NFL Research offers the best nuggets ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft, which kicks off on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET from Kansas City, Mo. Here are the most eye-popping statistical accomplishments from some of the top prospects available.
Bryce Young plays big under pressure
Size has been the underlying concern for Alabama's Bryce Young during the draft process; he will be the lightest (204 pounds) and tied for the shortest (5' 10 1/8") quarterback to be selected in the first round since official combine measurements started to be tracked in 2003. However, Young has not wilted to the big bodies around him: No player in the FBS has more completions (131), pass yards (2,339), or touchdowns (26) while under pressure over the last two seasons than the 2021 Heisman winner, per PFF. Should the Panthers make Young their pick to open the 2023 NFL Draft on Thursday, he would become the highest-drafted player in Alabama history.
C.J. Stroud's target practice
Teams win games by scoring points, and no FBS player threw for more pass touchdowns (85) than Ohio State's C.J. Stroud. His penchant for the big play was on display with his 2,158 yards and 30 touchdowns on deep passes (20-plus air yards, per PFF), ranking second in the Power 5 over the past two seasons. The 20-year-old also threw what PFF designates a "perfectly-placed pass" on 26.7 percent of his attempts in 2021 and 2022, the highest of any player in the FBS (minimum 100 pass attempts).
Anthony Richardson's create-a-player potential
Anthony Richardson looks like he was created in Madden. The heaviest (244) and fastest (4.43) quarterback at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine also led the Power 5 with 14.5 yards per completion in 2022. Though he struggled to open the season (0 pass TDs, 4 INTs in his first three games), he finished with 17 pass touchdowns and five picks in his final nine contests. Inexperience is one of the key concerns for the create-a-player from Florida. His 13 career college starts would tie Mitchell Trubisky for the fewest by a first-round quarterback since at least 2000, and his 393 career NCAA pass attempts would be the fourth-fewest by a first-round pick over the same span (top three: Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Trey Lance).
Bijan Robinson: Tackle-breaker
Not only did Bijan Robinson rank second in the Power 5 in scrimmage yards (1,894) and touchdowns (20, tied) in 2022, but he also had 104 forced missed tackles on runs, the most by any player in a single season since PFF tracked college data in 2014. The next three players on that list: Iowa State's David Montgomery (99 in 2018), Clemson's Travis Etienne (91 in 2019) and Florida State's Dalvin Cook (91 in 2016).
The Will Anderson Jr. problem
Since the moment he stepped on campus, Will Anderson Jr. was a problem. According to PFF, he led the FBS in QB pressures as a freshman (60 in 2020) and a sophomore (82 in 2021) but fell "all the way" to fifth last season (64, tied). Cumulatively though, there was not a more productive defensive player in the FBS than Anderson. He led college football in sacks (34.5), tackles for loss (62.0), and QB pressures (206) during his career. Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas is the only player with more sacks (52.0) than Anderson in Alabama history. However, he's no slouch in the run game. Over his Alabama career (2020 to 2022), only the Lions' 2022 second-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson had a higher PFF run defense grade in the Power 5.
(Devon) Witherspoon Island
Illinois' Devon Witherspoon should intrigue any team looking to line up a cornerback on an island. He may have gone viral for his aggressive tackling, but it is his coverage ability that should get his named called on during Thursday's first round. According to PFF, Witherspoon allowed fewer yards per target (2.5) in man coverage than any other Power 5 cornerback (minimum 25 targets), while playing second-most man coverage snaps of any FBS player in 2022. Witherspoon allowed one-yard on 106 press coverage snaps. He also put a padlock on the end zone and did not allow a touchdown in any coverage all season.
Joey Porter Jr.'s No Fly Zone
Purdue entered its opening-day fray against Penn State with a game plan: target Joey Porter Jr. early and often. It did not work. The son of the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the same name, Porter was targeted 14 times against the Boilermakers, per PFF. He broke up a school-record six of them in one of the best displays by a cornerback last season. Opponents got the memo. He was targeted a total of 16 times over his final nine games played, charting five more pass breakups. For the season, he led the Power 5 with a 40.0 forced incompletion percentage. Should he hear his name called on April 27, he would become the first Penn State defensive back selected in the first round in the Common Draft Era.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba: WR1?
Only two Power 5 players have averaged at least 100 receiving yards per game over the last two seasons (minimum 15 games): 2022 12th overall pick Jameson Williams (104.8) and 2023 projected first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba (103.1). Although he missed all but three games in 2022, Smith-Njigba was Ohio State's most productive receiver in 2021 on a roster that featured 2022 first-round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Just watch his 2022 Rose Bowl film against Utah. He put up quarterback numbers as a receiver with 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns, the second-most yards in an FBS game since at least 2000. He also put his change of direction ability of display; his 3.93 20-yard shuttle and 6.57 three-cone were both the fastest among WR at the combine.
The year of the tight end
With five tight ends in Daniel Jeremiah's top 50 prospects, the 2023 draft class is a great pool for any team looking for a tight end. His highest-ranked player at the position, Utah's Dalton Kincaid, is the only FBS tight end since at least 2000 to have four career seasons with at least eight receiving touchdowns. Notre Dame's Michael Mayer was the only tight end with 800-plus receiving yards in each of the last two seasons, while his 33 career contested catches paced all players at the position from 2020-2022. Oregon State's Luke Musgrave may have played only two games last season, but he led FBS tight ends with 84.5 receiving yards per game. Should Georgia's Darnell Washington be picked in the Round 1, he would have the fewest career receptions (45) by any tight end selected in the opening round since at least 2000.
Emmanuel Forbes: Takeaways and touchdowns
Emmanuel Forbes was the lightest defensive back (166 pounds) at the combine since official data was tracked in 2003. However, he does two things extremely well: get takeaways and turn them into touchdowns. Forbes led the FBS with 14 interceptions over the course of his Mississippi State career, and his six career pick-sixes are the most in FBS history.
Jordan Addison: A quarterback's friend
Although his 23 drops led the FBS since 2020 (PFF), Jordan Addison also led the Power 5 with 2,468 receiving yards over the last two seasons. The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner has been very quarterback friendly. His quarterback at Pittsburgh, Kenny Pickett, was selected in the first round after a 2021 season with Addison, while his quarterback at USC, Caleb Williams, won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Calijah "Aaron Donald" Kancey
An undersized, athletic, pass rushing defensive tackle from the University of Pittsburgh sounds like a script we've read before. Now, I am not saying Calijah Kancey will be Aaron Donald. However, the similarities are eerie. At almost identical measurements, approximately 6-foot-1, 280 pounds, Kancey ran a 4.67 40-yard dash to Donald's 4.68 at the combine. Over his final two seasons at Pitt, Kancey pressured the passer on 14 percent of his pass rush snaps, the highest among all Power 5 interior defensive linemen. Georgia's Jalen Carter ranked second with a 12.9 quarterback pressure percentage.
Quick hits on other prospects
- Tyree Wilson tied for the Power 5 lead with five games with at least two tackles for loss last season. He could become the highest-drafted player in Texas Tech school history, surpassing both Patrick Mahomes (10th in 2017) and Michael Crabtree (10th in 2009).
- Over the last 10 combines, only three players have weighed 225-plus pounds, ran a 4.40 or faster 40-yard dash, and leap 40-plus inches in the vertical: Saquon Barkley (2018), DK Metcalf (2019), and 2023 projected first-round pick Nolan Smith.
- Brian Branch allowed the fewest yards, yards per target and yards per receptions among Power 5 safeties in 2022 (PFF). He allowed four completions of 15-plus yards, tied for the fewest among FBS players with Witherspoon (minimum 50 targets).
- Zay Flowers ranked top four in the Power 5 in deep receptions (31), receiving yards (1,285) and receiving touchdowns (14) over the 2020-2022 seasons (20-plus air yards, PFF).
- Quentin Johnston led the Power 5 with 18.3 yards per receptions from 2021 to 2022 (minimum 150 receptions).
- Jalin Hyatt led the Power 5 with 677 deep receiving yards in 2022 (20-plus air yards, per PFF). Hyatt had just 502 combined receiving yards in his first two seasons at Tennessee (2020 to 2021).
- Maryland's Deonte Banks allowed 258 receiving yards in coverage in 2022 (PFF), fewer than all players except Witherspoon (minimum 60 targets).
- Tennessee's Byron Young flashed at the combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash, but he also led the Power 5 with eight sacks on third or fourth down in 2022, per PFF.
- Zach Charbonnet led the FBS with 168.0 all-purpose yards per game in 2022.
- Deuce Vaughn is the shortest player ever officially measured at the combine at 5-foot-5, but he also led the FBS with 1,936 scrimmage yards in 2022.