2023 NFL Draft: The best and worst NFL teams at selecting first-round picks since 2014

  • Dallas Cowboys thrive in first round: The Cowboys have been one of the best teams at drafting in the first round in recent years with just one obvious whiff since 2014.
  • Las Vegas Raiders‘ struggles: Nobody has had a worse run in the first round than the Raiders, who struggled during the Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock era.
  • Carolina Panthers‘ must continue first-round run: The Panthers have had a great run of first-rounders, and now needs to nail No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Estimated reading time: 14

As we near the 2023 NFL Draft, it’s worth taking a beat to look back at how teams' most valuable picks (first-round selections) have fared historically.

PFF college data goes back to 2014, so we will restrict this to just first-round picks from the 2015 draft onward so that we can fairly evaluate each player's expected performance given some knowledge of their college game.

Teams like the Los Angeles Rams won’t be penalized or credited for using the majority of their first-round draft picks on proven NFL veterans in the form of trades rather than by actually drafting players with them.

Best 5

Green Bay Packers

Players selected: 
Best pick: Jaire Alexander

Green Bay has had little in the way of true whiffs over this time period. Damarious Randall never quite became the player he was supposed to be but still played over 600 snaps per year at multiple positions for three seasons while they tried to understand what spot best suited his game. Jaire Alexander has become one of the best cornerbacks in the game while Rashan Gary has done the same among edge rushers after a slow start — 125 total pressures in his last 685 pass-rushing snaps. If Jordan Love is able to step into the void left whenever Aaron Rodgers eventually departs and looks like a capable starter, the Packers will have nailed this run of first-rounders.

Carolina Panthers

Players selected:
Best pick: D.J. Moore

You can argue with positional value, but in eight years of first-round selections, there is only one player that wasn’t a very good pro for at least a period of time. Christian McCaffrey may be the best football player of the group, but I would argue that D.J. Moore represents the best pick the Panthers made. Moore has been remarkably quarterback-proof throughout his NFL career, averaging 1.94 yards per route run and never posting a sub 73.7 PFF receiving grade — his rookie mark. Few teams can come close to the consistency that the Panthers have had in drafting good players with their first-round selections.

Dallas Cowboys

Players selected: 
Best pick: LB/EDGE Micah Parsons

Another team with just one obvious whiff among their draft picks, the Cowboys have had a remarkable strike rate over this period despite some selections that raised eyebrows at the time. They have also seemingly gotten a little lucky with players turning out to be something different or more than they bargained for. Tyler Smith was seen as a very raw offensive lineman and was expected to be the team’s starting guard before injuries forced Dallas to ask him to man the left tackle spot all season as a rookie. He earned a 73.3 overall PFF grade and was right around league average among starters at left tackle. Micah Parsons was drafted as an off-ball linebacker before Dallas discovered that it had stumbled into the second coming of Lawrence Taylor as an edge rusher. Last season, his first as a full-time edge defender, Parsons led the NFL with 90 pressures in the regular season before adding 16 more across two playoff games. 

Detroit Lions

Players selected: 
Best pick: C Frank Ragnow

A couple of Detroit’s first-round selections became better players outside of Detroit than they were for the Lions, which makes determining how good the picks were difficult, but generally speaking, there has been one outright miss on this list and another player that has struggled to live up to his expectations. From the mid-way point of his rookie season, Aidan Hutchinson was ranked alongside the big-three edge rushers — Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett — in PFF grade last year while Frank Ragnow is one of the best centers in the game when healthy. Penei Sewell allowed just two sacks in his second season and has been one of the best run blockers in football since entering the league.

Los Angeles Chargers

Players selected: 
Best pick:  QB Justin Herbert

There were a lot of Justin Herbert fans during his draft, but there were also a lot of detractors that thought he was a long way from being the best quarterback in that draft. Herbert has been a revelation for the Chargers and a significantly better pro quarterback than he was in college so far. Outside of Herbert, the Chargers have also drafted one of the best edge rushers, defensive backs and offensive linemen in the league in recent years. Joey Bosa has four seasons with a 90.0-plus PFF pass-rushing grade and has almost 400 pressures on just over 2,600 rushing snaps. Interior lineman Jerry Tillery represents the biggest bust of the group, with just 95 pressures from 1,418 rushing snaps across his four-year career and a run defense performance that’s even worse.

Worst 5

Las Vegas Raiders

Players selected: 
Best pick: OT Kolton Miller

The Raiders' whiffs in the first round during the Jon Gruden/Mike Mayock era were legendary. They repeatedly committed the cardinal sin of reaching relative to the consensus board and ended up with very little in return almost every time. During a two-year period of 2019-20, they had five first-round draft picks. The only one of those players still with the team is running back Josh Jacobs, who may only be there for his one year on the franchise tag before the team moves on to get younger and cheaper. There have been fewer worse sequences of first-round selections in league history, and they were selections that were lambasted at the time, rather than just with the benefit of hindsight.

New England Patriots

Players selected: 
Best pick: QB Mac Jones

The Patriots do things their own way, including when it comes to draft time. That works when you get it right, but too often lately New England has missed in a big way. Cole Strange ranked 86th on PFF’s final big board, and the Rams brass was laughing when he was picked because they believed they had a shot at him in that range when their first selection rolled around. The Patriots drafted him at 29th overall and though he flashed some very capable games in pass protection, his overall rookie grade was still just 54.6, and he allowed five sacks in Year 1. Mac Jones is still an unknown quantity at quarterback after a strong rookie year, but he has unquestionably been their biggest success story over this time span.

Seattle Seahawks

Players selected: 
Best pick: OT Charles Cross

Last season looked like it might right the ship of Seahawks first-round picks, with Charles Cross looking very accomplished from Day 1 despite a late-season dropoff in play. Cross ended up allowing seven sacks and 50 total pressures, including the playoffs, but managed at least average PFF grades in all areas and his biggest struggles came against truly elite NFL edge rushers (a 16.0 pass-blocking grade against Nick Bosa…). Rashaad Penny has averaged 5.7 yards per carry over his career and 3.8 after contact — those are all-time elite numbers — but injuries have limited him to just 341 carries over five years. L.J. Collier was seen as a major reach at the time and he has just 40 pressures to his name over four years in the NFL.

Chicago Bears

Players selected:
Best pick: LB Roquan Smith

Chicago’s draft history turns around a lot if Justin Fields can continue his upward trajectory at quarterback and develop enough as a passer to become the answer for the team going forward. Kevin White was a disaster of a selection at receiver, and as much as Mitchell Trubisky has been a marginal NFL starter, that selection looks worse when you consider they traded up to make sure they got their guy in the same draft class that produced Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Roquan Smith has been a tackling machine, with 282 defensive stops in his NFL career, but may be about to play his best football for a different team after the Baltimore Ravens traded for him to give him the contract Chicago was reluctant to.

Arizona Cardinals

Players selected:
Best pick: QB Kyler Murray

I don’t want to overlook how much credit Arizona should get for drafting Kyler Murray No 1 overall just a year after it spent the 10th overall pick on Josh Rosen. It took a lot of courage to effectively trash their original plan and not buy into the time you are supposed to give a top draft pick at quarterback. The Cardinals correctly evaluated that Murray was a far superior prospect to Rosen, and they weren’t going to get a chance like that very often, so they made a difficult call. Murray has flashed elite potential, but the wheels have started to come off that wagon a little bit lately, even before his season-ending injury last year. Haason Reddick is the other top player they drafted, but they spent so long trying to make him into something that he isn’t that they barely got any benefit from it. Reddick already has more pressures for his career (131) than he did in four years in the desert (113).

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