You've been provided NFL Draft.. How about a more micro angle with them? Instead of giving a grade for the entire draft class, let's highlight the best pick made by every franchise in the 2023
Here are the best individual picks for all 32 teams. Value was slightly factored in, as was opportunity for said draft pick to produce in the NFL. I also included an honorable mention for ever club.
Jon Gaines, OL (Round 4, No. 122 overall)
Honorable mention: LB Owen Pappoe
Gaines was a five-position blocker at UCLA. He legitimately spent time through his Bruins career at every offensive-line spot. He settled into the guard role and took a sizable step forward in 2022, mostly with his strength at the point of attack. A gifted athlete, Gaines will be able to handle the litany of smaller, burst-best three-technique on essentially every roster in the NFL today. In time, as he continues to add power to his game, Gaines can be a foundational piece of the Cardinals' rebuilt offensive line.
Zach Harrison, EDGE (Round 3, No. 75 overall)
Honorable mention: Clark Phillips, CB
Harrison is a crazy long, thick, advanced rusher who flew under the radar during the draft process. He measured in at over 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds with over 36-inch arms. Preposterous length. And he uses that length to his advantage with a glorious straight arm and as a steading, initial move to then deploy counter moves off as he's racing around the corner. Harrison does need to play with more consistency from drive to drive, but he has all the makings of becoming the quality edge rusher the Falcons have been trying to find for years now.
My favorite name in the draft landed with the most exquisite team for his skill set. The former Oregon tackle was a powerful, road-grading run-blocker during his time in Eugene, and even if he projects inside, he has the quicks to be an accurate, heat-seeking missile at the second level of run plays. Sure, the Ravens have made it obvious they want to emphasize their aerial attack now more than it was in the Greg Roman era, but new offensive coordinator Todd Monken certainly loved to pound the rock when he was calling the plays at Georgia. Aumavae-Laulu is a sudden, under-control, torque-creating tackle or guard in this new-look offense.
Could've highlighted Torrence or Williams. I'm going with Torrence because he plays on the offensive side of the ball, and offense rules today's NFL. When I watched Torrence on film I thought I was going to get an old-school masher given his size. One of the first things I wrote in my scouting gradebook on him was the impressive short-area quickness he demonstrated despite being over 6-foot-5 and 330-plus pounds. Now, of course, ultra-explosive, sub-300 pound rushers will stretch his athleticism to the limit at the next level, but Torrence flourishes as a pass blocker because of his immense length. His nearly 84-inch wingspan ranks in the 96th percentile among guards at the combine since 1999. This big, pass-pro specialist to protect Josh Allen was Buffalo's best pick in this class.
In order for Young to work in Carolina, he's going to need a rock-solid blocking unit in front of him. Zavala will help that endeavor from the jump. A thick, compact, high-level athlete at the guard spot, Zavala had a few squeaky-clean games in 2022. I have no idea why he wasn't invited to the combine. He rolls out of his stance smoothly, and while he's quick, he's not overly anxious executing his assignment. He understands how to grow roots in pass pro and battles against pass-rush moves. Instant starter.
Wright is kinda-sorta the final piece to the Bears' tremendous offensive line renovation project. Braxton Jones was my pick here last year, and he had an awesome rookie season at left tackle. Wright is your plug-and-play, immediately high-level pass blocker for Justin Fields who blends size, power, and calculated hand work together brilliantly. Ask Will Anderson and B.J. Ojulari. Now, Wright's run blocking needs work. But pass pro trumps run blocking all day in today's NFL.
Iosivas gets the project label because played at Princeton and isn't polished receiver well-versed in 15 different routes. What I also know about him -- he's big and very fast, and there's always a role for those wideouts in the NFL today. Heck, Christian Watson wasn't much different stylistically than Iosivas and the Packers traded up in the second round to select him in 2022. Iosivas tracks it beautifully down the field and, if utilized correctly, he can be a fun, sizable gadget type early in his career for the Bengals.
Craving even more NFL coverage focusing on previews, recaps, news and analysis? Listen below and follow the Pick Six podcast for a daily dose of everything you need to follow pro football.
Tillman was maybe picked a tick early for my liking, but I completely understood it for the Browns. He's a throwback type. A physically overwhelming boundary wideout who wins in the back-shoulder game and when he can attack the ball well above his head. While not a complement to Amari Cooper by the classic definition, his size profile and nasty demeanor will add another possession element to Cleveland's offense. He because he's so good tracking the football, Tillman will bring a downfield component too.
Fehoko didn't test well. Everything else about his game is so appealing. For three seasons, he was a full-time, high-level pressure-producer at San Jose State. He measured in at 6-foot-3 and over 270 pounds with long, powerful arms. It's almost as if, even in college, Fehoko was self-aware enough to acknowledge he wasn't going to routinely win with sheer burst and quickness alone, so he mastered every pass-rush move in the book. The Cowboys have a superstar on the edge in Micah Parsons, and Sam Williams should take a step forward in Year 2. Heck, DeMarcus Lawrence is still a formidable rusher when healthy. Adding more rushers is never a bad idea into the modern NFL, and Fehoko is an advanced one.
This is contingent upon Sanders' usage in the Broncos' defense. If he's strictly asked to be a traditional off-ball linebacker, then, no, not my favorite pick. If defensive coordinator Vance Joseph gives him plenty of opportunities to rush the passer from the outside, we could be treated to a Micah Parsons-esque type defender. Seriously. Sanders isn't quite the athlete of Parsons' caliber -- not many people walking the Earth are -- but he's close, and the pass-rush moves coupled with the power are eerily similar.
Campbell, my guy. Far and away my No. 1 linebacker in the 2023 class. Three-down, instant starter from the get-go at the next level. That's precisely what I thought of him all draft process. He's not a blazing high 4.40 or low 4.50 defender like some of the recent first-round linebackers have been. He's better than the vast majority of them. Campbell tackles extremely well. He's knowledgeable beyond his years diagnosing route combinations and has the quicks to run with tight ends down the seam. Campbell and Rodriguez next to each other in the Detroit defense are going to be a blast to watch.
I gushed over Reed all draft process. On film it went from awesome first impression to a realization that, over the course of the many games I watched, I was evaluating a legitimate stud wideout prospect. Yes, he's a little older. And he's not exactly an intimidating physical presence. But he can destroy press coverage at the line, stays calm when dealing with physicality throughout the route, attacks the football like he's 6-foot-4 and has sneaky-good YAC talent. This is the next awesome receiver find in the second round by the Packers organization.
Hutchinson was the unquestioned man in the Iowa State pass game for the past two seasons. Everyone knew he'd garner the lion's share of the targets. And all he did was produce. And keep producing. He doesn't have the quickness or speed of many of the other receivers in this class, which is probably why he was available in Round 6. But Hutchinson has a game without many holes. He plays to his size on the perimeter and in the red zone and has a nice blend of running back-like cutting skill and power to flash occasionally after the catch.
No way I was making another selection here for Indianapolis. They picked my No. 1 overall prospect at No. 4 overall to pair him with Jalen Hurts' former offensive coordinator Shane Steichen with the Colts. Glorious fit. Richardson is freakishly thick, with unprecedented speed and explosiveness at the quarterback spot relative to that size and a bazooka for an arm. He flashed advanced pocket-drifting skills too. Yes, the misses can be ugly. But the big-time throw capabilities are tremendous.
Strange was one of my favorite sleepers in the entire class. He wasn't a high-volume tight end at Penn State but made the most of his opportunities, often ricocheting off tackle attempts down the field. Then at the combine, he tested like a premier athlete for the position. Even with Evan Engram in the mix, Strange should be an instant weapon in this sneaky good Jaguars offense with Trevor Lawrence entering Year 3.
Back-to-back years the Chiefs selected one of my favorite receiver prospects in the second round. Rice, who was reasonably unique in this receiver class loaded with light pass catchers, is a stocky 6-foot 1/2" and 204 pounds. He doesn't win like many people want wideouts to win today, with sharp, intricate cuts while running routes. He's a fine athlete who shines when the ball is in the air and, critically, Rice was a reliable YAC monster in the SMU offense. The Chiefs' offense is arguably the most YAC-based attack in football, along with the 49ers. Speaking of the 49ers, Rice is almost identically sized, and tested almost exactly the same as San Francisco's budding star Brandon Aiyuk.
Bennett was the ultra-agitating, play-anywhere teammate to first-rounder Deonte Banks. And their combine performances were almost identical. No, Bennett isn't as long as Banks, but the former's size actually lends itself to the natural ability to play in the slot or on the perimeter. He has the twitch to attack the football in a hurry on in-breaking routes and comebacks and the speed and instincts to run with verticals and find the football deep down the field. The Raiders need Bennett's elite feistiness in the secondary.
These two picks were interchangeable. Loved them both. But I didn't write much about Henley during the pre-draft process, especially compared to Johnston, my WR1, so I'll lean defense here. Henley is such a smart, athletic off-ball linebacker. His presence alone in the middle of the Chargers' defense will boost the club's problematic run defense. And he's a stellar, smooth mover in coverage. Yes, he's a little older than most prospects, which probably lowers his ceiling. But the Chargers want to win right now, and Henley is very high floor because of his advanced skill set and plus athleticism.
McClendon is a rock. Leverage-monster on the edge of the offensive line. I loved his film. More than Broderick Jones' actually, but of course I understand the value in the enormous upside Jones' athleticism provides. McClendon allowed just 16 pressures -- without a sack -- across his final 822 pass-blocking snaps at Georgia. And he's just quick enough to work well winning the angles battle in Sean McVay's zone-blocking scheme. Awesome pick.
Smith was my CB1 in this class, so this was a half-speed bucket in the layup line before a scrimmage. For some reason -- maybe the increase in penalties? -- Smith was clearly vastly overlooked at the cornerback position in this class. He was a multiyear high-caliber producer on the outside in the SEC and tested like an elite athlete. I did not see him as any less sticky in coverage than many of the corners who went in the first round.
McBride will factor into the Vikings run game. As a rookie. I'm still baffled he was on the board at 222 overall given how fantastic his film was over the past two seasons at UAB. He had 25 rushes of 15 or more yards last year, the third-most among all FBS running backs. He forced 76 missed tackles. More than Zach Charbonnet, Kendre Miller, Tyjae Spears. Dude is a naturally talented ball carrier. He's built to hit one cut in Kevin O'Connell's offense, that boasts an awesome run-blocking front and there's uncertainty about the future of Dalvin Cook.
Sow was so damn boring to watch on film. The best compliment an offensive linemen can receive. He just blocked everything. With ease. Natural power and balance. His combine workout was a work of art -- 90th percentile or better in the 40, vertical, and broad jump. And he has long arms he uses well when interior rushers try to work his edges. Sow is the classic Patriots midround blocker who becomes a stud and gets a huge second contract.
Bresee went from super-hyped recruit to underrated first-round prospect. Amazing how that can happen. Sure, he never quite met five-star expectations at Clemson. But it's not as if he was a colossal bust. The high-level flashes were absolutely there. And after a tumultuous 2021, Bresee looked like he did as a havoc-wreaking freshman again in 2022. Length, suddenness, power, serious versatility. After losing pieces up front on defense, he's exactly what the Saints need.
Round of applause for the Giants' patience in the second round. They absolutely, unequivocally needed a starting center. They were likely praying for Schmitz to fall to them. And he did. Schmitz didn't test through the roof at the combine. On the field, he glides. There's plus recovery skill to his game, nearly unshakable balance, and plenty of anchoring power. This is a pro-ready pivot because of his extensive experience.
One of my favorite picks in the entire draft. This where teams can get extraordinary value from the running back position. Abanikanda still isn't 21 years old but was a combustible home run hitter over the past two seasons at Pittsburgh. Even after Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison were gone from the offense, Abanikanda, the clear focal point, was a monster, averaging a career-high 6.0 yards per carry with 20 rushing touchdowns on 239 totes. He's the perfect complement to the big and explosive Breece Hall.
Smith definitely needs to add some tools to the pass-rush move arsenal. Everything else about his game is magnificent. All-Pro burst and bend and, vitally at his size, insane point-of-attack power to not just win through blockers as a pass rusher but excel -- yes, excel -- as a block-shedding run defender on the perimeter. Had he not gotten hurt in 2022, there's no way Smith would've been available for the Eagles near the end of the first round.
[Shannon Sharpe voice] OH BOY.... YES! No, I didn't just guzzle down some Diet Mountain Dew. But that was my reaction when the Steelers snagged Washington near the end of the third round. Washington finished as my TE1 in this class because of his combination of youthfulness, awe-inspiring blocking power, and untapped potential as a receiver. He is a runaway Mack truck with the ball in his hands and has one of the largest catch radiuses I've ever seen at the tight end position.
Luter Jr. would've probably gone in the second or third round had he played his college ball at a bigger school. But on film, for the Jaguars of South Alabama, I saw a pro corner. Calm, cool, collected. Super-focused. Choppy, methodical footwork, dynamic plant-and-drive talent, ball skills galore. And he has nearly 33-inch arms. He'll be a reliable starter sooner than later. Luter had five picks and 18 pass breakups in his final 24 games at South Alabama.
Hall should've been picked in the first round. Ridiculous he wasn't. Three years of efficient production in the SEC. Chiseled frame. Elite combine workout. I mean, boxes checked. He's precisely the type of well-rounded outside rusher the Seahawks have been looking for and really needed over the past three or four seasons. Burst, bend, pass-rush moves. Power. Hall is ready to get after NFL quarterbacks right now.
The Buccaneers have shifted from pinpointing large, oversized defensive linemen to drafting Kancey, one of the smallest defensive tackles picked in the first round in a very long time with short arms. But you know what? Kancey was the best pure pass-rusher regardless of position in the class. Elite explosiveness, detailed hand work, speed-to-power conversion. It's all there.
Tyjae Spears, RB (Round 3, No. 81 overall)
Honorable mention: Will Levis, QB
Spears was one of the specific examples I'd cite when explaining why, in this draft class, like all others, I wouldn't pick a running back in the first round. Spears is a loose-hipped, explosive home run hitter with tremendous vision and plus balance through contact. Yes, the Titans' offense still remarkably runs through Derrick Henry. And the organization has attempted to find a reliable running mate for King Henry for a while. Spears can be the lightning to Henry's thunder to use a very cliched running back phrase. In 2022, Spears registered 21 carries of 15 or more yards, the 10th-highest figure in FBS.
Jartavius Martin, S (Round 2, No. 47 overall)
Honorable mention: Chris Rodriguez, RB
Martin is such a fun, multi-tool defensive back. You know who else is? Kamren Curl, a late-round pick by Washington a few years back who's become one of the league's best young safety/linebacker hybrids. Martin excels farther away from the line of scrimmage than Curl with cornerback size -- 5-foot-11, 194 pounds -- and 4.44 speed plus a 44-inch vertical. There will be highlight-reel pass breakups and interceptions from Martin.