Editor's note: This mock draft was published prior to the March 1 news that Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter was the subject of arrest warrants for reckless driving and racing in Athens, Georgia, stemming from an ongoing investigation into a fatal Jan. 15 car crash. Carter was subsequently booked and released from jail.
The Chicago Bears are in the 2023 NFL Draft's catbird seat. They own the No. 1 overall selection, but they also have a talented signal-caller already on their squad in Justin Fields, while multiple teams are looking for a face-of-the-franchise type at the game's most important position.
Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard has already said the Colts will "do whatever it takes" to trade up for their favorite quarterback in this class. It's easy to connect the dots between Chicago and Indy, because Matt Eberflus was the Colts' defensive coordinator before becoming the Bears' head coach. The Houston Texans will likely not stand by, however, and allow their division rival to leapfrog them for their top choice of passers.
In this three-round mock, I project the Bears pulling off three of the six listed trades; they first move to the Texans' second pick and then step down again to the Colts' No. 4 slot. At least one of the top defenders in the draft will be available at No. 4, possibly the one they would've chosen if they had just stayed at No. 1.
Taking the Texans' offer could be risky for the Bears if the Colts stay at No. 4 after being beaten out for the top spot -- but doing "whatever it takes" means Ballard is incentivized to climb the draft ladder. Opening Door No. 1 and Door No. 2 in the trade game allows Chicago GM Ryan Poles to hedge his bets in the hopes that at least one of the two partners send over very early picks after a disappointing 2023 campaign.
No matter which trade adventure Poles and the Bears choose, the franchise wins by netting one of the top defenders in the class while gathering current and future draft capital.
There are seven compensatory picks projected at the end of the third round of this mock. The first two were awarded to the Cardinals and Commanders as compensation for losing 2022 free agents, as projected by Over the Cap in January. The final five reflect the projected compensation gained from teams hiring minority candidates away from the Browns, 49ers and Chiefs for head coach/general manager openings.
- 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.
- Listed heights and weights are via school measurements.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH CHICAGO BEARS
The Texans get their guy with the No. 1 overall pick, swapping spots with the Bears to land Young. Houston sends two picks from the Deshaun Watson trade (Round 3, 2023; Round 1, 2024) and gets a 2023 fifth-rounder back from the Bears to balance the deal. Young's lack of size (6-foot, 194 pounds) might be an issue for some, but his poise, leadership, athleticism and underappreciated throwing velocity give him a chance to be great.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH CHICAGO BEARS
In this scenario, Colts owner Jim Irsay and GM Chris Ballard say enough with bringing in veterans as short-term solutions. Like the Texans, they want their favorite bright young star at the position, so Chicago gets first- and second-round picks this year, as well as second- and third-round picks in 2024. Stroud stands tall in the pocket, throwing darts but also displaying nice touch when needed. He showed in the College Football Playoff that he can make defenses pay for playing man coverage by running for big gains.
I believe Carter is the top defensive prospect in the 2023 draft because he can overwhelm linemen with his strength but also has plus agility for a 300-pounder. The Cardinals line him up in the spot left vacant by the retired J.J. Watt.
PROJECTED TRADES WITH HOUSTON TEXANS AND INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Chicago adds to its haul, trading back another two spots and still landing Anderson, an all-around talent on the edge. The 'Bama defender addresses a major need for the Bears, who finished with a league-low 20 sacks in 2022.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
GM Scott Fitterer calls his old friends in Seattle to jump ahead of other teams for Levis. He trades first-round picks this year and next, with Seattle sending back a Day 3 pick to even out the exchange. Levis' physical tools and competitiveness are appreciated by scouts, and his inconsistency in footwork and moving off primary reads are obstacles that Carolina hopes he can overcome in much the same way Josh Allen has with the Bills.
Usually there's a cornerback who takes a big leap (figuratively and literally) at the NFL Scout Combine -- my guess is that's Gonzalez this year. The Oregon defender's size (6-2, 201) and athleticism will likely impress scouts, who, if they haven't devoured it already, will then turn to the tape where they'll see aggressive play and very good ball skills. Gonzalez could help alleviate some of the pressure on the Lions' previous top-10 corner selection, Jeff Okudah.
The Falcons could use another receiver to pair with 2022 first-rounder Drake London. Their lack of pass rush (finished 31st in sacks), however, means they grab Murphy, who is just the type of strong, long edge defender that new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen coached during his time with the Saints.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH CAROLINA PANTHERS
Wilson's length screams "Seattle edge rusher," as Pete Carroll always seems to find those big bodies to fit up front. The Seahawks were more multiple in their fronts this past season than they were in the past, and Wilson has the versatility to stand up or line up inside.
If Miles Sanders finds a new home in free agency, the Eagles could have interest in adding Robinson as a dual-threat weapon in their prolific attack. He slaloms through traffic inside and displays an upfield burst in the open field.
The Titans have a decision to make about veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill. If coach Mike Vrabel and new GM Ran Carthon decide to stick with the veteran in 2023, then they find another receiving tight end to make his life easier. Kincaid's hoops background is evident on the field, as his hands and body control make him a great target down the seam, on the sideline and in the red zone.
Kancey could be a top-10 pick because of his strength at the point of attack and quickness. But we've seen other smaller tackles land in the middle of the first, such as when Aaron Donald went 13th overall in 2014. New Texans coach DeMeco Ryans is quite familiar with Donald's game from his years in San Francisco, so you have to think he'd love to add a playmaker like Kancey on what will be a revamped Houston defensive line in 2023.
Jets GM Joe Douglas traded Sam Darnold after watching him for two seasons, and it wouldn't surprise me if he does the same with Zach Wilson, if the fit doesn't improve. (Though it's worth noting that Wilson was Douglas' pick, while Darnold was not.) Richardson's throws don't always hit their targets, but his quick feet allow him to step up and out of the pocket, and he fits balls into tight spaces with easy velocity. His combination of agility and power as a runner is also intriguing. Don't be surprised if he's the best playmaker out of this QB crop four years down the road.
Smith-Njigba is just as talented as the three former Ohio State receivers -- Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams -- picked in the top 12 last year. (Williams, of course, played his final year at Alabama.) He has excellent hands and quickness/strength after the catch. If his troublesome hamstring is fully healed, I expect teams to place a high value on him. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the Packers moved up to grab JSN, or one of the top tight ends, to aid whoever their quarterback might be in 2023.
Skoronski's lack of length could be an issue for NFL teams in the top half of the first round. Washington had great success converting another Big Ten tackle to guard when the team moved former Iowa Hawkeye Brandon Scherff inside. Could be déjà vu all over again, with Skoronski's mobility and power making him an excellent pro lineman no matter where he lines up.
Pittsburgh often ends up with a bargain landing in its lap in Round 1, and Van Ness certainly qualifies here. The Iowa defender has great potential at the five-technique for the Steelers or even standing up on the edge at times. The leverage he gets on offensive linemen is quite impressive, and he can shed and chase plays from the back side.
Mayer might end up as the second tight end off the board because he is not as quick-twitch as Dalton Kincaid and others at his position. The Lions happily select the Notre Dame standout, though, as his reliability as a pass-catcher and tenacious blocking remind me of Ravens star Mark Andrews.
Branch is a versatile nickel/deep/box defender who would work well in tandem with Bucs safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The Bama product could help stabilize a Tampa secondary that has multiple veteran contributors set to become free agents.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Josh Allen needs a legitimate deep threat to stretch out defenses, which would also help the team's running game. With Addison still on the board, Bills GM Brandon Beane climbs seven spots, giving up three 2023 picks (a first-, third- and fourth-rounder) to grab the former Biletnikoff Award winner.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH BALTIMORE RAVENS
If the Giants find a receiver in free agency, I could see them jumping ahead of the Vikings to grab a corner like "Spoon" to fortify the secondary. He's as competitive as they come, harassing receivers all day long, drawing flags and breaking up passes. New York trades the 25th overall selection and a third-rounder to Baltimore to move up three spots. (The Giants get a sixth-round pick, as well.)
New defensive coordinator Brian Flores should covet White as a strong presence on the outside shoulder of offensive tackles, but he can also be an inside pass rusher in obvious passing situations.
Smith's a tough-minded corner who does not back down from SEC receivers and makes plays on the ball, which is the type of defender the Jaguars need opposite Tyson Campbell.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH NEW YORK GIANTS
For the third time in five years, the Ravens select a receiver in the first round. After trading Marquise Brown (No. 25 overall, 2019) during Thursday night's festivities last year, Baltimore could be looking for a speedster to play with 2021 first-rounder Rashod Bateman (No. 27). Hyatt possesses the pure speed to stretch defenses vertically.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH BUFFALO BILLS
The Seahawks picked up two starting tackles in the top three rounds of last year's draft, but the interior of their line still needs upgrading. Torrence's power and nimble feet should allow him to step in immediately opposite LG Damien Lewis if the team decides it's time to move on from RG Gabe Jackson. Seattle traded down twice in the first round of the 2017 and '19 drafts, and I could see it happening again this year.
Mauch showed during Senior Bowl week that he could play anywhere along the offensive line. That sort of versatility would have come in handy for the Bengals during the playoffs after they lost both starting tackles (including Jonah Williams, a free agent after the 2023 season) to injury. Putting Mauch and his former Bison teammate, Cordell Volson, on the same NFL O-line does NDSU proud.
If the Saints land a quarterback via trade/free agency, then I could see them turning their attention to the D-line early in the draft. New defensive coordinator Joe Woods will likely keep the team's four-man front, where Tuipulotu would be a great find in the late first because of his power and agility at 290 pounds. ... Sort of sounds like Cameron Jordan coming out of Cal, doesn't it?
Philadelphia has not picked a defensive back in the first round since 2002 (cornerback Lito Sheppard), but the Eagles could end that drought if Chauncey Gardner-Johnson departs in free agency. Hickman lines up all over the field and brings a physicality to the position that will endear him to Philly fans.
PROJECTED TRADE WITH KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
After accumulating multiple selections in the two earlier trades, the Bears are fine sending the Colts' second-round pick (No. 35) and their own fourth-rounder to the Chiefs to move up for their choice of receiver. Rice was the main cog in the Mustangs' offense in 2022, a target on quick screens, hitches and nine routes, where he used his strider's speed, ability to win 50-50 balls and tracking skills to score.