2023 NFL Draft: 'Trust The Tape' prospects who shouldn't be overlooked despite lacking elite athletic traits (2023)

If you're creating the perfect NFL draft prospect, he'd have tremendous collegiate production and jaw-dropping athletic traits at imposing size. Of course, most don't check all those boxes. Sometimes you have to trust a prospect's film even if he's not an athletic, Greek god type.

This is the first in a two-part, annual series that examines a pair of unique subsets of every draft class. Below are NFL hopefuls who don't have requisite physical traits or maybe didn't crush their combine/pro day workouts yet I still really like and believe in as prospects. They can be good at the NFL level, I'm telling you!

These are my 'Trust The Tape' prospects for the 2023 class.

Karl Brooks, DL, Bowling Green

Man, I was bummed when I saw Brooks' pro-day workout numbers. On film, listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Brooks was an edge-rushing nightmare for offensive lines, and 303-pound edge-rushing nightmares are incredibly rare in the game of football.

His Relative Athletic Score (RAS) -- which grades a player's measurables compared to their peer group at a position throughout history -- at the defensive spot: a ghastly 1.66. All hope is not lost, however, because his RAS at defensive tackle was a respectable 5.83. Either way, regardless of what his "base" position will be in the NFL, the team that drafts Brooks must give him some outside rushing opportunities. The dude tied for the most quarterback pressures (69) among draft-eligible defenders and did so on under 400 pass-rushing snaps (386). Nutso production.

And this is a (seemingly) explosive, decently bendy rusher with the nastiest swim move in the 2023 class. He can pick and choose from a rather large collection of pass-rush moves in general. Yes, Brooks will have to mainly work on the inside. Moonlighting on the edge should be in the cards for him too. Beyond his incredibly polished game, I'm trusting the tape on Brooks because of his combination of essentially unprecedented frame and production.

Brian Branch, S/CB, Alabama

Branch ran 4.58 and had a vertical in the 34th percentile at the safety position. Neither are amazing. Branch isn't your classic, deep-middle free safety nor is he a safety who everyone realizes should probably just play linebacker. He's a do-everything "slot defender." Call him a nickel corner if you want, really. He was a routine big-play creator in the intermediate level of the field playing the famous "Star" position in Nick Saban's defense, the spot in which Saban at least attempts to place his best defensive back.

At just under 6-foot and 190 pounds, Branch doesn't have intimidating size either. I do not care. He is, legitimately, the best tackling defensive back I've ever scouted. I won't go as far to say that he never misses a tackle. But it is exceptionally rare. He has such a tremendous feel for route combinations in man or zone and finds the football frequently when it's arriving. Because the first round is actually more about traits than tape, Branch may not hear his name called until the second half of the first round. If we're simply asking "who are the best football players in this class?" Branch is unequivocally in the top 10 in my view.

Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State

I've been going with a Stefon Diggs comparison for Reed since before the combine, and I'm sticking to it. Reed was not the recruit Diggs was by any stretch (two stars vs. five stars). But their collegiate careers are super-comparable, and on-field style of the two are spitting images of each other.

Reed wins with lightning-quick feet against press and during his route, efficient and springy YAC capabilities, and the contested-catch skill of a 6-foot-4 receiver. That's exactly the quick scouting description on Diggs -- a fifth-round pick, remember -- when he entered the league out of Maryland.

Then there's this -- Diggs' RAS was 5.66 in 2015. Reed's is 6.73. Reed was unguardable at the Senior Bowl, demonstrating veteran-esque savvy selling his routes. Diggs hit the ground running in the NFL because of his route-running intricacies too. It doesn't bother me that Reed isn't a 4.40 wideout with a 41-inch vertical. For as much as I believe in the predictive powers of athleticism in the NFL, it is fascinating that none of Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, or Davante Adams were spectacular athletes entering the league around the same time.

Kaevon Merriweather, S, Iowa

Iowa can certainly pump out some Trust the Tapers, from Mike Daniels to Micah Hyde to Amani Hooker to Josey Jewell. Merriweather is the next Hawkeye in line. Nothing Merriweather did at the combine finished above the 50th percentile at the safety spot, and on film, you'd think he was the fastest, most athletic player on the field in every game he played because of how frequently he's around the football.

In his final two seasons as a full-time starter for Bill Belichick disciple Kirk Ferentz, Merriweather had four interceptions and seven pass breakups across 25 games and tackles very well. His defensive instincts are off the charts, and there won't be many instances in which he's lost when the football enters his coverage vicinity. Merriweather feels like a Day 3 safety who'll eventually land in a starter role and thrive in the NFL.

Andre Carter, EDGE, Army

Carter's 2021 was one of the most productive seasons we've seen from a full-time edge rusher in a while, from a pressure-generation angle -- 59 pressures on 293 pass-rush snaps is absurd. Now, in 2022, Carter wasn't nearly as productive, then at the Senior Bowl, he was manhandled a bit in one-on-one drills. I, for one, am not overly concerned with Senior Bowl one-on-ones and do not let them alter my evaluations. In-game action across multiple seasons matters astronomically more. I'm assuming the vast majority of NFL scouts and GMs feel similarly. But, his down week at the Senior Bowl coupled with a blah combine have led to Carter's stock free-falling into Day 2 or even Day 3 after being a believed to be first-round pick all 2022 season.

At nearly 6-foot-7 and almost 260 pounds with 33 3/8-inch arms, Carter did manage a blisteringly fast 6.97 seconds. That type of bend, at that size -- and yes, he needs to add weight and power to that frame -- cannot be coached. Plus, Carter dominated 2021 thanks to a well-assembled package of pass-rush moves. I'm trusting the tape on this Army alum.

Parker Washington, WR, Penn State

Washington is such a fun, new-age wide receiver, and one that feels like is being vastly underrated in this class. Why? The theme of this article should tip you off here -- he doesn't appear to be a tremendous athlete, and he's not an intimidating physical specimen for the receiver spot at just under 5-foot-10 and 204 pounds with super-short 29-inch arms.

On the field, Washington fits the profile of a modern-day YAC specialist. Think about the best run-after-the-catch wideouts in the NFL today, the majority are stocky, RB-like ball carriers with unshakable equilibriums. That's Washington. He absorbs contact amazingly because of tremendous natural balance. He constantly creates big gains out of easy, high-percentage throws, and that ability is vital in the NFL today. We never got a Washington workout during the pre-draft cycle. That's fine. He probably wouldn't have been that impressive, anyway. On the field, he is. Oh, and he has vice grips for hands too. Contact at the catch point rarely throws off his concentration.


Who is the top NFL prospect for 2023? ›

2023 NFL Draft prospect rankings, board: 100 best available...
  • Bryce Young, QB, Alabama, 5-10, 204, Junior. ...
  • C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State, 6-3, 218, Redshirt Sophomore. ...
  • Will Anderson Jr., Edge Rusher, Alabama, 6-4, 243, Junior. ...
  • Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech, 6-6, 275, Redshirt Senior.
7 days ago

Who has been the most accurate at predicting the NFL draft? ›

Brendan Donahue, the #1 most accurate mock drafter over the past five NFL seasons according to The Huddle Report, gives you his 2023 NFL Mock Draft — making predictions for every team and every pick in the first round.

Who are the top defensive lineman in the 2023 NFL Draft? ›

Ranking the top 10 defensive linemen in 2023 NFL Draft
  • Jalen Carter, Georgia, 6-3, 314 pounds.
  • Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh, 6-1, 281. ...
  • Bryan Bresee, Clemson, 6-5, 298. ...
  • Mazi Smith, Michigan, 6-3, 323. ...
  • Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern, 6-1, 282. ...
  • Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin, 6-4, 309. ...
  • Siaki Ika, Baylor, 6-3, 335.
2 days ago

Who is the best QB in the NFL 2023 draft? ›

Here are the top 10 quarterbacks in this year's draft class, per PFF's NFL Draft Guide and big board.
  • Bryce Young, Alabama. BIG BOARD RANK: 1. ...
  • Will Levis, Kentucky. BIG BOARD RANK: 4. ...
  • C.J. ...
  • Anthony Richardson, Florida. ...
  • Tanner McKee, Stanford. ...
  • Hendon Hooker, Tennessee. ...
  • Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA. ...
  • Jake Haener, Fresno State.

Who is the #1 QB in the 2023 NFL Draft? ›

The 2023 Quarterback class by contrast has three potential stars in the shape of Ohio State's CJ Stroud, Alabama's Bryce Young, and Kentucky's Will Levis and also contains a number of future NFL players with promising starting potential. Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman trophy winner is our top-ranked player.

Who is the most accurate mock draft expert? ›

Who has the most accurate NFL Mock Draft?
RankAnalystPoints by Category
Total (?) 320 pts possible
1Albert Breer - The MMQB177
2Charlie Campbell - Walter Football176
3Anthony Staggs - 4for4172
51 more rows

Who is the most accurate draft expert? ›

Mel Kiper Jr. has served as an expert analyst for ESPN's annual NFL draft coverage since 1984, providing in-depth information on the nation's most talented college football players. His pre-draft predictions are frequently the most accurate in the business, often as much as 80 percent correct on first-round selections.

Who is the best at predicting fantasy football? ›

Renowned for his accuracy and predictions, Matthew Berry is an NFL and fantasy football analyst for NBC.

What positions are strong in 2023 NFL draft? ›

NOTE: Check out NFL+ for live coverage of Florida pro day beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 30.
  • Related Links. ...
  • 1) Cornerback. ...
  • 2) Tight end. ...
  • 3) Edge defender. ...
  • 4) Wide receiver. ...
  • 5) Quarterback. ...
  • 6) Interior defensive line. ...
  • 7) Interior offensive line.
Mar 28, 2023

Who is the best 2023 fantasy football draft? ›

2023 Fantasy Football Rankings - Top 150
  • Christian McCaffrey, SF RB1.
  • Jonathan Taylor, IND RB2.
  • Saquon Barkley, NYG RB3.
  • Austin Ekeler, LAC RB4.
  • Justin Jefferson, MIN WR1.
  • Bijan Robinson, FA RB5.
  • Tony Pollard, DAL RB6.
  • Travis Etienne Jr., JAC RB7.

Who is the best kicker in the 2023 NFL Draft? ›

Jake Moody, Michigan

Moody is the best kicker in this draft and projected to go as high as the fourth or fifth round. He made 29-of-35 (83%) of his kicks last season. Moody was a perfect 60-of-60 on extra points. He also excels on kickoffs with 66 touchbacks on 102 attempts (65%).

Who has the best safeties in the 2023 NFL Draft? ›

2023 NFL Draft Top 15 Safety Prospects
  • Brian Branch, Alabama.
  • Ji'Ayir Brown, Penn State.
  • Jammie Robinson, Florida State.
  • Jordan Battle, Alabama.
  • Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M.
  • Sydney Brown, Illinois.
  • Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame.
  • JL Skinner, Boise State.
3 days ago

Are there any good quarterbacks in the 2023 draft? ›

C.J. Stroud comes in as the highest rated QB prospect according to NFL.com's Bucky Brooks and the second highest prospect according to ESPN behind Bryce Young of Alabama.

Why is Stetson Bennett not an NFL prospect? ›

"Stetson Bennett's why is: He wasn't really recruited, then he went to junior college and came back [to Georgia]. Hooker is a sixth-year [player]. Why wasn't he good enough to come out after 2021?

How good is Will Levi's? ›

He's an athletic passer, with the ability to zip off-platform throws with plus velocity from a compact release. He struggled to put together an extended period of high-caliber quarterback play in 2022, but was also dealing with injuries that he fought his way through for much of the season.

Who was the greatest quarterback of all time? ›

', host Ian Glendon and John Sapochetti give their list of the Top 10 greatest quarterbacks of all time.
  • Bart Starr (Green Bay Packers) ...
  • Roger Staubach (Dallas Cowboys) ...
  • Otto Graham (Cleveland Browns) ...
  • Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins) ...
  • John Elway (Denver Broncos) ...
  • Johnny Unitas (Baltimore Colts)
1 day ago

Who is the best quarterback in the NFL history? ›

The following is a list of the top National Football League (NFL) quarterbacks in regular season wins. In the NFL, the starting quarterback is the only position that is credited with records of wins and losses. Tom Brady holds the record for the most regular season wins with 251.

Which NFL teams need quarterback in 2023 draft? ›

Need a quarterback
  • Washington Commanders. Starting quarterbacks: Carson Wentz/Taylor Heinicke. ...
  • Atlanta Falcons. Starting quarterback: Marcus Mariota. ...
  • New Orleans Saints. Starting quarterbacks: Jameis Winston/Andy Dalton. ...
  • Carolina Panthers. ...
  • Seattle Seahawks. ...
  • Indianapolis Colts. ...
  • Houston Texans. ...
  • New York Jets.
Apr 11, 2023

Which draft pick is Mr irrelevant? ›

When the San Francisco 49ers selected Brock Purdy with the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft, the undersized quarterback out of Iowa State unwittingly joined an exclusive club, becoming the latest man known as "Mr. Irrelevant."

What is the most successful draft round? ›

Drafting a defensive lineman in the 4th round has the highest success rate of all positions at 37%. If you were ranking rounds by number drafted it would be 7th, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 2nd and 5th.

Are mock drafts even accurate? ›

It can be an exhilarating feeling when you see an expert project a great player to go to your squad. On the other hand, it can be deflating to see a player you don't like projected to go there. As fun as mock drafts are to dive into, they are never 100 percent accurate.

What team has the most draft picks in history? ›

In 2022, defending national champion Georgia produced 15 total NFL Draft selections, establishing a new all-time record and breaking the former mark held by Ohio State in 2004 and LSU in 2020, with 14 players taken those years.

Is Fantasy Guru worth it? ›

Fantasy Guru is worth the price because of its in-depth analysis that helps set you apart from the competition. You can pick and choose your tier of subscription to ensure that your focus is on your preferred area of fantasy or betting, whether it be seasonal or daily.

Who are the top fantasy picks for 2023 NFL? ›

Overall Draft Rankings - Apr 19, 2023
RankPlayer (Team)Best
1Christian McCaffrey (RB - SF)1
2Austin Ekeler (RB - LAC)2
3Jonathan Taylor (RB - IND)2
4Saquon Barkley (RB - NYG)3
1 more row

Who will win NFL MVP 2023? ›

Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes are currently tied as favorites to win the 2023 NFL MVP at +650 odds. Followed by Josh Allen (+750) Justin Herbert (+900), Jalen Hurts (+1000), and Tua Tagovailoa (+1400).

Who is the number 1 prospect football 2024? ›

1-Dylan Raiola
2-Jeremiah Smith
3-Colin Simmons
48Eddrick Houston
26 more rows


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