The NFL draft is a tremendous opportunity for upstart teams to make significant roster upgrades entering the following season. This year was different, however. Teams who overachieved, such as the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions, along with the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, have multiple first round picks. While it is still months before football, it is never too early to make judgements on whether some of these teams improved their chances of winning for the upcoming season.
Teams Who Improved
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were one of the league's most surprising teams, due to the resurgence of Geno Smith and a bevy of young talent. Thanks to their decision to trade Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, they possessed multiple first round picks for the second straight year which were used on cornerback Devon Witherspoon and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njiba. Witherspoon may not be imposing at 180 lbs, but he's an aggressive cornerback with ball skills, and is not afraid to make a big hit. He and Tariq Woolen could be a formidable cornerback duo in the future.
As for Smith-Njiba, he's arguably the best receiver in the draft. With his fundamentally sound route running, terrific hands, and the ability to create after the catch, he gives Smith another target to throw to alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. While the Seahawks certainly have talent at both cornerback and receiver, they are valuable positions that can be built upon in the draft
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Although the Jaguars didn't have multiple first round picks, they still managed to upgrade a roster that reached the divisional round despite being 4-8 at one point in the season. They traded down twice in the first round to select offensive tackle Anton Harrison. He might not have so many eye-opening plays, but he's a very patient blocker who does a great job staying in front of his opponents in pass protection. This was particularly a good pick because the Jaguars had to address the tackle position after the departure of Jawaan Taylor and a recent suspension for Cam Robinson. Harrison could give Trevor Lawrence even more protection from the blindside which would go a long way to a solid passing attack.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have already solidified themselves as contenders following a Super Bowl appearance, but given they weren't expected to have a such dominant year, I felt it was still appropriate to put them on this list. With multiple picks in the first round thanks to last year's draft day trade with the Saints, they went all in on defense with Georgia standouts Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith.
Smith is a very instinctive player whose relentless pursuit allows him to make numerous plays in the backfield. Carter might be a defensive tackle, but his strength and quickness allow him to be just as effective as a pass rusher along with a run stopper. This is the second straight year Philadelphia drafted defensive starters from Georgia, as last year saw them get Jordan Davis in the first round and Nakobe Dean in the third round. The only difference is that Smith and Carter have more upside, which will be essential toward maintaining a very good front seven.
Teams That Missed Out
1. Detroit Lions
After finishing the season 8-2, the Lions had a solid free agency and an even better opportunity to make improvements in the draft having owned the Rams' pick. It would've made sense to use their picks on a cornerback or defensive tackle. Instead, they made two questionable decisions by drafting running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell. What's head-scratching about these moves is that running backs and linebackers are positions that can be addressed later in the draft. Detroit is still a strong candidate to make the playoffs this upcoming year, but this was a spectacular chance to establish a roster that could seriously contend.
2. New York Jets
The Jets already checked their biggest need at quarterback by acquiring Aaron Rodgers before the draft. To boost his protection, they were eyeing offensive tackles (Broderick Jones, Paris Johnson Jr., or Peter Skoronski). But after seeing each one taken, they selected edge rusher Will McDonald. To be fair, McDonald is a solid player who will line up outside opposing tackles much more than at Iowa St. This will allow him to utilize his speed and finesse off the ball. However, the Jets have plenty of edge rushers. While his playing time in 2024 will likely increase assuming Carl Lawson leaves in free agency, it's a bit of a letdown to see the Jets miss out on a bigger need even if it wasn't their fault.
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