More than a month out from Day 1, the 2023 NFL draft has already been turned on its head.
After publicly establishing themselves as sellers of the No. 1 pick, the Chicago Bears reached agreement Friday, per multiple reports, to send the selection to the Carolina Panthers for a robust package that included first-rounders this year and next year.
The move no doubt sends ripples through the rest of the draft order, though the actual fallout won’t be known for some time. This much, however, is clear: Several teams in search of a quarterback now are likely on edge given that the Panthers are a virtual lock to take a signal-caller.
With all that in mind, here’s our latest NFL mock draft in the aftermath of the Panthers-Bears trade:
(Note:The Miami Dolphins were stripped of their first-round pick for tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton.)
1. Carolina Panthers (from Chicago Bears) – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
After several years of failed attempts to cobble together a tenable quarterback plan, this marked owner David Tepper’s long-awaited big swing to land a fixture at the position. Carolina could ill afford to let the top of the draft play out as it stood, so a move into the top three was essentially a necessity. Still, parting with a 2024 first-round pick, two second-rounders and a go-to receiver in DJ Moore is a hefty bill.
There’s no telling which direction the Panthers are headed at this point, and both ESPN and The Athletic reported that the team has not zeroed in on a particular prospect. (The Athletic also reported that Carolina could entertain moving down a bit if they are comfortable with multiple players.) New coach Frank Reich, however, has worked exclusively with taller signal-callers, and the 6-3, 215-pound Stroud offers the experience, processing and accuracy that should help put GM Scott Fitterer at ease. No matter who the eventual choice is, there are substantial challenges given the lackluster receiving corps and limited draft capital over the next two years.
2. Houston Texans – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Quite the parting gift from since-dispatched coach Lovie Smith, who prior to his dismissal led the Texans to a Week 18 win that helped put the Bears in pole position of the draft. Now, Houston has to wait and hope Carolina doesn’t take its preferred passer.
If Stroud is the Panthers’ target at No. 1, the Texans will have far more than a consolation prize waiting for them in Young. The prolific playmaker can be the offensive catalyst this outfit has lacked since its falling out with Deshaun Watson. The pairing could also pay off nicely for Young, whose skill set would jell nicely with offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and a scheme no doubt shaped by mentor Kyle Shanahan’s influence. Just make sure to give Young more support up front and at receiver, Nick Caserio.
3. Arizona Cardinals – Will Anderson, DE/OLB, Alabama
All eyes turn to Arizona as the next possible trade domino after Friday, with this spot serving as the next potential entry point for a team further back in the order to take its place in the quarterback queue. Should Arizona stand pat, however, Anderson is exactly the kind of prodigious pass rusher that new coach Jonathan Gannon would put to immediate use. As things stand before free agency opens, the Cardinals do not return a player under contract who recorded more than four sacks in 2022.
4. Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
If Stroud and Young are the first two picks in whatever order, where does that leave Indianapolis? Colts GM Chris Ballard – and, really, owner Jim Irsay – seemed desperate to make a long-awaited investment in a young passer. Now, it seems probable that the team will have to take on an unproven project in Richardson or Kentucky’s Will Levis rather than grabbing a more established signal-caller, leaving the risk-averse Ballard with more boom-or-bust potential than he’s likely comfortable with coming off a 4-12-1 campaign.
At 6-4, 244 pounds with 4.43-second speed in the 40-yard dash and arm strength to marvel at, Richardson is a singular physical talent – so much so that he can’t be ruled out of the running for the No. 1 overall selection at this point. With only 393 career pass attempts at Florida, however, he’s still tinkering with his footwork and touch. New coach Shane Steichen might be the perfect person to take on the role of Richardson’s mentor, with his tutelage of Jalen Hurts serving as a potential roadmap for another dual-threat quarterback. But taking Richardson might necessitate the addition of a veteran who can be a bridge starter in the early going.
5. Seattle Seahawks (from Denver Broncos) – Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Even after signing Geno Smith to a three-year extension, Pete Carroll maintained that the Seahawks were in a favorable spot to take a quarterback if they were drawn to one. That outlook has assuredly shifted in the aftermath of the Panthers’ trade with the Bears, leaving the Seahawks as a strong candidate to take one of the top defenders available. In this case, that’s Carter, a wrecking ball against both the pass and run. Much is still left to be resolved, however, after he turned himself in on a warrant earlier in March on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing.
6. Detroit Lions (from Los Angeles Rams) – Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech
For all of the improvements the Lions’ defense made down the stretch last season, allowing 320 rushing yards to the Panthers in a Week 16 loss was the unit’s undoing. The 6-6, 271-pound Wilson combines the quickness to run down ball carriers with the length to engulf them. He should also generate pressure on passers thanks to his sheer power, though he’s unlikely to be as quick of a study as Aidan Hutchinson was as a rookie.
7. Las Vegas Raiders – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Boasting at the combine that he has a “cannon” he intends to show off, the 6-4, 229-pounder sure seems like the picture of a Raiders quarterback. It’s to be determined, however, whether the combination of that personality and playmaking skills are enough to win over coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler, who haven’t tipped their hand on their plans for finding Derek Carr’s successor.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
The Falcons always seemed to be more of an interested observer than an active participant in the jockeying for the draft’s top quarterbacks, so the Panthers-Bears trade likely further confirmed that Desmond Ridder is in the saddle as the starter for 2023. One notable benefit of the deal: The more passers taken up high, the better position Atlanta is in to load up its defense. In this case, Murphy gives the group a hard-charging edge presence who should be stout against the run while developing his pass-rush plan.
9. Bears (from Panthers) – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
After bringing on a top target for Justin Fields in Moore, Bears GM Ryan Poles can provide his quarterback more assistance through another prime piece of the trade. Left tackles with Johnson’s frame and fleet feet aren’t easy to find, though there could be a rough early adjustment period as he learns to handle savvy edge rushers.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from New Orleans Saints) – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Substantial change seems inevitable for the Eagles’ secondary, which could be losing both James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson in free agency and now faces a financial impasse with Darius Slay. Should this scenario arise, Philadelphia should be overjoyed to land a versatile and hyperathletic cornerback like Gonzalez, even if it means waiting until later to address the defensive line.
11. Tennessee Titans – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
Tennessee’s offense is approaching teardown territory as the team continues to discard former starters, including center Ben Jones on Friday. Given that the Titans appear to be on an extended timeline for returning to a competitive level, Jones’ abundant athleticism is worth a roll of the dice.
12. Texans (from Cleveland Browns) – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Whoever is behind center for Houston will need a surehanded target who can shake defenders quickly and rack up yards after the catch. Sounds like just the role for Smith-Njigba, who seems to be emerging as the favorite to be the first receiver off the board thanks to his smoothness and polish.
13. New York Jets – Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
As Gang Green awaits for white smoke on an Aaron Rodgers decision, there’s still work to be done up front. Skoronski affords GM Joe Douglas several different options given his excellent work at left tackle and his potential to be a stellar offensive guard should his substandard arm length prove problematic against edge rushers.
14. New England Patriots – Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Might there be a fourth offensive tackle in the top tier at the position? Johnson, Jones and Skoronski had been viewed as the three blockers destined for the early first round, but it’s possible Wright isn’t far behind – if at all. The 6-5, 333-pounder can be an overpowering presence on the right side for the Patriots from Day 1.
15. Green Bay Packers – Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa
The Packers typically love a supersized edge rusher, so it’s only they would gravitate toward one nicknamed “Hercules.” Van Ness packs a serious punch with his bull rush, though he has a long way to go in diversifying his set of moves.
16. Washington Commanders – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Lacking any truly established entities at the position outside of Kendall Fuller, Washington would be wise to take advantage of a loaded cornerback class at some point in the early going of the draft. Porter sizes up as a frustrating matchup for opposing receivers given his physicality and playmaking prowess.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
A cornerback who loves to tackle and demonstrated lockdown potential last season should be at home on the Steelers’ defense. Witherspoon might have lost some ground in the contest to be the first cornerback off the board as he recovers from a hamstring injury that kept him out of combine workouts, but his performance from 2022 speaks for itself.
18. Lions – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Is there a player for whom it’s more difficult to project a landing spot? A running back who seemingly leaves almost every would-be tackler grasping for air, Robinson is considered by many a top-10 player in this draft. Yet it’s difficult to determine which team would be willing to spend a first-round pick on him given the current landscape for investing in young ball carriers. Detroit would be a sensible fit if the team doesn’t bring back Jamaal Williams, especially given the contributions Robinson could make as a receiver to boost Jared Goff and the passing attack.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
Free agency defections are bound to ravage an already spotty Tampa Bay roster. A good starting point for a defensive rebuild might be Banks, who has the size and speed to stick with receivers downfield and the agility to mirror quicker targets.
20. Seahawks – Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia
One of the stars of the combine, the explosive and sharp Smith is the kind of defender that Pete Carroll covets. The 6-2, 258-pounder is comparable in physique to the Seahawks’ Uchenna Nwosu, though Smith could be a more formidable presence against the run while he figures how to tap into his pass-rushing potential.
21. Los Angeles Chargers – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
No, this isn’t the dose of speed that’s sorely missing from Los Angeles’ receiving corps. Mayer, however, can serve as a safety valve who will keep the Bolts’ offense rolling with tough catches and reliable run blocking.
22. Baltimore Ravens – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
No matter how the Lamar Jackson saga plays out, Baltimore is in dire need of more production at wide receiver, a point that GM Eric DeCosta recently conceded. Adding Flowers, a big-play dynamo both as a deep target and run-after-the-catch threat, would give this unit the juice it has long been lacking.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Receiver could be a consideration for Minnesota after Adam Thielen’s release, but it’s hard to look past a cornerback group that is perilously thin. While Ringo might be a bit risky given his underdeveloped anticipation, he has the tools to be an imposing matchup in man coverage.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars – Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
At the combine, Bresee flashed the power and explosiveness that made the former No. 1 overall recruit such a tantalizing talent at Clemson before a torn ACL derailed his 2021 campaign. Jaguars GM Trent Baalke is known for being undeterred by injuries, and it might be hard for him to pass up a tone-setting defensive lineman who can punish offenses that don’t double-team him.
25. New York Giants – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
With Daniel Jones reaching a four-year extension minutes ahead of the franchise tag deadline, the mandate for the Giants to equip their quarterback with more dynamic pass catchers has never been stronger. Though his 173-pound build sparked concerns in Indianapolis, Addison leverages his craftiness and refinement as a route runner to leave defensive backs flustered.
26. Dallas Cowboys – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
As much as Mike McCarthy has hammered home his desire to “run the damn ball” as Dallas’ new play-caller, a lack of speed at receiver was a serious weight on the unit last season. Johnston isn’t the most polished or reliable pass catcher, but there’s no denying what a 6-3, 208-pound long strider with rapid acceleration can do for an aerial attack.
27. Buffalo Bills – Brian Branch, CB/S, Alabama
Jordan Poyer already appears to have one foot out the door as a free agent, so someone else will have to join Micah Hyde on the back end. Branch plugs in as a do-it-all defender with a knack for finding the ball from any spot on the field.
28. Cincinnati Bengals – Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
Even if not in the first round, tight end figures to be a position of interest for Cincinnati given the deep class and the team’s dearth of options behind pending free agent Hayden Hurst. While many players at the position face an extended learning curve, Kincaid’s outstanding hands and tracking as a receiver should make him a fast favorite of Joe Burrow.
29. Saints (from San Francisco 49ers via Dolphins and Broncos) – Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt
With both starting defensive tackles ticketed for free agency, the perpetually cap-crunched Saints might be facing an overhaul in the middle of their defense. At 6-1 and 281 pounds, Kancey might not live up to the unfair Aaron Donald comparisons, but he has the tools to be a persistent disruptor on the interior.
30. Eagles – Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
This might seem like a luxury for a team that already has a top-five tight end in Dallas Goedert, but Washington isn’t like other players at his position. A bulldozer at 6-7 and 264 pounds, he can keep the Eagles’ ground game rolling while making last year’s No. 3 red zone offense even more imposing.
31. Kansas City Chiefs – Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
The decision not to franchise tag Orlando Brown Jr. portends a major shift up front for the defending champs. A smooth mover and experienced pass blocker, Harrison looks ready to take on a starting left tackle role right away, though defenders will test his core strength until he proves he can hold up.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.