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 20 names (up from 19 before the combine). 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 still grow or shrink over the next month, but for now, here's a look at the 2023 draft class' Round 1 grades. Players' overall rankings are in parentheses after their names.