The 2023 NFL Draft will be here before we know it as we’re already into Week 4 of the college football season. Pro Football Network’s Scouting Notebook returns with a look behind the truths of scouting, especially when looking at the 2023 NFL Draft.
2023 NFL Draft: Finding the “truth” in scouting a muddled WR class
Ian Cummings: Coming out of the summer evaluation process, it seemed as though every other person had a different choice for their preliminary WR1 in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. Some chose Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Others chose LSU’s Kayshon Boutte. Several more were drawn to the defending Biletnikoff winner Jordan Addison at USC. And a select few — myself included — gravitated to the high-end traits of TCU’s Quentin Johnston.
Three weeks have passed in the 2022 college football season, and one could argue that no clarity has come on this front. In fact, three of the four aforementioned WR1 candidates have been incredibly underwhelming from a production perspective.
Boutte has 10 receptions for 93 yards in three games. Smith-Njigba has just four catches for 36 yards after missing time with an injury and still hasn’t proven he can win consistently outside the slot. And Johnston — perhaps a victim of an underwhelming TCU offense — has just five catches for 44 yards in two contests.
The lone producer from this group has been Addison. He’s picked up right where he left off at Pitt, with 18 catches for 295 yards and five touchdowns in his first three games with the Trojans. If you had Addison as your WR1 ahead of the season, nothing has happened to change that. But questions still remain with him. His connection with Caleb Williams is undoubtedly electric and is doing good things for his stock. But Addison’s still visibly underweight, and he could be a more efficient route runner.
To summarize, there’s still no runaway candidate for the WR1 mantle in the 2023 NFL Draft. And three of the four most popular options have not only been stagnant, but notably underwhelming. As evaluators, how do we respond to this development?
I think the most important thing is to be patient. We are only three weeks into the season. There’s still plenty of time for all of these receivers to find their stride. It’s also important to be aware of contextual factors that may be impacting production. But above all, keep a focus on the traits themselves and avoid using the class’ obscurity to dig your feet in on one prospect.
It’s always important to be flexible and independent with your evaluations — both when the class is murky, and perhaps even more so when there are perceived favorites at a position. That’s especially true with this year’s WR class. Right now, there is no consensus WR1. But we don’t need a definitive answer right now, nor do we want one. Because the moment you sell yourself to an answer and dig yourself in, it can be difficult to re-evaluate when you need to.
Maybe Johnston gears up after the bye week and starts to realize his potential. Maybe Addison continues on his dominant pace and provides more and more reasons for confidence. Or maybe an outsider altogether joins the fray among the top receivers — someone like Rashee Rice perhaps.
But mid-season, in the heat of the moment, it can be easy to rush to judgment — good or bad. The truth is, no one knows yet how this class is going to settle. Being averse to anointing prospects and being open to all outcomes is a great way to remain fluid in a fluid situation.