When I was descending from my $3.5 million velvet throne engrained with real diamonds and rhinestone this morning, I heard the shouts and cries of my millions of devout fans outside my mansion, asking me in unison, “O Great Draft Boy, who are your favorite players in the 2023 NFL Draft class?”
Never one to prevent the masses from getting what they want, I’ve decided to share a two-part look at the prospects I’ve considered to be “my guys” in this draft cycle. These players aren’t necessarily the highest-rated players at each position on my board, but rather, players I tend to enjoy watching the most, regardless of where they’re ranked.
I’ll share my favorite defenders later, but for now, here is my “My Guys” offense for this year’s draft.
QB: Max Duggan, TCU
I feel a bit unsure of what to do with “my guy” at quarterback, because truthfully, there’s nobody I identify as a can’t-miss prospect.
Putting Duggan here is not to say he’s the best QB in this class, far from it. Bryce Young is currently my QB1, and I have Duggan graded out in the range of Rounds 5 and 6. That said, Duggan is fun to watch with a solid arm and some dual-threat ability. I feel confident that he can stick around the league as a backup for a while, maybe even picking up a spot-starting opportunity or two along the way.
RB: Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
I’m such a big fan of the running backs in the 2023 NFL Draft that picking someone here was truly difficult. Zach Charbonnet, Roschon Johnson and Israel Abanikanda all stood out as possible options.
In the end, I decided to go with Vaughn, the personification of electricity. He’s a very small running back and probably won’t ever take on a bell-cow role in the NFL, but he’s such so shifty with the ball in his hands and creative out in the open field. He has home-run hitting potential with his breakaway speed and insane agility, and he’s one of the best pass-catching backs in the class. I see a lot of Tarik Cohen in Vaughn, and when healthy, Cohen was a valuable asset to the Bears’ offense.
WR: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State; Andrei Iosivas, Princeton; C.J. Johnson, East Carolina
Even with how 2022 went for him, I’m still tying myself to Smith-Njigba, and I recently doubled down on it by putting him back as my WR1 in this draft class. His 2021 season speaks for itself; he’s an intelligent, fluid, coordinated wide receiver with good hands and an absurd knack for getting open. On the field, I don’t think he has a massive weakness in his game. Watching his tape, I see a guy who has an uncanny understanding of the game. JSN has “it”, and I think he contributes early in the NFL like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave before him.
I’m writing this on Iosivas right before the Senior Bowl, and even with how much content I’ll have from down in Mobile this week, I’m publishing this the day before practices start so I can solidify that me being high on Iosivas isn’t me being reactionary after what expect to be a strong Senior Bowl performance. He isn’t the most crisp route runner out there, and I don’t expect him to run a deep route tree as a rookie. That said, his combination of size and speed alone is incredible, and he tracks the ball very well in the air. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up going in Round 2 when it’s all said and done.
For my last wide receiver prospect, I wanted to go with someone I consider a late-round sleeper. Here’s my write-up on Johnson from my recent NFLPA Collegiate Bowl preview.
He broke out as a true freshman in 2019 with 54 catches and 908 yards, but his production fell off a bit the next two seasons, causing him to fade into the background a bit. He topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2022, though, and his tape indicates he could be a deep sleeper who outplays his draft positioning. He’s a massive receiver at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, and he’s gifted with tremendous play strength and impressive abilities after the catch. A comparison to A.J. Brown isn’t saying Johnson will reach that caliber — that’s an insanely high bar for a late-round prospect to reach — but from purely a size and YAC perspective, the play styles are similar.
TE: Darnell Washington, Georgia
Washington is a Super Soldier specimen the likes of which should be considered unfair for a mortal being to defend in a football game.
Hyperbole aside, Washington is a massive individual with a muscular frame who uses it well. He’s an aggressive blocker who plays with a mean streak, and he’s also physical at the catch point. His long arms aid him as both a blocker and as a receiver, and he’s much quicker and more explosive in his lower body than a 6-foot-7, 275-pound man has any right to be. This is an intriguing tight end class to me, but Washington stands out as my favorite overall prospect to watch.
OT: Cody Mauch, North Dakota State; Wanya Morris, Oklahoma
I’m going with two Senior Bowlers for my favorite offensive tackles, and both of them possess really intriguing tools.
Mauch is my top-rated small-school prospect in the 2023 draft, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he ended up sneaking as a surprise first-round pick like Cole Strange was last year. Though still improving as a technician — he did enter college as a tight end, remember — he’s an athletic and fluid blocker with a mean streak and some really intriguing flashes of power on tape. Some have him kicking inside in the NFL, but wherever he plays, I think he becomes a damn good starter.
Yes, Morris is named after the Boyz II Men singer. Besides that nice anecdote, he’s a lengthy blocker with long limbs, and he maximizes the natural reach he has in pass protection with very good athletic tools. His burst off the snap is impressive, and his lateral agility in vertical pass sets is encouraging. He also places and times his strikes well. His weight distribution will need to get better at the next level if he is to live up to his potential, but he could be a very smart investment late on Day 2 or early on Day 3.
OG: Mark Evans, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Alex Palczewski, Illinois
Both of these players are collegiate tackles I’m projecting as guards, but both bring intriguing tools for different reasons.
Evans impressed me with his tape against Oklahoma State this year and dominated in the SWAC. Though he’s undersized and will likely have to kick inside, he’s a very athletic lineman who’s coordinated, agile and explosive off the snap. His core strength and pad level are ideal for translation to the next level, and if he adds a little more weight to his lower half, I wouldn’t be shocked if he becomes a starter in the NFL at some point in the next few years.
Palczewski is a six-year starter at the collegiate level, and statistically, he was one of the most reliable offensive linemen in the Power 5 this past year. I think he’s a late Day 3 pick at best because of his age, rather limited physical upside and past injury issues. However, he was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and it shows in his coordination. He rolls his hips well through contact in the run game and has nice burst off the snap, and he also has active hands to fight for proper leverage at the point of attack.
C: John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota
There’s a reason that I take Schmitz in almost every Bears mock draft simulation I post on Twitter.
He’s one of the best college offensive linemen in the nation, and because he’s a center, he could end up falling into Round 2 territory, despite possessing Day 1 starting capabilities. Here’s my write-up on Schmitz from one of my mock drafts in December:
Schmitz was a three-year starter at Minnesota who excelled against tough Big Ten competition. He consistently wins with leverage, generating good bend in his knees, ideal pad level and getting his weight underneath him. He’s a strong blocker with a mean streak when he locks up with opposing defenders, and he’s an intelligent center who makes good decisions regardless of zone or power assignments. Schmitz is also a solid athlete who’s quite coordinated and can roll his hips well through contact. Positional value and his age (24 on Draft Day) might see him fall a bit, but he’s a first-round talent off of pure talent alone and should be able to contribute immediately in the NFL.