If you enjoyed the first weekend of the 2022 college football season, then you are in for an absolute treat over the next few days. College football Week 1 stretches out from Thursday to Monday with an absolute plethora of 2023 NFL Draft prospects in action. With so many games and so much talent, it’s difficult to know who to keep your eyes on. Thankfully, we’re here to help with our guide to some of the best 2023 NFL Draft prospects in Week 1.
Although it’s early in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, already the usual prospects are doing the rounds at the top of mock drafts and player rankings. It’s unlikely by now that you don’t know your C.J. Stroud from your D.J. Uiagalelei, even if spelling or pronouncing the latter is a little tricky. Even my grandma knows who Will Anderson Jr. is. You get the picture.
So, instead of simply filling this list with the usual top 10 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, we’ve tried to sprinkle in some players who should assert themselves near the top of their position amongst some of the stand-out stars of this class. We’ve also ensured there are players from every single day of glorious college football action as Week 1 covers five days.
Calijah Kancey, DT, Pittsburgh
Week 1 kicks off in explosive style on Thursday night with “The Backyard Brawl,” the heated yet somehow under-the-radar rivalry between Pittsburgh and Tennessee. There’ll be no more explosive player on the field than Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. The 6-foot, 275-pound redshirt junior has one of the best get-offs amongst 2023 NFL Draft prospects, with a lightning-quick first step that sees him barrel into the backfield at will.
However, Kancey isn’t just a live wire off the snap. He sports a scouting report that is brimming with high-level athletic attributes and technical refinement. Furiously fast feet and ludicrous lateral agility allow him to effortlessly propel himself from gap to gap. Meanwhile, he already possesses a loaded pass rush toolbox, including a devastating swim move that he routinely executes to perfection.
While his size will cause some concern at the NFL level, Kancey is comfortably the most exciting player to watch in a Pitt defense that is absolutely stacked with 2023 NFL Draft prospects. Some other names to be aware of when watching their Week 1 tussle with Tennessee include SirVocea Dennis, Habakkuk Baldonado, and Deslin Alexandre. However, both teams in this matchup have exciting 2023 NFL Draft prospects to watch, making this a must-view contest for draftniks and college football fans alike.
Jalen Graham, LB Purdue
All credit to the Big Ten. They gave us an all-conference clash in Week 0, and Week 1 begins on Thursday night with another marvelous matchup between Penn State and Purdue. There are 2023 NFL Draft prospects aplenty for both teams, with the Nittany Lions boasting a WR duo in Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley that is up there with the best duos in the nation. Meanwhile, Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell has earned national attention from the Shrine Bowl.
However, Purdue linebacker Jalen Graham promises to be the most impactful of all the 2023 NFL Draft prospects in Thursday night’s showdown. A former safety who has successfully made the transition to LB, he’s 6’3″ and 220 pounds but plays with the physicality of a much bigger player when he’s in the box. Graham has impressive length, which combined with his defensive back experience, helps present an excellent coverage profile. The Purdue linebacker already has the statistical résumé to evidence his skillset.
Jayden Reed, WR, Michigan State
Week 1’s Friday night football festivities begin in East Lansing, where the Michigan State Spartans host the Western Michigan Broncos. The Spartans are buoyed by the return of their exciting QB/WR combination in Peyton Thorne and Jayden Reed. With his electric skillset, Reed attracted attention in the previous cycle. Yet, he promises to be one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft when people realize he’s more than just a one-trick pony.
That one-trick is impressive nonetheless. Reed is a genuine speedster, with quick feet and acceleration allowing him to win on release and stretch the field vertically. His lateral agility and body control allow him to be a significant after-the-catch threat. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is all he is, however. Reed is more than capable of mixing it up at the catch point in contested situations. Throw in his ability and willingness as a blocker and his special teams excellence as a returner, and Reed should be on every NFL team’s radar this fall.
Kenny Logan Jr., S, Kansas
Selling any college football fan on watching Tennessee Tech at Kansas in Week 1 is going to be a tough job. After all, the Big Ten provides another all-conference clash between Illinois and Indiana that kicks off at exactly the same time. However, the Friday night matchup plays host to one of the top safety prospects in this 2023 NFL Draft class. Get to know the name Kenny Logan Jr. now because you’re likely to hear it called in April.
The 6-foot, 210-pound Jayhawk prospect is a tough-tackling, hard-hitting safety who compiled more tackles than any other player at his position last fall. He’s a battering ram heading downfield who is also more than capable of chasing down ball carriers in pursuit. Meanwhile, Kansas safety routinely flashes impressive ball skills, evidenced by his three career interceptions. With special teams experience on his résumé, Logan already has an alluring profile that is only going to grow as he flourishes in his final season with Kansas.
Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
In what is one of the marquee matchups of Week 1, the clash between Oregon and Georgia is a kid in a sweet shop matchup if you’re looking at 2023 NFL Draft prospects. Despite both teams losing key contributors on either side of the ball, there will be so much talent on display. This list could have literally been players from this game alone. Jalen Carter and Kelee Ringo are the headline names from the Georgia Bulldogs, but it’s an Oregon cornerback who holds the most intrigue ahead of their Saturday afternoon clash in Atlanta.
Christian Gonzalez is already beginning to earn first-round consideration in scouting circles. The 6’2″, 200-pound former Colorado cornerback is an athletic freak. According to “Feldman’s Freaks,” he hit 23.3 mph on the GPS this off-season and recorded a vertical jump of 42 inches while power-cleaning 325 pounds. For reference, the leading vertical jump at the 2022 NFL Combine was 42 inches by renowned athletic freak Tariq Woolen.
Freak athleticism doesn’t always translate to the football field, but Gonzalez has the goods here, too. His size and length make him a physical and impactful proposition at the catch point. His athleticism allows him to go toe to toe with the top receivers in the nation while having the flexibility and fluidity to change direction and fly to the ball. Throw in some clear football instincts and Gonzalez has the makings of a star cornerback in the NFL.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
With Stroud, Bryce Young, and even Will Levis getting early first-round recognition as 2023 NFL Draft quarterback prospects, it’s safe to say that this class is going to comfortably overshadow last cycle’s signal callers. Despite this, there’s still a yearning to find that next breakout quarterback, that prospect that rockets up draft boards throughout the season to receive early first-round consideration.
While it’s very much projection at this point, Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson could well be that prospect. At 6’4″ and 236 pounds, Richardson has the build to withstand the rigors of contact in the NFL. Yet, he combines that frame with an absurd athleticism that allows him to be a genuine mobile creator. Meanwhile, the Florida quarterback has a rocket for an arm that allows him to make deep ball throws look ludicrously easy.
A lack of in-game experience and some eye-raising off-field incidents will cause concern for NFL teams at this point. However, if he can showcase mental aptitude both on and off the field while helping lead the Gators to a strong season in the SEC this fall, then a significant elevation of his stock should quickly follow. There are fewer tougher assignments than his Week 1 clash with Utah, a team that boasts a top-tier cornerback prospect in Clark Phillips III.
Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
Ohio State takes on Notre Dame in another marquee college football clash. The game features one of the elite matchups of 2023 NFL Draft prospects as Buckeyes offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. will likely see significant time lined up across from Notre Dame pass rusher Isaiah Foskey. That matchup itself is enticing, but Johnson himself is an interesting and exciting prospect to be aware of heading into the 2022 college football season.
Although he’s played guard during his two seasons with Ohio State, Johnson will switch out to left tackle this fall and is already garnering attention as the OT1 of the class. While that is the ultimate in projection, everything about his play as a guard leads me to believe that he can be an exceptional tackle prospect. This clash with Notre Dame gives him the opportunity to prove it.
At 6’6″ and 315 pounds, Johnson has the requisite size to be an elite NFL tackle. Meanwhile, his size is weaponized by long arms that rarely allow an opponent into his chest. He boasts a powerful punch, impressive grip strength, and refined hand work, on top of excellent athleticism and a mauler mentality that separates the good from the great on the offensive line. He’ll protect Stroud, he’ll run block for TreVeyon Henderson, and come April, a team should be running up to the podium to make him a piece of their NFL o-line.
Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse
Whisper it quietly, but the Louisville at Syracuse game on Saturday night is legitimately loaded with 2023 NFL Draft prospects. The Cardinals boast highly-rated cornerback Kei’Trel Clark and playmaking QB Malik Cunningham amongst other potential future NFL players. Meanwhile, Syracuse offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron and CB Garrett Williams are also names that you should get acquainted with throughout the 2022 college football season.
However, it’s Sean “track speed” Tucker who all eyes should be on this Saturday. The 5’10”, 205-pound running back is a former 55m, 100m, and 200m sprint champion, and he puts that speed to devastating use on the football field. Meanwhile, he combines speed with explosion, quick footwork, and contact balance to be a genuine creative threat.
Tucker also possesses the vision to extend runs beyond the designed play and is as reliable as they come with the ball in his hands. Don’t be surprised to see him emerge as a top-3 back in this 2023 NFL Draft class alongside Texas’ Bijan Robinson and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs.
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
The Sunday night college football clash between LSU and FSU takes place in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. If you’re a betting person, it might be wise to put some money on LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte solidifying himself as the top wide receiver prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft this season, and it all starts against a tough Seminoles defense.
Boutte is pure electricity in a bottle. His speed, acceleration, and impossible direction changes make him a multi-level receiving threat. He can stretch the field vertically, but he’ll also take a short pass to the house with equal aplomb. His ball tracking and body control at the catch point are elite, which should help him lead the nation in receiving yards even with an uncertain quarterback situation at LSU this year.
Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
Clemson brings Week 1 to a close with a clash against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. While this game was unpredictably close last fall, the might of the Tigers’ 2023 NFL Draft prospects might prove too much for the Yellow Jackets once again. Clemson has a defensive class that should challenge and potentially outstrip the famous “Power Rangers” unit of 2018.
They’re led by junior edge monster Myles Murphy. The 6’5″, 275-pound defensive end behemoth is a size, length, and power mismatch that wins with ludicrous strength and violence. That said, he already has a package of pass rush moves at his disposal. Importantly for his ascension as one of the top edge prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft class, he’s already adept at stringing them together in combos while understanding the correct moves to use to win.