What We Learned From Round 1 of the N.F.L. Draft
After months of workouts, measurements, interviews, speculation, prognostication and whispers about players rising and falling for inscrutable reasons, the top of the first round of the N.F.L. draft on Thursday night went roughly the way experts thought it would go at the end of the last college football season.
The Top Picks
The Carolina Panthers, who traded with the Chicago Bears in March to obtain the top pick, kicked things off by selecting Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.
Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, stands just 5-foot-10 but possesses an impeccable scouting report, outstanding statistics and an exemplary off-field reputation, making him similar to the early 2010s version of Russell Wilson.
The Houston Texans — despite weeks of rumors that they preferred other quarterbacks, would not draft a quarterback at all or might just give up and try pickleball instead for a few years — selected Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud with the second pick.
Stroud threw 85 touchdown passes in two seasons for the Buckeyes. He joins an N.F.L. team that has won as many games in the past three seasons (11) as Ohio State won last season.
The Texans then provided the evening’s first surprise by trading the 12th overall pick (acquired from the Cleveland Browns in last year’s Deshaun Watson trade) for the third pick. The player they chose, however, was unsurprising: Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson, widely considered to be the best nonquarterback in the 2023 draft class.
The Rest of the Top 10
After a handful of by-the-books selections, the draft settled into its familiar state of unpredictability.
The Indianapolis Colts — who have relied on past-their-prime quarterbacks (Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan) or reclamation projects (Carson Wentz) since Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement before the 2019 season — selected Florida’s Anthony Richardson with the fourth pick. Richardson has the arm strength, athleticism and sheer size to rival Josh Allen but about as much experience (13 collegiate starts) as the intern who filled your office coffee machine with copy toner.
The Seattle Seahawks possessed two first-round picks because of last year’s Russell Wilson trade, which has become like an overflowing gift basket for them. The Seahawks selected Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon fifth overall and Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba 20th overall.
Witherspoon finished second in the Big 10 conference with 14 passes broken up in 2022. Smith-Njigba caught 95 passes in 2021 but battled a hamstring injury throughout last season. He also lost his primary role in the Buckeyes’ passing game to the underclassman Marvin Harrison Jr., who is mentioned here to: a) get you excited about next year’s draft, and b) make you feel really old.
The Arizona Cardinals, having traded down from the third pick to the 11th, then traded back up to the sixth pick, selecting Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. to bulwark an offensive line ravaged by injuries in 2022.
The Las Vegas Raiders selected Texas Tech defensive lineman Tyree Wilson with the seventh pick. Wilson’s arms are so long (nearly three feet) that when he spread them wide at the scouting combine, half of the press pool instinctively reached for their boarding passes.
Bijan Robinson of Texas, the most dynamic running back prospect since Saquon Barkley, landed with the Atlanta Falcons at eighth overall. The Detroit Lions later selected versatile Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs 12th overall. Analytics hard-liners are already scoffing at the early selections of prospects at a position where talent is plentiful and careers short. The rest of us remain free to enjoy things.
The Lions, with two first-round picks because of the 2021 Matthew Stafford trade, later drafted tough-guy linebacker Jack Campbell from Iowa, who will now play for tough-guy head coach Dan Campbell. Some pairings just feel preordained.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who possessed two first-round picks because they somehow always do, selected a pair of Georgia defensive lineman: Jalen Carter, after trading up from 10th to ninth overall, and Nolan Smith, with the 30th pick.
Smith recorded just 12.5 career sacks for the Bulldogs — the opposing quarterback was often flattened before Smith arrived — but ran a receiver-like 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 238 pounds at the scouting combine.
Once a candidate to be the top pick, Carter pleaded no contest in March to two misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing in a January car crash that killed two people, including a Georgia teammate. Carter later weighed in at a too-heavy 323 pounds and cramped up during Georgia’s pro day workouts, further precipitating his slide.
Carter and Smith now join college teammates Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean on the defending N.F.C. champions.
Having traded down twice for extra picks, the Bears selected Tennessee offensive lineman Darnell Wright with the 10th pick. He shined at left tackle in 2021, then at right tackle in 2022. Unfortunately for Bears quarterback Justin Fields, Wright is incapable of playing both positions simultaneously.
A Run on Receivers
The Jets, who traded down from 13th to 15th overall as part of the Aaron Rodgers trade with the Green Bay Packers, drafted edge rusher Will McDonald IV, who recorded 34 career sacks at Iowa State.
The Jets were rumored to be seeking an offensive tackle to protect Rodgers, but the Pittsburgh Steelers traded up to 14th overall to select Georgia’s Broderick Jones, the last tackle on the board with a first-round grade from most analysts. The selection of a defender instead may not mark the end of the Rodgers-Jets honeymoon, but the wedding reception might be over.
Smith-Njigba’s selection touched off an extended run on receivers late in the first round. The Los Angeles Chargers drafted Quentin Johnson of Texas Christian at 21st overall. The Baltimore Ravens, who agreed to a long-awaited $260-million contract/peace treaty with Lamar Jackson earlier in the evening, added Zay Flowers of Boston College with the 22nd pick. The Minnesota Vikings then chose Jordan Addison of Southern California with the 23rd pick.
Johnson was just about the only receiver in the 2023 class who is both big (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) and fast. Flowers is a 5-foot-9 big-play threat whose jump cuts look like video game glitches. Addison weighs just 173 pounds but caught 159 passes in his last two college seasons.
The Giants halted the receiver run — no doubt to the chagrin of many fans — by trading with the Jacksonville Jaguars to move up and select Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks with the 24th pick. Banks has blazing speed and is considered a high-upside prospect by many experts, but he lost much of his 2020 season to the pandemic and most of 2021 to a shoulder injury.
In perhaps the first round’s most stunning development, Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, widely considered a prospect in the same tier as Young, Stroud and Richardson, went undrafted.
Levis can take solace in knowing that being passed over in the first round is hardly the end of a quarterback’s career. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts was drafted in the second round in 2020, started in the Super Bowl in February and signed a reported $250 million contract last week.