Any NFL mock draft is an imperfect exercise, ultimately be rooted in futility. Even the most accurate prognosticators are lucky to nail more than a handful of picks perfectly. There is variability with day-of trades, surprising selections upending months of speculation, etc. With that being said, I was working on a mock draft this week and had just wrapped up some final thoughts when a notification popped up on my screen: BEARS TRADE #1 PICK. Back to the drawing board. That mock drafting exercise as a whole was upended by the deal. I still want to share some player-team pairings that I had included in the first round. These strike me as perfect marriages. Time to find the best team fits in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Chicago Bears & OL Peter Skoronski (Northwestern)
The Bears entered the off-season needing to do two things for Justin Fields – improve his pass catching corps, and protect him at the line of scrimmage. Their colossal trade with Carolina should have them feeling much better about the weapons surrounding Fields (DJ Moore!). The expectation is that they will add starting-caliber players to the OL in the early waves of FA. Regardless of who the Bears bring in along the OL in FA, there will be a place for Skoronski in their starting 5. He can play tackle despite less-than-ideal arm length. He could also push inside to guard. There are shades of the Rashawn Slater evaluation to how Peter Skoronski is being talked about. That selection has been a monumental success for the Chargers. The key to this season is evaluating Fields’ progress and future. If Skoronski is on the board at #9, the Bears need to keep the hogmolly from Northwestern in the Windy City.
Tennessee Titans & QB Will Levis (UK)
Brady Quinn, Matt Leinart… Will Levis? Levis will experience a longer wait on draft night than many expect. Slipping to the Titans at pick #11 would qualify. There was early smoke mentioning him with the #1 pick in some circles, but that seems to have dissipated. The Titans and new GM Ran Carthon need a new direction. Levis has flaws, but he’s worth consideration at this point in the draft as a flier with upside. Levis may be an immediate upgrade on the aging Ryan Tannehill. Step 1, Titans draft Will Levis. Step 2, Levis goes viral for putting peanut butter on Nashville Hot Chicken.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers & RB Bijan Robinson (Texas)
The Bucs are stuck in limbo as a result of Tom Brady’s retirement. Drafting a blue chip prospect at RB gives them a new identity as they pivot to life without the GOAT. Given today’s attitude towards first round running back selections, eyes will roll when the Bucs’ brass elect to take Bijan Robinson at #19. The Bucs get the last laugh as the dynamic playmaker becomes a franchise pillar for the next 5+ seasons. Expect him to explode onto the scene as an immediate superstar.
New York Giants & WR Quentin Johnston (TCU)
Daniel Jones is in the robust middle-class of NFL QBs. He will need a very talented supporting cast to carry this team to the heights they hope to reach. The Giants desperately need to open up the field with an influx of talent into their offensive skill group. Second-year pro Wan’Dale Robinson should help give the group some juice after missing most of his rookie year with injury, but adding Quentin Johnston gives them a completely different skill-set as a big-bodied outside receiver option. I love the fit and think he could be available at #25.
Philadelphia Eagles & TE Darnell Washington (UGA)
This is my favorite pairing in the draft, so I am calling my shot like Babe Ruth did in the 1932 World Series. I’m willing it into existence. Late-first to early-second round feels like the sweet spot for the behemoth Bulldog. The Eagles have a lot of holes to fill on their roster, and the draft capital necessary to do so. Still, selecting Washington at #30 would be the definition of a luxury pick. Well, the rich get richer! Washington thrived in college as a ridiculously overqualified TE2. Why not run it back in the NFL? The Eagles can find creative ways to utilize the unique size and blocking ability that he brings to the table, without asking him to do too much immediately as he learns from stalwart TE1 Dallas Goedert.