Just a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl, the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine brought top college players to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This year’s edition gave some answers but also raised new questions for draft big boards, thanks to some incredible performances by world-class athletes from every position on the field.
Much has been made of this year’s QB draft class. Bryce Young of Alabama and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud have been thought to be interchangeable No. 1 and No. 2 come late April, but other QBs made a strong case for themselves this past week.
Anthony Richardson, a sophomore out of Florida, ran the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash among quarterbacks (4.44) in combine history and earned an Athleticism Score of 99 on his player scorecard, the highest this year in his position group.
The NFL’s Twitter account put it best: Richardson is taller than tight end George Kittle, heavier than defensive end Haason Reddick and jumps longer than wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Once upon a time, Richardson was a projected mid-first-round pick — now he’s in discussion to be taken No. 1 overall.
Kentucky’s Will Levis made a strong impression as well. His performance seems to have solidified his position as the No. 4 QB on mock draft boards across NFL media. Two-time national champion QB Stetson Bennett of Georgia also improved his projection in Indy.
As for the bluebloods Young and Stroud, they held serve with the Richardson hype. Stroud turned in an impressive throwing workout, stepping up to the plate in a draft process that typically favors forgoing draft workouts to throw at a Pro Day.
Speaking of Pro Day, Young chose to sit out the on-field festivities at the combine. Young will wait to throw until March 23 at Alabama’s Pro Day. What the Heisman Trophy winner did do, though, was step up to the scale. Young clocked in at 5’10 ⅛” and 204 pounds, drawing size comparisons to the Cardinals’ QB Kyler Murray. Young’s size and long-term durability in the NFL has been of concern in some analyst circles.
Even with the concerns, with nearly two months until Roger Goodell announces the first round in Kansas City, the order of QBs taken is still very much up in the air. For quarterback-hungry teams at the top of the draft order like Carolina, Houston and Indianapolis, their QB preferences may decide who makes it out of the green room first.
The Main Event
While quarterbacks are always the story in the offseason, this draft class is filled to the brim with incredible talent. For several players, the combine was their chance to back up impressive film by showcasing their world-class athleticism.
Several defensive linemen stood out, including Clemson’s Bryan Bresee and Tennessee’s Byron Young, both of whom are easily first-round talents. But much like last year’s combine, this year belonged to Georgia defenders. Bulldog edge rusher Nolan Smith put on a show. With a 4.39 40-yard dash, he ran faster than most star wide receivers. Physically, Smith checks all the boxes, and coupled with this excellent combine performance, he is also climbing into the top 10 overall conversations.
Texas Tech outside linebacker Tyree Wilson turned heads as well. With an unbelievable 86” wingspan, his reach is wider than most pickup trucks and wider than Kevin Durant is tall (6’9”). Though he is still recovering from a foot injury, Wilson’s time in the spotlight in Indy solidified his position as a first round prospect.
This year’s tight-end class is particularly stacked. Utah’s Dalton Kincaid came into the combine as a consensus favorite along with Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. Both continued to impress as the top two prospects, while Georgia tight end Darnell Washington also made a splash. The 6’7” Washington tight end displayed good ability to move and catch, beating prior critiques of his game. For Washington and the rest of this class, many have high-round projections as the TE position continues to see more emphasis across the league.
The combine may be over, but the NFL offseason is just getting started. With free agency beginning next week, many teams will be looking to add pieces while others will need to move on to make it under the cap ceiling. On top of free agency, Pro Days and further meetings between players will take place.
Like most years, the NFL Draft will be the most exciting part of the long stretch between Super Bowl Sunday and when the next season kicks off. Until the commissioner walks out onto the stage in Kansas City, expect fireworks on the field during Pro Days and in front offices alike.
The Carolina Panthers will be on the clock to make the first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft on April 27.