2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook: Early prospect grades and five matchups to watch in Week 1

Pro Football Network's 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook continues with early grades and matchups for Week 1 of the college football season.

With under 100 days left until the college football season starts, the prep work for the 2023 NFL Draft has been underway for some time. As such, our 2023 NFL Draft Scouting Notebook took a fun turn when the Week 1 matchups and game times were announced this week. We now have a clear idea of who we can watch and when we can watch them come Week 1 of the 2022 college football season.

This scouting notebook focuses on two major topics from Pro Football Network’s draft department. Oliver Hodgkinson goes in-depth with five matchups to watch among top draft prospects in Week 1. Ian Cummings offers his thoughts and previews the top players that he’s graded so far.

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Five college football matchups to watch out for in Week 1

Hodgkinson: The release of the kickoff times for the first week of the 2022 college football campaign has me irrationally excited for the beginning of the season. Yes, I know, we’re still months away. And yes, I know, there are still players vying for spots on the depth charts before they can even match up against the competition. No, that will not stop me from wading into the waters of some 2023 NFL Draft prospect matchups to watch in Week 1 of the 2022 CFB season.

Notre Dame at Ohio State: EDGE Isaiah Foskey vs. LT Paris Johnson Jr.

Let’s begin with an extremely high-profile 2023 NFL Draft prospect matchup in arguably the most high-profile game in Week 1 of the college football season. Both of these players have the potential to be right at the top of their positional group when the 2023 NFL Draft rolls around next April. The battle between Fighting Irish EDGE Isaiah Foskey and Buckeyes LT Paris Johnson Jr. promises to be ferocious.

A 6’5″, 260-pound force off the edge, Foskey showcases devastating power in his hands. He also demonstrates explosiveness off the snap. While causing offensive linemen to crumble with his hand power, he’s also capable of driving with his legs and plays the game with a red-hot motor in pursuit. Fast feet, fast hands, and a steadfast approach lead to fast results.

Foskey will provide a stern task for Johnson Jr. as he makes his debut at left tackle for the Buckeyes. The former five-star recruit has played on the interior during his first two seasons with the Buckeyes. However, the traits witnessed when compiling his scouting report suggest he can effortlessly transition outside to left tackle. Johnson is an explosive athlete in his own right and will meet Foskey’s hand power with exceptional length and violence. He’s showcased a solid anchor and the ability to drive a man out of the club. Expect fireworks.

Louisville at Syracuse: WR Tyler Hudson vs. CB Garrett Williams

One of only a handful of all-conference games on the CFB Week 1 schedule, Syracuse and Louisville has the opportunity to be one of the most competitive games of opening weekend. Meanwhile, it features a mouthwatering clash between two under-the-radar 2023 NFL Draft prospects in Louisville WR Tyler Hudson and Syracuse CB Garrett Williams.

Hudson transferred to the Cardinals from FCS outfit Central Arkansas after a sensational 2021 season. The 6’2″, 195-pound pass catcher ranked fourth in the FCS last season with 1,227 receiving yards while averaging 19.79 yards per catch. The junior WR has a great catch radius, showcases a natural pass-catching style with the ability to pluck the ball out of the air, and possesses enough athletic ability to add yardage after the catch.

His first assignment at the FBS level will be a tough one as he’ll likely see plenty of Syracuse CB Williams. While Williams gives up two inches in the height department, he possesses some jaw-dropping ball skills at the catch point to make up for it.

Meanwhile, he brings a hyper-competitive approach to the game on every snap. Williams is also a ludicrous athlete, with the ability to click and close in a heartbeat. It will be a baptism of fire for the former FCS playmaker, but one that should see him garner national attention if he gets the better of Williams.

South Dakota State at Iowa: RB Isaiah Davis vs. LB Jack Campbell

Having just seen Pierre Strong Jr. drafted to the NFL, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits have another running back ready to roll off the shelf in the 2023 NFL Draft. Scarily, Isaiah Davis might be even better than his former teammate. The Joplin, Missouri product is a bigger back at 6’1″ and 220 pounds. Yet, he moves with the same speed as Strong. Furthermore, he’s demonstrated excellent cut ability and a deadly stiff arm. His performance in the FCS National Championship was like watching a kid dominate at the high school level.

Ready to meet Davis in the alley during their Week 1 clash will be Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell. At 6’5″ and 244 pounds, Campbell is a significant roadblock for running backs. While he does display some ability as a pass rusher and in coverage, his main forte is against the run. The Iowa LB has good instincts and a nose for the ball. He’s also showcased the ability to get off blocks to work his way to the ball. When he locates the ball carrier, he has the length and physicality to be a reliable tackler.

Virginia Tech vs. Old Dominion: CB Chamarri Conner vs. TE Zack Kuntz

A late returner to school after flirting with the 2022 NFL Draft, Chamarri Conner begins his fifth season with the Hokies with the opportunity to improve his stock. Having fluctuated between CB and nickel during his career, he’s expected to line up at safety this season. There, he can use his physicality and above-average athletic ability to effectively cover tight ends and impact the game in the box. The first game of the season will be the ultimate test of that ability.

Old Dominion hasn’t had a player selected in the NFL Draft since 2019, but tight end Zack Kuntz has a legitimate chance of ending that drought with an impactful season. The 6’8″, 245-pound pass catcher possesses the catch radius that you’d expect from a man of his size. However, he also showcases surprising athletic ability as a former track star at the high school level. You may also see Conner and Kuntz go at it in the run game, as the Old Dominion TE has some nouse as a run blocker.

Mercer at Auburn: WR Ty James vs. CB Nehemiah Pritchett

Mercer WR Ty James already has a touchdown against SEC opposition to his name after finding the end zone against Alabama last season. He’ll look to add to his résumé when the Bears travel to Jordan-Hare to open the season against Auburn. The former Georgia WR boasts decent size for the position at 6’1″ and 200 pounds. Having averaged 23.5 yards per catch last season, he’s a big-play threat who can be physical at the catch point. Meanwhile, he’s showcased body control and change-of-direction ability to gain separation.

It will be interesting to see if James can use his physicality to bully Nehemiah Pritchett and perhaps make a name for himself on the national stage. The Auburn CB weighs in at just 179 pounds, giving up over 20 to James. However, Pritchett has the height, length, and ball skills to go into battle at the catch point with the Mercer receiver. Meanwhile, the Auburn CB puts his own WR experience to good use as a sticky man coverage player who rarely allows separation. If he does, he boasts the athletic profile to recover and make a play.

Notes after grading 25 2023 NFL Draft prospects

Cummings: It’s important not to get ahead of yourself with 2023 NFL Draft preliminary grades because a lot can change during the season. Players like David Ojabo, Jermaine Johnson II, and Jameson Williams wouldn’t have been highly-rated in the preseason this past cycle. But they used the 2022 season to their advantage and rose higher than anyone could have expected.

It’s always important to keep that in mind. That said, preliminary grades can be valuable for established players who already have proven production. They can help showcase where a player succeeds and where he can still improve. This way, evaluators know what to look for when the season comes.

Having said all this, I’ve graded 25 players to this point. Here are some of the key takeaways from the early processions.

Will Anderson, Bijan Robinson, Jalen Carter all blue-chip prospects

Admittedly, I need a larger sample size with my grading scale before I can outline specific round and range thresholds. But there’s one that’s been fairly distinct so far, and that’s the 8.5 threshold. Players who score above 8.5 tend to be in a realm of their own in terms of talent. Only three prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft scored above an 8.5. And so far, only three have preliminary grades over 8.5 in the 2023 class. Those three are Will Anderson, Bijan Robinson, and Jalen Carter.

8.5 and above is developing into a “blue-chip” range for prospects, and Anderson, Robinson, and Carter all qualify. It’s no surprise for any of them, of course. Anderson is an elite physical talent with a similarly elite motor. Robinson is a special running back with rare creative instincts and control. And Carter is a game-wrecker at defensive tackle with his burst, lateral agility, and power capacity. Even though it isn’t surprising, it’s valuable to see where these kinds of prospects generally settle. It helps provide context for the scale as a whole.

C.J. Stroud is a legitimate first-round QB prospect

I haven’t quite finalized C.J. Stroud’s grade yet, but I have watched enough tape to enter initial numbers and get an idea of where he’ll land. So far, without finalization, Stroud has generated a tape grade of 8.27. That’s far and away the highest QB grade I’ve given through two years of grading — head and shoulders above any of the QBs from the 2022 NFL Draft class. For reference, Kenny Pickett was QB1 last year with a grade around 7.5 — in the Day 2 range.

It’s refreshing to have a QB who doesn’t need positional value to inflate his stock. Stroud is a phenomenal player who’s still very young and only trending up. He passes the surface evaluation with his size, athleticism, and arm strength. But even beyond that, Stroud is poised, accurate, and he’s shown he can use his eyes to manipulate DBs and open up windows. He’s not my No. 1 overall player, but he’s on track to be a top-10 prospect. A QB in that range is very much worthy of going No. 1.

Other 2023 NFL Draft prospects to watch from preliminary grades

So far in the grading process, I haven’t been sticking to one school or position. I’ve been trying to mix it up and move around, covering different areas with preliminary grades. I want to grade more prospects before the season starts. But already, there are a few players who’ve caught my eye with how well they graded. Several that come to mind initially are Tennessee OT Darnell Wright, Wake Forest WR A.T. Perry, and Boston College LB Kam Arnold.

I won’t spoil Wright’s grade — I’ll share it once his report is out — but he’s a very fun player. A former five-star recruit, he clearly has NFL talent. He’s a massive 6’6″, 335-pound blocker, but he actually moves very well and carries immense power in his game. Perry is an interesting WR prospect. I’d like him to add mass to his frame and expand his route tree, but he’s an exceptional athlete — very light-footed for his long frame. And he has great body control and instincts in contested situations. He scored a 7.7275, which puts him firmly in Day 2 range.

I’ve already covered Arnold in a 2023 NFL Draft LB breakout candidates piece, but I wanted to circle back to his grade here. Arnold scored a 7.55 off preliminary viewings. That would place him in the late-Day 2 range based on the sample size currently available. For a former safety who’s still learning the linebacker position, that’s very exciting. Arnold has the athleticism and the physicality, so another year of development should do him good.

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