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 that may or may not be a significant area of need depending on impending free agent Kaleb McGary: offensive tackle.
The 2023 NFL Draft class has been criticized for a lack of first-round talent, but that doesn’t apply to the offensive tackle group. This group features three potential top-10 prospects in Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones, and Peter Skoronski and another five tackles in the top-60 of The Draft Network’s consensus rankings. The class falls off quickly after that, but this is a good year to need a tackle in the first two rounds.
Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse
The most consistently impressive tackle through the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, Matthew Bergeron staked his claim to the top of the Day 2 tackle class. I’m not surprised considering how polished his game is—he’s a pro-ready prospect. Bergeron would be a logical fit for the Falcons in the second round, and here’s how I described his game in the Senior Bowl preview:
Matthew Bergeron has been a stalwart on the Orange’s offensive line since his freshman season. He has played both left tackle and right tackle extensively and brings plenty of experience to the position. Bergeron has an NFL frame at 6’5, 320, and his mobility and overall athleticism immediately stand out. He’s got quick feet and always plays under control, with an advanced understanding of leverage and how to use his positioning to win as a run and pass blocker. My questions with Bergeron stem from his overall play strength: he’s solid in this area and is rarely driven back, but doesn’t have a lot of pop in his hands.
Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland
Jaelyn Duncan had an up-and-down week in Mobile, as you’d expect from a developmental tackle prospect. The highs were high, however, and Duncan’s traits will undoubtedly get him drafted early on Day 2. Here’s my snippet on Duncan from the Senior Bowl preview:
An exciting developmental tackle prospect, Jaelyn Duncan has steadily risen up draft boards over his career at Maryland. A four-year starter at left tackle, Duncan absolutely looks the part of an NFL tackle at 6’6, 300. He’s an excellent athlete for his size, with the requisite movement skills to be an impact player in a zone-scheme rushing attack and in pass protection. Technically, Duncan has a lot of issues that affect his down-to-down consistency. His hand usage is all over the place, and he plays far too upright. Duncan is a flashy, high-upside tackle prospect that likely needs a year of seasoning as a swing tackle before being elevated to a starting role.
Blake Freeland, BYU
If the Falcons are looking for a developmental swing tackle on Day 3, BYU’s Blake Freeland could be an intriguing option. Freeland got worked on the first day of Senior Bowl practice, but took the coaching and rebounded in a big way over the course of the week. He’s got his fair share of issues, but the size and strength profile are intriguing. Here’s how I described his skillset in a recent mock draft:
Freeland’s size immediately stands out: at 6’8, 305, Freeland has outstanding length and knows how to use it to his advantage. He’s a dominant run blocker who has flourished in a wide zone attack thanks to his strength, length, and athleticism, making him a clear fit for the Falcons. As a pass protector, Freeland is a smart player who knows how to use his length and strength to stifle rushers. Leverage will always be an issue with Freeland, as will some lateral mobility limitations thanks to his massive stature.
Anton Harrison, Oklahoma
A top Day 2 tackle prospect who could potentially sneak into the late-first round conversation with a good Combine week, Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison checks a lot of boxes for NFL teams. His 6’5, 309 frame is long and has plenty of room to add mass, and Harrison is an exceptional athlete at his size. Harrison has very quick feet and is an easy mover on the outside, giving him high upside in pass protection and a lot of appeal to zone blocking teams. Right now, Harrison’s strength profile is lacking and he’s got to clean up his hand usage and leverage at the point of attack. All the tools are there for a high-level NFL starter if Harrison can take the next step in his development.
Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State
The OT1, depending on who you ask, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. is the prototype for a top-10 tackle prospect. He’s a terrific athlete with an exceptional frame (6’6, 315), and he’s got the length to give defensive linemen fits. I’ve already mocked Johnson Jr. to the Falcons at 8, and here’s how I described his skills:
Both Johnson Jr. and [Broderick] Jones possess prototypical NFL size and length along with outstanding athletic traits, but I’m giving Johnson Jr. the edge for the Falcons for a few reasons. For one, Johnson Jr. is currently a better pass protector, and that’s harder to coach up. Second, Johnson Jr. has extensive experience at left guard—where he was an elite player for Ohio State before transitioning to left tackle.
Broderick Jones, Georgia
Even though I’m probably going to settle on Paris Johnson Jr. as OT1, I won’t argue with anyone who has Georgia’s Broderick Jones ahead of him. Jones also looks the part of a top tackle prospect, with a well-proportioned 6’4, 310 frame and what is likely to be the most athletic profile in the entire class. Jones is a mauling run blocker who excels on the move, and he’s an easy projection into an offense like Atlanta’s. The potential here is ridiculous, but Jones is a bit rougher around the edges in pass protection and has a lot less experience than the other top tackles. I wouldn’t be shocked if Jones has the highest RAS of any tackle in the class when the dust clears at the Combine.
Dawand Jones, Ohio State
If Broderick Jones is the most athletic, Ohio State’s Dawand Jones is the most physically dominant. This man showed up to the Senior Bowl, spent the entire first practice pancaking everyone he faced, and then rode off into the sunset. Absolute legend status. Jones has some limitations due to his size that the other top OTs don’t, but also some clear advantages. Here’s my writeup on Jones from the Senior Bowl preview:
Ohio State’s Dawand Jones is a “first off the bus” type of player. His 6’8, 360 frame brings to mind Daniel Faalele from last year’s class, and I think Jones is a more pro-ready prospect. As you might expect, Jones is an overwhelming run blocker with absurd power and length at his disposal. He’s a nasty, determined player at the point of attack who will not hesitate to pancake his opponent. Jones is also a pass blocker that understands his size and how to use his length to his advantage. While Jones is a terrific athlete for his size, I do wonder if he has the athletic traits for a zone-scheme attack like Atlanta’s. He’s also only got experience at right tackle so far in his career.
Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
The other contender for OT1, Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski is among the cleanest and most pro-ready prospects in the entire 2023 NFL Draft. Skoronski has highly-developed technique in all facets, including his footwork, hand usage, and leverage at the point of attack. He’s absurdly strong and effective in the run game, and he’s got the movement skills to mirror rushers on the outside. The only thing holding Skoronski back are the size concerns: at a listed 6’4, 295, Skoronski is on the light side for the NFL. There’s also significant buzz that his length may be below NFL thresholds, which could prompt teams to evaluate him as a guard or even center. I’m confident Skoronski will be a good NFL starter, I’m just not sure where he’ll play yet.
Tyler Steen, Alabama
A pleasant surprise at the Senior Bowl, Alabama’s Tyler Steen was one of the more consistent offensive linemen throughout the week of practice. He also got opportunities to showcase his versatility at guard, which will only boost his appeal to teams looking for depth on the offensive line. Steen has a good frame at 6’5, 325 and looks like a terrific athlete. His tape is quite inconsistent and his play strength on tape leaves a lot to be desired, but he’s one of the more intriguing Day 3 prospects. I also expect Steen to turn heads with a good workout in Indianapolis.
Darnell Wright, Tennessee
One of the top tackle prospects at the Senior Bowl, Darnell Wright acquitted himself about as well as expected but didn’t boost his stock much in my eyes. My concerns about his athleticism in a zone scheme are the biggest thing I’ll be monitoring at the Combine: if Wright tests better than expected, he could have a lot more teams interested. Here’s my writeup on Wright from the Senior Bowl preview:
Tennessee’s Darnell Wright is a prototypically-sized NFL tackle prospect at 6’6, 335. He’s big, long, and powerful as both a pass protector and run blocker. Wright is dominant at the point of attack and has one of the stoutest anchors in pass pro that I’ve seen in the class. I also think he’s one of the more technically advanced tackles—he uses his hands very well, plays patient and under control, and understands how to use his size to his advantage. The questions with Wright have everything to do with his athleticism: does he have the requisite movement skills for a zone-scheme attack, or is he a gap-scheme tackle only? How he performs at the Senior Bowl and tests at the Combine will be big for his evaluation.
Other players to watch:
Asim Richards, North Carolina
Warren McClendon, Georgia
Carter Warren, Pitt
Wanya Morris, Oklahoma
Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion
I hope you enjoyed this entry in The Falcoholic’s NFL Combine preview series. Stay tuned for our final position preview: interior offensive line.