2023 NFL Draft grades for AFC: Steelers did the best, while three playoff teams fall in C-range
The 2023 NFL Draft is over and it’s time to put our way-too-early spin on what happened over the weekend. Here’s the breakdown of the AFC draft classes, including favorite picks, least favorite picks and an overall grade for each team. Most of these teams had quality draft classes, but a few missed the mark. Check out our NFC draft grades here.
Favorite pick: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (2nd overall)
The Texans did it! They made the sensible selection and took the Ohio State quarterback to be their new franchise quarterback with head coach DeMeco Ryans. Stroud had a bit of a wild draft process narrative-wise, but he’s supremely talented and has all the physical talent and skills necessary to grow into a bonafide franchise quarterback. Stroud has been worthy of this selection the entire draft process and will probably be the Texans’ starting quarterback soon. It was nice to see the Ryans era get off to a strong start with the Stroud pick.
Least favorite pick: Juice Scruggs, C, Penn State (62nd overall)
This was a head-scratcher. Scruggs wasn’t projected to come off the board until way later than this spot and it was especially odd with John Michael Schmitz on the board. Perhaps the Texans know something everyone else doesn’t and Scruggs turns out to be a stud, but right now it’s confusing.
Overall grade: A-
Draft picks? Who needs them, man? The Texans left the draft with C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr. Giving up their first-round pick in 2024, which will still probably be quite high, stings, but they have the Browns’ first-round pick next year as a buffer. That should matter when talking about the trade up to get Anderson directly after taking Stroud. The thing is, Anderson’s talent might warrant it. He has been as dominant as college football players come over the past three years and is a great fit for Ryans’ defense.
Getting Stroud was the most important piece of the Texans’ draft class, but they also added arguably the best overall player in Anderson. It’s fun and Anderson has a clear path toward being dominant in the NFL. Getting Tank Dell in the third round was a solid pickup too, especially considering they needed some more receiver talent for their new franchise quarterback. Getting Stroud with the second pick and having the Browns’ pick next year makes their trade for Anderson more palatable. A team in desperate need of elite talent potentially walked away from the draft with two elite players. Not bad.
Favorite pick: Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (4th overall)
Scared money don’t make none! The Colts absolutely swung for the fences here with Richardson and he may wind up proving them right sooner rather than later. His lack of passing skills are greatly overstated and he’ll be a weapon on the ground from Day 1. He’s a mega-talent and will even make life easier for superstar running Jonathan Taylor, who had a down season in 2022. Richardson might need time to put up monster passing numbers, but his style of passing is suited better for the NFL than the offense (and supporting cast) he played in at Florida. Look past the completion percentage — Richardson is a stud quarterback prospect. There’s an easy path for early production for him and head coach Shane Steichen has experience building NFL offenses for mobile quarterbacks.
Least favorite pick: Blake Freeland, OT, BYU (106th overall)
It’s tough to hate on a developmental tackle in the fourth round, but Freeland is pretty raw. That doesn’t really matter. This is the least favorite pick of a draft class that had a lot of great picks.
Overall grade: A
The Colts seem to have gotten back on the right track with this draft, or at least setting themselves up to be productive in future years. Richardson has real deal franchise quarterback potential and they added to their wide receivers room by taking the polished Josh Downs out of North Carolina. The Colts are not a team that’s totally bereft of talent, so this draft class may help them get back to the top of the division and competing with the Jaguars. They also took two defenders with massive upside in Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents and Northwestern defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore. This is a draft that helps today with some big-time athletes who can grow with the team in the coming seasons. The Colts can surprise people if some of their offensive veterans start playing good football again.
Favorite pick: Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M (160th overall)
Johnson could have gone off the board far earlier than he did. It’s tough to find safeties who can play man coverage in the slot, and even tougher to find a guy like that in the fifth round. Johnson fell right into the Jaguars' laps and he has the potential to be a big-time contributor for Jacksonville in the slot. That’s a difficult thing to find at that point in the draft and the Jaguars should be pleased with that pick.
Least favorite pick: Brenton Strange, TE, Penn State (61st overall)
Strange coming off the board in this range was a surprise. Strange didn’t have much production during his time at Penn State and needs a lot of time before he should be counted on as a consistent performer for the Jaguars — which is something they should be pushing for, considering they have by far the best quarterback in their division right now. It was a bizarre use of draft capital, especially with Darnell Washington and Tucker Kraft still on the board. There had to be a better way to use this pick.
Overall Grade: C-
Eh. The Jaguars draft started off well by trading down and still grabbing Oklahoma tackle Anton Harrison, but they burned their Day 2 picks. Strange was a major reach at pick No. 61 and Tank Bigsby was an odd use of draft resources considering the other needs they have. The Jaguars made a whopping 10 picks on the third day of the draft, including six in the sixth and seventh rounds. Perhaps they could have used some of those picks to trade up a bit for more players who can help them hold onto the AFC South. They did well with Harrison and Johnson, but they left a lot of meat on the bone compared to the picks they had.
Favorite pick: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern (11th overall)
Skoronski can fix multiple spots on the Titans’ offensive line, which needs to be rebuilt as they enter a new era under head coach Mike Vrabel and first-year general manager Ran Carthon. Skoronski can plug in whichever hole the Titans feel like is biggest, which will likely end up being one of the guard spots. Skoronski was one of the eight elite players in this draft on the Yahoo Sports board so getting him with the 11th overall pick was fantastic value. Skoronski has the potential to be a Pro Bowler as a rookie.
Least favorite pick: Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane (81st overall)
The Titans made good use of their draft capital, but Spears had some concerning injury news about his knee — mainly the fact that he doesn’t have an ACL right now. Pretty concerning! Spears should be able to hold up and provide big plays for the Titans in a spell role for Derrick Henry, but it’s also fair to wonder if this knee situation will sap how long he can be at the peak of his game.
Overall grade: A
The Titans drafted a franchise offensive lineman, a quarterback in Will Levis with the potential to be their franchise guy, a big-play running back, and even found an intriguing developmental option at offensive line with Jaelyn Duncan. Getting Levis without having to trade up to the top of the draft could be a major win for the Titans. Even if he isn’t that guy, it’s not a big deal to move on from a second-round draft pick. Even if Levis struggles next season, they’ll still have the ammo to grab a quarterback at the top of the draft next year. This draft really helped stabilize where the Titans are as they rebuild their offensive core.
Favorite pick: Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas (67th overall)
Sanders is potentially the best linebacker prospect in this class, which says a lot about the class as a whole considering where Sanders was picked. Sanders is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of linebacker. He has the athleticism to make some splash plays. He’s not a powerhouse athlete, but he’s someone who can get on the field early and maybe even be a rookie starter. Getting Sanders about 50 picks after Jack Campbell was selected was a great nab for the Broncos.
Least favorite pick: Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma (63rd overall)
Mims isn’t a very well-rounded wide receiver, but he has the speed to threaten defenses deep. Mims is on the smaller size for WRs at 183 pounds, but his explosive ability as an athlete may help him get on the field early as a rookie. Head coach Sean Payton should be able to find a role for him, but it might be a limited one early on.
Overall grade: C
The Broncos didn’t have much draft capital after sending their picks all over the place to get to this point. Sanders was a great selection at the beginning of the third round as a potential long-term starter at linebacker. Riley Moss has the traits to develop into a starting cornerback as well. Outside of that, it’s hard to see where they got immediate talent that will help them become a team that actually dethrones the Chiefs this season — which should be their goal. It’s go time for the Broncos and they need this class to play a big role in their 2023 success.
Kansas City Chiefs
Favorite pick: Rashee Rice, WR, SMU (55th overall)
Rice is the type of do-it-all receiver the Chiefs needed to add to their group. Rice isn’t quite the burner the rest of the Chiefs’ receivers are, but he’s a strong technician, a quality route runner and made a lot of plays for SMU. Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney can raise the ceiling of an offense with their ability to make big plays, but guys like Rice raise the floor. He’s the perfect complement to the players they already have on the roster and with Patrick Mahomes he might be able to make a big impact as a rookie.
Least favorite pick: Chamarri Conner, S, Virginia Tech (119th overall)
Choosing Conner as a bad pick here is nitpicking, but he wasn’t really projected to go this high. Maybe they could have grabbed him later in the draft.
Overall grade: A
The draft feels less important when Mahomes is your quarterback, but the Chiefs made great use of their picks. Pass rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah was a perfect use of their first-round selection and now the Chiefs have two young, talented edge rushers with Anudike-Uzomah joining George Karlaftis. Rice gives the Chiefs a type of receiver they needed to add to the offense and Wanya Morris is a sleeper pick to potentially be their long-term right tackle. This was the exact type of draft the Chiefs needed in order to keep their championship window open (which will never close as long as Patrick Mahomes is still Patrick Mahomes).
Las Vegas Raiders
Favorite pick: Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame (35th overall)
Getting Mayer at the top of the second round is unbelievable value compared to how he was thought of pre-draft. He’s a young, talented tight end who doesn’t have any holes in his game while being an extremely talented receiver. Getting Mayer on the roster in the same offseason when they traded away Darren Waller to the Giants is a big-time acquisition. Transitioning toward being an NFL tight end is difficult, but Mayer has the talent to make a serious impact as a rookie. This is a great investment by the Raiders in a position that has been heavily used by Josh McDaniels throughout his coaching career.
Least favorite pick: Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue (135th overall)
This was a bit of a head-scratching pick at the end of Round 4. O’Connell never really flashed NFL skills at Purdue, but had just enough arm talent to have teams interested in drafting him this offseason. It remains to be seen if O’Connell has the talent to be a legitimate backup QB in the NFL. The Raiders could have found someone to at least get on the field in special teams at this spot.
Overall grade: B+
The only real blemish on this class was O’Connell. However, they got an impact defensive lineman in Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson, a stud tight end at the top of the second, defensive line depth in Alabama's Byron Young and an athletic dice roll at cornerback with Maryland's Jakorian Bennett. The Raiders needed to have a strong draft to take advantage of the elite players at the top of their roster and they really raised the floor of their roster with this draft class. Nice job by the Raiders here.
Los Angeles Chargers
Favorite pick: Derius Davis, WR, TCU (125th overall)
The Chargers will need to be creative in how they deploy Davis, but he brings a massive element of speed that the Chargers have been missing for a while now. Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Quentin Johnston are all talented receivers, but none of them have Davis' speed. With a quarterback who has a rocket launcher for an arm, it makes good sense to have anyone who can threaten defenses with their speed.
Least favorite pick: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State (85th overall)
This slot felt a bit early for Henley, who benefitted from being a part of a weak linebacker class this year. Henley has the speed to make plays in space, but at 225 pounds, he’s going to be one of the smaller linebackers in the league. He might not be the linebacker to help the Chargers improve their physicality up front and their ailing run defense.
Overall grade: C
The Chargers made a solid first-round pick with TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston, but they could have grabbed a couple more high-floor guys to help them get to the top of the AFC West. This isn’t necessarily a bad draft class, it just might not be one that helps their title hopes a whole bunch this season. At the very least, Max Duggan will get a chance to be a preseason hero this summer. That might make this draft class worth it.
Favorite pick: Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College (22nd overall)
It feels like the Ravens have needed wide receiver help forever and taking Flowers can help in the short and long term for this team. Flowers brings an explosive element on the outside and can win at all three levels of the field. Getting Lamar Jackson in on a record-setting contract was huge for the Ravens and they paired him with a talented game-breaker. Flowers should have a lot of success as new offensive coordinator Todd Monken installs his scheme in Baltimore — he’s the type of receiver that Monken has had a lot of success with in his college and professional career.
Least favorite pick: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson (86th overall)
Simpson is a big project at linebacker. He’s athletic as they come at the position, but needs a lot of work as far as taking on blocks and being a more consistent tackler. Perhaps this sheds light on the Ravens' plans for former first-round pick Patrick Queen, but Simpson needs some seasoning before he can enter the starting lineup. Even with all that said, a third-round pick is an OK time to take a dice roll on an athletic marvel like Simpson.
Overall Grade: A-
Ravens gonna Ravens. Once again, the Ravens put together a quality draft class that will help them with their short- and long-term goals. With Flowers joining Rashod Bateman and Odell Beckham Jr., the Ravens finally appear to have a receiving corps that can make plays for Jackson. One of their best picks may be their seventh-round selection of USC guard Andrew Vorhees, who has starter potential but is recovering from a knee injury. Even with his injury, Vorhees participated in the bench press at the NFL scouting combine.
Favorite pick: Jordan Battle, S, Alabama (95th overall)
Battle was made to play in Lou Anarumo’s defense. He’s a smart, technically sound safety who played a whole lot of football for Nick Saban at Alabama during his four years there. Battle played in 52 career games for the Crimson Tide and can man a variety of safety spots in a pinch. His versatility is a great fit for Anarumo, who asks his safeties to do a little bit of everything. Given the fact that the Bengals lost Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III in free agency, getting a potential starter for them was a big priority coming into the draft this year.
Least favorite pick: Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson (28th overall)
Murphy is a good prospect who should be a productive No. 2 edge defender across from Trey Hendrickson, but it is fair to wonder how consistently he’ll be able to finish sacks in the NFL. Murphy is a great athlete in a straight line, showing the ability to explode off the snap on a routine basis (and he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash!), but he’s not always consistent turning the corner. Picking Murphy here wasn’t necessarily a bad pick, but he may not be a consistent sack-finisher in the NFL.
Overall grade: B
The Bengals did a good job with their draft capital this year. Murphy wasn’t a first-round talent on the Yahoo Sports board, but he has a chance to grow into that type of player based on his physical profile. Battle and cornerback DJ Turner II are quality additions as well for a team that needed to pack on some depth in their secondary. The Bengals' secondary is young, but they’re versatile and Battle can be a linchpin for their safety group. They took a nice upside swing in the sixth round as well with Princeton wide receiver Andrei Iosivas. It was a good draft for the Bengals, who will need these rookies to play well as they tweak their roster for another championship run.
Favorite pick: Siaki Ika, NT, Baylor (98th overall)
The Browns desperately needed to get better against the run this offseason and this draft pick will go a long way with that. According to analytics expert Ben Baldwin, the Browns ranked dead last in expected points allowed per rush last season (0.045). This draft pick is directly meant to help with that. At 335 pounds, he’s not going to be an impact pass rusher, but the third round is a great spot to take a dominant run defender for the worst run defense in the league. If the Browns are going to have a few smaller players in their front seven, getting a behemoth like Ika will make life easier for them.
Least favorite pick: Dorian Thompson-Robinson (140th overall)
There isn’t too much to dislike about this pick, but perhaps the Browns could have used this selection on someone who could get on the field this season. They didn’t have too many picks in general, so burning one on a backup QB feels unnecessary, but it’s hard to be too fired up about it either way.
Overall grade: C+
It’s difficult to draw a lot of value from a draft class that doesn’t have many picks. The Browns plugged a couple holes with their third-round selections of Ika and wide receiver Cedric Tillman. Tillman has work to do as far as his technical development goes coming from Tennessee’s offense, but he’s a quality athlete and brings size to the Browns wide receivers room. Ika will help the team get a whole lot tougher up front against the run, but likely won’t ever be much of a pass rusher. Missouri's Isaiah McGuire is an interesting dice roll at edge. He’s raw, but has the athleticism to develop into something.
Favorite pick: Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia (93rd overall)
Washington was projected by some as a first-round draft pick, but fell all the way to pick No. 93 where the Steelers nabbed him. At the very least, Washington can be a dominant blocker. If he can improve his receiving ability and hit his ceiling in that facet of the game, this will be an absolute steal. Washington crushed the NFL scouting combine, running a blistering 4.08 20-yard short shuttle despite being 6-foot-7 and 264 pounds. If Washington’s injury history doesn’t come back to bite him, he’ll be a huge plus for the Steelers.
Least favorite pick: Nick Herbig (132nd overall)
Even calling this a truly bad pick is a stretch, but maybe it was a tad high for the Wisconsin edge. Someone has to take this spot.
Overall grade: A+
The Steelers had the best draft in the NFL. It can credibly be said that they acquired four starter-level players with their first four picks. Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton all have the potential to be long-term starters. Washington gives the Steelers a young thunder-and-lighting type of tight end duo as they pair him with Pat Freiermuth. Even getting someone like Purdue cornerback Cory Trice in the seventh round was great value given his pre-draft profile — he has the potential to stick on the roster. The Steelers didn’t overthink it, plugged a lot of needs with quality talent and found value in the seventh round as well. It’s impossible to hate what they did over the draft weekend.
Favorite pick: O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida (59th overall)
Torrence could have been the Bills’ first-round pick and not too many people would have objected. He’s an absolute force at guard and he should help the Bills’ offensive line get better and tougher as they try to establish a more consistent ground game. Torrence and free-agent signing Damien Harris give the Bills a bit of physicality that they didn’t have last year. Part of the goal for the Bills’ offense this year has to be taking some of the load off of Josh Allen, and adding Torrence helps in a big way. Getting him toward the end of the second round was great value for Buffalo as well.
Least favorite pick: Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah (25th overall)
This isn't about Kincaid as a player. From a talent perspective, taking him in the first round isn’t egregious, especially in this draft. However, it is a bit of an awkward fit with Dawson Knox, who is contractually tied to the Bills for at least two more seasons. Knox has developed as a blocker in the NFL, but he’s no slouch as a receiver either. There’s enough overlap with their skills that it’s fair to wonder if the Bills will be able to use both effectively at the same time. Kincaid is NFL-ready as a receiver, so his high floor as a prospect may make this transition easier than it initially seems.
Overall grade: C+
The Kincaid selection knocks this grade down. That type of tight end didn’t seem like a huge need for the Bills compared to other holes on their roster. Still, they grabbed a starter at guard in Torrence and took a chance on a speedy linebacker with Tulane’s Dorian Williams. Williams is only 228 pounds, but ran a 4.49 40-yard dash and could be a nice stash pick for a team that needs some linebacker depth in the wake of losing Tremaine Edmunds. The only concern with the Williams pick is that his role overlaps with All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano, who would never come off the field for Williams. The Bills just might not have gotten enough of an instant impact, save for Torrence, in this class. Time will tell. This writeup could be completely wrong. Please be nice, Bills fans.
Favorite pick: Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M (84th overall)
The Dolphins’ commitment to speed continues with their selection of Achane. He ran a 4.32 40-yard dash and has legitimate skills as a running back. This is the perfect scheme for him as he starts his NFL career and gives head coach Mike McDaniel another speedster to design home run hits for. Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Raheem Mostert and Achane would definitely be the fastest 4x100 team in the NFL. It was hard to see where the Dolphins’ offense could get faster, but they managed to do it with this pick.
Least favorite pick: Ryan Hayes, OT, Michigan (238th overall)
Sorry, Ryan. You didn’t do anything wrong. This draft class was too small to really have a least favorite pick, so Hayes is getting slotted here. Last by association, not by character. And character is what really matters.
Overall grade: B
There wasn’t much damage the Dolphins could do with four picks, having lost their first-rounder thanks to the NFL's Tom Brady tampering investigation, but they did well with their limited resources. They found a potential starting cornerback by taking Cam Smith from South Carolina before adding to their group of lightning-fast playmakers with Achane. The only other picks they had were at the end of the sixth and seventh rounds. Not too much to be upset about here considering how few picks they came into the draft with.
New England Patriots
Favorite Pick: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon (17th overall)
This pick may wind up being the steal of the first round. Gonzalez’s game may not be for every analyst or coach due to his shaky tackling, but it’s tough to find corners who move better in man coverage. He has all the traits to be a No. 1 cornerback, which is an incredible thing to find at the 17th pick in the draft. If the tackling can be taught, Gonzalez will quickly end up one of the more complete corners in the league. His movement skills as a cover corner really are different than most guys.
Least favorite pick: Chad Ryland, K, Maryland (112th overall)
No specialists this early in the draft. Sue me, don’t care. This is sacrilegious. It’s the only real blemish on an otherwise strong draft class.
Overall grade: B+
The Patriots came out of this draft with a handful of players who can help them in the immediate future. Gonzalez has the potential to grow into an All-Pro corner, Georgia Tech's Keion White has the body type that has typically thrived along the Patriots’ defensive line and Sacramento State's Marte Mapu is an exciting do-it-all player in the back seven. It’s not a sexy draft, but it’s a draft that will help fortify the back of their team. An offensive pick would have helped in the first round, but it’s hard to complain with Gonzalez falling right into their laps after a trade down. New coordinator Bill O’Brien is going to have to work some magic on offense, but hey, he’s better than what they had.
New York Jets
Favorite pick: Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin (43rd overall)
The Jets needed to continue to secure center depth even after re-signing Connor McGovern, and they might have found their long-term option at center in Tippmann. This rookie is on the taller side for a center, but he has the athleticism and technique to make it work for him. This was a strong pick for a team that needed to get better immediately at center and Tippmann has the potential to be the center in the post-Aaron Rodgers era.
Least favorite pick: Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State (15th overall)
McDonald is a good player, and has an athletic profile that boosted his chances of getting drafted in the first round, but he still has ways to go before he’ll be ready to be a full-time NFL edge defender. Iowa State didn’t help him for his NFL development, putting him at defensive tackle for a good chunk of the time. McDonald has a great chance to end up as an impact pass rusher as he develops, but a team that wants to push for a Super Bowl this season could have used a player that was closer to a finished product.
Overall grade: B-
Thanks to the Aaron Rodgers trade, the Jets moved down one spot too far to get one of the offensive tackle prospects they coveted, but they were still able to get an instant impact starter on the offensive line in the second round with Tippmann. Pitt's Israel Abanikanda is one of the more exciting picks in their draft class — if he can live up to his athletic potential, the Jets may have a dominant one-two punch at running back. At the very least, he’ll make for an athletic backup running back who can still be a source of big plays when Breece Hall is out of the game. While the Jets didn’t get an offensive tackle at the top of the draft, they took a dice roll on Carter Warren in the fourth round who may wind up developing for them. He has the traits that NFL teams covet at tackle, but still needs to work on his actual skill level. The main thing knocking this grade is that the Jets could have gotten a player with a higher floor in the first round, but McDonald has upside through the roof. It just might take him a while to get there.