2023 NFL Draft Takeaways: Biggest surprises, sleeper picks and best stories

BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 05: Jahmyr Gibbs #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball. gainst the LSU Tigers during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA - NOVEMBER 05: Jahmyr Gibbs #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide runs with the ball. gainst the LSU Tigers during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

The 2023 NFL draft has come and gone. All 259 picks are now in the books. There were some true stunners, some fantastic value picks and some incredible stories. In short, the type of drama and intrigue only the NFL draft can deliver.  There is a ton to unpack after three straight days of pure chaos, not to mention the frenzy that is undrafted free agency that follows. Every year there is something to be learned, so let’s run through some of the biggest takeaways from this draft.

Two RBs in the top 12

So much for the NFL not valuing running backs anymore. Bijan Robinson, despite being one of the best prospects at the position in years, was far from a lock to go in the top 10. It was certainly a possibility, but most expected his range to start around No. 10 with the Eagles. Instead, Robinson went eighth to the Falcons.

That was a bit of a surprise, but nowhere near as shocking as Jahmyr Gibbs going just four picks later to the Lions. Gibbs, who is a dynamic player with great hands, was projected somewhere in the late-first or early-second round. For him to go at No. 12 was stunning, especially with the Lions having both David Montgomery and D’Andre Swift under contract. Swift has since been moved to Philadelphia, but it was still unexpected.

With how much conversation there has been about the lack of value in drafting a running back in the first round, this was a huge reversal of prior trends. It was the first time we had two backs drafted that early since 2017. I don’t know if this is a sign of a running back resurgence, but it certainly pours some cold water on the narrative that the NFL does not value the position.

Will Levis and Hendon Hooker slide

Three quarterbacks came off the board in the top four picks during the 2023 NFL Draft. Anthony Richardson wound up being the last QB taken in the first round. Most analysts expected Will Levis to go in the top 15 and Hendon Hooker to sneak into the first round. Instead, Levis fell to the Titans at pick 33 and Hooker slipped all the way to the third round with the Lions.

While this was not what most people expected given the hype around both players, there are two main takeaways. One, the NFL refuses to reach at the quarterback position as much as fans and analysts expect them to. Kenny Pickett was the lone passer selected in the first round last year. The next QB was selected in the third round. Despite there being several teams that have uncertainty at the position long term, they refused to take players they did not believe belonged in that first-round conversation.

The second takeaway is that these are actually great situations for both quarterbacks. Both the Titans and Lions picked up talented players that would not have been available by the time they ultimately picked their quarterbacks. Both teams also have veteran quarterbacks to show the rookies the ropes before having them take over long term.

Jets, Cowboys get jumped

It happens every year, but when the whole league knows who you are targeting, it makes it much easier for other teams to trade up in front of you. The Giants had it happen essentially every year under Dave Gettleman. The Jets were clearly in the mix for an offensive tackle, although it was not clear which they favored. With the top three off the board already, the Steelers made the move up to grab Broderick Jones, leaving the Jets empty-handed. New York attempted to trade down, could not find a partner, and pivoted to Will McDonald IV.

The same thing occurred 11 picks later when the Bills traded up to jump the Cowboys to select Dalton Kincaid. The Utah tight end was linked to Dallas throughout the draft process. The move made too much sense after the Cowboys lost Dalton Schultz in free agency. Dallas grabbed an athletic interior defensive lineman as a backup plan and eventually drafted Luke Schoonmaker in the second round to fill the need. I have a feeling Joe Douglas and Jerry Jones will likely leak a few more false leads next year to ensure they don’t run into the same issues.

Texans get aggressive

Nick Caserio has a new head coach and a new quarterback, which should extend his runway a bit in Houston, but he made some very bold moves on Thursday night. The Texans sent several draft picks to Arizona to acquire the No. 3 pick and take Will Anderson Jr. DeMeco Ryans now has two clear pillars to build around on each side of the ball coming from the 2023 NFL Draft.

However, this is a huge risk. The Texans are likely at the beginning of a rebuild that will take a few seasons to complete at minimum. While I love Anderson and his ability to impact the game, I am worried that Houston might have just cost themselves a much better chance to accelerate this rebuild. Right now, Vegas Insiders has the Texans with the longest odds to win Super Bowl LVIII. If Houston winds up with the No. 1 pick, they could demand a king’s ransom to trade down with a team who wants to take Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. It is all hypothetical at this stage, but this is a major risk for Caserio.

Kirby Smart opening a satellite campus in Philadelphia

Howie Roseman loves his Bulldogs. Over the past two drafts, the Eagles selected five members of the Georgia defense. Philly expertly maneuvered the board to land Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Keelee Ringo in the 2023 draft after selecting Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean in 2022. Roseman took it a step further and traded for Lions running back D’Andre Swift, who also went to Georgia.

It is hard to fault the Eagles for making these moves. They found a long-term replacement for Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Darius Slay with those three Georgia draft picks this year. They also found someone to add value to a running back to a room that lost Miles Sanders this offseason. Philly’s roster looks even better than a year ago when the Eagles reached the Super Bowl.

Lions clearly have a different draft board than everyone else

I touched on this a bit already when talking about Detroit taking Gibbs at No. 12, but that might not have been their most surprising first-round selection. Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell came off the board at No. 18, which just about no one saw coming. Campbell is an athletic backer with a nose for the ball, but he was pretty solidly projected to go in the 2nd round.

The Lions seemingly made up for it with a strong Day 2. Sam LaPorta will be the resident Iowa tight end, replacing T.J. Hockenson. They moved up, with the Packers I might add, to select Brian Branch, who can start at safety or slot corner. Then, they landed Hooker and defensive tackle Broderic Martin in the third round.

As a whole, the Lions’ full draft class is a good one, but it is hard to wonder if it could not have been better. Jalen Carter was on the board at No. 6 when the Lions chose to trade down. There is a possibility Gibbs also could have been on the board at 18. Hindsight is 20-20 and we can sit here and pick apart what could have happened all day, but it was clear the Lions had a very different view than much of the rest of the league and certainly the public.

Family affairs

One of the best things about the NFL draft is seeing the families of the players react when the news comes down that the prospect has been drafted. Sometimes, it means a little extra. For Paris Johnson Jr. and Joey Porter Jr., they were both following in their fathers’ footsteps. Paris Johnson Sr. was a safety drafted by the Cardinals back in 1999. The Steelers tabbed Joey Porter Sr. in the same draft. Now, both sons will get a chance to don the same jersey as their fathers.

Deuce Vaughn had a very cool homecoming moment as well. He was selected in the 6th round by the Cowboys. His dad, Chris, is a scout for the organization. If you haven’t already seen this heartfelt moment, definitely grab some tissues first.

Seahawks loaded up at running back

Heading into the 2022 NFL draft, it seemed like the Seahawks were in full rebuild mode after trading away Russell Wilson. It came as a little bit of a surprise to see the team invest a top-50 selection at running back given the other holes on the roster and Rashaad Penny coming off a career year. Fast forward a year and it seemed like Kenneth Walker III had the rule of the roost coming off a 1,000-yard rookie season and Penny now playing for the Eagles.

Instead, Seattle invested significant capital at the position once again, selecting UCLA’s Zach Charbonnett in the second round and then doubling up with Georgia’s Kenny McIntosh in the seventh. It was a bit surprising because it felt like Walker would be the lead back with DeeJay Dallas set to see some carries when he needed a break. Instead, Pete Carroll continues to make sure he has a full stable at the position. Our guy Walker Davies had it as one of the most head-scratching moves of Day 2. Not a bad move by any means, but one that fantasy football managers who roster Walker will inevitably hate.

Special day for special teams

It was a good weekend for kickers. San Francisco selected Michigan’s Jake Moody in the third round, making him the highest-drafted kicker since the Buccaneers took Roberto Aguayo back in 2016. The Patriots then traded up the board early in the fourth round to select Maryland’s Chad Ryland.

Michigan’s good day for specialists continued as well, with the Bengals selecting their punter, Brad Robbins. In the end, six punters and kickers had their names called in the draft. If you are looking for some takeaways on this front, clearly the league still values the kicking game.

Ravens continue to invest for the future

Baltimore has a knack for finding gems in the draft, particularly in players who are coming off an injury and may end up missing significant time their rookie year. One year ago, they took David Ojabo, who slid into the second round after he tore his Achilles at his Pro Day.

This year, they waited all the way to the sixth round, but they landed Andrew Vorhees. The former AP All-American started all over the offensive line during his time at USC and likely would have gone much earlier on Day 3 if not for suffering a torn ACL during the combine.

Vorhees is an easy guy to root for. After tearing his ACL, he still participated in the bench press, proceeding to put up 38 reps at 225 pounds, the most of any participant at this year’s combine. He is an older prospect with an extensive injury history, but man, I hope he works out for the Ravens, because I already love this guy.