During the intensity of the NFL draft, it’s sometimes tough to see the forest through the trees. Now that the 2023 NFL Draft is in the rearview, I’ve taken a step back to identify my favorite picks from the three-day event.
There were so many excellent selections, though, that I limited myself to three in each round. While compiling the list, I discovered I had picked representatives from each position group. So I threw in one extra player (in Round 2) to finish off a “starting 22” — just as I did in last year’s edition.
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- 2023 NFL Draft: Ten perfect player-team fits
- NFL Power Rankings: Who's up/down after the draft?
- 2023 NFL Draft: Final quick-snap grades for all 32 teams
- 2023 NFL Draft Debrief: AFC South, Steelers, Geno Smith up; veteran trade market, rumor mill down
Drafted: No. 4 overall
I love the combination of Richardson and first-year head coach Shane Steichen, given the way the former Eagles coordinator and Jalen Hurts worked together. The No. 4 overall pick has less experience than Hurts coming into the league but possesses excellent potential as an all-around playmaker. Richardson does not have to play in 2023 with veterans Gardner Minshew and Nick Foles on the roster, though owner Jim Irsay expects Richardson to start sooner than later.
Drafted: No. 11 overall
The departures of Taylor Lewan, Ben Jones and Nate Davis in free agency left major holes in the Titans’ offensive line. Skoronski starred at left tackle in college but possesses the power, mobility and football IQ to play guard or center in front of Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, allowing them to be their most effective in what they hope is a bounce-back 2023 campaign.
Drafted: No. 30 overall
Whether the Eagles play Smith as an edge rusher to spell a similar talent in Haason Reddick or off the ball, Smith’s speed and quick, powerful hands will allow him to make an impact early in his career. General manager Howie Roseman had to be thrilled Smith was still on the board at 30.
Drafted: No. 55 overall
Targeted 173 times in 12 games last year, Rice was SMU’s offense. While not the small, quick receiver the Chiefs usually select, Rice can win after the catch with quickness and strength through contact. Kansas City needed size in its receiving corps (6-foot-1, 204) and found it in Round 2.
Drafted: No. 45 overall
Branch was arguably the best player on Alabama’s defense last year, more impactful at times than No. 3 overall pick Will Anderson. His size and athleticism are not elite by any means, but his skill set as a tackler and nickel defender were first-round worthy.
Drafted: No. 48 overall
The Buccaneers have taken advantage of other teams’ discounting of lower-division talent in the past. Mauch can start at guard or tackle during his NFL career because of his balance, strength, tenacity and intelligence. Playing on the line is not all about arm length.
Drafted: No. 54 overall
I was happy to see Tuipulotu selected in the second round despite not necessarily being the quick-twitch athlete desired by many teams. He’s one of my favorite players in the class because he plays hard and produces on an every-down basis playing a variety of roles. Tuipulotu could play a Preston Smith-type role as a stand-up rusher for the Chargers.
Drafted: No. 86 overall
Simpson might not be the most instinctual linebacker in this draft class, but his ability to track down ball-carriers in the open field was not overlooked by the Ravens. He also has enough size to be an effective blitzer or even line up on the edge — just like Micah Parsons does in Dallas. In time, he’ll be a star.
Drafted: No. 66 overall
Brown is this year’s version of Budda Baker or Antoine Winfield Jr., lacking the height to meet some teams’ standards but smart and athletic enough to be in the right place at the right time. His speed and agility also help him excel covering receivers in the short and intermediate levels.
Drafted: No. 72 overall
Williams was tracking to be a Round 2 pick before being sidelined by a knee injury in October. While only 5-10, he competes on every play with bigger receivers and sticks with quicker pass-catchers, as well. His aggressiveness allows him to attack screens and ball-carriers trying to run to his side of the field.
Drafted: No. 113 overall
Phillips was destined to be a fourth-round pick at 5-9 with average speed. Nonetheless, he will step into the slot for the Falcons and harass any receiver or tight end in his purview. His ability to read routes, play with physicality and break on throws in his area will eventually make him one of the better slot corners in the league.
Drafted: No. 108 overall
I was surprised Bradford was available at the 108th pick. He’s got a chance to start at right guard as a rookie, replacing Gabe Jackson, because of his size (6-4, 332 pounds) and power off the snap. Bradford could play right tackle in the future because of his length and relatively nimble feet if injuries force him to shift outside.
Drafted: No. 132 overall
I figured teams might sleep on Herbig because of his average size (6-2, 240 pounds) and overall athleticism for an edge rusher. He landed in the perfect spot, though, because the Steelers appreciate his toughness and versatility. The tough-minded defender, who joins his offensive guard brother, Nate, in Pittsburgh, is fast off the ball, has a a variety of pass-rush moves outside and plays strong against the run.
Drafted: No. 138 overall
Rush is this year’s version of Tariq Woolen, Seattle’s rookie surprise from a year ago. Nearly 6-2 and 200 pounds, Rush has the size and sub-4.4 speed to match pro receivers down the sideline. He’s more physical than Woolen coming out of college, as well, so I suspect it’s just a matter of time before he becomes a starter for the Colts.
Drafted: No. 156 overall
General manager Tom Telesco grabbed former Georgia offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer last year in the sixth round, then watched him succeed as a rookie. McFadden is another short but sturdy lineman who has the length (34-inch arms) and sturdy build to handle duties at tackle if needed, but will likely kick inside at the next level.
Drafted: No. 141 overall
Roy was available in the fifth round because teams think of him as a pure nose tackle — but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. He plays with leverage against man-up blocks and double teams but also has a knack for making plays in space against quicker ball-carriers. I like his fit as an active interior presence in the Vikings’ scheme.
Drafted: No. 187 overall
Boutte’s college career might not have ended like he hoped — sustaining a season-ending ankle fracture in early October — but he’s still a smooth mover and can adjust to passes on the fly whether he’s outside or in the slot. As a sixth-rounder, Boutte is a low-risk, high-reward pick for the Patriots.
Drafted: No. 215 overall
Speaking of low-risk, high-reward picks, that’s exactly what the Rams got in the sixth round with Evans. The Ole Miss running back is a top-five back in the class when on point, powering through contact, stiff-arming defenders and finding a burst in the second level to create explosive plays. Don’t be surprised if he takes some carries from Cam Akers this season.
Drafted: No. 205 overall
Hutchinson is more of a steady performer than the other two sixth-rounders mentioned here, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a big-play receiver. Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud will love throwing to this guy, as he’s a reliable pass-catcher who wins off the line with regularity and strides past defenders more adeptly than his workout numbers indicate.
Drafted: No. 229 overall
Vorhees played hurt for the Trojans last year and suffered an ACL tear the drills portion of the NFL Scouting Combine, so it wasn’t a surprise he was available in Round 7. It’s one of my favorite picks, though, because he’s such a powerful blocker who excelled at guard and started at tackle when the Trojans needed him to. Hopefully he gets back to full health in 2024, so the Ravens are rewarded for their trust.
Drafted: No. 231 overall
Silvera was an underappreciated factor on defense at Miami and Arizona State. When healthy and rested, he can win gaps with his first step and wide frame, swallowing ball-carriers whole. As part of a rotation with the Raiders, he should flash as a rookie and eventually mature into a starter.
Drafted: No. 220 overall
Kuntz caught 73 passes in his first year with the Monarchs in 2021 but missed the second half of the 2022 season due to injury. The 6-7 former Penn State tight end ran a 4.55-second 40-yard dash and posted a 40-inch vertical at the combine, giving him the athleticism to be a downfield and red zone threat for new Jet Aaron Rodgers.
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