Who will be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft? We predicted chances for 11 top prospects and long shots

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On the heels of one of the most unpredictable NFL drafts since the common draft era began in 1967, the No. 1 overall pick has become an unknown over the past five years. It wasn’t until a week before the 2022 draft that it became clear Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker was the front-runner to be the top pick. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a consensus top selection in 2021, but in the three years prior, unlikely quarterbacks made monumental leaps to the top of the board.

In 2020, Joe Burrow was known as a solid backup quarterback at Ohio State prior to his magical national title season at LSU. Baker Mayfield (2018) and Kyler Murray (2019) continued an impressive Oklahoma quarterback pipeline on their way to become the first name announced on draft night, but neither were seen as Round 1 picks in the summer before their final college seasons.

Could the same happen ahead of the 2023 NFL draft? There have been only three positions selected with the top pick since 2000: quarterback (16 times), defensive end (five) and offensive tackle (two). Considering that each is considered to be a premium position, it’s fair to say that the top pick in 2023 likely will come from one of those spots.

Let’s take a run through the most likely candidates, with a look at why each could make the leap and a way-too-early projected percentage chance that each could land at No. 1:

Jump to a tier:
The serious contenders
The potential risers
The long shots

The serious contenders

Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 20%

Why he could be the top pick: The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the complete package when focusing solely on his playing style. He’s able to defeat defenses in many ways and can win from the pocket and by scrambling to make plays outside of it. What stands out most about him is his poise, however. Young plays the game with the same heartbeat no matter the situation, a trait that helped him rack up 4,872 passing yards and 47 touchdowns.

From an NFL evaluation standpoint, Young enters a crucial junior season in which scouts want to see him improve maneuvering in the pocket as a passer. At 6-foot, 194 pounds, evaluators will be talking about his height and frame for the next nine months.

Young is not built like other 6-foot-or-under quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Kyler Murray, as his shoulders aren’t as stout and he doesn’t have the lower-body strength of the others. Opinions will likely remain mixed on Young leading up to the draft next spring, but his talent, poise and accuracy are undeniable.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 20%

Why he could be the top pick: Similar to what we saw during the 2015 draft with Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, Stroud will be compared side by side with Young. Even though he lost two first-round wide receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the Buckeyes’ offense is still expected to be among the most explosive in the country. Stroud’s development could take another step forward, especially with potential top-10 pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba as his No. 1 target.

Following a lackluster start to the 2021 season, Stroud grew as he gained more experience, which was capped off by a historic six-touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl against Utah. The arrow is pointing up on his future.

At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Stroud has the size, confidence and upward profile of a quarterback who could turn into the face of an NFL franchise. With early-season tests against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, he has a chance to get off to a quick start and take the driver’s seat to be the top pick.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 20%

Why he could be the top pick: Anderson is an upper-echelon edge rusher prospect, and some scouts have him graded in a similar pre-draft tier as Nick and Joey Bosa, Chase Young and Myles Garrett, each of whom were top-five picks. Anderson was the catalyst of the Crimson Tide defense a season ago, racking up an NCAA single-season record 34.5 tackles for loss to go along with 17.5 sacks.

Here’s what an area scout for an NFL team said about Anderson: “The best defensive player [Bama coach Nick] Saban’s ever had. Even better than Minkah Fitzpatrick.”

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Matt Miller offers NFL comps for Will Anderson Jr., C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young.

The 6-foot-4, 243-pound Anderson is as consistent as they come as a run defender and is still growing his pass-rush repertoire. Some evaluators believe he will remain in the pole position as the No. 1 pick no matter how Stroud and Young play this season, though that might depend on which team owns the pick.

Anderson is clearly the best edge rusher in this class, which means he has a real chance to be the top choice next April.

Prospects who could make it interesting

Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 10%

Why he could be the top pick: Levis is the signal-caller with the most buzz outside of Stroud and Young. He is the exact type of moldable and coachable prospect coaches would love to get their hands on.

After transferring from Penn State, it didn’t take long for him to claim the top spot on the Kentucky depth chart. Watching the tape of his 2021 season, it’s easy to see why he has generated so much early buzz. With high-level arm strength coupled with great mobility, the 6-foot-3, 232-pound Levis has a great foundation on which to build.

There were some head-scratching moments mixed in with promise in Levis’ performance last season, however. While he has plenty of arm strength, he has to develop his decision-making, as he went only four games without tallying an interception and had 13 total picks. The consistency with his lower half needs to improve.

Why are scouts so enamored with Levis? Many believe his most questionable traits are fixable over time. Buffalo star Josh Allen will be a common name placed beside Levis during the pre-draft process as a blueprint to help fix those issues.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 10%

Why he could be the top pick: If I had to circle the one player to whom scouts will have their eyes glued this season, it would be Richardson. With off-the-charts physical traits, the ball explodes out of the 6-foot-4 signal-caller’s hand. Despite having a bit of a loopy release, he has the arm strength to compensate. Richardson rotated back and forth with Emory Jones (who’s now at Arizona State) last season, but the redshirt sophomore enters the season as the Gators’ unquestioned QB1.

At 240 pounds, Richardson has an impressive frame that he uses well as both a runner and passer. NFL scouts just haven’t seen much of him yet, as he has attempted only 58 passes and run the ball 66 times. The big-time throws and electrifying runs from last season, however, have evaluators excited.

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1:52

Gators QB Anthony Richardson blows past South Florida’s defense for the TD, but appears to injure himself in the process.

“The sample size. That’s the big question out there about him,” an NFL area scout in charge of the Florida region told me. “You get excited about the second half of the LSU game, but he looked lost against Georgia.”

Richardson has the type of traits that could springboard him up draft boards if he’s able to be consistent over the long haul and improve his processing ability, accuracy and overall decision-making.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 10%

Why he could be the top pick: After taking over at left tackle for 2021 first-round pick Rashawn Slater, Skoronski has been as consistent as they come as a pass protector. His film against Michigan last season proved he has first-round traits. Like his predecessor, there likely will be debates about whether he’s a guard or a tackle — he’s listed at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds — but with a still-developing frame and showing NFL polish in multiple areas, Skoronski has what it takes to be a starting tackle at the next level.

He has a chance to be a significant standout above the rest of what looks like an uninspiring offensive tackle class heading into the season.

Behind quarterback and defensive end, offensive tackle has been the third-most-popular position to claim the top overall pick since 2000. An offensive tackle hasn’t been selected at the top of the draft since Eric Fisher in 2013.

The long shots

Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 3%

Why he could be the top pick: Van Dyke’s quick ascension was a major surprise, as he took over for the injured D’Eriq King last season, starting nine games and throwing 25 touchdown passes with six interceptions. The 6-foot-4 Van Dyke has above-average arm strength, but it’s his decisiveness in the pocket that has many evaluators excited about his future.

Van Dyke hasn’t played much, but as the unquestioned top option heading into the season, the third-year sophomore has a prime opportunity to quickly enter his name into the first-round discussion if he’s able to unlock the next stages of his development.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 3%

Why he could be the top pick: Johnson has returned to his natural left tackle spot after he played left guard all of last season. Johnson, one of the highest-ranked recruits to ever sign with the Buckeyes, has sky-high expectations in 2022.

Johnson’s physical traits, awareness and strength are evident on film, but he has to prove it at a position he has yet to play over the duration of the season.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 2%

Why he could be the top pick: Travon Walker, the No. 1 pick in April, wasn’t even in Day 1 discussions until the tail end of last season. His ascension to the top of the draft board was unlike anything we’ve seen. Wilson is the Walker comp I’ll make here — even though he has a long ways to go. He could see his stock rise significantly. At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds with 35⅝-inch arms and an almost 86-inch wingspan, the Texas A&M transfer has the frame and physical profile scouts covet.

Similar to Walker, Wilson is a raw prospect who hasn’t figured out exactly how to use his traits, but with continued reps, he could develop into a high-end starter on the next level. Wilson came into his own last season as he put up 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks, but evaluators are looking for him to make another leap in his development. If he’s able to do that, he quickly could race up draft boards.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 1%

Why he could be the top pick: The last time a defensive tackle was selected with the top pick overall came in 1994 as the Bengals drafted Dan Wilkinson. Ndamukong Suh (No. 2 overall, 2011), Marcell Dareus (No. 3, 2011) and Quinnen Williams (No. 3 overall, 2019) are the closest we’ve seen to a repeat this century. Carter is cut from a similar cloth and a prospect in a similar tier.

A part of one of the best defenses in college football history, you could make a strong argument he was the best player on it despite being on a defensive line that included three first-round picks. It doesn’t take long for No. 88 to stand out, and it shouldn’t come as a shock if he gains top-three consideration. It would be a major surprise for him to become the top overall selection, however, just based on how NFL teams value his position.


Predicted chance of going No. 1 overall: 1%

Why he could be the top pick: Why not another Stanford quarterback leaping to the top of the board? Over the past few years, we’ve had a few surprise No. 1 picks, including Baker Mayfield (2018), Kyler Murray (2019) and Joe Burrow (2020). None were considered serious contenders before the season kicked off, but each rose quickly with dominant seasons.

At 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, McKee is an accurate pocket passer who makes good decisions with the ball. When in rhythm, he’s able to pick apart defenses in the short and intermediate areas. After he was rushed into duty last season, he played well at the beginning of the year but struggled down the backstretch, finishing with 15 touchdown passes and seven picks.

If McKee can regain his early-season form, he could gain momentum leading up to the draft.

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