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2023 NFL mock draft: A few big surprises in final projections

Julian Catalfo / theScore

theScore's David P. Woods ranks as the most accurate mock drafter over the last four years, according to The Huddle Report. Below, he reveals his final projections for how this year's first round will unfold.

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Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

It's become clear that despite the valid height concerns, Young's processing, anticipation, improvisation, and touch put him in a tier of his own.

Will Anderson, LB, Alabama

Are the Texans really going to pass on a quarterback despite Davis Mills and Case Keenum being the best options on their roster? It's risky as heck, it's fun as heck for fans of draft chaos, and (as you'll see further down) it could prove to be a masterstroke.

Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

If the Commanders can stabilize under new ownership, the Cardinals might assume the mantle as the NFL's most dysfunctional organization. They also might have the league's worst roster. Trading back for a bounty of future picks would be the best possible outcome, but it doesn't appear likely. Improving Kyler Murray's offensive line ahead of his return from ACL surgery isn't a bad Plan B.

Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

New head coach Shane Steichen helped propel Jalen Hurts to heights few believed were possible. Levis doesn't appear to have elite upside, but perhaps he's only scratched the surface of what he can do with both his arm and legs.

Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

Jalen Carter is an option for the Seahawks here, but the Georgia product's off-field red flags (he was arrested on charges related to a street race that killed two people and struggled to complete drills after showing up to his pro day overweight) might nudge Pete Carroll and Co. in a different direction. Seattle used the 35th overall pick on defensive tackle Malik McDowell in 2017, but a string of off-field incidents led to his release without him ever playing a snap in blue and green. If the Seahawks still feel the sting of that decision, Carter might be off their board entirely, leaving Wilson as the best defensive player available.

Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

The ascending Lions believe they'll assume the mantle as NFC North kings and may not have a chance to pick this high again for years. Now is the time to take a home run swing. Developing a high-upside player like Richardson behind Jared Goff is akin to what the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes and Alex Smith. And if Richardson hits and the Lions open a Super Bowl window with him starting on a rookie contract? Oh, baby.

Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

By all appearances, the Raiders struck out in their attempts to trade up for a quarterback. The best corner on the board isn't a bad fallback plan, but it's not a pick that will get fans in Vegas excited.

Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

Smith going off the board before his Georgia teammate Carter might raise some eyebrows. But Smith is simply a better fit for what the Falcons do in terms of scheme and fills a more pressing long-term need on the edge.

Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia

The Bears' trade down the board works out, as they land a player at a position of major need at a far more palatable price. Carter's off-field issues are a major concern, but Chicago spent considerable time with him in the pre-draft process, strongly suggesting he remains on its board. Ultimately, the Bears know they can't compete without adding premium talent to their defense.

Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern

Could the Eagles be aggressive and look to move up for Jalen Carter or perhaps even Will Anderson? Absolutely. But if there's no such deal to be made, replenishing an aging offensive line would be prudent.

Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa

With the Titans apparently entering a rebuilding phase, it wouldn't be shocking to see them flip Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry for picks. Here, they bolster the defensive line with a player who can be an anchor for the future. Caleb Williams, here we come.

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Did the Texans play this perfectly? General manager Nick Caserio will probably never give us the full story, but his squad walks away here with new faces of the franchise on both offense and defense. Once considered the favorite to be selected first overall, the truth is Stroud's upside is more in line with Jared Goff than Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence. Nonetheless, he's a steal for the Texans at 12.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

Aaron Rodgers departs, and the Packers immediately draft a first-round wideout. It's almost poetic.

Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

The Patriots might be Round 1's biggest wild card. They could take an offensive lineman no one's ever heard of. They could even take a quarterback. They should probably take an edge rusher or a cornerback. And, of course, trading down is always on the table for the Pats. But Bill Belichick wants that all-time coaching wins record, and Robinson will provide instant sizzle. The best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley isn't going to fall all the way to a team like the Bills or Chiefs at the end of Round 1.

Darnell Wright, RT, Tennessee

Welcome to New York, Aaron Rodgers! Your offensive arsenal is immediately a big upgrade over what you left behind in Green Bay. Both Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall have legitimate All-Pro aspirations, and your old pal Allen Lazard is here, too. So, instead of another pass-catcher, our welcome gift to you is a 333-pound bulldozer who can help keep your 39-year-old body off the ground.

Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Ron Rivera knows he has the shortest leash of any NFL coach, especially with new ownership arriving imminently. When push comes to shove, he's gonna lean on his defense. Porter's a feisty player and might remind Rivera of Josh Norman.

Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

Kenny Pickett missed time with two separate concussions during his rookie season. Najee Harris' efficiency as both a rusher and receiver dropped off in his sophomore campaign. Each of the Steelers' last two first-round picks will benefit considerably from investment on the offensive line.

Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

Forbes has received less hype than some of the other cornerbacks still on the board, but the Lions' interest in him is apparent to those closely monitoring pre-draft visits.

Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

Edge rusher is a distinct possibility for the Buccaneers here, but they instead opt to add the top cornerback on the board, ending Gonzalez's fall. The value at edge rusher in Round 2 projects to be a little better than at cornerback.

Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

The Seahawks opted against taking a quarterback at No. 5 overall, suggesting they truly believe they can contend behind Geno Smith. They give Smith another weapon to work with here, adding a dynamic playmaker and eventual successor to Tyler Lockett.

*Miami Dolphins forfeit 1st-round selection (No. 21) as punishment for multiple violations of the NFL's anti-tampering policy

Jordan Addison, WR, USC

The Chargers simply must add a downfield element to their passing game. Over the last two seasons, Justin Herbert ranks 31st in air yards per attempt. He's become a check-down specialist despite possessing one of the NFL's strongest arms. Addison isn't a prototypical burner in terms of size or speed, but the tape shows he's plenty adept at getting behind safeties.

Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

Maryland star Banks stays home. He brings the height and physicality the Ravens covet.

Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

The Vikings might prefer to take a cornerback here, but the earlier run on the position sapped all the value. Instead, they pluck the best edge rusher remaining.

Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

The Jaguars have surprisingly few holes for a team that was so bad for so long. Slot corner is one area in need of an upgrade, and Branch slots in there nicely. (Pun very intended.)

Joe Tippmann, OL, Wisconsin

The Giants might love to select a perimeter wideout here, but this class is short on them and the board hasn't fallen in their favor. Instead, they draft a player who can start at center from Day 1 between book-end tackles Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, forming one of the NFL's most intriguing young offensive lines.

Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Some draft pundits have compared Mayer to Jason Witten. They mean it largely in a derogatory way. Mayer is a plus receiver and plus blocker, but he simply isn't a "wow" prospect. The Cowboys might see that comparison through a different lens.

Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

The Bills say they continue to have faith in Gabe Davis as a No. 2 receiving option, but the truth is they've suffered from a lack of high-end talent around Josh Allen. Johnston is a YAC monster who has a little bit of Deebo Samuel to his game.

Calijah Kancey, DL, Pitt

The comparisons to Aaron Donald are way overblown, but Kancey is a very talented prospect in his own right and could be a steal if he falls outside the top 20.

Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

Some teams reportedly have only 20 or so players on their board with a first-round grade, so it's somewhat slim pickings here. The tight ends stand out as a particularly strong position in this draft class, and it just so happens the Saints have a need there.

Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State

The Eagles' D-line rotation, which led the NFL in sacks by a mile last season, stays deadly.

Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

The Chiefs can't enter the season with Jawaan Taylor and Lucas Niang as their only starting options at offensive tackle. Patrick Mahomes' health is too important. It'd be malpractice.

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