2023 NFL Draft: 10 small-school sleepers

Mobile, AL, USA; National offensive lineman Cody Mauch of North Dakota State (70) practices during the third day of Senior Bowl week at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile. Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

  • Cody Mauch is an enticing OL prospect: His tight end background makes him an intriguing player as a guard at the next level.
  • Tucker Kraft isn't the first intriguing TE from his school: South Dakota State has another big, receiving tight end that could remind people of Dallas Goedert.
  • Chattanooga puts two on the list: With one player from each side of the trenches dominating their level of competition, Chattanooga proved to have some NFL talent.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

At this point of the draft cycle, you’ve likely learned plenty about the big-name players who are projected to go in the top 50 of the 2023 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, the draft is more than just the first few rounds, and scouting staff prides themselves on finding those diamonds in the rough that could be the X-factors for their team making the playoffs or even winning the Super Bowl.

With that in mind, here are 10 small school sleeper players in the 2023 draft class that fans should know. 

OT Cody Mauch, North Dakota State

Mauch is a top-100 player on the PFF big board. So in that sense, it’s hard to call him a sleeper, but he does hail from an FCS program in North Dakota State, so we’ll take that chance to give him some extra publicity.

Mauch is a former tight end who threw on about 70 pounds to play offensive tackle for the Bison. Because of a lack of measurables, specifically arm length, he projects to guard at the pro level, but his athleticism in space and blue-collar approach to the dirty work in the trenches make him a nice Day-2 option.

TE Tucker Kraft, South Dakota State

Kraft may come from an FCS program, but it’s not one that is unfamiliar with sending tight ends to the NFL. Dallas Goedert was a second-round pick out of SDSU back in 2018. Kraft won’t go as high in the draft as Goedert did, but he does bring that big receiver allurement in a similar way. It’s a good tight end class, but Kraft is a name you consistently see in the top five at the position. He needs to clean up some of the drop issues in his tape, but his natural receiving ability at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds means a lot of teams will be in on him in the mid-rounds.

WR Andrei Iosivas, Princeton

Iosivas is one of the most athletic players in this wide receiver class. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Iosivas ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash while jumping a 39-inch vertical and a 128-inch broad — all above the 75th percentile for the position. This past year, he was a first-team All-Ivy League receiver, leading the conference with 66 receptions, 943 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. After a good showing in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, expect him to be a mid-round target.

OLB Isaiah Land, FAMU

Land is one of the fastest outside linebackers in the country. He’s 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, but he can really fly. He ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash, which was 86th percentile, and posted a 126-inch broad jump — 92nd percentile. He recorded a 24.3% pass rush win percentage off the edge last season and could be a good speed rusher at the next level.

OT McClendon Curtis, Chattanooga

After starting for two years at guard, McClendon moved over to left tackle for his final season of college ball. He fared well, earning an 83.6 overall grade on the season with an elite 90.9 pass-blocking grade. When you’re evaluating smaller school offensive linemen, you want to see them dominate, and McClendon absolutely does. He’s 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds with 35-inch arms (hilarious that he was playing guard with arms that long), so he's definitely a player to keep an eye on during  Day 3.

WR Jadakis Bonds, Hampton

Bonds was the go-to option in Hampton's passing game this past season. The 6-foot-2 and 200-pound receiver recorded an 80.6 receiving grade thanks to 863 yards on 51 receptions and 10 touchdowns. His 29.0% wide receiver usage mark shows how often this team went to him through the air. Though he’s a little high-waisted, which creates some stiffness when changing directions, he just looked like a better athlete and football player than his competition. Hampton also used him on the left and right side of the field and both inside and out – which enables him to display his versatile skill set.

IDL Devonnsha Maxwell, Chattanooga

The Mocs have two players in the trenches on this list — one on each side of the ball. The 6-foot-3 and 295-pound Maxwell was the team's best pass-rusher last year. His 80.6 pass rush grade, 28 total pressures, nine sacks and 16 hurries were either the best or second-best on the squad. Nonetheless, he really makes his mark in run defense, as he earned an 89.4 run defense grade in 2022. Though he’s not the most explosive interior athlete, his 2022 tape shows he understands pass rushing with a variety of moves, including a long arm, club-rip and spin moves when he has the space. He’s an intriguing late-round player.

LB Aubrey Miller Jr., Jackson State

Miller is a tackling machine. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior finished eight games with double-digit tackles over the past two seasons, including two with 19 in a single game. He was the team’s highest-graded full-time starter with an 84.3 overall grade and also recorded an elite 91.3 coverage grade on 215 coverage snaps. As a former four-star recruit, Miller's athleticism stands out at his level of competition. He loves to get physical in the box and at the line of scrimmage. He's another intriguing late-rounder.

EDGE B.J. Thompson, Stephen F. Austin

Thompson was listed at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds as a defensive end for his first two seasons before bulking up to 235 over the past two years. Though 235 pounds is still very small for an edge defender, Thompson recorded an elite 92.3 pass-rush grade in 2022, recording five sacks, 29 total pressures and an 18.3% pass-rush win percentage. That long 6-foot-6 frame presents problems for offensive tackles at his competition level. 

FB Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State

We had to get some fullback love in here for the final name on the list. NDSU is a powerhouse FCS program, and it takes the “power” part literally as a smashmouth football team, which includes its use of Luepke. Last season, he played 148 snaps in the backfield and 110 inline as a tight end, where he was solid all-around with a 78.0 pass-blocking grade, a 72.7 run-blocking grade, a 79.1 rushing grade and a 70.7 receiving grade. He even took some snaps at wildcat QB. At 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, he’s a do-it-all kind of FB/RB/TE hybrid. 


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