Best Landing Spots for 2023 NFL Draft's Fastest-Rising Prospects

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVMarch 14, 2023

Best Landing Spots for 2023 NFL Draft's Fastest-Rising Prospects

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    Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness
    Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van NessAP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

    Establishing a strong perception during the college football season is always most ideal, but dozens of prospects improve their NFL draft stock at the last minute.

    And, hey, better late than never.

    Between the NFL Scouting Combine, more tape review and meetings, these late-rising players are beginning to emerge. Ahead, we're highlighting seven prospects who are ascending on draft boards.

    The choices are ultimately subjective but consider recent hype, especially relative to their previous draft perceptions.

Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 04: Wide receiver Zay Flowers of Boston College participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 04, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Best Landing Spots: Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants

    In four seasons at Boston College, wide receiver Zay Flowers pulled in 200 catches for 3,056 yards and 29 touchdowns. He certainly had a place on the NFL draft radar.

    Running a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine in Indianapolis, however, has Flowers solidly in first-round territory.

    Because of his 5'9" frame, Flowers probably won't be viewed as a top receiver. He might develop into that, sure! But the expectation is he'll arrive as a complementary target, likely in a slot-focused role.

    All offseason, analysts have talked about the Ravens and Giants; they are no surprise here. However, the Vikings formally joined the list of WR-needy franchises after moving on from veteran Adam Thielen, and the Saints would follow suit if they release the often-injured Michael Thomas.

Marvin Mims Jr., WR, Oklahoma

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    LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 26: Wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. #17 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT&T Stadium on November 26, 2022 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
    John E. Moore III/Getty Images

    Best Landing Spots: Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans

    Copy, paste, repeat.

    Marvin Mims is a relatively slight 5'11" and 183 pounds, yet he sprinted to a 4.38-second 40 at the combine. The three-year contributor at Oklahoma—where Mims averaged a sterling 19.5 yards per reception on 123 career catches—reinforced his billing as a big-play prospect.

    While he's likely a Day 2 target, Mims is a fascinating fit in Green Bay next to Christian Watson. Together, they could simultaneously stress defenses horizontally and vertically for presumed new starter Jordan Love.

    Additionally, the Jaguars and Titans need a vertical threat to complement a receiving corps best in short and immediate areas.

    Depending on what happens with DeAndre Carter in free agency, the Chargers may need to bolster the receiving corps—especially considering Keenan Allen may not return after the 2023 season (potential team out on his contract).

Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Dawand Jones (79) during the college football Playoff Semifinal game at the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Ohio State Buckeyes on December 31, 2022 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Best Landing Spots: Chicago Bears, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans

    Ohio State teammate Paris Johnson Jr. is soundly a first-round prospect, but could Dawand Jones sneak into the opening day?

    During the combine, Jones measured at 6'8" and 374 pounds, with the largest hand size (11 ⅝"), arm length (36 ⅜") and wingspan (87 ⅞") among offensive linemen. Stature does not guarantee success, yet it undoubtedly turns heads.

    And there won't be a shortage of interest in Jones.

    Both the Bears and Steelers, in short, need to upgrade their offensive lines. Chicago ceded the fourth-most sacks in 2022, and Pittsburgh ranked 29th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Beyond them, the Jets must be prepared for Duane Brown to retire after the 2023 season, and the Titans recently cut veteran Taylor Lewan.

    Another team of note is the Denver Broncos, but they currently don't have a pick before the third round.

Lukas Van Ness, Edge, Iowa

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 02: Defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness of Iowa participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 02, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Best Landing Spots: Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    One fact you'll probably read often on Lukas Van Ness is that he never started at Iowa. However, that's an oversimplification when you consider that Van Ness headlined the Hawkeyes' rotation in 2022 anyway.

    Soon enough, he might be doing the same in the pros.

    Van Ness collected 70 tackles with 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks over the last two seasons. The reality is he appeals to practically every NFL team; few defenses ever actually have too many productive edge-rushers.

    Nevertheless, since he's likely a mid-Day 1 prospect, the list of ideal landing spots is thinner. We're focused on the Nos. 12-20 overall range.

    While the Packers are thin behind Preston Smith, the Texans lack a single definite long-term player at the position. The defense-focused Patriots have met with Van Ness, and the Bucs need to bolster the edge as Shaq Barrett rehabs to return from an Achilles injury.

Zacch Pickens, DT, South Carolina

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    South Carolina defensive lineman Zacch Pickens runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
    AP Photo/Michael Conroy

    Best Landing Spots: Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers

    On the other hand, Zacch Pickens is a fringe Day 2 player—so all 32 clubs will probably have a chance to draft him.

    Pickens put together a decent four-year run at South Carolina. The interior defender had 131 tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, steadily improving his impact along the way.

    Considering he was once a coveted high school recruit, it wasn't surprising Pickens tested well athletically in Indianapolis. He dazzled the combine with a 4.89-second 40-yard dash, tied for a position-best 9'8" broad jump and notched top-four finishes for D-tackles in the three-cone (7.45) and 20-yard shuttle (4.62).

    The landing spots listed, well—all of these franchises have substantial holes in the middle of their defense. They each landed no higher than 25th in rushing yards allowed per carry too.

Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

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    Maryland defensive back Deonte Banks (3) reacts to a Michigan turnover in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
    AP Photo/Paul Sancya

    Best Landing Spots: Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Washington Commanders

    Similar to Dawand Jones, the combine may have served as the first-round launching point for Deonte Banks.

    The cornerback out of Maryland ran a 4.35-second 40 with a 42-inch vertical and 11'4" broad jump. At his position, those numbers ranked third, first and second, respectively.

    Around mid-Day 1—but especially in the 20s if he's still available—Banks will probably start to land serious consideration.

    Most notably, the Vikings have an indisputable need at corner. The void on Minnesota's roster has only increased now that veteran Patrick Peterson is leaving in free agency.

    From there, apparently it's the entire NFC East. Even the Philadelphia Eagles could join the party if James Bradberry and/or Chauncey Gardner-Johnson don't return. For each of the Cowboys, Giants and Commanders, it's a matter of lacking depth at corner.

Jartavius 'Quan' Martin, DB, Illinois

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    ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 19: Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Jartavius Martin (21) rushes on defense during a college football game against the Michigan Wolverines on November 19, 2022 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Best Landing Spots: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams

    If you follow the draft somewhat closely, Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown are probably familiar names. They'll probably be first- and second-round selections in April.

    But another Illinois defensive back is surging onto the Day 2 radar.

    Jartavius "Quan" Martin, who gathered 120 tackles and 17 total pass defenses over the last two seasons, had a terrific week in Indianapolis. Along with a 4.46-second 40 and 11'1" broad jump, he skied to a 44-inch vertical—one of the 10-highest leaps in combine history.

    Even if the Bills re-sign Jordan Poyer, it might be a short-term contract. However, the Bengals are losing both Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell in free agency, while the position's depth for both the Lions and Rams is lacking.