1) CAROLINA PANTHERS (f/CHI)
Bryce Young – QB/Alabama
THE PLAYER: A size anomaly of epic proportions. Not just the height, but also the playing weight and wingspan simply do not line up with what even would be considered an undersized pro quarterback. For anyone to be considered for this slot at that size, there needs to be multiple standout traits that are special. The word elite should not be thrown around lightly, but that is what Young brings to the table as a leader of the offense. Ability to escape, innovation, ball placement, and preparedness are all off the chart on the grade-sheet and they are enough to move forward with the size limitation.
WHY:David Tepper purchased the Carolina Panthers about a month before 2018 training camp. He is a “swing for the fence” businessman that stayed on the sideline as the front office tried to trade for Matthew Stafford (fail), Russell Wilson (fail), and Deshaun Watson (fail). With the move up to number one overall, there is zero chance they get leapfrogged and Tepper makes the final call, one that is best for business even if the size and style go in the complete opposite direction from what Head Coach Frank Reich has worked with in the past from week one starting quarterbacks (Carson Wentz, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, and Andrew Luck averaged out to 6’4” / 231 pounds.
2) HOUSTON TEXANS
CJ Stroud – QB/Ohio State
THE PLAYER: The top five quarterbacks in this class all have what I would consider to be significant question marks that separate any of them from an elite grade. The one with the lowest ceiling also happens to have the highest floor is Stroud. His ball control to all levels stems from an ever-improving usage of mechanics from head to toe and mental growth. Stroud is battle-tested off the field, incredibly productive on the field, and capable of elevating his play in high-pressure situations. Everything about him screams franchise quarterback.
WHY: January 3, 2021 (week 17 of the 2020 season) was the last time Houston had a true franchise quarterback throw a pass for the team. Deshaun Watson sat out for an entire season to engineer an eventual trade out of town. Since then, Houston ranks dead last in the league in total offense. They have gone 7-26-1 over that span. Following four postseason appearances in five years, the once-ascending franchise is pinned into a corner in dire need of a new future led by a new quarterback. They turn toward the safe option in Stroud if they can get over the fact he is represented by agent David Mulugheta, who happens to also represent Watson.
3) ARIZONA CARDINALS
Will Anderson – OLB/Alabama
THE PLAYER: Pressure and plays behind the line of scrimmage. Anderson been producing top-shelf results in those two departments since becoming the first ever true freshman to start at linebacker for Alabama under Nick Saban. In 41 career starts (never missed a game), Anderson left school with a stunning 207 pressures and 61 tackles for loss while showing the ability to align in multiple spots along the front. The two-time unanimous All-American 21-year-old is mature beyond his years and will be a face of the franchise, team-leader type early in his career.
WHY: In a season where the defense allowed the second most points in the league, they also recorded the tenth fewest sacks. To compound that shortcoming even further down the ladder, JJ Watt and Zach Allen are both long gone. The two of them combined for half of the unit’s total sacks. Markus Golden, number two in pressures on the team, remains a free agent. New Head Coach Jonathan Gannon brings a defensive bias to the staff following a disappointing run by Kliff Kingsbury, who led Arizona to a 28-37-1 record over four years. He comes from a Philadelphia defense that just led the NFL in sacks and finished second in pressure percentage. Combine the match in philosophy along with the fact this organization needs to clean up their locker room in addition to the product on the field, Anderson is the obvious choice.
4) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Will Levis – QB/Kentucky
THE PLAYER: After transferring from Penn State because he failed to beat out Sean Clifford for a starting job, Levis ended up in the SEC. From backup in the Big Ten to starter in the SEC on a team that was coming off a 5-6 season in 2020. He then proceeded to lead the Wildcats to ten wins, a mark the program hit for the second time since 1977. One thing Levis has on his resume that the other top four quarterbacks do not is exposure and experience within two different NFL-caliber offensive schemes. One from the Sean McVay coaching tree, one from the Kyle Shanahan tree. While the issues with his processing and erratic ball placement cause credible concern, everything in his tool belt is pro-caliber.
WHY: Colts owner Jim Irsay is involved in quarterback decisions. Let’s take a look at those quarterbacks that warranted a hefty cost (first round draft pick OR a high-trade price tag). Peyton Manning. Andrew Luck. Phillip Rivers. Carson Wentz. Matt Ryan. See a theme? Big, strong, traditional drop back passers with substantial arm power to make all the throws and some. Add in the fact General Manager Chris Ballard has been on board for the acquisition of three of those players and the fact Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter made a name for himself with a Levis-type profile (Matthew Stafford) during his tenure in Detroit, all signs point in this direction.
PHILADELPHIA TRADES #10 overall (1) and #30 overall (1)
SEATTLE FOR #5 overall (1) and #83 overall (3)
5) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (f/DEN via SEA)
Jalen Carter – DT/Georgia
THE PLAYER: The one defensive player in this draft class that can make a credible case to grade higher than Will Anderson plays a position that is growing in value year by year in the league. Carter was the best defender on the 2021 National Championship team, a group that hosted eventual first round picks Travon Walker, Jordan Davis, and Devonte Wyatt. He can, and did, align all over the defensive line with the ability to perform multiple roles. The explosion and body control are there to be a penetrating force, the power and size are there to take on double teams inside. Carter has some growing up to do but the football character checks out enough to keep his outlook high.
WHY: Philadelphia General Manager Howie Roseman has traded throughout draft weekend 40+ times over his tenure. He has traded up three of the last four drafts. The devotion to the defensive line is obvious (12 picks spent on the DL since taking over all personnel decisions in 2016 in addition to large spending allocation). Carter joins 2021 Georgia teammates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean to help offset the loss of Javon Hargrave and decline of Fletcher Cox. Aggressive moves are in Roseman’s nature, the need for an interior defensive line talent is credible, and this is yet another move that further separates them from other NFC contenders while also picking up third rounder to help them maneuver later on if needed.
6) DETROIT LIONS (f/ LAR)
Christian Gonzalez – CB/Oregon
THE PLAYER: One of the youngest players in the draft, Gonzalez is a credible candidate to become a true number one corner at the next level. His game has improved each and every year all the way to the point of earning First Team All-Pac 12 honors after his first and only season at Oregon following the transfer from Colorado. He comes from a family of elite, Olympic-caliber track stars and has the kind of frame that can factor against bigger receivers and movement traits that can stay attached to a quick slot receiver. His game fits in to any scheme, any role.
WHY: Detroit has not hidden or disguised what the focal point is for the 2023 offseason. After four straight years of a bottom-five pass defense, the secondary has been re-tooled with established free agency additions. One thing they lack is a young centerpiece to round out entire defensive backfield, a guy they can truly build around. General Manager Brad Holmes just traded away 2020 top five pick and corner Jeff Okudah, taken by the previous regime, and uses this selection to insert his own top dog at the position. 2023 offseason mission complete.
7) LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Calijah Kancey – DT/Pittsburgh
THE PLAYER: The numbers that appear on his measurement sheet are off the chart in the wrong direction. His lack of length is a significant red flag, and his overall body mass does not fit the profile of pro defensive lineman, even the three technique-only types. Similar to the statement above about Bryce Young: if there is such a shortcoming in a specific area, there needs to be a slew of standout traits elsewhere. Kancey’s athleticism is also off the charts, but this time in the right direction. An All-American defensive tackle that accrued 111 pressures and 34 TFL over 37 games does not come around often.
WHY: Kancey falls within striking distance for team starving for help to aid defensive end Maxx Crosby and will likely wave goodbye to current three-tech Bilal Nichols next offseason. The risk will be real, but the decision makers are not overly attached to length as a key trait inside. Head Coach Josh McDaniels, General Manager David Ziegler, and Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham were all with the Patriots over the two-year span that saw the team spend consecutive first round picks on short armed defensive tackles (Malcolm Brown in 2015 and Dominique Easley in 2014). If you can play football and have a specialty, this group will gamble and see what can be altered during camp. Schemes can and should be built around the skill sets, not the other way around.
TENNESSEE TRADES #11 (1) and 2024 3rd round pick
ATLANTA FOR #8 (1)
8) TENNESSEE TITANS (f/ATL)
Peter Skoronski – OT/Northwestern
THE PLAYER: The best offensive lineman in the class brings a credible amount of outside-inside versatility to the line. His measurements loudly proclaim guard. His arms measured in just over 32 inches, a number that we almost never see from high-level tackles. His techniques, general feel, and consistency are made for the outside. Where he ends up will largely depend on who drafts him, but there is little-to-no-debate this is the best lineman in the class by a sizeable margin.
WHY: The trade up in front of Chicago ensures the team gets their pick of the litter along the offensive line. An offensive line that is replacing a starting left tackle, right guard, and center from the 2022 week one opening day lineup. On paper, the Tennessee line is in the discussion when talking about the worst groups in the league. New General Manager Ron Carthon comes from San Francisco where he started working in 2017. Since then, that team used all five of their respective first-picks of their drafts in the trenches, one of which was an offensive tackle in addition to the trading of multiple picks for tackle Trent Williams. The takeaway that stems from there is the fact he is tearing the line down and rebuilding it through draft picks first, veterans later. Skoronski is the ideal place to start and gives them the options to play him anywhere based on what in-house options fail to step up.
9) CHICAGO BEARS (f/CAR)
Tyree Wilson – DE/Texas Tech
THE PLAYER: After a slow start to his career that began at Texas A&M, Wilson put together two straight seasons of dominant-caliber traits on tape for NFL teams. His size (6’6”+ with 35.5
+ arms + 84.5” wingspan) is next-level. The maturation of his techniques and repeatability in addition to alignment versatility will make him a fit for any and all schemes in the league. When projecting tools and talent to the next level, Wilson could make a strong case to be considered the defensive lineman in this class with the highest ceiling.
WHY: Much attention has been devoted to the offensive line and how many allowed sacks they produced in 2022. The equally glaring issue on this team is their own ability to apply pressure in their 4-3, one-gap scheme. The personnel was beefed up at linebacker in a big way, but the additions of Rasheem Greene, Andrew Billings, and Demarcus Walker (former two were signed to one-year deals) will not move the needle. In 2016, the year that current Bears General Manager Ryan Poles was named Director of College Scouting for Kansas City, the Chiefs used their first pick on defensive lineman Chris Jones. A massive, versatile bruiser that had the projection of a guy you can build around is the same feel they get from a guy like Wilson. Different positions (kinda), but similar maneuverability and every-down impact with matchup-nightmare potential.
10) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (f/NO via PHI)
Nolan Smith – OLB/Georgia
THE PLAYER: The former number one overall high school recruit is the most explosive edge defender in the class. The 41.5” vertical paired with a sub 4.4 forty put the final stamp on that sentiment. The mere but scary threat he presents from the edge in passing situations will need to be accounted for right away. Because of the talent in that area, his run defense and versatile skill set often gets overlooked. Smith will find ways to contribute in all game situations, including special teams. The intangibles, leadership, and energy traits he brings to a unit will raise the floor of his impact and ceiling of his potential.
Why: Starting edge defenders Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor are entering contract years and neither of them bring the level of athleticism Smith does. A deep dive into the personality of Smith and one can credibly wonder if the intangibles of he and Head Coach Pete Carroll are a match made in heaven. Lastly, the Carroll / John Schneider duo, together since 2010, have spent five top-50 picks on edge defenders since 2012 (3 in the past 4 drafts) and one of their first two picks has been spent on the defensive front in 9 of the past 11 drafts. The trend continues.
11) ATLANTA FALCONS (f/TEN)
Bijan Robinson – RB/Texas
THE PLAYER: Widely considered one of the top eight football players in this draft by anyone with credibility, Robinson could make a strong case to be the best playmaker. A trait from college football that translates well to the NFL is ability to force missed tackles. According to PFF, Robinson has forced a stunning 183 missed tackles over his last 22 games. On a per game basis, that is nearly twice as many as the top number in the NFL we saw in 2022. Robinson’s receiver-caliber hands and route running will further strengthen the notion his draft slot, no matter how high it ends up being, will be justifiable.
WHY: Atlanta trades down from #8, picks up a future third, and walks away with a player that would have chosen had they stayed put. That is called free money. The debate of whether Head Coach Arthur Smith and General Manager Terry Fontenot would use an asset like this on a position that already has a solid young player in the backfield (second year back Tyler Allgeier) can be answered with two different versions of “Yes”. When Fontenot was on staff in New Orleans, the team had three straight 7-win seasons from 2014-2016. The 2017 Draft brought the arrival of Alvin Kamara. The next four years resulted in 11, 13, 13, and 12-win seasons largely because of a top-tier two-back system in the backfield. Combine Smith’s ascent from a 2018 tight end coach in Tennessee to Head Coach of Atlanta in 2021 largely a result of Derrick Henry leads me to the notion this team will see the obvious and hidden values of Robinson on this team.
NEW ENGLAND TRADES #14 (1) and #107 (4)
HOUSTON FOR #12 (1)
12) NEW ENGLAND (f/CLE via HOU)
Devon Witherspoon – CB/Illinois
THE PLAYER: Witherspoon was on the first round-radar for those that looked at his game leading up to the start of the 2022 season. Some were late to catch on and that is just fine. There is no argument how good he is and what he can be at the next level. Some could even make a case for him being CB1 in this class, especially defensive shot callers that place extra value on physicality from corners. There will be some cleaning up to do but everything about his ability to progress his skill set from year to year should give a strong indication of what to expect in the coming years.
WHY: One of the prerequisites for a top-notch Bill Belichick defense centers around having a true number one corner. While they are not starving for quality players at that spot, the likes of Jack and Jonathon Jones will not get it done. It is a secondary full of quality nickels and number two cover guys. New England has ranked top ten in fewest yards and points allowed four times since 2015. In those four years they won 10, 12, 14, and 12 games. All of those teams ended up in the postseason. One of them won the Super Bowl. Those teams had JC Jackson, Stephon Gilmore, or Malcolm Butler as their top dog on the outside. None of the current corners on this roster fit into that discussion and Witherspoon at least offers the possibility.
WASHINGTON TRADES #16 (1) and a 2024 2nd round pick
NEW YORK (A) for #13
13) WASHINGTON COMMANDERS (f/NYJ)
Anthony Richardson – QB/Florida
THE PLAYER: By far the most talented quarterback in this class, Richardson is the closest thing we have ever seen to Cam Newton as a prospect, the #1 overall pick of the 2011 Draft and 2015 MVP. The size, speed, and arm talent are all off the charts. Catch the right string of plays from both in and out of the pocket, a case can be made for him being the #1 overall pick. Catch the wrong string of plays and one can question if he should even be a day two pick. The unknown is what makes him polarizing. His tape is a roller coaster. Here is the list of first round quarterbacks that started under 18 games in college since 2010: Cam Newton, Mitchell Trubisky, Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Trey Lance, Mac Jones.
WHY: Former Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy was brought in following a 10-season stint under Andy Reid. This will be the first time he has full playcalling duties in front of him, no obstruction in the way. One must imagine he will have a strong say in what they plan to do at quarterback and the creativity one can use with a player like Richardson, a staple of the Chiefs offense while Bieniemy was there, is limitless. Cam Newton, the same profile Richardson plays with, was drafted in Ron Rivera’s first year in Carolina in 2015. The two won the NFC together just give years into the relationship and while Rivera will be having his paycheck signed by new ownership this season and may not have a ton of job security, he knows this is the move for the betterment of this franchise.
14) HOUSTON TEXANS (f/NE)
Lukas Van Ness – DE/Iowa
THE PLAYER: One of the most impressive physical specimens in the entire draft class, Van Ness has the look and style of play that could be the next example of a player from Iowa that ascends once in the league. The versatile, yet somewhat raw defensive linemen actually saw twice as many snaps inside the tackle than he did outside. His frame may not be done adding bulk and when he cleans up some of his pass rush techniques, he has the kind of ability to create mismatches all over the line. The former hockey player played under 1,000 snaps in college, a number way below some other prospects in this class and one must believe he is incredibly early on the progression curve despite a 46-pressure, 9-sack season in 2022.
WHY: New Head Coach Demeco Ryans comes from a San Francisco defense that constantly pumped young defensive linemen into the system. Since he was hired by the franchise in 2017, they used three first round picks on the defensive line, and this was immediately after the two drafts in which they used their first rounders on DeForest Buckner (2016) and Arik Armstead (2015). Simply put, he saw first-hand the value big, physical, and versatile defensive linemen had on that success of the defense and team overall. His Defensive Coordinator, Matt Burke, is coming off a season in Arizona where he coached JJ Watt and will see the similarities Van Ness has to the soon-to-be Hall of Famer trait-wise.
15) GREEN BAY PACKERS
Brian Branch - S/Alabama
THE PLAYER: A First Team All American, Branch played all over the Alabama defense. His position is simply “defensive back” or “Swiss Army Knife”. He broke out in 2022 with a team-high two interceptions and finished second (behind Will Anderson) with 14 tackles for loss. The versatility to his skill set allows the defensive play caller to get creative and keep the opposition guessing. The quick-trigger and dependable tackling complements his fast decision making and ability to forecast very well.
WHY: Since 2014, Green Bay has used their first or second pick on a defensive back six times (out of 9). Three of those times, they used BOTH their first and second pick on a defensive back. With starting safety Darnell Savage and nickel Keisean Dixon entering contract years along with the fact they were sixth worst a year ago in average yards allowed per attempt, the fit of Branch is an ideal fit. Whether he plays a nickel or every down safety role, Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry has been in search of this kind of defender for the back end since taking over the job in 2021.
16) NEW YORK JETS (f/WAS)
Paris Johnson – OT/Ohio State
THE PLAYER: After starting at right guard for the entire 2021 season (where he did not allow a single sack), Johnson shifted over to the blind side protector and was flagged just once for a false start. The quality tape he has at both spots will undoubtedly open more doors for him at the next level. No matter where he lands, his long term forecast will include a shot at the most valuable position on the line. All the tools are there and a few of them are elite. His mental prowess and maturity will help decision makers sleep well at night, knowing that wherever his ceiling lies, this is the kind of person that will get himself there. This is a week one starter with a long term forecast of ending up at left tackle for a decade-plus.
WHY: The Jets trade down a few spots, pick up a future day two pick, and still end up with the player they would have taken had they stayed put in the first place. 2020 first rounder Mekhi Becton is on track to return to the field, but he has played in just 1 of the last 34 games. Johnson provides a more-than solid Plan B and if Becton does return to form, Johnson can compete for the job at right tackle and/or be the valuable sixth lineman in year one that every team needs at some point. The investment and dedication to Aaron Rodgers and keeping him upright is the next order of business after solidifying the targets in the passing game.
17) PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Broderick Jones – OT/Georgia
THE PLAYER: The most inexperienced lineman in first or even second/third round consideration, Jones can make a strong case to be considered the highest-upside tackle in the class. His basketball background shows up on tape and he has grown into a frame that plays heavy but twitchy. While his techniques could come across as raw, the only penalty he was called for was a false start. The natural movement traits combined with speed-to-power conversion create an ideal blend of performance on the field. He is already a good tackle, but still has a lot to chew off and gain.
WHY: While left tackle Dan Moore ended the 2022 season on a strong note, he is not the long-term answer to protect Kenny Pickett’s blind side. A couple of options could open for a move but no matter what, a talent like Jones cannot be ignored because of a talent like Moore. Plain and simple. Offensive Line Coach Pat Meyer has been a key part to developing Moore to his ceiling in such a hurry. The 2021 fourth round pick started 16 games as a rookie, almost unheard of in today’s NFL. His recent success of getting a player to his ceiling in such a hurry should give the front office confidence as they look to up the level of play at this spot. This makes the case for Pittsburgh drafting as first round tackle for the first time since 1996 much more likely.
18) DETROIT LIONS
Adetomiwa Adebawore – DT/Northwestern
THE PLAYER: Coming from a program that simply did not play in situations that called for a lot of pass rush possibilities (4-20 combined record past two seasons), Adebawore may not get the attention he deserves from the public. His production is solid, but it does not stand out. Even though his alignment was moved around, most of his snaps were on the edge. The NFL will view him as a three-technique that will occasionally shift outside. Throw in the Aaron Donald-type size and athletic abilities (Adebawore actually tested out better) and the fact there was absolutely nothing around him for offenses to keep track of, we are talking about a big-time disruptor with versatility and a hungry attitude.
WHY: There could be a market for teams looking to trade up for a receiver and Detroit may want to do everything they can to get a future first to increase ammunition for a potential trade up for a quarterback next year. I did not find the right fit, however, and kept them in this spot. As good as the Lions pass rush is and can be, there is something missing inside. The durability concerns of defensive tackle of Levi Onwuzurike and limited pass rush capabilities of Alim McNeill make this an easy selection. Adebawore fits the ethos of the Detroit culture and offers some inside-out versatility should someone like Onwuzurike step up into the penetrating role.
19) TAMPA BAY BUCCANNEERS
O’Cyrus Torrence – OG/Florida
THE PLAYER: Torrence could have stayed at Louisiana and maintained a much easier path to a likely first round projection. He instead followed Head Coach Bill Napier to Florida, taking on a massive jump in competition, keeping his zero-allowed sack streak alive, and earned Consensus All-American honors. The massive grizzly bear started 47 games over four years, spent three of those seasons under an Offensive Line Coach with NFL experience (Rob Sale), and has several wins against Jalen Carter on tape, the closest thing to the NFL linemen he saw while in college.
WHY: The Bucs are just one full season removed from one of the top offensive lines in football. The starting five of Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, and Tristan Wirfs is long gone. 60% of that group is no longer here, one of them is making a position change (Wirfs to left tackle), and one of them is a soon-to-be 32-year-old coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss almost the entire year in 2022. There will likely be several changes to this roster in the coming 11 months including a new quarterback under center next season. Creating the wall of an offensive line is a route General Manager Jason Licht can take before re-tooling their skill positions next time around the sun.
20) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Jaxon Smith-Njigba – WR/Ohio State
THE PLAYER: On a team that included two eventual top 11 picks (Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave), it was Smith-Njigba that everyone labeled the best receiver on team including Wilson and Olave themselves. His record-setting 15 catch – 347 yard – 3 touchdown performance against Utah in the 2022 Rose Bowl was no fluke but what it was, was the last time we saw him play more than 23 snaps in a game. That game took place 15+ months ago. A hamstring injury essentially forced the slot receiver to miss nearly the entire 2022 season. His skill set is special and is an ideal fit for an inside role just like a sub 4.3 guy is destined for the vertical outside threat. His hands, routes, and ability after the catch are all top-shelf traits that fit in well with the current NFL passing games.
WHY: Receiver D’Wayne Eskridge was drafted in the second round of the 2021 draft to add the much-needed third option behind dynamic duo Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. He has 122 yards receiving over the course of 20 games. Since 2019, the number three/four receivers on this team have averaged a COMBINED 3 catches for 39 yards per game. Again, COMBINED. Marquise Goodwin, Freddie Swain, and David Moore each have respectively been the number three guy over that span, none of them are still in a Seattle uniform. Bringing in Smith-Njigba easily provides the most talented number three they’ve ever had under those top two.
21: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Dalton Kincaid – TE/Utah
THE PLAYER: From zero-star high school recruit to a non-scholarship spot on San Diego University’s roster to FCS All-American to transfer to Utah to a Third-team All-American that led the nation’s tight ends in several per-game receiving metrics. Kincaid’s constant ascent to a first-round projection is one of the top and most unlikely stories in the draft. A back injury has hindered his pre-draft process but there is no long-term fear in regard to recovery. Kincaid is a move-tight end with excellent ability after the catch. His 1.6% career drop rate is incredibly rare. While he will need to be kept away from in-line blocking duties, this is the kind of oversized slot that can create nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.
WHY: The Chargers let the prototype Hunter Henry walk in free agency a couple years ago. They opted to offer a long-term deal to Gerald Everett and draft Tre McKitty, both of which fit the profile of Kincaid; slightly undersized and underwhelming as a blocker but a quick-footed and athletic pass catcher that can kill a defense underneath and after the catch. New Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore has had success with different tight ends throughout his play calling career. He understands and implements the impact they can have the offense as a whole and if the receivers stay healthy, this could be the final piece the personnel needs to offer a full-blown versatile attack to get the most out of Justin Herbert.
22: BALTIMORE RAVENS
Deonte Banks – CB/Maryland
THE PLAYER: Arguably the number one performer in the group from the scouting combine did not come out of the dark. Because he missed most of 2021 with a shoulder injury the required surgery, his name may not have been mentioned much leading up to the season but make no mistake, he has been on the NFL radar since 2019 where he started 9 games as a true freshman. His best football in college was against his best competition and he plays with an obvious sense of aggression, speed, and confidence. His traits and skill set fit in with any kind of coverage scheme.
WHY: Five of the last six corners this franchise has drafted measure in over six feet tall. The one that didn’t? Anthony Averett, who did not get re-signed to a second contract. Marcus Peters, a veteran they acquired via trade in 2019 and spent 3+ seasons in Baltimore also measured in right at six feet. They like to gamble on speed-based traits and develop them over the course of a season before throwing them in the mix. Banks is as talented as any cover man in the draft, but there are techniques that need to be cleaned up. This will mark the seventh defensive back drafted by Baltimore since 2017, sixth since 2020, an area that are always trying to pump talent into.
LOS ANGELES TRADE #36 (2) and #69 (3)
MINNESOTA FOR #23(1)
23) LOS ANGELES RAMS (f/MIN)
Joey Porter Jr. – CB/Penn State
THE PLAYER: Son of former Super Bowl Champion outside linebacker Joey Porter from the Steelers, junior has a rare blend of size, length and speed. How rare? He is the only corner in the history of the combine to measure in at over 6’2”/ 190+ pounds with over 34” arms and sub 4.47 forty. Ever. The lineage is there, the aggressive confidence is there, and the improvement from 10 penalties in 2021 to just 3 in 2022 means something. Porter Jr. has an upside very few can ever touch and once he gets put into a favorable scheme, watch out.
WHY: The Rams have nearly emptied the defensive cabinet and while this trade up into round one (a round they are making a selection in for the first time since Jared Goff in 2016) could be for a pass rusher, they go after a cornerback that has a rare tool set. A tool set that Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris has developed and worked well with across multiple stops in his career. Just because this franchise appears to be in a rebuild mode does not mean General Manager Les Snead will refrain from being aggressive. This is an essential tool to a defense that can build around of Porter realizes his rare blend of tools and just like the this team has done in the past, they will pay a high price to get the most valuable assets to a successful roster and accessorize from there.
24) JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Michael Mayer – TE/Notre Dame
THE PLAYER: In a strong tight end class with mixed reviews about the top four guys at the position, Mayer feels like the safest and most traditional one. While he may not have the standout physical traits or eye-opening production (although 180 / 2,099 / 18 career isn’t exactly something to look past), Mayer is the prototype in-line tight end physically with the ability to set up in the slot to create mismatches. As a matter of fact, he had 250 more snaps lined up out of the trenches than in them. He brings automatic underneath and intermediate contributions to the passing game, good enough initial striking as a blocker, and a knack for scoring touchdowns and breaking tackles. If you know you are not getting Travis Kelce or George Kittle here, Mayer is a safe pick to get you at least a single or double.
WHY: The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017 with Zach Ertz as their leading receiver. It was his third straight 70+ catch, 800+ yard season and he was five years into his career. In the very next draft just a few months after that victory, the team used their first pick on a tight end from South Dakota State, Dallas Goedert. The two spent three years in the same offense, providing one of the top (if not THE top) 12 personnel packages in the league with a young quarterback that was entering year three of his pro career. Trevor Lawrence is about to enter year three, Evan Engram was franchised (the team’s third leading receiver), and Mayer is an ideal complement that gives Doug Pederson plenty of options.
25) NEW YORK GIANTS
Zay Flowers – WR/Boston College
THE PLAYER: The all-time leading receiver in school history does not exactly come from a factory that produces NFL talent at the position. While it is publicly known he had multiple big-time schools pursuing him as a transfer last year, Flowers remained loyal to where he began and never shut off. The ultra-quick, ultra-competitive spark plug will have no issues separating from defensive backs in space. He shows a keen understanding of route running, moving at different gears, and deception. The ability to create yards with the ball in his hand will be his primary calling card, but he will need to overcome a size issue that is off the charts in the wrong direction.
WHY: The new regime used both of their top ten picks in 2022 on players in the trenches despite Garrett Wilson being available. Their plan was evidently to build the lines in year one (five draft picks and their biggest free agency signing) and pursue playmakers in year two. While this would mark the fifth receiver in their top seven to measure in under six feet tall, Flowers brings two traits to the table both General Manager Joe Schoen and Head Coach Brian Daboll value highly. One, alignment versatility. Flowers looks like slot, but he lined up twice as much on the outside than he did inside. Two, separation. This passing scheme engineered by Daboll and Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka (previously of Kansas City) need their receivers to create space themselves more so than the need to win in contested situations. Add in the competitive team spirit-demeanor and this is a solid match.
KANSAS CITY TRADES #31 (1) and #95 (3)
DALLAS FOR #26 (1)
26) KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (f/DAL)
Myles Murphy – DE/Clemson
THE PLAYER: Three straight seasons with double digit tackles for loss including his true freshman year where he also led the team with three forced fumbles, earning Freshman All-American honors. The prototype numbers are there when evaluating his triangle numbers (height-weight-speed). He is more than a pass rusher, though. This is a try-hard, powerful run defender that does not need to be taken off the field in any situation. While he will align on the edge for most of his snaps, he as both the tools and experience about 20% of his snaps over the tackle on down to the A-gap according to PFF.
WHY: The addition of Charles Omenihu is not where the re-construction of their pass rush ends. Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has three Super Bowl rings as the shot caller on that side of the ball. He knows what to do once the postseason comes around, but the pieces are needed. The most vital ingredient to his established philosophy is an abundance of pass rushers that he can get on the field all at once. Murphy is worth the trade up, as he gives the defense multiple options from both depth and Nascar-type rush packages.
27) BUFFALO BILLS
Bryan Bresee – DT/Clemson
THE PLAYER: The spot immediately after teammate Murphy belongs to Bresee, a player that was on a top ten trajectory after his true freshman season, a season that ended with him as the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and First Team All-Conference honoree. From there, things went downhill physically and off the field. Bresee tore his ACL in the fourth game of the 2021 season. He then spent time in a hospital during the start of the due to sickness which had a lasting effect on his conditioning. This was all on top of coping with the death of his younger sister after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Bresee is a physically gifted penetrator with a rare blend of tools and the caliber of hustle that will create plays and add energy to an entire defense.
WHY: All four of the top four defensive tackles on this team are free agents after this upcoming season. Ignore that fact and this group still lacking the consistent spark. They combined for 7 sacks in 2022 and already lost a key piece to the middle of their defense in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (to Chicago). Bresee gives something to BUF that Head Coach Sean McDermott always had when it came to the best defenses he’s been in change dating back as far as 2013 when he was with Carolina. And that is an interior disruptor that consistently pressures the quarterback. Names like Charles Johnson, Kawann Short, Kyle Williams; that is what this McDermott-led defense is missing.
28) CINCINNATI BENGALS
Julius Brents – CB/Kansas State
THE PLAYER: Brents began his career at Iowa and after shutting down future first rounder Rashod Bateman and another future pro Anthony Johnson, he had the status as the next big thing. After the strong freshman season showing, he suffered a knee injury. From the start of 2019 to the end of 2020, he was on the field for 106 snaps, none of them as a starter. He then transferred to Kansas State started to regain his old form, putting him back on the high-ceiling track. A First Team All-Big 12 corner that intercepted four passes in his final year, Brents is sneaky candidate to be this year’s surprise first rounder. His workout numbers and size are all-time great, he is arguably the most physical and powerful corner in the class, and there is plenty of experience in both man and zone schemes. One can rightfully wonder if Brents would be graded as a much higher player had he not hit the speed bump from that injury years ago. But the fact he fought back, and he has several standout traits will get someone’s attention.
WHY: Look, the AFC is going through Kansas City for a long time. Sure, other teams (like Cincinnati did in 2021) will edge them in the playoffs on occasion. That does not change the fact the AFC is going through Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Brents is the kind of asset that defeats Travis Kelce (17/173/2 in two playoff games v CIN since 2021), can provide a unique weapon for the defense, and provide long term security at corner. The Cincinnati roster is so strong and so deep, they need to take the occasional risk on unicorns like this that can truly change how the entire defense plays football.
CAROLINA TRADES #39 (2) and #93 (3)
NEW ORLEANS FOR #29 (1)
29) CAROLINA PANTHERS
Will McDonald IV – OLB/Iowa State
THE PLAYER: McDonald is a prime example of an athlete that was put on earth to play football. The star high school basketball player was also a state champ discus thrower and nearly a champion high jumper did not get on the gridiron until his junior year of high school. Fast forward to the end of the 2022 season and he is atop the all-time career sack list for both the Iowa State program and Big 12 conference. His 10 forced fumbles may be what attract teams the most. McDonald is put together for life on the edge in odd fronts. Even though he could end up being a liability as a run defender, there is not a better combination of burst and bend than what he has.
WHY: The new regime in Carolina got their most sought after, non-negotiable at number one overall. They were not done. The next fastest way to improve a football team is via the pass rush, something new Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero saw in both of his previous stops, San Francisco and Los Angeles (N). With Brian Burns solidifying himself as one of the top edge rushers in the NFL, one must wonder what he could be if there was another credible pass rush threat for offenses to focus on. Evero and General Manager Scott Fitterer, the Director of College Scouting in Seattle they took an undersized edge rusher in round one (Bruce Irvin) when they already had star defensive end Chris Clemons recording double digit sack seasons year after year know the need for this kind of asset. Walking away from round one with a new franchise quarterback and the much-needed extra pass rusher sets them on a great trajectory.
MINNESOTA TRADES #36 (2) and a 2024 2nd round pick
SEATTLE for #30 (1) and 2024 3rd round pick
30) MINNESOTA VIKINGS (f/PHI via SEA)
Hendon Hooker – QB/Tennessee
THE PLAYER: The one quarterback in this class that increased his draft grade through spectacular play on the field in 2022 from where his starting point began. It was Hooker, a 25-year old that will miss at least some of preseason team activities (if not more) while rehabbing from a torn ACL. The arm talent was put on full display as he threw for 3,135 yards in just 10+ games and proved his touchdown/interception ratio in 2021 (31:3) was no fluke, repeating nearly identical results a season later (27:2). The Virginia Tech transfer brings the leadership traits every organization yearns for at the position and will undoubtedly get a shot at leading the way for someone.
WHY: 2023 starting quarterback Kirk Cousins is on the final year of his deal and as consistent as he has been (seven 4,000+ yard seasons in eight years), the ceiling of a team he leads is capped at pre-Super Bowl destinations. A franchise that is fully bought into the analytic style of football and decision making will especially be drawn to the lack of turnovers that have derived from Hooker over the past two years and use this trade up for economic reasons (5th year option and smaller price tag had they stayed put at #23 overall). Hooker can take his time rehabbing his knee, learning the O’Connell offense, and ready himself for week 1 2024.
31) DALLAS COWBOYS (f/KC)
Darnell Washington – TE/Georgia
THE PLAYER: In a league full of freak athletes with rare physical traits, Washington is a standout. A 270-pounder with a wingspan just under 84” that runs a sub 4.65 forty and a 4.08 short shuttle is a combination of tools that we have never seen before. Nothing even comes close. The production as a receiver does not jump off the screen but consider he was splitting snaps with Brock Bowers, a near-lock for the top ten in the 2024 Draft. In addition, one must look beyond the receiving skill set. Washington run block better than quite a few offensive linemen currently in the NFL. The every down impact here is real.
WHY: Washington is a sixth lineman in the running game, one that can be schemed around because of how effective he is both in-line and at the second level as a blocker. For a team that just lost Dalton Schultz to Houston in free agency and have always placed a lot of value in having a true number one tight end on the roster, Washington makes sense here. Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot both flashed at times as rookies, but neither bring the options Washington does. This addition plus the trade for Brandin Cooks gives the offense exactly what it needs to take Dak Prescott to the next level.