4 surprises from Todd McShay’s first 2023 NFL mock draft

We’re officially in mock draft season, folks. For the majority of fanbases in the NFL the rest of the season is about playing it out, looking to see where their draft spot is, and looking ahead to the draft. That is, unless you’re Seattle or Philadelphia, who could both make the playoffs AND will likely wind up with a top-10 pick because of trades with the Broncos and Saints respectively.

Todd McShay of ESPN put out his first mock draft of 2023. Historically he’s been plugged in well to NFL thinking, even thins early in the process. Last year his 1.0 mock draft prior to the combine predicted five players selected in the top-10, and overall he accurately pegged 23 of the first round’s 32 players (most of the whiffs were the quarterback class). So let’s look at some of the surprises from this first look at 2023.

The Falcons drink the Will Levis Kool Aid

Will Levis is going to be the most controversial player of the 2023 class, and easily one of the most hyped. There are all manner of reports from anonymous NFL executives and scouts who swear Levis is the best quarterback in this draft, while many outside observers (myself included) can’t fathom the hype.

In the end Levis will likely go in the top-10. The team selecting him will more or less be making the Josh Allen leap of faith on a big-armed player who doesn’t have the film or production in college to back it up.

It’s not so much seeing Levis go high that’s surprising, but to the Falcons of all teams. This essentially projects that Atlanta will look at Desmond Ridder for three weeks and he’ll look so bad that they’ll aim to take a project QB with the No. 6 overall pick instead. That’s a wild roll of the dice for a team that has as many holes at Atlanta.

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Return of the top-5 running back?

We haven’t seen a running back get selected in the top-5 since Saquon Barkley in 2018. Since then no RB has been taken with a pick higher than 24th overall. That gets broken in McShay’s mock with Texas’ Bijan Robinson going to the Eagles with the 5th overall pick.

I’m a mammoth fan of Robinson’s game. Yes, he is that damn good — and I’ve got to admit there’s an incredible appeal to imagine what he would do behind the Eagles’ offensive line. Robinson has Derrick Henry-esque size, he loves to bruise down the middle, and has shown a little pop as a pass catcher too. That said, it’s a little wild to think they’d use their top-5 gift and burn draft capital on an RB like this.

Robinson won’t be around by the Eagles’ pick at the bottom of the first, and they don’t have a lot of holes, so I understand the logic. Still, it would be extremely surprising to see another top-5 RB based on how most NFL teams regard the position.

The Panthers swing for the fences

Carolina is one of the weirdest, least-predictable teams in the NFL right now. By all accounts they should be firmly locked into a top-3 pick at this point, and simply scout the top quarterbacks and select whoever isn’t taken by the Texans. Instead they’re pushing for a playoff spot, showing more heart than anyone gave them credit for, and have a very realistic chance of winning the NFC South because of how hilariously bad the division is.

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McShay doesn’t see that Cinderella story coming true, and with the No. 11 pick he has the Panthers taking Anthony Richardson out of Florida. It would be a mammoth roll of the dice, which I actually kind of appreciate.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s WAY too early to take Richardson at 11. Without a doubt he would be the most raw quarterback taken with a top-15 pick … maybe ever. Still, I do like the idea of gambling to get a player who could truly be a league-defining superstar, over playing it safe and winding up with a middling QB like Mac Jones, who we’ve seen taken in a spot like this before.

As it stands Richardson is wildly inconsistent and he needs time to learn NFL offensive principles. However, if a team can unlock him they have a unicorn of a player. Richardson has a cannon for an arm, ludicrous mobility with a knack for escaping pressure, and an ideal QB frame at 6’4, 232 pounds.

It doesn’t make up for Carolina not selecting Justin Fields a year ago, but that mistake will melt away if Richardson becomes the real deal.

Jacksonville takes a … wide receiver?!

The Jaguars are on my watch list for 2023 as a team that could make a major run. Yes, I’ve made this mistake before, but I’ll continue to do it because of the talent this team is building on paper.

There’s a very real chance the Jaguars could find a backdoor into the playoffs, but if they don’t McShay has them taking TCU’s Quentin Johnston with the No. 13 pick. A big-bodied possession receiver is something the Jaguars are currently lacking, but their WR room is pretty packed right now. With Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Calvin Ridley coming off suspension in 2023, it’s a little weird to see them adding to that position already without knowing what they have in house yet.

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This feels like a bit of a luxury pick to me, and the Jaguars aren’t yet in a position to be taking luxuries with first round selections. Jacksonville has a dire need for help in the secondary, and Joey Porter Jr. makes too much sense for me here.

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