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2024 NFL Draft winners and losers: Eagles, Steelers, Commanders load up; more iffy moves by Panthers

Knee-jerk reactions to the NFL Draft are never easy, but they are necessary. And we’ve got 257 picks done now with every single NFL team bringing in an entirely new group of draftees to try to rebuild/reload their respective franchise. 

This draft in particular is going to be tough to judge, with six — SIX! — quarterbacks being drafted in the top 12 of the first round. Some of these QBs will be asked to carry a team out of the gate while others won’t be seen for a couple years if things pan out right. 

But make no mistake — those QBs will ultimately end up determining who won and lost this draft. Let’s get to my picks for it. 

Winners

Pittsburgh Steelers

This was an easy one for me, and not just because of the fourth-round pick of Payton Wilson, arguably the biggest steal of the entire draft. Injuries and age are a concern for the NC State linebacker but he is going to produce early and often for the Steelers. Landing Troy Fautanu in the first round is perfectly Steelers, and should help them be more physical in the run game, especially crucial with Arthur Smith in as offensive coordinator now. Zach Frazier is another physical addition to the offensive line, which suddenly looks like it might be rebuilt. Mason McCormick late in the draft won’t hurt matters either. Roman Wilson is a beast of a block in the run game but also will give Russell Wilson/Justin Fields another capable and reliable weapon in a wide receiver room suddenly short on bodies after the offseason Diontae Johnson trade. This is a really difficult division, but if either one of the QB additions hit in a meaningful way, it’s not impossible to imagine this draft flipping the Steelers’ expectations for 2024. 

Philadelphia Eagles

Howie Roseman’s sterling reputation is well deserved. The Eagles GM turned in another outstanding draft performance over the weekend. It started with him zigging a little with two early cornerback picks in Toledo’s Quinyon Mitchell and Iowa’s Cooper DeJean. We’ve seen Philly focus on the SEC and the trenches over the last few years, so this was a surprise, albeit a welcome one. Both guys could end up starting early in a defensive backfield that already features Darius Slay and James Bradberry. Jalyx Hunt is a fascinating safety-turned-EDGE prospect, something you don’t see often. Clemson running back Will Shipley was a steal in the fourth round. Dipping back into Death Valley for Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is just good for business, even if it’s largely an emotional pick. Johnny Wilson in the sixth round?!?! NC State’s Dylan McMahon (aka “Baby Jason Kelce“) later in the round?? Just elite stuff from Howie late in the draft. Maybe most impressive: He traded out of spots a ton and acquired extra picks for next year. The drop-off in talent in this class (largely due to NIL trickle down) made moving out of the seventh round and improving your 2025 ammunition a smart play. 

Washington Commanders

The first draft in Washington under Adam Peters — running his first draft as a GM — and Dan Quinn — now working things a second time around in the head coach role — feels like a smashing success. And not just because we’re used to the WFT limping on the struggle bus under the misguided hand of Daniel Snyder. Obviously everything about this draft will hinge on how Jayden Daniels turns out. Unlike the Bears, Washington will have Daniels directly compared with Drake Maye over the next decade, making it a much more difficult pick. K-State tight end Ben Sinnott and Rice wide receiver Luke McCaffrey are nice supplementary weapons for Daniels on a team with a pair of strong wideouts. Johnny Newton was a steal early in the second round. Mike Sainristil gives Quinn another piece on his defense. I like the late-round gambles with Jordan Magee (Temple LB), Dominique Hampton (Washington safety) and Javontae Jean-Baptiste (Notre Dame DL) to help give this defense some upside. People forget how many mid/late-round guys made huge impacts for Quinn’s defense in Atlanta. 

Buffalo Bills 

It has been a wild offseason for Buffalo. Finding Josh Allen some more help was paramount in the wake of the Stefon Diggs trade. The Bills did just that early on the second night of the draft, grabbing Keon Coleman after the FSU product fell to the second round. The Bills only lacked a first-round pick because they moved down multiple times in the draft; I’m on board the Bill Belichick bandwagon when it comes to getting worked up about trading with the Chiefs — worry about your own team first. Ray Davis out of Kentucky is a thumper who should fit well in Joe Brady’s more run-heavy approach. The Bills took some fun Saturday fliers on the offensive line with Sedrick Van Pran-Granger out of Georgia, Tylan Grable out of UCF and Travis Clayton out of ENGLAND. Bunch of big dudes with upside who should provide good depth and maybe grow into something more. Cole Bishop in the second round should help replenish the very important safety spot in Sean McDermott’s defense. 

Losers

Kirk Cousins

Let’s caveat any “loser” designation with this: Kirk Cousins is still getting paid $100 million by the Falcons and is still the starting quarterback in Atlanta. But his decision to leave Minnesota and sign with the Falcons was couched in part because there was no competition from a future replacement. Clearly Cousins felt somewhat slightly burned by the Falcons’ decision to sit at No. 8 and take Michael Penix Jr. out of Washington. That’s a top-10 pick on a quarterback. We over-scrutinize depth-chart situations when a quarterback is drafted with a midround pick. It’s impossible not to think/talk/debate the decision when it’s the eighth overall pick. People (mostly fans) are angry about it for various reasons and it has brought into question Cousins’ health status as he recovers from an Achilles injury suffered last year. Would he have signed with the Falcons this offseason if he knew they would take Penix there? Would the Falcons have signed him? This situation is going to be scrutinized heavily. If Cousins is rehabbing and Penix is slinging darts all over the place during the offseason it’s going to really get awkward. 

Cleveland Browns (Deshaun’s version)

With Saturday’s draft action, we got the final selection from the Houston Texans in the Deshaun Watson trade. Which means we can reasonably make a case for who won and/or lost the blockbuster deal that sent a huge pile of picks to the Texans in exchange for Watson. The Browns received Watson and a 2024 sixth-round pick. Watson has played in 12 games for Cleveland, missing 11 in 2022 after being suspended by the NFL and 11 last year due to injury. He has thrown for more than 300 yards zero times and crossed 250 yards just twice. The Texans, meanwhile, ended up with the following picks and players as a result of the swap:

2022 1st-round pick — 15th overall — OL Kenyon Green
2022 4th-round pick — 107th — RB Dameon Pierce
2023 1st-round pick — 3rd overall — edge Will Anderson Jr
2023 4th-round pick — 69th overall — WR Tank Dell
2024 1st-round pick — traded to Minnesota — CB Kamari Lassiter (2nd) and LB Jamal Hill 
2024 4th-round pick — 78th overall — Caden Bullock

They traded up for Anderson and gave up some capital in doing so, but also traded back with Minnesota and picked up more picks as well. So it’s not a perfect science. But the bottom line is pretty clear: The Texans crushed the Browns in this trade. Anderson alone probably wins the deal and when you add in Dell’s upside, it’s pretty easy to give the Texans a win, especially when you factor in the Browns giving Watson a massive, fully guaranteed deal and the Texans moving on and acquiring C.J. Stroud as ancillary fallout. 

Denver Broncos

I’m pretty typically a blind Sean Payton acolyte. You won’t hear me question his quarterback decisions. Convincing the world Russell Wilson was going to work and bailing after just one year definitely has an eyebrow up, and I’ve got it fully cocked after seeing the Broncos grab Bo Nix with the 12th overall pick. The idea of taking Bo Nix AT TWELVE is just wild. It helps the Broncos used a fourth-round pick on Nix’s old teammate Troy Franklin, a physical burner who highlighted my buddy Pete Prisco’s Better Than Team and inexplicably fell into the third day of the draft. That duo could be fun. Audric Estime, the running back out of Notre Dame, might be a legit threat to start for the Broncos. Not having a second-round pick in this particular draft doesn’t help matters at all, especially for a team trying to bounce back from a rougher-than-expected 2023. Ultimately this could end up landing really well for Denver, I’m just not entirely sold on the idea of Nix running this offense from jump street. 

Carolina Panthers

The idea of using picks to help Bryce Young makes a ton of sense and the Panthers deserve credit for doing just that with a lot of their selections. But they didn’t have the No. 1 overall pick as a result of the Young trade and did what I was really hoping they wouldn’t — trade back into the first round for a wide receiver. That they traded back to No. 32 is just wild, especially when they were sitting at No. 33. Xavier Legette is a nice weapon for Dave Canales and Young, but that’s a bad trade. And while it was a good trade to move back from No. 39 into the 50s and pick up a second-round pick in 2025 — they gave up theirs to the Bears in the Young trade — it was also a bad trade to move back up to No. 46 in order to grab a running back. Jonathon Brooks is the best back in this class by all accounts, but he’s coming off an injury and this team just paid Miles Sanders and has Chuba Hubbard on the roster as well. They’re not a running back away. Trevin Wallace was a surprising pick at linebacker with better options on the board. Ja’Tavion Sanders was a really nice start to Saturday with the first pick in the fourth round — you can make the case he’s the second-best tight end in the class and buddy are they loading up on Texas players. Carolina made some OK defensive picks on the final day of the draft but generally I wasn’t blown away by this draft class even if I appreciate the idea behind it.

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