Which position group is the best in this draft class? That's a question NFL Draft analysts get asked every year, and it is now time to lay everything out on this important topic.
Below, you'll see the number of first-round grades and top 100 grades I have at each position in the 2023 class. Those numbers are to simply provide a quantitative glimpse into my big board. For these rankings, there's no special formula based on those grades because positional value and positional scarcity need to be considered. The rankings are based on feel after comprehensively evaluating the 2023 NFL Draft class.
First-round grades: 1 (Brian Branch)
Top 100 grades: 5
Late-round feel: Not great
Branch is the best tackling defensive back I've ever scouted. Reliable playmaker as a slot defender/nickel corner/safety hybrid. If he goes in the first round, I'll applaud whoever picks him. Beyond that, the safety class is disappointing. There's the two highly athletic Illinois safeties -- Sydney Brown and Jartavius Martin. Penn State's Ji'Ayir Brown plays faster than his measured athleticism, and Boise State's JL Skinner is a tall twitched-up rocket. California's Daniel Scott is also quite twitchy and has plus ball skills.
Later in the draft, I didn't find any serious draft crushes at a position that's growing in importance every year.
First-round grades: 1 (Jack Campbell)
Top 100 grades: 6
Late-round feel: Not good
I subscribe to the Jack Campbell fan club and for the life of me can't figure out how a large, productive, majorly athletic off-ball linebacker isn't getting more love as a first-round-caliber talent. All good, though. I'm much, much lower on Clemson's Trenton Simpson than the consensus -- he's more freaky athlete right now than refined linebacker -- and Arkansas' Drew Sanders excites me drastically more as an edge rusher than an off-ball defender.
I do like Washington State's Daiyan Henley -- my No. 50 overall prospect -- and the speed, length, and coverage skills of Tulane's Dorian Williams. Tennessee's Jeremy Banks brings it on every down too. After that, in general, this linebacker group leaves a lot to be desired.
9. Defensive tackles
First-round grades: 3 (Jalen Carter, Calijah Kancey, Bryan Bresee)
Top 100 grades: 10
Late-round feel: Good
This defensive tackle class is OK. Not horrific. Not fantastic. Sure I have 10 Top 100 grades on defensive tackles, but that includes a few thicker edge rushers I hope are given the freedom to kick inside occasionally -- Auburn's Colby Wooden chief among them.
Georgia's Jalen Carter is, indeed, a three-down monster. Pittsburgh's Calijah Kancey is Geno Atkins 2.0, and it feels like Clemson's Bryan Bresee is an afterthought at this stage when he has supreme athleticism and All-Pro flashes in college. Oklahoma's Jalen Redmon and Texas' Moro Ojomo are the only other upfield three techniques who really excite me outside of Kancey, and the real big guys, Michigan's Mazi Smith and Baylor's Siaki Ika carry later value for me than others.
8. Interior offensive linemen
First-round grades: 2 (Olusegun Oluwatimi, John Michael Schmitz)
Top 100 grades: 6
Late-round feel: Very good
This lower ranking is relative to other positions, not precisely how I feel about the interior offensive line class compared to others in the past. Because from the latter perspective, it's the best center-guard class we've had in a while. I got Elgton Jenkins vibes watching Oluwatimi at Michigan -- dude is immovable -- and Michael Schmitz is going to be an above-average center for the next decade in the NFL.
I've finally come around on Peter Skoronski as a Joe Thuney-ian guard instead of keeping him on the edge. Stud right away. There's O'Cyrus Torrence from Florida and Steve Avila from TCU, who instantly will be starters and Eastern Michigan's Sidy Sow, a super-sleeper I actually have a Top 40 grade on. He's massive, highly athletic, balanced and incredibly experienced. Plug him in Day 1 at guard and prosper. There's a sizable gap at the position in my rankings after that, but Joe Tippmann from Wisconsin can be a quality, on-the-move center in time and NC State's Chandler Zavala is an instant starter type at guard.
I wouldn't even hate a team picking USC's Andrew Vorhees midway through Day 3 and redshirting him before plugging him in as a starter in 2024 (he torn a knee ligament during pre-draft workouts). Jon Gaines from UCLA is an outstanding, magnificently versatile blocker too.
7. Running backs
First-round grades: 0
Top 150 grades: 6
Late-round feel: Awesome
In my grading system, I created/use a tool I call "Position Addition" that assigns point boosts for all positions based on how valuable I believe them to be in today's NFL. Running backs get no boost. My running back grades/rankings are almost always much lower than the masses. As it turns out, in my system, the best backs aren't truly valued until Day 2. Therefore, I considered all the backs who had Top 150 grades for the sake of this article.
Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs are both instant-impact studs in the backfield. They can do everything you ask of them and have elite skill sets. Robinson is bound for the first round, and Gibbs could land there too. The running back spot is also oozing with fun talent later in the draft. If you want speed -- East Carolina's Keaton Mitchell, Texas A&M's Devon Achane, Auburn's Tank Bigsby, Tulane's Tyjae Spears, or Pittsburgh Israel Abanikanda will do. Size and power? Texas's Roschon Johnson, Kentucky's Chris Rodriguez, or Utah's Tavion Thomas. All battering rams with sneaky suddenness. As per usual, the best value will be found on Day 3 at this position. Major sleeper -- UAB's DeWayne McBride
6. Tight ends
First-round grades: 2 (Dalton Kincaid, Michael Mayer)
Top 100 grades: 4
Late-round feel: Awesome
Those numbers don't suggest I like this tight end class very much. I do. I just don't give tight ends a major Position Addition boost, so I'm always a tick lower on that position than most, kind of the same deal as the running back spot. Dalton Kincaid from Utah, Sam LaPorta from Iowa, Georgia's Darnell Washington, and even Purdue's Payne Durham are YAC specialists. Oregon State's Luke Musgrave glides on the field and flashed freaky ball-tracking skills. Even Penn State's Brenton Strange has a complete game and has "will outplay his draft position" written all over him.
I'm not quite as high on a few others who are liked in many draft circles like Cincinnati's Josh Whyle and Clemson's Davis Allen. We could see five to eight tight ends picked before the start of Day 3. I'm serious.
5. Wide receivers
First-round grades: 3 (Quentin Johnston, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers)
Top 100 grades: 13
Late-round feel: Solid
No Ja'Marr Chase or Garrett Wilson in this class. That's been well-established. And those are rare cats, so we shouldn't be shocked with that development. It has gotten to the point in which Johnston is underrated at his size with his explosiveness and running back-like YAC capabilities. I'm lower on Jordan Addison than most but realize he can be a high-floor No. 2 right away in the NFL.
Some sleepers I really like -- Arkansas's Matt Landers, North Carolina's Antoine Green -- I like Josh Downs too in an underneath slot role -- then three similar smaller speedsters; Demario Douglas from Liberty, Stephen F. Austin's Xavier Gipson and Tre Tucker from Cincinnati. This draft even provides some thicker, contact-balance aficionados like Penn State's Parker Washington, SMU's Rashee Rice and if we're calling 191 pounds thick these days given how light some of the top wideouts were at the combine, like Michigan's Ronnie Bell. It's not a flashy, spectacular wide receiver class, like, say the 2020 group that boasted CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, and Tee Higgins. It's a deep, rock-solid group from start to finish.
First-round grades: 4 (C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson, Bryce Young, Will Levis)
Top 100 grades: 6
Late-round feel: Bad
After one of the least-impressive quarterback classes in a long time, the 2023 class has fun, high-end talent. I'm down with consensus top passers, but probably have them in a different order than most. The quartet does make up four of my top six overall prospects (yes, Position Addition boost helps here).
After that, woof. Houston's Clayton Tune actually came out as my QB5. I love his elite athletic profie, that does show up on film as a scrambler, and his propensity to rip big-time throws through tight windows down the field. Hendon Hooker doesn't do it for me nearly as much as the masses. I thought the Tennessee offense significantly aided his stat line, and he has a long way to go in many of the finer details of playing the position. And yes, his age matters to me quite a bit.
3. Offensive tackles
First-round grades: 4 (Darnell Wright, Paris Johnson, Broderick Jones, Anton Harrison)
Top 100 grades: 12
Late-round feel: Average
This offensive tackle group snuck up on me. The more edge blockers I watch, the more I realized how deep this class is. Wright and Johnson are ready-to-go, instant stars. Jones has upside because of his athleticism but technically unsound and off balance far too often for my liking. Harrison has a high floor too.
Then, on Day 2, my word there are a bunch of quality specimens at tackle, like North Dakota State's Cody Mauch -- who seemingly could play all five trench positions -- Old Dominion's Nick Saldiveri, Maryland's Jaelyn Duncan (major upside there), and Syracuse's Matthew Bergeron. Bergeron and Duncan are very similar stylistically. The sleepers I adore at the position, Georgia's Warren McClendon, who gives me serious Jamaree Salyer vibes, and Florida's Richard Gouriage. Blake Freeland could be Brian O'Neill 2.0, a long, ultra-athletic blocker who'll struggle against power initially then become a Pro Bowl type by Year 3.
First-round grades: 6 (Cam Smith, Joey Porter Jr., Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, Jakorian Bennett, Deonte Banks)
Top 100 grades: 18
Late-round feel: Average
Another year, another cornerback class overflowing with talent. I'm much higher on Bennett than the masses. He's a legitimate inside-outside corner with elite athletic traits who was plenty productive in college. There's so much freaky length in this class, and I'm not just talking Porter Jr.'s 34-inch arms. Kansas State's Julius Brents has 34-inch arms too, and Purdue's Cory Trice -- one of the best tacklers in the class at any position -- and Alabama's Eli Ricks have nearly 33-inch arms and are ultra-stick in coverage. They're both vastly underrated. As are the two Mekhi's, Garner from LSU and Blackmon from USC.
Darius Rush from South Carolina -- another length boundary corner -- could eventually be the best from this class (for real), and Riley Moss from Iowa needs to stay at cornerback given his instincts, his lightning-quick feet and tremendous ball skills. Can't forget 4.26 guy D.J. Turner from Michigan either. Emmanuel Forbes is a little overrated, I do like him as a later Round 2 type talent, and it's gotten to the point in which Georgia's Kelee Ringo is underrated.
1. Edge rushers
First-round grades: 6 (Will Anderson Jr., Lukas Van Ness, Tyree Wilson, Nolan Smith, Derick Hall, Will McDonald)
Top 100 grades: 14
Late-round feel: Solid
Back-to-back position group championships for the edge rusher spot. I love the class at the top and through the fourth or fifth round. It's almost like college teams underrated how important coverage and getting after the quarterback is! Imagine that.
I'll summarize why I'm higher on Hall than just about everyone -- he's a strong, elite athlete who can bend, and was a high-level producer in the SEC for multiple seasons. The second-round rushers for me -- Felix Anudike-Uzomah from Kansas State, LSU's B.J. Ojulari, and Army's Andre Carter are genuinely advanced with their hands and can tightly bend the corner. They just need to get more potent at the point of attack.
As for those Day 3 sleepers -- give me Kansas' Lonnie Phelps all day and twice on Sunday (pun intended!). Don't ask him to stop the run on every down. Let him pin those ears back and tightly bend the corner. I feel similarly about Nick Hampton from App State and Isaiah Land from Florida A&M. San Jose State's Villiami Fehoko knows how to rush the passer in a variety of ways too. Altogether, fantastic class of edge rushers we have in 2023.