We're on to 2023.
It's time to start to close the books on the 2022 NFL draft and begin to look ahead to next year's group. And oh boy, is it a good one. We have high-end defensive stars, including a standout edge rusher from Alabama. We have elite playmakers on offense. And if the lack of great 2022 quarterback prospects got you down, the 2023 group looks fantastic, starting with two potential QB1s right at the top.
Of course, the 2023 draft is still 12 months away and there is a lot to learn about the class. And over the next few months, you'll learn more and more about the top names available and their strengths. But for now, let's take a quick introductory look at what could be an outstanding group of prospects.
NFL draft analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid are here to answer 11 big questions about the top players, who could go No. 1 overall and who is flying under the radar in the early going. Get your notebooks ready -- it's time to start evaluating the 2023 class. And for more on what to expect from the 2023 class, check out Todd McShay's way-too-early mock draft of Round 1 on Thursday.
Make your pick right now: Who will be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL draft?
Reid: The quarterbacks will be the popular choice, but I'm going another route: Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. He is the most productive edge rusher Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has ever had, as indicated by his nation-leading 34.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks, and I expect him to have just as good of a season in 2022. At 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds, Anderson is a versatile player who is firm against the run and an aggressive and crafty wrecking ball of aggression as a pass-rusher.
Miller: It's very hard to pick against Anderson, and he'd be my early call here, too. But here's another name to keep an eye on: Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. The second-year starter did struggle early in the 2021 season but composed himself and tossed 44 touchdown passes to just six interceptions. He's a strong-armed quarterback who can play from the pocket. There is still a lot to learn about Stroud since he has started just 12 games, but right now, he's the quarterback I like most for 2023.
What are the biggest strengths of quarterbacks Bryce Young (Alabama) and Stroud?
Miller: Young (6-foot, 194 pounds) is a rhythm passer who is incredibly accurate to all levels of the field. He's dynamic enough with his legs to create passing windows and can pick up yards as a scrambler. He's a point guard at the quarterback position. And Stroud (6-3, 215) has a stronger arm and is able to bounce off would-be-tacklers. Stroud's field vision, arm strength and second-effort playmaking ability are his biggest strengths.
Who are the other quarterbacks we should know in the Class of 2023?
Reid: Boston College's Phil Jurkovec had plenty of buzz last preseason, but surgery for a broken right wrist forced him to miss eight games, and he returned for his senior season. Two others to keep an eye on who have been repeatedly brought up when discussing next year's top QBs: Kentucky's Will Levis and Miami's Tyler Van Dyke.
Would Anderson have been the No. 1 pick if he was eligible for the 2022 draft?
Miller: Absolutely! Anderson is that talented, and as we saw, NFL teams were valuing the pass-rushers this year over offensive tackles and quarterbacks. Anderson has the production that Travon Walker didn't have (17.5 sacks in 2021). He is a lot like Kayvon Thibodeaux in terms of his first-step quickness, but he plays with much more power despite being listed 10 pounds lighter (245). Anderson is a poised, polished pass-rusher with truly special burst, power and pass-rush moves.
Outside of Anderson, who are the top defenders to know?
Reid: The early outlook for the 2023 defensive line prospects looks promising. Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter already has a lot of fans within the league. One area scout told me, "[Carter] was the best player on the [Georgia] defense last year, and it wasn't close." After a standout sophomore season, a lot more attention will be on Carter now that he's draft eligible and one of the few stars returning on that Bulldogs defense.
Another player I think could quickly cement himself in the discussion at the top of the positional rankings with a strong season is Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks. He played at LSU during his first two seasons but made the in-conference transfer to the Crimson Tide. At 6-2, 190, Ricks is a long press corner who displays plenty of hip fluidity, technique and confidence.
Is there a clear top wide receiver in next year's draft?
Miller: Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba will carry the WRU torch for the Buckeyes next year, and he might actually be a better prospect than Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave. JSN went off last year to the tune of 95 catches, more than 1,600 yards and nine scores. And he did that while sharing targets with two 2022 first-rounders at the position.
His chemistry with Stroud late in the season was electric, as the two connected 60 times for 958 yards and six touchdowns in the final five games. Smith-Njigba finished off his 2021 season with a record-setting performance in the Rose Bowl against Utah, in which he went for 15 catches and 347 yards. He should pick up in 2022 right where he left off.
No running backs went in the first round this year. Could we see one on Day 1 in 2023?
Reid: Based on the early outlook, running back is one of the strongest units overall next year. The "never take a running back in the first round" philosophy will be put to the test next year. Bijan Robinson (Texas) is already seen as one of the top prospects at the position after rushing for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2021. Two others to keep an eye on are Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs and Ole Miss' Zach Evans.
What is the strength of the 2023 class?
Reid: The quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive line groups all look promising, and it seems like the offensive class will be much stronger than the 2022 crop, but a lot can change in a matter of months. It sure looks like we're headed toward another strong WR class. Smith-Njigba will probably be WR1, but Kayshon Boutte (LSU) and Jordan Addison (Pittsburgh, currently in the transfer portal) could make it an interesting race at the top.
Miller: To me the quarterback group is strong but unproven, while the defensive line class is absolutely stacked. Anderson is the top prospect for many good reasons, but he'll be joined by potential first-rounders such as Carter and Nolan Smith at Georgia, Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy at Clemson, and BJ Ojulari at LSU. While there is a lot of potential at quarterback, there are a lot of already proven playmakers on the defensive line.
Who is one other likely first-rounder we should know?
Reid: Northwestern offensive tackle Peter Skoronski is a name to know. He took over for Rashawn Slater (a first-rounder in 2021) without any type of drop-off last season. At 6-4, 294, he will need to continue to add weight, but he has clean tape in pass protection and shows plenty of attitude as a run-blocker. With a repeat performance of last season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Skoronski end up a top-15 pick.
Miller: Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton is potentially the Tide's next great receiver. A transfer from Georgia, Burton caught 26 passes for five touchdowns last year in an offense that's built completely around the running game. Now at Alabama, Burton has the potential to become Young's go-to option.
Are there any potential top picks from Group of 5 schools?
Reid: Army defensive end Andre Carter II constantly jumps off the tape. At 6-7, 250, he primarily played as a stand-up defensive end last season and he plays with a motor that doesn't turn off. Carter had 15.5 sacks in 2021 and he has a chance to become the highest-drafted player from a service academy since Mike Wahle (1998, supplemental draft).
Miller: Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener is one to watch. He is a little undersized (6-1, 195) but lit up the Mountain West last year to the tune of 33 touchdowns to just eight interceptions and over 4,000 yards. He's not an elite running threat, but his accuracy and field vision are impressive.
Who is one under-the-radar prospect everyone should know?
Reid: There always seems to be a QB in the draft who makes major strides in their development to significantly raise their stock. Keep an eye on Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker to be that guy in 2023. After transferring from Virginia Tech, Hooker had a huge year in coach Josh Heupel's explosive offense, posting career highs in passing yards (2,945), TD passes (31) and completion percentage (68.2%). At 6-4, 218, he is comfortable inside and outside of the pocket and he can hit on passes to all three levels of the field.
Miller: The quarterbacks will once again dominate the conversation in the 2023 class, and I have to mention Kentucky's Levis here. He's a 6-3, 232-pound junior who has the arm and physical traits to get NFL scouts excited. He has to cut down on his turnovers (13 interceptions last year), but as he gains experience, that's very possible. Levis isn't the red-hot name that Young or Stroud is right now, but he's a potential first-round talent.