The 2023 NFL Draft didn't have as many jaw-dropping, blue-chip prospects as past drafts, but what it did boast is plenty of value in the middle for Rounds 2 through 4 or 5. Many teams made their mark in Round 2, including a couple of NFC North teams in the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Both addressed big-time needs for their franchises through the first two days, albeit in a different order than some may have liked. More teams came away happy after the runs on tight ends, interior offensive linemen as well as pass rushers and defensive backs.
Here are picks from Rounds 2 and 3 that shined in my eyes plus some selections that made me questions the overall direction a few clubs have in mind going forward.
Picks I liked
QB Will Levis (No. 33 to Titans)
I love the landing spot, and I'm not surprised to see Will Levis picked here. I heard that he could've gone in the top-half of Round 1, but things obviously didn't fall his way. The Titans clearly liked him, trading up eight spots to come get him. Landing spots matter in the NFL, they determine the path of your career, especially for a quarterback. He's going to a Tennessee team that relies on the run game with All-Pro Derrick Henry. Head coach Mike Vrabel understands how important it is to run the ball first. They play with good defense, and they got Northwestern, blue-chip offensive lineman Peter Skoronski in Round 1, showing Vrabel clearly has a plan. If this had been the case all along -- that people thought Levis was going to go early second round -- there would've been none of the concerns about him falling, him not being very good, the concerns about the way he played in 2022. He is who he is: an incredibly physical, strong-armed quarterback who needs a chance to grow into that role of NFL starting quarterback.
He'll get that chance to do so behind soon-to-be 35-year-old Ryan Tannehill, and he can take over when the veteran's contract is up at end of year, if not sooner. It's also tough news for soon-to-be 24-year-old quarterback Malik Willis, the team's third-round pick a year ago. This pick is a clear vote of no confidence in him.
DE Keion White (No. 46 to Patriots)
The Patriots got an absolute beast of a cornerback in Christian Gonzalez with the 17th overall pick, and they picked another physical specimen in Round 2 with defensive end Keion White. He plays a lot of five-technique, on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle at the end of the line of scrimmage, to rush the passer. A young man with a lot to prove since he was a zero-start recruit out of high school and ended up at Old Dominion. He transferred to Georgia Tech, and then fell in this draft after being invited to the Round 1 green room on Thursday night. White popped at the Senior Bowl as one of those guys that can rush the passer from multiple positions. When we look back on this pick that brought him to New England, we'll say "oh, this made a lot of sense."
CB Jartavius Martin (No. 47 to Commanders)
Martin jumps off the screen when you watch him, literally as he recorded the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine's top vertical jump, 44 inches. This selection in addition to Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes in Round 1 means Washington has addressed serious needs. A lot of times teams draft for the teams in their division that they need to beat. That's what happens here. Martin has played some deep safety, some nickel corner, and even some outside corner for Illinois. That versatility make him intriguing. He ran 4.46 40-yard dash at the combine and comes from a fantastic Illini defense that saw Devon Witherspoon go fifth overall to the Seahawks. This is a great start to the 2023 NFL Draft for the Commanders.
OL Cody Mauch (No. 48 to Buccaneers)
Cody Mauch was one of the biggest winners of the Senior Bowl. They got defensive tackle Calijah Kancey in Round 1, so now they have two of the guys with the shortest arms in the draft. Mauch can help bring a winning culture back to Tampa Bay after winning three FCS titles in his time at North Dakota State. The 2022 FCS First-Team All-American is also durable, starting 39 consecutive games to end his collegiate career.
OL Tyler Steen (No. 65 to Eagles) and S Sydney Brown (No. 66 to Eagles)
Philly continued to bolster its offensive line with another Alabama Crimson Tide blocker in Tyler Steen. He was strong in his protection of Bryce Young, allowing only two sacks on 469 pass-blocking snaps in 2022. Steen suited up at offensive tackle in college, but he could be a guard with the Eagles in order to see the field faster.
This was a great pick for the Eagles, getting a potential starter at safety -- a position of need following C.J. Gardner-Johnson's free agency departure to the Lions -- in Round 3. He was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection as an absolute ballhawk in 2022 with six interceptions, the most in the conference and tied for the third-most in the nation. Brown is able to change direction quickly, a key skill for any defensive back.
Picks I didn't like
CB Cam Smith (No. 51 to Dolphins)
I didn't love his tape in the fall. His measurables are solid: 6-1, 180 pounds, 4.43 40 time, and a 38" vertical jump. He plays a lot of zone coverage, and you wonder how his coverage ability translates to the NFL level. Smith isn't crazy about helping in run support, so we'll see how that evolves in the pros as well. He skipped the Senior Bowl, costing himself a chance to endear himself to more teams and scouts. It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio handles motivating a player like this to help out in run support.
DL Gervon Dexter Sr. (No. 53 to Bears)
I like Gervon Dexter when he's locked in and focused, but the 6-6, 310-pound game-wrecker doesn't always show up play-in and play-out. Dexter has first-round ability. However, the reason I don't like this pick is because when the Bears were sitting there at No. 9 overall in Round 1, they could have had arguably the top overall prospect in the draft, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. They traded back to number 10 for a 2024 fourth-round pick from the 2022 NFC Champions. Would you rather have Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright, whom Chicago took 10th overall, and Gervon Dexter? Or would you rather have Carter and Alabama offensive lineman Tyler Steen? That's my concern, which is why I graded this pick this way.
WR Rashee Rice (No. 55 to Chiefs)
Rice led the nation in receiving yards per game in 2022, averaging 112.9 yards a contest, but this wide receiver class is thin. Rice was my 11th-best wide receiver prospect in this group, and Tennessee's Cedric Tillman was still available at this spot. Similar body type and similar player to Rice, but Tillman is more explosive when healthy. North Carolina's Josh Downs still on the board here. I understand if you're looking for a big target. The good news is when you have 2022 NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes throwing you the football, you don't have to run a 4.3 40-yard dash. Rice, measured at 6-1 while 204 pounds, ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
CB Tyrique Stevenson (No. 56 to Bears)
One word for Tyrique Stevenson's game would be confusing because he looks the part (six feet tall, 198 pounds, 4.45 40 time, and 38.5" vertical jump), but he doesn't show up as that part play-in and play-out. Stevenson is long, and he can be fluid at times. When looking at last year's Chicago Bears draft, cornerback Kyler Gordon (39th overall), safety Jaquan Brisker (48th overall), and cornerback Jaylon Johnson (50th overall in 2020) a few years ago, those are good picks in the secondary. I'm kind of confused what the Bears' plan is here on the defensive side of the ball. I'm not quite sure what they're trying to accomplish with the player they're taking. I understand filling the needs. When Stevenson plays in zone coverage, he bites on double moves and gets confused. Tremendous athlete, but don't make him play to his weakness