Youmans: 2023 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

April 20, 2023 04:52 PM


If Bryce Young stood four inches taller, he undoubtedly would be the No. 1 overall pick in this month’s NFL Draft. But size does matter, and the former Alabama quarterback is 5-foot-10.

If the reports leaking from some reliable sources around the league are correct, Young will be the top pick anyway. Many aspects of a player matter more than size, and Young has everything but impressive height.

The tide recently turned in the betting markets. DraftKings now lists Young as the -360 favorite to go first, about three weeks after Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was favored in the same price range. The favorite flipped based on information that indicates the Carolina Panthers prefer to use the No. 1 pick on Young instead of Stroud.

Draft season is riddled with misinformation and smokescreens, but I’m buying the Panthers’ affinity for Young partly because he’s the player I would select if making the call in the Carolina draft room on April 27.

Information leaks also indicate the Houston Texans, who pick second, covet Young as their potential franchise quarterback. While the Texans need a quarterback, don’t be surprised if they make an unexpected move that causes Mel Kiper Jr.’s hair to stand up higher than usual.

“Are we sure Houston is taking Stroud?” VSiN analyst Michael Lombardi said. “I’m leaning toward no.”

Lombardi, a former NFL general manager, does not do a mock draft. He does put scouting grades on players and looks at the draft from the viewpoint of someone who has run a draft room and knows how league executives and head coaches should approach it.

DeMeco Ryans, the Texans’ new coach, is rebuilding the team along with general manager Nick Caserio. Ryans has a six-year contract, so the urgency to win in 2023 is not his primary concern. Ryans landed his first head-coaching job because he was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, who built a dominant defensive line.

“There’s no rush to get a quarterback if you’re DeMeco Ryans,” Lombardi said. “Why not build it right?”

That’s one reason I suspect Ryans and Caserio will go defense with the No. 2 pick if Young is off the board. Ryans, a former Alabama linebacker, has all the intel he needs on Young and former Crimson Tide edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., who will be on the board. The Texans could select a quarterback in the later rounds or they could wait for the 2024 draft class of quarterbacks headlined by USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

This year’s quarterback class is being overhyped by most in the media. Kiper’s latest mock draft for ESPN shows QBs going with the top four picks — Young to Carolina, Stroud to Houston, Anthony Richardson of Florida to Tennessee (via trade) and Will Levis of Kentucky to Indianapolis.

“Never in the history of NFL drafts have quarterbacks gone one, two, three and four,” said Lombardi, who doubts it’s about to happen for the first time.

Consider the historical perspective. Quarterbacks went with the first three picks in three drafts — 2021 (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance), 1999 (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith) and 1971 (Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning, Dan Pastorini) — and the results were unimpressive the two most recent times it happened.

I have been doing mock drafts for about 25 years, and while this draft is more of a mystery than most, I would be stunned if the first four picks are quarterbacks simply because the top prospects are not sure-fire stars with Super Bowl futures.

Mocks were once for entertainment purposes only. Now, with draft betting becoming more popular over the past five years, working through the exercise of a mock draft has more of a purpose. Analyzing team needs and putting the puzzle pieces together gives you a better idea of how to attack the first-round proposition wagers.

In 2022, tracked and scored 1,375 mock drafts published by media outlets and my mock for ranked No. 3 with 25.7% accuracy based on players picked in correct spots and by specific teams. I hit on a majority of the top 10 picks and a few others in the first round.

I typically do one or two versions each year and in this first version, no trades will be projected.

Matt Youmans’ NFL mock draft 1.0:

1. Panthers: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Carolina coach Frank Reich said he’s not afraid to pick a shorter quarterback and had a “high grade” on Russell Wilson prior to the 2012 draft. Peyton Manning, who’s not in a draft room but is a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, recently said he compares Young to the Bengals’ Joe Burrow.

2. Texans: Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama

A former Alabama linebacker is Houston’s new coach, so this pick is not a stretch. Anderson was a force during the 2021 season with 17.5 sacks and made less of an impact last season with 10 sacks, but he’s got the ability to be an elite edge rusher. If the Texans can’t get Young, they can wait to get the quarterback they really want. The DraftKings draft position prop on Anderson (Under 3.5, +205) might be worth a bet.

3. Cardinals: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

With needs all over the field aside from quarterback, Arizona might trade down. The Cardinals definitely need to build their defensive front, and Carter is considered by many to be the top defensive player in the draft. He comes with baggage in terms of off-field issues, but he’s unlikely to fall out of the top eight. One non-Nevada sportsbook is offering Carter at 30/1 odds to go third overall.

4. Colts: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

If Stroud slips, the quarterback-needy Colts will probably grab him. Stroud is 6-3 and has a strong arm and some mobility, though he’s primarily a passer instead of a runner. If Stroud is not on the board, it would not be surprising if Indianapolis traded down and took a QB later.

5. Seahawks: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

Lombardi said he graded Richardson as a “probable starter, developmental player.” Few teams picking in the top 10 can afford to spend two years developing Richardson, an explosive athlete with raw passing talent, but Seattle could put him behind starter Geno Smith. I bet Richardson’s draft position Over 4.5 (+135) and don’t think he should go this high. He’s a high-risk, high-reward prospect that appears too risky.

6. Lions: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

For the first time in a long time, the Lions don’t have a lot of needs. Detroit did recently trade Jeff Okudah, a bust as the No. 3 overall pick in 2020, to Atlanta and could use a cornerback. Witherspoon is a hard-hitting, physical player who’s strong in coverage, and I bet him to be the first cornerback selected at -125 this week before the price started rising.

7. Raiders: Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech

Sources indicate the Raiders like Richardson, but they signed veteran QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and the reality is coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler need to start winning now. Las Vegas needs to emphasize all areas of its defense and the offensive line in this draft. Wilson is a strong 6-6 edge rusher who can start immediately.

8. Falcons: Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia

Atlanta’s anemic pass rush was among the league’s worst. Smith is a high-energy edge rusher who fills the team’s biggest need. Plus, the former Bulldog will be a popular pick.

9. Bears: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

By trading down eight spots, Chicago has committed to quarterback Justin Fields and made moves to surround him with more playmakers. The offensive and defensive lines must be addressed in this draft. Skoronski, whose grandfather won five NFL titles as a tackle for coach Vince Lombardi’s Packers in the 1960s, is a stud run blocker who can play guard and tackle.

10. Eagles: Lukas Van Ness, DL, Iowa

This is a weak draft for linebackers, and that’s Philadelphia’s primary need, but Van Ness can play tackle and edge rusher and boost the defensive front. Offensive tackle is another way the Eagles could go with this pick.

11. Titans: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

12. Texans: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

13. Jets: Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State

14. Patriots: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

15. Packers: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

16. Commanders: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

17. Steelers: Jordan Addison, WR, USC

18. Lions: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

19. Buccaneers: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

20. Seahawks: Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson

21. Chargers: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

22. Ravens: Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

23. Vikings: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

24. Jaguars: BJ Ojulari, DE, LSU

25. Giants: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

26. Cowboys: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

27. Bills: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson

28. Bengals: O’Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida

29. Saints: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

30. Eagles: Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh

31. Chiefs: Brian Branch, S, Alabama

* Note: There are 31 picks instead of 32 due to the NFL forcing the Miami Dolphins to forfeit their first-round pick for violating league policies pertaining to the integrity of the game.

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