2023 NFL Draft 1st Round: Grades For Every Pick
Ladies and gentlemen, it's that time of the year again where NFL fans everywhere gather around their screens to watch grown men hug each other and put on hats that barely fit. Yes, you guessed it right, the 2023 NFL draft is here! As always, the anticipation is high and the excitement is palpable. We can't wait to see which team will strike gold and which ones will regret their decisions for years to come. In this article, we'll be grading each first-round pick based not only on the prospect, but also the teams needs, the consensus valuation of the prospect, what they gave up to get the pick, etc. So sit back, relax, and get ready to laugh, cry, and possibly throw things at your screen. There's no way I look back and regret any of these grades in a couple of years.
1. Carolina Panthers (from Chicago Bears): Bryce Young, QB, Alabama —
The Panthers have been searching for a permanent replacement for Cam Newton for a long time now. I’ll give you a quick reminder of their starting QBs since 2019...
2019 – Kyle Allen (12) – Cam Newton (2) – Will Grier (2)
2020 – Teddy Bridgewater (15) – PJ Walker (1)
2021 – Sam Darnold (11) – Cam Newton again (5) – PJ Walker (1)
2022 – Baker Mayfield (6) – Sam Darnold (6) – PJ Walker (5)
As you can see, it has been a revolving door of mediocrity for a little while now. So, it must be super exciting to see the Panthers finally find what they hope is a real long-term solution. The only reason this grade isn’t a true A is because there are legitimate durability concerns because of his size. The talent is certainly worthy of this top spot, but those concerns are real. The Panthers got their guy and it’s the beginning of a new era in Carolina.
2. Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State —
There was a lot of pre-draft smoke that the Texans could forgo drafting a QB, but obviously it was just smoke. Stroud checks all the boxes, prototypical size, good arm, good accuracy, and while he may not be a plus athlete, he’s certainly no slouch. Stroud was already a very polished prospect but in his final game against Georgia, he showed flashes of his mobility and creativity that hadn’t been evident before. If that game is indicative of his future, this pick could look even better in a few years.
3. Houston Texans (from Arizona Cardinals): Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama —
Anderson is a stud, there’s zero doubt in my mind that he will be a high level performer in the NFL. It was total baller move for the Texans to trade for this spot and get their guy, so they certainly get some added style points. The only reason this grade is an A- is because the Texans gave up a lot of draft capital to move up for him, including trading their 2024 first-round pick. If he's a transformative piece, giving up that pick stings a lot less.
4. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida —
Let me just start off by saying that Anthony Richardson is the most athletic QB we’ve ever seen. I’m not being hyperbolic nor am I exaggerating in any way. He’s faster than Cam Newton, bigger than Lamar Jackson, and has arm strength like Josh Allen. His upside is unimaginably high. Don’t get it twisted, the Colts took a BIG swing here with Richardson, but if they can harness his potential, we’re looking at a generational type of talent. His inexperience is concerning, but he’ll be working under Shane Steichen, who has a track record of success mentoring QBs (Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert). There’s a chance this is a whiff, but it’s worth the chance. I love this move by the Colts.
5. Seattle Seahawks: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois —
I think Devon Witherspoon is awesome and his stats at Illinois are actually comical. When targeted last year, he held QBs to a 5.2 QBR which ranked second in the nation. Plus, his pairing with Tariq Woolen will be a lot of fun. He’s a little undersized but he plays bigger than his size. My grade for this pick is a B- because I felt like the Seahawks had bigger needs here. They struggled against the run all year and they lost some core pieces from their interior D-Line in free agency. I thought for sure they were going to take Jalen Carter here which would’ve gone a long way to rebuilding that defensive front.
6. Arizona Cardinals (from Detroit Lions): Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State —
The Cardinals have a small QB and gave up 46 sacks last year which is just a recipe for disaster. Rebuilding their line was a definite necessity for the Cardinals in this draft and they got a good one here. He has ideal size to be a tackle in the league, he is 6'6", 313 pounds with 36⅛-inch arms. DJ Humphries likely still slots in as their left tackle, but Johnson slots right in on the right side. When Kyler returns from injury, he’ll feel a lot safer when dropping back.
7. Las Vegas Raiders: Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech —
Chandler Jones wasn’t the elite pass rusher the Raiders were hoping for last year and they needed some more help. Tyree Wilson is a physical specimen and he has massive upside. At the very least, he has a very high floor as an edge setter and run defender. As long as his foot injury isn’t a lingering concern, this is a very solid pick for the Raiders.
8. Atlanta Falcons: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas —
Bijan Robinson is filthy. He will make an immediate impact on the Falcons offense and is a fun addition to their exciting young core. With all that said, the Falcons had far more pressing needs that they probably should have addressed. They had one of the worst defenses in the league last year and they had an opportunity here to fix some of their issues. As good as Bijan might be, its always hard to justify taking a RB this high. Especially when you factor in that Tyler Allgeier rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Love the player, don’t love the pick. The Falcons will be fun in Madden though.
9. Philadelphia Eagles (from Chicago Bears): Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia —
Jalen Carter has a legitimate argument for being the most talented player in the class. The Eagles hit a home run with this pick. There are obvious character concerns with him, but he’s in a winning environment and culture now that can possibly help speed up the maturation process. As a Giants fan, I am not happy with how good this pick is.
10. Chicago Bears (from Philadelphia Eagles): Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee —
The Bears need to do everything they can to protect Justin Fields. He’s shown he is a dynamic talent, now it’s time to get him some help and keep him upright. Darnell Wright improves the Bears offensive line right away. The Bears had some needs on the defensive side of the ball, especially on that defensive line where they had an NFL-low 20 sacks last year. All in all, good pick but I understand why some fans would have wanted a defensive player here.
11. Tennessee Titans: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern —
Titans needed an O-Lineman and they got one. I personally am of the belief that Skoronski profiles as a guard in the NFL because of his short arms (32 ¼ inches), but that doesn’t mean this is a bad pick. Seemingly all talent evaluators project him to be a future Pro Bowler. The Titans needed major help and they got it. Only time will tell if Skoronski is a tackle or a guard.
12. Detroit Lions: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama —
Anyone who likes this pick is lying. The Lions very well could have gotten Gibbs with the 34th pick. I’m truly at a loss for words. They just signed David Montgomery to a three-year deal and they still have D’Andre Swift on the roster. This is just horrible value to take a guy here who likely won’t even be their lead back. This pick was questionable at best.
13. Green Bay Packers: Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa —
Van Ness is a solid defensive lineman with a very high floor and room to grow. He hasn’t reached his ceiling but could end up being a high level starter for the Packers for many years. The pick is fine, I just really thought they’d draft Dalton Kincaid or a WR here to get Jordan Love another weapon. Their TE1 is Josiah Deguara and their WR3 is Samori Toure. Need to put a young QB in the best position to succeed.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (from New England Patriots): Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia —
The Steelers really needed offensive tackle help and they got it. He may have his growing pains, but the Steelers did well here. If Kenny Pickett is the future he needs to be protected. Jones has traits that you just cant teach. He is such a fluid athlete, he has excellent burst, and elite speed for the position (fastest 40 time of all O-Linemen). However, he has major technical limitations right now, He could use work on everything, his footwork, angles, hand placement and timing. So, yes he is definitely raw, but with those tools he has the potential to be a perennial All-Pro tackle.
15. New York Jets: Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State —
I don’t want to call this a panic pick because NFL teams are more prepared than I could likely even imagine. However, I definitely think the Jets were hoping one of the top tier tackle prospects would fall into their lap. The Jets are pretty loaded at defensive end so this just didn’t feel like a need for them. On top of that, McDonald was projected to go a lot later than this so it’s just a bit of an odd pick. Not a bad pick necessarily, just a bit of a headscratcher. But hey, you can never have too many edge rushers.
16. Washington Commanders: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State —
The Commanders needed a corner badly so this pick fills a definite need. Forbes' cover skills are special no doubt, but boy he is tiny. He weighs only 166 pounds, which is far from ideal. He has the potential to be a great playmaker in the league, but his size is a big concern. Surprising they went with Forbes over Gonzalez or Porter Jr., but who knows, maybe the Commanders are onto something here.
17. New England Patriots (from Pittsburgh Steelers): Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon —
New England needed some help in their secondary and they got it big time. They traded back and managed to get a player who many projected to go in the top 10. He has all the talent in the world and with a bit of seasoning he could be a dominant man cover corner in the NFL.
18. Detroit Lions: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa —
This was likely another reach by the Lions. Campbell is the exact type of player and/or person that HC Dan Campbell (no relation) wants in his locker room. He’s a very smart guy, he’s got the athleticism to succeed in the NFL and he was crazy productive in college. I’m not loving the draft valuations done by the Lions in this draft, but that Campbell could be a good contributor for them.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Calijah Kancey, EDGE/DT, Pittsburgh —
This comparison feels a bit dirty, but physically he’s quite similar to another Pitt product in Aaron Donald. He’s 6'1", 281-pound with 30⅝ -inch arms, and his combine numbers are actually even more impressive than Donald’s. Again, not comparing the players, just their physical attributes. Essentially, my point is that Kancey is a special athlete. He’s a bit of a strange fit in the Buccs’ 3-4 scheme, but I’m sure they have a plan to maximize his talents.
20. Seattle Seahawks: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State —
I love this pick for the Seahawks. They had a glaring hole in their WR room behind DK and Lockett and they got the top rated WR in the draft. Smith-Njigba is a special route runner and pass catcher which makes up for his lack of top-end athleticism. He’s going to be an excellent complement to their WRs, now it’s just on Geno to get him the ball.
21. Los Angeles Chargers: Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU —
The Chargers got another weapon for Herbert which is always a good thing. He has all the physical tools to be an excellent X receiver in the NFL (think prime AJ Green). He had a tendency to disappear at times in college and he doesn’t have elite hands, but he has so much talent. A lot to like here.
22. Baltimore Ravens: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College —
Flowers is on the shorter side at 5-9 ¼, 182 lbs, but he is strong and super twitchy. He was hurt by sub-par QB play at BC and will show out in the NFL. His catch radius is relatively small so look out for him to be more of a YAC guy. doing Ravens things again. Lamar needed more help and the Ravens obliged.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Jordan Addison, WR, USC —
The Vikings only have 5 picks and struggled mightily on defense so this pick was a bit surprising. I was hoping he’d fall to my G-Men. With that said, Addison profiles as an excellent WR2 next to Justin Jefferson. Kirk loves to throw the ball so if Addison can be a true complementary piece to JJettas, watch out.
24. New York Giants (from Jacksonville Jaguars): Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland —
Banks is an elite athlete. According to PFN’s Kent Lee Platte, Banks scored a 10.00 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 2 out of 2183 CBs from 1987 to 2023. Which means, he posted the 2nd best RAS of any CB over the last 37 (!) years. He’s a perfect fit in Wink Martindale’s scheme, as was evidenced by Wink’s visible joy at the pick. He’s an excellent pick for the Giants here, even if I was hoping for a WR.
25. Buffalo Bills (from Jacksonville Jaguars via New York Giants): Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah —
This is a bit of a weird one for me. I really like Kincaid and I thought he’d go higher, and I really like him as a weapon for Josh Allen, but I don’t really like that they’re paying Dawson Knox for at least the next two years. Certainly not a bad pick because Kincaid is very good. It’ll be interesting to see how they utilize him.
26. Dallas Cowboys: Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan —
The 6-foot-3-inch 337-pounder has a reputation for being a physical freak. The Athletic's Bruce Feldman named Mazi the top athletic standout entering this past season. The last 6 players to top that list, Evan Neal, Kwity Paye, Tristan Wirfs, Rashan Gary, Saquon Barkley and Myles Garrett. So, certainly a pretty solid success rate, He’s an NFL ready run-stopper but there are definitely questions about his ability to get to the QB and be impactful on passing downs.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Buffalo Bills): Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma —
The Jags right tackle from last year, Jawaan Taylor, left in free agency, and their left tackle, Cam Robinson, is reportedly getting suspended for PEDs any day now. As such, the Jaguars desperately needed a stud tackle to protect T-Law. Plus, they managed to get him and trade back for more assets.
28. Cincinnati Bengals: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson —
Being able to pressure the QB is one of the keys to success in the NFL. With Myles Murphy, the Bengals added a freak athlete to play across from Trey Hendrickson. At the minimum he is an NFL-ready run defender and edge setter with the potential to be so much more.
29. New Orleans Saints (from San Francisco 49ers): Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson —
Bresee’s talent is not in question. He arguably has top-10 talent, but he just could not stay on the field in college. If he can stay healthy and perform at the level he’s capable, he could be an excellent addition to the Saints defense.
30. Philadelphia Eagles: Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia —
Nolan Smith is the fastest edge rusher in this class and in most classes. He ran the 2nd fastest 40-time for an edge rusher since 2013. He is on the smaller side, but with that speed it might not even matter. The rich keep getting richer. Great pick by the Eagles. Don't mind me, I'm just wiping my tears off my keyboard.
31. Kansas City Chiefs: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State: —
The Chiefs finished second in the NFL last season with 55 sacks, but after losing Frank Clark they definitely needed to bolster the pass rush just a little bit. Anudike-Uzomah likely needs a bit more seasoning since he was forced to play on the interior a lot at K-State, but he can still be an impactful player right out of the gate.