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A Microwaved 2023 NFL Mock Draft After The Panthers Trade Up For The No. 1 Overall Pick

We're going no-huddle on this one. The Carolina Panthers will be on the clock when the 2023 NFL Draft begins.

...Unless they for some reason trade again.

Panthers owner David Tepper was clearly in full attack mode, and now his franchise will get a splashy new quarterback to lead them into a new era. In light of this new information, and due to the fact that my last mock dropped this week, figured it'd be good to do a shorter, sweeter uptempo edition. Won't run up so many words and will give you an idea of what each team might be thinking under these drastically different circumstances.

Looking to the sidelines. Listening to the headset. Hand signals. Rushing everyone to the line. BLUE EIGHTY SET!

[Matt Fitz's Mock 2.0] [Top 100 Big Board]

1. Carolina Panthers (via Bears) - Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

Last mock had C.J. Stroud No. 1, so I'll change it up. Not gonna lie, I'm trying to manifest this pick a bit since I have an 80-1 future ticket on Richardson going first overall. And it's not only because of the Combine workout heard 'round the NFL world that the one-year Florida starter goes to Carolina. It's more based on what new Panthers coach Frank Reich said about the quarterback position when he first took the gig (h/t NFL.com):

"We all know the way the game's going, right? We all know the game is going to a more movement-style quarterback. I embrace that. I love that. We worked with some in Philadelphia, worked with Carson Wentz, and we did a lot of good things with movement, RPOs, play-action, all that stuff. Same thing in the years in Indy. We had some dropback, some movement guys. Ultimately, we can adapt to whatever, but where the game is going, most of the guys coming out in college have more movement, right? That has some advantages."

There's also this to consider, even though it appears C.J. Stroud has emerged as the favorite to go first:

If you've seen Carolina's coaching staff, it's STACKED with brilliant offensive minds and former players. No shortage of viable teachers for Richardson to learn from as he endures inevitable growing pains. And while CJ Stroud does have underrated movement skills and Bryce Young can wiggle in his own right, no one is touching Richardson's athleticism or his ceiling as a player.

2. Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Young is my QB2 and seventh overall on my big board. It's basically all because of his size. Look at all the smaller signal-callers who've been banged-up and/or rendered ineffective of late. Baker Mayfield, Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, Kyler Murray and even Brock Purdy immediately come to mind. Sorry but this is a grown-ass man's game, and Young is smaller than all those dudes by a not-inconsiderable margin. 

So why is the Alabama Heisman winner the pick at No. 2? Because all those concerns aside, he's still that special in terms of football IQ, sixth-sense ability to evade pressure and knack for making huge off-schedule plays. I question how much of that translates. Whatever happens, it'll be exciting.

3. TRADE Indianapolis Colts (via Cardinals): C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Assuming Richardson is the pick at No. 1 and the Texans follow suit by selecting Young, my sense is we'll see an arms race to move up to Arizona's spot. The Colts have had QB woes for years, watched someone leapfrog them for the top pick and saw their AFC South rival draft their next guy. Easy to see them overpaying to move up one slot and ensure they land Stroud. Indy GM Chris Ballard loves traits-based prospects, so Will Levis is a real possibility as well. I think Stroud has a higher floor, a comparable ceiling, and far superior innate accuracy.

4. TRADE Las Vegas Raiders (via Cardinals) - Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Only in 1999 (Tim Couch-Donovan McNabb-Akili Smith) and 2021 (Trevor Lawrence-Zach Wilson-Trey Lance) can I recall three quarterbacks drafted in a row to kick things off. I forgive you for scoffing at the notion that this could possibly happen. Based on what the Panthers just did and how many QB-needy teams are inside or near the top 10, it's not so outlandish.

It wouldn't cost Las Vegas that much to hop up from seven to four. For Arizona, it means not dropping way off so as to lose out on a premier defensive prospect.

Levis seriously gives me Justin Herbert vibes. Plus physical tools. All-academic student. Questioned out of college due to circumstances about his situation that were out of his control. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where Levis falls on draft day and flourishes. I'd imagine drafting a rookie this high buys Josh McDaniels more time/job security. Not like the Raiders have any good in-house options at the moment after releasing Derek Carr.

5. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos) - Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

YOOOOOOOO. Hot take. Will Anderson Jr. is the obvious choice here but I'm feeling saucy. Given the close proximity from Seattle to Oregon, I'm sure the Seahawks have had their eyes on Gonzalez for a minute. He's so quick and smooth for being 6-1, 197 pounds. You can plug him in right away at a critical spot and suddenly have a disgusting cornerback duo with Tariq Woolen on the other side. Use the 20th pick on a front seven defender instead.

6. Detroit Lions - Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

A popular but logical match between Dan Campbell's Lions and the feistiest cornerback in the draft. Witherspoon is the type of hard-nosed, lockdown corner Detroit needs to bring some attitude to its secondary. They should be sprinting this card in if Gonzalez is gone. Huge positional need and best player available aside from…

7. Arizona Cardinals (via Raiders) - Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

So trading down twice, getting a reasonable haul of draft capital to rebuild the roster and still managing to land Will Anderson? Talk about a dream scenario for the Cardinals. The worst case — operating on the premise of an all-QB top-four — is Anderson goes to Seattle, and they choose whichever cornerback is still on the board between Gonzalez and Witherspoon.

8. Atlanta Falcons - Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech

Atlanta continues to be annoyingly inept at rushing the passer every year. Enter Tyree Wilson, who can line up inside or outside and wreak havoc with his sheer power and 7-foot-2 wingspan. Don't ask me why the Falcons are rolling with Desmond Ridder at QB for 2023. Not writing Ridder off just yet, but that's a tough sell for your fan base. Maybe they're tanking for Caleb Williams. Time will tell.

9. Chicago Bears (via Panthers) - Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern

Had the Bears going with Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba here before that Carolina trade. Now that Chicago has DJ Moore, Darnell Mooney and will still try to make Chase Claypool work, I doubt they add another wideout in the top 10. What they should prioritize early, if not first, is better protection for Justin Fields. 

During last season, I always thought the Bears would pry away Elgton Jenkins from the rival Packers thanks to their mountain of cap space. Jenkins instead signed an extension with Green Bay in December. So instead, Chicago can draft Northwestern's Peter Skoronski. He could well prove to be as uniquely versatile and effective as Jenkins for a fraction of the cost.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Saints) - Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

I could plug in the above tweet and leave it at that. Whether or not Darius Slay stays in Philly, corner should be a real consideration for the Eagles to finish out the top 10. Porter is a long boundary guy who excels in bump-and-run coverage but has the instincts and savvy to thrive in zone. No need to break the bank to retain James Bradberry when you can get a possibly superior long-term prospect like Porter and still have a first-rounder to burn at 30th overall.

And below is the rest of Round 1. Let's be honest you'll probably disagree with half or more of my picks anyway, so leave the explanations to your imagination and/or your own rationale(s). Shit's just gonna blow the fuck up once the tidal wave of free agency hits anyway.

Giphy Images.
  • 11. Tennessee Titans - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
  • 12. Houston Texans (via Browns) - Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
  • 13. New York Jets - Calijah Kancey, DL, Pittsburgh
  • 14. New England Patriots - Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
  • 15. Green Bay Packers - Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
  • 16. Washington Commanders - Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
  • 17. Pittsburgh Steelers - Brian Branch, S/CB, Alabama
  • 18. Detroit Lions - Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
  • 19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
  • 20. Seattle Seahawks - Mazi Smith, DL, Michigan
  • 21. Los Angeles Chargers - Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
  • 22. Baltimore Ravens - Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
  • 23. Minnesota Vikings - Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
  • 24. Jacksonville Jaguars - Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
  • 25. New York Giants - Jordan Addison, WR, USC
  • 26. Dallas Cowboys - Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
  • 27. Buffalo Bills - Steve Avila, OL, TCU
  • 28. Cincinnati Bengals - Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
  • 29. New Orleans Saints (via 49ers) - Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
  • 30. Philadelphia Eagles - Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
  • 31. Kansas City Chiefs - Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald/TikTok