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With the Super Bowl now over, football fans now turn their attention to the NFL Draft. The draft begins on April 27 in Kansas City, home of the newly-crowned champions.
OutKick has a first round mock draft available that will be updated following the NFL Scouting Combine in early March.
For now, though, we want to focus on the best players available. With that, we present the first installment of OutKick’s 2023 NFL Draft Big Board.
OutKick’s 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
1. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama (Junior)
There are questions about whether Young is worthy of the top pick in the NFL Draft, and I believe that he is. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2021 and took a bit of a step backwards in 2022, at least statistically. After passing for nearly 5,000 yards and 47 touchdowns in his Heisman campaign, Young had just 3,328 yards and 32 touchdowns this season.
He did suffer a shoulder injury that cost him a game and a half and impacted him down the stretch. One key stat where he vastly improved, though, was in taking sacks. After being dropped 39 times in 2021, he took just 18 sacks this season. That’s an important development that shows he improved his pocket awareness.
He’s better than both Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa and they have had success in the NFL. He played in the Sugar Bowl despite knowing he would leave school, showing leadership and a love of football and desire to win. Young’s ceiling might not be Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow-level, but he can certainly win a lot of games at the NFL level. That’s why he’s #1 on OutKick’s NFL Draft Big Board.
2. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas (Junior)
The more research I do on this kid, the more convinced I am that he’s one of the best pure football players in this draft. The only thing holding him back is the position he plays; NFL teams don’t value running backs like they used to.
However, Robinson is more than just a running back. He was arguably the best pass catcher at Texas — though they didn’t utilize this skillset enough — and he can affect the game in a multitude of ways. He’s a former five-star recruit and Top 20 high school player who only continued to show elite athleticism in college, including an incredible ability to break tackles.
He had over 4,000 yards from scrimmage in three seasons as a Longhorn and a lot of NFL people feel that he’s a better prospect than Saquon Barkley was coming out of college. The Giants drafted Barkley second overall; though I think Robinson won’t go that high because of positional need, he’s the second-best player in this draft class.
3. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (Junior)
Stroud posted two elite seasons for Ohio State, passing for over 40 touchdowns in both 2021 and 2022. With 85 career touchdowns and just 12 career interceptions, Stroud showed he has an NFL-level arm. He played incredibly well against elite competition, too, something NFL teams are looking for from a college quarterback.
He had his struggles in the regular season lost against Michigan this season, but both interceptions came on tipped passes. In two seasons, Stroud faced 10 ranked opponents. His numbers over those ten games: 73% completion percentage, 3,823 yards, 32 touchdowns and four interceptions. That includes three games this season against opponents ranked in the Top 5 and an incredible performance against national champion Georgia in the College Football Playoff (348 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions).
He needs to use his legs a little more at the next level, but it’s a good sign that a player with his athleticism looks to pass more than run.
4. Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama (Junior)
There are people around the league who believe Anderson is the best player available in the draft. I’m not quite there, but it’s easy to see what they see. Athletically, Anderson is a freak. He had 34.5 sacks at Alabama, second only to Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas in school history. Anderson reminds me of Cowboys EDGE Micah Parsons. The two are nearly identical in size; Parsons entered the draft at 6’4″, 246 pounds. According to Alabama’s website, Anderson is 6’4″, 243 pounds. Parsons’ ascension to one of the league’s best defenders definitely helps Anderson’s case. Plenty of teams probably wish they could go back and draft Parsons in the Top 5. Well, that’s where Anderson is projected to go.
5. Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson (Junior)
Another player with a ridiculous pedigree, Murphy ranked inside the top 10 prospects coming out of high school, top five according to some services. He immediately made an impact at Clemson earning Freshman All-America honors in his first season. Murphy never put up massive sack numbers in college (best season was seven as a sophomore) but he racked up tackles for loss. He spend a lot of time in opposing backfields and he’s a big dude (6’5″, 275 lbs) with unreal quickness. Has some rawness to his game, but inarguably one of the most physically-gifted athletes available.
6. Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia (Junior)
I had Carter as the first defensive player off the board in my most recent mock, but I think that’s going to change as we get closer to the draft. Physically, he’s elite. Coming in at 6’3″, 300 pounds Carter is a massive human being with incredible talent. The problem is that there are rumblings of work ethic issues and a lack of passion for football. To be fair, he might be so physically gifted that it doesn’t matter that much. But generally, guys who lack a passion for football and have work ethic concerns coming out of college don’t improve on those attributes after being handed multiple millions of dollars. He’s still a Top 10 prospect based on physical gifts, but he’s a potential NFL bust and teams have to consider that.
7. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU (Junior)
To me, Johnston is the gem of this wide receiver class. He has it all. He’s big (6’4″), athletic, and fast. Guys who are tall and can run like he can usually do well in the NFL. He became a starter as a freshman for the Horned Frogs and that usually bodes well for prospects. Starting for a Big 12 team at age 19 shows a football maturity that will certainly play well with scouts. He’ll turn 22 as the NFL season begins, meaning he’ll likely be able to fill out his frame a bit more. One area that he needs to work on is contested catches and drops. His drop rate of 10% this past season must improve at the next level.
8. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State (RS Junior)
To me, Porter is the best of this cornerback class. There is a lot of debate amongst NFL people about which corner goes first, but I’m on Team Porter. He has ideal size for a corner (6’2″, 200lbs) and although he looks very lean, he’s extremely strong. According to Pro Football Focus, his 40% forced
incompletion rate in 2022 led all Power Five cornerbacks. He’s a guy that has the potential to be a true shutdown NFL corner who can shadow some of the best receivers in the league. That upside gives him the nod as the top outside defender.
9. Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech (RS Senior)
Rare amongst this year’s top prospects, Wilson spent five seasons in college (two at Texas A&M before transferring to Tech). He’ll turn 23 in May, so he’s a bit older than the other prospects. But for an EDGE rusher, experience is not a bad thing. He suffered an injury late in the season that cost him a pair of games, but piled up 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks in just ten games as a senior. He’s extremely long (6’6″, 275 pounds) and garnered buzz for how much he LOVES attacking the player across from him. While someone like Jalen Carter has questions about his football passion, no one questions Wilson’s drive and desire to dominate opponents. With crazy length and size to go along with a motor that doesn’t quit, Wilson could be a Draft Day steal — even inside the Top 10.
10. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State (Junior)
I have Johnson as the top offensive tackle in the class and think he’ll be the first one off the board in April. A five-star, Top 10 national prospect out of high school, Johnson did nothing in college to show he didn’t deserve that ranking. Plenty of size (6’6″, 310 pounds) to be an NFL left tackle, even though he only played the position for one season in college. Playing at Ohio State, Johnson has plenty of experience going against NFL-caliber defenders and more than held his own.
11. Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern (Junior)
Another Big Ten junior offensive tackle, Skoronski narrowly misses being the top at his position in the class. He’s slightly shorter than Johnson, but thicker (6’4″, 315 pounds). He has a lot more experience playing left tackle, too, after starting as a true freshman in 2020. Skoronski started all 33 Wildcats games over the past three seasons, facing difficult Big Ten opponents every week. His arm length will be something to monitor at the NFL Scouting Combine because really the only knock on him as a franchise left tackle could be lack of elite length.
12. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State (Junior)
Lack of experience and a 2022 injury are the only things standing between Smith-Njigba and a top ten selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. An elite high school product (five-star, Top 30 recruit), Smith-Njigba outplayed both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in 2021 for the Buckeyes. And both of those guys went in the first round last season and both produced immediate results in the NFL.
Smith-Njigba should be able to do the same thing, as long as he’s healthy. And that’s the concern. He played just two games this past season. He had an Ohio State record 95 catches in 2021, but just 15 catches in his other two seasons combined. That might scare some teams. However, he has elite upside and should be the first or second receiver off the board.
13. Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson (Junior)
There are a lot of top recruits from the 2020 Class all over this Big Board, but none ranked higher than Bresee. The Class of 2020’s number one recruit, no one can match his pedigree. He made an immediate impact at Clemson, playing over 425 snaps as a true freshman. However, a torn ACL limited him to four games as a sophomore and he played just seven games this season because of a kidney infection. Regardless, he put on a show in the ACC Championship against North Carolina generating five pressures, according to PFF. He’s the kind of interior defender who can wreak havoc both against the run and the pass.
14. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina (RS Junior)
Smith lacks elite traits physically, but he can just flat-out play the cornerback position. Some teams might dock him for his pedestrian size (6’0″, 190 pounds) or top-end speed. But that’s overlooking what he put on tape. He didn’t start until his third year at South Carolina, but he dominated for the Gamecocks. This year, he allowed just 201 yards on 302 coverage snaps according to PFF. That’s elite, despite his lack of elite measurables.
15. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois (RS Junior)
There are some really good cornerbacks in this draft, but not necessarily that elite prospect. Witherspoon is a kid that a lot of NFL people believe might be the top corner in the draft. The fact that there’s so much debate about the order of corners tells you that none has separated himself. Regardless, Witherspoon is another strong prospect at the position.
According to PFF, Witherspoon “finished top-five in the country in completion percentage allowed, forced incompletions, passer rating allowed when targeted and yards allowed per coverage snap.” He had an incredible season, but it was the only season he really showed that top-level ability after three relatively quiet ones. He improved every season, and that’s a major positive, but I still think Smith and Porter are stronger prospects right now.
16. Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa (RS Sophomore)
The big knock on Van Ness is lack of experience. He redshirted his first year in Iowa City and played only 27 games, with no starts, over the next two seasons. He recorded 13.5 career sacks and never really even played a full game. That being said, he’s a bull rush nightmare with the strength and power to beat Big Ten tackles. He’s big, coming in at 6’5″, 270 pounds, and strong. Van Ness also excels in the run defense game, which will be important at the next level. He’s a boom-or-bust type prospect with high upside and a low ceiling.
17. Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan (Senior)
A highly-regarded prospect out of high school, Smith came to Ann Arbor just outside the Top 100 recruits in the 2019 class. Bruce Feldman puts out an annual “freaks” list in college football and Smith topped the board prior to the 2022 season. Feldman noted that Smith repped out 325 pounds on the bench press 22 times. It will be fascinating to see what he puts up at the combine at 225 pounds.
I like Smith quite a bit more than other evaluators because we’ve seen what big-time interior lineman can do for a defense at the NFL level — think Chris Jones of Kansas City or Quinnen Williams of the Jets. Smith is the same height as Williams but weighs about 30 pounds more. If he puts up strong agility numbers at the Combine, I see him as a big riser during draft season.
18. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College (Senior)
Flowers has a nose for the endzone, setting the Boston College record with 12 receiving scores this season. That’s despite being rather diminutive (5’10”, 172 pounds). But with the NFL adjustment towards the offense — especially receivers — elite size is no longer a requirement. Flowers is a guy with a TON of experience who recorded over 3,000 yards in his BC career, and made an immediate impact as a freshman. He’s a big-play threat who can really help an offense stretch the field — something a lot of teams will be looking for in the first 20 picks of the draft.
19. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame (Junior)
Mayer made an impact all three seasons with the Irish, including tying for the team lead in catches as a freshman. According to PFF, he actually out-snapped Tommy Tremble in his freshman season and Tremble was the 83rd overall pick last season. Teams are looking for matchup nightmare receivers and that’s exactly what Mayer can be. We’ve seen what elite tight ends like Travis Kelce can mean for an offense, and Mayer’s upside is tantalizing.
20. Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia (Senior)
The #1 ranked recruit in the 2019 class, Smith could have left school last season but decided to return. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn pectoral in November and missed the rest of the season. That injury drops his stock in the NFL Draft but we can’t forget what an incredible prospect he was and is. Though his numbers at Georgia weren’t quite what would be expected of the top high school recruit in the country (just 11.5 career sacks, 21 tackles-for-loss), he has the upside that teams crave, especially in the middle to later part of the first round.
Stay tuned for updates to OutKick’s NFL Draft Big Board as draft season continues!
Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ