With just a single sixth-round pick last April, the UCF Knights had their least successful draft haul since the barren 2016 class. Can the 2023 NFL Draft see a more substantial influx of Knights to the NFL? We take an early look at the top UCF prospects to watch out for in the upcoming college football season.
UCF prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
While Gus Malzahn’s first season at the UCF helm saw a return to bowl success, only defensive lineman Kalia Davis capitalized with a selection in the NFL draft. However, a mixture of home-grown talent and several standouts snatched from the transfer portal has the potential for UCF to have more of a presence in the 2023 NFL Draft. Which UCF prospects should you keep an eye out for when watching the Knights this fall?
Ryan O’Keefe, WR
Ryan O’Keefe was comfortably the go-to guy of the UCF offense last fall, snagging 84 receptions for 812 yards and seven touchdowns. He also showcased his playmaking versatility with 274 rushing yards and a score. The UCF wide receiver is a genuine speedster who has the burst and agility to be an elusive threat in the short and intermediate game. However, he also has twitch to separate on deep routes and has an alluring combination of strong hands and toughness beyond his 5’10”, 175-pound frame.
Davonte Brown, CB
When the 2023 NFL Draft rolls around, there is every chance that cornerback Davonte Brown will be UCF’s top defensive prospect. At 6’2″ and 185 pounds, he has good size to play outside at the NFL level. More importantly, he possesses the length to be an impact-maker at the catch point against even the biggest wide receivers. Brown already boasts experience playing both press man and zone coverage for the Knights. He’s also shown the burst and speed to impact the passing game by penetrating the backfield.
Matthew Lee, C
After an uncertain start to his UCF career, center Matthew Lee has developed into a key component of the Knights’ offensive line. At 6’4″ and 295 pounds, he has a slender frame that could see him classed as undersized by NFL teams. Yet, he has a strong lower body that helps create impressive amounts of power at the point of attack. Meanwhile, he demonstrates good hand usage, with accurate placement and timing, allowing him to be on the attack. Look for him to elevate his 2023 NFL Draft stock with a strong showing.
Divaad Wilson, S
A former four-star recruit who made his way to UCF via Georgia, Divaad Wilson is a key returner for the upcoming college football season. He’s transitioned from cornerback to safety during his time with the Knights, putting his ability to lay the boom to excellent use as a downhill enforcer. While he has the physicality to leave his mark on his opponent, he showcases impressive click-and-close speed. If he can improve on some aspects of his tackling in space, he could realize that high school potential as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect.
Isaiah Bowser, RB
It might surprise many who associate UCF with high-powered aerial offenses, but their best 2023 NFL Draft prospect may well be running back Isaiah Bowser. Despite missing five games last fall, he tallied 703 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. At 6’1″ and 225 pounds, Bowser has excellent size at the RB position, putting that to good use as a physical blocker and lowering his shoulder into contact. Additionally, he boasts excellent agility with eye-popping cut moves. Meanwhile, he demonstrates receiving ability out of the backfield.
Ryan Swoboda, OT
Transfer portal additions don’t come much bigger than former Virginia offensive tackle Ryan Swoboda. The man-mountain measures in at 6’10” and is projected to be UCF’s starting right tackle for the upcoming college football season. Although players of his height often struggle with pad level and balance, Swoboda actually displays decent balance. He is explosive off the snap and owns excellent footwork. Furthermore, he’s a decent technician who can use his hands well to neutralize his opponent.
Kemore Gamble, TE
It only took five years, but Kemore Gamble finally emerged as a genuine pass-catching threat for Florida last fall. Following the most productive season of his career — 414 yards, 13.4 yards per catch, four touchdowns — Gamble entered the transfer portal, landing with UCF. The 6’4″, 243-pound TE displays solid straight-line speed, ball-tracking skills, and a good pair of hands. Although not an elite athlete, he left several defensive players with broken ankles last year with nice open field moves for after-the-catch yardage.
Samuel Jackson, G
A sixth-year senior with excellent experience, Samuel Jackson is a versatile offensive line prospect for UCF in the 2023 NFL Draft. The 6’6″, 325-pound linemen has seen snaps at all four guard and tackle spots during his career, with 13 starts at RT last season. Jackson’s experience shows up in his football IQ, with the ability to diagnose and react to stunts and twists. While he shows some alluring technical upside as a pass protector, he does his best work as a run blocker, manipulating his opponent with powerful hands.
Tylan Grable, OT
The bookends of the UCF offensive line will be manned by transfer portal additions and potential 2023 NFL Draft prospects. While Swoboda provides intrigue with his size, the fascination with Tylan Grable begins with his football journey. A former high school QB, he transitioned to TE, then OT for Jacksonville State before entering the portal ahead of the upcoming college football season.
Grable has already proven dominant at the FCS level and even in action against FBS opposition last fall. He’s still developing at the position, but there’s a ton of upside. He owns great height at 6’7″, weaponized by impressive length. Furthermore, he’s an exceptional athlete with light feet, outstanding first-step explosion, and the flexibility to negate some of the waist-bending issues that taller, slender offensive tackles can have.
Lokahi Pauole, G
Completing the UCF offensive line prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft, Lokahi Pauole might be one of the most fun guards you’ll watch this college football season. The 6’4″, 305-pound prospect loves nothing more than putting his opponent in the dirt, with his game sometimes verging on the reckless. However, he’s more than good old-fashioned strength and violence. Pauole has shown good explosion off the snap and adequate speed. If he could work on his timing in motion, he can seriously elevate his NFL draft stock this fall.
Johnny Richardson, RB
While Bowser led the running back room in terms of carries and touchdowns, junior running back Johnny Richardson was the standard-bearer with 733 rushing yards at seven yards per carry. Although he’ll likely play second fiddle to his teammate this fall, he could establish himself as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect with whatever opportunity he receives. The 5’7″, 170-pound RB is a dynamic speed threat that is difficult to bring down on first contact. With receiving upside and special-teams experience, he’s a dangerous prospect.
Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste, LB
A do-it-all linebacker for UCF, Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste tallied 51 tackles, including 6 1/2 for loss, with one interception and a forced fumble in 2021. The 6’2″, 225-pound WILL should see a larger role this fall, having made five starts last season. He’s demonstrated that he can take on much bigger offensive linemen and prevail with the handwork and competitive toughness to shed blocks and make a play on the ball. A vocal leader on the field, Jean-Baptiste also offers one-on-one training camps with kids during the summer.
Tre’mon Morris-Brash, LB
After tallying nine tackles for loss and four sacks last fall, Tre’mon Morris-Brash is expected to take a leap as a defensive leader this season. The 6’2″, 245-pound edge rusher boasts all the athletic upside to earn consideration as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect. Showcasing good burst and ample straight-line speed, Morris-Brash can impact the backfield whether playing with his hand in the ground or stood up. If he can add some finesse to his athleticism and lower-body power, he could elevate his stock as a genuine force in the AAC.
Quadric Bullard, S
It doesn’t matter who you are; Quadric Bullard will hit you … and hard. Just ask coach Malzahn who suffered an injured knee last season when the UCF safety accidentally collided with him during a celebration. There are plenty of non-accidental collisions on the 6’0″, 170-pound safety’s tape. Bullard has a nose for the ball and flies all over the field in pursuit of it. He showcases impressive speed, timing, and ferocity when coming downhill. Meanwhile, he displays good play recognition to put himself in position to make a play.
Justin Hodges, DB
At 6’2″ and 175 pounds, Justin Hodges is a tall and rangy defensive back with 11 starts at cornerback during his two years at UCF. With 35 tackles (2 1/2 for loss), two sacks, seven pass breakups, and one interception, Hodges has been able to be disruptive in multiple ways. In addition to his natural size advantage, Hodges has excellent length that he uses at the catch point but also to help him shed blocks. The UCF defensive back exhibits a decent athletic profile that helps him be sticky in man coverage.
Other potential UCF prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
- Kobe Hudson, WR
- John Rhys-Plumlee, QB/WR
- Josh Celiscar, DL
- Keenan Hester, DT
- Ricky Barber, DT
- Anthony Montalvo, DT