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6 NFL mock draft surprises from Mel Kiper Jr’s latest first round projection

We’re pulling up to NFL Draft season, folks. We’ve five weeks away from the Carolina Panthers being on the clock after acquiring the No. 1 overall pick from the Bears, and dozens of questions remain.

Obviously the Panthers are taking a quarterback with the first overall pick, but there’s still debate over who that will be. Then we have the rest of the Top 10 and slotting in the remaining quarterbacks, any of whom could conceivably be taken at No. 1 — before we get to the incredible defensive talent in this class, which will fall lower than it should because of the scramble for passers.

Mel Kiper released his latest mock draft on Tuesday, and while Kiper mocks tend to be polarizing — there’s no doubt he has connections in the NFL that inform some of his choices. So let’s dive into the biggest stories (and surprises) that he sees emerging on draft night.

CJ Stroud goes No. 1 overall

This is becoming more and more likely. The Panthers have developed a soft landing spot for a rookie QB, and new quarterback coach Josh McCown has gushed over Stroud prior to being hired by Carolina, comparing him to Joe Burrow with more athletic upside.

There’s still a chance the Panthers could buck conventional thinking and take Will Levis or Anthony Richardson, but the prevailing wisdom is the team won’t take Bryce Young because of his size. In the past Frank Reich has made comments about the importance of having good statue in the pocket, and Young doesn’t fit that mold.

The Seahawks take a quarterback?

From the second Russell Wilson was traded the assumption was that Seattle would be finding their QB of the future this draft, but that was pushed aside due to Geno Smith’s breakout in 2022, cementing comeback player of the year honors.

There’s definitely some sound logic to striking while the iron is hot and the team has the No. 5 overall pick, with Kiper pegging Anthony Richardson going to Seattle. This would be an incredible landing spot where the pressure wouldn’t be on to perform immediately, and Richardson could get acclimated to the NFL over the next year or two, without being asked to start before he’s ready.

With the myriad holes Seattle still has to fill it seems like going quarterback with so much defensive talent on the board is a luxury, but this could be a really intriguing position in the draft to watch.

No big fall for Jalen Carter

Nobody, and I mean nobody, has had a worst six weeks than Carter when it comes to their draft stock. First came legal trouble in Georgia that implicated Carter in a street race that led to the deaths of a Georgia player and staff member (Carter has pled no contest to reckless driving), and then at the UGA pro day Carter was nine pound heavier than Indianapolis, and was notably more sluggish than tape showed.

Still, it wasn’t enough for Kiper to move him down further than No. 6, as Carter is the second defensive player off the board — heading to the Lions.

Detroit shored up its secondary in free agency, a beautiful move which allowed them to pivot to selecting the best player available. There’s no doubt Carter is a force, and for a long time was penciled in as the No. 1 pick if Chicago weren’t able to trade down, so getting him here based on performance alone is a big win.

The question is whether the last six weeks will scare some teams off.

A bad year for top receivers

This class of WRs really isn’t great. Still, it’s equally surprising to not see one come off the board until pick No. 20, and that it’s Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. That 20ish range feels right for him, but it seems very odd to have Smith-Njigba go before TCU’s Quentin Johnson.

Even with this being a weak class the WR position is so critical that I believe we’ll see some taken earlier than expected — even if they’re reaches.

How long does Bijan Robinson wait?

The running back position is in tatters around the NFL. We’re fast approaching the point where something has to be done to intervene and ensure that these players, who routinely have the shortest careers in pro football, don’t just get used up on a rookie contract and discarded — never to see an appreciable payday.

This continues in the 2023 NFL Draft, with Kiper projecting that Texas’ Bijan Robinson will last until the Buffalo Bills at No. 27. This is absolutely plausible, and highlights why things are so ridiculous right now with the position. If this was 15 years ago Robinson would be in the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick, and absolutely would not fall out of the Top 5.

The thing is: Teams see players like Christian McCaffrey getting dealt for relative peanuts, Derrick Henry on the trading block, and Ezekiel Elliot being cut. As a result front offices are loathed to put too much money, or draft capital into the RB position.

The late 20s feels right, but it’s wild that it does.

Watch Brian Bresee

Clemson defensive tackle Brian Bresee has been a fast riser since his stout performance at the combine and that’s only picking up more steam. Once firmly locked into the second round, Bresee climbs up to No. 29 in the Kiper mock, landing with the Saints.

This is one of those players who could easily slip into the top of day two, or be the “WOW!” pick of the first round as a team takes him in the teens. Bresee definitely feels like a player some team is going to fall in love with, so keep an eye on him as draft season progresses.

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