Digging Into the Track & Field Backgrounds of the 2023 NFL Draft First-Round Picks

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft was held last night in Kansas City. While the 31 men selected are best known for their football exploits, the power, speed, and explosion required to excel on the gridiron often overlaps with track & field. That’s why you see track stars like Marvin Bracy and Devon Allen trying to pursue NFL careers and NFL wide receivers like Tyreek Hill and DK Metcalf showing up to run track meets in the offseason.

When we last looked at the track histories of NFL first-rounders six years ago, eight of the top nine picks ran track in high school. This year, it was only two of the top nine. Why?

One of the main reasons is the positions that were drafted. In 2017, only one of the top nine picks were quarterbacks. This year, there were three QBs in the top nine. Because quarterback is a specialized position, the traits required to succeed don’t translate as readily to track & field. If you’re a top wide receiver, you can spend your spring on the track team working on speed development and stay in great shape for football. If you’re a hotshot QB prospect, you’re probably spending your spring playing 7-on-7 or drilling mechanics.

Of the 31 first-rounders taken on Thursday, 13 of them (42%) ran or threw on the track team in high school with another three listed as being on their high school teams but with no results. None of them appeared to run track in college, so it doesn’t seem like we’ll have anyone following in the footsteps of Hill and Metcalf and showing up at some random track meet anytime soon.

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Below, a breakdown of the track background of all 31 selections.

Pick 1, Carolina Panthers: Bryce Young, quarterback, Alabama

No track & field background.

Pick 2, Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud, quarterback, Ohio State

No track & field background.

Pick 3, Houston Texans: Will Anderson, Jr., linebacker, Alabama

No track & field background.

Pick 4, Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Richardson, quarterback, Florida

No track & field background.

Pick 5, Seattle Seahawks: Devon Witherspoon, cornerback, Illinois

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Witherspoon ran two seasons of track and Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Fla. His best mark in the 100 meters was a middling 11.29 seconds, but he did qualify for the Florida state meet in the high jump as a senior in 2019. His high school pb was 2.01m (6-7), though he no-heighted at states.

Pick 6, Arizona Cardinals: Paris Johnson, Jr., offensive tackle, Ohio State

No track & field background.

Pick 7, Las Vegas Raiders: Tyree Wilson, defensive end, Texas Tech

Wilson was a member of the sprint relay squads at West Rusk High School in New London, Tex., where his most notable accomplishment was running the second leg on the team that finished 9th in the 4×200 at the 2018 Texas 3A state meet. Not bad for a defensive end who now weighs in at 275 pounds.

Pick 8, Atlanta Falcons: Bijan Robinson, running back, Texas

No track & field background, though his grandfather, Cleo, ran track at Northern Arizona.

Pick 9, Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Carter, defensive tackle, Georgia

No track & field background.

Pick 10, Chicago Bears: Darnell Wright, offensive tackle, Tennessee

Wright was a shot put star as a senior at Huntington High School in West Virginia in 2018, winning seven of his eight competitions, including the state championship, where he threw a pb of 54-1.5.

Pick 11, Tennessee Titans: Peter Skoronski, offensive tackle, Northwestern

Skoronski was on the track team all four years at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Ill. He was 7th at the Illinois state meet in the shot put as a junior and threw a pb of 57-3 indoors as a senior in 2020 but did not get to compete outdoors that year once the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the season.

Pick 12, Detroit Lions: Jahmyr Gibbs, running back, Alabama

Gibbs did run track at Dalton (Ga.) High School but did not compete much. His pbs were only 11.64 and 22.84 in the 100 and 200.

Pick 13, Green Bay Packers: Lukas Van Ness, linebacker, Iowa

No track & field background.

Pick 14, Pittsburgh Steelers: Broderick Jones, offensive tackle, Georgia

No track & field background.

Pick 15, New York Jets: Will McDonald IV, defensive end, Iowa State

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McDonald competed in a bunch of events at Waukesha North High School in Wisconsin. He ran the 110 hurdles in 15.53 and jumped 22-4 in the long jump, but his best events were the high jump — his pb of 1.93m/6-4 placed him 3rd at the Wisconsin D1 state meet in 2018 — and discus, where he was the 2018 Wisconsin D1 champion with a throw of 179-9.

Pick 16, Washington Commanders: Emmanuel Forbes, Mississippi State

No track & field background, but his 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds was tied for 5th-best among all prospects at the NFL Combine.

Pick 17, New England Patriots: Christian Gonzalez, cornerback, Oregon

Gonzalez was 6th at the Texas 5A state meet in the 200 as a junior in 2019, running a pb of 21.71 and began his senior season with a promising 10.72 100m pb in February 2020 before the season was cancelled due to COVID. He also long-jumped 22-4.

Christian is not the best track athlete in his family, however; his sister, Melissa Gonzalez, is a two-time South American champion in the 400 hurdles for Colombia. She owns a pb of 54.80 and competed at the 2021 Olympics and 2022 Worlds, making the semis in both meets.

Pick 18, Detroit Lions: Jack Campbell, linebacker, Iowa

Campbell’s Iowa bio says he lettered in track & field at Cedar Falls (Iowa) High School, but he has no results on Athletic.net.

Pick 19, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Calijah Kancey, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh

If Kancey had a track & field career at Miami Northwestern High School, it was very brief. His Athletic.net profile lists just one result in the discus, and he did not record a mark during that competition.

Pick 20, Seattle Seahawks: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver, Ohio State

Smith-Njigba competed in three seasons of track at Rockwall (Tex.) High School, where he ran the 100, 200, 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles, and competed in the long and triple jump. None of his marks were super impressive as he had bests of 11.46 in the 100 and 15.86 in the 110 hurdles.

Pick 21, Los Angeles Chargers: Quentin Johnston, wide receiver, TCU

Johnston was a strong high jumper at Temple (Tex.) High School, clearing 2.08m/6-10 as a junior in 2019 before COVID wiped out his senior season.

Pick 22, Baltimore Ravens: Zay Flowers, wide receiver, Boston College

No track & field background.

Pick 23, Minnesota Vikings: Jordan Addison, wide receiver, USC

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Addison excelled in the short sprints and long jump at Tuscarora High in Frederick, Md. As a junior in 2019, he went undefeated in the long jump, winning the 3A state title with a leap of 22-2.5. He also finished 4th in the 100 at states and ran a pb of 10.85. He opened up his senior year with a pb of 6.65 in the 55m indoors, but didn’t compete outdoors due to COVID.

Pick 24, New York Giants: Deonte Banks, cornerback, Maryland

Banks earned pbs of 10.96 in the 100 and 22-8 in the long jump at Edgewood (Md.) High School and actually overlapped with the man picked just before him, Jordan Addison. They would have competed against each other in the 100 and long jump at the Maryland 3A state meet in 2019, but Banks was a DNS in both events.

Banks’ 40-yard dash time of 4.35 seconds was tied for 5th-best among all prospects at the NFL Combine.

Pick 25, Buffalo Bills: Dalton Kincaid, tight end, Utah

No track & field background.

Pick 26, Dallas Cowboys: Mazi Smith, defensive tackle, Michigan

Smith threw shot for three years at East Kentwood (Mich.) High School. He threw 52-6 as a junior and finished 8th at the Michigan state meet, but did not compete in track as a senior.

Pick 27, Jacksonville Jaguars: Anton Harrison, offensive tackle, Oklahoma

Harrison, who attended Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., does have an Athletic.net profile but it doesn’t list any results.

Pick 28, Cincinnati Bengals: Myles Murphy, defensive end, Clemson

No track & field background.

Pick 29, New Orleans Saints: Bryan Bresee, defensive tackle, Clemson

No track & field background.

Pick 30, Philadelphia Eagles: Nolan Smith, linebacker, Georgia

No track & field background.

Pick 31, Kansas City Chiefs: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, defensive end, Kansas State

Anudike-Uzomah attended Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri, which is Matt Tegenkamp‘s alma mater — though as you might expect, he did not threaten any of Teg’s records. Anudike-Uzomah threw the javelin (140-0 pb) and long-jumped (20-7) but found his most success in the triple jump with a pb of 45-11.25 and an 8th-place finish at the Missouri Class 5 state meet as a junior in 2019 before his senior year was wiped out due to COVID.

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