For the past couple of months, I've been holed up in my office -- and in my attempt to be cool I refer to it as my film bunker during draft season -- watching hundreds of 2023 NFL Draft prospects. Now that the vast majority of the evaluations are done and the draft is less than a month away, it's time to reveal my Top 50 Big Board.
Writer's Note: My Big Boards always take position value into consideration. In my Scouting Gradebook I use what I call "Position Addition" (PA) a scale of grade boosts for positions that correspond with how valuable I deem the position to be, and I start with running backs getting no PA. On the other end of the spectrum, quarterbacks get the biggest PA added to their raw grade.
Let's take a look.
1. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Stroud is young, precise as a passer, willing to and capable of ripping it through tight windows and what I call "functionally athletic," which in my head means he has just enough suddenness in his feet to subtly elude rushers for the amount of time it takes for him to find a secondary option off structure. His arm strength is above average, too. Is he perfect? No. But he's an advanced pocket passer who almost always makes quality decisions.
2. Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
I've moved Stroud to No. 1 over Anderson mostly because I'm like 5% concerned about Anderson's athleticism relative to other edge rushers in the NFL. Of course, the same could be said about Stroud and his quarterback contemporaries, yet sheer athleticism is more integral to success at Anderson's position than Stroud's. However, Anderson has the best combination of strength, pass-rush moves, explosion and bend in the class. He's a three-down, instant-impact type at the edge-rusher spot.
3. Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Richardson over Young, which, really just comes down to gut feeling, something I try to remove as much as possible while evaluating during the pre-draft process. So why is gut feeling involved? Because Richardson and Young have the same grade in my scouting gradebook. And, yes, it seems crazy to "trust" Richardson more than Young at this juncture of their football playing careers. What it comes down to is -- I trust Richardson's impeccable traits over the perceived "safety" Young brings to the quarterback position.
Regardless of where these quarterbacks land, they're going to need an environment conducive to quarterback development -- quality offensive line, plus skill-position talent -- to succeed as a professional. If Richardson is afforded that environment, he will be a better, more dynamic quarterback than Young.
4. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Let's get something straight out of the gate -- I don't hate Young as a prospect. Clearly not. He's so fun as a creator. And I'm not even that worried about his clear lack of size, although taking hits will be a challenge in the NFL. I'm one of the few who didn't see a big-time arm, and a few games -- like against LSU -- provided enough glimpses of his great for college but maybe not the NFL explosiveness and arm strength to spark my reservations in calling him QB1 or even QB2 in this class. His outstanding accuracy and poise will carry him early in his professional career.
5. Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Off-the-field issues aside, which are very likely to impact his draft position and could alter his NFL career, Carter is a three-down monster. Not otherworldly in any aspect. Disruptive, powerful, high-energy run defender. Multi-faceted pass rusher. I don't feel like Carter is a crazy-explosive athlete. He's a smooth mover though with loose hips and heavy hands.
6. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
I like Levis. I don't love him. He is a big, physical, cannon-armed quarterback. In the right scenario, he very well could become a franchise-altering player. He has a ways to go with decision-making, he's not quite accurate enough on a consistent basis, and he turns 24 in June.
7. Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Van Ness is a long, young, powerful rusher with an ascending pass-rush move arsenal. While he may not be a Defensive Rookie of the Year type in his debut professional season, by Year 2, he could be one of the league's best youthful pass rushers. I love his bull rush, too, and he's not 22 until July.
8. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
I can't get Smith's 2021 out of my head. Teams tested him often, which was a bad idea. Smith was stupidly productive with 12 combined interceptions and pass breakups on 35 targets. There were some reservations about his athleticism entering the combine, then he tested like an elite athlete. Battle-tested SEC cornerback with serious athleticism and major production? Sign. Me. Up.
9. Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Wilson is kind of a unicorn -- 6-foot-6 and 271 pounds with nearly 36-inch arms. Ri-dic-u-lous. Taller and longer than Myles Garrett and right around the same weight. Let that sink in for a second. Of course, at that size, he's not Von Miller wrapping the corner. He does bend well for how tall he is, and the hand work is impressive. Plus he converts speed to power. Because he's been hurt most of the pre-draft process, it seems like Wilson is actually flying a tick under the radar. This is a highly capable pass-rushing specialist who oozes upside.
10. Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Let me explain my adoration for the Tennessee blocker as a prospect. He's 6-foot-5, 330-ish pounds with long arms, multiple years battling in the SEC, and he's a master with his hands in pass protection. Always resetting, always battling. Rarely off-balance. I don't mind much he was a right tackle in college. Right tackles are people, too, and they're needed in today's NFL.
11. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
12. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
13. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
14. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
15. Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
16. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
17. Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
18. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
19. Calijah Kancey, DL, Pittsburgh
20. Jakorian Bennett, CB, Maryland
21. Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
22. Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa
23. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
24. Brian Branch, S, Alabama
25. Olusegun Oluwatimi, IOL, Michigan
26. Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn
27. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
28. Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
29. Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
30. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
31. John Michael Schmitz, IOL, Minnesota
32. Will McDonald, EDGE, Iowa State
Some highlights here: Porter and Gonzalez are essentially interchangeable, lengthy outside cornerbacks who can stick like glue to receivers in press man or float to make plays in zone. CB1's at the next level right away. Johnston is getting lost in this receiver class, maybe just until his Pro Day. His game isn't flawless, but this is a tall, well-proportioned explosive wideout with tremendous yards-after-the-catch skills. Those don't grow on trees, people, even in Texas.
Campbell is being vastly underrated for some reason -- maybe the short arms? To me, he's an instant high-caliber starter who excels against the run, as a blitzer and, most vitally, in coverage. Smith ascended by rankings after the combine. He's just too athletic to be ranked any lower and there was eye-opening speed-to-power conversion on film at Georgia.
I'm in awe of the balance of Oluwatimi. I get shades of Elgton Jenkins with him. Don't get too hung up on the fact he's not Jason Kelce as an athlete. I like Bennett's versatility more than his teammate Banks, who will be picked ahead of him. Bennett is another hyper-explosive athletic specimen and tracks the ball a little more consistently.
Hall is being slept on in this receiver class. Not scouting the helmet here, but I legitimately got shades of Carl Lawson while watching him at Auburn. Compact, thick, high-level producer around the corner, and after the combine he confirmed that he's a big-time athlete.
33. Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
34. Steve Avila, IOL, TCU
35. Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State
Reed gives me major Stefon Diggs vibes. Remember, Diggs was a fifth-round pick who was a middling athlete at his combine yet such a fun, dynamic player on mediocre Maryland teams. That's the book on Reed, too. Diggs was a little bigger and younger than Reed when he entered the NFL, so there's that. But from sneaky quicks, sharp route-running salesmanship, and tremendous ball-tracking ability that makes you think he's well above 6 feet tall, Reed is my #trustthetape prospect in this class.
36. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
37. Cory Trice Jr., CB, Purdue
38. Sidy Sow, OL, Eastern Michigan
Sow checks all the boxes for me at guard. He's large, powerful, lengthy, and athletic -- plus, he's incredibly experienced. Give Sow more love, people! He's really good. Instant starter with a fun blend of pop on contact and athletic traits. What I love, too -- at nearly 6-foot-5 and over 320 pounds with offensive tackle length, he doesn't have to spend a year in an NFL strength and conditioning program before he's ready to deal with NFL power.
39. O'Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Florida
40. Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
41. Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
42. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State
43. BJ Ojulari, EDGE, LSU
44. Jordan Addison, WR, USC
After the USC Pro Day, Addison's athletic profile finished as an average-ish athlete by NFL wide receiver standards, not a brutally poor one. That's a plus. As a top 50 talent in my eyes, I like Addison. I don't view him as a sure-fire first-round selection. Let's say, more Dede Westbrook, Sterling Shepard or Marquise Brown than Calvin Ridley, and even Ridley landed in Atlanta to be the obvious No. 2 in the back end of the prime of Julio Jones career, which alleviated defensive attention and lowered pressure for him at the outset of his pro career.
45. Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
46. Riley Moss, CB, Iowa
47. JL Skinner, S, Boise State
48. D.J. Turner, CB, Michigan
49. Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State
50. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
I haven't been told who the President of the fan club is, but please alert him or her that I'm ready to fight for #TeamRileyMossIsACornerback. He's ultra-twitchy with natural mirroring ability and magnificent ball skills. A little more reliability as a tackler, and he'll be one of the best at his position from this class in a few years.
Next 10 prospects: Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern; Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia; Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia; Moro Ojomo, DT, Texas; Colby Wooden, DL, Auburn; Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State; Rashee Rice, WR, SMU; Kaevon Merriweather, S, Iowa; Andre Carter, EDGE, Army; Sydney Brown, S, Illinois
I really, really like this group. A lot of marquee names in the draft circuit. Adebawore is an otherworldly explosive athlete. Was he an otherworldly productive football player in college? Not really. The same goes for Ringo, who actually didn't test through the roof as expected.
Washington could very well be the best tight end from this class in a few years -- remember he was the No. 1 "athlete" recruit just a few years ago coming out of high school and ran 4.64 and over 260 pounds at the combine. He's not a sluggish, lumbering tight end. Ojomo is such a fun, up-the-field rusher with plus athletic traits and a nicely developed arsenal of pass-rush maneuvers to beat blockers. Merriweather rounds out my completely random obsession with Iowa prospects in this class, and this is probably as high as you'll see him. Like many Hawkeye defenders before him, Merriweather is a magnet to the football in coverage, rarely out of position, and tackles like a champ.