2023 NFL mock draft: Panthers make surprise No. 1 pick, Round 1 projections after free agency

The 2023 NFL Draft is just weeks away, and with the first wave of free agency behind us, needs for all 32 teams are starting to change.

With that, we’ve seen a slight adjustment in how aggressive some franchises must be when addressing their remaining weaknesses. Meanwhile, others who once felt destined to target a specific position may be able to look elsewhere, sticking with the best player available mindset.

While there are still a few major dominoes to fall in free agency, plus a few expected trades, rosters are starting to take shape. With each Pro Day that gets completed, we gain a clearer picture of who the top prospects are as their stock continues to rise and fall right up until draft day.

Using the 2023 NFL Draft simulator from Pro Football Focus, let’s dive into our latest 2023 NFL mock draft following the first wave of free agency.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order

1. Carolina Panthers (via CHI): Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

NFL: Combine
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Drafting Anthony Richardson with the first overall pick would be a massive risk for the Carolina Panthers. However, owner David Tepper is a believer in taking risks and playing for the upside. Frank Reich is the perfect coach to work with Richardson on his mechanics and Andy Dalton is a functional short-term starter. If Richardson develops, Carolina has its Josh Allen.

Related: Carolina Panthers mock draft 2023

2. Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

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The Houston Texans certainly expect Carolina to make the choice for them between Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud, but there’s a chance both could be available. Young feels like the ideal fit for offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and his leadership would be great in the Texans’ locker room. If Young is the pick, though, the Texans must quickly work to build a great supporting cast around him and that starts at the 12th pick.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft running back rankings

3. Las Vegas Raiders* (via ARZ): C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

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  • TRADE: Las Vegas Raiders trade 7th overall, 70th overall and 2024 1st and 3rd to Arizona Cardinals for 3rd overall pick

While this is a massive price for the Las Vegas Raiders to pay, they can’t afford to miss out on a top quarterback prospect. Jimmy Garoppolo won’t be bad enough in 2023 for Las Vegas to have any shot at Caleb Williams and Drake Maye. So, the Raiders sacrifice their 2024 first-round pick to get the quarterback who will play within the structure of Josh McDaniels’ offense.

4. Indianapolis Colts: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

NFL: Combine
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The Indianapolis Colts would be settling here, reaching for a quarterback who projects as more of a top-12 pick. However, desperation for a franchise-caliber passer leads to Indianapolis rolling the dice on Will Levis. The best thing the Colts can do is let Levis spend the majority of his rookie season developing behind the scenes, with Gardner Minshew starting in 2023. – MJ

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5. Seattle Seahawks: Will Anderson Jr, EDGE, Alabama

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This is a dream scenario for the Seattle Seahawks. Will Anderson Jr. was the most dominant pass rusher in college football over the last two seasons. He racked up 207 pressures in three seasons at Alabama (PFF). Anderson solves the Seahawks’ pass-rushing issues and his presence would make life even easier for a great cornerback tandem.  – MJ

6. Detroit Lions: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

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The Detroit Lions have made solid additions to their defense in free agency, but the truth is this team could still use a No. 1 cornerback. Devon Witherspoon truly shut down opposing wide receivers last season and there is All-Pro potential, especially when you factor in a mentality that matches everything the Lions’ organization is about. – MJ

7. Arizona Cardinals: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

NFL: Combine
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Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon will likely be prioritizing defense in the 2023 NFL Draft, especially if the team can trade down. While there is some appeal to drafting Jalen Carter, the off-field risks are too much when an elite pass-rushing prospect like Tyree Wilson is available. He might not have a great rookie season, but he could become a star over time. —MJ

Related: Arizona Cardinals trade options with No. 3 pick

8. Atlanta Falcons: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

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It’s not out of the question that the Atlanta Falcons could package the 8th overall pick and a 2014 first-round selection to land Lamar Jackson. However, ownership and the front office currently appear unwilling to do it. Christian Gonzalez’s athleticism, length and demeanor will pair nicely working opposite of A.J. Terrell. – MJ

9. Chicago Bears (via CAR): Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Texas Christian at Georgia
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Jalen Carter went into the NFL Combine as the projected No. 1 pick, then everything spiraled out of control. Thanks to elevated concerns with off-field issues and a concerning showing at his Pro Day, Carter falls to Chicago in our 2023 NFL mock draft. It’s a high-risk-reward selection, but easily worth the gamble after trading down. – MJ

Related: Chicago Bears mock draft 2023

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO): Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

NFL: Combine
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There was buzz at Georgia’s Pro Day that Broderick Jones might be the first offensive tackle selected in the 2023 NFL Draft (Jordan Reid). Drawing an NFL comparison to Andrew Thomas, there isn’t a better place for him to develop than with the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff. While there’s some risk, the upside is an All-Pro left tackle. – MJ

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11. Tennessee Titans: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern

The Tennessee Titans are in a complete rebuild and with no quarterback worthy of drafting in this spot, they start rebuilding the trenches. Peter Skoronski is arguably the best player available at this point in the 2023 NFL Draft and no matter what position he plays, this is part of the new construction of the next playoff contender in Tennessee.  – MJ

Related: Worst moves in NFL free agency

12. Houston Texans (via CLE): Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

As mentioned above, the Texans need to surround Young with high-end weapons. There’s a temptation to pair him with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but the playmaking ability offered by Quentin Johnston is too hard to pass up. Whether it’s deep routes or short throws that Johnston’s YAC ability turns into big plays, he can thrive in Houston. – MJ

Related: Quentin Johnston scouting report

13. Green Bay Packers* (via NYJ): Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

  • TRADE: New York Jets trade 13th overall pick to Green Bay Packers for Aaron Rodgers

It would be a fitting twist of irony if the Green Bay Packers trade Aaron Rodgers then use the first-round pick they acquire for him on a wide receiver. However, this is a spot where Green Bay can add an outstanding slot receiver in Jaxon Smith-Najigba and provide their young quarterback with the best possible supporting cast to thrive. It’s a no-brainer and would fill out the offense. – MJ

Related: 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver rankings

14. New England Patriots: Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa

The New England Patriots received outstanding production from Matthew Judon in 2023, but he’ll be 31 this upcoming season and there are no guarantees he sticks on the roster through 2024. Besides, great defenses have at least a trio of versatile and explosive edge rushers. Lukas Van Ness would be the perfect third rusher in New England and he could blossom into so much more. – MJ

15. Green Bay Packers: Paris Johnson Jr, OT, Ohio State

Moving on from Aaron Rodgers is just a part of the Packers’ plans to turn the page on the old core. David Bakhtiari is likely playing his last season in Green Bay and the franchise needs its next pillar at left tackle. Paris Johnson Jr. can start on the right side in his rookie season, then blossom into an outstanding blindside protector for Jordan Love. – MJ

Related: 2023 NFL Draft tight end rankings

16. Washington Commanders: Joey Porter Jr, CB, Penn State

While the Washington Commanders have a pass rush that can dominate, it’s not as effective when the secondary makes so many lapses in coverage. Joey Porter Jr., son of the legendary linebacker, offers the size (6-foot-2)m athleticism and length you want from a No. 1 cornerback. With some quality coaching, Porter Jr. becomes the piece that gives Washington a top-10 defense. – MJ

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17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

You could make a case for a few positions here, and we strongly considered taking the top cornerback on the board, but this is a deep prospect pool on defense. With the Steelers also picking 32nd and 49th, we’ll try and get Kenny Pickett a blindside protector first and worry about the other needs later. – ABR

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18. Detroit Lions: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

Continuing to overhaul a defense that allowed the fifth-most points per game a season ago, we’ll try to get Aidan Hutchinson some help in the trenches. Bryan Bresee has an impressive combination of size, strength, and speed packed into a 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame, but he needs more development before emerging as a star. – ABR

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19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

After finishing with the league’s worst rushing offense, landing the draft’s best running back seems too good to be true. While Rachaad White impressed as a rookie, Bijan Robinson has a much higher ceiling. Whether it’s Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask, or someone else under center, having a true weapon both as a rusher and a receiver in the backfield could provide a much-needed spark this season. – ABR

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20. Seattle Seahawks: Calijah Kancey, DL, Pittsburgh

We’ve already seen the Seahawks heavily invest in their defensive line this offseason with the signings of Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed, but Seattle may not be done yet. Even if a pass rusher like Will Anderson is their first choice, adding an interior rusher like Calijah Kancey can provide a different pressure point in the pocket. – ABR

Related: NFL free agent tracker 2023: Latest signings, contract info, news for all 32 teams in NFL free agency

21. Los Angeles Chargers: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Looking to continue providing Justin Herbert with a surplus of weapons, if the Chargers can add one of the draft’s top two tight ends, they have to consider it. While adding a third wideout would be helpful, a tight end like Mayer can make an impact as a receiver and as a blocker, giving him more value. Plus, adding another red zone threat never hurts. – ABR

22. Baltimore Ravens: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

The Baltimore Ravens have a need for better wide receivers, but we’re just echoing what GM Eric DeCosta stated earlier this month. Jordan Addison proved he could produce in two different atmospheres, running unique offenses with different quarterbacks in college. That’s perfect because the Ravens don’t exactly run a standard scoring attack. With Mark Andrews established as the top option, Addison’s excellent route-running can provide Lamar Jackson with another steady presence. – ABR

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23. Minnesota Vikings: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

With two-time Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen let go, the Vikings will rely on T.J. Hockenson and K.J. Osborn to take attention away from Justin Jefferson next season. If the Giants were able to shut down Jefferson in the Wild Card, their existing cast won’t get it done. But adding a YAC specialist like Zay Flowers, who can cause nightmares underneath or over the top, might give the Vikings the most dynamic group of pass-catchers in football. – ABR

Related: ‘Multiple teams believe’ Minnesota Vikings have held trade discussions surrounding Dalvin Cook

24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Brian Branch, S, Alabama

The Jaguars have spent plenty of picks on players who can help score points, and they’ve also drafted a couple of impact players for their front seven. Now it’s time to get some playmakers in the secondary. Alabama’s Brian Branch is a technically-sound safety with a nose for the football who could instantly help transform the fifth-worst passing defense from a season ago. – ABR

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25. New York Giants: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

Now that the Giants have secured a pass-catching weapon for Daniel Jones, they can safely employ a best pick available approach, which can still fill a strong need. Getting Adoree’ Jackson a partner in crime on the boundary can help turn an already good defense into a great one. At 6-foot-2, Banks has the athletic profile to develop into their top corner, in time. – ABR

Related: 3 free agency signings the New York Giants should make after adding Bobby Okereke

26. Dallas Cowboys: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

Allowing Dalton Schultz to walk as a free agent, only to replace him with an even better pass-catcher in the draft just feels like an opportunity Jerry Jones won’t be able to pass up on. Plus, getting Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb more help should be seen as essential if the Cowboys want to be a top-scoring threat for years to come. – ABR

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27. Buffalo Bills: O’Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida

The best way to boost an already strong rushing and passing offense is to build from within. Of course, we’re talking about the trenches here, which is an area the Bills have yet to truly invest a large amount in. That needs to change to both provide Josh Allen with more time while also opening up more holes for James Cook and Co. At 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, no matter who’s in the way, Torrence will blow defenders up in the running game. – ABR

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28. Cincinnati Bengals: Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State

Adding Orlando Brown Jr. shores up the left side of the line for the foreseeable future, but it seemingly caused another issue with Jonah Williams wanting a trade. How about moving La’el Collins to guard and adding Dawand Jones at right tackle, giving Joe Burrow an absolute wall to work with as he carves his masterpieces into NFL defenses across the league? Yeah, we like that. – ABR

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29. New Orleans Saints (via SF): Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

It’s clear that the New Orleans Saints value a good pass rusher. They’ve spent two first-round picks in recent years trying to form a dominant duo with Cameron Jordan in a mostly failed effort. Nolan Smith’s resume speaks for itself as a productive member of an elite Bulldogs defense whose athleticism is also off the charts. He’s set to be a problem at the next level – ABR

Related: NFL trade rumors: Latest on Aaron Rodgers, DeAndre Hopkins and more

30. Philadelphia Eagles: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

In many ways, the Eagles have done well to patch together their team in free agency, retaining several key players. One area they need to address long-term is an edge rusher. Myles Murphy recorded 20 sacks in college, and even then, he struggled with consistency. Perhaps getting to learn from a wealth of veterans can help him dominate every week instead of once in a while. – ABR

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31. Kansas City Chiefs: Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State

The Chiefs knew Frank Clarks’s days were numbered last year by selecting George Karlaftis, but having pressure come from both edges is the end goal by adding McDonald here too. He’s a freakish athlete who could develop into a true speed-rushing sack artist with a bit more refinement at the next level. – ABR

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