Earlier this week, The Athletic draft guru Dane Brugler released his updated, midseason top 50 board for the 2023 NFL Draft class. There was some significant movement from the August rankings, too: Bryce Young ascended to QB1, Olu Fashanu skyrocketed up to No. 5, Jahmyr Gibbs and Lukas Van Ness both cracked the top 25.
So, what did our other draft experts think of the latest list?
What’s the first thing that jumped out as you looked through the updated top 50?
Nick Baumgardner: Olu Fashanu! The Penn State third-year sophomore was a severely underrated recruit coming out of the DMV in 2020. He wasn’t rated in the consensus top 400 back then but had an offer sheet (Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Penn State) that would rival a five-star. Now folks know why. Dane doesn’t bump up guys like this by accident. Fashanu’s looked outstanding all year, and pro scouts have clearly picked up on everything he has at 6-foot-6, 308 pounds.
I also think, in general, it’s been good to see some firm improvement from the tackle class. We talked about that possibility back in the summer. There was a lot to like with guys like Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr. and even Dawand Jones, but we needed to see more. I think we have. This still isn’t an elite OT class, but there’s some budding depth here.
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Diante Lee: The way the cornerback class is stacking up is fascinating me, as well. Kelee Ringo, Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr. and Clark Phillips III are high-level movers and comfortable in press or off coverage. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of these options in the top 50 picks of this upcoming draft. If you consider Alabama’s Brian Branch as a slot defender in the league, this class (combined with the past few) is helping to usher in a new golden era of defensive back play.
Nate Tice: Four offensive tackles in the top 20 and as many tight ends (three) as wide receivers in the top 33. There’s shaping up to be some interesting offensive tackle names in the first round with wildly different player profiles, too, whether it’s polished and smooth (albeit with some physical limitations) like Skoronski or high ceiling like Fashanu, who is improving by leaps and bounds every week.
The wide receiver class seems to have evaluators squinting to find names to plop on top of the board. But Quentin Johnston and Jordan Addison are starting to separate a bit (and, just like the tackles, are wildly different types of players). It’s also fun to see so many tight ends this high up the board. All of them are true tight ends instead of glorified wide receivers, and that’s valuable for teams at the NFL level.
There are five quarterbacks represented, led by Bryce Young at No. 3. Do you agree with the order (Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, Tanner McKee, Hendon Hooker)? Should any other QBs have cracked the list?
Lee: There seems to be a growing delta between the quarterbacks on the field, and it’s been reflected in Dane’s rankings. Stroud was my guy coming into the season, and he’s still leading Ohio State to what may be a national championship season, but Young is rightfully at the top of this class (right now). Stroud’s a half-stride behind, and Levis is the dividing line between the QBs who have the tools and production to justify spending a first-round pick on and those who don’t.
Stroud will have a few more opportunities to make up that ground, but Young has a command of the game and the comfort in chaos that you need to be a difference-maker in the NFL. As Levis comes off a poor performance against Tennessee, his stock is about as rocky (pun intended) as it could be, but I think he’ll shake it off and finish the year strong. He has the requisite arm talent, and he can still operate this offense when things are on schedule. When he’s 100 percent healthy, he navigates the pocket much better than he did against the Volunteers. I’m willing to bank on that.
Beyond the top three, McKee is the guy I want to believe in … and Hooker is the guy I’m willing to miss out on. McKee has all the tools; Hooker doesn’t make mistakes from the pocket. However, both guys are in situations that make it hard to cleanly evaluate their play. McKee comes from a scheme that translates to the next level (disregarding the long-mesh RPOs), but there isn’t much talent around him. Hooker, meanwhile, is throwing to track stars, but so many throws in his offense have to be tossed out in evaluations because those scenarios just won’t exist in the NFL.
Either guy can be viable in the league, but I’m going to need a lot more time to nail them down.
QB1 @will_levis tho 🤩
📺 – @SECNetwork 📲 – https://t.co/osLUnz7I3K pic.twitter.com/hYM5LgxLca
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 16, 2022
Tice: I would have the same top four, in that exact order, then a gap before another quarterback. Young is also my QB1 at this point. He is the best true football player among the group, someone who makes everyone around him better, and the only knocks on him have to do with size, not his actual ability.
McKee is an interesting prospect, because he does have the desired size plus surprising athleticism. He flashes the ability to make big-time throws but is far from consistent, and his team situation does him no favors. He still has real tools, though, and I am keeping an eye on him in the back half of the season.
Hooker has done nothing but play well and improve his draft stock, but I still have him a little lower than Dane does. His age, a lack of true overwhelming trait and the point-and-shoot Tennessee offense still have me a little trepidatious.
For the top 50, there are no other names that I think warrant real consideration. The honorable mentions would have to be Tyler Van Dyke (Miami) or Anthony Richardson (Florida). Richardson’s tools are out of this world, while Van Dyke had a great October and appeared to be improving before laying an egg against Duke. Both have very real traits but need as many reps as possible, perhaps even another season of them.
Baumgardner: I’m in lock-step with Dane here, right down to the high difficulty of separating McKee from Hooker due to full context in both situations. I’m sure if you asked me tomorrow I’d say “flip those two,” but I do think they’re both top-five QBs in this group.
As far as the top three go: Absolutely believe Bryce Young is QB1 at the moment, and that he’s putting some distance between himself and Stroud (who needs a big close here). Will Levis remains absolutely fascinating. I can’t quit him.
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Give us a prospect who’s overrated and one who’s underrated (or not included) in the top 50.
Tice: I have to include Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton and Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry as players who didn’t make the list but are making valid cases.
Benton is a nose tackle who eats up blocks but has enough athleticism to disrupt offenses and actually is useful rushing the passer. Perry certainly benefits statistically from Wake Forest’s RPO-heavy offense, but he is a true ball-winner with size and the hand-eye coordination to pull down throws at all angles. He has more bend and twitch than you’d assume given his size and has the potential to be a true starting “X” receiver in the NFL, with shades of Courtland Sutton to his game. I’m a big fan.
ACC receivers with 15 touchdowns in a season:
◾️ @atorian_perry – 2021
◾️ Kelvin Benjamin – 2013
◾️ Calvin Johnson – 2006
◾️ Andre Cooper – 1995
Tied for fifth in ACC history 📈 pic.twitter.com/RUcM6WF37T
— Wake Forest Football (@WakeFB) December 31, 2021
For overrated prospect (and this isn’t about the player’s talent so much as his physical traits), I would tab Devon Achane. Again, nothing against Achane, because he has true game-breaking ability and is showing that he can withstand heavier usage, but a running back listed at 185 pounds always causes me some apprehension at slotting them too high.
Baumgardner: My underrated pick is Boston College WR Zay Flowers, who didn’t make the top 50 (and understandably so as he’s small at 5-10, 172). Every time I watch him, though, I come away more impressed than the last time. He is electric in space, tough in the air and maxes out his body without fail. I think he has a chance to be a good one.
Overrated? I still wonder about Zach Harrison. He’s an amazing athlete and his measurables are absolutely insane. He was a good high school receiver who probably could’ve hung at that position on some teams — that’s the type of athlete we’re talking about. He gave me Micah Parsons vibes as a high school prospect, in that I legitimately thought he could’ve gone to college and starred at, like, five different positions. He’s been much better this year, but I still want to see more.
Lee: I love the guy’s heart, and I think he can be an excellent run defender in a four-down defense, but I’m not sure if Nolan Smith is a top-25 player as much as he is a top-25 athlete. Watching him in pursuit, I’m convinced he’s going to be one of the most explosive runners and jumpers when it’s time for the combine and pro-day circuit. It just doesn’t always translate into Smith’s turning corners on the edge and finishing his rushes with real pocket-changing pressure. I have no problem banking on a Georgia defender, especially a guy in the trenches, but I’m not sure how he actually stacks up at the next level.
Maybe underrated is an inaccurate description, because it’s really more apt to call his ability untapped, but my pick there is Dawand Jones. The refinement in his technique has made a world of difference in how he’s played thus far, and if he has the feet and patience to keep his height and weight from being his worst enemy, the sky’s the limit.
(Top photo: Gary Cosby Jr. / USA Today)