NFL Draft Season is now in full-swing as we are under a week away from the start of the Draft Combine on February 28. We are also only about two months away from the start of the NFL Draft on April 27th.
The draft is a very fluid process and anything is subject to change within the next two months. Some of the players I have listed in this article may get bumped up or down draft boards, but for now I believe the round I have them projected in is fairly accurate.
Therefore, in this article I will be going over my favourite draft prospects in each of the first four rounds of the NFL draft.
My Favourite Prospect in Each of the First Four Rounds of the NFL Draft
First Round: Brian Branch – DB – Alabama
The former Alabama standout, Branch, is one of the most versatile players in this entire draft. He was a captain for the Crimson Tide defense and has played since his freshman season where he totalled 27 tackles with seven pass deflections and two interceptions.
As a sophomore, he took over as the full-time starter and had 55 tackles including 5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 9 pass deflections. His junior season is where he really broke out though. In 2022, Branch totalled 90 tackles including an absurd 14 TFL’s, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 7 pass deflections.
Last season at Alabama, Branch played the star position which is a combination of a safety and corner who lines up all over the field. Branch is an instinctual defender who possesses elite short-area quickness, acceleration, and a very high motor.
He has the ability to play anywhere on the field from lining up on the boundary as a corner to inside as a nickel safety, all the way to playing deep safety. Branch is one of the surest tacklers in this entire draft class and his 14 TFL’s last season led all defensive backs in college football, and is the most for an Alabama DB in the Nick Saban era.
Second Round: Jalin Hyatt – WR – Tennessee
Jalin Hyatt introduced himself to the college football world on October 15th, 2022 when #6 Tennessee took down #5 Alabama in Knoxville. In that game, Hyatt finished with 6 receptions for a ludicrous 207 yards and a school-record 5 TDs, 3 of which were over 35 yards.
Hyatt possesses top-notch speed for the receiver position and is one of the fastest players in this draft class. He claims that his 40-time at the combine will clock in at under 4.3 seconds. He has been recorded running a 10.46 in the 100m, 21.14 in the 200m and a 4.31 40 during his time as a Volunteer.
Last season at Tennessee, Hyatt had 67 receptions for 1267 yards and 15 touchdowns in just 12 games. The season culminated with him winning the Biletnikoff Award, which is presented annually to the most outstanding receiver in College Football.
The one knock on Hyatt is that he is only 6″0, 185 pounds and practically only lines up in the slot (88.7% of snaps). Despite that, he is the premier deep-threat receiver In this class because of his blazing speed and elite deep-threat playmaking abilities.
Third Round: Josh Downs – WR – UNC
Now I know this may seem like a stretch as most people project Downs as a second-round pick, but I am skeptical of that because of his limited athleticism and upside. For example, Downs is not listed in Daniel Jeremiah’s top 50 prospects or Fox Sports top 64.
Despite that, he is one of my favourite players in this draft class, and has been one of the most productive receivers in College Football over the past two seasons. In 2021 and 2022 combined, Downs totalled 195 receptions for 1,364 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Downs is a player who projects as a pure slot receiver in the NFL, after taking 89% of his snaps from there in college. Regardless, he has arguably the best hands in this draft class. In 2022 alone he had 94 receptions in 11 games which was good enough for second in the FBS for receptions per game (8.55).
Additionally, Downs boasted an insane 78.3% catch rate this past season, and had a 75% contested catch rate, which was the highest among NFL Draft prospects. He also had 754 yards after the catch which was good enough for 3rd in the FBS.
Fourth Round: Ivan Pace Jr – LB – Cincinnati
Ivan Pace Jr was one of the most disruptive linebackers in all of College Football last season. The unanimous All-American put up 10 sacks and an absurd 21.5 tackles for loss last season at Cincinnati.
The former Bearcat is truly a heat-seeking missile from whichever linebacker position you line him up at. He mostly lined up as a middle linebacker for Cincinnati last season, but has shown flashes of being able to rush the QB as a linebacker off the edge.
Over the past two seasons, Will Anderson Jr is the only linebacker who has been close to as productive as Pace Jr. In 2021 Pace Jr played at Miami (OH) before transferring to Cincinnati this past season. However, in 2021 and 2022 combined Pace has totalled a laughable 261 tackles including 33.5 TFL’s, 13 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 7 pass deflections.
The main reason Pace is only projected as a fourth round pick is because of his questionable size for the linebacker position. As someone who projects as a blitzing linebacker at the next level, he is fairly undersized at just 6″0, 235 pounds.