Mock 3.0 is my third mock draft, and it has been affected by performances in Combine and Pro Day workouts, free-agent signings and one major trade that gave the Carolina Panthers the No. 1 pick in a deal with the Bears.
Throw in the ever-churning rumor mill, and it might have given mock drafts a twist or two.
The Detroit Lions were active in free agency, both in adding players to strengthen key areas – the secondary in particular – and re-signing valuable role players.
Armed with two first-round picks – No. 6 from a trade with the Rams and No. 18 from finishing 9-8 in 2022 – General manager Brad Holmes and his staff are in prime position to further strengthen a young and ascending roster.
Defense is likely to be a prime target for the Lions, but Holmes has shown in his first two years that it's wise to expect the unexpected. Case in point: Trading up to No. 12 last year to take wide receiver Jameson Williams of Alabama.
Following are picks 1-18 in my Mock 3.0:
1. Carolina Panthers (7-10 via Bears 3-14):
Bigger is better for new Panthers head coach Frank Reich. At 6-3, C.J. Stroud is five inches taller than 5-10 Alabama QB Bryce Young, who most people thought would be the first pick in the draft regardless of who had it.
Stroud has more going for him than size. He had 83 TD passes and only 12 picks in the last 25 games for the Buckeyes.
Pick: QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State.
Mock 1-2 picks: QB Will Levis for both at No. 5 before trade.
2. Houston Texans (3-13-1):
New Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans – a popular former Texans player – likes good. Bryce Young was very good at Alabama. He won the 2021 Heisman Trophy.
Pick: QB Bryce Young, Alabama.
Mock 1-2 picks: Stroud.
3. Arizona Cardinals (4-13):
Drafting a QB is one option with Kyler Murray expected to miss a big chunk of the season with an injury, but staying put to get the draft's best pass rusher can't be dismissed.
Pick: EDGE Will Anderson Jr., Alabama.
Mock 1-2 picks: Anderson Jr. No change.
4. Indianapolis Colts (4-12-1):
The Panthers beat everybody in making a deal to get the first pick in the draft. That changed the Colts' need to get a quarterback, and there are two to choose from.
Pick: QB Will Levis, Kentucky. There's always room for a quarterback with a strong arm.
Mock 1-2 picks: Young No. 1 overall before trade.
5. Seattle Seahawks (9-8 via Broncos 5-12):
Head coach Pete Carroll has connected with his players, college and pro. He can get one from college who could be a great pro.
Pick: DT Jalen Carter, Georgia. There's some risk, but the payoff could be huge.
Mock 1-2 picks: DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech and DE Myles Murphy, Clemson.
6. Detroit Lions (9-8 via Rams 5-12):
The sweeping upgrades the Lions made in free-agent signings will impact their draft to some degree, but the basic goals remain the same.
Holmes and his staff were aggressive in getting help for the defense – especially the secondary.
There is always more work to do. Based on what they accomplished in free agency and what they've seen since the Combine, these are some areas to consider:
To repeat – again – what head coach Dan Campbell said, you never have enough pass rushers. The top prospect in this year's draft is Anderson. The Lions likely would have to trade up with Arizona at No. 3 to get him.
There are other good defensive linemen, but none are in Anderson's class.
Cornerback is a strong position, as is tight end and the top prospects on the offensive line.
Pick: DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech.
Mock 1-2 picks: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon and Wilson.
7. Las Vegas Raiders (6-11):
They've changed quarterbacks, moving on from Derek Carr (signed with Saints) and signing Jimmy Garoppolo. The Raiders gave up 59 sacks last season, third most in the NFL.
Pick: OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern.
Mock 1-2 picks: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State and Skoronski.
8. Atlanta Falcons (7-10):
The Falcons are in a rut. They've gone 7-10 in four of the last five seasons, and the last season under head coach Arthur Smith. They need a shot of excitement.
Pick: QB Anthony Richardson, Florida. Richardson's athleticism brings hope.
Mock 1-2 picks: Skoronski and Johnson Jr.
9. Chicago Bears (3-13 via Panthers 7-10):
QB Justin Fields is the heart, soul, arm and legs of the Bears' offense. He shouldn't stop running because he's too productive to take away that part of his game, but he needs protection.
Pick: OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State.
Mock 1-2 picks: Carter.
10. Philadelphia Eagles (14-3 via Saints 7-10):
Defense was hit hard in free agency. Secondary is first in the defensive rebuild.
Pick: CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State.
Mock 1-2 picks: Porter Jr. No change.
11. Tennessee Titans (7-10):
Offense sputtered down the stretch to keep the Titans out of the playoffs. Big receiver with some athleticism fits the Titans' offensive mold.
Pick: WR Quentin Johnston, TCU.
Mock 1-2 picks: Johnston. No change.
12. Houston Texans (3-13-1 via Browns 7-10):
Ryans played linebacker in the NFL for 10 years. He should get at least one defensive player in the first round in his first year as a head coach.
Pick: DE Myles Murphy, Clemson.
Mock 1-2 picks: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia and WR Jordan Addison, Southern Cal.
View photos from the Annual League Meetings in Phoenix, Ariz.
13. New York Jets (7-10):
It's a good move to get potential new quarterback Aaron Rodgers more protection.
Pick: OT Broderick Jones, Georgia.
Mock 1-2 picks: Addison and Jones.
14. New England Patriots (8-9):
Hiring Bill O'Brien as offensive coordinator was like adding a first-round draft pick for the Patriots. They're better already. Adding an elite running back will make QB Mac Jones better.
Pick: RB Biijan Robinson, Texas.
Mock 1-2 picks: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame.
15. Green Bay Packers (8-9):
Running back and tight end are a young quarterback's best friends. Jordan Love already has the running back as he takes over the reins. Next is the best tight end in the draft.
Pick: TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame.
Mock 1-2 picks: S Brian Branch, Alabama.
16. Washington Commanders (8-8-1):
Good thing this draft is stocked with good tight ends. The Commanders need one, and getting the No. 2 prospect is good enough.
Pick: TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah.
Mock 1-2 picks: Richardson.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-8):
The Steelers have to replace a cornerback they lost to the Lions in free agency.
Pick: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon. His Combine performance was special.
Mock 1-2 picks: CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois.
View photos of NFL prospect Christian Gonzalez.
18. Detroit Lions (9-8):
This pick will be the Lions' fifth in the first round in three years.
They had one in 2021 (OT Penei Sewell), two in 2022 (DL Aidan Hutchinson and Williams) and two this year.
The extra picks have given GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell a spring board in rebuilding the roster and installing their culture.
I projected Wilson as the Lions' pick at No. 6.
There are a lot of good choices here – wide receiver, defensive back, tight end, offensive line. My pick is defense again.
Pick: DT Calijah Kancey, Pitt.
At 6-1, 281 and a 4.67 40 at the Combine, Kancey would add an explosive, athletic element to an improving front four stocked with young players. The Lions are getting better up front on offense and defense.
They're building a team that can win in the trenches.
Mock 1-2 picks: DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson and Gonzalez.