Cincinnati’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects led by Ivan and Deshawn Pace, Josh Whyle

The PFN Draft Preview takes a deeper look into the potential 2023 NFL Draft prospects set to hit the field for Cincinnati this season.

The most successful season in program history paved the way for their largest draft haul ever, but can the Cincinnati Bearcats follow that with another deep class in the 2023 NFL Draft? It’s easy to believe that all their star talent left for the NFL this spring. However, there are still a significant number of playmakers left behind that you should be watching out for this fall.

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Cincinnati prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Nine players. The program’s first first-rounder for over 40 years. A selection in six of the seven rounds. Cincinnati’s 2022 class, much like their college football heroics, was unprecedented at the Group of Five level. When you lose that amount of talent, it’s natural to expect a downturn in results and a substantially reduced draft class the following year. Yet, it’s easy to see nine or more players that could make up the 2023 NFL Draft class.

Ivan Pace Jr., LB

With the departures of two linebackers and a safety, Cincinnati lost over 300 tackles of production to the NFL this spring. Their attempts to replace that start with the transfer of Miami (OH) linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. The 6’0″, 239-pound LB is a force in all facets of the game, not allowing a touchdown in coverage while snagging an interception. However, it’s his ability coming downhill that is tantalizing as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect. Pace has incredible closing speed and gets the job done behind the line of scrimmage.

Deshawn Pace, LB

The Pace brothers might be one of the most deadly duos not just in the AAC but in the whole of college football. At 6’2″ and 218 pounds, Deshawn Pace has safety size but the attitude and physicality of a traditionally sized LB. His experience as a high school safety shows up in his coverage ability.

Meanwhile, he packs a punch coming downhill. Pace has routinely showcased impressive play recognition skills and has the athletic profile to act upon them. Cincinnati’s top returning defensive producer tallied 95 tackles and four interceptions last fall. Expect him to elevate his 2023 NFL Draft stock with a stellar junior season.

Josh Whyle, TE

Cincinnati tight end Josh Whyle has been a consistent pass-catching weapon during Desmond Ridder’s reign under center. As the Bearcats transition to Evan Prater, Whyle will provide a reliable target for the young QB. At 6’5″ and 245 pounds, Whyle has great size at the position as an obvious above-the-rim mismatch nightmare. He compounds that with decent physicality to his game, both at the catch point and as a blocker. Meanwhile, he can turn on the jets with a surprising burst to extend plays when they look to be over.

Ja’von Hicks, S

With significant losses in the secondary, the importance of the return of fifth-year senior Ja’von Hicks should not be underestimated. A starter of almost 30 games, he brings experience and leadership to the defensive backfield. At 6’2″ and 205 pounds, Hicks is a decent-sized safety prospect who plays with a forceful style. When tackling, he routinely tries to separate the ball from the ball carrier. He has good eyes and closing burst in coverage while boasting good length and the vertical athleticism to challenge at the catch point.

Malik Vann, DE

Another Cincinnati defensive player who eschewed the draft last year for another go-around is defensive end Malik Vann. The 6’3″, 275-pound monster manned the 3-4 defensive end spot for the Bearcats for the most part of last season. While his 8 1/2 tackles for loss with 3 1/2 sacks might not sound prolific, Vann has some alluring traits that should earn him 2023 NFL Draft consideration. He’s extremely powerful at the point of attack, bullying offensive linemen while showing impressive twitchy athleticism for his size.

Arquon Bush, CB

With Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant departed to the NFL, it’s Arquon Bush’s time to shine in the Cincinnati secondary. Not that the playmaking cornerback hasn’t already been impressive, tallying three interceptions and six pass breakups last fall. Predominantly a nickel CB in his Bearcats career, a move outside could help elevate his 2023 NFL Draft stock. He’s got the speed, size, and ball skills to be impactful there while possessing impressive ferocity and play-recognition ability. Bush also boasts special-teams experience.

Lorenz Metz, G

Amongst the turnover from Cincinnati’s successful season, the offensive line returns all their parts. One of the most intriguing prospects amongst them is gargantuan German guard Lorenz Metz. The 6’9″, 326-pound offensive lineman had his struggles at tackle but found a home at guard, earning first-team All-AAC recognition. His size will make him instantly intriguing as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect. However, he also boasts ludicrous strength and nastiness and moves far better than you’d expect from a man of his size.

James Tunstall, OT

A former FCS All-American for Stony Brook, James Tunstall became a full-time starter for Cincinnati in his first season at the FBS level. While he had some ups and downs, Tunstall showcased alluring potential last fall. He’s powerful, owns a violent punch, and is a genuine people mover in the run game. He also showcased decent movement skills. If he can work to eradicate some less-desirable elements of his game and play with more consistency, he could earn attention in the 2023 NFL Draft class.

Jeremy Cooper, G

Another Cincinnati offensive lineman who could parlay a good season into 2023 NFL Draft attention is guard Jeremy Cooper. At 6’4″ and 315 pounds, Cooper has good size for the interior offensive line. At the same time, he sets with a wide base and impressively low stance. This allows him to play low, gaining a leverage advantage. He’s demonstrated strength and goes into battle with a quick pair of hands.

Jake Renfro, C

Having made six starts as a true freshman, Jake Renfro enters his third season with Cincinnati as a permanent fixture at the pivot. The potential 2023 NFL Draft prospect has good size at the center position, measuring 6’3″ and 310 pounds. He’s explosive off the snap and showcases excellent movement skills to get out to the second level in the run game. Furthermore, he can set with a strong anchor and has demonstrated violence in his hands and enough length to walk defensive linemen away from his quarterback.

Dylan O’Quinn, OT

A former high school tight end and defensive end, Dylan O’Quinn made the switch to the offensive line for Cincinnati, gradually developing to the point of earning first-team All-AAC recognition in 2021. At 6’4″ and 305 pounds, he’s not the biggest offensive tackle in the 2023 NFL Draft class. However, he routinely demonstrates impressive technique with good hand timing and placement to be an effective pass protector. O’Quinn also displays sought-after football intelligence, picking up stunts and twists with effortless regularity.

Tre Tucker, WR

Calling Tre Tucker a wide receiver is a disservice to his impact on this Cincinnati team. He’s an all-around weapon, a 5’9″ pocket rocket who can run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash while possessing the explosive vertical athleticism that helps him elevate himself above his diminutive frame. While his ability to win with speed and twitchy route running out of the slot will excite, he also adds significant special-teams excellence as a kick returner that could prove alluring when the 2023 NFL Draft comes around.

Jowon Briggs, DT

A former high school standout who played for Virginia before transferring to Cincinnati for 2021, Jowon Briggs made an impact in his first season with the Bearcats. Expected to elevate his role with the departure of Curtis Brooks, Briggs could be a riser in the 2023 NFL Draft defensive tackle class. At 6’2″, 315 pounds, he boasts good size on the defensive interior. Briggs is explosive off the snap, extremely strong in his ability to push the pocket, and has the speed and football intelligence to give offensive lineman nightmares.

Jabari Taylor, DE

While opposing offensive coordinators hone in on stopping teammate Vann, don’t sleep on Jabari Taylor as an impact-making defensive line prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft for Cincinnati. The 6’1″, 280-pound DE has been a productive rotational piece for the Bearcats, with some of his brightest moments coming in their biggest games. He’s powerful, relentless, and made a 40-yard field goal during spring practice. Not that the latter is relevant, but I will jump on any opportunity to highlight special-teams prowess.

Leonard Taylor, TE

While Whyle might be considered the standout tight end on the Cincinnati roster, Leonard Taylor could also attract some 2023 NFL Draft recognition. He boasts great size for an NFL tight end, measuring 6’5″ and 260 pounds. As you’d expect from a man of his size, he’s a proficient blocker. However, what’s exciting is the unexpected smoothness and quickness of his route running. Taylor also showcases excellent ball-tracking ability as a pass-catching threat downfield. He’s definitely one to watch this fall.

Other potential Cincinnati 2023 NFL Draft prospects

  • Wilson Huber, LB
  • Tyler Scott, WR
  • Jadon Thompson, WR
  • Nick Mardner, WR
  • Ryan Montgomery, RB
  • Ty Van Fossen, LB
  • Taj Ward, CB
  • Jacob Dingle, S
  • Ryan Coe, K

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter: @ojhodgkinson.

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