• Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse: In his first season of FBS action, he dominated with 32 pressures, eight sacks and a 23.4% pass-rush win rate.
• Michigan running back Blake Corum: Despite having his season cut short by a knee injury, Corum made his presence felt in 2022 with a 95.0-plus overall grade.
• Houston wide receiver Tank Dell: Dell led the Cougars in receiving yards (1,355) this season. He found the end zone 15 times, with 31 explosive plays and 66 first downs.
Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins
As we make our way into draft season, let's revisit some players in the 2023 NFL Draft class who have caught my eye during my initial film studies. Through all shapes, sizes, positions and preferences, I highlight five players on offense and five players on defense that I’m stamping as “my guys” here in the early part of the draft process.
Corum has been one of my favorite players in college football since the 2021 season. Even in his time spelling Hassan Haskins, Corum was able to stand out. In 2022, as the full-time starter, he earned a 95.3 rushing grade with 73 missed tackles forced and 36 explosive runs. Those first two were top-10 marks in the FBS, and the latter placed in the top 20. And that's with his season being cut short due to a knee injury.
Blake Corum somehow turned this into a massive gain????????
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 8, 2022
Expect him to be one of the first backs off the board in this draft class.
Brown had a money-making year in 2022. The Illinois workhorse back amassed 1,632 rushing yards, 77 missed tackles forced and 48 explosive runs, all top-five marks in the FBS. His 329 rushing attempts topped the charts in college football, and he made the most of them with both speed and power.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 3, 2022
He’ll be a major fan favorite wherever he is drafted.
Washington led the Nittany Lions with a 78.2 receiving grade this season. He’s a 5-foot-10 slot receiver, but his build of 210-215 pounds makes him a bigger-bodied slot player. That added weight comes with extra explosiveness and strength at the catch point. He led the team in explosive receiving plays (13) and yards after the catch (291). He also had a very high 23.4% wide receiver usage rate.
Penn State WR, Parker Washington has declared for the 2023 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/btYSUOQVYV
— Dear Old State (@_DearOldState) December 9, 2022
Flowers’ stats won’t jump off the page, as Boston College didn’t exactly have a prolific passing attack. But his skill set is going to impress people when they get to his tape and when he performs at the Shrine Bowl this January. He may be just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he’s an explosive slot receiver who thrives after the catch and when gaining separation as a route-running artist. He surpassed 1,000 yards receiving while the next closest receiver on Boston College's offense didn’t even have 400.
Zay Flowers must be a Gryffindor because this blindspot work is sorcery pic.twitter.com/zy14Dxaoa5
— Tyler Forness (@TheRealForno) December 15, 2022
It’s not often you meet a 5-foot-10, 165-pound wide receiver nicknamed “Tank,” but we’ll just chalk it up to the fact that his game is a lot bigger than his size would indicate.
Dell led the Cougars in receiving yards (1,355) this season. He found the end zone 15 times, with 31 explosive plays and 66 first downs. He was targeted on 27.3% of his routes in 2022 and will be another player who will likely fill up the highlight reels in the All-Star circuit in January.
Draft Tank Dell pic.twitter.com/fqJu1s7MeW
— Jordan Pun (@Texans_Thoughts) November 27, 2022
Verse may be one of “my guys,” but I know I won’t be alone there. He didn't get a single FBS offer out of high school, and so he started his career with the Albany Great Danes in the FCS. After having his season canceled due to COVID-19, Verse gained 40 pounds (the good kind) that year and came back the next season as a man transformed. He was an All-Conference selection before transferring to Florida State for 2022. In his first season of FBS action, he dominated once again with 32 pressures, eight sacks and a 23.4% pass-rush win rate, all while playing through the last half of the year with a knee injury.
Look for him to be one of the first edge rushers drafted.
#FloridaState Edge Jared Verse #5 terrorized the LSU backfield all night. Officially had 2.0 sacks but his impact was greater than that.
The Albany transfer is quickly establishing himself as one of the most disruptive pass rushers in CFB. pic.twitter.com/L1kRBmkZwm
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 5, 2022
Like Verse, Byron Young didn’t take the traditional path to get to the NFL Draft. Young didn’t play college football at all until he saw a flier for tryouts at Georgia Military Academy three years ago. Fast forward a year from then, and he was a top-10 JUCO player.
Tennessee landed him, and since then he’s shown the recruiting world they let a good one slip through the cracks. Even in the SEC, Young’s twitched-up athleticism stands out. He recorded 31 pressures in the Vols’ first seven games this season. Though he’ll be one of the older prospects (25 years old next football season), you can’t teach the kind of explosiveness he has — but you can teach the rest around it.
SEC leaders in pressures/game in 2022:
1. Byron Young, Tennessee (4.80)
2. BJ Ojulari, LSU (4.75)
t3. Will Anderson, Alabama (4.33)
t3. Derick Hall, Auburn (4.33)
With his athletic twitch and motor, Young continues to rise. ???????????? pic.twitter.com/avPY3np5Ze
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) October 12, 2022
Michigan seems to always be trying to replace top defensive line talent, and yet they manage to do just that every year. This season, veteran Mike Morris took the biggest leap on the Wolverines’ defensive line. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound edge rusher uses his speed to generate so much power as a two-point edge rusher, and he uses his length to be a mismatch against interior players when lined up as a three-technique defensive tackle. He earned an 84.8 pass-rush grade this past season with 35 pressures and nine sacks.
Mike Morris 6’6–292 lbs
Jaelyn Duncan 6’6–320 lbs
A nice rep and strong finish by Morris, a second away from securing the sack! pic.twitter.com/O2vJo6dJNf
— Full-Time Dame ???? (@DP_NFL) November 10, 2022
Few college football players increased their value this season more than Devon Witherspoon. The Illini’s shutdown cornerback was stellar, playing the position with confidence even in the toughest environments. He earned a 92.1 coverage grade this season across 400 snaps. He didn’t allow a single touchdown in 2022 and forced 18 incompletions with three interceptions.
He also made one of the hardest hits of the season.
OH MY DEVON WITHERSPOON YOU SERIOUS??? WHAT. A. HIT. pic.twitter.com/B1mJNV9XF7
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) September 3, 2022
Of all the talented players at Alabama this season, Branch might have been my favorite. Labeled as a safety but really just a versatile defender (one who finds himself in the slot most frequently), Branch is as reliable as they come, especially when it comes to tackling and overall run defense. He earned an 88.8 coverage grade this season and an 85.6 run-defense grade, which was the best on Alabama’s defense. He has 18 solo stops on the year with only three missed tackles on 284 run-defense snaps.