Monday, September 26, 2022

2023 NFL Draft: Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis headline top 10 SEC prospects

It may be tiresome for other conferences to hear about the SEC and all of its accomplishments, but the statistics back up all the grandiose claims on an annual basis. In addition to two representatives playing in the national championship, the SEC also produced 12 first-round picks; the four other Power 5 conferences combined for 15. 

When preparing a list of this year’s top draft prospects, it was clear that no other conference will dethrone the SEC’s draft dominance in 2023. There are six in-conference prospects already with a strong case to be taken among the top 10 next April:

10. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina

Some may be drawn to find links between Smith and former Gamecock Jaycee Horn. Outside of both playing at South Carolina, there are not many similarities. Horn was more of an athletic specimen. Smith is physical at the catch point and does a good job tracking the ball in the air. The South Carolina native has had great ball production each of the past two seasons. 

Opposing quarterbacks had a 24.1 passer rating against Smith, which ranked No. 10 among defensive backs with at least 200 coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. He played more than half of his snaps in press man coverage. His 25.7% pass breakup rate as a primary defender was the best.

9. Jaquelin Roy, DL, LSU

Roy has strong hands and plays with good strength. He displays some stack-and-shed ability while keeping his eyes fixated on the backfield. The Louisiana native had already shown a lot of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, so there is hope his trajectory continues upward. 

8. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

Ringo has elite top-end speed and length for the cornerback position. He is willing to stick his nose in the box and make plays in the flat. Longer cornerbacks often have a more difficult time opening their hips to transition across the field. Ringo redshirted as a freshman before starting the final 12 games last year. With another season of experience, he can build on what he learned a year ago while bulking up his resume in time for the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Arizona native was ranked the No. 4 overall recruit out of high school, according to the 247Sports Composite. He was in press man coverage for the majority of his coverage snaps. The opposition completed 38.1% of passes against him, which ranked No. 14 among all defenders with at least 200 coverage snaps, according to TruMedia.

7. Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M

Johnson has great size to go along with an excellent athletic skillset. He communicates shifts and has a quick key and trigger to play downhill. The Illinois native fights through blocks and plays a rugged style of football. Although early days, Johnson has established himself as the top safety prospect in the class. 

6. Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

There are some similarities between Boutte and former LSU Tiger Ja’Marr Chase. They have similar builds and speed. Boutte is physical through his routes and has strong hands to make contested catches. I am not willing to say that the Louisiana native’s ability at the catch point matches Chase, however. The latter has shown he is special in that regard. 

Boutte returns to Baton Rouge for what many expect to be his last collegiate season. Former Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels appears to be the starting quarterback for LSU, which is an improvement over the situation the wide receiver had last season.

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5. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama

The Georgia Tech transfer is different than the typical physical, load-bearing running backs that Alabama has produced in the past. He is productive in all three phases — running, blocking and catching — of the game, which will allow him to be an every-down back at the next level. Gibbs gets up to speed quickly and is willing to fight through contact. Gibbs is willing to lay it all on the line for his team and looks like a wide receiver catching passes. The league’s top-five rushers averaged 223 pounds last season with Dalvin Cook of the Vikings being the lightest at 210 pounds. Gibbs is currently listed at 200 pounds, so, in an ideal world, he would bulk up a bit more. 

The Georgia native avoided tackles on 31.7% of his rushes, according to TruMedia.

Gibbs was excluded from the six prospects who could be a top 10 pick alluded to in the introduction because of positional versatility. It would be a surprise if Texas’ Bijan Robinson was not the first running back picked. A running back has not been taken inside the top 10 since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 overall in 2018.

4. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

Levis has a traditional NFL quarterback frame with plus physicality and mobility. There is a time and place for quarterbacks to take advantage of what defenses are showing and get some yardage on the ground. However, he needs to remove the aspect of his game where he takes on unnecessary hits. The Penn State transfer has more than enough arm strength to push the ball downfield. While at the team’s Pro Day, Levis attempted some throws for the talent evaluators in attendance. On one particular play, he rolled to his left and threw 60 yards with ease. Those in attendance exchanged glances acknowledging the talent they had just witnessed. Levis can do a better job of marrying his upper body with his footwork, and that was said to be a point of emphasis this offseason.

NFL teams will love that he has spent a few years in a pro-style system going from new Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen to former 49ers quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello. 

3. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama

Young can drive the ball and throws with touch. There is some mobility to his game, but it is not his first instinct when the play breaks down. The concerns lie with his slim frame. He also fades away in the pocket throwing off his back foot unnecessarily. Young throws with anticipation and shows good ball placement. His feel for the game is that of a seasoned veteran.

Young had the seventh-best passer efficiency rating in 2021, according to TruMedia. His 8.33 air yards per attempt ranked No. 75 among all quarterbacks with at least 200 passes. 

Alabama is replacing a lot on offense. Following the loss of first-round selection Jameson Williams, the Crimson Tide added more transfers to supplement the pass game — Georgia’s Jermaine Burton and Louisville’s Tyler Harrell.

2. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

Carter is a deceptive 310 pounds because he carries it so well. His decision to wear No. 88 certainly does not make his situation any less confusing. The Florida native has good top-end speed and athleticism. He is quick to split gaps but also has the strength to dictate action in the run game. 

The third-year player created pressure on 13% of his pass rushes last season, according to TruMedia. He recorded a tackle on 17.1% of run defense snaps. 

1. Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

Anderson has little weakness. He has a strong lower body to hold his ground in the run game and great speed around the edge to apply pressure on the quarterback. When his rush does not get home, he shows the awareness to peel off and get his hands in passing lanes. There is room for him to expand his pass rush arsenal but all of the traits are there.   

Anderson had a remarkable 101 total tackles and 17.5 sacks. They were not against lighter competition, either. The Georgia native recorded at least one sack in every game with the exception of Mercer, Florida and Texas A&M. 

According to TruMedia, he applied pressure on 15.7% of his pass rushes, which tied for No. 12 among players with at least 200 pass rush snaps. 

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