NFL Draft News & Analysis

Grading the 2023 NFL Draft class by position: A strong tight end group, a weak safety class and more

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes tight end Dalton Kincaid (86) runs with the ball after a catch against the San Diego State Aztecs in the third quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

• Bijan Robinson headlines a deep running back class: The Texas rusher is a projected first-round pick, followed by Alabama's Jahmyr Gibbs and a host of other talented backs.

• Multiple tight ends could be drafted in the first round: One of the best tight classes in recent memory includes Notre Dame's Michael Mayer, Utah's Dalton Kincaid and Georgia's Darnell Washington.

• The safety class lacks depth: After Alabama's Brian Branch at No. 14, the next-best safety on the PFF big board is Texas A&M's Antonio Johnson at No. 47.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins

We are just weeks away from the 2023 NFL Draft, with all of the focus on individual prospects and their stock. There is still space for taking a look at the draft class overall as a snapshot,  evaluating just how strong this group is relative to other years.

Here, each position of the draft is graded for its respective strengths and weaknesses so you can gauge how good the players are in each group.

Quarterback: B-

There are four big names at quarterback, all vying to be selected inside the first five picks of the draft. That alone makes this a stronger class than other seasons, particularly last year, but beyond that group the talent level drops off fast. Tennessee's Hendon Hooker is a polarizing prospect who ticks a lot of the boxes but also comes with major question marks. He is already 25 years old, is coming off a torn ACL and played within an offense that asked him to move beyond his initial read just 15 times over his tenure there.

Outside of the top guys, there are some intriguing prospects, but players who project to strong backup roles rather than true starters, even as projects.

Running Back: A-

Headlined by Texas' Bijan Robinson, this is an exceptional running back class. Robinson alone is being talked about as the best prospect to come along at the position since Adrian Peterson in 2007. He is the best running back PFF has seen declare for the draft since college grading began in 2014, and he's a player who will test the NFL’s boundaries of draft position and value.

The group is much deeper than just Robinson, with potentially a dozen players who will have successful careers in NFL backfields. Jahmyr Gibbs brings a lightning-quick, game-breaking ability as well as real receiving chops. There are backs of every size and shape throughout this draft.

Wide Receiver: B+

In almost the exact opposite dynamic to quarterbacks, the wide receiver group is low on star power at the top, but the depth is excellent once you get beyond the elite playmakers. On the PFF NFL Podcast, Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy summed up the class as maybe not having any true No. 1 receivers in it but being very strong with No. 2 and No. 3 players. At the top, the trio of Jordan Addison, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Quentin Johnston each has their plus points, but none is as clean a prospect as previous top receivers in the draft.

Regardless, it would be a mistake to overlook the strength in depth this group has lower down.

Read more: Sam Monson's top 15 wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft, including USC's Jordan Addison at No. 1

Tight End: A+

This is one of the best tight end classes in memory. At a position where players are rarely selected in the first round, we could see as many as three or four drafted on Day 1. Michael Mayer is an elite, all-around throwback at the position who can make plays as a receiver but also dominate defensive ends in-line. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid is more of a modern receiver at the position whose blocking is less accomplished, but that is offset by an incredible ability as a pass catcher.

The class has plenty of depth, as well, with players such as Iowa’s Sam LaPorta and Georgia’s Darnell Washington adding plenty of juice after the first round. If your team needs a tight end, this is your draft class.

Offensive Tackle: B

There may not be a consensus stud in this class, but several players are comfortable first-round prospects. If Northwestern's Peter Skoronski from still projects to tackle for NFL teams despite his arm length of just 32 1/4 inches — well below the desired threshold of 33 inches — the class is stronger still. Skoronski allowed just six total pressures all last season, including one sack, on almost 500 pass-blocking snaps.

Beyond him, Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones, Anton Harrison, Darnell Wright and Dawand Jones are all tackles with first-round potential. Ohio State’s Jones is one of the biggest tackle prospects in NFL history, measuring in at 6-foot-8 and more than 370 pounds. He didn’t allow a sack or a hit all last season.

Interior Offensive Line: C

The position Peter Skoronski projects to at the next level moves the needle here; if he fails a tackle, he is a potentially elite guard prospect. But the interior group is not as strong as the tackle class. O’Cyrus Torrence is the consensus top guard prospect, and he ranks 39th on PFF’s draft board. He didn’t allow a sack in any of the past three seasons, but after him there is just one more guard in the board's top 130.

The center class is stronger, with three players — Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz, Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann and Ohio State’s Luke Wypler all potential starters available in the first couple of rounds. 

Interior Defensive Line: C+

It is a better class for interior linemen than in some recent seasons, although it still lags behind the edge defender group. Georgia's Jalen Carter has as much talent as any player in the draft but has endured a bumpy pre-draft process, to put it mildly, after facing an arrest warrant and putting on a concerning workout at his pro day. After Carter, Calijah Kancey has exceptional pass-rushing tools but is hugely undersized (6-foot-1, 281 pounds), which is drawing obvious Aaron Donald comparisons. Kancey is closer to Ed Oliver as a prospect and could be an impact pass rusher from the inside.

Bryan Bresee, Mazi Smith and Siaki Ika form the bulk of the next wave that is more run-focused, and that’s where the impact playmakers from this group start to dissipate. 

Edge Defender: A

This is an excellent year for edge rushers, with both strength at the top and a lot of depth in the middle rounds. Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. is the consensus top player at the position, having been labeled a star from very early in his college career. Anderson tallied 207 pressures in three seasons, along with 109 defensive stops.

Texas Tech's Tyree Wilson is getting a lot of buzz due to an elite frame and straight-line explosion. His production wasn’t nearly as good in college, but his athletic traits will turn heads. All told, there are seven edge defenders who rank in the top 32 on the PFF draft board and 17 in the top 100.

Linebacker: D

This is not a strong class of linebackers, at all. The position is already becoming incredibly challenging to play at the NFL level, and this is a group low on proven quality play or elite athletic profiles — and certainly a combination of the two. No off-ball linebacker has a spot in the top 32 of PFF’s draft board, and just six are in the top 100.

Iowa's Jack Campbell is perhaps the most intriguing prospect, as he brings legitimate size (6-foot-5, 249 pounds) and athleticism to the table. He earned an elite PFF grade last season (91.9), and his average tackle depth was just 3.3 yards downfield.

Cornerback: B-

The cornerback class is similar to the wide receiver group. There may not be a Sauce Gardner in this draft in terms of caliber of prospect, but there is a lot of depth and several players who will likely become productive NFL starters. Illinois' Devon Witherspoon has elite tape (92.0 PFF grade last season) and allowed just a 25.3 passer rating into his coverage, but he seems to lack true elite athleticism that would propel him into that elite range.

Oregon's Christian Gonzalez has an elite athletic profile but doesn’t have the tape to match. His PFF grade never finished higher than 83.3 and he allowed at least a 70.0 passer rating into his coverage every season. Overall, this is a strong group, but any team needing an elite No. 1 cornerback will be projecting and crossing their fingers crossed.

Safety: D+

Safety is arguably the weakest position group in this draft, particularly if Alabama’s Brian Branch is classified as a slot cornerback rather than safety in name only. Branch is the No. 14 player on PFF’s draft board, but there isn’t another safety until No. 47.

Overall, this is a weak class of safeties, but there will likely be players who can succeed in the right situation. Texas A&M's Antonio Johnson is a versatile playmaker who can line up in the slot (883 snaps over the past two years) and cover some of the more difficult matchups at the NFL level. He has a lot of scheme versatility and likely would improve most NFL defenses.

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