- Jalen Carter: A future fourth-round pick is a small price to pay, as the Philadelphia Eagles traded up for arguably the cleanest on-field projection in this draft class.
- Peter Skoronski: There was a lot of smoke around the Tennessee Titans making a big jump for a quarterback, but it ended up staying put and landing a top-five player on PFF’s big board at a major position of need.
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba: Runs at several other positions dropped the player who many considered to be the top wide receiver prospect in this year’s class into the Seattle Seahawks‘ lap with their second first-round selection.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft brought excitement (and some surprises) early with three trades inside the top 10. The true “steals” will come over the next two days, but several teams came out of Thursday night with great value.
Using the PFF big board and expected draft position as a guide, here are some of the better value selections from Round 1.
Pick No. 9: DI Jalen Carter, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles did have to trade up to grab Carter, but the expectation was that they’d have to move up higher than one spot to land him. A future fourth-round pick is a small price to pay for arguably the cleanest on-field projection in this draft class.
Carter graded out above the 96th percentile among qualifying NCAA interior defensive linemen in PFF pass-rush grade and run-defense grade across his three seasons at Georgia. He has everything needed to be a dominant three-technique defensive tackle in Philadelphia’s defense, lining up alongside former Georgia teammates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.
The Eagles value continuously adding talent in the trenches. With Javon Hargrave leaving in addition to stalwarts Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham aging, this is a combination of blue-chip talent meeting need.
Pick No. 11: OL Peter Skoronski, Tennessee Titans
There was a lot of smoke around Tennessee making a big jump for a quarterback, but it ended up staying put and landing a top-five player on PFF’s big board at a major position of need. The Titans finished the 2022 season with PFF’s lowest-graded tackle duo in pass protection. Skoronski should be given the opportunity to compete for one of the starting tackle jobs with offseason addition Andre Dillard and incumbent right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere.
Even if Skoronski’s 32 1/4-inch arms (seventh percentile at tackle) make him a better fit inside, adding a high-end starter at guard here is still a good outcome for Tennessee. Skoronski is coming off three consecutive seasons with at least 600 offensive snaps and a PFF grade of 80.0 at Northwestern.
He’s a high-floor, Day 1 starter who will improve their offensive line, regardless of where he ends up slotting in.
Pick No. 17: CB Christian Gonzalez, New England Patriots
Gonzalez entered the first round as an expected top-10 pick. The Patriots were able to add a top-10 talent at a position of need after trading down and gaining additional draft capital. It’s difficult to categorize that as anything other than a win.
The ball production (four interceptions and six pass breakups) finally came for Gonzalez in his final season at Oregon, and there are few cornerbacks who have come out in recent years with Gonzalez’ combination of size and movement skills. He can step in and execute any coverage scheme and is another key piece to the rebuild in New England’s secondary after parting ways with both Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson over the last few seasons.
Pick No. 20: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks
Runs at several other positions dropped the player who many considered to be the top wide receiver prospect in this year’s class into Seattle’s lap with their second first-round selection.
Smith-Njigba registered 0.8 PFF Wins Above Average (WAA) in a healthy 2021 season for Ohio State as a sophomore — highest of any Power-5 wide receiver. He doesn’t have elite top-end speed, but he has most everything else. Smith-Njigba should fit seamlessly alongside D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett as the third option that they’ve missed over the last few years. There’s every reason to expect he can be an immediate contributor from the slot on a talented Seahawks offense.
Pick No. 25: TE Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills
It’s becoming clear that you’re going to need a whole lot of offensive firepower to compete for a Super Bowl berth in the AFC. Buffalo realized that and made sure it jumped a potential tight end landing spot (Dallas) to secure the top tight end on the PFF big board (and No. 10 overall prospect).
Kincaid is a natural receiver who will win over the middle of the field and secure tight-window throws from Josh Allen in traffic. The Bills need secondary receiving options to step up behind Stefon Diggs in 2023. Kincaid gives them another option. He was one of the easier receiving projections in this class, regardless of position, and a strong value for Buffalo at the back end of the first round, even after the trade-up.
Pick No. 30: EDGE Nolan Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
They can’t keep getting away with this.
The Eagles add (another) stand out from the talent-laden Georgia defense, making an already dangerous defensive line even scarier. Smith is undersized, but he has the explosiveness (4.39s 40-yard dash and 42-inch vertical jump) an edge defender needs to win at under 240 pounds. He’s quick off the edge with good bend and has a strong track record of success against the run despite his size. No college edge defender graded out better against the run on a per-play basis than Smith over the last two seasons.
Smith made sense as a target for Philadelphia with its first pick at 10th overall. His addition to one of the deeper defensive line rotations, alongside Jalen Carter, is going to create a lot of headaches for opposing offensive lines in 2023.