The NFL Draft has arrived, and with it comes a ton of excitement for football fans across the country. This article will tackle grades for each of the 31 first-round selections in this year’s draft. Keep an eye out for more great NFL draft-related content from the Lineups team in the coming weeks.
NFL Draft 2023 First Round Grades
It’s finally here – the first round of the NFL draft is upon us. I have you covered with grades for all 31 of the first-round selections as they come through on Thursday night. I’ll have plenty of offseason content in the coming weeks with betting related analysis on how these picks impact the upcoming season, but for now, I’ll offer my initial thoughts on the draft selections.
At the very bottom of this article, you’ll find a full bullet point list of all of the trades that occurred on draft day for simplicity sake. Let’s get to work.
#1: Carolina Panthers – QB Bryce Young, Alabama, B
This was always the right pick for the Carolina Panthers. When they initially made the trade up for the first overall pick, most of the buzz surrounded C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson, but Young is the best quarterback in this class. He delivers accurate passes at all three levels and is a true playmaker with the ability to create out of structure.
You’ve probably heard at some point leading up to the draft that Bryce Young is small, and it’s a real concern. At 6’0”, 194 lbs, Young will be an injury risk for his entire career, and Carolina has to do everything in their power to give him a consistently stout offensive line.
The Panthers made an all-in trade for this pick with multiple future first-round picks, and the risk involved there is significant given how much of an outlier Young is at his size. However, Carolina finally has its franchise passer and its fans should be excited.
#2: Houston Texans – QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State, C
I’m going to catch some flak for this, but I’m not a fan of this selection for the Houston Texans. C.J. Stroud is polished. He has three-level accuracy with incredible touch and is a great processor of the game. However, he lacks elite arm talent and is unproven out of structure and under pressure.
Stroud is the type of quarterback that you take when your roster is ready to compete. Houston is not, especially in the AFC. Now, they’ve started their clock with a quarterback on a rookie contract and a roster with holes all over the place.
There will also be lingering questions about Stroud’s ability to produce without an elite supporting cast. He played with incredible wide receivers at Ohio State and consistent offensive line play – he’ll have neither in Houston. Stroud can be a long-term starter in the NFL, but I would have waited on a quarterback later in the draft or Caleb Williams next year.
#3: Houston Texans – ED Will Anderson Jr., Alabama, D+
Man oh man. The Texans really swung for the fences in this draft. Sending a future first-round pick in addition to other trade compensation for a non quarterback is questionable. Will Anderson Jr. was highly productive at Alabama with 207 career pressures and 37 career sacks, according to PFF. However, it’s difficult to justify this value.
Anderson will likely become a highly productive player in the NFL thanks to his awesome first step and flexibility to bend around the edge. He’s a three-down player who makes consistent plays in the backfield and terrorizes opposing offensive lines. However, he lacks a full, polished pass rush repertoire.
There’s simply no way to grade this pick without understanding that the Texans sent quarterback value for it. Anderson likely needs to become an All Pro player during his rookie contract to justify this trade haul, especially with the Cardinals getting into pole position for the Caleb Williams sweepstakes next year.
#4: Indianapolis Colts – QB Anthony Richardson, Florida, A+
I love Anthony Richardson, and I especially love the fit for him in Indianapolis. Richardson was highlighted in my All Athletes Team this season, and it was the easiest inclusion of the bunch as he had a perfect 10.0 Relative Athletic Score (RAS).
In Bruce Feldman’s Freaks article, he quoted Florida strength coach Mark Hocke as saying he “has the athleticism and bounce of a running back/wide receiver combined with a Jugs machine for an arm.”
The Colts hired Shane Steichen as their new head coach, and Steichen was instrumental in helping Jalen Hurts reach MVP-level play in 2022. With due respect to Hurts, he isn’t nearly the athlete that Richardson is, and Colts fans have to be drooling at the idea of Richardson as a long-term developmental prospect.
I had Richardson as my QB1 in this class mostly due to his massive upside, but the floor is also very high thanks to his high-impact rushing ability and better pocket presence than he gets credit for. He’ll be a Day 1 starter in Indianapolis and should hit the ground running in an offense well built to support him.
#5: Seattle Seahawks – CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois B-
Devon Witherspoon simply has that dog in him. He might be undersized, but he certainly doesn’t play like it as he’s an absolute menace on the field. Witherspoon is a beast in man coverage and plays like a wrecking ball in the open field. He also has the intelligence to match as he’s brilliant in diagnosing routes.
Witherspoon only had one season of production at Illinois, and it’s fair to wonder if his 2022 campaign was an outlier as it was such an enormous jump from 2021. The size is somewhat of a concern, too, but with so many smaller receivers entering the NFL, perhaps that isn’t a huge issue.
Danny Kelly of the Ringer put Witherspoon’s “spiritual” comp as Kam Chancellor in his draft guide, and I can’t help but smile seeing that type of player in Seattle. Now paired with Tariq Woolen, who is coming off a very impressive rookie season, the Seahawks are on their way back to building the type of secondary that led them to the Super Bowl.
#6: Arizona Cardinals – OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State A+
There was a ton of buzz around the Cardinals possibly taking Paris Johnson Jr. at #3 overall, and I was tepid about the idea overall. However, they fleeced the Texans in their initial trade down and made a reasonable trade back up to secure the guy they wanted all along. That is brilliant draft process.
Paris Johnson Jr. is in a tier of his own in this year’s offensive line class, and the Cardinals needed to upgrade their offensive line after Kyler Murray signed on a new long-term contract. Johnson has elite athleticism, polished footwork, and an ideal frame for a franchise left tackle. Murray also specifically endorsed Johnson, for what it’s worth.
Kudos to new general manager Monti Ossenfort in his first draft. Picking up the extra 2024 first-round pick is a massive deal for Arizona, and they still got their guy in Johnson who will presumably be their starting left tackle for years to come.
#7: Las Vegas Raiders – ED Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech, C+
Tyree Wilson is a fascinating prospect. It’s a similar evaluation to Travon Walker, who went #1 last year, as he has incredible traits but never matched them with high-level production while in college. Of course, Wilson was playing in the Big 12 while Walker was playing in the best defense in the country in the SEC.
Wilson is a behemoth at 6’6 ⅛” (95th percentile) with 35 ⅝” arms (96th percentile), and he pairs it with plenty of upper body strength and movement skills that you don’t typically see from someone his size. However, the lack of polish and late bloomer status make him a concerning projection – he’s a real outlier in that sense.
There’s plenty of upside here, but if you’re the Raiders, I don’t know how you make this pick with Jalen Carter still on the board, especially with Wilson’s foot issues that he’s currently dealing with. Let’s see if the defensive coaching staff in Las Vegas can prove people wrong and develop Wilson into a high-level edge defender.
#8: Atlanta Falcons – RB Bijan Robinson, Texas, C
In three seasons at Texas, Bijan Robinson racked up a whopping 4,215 yards from scrimmage and 41 total touchdowns. In 2022, he won the Doak Walker Award and earned All American honors as the consensus best running back in the country. He’s an elite runner with a three down skillset who will be a fantasy darling this season.
Any other running back would receive a worse grade in the top ten, but Robinson is the best running back prospect we’ve seen since at least Saquon Barkley. Does that make him worth taking over Jalen Carter, my #1 player overall? I doubt it. The Falcons did a great job of upgrading their defense in free agency, but it’s still tough to justify this pick.
The offensive weapons in Atlanta are tantalizing with Robinson joining Kyle Pitts and Drake London, the team’s first round picks in each of the last two years. With an offensive line I ranked fourth in my recent offensive line rankings, Desmond Ridder has plenty around him to succeed this season. At the very least, Robinson will be a fantasy darling in 2023.
#9: Philadelphia Eagles – DT Jalen Carter, Georgia, A+
The rich get richer. The Eagles have the best overall roster in the NFL, and they just added my #1 ranked player overall in this class to it. Carter might be the best defensive tackle prospect of the past decade, and his combination of power, speed, and explosiveness make him a menacing interior pass rusher.
The one knock on Carter could be his relatively smaller frame – at 6’3”, 300 lbs, he won’t be eating up double teams at nose tackle. However, Carter gets to play next to his former teammate Jordan Davis who very much fits that description. The Carter-Davis duo could be the best interior tandem in the NFL as soon as this season.
Carter’s off-field question marks led to him falling to this spot in the draft, and it’s difficult for me to speculate as to how much of an issue that will be. However, the Eagles clearly felt comfortable enough taking him here, and that slide could look very silly in a few months if Carter terrorizes opposing offensive lines the way I expect.
#10: Chicago Bears – OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee, B-
The Darnell Wright steam was building over the last couple of weeks heading up to the draft, and it makes a ton of sense for Chicago. Wright was a top ten recruit in the 2019 class, but he looked like a bust in his first three seasons before excelling after switching from left to right tackle during his senior season.
Wright slides in at right tackle for a Bears offensive line that is rapidly improving and ranked top five in both pass and run block win rate in 2022 according to ESPN. At 335 lbs, Wright has plenty of power and strength. He’s still only 21 years old, and while only one season of high-level production isn’t a ton to build on, this is a solid pick as the Bears continue to support Justin Fields.
#11: Tennessee Titans – OG Peter Skoronski, Northwestern, B+
Peter Skoronski exploded onto the scene in 2020 as a true freshman starter at left tackle as Rashawn Slater, currently the Chargers’ starter, opted out of the season. Skoronski’s production was elite for three years in the Big Ten, and in 2022, he allowed just one sack and two quarterback hits in 474 pass-blocking snaps.
I have concerns about how Skoronski translates to the tackle position given his slight frame. He’s 6’4” (8th percentile) with a 79 ½” wingspan (9th percentile) and 32 ¼” arms (4th percentile). For reference, Slater was in at least the 40th percentile for height and wingspan. Still, he possesses elite technique and proven production regardless of what position he plays in the NFL.
#12: Detroit Lions – RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama, F
Man… what? It was unclear if Jahmyr Gibbs would end up in the first round at all, let alone at the 12th overall pick. To be clear, Gibbs is an awesome prospect. Gibbs can put on the afterburners with ease and is a big play waiting to happen. He’s also an excellent receiver. PFF only tracked him with two drops from 103 catchable passes in his career, and he has legitimate route-running refinement in his game.
However, he weighed in below 200 lbs at the combine, and it’s difficult to envision him being an every down running back in the NFL at that size. The Lions already have D’Andre Swift and David Montgomery on the roster, and Montgomery just got a three-year, $18 million deal. Picking a running back as part of a committee is fine, but at #12 is a gross misuse of resources for a team still in a rebuilding phase.
#13: Green Bay Packers – ED Lukas Van Ness, Iowa, B+
This is such a classic Packers pick. In 2019, Green Bay selected a similarly unproven defensive lineman in Rashan Gary who had inside-out versatility but wasn’t a full-time player in the Big Ten. That’s the same profile as Lukas Van Ness who never played more than 50 snaps in a game last year for Iowa.
However, Van Ness had nine sacks in a part-time role, and his rocked up frame and undeniable power gives him a dominant bull rush to build on. Van Ness has positional versatility as he can play three-tech or on the edge, and he’ll likely fill in as a part-time player in 2022 as he further develops. The upside here is immense for a team that knows how to coach defensive linemen.
#14: Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Broderick Jones, Georgia, B+
The Steelers traded up to select the next offensive tackle on the board here, and they needed an upgrade over a below average duo of Dan Moore and Chukwuma Okorafor. The Jets were likely about to select Broderick Jones at #15, so it makes sense as to why the Steelers made this move up.
Jones lacks polish with just a season and a half of playing time at Georgia, but he packs a punch and has a great mentality for the position. As he further develops his footwork and hand placement, there’s a strong foundation for Jones to become a high-level starter for Pittsburgh’s developing offensive line in front of Kenny Pickett.
#15: New York Jets – ED Will McDonald IV, Iowa State, D-
This was a panic pick from the Jets after the Steelers traded in front of them to take the last player in the top tier of offensive tackles. Will McDonald IV has plenty of explosiveness and length with 35” arms, and he played a surprising amount of wide nine technique for Iowa State last season. He also has five years of experience under his belt.
However, McDonald is also undersized at 6’3”, 236 lbs, and his lack of play strength is a real issue he’ll have to overcome. He’s also going to turn 24 years old before the upcoming NFL season. McDonald will produce as a rotational pass rusher for New York, but this isn’t a position of need and he’s certainly not the best player available.
#16: Washington Commanders – CB Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State, C-
Emmanuel Forbes came in at 6’1”, 166 lbs, and it immediately caused him to drop in the eyes of draft media. However, the Commanders appear to have been undeterred by his slight frame. Forbes is a boom or bust cornerback capable of making game-changing plays but also vulnerable to giving up big receptions from time to time.
Forbes was dominant in man coverage in the SEC last season – he gave up just three catches while coming down with the same number of interceptions according to PFF. Forbes also had 13 interceptions in three years, which is four more than the next-closest Power Five cornerback over the same span. Still, the weight is a major concern for his play style.
#17: New England Patriots – CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon, A+
I’m a sucker for teams trading back and still getting the best player on the board at the time of their original pick, especially when that player fills a major need. That’s exactly what the Patriots pulled off, and it’s a shrewd move that doesn’t fit their normal draft strategy. Gonzalez is an awesome athlete who’s in the 98th percentile for the vertical jump and the 95th percentile for the broad jump.
Gonzalez can fit in man or zone-heavy defenses, and he can line up all over the formation. If you’re picking nits, Gonzalez lacks a killer instinct that teams want in their cornerbacks. He didn’t impose his will at the catch point enough and that hurt his ball production. However, if there’s a spot for him to figure that out, it’s with Bill Belichick in New England.
#18: Detroit Lions – LB Jack Campbell, Iowa, D-
The Lions made another shocking move with their draft selection of Jack Campbell, and while I think he’s going to be a productive player, it’s tough to come to terms with the positional value of drafting an off-ball linebacker at #18. Campbell graded very well in coverage by PFF, which is significant, but the Lions also just gave Alex Anzalone a three-year, $18 million contract.
Campbell will be a leader in the middle of the Lions’ defense, but he’s not a backfield playmaker like some other linebackers in this class. According to ESPN Analytics, there was a 96% chance Campbell would have still been available at their #34 pick. This was simply a head scratcher from Detroit.
#19: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh, B-
Calijah Kancey was a highly productive player at Pitt as he was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and led all interior pass-rushers in PFF pass rush grade. So why did he fall to #19? It’s because he’s 6’0”, 280 lbs, which will be problematic against much bigger, more physical offensive linemen than he saw in the ACC.
Kancey has a lightning-quick first step and has a polished pass rush toolbox, but in the second percentile for height and the first percentile for arm length. Tampa is a good fit as Vita Vea will swallow up double teams as their true nose tackle, but I can’t help but be concerned that Kancey’s outlier frame will cause issues.
#20: Seattle Seahawks – WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State, A+
The Seahawks had to be ecstatic about Smith-Njigba falling to this spot, and I assumed he would be going ten picks earlier than this. As a five-star recruit in 2019, JSN is another receiver in the Brian Hartline that has produced Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, both of whom hit the ground running as rookies last season.
I love the fit for JSN in Seattle as he can feast in the middle of the field in three-wide sets with D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I also love the Seahawks continuing to support Geno Smith, who they just gave a contract extension, with high-level receiving talent. Smith-Njigba has polished route-running, impressive vision, and technical refinement beyond his years.
#21: Los Angeles Chargers – WR Quentin Johnston, TCU, B+
If you’re a fan of physical traits, Quentin Johnston is your guy. Johnston has a massive 81 ⅝” wingspan (96th percentile) and is incredibly explosive as he had a 40 ½” vertical jump (93rd percentile) and 134” broad jump (97th percentile). The TCU product puts that explosiveness to good use with game-breaking big play potential.
I have some concerns about Johnston’s lack of route running refinement and surprising inconsistency in contested-catch situations. However, if he can learn to further maximize his unique explosiveness and massive frame, the sky’s the limit for Johnston at the next level. Justin Herbert can get the most out of a receiver like this.
#22: Baltimore Ravens – WR Zay Flowers, Boston College, A
There’s a lot that I love about Zay Flowers, but his loyalty and work ethic stand out the most to me. Flowers returned to Boston College for his senior season to catch passes from Phil Jurkovec behind perhaps the worst offensive line in the country rather than transferring to a situation that would better maximize his skill set.
Flowers is a YAC demon with impressive top end speed and great contact balance. He lacks polish as a route runner and isn’t going to dominate at the catch point, but he’s so dynamic and will add a ton of explosiveness to the Ravens’ offense that already features Mark Andrews and Odell Beckham Jr.
#23: Minnesota Vikings – WR Jordan Addison, USC, B
I’ve been back and forth on Jordan Addison primarily due to his real lack of play strength and complete lack of physicality – his ability to beat press coverage and win at the catch point might be troublesome. However, the former Biletnikoff winner is an easy Day 1 contributor with a high floor coming from his refined route running and elusiveness in the open field.
Addison is an outlier at his size – he’s 173 lbs (3rd percentile) and has 8 ¾” hands (9th percentile). However, he will see a ton of one-on-one opportunities across from Justin Jefferson in Minnesota and I expect him to be productive from the jump.
#24: New York Giants – CB Deonte Banks, Maryland, B+
The Giants traded up one pick to select Deonte Banks here, and it’s easy to see why. Banks has the type of traits you want to build around – his 11’4” broad jump was the third-best ever at the cornerback position. He also had a very productive 2022 season, allowing just a 43.3% completion rate in the Big Ten.
Banks is a perfect fit for Wink Martindale’s defense as he’s man coverage corner who he can leave on an island in one-on-one coverage while he dials up exotic blitzes up front. If Banks didn’t miss most of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury, he might have gone even earlier in this draft.
#25: Buffalo Bills – TE Dalton Kincaid, Utah, A+
The Bills have been destroyed by Travis Kelce in high profile games for the past few years, so it makes sense that they went and got the next closest thing in Dalton Kincaid. I hate comparing prospects to All Pro future Hall of Famers, but it’s hard not to go there when you watch Kincaid play.
Kincaid looks like a receiver at tight end and has impressive ball skills with the agility and footwork to work himself open. I also love his awareness to find the space in zone defenses like Kelce does for the Chiefs. Kincaid makes the Bills’ pass game all the more dangerous, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching him catch passes from Josh Allen.
#26: Dallas Cowboys – DT Mazi Smith, Michigan, A-
There might not be a stronger player in this entire draft class than Mazi Smith. He topped Feldman’s Freaks list last year as he reportedly did 22 reps on the bench – with 325 lbs. Perhaps most impressively, Smith held up very well with a big workload – he played 49 snaps per game against Power Five opponents in 2022.
Smith fills a major need for Dallas as their run defense lagged behind last year. He will also help take away attention from Micah Parsons on the edge as he’ll destroy teams that attempt to line up centers one-on-one against him. This might not be a sexy pick, but Smith is a strong player who fits great in this defense.
#27:Jacksonville Jaguars – OT Anton Harrison, Oklahoma, C-
The Jaguars did a great job of collecting extra draft capital in their two trades down, but I don’t love the selection of Anton Harrison here. This feels very much like a need-oriented pick after the Jaguars lost right tackle Jawaan Taylor in free agency and saw left tackle Cam Robinson get levied with a PED-related suspension.
Harrison’s lack of play strength is a significant concern as he got pushed around at times by Big 12 defensive linemen. There was real improvement from 2021 to 2022, but the Jaguars had better have a plan in place for addressing these shortcomings. To his credit, Harrison does have great footwork and fluid movement that helps him mirror opposing pass rushers.
#28: Cincinnati Bengals – ED Myles Murphy, Clemson, B+
For the first time since 2001, the Bengals selected a defensive end in the first round, and I believe they got a good one. Murphy is a rocked up 6’5”, 275 lbs but has surprisingly fluid movement at his size. Murphy has power rushing reps on film that are terrifying in a good way. His explosive first step at his size puts fear into opposing offensive linemen.
The lack of overall consistency and stalled development since his standout freshman season is somewhat concerning, and it’s why he wasn’t the top five pick he was billed as following that campaign. However, if there’s a coach I trust to get the most out of Murphy, it’s Lou Anarumo, perhaps the best defensive coordinator in the NFL.
Bengals fans wanted this pick to be Michael Mayer, but this tight end class is crazy deep. They can easily be in the market for Darnell Washington, Luke Musgrave, or Tucker Kraft on Day 2. Depending on how far Mayer falls, a trade up for him might not be out of the question, either.
#29: New Orleans Saints – DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson, A
Bryan Bresee had a rough go of it over the past couple of years. A former five-star recruit, Bresee was a first-team All ACC player as a true freshman before an ACL injury cut his 2021 season short. In 2022, he suffered a kidney infection and strep throat while also losing his younger sister Ella to brain cancer.
Bresee’s production never fully lived up to the hype due to those various challenges, but that’s to the Saints benefit as they can maximize his talent with their defensive line track record. Bresee can line up anywhere on the line and utilize his massive length (32 ½” arms), speed (4.86 40-yard dash), and strength (28 bench reps). He screams Saints as a prospect, and he’ll be fun for their fans to root for.
#30: Philadelphia Eagles – ED Nolan Smith, Georgia, A+
I wouldn’t have had a problem with the Eagles taking Nolan Smith with their #10 overall pick. Instead, they watched him slide down the draft board and took him at #30 to pair with Jalen Carter. Philly now has arguably the four best players – Smith, Carter, Jordan Davis, and Nakobe Dean – from Georgia’s historically great defense in 2021.
Smith is undersized at 6’3”, 235 lbs, and that’s likely why he fell this far. However, he compares favorably to Haason Reddick, another undersized pass rusher who’s coming off an All Pro season for the Eagles. Smith suffered a torn pec that cut his 2022 season short, but Smith fits seamlessly into a remarkably deep defensive line group in Philadelphia. The rich get richer… again.
#31: Kansas City Chiefs – ED Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State, B+
Still just 21 years old, Felix Anudike-Uzomah is early in his developmental trajectory, but his pass rush toolbox is more complete than you’d expect given his experience. He explodes off the line of scrimmage and effortlessly bends around the edge. He also has counters to turn to if he’s initially thwarted.
Kansas State attempted to put Anudike-Uzomah on the interior more often this past season, and he predictably struggled in that role as he’s just 6’3”, 255 lbs. He’s likely only an edge player in the NFL, and he’ll be a rotational player in that role this year. As an added bonus, the Chiefs get to avoid paying for moving costs as Anudike-Uzomah stays in his backyard.
Draft Day Trades
- Houston Texans acquire pick #3; Cardinals acquire pick #12, pick #33 (second round), 2024 first-round pick, and 2024 third-round pick
- Arizona Cardinals acquire pick #6, pick #81 (third round); Lions acquire pick #12, pick #34 (second round), and pick #168 (fifth round)
- Philadelphia Eagles acquire pick #9; Chicago Bears acquire pick #10 and 2024 fourth-round pick
- Pittsburgh Steelers acquire pick #14; New England Patriots acquire pick #17 and pick #120 (fourth round)
- New York Giants acquire pick #24; Jacksonville Jaguars acquire pick #25 and pick #160 (fifth round), and pick #240 (seventh round)
- Buffalo Bills acquire pick #25, Jacksonville Jaguars acquire pick #27 and pick #130 (fourth round)