When you consider the top players in the NFL, 70 percent of those who really contribute to winning teams come from the first three rounds of the draft. So the first two days are critical in terms of obtaining those types of players and getting as many of them as you can.
Depth can be obtained and unexpected stars discovered on the final day, but the first three rounds are really where teams make or break their draft, and there were four teams that did a great job based on what we know about their picks and their collegiate performances. Here they are, with their entire draft class listed:
4 Most Impressive 2023 Draft Classes
Round 1, No. 2: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Round 1, No. 3: Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama
Round 2, No. 62: Juice Scruggs, C, Penn State
Round 3, No. 69: Tank Dell, WR, Houston
Round 4, No. 104: Dylan Horton, DL, TCU
Round 5, No. 167: Henry To’oTo’o, LB, Alabama
Round 6, No. 201: Jarrett Patterson, C, Notre Dame
Round 6, No. 205: Xavier Hutchison, WR, Iowa State
Round 7, No. 248: Brandon Hill, SAF, Pittsburgh
The Texas did a great job trading up to get the No. 3 overall pick after already having the second pick. General manager Nick Caserio did a tremendous job with that, and he also did a tremendous job concealing his intentions. In fact, the Texans floated the idea he might be leaving the organization, and they weren’t going to take a quarterback. So he got all of the attention off of what they were doing, which was getting ready to take two premier players.
They started with Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud (scouting report). Then they traded back up and got Alabama edge Will Anderson (scouting report). We’ll see how they perform over time, but at least on draft day, those were two of the highest-rated players, maybe the top two.
Then at No. 62, they got Penn State’s Juice Scruggs (scouting report), who has the capacity to start at either center or guard in the league. Houston’s Nathaniel “Tank” Dell (scouting report), who is a small but very explosive receiver and an extremely explosive return man, was taken seven picks later. In the third round, that’s pretty good value.
Round 1, No. 5 : Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Round 1, No. 20: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Round 2, No. 37: Derick Hall, Edge, Auburn
Round 2, No. 52: Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA
Round 4, No. 108: Anthony Bradford, G, LSU
Round 4, No. 123: Cameron Young, DL, Mississippi St.
Round 5, No. 151: Mike Morris, Edge, Michigan
Round 5, No. 154: Olu Oluwatimi, C, Michigan
Round 6, No. 198: Jerrick Reed II, SAF, New Mexico
Round 7, No. 237: Kenny McIntosh, RB, Georgia
The Seattle Seahawks maneuvered around and made good picks, as they almost always do. They’ve been a contending team for a long time, and that’s not an accident. Executive vice president and general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll did a terrific job, starting at No. 5 overall with Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon (scouting report), who was a really good pick.
Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (scouting report), who went at No. 20 had a hamstring issue during the 2022 season, but that is going to clear up, and when it does, he’s going to be a really good receiver.
In the second round, they made two excellent picks. Derick Hall (scouting report) of Auburn is a name not a lot of people know, but he is an explosive straight-line edge rusher. The Seahawks, who took him six picks into the second round, will utilize him in the nine technique in their defense.
Later in the round, at No. 52, they got UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet (scouting report), who’s a little bit different back than what they’re used to. Seattle uses a lot of bangers, guys who press the hole and run over people. Charbonnet has a lot of make-you-miss ability, and he’s a good receiver. He will contribute right away.
Round 1, No. 9 (from Bears): Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Round 1, No. 30: Nolan Smith, LB, Georgia
Round 3, No. 65: Tyler Steen, OT, Alabama
Round 3, No. 66: Sydney Brown, SAF, Illinois
Round 4, No. 105: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Round 7, No. 188: Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford
Round 7, No. 249: Moro Ojomo, DL, Texas
The Philadelphia Eagles are another team that did quite well, which shouldn’t be a surprise because they always do. They maneuver around and make a lot of trades, although they made fewer in this draft.
Most people expected them to trade out of the bottom of the first round at No. 30, but they didn’t because George edge rusher Nolan Smith (scouting report) was available. They moved up one spot to No. 9 to pick defensive tackle Jalen Carter (scouting report), as some expected they might. Whatever troubles Carter has off the field, he’s a game-wrecker on it. And then Smith was there at the 30th pick, and he’s a clone of All-Pro Hasaan Reddick. Those are two really good picks.
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has a lot of background with Alabama, so at the end of the second round at No. 65, they took Tyler Steen (scouting report), who is a developing, young offensive lineman. He’s listed as a guard, but he can play tackle. He played left tackle at Alabama, and he arguably played it as well as any of the guys they’ve had go into the league recently.
They started the third round with the next pick and got Sydney Brown (scouting report) at No. 66. He is a productive safety from Illinois. Steen is probably a developmental player, but the other three will get on the field this season and contribute.
It’s another good job by general manager Howie Roseman, and it was all set up by the trade he made with the New Orleans Saints at last year’s draft, which netted him the No. 10 overall pick.
Round 1, No. 12: Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
Round 1, No. 18: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
Round 2, No. 34: Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
Round 2, No. 45: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Round 3, No. 68: Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Round 3, No. 96: Brodric Martin, DT, Western Kentucky
Round 5, No. 152: Colby Sorsdal, OT, William & Mary
Round 7, No. 219: Antoine Green, WR, North Carolina
The Detroit Lions did a remarkable job. They’re still getting the payoff from trading quarterback Matthew Stafford two years ago in terms of draft capital. They also got starting quarterback Jared Goff in the deal, and he has performed well for them.
The Lions added a number of players who are going to help them, starting with running back Jahmyr Gibbs (scouting report) at No. 12 overall. People complained he was taken too high because he is a running back. Keep complaining because he scores a lot of touchdowns and creates big plays game after game.
Their second first-round pick was linebacker Jack Campbell (scouting report) of Iowa at No. 18. Campbell is an old-fashioned, big, long, tough and good read-and-react middle linebacker. He might lack a half step in speed, but he makes up for it with his read-and-react ability, which is key for a linebacker, especially a middle linebacker.
Three picks into the second round they took Sam LaPorta (scouting report), who will replace T.J. Hockenson at tight end. He might not reach the level of Hockenson, who is a good player, but LaPorta has that capacity. Of course, LaPorta is a product of Tight End University, Iowa. I know a little bit about that because one of the first graduates of Tight End University was Dallas Clark, who we were fortunate enough to have with the Indianapolis Colts.
Later in the second round, the Lions got Alabama safety Brian Branch (scouting report), who is a solid player. Branch does not have explosive speed, but he does everything else. He’s smart, tough, has good ball skills and he tackles exceptionally well. He’s a playmaker.
Then, five picks into the third round they took Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker (scouting report), who has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback. It’s a bit of a chance because he’s 25, but that’s not a major stumbling block when you look at how long quarterbacks now can play.
The great thing is Hooker is coming from an offense that isn’t really pro-style in the sense they don’t have a lot of reads. He has had to do a lot of what he does with his arm talent because Tennessee spreads its offense all over the field. But he’ll have an opportunity to sit behind Goff and learn.
The Lions did as good a job as anybody getting good players. Gibbs, Campbell, LaPorta and Branch all should contribute as rookies.
If I had to rate a team as No. 1, something I don’t like doing because you don’t know what this draft is going to look like for four years, Detroit really jumped out. But based on what these teams did over the first three rounds, which is critical, all four of them did very well.
Bill Polian is a former front office executive and a six-time Executive of the Year award winner who won Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts. Polian’s career as an executive earned him an induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
>> READ: Final Draft Grade for Each Team