• QB Aidan O'Connell, Purdue: O'Connell's gunslinger style leads to some “wow” moments and, at times, some “oh no” moments, but he provides a ceiling that is higher than that of a typical Day 2 quarterback.
• WR Josh Downs, North Carolina: Downs may very well have been the best slot receiver in the draft were it not for Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
• CB Clark Phillips III, Utah: Phillips is a true ball hawk with the type of mentality teams look to bet on at the position.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins
By this point of the draft calendar, we’ve already written plenty of first-round mock drafts. So, here we decided to shout out some of the players whose names you won't often see in the Round 1 conversation but deserve to be coveted on Day 2.
These are our favorite Day 2 players at every position in the 2023 NFL Draft.
QUARTERBACK: AIDAN O’CONNELL, PURDUE
We're starting with a heater, I know. O’Connell’s 2022 tape runs hot and cold. His gunslinger style led to some “wow” moments and, at times, some “oh no” moments, even on the same drive. He earned a 70.0 passing grade in 2022 with 20 big-time throws and 24 turnover-worthy plays — Jameis Winston-esque, in that regard.
But it is worth noting that O'Connell earned a 90.6 passing grade in 2021. Day 2 and even Day 3 quarterback selections are about preference, both in scheme and what a team is looking for from the player. If they're looking for a solid, steady backup with a high floor who could be a spot starter in a pinch, O’Connell in his current state might not be the one. If they're looking for a quarterback with a lower floor but a ceiling that is higher than the typical QB2, this gunslinger could be their cup of tea.
RUNNING BACK: TANK BIGSBY, AUBURN
Big Bigsby guy right here. The 6-foot, 210-pound back has a size, speed and strength combination that feels underrated in this class. In three consecutive seasons, he earned rushing grades of 86.9, 86.3 and 90.6, with the highest mark being his most recent one. That’s all while rushing behind an offensive line that left much to be desired.
Bigsby ranked second in the SEC in yards after contact (740), fourth in forced missed tackles (61) and third in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.34). He’ll be a good back in an NFL committee.
WIDE RECEIVER: JOSH DOWNS, NORTH CAROLINA
If it weren’t for Jaxon Smith-Njigba, many would be taking Josh Downs as their favorite slot receiver in this class (shoot, some might still). He recorded more than 2,300 receiving yards and 19 receiving touchdowns over the past two years and was a focal point of North Carolina's offense with a 26.7% wide receiver usage over that time.
Downs is one of the best route runners in the class in space and can consistently find those soft spots in zone coverage. He also had an impressive 68.4% contested catch percentage on 19 contested-catch opportunities in 2022.
TIGHT END: SAM LaPORTA, IOWA
LaPorta seems like a discount Michael Mayer in this draft — in draft price, not necessarily talent. He’s an all-around tight end who can provide good reps as a blocker. He also tested well athletically with a 4.59-second 40-yard dash, 10-foot-3 broad and 6.91-second three-cone. I’m not sure where Iowa keeps getting these tight ends, but LaPorta is another good one.
OT: MATTHEW BERGERON, SYRACUSE
Bergeron was the best offensive lineman for the Orange last season, earning a 75.2 overall grade. The 2022 campaign was also the second season in which the 6-foot-4, 318-pounder graded above 80.0 as a pass blocker.
He had a good showing at the Senior Bowl, and he also has good versatility to his resume, starting at both right tackle and left tackle throughout his college career (most recently a left tackle). His tape shows an offensive lineman who can play on both sides of the line with a high floor.
IOL: STEVE AVILA, TCU
Avila was another Senior Bowl standout who also has some versatility to his name. He played both center and guard for the Horned Frogs, and did so with that nastiness and power you love to see from an interior player.
In his three seasons as a consistent contributor, he never earned an overall blocking grade below 70.0. The 2022 campaign also marked his best season as a pass blocker, earning an 83.6 grade. His anchor ability was already good enough for the next level, but this year he showed he has the athletic ability to be reliable in pass protection as a player weighing in at more than 330 pounds.
IDL: KEEANU BENTON, WISCONSIN
Benton has made some serious money this draft cycle. Seen as mostly just a run-stuffing nose tackle heading into the 2022 season, Benton took his pass-rush game to the next level. He finished the year with 30 total pressures, a 13.67% pass-rush win percentage and six sacks — all career highs. He then went to the Senior Bowl and showed off some fast hands in the one-on-one pass-rush drills. At 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, Benton tested above the 80th percentile in both the three-cone and the broad jump, flashing explosiveness and quickness.
EDGE: BJ OJULARI, LSU
There are a lot of nice edge rushers in this class. Heck, the first defensive player off the board this year is likely going to be an edge rusher (Alabama's Will Anderson Jr.). But there aren’t many who can rush the pass with the kind of speed, bend and acumen that Ojulari does — so much so that I’m shocked he’s not been in more first-round mock drafts.
The 6-foot-2, 248-pound Ojulari performed at the combine in only the vertical jump (32 1/2 inches, not great) and the broad jump (10-foot-6, great). He might need to pack on some more strength to be more than just a pass-rush package player, but much of the rest of his game is pro-ready.
LINEBACKER: JACK CAMPBELL, IOWA
Truth be told, Campbell might be the first linebacker off the board in this year's draft. It’s just more than likely going to come somewhere on Day 2. But with that being the case, how could he not be my choice here as a favorite? It’s an interesting linebacker class, with a lot of hybrid players who played positions other than linebacker throughout their careers (edge rusher, safety, even wide receiver).
But Campbell was, is and will always be an off-ball linebacker, and his tape shows that.
He finished 2022 with an elite 91.9 overall grade. He’s a reliable middle linebacker with good strength and pursuit in run support. At the combine, he tested above the 84th percentile in the vertical, broad and 3-cone, which proved he has athletic ability to build upon. If you need an off-ball true linebacker, this is your guy.
CORNERBACK: CLARK PHILLIPS III, UTAH
Phillips is smaller (5-foot-9) with short arms (29 1/8 inches). Now that we have that out of the way, we can talk about how good he was this past season (and, really, for his entire Utah career). Phillips started as a true freshman in 2020 (very impressive thing to do as a cornerback) and never looked back, starting 31 out of 31 games in his college career. He earned an 89.9 coverage grade this past season with six interceptions.
He’s a ball hawk-type player who approaches the position with confidence and a chip on his shoulder. He played primarily on the outside (only 438 snaps in the slot compared to 1,409 on the outside), so a projected full-time slot role will require an adjustment period. But he has the mentality you bet on at the position.
SAFETY: SYDNEY BROWN, SYRACUSE
Brown has become a fan favorite in draft circles, and for good reason. He’s versatile, plays with his motor going 100% at all times and is a playmaker on the ball. He was a standout player in Mobile, Alabama, at the Senior Bowl, and that moment has carried him into the second round of mock drafts ever since.
He earned a 90.3 overage grade this past season while playing 453 snaps at the linebacker level, 178 as a slot defender and 62 at free safety. He’s the kind of instinctual player that you want to provide the freedom to go where the ball is going to end up. And he’ll usually meet it at the catch point or do what it takes to get involved.