NFL Draft 2023: First Round Surprise Picks

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NFL Draft 2023: First Round Surprise Picks

Every year leading up to the NFL Draft, we fixate on a particular set of players that should go in the first round. However, there are always those picks that may be head-scratching or involve a player going higher than expected. 

The standout player from the 2022 NFL Draft was Chattanooga offensive lineman Cole Strange, who the New England Patriots selected No. 29 overall.

Who will it be in 2023? Below are five candidates that could be drafted in the first round, which could surprise some onlookers and NFL oddsmakers.  

2023 NFL Draft Surprise First-Round Picks

Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee

The 2022 Biletnikoff winner, Hyatt will hope to provide the team that drafts him with a DeSean Jackson or Will Fuller-like player. 

At 6 feet, 180 pounds, Hyatt comes from a Tennessee offense schemed in a way that allowed many free releases. In fact, throughout his time at Tennessee, Hyatt caught just one pass against press coverage. 

Where the value for Hyatt diminishes is thinking about how often he’ll be able to get open deep against opposing cornerbacks. Hyatt is fast but has 4.4 speed instead of something in the 4.2 range. 

It’s also unclear how well Hyatt will do with contested passes which is a key part of being a successful deep threat at the NFL level. A team commonly linked to Hyatt is the Los Angeles Chargers. He’d compliment Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but the first round is a bit too rich for Hyatt. Some may prefer his Tennessee wide receiver counterpart Cedric Tillman to him. 

DJ Turner, CB, Michigan

While Turner would surprise many, I’m rooting for him to land in the back half of the first round. This cornerback class could dry up quickly, with Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, Joey Porter Jr., and Deonte Banks potentially all going Top 20. After this, the group of cornerbacks has flaws. 

Whether it’s Cam Smith, Emmanuel Forbes, or Turner, there are question marks.

Turner is a fantastic athlete, ranking in the 99th percentile in the 40-yard dash time, 96th percentile in the 10-yard split, and 91st percentile in the broad jump.

While he had 4.26 40-yard dash speed, the concerns for Turner could be how often he got pushed around by bigger receivers. This could force teams to use him more out of the slot, making his value sink into the second round. 

Turner didn’t play in his first two seasons with Michigan but started in 2021. Teams will not be getting a “killer” at the position but rather an elite athlete who still seems to be learning some aspects of the position. 

That said, Turner going No. 22 overall to the Baltimore Ravens isn’t completely out of the question. It’s a massive need for the team with former Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald on staff as their defensive coordinator. 

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Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson

Every year it seems like a linebacker goes in the 20s, and Simpson is a candidate to do just that. The linebacker class in 2023 is so diverse and is a matter of what kind of linebacker you’re looking for. 

With Simpson, you’re getting a fantastic athlete who ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at six-foot-two, ranking in the 97th percentile. 

He excels when he needs to play man coverage and stick to a tight end or running back. However, Simpson does need to improve in zone coverage. 

He can get after the quarterback well, too, but we’ll have to wait and see regarding the team that takes him and how they plan to use him. 

Teams like the Minnesota Vikings (23), Chargers (21), New York Giants (25), and Dallas Cowboys (26) could all be in play. 

Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama

While we’ve universally accepted that Texas running back Bijan Robinson will be a first-round pick, it doesn’t seem like everyone is there with Gibbs. 

The issue with Gibbs is that he’s a running back, and the position value isn’t the same as others. Robinson is a rare exception, but Gibbs, a second-round running back, would be a bit jarring. 

Gibbs is an incredibly fast player with a 4.36 40-yard dash speed. He doesn’t have the prototypical size to be an every-down back at around 5-9 and floating around 200 pounds. 

Gibbs is a pass-catching threat, too, but struggles in pass protection. Gibbs should be a top-50 pick, but don’t be surprised the Dallas Cowboys take him if Robinson is gone before Dallas picks at No. 26. 

Check out's NFL Mock Draft

Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss

In a class full of slot receivers, Mingo sticks out at 6-2, 220 pounds. He tested in the 89th percentile or higher in the vertical jump, hand size, broad jump, and bench press. He still managed a 70th percentile 40-yard dash with 4.46 speed at his size. 

Mingo can be used inside and outside, but the lack of college production might scare some teams away. In his junior season, Mingo broke his foot, holding him just six games and 360 receiving yards. In his final season, he caught 51 passes for 861 yards. 

Seeing how he handles press coverage will be intriguing even as a larger receiver. He didn’t face it much in college, but his size could be a factor to make him a Day 1 pick as opposed to late Day 2 or early Day 3. 

The Giants are at No. 25 and don’t have a receiver like him. It makes sense, but they could also wait until a later round where Mingo should go. 

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Richard Janvrin

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