Let’s predict the 2023 NFL draft, probabilistically. That’s the job of ESPN’s Draft Day Predictor, our publicly available tool that uses expert mock drafts, Scouts Inc. grades and team needs to forecast pick probabilities for prospects in the upcoming draft. In other words, we can get a better look at when the best players will get picked and the chance they will be available at certain slots.
With just days to go before Roger Goodell reads the first name Thursday (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC and ESPN App), let’s break down some key questions about the draft using the Draft Day Predictor. We’ll look at how long the top quarterbacks will remain available, who might grab Bijan Robinson, which wide receivers will still be available in the mid-20s and even some over/unders that the Draft Day Predictor likes a few days before the event. Let’s dive in.
When will the top four quarterbacks be off the board?
Another way to put this: If you’re a QB-needy team looking to nab one of Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), Anthony Richardson (Florida) or Will Levis (Kentucky), how far up do you need to trade? Well, if a team would be happy with any of the four quarterbacks, it might be able to wait longer than you’d expect.
If you look at the individual range of draft outcomes for each quarterback, they all look certain or quite likely to go in the top eight. But whether one of the quarterbacks is available later is a different question altogether. In order to answer it, we have to simulate the draft many times and when we did, the results surprised me: There was a 64% chance a quarterback lasted to pick No. 8, and it wasn’t until pick No. 12 that we can be more than 50% confident that all four quarterbacks are gone. That was something of a shock to me!
Those are awfully interesting numbers for a team such as the Tennessee Titans (No. 11), who might think about staying put and drafting a quarterback instead of trading up. Or for teams like the Washington Commanders (No. 16) or Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 19), who might like one of the quarterbacks.
But if a quarterback slides, who would it be? The Draft Day Predictor thinks the most likely answer is Levis. Even though the model gives the Kentucky quarterback a substantial chance to be selected at pick Nos. 2, 3 and 4 and gives him only a little more than a 50% chance to be available at pick No. 5, Levis’ forecast has a long right tail. In other words, his range of outcomes is wider in that the model foresees a low but real chance he could slide into the teens.
Given the favorable market for teams trading down and the amount teams willing to pay to move up for a quarterback, it’s logical that the Cardinals would strongly consider moving out of the No. 3 pick. But how far can they move down if they want to still be able to draft one of the top defenders listed above?
Moving down to No. 6 would be safe, but they can probably afford to go down to pick No. 7 (currently held by the Las Vegas Raiders), with a 79% chance at least one of the three will be available. Anderson will almost certainly be gone by then, but one of Wilson or Carter will likely be available. Wilson has about a 50% chance to be on the board at No. 7, and Carter a little less than 40% chance.
What’s a likely landing spot for Jalen Carter?
Todd McShay predicts Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter will be drafted by the Seahawks.
If we think about it logically, it seems pretty safe to assume at least three quarterbacks will go in the first six picks. That means if the Cardinals were to move down to No. 7 they would need either a fourth quarterback or another defender — say, Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon — to be selected for one of the listed pass-rushers to reach No. 7. It’s not a guarantee, but it probably works out.
What if it’s the Titans who want to trade up to No. 3 (from No. 11)? Could the Cardinals still have hope of landing one of these three? The answer is … some. The Draft Day Predictor says there’s a 35% chance that one of the three could be available, mostly comprising the chance Carter slides to that spot. The Draft Day Predictor does have additional uncertainty built into Carter’s forecast given that he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing stemming from an incident that killed Georgia football player Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy, and it’s not completely clear if or how that will affect NFL teams’ view of him.
What are the most likely landing spots for Bijan Robinson?
If we look at Robinson’s range of outcomes, one spot that stands out is No. 10, which the Philadelphia Eagles currently hold. The Draft Day Predictor gives the Texas running back more than a 12% chance to be selected at that spot, while no other spot registers in double digits. The Eagles have a need at running back, and the No. 10 pick certainly has been a popular mock draft destination for him.
Personally, I have a hard time seeing it happen. The Eagles are one of the most analytically inclined organizations, and one of the foremost tenets of football analytics is that running back is a non-premium position — and it’s tough to use such a high pick on a non-premium position. That being said, the model says what it says, and I have a lot of trust in it.
So if not No. 10, where else? There’s no one spot that stands out, but I think the consistently high chance he’s selected somewhere between Nos. 10 and 19, with a 5% or greater chance at each of those positions, is pretty interesting. So if you want Robinson, the model is confident that he probably will not last into the 20s. In fact, there’s about an 80% chance he’ll be gone before pick No. 19.
Will Jaxon Smith-Njigba be the first wide receiver off the board, and which wideout(s) will be still available for the Ravens and Giants?
On the first part, it looks awfully likely that Ohio State’s Smith-Njigba will be the first receiver selected. The Draft Day Predictor gives it an 88% chance, with Boston College’s Zay Flowers the next highest at 7%.
If the Baltimore Ravens want one of the top four receivers at No. 22, at least one (but not Smith-Njigba) will likely be available. Flowers has about a 55% chance to still be on the board at that time, while USC’s Jordan Addison and TCU’s Quentin Johnston are approximately 75% and 80%, respectively.
The New York Giants will have fewer choices if they want a receiver at No. 25. Flowers is more likely to be gone by then, with an approximately 35% shot he’s available. Addison is a 50/50 coin flip to be on the board, and Johnston has roughly a 60% shot to be there.
When should we expect to see Hendon Hooker get drafted, and who will most likely pick him?
The wide range of outcomes for Tennessee’s Hooker is one of the most interesting stories of this draft. He could reasonably be a mid-first-round selection or fall to the late second. If Hooker goes in the first round, his most likely landing spot is pick No. 23 — currently held by the Minnesota Vikings — with roughly a 9% chance to be selected there. Pick Nos. 19 (Buccaneers), 20 (Seattle Seahawks) and 22 (Ravens) are all possibilities, too, with most picks in the back half of the first round presenting at least a 1% shot to be Hooker due to potential trades.
But the Draft Day Predictor thinks Hooker is more likely to last into Round 2 than being drafted in Round 1, and one slightly counterintuitive spot Hooker could land would be pick No. 35, owned by the Indianapolis Colts. The model isn’t going to assume any team is going to do anything 100% of the time, and so in the event the Colts don’t take a quarterback at No. 4 or in the first-round, they become serious candidates to select Hooker at No. 35.
Hooker’s realistic range extends all the way to pick No. 55 (Detroit Lions). His chart will be an important one to watch live (yes, the Draft Day Predictor updates live during the draft) because teams selecting other quarterbacks will drastically affect Hooker’s probabilities (e.g., if the Colts take a quarterback at No. 4, then pick No. 35 will no longer be an option for Hooker outside of a trade).
Which team is most likely to select a tight end in the first round?
We can’t quite answer this question with the Draft Day Predictor because it forecasts picks, not teams, but we can get pretty close. The answer: the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas lost Dalton Schultz in free agency and is also drafting in what seems to be a logical range for either Utah’s Dalton Kincaid or Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. (This is also the beginning of the range for Georgia’s Darnell Washington.) In all, the Draft Day Predictor says there’s a 23% chance a tight end is selected at pick No. 26.
What order will the top four offensive linemen be selected?
Here’s the most likely order: Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Georgia’s Broderick Jones, Tennessee’s Darnell Wright. That precise order has a 22% chance of occurring, well ahead of the next most likely option, which flips Johnson and Jones (14% chance).
The Draft Day Predictor is bullish on Skoronski’s chances of going first among the offensive linemen (71%). That’s an interesting contrast to Caesars Sportsbook having him +175 to be the first offensive lineman selected as of Monday.
Which fringe player could sneak into Round 1?
One that surprised me is Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who has roughly a 40% chance to be selected in the first round. There has been so much talk about Bijan Robinson that the possibility of two running backs going in the first round is flying under the radar.
Two pass-rushers who could work their way into the first round are Northwestern’s Adetomiwa Adebawore and Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, each with about a 30% shot. And one more player who surprised me is Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson, who has approximately a 20% chance to sneak into Round 1.
On the flip side, a seemingly consensus first-rounder who could fall out of it? TCU’s Quentin Johnston, who has about a 30% shot to slip into Day 2.
What are some over/unders that stand out based on the Draft Day Predictor?
As of Monday afternoon, here are a few based on the odds at Caesars Sportsbook.
Michael Mayer, over 23.5 (-110): The Draft Day Predictor gives Mayer a little less than an 80% chance to still be on the board at pick No. 24.
Devon Witherspoon, over 6.5 (-125): This is a nice value, even laying -125, with the Draft Day Predictor thinking there’s an 80% chance he gets to pick No. 7 or later. There are only so many players who can fit in the top six picks, and it seems most likely that Witherspoon gets pushed out of that group.
Zay Flowers, under 22.5 (+130): This looks like the right line … if the juice was equal on either side. With a little more than 50% chance to be selected before pick No. 23, the Draft Day Predictor would like Flowers’ under at this price.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, under 12.5 (+270): Without the juice, the line makes sense here, according to the Draft Day Predictor. It gives a 45% shot that Smith-Njigba is gone before pick No. 13, so at +270, that’s a value.
Paris Johnson Jr., over 9.5 (-110): The Draft Day Predictor thinks there’s more than a 90% chance Johnson lasts to pick No. 10, so it would happily lay -110.
ESPN Analytics’ Brian Burke contributed to this story.
Forecasting Round 1, QB picks