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The 2023 NFC Team and Draft Preview

By Ronacesports

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. How the mighty have fallen. Not one, but TWO places listed LA’s needs as EVERYTHING. I’m not far off. The entire OL needs to be revamped, with Joe Notebloom starting somewhere besides left tackle. Troy Hill is the only known CB, with a trio of 2022 third day draft choices in play for other DB spots. Ernest Jones is the only known LB with starting pedigree. Someone named Bobby Brown is in line to take over at nose tackle. If WR Allen Robinson stays, I’d move the WR need down. LA needs to be prepared for life after Matthew Stafford. Finally, not one player remains from the 2022 special team unit. LA has Stafford, RB Cam Akers, WR Cooper Kupp, TE Tyler Higbee and the great Aaron Donald, but the rest of the team is literally as bad as can be.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Does anyone remember George Allen? He hated playing rookies and routinely traded away 1st round draft picks for veteran talent. LA has taken his approach to a whole new level, trading before and during the season for veteran players while basically gutting their draft potential. They remain without a 1st round pick this year, but might finally have one in 2024, only because their offer (1st round picks in ’24 and ’25) for Carolina pass rush specialist Brian Burns was turned down before last year’s trade deadline. LA once had a string of decent drafts but previous editions have most often seen bottom five results. To their credit, they find a way to select an average of 8-9 players per season, even if they are mostly day three selections.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 36, 69, 77. LA’s 1st round pick is with the Lions as the final payout for Stafford, and their 4th round pick was for departed RB Sony Michel. Still, LA has 11 overall picks, with the final eight from #167 through #251. The three 5th round picks are compensatory (four compensatory picks overall). Pick 77 is from Miami, who also traded TE Hunter Long to the Rams in exchange for CB Jalen Ramsey.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: No pick. This pick is now with Detroit as final payment for Matthew Stafford.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Good luck! I’d concentrate on OL and DB 1st. If you can protect Stafford then he has an elite WR and quality TE at his disposal. If you can find some DB talent then the work done by Aaron Donald may not be wasted.

Minnesota Vikings - Season Summary

I noted on air (podcast) that my Minny season preview showed about ten games that could literally be called complete tossups. Little did I know that Minny would win every close game this past season as they easily won the Division. The new staff accomplished much in 2022, but never came close to making the top group of teams despite their lofty record. In the end, their ranking was near exact to the NYG, a team they split very close games with, including the home playoff loss. Repeating inside the Division is quite possible, but the team has some rebuilding to do in the secondary and decisions await at RB and WR.

2022 Stat Sheet: It was something closer to smoke and mirrors as the 13-4 record was achieved with a -3 point ratio and some negative items on the stat sheet. QB Cousins was mostly good, but he did throw 14 interceptions. RB Cook was fine, and of course, WR Jefferson was elite. Still, the always a work in progress OL allowed 47 sacks, a high figure considering the talent and veterans around the offense. The team was outgained by about 380 yards, and the defense was mostly to blame. The pass D was over 66%, and finished 31st overall in yardage allowed. The LB unit stayed intact all season long, with Kendricks and Hicks combining for 265 tackles, but the secondary was a mess and the DL is getting older. Minny has a stout kick returner but the kick return defense is a mess. Kicking was a bit of an adventure at times (six missed extra points).

2022 draft recap: What I said in 2020 and 2021 unfortunately bears repeating now: At one point you want to scream, just make a pick. We’re now at roughly 50 picks made the past four seasons, often with mindless trades up and down the draft board. I thought that would change with the new GM, but it seemed to get a bit worse! Despite all their draft capital, grades given last year were around 20th best in the NFL, which I agreed with. Grades given a year later seem to be lower. Here’s my take. Leaving pick 12 to eventually make their initial pick at #32 was a mistake, but the focus of their 1st two picks was spot on. Safety Cine broke his ankle and played in just three games (special teams). CB Booth also saw injuries limiting him to just six games. It's unfair to judge them based on 2022. OG Ingram started all 17 games. That’s nice, but he also gave up 11 sacks, so he’s in learning mode. LB Asamoah mostly played on special teams. CB Evans reportedly suffered three concussions. He came into the NFL having suffered multiple injuries. DE Otomewo had five tackles. RB Ty Chandler is someone I like. I was surprised he went here, behind Delvin Cook, and he played in just week 18. What’s Cook’s status moving forward? OT Lowe played a few snaps in week 18 (unrated). WR Nailor has a slim frame but carries WR3 value if he develops. He went 7-151 in the final two games, so that’s a start. Unrated TE Muse played only on special teams. The new regime was intent on keeping all their draft picks, and some should pan out, but the trading pattern remains strange. I will say that the positional focus was strong.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Minny lost several players this offseason, including WR Adam Theilen, TE Irv Smith, DE Dalvin Tomlinson, LB Eric Kendricks and CB’s Duke Shelley, Patrick Peterson and Cam Dantzler. They’ve added TE Josh Oliver, DE’s Marcus Davenport and Dean Lowry, LB Troy Reeder and CB Byron Murphy. Ed Donatell had 32 years of NFL experience in his 43-year coaching career. He was fired after just one season in Minny. I was not pleased with the fit a year ago. I am pleased with the new fit, as Brian Flores has been hired to take his place.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: CB, Nose Tackle, DL youth, WR, OL, LB depth, PK competition. Minny added CB Murphy, but the pass D% has soured and more talent is needed. I’d like to see this team get better in the middle of the DL. On top of that, the DL is aging and needs an infusion of rated youth. Another WR would be helpful, as KJ Osborn is more of the WR3 type, and everyone else is likely lower than that. The OL never seems to be fully able to limit sacks. While I personally believe it has much to do with coaching, I see NOT ONE RESERVE on the roster who should be allowed in NFL games. LB is a lower need, and maybe a luxury in a year where the Vikings have an unusually low # of picks. You can add PK competition even after the draft, and the Vikings certainly need to do just that.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: GM Rick Spielman had been among the top GM’s. Under his reign, Minny managed to move around the draft board with solid trade value. He preferred moving back, and drafted 39 players in his last three years, up from his already high per season average. What I didn’t like is his insistence on trading back when this team was primed to make a Super Bowl run a short time ago. In each of the last four years I asked them to turn 10+ picks into 7, drafting for impact. That didn’t happen, but Rick left the roster in decent shape. The 2nd year GM is Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. He’s been in the NFL since 2013, with both SF and Cleveland. He also went to school at Princeton and Stanford. I expected a completely different approach from him but instead we got more of the same, reckless trades all over the draft board. As shown below, Minny has far fewer picks now, so it will be interesting to see what the vision will be.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 23, 87. This is different, as the Vikings have just five overall picks. Their 2nd round pick was used to obtain TE Hockenson, which was fair value.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Early sleuthing put me on the right path with their draft focus a year ago, although I had no idea they would make a few trades before the Intel delivered. This 1st pick should be a defensive one, and I suspect it might be DL, not DB, at least as of 4/1. I’ll update this of course when we get closer to the actual draft.

REST OF THE DRAFT: I expect day three trades to obtain a couple of more picks, but with this 2nd year GM, that’s not etched in stone. I think we’ll see a decent focus, but how impactful will the draft crop be, considering their 2nd pick is late on day two?

New Orleans Saints - Season Summary

We were all curious as to how the post-Sean Payton era would start out. An early loss to Tampa was the 1st clue that something was missing, as that game should have been a certain victory. Dennis Allen never recovered, and the offense lost its creativity. RB Kamara was not 100% focused and that hurt as well. The Saints remained in contention thanks to Tampa’s regression but couldn’t win when it mattered. Allen returns, but his leadership must improve while the roster is still in the prime of their careers.

2022 Stat Sheet: Coaching matters. The 7-10 record was their worst since before Sean Payton was here. The offense reverted back to turnover city, with the ratio ending at -11 overall. Winston did not win the job back after being injured, but he had issues without Payton pre-injury. RB Kamara was average all season long and is still awaiting word on his legal matter. New Orleans was more hit than miss defensively, even with star CB Lattimore missing so much action. They had 48 sacks, and were 2nd best in passing yards allowed and in pass D%. Long great vs. the run, that was not the case in 2022, as the Saints allowed 4.5-130+ per game. PK Will Lutz was just 23-31 kicking, but did make all of his extra point attempts.

2022 draft recap: The Saints are known to draft impact players, but also known to have the smallest draft class in the NFL. The organization that at one point drafted 32 players over a seven-year span has added just 22 players the past four seasons. Smooth WR Olave was their 1st selection in a trade that cost them three picks His game easily translated to the NFL. OT Penning missed ten games due to injury but should be a full-time starter very soon. CB Taylor showed off some versatility and had 46 tackles. LB D’Marco Jackson went on IR before the season and DT Jordan Jackson was on the practice squad.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Derek Carr is the big get, as New Orleans attempts to jump start the offense. Below par OT Storm Norton was also added, but the bigger news was RB Jamaal Williams, who had 17 rushing TD’s for the Lions a year ago. All meaningful losses were on the defensive side. The six players who left are DL David Onyeamta, Kentarius Street, Shy Tuttle and Marcus Davenport, who had a down year in 2022. LB Jaden Elliss and safety Justin Evans also left. For better or worse, new DL Nathan Sheppard and Khalen Sanders are listed as starters. Jonathan Abrams and Lonnie Johnson add DB depth. The Saints employed co-defensive coordinators in 2022. Both are gone (Ryan Nielson to Atlanta as their coordinator), replaced by Joe Woods. Woods has a mostly solid background, but was fired from his last job (Cleveland three-year DC). Several other coaches are new (OL, DL, DB, etc.) as New Orleans shakes things up.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: DT, LB, CB, DE, WR, TE, OL depth. DT is far and away their most glaring need. The run defense regressed in 2022 and every viable DT has left via free agency. An OLB is needed to replace Kaden Elliss, and depth could also be upgraded. CB Lattimore is top tier when healthy, but competition will be needed for the other CB spots. Pete Werner and Cameron Jordan are solid at DE, but that’s all they really have. I’m not sold that WR Michael Thomas really wants to stay in New Orleans based on his work ethic and/or pain tolerance. At best, you get one more year out of him and Jarvis Landry, and Tre’Quan Smith has never really stepped up his game. The Saints could get by without adding a TE, but does anyone really know what Taysom Hills’ role is in this offense? I still like this OL, but now is the time to add some young depth. I did not list RB, but if I were the GM, I’d trade Alvin Kamara with a deal built on contingencies and add a new RB in this deep RB draft class.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Prior to ’15, New Orleans treated draft weekend as an afterthought. Despite direct pleas from so-called draft “experts”, I was never going to change my mind on Stanley Jean Baptiste (58th overall pick, ’14 draft), to whom I gave my washout NR grade. The focused ’15 draft was a welcome change. The ’16 draft class was too thin, but good at the top. The Saints have been willing to trade during the draft process. Prior to ’15, the Saints had drafted a total of 32 players the past seven years! Let that sink in! They cared in ’15 but went back to old ways in ’16 with just five draft selections. Old habits are hard to break, as they drafted just five in the absence of Payton last year, and the total is 22 over the past four seasons. The GM is Mickey Loomis, whose been in this role for 21 years. His 2nd in command is Jeff Ireland, who spent five years as Miami’s GM before coming here in 2015. That’s plenty of experience, so let’s see what 2023 brings.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 29, 40, 71. New Orleans as of now starts the draft with eight picks. Pick 29 is from Denver for Sean Payton. They had an additional 1st round pick from a previous trade, but gave that up in a 2022 deal.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: I correctly tabbed WR Olave here (via trade of course) a year ago. Trading is in this GM’s DNA, so moving quickly on a DT would hardly surprise me.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Here’s what I said (knowing they would not agree) a year ago: Stay and play? Use ALL eight picks, because your roster will be changing in the next 1-2 years, and THIS is the draft to ensure that competent replacements will be ready to play. The 2022 draft was the deepest ever, and New Orleans stayed true to their own habit of sacrificing picks. I suspect they will end this draft with about six picks, and based on past history, at least three of the picks will be useful. It should be fun watching what positions and players they target in the 1st three rounds of this draft.

New York Giants - Season Summary

Everyone expected the NYG to improve. They had a massive positive change at GM and an equally exciting change at Head Coach. The 2022 draft was night and day better than in the past. My concern was Daniel Jones, and a secondary that subtracted two starters due to salary cap issues. I thought this would take over a year, but the NYG had other plans. Like with Minny, their Power # never rose to true playoff status, but coaching made them relevant in a hurry. Daniel Jones has a new contract and the trust of the staff. Roster holes remain, but 2022 was a supreme confidence builder.

2022 Stat Sheet: Like with Minny, the actual stat sheet showed some areas of concern. The NYG allowed 49 sacks, which was due to a combination of a) an OL built more to run block, based on college pedigree, and b) QB Jones having a below par internal clock, something I’ve noted since he was drafted. Still, the new staff kept him out of harm’s way and he thrived, hitting 67% and barely turning the ball over (five interceptions, just one fumble). As for RB Barkley, it indeed takes an extra year for a RB to get over a serious injury. He was at 3.7 yards-per-carry in 2021, but last year the figure was 4.5, with ten rushing TD’s. Another area still under development is WR, where Sterling Shepard can’t stay healthy and others disappointed. A pair of try-hard guys led the way, and they thrived at securing the ball. The run defense still needs work, as evidenced by their bottom five stat line of 5.2-144 allowed per game. I give the coaching staff major props for the depleted secondary allowing just 61.4% through the air, although they only intercepted six passes (tied last). They finished 5th in allowing just a 37.5% 3rd down success rate. The return offense was below par, and the kick return defense was as well. Some things take time. In the playoffs, the NYG allowed a 75% completion rate, a 5.5-164 per game run defense, and finished with a 1-8 sack ratio. One more thing: The NYG went just 1-4-1 in Divisional play. Improving that record is a necessary 1st step toward further improvement. Baby steps.

2022 draft recap: Thanks to Chicago, the NYG had picks 5 and 7 in this draft. DE Thibodeaux was the perfect person-team match, and he showed a well-rounded game. OT Neal fit a massive need. He needs to be coached up, but like Thibodeaux, he started every game he played. I thought both WR Robinson and OG Ezeudu should have been drafted two rounds later. Injuries held Robinson down to just six games, but he carries gadget and manufactured touch value only. Ezeudu had pass protection issues when used and then went down with a knee injury. I think he will be a role player moving forward. CB Flott is slender but smart. He started six games but is a liability vs. bigger WR’s. TE Bellinger is a blue collar talent, more of a throwback type, but the NYG used him more than I thought in the pass game and he delivered in short areas. CB Belton played multiple positions and added five starts, necessary with this depleted secondary. He has spot starter talent. LB McFadden added another seven rookie starts but wasn’t ready to make any real impact. Every one of their 11 draft choices received a numerical or a * rated grade. DT Davidson saw limited action before tearing his ACL. OG McKethan went on IR (knee) before the season. Finally, rated LB Beavers also suffered a preseason knee injury. In a weird dynamic, the NYG rookies started 61 games but also saw four of its draftees go on season-ending IR, and another three miss time with significant injuries.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Parris Campbell leads a list of three WR’s signed. It’s a good group if for once they stay healthy. The NYG likely need a new center with the two listed on the depth chart both gone. Rakeem Nunez-Roches adds DL depth, while LB Bobby Okoreke is listed as a potential starter. So is safety/CB Bobby McCain, who may be set to replace Julian Love. Amani Oruwariye adds necessary depth at CB. WR Richie James left on 4/7.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 interior OL, 1-2 DB’s, WR1, LB, backup RB. The top two needs are far and away the most critical for the NYG, and the top three needs have complete consensus across all platforms. The NYG have been working hard to fix past OL woes. Sacks allowed are still high, and while the OT’s will improve over time, the interior needs a facelift. Coaching and an improved pass rush masked talent deficiencies in the secondary, but as the playoffs demonstrated, better QB’s had their way with this pass defense. Two additions are recommended. The WR room seems to be coming together, but the NYG lack a true #1 target. LB is not high on the need board, but adding someone in this draft wouldn’t be a bad idea. Free agent Matt Breida and 2021 draftee Gary Brightwell back up Saquon Barkley. That’s not good enough.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Former GM Dave Gettleman was a straight shooter, so you generally trusted what he said, even if you disagreed with his reasoning. Joe Schoen came into this job with 20 years of NFL experience, the last five as Buffalo’s assistant GM. His 1st draft was about a five-step change for the positive! His March 1st, 2022 press conference was something I quoted as exciting in this spot a year ago and he delivered. He proved right off the bat that he works well with Head Coach Brian Daball who (of course) also came over from Buffalo.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 25, 57, 89, 100. The NYG have 10 picks. Three of their picks were compensatory, but pick 100 was traded to Las Vegas for TE Waller.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: The NYG may not be used to drafting this late in the 1st round, but their 2nd year GM had some experience in this area while with Buffalo. Clearly, I’d go OL or DB here, and I think the NYG understand that as well.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Ten picks could go a long way toward solidifying this roster. You can’t sleep on Washington, and even with all their 2022 success, Philly and Dallas finished ahead of this team a year ago and have better overall rosters. Multiple OL and DB selections must be made. If the NYG do this, and replicate player grades from 2022, that gap will be narrowed.

Philadelphia Eagles - Season Summary

No one constructs a roster better than GM Howie Roseman. Not only does he deftly trade during the draft, Howie also adds to the roster after the draft. Adding James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson in May and August of 2022 changed the fortunes of their secondary, which finally stopped allowing splash plays. The pass rush was a near NFL record high, and adding A.J. Brown on draft day gave emerging QB Jalen Hurts another fantastic target. Philly played to its strengths offensively and nearly won it all. Challenges await now, with a plethora of free agency decisions but I’m guessing Roseman will figure most of it out.

2022 Stat Sheet: The stat sheet cries WOW. The sack ratio was 70-44, with the DL featuring three of their four double-digit sack artists. They had just 29 sacks in 2021! Aided by QB Hurts (760-4.6-13 rush TD’s) the run game was top tier. Hurts himself hit 66.5% with a stout 22-6 ratio. Weapons were everywhere, with three capable RB’s, a great group of WR’s, and a top tier TE. The OL was top two in performance and has NO weak link. The offense was #2 in scoring and #3 in total yards. The defense was #1 vs. the pass (yardage), and #1 with a bullet in allowing just 8.6 yards-per-completion. Not listed above is Roseman’s addition of LB Reddick. All he did was dominate with sacks and forced fumbles (#1). Back to the offense. The team ran for a whopping 32 TD’s and was 3rd best in 3rd down success rate. Teams do not like to run on Philly, but as I’ve said for a few years, you need to try. Washington did that in the regular season, and KC shocked many “experts” when they ran 5.1 per carry on Philly. Many do not know that in the regular season the Eagles allowed 4.6 per carry. One other area of concern was special team play. They finished near the bottom overall, with only PK Elliott spared from scrutiny.

2022 draft recap: Philly leapfrogged Tennessee to get DT Jordan Davis. He wasn’t needed much as a rookie but with all the DL free agents, my #1 DT should begin to thrive in 2023. WR Brown counted in the draft grade, and of course he delivered. Former TE and current OL/center Cam Jurgens was handpicked by Jason Kelce to be his successor. With Kelce coming back, Jurgens will again sit or be a rotational chess piece at OG. LB Dean had a big draft day drop. I, like others, gave him a late 1st round grade if he was healthy. Philly’s starting depth is amazing (again, thank Roseman), so Dean barely played. LB Kyron Johnson was unrated (NR). He played on special teams, an area he was familiar with in college. This unusually small draft ended with TE Calcaterra, who caught five passes. The initial three picks, plus WR Brown are all keepers in my eyes.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Philly was expected to lose plenty of free agents, and that’s exactly what has happened. Seven starters are gone, with two projected starters signing on. Philly loses two along the OL, Andre Dillard and starter Isaac Seumalo. Rashard Penny is in and RB Miles Sanders is gone. Can Penny ever stay healthy? Marcus Mariota is a better fit for this team as the back-up QB than was Gardner Minchew. Starters lost defensively include DT Javon Hargrove, LB’s TJ Edwards and Kyzir White, and safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps. Philly does rotate freely, especially along the DL, so replacements, plus the 2022 rookies hope to fill the void. Kentavius Street adds DE depth, while Nicholas Morrow may start at LB. Terrell Edmunds will fill one of the safety spots, while Justin Evans adds depth. CB Greedy Williams has starter potential, but at the very least adds necessary depth. Success also leads to coaches getting poached, and Philly lost both of their coordinators. The Eagles promoted in-house for the offense, but hired Sean Desai from Seattle as the new defensive coordinator. He was only in Seattle one year (Assistant). Before that, he was a one-year coordinator in Chicago. His resume is small, but he’s done some good things at all his stops.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: Safety, DT, OL, WR3, TE, RB, special team help. Philly has no “must have” needs. The safety room is already night and day different, but they seem to be down one starter. Expectations are that 2nd year DT Jordan Davis will step up, but the Eagles are famous for rotating along the DL, so adding another DT, and even an extra DE seems likely. Cam Jurgens is being groomed to take over when center Kelce retires, but for now he’s the best option at RG, as the Eagles lost two OL this offseason. There’s age all over the OL, so at least one needs to be selected in this draft. Quez Watkins is currently the #3 WR and he disappears in many a game. TE is hardly a major need, but the draft class is good, so the Eagles could look to add additional talent here. Due to health issues, adding another RB in this prized class might be a wise move. Beyond all of that, players are needed with special team skill sets, as the Eagles were 31st overall in this area.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: GM Roseman says he learned a lot while sitting on the sidelines during the Chip Kelly “error”. He’s done extremely well in free agency but the theme to his recent drafts is more of a big swing, and some hits, with multiple misses. The 2022 draft, though unusually small, was typical Howie, with two early aggressive trades, plus a bite on a draft dropping LB. Roseman is never afraid to make a splash trade, or for that matter any trade.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 10, 30, 62, 94. Philly has an unusual draft board, with their next pick after the 3rd round coming at #219. They also have pick #248, for a total of six overall selections. Pick 10 is from the Saints (typical New Orleans trade up last year). As an aside, Philly also has the Saints 2nd round pick in 2024. Three separate player trades costs them picks in the 4th through 6th rounds.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: There’s only one safety worth considering in the 1st round ((middle to late 1st), so the Eagles likely go OL or DL unless they decide to make a splash move for someone like RB Bijan Robinson.

REST OF THE DRAFT: The safety pick could come on day two, and could a WR pick. Even with just six picks I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved up and down the draft board. There’s a big gap between picks 94 and 219 that might be addressed.

San Francisco 49ers - Season Summary

So close, again. In 2021, SF had a ten-point lead and a definitely injured Jimmy G threw an ill-advised pass. Last year SF had more bad luck, losing two QB’s in what was going to be a real chess match NFC title game vs. Philly. We’ll never know how that would have played out, but do know that the 49ers are tough to beat whenever they can stay healthy. 2023 will bring new changes and more decisions as they replace their defensive coordinator and try to figure out the QB rotation. Stay tuned.

2022 Stat Sheet: SF allowed just 16.3 points per game, #1 in the NFL. They were #1 in yards allowed, at 300 per game. The run defense was exceptional, at 3.4 per carry and 78 yards per game. LB play was again exceptional, and Nick Bosa led the NFL in sacks. SF was already a solid rush team, but McCaffrey made them even more versatile. The run O finished at 4.7-139 yards per game and McCaffrey was 6.0 per carry, with ten total TD’s (four by receptions). The TD differential was 52-32. SF finished with a +13 turnover ratio (#1), and +11 in interception differential. It wasn’t just the run game, TE Kittle and WR Deebo Samuel, as WR Aiyuk broke through with 78 receptions and eight TD’s. Obviously, QB play was interesting. Jimmy G provided a veteran presence to the offense, and Brock Purdy thrived in the scheme. With tape on him now, 2023 will be interesting.

2022 draft recap: SF was without its 1st round pick in the trade for QB Lance, so DE Drake Jackson at #61 was their 1st selection. SF loves to go early for DL. Jackson saw some early season work (3 sacks) but was a healthy scratch late in the year. More will be expected of him now. I like to show deference to Shanahan when he drafts RB’s, as that family knows this position just as Pittsburgh knows WR’s. Still, Davis-Price had a 5th round grade on my board (I moved him up), so pick 93 was way too high. He barely played despite RB injuries galore, and with McCaffrey here, that seems like a wasted day two pick for now. WR Gray (3-105) also carried a 5th round grade, noted as always in my draft recap. He saw 87 snaps. OG Burford started 16 games. While his performance was average at best, this was unexpected for a player who needed to add wright and strength. Unrated CB Womack fit an area of need, but mostly played on special teams. SF likes him and he’ll get a chance to play more defense moving forward. OT Zakelji needed time (Fordham) and played just 12 snaps. He’s filler material for now, and his best chance to stick is moving to OG. DT Kalia Davis redshirted off an ACL tear in college. CB Castro-Fields was released. SF had one more draft pick, and famously used the final NFL pick for 2022 on QB Brock Purdy. He tested well in the combine’s new academic profile package, and combined with his massive college experience, seemed to fit SF’s offensive scheme. While I noted his intangibles last draft season, I’m still weary of his overall arm strength. SF has an interesting decision to make once Purdy and Lance are completely healthy. Overall, this was a typically average SF draft haul.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): SF to date has lost 12 players, six of them starters. Key losses include OT Mike McGlinchey, QB Jimmy G, four DL (Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenhu, Hassan Ridgeway and Jordan Willis), LB Al-Shaair Azeer, CB Emmanuel Moseley and versatile and long-time CB/S Jimmy Ward. PK Robbie Gould was cut. Jon Feliciano may end up starting at center (Jake Brendel is a current free agent). Sam Darnold comes in as insurance with both Trey Lance and Brock Purdy not 100% certain to be ready in September. Javon Hargrove is a great addition at DE, while SF attempts to uncover some of what made DT Clelin Ferrell a former 1st round pick at DT. Austin Bryant also adds DT depth. Isaiah Oliver adds CB depth, with Myles Hartsfield possibly even slated to start. SF traded a 7th round pick for PK Zane Gonzalez. Steve Wilks is the new defensive coordinator. He held that job at Carolina, plus was their interim Head Coach after Matt Rhule was fired. He had the respect of the players, but his last job lasting more than one season was in 2015.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 DB’s, 2 OL, LB and LB depth, WR, #2 TE. The bolded needs are bigger holes than most people would guess, given how solid SF has played over the past two seasons. Losing Jimmie Ward is a big blow, as his versatility and experience will be missed. This was already SF’s weakest defensive link and they have to upgrade here right away. RT is an obvious void and they could lose their center as well. Both center and RG could use competition at the very least. Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner are special, but the final LB spot is not. Competition for Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray and Ray-Ray McCloud for WR3 would be helpful. An upgrade at TE behind George Kittle would be another wise move to make.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Until 2020, GM Lynch didn’t stray from past history, re-stocking the roster with an average of 9-10 picks per draft. Sadly, Lynch occasionally continued the tradition of drafting too many players with NR (not NFL ready or worthy) ratings. Another tradition has been to take players whose ratings slip due to injuries. 2022 was no different from any other draft year for the 49ers. Lynch likes to work the draft board. You may see him move up this year if he likes someone that has fallen from the 1st round, as I doubt the 49ers will stay with their current number of picks.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 99, 101, 102. SF enters the draft with 11 picks but this is really strange. SF’s 3rd round picks are all compensatory, all as a result of the NFL’s minority hiring policy. If not for that, SF’s 1st pick would not be until #154, a pick obtained in the Jeff Wilson trade! Amazingly, seven of their 11 picks are compensatory! As for lost picks, the 1st round pick was part of the Trey Lance trade, and the 2nd, 3rd, AND 4th round picks went to Carolina for RB McCaffrey.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: No pick. That pick (29) was traded to Miami in the move up to get QB Lance in the 2021 draft.

REST OF THE DRAFT: SF has enough picks to easily cover all needs, but starting the draft at pick 99 is about as bad as I’ve seen in all my years covering this event. Expectations are SF will get players that need development. Knowing GM Lynch, in addition to making a few trades, he’ll hope for a diamond or two in the rough, taking players with some injury risks. It’s may not be a bad move for an established team such as SF, but whatever they do, my top three areas need immediate attention.

Seattle Seahawks - Season Summary

How many times do I have to say this: Pete Carroll is one of the best “teachers” of the game. He makes average players better. Players drafted into this organization are not always the highest rated, yet through coaching many survive and then thrive. Seattle’s draft mantra is quantity. It’s also usually a bit off the radar. Not in 2022! Their most “conventional” draft in the past decade or more helped the Seahawks exceed expectations and propel them to the playoffs. No, this is not yet a complete team, but thanks to the Russell Wilson trade, Seattle was able to embrace a quicker than anticipated roster rebuild. Given the overall NFC talent as of this writing, Seattle has an opportunity to build on last year’s results and become a regular playoff contender.

2022 Stat Sheet: Seattle continued its run game prowess, but in 2022, Geno Smith also surprised defenses with his passing. He tapered off down the stretch (especially with turnovers) but led the NFL at 69.8%, with a stout 30-11 TD to interception ratio. Rookie RB Walker was great once Penny was hurt. The OL is young and likely to improve, but they did allow 46 sacks. Defensively, most of the #’s still need work but the young secondary was decent (62.4%) even without Jamal Adams. The run D clocked in at 5.0-150 yards per game (30th), which was not good. They allowed 21 rushing TD’s, and were tied 27th in 3rd down success rate (opponents converted 43% of the time). Now In his 2nd year as coordinator, Clint Hurtt needs to make this better. PK Myers had a career year, while the return game defense was very good.

2022 draft recap: 33 of Seattle’s 70 rookie starts came from OT’s Cross and Lucas. Cross had some anxious moments as a rookie but if all goes well this OL will continue to improve. OLB Mafe had just 13 career NCAA starts. He contributed 28 tackles and his role on the team will likely increase. RB Walker was necessary considering Elijah Penny is hurt every other minute. My #1 RB excelled. Seattle also needed to replenish it’s secondary and used picks in the 4th and 5th rounds to take Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen. I’m not used to Seattle getting value, but Bryant had an early 3rd round grade and Woolen a later 3rd round grade. Bryant started six games, displaying his strong tackling skill set, while Woolen started 17 games and has Seattle’s ideal profile (length), contributing six picks and making the Pro Bowl. DE Tyreke Smith missed the season (IR). WR Bo Melton was on the practice squad until signed by Green Bay. WR Dareke Young played on special teams. Seattle, that was magical.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Seattle lost six offensive performers, but all were expendable with the possible exception of RB Rashaad Penny, who just couldn’t stay healthy. Evan Brown may start at center, but is that enough? Former 1st round pick DE LJ Collier is gone, along with starting LB Cody Barton. The two DE additions, Darren Reed and Dre’Mont Jones are currently listed as starters. At LB, Bobby Wagner makes his return after just one year away, while Devin Bush adds even more ILB depth. Julian Love will challenge for a starting spot at either safety or nickelback, as former safety Ryan Neal is now with Tampa.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 OL, OLB, DT, DB, RB, WR. After drafting two solid OL last year, it’s now time to work on the interior, where two spots need upgrades. OLB and DT are interchangeable in rank order. Four players are competing for the two spots, but an additional young OLB is necessary. I’m leaving ILB alone even though Jordyn Brooks may not be ready early in 2023, but depth could be an issue. Others are hoping Seattle goes edge rusher, so maybe that can be part of the OLB equation. Al Woods needs competition at DT. I’ll assume safety Jamal Adams is both healthy and motivated to return after missing 2022, but for now, Mike Jackson is listed as one starter at CB. There’s some depth, but mostly filler types. The Seahawks are down to just Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas at RB. There’s been noise about someday moving on from WR DK Metcalf. I’m not crazy about that, but even if that’s just a rumor, competition for Dee Eskridge and others would be recommended out wide.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Until ’18, Seattle, like San Francisco, routinely drafted four unrated (NR) players on my draft board. That changed, at least until 2021. Seattle loves to stockpile picks, enabling them to easily withstand draft misses. Unlike the 49ers, they have uncovered some real gems in the mid-to-late rounds. Also until 2022, Seattle, mostly by choice has traded back or out of the 1st round forever! Position retraining is often a part of their draft story. They have not always drafted the right players. In 2020, Seattle started with four picks and at one time, turned it into 12. 2021 was strange, as they started and ended with three picks. 2022 was uncharacteristically mainstream, as noted above. Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have been a couple forever. Carroll is the one that breaks any ties.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 5, 20, 37, 52, 83. Seattle has ten picks. Picks 5 and 37 are from Denver as the Russell Wilson trade continues to reap massive benefits.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Phase two of Seattle’s draft haul from Denver makes this team one to watch in the early rounds. Do they go after troubled DT Jalen Carter? What about an edge rusher or CB Christian Gonzalez? Some are even speculating QB, but that’s not something they need to do. Pick five is too early for OL, but pick 20 could work, especially in the interior.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Anything close to a draft haul repeat of 2022 would be great for a team residing in a division where both Arizona and the LA Rams could be in for a fall. Will this be another conventional draft? My initial thought is no. I just have a feeling that Pete Carroll and company will take some chances with their early bounty of draft picks. Stay tuned.

Tampa Bay Bucs - Season Summary

Tom Brady’s last dance (perhaps) was not what many expected, but it should have been. The OL was down three starters, the new Head Coach was defensive oriented, and the run game was vanilla. That’s the GOOD news. The absence of Gronk affected everything, from blocking, to coverage on Tampa’s TE’s, and most importantly, to success in the red zone. Tom’s security blanket was gone and it showed (thanks). Tampa survived in a weak Division but now the hard part begins. Needing to reinvent themselves to be truly relevant, will Tampa’s management team be willing to make the necessary changes?

2022 Stat Sheet: This was ugly. Yes, Brady passed like a 35 year old and not a 45 year old, but he also threw an ungodly 733 passes, which meant Tampa’s run-pass splits were terrible. That doesn’t even include his 66 playoff game pass attempts vs. Dallas. Passing did NOT lead to more points, as after two seasons scoring 30+ per game the # tanked to 18 per game. Other than Gronk, the biggest problem was the complete dismantling of the OL thanks to retirement, free agency and injury. Brady was actually only sacked 22 times, but look for that to spike with the QB change. Tampa ran just 3.4 per carry, and that was due to RB Fournette as well as the OL. They had a putrid five rushing TD’s. There will be a new coordinator in 2023 (see below). Despite losing DE Barrett midseason, Tampa still produced 45 defensive sacks. LB’s White and Davis combined for 247 tackles but the run D fell drastically from it’s usual top two status. The #’s showed 4.5-120.5 per game. In other bad news, the return defense was poor on all fronts. Look for massive personnel changes for both the OL and DL this offseason.

2022 draft recap: Tampa, fresh off a Super Bowl win, treated the 2021 draft as a complete afterthought. They did better in 2022, but it was still considered middle of the pack overall. DE Logan Hall has pass rush potential, but disappointed vs. the run and got pushed back by stronger OL, just like I wrote about last year. He never started as a rookie but the next six picks totaled 59 starts. OG Goedeke struggled moving to OG, but has some potential. RB Rachaad White will replace Fournette as the lead RB. His per-carry average in the NCAA and as a rookie warrants that look. TE Otton had 11 starts and came on fast as a pass catcher and now hopes to develop the rest of his game. Punter Camarda won the job. CB McCollum played effectively on special teams and saw a bit of action in the secondary. I like the Sam Houston State product and think he can contribute once up to speed. I had no idea how TE Ko Kieft would contribute but he became their best TE blocker, with plenty of game time (just seven catches). Unrated DE Anthony was cut. This may turn out to be a decent draft, but one that certainly lacked impact.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Tampa has suffered a net loss in free agency, with only QB Baker Mayfield, NT Greg Gaines, and a new kicker added of note. In addition to the trade of OG Shaq Mason for a swap of late round picks, players gone include WR Scotty Miller, nose tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and DB’s Sean Murphy-Bunting, Mike Edwards and Keanu Neal. On 4/7, Tampa added former Seattle safety Ryan Neal. As expected, Tampa made “sweeping” changes to its staff. Six coaches were fired, and three additional coaches retired. The one coordinator change was for the offense. Tampa’s hired Dave Canales, who did some nice things with Geno Smith last year in Seattle and was there since 2010.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: QB, OL, DE, 2 safeties, OLB, WR, extra TE, extra RB. Don’t’ look now, but Tampa has many glaring needs. QB is #1, although I wouldn’t necessarily mind if Kyle Trask got a shot to run the offense. The OL is in shambles. It must now block for someone other than all-world Tom Brady, and do better than last year’s terrible run blocking performance. For me, three spots need immediate attention. Three of the four listed DE’s are pending free agents. Even if all three return this unit underperformed, and didn’t seal the edge vs. the run. Yes, Ryan Neal was added at safety on 4/7, but the roster only lists four players, TOTAL at the safety spots, plus nickelback, AND, Logan Ryan’s status is in limbo. With Shaq Barrett off injury and getting older, OLB is in the same predicament as is DE. I’d add another WR, as Tampa is likely to lose depth at this position real soon. TE Kieft was a find as a blocker, but more TE pass-catching talent is needed. I’d also add a late RB to the roster.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Past history shows Tampa as being conservative on draft day. Recently, they’ve tried a couple of trades, getting some value in return. Bruce Arians was very straightforward in his draft day approach. He had a big say on draft day. Last year, GM Jason Licht returned to his pre-Bruce Arians role of calling most of the shots. Many of their drafts (before and after Arians) have been graded highly, but in 2021 they showed little interest during the process, perhaps because all 22 starters were returning. Last year’s draft was average. This year Licht needs to hit the reset button, as the future of the franchise depends on restocking this roster with bright young talent.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 19, 50, 82. Tampa has nine picks, two being compensatory from the NFL.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Pick 19 is too late for a QB, and I’d wait anyway for the 2024 draft. It’s also outside the top tier of OL, and a bit early for this crop of safeties, which appears to be underwhelming at the top. It’s safe to say that I am not sure what Tampa will do (as of 4/2), but as GM I would basically use the best player available approach.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Focus! The once top tier draft team has not been as proficient the past two seasons. Borrowing from what I said for round one, the best approach might be take the best player available on their draft board regardless of position.

Washington Commanders - Season Summary

Carson Wentz looked the part but the wins just didn’t come. The team rallied behind Taylor Heinicke, but his skill set translates better to high level relief pitcher. Improvement throughout 2022 was noticeable in other roster spots, which could mean a playoff run this upcoming season. While all eyes are on QB, the defense needs to get and stay healthy. Other than that, fans of the NFL await news related to Dan Snyder. It’s always interesting in the nation’s capital.

2022 Stat Sheet: Surprisingly, Washington has plenty of things they can build upon. Their carefully built DL (all former 1st round picks) contributed 27 of their 43 sacks and is still in their prime. The pass defense was 2nd best, allowing 59.9%, an excellent figure in today’s game. They finished 3rd in total yards allowed and 4th in pass yards allowed. Better than that, their defense was #1, allowing just a 32% 3rd down success rate. They could improve on just achieving nine defensive interceptions. Offense of course was another story. In eight games, Wentz had just an 11-9 ratio, and overall, the OL allowed 48 sacks. Still, led by WR MacLaurin, that unit has above average talent. Washington finished 8-8-1, yet gets to face a 4th place schedule in 2023.

2022 draft recap: Most teams had at least an average draft grade thanks to the NFL’s deepest ever pool of draft eligible players (super seniors). Washington was no different. I rated WR Dotson 6th best at his position (22-32 overall). Washington took him a bit high at 16, but only after adding picks 98/120 in a trade down. I called him a smooth route runner but fragile. He can play, but did miss five games. DT Mathis hurt his knee week one and was done for the year. It was nearly worse for RB Brian Robinson, shot in the leg twice before the season. Amazingly, he became the lead back by midseason. He’s tough, but I do worry about his yards-per-carry ceiling. Safety Percy Butler has some upside (mostly special team play as a rookie). QB Sam Howell will compete for the starting job in 2023 off his one week audition. He has severe limitations but there are parts to his game that can be further developed. TE Turner caught two passes and needs to improve, and the current TE group leaves him an opportunity to get some usage. OG Chris Paul played in one game. Unrated CB Holmes played mostly on special teams.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Washington has mostly used free agency as an exchange program. At QB, Jacoby Brissett is in and Taylor Heinecke (and Carson Wentz) are out. Three OL have been added, and two are gone. The best of those five is incoming OT Andrew Wylie, who may win a starting job. Back-up WR Cam Sims left. LB Cody Barton is slated to take over for the departed Cole Holmcomb. CB Bobby McCain was cut. Eric Bieniemy is the new offensive coordinator, taking over for the fired Scott Turner. Bieniemy finally gets the opportunity to call plays on his own. I suspect we’ll see more creativity in the package, but Pat Mahomes will not be joining him as the QB.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: QB, 1-2 OL, DB, TE, LB depth. Could Washington get by with QB’s Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett? In the short term, yes, so if they skip going QB I’m okay with it. The OL need is real. There’s not one specific position that’s needed over another, but as a group the talent is lower than it should be. Everyone out in draft world lists CB as a top three need. I agree, and based on the current roster, two DB’s are needed, which at a minimum would be for depth purposes. I almost list “real” TE up at the top. I’d skip this need if we’re just talking about another complimentary type. Washington has a decent starting LB group, so this is another area that can wait until after more pressing needs are targeted.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Off-field drama led to a total restructuring of the front office. GM Martin Mayhew was hired just before the 2021 draft. Jason Wright was hired four months after the 2020 draft. Marty Hurley had two stints as GM with Carolina, where Rivera previously coached. He’s the player personnel director, hired in January, 2021. As I’ve noted here in the past, Ron Rivera will have the final call during the draft.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 16, 47, 97. Washington has eight picks, with #’s 97 and 215 compensatory from the NFL. Their original 3rd round pick was final compensation for QB Wentz.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: In THIS draft, I’m likely to skip the QB need, and begin reconstructing OL and DB. It’s a mess with the owner, team and front office, as otherwise why not think about giving up middle of the 1st round picks for Lamar Jackson?

REST OF THE DRAFT: I’m fairly certain that Washington will stray from my need board somewhere during the draft. As of 4/2, I’d go CB at 16, and OL at 47 and 97, but things can change once I finalize my player rankings.

THANKS FOR READING, and look for some more updates closer to the draft.

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