With the 2023 NFL Draft quickly approaching, it’s time to start discussing potential sleeper picks. Each NFL season, there is always one or more rookies that have us thinking “how did they fall that far?” They come into the league completely under the radar and later become stars. These players are what we like to call diamonds in the rough.
Last year, Tariq Woolen put on a show at the combine but fell to the fifth round. He went on to finish as a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. Brock Purdy — Mr. Irrelevant — was the last pick in the draft. He quickly lost the prefix after stepping onto the field and exceeding all expectations set for him. These two are just minimal examples of diamonds in the rough.
This year is no different. Below is a list of 10 potential players that I think could become diamonds in the rough.
Notes: Candidates are players with a draft projection of Day 2 or later. This will include five offensive prospects and five defensive prospects.
Marvin Mims, WR, Oklahoma
I remember turning on college football in 2021 to see Mims make an insane catch against Texas. Since then, I’ve followed him closely. And despite the departure of Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley, Mims still managed to put up quality numbers. I firmly believe whichever team drafts Mims is going to be getting a star.
Cody Mauch, OL, North Dakota State
Mauch is a tight end turned offensive lineman and should rise a bit due to pure athleticism. He had a good combine as well. Though Mauch enters the draft at 24 years old, which definitely puts him in the older category compared to other prospects.
Tyjae Spears, RB, Tulane
Spears has risen throughout the draft process, and rightfully so. He was an ultra-productive running back for Tulane. In 2022, Spears sprinted towards 1,600 rushing yards, ultimately falling short at a total of 1,581. Moreover, he had 19 rushing touchdowns, which was third most in the nation. If drafted by the right team, Spears could be locked into a starting role from the jump. He’s a do-it-all back.
Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Now I didn’t feel comfortable putting Hooker in with the other candidates because there are scouts who project him to succeed in the NFL. But I decided to because frankly, I believe he will have a better career than Will Levis. Levis is projected to go in the top 10 while Hooker is projected to go in the latter half of the second round.
Nathaniel Dell, WR, Houston
Dell is a small, but shifty and explosive slot receiver. He has the ability to be utilized as an overall weapon in the right offensive scheme. Dell can also be a productive punt returner.
Nick Herbig, LB, Wisconsin
Herbig is an off-ball linebacker but has a high motor and pass rushes with intent. He will most likely be overlooked due to his size (6-foot-2, 227 pounds), but his ability to move around the field in coverage will make his transition easier.
Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
Rush is this year’s Woolen for me. His teammate, Cam Smith, is projected to go before him in the first round. Rush has been getting more attention after the Senior Bowl but not enough. He is longer and faster than his counterpart and was ranked the second-highest graded SEC cornerback. His knock is that he allowed a plethora of big plays.
Ji’Ayir Brown, S, Penn State
Brown reminds me of CJ Gardner-Johnson. He has elite instincts and anticipation that help him be so successful at the safety position. It could b argued that his ceiling will be capped by lack-of-athleticism, though I don’t feel that’s accurate. He’s fast and twitchy in short-area, but just not a burner in terms of speed.
Mike Morris, EDGE, Michigan
Morris is a 6-foot-5, 275 pound edge rusher who could easily slot in a spot over as a DT. He accumulated eight sacks in 22 games played at Michigan. He graded high in production but low in athleticism. Right now, Morris projects to eventually be an average starter, but he could easily exceed those expectations.
Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane
Williams excels at dropping into coverage and reading route lanes. In 2022, he recorded 115 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups. Furthermore, he allowed just 18 receptions and zero touchdowns.
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