Grading all the 2023 1st-round picks after Week 9

How are the first-round rookies doing at the halfway mark of their first seasons?

Every NFL team has now played eight games. While that’s technically not quite halfway through the 17-game schedule, it’s close enough to have a solid initial impression on the rookie class. Mid-term grade time!

It’s been an interesting ride for the first-rounders in the 2023 NFL draft through Week 9. Some have excelled, while others have struggled to transition from the college game for a variety of reasons.

The grade here is based on the performance of the player so far in the given circumstances, not the merit of the draft selection.

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Colts rookie QB Anthony Richardson placed on I.R.

Colts rookie QB Anthony Richardson placed on I.R. with a shoulder injury

The Anthony Richardson era was off to an impressive start in Indianapolis. Richardson led the Colts to a 2-2 record in his four games as the starter, but it will be some time before we see the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft under center again.

Richardson suffered a scary-looking injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in the Colts’ Week 5 win over the Tennessee Titans. He was unable to move his right arm after being tackled hard into the turf and left the game.

Now the Colts have placed Richardson on the injured reserve list. The rookie will miss at least the next four games. It could be significantly longer if he needs surgery to repair the injured shoulder, per Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Richardson was completing just under 60 percent of his passes and threw for three touchdowns against one interception. He demonstrated poise and a derring-do style that played well with teammates.

Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud makes history in big win over Jaguars

Stroud is off to a great start for the Texans and joined some impressive company in Week 3

It is starting to seem like the Houston Texans are on the turnaround they have been searching for since the departure of their former embattled quarterback. Rookie quarterback and second overall selection CJ Stroud has been everything this Houston squad was hoping he would be out of Ohio State, and in their latest win over the division rival Jaguars, put himself on a historic pace.

It was another impressive outing by Stroud as he was able to put up 280 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and outduel Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence in a huge first career win for the rookie. That performance also put Stroud into the history books as he became one of three players in NFL history to throw for over 900 passing yards in their first three games. This puts Stroud with Cam Newton and Justin Herbert, who each had historic rookie seasons in their own rights.

If Stroud can keep this pace going and deliver some more impressive wins, he will be in prime position to not only steal offensive rookie of the year, but go down in history with one of the best rookie quarterback seasons yet. While Stroud still has a long season to go, the Houston Texans have to feel happy with their top selection so far, and seem to have found their future at the quarterback position.

Another 2025 draft pick has been traded already

Several 2025 NFL draft picks have already been traded before the 2023 NFL season begins

Another trade involving a draft pick that is nearly two years away took place in the NFL this week. The New York Jets and Detroit Lions agreed to a deal that involves not one but two selections in the 2025 NFL draft.

The trade sent 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims from New York to Detroit. The Jets dealt the disappointing wideout for the very low compensation of a pick swap in the late rounds of 2025. New York will receive a 2025 sixth-round pick from Detroit but only if Mims makes the Lions roster. The Jets sent back a 2025 seventh-rounder that is not conditional.

This deal joins a small but growing list of picks in the 2025 draft that have already been traded. Among the others:

  • The Panthers’ second-round pick belongs to the Chicago Bears as part of the trade for Carolina to move up to No. 1 overall in 2023 and select QB Bryce Young.
  • The Eagles’ fourth-rounder which was sent to the Lions as part of the trade for RB D’Andre Swift.
  • A deal between the Browns and Vikings that sent EDGE Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland. The Browns included a fifth-round pick in 2025 in the deal, while Minnesota sent back a sixth and a seventh in 2025

Trades of far future picks like this didn’t use to happen in the NFL.

Some 2nd-round picks getting bigger guarantees and bonuses in their contracts

Some 2nd-round picks, including Seattle’s Derick Hall and Detroit’s Sam LaPorta, are getting bigger guarantees and bonuses in their contracts

For much of the past few years, contracts for NFL draft picks have largely been formalities. The most recent CBA between the league and the NFLPA effectively eliminated negotiations and holdouts with standardized slotting for each draft spot.

That seems to be changing in 2023 with the second-round picks in the draft class. Two second-round rookies are pushing the envelope with their first contracts.

Seattle’s Derick Hall, the No. 37 overall pick, was the first to push for more than the recent standards. Hall and the Seahawks agreed to a deal that pays the pass rusher from Auburn a higher percentage of his signing bonus (85 percent) before training camp. They also agreed that Hall would get a small portion of his fourth year fully guaranteed. It’s only $100,000 but that’s $100,000 more than is typically guaranteed in the final year of the rookie deal for players selected after the first round.

Detroit’s top second-round pick, Iowa TE Sam LaPorta, followed suit. LaPorta signed his rookie deal on Thursday, and it includes an even higher percentage of fourth-year guaranteed money. LaPorta bagged 20 percent of his final year in guarantees. That ups the ante from Hall and Rams guard Steve Avila, who netted a 15 percent fourth-year guarantee as the No. 36 overall pick. Avila, from TCU, also had his first three seasons fully guaranteed by the Rams.

It’s a sign of agents finding ways to get their players more compensation within the framework of the rookie wage scale. The teams, at least a few of them, seem willing to play along.

My 7 biggest draft misses as an evaluator and the lessons learned from them

Draft Wire’s Jeff Risdon looks back at the 7 biggest misses in his draft evaluations over the last 20 years and what he learned from them

Recently I reflected upon the top-graded players at each position in my draft evaluations since 2004. That was a fun exercise.

This trip down memory lane is not so pleasant. But it’s an important one nonetheless.

Who were my biggest misses in the draft evaluation process?

Most of these are players who I expected to be very good in the NFL but didn’t pan out. There are a couple of notable prospects where I grossly underestimated their impact at the next level, too.

The point here is to learn from the misses. Why were my evaluations off? What did I think I saw that made me miss? If you’re not trying to get better and learn from your mistakes as an evaluator, you’re destined to keep missing.

Report: The Shrine Bowl is headed to Texas for 2024

A report from Brett McMurphy indicates the Shrine Bowl is moving to the Dallas Cowboys training facility in Frisco, Texas

One of the most prominent postseason showcase games is on the move again. The Shrine Bowl is relocating to Frisco, Texas for the 2024 edition of the longstanding pre-draft event. A report from Brett McMurphy via the Action Network indicated the move is happening, placing the game at “The Star”, the Cowboys’ training facility.

The game, also known as the East-West Game, has been held in Las Vegas for the last two years. Prior to that, it spent many years in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl feature the largest collection of NFL draft prospects who have completed their senior seasons or graduated already from the college ranks. Among the notable Shrine Bowl alums in the 2023 NFL draft are first-round wideout Zay Flowers and kicker Jake Moody, who was selected in the third round.

The top-graded draft prospects at each position since 2004

Draft Wire’s Jeff Risdon reveals his top-graded draft prospects at each position since 2004

On a recent radio appearance, I was asked an intriguing question.

“Who was the best prospect you’ve ever graded?”

I’ve been evaluating prospects and covering the NFL draft professionally since 2004, which meant the 2023 draft was my 20th. The question and the timeframe was a nice catalyst to go back and examine some of the older evaluations.

To answer the question directly, my highest-graded player ever was Wisconsin OT Joe Thomas in 2007. The grading scales and systems I use have changed over the years, but Thomas topped any iteration.

Here are the top-graded players from my evaluations at each position since the 2004 NFL draft.

How a Beastie Boys song can help the NFL scout LB prospects better

The NFL keeps looking for the wrong things in 1st-round LBs, but heeding a Beastie Boys song could help them evaluate them better

Here’s a little story I’ve got to tell about drafting linebackers in the NFL…

NFL teams haven’t established a great track record in evaluating first-round linebackers lately. A quick check of the recent decline in all fifth-year options for first-round LBs in the 2020 draft shows the league still struggles to get linebacker scouting correct.

My good friend Ash Thompson recorded an outstanding video breakdown on this whole topic for the Detroit Lions Podcast, in the context of evaluating 2023 first-rounder Jack Campbell. In chatting with Thompson privately, I was reminded of both an old song and something I’ve learned about linebacking play over the years.

Hold it now, hit it

The Beastie Boys and their “License to Ill” album was part of the deep-rooted soundtrack of my high school years. There’s a lesser-known track mixed among the epic songs, one that’s been a phrase I’ve adopted over the years to help me sort out my linebacker evaluations. It’ss the lead track on the album as well as a guiding light in LB scouting.

“Hold it now, hit it”

In linebacking terms, it means being positionally disciplined while also having enough athleticism to react quickly enough to make the play. Intelligence and body control matter as much–if not more–than straight-line speed and hyperkinetic energy. Hold your ground, don’t get fooled, then strike and terminate the play with a hit.

In his video, Thompson highlighted one-time Lions first-rounder Jarrad Davis, who is a great example of where the NFL gets evaluations at LB all wrong. Davis is a special athlete, a big-fast-strong-twitchy athlete, the kind of guy you want leading the charge to fight for the right to party. Alas, that doesn’t make him a very good linebacker.

Davis is far from the only linebacker where the NFL was looking for the new style in the wrong places. 2020 first-rounder Isaiah Simmons is another great example of a tremendous athlete who didn’t actually play off-ball linebacker all that effectively in college (he was best as a box safety), but was expected to just flip that switch in the NFL. Simmons, like Davis, Devin Bush, Darren Lee, Ernie Sims and many others, just wasn’t that crafty at actually doing LB things with their athleticism.

Overvaluing athletic traits at a position where football IQ is a paramount virtue for success is where NFL teams continually foul. There has to be a requisite level of athleticism to make it work, of course; slow and low is not an effective tempo. Change of direction ability, initial burst and open-field speed can’t be ignored, but they shouldn’t be the primary attribute. The ability to diagnose a play pre-snap, quickly read and react to a play, finish tackles and understand coverage responsibilities are more important than running 40 yards in a straight line rapidly.

The NFL does appear to be listening to the same tune. In this draft class, Clemson’s Trenton Simpson was my No. 86 overall prospect. I expected Simpson, a phenomenal athlete, to be selected in the top 40 because of his physical traits even though he didn’t pass my “hold it now, hit it” test. Simpson wound up being the No. 86 overall pick, by the Baltimore Ravens.

Scratching the record back to Jack Campbell, he absolutely passed the “hold it now, hit it” test. The Iowa LB was my No. 23 overall prospect. Detroit is hoping he makes sweeter music as the No. 18 overall pick than so many recent out-of-tune LBs have played. I like his chances.


EA Sports is allowing players to opt-in to appear in upcoming college football game

The wildly popular game series is set to return in 2024

If you are a football fan who went to college in the 1990s or early 2000s, you probably spent a good deal of time playing the EA Sports “College Football” video game series. I played the 1993-1996 versions for days at a time.

The company stopped producing the annual release with the 2014 edition. One of the big reasons was the complaints of players who appeared in the game not being able to receive any compensation for their appearance or likeness being used. EA Sports is bringing the game back, and the company and the new NIL rules have mitigated the issue of player compensation.

Mike Rothstein of ESPN reported that EA Sports is allowing players the option to appear in the game. From Rothstein:

Details — such as how much an athlete will receive and the structure of payments — are still being finalized, but the EA Sports representative said the goal is to be “as inclusive and equitable as possible.” On the OneTeam website, the company stated that if the influence of individual sales couldn’t be figured out — including for video game licensing — then “revenue will be divided equally among the athletes included in each licensing program.”

The opt-in ability removes some of the obstacles faced in producing the new version of the game. The college football game is expected to return in 2024. It’s always been a great way to get more familiar with the attributes of players who could eventually enter the NFL, aside from being an exceptionally entertaining diversion.