KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft didn't lack for intrigue. The Houston Texans kicked things off by nudging their way into two picks in the top three. We learned that running backs still have value, and that there wasn't enough room for four quarterbacks in the first round. Big men also carried the day, as 16 total offensive and defensive linemen went in the 31 picks made on Thursday.
The tough part of this event is that not everyone walked away happy. Kentucky's Will Levis, one of the top quarterback prospects in this class, never heard his name called. There were some other talented players with first-round potential who fell into the same situations, including Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer, Alabama safety Brian Branch and Georgia Tech edge rusher Keion White. They're certain to be selected by somebody on Friday, but they all could've landed in the first round if circumstances had played out differently. Unfortunately for them, that's not what happened.
That's the reality of the draft. You never know what teams are thinking until the cards have been turned in and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is standing at the podium, waiting to speak. Somebody eventually wins and somebody else loses, which is why this special draft edition of The First Read is dedicated to the people who fell into both categories on Thursday ...
1) Nick Caserio, general manager, Houston Texans: The Texans came into this draft with 12 selections and an opportunity to bolster their roster in a big way. Their GM wound up making a major splash in the first round by nabbing what could be the future cornerstones of this team's offense and defense. Many analysts had begun to muse about the Texans potentially passing on a quarterback with the second overall pick, but Caserio proved he wasn't going to overthink this. Ohio State's C.J. Stroud was the second-best signal-caller in this crop and deserved to be the second player drafted. Caserio's power move was the trade that then brought him the third overall pick, which originally belonged to Arizona. He used that selection to grab the best defensive player in this class, Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr.
It wouldn't be wise to bet on the Texans, who won three games in 2022, immediately becoming a competitive team, but these are the kinds of moves Caserio had to deliver for this franchise. The AFC is filled with talented squads that keep improving. The Jacksonville Jaguars, an AFC South rival, just leapt into the playoffs after being the worst team in the league for two consecutive seasons. The Texans had to start boosting their own stock. Caserio did just that on Thursday night.
2) The running back position: So much for all the talk that you can find a good running back anywhere in the draft. The exceptional ones apparently still come at a premium, as Bijan Robinson went eighth overall to the Atlanta Falcons and Jahmyr Gibbs wound up being the 12th overall pick, courtesy of the Detroit Lions. To understand the significance of that, you first must realize that no running back had been picked in the top 10 since 2018 (when Saquon Barkley was taken second overall by the New York Giants). You'd have to go back one year earlier to find the last time two backs were taken within the first 12 picks of the draft (Leonard Fournette, selected fourth overall by Jacksonville, and Christian McCaffrey, picked eighth overall by Carolina).
The draft status of Robinson and Gibbs suggests how electric they are. Robinson is going to the perfect home, playing for a head coach (Arthur Smith) who loves the run game and unleashed Derrick Henry on the league when serving as offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. Gibbs is a mismatch nightmare who has the quickness and speed to be a tremendous weapon for Detroit's crafty offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson. If the success of teams like the Eagles and 49ers last season proved anything, it was that running game still has a place in this league. The first round of this draft simply reinforced that.
3) Howie Roseman, GM, Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles were supposed to be in a tough spot when last season ended in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII. It doesn't look so bad right now, largely because Roseman continues to make killer moves. Philadelphia did lose some key players from the team that won the 2022 NFC title, but the trade up to nab Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter with the ninth pick was huge. Philadelphia can now pair him with his former college teammate, Jordan Davis, and still be giddy about the potential of a defensive line that was a crucial part of this team's success. And if that wasn't good enough, Carter's other college teammate, edge rusher Nolan Smith, was still there for the Eagles to snap up with the 30th overall pick.
Roseman already was having a pretty good offseason, because he held onto both his starting cornerbacks (Darius Slay and James Bradberry) and a veteran leader (edge rusher Brandon Graham), with young replacements ready to step in for those who departed in free agency (Davis at defensive tackle and yet another Georgia product, Nakobe Dean, at linebacker). Oh, yeah, Roseman also worked out an extension with All-Pro quarterback Jalen Hurts that gives the franchise much-needed flexibility in roster-building moving forward. The Eagles will face all the typical challenges that come with being defending NFC champs next season. What won't be in question is whether they'll have enough talent to chase another shot at the Super Bowl.
4) Anthony Richardson, QB, Indianapolis Colts: There was plenty of buzz building around Richardson over the past few months, so much so that his selection by Indianapolis as the fourth overall pick wasn't surprising. He wins here for two reasons. One is that his prodigious skill set clearly meant more than his limited experience as a starter when the Colts made this decision. The other important benefit for him is that he's landing with head coach Shane Steichen, the same man who helped grow Jalen Hurts from a raw talent into an MVP runner-up during his tenure as offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.
Steichen has shown that he's an innovative coach who's willing to play to a young quarterback's strengths to help them develop. The Eagles famously employed a run-dominant offense in the second half of the 2021 season to capitalize on Hurts' legs. They then shifted to a more balanced, wide-open system to take better advantage of his growth as a passer. The same thing can happen for Richardson, who possesses a similar skill set to Hurts. The process may not be completed overnight, but the possibilities are tantalizing with Steichen overseeing his development.
5) Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens: Jackson finally ended two years of negotiating drama with the Ravens by signing a five-year, $260 million deal on Thursday that made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. He then watched his team draft Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers with the 22nd pick. Jackson didn't get a fully guaranteed contract, but this is a pretty good consolation prize. Flowers has big-play ability and should fit nicely into a receivers room that now includes Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman. All those players also will be working in an offense operated by new coordinator Todd Monken. The Ravens repeatedly said that they wanted Jackson to remain with the franchise, and he wisely came around to the idea that Baltimore was the best place for him to be. It took some time, as these things often do. But the star quarterback should be thrilled by both his bank account and the potential of this offense moving forward.
1) Will Levis, QB, Kentucky: Levis became the latest player to suffer a difficult wait in the green room at an NFL draft while so many other prospects heard their names called. That's not a knock on Levis, by the way. He has substantial talent and the type of potential to be an NFL success story. It's just that it's becoming commonplace for draft prognosticators to hype up too many quarterbacks in the weeks leading up to the draft, only to see somebody drop when the teams eventually start making selections. It happened last year with Malik Willis, who wound up as a third-round pick after being touted as a first-rounder. Justin Fields was supposed to be a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he ended up being taken by Chicago with the 11th overall pick that year.
You knew Levis was in trouble once the Tennessee Titans passed on him with this year's 11th selection, because there were no teams with pressing needs at quarterback after that spot. That's usually what happens to players like Levis when there is too much competition at the position. It becomes a numbers game. The good thing is that the NFL has proven time again that draft day doesn't mean a whole lot. Just ask Tom Brady or Jalen Hurts. It's not how you start in this league. It's what you do with your opportunities.
2) Christian Gonzalez, CB, New England Patriots: As with Levis, Gonzalez isn't listed here because of a lack of talent; rather, he's here because of timing. Most draft pundits had the exceptionally skilled corner locked in as a top-10 pick -- instead, he wound up being taken 17th overall after watching two other cornerbacks go ahead of him (Devon Witherspoon to Seattle at No. 5 and Emmanuel Forbes to Washington at No. 16). There were several factors at play. There was a run on offensive tackles. Two running backs went in the top 12, with one, Bijan Robinson, heading to a Falcons franchise that also sorely needs help at cornerback. And other teams had more obvious needs aside from the secondary.
The good news for Gonzalez is that he landed with a franchise that has a pretty good history with stud cornerbacks. The Patriots have thrived with stars like Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Darrelle Revis and Stephon Gilmore playing that position during Bill Belichick's tenure. It's not hard to see Gonzalez reaching a similar level of success.
3) Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills: The Bills desperately need another wide receiver to take some pressure off Stefon Diggs and give Allen more options in the passing game. So what did they do after trading up for the 25th overall selection? They took Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid. This pick would've made more sense if the Bills didn't already have a young, skilled tight end in Dawson Knox. It might even be an intriguing thought to see the Bills use more two-tight end sets after years of spreading defenses out with a more wide-open system. One could see Kincaid and Knox thriving in something like that, which would be stealing a page from the mismatch playbook Andy Reid has been utilizing in Kansas City.
But let's also be real here: The Bills need more weapons on the outside for Allen. He wants to throw the ball down the field, and he didn't see Gabe Davis blossom in the way many had hoped last season. Maybe the Bills didn't like their options at receiver after four went in consecutive picks between 20 and 23. There's also the possibility that they'll look for somebody at that position in later rounds. We'll have to see what happens. As for right now, there still remains an obvious void in their offense.
4) Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee: Hooker was a sexy pick to make it into the first round. But with Levis falling, Hooker was also unlikely to find a spot in the later picks on Thursday. In fairness, Hooker always was going to be a luxury pick for a team that already had a veteran quarterback and was looking for someone to develop. He's 25 years old, recovering from an ACL injury sustained late in his final season and in need of some refinement after playing in a college system that some might describe as gimmicky. The upside here is that he can still find plenty of teams interested in his services. Hooker had a visit with the Lions, who have the third pick in the second round. The Rams, Seahawks, Raiders and Titans also could be looking for quarterbacks when Friday's selections begin. He'll find a team on Day 2. He's got too much going for him for that not to happen.
5) Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State: Like Gonzalez, Porter figured to hear his name called much earlier in this draft. He's a rugged cornerback who excels at press coverage, and he's got the bloodlines, to boot (his father, Joey Porter, was a standout edge rusher for the Pittsburgh Steelers). Porter also ran into the same problem as Gonzalez, in that teams apparently didn't feel as antsy about missing out on a good cornerback, because this draft is filled with them. Four went in the first round -- Witherspoon, Gonzalez, Forbes and Maryland's Deonte Banks -- and there are still plenty to be had on Day 2. Porter will land somewhere in the second round. And he'll be a steal in the process.