NFL Draft News & Analysis

Scouting Notebook: NFL rookie cornerback class looks special, small-school 2023 NFL Draft receivers to know and more

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Southern Methodist Mustangs wide receiver Rashee Rice (11) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second half at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

A Special 2022 CB Class: Trent McDuffie (Chiefs), Sauce Gardner (Jets), Derek Stingley Jr. (Texans) and Kaiir Elam (Bills) look like a special group after one week of action.

Small-School Receivers to Know: SMU's Rashee Rice, Houston's Tank Dell and Fresno State's Jalen Cropper should all be on 2023 NFL Draft radars.

Auburn vs. Penn State: Keep an eye on the matchup between edge rusher Derick Hall and left tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu — a heavyweight battle between two prospects on the rise.

So much emphasis is put on NFL rookies by fans and media that continued development on a rookie contract is often ignored. It is, however, a necessity for all but the select few in the NFL. Players such as Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Rashawn Slater, Creed Humphrey, Penei Sewell, Micah Parsons and Patrick Surtain II are the exceptions. Let’s start this week's scouting notes with some non-first-rounders who stood out in a larger role in Week 1.

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Second-Year Standouts

T James Hudson, Cleveland Browns

Hudson was always going to need a “redshirt” year coming out of Cincinnati. It’s why he fell to the fourth round. When forced to fill in for Jack Conklin a year ago, Hudson was a liability. On Sunday, however, the results were damn-near indistinguishable. He allowed only one pressure on 43 pass-blocking snaps and earned an 80.9 run-blocking grade. Hudson had little trouble handling the athlete Carolina threw at him off the edge.

LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Cleveland Browns

JOK is going to be a star sooner rather than later. He just moves so differently compared to almost every other linebacker in the NFL. And in Year 2, you can see his diagnosing speed already improving. He made three defensive stops and allowed only one yard in coverage in the Browns' Week 1 win.

S Talanoa Hufanga, San Francisco 49ers

The second-year safety was all over the place against the Bears. Known for his ability in the box despite being listed at only 200 pounds, Hufanga racked up six defensive stops in Week 1. That’s over halfway to his total from his entire rookie season (10). He added an interception as well, reading Justin Fields’ eyes from the backside and undercutting an over route. He gives the 49ers another linebacker against the run when he’s on the field. 

CB Nate Hobbs, Las Vegas Raiders

After showing out in the slot a season ago, Hobbs impressed on the outside so much this offseason that the Raiders were comfortable parting ways with former second-round corner Trayvon Mullen. That faith in Hobb paid off in Week 1 with an outstanding all-around performance that earned him an 83.8 overall grade. He allowed one catch on two targets for five yards with a pass breakup and added five defensive stops. His 21 snaps on the outside nearly matched his entire total from 2021. The Raiders finally have a homegrown cornerback.

Second-Year QBs Still a Mixed Bag

After the much-hyped 2021 draft class failed to deliver on said billing as rookies, Week 1 didn’t change anything on that front. Former third-rounder Davis Mills led all second-year quarterbacks with a 68.1 overall grade. While the new offenses for Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields look much better suited to their strengths, it wasn’t a banner first outing for either:

QB Week 1 Passing Grade
Davis Mills 67.7
Mac Jones 66.3
Trevor Lawrence 56.8
Trey Lance 52.2
Justin Fields 34.6

Rookie Cornerback Class Looks Special

Early returns on the top of the 2022 cornerback class are unlike any in recent memory. It’s early, but this class could rival the 2017 group with Marshon Lattimore and Tre’Davious White, among others, in terms of immediate impact. Just check out the stat lines for the first-rounders from over the weekend:

CB Coverage Snaps Targets Catches Yards TD FINC
Derek Stingley Jr. 54 9 6 81 0 1
Sauce Gardner 34 3 1 8 0 1
Trent McDuffie 21 0 0 0 0 0
Kaiir Elam 22 3 3 23 0 0

It’s a hard decision to decide who was most impressive, although the more I watched Trent McDuffie’s tape, the more he seemed like the choice. That’s because he simply didn’t make any mistakes. Now, he had the easiest matchup of the bunch against a depleted Cardinals receiving corps, but you can only dominate the guy in front of you. And McDuffie did just that. Kyler Murray looked his way on multiple occasions yet had to continue his progression elsewhere with how tightly the rookie was attached to his receivers.

2023 NFL Draft

QB Bryce Young Has “It”

Young is the No. 1 player on PFF’s draft board for precisely what he did against Texas. He has the kind of moxie you can’t coach. After a day that had decidedly not gone his way the first three quarters, Young turned it on in the fourth. He went from a 49.9 overall grade through the first three periods to an 81.3 grade in the final 15 minutes.

QB Shootout Never Materializes

Florida’s Anthony Richardson versus Kentucky’s Will Levis was supposed to be a shootout between the two “toolsiest” quarterbacks in the country. It was the opposite of that. Both quarterbacks showed why many, including the PFF draft board, have been hesitant to plant their flag as either being worthy of a top-five pick. They’re just too inaccurate at the moment.

Richardson finished with a 53.1% adjusted completion percentage and a 42.0 passing grade, while Levis wasn’t too much better with a 66.7% adjusted completion percentage and a 58.8 passing grade. It’s a long season, but neither did themselves any favors over the weekend.

Small-School Receivers You Should Know

Rashee Rice, SMU

The crown jewel of the small-school receiver class, Rice has been a man amongst boys in his senior season. He’s been on the field for only 47 pass plays yet already racked up 276 yards and three scores. That’s 5.9 yards per route. At 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, he has good size, balance and play strength that should all translate to the next level. He’s already firmly in the Day 2 conversation.  

Tank Dell, Houston

Everyone is looking for juice at the receiver position. And, boy, does Dell have it.

He went for 1,328 yards and 12 scores on 91 catches last season and already has 170 yards and two scores on 12 catches this season. Over the weekend, he carved up Texas Tech for 120 yards through the air. He’s only 155 pounds, but if Tutu Atwell can go in the second round at a similar weight, Dell could end up in a similar range.

Jalen Cropper, Fresno State

Cropper may not have the physical tools of the two guys above him on this list, but he’s one of the best technicians at the position among Group of Five receivers. Then, he can make defenders miss after the catch. He already has four broken tackles on 15 receptions for 146 yards through two weeks this season.

What’s on Tap

Auburn EDGE Derick Hall vs. Penn State LT Olumuyiwa Fashanu

This is a battle between two players quickly climbing up draft boards. Hall has already racked up 14 pressures in his first two games, while Fashanu has allowed precisely zero in the first two contests of his career. Something’s got to give on Saturday.

Michigan State EDGE Jacoby Windmon vs. Washington LT Jaxson Kirkland

Windmon has been one of the breakout stars in college football thus far. After playing off-ball linebacker for UNLV last season, he’s transitioned to the edge and is haunting offensive tackle’s dreams. He’s already racked up six sacks and 11 total pressures through two weeks. Kirkland was once thought of as a possible Day 2 pick, but a serious ankle injury torpedoed his 2021 season and has kept him out the first two weeks this season. He’s on track to make his debut Saturday.

SMU WR Rashee Rice vs. Maryland CB Jakorian Bennett

Rice won’t get too many future NFL cornerbacks on his schedule to impress scouts, so he better make the most of this weekend’s matchup. Bennett has already been tested a lot this season with 15 targets through two games, but he’s allowed only six catches for 95 yards with three pass breakups. 

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