Coverage of NFL Draft coverage is fascinating. There's always so much pushback on mock drafts and draft grades. Judging a draft immediately after it happens is, of course, outrageous. There's no better example than the NFL constantly lobbing Tom Brady's 199th draft slot in our collective faces. Every single person who worked in professional football in 2001 completely whiffed -- multiple times -- on the greatest player in the history of professional football.
Every year features countless mistakes by the league as a whole. The draft rumor mill has changed. You better believe the people who cover the sport aren't going to go 100% on mock drafts. Even the mock draft ~scoring~ isn't consistent across the industry. Sites like Huddle Report and Mock Draft Database do awesome work, but they operate on their own scoring systems (it's fine, think it's weird no one gives positional credit in these, and it's often unmentioned how you can study mock draft scoring trends to build a mock that's more optimized for higher scoring, but I digress).
If there's a niche industry to evaluate a niche industry ... the topic is pretty popular. Fred Segal of Old Takes Exposed fame even wrote a book on terrible NFL Draft takes. We're micro-niching at this point, and people are essentially telling us to wait until Wednesday to judge what we saw on an NFL Sunday.
Just a few weeks ago, Joey Porter Jr. (I want a hyper-niche site to show up and only grade multiple-round mock drafts first thing tomorrow). While trying to be wrong, I ended up being more accurate than many a mock drafter, including myself., and it still managed to hit two team/player exactas. Three if you're willing to throw me
Golf is often called not a game of perfect, and the NFL Draft would suggest holding its beer. If you really dislike mock drafts and immediate draft grades, don't read them. There's always a cloud you can yell at instead. Or you could just read my high school yearbook style superlatives from the 2023 NFL Draft.
Most Likely to Boom or Bust: Colts
As previously noted in my, I really dig what the Colts did in the draft. I'm a little surprised at the general public sentiment towards Chris Ballard coming into this draft. The Colts have three losing seasons under his watch, but one was his first year under a lame-duck coach in Chuck Pagano without Andrew Luck due to injury, the second came in the wake of Luck's surprise retirement, and the third was last season when he had Jeff Saturday foisted on him midseason. I also firmly believe Jim Irsay forcing Ballard to fire Frank Reich will end up looking horrendous within the next two years. But I digress: the point being this draft class for Indy doesn't feel like it's going to be down the middle. The Colts were TAKING a quarterback, basically no matter what, if you're willing to read between the lines on Jim Irsay's post-draft comments.
Irsay, on what the Colts would have done if Richardson was gone:— Joel A. Erickson (@JoelAErickson) April 29, 2023
"I think we would have taken Will Levis. ... We liked him."
I'm loath for Irsay to stumble into yet another franchise quarterback, but the idea of a total freak athlete like Richardson being successful in the NFL is just too intriguing to remotely consider hoping for any other outcome. Richardson is the biggest reason for boom/bust here, based simply on his athletic profile and minimal starting experience at Florida. The Bruce Feldman's annual "Freaks List" over at The Athletic. That doesn't even include UNC slot monster Josh Downs, who would probably qualify if he didn't lack size. Julius Brents didn't run well at the combine, but his Mockdraftable spider web is spicy. (If you've never checked out Richardson's giant SWATH over there ... well, you should.) Using the word "bust" in any form or fashion will drive a fanbase crazy, but the reality is Indy's draft class has a wide variance between floor and ceiling. I kind of love that, especially if the new coaching staff can max out Richardson's skillset.kind of falls in line with those type of expectations, too, with Ballard pulling the trigger on a bunch of freaky athletic types. Three of their picks were on
Most Likely to Ruin a Popular Condiment's Sales: Will Levis
Will Levis gained notoriety during the pre-draft process for putting mayonnaise in his coffee, an absolutely repulsive habit worth of life in prison. When he fell out of the first round of the draft, we all got our jokes off. I Titans after hearing the news through his television., something I'm a little nervous about because Levis . You could see it in his energy when he got the phone call from the
Every NFL coach knows how to motivate, and most people in football have found a chip on their shoulder at one point for various reasons. But if you're giving me a draft of coaches likely to emphasize a snub's chip, Mike Vrabel is very high on my big board. It's a great landing spot for Levis, particularly if Tennessee keeps improving the offensive line and can keep Derrick Henry around/find some more running back help if he's traded or not re-signed. Ryan Tannehill will barring a bunch of losses or injury, but he's in the final year of his deal and it's easy to see Levis as a similar type of player to the veteran Tannehill. A season to get seasoned, develop and work on his shorter-yardage accuracy could be great for Levis' long-term success and might even end up with me eating some (mayo-covered) crow. He better get a freaking Duke's sponsorship at least.
Most Likely to Establish the Run: Arthur Smith
It should be no surprise that a former Titans offensive coordinator under Mike Vrabel, once charged with orchestrating an offense highlighted by Derrick Henry, wants to pound the rock. Last year, Marcus Mariota recorded five games with 20 or fewer pass *attempts* in just 13 starts. Rookie Desmond Ridder averaged almost 29 per game in his four starts to close out the season, but those are probably more indicative of a playbook designed to see what a young quarterback can do during an evaluation period for a 5-8 Atlanta team post-bye week. An actual indication of the Falcons' future plan? Drafting Bijan Robinson with a top-10 pick. Personally, I'm a MASSIVE Bijan fan, something I have detailed at awkward lengths on the "Pick Six NFL" podcast:
This was a very abnormal draft for a whole host of reasons, and I thought coming into the draft there was a very strong case for using a high pick on a running back as talented as Bijan. So I'm not complaining about it, especially with three quarterbacks off the board and this particular draft class. But, again, let's follow the clues here to figure out what the Atlanta offense will look like next year. Both Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom inked extensions this offseason, and with their second-round pick, the Falcons nabbed run-blocking Syracuse tackle Matthew Bergeron, who's likely kicking inside for the Falcons. Their roster makeup/approach is clear: solidify and improve the offensive line, add an elite running talent, and stock the defense with a bunch of vets for new coordinator Ryan Nielsen. In a very questionable division, it could be a successful formula. Just don't expect them to air it out.
Most Likely to Work on eBay (not for, on): Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals and first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort were busy birds all weekend, swapping draft capital all over the place with anyone who would entertain a trade. It requires a lot of mental labor to count up every single trade in the NFL Draft, and I'm not going to lie to you and say I did that, because I didn't. 43 total, a new record, just doesn't make the per team math juice worth the squeeze. But I have the Cardinals well into the double-digit range for total trades during the 2023 NFL Draft and, anecdotally, they are either the top team in terms of trade volume or very close to the top. Ossenfort traded so much he actually pulled off a pick swap with the Eagles before the draft because of self-reported illegal contact with Jonathan Gannon following the NFC Championship Game.
Their activity is also exacerbated by a slew of very public rumors in the weeks leading up to the draft about the Cardinals' interest in moving out of the No. 3 pick. We heard multiple times how many offers Arizona was dealing with, and it felt very much like the Cards intentionally trying to drive up interest. Fortunately for them, the Texans really wanted two of the top players in this draft, and after taking C.J. Stroud second overall, they coughed up picks to move up and grab Will Anderson Jr. with the third pick. The Cards also moved out of the 33rd pick, enabling the Titans to come up and get Will Levis after his surprising first-round omission. And, of course, there was plenty of pick swapping later in the draft.
All told, Arizona currently holds 11 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, including two first-round picks, a second rounder, three third-round picks, and a projected five Saturday selections. Personally, I think this team , but if this draft and the next are fruitful, maybe a turnaround isn't too far from being a possibility.
Most Likely to Be 'The Old Guy' at an Athens Frat Party: Rams
The Rams shoved all in extrremely aggressively prior to 2021 and it paid off with a Super Bowl victory. Like many a title team before them, the Rams experienced attrition and a reversed course in performance last season, going 5-12 and subsequently trying to reboot this roster on the fly by being more active in the draft.
The issue for Les Snead and Sean McVay is that the combination of having a stars-and-scrubs roster while also saying "Eff Them Picks" creates a naturally fragile roster build and demands a high success rate in the mid and late rounds of the draft. Andrew Whitworth's departure, plus injuries to Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, sunk McVay's battleship on offense. Jalen Ramsey was dealt this offseason, shrinking the "stars" quotient and likely making it more difficult to replicate 2021.
The Rams added a LOT of players: three picks in the top 100, 14 overall selections and a whopping 10 picks on the third day of the draft. If even one or two of those guys pop, the equation would obviously change. But the haul is probably more quantity than quality given the nature of this class and where the picks were made. Georgia QB Stetson Bennett -- who is literally older than Jalen Hurts -- was a . Bennett is a straight-up winner, no doubt about it. But I definitely did not expect him to go in the fourth round, even if the jokes were well worth the selection.
Pretty cool that Stetson Bennett and Matthew Stafford were teammates and Georgia and now all these years later they are reunited with the Rams. Gotta love the NFL Draft man— Big Game Bengal (@BengalYouTube) April 29, 2023
Stafford's a UGA legend, and given Bennett brought two titles to Athens, you'd expect he's pretty popular on campus as well. It is extremely fun to imagine Stafford and Bennett strolling around campus and/or ripping keg stands on alumni weekend.
Most Likely to Sell You Corn From a Lunchpail: Lions
My editors told me I could be as weird as I wanted with the awards I gave out, so blame them for my Iowa cornfield fascination. The Lions clearly dig it, too, because two of their first four picks came from Kirk Ferentz' Hawkeyes program in linebacker Jack Campbell and tight end Sam LaPorta. A pair of Nick Saban standouts -- running back Jahmyr Gibbs (12th overall) and defensive back Brian Branch (45th) -- served as the Alabama bread in this corn sandwich.
Much/most of the criticism surrounding what Detroit did during the draft centers on using two first-round picks to add a running back and an off-ball linebacker. It very much fits with the mentality of the current Lions regime, a group of coaches and executives who are infatuated with toughness. That is not a complaint, because Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes have done the impossible, appearing to steer the Lions in a potentially successful direction, the NFL's version of raising the Titanic off the ocean floor and rolling back to port with the band blasting.
Here's an interesting exercise: take the Lions draft picks from Thursday and Friday, respectively, and flip them. 12th overall is probably too early for either LaPorta or Branch, but if you move their names to the top of the selections and imagine the Lions grabbing the RB and LB on Day 2, I think we drastically reconsider how we view this class a whole. I also think there's something to be said for the Lions pursuing short-term goals. The NFC is drastically weakened, Hendon Hooker could be a very nice cherry on top., the Lions are favored to win the division, and this is a draft class with guys who could be big-time impact guys in 2023. A Lions playoff run of any sort would quickly render any issues with this class moot, and the of Tennessee's