Detroit News NFL mock draft 3.0: Could Lions trade out of No. 6 pick?

Detroit News

We’ve rounded the final corner and the finish line is in sight. After months of speculation and analysis, the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft is upon us.

As is typically the case, particularly in recent years, there’s plenty of mystery at the top. And it’s the quarterbacks who are the primary source of the intrigue. There is a good chance as many as five passers go in the opening round, as we project below, but how many in the first five or 10 picks?

If nothing else, it should be much different than last year, when the first quarterback selected went 20th to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and another wasn’t taken until the middle of the third round.

The Lions sit somewhat uncomfortably at No. 6, a pick they inherited from the Los Angeles Rams as the lingering piece from a 2021 quarterback swap that sent Matthew Stafford out west. The Lions will have to wait about an hour after the opening bell Thursday night to see how things sort themselves out ahead of their pick. Then the team will be back on the clock with its own selection at No. 18.

Will the Lions go the expected route and take a top defensive player with that first choice? Or will they pull the stunner and draft an heir apparent at quarterback? Or maybe, just maybe, this is a year where a viable trade-down opportunity presents itself in the first round for the first time since 2015, or in the top 10 since 2004.

In an effort to prove my blind toss of darts is as good as anyone else, enjoy my third and final mock draft of the offseason.

1. Carolina Panthers — Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

The Panthers traded up to the No. 1 spot more than a month ago with eyes on landing a franchise quarterback. After some post-combine debate, it’s become increasingly clear Young, the 2021 Heisman winner, will be the man new coach Frank Reich is going to build around.

2. Houston Texans — Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Honestly, this wasn’t where I expected to go with this choice, but I’ve been swayed by the rapidly shifting betting odds from the weekend, where Levis surged into the favorite status at this spot. There’s usually fire behind the smoke when there’s a drastic change in the odds, so we’re going to roll with it, even if it runs counter to what we had previously been led to believe.

3. Arizona Cardinals — Will Anderson, Edge, Alabama

The Cardinals have a lot of needs, and with two premium quarterbacks still on the board, expect the franchise to continue to field heavy interest for this selection until the commissioner steps to the podium. While it might be tempting to trade down and add more picks, there’s security in taking the best defensive player in the draft. Anderson is a safe bet to pan out for a defense in desperate need of pass-rush help.

4. Indianapolis Colts — C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State

Similar to when the Miami Dolphins were able to sit tight at No. 5 a few years back, letting the board and Tua Tagovailoa come to them, the Colts are able to hold on to their assets and still get the quarterback they badly need. Stroud has the frame and tools to be a solid starter in the NFL, even if he takes his lumps early while adjusting to the speed of the NFL game.

5. Seattle Seahawks — Tyree Wilson, Edge, Texas Tech

Like Detroit a pick later, Seattle has a bigger need at defensive tackle, but the franchise doesn’t appear to be as risk-tolerant as it used to be. Maybe because it’s a younger locker room, or they’ve reached a point where they were tired of being burnt, but I get the sense the Seahawks will pass on Georgia’s Jalen Carter in favor of Wilson, a high-ceiling edge rusher who can kick inside on clear passing situations.

Admittedly, I am curious if Wilson might drop due to lingering concerns about a late-season foot injury. Whether or not that’s the case, Seattle could go a very different, aggressive route and take Anthony Richardson as a high-ceiling developmental quarterback behind the recently re-signed Geno Smith.

6. Tennessee Titans (trade) — Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida

In my dozen or so years of filing mock drafts, I can’t recall a time I projected Detroit to trade the team’s first pick, but the opportunity was too logical to pass up in this scenario.

If Anderson or Wilson make it to the Lions, I believe they’ll stay put and add a premium defensive lineman. But, with both gone in this projection, the team would be better off leveraging Richardson’s availability to add additional draft assets.

Sure, it would be fun to see Richardson drafted and developed by Detroit, but the team has given no indication it’s interested in going that route. Instead, after listening to pitches, we have the Lions moving down five spots, while also picking up Tennessee’s second-rounder (No. 41), as well as a second next season.

Richardson gives new Titans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly a quarterback to develop behind the aging Ryan Tannehill, who turns 35 years old this offseason. Kelly has experience working with a talented dual-threat, having directly coached Deshaun Watson in Houston in 2019 and 2020.

7. Las Vegas Raiders — Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

It’s been more than a decade since former Raiders owner Al Davis passed, but his affinity for chart-busting athletic traits lives on with the black and silver. Gonzalez is a rare specimen with a prototypical frame, elite speed and leaping ability, and has emerging ball skills after intercepting four passes for the Ducks last season. He also fills a big need on a roster that lacks viable starters at the corner position.

8. Atlanta Falcons — Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas

Let’s get weird. We know a running back hasn’t been selected higher than 24th overall in the past four drafts, but Robinson is special and merits breaking that trend. Coach Arthur Smith built a successful run-first offense in Tennessee behind Derrick Henry, and even though Robinson is a different style back, he’s the type of dynamic weapon who can be the centerpiece of a modern offense because of his pass-catching ability.

9. Chicago Bears — Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

The Bears are committed to Justin Fields, and now they must commit to protecting him. Yes, Skoronski doesn’t have ideal length for the tackle position, but that didn’t stop him from allowing just six quarterback pressures and one sack in nearly 500 pass-blocking snaps last season.

10. Philadelphia Eagles — Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Carter’s slide stops at Philadelphia, where the team has a strong culture and veteran leadership, including at the defensive tackle position, which can squeeze the day-to-day effort out of the ultra-talented Georgia defender.

11. Detroit Lions (trade) — Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

If the first five picks play out the way we’ve projected and the Lions were to stick at No. 6, we would have slotted them Witherspoon. So, to drop a handful of spots and still get a top target would be a massive win.

Detroit doesn’t have any pressing needs with its starting lineup, but cornerback remains one of the roster’s primary long-term concerns with Emmanuel Moseley, Jerry Jacobs and C.J. Gardner-Johnson set to be free agents at the end of the season.

Witherspoon might not be the biggest or fastest prospect, but his fiery competitiveness in all aspects of his performance makes him an easy fit for the Lions. Beyond the demeanor, he’s highly productive, holding quarterbacks to a 35.5% completion percentage last season while breaking up 14 passes, including three interceptions.

12. Houston Texans — Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia

This is arguably an aggressive slotting for an undersized edge rusher, but Smith’s versatility, intelligence, athleticism and infectious leadership traits make him a low-floor, high-ceiling building block for rookie head coach DeMeco Ryans’ defense.

13. Green Bay Packers — Lukas Van Ness, Edge, Iowa

The Packers could really use a tight end, but with the depth of this class, there’s no need to force the issue with a position group that typically offers poor return on investment in the first round. Van Ness would boost a pass rush that struggled to get to the quarterback after Rashan Gary suffered a torn ACL last November.

14. New England Patriots — Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State 

The Patriots could go in a number of different directions, but it’s tough to beat the value of a quality offensive tackle at this spot. With Trent Brown entering a contract year and veteran Riley Reiff brought in as a stop-gap solution at right tackle, Johnson gives New England a long-term piece at either spot, with the potential to move into the starting lineup early during his rookie year.

15. New York Jets — Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

Recent reports suggest former first-rounder Mekhi Becton is down to 350 pounds, as he works his way back from a knee injury, but it’s difficult to imagine the Jets counting on the disappointing tackle to protect Aaron Rodgers. The window for success will probably be small, with the four-time MVP under center, so adding Jones, a good pass protector and mauling run blocker, will help stabilize the Jets’ front.

16. Washington Commanders — Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Admittedly a projection as a schematic fit, Porter is a man-coverage specialist who would be joining a zone-heavy defense. That said, his length, athleticism and nose for the football should make for a natural adjustment, and removing the reliance of playing press coverage could help mitigate concerns his physicality would draw an inordinate number of flags at the next level.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers — Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

The Steelers upgraded the interior of the team’s offensive line this offseason and could stand to do the same at tackle. Wright is a bit of an upside projection, particularly as a run blocker, but NFL teams are fascinated by the dominance he displayed against some of the best defensive linemen in college football last season.

18. Detroit Lions — Myles Murphy, Edge, Clemson

The Lions could still use a defensive tackle, but there isn’t a great value at this spot. There’s a case to be made for Bryan Bresee’s untapped potential that was anchored by injury in college or Calijah Kancey’s unique athletic gifts, but Murphy is the more projectable talent. The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder edge has an excellent frame, high-end athleticism and extensive experience as a three-year starter for the Tigers.

Murphy is a pro-ready run defender, which carries immediate value for a team that allowed 5.2 yards per carry last season, plus he has upside as a pass rusher with the development of a better rush plan and move set. At the very least, he should be able to immediately crush the pocket with power, which the Lions value.

Like Witherspoon earlier, the Lions wouldn’t need to lean on Murphy right away. With Romeo Okwara, Charles Harris and James Houston returning and commanding snaps, Murphy can be eased in without lofty expectations as a rookie, with an eye on playing a larger role opposite Aidan Hutchinson starting in 2024.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee

Despite his advanced age (25) and coming off an ACL injury, Hooker is a first-round talent who posted two seasons’ worth of expectational production to close out his college career. Since 2021, he’s completed 68.8% of his passes with an impressive 58-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also offers above-average mobility, racking up more than 1,000 rushing yards in 24 games for the Volunteers.

While Hooker’s knee continues to recover, Tampa Bay signed former No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield for a year to hold down the fort.

20. Seattle Seahawks — Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

The Seahawks typically wait until the middle rounds to mine the cornerback position, but Banks is the type of elite athlete the team covets for coach Pete Carroll’s scheme. The 6-foot, 197-pounder ran a blazing 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine and leaped an impressive 42 inches in the vertical jump. Paired with second-year man Tariq Woolen, who tied for the most interceptions in the league last year, Seattle would have one of the most athletic corner tandems in NFL history.

21. Los Angeles Chargers — Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

The first receiver off the board, Smith-Njigba’s superb route running would make him a natural long-term replacement for Keenan Allen, giving quarterback Justin Herbert a premium pass-catching talent to grow together with in Los Angeles.

22. Baltimore Ravens — Jordan Addison, WR, USC

It’s a run at receiver, with the Ravens aiming to draw disgruntled quarterback Lamar Jackson back into the fold with an improved arsenal. Joining a corps that recently added Odell Beckham Jr., the undersized Addison couldn’t quite replicate his Pittsburgh production at USC, but he would bring plenty of speed and playmaking ability to Baltimore, both on the outside and in the slot.

23. Minnesota Vikings — Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

The Vikings make it three receivers in a row with Flowers. The Boston College standout offers outstanding suddenness through his routes and enough deep speed to take the top off the defense. He’ll serve as a quality complement to Justin Jefferson after the team moved on from veteran Adam Thielen this offseason.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars — Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

The Jaguars are on the rise, but to stay on that path, they need to improve a pass defense that gave up the fifth-most yards in the NFL last season. The team’s starters on the outside are solid, particularly Tyson Campbell, but the unit is softer between the numbers. Branch is a versatile defender who can line up all over the field and provide instant stability at the nickel spot.

25. New York Giants — Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

The Kenny Golladay disaster mercifully came to an end this offseason, but the additions of Jamison Crowder and Parris Campbell aren’t going to strike fear in anyone other than quarterback Daniel Jones, who is being asked to make lemonade with those lemons. Johnston would certainly help. The big-bodied playmaker is particularly good after the catch, which is important for Jones, who ranked 31st in average pass length last season.

26. Dallas Cowboys — Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

The Cowboys made some solid upgrades this offseason, including bringing in wide receiver Brandin Cooks, but they haven’t adequately addressed the departure of three-down tight end Dalton Schultz in free agency. Well, look at that. Mayer is almost a perfect one-to-one replacement. How perfect? NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said Mayer’s best comp is former Cowboys standout Jason Witten.

27. Buffalo Bills — Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

Buffalo doesn’t have many obvious roster holes. The Bills could address the receiver corps with a second-tier option, such as Jalin Hyatt, or get who many view as the best off-ball linebacker in the class in Sanders, effectively replacing Tremaine Edmunds, who left for a massive deal from Chicago in free agency.

28. Cincinnati Bengals — Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bengals add a premium running back to make it easier to part ways with Joe Mixon, but they can likely wait a round or two and achieve the same result. Kincaid, meanwhile, has the highest pass-catching ceiling of any tight end in this draft and could help take the offense’s aerial attack, which ranked fifth in the league last year, to another level.

29. New Orleans Saints — Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

The Saints’ defense got raided in free agency, including the departures of defensive tackles David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle to NFC South rivals. Bresee, a former five-star recruit, hasn’t lived up to that potential because of injuries and the devastating impact of his younger sister’s death, but he still offers three-down ability with good size and plus athleticism.

30. Philadelphia Eagles — Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama

There are some rumblings the Eagles are making a play for Derrick Henry, but absent confirmation of a pending deal, the team needs to bolster a backfield that lost lead horse Miles Sanders in free agency. Gibbs is an electric one-cut-and-go runner with advanced receiving ability out of the backfield.

31. Kansas City Chiefs — Keion White, Edge, Georgia Tech

At the top of the mountain and trying to stay there, the Chiefs are better off taking an NFL-ready, plug-and-play option in White instead of a developmental project. The Georgia Tech product is big, long and can play multiple spots along the defensive line, helping ease the offseason departures of Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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