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2023 NFL Draft: 7 prospects who could be surprise first-round picks

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell reacts after making a tackle against South Dakota State during a NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. Iowavssdsu 20220903 Bh Syndication The Des Moines Register

  • Jack Campbell: The Iowa LB is one of the few true off-ball linebackers in this class, and his elite performance last season could enable him to sneak into Round 1.
  • Drew Sanders: The Arkansas LB's pass-rush skill set could entice some of the teams picking in the backend of the first round.
  • John Michael SchmitzThe Minnesota center played over 2,400 snaps over the past four seasons and never recorded an overall grade below 83, which is why he could hear his name called at the end of the first day of the draft.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

We’re just a few weeks away from the 2023 NFL Draft, and if there’s one thing to remember about draft weekend, it’s to expect the unexpected. Every year, there are one, two or sometimes a handful of players that surprise you when their names are called in Round 1.

Here are a few players who aren’t getting much first-round hype but could be a few of those surprises.

LB Jack Campbell, Iowa

The linebacker class is all over the place this year – some are very intrigued by it while others are much more hesitant. There just aren’t many true off-ball linebackers that have years of starting experience, but Campbell is one of those players. He finished 2022 with an elite 91.9 overall grade and then tested very well at the combine with 80th- and 90th-percentile results in the vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill. He has a true linebacker background, playing the position since his early high school days. He has two years of starting experience in the middle of the Hawkeyes' defense and could be a contributing player in Year 1. Playoff teams that need linebacker help at the end of Round 1 (perhaps the Buffalo Bills) could be in on Campbell.

LB Drew Sanders, Arkansas

Sanders is another linebacker who could rank a lot higher for certain teams throughout the league. This past season was his first season at off-ball linebacker, as he spent the previous two seasons at Alabama as an edge rusher. One of the issues with this is that he doesn’t quite have those inside linebacker instincts yet. He also needs to be more reliable as a tackler, as he missed 22 tackles in 2022. However, he’s built like a bigger, longer edge rusher at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds with 32 ½-inch arms. When asked to blitz and attack the line of scrimmage, he already has a variety of pass-rush moves he can pull out of his bag. For teams who want an off-ball linebacker who can blitz, he can be a very alluring asset.

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