What Teams Told Us During The 2023 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is a time for teams to tell us what they think about themselves. With each pick in the draft, we get a glimpse of how teams feel about the roster, what they’re looking for in players, and what the overall organizational philosophy might be. It’s the purest look we get at these types of decisions.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few things NFL teams told us during the draft.

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Indianapolis Colts – All athletes and this time with a quarterback

Colts general manager Chris Ballard has long been a fan of drafting athletic freaks. There have been hits and misses with that strategy, but the Colts have stuck with it. This year’s draft class was no different. Here is the 2023 Indianapolis draft class and the Relative Athletic Score for each player. 

Of course, the biggest difference between this class and those of the past is that the Colts took a swing on a quarterback — arguably the most athletic one we’ve ever seen test. At 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds, Anthony Richardson ran a 4.43 forty at the combine (98th percentile) along with a 99th percentile vertical and broad jumps.

While Richardson has some accuracy issues to work out, that athleticism and rushing ability can set a floor and baseline for production. It also helps that Colts head coach Shane Steichen helped build an offense around Jalen Hurts during his two years in Philadelphia.

This is such a massive shift for the Colts at quarterback. While the rest of the team was built around athletes, Indianapolis quarterbacks were not exactly that.

Over the past three seasons, the Colts ranked 23rd in the league with just 19 non-sneak or kneel designed quarterback runs, according to TruMedia. In that same span, Indianapolis was 27th in scrambles, and most of those belonged to Carson Wentz.

On those runs, the Colts averaged 3.8 yards per carry which was the seventh-lowest mark in the league.

The Colts have been wanting to get more athletic at quarterback and even threw Sam Ellinger out to start last season in a hope to spark something. With Richardson, Indianapolis is taking the overall team philosophy of banking on athletes and bringing it to the most important position on the field.

Arizona Cardinals – It’s about 2024

The Cardinals made some of the biggest moves of the weekend under first-year general manager Monti Ossenfort. Arizona took part in five trades throughout the draft, including a pre-draft swap with the Eagles over tampering charges connected to Jonathan Gannon.

Arizona traded back in four of those five trades, and even the trade up from pick No. 12 to pick No. 6 had the smallest premium for any of the trades in the first round.

In those trades, the Cardinals picked up four 2024 picks. The focus will be on the first-round pick acquired from the Texans, but even in the tampering trade with the Eagles, the Cardinals picked up a 2024 fifth-round pick by moving back 28 picks in the third round in what was supposed to be a punishment.

The Cardinals now have two firsts, three thirds, and two fifths with an extra fourth projected as a compensatory pick.

There are so many holes on the roster, trading back and acquiring future picks might be the best option for a team that could be in the midst of a hard reset.

No team has worse odds to win its division in 2023 than the Cardinals. The Texans have the third-worst odds. That doesn’t guarantee these are two of the worst teams in the league, but Arizona could be set up with two top-five picks for the 2024 NFL Draft. 

Even holding onto DeAndre Hopkins through the 2023 draft now puts any possible trade compensation for him into 2024. 

Kyler Murray is recovering from a torn ACL, and it’s unclear when he will be able to return to the field. There have been mostly positive vibes around how the new regime has talked about the quarterback, but these also aren’t the people who drafted Murray or gave him a major extension.

The Cardinals could move on from Murray following the 2023 season via trade. Trading Murray would account for $46.2 million in dead money, but against a $51.9 million cap hit, that would save $5.7 million in cap space for the 2024 season.

Atlanta Falcons – We’re doubling down on the run

The Falcons are who we thought they were. No team fully leaned into the caricature of themselves more than Atlanta’s selection of Texas running back Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick.

Atlanta was one of two teams last season, along with the Chicago Bears, that ran more than they passed. Chicago’s run game was built mostly around Justin Fields. The Falcons started the season with a bit of that run through Marcus Mariota, but even with Desmond Ridder on the field, the Falcons ran the ball 52.5% of the time, per TruMedia.

Arthur Smith now has four seasons as a play caller and has a run rate of over 50% in two of them.

Arthur Smith Tendencies, 2019-2022
data per TruMedia

2019TEN OC0.050.12-0.0353.1%
2020TEN OC0.140.220.0349.5%
2021ATL HC-0.08-0.06-0.1260.9%
2022ATL HC0.020.000.0544.7%

In that 2020 season, Derrick Henry rushed 378 times for over 2,000 yards. That might just be the ideal offense Smith wants to run and the impetus behind drafting Robinson in the top 10 with an efficient run game already in place.

Last season, the Falcons tied for first in EPA per play on running back runs and were one of five teams with positive EPA overall. Individually, 2022 fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier was first among running backs in EPA per rush.

All of this came with an offensive line that was 25th in ESPN’s run block win rate. The Falcons were 10th in yards before contact per rush but third in yards after contact per rush. Backs, like Allgeier, were doing a decent amount of work to get the most out of the Falcons’ run game.

Robinson fits that mold, potentially to a bigger degree. He had the second-highest broken tackle rate in this class and the third-highest percentage of positive runs after he was hit at the line of scrimmage.

Atlanta also took a swing on beefing up the offensive line.

In the second round, the Falcons drafted Matthew Bergeron from Syracuse. Bergeron played tackle in college but played some snaps at guard at the Senior Bowl. The Falcons mentioned potential positional versatility after he was drafted.

There are still questions on a defense that was 29th in EPA per play last season, but with the recent additions of skill position plays in the first round, along with the contracts given out to offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary this offseason, it’s clear the Falcons will try to control the pace of the game on the ground. 

Cincinnati Bengals – Let Lou Cook

Over the past few seasons, the Bengals have gotten above-average performances out of a defense that has played as a better overall unit than the individual pieces would suggest. That has been the workings of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who has been able to put those individual pieces in the perfect place to succeed.

The Bengals will get their biggest test of Anarumo’s ability after the departure of a number of key defensive players this offseason. For the moment, the Bengals have the 10th-most cap space allocated to the offense and the 13th-most on the defense, per Over The Cap.

With extensions looming for Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins, that scale will only tip further in one direction over the next few years.

With the focus on those big deals for the offensive players, the turnover on defense is likely to increase. This offseason, the Bengals already saw the departures of Jessie Bates and Von Bell elsewhere while Eli Apple is still a free agent.

In 2024, D.J. Reader, Chidobe Awuzie, and Logan Wilson are scheduled to be free agents. Trey Hendrickson also has no guaranteed money remaining on his contract after the 2023 season.

It might not be a surprise, then, that Cincinnati used its first three draft picks on the defensive side of the ball with the selections of Clemson EDGE Myles Muprhy, Michigan cornerback DJ Turner, and Alabama safety Jordan Battle.

Murphy is a super athletic pass rusher who could use some refinement in having a plan when he does rush.

Turner is a similar case outside. He is fast — a 4.26 forty at the combine — and had one of the lowest completion rates allowed in this class (37.5% in 2022, per SIS), but he was also prone to giving up some big plays.

Battle has good straight line and play speed with the versatility to play all over the defense. Last season he played 63.3% of his snaps deep, one of the highest rates in this class, 21.6% in the box, and 14.2% in the slot.

All of these players have a path to slide in as rookies but also take the time to be molded and developed.

The Bengals have continually found players who fit into the overall ecosystem of the defense, and with the offensive core set to be locked in, we could continue to see Cincinnati replenish the defense through the draft, giving Anarumo young pieces to mold together.

Green Bay Packers – Time to build up the pass catchers

It’s been well-documented how long the Packers have stayed away from drafting a first-round wide receiver. While they still did so in 2023, this year’s draft class heavily targeted the skill positions to build up the future.

With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the idea was the Packers didn’t need the heavy investment in pass catchers because the quarterback was able to elevate those around him — it’s also nice to find a Davante Adams in Round 2 to help there.

The idea, especially recently, under Rodgers was that high picks on defense could be used to build up a unit that would be able to match the offensive production — they still did this with Lukas Van Ness in the first round. The problem for the Packers has been that the top-end talent hasn’t converted to a top-end unit.

But with the offense now transitioned to Jordan Love at the helm, the first-time full-time starter could use a bit more help on that side of the ball, and Green Bay went with a high-volume approach.

The Packers double-dipped at tight end with Luke Musgrave in the second round and Tucker Kraft in the third. Last season, Green Bay led the league in the rate of plays in 12 personnel (29.8%), but the top two tight ends, Marcedes Lewis and Robert Tonyan, are not on the roster.

Musgrave had a shortened 2022 but was a downfield threat at Oregon State in 2021. He had a 12.4-yard aDOT while he played 79.4% of his snaps inline. Meanwhile, Tucker Kraft was more of a shallow target and yards after the catch monster at South Dakota State. 67.5% of Kraft’s receiving yards came after the catch in 2022, and he played 70% of his snaps inline with the ability to move all over the formation.

Green Bay’s second second-round pick, Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed, could be a nice complement to Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs. Reed can play in the slot or outside and has the ability to release and win down the field. There would be a ton of speed on the field with Waston, Doubs, and Reed in 11 personnel. Last season, the Packers were 23rd in EPA per play (-0.10) when passing from 11 personnel.

There is certainly a need to boost the young talent in this area, and the draft approach was an indication things could lean more in that direction as the Packers enter the next stage of the franchise.

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