Ladies and gentlemen, we are just a few days away from the 2023 NFL Draft where dreams will be fulfilled, franchises will be changed, and this years draft process officially comes to an end. After 11 months of grinding the tape and watching how these prospects continued to develop, scouts and front offices across the league and around the world are crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s in efforts to create what they believe is the ideal big board.
Speaking out Big Boards; the official Draft Blitz top 100 will be release in just under 24 hours. But who likes waiting? So I was able to get you guys a sneak peak before the entire board is released.
1. DT Jalen Carter
A highly recruited, multi-sport athlete which shows up on his tape. As a former basketball player and weightlifter that finished in second place in the FHSAA Class 2A heavyweight division with a bench press of 395 pounds; it’s clear to see how his background translates to how he dominates on the gridiron.
He dominates guards (and tackles) with his ferocious hands and has a first step that leaves blockers helpless when he wants to. Has reps against Tennessee (‘22) and Kentucky (‘21) where these traits are on full display; he initially wins upon the snap and then translates that speed to power or just displaces blockers who lack leverage.
Was typically used as a rotational player through his first two seasons but that did little to nothing to stop him from producing with three sacks, 33 QB hurries, and 11.5 TFLs during that time.
Carter was used in a multitude of different alignments during his time in Athens and showed an array of different pass-rushing moves and abilities through these placements. Showed promise in a contain role as the 5-tech vs Tennessee, quality reps as the 0-tech allowing traffic to flow behind the havoc he created vs Oregon (‘22), and as the 3-tech vs Mississippi State.
In terms of on-field prospects I have very few complaints about Carter; off the field, however, is where things take a turn. It is well known about Todd McShay and his mentions of alleged character concerns surrounding Carter.
And when the news broke of his two recent run-ins with the police this did nothing but add fuel to a possible fire. It’s highly possible that Carter is just a young prospect who like many others is still maturing in some ways. However, it will take a complete investigation by a franchise before they feel comfortable with not just the player but the person they are bringing in.
2. DE Will Anderson
One of the most highly touted and decorated players to come from the Crimson Tide during the Saban era. Anderson entered Tuscaloosa as a five-star recruit and the number four prospect in the entire state of Georgia. It didn’t take him long to make an impact as a true freshman amassing seven sacks while claiming a starting role in the ‘Jack’ position. His sophomore season however is what saw the entire country begin to take notice; with his 17.5 sacks on the season, 34.5 tackles for loss, and 56 hurries — Anderson became quarterbacks’ worst nightmare.
While his junior season, saw him take a step back statistically with him playing in two less games this season; his efforts were still good enough to earn him a second consecutive Nagurski award (Only the second player to win the award twice), a second consecutive SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and All-SEC honors for the third time in as many years.
Anderson seems to be next in line of the next great pass rushers the league will soon have to offer. He traditionally wins with his elite-level first-step explosiveness off the ball; his ability to get to the corner and bend around the edge is next to none in this class.
Anderson has a handful of pass-rushing moves in his arsenal and does a great job setting up tackles for the tools he has in his toolbox. He should see a lot of success with his ability to translate speed into power.
My concern with Anderson is how successful can he be on a rep-to-rep basis against tackles with quality base or maulers. He does a phenomenal job using athletic abilities and his stout frame to see success but he isn’t the strongest guy which can create concern when tackles get a fair hand on him — see the Tennessee game versus Darnell Wright.
As the second all-time leader in sacks for the Alabama program, Anderson has all the production you could ask for against stellar competition. Despite that, there is still some room to continue to refine a pass-rushing profile that is currently NFL-ready.
3. RB Bijan Robinson
Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams, and now Bijan Robinson. This kid is a star! Top three talent in the class to hell with the position. Almost a football prodigy — His uncle Paul Robinson (UofAZ) get drafted in the 3rd round of the 1968 NFL draft to the Cincinnati Bengals; his grandfather Cleo Robinson was a track and field standout and linebacker who received first-team All-State honors in Arizona.
He holds a massive amount of Arizona state records coming out of high school, despite attending one of the lesser-known schools in the state, he still was responsible for three consecutive 2,000-yard seasons. He’s been sought after for as long as possible.
Personally, I haven’t seen a running back prospect this good since AP. His feet are sweeter than honey, juke moves are reminiscent of a Berry Sanders or Shady McCoy; isn’t as pretty as his predecessors but man, the kid has moves.
Robinson is as patient as they come and sees plays develop long before they come to fruition which allows him to stay a step ahead of the defense. He does a really good job of managing his speed and body; accelerates and decelerates at the perfect time to manipulate defenders’ angles.
His body control is on an elite level and he runs strong enough to run through a defender’s face but has the ability to make sudden moves to keep the play alive; has a wicked spin and juke vs Texas Tech that gets the juices flowing.
Is a healthy young man, while he is listed at 215 he has a stout and muscular frame that is hell for any defender to bring down. His legs do not stop moving. He refuses to go down upon first contact and it typically takes a village to bring him to a halt. I’m intrigued by what he offers in pass protection and in run support. He was even utilized as a pass catcher flexed out into the slot.
Robinson is an elite talent and a difference-maker on an NFL offense, the positional value may limit his potential draft selection spot but a team will receive as close to a generational 3-down-back as there is.
4. QB Bryce Young
The next big thing at the quarterback position coming from Mater Dei High in California. To give some perspective as to how highly touted Young was as a recruit; 24/7 not only ranks recruits to their class peers but they give each prospect an All-Time rating with 1.000 being the best; Young ranks 19th all-time and was the 5th rated quarterback in the history of the site with a 0.994 rating.
While many expected Young to follow the same path as many Mater Dei QB greats and attend USC; which he intended to for a while — Young decided to blaze his own trail and attend another prestige program and follow behind another QB great; Alabama. It didn’t take long you Young to establish himself as a perennial superstar in the college football game winning the Heisman Trophy in his sophomore season and a National Championship to bid farewell as a junior.
The kid is just about everything you could ask for and more at the quarterback position. He has complete command of the offense; knows who is supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there and delivers the ball with great anticipation. Is almost point guard-like in the way he distributes the ball — loves to operate within the perimeters of the offense, particularly in the quick passing game. However, the best part of his game is the beautiful chaos he plays with out of structure.
Even when he’s out of structure, he’s never really out of structure if you get what I’m saying. Isn’t a pure runner, scrambles to pass instead of to run. Does a phenomenal job keeping his shoulders square when on the move to maintain a threat as a passer. He can be a bit sporadic when passing on the move but rarely does so does a great job of resetting before delivery most times.
There are only two concerns I have for Young at the next level the first being the well-known questions surrounding his measurables. Being listed officially at 5-foot-10 can at times affect his ability as a passer; there have been more than his fair share of passes batted down at the LOS, also have seen him throw off his mechanics having to jump to deliver a pass over oncoming defenders.
The second being his ability to handle the blitz on a consistent basis; not saying Young vs the Blitz is a problem as I’ve seen him stand and deliver on time with confidence in the face of pressure. However, there are two games from ‘21 (Auburn & Georgia II) where it seemed he may have been affected by being hit consistently. If he doesn’t have a solid offensive line it could damage his confidence early.
5. QB CJ Stroud
While the hidden gem from Rancho Cucamonga High only became the starting quarterback of the varsity team heading into his junior season and has limited offer to show for it. CJ Stroud ascended to heights that no one thought was imaginable just 4 years ago.
In February of 2019, CJ Stroud has ranked the 860th best prospect in the nation for the class of 2020; fast forward a few months, and Stroud not only saw himself selected as the final of 20 quarterbacks selected to participate in the Elite 11 but was named the MVP of the camp becoming the first and only player in the history of the competition to finish with a perfect score of 50. We find ourselves in August and Stroud is now ranked the 42nd overall recruit in the nation and had a few Big 10 powerhouses calling.
For a kid who didn’t have access to the quarterback’s coaches or many of the other tools his high-profile peers had to prepare them for this moment, all Stroud had was YouTube videos of Drew Brees to teach him how to perfect his craft.
An AC Joint injury got things off to a rocky start in 21 but following missing the week 4 contest vs Akron, we have seen a brand new CJ Stroud; one that has become the first B1G QB with consecutive seasons with 30+ TDS, a two time Heisman Trophy award finalist, and one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Buckeye history.
Stroud is an enigma in his own right; he’s an offensive coordinator’s dream. He commands the offense and seemingly gets better with every pass attempt; he’s almost surgical when he gets into a zone. He has some of the best ball placement skills I’ve ever seen in my life; says he takes pride in a WR not having to do much work for a ball and it shows — displays pinpoint accuracy both in clean pockets and under pressure.
He has elite-level touch on both deep boundary routes and throws to the middle of the field. If you’re going to blitz him you better get home, he is a smart kid who understands what he’s seeing (‘22 Michigan), now if you do get home he’s proven to struggle at times.
There is much ruckus about his abilities to operate outside of structure; how I see it is he is more than athletic enough to run see the 48-yard touchdown run from his freshman season but it all comes down to a willingness or in some cases an unwillingness to run. The UGA game showed him at his best form but he’s always proven it to be his last resort. Maneuvers the pocket like a pro, mechanics are so pure.
6. CB Devon Witherspoon
A chippy and physical football player who plays the position like it should be played. While there are more than a few quality reps for Witherspoon in zone coverage, he thrives in man coverage and brings every bit of his ‘A’ game when he knows the guy on the other side is respected as a WR1. In fact, he’s allowed fewer than 35 yards in 11/12 games matched up against WR1s this season; stays connected to the hip like a seat belt.
He can be overly handsy at times which can cost his fair share of flags but Witherspoon is a high IQ football player that plays with anticipation and often saw plays develop before they did which led to him beating or meeting his man to the catch point and some big time hits on screens and in run support.
At the same time, this style of play put him in a few positions where some teams used his aggressiveness against him putting him in conflict. Offers some position versatility with his willingness to move between the nickel and the outside
7. OT Peter Skoronski
The grandson of Bob Skoronski, a five-time NFL champion and two-time Super Bowl champion for the Green Bay Packers. Skoronski is probably the most interesting of all of the offensive linemen in the class; Skoronski initially committed to Northwestern as the third Center in the class of 2020 and the fourth-highest recruit in program history.
However, this is where things take a bit of a turn, despite being recruited as a Center, Northwestern had recently lost star tackle Rashawn Slater to the NFL draft and was in need of some consistency at the position. So Pat Fitzgerald and company decided it was best to move the highly touted freshman out on the island to see if he would sink or swim.
As technically sound as they come, Skoronski has a plan of attack when facing pass rushers. He has a quality base that while he may give up ground from time to time, allows him to stand firm in pass protection.
His hand placement is typically accurate when he can get them on you, and he packs a punch behind his kick step that slows down the defender’s momentum. As a run blocker, Skoronski is aggressive at the point of attack and gains proper leverage to create a push despite his smaller stature. He has reps out of position not necessarily as a lineman but more so as a tight end where Northwestern used him as a puller on counter plays; has quality lateral movement abilities, and would feel comfortable with him in a zone scheme. He is a smart football player, and understand what he sees when defenses send twist and stunts.
Despite all there is to love about Skoronski there are a few things that must be mentioned as potential flaws. For starters, there hasn’t been an offensive tackle taken in the first 30 picks of a draft with a sub-33-inch arm length since 2005. There are a few exceptions such as Zach Martin most notably but despite playing tackle at Notre Dame he transitioned to guard at the next level.
This could potentially be in line for Skoronski as his arm length came in at 32 1/4”. At the tackle position, this frame could become a potential issue, as seen by reps like the one against Penn State where he often played patient waiting for the defender to show his hand along the edge but the rusher set up an inside mover leaving Skoronski in a position to have to hold because his arm wasn’t long enough to complete the punch.
I would like to see him do a better job getting to the second level, needs to attack with more authority. There’s a rep versus Ohio State where he actually does a good job getting to the second level but kinda whiffs. Based on his history and current skill set there is a belief that a transition to guard could be in his future, if so we could be talking about a future Pro Bowl-level talent at the position. Should he stay at tackle I believe he should be able to succeed based on his fundamentals but will have limitations.
8. S Brian Branch
A former four-star recruit from Fayetteville, GA whose standout ways began to get notarized as a junior at Sandy Creek High where he was named to the Fayette News ‘Super 12’ squad, as well as All-County Defensive Player of the Year. His success continued into his senior season as he was selected as the Georgia 5A Ironman of the Year; presented to the top two-way player.
After selecting to attend Alabama over the likes of Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Tennessee — Branch became an immediate contributor to the Crimson Tide defense seeing time in 12 games as a freshman before rotating to the ‘money’ position which is essentially the 6th defensive back in the Alabama dime package as a sophomore.
He continued to flash his potential and versatility during this time but it was during his junior season however when he was promoted to the ‘STAR’ role where he honed his skills to become what I like to call the modern-day safety.
It’s easy to imagine Branch as an immediate contributor at the next level with a translatable skill set that allows him to contribute at all three levels. At and around the line of scrimmage he has proven to be an accomplished blitzer; has a rep versus LSU where he destroys the running back in pass protection en route to pressuring the quarterback into an early pass.
He has the ability to match up in man-to-man coverage in the slot with just about any pass catcher. A very instinctive player who plays a physical brand of football when getting downhill, is willing to stack and shed blockers no matter the size. He wants to make an impact on the ball carrier; see tackle on Tank Bigsby vs Auburn ‘21. As a deep safety Branch has the quality ability to cover ground or serve in the robber role disrupting pass catches and forcing nine pass defenses in each of his three seasons in Tuscaloosa.
Branch plays until he hears the whistle and is never out of a play, has a rep versus Texas where he was sent on a blitz and over-pursued the ball carrier but was able to retrace his steps and track down Robinson for a minimal gain.
The concerns with Branch start with his willingness to be way too grabby especially at the catch point on in breaking routes. He isn’t the biggest guy in the world and has a tendency to be out-positioned by receivers with bigger frames but it isn’t a question of willingness and heart.
There seems to be many who have fallen out of love with what Branch brings to the table following his uninspiring performance at the combine, this, however, is a case of a prospect being a better football player than athlete. While the testing may not show, what Branch put on tape is a prospect whose game speed and reactionary play is something that just won’t translate to gym shorts.
The expectation is for Branch to come in and help a team in some way shape or form from day one. His skill set fits the mold of many of the players at his position who have become known as chess pieces of sorts.
9. DE Tyree Wilson
A former three-star recruit, who initially committed to Texas A&M where he redshirted his freshman season in 2018, before appearing in 12 games during year two in College Station, before deciding to transfer to Texas Tech.
“I went to Texas A&M first, you know went there for two years; but just didn’t feel like home” said Wilson during an interview on NFL Network. Upon making the move to Lubbock, Wilson became an immediate contributor for the Red Raider defense.
Playing in nine games, starting five that season — he made his first start again the rival Oklahoma Sooners at defensive tackle and moved to his formal home along the edge for the remaining four games.
Wilson burst on the scene during his second season at Texas Tech becoming one of four players to start in all 13 games, amassing a team-leading seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss. In his final season, Wilson became a household name despite missing the final three games of the season with a fractured foot, he matched and/or topped each of his career highs in each statistical category despite playing in fewer games.
Another one of the more polarizing prospects in the class, Wilson is as enticing as they come. He’s a versatile guy, with usage along the defensive line, while I believe he’d be more comfortable as a standup edge — he has proven the ability to work over tackle and even in the B-Gap. He possesses the traits just about every defensive coordinator would dream of for a game-changing Edge Rusher.
At 6-foot-6 and 271 pounds with 35 5/8 inch arms, Wilson is a hell-raiser in the trenches. Has a motor that runs hot 24/7, never gives up on a play, and is relentless in his pursuit of the ball. Simply put, you better put a blocker on him because he’s ruined more zone concepts as the unblocked defender than we can count. Absolutely love what he brings to the table in terms of run support, Wilson stacks and sheds blockers with the best of them in his class. Has a rep against NC State where he absolutely annihilates the double team with one hand en route to destroying the play. He has quality, yet inconsistent hands usage; is more reliant on Grown Man Strength than leverage.
As a pass rusher, there is a lot of room for growth for Wilson. He has yet to develop a true pass-rushing plan other than ‘get the hell out my way’. Is over-reliant on his abilities to be the best athlete on the field which typically won’t be the case at the next level. His first-step explosion when rushing as the stunt man is really good, gets to his position with quick lateral mobility, and typically overpowers guards for the win; as an EDGE rusher on the other hand there is some concern.
He doesn’t burst off with the same fire, is pretty passive along the snap, and typically allows tackles to get hands-on him first, which could create trouble at the next level against guys with stout bases. Currently, however he has the ability to get away with these late-hand movements as a pass rusher due to his ability to translate speed to power matched with his massive length.
In terms of a ceiling, it’s hard not to like what Wilson brings to the table, he has things that you just can’t teach. The floor however is something that I have yet to come to grasp with. If paired with the right situation you could have a legitimate game changer at a position of value for years to come. If not you could be drafting potentially the second most controversial boom or bust prospect in the class.
10. CB Christian Gonzalez
A three-year starter who is in a category of his own in terms of athleticism when it comes to this cornerback class. I cannot lie, this young man is a ‘traits over tapes’ scout’s dream; he uses every single inch of his 6-foot-2 frame, while a lot of his technique scares me, I believe it’s due to how he was coached up playing in the PAC 12 for three seasons and not only that but he has the athleticism to back it all up.
Look no further than the first game against UGA where all game he had been running a bail technique covering inside round which left him susceptible to a potential breaking route; the route came and the ease and simplicity with which Gonzalez was able to turn his hips inside is almost unteachable.
While his athleticism is clearly the best part of his game, I look forward to seeing him become more technically sound in his reps. Most notably in man press coverage where he has this strange habit of not immediately getting a hand on his man which will surely cause some problems in the league vs. route-running fanatics.
The most interesting part of his game is his ball skills, or what some would say lack of. With four career interceptions all of which came this season, there is some concern, however, I have seen on tape both at Colorado and Oregon, Gonzalez certainly has some ball skills to his name.
It seems that he personally prefers to play to the receiver instead of the ball. He’s really good at putting himself in position to play the receivers’ hands and force just about any pass breakup he wants but one can wonder if only he just got his head around when the receiver does instead of when his hands arrive, he’d be able to put that athleticism on display when playing the ball.
Not sure where this theory that he can’t or is unwilling to tackle comes from but, outside of the UGA game, he seems more than competent in that area.