CFB Players Who Aren't Eligible but Would Be Top Picks in the 2023 NFL DraftJanuary 27, 2023
CFB Players Who Aren't Eligible but Would Be Top Picks in the 2023 NFL Draft
The 2023 NFL draft is just three months away. It's always a fun time of year, as we get to see our favorite college football stars continue their careers on a bigger stage.
This year, a number of CFB standouts are expected to go in the first round, including Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter, and quarterbacks Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.
But to be eligible for the draft, a player has to be three years removed from high school.
So, what about guys who weren't eligible to be drafted in 2023 but surely would have been high picks if they could enter? Here, we'll include mostly guys who are projected to likely go on Day 1 in the draft (although 2024 mock drafts and projections for some guys are few and far between), but some may go early on Day 2, as well.
Their number includes the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and gobs of talent from the Power Five.
Other Names to Keep an Eye On
A lot of talented underclassmen could be drafted early in 2024, so we likely won't address every one of them. But here's a list of the most notable remaining guys to look out for come draft time next year.
LSU DT Maason Smith
As a true freshman in 2021, Smith had 19 total tackles, including five for loss and four sacks. Primed for a big season in 2022, Smith tore his ACL in Week 1 against Florida State, causing him to miss the rest of the year. He should do big things in 2023 for LSU's defense.
Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen
The Badgers running back has been sensational since he arrived in Madison as a true freshman in 2021. Over two seasons, Allen has rushed for 2,510 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also posted 21 receptions for 143 yards. It'll be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Phil Longo will utilize the talented running back in 2023.
Alabama CB Kool-Aid McKinstry
My favorite fact about the Alabama cornerback is that he has an NIL deal with Kool-Aid. But NIL pacts aside, McKinstry has gotten valuable reps in Tuscaloosa since his true freshman season in 2021. He finished with 26 total tackles and an interception that year, seeing the field consistently later in the season as Bama's secondary dealt with injuries. In his first campaign as a full-time starter in 2022, he didn't disappoint, finishing with 35 total tackles, a sack and an interception.
Clemson LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr.
The son of former NFL linebacker Jeremiah Trotter has made his own name for himself at Clemson. Through two seasons, Trotter has accounted for 104 total tackles, including 13.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks and two interceptions. He was a second-team AP All-American in 2022.
Tim Bourret @TimBourret
Jeremiah Trotter played just 59 snaps in 2021, then made 2nd Team AP AA in '22. That is fewest snaps for a CU player year before making an AA team (excluding Fr. Anthony Simmons and Sammy Watkin). Previous record was 176 snaps by Keith Adams in 1998 before making AA I'm 1999.<br>.
Trotter's father was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round. It looks like his son could be picked much higher than he was.
Ohio State RB TreVeyon Henderson
TreVeyon Henderson had a breakout season as a true freshman in 2021, finishing with 1,248 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, and another 312 yards receiving with four touchdowns. Henderson suffered a leg injury Oct. 8 against Michigan State that limited him in 2022, as he finished with just 571 yards rushing and six touchdowns. But given health, 2023 could be the best season yet for the running back.
Penn State CB Kalen King
Kalen King should step into more of a leadership role on Penn State's defense in 2023, as star safety Ji'Ayir Brown is headed to the NFL. King has seen significant playing time since his true freshman season in 2021, and he's quite the talented cornerback. In his career, he's accounted for 51 total tackles, three interceptions, 21 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Per ESPN's Matt Miller, King is the No. 1-ranked corner heading into 2023.
Georgia TE Brock Bowers
Georgia tight end Brock Bowers has been an integral part of the Bulldogs offense the last two seasons. Although he is listed as a tight end, Georgia uses him all over the field—putting him in the slot, sending him downfield and even inserting him into the run game.
Over two seasons with the Dawgs, Bowers has accounted for 119 receptions, 1,824 yards and 20 touchdowns with an average of 15.3 yards per catch. He led Georgia with 63 receptions for 942 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022.
Bowers has added 165 yards rushing over the last two seasons. Last year, he finished with a career-high nine carries for 109 yards and three touchdowns.
The rising junior is quite the versatile athlete. One of his more unforgettable plays this past season came against rival Florida, when he made this acrobatic catch that resulted in a touchdown:
Bowers is far from a traditional tight end. Take it from Alabama's Nick Saban, who described defending the playmaker ahead of last year's national title game, via Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer:
"I think this guy is one of the premier players in college football. I know he's just a freshman. But this guy's got great size. He's a good blocker. He's physical. He's tough. And he's got wide receiver skills. This guy is just a phenomenal football player all the way around."
Bowers will spend at least one more season in Athens, and Georgia could find even more creative ways to use its talented playmaker next season. Regardless, Bowers looks primed to be a top-five or -10 pick in 2024.
Texas QB Quinn Ewers
It may be a bit surprising to see Quinn Ewers here, but the Texas quarterback is already high on some early mock drafts.
He redshirted at OSU in 2021 after losing the starting job to C.J. Stroud in preseason camp.
After that season, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian's recruitment of Ewers from the transfer portal was one of the biggest of the cycle, as the QB was a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 overall quarterback from the 2021 class.
Ewers won the Longhorns' starting job for Week 1 against UL-Monroe and threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. During Texas' Week 2 game against Alabama, Ewers left in the first quarter after taking a big hit.
He suffered a sprained clavicle and didn't return to the starting lineup until Texas' game against Oklahoma on Oct. 8. He had an impressive return, finishing with 289 yards passing and four touchdowns and an interception in Texas' 49-0 rout of the Red River Rival Sooners.
Although the Longhorns' losses to Oklahoma State and TCU put them out of Big 12 title contention, Ewers had a decent season. On the year, he finished with 2,177 yards passing with 15 touchdowns and just six interceptions. That's impressive for a signal-caller who missed three games due to injury.
Walter Football has Ewers going No. 23 overall to the New Orleans Saints in 2024. With 5-star QB prospect Arch Manning stepping on campus this fall, it'll be interesting to see which signal-caller starts in 2024. We'll see if that alters Ewers' draft stock at all.
Texas WR Xavier Worthy
Texas Longhorns wide receiver Xavier Worthy has had two very good campaigns in Austin. As a true freshman in 2021, he finished as the team's leading receiver, posting 62 receptions for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 81.8 receiving yards per game and acting as a bright spot during a 5-7 season.
Although Worthy's numbers regressed a bit in 2022, he was still solid with 60 receptions for 760 yards and nine touchdowns. His best game came against West Virginia, as he finished with seven catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Putting up these types of numbers alongside several different quarterbacks is impressive for the Fresno, California, native.
Amid speculation Worthy might not stay at Texas in 2023, he said he was just focusing on the upcoming game. Still, there were reports that he was offered a lucrative NIL deal to transfer.
But unless Worthy switches schools in the upcoming May window, the receiver is staying put in Austin for 2023 and could push himself further up draft boards regardless. NFL Mock Draft Database projects Worthy with a 54.5 percent chance of going in the first round.
North Carolina QB Drake Maye
North Carolina signal-caller Drake Maye broke out in 2022. In his first season as a starter in Chapel Hill as a redshirt freshman, Maye burst on the scene and finished as the FBS leader in total offense, racking up 5,019 yards along with 45 total touchdowns.
While leading UNC to an ACC title game, he finished first in the conference in passing yards while breaking the UNC single-season record previously held by Mitch Trubisky, who threw for 3,748 yards in 2016. Drake's 38 passing scores tied a school single-season record, and his 39 career passing touchdowns already puts him at seventh all-time in program history.
So it's not surprising that Maye, who redshirted in 2021 and will be eligible for the draft in 2024, has already started getting noticed by folks at the next level. Here's one NFL GM on the Tar Heels QB, via Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer in November:
"'Very good player—under the radar nationally, but really fun to watch. He's an all-around player, can throw, run and competes his ass off.' The GM quickly added that he's only watched Maye; he hasn't really studied him yet. But he knew enough to throw him in the pile of guys with high-end potential."
If Maye has another season like he just did, he could be one of the first few quarterbacks taken in the 2024 draft.
Ohio State receivers Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka
Heading into the 2023 campaign, Ohio State fans are breathing a sigh of relief that standout receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka can't go to the draft just yet.
We'll start with Harrison, who has pro talent in his DNA—he's the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison. The former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver's son had a breakout season for the Buckeyes in 2022, racking up 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns.
He had seven games with over 100 receiving yards and at least one touchdown, including 106 yards with two scores against Georgia's vaunted defense in the Peach Bowl national semifinal.
Pro Football Focus graded Harrison's season a 90.2, the top mark among all wide receivers. We'll see if the Buckeyes wideout gets drafted even higher than his father, who went No. 19 to the Colts in 1996. If he puts up similar numbers to this past season's, he has a good shot at doing so.
And then there's Emeka Egbuka, who finished right behind Harrison in receiving in 2022, posting 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns. Here's ESPN's Miller on what scouts love about the Buckeyes No. 2 receiver:
In its quest to earn the WRU label, Ohio State has another receiver expected to carry a Round 1 grade -- and Egbuka would be the top receiver at most colleges thanks to his route running and burst off the line of scrimmage. His speed and acceleration have him ranked as the best deep threat in the 2024 class.
It wouldn't be surprising if both end up going in the first round.
They will have to deal with a quarterback change, however, as Stroud left for the NFL. Kyle McCord is the expected starter, but he'll have to compete against Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz. We'll see if that affects Harrison and Egbuka's draft stocks at all.
USC QB Caleb Williams
Caleb Williams is a household name in college football, but he's still got at least one more year before he can go to the NFL.
As a true freshman at Oklahoma in 2021, Williams took Spencer Rattler's job and threw for 1,912 yards and 21 touchdowns with four interceptions in 11 games, and he ran for 442 yards and six touchdowns.
In the offseason, he followed his head coach, Lincoln Riley, to USC. There, he put up the best numbers of his career, throwing for 4,537 passing yards and 42 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He rushed for another 10 scores too. He won the Heisman Trophy in December and helped lead the Trojans to an 11-3 mark.
Here's ESPN's Miller on Williams' stock as he enters the 2024 season:
"The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is a do-it-all quarterback who routinely makes off-platform throws and jaw-dropping plays. In two seasons -- one at Oklahoma and one at USC -- he has thrown 63 touchdown passes, rushed for another 16 scores and thrown just nine interceptions. His 87.6 QBR ranked fifth this past season, and he had 69 completions go for 20-plus yards (second most in the FBS). Scouts think he's a rare prospect."
It looks like all signs are pointing toward Williams being the highest-picked USC quarterback since Sam Darnold, who went No. 3 in 2018. We'll see if he can lead the Trojans to a Pac-12 title in 2023, something USC hasn't done since 2017.
Ohio State DE JT Tuimoloau
Ohio State defensive end JT Tuimoloau broke out as a sophomore last year, as he posted 28 total tackles, 10.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.
His best game came against Penn State, when he finished with six total tackles, three for loss, two sacks and two interceptions—one that resulted in a pick-six. He also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the day. According to ESPN, the performance is one of the best in OSU school history:
"Tuimoloau became one of three FBS players in the past 15 seasons to record two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and a touchdown in a single game, joining Appalachian State's Demetrius Taylor (2019 at North Carolina) and UCLA's Keisean Lucier-South (2018 at Cal)."
OSU head coach Ryan Day told reporters after the game:
"To intercept balls like that, as a defensive end to go get a defensive score, I don't know if I've ever seen that. That's big time. JTT has put so much hard work into this. He's an unbelievable player, but he's a better person. And you can see his talent. This is kind of his coming-out party today. And he's been working at it. Nobody wants it more than he does. So in this stage, for him to play the way he did, it means a lot to him and I think his teammates are very proud of him."
Tuimoloau finished eighth on the team in total tackles. With the departure of veteran edge-rusher Zach Harrison to the NFL, Tuimoloau and fellow rising junior Jack Sawyer will likely play an even bigger role on Ohio State's defense in 2023.
Per NFL Mock Draft Database, Tuimoloau has a 90.9 percent chance of going in the first round, and Walter Football has him going at No. 17 overall to the Seattle Seahawks.
Notre Dame OT Joe Alt
Notre Dame has a talented offensive tackle in rising junior Joe Alt. He is the son of John Alt, who spent 13 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The younger Alt played in all 13 games for Notre Dame in 2021 and made eight starts at the end of the season, including in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. He stepped into full-time a starting role in 2022 and looks like he could be a highly drafted offensive tackle in 2024.
Here's more on what makes Alt so talented, from PFF:
Joe Alt looks like the best offensive tackle prospect since Penei Sewell, and he can't even be drafted until 2024. The son of Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer John Alt, Joe is picking up right where his dad left off. The true sophomore's 91.4 grade is the highest among all Power Five tackles, while his 90.6 run-blocking grade is the second-highest among FBS offensive tackles. He also has allowed only a 1.4% pressure rate this season, the third-lowest mark at the position.
Alt was named to the AP's 2022 All-American team, along with Northwestern's Peter Skoronski. Alt's father, John, was selected 21st in the 1984 draft by the Chiefs. We'll see if his son is picked even higher in 2024.
Alabama LB Dallas Turner
Alabama will have to replace leader and standout linebacker Will Anderson Jr. in 2023. Luckily the Tide will bring back a very talented linebacker in Dallas Turner, who is primed to break out.
Over two seasons, he has been a consistent contributor, accounting for 37 total tackles, 18 for loss and 12.5 sacks. He's recovered two fumbles, too, one resulting in a score against Tennessee in October.
Walter Football has him going No. 7 overall to the New York Jets in 2024, with draft analyst Charlie Campbell writing:
"With Will Anderson commanding attention on the other side in 2021, Turner (6-4, 245) had a phenomenal freshman debut for the Crimson Tide. Turner showed serious pass-rush potential in 2021 with 8.5 sacks and 30 tackles while rotating with other defenders. In 2022, Turner collected 37 tackles and four sacks, but he was far more disruptive than the numbers indicate. Turner has upside and could be even better in 2023."
Thanks to how talented the Tide's linebacking corps was the last two seasons—featuring Anderson as well as Henry To'oTo'o and Jaylen Moody—Turner may not stand out as much. But it looks like he's about to shoot up 2024 draft boards this fall regardless.
Recruit rankings via 247Sports.