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Nine Bold Predictions for the NFL Draft’s First Round

A big QB trade for the Texans? Bijan Robinson in the top 10? What if that Reddit poster was right about Will Levis? The Ringer’s NFL staff has wild predictions for Thursday night.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

With questions at nearly every pick of the 2023 NFL draft, the only certainty about the first round is chaos. To help get you ready, The Ringer’s NFL staff has made some bold predictions for the wildest things that could happen Thursday night.

The Reddit guy will be right.

On Tuesday, betting odds for the no. 1 pick in the NFL draft rapidly changed—just as they did when somebody correctly leaked that the Orlando Magic were taking Paolo Banchero no. 1 ahead of last year’s NBA draft. The odds that the Panthers would take Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, long an afterthought for the top pick due to his general lack of looking good at playing football, dropped dramatically—not to the point where he surpassed presumed top pick Bryce Young, but to the point where Levis was second-most likely to be picked.

The reason? Someone on Reddit’s main sports-betting forum wrote that Levis was “telling friends and family” that he would be picked first. The post was from an account created last week and offered no further information for why its tip should be believed, with the poster claiming, “I use throwaways when I know shit.” The post attracted attention, and Levis’s odds dropped—perhaps because sportsbooks believed the poster even a little bit and feared the liability of Levis bets hitting at long odds.

It seems like a case of Internet Gone Mad—but what’s more likely? That the Panthers traded up to the no. 1 pick for a boom-or-bust prospect who almost assuredly would’ve been there later in the top 10 or that someone lied on Reddit? Well, this is my last post on The Ringer—I’m retiring from sportswriting when all my Will Levis +4000 bets hit. Later, suckers. —Rodger Sherman

The Texans will trade for Trey Lance.

There’s been plenty of buzz that the Texans could pass on a quarterback at no. 2, assuming that Bryce Young is the Panthers’ pick at no. 1. If Houston is not in love with C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, or Will Levis, perhaps the Texans will explore other options. New head coach DeMeco Ryans knows Lance well from their time together in San Francisco, and Lance still has two years left on his rookie contract, plus the fifth-year option. What would the 49ers say if the Texans offer a second-round pick (no. 33) for Lance? It’s clear that the 49ers are no longer looking to build around Lance, and they aren’t scheduled to be on the clock until pick no. 99 in this draft. San Francisco could view this as the right time to move on from Lance and gain a valuable pick in return. The Texans could view Lance as an attractive option to solve their quarterback problem. —Sheil Kapadia

Bijan Robinson will go top 10.

My life would be in a pretty good place, I think, if I never had to debate running back positional value ever again. The football community has talked in circles for about a decade, and there’s a pretty clear consensus from the analytics folks: You should never spend much on a running back. And then there’s the view of football lifers: If this running back is special, he’s worth investing in. The truth is somewhere in the middle, of course, as is the case for most of these debates, and that brings us to Texas’s Bijan Robinson, the reigning Doak Walker award winner who is Daniel Jeremiah’s third-ranked player in the entire draft. Robinson is expected to slip far past that slot in the draft because of how the football world values the position.

I’m expecting a team in the back half of the top 10 to stop the slide. There are a few reasons for that. First, there will be a team that actually utilizes the best-player-available philosophy. Jay Glazer reported that Robinson is top five on a lot of boards but that teams are “outsmarting themselves.” It just takes one team—maybe Atlanta at eight—to make the leap. Beyond that, there is a total lack of high-end talent, especially for skill-position players, in this draft. The latest buzz says teams have only 15 or so first-round grades on players. Bills general manager Brandon Beane wouldn’t put a number on it, but he said that the number of first-round grades he has is “not great.”

Because of this, I expect a team to look at their board, see how much higher they have Robinson graded than any of their other options, and let it rip. Then we can have the running back positional value debate again. —Kevin Clark

There will be more tight ends than receivers taken in the first round.

We’ve seen wide receivers fly off the board early and often in recent drafts, but this year could be different. The 2023 tight end class might be the best we’ve seen in over a decade, and with Dalton Kincaid (Utah), Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Darnell Washington (Georgia), and Luke Musgrave (Oregon State) headlining the group, there is a chance we’ll see the league prioritize these guys over the top-ranked players at receiver. Kincaid, Mayer, and Musgrave in particular are dynamic, movable chess-piece-type tight ends. They have good speed and athleticism—and the NFL might view them as superior pass catchers compared to some of the diminutive receivers this rookie class has to offer. —Danny Kelly

The Patriots will make a first-round splash.

What are the Patriots up to? The blueprint for developing a young quarterback isn’t typically “sign a lot of pass catchers, have none of them work, put Matt Patricia in charge of the offense, and do a Bailey Zappe.” I simply don’t think this team is that committed to Mac Jones long term.

There are rumors that the Patriots have investigated trade-up prices to get somewhere in the top five, which presumably would be a move for a quarterback. With questions about how long Bill Belichick will keep doing this job in the Pats’ post-Brady era, I think New England is a great candidate to make a huge splash on day one.

Maybe it isn’t a trade up! Maybe it’s Lamar Jackson! Maybe it’s trading back for Zay Flowers (OK, that’s not a splash, but they might do that). But after the obvious quarterback teams (Panthers, Colts), the Patriots are squarely in the second tier of teams (Raiders, Titans, Texans) that might grab one of the top four quarterbacks this year. —Ben Solak

Three of the four teams in the AFC South will have new quarterbacks by the end of night one.

The Colts are definitely taking a quarterback, the Texans should be, and the Titans might be, but I think by the end of the first round, all of them will have made their moves and gone for it. What makes this interesting is that division rivalries could end up playing into teams’ deal-making strategies. What the Texans will do with the second pick is one of the great mysteries of the draft, but Houston could be floating the possibility that it won’t take a quarterback in part to lull rivals into believing that there will be one more quarterback on the board around pick nos. 3, 4, or beyond. If the Texans do draft, say, Will Levis with the second pick, would Tennessee’s next move be to call the Cardinals and try to jump in front of the Colts? Would that leave the Titans making an expensive trade up and Indianapolis getting stuck with the last top four QBs available? Stay woke, sheeple. —Nora Princiotti

Hendon Hooker will drop out of the first round.

I can’t believe this prediction is considered bold, but plenty of mock drafts from people in the know have former Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker going in the first round—even as high as 12th overall. Most mocks, though, have him going late in night one, which seems too high to me. He’s 25 years old, he played in a college offense that doesn’t translate to the pro level at all, and he’s coming off an ACL tear. It will be a while before he sees the field. That does not sound like the kind of player NFL teams typically use a first-round pick on. Teams do seem to like to draft quarterbacks in the first round to get a player’s fifth-year option, but it’s not enough reason for me to think that drafting Hooker early is worth it, and I believe smart teams will agree on Thursday night. Hooker will wait until the second day to hear his name called. —Steven Ruiz

The Cardinals won’t completely screw up the no. 3 pick.

When was the last time you heard anything good about the Arizona Cardinals? The team’s headlines in recent months have been the stuff of football nightmares. It parted ways with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim less than a year after both signed extensions. There’s owner Michael Bidwill, whom former Cardinals executive Terry McDonough has filed a claim against for cheating, discrimination, and harassment. There are trade requests from wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and safety Budda Baker. And there is the likelihood that the team will have to play all of 2023 without QB Kyler Murray as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered in December.

Given that history, we might assume that new GM Monti Ossenfort will find a way to fumble this opportunity at no. 3, because that’s what tends to happen in this hapless organization. But if Ossenfort can find a desperate trade partner wanting to move up, add some extra picks to help replenish a dreadful roster, and, frankly, do anything but add fuel to the team’s roaring dumpster fire Thursday night, it’ll be the biggest shock of the draft. —Austin Gayle

C.J. Stroud will be the fourth QB off the board.

The first round might be rough for Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. Let’s say it plays out like this: Bryce Young will go first to Carolina. The Colts and Texans fall in love with the tools of either Anthony Richardson or Will Levis. The Seahawks, Lions, and Raiders take immediate non-QB contributors rather than picking Stroud to have him ride the bench for a year.

Suddenly, the only thing between Stroud and a free fall is Tennessee at no. 11. If Stroud makes it past Tennessee, he could free-fall to the Buccaneers at 19. —Danny Heifetz