The 2023 NFL Combine and free agency are mostly wrapped up, so it’s time to start taking a hard look at the NFL Draft. The prevailing winds have shifted from Alabama’s Bryce Young being the first pick to Ohio State’s C.J Stroud getting that honor, as their odds shifted following the combine and the Panthers trading up with the Bears for the No. 1 pick.
That switch shows in Brentley Weissman’s latest Draft Network mock draft, as he starts with Stroud going to the Panthers. Of course, there is time for more shifts in thought as draftniks choose between who they believe should be drafted and who reports tell us will be drafted.
1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State — Panthers
2. Bryce Young, Alabama — Texans
4. Anthony Richardson, Florida — Colts
18. Will Levis, Kentucky — Raiders
With the Panthers and Texans at 1 and 2, you’re going to see Stroud and Young in those slots in most mock drafts. The biggest question mark is Richardson, who pushed his draft stock up by setting QB records at the combine. The man is huge, extremely athletic, fast and has a strong arm. Of course, he has a lot of bad tape out there and teams are going to need to have a plan for him they feel confident about. Is that team the Colts under former Eagles OC Shane Steichen? He used Jalen Hurts’ running ability to his advantage, but Hurts wasn’t as far behind as a passer as Richardson appears to be. Weismann has him going to the Colts, which would be one of the biggest high-upside risks this franchise has made in a long time.
First defensive player off the board?
For a while Georgia’s DL Jalen Carter was vying for the No. 1 defensive spot, but we’ve seen Alabama’s EDGE Will Anderson take that over after Carter skipped working out at the NFL Combine and showed up overweight at his Pro Day. Anderson is slotted to go No. 3 to the Cardinals, which makes plenty of sense and is where he probably should go. Carter’s play on the field will keep him a first rounder and Weissman has him going as the fourth defensive player, with the Raiders taking him at seventh overall.
Offense vs. Defense
The numbers slightly favor the offense, with 17 offensive players to 14 defensive players in this mock. We have four quarterbacks, four wide receivers, one running back, two tight ends, four offensive tackles, two interior offensive linemen. On the defensive side of the ball, we have six EDGE defenders, three defensive linemen, four cornerbacks and one safety.
Getting to the quarterback and stopping the pass in the defensive backfield remain the top priorities for the modern NFL defense, so we will continue to see positions come off the board early important for that strategy. And of course the same can be said about the passing game, with quarterbacks, offensive linemen and pass catchers leading the way there.
Are there any running backs?
As you will find in most mock drafts this year, Bijan Robinson out of Texas is going in the first round most of the time. Weissman has him going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but believes he could go earlier. But, if he lasts to the Bucs, he they need him as they try to rework their offensive identity without Tom Brady. Drafting a running back in the first round remains risky and not always a good long term investment, but a player like Robinson will give any team a boost in the short term.
This feels like a mock that has gone with the prevailing winds, which oftentimes ends up being the more accurate mock. We of course have plenty of time for those winds to change, especially at the quarterback position.