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With the 2023 NFL Draft in the books, it is only fair to dish out some awards for a job well done by a number of teams across the NFL. It also doesn’t hurt to look at which teams may have made regrettable picks.
Best Value Pick Round 1
Atlanta Falcons: RB Bijan Robinson
The Falcons landed the best player in the 2023 NFL Draft with the eighth-overall pick, and having the best player in the draft fall to that spot was an excellent value for them. Robinson was the top prospect on the draft boards of many teams, and he could be a superstar in the NFL. Robinson possesses a rare and amazing skill set that includes size, speed, power, athleticism, and phenomenal receiving ability. He also is a tremendous blocker and pass protector.
With Robinson leading the rushing attack, defenses are going to be in a very difficult position to stop Atlanta’s playmaking weapons. If the safeties stack the box to stop Robinson, that will open up the deep part of the field for Kyle Pitts and Drake London. If the coaches play their safeties back, Robinson could run roughshod over weak boxes. Robinson should be a huge help to Desmond Ridder in his first year as a starter. It would not surprise me if Robinson becomes one of the greatest players in Falcons franchise history.
Honorable mentions: Arizona Cardinals OT Paris Johnson, Seattle Seahawks WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Detroit Lions RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions LB Jack Campbell and New York Giants CB Deonte Banks.
2021 Winner: Charles Cross, Seahawks
2021 Winner: Justin Fields, Bears
2020 Winner: CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys
2019 Winner: Quinnen Williams, Jets
2018 Winner: Derwin James, Chargers
2017 Winner: Malik Hooker, Colts
2016 Winner: Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins
2015 Winner: Todd Gurley, Rams and Malcom Brown, Patriots
2014 Winner: HaHa Clinton-Dix, Packers
2013 Winner: Sharrif Floyd, Vikings
2012 Winner: Riley Reiff, Lions
Best Value Pick Day 2
Detroit Lions: S/CB Brian Branch
This pick was a tough choice, but many around the league thought Branch would be a first-round pick, and I believe he will outperform his second-round draft status. Detroit is an excellent landing spot for Branch, where he should be a great scheme fit for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. As a rookie, Branch won’t be forced to play right away because the Lions have a very good veteran in C.J. Gardner-Johnson to play the safety/nickel corner role Branch handled for the Crimson Tide. However if Branch plays well, he could be a starter in the nickel with Gardner-Johnson or Branch could play safety while the other one lines up against slot cornerbacks.
In the long-term, Branch can serve as the nickel corner and a safety in base sets while Kerby Joseph mans free safety. Gardner-Johnson is only signed for one season, so Branch could take over that role in 2024. Even if Gardner-Johnson gets re-signed, they both could be starters as teams play their nickel defense in 70 percent of their snaps and in some games are playing nickel the entire time.
The Detroit defense struggled to defend the run last season, and Branch will be a definite upgrade to address that. While Branch is probably disappointed he slipped out of the first round, he ended up in a great landing spot that should benefit him for many years to come.
Honorable mentions: Lions TE Sam LaPorta, Cowboys TE Michael Mayer, Carolina Panthers WR Jonathan Mingo, Colts CB Julius Brents, Seahawks RB Zach Charbonnet, Chargers LB Daiyan Henley and Cowboys LB DeMarvion Overshown.
2022 Winner: Arnold Ebiketie, Falcons
2021 Winner: Trevon Moehrig, Raiders
2020 Winner: Cam Akers, Rams
2019 Winner: Greg Little, Panthers
2018 Winner: Derrius Guice, Redskins
2017 Winner: Dalvin Cook, Vikings
2016 Winner: Myles Jack, Jaguars
2015 Winner: Jaelen Strong, Texans
2014 Winner: Carlos Hyde, 49ers & Louis Nix, Texans
2013 Winner: Eddie Lacy, Packers
2012 Winner: Janoris Jenkins, Rams
Best Value Pick Day 3
Atlanta Falcons: CB Clark Phillips
Phillips was an absolute steal for the Falcons in the fourth round, and I am surprised he slid that far because he was a much-better college player than the majority of cornerbacks who went ahead of him in the 2023 NFL Draft. Size and intelligence were the issues that hurt Phillips, but he is a natural football player. Over the past two seasons, he was one of the most dangerous ball hawks in the nation, and he projects to be a superb slot corner in the NFL.
With A.J. Terrell taking on No. 1 receivers, Phillips will have the luxury of matching up against lesser wideouts. He could quickly climb the depth chart and turn into a starting cornerback for Atlanta. Phillips was a great pick by the Falcons in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Honorable mentions: Cowboys RB Deuce Vaughn, Seahawks DE Mike Morris, Colts CB Darius Rush, Texans LB Henry To’oTo’o, Rams RB Zach Evans and Seahawks RB Kenny McIntosh.
2022 Winner: Dameon Pierce, Texans
2021 Winner: Chuba Hubbard, Panthers
2020 Winner: Albert Okwuegbunam, Broncos
2019 Winner: Mack Wilson, Browns
2018 Winner: Nick Nelson, Raiders
2017 Winner: Caleb Brantley, Browns
2016 Winner: Andrew Billings, Bengals
2015 Winner: Jay Ayayi, Dolphins
2014 Winner: Justin Ellis, Raiders
2013 Winner: Philip Thomas, Redskins
2012 Winner: Bobbie Massie, Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals: OT Paris Johnson
The Cardinals were dying to trade down from the third-overall pick, and they were able to make a deal with Houston, which gave up the 12th pick, the 33rd-overall pick, and its 2024 first-round pick in compensation. It was a phenomenal deal for Arizona, especially because that 2024 NFL Draft choice could be a very high first-rounder. Afterward, the Cardinals flipped their own second-rounder as part of deal to move up from No. 12 to No. 6 to land Johnson.
Johnson gives Arizona a left tackle to protect Kyler Murray and help fix an offensive line that has been a weakness for years. Johnson possesses an excellent skill set as well as huge upside to be a very good pro. Moving down and then back up in order to land their preferred prospect and valuable future draft picks was a great series of moves for the Cardinals.
Honorable mentions: Lions RB Jahmyr Gibbs and Steelers OT Broderick Jones.
2022 Winner: Jameson Williams, Lions
2021 Winner: Justin Fields, Bears
2020 Winner: Kenneth Murray, Chargers
2019 Winner: Montez Sweat, Redskins
2018 Winner: Lamar Jackson, Ravens
2017 Winner: Tre’Davious White, Bills
2016 Winner: Myles Jack, Jaguars
2015 Winner: Maxx Williams, Ravens
2014 Winner: Louis Nix, Texans
2013 Winner: Alec Ogletree, Rams
2012 Winner: Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
Biggest Reach Round 1
Dallas Cowboys: DT Mazi Smith
The Cowboys made a very questionable selection with Smith at pick No. 26. As a heavy run-stuffing nose tackle who lacks interior pass-rush ability, Smith lacks a role in the sub package, which will lead to him being out of the game a good amount. Teams play the sub package on 70 percent or more of their snaps, and sometimes they play entire games in sub. Using a first-round pick on a part-time player was a very odd selection by Dallas. There were other good nose tackles who the Cowboys could have been acquired on Day 2, and given his limited role, Smith probably should have joined those other nost tackles on the second night of the draft.
Honorable mentions: Green Bay Packers DE Lukas Van Ness and Saints DT Bryan Bresee.
2022 Winner: Cole Strange, Patriots
2021 Winner: Payton Turner, Saints
2020 Winner: Damon Arnette, Raiders
2019 Winner: L.J. Collier, Seahawks
2018 Winner: Rashaad Penny, Seahawks
2017 Winner: Corey Davis, Titans
2016 Winner: Josh Garnett, 49ers
2015 Winner: Stephone Anthony, Saints
2014 Winner: JaWuan James, Dolphins
2013 Winner: Travis Frederick, Cowboys
2012 Winner: Bruce Irvin, Seahawks
Biggest Reach Day 2
Chicago Bears: CB Tyrique Stevenson
Stevenson is a real boom-or-bust prospect for the Bears. On the field, Stevenson has nice size and speed for playing press-man corner. However, last season, he was torched in off-man and zone coverage. Multiple team sources said Stevenson has bad football character and other off-the-field issues. Taking Stevenson in the second round was reach for Chicago because multiple teams had dropped Stevenson off their boards because of the bad character. The Bears probably could have had Stevenson later and used the 56th pick of the 2023 NFL Draft on another available good option like O’Cyrus Torrence, Kendre Miller, Tyler Steen, Zach Harrison, Jalin Hyatt or Cedric Tillman.
Honorable mentions: Broncos WR Marvin Mims, Texans C Juice Scruggs, Packers WR Jayden Reed, Jets C Joe Tippman and Texas WR Nathaniel Dell.
2022 Winner: Marcus Jones, Patriots
2021 Winner: Brady Christensen, Panthers
2020 Winner: Jalen Hurts, Eagles
2019 Winner: Jalen Hurd, 49ers
2018 Winner: Connor Williams, Cowboys
2017 Winner: C.J. Beathard, 49ers
2016 Winner: Roberto Aguayo, Buccaneers
2015 Winner: Jordan Richards, Patriots
2014 Winner: Jack Mewhort, Colts
2013 Winner: Duron Harmon, Patriots
2012 Winner: Bryan Anger, Jaguars
Best Undrafted Free Agent Signing
Green Bay Packers: OLB Brenton Cox
Cox had second-day talent, but he slipped out of the draft due to character issues. There were character problems that led him to transfer from Georgia to Florida after one season, and then during the 2022 season, the Gators kicked Cox off the team. While Cox is not a flawless player, he is strong and tough on the edge with enough quickness to get after the quarterback. Cox could be a nice developmental edge defender to groom behind the aging Preston Smith. If Cox learns from going undrafted and works hard to put together an NFL career, he could have been a steal signing for Green Bay.
Honorable mentions: Colts OL Emil Ekiyor, Lions S Brandon Joseph, Jaguars WR Jaray Jenkins, Vikings WR Malik Knowles, Patriots QB Malik Cunningham and Seahawks WR Matt Landers.
2022 Winner: Jermaine Waller, Lions
2021 Winner: Paris Ford, Rams
2020 Winner: Trey Adams, Bills
2019 Winner: Elijah Holyfield, Panthers
2018 Winner: J.C. Jackson, Patriots
2017 Winner: Fish Smithson, Redskins
2016 Winner: Geronimo Allison, Packers
2015 Winner: Akeem Hunt, Giants
2014 Winner: Antonio Richardson, Vikings
2013 Winner: Chase Thomas, Saints
2012 Winner: James Brown, Bears
Worst Draft Class
The Cowboys made some questionable picks during the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft, and it would not surprise me if they end up with little to show for this draft class in a few years. As highlighted above, Mazi Smith was a flawed choice in Round 1 because he is not an every-down starter. Tight end Luke Schoonmaker was a similar selection in the second round given that he is a blocking tight end who lacks the talent of a three-down starter. Third-round pick DeMarvion Overshown might have the best shot at becoming a three-down starter among the Cowboys’ picks from Days 1 and 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft, but he also has issues with size and taking on blocks. From the third day of the draft, most of Dallas’ picks look like throwaways, with the exception of Deuce Vaughn. He could be a nice star for the Cowboys. The 2023 NFL Draft looks like a big missed opportunity for the Cowboys because their picks do not help them significantly in terms of taking on and getting past the Eagles, the toughest team in the division.
2022 Winner: New England Patriots
2021 Winner: New Orleans Saints
2020 Winner: Green Bay Packers
2019 Winner: Houston Texans
2018 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
2017 Winner: Arizona Cardinals
2016 Winner: New England Patriots
2015 Winner: Carolina Panthers
2014 Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
2013 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
2012 Winner: Seattle Seahawks
Best Draft Class
My favorite draft classes were the Lions, Falcons and Colts as a clear top three. I ended up going with the Lions because I feel they landed more high-end talent than other teams, although that was in part because the Lions had more early-round picks. I think the Falcons put together an excellent draft that will yield some highly impactful starters, and the Colts’ class could produce some very good players as well. I think, however, that the Lions potentially put together one of the top draft classes in the history of the franchise.
The 2023 NFL Draft was the one that Detroit general manager Brad Holmes was building for with all his trades over recent years to load up his organization with draft picks. The Lions were able to come through with good talents at premium positions to really upgrade their roster in the short-term and long-term.
Detroit has received a lot of media criticism and fan consternation for the organization made its picks on the opening night of the draft, but that criticism just illustrates how clueless many in the media actually are. Both running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell were highly graded across the league. Gibbs was viewed as one of the few elite players in the draft, and other teams, like the Jets, were targeting him in the first round. Campbell was also in discussion for other teams in Round 1 and was the consensus top linebacker in the draft. Some teams picking high in the second round were hoping to trade back into the first round to get Campbell. Hence, Gibbs and Campbell were not reaches, according to teams, and the media just did not do their jobs well enough to know where those players were being valued.
Gibbs is a dynamic playmaker with game-breaking speed as a runner, making him a tougher version of Alvin Kamara. Like Kamara, Gibbs is a phenomenal receiver, plus Gibbs is a superb blocker. He also is a dangerous kick returner. Gibbs is a hard worker and great teammate who will be a real upgrade over the now-departed, oft-injured DeAndre Swift.
Campbell will be a huge upgrade for the Detroit defense. He is a tackling machine and a force as a run defender. On top of being a player who will probably average well over 100 tackles per year, Campbell is a skilled in pass coverage and has excellent instincts. He will be a plug-and-play upgrade at linebacker next to Alex Anzalone.
Both Gibbs and Campbell are just flat-out good football players. On top of landing them, the Lions also were able to move down to add pick No. 34 and get another future starter with a high second-round pick. Gibbs and Campbell could both easily contend for Rookie of the Year honors in 2023, so don’t be surprised if the Lions have the last laugh over a lot of clueless NFL media.
With the pick Detroit received from the Cardinals for trading down in the first round, the organization was able to select Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta, who was a great pick. There were teams considering him late in Round 1, and LaPorta is a well-rounded player with mismatch receiving skill, dangerous ability after the catch, and tough blocking. He will be an upgrade over what Detroit had been getting from T.J. Hockenson.
Landing Alabama safety/cornerback Brian Branch in the middle of the second round was an absolute steal for the Lions givent that he was a consensus first-round pick. Branch is a superb nickel corner who can play safety and is a phenomenal tackler. He will provide the Lions with the flexibility to keep C.J. Gardner-Johnson at safety while Branch plays nickel in five-defensive back sets. Branch will upgrade the Lions’ run defense as well as their pass coverage in the middle of the field. Thanks to his tremendous instincts, Branch could be a real weapon for Detroit.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was a good value for the Lions in the third round, and some had made projections of him as a first-rounder. While Hooker needs development coming from a college scheme that is gimmicky, he has a quality physical skill set and athleticism to go with a capable arm. He could be a good backup for Jared Goff for a year or two and could possess the upside to develop into a starter.
Western Kentucky nose tackle Brodric Martin, meanwhile, offers Detroit a tough run defender with the size and power to help lock down the interior. Last year, the Lions missed out on the playoffs because of a late-season loss to the Panthers in which they couldn’t stop the run. By having Martin join other new additions in Jack Campbell, Brian Branch and C.J. Gardner-Johson, Detroit’s run defense should be significantly improved in 2023.
Even seventh-round pick Antoine Green gives the Lions good depth with a nice speed receiver to attack defenses vertically. With Green, Gibbs, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams, the Lions are building a very fast and explosive offense.
In my final mock draft, I had Detroit taking Jack Campbell, and for a lot of the leadup to the 2023 NFL Draft, I had the organization taking LaPorta. Gibbs, Campbell, LaPorta, Branch and Hooker all could become starters for the Lions. Gibbs, Campbell, LaPorta and Branch are safe picks to become impactful starters for Detroit, with all of them having Pro Bowl potential. Landing four potential Pro Bowlers and a possible starting quarterback with upside makes for an epic draft class. Hence, I think Detroit could end up having the most difference makers to show for the 2023 draft, which is why the team received my pick for NFL’s best draft class in 2023.
Honorable mentions: Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers.
2022 Winner: New York Jets
2021 Winner: New York Giants
2020 Winner: Dallas Cowboys
2019 Winner: Washington Redskins
2018 Winner: Denver Broncos
2017 Winner: Washington Redskins
2016 Winner: Buffalo Bills
2015 Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
2014 Winner: Houston Texans
2013 Winner: Green Bay Packers
2012 Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
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