Behind Enemy Lines: Comparing NFC East teams’ 2023 draft hauls
The Cowboys were playing catch-up to the Philadelphia Eagles within the NFC East all last season. After an aggressive offseason that saw them improve their roster by leaps and bounds, the Eagles were the last undefeated team in the league during the regular season, claimed the division crown, and then sailed through the playoffs to a Super Bowl berth.
Dallas, on the other hand, went into the schedule with rose-colored glasses regarding several players and how they would perform. It was a best-case-scenario plan, and it flopped. The team had enough talent to scratch and claw their way to a 12-5 season, but the ride came to an abrupt end in the postseason while the obviously better teams moved on.
The 2023 NFL draft showed that Philadelphia is still swinging for the fences, while the Cowboys seem content to stick to their guns and wait for some secret master internal plan to gradually unfold.
But 2023 won’t be just a two-team race in the East. The Giants impressed many draft analysts with their picks and look to be trending upward, perhaps more quickly than assumed. And while the Commanders are expected to start turning the ship around under new ownership, it will take a while; their draft class got mixed reviews.
Here’s how the NFC East stacks up after three days of drafting.
[Ed. note: We took the draft grades from six national outlets and averaged them out to determine a composite grade for each team.]
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Oct 8, 2022; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Nolan Smith (4) tackles Auburn Tigers running back Tank Bigsby (4) at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Recap: It was going to be very difficult for the Eagles to not make a major splash, with two picks in the first round and four picks total over the first three rounds. And splash they did.
For the second year in a row, Philadelphia opted to take multiple defensive standouts from the national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Carter, Smith, and Ringo join an already formidable unit and threaten to transform it into a bona fide monster for the upcoming season… and well beyond.
General manager Howie Roseman worked the draft like a master, trading away some capital to nab Carter- maybe the best overall talent in the pool- and still walking away with what most analysts are calling the best draft class in the league.
Unwilling to limit their shopping to collegiate talent, the Eagles also worked a trade over the weekend, giving up a seventh-rounder and a Day 3 pick in 2025 (!) for Lions running back D’Andre Swift, who will likely walk right into the starting job in Philly.
Steen, the offensive lineman out of Alabama was thought to be a target for Dallas at one point, as was the Texas defensive tackle Ojomo.
2023 draft picks:
1.9 Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
1.30 Nolan Smith, DE, Georgia
3.65 Tyler Steen, OL, Alabama
3.66 Sydney Brown, DB, Illinois
4.105 Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
6.188 Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford
7.249 Moro Ojomo, DT, Texas
Bottom line: It’s very difficult to not see the Eagles as the most stacked team in the NFC East once again. Nearly every draft analyst in the business gave them an A of some variety for their 2023 draft haul, with most ranking them best in the league for what they gained in Kansas City.
Composite grade: A (3.95 out of 4.0)
Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt (11) pulls in a first down catch Vanderbilt defensive back Ja’Dais Richard (34) during the first quarter at FirstBank Stadium Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn.
Ncaa Football Tennessee Volunteers At Vanderbilt Commodores
Recap: GM Joe Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll also took an aggressive approach to the 2023 draft, trading up more than once to secure the players they wanted. Maryland’s Banks looks to be a perfect fit for the Giants secondary and likely worth the two late-round selections it took to get him at No. 24.
Schmitz is a big center who will help quarterback Daniel Jones in his continued development; Grey, the Oklahoma running back, will be a decent fill-in for Saquon Barkley (provided the organization is able to negotiate a contract with him).
Tennessee’s Hyatt probably should have been taken long before the third round. Big Blue traded up again- 16 spots, this time- to get him. He’s a speedy vertical threat who had garnered some interest in Dallas, and he’ll make an immediate impact in the Giants passing game, but some are wondering if the team has a true WR1 on the roster.
New York bulked up their defense with the rest of their picks, a smart move considering the offensive firepower in both Dallas and Philadelphia that will make up almost a quarter of the Giants’ regular-season-opponent schedule.
2023 draft picks:
1.24 Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
2.57 John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota
3.73 Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
5.172 Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma
6.209 Tre Hawkins III, CB, Old Dominion
7.243 Jordon Riley, DT, Oregon
7.254 Gervarrius Owens, S, Houston
Bottom line: The Giants continue to make strides. After sneaking into the playoffs in 2022 and advancing past the wild card round, they figure to be much better now than their 9-7-1 record last year might indicate. They scored A grades almost across the board from the outlets we consulted, though there was a lone C- that dragged down their composite score considerably.
Composite grade: B+ (3.52 out of 4.0)
Sep 24, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; Maryland Terrapins running back Roman Hemby (24) is tackled by Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Mazi Smith (58) in the first half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Recap: The Cowboys- behind Jerry and Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and Mike McCarthy- have built a reputation as a team that drafts extraordinarily well. Their ’23 draft class will either cement that status or be viewed as a rare miss, though it may take a few seasons to reach either conclusion.
No one questions Smith’s physical skills and athleticism, but whether the defensive tackle should have been taken with the 26th overall pick will be up for debate for a while. Fellow Michigan Wolverine Schoonmaker also fills a positional need, but also probably could have been gotten later than he was at 58.
Most outlets praised the third-round pick of the Texas linebacker Overshown, and Vaughn, the sixth-round running back, adds undeniable talent in the backfield (though not the size to immediately quell concerns over losing Ezekiel Elliott).
The Cowboys’ remaining picks figure to be longer-term projects for the Dallas coaching staff. Fehoko has size and athleticism, but will need work and figures to be a rotational piece at best. Richards, Scott, and Brooks provide depth, but may have a hard time standing out among their respective position groups.
2023 draft picks:
1.26 Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan
2.58 Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan
3.90 DeMarvion Overshown, LB, Texas
4.129 Viliami Fehoko Jr., DE San Jose State
5.160 Asim Richards, OT, North Carolina
6.178 Eric Scott Jr., CB Southern Mississippi
6.212 Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State
7.244 Jalen Brooks, WR, South Carolina
Bottom line: Assuming the Eagles are still the best-in-class among NFC powers, most outlets found themselves wondering if the Cowboys did enough with their draft capital to significantly improve the team in the short-term. No one outside The Star loved their draft class, but no one really hated it either.
Composite grade: C+ (2.38 out of 4.0)
Nov 19, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs cornerback Emmanuel Forbes (13) returns an interception for a touchdown against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers during the second quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
Recap: Washington retooled their secondary by taking cornerbacks with their Thursday and Friday picks. Forbes was a ballhawk in college, but there are questions about his size and whether he’ll be able to withstand 17 games of punishment every year. That the Commanders took him over other higher-ranked corners is somewhat puzzling.
They shifted their focus to the offensive line in Rounds 3 and 4, hoping to better protect whoever ends up being the Commanders quarterback. The two defensive ends will be of note, as the team did not pick up the fifth-year option of Chase Young, perhaps signalling that his term in the nation’s capitol is nearing an end.
Despite a record number of passers taken overall this year, the Commanders chose not to add one in the draft. The club seems satisfied with letting Jacoby Brissett and Sam Howell battle it out for the gig, perhaps with an eye toward a 2024 prospect.
2023 draft picks:
1.16 Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
2.47 Jartavius Martin, CB, Illinois
3.97 Ricky Stromberg, C, Arkansas
4.118 Braeden Daniels, G, Utah
5.137 K.J. Henry, DE, Clemson
6.193 Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB, Kentucky
7.233 Andre Jones Jr., DE, Louisiana
Bottom line: The basement-dwellers of the division didn’t do much to climb out of the cellar with this group of picks. That said, their draft grades don’t look very different from the Cowboys’. In what is likely to be another rebuilding year in Washington- especially as the culture starts to shift under new ownership- some of these prospects may turn out to be solid building blocks… eventually.
Composite grade: C+ (2.22 out of 4.0)