After the 2022 draft gave us the weakest quarterback class since PFF started grading college football, the top 10 of the 2023 NFL Draft will be chock-full of top-end signal-callers. There are two quarterback prospects I already feel comfortable drafting in the top 10 and a handful more fully capable of playing their way there before next April.
Quarterback is by no means the strongest position group, however, as the defensive line class looks special. Right now, half of the top 12 players on this list play along the defensive line, so this group will be fun to follow this college football season.
1. QB Bryce Young, Alabama (Junior)
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is not simply a product of the Alabama system — he is a bona fide playmaker with NFL-caliber arm talent. His 92.0 passing grade last season is the highest of any returning Power Five quarterback.
Listed at 6 feet tall and not even scraping 200 pounds, his stature will be picked apart as much as his on-field performance this year, though.
2. EDGE Will Anderson Jr., Alabama (Junior)
Your FBS leader in quarterback pressures last season was just a true sophomore. Anderson joined Chase Young as the only true sophomores in our eight years of grading to accomplish such a feat. That’s the caliber of prospect the 6-foot-4, 243-pound edge should end up as. He could skip the 2022 season and still be a top-five pick.
Stroud will come with some of the same knocks Justin Fields did coming out, as a lot of the criticism surrounding him a year ago was driven as much by the offense as it was Fields’ playstyle.
In that offense, Stroud earned a 92.2 overall grade as a redshirt freshman compared to Fields' 91.5 in the same year. But let the record show that they do not play a similar brand of ball despite Stroud’s similar 6-foot-3, 218-pound stature.
No, Stroud is far more of a true pocket passer than Fields ever was. His 2.68-second average time to throw — Fields was 3.14 for his college career — and 10.8% pressure-to-sack conversion rate (Fields was 23.6% for his career) are ideal figures for a pocket passer projecting to the NFL.
On the loaded Georgia defensive line, it was the true sophomore who finished with the highest pass-rushing grade. His 90.0 mark was tops among all Power Five defensive tackles in the country, and that’s a feat we have never seen from a true sophomore. Carter is another prospect who could write his ticket to a top-five pick without playing another snap.
5. EDGE Myles Murphy, Clemson (Junior)
Murphy is one of those “know it when you see it” kind of physical specimens. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive end is bigger, more powerful and more explosive than everyone he’s going up against. And that was true as a freshman. He’s earned a 92.2 run-defense grade for his career.
Bresee was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2020 cycle, and while he hasn’t quite lived up to that lofty billing, you still see it. And by “it,” I mean the undeniable movement skills that few 6-foot-5, 300-pound men have ever been capable of. He earned an 81.2 pass-rushing grade back as a true freshman before tearing his ACL only four games into his sophomore campaign.
Before Jaxon Smith-Njigba went for over 300 receiving yards in a game, Boutte was doing it as a true freshman in 2020 against Ole Miss. The crazy thing about that game was that even with 14 catches for 308 yards and three scores, Boutte still left yards on the table with two drops.
Those ball skills will be the biggest worry for the explosive LSU wideout, as his 9.9% career drop rate and 28% career contested catch rate need to improve.
Being bigger and also faster than most receivers you face is helpful for playing the cornerback position. While that’s true for many corners in college, it will also be true for the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder in the NFL. He’s got low-4.3 speed at that size, and it showed with how infrequently he let guys get by him. On 17 deep targets last season, Ringo caught as many balls (two) as opposing wide receivers.
A 6-foot-3, 200-pound slot corner? That is not something you often see. That’s what Johnson was in the Aggies defense last season, and he still earned an 87.4 overall grade. He’s exceptional at flowing to the football and easily gets off wide blocks with his length. His 62 targets last season resulted in a grand total of 228 yards. We’ll see him play more traditional safety in 2022 to solidify his stock.
Smith-Njigba will be a hotly debated prospect after the scouting combine next spring because the 6-foot, 198-pounder is no “Underwear Olympics” kind of athlete. Last spring, he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in the high 4.5s. There’s simply no track record of receivers drafted in the top 10 without elite size or speed. That said, his floor is so high with his ball skills, route-running, and YAC ability that I wouldn’t be too worried.
11. EDGE Andre Carter, Army (RS Junior)
Aidan Hutchinson and Andre Carter — the two men tied for the highest pass-rushing grade in the country last season. That’s some pretty impressive company for Carter, regardless of the competition level faced. The thing is, Army still faced the likes of Wake Forest, Missouri and Wisconsin last season, and in those games, he racked up 14 pressures on 71 pass-rushing snaps. The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder is built for the NFL game, as well.
The “Gumby rusher” of the class, Anudike-Uzomah can bend around the edge for days. That’s the kind of rusher who will convert a lot of pressures into sacks, and the Kansas State product did just that in 2021. He racked up 43 pressures, with 13 of those being sacks. He could stand to get a little stronger, but he’s already a safe bet to be a first-rounder.
If Mayer ran a 4.5-second 40, we’d be talking about him as a top-five pick. He’s that gifted as an all-around tight end. Unfortunately, he won’t be running within a tenth of that anytime soon, which puts him far more in the Zach Ertz mold of tight ends and is still a viable path to success in the NFL. The fact that he’s already a kind of physical presence as a true sophomore makes him so special.
The most technically sound offensive tackle in the draft class, Skoronski has been that way since he was a true freshman. He earned an 81.4 overall grade that season, and he improved that to 83.8 in 2021. While not the physical specimen we saw in this past year’s tackle class, Skoronski gets the job done.
15. DI Jaquelin Roy, LSU (Junior)
Roy has play strength beyond his years for only a sophomore. He was only slightly behind Jalen Carter for the top power Five pass-rushing grade at the position last year (89.6). At 6-foot-4, 297 pounds, he has the length and strength to be a scheme-versatile defensive tackle.
Williams is unfortunately stuck in a scheme that isn’t set up to make his numbers look the best. He’s got a press-man kind of athleticism and ability, yet he ran only 26 snaps of press-man coverage last season. He’s racked up 13 pass breakups in two seasons for the Orange.
You won’t find much in McKee’s grading profile that will “wow” you. With only 2,325 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and seven picks, you may even wonder why he’s on this list.
But then you flip on the tape to see the offense and separation he was working with from his receivers, and you start to understand. Despite putting up less than half as many total passing yards as Bryce Young, McKee had over twice as many passing yards into tight windows (725 vs. 326). McKee out-graded both Young and Stroud on solely tight-window throws; he just had one of the more difficult quarterback jobs in the Power Five last year.
18. EDGE Nolan Smith, Georgia (Senior)
The last of the freak athletes in Georgia’s front seven last season. Smith was the composite No. 1 overall recruit in 2019, according to 247Sports, although he’s yet to make that kind of impact as an edge rusher. He’s still one insane athlete who makes plays ranging in the run game defensive linemen aren’t supposed to make.
Ika is a 350-pound nose tackle who doesn’t move the way you’d expect from a 350-pound nose tackle. He’s not a hold-the-point guy; Ika is playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. He racked up 33 pressures in his first full season as a starter in 2021 after transferring from LSU.
The former five-star tackle recruit, Jones has played all of 463 snaps in his career so far. They’ve been pretty darn impressive, though, as he’s earned an 82.0 overall grade on them. He’ll take over at left tackle full-time this fall.
Johnston’s raw stats of 1,091 yards and eight scores over two seasons don’t quite do him justice. One reason is that the quarterbacks for TCU have left a lot of yards on the field. Another reason is that they’ve come on only 55 catches, meaning he has an explosive 19.8 yards per reception average for his career. Finally, because on only 55 catches, he’s broken 26 tackles for his career. The 6-foot-4, 201-pounder is a scary YAC weapon.
Johnson spent last year at guard for the Buckeyes, earning a 79.1 overall grade. Make no mistake about it, though: Johnson is a tackle. He’ll be on the left side this fall, where his feet, length and athleticism will be on full display.
23. CB Eli Ricks, Alabama (Junior)
Ricks is one of the best press corners in the draft class. He may not be an uber-athlete, but he makes up for it with his length. In two seasons at LSU before transferring to Alabama, Ricks earned an 84.6 coverage grade.
This is about as high as you’ll ever see us rank a running back. A big portion of that is because Robinson can be so much more with his receiving ability. Robinson finished with 79 broken tackles last season, the third-most in the country. But he did it in only 10 games.
25. WR Jordan Addison, USC (Junior)
The reigning Biletnikoff Award winner for the top receiver in the country, Addison was Kenny Pickett’s go-to guy last season — and with good reason. The dude just gets open. It’s crazy to think that he racked up 100 catches for 1,593 yards with 17 scores and still left quite a bit more on the table with 11 drops.