When evaluating collegiate prospects, it is essential to provide realistic expectations to what they might become at the professional level. The 2023 NFL Draft boasts some tremendous potential and talent from top to bottom. This article evaluates the Top 5 Positional Prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft!
Although the NFL Combine and inevitable draft landing spots can help dictate the most elite positional players from this class, there are five prospects who have already separated themselves from the pack. This includes Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jordan Addison, and Quentin Johnston. Each of these tantalizing talents are special and bring something unique to the table.
If you were lucky enough to land the 1.01 pick in your upcoming rookie draft, odds are you have already spent several sleepless nights salivating over highlight reels from Bijan Robinson. Very few running back prospects have checked as many boxes. As a result, he is the most hyped-up prospect at the position since Saquon Barkley. His track record while playing for the Texas Longhorns is a sight to be seen.
He has improved in each season that he was with the program. This included breaking a school record, averaging 8.2 yards per carry during his freshman season. Robinson followed up his impressive first campaign by eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards as a sophomore. All this was prior to having a truly historic third collegiate season in 2022. In his final year with the program, he nearly amassed 1,900 yards from scrimmage and won the Doak Walker Award, honoring the nation’s top college running back.
Standing tall at 6-0 with a projected weight of 220-pounds, Bijan is the desired build for a bellcow running back at the professional level. He is strong enough to handle the bulk of early down work, agile enough to line up all over the field, and has the pass-catching chops to be an immediate three-down back as a rookie. Robinson additionally has tremendous vision and footwork, which cause headaches for opposing defenses. He lacks a true flaw, while being exceptional in every aspect of the game. The young running back has been at the top of his class for the majority of his football career and has become the most polarizing prospect in recent memory. It is not an overstatement to claim that Robinson is a generational talent who will dominate the league immediately.
The Next Saquon?
When watching tape on Bijan, it is close to impossible not to see a lot of Saquon Barkley in his game. They both have absolute tree trunks for legs and can juke defenders out of their cleats on jump cuts. Both backs also possess natural running instincts that make them a nightmare to stop once they spot a hole in the defense. Barkley more than lived up to his imposing expectations in his breakout rookie season with the Giants. Bijan will have similar success in his rookie campaign regardless of which team drafts him. He can fit into any system and is simply too talented to leave off the field. Similar to 2022 rookie sensation Breece Hall, he will prove to be the best option on all downs with his new team, and they will learn this sooner rather than later.
Pro Comparisons: Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, the 2022 version of Josh Jacobs
Although there is an evident tier gap following Jahmyr Gibbs in this running back class, it is respectable to argue that there might be an even more significant gap between him and top prospect, Bijan Robinson. Gibbs is another amazing talent at the position, but he has limitations that can potentially hinder his fantasy upside at the next level. With that said, there is no better pass-catching running back in this class. Gibbs is simply electric with the ball in his hands and managed to lead Alabama in receiving yards in 2022. He does not project to be a high volume back at the next level, but that should not limit his upside tremendously. Similar to Tony Pollard, all he needs is a small window or crease to take any play to the house.
At a projected height and weight of 5-11 and 200-pounds, Gibbs is stocky for his height but lacks prototypical size at the NFL level. He will not be the thunder for an offense. However, he can certainly provide an abundance of lightning when given the opportunity. Prior to becoming a household name with the Alabama Crimson Tide, he displayed tremendous potential in his two seasons with Georgia Tech. His versatility in the passing game provides unique mismatch opportunities for him to exploit in any offensive system. Once in the open field, he possesses quick, light feet to compliment an arsenal of lateral cuts and wiggle moves. The landing spot will be significant for the early success the young prospect experiences in his professional journey. He would be best suited to go to a team where he can complement an already established early-down back.
It is difficult to watch tape on Gibbs and not see the uncanny similarities in his game to Alvin Kamara. They are both elite pass catchers out of the backfield. Additionally, both players spent limited time with the Crimson Tide. Both also share an incredible contact balance that makes them nightmares to deal with in the open field. Pair this with electric speed and twitch and you have a player who can fit into and complement any system. As prospects, Kamara was better in pass protection than Gibbs currently is. If Gibbs can improve in this aspect of his game, it could help accelerate his success and playing time in Year 1.
Pro Comparisons: Alvin Kamara, Tony Pollard, Travis Etienne
There is not a player more intriguing in this class than Jaxon Smith-Njigba. We just witnessed his Ohio State teammates Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave dominate the league in their first campaigns. They are the first pair of collegiate teammates to each have 1,000 receiving yards in their rookie season. Combine this tremendous level of success with a lackluster year for Smith-Njigba, and it is easy to forget that he was the most impressive of the group back in 2021. In his sophomore season with the Buckeyes, he put together the greatest season for a wide receiver in Big Ten history. This included amassing 1,606 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on the year. In 2022, he was limited to only three games due to a lingering hamstring injury. While on the field, he left much to be desired and finished the season with only four receptions.
Future Slot Receiver?
It is difficult to just throw away his disappointing junior season. With that said, it is the most appropriate tactic in evaluating him as a prospect. After witnessing an elite level of greatness as we did just two seasons ago, it is pointless to knock him for an injury-plagued year. Another concern many have with Smith-Njigba as a prospect at the next level is that he profiles as a slot receiver. He lacks top-end speed and does not have the size or build that many would covet in a WR1.
Although he does not possess many elite physical traits, he has an innate knack to get open. He might lack some of the explosiveness and athleticism other prospects in this class possess, but he makes up for it with flawless footwork, intelligence, and vision. Smith-Njigba additionally has a great combination of smooth hips and soft hands. He uses his agility and elite route-running to find holes in any defensive scheme. This will not only make him a quarterback’s best friend at the next level but also a PPR monster.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is DANGEROUS in the open field 😳
The Ohio State WR is currently projected to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/fyW1MwoNSX
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) February 12, 2023
When evaluating Smith-Njigba as a prospect and comparing him to current NFL players, it truly comes down to whether you think his 2021 season was a fluke. Due to the fact that he is a special talent, my expectations and comparisons are rather lofty. We have seen many wide receivers who play primarily in the slot dominate for our fantasy football teams. Cooper Kupp and Keenan Allen are two players that come to mind when watching the tape on Smith-Njigba. Both of these players have athletic and physical limitations but are impossible for defenses to stop. Smith-Njigba will be the next slot receiver to defy the odds and prove he can be a true WR1 for your dynasty teams.
Pro Comparisons: Cooper Kupp, Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry
Jordan Addison is another impressive prospect who has been criticized due to physical limitations. Similar to Smith-Njigba in that regard, he too will make doubters feel foolish sooner rather than later. He possesses the speed and agility to dominate on all three levels of the field. Addison combines his cheetah-like quickness with a dynamic route tree and an arsenal of slippery moves after the catch. His best season came in 2021 playing for Pitt, winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. Addison finished the year with 1,593 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns. Although it would be close to impossible to replicate his 2021 season, Addison had an admirable season in 2022 after transferring to USC.
The next DeVonta Smith?
Projected to be only 6-0 and 170-pounds, Addison could struggle against more physical defenders. His slight frame often limits his catch radius and ability to create space. Although we have seen several wide receivers with similar builds succeed at the NFL level, strength is a major concern for Addison. He could certainly benefit from adding more muscle before the draft. Addison has enough speed and athleticism that added weight should not hold him back. Although he is a terrific prospect, I see him as more of a high-end WR2 who has splash play potential every week.
This CATCH by Jordan Addison 😳
The USC WR has an ELITE catch radius.
Addison is currently preparing for the NFL Combine. pic.twitter.com/vWZSSSAVEY
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) February 18, 2023
When evaluating the tape on Addison, a few very talented wide receivers come to mind. Of the group, he most reminds me of DeVonta Smith. Like Smith, Addison is slighter in frame than desired but has rare quickness and agility, and can change direction in a blink of an eye. Both players create a tremendous amount of separation from defenders and do not let their physical limitations define them. Smith just finished as the WR10 in fantasy football in his second professional season, and it is realistic to have similar expectations for Addison.
Pro Comparisons: DeVonta Smith, Calvin Ridley, Tyler Lockett
Did somebody order an X receiver with elite size and athleticism? Those words are enough to make any dynasty manager drool as they prepare for their rookie draft. Although I walk away less impressed when reviewing the tape of Quentin Johnston than the two prospects above, you simply cannot teach size and athleticism. He is a unique vertical threat with an impressive catch radius. Johnson is also great at making adjustments to haul in deep throws. He is at his best on the deep ball route and has amazing agility after the catch for someone his size. Although he only had six touchdowns in 2022, it is respectable to believe that he could prove to be an excellent red zone threat in a different system.
At a projected 6-4 and 201-pounds, Johnston has the perfect combination of size, weight, and speed we covet in wide receiver prospects. This combination of monstrous physical traits allows him to be a constant big-play threat. This could prove to be extremely lucrative for fantasy football purposes. Consistency might be a major issue for Johnston at the professional level. He lacks a profound route tree and can be inconsistent in completing catches through contact. For someone his size, you would hope he would come down with more of his 50-50 balls.
Quentin Johnston isn't an easy evaluation. pic.twitter.com/pGqQDIsFKi
— Underdog Fantasy (@UnderdogFantasy) February 1, 2023
Although many have compared him to DeAndre Hopkins, I do not think that Johnston will ever reach that caliber of success at the professional level. He has freakish athleticism that cannot be taught but lacks the hands of the more elite X receivers in today’s game. Due to this, I think a more justifiable comparison for Johnston would be Mike Williams. Williams is a superior athlete with great size who has lacked consistency in his career. It is respectable to believe that Johnston could have a similar career trajectory to Williams and will hopefully be drafted to a similar situation.
Pro Comparisons: Mike Williams, D.K. Metcalf, Chase Claypool
The 2023 NFL Draft was hyped up to have one of the better classes in recent memory coming into the year. Although it is essential to temper expectations, this class has several positional players with unique skills and physical traits that are worth getting excited about. Bijan Robinson looks to be the clear 1.01 in rookie drafts (for good reason), but it is tough to pinpoint who should be the following pick after him.
Regardless of preference, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jordan Addison, and Quentin Johnston have the ability to thrive at the next level. The next wave of talent has arrived and they are ready to dominate.