The 2023 NFL Draft promised to be polarizing given how many of the NFL's 32 teams were in agreement that there were fewer than 20 players with true, first-round grades. Thursday night lived up to that billing with not one but TWO running backs going in not just the first round, but the first 12 picks, in an NFL Draft in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty three. If told that was going to happen beforehand, I would've thought it was a weird dream or a hallucination after a few sleep-deprived days.
Plenty of teams crushed their picks, including the first two picks with Bryce Young going first overall to the Carolina Panthers and C.J. Stroud going second overall to the Houston Texans, after plenty of .
Three teams with multiple picks made picks I liked (the Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, and Seattle Seahawks) while one (the Detroit Lions) drafted like it was the 1990s all over again. Here are five picks I liked and five I didn't after the opening round in Kansas City.
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Picks I liked
QB C.J. Stroud (No. 2 to Texans)
This makes all the sense in the world. I had my "Will Anderson Jr. Great football player, but he doesn't throw touchdown passes. Stroud checks all of the boxes. He can even win with his legs, which he showed against the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff semifinals.come out earlier this week, and I said the Houston Texans should take C.J. Stroud and not overthink it. We heard some conversations about it maybe being
He's arguably the most accurate passer in this class, and that includes Bryce Young. He doesn't throw with as much anticipation as Young, but Stroud also had Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Those guys were always open. I understand why there were questions about that part of his game, but from what I saw, no moment was too big. You get a sense in-person of the edge he plays with. I think this is a great pick for the Houston Texans.
CB Devon Witherspoon (No. 5 to Seahawks)
I love this pick. The Seahawks already had their version of 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner in fellow first-year player Tariq Woolen, whose six interceptions were tied for the most in the entire NFL last season. Now you have someone you can line up opposite Woolen in Witherspoon, who didn't allow any touchdowns as the primary defender during his collegiate season at Illinois in 2022. He's a dog. Even though he's barely six feet tall and 180-185 pounds, go watch him play against Indiana. He was blowing guys up.
He can also cover in addition to blowing guys up. Witherspoon feels like a classic Pete Carroll, Seattle throwback corner from the Legion of Boom when Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were back there. I had heard they were honing in on Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, who went fourth to the Indianapolis Colts. I heard they were off Jalen Carter, so they went to their board and picked the best player available in Witherspoon.
DT Jalen Carter and EDGE Nolan Smith (Nos. 9 and 30 to Eagles)
If you just watched football in the fall and didn't know anything else about Jalen Carter, you would be wondering why he was still on the board at this point. It was because of a Nakobe Dean and defensive tackle Jordan Davis, who can keep him in line. The idea of him next to Davis on that defensive line while playing with Dean in the front seven is a scary proposition for opposing offenses. Carter led the back-to-back national champions in quarterback pressures (66), quarterback hurries (48), and tackles for loss (15.5) across the last two seasons. Huge victory to add a supreme talent to an already great Eagles defense.stemming from a fatal single-car accident on Jan. 15. Winning fixes a lot, so you have that winning culture in Philadelphia. Plus, there are people around him, like his teammates at Georgia in linebacker
Georgia edge rusher Nolan Smith is a generational athlete, not just as an edge rusher, but in the entire landscape of NFL athletes. Smith is the heaviest player at 6-foot-2, 238 pounds with a 40-plus inch vertical (41.5") and sub-4.4 40 time (4.39 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine since individual numbers were publicly tracked starting in 2003. The second and third-heaviest such players to accomplish those feats of athletic dominance at the combine: Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (228 pounds) and New York Jets running back Breece Hall (217). Adding another freaky athlete to go along with Haason Reddick, whose 16 sacks last season were tied for the second-most in the NFL behind only 2022 Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa's 18.5, is simply unfair.
OT Broderick Jones (No. 14 to Steelers)
Broderick Jones' athleticism is off the charts: he ran a 4.97 40-yard dash, the fastest among all offensive lineman at the 2023 NFL Combine while measuring at 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds. He didn't allow any sacks and gave up only eight quarterback pressures on 449 pass-blocking snaps for the 2022 national champion Georgia Bulldogs while displaying perfect health, starting all 15 games. This is about as strong of a pick as it gets for a Steelers team that was desperate to upgrade 2022 first-round pick quarterback Kenny Pickett's protection.
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Picks I didn't like (or didn't see coming)
RB Jahmyr Gibbs and LB Jack Campbell (Nos. 12 and 18 to Lions)
I will say this: When Rick Spielman and I were at the Alabama Pro Day watching Bryce Young, Jahmyr Gibbs caught our attention running routes and running back drills. He looked different. I just didn't expect him to go in the top 12 based on team needs and other prospects available.
Pairing the 2022 Butkus Award winner, the best linebacker in college football, with Malcolm Rodriguez creates a nice linebacking tandem in the middle of head coach Dan Campbell's smash mouth, blue collar defense. Campbell had the fastest three-cone drill time (6.74 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle time (4.24 seconds) among all linebackers at the 2023 NFL Combine. I just wasn't expecting a linebacker to go in the middle of the first round, and the Lions to be the ones to take one.
DT Mazi Smith (No. 26 to Cowboys)
They needed help in the middle of their defense line. I had them taking Pitt's Calijah Kancey, who was already off the board after going 19th to the Buccaneers, in my last mock draft that came out earlier Thursday. Smith is 323 pounds and a freakish athlete, but it doesn't show up play-to-play. That's when you wonder, why not? Does he love football? Is there something else going on? How are we going to handle this? Fortunately, Dallas has the players around him who can keep him focused on football. Defensive line depth is clearly the plan in Dallas.
EDGE Tyree Wilson (No. 7 to Raiders)
There were concerns from some teams that Tyree Wilson's foot injury wasn't where it needed to be medically after hurting his foot in November. He didn't work out at the Senior Bowl, but I talked to him there. Great, young man. Great year despite the injury, leading the Big 12 Conference in quarterback pressures with 50 despite missing three games. Wilson also had the highest quarterback pressure rate in the conference in 2022, 20.7%, That was 5.2% higher than the next player (Oklahoma State's Collin Oliver, 15.5%) with a minimum of 150 pass rushes. That's the gap between the second-best pass-rusher in the Big 12 and the 31st-best pass-rusher in the Big 12 in terms of pressure rate.
He's very serious about football and wanted to work out at the combine, but it didn't happen. The Raiders were a team that was OK with him. He's 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, but he's so tall he looks like he's 220. It's a good complement to Maxx Crosby, but when you look at the secondary over there and see cornerback Christian Gonzalez available, maybe you go defensive backfield first.
OT Darnell Wright (No. 10 to Bears)
When Wright came into the 2022 college football season, he was considered a Day 3 pick until he moved from left tackle to right tackle. Wright had no sacks and five pressures allowed in 461 pass-blocking snaps last season, concluding his career with 19 straight games without a sack, the last 13 of which came in 2022. He just got better (young players do get better when you face SEC competition on a regular basis.) At the end of the day, though, the Bears could have had Jalen Carter, the best overall prospect in this draft, at No. 9 before they allowed the Eagles to trade ahead of them for only a fourth-round pick.
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