As things stand now, Houston will likely wind up with the No. 1 overall pick and is expected to take either Alabama quarterback Bryce Young or Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud.
But if Chicago or Arizona wind up with the No. 2 overall pick, then it would create a sort of QB musical chairs for Seattle, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Detroit and Carolina, with the winner taking whoever’s left out of Young and Stroud.
And, as 2016 shows, don’t rule out a wildcard swooping in with a draft haul too hard to pass up.
Much like the upcoming draft, the 2016 NFL draft was considered three-deep at quarterback, with a clear top 2 signal-callers (Jared Goff and Carson Wentz) and a third QB ranked a bit lower but still in the first-round conversation (Paxton Lynch).
Tennessee had the first pick that year but wasn’t in the market for a QB after taking Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 overall pick the year before. Likewise, Cleveland didn’t feel like it needed a QB after taking Johnny Manziel in the first round of the 2014 draft.
So when Los Angeles and Philadelphia came around with trade offers, Tennessee and Cleveland had to ask themselves this question: Is it better to take the best players in the draft or is it better to acquire more high draft picks?
Both teams chose the latter.
So, instead of taking pass rusher Joey Bosa, running back Ezekiel Elliott, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, or defensive lineman DeForest Buckner – the top non-QBs in 2016 – the Titans wound up with OT Jack Conklin and the Browns with receiver Corey Coleman.
Conklin turned into a solid pick and is a two-time, first-team All-Pro player, although the team had to trade some of its assets to move up from No. 15 to No. 8 to take him.
Another played acquired in the Los Angeles trade? RB Derrick Henry, a second-round pick out of Alabama. The following year, Tennessee used some of its remaining trade assets from the Rams to move up to the No. 5 overall spot of the 2017 draft, where the Titans took Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis.
So, the overall haul from trading out of the No. 1 overall spot turned into Conklin, Henry and Davis.
While Henry may be showing signs of slowing down, he’s still considered a premiere running back. Conklin and Davis, though, already play for different teams.
With Henry the only one still on the team, it’s hard to call that trade a win for Tennessee.
Likewise, Cleveland’s big trade with Philadelphia in the 2016 draft didn’t help the Browns, either.
For starters, Coleman is already out of the league, but that’s par for the course when it comes to that trade. Cornerback Denzel Ward and DL Jordan Elliott are the only players of note drafted by the team with picks that originated from the Wentz trade.
And therein lies the dilemma that Chicago and Arizona might face.
Yes to a trade means no to Anderson or Carter
What if Chicago or Arizona finishes with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft – would they stay put and take one of the premiere defensive players? Or would they trade that pick to a QB-needy team, even if that meant doing so would put them out of the draft range of Alabama edge Will Anderson or Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter?
That would be a tough pill to swallow for either team.
Chicago has only drafted three pass rushers since taking Leonard Floyd in the first round in 2016, a span covering six drafts. And none of those pass rushers was drafted higher than the fifth round – the current starting defensive ends are rookie Dominique Robinson and Trevis Gipson, both recent fifth-rounders.
Likewise, defensive tackles Mike Pennel and Justin Jones are replaceable, but that shouldn’t come as a big surprise since Chicago has invested very little draft capital on that position, too. The Bears have only drafted three DTs in that same time span and only one between 2019 to 2022. That player was seventh-rounder Khyiris Tonga, who was cut during training camp his rookie year but is now a solid, rotational player for Minnesota.
So Chicago could make a very strong argument for either Anderson or Carter, as both would fill needs.
On the other hand, Arizona has spent a ton of draft capital on pass rushers in recent years. Since 2019, the Cardinals have drafted six pass rushers, including three this past spring.
As for the defensive tackles? Not so much – Arizona has only drafted two DTs (Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence, both in the 2020 fourth round) the past six drafts.
Therefore, Carter would be a better fit for Arizona than Anderson, although the Cardinals would probably be thrilled with either player.
The most likely trade candidates
Again, Houston is probably going to take either Young or Stroud with pick No. 1.
Seattle, whose pick acquired from Denver is currently No. 3 according to Tankathon, likely wants the other QB, as Geno Smith will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. So, the only way a team like Indianapolis, Atlanta, Detroit or Carolina would have a shot at drafting either Young or Stroud would be to trade up to the No. 2 spot, or one spot ahead of Seattle.
The cost would be steep.
You can probably cross off Atlanta and Carolina. They’d have to give up a second-round pick this year and next year for swapping No. 1 picks with Chicago; therefore, the team that throws in an extra first (presumably in 2024) would stand at the front of the line. That’s a heavy price considering both teams drafted a QB in the third round this past spring (Desmond Ridder for Atlanta, Matt Coral, who has been injured, for Carolina).
Then you have Detroit, which, according to Tankathon, has the No. 7 overall pick. Surely the Lions would be in the market for a new QB, right? Maybe not at Chicago’s asking price, as Goff currently ranks seventh in the league in passing yards – with a far inferior group of receivers than the QBs ahead of him. Sure, he’ll be 29 next season, but trading so many draft assets to move up to take a player you’re not certain will be better is bad business.
That leaves Indianapolis with the fifth overall pick as the most obvious trade partner.
Even though the Colts are only a few picks behind Chicago in this mock draft scenario, they’d still likely have to give up a first-round pick in 2024 to move up to No. 2. Remember, QB-needy Seattle lurks in this scenario at pick No. 3 overall; therefore the highest bidder is the winner for the No. 2 spot.
Finally, you have two wildcards: Seattle and Washington.
Smith may command a pretty hefty pay raise due to his re-emergence this season for the Seahawks.
So Seattle would have to ask itself this question: Does the team want to try to resign Smith and roll with him for a few more years? Or does it want to go all-in and trade both of its first-round picks just to move up one spot?
Don’t put anything past the Seahawks – and two top-15 picks in the 2023 draft would be extremely hard to beat.
But would it exclude Washington? It depends on how you view it. The Commanders, currently with pick No. 21 overall, would have to give up its first three picks this season and its first two picks next season to move up all the way to No. 2 overall – and even then, that might not be enough, according to Calculator Soup. Adding a third first-rounder, though, may move the needle.
And that’s what this mock draft is going with – a huge trade for a team in desperate need for some good press. Washington would have to give up a ton of draft capital to move up this far, and it’s a huge risk, as neither Stroud nor Young are rated as highly as recent first-rounders like Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence.
If things don’t work out? Then it could set the Commanders back half a dozen years.
Or maybe Young or Stroud is the final piece of the puzzle for Washington, which has a solid offensive line and a playoff-worthy defense, when healthy.
1. Houston Texans: QB Bryce Young, Alabama
Nothing to see here.
2. Washington Commanders: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (*TRADE WITH CHICAGO)
The Commanders would have to give up their first three picks this year and at least their first two picks next year to move up all the way from No. 21 to this spot – and even that might not be enough. The only way to grease the wheels is to add a third first-rounder to the deal. Even then, Chicago might decide to stand pat, as the top two defensive linemen would fill immediate needs.
3. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia
Seattle has a greater need along the interior than it does at OLB.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama
The Cardinals drafted Myjai Sanders, Cameron Thomas and Jesse Luketa this past spring, so pass rusher isn’t a big need. In fact, Carter would fill a bigger need than Anderson. So Arizona might look to trade this pick if this scenario unfolded. With that said, Anderson is a nice consolation prize.
5. Indianapolis Colts: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson
Unless Indianapolis is willing to shell out big money for Yannick Ngakoue, there’s a good chance the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent will be playing somewhere else in 2023. Aside from two injury-shortened seasons, Ngakoue has never finished with less than 8 sacks. And yet, he’s been traded three times and is playing for his fifth team at age 27 after completing a two-year, $26 million deal – a bargain for double-digit sack producers. Murphy, at 21, is one of the younger prospects, so it may take a little longer to unlock what could be Pro Bowl-worthy traits.
6. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech
This is much higher than most mock drafts have Wilson going, but Atlanta loves to draft incredible athletes in the first round, and pass rusher is a likely Day 1 priority, per Scott Bair of AtlantaFalcons.com.
7. Detroit Lions (from LAR): RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
The argument for Robinson, other than the fact that he’s the No. 1-ranked player, is the same for Detroit as it would be for any team. Yes, he’s a running back, and generational talent or not, they have an incredibly short shelf-life. And, yes, it’s a passing league. And, no, RB is not a huge need for Detroit. But a strong running game keeps your QB upright and it eats up the clock – which also helps the defense. Seems like a win for Detroit.
8. Carolina Panthers: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
The team could also use another cornerback and receiver, but Mayer is the much safer pick and fills a need.
9. Las Vegas Raiders: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Las Vegas might try to trade this pick, as safety and linebacker are among the team’s biggest needs – not your typical top-10 positions. Otherwise, a safety might be in play here, too.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from NO): CB Cam Smith, South Carolina
You can never have enough good CBs, and both of Philadelphia’s starting outside corners will be an unrestricted free agent this season or next.
11. Houston Texans (from CLE): OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State
Close your eyes and throw a dart at a position – Houston needs help everywhere. Start with the premium positions, like QB and OT.
12. Seattle Seahawks: QB Will Levis, Kentucky
There’s not a long list of first-round QBs who entered the league with accuracy and decision-making issues who have gone on to have success. Hence, why Levis could fall even further.
13. Tennessee Titans: TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Kraft looked good in his last game against Montana State, catching 4 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown after being a non-factor the previous two playoff games. Now SDSU is in the FCS National Championship game, where they’ll face North Dakota State on Jan. 8.
This is what real football looks like ❄️
Tucker Kraft 36 yard TD 🐰 pic.twitter.com/M93gnu1WN1
— RanDynasty (@ran_dynasty) December 17, 2022
14. New England Patriots: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
Porter would be a top-10 pick if he had more experience and was a better ballhawk.
15. NY Jets: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
Take a tackle, then figure out what to do with all your remaining linemen, including the injured ones.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
Pittsburgh has a history of bouncing back through smart drafting.
17. Green Bay Packers: DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson
Another team that always seems to bounce back due to smart team-building and talent acquisition.
18. Detroit Lions: CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia
Detroit desperately needs to upgrade its cornerbacks.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU
The team is already on the verge of breaking out; adding a playmaker to one of the bright young stars at quarterback can only help.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia
Tampa Bay needs offensive linemen, and Jones can play either tackle or guard.
21. Chicago Bears: Edge Jared Verse, Florida State (*TRADE WITH WASHINGTON)
OK, so maybe Verse isn’t quite the prospect that Will Anderson is, but he’s still a terrific consolation prize – and the trade netted Chicago an extra pick in the second and third rounds, plus a first and a second next season and a first-rounder in 2025. Wow. Suddenly, trading down 16 spots doesn’t feel so bad anymore.
22. NY Giants: WR Jordan Addison, USC
New York desperately needs a “real” No. 1 receiver, regardless of who’s throwing the ball next season.
23. LA Chargers: S Brian Branch, Alabama
Nasir Adderley will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The team also might think about finding a replacement for 30-year-old receiver Keenan Allen.
24. Baltimore Ravens: RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama
Baltimore could be the Super Bowl favorite if it re-signs QB Lamar Jackson and adds a speedy playmaker to its running game – but it all hinges on resigning Jackson.
25. Denver Broncos (from SF): OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State
This would be a slight reach this early in the draft, but without a second-round pick combined with a relatively weak OT class, Denver likely won’t get a chance to improve its OTs unless the team drafts one in the first round. A trade-down is also a possibility here, especially if a QB-needy team wants to trade back into the first round for Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Ironically, QB is the position Denver needs the most, but the Broncos are locked into Russell Wilson for the foreseeable future, like it or not.
26. Dallas Cowboys: LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Linebacker is turning into a sneaky need for Dallas, especially if CB Nahshon Wright can hold his own the last few weeks and into the playoffs. Plus, owner Jerry Jones deep ties to Arkansas can only help Sanders’ chances of landing in Dallas.
27. Cincinnati Bengals: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
Surely, a team with Super Bowl aspirations can do better than Eli apple, Mike Hilton and Cam Taylor-Britt at cornerback, right?
28, Kansas City Chiefs: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
A QB like Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t care if Hyatt is a one-trick pony – as long as that trick is speed.
29. Minnesota Vikings: Edge B.J. Ojulari, LSU
Believe it or not, quite a few people aren’t surprised at all by Minnesota’s 12-3 record this season. Those people are called “Minnesota residents” or “Vikings fans.” The team did pretty well the last time it drafted an LSU pass rusher.
30. Buffalo Bills: G O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida
The Bills’ starting guards have struggled this season, especially LG Roger Saffold.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: S Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
Injuries have robbed the Eagles of depth at safety, with a former sixth-rounder starting at one spot (Marcus Epps) and an undrafted rookie free agent (Reed Blankenship) starting at the other safety spot. Plus, Epps and big trade acquisition Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will be a free agent at the end of the season.
Los Angeles Rams, second round: OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee
New Orleans Saints, second round: QB Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Cleveland Browns, second round: Edge Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
Miami Dolphins, second round: RB Devon Achane, Texas A&M
San Francisco, third round: LB DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
* Draft order courtesy of Tankathon.
** Miami lost its first-round pick due to tampering charges.
Jake Rigdon (@jrigdon73) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak.com. He also covers the NFL draft from a Dallas Cowboys perspective in this subReddit. And his big board is updated at least once per week during the season and leading up to the draft.