Stanford’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects led by Tanner McKee, Kyu Blu Kelly

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

Stanford is coming off their worst record (3-9) since 2006. That on-field product translated to their fewest drafted players (one – DT Thomas Booker in the seventh round) since 2009. However, with their 2023 NFL Draft prospects, the Cardinal can turn the ship around this season. They will need to, especially with the uncertainty around the Pac-12 Conference’s future.

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Stanford prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Stanford didn’t have a single offensive player drafted last cycle. The talent around quarterback Tanner McKee was visibly weaker than in previous years, yet he still showcased NFL-caliber traits. How high could he go in the draft, and are there any other Cardinals to keep an eye on in 2022? Be sure to specifically watch out for CB Kyu Blu Kelly who, among others below, landed on the Shrine Bowl 1000.

Tanner McKee, QB

From a physical and mechanical standpoint, there isn’t much not to like with McKee. His 6’6″ frame mirrors the prototypical build of old, and he’s a smooth operator in the pocket. McKee maintains a consistent base and effortlessly slings the ball around the field. His arm isn’t elite, but it gets the job done.

McKee’s stats don’t jump off the page (2,327 yards, 15 TDs, and seven INTs), but 2021 was his first year starting, and the offense — scheme and talent-wise — left much to be desired. McKee’s progress in 2022 will decide whether he is a first-round or mid-to-late Day 3 prospect.

E.J. Smith, Casey Filkins, and Caleb Robinson, RB

Both of Stanford’s leading rushers — Nathaniel Peat (Missouri) and Austin Jones (USC) — transferred out of the program this offseason. Thus, the backfield will look very different in 2022. E.J. Smith is the presumed starter, with Casey Filkins and Caleb Robinson filling in behind.

All three backs have little collegiate experience, with Robinson still waiting for his first carry. So, while each RB is eligible to declare, they’ll likely all return in 2023. Nevertheless, keep an eye on Smith (Emmitt Smith’s son), as he showed flashes of being Stanford’s next star running back.

Elijah Higgins, Michael Wilson, and Brycen Tremayne, WR

While turnover struck the RB room, the WR corps is largely intact from 2021. Leading the group is Elijah Higgins. At 6’3″ and 235 pounds, Higgins is another big-bodied Stanford receiver. As a full-time starter last year, he was one target off of doubling the next closest receiver (John Humphreys – 35). Higgins is a versatile weapon that can line up outside or in the slot and will remain McKee’s favorite weapon.

After netting 80 targets in 2019, Michael Wilson hasn’t seen more than 30 in each of the last two seasons due to COVID (2020) and injury (2021). A former basketball player, Wilson’s rebounding skills are easy to see on the field as a contested-catch magnet. Meanwhile, Brycen Tremayne is recovering from a gruesome ankle injury suffered last October. When healthy, he is another matchup nightmare at 6’4″ with enough speed to threaten downfield.

John Humphreys and Bryce Farrell, WR

Now we get to the true juniors. Humphreys stepped up with Wilson and Tremayne on the mend and displayed why he was a four-star recruit. He looks passes in and owns excellent body control and concentration. Oh, and he’s 6’5″, naturally giving him a leg (or two) up on the competition. Bryce Farrell doesn’t fit the typical mold of Stanford receivers at 5’11” and 180 pounds. But he’s shifty in the open field and can take the top off defenses for chunk gains.

Benjamin Yurosek, TE

Outside of McKee and an offensive tackle soon to be mentioned, Benjamin Yurosek is Stanford’s best bet at an offensive player being drafted next April. That is if he declares, as the tight end is only a true junior. Yurosek is most impressive as a receiver, using long strides to create separation and gain yards after the catch.

Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer and Georgia’s Brock Bowers received all the hype last season, but Yurosek was right there with them in terms of receiving yards per game (59.8). Additionally, he uses his height (6’5″) to play above the rim and rarely lets passes hit the turf with his sure hands.

Walter Rouse, OT

Walter Rouse is far and away Stanford’s top offensive lineman — and has been since his true sophomore campaign in 2020. At times, Rouse gets in his own way, recording seven penalties last season. Still, he routinely kept McKee free from blindside pressure and was no slouch in the ground game. With impressive length, a powerful lower half, and solid overall athleticism, Rouse will have plenty of fans in scouting circles.

Barrett Miller, G

At 6’5″ and 315 pounds, Barrett Miller possesses more lateral spryness than you would expect. He’s been a mainstay at the left guard position for the last three years — there is little he hasn’t seen. Still, Miller doesn’t exhibit the necessary power and agility teams target in the draft.

Drake Nugent, C

2021 was Drake Nugent’s debut as a starter. Despite not receiving significant snaps in the two years prior, Nugent played well. His 6’2″ stature naturally lends to a leverage advantage, but there were reps where Nugent was walked into the quarterback’s lap. Still, he’s strong as a run blocker and constantly communicates with his line to pick up extra rushers.

Branson Bragg, G

On top of having an excellent name, Branson Bragg was a stalwart in pass protection last season. Although he allowed a few sacks, they were truly the only pressures he conceded. Bragg can tip his weight over his toes at times and struggles against speed, but he should receive attention as a late Day 3 pick or UDFA.

Myles Hinton, OT

6-foot-7. 325 pounds. 2020 five-star recruit. On paper, Myles Hinton should be a first-team all-conference right tackle. And yet, he was the weakest link on the line last year. It was only his first with meaningful reps, and he improved as the season continued. Regardless, now entering his true junior campaign, we need to see Hinton put all the tools together to enter the NFL draft conversation.

Tobin Phillips, DT

The Cardinal are going to have an entirely new defensive tackle rotation in 2022. Gone are Thomas Booker, Dalyn Wade-Perry, Tucker Fisk, and Ryan Johnson, leaving room for new players to enter the fray. Chief among them is true junior Tobin Phillips.

Phillips received limited reps last season but made them count, registering a handful of key tackles. He generated 14 sacks as a senior in high school. Will he demonstrate that pass-rushing prowess in his first year as a collegiate starter?

Stephen Herron and Lance Keneley, EDGE

Stephen Herron and Lance Keneley return as the most experienced EDGEs in Palo Alto. However, incoming freshman David Bailey will likely feature earlier rather than later, keeping Keneley in a rotational role.

Nonetheless, Herron is a bit light at 6’4″ and 240 pounds. But that hasn’t stopped him from being a solid pass rusher when called upon. Still, he’ll need to produce as a full-time starter to make any noise in the 2023 NFL Draft. Keneley hasn’t played enough to warrant NFL consideration, but winning (and holding) the starting job over Bailey would be a great start.

Levani Damuni and Ricky Miezan, LB

Stanford quietly has one of the best linebacker duos in the Pac-12. Levani Damuni is a well-built 6’2″ and 251 pounds with vast football bloodlines. He led the Cardinal with 88 total tackles last season after flashing as a sophomore in 2020. While he will be an older prospect after serving a two-year LDS mission in New Zealand, Damuni is worth keeping an eye on.

Ricky Miezan endured back-to-back season-ending injuries in 2019 and 2020. And you could see his passion for the game once he finally returned in 2021. Miezan owns sideline-to-sideline speed and blows up blocks on the move. He was a high school All-American in lacrosse, and that free-flowing agility and acceleration can be seen on tape. Another season removed from injury should only help matters, and Miezan can draw attention with more eye-popping plays.

Jacob Mangum-Farrar and Tristan Sinclair, LB

Filling out the linebacker depth chart are Jacob Mangum-Farrar and Tristan Sinclair. Mangum-Farrar has been on campus since 2018 but didn’t see significant reps till last season. He was solid in coverage and even recorded a pass breakup. But he’s a long shot to crack an NFL roster.

Sinclair is built like a safety (6’2″ and 216 pounds) and moves like it as well. So it will be interesting to see how NFL teams view him with little to no tape playing in the secondary. The clock is ticking for him to make an impact as a redshirt junior with 300 snaps to his name.

Kyu Blu Kelly, CB

Kyu Blu Kelly, the Cardinal’s crown jewel. Just this month, coach Shaw stated, “He’ll be up there with the best guys after this season.” Kelly is a long, sticky corner with natural playmaking abilities. He’s explosive, plays low in his stance, and lays his body on the line in run defense. The first round may be a bit too rich for Kelly’s skill set, but he should hear his name called on Day 2 with another stellar campaign.

Ethan Bonner and Nicolas Toomer, CB

Ethan Bonner and Nicolas Toomer are on the opposite sides of the draft spectrum. In Bonner’s limited action with the Cardinal, he hasn’t looked spectacular, forfeiting nearly every pass into his coverage. On the other hand, Toomer exploded onto the scene last year. His safety background was clear as he crashed in run support. And in coverage, he had one game with more than one reception allowed, blanketing his area of the field. Another stout season could put Toomer on the national radar.

Zahran Manley and Salim Turner-Muhammad, CB

Neither Zahran Manley nor Salim Turner-Muhammad has played much in their Stanford careers. As members of the 2019 recruiting class, they’re both draft-eligible. But currently, it’s unlikely either declare for the 2023 cycle. However, Manley is 6’2″ with overwhelming length. And Turner-Muhammad is a former starter (2020) looking to regain a pivotal position after a down/injury-riddled year. The underlying talent is there — they just need to see the field to prove their worth.

Kendall Williamson, S

A battle-tested safety, Kendall Williamson has been an elite tackler since he first stepped onto a collegiate field in 2018. Spending the majority of his time in the slot, Williamson gives up his fair share of yardage. But he does an outstanding job of restricting yards after the catch. He generated seven pass breakups last year, showcasing his stinginess against the pass — though he has yet to snatch an interception.

Patrick Fields, S

Oklahoma transfer Patrick Fields is another experienced safety for the Cardinal. Fields has never conceded a pass longer than 45 yards in his career, and he’s a hard-nosed run defender. Fields owns good size at 6’0″ and 203 pounds, and he has the speed to carry WRs downfield from the slot. He bolsters an already talented secondary with a skill set NFL front offices will take notice of.

Alaka’i Gilman and Jonathan McGill, S

Alaka’i Gilman hardly played as a true freshman in 2020 before rotating at safety last season. However, after missed tackles plagued his first three games, he was relegated to a deep reserve role.

Jonathan McGill started contests in 2019, played fewer games due to COVID in 2020, and saw just two matchups due to a preseason injury in 2021. He returns to a roster with two starting safeties seemingly in place and the slot corner role locked down by true sophomore Jimmy Wyrick. All that to say, neither player will feature in the 2023 NFL Draft.

James Fragoza is a Writer and News Editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter @JamesFragoza.

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