2023 NFL Draft grades for NFC: Eagles get top marks, so do rebuilding Cardinals, and one team received an F
NFC Draft grades! Come get your NFC draft grades! The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books now, but there’s still a lot to discuss. Including these verifiably correct takeaways from the NFC’s side of the draft haul. There’s a lot here, so let’s just dive right in. Make sure to also check our AFC draft grades.
Favorite pick: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee (10th overall)
Wright was the third overall prospect on the Yahoo Sports big board, making him a strong selection at the 10th pick in the draft. Size, technique, athleticism — Wright has it all and should be a plug-and-play starter at right tackle. Wright’s athleticism should make the Justin Fields run game more than it did last year, which is a terrifying thought for NFC North defenses. The Bears’ offensive line has taken a step this offseason and Wright is going to be a huge part of that equation this year and in coming years.
Least favorite pick: Tyrique Stevenson, CB, Miami (56th overall)
Look, it’s hard to find a spot where the Bears really missed, and taking an upside swing at cornerback isn’t a big deal. Maybe they could have found someone who is a bit more pro-ready at this spot, but a team that was bad enough to finish with the first overall pick should be taking some scratch-off tickets in the draft.
Overall grade: A
This has the potential to be a foundational draft for the Bears. Wright is a high-floor, high-upside prospect and they took several more home run swings throughout the course of the draft. Florida's Gervon Dexter and South Carolina's Zacch Pickens have all the traits needed to be impactful interior defensive linemen. Even getting a quality running back in Texas' Roschon Johnson was a good addition for this team. Ryan Poles solidified himself this year in the draft after a shaky first offseason as the Bears’ general manager. This team is still a few years away from being a real playoff or title contender, but the 2023 draft was a nice start for them to get moving back in the right direction. This should be a fun team to watch if some of these rookies can hit the ground running.
Favorite pick: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama (45th overall)
This was by far the best pick that the Lions made over the weekend. Brian Branch was a projected first rounder for most of the draft season, but slipped to the second round for whatever reason. He’s not the most athletic defensive back out there, but he’s a smart player that played a variety of roles in Alabama’s defense. He’ll play a lot of snaps as the Lions’ overhang defender this year and he’ll make a whole lot of plays.
Least favorite pick: Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa (18th overall)
The positional value is one thing, but the bigger issue is taking Jack Campbell in the first round. He just wasn’t projected to go anywhere near this spot and likely could have been had a full round later than where he was selected. Campbell is a quality linebacker when he’s coming downhill in the box, but his ability to be an impact player in coverage and in space down the field is a major question mark moving forward. That’s not the profile of a first-round linebacker — those types of players have to be weapons in the passing game to be selected and Campbell isn’t that guy. Really odd selection at the 18th pick, even stranger than the Jahmyr Gibbs pick at 12th overall.
Overall grade: F
Yeah, an F. Perhaps this take will get Old Takes Exposed in two or three years as a laughably bad take, but as things stand right now the Lions’ draft class was just baffling. Taking Gibbs with the 12th pick in a year that they signed David Montgomery felt extremely rich. Even taking Sam LaPorta with the 34th overall pick over Michael Mayer was a head-scratcher. Gibbs and Campbell made up the most shocking first round picks in quite some time, and not in a positive way. Hopefully for Lions fans, this take ends up wrong. To put it nicely, they had an unorthodox strategy in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Green Bay Packers
Favorite pick: Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa (13th overall)
Lukas Van Ness is a bit raw, but he has the athletic profile of many successful edge rushers. He’s explosive and managed to run the three-cone drill in 7 seconds despite weighing 270 pounds. Van Ness played all over Iowa’s defensive line and that experience will help him get started in the NFL. He’s one of those rare 270-pound defensive linemen that has the strength to play against interior offensive linemen. He has the athleticism to stand up on the edge too, which is where he’ll be spending a good chunk of his time with the Packers.
Least favorite pick: Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn (116th overall)
Defensive linemen in the Packers’ scheme need to be stout at the point of attack and that’s where Wooden struggles right now. He’s a bit on the smaller side (273 pounds) for the role that he’s going to be playing for the Packers, so he might need to put on some weight to develop into a big-time contributor. He does have some upper-echelon athleticism though, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if he figures it out. Defensive line is a position where the traits can come before the film in the later portion of the draft.
Overall grade: B+
The Packers needed to reshape their tight end room this offseason and they opted to use the draft for that. They spent two quality picks on Oregon State's Luke Musgrave and South Dakota State's Tucker Kraft, who both have starter-level potential in the NFL. Musgrave in particular profiles to be an exciting option as a receiver for Jordan Love and the rest of the Packers’ offense. Kraft is a more all-around tight end, but even he has some nice skills as a receiver and is tough to bring down after the catch. Drafting two tight ends normally is an odd strategy, but the construction of the Packers’ roster and their cap situation called for it. It’ll be interesting to see how they’re utilized. Van Ness should make a big impact as a rookie and has upside through the roof as an agile 270-pounder. Jayden Reed will compete for a starting wide receiver spot as a rookie and even Dontayvion Wicks was a nice Day 3 selection as a potential sleeper. Let’s just agree to ignore the Sean Clifford pick.
Favorite pick: Jordan Addison, WR, USC (23rd overall)
This pick was pretty straightforward. If the Vikings are still going to be a team that relies on Kirk Cousins to air it out for them, they need as many talented pass catchers as possible to make life easier for them. Justin Jefferson is already a known commodity, but Jordan Addison profiles as the perfect No. 2 wide receiver to play with Jefferson. Addison gives the Vikings a strong secondary wide receiver that will keep the floor of their passing game high.
Least favorite pick: Jay Ward, DB, LSU (134th overall)
The Vikings didn’t have a very exciting draft, but someone needs to hold down this spot. Passing on Christopher Smith and Antonio Johnson may come back to bite them, but there’s no real use in being belligerent over a fourth-round pick either way.
Overall grade: C+
The Vikings had a “stay afloat” draft. It wasn’t sexy and they didn’t take a whole lot of risks, but it should help them stay atop the NFC North for at least another year. Getting quality depth pieces like USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon and LSU defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy will help new coordinator Brian Flores implement his defense as well. Just a solid draft for the Vikings. Not good, not bad, just solid.
Favorite pick: Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State (212nd overall)
This is absolutely for sentimental reasons, but the Deuce Vaughn pick was the highlight of the entire draft. Whether or not Vaughn turns into something with the Cowboys doesn’t even really matter here. There was no better moment than seeing longtime Cowboys scout Chris Vaughn being able to draft his son this weekend. It’s an incredibly rare moment that even had Jerry Jones overcome with what was happening around him. Great moment and hopefully Deuce gets to go to work with his father for more years to come.
Least favorite pick: DeMarvion Overshown, LB, Texas (90th overall)
DeMarvion Overshown has a ways to go before he can be a real linebacker in the NFL. He played a somewhat of a positionless off-the-ball spot at Texas that doesn’t really exist in the NFL, kind of similar to former Jets first-round pick Darron Lee. A third-round pick isn’t the biggest price to pay here, though, so this may turn out to be inconsequential. To be fair to the Cowboys, it’s not like there were a whole lot of options at linebacker in this draft in general.
Overall grade: B-
Dallas did a quality job by grabbing Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith and Michigan tight end Luke Schoonmaker. Smith isn’t the most dynamic defensive tackle out there, but he’ll play a big role in the Cowboys’ front seven and the goal is for him to be a shutdown run defender early on. Schoonmaker gives them a quality prospect to develop at tight end. There isn’t too much else to glean from this draft class right now.
New York Giants
Favorite pick: John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota (57th overall)
John Michael Schmitz could have gone in the first round and nobody would have blinked an eye. He’s an older, polished center prospect that should fit right in as the Giants’ starting center, giving them a strong nucleus of young offensive line talent, particularly if Evan Neal can take a step forward as a rookie. Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley will benefit too from the increased quality in center play, which can be an underrated facet of building a strong offensive line.
Least favorite pick: Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee (73rd overall)
This isn’t so much about Hyatt as it is the receivers the Giants already have on the roster. This is a pretty small receiver room that could’ve used some size, but Hyatt’s ability to be a deep-ball threat has a chance to separate him from an incredibly crowded group at the position on the Giants' roster. Hyatt’s skill set does feel a little bit redundant with Darius Slayton remaining, but this was the appropriate range for Hyatt and the Giants needed to get a longer-term contract at wide receiver.
Overall grade: A
General manager Joe Schoen seems to have his finger on the pulse of the draft. This is two years in a row that he’s put together an impressive haul. Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks is the perfect cornerback for Wink Martindale’s system and they only had to move up one spot to get him at 24th overall. He’s got massive upside as a man coverage corner and will get a ton of those opportunities in this defense. Banks, Schmitz, Hyatt and even fifth-round rookie running back Eric Gray have a chance to be immediate contributors for this team. They’re not at the level of the Eagles yet, but this should get them closer to competing for the second spot in the division with the Dallas Cowboys.
Favorite pick: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia (9th overall)
Jalen Carter had his issues throughout the draft cycle, but on the field there is no better player than Carter in this year’s draft. When he’s healthy, absolutely no one can hang with him and he’s flat out an elite talent on the interior of the line. The Eagles have spent a ton of draft capital on Georgia defenders over the past two seasons and Carter has a chance to be the best of that group. He’s the ideal Fletcher Cox replacement if everything pans out for him.
Least favorite pick: Tyler Steen, OL, Alabama (65th overall)
Meh, someone had to go here. Steen isn’t a bad pick really, just the least sexy pick of the flashiest draft in the league this year.
Overall grade: A+
The Super Bowl runners-up just added Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Kelee Ringo to their defense. Come on, NFL! You can’t complain about Howie Roseman getting praise for being an elite general manager when there are teams picking Jahmyr Gibbs and Jack Campbell in the first round! Even grabbing Tanner McKee at the end of the sixth round as a slew of quarterbacks flew off the board was a great snag by the Eagles. McKee has real upside as a backup quarterback, which the Eagles have shown the importance of over the past four or five seasons. No one in the NFC East is dethroning this team just yet.
Favorite pick: K.J. Henry, EDGE, Clemson (137th overall)
K.J. Henry was pegged as a sleeper along the defensive line and the Commanders needed to walk out of this draft class with at least some quality depth in case Chase Young does end up walking in free agency at the end of his contract. Henry doesn’t have elite traits, but he was a solid playmaker for Clemson along the defensive line. Nice pickup by the Commanders at this point.
Least favorite pick: Jartavius Martin, DB, Illinois (47th overall)
Martin is a great athlete, but the Commanders could have found someone that didn’t need as much seasoning at this point in the draft. Martin did a bit of everything in Illinois’ defense, but will probably line up at cornerback to start his NFL career. He has the traits to make it out there, but he’ll need some time to marinate.
Overall grade: D+
This Commanders draft probably isn’t moving the needle on what’s going to be a mediocre team in 2023. Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, their first-round pick, can be a starter in this league, but at 166 pounds he faces a tough transition to get going in the NFL. Outside of Forbes, this draft class doesn’t feel like it has a chance to change what the Commanders have going on this year. This feels like a draft class that a future regime is going to have to nurture and foster. A coach in Ron Rivera that’s potentially on the hot seat needs more than what the Commanders have acquired.
Favorite pick: Clark Phillips, CB, Utah (113th overall)
The Falcons don’t really do defense. They haven’t played consistent defense since Michael Vick was the quarterback, but players like Clark Phillips can at least give them an edge in playmaking and ball skills, something the Falcons have severely lacked from their cornerback room for the better part of the last 15 years. The Falcons have a young, intriguing cornerback situation with Phillips joining A.J. Terrell and Jeff Okudah. It’s the most promising situation they’ve had at cornerback in a few years.
Least favorite pick: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas (8th overall)
This pick has nothing to do with Bijan Robinson's talent. He is electric. One of those rare running back prospects that’s a consensus first-rounder and so good it’s worth bucking the trend of waiting until the later portions of the draft. However, if there was any team that didn’t really need to make this pick, it’s the Falcons. Head coach Arthur Smith engineered one of the top running games in the league last year without elite talent and could have produced similar results again. Robinson will certainly thrive in this offense and has a fast track towards superstardom in Atlanta, but the Falcons might have had the nucleus and brain trust to produce a top-tier running game without a top-tier running back.
That said, have you seen Bijan Robinson play? Even talking about the value of the pick feels a bit sacrilegious considering he’s one of the most talented college football players of all time.
Overall grade: B-
Bijan Robinson is the jewel of this draft and will make the Falcons’ offense even more difficult to defend than it was last year. The value of the pick is shaky, but Robinson’s talent and dominance as a player is not in question. Getting Syracuse's Matthew Bergeron at the top of the second round will help fortify the offensive line for the foreseeable future (and he can even play left tackle in the post-Jake Matthews world). Ohio State's Zach Harrison adds quality depth along the defensive line and Phillips will compete for a starting spot as a rookie.
Favorite pick: Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss (39th overall)
The Panthers needed to get back on track as far as their receiver group goes and Jonathan Mingo should be a valuable piece to that. Mingo does all the dirty work that most at his position don’t like doing and he’s actually a talented receiver to go on top of it. He should get on the field pretty quickly with his blocking and ability to run after the catch. The Panthers’ wide receiver room doesn’t necessarily have an alpha, but they are sneakily well-rounded for the amount of actual draft and free agency capital invested in them.
Least favorite pick: D.J. Johnson, EDGE, Oregon (80th overall)
D.J. Johnson has the traits to develop into something off the edge, but he’s not a finished product and has a strange athletic profile. He crushed the 40-yard-dash with a time of 4.49 seconds, but he tested poorly in the agility and explosion tests. This could be a diamond-in-the-rough type of selection for the Panthers, but his profile suggests that this is a bit of a reach.
Overall grade: B
The Panthers’ success in this draft hinges on the hopes of Bryce Young developing into a quarterback that can carry the load for them. He’s on the smaller side, but quelled a lot of concerns about his size with his play on the field. If Young can live up to his billing as the No. 1 overall overall pick, the importance of the rest of the Panthers’ draft selections diminishes somewhat. D.J. Johnson is a wild card, but they did draft a more realistic developmental option along the offensive line with NC State guard Chandler Zavala in the fourth round. Young, Mingo and Zavala are going to play an important role in the revitalization of the Panther’s offense under head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown.
New Orleans Saints
Favorite pick: Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame (40th overall)
The Saints love their heavy-handed edge rushers and Isaiah Foskey fits the bill as someone that can fill that role and beef up their situation on the edge as Marcus Davenport moves on to the Vikings. Foskey is a terrific run defender and has the athleticism to eventually be a quality pass rusher for the Saints.
Least favorite pick: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson (29th overall)
Bryan Bresee wasn’t seen as a first-round pick on the Yahoo Sports big board. Bresee isn’t a bad football player, but he isn’t particularly dynamic either. First round defensive linemen need to show some elite disruption and Bresee wasn’t really that guy for Clemson. He’s more of a stable body on the interior than someone who is going to go out and make a lot of his own plays. Still, not the worst use of a first-round pick because the Saints needed to start replenishing their talent on the interior.
Overall grade: C+
The Saints had a fine draft that doesn’t project to change much about their fortune for the upcoming season. Bresee in the first round was a bit rich, and outside of Foskey, they didn’t pick a lot of guys that will make an impact this year. However, TCU running back Kendre Miller is a phenomenal stash pick for the future and his skill set does align well as a backup for Alvin Kamara. Fresno State's Jake Haener has real potential as a backup quarterback as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Favorite pick: Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota State (48th overall)
Cody Mauch has some real potential to be a long-term starter for the Buccaneers on the interior of their offensive line — which they desperately needed. Getting a prospect like that will make the whole operation run a little bit smoother in the coming years. Mauch and Tristan Wirfs gives the Buccaneers two talented, young offensive linemen to build their offense around.
Least favorite pick: Calijah Kancey, DL/EDGE, Pittsburgh (19th overall)
First off, let’s be clear: This was a good pick for the Buccaneers. Athletes that are built like Kancey don’t come along very often and any time a team can add someone that athletic to their defensive line, it’s usually a good plan. The only pause here would be Kancey’s fit in the Buccaneers’ defense. He’s not really a guy that’s going to hold down the fort in the run game as a two-gapper, which means he might be spending more time on the edge. He has the athletic capabilities to be an NFL edge rusher, but is going to need time to assimilate into the Buccaneers’ defense — whatever that role ends up becoming. It’s just a completely different style of defense than the one he played in during college.
Overall grade: A
Home run draft for the Buccaneers as they start to figure out what the next era of their football team looks like. Kancey, Mauch and Louisville defensive end YaYa Diaby should be long-term fixtures with the team, and they even grabbed an intriguing late round flier with Eastern Michigan pass rusher Jose Ramirez.
Favorite pick: Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State (6th overall)
Paris Johnson was one of the elite players in this draft class at a crucial position of need for the Cardinals. Johnson should start immediately as the Cardinals’ right tackle and even has the athletic skill to become their left tackle whenever they decide to move on from D.J. Humphries. They traded down, acquired a first-round pick from the Texans in the process and still wound up with one of the top players in the draft. Incredible job by Monti Ossenfort with his first draft pick as the Cardinals’ general manager.
Least favorite pick: Garrett Williams, CB, Syracuse (72nd overall)
There isn’t too much to complain about with the Cardinals' draft, especially since they filled a ton of holes with premium talent, but maybe they could have squeezed a bit more juice from this pick by selecting someone who would be closer to playing. Williams is coming off an ACL injury and is expected to return to play sometime this summer. He needs time to not only adjust to the NFL game, but also time to get back into football shape.
Overall grade: A+
The Cardinals had a quiet free agency period before hitting a grand slam with their draft process. A tackle, pass rusher, cornerback — these were the areas that the Cardinals desperately needed to hit, which they did. Ossenfort and rookie head coach Jonathan Gannon had a shared vision on how this team needs to be built, and they got off to a great start in their first draft together. This is still going to be a rough season for the Cardinals, but hope has built up a little with this class.
Los Angeles Rams
Favorite pick: Steve Avila, C/G, TCU (36th overall)
The Rams needed stalwart interior offensive line help and may have just found that with the selection of Steve Avila with their first pick. Avila is a behemoth, bruising offensive lineman that can play either center or guard for the Rams this upcoming season. Some analysts had Avila graded out as a first-round pick, which makes this a strong selection at the top of the second round. Avila will be a Day 1 starter for the Rams.
Least favorite pick: Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia (128th overall)
Honestly, there isn’t a huge issue with Stetson Bennett going here. He’s an older quarterback prospect, but he did improve in a pretty serious way throughout his college career. However, Rams general manager Les Snead had Bennett as his top quarterback in the draft, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, which is just patently absurd. Bennett is a quality backup prospect, but if he was really the guy that Snead thought he was he would have gone in the first round — even with his disaster of a draft season. This has more to do with Snead than Bennett. Come on, Les.
Overall grade: B
The Rams put together a quality draft class despite not having a first-round pick (again). Getting a starter along the offensive line was crucial for them and they found that in Avila. Georgia's Warren McClendon was a great dice roll in the fifth round to develop as an offensive tackle as well.
San Francisco 49ers
Favorite pick: Robert Beal, EDGE, Georgia (173rd overall)
Beal is another Georgia defender who has blown up the NFL scouting combine. He’s the perfect Day 3 type of edge that can flourish in a scheme that’s going to let him pin his ears back — that’s exactly what the 49ers are going to let him do. Beal ran a blazing 4.49 40-yard-dash at the combine this year.
Least favorite pick: Jake Moody, K, Michigan (99th overall)
The 49ers took a kicker in the top 100. Instant F.
Overall grade: D
Another year, another bizarre 49ers draft class. This haul wasn’t really impressive at all, but the 49ers have shown that their wacky approach to the draft hasn’t really hurt their ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport. They survived blowing three first-round picks on Trey Lance, they can survive a measly kicker pick.
Favorite pick: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State (20th overall)
The Seahawks added some real juice to their offense with Jaxon Smith-Njigba manning the slot this season for what should be a talented three-headed monster of receivers this year. He also fits well next to DK Metcalf for the foreseeable future as a potentially dominant slot receiver combined with what Metcalf does on the outside. Smith-Njigba locked in his first-round stock by having a productive workout season and will be a starter in a high-volume passing game.
Least favorite pick: Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA (52nd overall)
Peak Seahawks. Charbonnet is a solid running back prospect, but how necessary was this with Kenneth Walker already on the roster? Pretty strange pick, especially since they ended up adding a great spell back in Georgia's Kenny McIntosh later. Walker, Charbonnet and McIntosh does give the Seahawks three talented backs at the end of the day.
Overall grade: B+
Geno Smith might be the biggest winner of the 2023 draft. He avoided his successor being drafted and got premium investments in weapons that will make his life easier. It was pretty cool to see the Seahawks invest in Smith beyond the contract that he earned from the team this offseason. Fifth overall pick Devon Witherspoon means the Seahawks have two young aces at cornerback with Tariq Woolen already on the squad. This class gives them more foundation pieces as they try to find their first playoff win of the post-Russell Wilson era.