Envision an NFL draft strategy that synergizes the expert judgment of experienced talent evaluators with the precision of cutting-edge data analytics. Four years ago, our team at Next Gen Stats embarked on a bold quest to bring this vision to life. Our objective: to accurately predict if a prospect would become a starter -- or even earn a spot in the Pro Bowl -- within his first three NFL seasons.
First introduced ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Next Gen Stats Draft Model harnesses advanced machine-learning models that blend size, athleticism and college-performance data to assess a prospect's potential for NFL success. Each position-specific model generates outputs which are then transformed into composite scores, ranging from 50 to 99, representing the analytical profile of an NFL prospect. When a score exceeds 90, it indicates a profile within the top two percent of historical prospects for their position, relative to all other prospects invited to the NFL Scouting Combine since 2003.
With the 2023 NFL Draft right around the corner, it's time to reveal our fourth annual list of can't-miss prospects. Out of the 21 prospects featured over the first three years, five of six AP Rookies of the Year were accounted for: Sauce Gardner in 2022; Ja'Marr Chase and Micah Parsons in 2021; Justin Herbert and Chase Young in 2020. (2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson is the lone miss.) Here's the complete, year-by-year list of our previously spotlighted players:
- 2022 CAN'T-MISS PROSPECTS: RB Breece Hall, C Tyler Linderbaum, Edge Aidan Hutchinson, OT Evan Neal, CB Sauce Gardner, Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux, OT Ikem Ekwonu.
- 2021 CAN'T-MISS PROSPECTS: WR Ja'Marr Chase, TE Kyle Pitts, LB Micah Parsons, CB Pat Surtain II, CB Jaycee Horn, QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Kadarius Toney.
- 2020 CAN'T-MISS PROSPECTS: Edge Chase Young, WR CeeDee Lamb, QB Joe Burrow, LB Isaiah Simmons, QB Tua Tagovailoa, QB Justin Herbert, WR Jerry Jeudy.
Using Daniel Jeremiah's Mock Draft 3.0 as a proxy for round projection this time around, we identify six can't-miss prospects who a) head into the '23 draft with an overall draft score of 89 or higher and b) are projected to be first-round picks. The following half-dozen players stood out on tape and scored in the top three percent of prospects in the NGS model.
(NOTE: Players who did not participate in drills at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine are given an estimated athleticism score based on their size and projected time in the 40-yard dash.)
- Production Score: 99
- Athleticism Score: 85
- OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 96
- PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 43%
For the second year in a row, a running back tops our list of prospects based on the Next Gen Stats draft score. Although this may seem counterintuitive in light of prevailing analytical trends, selecting Bijan Robinson significantly increases a team's chances of adding a valuable contributor to the roster. There may not be a more complete prospect in this year's draft class, relative to position, than this Texas product. Boasting an exceptional combination of size, speed, elusiveness, power, production and accolades, Robinson embodies the qualities of an elite NFL running back. His remarkable skill set challenges the prevailing wisdom that often downplays the importance of running backs in today's game.
In an NFL environment where versatile workhorse backs are increasingly scarce, Robinson's three-down abilities set him apart as a distinct outlier. The 2022 Doak Walker Award winner proved his capacity to carry the load during his time in Austin, averaging more than 22 touches per game in consecutive seasons. Just three NFL players averaged 22-plus touches per game in 2022: Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley.
Robinson's unparalleled elusiveness led to an astounding 104 missed tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus, a record-breaking feat in the PFF college era (since 2014). His stellar combine performance -- featuring a 4.46 40-yard dash at 215 pounds, a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-4 broad jump -- further cemented his status as a blue-chip prospect.
- Production Score: 99
- Athleticism Score: 82 (Estimated)
- OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 92
- PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 50%
In the ever-evolving world of the NFL, teams are increasingly incorporating analytics and technology into the evaluation process. Data on Young underscores his case as the top quarterback in this year's draft class, highlighted by an elite NGS overall draft score. Add in a glowing scouting evaluation from Daniel Jeremiah, who has Young rated as his No. 1 overall prospect, and it's clear that the signal-caller's NFL future is full of promise.
Young's impressive track record speaks volumes. The former five-star recruit and Heisman Trophy winner concluded his Alabama career with a 23-4 starting record and an 80:12 TD-to-INT ratio. Throughout his two years as the Crimson Tide's QB1, Young demonstrated exceptional arm talent and mobility, fueling dynamic offensive schemes with RPOs, clever play-fakes and potent downfield shots. Combined with his NGS draft figures (99 production, 82 athleticism, 50% Pro Bowl probability), all of this bolsters his status as a top prospect.
While concerns about his size are warranted, quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray have demonstrated that small stature is not an absolutely fatal flaw. As the NFL continues to embrace advanced analytics in player evaluations, particularly for quarterbacks, teams are expected to value the attributes that make Bryce Young exceptional: football IQ, decision-making, processing abilities, leadership skills, athleticism and on-field production. If Young were bigger, there would be no question about the first pick in this year's draft.
- Production Score: 85
- Athleticism Score: 88
- OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 92
- PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 36%
In one of the most talent-rich cornerback classes in recent memory, Gonzalez stands out with the highest overall draft score (92) among his peers. With six cornerbacks ranked in Daniel Jeremiah's latest top 50 and 10 boasting NGS draft scores of at least 80 -- the most in any class since 2003 -- this Oregon cover man emerges as the most balanced prospect, according to the NGS draft model. As the only cornerback to achieve at least an 85 in both production and athleticism scores, Gonzalez's exceptional combination of size, speed, length and overall athletic pedigree makes him a compelling analytics-supported prospect in this year's draft.
Gonzalez hails from a family with an impressive athletic legacy. His father, Hector, played basketball at UTEP before competing in the sport semiprofessionally in Colombia, while two of his older sisters earned All-America honors as track stars. At the 2023 NFL Combine, the youngest Gonzalez showcased his remarkable athleticism by recording an elite 4.38-second 40 and achieving a 41.5-inch vertical jump. These impressive feats, along with an 11-foot-1 broad jump, place him in the top fifth percentile of all cornerbacks invited to the combine since 2003.
Gonzalez's optimal blend of size, speed and length equips him to effectively disrupt opposing receivers in press coverage at the next level. The former Colorado transfer-turned-Oregon star aligned in press coverage on 42 percent of his coverage snaps last season, according to PFF, nearly doubling the average rate for college cornerbacks (23%). With his unique skill set, proven performance and innate potential as a 20-year-old, Gonzalez has the potential to make a significant impact in the NFL.
- Production Score: 99
- Athleticism Score: 76
- OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 90
- PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 46%
If Anderson had been eligible to enter last year's draft, there is a strong case to be made that he would have been the first overall pick. Instead, he returned to Alabama and capped off his illustrious collegiate career with another dominant season. Anderson became the only player to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons since the award's inception in 2002 and the first player to win consecutive Bronko Nagurski Trophies as the best defensive player in the country since Pat Fitzgerald in 1995-96.
The two-time unanimous All-American was a game-wrecking force throughout his entire tenure in Tuscaloosa, recording at least seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss in all three college seasons. Anderson accumulated 34.5 sacks during his Alabama career, ranking fifth among all players since sacks became an official college stat at the turn of the millennium. This accomplishment is even more impressive when considering that the four players slotted ahead of Anderson all played four seasons -- and only one of them competed in a Power Five conference. Anderson's impact extended beyond the splash plays that appear in the box score, as he generated a whopping 206 pressures in his three seasons, 54 more than any other FBS player during that time frame (per PFF). Anderson is one of just three edge defenders to earn a maximum 99 NGS production score over the last decade, joining former top-two picks Myles Garrett and Chase Young.
After such a distinguished and prolific career, Anderson had little to prove at either the combine or his pro day. Consequently, the blue-chip prospect declined to participate in most drills, relying instead on his game tape and elite on-field performance. In the one drill Anderson did execute in Indy, he recorded a 4.60-second 40-yard dash, clearing a key threshold that predicts elite performance for an edge rusher at the next level.
- Production Score: 91
- Athleticism Score: 76 (Estimated)
- OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 89
- PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 48%
Texas Tech, more commonly known for its offense, might see Wilson become the highest-selected TTU graduate in the Super Bowl era. Designed to set the edge and push the pocket, Wilson possesses ideal size and length for an edge defender. His 35 5/8-inch arms rank in the top five percent of edge defenders since 2003.
The 6-foot-6 Wilson consistently improved throughout his college career, peaking with a tremendous redshirt senior year in which he more than doubled his pass-rush efficiency. According to PFF, he achieved the third-highest pressure rate (20.7 percent) among all FBS defenders with at least 200 pass rushes last season, earning first-team All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America.
Unfortunately, a foot injury prematurely ended Wilson's final season in Lubbock, ultimately prompting him to forgo on-field drills at the combine and Texas Tech's pro day. Despite this setback, teams selecting in the top half of the first round should be thrilled to add a player of Wilson's caliber, especially given his latest clean bill of health.
- Production Score: 89
- Athleticism Score: 84
- OVERALL DRAFT SCORE: 89
- PRO BOWL PROBABILITY: 31%
When Rashawn Slater opted out of the 2020 college season, it was true freshman Peter Skoronski who stepped up to man the left tackle position. Three seasons later, Skoronski leaves Northwestern having earned first- or second-team All-Big Ten honors every year. Skoronski's college career culminated with the highest pass-blocking grade (93.0) in the country, according to PFF, and unanimous first-team All-America honors.
At the combine, Daniel Jeremiah's top-rated offensive lineman demonstrated solid athleticism, meeting key benchmarks for both offensive tackles and interior linemen. His performance featured a 5.16-second 40, 30 reps on the bench, a 7.80-second three-cone, a 9-foot-7 broad jump and a 34.5-inch vertical jump -- those last two figures rank within the top five percent of offensive tackles since 2003. From Park Ridge, Illinois, Skoronski carries on a football legacy that includes his grandfather, Bob Skoronski, a Vince Lombardi Packer, and his father, Bob Jr., a former Yale player.
Skoronski's primary concern for NFL success? His short arms at 32 1/4-inches, which place him in the bottom fifth percentile of offensive tackles since 2003. This was also a concern for Slater, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, but his arms are an even 33 inches. Some analysts believe Skoronski should transition inside, where arm length is less crucial, to maximize his potential.