2023 NFL Draft: Mel Kiper’s early Top-25 big board

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It’s always draft season for the NFL.

Sure teams are running through their offseason programs right now, and NFL fans are looking ahead to the upcoming season. But for scouting departments around the league, now is the time to do preliminary work on the draft prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft.

The New York Giants were able to add some pieces they expect to be big contributors early in their careers in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal. But the team still looks to have plenty of holes to fill as Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll put their stamp on the franchise.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. released his early Top-25 big board (exclusive content) on Tuesday morning. It’s obviously still early and there’s a ton of football to be played before the draft process even starts. However, there are a few names Giants fans should get to know at positions of potential need.

The quarterback question

The single biggest question looming over the Giants’ 2022 season is regarding Daniel Jones. The Giants have one year to figure out whether Jones is their quarterback for the future — and worth $30 million or more per year.

While Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are doing everything they can to set Jones up to succeed, they would also be remiss if they didn’t also keep an eye on the potential 2023 quarterback class. Next year’s QB class looks to be a lot deeper than the 2022 class, at least on paper, and five of Kiper’s top 25 players are quarterbacks.

Kentucky QB Will Levis has already been a popular mock draft pick for the Giants, but he’s at the bottom of Kiper’s list of top QB prospects.

2) Bryce Young (QB, Alabama)

HT: 6-0 | WT: 194 | Class: Junior

You should know the Heisman Trophy winner by now. Young has an incredibly quick release and can really sling it. He’s an anticipatory thrower who knows how to hit receivers where they need the ball to run after the catch. He doesn’t make many mistakes. The knock on Young is size; he doesn’t have a huge frame, which NFL scouts will likely play up as we get closer to the draft. Still, his arm is more than good enough for him to be a great signal-caller at the next level.

2021 stats
306-of-547 passing (66.9%) - 4,872 yards
47 TDs, 7 INTs

3) C.J. Stroud (QB, Ohio State)

HT: 6-3 | WT: 215 | Class: Third-year soph.

It was Stroud, not Young, who led the FBS in Total QBR last season (91.6 to 87.6). Stroud had an inconsistent start to the season, but he finished on a tear, throwing 36 touchdown passes and just three picks in his final nine games. Can he improve even more in Year 2? He’s only scratching the surface of his talent, and he has a big-time wideout to throw to in Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

2021 stats
317-of-441 passing (71.9%) - 4,435 yards
44 TDs, 6 INTs

12) Tyler Van Dyke (QB, Miami)

HT: 6-4 | WT: 224 | Class: Third-year soph.

Van Dyke really impressed me once he took over as the Hurricanes’ starter. He is a big (and mobile) quarterback with a tremendous arm. He’s fun to watch. Check out the ball location on this touchdown throw against Duke. Van Dyke can stick the ball into tight windows with accuracy. I expect a big season from him in 2022, and he could rise even higher.

2021 stats
202-of-324 passing (62.3%) - 2,931 yards
25 TDs, 6 INTs

13) Anthony Richardson (QB, Florida)

HT: 6-4 | WT: 236 | Class: Third-year soph.

This ranking is all about potential because Richardson is an enormous talent, and I’ve heard he has had a great spring. He didn’t get many chances as a passer last season — he’s not a finished product there — but he has fantastic dual-threat ability. Just watch this 80-yard scamper to see his speed and power as a runner. If Richardson takes a step as a passer, we’re going to talk about him as a potential top-three pick in this class. That’s a big “if,” of course.

2021 stats
38-of-64 passing (59.4%) - 529 yards
6 TDs, 5 INTs;
51 carries, 401 yards
3 TDs

22) Will Levis (QB, Kentucky)

HT: 6-3 | WT: 232 | Class: Senior

Levis, who transferred to Kentucky from Penn State, made some “wow” throws last season. He has a powerful arm, though he needs to be more precise. He threw too many picks, trying to force a few too many into tight windows. Levis also can beat defenses with his legs; he had four rushing scores in the win over Louisville. Consistency is an issue, but Levis’ traits are intriguing.

2021 stats
233-of-353 passing (66%) - 2,826 yards
24 TDs, 13 INTs
107 carries - 376 yards
9 TDs

Help in the secondary

One of the other big questions regarding the Giants’ roster is in the defensive secondary. The Giants have options on the back end, but it remains to be seen if they have any good answers. The team has moved on James Bradberry and Logan Ryan, leaving the team thin — if not weak — at both the cornerback and safety positions. The Giants will probably want to keep an eye on defensive backs to help man Wink Martindale’s aggressive coverage schemes.

Kiper has three corners and a “defensive back” who could help fill out the Giants’ secondary.

Of the three corners, the one to keep an eye on might be South Carolina’s Cam Smith. Schoen showed a willingness to look for talent on teams that didn’t experience much success in 2021. South Carolina landed QB Spencer Rattler out of the transfer portal, but for now they remain an afterthought in the SEC.

8) Eli Ricks (CB, Alabama)

HT: 6-2 | WT: 195 | Class: Junior

Ricks had four interceptions as a freshman at LSU in 2020 (two were pick-sixes) before a shoulder injury ended his 2021 season after just six games. He decided to transfer to Alabama, and he could be the best corner in the country this season. He’s battle-tested — he got daily practice reps against superstar Ja’Marr Chase in 2020 — and has excellent size and speed. Nick Saban is going to make sure Ricks reaches his ceiling, and the Crimson Tide were uncharacteristically up-and-down at the position in 2021.

2021 stats
11 tackles (9 solo)
1 INT

20) Cam Smith (CB, South Carolina)

HT: 6-1 | WT: 187 | Class: Fourth-year junior

Smith’s ball skills really stand out on tape. He flips his hips in coverage, tracks the ball in the air and has the instincts to find it and make a play. He has five picks over the past two seasons. Smith also has excellent arm length, which helps his ability to create deflections. He has a good feel in coverage and makes things look easy.

2021 stats
3 INTs, 11 pass breakups
41 tackles (31 solo)

21) Kelee Ringo (CB, Georgia)

HT: 6-2 | WT: 205 | Class: Third-year sophomore

You might know Ringo from his national title-clinching pick-six against Alabama in January, and he is just scratching the surface of how good he can be. If you were designing the perfect NFL cornerback, he’d have Ringo’s speed, size and arm length. He has every tool to be a top-10 pick, but he needs to be more consistent this season and not just show a few flashes of brilliance.

2021 stats
2 INTs, 8 pass breakups
34 tackles (26 solo)

24) Antonio Johnson (DB, Texas A&M)

HT: 6-3 | WT: 200 | Class: Junior

Johnson is the Daxton Hill of this draft. He has been a Swiss Army knife for the Aggies, playing as a center fielder, in the slot and as a box safety, which is where he might end up in the NFL. He has the length and frame to make plays at the line of scrimmage. That ability to play anywhere and fill different roles will make him appealing at the next level.

2021 stats
1 INT, 5 pass breakups
1 sack, 79 tackles (53 solo)

Two to keep an eye on

There are players every year who either fascinate from the jump, or seemingly explode onto the national stage out of nowhere.

Georgia DT Jalen Carter is one of the former types of players. The Georgia defense was dominant for nearly the entirety of 2021, through the playoffs in 2022. And despite all the first round talent on that defense, Carter was the best player on the field.

Carter is the fourth player on Kiper’s Big Board.

4) Jalen Carter (DT, Georgia)

HT: 6-3 | WT: 310 | Class: Junior

Georgia had five defenders picked in Round 1 in April, and Carter was arguably more disruptive than all of them last season. He’s explosive at the snap and finishes well around the ball, even though he didn’t put up huge numbers (8.5 tackles for loss). He has a big frame and can play as a 3-technique tackle. He will be in the mix to be the No. 1 overall pick.

2021 stats
3 sacks
37 tackles (17 solo)

The other player who bears watching is more of the latter category, a guy who could “come out of nowhere” for folks who aren’t paying attention. That’s Army EDGE Andre Carter II.

Carter could present teams with an interesting choice and evaluation to make if he continues to build on his 2021 tape.

14) Andre Carter (EDGE, Army)

HT: 6-7 | WT: 250 | Class: Senior

The last time Army had a first-round pick? All the way back in 1946. The Black Knights haven’t had a non-seventh-round pick since 1969. Carter is the real deal, though, a pass-rusher with incredible length who can play in any defensive scheme. He made big plays last season, with four forced fumbles and a pick. He impacts the game in a variety of ways, and I love his 2021 tape because he’s so consistent on every snap.

2021 stats
15.5 sacks
44 tackles (34 solo)
4 forced fumbles, 1 INT

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