Skip to main content

Cynthia Frelund 2023 NFL mock draft 1.0: Cowboys select RB Bijan Robinson; Saints snag QB

I always do my mock drafts a little differently from the traditional method, in that my team-prospect pairings are based on optimizing for wins in the upcoming season -- in a structured way. Here's a quick look at my process:

  1. I take the best available information about free agency, which right now is admittedly not much more than what we know about player contracts, to predict players' market value.
  2. I then check free agents' projected market value against the anticipated salary-cap space for each team.
  3. Finally, I add potential free agents or drafted players to different teams and identify which individuals increase teams' projected win total the most. (My player model leverages historical pre-draft player data to forecast NFL performance.)

I'm starting this process early again this year, which is cool because I am excited to track how things change with free agency and as the draft process evolves. A little housekeeping: I used computer vision-derived measurements and stats in my player evaluations, and all of my speed, burst and advance tracking notes are based on on-field game speed metrics.


  1. The NFL announced in August that the Miami Dolphins will forfeit their 2023 first-round pick and 2024 third-round pick following an investigation into whether the team violated league policies pertaining to the integrity of the game.
  2. The order for Picks 30-31 is now locked in following the conclusion of Super Bowl LVII.
  3. Listed heights and weights are via school measurements.
Jalen Carter
Georgia · DT · Junior

The Bears' defensive front has many areas to address, and Carter has the profile to offer immediate help. His burst is the best in the class, per computer vision, and his run stopping ranks in the top 15 percent in the past eight seasons. Alignment versatility should help change the Bears' ability to bring pressure and sacks, both areas where they ranked last in the league in 2022, with just 96 pressures and 20 sacks.

Will Anderson Jr.
Alabama · Edge · Junior

Choosing an edge rusher over QB here suggests that the value of the edge rusher position with new head coach DeMeco Ryans (and solving for QB in free agency) creates more upside than adding the top-rated passer in the class. With 207 pressures (per PFF), 34.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss during his time at Alabama, Anderson can create real problems for the other teams in the AFC South.

Tyree Wilson
Texas Tech · Edge · Senior (RS)

The Cardinals, who needed pass-rushing help even before J.J. Watt retired, get the biggest boost from the 2023 draft by adding help off the edge. Wilson netted 50 pressures last season, per PFF, and has improved in every forecasting method possible over the past three seasons. For people around his size (he's 6-foot-6, so I used a range of 6-4 to 6-8), he ranks in the top 20 percent in speed after recovering from a block in my 10-season sample.

Bryce Young
Alabama · QB · Junior

Young’s ability to set his feet and secure his balance (his platform) ranks in the top 15 percent in my 10-season sample, helping to explain his accuracy and adding context to what the eyeball test tells us.

Seattle Seahawks
(via DEN)
Myles Murphy
Clemson · Edge · Junior

With 76 pressures in his past two seasons at Clemson (per PFF), Murphy’s skill set should help lift the Seahawks' pass rush immediately. His rush style, size (he’s tall at 6-5) and burst help him profile as a high performer in multiple pass-rush positions and hybrid uses, which pairs well with the young corners Pete Carroll and Co. selected in last year's draft.

Detroit Lions
(via LAR)
Devon Witherspoon
Illinois · CB · Senior

Witherspoon has the highest ceiling and floor projection at corner in my model. His change-of-direction speed ranks in the top 10 percent of my 10-season sample. This metric helps predict how quickly prospects will have success in different coverages as they adapt to the pro game.

Peter Skoronski
Northwestern · OT · Junior

Skoronski played left tackle at Northwestern and allowed just six total pressures on 474 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF. While left tackle is not the most vulnerable part of the Raiders' line, adding the former Wildcat would upgrade the whole line, whether they play him on the left edge, the right, or even, as some scouts project, at guard.

C.J. Stroud
Ohio State · QB · Sophomore (RS)

My models seem higher on Stroud than other people’s (at least so far). It’s possible after the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine that he becomes my top-rated QB in the class, especially after I get the chance to watch more film with some of my evaluators who can help explain some lingering questions I have about the former Buckeye. Why do my models love him so much? Strength at the point of release (stable base even under pressure) combined with accuracy and decision-making. In a system like Arthur Smith’s, where the run concepts lead the way, Stroud’s value is amplified. It could be tough to pass on him, even with owner Arthur Blank recently expressing confidence in 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder.

Will Levis
Kentucky · QB · Senior (RS)

So ... I just got done saying how much I liked C.J. Stroud's reliability, but Levis actually has the highest ceiling among the QBs I've evaluated so far -- and that's despite not being particularly reliable in terms of turnovers. The reason the Kentucky product could work well in Carolina is because the Panthers have the pieces in place to maximize Levis' pressure evasion and ability to throw on the run while he learns to avoid costly mistakes.

Lukas Van Ness
Iowa · Edge · Sophomore (RS)

My models don’t forecast the Eagles keeping their defensive front intact this offseason, even with the large increase in the 2023 salary cap. Van Ness, whose résumé includes 46 pressures on 271 pass rushes in 2022 (per PFF), has the second-best burst at the position in this draft class.

Joey Porter Jr.
Penn State · CB · Junior (RS)

I was surprised to see that my model didn’t select an offensive lineman or even a wide receiver here. ... Porter has a great press-man profile, with the size (6-2, 194) to handle what the AFC offers in terms of WR1s. Per PFF, he allowed just 143 total yards in 10 games last season at PSU.

Houston Texans
(via CLE)
Jordan Addison
USC · WR · Junior

The first wideout off the board! And to a team I would have guessed would have gone QB. … But my models give the Texans the best chance for immediate success by signing a veteran QB and using their second first-round pick to bolster their receiving corps. Addison’s my highest-ranked WR in part because his route tree profiles to be strong right away, meaning the training wheels will come off faster.

Paris Johnson Jr.
Ohio State · OT · Junior

Johnson (6-6, 310) allowed zero sacks and just 14 pressures on 449 pass-rush blocks last season, per PFF. Whoever the Jets have at QB next season will greatly appreciate having him on board.

Brian Branch
Alabama · CB · Junior

Branch has been my favorite player to track over the past few weeks and could be the best player to come out of this draft. This versatile, sure-tackling defensive back fills a need for the Patriots, who would offer the type of system upside that would help him realize his full potential. PFF shows he only missed four career tackles on 174 attempts.

Dalton Kincaid
Utah · TE · Senior

The Packers add a productive tight end (70 catches, 890 yards last year) who is great after the catch.

Christian Gonzalez
Oregon · CB · Junior

Gonzalez’s balance and change-of-direction speed make him a much-needed addition to a corner group that ranked 27th in interception percentage in 2022.

Broderick Jones
Georgia · OT · Sophomore (RS)

My models ranked the Steelers' O-line 26th overall last season. Jones forecasts as an impact left tackle from Day 1, especially in the pass game, where the Steelers also ranked 26th in passing yards per play (5.97).

Nolan Smith
Georgia · Edge · Senior

Complementing Aidan Hutchinson (after addressing corner at No. 6) with Smith, whose burst ranks in the top 15 percent at his position (when healthy), changes the math for the Lions the most entering 2023.

Emmanuel Forbes
Mississippi State · CB · Junior

The Mississippi State corner profiles as a guy who will continue to fill out and get stronger. He improved in every metric necessary to find next-level success, racking up 14 interceptions and 17 pass breakups during his college career. Forbes forecasts as a really impactful player in Todd Bowles' system.

Bryan Bresee
Clemson · DT· Sophomore (RS)

I can’t remember a time when my model picked two defensive front players in the first round for the same team. Here's what it tells me: 1) The increasing influence passing, and stopping the pass, have on our modern game (Bresee can generate pressure from different alignments); and 2) The fastest route for Seattle to win the challenging NFC West is by improving its defensive front.

Michael Mayer
Notre Dame · TE · Junior

My model loves a run-blocking tight end. Mayer is a versatile player who's effective in both the pass-catching and blocking phases. He should not only help Justin Herbert but Austin Ekeler, as well.

Quentin Johnston
TCU · WR · Junior

Take a second and call up some highlights of Johnson running deep crossers -- they're awesome. His speed on deeper routes is consistent and would create space for guys like tight end Mark Andrews to operate.

Kelee Ringo
Georgia · CB · Sophomore (RS)

The Vikings' secondary could benefit in particular from Ringo's change-of-direction speed.

Luke Musgrave
Oregon State · TE · Senior

If Evan Engram returns after posting career highs in receptions (73) and receiving yards (766) on a one-year deal in Jacksonville, this would change -- but the Jags could also choose to allocate cap space elsewhere on the roster and roll with a rookie at the position. Musgrave was injured for most of last season but scored a TD and hauled in 11 passes for 169 yards in the two games he played. He profiles like the kind of tight end Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson can develop into an exceptional player at the NFL level.

Zay Flowers
Boston College · WR · Senior

Flowers lined up out wide on almost two-thirds of his snaps at BC, and while that may not be how he's used at the next level, he has the speed and route traits that Giants coach Brian Daboll could use on third down, specifically. 

Bijan Robinson
Texas · RB · Junior

You might be surprised to see a running back here. But it's unlikely that veteran Ezekiel Elliott (who is owed no more guaranteed money on his contract) and pending free agent Tony Pollard will both return to Dallas. Robinson is a powerful force who is exceptionally hard to bring down, as evidenced by the 104 forced missed tackles he logged (a single-season high in the PFF era) during the 2022 season at Texas.

O'Cyrus Torrence
Florida · OG · Senior

The Bills use a wider offensive-line formation (more spread apart), and addressing the interior would really give a boost to the running backs and Josh Allen on the ground, in addition to fortifying the passing game. Torrence has the massive size (6-5, 340-plus) to create problems for interior pass rushers especially. 

Anton Harrison
Oklahoma · OT · Junior

It was very close between corner and offensive line as the spot to address here, with Harrison's pass-protection abilities changing the math. Harrison allowed just nine pressures on 425 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF.

New Orleans Saints
(via SF through MIA, DEN)
Anthony Richardson
Florida · QB · Sophomore (RS)

I know the Saints have stuck with veteran QBs since Drew Brees' retirement, and they could go that route again in 2023. But Richardson's upside (and the cap-friendly rookie deal he'd be on) would be worth the 29th overall pick. Richardson's scrambling and rushing abilities differentiate him from the other top QBs in this class.

Keion White
Georgia Tech · Edge · Senior (RS)

Remember in the Seahawks' picks above, where I told you I don't remember ever picking two players at similar positions in the first round for the same team? Well it's happening here, too. Mostly because the Eagles rotate a lot, and also because pass-rushing value is so important (and they could lose pass rushers in free agency). White has great recovery speed, allowing him to resume rushing again after being blocked.

Derick Hall
Auburn · Edge · Senior

I was a little surprised to see edge as the position to address here, but Hall has some traits that work well with the type of defense coordinator Steve Spagnuolo operates, especially his speed on the perimeter (though he has positional versatility, as well). 

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter.

Related Content