Drafting is an inexact science. If it were an exact one, teams wouldn’t rely on so much vacuous football speak during the evaluation period. That uncertainty is what makes the draft an annual crapshoot. The 2023 edition is no different. After the top two picks, the draft pivoted into unpredictable territory. Over the course of three days, war rooms cobble together a strategy to fill in their most pressing needs. Others appear to be rolling the dice, ignoring gaping holes in their rosters, and making it up as they go. Those draft classes defy projections and common sense. Here are the teams whose war rooms made the most polarizing decisions of the year.
Philly’s UGA brotherhood
A year after selecting Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean off of the Bulldogs’ championship-winning defense, Philadelphia put its best foot forward by drafting three more Kirby Smart players. Jalen Carter is the draft’s most promising interior pass rusher, but he’s also a character risk. He’ll replace Javon Hargraves, who accepted a generous offer from the San Francisco 49ers.
With their second pick in the first round, the Eagles pulled the trigger on Nolan Smith. Smith supplies the Eagles with another fleet-footed outside linebacker alongside Hasson Reddick who can play the run and evade flat-footed tackles.
Philly’s UGA brotherhood (cont’d)
Then, in the fourth round, Philly took a flier on former five-star cornerback Kelee Ringo. Roseman also traded for former UGA running back D’Andre Swift to replace Miles Sanders, now of the Panthers, as their feature back in the NFL’s most prolific rushing attack and doubles as a release valve in the short passing game.
What the Falcon?
Defying conventional draft ethos in the top 10 has become the modus operandi for the Falcons. Atlanta’s obsession with drafting skill-position players too high hasn’t produced much of a positive impact. Kyle Pitts has been a dud for two seasons after becoming the highest-drafted tight end in league history. Drake London fell short of 1,000 yards in his rookie season, but set a Falcons rookie record for receptions.
What the Falcon? (cont’d)
The pick of Bijan Robinson makes even less sense. The list of running backs taken in the first round is rife with solid starters on bad teams. The devaluation of running backs over the past decade has come as the proliferation of exotic passing attacks has turned the ground game into a luxury. Desmond Ridder was shaky during his rookie season after replacing Marcus Mariota as the starter. Arthur Smith, who authored the Titans offense around Derrick Henry, imagines Bijan Robinson as his equivalent in Atlanta.
The issue is that their plan doesn’t have enough of an upside. The goal of modern offenses is to accumulate explosive playmakers in the passing game and defenders capable of interfering with an offense’s digestive tract. The Falcons are lacking in playmakers on the defensive end, and yet, they used valuable draft capital on a running back, they could have traded back for, and still landed. If the endgame is to be a middling team in the NFC South, they’re well on their way.
New England Patriots give offense the cold shoulder
The Patriots finished the season ranked with a stifling defensive unit, recorded the second-most total takeaways in the league, and scored more defensive touchdowns than any other defense. New England’s offense is one of the most easily contained units in the National Football League. Mac Jones was a mess in his sophomore year. He sought outside counsel while throwing to one of the most ineffectual wide receiver corps in the league.
It would stand to reason that New England would try to spark their dormant offense. Bill Belichick is still as stubborn as ever. In the first three rounds, New England drafted a trio of defenders. In the first round, the Pats nabbed cornerback Christian Gonzalez, edge rusher Keion White in the second round, and safety Marte Mapu in the third round. In the fourth round, they took another offensive lineman, Troy center Jake Andrews, and then drafted Maryland kicker Chad Ryland.
New England Patriots give offense the cold shoulder (cont’d)
Belichick has neglected offensive skill position players for the past few drafts to the detriment of their quarterback. The paucity of offensive weapons Belichick invested in led to frustrations during the latter Brady years. Now, they’re the bottom feeder in a division where the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills have put their quarterbacks in a position to succeed. Belichick appears more interested in proving he can win with a minimalist offense. It’s clearly not cutting it, as evidenced by them finishing third in the AFC East two out of the past three years. In the fourth round, they took another offensive lineman, Troy center Jake Andrews, and then drafted Maryland kicker Chad Ryland.
Baltimore Ravens forget to shore up their secondary
The Ravens selected a facsimile of Hollywood Brown in the first round by taking Boston College receiver Zay Flowers, then continued their tradition of plugging in uber-athletic linebackers in the third round by dialing up Clemson’s Trenton Simpson. Zay Flowers measures in at 5-foot-9 with short arms, has had trouble with drops, and he’s the ultimate boom or bust prospect and was an intriguing pick over the bigger, more sure-handed Jordan Addison.
Simpson will join edge rushers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo in a linebacker corps that has three of the most explosive athletes at their respective positions in the last three drafts. Oweh had the 12th-highest Relative Athletic Score out of 1200 DEs since 1987. Last year, Ojabo recorded the 114th-highest RAS score since ‘87 and Simpson’s RAS was the second-highest for linebackers in the 2023 class.
Baltimore Ravens forget to shore up their secondary (cont’d)
None of those picks have panned out yet, but they just surrendered assets for Roquan Smith, then gave him the richest deal for a linebacker in league history. Cornerback remains a major concern for the Ravens, who had a penchant for surrendering big leads in 2022, but waited until the fifth round to address their biggest positional need.
Indianapolis Colts gambling on Anthony Richardson
Anthony Richardson going fourth overall was an intriguing choice. New head coach Shane Steichen was instrumental in the development of Jalen Hurts, but even grading him on a curve, Richardson is well behind the then-Oklahoma senior as a prospect. If Richardson pans out, he’s Cam Newton on roids.
Indianapolis Colts gambling on Anthony Richardson (cont’d)
In the post-Andrew Luck years, Indy has cycled through a series of one-year rentals at quarterback. That trend will continue in 2023 because Richardson is nowhere near ready to start over Gardner Minshew this season. He may not be a viable starter until 2025. The Colts would have been better off expressing interest in Niners quarterback Trey Lance.