The 2023 NFL Draft is drawing to a close with 259 players immediately welcomed to the National Football League. While it will take time before the draft can accurately be judged, it’s never too early to make a few assessments about what went down.
While every general manager and scouting department will come out of the 2023 NFL Draft feeling good about their haul, some teams did far better than others. There were clear winners on all three days and several prominent clubs improved significantly through the 2023 draft class. Of course, the same can’t be said for everyone and we saw a lot of questionable decisions on draft weekend.
Related: 2023 NFL Draft TV ratings
Let’s dive into our five biggest losers from the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Detroit Lions entered the 2023 NFL Draft with the perfect opportunity to create some distance between themselves and their rivals in the NFC North. Armed with two first-round picks – 6th and 18th overall – general manager Brad Holmes could’ve made the Lions the new kings of the north.
Holmes made a smart move trading down from the sixth pick to No. 12, picking up the 168th overall selection and jumping up from 81st overall to the 34th overall pick. Minutes after earning praise for the trade, with the draft pick calculator in their favor, the Lions botched their top picks.
Jahmyr Gibbs is an excellent talent and we have no doubts that offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, one of the best play-callers in the NFL, will utilize him perfectly. However, Gibbs is not a workhorse running back (5-foot-9, 199 pounds) and Detroit just made him top-20 in running back salaries heading into his rookie season. Making the selection even worse, Tom Pelissero reported that Detroit would’ve even taken Gibbs sixth overall ahead of Bijan Robinson.
Related: Jahmyr Gibbs scouting report
As if spending a top-12 pick on a running back to complement David Montgomery ($11 million guaranteed) wasn’t bad enough, the Lions doubled-down on their archaic thinking. When Detroit selected middle linebacker Jack Campbell with the 18th overall pick, it became the first team since the 1994 Indianapolis Colts to spend first-round picks on a running back and off-ball linebacker.
We’re in 2023, an era when running backs like Joe Mixon and Dalvin Cook are looming cap casualties and anyone who isn’t an All-Pro off-ball linebacker isn’t valued highly by NFL teams. The Lions’ decision to make decisions like football is still being played in the 90s could ultimately be what costs them and no a strong Day 2 doesn’t save them.
We don’t fault the Jacksonville Jaguars entirely for what happened during the 2023 NFL Draft. Less than a day before Round 1, left tackle Cam Robinson was suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Instantly, offensive tackle became an alarming need for a team that already lost Jawaan Taylor this offseason.
Related: 2023 NFL Draft results
Jacksonville traded back twice, first from No. 24 overall to the 25th pick then to the 27th overall selection. The Jaguars ultimately selected Oklahoma Sooners offensive tackle Anton Harrison, with general manager Trent Baalke suggesting Harrison was the highest-rated player on their board. Color us skeptical on that, it feels more likely Jacksonville traded down multiple times so it could feel better about the selection. Harrison does offer some upside, but he’s a project.
Things didn’t get any better on Day 2. After seeing the run on tight ends, Jacksonville took Brenton Strange out of Penn State two rounds higher than most projected him to go. In the third round, the Jaguars selected running back Tank Bigsby despite already having Travis Etienne (first-round pick), D’Ernest Johnson and JaMycal Hasty on the roster.
Stockpiling a plethora of Day 3 picks in a draft class that was viewed as quite weak and thin is already a disappointing outcome. Throw in Robinson’s suspension and the disregard for needs at cornerback and edge rusher makes Jacksonville one of the biggest losers from the 2023 NFL Draft.
No one took a bigger hit in the 2023 NFL Draft than wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. When news broke that Lamar Jackson signed a contract extension with the Baltimore Ravens, trade rumors swirled that Hopkins would join the team. The structure of Jackson’s deal even created the necessary cap space for it to happen and the rumors were swirling.
By the end of Round 1, Cardinals’ general manager Monti Ossenfort informed reporters that Hopkins is staying in Arizona. Whether due to the Cardinals’ asking price in a trade or Hopkins’ bloated salary, no team is willing to trade for the All-Pro weapon.
“DeAndre is a Cardinal and we’re moving forward.”Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort on the possibility of trading DeAndre Hopkins
It means Hopkins is stuck on a rebuilding team entering his age-31 season. To make matters worse, all the Super Bowl contenders linked to Hopkins spent premium draft capital on young wide receivers. It leaves Hopkins in a situation where he’ll be catching passes from Colt McCoy for potentially half of the 2023 season. Stuck on the worst team in football, it’s going to be a long calendar year for Hopkins.
San Francisco 49ers
Not all of this is directly tied to what the San Francisco 49ers did in the 2023 NFL Draft. Instead, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan must face the music for the costly Trey Lance trade. If they never make that deal, San Francisco holds the 29th overall pick and can use it on a player like Joey Porter Jr, Michael Mayer or Steve Avila. One of the best teams in the league would’ve added a fantastic piece to improve its Super Bowl odds.
Instead, the 49ers don’t know what to do with Lance. He isn’t as skilled as they hoped and the reports of their lack of faith in him were confirmed the moment Lance was shopped around the league. To make matters worse, there isn’t much of a trade market for him.
Now, the 2023 NFL Draft itself wasn’t handled great either by San Francisco. Taking Ji’Ayir Brown to address the need at safety was fine. However, using the 99th overall pick on a kicker and then the 101st selection on a tight end with average athleticism and a low ceiling, that’s bizarre decision-making. Jake Moody is accurate, but his lack of power and issues from distance (66.6 percent from 40-plus) make it dumbfounding that a team would use a third-round pick on him.
The Washington Commanders correctly identified cornerback as a glaring need. Holding the 16th overall pick, with several great options on the board, head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew made a baffling decision.
Emmanuel Forbes is a playmaker and the combination of his athleticism, length, playmaking ability and instincts would lead you to believe he can be a high-end cornerback. However, Forbes only weighs 166 pounds and the list of impact cornerbacks in the NFL who weigh under 170 pounds is frighteningly small. An overaggressive corner who struggles against wide receivers with any kind of relative size, that’s a concern.
To make matters worse, Washington drafted him ahead of Christian Gonzalez. While the former Oregon Ducks standout doesn’t always play as physical as he should, he’s a better athlete with outstanding instincts and checks off all the boxes for a prototypical No. 1 cornerback. Gonzalez could become a perennial Pro Bowl selection, Forbes’ ceiling is an average starter.
We don’t have any strong criticisms of the Commanders’ Day 2 picks. Quan Martin projects to be a quality nickel corner in Washington and center Ricky Stromberg should help resolve some of the issues on the interior offensive line. Unfortunately, passing on Gonzalez in favor of Forbes drags Washington down in a draft when many of its NFC competitors fared well.