- Bijan Robinson is the only true “generational” talent: The Texas running back is arguably the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson in 2007.
- Jalen Carter is one of the best at his position recently: The Georgia interior defensive lineman trails only Quinnen Williams for the best defensive tackle prospect in the PFF College era.
- Will Anderson Jr. rounds out the top three: The Alabama edge defender would’ve been the top edge in the last two classes.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The term “generational” is thrown around far too loosely during draft season. Oftentimes, it’s used to describe a prospect who’s the best at his position in the last few years, hardly the 20-30 years that usually separates an entire generation.
Is there anyone in this year’s class who truly deserves that label? Here’s a ranking of every position in the 2023 NFL Draft by how “generational” the top prospect is.
(Note: The top 2023 prospect listed is who I consider to be the best at their position, not necessarily what’s reflected on PFF’s big board.)
1. Running Back: Bijan Robinson, Texas Longhorns
PFF’s lead draft analyst Mike Renner recently constructed a team of the best prospects since we began charting college football in 2014. Robinson was listed as the top running back, even above 2018’s No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That means you might even have to go back to Adrian Peterson (2007) to find a better running back prospect than Robinson. This year, he broke the PFF College record for the most forced missed tackles in a season (104) while his 39% career forced missed tackle rate is tied with Javonte Williams for the best.
Robinson’s the only prospect in the 2023 class where the “generational” label truly applies.
2. Interior Defensive Lineman: Jalen Carter, Georgia Bulldogs
Carter was the only other 2023 prospect listed on PFF’s all-prospect team. However, he was the second defensive tackle listed after 2019’s Quinnen Williams. Still, Carter’s 92.2 overall grade since 2021 leads all Power Five interior defensive linemen, while his 91.3 pass-rushing grade and 90.7 run-defense grade are second.
The amount "he's just fucking unblockable" tape Jalen Carter has is Ndamukong Suh levels of insane. pic.twitter.com/xKMGbsm4FM
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) April 4, 2023
3. Edge Defender: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama Crimson Tide
Anderson would’ve been the first edge defender selected in a number of recent drafts, including the last two. His 206 career pressures are the most in the PFF College era while his 63 career run-stops lead all Power Five edge defenders since 2020.
4. Tight End: Michael Mayer, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There isn’t a consensus top tight end in the 2023 NFL Draft. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid is the No. 1 prospect at the position on PFF’s big board and was second behind Kyle Pitts on our all-prospect team.
Regardless of who you have first, there’s no denying that the 2023 class is better than most in recent memory. Mayer’s 92.5 grade led all tight ends in the country this past season.
I see you Michael Mayer ????!! A great display of hand/eye coordination and concentration! Plays through the defender, great catch!
— Full-Time Dame ???? (@DP_NFL) October 22, 2022
5. Safety: Brian Branch, Alabama Crimson Tide
Branch was the No. 2 slot defender on PFF’s all-prospect team behind fellow Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. This year, Branch was the only safety in the nation with 85-plus grades both in coverage and as a run-defender. He likely would’ve been the first safety selected in three of the last four drafts, with the lone exception being last year (Kyle Hamilton).
I don’t care how. Get Brian Branch in a #Packers jersey asap. pic.twitter.com/Q48ZLkNPis
— Eli Berkovits (@BookOfEli_NFL) January 23, 2023
6. Quarterback: Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide
Size be damned, Young is still QB1 due to his ability as a creator. He easily would’ve been the first signal-caller selected last year and a case could be made that he would’ve been for every draft since 2013 aside from 2021 (Trevor Lawrence) and 2020 (Joe Burrow).
bryce young mixtape pic.twitter.com/Hyl7cp8F2W
— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) February 21, 2023
7. Cornerback: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois Fighting Illini
Witherspoon was the best cornerback in the country this past season, and he thrives in press-man situations. In fact, he only allowed one yard on 106 press-coverage snaps this past season. While these past few drafts were rich in corners, he still likely would’ve been CB1 in some recent classes, such as 2019.
Reminder: Devon Witherspoon is capable of making plays like this????
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 10, 2023
8. Wide Receiver: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State Buckeyes
As a slot receiver, Smith-Njigba would be way higher on this list. In fact, he was the No. 2 slot receiver on PFF’s big board behind Jaylen Waddle (2021). Therein lies the issue though. JSN has essentially been exclusively a slot receiver throughout his career, playing there on 80% of his career snaps. He’s still been incredibly productive there and would likely have been the top receiver in a few recent drafts (2019, 2018 and 2016).
Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the most incredible catch you will EVER see
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 24, 2020
9. Offensive Tackle: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern Wildcats
Like Young, Skoronski’s main detractions come via measurements rather than on-field question marks. His 32 ¼-inch arms rank in just the fourth percentile for offensive tackles. That length question mark pushes him below many top tackle prospects in recent memory, but his consistent dominance over the last three years should have him as OT1 in at least a few recent classes (2019, 2018 and 2017).
A little Peter Skoronski in the way-back (2021) machine … vs. Aidan Hutchinson and Michigan. @NUFBFamily pic.twitter.com/hGngLdwILn
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) April 12, 2023
10. Offensive Guard: O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida Gators
This isn’t to say Torrence is a poor prospect, as his 88.0 grade this past season was four points higher than any other guard in the country.
This is more to do with how good of a run there’s been recently in terms of top guard prospects. Since 2010, there have only been three drafts where a guard wasn’t taken in the first round. With Torrence ranking 36th on PFF’s big board, he falls on the lower end of that spectrum of prospects.
The power that O'Cyrus Torrence (RG no. 54) has to relocate or erase defenders is on a much different level than most OL in this draft pic.twitter.com/eaF6yiB5LX
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) March 21, 2023
11. Center: Luke Wypler, Ohio State Buckeyes
Wypler, the top center on PFF’s big board, is currently the No. 48 overall prospect. Over the last 10 classes, only the 2017 class had its first center taken lower (Ethan Pocic, 58th overall). There have also been eight centers taken in the first round in that span.
Yeah, Ok Luke Wypler pic.twitter.com/OgRtEMzbz2
— Cory (@realcorykinnan) February 23, 2022
12. Linebacker: Jack Campbell, Iowa Hawkeyes
In the last five drafts, there have been 15 off-ball linebackers taken in the first round, averaging out to three a class. There’s a good chance that there won’t be any selected that high this year, which hasn’t happened since the 2011 draft. While Campbell isn’t the top linebacker on PFF’s big board, the top prospect (Daiyan Henley) is still ranked just 38th overall.
Could the #Dolphins select Iowa LB Jack Campbell with the 51st pick?
Here he reads Strouds eyes well and plays the zone to come up with an INT
ESPN analytics says there’s ~70% chance Campbell is available when the Dolphins are on the clock
— Five Reasons Sports (@5ReasonsSports) April 13, 2023