We’ve officially started the long run up to the 2023 NFL draft, with the pro football world descending on Mobile, Ala. this week for a whirlwind of practices, interviews, and meetings all centered on 125 prospects competing at the Senior Bowl college all-star game.
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy kicked off the event with a Tuesday morning press conference in which he scouted out the strengths and weaknesses of the 2023 draft class and shared some nuggets that could be important for New Orleans Saints fans. Here’s what we learned:
On Tennessee Volunteers QB Hendon Hooker
The Senior Bowl employs its own staff of regional college scouts, and they had Hooker graded as a mid-round prospect: “Hendon was a guy for us, we had Hendon like in the fourth round coming into the year. He and Bo Nix were two guys who broke out of that, it’s kind of in a clump there on our board, Hendon and Bo were two guys who broke into Day 2 (rounds two and three).”
But Hooker won’t be able to practice at the Senior Bowl this week while recovering from an ACL tear on Nov. 19. He’s recently gotten off crutches and is progressing well through his rehab following surgery, and expects to be ready in time for training camp in late July for whichever team drafts him.
Nagy added: “But with interviews and media room time being so critical for quarterbacks, and Hendon being the person he is and the season he had, let’s face it he was the face of college football for a good chunk of this season. I’ve gotten to know Hendon a bit, I met him at the Manning camp, I met him on campus in August when I went up there. He deserves this opportunity and he’s going to be in town until Friday.”
On the quarterbacks class
“We’re not going to have a first-round quarterback (at the Senior Bowl) for the first time in, I think, seven years,” Nagy said, “But we’re really excited about this year’s quarterback class. Based on our grades, our Senior Bowl grades and when we do our grades-share in calls around the league in November, this class is all in that fourth-fifth round group. Which is where Jalen Hurts was just a few years ago, and it’s pretty awesome to see Jalen in the Super Bowl. And Jalen jumped into second (round) that year. I think there’s going to be a guy or two that jumps into Day Two.”
The Saints have two offensive coaches on the National Team roster working with quarterback prospects Jaren Hall (Brigham Young), Jake Haener (Fresno State), and Malik Cunningham (Louisville); the American Team passers include Hooker, Max Duggan (TCU), Clayton Tune (Houston), and Tyson Bagen (Shepherd).
On the running back prospects
Nagy cited the running backs as a strength of this year’s draft class, pointing out that they’ve brought in four 1,000-yard rushers and that teams see “three or four” potential starters in the group. That’s good news for the Saints, who kind of ran Alvin Kamara into the ground last year and struggled to find a reliable change-of-pace back to pair with him. Kamara is also facing a possible six-game suspension in 2023, so New Orleans should be looking at this year’s runners very thoroughly.
The American Team running backs include Kenny McIntosh (Georgia), Chris Rodriguez Jr. (Kentucky), Eric Gray (Oklahoma), and Tyjae Spears (Tulane). The National Team running backs are Camerun Peoples (Appalachian State), Chase Brown (Illinois), Roschon Johnson (Texas), and Evan Hull (Northwestern). The 1,000-yard rushers in that group are Gray, Spears, and Brown.
On Mel Kiper's comments about the 2023 draft depth
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper raised some eyebrows last week when he criticized the general depth in this year’s class, which Nagy disagrees with. He sees every draft as an opportunity to make your team better, even if you may have to work a little harder to find the right prospects.
“I think otherwise, I think every draft class is a good draft class because you can help your team. You can find players to help your team,” Nagy reiterated. “It might not be the deepest at some positions, but every draft gives you an opportunity to upgrade your roster. That’s what all these GM’s and personnel staff are out looking to do. I love Mel, but I disagree with Mel on that.”