It’s exceptionally difficult to grade a draft just after it’s happened, and rather meaningless to boot. We have no way knowing at this point which picks will hit and which will end up as busts – most immediate post-draft grades just gauge whether or not a team picked players the grader happened to like. We’ll know more about how the draft actually looked in about six years’ time.
There are things we can judge immediately, however. The draft is an opportunity to get a glimpse into how a team self-scouted; seeing which areas of need they had that they chose not to address. Sometimes, the draft simply veered away from them and they didn’t have a chance to grab, say, the quarterback of the future or a stud pass rusher. Other times, it showcases the difference between what the outside views as a potential weakness and the teams’ own internal beliefs – can they count on last year’s rookie tackle or injured veteran cornerback to fill a hole?
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the biggest remaining need for each team; the biggest hole they didn’t address during the 2023 draft. We’ll do the NFC today, and finish up with the AFC later this week.
The Cardinals did an excellent job filling their needs with their highest picks. Their first five selections were a tackle, an edge rusher, a cornerback, a receiver and a guard, and you could make a strong argument that those were their five biggest holes entering the draft. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had more than five holes, and you can’t plug everything in one go.
Arizona’s defensive line needed some major patching, with J.J. Watt retiring and Zach Allen leaving in free agency. Jonathan Gannon’s defensive in Philadelphia boasted exceptionally strong pressure from up the middle, and Arizona is unlikely to get that from Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence and Jonathan Ledbetter. Without anyone to take that Javon Hargrave role in Gannon’s defense, Arizona is going to have a much tougher time disrupting offenses this year.
Drake London looks legit; finishing in the top 35 in DYAR with Atlanta’s quarterback situation was a very strong debut for last year’s first-round pick. But that’s about all the Falcons have at wide receiver, as they still need to find a replacement for Calvin Ridley. Mack Hollins is a perfectly cromulent member of a passing attack, but he’s turning 30 and has never been good enough to be a WR2 like Atlanta is asking. Scotty Miller had a -31.5% receiving DVOA in 2022, which would have been last in the league had he had ten more targets and qualified for the leaderboards. Yes, the Falcons have other skill options in Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson, but Atlanta was 30th in targets to wide receivers last season. And, looking at the wasteland that is the depth chart below London, that might be too many for 2023.
This isn’t a knock on Frankie Luvu or Shaq Thompson, both of whom had good seasons in 2022. But Luvu’s a free agent after this year, and Thompson only has one more year on his deal after that. Only Brandon Smith is actually signed beyond 2024 at the moment. Plus, Carolina is switching to a 3-4 base with Ejiro Evero coming over from Denver – that likely shifts Luvu to the outside. Carolina could move Jeremy Chinn up to be a full time inside guy next to Thompson, but that would leave a hole in his hybrid safety/linebacker/nickel role. The Panthers just need more warm bodies in the middle of their defense.
The Bears had a 15.9% pressure rate in 2022, second-worst in the league. They had a 4.8% adjusted sack rate, second-worst in the league. Their 20 sacks were the fewest in the league, as were their 85 quarterback pressures. So, yeah, they may want to work on that. Chicago hasn’t been completely idle, adding DeMarcus Walker and Rasheem Green in free agency. But considering their leading sacker last year was safety Jaquan Brisker, Chicago needs all the help they can get off the edge.
Yes, after years of noting the Cowboys had spent too much on running backs, now we’re dinging them for not having enough. Jerry Jones just can’t win!
While I do like sixth-round pick Deuce Vaughn, he is absolutely tiny – 5’5”, 176 pounds, which would put him in the 10 smallest players ever in the NFL if he makes the team. Ideally, the Cowboys would like to pair Tony Pollard with a big-bodied bruiser as a change of pace, and they don’t seem to have that guy on the roster. Malik Davis is presumably the first man up; he had a rush DVOA of 6.7% in limited action, and Ronald Jones is on the roster as well, but neither of them are particularly inspiring options in 2023. That’s on top of Pollard still recovering from his broken fibula, putting his status for this season at least somewhat in question. We’re excited to see Pollard get a larger share of Dallas’ snaps in 2023, but the Cowboys will still want to keep him somewhat fresh, and they don’t really have the depth behind Pollard to do so.
I was going to put cornerback here, but drafting safety Brian Branch theoretically frees C.J. Gardner-Johnson to go into the slot, which, alongside offseason acquisitions Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Mosley, at least gives Detroit a new-look secondary. So hey, they’re trying, and I’ll give them credit for that. Instead, I’ll focus on wide receiver, which was not a need about six weeks ago. Then Stanley Berryhill, Quentez Cephus and most importantly Jameson Williams were all hit with gambling suspensions. Williams is particularly frustrating, because his rookie season was essentially a wash as he recovered from a torn ACL. Whether he’ll actually be able to contribute as an outside receiver in the NFL remains very much in question. Amon-Ra St. Brown is a stud in the slot, but behind him, the Lions will start the year with the 33-year-old Marvin Jones penciled into the starting lineup next to Josh Reynolds or Kalif Raymond. If Williams comes back and is who he was supposed to be when he was drafted last year, the Lions will be fine. But some insurance and depth at the position probably would have been more useful than a first-round running back.
Adrian Amos remains a free agent, meaning the top safety on Green Bay’s depth chart is Darnell Savage – you know, the same Savage who was benched at one point last season? Less than ideal. Across from him will either be Rudy Ford or Tarvarius Moore. So that’s one benched player in Savage, one player who has never been a full-time starter in Ford, and one player who logged just 41 defensive snaps over the last two seasons in Moore. There should be little to no confidence in the back end of Green Bay’s defense at this point. Even assuming one or two of them work out, none of the three are signed past 2023, so they need a long-term option at the position anyway.
The Rams needed to upgrade everywhere along their offensive line, both in terms of overall quality and depth. Over at Football Outsiders, Vince Verhei had a great writeup of all the injuries Los Angeles suffered on the line in 2022, all of which contributed to them ranking 31st in adjusted sack rate. The Rams added guard Steve Avila in the second round and tackle Warren McClendon in the fifth, but they probably could have used another pick or three to help with depth. At a guess, Avila will start at one guard position, leaving 2022 rookie (and injury redshirt) Logan Bruss at the other, with Alaric Jackson starting at tackle…unless Joe Noteboom is healthy, bumping Jackson to guard and Avila to center over Brian Allen? I don’t know. It’s a mess, and whatever the Rams do had better work, or else Matthew Stafford will be running for his life once again in 2023.
Eric Kendricks is gone after eight years with the team, leaving a hole next to Jordan Hicks in the middle of Minnesota’s defense. Even if Kendricks was still around, however, an upgrade was needed in pass defense. Minnesota ranked 25th in DVOA defending tight ends and 22nd defending running backs, while Hicks himself ranked 60th among linebackers in yards allowed per coverage snap. Brian Asamoah, who spent most of his rookie season on the bench, will be first up as a Kendricks replacement, but expect opposing teams to target the center of Minnesota defense early and often in 2023.
The Saints have depth at cornerback, but their top end is concerning. They 19th in DVOA against #1 wide receivers and 29th against “other” receivers, per Football Outsiders. They also lost C.J. Gardner-Johnson and never adequately replaced him, which is part of what you’re seeing in those low numbers. In short, when they got to the quarterback, they did fine, but when opposing passers had time to pick apart the secondary, they got picked apart.
Marshon Lattimore is still fine, though he’s more up-and-down than ideal and is coming off of a bland season. But Paulson Adebo took a major step back in 2022, seeing his yards per target and completion percentage against both rise up and his interception total plummet. And Bradley Roby was often lost in the slot, which is where that 29th ranking against other receivers can mostly be blamed. It would be nice if the Saints had added a rookie competitor for the slot position, specifically, but the Saints are rolling the dice on better health and bounceback years to cover them at corner.
The Giants’ offensive line allowed the sixth-most quarterback pressures and the sixth-highest sack percentage in 2022. They were in the bottom seven in both ESPN’s pass block win rate and run block win rate stats, and the bottom nine in adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. Nick Gates is gone to the Commanders, leaving a big question mark at left guard – Shane Lemeiux? Joshua Ezeudu? Ben Bredeson, with rookie John Michael Schmitz starting at center? At least we know who is starting at right guard, although Giants fans may wish they didn’t. Mark Glowinski had 29 blown blocks last season, 10th-most among all guards in football in 2022.
The Eagles didn’t have a ton of holes going in, and then they patched nearly everything on their defense by just drafting every single Georgia Bulldog they could find. So we do have to stretch a little bit to find something that needs addressing.
A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith are a great top pair of receivers, with both ranking in the top 11 in receiving DYAR in 2022. Then there’s a bit of a dropoff to Quez Watkins. Watkins was 82nd out of 85 qualified wide receivers with a DVOA of -21.8%. That’s less than great. Watkins also appears near the top of the failed reception rate leaderboards, with 42.4% of his catches failing to meet benchline standards for a success. Watkins is the only other wide receiver on the Eagles who received a target in 2022, and there is no one behind Brown and Smith even signed beyond this season. They’ll need more talent here sooner or later, or at least some warm bodies to pretend to run routes while Brown and Smith are destroying secondaries.
With Mike McGlinchey gone in free agency, it was a near lock that the 49ers were going to draft his replacement. Surely, San Francisco wasn’t going to let Colton McKivitz and Jaylon Moore battle it out on the right. And even if they did, they surely would add depth to that right side; McGlinchey joined Daniel Brunskill on his way out of town. Instead, the 49ers used a third-round pick on kicker Jake Moody and gave a massive vote of confidence to McKivitz as their starting tackle. It is a questionable move in terms of positional value, and it may come back to bite the 49ers if McKivitz isn’t ready to play at playoff-quality levels immediately.
Bobby Wagner’s back! That’s fun; after a rough start in Los Angeles, Wagner quickly found his footing and showed he still had some gas left in the tank at age 32. Wagner’s declined to just being good in pass defense instead of an all-world player, but he hasn’t lost a step in run defense, so he’ll be a significant boost to the center of Seattle’s lineup.
The problem is whoever will be lining up next to him. Jordyn Brooks has continued to struggle in coverage; Seattle ranked 27th against tight ends and 30th against running backs in part due to repeatedly targeting Brooks. Seattle also brought in Devin Bush, but he’s a reclamation project after never quite living up to his billing in Pittsburgh.
Really? No one at all? The Buccaneers seem content to replace the retired Tom Brady with Baker Mayfield and/or Kyle Trask, and that’s a baffling decision. Trask has just nine career pass attempts in the NFL, so he’s a non-factor at this point. Mayfield was a disaster in Carolina, with a -32.8% passing DVOA. Even his so-called resurgence in Los Angeles wasn’t that great; he finished at -1.7%, and if you take out the Christmas game against the hapless Broncos, that falls to -25.0%. Essentially, the Buccaneers are banking on one week of Mayfield being more representative than the rest of his 2022 season. Mayfield also hasn’t been in the top 15 in passing DVOA since 2018 and hasn’t had a positive passing DVOA since 2020.
This isn’t a situation where Tampa has their guy and is set at the position. While they didn’t need to go out and reach for Will Levis at no. 19, it’s very strange that they didn’t take someone at least as a lottery ticket at the position. Even a fifth-round pick like BYU’s Jaren Hall would have at least given them a chance of striking gold. Instead, they almost surely will need to address this position in next year’s draft.
With Carson Wentz and Tyler Heinicke gone, Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett are Washington’s two options at quarterback. Howell put up a passing DVOA of -18.5% in very limited action as a rookie last season, while Brissett was at a more respectable 13.0% in Cleveland. From all reports, however, it seems like Howell will be given first shot at starting, with Brissett as the veteran backup should things go wrong. That’s an ideal spot for Brissett, who is good enough to keep a team rolling but not necessarily someone you want to build around for the long term. It makes less sense, however, to go all-in on Howell. We know Washington met with Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker leading up to the draft, and bringing in another second-day quarterback would have made a lot of sense. It’s not like Howell put up tremendous numbers in his one start for Washington last season, or that the Commanders had invested so much capital in Howell that they couldn’t afford to move on. We’ll have to see what new coordinator Eric Bieniemy can do with Howell, but sticking with him as the presumptive QB1 is quite the risk Washington is taking.