The 2023 NFL draft is getting close, and I’ve been watching a ton of tape on the class’ top prospects to prepare for the three-day event at the end of April. This class has a lot to like across the board, but a few players always seem to emerge as my favorites every spring. This year, five potential first-rounders and five sleepers who will likely get picked on Day 2 stood out for me. These are guys I’d be targeting if I were running an NFL team and players I think have a really good chance to be stars in the pros.
The first player on the list shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve watched me talk about NFL draft quarterbacks over the past two months. I was just at his pro day a few weeks ago, and I love his game. Here are my favorites of the 2023 class and some sleepers to watch.
MY FAVORITE PROSPECTS
In my opinion, Stroud is the gem of the quarterback class. At 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, he was one of the most accurate passers in college football over the past two seasons, and he makes good decisions with the ball. He can win throwing the ball from the pocket, but he also shows the mobility to escape the pass rush, get outside the pocket and win with his legs or his arm. A lot of people will say we saw that ability to create outside the pocket in only one game last season — Ohio State’s loss to Georgia in the College Football Playoff — but I think we’ll see it regularly at the next level. Don’t underestimate what Stroud can do there.
Give me a QB like Stroud, who has the respect of his teammates, the motivation to be great and the tools to play at the highest levels. If he lands in the right place, he’s going to prove a lot of people right. I think he can quickly become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
When you find a true three-down running back who can run inside or outside, has the elusiveness to make you miss in the open field and shows the speed to go the distance, you take him. And you do it early in the draft. And that’s especially true when that same running back is a true third-down threat as a receiver. Gibbs will be among the best pass-catching backs in the NFL the moment he’s drafted. I’d get him involved out on the edge on wide zone runs, hit him on halfback screens and flank him out against safeties and Will linebackers. Because once Gibbs gets in space, he’s gone.
Sure, he’s only 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds, but he will give you all 199 pounds. He’ll dip and lower his shoulder on you. Gibbs is going to be a really good pro as a modern do-it-all back.
Wright’s move from left tackle to right tackle in 2022 might have turned a good college football player into a top-15 overall draft pick. And to take it a step further, his size, speed, aggressiveness and physical style put him in consideration to end up the best overall player of this draft class when it’s all said and done. I believe Wright will be an All-Pro within his first three seasons. He has that much potential.
He’s a mountain of a man, too. At 6-foot-5 and 333 pounds, he can dominate in the run game, moving defenders off the ball. And as a pass protector, Wright has the footspeed to handle finesse rushers and the strength to anchor against bull rushers. He’s an eraser. The NFL team that drafts him can pencil him in at right tackle from day one (though he can play both sides).
Big corners who have movement skills like Gonzalez don’t come along often. At 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds, he has the fast feet and hands to be a very efficient press corner in the NFL. I love his pattern recognition, fluid hips and closing quickness. And Gonzalez has the ball skills to finish, breaking up seven passes and intercepting four last season.
The icing on the cake? Gonzalez is also fearless as a tackler. Simply put, he is the total package and has a high ceiling as a pro.
In a word, this young man is simply explosive. I see it on tape, and Banks backed it up at the combine. He ran a 4.35 in the 40-yard dash and jumped a 42-inch vertical and 11-foot-4 broad jump. His speed, quickness and hitting ability when he decides to turn it loose are outstanding. Banks can do it all.
At 6-foot and 197 pounds, he is ideally suited for a scheme that features press-man coverage, where he can play up on the line of scrimmage. That’s where his aggressive jams, patient feet and exceptional ability to shadow and close on any route make him tough to deal with.
MY FAVORITE SLEEPERS
If I were an NFL team, I’d do whatever necessary to make sure Overshown ended up on my team by the end of the draft. He fits so well as a 4-3 weakside linebacker and special teams playmaker in today’s NFL because of his length, agility, speed and explosive hitting ability.
He entered college as a safety and made the switch to linebacker. And you can see exceptional instincts and physical downhill mentality. Overshown (6-foot-3, 229 pounds) has the speed to close in zone and/or man coverage assignments. I’m as excited to see how he develops in the NFL as I am about any player in this class.
Even though he was not a regular starter for LSU, this guy has all of the tools to be a dominant NFL defensive tackle. His get-off explosiveness is excellent, he has heavy hands, and he has very good lateral quickness. Roy was consistently disruptive when he was allowed to play on the edge of the guard or stunt/move at the snap, rather than playing 0-technique (nose guard). The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder could play defensive end at the next level if needed.
If Roy is drafted by a team with a good defensive line room and position coach, he is going to be a breakout star of this draft.
Do not let Reed’s 5-foot-11, 187-pound size fool you into thinking he is just a typical slot guy. This young man plays big on the outside as an X or Z receiver, with the feet to defeat press coverage, the acceleration to take away cushion and make defensive backs turn, and the body control to get in and out of his breaks smoothly. And despite his frame, Reed has the play strength and hands to regularly finish in contested catch situations.
And that’s not even mentioning that he’s a dynamic punt return specialist.
If Spears gets out of Round 2 — which shouldn’t happen but could — then a team is getting great value on a Tony Pollard-like running back. Spears has the kind of toughness, elusiveness, stop/start acceleration and big-play capability that can ignite an offense at any moment. Spears (5-foot-10, 201 pounds) was the offensive star of the Senior Bowl practices this year in Mobile, Alabama, and there is sure to be more of that once the NFL season comes around.
Moss is a former standout in track and field, having run 13.85 seconds in the 110-meter high hurdles in high school — a record for the state of Iowa. He also registered a 39-inch vertical and ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. On the field, he is comfortable in press or off-coverage, with a super-fluid movement style, quick feet, very good short-area acceleration and the top-end long speed to run with the best receivers in the NFL in the deeper parts of the field. His instincts, pattern recognition and finishing skills are also all very good, helping him to 11 career interceptions and three pick-sixes.
Moss also shows absolutely no hesitation in run support or as a tackler when it comes to the physical side of the game. He will put big hits on receivers and running backs when the opportunities are there. I have no doubt he will make an immediate impact in sub-defenses or on special teams in his rookie season — and that’s just a starting point.