Martin McConnell’s Pre-Postseason 2023 NFL Mock Draft

A couple days ago, I tweeted (@Mart_M24, by the way, and thanks for the follow in advance) that as the NFL’s regular season winds down, I can feel the 2023 draft season pulling me out of my football slumber. Truth is that thanks to the whole Deshaun Watson business, I’ve never felt so detached from the Browns and the sport as a whole, as I am right now. Fortunately for me, the draft has woken me up, poured cold water onto my bedsheets, and slapped me across the face with a very heavy yet still wieldable fish. And now I can start preparing for my real football season. Man, I love this stuff.

Anyway, it’s mock draft time. Now that the regular season is in the books, I get to focus on what I truly love about football: the commissioner reading names off a piece of paper. The NFL Draft is the ultimate exercise in “this should have been an email” and I absolutely love it. Let’s get moving with our first semi-official draft order, pending the playoffs. You can view my preseason mock draft as a reference, right here.

Let’s get started.

NOTE: This is what I think will happen, not what I would do. The current draft order is courtesy of Tankathon.

1. Chicago Bears- Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

How about that No. 1 pick battle between Houston and Chicago?

The Texans completely choked their way out of the top pick. I am absolutely certain that the Bears are going to trade this pick, but I’m sticking to no trades in this mock draft. If you ask me, I think Indianapolis is coming up for a quarterback. But if this pick holds, we should see the first defensive tackle taken first overall since Dan Wilkinson went to Cincinnati in 1994. I seriously cannot believe I have to write this; Houston should have had that in the bag.

Anyway, I’d normally be in favor of putting an playmaker in this spot, in order to help out Justin Fields. But Chicago loves their defense, and the Bears need that anchor for their ailing defense. Jalen Carter is the only defender worth the top overall pick in my view.

2. Houston Texans- Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

This is what I think will happen, not what I personally would do. Even still, this is a shocker, but my logic is sound. That is to say, the NFL has a status quo, wants to go with what they know. Also, general managers by and large are pretty stupid, and Nick Caserio and the Texans are going to love Will Levis out of Kentucky.

Levis is a natural-born leader according to those who have been around him, and he’s coming in at probably 6’3, 230. Teams are going to watch his pro day and his throws at the NFL Combine and he’s going to start shooting up draft boards. I promise. I would take Bryce Young here, but Levis is going to be the first quarterback off the board in my mind. And yes, this was originally penciled in to be their pick, if Houston held onto No. 1. Nothing else has changed.

3. Arizona Cardinals- Will Anderson Jr., DE, Alabama

The Cardinals swoop in and absolutely steal the class’s best defensive end at No. 3 overall. Will Anderson Jr. might be a little bit small, or more accurately, a little light, for edge rusher standards, but like his teammate Bryce Young, Anderson’s got everything else in spades.

The super-elite production that Anderson showed in 2021 didn’t come back in 2022, because everyone was scheming to eliminate him from making the gamebreaking plays that became his calling card. Now, Anderson has a chance to prove that 2021 was simply an amuse-bouche, merely an appetizer, for what he can do at the pro level. What’s more is that he probably won’t be coached by Kliff Kingsbury, which is always a plus.

4. Indianapolis Colts- C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

You know, in your bones, that if the Colts don’t trade up and C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young are both on the board, they will take Stroud. The OSU product is… complicated, in that, I’m not really sure how much I like him. It’s not like Will Levis, where I flat-out don’t get it, but I struggle to see the one thing that he does extremely well. Every NFL quarterback worth their salt has one. For Joe Burrow, it’s confidence to the point of willing the Bengals to win. For Mahomes, it’s extreme playmaking ability. For Josh Allen, it’s superhuman athleticism and arm strength.

Stroud has wonderful pocket presence, he’s a smooth thrower of the football, and he’s deadly accurate with ball placement. But I struggle to think that any of those will be best-in-the-league at the NFL level. Still, that’s a cocktail of traits that should make for a “pretty good” level of quarterback in the pros. Is that worth a top-five pick? I would bet that the Colts, floundering in QB purgatory, probably think so at this point.

5. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN)- Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Should the situation arise where Will Levis goes No. 1 overall, and the Colts take Stroud ahead of No. 5, the actual best quarterback in the class is going to fall into Seattle’s lap, thanks to the Russell Wilson trade. It’s pretty well-established at this point that the Seahawks actually really like Geno Smith at quarterback, but this is a Godfather offer at the fifth overall spot.

Bryce Young is awesome. He’s a wizard. He has this Patrick Mahomes-ish playmaking ability that is downright magical, and even if he’s a little bit small at 5’11, he has everything else you could ever want. Seattle could set themselves up really nice with a young, confident franchise signal-caller here; they have to pull the trigger.

6. Detroit Lions (from LAR)- Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

The first defensive back is off the board with Kelee Ringo. I considered a bevy of prospects for Detroit, mostly Clemson defenders Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy. Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech was in play as well, but I just couldn’t get past the cornerback depth on the Lions’ roster. Jeff Okudah and Will Harris as the starting duo doesn’t exactly wow me, and it’s way too early for a safety. I think they’d prefer Georgia’s Kelee Ringo over Christian Gonzalez or Joey Porter Jr.

Ringo is a big and imposing corner at 6’2 and 205 pounds, and he’s uber-aggressive in press coverage situations. His demeanor and style are going to mesh perfectly with Dan Campbell who, don’t look now, has been absolutely killing it in Detroit. I hope, and I pray, that the Lions’ defensive unit starts to gel in 2023. Their offense has been cooking this season, and they could make a push for the NFC North title next year if their defense gets it together.

7. Las Vegas Raiders- Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

This is too easy.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the smoke is telling me that the Raiders are going to push hard for Tom Brady in the offseason. Part of luring Brady in is the promise of not getting him hit super often. A prospect like Skoronski would really help out Brady, and if he does sign in silver and black, he’ll be pushing hard for this former Wildcat.

Skoronski’s appeal is that he can play basically wherever, and some teams are going to evaluate him as a guard. I think he has a good enough frame and athletic skillset to be a nice tackle who can kick inside for guard play at a moment’s notice. He’s also smart enough to play center. I love this pick for Vegas.

8. Atlanta Falcons- Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

There is perhaps no more complete a product in the NFL Draft this year than Quentin Johnston, and he just so happens to fit the exact mold the Falcons are looking for. Johnston has a chance to come in at a legitimate 6’4 in the NFL (he’ll likely be 6’3, but still) and Atlanta is basically building a basketball team down there. He has the skills to back up the size, too.

If Desmond Ridder pans out, great. If he doesn’t, oh well. Whichever quarterback comes to play for the Falcons in 2024 and beyond is going to be treated to one of the most hilariously oversized pass-catching groups the NFL has ever seen. Atlanta’s top three passing options are 6’6, 6’4, and 6’4 (or 6’3). Good luck, cornerbacks!

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