Yes, the 2022 NFL draft class lacked surefire franchise quarterbacks, and even the deep positions — including offensive tackle and wide receiver — were (perhaps unfairly) compared to previous classes and deemed “not as good as last year” in many cases. But what about this 2023 class? It looks stellar and deep, good news for both decision-makers employed by NFL teams and hopeful fans.
The 2023 class features a plethora of quarterbacks, a running back group that could put a pair of players in the first round and excellent depth across the defensive positions, with star power at pass-rusher, defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback. But what are the deepest position groups? Which positions offer up excellent prospects from the top of the first round right down through the midrounds?
Let’s rank and take a closer look at the five deepest positions, including a loaded group of signal-callers that could rival other recent stacked classes. We’ll also pick out the thinnest position in the class and explain why it could be a problem for some NFL teams looking for young upgrades.
The most important position in all of sports is also the most heavily evaluated and scrutinized. NFL teams either have the guy or they’re searching for him. And if they don’t have a true franchise quarterback, they will do whatever it takes, including trading numerous high draft picks, spending upward of $235 million dollars and taking on bad cap space, to find the answer under center.
The 2022 quarterback class lacked many options, and we saw that play out during draft weekend. Only Pitt’s Kenny Pickett was selected in the first round (Pittsburgh Steelers), and only nine quarterbacks were drafted overall, including just four in the first three rounds. Compare that with the 2021 draft (five first-rounders) or the 2020 class (13 total drafted, four first-rounders), and it’s obvious NFL teams did not value the passers in last year’s class.
The NFL is cyclical though, and as last year’s class was down, this year’s class looks to be up.
In a normal NFL draft cycle, teams expect to study roughly 15 quarterbacks who have viable pro talent. One AFC college scouting director told me, “Normally we have around five guys in each tier — starters, backups, third string.”
But based on my personal scouting and plenty of conversations around the league, this year’s number tops 20 for most clubs. That might not seem like many more than a normal year, but the real difference here is that many of those 20 are seen as potential NFL starters at this stage.
One NFC general manager told me: “This might be the deepest QB class in a long, long time. Maybe ever. Especially in terms of volume. We’re evaluating so many guys. It’s a great year to need a quarterback.”
This is great news for NFL clubs looking for starting options, but it’s also great news for NFL teams who already have their long-term quarterback secured; we should expect to see a ton of trade activity centered around positioning for the epic 2023 quarterback class. Let’s break down the QBs into early tiers, but keep in mind that there is a whole lot of time for things to change before the 2023 draft.
Tier 2: Prospects with potential to rise — Tanner McKee (Stanford), Aidan O’Connell (Purdue), Devin Leary (NC State), Cameron Rising (Utah), Jaren Hall (BYU), Phil Jurkovec (Boston College), Kedon Slovis (Pittsburgh), Spencer Rattler (South Carolina), Stetson Bennett (Georgia) and Spencer Sanders (Oklahoma State)
Tier 3: Possible midrounders to watch — KJ Jefferson (Arkansas), Sam Hartman (Wake Forest), Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), Jake Haener (Fresno State), Chase Brice (Appalachian State), Grayson McCall (Coastal Carolina) and Malik Cunningham (Louisville)
C.J. Stroud connects with Marvin Harrison for a 42-yard Ohio State touchdown.
2. Defensive end
You probably know about Alabama pass-rusher Will Anderson Jr. by now, and for good reason. He’s a Heisman Trophy candidate, consensus All-American and the top draft prospect for Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, Jordan Reid and myself. He led the nation with 17.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss last season, and he already has a sack and five TFLs in two games this season.
Anderson is good. Really good. But he’s not the only pass-rusher to talk about in a class that’s loaded at the position. Last year featured a handful of good prospects, but none were considered on the level of Myles Garrett, Nick Bosa or Joey Bosa. But the 2023 class of players not only has Anderson in that elite range but also a second tier that is arguably on par with last year’s top prospects, including Georgia’s Travon Walker (Jacksonville Jaguars), Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson (Detroit Lions) and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux (New York Giants).
“Volume is a great word for this pass-rush class,” said one longtime NFC scout. “We kind of saw that last year with so many pass-rushers going early, but I like the top end much better this year.”
Five pass-rushers were drafted in the first round in 2022. The 2023 draft class is comparable, but where this group is special is that the second and third round could realistically produce 10-15 additional pass-rushers.
Tier 1: Proven prospects with serious first-round buzz — Will Anderson Jr. (Alabama), Nolan Smith (Georgia), Myles Murphy (Clemson), Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame), Andre Carter II (Army) and Will McDonald IV (Iowa State)
Tier 2: Prospects with potential to rise — BJ Ojulari (LSU), Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), Felix Anudike-Uzomah (Kansas State), Ali Gaye (LSU), Derrick Hall (Auburn), Zion Tupuola-Fetui (Washington), Payton Wilson (NC State), Zach Harrison (Ohio State), Colby Wooden (Auburn) and Habakkuk Baldonado (Pitt)
NFL front offices have been blessed over the past five years with awesome draft classes at the cornerback position. We’ve seen players like Jeff Okudah (Lions) and Derek Stingley Jr. (Houston Texans) get drafted in the top three of their respective classes. But we’ve also seen depth in Round 1, with an average of five cornerbacks selected on Day 1 over the past five years.
The 2023 cornerback class features a similar race for CB1 to the one we saw in 2021, when Alabama’s Pat Surtain II (Denver Broncos) and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn (Carolina Panthers) battled it out for the top spot. Georgia’s Kelee Ringo and South Carolina’s Cam Smith are vying for the crown early in this season, but Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. has been awesome in the first stages of the season, too.
One AFC college scouting director summed up this class, saying, “We looked at this cornerback class a year ago and thought we’d probably wait for a guy because it was a great group. Ringo, Smith, Porter, Eli Ricks — there’s just so much talent and [so many] proven guys who have excelled in the SEC or Big Ten. It’s exciting.”
Tier 3: Possible midrounders to watch — Storm Duck (North Carolina), Tiawan Mullen (Indiana), Kei’Trel Clark (Louisville), Cameron Brown (Ohio State), Arquon Bush (Cincinnati), Jammie Robinson (Florida State), Kris Abrams-Draine (Missouri) and Kyu Blu Kelly (Stanford)
4. Wide receiver
It has become a foregone conclusion that the wide receiver position group will be strong in any given draft class. After back-to-back seasons with two first-rounders (2018, 2019), we’ve now have three straight seasons with at least five Day 1 picks, including six in 2022. The first-round receiver is back
In 2023, we have a very good group in terms of depth and volume, even if there isn’t a Ja’Marr Chase-level prospect at the top of the list. Instead, we have a diverse group of pass-catchers in contention for WR1. And the best players here come with a wide range of size, standout traits and levels of speed.
“No one in this class is a top-10 pick, at least not based on what we’ve seen and expected size/speed metrics, but it’s a good group of middle-to-late first-rounders,” said one NFC general manager.
That meshes with how this class shapes up from a rankings perspective, with no wideout in my top 10 players outside of Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Tier 1: Proven prospects with serious first-round buzz — Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State), Kayshon Boutte (LSU), Jordan Addison (USC), Quentin Johnston (TCU), Jermaine Burton (Alabama), Josh Downs (North Carolina) and Cedric Tillman (Tennessee)
Sam Hartman drops a great pass to A.T. Perry for the 68-yard Wake Forest touchdown.
5. Defensive tackle
The 2023 defensive tackle group is a fun one. Not only is there a top-tier prospect in Georgia’s Jalen Carter — a player some NFL scouts actually have a higher grade on than Alabama’s Anderson — but there is also solid depth both in Round 1 and the Day 2 range.
“We’ve had this year earmarked for a while at D-tackle, and the big-named recruits have lived up to expectations, which is nice,” said one NFC scouting director. “Carter is phenomenal, but I’d like to see him take over games more. Right now he’s more of a Leonard Williams-like prospect who doesn’t lose reps but doesn’t always win them.”
Carter and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee have instant-starter potential, but depth is very apparent here, too. It’s a good year to need a pass-rusher in the middle.
Tier 2: Prospects with potential to rise — Mazi Smith (Michigan), Jalen Redmond (Oklahoma), Gervon Dexter Sr. (Florida), Calijah Kancey (Pitt), Zacch Pickens (South Carolina) and Tyler Davis (Clemson)
Thinnest position: Offensive tackle
For there to be a strongest position, there also has to be a weakest. One year after seeing five offensive tackles drafted in the first round, we should expect a significant drop-off in the upcoming class.
As it stands now, only two players have Round 1 grades: Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski. And both are being talked about by NFL scouts as potential guards at the next level, rather than franchise left tackles.
Johnson was a five-star recruit for the Buckeyes but spent the past two years at guard, where he excelled. Skoronski, meanwhile, has found a home at left tackle since taking over for Rashawn Slater, but at 6-4 and 315 pounds, there are already rumblings from evaluators that his lack of length could kick him inside in the NFL.
There’s potential here but no sure thing, and as of now, zero tackles are being projected as surefire top-10 picks.