Who are the real first-round prospects for the 2023 NFL draft? No, not the players who will be drafted in the first round, but rather the players who actually receive a true Round 1 grade. And yes, there is a difference.
There will be 31 players selected in the first round, with the Miami Dolphins being penalized a selection for violations of league policies relating to the integrity of the game. But NFL teams will not put first-round grades on 31-plus players. Why not? The sacred first-round grade is reserved for a player who would be a Day 1 pick in any recent draft year, and the number varies by team and scouting department. One NFC team told me it limits its board to just 15 first-round grades to make scouts be more critical before handing out a special grade. Round 1 grades are reserved for players who are truly worthy of the early pick, not just those who will end up being one.
So I set out to list every player with a first-round grade and ended up with 19 names (down from 20 in my late-January update, but up from 17 in early December). My own rule of thumb is evaluating whether each player would have been a first-round pick in every one of the past five draft classes. The list could grow or shrink over the next two months after the scouting combine and college pro days. But for now, here's a look at the 2023 draft class' Round 1 grades. Players' overall rankings are in parentheses after their names.
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