January 30, 2023

ESPN analyst and NFL draft guru Mel Kiper has released his latest mock draft for the 2023 first round, and there are two notable surprises at the top.

The Chicago Bears are the first overall pick holders, but many expect them to pass it to a QB-needy team. Chicago already has a franchise quarterback in Justin Fields, whom they picked 11th overall in 2021.

However, for the first overall pick, Kiper does not have the bears trading that pick. Rather, he lets her take Georgia’s defensive tackle Jalen Carter:

“Chicago’s roster needs help from top to bottom, but their defense was particularly terrible in 2022, finishing bottom in the league in sacks (20) and points allowed per game (27.2). It must be D consistently wherever the bears make their selections. Carter, an explosive inside pass rusher and run stuffer, gets my big board preference over Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. He’s the best player in this draft, a Day 1 starter amid this defense.”

Kiper then has the Houston Texans with Ohio State’s CJ Stroud in 3rd overall, followed by Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. to the Arizona Cardinals and fellow Crimson Tide and QB Bryce Young to the Indianapolis Colts.

Carter’s pick for #1 overall isn’t the only surprise at the top of Kiper’s mock draft. He also has the Seattle Seahawks picking signal caller Will Levis of Kentucky for 5th overall (this pick is courtesy of the Denver Broncos via trade Russell Wilson):

“Do the Seahawks really think Geno Smith is their long-term answer? If so, they’ll have to pay him before he goes free in March. However, if they tag him as a franchise, they could cast him as a bridge to Levis in 2023, who can take over as a backup after some time. If Seattle Smith makes a big deal, it would certainly be happy if Will Anderson Jr. or Jalen Carter helped here a defense that allowed 4.9 yards per carry, which ranked 27th in the league. Along with that pick from Denver, which came in the Russell-Wilson deal, it also has the No. 20 overall to get help on that side of the ball.”

Geno Smith had a career year with the Seahawks, completing 69.8 percent of his pass attempts for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. Smith helped Seattle return to the postseason with a 9-8 record despite losing to the San Francisco 49ers at Super Wild Card Weekend.

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