Who are the best players still available during the first round?

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The 2023 NFL draft’s race for top talent is about to begin.

While this year’s class has drawn tepid reviews for its overall depth and strength, there are still several marquee figures who project to be high-impact starters early in their career – and some other developmental prospects who could offer a massive payoff for their teams if the coaching staff brings them along right.

USA TODAY Sports will have live updates on the best players still available from our top 50 rankings, so stick with us throughout Thursday night to keep tabs on the possible options as each new team goes on the clock. (Each player’s number is their pre-draft ranking on USA TODAY Sports’ top 50.)

NFL draft 2023 best available players

7. Brian Branch, S/CB, Alabama

Whether in coverage or working downhill against the run, Branch tends to find the ball. The 6-0, 190-pounder is the kind of versatile slot defender that defensive coordinators covet. Branch won’t wow anyone with his size, speed or strength, but there’s no denying the value of his reliability and well-rounded game.

11. Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia

When Smith measured in at 6-2, 238 pounds at the NFL scouting combine, the initial buzz centered on whether he had the make-up to be a top-tier NFL pass rusher. The conversation changed, however, once his workout began. Smith showcased his speed (4.39-second 40-yard dash) and explosiveness (41 1/2-inch vertical leap and 10-8 broad jump), presenting a tantalizing athletic package after already demonstrating his quick-twitch agility, relentless motor and run-stopping acumen at Georgia. He won’t be a fit for every scheme given his build and length, but a 3-4 team that turns him loose as a pass rusher could see substantial returns on its investment.

14. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) celebrates a touchdown during the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) celebrates a touchdown during the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Amid the proliferation of tight ends who more closely resemble wide receivers, Mayer stands out as a hulking target still capable of elevating an aerial attack despite his athletic limitations. The 6-5, 249-pounder compensates for his unremarkable speed by deftly setting up defenders with his route running and boxing them out mid-air for any jump balls. Also a fierce run blocker, Mayer can be an immediate asset to an offense as an in-line tight end who can be frequently targeted and move people in the run game.

15. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah

A master of creating quick separation and hauling in difficult catches, Kincaid is the kind of pass catcher who will endear himself to his quarterback from Day 1. The 6-4, 246-pounder looks to be a glorified big slot, with questions about his strength and inconsistent results as a blocker likely leading to a telegraphed role rooted in the passing game. Still, his potential contributions could be considerable.

16. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

The link to his father, former Steelers great and assistant coach Joey Porter, will continue to follow him throughout his career. But the younger Porter made a name for himself by smothering receivers at the line of scrimmage and challenging them at the catch point on any pass thrown in his direction. Flags will follow him consistently unless he cleans up his overly handsy approach, but he has the physical and mental makeup to thrive in press coverage.

18. Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

The former No. 1 overall recruit never truly broke out in a college career that was marred by injuries, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2021. The traits are all still there, though, for him to be a punishing presence on the interior, especially if he can devise a backup plan to deal with linemen he can’t merely fling out of the way.

20. Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

Purely based on coverage tools, few players can measure up to Banks, who not only offers the size (6-0, 197 pounds) and speed (4.35-second 40-yard dash) to stick with almost any receiver downfield but also the agility to hang with shiftier targets. The overall product is still a work in progress, with technique lapses costing him sorely in certain spots. With more discipline, however, he could be an imposing option in a press scheme.

22. Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson

At his floor, the 6-5, 268-pounder projects as a stout run stuffer who can consistently collapse the pocket with his formidable bull rushes. What’s unclear is whether he can develop a diverse arsenal of pass-rush moves to harness athletic tools that have drawn him comparisons to Travon Walker, last year’s No. 1 overall pick.

26. Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma

A smooth mover at 6-4 and 315 pounds, Harrison is adept at keeping even the speediest of edge rushers in front of him. He’ll be challenged early by defensive linemen looking to go through him rather than around him, and he runs the risk of getting mowed down often if he doesn’t get stronger.

27. Josh Downs, WR, North Carolina

Whether facing zone or man coverage, Jones repeatedly finds a way to position himself for the ball thanks to his crafty footwork and pacing as a route runner. His 5-9, 171-pound frame will likely relegate him to the slot to limit his exposure against bigger cornerbacks who can push him around, but he can still be a high-volume target who can be productive at every level of the field.

28. Darnell Washington, TE, Georgia

With his 6-7 and 264-pound build, Washington long looked destined to be an anomaly as an NFL tight end. But when he ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the combine, he established himself as a true outlier. He might not end up seeing extensive action as a receiver beyond work as a red-zone weapon, but his immense upside as a run blocker make him an intriguing possibility for offenses, especially those that routinely deploy two tight ends.

33. Luke Musgrave, TE, Oregon State

The body of work is limited, as the COVID-shortened 2020 season and a knee injury that ended last year’s campaign after two games left him with career production (47 catches, 633 yards and two touchdowns) that fell short of what other top tight ends posted in just one year. Still, at 6-6 and 250 pounds with immediate speed off the line of scrimmage, Musgrave will create mismatches as a deep threat too tall for safeties to cover and too fast for linebackers to handle.

34. O’Cyrus Torrence, G, Florida

Jumping up to the Southeastern Conference proved to be no problem for the Torrence, the Louisiana transfer who was a consensus All-American in 2022. While the 6-5, 330-pounder’s performance in space can be a little uneven, he exhibits the composure as a run blocker and pass protector to be a highly effective starter.

35. Steve Avila, G, TCU

Another massive (6-3, 332 pounds) man in the middle, Avila previously started at center and saw spot duty at right guard and right tackle before settling in as a left guard last season. Though he’s more functional than flashy in many elements of his play, Avila is one of the more dependable options in this draft class.

36. BJ Ojulari, DE/OLB, LSU

Much like his older brother Azeez Ojulari, an outside linebacker for the New York Giants, the 6-2, 248-pounder is an undersized but pliable pass rusher who can close in on the quarterback in a hurry. While his frame and length will be meaningful concerns for some teams, it’s difficult to find players on the edge who combine Ojulari’s level of athleticism and refinement.

37. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah

It’s all about instincts for Phillips, who tapped into his quick-developing recognition and rapid closing speed to nab six interceptions last year. Sometimes his proclivity for seeking out the ball can lead him into bad spots, and his pedestrian physical tools could be a problem against certain receivers. The solution seems to be placing him in the slot and letting him keep everything in front of him.

38. Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

The Alabama transfer discovered his rightful place with the Razorbacks as an off-ball linebacker who makes his living off blitzes. Despite his impressive production in 2022 (103 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks), however, his finishing touch leaves a lot to be desired, as ball carriers can too easily shake him in space.

39. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky

The lively release and ample arm strength are the hallmarks of a gifted thrower. Yet the finer points of the position still figure to be a significant stumbling block for Levis, with the 6-4, 229-pounder’s erratic accuracy, lagging processing speed and questionable decision-making undermining his overall ability. The potential payoff might be worth the gamble for a team confident in its plan to develop him, but there’s no ignoring the inherent risk in taking on a project like Levis with an early first-round selection.

41. Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan

Double teams are a necessity for the 6-3, 323-pounder, whose sheer power typically proves overwhelming for most opponents. Once he breaks through the line of scrimmage, however, there’s not much playmaking ability to speak of, as he notched just 1/2 sack and five tackles for loss in two years as a starter.

43. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, DE, Kansas State

More advanced than most his pass-rushing peers, Anudike-Uzomah already boasts an array of different ways to beat offensive tackles. Yet the 6-3, 255-pounder might be dependent on his bend and knowhow to beat blockers at the next level, and he could have trouble defending the run early on.

44. Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa

The Hawkeyes’ pipeline of NFL tight ends continues to run strong. At 6-3 and 245 pounds, no one will confuse LaPorta’s overall athletic profile with that of George Kittle or T.J. Hockenson, but the crafty pass catcher is the biggest run-after-catch threat at the position in this year’s class.

45. Keion White, DE, Georgia Tech

It’s hard to find upper-echelon athleticism from pass rushers outside the top 10 picks, as there’s always a rush on the most gifted players on the edge. White, however, could provide substantial value if any team can help the 6-5, 285-pound former tight end translate his impressive speed into a consistent plan of attack.

46. John Michael Schmitz, C, Minnesota

Steadiness is what many teams typically demand from their center, and Schmitz has a proven track record of reliability. While he might be thrown off in pass protection by the NFL’s quickest interior defenders, the 6-4, 301-pounder’s polished approach and finishing touch make him an appealing starter, especially for an outside zone team.

47. Keeanu Benton, DT, Wisconsin

Almost every defensive scheme has room for a 6-4, 315-pound defensive tackle who can dispatch interior offensive linemen with ease. Benton can get a little wild with his relentless approach, but his tenacity and versatility should make him a fast favorite of his next coaching staff.

48. Joe Tippmann, C, Wisconsin

Despite towering over most other centers at 6-6 and 320 pounds, Tippmann is at his best when he’s on the move. Staying low and keeping opponents from getting into his body will always be a challenge for a player of his size, but it’s rare to find an interior offensive lineman who can match Tippmann in pulling while still packing a punch.

49. Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson

He’s excelled both as a blitzer blowing up plays in the backfield and a versatile coverage asset who can stick with tight ends. To stay on the field and make his mark in the NFL, however, the 6-2, 235-pounder will need to hone his instincts and operate with more control in every phase.

50. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia

For some, the 6-2, 207-pound cornerback with 4.36-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a proven track record against the premier wide receivers of the Southeastern Conference seems like the perfect piece for an NFL secondary. To others, though, Ringo’s struggles with changing direction and anticipating plays are major concerns.

NFL draft 2023 players off the board

1. Will Anderson Jr., DE/OLB, Alabama (No. 3 to Texans)

In Anderson’s three years at the collegiate level, no one matched his dominance on a down-to-down basis. A star since he set foot on the field in Tuscaloosa, the 6-3, 253-pound pass rusher became the Crimson Tide’s first two-time unanimous All-American. From his electric first step to his elastic maneuvering and diverse set of moves, Anderson has an array of different ways to beat offensive tackles. His sack output will hinge on playing with more control and sharpening his finishing touch, but Anderson figures to be a massively disruptive force right away.

2. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia (No. 9 to Eagles)

On a defense that controlled college football for the last two seasons, Carter stood above the rest of his teammates, a group of former five-star recruits and future NFL standouts. The 6-3, 314-pounder is a distinct game-wrecker, barreling into the backfield with ease and proving to be too much for single blocks on the interior. Carter has seen his pre-draft process defined by his arrest in connection with the car crash that killed Georgia teammate Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy. Carter later pleaded no contest to charges of racing and reckless driving, avoiding jail time in the deal.

3. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama (No. 1 to Panthers)

Young broke the mold at the college level by becoming Alabama’s first quarterback ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Now, it’s up to the 5-10, 204-pound passer to defy expectations about what an undersized passer can accomplish in the NFL. An expert at making quick decisions and navigating chaos in the pocket, Young already thrives in one area where many other short signal-callers typically stumble: throwing over the middle. He’ll have to prove his arm strength is sufficient to keep NFL defenses honest, but Young otherwise meets or exceeds many of the standards to be a very good starting quarterback.

4. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon (No. 17 to Patriots)

In a cornerback class that looks to be this year’s deepest and best overall position group, Gonzalez sets himself apart with elite traits across the board. The 6-1, 197-pounder is built for man coverage, as his size and overall fluidity allow him to stay glued to any receiver. With proper coaching to clean up any missteps in his technique and make him a more physical presence, Gonzalez could become one of the league’s most complete defensive backs.

5. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (No. 2 to Texans)

A rhythmic downfield distributor, Stroud confidently and consistently puts his passes on point with just the right touch. In the NFL, the 6-3, 214-pound signal-caller will need to demonstrate an enhanced level of comfort when operating in the face of pressure. If Stroud can carry over his performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia, in which he showed off surprising mobility and ease throwing on the run, he will be difficult for defenses to slow.

6. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas (No. 8 to Falcons)

Positional value is the lone pressing problem for Robinson, who sizes up as the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley was selected No. 2 overall in 2018. A dynamic all-purpose threat, the 5-11, 215-pound ball carrier can change the complexion of an offense with his signature penchant for forcing missed tackles and legitimate receiving chops. Finding fault with his play feels like nitpicking, with the biggest strike against him being the concern of how early a team can reasonably draft even the most impressive running back prospect given the abundance of alternatives available later in the draft.

8. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois (No. 5 to Seahawks)

Perhaps no prospect did more to boost his draft stock this past fall than Witherspoon, who plays as if a linebacker’s brain were dropped into a 5-11, 181-pound cornerback’s head. Witherspoon relishes the challenge of man coverage, ceding nothing easy to any receiver whom he lines up against. His best trait, however, is his knack for closing in on the ball, as he routinely launches himself like a missile to deny throws (17 passes defensed as a senior) as well as thwart ball carriers in the run game. Dialing back that aggressiveness just a notch would serve him well and help him avoid flags that could plague him as he adapts to the NFL.

9. Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern (No. 11 to Titans)

If Skoronski’s arms were an inch longer, there might not be much of a debate about his future position or his credentials as a potential top-10 pick. The unanimous All-American demonstrates a PhD-level understanding of pass protection, with an answer ready for whatever is thrown at him. His subpar arm length – 33 inches has long been considered the threshold for some teams, and Skoronski measurses in at 32 1/4 – is his one troublesome area, as rangier rushers can test him when they’re able to get into his frame. Otherwise, there’s not much to pick apart in a prospect with Pro Bowl potential as either a tackle or guard.

10. Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida (No. 4 to Colts)

As a prospect, Richardson is truly one of one. Squaring the 6-4, 244-pound signal-caller’s singular physical tools – which include immaculate arm strength to deliver any throw asked of him and 4.43-second speed in the 40-yard dash – with his underwhelming college production (53.8% completion rate with 17 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in his lone year as a starter) could confound any coaching staff. Cleaning up Richardson’s footwork slip-ups should solve a good deal of his accuracy issues, and his underrated pocket management suggests he could thrive once placed in a more reasonable offense with better support. His inexperience, however, makes him a massive wild card.

12. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State (No. 20 to Seahawks)

A record-setting Rose Bowl performance to cap the 2021 season served as the lasting memory of Smith-Njigba’s college career, which came to an unceremonious end in 2022 after a hamstring injury derailed his campaign. Relying on his elite agility and separation skills to create opportunities in the short-to-intermediate area, the 6-1, 196-pound target is a polarizing prospect as a modestly built receiver with middling long speed. But there’s still a clear path for him to have a significant role in an offense that embraces him for what he is.

13. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State (No. 6 to Cardinals)

At 6-6 and 313 pounds with fleet feet, Johnson brings together all the elements of a cornerstone left tackle. He can get out of sorts too easily due to problems with his footwork and balance, issues that savvier NFL edge rushers will readily expose. But all the tools are there for him to hold his own against the league’s best.

17. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College (No. 22 to Ravens)

Any front office and coaching staff willing to get creative in the search for an offensive spark should be drawn to Flowers. The 5-9, 182-pound dynamic threat in the open field might require a different utilization than other receivers, but his stature and miniscule catch radius haven’t prevented him from becoming a major downfield weapon. The bottom line: Get the ball in his hands any way you can.

19. Jordan Addison, WR, USC (No. 23 to Vikings)

Though he doesn’t look the part of an in-demand receiver at just 5-11 and 173 pounds, Addison is unparalleled in this class in his comfort getting open at every level of the field. Whether stretching defenses with his deep speed or breaking free underneath with a quick cut, the Pitt transfer routinely creates tons of easy looks in the passing game. Those separation skills could be even more vital in the NFL, as Addison is prone to being pushed around, most frequently at the catch point.

21. Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee (No. 10 to Bears)

Things finally clicked for the former five-star recruit in 2022, when he didn’t allow a sack on 507 pass-blocking snaps and earned acclaim for stonewalling Will Anderson Jr. in the Volunteers’ wild win over the Crimson Tide. The 6-5, 333-pounder forklifts defenders in the run game, though the true indicator of his value as a right tackle will be whether he can continue to improve his footwork against edge rushers.

23. Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia (No. 14 to Steelers)

Stepping into a full-time starting role for the first time in 2022, Jones comported himself nicely for the Bulldogs. While nimble when moving in space and powerful when jolting opponents in the run game, the 6-5, 311-pounder can be inconsistent, with his inexperience surfacing at inopportune times.

24. Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech (No. 7 to Raiders)

No need to sell NFL teams on a 6-6, 270-pound edge rusher with the massive wingspan to rip past offensive linemen and the brute force to push them back. Wilson has been overly reliant on those gifts, however, and too often looks to impose his will rather than read the play. Improving his hand usage will be vital for a player who counts on his straight-line explosiveness to make up for his rigidity, but Wilson will be a load for any blocker to handle.

25. Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt (No. 19 to Buccaneers)

From the moment he fires off the snap, Kancey is frequently too much for stocky guards and centers to keep in front of them, as evidenced by the 14 1/2 tackles for loss in 2022 that ranked as the most for any defensive tackle in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Yet at 6-1 and 281 pounds with short arms, his build would have been disqualifying for some teams several years ago – and it still might be for some that are wary of whether he will be washed out in the run game and relegated to a role as a designated pass rusher.

29. Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State (No. 16 to Commanders)

The 6-1 Forbes measured in at mere 166 pounds at the combine, making for the lowest mark for any cornerback at the event since 2000. While his frame is without comparison among his peers, so too are his ball skills after he recorded 14 interceptions – including a record six returned for touchdowns – and 35 passes defensed in three years.

30. Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa (No. 13 to Packers)

It’s only natural that a player nicknamed “Hercules” would repeatedly use his chiseled physique to make a bull rush his go-to move. But for someone with all the traits of a first-round pass rusher, the 6-5, 272-pounder never managed to ascend to the level of a starter. Above all, Van Ness needs variety in his tool kit, as he was too often undone by his frenetic style that depended on pushing people out of the way – something that won’t be easily done every down in the NFL.

31. Will McDonald IV, OLB, Iowa State (No. 15 to Jets)

Potential typically trumps production when it comes to the draft stock of college pass rushers, yet McDonald can claim plenty of both after a five-year career in which he tied a Big 12 record with 34 sacks. The 6-4, 239-pounder has a seldom-seen blend of length and burst, allowing him to dart past offensive tackles or get them off balance with his wild spin move. If he doesn’t become stronger in taking on offensive tackles, however, McDonald could become an all-or-nothing edge rusher who can be walled off on some pass reps and exploited in the run game.

32. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU (No. 21 to Chargers)

In a class rife with modestly built receivers, the 6-3, 208-pound Johnston certainly stands out – though perhaps not as much as he should. While he’s an accomplished deep target who averaged 19 yards per catch in his career, Johnston might be at his best when turning upfield after the catch, as he readily breaks away from defenders as well as shakes would-be tacklers. But despite his size, he hasn’t shown he can be trusted to bring down contested catches. Repeated drops and one-note route-running will also vex his next coaching staff if unaddressed.

40. Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama (No. 12 to Lions)

If selecting the 5-9, 199-pound Georgia Tech transfer, say goodbye to an old-fashioned running back workload and hello to a handful of big plays. Getting into space and making defenders miss en route to big gains will be Gibbs’ calling card as a runner, though his true value might rest with his receiving prowess.

42. Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa (No. 18 to Lions)

Don’t be deceived by his 6-5, 249-pound frame. Though Campbell might look the part of a throwback linebacker, his comfort dropping into coverage – especially in zone – make him a strong fit for today’s NFL. Just don’t expect too many explosive plays when he works downhill.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL draft big board 2023: Best players available in first round

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