Gaffney's Midseason 2023 NFL Mock Draft
The 2023 NFL Draft is of course months out, but teams are well in the process of doing their homework on this latest crop of players. The Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers sit atop the draft order at the moment, both likely in the market for a new quarterback, and have some good options atop the draft in Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud.
This upcoming draft also has a ton of talent in the defensive front with guys like the highly touted Will Anderson, Myles Murphy, and Jalen Carter, all likely to be top 10 selections. Keep in mind that a ton of things can change between now and April, players can rise and fall in the blink of an eye and teams will always have their draft tendencies. With that said, here's how things shake out with the draft order as it currently stands.
-Selection order based on NFL Standings entering Week 10 (Playoff Teams sorted by seeding/record)
-Picks based on the following criteria; Team needs. Pending free agents. What I would do. What the team would do should I consider it warranted, among other reasoning.
-No trades that haven't already been made.
-Miami was docked a first-round pick as a result of tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton.
Pick 1) Houston Texans – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
The big debate in Houston will be if they feel comfortable moving forward with Davis Mills when they could go quarterback again in 2023, and the answer to me right now is no. Personally, I like Young for a lot of the same reasons I liked Justin Fields; he’s tough, and no spot is too big for him. You could argue that what Young’s doing this year is more impressive than his Heisman campaign due to what’s around him, minus Jahmyr Gibbs. The only real knock on Young is his size, weighing under 200 lbs, but that should hopefully change come combine/pro day season. He's a natural-born talent who does everything your looking for out of a franchise QB.
Pick 2) Carolina Panthers – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Although Stroud does have another All-Star supporting cast around him, it’s not like he’s been underwhelming. In fact, I’d go as far as saying his performance just weeks ago at Happy Valley specifically was incredible. The one thing Stroud brings to the table over Young is raw accuracy. Last year and to this point in 2022, the Ohio State product has had a higher completion percentage, even with this most recent Northwestern extreme weather game hurting him a good deal. For the Panthers, this is no consolation prize and could be considered the better option depending on your stance.
Pick 3) Las Vegas Raiders – Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
The last time a Josh McDaniels-led team picked in the first round, the selection was Tim Tebow. Over a decade later, the decision for him and Dave Zeigler should take no more than five seconds. Guys like Anderson come around every so often, and luckily the Raiders could use him. Big signing Chandler Jones has just 0.5 sacks so far this season, leaving a bulk of the pass rush work to Maxx Crosby. Don’t listen to the talk about the lack of creativity with pass rush moves, or just a lack of hands either. They’ve said the same things about plenty of guys in the past, Myles Garrett being a notable recent one. Generational could be a strong term, but Anderson is as good as any EDGE prospect in some time, and the best outright player in this entire draft
Pick 4) Pittsburgh Steelers – Paris Johnson, OT/IOL, Ohio State
Although the Steelers' offensive line has been surprisingly better than expected, it’s still nowhere near where it was about five years ago. Omar Khan, heading his first full draft without Kevin Colbert, should probably spend multiple picks in the opening few rounds on the offensive line after drafting none last year. Johnson gives them some options as to where he can play, which is a plus going into the draft. Last year he spent the whole year at right guard, before getting kicked out to left tackle this year, and has been fantastic. Steelers could certainly go in a few different directions here still but protecting Kenny Pickett better must be priority one.
Pick 5) Detroit Lions – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
With two picks in the opening half of the first round, the Lions waste no time getting their heir apparent. Going to guess that at least some of you are wondering why Will Levis isn’t off the board here. From what I've seen with Richardson so far, even with some inaccuracy issues, his highs are simply too good to ignore.
Richardson at his best is a dynamic playmaker who can make things happen on the ground and through the air. Being 6’4 and 235 lbs, he moves very well for someone that size, and will only turn 22 next May to boot. In essence, the Lions are the best spot for Richardson. He wouldn’t have the expectation to start right away, giving him the opportunity to fine-tune some things before he becomes the guy. Can be considered a reach at No. 5, but why risk Richardson getting picked up by the Seahawks a few picks down the road?
Philadelphia Eagles (via New Orleans Saints) – Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
The Eagles are loaded on defense but could potentially lose the services of James Bradbury based on his year so far. The top corner in this draft isn’t clear-cut yet, but Smith has been shut down for the Gamecocks this year. Pairing a corner who is putting in great work in the SEC with someone like Darius Slay could be deadly. Smith is also super aggressive, which is both good and worrisome. On top of that, he has the potential to get under guy’s skin, much like Eagles, safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson did consistently with the Saints.
Pick 7) Arizona Cardinals – Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
Steve Keim has had 10-day 1-2 draft picks since he took Kyler Murray at No. 1 in 2019. He’s taken just one offensive lineman in that stretch (Josh James), who’s started in just 33 percent of his games. Safe to say that is catastrophically bad. Keim would be wise to pick up Skoronski here, who is the consensus top tackle at this moment. My only contention is that he is only 6’4, which probably will force him out of left tackle in most situations. However, the Cardinals aren’t necessarily able to be picky with their predicament. Cardinals could also go EDGE here, but Keim owes it to Murray to get him some help upfront
Pick 8) Jacksonville Jaguars – Jalen Carter, IDL, Georgia
Trent Baalke went to the SEC pipeline four times earlier this year and goes back to Georiga with his first pick this go around as well. Speaking of this previous April, something that was occasionally heard was that the best Georgia defender wasn’t even in the 2022 draft. That of course would be in reference to Carter. Just this last week against Tennessee, he was a force of nature picking up two forced fumbles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. He’s nothing short of an athletic freak for an interior defender and would be an impact guy for any defense on day one.
Pick 9) Chicago Bears – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Bears are another team who have some options in round one, with receiver, EDGE, and linebacker being positions realistically in play. That said, Ryan Poles letting Murphy slip beyond pick nine would be hard to justify. There are a few edge rushers that are going behind him that have better sack numbers, but Murphy is a monster at 6’5 and 275 pounds. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman even had him ranked top three in his annual College Football ‘Freaks’ list. Would assume he tests extremely well at the combine next spring as well. As for Murphy’s sack production, he sits at 6.5 for the season, 1.5 shy of his career-best with a handful of games to go. After trading Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn in a span of about eight months, Bringing in Murphy would be a good first step to rebuilding this Bears pass rush.
Pick 10) Green Bay Packers – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
If Brian Gutekunst won’t draft a first-round wideout for the Packers, then I will. Regardless of whos under center next season, the Packers’ weapons are inadequate to make a postseason, never mind a Super Bowl. Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson (even if Aaron Rodgers hates him for that Week 1 drop) were a good start this year, but Green Bay needs more.
Adding someone as dynamic and explosive as Smith-Njigba would be gigantic. He’s been held to three games this year due to multiple injuries but played out of his mind in 2021. Quicker than fast, but there’s a lot to like with JSN, route running, and separation above all else, not to mention his experience in the slot. Hard to separate his legendary Rose Bowl performance from everything else, but JSN is big-time.
Pick 11) Seattle Seahawks (via Denver Broncos) – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
What else is there to say about the Seahawks these last 10 months? Jon Schneider’s 2022 draft surprisingly looks excellent early on, and better yet they have a good shot to make the postseason, while still picking just outside of the top 10. Geno Smith has played passed any expectation put in front of him as well which is a great story. With that said, the Seahawks should still try to get their long-term solution, even if Smith is under center for the next couple of seasons. Due to a lack of QB-needy teams in front of them, Levis simply falls right to them.
The hype you’ve seen with Levis is not unwarranted by any means. He has some clear arm talent, toughness, mobility/escapability, and experience in a pro offense already. However, I’m not as on board as say, Mel Kiper, who has him as the No. 2 QB in the class currently. Along with some inconsistent play, Levis is averaging an interception a game over his last two seasons. Ultimately that’s why he’s the fourth quarterback off the board here behind Richardson. Still plenty of time though for Levis to improve his stock, and I wouldn't be surprised if he goes ahead of Richardson at the end of the day.
Pick 12) Detroit Lions (via Los Angeles Rams) – Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
The Lions moving TJ Hockenson on trade deadline day was one thing. Trading him to your division rival who also happens to be running away with the NFC North in the Minnesota Vikings is another. He’s not the No. 1 tight end now for several reasons, some great play by Michael Mayer being one, but I have been dangerously high on Washington since Georgia’s bowl win over Cincinnati a few years back. A guy who is 6’7 and 270 pounds should not be as well-rounded as he is.
Washington doesn’t get to show it a whole lot with the abundance of talent Georgia has on offense, but he has mismatch nightmare potential as a receiver. As cliché as it sounds, 50/50 balls turn into 85/15 with Washington. Additionally, he has the ability to be a RAC monster with just how hard he is to bring down. Washington can also be comically dominant as a blocker, making SEC defenders look like middle schoolers occasionally. Assuming he does well at the combine next year, his stock should skyrocket before draft weekend. Granted I am admittedly higher on him than most at this stage.
Pick 13) Houston Texans (via Cleveland Browns) – Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame
Now with Young in this scenario, GM Nick Caserio has just about the entire board open to him. One of the bigger surprises in the league this year is the seven sacks Jerry Hughes has put up. Realistically the Texans simply can't count on that moving forward. On top of a lack of a premier pass rush threat this year outside of the 13-year vet, going with a guy like Foskey should be an easy choice. He’s exactly what you’re looking for off the edge at 6’4 and 265 lbs, with an insane motor from what I have seen to this point. Keep an eye out for him coming up, as he has the inside track to break Justin Tuck’s Notre Dame sack record soon.
Pick 14) Indianapolis Colts – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Your guess is as good as mine as to who will be under center for the Colts next season. Much less who will be the head coach. Regardless, they have some holes along the offensive line, most so at right guard with Matt Pryor, but the Colts can perhaps wait to address that. Here Chris Ballard gets a new franchise tight end out of the Notre Dame pipeline. Mayer has been the straw that stirs the drink offensively for Notre Dame these last two seasons. Including his freshman year which was great as well, Mayer has 164 catches and just shy of 2000 yards and 16 scores. Not as big a physical presence or as good a blocker as Washington, but he has the production to show he can be a big-time threat at the next level.
Pick 15) Atlanta Falcons – Bryan Bresee, IDL, Clemson
The Falcons’ run defense has been one of the 10 best in football this year so far, but once again their pass rush is nonexistent. In a move that would help them improve their best and worst area on defense, Bresee is the pick, who'd be a great player to pair up with Grady Jarrett on the inside. He’s a potential top-10 talent in this draft whose stock has fallen due to a torn ACL last year, and some kidney issues this year. Despite only playing four games in 2021, Bresee still got Third-Team All-ACC honors. He and Jarett together would be a nightmare to defend upfront and could open things up on the edge as well.
Pick 16) Washington Commanders – Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Bresee would have been a solid pickup for the Commanders here, but alas. Instead, they get Ringo to pair up with Ben St. Juste with William Jackson recently traded. Ringo was another player Bruce Feldman highlighted in his yearly freaks piece, insinuating his athleticism is on level with Patrick Peterson. He’s struggled at times this year, but just had a great performance against Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tilman, two wideouts who will likely go in the first two nights of the draft should they commit.
Ringo also has three career interceptions so far, including a game-sealing pick-six in the 2022 National Title Game. This would be a huge pickup for Ron Rivera and co. His hype has died down a bit since the college season began, but I’d reckon there’s a good chance he becomes the consensus No. 1 corner when we get closer to April.
Pick 17) New England Patriots – Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
Bill Belichick’s defense has been great for the majority of 2022 but has lacked a true field general since Dont’a Hightower was at the peak of his powers. Simpson would be a true impact guy, giving the Patriots a pass rush, run-stopping, and pass-defending option at the second level. As far as ball production goes, he has two career forced fumbles and five pass breakups, but no picks yet. On the flip side, Simpson has 11 career sacks and nearly 20 tackles for loss.
According to Bruce Feldman as well, Clemson coaches claim that Simpson has been clocked with 40 times in the high 4.3s as well. This is the freak athlete that the Patriots need to complement their great safety and sub-linebacker grouping. A double dip at offensive line or going with a wideout wouldn’t shock me in the slightest, but Belichick has gone with curveball picks early in two of the last three drafts (Kyle Dugger and Cole Strange).
Pick 18) Cincinnati Bengals – Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
The Bengals are in a rough spot this off-season when it comes to their secondary. Both starting safeties, Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell are likely to hit the open market, along with two other corners. Although Daxton Hill most likely becomes the Bates replacement, odds are they won’t stick with their group as constructed. Branch could be considered a reach at No. 18, but he brings some real versatility to the table. Playing the STAR roll for Nick Saban, he has spent time all over the place on defense. Deep safety, outside corner, in the slot and box, etc. Assuming Hill is the long-term plan at Safety, Brach’s best fit here would probably be in the box, but the Bengals would have some options.
Pick 19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
This may come off as controversial but having no semblance of a running attack forcing Tom Brady to throw over 45 times a game is problematic. Crucify me if you must, but it needs to be said. Even if Brady doesn’t retire but doesn’t return to Tampa, which I can see happening, getting a fresh back in the mix at this point is a must. Robinson has all the makings of a true three-down workhorse at the NFL level. Although he is only 6’0 and 220 lbs, he is built like an absolute tank. Not the fastest back you’ll ever see, but Robinson has some excellent agility, toughness, and vision to make up for it.
After Alabama went out of their way to ensure he didn’t take over the game, Robinson has gained at least 125 scrimmage yards in the ensuing seven games. I say scrimmage yards because Robinson is a solid receiver out of the backfield when given the chance. This wouldn’t fix all the Bucs run game problems overnight, but it would be a hell of a start.
Pick 20) Denver Broncos (via San Francisco 49ers via Miami Dolphins) – Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State
Broncos Country, which is not riding at the moment if you can’t tell, can pin some of that on some poor offensive line play. They also have several expiring contracts along the front and could use upgrades to go along with Garrett Boles and D3 Icon Quinn Meinerz. Fashanu is quite an intriguing prospect, as he is only 19 years old at the time of writing. Although not a complete product just yet, the fact he’s gotten double-digit starts at that age in the Big10 is very impressive. Giving him to Broncos’ offensive line coach Butch Barry, who was with San Francisco last year with Trent Williams, could be a fantastic arrangement. Here Fashanu fits in at right tackle on the outside of Meinerz.
Pick 21) Los Angeles Chargers – Siaki Ika, IDL, Baylor
Baring Chargers Gm Tom Telesco pulling off some Mickey Loomis-level cap shenanigans, Los Angeles doesn’t have a good shot to retain pending free agent Jerry Tillery. Although the Chargers could go in several directions here, keeping your elite front seven intact feels like a good option. Ika at 6’4 and a hair under 360 pounds, is a moving roadblock who has real pass-rush acumen, despite having no sacks in 2022. Having someone like that up the middle opening things up for guys like Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack is a horrifying thought.
Pick 22) Tennessee Titans – Quinten Johnston, WR, TCU
Just watching the Titans on Sunday Night in Kansas City, you can tell they need some help on the outside. Treylon Burks, although hurt now, is going to need some complementary help. Johnston is a popular prospect and it’s easy to see why. He’s a huge target at 6’4 and is borderline unstoppable in the open field. Both from the standpoint of how big he is, and his elusiveness to get out of tackles in a variety of ways.
Some concerns are that Johnston isn’t the best-contested catch guy, as well as there are some inconsistencies in run blocking that have shown up in the early bits of what I’ve seen. Still, a lot to like about Johnston though. He's going to hopefully have several more games to showcase himself with the great season TCU is having as well.
Pick 23) Seattle Seahawks – Gervon Dexter, IDL, Florida
At the midway point of 2022, the Seahawks’ rushing defense is comfortably bottom five in the NFL. Adding in a 6’6 behemoth like Dexter who can eat up space in the middle could help a ton. He’s a high-motor guy who moves well for someone who weighs 312 lbs. Dexter isn’t just a plug-up the middle on run defense either, he is also an interior pass rush threat with five career sacks. Billy Napier even puts him out on the edge on the rare occasion. Safe to say that’s not his permanent fit in the NFL, but having that versatility can only help Dexter.
Pick 24) Baltimore Ravens – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
There are three guarantees in life; Death, Taxes, and Ravens GM Eric De Costa having good NFL talent fall into his lap. What he pulled off last year was disgusting and here he picks up right where he left off with Addison. Since transferring to USC, his numbers don’t jump off the stat sheet but count me as a fan of how Lincoln Riley is implementing him on offense. From what I’ve seen to this point, it feels as if DeVonta Smith was partially used like Deebo Samuel is with the 49ers. Funny enough, Addison and Smith are built very similarly, both 6’0 and around 170 pounds.
Even last year, Addison was lights out at Pitt with Kenny Pickett throwing him the ball. He won the Biletnikoff Award, following recent winners like Smith, Jerry Jeudy, and Ja’Marr Chase. Addison also has the size and build to go into the slot and be very effective, something I think could translate well to the NFL. Giving Lamar Jackson (assuming he signs long-term) a consistent over-the-middle target who can be used in and around the backfield as well feels like a great get. A combination of Addison, Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, and Rashod Bateman has some serious potential. Addison probably should go earlier than this, but the Ravens find a way to do this every year without fail.
Pick 25) New York Jets – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Looking down the road with an iffy Jets offensive line, George Fant is set for free agency at season’s end, and can Robert Salah depend on an aging Duane Brown beyond this season? Joe Douglass would be wise to get a new lineman in the draft to offset some of the poor moves he’s made upfront as of late. Given what is currently available, Jones fits what the Jets need to a T. Although a left tackle now, he could easily be moved to the opposite side as he is only 6’4. Some of his run-blocking clips in space are downright comical and by no means is he a bad pass protector. Douglass could do far worse than this SEC mauler.
Pick 26) Dallas Cowboys – Joey Porter Jr, CB, Penn State
I feel confident saying that good ole Jerry Jones will end up getting a wide receiver in this spot, here, they need some corner help. Trevon Diggs has been better but got disintegrated against the Rams recently, while Anthony Brown hasn’t been too hot. The son of Steelers’ great Joey Porter Sr is a lengthy aggressive corner who can hopefully fix the Cowboys' issues in the secondary. The big concern however is that Porter Jr is quite grabby, alarmingly so. Not big in the interception category either, but that isn’t much of a concern at this point.
Pick 27) New York Giants – Clark Phillips, CB, Utah
The Cowboys went ahead and started a run on corners, and the Giants follow right in suit with Phillips. The Utah product is a great cover man, as seen with him having as good a game as he could following Jordan Addison around earlier this year. He also had an excellent showing in the Rose Bowl last year, costing JSN a touchdown with a chase-down forced fumble, as well as an interception covering Julian Fleming. Phillips isn’t the most physical corner ever which isn’t entirely on him due to his size, but the competitive level and ball production are more than good enough to make up for it.
Pick 28) Kansas City Chiefs – Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
This is what I am going to call, “The Nightmare Scenario”. The best way I could describe Gibbs is Alvin Kamara if he never left Alabama but was used like he was at Tennessee. Now imagine someone that dynamic in an offense headed by Andy Reid, Eric Bienemy, and then Patrick Mahomes under center. Right now, Gibbs leads all Alabama skill players in scrimmage yards by nearly 700 and is the Crimson Tide’s leader in receptions with 39. Furthermore, he’s explosive on the ground as well, averaging nearly seven yards a carry this year. This would be a slam dunk move for Kansas City no matter how you look at it.
Pick 29) Minnesota Vikings – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Vikings are looking at four corners on their roster headed to free agency now, Patrick Peterson being the most notable. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah spent his first two picks last year on picks in this year’s draft and continues the retooling with the rangy Gonzalez out of Oregon. A complaint that I have seen nearly universally is that the redshirt sophomore has some issues tracking the ball in the air, and it has shown up on tape. Outside of that, Gonzalez is an excellent man-to-man corner, who if put under the wing of Peterson should he stay, could become a quality starting corner.
Pick 30) Buffalo Bills – O’Cyrus Torrance, IOL, Florida
At long last, an interior offensive lineman is off the board. Rodger Saffold’s contract automatically voids at the end of the season and will be 35 years old next season. The Bills' offensive line has been good, but no reason to risk anything at left guard, that’s where Torrance comes in. He’s on the bigger side of things for a guard at 6’5 and over 340 lbs, but Torrance is a bully in the run game. Great power in his hands and he has the motor and drive to match. The Bills' run game outside of Josh Allen has been shaky and this would be a good move to help things between the tackles.
Pick 31) Philadelphia Eagles – B.J. Ojulari, EDGE, LSU
The Eagles have several notable free agents to be in the front seven, most notably Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and the newly acquired Robert Quin. The good news for Howie Roseman is that his deal with Hasaan Reddick looks like a bargain for the time being. Right now, he ranks second on the team in sacks and QB hits.
Here, Roseman makes things very interesting in the Ojulari family, picking up the brother of Giants pass rusher Azeez Ojulari. B.J. going from a rival SEC school to a rival NFC East team feels about a good story as it is, but he’s no slouch and is worthy of a first-round pick. Ojulari has 12 sacks these last two years to go along with nearly 80 tackles. There's some inconsistency in the run game, among some other areas, but the Eagles have the luxury of being patient with the 20-year-old.
Just Missing the Cut
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Kayshon Boutee, WR, LSU
Andre Carter, EDGE, Army
Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon