Fans will see some unfamiliar sights in the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. From middle-schooler-sized receivers to tight ends like comic book supervillains who are already halfway through earning their AARP cards, this year’s draft class reflects on-field strategies and NFL priorities, as well as the rules that govern them. that control how the NCAA does business.
Here are some trends that will become clear when Commissioner Roger Goodell begins calling names during the first round on April 27 in Kansas City, Mo.
action figure cornerback
The cornerbacks available are so big, athletic and impressive that it’s a wonder anyone caught a pass on Saturday last year in the autumn.
Joey Porter Jr.Penn State), the son of a former All-Pro linebacker, stands over 6-foot-2 and ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Christian Gonzalez (Oregon) stands 6-foot-1 and completed the 40 in 4.38 seconds. Kelly Ringo (Georgia) measured 6-foot-2, 207 pounds and ran a 4.36-second sprint.
Even in the lower levels of the draft board there are plenty of corners that are not only tall but physical, ultra-confident and downright beautiful.
“You might be starting to see some of the Legion of Boom effect,” said Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl, a pre-draft event for top college talents. Nagy was previously a Seattle Seahawks scout during the team’s Super Bowl heyday, back-to-back trips in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and said the success of Richard Sherman and the 2010 Seahawks’ defense may have inspired the most talented of all time. — wanted to play cornerback around Pop Warner-level athletes — or motivated his coaches to put him in that position.
Whatever the reason, the 2023 draft class is overflowing with cornerback talent.
“I think we’ll see corners go early in the first round, go late in the first round, go early in the second round and keep going throughout the draft,” said Eric Galko, director of operations for the East-West Shrine Bowl. , one of several pre-draft events that serve as job expos for NFL prospects. “You don’t want to pass people like that.”
Every draft class features small, extra-sharp receivers, but this year the top of the board is filled with prospects who appear to some to be breakfast buffets that are too light for the junior varsity.
Wide-open offensive styles like the Air Raid make it possible for lighter receivers to flourish at the college level, and NFL coaches are adopting similar tactics to prevent featherweight receivers from getting flattened by the nearest lethal defender.
Galko said, “We’ve always had these kinds of guys who were 175 pounds, really smooth and explosive, but the NFL and college teams said they couldn’t use them.” “College offenses are now less likely to rule over guys who can provide explosive plays.”
In the first or second round of presumptive elections, Jalin Hayat (Tennessee) weighed in at 176 pounds at the scouting combine, Jordan Addison (Southern California) at 173, and josh downs (North Carolina) at 171. further down the draft board, Nathaniel DaleNicknamed Tank, (Houston) weighs just 165 pounds, roughly the equivalent of a typical offensive line’s DoorDash order.
The NFL may be more willing than ever to take chances on 175-pound receivers, but most teams still prefer fast and strong 200-pounders. There seems to be a temporary shortage of quality college receivers in the Jammer Chase mold.
Nagy said, “If there were more talented big guys at the top, those would be the guys who would get drafted.”
colossal tight ends
georgia tight end Darnell WashingtonThe highlight montages look like computer-generated imagery: At 6-foot-7 and 264 pounds, Washington doesn’t occupy the same physical space as the defenders, who bounce off him almost improbably.
Washington is one of several surprising athletes in this year’s tight end class. luke musgrave (Oregon State), who measures 6-foot-6 and 253 pounds, produced jaw-dropping workout results at the combine. under the draft board, there’s zach kuntz (Old Dominion), a former high school hurdler who stands at 6-foot-7 and has a 40-inch vertical jump.
In the past, NFL teams sometimes tried to convert college basketball players into tight ends in their quest for height and athleticism at the position. Despite high-profile breakthroughs such as Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, most Moonshot power forwards could not block well enough to stay on the field.
College football programs are now offering several more NBA-sized tight ends whose blocking skills range from substantial (Musgrave and Kuntz). A protester has just been crushed by a corn thresher (Washington).
“We’re seeing so many people we’re going numb,” Galko said. “We’re looking at how weird it is.”
The rugged, agile, somewhat lead-footed linebacker of the 1980s is practically an endangered species now. Defenses, both college and professional, have little use for a player type who is likely to be dusted by a running back or tight end in pass coverage, no matter how dangerously he moves.
However, the 2023 draft class includes several highly regarded linebackers, headlined by Drew Sanders (Arkansas), trenton simpson (Clemson), Jack Campbell (Iowa) and henry tutu’o (Alabama). These defenders may look a bit like Mike Singletary or Harry Carson, but they are actually the spiritual descendants of Troy Polamalu.
“The big safety is now moving to linebacker,” said Mike Rittleman, director of scouting for the College Gridiron Showcase. “They can play zone coverage and be comfortable. They can fill the run gap without getting washed out.”
In the past, such beefed-up safeties could max out around 225 pounds. This year, Sanders and Simpson each weighed 235 pounds and Campbell weighed 249.
With so many big, versatile linebackers available in the draft, Nagy believes leadership and communication skills will be the ultimate separator: College plans remain relatively simple, but NFL coaches need linebackers who can handle on-field instructions. and prevent adjustments.
“There’s going to be a shelf,” Nagy said. “There will be a bunch of guys who can play all three downs and are doing well in interviews who will be drafted in the early rounds. Then you have going down in the fifth and sixth rounds who can pinch-hit.
while the quarterback Bryce Young (Alabama), CJ Stroud (Ohio State), Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Will Lewis (Kentucky) is expected to be drafted early in the first round, hendon hooker (Tennessee) are generally relegated to the second category.
Hooker was born in January 1998, making him 25 years old: seven months older than fourth-year quarterback Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles. Hooker is the most prominent of several top prospects in this draft class who have played five or six college seasons.
Some NFL teams still have age restrictions or mark older prospects like Lewis, 23, and Hooker as special cases, but considering all the factors that lengthen college players’ careers, they are forced to adjust those criteria. may be required. Many took advantage of the extra year of eligibility they got from the NCAA because of the coronavirus pandemic. Collegiate superstars at major programs can now earn significant money through name, image and likeness deals, while lesser known prospects who may have turned professional early due to financial hardship can now earn enough money to stay in school.
But the NFL may not like it: Most teams prefer their prospects to be as young and on the upside as possible.
“I think age is going to be a surprisingly big factor in the 2023 draft,” Galko said.
He added: “It’s kind of an amplifier for concerns: If you come from a scheme that doesn’t belong to the NFL and you’re big, that’s an issue. If you’re injured that’s an issue, too.
Hooker, in particular, could be affected by all three issues: Experts love his game film and the intangibles, but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at the end of last season and missed an up-tempo, bombshell. -Played in away offense. in Tennessee. Hooker could still be drafted in the first round — he is a quarterback, after all — but the team could reduce position players like Georgia Tech defensive lineman cayenne white24, whose college career began in 2017, OR North Dakota State offensive tackle cody mouch24, who first appeared in college sports in 2018.
Negi disagrees. “I think the league has softened a bit. The mindset of teams is that if they can get two contracts out of one player, that’s great. Anything beyond that is gravy.
Retelman’s pre-draft event caters to late-stage prospects, so he deals with a number of athletes for whom the NFL isn’t a certainty and another year of education could make a big difference. “NIL College has been great for the community,” he said. “It gives athletes another chance to find out what works best for them.”
After all, there are more important matters in life than the NFL draft.