Skip to main content

2023 NFL Draft: Six potential surprise first-rounders

The 2023 NFL Draft is headlined by four quarterbacks who are all expected to come off the board in Round 1. The list of blue-chip prospects at some other positions isn't as long.

Most teams have fewer than 20 prospects with first-round grades in this class. So who fills out the back half of Round 1 on Thursday night in Kansas City?

There could be a move up for a fifth quarterback (Tennessee's Hendon Hooker) to get the fifth-year option. There could be a run on receivers, with every team favoring different flavors. There also could be some players pushed up at premium positions where there's a shortage of legit first-round prospects.

Here are six names that haven't exactly headlined mock drafts this year, but hearing them called on Thursday night wouldn't shock NFL executives, scouts and coaches.

Anton Harrison
Oklahoma · OT · Junior

A first-team All-Big 12 selection in 2022, Harrison has great size -- 6-foot-4 3/8, 315 pounds with 34 1/8-inch arms -- and allowed just four sacks in 948 pass-blocking snaps over 34 college games (24 starts), per Pro Football Focus. He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash (4.98 seconds) among offensive linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine and has loads of potential.

Matthew Bergeron
Syracuse · OT · Senior

Bergeron is another massive human (6-5 1/4, 318 pounds with 33 3/4-inch arms) who played a lot of football for the Orange (39 starts, including five as a true freshman in 2019), allowing 13 sacks in 1,306 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF. Some teams project Bergeron to guard. Late first is usually where those guys start to go.

Trenton Simpson
Clemson · LB · Junior

A few off-ball linebackers have a shot to sneak into Round 1, and Simpson's athletic upside is off the charts. He's big (6-2 3/8, 235 pounds with a 77 1/2-inch wingspan), fast (second among linebackers at the combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash) and strong (25 bench reps). His 40 1/2-inch vertical leap at Clemson's pro day would've led all LBs in Indianapolis. He participated in 37 college games (27 starts), but really only played a true linebacker role last season. Instincts are the question, and Simpson will need some time to develop in the NFL. One executive compared Simpson to Anthony Barr, a versatile linebacker who earned four Pro Bowl bids during his time in Minnesota.

Emmanuel Forbes
Mississippi State · CB · Junior

A first-team All-SEC selection and second-team AP All-American as a true junior in 2022, Forbes has first-round ability. The question is his size. In Indy, the Mississippi State product checked in at 6-0 3/4 and 166 pounds, the lightest cornerback at this year's event and lightest player standing at least 6 feet tall at any position to attend the combine since at least 2003. But Forbes ran fast (4.35 40-yard dash), has excellent length (79-inch wingspan), started 34 college games in three years and put up big-time ball production (14 career interceptions, including an NCAA-record six pick-sixes) for the Bulldogs. One NFL executive predicted Forbes could go as high as the middle of Round 1.

DJ Turner II
Michigan · CB · Junior (RS)

Turner (5-11 1/4, 178 pounds) didn't have as much college ball production (three career INTs in 36 games) as Emmanuel Forbes and isn't as polished a player. But he blazed a combine-best 4.26 40 and also posted explosive figures in the vertical leap (38 1/2 inches) and broad jump (10-foot-11). Someone will bet on Turner's athletic upside, possibly on Thursday night.

Bryan Bresee
Clemson · DT · Sophomore (RS)

After Georgia's Jalen Carter, whose own draft stock will be a big storyline, there isn't another defensive tackle considered to be a lock to go in Round 1. But don't overlook Bresee, a first-team All-ACC pick as a true freshman in 2020 before a series of injuries and other challenges impacted his trajectory. He tore his ACL in September of 2021 and had shoulder surgery in January of 2022. Then he missed three games last season with a kidney infection plus another because of strep throat. And this past September, he lost his sister, Ella, after her battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. Overweight at times last season (related to the kidney infection), Bresee was a svelte 6-5 1/2 and 298 pounds at the combine. He's long (32 1/2-inch arms), fast (4.86 40), strong (28 bench reps at Clemson's pro day) and brings coveted interior pass rush (nine career sacks) if he can recapture his pre-ACL form.

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter.

Related Content