Who are the real prospects for the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft? No, not the players who will be drafted in the first round, but the players who actually get a Round 1 grade. There is a difference, yes.
There will be 31 players chosen in the first round. The Miami Dolphins will lose a pick because they broke league rules about how the game should be played. But NFL teams won’t give first-round grades to players who are 31 or older. So what? The “sacred” first-round grade is only given to players who would be picked on the first day of the draft in any of the last few years. The number is different for each team and scouting department. One NFC team told me that they only allow 15 first-round grades on their board so that scouts have to think more carefully before giving a special grade. Round 1 grade are only given to players who really deserve to be picked early, not just those who will be.
So we made a list of every player with a first-round grade, which turned out to be 19 names. Our own rule of thumb is to look at whether each player would have been a first-round pick in each of the last five draft classes. After the scouting combine and college pro days in two months, the list could grow or shrink. But for now, here are the Round 1 grades for the 2023 draft class. After each player’s name are parentheses that show how they rank overall.
2023 NFL Draft: Quarterback (3)
First in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the quarterbacks.
Bryce Young, Alabama (No. 2)
Comp: Tua Tagovailoa
Young went into the 2022 season as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and people had high hopes for him. He did not disappoint, throwing for 3,328 yards, 32 touchdowns, and only five picks. He got better as a player, showing poise, awareness of the pocket, and field vision. Young is 6 feet tall and weighs 194 pounds, so there will be a lot of questions about his size. However, his work on the field is that of a franchise quarterback.
Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud (No. 4)
Comp: Dak Prescott
Stroud did well in the Ohio State passing game, which was very open (3,688 passing yards, 41 TD throws and six interceptions). Stroud is 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds. He has a really good touch to all parts of the field. When he has room to move, he is also a better-than-average runner and player in the pocket. The hardest part of judging Stroud is separating his skills from the Buckeyes’ system and figuring out what he can do on his own.
Kentucky, Will Levis (No. 11)
Comp: Matthew Stafford
Levis’ numbers at Kentucky (2,406 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) aren’t good enough for the first round, but scouts love his 6-foot-3, 232-pound build, toughness, arm strength, and mentality as a passer. Levis is very hit or miss, and he needs to get better at making decisions.
2023 NFL Draft: Running back (1)
Next in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the running back.
Bijan Robinson, Texas (No. 5)
Comp: Saquon Barkley
Robinson is a great running back prospect in every way. He plays with a lot of patience, but he can also drop his shoulder and make space for himself even though he weighs 220 pounds. Robinson has some of the best contact balance and traffic vision I’ve ever seen. This season, he ran for 1,580 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s also a very good receiver out of the backfield (314 receiving yards). Robinson is one of the most talented people in this year’s class.
2023 NFL Draft: Wide receiver (2)
Now in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the wide receivers.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (No. 12)
Comp: CeeDee Lamb
Smith-Njigba set a record with 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl at the end of the 2021 season. However, a hamstring injury in 2022 limited him to just five catches and 43 yards. It’s interesting to think about, but Smith-Njigba, who is 6 feet 1 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds, could still go in the top 15 picks. He is very focused and in control of his body. Even when the defense is set up to stop him, he can still find a way to get open.
Jordan Addison, USC (No. 13)
Comp: Keenan Allen
After getting the 2021 Biletnikoff Award for best wide receiver in college football, Addison moved from Pitt to USC. He played on Pacific Standard Time and had a great year with 59 catches, 875 yards, and eight touchdowns. He did all of this without anyone knowing. Addison isn’t a big receiver at 6 feet tall and 175 pounds, but he plays with a lot of power after he catches the ball and has the footwork to make his route tree stand out.
2023 NFL Draft: Tight end (1)
Next in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the tight end.
Michael Mayer, Notre Dame (No. 15)
Comp: T.J. Hockenson
Mayer is an old-school tight end who can play all three downs. He can line up next to the offensive tackle and clear out in the run game or catch passes up the seam. At 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, he has elite size. He uses it to get 67 catches, 809 yards, and nine touchdowns all over the field in 2022. Mayer is a threat in the red zone because he can post up and box out. He isn’t expected to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds, but his power, agility, and instincts should keep him in the top 15 picks even at a position that isn’t a premium one.
2023 NFL Draft: Offensive tackle (3)
Now in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the offensive tackles.
Peter Skoronski, Northwestern (No. 8)
Comp: Ryan Ramczyk
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound left tackle plays with power and heavy hands that would be at home in the NFL. He also has good mobility in the run game at the second level. Some teams will question Skoronski’s lack of length, but he’s a powerful blocker in both the run and pass games and should start right away in the NFL. In 33 starts, he only got sacked three times.
Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State (No. 16)
Comp: Terron Armstead
Jones was once a five-star recruit. In his first year as a starter, he stood out and became one of the best left tackles in the country. He plays with a toughness and strength that are hard to find, but he also has the agility and balance to keep up with fast pass-rushers on the outside. Even though he has only started 19 games, he has a lot of potential. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and 315 pounds, there may be questions about how long his arms are, but his tape is Round 1 caliber. Jones didn’t give up any sacks for Georgia this season.
Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State (No. 16)
Comp: Terron Armstead
Johnson was arguably Ohio State’s best offensive lineman in 2021, even though he played right guard instead of left tackle. In 2022, he moved to his natural position as the left tackle and only let two sacks happen. The junior is 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 310 pounds. He has good speed and balance and plays with poise and power. Even though he still needs to work on his technique, Johnson could have the best ceiling of any offensive lineman in 2023.
2023 NFL Draft: Edge rusher (4)
Next in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the edge rushers.
Will Anderson Jr., Alabama (No. 1)
Comp: Von Miller
Anderson’s role grew in 2022, when the Alabama coaches needed more pressure in the middle of the field and asked No. 31 to do the dirty work. Anderson was a threat from the edge. The 6-foot-4, 243-pounder had 27.5 sacks, 54 tackles for loss, 130 pressures, a forced fumble, and an interception in the last two seasons. He can’t be stopped on his first step, and he knows a lot about pass-rush angles and leverage. Anderson does miss some tackles in the backfield, but he is a complete pass rusher who probably would have been the first overall pick in the 2022 draft.
Myles Murphy, Clemson (No. 6)
Comp: Bradley Chubb
Murphy did well as soon as he got to Clemson. As a true freshman, he was already in the rotation. Over the course of three seasons, he had 18 sacks and 31 tackles for loss. He also got very fast and strong. Murphy is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 275 pounds. Most people think he will run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.6s at the combine. NFL teams are excited about his rare burst, power, and agility, which make him a good pass rusher with a bright future.
Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech (No. 7)
Comp: Frank Clark
Wilson is one of the hottest draft risers of the 2022 season. He has great length, quickness off the ball, and a never-give-up attitude. In the last two years, the 6-foot-6, 275-pounder dominated at the point of attack with 14 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss, and 71 pressures. He is one of the safer defensive prospects in the class because he already has very good tools for his position. Wilson should be a good starter when he gets to the NFL, and he has a chance to become a truly great player.
Lukas Van Ness, Iowa (No. 19)
Comp: George Karlaftis
Van Ness never started a game in college, but as a defensive end for the Hawkeyes, he amazed everyone with his speed and agility. The 6-foot-5, 269-pound player only played two seasons at Iowa, but he got 13.5 sacks and 52 pressures as a part-time player. He is a raw prospect, but his speed, length, and power as a true 4-3 defensive end at the next level make it easy to get excited. More than one scout has compared him to Karlaftis, who will be a first-round pick in 2022.
2023 NFL Draft: Defensive tackle (1)
Now in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the defensive tackle.
Jalen Carter, Georgia (No. 3)
Comp: Fletcher Cox
Five members of the 2021 Georgia defense were picked in the first round of the 2022 draft. Carter, who was not eligible for that draft, may have been the best defender on the team. He is 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 310 pounds. He has a great first step and a strong body that can split double teams. Carter had problems with his ankle and knee this season, and he split time on a strong Georgia defense last year, but he still got six sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss over the last two years.
2023 NFL Draft: Cornerback (3)
Next in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the cornerbacks.
Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (No. 9)
Comp: Darius Slay
Witherspoon is a physical and aggressive cornerback. He is sticky in coverage and uses his size (6’1″, 180 lbs) and speed to stay in phase and get rid of targets. Last season, he picked off three passes and broke up 14 others. Even though run defense isn’t talked about much with cornerback prospects, Witherspoon has the best open-field tackling skills in his class.
Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (No. 10)
Comp: Marlon Humphrey
Porter has great instincts and a strong body. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound junior broke up 11 passes in 2022, but he didn’t get many targets because other teams avoided him. Porter has the size, toughness, speed, and timing to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (No. 17)
Comp: Byron Jones
Gonzalez found his footing at Oregon after moving there from Colorado. His first-year coach, Dan Lanning, who designed the 2021 Georgia defense, helped him do this. Gonzalez is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 201 pounds. He is also fast and can jump high. He had a big year in 2022, when he picked off four passes and broke up seven others.
2023 NFL Draft: Safety (1)
Last but not least in this 2023 NFL Draft preview for prospects by position, we have the safety.
Brian Branch, Alabama (No. 18)
Comp: Jalen Pitre
Branch was Nick Saban’s defense’s “Swiss Army knife” because he could do everything. Since the NFL is moving toward more versatile safeties, Branch should find it easy to move to the NFL. Branch is 6 feet tall and weighs 193 pounds. He is big enough to make a difference in the run game from the box, but he also has the speed and ability to change directions to stop receivers and tight ends from the slot. Scouts love his instincts and how quickly he can step into the pros. This was shown on tape in 2022, when he broke up seven passes and only let 19 get through. It’s easy to see him becoming the next big NFL secondary defender like Tyrann Mathieu.