LOCALS IN THE NFL

Sam Farnsworth: 2023 NFL Mock Draft

Apr 25, 2023, 11:08 AM | Updated: Apr 27, 2023, 5:05 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Only five states have more NFL players per capita than Utah does. As of the opening kickoff to the 2022 season there were 25 players that went to high school in Utah on NFL rosters. Then add on the 42 others under contract with NFL teams that played college ball at either Utah, BYU, Utah State, Weber State or Southern Utah and you can’t deny the NFL hotbed that the state of Utah has become.

The 2023 NFL draft will add to that total and it will start early where for the fifth time in the last six NFL Drafts a local player will be taken in the first round. Here’s my 2023 Mock Draft.

1 PANTHERS – Bryce Young, Quarterback (Alabama)

Every NFL analyst and fan knows that this is a quarterback-hungry draft. And the 2023 class has the talent to supply that demand. It has been a rough go at QB for the Panthers the past four seasons. Seven different players have started at QB for Carolina in that span which included the unsuccessful return of Cam Newton and the top two quarterbacks from the 2018 class in Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield trying to resurrect their careers. Now they hope to finally get it right with Bryce Young who has a Pro Football Focus grade of 91.5 or higher the past two seasons at Alabama.

2 TEXANS – C.J. Stroud, Quarterback (Ohio State)

The Texans starting quarterback rotation hasn’t been much better than that of the Panthers over the past four seasons. It looked like Deshaun Watson would be the long-term answer in Houston. But since his departure after the 2020 season the Texans have tried four other players at QB. Time to hit the reset button with Stroud who completed 69.3% of his passes at Ohio State and has a ridiculous 85 to 12 touchdown to interception ratio in his two seasons as the Buckeyes starter. It’s time to shine bright in Texas.

3 CARDINALS – Will Anderson, EDGE (Alabama)

Will Anderson is the number one player in this draft and should be taken number one overall. But that’s an argument for another article. I get why teams can’t afford to pass on a potential franchise quarterback but I also feel like you can not pass on a franchise edge rusher that will terrorize opposing quarterbacks for the next decade. Will Anderson is that player. He recorded 34.5 sacks in three seasons including 17 in 2021 and he had 58.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career. Whether he’s sacking the QB or taking down ball carriers in the backfield, Anderson will be a superstar in Arizona.

4 COLTS – Anthony Richardson, Quarterback (Florida)

I know there is a lot of talk of Will Levis being the second or third quarterback taken in this draft. But the Colts are in need of a starter that can make it more than one season. They’ve had a different season-opening starter in each of the last seven years. Richardson won’t be as NFL-ready as Young or Stroud but his potential may be higher than either of those two. He’s lightning quick running a 4.3 40 at the NFL Combine and had a 40.5 inch vertical which is the highest ever by a QB in combine history. His college stats don’t jump off the page but his tape will keep replaying in Colts executive’s minds over and over again until they pick him.

5 SEAHAWKS – Tyree Wilson, EDGE (Texas Tech)

The most valuable position in the NFL draft outside of quarterback is that of a potential franchise pass rusher. The Seahawks could be a team interested in a quarterback and Will Levis is still on the board. But they’ll be fine with Geno Smith for the next few seasons after he had a career year for Seattle last fall. Seattle already has solid pass rushers in linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor as well as newly acquired defensive end Dre’Mont Jones from the Broncos. But Nwosu enters the final year of his contract and Taylor will become a restricted free agent. So it’s time to look to the future with Tyree Wilson who brings versatility that none of those guys can offer. He’s 6’6”, 271 pounds and has a long wingspan that allows him to come off the edge or even slide inside as an interior pass rusher.

6 LIONS – Jalen Carter, DT (Georgia)

Aaron Donald may be the most talented and most feared defensive player in the NFL. Georgia’s Jalen Carter has been compared to Donald by some. The unanimous All-American had a private visit with the Lions the week before the draft at the Lions team facility. He left a positive impression on the Lions’ front office even with the questions surrounding his misdemeanor charges of reckless driving in a fatal January crash. What he brings to the football field is a player that can help a defense that ranked third to last in the NFL against the run.

7 RAIDERS – Devon Witherspoon, Cornerback (Illinois)

Devon Witherspoon would be a day-one starter for the Raiders defense that allowed the highest opponent passer rating in the NFL in 2022 at 98.8 and also allowed the third-highest completion percentage at 67.6 percent. If they look across the Rockies within their own division the Raiders see a Broncos team that used the ninth overall pick in 2021 on cornerback Patrick Surtain II. In just two seasons Surtain has already been named First-team All-Pro and will be a lockdown corner for the better part of a decade in Denver. The Raiders want and need the same and will get that with Witherspoon.

8 FALCONS – Christian Gonzalez, Cornerback (Oregon)

Quarterbacks, pass rushers and cornerbacks. They’re all the rage in the NFL these days (rightfully so) and will always go quickly in the draft when the talent is there. The 2023 draft class has multiple franchise cornerbacks available and Christian Gonzalez is one of them. He would become an excellent complement opposite A.J. Terrell in the Falcons’ secondary.

9 BEARS – Peter Skoronski, Tackle (Northwestern)

Considered by many teams as the best offensive lineman in the draft, Peter Skoronski can be a day-one starter on the Bears’ offensive line at tackle or guard. The Bears would love to grab Jalen Carter with the 9th pick, but in this mock Carter is already off the board. If he is slotted to be a tackle it would be on the right side of the line, opposite Murray, Utah native Braxton Jones who has been a pleasant surprise for the Bears after his All-Rookie season in 2022.

10 EAGLES – TRADE PICK TO WASHINGTON

10 COMMANDERS – Will Levis, Quarterback (Kentucky)

There is a decent drop-off at quarterback after the top four go off the board and Levis is the fourth in my mock. With the Titans considering a quarterback at the 11th pick other QB-needy teams like the Commanders or Vikings may consider moving up to grab Levis while he’s still available. The Eagles move down to 16, pick up some future first-round picks and will still be in position to get what they need with that pick.

11 TITANS – Paris Johnson, Tackle (Ohio State)

The Bears opened up the run on tackles in this draft and the Titans jump on a guy that said just weeks before the draft that he likes his fit with the Titans and he hopes the feeling is mutual. With the 11th pick, the Titans will reciprocate the interest. The 6’6” tackle would hold down the left side of Tennessee’s line for years to come.

12 TEXANS – Nolan Smith, Edge (Georgia)

The Texans 2023 draft is off to a great start. They get Stroud with the second pick and then land a lightning-quick edge rusher in Nolan Smith. Smith ran a 4.39 40 at the NFL Combine and also brings the ability to stop the run at the line of scrimmage. The Texans’ defense was one of the worst in the League at defensive yards per play allowed and they will improve on that number with a player like Smith as a three-down pass rusher.

13 PACKERS – Dalton Kincaid, Tight End (Utah) 

The Jordan Love era is officially here for the Green Bay Packers. With the Aaron Rodgers trade to the Jets the Packers also move up two spots in the first round. This team wants to see Jordan Love succeed and in doing so they do what they rarely if ever did for Aaron Rodgers. They give him some help in the pass game. They will give heavy consideration to Jaxon Smith-Njigba here but instead go with a tight end compared to the likes of Travis Kelce and Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. Kincaid joins Love (2020), Zach Wilson (2021), Penei Sewell (2021) and Devin Lloyd (2022) as local players taken in the first round of the last four NFL Drafts. 

 

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14 PATRIOTS – Joey Porter Jr, Cornerback (Penn State)

Defense wins championships and the Patriots know very well what it takes to win Super Bowls. They had a top-10 defense in 2022 but still lack a true lockdown cornerback. With the addition of Joey Porter Jr the Pats will get one of the top press defenders in this draft. He allowed just 143 yards receiving in his entire final season at Penn State.

15 JETS – Broderick Jones, Tackle (Georgia) 

Zach Wilson is taking a backseat to a future Hall of Famer. Now that Aaron Rodgers is in a New York state of mind the Jets will take a big step towards making sure their investment stays safe and clean in the pocket. Broderick Jones is a good start to reduce the 42 sacks allowed in 2022 to a more respectable number.

16 EAGLES (From the Commanders) – Brian Branch, Safety (Alabama)

As a slot corner for the Crimson Tide in 2022 Branch led his team in interceptions and was second in tackles for loss. He has an instinctive feel for the ball and is one of the most physical defensive backs in the draft who will not shy away from contact. The All-American would fill a position of need on the Eagles’ defense after CJ Gardner-Johnson left to sign a one-year deal with the Lions.

17 STEELERS – Lukas Van Ness, Edge (Iowa)

Some consider Lukas Van Ness as a top-10 prospect in this year’s draft. The Steelers reportedly have a ton of interest in adding Van Ness as a compliment to T.J. Watt. So much interest that some believe the Steelers would be willing to trade up in order to secure Van Ness. He has a combined 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss over the past two seasons at Iowa.

18 LIONS – Cam Smith, Cornerback (South Carolina)

The Lions are back on the clock for a second time in this draft and keep it on the defensive side of the ball in this cornerback-loaded class. Things didn’t work out the way they had hoped with Jeffrey Okudah since taking him 3rd overall in the 2020 draft. The Lions traded Okudah to Atlanta for a 2023 fifth-round pick. To help fill that void and to hopefully redeem what went wrong with Okudah, the Lions will take Smith at 18 overall.

19 BUCCANEERS – Darnell Wright, Tackle (Tennessee)

Will the Bucs be tempted by this quarterback class and make an attempt to move up? Maybe, but not likely. The biggest need on this team is tackle after left tackle Donovan Smith was released. Tristan Wirfs may switch from right to left. Either way, you have a hole to fill and Wright will easily do that on day one.

20 SEAHAWKS – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Wide Receiver (Ohio State)

The Seahawks are back on the board after using a top-five pick to select a pass rusher. This time they give Geno Smith a weapon on an offense that ranked 12th in the NFL in pass yards per game and first in the NFL in completion percentage. Smith-Njigba is one of the best route runners in the draft and has elite quickness that will make him a favorite target for Smith in Seattle.

21 DOLPHINS FORFEIT THE PICK

The Dolphins were found guilty of tampering by the NFL and were penalized this pick in the draft.

22 CHARGERS – Jordan Addison, Wide Receiver (USC)

Jordan Addison will stay close to his college home when the Los Angeles Chargers take him in the first round. Justin Herbert has proven to be a suitable quarterback for the Chargers’ offense. Adding Addison to his arsenal will only help a Chargers offense that is trying to keep pace with division rival Kansas City. Get the ball quickly to Addison and then stand back and watch his play-making abilities take over. He’ll make life easier for Herbert in a hurry.

23 RAVENS – Quentin Johnston, Wide Receiver (TCU)

The run on receivers has officially begun. The three receivers listed here could be shuffled in any order, really. But Johnston brings the size (6’4”, 215 lbs) and speed (4.5 40-time) that helped him rack up an outstanding 22.1 yards per catch at TCU last season.

24 VIKINGS – Myles Murphy, EDGE (Clemson)

The Vikings need to address wide receiver, running back, cornerback, interior line and possibly even quarterback. But with the 24th pick, they will go with a pass rusher. Myles Murphy at 24 will be considered a steal. One of the quickest pass rushers off the edge in this draft Murphy has the tools to be very successful with the right team.

25 JAGUARS – O’Cyrus Torrence, OL (Florida)

The Jaguars drafting at number 25??? Crazy, right? They’ve had a top-10 selection in each of the previous five drafts. After successfully bolstering their defense in last year’s draft which included former Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd, the Jags will focus on the offensive line in the first round. O’Cyrus Torrence becomes the pick to help fill the vacancy that Jawaan Taylor left behind when he went to the Chiefs in free agency.

26 GIANTS – Zay Flowers, Wide Receiver (Boston College)

Zay Flowers is a top 5 receiver in the 2023 draft class. His pull-away speed is elite and NFL cornerbacks will have a hard time matching him step for step when running routes. The Giants made a big splash by trading for tight end Darren Waller in the offseason. Now they go for a future number-one receiver in the first round with Flowers.

27 COWBOYS – Bijan Robinson, Running Back (Texas)

The number one running back in the draft is finally coming off the board and he’s not going too far from his college home either. The Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliot and Robinson has the size, speed and power to succeed as a primary ball carrier in the NFL but also as a reliable pass blocker. Plus the Cowboys are still unsure how Tony Pollard will return after his leg injury. Robinson could be the starter week one in Dallas.

28 BILLS – Steve Avila, OL (TCU)

Josh Allen may be the most aggressive quarterback in the NFL. He doesn’t shy away from contact and his big frame provides a sizeable target for quarterback-hunting defenders. Anything the Bills can do to help protect Allen and lengthen his career is very welcome. They added G Connor McGovern in the offseason and now will add another in the draft in TCU’s Steve Avila.

29 BENGALS – Michael Mayer, TE (Notre Dame)

According to NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, this is the best tight end class he’s seen in the draft over the past decade. With Dalton Kincaid off the board, the Bengals can still get a franchise tight end with the 29th pick. With more than 2,000 yards receiving on 180 catches and 18 touchdowns in his collegiate career he will be a reliable option in the pass game. But Mayer is also one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft.

30 SAINTS – Bryan Bresee, DL (Clemson)

The Saints’ top priority in the draft is on the defensive line. Bryan Bresee has strong hands and can knock opposing blockers off the line, blow up running lanes and collapse the pocket. He also is strong in the pass rush game.

31 EAGLES – Mazi Smith, DL (Michigan)

For the second time in the round, the Eagles are on the board. They went Safety first time around and now will address the defensive line. Mazi Smith is one of the most versatile defensive lineman in this class. He can play in both the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. The Eagles have Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis and Milton Williams coming back but Smith will had depth and earn reps early in the season with this Eagles defense.

32 CHIEFS – Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE (Kansas State)

The Chiefs will be tempted to go after a wide receiver with this pick but they also can’t ignore the need to add a reliable pass rusher. Anudike-Uzomah is one of the best pure pass rushers in the 2023 class. He’s fast and long and can get to the quarterback quickly but he also can push tackles back into the pocket in pursuit of the QB as well.

Where will the other locals go in the 2023 NFL Draft?

Siaki Ika, DL (Baylor) 2nd-3rd round

Ika, the former East High star won’t last long on day two before a team with an inside need on the defensive line takes him off the board. The Bears, Raiders and Chargers will be among those teams looking to fill that need in rounds 2 and 3.

Noah Sewell, LB (Oregon) 2nd-4th round

Orem High School’s Noah Sewell was once thought of as a first-round talent. His draft value slid a bit during and after the 2022 season but his value on the field is as strong as it has always been. I love the idea of Sewell playing for a franchise that has a strong history with linebackers like the Pittsburgh Steelers. They will be in the market for an inside linebacker on day two or early on day tree. If not the Steelers then the Jets or Bills could be a good landing spot for Sewell.

Clark Phillips III, CB (Utah) 3rd-4th round

Its borderline shocking that we are talking about a consensus first-team All-American cornerback possibly being drafted on day three. CPIII was a first-round lock prior to the 2022 season. But his lack of size and slower 40-time dropped his stock. But the tape doesn’t lie and whichever team gets Phillips will have one of the steals of the draft. Look for the three C’s to target Phillips. The Cardinals, Colts and Commanders are all in need of a cornerback.

 

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Blake Freeland, T (BYU) 3rd-4th round

Freeland’s combine performance wowed every team in attendance. KSL Sports NFL Insider Stevenson Sylvester thinks Freeland could be taken late first round, early second round. When its all said and done I think Freeland will find his NFL home in the 3rd or 4th round. Every team in the League is always in need of help at tackle. Maybe Andy Reid is the one that gives Freeland his draft day phone call. I like his fit with the Chiefs.

Cameron Latu, TE (Alabama) 4th-5th round

Latu was a four-star defensive end out of Olympus High School. The coaches at Alabama were smart enough to see that after one year with the program, he could be one of the top tight ends in the country. Now, Latu is a lock to be drafted in one of the deepest tight-end draft classes in history.

Jaren Hall, QB (BYU) 4th-7th round

After the top four or five quarterbacks in this class there is a bit of a drop-off. That doesn’t mean Jaren Hall can’t be a starting QB in the NFL for years to come but it will be a few years before he’s put into that role. The best spot for Hall would be on a team with a reliable veteran quarterback that he can learn from for 2-4 years. Don’t be surprised if Hall isn’t taken until the 7th round or gets passed on altogether. If that happens, he will still get his call and will still find his way onto a roster by the time the 2023 season begins.

 

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Braden Daniels, OL (Utah) 4th- 7th round

Versatility is the word that will resonate with teams that review Braden Daniels career at Utah. Daniels can play both inside and outside on the offensive line, on both sides of the center. Daniels will provide immediate depth to a team in need on the line, which is pretty much every NFL team. Daniels will be taken early 7th round at the latest.

Puka Nacua, WR (BYU) 6th-Undrafted

The most likely scenario for Nacua is signing on as an undrafted free agent shortly after the conclusion of the draft. That’s not a bad thing. It gives Nacua the option to choose the team he wants to go to work for and not the other way around. In recent years locals like Britain Covey, Rasheed Shahid and Tyler Huntley are all players who were not drafted but made the 53-man rosters for their rookie seasons.

 

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Mohamad Diabate, LB (Utah) 5th-Undrafted

Diabate is an interesting prospect. He could go early on day 3 or not at all. But like Nacua, if he is not picked that just gives him the freedom to choose from those teams that are interested.

For in-depth coverage and analysis of this year’s NFL Draft follow Sam Farnsworth on Twitter and Instagram. 

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Sam Farnsworth: 2023 NFL Mock Draft