All is right again, as the 2022 college football season is finally here. Week 0 marks the start of a new journey for the NFL scouting community, as well as for many prospects vying to help their draft stock over the next eight months. I’m excited to get back on the scouting trail and see more live games this year as we get set for the 2023 NFL draft.
NFL teams are still in the early stages of the evaluation process, and scouts and evaluators are starting to make the rounds to schools in their areas to collect background information on certain prospects. We still have a long way to go, and a lot will change between now and next April. But with college football kicking off, here is my first 2023 NFL mock draft projecting 31 picks. Remember, the Dolphins forfeited their own first-round pick this year after violating league anti-tampering policies.
How did I get my draft order, though? The first-round order is based on ESPN’s Football Power Index, though the projections do not yet account for post-June 1 moves or the Deshaun Watson suspension. Underclassmen are noted with an asterisk, and I also included early positional needs for each team. Who is projected as an early pick next year?
Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama*
General manager Joe Douglas has set the franchise up nicely for the future, and the Jets are hoping to take another step forward this season — but they land the No. 1 pick in ESPN’s FPI projections. Will there be turnover at key positions — including perhaps quarterback — if this is the scenario? Either way, I think New York would simply take the best player in the draft, and that’s Anderson. Adding him to Carl Lawson and Jermaine Johnson gives the Jets a ferocious group off the edge. Anderson led the FBS with 17.5 sacks, 34.5 tackles for loss and 79 pressures last season.
Biggest needs: OT, LB, DL
Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia*
There are some scouts around the league who believe Carter has the most upside in this draft class, and he’s the type of player around whom new GM Ryan Poles could build an entire defensive unit. He had just 3.0 sacks last season, but he was sharing snaps with multiple 2022 first-round picks. Carter consistently lives in the other team’s backfield. A true penetrator as a 3-technique, he’s a wrecking ball with high-level explosiveness, hand power and finishing ability.
Biggest needs: OL, WR, DL
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State*
Yes, Davis Mills could continue to play well and hang on to the starting QB gig, but if the Texans are picking this early, it’s likely he didn’t show enough to keep the front office from considering a quarterback in the draft. And even though Mills had a strong rookie year, Houston was still No. 26 in the league in QBR (36.6). Stroud is a technically sound signal-caller who seems to get better in every game he plays. In 2021, Stroud completed 71.9% of his passes for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Biggest needs: WR, EDGE, DT
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU*
The Jaguars have young talent in key spots after back-to-back years with the No. 1 overall pick, and Trevor Lawrence’s continued progress is the team’s most important goal. Jacksonville spent record-setting money in free agency, including signing Brandon Scherff and Christian Kirk, but it still lacks a bona fide go-to target on the perimeter. Boutte is an explosive play waiting to happen and brings a playmaking element that the current receiver room lacks. He missed a lot of last season with a leg injury but still found the end zone nine times.
Biggest needs: WR, TE, OT
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama*
Rookie Desmond Ridder has been a bright spot this preseason, and Marcus Mariota is set to be the early starter, but neither quarterback has Young’s upside. Young’s slender 6-foot-1, 194-pound frame will be a never-ending talking point, but he has all of the requisite traits to be Atlanta’s next franchise quarterback. Young enters the season as my QB1 after throwing for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns in 2021. The moment is never too big for him, and he plays the game with the same heartbeat, no matter the magnitude of the game.
Biggest needs: OL, DL, QB
Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern*
Drafting this early would be uncharacteristic for the Steelers, so how do they take advantage? Skoronski has a well-rounded skill set and shows consistency as both a run-blocker and pass-protector. He has played primarily offensive tackle at Northwestern, but there will be a debate about whether he is a guard or tackle at the next level. Regardless, Pittsburgh could use help all over, and that versatility would be welcome. Only the Dolphins had a worse pass block win rate than the Steelers’ 48.8% last season, which isn’t an ideal situation for Kenny Pickett once he takes over as the starting QB.
Biggest needs: OL, CB
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State*
Baker Mayfield will get a trial year as the starter under center, and maybe he can keep the team out of the QB market next April. Kentucky’s Will Levis could be the long-term answer in this spot, especially since Matt Corral is the only passer under contract beyond 2022 at the moment. But for now, I’m looking elsewhere: Smith-Njigba is a true WR1 candidate and is as efficient as they come out of the slot, posting more than 1,600 receiving yards last season. A smooth and consistent pass-catcher, he presents mismatch opportunities inside, and pairing him with DJ Moore would give the Panthers a creative 1-2 punch.
Biggest needs: QB, LB, DL
Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Levis is instinctive, tough and still ascending. He fits the mold of what the Lions have moved toward during the Dan Campbell/Brad Holmes regime. Jared Goff is a serviceable placeholder, but Levis could be someone Detroit could build around. He has a strong arm and plenty of mobility. Levis is a work in progress, though, and I’d like to see him develop his decision-making this season. He threw for 2,826 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2021, and he ran for 376 more yards and nine more TDs.
Biggest needs: QB, LB, RB
Kentucky QB Will Levis joins The Paul Finebaum Show and explains how he’s avoided external noise and narrowed his focus onto the team.
Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
With Stroud, Young and Levis off the board, Seattle might wait a on a quarterback. The Seahawks also have the Broncos’ first-rounder, and they don’t seem to be in a rush with the rebuild. Besides, the Seahawks need help in a lot of places. Smith is a powerful edge rusher with good burst and is aggressive against the run. Some evaluators were surprised to see him return for his senior season, but he still needs to add more pass-rush moves to his repertoire to unlock the next stage of his development.
Biggest needs: QB, LB, WR
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida*
GM Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll helped develop Josh Allen in Buffalo, and they could do the same with Richardson, a toolsy yet inexperienced passer. Evaluators will be watching Richardson closer than any other player this year, now that he is Florida’s unquestioned QB1 after rotating series in multiple games last season. With a 6-foot-4, 232-pound frame and strong arm, he has the traits to be a very high draft pick, but the sample size is just too small (66 passes and 58 rushing attempts) and the consistency isn’t quite there yet. The Giants did not pick up Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option, so they will likely be in the QB market next offseason.
Biggest needs: QB, C, WR
The Miami Dolphins were stripped of their first-round draft pick for 2023 (projected by ESPN’s FPI to be No. 11 overall) after violating league anti-tampering policies.
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia*
Cornerback sits atop the Commanders’ positional needs, and Ringo is big, physical and speedy. As a 19-year-old redshirt freshman in 2021, his ability to make splash plays stood out, including a game-sealing pick-six in the national title game against Alabama. He is still developing and has to play faster this season, but Ringo has a chance to be the first cornerback off the board. Washington allowed 7.6 yards per pass attempt last season, sixth worst in the NFL.
Biggest needs: CB, LB, OT
Trenton Simpson, ILB, Clemson*
Simpson, one of my favorite prospects to study this summer, is as versatile as they come, and there isn’t much he hasn’t already shown on the tape. He makes impact plays as a blitzer. He flips his hips and runs in coverage. And he sets the edge as the end man on the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins need a defensive playmaker at the second level, and Simpson racked up 64 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks last season.
Biggest needs: LB, RB, C
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame*
The success of the Austin Hooper signing (one-year deal) and the development of rookie fourth-round pick Chigoziem Okonkwo could completely change the Titans’ tight end outlook, but for now, Mayer would add another dimension to an offense that relies on the position. He is a willing blocker, but his greatest asset comes as a pass-catcher with plenty of run-after-catch ability. Mayer reminds me of former Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
Biggest needs: WR, TE, OT
Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina*
The Bengals are searching for more depth and young talent at cornerback, and Smith has length, aggressiveness and a great demeanor. He has to play with more control in his press-man technique, but his ball skills are one of his better traits, as displayed by three picks and 11 passes broken up in 2021. A person on South Carolina’s coaching staff told me Smith “is poised to take the next step and has looked unbelievable during camp.”
Biggest needs: TE, CB, DT
Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson*
The Eagles’ draft outlook rests on the shoulders of quarterback Jalen Hurts. GM Howie Roseman gave the team a lot of flexibility by picking up an additional first-rounder, and if Hurts doesn’t take the next step, Philadelphia might use one of the picks on a QB — or package them to move up for one. But with Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox both potentially nearing free agency, the Eagles might also opt to address the interior of the defensive line for a second consecutive year. Bresee is a quick-footed and powerful 3-technique who flashes on tape but needs to stay healthy as he returns from a torn ACL that limited him to only four games in 2021.
Biggest needs: CB, S, RB
Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland
Early indications are it might be a down year at offensive tackle, but one who could rise quickly is Duncan. He showed a lot of promise last season, but his tape is littered with inconsistent moments. He has the light feet to match pass-rushers coming off the edge, though his hand placement and consistency as a run-blocker must improve. The Alex Leatherwood experiment seems to be entering its final stages of hope for Las Vegas, so adding Duncan would provide competition at right tackle with rookie Thayer Munford Jr. Duncan has a lot of similarities to Christian Darrisaw, a Vikings first-rounder in 2021, as a prospect.
Biggest needs: S, OT, CB
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State*
After playing out of position at guard last season, Johnson returns to his natural left tackle spot. A highly touted five-star recruit upon arriving to Columbus, he must show scouts that he has a much better feel at tackle. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, the junior blocker displays plenty of body control and the physicality necessary in spurts. With Isaiah Wynn scheduled to become a free agent after the season, offensive tackle could quickly become the top need for the Patriots.
Biggest needs: OT, WR, LB
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson*
More help in the trenches? Roseman understands what has made him successful during his time as Philadelphia’s GM: having depth along the defensive front. Murphy is an intriguing edge rusher who is still piecing together his overall game. But he has the length, strength and quick first step out of the starting blocks, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise should he turn himself into a top-15 pick. The Eagles had just 29 sacks last season, 31st in the NFL.
Biggest needs: CB, S, RB
Jordan Addison, WR, USC*
Addison would be an obvious target for the Ravens, who have unproven options that lack high-end upside on the perimeter. He is great at gaining separation and is a true route technician, able to create throwing lanes for quarterbacks. Now in a Lincoln Riley-led offense that has produced first-round receivers like Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb, Addison could be in store for an even bigger season. And that’s saying something since he had 100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns at Pitt in 2021.
Biggest needs: WR, EDGE, CB
Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame*
Minnesota’s roster is a bit top-heavy in multiple spots, and that includes edge rusher. Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith are the clear starters, but after that, the depth is scarce. Foskey has rotated multiple positions and is still trying to find a home at a particular one, but he projects best as an outside linebacker. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah showed with his first draft class as the Vikings’ GM that he values first-step explosion in prospects, and Foskey possesses plenty of that. Foskey is also a playmaker, recording five forced fumbles last season.
Biggest needs: C, TE, EDGE
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon*
Gonzalez was a huge addition for the Ducks after playing the previous two seasons at Colorado, and he’s now generating early draft buzz. And Arizona’s depth chart at corner lacks depth beyond 2022. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Gonzalez is a big corner with outstanding play patience. He gets his eyes on the ball and makes plays on it, racking up 11 pass breakups over the past two seasons. But now scouts want to see him generate turnovers; he hasn’t yet recorded an interception during his career.
Biggest needs: CB, EDGE, OT
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
The Texans are still in the “stacking talent” phase of their rebuild, and Wilson has a chance to skyrocket up boards this fall. At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds with a 35⅝-inch arms and an almost 86-inch wingspan, he has physical traits that evaluators drool over. Wilson is still raw, but he could be a big riser this season. Houston tied for the fifth-fewest sacks last year (32), and Wilson (7.0 sacks in 2021) could provide a big boost off the edge.
Biggest needs: WR, EDGE, DT
Andre Carter II, EDGE, Army*
Even after using a first-round selection on an edge rusher this past April (George Karlaftis), the Chiefs could look that way again. Carter is loose and springy off the edge and places a tremendous amount of stress on pass-protectors. Lining up primarily as a wide 9-technique, he understands how to get up the field and threaten the far hip of blockers. But Carter still has to find his way with countermoves and as a run-blocker. Army has not produced a draft pick since 2008, and the school’s last first-rounder came in 1947.
Biggest needs: EDGE, OT, WR
Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami (Fla.)*
With Geno Smith and Drew Lock expected to seesaw atop the depth chart this season, the Seahawks need to find a long-term answer at QB, and after going a different direction with their first Day 1 pick, Van Dyke is still here at No. 24. Despite an extremely small sample size (10 games, nine starts), he showed potential in those matchups and has excellent arm strength. But there were also too many moments in which he showed his youth last season. With more experience, Van Dyke certainly could make his way up the draft board.
Biggest needs: QB, LB, WR
Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama*
It certainly has been an interesting offseason for Ricks. First, he made the surprise move from LSU to Alabama, then he was arrested on charges of speeding, driving without insurance and possession of marijuana. The marijuana charge was later dropped, and Ricks pleaded guilty to speeding. But on the field, Ricks is a turnover-creating machine. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he has similar qualities to Trevon Diggs as a playmaker, but you will also have to live with some inconsistent play. He has some Jekyll and Hyde to his game as a man-to-man corner. With Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting both scheduled to become free agents, Ricks would be a welcome addition opposite Carlton Davis III in Tampa Bay.
Biggest needs: CB, EDGE, QB
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU*
Colts GM Chris Ballard clearly values big-body playmakers who can win at the catch point but are also technical route runners. Just look at recent draft picks Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce. And at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Johnston is cut from a similar cloth. Martavis Bryant was the name I immediately wrote down after studying the TCU pass-catcher this summer. Johnston has strong hands, gets in and out of his breaks well for a bigger target and dominates at the catch point. He has averaged 20.0 yards per catch over his career.
Biggest needs: WR, CB, G
Quentin Johnston makes catch for 20-yard Receiving TD
Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas*
Landing spots for running backs in the first round are always tough to predict, but Robinson is a special talent at the position — and he could be picked a lot higher than this. With an outstanding blend of speed, power and tackle-breaking ability, he has the potential to be an immediate game-changer at the next level. D’Andre Swift has struggled to stay healthy, and Jamaal Williams is on an expiring contract, so Robinson fits right into an offense that continues to add exciting young players — including Levis earlier in this mock.
Biggest needs: QB, LB, RB
Siaki Ika, DT, Baylor*
At 6-foot-4 and 358 pounds, Ika is a key cog in the middle of the Bears’ defense and frees up other players on all three levels. He’s nimble for his size, a consistent pressure generator as a pass-rusher on all three downs and a force as a run-defender. The Chargers addressed their struggles up the middle a bit this offseason (signed Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson), but Ika immediately takes that improvement to another level.
Biggest needs: OT, DT, WR
Noah Sewell, ILB, Oregon*
Dallas could use another wide receiver after trading Amari Cooper, but considering the franchise hasn’t been shy about drafting linebackers in the first round in recent years, Sewell makes sense here. Adding the instinctive and physical hitter would free up Micah Parsons to work more off the edge. Sewell had 112 tackles and 4.0 sacks last season.
Biggest needs: LB, WR, CB
Jaheim Bell, TE, South Carolina*
Bell is a bit of a wild card, and he would have to put it all together this season to sneak into Round 1. I saw his standout performance in last season’s finale against North Carolina live (five catches, 159 receiving yards and two touchdowns) and loved his game. A coach with South Carolina told me he has been used as an F tight end and even a bit at running back so far in camp, and “he blocks his tail off when in line.” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers targets his tight ends often, and Bell could be a playmaker for him.
Biggest needs: EDGE, S, TE
Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M*
Johnson is a do-it-all safety who can play at multiple spots, including nickel cornerback. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are stars, but both will need new contracts within the next two years, so the Bills could look to find an heir apparent for one of them. This roster is already loaded, and Johnson would give Buffalo another versatile playmaker in the secondary.
Biggest needs: S, G, LB