All eyes will be on Kansas City this week as official NFL Draft events, sponsor activations, and industry gatherings swirl around the first round on Thursday. This year’s Draft ratings are expected to continue rising based on viewership growth during the NFL season and an off-season filled with storylines, particularly the intrigue of potential franchise quarterbacks, including a Heisman Trophy winner who is expected to go at the top of the Draft.
With Kansas City hosting directly after their Super Bowl Championship, we expect continued growth of the NFL Draft on-the-ground experience as the host city revels in being the center of the NFL universe—at least for now.
Potential (and Exciting) Storylines
The major trade involving the Carolina Panthers to move up eight spots and acquire the #1 overall pick has created buzz around which of the top quarterbacks they’ll look to select—and with Draft week upon us, Bryce Young is the odds-on favorite. The expectation is that once the first couple of quarterbacks are selected, there may be additional trades as other teams look to move up and select their quarterback of the future.
Outside of the top four quarterbacks who are expected to go early in the first round (Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson), there are a number of skill position players at running back and wide receiver who are also creating buzz. And there are a handful of exciting defensive prospects with potential to go early and be immediate contributors in the NFL (Jalen Carter, Will Anderson, Tyree Wilson, Joey Porter Jr., and Christian Gonzalez).
The NFL has already had one of its most unpredictable off-seasons with an explosive free agency period that has seen more movement of established veteran talent than arguably any other off-season. All of that movement has changed teams’ needs and approach, setting the stage for an unpredictable and great draft, including surprising Draft Day trades. With the continued growth of contracts and guarantees for NFL veterans, teams are more dependent on the ability of NFL Rookies to become impact players early on in their careers.
The players with the highest commercial appeal going into the draft are:
Anthony Richardson – Very raw prospect that has vaulted up draft boards after a record-setting combine experience.
Bijan Robinson – Undisputed top running back prospect in this year’s draft class/
Brian Branch – One of the top safety’s in this year’s class coming from a constant pipeline of defensive backfield talent at Alabama.
Bryce Young – Heisman winning quarterback.
Christian Gonzalez – Widely considered one of the most “safe-bets” in this year’s draft class, putting up solid and consistent tape during his time at Oregon.
CJ Stroud – Odds on favorite to be the #1 overall pick. His performance in the playoffs versus Georgia solidified his status as a potential franchise-changing talent.
Darnell Washington – Monster athlete that played a prominent role on the National Title-winning Georgia Bulldogs.
Jaxson Smith-Njigba – Highly-graded athlete that was thrust into the national spotlight after his record setting Rose Bowl performance in 2022.
Joey Porter Jr. – One of the top defensive players in the draft, coming from a family with football pedigree, as his father is the great Joey Porter Sr.
Jordan Addison – Star wide receiver who made his name at PITT as the Biletnikoff award winner in 2021, then had a high-profile transfer saga that landed him at USC for his final year of college ball in 2022.
Michael Mayer – Record-setting tight end that had a decorated career at the famed program of Notre Dame, where he has drawn comparisons to some all-time great TE’s like Jason Witten.
Nolan Smith – One of the leaders on defense for the Georgia Bulldogs, but had his season cut short due to injury. An extremely impressive combine performance has vaulted him back up draft boards.
Quentin Johnston – Big play receiver that made big plays all year for the CFP-bound TCU Horned Frogs. Arguably the most dominant WR in college football in 2022.
Tyree Wilson – Consensus top-10 projected pick in this year’s draft class. Flew under the radar a bit at Texas Tech, but most draft pundits expect him to make a splash immediately as a pro.
Will Anderson – Legit, franchise-altering talent at the extremely valuable position of EDGE rusher. His dominant tape at Alabama speaks for itself.
Will Levis – Tough, blue-collar, hard-nosed QB that most expect to be off the board by mid-first round. His cannon of an arm lit up the SEC, even while injured most of the 2022 season.
This year’s draft will be the second in which eligible players have had the ability to leverage their own name, image, and likeness for commercial purposes through the NCAA’s loosening of its amateurism rules in 2021. Some top prospects, such as Texas RB Bijan Robinson, have experienced success working with brands while in college. Although an NIL relationship must stop once an athlete’s NCAA eligibility ends, one thing to watch will be whether these relationships will continue as they turn pro.
Authors: Will Ober, Ryan Harle, Basia Wojcik, Matt Fleming, and Alex Hanono, all from TMA’s Sports, Celebrity & Influencer team.