Starting Thursday night, the NFL’s future stars will hear their names called in the 2023 NFL Draft. It’s the latest step in those prospects’ journeys through football, which all started at the high school level.
Former five-star recruits make up a majority of the picks over the last five years. Players rated as five-stars have a 57.3% draft rate from 2017-22, and in 2022 alone, five-star recruits had a 59.4% draft rate. In fact, six of the top 10 picks in 2022 were rated as five-stars out of high school. That includes, Travon Walker, who went No. 1 overall and was the No. 27-ranked player in the nation from the 2017 cycle, according to the On3 Industry Ranking, a weighted average that utilizes all four major recruiting media companies.
As the 2023 NFL Draft gets underway, On3’s Director of Scouting and Rankings Charles Power looks back on his evaluations of this year’s class when they were in high school and discussing each pick as commissioner Roger Goodell reads their names from the podium in Kansas City.
1. Carolina Panthers (via Chicago Bears)
“Bryce Young had the best combination of feel, field vision and reactive quickness I’ve seen from a high school quarterback prospect,” Power said. “That combination of skills has been his differentiating trait dating back to high school. I saw Young throw hundreds of balls both in person at the Elite 11 and Opening Finals and at the All-American Bowl and in games on Friday nights. He was consistently great in every setting, but really stood out 11-on-11 football against a pass rush. The game just moved so slow for him in those live situations. We saw that carry over to his time in Tuscaloosa.
“I was an advocate for Young as the top quarterback in the cycle for the majority, if not all of the process. Though we had a healthy debate in the rankings process, he left little doubt he was the top quarterback and top overall prospect after turning in one of the best senior seasons we saw in years. He backed that up by a dominant week at the All-American Bowl. Young’s passes rarely seemed to hit the ground all week and he was incredible in the game, earning MVP honors. He was and remains a huge outlier from a size perspective, but we thought he had the compensatory skills to be a great college player and ultimately become a top draft pick.
“Our confidence was high enough at the time that we felt we had great odds of hitting on the future No. 1 pick. Turns out that’s what happened. Young is the second quarterback (Trevor Lawrence) and just the fourth player (Jadeveon Clowney, Myles Garrett) to be ranked No. 1 as a high school prospect and taken with the top pick in the draft.”
2. Houston Texans
“CJ Stroud had one of the biggest rises we’ve seen from a quarterback prospect in the past several cycles, going from a three-star prospect with a handful of Power 5 offers to a five-star and coveted by top programs in a span of a few months,” Power said. “We had Stroud tabbed as a potential riser coming out of his junior season based on his film and early camp showings. You could see he was physically gifted and naturally coordinated. I also loved that he was a spot up shooter in basketball. Stroud’s ascent started at the Elite 11 and Opening Finals. He was the top quarterback at the event along with Bryce Young and ended up taking the MVP Honors.
“Stroud looked naturally technical and could effortlessly replicate his throwing motion, resulting on steady accuracy. He carried that over to the field as a senior, more than doubling his production. He became highly sought after and ultimately signed with Ohio State after late official visits. We saw Stroud one final time at the All-American Bowl. He carved up defenses in practice, often targeting his future Ohio State teammate, Jaxon Smith-Njigba. I recall hearing Stroud say how confident he felt and it was easy to see. After the week, it was apparent the gap between Stroud and Bryce Young/DJ Uiagalelei had shortened. We opted to make Stroud a five-star prospect and were the only outlet to do so. In hindsight, he should’ve been a higher, more like a top ten prospect.”
3. Houston Texans (via Arizona Cardinals)
“We always loved Will Anderson’s film, dating back to his junior season at Dutchtown High in Georgia,” Power said. “The senior film was especially awesome. Anderson showed exceptional first-step quickness, bursting into the backfield and exploding into ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Some of the collisions looked like car crashes. Unlike most of the other top prospects at that stage, we didn’t get to see Anderson in person and verify his size until later in the process. Regardless, Anderson was steadily moving up the rankings due to his film. We finally got to see him at the All-American Bowl. Anderson measured in at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds with 34-inch arms, checking the size box.
“Most importantly, he was utterly dominant all week. It was the best all-star showing I’d seen from an EDGE prospect since Myles Garrett in 2014. Anderson showed eye-popping speed-to-power, consistently walking top offensive tackles back to the quarterback. Nick Saban recently called Anderson a “dog-ass competitor.” We got a glimpse of that at the All-American Bowl. He was straight business and came to work. Everything was max effort, all the time. We came out of that week viewing him as the clear top EDGE prospect in the cycle. Anderson jumped all the way up to No. 5 overall in our final rankings and to be honest, he should’ve been higher.”
4. Indianapolis Colts
“Anthony Richardson as draft prospect is very reminiscent to how he was a recruit – tantalizing physical upside with a need for more experience,” Power said. “Richardson separated himself as perhaps the most physically-gifted prospect in the cycle, measuring at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds with a 10.5-inch hand and running a 4.50 40. Coming out of his junior season, we wanted to see Richardson make a progression as an accurate, productive passer on Friday nights. He showed some encouraging signs of improvement at the Elite 11 and early on in his senior season.
“Richardson got off to a nice start, but missed the back half of the year with a shoulder injury. He was in a much less ideal situation at his high school when compared to some of his peers who played at power programs. We had Richardson earmarked as a potential riser, but didn’t feel like there was enough from his senior season to merit a big move. Looking back, we should’ve put more weight into his rare physical tools. Three years later, Richardson is still that mega physical talent who is an outlier due to his lack of viable experience.”