The NFL Draft got off to a memorable start Thursday night in Kansas City, Mo., with three quarterbacks off the board in the first four picks and a trade for the No. 3 pick kept under wraps until the last moment.
With all the usual caveats that it’s better to grade a draft at least three years after the fact to see how these picks turned out, here are Field Level Media’s quick-hit winners and losers from the first 31 selections of 2023:
Houston Texans — The Texans’ front office pulled off a trade so unexpected and impactful that we could be talking about it for years to come if it helps finally turn the franchise around. Supposedly torn between drafting a franchise quarterback or an impact defender, Houston managed both by taking C.J. Stroud at No. 2 and giving the Arizona Cardinals a package that included next year’s first-rounder to grab the No. 3 spot. If this works out how Nick Caserio, DeMeco Ryans and company are hoping it will, Anderson becomes their new J.J. Watt and Stroud becomes the pillar they need on offense.
Bijan Robinson — At No. 8 overall, the Atlanta Falcons made Robinson the highest-drafted running back since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 in 2018. For a point of contrast, the first running back off the board in 2022 was Breece Hall to the New York Jets at No. 36 overall. Hall signed a four-year, $9.01 million rookie deal; Robinson is in line for nearly $22 million in total value thanks to the rookie pay scale, according to Spotrac.
Philadelphia Eagles — The Eagles came into the draft with no real needs and stole two immensely talented defensive players from Georgia. Jalen Carter’s off-the-field concerns only knocked him down to No. 9. No problem — the defensive tackle can learn from and play alongside Fletcher Cox, a potential future Hall of Famer, then take over when Cox retires. Edge rusher Nolan Smith, also viewed as a top-10 talent, slipped all the way to No. 30, where the Eagles were waiting with their other pick. Former Georgia teammates Nakobe Dean and Jordan Davis will add a layer of comfort in Philly, too.
New England Patriots — The Patriots were scheduled to pick 14th, traded back three spots with the Pittsburgh Steelers and watched Pittsburgh select Broderick Jones, the last viable offensive tackle target for the rival New York Jets sitting at No. 15. If Bill Belichick indirectly helped destabilize the line in front of Aaron Rodgers in New York, he surely doesn’t mind. Then the Pats got to snap up Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez — who had near-unanimous top-10 grades — at No. 17.
Will Levis — Self-explanatory. The Kentucky quarterback was expected to go in the top five, with some mocks projecting a team like the Titans to trade up to No. 3 for the pocket passer. An anonymous Reddit post claiming to be familiar with Levis’ conversations even had some believing the Panthers were ready to crown Levis their man at No. 1. He sat in the green room in Kansas City, plummeted past teams like Seattle that conceivably could have stashed him for the future and now will be the best available player on the board when action resumes Friday.
Detroit Lions — Detroit fans were none too happy with their team’s moves Thursday night. The Lions traded down with Arizona from No. 6 to No. 12 — accumulating picks, so far, so good. They picked Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs, surprising everyone, including Gibbs, who thought this was a bit high for a running back. Detroit also picked 18th and made Iowa star Jack Campbell the first inside linebacker off the board. Doubling down on players with low positional value who could have been available in the second round places the Lions on this list.
New York Giants — No team in the NFL had a greater need at wide receiver than the Giants. Unfortunately for them, the run on first-round-caliber wideouts happened right in front of their noses at Nos. 20-23. So they gave the Jaguars not one but two free picks to move up exactly one spot to No. 24 and address a secondary need with Maryland corner Deonte Banks. Fans of Big Blue better hope for a DeAndre Hopkins deal this weekend.
AFC North defenses — Lamar Jackson is locked up for the next five years and the Ravens added a speedy receiver, Boston College’s Zay Flowers, at No. 22 to go with Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman. It’s been a tough few years for Baltimore. Is a resurgence brewing?
—Field Level Media