Editor’s note: The first round of the NFL draft will take place on Thursday. What you’ll find below is exactly how things will play out.
8 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time - Commissioner Roger Goodell walks onto the stage, steps behind the podium, and greets the crowd. “Hellllooooo Kansas City!” he yells over a chorus of boos.
“You know what I love?” Goodell asks. “Puppies, ice cream, and Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson!” The crowd stares silently in confusion. Days later, an anonymous source reveals to The Ringer that Goodell, in an attempt to become more likable, had his remarks written by ChatGPT.
8:10 - With the first pick, the Carolina Panthers select Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. There were some internal concerns about Young’s slight frame, but ultimately, the Panthers decided that if Young’s upside was a more athletic Drew Brees or a shorter Joe Burrow, they were fine rolling the dice.
8:18 - NFL Network goes live to the Houston Texans draft headquarters. There’s no sound, but viewers can see coaches and staffers glancing awkwardly in the direction of a door in the back left corner. “Just ignore him,” head coach DeMeco Ryans mouths to the group. We learn later that Ryans locked general manager Nick Caserio out of the draft room. As Ryans called Alabama edge defender Will Anderson Jr. to tell him he’d be the pick at no. 2, Caserio was frantically banging on the door and yelling, “I’m not leaving!”
Once things settled down, Ryans turned to a staffer and said, “I guess Nick didn’t see how The Wolf of Wall Street ended.”
8:26 - Our first trade! The Indianapolis Colts move up one spot from no. 4 to no. 3 and swap first-round picks with the Arizona Cardinals, who also acquire a second-rounder (no. 35 overall) in the deal. Colts GM Chris Ballard and head coach Shane Steichen are aligned. Both see Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud as the best quarterback in the draft, and neither wanted to risk staying at four and potentially losing out on him.
After the trade terms are finalized, owner Jim Irsay makes an unusual request: He wants to be the one to call in the pick to the league. “Sure. No problem, boss,” says Ballard. Irsay leaves the draft room, and Colts staffers watch the TV, waiting for the Stroud pick to be announced.
“With the third pick in the 2023 NFL draft,” says Goodell, “the Indianapolis Colts select Will Levis, quarterback, Kentucky.”
Ballard and Steichen look at each other in disbelief. Irsay, meanwhile, grabs a Colts social media staffer and explains that he needs help with a special project. They hustle to Irsay’s office, where Irsay has set up a piano that previously belonged to John Lennon. Irsay paid over $718,000 for it a few years ago and wants to put it to good use. He asks the staffer to start filming.
“Levis in the skyyyyy with diamonds!” sings Irsay, running through a three-minute pre-written ode to his handpicked QB. He sends the video to Levis, who isn’t sure how to respond. Levis decides to just give the video a thumbs-up reaction and proceeds to celebrate with his family.
8:34 - Another trade! Stunned that Stroud is still available at no. 4, the Detroit Lions decide it’s time to get aggressive. They move up two spots and land their quarterback of the future. Maybe Stroud beats out Jared Goff for the starting job in 2023. Maybe he sits a year and then takes over in 2024. Either way, the Lions don’t expect to be picking this high in the near future and don’t want to be stuck without a long-term plan at QB. The Cardinals acquire two Day 2 picks (nos. 48 and 81) as part of the deal.
8:42 - The Seattle Seahawks are in a tough spot at no. 5. On the one hand, they’re highly intrigued by Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. They made a one-year commitment to Geno Smith but can move on from him after 2023. Richardson has the upside to potentially make the Seahawks contenders for the rest of Pete Carroll’s coaching career. On the other hand, the NFC is wide open, and snagging Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter here feels like getting tremendous value.
As Carroll and GM John Schneider deliberate, wide receiver DK Metcalf happens to walk by the draft room, and Carroll gets an idea. He calls Metcalf in and asks him to sit down. “You and John arm wrestle for it,” Carroll says. The rules are simple: Metcalf can use only his right arm. Schneider can use both arms, his entire body weight, and whatever else he wants. If Metcalf wins, they go with Richardson. If Schneider wins, they take Carter.
“Ready, set … go-ya bean!” Carroll yells, cackling to himself while Metcalf and Schneider shake their heads.
“OK, for real this time. Ready, set, go!”
Standing up, Schneider clasps both of his hands around Metcalf’s right hand and kicks one foot against the wall for leverage, his face turning bright red as he tries to put up a fight. But to no avail. Metcalf takes Schneider down in 1.8 seconds and injures Schneider’s elbow in the process. But rules are rules. Carroll calls Richardson and lets him know he will be a Seahawk.
8:50 - Football nerds laud the Cardinals for trading back and accumulating extra picks. They got a second-rounder from the Colts for moving down from three to four, and then they picked up a second- and a third-rounder from the Lions to move down from four to six. Here, the Cardinals take Texas Tech edge defender Tyree Wilson.
The Cardinals ask Wilson to model their new uniforms at his introductory press conference, but Wilson accidentally spills some salsa on his jersey. Owner Michael Bidwill informs Wilson that the price of a new jersey, along with $1.99 for the side of salsa, will be docked from his signing bonus. Wilson announces that he will hold out. The Cardinals prove once again that they’re capable of screwing up any situation.
8:58 - In what has been the most entertaining first round of all time, we get yet another trade. Eagles GM Howie Roseman sees Carter slipping and can’t help himself. In three of the past four drafts, he has traded up in the first round, and he wants to do so again. Roseman calls Raiders coach Josh McDaniels and offers up a second-rounder (no. 62 overall), along with a 2024 fourth, to move up from 10 to seven.
McDaniels talks it over with Raiders GM Dave Ziegler. Ziegler wonders whether the Raiders should just stay put and take Carter. But the thought of actually having to coach a player who might not buy into everything he says terrifies McDaniels.
“It’s not the Patriot—I mean Raider—way,” McDaniels explains.
The two teams agree to the deal. The Eagles get a player they hope can be a foundational piece for their defense, and the Raiders move back three spots while pocketing a couple of extra picks.
9:06 - With the eighth pick, the Atlanta Falcons take Texas running back Bijan Robinson. Head coach Arthur Smith is pressed with questions about the wisdom of drafting a running back so early. He explains that the Falcons will follow the Kyle Pitts plan with Robinson.
“We’re going to give him eight carries a game next season and then tell you that you’re too dumb to understand the unseen impact he’s having on the offense,” Smith says.
9:14 - At no. 9, the Bears get some protection for Justin Fields as they draft Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski. Asked whether Skoronski can play left tackle despite having relatively short arms, GM Ryan Poles responds with two words: “analytics cylinder.”
Why pick Skoronski over the other top-tier offensive linemen?
Did the Bears consider going cornerback at this spot?
The Raiders are next at no. 10 and go with Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez. At 11, the Titans land Ohio State offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr.
9:38 - The Texans take Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness at 12. But right after the pick, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen breaks the news of a trade: Houston is acquiring quarterback Trey Lance from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for its second-round pick (no. 33 overall).
Given the uncertainty surrounding Brock Purdy’s elbow, 49ers GM John Lynch was hesitant to deal Lance, but Kyle Shanahan convinced him it was worthwhile.
“Just give me a robot,” Shanahan told Lynch. “I’m the one with the remote control. And don’t ever forget it.”
Lynch then asked about backup plans for Purdy.
“We already got [Sam] Darnold,” explained Shanahan. “Tom [Brady] is begging for us to call. You know Bill [Belichick] will be fed up with Mac [Jones] by Week 3. And worst-case scenario, we make a play for Kirk [Cousins]. Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine.”
The Texans emerge from the first round with Lance, Anderson, and Van Ness.
9:46 - At no. 13, the Jets take Georgia offensive lineman Broderick Jones. They also announce three roster moves:
- They’re signing wide receiver Randall Cobb.
- Jordy Nelson is attempting a comeback and joining the team on a one-year deal.
- The Jets are trading a second-round pick for Packers running back Aaron Jones.
Amid speculation that he’s influencing the Jets’ decisions, Aaron Rodgers hops on an impromptu livestream with Pat McAfee. Wearing a custom T-shirt that reads Independent Thinker: One of One and a black beanie, Rodgers delivers a brief message.
“Don’t be a sheep,” he says, and then he abruptly signs off.
9:54 - The Patriots make a bit of a surprise pick at no. 14, selecting Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks.
The top-rated player for the Packers, who are picking next at no. 15, is Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, but GM Brian Gutekunst is committed to sticking it to Rodgers on his way out. He stands up, rips the Packers draft board off the wall, and announces to the room that Green Bay is instead going with USC wide receiver Jordan Addison. Gutekunst then unveils a piñata with Rodgers’s face on it.
“Oh, and fuck that guy!” he says before smashing the piñata into pieces with a baseball bat. Packers staffers erupt with applause and scurry to collect the pieces of candy on the floor. It’s officially a new era in Green Bay.
10:10 - The Commanders land Witherspoon at 16. Everyone watching expects the Steelers, at no. 17, to take Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. so he can follow in his dad’s footsteps, but Pittsburgh stays true to its board and drafts Georgia edge defender Nolan Smith. With the very next pick at 18, the Lions go with Porter.
10:34 - The Bucs go offensive line at 19 and select Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. The Seahawks are up again at no. 20, and after opting for Richardson over Carter at no. 5, they address defensive tackle here and select Clemson’s Bryan Bresee. With the 21st pick, the Chargers select Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer.
10:58 - The board has fallen just how the Ravens had hoped. They’re thrilled to land Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba at 22. That sets Baltimore up with a pass-catching group of Odell Beckham Jr., Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, and Smith-Njigba. Meanwhile, they have some depth with Nelson Agholor and Devin Duvernay.
During the Ravens’ post-draft press conference, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec asks GM Eric DeCosta how Smith-Njigba’s skill set can help Lamar Jackson. “We’re not here to talk about Lamar!” yells DeCosta before throwing a water bottle at Zrebiec that nails him squarely in the forehead.
Needless to say, it’s been a long offseason in Baltimore.
11:06 - With the 23rd pick, the Vikings go with Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith. The Jaguars select Clemson edge defender Myles Murphy at 24. At 25, the Giants land a wide receiver who can play on the outside in TCU’s Quentin Johnston.
11:30 - At 26, the Cowboys take Alabama defensive back Brian Branch. When asked what Dallas likes about Branch, coach Mike McCarthy responds: “I know boy genius Kellen Moore probably would’ve wanted to go with some pretty wide receiver, but Kellen’s not here anymore. You know that guy didn’t invent football, right? We’re gonna be just fine without him.” The reporter followed up, explaining that the question was about Branch, not Moore.
“Oh. Good, versatile player,” says McCarthy. “We’re excited about him.”
11:38 - The Bills go with Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers at 27. At 28, the Bengals land Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid. The Saints select Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV at 29.
The Eagles trade back from 30 to 41 in a deal with the Titans, who move up to take Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker. Hooker gives them an option in the post–Ryan Tannehill world, and the Titans like the idea of keeping the fifth-year option in play rather than waiting for Hooker in the second round. In addition to pick no. 41, the Eagles also get a third-rounder (no. 72 overall) from the Titans.
The Chiefs close out the first round by taking Pittsburgh defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. Kancey and Chris Jones give the Chiefs an explosive pair of interior pass rushers.
12:01 a.m. - Goodell closes out the first round by announcing a change in the draft format for 2024. The first round will start on April 1, and there will be one selection on prime-time TV for 32 consecutive nights. The new format is a test, and if things go well, the NFL could decide to eventually extend the draft into a five-month event that begins the day after the Super Bowl and ends the day before training camp. Goodell gets booed one last time after announcing the change, and with that, the first round is a wrap.