NFL Draft

Recapping the entire 2023 NFL Draft:

The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books and it’s time to break down everything that happened over the weekend! Obviously everybody got better by adding young talent, but some teams used their draft capital better than others – whether that’s just the players they picked or their overall strategy – and there are selections I was a bigger fan of than others.

So in this article, I will lay out my five biggest winners and losers, as well as my ten biggest steals and reaches respectively. Plus, I added a few more contenders for each category at the end. As far as winners/losers go, this can be a specific team that did really well in terms of how they used their assets, individual prospects, position groups or NFL veterans, due to how they will be affected. The steals/reaches portion is pretty self-explanatory, as I will judge the names selected based on my personal rankings in correlation consensus boards and looking at who was still available or how these picks fit into the overall picture of the draft.

One name I considered as a winner here was Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, since he signed the contract that in terms of average annual value is the largest in NFL history, before his team got him a new stud receiver in the first round. However, I didn’t want the first half of this equation to factor in too much here, even though in terms of Thursday, nobody had a better 24 hours than him personally.

Let’s break it all down now:


Winners:

 

Winners

 

Howie Roseman & the Bulldogs graduate program

Early on day three, I tweeted out that this has to be a bit at this point, because of the absurd amount of Georgia players joining the Eagles recently. Last year, they traded up a couple of spots for big defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round and then were able to take advantage of some medical concerns around Nakobe Dean, who I thought purely based on tape was worthy of a day one selection. Now this time around, they actually spent both of their first-rounders on two more members from that historic 2021 Bulldog defense.

Jalen Carter was my number one overall prospect purely based on tape and swapped spots with the Bears at number nine in exchange for a ’24 fourth-rounder. And while I personally had Nolan Smith as my number six edge rusher right in that range he was selected at, I don’t think anybody thought he’d be available at 30th overall. They came back on day three and picked cornerback Kelee Ringo at 105th overall, who was mocked in the first round a couple of months ago still and I had as my CB6. And because they didn’t feel like any Georgia guys they liked were still on the board, they called the Lions, who just shocked everybody by taking a running back 12th overall, and traded a ’25 fourth-rounder for a still very talented (when healthy) player in D’Andre Swift.

While it’s certainly not always the soundest strategy to pick the guys from the best programs in the country, those were all among the best names available at the points Philly was on the clock for and we can all appreciate them not overthinking things and potentially reaching on some smaller names that they feel in love with on tape. That’s obviously also great for the Georgia program, to have this pipeline to the NFL, where more kids coming out of high school want to commit to Kirby Smart, because they know he can’t get them to the pros ultimately. I also really liked the Eagles’ four other selections, in Alabama tackle Tyler Steen (65th overall) as somebody whose only weakness at this point is the way he can absorb power effectively, Illinois’ Sydney Brown (66th) was my number two safety and somebody I believe has the potential to be a Brian Dawkins-like player if he becomes a more reliable tackler, Tanner McKee (188th) is a bit curious because of how drastically different his profile is to Jalen Hurts but was my QB8 and finally, Texas’ Moro Ojomo (249th) could have easily gone in the early 100s as a powerful athlete with alignment versatility along the D-line.

 

Geno Smith

In a terms of a veteran quarterback who didn’t just earn a massive contract to secure himself the face of the franchise like Lamar Jackson, probably nobody had a better weekend than Geno Smith. First, the Seahawks were in prime territory for one of the top QBs in the draft at fifth overall – which I wouldn’t expect them to get another chance like this anytime soon because the roster is too good at this point – but instead they selected Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon. Then at 20th overall, Kentucky’s Will Levis, who most teams had as QB4 on their boards, was still available, yet instead they picked Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba – a perfect fit for them in the slot, to tie their room of pass-catchers together.

Seattle still had a chance to trade back into the late first round or even up to one of the top two picks of day two for Levis. Instead, they let the Titans pick him 33rd overall and then after some people connected them to Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker, they passed on him with both of their second-round picks, in favor of Auburn edge rusher Derick Hall (37th overall) to help them close out games and the consensus number three running back in Zach Charbonnet from UCLA (52nd), to give them one of the most formidable backfield duos along with another second-rounder last year in Kenneth Walker. On day three, the Hawks still got two more interior O-linemen with starter qualities in LSU’s Anthony Bradford (108th) and Michigan’s Olu Ouwatimi (153rd), along with another RB in the seventh round, with Kenny McIntosh (237th) as a replacement for Travis Homer as a designated third-down back.

So instead of potentially taking advantage of the increased draft capital they possessed to invest into a future signal-caller to eventually replace Geno, they actually got him an uber-reliable slot receiver, who does a great job of being friendly to the quarterback with his angles out of breaks, his feel for secondary plays and how he instantly gets upfield after the catch. They added some bodies to an interior O-line that was a bit concerning and they filled out that backfield with two guys that can help out in the passing game as well, when you look at Charbonnet’s work in the screen game and making guys miss in the flats off dump-offs, while McIntosh can be a legit extra receiver, who can flex out wide and go vertical. This offense has a chance to be really explosive and without any competition added, Geno is going to pull the trigger for them the next couple of years at least.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Thinking of a team that every single time they were on the clock selected a prospect I had higher on my personal board, I think the Steelers absolutely aced their draft. The one name where it wasn’t an actual surplus but rather right in line with my rankings was actually the first one. However, with the top three offensive tackles off the board already, they did what I projected them to in my final mock draft and moved up – not four spots like I thought, but rather three – in exchange for a fourth-round pick (120th overall) with the Patriots and sniped the Jets a spot later, who everybody projected to go O-line. The Gang Green brass vehemently denies that they were locked in on that position but I certainly think that’s the case. So Pittsburgh recognized that they needed to make this move, probably were helped out gladly by New England, allowing them to move in front of their AFC East rivals, and got a pro-ready right tackle, after which I saw a significant drop-off.

From day two on however is when they really started to add value. Having the very first pick in the second round, they received several calls about teams wanting to move up, but instead stuck there and selected the guy many projected them to target at 17th overall due to his dad being a cornerstone player for that defense in the past and them addressing their other big position of need with Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. – a super-long, talented corner, who will be a great fit with his ability to squeeze down passing downs in Pittsburgh’s zone-heavy scheme and gives them some versatility to play press-man into the boundary, if you have a safety clouding over the top. Wisconsin interior D-lineman Keeanu Benton (49th overall) has the ability to actually turn himself into a Cam Heyward-esque player and now gets to learn from the man himself. And Georgia tight-end Darnell Washington (93rd) received some first-round buzz at times thanks to his profile to turn into a dominant blocker, his massive frame and the speed he can move at for being 265 pounds, to rumble through defenses.

With their three picks on day three, they took advantage of another undersized outside linebacker from Wisconsin falling in Nick Herbig (132nd overall), who shows very active hands and understands how to finish his rushes, now getting him paired up with a fellow Badger in T.J. Watt. Purdue cornerback Corey Trice (241st) was on the top-100 board for many draft analysts with tremendous length and athletic tools, along with already being an excellent tackler. And finally, they take a stab at a physically talented offensive lineman in Maryland’s Spencer Anderson (251st) with starting experience at guard, center and tackle.

 

Kicking specialists & Mid-round quarterbacks

This one is pretty insane. Let’s start with the specialists, because we saw three kickers and punters each selected in this draft. In 2022, we actually saw four punters go, but only one kicker. We didn’t have any long-snappers selected, but just looking at “kicking” specialists, over the last 20 years, we’ve only seen six guys hear their names called three other times – 2004, 2012 and 2018. Even more glaring to me was how early those guys went. We didn’t have somebody like a Roberto Aguayo, who was a second-round pick in 2016 – and look how that turned out – but the 49ers used a top-100 pick on Michigan’s Jake Moody (99th overall), the Patriots picked Maryland’s Chad Ryland (112th) early on day three and the Packers took Auburn’s Daniel Carlson (203rd) in the sixth round. In terms of the punters, New England came back and took another specialist just inside the top-200 in Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer (192nd) and then we had two more with the second Michigan guy here in Brad Robbins (217th) going to Cincinnati and Ethan Evans (223rd) from Wingate joining the Rams.

Meanwhile, we had an unprecedented run on quarterbacks in the middle rounds. We started the draft with three QBs inside the first four picks, while Will Levis from Kentucky had to wait until the top of day two for the Titans to make the move up for him. After that, there was a break for 35 spots until we saw Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (68th overall) come off the board – a range I thought was much more appropriate than some first-round buzz he received, considering he’s a 25-year old who will miss his at least most of his rookie season with a torn ACL and is coming from an offensive system that shows very little resemblance to what he will be asked to do in the pros. Things really started to pick up from 127th overall on, as over the next 72 selection, we saw eight(!) signal-callers come off the board – Fresno State’s Jake Haener, Georgia’s Stetson Bennett, Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell, UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Houston’s Clayton Tune, Penn State’s Sean FREAKING Clifford, BYU’s Jaren Hall and Stanford’s Tanner McKee in that order. And it’s not even that I don’t like those guys. Half of them actually went where I thought it was appropriate for them. Yet, you can absolute tell that there was a Brock Purdy effect, considering how many teams took a stab on these guys in the middle rounds, when better football players were available – 12 selected within the first five round actually set a new record. We’ll have to see how that strategy turns out, but good for all the guys that benefitted from it already.

 

Monti Ossenfort

The final name I wanted to give credit to here is the new general manager of the Arizona Cardinals. Because after just one draft, I’m a bigger fan of what he was able to accomplish than really any of the DECADE Steve Keim had to turn the Birds into a contender, other than maybe 2015. And it’s not just the players he selected individually, but rather the positions he targeted in those ranges and he process behind it all and most impressively, the way they maneuvered around the board throughout the weekend.

Now, first and foremost, it feels like Monti and company probably got a little bit lucky at the top, with the Texans apparently having a generational-type grade on Alabama edge defender Will Anderson Jr. and being willing to invest as much draft capital to move up for him, after already grabbing their QB of the future in C.J. Stroud second overall. Otherwise, it appeared that Arizona might ultimately be stuck at number three, but they were able to package that with an early fourth-rounder (105th overall) for a massive haul – pick 12 and a quasi-first-rounder with 33, along with the Texans’ first and third next year. Yet, then after the Lions probably were scrambling a little bit considering the guy heavily favored to be their choice at sixth overall in Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon was taken by the Seahawks a spot earlier, the Cardinals decided to move back up six spots, in exchange for a much smaller return – pick 34 and 168, while getting pick 81 back – and they still got the guy that was really picking up steam for them being the choice at third overall – the consensus top-ranked left tackle Paris Johnson Jr.

However, that’s not where things stopped for Arizona. In the second round, they moved down eight spots with the Titans having eyes on the falling Kentucky QB Will Levis, in exchange for moving up nine spots in the third round and another three next year. With those selections they brought in my fifth-ranked edge defender in LSU’s B.J. Ojulari and a top-ten corner not taking injury into account with Syracuse’s Garrett Williams, who is now projected to return from the torn ACL in July already. Plus, then the best trade they pulled off in my opinion – going back to the well with the Lions – they traded pick 96, which Detroit used on a barely drafted D-tackle in my opinion (Brodric Martin from Western Kentucky) for picks 122, 139 and 168. They went on to turn those into a guard who put up elite testing numbers at the combine in UCLA’s Jon Gaines II, a developmental quarterback with great arm and movement talent in Houston’s Clayton Tune and run-and-hit linebacker with 4.39 speed in Auburn’s Owen Pappoe. That’s along with selecting one of the most refined route-runners in Stanford WR Michael Wilson (94th), a feisty nickel in Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark (180th) and an interior D-lineman I had inside my top-100 overall prospects late in the sixth round with West Virginia’s Dante Stills (213th).

 

 

Others draft classes I liked: Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants & Seattle Seahawks

 

 

 

Losers:

 

Losers

 

Brad Holmes believers (in the analytics community)

I just talked about the Cardinals kind of fleecing the Lions in a couple of trades during the draft and mentioned that they sent a veteran running back to Philly at some point, so let’s just continue with them here. They got some really good football players – don’t get me wrong here. However, the way they approached the weekend in terms of when and where they moved, how they tried to maximize value and the overall strategy, I would certainly question.

Since I just said that the Cardinals might have gotten a little bit lucky with the Texans being hell-bent on picking two and three, in order to get their cornerstone pieces on either side of the ball, let me take some heat off Brad Holmes and the rest of the Lions brass. I’m pretty sure they did not expect the Seahawks to take what probably was the guy they targeted all along in Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon. He was a minus-favorite for going sixth overall in terms of betting odds at the start of the calendar week already and I think throughout the process I maybe saw two mock drafts that lined Seattle to him. With that being said, when the Cardinals called – and I obviously don’t know if that was the only team interested – they barely gained surplus based on draft value charts by moving back six spots to 12 (in exchange for 34 and 168, whilst getting back pick 81) and drafted the number two running back Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama. I absolutely love him and probably had him as high as anybody at 17th overall on my big board, but even for me that is pretty rich. More importantly, they could have had who people legitimately considered a generational prospect in Texas’ Bijan Robinson if they just stuck at six. And the result of picking a running back there was them ultimately trading away a high second-rounder from a couple of years ago with a very similar skill-set in D’Andre Swift for a 2025 fourth-rounder by the Eagles.

With their other first-round pick (18th) overall, they selected Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell, who was my LB1 and is wrongly portrayed as just this inside thumper. I really like the player, but once again – it’s too high for me and more importantly, even if you see a major drop-off after him, the next legit off-ball linebacker to come off the board was Arkansas’ Drew Sanders early in the third round – and he actually has legit rush upside. Then after targeting the two lowest-value positions, I did like Iowa tight-end Sam LaPorta (34th overall) and Alabama nickelback/safety Brian Branch (45th) in the second round, which I think do make a lot of sense. I’ve heard people saying that if you switched some of those names, that’s actually a solid group, which I agree with – but that’s not how this thing works! I get the Hendon Hooker pick (68th) in the third, even though I would have felt much better if they had made sure to get Will Levis at the top of the second, since that would seem like more of a clear direction for them, but then what really annoyed me is them picks 122, 139 and 168 for a selection just inside the top-100 that was used on a developmental nose-tackle in Western Kentucky’s Brodric Martin, who based on my and consensus rankings was a seventh-round prospect. That’s just a poor understanding of the board and allocation of resources all-around and I think all the analytics services will end up grading their class extremely low.

 

Ryan Tannehill

Assuming nobody expected Andy Dalton, Davis Mills or Gardner Minshew to start this year – at last for the full season – Ryan Tannehill would be the one on the opposite end of the spectrum to Geno Smith, who I mentioned earlier as a winner. There was some discussion around him last year already, when the Titans drafted Malik Willis and he receiving some (unwarranted) criticism for saying at a press conference that he wasn’t “here to mentor” the rookie, but that guy fell to them in the third round and even though I had him as QB1 in a much weaker class, I didn’t expect Willis to start that year. He didn’t until Tannehill’s foot got hurt initially and when that guy was placed on injured reserve, Tennessee actually signed Josh Dobbs in hopes of still winning a weak AFC South – who ended up starting the final two weeks. Now however, they actively traded to 33rd overall, moving up eight spots in exchange for a pick-swap in the third round and another three next year, in order to select Kentucky QB Will Levis.

So while it seems that Tannehill was able to fend off Willis, who I still believe has a lot of talent and isn’t really getting a fair shot, considering he got thrown in on very short notice and had basically no pass-catching options around him to help him out, as somebody that I believed shouldn’t see the field until late into his rookie season, now there’s another challenger in the room. Now, the two positive angles for the veteran signal-caller are that the Titans could have already secured themselves Levis at 11th overall but passes on him initially, playing the board and taking a gamble to some degree, and then I look at the rookie as somebody who is on a similar developmental arc as Willis last year.

Now, the difference with Levis is that he actually operated in a pro-style offense in 2021, with extensive experience working from under-center and being asked to make NFL-type of reads. I believe if Liam Coen doesn’t become the Rams offensive coordinator for the ’22 season, before returning to Kentucky, we look at the Wildcat QB as less of a project, because his decision-making and inconsistent footwork are paid closer attention to and worked on, while having a play-caller capable of overcoming lesser pieces on the O-line and in terms of receiving talent. So while there are things on tape that you wouldn’t expect from a redshirt senior with 26 career starts, there’s also a lot to like in terms of the way the ball jumps off his hand, the arm strength to take shots down the field off play-action, the running threat he presents without the foot injury and the toughness overall. I think all parties involved would benefit from Levis sitting until late in the year, if Tennessee is eliminated from playoff contention potentially, but I wouldn’t rule out Tannehill being moved during the offseason or ahead of the trade deadline, if the Titans don’t get off to a good start.

 

The safety class

Now let’s talk about the players in this draft actually and a position group received no love. Depending on if you count Alabama’s Brian Branch and Illinois’ Jartavius Martin as safeties, since they primarily lined up at nickel and that’s where they’ll likely be deployed by the Lions and Commanders respectively, you can argue no legit safety came off the board until Martin’s former teammates Sydney Brown going to the Eagles at the top of the third round (66th overall). Only two others were selected for the rest of the day – Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown (87th) going to the 49ers and Alabama’s Jordan Battle (95th) going to the Bengals. Two more were selected in the fourth round, before we finally saw 13 combined over the final three rounds of the weekend.

Generally, I wouldn’t pay too much attention and many people have called this a weaker safety class. While I don’t consider it one of the stronger groups we’ve seen in recent years and we lack any type of blue-chip players among it, I do disagree with the sentiment about the class as a whole. I had eight guys inside my personal top-100 big board (including Branch and Martin, who I mentioned at the top) and six more among the “next 30 names” I listed below it – so basically 14 inside my top-130. I know that I was personally higher on the group than consensus, but even looking at where some of these names were projected to go – Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson (160th) ended up being a fifth- instead of a fringe second-/third-rounder, Florida State’s Jammie Robinson (145th) went about 50 picks later than expected, Georgia’s Chris Smith II (170th) waited nearly 100 picks longer. Altogether 19 safeties were inside the top 259 prospect, based on consensus board provided by MockDraftDatabase.com

Now, what does this tell us? Well, first of all there may be some medical issues with these guys that we’re not aware of. I can’t speak to any of that. However, my theory revolves more around the schematic changes the meta of defensive football has experienced recently. With more NFL teams adapting split-safety principles, the profiles of guys they’re now looking for on the back-end has changed. Sure, there are teams who still value free safety types who can make plays on the ball-numbers-to-numbers and rangy players will always be desirable, but it’s not as much about finding those high-level athletes all the time. Many teams are looking for more well-rounded skill-sets, where they can roll somebody in the deep post, but also drive on routes in quarters to their side, basically play off-man against slot receivers with extra cushion and maybe most importantly, charge up the alley against the run, in order to even out negative box counts. Those player profiles are currently easier to find in the later rounds still – which was apparent with how much this class got pushed down – and that’s a trend I’ll be following closely going forward.

 

New York Jets

I didn’t want to badmouth too many teams here as a whole, because like I said at the very start – everybody got better over the weekend and each team selected players that I really enjoyed watching on tape. There were a couple of others that I’d put in the same bucket as the Jets (listed below the next paragraph), but they kind of stuck out to me, because I’m not sure how much better they get right now, considering they’ve now consciously entered a window, in which they need to take full advantage of having a defense that finished last season top-five according to several metrics (points per game, DVOA, success rate, etc.), two Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates (if Breece Hall had stayed healthy) and now Aaron Rodgers dropped into the mix. You combine all those factors and you understand that with a head coach entering year three and a general manager now in his fifth year, they have to win this season.

Two things I didn’t want let my standpoint influence too much here – as tired everybody is of Zach Wilson, I really believe that the Jets failed him at least as much as he has done so far as a second overall pick, when they pulled him really because of a simple “No” at a press conference, when he was 4-and-2 as a starter at that point. So I’m not going to give them a ton of credit for making Aaron Rodgers come out of his darkness retreat with a switched mindset and wanting to join their team, especially when considering that they gave up way more than I expected to acquire him from the Packers, who had already moved on to their young QB on the roster. With that being said, now having just two picks each of the first two days, they really started to nail it. And while I think they got good value with Wisconsin center Joe Tippman 52nd overall, there’s a really everybody had them taking a tackle at pick number 15. Instead, they watched the top three names come off the board within the first eleven selections and didn’t feel the urgency to secure that spot for them. The division-rival Patriots gladly helped out the Steelers in jumping New York for Georgia’s Broderick Jones and there they were 15th overall, taking another defensive end, when they already had at least four legit guys as part of the rotation. And I get that they love keeping those bodies fresh an that they denied being locked in on OT, but I’m just not buying it.

Gang Green came back on day three and did ultimately invest into that position with Pittsburgh’s Carter Warren (120th overall), who I believe is a long, well-coordinated athlete with the potential to turn into a starter down the road, but he’s coming off a torn meniscus, only ever started at left tackle and had serious issues producing penalties in college. I certainly like Izzy Abanikanda as a big-play threat from the backfield out of Pitt (143rd overall), but I think recouping depth in the back-seven should have been higher on the priority list and of their final three picks, only one had a draftable grade on – Old Dominion tight-end Zack Kuntz, who shockingly lasted until the seventh round despite a historically great combine, probably due to injury concerns – and all of them mainly even got selected due to elite athletic testing. It’s just not close to the standard GM Joe Douglas has set in recent years.

 

Dawand Jones

For the final one here, I considered “Kenneth Walker dynasty owners”, since the Seahawks drafted another running back I really like in the second round and a passing down specialist in the seventh, to take away opportunities for fantasy production. However, I haven’t discussed an individual draft prospect yet and one I thought needed to be mentioned here is “the other” Ohio State offensive tackle. After being projected to be a top-50 pick and seeing his name frequently mentioned in mock drafts, the monstrous lineman waited all the way until day three, when the Browns finally ended the slide at 111th overall. That was after seeing his fellow Buckeye left tackle being selected sixth overall and nine total OTs coming off the board first.

The obvious concern with Jones, just looking at how giganteus is, is if he can keep himself in football shape. When we last got measurements on him at the combine, the Ohio State OT was 6’8” and 374 pounds. He ran as expected, with a 5.35 in the 40 and the worst ten-yard split of the event (1.92). Neither in Indy nor at the Buckeye pro day, he decided to do the jumps or agility drills, along with refusing another weigh-in in Columbus. However, what apparently really didn’t sit well with NFL evaluators was the fact that after one dominant practice at the Senior Bowl, he decided – or his agent told him – to sit out the rest of the week with no apparent injury. His lack of willingness to commit himself fully to the process and maybe not having appropriate answers in the meetings when asked about, are what I believe might have caused him to drop this far. Since contract numbers are basically locked in due to where players get selected, that’s most likely more than 1.5 times less money on his contract than he would have received had he gone around pick 50.

Not only did going this late hurt Jones financially, but he also will have a tough time seeing the field anytime soon in Cleveland – unless they use him as a jumbo tight-end in certain short-yardage packages. The Browns recently picked up Jedrick Wills Jr.’s fifth-year option, keeping him at left tackle for the next two seasons at least, and guy on the right side in Jack Conklin just signed a more back-loaded four-year, 60-million-dollar extension in December. And for people considering if they could move him to guard – I have a tough seeing any scenario where they’ll try taking the potential outs in the either of Joel Bitonio or Wyatt’s deals, since those are Pro Bowl/All-Pro level players. They also just re-signed center Ethan Pocic by the way. The one bright spot for Jones is that he’ll get to work under one of the top O-line coaches in Bill Callahan, to develop a kick-set necessary to make it in the pros.

 

 

Other questionable draft classes: Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs & San Francisco 49ers

 

 

 

Steals:

 

Steals

 

Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon – 17th overall to Patriots

To signal how shocked I was that Gonzo lasted as long as he did – once Seattle drafted Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon fifth overall, I thought the Lions might draft the order corner I had inside my top-ten overall prospects. The Oregon DB has prototype size and length, 4.38 speed, is very fluid and a reliable tackler – plus, he hasn’t even turned 21 years old. Those guys typically don’t make it outside the first half of round one. The only reason I can imagine he made it this far is that people see him as more of an athlete and hasn’t shown “that dawg” you like to see from that position, which is a bit silly. Considering the Patriots were able to pick up an extra fourth-rounder by moving back three spots with the Steelers and that the Commanders picked another corner I had way further down the board in Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes, this was a great value pick for them.

 

O’Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Florida – 59th overall to Bills

Whenever you’re able to get the best player at his position in the draft at the end of the second round, you’re doing something right. After the Bills had already secured themselves my TE1 Dalton Kincaid 25th overall (having moved up two spots), they got the massive Gator guard a full round later – when I thought they could have easily gone that way late in the first. Torrence looks like he was built in the lab for that position, with massive hands to take control and a lot of power in his lower half to move bodies in the run game, along with the sturdy anchor to absorb force and once he fits those hands inside the frame of rushers, they’re typically not getting away anymore. The two players he reminded me were Brandon Brooks and Mike Iupati – and he was drafted right in-between where those guys went. He’s a perfect addition for a Bills interior O-line that needed an ass-kicker.

 

Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State – 85th overall to Chargers

Even though Henley wasn’t quite my number one linebacker, I did have him on my top tier at the position – along with Iowa’s Jack Campbell and Arkansas’ Drew Sanders.  All three are pretty different player profiles and I understand him being the last one taken among those, but considering Henley went 67(!) spots later than Campbell, that’s pretty wild. To me, there wasn’t a backer in this class with the type off easy movement skills like this young man from Wazzu, where his ability to gain depth, change directions and drive on routes still looks more like a safety, which is what he originally started as, along with playing some wide receiver, after being recruited as a quarterback. However, he doesn’t only have the suddenness to evade blockers but is also willing to charge into them and missed only five of 111 tackling attempts this past season. I think what shows us that he went later than expected is that after him going as the third true off-ball linebacker (depending on if you count Sacramento State’s Marte Mapu as a big nickel/safety instead), we saw three more come off the board across the next six picks – teams were sort of just waiting on the position.

 

Adetomiwa Adebawore, IDL, Northwestern – 110th overall to Colts

I still haven’t heard any real medical concerns far Ade. So I’m just going to have to assume the NFL either didn’t like him in meetings or they’re just kind of hypocritical. Remember that guy Travon Walker, who blew up the combine and ended up ascending all the way to being the first overall pick in last year’s draft out of Georgia? Well, here we have somebody who actually slightly bested him in every single category – despite packing an extra ten pounds! I get that Adebawore’s athleticism is a lot more impressive than his production – once again kind of reminiscent of Walker, but I think even purely based on tape, there’s no way he should have made it out of day two. I actually had him going late in the first round in my last few mock drafts. He’s more than just an athlete – he packs a ton of shock in his hands, despite only being 6’2” he does have 34-inch arms to lock out in the run game, he can play strong-side D-end or three-technique in an even front and during Senior Bowl week, he showed a great combination of winning with power and cornering his rushes. Unless there’s some factor I’m not aware of, this is just teams not knowing exactly where to line him up.

 

Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford – 157th overall to Ravens

We’ve now moved on to the fifth round, where a couple of my favorite DBs finally got snatched up and the first of them, who I believe made enough money for himself to right around the third-/fourth-round range is from Stanford. KBK has some of the soundest press-technique you will find in this class, with tremendous anticipation, timing and placement of his hands, to deny easy releases off the line and stay sticky throughout the route in man. On top of that, he has some of the better awareness in zone that I’ve seen among these corners, understanding when to fall off or pick up crossers working his way. The reason I believed the league wouldn’t be quite as high on him – he only has modest recovery speed and he didn’t pick off any passes since early in 2021. Nevertheless, this is way later than he should have gone. Kelly was the 78th overall prospect on my personal big board.

 

Antonio Johnson, SAF/NB, Texas A&M – 160th overall to Jaguars

The other fifth-round DB I just think should have never fallen this far was my number three safety prospect. And I understand that I’m higher on Johnson than consensus, but he was still projected to be a fringe second-to-third rounder. I’m maybe a little less shocked than with some of these other names, since I saw an avenue for the NFL deciding to pass on him a few times – he was exclusively played in the slot, didn’t have a ton of ball-production and his explosive testing at the combine was pretty underwhelming. You combine that with his best tape being from 2021, when the Aggies were a much more competitive program, and the general devaluation of this safety class, I could see a way of him falling towards the end of day two, but this is kind of nuts to me. Johnson displays tremendous route anticipation, spatial awareness and understanding of how to play to his leverage, he consistently was able to defeat blockers in the slot and is very physical tackler. The Jaguars might have found their starting nickel here, who can move inside as a dimer backer on longer downs.

 

A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forest – 195th overall to Saints & Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Iowa State – 205th overall to Texans

I packaged together two sixth-round receivers here, because they have somewhat similar player profiles and fit a certain theme here I wanted to discuss. This was a historically small WR class. 11 of the 17 guys selected across the first four rounds weighed in at 185 or less – in significant fashion to some degree. And it makes sense, because grading the tape, the majority of the top prospects were undersized. With that being said, we did see names like TCU’s Quentin Johnston, Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo and SMU’s Rashee Rice – more plus-sized guys – get pushed up in the process because of that. That’s what it so curious to me, how two of my top-ten wide receivers fell all the way to the sixth round. Perry does have a little bit of a drop issue and may not be a real burner, but he actually ran a 4.47, is a meticulous route-runner in the way he sets up defenders with his body-language and is an insane above-the-rim catcher. Meanwhile, Hutchinson ran slightly slower (4.53) but also has a little more filled-out frame, he’s great at creating initial angles for the ball to arrive and he catches everything thrown his way, even with defenders draped on his back.

 

Dante Stills, IDL, West Virginia – 213th overall to Cardinals

Let’s get to one of my draft crushes. I had Dante Stills as a top-ten interior defensive lineman and mentioned him as one of “my guys”. I just don’t understand how he was so underrated throughout the process and how he ended up going this late. This is another one where I’m not as shocked to see it, because this is right where he was projected to go. But somebody explain this to me – this guy had elite pressure numbers among interior guys (30 across 334 pass-rush snaps, with a 14.2% win rate), his 40, broad jump and three-cone were in the 79th percentile or better, was an extremely consistent standout for WVU all five seasons and then he went to the Shrine Bowl and was kicking butt all week long. The only real concern I see is not knowing where he’s best deployed, with sort of a tweener body, but he has played all over the line in college, can play stack-and-shed or win the game, and then win from different alignments in passing situations.

 

Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss – 215th overall to Rams

Even crazier in terms of the discrepancy I see between where the player actually ended up being drafted and where I personally had them, Evans is right up there in terms of guys without a legit red flag medically that I’m aware of. Evans did miss some time these last two seasons with turf toe and a hip injury, but no structural damage, and while you always hear the story about him being suspended for the state championship in high school and a weird recruiting process because of it, the TCU coaches praised him for his “academic excellence and his positive impact at TCU and the local community” and there was never an issue at Ole Miss. So I feel like this may be old heads writing him off prematurely. Let’s not forget that this was the number one recruit in the whole state of Texas and I would argue he’s as talented as any back in this draft not named Bijan Robinson. He doesn’t have as many highlights because he’s a mature decision-maker between the tackles, but he has great start-stop quickness, packs a ton of power once he gains momentum, has insane contact balance and the speed to finish long runs for six. He was my RB4 in this entire class and he ended up being number 15 off the board.

 

Anthony Johnson Jr., SAF, Iowa State – 242nd overall to Packers

We finish up this portion of steals with one more number inside my top-ten rankings for his position. The two positions the Packers really needed to target based on the state of the roster were tight-end and safety. They addressed the first of those with a couple of day-two picks in Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft. The latter they didn’t target until the final 20 picks of the weekend. Well, what if I told you they still got one, who I believe has starting potential? I know with the lack of draft capital invested, it’s a steep climb for a guy like this to see meaningful playing time early on, but Johnson was one of my favorite gems this year. A former corner, this guy picked up the details of the safety position remarkably quick, while still having room to grow. He shows great football IQ in a match-zone coverages – which the Packers love to run – his 32-inch arms help him crowd the catch-point effectively, he races upfield in a hurry against the run and doesn’t shy away from major collisions at all. He’s just closer to an average athlete.

 

 

Other steals:

 

Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah – 25th overall to Bills

Brian Branch, SAF, Alabama – 45th overall to Lions

John Michael Schmitz, IOL, Minnesota – 57th overall to Giants

Sydney Brown, SAF, Illinois – 66th overall to Eagles

Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia – 105th overall to Eagles

Nick Herbig, EDGE/LB, Wisconsin – 132nd overall to Steelers

Jammie Robinson, SAF, Florida State – 145th overall to Panthers

Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama – 167th overall to Texans

Chris Smith II, SAF, Georgia – 170th overall to Raiders

Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland – 186th overall to Titans

Luke Wypler, IOL, Ohio State – 190th overall to Browns

Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion – 220th overall to Jets

Jason Taylor II, SAF, Oklahoma State – 234th overall to Rams

Cory Trice Jr., CB, Purdue – 241st overall to Steelers

Desjuan Johnson, EDGE/IDL, Toledo – 259th overall to Rams

 

 

 

Reaches:

 

Reaches

 

Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State – 16th overall to Commanders

Of course, there can’t only be positives and this isn’t at all me saying these are bad players, but I just believe there were better options available at those points, maybe they tried to lock up some position early or didn’t play the board the right way in my opinion. Forbes here as the first name falls into the category of better players available at the position. We’ve seen defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio adapt more match-zone principles compared to traditional shell coverages. So considering that, I think getting somebody like a Christian Gonzalez from Oregon – who went to New England a pick later – or Deonte Banks from Maryland – now with their divisional rivals in the Giants at 24th overall – still made plenty of sense. If you’re looking for a guy like Forbes, capable of playing off in order to click-and-close on routes maybe more as a field-side option, I would have much rather taken Michigan D.J. Turner, who went at 60th overall and I had basically the same grade on, or I even find value at that position all the way on day three.

 

Gervon Dexter, IDL, Florida – 53rd overall to Bears

I don’t want to be mean here and I get that I’m way lower on Dexter than consensus, who was looked at as a third-rounder. With that being, this was the most uninspiring player I’ve watched this entire draft cycle. I won’t bang him too much for consistently being late off the snap, because he might have been taught to do so on early downs at least, because by far what he does best is staying square to blockers with that uncanny anchor and then wrapping up the ball-carrier trying to slice by him. However, even that he’s not nearly urgent enough working off blocks and regularly gets caught on the wrong side of those, other than when he’s flat-out running after the ball, that athleticism testing never seems to show up, he shows no real plan as a pass-rusher and constantly just ran straight into guys. Maybe you can convince to take a gamble on Dexter with a comp pick at the end of the third round. But just outside the top-50? – No freaking way.

 

Rashee Rice, WR, SMU – 55th overall to Chiefs

My problem with this selection for Kansas City is twofold – the player they targeted here compared to where I thought his value was and the extra capital used to move up for him. The Chiefs gave up picks 122 and 249 in exchange for 194, so they could come up eight spots with the Lions and draft Rice. I understand the player profile they were looking for with him, as a power slot who can win in contested situations similar to what they had last year in Juju Smith-Schuster. However, I would have straight-up preferred Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson or Penn State’s Parker Washington, who both ended up going all the way in the sixth round. Rice lacks the quick-twitch and technical nuance to defeat press at this point – which really stood out during Senior Bowl week – and his size/speed profile is fairly modest. KC’s originals second-round pick turned into Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims, who would have been a much more fun weapon in that offense and when they traded up, I actually expected it to be for Tennessee’s speed demon Jalin Hyatt. You combine that with the fact the fourth-rounder they gave up turned into a guard from UCLA in Jon Gaines with an elite athletic profile and they then went with the less promising Texas D-tackle in Keondre Coburn over Moro Ojomo – who was picked 249th instead – although I guess the former replenishes some depth as a stumpy space-eating nose-tackle – I just feel like they lost value when making that move for a player I had more as an early day three guy.

 

Juice Scruggs, IOL, Penn State – 62nd overall to Texans

I really like Scruggs – and I hate having to put his name here. He was one my favorite day three interior O-linemen putting together my rankings and I thought he had a chance to either turn himself into a starter or become a high-quality sixth man. Yet, not even the biggest Juice fans probably ever imagined he would go at the end of the second round. He’s just not a plus athlete at the position and whether it’s his ability to center blocks consistently or heavily relying on two-handed strikes in protection, NFL defensive linemen could give him some issues creating quick wins. More importantly than the player – who I do like still – they gave up a sixth- and a seventh-rounder in order to move up just three spots and secure their guy. I highly doubt the Broncos, who just invested big money into the O-line, the Bears, who already passed on Scruggs with both of their second-rounders, or the Eagles themselves, who just drafted a center in the round two last year as a replacement plan for Jason Kelce, would have sniped him away. Instead, Philly took Alabama’s Tyler Steen with the Houston pick – my OT8 with guard flexibility – and the two other selections they gave up turned into Stanford QB Tanner McKee – about an even version to who they picked in the third round two years ago in Davis Mills – and Ole Miss guard Nik Broeker, who I don’t know if he could play center, but I actually had one spot ahead of Scruggs in my IOL rankings – and that was in seventh round!

 

Kendre Miller, RB, TCU – 71st overall to Saints & Tank Bigsby, RB, Auburn – 88th overall to Jaguars

I don’t want to sound like a running back hater here at all, because it’s one of my favorite positions to evaluate and I think finding cheap options on day two in particular is actually a great approach to finding answers. For me it’s much more about the names that did get picked here in the early-to-mid third-round, that I don’t love. Both Miller and Bigsby were names who “just missed the cut” of my top-ten running backs available, yet they ended up being the fourth and seventh selected respectively. While I do like Miller’s contact balance and ability to avoid traffic, he does tend to stop his feet a little bit too much and lacks great burst through the hole. Meanwhile, Bigsby does have legit break-away speed and can build up a lot of power, but in terms of the intricacies to bleed out run schemes and string together moves in the open field, I was kind of underwhelmed by the actual film. So to make these guys such priorities, when there was only one other running back selected between picks 88 and 143, with several quality options ultimately available in the fifth round, I think it shows a lack of understanding for what the board could look like and they had three and two picks respectively among that stretch I just mentioned.

 

D.J. Johnson, EDGE, Oregon – 80th overall to Panthers

An example of a prospect who I believe was over-drafted, heavily based on the athletic profile instead of the tape, Johnson certainly qualifies as such a name for me. He was in the early 20s among edge defenders based on consensus boards and I personally had him in the late 20s. Well, he ended up being the 15th off the board – which doesn’t sound crazy – but it felt like they sort of panicked due to the run we saw on that position up to that point and Carolina saying they’ll just get a great athlete at that spot, before they run out. Yet, there were several guys I would have preferred available on day three, because while you like the heavy hands and speed up the field, Johnson gets hung with blockers too much and shows very little of a pass-rush arsenal he can access. So considering that, them exchanging picks 93 and 123 for this selection, when they already paid a steep price to go up for Bryce Young first overall, now you lose one of your six picks left, and the two guys that were chosen at those spots you previously owned are the massive Georgia tight-end Darnell Washington, who might’ve been a first-rounder without the concerns about his knee, and Wisconsin hybrid outside linebacker Nick Herbig, who I would have straight preferred over Johnson by a significant margin.

 

Brodric Martin, IDL, Western Kentucky – 96th overall to Lions

This is one I’ve referenced a couple of times during the “winners” and “losers” segment each, because it was just so egregious. Even loss so just because of the player himself, who I labelled as a seventh-rounder and had a few guys above, who wound up going undrafted, such as Coastal Carolina’s Jerrod Clark. The more head-scratching part to me was the exaggerated confidence in their own evaluations and what they gave up here in picks 122, 139 and 168, in order to just get back into day two and secure this selection. Some people might say that it’s day three picks and if they think this guy is a difference-maker, it’s worth it, but not only do I disagree with where they valued the player, but with the picks they gave up, at least two of the three should stick on the roster. Let’s not even get into the individual prospects in UCLA guard Jon Gaines II, Houston QB Clayton Tune and Auburn linebacker Owen Pappoe – who all were higher on my personal board – but just the sheer volume of two extra stabs at talent in a similar range is pretty outrageous to me.

 

Tre Tucker, WR, Cincinnati – 100th overall to Raiders

This is a fun-sized receiver, who I expected to be drafted and has a chance to hang around as a role player for a while in the NFL. Tucker was projected to go around pick-200 and that felt about right for him, if not slightly later for me personally, due to the sheer volume of pass-catchers in this class. So for him to just become a top-100 pick and the Raiders to make it a priority they secure him on day two, when they had a couple of fourth-rounders and five selections overall on day three, is just too rich for me. Looking at Tucker’s 1.48 ten-yard split, he has elite acceleration, but also can stop abruptly and challenge defenders with the way he comes out of his breaks. Unfortunately, he also has absurdly short arms at just under 29 inches and tiny hands, while having dropped just over ten percent of his catchable targets last season and being in need of an adjustment period with how much sauce he likes to add to his routes. To me he’s more a gadget player, who can jump in for Hunter Renfrow as an option-route guy eventually, but I think that’s a fairly replaceable skill-set that you can find later on day three.

 

Chad Ryland, K, Maryland – 112th overall to Patriots

I could have easily gone with the first kicker that was actually picked – Michigan’s Jake Moody going 99th overall to the 49ers – but Moody’s field goal success rate was at least 2.3% higher and he made a bunch of big kicks in meaningful games – and the Niners didn’t give up a sixth-rounder to move up eight spots, like the Pats did. I’m not going to act like I’m a big-time evaluator of specialists, but based on consensus boards, it was about a 50-50 chance that Ryland would even get drafted at all – and he went with the tenth pick of day three. The Patriots made nine(!) selections on day three and could have easily gone with a kicker a little later, considering how miniscule the difference in success rate is for that positioning translating to the next level – which sounds kind of funny, considering they’re still kicking the same way. In fact, of the top-20 guys in all-time field goal percentage, only two went in the fourth round or earlier – although to be fair, one of them is Stephen Gostkowski, who had a great career in New England. Of course, they also picked a punter in the sixth.

 

Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State – 149th overall to Packers

Finally, I hate to jump on the band-wagon here even more so, because I’m sure there are things about the kid the Packers just fell in love with and if they maybe grab him with one of their four(!) seventh-rounders, I don’t really care, but to think “Sean Clifford was a top-150 pick” is absolutely bonkers to me. Literally every single person covering football that I respect was shocked/confused/laughing when this came across the timeline. This certainly has something to do with how many teams spent a mid-round pick on a quarterback this year – as I mentioned with the record-setting 12 QBs across the first five rounds – but even then, I just can’t give Green Bay a pass here. Clifford has some desirable qualities for the position, in terms of a strong arm to test tight windows, some good throws on the run and the toughness he’s showcased at Penn State. With that being said, his accuracy, timing and decision-making can be absolutely wild. He was outside my top-20 names at the position and he was the 11th off the board, ahead of guys like BYU’s Jaren Hall and Stanford’s Tanner McKee, who were considered to have a chance to slip into late day two. Don’t take my word – Lance Zierlein, who does all the draft profiles for NFL.com evaluated 500 total prospects – Clifford literally finished 499th among those.

 

 

Other reaches:

 

Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State – 15th overall to Jets

Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss – 39th overall to Panthers

Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame – 40th overall to Saints

Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State – 42nd overall to Packers

Brenton Strange, TE, Penn State – 61st overall to Jaguars

Jake Moody, K, Michigan – 99th overall to 49ers

Jake Andrews, IOL, Troy – 107th overall to Patriots

Tavius Robinson, EDGE, Ole Miss – 124th overall to Ravens

Derius Davis, WR, TCU – 125th overall to Chargers

Colby Sorsdal, OT, William & Mary – 152nd overall to Lions

 

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