The chaos of the NFL Draft never disappoints. After months of discourse and weeks of quarterback talk, the top two picks were the two best passers in the class with Alabama’s Bryce Young going No. 1 to the Carolina Panthers and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud going No. 2 to the Houston Texans. Things got even zanier after that with the Texans dropping the bag to move up to No. 3 for Alabama’s Will Anderson and the Indianapolis Colts making it three quarterbacks in the first four picks with Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
There were plenty of jaw-dropping moments, both good (Philadelphia Eagles landing Georgia’s Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith) and bad (Detroit Lions reaching on Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs and Iowa’s Jack Campbell as if the year is 1990), but maybe the most shocking part of the night was the talent that was left unselected.
While the cameras continuously panned to Will Levis as he put on a brave face with each team passing him by, despite the stellar reporting of Reddit user SaleAgreeable2834 that he’d go No. 1, the Kentucky quarterback isn’t the best available prospect on Day 2. Yet, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team trade up with the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 32 to select Levis. Despite the Levis slide dominating the post-round one conversation, there were plenty of other high-profile players to fall.
2023 NFL Draft: Brian Branch leads 10 best available prospects on Day 2
Brian Branch, SAF, Alabama
A casualty of positional value made tougher to swallow due to size (sub-200) and speed (4.58 40-yard dash), Alabama’s Brian Branch fell further than anybody expected. In terms of tape, Branch is a top-15 talent in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s one of the best pure football players in the class and can be a true defensive weapon from the nickel position. With rare cover instincts and clean technique, he’s able to match up with slots in man or play as a Cover 2 safety in the deep-half. As a run defender, he’s sudden triggering downhill and has arguably the best take on skills in the class among defensive backs. He should hear his name called early in the second-round.
Best fit: Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 32
Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
If Levis was the most shocking slide of the night, Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer wasn’t far behind. Perhaps the sheer talent of the tight end position pushed him down the board as only Utah’s Dalton Kincaid was selected in the first-round (Mayer looked pissed when the Buffalo Bills took Kincaid No. 25). If the combo of the position lacking value and teams justifying passing on Mayer because of the abundance of talent at the position that’s available on Day 2, a team will certainly take him in the first 10 picks of the second-round. His prototypical size, ball skills, contested catch ability, and potential as an in-line blocker are the reason he’s the top Y tight end in the class.
Best fit: Detroit Lions at No. 34
Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia
Funny that the strength of the tight end class may have been its downfall. After months of chatter that as many as four tight ends could go on Thursday night, only Kincaid made the cut. For Georgia’s Darnell Washington it was likely his lack of production for the Bulldogs that was his undoing. With Brock Bowers on the roster, much of Washington’s work came as an in-line blocker, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a productive pass catcher. His length and hand strength make him a force in 50/50 situations and his power and athleticism show up as a YAC threat. The cherry on top is his potential to become a dominant run blocker. A team with an F tight end in place will love to get their hands on him.
Best fit: New Orleans Saints at No. 40
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
The only other prospect who the major media may have been just as overzealous on as Will Levis in comparison to the NFL, Joey Porter Jr.’s tape had more concerns than often brought up. While he’s not a nepo baby per se, his bloodline’s certainty helped create more buzz than the tape justified. With that being said, Porter Jr. is a smothering press corner with fluid hips and rare arm length. Players with his build do not grow on trees and in a scheme that wants a press-zone corner, he’ll be a great fit. The reason for his slide though, undisciplined play due to messy footwork and struggles finding the ball in phase, will still be a concern early on Day 2 and could push him further down the board given the talent at cornerback.
Best fit: Arizona Cardinals at No. 33
BJ Ojulari, EDGE, LSU
Seven edge rushers went in the first-round Thursday evening and that speaks to the talent and depth at the position. Day 2 should kick off with at least three more going before the 50th pick. One of those players will be LSU’s BJ Ojulari, one of the youngest yet most refined pass rushers in the class. Ojulari’s lack of size (6-2, 248) and inconsistent testing didn’t help his cause but he’s long (34 1/4-inch arms), can bend and turn the corner, has heavy hands, and an explosive first step. He may not be the most refined run defender, but for a team looking to juice up their pass rush, Ojulari can be an immediate impact player.
Best fit: Los Angeles Rams at No. 36
Steve Avila, IOL, TCU
Technically not one interior offensive lineman went in the first-round (the Tennessee Titans announced Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski as a tackle but he could be playing guard), which is understandable given the lack of positional value. But there should be at least four taken fairly early on Day 2. Leading the pack is TCU’s Steve Avila, a hulking guard who has experience at tackle and center. His ability to create power at the point of attack with leverage and hand placement will instantly boost a team’s run game. He’s also nimble enough to climb to the second level and mirror pass rushers; good luck beating him with power, his anchor is nasty. Avila is the type of plug-and-play player that starts for a decade.
Best fit: Indianapolis Colts at No. 35
O’Cyrus Torrence, IOL, Florida
While there was some belief that Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence would go at the backend of the first-round, his position and lack of athleticism didn’t help his cause. However, like Avila, Torrence is a safe bet at the top of round two. He’s a mammoth of a man and mauls in the run game. Teams looking for an injection of attitude up front will love his play demeanour and the way he finishes every block through the whistle. Torrence can struggle in space, but when he latches onto a defender it’s game over. Whatever team selects him will instantly see a boost to their run game. A playoff contender in need of a guard may even look to jump up on Day 2 to land Torrence.
Best fit: Las Vegas Raiders at No. 38
Keeanu Benton, IDL, Wisconsin
The lack of depth with the interior defensive line group in the 2023 NFL Draft had an impact on Day 1. Outside of Jalen Carter, there were no clear cut first-round picks and the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints selected Michigan’s Mazi Smith and Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, respectively, near the end of the night. Those teams probably feared missing the chance to fill a need because there just aren’t many top-100 prospects at the position.
That bodes well for Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton, a borderline first-round talent who should go top-40. Benton was asked to predominantly play 1-tech and nose tackle for the Badgers where he became a stout run defender leaning on his combo of strength and quickness. In the NFL, he’ll have more opportunities to play his natural spot as a 3-tech to utilize his pass rush plan and violent hands more frequently. He’s also one of the youngest interior defensive linemen in the class.
Best fit: Seattle Seahawks at No. 37
Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
One of the biggest storylines of the first-round of the NFL Draft was Georgia defenders falling down the board but ultimately landing in perfect spots (with the Eagles). Bulldogs cornerback Kelee Ringo isn’t on the same level as Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, but he was a wildcard to sneak into Day 1. Now, he’s got a chance to be one of the first Day 2 corners taken. What’s working against him though is the depth of the class and his rawness as a prospect. With ideal size (6-2, 207) and track speed (4.36 40), Ringo’s got plenty of upside if he can improve his change of direction and route recognition. He’s big, physical, athletic, and will only be 21 as a rookie, but there are a few more pro-ready corners available. Will a team bet on the traits early or will Ringo be waiting until the mid-second-round to hear his name called?
Best fit: Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 49
Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina
For the first 19 picks of the 2023 NFL Draft there was a frequent question being asked, when will the receivers start to go? Then BAM, four in a row; the four that were expected to be the first four receivers off the board. But who will be fifth? There’s a strong possibility it won’t be North Carolina’s Josh Downs with bigger receivers like Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo and Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman being harder to find in a class full of undersized pass catchers. A smart team will look past Downs size (5-9, 171), and see a wildly mature route runner with trustworthy hands and a penchant for moving the chains. He’s a pro-ready slot that should quickly become a quarterback’s best friend.
Best fit: Carolina Panthers at No. 39
Other best available prospects:
- Keion White, EDGE, Georgia Tech
- Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
- Gervon Dexter, IDL, Florida
- Matthew Bergeron, OT, Syracuse
- Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn
- Will Levis, QB, Kentucky