Thursday, October 6, 2022

2023 NFL Draft: First-round prospects who’d be perfect fits for every 0-2 NFL team

Being the bearer of bad news is no fun, and believe me, I’m an advocate of the phrase “never say never,” particularly when it comes to anything involving the NFL. But if your team has started 0-2 this season, history tells us they’re probably not going to make the playoffs. 

It’s been since 2018 that a team has started 0-2 and made the playoffs. The Texans and Seahawks both accomplished the feat that year. Since 1990, when the league expanded the postseason to 12 teams — and of course it’s 14 teams now with an extra regular-season contest — roughly 10% of the clubs to begin a season 0-2 have scratched and clawed their way into the playoffs. 

Therefore, you can join me in evaluating draft prospects before October! It’s fun, I promise. Below you will see three prospects you should follow closely over the next few months to get ahead of your friends for April’s draft. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Top 5 prospect

Olumuyiwa Fashanu, OT, Penn State 

OK, it’s early. Fashanu is not, at time of publication, a consensus top 5 prospect. But he fits the exact mold of the offensive tackle who rises boards just about every draft season. He’s young — only a redshirt sophomore — has legitimate NFL left tackle size and length, is a high-caliber athlete and has started the season outstandingly, particularly from a pass-protection perspective. 

Yes, the really, really good football players are picked in the top 5 every April. However, you almost always need to be a freaky athlete with upside to secure a spot in that exclusive club, and Fashanu checks the boxes. 

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Top 10 prospect

Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern

Skoronski is the offensive tackle prospect everyone will love because of his sparkly-clean film, but the NFL will likely value a little lower because he doesn’t possess prototypical size and isn’t a powerful mauler. Ironically, there’s a lot of Jonah Williams to his game, and Skoronski could, in theory, be replacing Williams if the former first-round pick doesn’t rebound from a disastrous start to the 2022 campaign. 

Top 20 prospect 

Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

You can flip Skoronski and Jones if you’d like, and I’d be OK with that. They both feel like mid-to-late first-round caliber prospects at this early stage of the college football season. And they’re polar opposite players. Skoronski is an athleticism and balanced based blocker. Almost finesse in a way. Jones wants to destroy everything in his path and is not quite as polished. 

If the Bengals are still renovating the offensive line, these three prospects should be at the top of the priority list. 

Tennessee Titans 

Top 5 prospect

Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia 

Ringo was a five-star recruit and plays like it. His athleticism leaps off the film, and he had two picks and eight pass breakups last season. Now, offenses are flat-out ignoring him. If there’s a cornerback who could find himself inside the top 5 in April, it’s Ringo, and the Titans desperately need more top-flight talent at the position. Ringo will get plenty of reps against the best-possible talent as he and Georgia run through the SEC this season and likely advance to another College Football Playoff. 

Top 10 prospect

Trenton Simpson, LB/EDGE, Clemson

It’s these early takes that can ultimately look bad, but I very much feel like Simpson is being slept on right now. And most analysts view him as a first-round talent. To me, he has top 10 written all over him. The Clemson star is long, can rush the passer around the corner, there’s awesome suddenness to his game, and he flies to the football. Linebacker is another major need spot on Tennessee’s defense, and it’s not crazy to assume Mike Vrabel will gravitate toward a multi-dimensional off-ball linebacker. 

Top 20 prospect

Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

The Titans could use more firepower on offense, no? Derrick Henry can’t carry the offense forever, and I love the upside of Treylon Burks. After that, who else can we genuinely get excited about long-term? Mayer is a commendable blocker and has gotten open and caught everything since his freshman season at Notre Dame. He doesn’t appear to be an elite athlete, and he’s not physically intimidating, but it’ll be a surprise if he lands outside of the first round.  

Las Vegas Raiders

Top 5 prospect

Antonio Johnson, S/CB, Texas A&M

Johnson looks like your grandpa’s strong safety, then you watch him move. And you’re blown away. He has nickel cornerback feet, and has spent plenty of time in the slot during his Aggies career. The Raiders have to invest more in their secondary if they’re going to compete in a division with 27-year-old Patrick Mahomes and 24-year-old Justin Herbert. Johnson can be a multiple responsibility defensive weapon for Las Vegas, and if he erupts at the combine, it’s conceivable that he sneaks into the top 5. 

Top 10 prospect

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State

All this hype for Smith-Njigba, then he gets hurt in Ohio State’s opening game. Bum-mer. Teams haven’t forgotten his dazzling true sophomore season in 2021. Once he’s healed, Smith-Njigba’s going to have massive stat lines catching passes from C.J. Stroud. How fast will he run though? To go top 10 as a receiver, you have to run around 4.40. The Raiders seemingly are loaded at wideout, yet alleviating some pressure and attention from Davante Adams wouldn’t be a horrible idea. 

Top 20 prospect

Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

Harrison is your classic overpowering Oklahoma tackle, and he was blessed with quality footwork and balance. His 2022 season has started strongly, and the size-power specimens are typically picked early in the draft. Kolton Miller is the justifiably entrenched left tackle. Josh McDaniels has to find a steady right tackle to steady the entire offensive front. That guy can be Harrison. 

Carolina Panthers

Top 5 prospect

One of the quarterbacks

I know, Baker Mayfield’s the starter, and the Panthers traded future picks for him. Unless he takes drastic steps forward — and the Panthers really turn things around in a hurry — the next regime will feel no obligation to retain him as the starter. Whether it be Stroud, or Bryce Young, or another late riser, Carolina has to do the one thing Matt Rhule has never done during his tenure in the Panthers — pick a quarterback in the first round. 

Top 10 prospect

Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

Brian Burns is a good player. At times great. He’s not routinely taking over games and would benefit from a running mate opposite him on the Panthers front. Murphy is a DUDE, a former five-star recruit who got better and more explosive and more efficient as last season progressed, finishing with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He’s started a bit slower this season, yet at 6-4 and around 270 pounds with major explosiveness off the line, he’ll be in the top 10 conversation come April. 

Top 20 prospect

Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa

Campbell is in the Fred Warner/Tremaine Edmunds mold at off-ball linebacker in that he’s enormous and glides across the field against the run and in coverage. The range in which he’s picked will hinge on how well he tests, which is true for all these prospects. But this is a super-productive, rangy ‘backer who’d form a monstrous duo next to Brandon Smith for years to come in Carolina. 

Atlanta Falcons

Top 5 prospect

Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Forever and ever, I’ve begged the Falcons to get Grady Jarrett legitimate help inside. They haven’t really listened. Carter would be more than just help. He’d have a defense-altering presence in Atlanta and could learn so much from Jarrett in all phases of the game. Carter was the best defensive linemen on Georgia’s ridiculously stacked group of a season ago. He has top 5 written all over him. 

Top 10 prospect

Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State 

FAU is a freaky, high-motor, bendy, no-nonsense outside rusher who triumphantly appeared on the draft radar last season after recording 11 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Everything about his game is appealing, and with a strong combine — that appears likely based on the film — he could be in the running to be the second or third edge rusher off the board. The Falcons need all the pass-rush talent they can acquire. 

Top 20 prospect

Andre Carter, EDGE, Army

Carter was an unstoppable force last season, it didn’t matter the competition he faced at Army either. Listed at 6-7 and 260 pounds, he looks like an NFL defensive end already and never takes a play off. Plus there’s impressive power to his game, and he understands the nuance needed to beat blockers with his hands. 

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