Since the decision to trade Russell Wilson, I’ve set about watching every 2021 game of the four main 2023 eligible quarterbacks (at least in my opinion) — Will Levis, Tyler Van Dyke, Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.
I’ve also watched a decent chunk of all of the other bigger name quarterbacks. This is clearly going to be the focus for the blog (and the wider fan base) for the next few months.
That said, the other positions will have a big say in how this all plays out. For me, the best three players in terms of talent and potential are not quarterbacks.
Neither is the 2023 quarterback class an otherworldly, once in a generation, can’t-miss group. There are some intriguing players and others can emerge. Yet there are two defensive linemen, for example, that I think could be special very early in their NFL careers.
These are all things to consider as we move forward.
I spent the last three weeks watching non-quarterbacks to form opinions before the start of the new college football season.
The three best players eligible for 2023
Will Anderson (DE, Alabama)
Bryan Bresee (DT, Clemson)
Bijan Robinson (RB, Texas)
When I watched this trio, they all appear to have legit star quality. They look like blue-chippers with the potential to come into the league and be brilliant very quickly.
Everyone knows about Will Anderson by now. He is the best pass rusher to enter the league since Myles Garrett and might be even better. He had an astonishing 33.5 TFL’s in 2021 alone, along with 17.5 sacks. Those are practically unbelievable numbers, even taking into consideration he plays for Alabama.
Anderson has everything — an ideal frame, power, quickness, attitude, leadership, intensity, twitch. I don’t think it’s a coincidence he wears #31 (Kam Chancellor’s number) because he plays with the same physicality.
He’s a special, special player — a legit #1 overall pick in any draft. It’s distinctly possible that a team needing a quarterback will draft him instead because he’s just too good. We’re talking about the Andrew Luck of pass rushers here.
Bryan Bresee isn’t far behind in terms of talent, although his situation is different. He suffered an ACL injury a year ago and we’ll need to see how he comes back from that. His tape, however, is a sight to behold.
Considering he’s 6-5 and 300lbs, his athleticism and mobility are sensational and constantly flash on tape. He’s extremely active and runs like a player weighing 270lbs. He slips blocks to knife into the backfield, he works across the line with ease and he can be unblockable. Bresee plays with violent hands and he shows explosive qualities in his lower body. His effort and intensity is top notch and he plays with a fantastic motor. He’s nicknamed ‘The Hulk’ by his team mates.
I watched some practise tape from Clemson to watch him in 1v1 situations and ended up rubbing my eyes at this one move he pulled — engaging the blocker, spinning away from his grasp and then just exploding and accelerating. It was like watching a top-level speed rusher — yet he’s 300lbs.
At SPARQ he ran an eye-watering 4.21 short shuttle at 290lbs and also jumped a 31 inch vertical. He was the top SPARQ tester among all defensive tackles in his year group.
For me, Bresee has the potential to be the next great interior rusher. Those are so rare these days, it won’t be a surprise if he goes in the same range as Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. He does need to prove he’s fully recovered from the injury though (and can stay healthy).
Twenty years ago, Bijan Robinson would’ve been a top-five lock. Nowadays he’ll likely suffer because of the way the running back position is viewed. However — we still see top-rated runners go in the top-10 and I think there’s a legit chance someone will take Robinson in that range next year.
He has a wow-factor on tape and looks close to perfection as a running back prospect. There have been some hyped-up running backs in the last decade but arguably none showed the complete game Robinson possesses. The way he cuts and changes direction is better than any runner I’ve covered since starting this blog in 2008. He looks, at times, like a better version of a pre-injury Nick Chubb at Georgia.
Robinson has the ideal frame and combines explosive power and physicality with fantastic acceleration. He breaks tackles and gains yards after contact but he also has the ability to cut on a dime and just accelerate like a Formula 1 car. If anyone gets near him, he delivers a violent stiff-arm. He can get the hard yards and he can hit home runs.
Whatever your view on the running back position — watching him is a treat.
I am not suggesting these three players will go 1-2-3. However, I would suggest they are the best three players I have scouted ahead of the start of the new season.
Other players with first round potential
Trenton Simpson (LB, Clemson)
Jalen Carter (DT, Georgia)
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR, Ohio State)
Michael Mayer (TE, Notre Dame)
Kelee Ringo (CB, Georgia)
Trenton Simpson is the ideal linebacker for an attack minded defensive scheme that wants to send a lot of pressure in exotic blitz packages. He’s said to be 6-3 and 240lbs but I’m not sold on that. Simpson supposedly has 6% body fat and can run in the 4.3’s with a sub-1.5 10-yard split.
It’s that combination of incredible athleticism and quickness that stands out on tape. You can line him up as the extra man off the edge and he’s a heat-seeking missile to the passer. He blitzes with a real purpose and determination. He has shown the ability to put offensive tackles on skates with his sheer will and desire to make a play and his raw speed and agility means he eats up ground and changes direction so quickly — he’s difficult to grapple.
I love Simpson’s fire and he can be a big-time tone-setter for a unit. He’s not just a blitzer though. There are snaps on tape where he lines up in the slot and breaks up passes. He’s willing to fill a gap on short yardage runs.
The only question is will his aggressive, attack-minded approach translate to the next level against better opponents? And is he only a fit in very specific schemes? There’s so much to like though and he could be a big time player in the 2023 draft.
Jalen Carter felt like a less spectacular version of Bryan Bresee. He loves a swim move and he’s very good at it. Carter shows an ability to swim away from blockers then burst to the QB. I don’t think he’s as athletic, physical or as active as Bresee but he’s capable of putting interior blockers into bad positions with his angles and then winning with superior movement and power.
He was respected enough to receive a fair dose of double teams, even on Georgia’s loaded D-line. His get-off is highly impressive at times. Carter also has a violent rip and punch leading into the swim. He shows impressive mobility on stunts when he has to travel — hinting at plus athleticism. He has a good understanding of leverage with his hands and positioning. He has a chance to be a first round pick.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is just an incredible player who could take the NFL by storm. I just want to see his testing numbers before committing to that, because he only ran a 4.64 at SPARQ. Nevertheless, I thought he was Ohio State’s best receiver last year and the two guys starting with him both went in the top-15.
Highly drafted tight ends have a tendency to disappoint and that might play against Michael Mayer. However, he looks second only to Georgia’s Brock Bowers in terms of potential in college football. He’s a very rounded player but also an X-factor in the passing game and should be viewed as a likely first rounder (again depending on testing results).
My Kelee Ringo notes were pretty limited but telling. He looks the part. He’s big (6-2, 215lbs), long, physical and is said to be a legit 4.3 runner. Enough said.
Other players worth discussing
Myles Murphy (DE, Clemson) is a big power end but he doesn’t win with speed. He shoots gaps and wins with hand-use and power. I’m not convinced he has the twitch to be a first rounder and I feel like we’ve seen this type of prospect a lot over the years — a big name who ends up on day two because he doesn’t have the splash and the quickness to trouble offensive tackles off the edge. He just doesn’t seem all that spectacular to me. Is he a difference maker? Not sure.
Derrick Hall (DE, Auburn) is a very active pass rusher who can engage/disengage and finish. He’s shown glimpses of a power rush but can dip and straighten quite well too. He lacks top-level bend but has some quickness for a well-built frame. I like his intensity and he plays to the whistle. He’s not the twitchiest though and there’s some stiffness there. I think he’s likely a day-two type.
Isaiah Foskey (LB, Notre Dame) has busy hands and despite a lack of size he can work to control blocks with jab-jab punches. He doesn’t have elite quicks but can work a path to the QB and he’s tough to stop when he bends the arc. Foskey is capable of controlling blocks with his left arm, leaving his right arm free to swipe at the ball if possible or read the play — creating freedom to react and process. He has shown ability to slap hands down to win leverage battles. He’ll be very scheme-specific but he could be a menace as a 3-4 OLB.
Steele Chambers (LB, Ohio State) is very comfortable in coverage and moves with great fluidity. He can read a pass play, know which area to drop into and play the ball. He’s undersized but active at the LOS. He won’t fit every team but has a knack for making plays.
Jack Campbell (LB, Iowa) looks big, stiff, carries a lot of blocks and I wanted to see a lot more than I did on tape.
Will McDonald (DE, Iowa State) is raw AF but his potential will have teams salivating. He’s only 236lbs (can he get up to 250?) but he supposedly can jump a 42 inch vertical. If you let him rush the edge he can do what teams want — bend and straighten to the QB. He looks athletic and he can deceive blockers with a subtle drop of the shoulder or a shimmy at the POA. McDonald looks long and lean and teams are going to see him as a bit of a prototype.
However, I also saw snaps where he struggles to disengage against tight ends. He overextends and leans into too many engagements. He also plays with effort but lacks any kind of mean streak. I think he could go early, though, with teams believing he can be something of a sack specialist early in his career as he works to become more rounded.
I didn’t see anything to get excited about with Tyree Wilson (DE, Texas Tech). He appears to lack twitch off the edge. There are some decent bull rushes on tape but it was a pretty ‘meh’ experience watching him.
Mazi Smith (DT, Michigan) controls blockers up front. It’s extremely rare that he loses a 1v1. He shows evidence of being able to slip blocks and penetrate which is good for his role as a nose tackle. He can contain the interior to provide opportunities for others. It was great to see him chase after screen passes like a much smaller man. He’s the ideal anchor up front, is expected to test well and he could be a day two prospect as an interior stopper.
If you missed it a few months ago — here is my big article on the 2023 eligible quarterbacks. I’ve watched a lot more of these players than most — so if you’re looking for a QB guide going into the new season, it’s worth checking out.
Plus if you missed my live stream with Jeff Simmons yesterday, you can watch it here:
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