Another week has passed, and the 2023 NFL Draft is another week closer. Each week of study leading up to the event provides new takeaways to discuss in our weekly PFN Scouting Notebook. NFL Draft analyst Oli Hodgkinson is off this week, but Ian Cummings is here to update the notebook with a couple of new entries.
Favorite 2023 NFL Draft under-the-radar prospects in the Big 12
As the season inches closer, our draft analysts at PFN have been scouring each conference, searching for draft-eligible talent to document. Last week, Oli wrapped up his thoughts on the SEC after reviewing that star-studded conference. This past week, I’ve had the pleasure of researching the Big 12 in detail. And it’s been an enlightening process.
Oli’s takeaway from his SEC evaluation still stands: The SEC reigns supreme when it comes to 2023 NFL Draft talent. But in any of the Power Five conferences, if you truly dig deep, you can find underrated and unearthed talent wherever you look. That truth was only reinforced by my evaluation of the Big 12. I still have a couple of teams left to look at, but so far, here are five of my favorite under-the-radar prospects that the Big 12 has to offer for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
After his jaw-dropping NFL Combine performance, everyone will be looking for the next Travon Walker for the foreseeable future. The outcome of his career doesn’t necessarily matter in this context. No matter what happens, Walker is a moldable ball of clay with absurd athleticism, strength, and power capacity. Any defensive coordinator would want that kind of talent to work with and develop.
I won’t tell you there’s another Walker in the 2023 NFL Draft class. But I also won’t dismiss the possibility. Clemson’s Myles Murphy already draws parallels to that mold, but another monstrous edge rusher very much worth mentioning is Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson.
Wilson — who logged 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2021 — has an absurd frame, standing at 6’6″, 270 pounds with arms near 36″ long. With his length, Wilson brings elite power capacity, but he also has good burst, pursuit speed, and enough hip flexibility to redirect rushes.
Fire up the tape on Wilson, because odds are, you’re too low on him.
Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
Looking for a cornerback with the athleticism and explosiveness to match receivers upfield, and arms that make some offensive linemen jealous? Allow me to present to you Julius Brents, a cornerback out of Kansas State. Brents is a former Iowa commit, but he’s found a home at Kansas State, where he’ll look to end his career on a high note in 2022.
Brents is around 6’3″, 204 pounds, with arms almost 34″ long. That’s absurd length for a cornerback, but Brents carries it fairly well. He’s able to play low in his stance and transition. He’s also an explosive, long-striding athlete who can close quickly in run support and close passing windows in coverage. Brents has room to improve his ball skills and tracking ability, but the physical tools are there for him to grow into a playmaking role.
Jared Bartlett, LB, West Virginia
Watch West Virginia’s defense from the 2021 season, and you’ll see a lot of ups and downs. But through it all, you’ll also see a linebacker who’s flying around the field, dropping into coverage, standing up tackles, and rushing the edge on passing downs. This linebacker is Jared Bartlett — a 6’2″, 234-pound motor monster with a very exciting NFL projection.
Bartlett plays the BANDIT role for West Virginia. It’s mainly an on-ball linebacker role that allows him to rush the edge, surge through gaps, and attack inside the box. He’s also sometimes asked to drop into coverage, but his work in the box is what’s most impressive.
Bartlett is visibly undersized and battles frequent mismatches, but he combats that with explosive athleticism and eye-catching bend capacity. For defensive coordinators that like versatility and pass-rushing ability from their LBs, Bartlett should be on the radar.
Steve Avila, C, TCU
Quentin Johnston is one of my favorite prospects early on in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, but he’s not the only one on TCU’s offense worth circling. There’s also one very solid prospect at a position that can get overlooked — first-team All-Big 12 center Steve Avila.
Even after a stellar 2021 campaign, Avila can still strive for more consistency. But his brightest moments are enthralling, and it makes it easy to project what a best-case career could bring for Avila at the NFL level.
Avila is listed at 6’4″, 334 pounds, with a massive, boxy frame and excellent proportional length. He keeps a wide base, and with that length, he can slab and blast defenders back with power, and his grip strength makes it difficult for smaller players to disengage.
Avila might not be an elite athlete, but he has enough straight-line burst in the tank to close gaps and move in space. And in close quarters, he can use independent hands with force. At times, he brings shades of Ryan Jensen — who’s perhaps a representation of the ceiling.
Isaiah Neyor, WR, Texas
Texas’ offense in 2022 is a star-studded group of future NFL standouts. The first names that come to mind are Bijan Robinson and Xavier Worthy. Jordan Whittington and Jahleel Billingsley are others whose breakouts are awaiting. Quinn Ewers is already penciled in for an NFL draft slot farther down the road, but one more name worth mentioning is Isaiah Neyor — a transfer from Wyoming.
Neyor is a redshirt sophomore, so it’s not a certainty that he’ll declare in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. But at the very least, circle Neyor and keep your eyes on him.
The 6’3″, 210-pound receiver is as dynamic a threat as there is at the collegiate level. He averaged 20 yards per catch with the Cowboys in 2021, using his long-strider athleticism, explosiveness, and unreal body control to generate big plays downfield. With all of Texas’ weapons creating space and conflict for defenses, Neyor might be a player who particularly benefits.
Explore the whole 2023 NFL Draft landscape before finding a hill to stand on
With it being a slower week in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, I wanted to provide some more scouting advice for those who are actively diving into evaluations. It’s broad-scale advice, but it could serve as a useful reminder as the noise starts to build back up.
As more and more people watch more and more prospects, rankings start to materialize from these experiences. And from these rankings, certain prospects are anointed the best at their positions. You’ve probably seen posts like “C.J. Stroud QB1” or “Jaxon Smith-Njigba WR1” by now.
I want to preface by saying this: There’s nothing wrong with making these posts, especially if you’ve studied a large enough sample and believe with conviction. But in this context, I want to offer a word of warning. Make sure these declarations are a product of diligent study, and that your perspective is fluid through that study. Don’t identify with and pick a player to anoint early on because that only restricts vital re-evaluation down the road.
In communities of subjective analysis like this one, a repetitive human tendency is to find a hill to die on and defend that hill. This was something I did often a few years ago, as a younger evaluator. But I’d encourage you to first explore the whole landscape and see how it lays out for you.
Trusting what you see is important. But don’t rush to have a confident, convicted take. Do the work, do it well, do it at your own pace, and it will come to you.