Horton: Way-too-early NFL Mock Draft
Jack Horton | Tuesday, September 12, 2023
Every year, the day before the NFL draft, my brother, my dad and I make our final mock drafts in preparation for Draft Day. What’s on the line? Last place buys the other two a shake from Pac-Out, a popular spot in Boise, Idaho — where I’m from. What I wouldn’t give for one of those shakes right about now.
Because Draft Day is over six months away, this draft order is a projection from ESPN and could be very different by the end of the season. Hopefully, this mock draft can serve as a guide for who to watch throughout the remainder of the college football season. Here’s how I see the draft unfolding:
Arizona Cardinals → Caleb Williams (USC) — QB
Ever since the Red River Rivalry game two years ago, college football recognized the obvious talent of Caleb Williams. The Southern Cal quarterback is in his junior season and unless something goes terribly wrong (hopefully a loss to Notre Dame is in his future), this will be his last year in college. His talent is undeniable. He makes tremendous off-schedule throws that draw comparisons to Patrick Mahomes. His ability to create after the play breaks down as both a passer and a runner will keep NFL defensive coaches up at night for years to come.
Arizona Cardinals (via Houston Texans) → Marvin Harrison Jr. (Ohio State) — WR
I know what you’re thinking…a wide receiver at number two? That’s way too high. Usually I would agree with you, but Arizona already spent their top pick on offensive tackle last year. If Williams is as advertised, it’s unlikely they’ll be picking inside the top five anytime soon. Harrison is a 6’4 wideout with excellent route running ability. Just turn on the 2023 Peach Bowl against the Georgia (a.k.a Philadelphia Eagles) defense if you want to see him carve up NFL-caliber players.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers → Drake Maye (North Carolina) — QB
Interesting fact: Maye is the youngest of four brothers…all of whom played D1 sports! If it wasn’t for Caleb Williams, Maye would likely be the number one overall pick. He possesses great accuracy downfield and is more mobile than he gets credit for. More film will be needed on Maye this year to confirm what many scouts saw last year. For Tampa, after one year without Tom Brady, they reset at quarterback with high hopes for the future.
Indianapolis Colts → Jared Verse (Florida State) — DE
Even though he could’ve been a first round pick last year, Verse came back to school to chase a College Football Playoff berth with the Seminoles. I still don’t understand why Verse redshirted at Albany his freshman year before he transferred to Florida State. Nonetheless, he has the size, speed and power that the Colts are looking for in a star defensive end.
Los Angeles Rams → Olumuyiwa Fashanu (Penn State) — OT
Fashanu doesn’t even turn 21 until December, so he’s still developing. That’s crazy to think about considering he could’ve been a top-15 pick last year. On a talent-deficient roster, this blue-chip offensive line prospect would help fix one of the many holes on the Rams’ offense.
Tennessee Titans → Dallas Turner (Alabama) — DE
If he wants to get drafted in the top 10, Turner needs to build on his production from last year. Turner was the second defensive end in Alabama’s system behind Will Anderson Jr. in 2022, but if he steps into the top spot this season, the sky’s the limit. Good thing his college coach knows a thing or two about developing NFL prospects.
Green Bay Packers → Joe Alt (Notre Dame) — OT
Standing at 6’8, 315 pounds, Alt would fit in very nicely in Matt LaFleur’s offensive scheme in Green Bay. At Notre Dame, Alt has only allowed 13 pressures in 700 pass-block snaps. Knowing Notre Dame’s pro-style offense doesn’t hurt either. Alt seems poised to take the next step in the NFL and become a staple in the Packers offense.
Washington Commanders → JC Latham (Alabama) — OT
At 6’6, 360 pounds, I can safely assume that Latham could beat me in an arm wrestling contest. Not only that, Latham is excellent against the run. If he can clean up his technique this year, the Commanders would be very happy to take him at eight.
Las Vegas Raiders → Michael Penix Jr. (Washington) — QB
I will admit…this is a bit of a prediction pick. If Washington’s season goes in the direction that I think it will, Penix and the Huskies will be playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl. At the same time, is Jimmy Garoppolo really more than a bridge between Derek Carr and the next guy in Vegas? I don’t think so. Penix has a strong arm and can place the ball anywhere on the field. His injury history and age (24) will be closely studied by NFL teams, but if he makes Washington a legit contender, his name could rise up NFL draft boards very quickly.
Chicago Bears (via Carolina Panthers) → Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama) — CB
Just think of smooth when you think of McKinstry. He’s the top cornerback in the draft class and has great speed and anticipation. He will be very helpful to a young Bears secondary looking for a lockdown corner.
Chicago Bears → Chop Robinson (Penn State) — DE
The Bears seem to love taking guys with great names. Oh yeah, and he’s an explosive pass rusher with the potential for a breakout season this year with the Nittany Lions.
New England Patriots → Brock Bowers (Georgia) — TE
The Patriots have spent big money in recent years trying to fill Rob Gronkowski’s shoes, but Bowers could be the real answer for head coach Bill Belichick. Bowers possesses the run after the catch ability essential for today’s top tight end targets.
Atlanta Falcons → Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State) — WR
Why not give Arthur Smith another offensive weapon to go along with Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson?
Pittsburgh Steelers → JT Tuimoloau (Ohio State) — DE
Consistency this year with Tuimoloau will determine how high he goes in the draft. He would be a great addition an already strong Steelers defensive front.
New York Giants → Kalen King (Penn State) — CB
Although he’s only 5’11, many teams love King’s aggressiveness. The Giants would love to have him cover the top receivers in the NFC East.
Denver Broncos → Riley Leonard (Duke) — QB
Just like Cougar in “Top Gun”, Russell Wilson seems to have lost his edge. Unless Sean Payton can fix him, he is simply an undersized, aging quarterback in a difficult AFC West division. Insert Riley Leonard, a 6’4 quarterback from Duke who shows promise as a dual-threat quarterback and a very accurate passer. Best case scenario? You’re looking at a Joe Burrow-esque quarterback. Worst case? You placed your faith in a rookie quarterback as Kansas City continues to run laps around you and the rest of the division.
- Houston Texans (via Cleveland Browns) → Keon Coleman (FSU) — WR
- Miami Dolphins → Malik Nabers (LSU) — WR
- Seattle Seahawks → Laitu Latu (UCLA) — DE
- New Orleans Saints → Kris Jenkins (Michigan) — DT
- Minnesota Vikings → Kamren Kitchens (Miami) — S
- Los Angeles Chargers → Maason Smith (LSU) — DT
- Green Bay Packers (via New York Jets) → Rome Odunze (Washington) — WR
- Baltimore Ravens → Barrett Carter (Clemson) — LB
- Detroit Lions → Josh Newton (TCU) — CB
- Jacksonville Jaguars → Leonard Taylor III (Miami) — DT
- Dallas Cowboys → Patrick Paul (Houston) — OT
- Buffalo Bills → Cooper DeJean (Iowa) — CB
- San Francisco 49ers → Amarius Mims (Georgia) — OT
- Cincinnati Bengals → Calen Bullock (USC) — S
- Philadelphia Eagles → Javon Bullard (Georgia) — S
- Kansas City Chiefs → Xavier Worthy (Texas) — WR
ND faithful, I’m sorry I couldn’t put Sam Hartman in the first round. Not yet anyways.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.