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Seven-round NFL mock draft, Round 1: Building a win-now team from active players for 2023 season

Each April, I build a complete seven-round NFL mock draft that attempts to find homes for college prospects based on their value, as well as the roster needs and schemes of all 32 pro teams.

For the first time last year, we used the mock draft concept to re-imagine the entire NFL landscape, with teams building balanced rosters -- including veteran and young talent on both sides of the ball -- designed to win now.

This sort of mass redistribution of talent obviously would never happen in real life. But with training camps still a few weeks away, let's have a little fun again with another seven-round mock ahead of the 2023 NFL season.

This mock draft is simply one version of countless possible projections, given players' expected on-field performance in 2023 (assuming they are all on one-year contracts) and each team's current coaching staffs and front offices.

Before we get started, a few important notes:

  1. Teams are listed based on the first-round order from the 2023 NFL Draft, restoring all traded or forfeited picks to the original holders.
  2. The subsequent rounds are "snaked," to distribute talent evenly among the 32 franchises -- that is, the order of Round 1 is reversed in Round 2, which is reversed in Round 3, and so on.
  3. No trades or compensatory selections were included.

Unlike in the real-life 2023 NFL Draft, the Bears don't trade out of the top overall spot -- and unlike in the real-life 2017 NFL Draft, they do quickly grab Mahomes.

Though Josh Allen is available, Houston chooses the QB with the more recent playoff success. Burrow has gone 5-2 over the past two postseasons, appearing in one Super Bowl and two AFC title matches, while Allen has gone 2-2 in that span, with two straight Divisional Round losses.

Arizona is just fine selecting Allen, as his arm strength and mobility make him a dangerous offensive playmaker.

New Indianapolis head coach (and former Philadelphia offensive coordinator) Shane Steichen is happy to reunite with his former Eagles protégé.

The Broncos land Rodgers one year after a pairing between the team and QB failed to materialize. Denver wants Rodgers to once again hoist the Lombardi Trophy near the end of a Hall of Fame career, like John Elway and Peyton Manning did with the Broncos before him.

In his final nine regular-season games last season, Lawrence completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 2,273 yards with a 15:2 TD-to-INT ratio, showing with that scintillating performance (plus his four-TD effort in a thrilling comeback win over the Chargers in the playoffs) that he's on the verge of becoming a top-five quarterback.

Herbert's touchdown total ticked down in 2022 (25) from 2021 (38), but don't let that distract you from his capacity for leading a prolific offense.

It's easy to picture Jackson running and throwing darts in Atlanta like Michael Vick in his heyday.

Prescott is still a top-10 quarterback when healthy, so the Panthers make him the next passer off the board.

The Saints have not selected a quarterback in the first round of the college draft since 1971 (Archie Manning). They continue that trend here by picking the league's most-decorated active defender. Even in Donald's first career season with less than eight sacks (five in 2022), he earned a top-10 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus.

Fields is on track to becoming an elite pro quarterback. Coming off a season in which he ran for 1,143 yards and eight scores, he'll be part of a strong Titans ground game.

Cleveland linked itself to Watson for the foreseeable future last year when it shipped a draft haul to Houston and handed the QB $230 million guaranteed. Though Watson's performance was underwhelming in six contests last season, in this exercise, I'll say the Browns continue to count on him regaining his 2020 form (4,823 passing yards, 33:7 TD-to-INT ratio).

Hill becomes the first non-quarterback on offense to come off the board, thanks largely to his speed, which is noticeably greater than that of any of the league's other offensive playmakers.

The Pats leap to add the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, who boasts excellent strength on the edge and a powerful rush.

Parsons has the sixth-most sacks (26.5) of any player in his first two seasons in NFL history -- and he's also logged 149 tackles and six forced fumbles. Though he's been used in a hybrid linebacker role in Dallas in real life, Green Bay drafts Parsons to play off the edge on a full-time basis.

It would be hard for the Commanders to pass on Garrett, who has notched five consecutive seasons of double-digit sack totals coming into 2023.

The soon-to-be 35-year-old Williams is still the league's best offensive lineman, and the Steelers tab him to lock down the left side after they struggled there in 2022.

The 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year -- who led the NFL in catches (128) and receiving yards (1,809) while starring in Minneapolis last season -- makes a new city in the NFC North his home.

Cousins' playoff résumé is fairly light, but since becoming a full-time starter in 2015, he's logged more passing yards (34,110) than all but two players (Tom Brady and Matt Ryan), and more passing TDs (234) than all but three (Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson). He is a solid signal-caller who's worthy of this first-round slot.

Gardner immediately became one of the top corners in the entire league in Year 1. The 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year fits the Seattle mold at the position.

Tagovailoa's health history (he suffered a fractured hip at Alabama and has yet to appear in more than 13 games in a pro season, with concussion issues costing him significant time in 2022) keeps him from going higher than this spot. So Miami sticks with its real-life quarterback, who has a chance for a big season in Year 2 under head coach Mike McDaniel.

Last season, the three-time first-team All-Pro reunited with his former Fresno State quarterback, Derek Carr, in Las Vegas. In this mock draft. Adams gets a chance to return to his home state of California with the Chargers.

Baltimore has been looking for a downfield playmaker for some time. Chase -- who ranks third in the NFL with nine touchdown catches of 20-plus air yards over the past two seasons, per Next Gen Stats -- is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Kelce will turn 34 years old this fall, but there's no reason to think he won't put up an eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season. He figures to be a constant thorn in the side of opposing defenses even if he's not playing with Patrick Mahomes.

McCaffrey showed in San Francisco last season (746 rushing yards, 464 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns in 11 games after being traded from Carolina) that he's still a fantastic dual threat when healthy.

Brown was prolific in his first year with the Eagles, racking up 1,496 yards and 11 scores on 88 catches. His yards-per-catch mark (17.0) would have been the second-best single-season average in Giants history among players with 130-plus targets, behind only Victor Cruz (18.7 in 2011). 

Diggs will get no shortage of targets in the Cowboys' offense, thanks to his toughness and ability to make defenders miss.

T.J. Watt

Watt missed seven games in 2022 due to injuries, including a torn pectoral, but said recently he feels "great now." We can imagine Bills head coach Sean McDermott would enjoy coaching a player who amassed 37.5 sacks between 2020 and 2021.

Coming off a 15.5-sack season, Jones is a disruptive force -- the kind of player the Bengals could have used in 2022, when they ranked 29th in sacks (30).

Like Wilson's new real-life coach, Sean Payton, Kyle Shanahan has a proven history of getting the most out of his quarterbacks and would be similarly suited to help Wilson bounce back from a down 2022 campaign.

It is unclear when Murray will be ready to return to action after tearing his ACL last December. His electric talent coaxes the Eagles into taking a first-round shot that he'll be back on the field sooner rather than later.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid banks on the mobility and arm of the 32-year-old Smith -- who was named Comeback Player of the Year after re-emerging as a capable starter in Seattle last season -- to push Kansas City on a Super Bowl run.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter.

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