NFL draft 2023 sleepers – Scouts pick under-the-radar prospects who could rise

NFL draft 2023 sleepers – Scouts pick under-the-radar prospects who could rise post thumbnail image

As human beings, we all love to be first to like something that becomes popular, from new bands and songs to gadgets. NFL scouts are no different when it comes to discovering prospects.

I’ll never forget an area scout for an NFL team calling in 2016 to tell me about a quarterback at Wyoming “no one knows about yet.” That quarterback was Josh Allen, and the scout was right. People weren’t talking about Allen as a potential top-10 pick early in the 2016 season, but they would be soon enough, as the Bills picked him No. 7 overall in the 2018 draft and he has developed into a superstar.

There is a race in NFL circles to be first on a prospect as much as there is a determination to be right about each of them. And as we get ready for the college football and 2023 NFL draft seasons, it’s time to plant flags and claim players as early under-the-radar prospects.

In our lead-up to the season, we polled multiple NFL scouts, scouting directors and general managers to give us their sleeper picks for next year’s draft. These are a few players who aren’t as well-known — yet — but could vault into first-round consideration, along with a few who already are popping up in mock drafts — including mine — and could become the top prospects at their positions.

Let’s start with the guys outside the first round, and we’ll finish with four potential top-10 picks:

Six sleeper prospects outside Round 1 you should know

HT: 6-2 | WT: 220 pounds | Class: Junior

2021 stats: 2,493 passing yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 499 rushing yards, 6 rushing TDs

The quarterback position is the most scouted and hardest to correctly evaluate of any in sports, and multiple scouts listed Rising when asked for under-the-radar prospects in this class.

One scout said, “Everyone wants to put their stamp on a sleeper quarterback, but he’s mine. Dude can spin it and has a toughness to him you love to see. I heard he wowed people at the Manning camp. He could be this year’s Zach Wilson.”

Wilson, who went from relative obscurity to becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft, is a popular comparison for the dual-threat, strong-armed Rising. The Manning Passing Academy has been a proving ground for quarterback prospects for years. Rising’s display there has people anticipating his season.



Cameron Rising keeps it on fourth down and breaks multiple tackles on a 62-yard touchdown run.

Another scout said, “All the hype coming out of Manning was Rising’s arm talent and mobility. He’s not the biggest guy, but I heard he outperformed a lot of the name quarterbacks there.”

Rising, who started his college career at Texas, finished the 2021 season with the sixth-best QBR (84.2) in the country. He also was sacked an FBS-low six times on his 352 dropbacks.

Early 2023 draft projection: The 2023 quarterback class is loaded, so it’s tough to slot him into the top of the group with Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) and Will Levis (Kentucky) expected to be leading the pack. Rising enters the year as, conservatively, a Day 2 prospect but with the tools to shoot up the board.

HT: 5-10 | WT: 177 pounds | Class: Senior

2021 stats: 44 catches, 746 yards, 5 TDs

Two scouts mentioned Flowers, who had 100 catches for 1,638 yards and 14 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Flowers has the burst, body control and toughness to overcome his lack of elite size, assets that showed up consistently in 2021.

“He’s the best deep threat in CFB,” a scout from an NFC team told me. “He’s undersized and there were some drops last year, but with the QB [Phil Jurkovec] returning, he’ll have a ton more targets.”

Flowers’ NFL stock will largely depend on how teams view his diminutive stature, and the four drops that popped up on his 2021 tape. I’d like to see him clean up his hands while becoming more consistent catching in traffic. His burst, start-stop ability and toughness as a runner are top-tier traits, however.

“As long as we’re obsessed with Deebo Samuel-type usage from receivers, Flowers should get a ton of looks,” a scout from an AFC team said. “He’s not that big and he’s not a true running back, but the different ways you can get him involved should perk people up. I think he’s better than [rookie Chiefs second-round pick] Skyy Moore was.”

Early 2023 draft projection: I see Flowers as a potential top-50 pick with the league trending toward trait-specific receivers and offensive playmakers. His speed, ability to evade tacklers in the open field and playmaking skills will cover up his lack of height and bulk.

HT: 6-5 | WT: 243 pounds | Class: Senior

2021 stats: 140 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions

The Hawkeyes defense was great last season and will be again in 2022 with Campbell leading the front seven. Campbell, who played a ridiculous 972 snaps last season, is a favorite among the scouts evaluating the Big Ten.

“I’m kind of glad no one is talking him up because he’s my guy,” one AFC area scout told me. “We had a Day 2 grade on him last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be at least that good this year.”

Another scout said: “I was so happy he didn’t declare last year because I think he’ll be even better, but selfishly I also just wanted to watch him play more college football. He’s a fun player to be around.”

Campbell’s size and power are impressive, but it’s his instincts and nose for the football that jump off the tape.

Early 2023 draft projection: Campbell’s consistency and production are what teams want at the linebacker position. The biggest key to his draft stock is his ability to run down ball carriers outside the hashes and stick with receivers in coverage. Right now, he projects as a solid Round 2 or 3 prospect.

HT: 6-4 | WT: 252 pounds | Class: Fourth-year junior

2021 stats: 26 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception

Predicting under-the-radar prospects isn’t as fun when the list is filled with established players, so here’s a prospect scouts are projecting to have a big bump in a full-time role.

Miami has a recent reputation of putting pass-rushers into the league, including 2021 first-rounders Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau. Harvey is being touted as the next in line. He has the trust of the new coaching staff and was tabbed by head coach Mario Cristobal to represent the team at the ACC’s media days.

Scouts have taken notice. “Obviously it’s all projection right now, but his flashes are good enough to get him in the first two rounds,” an AFC scout said. “The focus will be on him now, though, so he has to step up.”

Harvey started just five games last season, but his quickness and ability to stun pass protectors is notable on film.

Early 2023 draft projection: Harvey is a true “if” player. “If” he progresses as expected, he could be a first-rounder. It is a big projection, however. Right now, Harvey’s tape puts him in Round 3.

HT: 6-1 | WT: 230 pounds | Class: Senior

2021 stats: 53 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

Brule, a graduate transfer from Mississippi State, will be tabbed as a key leader and playmaker for the Spartans defense. With Michigan State having success last year in the transfer portal — running back Kenneth Walker III was phenomenal — it’s exciting to see what Brule can become for Mel Tucker’s team.

“Really thought he was coming [into the 2022 draft] last year,” one evaluator for an NFC team said. “He was all over the field at Mississippi State and can rush off the edge or play in space. It’s a weak linebacker class overall, and in that new defense he’s going to make a ton of plays.”

Whether it is a down linebacker class remains to be seen, but Brule’s ability to impact the game off the edge and in coverage perfectly fits what the NFL wants in the position. There are rumors around the Michigan State program that he has put on 10 pounds of good weight to better bang in the trenches of the Big Ten, which is encouraging.

Early 2023 draft projection: Brule is in a great situation to improve his stock taking a key role in a scheme that asks linebackers to play often in zone coverage. He’s currently an early Day 3 prospect with room to move up the rankings.

HT: 6-1 | WT: 220 pounds | Class: Senior

2021 stats: 202 carries, 1,137 yards, 13 TDs

Charbonnet, one of the best running backs in the nation last season, burst onto the scene in Chip Kelly’s offense after transferring from Michigan, where he was a bit player. At UCLA, Charbonnet’s patience and vision were key traits for his breakout season. Scouts took notice.

“He’s a pro running back right now,” an NFC scout told me. “His vision and contact balance are awesome. He’s not the fastest, but his quickness and urgency are great. He might not be a top-100 pick, but he’ll start in the league.”



Zach Charbonnet manages to keep his feet and turns on the jets for his second touchdown of the day.

Another scout we spoke to compared Charbonnet to former Texans star Arian Foster. “His patience wouldn’t work for every scheme or team, but I love his vision and how he takes what’s given to him up front,” the scout said.

One guarantee is that Kelly’s offense will continue to feed Charbonnet, who had seven games of over 100 rushing yards last season.

Early 2023 draft projection: Charbonnet’s lack of elite speed and his expected high number of carries coming out of college won’t make him a top-50 prospect, but his patience and vision are remarkable. He’s a likely early Day 3 pick.

Four prospects who could rise into the top 10

HT: 6-5 | WT: 260 pounds | Class: Junior

2021 stats: 38 tackles, 11 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6 forced fumbles

Foskey will be the centerpiece of a Notre Dame defense looking for a leader after the loss of All-American safety Kyle Hamilton to the NFL. He’s capable of stepping up and being not only the leader but also the focal point for opposing offenses.

“No one is touching [Alabama edge rusher] Will Anderson, but Foskey could push himself into the top 10 this year,” an NFC scout said. “He’s that naturally talented. You just don’t hear about him because there are so many studs at defensive end.”

The 2023 class is shaping up to be great at defensive end, and Anderson is the clear-cut leader. After starring in his first season as a starter, Foskey could keep rising. He has the agility, length and power to be a force on all three downs. The sky’s the limit on his 2022 season.

Early 2023 draft projection: Foskey isn’t a complete unknown — that’s hard to do as a starter at Notre Dame — but his trajectory is pointing to competing to be the No. 2 defensive end in the class. As we saw in April with Travon Walker overcoming Aidan Hutchinson to be the No. 1 overall pick, anything can happen when it comes down to scheme preference. Foskey is a first-round prospect with top-10 potential.

HT: 6-0 | WT: 190 pounds | Class: Junior

2021 stats: 38 catches, 509 yards, 9 TDs

No one should be happier about coach Brian Kelly bringing his offensive philosophy to Baton Rouge than Boutte. The pro-style offense will feature run-pass options and quick hitters from Myles Brennan or Jayden Daniels — whoever wins the quarterback battle — which perfectly benefits the route running of Boutte.

“There’s so much talk about Jaxon Smith-Njigba [Ohio State] or Jordan Addison [USC], but I think Boutte is the best receiver in college. New head coach, new offensive coordinator, new QB … he has a real shot to break out.”

The key for Boutte might be his health. He played in just six games last season due to an ankle injury and missed time in the spring due to the same injury. There’s no doubting his toughness or quickness as a route runner, but Boutte’s ankle is something scouts must watch closely.

Early 2023 draft projection: Boutte is a likely first-rounder based on his traits and 2021 tape. The key is that he could be an under-the-radar WR1 in the 2023 class. Right now, he’s safely ranked inside my top 32.

HT: 6-3 | WT: 225 pounds | Class: Junior

2021 stats: 65 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 2 passes defensed

Simpson was the highlight on a poor Clemson defense last season as he emerged as a true three-down threat. He has ideal NFL size, physical traits for the position in terms of speed, agility and length, and has the production to show that he can use those traits on the field.

One general manager was candid in his early assessment of Simpson and Clemson. “The Clemson defense was trash last year, but Simpson is that dude. He’s going to crush the combine and should be the ACC DPOY. Hopefully they unleash him a little more this year because he can really do it all.”

Clemson promoted Wes Goodwin after longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables left for Oklahoma, and Simpson could be the unit’s most important asset. As we’ve seen with Micah Parsons and other off-ball linebacker prospects, the ability to play in coverage while also posing a threat off the edge as a pass-rusher is a huge boost for NFL teams. Simpson showed those tools last season and put himself on the map.

Early 2023 draft projection: Linebacker hype can be fleeting as scouts start to look at instincts and physical tools over production, but Simpson seems to have it all. He’s a first-rounder on my early Big Board.

HT: 6-6 | WT: 315 pounds | Class: Junior

2021 stats: 13 starts at right guard, 1 sack allowed, 4 pressures allowed

Johnson was the most-mentioned offensive lineman among our polling of scouts. A starter at right guard last season, he’s making the move outside to left tackle, a position he played in high school on his way to becoming a five-star recruit.

A scouting director for an NFC team said: “He was out of position last year at guard, but the Ohio State coaches are raving about his natural ability at left tackle.”

Johnson has to prove himself at left tackle, but the potential is there. Having Ohio State coaches sing his praises to scouts only helps. Recently, one general manager told us that Johnson was the first lineman he watched for this draft class based on his reputation.

“You have to start with the Ohio State guy [Johnson],” the GM said. “He definitely has the length and agility. Just have to see if he can put it all together on the outside.”

Early 2023 draft projection: Johnson is my top-ranked offensive tackle based on his performance at guard, his pedigree as a recruit and the reputation he has built in Columbus.

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