The 2023 NFC Team and Draft Preview
Arizona Cardinals - Season Summary
Things did not go as planned for Arizona in 2022. Kyler Murray has above average improvisational skills, but playbook recognition and commitment may be a bit lacking. That, and a serious, season ending injury spelled doom for the Cardinals and their Head Coach. Replicating a +12 turnover ratio with most of the advantage being random (fumbles recovered) was never going to happen, creating value in fading the Cards. I’ll have more to say below about the GM change, but suffice to say that Arizona has work to do in order to be a viable playoff contender in 2023. I’ve been writing about the draft for 42 years. I have no clue right now what they’re up to.
2022 Stat Sheet: There wasn’t much good news coming out of Arizona. WR’s Hopkins and Brown played in just 21 games, but in those games went 131-1,426-6 TD’s. Kingsbury was an offensive-minded coach, but his team was last in 3rd down conversion rate. As for some other stats, the sack ratio was 36-46, the run D was below average, and the pass D% was also last, at nearly 70%. Needless to say, points allowed was 31st in the NFL. Arizona’s punt return game was below par. The Cards lost their last seven games, mostly going through the motions with no obvious short- or long-range plan in mind.
2022 draft recap: This section goes in draft order. Arizona used picks 23/100 to trade for A.J. Brown, who therefore counted in my draft grade. Brown had a good year but WR wasn’t necessarily their biggest need. TE McBride was slowly eased into action. He was most everyone’s top TE but with Ertz here, I again felt there were more immediate needs. Still, I expect Trey to be a multi-year starter. LB Cam Thomas played sparingly (3 sacks), and was drafted a round too early. Arizona went back-to-back for OLB, with Myjai Sanders having four starts in a decent debut. Neither guy brings long term impact, and Arizona missed an opportunity to add more quality talent in the deepest draft we’ve had (all the super seniors made the class 290+ deep). RB Ingram barely played. He had a 7th round grade on my board. OG Lecitus Smith is a work in progress. A rating of NR means the player is NOT draft worthy in my eyes. Only 10% of players I rate NR make it in the NFL, and far fewer make an impact. This % hasn’t changed over time, and I’ve been using this system for the past 34 years. NR CB Christian Matthew played more snaps than expected, but for a subpar defense who lacked deep ball talent. LB Luketa played some on special teams. OG Haynes went on IR (no games played). My concerns after this draft were the deep defense and the defensive coaching staff. Those concerns were real. The top three picks may end up fine, but the focus (and impact) was off.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): So far, Arizona has not had many splash free agency moves. The more “prominent” players added include WR Zach Pascal, DE LJ Collier, and LB’s Kazier White and Josh Woods. Losses include DE Zach Allen and CB Byron Murphy. Jonathan Gannon is the new Head Coach. He was Philly’s defensive coordinator for the past two seasons. Drew Petzing comes over from Cleveland as the new offensive coordinator. He has ten years of NFL experience, the last three with Cleveland. The very young staff now adds Nick Rallis as defensive coordinator. He’s 29 years old. Monte Ossenfort is the new GM. He’s mostly been in charge of college scouting, but was Director of Player Personnel for Tennessee the past three seasons.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS (as of 4/8): As always, bolded needs are the most critical for each team. 2 OL, 2 DL, RB, CB, punt returner. The OL allowed 46 sacks and to be honest, four of the five spots could use an upgrade. Losing Zach Allen leaves Arizona with a vastly substandard DL. I see no starters that scare any opposing offenses. No one else has mentioned it, but RB play hasn’t been great, and James Conner can’t stay healthy. This unit needs a makeover and an infusion of speed. CB is somewhere on everyone’s list. Murphy is gone, and there’s no one waiting in the wings. The pass D was already a mess under the last coaching staff. Help in the return game is another need, although far below the big four bolded needs.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: I think outgoing GM Keim did a very good job adding talent before and during the Kingsbury regime. He got Kliff the players he wanted, but the staff couldn’t coach them up. Draft grades tended to be in the upper half of the league. Arizona’s history had been to stay where they are, drafting when they are on the clock. I suspect GM Ossenfort will be the main voice in this all-new draft room. I’ll learn just like everyone else what his tendencies will be, but I wouldn’t (as of 3/22) be surprised if the Cardinals traded back a bit in this initial draft, restocking the roster. As an aside, Arizona has had five 1st round picks in the last six years, using them on QB (2) and LB (3). That should change in 2023.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 3, 34, 66, 96. Arizona has eight picks. Three of the picks are compensatory from the NFL, including pick 96.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: The choice seems simple. You either go DL/OLB with Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson, or trade back a bit in the draft to get a couple of extra day two picks.
REST OF THE DRAFT: This really is a SIMPLE board. You can get the RB day three, and must cover my other needs with your 1st four picks. Any deviation from my need board could stunt growth. NOTE: Yes, the draft board does change a bit if WR Hopkins is traded. From what I’ve heard so far, several proposed deals do not benefit Arizona, except in cap space.
Atlanta Falcons - Season Summary
WHEN? At what point does Atlanta realize that the pass rush matters? After an incredible 18 sacks all of 2021, Atlanta again largely ignored this area, accumulating just 21 sacks in 2022. 7-10 can be viewed as misleading, as the NFC South was downright awful for much of 2022. While QB play is a work in progress and will likely undergo more growing pains in 2023, proper drafting could take the pressure off their secondary and move them right to the top of a Division in massive flux.
2022 Stat Sheet: Like Arizona, this section is mostly negative. Offensively, the OL was decent and cohesive. As noted below, RB Allgeier didn’t miss a beat after McCaffrey was traded, and with the run-centric attack, Atlanta ran 4.9 per carry and 160 yards per game. Unfortunately, QB play was well below NFL averages, and Atlanta passed for just 159 yards per game, 31st in the NFL. Defensively, Atlanta allowed a hefty 46% successful 3rd down success rate, 31st in the NFL. And yes, pass pressure has been last with a bullet over the past decade. Obtaining 39 sacks in the last two years (34 games) is worse than half the NFL teams achieve in one season. As a result, the pass D typically exceeds 66%. Atlanta’s overall defense finished 27th. Closing on good news, Atlanta continues to have a stout return game. Cordarrelle Patterson is the all-time leader in kick return TD’s.
2022 draft recap: A year ago, I gave Atlanta a grade of C in the draft. The good news is that this grade is higher than usual for this franchise. The bad news is that a C grade is pretty bad for 2022, giving the amount of talent in that deep draft. WR Drake London was stout, especially needed since the Falcons lost all of their top WR’s prior to the season. DE’s Ebiketie (2-38) and Malone (3-82) represented their attempt to help the pass rush. Both were graded by me as complementary types with flaws in their game. I think both can grow from last year’s limited action, but Atlanta needs impact here, not complementary types. I gave LB Troy Anderson (2-58) a 4th round grade. My write-up on him turned out to be exactly on point. I think he contributes over time but would be a liability in coverage. QB Ridder will likely make or break this draft. He fits Arthur Smith’s system but has a low ceiling. Still, that ceiling is competent starter and I felt the pick was worth it. RB Allgeier was drafted too low, like I said in last year’s report. His college pedigree was stout, and my only concern was fumbles. He’s a good fit here. The final two picks, OG Shaffer and TE Fitzpatrick were given NR (not draft worthy) grades. Neither player saw action. I’ll repeat this: EVERY PICK MATTERS, especially in a deep draft. Atlanta could have done better, but this is worthy of a C+ grade for now.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Needing WR’s, the Falcons added Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller. Hollins tops out as a WR2, with Miller’s ceiling WR3. Taylor Heinicke is the new backup to young Desmond Ridder. Several players have been added defensively, including DE Calais Campbell, DT David Onyemata, LB’s Kalen Ellis and Tre Davis, CB Mike Hughes, and in the biggest move, safety Jessie Bates. Losses of note are minimal, speaking to the roster talent or lack thereof. The two biggest losses are QB Marcus Mariota and CB Isaiah Oliver. Of note: Atlanta traded a 7th round pick to New England to get TE Jonnu Smith. That was more than fair. Ryan Nielson is the new defensive coordinator, taken from rival New Orleans. Prior to his six-year stint with the Saints he was a college coach. This is his 1st coordinator job.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 22 edge rushers, LB, nickelback and DB depth, WR, DT, OL depth. For the millionth time, Atlanta must put more pressure on opposing QB’s. LB play, especially in passing situations seemed like a liability. Not one starter is close to being a household name. With Bates added, ¾ of the secondary seems decent. They need help in nickel situations, plus lack meaningful depth in the secondary. Even with the two WR additions, WR talent is far below NFL expectations. Where’s the speed and the consistency? DT could easily use an upgrade, and the OL, while improving bit by bit (and with roster consistency) is still in need of a bit more depth and competition, which can be addressed later in the draft or in free agency.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Former GM Dimitroff was never afraid to make a splash trade. Draft grades rapidly declined since he hit big early in the ’16 draft. Assistant GM Scott Pioli was just as bad, losing his job before the 2020 draft. Dimitroff loved to squander draft picks. GM Dimitroff traded UP 13 times and down just twice. The 3rd year GM is Terry Fontenot, and he’s the main voice on draft day. He’s willing to trade, but hasn’t gone crazy thus far in his tenure.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 8, 44, 75. Atlanta has eight selections.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: For me the pick is edge rusher, edge rusher or edge rusher. Don’t make me mad (again).
REST OF THE DRAFT: I’ll hope to have plenty more Intel closer to the draft, with private workouts, multiple sources checked, etc. that can be of aid in completing this section. Let’s just say for now that I expect Atlanta to make mistakes in the draft process, because that’s what they’ve been doing for quite some time. 2nd round LB’s are relatively easy to acquire, and the 3rd round could be ripe for a situational sacker, DB, or WR.
Carolina Panthers -Season Summary
Carolina started 1-4, and that was it for Matt Rhule. In a bit of a surprise (thanks), they stayed relevant despite trading RB McCaffrey and appearing to be in give up mode. 7-10 wasn’t bad, but until Carolina fixes recent QB woes, the ceiling is low. The new staff will try to do just that after making a blockbuster trade to put themselves in position to make a splash with the #1 pick.
2022 Stat Sheet: Lots of things went well with the defense in 2021, and the only negative I can give out for 2022 is regression in sacks (35, and in the pass D (66%). The team as a whole had just three positives. The run game averaged 4.6 per carry/130 yards per game. The kick return game was stout. PK Pineiro was excellent. As for the negatives, Carolina was 30th in offensive 3rd down success rate, and beyond the now traded D.J. Moore, WR play was awful, and TE talent was non-existent. Yes, Terrance Marshall was the #2 WR with 28 receptions and TE Ian Thomas caught 21 passes. That didn’t help any of the QB’s in the room perform to even average levels of competence. The aerial game will now need a complete makeover.
2022 draft recap: I gave the Panthers a lower grade than most (C-), and thus far I think I’m a tad high. OT Ekwonu started all 17 games and performed about as expected for a rookie. QB Corral sat, and now that Carolina is 99% likely to draft a QB with the 1st pick in this draft, Corral’s future is already in doubt. It’s well documented that I hated the trade up to get him last year, a pick I would have used for a TE or pass rusher. They also lost pick #76 in this draft. LB Brandon Smith played just 53 defensive snaps. LB was need #7 on my 2022 list. DE Barno wasn’t impressive in college when facing teams with winning records. He barely played. I gave OG Cade Mays (6-199) a late 4th round grade. He barely saw action. CB Barnes was cut in August.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): In addition to the big trade (see below), the Panthers have been busy. Offensively, they signed WR’s DJ Chark and Adam Theilen to fill the void left by the loss of DJ Moore. That’s nice, but neither WR is close to WR1 status. Adding TE Hayden Hurst is (hopefully) just a start to revamping a dismal TE group. Andy Dalton lends stability and a willing teacher to the QB room, with Sam Darnold and PJ Walker now gone. RB Mike Sanders replaces the emerging D’Onta Foreman, but Sanders has plenty of mileage left and could be an upgrade. DL DeShawn Williams and Shy Tuttle had solid 2022 seasons. The ceiling (in my opinion) is low, but certainly depth was added. Vonn Bell is an upgrade at safety. Carolina did lose LB Cory Littlejohn, and no LB has been added to replace him. Frank Reich is the new Head Coach. In an offensive-minded league, this is likely the best way to go. Thomas Brown is the new offensive coordinator. He has minimal NFL experience, all with the LA Rams. Reich will call the plays to start 2023. Ejiro Evero comes over from Denver, where he was the one-year defensive coordinator. He has over a decade’s worth of NFL experience. Chris Tabor has eleven years of special team coordinator experience and now heads the unit here in Carolina.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 1-2 LB’s, RT/OG, QB, DB, WR, young TE. LB is much further down on most people’s list, but not mine. I feel like the OL needs both youth and reinforcements, above and beyond what’s currently on the roster. I like Andy Dalton as noted above, but the long term plan of course is to get the best QB from this draft crop. I’m not as high on the DB/CB need as others are, as this group seems decent, but I’m listing it 4th because there was 2022 regression. Carolina added two WR’s but lost their best target in DJ Moore. Hayden Hurst is an upgrade, but as said above, the unit needs a total makeover.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: GM Marty Hurley was fired before the end of the 2020 season. GM Scott Fitterer spent 20 years with Seattle, and thus far has been mediocre as the GM here, although the defense has played well the past two seasons. Since Reich is not new to the coaching ranks, I expect him to have strong input in the process, beginning of course with his choice at QB for the #1 overall pick.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 1, 39, 93. Carolina has six picks. They traded a bunch of picks, plus WR D.J. Moore to Chicago to attain the 1st overall pick in this draft.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Clearly, Carolina traded to get a QB. Chances are it will be C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young.
REST OF THE DRAFT: Six picks won’t be enough to fix everything. I wouldn’t ignore LB, but other than that, I’d understand using a majority of the picks to give the offense a shot at improvement.
Chicago Bears - Season Summary
OK, that was fun! Justin Fields can excite, and will have many a splash play, but the Bears as a whole had no game plan for fully developing him in year #1 for Matt Eberfuis. Roster purges, plus years of below par drafting caused regression defensively and roster deficiencies at places such as along the OL. The result was the NFL’s worst record, and some easy season win unders at 6.5 and the alternate line of 5. Is there hope? Absolutely! The Bears can move up in the Division fairly quickly if they do a better job coaching and drafting. I’ll be carefully watching every move they make this offseason.
2022 Stat Sheet: This will NOT be an indictment of QB Fields, who will likely be inconsistent throughout his career, but can make any throw, and can deliver splash plays with his arm and legs. It IS an indictment of the GM’s (past and present, so far), and a warning about the coaching staff. Chicago had a 20-58 sack ratio. What happened defensively? They lost some quality coaches and traded away their three best defenders! What once was a top five defense saw these #’s posted in 2022: 31st vs. the run, allowing 4.9-157 yards per game. A sky high (for them) 67.2% completion rate. 31 rushing TD’s allowed, last by an incredible six TD’s. They were a CLEAR dead last in allowing opponents a 49% 3rd down success rate, which included a 31st mark in yards allowed per completion. By the way, rookie SAFETY Brisker led them in sacks with 4. Offensively, Chicago was #1 easily running the ball, at 5.4-177 yards per game. Fields of course was great (1,143-7.1-8 TD’s), with RB Herbert an unsung bright spot at 5.7 per carry. Fields did fumble nine times. Two final negatives. 1st, Chicago, as you can now imagine, allowed more points than any other team. 2nd, they were 0-6 inside the Division. There’s nowhere to go but up, right?
2022 draft recap: No one was high on Chicago’s 2022 draft. It was an 11 player draft, with the top five accumulating 55 of the 57 rookie starts. CB Gordon and Safety Brisker started 29 of these games, and while they were overwhelmed at times, they have the ability to learn and grow into decent starters. WR Velus Jones was a curious selection at pick #71. The overaged WR with little NCAA productivity had a 5th round grade on my board (WR20) and might only offer return game possibilities, although even there he had trouble handling punts. Chicago only went WR once, and this was my #1 need. The Bears selected four OL, but only one was numerically rated by me (Braxton Jones). Jones actually overachieved, starting all 17 games (5th round pick, my grade was 4th round), but the other three guys look like the wasted picks I thought they would be (one is off the roster). OL was my #3 need, but better players were needed. RB Ebner was also over drafted. He barely saw action. DE Robinson started seven games, but had dismal stats. I called him a developmental guy, so maybe the learning curve has started. Safety Hicks was unrated by me but saw a bit of action, while Punter Gill won the starting job. The Bears blew opportunities to improve at WR and along the OL but they did get three positional starters along with a new punter out of the draft.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): WR DJ Moore came over in the trade with Carolina as noted below. Chicago lost aging RT Riley Reiff, adding run blocking OG Nate Davis. Clearly, they will still want to run the ball first, even though lead RB Montgomery is gone, replaced by D’Onta Foreman and 3rd down back Travis Homer. TE Robert Tonyon strengthens that position. DE DeMarkus Wlaker had a big 2022 season and has been added, but his ceiling may not be as high as Chicago may think. Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards are big additions at LB, a position shredded by recent trades. They do lose Nicholas Morrow, but this is an easy net gain.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 1-2 OL, DL, CB, LB. The OL has numerous holes, as evidenced by the 2022 stat sheet. No player in the front seven is even close to being a scary sack threat, and the DT’s completely underwhelmed. The pass D has regressed, which makes sense as the secondary has lost some recent talent. I like the two LB additions, but one more is needed.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Former GM Ryan Pace oversaw many a bottom tier draft with just one exception over his seven-year reign. He robbed the team of numerous draft choices in the 2021 draft to get QB Fields and an injury-prone OT (came into the league with an injury). In his 1st year as GM, Ryan Poles (13 years with KC) worked hard to replenish the draft capital. He did that, but with some curious, unrated talent. He’s still restocking the roster, as evidenced by the trade down from the 1st to the 9th pick in this draft. He’s the primary decision-maker, and he needs to get this right..
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 9, 53, 61, 64. Chicago has ten picks. Not needing a QB, the Bears went from 1st to 9th overall in the Carolina trade. That means they will miss out on a few blue chip guys but I like the overall haul, with WR D.J. Moore a great fit, plus the addition of pick 61, a 1st rounder in ‘24 and a 2nd rounder in ‘25. Use these picks wisely, please.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Moving all the way back to pick #9 likely takes them out of the true star power at edge rusher, but also more than likely gives them a choice of any OL.
REST OF THE DRAFT: Chicago drafted decently early in the ’22 draft, but made some foolish decisions after their initial two picks. This needs to change in a hurry. Picks 53/61/64 MUST be used for players in my bolded areas. As noted above, I endorsed the trades the Bears made last year but just didn’t like the picks. With four early picks, and ten overall, there is likely NO NEED to trade much, or at all in this draft. Can Chicago be trusted on draft day?
Dallas Cowboys - Season Summary
When Dallas plays its best the Cowboys are as good as any current NFL team. Unfortunately, their identity is often one with inconsistency, as evidenced in their last three games of 2022. They tanked vs. Washington, excelled vs. Tampa, and made numerous strategic blunders in what turned out to be a winnable playoff game vs. SF. Passive as usual all last offseason, they got passed up by their aggressive rivals in Philly. This is another critical season for this once storied franchise.
2022 Stat Sheet: Dallas may not be perfect under “Metrics Mike” McCarthy, but they are a very good team, and the stat sheet shows why. The sack ratio was a solid 54-27, even with LT Tyron Smith out all season. RB Elliott declined, but still scored 12 rushing TD’s, while Tony Pollard became the more dynamic player. There were plenty of pass-catching options, and it led to a 52-35 TD differential. The defense had no glaring weaknesses and was great at allowing just nine rushing TD’s. The turnover ratio was +10, aided by a completely unsustainable +12 fumble ratio. That’s bad news for 2023. Dak Prescott was hardly perfect coming off injury (weeks 2-5), as he threw 15 interceptions. RB Elliott ran for just 63 yards on 31 carries in what looks to be his last three games as a Cowboy. Special teams ran hot and cold. Melvin Turpin was highly effective as a returner, but the kick return defense was bad. PK Maher was 29-32 during the regular season but had a massive breakdown in the playoffs.
2022 draft recap: Dallas used its 1st four draft picks in the ’22 draft to replenish roster losses. With two starting OL leaving, Tyler Smith was drafted at pick 24. The OG ended up at OT, filling in admirably for Tyron Smith, but as expected he was a major penalty machine (led NCAA, and 12 as a rookie). Sam Williams “replaced” Randy Gregory. Playing 273 snaps, he looked more than decent, with my biggest concern being his checkered off-field history. This is Dallas, so I’ll keep that as a concern. WR Tolbert wasn’t going to make up for losing WR Cooper. He wasn’t ready, but is athletic, and maybe he develops to play a larger role down the road. TE Ferguson looked good in his time on the field. OT Waletzko played sparingly in just three games. Unrated CB Bland had 54 tackles and 5 picks. Is he one of the 10% NR rated players that make it in the NFL? Let’s see how year #2 goes. LB Clark would have gone higher than the 5th round except for his spinal surgery that was expected to sideline him all season long. Dallas often takes chances on players with injury or off-field concerns and Clark may be a pick that works out, as he got on the field for five starts as a rookie. DT Ridgeway played plenty of late season snaps, but for rival Washington. He has run-stopping skills. LB Harper was just a one-year starter in college. He played on special teams. Losing WR Cooper impacted the draft grade (since he was traded for a draft pick) but overall, this was a decent, although not spectacular draft.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Additions have been stout by trade (see below), and filler types via free agency. The only three losses of note are WR Noah Brown, OG Connor McGovern and TE Dalton Schultz. RB Ezekeil Elliott has been cut and has yet to latch onto another team. Kellen Moore has moved on, so the new offensive coordinator is Brian Schottenheimer. McCarthy wants a more run-centric offense, and that was just one of the reasons Moore is no longer here.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: OL, MLB, RB, stud TE, DL, safety. Parts of the OL still look solid, but if Tyler Smith moves back to OG then RT could use an upgrade, and Tyler Biadasz is said to need a challenger at center. No one else believes MLB is a need, but current free agent Leighton Vander Esch is not a true presence in the middle, and the backups should remain as backups. I do not see why others are “unconcerned”. Tony Pollard is coming off a late season injury. The RB room badly needs to be replenished. Dallas has complementary TE’s. I’d only go TE here if they want to make a splash with one of the very top TE’s in this draft class. You can never have enough DL for a sturdy rotation. Bringing in another safety would be another wise move.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Dallas has spent the past few drafts the same way they have spent the last few free agency periods, at least up until this March. The word that best describes the Cowboys is passive. Once a big trader on draft day, Dallas has watched as teams such as Philly traded above their pick to grab a person of interest. After a horrendous 12-player draft a decade ago, Dallas has settled into a routine that sees them draft well in rounds 1-3 in many a season. The later rounds have not been that kind. Jerry and son Stephen Jones have their hands all over the draft process, for better or mostly, for worse. We’ll see if there’s’ more inertia in the draft room this April.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 26, 58, 90. Dallas has seven picks in the draft, including compensatory.picks 169 and 212. Dallas traded a pair of 5th round picks (and a 2024 6th) to add WR Cooks and CB Gilmore. I like both moves.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: My very best fit for Dallas is stud RB Bijan Robinson. Will he drop to pick 24, or will Dallas watch passively yet AGAIN as someone takes him before they can make a move? If they miss on Robinson, then I’d wait on RB until at least the 3rd round, as my other needs will take precedence.
REST OF THE DRAFT: I’d get a stud TE in round two, and if that doesn’t happen, I’d PASS on the TE need in this draft. Dallas has been pretty good early on in recent drafts. Let’s see if they stay in tune with my need board.
Detroit Lions - Season Summary
In 2021, while researching data before putting together this team’s summary I found tee-shirts and sweatshirts that had the saying, “rebuilding since 1957” on it. How sad, but true. The Dan Campbell era started slow, but this team played playoff football in the 2nd half of last season. Holes clearly remain, but thanks to better coaching, coupled with improved roster development, the Lions are the current favorite to win their Division. Let that sink in. It’s time to back up words with actions.
2022 Stat Sheet: The Lions looked lost in the 1st half of 2022, and in fact stunningly traded good TE Hockenson, likely thinking the future would be 2023, not the 2nd half of 2022. Under the leadership of QB Goff, the offense stayed fairly close to what was accomplished early in the season, despite having a relative no name RB, limited TE play, and an average at best WR unit. Credit the OL, who surrendered a league low 23 sacks, and returns intact! RB Jamaal Williams ran for 17 TD’s, which I find amazing. When healthy, RB Swift was a dual threat, but he needs to be on a pitch count. For the entire season, the defensive numbers were dismal. They once again allowed a 45% 3rd down success rate (30th). The run D was even worse, coming in at 5.2-147 per game as the interior line was inefficient. Sacks did improve (39), reaching average NFL levels. In fact, 27 of these sacks came in games 9-17. The pass D% did come down later in the season, but the secondary was occasionally torched, allowing a league worst 11.8 yards-per-completion. That unit could see some real change, as they allowed the most yards in the NFL. In better news, the return offense thrived.
2022 draft recap: This was one of my favorite Detroit drafts in the last decade, which admittedly was a low bar to climb. I gave them a top seven grade last May. The national consensus (18 sources I report on in my final draft report) rated them 5th overall. DE Hutchinson is the type of player that makes others around him better. What a great person-team fit. The Lions traded up to add WR Jamison Williams, who was expected to miss much of 2022. He’ll be healthy starting 2023 and ready to show his 1st round talent. DE Pascal was over drafted in my opinion, but the area of need was real. His rookie season wasn’t bad, so although pick 46 was too high, he should be a contributor moving forward. Safety Joseph would be sad if Aaron Rodgers left the Division, as he intercepted three of his passes! He offers nothing in run support but is instinctive vs. the pass. TE Mitchell caught 11 passes. With the surprising trade of TE Hockenson, Mitchell will get an opportunity to play more snaps moving forward. One of my favorite draft picks for ANY team last year was LB Malcom Rodriquez. His body type screamed undrafted, but I had him as a 5th round talent (6-188) as he just makes plays. I never expected 15 starts and some value plays in his rookie season. His fit with Dan Campbell is perfect. LB Houston became a pass-rushing dynamo in the 2nd half of the season. He carried slight value in my eyes. CB Chase Lucas is overaged, but still in learning mode. He played on special teams.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): David Montgomery replaces 17 TD RB Jamaal Williams. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is a slight upgrade over the two LB’s lost. Cam Sutton is an upgrade over departed CB Amari Oruwarize. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (and a depth piece, Emmanuel Moseley) upgrade the safety position, with Mike Hughes gone. WR D.J. Chark left.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: TE, DT, edge rusher, safety, WR, LB depth, young OL, backup QB. This is a longer list than I thought it would be, but still doable with so many early draft picks. James Mitchell has potential but a stud TE, or any TE is essential. The run D was nearly rock bottom a year ago. DT needs an overhaul. Sacks are going up, and thanks to the 2022 draft, there’s even more upside. Still, pressure is the name of the game and one more solid pass rusher is necessary. I love the CB additions. Safety however is another story, and that’s why yards-per-reception allowed was so poor. Amon St. Brown has been great, but Jamison Williams is essentially a rookie, and I clearly want an upgrade over Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond and Qunitez Cephus. The Lions look average at best at LB, and worse than that at cover LB. This is a rock solid OL but RG Vaitai is on a short term contract and the overall depth is not great. Free agent Nate Sudfeld is the current backup QB.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Former GM Quinn didn’t do the Lions any long-term favors, squandering draft picks in worthless trade-ups, and aligning with Matt Patricia’s philosophy of technique and size over pure speed. Brad Holmes brought the Lions extra draft capital with the Goff trade, and began reworking the roster with the 2021 draft. I’m still in learning mode as to his draft tendencies. He will have to work with a new scouting director this year, so it’s safe to say that Holmes will be far and away the primary decision-maker.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 6, 18, 38, 55, 81. Detroit has eight picks overall and is well positioned to add more talent to this roster. Pick #6 is from the Rams in the final payment for QB Stafford. The Lions have pick #55 from Minnesota, giving the Vikings a 4th round pick in the Hockenson deal.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: While I have a feeling the Lions won’t sit still on draft day, I would be perfectly fine just using my five early picks. One interesting prospect is very troubled DT Jalen Carter. Seattle is in the running for him at pick #5. Talent-wise, he’s even with Alabama’s Will Anderson as the best defensive player in this draft. He’s also a candidate for extreme draft bust based on his off-field decision making, including combine and Pro Day (lack of) preparation. At least one of the top two picks must be for DT/edge rusher. If Carter is to mature and succeed in the NFL, maybe Dan Campbell is his kind of coach, and Aiden Hutchinson is the type of teammate that gives him an understanding on what it takes to work hard, showing dedication.
REST OF THE DRAFT: I like TE Washington for this team, and the Lions as of this writing (4/1) would be 60-40 to get him at pick 38. Imagine a draft with DT Carter at 6, teammate Nolan Smith at 18, Washington at 38, then WR/Safety with the next two picks! This would be one special draft, so LET ME IN THE DRAFT ROOM.
Green Bay Packers - Season Summary
Should this page be solely devoted to Aaron Rodgers and his greatness and/or selfishness? Once again, I said that in this space a year ago. The trade has not yet been consummated, but it looks like the Packers, after a wholly disappointing 2022, are ready to turn the page. Let the Jordan Love era begin.
2022 Stat Sheet: In 2021, Rodgers hit 69% with a 39-4 ratio. This year, partially due to a youthful WR group, his rating plummeted, and that’s an understatement. After throwing 15 interceptions in the previous four seasons. Combined, Rodgers threw 12 in 2022. WR Adams was certainly missed, but this is more about Rodgers and his lack of team buy-in, as the OL was more than decent, the run game was even better, and there was plenty of experience at TE. Other than shutdown CB Jaire Alexander, the defense was a mess. Coordinator Joe Barry remains, but is certainly under fire. The GB run D was poor as usual, this time clocking in at 5.0-140 yards per game. The pass D got worse, allowing 65.7%. Fielding the league’s 2nd worst special team unit (behind the Chargers) for the last few seasons, GB did some things right, but still has clean up work to do. Keisean Nixon was great at kick returns, but GB had two punts blocked.
2022 draft recap: GB usually produces C- type drafts, although in 2020 they had one of the worst drafts in NFL history, at least according to 18 national sources. I align with one under the radar analyst (for obvious reasons, I do not care what the “TV” analysts say), and his grade was F. My 2020 grade was generous, at D-, with a C- grade in 2021. All this to say that I liked the 2022 draft, which was downgraded only because losing WR Adams has to be part of the overall rating. Draft rising LB Quay Walker was exceptional, although one source said he missed an enormous number of tackles. DT Wyatt was much needed for this DL but his rookie year did not meet my expectations. GB triple dipped at WR. They traded up for Watson, who was on fire late in 2022. I thought the trade was not necessary but certainly they needed WR’s. The steady Romeo Doubs had a decent debut, while 7th round WR Toure only saw spot action. OT Rhyan was suspended for PED’s and when available, played just once. Center Zach Tom ended up providing depth (and also five starts) all over the OL. The finesse lineman came in with that versatility. DE Enagbare subbed for an injured Rashan Gary and held his own. He was drafted a round later than I expected, so there was value. LB Carpenter (16 total snaps) and DT Ford (0 snaps) were unrated by me. *Rated OT Walker saw action in only one game. I’m skeptical about true OL value from this draft, but if Wyatt and the WR’s develop this haul will end up decent.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): GB seldom enters the free agent market and 2023 has been no exception, with just free safety Tavarius Moore and a long snapper added. The losses include WR Allen Lazard, TE Robert Tonyon, DE Dean Lowry, and DT Jarran Reed.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 DL, TE, Safety, WR, OL, #2 QB, DB depth. Ask ANYONE what GB’s needs are and they all say the same three areas, TE, safety and WR. What am I missing? Let me reuse a 2022 quote here from a GB beat writer: Anyone who’s a competent run defender could get signed by the Packers right now. If your local barber can clog a gap at the line of scrimmage, give him directions to 1265 Lombardi Ave. That’s how bad the Packers have been against the run of late, especially last season. Again, that was written after the 2021 season, but the run D was torched last year as usual. They have two DL that carry any weight, and one of them is 2022 rookie Wyatt. You CAN NOT even name the 3rd option. After that, I agree with others. The TE need is drastic, especially related to catching passes, but also to give little used Jordan Love a bigger pass catching target. One safety spot needs immediate replacement. It’s just the three 2022 WR’s and free agent Randall Cobb at WR. Yes, GB has some pretty big roster holes. The OL can’t stay healthy. It could be an adventure blocking for someone other than the highly instinctive Rodgers, who had incredible power and speed on his release. I show no #2 QB on the roster right now. GB pays close attention to CB play, but another check of the roster shows minimal depth there or at safety.
RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Ex-GM Ted Thompson made mistakes in the early years by trading down too often, ignoring glaring needs. His last two drafts were vanilla and a step in the wrong direction. The new regime got off to a horrible start, but 2022 was (hopefully) a step in the right direction. While I “believe” Coach LaFleur is getting more of a say thanks to this being his 5th season, he does not have the final say by any means. There’s three other voices in the room, with the final decision-maker usually GM Brian Gutekunst. My Intel tells me that disagreements have been known to occur.
DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 15, 45, 78. GB has 10 draft picks, with the final four coming in the 7th round.
ROUND ONE PREVIEW: I strongly felt that GB lost an opportunity to be in (and possibly win) the Super Bowl thanks to adding absolutely no player that could make even a small difference in the 2020 draft. Those same players, and perhaps one impactful trade up in the 2021 draft could have put the Packers in the 2021 Super Bowl. Bad drafts matter, and GB, the #1 NFC seed in both 2020 and 2021, fell short. DL or safety has to be the look here. If TE, Mike Mayer is the best fit for this team.
REST OF THE DRAFT: GB has ten picks. They have some major holes. It’s my fervent hope that they match picks to needs in this draft, which often is not the case. A typical draft has them double or triple dipping at a position, usually CB or WR. Double dipping along the DL is encouraged. If too many needs remain unfilled, 2023 could be a repeat of what happened a year ago.
Los Angeles Rams - Season Summary
Can you buy a title in the NFL? The Rams did, mostly by making in-season moves (Beckham, Von Miller, Weddle, etc.) in 2021. The bill came due last year, with all of their in-season acquisitions no longer on the team. For the 1st time in forever, LA seems to be in a holding pattern, now eager to rejoin the 1st round draft party. The biggest concern might be along the OL, where LA suffered badly without the retired Andrew Whitworth. Let the transition begin.
2022 Stat Sheet: In the weird, but true department, LA was last in the NFL in offensive yards, at just over 280 per game. Some NFL QB’s get that routinely! The OL missed Andre Whitworth, and allowed 59 sacks. The team is routinely at 30 or less than that. RB Akers got out of the doghouse to thrive (very) late, but the run O was just 4.0-98 yards per game. With Donald missing a bunch of games late, the Rams slipped down to an average 38 defensive sacks. They had 242 the previous five years. Poor safety play contributed to their 67.4% pass D. Two players no longer on the team, LB Wagner and CB Ramsey put in solid performances. Kicking was excellent, but the return game needs a spark. I need to note that QB Stafford came into the season on the mend from an “undisclosed” procedure. He has to do better than a 10-8 TD to interception ratio.
2022 draft recap: As usual, LA was without a 1st round pick, this time due to Matthew Stafford. They also lost their 2nd and 3rd round picks in the rent a Von Miller deal. Their 3rd round compensatory pick was used on OG Logan Bruss, who missed the season due to injury. *rated (6th round grade) CB Durant (4-142) performed decently in the final three games, but we’ll see if that is sustainable. RB Kyren Williams played sparingly. Safety Quentin Lake spent his time on special teams (nine games). CB Kendrick was rated a tick higher than Durant and had 46 tackles, but was a liability in coverage as a rookie. The final three picks all received grades of NR, which is unacceptable in such a deep draft, one with considerably more rated prospects than draft slots! LB Hardy played on the special team unit. Safety Yeast did mostly the same, getting a few late season snaps when LA was eliminated from the playoffs. OT Arcuri was active for eight games, starting one. LA needs a 2022 do-over draft.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): LA paid for their 2021/2022 additions, creating salary cap issues. It’s gut the roster time, with no additions as of 3/30. Offensive losses include OG David Edwards and QB Baker Mayfield. Defensively they lost NT Greg Gaines, CB David Long, and safeties Taylor Rapp and Nick Scott. CB Jalen Ramsey was traded (see below). LB Bobby Wagner had a productive one season in LA but he’s gone, heading back to Seattle. I’ve never seen this, but the entire special team unit is gone. That includes their punter, PK, long snapper and primary kick and punt return specialist. Amazing. Mike LaFleur is the new offensive coordinator. He rose quickly to become the NYJ coordinator, but did an underwhelming job in that role. This is a bit of a curious hire. LA also changed special team coordinators. Former NYG LB Chase Blackburn is the new guy. He has three years of experience with Carolina.
2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2+ OL, 2-3 DB’s, 1-2 OLB’s, Nose Tackle, 1-2 WR’s, QB, entire new special team unit.