Draft season has arrived for the 18 NFL teams who will not be participating in the postseason and another college football campaign is in the books after Georgia earned its second straight national championship with a thoroughly dominating performance against TCU.
Players with remaining eligibility have until Jan. 16 to make their draft intentions official.
My evaluation process is about 75% complete with college all-star games on the horizon, most notably the Senior Bowl on Feb. 4 in Mobile, Ala.
I've been watching these players since high school for the most part. What I've seen on the field makes up the bulk of my analysis, but this is where the fun begins.
So it's probably a good time to update the ol' big board.
Part of my weekly mock draft preamble explains it is an attempt at figuring out the best players available in this season's draft class, and which teams they'd match up well with considering the draft order. The closer we get to draft day, the more I attempt to match what teams will actually do with their draft picks as opposed to what I believe they should do.
Last season, I tied for the most accurate NFL draft prognosticator in print, according to The Huddle Report. I was also tied for ninth overall (out of 158) for 2022. I'm fourth overall (out of 159) over the past five years.
My big board is an attempt to discern who the best players in this draft class actually are.
Here's my first NFL draft Big Board of 2023:
1. Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama, Jr.
Some scouts will say Anderson is a bit undersized for an NFL edge rusher, but there are shades of Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas and future Hall of Famer Von Miller in his pass-rush approach — 34.5 sacks in three seasons with the Crimson Tide. Plus, he is equally adept at defending the run. I'd have no qualms with him going first overall.
2. CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio St., Jr.
Despite dealing with several injuries at wide receiver, Stroud didn't miss a beat this season — he was second in touchdown passes (41) and QBR (88.9) in 2022 — and nearly beat the defending national champions with 348 yards and four TDs, while showcasing his scrambling ability (he's a traditional pocket passer).
3. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama, Jr.
Young has showcased an elite level skill set for two straight seasons — featuring special athleticism and intangibles with a dash of improv — this year with fewer playmakers surrounding him. Of course, Young's size (6-feet, 195 pounds) will be debated, but barring the Chicago Bears staying put to select one of the elite defenders, he is the odds-on favorite to be chosen with the first pick after throwing for 321 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-20 Sugar Bowl victory over Kansas State.
4. Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia, Jr.
What if I told you the most talented player on a historically-great Bulldogs defense that saw five prospects selected in the first round wasn't even eligible for the draft after last season? Carter is a scheme-wrecker and can attack an offense from any position on the defensive line.
5. Myles Murphy, Edge, Clemson, Jr.
Murphy features very similar dimensions/traits to 2022 No. 1 overall draft pick Travon Walker. Just sayin'.
6. Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern, Jr.
Skoronski took over for Rashawn Slater as a true freshman in 2020 and the offense didn't miss a beat. Some scouts may say his size better suits him to play guard, but they also said that about Slater.
7. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas, Jr.
Few things are certain at this point, but I'm fairly positive the Doak Walker Award-winning Robinson will be the first running back selected in late April (almost certainly in prime time). He's an all-around threat who is light on his feet considering his size (6-foot, 215 pounds) and features home-run ability.
8. Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson, So.
Bresee was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 recruiting class. He showed flashes of dominance as a true freshman in 2020, but only played 152 snaps in 2021 before tearing his ACL. It appears he regained his explosiveness and remains one of the most versatile defensive lineman in this class.
9. Broderick Jones, OL, Georgia, So.
Jones doesn't have the experience other prospects possess in this class — he's only started 19 games for the Bulldogs — but his athleticism, intelligence and footwork pops when you watch him.
10. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU, Jr.
Johnston does Deebo Samuel-like things, forcing missed tackles when he has the ball in his hands, but he's 6-foot-4, 215 pounds — Samuel is four inches shorter.
11. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame, Jr.
The Irish pipeline at tight end to the NFL continues to flourish. Mayer isn't as explosive as Kyle Pitts, but his receiving acumen, size (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and toughness put him just a tick below Pitts as a prospect.
12. Tyree Wilson, Edge, Texas Tech, Sr.
Wilson was one of nine players in the FBS to produce 60 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and six sacks before suffering a season-ending broken foot against Kansas. He's a physically gifted, ascending pass rusher who is explosive off the ball and powerful enough to make an immediate impact at the next level.
13. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky, Sr.
Levis' senior season was a mixed bag compared to his impressive 2021 campaign — he lost his top receiver (Wan'Dale Robinson) and offensive coordinator to the NFL — but he features the combination of arm talent, size (6-foot-3, 232 pounds) and mobility that usually sparks the imagination of an offensive coordinator.
14. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah, So.
Phillips features a smaller frame, but his ability to mirror and match routes, plus his explosive athleticism and ball skills (nine career interceptions with four pick-sixes) more than make up for it.
15. Brian Branch, S, Alabama, Jr.
Branch isn't a "freakish" athlete, but can play anywhere in the secondary and is one of the surest tacklers you will find in a defensive backfield. Searching for a weakness here is a little like trying to find Waldo.
16. Jordan Addison, WR, USC, Jr.
The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner (with Pittsburgh) is a silky smooth route runner and has the speed to challenge a defense at every level with inside/outside versatility.
17. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn St., Jr.
The son of former All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter checks the size (6-2, 198) and physicality boxes. Plus, Junior's athleticism and talent pops when you watch him, but he'll need to refine his technique and develop more consistency to pay off his potential — his aggressive nature is a gift and a curse.
18. O'Cyrus Torrence, OL, Florida, Sr.
Torrence was an elite prospect at Louisiana, and he didn't miss a beat after transferring into the SEC, becoming a consensus All-American.
19. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio St., Jr.
The Buckeyes had two receivers drafted in the first 11 picks last April and Smith-Njigba out-produced both as a sophomore. An injury-riddled season has dampened his draft stock, but if he checks out during the draft process, he likely won't have to wait too long to hear his name called.
20. Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma, Jr.
Harrison features the prototypical size and movement skills of starting left tackle in the NFL. He'll need to polish his technique (but he's already very good in pass protection) and buy-in to an NFL strength program in order to unlock the next level.
21. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio St., Jr.
Johnson could very well end up in the top 10 depending on how the draft order shakes out. He was the nation's top-ranked offensive tackle prospect in the 2020 recruiting class and has thrived at both left tackle and right guard for the Buckeyes.
22. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia, So.
As a red-shirt sophomore, Ringo's size/speed combination is still developing, but the former five-star recruit will compete to be the first cornerback selected solely based on his talent and potential.
23. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama, Jr.
There's bell-cow, dual-threat potential with Gibbs. He features electric speed with pass-catching ability and an advanced route tree.
24. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois, Sr.
Witherspoon finished with the highest coverage grade (92.5) in the FBS, according to Pro Football Focus. He used his size (6-1, 180) and ball skills — three interceptions and 14 passes defensed (tied for eighth in FBS) — to dominate in man coverage this season.
25. Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee, Jr.
Hyatt emerged as the premier deep threat in college football after exploding for 207 yards and five TDs (!) against Alabama in October. The 2022 Biletnikoff Award winner is track-and-field fast. I only have two questions. Why didn't he produce at this level his previous two seasons with the Volunteers? Can he produce on the perimeter — where he will face press coverage much more often — since he's primarily ran most of his routes out of the slot?
26. Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson, Jr.
Simpson is everything you are looking for in a modern coverage linebacker.
27. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina, Jr.
Smith was Jaycee Horn's successor and maintained Horn's excellence for the Gamecocks. So much so, quarterbacks have essentially avoided him this season.
28. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College, Sr.
Flowers won't be for everyone with his smallish frame (5-10, 172), but he checks most boxes for a No. 1 receiver at the next level. He's a good route runner with excellent hands who is extremely dangerous in the open field thanks to elite speed, agility and vision.
29. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon, So.
Gonzalez has the size (6-2, 200) and physical traits that make most scouts salivate, and the Colorado transfer has answered all questions regarding ball production (four interceptions).
30. Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia, Sr.
Smith, a former five-star recruit, is athletic enough to make plays from sideline to sideline. A refined approach to rushing the passer is needed to unlock his unlimited potential. It remains to be seen how his season-ending pectoral tear will affect his draft stock.
31. Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M, Jr.
Johnson is a rangy, versatile impact tackler whose size (6-3,195) and athleticism will allow defensive coordinators to get creative.
32. Will McDonald IV, Edge, Iowa St., Sr.
McDonald has been highly productive for the Cyclones — he has at least five sacks in four straight seasons and double-digit sacks in two of the last three — despite playing out of position for most of his collegiate career. He's an explosive, instinctive pass rusher, who I anticipate will see a boost in his draft stock after the Senior Bowl.
33. Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida, So.
Richardson is the wild-card in this QB class. His range is anywhere from first overall pick — I expect scouts and coaches/coordinators to fall in love with his traits (i.e. ceiling) — to a day two selection.
34. Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio St., Sr.
Jones is a massive (6-8, 359) man with nimble feet who dominated at right tackle for the Buckeyes his senior season — he allowed only five QB hurries, no hits and zero sacks in almost 800 snaps.
35. Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas, Jr.
This Alabama transfer has hybrid potential with the closing speed to get to the quarterback, the intensity to roam the middle of the field and athleticism to develop in coverage.
36. John Michael Schmitz, OL, Minnesota, Sr.
Michael Schmitz has been one of the best offensive lineman in the nation since he became a starter way back in 2019. According to Pro Football Focus, he earned a 92.4 overall grade to lead the country this season. The other centers who have played at that level have seen their talent translate well to the NFL (Frank Ragnow and Tyler Linderbaum).
37. Isaiah Foskey, Edge, Notre Dame, Jr.
Foskey's versatile skill set, size and power would have likely made him a Day 2 selection had he entered the draft last season. He's worthy of a first-round pick this time around.
38. Andre Carter, Edge, Army, Sr.
Carter is a relentless, athletic pass rusher with prototypical size (6-7, 260) who was highly productive as a junior (15.5 sacks), and found himself being triple-teamed for most of his senior year.
39. Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon, So.
The younger brother of Penei — the No. 7 pick overall in 2021 — has a knack for finding the ball, and the ability to punish a ball-carrier at the point of attack.
40. Tuli Tuipulotu, DT, USC, Jr.
Tuipulotu was a revelation this season for the Trojans with 13.5 sacks, after producing 7.5 his first two seasons in Los Angeles. He features a NFL-caliber spin move.
41. Jordan Battle, S, Alabama, Sr.
Battle was considered a potential first-rounder last year had he left school early, but he used his senior season to become a better tackler and more reliable run supporter (he was already dynamic in coverage).
42. Siaki Ika, DL, Baylor, Jr.
Any team struggling to stop the run will be in on the 6-foot-4, 358 pound Ika. Of course, he plugs up the middle of the field, but he's also athletic enough to pressure the quarterback.
43. Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon St., Jr.
Musgrave is a work-in-progress as a blocker and he only played two games this season, although we caught a glimpse of his potential with him making 11 receptions for 169 yards (15.4 yards per catch) and a TD. He's an elite athlete, who runs precise routes, has soft hands and can create separation with his speed.
44. Cody Mauch, OT, North Dakota St., Sr.
Mauch is an impressive athlete who began his collegiate career as a 220-plus pound tight end and has developed into a 300-pound offensive tackle who is an impact player in the run and pass game. Less than ideal arm length might necessitate a move to guard in the NFL.
45. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina, Jr.
Downs' size (5-10, 175) will cause some consternation, but he's skilled and athletic enough to overcome it. His explosiveness will stress defensive backs at every level of the route tree and he's slippery after the catch.
46. Sydney Brown, S, Illinois, Sr.
Brown showcased his ball-hawk skills with six interceptions this season. He's an impact player around the line of scrimmage as well. There's some footwork issues in zone coverage that needs to be coached up, but Brown features all the tools to be a star at the next level.
47. Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA, Sr.
Charbonnet features the size (6-1, 220), power, vision and instincts to thrive in a zone-based run scheme at the next level. He's progressed as a receiver out of the backfield since transferring from Michigan and will need to continue his development in pass protection.
48. Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford, Jr.
McKee is a pure pocket passer with prototypical size (6-6, 230), arm talent and touch. He could be overlooked because of the Cardinal's lack of success the past two seasons.
49. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah, Sr.
Kincaid has been highly productive at two levels (he previously played at the University of San Diego), with at least eight TDs in each of his four full seasons of play between two schools. He leaves a lot to be desired as a blocker, but he's a smooth route runner (something he's worked on) with good hands and is a clear and present danger in the red zone.
50. Brandon Joseph, S, Notre Dame, Jr.
The Northwestern transfer replaced Kyle Hamilton for the Irish. The drop-off wasn't significant with Joseph, a consensus first team All-American in 2020.