Could the 2023 NFL Draft be another successful class for the Houston Cougars? They’ve had three players selected in three of the last four seasons, and early indications show that the Cougars might be set for an even more significant draft haul next April. Amid a sense of expectation that they could be the team to beat in the AAC, which Houston prospects should you watch out for this fall?
Houston prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
It took a minute, but the Dana Holgorsen era finally started to show the true potential of the Houston program last fall. With one of the most successful seasons in program history, the Cougars have set themselves up to be a key contender in the AAC this fall. In fact, they were the highest Group of Five team in our “way too early” college football top 25. The reason for optimism is founded on a stable of highly talented 2023 NFL Draft prospects.
Nathaniel Dell, WR
While defensive prospects have been the cornerstone of recent Houston draft success, the program’s top prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class is likely to be wide receiver Nathaniel “Tank” Dell. One of the nation’s leading returning receivers, Dell tallied 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall. The Houston WR is an electric playmaker, boasting speed, explosion, unbelievable footwork, and body control that makes him virtually impossible to stop with the ball in his hands. He’s a big play waiting to happen on every single Houston snap.
Derek Parish, EDGE
Logan Hall might have been Houston’s leading defensive producer in terms of sacks and tackles for loss in 2021, but Derek Parish was less than a heartbeat behind the second-round draft pick. A versatile defensive player who has seen time on the defensive line and at linebacker for Houston, Parish measures in at 6’2″ and 245 pounds. He’s an impressive athlete who plays with a red-hot motor. Furthermore, he’s shown both power and finesse to win at the point of attack. Oh, and he’s also lined up at fullback during his college career.
Clayton Tune, QB
In his second season as a full-time starter, Clayton Tune was extremely impressive in guiding Houston to a 12-2 record. The fourth-year QB threw for 3,544 yards, completing 68.3% of his passes, and engineering a 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. At 6’3″ and 215 pounds, Tune has decent size for an NFL QB. He’s also showcased the arm strength to push the ball downfield. However, he’s not just a strong arm, with the ability to throw with anticipation and placement. While not an elite athlete, he can extend plays with his legs.
Chidozie Nwankwo, NT
Houston’s “Sack Avenue” is going to provide a number of their 2023 NFL Draft prospects. While he’s just a junior this fall, Chidozie Nwankwo could certainly attract attention next April. He’s undersized by traditional nose tackle standards at 5’11” and 293 pounds. However, he uses his naturally low center of gravity to dominate the leverage battle in the trenches. Nwankwo is both explosive off the snap and powerful at the point of attack, a combination that has proven too hot to handle for offensive linemen in the AAC so far.
D’Anthony Jones, DL
Former JUCO defensive lineman D’Anthony Jones matched Hall for sacks last season despite playing substantially fewer snaps. The 6’2″, 280-pound playmaker is extremely explosive, so much so that you question whether he knows the opposing snap count in advance. His power and explosion off the edge had the ability to embarrass even the best tackles that he faced last fall. With the expectation of extra snaps this year, he’ll be an ascending 2023 NFL Draft prospect to watch this year.
Atlias Bell, DT
I’m not really sure how there’s going to be enough snaps to go around for all the 2023 NFL Draft prospects on the Houston defensive front. Atlias Bell is another impressive, game-changing monster on the defensive front. The 6’1″, 260-pound lineman has the athletic ability to attack from the edge while possessing the power and strength to be a force from the interior. Bell is explosive, has violence in his hands, but also showcases a nice array of pass-rush moves to get to the QB. Another name to know on the Houston defensive line.
Nelson Ceaser, EDGE
Keeping the “Sack Avenue” prospects going, there’s another defensive front name to know amongst Houston’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects. According to reports out of Houston, there’s a lot of excitement around Nelson Ceaser. When you turn on the tape, it’s easy to see why. From a wide alignment, the 6’3″, 245-pound edge rusher has the speed, strength, and flexibility to pose a significant problem for offensive linemen. He possesses impressive power in his hands, routinely snapping back his opponent.
Patrick Paul, OT
While Houston’s 2023 NFL Draft class is packed with defensive talent in the trenches, the offensive line has some playmakers too. One of them is third-year offensive tackle Patrick Paul. At 6’7″ and 315 pounds, the brother of now Washington Commander Chris Paul is an imposing figure to navigate. He’s impressively strong and possesses that nasty streak in the ground game that separates the good from the great. Meanwhile, Paul has solid athletic capability, with excellent footwork that allows him to mirror his opponent well.
Ta’Zhawn Henry, RB
While you never want to profit from the misfortune of your teammates, the loss of Alton McCaskill IV to an ACL injury could help Ta’Zhawn Henry elevate his 2023 NFL Draft stock. Now the top running back for a program that averaged 36.5 carries per game, the opportunity is evident. The 5’7″, 170-pound RB showcases breakaway speed, best witnessed in a 97-yard touchdown run against USF. Yet, he’s also shown he can do the dirty work between the tackles, grinding out yardage at the goal line.
With all the talent on the defensive front, it’s easy to forget that Houston’s leading tackler last fall was Donavan Mutin. The 6’0″, 230-pound MIKE tallied 77 tackles, including 6 1/2 for loss while forcing three fumbles. Despite his more diminutive size, Mutin plays with force coming downhill. Furthermore, he showcases the ability to close with outstanding quickness. For all his physical traits, the most exceptional element of his game is his football IQ. He possesses high-level play diagnosis, communication, and leadership.
Gervarrius Owens, S
If you can make it through the Houston front seven, it’s unlikely you’ll make it further than Gervarrius Owens in the secondary. At 6’0″ and 200 pounds, the former JUCO product won’t be the biggest safety in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, he makes up for his lack of size with imposing length. Additionally, he flies to the football, utilizing his length to wrap up with some outstanding tackles. Owens possesses enough speed to be aligned anywhere in the secondary and can be frequently found penetrating the opposition backfield.
Christian Trahan, TE
While there will be a lot of pass-catching focus on Dell, Christian Trahan is a genuine 2023 NFL Draft prospect in his own right. The Houston tight end was second on the team with 37 catches last fall, tallying 398 yards and two scores. I would expect even more production from him this fall. Listed at 6’3″ and 245 pounds, Trahan plays even bigger than that, with an impressive catch radius and body control at the catch point. He’s also not afraid to get involved in the dirty elements of the tight end position.
Art Green, CB
Replacing Marcus Jones and Damarion Williams will be no easy task for Houston this season. Art Green and Alex Hogan are expected to be the starters outside, with both having the potential to elevate their 2023 NFL Draft stock. At 6’2″ and 200 pounds, Green possesses a size at CB that the Cougars didn’t have in the secondary last season. Meanwhile, he has the length to be impactful at the catch point.
Other potential 2023 NFL Draft prospects for Houston
- Alex Hogan, CB
- Hasaan Hypolite, S
- Jayce Rogers, CB
- Malik Robinson, LB
- Sedrick Williams, DT
- Tyler Johnson, OT
- Tank Jenkins, G
- Cam’Ron Johnson, G
- Jack Freeman, C
- KeSean Carter, WR
- Bubba Baxa, K