• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Dustin Ludke’s 1st round Mock Draft

ByDustin Ludke

Apr 22, 2023

With the Draft just days away here is how I believe the first round breaks down. I think overall we have a lot of fo news that gets run through a fantasy filter before it gets to us and people expect a lot more skill position players to get drafted and higher than they actually do. This ended up as my 7th version which has changed greatly since I started based on trades and signing, rumors and buzz. I’ve got trades included in this final mock draft.

 

1) Carolina Panthers (From CHI): Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

In the first four versions of my mock draft, I had C.J. Stroud in this pick. I think Stroud is the better quarterback prospect. I fully believe in Frank Reich and the Panther’s coaching staff. They should be able to take Bryce Young and put a team and system around him that will highlight his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Even though I prefer Stroud I certainly don’t dislike Young. He has proven he can be a winner and the pedigree of quarterbacks coming out of Alabama in the past few years is nothing to sneeze at. the Panthers traded up to have their choice and it looks like Young is their guy.

 

2) Houston Texans: Will Anderson Jr, EDGE, Alabama

Yes, the Texans will pass on a quarterback here. They instead take the best pass rusher in the draft. There will be talk that Will Anderson doesn’t fit the assumed system and scheme that new head coach Demeco Ryans will be implementing. I’m not sure that is true. I think Anderson can be impactful in any system. He is that good. The Texans aren’t set to win this year and they build out from the trenches and look to add a quarterback later in the draft.

 

TRADE ALERT

3) Las Vegas Raiders (From ARI): CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State

The Raiders are always the wild card in drafts and it only gets worse. You have Mike Davis following his father’s footsteps and making all sorts of weird picks and now they have a head coach who brings the Bill Belichick-type non-consensus pick style to the table. The Raiders trade 7th overall this year and a 1st and 3rd next year in order to move up and take C.J. Stroud. Once the Texans let him get past them the Raiders and owner Mike Davis jump at the chance to get the future. Yes, they brought in Jimmy Garoppolo but they have an opt-out after this year. They get Stroud who can learn from Jimmy G and head coach Josh McDaniels. If Garoppolo gets injured they probably have the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft. They had to move up here to get him because I don’t believe the Colts would let him get past them. The Raiders are in a division with Mahomes, Herbert, and Wilson so they understand the luxury a star-caliber quarterback gives you.

 

4) Indianapolis Colts: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

The Colts need a quarterback and everyone knows it. They get their hopes dashed as the Raiders scoop up the falling Stroud and end up taking their next guy in Will Levis. One of the biggest knocks against Levis is his lack of vision and feeling of pressure in the pocket. It will continue to be an issue with the Colts who were 2nd in the league letting up 60 sacks last season. The hope is that new head coach Shane Steichen can game plan around that and possibly get Levis on the move. They should have taken Anthony Richardson who fits that mold better but they fell in love with Levis early in the process and it seems to have clouded their judgment. Indy instantly sees a run on coffee and mayo at the grocery stores and fans look to connect with their new signal caller. This could go down as either one of the best or worst picks in team history. Owner Jim Irsay is determined to make it back to the Super Bowl and has made plenty of head-scratching moves in that pursuit. Add this one to the list.

 

TRADE ALERT

5) Atlant Falcons (from Seattle): Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Atlanta moves up here and gives up 8th overall, pick 110 this year, and a 2nd next year. They move up to take get ahead of both the Lions and Cardinals who could be in the market for defensive line help. Atlanta has spent a good chunk of the off-season rebuilding on the defensive side of the ball and put the finishing touch on it with Jalen Carter. Despite off-the-field issues and the lackluster pro day the Falcons not only take a chance but move up to get a guy who, when right is a force to be reckoned with and could be the next Aaron Donald. This will allow Grady Jarrett to rotate in or move outside opposite Calais Campbell. Both are getting up there in years. Carter gives them youth and yet not needed to play every down right away if he needs time to adjust. I don’t think he will and should be a force to reckon with on the field and in defensive Rookie of the Year voting. He stays close to home where his support system is which is great for his mental health.

 

6) Detroit Lions: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

The Lions taking a corner at 6 seems like a no-brainer after they traded away Jeff Okudah. They take Christian Gonzalez who is the bigger of the two when compared with Devon Witherspoon. Gonzalez is a versatile corner who just needs to be motivated to use his size. Who is better at motivation than head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn? They will be able to get the best out of Gonzalez as the Lions start to take over the NFC North. He provides that top-end corner play they will need to shut down Justin Jefferson. Gonzalez is everything you want in a first-round corner. He will be a week one starter.

 

7) Arizona Cardinals (from Las Vegas): Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

The Cardinals trade back and still get a great pass rusher in Tyree Wilson. He fills the void left by J.J. Watt after he retired. Wilson has the size at 6’6′ and even as a senior is still under 23 years old. He still has areas to improve but head coach Jonathan Gannon has a defensive background and the skills to do it. On a team with very little to play for this year, it looks like a move for the future. That’s why they were okay to move back and acquire draft assets for down the road. The difference between Anderson, Carter, and Wilson is so small but you have to like the hustle and motivation over Carter’s and his size and speed over Anderson’s.

 

8) Seattle Seahawks (from Atlanta): Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

The Seahawks were able to trade back and still address one of the needs of their team. Last year they were not great at run blocking and considering they have a great young rusher in Kenneth Walker they need to bolster that area. Peter Skoronski‘s ability to fill in pretty much any position on the line makes him a great addition. The Seahawks will be starting 32-year-old quarterback Geno Smith so giving him time and protection will help him hit D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Geno was one of the few starting quarterbacks to play every snap for their team last year and that was part of his renaissance. Skoronski’s addition to the line only helps that continue in 2023. Picking up 110 and a 2nd next year allows them to have a future mindset as they look to retool or rebuild over the next few seasons.

 

9) Chicago Bears (From CAR): Paris Johnson Jr, OT, Ohio State

The Bears sealed their fate when they traded out of the 1st overall pick. They resigned themselves to taking either the third or fourth-best defensive lineman or the second-best offensive lineman which is what they got here in Paris Johnson. They get a tackle who probably needs to be on the left side which would shift Braxton Jones to the right side. They platooned the right side with Larry Borom and Riley Reiff last season and Johnson lets them have some depth and flexibility. They need to protect Justin Feilds if they want him to continue to grow and develop in the NFL. It’s a solid option when you consider what else they got for trading back 9 spots.

 

10) Philadelphia Eagles (From NO): Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

The Eagles are looking to reload and make another Super Bowl run. They were able to keep Darius Slay and James Bradberry but they need to get younger at corner and have depth. Devon Witherspoon has been talked about being the best corner in the draft and falls to the Eagles who are drafting here thanks to a gift of a trade from the Saints last year. Witherspoon can be a lockdown island-type corner and with help from safety can take away a whole half of the field. He needs to work on his discipline which is why the Lions passed on him but it’s a case of the rich getting richer as the Eagles get a top cover corner.

 

11) Tennessee Titans: Anthony Richardson, QB, Flordia

The Titans are remaking their offense and getting probably the most talked-about player in this year’s draft, Anthony Richardson. They get a big, fast quarterback who has a cannon of an arm. He should be able to hit Treylon Burks on deep routes, Chig Okonkwo over the middle, and take some of the rushing work off Derrick Henry. The Titans can take time and let him sit and learn from Ryan Tannehill if they want. I don’t think the coaching staff can last that long if they don’t win games. They have a history of being very good in the AFC South and that expectation is still there.

 

12) Houston Texans: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

This is the only pick that has stayed true through all 7 versions of my mock. The Texans clearly need a wide receiver. Jaxon Smith-Njigba is clearly the best receiver in the class. He is not the biggest receiver ever but taller than most in the class at 6’0” and 196 lbs. He has the college production and is only 21. He played mainly from the slot which fits the Texans system where Nico Collins will be on the outside. It’s a huge boon for the offense even if they still don’t have a quarterback. Since this is just a first-round mock I can see the Texans either drafting someone like Hendon Hooker at 33 or making the trade for Trey Lance. They could even wait for next year’s draft and hope they have a shot at Caleb Williams or Drake May since they currently have two first next year.

 

13) New York Jets: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

If Broderick Jones was in most years’ drafts he would be a top 5 pick. He lands at 13 to the Jets due to team needs and how good Skoronski and Johnson are. I’m not one for helmet scouting but Georgia is known for producing pro offensive linemen. Jones only gave up two sacks in his two-year starting career at Georgia and was part of the team that won back-to-back national championships. He can play guard if needed but he more naturally fits as a tackle. The Jets seem to be going all in for the next two years as they are still rumored to land Aaron Rodgers. Keeping him happy, upright, and healthy will be a crucial key to success. They have a clear need as the rotated 3 guys in the right tackle spot. Jones’s ability to move inside gives them even more options.

 

TRADE ALERT

14) Baltimore Ravens (from New England) Joey Porter Jr, CB, Penn State

The Ravens trade up to get the legacy that is Joey Porter Jr. They get the son of the man that played against them for so many years. The Ravens seem to always focus on the secondary and this is a move that gets them a guy that wouldn’t be there at 22 and is a clear tier above the corners that would be. They trade away 22 and pick 157 and a 3rd next season to take the Patriots’ spot. They certainly have other needs like a wide receiver but if the rumors of them pursuing DeAndre Hopkins in order to get Lamar Jackson to come back that would be enough of a band aide to get them through and make a playoff run. Porter allows them to keep games close and their offense in their game plan. Porter’s size and technique make him the perfect corner for the Ravens’ defense.

 

15) Green Bay Packers: Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia

It would be such a poetic ending if the Packers took an offensive piece especially a receiver or tight end here after all the years of not doing so with Aaron Rodger. To do so the year they trade him away would be the chef’s kiss. As much as everyone wants to see that, the history of the Packers makes me believe they look at the defensive side of the ball. Nolan Smith gives them the versatility to be either an outside rusher or a 3-4 linebacker. He lacks the size to move inside but has the speed to get around the edge. It’s an area the Packers were lacking in last year. They only averaged 2 sacks a game which is tied for 26th most in the league.

 

TRADE ALERT

16) Minnesota Vikings (from Washington) Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

When this trade hits everyone will assume it’s a move up to scoop up Bijan Robinson to replace Dalvin Cook but in reality, it’s to secure cornerback, Deonte Banks. There are a few teams picking before the Vikings that need a corner and they don’t want to miss out. Banks has speed that can match up with receivers in the division like Darnell Mooney, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Christian Watson. The Vikings trade away 23, 119, 211, and a 2nd next year and also get back 215 this year on top of 16. With such a deep running back class they can still get one at 87 or move Cook and recoup a 2nd. Banks gives them the ability to continue to compete and win the division and make a run with Kirk Cousins still under center.

 

17) Pittsburgh Steelers: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

Everyone is going to say the Steelers need a wide receiver but after trading a 7th-round pick for Allen Robinson they are secure enough to pass on one in the 1st round. Instead, they scoop up Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright. At 6’5” 333 lbs. Wright provides much-needed protection for Kenny Pickett and open holes for Najee Harris. Watching his game film against Will Anderson he performed very well and showed why he deserves first-round capital. It’s a best-player-available approach by the Steelers who did bring in a few linemen during free agency but having missed out on Joey Porter and not getting much in terms of trade offers they stay put and focus on fixing the offense. This probably should be homegrown talent Calijah Kancey but they go offense over defense.

 

18) Detroit Lions: Calijah Kancey, DL, Pittsburgh

After taking Gonzalez at 5 the Lions continue to sure up their defense with Pitts Calijah Kancey. He lacks the true middle-of-defense run stuffer type but is quick and can get into the backfield and wreck plays. With last year’s first-round pick Aidan Hutchenson coming off the edge this gives the Lions more flexibility in the blitz package. He has a nonstop engine that will fit in well with the culture they are building in Motor City. Having the two first-round picks allows the Lions to explore many options but end up staying put and filling out the squad that should be competing for a division title and possibly a deep playoff run in the NFC.

 

19) Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brian Branch, S, Alabama

Brian Branch might be the only true safety taken in the first and second rounds of the draft. The Bucs definitely need someone to be opposite Antoine Winfield Jr. They lock up the back end of the defense. They seem content to let Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask battle it out in training camp and roll with the core they have in a very winnable NFC South. Branch is a leader on defense with his playing style and will bring a level of hustle to Tampa that has been lacking. He will be a fan favorite by Week 4. It’s a future pay for the Bucs as they could end up being sellers of other pieces like Mike Evans and Devin White.

 

TRADE ALERT

20) Dallas Cowboys (from Seattle): Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

We finally find a home for the player that most fantasy managers are excited about. Bijan Robinson is touted as a ca n’t-miss prospect and he lands on a team that has the infrastructure to get him there. Last season with the Cowboys Ezekiel Elliot rushed for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. Tony Pollard is on the franchise tag so Bijan gives the Cowboys the next link in the long chain of solid running backs. They traded away picks 26, 90, and 129 to secure Bijan ahead of the Chargers, Eagles, and Bengals. Its an exciting move that has people talking about the Cowboys which owner Jerry Jones loves. They will dominate headlines for most fo the draft new cycle and then again when we first see the former Texas Longhorn with a star on his helmet.

 

21) Los Angeles Chargers: Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson

The Chargers are in a tough spot here. They miss out on Bijan and JSN. Their next biggest need is on the defensive line. Outside of Morgan Fox, they lacked a playmaker on the line. Bryan Bresee provides size and speed in the middle. He may lack some of the jumps off the film play-making but is very solid at what he does. He adds that extra youth to a team with Super Bowl aspirations that has to stop Patrick Mahomes at least two times a year. The Chargers were towards the bottom of the list with only 40 sacks last season. They were also 27th in rushing yards allowed at 144.2 per game. Bresee should fill in some holes and both stop the run and get to the quarterback.

 

22) New England Patriots (From BAL): Lukas Van Ness, Edge, Iowa

It’s crazy to me to have Lukas Van Ness this far down but out of all the players in this draft, he seems the most like a Patriot. He can play both inside and outside on the D line. At his size, 6’5′ 272lbs he can both power through guys and get low enough to dip around the block. Bill Belichick loves players who are versatile and Van Ness fits that mold. The trade-down gives them more picks which the Pats have been great at turning into starters. I would like to think that Van Ness goes higher but things always just seem to shake out well for the Pats. They get picks and the player that is best suited for them at a spot where neither should be.

 

23) Washington Commander (from Minnesota): O’Cyruss Torrance, IOL, Florida State

The Washington Commanders are being sold and the head of the group buying them is the same managing owner of the NBA’s 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Both of those franchises went through a rebuilding process where they amassed picks and traded away talent that they didn’t see being part of the 3-5 year plan. That’s why the Commanders traded down from 16. They picked up two later picks and a 2nd next year. O’Cyruss Torrance is a day-one starter at guard. He has a big frame at 6’5” and 330 lbs. With starters Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner getting up there in age Torrance gives them youth. He could be the anchor on the offensive line as the Commanders rebuild the franchise under new ownership. I expect them to have a short rebuild just due to the shorter shelf life of NFL players compared to hockey and basketball so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make more moves this year.

 

24) Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Trevor Lawrence took a huge step last season and the Jacksonville Jaguars are equipping him with another weapon. Evan Engram had a great season last year and got the franchise tag for his trouble. The Jags go outside of real team needs here and draft the best player available. He is a better blocker than Dalton Kincade with top-end pass-catching ability. He gets to learn from Engram and get passes from an up-and-coming quarterback. He is an aggressive player who seems to love his job as a blocker and running over smaller linebackers and safeties after the catch. It’s a move to continue to improve the offense both this year and for the future. Kincade can add a lot to the team which is what you want from your first-rounder. He also carries himself well and should be able to be a great locker-room presence.

 

25) New York Giants: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

Quentin Johnson goes from big man on the TCU campus to being the big man on the Giants campus. At 6’3” and 208 lbs he will tower over the rest of the wide receiver group. Other than Isaiah Hodgins the rest of the Giants’ starting wide receivers lack height. Johnston needs to work on his catching on both contested catches and reaching out for the ball vs letting it comes to his body. He is great off the line of scrimmage but struggles to truly dominate. He will need to work on that against some tough corners in the NFL. He can bulk up and work on body position at the top of his routes. He’s a great fit for an offense looking for another outside wide receiver.

 

26) Seattle Seahawks (from Dallas): Myles Murphy, Edge, Clemson

The Seahawks traded back from both of their first-round picks and address the trenches with both picks. They head to the defensive side of the ball with Myles Murphy. He is a scary pass rusher but we just don’t always see it every play. He will need to either be coached up or rotated out to get the most out of him. The Seahawks run a 3-4 defense and saw their leading sack-getter from the middle Quinton Jefferson leave in free agency. Murphy can fill that void and hopefully provide some pass-rushing and run-stopping. They can rotate him out with Jarren Reed and Bryan Mone to get that high upside play out of him while he works on bringing that every play. The Seahawks leave the first round with Murphy and Skoronski as well as a 2nd next year and picks 90,110 and 129. They have the ammo to go get whoever they want on day two when you combine those with the picks they already have in 37, 52, 83, and 123.

 

27) Buffalo Bills: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

Look I know that losing Tremaine Edmunds at linebacker hurt but hopefully, they get a full year out of Von Miller, and Matt Milano and A.J. Klein pick up the rest. The Bills still have Tre’Davious White but need another corner. They get that in Emmanuel Forbes. He is a turnover maker and his style fits the Bills and Buffalo’s DNA. He is hustle. He needs to add on probably 15 pounds to really maximize that hustle and aggressive style but that should be easy enough with the pro regiment and coaching. In a division where you have to face some very talented wide receiver duos and a conference with even more, you need coverage corners. This is a great move for the Bills who can still address linebackers later at picks 59 or 91. As a Bills fan, I really hope they use one of their picks and go get Mike Evans who has been rumored to be on the trade block. That would be a massive upgrade and if they could pick up Evans and maybe pick 50 or even 82 from Tampa for this pick I would be over the moon.

 

28) Cincinnati Bengals: Dalton Kincade, TE, Utah

I believe the Bengals take their whole allotted time here as they don’t love the spot they are in but there isn’t great value coming their way via trades. They end up staying put and taking Dalton Kincade. They have been searching for a solid tight end for a long time. They have tried Hayden Hurst last year and brought in Irv Smith this season. Smith hasn’t been able to stay healthy so the need for a solid option to turn to makes sense. Kincade isn’t the blocking tight end, that’s Drew Samples‘ role. Kincade will be able to run routes and compete for targets with the big 3 receivers. It’s a move that gives the team options as they look to lock up Tee Higgins to a long-term deal but if they can’t they feel slightly better trading him away knowing they have a tight end who can help absorb those targets.

 

29) New Orleans Saints (Via DEN/MIA/SF): Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

Zay Flowers has gotten a ton of late buzz heading into the draft. I originally did not have him in my first round but with the way the rumors are going, I don’t see him making it to Day 2. Flowers provides a much-needed slot receiver role for the Saints. They got Michael Thomas to come back and have fellow sophomores Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed. All three of those guys play mainly out wide and provide the size you need for that. Flowers is a smaller receiver, most of the class is, at 5’9” and 182 lbs. He was productive at lower volume school and should be able to do the same in the pros. He needs to work on using his quickness and speed to make defenders bite on fakes and get off coverage. If he can do that he could become Hunter Renfrow lite in the Derek Carr lead Saints offense.

 

30) Philadelphia Eagles: Will McDonald, Edge, Iowa State

The Eagles don’t need much. They are drafting here for a reason. They lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs and a few pieces on the team but not nearly as much as most Superbowl teams. They already reloaded on the back end with Witherspoon at the 10 spot and now add a pass rusher late in the first with Will McDonald. McDonald is an odd case as he projects more as an edge rusher but played more inside in college. He gets to learn from the man he will eventually replace Brandon Graham. He will give new defensive coordinator Matt Patricia the ability to move guys around and could even slide McDonald to a wide linebacker for added blitz pressure. The lack of being able to get to Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl was evident and this is a step to fix that issue. The Eagles are hoping to have another shot this year to win it all.

 

31) Kansas City Chiefs: Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

Speaking of Mahomes the Chiefs wrap up the first round by adding some protection for their franchise quarterback with Anton Harrison. The Chiefs lost both starting tackles in free agency and only brought in right tackle Jawaan Taylor from Jacksonville. Harrison should be able to slide into the left tackle for the Chiefs but can play on either side. He could use the time to bulk up and add some muscle. He needs to work on his balance and strength against stronger bull rushers in the NFL but Mahomes likes to roll to his right so if he knows that Harrison may be letting more pressure come from the left Mahomes knows what to do. It’s a long-term move for the Chiefs who know that O-line is the reason they don’t have 3 Super Bowl wins right now. This pick sets them up for more title runs for the next 10 years.