You can feel the excitement in the air. College football preview magazines are hitting newsstands. Our own colleagues at ESPN are debating which teams are candidates for a national title run and who should be a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Football season is just around the corner.
Fellow NFL draftniks know the start of college football is also the start of scouting season. Yes, we put in hours of work over the summer evaluating last year's tape and getting rankings ready for the season, but much of that is simply prep work to begin watching prospects when the season kicks off.
What fun is all that summer prep without some predictions? And for me, there's nothing better than a mock draft to evaluate team needs, player value and get a look at which position groups are strong and weak in the early stages of the 2023 NFL draft process.
Below is my first crack at projecting the top 32 picks, an extremely early evaluation based on 2021 tape, expected progression from prospects and expected NFL team needs. A lot should and will change once we get new information (from game tape to injuries) from each prospect. And with name, image and likeness (NIL) deals changing the landscape of college sports, it's no longer a guarantee stars will leave early for the pros.
A few important notes before we get started: This Round 1 order is based on the 2023 projections from ESPN's Football Power Index, which are different from what Todd McShay used on his early mock draft in May. Underclassmen in this projection are noted with an asterisk, and it includes the five first-round trades that have already been executed.