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Tuesdays with Gorney: Breaking down potential first-round draft picks

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Mock drafts for 2025 and way-too-early top lists are being released, and while the NFL Draft just happened things are already coming together for next year’s selections.

In today’s Tuesdays with Gorney, Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney looks at 25 potential first-rounders and offers his thoughts and memories of each:

MORE: News flowing fast despite break in calendar

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This one is going to haunt me. Banks was a five-star prospect at Houston (Texas) Summer Creek and backed up that ranking at the Rivals Camp Series in Dallas prior to his senior season. But at the Under Armour All-America Game, Banks was moved to right tackle and he struggled so badly all week that it put the fear into us that we had him too highly ranked.

There was talk that he never played there before, maybe he had an injury or never faced that level of competition and we now - wrongly - we chose to move him down. There’s a chance he could be the first offensive tackle off the board and this was definitely the wrong call on our part.

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In the spring before his senior season, Beck basically flipped his commitment from Alabama to Georgia and a lot of it was based on his relationship with assistant coach Todd Hartley and a great visit right before he picked the Bulldogs. It looked like Florida would land Beck if he flipped from the Crimson Tide but a big trip to Athens paid off. There are some mock drafts that have Beck among the first few picks and arguably the top QB off the board in the 2025 draft after he completed more than 72 percent of his passes for 3,941 yards with 24 TDs and six picks this past season.

He was a four-star prospect in the 2020 class but outside the Rivals250 so we didn’t envision this level of success.

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A former Oklahoma commit who ended up picking Missouri, Burden has proven to be one of the best receivers in college football and could have another stellar season in coach Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. When I saw him in high school, Burden was phenomenal - tough, smart, really hard to tackle and went out every play looking to make something happen.

The same can be said about him through two seasons with the Tigers especially coming off a year where he had 86 catches for 1,212 yards and nine touchdowns. I’m surprised there isn’t even more first-round talk around him.

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This one is going to hurt because if Campbell goes in the first round, which some now expect, there were serious talks about making him a five-star in the 2022 class but we opted for one notch lower as the highest four-star. Campbell has been excellent for LSU especially as a pass blocker and protector but what I loved about him through the recruiting process was his willingness to get dirty in the trenches and battle as a run blocker as well.

With a big season in Baton Rouge, it wouldn’t be a shock at all to see Campbell, who finished as the fourth-best offensive tackle in his class, go in the first round.

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OK, Carter might not be as good or as productive as Micah Parsons but the comparisons are there and it’s pretty close. The former four-star linebacker from Philadelphia (Pa.) LaSalle is maybe a touch less physical and a touch more twitchy than Parsons and that warrants a first-round grade.

In his first two seasons at Penn State, Carter has 104 tackles and 11 sacks and that rare athleticism that NFL teams are craving off the edge.

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The five-star receiver from Steilacoom, Wash., might not have elite traits but he gets open against anybody, catches everything and is a very steady player who can be counted on in every situation. Ohio State’s receiver room is so loaded - especially playing alongside Marvin Harrison Jr. last year – that the ball will be spread around but Egbuka has still put up great stats.

I don’t love that he went from 74 catches to 41, from 1,151 yards to 515 and 10 touchdowns to four over the last two years but he should be WR1 for the Buckeyes and should shine.

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There are some draft people who argue one way or another whether Ewers is a first-rounder but I have him this high especially if his numbers continue to go up after taking Texas to the College Football Playoff this past season.

His completion percentage year-over-year was up more than 11 percent, he looked more confident and comfortable running the Longhorns’ offense and he made tough throws look easy along the way.

If Carson Beck and Shedeur Sanders are first-rounders then Ewers, the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 class, is in that conversation, too.

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A late riser in the rankings as he emerged as a phenomenal talent in his senior season at Anaheim (Calif.) Servite, Graham had been committed to Boise State for a few months before Michigan got involved early in his senior season and he flipped to the Wolverines. Graham was an absolute physical force on both the offensive and defensive lines in the country’s best high school football league as he shed linemen to make plays and imposed his will all the time.

Now at over 300 pounds, he’s not just a big body in the middle, he still shoots gaps, uses his hands extremely well and has all the potential in the world to go in the first round.

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No one in recent memory has had the unbelievably insane athleticism and playmaking ability of Hunter on both sides of the ball as he finished third at Colorado last season in receiving and tied for the team lead in interceptions and pass breakups.

The No. 1 player in the 2022 recruiting class who still has the most shocking signing day flip from Florida State to Jackson State, I don’t see any scenario barring serious injury where Hunter is not a first-round selection.

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There was a lot of discussion about who among five five-star cornerbacks in the 2022 class should be No. 1 and I’m thrilled that we chose Johnson after a dominant week at the Under Armour Game. The five-star has length, speed, he’s smooth in coverage and ultra competitive and got the bump to the top spot.

The other four five-stars – Jaheim Singletary, Domani Jackson, Denver Harris and Julian Humphrey – have not panned out yet, certainly not as future first-rounders.

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There was not a running back taken in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft and there’s no question in recent years that position has been devalued when it comes to first-round grades. But Judkins, a three-star in high school who we missed in the rankings, is different. The Pike Road, Ala., standout totaled 2,725 yards and 31 touchdowns on 545 carries in two seasons at Ole Miss and then right when the Rebels looked like they could become a national title contender, Judkins transferred to Ohio State.

That doesn’t hurt at all since the Buckeyes have had such elite running backs but that move was a little curious after so much success in Oxford.

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Do I love putting a first-round grade on a tight end? No. Only Brock Bowers was picked in the first round of the 2024 draft and no one in college football right now is as good as Bowers but Loveland provides some interesting takes.

He’s all of 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, was a favorite target of Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy this past season and does a great job stretching the field with length and a frame that could add even more weight. He was a four-star but outside of the Rivals250 as the Gooding, Idaho, standout just wasn’t seen at any events during high school and we relied on tape for a ranking.

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I disagree with a recent comparison to Michael Pittman Jr. T-Mac is a far superior athlete and playmaker at the same stage and it’s shocking to me that the former five-star receiver from Anaheim (Calif.) Servite is not in more first-round mock drafts. If he was playing at Alabama or Georgia or USC, everybody would know how good McMillan is on the outside. A freak athlete and star high school volleyball player, McMillan had 90 catches for 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns this past season.

If he puts up those numbers again, even at Arizona, he cannot be overlooked.

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Morrison has length and toughness on the outside, he’s a technician at cornerback and there is widespread belief he’ll be a first-round selection. The former four-star outside the Rivals250 had six picks as a freshman, three last season and 10 passes deflected so receivers are not making plays on his side of the field.

I just wish we saw him more in high school. The Phoenix (Ariz.) Brophy Prep standout didn’t do any national events so it was hard to compare him to others at the position although his film warranted a four-star grade.

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Ranked as the second-best prospect in the 2022 class, Nolen had 29 tackles and a sack in his freshman season at Texas A&M and then followed that up with 37 tackles and four sacks this past season.

Now at Ole Miss, if the former five-star defensive tackle can continue to build on that success it feels like he’s a surefire first-round draft pick as he has size and power but also speed to shoot gaps and cause problems in the backfield.

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The question is whether Payton is Brian Burns 2.0? If he is then the long, rangy and athletic defensive end who has posted 12 sacks the last two seasons and could be even more dominant in 2024 could definitely get in the first round. If he’s not, how far would he possibly fall with those athletic traits and that potential.

Burns was 217 pounds in high school, starred at Florida State and is now 250 pounds for the Carolina Panthers. Payton is already 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds after being 210-ish in high school so absolutely the comp is there.

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Length and production. Pearce was ranked No. 160 in the 2022 Rivals250 out of Charlotte (N.C.) Chambers but I fear that wasn’t high enough as he had 14.5 sacks in his senior year of high school and then exploded on the national scene last year with 10 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. Pearce is twitched up, fast off the edge to beat offensive tackles easily and then he tracks players down in the backfield.

There was an offseason arrest for license and registration issues and while some mock drafts don’t have him in the first round, with another great season he should definitely hear his name called on the first night of the draft.

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The last few weeks of Perkins’ high school days were frustrating to us from a rankings perspective because he played running back instead of linebacker at the Under Armour Game - why? - and there were some concerns about his, let’s say, focus on the field and whether it would be an issue at the next level.

I still feel like if Perkins played linebacker and showed his speed and ability to play in space and so much more at the UA Game, he would’ve ended up a five-star. But then he committed to Texas A&M there but only days later was serious about Florida and then LSU stole him late after a visit and his realized dreams of playing in Baton Rouge since he was originally from New Orleans.

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Intense scrutiny especially comes to quarterbacks in the NFL Draft process and Sanders won’t be spared. Caleb Williams was criticized about painting his fingernails or crying to his mother after a loss or taking a trip to Tokyo during the pre-draft process. He was still picked No. 1. Spencer Rattler was knocked for how he acted during a documentary while in high school and he fell to the fifth round.

Sanders is not one to stay away from the limelight flashing expensive watches and showing off luxury cars and whether his father’s involvement in the process is positive or negative is yet to be determined. The 2023 season was a great one on the field for Sanders as he completed more than 69 percent of his passes for 3,230 yards with 27 touchdowns and three picks as he was playing with a horrible offensive line.

A former FAU commit who flipped to Jackson State when his dad, Deion, landed that job, Sanders will be a lightning rod prospect until draft night.

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Sawyer does it all - and he always has ever since he was a five-star prospect at Pickerington (Ohio) Pickerington North. He didn’t do many regional or national events but Sawyer was still a five-star after in-person evaluation and tape because he plays the run so well, can blitz off the edge, can drop in coverage and that type of versatility is so rare. Some said he would’ve been a third-rounder if he came out after this season so one more year in Columbus and there should be a first-round grade on him. He had 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks this past season.

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After having a really impressive performance at the All-American Bowl as an edge rusher, Scourton, formerly Caraway, was moved up to four-stars and No. 107 nationally although it might not have been high enough. Scourton had 50 tackles and 10 sacks last season at Purdue before transferring to Texas A&M (he’s originally from Bryan, Texas) and he’ll be on an even bigger stage this season. He’s productive, strong as an ox and could definitely be in the first-round conversation.

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When we saw Starks playing high school ball, there was no question about his size, ranginess and athletic ability but it felt like he wasn’t as physical as he needed to be, was around the ball but not making tough tackles and he also played running back so it’s not that he wasn’t giving full effort on defense but we just didn’t see surefire five-star.

The high four-star has definitely entered the first-round discussion after two years in Athens with 120 tackles, five interceptions and 14 pass breakups and NFL teams are siding with Georgia players without great stats. Well, Starks has those, too.

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A Texas commit for a brief period before picking Texas A&M, the five-star Stewart was in an offense under Jimbo Fisher that quite honestly did not play to his strengths. He seems like a perfect fit for the Oregon attack and should have a monster season in Eugene. Stewart has 91 catches for 1,163 yards and six touchdowns over two years and I’m not being facetious when I say that he has the talent to match that number in one year with the Ducks.

From speed to playmaking ability, Stewart has it all and just needs an avenue to show his skills. If Xavier Worthy and Ricky Pearsall are first-rounders then Stewart has a chance as well.

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We will be super pleased if Tuimoloau ends up in the first round - as expected - because I absolutely loved him on tape and the limited times I saw him in person, mainly playing tight end for his FSP 7-on-7 team. The thing with the Bellevue (Wash.) Eastside Catholic five-star defensive end is that we never saw him a ton in person because of the COVID shutdown and his unwillingness to attend big events so this was more a projection and film call than anything else.

He’s had 83 tackles and 12 sacks over three years at Ohio State so another big season should put him in the first round.

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Ranked No. 8 in the final 2022 rankings, Williams was at risk of losing his fifth star until he dominated the week at the All-American Bowl and looked more explosive and physically dominant than other defensive ends in the class as he stunned elite offensive linemen with power and speed. The former five-star who had been committed to USC before flipping to Georgia had only 18 tackles last year but was second on the team with 4.5 sacks in a deep and talented defensive line rotation.

Former No. 1 pick Travon Walker from Georgia had only 9.5 sacks in three years with the Bulldogs. Production isn’t the only measure Williams will be considered on since UGA has elite talent through its two-deep.