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The Eight Most Interesting Teams in the 2023 NFL Draft

With plenty of quarterback-needy teams in a quarterback-heavy class, here are the franchises that could make the biggest moves in the first round of the draft

AP Images/Ringer illustration

While every team is busy finishing its prep work for the NFL draft, what’s at stake this weekend is not equal across the 32 organizations. Now that aggressive trades and boom-or-bust roster-building are the norm around the league, recent drafts have wide gaps between the teams with an array of premium picks and those with little draft capital. This year those differences are especially stark: The Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, and Philadelphia Eagles each hold multiple first-round picks, while the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, and Miami Dolphins are not scheduled to pick on night one—and San Francisco won’t pick until the third round, at no. 99.

The Dolphins—who traded first-round picks for Tyreek Hill and Bradley Chubb, gave up a third-rounder for Jalen Ramsey, and lost their 2023 first-round selection as punishment for owner Stephen Ross’s tampering ways—have just four picks in this draft, while the Texans and Raiders have 12 apiece. The Rams, who have famously traded away their last seven first-round picks, have rebranded their luxury “draft house” into a luxury “draft lab,” which I think is what you call a party pad when you go 5-12 and need to sound a bit more serious. (Don’t worry—the house/lab still has a pool, a putting green, and a movie theater.) But while Sean McVay and Co. can still enjoy those amenities on night one, the L.A. front office will have 11 picks to make on night two and day three in the hopes of hitting on players who can round out their depleted roster.

The point is, the draft is more important to some teams than others, and it’s worth knowing who the major players are and which teams will have the most impact on Thursday night. So here’s a helpful guide to some of the most interesting teams to watch in the draft:

Houston Texans (pick no. 2), Arizona Cardinals (3), and Indianapolis Colts (4)

Here’s the thing: The top of this draft is absurdly exciting! Chaos reigns!!! There’s very little consensus, no one knows what will happen, and each pick could have an entirely different ripple effect on the rest of the draft. That dynamic is highlighted in picks two, three, and four. All three of these teams—the Texans, Cardinals, and Colts, respectively—have new head coaches, and Arizona also has a new general manager in Monti Ossenfort, adding to the sense that no one around the league has a great read on what most of the people controlling the top of the draft are thinking. The Panthers, who will pick first after trading with Chicago to move up, also have a new head coach in Frank Reich, but seem to have solidified their plans to draft Alabama QB Bryce Young. After that? The Texans could take Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, which could help the Cardinals trade the third pick to a team looking to get in front of Indianapolis to take one of the remaining quarterbacks, a draft sequence that could result in passers being taken with the first four picks for the first time in history. Or Houston might be too ambivalent toward Stroud and use the second pick on one of the two top edge defenders, Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. or Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson. In that case, Arizona could have a hard time moving the third pick—ESPN’s Todd McShay on Monday called them “borderline desperate” to trade back—and two of the top four quarterbacks could end up falling past the Colts at no. 4.

As far as Indianapolis? They’ve made their intentions to get a young quarterback clear, and have met with Young, Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis, and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Levis in particular is getting the most buzz right now. A complicating factor for Indianapolis is that they may wind up jockeying with division rival Tennessee, a QB-needy trade-up candidate and another potential Levis suitor.

Seattle Seahawks (5)

OK, I’ve now listed most of the teams in the top five. But I’m separating Seattle because they’re in a different boat than the three teams picking directly before them. The Seahawks aren’t in the best position in the draft, but I do think they’re in the least stressful spot. Picking fifth, and with quarterback Geno Smith under contract, they can let the board come to them to take a QB only if a prospect they like—say, Anthony Richardson—is still available. Or the Seahawks could wind up with their pick of most—maybe even all—of the non-quarterback prospects. That could mean a defensive lineman like Georgia DT Jalen Carter, who would fill a need in the front seven, or Anderson or Wilson if the Seahawks decide they aren’t comfortable with Carter’s off-field issues.

Historically, the Seahawks haven’t shied away from those kinds of gambles, but GM John Schneider may be more hesitant now because of a poor experience with 2017 second-round pick Malik McDowell.

And it’s not just that Seattle should have options at no. 5 that make them a power player in this draft; the Seahawks have 10 total picks—including five in the top 83. Seattle’s other first-round pick, no. 20, could be a sneakily valuable asset. There’s a stretch of WR-needy teams picking in the 20s, with the Chargers at 21, Ravens at 22, Jaguars at 24, and Giants at 25. That could tempt any GM looking to get in front of a potential run on the position to move up, and we know Schneider loves to work the phones.

Baltimore Ravens (22)

The latest on the Lamar Jackson situation is … not much. He hasn’t signed his franchise tender, nor has he received an offer sheet to sign with another team, and as such he is not attending the Ravens’ offseason workouts. Odell Beckham Jr. signed two weeks ago, and there’s no indication that move has spurred Jackson to get a deal done. Jalen Hurts’s new contract extension in Philly adds another data point with which to assess the QB market. But while Hurts’s five-year deal set a new record for average annual salary that could serve as one benchmark for Jackson, it didn’t include a full guarantee like what Jackson could be seeking.

So, as the stalemate continues, the Ravens are set up to pick at no. 22 on Thursday. The best bet is that they’ll keep doing what they’ve done all offseason: building the team like they expect Jackson to be there, which would point to taking a receiver or defensive lineman to fill their biggest roster needs in the first round. But what if one of the QB-needy teams we’ve already discussed decides they’d rather make a move for Jackson than gamble on a rookie? It would be the splashiest event of the entire draft. However unlikely that scenario might be, the overall quarterback landscape will be clearer by the end of the first round, which could help push Jackson and the Ravens toward resolution.

Tennessee Titans (11), Detroit Lions (6), and Las Vegas Raiders (7)

I’m identifying these teams as the ones that could sneakily be in the quarterback market, though you could certainly argue Tennessee hasn’t exactly disguised its interest in the position lately, having hosted Richardson, Levis, and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker on top-30 visits. Tennessee, whose quarterback room currently includes Ryan Tannehill, who will be 35 this season, and last year’s third-rounder Malik Willis, has been linked to both Stroud and Levis. While it seems somewhat notable that the Titans did not host Stroud for a visit, coach Mike Vrabel is well connected at Ohio State and probably has good access to information about him.

The Lions had one of the NFL’s most efficient offenses with Jared Goff under center last year, but so did the 2018 Rams, and we know how that ended. The Raiders are financially committed to Jimmy Garoppolo really only for a year. One of these three teams could get lucky and have a young quarterback they like fall to them, but they may wind up needing to be more aggressive if they want to draft their quarterback of the future this year.