Tuesdays with Gorney: Six lessons from the 2023 NFL Draft
Wrapping up our NFL Draft coverage, in today’s Tuesdays with Gorney, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney looks at six lessons learned from another interesting weekend from the draft:
FIRST-ROUND RUNNING BACKS
Over the last handful of recruiting cycles, we have made an intentional move to reduce how many five-star running backs we name because there has been less positional value there in the first round of the NFL Draft.
And, to be quite honest, we’ve missed on many five-stars at that position over the years.
Robinson was a surefire first-rounder and he was a five-star. Gibbs was second in the all-purpose back rankings that recruiting cycle but landed with a four-star rating. It’s also important to note that both were all-purpose backs so we should give more credence to the do-it-all type of running backs rather than those who take a pounding between the tackles.
Maybe it’s a one-off phenomenon and that’s something we will consider as well. While we’ve been too liberal with five-star running back rankings in years past, maybe we’ve swung the pendulum a little too far the other way recently. Somewhere in the middle is probably right.
LEVIS' DROP IS INTERESTING
There have been a lot of theories on why Will Levis plummeted out of the first round and into the early second and why the Indianapolis Colts selected Florida’s Anthony Richardson over him. The most convincing came from radio personality Colin Cowherd, who said he talked to NFL decision-makers and it boiled down to this: Levis and Richardson both need fixing but Richardson would take to it more easily and Levis would not.
“Will Levis loves Will Levis,” Cowherd said.
There is a fine line with quarterback confidence coming off as cockiness and the feeling was that Levis went over it with his cut-off shirt during pro day and how he apparently handled himself in team interviews.
It already plays a role in our rankings process – who’s the guy who’d rather be on social media than working out, who messes around on the sidelines when his team is losing, etc. – but this is also a difficult topic.
Bryce Young and CJ Stroud are fully confident in their abilities. Should NFL teams only be turned off by Levis because he’s more outward about his feelings and emotions? This is a case-by-case basis situation but it also feels a little like some pre-draft overanalysis rather than looking at fit and how that quarterback performs.
RECORD NUMBER OF QBS PICKED
The pace of quarterbacks coming off the board – and again this could be a one-year phenomenon but it’s worth further study – is interesting and should be reflected when we rank that position in the next recruiting cycle.
It’s basically take them early or take them late.
Bryce Young and CJ Stroud were the first two picks off the board. Anthony Richardson was fourth. And then only one quarterback was taken in the second round – Levis. Only one was taken in the third round – Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker.
After that – which would put us outside the Rivals100 but somewhere in the Rivals250 – NFL teams started loading up with guys as many believed teams were looking for the next Brock Purdy.
A record 14 quarterbacks were drafted but it was either very early or very late.
DOES ACCURACY MATTER MOST WITH QBS?
It’s a misnomer that arm strength is what evaluators care about most when looking at quarterbacks as accuracy has been a far more important indicator of success at that position.
Up and down the line of the 14 quarterbacks drafted, every single one completed more than 60 percent of their college passes. CJ Stroud was the highest at 69.3 percent and Fresno State’s Jake Haener was close at 68.2.
There was one outlier, though, and it makes us think about this from a rankings perspective as Florida’s Anthony Richardson completed just 54.7 percent of his passes. Maybe that was because of poor play-calling or bad receivers in Gainesville but Richardson also missed lots of throws.
But he’s such a physical freak specimen that the Indianapolis Colts with the fourth pick convinced themselves they can work with him.
In the end, as we evaluate the position, accuracy will also be our north star. But when there is a physical outlier like Richardson we should also not forget that teams could fall in love with their upside as balls of clay don’t come around like that all the time.
TIGHT ENDS COME OFF QUICKLY
Another position that has been sort of downgraded in terms of five-star rankings and importance over the last few years has been tight end. But the outcomes of the 2023 NFL Draft could throw that thinking on its head.
Eight receivers were taken in the first two rounds. Six tight ends were selected during that time. So the numbers are not that far off when it comes to pass-catchers and it’s especially important not for in-line blocking tight ends but big bodies who can block but who are better at splitting out and causing mismatches against defenses.
Utah’s Dalton Kincaid was the lone first-rounder and he was impossible to predict coming out of high school as he went to San Diego and then transferred to the Utes. There were some players who aren’t exactly burners taken in the second round as Iowa’s Sam LaPorta, Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker and Penn State’s Brenton Strange were all second-round picks.
There have been some really good tight end classes in recent years and we’ve been hesitant to really move too many players up in the rankings. We probably shouldn’t be.
THE WAIT ON LINEBACKERS
One position that we might have to revisit as maybe not as valuable from a draft perspective – and thus insight into rankings – is linebacker. Again, it could be a one-off year scenario but only Iowa’s Jack Campbell went in the first round.
None went in the second round. Sacramento State’s Marte Mapu was taken in the third before former five-stars Trenton Simpson (Clemson) who was a third-rounder too and Noah Sewell (Oregon), who didn’t go until the fifth round. Former QB Daiyan Henley was a third-round pick.
The 2024 class seems loaded at linebacker and there are already two five-stars with more very possible. But based on this draft alone, maybe we shouldn’t get too aggressive with that position group.