This time a year ago, Brock Purdy was an NFL Draft afterthought. If you’d spoken to most experts, they probably would have predicted more luck for Purdy in the CFL or the XFL—for however long that’s a thing. But sometimes talent needs but a stage to flourish, which has been the case for Purdy, who—in case you missed the 2000 times it was said during the broadcast—was the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
While nobody truly could have seen his rapid ascent coming, fans on the college game might have been a little more bullish on Brock’s chances of pulling off a little magic at the next level. During his time at Iowa State, Brock had a penchant for big plays in big moments—the type of things not necessarily perfectly captured by conventional stats. With that in mind, here are a few players in the 2023 NFL Draft class that we think might have a bit of that Purdy magic in them.
Jake Haenor is just a straight gunslinger, no other way to put it.
Similar to Purdy, he has a ton of experience, putting up huge numbers at Fresno State and a ton of wins. Similar to Purdy, Haenor isn’t a dual threat but is very mobile in the pocket with good awareness. Most of all, he’s a winner. Fresno State finished with a 10-4 record, but three of those losses came in games where Haenor didn’t play. Despite missing time, he still finished the season with a fantastic line: 2,896 yards, 20 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. Perhaps most impressively, his accuracy improved notably each year he was a starter—64% in 2020, 67% in 2021, 72% in 2022.
Outlandish “if everything goes perfectly right” player comp: Brock Purdy
Similar to Haenor (and Purdy), Aidan O’Connell is just an absolute gamer. I could espouse for days on this, but instead, just check out his highlights from last year’s Music City Bowl against Tennessee:
O’Connell’s numbers didn’t jump off the page the past two years at Purdue, but his poise and resilience in huge spots left a definite impression on college football fans. Leading Purdue to a Big Ten title game can’t be understated as an accomplishment. O’Connell faced tough competition in the Big Ten, but often found ways to make plays under duress thanks to his big frame and bigger arm. While plenty of prospects look great in drills with a clean pocket, not many of those exist in the NFL. O’Connell’s penchant for big plays makes him a very intriguing prospect.
Outlandish “if everything goes perfectly right” player comp: Kirk Cousins
Straight up, the most electrifying player in college football. I’d bet anything he plays in the NFL for more than a decade. Despite being the smallest guy on the field every snap since his junior year of high school essentially, all Deuce did since stepping foot in Manhattan, Kansas is make plays. I hate to bring up Darren Sproles because it’s so obvious but I’m going to bring up Darren Sproles because you have to when discussing Deuce Vaughn.
Vaughn is a two-time first-team All-American who put up 130 yards in each of his last two college games against Alabama and TCU. He won’t be drafted high because of his size. That’s just the way it is. But whatever team does draft Deuce Vaughn is going to love him.
Outlandish “if everything goes perfectly right” player comp: Danny Woodhead (Okay, it’s actually Darren Sproles)
Roschon was a four-star quarterback prospect when he arrived at Texas, but due to a slew of injuries switched positions to running back his freshman year. He was so good he never switched back.
What makes Roschon an intriguing back in the NFL is a combination of his running style as well as usage. At Texas, he shared the backfield with projected first-round pick Bijan Robinson—who often took much of the spotlight. But Roschon’s size—6-foot-2, 225 lbs— and no-nonsense one-cut running style could end up being an asset in the league. He was also incredibly effective when he did get the ball, averaging 6 yards per carry at Texas. It’s not hard to imagine him absolutely going off in a system like SF’s or Miami’s.
Outlandish “if everything goes perfectly right” player comp: Josh Jacobs
That’s right, it’s another Purdue player. I’m not apologizing. Charlie Jones is just that sick, I had no choice. Hands are tied. Watch this tape, my guy is always open:
The second thing you might notice is that he catches everything. That’s a given in a highlight tape but the stats back it up: He was first in the nation in receptions and second in receiving with 1,361 yards. He has decent enough size at 6’0, 190 lbs, and had a way of getting open despite everybody knowing he would get the ball. Prior to playing at Purdue, he had minimal success in stops at Buffalo and Iowa, so some teams may be concerned he’s a one-season wonder. But if he is able to find space on the field like he did at Purdue, Charlie’s going to be in the NFL for a very long time.
Outlandish “if everything goes perfectly right” player comp: Justin Jefferson (which seems insane, yes, but they have similar size and fantastic hands)