2023 NFL Draft: PFF's early favorite draft prospects

Stanford, California, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee (18) throws a pass against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

• Alabama's Bryce Young leads the way: Many are high on the Alabama signal-caller, and the PFF stats back up that sentiment.

• Tanner McKee made the most of a challenging environment: Despite dealing with a subpar offensive line and a lack of open receivers, McKee stands out in the PFF database.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins

With the college football careers over for all except a handful of prospects, the PFF database now has full grading and statistical profiles for the 2023 NFL Draft prospects.

These aren’t necessarily the top prospects at their respective positions (although some are) but rather prospects who have parts of their grading or advanced statistical profile that make us feel more confident in their abilities than most in the draft sphere are giving them credit for.

QB Bryce Young, Alabama

Key Number: 93.1 passing grade since start of 2021 (best in FBS)

We get it, Young is small. He was also small when he took Georgia’s 2021 defense — the most talented one in college football over the past decade — to the woodshed in the SEC championship game last year. He earned an 89.0 overall grade in that game, going 25-of-43 for 412 yards and three scores. The quarterbacks not named Bryce Young combined for a 53.0 passing grade against that same Georgia defense.

Even without two top-50 picks among Young's wide receivers this season, he maintained his high level of play. He earned a 91.6 passing grade in 2022, which was only slightly below his 92.0 mark in 2021. Doing what he did against that level of competition bodes well for his NFL projection.

QB Tanner McKee, Stanford

Key Number: 1.5% turnover-worthy play rate in 2022 (sixth best in FBS)

The stats in McKee’s favor have more to do with his lackluster environment than him alone. He played behind the 12th-lowest-graded pass-blocking offensive line in the Power Five in 2022. That included games against UCLA and Utah during which he was under pressure on more than 50% of his dropbacks.

And even when he wasn’t under pressure, McKee rarely had open receivers downfield in the Stanford offense. Of his 144 passes targeted 10-plus yards downfield, only 38 were to receivers charted as open (26.3%). The Power Five average on such throws is 31.1%, with fellow draft prospects C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young coming in over 35%. That’s a completely different game McKee was asked to play.  

RB Blake Corum, Michigan

Key Number: 95.9 overall grade in 2022 (highest in PFF College era for a running back)

Corum has the production and the ideal body for a running back, one built low to the ground at 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds. Because of that unique size and athleticism combo, Corum routinely clowned defenders in the open field.

After dominating in a part-time role in 2021, Corum proved he can handle a full workload in 2022 with a five-game stretch where he averaged 29 carries and 168.6 yards per game. He’s RB2 on the PFF draft board.

RB Zach Charbonnet, UCLA

Key Number: Rushing grades of 91.9 (2021) and 93.6 (2022) the past two seasons

Charbonnet’s 2022 season had no skips. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry or better and earned a 70.0-plus PFF grade in every single game. It was impressive to see his grade improve after he was already the second-highest-graded rusher in college football in 2021.

He’s also perfectly suited to be a bell-cow at the next level. The average size of 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL last season was 6 feet and 220 pounds, which means the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Charbonnet is perfectly suited for the NFL game.

TE Michael Mayer, Notre Dame

Key Number: 33 career contested catches (most in draft class by 16)

This one may not actually apply to the premise because everyone is high on Mayer’s talents. It’s no surprise that the data loves him, too. He’s already proven to have excellent ball skills, catching 33 of his 55 contested targets over the course of his career. He’s also broken tackles at a high level for a tight end, with 31 in three seasons. Finally, Mayer can flat-out block. His 82.1 run-blocking grade was the second highest in the Power Five last season.

IOL John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

Key Number: Four straight seasons with 82.0-plus overall grade

Schmitz has been playing damn good football ever since he secured the starting job back in 2019. This past season, though, he took it to another level. He earned a 92.4 overall grade to lead the country. Not many Power Five centers have graded out to that level in PFF College history, but the ones who have in recent years — Tyler Linderbaum and Frank Ragnow — have seen their talent translate well to the NFL. 

DL Karl Brooks, Bowling Green

Key Number: 93.4 overall grade in 2022 (highest among FBS starting defensive linemen)

Brooks was a problem no matter where he lined up this past season. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder got the job done on both the interior (284 snaps) and outside the tackles (388 snaps). Maybe even more impressive is that he graded out to such a high level at that size while almost never coming off the field. He averaged 51.7 snaps per game and still earned an 89.6 run-defense grade and a 92.6 pass-rushing grade.

DI Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh

Key Number: 104 pressures the past two seasons (most among Power Five defensive tackles) 

Kancey is 6 feet and 280 pounds. That's a unique build for any position in the NFL. That being said, he’s the kind of athlete that can get by with that size, and he ran a reported sub-4.7-second 40-yard dash last spring. The numbers are so high on Kancey because he knows how to rush the passer. Even as an undersized redshirt freshman in 2020, he was still a problem with a 79.7 pass-rushing grade. Two years later, he earned the highest pass-rushing grade among interior defenders in 2022. His athleticism and pass-rushing moves can still make an impact in the NFL despite his size.

S Brian Branch, Alabama

Key Number: Four missed tackles on 173 career tackle attempts

Branch is going to end up a top-10 player on the PFF draft board because his skill set is so versatile and translatable to the NFL. He may not be the most physically imposing player, but put him on the football field and he'll know how to get the job done. He earned an absurd 90.8 run-defense grade in 2022 to pair with an 87.2 coverage grade. All at only 6 feet and 193 pounds.

The real selling point with Branch is how reliable he is. Missing only four tackles on 173 career attempts would be absurd no matter the position he played, but it's damn impossible for a defensive back. That’s what you want from a slot cornerback. 

CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

Key Number: 92.5 coverage grade in 2022 (highest in FBS)

Witherspoon’s 2022 season was the most impressive statistical performance in the history of PFF's college grading (starting in 2014). The table below is an absolute jaw-dropper.

Targets 63
Catches 22
Comp % 34.9%
Yards 206
Yards Per Target 3.27
INTs 3
PBUs 14
Passer Rating 25

Flip on the tape and you’ll see the most fearless cornerback in the draft class with legit athletic tools to boot. It’s no surprise he’s CB1 on the PFF draft board.

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