As the prep work for the 2023 NFL Draft has already begun, Pro Football Network continues its scouting notebook series ahead of the 2022 college football season. Every Friday, PFN’s Draft Analysts — Ian Cummings and Oliver Hodgkinson — will offer their thoughts on the recently-watched prospects, position groups, player rankings, and everything else in between in our 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook series. This week brings with it a specific theme and a preview of future summer content.
2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook
College football is all about pageantry. As such, student-athletes become extremely prideful of their universities. The new-age-old question surrounding the college-to-pro jump now revolves around which university produces the best at a specific position, otherwise known as WRU or DBU. Basically which school is “position group University” as in who churns out more and the most successful athletes at a specific position.
As we’ll dive into which school should be referred to as WRU next week, Oliver offers his thoughts after viewing LSU WR Kayshon Boutte.
Is LSU establishing itself as the true “WRU”?
Hodgkinson: There is a conflict waging in college football. No, not where the head coaches are arguing about which of their rivals is paying for the greatest recruiting class in the history of the sport. It’s the one where two fanbases are constantly battling with each other over who provides the most consistent pipeline of wide receivers to the league via the NFL draft. Alabama certainly has a strong case, and in transfer Jermaine Burton, they could continue their run in the 2023 NFL Draft.
However, LSU may well hold the monopoly in the upcoming classes. In recent years, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Justin Jefferson, and most recently Ja’Marr Chase, have been at the top of the NFL after plying their trade in the Bayou. The run is set to continue with Boutte. The lightning-fast LSU pass catcher was leading the FBS in touchdowns last season when he was struck by injury. You can expect him to assert himself as one of the best in the 2023 NFL Draft class with his electric speed and acceleration, devastating lateral agility, and ability to add yardage after the catch for fun.
Teammates Jack Bech, Malik Nabers, and Jaray Jenkins have also garnered some attention for future draft classes. Nabers in particular showcases some game-changing speed and elusiveness as an after-the-catch threat. However, it’s fellow LSU pass catcher Brian Thomas Jr. who really caught my eye during film observations for Boutte’s scouting report.
Measuring in at 6’3” and 205 pounds, Thomas has excellent size to play WR at the next level. Meanwhile, he’s blessed with great length and wingspan, which is apparent in his ability to pluck the ball out of the sky with an impressive catch radius. In addition to his long wingspan, he’s also able to showcase vertical explosion, going up to snag the ball above the rim. This should make Thomas an alluring red-zone threat when his time comes to declare for the 2024 NFL Draft.
While he may not have the true speed of Boutte or Nabers, Thomas can eat up ground with his long strides. He’s also showcased some of the athletic tendencies in terms of movement that made him a highly-touted basketball recruit out of high school. There are examples of Thomas proving elusive in the open field, including on a 42-yard touchdown against Louisiana Monroe in 2021.
Although numbers shouldn’t be a defining factor in the evaluation process, Thomas averaged more yards per catch (12.8) last season than Bech (11.4). The LSU WRs will do battle this fall as they look to establish themselves behind Boutte in 2022, and as the leading receiver for the 2023 CFB season. Despite ceding some ground in the WRU battle to Alabama in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Tigers may see the next two draft classes swing in their favor.
Remember Thomas’ name, for he could be the one leading the charge.
Where does Kayshon Boutte rank among the top 2023 NFL Draft WRs?
Keep in mind that we’ll have a series of the top 10 players at every position, starting with wide receivers in the coming weeks. Here to offer his services, Ian’s thoughts on the top receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft are as follows.
Cummings: The 2022 NFL Draft’s WR class was an interesting group to analyze. Most onlookers agreed that the majority of the class’ value came from the sheer depth of the WR group. And while there was top-end talent, that upper echelon wasn’t as large or dominant as we’d been accustomed to seeing. Early on, the perception is that the 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver class is different. Is that truly the case?
I’ve spent a good portion of the month of May running through preliminary grades for each of the top five wide receivers – LSU’s Boutte, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, USC’s Jordan Addison, TCU’s Quentin Johnston, and North Carolina’s Josh Downs. Now, it’s time to look at those film grades, see how they compare, and see how they line up with the 2022 class.
It’s important to make this note before we begin: I am still experimenting with and improving this grading scale. For now, it’s a pure film grade, but I want to integrate production and other components later in the cycle. I’m also making a point of being a bit more diligent and scrutinizing the valuation for each trait. With all that said, let’s run through the early grades. Who is my initial WR1 in the 2023 NFL Draft?
WR1 – Quentin Johnston, TCU – 8.345
This was an early surprise, but Quentin Johnston came out with the highest grade on my board among 2023 NFL Draft wide receivers. The upside is enormous with Johnston, and that’s a big reason why he came out with such a high grade. Components like explosiveness, agility/twitch, and long speed all worked in his favor. He’s also listed at 6’4”, 213 pounds, with long arms that likely measure over 33”.
Johnston is a rare athletic specimen, but his best trait is in fact his catching instincts. With his frame and length, he boxes out defenders and outreaches most who challenge him. He also has excellent timing, reaction quickness, and ball-tracking ability, along with vice-grip hands in contact situations.
He’s a superb downfield threat, but with his agility, twitch, and foot quickness, Johnston also brings utility after the catch. He needs to become a more consistent route runner. But even there, he’s shown he has the long-strider burst, twitch, and hip sink to become a stellar separator.
A worthwhile exercise might be to pit Johnston against Drake London from the 2022 NFL Draft, another receiver who surpassed most of his counterparts with his size. London was a better route runner and a more natural separator coming out. He also had a slightly denser frame.
But Johnston has visibly superior athletic traits and brings comparable play strength even with his wiry frame. If Johnston reaches his ceiling in 2022, he can run away with the WR1 mantle.
2. Kayshon Boutte, LSU – 8.095
3. Jordan Addison, USC – 8.0475
4. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State – 7.94
5. Josh Downs, North Carolina – 7.91