2023 NFL free agency mock draft: Derek Carr to Commanders, Jimmy Garoppolo to Dolphins, plus 30 other moves
Each NFL offseason, mock drafts come into play, capturing viewers for weeks, if not months. But too often they lose sight of the fact that the entire veteran market must turn around before the teams turn their attention to April’s rookies. Of course, this is not entirely true; long-term visions associated with foreseeable future can influence an organization’s approach to freedom of action. But in any case, signings and deals in early spring come first.
So let’s simulate free will! Why should we do this, you ask? Well, #1 because it’s fun. Half the reason the NFL offseason is thrilling is the sheer number of scenarios we can come up with. No. 2 because it really helps identify the most valuable free agents of the year, as well as the main off-season needs of teams.
Some ground rules before we dive into them:
- Suitable Players: We used educated guesswork (and looked at well-informed reports from across the league) to rule out free agents who will almost certainly either be re-signed or tagged by their current teams. These players are: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, Giants QB Daniel Jones, Jaguars TE Evan Engram, Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr., DT Commanders Daron Payne and Eagles S CJ Gardner-Johnson.
- Order draft: Instead of using the actual draft order, which would have eliminated certain teams without a first-round pick, we’ve included all 32, listing the teams in order of projected cap berths for 2023. This is also in line with free agents given that it would provide a rough hierarchy of clubs capable of spending big money on veterans.
And now, without further ado, the 2023 NFL free agency pilot project:
1 Bears: D. T. Javon Hargrave
Supporting QB Justin Fields with better defenses and receivers is paramount, but the Hargave is best suited to a different area of need. Matt Eberflus’s defense is sorely lacking offensive power, and Hargrave is still in the midst of his prime in his 30s, fresh off a career-high 11 sacks to become the most consistent starter on the conference-winning Eagles team.
2. Falcons: DL Zach Allen
The Falcons have Grady Jarrett but little more to come, hence their constant need for more pocket pushers. Allen, 25, may not be a big name, but he proved to be a worthy successor to JJ Watt on poor Arizona “D” in 2022, posting 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles to lose, 20 QB hits and eight pass deflections. Arthur Smith would have been delighted with such a die-hard building block.
3. Raiders: CB James Bradbury
There are big holes in the quarterback and in the offense, but with so many temporary signalers available, they can afford to splurge on the D, where Josh McDaniels is accustomed to sparing passing cover on his side from his days in New England. Bradberry is 30 years old but is finishing the All-Pro season in Philadelphia. He would have given the raiders more cover in an instant.
4 Giants: WR Jacobi Meyers
With Daniel Jones apparently back on a contract or a new deal, their focus will inevitably shift to securing young top QB playmakers. Meyers, 26, doesn’t scream “superstar,” but he’s probably the most versatile player available, capable of winning on margin both inside and out. Reliability is exactly what Brian Daball should be looking for in this position.
5. Texans: DE Marcus Davenport
Five years into his career, Davenport’s name still means more than his resume. But Houston needs immediate and long-term help, and at 26, he still has room to grow. He also showed off Pro Bowl ability in 2021 with nine sacks. If anyone could help him get to the next level, it was probably DeMeco Ryans leading the nasty San Francisco front.
6. Bengals: OT Mike McGlinchey
Always looking for a stable line for Joe Burrow, the Bengals could part ways with Lael Collins in the right tackle, which would open up the job for McGlinchey, the 49ers’ starter of the past five years. Although McGlinchey is not flawless, with his own injury history, he was an above-average blocker when he was healthy. It matters a lot in the NFL.
7 Patriots: OT Caleb McGary
New England could take so many routes with wide holes and defenses. But first of all, the Patriots need a better game for Mac Jones or someone else to lead the QB under Bill O’Brien. Like McGlinchey, the veteran Falcons starter has been a reliable right hand for years. Moreover, he was relatively resilient, only missing three games in four seasons.
8. Seahawks: DL Dre’Mont Jones
An underrated top Denver player, Jones is a constant presence in the opposing pockets despite only becoming a full-fledged starter in 2022 when he hit 6.5 sacks, nine tackles to lose and 10 hits from the quarterback. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are in dire need of any kind of DL presence they can get, and Jones’ flexibility as a 3-4 finish or 4-3 tackle is likely to tease Pete Carroll.
9 Ravens: WR Juju Smith-Shuster
Assuming Lamar Jackson is back in one form or another, the Ravens will have to turn to WR’s lackluster body. Smith-Schuster isn’t necessarily a flashy addition on his own, but after playing effectively as Patrick Mahomes’ top outside target in Kansas City, he would easily become Baltimore’s most reliable ball receiver. As a bonus, Juju will play with the Steelers twice a year.
10. Cardinals: CB Jamel Dean
New Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon is a quarterback by trade, so upgrading the cornerback’s mostly empty room is likely to be at the top of his list of priorities. Dean, 26, is not a widely known front, but he may have been the most consistent starter in his Buccaneers defensive position in 2022. He would also represent a long-term solution for the team in transition.
11 Lions: CC Cameron Sutton
Few veterans have done more to increase their free agent numbers than 27-year-old Sutton, who typified the Steelers’ uncompromising toughness with some clutch passing coverage. He had a quiet start to his career, but in Detroit, he would be a physical complement to former first-rounder Jeff Okuda, who probably had too much on his plate.
12 Titans: OT Jawaan Taylor
Even if longtime left tackle Taylor Levan hadn’t been exiled for a cap, they would have been in the OL relief market regardless of the future in QB. In the meantime, Taylor has weathered the ups and downs of Jacksonville, but in 2022, he became the Jaguars’ toughest passing defenseman for Trevor Lawrence. At 25, he has never missed a start, he could be a potential player within the division.
13 Colts: TE Dalton Schultz
Tackles are needed, as is QB, of course, but assuming that Indy uses the draft to close a gaping hole in the center, then Schultz is a logical multi-purpose investment. The tight end may not be in shambles, but it mainly acts as a pass catcher. He’s only 26 years old and could theoretically take some of the pressure off Michael Pittman Jr. as an outlet.
14. Broncos: LB Tremaine Edmunds
After years of enjoying Demario Davis patrolling the Saints’ defensive center, Sean Payton might want to fill in Denver’s already solid D, and Edmunds has untrainable traits to play behind their front. Somehow he’s only 24 and also stands out as a more viable starter than fellow free agents like Lavonte David.
15. Eagles: CB Byron Murphy Jr.
With James Bradberry heading elsewhere (above), the Eagles will return to the veteran market looking for a ready cover paired with Darius Slay, allowing Zeck McPherson’s reserves to continue to develop. Murphy, 25, is a typical Howie Roseman player: he’s less valuable after injury, but has an early pedigree and a lot of growth potential in multiple positions.
16. Commanders: QB Derek Carr
Our first QB off the board! The Washingtons may choose to draft and develop here, but they’re not in the best position to get a top prospect, making Carr the second-best starter tested. Although the ex-leader of the Raiders is more useful than special, he has a fearless mentality that Ron Rivera would back. Paired with Eric Bienemi and Terry McLaurin, he might have been able to surprise.
17. 49ers: OG Isaac Seumalo
San Francisco tends to get high marks for their OL play, but after the Eagles lost in the NFC title game, they may upgrade to what QB can stay healthy in 2023. it would be projected as an immediate improvement anywhere in the guard.
18. Steelers: OT Andrew Wylie
The Steelers could use fresh bodies on either side of the ball, especially with inside free agents in the LB and CB, but the #1 priority should be rebuilding the trenches for quarterback Kenny Pickett. While the 28-year-old Wylie doesn’t come close to the physical talent of Chiefs tackle teammate Orlando Brown Jr., he’s just had a brilliant Super Bowl streak and amassed 59 starts for the nascent KC dynasty.
19 Planes: QB Gino Smith
Yes, you read it right! The Jets may be targeting bigger names like Aaron Rodgers, but making a blockbuster deal is easier said than done. If Smith breaks out of Seattle, he’ll immediately establish himself as an upgrade in his old stadium, giving New York’s playoff-level squad a much more explosive pocket passer. His arrival also won’t necessarily prevent the team’s management from finding a long-term answer down the road.
20. Chiefs: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
The rich get richer. Beckham’s market is unpredictable given his injury history, but at full speed he is still a legitimate weapon as a track runner and outfield threat. In the meantime, KC may have something edgy about Tony’s Kadarius, but there will never be enough toys for Patrick Mahomes and Co., especially with Juju Smith-Shuster heading elsewhere in this exercise.
21. Packers: TE Mike Gesicki