NFL Draft 2023: Should these top undecided underclassmen go pro?


The University of Georgia conclusively demonstrated its dominance of college football last Monday night, steamrolling TCU 65-7 in as complete a title defense as you’ll ever see.

While the dominance of the Bulldogs was clear and the college football season is over, there is still a lot of mystery in the sport. That’s because while dozens of the game’s stars have already announced their intentions to forego their remaining eligibility and enter the 2023 NFL draft, there are numerous high-profile players who have yet to publicly announced his intentions.

Underclassmen (or their representatives) have until Monday to officially petition the NFL for early entry.

Below is a ranking of the remaining undecided prospects, including my suggestion on whether the time is right for his jump to the NFL.

Before we name a single player, though, let’s acknowledge the obvious. Making the jump to the NFL early is a personal and very important decision with a myriad of unique factors to consider.

Given the financial opportunities of college sports in the NIL era, some players who previously might have jumped at the chance of millions in the NFL may choose to stay in college. Stay in school, get your degree, and hone your game (in that order) is the advice for most undecided prospects.

However, there are exceptional candidates whose talent is so obvious, whose path to the NFL’s first round is so clear, that going back to college might be the biggest risk.

Here are the most intriguing candidates who are apparently still weighing this life-changing decision.

CJ StroudQB, Ohio State

Grade: First round

Many have simply assumed that Stroud: a projected peakfive picks and a legitimate candidate to go No. 1 overall — he’d simply walk into the 2023 NFL draft given his sparkling 85-12 career interception ratio. He certainly showed NFL-caliber accuracy throughout his career, ranking as the best pure passer in the country in my midseason review of the top quarterback prospects. Despite the narrow loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl, Stroud’s stock with scouts has only risen with his performance in that contest, as he nearly willed the Buckeyes to victory. He has now thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception in bowl games against highly respected defenses Utah and Georgia over the past two seasons.

Quarterback-needy teams at the top of the draft expect Stroud to enter the draft early, but remember, he’s just a 21-year-old redshirt sophomore coming off his second season as the starting quarterback. Making the playoffs would be enough for some, but Stroud might have bigger goals for the Buckeyes still on his to-do list, like beating Michigan or winning a conference and national title. Also, there’s a realistic chance to completely rewrite the record books at Ohio State, given that the Buckeyes will feature the nation’s best 1-2 receiver punch with the return of Marvin Harrison, Jr. and Emeka Egbuka.

If Stroud requested a grade from the Advisory Committee (as every underclassman considering making that jump should), I have no doubt he received a first-round stamp. If he wants to go, the path to doing so looks as golden as could be. Still, his stock could get even better with scouts showing commitment to the Buckeyes to finish what he started before turning the page on college football.

Georgia defeats Ohio State in Peach Bowl

Georgia defeats Ohio State in Peach Bowl

Joel Klatt talks about how Kirby Smart and Ryan Day called great games in an exciting contest.

Quentin JohnstonWR, TCU

Grade: First round

Unlike recent drafts, this year’s crop of wide receivers is a bit weaker at the top, with much debate over who will be selected first. A leading candidate would appear to be Johnston, who boasts impressive body control and natural playmaking abilities given his towering 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. Johnston seemingly has all the traits scouts look for in a No. 1 target, but after Georgia limited him to just one catch for a measly three yards in the national championship game, has the luster worn off?

Hardly Remember, these same Bulldogs also made then-Michigan star defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson look pretty insignificant in last year’s Orange Bowl. Give Georgia credit for bottling up its opponents’ best player again in the postseason, but Johnston’s film the rest of the season is strong enough to alleviate any concerns scouts may have about his disappointing performance in the title game. Johnston is more of a playmaker than his six receiving touchdowns in 2022 would suggest. TCU head coach Sonny Dykes will likely try to convince the 21-year-old Johnston that his numbers would rise as a senior fourth-year in 2023, but they can do it anyway with an NFL quarterback who falls in love with his ability to win contested passes.

I think Johnston’s game is ready for the NFL and he’s making the jump.

Jordan AddisonWR, USC

Grade: Second round

Perhaps no transfer last offseason captured the attention and imagination of college football fans more than Addison’s trade from Pitt, where he won the Biletnikoff Award in 2021, to USC to join Lincoln Riley and to future Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams, who followed his head coach. to the Oklahoma Trojans. Addison’s spectacular production at Pitt (100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns) as a true sophomore led to all kinds of unrealistic expectations about what he could do as a suddenly featured target in the passing attack rebuilt from the Trojans. Instead, Addison fell to mere mortal production (59-878-8) in his first season at USC, breaking out with just two scores since September, though he led the Trojans in every scoring category. important reception.

Perhaps generously listed at 6-foot-175, Addison doesn’t possess Johnston’s aforementioned body armor, which raises concerns about his durability. Addison’s game is all about accuracy and speed. Typically talented and similarly built receivers have been drafted outside of the first round. However, his game translates well at the next level and should earn him a top-50 pick if he decides to leave early. The return could lead to an uptick in production next season as he and Williams develop an even better relationship, though it seems unlikely that his stock would rise significantly in doing so. Addison won’t turn 21 until later this month.

Caleb Williams finds Jordan Addison for the TD

Caleb Williams finds Jordan Addison for the TD

USC’s Caleb Williams connected with Jordan Addison for a 35-yard touchdown against UCLA last season.

Broderick JonesOT, Georgia

Grade: First/Second Round

It’s a little easier for young players to hide on the perimeter, but the line of scrimmage in the NFL is no place for anyone but very big, very tough, very powerful men. Jones may be just 21 years old and literally still wearing braces according to his official Georgia bio photo, but the Bulldogs’ star left tackle is already garnering plenty of interest from scouts thanks to his light feet and long arms that each The club seeks to develop into a blind blocker.

Jones earned First Team All-SEC honors in his first full season as the Bulldogs’ left tackle, showing the kind of upside that helped his Georgia predecessors Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson earn spots in the first round in 2020. With so many of his teammates likely to make the jump, it would be hard to blame Jones for doing the same. He’s undeniably gifted, and some believe this year’s class lacks top-tier tackles. However, fully growing into his frame would probably raise his stock a lot more in a year’s time, which is why I expect him to return to Athens for another year of polishing.

Laiato Latuedge rusher, UCLA

Grade: Third round

Even casual football fans have likely heard of Washington’s Penix and Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim, the two players who joined Latu as official Comeback Player of the Year winners. Interestingly, Latu began his college career where Penix is ​​finishing his — UW — where he played in all 12 games as a true freshman in 2019. However, he suffered a neck injury in 2020, and the medical team of the Huskies refused to give him a step. year later, suggesting that he might want to consider retirement.

Instead, Latu transferred to UCLA, where he emerged as one of the nation’s top pass rushers this season, recording 9.5 sacks (11th in the nation and second in the Pac-12) with 11 tackles for loss among his 33 total stops. Latu also recorded three forced fumbles, which led the conference and tied him for third nationally.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Latu has good initial downfield quickness to get across the face of tackles, as well as impressive lateral agility, balance and core strength to redirect. He has good length and strength for the rollup tackle, showing the upside to warrant top-100 consideration. With just one season of impressive production against college competition, in addition to medical concerns, it would certainly be a risk for Latu to join the 2023 draft class. However, given the strong performance of the now 22 this season, he may already be feeling the time pressure.

Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated, CBSSports.com, USA Today, Yahoo, NFL.com and NFLDraftScout.com, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.

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