2023 NFL draft prospects to watch: 10 quarterbacks, 10 non-QBs we like early on
The 2023 NFL draft is 359 days away. We must be ready.
If you look back at our early peek at 25 prospects for the 2022 NFL draft from roughly one year ago today, you’ll see we nailed a lot of eventual first-round picks — nine of them, in fact, including Derek Stingley Jr., Kayvon Thibodeaux, Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal and Chris Olave.
We also added some eventual undrafted players, such as Jalen Wydermyer and Bubba Bolden (yikes), plus several players who returned to school, on our list. We fully admit that a lot can happen in the next 51 or so weeks.
It’s a good launching point until we get to August, when the helmets and pads return. Here are 10 quarterbacks and 15 non-QBs whom we think could be players to watch and early contenders for lofty draft positions.
CJ Stroud, Ohio State
Perhaps the early favorite for QB1 honors, Stroud has a nearly perfect environment in Columbus: an elite offensive designer in head coach Ryan Day, a true go-to receiver (see below), a possible stud at left tackle and a vibrant run game.
Plus, Stroud has the arm talent teams seek in a franchise passer. I love the way he layers passes over the second level of the defense and puts it where his receiver has the best chance to catch it and maximize YAC.
Bryce Young, Alabama
There will be questions about his height — he’s listed at 6-foot, but we tend to doubt that number — and Young isn’t a scrambler. But his anticipation, smarts and toughness all appear to be top notch. Plus, Bama once more is fairly loaded at the skill positions and will have continuity on the offensive coaching staff.
Young is the ultimate point guard at QB. Expect some Drew Brees comparisons for his ability to distribute the ball all over the field and make unexpected things happen on the fly.
Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
With an unorthodox style, Jurkovec is a fun debate here. But he has the playmaking instincts, size and throwing ability to absolutely be discussed in this range. A wrist injury sidelined him for a big chunk of last season, and he wasn’t the same after returning.
Yet Jurkovec has his top receiver back in Zay Flowers and should be one of the best college quarterbacks this coming season, with enough tasty matchups to prove himself. We see a little Ben Roethlisberger in his game. Check out the clip of Jurkovec stripping away a fumble after his own INT against Virginia Tech, and you might see what we’re talking about.
Will Levis, Kentucky
Levis still needs to become more consistent as a thrower, but the later-season results last year showed that he could make strides in that department. He’s also a talented runner with a Josh Allen-like build, making for a fascinating dual-threat prospect.
The Penn State transfer certainly benefited from former coordinator Liam Coen’s offense, but even with Coen joining the Rams staff, there should be enough continuity with replacement Rick Scangarello’s system that Levis can continue developing his touch, placement and decision making. The tools are exciting but a touch raw.
Tanner McKee, Stanford
McKee really caught our eye last season as a true pocket passer with a big build (he's listed at 6-foot-6) and some respectable mechanics. Like 2021 third-rounder Davis Mills, McKee has a strong pedigree behind him as a former elite recruit, and playing for David Shaw will earn him credibility in the NFL ranks.
McKee delayed his college entry with a two-year mission, and there's plenty of growth needed for his development. But if the Cardinal can find better talent for him to play with, he has first-round upside.
Tyler Van Dyke, Miami (FL)
The sample size (nine starts) is small but enticing. Van Dyke might end up being another year away for all we know, but what he did last season has to be exciting for Hurricane fans and NFL scouts alike. Figuring out who his receivers are will be paramount, but TE Will Mallory became a trusted big-play target.
Van Dyke has a thick build, can sling it all over the field and has a bit of San Bradford (a good QB who was killed by injuries) in his game.
Anthony Richardson, Florida
A total projection right now, Richardson has attempted only 66 college passes (and has an unsightly six picks) and hasn’t yet shown enough to be considered here. But the NFL is a traits-driven league, and Richardson is dripping with potential.
Whether he’s developed enough in a year’s time to be considered first-round material is very much up in the air. Does Florida have enough surrounding talent? Has Richardson improved his consistency enough? Will Billy Napier’s system push him to stardom? These are all big questions. But Richardson has big talent.
Devin Leary, North Carolina State
He quietly put together a monster statistical season in 2021 — 3,435 pass yards, 35 TDs, five INTs — and finished the season with an improbable comeback against UNC in what would be his final game of the season after the bowl game vs. UCLA was canceled.
Leary led the Pack back from a nine-point deficit, throwing two TD passes in that span, to pull off the heroic comeback and place him high on the list of returning ACC quarterbacks. If he can withstand some heavy losses on offense and thrive again, Leary could be a dark-horse draft entrant.
Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
Hooker might have been headed for the Senior Bowl this year had he not opted to return to school for one more season. There was little buzz on him heading into the season, but the Virginia Tech transfer turned in a 31-3 TD-INT ratio, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt and was effective again as a runner.
What might hold Hooker back is his age (he turns 25 right after the season), but an early-season battle vs. Pitt (and QB Kedon Slovis) figures to attract NFL scouting eyes, as will the Vols’ typically thorny schedule in the SEC ranks. There’s an NFL talent here — but how good?
Grayson McCall, Coastal Carolina
McCall was among the QB efficiency leaders last season, completing 73% of his passes for 2,873 yards with 27 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also led the Chanticleers to a win over Zach Wilson and BYU in the 2020 season and has caught the eye of evaluators with his dual-threat abilities.
Coastal’s offense is not what you’d consider conventional, even by college-football standards, so there might be an adjustment to more of an NFL type of passing game. Even still, there’s enough intrigue here to make him a QB prospect worth keeping tabs on.
Others: Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh; Spencer Rattler, South Carolina; Cameron Ward, Washington State; Sam Hartman, Wake Forest; Jake Haener, Fresno State; Aidan O’Connell, Purdue; Jaren Hall, BYU; Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
EDGE Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Had Anderson been able to apply for the 2022 NFL draft, he’d have been the No. 1 overall pick. We feel entirely confident in making that bold a proclamation because, well, it’s true. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner racked up an utterly absurd 34.5 tackles for loss, 103 total tackles and 17.5 sacks last season in 15 games.
Anderson was robbed for a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist as the best defender in college football last season and profiles as a Von Miller-type of rusher at the next level. He’s also the overwhelming favorite early on to be the first non-QB drafted in 2023.
DT Jalen Carter, Georgia
One day we’ll look back at the NFL talent the 2020-2022 Bulldogs produced and perhaps compare it to the early-millennium Miami Hurricanes of legend. Really, that’s how deep they’ve been the past few years, and Carter might be the best defensive prospect among them. He’s a scheme-wrecker from multiple spots and has top-10 potential.
In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that right now he might be a better NFL prospect than 2022 first-rounders Travon Walker, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt — so long as Carter proves he can thrive without that type of seasoned talent surrounding him.
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Just turn on the Rose Bowl tape and ask yourself how a receiver could have a better outing than that one. Fifteen catches (on 16 targets) for 336 yards and three TDs, all against a Utah defense that year in and year out is among the better groups in college football.
Smith-Njigba lined up mostly in the slot last season, so it will be interesting to see how they unleash him this coming season. But wherever he is, expect C.J. Stroud to find him. Often.
EDGE Nolan Smith, Georgia
Oh, you thought Georgia’s talent well had dried up? Spoiler: No. Smith was Rivals’ No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2019, behind only Derek Stingley Jr. that year. Now he’s stepping up into a primary role for the Dawgs and should be a household name in no time.
Smith really shined in the two playoff games, as he was too good to take off the field despite all the talent in Athens. He’s not massive, but the elite athletic traits are nearly impossible to miss.
OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ right guard a year ago, Johnson is expected to move to left tackle for one of the most exciting offenses in college football this coming season. Protecting Stroud’s backside carries a heavy burden, but OSU has been cranking out the offensive line talent in recent years and figures to do so again with Johnson whenever he chooses to come out. It could be a leaner OL talent pool, so a big year could vault Johnson into the Round 1 discussion.
TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
One of the more mature young tight ends in the country the past few seasons, Mayer might not be drafted quite as highly as Kyle Pitts was in 2021, but the sky is the limit for Mayer’s NFL potential. He has a showcase game in the opener against FSU last season and capped the season with a two-TD effort in the bowl game vs. Oklahoma State. Mayer’s length, receiving ability and toughness are all traits the NFL loves in tight ends.
WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU
He might not quite be on the Ja’Marr Chase level as a prospect, but Boutte is cut from a similar cloth and should thrive this coming season with better health (after getting hurt down the stretch) and (we assume) better QB play at LSU. Brian Kelly coached a few first-round receivers at Notre Dame in Michael Floyd and Will Fuller, and Boutte could prove to be a better NFL prospect than either one.
CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
The LSU transfer is expected to step into the top CB spot in Tuscaloosa and could become the Tide’s next first-rounder at the position, following Marlon Humphrey and Patrick Surtain II in recent seasons. Ricks arguably was better in 2020 than Derek Stingley was for the Tigers, and he now gets to play for Saban, one of the best secondary coaches around.
Ricks’ recent arrest is a reminder that he might need some maturing, and he’s coming off shoulder surgery, but he’s a big-league NFL talent.
RB Bijan Robinson, Texas
A year after no running back went in Round 1 for the first time, we might see the position reintroduced to the top 32 if Robinson continues showing what he has for the Longhorns. He was sensational last season in 10 games before going down with an elbow injury, displaying power and contact balance as a runner and outstanding receiving skills for the position.
CB Clark Phillips III, Utah
This might be a name that’s newish to you, but his performance vs. Ohio State in the Rose Bowl put him on the national stage. Yes, that was the same game Smith-Njigba torched the Utes, but he and Phillips only crossed paths a few times. And Phillips led his own fireworks show that day with two touchdown-saving plays — an interception and a forced fumble of Smith-Njigba, thanks to excellent hustle and awareness.
Size will be an issue for Phillips, listed at 5-10 and 185 pounds, but he’s a confident cover man who will open the season at Florida before Utah gets into his Pac-12 schedule.
Others: CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia; DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson; EDGE Zach Harrison, Ohio State; OT Zion Nelson, Miami; LB Noah Sewell, Oregon; WR Jordan Addison, Pittsburgh (for now); EDGE Myles Murphy, Clemson; Isaiah Foskey, Edge, Notre Dame; TE Arik Gilbert, Georgia; CB Malachi Moore, Alabama; OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern; Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama; S Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame