NFL Mock Draft 2023: DTR, Charbonnet headline UCLA football players set to hear their names called
Pictured are quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (left) and running back Zach Charbonnet (right). Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet are expected to be the first two UCLA football players to hear their names called at the 2023 NFL Draft this weekend. (From left to right: Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor, Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor. Photo illustration by Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)
This post was updated April 25 at 9:33 p.m.
After six UCLA football players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bruins will have a chance at seeing similar draft success in 2023. Two UCLA players were selected in the third round last year before four other players heard their names called on day three.
With quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet headlining the Bruins’ potential draftees this year, Sports editor Sam Settleman, senior staff writer Francis Moon and staff writer Gavin Carlson project where six former UCLA players could end up by the end of the weekend.
Zach Charbonnet, running back
NFL comparison: Former RB Arian Foster
It won’t happen until day two, but Zach Charbonnet will undoubtedly be the first Bruin to hear his name called.
Despite sharing backfield duties in 2021, the running back posted an impressive debut season with UCLA as a transfer from Michigan, rushing for 94.8 yards per game. Handed the reins in 2022, Charbonnet took it to another level, recording 135.9 rushing yards per contest while doubling his production as a receiver.
In his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season, Charbonnet – who could have been among the first running backs taken had he declared last year – led the nation in all-purpose yards per game while ranking fourth in yards per carry and proving himself capable as a bell cow.
Charbonnet accounted for 14 touchdowns on the year, including an absurd four-game stretch in which he averaged 213.8 total yards per game with eight total touchdowns. Having one of the best offensive lines in the country helped, but the running back more than passes the eye test with a physical yet patient style that consistently leads to extra yards.
Though he is a bigger back known for his power and balance, Charbonnet still displays elite quickness and ranked in the top half of running backs in speed and explosion at the NFL Combine to prove it.
As one of the best available players at his position, Charbonnet has a chance to be the highest-drafted running back from Westwood since his position coach, DeShaun Foster, went 34th overall in 2002.
With running back Austin Ekeler requesting a trade last month, the Los Angeles Chargers could pull the trigger and consequently add another former Bruin to their running back room alongside Joshua Kelley.
Moon’s pick: Second round, pick No. 54 (Los Angeles Chargers)
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, quarterback
NFL comparison: Atlanta Falcons QB Taylor Heinicke
Dorian Thompson-Robinson has little left to prove as a college quarterback. He’ll go down as the top signal-caller in UCLA history in nearly every category.
But he has everything to prove in terms of his viability as a quarterback at the highest level.
Many critics have doubts about Thompson-Robinson’s ability to make the leap. His physical traits have never been questioned, although he’s slightly undersized at 6 feet, 1 inches. It’s his consistency woes that have plagued him.
As a result, Thompson-Robinson was slated as a late day three pick in the 2023 NFL Draft after his final season with the Bruins, despite betting on himself by returning for a fifth season and even earning Heisman buzz early in the 2022 season. However, his stock has risen in the past few months, garnering some looks in the fourth round in recent mocks.
His 4.56 40-yard dash and elite broad jump put him among the most athletic quarterbacks, although his agility in combine drills lacked significantly relative to his straight-line speed.
In terms of his arm, Thompson-Robinson has impressed with a heavy ball, but he has yet to quell the concerns about his long-ball ability and general accuracy.
The quarterback had the opportunity to work directly with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien at the East-West Shrine Bowl in February. Belichick and O’Brien likely don’t view Thompson-Robinson as their quarterback of the future, but it wouldn’t be out of character for the Patriots to jump on a chance to take a quarterback with high upside.
He may drop to the fifth or sixth round in a draft class with a plethora of talented quarterbacks, but wherever he ends up, Thompson-Robinson could slot in as a backup somewhere next year if he lands in the right situation.
The physical tools are there, and with some polished mechanics and corrected inconsistencies, Thompson-Robinson can be an NFL quarterback. Maybe the greatest coach ever will take a chance.
Settleman’s pick: Fourth round, pick No. 135 (New England Patriots)
Atonio Mafi, offensive lineman
NFL comparison: Dallas Cowboys OG Tyler Smith
When former UCLA offensive lineman Sean Rhyan entered the 2022 NFL Draft, he hadn’t missed a start for the Bruins in all three seasons with the program.
Atonio Mafi, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have the same experience on his side. Mafi played on the defensive side of the ball as a nose tackle during his first three seasons at UCLA before making the switch. 2022 marked his lone full season as a starter on the offensive line.
But while raw and largely unpolished as an offensive guard prospect, Mafi certainly has the physical intangibles to be an NFL guard. He once weighed in at 411 pounds, but is now down to 329 pounds at 6 feet, 4 inches, making him a force to be reckoned with in the trenches.
His measures of athleticism are weak, and his bench press of 25 reps at UCLA’s pro day doesn’t quite live up to his size, but the film tells the tale of an effective lineman in both the passing and running game.
Mafi’s lacking speed and agility make him a weak pulling guard and hinder his ability to get to the second level, while his technique is not quite at the same level of other top guard prospects.
All that being said, Mafi is best described as a violent blocker and truly sets the tone at the point of attack. He has no shortage of pancake blocks on his highlight reel and is not one to give up on plays.
Mafi’s lack of experience may make him somewhat of a project, but not one that an NFL team will turn down. He’s another likely day three pick but could range anywhere from the fourth round to the seventh.
Perhaps Mafi will reunite with Rhyan in Green Bay.
Settleman’s pick: Fifth round, pick No. 170 (Green Bay Packers)
Jon Gaines II, offensive lineman
NFL comparison: New England Patriots OG Cole Strange
While Mafi lacks athleticism, Jon Gaines II certainly doesn’t fit that same mold.
The five-year Bruin has started every game for UCLA over the last two seasons, shuffling around the interior of the offensive line but primarily lining up at right guard. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman is almost the opposite of Mafi, with a unique skill set that makes him a high-ceiling pick.
No offensive guard in the 2023 NFL Draft class matched the athleticism of Gaines, who ran the 40-yard dash in 5.01 seconds and posted the top time among offensive linemen at the combine in both the three-cone drill and the 20-yard shuttle.
Much like Mafi, however, Gaines loses some credibility as a prospect in his technique. He’s not a perfectly polished guard and really only found continuity with one position during his final season with UCLA.
That being said, Gaines’ versatility and ability to play multiple positions along the line should be viewed as a strength by NFL teams. He brings a lot of positives to the table with his athleticism, even if his positioning and body control don’t always follow suit.
Gaines still may not be a big name heading into draft weekend, but don’t be surprised if he hears his name called before Mafi. His intangibles make him an intriguing prospect for any team looking for an athletic guard in a league in which that exact mold of offensive lineman has excelled in recent years.
Settleman’s pick: Fifth round, pick No. 174 (Las Vegas Raiders)
Jake Bobo, wide receiver
NFL comparison: New Orleans Saints TE Juwan Johnson
Jake Bobo has been a wide receiver his entire career, but his best chance at making it in the NFL probably requires a switch to tight end.
Late-round wide receiver selections are rarely the complete package. They typically need to have at least elite speed, size or college production to get drafted. If Bobo does get his name called before the final round of the draft ends, his 6-foot-4 frame will be the reason why.
In terms of production, the former Duke pass catcher did lead UCLA in receiving yards, catches and touchdowns, but he wasn’t even in the top 10 in the conference in any of those statistics. Normally, 14.3 yards per catch is eye-opening, but it doesn’t take much time watching film of the Bruins to realize that was more so because of wide-open play action passes than vertical shots and contested catches down the field.
As far as speed and quickness, he runs around a 4.60 40-yard dash – which isn’t great – and three of his top five weaknesses on NFL.com’s prospect profile are related to his poor route running and lateral quickness.
Bobo is essentially a slow slot receiver whose best traits are his size and physicality, which sounds like the perfect candidate to make the switch to tight end.
Former Oregon wide receiver Juwan Johnson was a similar prospect heading into the 2020 draft, and after putting on 20 pounds, Johnson found success with the Saints at tight end. At least one team could use its final pick of the draft with the hopes of pushing Bobo from 205 pounds to 230 pounds and having similar results.
I’ve seen the Texans take a wide receiver with the last pick of the draft in several mock drafts, and they have plenty of time to wait for a project like a transitioning Bobo, so why not have some fun and make Bobo the final pick – “Mr. Irrelevant” – of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Carlson’s pick: Seventh round, pick No. 259 (Houston Texans)
Stephan Blaylock, safety
NFL comparison: Free agent S Rodney McLeod
Along with Mafi and Thompson-Robinson, Stephan Blaylock has been a constant since coach Chip Kelly’s arrival in Westwood in 2018.
Starting in 44 of his program-record-tying 56 games played, the defensive back suited up in every game during an up-and-down five years for UCLA while helping anchor a defense that admittedly often left much to be desired.
But despite the deficiencies of the Bruins’ secondaries in recent years, Blaylock has the versatility and ball skills to deserve a spot on an NFL roster.
An All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2022, Blaylock ranked third on the team with 60 total tackles while accruing two sacks. He also picked up a crucial interception in the first half of a ranked win against Washington in September, the third pick of his career.
Though it came in a 4-8 season for the Bruins, Blaylock recorded arguably his best statistical season in 2019 as a sophomore with 86 total tackles and two forced fumbles. At UCLA, he spent a majority of the time as a coverage free safety, but also showed flashes in the box as well, covering the slot or run game while acting as a vocal leader for the defense.
Slightly undersized for his position at 5 feet, 11 inches, and 193 pounds, Blaylock may have an uphill battle to earn a rotation spot, as his speed and athleticism don’t exactly pop off the page, either.
A team lacking safety depth could take a late-round flier on Blaylock, but in a deep draft it’s likely he will have to find a home without hearing his name called on draft night.
The Los Angeles Rams used a sixth-round selection on Blaylock’s former secondary partner, safety Quentin Lake, who projected similarly to Blaylock as a prospect. Potentially beginning a rebuild, the Rams could reunite the versatile pairing to improve their depth in the secondary.
Moon’s pick: Undrafted free agent (Los Angeles Rams)