Following on from the first in this series, Pivotal Picks, let’s take a look and some of the key players who could hear their names called on night one of the 2023 NFL Draft. In each case their fate is not straightforward and teams may view the same prospect in very different terms. In light of the NFL Combine performances will the players remain pivotal to how the Draft takes shape?
NFL Draft 2023 Quarterback Queries
Starting at the top of round 1 we have Alabama quarterback BRYCE YOUNG. Two excellent years of production has seen Young propelled into the QB1 spot in many rankings. The statistics are outstanding (79TDs and a passer rating well in excess of 100). Almost unparalleled playmaking ability with all the creativity a team could wish for. And yet. His size leaves a big, or rather small, question mark. At the combine he measured in at 5’10 and what many believed was a deceptive 204lbs. For some NFL teams this will raise too many question marks about his ability to stand up to the robust, physical aspects of the game. There will also be concerns about field of vision against defences who often resemble a forest of giant Redwoods! Any team drafting him will have to bear these factors in mind.
A different proposition
Then we have ANTHONY RICHARDSON. An entirely different prospect to Young. With Richardson a team will be buying into the project, the potential elite ceiling he could have in the NFL. His outstanding athletic performance at the Combine has added to the fervour around the top QB prospects. In an era of an ever increasing number of quarterbacks seen as all-round offensive weapons Richardson is the next one in that mould. An elite arm and a dynamic threat on the ground but a prospect who needs time to work through his bread-and-butter mechanics. He could now easily hear his name called top-10 or still possibly fall towards the halfway point, depending on whether a team decided they want to build their offense around his skill set. Remember 31 teams passed on Lamar Jackson back in 2018 when he was the fifth QB off the board.
Position group value is real. The first round of the Draft is often dominated by the likes of edge rushers, offensive tackle, cornerbacks and of course quarterbacks. Not so much running backs, safeties and tight ends. This year three of the best players coming out of College Football are in exactly those positions: BIJAN ROBINSON, Brian Branch and Michael Mayer. Robinson is one of the best running backs to enter in the Draft in recent memory. Easily a top-10 talent but in a position group where value tends to be the key. Wait until day 2 or even 3 and scoop up running back talent every year is one strategy. Will a team move up to secure Robinson to spearhead their offense or will he fall towards the end of round 1?
High floor player
BRIAN BRANCH could be one of the safest picks a team could opt for in round 1. He is a very high-floor pick with tremendous football IQ in the secondary. An exceptional tackler but not in the mould of the height and reach many teams crave as they prioritise ballhawks to be true outside corners. His Combine statistics were surpassed by a number of the more athletic prospects in the secondary. Will Branch be in a position teams prioritise? He will be tremendous value if he falls into the latter half of night one.
The tight end position will be uncharacteristically exciting in the 2023 NFL Draft and it could see three picks on night one without too much thought. Is MICHAEL MAYER still at the top of that pile, as another high-floor player coming off a tremendously productive college career at Notre Dame. A proper physical in-line tight end he will instantly become a quarterback’s best friend, both as a receiving threat and for his blocking. However, he is another player where the NFL Combine data will not help his cause as other more athletic tight ends took the limelight. Mayer could be another steal if he falls behind them and towards the back end of the first round.
The best ability is availability
The first round also contains elite players with question marks over injuries from their college days. The biggest question mark probably hangs over wide receiver JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA (JSN). A remarkable 2021 season as one third of the Ohio State trio rounded out by Chris Olive and Garrett Wilson. However, in 2022 JSN was derailed by a hamstring injury which limited him to just 3 appearances. A sure-handed craftsman at his preferred slot receiver position will he be able to satisfy teams that he is fit and ready to go for 2023? To his credit he did give a timely reminder of his abilities in the Combine receiving drills. The receiver class is thin at the top end so an early phone call on day 1 is there for the taking.
Lightning in a bottle
Another player in this category is edge rusher NOLAN SMITH. A torn pectoral muscle back in October put pay to his 2022 season just as he was winding up to rival his excellent 2021 campaign. His “lightning in a bottle” style will appeal to teams but can he convince them he is clear of injuries which have followed him since coming out of high school as the top-ranked recruit in 2019? Smith was one of the absolute stars of the defensive line at the Combine, posting numbers that will likely propel him up a good number of team boards. There are several options for teams at edge rusher towards the end of day one so Smith will want to get his name closer to the top of the pack.
Where these players are picked will help to shape the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Who else do you think could be included? Who has the potential to go in the top-10 or fall towards the end of the round depending on how teams view them? Let us know @ninetynineyards or drop me a line @47yards to talk all things NFL Draft.
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