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These Underrated 2023 NFL Draft Prospects Should Be First-Rounders

The 2023 NFL Draft is a mystery entering Thursday Night.

Generally, less than a week out from the main event, we have an idea of the range of outcomes for each prospect in the first round. Moreover, we usually have some inklings of impending trades or pressure points for deals.

2023’s draft is an aberration. There is an absolute litany of plausible scenarios, and each team’s possibilities seem innumerable. Thus, we take this opportunity to take a look at three prospects that should be valued in the draft’s first round. 

The barometer for this exercise is that all of these players are ranked outside of the top 31 players on the 2023 PFF NFL Draft Big Board.

Darnell Washington, TE – Georgia

Some of the NFL’s best offensive weapons are true unicorns.

At 6’7″, and 264 pounds, Darnell Washington is an absolute monster at the position. He can be a sixth offensive lineman for a run-heavy scheme, who can provide a massive target with an infinite catch radius in the passing game. His physical traits are sensational, as even at his size he runs a terrific 4.64 40-yard dash and 10.2″ broad jump.

Moreover, even behind superstar TE Brock Bowers, Washington produced efficiently in his limited role as a pass catcher. He hauled in just 28 catches, yet averaged 16.2 yards per catch for a total of 454 yards and two touchdowns. He had a dominant 81.3 PFF run-blocking grade. Washington is a unique weapon that can physically dominate his competition.

Look for a team with a penchant for heavy personnel, or an emphasis on the running game, to be eager to pinch Washington at the back end of the draft’s first round.

Great Fits – Jacksonville Jaguars (24th overall), Buffalo Bills (27th overall) Philadelphia Eagles (30th overall)

Drew Sanders, LB – Arkansas

I’m not saying that Drew Sanders is Micah Parsons.

That being said, the Arkansas defender has the skill to contribute at off-ball linebacker and EDGE just like the Dallas superstar. Moreover, his collegiate production was simply elite, with his 2022 season being off the charts. Sanders accumulated 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, five passes defended, and three forced fumbles. Moreover, he had an absurd 39 pressures in 2022, despite rushing the passer on just 148 snaps.

Although off-ball linebacker has been devalued in recent drafts, the NFL will covet a versatile skillset like Sanders. He has terrific physical traits, with prototypical size for both linebacker and a smaller EDGE defender, at 6’4″, 235 pounds. His best role is that of a tweener, with down and distance, combined with situational football, dictating his snap-to-snap role.

Sanders can be a fantastic run defender. He can strafe effortlessly across gaps and is explosive when he identifies the correct run fit. He is patient, yet violent as a run defender.

As a pass rusher, Sanders has no business being as smooth as he is. He looks the part of an NFL third-down DPR EDGE, who will violently and eagerly seek out block engagement and shed with ease. He plays with a physicality that lends itself to believing he relishes contact, which will serve him well at the next level.

I have previously explored Sanders’ strengths and weaknesses in another piece on the site, where we referenced his dismal 19.6% missed tackle rate from 2022. That won’t fly at linebacker in the NFL, but hopefully he is drafted by a team with the staff to help him rebuild his fundamentals while not sacrificing his explosiveness.

Great Fits – Minnesota Vikings (23rd overall), New York Giants (25th overall)

Adetomiwa Adebawore, EDGE – Northwestern

Surely, the NFL made a typo for this prospect’s 40-yard dash. Right?

Adetomiwa Adebawore is an absolute athletic freak, in the truest sense of the term. He had a phenomenal NFL Draft Combine, with a blazing 4.49 40-yard dash being the fastest for a player over 280 pounds by 0.16 seconds. He measured in at 6’2″, 282 pounds, and has almost 34-inch arms.

The Northwestern defender had fantastic production in his last three collegiate seasons. Adebawore racked up 23.5 TFL and 11.5 sacks in that time, as well as forcing four fumbles and having six passes defended. His physical traits and his production are certain to get him first-round intrigue, but I think he should be a top-25 selection.

While raw, Adebawore has interior and edge flexibility and displayed effective pass-rushing moves at the Senior Bowl. He flashed an effective bull rush, explosive swim, and spin moves and the ability to rip through as a counter. That being said, Adebawore must be more consistent with leverage, especially as a pass rusher as he can tend to get too high. Moreover, his size could be an issue on the interior at the next level, which can detract from some of his advertised positional flexibility.

He is exactly the sort of athlete that will be coveted in the NFL Draft. I don’t think he will last until Day Two.

Great Fits – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19th overall), Kansas City Chiefs (31st overall)

Let us know on our socials your favorite of these three prospects. Also, don’t forget to follow Stadium Rant for all of your sporting news.

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