The fallout from the 2022 NFL Draft is still fresh, and the college football season is a few months away. However, it is time to turn the chapter to the 2023 class. In 2022, four ACC prospects were selected in the first round (third-most among all conferences), but how many could we see in 2023?
2023 NFL Draft: How many ACC prospects will go in the first round?
We have to recap the past to put the future into perspective. Last year, the ACC had four representatives drafted in Round 1: NC State OT Ikem Ikwonu (No. 6 – Carolina Panthers), Boston College G Zion Johnson (No. 17 – Los Angeles Chargers), Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett (No. 20 – Pittsburgh Steelers), and Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson II (No. 26 – New York Jets).
From 1936-2009, the ACC had 229 players selected in Round 1, the third-most of any conference. Since 2010 (last 13 drafts), the conference has averaged 4.69 players drafted in the first round. So, with the history lesson out of the way, how many ACC prospects could hear their names called in the 2023 NFL Draft?
ACC prospects who could go in the first round
It is a futile task to predict how many players from a given conference will go in Round 1 this far out. We do not know. Even if we had all the information in the world, the NFL Draft likes to throw a wrench in predictions. But this exercise allows us to explore the top draft-eligible talent in the ACC and who could rise above the rest.
I’m being careful with the verbiage here, as there are few true “locks” when it comes to the NFL Draft. Wide receiver Jordan Addison exploded onto the scene for Pitt last year, aiding in Kenny Pickett’s ascension. Yet, he may not be a Panther for much longer as he entered his name into the transfer portal. There is a chance Addison returns next season, but all signs point to the uber-talented wideout playing elsewhere.
A Pitt prospect not in the transfer portal, DT Calijah Kancey has been a consistent force for the Panthers’ defense. The 6’0″ and 275-pounder isn’t the biggest man, but he makes up for it with technique and easy-to-see athleticism.
Clemson has a trio of first-round caliber prospects in LB Trenton Simpson, DT Bryan Bresee, and EDGE Myles Murphey. Simpson is one of the better athletes at the position, and DC Brent Venables deployed him as such. The No. 1 recruit in 2020, Bresee had his 2021 campaign cut short due to a torn ACL. If he is 100% healthy, he should enjoy a breakout campaign on the interior. Lastly, Murphy has been a consistent disrupter off the edge. While he can rush the passer, he is an even stronger run defender.
On paper, five ACC quarterbacks could propel themselves into the first-round conversation. And in all likelihood, at least one or two will be Round 1 signal-callers. But which ones?
Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec was thought of as a contender for Day 1 capital in the 2022 class before injury robbed him of the opportunity to prove his case. The offensive line will be retooled, but Christian Mahogany remains up front, and WR Zay Flowers is still catching passes on the outside.
Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei is in a QB battle with true freshman Cade Klubnik. If the “veteran” loses, he can kiss his first-round aspirations good by. Still, he has the physical tools to right the ship in his second season as the starter in “Death Valley.”
Former USC QB Kedon Slovis will be taking the reins from Pickett in Pittsburgh, and I would feel much better about his prospects if Addison returned. Nevertheless, Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield hopes to be a key piece of the receiving puzzle.
NC State head coach Dave Doeren has gone on record calling Devin Leary the best passer in the nation. The flashes of arm talent are there, and one exceptional campaign could thrust him into Day 1. Last but not least is Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke. In a similar boat to Leary, Van Dyke showcased his ability last year, but a full year of consistent play under center will be pivotal for his draft stock.
Other ACC names to know in the 2023 NFL Draft
UNC WR Josh Downs was Sam Howell’s only reliable pass catcher last season. He is an explosive playmaker who simply creates separation. Downs was the Tar Heel’s offense and should retain that role in 2022. Still, a change under center muddies the waters, especially coming from a player of Howell’s caliber throwing him the football.
Virginia possesses an elite receiving duo in Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson. Thomspon is a converted QB at 6’4″ and 210 pounds and outmuscles opponents. He can break tackles and win contested situations all while being a versatile weapon all over the field. Wicks was the Cavaliers’ downfield threat, averaging 21.1 yards per reception en route to 1,203 yards and 9 TDs. He possesses legitimate 4.4 speed and can take the top off defenses.
Yet another Pitt prospect to know is edge rusher Habakkuk Baldonado. A native of Rome, Italy, Baldonado began playing in the states in 2017. But you couldn’t tell by watching his tape as he was a terror off the edge. He was a second-team All-ACC honoree last year after generating 12 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. Alongside Kancey, expect Baldonado to continue to grow.
Miami CB Tyrique Stevenson spent his first two years as a slot defender for Georgia. But after transferring to South Beach, Stevenson has proven to be a dependable outside corner. He allowed just 51% of his targets to be caught last year, allowing no more than 49 yards in a single game. He has the size, length, and skill set to maintain his dominance in 2022.
- Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse
- Jordan McFadden, OL, Clemson
- Robert Scott Jr., OT, Florida State
- Zion Nelson, OT, Miami (FL)
- Carter Warren, OT, Pittsburgh
- Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson
- Yasir Abdullah, LB, Louisville
- Tony Grimes, CB, North Carolina
- Akeem Dent, S, Florida State