The 2023 draft class might lack the high-end talent that the scouting community is accustomed to seeing at the top of the board -- and the shallow blue-chip talent pool could result in some surprising early-round picks that prompt mock-drafters to rip up their homework.
The 2023 quarterback class features a collection of talented playmakers with intriguing skill sets. Alabama's Bryce Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud are the headliners of the group, due to their spectacular games. Although the debate between QB1 and QB2 has forced evaluators to rewrite the rules for prototypes at the position, each playmaker has flashed franchise-caliber quarterback skills in his own style. Kentucky's Will Levis and Florida's Anthony Richardson are wild cards with exceptional tools, but their inconsistent games make them the biggest boom-or-bust candidates in the class.
The running back class is loaded with intriguing talent and potential, but the apparent devaluation of the position will likely keep an impressive collection of players from earning grades that reflect their true value as playmakers. Texas' Bijan Robinson is the premier playmaker of the class with a unique set of skills that could make him a star from Day 1. Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs and UCLA's Zach Charbonnet are dynamic players with RB1 potential.
The 2023 wide receiver class lacks a premier WR1 but is loaded with intriguing complementary weapons. Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njiba, Boston College's Zay Flowers, USC's Jordan Addison and TCU's Quentin Johnston are vying for the top spot as gifted playmakers with unique individual styles. Although teams might pass on a Day 1 option to fill another need, the depth of the class makes it possible to add a productive playmaker like North Carolina's Josh Downs or Houston's Nathaniel "Tank" Dell on Day 2 or Day 3.
The tight end class is this draft's deepest and most talented position group. Utah's Dalton Kincaid and Notre Dame's Michael Mayer are the top "Flex" (H-back) and "Y" (traditional tight end) prospects, but there are plenty of playmakers available to teams looking for a potential impact player at the position. Oregon State's Luke Musgrave, Iowa's Sam LaPorta and Georgia's Darnell Washington could pay immediate dividends as Day 2 standouts.
Teams seeking offensive linemen could find plenty of quality starters in the first few rounds. The offensive tackle class, in particular, is stocked with long, rangy athletes possessing the strength, power and agility to shine as pass protectors or people-movers at the point of attack. Northwestern's Peter Skoronski, Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr., Georgia's Broderick Jones and Tennessee's Darnell Wright are Day 1 prospects with impact potential. Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence is a mauler/brawler with the power and pop to dominate defenders in the trenches. Minnesota's John Michael Smitz, Ohio State's Luke Wypler and Wisconsin's Joe Tippman comprise a rock-solid collection of pivots with the athleticism and intangibles to step in as Year 1 starters.
The 2023 defensive linemen group has superhero-like athletes with intriguing tools and talent. Will Anderson Jr. is the top dog as an ultra-productive pass rusher with a flawless technical game. The Alabama standout attacks with a plan but flashes the capacity to win with speed, power or technique. He is a high-energy defender with a nonstop motor, and it is easy to envision him developing into an annual 10-plus sack producer as an edge rusher. Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson is an extra-long pass rusher with freakish athleticism and violent hands. He has the potential to wreak havoc on foes as an inside-outside defender with a rugged game. Setting aside the off-field concerns of Georgia's Jalen Carter and strictly assessing his on-field work, he is the most talented frontline defender in the class, as evidenced by his dominant flashes throughout his tenure with the Bulldogs. If he is locked in and engaged, he is an unstoppable force with the potential to take over the game at the line of scrimmage.
The linebacker class lacks depth, but there are some disruptive playmakers. Arkansas' Drew Sanders is a unique hybrid defender as a "Mike" linebacker with A-plus pass-rushing skills. The dynamic talent could fill multiple roles for a defense looking for a versatile chess piece to utilize in a creative scheme. Iowa's Jack Campbell is a tackling machine with the instincts, awareness and range to control the game between the tackles. Clemson's Trenton Simpson possesses the speed and athleticism to create chaos as an off-ball linebacker in a run-and-chase scheme.
The collection of defensive backs in the 2023 class features several big cover corners with the size, length and athleticism to shadow premier WR1s all over the field. Illinois' Devon Witherspoon and Oregon's Christian Gonzalez are ultra-talented ballhawks with diverse games. Each defender displays instincts, awareness and technical diversity to play in any scheme, and their playmaking potential will immediately upgrade a team's defense. Penn State's Joey Porter Jr., Maryland's Deonte Banks and South Carolina's Cam Smith are long, rangy defenders with the potential to make life miserable for receivers on the perimeter.
Alabama's Brian Branch and Texas A&M's Antonio Johnson headline a safety class loaded with nickel/safety hybrids. As potential star defenders with experience playing in the slot and deep half of the field, the duo is part of a position group that features several slot defenders with experience and expertise. There are also a number of hidden gems who could emerge as stars at the next level, such as Illinois' Sydney Brown and Penn State's Ji'Ayir Brown, who both have a knack for creating turnovers.
These are the elite prospects in the class—they should rank among the top five players at their respective positions in two to three years.
These prospects are regarded as difference-makers based solely on their talent. They should make immediate contributions as rookies and rank among the top 10 at their position within two to three years.
On the “Move the Sticks” podcast, Daniel Jeremiah and I have previously discussed how scouts will stand on the table for guys they believe will outperform their draft status. In the scouting world, these players are called "red star" guys because they are destined to make their mark in the league despite circumstances. After surveying the 2023 class for players with the right skills and intangibles to perform better than their draft grades, here are my five red-star prospects to watch:
The ultra-talented pass catcher is a route-running specialist with outstanding speed, quickness and burst. Flowers flashes Antonio Brown-like playmaking ability as a diminutive No. 1 receiver with big-play potential.
It is hard to find "Mike" linebackers with high-end pass-rushing skills. That's why coaches could fall in love with Sanders' versatility at the next level. As a super-sized inside linebacker with "green dot" potential as the leader of the defense, the Arkansas standout is a unique three-down player with disruptive skills as a run stopper and pass rusher.
The versatile frontline defender is a high-motor playmaker with heavy hands and a relentless approach. White overwhelms and overpowers blockers with his energy and is a tough matchup for interior blockers with limited mobility.
The pick-six specialist is an instinctive ballhawk with a knack for creating turnovers. With 14 career interceptions and six pick-sixes, Forbes' turnover potential makes him a worthwhile gamble despite his slender, 166-pound frame.
The electric playmaker is an ideal change-of-pace weapon at the next level. Spears' explosiveness as a runner-receiver could make him an intriguing option as an RB2 in an offense that needs a complementary back in the rotation.