Fanspeak Mock Draft 1.4: What would it take for Carolina to land a top QB in 2023 NFL draft?

NFL Draft News

The Carolina Panthers have to draft a quarterback in the first round, right?

The team has drafted 10 QBs in its history, including two in the first round: Kerry Collin of Penn State, the team’s inaugural pick at No. 5 overall in 1995, and Cam Newton of Auburn, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011.

The problem, though, is where Carolina sits in the first round. The Panthers currently have a top-10 pick at No. 9 overall, according to Tankathon. However, 10 of the first 15 teams could make a strong argument for drafting a franchise signal caller in the first round.

As mentioned last week, Chicago and Arizona hold all the cards in the upcoming draft, because neither team needs a QB but will likely wind up with a top-5 pick. The top defensive players in this draft, Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson and Georgia defensive linemen Jalen Carter, seem like perfect fits for either team – especially with Chicago trading away its top pass rushers and J.J. Watts set to retire in Arizona.

Likewise, Seattle is a wildcard – the team could re-sign quarterback Geno Smith in the offseason and bypass the position with its top-5 pick obtained in last year’s trade with Denver for Russell Wilson. Or they could just as easily decide that it can’t live without whoever’s left of C.J. Stroud of Ohio State or Bryce Young of Alabama (assuming Houston takes a QB at No. 1 overall). Seattle currently sits at No. 3 overall, sandwiched between Chicago and Arizona.

Therefore, the only way one of the top two QBs falls to Indianapolis at No. 5 is if the aforementioned three teams above them go all-defense in the first round.

So whoever holds the No. 6 pick in this scenario – Detroit – would be in a good position. With the top two QBs and top three defensive players off the board, there’s no reason for the Lions to keep this pick. Jared Goff, like Seattle’s Smith, is playing well enough that Detroit might consider him the better option than the third-ranked QB, Kentucky’s Will Levis.

So then it would come down to a game of who’s the most desperate for a quarterback: Atlanta, Las Vegas, Carolina, Tennessee, the New York Jets or Washington.

The lower the trade-down, the bigger the draft haul for Detroit. Swapping first-round picks with a team like Washington, for example, could net the team as many as two future first-round picks, but a trade with Carolina would mean the Lions still wind up with a top-10 pick. The Panthers, who have two picks in the second round, could offer the later of those two picks plus its third-round pick to move up three spots in the first round to nab Levis.

That still leaves Carolina with its first second-round pick, currently No. 40 overall, and its two fourth-round picks.

So while it would be a relatively high price to move up, the Panthers would still come away with its franchise-signal caller, while the Lions remain in the top-10 but now have more ammo to improve their defense with additional picks on Day 2.

Round 1

1. Houston Texans: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

Stroud showed all the doubters why many draft analysts consider him the top prospect in the 2023 draft in the loss to Georgia. He made great throws in tight windows and ran surprisingly well, too.

2. Chicago Bears: Edge Will Anderson, Alabama

Chicago has only selected four pass rushers the past 10 drafts, but only one was taken in the first round (Leonard Floyd in 2016). The other three pass rushers were drafted in Rounds 5 or 6.

3. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): DL Jalen Carter, Georgia

This pick comes down to QB vs. defense. Seattle can feel better about passing on a QB here if it can re-sign UFA Geno Smith in the offseason.

4. Arizona Cardinals: Edge Myles Murphy, Clemson

Murphy will help lessen the loss of future Hall of Famer J.J. Watts, who recently announced that he’s retiring at the end of the season.

5. Indianapolis Colts: QB Bryce Young, Alabama

This is a best-case scenario: Indianapolis gets their man without having to give up valuable draft assets.

6. Carolina Panthers (TRADE with DET): QB Will Levis, Kentucky

Although Levis didn’t have the greatest season, there’s a growing feeling among national draft analysts that Levis will still go in the top-10. Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus recently said Levis will wind up as a top-5 draft pick.

7. Atlanta Falcons: Edge Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech

Expect Atlanta to address its offensive line if it doesn’t take one here.

8. Las Vegas Raiders: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida

For those clamoring for a QB change in Las Vegas, consider what happened to Washington when they said goodbye to Kirk Cousins after the 2017 season. Since then, the Commanders have used 11 different starting QBs while going 31-49-1, while Cousins has led the Vikings to a 45-35-1 record while making the Pro Bowl three more times. Swapping out Derek Carr for Richardson – instead of improving the product around Carr – is about as big as risky as it gets.

9. Detroit Lions (from LAR) (TRADE with CAR): DL Brian Bresee, Clemson

This is why Detroit trades down but stays in the top-10: A playmaker like Bresee won’t last much longer.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (from NO): CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State

Philadelphia’s two starting CBs, James Bradberry (this offseason) and Darius Slay (next offseason), are set to become unrestricted free agents.

11. Tennessee Titans: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Tennessee might take a receiver here, too, despite drafting one in the first round last year.

12. Houston Texans (from CLE): WR Quentin Johnston, TCU

It’s hard not to get excited about Johnston after reading the latest Walter Football stock report.

13. New York Jets: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

The Jets aren’t far away from becoming a playoff team. Adding pieces to the O-line helps.

14. Washington Commanders: RB Bijan Robinson, Texas

Washington needs a dynamic presence on offense while it searches for a QB.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State

Despite giving up his second sack of the season, Johnson still held his own against Carter and the talented Georgia defensive line.

16. Green Bay Packers: WR Jordan Addison, USC

The team is getting hot at the right moment – imagine what the Packers can do with another playmaker added to the offense.

17. Detroit Lions: Edge Jared Verse, Florida State

Verse is beloved by many prominent draft analysts – Sikkema has him going No. 6 overall. A Bresee-Verse-Aidan Hutchinson-led defense could be pretty scary in a year or two from now. But now the Lions need to hope a starting-caliber CB falls to them in the second round, plus they still need playmakers on offense.

18. Seattle Seahawks: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

A Tariq Woolen-Christian Gonzalez CB tandem represents the future of the position: tall, athletic and blazing-fast CBs with receiver experience.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Trevor Lawrence is having a Pro Bowl-worthy season after a tumultuous rookie season. Imagine what he can do with a receiver like Hyatt and Calvin Ridley, once he returns from his gambling suspension.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Cam Smith, South Carolina

As badly as Tampa Bay needs help along its offensive line, it would be too hard to pass up on Smith, the top-rated CB in the Rigdon big board. Besides, Jamel Dean will be an UFA at the end of the season.

21. New England Patriots: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia

Jones fits the mold of a Patriots lineman: doesn’t have ideal measurements for the position but is scheme-versatile.

22. New York Giants: WR Zay Flowers, Boston College

The 5-foot-10, 172-pound Flowers should see his stock rise in the coming months despite pedestrian measurements.

23. Baltimore Ravens: Edge Lukas Van Ness, Iowa

Here’s a clip of Van Ness destroying the top two OTs in the draft. He’d start at 5-tech for the Ravens.

24. Los Angeles Chargers: TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State

Los Angeles also needs more speed at receiver, so look for the Chargers to address the position on Day 2.

25. Cincinnati Bengals: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah

All three TEs could make the argument as the best at his position.

26. Minnesota Vikings: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

The team finds a future replacement for Patrick Peterson.

27. Dallas Cowboys: LB Trenton Simpson, Clemson

Linebacker is a sneaky need for Dallas, as both Leighton Vander Esch and Anthony Barr will be UFAs at the end of the season and Micah Parsons is a middle linebacker in name-only. Scheme-wise, drafting Simpson would allow the team to stick with its preferred two-LB nickel defense, thanks to the emergence of rookie fifth-rounder Damone Clark.

28. Denver Broncos (from SF): OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee

Denver’s season has been disastrous, and the Broncos gave up a ton of draft capital to trade for Russell Wilson. Translation: The Broncos are married to Wilson, so they might as well try to make it work. Adding another OT is a great way to start.

29. Buffalo Bills: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

Need, meet BPA. JSN should fill in as the starting slot receiver for the next decade – and with Josh Allen as his QB, expect a few Pro Bowls out of JSN, too.

30. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State

There isn’t a lot of draft buzz about the 6-foot-8, 360-pound Jones, but expect that to change after the Combine.

31. Philadelphia Eagles: S Brian Branch, Alabama

Despite recent calls for the Eagles to draft another offensive tackle in the wake of the Lane Johnson injury, that would be a luxury because, ideally, Johnson comes back next season (he’s already said he wants to play for another two years). And yet, where would division-rival Dallas be if it didn’t draft Tyler Smith in the first last year despite the presence of All-Pro OT Tyron Smith? If either Wright or Jones are still on the clock, the Eagles might pull the trigger – even if it means sitting that player for a year or two until Johnson retires. Branch, meanwhile, is quite the consolation prize, as he can literally play every position in the secondary – in incredible chess piece. Don’t be surprised if Branch winds up winning Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Who’s left:

  • Los Angeles Rams, second round: RB Jahmyr, Gibbs, Alabama
  • New Orleans Saints, second round: DL Tuli Tuipulotu, USC
  • Cleveland Browns, second round: LB Jack Campbell, Iowa
  • Miami Dolphins, second round: G Cody Mauch, North Dakota State
  • San Francisco, third round: CB Eli Ricks, Alabama

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.


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