Sicoli’s Selections: 2023 NFL Mock Draft

Michael Sicoli, Staff Writer

It’s the day of dreams and nightmares, the time that hundreds of NFL Draft prospects have been waiting for. The 2023 NFL Draft has everyone praying for times like this, a chance to get picked like this and let their dreams unfold before their nightmares come true. 

Hold up, wait a minute. Let’s just get to the predictions for the first round already.

There will not be trades projected in this mock draft. This is the fourth annual “Sicoli’s Selections.” To check out the previous versions, click here.

The Miami Dolphins forfeited the No. 21 selection in the NFL Draft for tampering with quarterback Tom Brady during the 2019-20 season and again in 2021. As a result, there are only 31 picks in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft.

1. The Carolina Panthers select:

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is No. 1 on NFL Network media analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s Big Board. (The University of Alabama)

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was once the proud owner of this spot in the minds of many, but recent projections have Young as the heavy favorite to become the Panthers’ next franchise quarterback. 

Young’s height — 5-foot, 10-inches tall while weighing 204 lbs — is a noticeable concern. He would share the title of “shortest starting NFL quarterback” with Arizona’s Kyler Murray. But besides that, Young has every intangible and statline one could dream of in a prospect, with an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and throw a receiver open. 

2. The Houston Texans select:

Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama

No, it’s not a quarterback. The Texans should and will favor a best-player-available approach, and Anderson is arguably the best player in this class. He dominated the Southeastern Conference in 2021 with a ridiculous 31 tackles-for-a-loss and 17.5 sacks. Anderson’s 2022 campaign wasn’t all that far behind.

He’s a slam-dunk pick for the Texans, who haven’t finished in the top 16 for sacks-per-game since 2018 (14th).

3. The Arizona Cardinals select:

Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech

The Cardinals at No. 3 have been a rumored trade-up spot all offseason, especially if Anderson goes No. 2 to Houston. But in a mock without trades they stay put and address their ailing defensive line with the Red Raider product.

Wilson is a freak athlete with unusually long arms, which should make him a hassle for most offensive tackles. He may start slow, but the sky’s the limit at a premium position for a team in no rush to compete.

4. The Indianapolis Colts select:

Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

Few have flown up draft charts like Richardson this offseason, who blew up the Combine with the best results by a quarterback ever. His accuracy is a worry, but he sees the field well and makes the right read often enough. His athleticism will be his calling card, and with the right offensive scheme Richardson may have the highest ceiling of anyone in his draft class.

After the Colts dealt with three different starting quarterbacks — each one seemingly worse than the last — they need to get it right this time. Richardson will get the fans back on board.

5. The Seattle Seahawks (from DEN) select:

Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

Not too long ago, Carter was in contention to go No. 1 overall to Chicago. However, after being charged with reckless driving in a racing incident that left two dead, Carter has fallen out of favor. The talent isn’t in question — there’s no better interior presence in this draft class — and Carter’s dominance played a huge role in Georgia’s back-to-back title defense.

Seattle has a desperate need of interior help, ranking 30th in rushing defense, and pass-rushing help never hurts anybody. Carter is the best player available at this point.

6. The Detroit Lions (from LAR) select:

Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

The Lions — now favorites to win their division for the first time since 1991 — have several options here. It could go quarterback through Will Levis, add a prominent edge rusher opposite last year’s first-round pick in Aidan Hutchinson or even add greater help on a strong offensive line.

Instead, Detroit helps its secondary that does need some retooling after ranking 30th in passing yards allowed. The Lions signed former Steeler Cameron Sutton and former Eagle C.J. Gardner-Johnson, but later traded starter Jeff Okudah to Atlanta. Gonzalez is a great athlete who should thrive on the outside. There are some technique nuances to work out — like some sloppy footwork at times — but you can’t teach athleticism and quickness.

7. The Las Vegas Raiders select:

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is No. 7 on NFL Network media analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s Big Board. (Maize & Blue Nation)

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Stroud should be off the board sooner than this, likely via trade with Arizona or Detroit. But in a world without trades the Raiders can happily skip to the podium and hand in Stroud’s name on the draft card.

Stroud has a great arm and can place a ball wherever a coach asks him to. It’s hard to find someone with as much poise in his throwing motion as Stroud. It was on full display in a dominant performance against Georgia in the College Football Playoff, coming a field goal away from being immortalized. Las Vegas knows new quarterback Jimmy Garroppolo is nothing more than a stopgate, and Stroud gets the chance to adjust to the NFL game at his own pace this way.

8. The Atlanta Falcons select:

Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

The fact that the Bulldogs waltzed through TCU in the College Football National Championship without Smith is a testament to how great that program is. But Smith reminded everyone who he was with a scary good Combine performance.

He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash with a 1.59 10-yard split at the Combine, as well as an impressive 41.5” vertical jump. He’s a bit undersized for a traditional 3-4 linebacker, but Atlanta will find a good use for him in its scheme. The Falcons — and every team after this spot — could also trade back for a team wanting Will Levis.

9. The Chicago Bears (from CAR) select:

Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

The Bears went to the Ohio State hole a couple years ago for quarterback Justin Fields. Now they go back there to find a big mammoth of an offensive tackle to protect him.

Johnson has some fine tuning to do in terms of technique — he can be beat if he doesn’t get his long arms on a defender early — but he’s young and athletic. The kinks will get worked out over time.

10. The Philadelphia Eagles (from NO) select:

Devon Whitherspoon, CB, Illinois

The Eagles have two first-round picks and no clear need on their roster. It’s a pretty good place to be for the defending NFC champions. 

Whitherspoon is one of the best players available, boasting terrific length and athleticism while adding some needed depth at cornerback. James Bradberry and Darius Slay are back, but both are older. The ramifications of Jalen Hurts’ new deal means Whitherspoon can save the Eagles some important money down the line.

11. The Tennessee Titans select:

Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

The Titans are in purgatory, so grabbing a decade-long starter is a good place to be. Skoronski played exceptionally well at Northwestern and while his short arms may project him best for guard, he should find a starting role on a wanting Titans offensive line. 

Tennessee could go a number of directions, but pairing talent available with team needs makes Skoronski the pick.

12. The Houston Texans (from CLE) select:

Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

There is a good likelihood that the Texans move up from No. 12 to grab Levis or Stroud, because Davis Mills will not be the 2023 starting quarterback. 

Here they land Levis, who is a bit of a project. He’s got a good arm and prototypical quarterback size but has a bad tendency to miss throws. Injuries may have factored into a disappointing second-half of 2022, but either way, Levis finds a home and Houston finds its quarterback.

13. The Green Bay Packers (from NYJ) select:

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

The Packers swapped firsts in the Aaron Rodgers trade for a reason. I originally had Smith-Njigba mocked to the Patriots at  No. 14, but now the former Buckeye has a new home in Wisconsin.

Smith-Njigba barely played due to a nagging hamstring injury in 2022, with just five catches to his name on the season. But it’s what he did as a sophomore that really stood out. He burst out onto the scene with over 1,600 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, all while sharing the field with last year’s first-round picks in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. The Packers need an alpha to work with Christian Watson, and Smith-Njigba can be that talent.