With the college football season around the corner, it’s time to set our eyes on the next group of NFL hopefuls that could be available next April in the 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City. In this edition, we’ll take a look at the draft prospects and scouting reports from the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
2023 AAC NFL Draft prospects to know
The transfer portal was cruel for UCF, as the team’s top next-level prospects — receiver Jaylon Robinson and linebacker Tatum Bethune — took their talents elsewhere. The cupboard is bare by UCF standards, and only one player from the program presently holds a draftable grade on my board.
Matthew Lee, C | Grade: 3.28 | Projected Round: 7
Junior center Matthew Lee is a quick, explosive lineman who blocks with terrific fundamentals. He’s smart, strong, and effective at the line of scrimmage or on the second level.
Ryan O’Keefe, WR | Grade: 3.18 | Projected Round: FA
Receiver Ryan O’Keefe is a solid pass catcher coming off a good campaign. He finds ways to separate and possesses good, but not great, downfield speed. Measuring 5-foot-9 and barely 170 pounds, O’Keefe has limitations.
Samuel Jackson, OT | Grade: 3.08 | Projected Round: FA and Ryan Swoboda, OT | Grade: 2.99 | Projected Round: FA
Samuel Jackson is a solid college tackle with size (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) as well as growth potential. I like Jackson’s game, but he’s only effective in confined quarters and could end up at guard in the NFL.
Virginia transfer Ryan Swoboda measures in at 6-foot-9 and stands out on film. However, he’s marginally athletic and does not come with much versatility.
Ricky Barber, DT | Grade: 3.07 | Projected Round: FA
Junior Ricky Barber is an explosive defensive tackle who projects as a three-technique lineman.
Kemore Gamble, TE | Grade: 2.75 | Projected Round: FA
Keep an eye on tight end Kemore Gamble, who transferred from Florida. Gamble possesses decent measurables and flashed ability last season. A big campaign in 2022 could vault him into the late rounds.
It was a banner season for Cincinnati, as the Bearcats made it into the College Football Playoff last season and watched cornerback Ahmad Gardner end up as the fourth pick of the draft. While there won’t be any early picks next April, the roster is not bereft of next-level talent.
Josh Whyle, TE | Grade: 3.64 | Projected Round: 3 and Leonard Taylor, TE | Grade: 3.52 | Projected Round: 4th
Two tight ends sit on top of my UC board, and the spread between the pair is not that great. Josh Whyle seriously considered entering last April’s draft, but he ultimately decided to return for another season, which was the best option. Whyle is a smart, athletic, pass-catching tight end who doesn’t do a bad job blocking. He presently grades as a third-round prospect on my board.
I grade Leonard Taylor a frame later, as he’s slightly bigger than his teammate and just as fast. Taylor also catches the ball just as well as Whyle and plays the TE position like a big possession receiver.
Ben Bryant, QB | Grade: 3.44 | Projected Round: 5
A couple transfers from the Mid-American Conference are next on my Cincinnati board, starting with quarterback Ben Bryant. The senior transfer was very productive for Eastern Michigan last season, posting more than 3,100 passing yards. Bryant has nice size and a next-level arm, but he really must improve his accuracy and ball security. Some in the scouting community believe Bryant could end up as a Day 2 pick in 2023.
Ivan Pace, LB | Grade: 3.41 | Projected Round: 5
In 2021, Ivan Pace was a tackling machine for Miami-Ohio, totaling 125 tackles in 13 games. He’s undersized but fierce and fast. I doubt Pace, who’s only a junior, will hit the 6-foot mark when he’s eventually measured by scouts, which will diminish his appeal.
Arquon Bush, CB | Grade: 3.39 | Projected Round: 5-6
Arquon Bush was a terrific nickel back for UC last season, and now he has a chance to cement himself as a No. 1 corner after the departures of Gardner and Coby Bryant. Bush is quick and shows solid ball skills, but he has a very thin frame and must get stronger.
The Cougars have had a good degree of success in the NFL draft recently. Defensive lineman Payton Turner was the 28th selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, and Logan Hall, another frontline defender, was the 33rd pick this past April. Presently though, no Houston prospect grades out as a top-100 prospect on my board.
Gervarrius Owens, S | Grade: 3.42 | Projected Round: 5
It’s very likely a defensive player will again be the first Houston prospect selected in the draft, as safety Gervarrius Owens is the top prospect in the program. Owens is a tough run-defending safety who displays skill in coverage when facing the action. While he possesses next-level size and speed, Owens needs to improve his overall coverage skills. He presently grades as a fifth-round pick on my board.
Nathaniel Dell, WR | Grade: 3.37 | Projected Round: 6
Receiver Nathaniel Dell carries a sixth-round grade on my board, as he’s a speedy pass catcher who displays himself as a legitimate vertical threat. Dell is incredibly quick and fast, but he’s also very inconsistent. He often drops catchable throws and has a small frame. Nevertheless, Dell could move up draft boards if he takes his game to the next level.
Chidozie Nwankwo, DT | Grade: 3.36 | Projected Round: 6
Defensive tackle Chidozie Nwankwo flashes dominance and does a great job occupying blockers, but he’s not much of a playmaker. He’s also a bit small and comes with limited growth potential, both of which are issues.
Memphis has had a player selected in the top 100 in four of the previous five drafts, but it’s unlikely any player on the Tigers’ roster is anything other than a Day 3 choice in 2023.
Quindell Johnson, S | Grade: 3.45 | Projected Round: 5
Safety Quindell Johnson is a player I really like, and he presently carries a fifth-round grade on my board. He’s a heady defensive back who plays physical football and shows solid ball skills between the numbers. The difference between Johnson being a top-125 pick and ending up in the late rounds will be his predraft 40 time. Scouts I’ve spoken with estimate Johnson to be a 4.6 athlete.
Xavier “Zay” Cullens, LB | Grade: 3.27 | Projected Round: 7-FA and Tyler Murray, LB | Grade: 3.14 | Projected Round: 3.14
Xavier “Zay” Cullens returns for his second senior season, and he’s a three-down linebacker I grade as draftable. Cullens is athletic and covers a lot of area on the field, showing ability in pursuit as well as coverage.
Charlotte transfer Tyler Murray is another athletic linebacker who is best making plays in space.
SMU has had players chosen in three of the past four drafts. Each time, at least one pass catcher was among those selected, including receiver Danny Gray by the San Francisco 49ers in Round 3 this past April. There’s a real possibility the program will put another receiver into Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Rashee Rice, WR | Grade: 3.63 | Projected Round: 3
Senior Rashee Rice has all the makings to be a third wideout at the next level, and perhaps even a No. 2. He’s a long pass catcher with above-average quickness and speed and reliable hands. Rice showed a lot of improvement in his game last season and moved from a fifth-round prospect to a third-rounder on my board. With the graduation of Gray, Grant Calcaterra, and Reggie Roberson Jr. to the NFL, Rice has a major opportunity ahead of him. The Mustangs will be relying on his pass catching and playmaking ability.
Jaylon Thomas, G | Grade: 3.33 | Projected Round: 6
Offensive lineman Jaylon Thomas surprised a lot of people when he chose to return for a second senior season. Since his sophomore season, I’ve had a draftable grade on Thomas, and he’s been a consistent left tackle at SMU. He moves well and is much more athletic than given credit for, but he lacks great size, specifically height. I presently have Thomas on my guard board with a sixth-round grade.
Jimmy Phillips Jr., LB | Grade: 3.29 | Projected Round: 7
Jimmy Phillips Jr. is the top defensive prospect from the program, and he’s a smallish run-and-chase linebacker who’s best in pursuit. I stamped Phillips with a seventh-round grade.
It’s been lean times at South Florida, a program that hasn’t won many games recently and has not had a player drafted since 2018. However, there’s an outside chance the latter changes in 2023.
Gerry Bohanon, QB | Grade: 3.28 | Projected Round: 7
At the beginning of May, quarterback Gerry Bohanon announced his decision to transfer from Baylor to South Florida — a strange choice for sure. Bohanon combines excellent size, a next-level arm, and terrific athleticism.
Relatively accurate, he delivers outstanding corner or fade patterns and loses nothing rolling outside the pocket then throwing on the move. He’s also very effective at picking up yardage with his legs. At South Florida, Bohanon will have to carry the offense on his shoulders and a good year will really help his draft stock.
Donovan Jennings, G | Grade: 3.20 | Projected Round: FA
The only USF player after Bohanon who comes close to draftable on my board is offensive lineman Donovan Jennings, a prospect I’ve had graded the past three years. Jennings is a strong, wide-bodied blocker who is best in a small area. Presently graded as a PFA, Jennings could get looks late in the 2023 NFL Draft as a power-gap guard if he has a big senior campaign.
After a terrific run of success, the Temple program is back in the doldrums. The Owls had almost a decade-long run of players selected on Day 2 of the draft, with the occasional first-rounder sprinkled in. Yet, they didn’t have a player chosen in the past two drafts.
Edward Saydee, RB | Grade: 3.38 | Projected Round: 6
One prospect I really like on the Owls’ depth chart is running back Edward Saydee. The fourth-year junior is a complete player at the position, who runs hard on the inside, possesses the agility to turn the corner, and also stands out as a pass catcher and blocker. While Saydee presently carries a sixth-round grade on my board, he possesses a ton of upside and is someone I look forward to watching this season.
Isaac Moore, G | Grade: 3.04 | Projected Round: FA
Offensive lineman Isaac Moore is a nice-sized prospect who plays smart, tough football. He’s a left tackle at the college level who’s shown ability the past three seasons. Yet, I feel Moore will eventually be moved inside to guard by the NFL team that signs him.
Tulane Green Wave
It’s been nothing more than last-day picks coming out of Tulane the past dozen years, a trend that will continue next April.
Dorian Williams, LB | Grade: 3.36 | Projected Round: 6
Scouts I’ve spoken with believe Dorian Williams is a UDFA prospect, but I disagree. The senior is an athletic run-and-chase linebacker who covers a lot of area on the field and goes sideline to sideline making plays. Williams offers possibilities as a seventh LB/special-teams player, and I’ve stamped him as a sixth-round prospect.
Tyjae Spears, RB | Grade: 3.32 | Projected Round: 6
Redshirt sophomore Tyjae Spears is a small but speedy ball carrier, who possesses a terrific upside. His athleticism and versatility lend me to believe he’ll be viewed as a third-down back moving forward.
Larry Brooks, S | Grade: 3.26 | Projected Round: FA
Larry Brooks is a fierce, hard-hitting safety who comes with average size and speed. I don’t have a draftable grade on Brooks, but he possesses enough ability to make a next-level roster as a fourth safety.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
For the second draft in a row, Tulsa placed a player in the first round; something crosstown rival Oklahoma was not able to do. Right now, I grade every draftable player from the program as a Day 3 selection.
Kendarin Ray, S | Grade: 3.32 | Projected Round: 6
Safety Kendarin Ray had his season cut short by injury last season, but when he’s on the field, he’s a tough run defender with excellent size. Ray’s ability in coverage this season will dictate whether he’s a Day 2 selection.
Deneric Prince, RB | Grade: 3.28 | Projected Round: 7
Running back Deneric Prince also has terrific size at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, and he plays fast for a big ball carrier. Prince is tough to bring down, but he’s primarily a between-the-tackles ball carrier who runs with an upright style — not a good combination.
Keylon Stokes, WR | Grade: 3.12 | Projected Round: FA
In 2019, receiver Keylon Stokes looked like a legitimate next-level receiver as a redshirt sophomore, catching 62 passes for 1,040 yards. However, his production has really dropped off since. Adding to his woes are injuries, as Stokes was limited to just five games last season. He has the measurables and ability you’d want in a fifth receiver/return specialist, but the super senior really needs a big year to slide into Day 3 of the draft.