Grades for the First-Round Picks in the 2023 NFL Draft

Welcome to the 2023 NFL Draft! The first round is complete, and it was as insane as we all expected. Houston fooled everyone by taking a QB at #2 after all…and then jumped back up to #3 to get their edge rusher. The Colts lied about their QB preferences, and Arizona finally got their trade fix satisfied. Most surprisingly, Will Levis fell out of the first round entirely. Below are my grades for each pick of the first round. You can refer to my final mock draft if you want to see how badly we all botched this.

  1. Carolina Panthers – QB Bryce Young, Alabama: B+
    was the pick the minute Carolina traded up to #1. Among the 4 first-round QBs, Young is clearly the best one. His height just worries me. As does the fact that the coaching staff seemingly wanted CJ Stroud. Nick Saban has trained Young well though. His advanced vision, accuracy, and pocket presence are all NFL-caliber, and his arm is good enough. Young’s mobility is also a bit underrated. I’m giving a positive grade here because even though I wouldn’t have made this move, it was the only one for Carolina to make.

  2. Houston Texans – QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State: C
    We all fell for it.
    It looked like Houston was finally doing something smart and taking the best player available instead of taking a QB they didn’t love. And then ownership got involved. Reports are suggesting that Will Levis was the team’s QB2 and that they preferred Anderson, but Cal McNair made his opinion known and forced a QB selection. That alone drops the grade, but you also know that I worry about OSU QBs. Plus, I love Will Anderson, and apparently so do Nick Caserio and DeMeco Ryans. It should be awkward for both top QBs to go to teams whose coaches didn’t ask for them.

  3. Houston Texans – OLB Will Anderson Jr, Alabama: A-
    I know
    the people who are supposed to be making decisions in Houston love Will Anderson…because they traded back up from 12 to 3 to come get him! The trade is horrible value. Arizona is getting an early 2nd-round pick and next year’s first-rounder as part of the swap. The player though is fantastic. I hear people complaining that he doesn’t have high upside like Tyree Wilson. I don’t get it. He produced at an elite level in the most rugged conference in college football. He’s a building block for years to come, and the only knock on this grade is the trade aspect.

  4. Indianapolis Colts – QB Anthony Richardson, Florida: D
    I guess all the Colts+Will Levis rumors were false.
    It’s good that they took Richardson over Levis, but that’s about all they did right. To their dismay, Houston took CJ Stroud ahead of them, leaving them with two boom-or-bust options. Richardson possesses phenomenal upside, which the Colts clearly love. His cannon arm, strong build, and great running ability are all enticing. His accuracy? Calling it a train wreck would be putting it nicely. There’s a very real possibility that he never becomes a viable starter despite his physical tools if his accuracy isn’t fixable. That would be terrifying to me as a GM.

  5. Seattle Seahawks – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois: C+
    I can’t find a single mock draft that predicted this one.
    CB wasn’t considered a top need, and Witherspoon doesn’t fit the Seahawks’ profile. Pete Carroll loves tall, imposing CBs, and Witherspoon as 5’11”. However, they did do a few things right. First, Witherspoon is my top CB. Second, he would’ve been gone at the very next pick had they passed. Finally, they let Jalen Carter pass them by. The problem is that Tyree Wilson was still available, and he was the best player left on the board. Plus he plays a critically needed position. I love the player they took but not the fit.

  6. Arizona Cardinals – OT Paris Johnson Jr, Ohio State: A+
    Arizona played this beautifully. They took a future 1st and an early 2nd tomorrow to move from 3 to 12, and then they used that 2nd-rounder to jump back to 6 and take the player they wanted at 3.
    Johnson is the best LT prospect in the draft and perhaps the only high-end one. Protection was a major issue last season for the Cardinals, and they needed at least 1 premium lineman. They got their man while picking up another high pick next season (and Houston is likely to have a very good 1st-round pick). Spectacularly done!
  7. Las Vegas Raiders – DE Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech: B
    Las Vegas may have hoped that a QB would fall to them, but otherwise they really wanted Paris Johnson. The board didn’t fall their way, but they get a nice consolation prize in Wilson. His upside is as high as that of any edge rusher in the class, but he needs to play more consistently. The grade isn’t an A because the team didn’t really need a DE with Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones on the team, and Wilson has a major red flag: his foot. Some team sources has described his reconstruction surgery as “Frankenstein”-like, so this pick is not without risk. I do love the potential though.

  8. Atlanta Falcons – RB Bijan Robinson, Texas: F
    Every year, Atlanta messes me up.
    Maybe I should just think in terms of them making the dumbest decision possible each team, because that seems like their approach. As usual, my criticism is unrelated to Robinson, who may be the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. It’s the team fit. Atlanta had a great rushing offense last season behind Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier. RB was literally the ONE offensive position that they didn’t need. RBs also have shorter careers than other players, so Robinson’s greatness might be wasted for years on a bad team. What a shame.

  9. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Jalen Carter, Georgia: D
    I knew Philly wanted Carter, but I didn’t think they’d spend a 4th-round pick to trade up 1 spot to get him. If Chicago was willing to trade the pick and didn’t want him, who else was coming up to get him?
    The team could’ve stayed put at 10 and gotten their man. The bigger issue is that Carter shouldn’t have been their target. Jordan Davis, the better UGA DT, is already an Eagle after being their 1st-round pick last year! Great linemen like Darnell Wright and especially Peter Skoronski were on the board, as were most of the CBs. The character concerns plus those other factors make this a risk that isn’t worth taking.

  10. Chicago bears – OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee: A
    Chicago played Philadelphia in such a cruel fashion. The team decided that Jalen Carter wasn’t worth the risk but let the Eagles think they were taking him. That enticed PHI to trade a 4th-rounder to swap spots for no reason at all! You can debate whether Wright or Skoronski should have been the pick. Both fill needs, but I prefer the right tackle prospect with potential LT upside (Wright) over a likely guard at this high of a draft slot.
    Wright might actually be the best RT prospect here. I like the pick, but I love the trade even more. The Eagles got very overzealous.

  11. Tennessee Titans – OL Peter Skoronski, Northwestern: A
    Titans fans may be disappointed that Houston took CJ Stroud. They might also be upset that the team didn’t manage to trade to #3 to take one of the other QBs. They might even been angrier about the team passing on Will Levis here. But I’m giving the Titans an A for making a better pick and forsaking all of the QB options. Skoronski can try to play tackle for a team that needs one (like Tennessee), but if he ends up being nothing but an excellent guard, this is still a good pick.

  12. Detroit Lions – RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama: D-
    I don’t blame Detroit for trading back (though getting 2nd- and 5th-round picks to do so is a bit weak). I just despise the value and fit. If you want to take an RB in the first round, he’d better be on Bijan Robinson’s level. Gibbs, although very good, is a tier below. He’s a bit slight to handle a heavy workload; he profiles as more of an Alvin Kamara type. A Kamara 2.0 would be great for Detroit, but this high? I think he could’ve been obtained at 18. I still wouldn’t have liked it, but at least the team could’ve come away with a premium player like Christian Gonzalez or something.

  13. Green Bay Packers – DE Lukas Van Ness, Iowa: A-
    HAHAHA I knew Green Bay would never take a pass catcher in the first round.
    It’s just not who they are. They actually were right to pass on the receivers given the high-upside DE that fell to them. Van Ness has loads of potential, and he’s just starting to unlock his abilities. The Packers are starting over in a post-Aaron Rodgers world, so drafting players who can contribute right away is not a necessity. Picking someone who might be at his best in a year or 2 meshes better with their timeline, and they recognize that if this pick is any indication.

  14. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Broderick Jones, Georgia: A
    When New England was on the clock, only 1 of the premier tackle prospects remained. The Jets, picking 1 spot later, were virtually guaranteed to take him.
    Thus, the Steelers knew what they had to do: make a modest trade up 3 spots to grab Broderick Jones for themselves. With Kenny Pickett entering an important second season, protecting him is priority #1. Najee Harris also needs running lanes. If they hadn’t landed Jones, they’d be staring at 2nd-round linemen. Instead, they acquired someone who has LT potential at the last slot possible.

  15. New York Jets – DE Will McDonald IV, Iowa State: D
    It took a couple of days, but the Aaron Rodgers trade finally stung.
    Moving down 2 spots didn’t seem like a big deal, but I referenced in my last mock that the options could change greatly in this draft. That is indeed what happened. They missed out on every lineman, and since they didn’t need a CB or a WR, they decided to address the defensive line. The position they picked makes sense, but the prospect doesn’t. I have McDonald as a solid 2nd-round pick who is a pure pass rusher. He offers next to nothing against the run. Myles Murphy or Nolan Smith seem like much better options to me.

  16. Washington Commanders – CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State: B+
    I finally hit on another pick.
    I reported earlier today that the Commanders seemed very high on Forbes. It turns out that they like him more than not only Joey Porter Jr but even Christian Gonzalez! It’s easy to see why. Forbes has size, speed, and extreme ball production. His low weight and slight frame would bother me if he were a WR, but he’s delivering hits, not making them. Washington has a stellar defensive line, but they badly needed secondary upgrades. I’m a big fan of Forbes, but I’m not sure I would’ve selected him over Gonzalez.

  17. New England Patriots – CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon: A+
    The sequence of events orchestrated by the Patriots is
    classic Bill Belichick at his finest. First, he traded down 3 spots to pick up an extra draft choice. In doing so, he screwed the Jets out of the tackle they craved. Then, with his new pick, he got the #2 CB in the class, who he might have wanted at #14 anyway. Gonzalez is long and fast, and he’s a much bigger corner than Marcus Jones, who they drafted last year. His size and speed will be crucial for covering AFC East receivers like Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Jaylen Waddle, and Garrett Wilson. This is the best Patriot pick in a long time.

  18. Detroit Lions – LB Jack Campbell, Iowa: B
    Oof. For a team with 2 first-round picks, things could not have gone much worse for Detroit in terms of their options.
    After foolishly selecting an RB at #12 because they traded down once their CB target (Devon Witherspoon) got poached, they saw their second-favorite CB go the pick before them once more. That said, I really like Campbell. He’s big and strong enough to stop the run while also being sufficiently athletic to cover in space. Detroit needs defensive help, so an LB is better than nothing. With the options they had left, this is a solid selection.

  19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh: A
    Aww; I was just one pick off with this one.
    Tampa hasn’t adequately replaced Gerald McCoy for years. They tried a declining version of Ndamukong Suh, but this is their first real attempt to fill the void. This is an excellent fit for Kancey because the team’s other DT is big Vita Vea. Vea can shield Kancey and cover his weakness against the run while allowing the smaller rookie to use his explosion and get after QBs. Whether the Buccaneers want to admit it or not, they’re rebuilding, and building through the trenches is a smart philosophy.

  20. Seattle Seahawks – WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State: C-
    Seattle is really messing with my head tonight.
    Several mocks pegged Seattle to take a WR at #20 (Zay Flowers specifically), but I still don’t understand the reasoning. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf form a great duo. Spending a first-round pick on a WR3 who will eventually be your WR2 seems like a poor use of resources. Smith-Njigba isn’t my #1 WR (see below for that), but he’s very good. He also could’ve gone as early as #12, so the value is strong. Again though, the team fit is questionable.

  21. Los Angeles Chargers – WR Quentin Johnston, TCU: B
    I went back and forth between and A and a C before settling in the middle. On the positive side, I LOVE Johnston. He’s my favorite WR in the class, and 21 is crazy value for him. On the other hand, what are the Bolts doing? They couldn’t stop the run so they drafted a…receiver?
    Justin Herbert isn’t struggling to put up points. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams also form a great (albeit oft-injured) tandem. A corner or defensive lineman would’ve been a better choice here.

  22. Baltimore Ravens – WR Zay Flowers, Boston College: A
    I think Baltimore wanted Quentin Johnston but barely missed out.
    They still had to obtain a WR though, and Flowers is a plenty good one. Both players are burners, but Johnson has a bigger body. In contrast, Flowers is a better route runner. Lamar Jackson is having a heck of a day. First a contract extension, and now a new weapon. Teams had varying opinions about the WRs, but at least a few had Flowers as WR1. Baltimore is quickly refilling their bare cupboard, and their offense will be more dangerous as a result.

  23. Minnesota Vikings – WR Jordan Addison, USC: B-
    I knew we were going back-to-back WRs here, but I had no clue who would be available. Most teams ranked the top 4 receivers differently, so this was bound to happen.
    Part of me wanted Minnesota to take a CB. They need as many secondary players as they can get, but I’m also aware of their drafting failures at that position, so I can understand why they might shy away. Addison is a decorated college player, but he may be a better college WR than pro receiver. His route running is stellar, but he’s better suited for the #2 role. That’s not an ideal use of a 1st-round pick, but it is what Minnesota was looking for.

  24. New York Giants – CB Deonte Banks, Maryland: B
    Another seemingly pointless 1-spot trade up. The only team that was interested in Banks below 25 was the Bengals, and they aren’t fans of trading up in round 1. These mid-round picks that teams are using as capital aren’t throw-away selections.
    Regardless, Banks was expected to go in this range, so it’s not a reach. I also appreciate that the team didn’t reach on a lesser WR prospect with the 4 main receivers off the board. Banks has a ton of upside, but he feels riskier than someone like Joey Porter Jr. I’d have been happier with this pick at 25.

  25. Buffalo Bills – TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah: B
    Buffalo broke the hearts of Cowboys fans everywhere by jumping over them and only them to select their beloved TE. Perhaps nobody was more upset than Skip Bayless. Kincaid was widely projected to go as high as 13, so this is great value. I’m just not sure how much it helps Buffalo. Dawson Knox is a fine TE, though 2 TE sets can be excellent. The focus with this pick was always giving Josh Allen more help, and the team certainly accomplished that by acquiring the draft’s best TE. An interior lineman or corner might have been better to compete with the Bengals and Chiefs though.

  26. Dallas Cowboys – DT Mazi Smith, Michigan: B-
    Poor Dallas. They nearly fulfilled their dream of replacing one Dalton TE (Schultz) with another (Kincaid), but the Bills ruined the plan. At that point, Dallas was low on options. They didn’t really need an edge rusher, but they had to improve their rush defense in a division with the Eagles. Mazi Smith struck me as a 2nd-round pick because he’s a big traditional nose tackle who doesn’t offer much against the pass. Two-down DTs aren’t considered valuable, but this isn’t a terrible reach. The fit is also strong, so although the pick value isn’t great, he serves an important purpose for the Cowboys.

  27. Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Anton Harrison, Oklahoma: B+
    The news today that Cam Robinson is going to be suspended for violating the PED policy
    probably shifted Jacksonville’s plans. They wanted a corner, but a tackle become an immediate necessity. Harrison wasn’t someone they had to take at their original #24 pick though, so they wisely traded back twice and picked up a few extra assets along the way. Harrison is a good pass protector but needs work in the run game. He’ll fill in during Robinson’s suspension before replacing Jawaan Taylor full time (Robinson likely becomes the right tackle in that scenario).

  28. Cincinnati Bengals – DE Myles Murphy, Clemson: A+
    It’s well-documented at this point that I’m a fan of Murphy.
    Everything scouts say about Tyree Wilson and his upside can easily be applied to Murphy. In fact, I think he has MORE upside. Did the Bengals not a DE? Not particularly. Trey Hendrickson is great, and Sam Hubbard and Cam Sample are good enough. But you can never have too many pass rushers. If no available CB was to the team’s liking, then the best way to mask a poor secondary member is to have a swarming pass rush. Murphy will ensure that all 4 edge players have fresh legs, and he could really be great.

  29. New Orleans Saints – DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson: B-
    We’ve got back-to-back Tigers late in round 1.
    Bresee has been in and out of mock first rounds, but this is an appropriate spot. New Orleans seemingly had a DT exodus in free agency, so a former #1 recruit seems like a good replacement. It’s not that simple though. Bresee has well-documented injury issues, so this selection comes with risk. Other defensive linemen, particularly more valuable edge rushers, were also available. I would’ve preferred Nolan Smith or Keion White here, but Bresee is in no way a bad pick.

  30. Philadelphia Eagles – DE Nolan Smith, Georgia: A-
    Time to start calling this team the Philadelphia Bulldogs.
    They took two Georgia defenders in last year’s draft and took two more this year…just in round 1! I like this selection much better. Smith could conceivably have gone as high as #10, Philly’s original 1st pick. He’s a risky selection because of his small size and lack of college production, but there’s no denying his speed and explosiveness. Haason Reddick should be able to teach Smith well due to their similar styles, and although edge rusher wasn’t a need, you can never have too many of them.

  31. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State: B+
    The Chiefs probably cursed their luck when Jacksonville took Anton Harrison, as that was the last potential first-round lineman that they could take. Without a viable replacement for Orlando Brown Jr (or Andrew Wylie depending on where Jawaan Taylor lines up) available, the next-best move was to replace Frank Clark, who was released for cap reasons. Anudike-Uzomah had great production for the Wildcats, but he needs to improve his technique and run defense. However, a high-upside edge rusher is a quality pick for a team that needs to get to Joe Burrow without blitzing.

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