With the NFL trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the next real opportunity for a franchise to improve its roster won't occur until next offseason. A look toward the future regarding incoming talent can be an exciting proposition, particularly in cases where the current season hasn't gone as planned.
Free agency often grabs the headlines because of the marquee names involved and the amount of money thrown around in an attempt to quickly improve an area of weakness. But the best-run organizations prioritize the draft to build a consistent winner.
NFL scouts will be coming off the road later this month, with initial boards being pieced together in early December by most front offices. A working understanding of how the next batch of talent looks often dictates how a team proceeds when addressing its roster construction.
Bleacher Report's Scouting Department of Brandon Thorn, Brent Sobleski, Cory Giddings, Derrik Klassen and Matt Holder are currently evaluating potential prospects across the country and at every level. This projection serves as the next step of where certain pieces may fit into the puzzle based on their evaluations.
Two things must be noted for this particular mock draft:
1. Draft slotting is up to date based on record and opponent strength of schedule—which is standard operating procedure—courtesy of Tankathon.
2. The NFL stripped the Miami Dolphins of their own first-round pick after the league found the organization tampered with other teams' coaches and players. Only 31 selections will comprise next year's first round.
Otherwise, the next class looks far more potent near the top than it did this year, particularly with a pair of quarterbacks who appear destined to hear their names called very early in the process.
1. Detroit Lions: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
Quarterback Jared Goff may not be the problem with the Detroit Lions, but he's certainly not the solution.
As current owners of the No. 1 overall draft pick, the Lions have an obvious choice to make at the game's most important position.
"Ohio State's C.J. Stroud can slot into the Lions' lineup and immediately provide what Jared Goff does with the potential to grow into more down the line," Klassen stated.
"Stroud has a nice arm and reliable accuracy, making him a deadly point-and-shoot pocket passer. Though he doesn't run often, Stroud also presents wonderful mobility—more than enough to grow into a consistent threat as a scrambler and off-script passer if he can hone that playmaker mentality."
A move away from Goff rather than trying to create a situation where he serves as a bridge for Stroud—which isn't necessary—can save the Lions $25.7 million by designating the veteran as a post-June 1 release, according to Over The Cap.
Detroit traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, knowing exactly what Goff is as a quarterback. All things considered, he's been fine.
But Detroit reached the same point that the Rams eventually did. Goff has limited the offense, whereas a talent like Stroud creates an opportunity for more upside and better overall play in a league where elite quarterback performances are necessary to compete at the highest level.
2. Houston Texans: Edge Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Davis Mills may get another year behind center as the Houston Texans' starting quarterback because certain talents might be too tempting to bypass.
"The allure of drafting Will Anderson Jr.'s teammate, Bryce Young, will certainly be there for the Texans, but the edge rusher's talent is just too much to pass up," Holder said.
"He'll add some much-needed youth to their defensive line and be their best pass-rusher from Day 1. Anderson's blend of physicality and strength allows him to put offensive tackles on skates and be a force against the run."
Really, this particular argument comes down to taking the best player available or adhering to positional value. While pass-rushers are also considered premium positions, quarterbacks trump all.
In this case, the Texans still have a young quarterback with some promise, while the highest-rated QB, Stroud, is already off the board. Furthermore, Anderson is the clear-cut No. 1 overall prospect for next year's class.
By adding Anderson, the Texans are building an identity for themselves.
The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner is a terror off the edge in both phases of the game. The tandem of Anderson opposite a healthy Jonathan Greenard, as well as Derek Stingley Jr. and Jalen Pitre in the secondary, are a fantastic starting point for a standout defense.
3. Carolina Panthers: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
Mercifully, the Carolina Panthers' search for a starting quarterback comes to an end with the addition of Alabama's Bryce Young.
"No more veteran quarterbacks. Enough." Klassen pleaded. "It's time for the Panthers to finally invest through the draft, and there is no better time to do it than when accompanying a head coaching change.
"It's hard to know what kind of offense the Panthers will run next year, but that hardly matters with Young. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is lethal from the pocket, showcasing all the processing skills, pocket toughness and accuracy necessary to be a good pro.
"Young is also a shifty little devil outside of the pocket—not enough to be a piece of the running game but enough to be annoying. The only knock with Young is size at a listed 6'0" and 194 pounds. The Panthers don't get to be picky when they've been a disaster at quarterback since Cam Newton left."
Disaster may be an understatement. In the last three seasons, the team cycled through Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, a returning Newton, Baker Mayfield and now P.J. Walker.
They've all been half-measures in hopes of grabbing lightning in a bottle. Unsurprisingly, each has failed. But a silver lining emerges from the storm. A top-three draft pick after a rough season all but guarantees a quality quarterback prospect of some sort.
In this case, Young has the best natural feel for the position, as long as he holds up to the rigors of the NFL.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't used to picking among the draft's top five. In fact, the organization hasn't done so since it selected Terry Bradshaw with the No. 1 overall pick in 1970.
Staggeringly good on-field consistency stems from top-notch drafting. The Steelers don't hit on every pick, and they've struggled in this particular area a little more as of late. However, the organization knows talent when the front office sees it.
Georgia's Jalen Carter is special.
"From Joe Greene in the 70s to Cam Heyward now, the Steelers have always had some excellent defensive tackles, and Carter will add to that list," Holder said.
"He's physical and strong enough to hold up at the point of attack and win with power as a rusher, and he has nimbleness and athleticism to defeat blocks with finesse as well. The Georgia product is pretty much the complete package at defensive tackle."
Last season, the Bulldogs featured one of the best and most talented defenses in college football history. The national championship-winning unit featured five first-round picks, including this year's No. 1 overall selection, Travon Walker. Yet Carter was the best overall player on the unit.
Carter learning from Heyward and playing alongside T.J. Watt will once again give the Steelers a fearsome defensive front.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
Names such as USC's Jordan Addison, Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba and LSU's Kayshon Boutte dominated any conversation regarding the top wide receiver prospects going into this season. TCU's Quentin Johnston staked his claim to surpass them all in recent weeks.
Over the Horned Frogs' last four games, Johnston caught 30 passes for 536 yards and four scores. In some ways, the TCU product is a throwback to the type of top wide receivers often drafted among the top 10. The 6'4", 215-pound target fits the prototype for the position. He's a big, athletically-gifted X-receiver instead of a smaller, more explosive option.
Either way, the Jacksonville Jaguars could use more help on offense.
"Quarterback Trevor Lawrence needs a real deal receiver on the outside," Klassen stated. "Christian Kirk has been a nice addition in the slot. Without anyone to threaten defenses outside the numbers, the passing offense is still prone to stretches of nothing.
"Johnston gives off strong DeAndre Hopkins vibes, which is exactly what the Jaguars need. Johnston has outrageously long arms and nimble movement skills, giving him all the tools necessary to find the ball wherever he needs to. Additionally, Johnston gives the Jaguars a boost in the YAC department, which is something they struggle with right now outside of running back Travis Etienne Jr."
Lawrence's development has been slow. It's not entirely his fault. But the 2021 No. 1 overall pick hasn't consistently looked like a top prospect after being billed as the best collegiate quarterback since Andrew Luck. Help on the outside with a quartet of Johnston, Kirk, Zay Jones and the recently acquired Calvin Ridley will go a long way in the quarterback's maturation.
6. Las Vegas Raiders: OT Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State
Certain prospects just look the part. Penn State's Olumuyiwa Fashanu is the complete package when it comes to the physical tools necessary to excel as an NFL offensive tackle.
The first-year starter is 6'6" and 308 pounds, with long arms and impressive movement skills. Even though he's a work-in-progress, his natural traits are easily identifiable on tape.
The Las Vegas Raiders once took a similar swing on Kolton Miller, which turned out to be an excellent draft pick. But the organization's last first-round investment in the offensive line didn't fare as well.
"The Raiders missed on former Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood in the 2021 draft and could redeem themselves with the selection of the 19-year old phenom—Fashanu turns 20 in December," Thorn said.
"The third-year sophomore has only played 10 collegiate games but rapidly developed his technique to unlock his rare blend of size, athletic ability, balance and natural strength.
"Fashanu has only played left tackle and may need to bump over to the right side with Miller in place, but the Raiders would immediately upgrade the position even with that projection baked into the equation while adding a potential All-Pro down the road at a premium position."
A stable front, particularly on the right side, will create a ripple effect to improve the Raiders' entire offense under Josh McDaniels' direction.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got old. As a result, previously prominent names are no longer with the team. Others are banged up or less effective than they once were.
The team's once-ferocious pass rush is a prime example.
Jason Pierre-Paul didn't re-sign with the organization after last season, and Shaquil Barrett is currently on injured reserve with a torn Achilles tendon. A reinvestment in the position can help the squad return to its roots, in a way.
"Murphy reminds me a lot of Jason Pierre-Paul, who the Bucs have been missing this season," Holder said.
"Both are listed around 6'5" and 275 pounds and have rare athleticism for their size to win with finesse and power as pass rushers. In my opinion, this is the steal of the top 10 as Murphy has top-five talent, and pairing him with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will give Tampa Bay a couple of really impressive young pass rushers."
Tryon-Shoyinka, whom the team selected in the first round last year, has yet to experience that truly breakthrough moment. In fact, nose tackle Vita Vea currently leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
As the former top draft pick continues to develop and Barrett rebounds from his injury next year, Murphy's addition gives the Buccaneers a much better chance at consistently harassing opposing quarterbacks without being forced to manufacture pressure.
8. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans): CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
The Philadelphia Eagles built a fantastic pass defense, which is currently ranked fourth overall. In order to do so, they got a little lucky along the way.
The New York Giants had to release James Bradberry for salary-cap purposes before he signed in Philadelphia as a free agent. The New Orleans Saints had to see the writing on the wall with C.J. Gardner-Johnson's next contract before trading him to Philadelphia.
These are big moves that helped complete what previously looked like a depleted secondary.
However, neither is currently signed to the team beyond this season. As such, the secondary is a good place to start with the first of the Eagles' two first-round draft picks.
"With Bradberry being on a one-year deal, Porter is a great pick for the Eagles as they look to get younger," Giddings said. "A physical man corner with great length and athleticism, Porter has the versatility to play in both press and off coverage. He fits exactly what the Eagles' defense likes to do and should quickly find a role as a starting cornerback in that secondary."
Bradberry does turn 30 next year. The chance to get younger, cheaper and more athletic at a premium position is smart.
Plus, Porter will bring a bulldog mentality to his new team. Very few cornerbacks play with the same physicality and zeal as Porter does. His approach can get him in trouble with his coverage, as he becomes too grabby, but his overall competitiveness might be the best in the entire class.
9. Houston Texans (from Cleveland): DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
Earlier, the Houston Texans chose the top-rated prospect in the entire class with the second overall pick. There, we discussed the franchise finally building an identity with the young talent found on defense.
The selection of Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee is a continuance of that approach.
Bresee entered the collegiate game as a 5-star recruit and the nation's top overall talent, per 247Sports Composite ranking. He's been slowed a bit since joining the Tigers, but his skill set is obvious.
"Injuries have been the biggest thing holding Bresee's draft stock back so far," Holder mentioned. "He missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL and has been banged up this year as well.
"When he is on the field, it's easy to see why he was a top recruit coming out of high school. His blend of strength, size (6'5", 305 pounds) and athleticism should translate well to the NFL, where he can be more productive as a pro if he stays healthy."
The Texans have spent the last two seasons tearing down their roster and trying to build something of substance. While quarterback still remains in question, the idea of creating an elite defensive front with accompanying playmakers on the back end to offset the likes of Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor and Trevor Lawrence in the AFC South is a good plan.
10. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver): Edge Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
The Seattle Seahawks pulled the NFL's move of the year—maybe even the century—when they traded former franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. As part of the package, Seattle received a pair of first-round picks.
The organization can now get back to building the roster as it prefers instead of trying to cater toward a malcontent behind center. Head coach Pete Carroll likes to run the ball and play good defense.
General manager John Schneider used the first on promising left tackle Charles Cross, who's been a Day 1 starter. With the offensive line now settled, Schneider can turn his attention to the other side of the ball.
Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey has the skill set to thrive as a Leo or Otto in Pete Carroll's preferred defensive scheme.
"Much like Notre Dame's season as a whole, Foskey has been up and down in 2022," Holder noted. "He had a chance to establish himself against an NFL-quality offensive tackle in Week 1 against Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. but was held without a sack.
"Then Foskey had at least a half-sack in the next three games before getting blanked in the next two contests. Now, he has four sacks in the last two games. He's shown plenty of flashes as a pass rusher, but consistency will be key for him moving forward."
Foskey, paired with Uchenna Nwosu, gives the Seahawks a highly athletic and flexible duo to work off the edges as bookends.
11. Arizona Cardinals: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The Arizona Cardinals are old and falling apart along their offensive line. So, everyone should probably expect the selection of a wide receiver at this point.
All joking aside, the Cardinals offense lacks a solid foundation.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries turns 30 next year. Right tackle Kelvin Beachum and guard Justin Pugh—the latter of whom suffered a season-ending torn ACL—are in the last years of their current deals. Center Rodney Hudson nearly retired this past offseason and will likely miss his fifth straight game in Week 9 with a knee injury.
A reliable blocker capable of starting at multiple spots sounds like a great starting point for the entire unit.
"Northwestern's Peter Skoronski is a polished, experienced and refined blocker, who could stick at tackle or potentially bump inside and play guard," Thorn said. "He is a similar prospect as former North Carolina State left tackle Joe Thuney with the skill set to start right away in the NFL.
"Skoronski has incrementally improved his anchoring ability since last season to help mitigate shorter arms (around 32 inches), but a lack of length could ultimately force a move inside.
"The first-team All-Big Ten performer's advanced understanding of leverage, body control and use of hands should translate to a long-term quality starter on the offensive line for a Cardinals team in desperate need of one at multiple different positions."
12. Chicago Bears: WR Jordan Addison, USC
The Chicago Bears should be happy with any addition at wide receiver to help quarterback Justin Fields. They'll be ecstatic to land the class' best wide receiver at running routes and creating separation.
USC's Jordan Addison is nearly uncoverable, even in tight spaces.
"Addison got Kenny Pickett drafted 20th overall. Surely, he can upgrade the Bears passing offense and help take Justin Fields to a new level," Klassen said. "At 6'0" and 175 pounds, Addison is a bit smaller than the others at the top of this class. What he lacks in size he makes up for with outrageous explosiveness and light feet.
"The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner is quick as a wink, both in his routes and with the ball in his hands. Best of all, Addison knows how to climb the ladder and fight for the ball despite his slight frame. Addison gives the Bears an explosive threat who they can feed targets to and is exactly the type of player the offense is currently missing."
To underscore just how much this type of addition is needed, the Bears currently rank dead last in passing attempts and passing yards per game.
Fields has shown signs of life in recent weeks and still presents franchise potential. He gets to work with Chase Claypool for a couple of months after Chicago acquired the big target at the trade deadline.
An extra security blanket in the passing game can go a long way for last year's 11th overall draft pick to realize his full potential as something far more than a dangerous athlete behind center.
13. Green Bay Packers: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Even the thought of the Green Bay Packers finally investing a first-round pick in a wide receiver at the tail end of Aaron Rodgers' career is hilarious. Rodgers may call it a career next offseason, which would make the situation even more amusing.
Whatever the case, the Packers have stubbornly avoided truly addressing the position for far too long. Their attempt at trading up for Christian Watson doesn't make up for years of neglect, nor do unexpected contributions from fourth- and seventh-round rookies Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure, respectively.
"The Packers can not wait until Days 2 and 3 to target wide receiver again," Klassen said. "They need to take a swing on a premium talent.
"Injuries have complicated what should be Jaxon Smith-Njigba's final college season, but the talent is still there. When healthy, Smith-Njigba is a tough, smooth slot receiver with plenty of size (6'1", 200 pounds) to have the advantage over most slot cornerbacks. Smith-Njigba is not the fastest or most explosive threat, but he fits the bill for a team that desperately needs a reliable pass-catcher to feed the ball."
Smith-Njigba is an excellent talent stuck in an odd setup. He'd be WR1 for almost every team around the nation, yet he was considered the lesser option with Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson both on the field. Marvin Harrison Jr.'s emergence this year changed the Buckeyes' passing attack. Smith-Njigba will have never been the best receiver on his own team as he enters the NFL ranks. Green Bay shouldn't care.
14. Detroit Lions (from LA Rams): CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
Things aren't going well in Detroit.
As seen earlier, the Lions own this year's No. 1 overall pick, which already makes them the league's worst team. The season began to quickly unravel after a promising start. Since the squad's Week 2 victory over the Washington Commanders, the Lions lost five straight games and surrendered 24 or more points in all of them.
Currently, Detroit ranks dead last in scoring defense. Both the team's run and pass defense rank among the league's bottom six. There doesn't seem to be a solution as to what's going wrong other than to fire secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant this week.
The only thing Detroit can do is add more talent to the back end and hope the next coach (or coaching staff) can properly develop another young cover corner alongside Jeff Okudah.
"South Carolina's Cam Smith comes with great length in this draft class," Giddings stated. "He has the ability to play in both man and zone schemes and does a very good job of showing off his ball skills. With Okudah coming on strong and playing up to his first-round status, the Lions would do well by securing a bookend corner."
Smith has been dinged throughout this season. However, he can play outside the numbers or over the slot. As Giddings noted, the redshirt junior has excellent ball skills to locate and pluck the ball out of the air, with six career interceptions and 17 defended passes.
A quarterback followed by a corner gives the Lions a premium position bingo after drafting offensive tackle Penei Sewell and defensive end Aidan Hutchinson in back-to-back classes.
15. Indianapolis Colts: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
Kentucky's Will Levis already has Peyton Manning's seal of approval, which will go a long way with the Indianapolis Colts and, specifically, owner Jim Irsay.
"I like Will Levis. This guy is an NFL quarterback," Manning said during an ESPN College Gameday broadcast in Knoxville, Tennessee (h/t The Athletic's Kyle Tucker).
The Colts appear fully frustrated and completely done with the constant turnover at quarterback. The team's recent decision to permanently bench an injured Matt Ryan for former sixth-round draft pick Sam Ehlinger seems to be the franchise's breaking point.
The importance of finding a long-term solution to replace Andrew Luck, who abruptly retired three years ago, feels palpable for a team clearly in desperation mode.
Levis has the physical traits and maturity to step in immediately and secure the position.
"Ehlinger produced better than many expected in his first start," Klassen noted, "but it's hard to imagine he's actually the team's long-term plan at quarterback.
"Last week's struggles against Tennessee aside, Levis gives the Colts a shot at a strong-armed pocket passer. The Penn State transfer is coming out of college with plenty of experience under center and turning his back to the defense, something many of his peers cannot claim. The 6'3", 232-pound Levis has a big arm and a do-or-die mentality in the pocket, giving him the tools to be a Ryan Tannehill-esque machine on play-action."
Considering the Colts' offense is built around running back Jonathan Taylor, a quarterback with a pre-established skill set to excel in Indianapolis' scheme may be a match made in heaven.
16. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
A tight end isn't a pressing need for the Cincinnati Bengals, but the value of Notre Dame's Michael Mayer at this point in the first round makes this an obvious choice, and his inclusion further builds upon a major strength.
Besides, Hayden Hurst is operating under a one-year deal this season.
"The Bengals offense has three Pro Bowl level receivers and a talented running back," Klassen said, "but they are missing a tight end to complete the picture.
"Mayer gives them the best chance at finishing skill player nirvana. Though not quite the blocker his size (6'5", 265 pounds) suggests, Mayer is a menacing pass-catcher. The junior prospect effortlessly finds the ball and plucks it out of the air like an apple off a tree. He's a smooth mover for a man his size, too, making him a tough cover when playing man coverage or in the red zone.
"Additionally, Mayer is a tank with the ball in his hand. He doesn't have terrifying speed, but his balance of agility, balance, and strength at that size is elite."
The thought of Mayer joining an offense that already features Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon just sent a collective shiver down the spines of the league's other 31 defensive coordinators.
17. New England Patriots: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
The New England Patriots offensive line hasn't come together as Bill Belichick had hoped, which makes it extremely difficult when the system is built around a young pocket passer.
"The Patriots moved Isaiah Wynn to right tackle this season, and Wynn has been unable to make the transition successfully, forcing the team to bring back Marcus Cannon to help contribute," Thorn mentioned. "With Wynn, Cannon and key backup Yodney Cajuste slated to hit free agency this offseason, the tackle position becomes one that will need to be addressed.
"Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. has lived up to his former 5-star rating coming out of high school this season after being forced to play at guard in 2021. He looks comfortable on an island for the Buckeyes. Johnson's efficient movement skills paired with good size (6'6", 310 pounds), athletic ability and competitive toughness give him a strong foundation to start right away in the NFL."
Johnson shows the potential to be a top-flight left tackle. His introduction to the lineup could push Trent Brown back to the right side. Or, the 21-year-old blocker can start his NFL journey by flipping sides.
Whatever the case may be, Wynn's time with the organization appears to be coming to an end after a promising start to the first-rounder's career. Johnson, meanwhile, is a significant talent upgrade for one of the tackle spots.
18. Washington Commanders: CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
Eli Ricks does exist.
After barely playing through the first seven games of the season, the LSU transfer finally entered the starting lineup for the Alabama Crimson Tide. More importantly, Ricks showed up and showed out. He looked like the projected first-round pick everyone assumed he'd be entering this season.
"Ricks endured a slow start while trying to gain Nick Saban's trust, though his Week 8 performance could be the kickstart to the second half of the season he needs," Giddings said. "As a ball hawk at LSU, he had shown the ability to lock down and take opposing receivers out of the game.
"With great size (6'2", 190 pounds), length and speed, Ricks does a great job of matching in press coverage and working down the field. The junior prospect must be consistent for the rest of the season for this pick to hold true. For one week, he has flashed the tools that made him a third-team All-American at his previous stop."
The Washington Commanders do feature a solid pass defense. But they just moved off of William Jackson III in a trade to the Pittsburgh Steelers and could use another outside corner. Ricks immediately enters that situation as the most talented cover corner of the bunch.
19. Atlanta Falcons: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
Quarterback may be far from settled in Atlanta, but the Falcons can make do with the likes of Marcus Mariota for another season or Desmond Ridder taking over the offense. However, an opportunity to land the class' best skill position player while simultaneously establishing a clear identity with the 19th overall pick makes too much sense.
Texas' Bijan Robinson shouldn't be viewed simply as a running back. He's an every-down option capable of excelling in all three phases of the position. Furthermore, he's a big play threat with every touch.
"Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is going to want a new Derrick Henry at some point," Klassen said. "This is as good an opportunity as any.
"The first-team All-Big 12 performer isn't the spitting image of Henry or anything—the collegiate back's acceleration, flexibility and receiving skills are all much better—but he's got the size (6'0", 222 pounds) and all-star rushing talent to be a workhorse back in a league that doesn't have many of those left.
"Robinson would give the Falcons one of the most talented runners in the league right away without sacrificing much of the receiving value they are getting from Cordarrelle Patterson right now. Better yet, the Falcons would get to lock in a young offensive trio of Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Robinson."
Atlanta is slowly putting the pieces together with unique talents at their respective positions. Robinson is another.
20. Denver Broncos (from Miami via SF): OT Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse
The Bradley Chubb deal got the Denver Broncos back into the opening frame after trading this and last year's first-rounders for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson has yet to make the impact Denver expected upon his rival, but the organization is tied to Mr. Unlimited. As such, general manager George Paton must look at what he can do to make sure the Broncos get the most out of their $245 million man. Reliable protection is always a good starting point.
The Broncos aren't exactly settled at offensive tackle for next season. Billy Turner and Cameron Fleming are free agents next year. Denver might even consider moving off of left tackle Garett Bolles since he'll be 31, coming off a broken leg, and, aside from a $4 million prorated bonus, none of the remaining $14 million on his deal is guaranteed.
One or both tackle spots may need to be filled.
"Syracuse's Matthew Bergeron has made a significant jump this season at left tackle for the Orange, showing good footwork, use of hands and play strength in pass-protection with a finisher's mentality to sustain and finish blocks in the run game," Thorn said.
"Bergeron doesn't have ideal athletic ability or length for tackle, but can win with technique and strength, giving him a high floor as a solid starter in the NFL."
Bergeron excels in the run game, as Thorn noted. With Javonte Williams coming back next season after tearing up his knee, more emphasis could be placed on the run game to protect Wilson further and create more opportunities in the play-action passing game.
21. Los Angeles Chargers: WR A.T. Perry, Wake Forest
The Los Angeles Chargers appear set at their skill positions with quarterback Justin Herbert, running back Austin Ekeler, tight end Gerald Everett and wide receivers Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and even Josh Palmer. Are they really, though?
"No team in the league needs speed than the Chargers," Klassen said. "A DeSean Jackson or Jaylen Waddle-type isn't found at the top of the upcoming class, but an intriguing Courtland Sutton-type exists in Wake Forest's A.T. Perry.
"Perry is all of 6'5" and has the best deep speed in the class, at least among the receivers near the top. He has all the ball skills expected of a player his size, too. While 21st overall feels rich for Perry right now, it's hard to imagine a player with his size, speed, and contested-catch ability won't rise as the process continues."
With a talent like Herbert behind center, the Chargers should take full advantage of his entire toolbox. Herbert is counted among the league's best at pushing the ball down the field. An extra gear among the wide receivers would be a welcome addition.
Over his last 22 games at Wake Forest, Perry corralled 106 receptions for 1,845 yards and 20 touchdowns. He's a big-play threat ready to join an already potent offense.
22. Seattle Seahawks: DL Siaki Ika, Baylor
With a pair of first-round selections, the Seattle Seahawks take an inside-out approach to building their defense.
As part of the continuing Russell Wilson deal, the organization landed Isaiah Foskey to improve its pass rush with the 10th overall pick. Now, the group can build a wall along the defensive interior.
"The Seahawks' defensive line is getting a big boost in this mock draft with Foskey and Baylor Siaki Ika—'big' being the operative word," Holder said.
"At nearly 360 pounds, Ika is almost impossible to move one-on-one against the run and is surprisingly quick for someone his size, which helps him as a pass-rusher. That being said, it looks like the Baylor product put on some bad weight in the offseason, so he might want to cut some before the combine. He has plenty of size and strength to spare."
The emergence of Geno Smith at quarterback makes this approach possible.
The Seahawks can invest two first-round picks in their front seven because they're not searching for the all-elusive franchise quarterback. Smith may never be what Wilson was at his best. Yet a reliable option working within the scheme allows the entire team to just do its job and thrive.
Seattle must re-sign or place the franchise tag on Smith after this season, of course.
23. New York Jets: WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU
The biggest issue with Gang Green is at quarterback. Zach Wilson won't get replaced as the New York Jets' starting quarterback anytime soon, though. The thought of giving up on a top-three quarterback prospect is anathema to general managers.
The best way to get the most out of Wilson is by placing him in a well-constructed cockpit.
New York took its fair share of swings at wide receiver the last few years and has mostly struck out. Garrett Wilson aside, Corey Davis hasn't lived up to his big free-agent contract. Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore have both asked for trades this year. Tight end Tyler Conklin is currently the team's second-leading receiver with 32 catches.
Kayshon Boutte's season hasn't gone as expected. However, it's starting to turn around in recent weeks, with 16 receptions for 191 yards during his last three games. This selection is less about LSU's current setup and more about Boutte's natural skills.
"Drops, in particular, have plagued Boutte's season in a way that is hard to look past," Klassen noted. "That said, we all know the talent is there, considering how well he played a year ago, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him return to form in a new environment.
"At his best, Boutte would give the Jets a quick, fast target who can flex inside and outside as a nice option to replace Moore."
Garrett Wilson, plus Boutte and a returning Breece Hall from a torn ACL and meniscus injury, gives the Jets the type of weapons to determine whether Zach Wilson really is worth building around for the next five to 10 years.
24. Baltimore Ravens: Edge BJ Ojulari, LSU
A team can never have too many talented pass-rushers. The Baltimore Ravens know and live by this mantra.
"Baltimore does need a wide receiver. With the top options off the board, getting a young edge-rusher makes a lot of sense," Holder said.
"Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston are both 33 years old and in the last year of their contracts, and pairing Ojulari with Odafe Oweh gives the Ravens a couple of impressive athletes off the edge for years to come. The LSU product can fly off the ball and has the bend to win with speed on the outside."
The cries for a wide receiver in this slot will surely come. The Ravens don't seem to prioritize position as other franchises do, though. Baltimore features a run-oriented offense, with a heavy reliance on its quarterback to make plays and the tight ends to be featured in the passing game.
As Holder rightly noted, the Ravens are old on the edge. Granted, more should be expected of Oweh and David Ojabo in the coming years. But a rotation featuring multiple highly athletic and explosive pass-rushers should allow the entire defense to thrive.
Baltimore surely isn't afraid to add these types of talents, as evidenced by the recent trade to acquire inside linebacker Roquan Smith. Odafe, Ojabo, Ojulari, Smith and Patrick Queen can all run to get after and squeeze throwing lanes for Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson and Kenny Pickett.
25. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
The Kansas City Chiefs emphasized their offensive line play after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive front completely ruined any and all attempts for Patrick Mahomes and Co. to generate offense during Super Bowl LV.
The interior performed very well after adding Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. Offensive tackle has been more of a rollercoaster ride.
Both left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and right tackle Andrew Wylie have been marginal at best and surrendered too much pressure. Neither is signed beyond this season. Brown, in particular, may not get the deal he hoped for prior to signing this year's franchise tag.
A reassessment of the position seems necessary, and another infusion of talent could be forthcoming.
"Ohio State's Dawand Jones is a mammoth of a man (6'8", 359 pounds) with tantalizing upper body size and strength that would be a natural replacement for Orlando Brown Jr. if he were to walk in free agency next off-season," Thorn said. "Jones has shown marked improvement this season compared to last by playing with more patience and body control to accentuate his size.
"Jones is an overwhelming obstacle to work around in pass protection with notable technical improvements and a nasty streak to finish blocks consistently. Being able to play under renowned offensive line coach Andy Heck to foster his development while operating inside the ultra-friendly offensive line scheme of Andy Reid would be the ideal situation for Jones' potential to be maximized."
26. Dallas Cowboys: TE Darnell Washington, Georgia
The Dallas Cowboys didn't strike a contract extension with Dalton Schultz before the tight end signed his franchise tag.
Schultz will be looking for a significant payday, while the Cowboys once again lack financial flexibility going into another offseason. Eventually, the numbers could work themselves out, and the two sides might stay together. If not, the Cowboys should look at tight ends early in the draft process.
"Georgia's Darnell Washington is a one-of-one athlete for the position," Klassen stated. "Washington is listed at 6'7" and 270 pounds, but he moves much smoother across the field than those numbers suggest. He's got plenty of athletic ability to function in space, particularly when he gets to work vertically down the seams.
"Of course, the massive tight end still does all of the things his frame suggests. Washington is a ball-winner over the middle as well as a nasty blocker in the run game. While he may never be a truly elite pass-catcher, he checks every box and gives the Cowboys a unique weapon to potentially replace Schultz."
Even if Schultz returns, a Washington selection shouldn't be ruled out entirely. Due to his size and uniqueness, Dallas can rely heavily on 12 personnel packages to create mismatches, with those tight ends working the middle of the field or blocking for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
27. New York Giants: LB Noah Sewell, Oregon
The New York Giants signed linebacker Blake Martinez to a three-year, $30 million free-agent contract prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. The tackling machine was supposed to solidify the middle of New York's defense.
Instead, Martinez played one healthy season before suffering a torn ACL in 2021 and being a surprise cut before the start of the current campaign to save money toward the salary cap.
Without Martinez, the Giants' linebackers are average at best. Meanwhile, Oregon's Noah Sewell is the class' top-graded second-line defender.
"It's been a few years since the Giants had a note-worthy linebacker as they've tried a few different options over the last few years," Holder mentioned.
"Sewell can steady the ship, but he might remind people in New York of the guy they just got rid of in Martinez. The Duck has a unique skill set where he's strong and physical against the run but misses too many tackles. He's athletic for his size (6'2", 253 pounds) and can hold up in man coverage but lacks eye discipline in zone coverage."
Another comparison should come to mind.
The Buffalo Bills drafted another really young and oversized linebacker in the first round during the 2018 NFL draft. Tremaine Edmunds became the Bills' defensive centerpiece after drafting quarterback Josh Allen in the same class.
Who served as assistant general manager and offensive coordinator of the Bills at the time? Giants general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll.
28. Tennessee Titans: IOL O'Cyrus Torrence, Florida
The Tennessee Titans know exactly where their bread is buttered. They're going to be a physical football team that relies on a powerful running game while playing fundamentally sound football.
Nothing the Titans do is sexy. But it's effective. Hence why it's important to ensure they're fortified in the trenches to assert their will against opponents.
Both starting guards—Nate Davis and Aaron Brewer—are free agents after this season. Brewer, in particular, hasn't provided the same physical presence that Rodger Saffold previously did. A bigger and better blocker at the point of attack will only make the group even stronger.
"The Titans offensive line has taken a step back this season due to key losses in free agency and injuries," Thorn said. "Reinforcing the unit will be a priority for the team this upcoming off-season to maintain their style of play up front, and Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence provides them with an immediate starter and ideal stylistic fit.
"At 6'5" and 347 pounds, Torrence engulfs defenders at the point of attack and shows the necessary balance to stay on his feet to sustain blocks while bringing a tone-setting presence as a finisher."
Again, there's nothing sexy about investing a first-round pick in the class' top-rated guard prospect. Yet the move is precisely what the Titans need to stay on track.
29. Minnesota Vikings: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida
Every team wants the next Josh Allen, even though Allen is the outlier.
The Buffalo Bills quarterback was a major project with sterling traits that just needed to be polished. Through Allen's own offseason efforts to incessantly work on his mechanics, combined with the stability found within the Bills organization over four seasons, he developed into an elite quarterback and MVP candidate.
It's not an easy process to maximize the skill sets of naturally gifted quarterback prospects who are much further behind on the developmental curve. Florida's Anthony Richardson will be the next test of whether it can be done.
The Minnesota Vikings are the perfect destination for Richardson.
"A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers bet the house on a young, uber-talented quarterback to sit behind their system quarterback for a season," Klassen said in a comparison to the 49ers' setup of Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance. "The Vikings have a chance to do the same thing at a much cheaper price.
"Richardson is wildly up and down from week to week, drive to drive and play to play. But his physical tools are rare. Richardson is 6'4" and 232 pounds with explosive mobility and an arm that could throw through the earth's core. Richardson just needs time, reps, and a stable environment. Kevin O'Connell's Vikings just might be able to give him that opportunity."
Kirk Cousins can start during the final year of his contract in 2023, allow Richardson to learn behind him and then give way to the Vikings' next starting quarterback.
30. Buffalo Bills: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
The Buffalo Bills are already the AFC's best and deepest team. General manager Brandon Beane is searching for complementary pieces to maximize the team's Super Bowl window.
Running back had oddly been a blind spot under the current regime, but the team rectified that approach by trading for Nyheim Hines right before the horn for the NFL trade deadline sounded.
With the backfield now addressed since Hines is signed through the 2024 campaign, the Bills can look elsewhere to fix another position of potential need. Safety and guard are possibilities, though the options at this point in the process aren't tempting.
Tremaine Edmunds is a free agent after this season. The Bills previously signed Matt Milano to a four-year, $41.5 million contract extension. Another significant contract at off-ball linebacker may not be in the cards, even for the team's leading tackler.
Instead, the Bills can look toward another young and physically gifted linebacker as a replacement.
"Clemson's Trenton Simpson entered the collegiate ranks as a 5-star recruit, and his talent has been obvious since he stepped onto campus," Sobleski said. "Simpson has taken over as starting inside backer after previously serving in the outside roles. He's an athletic 6'3", 240-pound defender who is still growing and learning the position.
"Clemson's leading tackler, who played running back in high school, can set the edge, move in space, locate the football, run down ball-carriers and blitz. He's coming on strongly to eventually work his way into first-round consideration thanks to his varied natural skill set."
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Edge Andre Carter II, Army
The defensive line and accompanying pass rush are always a priority for Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. The organization faces significant turnover on its front after this season, too.
Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and the recently acquired Robert Quinn are all free agents in 2023. The unit will still feature Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick, Jordan Davis, Derek Barnett and Milton Williams. Even so, the group's depth and overall quality could take a major hit.
Considering the Eagles have a pair of first-round draft picks thanks to last year's draft deal with the New Orleans Saints, who chose wide receiver Chris Olave, Philadelphia can add a quality front-seven prospect, even one that comes with a caveat or two.
"Philadelphia loves to address their pass rush in the first round, and there won't be a better pure pass-rusher than Army's Andre Carter II available this late in the first round," Holder said.
"He's an excellent speed rusher and has a wide array of inside counter moves to keep offensive tackles guessing throughout the game. However, buyer beware, as his run defense is pretty ugly, and he'll need to add some size and strength in the NFL. Some patience department will be necessary."
The Eagles are the perfect landing spot for Carter. He can serve as a situational pass-rusher early in his career. Furthermore, the team has the extra assets to spend just in case the West Point cadet doesn't receive a deferment for future deployment.