We’ll certainly be closely monitoring rookies and tracking the development of young NFL players here at CBS Sports, but it’s also time to start digging into the 2023 draft class, a collection of prospects that, right now, appears to be much deeper with more top-end talent than the 2022 iteration.
Providing stylistic pro comparisons to young NFL stars felt like a proper introduction to premier, sparkly prospects in this class. I used NFL Mock Draft Database’s “consensus Big Board” to get the top five for this article.
Let this piece serve as an early guide to the utmost marquee prospects ahead of the upcoming college football season.
C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Joe Burrow, Bengals
Burrow’s became the NFL’s stealth assassin, a passer who calmly fires the football precisely from the eye of the storm that is the opposition’s pass rush. And many of those accurate throws are down the football field. In 2021, Burrow led the NFL in under-pressure passer rating (92.7) and yards per attempt (8.3).
Stroud, too, is brimming with confidence and a relentless deep-ball specialist. Both quarterbacks are around the same size and while they won’t ever be mistaken for Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, or Josh Allen, get the most out of every ounce of athleticism they possess when maneuvering from pressure or sneaking past that ranging linebacker to move the chains on a third-and-6 scramble.
Like Burrow, Stroud has a strong but not spectacular arm and will take some sacks, as his desire to find an open vertical route on his second or third read equates to him holding the football longer than most passers. Stroud and Burrow are calm, cool, collected quarterbacks with the aggressiveness and ball-placement talent to register unbelievable stat lines, like Burrow’s 525-yard masterpiece in a beatdown of the Ravens and 573-yard eruption Stroud had in the Rose Bowl victory over Utah.
Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Disclaimer at the outset here: Young does not have Murray’s turbo-charged scrambling talent. Everything else about his game reminds me of the Cardinals’ polarizing quarterback — the way Young releases the football, how he generates plenty of velocity from a smaller frame, his long-ball precision. It’s very Murrayian.
Now, the recently bias-driven opinion of Murray is tipping downward, after losing four of his last five regular-season contests before a dismal performance in a wild card round loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams in the playoffs. But let’s not forget, due to injury, superstar wideout DeAndre Hopkins wasn’t running routes at that point of the season.
And, Murray led the NFL in Big Time Throw rate last season at 7.9%. Huge figure. During Young’s Heisman-winning campaign, the big-time throws seemingly appeared in every quarter of every contest. He understands he’s a very capable athlete, so plenty of those tosses came when things looked bleak at the outset of the play. He has a Murray-esque creative flair.
Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama
Khalil Mack, Chargers
Calling an audible here, Mack wouldn’t characterize as a young star anymore at 31. But the stylistic similarities between these two were too striking to force another comparison.
Mack was 6-3 and 251 pounds at the 2014 combine. Not large for an edge rusher. But he has routinely moved NFL offensive tackles like he’s 6-7, 275 from the beginning stages of his pro career. Immense, natural strength. Anderson has that type of people-moving power, too, in a comparable frame.
Mack has burst, bend, and a requisite amount of pass-rush moves to round out his game as one of football’s most complete edge rushers, and he uses his shockingly strong arms to dominate against the run, too. All that applies to Anderson, who will enter this college football season as the most well-rounded defender in the nation.
Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
Jeffery Simmons, Titans
Carter is stupidly strong and flexible at his size. He shouldn’t be able to squeeze through gaps, take a chip, swim around a blocker and hit the accelerators to sack the quarterback as effortlessly as he does. That was the story with Simmons when he entered the league in 2019 out of Mississippi State, too. Tall, thick, powerful but deceptively elastic and explosive.
After recovering from a pre-draft injury, Simmons has emerged as one of the game’s best, disruptive-on-every-down interior defensive lineman who can win up and down the front. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, Carter can be inserted to any “technique” along Georgia’s line and wreak unadulterated havoc.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Lions
Ohio State had two receivers selected in the top 11 picks of the 2022 draft, and in most games, Smith-Njigba felt like the best receiver. Seriously. He led the Buckeyes in receiving by nearly 600 yards and had 25 more catches than Garrett Wilson. He did that all as a 19-year-old.
There’s nothing athletically that pops on film with Smith-Njigba, just like is the case with St. Brown, who caught 88 passes in a dazzling rookie season for the Lions. His acceleration is incredibly natural, he runs crisp routes like a five-year NFL veteran and is sneaky fast after the catch. Plus, like St. Brown, he tracks the football like a champ down the field.
The two wideouts are close in size and in the subtle nuances that allow them to get open quickly and get north-south to maximize the yardage they accumulate after the catch.