With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the offseason is in full swing for all 32 teams as we rocket towards free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft. The next event on the Draft Season calendar is the NFL Combine: a week-long convention in Indianapolis that gives NFL teams an opportunity to evaluate a huge group of prospects up close and personal. While fans are most familiar with the on-field workouts—sometimes dubbed the “underwear olympics”—the medical checks and player interviews are just as important for teams.
Just like for the Senior Bowl, we’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Atlanta Falcons at every position group. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way through the offense as we approach the start of the Combine on-field workouts on March 2. Speaking of, here’s the schedule for those workouts if you’re interested.
NFL Combine 2023 On-field Workouts Schedule
THURSDAY, March 2 at 3 PM ET: EDGE, IDL, LB
FRIDAY, March 3 at 3 PM ET: CB, S
SATURDAY, March 4 at 1 PM ET: QB, WR, TE
SUNDAY, March 5 at 1 PM ET: RB, OT, IOL
Workouts will be televised live on NFL Network and can also be watched on NFL+, if you have that subscription.
Next up is a position group led by a promising first-rounder in Drake London but still in need of significant investment: wide receiver.
It seems like the wide receiver class is always deep, every single year. That absolutely holds true in the 2023 NFL Draft—although I think the star power at the top is a little lacking in comparison to previous years. Where the class makes up for it is on Day 2: while there are just three receivers in the top-32 of The Draft Network’s consensus rankings, that number jumps to seven in the top-50 and 14 in the top-100. This is a great year to need a WR2/3, and the Falcons could definitely take advantage.
Jordan Addison, USC
USC’s Jordan Addison is one of the most polished and most productive receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft class. His 2021 season at Pitt was legendary: 1593 receiving yards (15.9 YPR) and 17 (!) TDs. Addison then transferred to USC and continued to have success, although his season was cut short due to injury. He’s a very good athlete, but wins primarily with his elite route-running expertise and ability to create separation. Addison’s size (6’0, 175) will be scrutinized, and a good weigh-in and day of testing at the Combine could help him become the first receiver taken.
Josh Downs, North Carolina
I don’t want to call Josh Downs the “discount Jordan Addison”, but these two do have somewhat similar games. Downs is another diminutive receiver (5’10, 171) who wins with his combination of short-area quickness and elite route running. With Downs, however, you’re working with an even smaller frame—making him a slot-only projection at the NFL level. You’re also going to be able to draft Downs on Day 2 instead of early in the first round. I like Downs for many of the same reasons I like Addison: polished route runners tend to succeed early in their NFL careers. I do wonder if the Falcons would invest such a premium pick in a slot receiver, given their emphasis on multiple TE sets.
Zay Flowers, Boston College
Another small receiver prospect (5’10, 172), Boston College’s Zay Flowers turned in his best season in 2022 with 1077 yards (13.8 YPR) and a whopping 12 TDs. Flowers is a twitchy and extremely dangerous player after the catch, and is surprisingly physical despite his stature. He appears to have excellent burst, lateral mobility, and long speed and is a threat from both the slot and outside. The one thing I didn’t like about Flowers was his hands and overall catch radius: he drops the ball too often for someone this good, with 24 over four seasons. I expect him to be one of the more impressive testers at the Combine.
Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State
One of the biggest winners from the Senior Bowl, Xavier Hutchinson was very impressive and certainly checks the boxes of an Arthur Smith receiver with good size and physicality. The Combine testing will be significant for Hutchinson’s stock: he’s comfortably in the late-Day 2 range right now, but good testing could lift him even higher in the rankings. Here’s my blurb on Hutchinson from the Senior Bowl preview:
One of the most consistently productive receivers in the class, Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson capped off his college career with an outstanding 2022 season. A big-bodied (6’3, 205) receiver with very good lateral mobility, Hutchinson is a versatile player with few holes in his game. He’s a monster in contested catch situations and can win with physicality, while also possessing an extensive route tree and the experience to play out wide or in the slot. Hutchinson is a polished technician who clearly understands the finer points of the position and is one of the most NFL-ready prospects I’ve scouted.
Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee
The wide receiver with the most “buzz” coming into the Combine, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt has seen a meteoric rise on the back of his breakout 2022 season. An elite speedster who will be in contention for the fastest player in Indianapolis, Hyatt’s ability as a deep threat is undeniable and he’s got very good hands and ball-tracking skills. Hyatt, however, is very one-dimensional right now and benefitted immensely from the playing in the slot in Tennesse’s “ultra spread” offense. With Hyatt on the slender side (6’0, 175) and with little experience in a pro-style system, it may take significant time for him to adjust to the NFL game. Still, the old adage of “speed is king” holds true, and he’s been mocked as high as 12 to the Texans by NFL Network’s Lance Zierlein.
Quentin Johnston, TCU
Another contender for the top receiver in this class, TCU’s Quentin Johnston is by far the most traditional “X” prospect. At 6’4, 212 and with outstanding athleticism, this is the classic “top of the draft” receiver with sky-high potential as a dominant WR1. Johnston’s flash plays are special and he has unreal speed and agility for his size. All that being said, Johnston is simply not as productive as he should have been. He isn’t as physical at the catch point or at the line of scrimmage as you’d expect, although I do think his hands are good. Johnston’s release package against press coverage is underdeveloped and he is frequently disrupted as a result. It’s easy to see why Johnston is regarded so highly by many, but I think he’s got significant development ahead of him.
Jayden Reed, Michigan State
An early-Day 3 draft crush of mine early in the offseason, Jayden Reed was too impressive at the Senior Bowl and vaulted himself firmly into the late-Day 2 conversation. His versatility was on full display in Mobile and he was one of the most consistent receivers throughout the week of practice. Here’s my snippet on Reed from the Senior Bowl preview:
One of the most versatile receiver prospects in the class, Michigan State’s Jayden Reed has been on my radar for the Falcons for awhile. While Reed lacks the size (5’11, 215) and elite athletic traits to be a top pick, he makes up for it with an experienced, well-rounded skillset. Reed has played pretty much everywhere on offense, from outside to the slot, lined up in the backfield, and as a returner on special teams. His best trait is his yards-after-catch ability, where Reed possesses exceptional physicality and contact balance. Reed has terrific hands and is a polished technician, with a detailed and extensive route tree.
Rashee Rice, SMU
Rashee Rice was the highest-ranked receiver at the Senior Bowl, and he didn’t quite live up to those standards. He was inconsistent throughout the week—although he finished strong with an awesome Day 3—and measured in far smaller than expected at 6’0.5, 200. That hurt his stock a bit, but he’s got a chance to recover with a strong Combine performance. Here’s my blurb on Rice from an early mock draft:
SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice has been rocketing up draft boards after an exceptional 2022 season, and is in contention to be a late first-round selection. Rice has good size at 6’2, 205 and looks the part of an elite athlete. His plus contact balance and explosiveness make him a threat any time he catches the ball. Plus, Arthur Smith will love the physicality he brings to his blocking assignments. Rice ran a limited route tree at SMU and will take some time to acclimate to the NFL, but he’s a dynamic playmaker who can perfectly complement the skills of Drake London and Kyle Pitts.
Tyler Scott, Cincinnati
Tyler Scott is a prospect who is commonly linked to the Falcons in mocks due to his connection with Desmond Ridder: he was Ridder’s WR2 during the 2021 season at Cincinnati. That connection is valuable, especially early on, but Scott is an intriguing prospect in his own right. While he’s on the smaller side at 5’11, 177, Scott is an absolute burner with high-end overall athleticism. He’s a dangerous deep threat with plus ball-tracking ability, but that’s not all. Scott also has exceptional lateral mobility and quickness, making him a yards-after-catch threat on crossers and screens. He’s also worked extensively as a “Z” receiver on the outside and has an advanced release package there. Scott’s stock is all over the place depending on who you ask, but I expect him to be a Day 2 pick when the dust clears.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Another of the first-round receiver prospects, Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba probably won’t have much appeal to the Falcons specifically. As a slot-only assassin, Smith-Njigba has been awesome, winning with his elite route-running and short-area quickness. Smith-Njigba has some of the best hands in the class and is known for his highlight reel catches. He’s an extremely polished player with the ability to create easy separation and the instincts to always find the soft spot in the zone. Smith-Njigba is a high-end slot prospect who can be a Cooper Kupp-level target hog in the right system. Given Atlanta’s reluctance to use a slot receiver, he’s not a great fit here. But he’s definitely worth watching, as better-than-expected Combine testing could see Smith-Njigba taken as the first receiver.
Other players to watch:
I hope you enjoyed this entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: running back.