SMU’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects led by Rashee Rice, Jaylon Thomas

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

Even with a change of head coach and the departure of their leading wide receiver, SMU’s up-tempo passing game should provide a slew of offensive prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft. However, the Mustangs have potential professional impact-makers on both sides of the ball. Who should you be watching out for on SMU Saturdays with NFL Sundays in mind?

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SMU prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Up-tempo, high-octane passing offenses, that’s what SMU does. With the return of former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee as the head coach for the 2022 college football season, there’s no reason for that to change. As a result, multiple pieces on the SMU offense could follow Danny Gray into the NFL next April. Yet, there are also several defensive impact-makers that require your attention this fall. Are the Mustangs set for their most successful draft class since 2012? Let’s have a look at their potential prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Jaylon Thomas, OT

A Shrine Bowl invitee last fall, SMU offensive tackle Jaylon Thomas opted to return to SMU for his fifth season with the potential to elevate his stock ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. Having started six games as a true freshman, Thomas is a highly experienced offensive lineman with snaps at both bookends and at guard. While he looks to solidify himself as an OT prospect, Thomas has the size to be an imposing guard prospect. Meanwhile, the 6’5″, 326-pound lineman has the power and agility to be impactful in the run game.

Rashee Rice, WR

As a result of their offense, SMU has become a high-level producer of WRs for the NFL. In the 2023 NFL Draft class, Rashee Rice should be the next Mustangs pass catcher to garner significant attention. Rice is a smooth as silk route runner who can create easy separation with twitchy, deceitful movements. He also has the speed and elusiveness to add after the catch yardage. Meanwhile, his 6’3″ height gives him an advantage at the catch point where he’s made a number of eye-popping grabs either above or through his opponent.

Isaac Slade-Matautia, LB

After four years at Oregon, Isaac Slade-Matautia made the leap to SMU last season and returns for another campaign this fall. The athletic linebacker was an impact-maker, tallying 31 tackles with 2 1/2 for loss and a team-high two interceptions. The SMU linebacker’s game is predicated on elite athleticism and impressive speed, with excellent coverage skills as a result of his ability to stay sticky in man and good awareness in zone. His leaping pass breakup against Houston was one of the top plays in CFB last year.

DeVere Levelston, DT

A highly productive JUCO talent at Tyler CC in 2019, DeVere Levelston had a breakout year for SMU last year. The 6’5″, 266-pound defensive tackle led the team with 10 1/2 tackles for loss and 6 1/2 sacks. With a combination of length, power at the point of attack, and a non-stop motor powering decent speed, Levelston should prove disruptive once more this fall. Pro Football Network Draft Analyst Ian Cummings recently included the SMU monster in his 2023 NFL Draft sleepers at the defensive tackle position. His stock could be on the way up.

Branson Hickman, C

While he’s just a redshirt sophomore this fall, it speaks volumes about Branson Hickman’s talent that he was able to establish himself as SMU’s starter despite the presence of experienced centers, including highly-rated pivot player Hayden Howerton. At 6’3″ and 308 pounds, Hickman has good size and puts that to use as an impressive pass protector. He is quick off the snap, has good reactive athleticism, and showcases the strength and mauler mentality to finish plays. The 2023 NFL Draft prospect also boasts impressive football IQ.

Tanner Mordecai, QB

After three years riding the pine at Oklahoma, Tanner Mordecai exploded into life after transferring to SMU for the 2021 season. The former four-star QB threw for 3,628 passing yards and 39 touchdowns last fall. Can he be a genuine 2023 NFL Draft prospect? He certainly has the size and can throw the ball with zip, placement, and touch. When the play breaks down, he’s a decent athlete who can extend time with his legs when required. Another sustained season of production will certainly ensure he attracts some attention.

Tre Siggers, RB

While the loss of Ulysses Bentley IV to Ole Miss removes a playmaking talent from the running back room, Tre Siggers actually proved to be the workhorse back last year. The sixth-year RB led the team with 727 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while adding another receiving score. The 5’9″, 210-pound back has a patient style, assessing the situation before attacking the hole with adequate burst. He demonstrates the physicality to do the dirty work between the tackles and possesses decent contact balance.

Justin Osborne, G

A good-sized offensive line prospect at 6’5″ and 312 pounds, Justin Osborne has both guard and tackle experience for SMU. Although he was a high school OT, he best projects as an interior prospect for the 2023 NFL Draft and will man the right guard position this fall. Osborne showcases some impressive athletic qualities, with good speed that allows him to be regularly used as a pulling guard. Although he does show a decent anchor as a pass protector, he does his best work prying open rushing lanes at the first and second level.

Elijah Chatman, DL

SMU defensive lineman Elijah Chatman has the potential to be one of the program’s top defensive prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. The 6’1″, 289-pound defensive lineman has the size of a 3-tech but the athletic ability of a traditional edge player. He possesses impressive speed, enabling him to get after the quarterback, but there’s also remarkable power and violence in his hands. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him outstrip his production from last season — 40 tackles (nine for loss) and two sacks — as he elevates himself in this class.

Turner Coxe, EDGE

If having to handle Levelston and Chatman wasn’t enough, outside linebacker Turner Coxe also poses a dangerous threat to opposing offenses. The SMU edge rusher has nice size to be a difference-maker at 6’3″ and 243 pounds while boasting impressive length. He put both attributes to good use with three forced fumbles last fall. He’s not an elite speed rusher off the edge, but he has the athleticism and motor to be considered a danger. Meanwhile, he has the football IQ and ball skills to be proficient as a coverage linebacker.

Jahari Rogers, CB

A former high school quarterback, Jahari Rogers was one of the premier cornerbacks in the 2020 recruiting class. After a season with Florida, where he finished with a stellar performance against Oklahoma, he entered the transfer portal and returned home to Texas with SMU. The 2023 NFL Draft prospect led the team in pass breakups last fall. At 6’1″ and 177 pounds, he has a tall yet slender frame that produces impressive straight-line speed. With his combination of size, speed, and length, Rogers is a catch-point impact-maker.

Beau Corrales, WR

While SMU returns several pass catchers, including tied touchdown leader Rice, there’s a significant amount of production escaped from the offense since the end of the season. North Carolina transfer Beau Corrales can be expected to pick up some of the slack as he looks to elevate his 2023 NFL Draft stock. Injury marred his final season with the Tar Heels, but the WR possesses sturdy size at 6’3″ and 210 pounds while showcasing good releases and the football intelligence to make himself available to the quarterback.

Chace Cromartie, S

Heading into his senior season with SMU, Chace Cromartie is an experienced safety prospect who has seen significant snaps in all three years. Last year, he tallied 38 tackles, one forced fumble, two pass breakups, and one interception. While he comes in just south of 200 pounds, the 6’1″ safety hits much harder than his size would suggest, with his eye-opening closing speed putting power behind him. Furthermore, his football IQ puts him in position where his length, ball skills, and vertical athleticism can disrupt the catch point.

Other potential SMU 2023 NFL Draft prospects

  • Jordan Kerley, WR
  • Cameron Ervin, G
  • Marcus Bryant, OT
  • Terrance Newman, NT
  • Jimmy Phillips Jr., LB
  • Brandon Crossley, CB
  • Bryan Massey, S

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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