One of the many reasons the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LVII was the job that general manager Brett Veach did outside of the first round of the 2022 draft. Three defensive backs (Bryan Cook in the second round, Joshua Williams in the fourth, and Jaylen Watson in the seventh) were difference-makers all season, and seventh-round running back Isiah Pacheco became the team’s bellcow back down the stretch. Also, second-round receiver Skyy Moore joined Pacheco with touchdowns in that Super Bowl victory over the Eagles.
First-round hits are nice, but it’s almost worse to miss in the first round than it is better to win there from an opportunity cost perspective. If you want to refresh your roster at a championship level, you had better get those picks right on the second and third day. Veach and his staff did that, and it was the difference that made all the difference in the end.
Moving to the 2023 NFL draft, we’ve selected one second- or third-day pick for every NFL team who could have a similar impact on their NFL roaters sooner than mater. Each of these players have reasons for their relatively low picks in line with their tape, stats, and talent, but these are the kinds of finds that can turn a team around over time.
Arizona Cardinals: Dante Stills, DI, West Virginia
The Cardinals came into the draft needing interior defensive line help, and with Stills, who they got with the 213th overall pick in the sixth round, they may have a plug-and-play rotational player who can create havoc inside. Last season, the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Stills was good for five sacks and 30 total pressures in 334 passing attempts, with ability to stop the run as well. Moreover, Stills proved able to get pressure everywhere from nose tackle to end, and he made life unpleasant for blockers when he got going in a speed-to-power sense.
Atlanta Falcons: Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah
Phillips is the first of two steals at cornerback in this draft whose size was the only real debit. He may not fit everyone’s prototype at 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, but he proved more than able to shut down some of the NCAA’s best receivers both outside and in the slot. Last season, Phillips allowed 41 catches on 66 targets for 511 yards, 286 yards after the catch, four touchdowns, six interceptions, four pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 68.4. You need look no further than the work he did against USC’s Jordan Addison (who was taken by the Vikings with the 24th overall pick) to understand Phillips’ NFL potential.
Baltimore Ravens: Andrew Vorhees, OG, USC
Had Vorhees not suffered a torn ACL during his scouting combine workout, he would have been more highly considered than he was, and the Ravens were able to benefit from that unfortunate incident by getting him with the 229th pick in the seventh round. Maybe his situation is a redshirt one in the NFL, but he projects well as a power guard who can pass-protect. He allowed two sacks and 15 total pressures in 436 pass-blocking reps in 2022, and he possesses the right kind of playing personality for a Baltimore offense that loves to beat people up in the run game.
Buffalo Bills: Justin Shorter, WR, Florida
Clearly, Bills general manager Brandon Beane and his staff were watching a lot of Florida offensive tape this offseason, perhaps identifying people who could help a massive, athletic, running quarterback with a rocket arm like Anthony Richardson — and Josh Allen. The Bills selected guard O’Cyrun Torrence in the second round, and they doubled down on Gators with receiver Justin Shorter, who they got with the 150th overall pick in the fifth round.
The more you watched Richardson’s tape, the more Shorter stood out as a big, fast receiver who can get open downfield. Last season, Shorter caught nine of 17 passes of 20 or more air yards for 351 yards and two touchdowns. This 51-yard touchdown pass against LSU was the one everybody talked about with Richardson, but it wouldn’t have happened without Shorter blazing past the cornerback on the way.
Carolina Panthers: Chandler Zavala, OG, North Carolina State
The Panthers wanted to add power to their offensive line with the 2022 sixth-overall pick of Ikem Ekwonu, and they’ve now reunited Ekwonu with his former battery-mate Chandler Zavala with the 114th in the fourth round of this draft. That should amount to a lot of ibuprofen for enemy defensive lines.
Ickey Ekwonu (#79) & Chandler Zavala (#64).
— The Riot Report (@RRiotReport) April 30, 2023
The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Zavala is an excellent power/movement guard who allowed no sacks and four total pressures last season in 422 pass-blocking snaps, and there should be no question about his ability to move and seal people off in the run game.
Chicago Bears: Roschon Johnson, RB, Texas
Had Johnson been in a different running back room than the one he was in with the Longhorns, he would have seen more carries than the 94 he had in 2022. But when you’re backing up Bijan Robinson, perhaps the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, that’s how it goes — and why Johnson was available to the Bears with the 115th pick in the fourth round.
Then, you watch Johnson’s tape, and you realize that he forced 46 missed tackles and had nine runs of 15 or more yards on those 94 carries, and he begins to look a lot like a starting running back at the NFL level. He has serious power and movement skills, and would have been second-day pick under different circumstances.
Cincinnati Bengals: Charlie Jones, WR, Purdue
The Bengals selected a lot of pure athletes in this class, and Jones was one of them. He was also highly productive for the Boilermakers in 2022, catching 110 passes on 154 targets for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jones was available with the 131th overall pick in the fourth round, but that shouldn’t minimize his potential to add to an already stacked receiver group with his route awareness and contested-catch ability, as well as vertical juice (12 catches of 20 or more air yards last season for 438 yards and four touchdowns).
Cleveland Browns: Luke Wypler, C, Ohio State
I believed Wypler to be the second-best center in this class behind Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz (who went to the Giants in the second round), so how he lasted until the 190th overall pick in the sixth round, and how he was the FIFTH center drafted? Well, that’s a mystery to me. Wypler isn’t the most powerful center in this class at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, but he’s smart, tough, and he kept C.J. Stroud clean last season with just one sack and seven total pressures allowed in 449 pass-blocking reps. Wypler is a ready-made technician, and the Browns committed larceny with this pick.
Dallas Cowboys: Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State
Yes, the Cowboys’ selection of Vaughn with the 212th pick in the sixth round was heartwarming…
Here’s the emotional reaction in the Cowboys’ war room when the team used the 212th overall pick in the sixth round on Kansas St. RB Deuce Vaughn, son of Cowboys’ assistant director of college scouting, Chris Vaughn. pic.twitter.com/wC5dWw7IJp
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 29, 2023
…but there’s more to Vaughn’s game than that story. Last season for the Wildcats, the 5-foor-5, 179-pound Vaughn (there’s your answer as to why he was drafted where he was) gained 1,561 yards and scored nine touchdowns on 291 carries, with 57 missed tackles forces, and 21 carries of 15 or more yards. He’s also a big play waiting to happen in the passing game, with 43 catches for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Whether he’s running or catching the ball, Vaughn’s combination of straight-line speed and ridiculous cuts makes him a tough out at any level.
Denver Broncos: JL Skinner, S, Boise State
The Broncos got Skinner with the sixth pick in the sixth round, and he was the eighth safety drafted. He was my seventh-ranked safety in this class, and part of the hesitation was that he improves so much last season. 2022 was by far Skinner’s best season in coverage — he gave up just 17 catches on 32 targets for 176 yards, 89 yards after the catch, one touchdown, four interceptions, three pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 40.1. You may wonder about previous seasons, and maybe that was the lateness of his selection, but there’s little to argue with his ability to roam the deep third, and he should be a force to deal with over time in a defense that is waiting for its offense to catch up.
Detroit Lions: Antoine Green, WR, North Carolina
It took Green three full seasons with the Tar Heels before he made an impact in his fourth and fifth years, but in 2022, he was North Carolina’s second-most productive receiver behind Josh Downs, who went in the third round to the Colts. Last season, Green — who the Lions stole with the second pick in the seventh round — caught 43 passes on 65 targets for 798 yards and seven touchdowns, and 10 of those catches, 22 of those targets, 402 yards, and four of those touchdowns came on passes of 20 or more air yards.
Green ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, and he’s not a pure burner on the field, but he could stick and stay as a third receiver with his ability to get open with route panache, and win at the catch point. Green can also help his quarterbacks in scramble drills, which helps.
Green Bay Packers: Karl Brooks, EDGE, Bowling Green
Brooks was one of my most fun players to watch in this entire draft class, because it’s not often you see an edge-rusher winning at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds. Maybe it was the small-school thing that had Brooks on the boards until the 181st overall pick in the sixth round — not sure about that. But he’s not a sixth-round player. I doubt that the Packers will have him outside the tackles on 74% of his snaps as Bowling Green did, but of Brooks’ eight sacks and 71 total pressures last season, one sack and 13 pressures came inside the tackles with a relatively small sample size.
Brooks projects as a unique player who can line up pretty much everywhere along the formation, creating interesting mismatches, and if you just want to stick him inside, he has the strength, lateral agility, and pursuit demeanor to disrupt at the NFL level.
Houston Texans: Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Iowa State
There are a lot of people wondering about the haul the Texans gave up to the Cardinals to move up and take Alabama edge-rusher Will Anderson Jr. with the third overall pick, but if there’s a counter value pick in this class for Nick Caserio and his staff, it’s unquestionably Xavier Hutchinson, who Houston somehow got with the 28th pick in the sixth round. Based on his tape, there’s no way I would have thought that Hutchinson would still be there at pick No. 205. Last season, he caught 107 passes on 161 targets for 1,171 yards and six touchdowns, and he frequently impressed both outside and in the slot with an ability to get and stay open with subtle displacement moves, and expansion of his catch radius in short areas.
It’s not hyperbole to say that Hutchinson might be one of the Texans’ best receivers in 2023 right out of the gate.
Indianapolis Colts: Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley probably walked out of the team facility a happy man once the 2023 draft was over, as general manager Chris Ballard loaded him up with three new big cornerbacks — Kansas State’s Julius Brents in the second round, Texas A&M’s Jaylon Jones in the seventh round, and Rush with the 138th overall pick in the fifth round. A former receiver with the Gamecocks, Rush allowed just 18 catches in 31 targets last season for 317 yards, 104 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, two interceptions, six pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 87.7. Rush could use some work with the efficiency of his movement to match and carry receivers more consistently, but there’s no doubting his desire to win at the catch point.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Yasir Abdullah, EDGE, Louisville
Maybe it was size concerns that left Abdullah undrafted until the first pick in the fifth round, but the tape shows a player ready to disrupt quarterbacks at the NFL level. At 6-foot-1 and 237 pounds, Abdullah wins with speed-to-power moves, and he’s able to use his lack of height as an advantage in that he’ll just get under tackles and start pushing. Last season, Abdullah had 11 sacks and 59 total pressures, and he should fit well in Jacksonville’s impressive pass-rushing rotation.
Kansas City Chiefs: Keondre Coburn, DI, Texas
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes to have at least one massive earth-moving defensive tackle on his lines — Khalen Saunders and Derrick Nnadi have filled those roles of late — and Coburn should be a fascinating addition after Kansas City took him with the 194th overall pick in the sixth round. That’s about two rounds lower than I had him based on my tape study after I watched his 2022 season, in which the 6-foot-2, 332-pound Coburn registered four sacks and 31 total pressures. Coburn may be massive, but he’s more than just a stationary earthdog — No. 99 can move quite effectively to the quarterback, and he’s not above taking a guard all the way with him, using just one arm to out-leverage the poor guy.
Las Vegas Raiders: Nesta Jade Silvera, DI, Arizona State
The Raiders did a lot to add to their defense in this draft, starting with the selection of Texas Tech pass-rusher Tyree Wilson with the seventh overall pick, and that was obviously needed after what this team put on the field in 2022. I’m interested in the seventh-round selection of Arizona interior defensive lineman Nesta Jade Silvera, whose tape made his 231st overall selection a bit of a curiosity.
At 6-foot-2 and 304 pounds, Silvera has violent, active hands, he uses leverage very well to push blockers back, and he amassed his two sacks and 21 quarterback hurries, not to mention his 24 stops, from all kinds of gaps. Here, he did his demolition right over the center.
Los Angeles Chargers: Scott Matlock, DL, Boise State
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Matlock wasn’t on a lot of radars on the high side when discussing productive, multi-gap pass-rushers, but the Chargers were quite happy to pick him up with the 202nd overall pick in the sixth round. Matlock had three sacks, 28 quarterback pressures, and 27 stops last season, and he got that done everywhere from wide-9 to nose tackle. Matlock can win with stunts and games, and he’ll blow through double teams from time to time, but what should make him especially effective in Brandon Staley’s fronts is his straight-line speed to the quarterback — opposing blockers had best account for Matlock off the snap, or he’ll be in their backfields more than they would prefer.
Los Angeles Rams: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU
I am of the opinion that if Hodges-Tomlinson was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds as opposed to his 5-foot-8, 178-pound frame, we would have been talking about him as a first-round prospect right up there with Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez, and Joey Porter, Jr. Hodges-Tomlinson was one of the best deep-ball defenders in the NCAA last season, and overall, he allowed just 28 catches on 81 targets for 365 yards, 75 yards after the catch, two touchdowns, three interceptions, 10 pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of 42.5.
Check out TCU’s loss to Georgia in the College Football Championship to verify that most of the receivers Hodges-Tomlinson faced in 2022 could do very little against him. The Rams stole Hodges-Tomlinson with the 182nd overall pick in the sixth round, and I believe that over time, a lot of other NFL teams will regret not taking him for their own rosters.
Miami Dolphins: Ryan Hayes, OT, Michigan
The Dolphins went into the 2023 draft with a need to make their offensive line better, and not a lot of draft picks with which to do it — four overall. But they might have come away with a future starter in Ryan Hayes, who Miami got with the 238th overall pick in the seventh round. Hayes was a two-year starter at left tackle for a Michigan line that won the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line in college football in each of those years, and in 2022, he allowed no sacks, three quarterback hits, and eight quarterback hurries in 357 pass-blocking reps.
Hayes’ measurables may have him transitioning to guard at the next level (sixth-percentile arm length since 1999), but the Dolphins need help there, as well. Hayes can drive and maul in the run game, and he brings an aggressive playing personality to the field.
Minnesota Vikings: Jaquelin Roy, DI, LSU
I had Roy as my seventh-ranked interior defensive lineman in this class, so I was surprised that the Vikings were able to grab him with the 141st overall pick in the fifth round. Last season, Roy had two sacks, 27 total pressures, and 25 stops mostly at nose tackle, but he can bump outside to three-tech and 4i just fine, as well. At 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds, Roy has excellent strength to knife through double teams, and as he develops his counters to first blocks, he could be an outstanding interior disruptor in a Brian Flores-led defense in need of such things. This red zone rep against Texas A&M, where Roy just zipped into the backfield and stopped running back Devin Achane from doing anything of note, is the ideal.
New England Patriots: Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
Boutte was believed by some to be a first-round prospect coming into the 2022 season, but an odd year in which he just didn’t live up to expectations obviously tanked his draft stock, and that’s why the Patriots were able to select him with the 187th overall pick in the sixth round. This could be an epic steal for a New England offense in need of receiver talent if Boutte can maximize his attributes (speed, separation, YAC ability) and develop the stuff that needs developing (drops, route inconsistencies, catch radius). If Boutte can do stuff like he did on this touchdown against Georgia, where he just nuked the NCAA’s best defense on a simple crosser, he could be Mac Jones’ new best buddy.
New Orleans Saints: A.T. Perry, WR, Wake Forest
Wake Forest’s offense can be difficult to project to the NFL level, which I guess is why Perry was available for the Saints with the 195th overall pick in the sixth round… but then again, Perry caught 81 passes on 129 targets for 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns last season (his second straight 1,000-yard season), and he was pretty much the Demon Deacons’ entire passing game, so I’m not sure how much “projecting” we need to do here.
I would not have been at all surprised to hear his name in the back half of the second day, based on Perry’s size (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) and explosives play ability alone. Perry had 10 catches of 20 or more air yards for 373 yards and five touchdowns last season. Moreover, he can do things after the catch with an athletic ability to separate and get things done in space.
New York Giants: Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma
Maybe Gray’s size (5-foot-9, 207 pounds) was the reason he was available for the Giants with the 172nd overall pick in the fifth round (as well as the 11th running back selected overall), because it’s tough to find too many more dings. Maybe it was that 2022 was Gray’s breakout season in his second year with the Sooners after transferring from Tennessee, but last season, he gained 1.374 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 212 carries, with 58 missed tackles forced, and 21 runs of 15 or more yards.
Gray also caught 34 passes in 2022 for 238 yards last season, so *shrug emoji*. Maybe he’s not a true headbanger, and maybe he’s not the ideal blocker, but in Brian Daboll’s offense, he should excel with his ability to get and stay on the track, with acceleration, lateral agility, and post-contact power.
New York Jets: Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion
Kuntz was my eighth-ranked tight end in this class, and I compared him to Jimmy Graham as an absolute athletic freak who needs work with the refinements of the position. But, I mean… just look at this spider chart from MockDraftable.com.
The Penn State transfer caught 12 passes on 28 targets for 144 yards and two touchdowns in 2022 for the Monarchs in an injury-abbreviated season. The low catch rate was as much about quarterback play as anything else, and though Kuntz is really raw in some areas, I thought his scouting combine along would bump him above the 220th overall pick in the seventh round. Do you think that Aaron Rodgers can make something of a tight end who can get downfield quickly, and create favorable targets with subtle route nuances and a decided height advantage? I tend to think that Aaron Rodgers (who threw passes to Jimmy Graham in 2018 and 2019, by the way) just might.
Philadelphia Eagles: Moro Ojomo, DI, Texas
The Eagles and general manager Howie Roseman got all kinds of praise for their 2023 draft overall, and justifiably so — to the point where, apparently, other GMs are getting tired of the praise Roseman receives.
Our humble advice: Do better, guys.
In any event, one prospect the Eagles took in the seventh round, and with the 249th overall pick, is Texas defensive tackle Moro Ojomo. This flew under the radar, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Last season, Ojomo had five sacks and 26 total pressures in just 206 pass-rushing snaps, and he was also an outstanding run defender for the Longhorns, with 19 stops in 170 run defense snaps. At 6-foot-3 and 292 pounds, Ojomo operated primarily in the B-gaps, with potential at the edges.
If you’re familiar with the five-man fronts the Eagles loved to run under defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, and will continue to run under Sean Desai, that makes Ojomo sound like a perfect fit as a penetrating end with either Haason Reddick or Nolan Smith operating on the edge. The tape indicates that this is an accurate portrayal, and Ojomo can also beat tackles up as a big nickel end. Once again, Roseman and his staff aren’t doing anything particularly tricky — they’re just getting the best guys for the concepts they want to run. What a radical idea!
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cory Trice Jr., CB, Purdue
The Steelers played a lot of man coverage last season, and they weren’t particularly good at it. In the draft, they looked to solve that problem with the second-round selection of Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. (one of the most oppressive press-man cornerbacks in this class), and the addition of Pursue’s Cory Trice Jr. with the 241st overall pick in the second round. Like Porter, Trice is a huge (6-foot-3, 206-pound) defender who can match up in man coverage and go to town on an island.
Last season, Trice allowed two catches on eight targets in man coverage for 52 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Trice and Porter were both under-drafted for their stations, but the Steelers clearly had a type of cornerback they wanted to add to their roster, and they got two of those guys as definitively as possible.
San Francisco 49ers: Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan
The 49ers had a weird draft. They got a great safety in Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown in the third round, but starting with the selection of Michigan kicker Jake Moody with their next pick, there were a lot of reaches. However, there was another Michigan alum who wasn’t a reach, and that was receiver Ronnie Bell, who San Francisco got with the 253rd pick in the seventh round.
Last season, Bell led the Wolverines by far with 62 catches on 97 targets for 892 yards and four touchdowns. Eight of those receptions, along with 284 yards and two touchdowns, came on passes of 20 or more air yards. Bell was a particular problem for TCU’s defense in the Fiesta Bowl, catching six passes on nine targets for 135 yards and a touchdown. In his final collegiate game, Bell showed the kind of downfield speed and leverage ability that could serve him quite well in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Seattle Seahawks: Kenny McIntosh, RB, Georgia
Yes, of course the Seahawks selected two running backs in their draft, because (insert Pete Carroll meme here). There is, however, some method to the madness. UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet, who Seattle took with the 52nd pick in the second round, is a natural headbanger with a Marshawn Lynch-esque running style that perfectly complements Kenneth Walker’s slashing persona. And then, with the 237th pick in the seventh round, the Seahawks got McIntosh, who projects well as a speed runner and receiver both out of the backfield and occasionally in the formation. McIntosh caught 42 passes on 49 targets for 509 yards and two touchdowns last season, and this score from the slot against Ohio State demonstrates his explosive potential.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska
Last season for the Bucs, Mike Evans was the only receiver with more than three catches on throws of 20 or more air yards. With Tom Brady gone, and the quarterback job up for grabs between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask, the thought might be that any deep completions will be more on the receivers to make happen. Perhaps that’s why Tampa Bay took Palmer with the 191st pick in the sixth round. Palmer, the former five-star recruit and LSU transfer, was a revelation as a deep receiver in 2022, with 12 catches on throws of 20 or more air yards for 507 yards and seven touchdowns.
Palmer isn’t yet a completely developed receiver, but with the kind of explosive potential he showed on plays like this 87-yard touchdown against Iowa, maybe that’s something that can be developed over time while Palmer just runs past the guys covering him.
Tennessee Titans: Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland
The Titans were able to acquire Duncan with the 186th overall pick in the sixth round for one reason — for all his considerable athletic traits, Duncan is raw like sushi, and may be a multi-year project before he’s able to pass-protect at the NFL level. The 6-foot-6, 306-pound Duncan allowed seven sacks and 28 total pressures last season, with up-and-down results as a run-blocker.
The reason he’s a steal with that pick is that when he puts it all together on tape, Duncan has the kind of agility and movement skills any NFL offensive line coach would love. There’s a lot of coaching and technique work in Duncan’s future, but if he hits… he could be just as effective as Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski, who Tennessee took with the 11th overall pick.
Washington Commanders: KJ Henry, EDGE, Clemson
Ron Rivera did a lot for his secondary with the Commanders’ first two picks (Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes and Illinois safety Jartavius Martin), and then, did some interesting things for his team’s pass rush on the third day. Getting Louisiana edge defender Andre Jones Jr. in the seventh round was cool, but I especially liked the decision to select Clemson’s KJ Henry with the 137th overall pick in the fifth round. Last season, Henry led the Tigers with 53 total pressures with 53 — 19 more than Myles Murphy, who went to the Bengals with the 29th overall pick.
Not that Henry is the same kind of player — Murphy has a more refined palette — but it’s hard to argue with Henry’s five sacks, 14 quarterback hits, and 34 quarterback hurries when you consider where Washington got him. The 6-foot-4, 251-pound Henry needs to develop more moves and counters, but he comes into the league with great quickness off the snap, and surprising power to get to the quarterback.