2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook: Re-evaluating returning players ahead of the 2022 season

In this week's 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook, we're re-evaluating those prospects that returned to school rather than leave for the NFL.

We’re into July, and that means the 2023 NFL Draft is technically another month closer. Our PFN Scouting Notebook this week details what it takes to re-evaluate those prospects that toyed with entering the 2022 NFL Draft but ultimately returned to college for another season. Once again, NFL Draft analyst Oli Hodgkinson is off this week, so Ian Cummings is here to update the notebook with a couple of new entries.

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2023 NFL Draft: The importance of re-evaluating returning players after initial viewings

Ian Cummings: We talked a little bit about shelving observations for future cycles in the last notebook. It’s absolutely important to document what you see. Every bit of information is valuable. But in this next section, I want to caution about relying too much on pre-existing evaluations. Re-evaluation is always necessary, even if you already have detailed notes from the past.

This is a process that everyone goes through. Sometimes, there are eligible players that you evaluate and write up, and then they return to school. While you shouldn’t throw out your observations from earlier, don’t simply repackage them. Re-evaluation is essential because there are so many little details to take in when scouting. And as a scout, you’re always learning more about the game and how to apply that knowledge to prospects.

This is something I’ve already experienced this cycle. I wrote up Will Levis in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle before he returned to school. When it came time to write him up again last month for the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, I had a greater understanding of QB mechanics and the overall process than I’d had in the 2022 cycle. So I applied that understanding to Levis’ tape, re-evaluated, and was able to come away with valuable new insights.

The same goes for every position. For instance, I aim to write the scouting report for Syracuse CB Garrett Williams soon — another prospect I wrote about in the 2022 cycle. Since that time, I’ve learned more about the nature of CB technique in press-man, as well as the importance of leveraging hips in space and managing space efficiently. That’s knowledge that I didn’t have before that I can now apply to prospects and gain a more all-encompassing understanding as a result.

It’s a process that doesn’t ever truly end. Football is such a complex, detail-oriented sport, and every position comes with dozens of contextual factors and minute details impacting performance. There’s always room to keep refining your understanding. So keep learning, and as you do so, apply what you’ve learned in new evaluations each cycle. You never know what you might see next time that you didn’t see before.

2024 NFL Draft: A sneak peek at what makes the early top 2024 prospects what they are

Ian Cummings: If you’re a draft analyst, you know how tempting it can be to take a look at future cycles and get ahead of the curve. It’s a dangerous temptation, as there’s so much information to take in each year. It’s most prudent to focus on the current cycle and only keep a peripheral focus on the cycles beyond.

Don’t worry. We’re not moving on to the 2024 NFL Draft just yet. But every year, there are certain underclassmen who get set aside and penciled in as early-round prospects for future cycles. We identify these players based on their early success and production, but we don’t always take the next step further and identify why they’re so deserving of early praise. Looking at these players in a diagnostic lens can help with that and also allow you to shelve film observations for when they finally become eligible.

With that said, here are a couple of highly-rated 2024 prospects I decided to watch with a diagnostic frame of mind.

Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia

Bowers is already being viewed as a potentially generational TE prospect when he becomes eligible, and that’s no mistake. He may not have elite size at 6’4″, 230 pounds, but he still has a very dense frame. Even more impressive is his rare explosiveness and quickness for a TE.

His burst in the open field is dangerous, but he can also cut stems with wicked swiftness and efficiency. Beyond that, Bowers is a bull after the catch, and he has very natural body control and ball-tracking ability. He’s a complete three-level receiving threat with elite accelerative capacity.

Xavier Worthy, WR, Texas

Worthy will be a fascinating evaluation once he hits the draft circuit. He’s long-armed but dangerously light. And yet, he doesn’t look at all outmatched by heavier DBs. Worthy’s high-end explosiveness and speed are well-known traits of his, but he is also much better at slipping through arm tackles and absorbing initial contact that his frame would suggest.

He’s a slippery runner after the catch, who can also explode to his top speed once he finds space. That’s a dangerous combination for defenders. It makes you think — if Worthy can add weight and maintain his athleticism and lateral twitch, the sky is truly the limit.

Andrew Mukuba, S, Clemson

Andrew Mukuba might not be quite as renowned as the prospects ahead of him, but it’s only a matter of time before he gets the respect he deserves. Playing at the back end of what could be a dominant Clemson defense in 2022, Mukuba has all the hallmarks of the modern NFL safety. He’s not an elite size threat, but he’s exceedingly versatile.

Mukuba can play in deep coverage in two-high and single-high looks, and he also has the fluidity and explosiveness to come into the slot. Mukuba processes quickly, manages space efficiently, closes with intense burst, and isn’t afraid to impose his will. He’s an early favorite to be one of the top safeties in 2024.

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