Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and other college players who could headline the 2023 NFL Draft - bdsthanhhoavn.com

Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and other college players who could headline the 2023 NFL Draft

If the NFL’s annual selection meetings have taught college and pro football fans anything, it’s that it’s never too early to examine the next round of talent acquisition.

It’s likely the 2023 NFL Draft will command more interest and a brighter spotlight than the one wrapped up this weekend. Eight position players on the Football Writers Association of America’s two All-American teams return, including multiple players with higher profiles than anyone at their positions in the 2022 draft. They include the two most talented quarterbacks and the nation’s top pass rusher in 2021.

Here are a dozen 2023 NFL Draft-eligible prospects at 11 different position groups (plus an extra quarterback) to remember when watching college football this fall and looking ahead to next spring’s draft process.

QB — Bryce Young (Jr., Alabama)

The Heisman Trophy winner, Young (6-0, 194) set Alabama single-season marks for passing yards (4,872) and touchdowns (47) while leading the Crimson Tide to the SEC title and a runner-up College Football Playoff finish. Young’s passing yards were the second-most nationally as were his 47 touchdown passes. In Alabama’s first game against Georgia, Young set the SEC Championship record with 461 total yards and 421 through the air. He threw for three touchdowns and rushed for one more that afternoon.

QB — C.J. Stroud (RS Soph., Ohio State)

A Heisman Trophy finalist and Big Ten Most Valuable Player in his first season as a starter, Stroud (6-3, 218) guided the Buckeyes to the nation’s top spot in total offense (561.2 yards per game) and scoring offense (45.7 ppg). Stroud completed 317 of 441 passes for 4,435 yards with 44 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His 71.9 completion percentage set the Ohio State single-season record and he threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.

Other name to remember: South Carolina junior Spencer Rattler (6-1, 210; formerly of Oklahoma)

RB — Bijan Robinson (Jr., Texas)

In 10 games, Robinson (6-0, 221) established himself as one of the nation’s top runners last year with 1,127 yards at 5.8 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns. The perfect blend of size, power and speed, Robinson led all FBS runners missed tackles forced per rush (0.4), according to Pro Football Focus.  Robinson also caught 26 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns. Per PFF, Robinson averaged 10.7 yards after each catch.

Other name to remember: Ole Miss junior Zach Evans (6-0, 215; formerly of TCU)

WR — Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Jr., Ohio State)

In the slot alongside two of the nation’s best receivers, Smith-Njigba (6-0, 198) was the other guy in the Buckeyes’ arsenal — until he wasn’t. Smith-Njigba set Ohio State single-season records for catches (95) and yards (1,606) in 2021. Over the Buckeyes’ final five games, Smith-Njigba caught 60 passes for 958 yards. He capped his season with a postseason-record 347 receiving yards (on 15 catches) in a 48-45 win against Utah in the Rose Bowl. It’s hard not to get Odell Beckham Jr., vibes after watching Smith-Njigba.

Other name to remember: TBD junior Jordan Addison (6-1, 175; played at Pittsburgh in 2021)

TE — Michael Mayer (Jr., Notre Dame)

Mayer caught 71 passes for 840 yards and seven scores, all of which were among the best numbers posted by a tight end in 2021. The Fighting Irish often shifted Mayer (6-5, 251) from inline to the slot and sometimes out wide, and he was lethal at any position with 12 catches of 20 yards or more. Mayer caught at least seven passes in seven different games and combines receiving skill with upper-level blocking ability.

Other name to remember: Utah senior Dalton Kincaid (6-4, 242)

OT — Peter Skoronski (Jr., Northwestern)

Amid the pandemic and a delayed start to the 2020 Big Ten season, Skoronski (6-4, 294) was asked to replace left tackle Rashawn Slater, who opted out. Even as a true freshman, Skoronski performed as well — or even better — than his first-round predecessor and was as good as any left tackle nationally in 2021. His grandfather, Bob Skoronski, was an 11-year starting tackle for the 1960s Green Bay Packers dynasty. It appears the younger Skoronski is on track to join his grandfather in the NFL.

Other name to remember: Ohio State senior Dawand Jones (6-8, 360)

IOL — Olusegun Oluwatimi (Sr., Michigan)

A Rimington Trophy finalist last year at Virginia, Oluwatimi (6-3, 310) transferred to Michigan for the spring semester as a graduate student and will anchor the Wolverines’ run-heavy offensive line. Oluwatimi boasted the third-highest run grade by Pro Football Focus last year and steps into a unit that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best O-line.

Other name to remember: Notre Dame senior Jarrett Patterson (6-4 1/2, 307)

DL — Jalen Carter (Jr., Georgia)

Even among the nation’s most talented defensive players, Carter (6-3, 310) found a way to stand out last year for the Bulldogs. Now with several members of that unit off to the NFL, expect a dominant campaign from Carter. Last year, he registered 37 tackles, 33 quarterback pressures, 8.5 tackles for loss and blocked two kicks. According to Pro Football Focus, Carter’s pass-rush grade tied for first among Power 5 players. He also was one of the nation’s best run stoppers.

Other name to remember: Pittsburgh junior Calijah Kancey (6-0, 275)

Edge — Will Anderson (Jr., Alabama)

If any player is going to push a quarterback off the top line next year, it’s Anderson. It’s not hyperbolic to suggest Anderson (6-4, 243) is one of college football’s greatest pass rushers — ever. Last year, Anderson led the country with 17.5 sacks and put up 34.5 tackles for loss. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and the Nagurski Award winner as the nation’s best defender. If he was eligible for the 2022 draft, Anderson might have been selected No. 1 overall.

Other name to remember: Clemson junior Myles Murphy (6-5, 275)

LB — Jack Campbell (Sr., Iowa)

A freakish athlete with a frame to match (6-5, 243), Campbell led the nation in tackles last year with 143. Campbell returned a fumble and an interception for touchdowns, recovered another at the opponents’ 6-yard line and forced another on Iowa’s goal line that was recovered for a touchback. Campbell’s long arms, pass-rush skills, sideline-to-sideline speed and short-range tackling power make him a three-down weapon in any defense.

Other name to remember: Oregon junior Noah Sewell (6-3, 251)

CB — Cam Smith (RS Soph., South Carolina)

The Gamecocks regularly positioned Smith (6-0, 185) in man-press, and no returning cornerback nationally was graded higher in that coverage by Pro Football Focus. Smith finished with three interceptions and 11 pass breakups, allowed only 15 catches all season and gave up multiple catches just in just two games last year. As a credit to his athletic ability, Smith made dynamic interceptions and can play outside or in the slot.

Other name to remember: Alabama junior Eli Ricks (6-2, 190; formerly of LSU)

S — Jordan Battle (Sr., Alabama)

No safety in the country combined power against the run with coverage skills like Battle (6-1, 206) did in 2021. Battle intercepted three passes, brought back two for touchdowns and he ranked fourth for the Crimson Tide with 86 tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, which named Battle a first-team All-American, Battle has the best grade of any safety over the last two seasons. Battle also hasn’t given a touchdown catch since October 2020.

Other name to remember: Notre Dame junior Brandon Joseph (6-1, 192; formerly of Northwestern)

Ten players to watch for the 2024/2025 drafts (all second-year players) — USC QB Caleb Williams (6-1, 210); Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen (6-2, 238); Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson (5-10, 215); Texas WR Xavier Worthy (6-1, 160); Georgia TE Brock Bowers (6-4, 230); Notre Dame LT Joe Alt (6-7, 305); Oklahoma State DE Collin Oliver (6-4, 225); LSU DT Maason Smith (6-5, 298); Alabama LB Dallas Turner (6-4, 245); Ohio State CB Denzel Burke (6-1, 192)

(Top photo of Bryce Young: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

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