The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on April 27-29. Over that time, there will be 259 draft picks. Some of those picks have been discussed to death, as big boards get shifted due to Twitter theories and NFL mock draft movement. One thing we can safely say, if there's a sleeper in this draft, they probably aren't coming out of a school like Alabama, Georgia or Kentucky. More likely than not, it'll be a player from LSU and Arkansas who will surprise during the offseason and take their team to the next level. That's what makes these guys into NFL DraftsSleepers.
Among the 259 picks, there are bound to be NFL Draft prospects who may not be top draft selections but will have excellent careers for the NFL teams that select them. Whether it's a pass rusher, an offensive lineman who is an excellent blocker, or a linebacker who can blast through the line of scrimmage into an opponent's backfield, and breakout as a defensive star. A recent example from the 2022 NFL Draft is Seattle's fifth-round cornerback, Tariq Woolen, who had a Pro Bowl rookie season.
And with teams like the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Green Bay Packers moving up the boards and shifting their draft strategies, it's only a matter of time before one of these NFL Draft sleepers makes themselves known, whether it's as a late-round pick on Thursday, or a seventh-round gamble on Saturday.
Here, we'll look at 10 hidden gems in the 2023 NFL Draft class who could go on to become NFL stars.
Cam Smith, Cornerback, South Carolina
After a massive 2021 campaign, Cam Smith saw a setback in 2022, allowing two touchdowns, 211 yards and a 47.4% completion rate. He also allowed 18 receptions on 38 targets across 302 coverage snaps.
At 6 feet and 188 pounds, Smith tested in the 72nd percentile or better in the 40-yard dash, 10-yard split, vertical jump, and broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's not a top-flight athlete at the cornerback position, but he plays well and is a menace against underneath routes. Smith will likely end up as a slot corner, which is a fine role for him and his prowess against those underneath routes.
I asked South Carolina CB Cam Smith about his matchup with Tennessee?s Jalin Hyatt. Said during prep the Sunday prior he wanted to cover their best guy
?I said put me on him. I want that. That?s what I love to do?
Said that mentality will be the same in the NFL pic.twitter.com/UlDJuBQCNf
— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) March 2, 2023
Luke Musgrave, Tight End, Oregon State
The tight end class looks like a two-horse race between Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid, but two others could be productive in the NFL. First, we'll look at Luke Musgrave out of Oregon State.
The highly athletic 6-foot-6 tight end didn't have a lot of college production. He caught 11 passes in 2022 and 22 in 2021. However, Musgrave ran a 4.61 40-yard dash, ranking fourth at the position. He also ranked inside the 80th percentile for height, hand size, 10-yard split, 40-yard dash and vertical jump, and in the 93rd percentile in the broad jump.
Musgrave needs time to develop at the position and refine his route-running, but the comparisons to Jared Cook aren't far off. He'd be a perfect fit for the Kansas City Chiefs as they groom the heir apparent to Travis Kelce.
Max Duggan with a great throw to Luke Musgrave during 2-minute drills at the Senior Bowl! pic.twitter.com/GwhMgk0V3S
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) February 1, 2023
Sam LaPorta, Tight End, Iowa
In his final season with the Hawkeyes, Sam LaPorta caught 58 passes on 90 targets for 648 yards and one touchdown. If you paid attention to the Hawkeyes' offense, you'd know those are amazing numbers for one of the consistently worst offenses in college football. The problem with LaPorta is that he'll need an accurate passer, as he's not great at adjusting to balls thrown his way. That said, he can be used up the seam and will be a great yards-after-the-catch threat.
LaPorta ran a 4.59 40-yard dash and posted a 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump.
Sam LaPorta is a human TANK ?
LaPorta posted a 4.59 40-Yard Dash and a 6.91 3-Cone time at the NFL Combine earlier this week.
Don?t sleep on the Iowa TE. pic.twitter.com/3SbEb7T4sV
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) March 9, 2023
Joe Tippman, Offensive Line, Wisconsin
The interior offensive line is never a glamorous position to evaluate, but it's absolutely necessary to help offenses flourish.
Starting two seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers, Joe Tippman allowed just one sack, four hits and four hurries in those two years. He played more than 1,400 total snaps. He's agile for a player of his size — 6-foot-6 and 317 pounds — and will be excellent on power and counter teams. If he landed on a team such as the Philadelphia Eagles, he'd have an immediate impact.
Sooo this @BadgerFootball C Joe Tippman is 6?5 315lb, pulls a ton andddd he?s insanely strong?!
Alright alright?. pic.twitter.com/6DP9a9Wscu
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 15, 2022
Rashee Rice, Wide Receiver, SMU
The wide receiver position has some depth to it this year. Still, all eyes are on Quentin Johnston, Zay Flowers, Jordan Addison and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
However, if your team is looking for a 6-foot-2, 203-pound receiver with experience on the outside and in the slot, Rashee Rice could be their man.
In his final season with SMU, Rice saw 156 targets — catching 96 of them — and went for 1,344 yards, 10 touchdowns and 14 yards after the catch.
Rice isn't the fastest receiver, but he's excellent at regulating his speed, playing well in his career against zone coverage. His 156 targets indicate how reliable of a target he is and show an endorsement of his ball skills.
Rashee Rice laying the boom ? pic.twitter.com/okURXmCm0s
— Jeremy (@PopesFFH) March 9, 2023
Devon Achane, Running Back, Texas A&M
At around 5-foot-8 and less than 190 pounds, Devon Achane needed to show off his speed at the NFL Combine — and he did that, posting a staggering 4.32 40-yard dash. In his first two seasons at Texas A&M, he was behind Isaiah Spiller. Interestingly, a common comparison to Achane is another Spiller named C.J., who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
Achane ran for 1,100 yards on 196 carries last season for eight touchdowns. He also had 36 receptions.
If a team is looking for a change-of-pace or third-down back, Achane will excel. Due to his size, there are concerns over his pass protection — which could impact his third-down availability — but his skill set will find a way onto an NFL field. Especially with his special teams versatility, it's very possible that Achane becomes an NFL player who excels on fourth downs and kickoffs.
4.34 for Devon Achane??
— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 5, 2023
Sean Tucker, Running Back, Syracuse
While Achane may not be an every-down back, Syracuse's Sean Tucker very well could be. He's often looked at after Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs and Zach Charbonnet. Still, Tucker has had plenty of carries and experience in his college career. Tucker had 204 carries in 2022 and 247 in 2021.
Tucker ran for over 1,000 yards last year and over 1,500 in 2021.
Over the last two seasons, Tucker had 23 touchdowns; and he improved in the receiving game, catching 37 passes for 262 yards.
At 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds, Tucker is a bruising running back and isn't likely to be one of the faster guys in the class — he didn't participate in the combine other than measurements.
He showed how bruising he can be in 2021 with over 1,000 yards after contact, which was only behind Kenneth Walker III.
Syracuse RB Sean Tucker says at the NFL combine he had a formal interview with the #Dolphins
Effective runner between the tackles,
good at catching out of the backfield, can also break tackles pic.twitter.com/VnRGjnQHiR
— Hussam Patel (@HussamPatel) March 4, 2023
Tanner McKee, Quarterback, Stanford
The talk of the NFL Draft is Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Will Levis, but there's potential for two other quarterbacks to have valuable NFL careers.
One of those is Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee, who has one of the more interesting backgrounds. After a two-year mission in Brazil, McKee came back to Stanford and had one of the worst supporting casts in the nation. His receivers weren't great, and his offensive line was one of the worst in the nation.
At 6-feet-6, McKee is strictly a pocket passer. While that's somewhat of a dying breed in the NFL, McKee excels in this role and is accurate when it comes to NFL window-type throws. He profiles as a great backup who could come in and actually win some games for you as opposed to being just a body on the bench.
If McKee lands on a team with a suitable offensive line — such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders or Tampa Bay Buccaneers — he could be a valuable asset to back up their starting signal-caller.
Tanner McKee right into the bread basket!!! pic.twitter.com/0YLrulWytm
— CardinalCountry (@AllCardinal) March 4, 2023
Mazi Smith, Defensive Lineman, Michigan
While Mazi Smith didn't participate in many drills besides throwing up 34 reps on the bench press, it doesn't take long to turn on the tape and see how insanely athletic the 6-foot-3, 330-pound-plus interior defensive lineman is. The Michigan defensive tackle played the majority of his career lined up in the B-gap, playing 400 snaps there. However, in the NFL, he'll be an excellent nose tackle who could take on double teams due to his pure strength, allowing a team's pass rush to explode.
Is there any way Michigan?s DT Mazi Smith falls to 99? pic.twitter.com/MqTiqzW5nL
— WayneBreezie (@thewaynebreezie) March 4, 2023
Hendon Hooker, Quarterback, Tennessee
The Tennessee Volunteers had an excellent season, and a big part of that was Hendon Hooker's success. Coming into the league with a torn ACL that happened in November, Hooker has two other things working against him — the Volunteers' gimmicky offense, and the fact he just turned 25 in January.
That said, we're looking for gems, not a high draft pick.
Hooker enters the league at 6-feet-4 and nearly 220 pounds. He's an excellent deep-ball thrower, improved each year at Tennessee, and can run a bit. In his final season with the Vols, Hooker had 3,135 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and two interceptions, and he completed 70% of his passes before his injury.
As he gets into the NFL, he'll need to be on a team that'll let him develop and learn a proper NFL offense. He also needs to get into the habit of throwing even if he breaks the pocket. He had just five completions all season when he came off his final drop-back spot.
Hooker has all the tools to be a long-term success story. Let's just hope a team is patient with him despite his age. He's older than a lot of players in the league already.
Some Hendon Hooker highlights while we wait on FA News. He may be an older prospect, but sometimes QBs just have their lightbulb moment and find it. If not for his ACL injury he?d be talked about more as a 1st Rounder. Hooker is the QB sleeper of this draft. pic.twitter.com/A0Ag4PTn5p
— Kyle Lindemann (@LuckIsMadeFF) March 13, 2023
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