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2023 NFL mock draft: Star QBs take center stage again

Photo illustration by Nick Roy/theScore

After a year that saw zero quarterbacks taken in the top 15 picks - and only one in the entire first round - the passers rule the top of the 2023 NFL Mock Draft.

Ohio State's C.J. Stroud and Alabama's Bryce Young will likely spend the 2022 collegiate season battling for both the Heisman Trophy and the No. 1 spot in next year's draft. Those two, alongside teammates Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Will Anderson Jr., headline the list of prospects for next year.

The order for theScore's way-too-early 2023 mock draft was set using Super Bowl odds while also balancing the number of clubs from each conference picking 19th-32nd - the 14 spots reserved for playoff teams.

1. Houston Texans - C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Davis Mills surprised with solid play in his rookie season, but he'd have to make an incredible leap to keep the Texans from grabbing Stroud at No. 1. The Ohio State star threw for over 4,400 yards last season with 44 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He led the country in quarterback rating and capped the season with an outrageous 573-yard, six-touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl.

2. New York Jets - Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

There was plenty of debate over who was the best edge rusher in this year's draft, but that won't exist for the 2023 version. There's no doubt that Anderson is miles ahead of the pack after an incredible sophomore season. The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder led the nation with 17.5 sacks and gives Robert Saleh's defense the difference-maker he craves.

3. Detroit Lions - Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Young picked up where Mac Jones left off and was the best quarterback in the nation in his first season as a starter. The California native threw for over 4,700 yards with 47 touchdowns against just seven interceptions to win the Heisman Trophy. The Lions will jump at the chance to pair Young with former collegiate teammate Jameson Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and T.J. Hockenson.

4. New York Giants - Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

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Thursday's opening round saw Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams go back-to-back-to-back from Nos. 10-12. Now, the fourth player from the 2021 Ohio State receiving room is off the board higher than the previous three. The last time we saw Smith-Njigba in action, he turned in one of the best performances in college football history with 15 catches for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Seven Georgia defensive players went in the opening three rounds of this year's draft to set the new NFL record. The Bulldogs don't slow down in 2023, either, beginning with Carter at the No. 5 slot. The Jaguars spent three of their first four picks on defenders this year and will reunite Carter with his college teammate, Travon Walker, in Duval County.

6. Chicago Bears - Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

There are few teams in the NFL with a weaker set of pass-catchers than the Bears, and Boutte should instantly become Justin Fields' No. 1 target. The LSU star rose to prominence with an absurd 308-yard receiving game as a freshman, setting both the school and conference records.

7. Seattle Seahawks - Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

The Seahawks grab an edge rusher for the second straight draft with Smith at No. 7. The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder came to Georgia as the No. 2 recruit in the entire country but has yet to live up to his full potential through two seasons. With seven starters gone from the Bulldogs' defense, Smith will play a huge role in 2022 for the defending national champions. Should he deliver on that, he'll certainly be a top-10 pick.

8. Carolina Panthers - D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson

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After bursting onto the scene in his freshman year, Uiagalelei took a huge step back in his development last year at Clemson. He also loses his offensive coordinator heading into the 2022 season with the Tigers. Despite that, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback with all the tools will be appealing to whoever is coaching the Panthers next season.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers - Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

The third defender from Georgia flies off the board to Pittsburgh at No. 9. Ringo possesses elite size for the position and isn't afraid to use that attribute to get physical with receivers. Ringo's ability to lock down the opposition's No. 1 target will be very appealing to Mike Tomlin.

10. Atlanta Falcons - Jordan Addison, WR, Pitt

For the third straight year, the Falcons grab a pass-catcher with their top pick. Last year's Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's top receiver should fit perfectly with 2021 pick Kyle Pitts and this year's selection, Drake London, to give the Falcons endless weapons on offense.

11. Washington Commanders - Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Mayer ranked second in the country last season among tight ends with 71 catches and constantly helped bail Notre Dame out on third down. The big target is virtually unguardable one-on-one and should give Carson Wentz the security blanket he needs in Washington.

12. Philadelphia Eagles (via Saints) - Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina

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In last year's early mock draft for 2022, Rattler was the No. 2 pick off the board, but this year finds him at No. 12. It was a trying year at Oklahoma for the passer, losing his starting job to Caleb Williams before transferring to South Carolina. Now that he's reunited with Shane Beamer, we're betting he gets back on track and gives the Eagles options at quarterback should Jalen Hurts struggle in 2022.

13. Minnesota Vikings - Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson

Murphy is primed for a breakout season with Clemson in 2022. The Tigers standout has contributed from Day 1 with the ACC outfit and is versatile at both stopping the run and getting after the passer. After grabbing Andrew Booth and Lewis Cine early in this year's draft, Murphy will give the Vikings a young nucleus on defense for years to come.

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

The Raiders will certainly hope that Skoronski can replicate the immediate success of former Northwestern teammate Rashawn Slater in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder is a versatile, athletic tackle that should shore up protection for Derek Carr in Las Vegas.

15. New England Patriots - Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

Bresee seems like a perfect fit with the Patriots, and Bill Belichick won't think twice about scooping him up at No. 15. Bresee came to Clemson as one of the top recruits in the country and is primed for a huge 2022 campaign after recovering from an ACL injury.

16. Miami Dolphins - Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

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Robinson finally breaks the drought for Texas, who hasn't had an offensive player taken in the opening round since Vince Young in 2006. The common thinking of not taking a running back early doesn't apply to a talent like Robinson. The Longhorns star is a huge weapon in both the rushing and passing attack and will fit perfectly in Mike McDaniel's offense.

17. Houston Texans (via Browns) - Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

The Texans immediately give Stroud a weapon in the passing attack by grabbing the speedy Downs out of North Carolina. While he's not the biggest receiver, Downs has shown versatility in playing both the slot and outside and should instantly be a standout performer in Houston.

18. Indianapolis Colts - Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma

NFL teams crave speed on the outside, and nobody has more in this draft than Mims. The Oklahoma star was fourth in the country last season with a whopping 22 yards per catch and will give the Colts a vertical threat for Matt Ryan in the passing attack.

19. Philadelphia Eagles - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State

Johnson will be in the spotlight to showcase his skills this season, blocking for the projected No. 1 pick in this mock (Stroud) to hit the No. 4 pick (Smith-Njigba) in the passing attack. Johnson spent time at guard last season but will kick out to tackle for the 2022 campaign. That versatility is something the Eagles crave for the offensive line.

20. Tennessee Titans - Ryan Hayes, OT, Michigan

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The Titans fill their need to get younger on the offensive line by snagging Hayes out of Michigan. The tackle anchored one of the nation's top running games in 2022 and will look to improve his pass blocking ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.

21. Arizona Cardinals - Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

The Cardinals opt for the long, rangy, physical corner who comes from a great pedigree thanks to his father, the former Steelers great. Porter is raw at the position, but another strong season with Penn State should solidify his spot in the first round.

22. Cincinnati Bengals - B.J. Ojulari, EDGE, LSU

Expect a breakout season from Ojulari in Brian Kelly's first campaign at LSU. The Tigers star is a high-energy talent that pops off the screen on almost every play. That's a great fit in Cincinnati, with the LSU tandem of Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase already on board.

23. Dallas Cowboys - Dontay Demus Jr., WR, Maryland

Demus likely would have been in this year's draft, but he's returning for another run with Maryland after a season-ending knee injury in 2021. Adding the 6-foot-2 Demus to a receiver room with CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup would provide an incredible trio of options for Dak Prescott.

24. Baltimore Ravens - Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

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The Ravens add to their receiver room with the lanky Johnston out of TCU. At 6-foot-4, his catch radius is the best in the draft, and his highlight tape shows a number of ridiculous contested catches from the 2021 season. That type of skill set should be a great weapon for Lamar Jackson.

25. Miami Dolphins (via 49ers) - Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama

Ricks shone at LSU and should do the same after transferring to Alabama. A physical tackler, his fundamentally-sound skill set should make him a favorite of Nick Saban. That will translate well to a young Dolphins defense.

26. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos) - Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami

There weren't many players in the country who finished the season stronger than Van Dyke. The Miami quarterback led the Hurricanes to a 5-1 record in their final six games, throwing 20 touchdowns against just three interceptions in that span. It's unlikely Seattle will have their quarterback situation figured out by next year, so this pick makes a ton of sense at No. 26.

27. Detroit Lions (via Rams) - Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon

It's a Sewell family reunion in Detroit as the Lions grab Noah just two years after taking his older brother, Penei, in the opening round. The younger Sewell is as physical as they come and should become an instant favorite of Dan Campbell and fans in the Motor City.

28. Los Angeles Chargers - Zion Nelson, OT, Miami

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The Chargers have invested in their offensive line via the draft the past two seasons. Picking Nelson at No. 28 makes it a third straight year, with the Miami tackle coming aboard near the end of the opening round. Nelson is a versatile lineman who would likely slot in opposite Slater at right tackle.

29. Green Bay Packers - Jordan Battle, S, Alabama

Battle likely would have been a Day 2 pick in this year's draft, but he opted to return and move into the first round. Another year of seasoning in Saban's program should ensure that happens, as the rangy safety goes off the board to Green Bay at No. 29.

30. Kansas City Chiefs - Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson

The run of Clemson defenders in the opening round continues with Simpson at No. 30. Simpson's one of the most impressive athletes in the draft and should be an excellent fit with his speed in the Chiefs' defense.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Levis' physical tools are among the best in the draft, as the Kentucky quarterback's arm talent is second to none. His first season with the Wildcats was a huge success after a transfer from Penn State, and if he can clean up his accuracy, he'll fly up draft boards.

32. Buffalo Bills - Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina

After an exceptional showing in this year's draft, the Bills get incredible value with Smith at No. 32. The South Carolina corner has the potential to be a lockdown defender at the next level and would form an incredible trio with Tre'Davious White and Kaiir Elam.

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