NFL Draft News & Analysis

2023 NFL Draft superlatives: Best pick, best trades

Paris Johnson Jr. (center) with general manager Monti Ossenfort (left) and head coach Jonathan Gannon (right) during a news conference on April 28, 2023, at the Arizona Cardinals training center in Tempe. Paris Johnson Jr

Now that the dust has settled on an exciting and eventful 2023 NFL Draft, with more trades than any year prior and plenty of surprising risers and fallers, we wanted to take a look back at the best decisions of the weekend. Many fans and analysts argue you can’t or shouldn’t evaluate a draft until several years down the road, which is a reasonable argument for the draft picks themselves, but does not apply to trades and other considerations.

The No. 1 pick was not made by the original owner of the selection with the Chicago Bears moving down with the Carolina Panthers in early March, and that very well may have been the best move anyone made all offseason, but we’ll stick within the confines of last weekend.

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Best trade-down: Arizona Cardinals

New Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort may have just had the best debut draft we’ve seen in years, demonstrating sharp maneuvering right out of the gate. Securing future first- and third-round picks from the Houston Texans — who share the lowest 2023 regular season win total at most sportsbooks at 5.5 despite playing in arguably the worst division in the league — could turn into a top-five draft pick in 2024 and another top-70 pick.

What makes the trade even more impressive is the apparent lack of legitimate suitors. According to a report from Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, the Tennessee Titans bowed out of the market for No. 3 once the Texans drafted Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud with the No. 2 overall pick. The Las Vegas Raiders at No. 7 and Atlanta Falcons at No. 8 do not appear to have been in the market.

The Philadelphia Eagles did have exploratory calls with teams throughout the top 10, including the Cardinals, but were able to secure Jalen Carter at No. 9 overall after staying patient. That essentially leaves the Seattle Seahawks or Detroit Lions as candidates, perhaps considering jumping ahead of the Indianapolis Colts for Anthony Richardson, but we have no evidence thus far if that was truly considered.

One round later, the Cardinals recouped good value from another AFC South team, with the Tennessee Titans also sending them a 2024 third-round pick to move up for quarterback Will Levis. Using 2024 Super Bowl odds, the Cardinals are currently projected to have the following picks next year: No. 1, No. 2, No. 33, No. 65, No. 66 and No. 68.

Arizona’s entire approach was clearly thinking long term, further evidenced by the selection of Syracuse cornerback Garrett Williams at No. 72 overall — a pick acquired from the Titans in the aforementioned trade — who had legitimate first-round buzz before tearing his ACL in October. Not all decisions are equal across teams, with roster context always a factor, and the Cardinals were in a position to take a gamble on a talented player who may not contribute much in his rookie season as he recovers from a ligament tear. Now, Arizona can be very patient with Williams’ recovery because there is absolutely zero pressure to push him into the lineup in 2023.

The new brass in Arizona clearly understands they are not going to contend in 2023 and the quickest path back to competitiveness is not by chasing a .500 record with short-sighted moves right out of the gate. You don’t have to tank, either, but you can do exactly what Arizona did during the course of this draft.

Best trade-up: Pittsburgh Steelers

Did Pittsburgh benefit from Bill Belichick twisting the knife into the rival New York Jets, who Pittsburgh jumped ahead of at No. 15, for approximately the 1,000th time? Perhaps, but that’s neither here nor there. Pittsburgh moved from No. 17 to No. 14 for the price of just the No. 120 overall pick. Per the Fitzgerald-Spielberger draft chart, the Steelers' trade-up was the second cheapest in the top half of the first round since 2011 out of 36 total trades where the trade-up team moved more than just one pick. Furthermore, the Steelers landed a player at a premium position in Georgia tackle Broderick Jones.

The next tackle didn’t come off the board until the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Anton Harrison at No. 27 overall. Jacksonville also deserves credit for its patience after trading down twice before making the pick. Despite a clear need at tackle following the reported suspension of Cam Robinson, the Jaguars added fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks to move from No. 24 to No. 27 and still landed the player they coveted all along.

Best pick: New England Patriots select CB Christian Gonzalez at No. 17

This is far more speculative and subjective than the first two categories, and the author must admit he is both a huge fan of the New England Patriots’ historical roster construction approach and the player here in Gonzalez. However, I certainly didn’t think Cole Strange was in the running for the top pick of the first round in 2022.

Among draft-eligible FBS cornerbacks in 2022, Gonzalez’s 82.3 coverage grade against FBS opponents ranked ninth and his 77.7 coverage grade when lined up in press coverage also ranked ninth. He played the entire season at 20 years old, not turning 21 until June 28. Gonzalez’s size and prowess in press alignments will enable Bill Belichick to start him on the outside on Day 1, as Gonzalez can jam the bigger, more physical receivers at the line but maintain his balance and fluidity throughout the route.

Gonzalez was labeled an unwilling tackler by many draft analysts for whatever reason, and while we’re not arguing it’s the strong point of his game, he was top five in total tackles in 2022 (56) and in the bottom 15 of missed tackle rate among cornerbacks with at least 20 total tackles. The ball production is there, too, with four interceptions in his final season. Gonzalez undoubtedly had a poor performance against Georgia in the season opener, earning a 52.5 grade, but that one marquee matchup may have clouded an overall evaluation.

Lastly, Gonzalez blows the rest of the class out of the water when it comes to measurables. His 4.38 40-yard dash ranks in the 90th percentile among cornerbacks in PFF’s database. His 42-inch vertical is in the 97th percentile, and his 11-foot-1 broad jump is in the 96th percentile.

Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon and Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes were also very productive players in 2022, but the upside appears sky high with Gonzalez, and New England landed him as the third cornerback off the board after trading down.

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