The NFL Draft is under a month away, and the frenzy of 2023 mock drafts has reached peaked heights. Football analysts across the board are attempting to piece together plausible and convincing draft selections for all 32 teams. The primary rationale behind these choices usually comes down to “team need” or “best player available“, but there’s a third factor that isn’t considered enough: the historical track records of GMs and other decision-makers.
A massive chunk of what we (as mock drafters and bettors) do in projecting players and teams involves leveraging past information. If we want to create the most accurate predictive mock drafts to gain an edge in betting or fantasy football, then we need to utilize all the information at our disposal. You’d be surprised how obstinate some NFL personnel are when it comes to draft strategy year over year.
Here’s a look at the recent history of all 32 NFL front offices and how their draft tendencies and current roster makeup set each team up heading into the 2023 NFL Draft.
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The Panthers hired new general manager Scott Fitterer in 2021 after he spent the past 20 years working several different positions with the Seattle Seahawks. Fitterer was brought in to replace longtime GM Marty Hurney, who was fired near the end of the 2021 season.
Taking relatively low-cost fliers on quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield in back-to-back years shows that Carolina is operating more by the numbers. They followed a similar draft strategy by selecting a franchise tackle in the first round with Ikem Ekwonu (sixth overall). They also scooped up a falling Ole Miss quarterback in Matt Corral at 94th overall — although they had to give up picks to move back into Round 3.
The Panthers rounded out their 2022 draft with uber-athlete defensive players on Day 3, which should be the approach of a forward-thinking franchise. Fitterer has not shied away from drafting athletic-gifted players with high-end draft capital. Before selecting Ekwonu, he drafted Jaycee Horn and Terrace Marshall Jr. Both were two uber athletes from the SEC.
Carolina has continued to make savvy moves since, highlighted by trading for the No. 1 overall pick. It will be a quarterback, with Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud as the heavy favorite. However, if we look back at Fitterer’s track record with Seattle, there are ties to other quarterbacks that fit the mold of the other top two quarterbacks in the class between Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young.
Russell Wilson‘s success as a smaller quarterback could mean the Panthers are not out on Young. But that’s not all.
#Panthers GM Scott Fitterer: Bryce Young is at a different level in how he sees the game.
— MLFootball (@_MLFootball) March 24, 2023
Fitterer saw firsthand in Seattle how impactful poor OL play can be with Wilson as the most-sacked QB since entering the NFL 11 seasons ago. Among QBs with at least 300 dropbacks last season, Richardson’s percentage of pressures turned into sacks ranked second lowest in the nation (9.2%). The guy doesn’t take sacks. Meanwhile, Will Levis took sacks at the sixth-highest rate last season (27%). Not good.
After Carolina selects their franchise quarterback at No. 1 overall, I’d anticipate they draft athletes from the SEC that fit the team needs at EDGE, CB, and WR. Names they could consider at No. 39 include CB Kelee Ringo, CB Emmanuel Forbes, WR Jalin Hyatt, EDGE Isaiah Foskey, and EDGE B.J. Ojulari.
Foskey has totaled 23 sacks over the last two seasons and can serve as DC Ejiro Evero’s new Bradley Chubb in Carolina. He totaled just as many sacks per game as Will Anderson and generated the second-highest forced bounce rate per Sports Info Solutions among his edge-rusher classmates.
Don’t be surprised if they take a player like WR Jonathan Mingo, DL Gevon Dexter, or CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson with their Round 3 pick.
The Houston Texans showed us last draft season the kind of players they want to target. Among their first six selections in the first four rounds, five came from the SEC, including two players from Alabama. The front office has done their homework on the Crimson Tide, pushing me toward Bryce Young as their future franchise QB. They liked what they saw from John Metchie III (selecting him in the second round of last year’s draft) when he caught passes from Young during his tenure with Alabama from 2020-2021. Young followed up his 2021 Heisman Trophy campaign as PFF’s highest-graded passer in the nation (91.3) in 2022. His 94.2 PFF passing grade at the intermediate level (10-19 yards downfield) also ranked first.
Young didn’t throw at the NFL Combine, opting to wait until his pro day. But he did measure in at 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds. Getting over the 200-pound threshold was huge for Young, whose biggest flaw is his small stature. But his accuracy — 12th in the nation in adjusted completion percentage — will gel perfectly under new Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik.
Slowik spent the past two seasons as the 49ers’ passing game coordinator/specialist. The offense ranked inside the top 10 in completion rate and fifth in yards after the catch. I’d imagine that among the skill players the Texans draft, there will be a heavy emphasis on speed and YAC-ability. Because the current roster lacks that game-breaker.
Slowik stated in an early March press conference, “Everything we want starts with are we fast, are we physical, are we tough.”
No TE or WR currently rostered finished inside the top 84 in yards after the catch per reception in 2022.
Nick Caserio will be entering his third year as the Houston Texans’ GM with his third head coach in as many years with former 49ers defensive coordinator and Texans linebacker, DeMeco Ryans.
After going toward offense with his top three picks in 2021, Caserio altered his plan slightly in 2022, splitting draft resources into both sides of the ball with two offensive players and two defensive players drafted within the first 45 overall selections. Two defensive backs, one interior offensive lineman, and one wide receiver. Caserio has now drafted a WR in the second round in back-to-back seasons.
#NFLDraft2023 candidate to be first receiver selected Quentin Johnston also has visits with the #Vikings #Jaguars Met with #Texans at combine, and Nick Caserio attended Pro Day. Met with #Titans #Giants Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll before Pro Day @KPRC2 https://t.co/FOSWKW7RmD https://t.co/OuIRlntEKt
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 31, 2023
And from a testing perspective, Caserio’s 2021 draft picks showed a pattern of testing well in the three-cone drill. That held true in 2022, as safety Jalen Pitre posted a 6.74 3-cone time (87th percentile), which was the third-fastest time among the 2022 safety class. They also drafted DT Thomas Booker, who tied for the fastest 3-cone among defensive tackles at 7.33 seconds (80th percentile).
Some of the top performers in the 3-cone drill from this year’s class that may be on the Texans’ radar include WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (96th percentile), CB Julius Brents (97th percentile), LB Jack Campbell (93rd percentile), WR Andrei Iosivas (85th percentile), CB Jaylon Jones (83rd percentile), WR Marvin Mims (81st percentile), and TE Sam Laporta (79th percentile).
Steve Keim had been the Cardinals’ GM from 2013-2022 until stepping down from his position this past January. Keim deserves partial credit for the team’s decision to move on from Josh Rosen in favor of Kyler Murray in 2019.
In his place, Arizona hired Monti Ossenfort as their new general manager. Ossenfort spent his last three seasons as the Titans’ director of player personnel from 2020-2022 after serving as a director of college football scouting with the New England Patriots from 2014-2019.
During Ossenfort’s tenure in Tennessee, the team spent high-end draft capital on OT Isaiah Wilson (29th overall), CB Kristian Fulton (61st overall), RB Darrynton Evans (93rd overall), CB Caleb Farley (22nd overall), OT Dillon Radunz (53rd overall), LB Monty Rice (100th overall), WR Treylon Burks (18th overall), CB Roger McCreary (35th overall), OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (69th overall), and QB Malik Willis (86th overall).
As you can see, he oversaw drafts involving many cornerbacks and offensive tackles at the top. He also drafted two players from Georgia with little success.
Considering Mossenfort’s track record of drafting cornerbacks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team pull the trigger on a cornerback at third overall (or attempt to trade back). Especially when you consider his background with the Patriots organization, who are notorious for valuing coverage over pass rush.
New head coach Jonathan Gannon also got his start coaching defensive backs from 2014-2020 before being hired as defensive coordinator of the Eagles.
Hired in 2017, Chris Ballard was once regarded as one of the league’s sharpest executives because of his exemplary drafting and roster-building approach. But the shine has worn off with the team’s inability to find a long-term answer at the quarterback position.
Still, he understands the harmony required when debating a player’s fit versus the best player available. For that reason, I expect Ballard to address the team’s flagrant lack of pass rush with an edge defender in the 2023 NFL Draft after forging the position in the 2022 NFL Draft. Not including last season, Ballard has drafted pass rushers with Day 2 picks in every prior draft except 2020.
I’d also project the Colts to look at a top-tier cornerback if they do not decide to draft a quarterback (or the quarterback they want isn’t available at No. 4). A team could easily trade up for the third overall pick to leapfrog Indy for a rookie signal-caller.
The Colts also have a major hole at cornerback after trading away Stephon Gilmore to the Dallas Cowboys. Last year’s starter, Brandon Facyson, returned to the Raiders on a two-year deal. The projected starters are Dallis Flowers and Isaiah Rodgers. Rodgers was solid last season, ranking second among all CBs in coverage snaps per target (10.4). Flowers is a former 2022 UDFA.
Since 2010, Seattle has spent the majority of its draft picks inside the top four rounds on wide receivers, offensive linemen (specifically interior), and defensive linemen. DL/EDGE matches what the Seahawks need, which makes it easier to predict what they will do with one of their two first-round picks. They could also double down on the defensive line with a defensive tackle and edge rusher between picks 5 and 20.
But based on John Schneider’s draft history of selecting WRs high, 20th overall could be the sweet spot to add another dynamic pass catcher for Geno Smith, instead of drafting a rookie quarterback.
Boston College’s Zay Flowers has spent previous offseasons training with Smith (and Antonio Brown) and is expected to be selected in the first round. His closest comparable per Mockdraftable.com is Seahawks 2021 second-rounder D’Wayne Eskridge. Eskridge has caught 17 passes for 122 yards since being drafted two years ago. Woof.
Seattle looking to upgrade WR3 for Chef Geno pic.twitter.com/lG7KNAeIyP
— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) March 29, 2023
I’m also not convinced that the Seahawks under Schneider are the team “slated” to stop the potential fall of Jalen Carter. Schneider drafted Malik McDowell in the second round (35th overall) back in 2017 despite character issues as a prospect. McDowell never played a down for Seattle. And since then, Seattle hasn’t drafted players highly with major red flags, opting for players with strong character to build their roster.
Third-year head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes smashed their first pick as members of the organization in 2021. And they followed it up with an equally impressive draft in 2022.
Holmes’ experience with the Los Angeles Rams in various executive roles dating back to 2003 was apparent when the Lions decided on offensive tackle Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick in 2021. From 2014 to 2016 — the last time L.A. had actual draft picks — the Rams invested significant draft capital in the tackle position. Holmes knows creating a QB-friendly environment is key to long-term success.
Last season, the Lions used their first-round picks on defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (second) and wide receiver Jameson Williams (12th). They are joined by Sewell, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley II, Aaron Donald, and Greg Robinson as the last seven first-rounders Holmes had a hand in selecting.
On Day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft, Holmes selected DE Josh Paschal and S Kerby Joseph. Detroit hit big on the Illinois safety in the third round of last year’s draft, as Joseph was named First-Team All-Rookie by several publications. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they select another Illinois defensive back with CB Devon Witherspoon available in this year’s class. Per PFF, Witherspoon forced the second-most incompletions and played the second-most man coverage snaps last season. Detroit finished third in man coverage snaps under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn last season.
The Campbell/Holmes tandem has selected defensive linemen with the most draft capital (Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeil, Derrick Barnes, Hutchinson, and Paschal), followed up by offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive back.
The duo also has shown some tendencies to select players that have fast 10-yard splits.
In 2021, Onwuzurike (76th percentile), McNeil (83rd percentile), and Ifeatu Melifonwu (92nd percentile) all posted strong 10-yard splits in testing. In 2022, all of the Lions’ draft picks that tested ran a 10-yard split in the 70th percentile or better.
Some of the top testers in the 10-yard split from this year’s class that Detroit could target include DL Calijah Kancey, DL Bryan Breese, WR Josh Downs, WR Nathaniel Dell, WR Rashee Rice, WR Michael Wilson, TE Luke Musgrave, TE Zack Kuntz, RB Devon Achane, CB D.J. Turner and CB Jaylon Jones.
Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey fits the bill of a future Lions draft pick. He posted the nation’s highest pass-rush grade among interior defenders in 2022 (92.4) with 47 total pressures (seventh), eight sacks (tied for second), and ranked first in PFF’s PRP rate that combines sacks, hits, and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer.
Kancey earned the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award for his efforts. It was the first time since Aaron Donald won the award in 2013 that it was awarded to a Pittsburgh Panther. The former Panther is undersized at 6-foot-1, 281 pounds (similar to Donald, who was scouted by current Lions general manager Brad Holmes), but he more than makes up for it with elite athleticism. He ran the 40 in 4.67 seconds (99th percentile). Per FantasyPros’ own Bo McBrayer, that was the fastest 40 time for any player over 280 pounds since 2003.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
The Mike Mayock Raiders would surely overdraft a defensive tackle in the first round, but I am slightly more optimistic that under a new regime, they can get better value in the first round with the returning combination of Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler. However, my confidence isn’t great based on the moves they made in last year’s draft.
In 2022, they burned limited draft capital picks on non-premium positions including running back and defensive tackle. The only “smart” thing they did was draft two offensive linemen — par for the course of the New England Patriots drafting model.
I’d presume they follow that same strategy in 2023, addressing OL, DL, CB, and LB. And they’ll probably waste more picks on running backs.
👀👀The @Raiders – led by GM Dave Ziegler and Assistant GM Champ Kelly – spent time with Florida QB Anthony Richardson at his Pro Day. By all accounts, the meeting went well and the Raiders came away impressed. 👀👀
— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) March 30, 2023
Las Vegas should shift their draft focus to their defensive secondary, which ranked 31st in pass defense DVOA in 2022. They have lost multiple cornerbacks due to expired contracts — Anthony Averett, Rock Ya-Sin, Sidney Jones — and need to add to the position. It was smart for them to bring back Brandon Facyson on a two-year deal and sign safety Marcus Epps from the Eagles. But it’s not enough.
Elsewhere on offense, the team “fixed” the right side of their offensive line. Tackles Brandon Parker (re-signed after missing all of last year with injury) and Jermaine Eluemunor (re-signed) are both back. And they have depth with 2022 seventh-rounder Thayer Munford as a direct in-house replacement after seeing plenty of snaps as a rookie. However, it’s hardly a position of strength, especially if Parker has to start. Parker allowed the most QB pressures per game in 2021.
The Raiders recently brought back OG Alex Bars, who finished as PFF’s second-lowest-graded run-blocking guard. Woof.
On defense, linebacker Denzel Perryman (Texans) and DL Andrew Billings (Bears) are gone from the roster. Perryman was second in tackles and PFF run defense grade on the roster. Robert Spillane was brought in from the Steelers, but he has never been a true full-time off-ball linebacker.
Billings finished third in run stops and second in PFF pass-rush grade on true pass sets. The Raiders retained DT Jerry Tillery, but he has been AWFUL since entering the NFL as a 2019 first-round pick. But it didn’t stop Las Vegas from signing him to a two-year contract for $7 million, worth up to $8 million. Starter-level money.
GM Terry Fontenot spent 18 years with the New Orleans Saints serving in roles that included director of scouting and assistant general manager before becoming GM of the Atlanta Falcons at the start of 2021. It’s impossible to pinpoint precisely where Fontenot’s input on the roster weighed most heavily, so we have to look at his time spent with the Saints with a wide lens.
Those teams invested a lot of draft capital in WRs — especially big bodies. WR Drake London landing in Atlanta was one of the few picks I got right in last year’s final mock draft. The other positions that earned more attention included defensive backs, linebackers, and offensive tackles.
I also think it’s telling that they did not invest in a loaded 2021 quarterback class — opting to draft Desmond Ridder in the third round last year and name him as the team’s starter heading into 2023. I doubt the quarterback position is the direction they go in Round 1 of this year’s draft.
Fontenot focused his first draft mostly on cornerbacks, defensive linemen, and offensive linemen. In his second draft, there was another attempt at addressing pass rush with more defensive linemen, followed by skill players (WR/QB/RB) and linebackers.
He addressed glaring needs at WR and RB with London and Tyler Allgeier, so I’d presume most of the Falcons’ picks will align with their team needs. They still need to generate more pressure and improve their secondary. Expect a combination of edge/cornerback to be atop the Falcons’ draft board at picks 8 and 44.
General manager Ryan Poles took over a roster last season with no first-round draft capital and glaring roster needs at wide receiver, offensive line, and cornerback.
He addressed the secondary in last year’s draft by selecting CB Kyler Gordon and S Jaquan Brisker. He blew the WR selection with Velus Jones Jr. in Round 3 but made up for it by acquiring veteran WR D.J. Moore this offseason as part of the trade with the Panthers for the No. 1 overall pick.
However, Poles did not use a single pick inside the top 150 on an offensive lineman. That cannot and will not happen for a second straight season. Poles spent his last three seasons before being hired by Chicago as part of the Chiefs’ player personnel department — which has taken a newer approach to bolster the offensive line in the early rounds.
To pinpoint the archetype of OL play Poles is looking for early on, we can look at the two guys he drafted last year in Rounds 5 and 6. Braxton Jones is best comparable to Georgia tackle Broderick Jones — one of the highest-ranked tackles in the class. Braxton Jones started all 17 games for the Bears at left tackle last season. He ran his 40-yard dash at 4.97 (93rd percentile) and 10-yard split at 1.74 (80th percentile).
Their other late-round OL selection, Zachary Thomas, finished in the 95th percentile in his 40-yard dash and posted a 97th-percentile 10-yard split.
Both Jones and Thomas measured in at approximately 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds with above-average wingspans and arm lengths.
Outside of tackle, I’d expect more resources thrown at the defense. Specifically in the secondary (like they did last season) and on the defensive line. K.C. went heavy drafting defensive linemen during Poles’ tenure there and it’s a major need. But in all honesty, the Bears’ defense was a mess in 2022, ranking dead last in total DVOA. 32nd versus the pass and 30th versus the run. They need playmakers everywhere.
Howie Roseman is no stranger to selecting wide receivers early on, having selected one in the top two rounds over the last four seasons, two of which have been first-round picks. WR is firmly in play with one of the Eagles’ later-round picks.
With their other picks, the Eagles are a prime candidate to go with an edge defender. Roseman has invested luxury picks in the DL before and did so last season with the selection of DT Jordan Davis. Adding additional firepower upfront makes sense based on the current state of their defensive line. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will return to the roster, but Robert Quinn, Javon Hargrave (49ers), Ndamukong Suh, and Linval Joseph remain elsewhere.
On the offensive line, guard Isaac Seumalo is now in Pittsburgh. Seumalo inked a three-year deal with the Steelers. His former backup, Andre Dillard, signed a starter-level deal with the Titans. Cam Jurgens could be a candidate to fill the void at guard with Jason Kelce coming back at center.
But either way, the Eagles could use more depth along their interior with Kelce a candidate to retire at the end of the season and Jack Driscoll set to be a free agent as well. Since 2019, Roseman has drafted an offensive lineman in the first four rounds in every single draft. Three of which have been a second-round selection or higher.
And for those that think Bijan Robinson will don the midnight green in 2023 and beyond, think twice. Roseman has drafted just a handful of RBs since 2019, with Miles Sanders — the guy they didn’t want to pay — the highest selected as a middle second-rounder.
Jon Robinson was let go as the Titans’ GM in 2022 after serving in the role since the start of the 2016 season. The team replaced him with Ran Carthon, a former director of pro/player personnel with the 49ers (2017-2022) and Rams (2012-2016).
During his tenure with the 49ers, the team drafted a defensive player with their first selection in three of the last five drafts (when they had a Round 1 selection). Last season, with no first-round pick, the 49ers took outside linebacker Drake Jackson 61st overall.
Most of the Titans’ starters are returning from their secondary, but it’s a unit that played horribly in 2022. The Titans ranked last in passing yards allowed per game (275). If they feel okay with their offensive line coming out of free agency with the signings of Andre Dillard and Daniel Brunskill — then cornerback will be the position they address with high capital. They definitely will go after a perimeter CB after inking inside cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to a one-year deal.
The highest cornerback drafted by the 49ers since 2017 was 6-foot-3, 198-pound Ahkello Witherspoon. Joey Porter Jr. at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds should be in strong consideration if available to Tennessee at 11th overall.
Porter Jr. comes with length and was a pass-breakup machine in 2022, posting college football’s second-highest forced incompletion rate (41%). His frame and build — 96th-percentile height, 98th-percentile wingspan, 98th-percentile arm length — fit the exact archetype that was heavily coveted during Carthon’s tenure in San Francisco.
Connecting a cornerback to the Titans seems to be lost in the betting markets, as the OL position remains the favorite at -225 odds even after all the free-agency moves. Meanwhile, the Titans drafting a cornerback is sitting pretty at +2000 on DraftKings Sportsbook.
NEW YORK JETS
Jets GM Joe Douglas was hired in 2019, shortly after the 2019 NFL Draft. Douglas had input from 2020-2022 when the team primarily addressed needs.
In 2022, the Jets earned an A+ draft grade from me while drafting three excellent first-round picks between CB Sauce Gardner, WR Garrett Wilson, and DE Jermaine Johnson. WR and EDGE were their two biggest needs, followed by the secondary/offensive line.
I’d assume the Jets plan to attack this year’s draft similarly: the best player available that fits a critical team need at value. Their current top needs include offensive line, defensive tackle, EDGE, safety, and linebacker.
The other takeaway I’ve had while analyzing Douglas’ draft tendencies is that he undoubtedly favors players from Power Five schools.
Their 2020 draft featured the top five selections all from Power Five schools. 2021 followed suit, except for Wilson heralding from BYU. Although BYU joined the Big 12 — and the Power Five — in 2022. Last season, all but one of their draft picks came from a Power Five school.
I also have an inkling they might favor players with elite athletic testing numbers as they go further in the draft as well.
Vera-Tucker and Moore posted awe-inspiring results at their 2021 pro days and ended up being two of the Jets’ top three picks. Last season, they drafted guys with a lot of flat-line speed.
Based on Douglas’ track record, the names to keep tabs on landing with Gang Green include WR Trey Palmer, DE Derick Hall, DE Isaiah Foskey, DE Zach Harrison, CB D.J. Turner, OT Broderick Jones, OT Blake Freeland, OT Anton Harrison, OT Darnell Wright, DT Gervon Dexter, and EDGE Byron Young.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Bill Belichick has been the Patriots’ stand-in GM since being hired in 2000. This draft will be the sixth time the Patriots hold a first-round pick inside the top 20. Three of the four players (Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Jerod Mayo) were defensive stars, with tackle Nate Solder and quarterback Mac Jones the offensive players. Each enjoyed successful NFL careers — a case yet to be made for Jones — and I’d classify them as hits.
However, the most common position anywhere in the first round has been defensive tackle — with three selections since 2004. They have also drafted running back (cringe) and defensive back twice in this spot. The offensive line has also been drafted thrice (Cole Strange, again cringe).
New England’s main needs include offensive line (tackle), defensive back (free safety/cornerback), wide receiver, and linebacker.
Many will harp on the Patriots to take a wide receiver in Round 1, but it’s just not in Bill Belichick’s DNA to pay up at that position. And when he has, it’s never panned out (i.e., N’Keal Harry, Chad Jackson, Aaron Dobson). But it’s not outlandish to think they won’t pull the trigger on a wideout at 14th overall after selecting Tyquan Thornton highly in Round 2 in the 2022 NFL Draft. I’m just saying that a WR there isn’t the best way for the team to spend its draft capital. But I’m not the one sitting on a throne of Super Bowl rings.
Addressing the offensive line is likely what they will do at some point in the draft. Even as the team already filled the snaps at right tackle between Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon. Yodny Cajuste was re-signed. New England signed 11-year veteran tackle Riley Reiff and former Denver Bronco Calvin Anderson in free agency. But with Reiff’s age and Trent Brown entering a contract year, they could use a future franchise tackle.
The #Patriots have drafted six offensive lineman in the top 50 under Bill Belichick. All six went to the Senior Bowl: Strange, Wynn, Solder, Mankins, Klemm.
Multi-year starters, seniors, Mobile tested. They don’t typically draft inexperienced OLs early.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) March 30, 2023
Michael Schmitz’s second-best comparable per Mockdraftable.com is former Patriots great, Dan Koppen.
On defense, Devin McCourty’s retirement is a major deal. He led the Patriots’ defense in total snaps and finished the year second in tackles. His 90.0 PFF tackling grade ranked seventh among all safeties last season.
Upgrading from CB Jalen Mills would also be a great idea after Mills posted PFF’s second-worst coverage grade in 10 games for the Patriots in 2022. The team cut ties with Mills (then re-signed him smh) and re-signed Jonathan Jones. They also brought back safety Jabrill Peppers, along with linebackers Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan. Peppers is more of a run-stuffing box safety, so they still need a center fielder at the free safety position.
Note that all the defensive moves for the Patriots have been internal signings, whereas they have elected to bring in talent from other teams on the offensive side of the ball. Hence why I’d expect them to hit offense much more than defense, especially with the 14th overall pick.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Packers haven’t used a single first-round pick on a skill-position player since drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005. That goes well beyond the tenure of Brian Gutekunst, who has been the team’s GM since the start of 2018.
Even so, it’s flabbergasting that Green Bay never surrounded Rodgers with elite offensive weaponry. And nothing would be more ironic than for the team to select one in 2023 after jettisoning Rodgers to the New York Jets.
Because it’s not like Gutekunst has been anti-drafting skill players. He has drafted plenty of wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends over the past four drafts — including three WRs last season — but few have turned into productive pros.
The Packers’ general manager is willing to add weapons; I’m hoping they can address their glaring weakness at tight end early in the draft. They only have one legitimate tight end under contract entering the season (Josiah Deguara). Weapons need to be added, with Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard not returning.
But if they can take an alternate route, I’d guess they look to the defensive secondary as an alternative. Three of the team’s eight-highest draft picks have been on defensive backs since 2018.
Safety Adrian Amos played the most snaps against the run but will be a 30-year-old free agent. He also was a major liability in coverage as PFF’s fifth-lowest-graded safety in coverage. His teammate, Darnell Savage, ranked fourth worst in that category.
Needless to say, a safety with coverage skills needs to be on top of the Packers’ draft priorities.
Green Bay has also drafted a center/interior offensive lineman in each of the last four drafts — two of which have been selected inside the top 65. In a talent-rich interior OL class, look for the Pack to add more big bodies to bolster the inside of the line.
Martin Mayhew was hired by the Commanders two seasons ago. This is his second stint as an NFL GM; he previously served in the same role for the Lions from 2008 to 2015. The major findings from his tenure in Detroit reveal that linemen were a priority with his first-round picks, and CBs/WRs/RBs reflected the bulk of his second- and third-round selections.
Six of his nine first-round picks were either OL or DL, with the only exceptions being Matthew Stafford and Eric Ebron. In addition to taking Ebron early, Mayhew also invested a high pick on tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
In 2021, Washington went linebacker in the first round with Jamin Davis, followed by tackle Samuel Cosmi, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, and wide receiver Dyami Brown. Outside the linebacker position, it was par for the course in a Mayhew-led draft approach. They even drafted tight end John Bates in Round 4.
In 2022, the Commanders went WR in Round 1 with Jahan Dotson, followed by defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis and running back Brian Robinson Jr. in Rounds 2 and 3 respectively. They also drafted tight end Cole Turner in Round 5.
For the second straight draft in the nation’s capital, Mayhew stuck to his typical draft script. Especially when it came to drafting a running back in Round 3.
The Lions under the Mayhew regime drafted four running backs inside the first three rounds. Robinson going in Round 3 last season was not surprising. And they probably will continue adding to the position with Antonio Gibson hitting free agency next season.
Washington has hosted running back prospects like Tyjae Spears and Eric Gray during the pre-draft process. Bijan Robinson is definitely in play with the 16th overall pick, as the Commanders are one of the favorites to land the Texas running back with the second-shortest odds alongside the L.A. Chargers and Dallas Cowboys.
However, I still strongly side with them looking for a cornerback with their first-round pick. Washington needs to inject their pass defense with someone like cornerback Joey Porter Jr., son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter. The Penn State cornerback was a pass-breakup machine in 2022, posting college football’s second-highest forced incompletion rate (41%).
Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. said he had a formal interview with the Commanders. “I talked to them a lot.”
He added that he likes the number of Penn State players in Washington (Jahan Dotson, Shaka Toney, Tariq Castro-Fields). pic.twitter.com/GU4s0FG39a
— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) March 2, 2023
The offensive line also needs improvement after finishing bottom 10 in both pass-blocking and run-blocking efficiency per PFF in 2022. Last year’s starting right guard, Trai Turner, is a free agent. Reserve interior offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer signed with the Jets. Washington made key signings with G Nick Gates, OT Andrew Wylie, and C Tyler Larsen, making it more likely they go in this direction at pick 47 or 97.
Tight end would definitely be the wildcard pick in Round 1, but I wouldn’t put it past Mayhew with how often he drafts that position. They have conducted formal interviews with Darnell Washington and Tucker Kraft. Washington’s closest comparison on Mockdraftable.com is current and oft-injured tight end Logan Thomas. His fourth-closest comp is Pettigrew, who Mayhew selected 20th overall in 2009.
The Steelers’ organization is well known for drafting WRs that seemingly outperform their draft-day position. During Kevin Colbert’s tenure from 2010 to 2022, they drafted the likes of Emmanuel Sanders, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Chase Claypool, and Calvin Austin III outside the first round.
The Steelers are solid atop their receiver depth chart with Pickens and Johnson, but the depth behind them is bleak.
They’ve drafted a total of 11 WRs inside the top four rounds over that time — the most of any position. I have no doubt that the Steelers have a scouting system that works when identifying WR prospects, but the sheer volume of the receivers they draft increases their odds. Don’t think Pittsburgh won’t take a WR they like in Rounds 2-4. Especially with four top-80 picks and two inside the top 32 (thanks, Bears) at their disposal.
Some notable wide receivers they have met with this season include Jalin Hyatt, Jordan Addison, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Parker Washington, and Jonathan Mingo. Could we see a reunion between Addison and Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh? Stay tuned.
The next three most popular selections by Colbert’s Steelers are linebacker, defensive back, and offensive line. The O-line sticks out the most because it’s been a hot second since Pittsburgh last drafted an offensive lineman in the top two rounds (2012). In 2021, they failed to add anyone until Round 3. In 2022, they didn’t draft any offensive linemen.
Colbert routinely passed on the position because they’ve had such a great line in recent years. That’s no longer the case.
But there’s reason to believe this could be the year that bucks the trend for Pittsburgh avoiding offensive linemen in Round 1. Colbert stepped down as the team’s GM after the 2022 NFL Draft, being replaced in-house by Omar Khan. Khan has been with the Steelers since 2001 and last served as the Vice President of Football & Business Administration from 2016 to 2022.
It’s worth noting that the team was aggressive in improving the interior offensive line during the free-agency period, perhaps a foreshadowing of what’s yet to come in the draft in the form of a future franchise tackle. They’ve met with potential first-round tackles Dawand Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones, and Peter Skoronski.
After those positions, cornerback and linebacker are the top needs that align with Colbert’s draft approach. I also wouldn’t put it past the Steelers to go with another pass rusher, because you can never have too many. And the team struggled without T.J. Watt setting the edge. Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu are available in free agency. Cameron Hayward isn’t getting any younger at age 34, and eventually his production will tail off. Keep an eye on Iowa State’s Will McDonald as an edge-rusher option at pick 32.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Buccaneers GM Jason Licht has had the luxury of a talent-rich roster without holes over the last few seasons. Things are different in 2023, with quarterback, safety, offensive tackle, and defensive line at the forefront of team needs.
A quick peek into Licht’s past can provide us with some guidance on how he will approach this year’s draft armed with early picks 19, 50, and 82.
In the Licht era, the Bucs have taken cornerbacks most often during Rounds 1-4. It’s not much of a need based on the Bucs’ two starting outside corners — Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean — but teams can never feel bad about having too many guys to help cover. Specifically, someone that can play/cover in the slot.
Outside corner, the next most-drafted positions were safety, running back, and defensive line. The Bucs have some pressing needs at safety. Safeties Mike Edwards (Chiefs), Logan Ryan, and Keanu Neal are gone. CB Sean Murphy-Bunting signed with the Titans.
The Pewter Report has connected the Buccaneers with the following OL prospects during the pre-draft cycle: OT Anton Harrison, OT Paris Johnson Jr., OT Broderick Jones, IOL Andrew Vorhees, OT Darnell Wright, and IOL Joe Tippmann.
One of Goedeke’s accolades as a college prospect was his proficiency as a run blocker. Per Sports Info Solutions, the Central Michigan product had the lowest percentage of blown blocks on rushing attempts. In this year’s class, that title belongs to Darnell Wright.
Other notable meetings they have at need-based positions include CB Cam Smith, S Sydney Brown, S Brian Branch, S Jammie Robinson, DE Nolan Smith, DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, DE Will McDonald, and DE Derick Hall.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Tom Telesco has been the Chargers’ general manager since 2013. He struck gold by drafting Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert in 2020 and Rashawn Slater in 2021, but the roster still has some holes that need to be addressed — most notably wide receiver, defensive line, and nickel safety/cornerback.
Telesco has drafted eight offensive linemen in the top three rounds — the most of any position. That includes last year’s first-rounder from Boston College, Zion Johnson. Even though they seem set across their offensive line post-free agency, Telesco knows how important depth is upfront.
After that, Telesco invested many picks in linebackers, wide receivers, and running backs. Not necessarily all high-end capital, but a plethora of dart throws.
They drafted running back Isaiah Spiller last season in the fourth round, and they are the betting favorites at some sportsbooks to land Bijan Robinson, amid the Austin Ekeler trade rumors. Even if it isn’t Robinson, they are going to draft another running back at some point. But I could easily see it being earlier than Day 3. Israel Abanikanda is a name to watch.
Also, don’t be shocked if they add a speedy wide receiver with the 21st overall pick.
Eric DeCosta took over GM duties in 2019 after serving as the assistant GM for eight years. In his four drafts as the head honcho, Baltimore spent the majority of their top picks (inside the first four rounds) on defensive linemen, offensive guards, wide receivers, running backs, and cornerbacks.
WR, CB, and EDGE are all major needs for the 2023 Ravens, so I’d imagine that is the route they go in the draft. I could also see them drafting an interior offensive lineman after losing Ben Powers in free agency. Guard Kevin Zeitler will be a free agent at the end of this season.
And although they seem set at running back with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, the team knows all too well that injury can quickly plague a backfield. Both of those guys will also be free agents at the end of the season.
It should also be noted that the Ravens are notorious for valuing non-premium positions more than other teams. They arguably got two of the most talented players in last year’s draft, Kyle Hamilton and Tyler Linderbaum, because of the positions they play.
Any talented player that falls based on position will undoubtedly be scooped up by the Ravens — whether they need him or not.
Ex-Vikings GM Rick Spielman’s draft tendencies included targeting running backs, cornerbacks, and tackles with premium picks. But he also never drafted a defensive end with a first- or second-round pick.
Therefore, then-new Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah seemed primed to flip the script on avoiding edge rushers/defensive linemen with high-end draft capital with his roots tied to the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers. He was part of the teams that drafted Solomon Thomas, Nick Bosa, and Arik Armstead in the first round.
However, that turned out to not be the case, with Adofo-Mensah drafting back-to-back defensive backs (Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth) plus a guard (Ed Ingram) with his first three selections in the 2022 NFL Draft.
He followed Spielman’s merits of investing in defensive backs and the offensive line. The Browns drafted Greg Newsome, Grant Delpit, and Jedrick Wills with their last top draft picks over the last two seasons KAM was in Cleveland.
Linebacker was also a very popular position in Rounds 3 and 4. The Vikings drafted LB Brian Asamoah from Oklahoma 66th overall last season.
Because Minnesota went so defensive back-heavy last year, I’d imagine they punt that position until the third round with no second-round picks available. They also signed CB Byron Murphy in free agency.
Minnesota desperately needs to bolster the defensive line in Round 1. They lost Dalvin Tomlinson to the Browns. The only worthwhile defensive line additions were ex-Saints defensive lineman Marcus Davenport and ex-Packer Dean Lowry.
The Vikings drafted EDGE Esezi Otomewo in the fifth round last season, and a close comparable to him in this year’s class is Clemson’s Myles Murphy. Davenport is a close comparable to Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey.
They also drafted WR Jalen Nailor in Round 6. With WR a new area of need after the release of Adam Thielen, we could see Minnesota target players similar to Nailor such as Zay Flowers, Marvin Mims, Tyler Scott, or Josh Downs.
Other takeaways from Adofo-Mensah’s first draft as GM include his willingness to make a surplus of trades, along with having no fear of targeting players that come with injury red flags at a suppressed price.
Adofo-Mensah’s analytics-driven background also suggests that Minnesota will be in the conversation to select a rookie quarterback, with how advantageous it can be to have one for salary-cap and team-building purposes.
In 2021, the writing was on the wall that the Jaguars were primed to draft a running back. Trent Baalke spent 2011-2016 with the San Francisco 49ers and drafted a running back in every single draft. Five of the seven RBs were taken in Round 4 or earlier.
It was not shocking to see the team select Travis Etienne Jr. in the first round two years ago. And the streak of drafting RB continued last season when the team selected Snoop Conner in the fifth round.
I doubt they will draft another RB too high in this year’s draft with Etienne the entrenched starter on a rookie deal, but don’t rule them out of the RB conversation in Rounds 3 or 4. Especially considering their current depth chart consists of Etienne, Conner, JaMycal Hasty, and D’Ernest Johnson.
Tank Bigsby, DeWayne McBride, and Tyjae Spears are the top names that have met with the Jaguars this offseason.
The other major trend I noticed was Baalke’s targeting of defensive backs. He used a third-round pick or better on a safety/cornerback in six of seven drafts. In 2021, the Jags drafted cornerback Tyson Campbell in Round 2 and defensive back Andre Cisco in Round 3. However, they did not draft any defensive backs until Rounds 6 and 7 last season.
Considering how bad their defense was last season — the 30th-ranked DVOA pass defense — secondary options will likely be the targets at picks 24, 56, or 88.
This offseason, they’ve met with Kelee Ringo and Terell Smith. Smith fits the “Baalke type” with 91st-percentile arm length. Baalke owns a strong reputation and tangible drafting record of gravitating toward players with long arms.
Just some food for thought that Jacksonville may opt for guys with long arms as they did last season with the first overall pick, Travon Walker.
Long-armed players to keep tabs on Jacksonville targeting include OT Dawand Jones, EDGE Zach Harrison, OT Paris Johnson Jr., EDGE Will McDonald, OT Broderick Jones, EDGE Derick Hall, EDGE B.J. Ojulari, CB Julius Brents, EDGE Keion White, S Antonio Johnson, and CB Emmanuel Forbes.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The grass is greener on the other side. Big Blue cleaned house last offseason, hiring Brian Daboll as head coach and Joe Schoen as general manager. Both guys spent their last several seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Management/ownership understood they needed to put Daniel Jones in a position to succeed in 2022 to identify him as their long-term answer at quarterback.
And their road to the postseason started with last year’s draft, which they deserved much praise for. They attacked the defensive line early — a strategy implemented by Bills GM Brandon Beane — with Kayvon Thibodeaux. And they continued to follow Beane’s layout by doubling down on offensive linemen with Evan Neal and Joshua Ezeudu.
Beane set a standard to address needs with not just one player, but with multiple assets. And Schoen has picked up on this during the Giants’ rebuilding process. WR is an obvious need for this team and they’ve added a surplus of players in free agency to find a fix. And they have been heavily connected to this year’s WR class, suggesting they are not finished adding to their receiving corps.
Giants now had dinners with Johnston, BC’s Zay Flowers and Ohio State’s Jaxson Smith-Njigba before their Pro Days. USC’s Jordan Addison said last week they were the most recent team he’s heard from.
Follow the crumbs. Giants pick 25th overall in the first round.
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) March 30, 2023
Outside of defensive linemen, the other remaining positions Beane has targeted most include running back, wide receiver, cornerback, and offensive line.
Shocking no one, the other top picks for the Giants last season were WR Wan’Dale Robinson and CB Cordale Flott.
Also, for fantasy purposes, don’t sleep on the Giants adding a running back. They’ve been non-committal on Saquon Barkley long term and have hosted a slew of RBs like Tank Bigsby and Tyjae Spears during the pre-draft process.
I’d anticipate they draft a center after losing Jon Feliciano and his backup Nick Gates. I also presume they will add another safety after losing Julian Love. Love led the Giants in snaps and tackles on defense in 2022.
Alabama draft prospect and safety Brian Branch makes sense as a draft target if he is available. Branch has experience playing the nickel/slot — he played the second-most slot snaps among college safeties in 2022 — and is a fierce tackler. Per PFF, Branch has missed just four tackles on 170 attempts (2.3%) against the SEC’s stiffest competition.
New York has also shown a lot of interest in both South Carolina cornerbacks, Darius Rush and Cam Smith.
Jerry Jones has been in charge since 1989, but we won’t go that far back with the game of football changing so dramatically over the past decade.
Since 2010, the Cowboys have drafted four cornerbacks (two first-rounders and three second-rounders) with meaningful draft capital: Trevon Diggs, Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Morris Claiborne, and Kelvin Joseph.
After defensive backs, it’s been a lot of pass rushers, offensive linemen, and wide receivers that Big D has targeted in recent drafts with draft capital in the first three rounds.
Considering the team’s current top needs — WR, CB, OL, and RB — they can similarly approach the 2023 NFL Draft. Their list of 2024 free agents includes OT Tyron Smith, RB Tony Pollard, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Jourdan Lewis, OT Terence Steele, CB Trevon Diggs, and S Jayron Kearse.
Jones is no stranger to investing high draft capital into defensive backs, so a perimeter cornerback in the draft like Georgia’s Kelee Ringo could be an option. The former Bulldog has the size at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds that is coveted in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme.
Linebacker Drew Sanders could also be a pass-rush option based on his egregiously high sack numbers (0.8 per game, tied for second in the class) in 2022.
Dallas will also likely add another running back. Tony Pollard got the franchise tag, but Ezekiel Elliott was released. Don’t sleep on them as a dark horse to select Bijan Robinson in the first round. The generational running back talent has obvious ties to Dallas as a Texas Longhorn, and his college head coach, Steve Sarkisian, coached under the Cowboys’ current defensive coordinator, Quinn, for two years in Atlanta.
Brandon Beane has been the Bills’ GM since 2017 and deserves praise for not only drafting quarterback Josh Allen but building a roster that aided in his development.
Beane has been a pretty balanced drafter over the past six seasons, with the defensive line the only position he has taken extra shots on in the early rounds. Outside of defensive line, the remaining positions he’s targeted most include running back, wide receiver, cornerback, and offensive line.
As one of the most complete teams in the league, Buffalo has a variety of ways they could approach the 27th overall pick.
Addressing the needs at WR, OL, or EDGE will most likely be Buffalo’s approach in Round 1, and the choice will be dictated by who is the best player available. After forgoing the defensive line last year in the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Buffalo head back in that direction.
After all, the Bills’ pressure rate fell dramatically after the team lost Von Miller due to injury. They generated just a 5.1% pressure rate — a mark that would have ranked 31st compared to season-long standings. There’s a strong chance that they look for an interior disruptor with DL DaQuan Jones, Ed Oliver, and Tim Settle all hitting free agency in 2024. Former 2020 second-rounder EDGE A.J. Epenesa will also be a free agent at the end of the year.
Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin has been running the show as the team’s de facto general manager since as early as 2013. Over that time, he’s been no stranger to investing high-end draft capital into offensive linemen.
Since 2015, the Bengals have drafted five offensive linemen (Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Billy Price, Jonah Williams, and Jackson Carman) with first- or second-round picks. They’ve selected a wide receiver in the first round (John Ross and Ja’Marr Chase) twice. Their other recent highly-drafted WRs have been second-rounders (Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins).
Bolstering OL and WR is something the Bengals are not shy about doing as they look to get back into Super Bowl contention, even if they appear set at each position post-free agency.
Even after the Bengals spent big in free agency entering 2022 by overhauling the offensive line, they still finished 31st in PFF pass-blocking grade. They have zero reasons to stop adding talent across their offensive line to protect the long-term health of quarterback Joe Burrow. Starting right tackle La’el Collins is coming off a Week 16 torn ACL and finished as PFF’s 15th-lowest-graded pass blocker. His backup, Hakeem Adeniji, finished as PFF’s seventh-lowest-graded pass blocker. I seriously doubt that Cincy wants to open the season with Carman at right tackle after he couldn’t sniff the starting lineup until all the injuries piled up. Carman has also taken zero snaps at right tackle in the NFL.
To address the glaring need, the Bengals invested in ex-Chief Orlando Brown Jr., signing him to a monster four-year, $84 million contract to bolster their OL.
In Rounds 3 and 4, I’d keep an eye out for the Bengals to target linebackers. They’ve drafted a linebacker in the third round for seven consecutive seasons — until the streak broke last year.
They went heavy drafting secondary assets last season — Daxton Hill, Cam Taylor-Britt, and Tycen Anderson — and Tobin has drafted two cornerbacks in the first round before (William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard).
I could easily see the Bengals going back in that direction after losing defensive backs Vonn Bell (Carolina), Jessie Bates (Atlanta), Eli Apple, and Tre Flowers. Bell, Bates, and Apple were three of the top four players in terms of playing time for DBs last season (they combined for 1,100-plus snaps).
Look for them to draft a safety with coverage skills after the veteran signing of thumping safety Nick Scott.
Tobin has also shown a willingness to spend on tight ends in the draft. Most notably Tyler Eifert (Round 1), Tyler Kroft (Round 3), and Drew Sample (Round 2) are among the Bengals’ most recent picks at the position. So although they added Irv Smith Jr. in free agency, I wouldn’t put it past them to add another TE for depth at 28, 60, or 92.
New Bengals TE Irv Smith Jr.'s 1-year deal is for a base value $1.75M, with the chance to make a maximum of $2M, per source.
Nice value for Cincinnati and a really good spot for Smith to play a useful role in a high-octane passing offense.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) March 31, 2023
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Longtime Saints GM Mickey Loomis has had his hands on the team’s roster dating back to 2002. He picked up an additional title as Executive Vice President in 2013, so that’s an appropriate spot to reference his drafting history.
Since then, the positions he’s invested the most in with Day 1 or 2 draft picks include defensive backs, linebackers, wide receivers, and tackles.
Considering the defensive line (specifically pass rush), linebacker, and cornerback highlight the team’s biggest needs heading into the draft, those are precise positions they will most likely address at picks 29, 40, and 71.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Like the Bills’ Beane, Brett Veach has been his team’s GM since 2017. Being part of the staff that drafted Patrick Mahomes II seemingly makes Veach impervious to criticism, but there are still takeaways to be gained from his overall drafting history.
He’s drafted a defensive lineman in four of the last six drafts in the top three rounds. Last year, the trend continued with the selection of defensive end George Karlaftis 30th overall.
2022 also marked the third consecutive season the team drafted an offensive lineman in the first five rounds since 2017 (Darian Kinnard). One of Kinnard’s top comparables per MockDraftable.com is Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence.
Kansas City wisely reinvested into the tackle position during free agency with their top two starting tackles — Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wiley — signing onto new teams this offseason. Wiley signed with the Washington Commanders, rejoining Eric Bieniemy. Meanwhile, the Bengals signed Brown to bolster their OL.
Kansas City addressed the need by inking former Jaguars tackle Jawaan Taylor to a four-year deal worth $80 million. The plan is to play Taylor at left tackle, even though he has not played there at the NFL or college level. Therefore, I wouldn’t completely rule out the Chiefs taking another stab at a left tackle if the right guy falls to them in the draft like Trevor Reid, Darnell Wright, Broderick Jones, or Carter Warren.
The Chiefs also have a significant hole at wide receiver after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster (Patriots) and Mecole Hardman (Jets) in free agency. I don’t envision K.C. overpaying for WRs, though, as playing alongside Mahomes will increase receiver production/efficiency — almost regardless of the player’s own skill set.
On defense, K.C. lost S Juan Thornhill (Browns) and DE Carlos Dunlap. Safety was filled by former Buccaneer Mike Edwards, while Charles Omenihu fills the void on the edge with a two-year, $20 million contract. Omenihu finished second in pressures on a stacked 49ers defensive front last season.
The cornerback position could also use some love, with 2022 seventh-rounder Jaylen Watson penciled in as a starter for 2023. Three of the team’s top four cornerbacks will be second-year players, so adding veteran depth would be a strong investment for the Chiefs.
The defensive interior might also need some fine-tuning behind Chris Jones. Khalen Saunders (Saints) ranked right behind Jones in snaps played from the defensive interior in 2022. However, the team did re-sign DT Derrick Nnadi.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Los Angeles Rams haven’t had a first-round pick in the past six seasons, and that trend will continue in 2023. It’s been a hot minute since our Rams have been active on the draft’s opening night.
Instead, Les Snead and Co. will be sitting poolside mapping out their precious picks at 36, 69, and 77.
Based on what Snead has done since becoming the GM in 2012, I think they’ll add more talent to their secondary after decomposing it this past offseason.
Strong safety Taylor Rapp signed with the Bills and former starting free safety Nick Scott signed a deal with the Bengals. The secondary is a big hole for the Rams to fill, especially with their cornerback position also in flux. Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Miami Dolphins. Troy Hill and David Long Jr. are both gone.
And it makes sense based on what we have seen the Rams do in the past; they have drafted more defensive backs in the first three rounds than any other position. Last season, they drafted two cornerbacks and a safety with three of their first five selections.
They then need to backfill their roster in the draft with defensive tackle, EDGE, offensive line, wide receiver, and linebacker.
It’s worth noting that the other heavily drafted positions by the Rams include running back, wide receiver, and tackle. They drafted RB Kyren Williams in the fifth round last season.
Considering they went back-to-back OG and CB in last year’s draft with their top two picks, I’d lean toward offensive tackle/wide receiver/defensive line if they don’t draft a defensive back at 36. The Rams’ offensive line was abysmal in 2022, ranking 31st in pass protection DVOA.
George Paton agreed to a six-year deal as the new Broncos general manager during the 2021 offseason. Before landing in the Mile High City, Paton spent the past nine years working in Minnesota as Rick Spielman’s assistant general manager.
Interesting trends I found from past Vikings drafts with Paton on staff involve running backs, cornerbacks, and tackles.
And the Broncos did just that in Paton’s first draft with the team after selecting Javonte Williams in the second round (35th overall). Perhaps Paton’s former Minnesota ties to Dalvin Cook will be enough to entice a trade between the two parties, should Williams not be fully recovered from his major knee injury. Just don’t be surprised if Samaje Perine is not the last RB they add.
The Broncos were also loaded at cornerback in 2021 but still drafted Patrick Surtain II anyway, along with three other defensive backs. Last season, they selected two defensive backs in Rounds 4 and 5.
The one position they didn’t address in 2021 or 2022 was offensive tackle — and that likely will be the case considering the improvements they made during free agency. Denver signed Mike McGlinchey to a massive five-year deal worth over $87.5 million. They also signed Ben Powers as a starting guard.
Spielman was never one to invest in the defensive line/EDGE early, but Paton bucked that trend by selecting Nik Bonitto in Round 2 last season. That signals Paton’s willingness to add on the defensive front — a critical area where the team needs to improve.
Denver’s defensive line could also use some extra juice after finishing bottom 10 in pressure rate. The team never replaced Bradley Chubb after trading him to Miami, and prized free-agent acquisition Randy Gregory was limited to just six games due to injury. Dre’Mont Jones led the team in total pressures but signed with the Seahawks in free agency (three years, $51 million). To combat the losses, they added Zach Allen from Arizona off the edge, but they need all the help they can get.
Ohio State’s Zach Harrison is a name to remember as a potential Round 3 pick for the Broncos. He boasts 98th-percentile arm length and a 97th-percentile wingspan. He is closely comparable to Chandler Jones, who found success under new Broncos DC Vance Joseph in their time spent together in Arizona.
Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. could also be a nice fit. He totaled the sixth-most tackles last season in the class. He also finished as PFF’s highest-graded linebacker as a dual-threat pass rusher (55 pressures led all linebackers). Pace fits the Vance Joseph blitz-heavy defense.
I’d also like to reference new head coach Sean Payton’s addition to the Broncos, as he will undoubtedly have his hand in many of the selections Denver makes. Based on his tenure spent in New Orleans, we should expect the primary targeted positions to be defensive backs, linebackers, wide receivers, and tackles.
Andrew Berry was brought on as the Browns’ general manager in 2020 after a brief stint with the Eagles in 2019. This would be Berry’s second go-around with Cleveland, as he previously worked as the VP of Player Personnel from 2016 to 2018.
Berry nailed 2020’s first-round selection of tackle Jedrick Wills, who helped Cleveland boast one of the league’s best offensive lines. He then got insane value with linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in Round 2 of the 2021 Draft.
Last season, the Browns were limited on picks because of the Deshaun Watson trade. They rounded out their first three selections with CB Martin Emerson, DE Alex Wright, and WR David Bell in Round 3. The selection of a defensive end was not a surprise.
During the Browns’ drafts from 2016-2018, the one common denominator was a focus on pass rush, with DEs chosen with Day 1 or Day 2 selections each season. It wasn’t until 2020 that Berry shifted focus away from pass rush in favor of OL and defensive back.
With the OL in excellent shape, Berry addressed the secondary and pass rush in last year’s draft.
This year, I bet he will be looking hard again at this class’ pass rush based on how the team operated when he was the VP of Player Personnel. This class is very deep on the edge, so I fully anticipate the Browns adding a defender to get after the quarterback.
The other difference I noticed between the Browns from 2016-2018 and 2020-2021 was at linebacker.
Berry’s Browns took a linebacker with a Day 2 pick in two of the last three drafts. Outside of John Dorsey selecting Sione Takitaki in 2019, the prolonged drought at the position has left the Browns’ linebacking corps needing depth.
Linebacker Deion Jones is a free agent, with Takitaki, Jordan Kunaszyk, and Anthony Walker re-signed to one-year deals. After that, adding any type of run-stuffing defensive lineman is a must for the Browns.
Chris Grier took over as the Miami Dolphins’ general manager in 2016 after serving as the team’s Director of College Scouting for nine years. He’s partially responsible for the franchise’s upward trajectory, as the selection of tackle Laremy Tunsil in the 2016 NFL Draft has reaped major benefits.
However, a tampering scandal involving Tom Brady has left the Dolphins without a first-round pick, leaving them little to work with. Their top two picks in this year’s draft are picks 51 and 84.
Some interesting nuggets from tracking Grier’s draft history reveal that he has drafted more running backs (Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage) and tight ends (Mike Gesicki, Durham Smythe, and Hunter Long) than wide receivers in the first four rounds (Jaylen Waddle, Leonte Carroo, and Erik Ezukanma). Before Waddle’s selection in 2021, Gesicki was his highest-drafted pass catcher as a second-round selection in 2018.
As for the running backs, the team’s reliance on analytics and track record indicates to me that they won’t end up using any worthwhile late-round picks on a runner, despite what the mock drafts say. After all, they re-signed two capable backs between Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. to extremely cost-effective deals.
They “needed” a running back in 2021 and drafted Gerrid Doaks in the seventh round. Entering the 2016 Draft (Grier’s first as GM), they had just lost leading rusher Lamar Miller. They addressed the position in that draft by adding Kenyan Drake in the third round (73rd overall). The fifth-round pick from the previous year, Jay Ajayi, rushed for 1,272 yards to Drake’s 179 the following season.
If any NFL team knows that “RBs don’t matter”, it’s the numbers-driven Dolphins.
The Dolphins haven’t drafted a running back in the top 50 since taking Ronnie Brown second overall. The early 2000s were wild.
It’s more likely than not it will be the Wilson/Mostert Show with another body added with one of the Dolphins’ two Day 3 picks.
With limited draft capital, they are better off taking a stab across the offensive line (tackle). Grier has selected a tackle in the first round twice since 2016. He’s also drafted three different tight ends in the top four rounds since 2018. Both positions are offensive needs for Miami.
On a conference call, ESPN draft analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid said Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave (“fantastic all-around player”), Iowa’s Sam LaPorta (“a bully over the middle) and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft are possible TE targets for the Dolphins at No. 51.
— Daniel Oyefusi (@DanielOyefusi) March 31, 2023
If I had to peg a rookie tight end landing in South Beach, it would be Sam LaPorta. Mike McDaniel might know a thing or two about Iowa tight ends from his time spent with George Kittle back in San Fran.
Defensively, Miami is in pretty solid shape. Miami just needs to backfill the roster with a depth piece akin to Vic Fangio’s preferred defensive scheme. I’d say more pass rush is what they need the most, followed by linebackers. They drafted two linebackers last season.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers have gone defensive with their first selection in four of the last six drafts, so I assume they’ll look to add depth at the cornerback position after they struggled to stop the pass in 2022.
No team could run on their No.1-ranked run defense, but it was a different story when teams dropped back to throw. Improving the secondary becomes even more pertinent when you consider the guys S.F. lost from their defensive backfield — CB Emmanuel Moseley (Lions) and S Jimmie Ward (Texans).
Ward operated as the team’s primary slot defender, and Gipson provided run support as an elite free safety tackler.
The highest cornerback drafted by the 49ers since 2017 is 6-foot-3, 198-pound Ahkello Witherspoon. Even with Steve Wilks replacing DeMeco Ryans as defensive coordinator, I don’t expect S.F. to shy away from utilizing long cornerbacks. Case in point, they signed Oliver and his 96th-percentile arms during free agency.
2021’s third-round pick CB Ambry Thomas stood at 6 feet with 79th-percentile arm length. Defensive back prospects that could fall late into Day 2 that boast long arms include Darius Rush, Eli Ricks, Tyrique Stevenson, Terell Smith, Anthony Johnson, and Rejzohn Wright.
The offensive line could take a small step backward because the 49ers were unable to keep starting RT Mike McGlinchey. The team was able to retain C Jake Brendel, signing him to a four-year deal worth $20 million.
Daniel Brunskill would have been next in line at the center position, but he signed with the Titans. Backup tackle Colton McKivitz was a restricted free agent, but he signed a two-year deal, putting him in the driver’s seat to be the team’s next starting tackle.