NFL News & Analysis

Would a 2024 prospect be the best at their position in the 2023 NFL Draft?

Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams (13) rushes for a touchdown in the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

  • Next year’s quarterback class is special at the top: One can make the argument that both USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye would be the first quarterbacks taken in the 2023 NFL Draft.
  • The son of a legend is becoming one himself: Marvin Harrison Jr. would easily be the first wide receiver taken in the 2023 NFL Draft.
  • Will Anderson Jr. remains the top edge defender: Anderson is still the best edge defender in the class, even when including 2024.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

It’s never too early to look ahead.

With the 2023 NFL Draft just a couple of weeks away, let’s determine whether a prospect eligible for the 2024 draft would be the first one taken at his position if he was in this year’s class. 

(Note: The top 2023 prospect listed is who I consider to be the best at their position, not what’s reflected on the 2023 PFF big board)

Quarterback: Yes

I’d make the argument that two 2024 quarterbacks would go before any in 2023, as Williams and Drake Maye were the first two picks in my mock draft if every college player was eligible.

Williams has dominated the moment he stepped foot on a collegiate field. His 91.3 grade at Oklahoma was the highest by a true freshman since we began charting college football in 2014, besting Trevor Lawrence’s 90.7 mark in 2018. The following season, Williams won the Heisman Trophy in his first year at USC. He excels outside of structure, leading all quarterbacks in yards (707), touchdowns (10) and big-time throws (10). He also doesn’t share the same size concerns that Young has, standing at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds. Williams has an opportunity to enter the Andrew Luck/Trevor Lawrence tier of quarterback prospects next year, although he said in an exclusive interview with PFF that he’s solely focused on this upcoming season.

Running Back: No

This one is fairly easy to answer since Corum was eligible to enter the 2023 draft and was still behind Robinson as a prospect before opting to return. 

Simply put, Robinson is the best running back prospect from at least the last five cycles. His 39% career forced missed tackle rate is tied with Javonte Williams for the best in the PFF college era. He also broke the record for most forced missed tackles this past season (104). Robinson is the rare back worthy of a first-round selection and is unlikely to be topped anytime soon.

Wide Receiver: Yes

Harrison was the best receiver in college football this past season, as he was both the highest-graded and most valuable one in the country according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison’s son also led all FBS receivers with 878 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns against single coverage. He was second on Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List entering the season and has prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. He could become the best receiver prospect in the PFF era. While Smith-Njigba was similarly dominant as a freshman, he only played 60 snaps in his final season and mostly played in the slot during his career. 

If you don’t take my word for it, take Brian Hartline’s, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator. 

Tight End: Yes

Bowers has been arguably the best tight end in each of the past two seasons, which just so happens to be his first two years of college football. 

As a true freshman in 2021, Bowers was the highest-graded Power Five tight end and the most valuable player at the position in college football, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. He was once again the most valuable tight end in the nation this past season and led the position in receiving yards (942), yards after the catch (479) and receiving yards after contact (274). He’s the reigning John Mackey Award winner, given to the best tight end in college football. A similarly dominant junior season could make Bowers the best tight end in the PFF College era,

Even in an outstanding 2023 tight end class, Bowers would stand alone.

Offensive Tackle: Yes

  • Top 2023 prospect: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern Wildcats
  • Top 2024 prospect: Joe Alt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Like Harrison and Bowers, a case can be made that Alt was the finest at his position this past season. The Notre Dame sophomore was both the highest-graded and most valuable tackle in the country according to PFF’s wins above-average metric. His 91.0 run-blocking grade led all FBS tackles while his 99.0 pass-blocking efficiency score was fifth. Alt looks like a potential top-five pick in 2024 and the best offensive tackle prospect since Penei Sewell, although he told me it’s not something he’s focusing on.

Offensive Guard: No

After dominating at Louisiana, Torrence showed that it wasn’t because of lesser competition in 2022. His 88.0 grade this past season was four points higher than any other guard in the country. He also tied for first among FBS guards with an 89.9 run-blocking grade.

Beebe, meanwhile, excels in pass protection, as his 94.0 pass-blocking grade over the last two seasons leads all offensive linemen in college football. He hasn’t allowed a sack in 770 snaps across that span. Torrence gets the slight edge though due to the fact that he was all-around a better player against tougher competition in the SEC.

Center: No

Wypler was dominant in the middle of Ohio State’s offensive line. His 82.4 grade tied for third among Power Five centers while his pass-blocking grade placed fourth and his run-blocking grade stood seventh. Not to mention, he tested out as one of the most athletic interior offensive linemen in the class at the combine. He’s also in the same class as Frazier and played in a more difficult conference in the Big Ten compared to the Big 12. 

Interior Defensive Lineman: No

Even with the off-field concerns, Carter is still one of the best defensive tackle prospects in the PFF era. Carter’s 90.0 pass-rush grade in his sophomore 2021 season led all Power Five interior defensive linemen, as did his 18.9% pass-rush win rate. Despite battling injuries in 2022, he posted a 92.3 overall grade that ranked first among Power Five interior defensive linemen. He’s the best defensive tackle prospect since at least Quinnen Williams, and even that might be selling him short.

Meanwhile, Newton had a dominant season for Illinois but told me the main reason he returned to Illinois was to become a first-round pick. In that same interview, he even said “Jalen Carter… he’s like one of the top picks. That’s how I want to be.”

Edge Defender: No

Verse was eligible for the 2023 draft and likely would’ve been a first-round selection had he declared.

What’s unlikely is that he would’ve surpassed Anderson, who has been one of the most productive collegiate edge defenders PFF has seen. His 206 career pressures are more than any defender since we began charting college football in 2014. His 91.5 run-defense grade over the last three years trails only Aidan Hutchinson among FBS edge defenders. 

Linebacker: Yes

Trotter has lived up to his former All-Pro father’s name. He was the only Power Five linebacker with 80-plus grades both in coverage and as a pass-rusher this past season. He was second among that same group in both passer rating allowed (42.9) and open-target rate allowed (47.6%). 

While Campbell was the highest-graded linebacker this past season and is an elite athlete, the fact that Trotter produced similar results while two years younger gives him a slight edge. 

Cornerback: No

Witherspoon was the best corner in the country this past season and is everything you’d want in a press-man corner. In fact, he only allowed one yard on 106 press-coverage snaps this past season. 

McKinstry tied for second among all FBS corners in forced incompletions (18) and very well could pass Witherspoon as a prospect next season. However, Witherspoon’s lockdown year in 2022 gives him the nod.

Safety: No

This one really comes down to preference at the safety position. If you want a do-it-all safety who excels primarily in the slot, that’d be Branch. He was the only safety in the nation with 85-plus grades in coverage and as a run-defender.

If you want a true free safety who can serve as the center fielder of your defense, that’d be Kinchens. As a sophomore, he led all safeties in the country with a 90.0 grade and 90.7 coverage grade while his six interceptions were also tied for the most in the Power Five. 

Since Branch is the more versatile of the two, he gets the edge in my book.

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