It's that time of year, friends. Mock-draft season is upon us.
Sure, there's still plenty to happen between now and draft weekend that will shape team needs and desires. But these exercises are always helpful in getting us familiar with prospects, familiar with how clubs are constructed for 2023, and familiar with how the draft may shake out around the time the Patriots are scheduled to pick -- this year that's at No. 14 overall.
Without further adieu, let's get to the selections and see what makes the most sense for Bill Belichick in the middle of the first round.
1. Chicago Bears: Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
The Bears are going to roll with Justin Fields. That means Bryce Young gets to fall to some other lucky club. Instead, Chicago goes with a sure-thing pass-rusher who -- even after a dip in production this year -- recorded a ridiculous 208 total pressures over the last three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.
2. Houston Texans: Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Would Nick Caserio be willing to take a quarterback who doesn't fit the size profile that the Patriots for years have typically drafted under Bill Belichick? Young is just 5-foot-10 and under 200 pounds. But he's accurate. He anticipates well. And that might be enough for him to go with this pick to a team that has an obvious need at the game's most important position.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
After back-to-back national titles, Carter looks poised to hit the NFL and run roughshod over opposing offensive linemen. We have two general managers with New England backgrounds -- Caserio and new Arizona GM Monti Ossenfort -- picking one after the other here. If Carter isn't gone before pick No. 4, knowing how much Bill Belichick appreciates rare talent on the interior of the defensive line, I'd be stunned.
4. Indianapolis Colts: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Big human. Big arm. Tough. That'll play at the next level. Maybe. Sure seems like the kind of quarterback owner Jim Irsay could get behind. He'll need to be protected -- he wasn't given all that much time at Kentucky -- and the offensive line in Indy has been a problem despite some big investments there. But if they can get that solved, this feels like a marriage that makes sense.
5. Seattle Seahawks (via Broncos): Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Pete Carroll was fairly open about his disappointment after his team's season ended in the Wild Card Round. The Seahawks, he indicated, just didn't have the same level of talent that the 49ers did defensively. Wilson would go a long way in addressing that.
With Wilson standing at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, with tremendous length, Carroll could find the pass-rushing talent he needs to upgrade his team's overall effectiveness on that side of the ball.
6. Detroit Lions (via Rams): Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Detroit says it's committed to Jared Goff, but it's hard to believe them. Even after Goff's very strong 2022. In Richardson, the Lions may feel as though they have a crack at the next Jalen Hurts. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is described by folks in the league as brilliant. If he sees a trend ... If he sees growth potential in Richardson's passing to go along with his unquestioned athletic ability ...
With Goff in the mix for another year, this could make a lot of sense for a team that clearly feels as though it's building something over the long haul.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State
It'll be fascinating to see how Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler handle this pick. They need a quarterback. They may land one in the free-agent period well before the draft. And they probably should. They need someone they believe can succeed right now. But in this scenario we'll send Stroud to Vegas just in case they can't get that guy ahead of time.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Another big ol' edge defender here. Like Wilson, Murphy is in that classic mold of true hand-in-the-dirt pass-rushers at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds. He's a well-rounded player who could succeed in just about any task asked of him, and it's no secret the Falcons could use as many the-more-you-can-do types of players -- on both sides of the ball -- that they can get.
9. Carolina Panthers: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Is this a little high for a player who was a zero-star recruit coming out of high school? Nope. That's how impressive he's been over the last two seasons. A culture-builder for coach Bret Bielema -- an assistant in New England prior to taking the job at Illinois -- you can tell Witherspoon enjoys the physicality of the game. He's been a lock-down press corner in the Big 10, and he'll have no problem sticking his nose into things as a force player in the running game.
A perfect fit for Belichick, he goes well before the Patriots pick in this scenario.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via Saints): Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
It's taken a while. But, finally, a receiver comes off the board. Not exactly the year to be needing one of those, it seems. The free-agent crop isn't dazzling, and neither is the top-end talent depth in this year's draft. But Johnston certainly has the ability to go this early.
In Philly, working with A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith, he could do real damage for an offense that is already perhaps the most balanced in the league.
11. Tennessee Titans: Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State
Just a mountain of a man who some believe will end up measuring at 6-foot-7, Johnson fills a major need for Mike Vrabel's club here. Tennessee's protection was battered by season's end, and if it wants to continue to move forward with the black-and-blue style of play it has enjoyed in recent years, it needs some reinforcements up front.
12. Houston Texans (via Browns): Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
The Texans didn't pounce on Jalen Carter in order to get their quarterback of the future at the top of the draft. Here they get the next best thing in this year's draft. Quickness. Length. Strength. Breese has all of the tools necessary to become an interior disruptor at the next level.
13. New York Jets: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Here's another Prototypical Patriot off the board before Belichick is on the clock. Branch played the "star" position in Nick Saban's defense as a slot defender extraordinaire. Could he play safety? Could he play outside? No one would get a better reference or a truer assessment than Belichick. Especially with Devin McCourty potentially moving on, Branch would be a fascinating pick.
Alas, he didn't get to No. 14. Instead he ends up with New England's rivals a few hundred miles south.
14. New England Patriots: Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
The Patriots have a few clear needs headed into this offseason. None are clearer than the spot they tried to man with spare parts all season: seemingly tackle. While Trent Brown was a staple on the left side -- if inconsistent with his performance -- the right side was a revolving door: Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Conor McDermott. They need someone there.
In this scenario ... it might be Brown, who has played plenty of right tackle in the past. The reason? Skoronski looks like he has the chops to pass-protect effectively from Day 1 on the left side.
That's where he spent his career in the Big 10, and it's where he excelled against top-flight pass-rushers like Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo last year. According to PFF, he allowed just six pressures on 474 pass-blocking snaps in his final season, including just one against Ohio State.
His length may be a problem for some teams who view him as a guard, but indications are that wouldn't be a deal-breaker for the Patriots. Dante Scarnecchia said as much years ago when asked about arm length for tackles. "That [expletive] is way overrated," he explained.
If Belichick still feels that way, Skoronski could be the pick at No. 14.
15. Green Bay Packers: Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
This may not be high enough for Van Ness, who feels like the type of player who will be rising as we get closer and closer to draft weekend. His nickname? Hercules. At 6-foot-5 and about 270 pounds, he could continue to shoot up boards with good athletic testing results.
He's a relentless pass-rusher who could kick inside for teams who need someone there in obvious passing situations. For the Packers, this might make sense with Rashan Gary heading into the fifth and final year of his rookie deal.
16. Washington Commanders: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
Take us back to the days of Chris Cooley and Logan Paulson, Washington. OK maybe those names aren't enough to really fire up a fanbase, but Mayer has the ability to be a foundational player in any offense.
Is he the world's greatest athlete at the position? Probably not. But he has hands. And the Commanders need to add as many competent offensive players as possible this offseason. Mayer qualifies.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
The Steelers refuse to have bad teams under Mike Tomlin. It's incredible. But unfortunately for them, that means they usually aren't able to re-load with top-of-the-draft talent. (Patriots fans are nodding ...)
This year, however, they have a chance to take a top-half-of-the-draft talent a little lower than that. Gonzalez had four picks this year and depending on how he tests could be in the running as the first corner taken.
18. Detroit Lions: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Is it the right thing to do? Probably not. Is Robinson a bad player? Certainly not. He just plays a position that can, generally speaking, be filled elsewhere. Still, for a team that likes to run the football as much as Detroit does? Snagging the top back in the draft makes plenty of sense.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford
It's all happening in Tampa Bay right now. Byron Leftwich is out as offensive coordinator. It looks like Tom Brady won't be back. In steps McKee. Yes, the Bucs just invested a second-round pick in Kyle Trask, but McKee stands 6-foot-6 and has arm strength that Trask probably can't match. For a rebuilding team, McKee is worth the gamble here.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Jordan Addison, WR, USC
Is he a true No. 1? An outside-the-numbers freak show? Nope and nope. But he knows how to play the position, and Addison will make life easier on anyone playing quarterback -- Geno Smith? Someone else? -- here next year.
22. Los Angeles Chargers*: Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Jones looks like a Patriots fit. And maybe he'll end up being their best option as a need-filler hailing from a program the Patriots absolutely love. But he's just coming off his first season as a starting left tackle. And while it went well, he may need to refine his game a bit before he's considered a Day 1 starter. But if you're talking tools, he's got 'em.
Someday he'll make Justin Herbert -- who will also have Northwestern product Rashawn Slater blocking on the outside -- a very happy camper.
*Miami forfeited the No. 21 overall selection as punishment for tampering with Tom Brady.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Will Lamar Jackson be in Baltimore? The Ravens say they want him. But sayin' and signin' are two very different things. No matter who is behind center, general manager Eric DeCosta is going to have to provide John Harbaugh's offense with more weaponry beyond Mark Andrews.
Drafting Rashod Bateman early a couple of seasons ago was a good start. Can't stop there, though. Flowers -- another Patriots fit -- could do wonders for Baltimore as a dynamic athlete from the slot.
24. Minnesota Vikings: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Five catches. Forty-three yards. No touchdowns. That's what Smith-Njigba posted in 2022, missing almost the entirety of the season due to injury. But he was such a problem for opposing defenses in 2021 -- 95 catches for 1,606 yards and nine scores -- that he should still be considered a first-round player.
Smith-Njigba opposite Justin Jefferson? The Vikings could be cooking in 2023. And Kirk Cousins won't have a single solitary excuse for throwing short of the sticks on fourth down ever again.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
This would fall under the category of "building on a strength." The Jags have had one of the best pass-rush groups in the league this year, but it could be a very different-looking unit in 2023. Their second and fourth-most productive rushers in terms of total pressures -- Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot -- aren't under contract for next season.
In steps Smith, who could continue to make this a quarterback's nightmare alongside fellow first-rounders Josh Allen and Travon Walker.
26. New York Giants: O'Cyrus Torrence, OL, Florida
Nothing sexy about this one. But the Giants need real talent along their offensive line. Brian Daboll has already won over the fanbase -- and the media, apparently; he was (jokingly) asked if he can walk on water in a recent press conference -- and shouldn't feel pressure to wow anyone in the first round.
Whether or not Daniel Jones will be the team's quarterback next season is a question worth asking. Whether it's Jones or someone else, with Torrence, that passer will be safer.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M
The Cowboys defense is loaded with pass-rushers, but they could use some help on the back end. Johnson has legitimate length at the position at 6-foot-3, and he was the signal-caller for the Aggies.
He's not going to be the fastest safety in this year's class, but he has good instincts, an affinity for contact and -- with time -- he should bulk up to be able to handle even more duties as a chess-piece secondary defender.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
Offensive line help? No doubt. For the second straight offseason, the Bengals could (and should) be looking for some. Harrison has been a staple at left tackle on one of the top collegiate offensive lines for years, starting as a true freshman. Anything to protect Joe Burrow, the crown jewel of Cincinnati.
29. Denver Broncos (via 49ers): Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
Denver is in a tricky spot. They don't have a head coach. They have a quarterback with an albatross of a contract, and it's tough to know whether or not he can be fixed. Do the Broncos try to salvage the offense by surrounding Russell Wilson with weapons? Or do they build up the defense with good young pieces and prepare for life without Wilson, even if it's years down the road?
In this scenario, general manager George Paton goes with the latter and adds a feisty defender on the perimeter.
30. Buffalo Bills: BJ Ojulari, EDGE, LSU
The Bills could go a number of different ways here. Instead of trying to give Josh Allen more help, they'll depend on him playing the role of superhero on that side of the ball, elevating those around him.
Ojulari is the pick to try to bolster a pass-rush unit that has seen plenty of young player investments in recent years. If he can bother Patrick Mahomes in December and January, this will have been well worth it.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State
Why make this pick with Travis Kelce already in-house? Kelce is closer to the end than the beginning and will be 34 next season. Musgrave has the athletic traits that could be accentuated thanks to the dynamic duo of Mahomes and Andy Reid. They get everyone open. Musgrave should be no different.
32. Philadelphia Eagles: Laiatu Latu, EDGE, UCLA
Latu was named one of college football's three Comeback Player of the Year honorees this year. He suffered a neck injury that cost him the 2020 season and the medical staff at the University of Washington encouraged him to step away from the game when he tried to come back in 2021.
He transferred to UCLA and ended up having a dominant season with 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. At 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, perhaps he would be part of the plan to replace 34-year-old Brandon Graham.