The 2023 NFL Draft was one of the more interesting drafts in NFL history as we saw a record 42 trades take place, a quarterback who was expected to go in the top ten fall to the second round, and several players with day two grades go in the first round. When all the dust settled though it was easy to see the Philadelphia Eagles had the best draft.
In this week’s NFL Draft Notebook, we look at the winners and losers of the NFL Draft, the top draft picks of each round, who were the best undrafted free agents, and much more.
NFL Draft Winners
There is no doubt that the Philadelphia Eagles had the best 2023 NFL Draft. The team started it off by getting possibly the most talented player in the class with the ninth pick when they took Jalen Carter. The Eagles then took another top ten player in the class with the selection of Nolan Smith at pick 30. On the second day of the draft the team good good value with the selections of both Tyler Steen and Sydney Brown. However, they got an absolute steal in the fourth round by picking up Kelee Ringo who carried a first-round grade from this writer.
A team that didn’t have much draft capital yet made the most of their picks is the Denver Broncos. Denver had its first pick in the second round and with that selection, they picked Marvin Mimms out of Oklahoma who is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. The team also got two potential starters in the third round Drew Sanders and Riley Moss. Sanders is a smart linebacker who was an All-American last year. While Moss is another smart defender who has the ability to play either corner or safety.
Los Angeles Rams
Another team that didn’t have a first-round pick yet had a strong draft was the Los Angeles Rams. Three picks the Rams made really stand out as excellent picks with the first one being Tennessee defensive end Byron Young who the team got in the third round. What stands out with Young is his explosive speed which allows him to be one of the better pass rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft. The second pick that stood out was the selection of Puka Nacua who has the ability to pick up yards after the catch. However, the best value the team got may have come with the selection of Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson in the sixth round. Hodges-Tomlinson is a smaller corner but has elite cover skills evidenced by him being named the Jim Thorpe winner last year.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have to be happy with their draft and especially their first two pick. In the first round, the team grabbed the best corner in the draft Christian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a good-sized corner who is extremely fluid in coverage and has the speed to keep up with the quickest receivers. In the second round, the team was able to snag the best defensive end in the draft Keion White. White is a powerful defensive end who will be a perfect fit in New England’s defense. On day three the pick that stood out was that of LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte in the sixth round. If he can keep focused and improve his work ethic he could develop into a solid NFL receiver.
NFL Draft Losers
San Fransico 49ers
While the San Fransico 49ers didn’t have a pick until the third round, what they did with these picks definitely disappointed. With two of the team’s third-round picks, they made major reaches. The first reach the team made was the selection of Jake Moody. While Moody is an accurate kicker he shows only average leg strength and was definitely not worth the 99th overall pick. The team also reached when they took Alabama tight end Cameron Latu with the 101st pick. Latu is a stiff athlete who needs to improve as a blocker which is why he carried a sixth-round grade on my board.
The Detroit Lions had an interesting 2023 NFL Draft. This is due to the fact they reached on their first two picks yet found good value later in the draft. The team’s top choice was
Jahmyr Gibbs who is an explosive athlete yet will not be a full-time starter. The team then took middle linebacker Jack Campbell with their second first-round pick. This is a reach since middle linebackers who are not elite should not go this high in the draft. He also has some limitations in coverage which could make him only a two-down player in the NFL. On the positive side, the team got good value with the picks of Brian Branch in the second round and Hendon Hooker in the third round.
Las Vegas Raiders
Any time a team takes the most overrated player in the draft (by this writer) they have to be considered a draft loser. The player who was overvalued is Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson who was the seventh overall pick despite showing only average burst off the ball and flexibility. Another reach the team made was taking Alabama defensive tackle Byron Young in the third round and the team could have found better value with the 135th pick which they used on Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
While the Cowboys made some quality picks including drafting DeMarvion Overshown in the third round and Asim Richards in the fifth round, they also reached for several prospects. One of these prospects was Mazi Smith who the team took in the first round. While Smith is an impressive athlete this trait doesn’t always show up on the field. However, the biggest stretch is when the team took Luke Schoonmaker in the second round over players like Darnell Washington and Tucker Kraft.
Top NFL Draft Picks by Round
Round One: Jaxon Smith-Njigba
The Seattle Seahawks got a steal when they took Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the 20th overall pick. He was by far the top receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft and will make an immediate impact as a rookie. It would not be a surprise if he wins Rookie of the Year next season.
Round Two: Keion White
The New England Patriots were able to come away with the top defensive end in the 2023 NFL Draft with the 46th pick overall. The reason I am so high on White is his overall athletic ability. At the NFL Combine, he posted a terrific 30 reps on the bench press to go along with a 34-inch vertical jump. He has also produced on the field registering 7.5 sacks last season.
Round Three: Byron Young
One of the most feared pass rushers in the 2023 NFL Draft is Tennessee’s Byron Young and for the Los Angeles Rams to get him with the 77th pick is an absolute steal. When watching Young there is no doubt his top trait is his speed and burst off the ball. In addition to his speed, he also has the flexibility to get around the edge. Look for the Rams to play him both at defensive end and linebacker and it would not be a surprise if he was able to come away with five or six sacks as a rookie.
Round Four: Kelee Ringo
It is hard to believe Georgia cornerback Kelle Ringo who was the 20th-rated player in the 2023 NFL Draft, fell all the way to the 105th pick. He is a 6-foot-2 207 defensive back who may make the move from college corner to NFL safety, but regardless of where he plays look for him to make an impact next season.
Round Five: Antonio Johnson
Yet another defender who was a great value pick was Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson who the Jacksonville Jaguars took with the 160th pick. Johnson, who was my second-rated safety in the class, is an aggressive defender who loves to come down and support the run. At the worst look for Johnson to be a key special teams player next fall.
Round Six: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson
In the sixth round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams were able to get one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the draft. Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson has outstanding ball skills breaking up 15 passes last season. He also has the speed and agility to match up with even the quickest wide receivers.
Round Seven: Kenny McIntosh
Every year the NFL seems to find a sixth or seventh-round running back who makes a significant contribution. This year that running back might be Kenny McIntosh who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round. McIntosh is an athletic runner who is a dangerous runner in the open field. He can also contribute in the passing game having hauled in 43 passes last season.
Top Five Undrafted Free Agents
Alabama OG Emil Ekiyor Jr
The highest-rated player on my draft board who did not get drafted was Alabama offensive guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. Ekiyor who was named to the All-SEC team is a big powerful offensive guard taht only allowed 2.5 sacks over the previous two years. He should be a good fit in Indianapolis as his playing style will fit well in their offense.
Pittsburgh DE Habakkuk Baldonado
One of the strongest undrafted free agent classes belongs to the New York Giants, and the top player in this group is Habakkuk Baldonado. Baldonado is a long defensive end coming in at 6-foot-4 with 33-inch arms. To go along with his size he also shows a nice burst off the ball which allowed him to account for 11 sacks over the previous two seasons. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to earn time as a rotational defensive lineman for the Giants.
Oregon State CB Rejzohn Wright
Another team who had a strong undrafted free-agent class is the Carolina Panthers. This group is led by former Oregon State cornerback Rejzohn Wright who was named All-Pac 12 last season after breaking up nine passes. If Wright can improve his awareness he should be able to make the Panthers roster as a backup defensive back who also contributes on special teams.
Alabama OLB Bumper Pool
Another member of the Carolina Panthers’ undrafted free agent class is Bumper Pool. What stands out about Pool is his outstanding production having recorded over 200 tackles the last two seasons. His nose for the ball and overall good instincts should be enough to earn him a spot on the Panthers roster next season.
West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton
Like the Carolina Panthers, the New York Giants also were able to sign two of my top five undrafted free agents. Ford-Wheaton has impressive measurables coming in at 6-foot-3 223 pounds and running the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds. While he needs to become a better route runner and improve his hands his physical traits should be enough to at least earn a spot on a practice squad.
NFL Draft Scouting Notes
— A second-round pick that was great value was Isaiah Foskey going to the New Orleans Saints with the 40th pick. Foskey was one of the most productive pass rushers in college football the last two seasons, recording 11 sacks each year. He has the ability to get to the quarterback with both his powerful punch, and the speed to turn the corner evident by his 4.58 40-yard dash.
— While there were several great picks in the second round one that was a reach was that of Keeanu Benton who went to the Steelers with the 49th pick overall. While Benton will get to stay at his natural nose tackle position he lacks the consistency and athletic ability to go this high. The biggest concern with this nose tackle though is that he can be pushed around at times and his lack of strength is only hindered by his lack of burst off the ball.
— It is obvious what one of the Chicago Bears’ top priorities going into the second day of the NFL Draft was. That priority was to upgrade a run defense that ranked 31st in the NFL giving up an average of 157 yards per game. With their first pick on day two, they took Gervon Dexter Sr. out of Florida. Dexter is a big defensive tackle who shows impressive athletic ability and if he can stay motivated he should be a quality starter. The team then took Zacch Pickens with the first pick in the third round. Pickens is another big defensive tackle who shows the quickness to beat guards off the ball. Look for both of these players to get plenty of playing time next year and at least one of them to win a starting job next season.
— Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig went to the perfect team for his style of play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Herbig played in a 3-4 defense for the Badgers and was one of the best pass rushers in college football. Last season, he recorded 11 sacks and led the nation in sacks per game. He also holds up well against the run showing the strength to hold his ground against offensive tackles and defeat blocks from tight ends. It would not be a surprise if Herbig became a starter in a couple of years for the Steelers.
— With the 2023 NFL Draft in the books, I will be taking a break from NFL Draft Notebook. In a couple of weeks though, I will start doing NFL division previews and also breaking down one position in the 2023 NFL Draft each week. In the meantime be sure to check out our fully-loaded 2024 NFL Draft board.