With the NFL season complete and the scouting combine less than two weeks away, it’s high time for the league’s next crop of stars to seize the spotlight.
Many of this year’s draft prospects are nationally known entities, with the likes of Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter and Alabama outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. rightfully headlining early mocks (including ours). But draft season is always about debate, and there are plenty of players who will prove polarizing among fans and talent evaluators in the coming months.
Ahead of the combine, USA TODAY Sports took a look at the 10 most intriguing players of the 2023 NFL draft:
10. Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
Former Buckeyes linemate Paris Johnson Jr. is ticketed for a much earlier selection, but there’s something that sets Jones apart from his peers in this class: his 6-8, 360-pound frame. The NFL has seen its share of supersized blockers enter the league in recent years, including Orlando Brown Jr. (6-8, 340 pounds), Jordan Mailata (6-8, 365 pounds) and Daniel Faalele (6-8, 380 pounds). Jones, however, boasts an 89 1/2-inch wingspan – the biggest in the history of the Senior Bowl – that allows him to fling defenders out of the way with ease.
9. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
It’s not difficult to understand how a 5-10, 172-pound receiver on a 3-9 team wouldn’t catch much national attention. But despite being part of an attack that ranked 120th out of 131 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense, Flowers managed to haul in 78 catches for 1,077 yards. Adept at leaving would-be grasping for air with his agility, the quick-twitch pass catcher has significant untapped potential as a big-play threat – if teams aren’t put off by his slight physique.
8. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Despite standing 6-3 and 215 pounds, Johnston doesn’t play like a bigger receiver – for better and worse. On the plus side, he’s far shiftier than most other pass catchers of his build, making him a massive threat to break big plays after the catch as well as downfield. But he has yet to make his mark as a consistent physical presence in traffic and on contested catches. No one else in this class can match Johnston in pure explosiveness, but his pedestrian production and shaky handle on the finer points of the position could make some evaluators nervous.
7. Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
In a class without a surefire top-10 pick at wide receiver, all it takes to stand out as a pass catcher is a calling card. Hyatt certainly has that with his speed, as the Biletnikoff Award winner raced past SEC defenders for 15 touchdowns and 18.9 yards per catch last season. At this point, however, it’s not clear what else the 6-0-, 180-pounder can offer, as an overwhelming bulk of his production came on deep routes. But defenses will alter their plans to account for his gamebreaking ability, and those kinds of threats are hard to come by.
6. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
From an athleticism standpoint, the 6-2, 210-pounder with ample straight-line speed offers nearly every trait needed to match up properly with the imposing receivers and tight ends he’s sure to face in the NFL. His track record after two years in the Southeastern Conference, however, is decidedly mixed, as he too frequently gave up big plays or allowed receivers to break free when changing directions. Cornerback is arguably this class’ deepest and best position, which will spark more uncertainty about Ringo’s rightful place in the draft.
5. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
After topping Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave as Ohio State’s leading receiver in 2021, Smith-Njigba has a resume that is unimpeachable. But matching his former Buckeyes teammates’ draft status (Wilson was selected No. 10 by the Jets, with Olave taken in the next slot by the Saints) likely will prove out of reach for the 6-1, 200-pound target, who could be dragged down by concerns surrounding his speed and a hamstring injury that kept him out almost all of last season. Don’t rule out him following in their footsteps with a fast start to his NFL career, as his polish and savvy could earn him plenty of early action as a slot weapon.
4. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Like some others on this list, Young is a physical outlier – but not in a way that aids his draft stock. While there have been other touted quarterbacks who measured in at 6 feet or below, few have been as slight as the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is at 194 pounds. No matter his exact height or weight recorded at the combine, Young is sure to test teams’ typical thresholds as a potential top-three pick, even if his size hasn’t been a hindrance in his prolific career to date. A shoulder injury that forced him to miss one start last season will only add to the concerns about his durability at the next level.
3. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
Bar none, the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley. This isn’t 2018, though, and there’s no Dave Gettleman waiting to take him in the top five. Robinson is shifty, strong and fast, and his chops in the passing game make him a multi-purpose threat. But he’s entering the league during an apparent recession for investment in running backs, which could push him to the end of the first round – or beyond. A robust group of free agents and deep draft class for ball carriers could further hinder his prospects.
2. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Evaluators had every reason to be excited about a 6-3, 232-pound passer with the arm strength to thread passes all over the field, but a rash of injuries in 2022 left it unclear exactly what kind of player Levis is. Is he the next dual-threat wizard of the off-platform pass? Or is he an erratic, haphazard signal-caller who can be goaded into devastating mistakes? At present, he’s both. Whichever team selects him will need to subjugate the latter part of his game while bringing some consistency and polish to his play, particularly inside the pocket.
1. Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
It’s rare to find a quarterback who can rip a throw 60 yards downfield as easily as he can scamper the same distance through a defense. That’s the immediately evident appeal of Richardson, a 6-4, 232-pound big-play dynamo and a prospect without peer in this class. But with only 393 passing attempts to his name and a career 53.7% completion rate, he’s essentially a mystery box to NFL evaluators. At this point, there’s risk in both investing a top pick in a passer this inexperienced and in bypassing one who shows such immense upside. Richardson might end up the fourth quarterback selected, and perhaps outside of the top 10 picks overall, but there’s little question he’s this draft’s most interesting figure.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
Story Credit: usatoday.com