A New NFL Generation Starts Their Journey

32 Team’s Futures are on the Line

Andrew Havens, Staff Writer

The 2023 NFL Draft officially wrapped up earlier this week with some major surprises and major storylines. Perennial NFL bottom feeders had their yearly chance to improve their franchises and set course for the future. 

The local Pittsburgh Steelers had, by all accounts, one of the best drafts out of all 32 clubs, which comes as no surprise to Steelers fans who are used to the front office exhibiting quiet consistency.

As for the other teams around the league, results varied. Football being the countries’ most popular sport, puts a large amount of pressure on front offices and management teams. Some can’t take the heat, yet stay in the kitchen. Let’s recap the 2023 NFL Draft as teams take steps forward- or backwards- into the new season.

The top five of the draft saw three top quarterback prospects fall to the Carolina Panthers, the Houston Texans, and the Indianapolis Colts. Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, and Anthony Richardson all showed signs of NFL readiness during their college careers, but for different reasons. Young is the relatively small Alabama quarterback, a school that has produced very little in the way of franchise quarterbacks in recent years. Young plans to change that narrative after tossing up 89 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in just two seasons. Legendary Alabama head coach Nick Saban said of Young: “[He’s] the calm in the midst of chaos. It comes from his great preparation.” Carolina has certainly found that to be true, making him the seventh quarterback to be taken first overall in the last decade. While many have their doubts, Young hopes to beat the allegations about his small stature and translate his skills to the next level.

The Houston Texans were on the clock, and decided to make what may have been the gutsiest move of the Draft, packaging the 12th and 33rd picks (as well as a first and third rounder in 2024) to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange to skyrocket their way up the draft board. They got the honor to pick two players in the top three, something that hasn’t happened in 23 years.

The Texans needed the boost. Over the last three seasons, Texans fans have had to sit through 38 losses to just 11 wins, ranking towards the bottom in the league in just about everything. With their selections, they nabbed the second biggest QB prospect, CJ Stroud, and possibly the biggest non-QB player on the board, linebacker Will Anderson. Franchise players on both sides of the ball can certainly invigorate a franchise, and Houston hopes they’ve struck gold with these two. Stroud, the Ohio State starter for two seasons, put up an astounding 182.4 rating. The 6’3″ leader of the Buckeyes finished in the top five of the Heisman vote the last two years, proving himself to be worthy of some draft capital. He appears to be more of the NFL-ready type, but only time will tell.

Anderson himself was highly touted as the best overall player in this draft, having some stellar years as a member of the Crimson Tide. While Anderson was always considered an above average tackler in the field, he was mostly catching eyes for his pass rushing ability. 34.5 sacks over three seasons as a linebacker is sure to make any team happy. Anderson drove his draft stock way up during an Alabama press conference, when a reporter asked if he was a hateful person on the field. Anderson replied with a resounding yes: “I tell people all the time that the audacity for the other team to even step on the field is disrespectful to me.” Anderson expects to be slotted into the Texans starting lineup immediately.

Picks four and five started up the surprises for most NFL fans, as Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson and Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon were taken by the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. Both franchises needed those respective positions, but Richardson is widely considered to be a project quarterback with freaky athleticism, while Witherspoon is said to be the best cornerback available this year. If you’re a fan of absolute athleticism and peak physical prowess, look up Anthony Richardson’s NFL Draft Combine highlights. Both players will have their chance to make a mark on their organizations, but Richardson starting for the Colts is still in question.

The Draft progressed as usual with a few head-turning moves sprinkled in. Namely, the Atlanta Falcons taking Texas running back Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall selection. Running Backs are very rarely taken in the first round in the modern NFL, let alone the Top 10. Naturally, there is enormous pressure on Robinson to produce at a first-round capacity. Speaking of running backs, the Detroit Lions also took one in the first round. Alabama rusher Jamhyr Gibbs was selected 12th overall, which many are seeing as a legitimately bad pick by Detroit’s front office.

As teams filled their positional needs, the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers did something that they rarely do: move up in a draft to secure a player. Trading with the New England Patriots, the Steelers moved up three spots to secure Georgia Offensive Tackle Broderick Jones, who was arguably the best available player on the board. Pittsburgh would follow up their pick with Joey Porter Jr. with the very first pick of the second round. If that name sounds familiar, you’re not mistaken. Joey Porter Sr. is a Steelers legend, playing seven seasons with the team and helping secure a Super Bowl win in 2005. He then became a member of the coaching staff in Pittsburgh until 2019.

Taken immediately after Porter Jr. was the storyline of the draft: Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, who went to Kansas City for the draft on night one and never got the call. Devastated, Levis returned home, only to be taken the very next day. The Tennessee Titans, after the Malik Willis experiment didn’t prove promising results, have decided to try something new.

What followed was a slew of names called that various teams thought would lead them to the promised land in 2024, all the way down to the seventh and final round, where the majority of players called would actually not even get a chance to play in an NFL game, allowing other leagues like the USFL and XFL to swoop in and steal some capital for themselves. As for Pittsburgh, they were able to take Georgia Tight End Darnell Washington with the 93rd overall pick in the third round, a move that many saw as a complete steal by new General Manager Omar Khan. Khan, having been in the Steelers organization for many years, came into this Draft with a lot of questions, and yet proved all the doubters wrong. Across the board, from Pro Football Focus to CBS Sports to the NFL media themselves, everyone is agreeing that the Steelers had an A to A+ draft class, along with other teams like the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. That is, of course, with zero playing time between any of these prospects, so only time will tell.

As the Draft wrapped up, the energy in the air was palpable for these new players and new teams. While there are some constants in life- the Kansas City Chiefs will be a good team, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will say the word, “Obviously” over 50 times, etcetera etcetera- there are too many unknowns to make accurate predictions for the new football season. We’ll just have to wait.