It’s never too early to start looking ahead.
The phrase “football never stops” is true, especially as it relates to the NFL Draft and scouting prospects. Even when it feels too early to look ahead to next year’s draft, there’s always a time and place to speak about future prospects.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, the American Athletic Conference saw 20 players selected, including ten players selected on the first two days of the NFL Draft. That list included Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, who became the highest selected AAC defensive player in NFL Draft history.
While the 2023 NFL Draft doesn’t look like it will feature the same top-end talent that 2022 saw, there will be plenty of draft-eligible prospects that may hear their names called in Kansas City.
Here are five AAC prospects to watch ahead of next year’s draft:
TE Josh Whyle - Cincinnati
Josh Whyle may only have 736 receiving yards in three seasons, but there’s plenty to like about the Cincinnati tight end poised to take a major step in 2023.
In 2020, Whyle was an All-AAC second-team honoree and last season, he followed that up with an honorable mention all-conference team honor. At 6’6” and 245 pounds, Whyle is a viable threat in the red zone and has a dozen touchdowns over two seasons.
The departure of wide receiver Alec Pierce, who had 82 targets in 2021, leaves an opening for someone to take over those targets and Whyle may be a strong candidate to take some of those targets, especially in short-yardage situations.
LB Ivan Pace, Jr. - Cincinnati
From Cincinnati’s offense to Cincinnati’s defense, there’s no player more intriguing than linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr.
Pace is set to play his first season with the Bearcats after two seasons with Miami (OH), where he saw a breakout 2021 season. In 2021, Pace totaled 125 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and four sacks. In 833 snaps, Pace posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 83.0.
Pace is a bit undersized for the position at six feet tall and 240 pounds, but a strong season in the middle of Cincinnati’s defense could see Pace shoot up draft boards during the season.
WR Nathaniel Dell - Houston
Everything went right for Nathaniel Dell last season and as a result, the 5’10” wide receiver posted career-high numbers in all major receiving statistics, finishing with 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns on 90 receptions.
While Dell isn’t tall for the position, he’s every bit as athletic as most wide receivers playing the position. He’s a consistent home-run threat at the position, who’s capable of turning heads with the ball in his hands. Dell is equally a threat on special teams, something NFL teams may take advantage of.
RB Jaren Mangham - USF
After transferring to USF from Colorado prior to the start of last season, Jaren Mangham turned heads in the backfield for the Bulls.
In 2021, Mangham finished 2021 with 671 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns - a figure that ranks second all-time in program history - on 160 carries, earning him a spot on the all-conference team as an honorable mention.
Mangham, of course, will need to build upon last season but there’s a lot to like about him. At 6’2” and 221 pounds, Mangham has the size NFL teams seem to crave in a running back. With that size, he’s capable of creating yards after contact, creating 438 yards after contact last season, according to Pro Football Focus data.
OL Sincere Haynesworth - Tulane
Sincere Haynesworth has earned the nickname “The Terminator” at Tulane, and for good reason. He also views himself as the quarterback of the offensive line, and it’s not hard to see why.
Haynesworth has taken over the Green Wave’s center position and since taking it, he hasn’t given it up. Over the last two seasons, Haynesworth has started 24 games at center, a number that will inevitably balloon to over 30 by the time 2022 is over.
The Pearland, Texas native is a two-time All-AAC honoree, earning a spot as an honorable mention in 2021. At 6’1” and 300 pounds, he has the size to play on an offensive line in the NFL and with the experience at center, it’s likely that a team takes him to help fill-in holes they may have on the line.