2023 NFL Draft: The Top-10 Most Emotional & Uplifting Moments
Last week, the nation watched as 259 men were drafted to the National Football League. Some went earlier than anticipated and some later, but all had their lives changed last week, whether they were physically at the draft in Kansas City or at home in their living room surrounded by family and friends. I was live on a podcast during the first couple hours of the draft, and between the technical chatter about yards ran, TDs thrown, and draft capital, I couldn’t help but be moved by the emotion in these men. We spend months, even years, dissecting these athletes’ every move and every statistic, so often, we forget the human factor that makes these athletes young men.
We have read breakdowns of the best picks for fantasy, but why not a top ten of the best feel-good human moments of the 2023 draft?
There had been some doubt as of late whether the Houston Texans would actually draft a QB at No. 2 overall. And, if they did, the betting markets were moving toward Will Levis. All of this must have added all levels of doubt into the head of CJ Stroud, so as he was drafted in the number two spot, all of that pent-up emotion and years of hard work found its way out… through his eyeballs.
Speaking of Will Levis, many people were expecting him to go in the first round, and Levis’ face progressively got more shocked as the evening progressed. Thursday night ended with three QBs drafted, but Levis’s name was still on the board. Levis couldn’t stay in Kansas City for day two, he had a family engagement, so when his name was called early on in Round two, instead of being backstage, he was in his living room, surrounded by his family and the people rooting for him the hardest.
Will Levis' reaction when he was drafted by the Titans 🙏
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 29, 2023
While running a shuttle drill at the Combine, 325 lb. offensive lineman Andrew Voorhees tore his ACL. It was a brutal injury for the man from USC who was looking to be a good prospect. The ACL tear was complete, but Voorhees came back on crutches the next day and knocked the bench press drill out of the park with 38 reps. The chance of Voorhees being drafted dropped drastically, with teams fully aware that the big man would not be medically cleared to play football until 2024. The Baltimore Ravens threw caution to the wind and used their last pick to draft Voorhees. “We have every expectation that he will be playing winning football for us in 2024,” Raven’s general manager Eric DeCosta said. “This is a move that really solidified our line for the coming years.”
Jalen Carter was stoic pre-draft and hadn’t even ventured on to visits with any team outside the top ten. He made that clear. As names started coming off the board, the camera found him looking nervous and worried. Had he made the wrong decision? But when the Philadelphia Eagles selected him with the ninth pick, the watershed of emotion pushed through. He couldn’t even hold back the tears as he donned an Eagles cap, no doubt excited to be reunited with fellow Georgia players Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, and later Nolan Smith in the city of brotherly love.
This Jalen Carter-Roger Goodell handshake 😅 pic.twitter.com/Rbxc59t5SY
— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2023
A torn ACL in November 2022 ended QB Hendon Hooker’s college career and caused his once top-10 draft stock to take a brief nose dive. It crept back up, and even close to the draft, there were rumors of him going in the first round. It didn’t matter to him where he was drafted – the night before the draft, he was able to drop back and throw passes for the first time since being injured in November. With pick 68, the Detroit Lions drafted Hooker, putting him into a fantastic scenario where he can continue to rehab his knee without pressure to take the field immediately.
— Hendon Hooker (@henhook2) April 26, 2023
After night one, four players remained in the green room waiting to hear their names called. The only one to return on night two was Brian Branch, a safety from Alabama, and with the 45th pick, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions. Branch had only packed one suit for Kansas City, so he walked across the main stage to greet Roger Goodell wearing jeans, sneakers, and a green athletic jacket. Branch wanted his moment. And he got it.
— NFL (@NFL) April 29, 2023
Joey Porter Jr.
Joey Porter Jr., a CB from Penn State, was drafted with the first pick in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. This alone is a good story, but it’s even better when you are reminded that his father, Joey Porter Senior was a linebacker for the Steelers for eight years and part of the 2005 Super Bowl-winning team. Before the Steelers made the pick, the camera focused on the Pittsburgh faithful in the audience, and you could hear them chant, “JOEY, JOEY, JOEY.”
“I understand what my dad did, and I understand his legacy,” Porter Jr. said in his press conference. “I’m trying to add on to the family legacy, there’s going to be some ups and downs with that, but I’m ready.” You know dad must be proud.
The most prominent name on Thursday night might not have been Bryce Young or Anthony Richardson, but it was Kyle Stickles. Stickles, an overly passionate Jets fan and a Make-a-Wish child, had the opportunity to announce the Jets’ 15th pick. Screaming “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets,” Stickles announced Will McDonald, LB, as New York’s pick. Stickles was diagnosed with bone cancer in his left leg in 2020, and after chemo and extensive physical therapy, he was able to walk again.
After walking the carpet pre-draft with his Mom and incredibly mature 13-year-old brother Corey, QB Anthony Richardson did not have to wait long to hear his name called. After the Colts drafted him with the fourth pick, Richardson was brought to tears by a surprise video from Corey congratulating him. Richardson teared up almost immediately, listening to his brother talk about how much he looked up to his big brother.
You may not have heard the name Chris Vaughn pre-draft; he is the assistant director of college scouting for the Dallas Cowboys. He has made many a happy call to prospective Cowboys, but the best call he ever made was during the 6th round in this year’s draft. That call was to his son, RB Deuce Vaughn from Kansas State. To maintain fairness in the pre-draft process, Chris had left the room whenever his son was discussed, and the Cowboys landed on Deuce on their own. Just before the Cowboys pulled the trigger, Chris was about to get to work on the Cowboys’ undrafted free agent process, so he wasn’t in the room. What followed was one of the best moments of the entire draft weekend.
Before Deuce Vaughn was officially drafted, his dad and Cowboys scout Chris gave him a beautiful call.
— NFL (@NFL) May 2, 2023
This is what it is all about. I’m not crying; you’re crying.