Jets, Eagles fly even higher
2023 draft NFL performance rankings (previous rank in parentheses):
1. Chiefs (1): Barring extenuating circumstances — and none here — when you’ve got the league’s best player in MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Lombardi Trophy, you’re on top until events warrant otherwise. Make no mistake, this team has changed significantly since winning Super Bowl 57… but it also appeared to be in a troubling transition a year ago, but was ultimately better for it.
2. Eagle (3): It’s tempting to lift a team that actually appears to have improved, largely due to a bonanza draft that has included a trade for RB D’Andre Swift since he narrowly lost the Super Bowl — especially given the lack of competition in the NFC versus what KC faces. Also, QB Jalen Hurts is only motivated by his (already eclipsed) landmark contract.
3. Bengal (2): They still have to pay QB Joe Burrow but got him a new left tackle (Orlando Brown Jr.) and probably improved a defense that needs a boost.
4. Invoices (4): The D are bringing back OLB Von Miller and S’ Micah Hyde – plus the emotional boost of Damar Hamlin’s return – while QB Josh Allen has a new weapon in TE Dalton Kincaid. But the ability to run the ball remains in question when Allen signals he will reduce his downfield forays.
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5. 49ers (5): At a time when other teams are seeking their version of Brock Purdy, how wild would it be if Sam Darnold or Trey Lance made a new claim for the QB1 job in San Francisco while Mr. Irrelevant’s elbow heals?
6. Cowboys (7): As far as it goes, is America’s Team a bit under the radar? Let’s not forget they had the fourth-most points in the league in 2022, despite missing five games for QB Dak Prescott, while LT Tyron Smith and WR Michael Gallup were injured and WR Brandin Cooks was in Houston. Dallas remains a legitimate threat to Philadelphia.
7. Ravens (13): They won 10 games last year despite now-enriched QB Lamar Jackson missing five, RB JK Dobbins stuttering after his 2021 ACL injury and WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers elsewhere. Beware of thinking of blackbirds as dark horses.
8. Jets (12): Unlike (maybe) Dallas and Baltimore, suddenly the jet-powered gang Green won’t be sneaking up on anyone who’s now with Mr. Rodgers at the wheel. Expectations not seen here in a dozen years will present a new challenge, but this team actually has the push to finally exceed them.
9. Jaguars (6): They’ll likely benefit from playing in what projects as the AFC’s weakest division, but they could rise to title contenders if 2022 first-round defenders Travon Walker and Devin Lloyd move up as sophomores.
10. Lions (10): Love their draft or hate them, you probably have to like them as division favorites coming off a season where they had NFC North’s best record (5-1) in games.
11. Chargers (8): Hopefully, RB Austin Ekeler doesn’t join a long line of Bolts whose financial health has eroded the team as a whole…because once again, the talent is here to wreak serious playoff damage.
12. Seahawks (11): What looks like another turning point could overshadow significant defensive investments during free agency, including the return of MLB Bobby Wagner and the additions of DE Dre’Mont Jones and DB Julian Love.
13. Aries (9): Recall that QB Matthew Stafford, WR Cooper Kupp and DL Aaron Donald missed 22 games combined last season, and that hardly tells the full story of LA’s injury woes. But even with Donald, diminished defense is a real problem and Stafford may need to win a lot of shootouts.
14. Steelers (18): QB Kenny Pickett should be better prepared to deliver in Year 2 as HC Mike Tomlin and GM Omar Khan have put together a top-notch supporting cast around him.
15. Dolphins (16): QB Tua Tagovailoa should be better prepared to deliver in Year 4 as HC Mike McDaniel and GM Chris Grier have assembled a top-notch supporting cast around him.
16. Vikings (15): Will RB Dalvin Cook stay? Is Last Season’s 2nd Worst Defense Better? Is QB Kirk Cousins a lame duck? Feels like some serious regression to the mean is imminent.
17. Saints (27): QB Derek Carr should be at least an incremental upgrade. WR Michael Thomas should play more than three games… although RB Alvin Kamara has a good chance of not playing 15 again (subject to his legal troubles). Still, Tom Brady has exited the NFC South, and a third-place schedule is pending. Feels like a slight progression to the mean is imminent.
18. Giants (14): You basically kept the band intact – right, Saquon? − TE Darren Waller maybe synonymous with an additional guitarist. But can HC Brian Daboll’s follow-up album really live up to their unexpected debut?
19. Panthers (21): Fun Fact – Carolina’s single-season passing records for yards (4,436) and TDs (36) belong to … Steve Beuerlein, not Cam Newton. Until No. 1 pick Bryce Young claimed both.
20. Packer (23): With an almost entirely new staff on the passing game, Green Bay may just do what it should have done last season — run the ball extensively and play tenacious defense.
21. Patriots (17): When was the last time you had the worst quarterback situation in the AFC East? Maybe 1992? When was the last time you had the worst receiver situation in the AFC East? Definitely 2022.
22. Brown (19): After all it’s cost from a financial, draft capital and public relations standpoint, year 2 needs to go better under, ahem, franchise QB Deshaun Watson. To the right?
23. Wild Horses (20): After all it’s cost from a financial, draft capital and public relations standpoint, year 2 needs to go better under, ahem, franchise QB Russell Wilson. To the right?
24. Bears (25): TBD how good they can throw the ball or defend the pass, but this should be a gritty team that comes out swinging every week.
25. Falcon (22): Underestimate HC Arthur Smith and Atlanta at your peril…even if it feels like they overestimated what RB Bijan Robinson can offer long-term while underestimating what stability and below-the-mid quality can do for a franchise.
26. Titans (28): Apparently they’re running back once more with QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Derrick Henry… and forward and sideways as it’s not yet clear what kind of production they’ll be getting from that receiving corps.
27. Robber (24): Seems they don’t have much to offer week after week unless they score at least 30 points.
28. Privateer (30): Seems they don’t have much to offer week after week unless they cap the opponent at 17 points.
29. Commanders (26): With the organizational upheaval coming, they have ditched DE Chase Young and the quarterback position. There’s a lot of talent going to waste here.
30. Texans (32): Given the division they play in, they’re doubling their overall wins in 2023 despite having (promising) rookies as head coach and quarterback.
31. Stallions (31): Given the division they play in, they’re doubling their overall wins in 2023 despite having (promising) rookies as head coach and quarterback.
32. Cardinals (29): Too many questions – starting with QB Kyler Murray’s reconstructed knee – to expect anything but a tumultuous campaign. But with Houston’s 2024 Round 1 pick in hand, Arizona could almost certainly take first and second place in next year’s draft.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.