2023 NFL Draft Day 1 Winners And Losers
The first round of the draft is where most draft classes are made – or where they fade. The 2023 NFL Draft featured a strong first round with some surprises, though it generally stayed true to form far better than last year’s draft.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winners and losers in the 2023 NFL Draft.
2023 NFL Draft Day 1 Winners
The Eagles have the ability to take a defensive line that led the league in sacks last year and improve upon it. With Jalen Carter, they grabbed a player that many analysts had as the best overall player in the draft. Seventeen percent of analysts in our Industry Consensus Big Board labeled him the top player, and 78% of analysts gave him a top-five ranking. The only player with more top-five rankings was Will Anderson Jr.
Not only did the Eagles get pure talent with Carter, they were able to pair him with his college teammate Jordan Davis, supercharging a strength and making it dangerous once again. Then, the Eagles did it again by selecting Nolan Smith, another former Georgia Bulldog.
There are size concerns with Smith, but given the success Philadelphia had with Haason Reddick, it hardly seems to matter. Smith and Carter are two of the best athletes in the draft, and they have a strong history of production. The Eagles added the third overall and 18th overall players on the consensus big board with the ninth and 31st picks. That’s a fantastic haul.
There were a lot of potential outcomes for the all-upside, no-polish Anthony Richardson. As a somewhat polarizing prospect, it was just as easy to see him falling to the bottom of the first round as it was to see him at the top. Not only did he end up as a top-five pick, he’s able to learn from Shane Steichen, who developed Jalen Hurts. Not only that, Richardson was playing in an offense that didn’t take advantage of his running capability – something that won’t be a problem for Steichen.
The Colts may or may not have made the right decision. But Richardson landed in the perfect situation for what he needed.
The Cardinals were smart to trade down at the top of the draft, getting a haul of picks this year and next year as the Texans gave up significant capital to select Anderson. Anderson would have been a good pick for Arizona, but they opted to move down to No. 12.
They didn’t give up on high-end talent, however. They traded up to sixth overall to select the top offensive lineman in the draft in Paris Johnson Jr. By most analytically designed trade charts, the Cardinals gained enormous excess value with their trade down. By those same charts, they only lost a small amount of value trading up with the Lions.
They traded the No. 3 selection for the 12th pick, 33rd pick, a likely early first-round pick next year, and a likely early third-round pick next year. Then, they traded away that 12th pick and the 34th pick to select three picks later than where they were originally slated to. In effect, they earned a first- and third-round pick next year to move down three spots. With all of that, they selected the top offensive lineman on the consensus board to protect Kyler Murray — who lobbied specifically for Johnson.
New England Patriots
The Patriots, after making a somewhat baffling move by consensus last year with Cole Strange, took the steal of the draft in Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was regarded by many as the top cornerback over Devon Witherspoon from Illinois and was ranked CB1 by the consensus.
Of the 70 evaluators who submitted big boards for the consensus board, 60 percent considered him the top cornerback in the draft. He was the only CB universally considered a top 20 overall talent and ranked as a top-five player on 21.4% of boards. The Patriots got as close to a universal steal — at a position of need — as is possible in the NFL Draft.
2023 NFL Draft Day 1 Losers
Will Levis dropped entirely out of the first round after receiving hype earlier in the week that he could go second overall to Houston or fourth overall to the Indianapolis Colts. There was speculation that teams would trade up into the top eight in order to select him. Instead, Levis didn’t see his name called at all and was left watching the draft in front of everyone in Kansas City for the entertainment rather than for his name.
Levis was a polarizing prospect, of course, but his upside and familiarity with NFL offenses made him seem like an excellent candidate for a first-round selection. Quarterback-needy teams like Washington, Atlanta, and Tennessee all passed on him, as did teams who have long-term needs, like Seattle, Minnesota, Las Vegas, and Detroit. Two of those teams passed on him twice.
The best fit is more important than the highest pick, but while he waits for an opportunity to compete in the NFL, he’ll have lost out on millions of dollars in first-contract money. Not only that, he loses the preferential treatment given to first-round quarterbacks when it comes to forgiveness for error, reps in training camp, and depth chart assignments.
The Lions were smart to trade down with the Cardinals and even generated some value along the way but squandered that by reaching for Jahmyr Gibbs. Gibbs is a talented player, but few people considered him a top-10 talent in the NFL Draft. That’s particularly egregious for the Lions because they weren’t lacking in running back talent on their own roster with D’Andre Swift.
While they lost Jamaal Williams to the New Orleans Saints in free agency, selecting a back in the top 12 for a committee role seems like an astounding waste of resources. The running game has increased in efficiency over time but not so much that neglecting the passing game is worth it. The Lions still have Jared Goff at the helm and only one receiver they can trust in Amon-Ra St. Brown. With Jameson Williams only seeing one reception last year, it’s hard to consider the Lions as a team having fully fleshed out their receiving corps.
Doubling down on positions that don’t provide much value, the Lions then went on to select linebacker Jack Campbell with their second pick in the first round. Linebacker is itself a dicey proposition in the first round, but when considering that Campbell was the consensus third linebacker in a weak class at the position, and it seems particularly concerning.
Campbell has a long way to go before he can be considered a high-level LB talent. The Lions used the 18th overall pick to select a player many expected to go in the middle of the second round.
The Commanders had a dream scenario a the 16th overall pick, with every cornerback – save one – left on the board as well as a quarterback that could meaningfully compete with Sam Howell right away. After declining the fifth-year option for Chase Young, they could have also invested in an edge rusher. Failing all of that, they could have traded down to a team like the Patriots.
Instead, they took the 36th overall player on the consensus board. Emmanuel Forbes wasn’t a bad player in college by any means, but his size remains an enormous concern. He weighed 170 pounds at the NFL Combine, one of the lowest weights ever recorded for a first-round defensive back and the first below 180 pounds since 2005, when Fabian Washington was selected 23rd overall by the Oakland Raiders.
Injury is a big concern, but so is his ability to generally hold up against bigger receivers. The Commanders are in a division with A.J. Brown and CeeDee Lamb. This could turn into a mismatch nightmare. With the Eagles making two excellent picks in the first round, it’s easy to say the Commanders ended the day worse off than the other teams in the division.
With no offensive linemen left on the board, seeing Philadelphia select two elite pass rushers while Dallas selected the most athletic nose tackle in the draft might have hurt.
New York Jets
The Jets may have had the best move of the pre-draft festivities after trading for Aaron Rodgers, but the draft itself was a big problem. First, the division rival New England Patriots traded out from the pick immediately ahead of them to allow the Steelers to draft Broderick Jones – the last well-regarded offensive lineman with first-round consideration.
Then, they reached for Will McDonald IV, the 33rd-ranked edge rusher by consensus. McDonald is a high-potential player, but they passed on players with even more upside, like Myles Murphy and Nolan Smith. Even selecting an edge rusher was a bit questionable. They selected Jermaine Johnson II in the first round last year and got excellent years out of both John Franklin-Myers and Carl Lawson.