The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books. 42 trades were made over the three-day event as 32 NFL teams scrambled, negotiated and dealt to secure the best player available from their board of best college football talent, generated from months of research, interviews, workouts and travel. 259 players were selected, from Bryce Young at No.1 to this year's Mr. Irrelevant, Desjuan Johnson, a defensive end from Toledo, selected at No.259 by the Los Angeles Rams.
Here are some of the highlights, and a little look ahead to the players to look out for ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft...
In Round 1, the Texans pulled off the move of the draft. jumping up from No.12 to No.3 in a blockbuster trade with Arizona to secure the top edge defender in college football, Will Anderson, Jr. Houston paid a steep price, in addition to No.12, the Texans added their second round No. 33 overall selection, plus a 2024 first and third-round pick. In addition to Arizona's No.3, Houston also picked up a fourth-round pick (No. 105) this year. Time will tell if their gamble pays off, but you have to applaud their adventure. They also secured their quarterback of the future in Ohio State passer C.J. Stroud. Not a bad first round.
Stroud quickly gained some help with the Texans' third round pick, wide receiver Tank Dell from the University of Houston. Dell recorded 928 receiving yards in 2022. He is a difficult receiver to cover in the slot and joins Robert Woods, Nico Collins and the recovering John Metchie III in a talented receiver room. TCU edge Dylan Horton filled a position of need and Alabama linebacker Henry To'oTo'o is an experienced run defender and useful addition in Round 5.
Philadelphia will be firm favourites to return to the Super Bowl in 2024 and this year's draft haul could tip them over the edge to win it. "GeorgiaDelphia" is the tag being applied to the Eagles after they added three Georgia players from the Bulldogs' 2023 championship-winning defense, in addition to the two they drafted in 2022. For good measure, the Eagles added talented running back D'Andre Swift in a trade with Detroit. Swift, a Philadelphia native, adds another dimension to the Eagles offense.
The Eagles mischievously updated their Twitter handle (above) to reflect their intake of Georgia players. Who can blame them? Georgia have boasted the best defense in college football for the last three seasons. Jalen Carter, who is one of the top three players in the draft and a steal at No.9, Nolan Smith, also a steal at No.30 and Kelee Ringo can slot straight into the Eagles' line up and join ex-team mates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean. On offense? Alabama players seem like a good fit. In addition to quarterback Jalen Hurts and former Heisman winning receiver DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia selected Tyler Steen, the Crimson Tide offensive tackle who could be a long-term replacement for Jason Kelce.
In the third round, Sydney Brown from Illinois was good value as the first true safety picked and fills a position of need, as starters Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps left the team in free agency. Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee was taken off the board in the sixth round. Unlike Hurts, he is a pure pocket passer who lacks the starter's movement but will be a good project backup.
The deepest quarterback class in years
In a recent article for Ninety-Nine Yards, I suggested that the 2023 quarterback draft class might compare, in time, with the great classes of 2020 and 1983. While just three signal callers were taken in the first round - Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson - a total of 12 were taken in the first five rounds, a modern draft era record, and 14 overall.
The Titans traded up to end the anxiety of Will Levis, who had endured a miserable day on the Green Room during the first round, early in Round 2 at No.33. Hendon Hooker was the only quarterback taken in Round 3, going to Detroit, where he could ultimately challenge Jared Goff.
On Day 3, it was open season on college quarterbacks. Three were selected within eight picks in Round 4. New Orleans selected Jake Haener at No.127 from Fresno State, the same alma mater as his new team mate and Saints starting quarterback Derek Carr. Stetson Bennett IV, winner of consecutive national championships with Georgia, was picked by the L.A. Rams at No.128, joining their starting QB Matthew Stafford, also a former Bulldog. Sensing a run, the Las Vegas Raiders traded up to No.135 to take Purdue signal caller Aidan O'Connell off the board.
Five picks later and another run on quarterbacks. Arizona selected Houston's Clayton Tune at No.139, immediately followed by the Browns picking UCLA standout Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who will sit behind Deshaun Watson in Cleveland. Green Bay selected Penn State's Sean Clifford at No.149 to back up Jordan Love, who with three years in the league, is younger than Clifford. Minnesota broke the record with their selection of Brigham Young's Jaren Hall at No.164 overall.
It will be interesting to look back in three years' time, and evaluate which of the quarterbacks taken will have had the most success. Brock Purdy's impact in San Francisco last year having been the last quarterback taken will have given teams some optimism in picking late-round passers. Purdy leapfrogged former No.3 overall pick Trey Lance as the team starter on the 49ers' depth chart. And we all know about some sixth-round pick called Tom Brady. There is value to be had.
Tight ends jump off the board, but later than expected
A lot of pre-Draft buzz focused on the depth and talent of the 2023 tight end class. As it turned out, only Utah's Dalton Kincaid was selected in the first round, at No.25 by the Buffalo Bills. Detroit started a run of five tight ends picked in Round 2, surprisingly taking Iowa's Sam LaPorta off the board. Notre Dame's Michael Mayer and Oregon State's Luke Musgrave arguably had higher grades before the Draft. They were taken at No.35 and No.42 by Las Vegas Raiders and Green Bay Packers respectively.
Having snagged Musgrave, the Packers spent their third round pick (No.78) on another tight end, Tucker Kraft from South Dakota State. Georgia's giant Darnell Washington and Alabama's Cameron Latu concluded the third round tight end picks, taken at No.93 and No.101 by the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers. Latu will learn from one of the game's best, George Kittle.
Fifteen tight ends were drafted this year, although the headline number is the six taken in the first two rounds, an indication of the high level of talent available in this increasingly important offensive position.
A look ahead to 2024...
Despite the Draft finishing merely a few days ago, analysts and media pundits are already compiling their mock drafts for 2024, when the NFL Draft moves to Detroit. Here are twelve players to look out for next season, who will be in contention for first-round picks:
Caleb Williams - QB, USC - Heisman Trophy winner and likely 2024 No.1 pick.
Drake Maye - QB, North Carolina - rumoured to have turned down Alabama to stay at UNC.
J.J. McCarthy - QB, Michigan - could lead a strong Wolverines team to the national title.
Quinn Ewers - QB, Texas - exciting gunslinger who has finally found his home in Austin.
Marvin Harrison Jr, - WR, Ohio State - the top receiver taken in 2023 if eligible this year.
Emeka Egbuka - WR, Ohio State - latest in a factory line of outstanding Buckeye receivers.
Olumuyiwa Fashanu - OT, Penn State - outstanding tackle and just 20 years old.
Joe Alt - OT, Notre Dame - will compete with Fashanu to be the top tackle off the board.
Brock Bowers - TE, Georgia - the best tight end in college football. This year and next.
Dallas Turner - LB, Alabama - developed as a premier pass rusher under Will Anderson, Jr.
Kool-Aid McKinstry - DB, Alabama - the coolest name in college football. A talented corner.
Jared Verse - DE, Florida State - the Albany transfer will look to bounce back after injury.