The 2023 NFL Draft hewed much closer to expectation — Will Levis’ drop aside — on the first day, with no player selected outside of the consensus top 50 and only three players in the top 25 falling out of the first round. But the second day included a number of bizarre moves that make it feel like the NFL is too focused on zigging while everyone is zagging — which doesn’t work if everyone is doing it.
Not every team made confusing Day 2 moves, and some teams combined bizarre moves with smart moves. While no team ended up picking a player outside of the consensus top 300 — which has occasionally happened on Day 2 — the frequency with which they selected players outside of the top 150 was alarming.
At the risk of being overconfident in our own evaluations, it’s really striking to see teams generally regarded for consistently finding talent make moves that run counter to our expectations, especially when it combines a disagreement in both player evaluation and positional value.
Expensive Running Back Committees Are in Vogue
After the Lions and Falcons selected running backs in the first round, doubling up on high-end running back talent, the Seahawks, Titans, Dolphins, and Jaguars drafted backs to go with the investments they had already made at the position.
While the Dolphins are known to run a committee-style system and might more understandably have clearly defined roles for their backs — while not spending too much on the backs they have on their roster — the other three teams already have proven talent that they expect to produce.
Kenneth Walker III almost won Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns for Seattle, while Derrick Henry is consistently an OPOY candidate. Jacksonville sunk a first-round pick into Travis Etienne and traded away James Robinson in order to feature Etienne more prominently. He earned 1,441 yards from scrimmage in 2022.
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A third-round pick isn’t necessarily expensive, but it’s not cheap, either. Teams gave up on potentially high-level linebackers, cornerbacks, tackles, tight ends, and receivers in order to make those picks. At one of the least valuable positions in football, they double-dipped.
If this is a trend in the NFL, it’s a strange one. Yes, the running game has become more efficient over the past several years, but it’s still substantially less efficient than throwing the ball, and it only remains so because teams are running the ball less often.
Those gains won’t be realized in super running back-heavy systems, and though we’re probably going to see some exciting football from expert play designers like Mike McDaniel and Arthur Smith, it probably would have been better to find pass catchers, pass defenders, pass rushers, and pass blockers.
In effect, the Jaguars reached to select the 95th overall player at a position they’re already talented at that won’t see performance gains with both players on the field in order to not draft players like Darnell Washington, Michael Wilson, Tyler Scott, Kelee Ringo, Adetomiwa Adebawore, and so on — all of whom can see the field more immediately and in a more impactful way despite some of those positions already carrying talent.
The Detroit Lions Are Bizarre
It’s easy to root for Dan Campbell, his brand of football, and the clear emotion he has for his players. And on the first day, their unique approach to football was in full effect, reaching well down the board for players that they felt perfectly fit what they do.
But on Day 2, it was a mix of that and finding extraordinary value. They were apparently correct to wait on both quarterback and safety as they were able to secure both Hendon Hooker — the 56th overall consensus player occasionally mocked into the first round — and Brian Branch — the 16th overall consensus player who rarely fell out of first-round mocks.
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To do that, they spent the 68th overall pick and the 45th overall pick. Well, alright then. If we stacked up those two picks with their two first-round picks against those four selections, it would be hard to argue with their overall draft class. But the Lions had even more picks than that, and it became increasingly difficult to parse.
The Lions also spent the 34th overall pick on 51st-ranked Sam LaPorta and the 96th overall pick on 260th-ranked Brodric Martin. Tight end was certainly a need for the Lions, and one could argue that they wanted to invest even more in defensive tackle, but they likely could have traded down fairly substantially and still ended up with those players or similarly talented ones at the same position.
If they end up with their quarterback of the future, it probably won’t be remembered as a bad draft, regardless of whether those other players pan out.
Other Reaches Left Talent on the Board
Every year, we enter Day 3 with a significant amount of talent, at least according to most big public boards. Last year, the 53rd overall player (Perrion Winfrey), 56th (Sam Howell), 60th (Daniel Faalele), 63rd (Isaiah Spiller), and 64th (Tariq Woolen) were still available.
The year prior, the top board players left were 59th overall Jabril Cox and 60th overall Daviyon Nixon. This year, the 38th overall player (Kelee Ringo) and 40th overall player (Dawand Jones) are both available. And they play premium positions.
They watched other players at the same position repeatedly get picked ahead of them, making it even more curious that they both lasted through all three rounds. At one point, both were frequently mocked as first-round selections.
And, of course, the 60s range has its normal selection of Day 2 snubs, including Adebawore, Antonio Johnson, and Clark Phillips III. All three of them are unusual as prospects, so it’s not surprising to see them fall a little bit more than other players in a similar range.
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The selections that allowed that to happen include a number of cornerback picks that looked unusual, like the Vikings’ selection of USC cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, the Broncos’ selection of Iowa cornerback Riley Moss, and the Cardinals’ selection of Syracuse cornerback Garrett Williams.
Kansas City’s selection of Oklahoma OT Wanya Morris and the Eagles’ selection of Alabama OT Tyler Steen also contributed to the odd Dawand Jones situation. Other reaches were also worth noting — the Raiders selected the 211th-ranked player in Tre Tucker from Cincinnati, who was ranked below Cincinnati receiver teammate Tyler Scott at 74th.
The San Francisco 49ers selected a kicker (ranked 275th overall) and skipped over a number of more well-regarded tight ends to take Cameron Latu at 101st overall.
Reaches happen in every NFL Draft, and though last year featured some interesting first-round selections, like Cole Strange and Tyler Smith, the second and third rounds were a bit more predictable. This year, the first round was much more even-handed, while the second and third rounds were baffling. This could mean substantial opportunity for teams willing to move around in the draft.
Either way, it should be a fun ride.