2023 NFL Draft: Perfect scenarios for teams without a pick in Round 1

Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta (84) dives for extra yards past Kentucky defenders during the third quarter of the TransPerfect Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. Iowa defeated Kentucky 21 to 0 in the first shutout in bowl history. Ncaa Football Music City Bowl Iowa At Kentucky

  • Los Angeles Rams need offensive line help: Los Angeles needs to come away with from help upfront with their first couple of selections.
  • Miami Dolphins target weapons who thrive after the catch: Sam LaPorta is the best tight end in this class after the catch and can offer some George Kittle-esque plays.
  • Denver Broncos attack defense: After using free agency to shore up the offensive side of the ball, Denver needs to target defense early with their picks.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Previously, I outlined the perfect draft scenario for teams with more than one first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The flip side to that coin is that there are an unusual number of teams without a selection in the first round, and more than one that doesn’t pick until the third round.

Obviously, predicting an optimal player is more difficult for a team whose first selection rolls around almost 100 picks into the draft than it is for teams whose first-round picks each take place within the first dozen selections. Far more is unknown about the lay of the land in the middle rounds than it is mid-way through the first round, so identifying the optimal point between unrealistic and appropriately optimistic can be difficult.

Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that a year ago no single mock draft was within a whole round of where Sam Howell eventually slipped to, and the Los Angeles Rams brass burst out laughing at the selection of Cole Strange in the first round because they believed there was a good chance he would be available when they were picking in the third. Everything we know right now is a best guess.

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams' dream scenario with their top pick is that a first-round caliber offensive lineman slips and is available when they are on the clock. Whether that’s a guard like Torrence or one of the tackles that are currently being mocked in the first round, upgrading a line that collapsed into entropy last season is vital for the functioning of this offense.

Theoretically, Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Cooper Kupp at receiver give the Rams a lot to work with, but none of it can fire without an offensive line ranking in the middle of the pack — not last in the league.  Being able to circle back later on and snag one of the interior linemen would only enhance the chances of improvement up front. 

After that, the Rams could go with any number of positions, but grabbing a receiver that would provide an alternative to Allen Robinson — an addition that has been disastrously unsuccessful so far — would be a great result. Tillman is 6-foot-3, over 210 pounds and may be the best contested catch receiver in the draft. He logged just two drops in 2022 and is elite at the catch point.

Miami Dolphins

One notable thing about the playmakers the San Francisco 49ers assembled both before and after Mike McDaniel coached there is they are all devastating after the catch. Miami has similar threats in its wide receivers with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but it doesn't have the depth the 49ers do.

LaPorta is the best tight end in this class after the catch and can offer some George Kittle-esque plays. LaPorta broke 20 tackles last season on just 58 catches, the best figure in the draft class, and looked outstanding at the NFL combine.

After that, the Dolphins need to keep swinging on the offensive line. They have done a great job of improving the unit, but they are still slated to start Austin Jackson and are one injury away from the entire group becoming a major problem again. Avila could be long gone by the time their second pick rolls around, but if he slid this far, he could be a Day 1 plug-and-play starter. If they miss out on him, finding a player they think could start at guard would be a huge result.

Denver Broncos

  • First Pick: No. 67
  • Picks in the Top 100: 2
  • Players selected: EDGE Keion White, Georgia Tech; LB Daiyan Henley, Washington State

Denver has attacked perceived weaknesses hard in free agency already, leaving its offense pretty much set. The Broncos built in contingency at running back, added offensive linemen to multiple spots and were already well-stocked at receiver. Their approach in the draft is going to be focused on defense, where they could go in several different directions depending on who is available when they pick.

Any addition on the defensive line is a useful addition and White could fall far to their first pick. White was, at one point, getting first-round hype, but his workouts were disappointing for a player whose stock was largely built on being an elite athlete. He totaled 41 pressures on 274 pass-rushing snaps this last season and is a project who would bring something different to that rotation up front.  Henley is another player who could be long gone by the time they pick, or could also easily slide if teams take against this relatively lightweight and average linebacker class generally. Henley brings an athleticism that’s missing in Denver’s group presently and is the best coverage linebacker in the class. He had 20 coverage stops last season, seventh best in the nation.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns added Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency along with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo to finally improve a defensive line that has been Myles Garrett and little else for years. That’s a great step in the right direction, but it shouldn’t be the end of the reinforcement. Anything along the defensive line would be good for the Browns, and if they’re looking for an optimal scenario, the interior is a more acute problem than the edge. 

Realistic options would be Baylor's Siaki Ika and Wisconsin's Keeanu Benton, but a true dream scenario would be enough teams souring on Smith’s inconsistency that he falls into Cleveland’s clutches at 74 overall. Smith has elite strength and athleticism in addition to an elite 11.6% run stop rate in 2022, but he offers little as a rush threat with just 25 pressures to his name last year. 

Another strengthening against the run game would come with McGuire. Alex Wright may become that guy in Year 2 for the Browns, but based on his rookie performance (38.4 PFF grade), you can’t bank on it.

San Francisco 49ers

Technically, the 49ers only have one selection in the top 100, but they have three in four picks to end the third round thanks to the compensatory process and so, their dream scenario clearly involves coming out of that third round with multiple players that they think can make an impact in Year 1.

Adding interior offensive linemen would be a solid move for the 49ers, as would be snagging a developmental tackle such as BYU’s Blake Freeland, but they could also use secondary help with some changes over the offseason. 

Hodges-Tomlinson would give them an option to man the slot immediately, or they could look more to the boundary for cornerback help if they think somebody like Samuel Womack can be their slot corner going forward. Duncan is another option with elite potential but without the tape to back it up yet, and he would be an interesting player to develop from the bench. The 49ers might also see value in grabbing a player like Vorhees, who tore his ACL at the NFL combine and then put up 38 bench press reps with his knee in a brace.

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