February 26, 2024

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NFL Draft winners and losers: Panthers, Texas, Cardinals shine; Levis left waiting

The Athletic has 24/7 coverage of the NFL Draft AnthologyAnd grades And deals. Follow us live blogAnd Team-by-team choices/needsAnd Project deals And The best players available.

Finally, the NFL Draft is underway. The first round started with the Carolina Panthers making Bryce Young the first Alabama quarterback to finish first overall, and from there, things fell into place as the teams began to grab the building blocks.

Every general manager will undoubtedly declare the first day of the draft a success. However, it will take some time to see how smart these selections really are.

At first glance, there seem to be some clear winners and losers after one round of work. Here’s a rundown of who had the best or worst Thursday night.

winners

Carolina Panthers – After moving to No. 1 overall last month, the Panthers did the right thing by drafting Young, their top-rated quarterback to kick off the Frank Reich era. Yes, Young is petite. But the great playmaker ranks among many descriptions of the Alabama quarterback, who should thrive with a host of great offensive minds in Reich, Jim Caldwell, Thomas Brown and Josh McCown to guide him and design a scheme to his strengths.

Houston Texans – There have been all sorts of rumors that Houston would pass CJ Stroud and take a defensive player. However, Texas has already filled its need for a franchise quarterback. They also used their second first-round pick, and first of the 2024 round that they got from the Browns, to jump to third place where they got the haughty Will Anderson. So new head coach DeMeco Ryans kicked off his tenure by laying the foundation for the franchise on both sides of the ball.

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stroud – After a week filled with rumors and disparaging questions about his decision-making and tackle abilities due to a low S2 test score, some speculated that Stroud could afford to slip up on draft day. However, the unfounded fears were over and Stroud didn’t have to wait long at all, as she finished second overall.

Arizona Cardinals – Arizona needed more draft picks to help strengthen its roster, which some competitive talent evaluators consider the worst contenders in the league. The Cardinals desperately wanted to fall back from No. 3 overall, and achieved that goal by landing No. 12 overall and No. 33 Texas in 2023, and first rounders and third rounders in 2024. Then they traded back up. Finished in the top 10 (giving up 12th and 34th) and had the best offensive lineman in the draft Ohio State was able to take on Paris Johnson Jr. to help better protect quarterback Killer Murray.

Indianapolis Colts – After three different starters in 2022 and eight different passers since Andrew Luck retired in 2019, Indy has acquired Anthony Richardson, a physically gifted senior prospect who could finally end a long streak of futility at the hottest position on the field.

Justin Fields – He has been sacked a season-high 55 times in 2022. The Bears’ young quarterback liked his team’s first-round draft pick in Darnell Wright, Tennessee at number 10.

Galen Carter – The Georgia defensive tackle, one of the best defensive players in the draft, faced significant uncertainty prior to this week due to off-the-field issues (he was charged with two misdemeanors in a racing accident that killed his Georgia teammate) and additional concerns about the immaturity that threatened his stock. However, it ended up playing out positively for Carter, who didn’t slide much after all and landed in Philadelphia as he was reunited with former Georgia teammate Jordan Davis and a defense that featured a number of strong leaders. This group should help Carter grow and reach his full potential.

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losers

Wide receivers and tight ends – It’s been a long wait for the wide receivers, who didn’t start off the plate until #20 when Seattle’s Jackson Smith took Njegba out of Ohio State. That started a run that included Quentin Johnston (TCU), Z. Flowers (Boston College), and Jordan Addison (USC) to the Chargers, Ravens, and Vikings, respectively. The tight ends had to wait even longer, because the first (Utah’s Dalton Kincaid) didn’t get off the plate until the Buffalo 25th. The long wait can be painful. But perhaps there is a silver lining to these pass practitioners. They all end up with teams with strong quarterback positions, which can translate to more successful careers.

Will Levis – There was a time when a Kentucky quarterback was considered a top five prospect. However, the NFL’s talent evaluators clearly felt differently, and the Levi’s instead became Brady Quinn this year — sitting there in draft headquarters, enduring a tortured, humiliating wait. Thursday night came and went without Levis’ phone ringing, and so he stayed on the board going in on Friday night when rounds two and three take place. It will be interesting to see if a team in need of the quarterback tries to jump in the second round to get the Levis, or if they’ll be content to let it fall into their hands.

Duck Prescott – The Cowboys quarterback really could use a little more help at the wide receiver and better protection. But instead of drafting a player in those areas of need, the Cowboys took on Michigan defensive tackle Mazie Smith.

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Jordan love – In a similar situation, the Packers’ new quarterback could also use a backup. Green Bay was already skinny at wide receiver, and injuries have hit the offensive line hard the past few seasons. It made sense as a wide addition or tackle at a top-notch level. However, the Packers instead used their top pick on Iowa defensive line Lucas Van Ness, who wasn’t even a full-time player for Iowa.

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(Photo by Will Anderson Jr. with Roger Goodell: David Eulitt / Getty Images)