- Buffalo Bills top the AFC East: Each of the Bills' top-three selections can start Year 1 and make an impact for a team that was already a Super Bowl contender.
- Pittsburgh Steelers pace the AFC North: Given that cornerback Cory Trice, a player who has starting-level talent and potential when healthy, was their seventh-round selection, it's easy to see how the Steelers improved in a big way.
- Houston Texans‘ aggressiveness leads AFC South: Houston had one of the worst rosters in the NFL going into draft weekend, and though it has a long way to go still before it can call itself playoff caliber, adding C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. in the top three should signal new cornerstone players on both sides of the ball.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
As we review what happened in the 2023 NFL Draft, we wanted to look at teams’ new additions through the lens of the 2023 season and beyond. Though a lot of teams got better on draft weekend, these were the teams we believed improved the most from each division following the NFL draft.
AFC EAST: BUFFALO BILLS
The Bills being the most improved AFC East team doesn’t come from a place of previous weakness. But when you look at their first three draft selections — Dalton Kincaid, O’Cyrus Torrence and Dorian Williams — each can be a future starter on a roster that was already playoff caliber.
Kincaid gives the Bills the talent to play more 12 personnel while also just giving Josh Allen another one-on-one player to bet on versus different coverages. Torrence’s power as an interior blocker allows the Bills to run the ball more between the tackles (not with Allen). And Williams gets to play next to the experienced Matt Milano to fill the hole left by Tremaine Edmunds’ departure. Three big wins for a team looking to get over the mountain top for a Lombardi Trophy.
AFC NORTH: PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Their first two selections — Broderick Jones and Joey Porter Jr. — can start early on this season. Meanwhile, Keeanu Benton, Darnell Washington and Nick Herbig should all play solid contributing roles in Year 1 with starting potential in their future. When you throw in cornerback Cory Trice, a player who has starting-level talent and potential when healthy, as their seventh-round selection, it's easy to see how the Steelers improved in a big way.
The AFC North, as a whole, got better on draft weekend, but the Steelers improved every level of their depth chart from immediate starters to key depth players.
AFC SOUTH: HOUSTON TEXANS
For as much as I loved the Indianapolis Colts’ draft, I had to choose the Texans.
Houston had one of the worst rosters in the NFL going into draft weekend, and though it has a long way to go still before it can call itself playoff caliber, adding C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. in the top three should signal new cornerstone players on both sides of the ball. I also like the Tank Dell selection, as the Texans' wide receiver room is wide open. Henry To’oTo’o, Jarrett Patterson and Xavier Hutchinson are also experienced college football players who, at worst, should improve the depth of their roster.
AFC WEST: LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
As the worst roster on paper in the division heading into the draft, it’s natural the Raiders were the most improved. They selected Tyree Wilson, who they hope to have out there from Week 1 on to give Maxx Crosby some help rushing the passer – one of their most dire needs for contention. They were also fortunate enough to grab the reliable tight end Michael Mayer at the top of Round 2. Byron Young, Tre Tucker and Chris Smith could all play rotational roles early on, and perhaps they hit it big at quarterback with the Aidan O’Connell investment.
NFC EAST: NEW YORK GIANTS
There might be some surprise that the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t the choice here, given the fact we love their draft so much. But Philadelphia was already a roster ripe for a Super Bowl run – it just got better. The Giants, too, were a playoff team in 2022, but their biggest needs improved dramatically with the Deonte Banks, John Michael Schmitz and Jalin Hyatt selections. Banks is the perfect corner for Don Martindale’s man coverage system while Michael Schmitz fits the mold that general manager Joe Schoen has built. Finally, Hyatt presents the Giants passing game with an effective deep threat player, something that was missing from the roster last year.
NFC NORTH: DETROIT LIONS
Well, well, well, after all that, here we are picking the Lions as the most improved team in the division. Both the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings improved but not as much as the Lions and Chicago Bears. The Bears could have been the choice here if you liked their draft (which I did), but ultimately, I went with the Lions because they hit all of their biggest roster needs and have now positioned themselves to be one of the top teams in the conference. Both Jahmyr Gibbs and Brian Branch have paths to start right away at their respective positions. Meanwhile, Jack Campbell and Sam LaPorta will likely start off in contributing rotations and could become starters later this year. You then throw in Hendon Hooker, who feels like a great insurance plan for Jared Goff’s current timeline, and you now have one of the most complete teams in the league given where they were after free agency and before draft weekend.
NFC SOUTH: CAROLINA PANTHERS
This is a division where improvement is needed across the board. No team in the NFC South finished with a record above .500 last year, and with Tom Brady gone, that title is even more up for grabs.
The Panthers improved the most due to the simple fact they drafted a franchise-type quarterback at No. 1 overall in Bryce Young. They also added some receiver talent early on Day 2 with Jonathan Mingo to try to make up for the loss of D.J. Moore. I also liked the Chandler Zavala and Jammie Robinson selections on Day 3. This roster was already pretty solid with a lot of young promise before they drafted Young. If Young pans out, it won’t be long before this team is ready to compete for the division title (above .500 hopefully).
NFC WEST: LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Seattle Seahawks had a fantastic draft, as did the Arizona Cardinals. But the choice of which team improved the most has to be the Rams. They added potential Week 1 starters in Steve Avila, Byron Young and Kobie Turner with their first three selections. Then, you go down the list of later draft picks, and players like Nick Hampton, Warren McClendon, Puka Nacua, Davis Allen, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Zach Evans all have paths to playing time.
This was one of the worst rosters in the league, on paper, heading into draft weekend. They didn’t magically become Super Bowl contenders after those three days, but the upward trajectory of their new young core improved.