The first round of the 2023 NFL draft saw plenty of fireworks, including the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts mining their quarterbacks of the future, and a flurry of trades shaking up the board.
After 31 picks, there is still plenty of talent still available, including several prospects who were believed to be consensus first-round picks prior to the action getting underway on Thursday night.
“For me, the best player still available is Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr.,” Heavy contributor and former NFL Executive of the Year Randy Mueller said. “He’s long, athletic, and sudden. He can be slightly undisciplined at times, but is going to be wired right away and will be a good NFL player.
“I like him because he plays inside and outside, with a multitude of techniques … Can play press, bail, off coverage, etc.”
To get a feel for how the league views the remaining players, Heavy spoke to NFL coaches and scouts in war rooms across the league to find out who they believe are the best prospects still waiting to hear their names called. Here are their answers:
Joey Porter Jr., CB – Penn State
“The hole teams see has to be speed. He has good length, great instincts, plus ball-skills, and plenty of athleticism.” – AFC scout
At one point during the pre-draft process, Porter Jr. was viewed as a potential cornerback 1 in a loaded class at the position. But, after watching Devon Witherspoon, Emmanuel Forbes, Christian Gonzalez, and Deonte Banks walk across the stage to hold up their NFL jersey, the former Penn State standout is still waiting to hear his name in the green room.
Porter Jr., 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds, has the requisite length that defensive coordinators covet at the position, and last season held opposing quarterbacks to a career-low 63.7 passer rating on his 30 targets. A team who plays press-man coverage could likely insert Porter Jr. as an immediate starter.
Michael Mayer, TE – Notre Dame
“He’s just a steady guy in all phases of the game,” – NFL tight ends coach
Mayer is widely viewed as one of the top tight ends of a stout class at the position, and was projected by some as a potential top-20 selection.
During his time at Notre Dame, Mayer was as steady-handed as you’ll see a tight end, with plenty of strength to pull down contested catches, especially over the middle of the field. Pro Football Focus credits Mayer with a class-leading 17 contested catches, and a tight-end leading eight deep receptions during a stellar 2022 campaign. Teams who stretch the field with the tight end would be an ideal fit for Mayer.
Jalin Hyatt – WR, Tennessee
“He’s a guy who plays faster than his 40-time. Still developing, he didn’t do much early and then absolutely dominated as a junior. He’s a pound-the-table guy at this point.” – NFL offensive coach
Hyatt is one of the speediest receivers in this year’s class, which he showed out after running a 4.4 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, mirroring his on-field production that included averaging 18.9 yards per reception last season in Knoxville.
A bit of a late-bloomer, Hyatt caught 67 of 89 targets last season for a career-high 1,267 yards with 15 touchdowns. Hyatt would be an ideal fit as a stretch-the-field outside receiver in a vertical offense, with the speed to step in and contribute right away.
Brian Branch – DB, Alabama
“Brian Branch has the instincts you look for at the position, and all kinds of versatility. Love that you can line him up at safety or in nickel.” – NFL defensive coach
Branch was the consensus No. 1 safety in this year’s class, and almost inexplicably fell out of a first-round that saw three cornerbacks come off the board.
Last season, Branch notched the most productive campaign of his collegiate career, logging 90 tackles with 7 pass breakups, a pair of interceptions, and 14.0 tackles for loss. Branch is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife both in coverage, and a player who can be weaponized near the line of scrimmage in run support. It would be surprising to see him slide much past the first handful of picks in Round 2.