The NFL draft is an inexact science in a wide variety of ways. Great college players often become mediocre or bad NFL players. Players that had average contributions in college become stars at the next level. First-round picks play like undrafted free agents and undrafted free agents turn into Hall of Famers.
There is little “known” about how to draft well. The teams that draft well are often rewarded but even then it is hard to put your finger on what makes that team better at drafting than others.
In the end, success in the NFL often comes down to the best quarterback with the best weapons and the best coaching. After that, which team has the least flaws?
One way teams hope to make up for their flaws is by having elite athletes. While most NFL players would be considered specimens compared to the average Joe and Jane, being an elite athlete compared to other NFL players is unique.
In the 2023 NFL draft, the AFC North loaded up on just those kind of elite players.
Cleveland Browns Draft Class
The #Browns took a nose tackle with their second 3rd round pick, but otherwise targeted either top tier athletes or guys who were almost there for #RAS. pic.twitter.com/yp9Y2sHGrK— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
Siaki Ika did not do any of the explosive drills or the bench press, the areas a nose tackle is expected to excel. Ika is also not expected to be much more than a player that takes on double teams and makes sure the line of scrimmage doesn’t move the Browns direction.
Dawand Jones fell partially due to his lack of testing and some medical concerns while QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is an average athlete for the quarterback position but the film shows some dynamic nature.
The other four selections, especially Isaiah McGuire and Luke Wypler are type-flight athletes.
Cincinnati Bengals Draft Class
The #Bengals didn't draft anyone below average for #RAS, and most of their picks were well into elite range for the metric. pic.twitter.com/FyKLDNvkQT— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
WR Andrei Iosivas is the highest-scored athlete of all those drafted in the AFC North but the Bengals added two more players with scores above 9.5. Jordan Battle, similar to Ika, is at a position where athletic traits are less valuable but his overall score is buoyed by elite speed because he has very poor explosive traits and poor agility scores.
DJ Ivey on the other hand had great explosive traits but poor bench and 3-cone, the latter much more important to a cornerback.
An impressive haul of athletes for Cincinnati.
Baltimore Ravens Draft Class
The #Ravens had a fully green #RAS card in 2023, taking only players above 8.00. Their last pick didn't complete testing, but looked like he was headed that way as well. pic.twitter.com/3Y7vVfmYoe— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
In a smaller draft class, Trenton Simpson leads the way with an elite score while the rest of the class keeps it all green. Andrew Vorhees will be an interesting player to watch both with his recovery from getting hurt at the NFL combine and, for Cleveland fans, because the two division rivals completed a trade that allowed the Ravens to snatch him up.
Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Class
The one player the #Steelers took who didn't have an elite #RAS still had a very respectable 7.75. Prioritizing athletes in 2023. pic.twitter.com/IM0TcWNBB4— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
Speaking of a team that tends to draft very well, the Steelers have five players with an athletic score over 9.3 and only one player with an average score. Nick Herbig dropped mostly because he is undersized as a defensive end. Switching the calculator so Herbig is compared to linebackers, he inches his way up into the green with an 8.07 score.
Unfortunately for TE Darnell Washington, injury concerns pushed his draft stock down into the third round despite some first-round chatter. If he is able to stay healthy, Washington is likely to be the steal of the draft for Pittsburgh.
AFC North Overall
As a whole, the AFC North had just four players with average athletic traits and one in the poor category (Ika). A whopping 20 players are rated as great to elite (green) coming to the division in 2023.
Athletic traits are only one piece of the puzzle but can often help overcome other shortcomings and, often, are positive traits early on special teams. For the four AFC North teams, the athletic traits of their roster went up after this year’s NFL draft.
How important do you think athletic traits actually are? Most important, least important?