Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. In today's installment, he explores some of the most challenging prospect evaluations in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
The 2023 NFL Draft is fast approaching, with less than three weeks remaining before Commissioner Roger Goodell officially puts the Carolina Panthers on the clock. The pre-draft evaluation process is nearly complete, with coaches and scouts putting the finishing touches on their reports before entering into meetings to finalize the prospect board.
These meetings provide evaluators with another opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of each prospect to ensure that the player is stacked in the proper position on the board. Although it is rare for prospects to move significantly based on the arguments, these discussions are part of a checks-and-balances system that provides decision-makers with the clarity needed on draft day.
The pre-draft process is a beauty pageant, and when it comes to NFL prospects, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. With that in mind, I'd like to spotlight 10 of the most polarizing players in the Class of 2023.
Argument for: The most naturally gifted quarterback in the 2023 draft looks like a potential star in the making with his superhero-like physical dimensions and athletic traits. Checking in at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds with 4.4 speed and a cannon for a right arm, Richardson is a Cam Newton clone with a dynamic set of skills that could take the league by storm. If a coaching staff can fully unlock his talent and potential, that team could have a future MVP on the roster.
Argument against: Despite possessing rare traits and tools, Richardson is a "flash" player with an inconsistent game and accuracy issues that leave scouts scratching their heads in film sessions. Logging just 13 starts at Florida, Richardson's flaws and inexperience make him a "boom or bust" candidate as a probable high first-round pick.
Where I stand: Richardson is the wild card of the 2023 class as a five-star talent with the raw tools that scouts covet in a franchise quarterback. Although his performance and production have not matched his talent on a consistent basis, the former Gator's skills could pop in a scheme that plays to his strengths as an electric dual-threat playmaker after he serves at least a one-year apprenticeship under a veteran quarterback. It's all about the environment around this enticing, unpolished prospect.
Argument for: Levis possesses the arm talent, athleticism and playmaking ability to take an offense to the next level. The 6-4, 229-pounder has dazzled scouts at times with Josh Allen-like flashes as a dual-threat playmaker that suggest he could put a franchise on his back. With Levis also displaying the same gunslinger mentality that has helped the Bills' QB1 thrive, the Kentucky standout certainly piques the interest of evaluators looking for the next traitsy star at the game's most important position.
Argument against: Levis' turnover woes and penchant for negative plays are major concerns for coaches seeking a game manager to man the position. From off-target throws to poor decisions to hesitancy in the pocket, the big-armed passer makes a handful of bonehead plays in each game, leading to questions about his ability to play winning football at the next level.
Where I stand: Levis is an intriguing prospect with the size, athleticism and arm talent to flourish as a QB1, but he needs to refine his mechanics and mitigate the risk-reward game with the ball in his hands. If the soon-to-be 24-year-old can smooth out the rough patches in his game, he could develop into a solid starter as a pro.
Argument for: The big-bodied speedster is the kind of home run threat that every team needs on the perimeter. Johnston's big-play savvy (19.0 yards per catch over three seasons at TCU) gives the offense a vertical stretch/catch-and-run specialist on the perimeter. Despite his limited route tree, he stresses the defense with his speed and playmaking potential.
Argument against: Johnston's suspect hands and ball skills make it hard to pencil him in as a potential WR1 in the NFL. Despite boasting the kind of size that's rare in this class at 6-3, scouts are more concerned with his 11.8 percent drop rate, per Pro Football Focus. That dismal figure is a huge red flag for a prospect many have mocked in the first round.
Where I stand: Johnston's dropsies and route limitations make it hard to view him as a WR1, but he could certainly carve out a role as a vertical threat on the perimeter. The TCU standout's combination of speed and explosion will create space for others while adding a big-play element that produces more points for the offense.
Argument for: The ballhawking cover corner is a takeaway machine, having racked up 14 career interceptions and an NCAA-record six pick-sixes at Mississippi State. Forbes' instincts, awareness and diagnostic skills enable him to jump routes and snag off-target throws in his area. With the cover man also displaying the technique and versatility to play in any scheme, Forbes grades out as a blue-chip prospect to many.
Argument against: It is hard to play with a 166-pound cornerback due to the physicality, toughness and tackling skills required to excel on the island in today's NFL. Forbes' lack of size and bulk will put a bull's-eye on his back when offensive play callers are drawing up rushes or catch-and-run plays. Although he has been a solid tackler throughout his tenure with the Bulldogs, it is hard to expect a lightweight to consistently hold his own against NFL heavyweights (running backs, tight ends and big-bodied wideouts) who get the ball in space.
Where I stand: Forbes' rail-thin frame is a serious concern in a league where tackling has become a key component to playing great defense. Despite his willingness to mix it up and get into the fight on the perimeter at Mississippi State, the spectacular ballhawk's slender body and below-average strength could limit his ability to contribute as a starter.
Argument for: As a former No. 1 overall recruit, Bresee offers a rare mix of talent and tools in a 300-pound body. The Clemson product has five-star ability and flashes "take over the game" potential at times. Although Bresee's production does not always match his ability, the impressive heights suggest he could take his game up a notch as a pro.
Argument against: Health and durability concerns are a major issue. Bresee has suffered severe knee and shoulder injuries that have limited his availability and impacted his overall production as a playmaker.
Where I stand: Bresee's raw talent and long-term potential make him a worthwhile gamble despite his health issues. If the Clemson standout avoids the injury bug and recaptures the all-star form that helped him shine as a freshman at Clemson, he could emerge as one of the true gems of the 2023 class.
Argument for: The 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner is a polished route runner with superb hands and ball skills. Addison specializes in making acrobatic grabs, but also excels at creating space by utilizing a variety of stutter steps and stop-start maneuvers to get open down the field. Having served as a potent punt returner at times in college, the former USC and Pitt standout also displays the running skills to turn short passes into explosive plays in space.
Argument against: The featherweight pass catcher lacks the size (5-11, 173 pounds) and strength to handle physical defensive backs intent on jamming and disrupting his releases at the line of scrimmage. With Addison doing most of his damage throughout his college career as a slot receiver, the concerns about his strength and versatility make it hard for some teams to view him as a potential No. 1 wideout.
Where I stand: Addison possesses the tools to be an effective slot receiver in the NFL, but first-round picks are generally expected to dominate on the perimeter. Although his 2021 campaign at Pitt (100 catches, 1,593 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns) suggests that he is capable of putting up big numbers as a featured playmaker on Sundays, last year's dip in production at USC (59 catches, 875 receiving yards and eight scores) and his size/strength deficiencies spawn concerns about his ability to impact the game as a WR1.
Argument for: The Georgia standout was arguably the biggest winner of the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine after showcasing shocking speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and explosiveness (41.5-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-8 broad jump) at 238 pounds. Smith's athletic feats complement a versatile game that could enable him to play as a Swiss Army Knife in a hybrid defense designed to create and exploit mismatches.
Argument against: Despite possessing an impressive collection of tools, Smith's production does not scream NFL superstar. He teases evaluators with his flashes, but has not produced enough signature moments to cement his status as a consensus blue-chip prospect.
Where I stand: Smith's athleticism outweighs his production and potential as a disruptive force. He is best suited for a role as a complementary defender, but his superior athleticism could prompt a team to miscast him as a marquee playmaker on the edges.
Argument for: It's hard to find 300-pound defensive tackles with light feet and explosive pop. Smith is a dancing bear at the line of scrimmage with outstanding agility and change-of-direction quickness. With the Michigan standout flashing heavy hands and a powerful punch, the 6-3, 323-pound run-stopper has piqued the interest of coaches and scouts looking for an anchor in the middle.
Argument against: Prior to last season, Smith earned the venerable distinction of being named the No. 1 player on Bruce Feldman's "Freaks List." But the DT's spectacular athletic feats have not resulted in consistent production. Though he has the foundation to develop into a plug-and-play starter, he needs to turn his practice habits into game production to earn a spot at the top of the depth chart.
Where I stand: It is hard to bypass a big-bodied defender with the rare athletic traits Smith displays in workouts. Although the talent and tools don't always translate into elite production or performance, an exceptional coach could help the former Wolverine master a few maneuvers that could help him contribute as a disruptive interior defender.
Argument for: The ultra-athletic defender possesses the size, speed and explosion to develop into a premier cover corner in the right scheme. Ringo's natural ability gives him a chance to succeed with shoddy technique, but a little more polish and skill refinement could help the Georgia product blossom into a blue-chip player as a pro.
Argument against: As a straight-line athlete with raw technique, Ringo is an inconsistent performer on the perimeter. He maintains solid positioning in coverage, but fails to finish at the ball. While he has the potential to develop into an A+ bump-and-run corner due to his athleticism, Ringo needs to master other parts of the game to become a blue-chip player in a versatile defensive system.
Where I stand: Ringo's world-class speed (4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine) and athleticism give him a chance to become a dynamic defender. He will need some time to polish his skills and refine his technique, but the two-time national champion could play at a high level in a system that enables him to rely on his natural ability and tools. If the right team matches its system to his talents, Ringo could outplay his CB classmates as a top-notch defender on the perimeter.
Argument for: The so-called "Turnover King" is a ball magnet with 15 career takeaways on his Penn State résumé. Brown's ability to come down with interceptions, scoop up bouncing balls and knock balls loose from unsuspecting runners makes him a hot commodity in a league where turnovers frequently decide games.
Argument against: Brown's pedestrian 40-yard dash time (4.65 seconds) leads to questions about his range and coverage ability at the next level. Although his superb instincts enable him to play a step faster than most defenders, the former Nittany Lion's lack of explosiveness will make it hard for some coaches to place him in the deep middle.
Where I stand: Brown's instincts, awareness and ball skills are valued at a premium in a league where defenses live and die by turnovers. Despite the speed concerns, the Penn State standout could develop into a Talanoa Hufanga-like playmaker after entering the league as a middle-round selection.