If the NFL did a fantasy football-style draft — where every single player was up for grabs — how would the first round play out? We think we have a bit of an idea…
Before we start, some clarity: This hypothetical draft is a combination of teams prioritizing both immediate HELP and the long-term.
Secondly, this exercise is going with the imaginary scenario where every single NFL player is a free agent and eligible for the draft. Finally, the order was based on the 2023 NFL Draft order, excluding traded selections. So every team is picking once in this exercise.
With that all said, let’s dive right into our first-round mock draft of active NFL players.
1. Chicago Bears: Patrick Mahomes
A no-brainer here for a team that hasn’t had a true franchise QB since Sid Luckman, who played his final season, ahem, back in 1950.
Mahomes is the best QB in the game right now, with three AFC Championship banners, two MVP awards and a pair of Super Bowl rings on his resume. The Bears waste no time turning this card over to Roger Goodell.
2. Houston Texans: Josh Allen
Houston would have a nice batch of franchise QBs to change from. The guess here is that Nick Caserio and DeMeco Ryans go with the dual-threat sensation who has thrown 108 TD passes since 2020 — third-most in that span behind only Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
Deshaun Watson was a star in Houston for four years, but he didn’t have Allen’s arm or mobility to take over games with his arms. Texans fans would unquestionably welcome Allen in open arms.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Joe Burrow
Arizona would happily take who remains between Allen and Burrow at No. 3 here. Joe Cool’s swagger, poise and confidence would immediately breathe new life into one of football’s saddest franchises — which is what we’ve seen him do in Cincinnati.
The Cardinals haven’t had a QB anything close to Burrow since 2008 and 09 Kurt Warner. That changes in this imaginary exercise.
4. Indianapolis Colts: Justin Herbert
Herbert is a five-star pocket passer that oozes with confidence and excellent decision-making. He joins the list of great Colts quarterbacks with this pick, giving the franchise a much-needed fresh start following the disastrous Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan eras.
5. Denver Broncos: Jalen Hurts
Why give up all those draft picks for Russell Wilson when you can draft a young QB coming off an MVP-like season that nearly culminated in a Super Bowl?
6. Los Angeles Rams: Trevor Lawrence
The Rams still have that relatively fresh Super Bowl 56 banner hanging in SoFi Stadium, but Sean McVay and company decide to move on from Matt Stafford and go with a much younger, cheaper and healthier option.
T-Law broke out as a sophomore with Doug Pederson as his head coach. If McVay can make Jared Goff a Super Bowl-starting QB, the sky’s the limit in regards to what he could do with a generational QB prospect like Lawrence.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Aaron Rodgers
Entering his age 39-40 season, Rodgers isn’t exactly young anymore. But the man can still ball out, plus an owner like Mark Davis would especially want Rodgers to help market his team in a dream destination like Sin City.
Rodgers has at least a couple of productive years left in him. That’s enough for the Black and Silver.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Dak Prescott
So now we’re entering the second-to-third-tiers of available QBs in this exercise. Prescott definitely isn’t a top-10 player in the league, but he’s a top-10 QB at the game’s most important position.
Michael Vick and Matt Ryan always kept Atlanta competitive, even if they had mediocre supporting casts. Owner Arthur Blank keeps that fresh in the back of his mind as he goes with a QB who’s good enough to keep his team in annual playoff contention
9. Carolina Panthers: Justin Jefferson
The first non-QB off the board! The Panthers, who haven’t had a bonafide superstar at wideout since Steve Smith Sr.
Smith Sr. made average QBs look great during his run in Carolina. Jefferson made Kirk Cousins look like an MVP in 2022. Get the hint? JJ is the best receiver in the game, and Carolina can’t pass on his talents here as they get their go-to weapon.
The quarterback can come in a later round.
10. New Orleans Saints: Lamar Jackson
New Orleans was an irrelevant franchise before Drew Brees arrived, and they haven’t gotten much going since his 2021 retirement.
In other words, QB is the only option here. So how about the 2019 league MVP and the game’s best rushing quarterback? Jackson would help bring the Saints back to annual postseason contention.
11. Tennessee Titans: Ja'Marr Chase
With all of the No. 1 and No.2 tier QBs off the board, the Titans go with the next best receiver in Ja’Marr Chase. Through his first two seasons — 29 total games — Chase has 168 receptions for 2,501 yards and 22 touchdowns.
The Titans’ passing game took a major step back in 2022 following the ill-fated decision to trade AJ Brown. They can somehow make things right again by taking this bonafide superstar who would do wonders with any QB throwing him the ball.
12. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett
The Browns took the star pass-rusher first overall in 2017. 74.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles later, we’d say the Browns did just fine with this pick.
The Browns have gone from annual first-overall-pick contenders to annual playoff contention, and Garrett has been a key reason why. In this exercise, why fix something that isn’t broken? Of course they’re going with Garrett here.
13. New York Jets: Micah Parsons
We can hear Jets fans screaming for a QB here, but how do you pass on a do-it-all game-wrecker with 26.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and as many pass defenses through three seasons?
There aren’t many chess pieces in today’s NFL. That is, a jack-of-all-trades defensive player that can line up all over the field. A defensive-first head coach like Robert Saleh would happily build his D around Parsons.
14. New England Patriots: Travis Kelce
Well, Kelce is unquestionably the best tight end in the game right now. Belichick is a defense-first guy, but he remembers all of the magic from Gronk-mania and is thus thrilled to settle on Kelce here.
15. Green Bay Packers: Nick Bosa
The Packers would be best off taking the best player available here on their board. The top-level QBs and league’s two best wideouts are off the board, so let’s assign them the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Green Bay hasn’t had a true superstar pass-rusher since in-his-prime Clay Matthews. And they won the Super Bowl when he was in his prime. They keep that fresh in their minds by selecting the current San Francisco 49ers’ star who’s given Green Bay plenty of troubles.
16. Washington Commanders: Deshaun Watson
Despite his off-the-field issues and concerns, Watson would most likely go in a real-life round one mock draft. That’s just the reality of the NFL. Most owners care about winning more than anything else, even if a player like Watson has character and legal issues and concerns.
The Commanders have been a graveyard for quarterbacks for a quarter-century now and counting. We’re sure this dysfunctional franchise wouldn’t mind taking a Pro Bowl-level QB even if it meant bad PR.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt
The Steelers struck gold when they took JJ Watt’s younger brother 30th overall in 2017. It is no coincidence that the Steelers haven’t suffered a losing season since Watt’s arrival, even though the Steelers have been hampered by largely lackluster QB play.
Point is, the Steelers can field a winner without an elite QB. It all starts with a player like Watt, whom they happily select in this exercise.
18. Detroit Lions: Chris Jones
The Lions enjoyed a mini renaissance in the first half of the 2010s thanks largely to a potent pass rush led by Ndamukong Suh.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tua Tagovailoa
The Bucs went from over a decade of mediocrity to Super Bowl champs after landing Tom Brady in 2020. Tua Tagovailoa is no Tom Brady, but the bottom line is that the Bucs’ brass knows you gotta have a top-15-level QB to win in this league.
Tagovailoa didn’t fully break out until year three in Miami. For this exercise, the Bucs can take the Alabama product right away and trust him to develop with the right set of weapons around him.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Tyreek Hill
Plenty of options on the table here for the Seahawks, but it would be hard to pass on the league’s fastest receiver who’s also a consistent threat to win the receiving crown.
Hill turned Alex Smith and Tua Tagovailoa into stars in KC. He made life easy for Mahomes from the beginning. Seattle can take Hill here and take comfort in knowing he would help their new QB fit in right away.
21. Miami Dolphins: Aaron Donald
Donald’s age is the one thing that forced him to drop out of the top 20 here. But he’s still someone any team would love to build a franchise around in a hypothetical exercise like this, and Miami of all teams should know what it’s like to have a five-star pass-rusher that can single-handedly take over a game.
See: Jason Taylor, Cameron Wake, et al.
22. Los Angeles Chargers: Sauce Gardner
The Chargers have wasted Justin Herbert’s first three years because of a woeful secondary. They don’t have the option to take an MVP-level QB here, but the Bolts at least fix up a longtime weakness by snagging arguably the NFL’s best corner in ‘Sauce’ Gardner.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Trent Williams
The Ravens’ prolific ground game wouldn’t be the strength it is without a star o-line led by Ronnie Stanley and Tyler Linderbaum.
Keeping that in mind, they take the game’s best offensive lineman in future Hall of Famer Trent Williams. Build around the trenches first, and then they can find a QB and some weapons to get their ground game going.
24. Minnesota Vikings: Bryce Young
There are concerns about Young’s size and frame, but the skill set is too high for the Vikes to pass on. If Young comes as advertised, the franchise has a long-term foundational piece to build around for the next decade-plus.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey
Forget about Ramsey’s ugly departure from Jacksonville. Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone are long gone, and Ramsey would probably love playing for a renowned players’ coach and proven winner like Doug Pederson.
Ramsey was one of the few first-round picks the Jaguars hit on in the 2010s. They are willing to take the risk and reunite with him four years after his well-documented and heated exit from the organization.
26. New York Giants: Davante Adams
The Giants go with the best-player-available mentality and take the guy who’s been in the conversation as the NFL’s best wideout for a half-decade and counting.
The Giants don’t need to worry about a QB here. Not with a world-class receiver like Adams here to make things easier in the offense.
27. Dallas Cowboys: Cooper Kupp
This better not seem too high to Cowboys fans. Cupp is just two seasons removed from arguably the greatest single-season for a wideout ever — postseason included.
A healthy Kupp is a consistent threat for 1,000 yards who has also displayed a flare for the dramatic, as seen by his Super Bowl 56 MVP award and all. And the Cowboys haven’t had many guys who can produce in big-game moments over the past quarter-century, so Jerry Jones comes away very happy here.
28. Buffalo Bills: Christian McCaffrey
He may be listed as a running back, but McCaffrey is also a former 1,000-yard receiver. When healthy, Run CMC is one of the NFL’s top-of-the-top offensive play-makers.
Buffalo can’t take Josh Allen in this exercise, so they go with a guy capable of putting up 2,000 yards of offense every year who will thus take much of the pressure off the quarterback.
29. Cincinnati Bengals: Stefon Diggs
No Ja’Marr Chase available, but the dominance of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd have the Bengals feeling good about a receiver here.
Diggs has surpassed the 100-catch and 1,200-receiving yard marks in each of the last three years with the Bills. Cincy takes a borderline top-five receiver here and waits another day to get their QB.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Joey Bosa
Can’t have Nick Bosa, but the 49ers would happily settle on his older brother as a consolation prize.
Joey hasn’t reached Nick’s level of elite-ness due to injuries, but 60.5 sacks in 84 career games on a mediocre Bolts’ team is no joke. The 49ers have always prioritized the front seven, so they’re comfortable settling on the best remaining edge rusher.
31. Philadelphia Eagles: CeeDee Lamb
The Eagles have long been viewed as a quarterback factory, so why reach for a QB here? Instead, they take a five-star wide receiver here in CeeDee Lamb, currently employed by the Eagles’ rivals in Dallas.
Lamb is a smooth route-runner with a great set of wheels that would make him put up all-world numbers with any QB. The Eagles smile with this pick, largely because it takes Lamb away from their enemies.
32. Kansas City Chiefs: Fred Warner
The Chiefs are especially glad that this is only an imaginary exercise, since they have Mahomes and those two recent Super Bowl banners to celebrate and all.
But they can’t take Mahomes or any of the game’s top QBs here. Andy Reid will want an offensive guy, but how would you pass on the game’s best do-it-all linebacker who’s only entering his age 26/27 season?
Take Warner now and worry about your offense later. It’s not the worst scenario!
What changes would you make to our first-round NFL mock draft of active players?
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