The 2023 NFL Draft is finally here. While all 32 NFL teams have certainly set their draft boards for this week's marquee event, there's a bit of wish-casting involved as there are players on each team's rankings they anticipate not being around when they are on the clock. However, here's a look at what the ideal pick for each NFL team would be when they are on the clock in Round 1.
This not a projection of what will happen but rather an analysis of the best player for each team if the draft went the way they hoped. Please note for the purpose of this exercise, a single player can only be named twice as two teams' ideal pick for the purpose of upholding a semblance of realistic expectations in terms of where a prospect could be picked.
1. Carolina Panthers: Bryce Young
The Panthers tipped their hand Tuesday, painting a vivid picture into which quarterback they're leaning toward taking first overall: Alabama's Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. Young has everything you would want in a quarterback: quick processing and decision-making moving through progressions; evading rushers with ease both inside and outside of the pocket, a great command of the playbook at the line of scrimmage; and top-level accuracy.
The one knock is his size, measuring in at 5-foot-10 while weighing 204 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, it's clear that the lack of desired size and question mark of NFL durability isn't an issue. Here's what Panthers general manager Scott Fittererwhen asked about Young's frame:
"I think nutritionally we can do some things to educate him, get him in the weight room," Fitterer. "When you really look at his lower body, his lower body has gotten bigger. He's put on a lot of mass down there. Lot of times quarterbacks don't want to lift upper body because you get a little bit bound up. But there's some things, he's gonna naturally put on size as he ages as well. Again, going back to Russ, I think he came out at 206 pounds. He's at 220 now. I mean, guys just grow. That's something he can control, that's something we can help him with. We can't control the height."
When a team has already mapped out a nutrition plus a strength and conditioning plan for a player, they're all-in.
2. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud
C.J. Stroud has the NFL build, accuracy, touch, and decision-making teams dream about in a quarterback prospect. He could use some seasoning in terms of his mobility usage outside of the pocket, but other than that, Stroud is a pretty clean prospect. The Texans would be an ideal landing spot with new offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, another graduate of the Kyle Shanahan school of offense, after spending two seasons as an offensive assistant (2019-2020), one as a passing game specialist (2021), and one as the passing game coordinator (2022) for the San Francisco 49ers.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Will Anderson Jr.
During his three college football seasons from 2020-2022, Will Anderson Jr. totaled 207 quarterback pressures, 71 quarterback hits, 58.5 tackles for loss, and 34.5 sacks. Do you know what all of those stats have in common? They all rank as the most in the nation since the 2020 season. Anderson is one of the best edge rushing prospects in the last five to 10 years, and he gives new Cardinals head coach, and former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon his latest top pass rusher.
4. Indianapolis Colts: C.J. Stroud
While the Colts will likely be choosing between Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson and Kentucky quarterback Will Levis with the fourth overall pick, they would probably prefer that C.J. Stroud falls to them. Houston is reportedly "Jacoby Brissett plus Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan. If the Colts had their way, they probably like to choose the safest, most pro-ready quarterback prospect in this draft: Stroud." for their second overall pick, so he may not become a Texan. Stroud would fit the mold of the taller, polished pocket passers the Colts have employed over the years from Andrew Luck to
5. Seattle Seahawks: Will Anderson Jr.
Defense was the Seahawks' weakness in 2022, allowing the eighth-most points per game in the entire league (23.6). A dominant defensive player could help elevate their pass rush that generated a 33.3% pressure percentage on opposing quarterbacks' dropbacks, barely above average at 15th in the league. This pick would also solidify the Seahawks' atrocious run defense, allowing 150.2 rushing yards per game, the third-most in the league. Seattle probably hopes a quarterback-starved team trades up with the Cardinals at three, leading to passers going off the board during the draft's first four picks. Anderson Jr. would add some much needed juice to the Seahawks' defense.
6. Detroit Lions: Jalen Carter
Theare known. On the gridiron, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter's production makes him the best defensive player on Georgia's back-to-back national title teams that were loaded with NFL talent, leading the way with 66 pressures and 15.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons. Watching him in person against TCU in the College Football Playoff National Championship game, it was mind-blowing to see his fluidity as he smoothly moved Horned Frogs offensive linemen out of the way with ease.
The Lions have made multiple moves to bolster their secondary like signing cornerback Cameron Sutton (three years, $33 million) and safety C.J. Gardner Johnson (one year, $6.5 million). Now, it's time to give last year's No. 2 overall pick, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, a dominant running mate on the line. The duo of Hutchinson and Carter could wreak havoc in opposing backfields for the next decade.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Tyree Wilson
One of the many things that impress about Tyree Wilson is how he can be just as willing and disruptive a defender against the run as he is when chasing a quarterback dropping back to pass. Wilson never gives up on a play, and with his 6-6 frame, he could continue to grow and become an even more physically imposing defensive force. Wilson would be a nice complement across from Maxx Crosby after Chandler Jones has been an underwhelming signing in Vegas.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Jalen Carter
The Falcons had the second-fewest sacks (21) and quarterback pressure rate (25.9%) in the NFL last season. Adding Carter, who may have been the draft's number one overall prospect prior to, would be a significant boost the the Falcons' defense in addition to allowing the Georgia Bulldog to stay home.
9. Chicago Bears: Peter Skoronski
Quarterback Justin Fields got sacked 55 times in 2022, tied for the most along with Russell Wilson. What a better way to fix the issue than by drafting Peter Skoronski, Pro Football Focus' highest-graded pass blocker (93.0) in college football in 2022? Plus, the former Northwestern Wildcat gets to stay in Northwestern's backyard.
10. Philadelphia Eagles: Devon Witherspoon
Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon makes a ton sense at 10th overall, given that one of his top strengths is the way he plays in zone coverage. The Eagles would be a schematic fit, given they ran zone on 71.7% of their defensive plays. Witherspoon possesses fantastic field vision, anticipating throws and jumping passing lanes by reading a quarterback's movements. Listed at 6-feet and weighing 188 pounds, he is extremely agile in coverage downfield with plenty of speed to keep up on vertical routes. Witherspoon plays with an attitude and plenty of energy as a willing, physical tackler, not something that can be said of all cornerbacks. His hit against Indiana this season showcased strong form and his ability to become a heat-seeking missile in the open field.
The Eagles also like to add talent at positions where they don't have a glaring need now, so they don't have to reach to address it later. Just look at their offensive and defensive line depth. This pick would do the same for their secondary.
11. Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson Jr.
The Titans allowed 49 sacks in 2022, tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Their quarterbacks -- QBs plural with Ryan Tannehill, Malik Willis, and Josh Dobbs -- were all banged up at various points last season as the Titans allowed a quarterback pressure on 39.7% of dropbacks, the third-highest rate in the league. Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. is a plug-and-play starter who can be the left tackle of the future as early as Week 1.
12. Houston Texans: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Empowering your young quarterbacks with weapons is the way to go. Look at Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is one of the most polished route-runners in this draft and has solid athleticism. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy Smith-Njigba is the only receiver that multiple teams he has spoken to have as a true first-round prospect. Being able to pair college teammates together -- like Burrow and Chase -- in Stroud and Njigba would be very ideal for Houston.
13. Green Bay Packers: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Empowering your young quarterbacks with weapons is the way to go. The Packers did this for Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love's future Hall of Fame predecessor, as he played alongside receivers Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones and Randall Cobb early in his career. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is one of the most polished route-runners in this draft and has solid athleticism. General manager Brian Gutekunst staked his reputation on the line by trading up to select Love in Round 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft. He and Green Bay would be best served putting Love in a position to succeed right away. Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs, and Smith-Njigba would be a solid pass-catching trio.
14. New England Patriots: Zay Flowers
Boston College's Zay Flowers is a smaller wide receiver (5-9, 182 pounds), but he's one of the top slot receivers in the draft. With Jakobi Meyers off to the Raiders and the Patriots desperately needing to rebuild Mac Jones' confidence, New England adds a receiver with arguably the most polished route tree in the entire draft. Bill Belichick's Patriots have plenty of success with smaller wide receivers such as Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Plus, New England has had plenty of opportunities to scout him over the years with him playing his college ball in-state. This pick just makes too much sense.
15. New York Jets: Paris Johnson Jr.
The Jets need better protection from the offensive line since a soon-to-be 40-year-old Aaron Rodgers is going to be their quarterback. Gang Green allowed their quarterbacks to be pressured on 35.9% of their dropbacks in 2022, the seventh-highest rate in the NFL. With Mekhi Becton's future unclear, here's a plug-and-play starter who can either fill his void or serve as the other tackle opposite him.
16. Washington Commanders: O'Cyrus Torrence
The most dominant offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl by all accounts was O'Cyrus Torrence. He'll be a Day One starter for the Commanders. Torrence could provide a big boost for whoever starts between Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett because Washington allowed a quarterback pressure rate of 37.8%, the sixth-highest in the NFL in 2022.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Broderick Jones
Former first-round pick Najee Harris averaged a lowly 3.8 yards per carry in 2022, the sixth-lowest in the NFL. He was barely better as a rookie with a 3.9-yards-per-carry average. Is that his fault or his offensive line's? This pick of the former Georgia Bulldog will give the Steelers more clarity into that answer as well as aide Kenny Pickett's growth with better pass protection.
18. Detroit Lions: Christian Gonzalez
Christian Gonzalez has tremendous size for the cornerback position at 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, a high-upside pick (4.38 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical) for what was a porous secondary in Detroit last season, allowing 245.8 passing yards per game, the third-most in the NFL. He would provide defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, a former NFL cornerback himself, with an explosive player to mold.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will Levis
Will Levis has the physical traits most NFL teams look for when scouting their franchise quarterback. However, he didn't quite have the college production to back up this high selection. The Buccaneers take a swing at potentially hitting a Josh Allen-like home run. They have to since they don't have the cap space to do much else in the wake of Tom Brady's retirement.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Christian Gonzalez
Defense was the Seahawks' weakness in 2022, allowing the eighth-most points per game in the league (23.6). Gonzalez has the kind of athleticism (4.38 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical) head coach Pete Carroll covets. Gonzalez could join Tariq Woolen to create a new age Legion of Boom in the Pacific Northwest.
21. Los Angeles Chargers: Jordan Addison
Empowering your young quarterback with weapons is the way to go. Keenan Allen will be 31 at the start of the next season and missed seven games with an injury. Addison is one of the best receivers in the draft -- particularly as a route-runner and in the straight-line speed category -- and he will give Justin Herbert two longer-term wide receiver options along with Mike Williams.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Quentin Johnston
TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston is the most athletically gifted wideout in the draft at 6-3, 208 pounds while running around a 4.50 40-yard dash as well as posting a 40.5" inch vertical jump and 11'2" broad jump. The Ravens need more playmakers on the outside even with the addition of Odell Beckham Jr. Johnston would be in a good spot to learn from OBJ and provide Lamar Jackson with a young, dynamic weapon after the catch and in the red zone.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Joey Porter Jr.
Joey Porter Jr., the son of retired four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, has high-end physical traits for a cornerback, standing at 6-2 while weighing 193 pounds. That type of size and strength will allow him to physically match up with some of the NFL's best wide receivers starting in Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season since he takes advantage of his frame well in press man coverage. The Vikings desperately need help in the secondary as they were the second-worst pass defense in the NFL last year, allowing 265.8 passing yards per game. This would be a nice value for them at 23.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars: Dalton Kincaid
Why pay up for Evan Engram when you can draft the new Evan Engram if you're the Jaguars? Dalton Kincaid is arguably the most polished route runner of all the tight ends in this draft, regularly lining up in the slot. He can also make people miss after the catch. Pairing him with Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk and Zay Jones gives Trevor Lawrence a solid arsenal of pass catchers.
25. New York Giants: Quentin Johnston
While the Giants swung a trade for Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller, they still need more help outside for freshly-paid quarterback Daniel Jones. As previously mentioned, Johnston is the most athletically gifted wideout in the draft. Both general manager Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll were in attendance at TCU's Pro Day, watching all of Johnston's routes very intently.
26. Dallas Cowboys: Michael Mayer
Michael Mayer is the draft's most well-rounded tight end. Mayer's 180 catches and 2,099 receiving yards were both the most among tight ends across the last three seasons of college football. His all-around skill set as blocker and pass catcher gives the Cowboys a Dalton Schultz replacement who will do more in the run game.
27. Buffalo Bills: Bijan Robinson
The Bills have tried and tried to find a reliable, every-down answer at running back. They've used draft picks on guys like Devin Singletary, Zack Moss and James Cook as well as the trade market for Nyheim Hines. Time to preserve Josh Allen's legs for the postseason and achieve true balance on offense by taking the draft's top running back. Robinson led the NCAA with 113 tackles avoided in 2022, the most by an FBS player in the last five seasons. He's an every-down back who can be a true weapon as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Mayer
Mayer would be upgrade over Hayden Hurst of last year and Irv Smith, whom is on the roster currently. With Joe Burrow's looming contract extension, it would behoove the Bengals to acquire cost-controlled weapons to surround Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
29. New Orleans Saints: Calijah Kancey
Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey has Aaron Donald, the Pitt alum whose NFL Combine 40-yard dash record for defensive tackles that Kancey broke. Kancey isn't Donald -- no one else in the NFL today is -- but his skill set could help take the Saints' pass rush to another level alongside Cameron Jordan.similar to
30. Philadelphia Eagles: Darnell Wright
The Eagles always like to have their needs covered a year too soon rather than a year too late. Right tackle Lane Johnson, 32, battled through injury all year long. Wright gives Philly someone it can groom to eventually be its new stalwart at right tackle. It also doesn't hurt that Wright stood his ground against Will Anderson Jr. in Tennessee's victory over Alabama this past season.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Zay Flowers
If Zay Flowers slides past the Patriots at 14, there's a chance he could slide because of his size (5-9, 182 pounds), but he's one of the top slot receivers and route-runners in the draft. He's also caught the eye of 2022 NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, who on Wednesday.
While teams regularly bring over prospects to get a closer look, it's rare that a team has their quarterback orchestrate the entire workout. If Flowers drops, Mahomes and the Chiefs would love to have him.