- Stetson Bennett: The two-time national champion QB had an 88.9 PFF passing grade last season, with 28 big-time throws and just 12 turnover-worthy plays (2.4%), indicating why he can exceed expectations again in the NFL.
- Tyjae Spears: The Tulane running back has some incredible movement skills, which translated to some impressive production at Tulane, as he posted a 90.6 PFF rushing grade in 2022.
- Jonathan Mingo: The Ole Miss product has size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) in a draft where most of the top prospects do not, and when you watch his tape, it’s difficult to find things he isn’t good at.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
The 2023 NFL Draft is almost upon us, and while all of the focus is on the top players available, one of the most compelling aspects of the process each year is seeing where lower-ranked prospects land. Each draft analyst and evaluator sees things differently, and there are players that become draft crushes over weeks of tape grinding.
Here are the guys I would go to bat for at every position.
QB – Stetson Bennett, Georgia
I had a feeling I was going to like Bennett’s tape before I really got into it, and it went exactly that way. He’s a baller, and it shows up on his tape. Bennett had an 88.9 PFF passing grade last season, with 28 big-time throws and just 12 turnover-worthy plays (2.4%). He had to earn the starting job for the national champions the hard way but threw for 9.1 yards per attempt in his college career and walks away with back-to-back rings. Bennett has concerns, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility he can exceed expectations again to become more than he is being labeled as.
RB – Tyjae Spears, Tulane
Spears has some incredible movement skills, which translated to some impressive production at Tulane. He posted a 90.6 PFF rushing grade in 2022 while averaging 6.9 yards per attempt and 4.55 yards per attempt after contact in addition to breaking double-digit tackles in his final three games of the season. Spears is also a solid receiver and can be an every-down threat at the next level. It’s an outstanding running back draft, but Spears is going to make an impact in the NFL wherever he ends up being selected.
WR – Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss
There are several receivers I would go to bat for, but I’ve been pushing the Mingo bandwagon that seems to be picking up steam as we get closer to the draft. Mingo has size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) in a draft where most of the top prospects do not, and when you watch his tape, it’s difficult to find things he isn’t good at. The knock on him is a lack of college production — just one season with more than 400 receiving yards or 30 catches — but it’s difficult to see a reason why on tape. College production certainly correlates to NFL success, so it’s not something you can readily dismiss, but Mingo stood out at the Senior Bowl and has the tape that suggests he can be a better NFL player than he was in college.
TE – Will Mallory, Miami FL
Like running back, tight end is one of the strongest positions in this draft class. In all of the hype, Mallory seems to be flying under the radar. He was the fastest tight end at the combine, running a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, and that speed shows up on tape. He can scare defensive backs with his pace and dropped just two passes on 59 targets in 2022. Blocking is a weakness, but in today’s NFL, that can be schemed around for a player that can be a matchup problem for defenses.
OL – Andrew Vorhees, USC
I became a fan of Vorhees at the scouting combine. He tore his ACL during position drills but stayed around to take part in the bench press despite needing crutches to get to the bench while his injured leg in a full-length sleeve. That alone is the type of “grit” you would have to respect, but he proceeded to knock out 38 repetitions — the most of any offensive lineman despite that leg just hanging uselessly off the bench. Vorhees has multiple seasons with an 80.0-plus PFF grade and allowed two sacks over the last two seasons. I want that guy on my team.
EDGE – Nick Hampton, Appalachian State
This draft seems unusually stocked of very good players with outlier or marginal NFL size. Hampton is one of those guys on the edge. He had a 19.0% pass-rush win rate last season and has an elite range of pass-rushing moves, but he is just 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds. He doesn’t have an obvious frame to carry a lot more weight, so if he succeeds at the next level, he’s going to have to do it as an undersized force, but he has the game to do it.
DI – Karl Brooks, Bowling Green
At around 300 pounds, Brooks is going to be projected inside at the next level, but he played the majority of his snaps every season on the edge and is actually much better as an edge defender than he is on the interior. He had an absurd 23.8% pass-rush win rate last season and a 91.5 PFF grade against true pass sets. He also had one of the worst workouts of any player in the draft. Brooks is a complete enigma as a player, but his tape was dominant, and I’d bet on that helping him overcome what he’s working against.
LB – Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati
You won’t find NFL linebackers that are 5-foot-10 and 231 pounds, yet that’s the size and shape that Pace brings to the table. He has incredibly fun tape, but he also has a path to playing time in the NFL as a factor on the blitz, where he is virtually unstoppable. In 2022, he recorded a 93.3 PFF pass-rush grade, rushing the passer 180 times, and during the one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl, he was every running back’s nightmare in Mobile.
DB – Mekhi Blackmon, USC
One cornerback in this draft class was in the top five of PFF coverage grade both for man coverage and zone coverage, Blackmon. At 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds, Blackmon is undersized, but he has the tenacity to offset that. He allowed a 46.1 passer rating into his coverage last season and just 47.6% of passes thrown his way to be caught. Blackmon’s game is exceptionally entertaining, and he plays much bigger than he actually is. He could be an absolute steal during the draft.