Mel Kiper mock draft: 2023 NFL Version 1.0 for ESPN

You know what’s cooler than the Philadelphia Eagles being in the NFC Championship Game?

The Philadelphia Eagles being in the NFC Championship Game … spirit owning the No. 10 picks in the 2023 NFL Draft by way of the New Orleans Saints.

That extra selection could especially come in handy with the Eagles set to see a number of key players leave in free agency this offseason.

On that note, the first Mel Kiper mock draft ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft has the Eagles restocking the cupboard on defense. You can check out the entire thing on ESPN+, but here’s what he’s projecting for the tenth selection.

10. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO) — Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt

The Eagles, one of the NFL’s four best teams, gained this first-rounder from New Orleans last year, and now they have a chance to add a premium prospect to their loaded roster. They don’t have many current needs, but they do have several decisions to make in free agency, including whether to bring back defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Robert Quinn, Brandon Graham and Javon Hargrave. Let’s use this pick to help them get younger.

Kancey’s 2022 tape is extremely impressive, and I moved him way up my Big Board. He wreaked havoc the past two seasons, racking up 13.5 sacks when lined up as a defensive tackle, the most in the country. At 6-foot, 280 pounds, he’s undersized, but so was former Pitt tackle Aaron Donald. (To be clear, he’s not Donald, but he’s still pretty good.) We know Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman invests heavily in the D-line, and Kancey would fit next to 2022 first-rounder Jordan Davis.

It’s tough to figure out if Hargrave will be back or not.

On one hand, the Eagles definitely value interior defenders. Especially when they offer pass rush ability. And with Fletcher Cox also set to be a free agent, would the Eagles really let both of them walk?

On the other hand, Hargrave turns 30 in February and it feels like the team would have signed him to an extension by now if he was in the plans. The Eagles typically don’t let core players enter contract years like they have with Hargrave.

Whether he is back or not, the Eagles might very well look to add more talent on their defensive line. Howie Roseman is never averse to doing that.

Kancey kind of fits the Hargrave mold as a relatively smaller DT with good athletic testing numbers. The Pitt alumnus made Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” ahead of the 2022 college football season. He was ranked ninth overall:

He’s a bit undersized at 6 feet, 282 pounds, but man, is the Miami native disruptive. This was a great find by Panthers defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, who has deep ties around South Florida. In 2021, Kancey earned first-team All-ACC honors after producing 13 TFLs and seven sacks. Pat Narduzzi says Kancey reminds him of Panthers legend Aaron Donald, and while that is pretty hefty talk, no doubt this guy is special too. Narduzzi told The Athletic this month that Kancey has been clocked running a 4.69 40. Kancey also has vertical-jumped 31 1/2 inches and bench pressed 425.

Drafting the next Aaron Donald will prove to be easier said than done. But there’s definitely reason to be intrigued with Kancey. Look at how quickly he can be off the ball:

While the Eagles’ first selection is locked in at No. 10, their second first-round pick is still yet to be determined. If all goes well and they win the Super Bowl, it’ll be at No. 31 (instead of No. 32 since the Miami Dolphins’ first-round pick has been forfeited). For Kiper’s mock, he has the Eagles losing the Super Bowl (boooooo) and getting the No. 30 selections.

30. Philadelphia Eagles — Brian Branch, S, Alabama

After giving the Eagles a potential Hargrave replacement, he gave them a potential CJGJ replacement.

Philadelphia made a preseason trade to acquire safety CJ Gardner-Johnson, but he had such a great season that he might be too expensive for the Eagles to bring back. In that case, this pick is the best like-for-like replacement — Branch can play as a slot corner or a deep center fielder, filling Gardner-Johnson’s shoes. Branch is my top-ranked safety, but he’ll be a cornerback on some teams’ boards. I projected the Eagles to add a defensive tackle with the No. 10 pick, and injecting this defense with young talent should be their offseason priority.

It feels like the Eagles will bring back either CJGJ or Marcus Epps … but not both. Most would probably prefer for it to be CJGJ. But Epps is going to be the more affordable option.

Branch also made Feldman’s Freaks List, though he was further down at No. 62.

The Georgia native emerged as a playmaker in the Tide defense in 2021, making 55 tackles, five TFLs and had a team-high nine pass breakups. Brand, at 6 feet, 194 pounds, is a strong DB, squatting 565 and power-cleaning 335. He’s also got a lot of speed, having clocked 22.3 mph on the GPS system.

Highlights:

Historically, Kiper’s first mock draft isn’t necessarily a great indicator of how the actual NFL Draft will unfold. There’s so much that can happen between now and late April when it comes to all-star games, the Combine, pro days, pre-draft visits, etc.

For now, though, these picks seem surprisingly logical to me. Much less far-fetched than Todd McShay’s first mock draft, at least, which had the Eagles taking a running back with the Saints’ pick. Not happening!

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