The first round of the highly anticipated 2023 NFL Draft is in the books. While there were certainly some teams reaching for need, several others found plug-and-play prospects that also offered tremendous value. Let’s take a look at the five biggest steals from the first round of this NFL Draft.
1. Eagles Select DT Jalen Carter With No. 9 Pick
The Philadelphia Eagles were clearly one of the biggest winners on Thursday night. Wanting to ensure Chicago didn’t take him or trade its pick away to another interested team, the Eagles parted ways with their 2024 fourth-round pick to secure Jalen Carter. It’s a small price to pay for arguably the most talented prospect in this entire draft class.
Despite his off-field concerns, Carter is an outstanding pick for a well-coached team that routinely pours premium resources into the trenches and anticipates roster needs a year in advance. And he lands in the perfect situation, reuniting with three collegiate teammates who will be able to hold him accountable and keep his head on straight in Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean and Nolan Smith. Carter will also be able to learn from All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham.
An extremely explosive prospect and blue-chip talent with generational upside, Carter is a disruptive force in the run game and brings a ridiculous motor as an interior pass rusher. His hand usage is outstanding, his feet are always active, and he rockets out of his stance with a wicked first step. He has all of the tools to excel as a three-technique for the Eagles.
2. Patriots Select CB Christian Gonzalez With No. 17 Pick
The New England Patriots hit two birds with one stone when they traded back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which netted them an additional fourth-round pick (No. 120 overall) and prevented the division rival New York Jets from addressing by far their biggest need and selecting Broderick Jones, who was the last of the tackle prospects worth a mid-first-round pick. And New England still ended up addressing a key position of need with its desired target and arguably the top cornerback in this draft.
Equipped with a rare combination of size (6-1, 197 pounds), length, strength and top-end speed, Christian Gonzalez has the physical and athletic traits to be a constant headache for opposing receivers. Still only 20 years old, look for the former Oregon and Colorado cornerback to continue to develop his technique and ball skills as the replacement for J.C. Jackson.
3. Seahawks Select WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba With No. 20 Pick
This was a curveball, given the Seattle Seahawks’ needs on the other side of the ball, as well as the fact that Smith-Njigba slid to the 20th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. This pick set off an inevitable run on receivers, with Quentin Johnston, Zay Flowers and Jordan Addison joining JSN in consecutive order off the board.
The 6-1, 196-pound acrobatic catch artist exudes exceptional short-area quickness, elite body control and has a PHD in route running. The Seahawks have finally found their legitimate No. 3 receiving threat to pair with DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
4. Eagles Select DE Nolan Smith With No. 30 Pick
The Eagles double-dipped with high-impact Georgia defensive linemen in the first round. Because he’s an undersized (6-2, 238 pounds) edge defender with just 12.5 career sacks at Georgia and is coming off a season-ending injury, it wasn’t a surprise that he slid to the No. 3o overall pick. But without a doubt, Philadelphia ended up with another major steal.
An elite game-wrecker in the run game, Smith is a boulder to maneuver due to his technique and leverage strength. He wasn’t able to consistently showcase his complete skills set in Georgia’s scheme, but he possesses the bend and exceptional explosiveness to have plenty of success as a pass rusher in a role similar to Haason Reddick.
5. Ravens Select WR Zay Flowers With No. 22 Pick
On the same day they made Lamar Jackson the NFL’s highest-paid player with a massive contract extension, the Ravens gave him a dynamic weapon at receiver in the NFL Draft. Needless to say, Jackson is happy with the addition.
One of my favorite prospects in this year’s class at any position, Flowers possesses strong ball skills with top-end speed. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Antonio Brown, Percy Harvin, and Steve Smith Sr. (from the man himself), Flowers also boasts tremendous balance and body control and is incredibly dynamite after the catch. He plays with a high level of energy, confidence, and versatility, and he solidifies a receiving corps that also includes Mark Andrews, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman.
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