Every year the NFL Draft sends hundreds of folks to the league, resulting in a dream come true for all the prospects that hear their name called. But what about those who don’t get drafted? Or the ones who wait deep into the event to finally get a phone call from a team? The 2023 NFL Draft is full of late-round flyers worth taking.
There is more than one successful path to playing on Sundays. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-round pick, fourth-round pick, Mr. Irrelevant, or an undrafted free agent… there is room on a roster if you work for it. Just recently, we witnessed Brock Purdy play exceptionally well for the Niners, helping get them to an NFC Title game after nearly going undrafted.
Last offseason, I tabbed a dozen names on my ‘small-school sleeper’ list. A few of those names included: Tariq Woolen, Christian Watson, Joshua Williams, Dallis Flowers, Cole Strange, and others still battling for roster spots as I type this.
2023 NFL Draft: 20 Small-School Sleepers To Keep An Eye On
This year, the pool is so deep that I had to double up my number of entries on the list. Rather than 12, I will quickly highlight 20 small-school sleepers that need more attention heading into the 2023 NFL Draft. The tape is limited for some of these prospects, but if they are included on this list, I watched at least a few games of them (whether it be full game replays or chopped-up videos of all their snaps).
Remember, some small school guys can go as high as round one, and others last until the priority free agent portion following the draft. Each player in this article possesses at least one trait that makes them a draftable prospect on my board. Without further ado, let’s highlight some hidden gems in the 2023 NFL Draft.
*This ranking is not in order*
•Tyson Bagent, QB, Shepherd
Tyson Bagent won the starting gig at Shepherd as a freshman after earning West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year in his final high school campaign. Bagent played against a bunch of guys who won’t be playing football at the next level, making his tape a difficult evaluation.
Thanks to his invites to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, we were able to see Bagent against the higher-level competition — and I LOVED what I saw. He boasts ample arm strength, is fairly consistent with his mechanics, and plays with an energy that his teammates rally around. Bagent may never be the face of a franchise but don’t be surprised if he becomes a top-end backup or spot starter in the league. He is worth taking somewhere on day three.
•Joey Fisher, OL, Shepherd
Staying at Shepherd for a moment, offensive lineman Joey Fisher should go earlier in the 2023 NFL Draft than his teammate. Fisher started for three years with Bagent, keeping the quarterback clean and creating running lanes for his ball carriers using his trademark power and size. Fisher is a work in progress with technique, but his red-hot motor will win some NFL teams (and fan bases) over. A round-five player on my board.
•Jadakis Bonds, WR, Hampton
Jadakis Bonds was a relative unknown to me before watching his performance at the Shrine Bowl. The Hampton wideout exhibited impeccable release off the line of scrimmage and showcased highly-impressive body control when going up for the ball. Bonds caught several 50/50 passes during the week, and his tape backs up all these traits.
In his three years as a starter for Hampton, Bonds averaged more than 15 yards per reception and found the end zone 10 times in 2022. The nearly 6-foot-3 pass catcher knows how to use his size and could even spend time on special teams early in his career. He holds a round five grade on my big board and profiles as a potential starter in the right situation.
•Grant DuBose, WR, Charlotte
One prospect with tons of momentum heading into the 2023 NFL Draft is wide receiver Grant DuBose. The Charlotte pass catcher is the ideal build for a boundary receiver, and he brings the mentality necessary to deal with cornerbacks on an island. DuBose needs to create more space to last in the NFL, but his ball skills at the catch point are as good as anyone in the class.
If he can continue high-pointing the ball on Sundays, it gives him a safe floor as a red-zone threat. When DuBose learns how to create more consistent separation, he has a pathway to becoming a WR1 on an NFL roster. He is a project but offers more upside than any other player on this list. DuBose should come off the board early on day three.