Three Players at Every Position Who Will Out-Perform Expectations
Take a look back at past NFL drafts, they're out there, just waiting for a team to pick them, or more likely stumble onto them. Future stars. They're too short. They weigh too little. They have injury issues or medical problems. Sometimes they just went to a small school or were buried behind the first-round (and second-round) talent. Whatever the reason is, they aren't drafted until the mid-to-late rounds and show up "out of nowhere".
These are those players for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Aidan O'Connell - Purdue - O'Connell will likely never be an All-Pro or contend for an MVP award but what I think he will be is a reliable QB who can spot start when called upon, think Trent Dilfer-lite.
Jake Haener - Fresno State - Look for Haener to be pushed down the board on draft day due to size concerns, but what will make him work is his ability to process information quickly and anticipate windows.
Tyson Bagent - Shepherd - A Division II star who has the frame (6'3", 213lbs), decision-making, and pocket presence to make the jump to the NFL. The speed of the NFL makes me hesitate to call him a star in the making, but I think he'll make the adjustment.
Hunter Luepke - North Dakota State - Thirty years ago Luepke would be looked at as a solid second or third-round pick with receiving upside. As it is now, he's viewed as a not-quite-nimble-enough back with a small catch-radius. Luepke should find a home in short-yardage situations and special teams.
Kendre Miller - TCU - Patience. That's Miller's best quality. Patience to allow his linemen to open up holes and the patience to let defenders pick their gap. Quicker than he is fast, Miller's speed will probably prevent him from being a #1 back, but his vision, instincts, and ability to earn yards after contact will keep him in the league.
Sarodorick Thompson - Texas Tech - Played in a timeshare in a pass-happy offense so he'll have plenty of tread left. Has the necessary size, vision, and instincts coupled with better-than-average power in blitz pickup. He can catch the ball and while he's knocked for his lack of speed and change of direction ability, his game tape shows him ripping off plenty of 20+ yard runs.
A.T. Perry - Wake Forest - Just from his accolades you wonder why Perry isn't higher on draft boards, add his elite size and enormous catch radius and you might have someone you need to reconsider. Not as physical as you might expect from someone his size but does well catching contested passes.
"Tank" Dell - Houston - Dell led the Cougars in receiving yards the last three seasons but is limited by his frame (5'8", 165lbs). His excellent football IQ shines when finding open windows for his QB on broken plays. Doesn't possess elite speed but should be a reliable "safety valve" receiver a la Wes Welker or Danny Amendola.
Tucker Kraft - South Dakota State - Has excellent size and dominated competition at the FCS level. Shows good technique catching the ball and doesn't go down easily after the catch. He'll need to work on his blocking but is a high-effort player.
Kadeem Telfort - Alabama-Birmingham - Has the physical attributes (size, natural athlete) to play tackle but if a team (Pittsburgh? San Fran?) can clear up the mental part they may have a ten-year vet on their hands. His technique, particularly hand placement, and pad level, needs work and he's not a high-effort player. If he can get those fixed, he'll be a beast.
Nick Saldiveri - Old Dominion - Shows good hands, feet, and a veteran's disposition. Plays with balance and rarely over-commits. May offer some versatility on the line as he was a three-year RT in college, but likely will need to play inside. A good eye for stunts and twists and will make a defender pay for sloppy technique.
Olusegun Oluwatimi - Michigan - Not particularly quick and his feet will hold him back, but is intelligent, powerful, and offers some positional flexibility. Lower body strength allows him to drop anchor and block nose tackles by himself. Would be ideal in a power run attack.
Karl Brooks - Bowling Green - His arms are a bit short for the line (32") but he doesn't let that hamper his play. Athletic with a red-hot motor, he lined up all over the field for the Falcons. I wonder how well he would perform as a 3-4 end as opposed to the tackle he's listed as.
Jalen Redmond - Oklahoma - Has a very good first step and shows good lateral movement coupled with good lower body strength allowing him to hold up against the run. Needs to work on shedding blocks and hand usage but should do well thanks to his quickness.
Ali Gaye - Louisiana State - Has the prototypical size and smooth athleticism you look for in a defensive end. Needs to play with better leverage and learn to counter tackles when they beat him to the spot as his rush tends to bog down when that happens.
Nick Hampton - Appalachian State - Hampton will likely drop due to his slight build (210lbs) but everything else about him says he should succeed. Has the bend, balance, and speed to rush the passer, and if he's opposite a premiere EDGE, could be a huge performer. He'll likely need to play in a 3-4 but I think he has the athleticism to play WLB in a 4-3 alignment.
Ivan Pace Jr. - Cincinnati - An under-sized linebacker with a shifty, athletic bent to his play style. Shows the ability to slip blocks and pick his way through the "trash" along the line to make plays or open holes for teammates. A solid tackler with a non-stop motor, Pace will make the team just for his special teams play.
DJ Johnson - Oregon - I'm including Johnson as a linebacker because that's where he's listed for multiple outlets, he may (or may not, who knows) end up as a defensive end, he certainly has the size (6'4", 270lbs) to play as one. He's bounced around with regard to his position and that has likely stunted his development, however, he has very good size and speed as well as the ability to cover.
Jartavious Martin - Illinois - Has experience as a corner, playing single-high, and split-zone, as well as being able to play down in the box. Plays hard with a consistent motor and covers a large portion of the field. Gets his hands on a lot of passes and disrupts passing lanes. Needs to get better at reading the QB's eyes and not face-guarding his receiver.
Mekhi Blackmon - Southern Cal - Has some of the same build concerns as likely First Rounder Devon Witherspoon (5'11", 182lbs). The tape shows good body control and balance coupled with legit track speed. His instincts are good and his positioning is solid but he won't provide much in the way of run support.
Julius Brents - Kansas State - Has a big frame (6'3"), long arms, and knows how to use them. Has solid speed and can handle tight ends in coverage. His technique needs refinement and receivers can create separation when he fails to overwhelm them physically. Might be able to convert to safety if the S&C staff puts some weight on him.