Franchise-changing players can be found in every round of the NFL draft. More often than not, teams rely on their Day 2 picks to carry the organization into the future. With the second night of the 2023 NFL Draft behind us, here’s a look at five teams who had the best Day 2.
Five Biggest Winners
This is Pittsburgh’s first draft without longtime GM Kevin Colbert, and his successor Omar Khan seems very comfortable in the decision-maker’s chair. The Pittsburgh Steelers had plenty of trade suitors for the No. 32 pick, but they did what most people inside the league figured they’d do by taking franchise legacy Joey Porter Jr. (scouting report), the long-armed Penn State cornerback.
Khan needed to come away from this draft with a starting caliber corner, and Porter Jr. was the storybook fit. No head coach attacks Senior Bowl week like Mike Tomlin, so it was no surprise that he pegged Wisconsin DT Keeanu Benton (scouting report) as a guy he wanted to add to his defensive line. Tomlin routinely gets right up in the middle of one-on-one drills, so he got an up-close look at Benton’s dominant practice week in Mobile, Ala.
The move that pushed the Steelers to the top of this “Winners” list was landing jumbo-sized mismatch nightmare Georgia TE Darnell Washington (scouting report) with pick No. 93 (after trading back to acquire an extra fourth-round pick from the Carolina Panthers). Many teams we spoke with the past few weeks had Washington as their top-graded tight end, and he dispelled medical red flag rumors during his post-draft news conference so that the Steelers might have themselves a steal.
The rich got richer again on Friday night, as the Philadelphia Eagles are the only team to be mentioned in this column two days in a row. GM Howie Roseman made the most of his two back-to-back early third-round picks by taking versatile Alabama OL Tyler Steen (scouting report) and underrated Illinois DS Sydney Brown (scouting report).
The Eagles rely heavily on OL Coach Jeff Stoutland for his evaluation skills, and he must have liked what he saw from Steen at the Senior Bowl. Steen had started at both tackle spots during his college career at Vanderbilt and then Alabama, but he got reps at guard in Mobile and proved to teams he could also play guard.
We heard some early-to-mid second-round buzz on Steen during our pro-day travels, so getting him in the third is good value. Steen is a starter-level player at four spots (all except OC) and, at minimum, will provide excellent depth as a rookie. Few players in this year’s draft dominated the pre-draft process as Brown did. He was one of our favorite players (and people) at the Senior Bowl, and he absolutely crushed the combine. Reed Blankenship played above expectations last year, but Brown gives the Eagles a far more physical and explosive player in the backend. We see Brown as a longtime fixture and leader on Nick Sirianni’s defense. Also, we’re calling our shot here that Brown will be a Philly fan favorite.
Las Vegas Raiders
GM Dave Ziegler had few bigger holes to fill in this year’s draft than the tight end position after he traded Darren Waller in the offseason, and the team lost Foster Moreau in free agency, so it was no surprise he addressed it immediately last night at No. 35 overall with Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer (scouting report). The national media basically had Mayer fitted for a gold Hall of Fame jacket ever since his freshman year. While he’s probably not the playmaker many made him out to be, he’s still a darn good all-around football player.
Josh McDaniels has always done an excellent job of scheming up production for his tight ends, and we expect Mayer to be an immediate factor as a rookie. The Las Vegas Raiders used their second pick of the day on underrated Alabama DL Byron Young (scouting report). Young was flying under most draft radars for whatever reason, but he’s a big, long, strong and versatile player who will push for a big role next fall. It’s never good to “helmet scout,” but taking an Alabama defensive lineman over the past decade is a pretty safe bet at getting, at minimum, a solid starter. For comparative purposes, he’s a similar but slightly twitchier player than last year’s fourth-round pick Neil Farrell.
Ziegler finished the day by using the No. 100 overall pick on Cincinnati WR/RS Tre Tucker (scouting report), who can absolutely fly. He is a different slot option than Hunter Renfrow because his game is more speed-based than Renfrow’s, and he gives the Raiders another legitimate return option.
Green Bay Packers
The masses (and a certain previous quarterback) have been calling for GM Brian Gutekunst to get more offensive weapons, and he got them what they wanted last night with three pass-catchers in Rounds 2 and 3. The Green Bay Packers considered going WR in the first round but smartly opted for the more premium position (big pass rusher), so they attacked Day 2 by getting a pair of big, fast, and athletic tight ends — Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave (scouting report) and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft (scouting report) — and Michigan State WR Jayden Reed (scouting report).
Conceptually, Musgrave is similar to last year’s early second-rounder Christian Watson in that he needs to clean up his hands, but the ceiling is incredibly high. Like Musgrave, Kraft has the size to play attached to the line of scrimmage and athleticism to be a factor in the passing game. Gutekunst found good value in these two picks because both probably would have gone even earlier in a thinner tight end group than this year’s loaded class.
Anyone that follows us on Twitter knows Reed was one of our favorite receivers in the class. The former Spartan is a sturdy and explosive playmaker who can play inside and outside, and he’s also an NFL punt returner. We think Reed is a great compliment for Watson and Romeo Doubs, who were also Senior Bowl alums, and he will outplay some of the receivers taken ahead of him. The Packers needed to upgrade speed at the skill positions, and they did that on Friday night.
New England Patriots
It’s been almost 15 years since I worked in New England’s personnel department, and plenty has changed over that time, but one thing that has remained the same is Bill Belichick’s prioritizing versatility on the defensive side of the ball. Three years ago, the New England Patriots took Senior Bowl standout Kyle Dugger early on Day 2, and they took two more movable pieces yesterday in versatile Georgia Tech DL Keion White (scouting report) and Sacramento State hybrid SS/WLB Marte Mapu (scouting report).
Belichick emphasizes position flexibility for many reasons, and one is that it helps protect against injury-related roster attrition. In these two players, the Patriots acquired one guy (White) who could be anything from a jumbo-sized OLB to a sub-downs 3-technique and another (Mapu) who could play SS, dime-LB, or even base-down WLB. It cannot be overstated what kind of roster value these kinds of multi-role players provide.
The Patriots got a potential steal in White, who was projected as a first-rounder by many draft analysts, and they uncovered a gem in Mapu, who boosted his draft stock significantly against the big boys (i.e., FBS Power-5 competition) during Senior Bowl practices. We like the work the Patriots have done these past couple of days.
Before taking over as executive director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl in 2018, Jim Nagy was an NFL scout for nearly two decades, having worked for five teams that won a combined four Super Bowls. Follow him on Twitter @JimNagy_SB.