- Jahmyr Gibbs ready to make an impact: The Alabama running back is a big play waiting to happen and even though he isn't ranked as highly, he may have an even bigger initial impact than Texas' Bijan Robinson.
- Zay Flowers stands out among weak WR class: The Boston College receiver plays bigger than his frame and could become a dynamic slot option in the NFL.
- Undersized but not forgotten: Wisconsin edge defender Nick Herbig‘s size may concern teams, but don't be surprised if he follows in Haason Reddick‘s footsteps as a productive undersized pass-rusher in the NFL.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
The 2023 NFL Draft has a lot of big-time names at the most important positions. We all know about Will Anderson, Bryce Young and Jalen Carter, but who are the players that aren't getting enough attention in this year's class?
Here are the 10 most underappreciated and underrated players in this year's draft:
The top running back in this class is Texas' Bijan Robinson, but there might not be a big gap between No. 1 and No. 2. Gibbs was phenomenal for Alabama this season, leading the Crimson Tide in rushing yards (926) and receptions (44). Gibbs is a fantastic receiver who averaged 1.82 yards per route run, sixth-best in the nation among running backs.
He’s also a dynamic runner who registered 26 runs 10-plus-yard runs this season (17.2% explosive run rate). With legitimate 4.3-second speed, he's the type of player every offense wants to add. He might not be taken as high as Robinson, but don't be surprised if he has a bigger impact immediately, especially in the receiving game.
Speaking of Robinson, his backup at Texas is quite the NFL prospect. Roschon Johnson has tremendous size (6-foot-2, 223 pounds) and is expected to run in the mid-4.3s at the NFL combine. Just those numbers alone would be enough to get him drafted, but he has a chance to sneak into the top 100 picks after three-straight seasons with 78.0-plus PFF grades.
Johnson is one of the most powerful runners in this class, averaging an absurd 4.28 yards after contact per rush. To put that in perspective, Robinson averaged 4.17 yards after contact per rush and is widely viewed as a top-20 pick in this year's draft.
Johnson has a rare blend of size and speed with the ability to make plays after contact. Add on the fact that he only has 448 career touches coming out of college, and it’s not hard to envision him being a better NFL player than he was in college.
The 2023 wide receiver class is one of the worst in recent memory, but there are some solid options on Day 2 for teams searching for complementary players. One of those receivers is Flowers, who totaled over 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games this season for Boston College.
Flowers is a small receiver (listed at 5-foot-10, 172 pounds), but he plays much bigger than that, posting a 58.3% contested catch rate in 2022 while racking up over 500 yards after the catch.
This is some incredible ball tracking from Zay Flowers pic.twitter.com/nBcfM9FaA3
— Tyler Browning (@DiabeticTyler) January 14, 2023
He’ll probably need to play in the slot in the NFL, but he could be a dynamic weapon like Christian Kirk in the right scheme. Flowers looks like he'll be a fantastic No. 2 receiver in the NFL and could have a big impact immediately.
As another Day 2 receiver who has gone under the radar, Rice put up monster numbers in 2022 (1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns) in the pass-heavy SMU offense. He doesn't have a big weakness, as he graded out as one of the top pass catchers in the nation (86.0) last season. He averaged an absurd 3.05 yards per route run — the fifth-highest among qualifying receivers. He also averaged 6.2 yards after the catch per reception, which is near the top of the class.
Rice has the size, speed and playmaking ability to become a real problem in the NFL. He also has experience playing in the slot (317 snaps in 2021) and on the outside (387 snaps in 2022). Rice is one of the most polished receivers in this class and might not even be a top-60 pick in this year’s draft.
One of the best position groups in this year's class is tight end, which includes Kincaid. The Utah product is one of the country's most productive receiving tight ends, catching 106 passes for 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Kincaid had the highest receiving grade (91.8) among all tight ends in college football last season, even over Notre Dame's Michael Mayer and Georgia's Brock Bowers. He finished second in yards per route run (2.44) in the nation while recording the second-most yards after the catch (479). He has a massive catch radius and can also do damage after the catch, which is now a must at the tight end position in the NFL.
Oh my god Dalton Kincaid ???????? pic.twitter.com/c9KbRsEWAj
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) October 16, 2022
He’s one of the most complete receiving tight ends in the class, but he’s routinely ranked outside the top three tight ends in the class. For that reason alone, he’s undervalued and will be a steal whenever he’s picked on Day 2.
EDGE Lukas Van Ness, Iowa
This is an incredibly deep edge rusher class with so many different styles and body shapes. Nonetheless, one of our favorites is Van Ness, who is among the best power rushers in the class, as he posted an 18.8% pass-rush win rate this season. He's faced some pretty good competition over the last few years, including Northwestern's Peter Skorkonski and Ohio State's Paris Johnson.
…so this Lukas Van Ness kid has some power! Looks like f'n Justin Smith here lol
And against Peter Skoronski – who might be the best OT in CFB this season pic.twitter.com/jLp3Bg7cVN
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 6, 2022
Van Ness also ranked 18th among edge defenders in run-defense grade (80.9). That alone should get him drafted fairly early and allow him to get on the field as a rookie. Van Ness isn’t the most physically gifted pass-rusher in this year’s draft, but he is going to be a really productive and useful player at the next level.
Harrison was a big-time recruit coming out of high school but never quite put together one dominant statistical season. Despite playing four seasons at Ohio State, he totaled just 11 sacks. However, that just makes him even more underrated.
Despite low sack totals, Harrison has three-straight seasons with 82.0-plus grades. His ability to win in obvious passing situations helps him stand out in this year's class, finishing the 2022 season with a 91.1 pass-rush grade against true pass sets — the sixth-highest in the country. Harrison also graded out very well against the run (78.4), shwoing he can do it all.
With freaky size and athleticism (6-foot-6, 272 pounds), Harrison still has an incredibly high ceiling. If he can join the right team with the right coaching staff, he could be a disruptive defensive end from Day 1.
A small, but incredibly productive Wisconsin edge rusher — where have we heard this before?
Herbig is one of the best pure pass-rushers in the draft despite his smaller stature. He registered a 91.1 pass-rush grade and posted a 23.9% pass-rush win rate during his junior season. In addition, he racked up 11 sacks along with 17 hurries and six QB hits.
Nevertheless, his production in obvious passing situations was even more impressive, as he recorded a 40.9% win rate against true pass sets, fourth-best in the nation among players with at least 150 pass rush snaps. He just has a knack for getting to the quarterback and making big plays.
Y'all going to force this dude to play off-ball and wonder why he's not as impactful as he should be.
put Nick Herbig on the edge and let him rush, figure out the rest later pic.twitter.com/DKbi5l1oKk
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) January 14, 2023
The only real knock on him is his size (listed at 228 pounds), which will scare off a ton of teams as we’ve seen in the past. Nevertheless, the success of smaller edge rushers in 2022 (Haason Reddick, Josh Uche) could really help Herbig's stock. Look for him to greatly outproduce his draft position.
Campbell was the Butkus Award winner in 2022 (given to the nation's top linebacker) and was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year. So how is he underrated? His average draft position on the PFF's mock draft simulator is 74th. Campbell was the No. 4 graded linebacker during the 2022 season and has the ideal size for the position at 6-foot-5 and 246 pounds.
Campbell isn’t just a big, thumping linebacker, as he’s actually the perfect modern-day NFL linebacker, finishing as PFF’s highest-graded coverage linebacker (92.9) in 2022. Defenses targeted Campbell 42 times in coverage last season, but he did not allow a touchdown. In fact, he recorded two interceptions and allowed only a 70.2 passer rating.
Campbell won't test quite as well as other linebackers in this class, which could cause him to fall in this draft. However, Campbell will be a Day 1 starter at linebacker and should go on to have a long, productive career in the NFL. So don't be surprised if he becomes the best linebacker in this class down the road.
The top safety in this year’s class is Alabama's Brian Branch. Nonetheless, his teammate Battle might end up being the better value this year. Battle returned for his senior season at Alabama and had a really nice season, playing 907 snaps for the Crimson Tide and grading out exceptionally well in coverage.
Battle allowed just 136 yards in coverage on 525 snaps this season. In fact, he allowed just 598 yards in coverage in 1,860 coverage snaps during his career at Alabama. However, his seven total interceptions and two combined touchdowns allowed over the last two seasons were even more impressive.
Battle isn’t the most physical run defender, and he’ll miss too many tackles, but for someone who has played nearly 4,000 snaps during his collegiate career, Battle is a starting-caliber safety who could be picked in the middle rounds.