarterback, of course, will be looked at here — Jared Goff’s contract becomes very movable after this season. With Stroud, Young and Levis already off the board, though, the Lions might decide that this pick isn’t the time to pull the trigger. — Tice
9. Pittsburgh Steelers: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
The Steelers might have their next franchise QB already on the roster in Kenny Pickett. He also might not be in the bullpen very long — Mitchell Trubisky hardly has the No. 1 job locked down. Either way, the next step in that process for Mike Tomlin and company will be to further fortify everything in front of their quarterback.
Skoronski needs a big year in 2022 to cement himself as the top offensive lineman in this class. Even then, it might not be enough to crack the top 10 — there are length concerns; he’s not quite the athlete Rashawn Slater was, although there are similarities. The good news: He looked dominant in Northwestern’s impressive season-opening win against Nebraska last week in Ireland. — Baumgardner
10. Carolina Panthers: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
No one likes to churn their quarterbacks like the Panthers. Whether or not Matt Rhule is still the coach in 2023, the Panthers might be in the quarterback market if the Baker Mayfield experiment goes awry. Richardson’s arrow as a prospect could go in any direction in 2022 (and I wouldn’t be shocked by any outcome) — he is a bundle of tools at this point. But if he progresses under new coaches at Florida, he will climb rapidly up boards. — Tice
11. Washington Commanders: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Washington needs an anchor outside defensively and Gonzalez — all 6-2, 200 of him — could be just that. A member of Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List, Gonzalez is all gas and explosion around the ball and in coverage. Offensive line could also be in the cards for Washington here, but this felt like too promising a fit to pass up. — Baumgardner
12. Houston Texans (via Browns): Nolan Smith, edge, Georgia
Though Lovie Smith’s preferred defensive scheme might not be a perfect match with Nolan Smith, the Georgia defender is just too good of a football player for the Texans to ignore. Letting Smith pin his ears back and get after the quarterback would help any defense create pressure. He has the bend and length to rush the passer, as well as the versatility to stand up and drop into coverage, if needed. A useful player with athleticism that any coach would love to have. — Tice
13. Las Vegas Raiders: Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
It was a rough go for former Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood in Las Vegas, and the slide continued through training camp. The Raiders cut Leatherwood on Tuesday, so they really might need to look at OT next offseason.
Johnson is still working on transitioning from guard to tackle, and he probably projects better on the left side. Though that could be a tricky fit with Kolton Miller already playing there for Las Vegas, the Raiders might not have any choice but to address a potential hole. — Baumgardner
14. Tennessee Titans: Myles Murphy, edge, Clemson
There was just not an offensive lineman here that made sense for the Titans. But the Titans love their bruisers on defense and Murphy is just the type of player who can push the pocket. He would give Tennessee another promising prospect for its front alongside Jeffery Simmons and Teair Tart, and he has the play style to complement a recently extended Harold Landry in pass-rushing situations. Drafting Murphy also would leave the Titans a one-for-one replacement should they decide to move on from Bud Dupree. — Tice
15. New England Patriots: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
Instead of reaching for someone outside the top 100 here, I decided to do the other thing Bill Belichick has long seemed fond of: sitting, waiting and drafting a top-10 talent outside the top 10. First, Bresee has to prove he’s back after an ACL injury last year. If he does, there’s no way he’ll slide this far. — Baumgardner
16. Arizona Cardinals: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
I wanted to take a lineman. Or a cornerback. I just really don’t think Kliff Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim will be able to help themselves here, even after trading their 2022 first-round pick for Hollywood Brown.
Smith-Nijgba would fit in nicely as a strong slot option for Kyler Murray. Though Smith-Njigba’s No. 17 ranking on Dane’s board might shock some because of his outstanding play in 2021, the NFL is all about traits. And despite his excellent hands and feel for coverages that project nicely into a productive NFL starter, his lack of overwhelming size and speed might hurt him in the eyes of a few teams. But pairing him with Murray would give Arizona’s quarterback the type of player he trusts on every target. If Smith-Nijgba can show he can win from the outside, it’ll be a bonus on top of what he’s already able to do inside. — Tice
17. Philadelphia Eagles: Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M
Note: This pick was sent in just before the Eagles traded for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on Tuesday. But I’m leaving it anyway because of Antonio Johnson’s versatility and long-range potential. Johnson is one of those prospects in this class that you have to squint at right now to see the full picture, but if/when it all comes together, it could be fantastic. He’s a safety with corner skills who could also be a big nickel.
The Eagles are also in a great spot here to go corner. Or they could package these picks (Nos. 17 and 19) and go get a QB to replace Jalen Hurts, if need be. —Baumgardner
18. Miami Dolphins: pick forfeited
19. Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans): Isaiah Foskey, edge Notre Dame
The Eagles, yet again, will have a very good opportunity to stack quality defenders in this draft. It’s also time for Philadelphia to get younger on the edge, with the type of athletes that can check off more than one box at a time. Foskey is that type of prospect, at 6-5, 260. He’s fast enough (to a degree) to run with running backs and tight ends, if you want him to. He’s explosive off the corner as a pass rusher with great length and buckets of potential. — Baumgardner
20. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos): Siaki Ika, DT, Baylor
Having already selected their quarterback of the future in this mock, the Seahawks continue to build their lines by putting a true space-eater in the middle of their defense. Right now, the Seahawks are playing 35-year-old Al Woods at nose tackle, so adding the ridiculously talented Ika would be an injection of youth to help keep the spine of the Seahawks’ defense a strength. With the Seattle defense playing some flavor of a Vic Fangio-style defense, having a keystone player at the nose position would make the lives of other defenders — like burgeoning star Jordyn Brooks — easier. — Tice
21. Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
What a steal this would be for Joe Burrow and the Bengals. I’m not sure we can say there are 20 better prospects right now than Mayer, a terrific young tight end (and No. 15 on Dane’s preseason board). This is definitely an interesting group of tight ends, overall, but — as is often the case at the position — it’s hard to say this early how high the top guys will land. Everyone in Cincinnati surely would love this, though. Mayer is cut from the prototypical your-quarterback’s-best-friend cloth. He does a bit of everything well. — Baumgardner
22. Minnesota Vikings: Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon
The Vikings invested in the back end of their defense during the 2022 draft and now have an interesting blend of youth and veterans on that side of the ball. Sewell would give them a proper succession plan at linebacker as Eric Kendricks enters his 30s. Sewell is a balanced linebacker with size, strength and enough athleticism to hold up and coverage. A three-down defender who is a plus against the run would allow the Vikings’ defense to continue to play how they want under new coaches. — Tice
23. Miami Dolphins (via 49ers): Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Dane noted in his preseason rankings that no running back has cracked the top 23 picks over the past four drafts. We did not put Robinson here on purpose — he is going to be a tempting pick for many ahead of this number. A lot of that is going to depend on how he follows up a terrific sophomore campaign. He’s Mr. Electricity in space. — Baumgardner
24. Los Angeles Chargers: Arik Gilbert, TE, Georgia
Gilbert is all about potential right now. But the flashes he has shown make his high rating understandable, in case he comes anywhere close to scratching his ceiling in 2022. He has the ability to be a mismatch nightmare for NFL defenses. If Gilbert plays a full season and shows more polish to his game, then he might not be here at this spot next April. But his big frame and legitimate field-stretching ability would make a potential pairing with QB Justin Herbert something to be giddy about. At least for fans of non-AFC West teams. — Tice
25. Baltimore Ravens: Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah
It’s funny how these things shake out, even in a hypothetical sense, because Phillips feels like a Baltimore Raven all the way. The Ravens will surely have an eye on cornerbacks next offseason with Marcus Peters entering the final year of his deal. A tough corner (albeit an undersized one), Phillips’ best trait is his fearlessness in coverage. He’s a Raven if there ever were one. — Baumgardner
26. Indianapolis Colts: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Porter is a smart and physical player who can get a little too handsy at times. But his competitive nature is apparent on tape, and he is more than willing to press, snap after snap. He has the ability to play outside in man coverage or move inside, when needed, which will only make him more well-liked by NFL evaluators. Porter’s length and football IQ would make him a great fit in Gus Bradley’s single-high attack that asks its cornerbacks to hold up repeatedly in man or match situations. — Tice
27. Detroit Lions (via Rams): Tyree Wilson, edge, Texas Tech
No quarterback for the Lions at 27, either. If Lions fans are looking for names that could emerge for the 2023 draft, they should keep tabs on Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke or Stanford’s Tanner McKee. But Wilson is another strong, long-framed defensive player for the Lions to add to their front seven. He can stack and shed against offensive tackles to find ball carriers while also having enough athleticism and natural tools to offer upside as a pass rusher. — Tice
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Colby Wooden, edge, Auburn
The Bucs continued to revamp their defensive line with their first selection in each of the past two drafts: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (2021) and Logan Hall (2022). Wooden is more like Hall in that he’s a versatile defensive player who can move where needed, depending on the situation. If it’s not an edge here, the Buccaneers could add to their defensive backs room or start looking at linebacker life beyond Lavonte David. But they’re in an enviable position, as far as roster outlooks go. (Just pretend that Tom Brady will play forever.) — Tice
29. Dallas Cowboys: Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
The Cowboys have some very solid hands in the secondary right now. One way to make sure it stays that way, as players age, is to continually replenish. Smith isn’t a terrific athlete, but he’s a very good cornerback who is tough to beat — he allowed only 15 receptions last season. And he’ll keep getting better. — Baumgardner
30. Kansas City Chiefs: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Nate called me a “sicko” after this one, and why not? But as long as the Chiefs appear near the bottom of the first round and have Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback, finding a super-fun receiver to pair with their QB is going to be an entertaining draft exercise. Addison could have a lot of fun this year with Lincoln Riley in Southern California. Another name to watch here could be Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence, if the Chiefs want to be more responsible. — Baumgardner
31. Green Bay Packers: Brian Branch, S, Alabama
In 2020, Branch started three games at safety as a true freshman — for Nick Saban — on a national-title winner. Take a minute to think about all the depth ’Bama has in its secondary every year, remember Saban is as close to a living oracle as it gets with that position and understand why Branch’s accomplishment is so impressive. Branch is a smart, savvy football player who’s almost always on time. He probably could play either safety spot. An ascending talent. — Baumgardner
32. Buffalo Bills: Layden Robinson, OG, Texas A&M
Our current projection has the Bills winning it all this year (or finishing with the top record, at least). So, congrats, Bills fans!
The offensive line is still a bit of concern in Buffalo — 34-year-old Rodger Saffold is starting at left guard this year. GM Brandon Beane could decide to address it in the 2023 draft with Robinson. It’s never sexy to draft a guard in the first round, but QB Josh Allen is special enough to make whatever weapons are around him several tiers better, and the Bills already have Stefon Diggs and an emerging Gabe Davis in their receiver room.
The Bills’ defense is a strong unit, too, but another option could be to start looking for a safety (or safeties) of the future next offseason. — Tice
(Top photo of Will Anderson Jr.: Brett Davis / USA Today)