2023 NFL Draft Stock – Pre-New Year’s Day Bowls

This new section highlights which players have improved or worsened their 2023 NFL Draft stock as the draft approaches.

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
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2023 NFL Draft Stock Up

Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Johnston could be the first wide receiver taken next April in the 2023 NFL Draft, and he proved why against Michigan. In the second quarter, Johnston got wide open in busted coverage for a 32-yard gain. Johnston also broke open for some other would-be chunk completions, but Duggan didn’t see him or missed some passes with inaccuracy. With TCU on the ropes, Johnston got open running a deep post and hauled in a 46-yard reception to get the Horned Frogs just outside the red zone.

The Wolverines kept clawing their way back, but Johnston kept coming up clutch. At one point, Duggan hit him on the run on a crossing route before Johnston broke a tackle to explode down the field for a 76-yard touchdown. Johnston showed he was a complete package on that play, displaying the speed to get open, the strength to break tackles, and the intense speed to run away from defenses. Versus Michigan, Johnston caught six passes for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Johnston looks like a future No. 1 receiver at the next level. He has mismatch size and the speed to achieve separation, plus runs routes very well. Team sources have said Johnston is super smart and TCU’s hardest worker. With his skill set, Johnston is a favorite to be the first wide receiver taken in the 2023 NFL Draft and is likely to be a top-10 pick.

Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Branch put on a clinic against Kansas State. He was all over the field, making tackles in run defense and in pass coverage. Early in the first quarter, Branch came over from zone coverage to make two good open-field tackles. In run support, he had a good tackle for a loss on Deuce Vaughn after shedding a block from Malik Knowles to track down Vaughn in the backfield. Shorty later, Branch blitzed and flew into the backfield to notch another tackle for a loss on a tackle of Vaughn.

While in zone coverage over the slot receiver in the third quarter, Branch read the eyes of the quarterback to undercut the outside receiver to reel in an interception. On the next play, the Crimson Tide had a 17-yard touchdown to essentially lock up the win over the Wildcats.

On Kansas State’s next possession, Branch recorded his third tackle for a loss after running past a block and tracking down Vaughn in the flat. On the next play, Branch laid another big hit on a tackle, and on third down, he made the tackle to get his defense off the field. Early in the fourth quarter, Branch came on a corner blitz and dodged blockers to get a sack of Will Howard.

Branch could be a superb weapon for his NFL defense. He can play nickel corner, safety and outside corner. Branch has good size, speed, athleticism, and instinctiveness. His performance in the Sugar Bowl will help him to end up as a first-round pick this coming April in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State
Vaughn is going to be a steal in the 2023 NFL Draft. He is very short at 5-foot-5 or 5-6, but defenses have a hard time keeping track of him behind the line. Vaughn is a warrior though, and he gave proof of that in the Sugar Bowl.

Late in the first quarter against Alabama, Vaughn showed his next-level speed with an 88-yard touchdown run. He took the ball up the middle and kicked out to the right side before outrunning the Crimson Tide defense and diving into the end zone for the score. In the third quarter, Vaughn went out for a time due to a banged-up ankle, but he returned to the game. Following Vaughn’s long run, Alabama closed up the running lanes and had its defensive backs attack downhill to not let him spring a big run. Vaughn totaled 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

Vaughn may not have the size to be a three-down starter in the NFL, but he could be a dynamite No. 2 back at the next level. Vaughn is an excellent receiving back who possesses speed, amazing elusiveness, and nail-hard toughness. While he is slightly different, Vaughn could be a Darren Sproles type back in the NFL.

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Stroud put together a phenomenal performance against Georgia that showed he possesses the ability to become a true potential franchise quarterback in the NFL. In the first quarter, Stroud led a pretty drive, moving in the pocket and throwing accurately. To cap it, he bought time and directed Marvin Harrison Jr. to break off his route and run to an open space in the end zone before lofting in a 31-yard touchdown pass to his star receiver. It was an excellent play for Stroud given that a lack of ad lib playmaking is one of the concerns that pro teams have with him, but he actively went off script on that play.

Later in the first half, Stroud made two amazing plays. He dodged Jalen Carter and moved to throw for a first down. Stroud later dodged three defensive linemen in the pocket before scrambling to the side and lofting in a beautiful 16-yard touchdown pass to Harrison.

Stroud remained proficient in the second half, leading the Buckeyes to points and using his legs more than he typically would to help move the chains. He had an impressive 17-yard run midway through the fourth quarter that displayed untapped speed and athleticism. Late in the game, Stroud moved the ball in position for a 50-yard field goal to win the game, but the kicker missed on the attempt. Against Georgia, Stroud completed 23-of-34 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran 12 times to pick up 34 yards. On top of playing well, Stroud lost Harrison and other weapons to injuries during the contest.

Against the Bulldogs, Stroud was impressive, throwing into a lot of tight windows and completing some brilliant passes. On top of throwing the heck out of the bowl, Stroud showed more running and ability to ad lib into big plays. There is no doubt that the tape of the Peach Bowl is going to help Stroud to be a high first-round pick this coming April in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Paris Johnson, OT, Ohio State
Johnson could be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and his performance against Georgia will help his draft grade. He was steady in pass protection, keeping rushers off his quarterback. Helped by good size and athleticism, Johnson was able to cut off the edge and showed the ability to get depth in his drop. He had plays where he would bend, but not break, remaining effective. Johnson posssesses good length that makes it hard for defenders to get around him, and he does a nice job of using that length to tie up those who face him. For the NFL, Johnson could stand to get stronger in his base and add more power to knock defenders backward.

Johnson showed some tenacity versus the Bulldogs, like not taking a shove from Jalen Cater at the end of the play, and also putting Carter into the turf with a hard hit. Johnson was fortunate he didn’t get a late-hit penalty, but NFL teams will like to see that Johnson has the fight and won’t take gruff from a defense. Johnson looks like a starting left tackle for the next level and is worthy of being a first-round choice in the 2023 NFL Draft.

2023 NFL Draft Stock Down

Jaren Hall, QB, BYU
Hall had a disappointing senior season, and team sources do not see him as an early-round candidate for the 2023 NFL Draft. They feel Hall is more of a backup quality player with some upside to potentially grow into being a low-tier starter, but Hall definitely did not develop over 2022 as NFL teams had hoped he would.

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