2023 NFL Draft: Undersized prospects poised to break the mold

Indianapolis, IN, USA; Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski (OL41) during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

• Peter Skoronski set to be a test of tape analysis versus tape measurements: The Northwestern tackle's tape passes with flying colors, but his shorter arms have some worried.

• Wait before pigeonholing Clark Phillips III as a slot corner: Phillips is just 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds with 29 1/8-inch arms, which might make him seem like a slot cornerback, but his tape says otherwise.

Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins

Last week, we looked at 2023 NFL Draft prospects who were athletic outliers for their positions, noting how that could help them stand out among their peers. Today, we’re talking about mold breakers — players whose measurables or testing numbers were low, but ones who we still have faith in when it comes to their pro projection.

PFF's Mike Renner expounded on the top undersized prospects, and now we'll go one step further to look at which ones have the best chance of finding NFL success.

QB Bryce Young, Alabama

The first player we have to talk about on a mold-breaker list in this draft class is the one who could very well go No. 1 overall: Alabama's Bryce Young. Young won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player back in 2021, then followed it up with another standout season, earning back-to-back elite PFF grades.

One would think the best player in college football over that period of time should be the obvious choice with the top pick. But his height (5-foot-10 1/8 — 1st percentile for the position) and weight (206 pounds — 6th percentile for the position) have cast doubt on that.

Whether or not Young ends up being the first player selected, I wouldn’t bet against him. He plays the position better than any quarterback in this class and many who have come before him. 

CB Clark Phillips III, Utah

Entering the season, many were excited about Utah’s Clark Phillips III finally being draft eligible. I say finally because he has been starting since Week 1 of his true freshman season, which is incredibly difficult to do at the cornerback position. He recorded coverage grades of 66.0 and 76.4 in his first two seasons, before putting up an 86.3 mark in 2022. He grabbed six interceptions this past year, including three in one game. He brings the ball-hawking instincts and overall playmaking attitude you love to see at the position.

What makes Phillips a mold breaker is his size. He’s just 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, which rank in the 7th and 16th percentiles, respectively. He also has just 29 1/8-inch arms, which is in the 1st percentile. His measurables tell you he should be a slot cornerback, but that’s not what his tape says, as he lined up on the outside for more than 1,400 snaps as opposed to just 400 in the slot. He’s a lot like Asante Samuel Jr. in that regard. 

OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

Where Peter Skoronski goes in the upcoming draft will be a good gauge of tape analysis versus tape measurements. On tape, he’s about as good as it gets. Across three seasons and 2,300 snaps, he never posted a sub-81.4 season grade and improved each year, including an 89.5 overall grade in 2022. He also finished last season with a 93.0 pass-blocking grade, after allowing one sack on 473 pass-blocking snaps. But his 79 1/2-inch wingspan and 32 1/2-inch arm length place in the 9th percentile and 4th percentile, respectively.

Still, there are plenty of offensive tackles who are bigger and longer but can’t block as well as him; the tape and grades prove that.

WR Tank Dell, Houston

It’s a smaller wide receiver class, but Dell is still going to have to be a mold breaker among the group if he wants to make it in the NFL. He’s 5-foot-8 3/8 and just 165 pounds, which are 3rd and 1st percentile for the position, respectively.

Smaller players need to stand out with speed, body control and change of direction to make up for their lack of mass and strength. And Dell does that. He recorded 1,399 receiving yards with 17 receiving touchdowns, 31 explosive plays of 15-plus yards and 19 forced missed tackles in 2022. He can stop and start on a dime, and that will still give him the chance to be a difference-maker as a slot receiver in space. 

DT Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh

Kancey will be a true mold breaker if he can succeed as an interior defensive lineman at the NFL level. At 6-foot 5/8 and 281 pounds, he’s in the 2nd and 4th percentiles, respectively. That’s not to mention his 30 5/8-inch arms, which are in the 1st percentile. He’s trying to play a big man’s position while being on the much lighter side.

The opposite side of that measurable coin is his athletic testing numbers. His 1.64-second 10-yard split ranks in the 95th percentile, and his 4.67-second 40-yard dash was the fastest time ever for an interior defensive lineman at the combine. And his 6.82-second three-cone (99th percentile) and 4.33-second short shuttle (94th percentile) were just as impressive. He might have to switch to edge instead of interior, but wherever he ends up, he has the athleticism to be a mold breaker. 

CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU

Hodges-Tomlinson was one of the best cover cornerbacks in college football this past season. His 90.4 coverage grade was among the best in the country as he played a key role in TCU making it to the national championship. But when it comes to his pro projection, his measurables of 5-foot-8 and 178 pounds with 29-inch arms all rank in the 5th percentile or below for the position.

You don’t want Hodges-Tomlinson playing press coverage very often at the NFL level, but he recorded 55 forced incompletions over the past three seasons. He still knows how to play the position at a high level. 

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