Ranking the SEC’s Top 25 2023 NFL Draft prospects
The SEC absolutely owns the NFL Draft, and has for more than a decade. Every year, there are dozens of SEC players who hear their names called over the course of the 7-round event.
This year will be no different. In fact, the SEC could have a majority of the top-10 picks. Alabama star QB Bryce Young and fearsome edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. could each go No. 1 overall, depending on which team gets the first pick.
So, as part of Top 25 Week here at Saturday Down South, let’s take a look at the top SEC guys in this year’s draft class. Let’s start with some honorable mentions.
Honorable mentions: Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina; Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee; Henry To’o To’o, LB, Alabama; Javion Cohen, OL, Alabama; Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn; Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State; Malachi Moore, DB, Alabama; Brian Branch, DB, Alabama; Javon Foster, OL, Mizzou
25. Kris Abrams-Draine, CB, Mizzou
Abrams-Draine started his college career as a wide receiver but switched to the secondary last fall, with some strong results. He finished the 2021 campaign with 37 tackles, 3 interceptions and 7 pass breakups.
He has strong ball skills and also returned a punt for a touchdown last year, making him a potential special teams contributor as a rookie. He’s getting some borderline first-round buzz, but at the very least, he should be off the board by the end of Day 2.
24. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
To stand out as a running back these days, you have to also be a factor in the passing game. Gibbs can certainly do that, and he’s already impressing Alabama defenders in fall camp:
#Alabama LB Henry To'o To'o on RB Jahmyr Gibbs: "I've never guarded a back like him before."
— Charlie Potter (@Charlie_Potter) August 5, 2022
Unfortunately for Gibbs, running backs rarely go in the first round these days. Even with a big year, he could be relegated to Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft.
23. Devon Achane, RB, Texas A&M
I’m going to qualify this the same way I just qualified Gibbs. I love Achane as a player. I think he’ll lead the SEC in rushing yards this year. But the NFL just doesn’t value running backs all that much.
Isaiah Spiller was a superstar for the Aggies last year and didn’t get picked until the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. That’s crazy to me. Still, Achane has the special combination of power and speed that should have RB-needy NFL teams salivating.
He can also make an impact on special teams. When you have a guy who can hit 22 mph running, you put him back deep and let him do what he does best:
— Recruiting Analytics (@RAanalytics) October 11, 2021
That special teams ability gives him the nod above Gibbs, but those guys should be 2 of the top runners in this draft class when all is said and done.
22. Derick Hall, Edge, Auburn
Hall had 9 sacks last year under then-DC Derek Mason. He’s a versatile edge rusher, who can use both power and speed to get to the quarterback. If he can approach double-digit sacks again this fall, it’ll be a big boost for the Tigers’ defense.
21. Jaheim Bell, TE, South Carolina
The SEC’s top tight end, Georgia’s Brock Bowers, isn’t draft-eligible until 2024, so Bell gets the nod as the league’s top draft-eligible tight end. And he has the potential to skyrocket up draft boards. He had 30 catches for 497 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2021 despite working with some lackluster quarterbacks.
If Spencer Rattler has a big year, both he and Bell can improve their stocks and work their ways into the Day 2 discussion.
20. Layden Robinson, OL, Texas A&M
Robinson is going to get a lot more attention now that Kenyon Green is off to the NFL as a first-round 2022 draft pick. Now, Robinson has the chance to become a first-round pick. As the projected starting right guard for the Aggies, it seems safe to assume Robinson will have a lot of running plays called to his side this fall. We’ll see if he can continue opening lanes for Achane to speed through.
19. Jalen Catalon, DB, Arkansas
Catalon suffered an injury midway through the 2021 season, but his talent is undeniable when he’s on the field. When he’s at full strength, he’s one of the best ballhawks and one of the hardest hitters in any SEC secondary:
? Jalen Catalon is coming back ?pic.twitter.com/BaU4OdsmBs
— Tye Richardson ? (@TyeSportsRadio) December 14, 2021
He impacts games in so many ways that the Razorbacks are a completely different defensive unit when he’s out there.
18. Nick Broeker, OL, Ole Miss
Broeker is one of very few players returning to the Ole Miss offense this fall. He’ll be blocking for a new quarterback and a new stable of running backs. But there’s plenty of talent in that group. If Broeker can clear some lanes for Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley IV and keep the starting quarterback’s blind side protected, he’ll rise up draft boards in a hurry.
17. Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia
People sometimes forget that Nolan Smith was the No. 1 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He’s been productive in his 3 years in Athens, recording 92 total tackles (13 for a loss) and 9.5 sacks. However, those are the kind of numbers you’d expect in 1 season from a No. 1 recruit, not over the course of 3 seasons.
Smith has been quietly developing into a steady player, though. He’s already a great all-around edge player, as this clip shows:
Georgia had an NFL-record 5 defenders drafted in the 1st round in April. And it might have been 6 if Nolan Smith declared.
Smith is one of the reasons this year's EDGE draft class is so promising.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) August 5, 2022
Georgia’s defense was full of superstars in 2021. If Smith can develop into one of those superstars in 2022, he’ll be a no-doubter when it comes to the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
16. Jermaine Burton, WR, Alabama
Predictions for Burton are mixed throughout the college football fan world and media world. However, if the former Georgia receiver can stay healthy, I think he can put up John Metchie-like numbers in this Alabama offense in 2022. (For the record, those numbers from Metchie in 2021 were 96 catches for 1,142 yards and 8 touchdowns.)
As good as Metchie was last year, Burton might be able to provide a bit more big-play ability than Metchie did last year. Here’s Burton flashing his ability to win 50/50 balls deep down the field:
I want a bully at wide receiver.
Jermaine Burton ✅pic.twitter.com/r8C3Y2Mef4
— Justin Hulsey (@FF_Hulsey) August 5, 2022
If Burton can avoid some of the nagging injuries that plagued him last year, the sky’s the limit for his ability to produce in this talented Alabama offense.
15. Jaquelin Roy, DL, LSU
When Roy is coming at you, the best move is just to go down. That’s what Zach Calzada knew was the right thing to do during last year’s Texas A&M-LSU game:
Jaquelin Roy ? pic.twitter.com/1wmbrbdJIN
— Drunk Brian Kelly (@FauxLes) August 6, 2022
With a new defensive system in place and more talent around him (thanks to some key transfer portal additions at LSU), Roy should be in for a big 2022 season.
14. Jordan Battle, DB, Alabama
What makes Battle the No. 14 draft prospect while fellow secondary members Brian Branch and Malachi Moore are honorable mentions? Well, plays like this set Battle apart:
Jordan Battle is back for another year playing safety for Bama. One of the best in the country.
Shows good ball skills here. pic.twitter.com/LaxtvjhDPf
— Joe DiTullio (@DiTullioJoe) August 6, 2022
He also had 85 tackles in 2021, good for 4th on Alabama’s star-studded defense. He also had 3 picks, tied for the team high with DeMarcco Hellams and Jalyn Amour-Davis. He managed to bring 2 of them (including the highlight above) back for touchdowns, though – Alabama’s only 2 pick-sixes of the season.
With Eli Ricks locking down one side of the field for the Alabama defense (more on him later), there should be much less ground for Battle to cover. That should mean more big plays from the star defensive back.
13. Cedric Tillman, WR, Tennessee
How good was Cedric Tillman last year? He finished the season with 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns, so he was incredible all season long.
But what truly made him special was that he showed up when his team needed him the most. Here were his stats against Alabama and Georgia, the 2 teams that played for the national title:
- vs. Georgia: 10 catches, 200 yards, 1 touchdown
- vs. Alabama: 7 catches, 152 yards, 1 touchdown
Those were his 2 biggest games of the year in terms of yardage. Just check out his highlight reel from those games:
Cedric Tillman is going to be a problem next year pic.twitter.com/deMwy26iwj
— James Foster (@NoFlagsFilm) May 11, 2022
I love that he has his same play-caller (Josh Heupel) and quarterback (Hendon Hooker) coming back this fall. That’s huge for any receiver. He has a real chance to be the first receiver not named Jaxon Smith-Njigba to come off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft.
12. Antonio Johnson, DB, Texas A&M
Antonio Johnson is one of the most physical defensive backs in the country. Just look at all the would-be blockers he takes on in this highlight reel:
Antonio Johnson (@Antonio_johns0n) is a top DB prospect heading into 2022
A preseason All-American, Johnson had 79 tackles, 1 INT, and 5 PBU last season for the Aggies in 12 games. He received high praise from Anthony Treash of PFF, “No one in CFB is better at covering the slot” pic.twitter.com/lrSRnxQTDb
— The Ox Cord Podcast (@TheOxCordPod) August 4, 2022
He only had 1 interception last year, but he recorded 79 tackles, and 8.5 of them were behind the line of scrimmage. He has the versatility to play both safety and slot corner at the NFL level, and that should make him an attractive pick in the first round.
11. Gervon Dexter, DL, Florida
Dexter is a guy who doesn’t get talked about enough. But he recorded 50 tackles from his defensive tackle spot last year. Of those, 4.5 were for a loss and 2.5 were sacks.
For reference, first-round pick Jordan Davis of Georgia recorded 32 total tackles (4 for a loss) and 2 sacks.
Tennessee knew stopping Dexter was the key to beating the Gators. Check out this triple-team of Dexter:
I think Tennessee was a little worried about Gervon Dexter making the play here… pic.twitter.com/Nc5bf2O85P
— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) August 4, 2022
Of course, this is what happened when the Vols didn’t triple-team Dexter, so it’s understandable why they’d dedicate so much manpower to stopping him:
Florida’s Gervon Dexter is an intriguing and disruptive IDL!
6060–312 lbs with a long reach! He holds up well at the POA vs the run and can drive OL into the lap of the QB! pic.twitter.com/kvEm9Ae0Rm
— Full-Time Dame ? (@DP_NFL) August 4, 2022
There’s only one thing you can call that – utter dominance. Look for that to continue this fall, and look for Dexter to become a household name.
10. BJ Ojulari, Edge, LSU
Ojulari simply has an endless motor and never gives up on a play. He had 7 sacks last season, and could be in line for more this fall if the LSU defense improves as a whole.
Here he is utilizing a spin move to get past a blocker:
Sack for BJ Ojulari. So agile. Love the spin. Sorry for the fan noise. 92 in my house. (AC broke) pic.twitter.com/pVwMNDEJC8
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) June 30, 2022
And here he is working through two would-be blockers to record a sack:
Violence here. BJ Ojulari works through the TE and Bernhard Raimann for the sack. pic.twitter.com/fR7p5Jg21h
— Matt Alkire (@mattalkire) June 30, 2022
Getting to 10 sacks this season won’t be out of the question for Ojulari.
9. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
Like South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn a couple of years ago (who was a top-10 pick in 2021), Smith has all the makings of an elite shutdown corner. He is incredible along the sidelines:
THIS INT BY CAM SMITH ??pic.twitter.com/uEr98vuFUa
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 7, 2021
And he can run with anyone. He’s a guy who can thrive in any system in the NFL. Expect him to quickly get on NFL teams’ radars this season.
8. Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
Ricks came over from LSU this offseason as one of Alabama’s massive haul of transfer portal talent. The Tide hope he can get back to his 2020 form, in which he had 4 interceptions and brought 2 of them back for touchdowns:
#68Days until SEC football.
Eli Ricks goes 68 yards for the score in LSU’s 37-34 win over the Florida Gators.
— SEC Unfiltered (@SECUnfiltered) June 21, 2022
He was hampered by injuries in 2021, but his 1 pick was a great one, as he made a diving grab in Week 1 against UCLA:
True sophomore Eli Ricks here with the INT. You’d be hard pressed to find a better starting CB duo than him and Stingley pic.twitter.com/WvCv4RXkEL
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) September 7, 2021
Ricks has a knack for being in the right spot to make big plays. Sometimes, he runs routes better than the receiver. If he stays on the field this fall, there’s real top-10 draft potential here.
7. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Levis has some gunslinger in him, and he carries himself like a star quarterback. But he’ll need to cut down on turnovers this year (13 interceptions in 2021) to maximize his value as a draft prospect.
He can make any throw on the field, which he’ll have to do even more of this fall as Kentucky has some new names in the receiving corps. Fortunately for the Wildcats, he got off to a hot start last year, so he’s familiar with settling in quickly:
@will_levis: QBanana1.. 18-26, 367 yds, 4 TD in UK debut.
— Eli Gehn (@EliGehnTV) September 4, 2021
I don’t think he’ll be a top-10 pick like some are saying, but there could be 6 or 7 quarterbacks taken in Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft. Levis should be one of them.
6. Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Richardson is one of the most interesting draft prospects of this class. There’s no denying his talent:
Anthony Richardson TD run ??? pic.twitter.com/4f3A9W2m2j
— Our Two Bits (@OurTwoBits) September 5, 2021
Anthony Richardson’s first pass of the game
75-yard TD ? #CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 11, 2021
He has all the tools NFL teams look for. It’ll be interesting to see if he can stay on the field for every Florida game this fall. If he can, he has a real chance to be a top-15 draft pick.
5. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
Ringo only had 2 interceptions last year, but 1 was about as big as interceptions can get. He snagged a pick-six to clinch the Georgia victory in the national title game:
Bryce Young overthrows his receiver & is picked off by Kelee Ringo! He takes it all the way to the house for a pick six. That was Ringo’s first INT & it will be the biggest play of his life! Georgia has all but sealed the win.
— Brendan Moore (@bmoorecfb) January 11, 2022
He also had 8 pass breakups and figures to be even better in 2022. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he’s one of the bigger corners, which is becoming the trend in the NFL. He has the speed, physicality and mental makeup to become a star in the pro ranks.
4. Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
There was some weird energy between Brian Kelly and Kayshon Boutte this offseason that I don’t love, but what I do love is Boutte’s skill set when he’s healthy. He had 9 touchdowns grabs in 6 games before suffering a season-ending injury in 2021.
He’s absolutely incredible when he’s at full strength and on the field for the Tigers:
Kayshon Boutte is arguably WR1 heading into 2022. With 1244 yards & 14 TD over 2 years, @KayshonBoutte1 has regularly performed despite injuries & inconsistent QB play
— Boot Krewe Media (@BootKreweMedia) August 3, 2022
I don’t know how productive he can be in a new offense with a new quarterback in 2022.
One thing I do know? You’d better actually assign a defender to cover him:
Kayshon Boutte is badass while being guarded. Imagine not guarding him ?pic.twitter.com/hLfsvuoYH0
— Drunk Brian Kelly (@FauxLes) August 2, 2022
3. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
As the NFL Draft draws closer, we’re going to start to hear “anonymous NFL sources” picking at Young’s game. We’ll hear that he’s too small, he avoids running sometimes when it’s the right move, etc.
Don’t buy all those smokescreens. Those are going to be quotes from teams hoping to chip away at Young’s draft value in the hopes that he’ll fall into their laps.
Young is an incredible talent at quarterback. No one sees the field better or makes the right play more often. There’s a reason he won the Heisman Trophy last year, after all.
Here he is showing a little bit of everything in the SEC Championship Game against a historically great Georgia defense last season:
421 pass yards (SEC Championship Game record)
40 rush yards
4 total TD
Bryce Young put on a SHOW. pic.twitter.com/kNmmNZCdE4
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) December 5, 2021
Can Young win another Heisman Trophy? He’ll have to improve upon his 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns to impress voters. But I think if he gets to 5,000 yards, 50 touchdowns and maybe 10 rushing touchdowns, he can get the job done.
Either way, he’ll almost certainly be a top-10 draft pick next April.
2. Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
Carter is going to become a household name this fall now that he’s the guy on the Georgia defensive line. He has no regard for offensive linemen, often throwing them aside like rag dolls:
Shouldn't surprise anyone but Jalen Carter (Georgia IDL 88) is quite good. Displays good discipline and patience while two-gapping before hitting that arm-over for a big tackle. pic.twitter.com/AeHjAyIKs3
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 4, 2022
And hey, maybe whatever team drafts him can even use him offensively in goal-line situations:
I have come to the conclusion the Falcons shouldn’t take a QB in the 2022 Draft they should take the best most dominant player in CFB Jalen Carter (DT). pic.twitter.com/covJCi7OdY
— Storm (@S0SickRick) August 10, 2022
It’s unfair how athletic Carter is at 6-3 and 300 pounds. He’s going to be a defensive lineman in the NFL for the next decade and a half.
1. Will Anderson Jr., Edge, Alabama
Anderson would have been the No. 1 overall pick if he’d been eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft. Of that, I have no doubt. After all, he recorded 101 total tackles (34.5 for a loss) and 17.5 sacks in 2021. Those are all insane numbers for an edge rusher.
Here’s every sack he had last season. What you’ll see is an absolute monster who is impossible to block 1-on-1 and is even tough to stop with a double-team:
Every Will Anderson sack 2021 pic.twitter.com/sZ6bkT1TFa
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) June 21, 2022
He deserved a spot at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York last December. If he feels snubbed, that’s bad news for opposing quarterbacks this year. One thing I think we can bet on, though, is that he’ll receive an invite to the green room for the 2023 NFL Draft and might not be staying in there to see who pick No. 2 is.