Assessing the results from 10 teams that impressed at the NFL draft
The NFL draft was chock-full of quarterbacks, with 14 taken overall and the big five going in the first three rounds. Among the other nine, one standout for me is former UCLA star Dorian Thompson-Robinson, whom the Browns selected in the fifth round.
Hailing from national powerhouse high school Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Thompson-Robinson was quickly billed as the next big thing well before he set foot on the Westwood campus. That gave him a certain poise, a feeling of "I'm supposed to be here."
Thompson-Robinson fits the modern-day profile of a star NFL quarterback: mobile, accurate, and hyper-competitive. He has decent enough size at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and "can make all the throws," according to one scout I spoke with before the draft. The scout also noted Thompson-Robinson's capacity to manipulate the pocket to his liking and special athleticism that doesn't come around very often.
For a Bruins program that's boasted the likes of Troy Aikman, Cade McNown, Tommy Maddox, Brett Hundley, and Josh Rosen, it's worth noting that Thompson-Robinson set the all-time record for starts (48), touchdown passes (88), total yards of offense (12,536), and total touchdowns (116).
In Cleveland, he'll compete with Josh Dobbs and Kellen Mond for the backup role behind Deshaun Watson. Thompson-Robinson isn't Watson, but he's an excellent mover who can do many of the same things in manipulating the pocket, taking deep-ball shots, and juking defenders while avoiding big hits. He's also intelligent, another reason why general manager Andrew Berry pulled the trigger despite QB not being a need.
With offensive mastermind Chip Kelly at the helm, the Bruins run an extremely complicated system predicated on reads, motion, and misdirection. The quarterback has to make split-second decisions on the fly, which Thompson-Robinson executed brilliantly. "He's a chain-mover," the scout added.
I thought it was really interesting that the Seahawks not only chose a cornerback with the No. 5 pick but opted for Iliinois' Devon Witherspoon. One of my favorite players in the draft, Witherspoon's a heat-seeking missile with all the makings of a top-tier cornerback. He doesn't fit the classic profile of Seattle's defensive backs - think Richard Sherman, Kim Chancellor, Brandon Browner, or even Pro Bowl rookie Tariq Woolen. GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have always targeted big, physical corners with length.
Witherspoon signals a tangible shift in what the Seahawks value - versatile skill sets with the ability to play all over the field in quarters coverage, a far cry from the famed Cover-2 they deployed while dominating Super Bowl XLVIII against the Broncos.
"Spoon was the funniest, smartest, and most competitive dude in the building," Purdue head coach Ryan Walters, who was Witherspoon's defensive coordinator with the Illini, told me. "The more trash that was talked or the more personal the game became, the more locked in Spoon played. That’s an unusual but necessary trait to be an elite corner, and Spoon is definitely that."
"He's a really special talent," one assistant GM added. "Him and Woolen is a scary thought. I'd presume that Witherspoon will quickly become a shutdown corner. I don't see why he wouldn't be. A guy you can hang your hat on and say, 'Yeah, that side of the field is taken care of. We're good there.'"
I really like the draft philosophy of Chiefs GM Brett Veach. While he explored trading the No. 31 pick, he ended up using it shrewdly by grabbing Kansas State pass-rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah, a KC native.
"An instant contributor," one former personnel executive told me. "He plays fast. He hits you hard, he's athletic and he finishes plays."
Veach then selected SMU standout receiver Rashee Rice, a true Swiss Army knife capable of playing the X, Y, and Z receiver spots. Why not give Patrick Mahomes more weapons? Rice, per PFF, ranked in the top 10 in college football in both deep catches and screen catches in 2022. Equally important, he's an A+ athlete, jumping a freakish 41 inches with a ridiculous 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump. Rice plays faster than his 4.5-second 40-yard time and has very good hands. That's a home run pick.
In the third round, Veach got Mahomes more help by taking Oklahoma offensive tackle Wanya Morris, a former five-star recruit whom multiple scouts told me they had given a second-round grade based on his enormous upside. They expect him to be a future starter.
Perhaps the biggest sleeper here is fifth-round pick BJ Thompson from FCS school Stephen F. Austin. He's a physical specimen at 6-foot-6, 243 pounds who recorded a scary Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.03 (out of 10), which included a 4.58 40 time and 37.5-inch vertical.
Don't sleep on undrafted free agent Deneric Prince from Tulsa, either. He's a running back who can do a lot of things with the football. KC hit the lottery on sixth-round running back Isiah Pacheco last year, and while I'm not saying Prince is Pachecho, I do believe he will make the team and find a way to make an impact.
Lions GM Brad Holmes probably made the most jaw-dropping picks of the draft, starting early with Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 after trading down from the sixth slot. I love Gibbs and see no problem with him going that high. A Georgia Tech transfer who tore up the SEC in his only season at Alabama, he can be Alvin Kamara 2.0.
Still, Detroit already had D'Andre Swift and had signed free-agent David Montgomery for a hefty $18 million over three years, with $8.75 million guaranteed. The Lions quickly traded Swift to Philadelphia, but that doesn't make the pick any less surprising.
Of course, all of this will be forgotten when Gibbs explodes for 1,500 all-purpose yards as a rookie while helping guide the upstart Lions to their first playoff appearance since 2016.
A lot has been made of the fact the Packers didn't exactly draft premier offensive talent to complement Aaron Rodgers over the years. It's almost ironic then that just days after trading the four-time MVP to the Jets, GM Brian Gutekunst opted for a whole heap of skill-position talent for Jordan Love. In fact, three straight picks - in the second and third rounds - were pass-catchers: Michigan State receiver Jayden Reed, Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave, and South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft. Reed and Kraft were on my offensive sleeper list.
Musgrave would have gone in the first round had he been healthy all of last season, according to several folks I've spoken with. He's the rarest blend of size and speed - 6-foot-6 and 253 pounds with a 4.61 40 time and 10 3/8-inch hand size - not to mention an experienced edge run-blocker in the Beavers' scheme.
Kraft might just be the next Dallas Goedert. Yes, they both hail from FCS school South Dakota State, but their measurables also are scarily similar. Both embody the modern-day tight end: big, physical, seam-route-driven players who can flat-out catch the football. Reed is a vintage Spartans product, a bona fide warrior, who plays much bigger than his 5-foot-11, 187-pound frame with 4.45 40-time speed.
Later on, Green Bay selected two more receivers with huge upside. Packers fans should check out some tape on seventh-round pick Grant Dubose out of UNC Charlotte. He thrives over the middle, catches balls in traffic, and consistently plays through contact. With good size at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, I fully expect him to make an impact at some point. I feel the same about fifth-rounder Dontayvion Wicks from Virginia, another rugged 6-foot-2 receiver who should thrive in the NFC North. He may not have top-end speed, but the former Cavaliers standout inflicts tons of damage down the field; 27 of his 57 catches went for 20-plus yards his junior season.
Is Jake Haener the next Drew Brees? OK, that's going too far, but New Orleans' fifth-round pick out of Fresno State grew up a huge Saints fan, and his game eerily resembles the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"He's on the shorter side, but he's not small," a scout told me. "He's one of the more accurate guys we've seen the past five years. Pretty decent arm, above-average athlete, anticipates well. Fiery competitor as well." OK, does that profile not match Brees? Derek Carr, another Fresno State product, surely is a fine investment, but he's not the long-term solution in New Orleans. Maybe Haener can be QB1 down the road.
More than anything, GM Mickey Loomis needed to address the defensive line. Cam Jordan's a future Hall of Famer, but he's 33. Marcus Davenport left in free agency for the Vikings. Loomis used his first two picks to replenish the defensive line.
Clemson's Bryan Bresee, taken at No. 29, was one of my favorite players in this class, period. He's the rare prospect with a blue-chip pedigree who plays with the intensity of a walk-on. He's a three-down monster, a true game-wrecker, and I felt he was a top-10 player.
Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey, selected at No. 40, can pretty much do anything. The 6-foot-5, 264-pounder posted solid numbers with the Irish, exceeding 10 sacks as both a junior and senior, along with seven career forced fumbles. He ran a 4.58 40 and jumped 10 feet, 5 inches in the broad jump, scary for an edge rusher.
Loomis also added an interior offensive lineman in Old Dominion's Nick Saldiveri, a future starter - in Round 4 - who could potentially replace Cesar Ruiz, who had his fifth-year option declined this week.
If you want a "super sleeper," look no further than Wake Forest standout receiver, A.T. Perry. During his final two seasons in the ACC, the 6-foot-3 1/2 speedster tallied 152 catches, 2,389 yards, and 26 TDs. Perry told reporters he was informed he slipped to the sixth round because of "character stuff," but you don't often find this type of talent so late in the draft.
I'd be remiss if I didn't shout out Joe Schoen and the Giants for absolutely crushing this draft. They not only acquired great players who fit their scheme and needs, but they got Day 1 contributors as well. Cornerback Deonte Banks has frightening 4.35 40 speed and loves to press. John Michael Schmitz was the best center in the draft, and it was a glaring need for New York. Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt was the Biletnikoff Award winner in 2022 and is a truly special talent operating out of the slot.
Several clubs I spoke with felt Oklahoma's all-conference running back Eric Gray has three-down potential. He was dinged a little bit for posting a 4.62 40 time but possesses all the traits of a feature back: vision, shiftiness in between the tackles, and toughness.
Howie Roseman and the Eagles drew praise for a phenomenal draft class highlighted by a trio of Georgia superstars - defensive lineman Jalen Carter and linebacker Nolan Smith in the first round, plus cornerback Kelee Ringo in the fourth - and acquiring Swift via trade with Detroit. But one player who deserves more attention is safety Sydney Brown. Roseman's third-round pick out of Illinois earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year as a game-wrecker in the middle of the field.
Brown's overall athleticism and ability to cover ground (4.47 40 speed, 40.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-10 broad jump) will make him a valuable component of Philadelphia's secondary. But it's his mentality and temperament as a football player that puts him over the top.
"He’s the guy," Walters told me. "He's a stone-cold killer, man. Everybody used to call him 'Tarzan' back at Illinois, not only because of the hair but because of the reckless abandonment and no fear (with which) he approached every day."
Titans GM Ran Carthon may have been a draft rookie, but that didn't stop him from having one of the best performances of any general manager. Peter Skoronski, the Northwestern offensive lineman taken at No. 11, is a plug-and-play starter with one of the highest floors in the first round. Will Levis, as I wrote previously, has generational talent at quarterback.
I had Tulane running back Tyjae Spears on my sleeper list. At 5-foot-10 and 201 pounds, scouts told me he's a fluid runner with great vision and strength who possesses plenty of juice, making guys miss in the open field. Still not convinced? Turn on the Cotton Bowl tape when the Green Wave shocked USC 46-45. Spears ate up the Trojans for 205 yards on just 17 carries along with four touchdowns.
I like what Carthon did in the draft's later stages as well, grabbing mammoth 6-foot-7 tight end Josh Whyle - a red-zone favorite of Desmond Ridder when they played together at Cincinnati - followed by local hero Colton Dowell from nearby Tennessee-Martin. PFF gave the wide receiver an 85.2 grade. He can elevate and make plays on 50-50 balls as well.
Another component of Carthon's success - and this is rare - was the command he displayed on the telephone. Not dissimilar to inexperienced players, inexperienced GMs make mistakes during their first draft.
For example, they might be too eager to trade up, tip their hand on a coveted player, or give the media information that's not helpful to the team's cause. These kinds of errors can have consequences.
In speaking with a multitude of teams and executives from across the league, I heard that Carthon commanded respect because he gave respect. Moreover, he was stern but patient and, perhaps more importantly, very clear on the mission and ethos of his football team.
The result was a sterling first draft class featuring top-tier talent across the board.
Without question, the Titans have their GM of the future - one I believe possesses the necessary qualities and attributes to succeed. He'll deploy his scouting background and ability to cultivate a multitude of relationships as a means to carefully construct a Super Bowl contender sooner than later.
I think the Cowboys took two super-duper sleeper picks who will definitely hit.
San Jose State edge rusher Viliami Fehoko was a favorite of mine because of his elite get-off and downright dominance as the Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year. He will make an immediate impact on Dallas' pass rush and is a future double-digit sack artist with his mean hands and first step.
The sneakiest pick in the draft was arguably its sneakiest player, Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn. It's scary to consider the similarities with Darren Sproles, another Wildcats product and one of the true "weapons" we've seen in any backfield over the past two decades. Vaughn is an option-route nightmare. He's 5-foot-5, 179 pounds with tremendous lateral quickness and short-area burst. He's a difference-maker in every sense of the word - also dangerous in the kick- and punt-return game - and I can't wait to see him at the next level.