Editor’s note:This mock draft was published prior to the March 1 news that Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter was the subject of arrest warrants for reckless driving and racing in Athens, Georgia, stemming from an ongoing investigation into a fatal Jan. 15 car crash. Carter was subsequently booked and released from jail.
With the start of the NFL Scouting Combine (March 2-5 on NFL Network, NFL+) just around the corner, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah previewed the event during a media conference call on Friday. Here are some of the notable prospect-team connections Jeremiah made as he answered questions for two-plus hours.
NOTE: For an in-depth look at DJ’s latest mock draft, check out this NFL+ breakdown.
With Arizona in need of pass-rushing help upon the arrival of Jonathan Gannon, a defensive-minded head coach, Jeremiah has the Cardinals taking Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson over Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. (with Georgia DT Jalen Carter already off the board) in his most recent mock draft. It’s one of the surprises in DJ’s latest Round 1 projection, but Jeremiah expanded on his thinking, with Wilson being a guy flying under the radar.
“I think Jalen Carter is the best player in the draft and I think Anderson is the second-best player.” Jeremiah said. “If you’re asking me, I wouldn’t be trading off of either of those two guys, Jalen Carter or Will Anderson. I probably wouldn’t want to get out if I were them, as desperate as they are for defensive linemen. I think those are the two best guys. Kind of a two-parter there. What would I do? That’s what I would do — I’d take one of those two guys. But I do want to make sure that Tyree Wilson gets in the mix. I remember doing a similar thing last year, trying to alert everybody that this Travon Walker from Georgia … Like, hey, ‘Just know who he is and be aware. Don’t be surprised.’ That’s kind of the same thing I’m doing here. Same formula.”
A home playoff loss where the Bills mustered just 10 points in the Divisional Round was a bitter end to a season that began with Super Bowl expectations. The disappointing result could nudge Buffalo into getting another weapon for Josh Allen in the first round. Jeremiah sees Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Boston College’s Zay Flowers as two wide receiver fits for the Bills at No. 27 overall.
“Smith-Njigba would probably be one that I would think would be a nice complement there,” Jeremiah said. “If you’re looking for somebody who can do some of that in the middle of the field, he gives you that. Gabe (Davis) can play more over the top and (Stefon) Diggs kind of does everything. That would be one I would think that would be a really good fit there as a really good player. I love Zay Flowers. I know he’s not the biggest guy in the world at a little over 5-9, 182 pounds, but he’s a clone to T.Y. Hilton.”
Jeremiah also sees an opportunity for Buffalo to add to its interior offensive line, with Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence being a potential candidate late in Round 1.
What will Chicago ultimately do with the No. 1 overall pick? That is THE burning question trumping all others, with the answer poised to significantly shape the rest of the 2023 NFL Draft. Jeremiah, who didn’t execute any trades in his most recent mock draft, sees the Bears taking either an offensive or defensive lineman should they trade down. But if they move too far back for either Georgia’s Jalen Carter or Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr., Jeremiah likes Chicago shoring up Justin Fields’ protection.
“I would probably go back to the same guy I just talked about: (Peter) Skoronski,” Jeremiah said of the Northwestern offensive lineman. “As bad as the Bears’ defense is, you’ve got to give Justin Fields some help going forward. If they traded all the way down to No. 9, I would think they’re probably trading themselves into their choice of offensive linemen at that point in time. It would be hard to trade away from those two defensive players because they’re really, really good. But if you could get just the sheer haul of picks that could serve you well into the future, I think I would go that route and it probably would switch me from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side with their first pick.”
Following a disappointing year defensively, the Browns hired Jim Schwartz as the new coordinator, hoping to inject life into a unit with talent. Cleveland is expected to add pass-rushing depth in the draft, given the aggressive scheme Schwartz employs and the free-agent exit of Jadeveon Clowney.
With that in mind, Jeremiah keyed in on Iowa State prospect Will McDonald IV as an ideal rookie for the Browns, who are without a first-round pick.
“Schwartz likes to get outside and let those guys rock ‘n’ roll and really get off the ball,” Jeremiah said. “When you look at where the Browns are picking — second round, pick 42 — if you’re for edge rushers that have big-time juice, I know one of them off the top of my head if you go to Iowa State. They have a premier player in Will McDonald IV in terms of burst and athleticism. He’s a little bit undersized at 241 pounds. We’ll see what he weighs (at the combine). He can really get off the ball. He can win with spin moves. He can win just turning the corner. Burst and bend is his calling card. In talking to Matt Campbell, the head coach at Iowa State, thinking about the players they’ve had there — including recently Brock Purdy and Breece Hall — he said Will McDonald has the most upside of anybody they’ve had come through there.”
Another potential target for Cleveland in the second/third round?
“I really like Felix Anudike-Uzomah from Kansas State,” Jeremiah said. “He’s kind of right in that range for me, too. He can get off the ball. He can win with his hands.”
Denver won’t be on the clock until late into Day 2 of the draft, barring a trade. With the Broncos holding consecutive third-round picks (Nos. 68 and 69), Jeremiah believes they’ll be focusing on adding depth in the trenches — and Denver should have quality options available.
“When you look at the directions they could be looking to go, I think O-line, D-line would be the places where you start,” Jeremiah said. “I think from an offensive line standpoint, I feel pretty good about the interior and some of the depth that you could find in that portion of the draft. I think edge rush is actually a pretty good group, as well. Guys that I think could be in that type of range: K.J. Henry from Clemson would be one; Andre Carter from Army; Zach Harrison from Ohio State; Dylan Horton from TCU. Those are good players. I think those guys are probably going to be in that third- or fourth-round range. (Notre Dame’s Isaiah) Foskey would be another one. He’s going to test really well, so he might test his way out of that range. I think when you’re looking at offensive linemen, edge rushers, that’s not bad. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the quality of the depth that’s going to be there in third and fourth round in this draft.”
In his latest 2023 mock draft, Jeremiah has Detroit taking Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. It’s an intriguing option for the Lions, who hold two first-round picks (Nos. 6 and 18), and Jeremiah elaborated on his prediction after speaking with several teams about the prospect.
“In making calls, just around the league — the best way to do the quarterback conversation is to talk to the teams that don’t need one, and then you’ll get an accurate feel, just how they evaluate them and what they think. Anthony Richardson is the second quarterback for several teams that I talked to,” Jeremiah said. “We can look at the numbers and it doesn’t look great on paper. You look at the accuracy, this, that and the other … He’s got elite arm strength. He’s a rare athlete. You don’t see quarterbacks running away from LSU with 80-yard touchdown runs. He’s got (a) big-time ceiling, big-time ability. If you want to fall in love with Anthony Richardson, pop on (the) Utah (tape) — you’d think he’s the first pick in the draft. Even Missouri, he made some big-time plays in that game.”
Jeremiah added that he understands Richardson is “a little bit of a roller-coaster” on tape, but with game-changing QBs at such a premium, teams are willing to take chances. Seeing how Jared Goff’s still under contract for two more seasons, taking Richardson now would give the Lions an opportunity to patiently develop the 21-year-old.
“I know he hasn’t played a ton, but teams are starting to look at some of these quarterbacks as lottery tickets, and this one has the biggest payout,” Jeremiah said. “That’s why I think you’re going to see Richardson go pretty high. The reason I have him there with the Lions is, I think, sometimes when you have those two picks (in Round 1), I don’t want to say it’s a luxury — because you’re trying to get good players — but when you look at the landscape of the NFL right now, and you look at the high-end quarterback play, this gives you an opportunity to take a shot at one of those guys who could be that. He’s not at that level right now, but ceiling-wise, with him and Jared Goff, his ceiling is immensely higher. Jared is a solid, steady player right now. He’s playing winning football. But I think there is a ceiling on him. With Richardson, you don’t have a ceiling. That’s why I think you’ll see him go. But in making calls the last couple days, I don’t even think he’ll get (to No. 18).”
Houston enters a new era in 2023 with the hiring of head coach DeMeco Ryans, and the Texans — who hold the No. 2 overall pick — are looking to add a franchise quarterback come April. With Chicago at No. 1 and perhaps in the market to trade the pick to a QB-needy team, Jeremiah believes Houston’s in a good position either way when it comes to his top two QBs in the 2023 class, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
“I’d be fine with it,” Jeremiah said of the scenario where Stroud ends up being Houston’s consolation prize. “I like Bryce Young better on tape, but I think C.J. Stroud is a really good player. If you’re not comfortable with the price to get up to that No. 1 pick, staying where they are and getting C.J. Stroud, I feel just fine about that. I think he’s just a pure thrower. The big question with him that’s been talked about is, ‘OK, not a lot of off-schedule, not a lot of playmaking.’ Then all of a sudden, you see the CFB playoff semifinal game (against Georgia), and you’re like, ‘Dude, where’s this been?’ He showed you he has that ability. The old scouting adage is: If you can do it once, you can do it. So you know he does have that ability. I think Bryce is a little bit more of a playmaker, to me, consistently when you watch him. I just love his instincts and feel. His ability to move within the pocket, I think, is better. I think Bryce Young is a better player, but I would not be totally bummed if you sat there at No. 2 and ended up with C.J. Stroud.”
After winning Super Bowl LVI, the defending champion Rams immediately experienced just how hard life is without Matthew Stafford. Injuries limited the quarterback to nine games, and Los Angeles collapsed to 5-12. With L.A. needing to solidify a backup to the 35-year-old starter, Jeremiah likes the fit of Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker in Sean McVay’s system.
“I really like Hendon Hooker. I think he’s a good player,” Jeremiah said of the 2022 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. “I think he can do everything that Sean McVay wants to do. You start with accuracy and decision making. He can move around, so you’re going to be able to use all that stretch-bootleg (offense). He’s going to be very comfortable doing that. He can think the game really well. We’ll see how high he ends up going, coming off the injury. I think he would have been a first-round pick if he didn’t get hurt, even with the age (25). I know people talk about how old he is, but he’s a really solid player. I think he would be a great fit in that system.”
Considering the Rams don’t currently own a first-round pick and Hooker is rehabbing a serious knee injury, this could be a fit on Day 2 of the draft. Jeremiah says a later-round option for the Rams is BYU’s Jaren Hall.
“I think (Hall will) probably end up going in the fourth or fifth round,” Jeremiah said. “Good athlete, can move, can really drive the ball. Has some things he can work on with his footwork. I’m sure they’ve been working on that in the lead-up to the draft. Just gets a little too bouncy at times. But he’s somebody that’s an intriguing project to me.”
Late April is splash season for Bill Belichick — and his dog, Nike. The Hall of Fame-bound head coach has made numerous waves drafting players no one has heard of from schools off the beaten path.
Belichick should be raring to go with the Patriots owning 11 total draft picks, including the No. 14 overall selection. Jeremiah says Northwestern OL Peter Skoronski, Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon and Iowa pass rusher Lukas Van Ness are candidates for New England’s first-rounder. Furthermore, he spotlighted a lesser-known edge rusher from the ACC who could be of interest to the Pats.
“I would give you (Georgia Tech’s) Keion White as one because of the versatility up front,” Jeremiah said. “He’s almost 6-5, 280 pounds and he can be an edge-setter, which they’ve always valued — the physicality to set the edge in the run game.”
But DJ also took a shot at identifying a later-round prospect who may fit Belichick’s mold in New England.
“If you want to go to non-Power Five offensive linemen — that they hit on last year with Cole Strange — why not go back and go with Cody Mauch from North Dakota State. Again, versatility. Highly tough, highly intelligent Patriot-type guy.”
Armed with two first-round picks (Nos. 10 and 30), the Eagles are poised to add starting talent to a team that just barely lost Super Bowl LVII. Despite the club’s long history of not drafting running backs in the first round — the last Eagles RB selected in Round 1 was Keith Byars in 1986 — Jeremiah is highly intrigued with the scenario of Philadelphia adding to its ground-game strength by selecting Texas’ Bijan Robinson.
“The most consistently highest-rated player in the draft,” Jeremiah said. “Everybody says that Bijan Robinson is not only the best running back in this class, he’s one of the five best players in this draft. He’s elite.”
Where Robinson lands is hard for Jeremiah to figure because of how increasingly unpopular selecting RBs in Round 1 has become in today’s NFL. Considering the makeup of Philadelphia’s win-now roster, which has produced top-five rushing offenses in consecutive years, Jeremiah certainly wouldn’t mind them getting “one of the best backs we’ve seen in the last several years.”
“When you look at that offense with Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, then all of the sudden you drop Bijan Robinson into that mix? Holy moly,” Jeremiah pondered.
Another potential need for Philly is at cornerback, with James Bradberry set to become a free agent. Jeremiah believes the Eagles are also primed to take one of the top CBs of the class in the first round.
“I think (Illinois’ Devon) Witherspoon is a stud,” Jeremiah said. “Having been in that building and seen Asante Samuel there, I think you can make an easy comparison with the ability to take the ball away.”
The Steelers can go several ways with the Nos. 17 and 32 overall picks, having needs at offensive line, cornerback and defensive line. Jeremiah believes there are a few O-line prospects who could be rookie starters, should Pittsburgh look to solidify second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett’s protection.
“If you’re looking at tackle, (Tennessee’s) Darnell Wright is the one that I put there (in my mock),” Jeremiah said. “If they end up waiting on tackle, I think Matthew Bergeron from Syracuse could be one that maybe they take at 32. There are some good interior options: Steve Avila from TCU, (Florida’s) O’Cyrus Torrence. I think those guys are just plug-and-play. You’re not going to win the press conference (or) the draft party with those two guys, but I think they’re just plug-and-play, solid starters immediately.”
A first-round CB would likely be another starting rookie in Pittsburgh. The need may dictate what the Steelers do at No. 17, depending on who’s available. Jeremiah says Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon or Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. (son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter) would make it an easy decision should any of them fall in Pittsburgh’s lap.
“I would love it for multiple reasons, but it would be fun if Porter were to get there,” Jeremiah said. “I don’t think he’ll fall that far. Christian Gonzalez would probably be gone, as well. I’d be shocked if Witherspoon from Illinois were there. If any of those guys somehow manage to get down there, it’d be easy to run the card up for the Steelers.”
Tennessee is doing its due diligence to prepare for 2023, releasing several key veterans this week in order to get under the salary cap. Taylor Lewan, a pillar of the Titans’ offensive line for nearly a decade, was one of those cuts, setting up what Jeremiah says is a “glaring need” at left tackle. With the Titans at No. 11 overall, Jeremiah sees Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski as their “best-case scenario.”
“I think he can play tackle,” Jeremiah said. “I think he could be an unbelievable guard, as well. But Peter Skoronski would be my dream scenario. And while I don’t think that’s going to happen, you start getting all these quarterbacks off the board … If we end up having four go (early) and you have those top defensive players, maybe it’s not the craziest thing in the world that somehow he would make it to them. He reminds me a lot of Alijah Vera-Tucker. Remember when he was coming out: Is he a guard? Is he a tackle? Turns out he can do whatever the heck you want him to do. He’s really, really good.”
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