Latest 2023 NFL Mock Draft Trends to Watch After Early Free Agency | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

Latest 2023 NFL Mock Draft Trends to Watch After Early Free Agency

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    Hendon Hooker

    Hendon HookerMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Following the NFL Scouting Combine, collegiate pro days and the first waves of free agency, draft analysts have readjusted their mocks to account for prospect performances at live job interviews and roster movement.

    Because of the pre-draft evaluation process, you’ll see some risers and fallers in mocks, but as we know, sometimes media perception doesn’t match the thoughts of team shot-callers.

    Nonetheless, prominent prognosticators can offer valuable insight that sheds light on the draft stock of top prospects and what specific teams might do with premium picks.

    We looked at five post-combine mock drafts from ESPN,, The Ringer, CBS Sports and The 33rd Team to highlight the latest buzz around teams and prospects.

    Who’s the probable No. 1 overall pick? Who improved their stock over the past few weeks? Could a couple of top defensive linemen wait through an unexpected draft-day slide? Will a team shake up the order with a big trade?

C.J. Stroud Edging Bryce Young for No. 1 Spot

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    C.J. Stroud

    C.J. StroudMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    After the Carolina Panthers made a blockbuster trade deal with the Chicago Bears to acquire the No. 1 overall draft pick, we can all assume they’ll take a quarterback. Before Ohio State’s pro day on Wednesday, several mock drafts had former Buckeye C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young atop the order.

    The Ringer’s Danny Kelly, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and The 33rd Team projected that the Panthers would take Stroud over Young.

    Kiper provided intriguing insight as to why he paired Stroud with the Panthers.

    “I’m leaning toward Stroud based on what I’m hearing,” Kiper wrote. “He’s super accurate, has impressed everyone throughout the pre-draft process and is the ideal size profile of recent Frank Reich quarterbacks. He has the slight edge over Bryce Young based on fit.”

    One of the most well-known draft analysts for decades, Kiper’s thoughts should make your ears perk up a bit. While he drew the connection between Reich’s type of quarterback and Stroud to justify the signal-caller’s system fit in Carolina, the ESPN analyst opened his commentary with what he heard about the Panthers’ preference, which bears heavy consideration.

    Moreover, Kiper’s comments about Stroud’s impressive showing through the pre-draft process deserve some thought because we haven’t seen Young in any workouts or drills before Thursday.

    Young didn’t throw or work out at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he satisfied question marks about his size, measuring at 5’10”, 204 pounds. Teams had an early look at Stroud in Indianapolis, which may have tipped the scale (from the media’s perspective) in his favor.

    With that said, Young showcased his arm at Alabama’s pro day on Thursday. We may see a shift in who’s the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the coming weeks.

Colts Move Up to No. 3 Spot for Their QB

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    Colts general manager Chris Ballard

    Colts general manager Chris BallardAP Photo/Michael Conroy

    In need of a long-term answer at quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts could take the third signal-caller off the board with the No. 4 overall pick, but that’s not given with the Arizona Cardinals at No. 3.

    Arizona may be open to trading down and accumulating more draft capital to revamp the roster around quarterback Kyler Murray under new general manager Monti Ossenfort and new head coach Jonathan Gannon. If so, the Colts should consider a move up one spot to ensure they land one of the top three quarterback prospects, and that’s what ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., The Ringer’s Danny Kelly and The 33rd Team projected for Indianapolis.

    Kiper and the 33rd Team’s scouting department have the Colts trading up for Will Levis.

    Kelly chose Anthony Richardson because of head coach Shane Steichen’s success with Jalen Hurts this past season.

    The Colts decide to go get their man, trading up one spot with the Cardinals to ensure no other QB-needy teams jump them. Richardson is raw, with just 13 starts on his resume, but he boasts truly rare physical skills as both a passer and runner. New head coach Shane Steichen could implement a Jalen Hurts–style plan around his new quarterback, bringing a read-option and run-centric scheme that highlights Richardson’s skill set while giving him the opportunity to hone his abilities as a passer.”

    Suppose Colts general manager Chris Ballard has Levis and/or Richardson atop his board. In that case, he needs to take a proactive approach in getting his young quarterback because the Las Vegas Raiders, who have the No. 7 pick, made exploratory calls to the Chicago Bears for the No. 1 pick, per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe. So, the Silver and Black may consider moving into the No. 3 spot for the right signal-caller.

Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker Getting 1st-Round Consideration

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    Hendon Hooker

    Hendon HookerMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Aside from the top-tier quarterback prospects in this year’s class, C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis, Hendon Hooker has generated a lot of buzz in draft discussion circles.

    We could make the case that Hooker would’ve listed in the first round of early mock drafts if he didn’t tear his ACL in November.

    Well, a couple of post-first-wave free-agency mock drafts from’s Daniel Jeremiah and the 33rd Team listed Hooker as a mid-first-round selection.

    Jeremiah slotted Hooker to the Minnesota Vikings, which would allow him ample time to learn the pro game while recovering from a serious knee injury.

    “The Vikings have been doing their homework on this quarterback class,” Jeremiah wrote. “Hooker is well-liked around the league and he could sit for a year behind Kirk Cousins before taking over and ushering in a new era for Kevin O’Connell.”

    Let’s remember that the Vikings won the NFC North this past season, and with Aaron Rodgers potentially on the move to the New York Jets, they should be considered the front-runners to win their division again in 2023.

    Edge-rusher Za’Darius Smith already said his goodbyes to the Vikings fanbase, making it clear that he wants to play elsewhere. When you couple his probable departure with the fact that the team finished 28th and 31st, respectively, in defensive scoring and total defense, Minnesota would shock some people if it didn’t add a defensive playmaker on Day 1 of the draft.

    The 33rd Team projected that Hooker goes to the Washington Commanders, which makes sense since they have Jacoby Brissett, who’s been a bridge-gap or backup quarterback over the past couple of years, Sam Howell, who has one career start, and Jake Fromm (two career starts) battling for the starting position.

DL Jalen Carter Remains Top-10 Pick

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    Jalen Carter

    Jalen CarterStacy Revere/Getty Images

    Jalen Carter attended the combine, but he left Indianapolis after the Athens-Clarke County (Georgia) Police Department issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of reckless driving and racing in connection with a car crash that resulted in the death of his former teammate, Devin Willock, and Bulldogs recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy in January, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

    Carter was not accused of driving the car that crashed with LeCroy and Willock inside. He turned himself in to police and then returned to the combine after posting a $4,000 bond for his release.

    Carter has since pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to 12 months of probation, a $1,000 fine and 50 hours of community service. He will also be required to take a state-approved defensive driving course.

    Concerns were also raised at Georgia’s pro day. Carter skipped the 40-yard dash, cone drills and other physical tests and finished position drills early “because he was cramping up and breathing heavily,” per ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.

    Needless to say, Carter must answer concerns about what’s transpired over the last few weeks, but he’s still a top-10 pick in the five mock drafts under our microscope, going as high as No. 5 to the Seattle Seahawks in Daniel Jeremiah’s projections on

    “The off-field concerns with Carter have been documented,” Jeremiah wrote. “On the field, he is the most talented player in this draft class and would provide Pete Carroll’s defense with a dynamic interior disruptor.”

    Because of Carter’s playmaking ability, he’s unlikely to drop out of the top 10 unless teams have lingering concerns about his character after pre-draft visits.

Edge Nolan Smith Appears in Top Half of 1st Round

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    Nolan Smith

    Nolan SmithAP Photo/Erin Hooley

    Nolan Smith suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in late October, finishing his senior term at Georgia with 18 tackles, seven for loss and three sacks.

    Despite the injury and his slender 6’2″, 238-pound frame for an edge-rusher, Smith appears within the top 15 picks of prominent mock drafters. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly paired him with the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 10. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and’s Daniel Jeremiah listed him at No. 12 (Houston Texans) and No. 13 (New York Jets), respectively.

    Kiper believes Smith’s impressive showing at the combine raised his stock, pushing him close to top-10 territory.

    With the Texans’ first pick, I projected them to take quarterback Bryce Young, so with this one I’m giving them a quarterback for their defense. People in the league rave about Smith’s leadership skills, and he was outstanding at the combine. I named him as one of my risers after he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 238 pounds, and this is right in the range in which he could go.”

    Teams may be willing to gamble on Smith’s agility and quickness despite knocks against his size on the edge. The Georgia product’s intangibles are an added plus that may boost his rank on team big boards.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba Emerging as Top WR

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    Jaxon Smith-Njigba

    Jaxon Smith-NjigbaAP Photo/Michael Conroy

    Even though Jaxon Smith-Njigba missed all but three games because of a hamstring injury this past season, he’s the first wide receiver off the board on several mock drafts.

    ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.,’s Daniel Jeremiah, CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and The Ringer’s Danny Kelly have Smith-Njigba as WR1. Jeremiah and Prisco listed him one spot outside of the top 10 to the Tennessee Titans, who need to add a perimeter playmaker alongside wideout Treylon Burks.

    Interestingly, Kiper has Smith-Njigba as the first receiver to hear his name called at No. 20, which suggests that he doesn’t see a star prospect at the position in this year’s class.

    In 2021, Smith-Njigba hauled in 95 passes for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns. As Jeremiah wrote in his analysis, the former Buckeye is a “pure route runner.”

    Smith-Njigba showcased his reliable hands during the gauntlet drill at the combine and impressed spectators at Ohio State’s pro day with a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 to 4.52 seconds, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, which may cement his spot above his peers at the position.

    The 33rd Team listed TCU’s Quentin Johnston as the top wideout in draft order at No. 11 to the Titans. At 6’3″, 208 pounds, following a breakout junior campaign with 60 receptions for 1,069 yards and six touchdowns, he could challenge Smith-Njigba for the WR1 title.

Clemson DL Bryan Bresee Falling Out of 1st Round

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    Bryan Bresee

    Bryan Bresee Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    In Bleacher Report’s post-combine rankings, our scouts gave Bryan Bresee the second-best grade (8.3 out of 10) among defensive linemen and listed him 11th among all prospects.

    Over the previous two years, Bresee has missed 13 games, but he’s made impact plays while healthy, registering 27 tackles, 8.5 for loss and five sacks since 2021. While we believe the Clemson product has first-round talent, draft analysts have dropped him to the end of Day 1 or into Day 2 in their mocks.

    ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and The Ringer’s Danny Kelly slotted Bresee to the New Orleans Saints at No. 29.’s Daniel Jeremiah and The 33rd Team left him out of the first round. ESPN’s Matt Miller listed Bresee as one of three prospects who could go lower in the draft than expected.

    Though B/R scout Matt Holder praised Bresee for his size-speed combination and a refined pass-rushing plan, he thinks that teams may pass on him for a better system fit.

    “Schematically, Bresee would be best as a 2i- to 3-technique for a team that uses a lot of even fronts. He’s not big enough to play as a nose tackle in odd fronts and could play as a 4i- to 5-tech defensive end, but that would be pushing it athletically, so teams running that scheme might look elsewhere for defensive line help.”

    Holder’s concerns may align with draft analysts, who pushed Bresee into the 29-40 draft range.

    College football statistics are provided by

    Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.


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