The 2023 Draft is only four months away, which is wild to think about, and we’re close to seeing official rosters for the Senior Bowl and NFL combine invites. The draft is loaded with defensive talent and some players are starting to split through the cracks. With the draft process starting to heat up, here are 10 draft sleepers from Power 5 all the way down to an FCS player that you need to watch out for this cycle:
DT: Brandon Dorlus, Oregon
Dorlus rotated to a 3-4 defensive end in 2022 and he continued to wreak havoc on the PAC 12. Dorlus can rotate between defensive tackle and defensive end which will be massive for his draft stock. Dorlus has recorded a career 78 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four breakups in only 37 games over 957 pass rush snaps. He’s also added 109 pressures including back to back seasons of 40+ and a career 49 stops in the run game. Dorlus is versatile, strong, and has a lethal first step. He’s sitting as a fifth round prospect and in a strong defensive tackle class, he’ll move up quickly which says something else. The biggest enticement for NFL teams is going to be his versatility as Dorlus has 540 snaps at defensive end, 395 at the 3-Tech and 620 as a traditional nose tackle. Keep an eye on Dorlus at the Senior Bowl and Combine.
Team Fits: Giants, Buccaneers, Falcons
EDGE: Mike Morris, Michigan
Morris has already started to hear his name rise in the draft cycle but it’s only going to keep rising especially based on his athletic nature and just pure power. Morris has 38 tackles, 12 for loss, and eight sacks in only 22 games while also adding an interception, three breakups, three forced fumbles with 49 pressures. In run defense, he has added 27 stops and a career 13 stuffs. At 6-7, 292 pounds Morris is an athletic freak, he has an insane first step and can bend around the edge while also being able to work inside on stunts and simply as a 3-Tech defensive tackle. Morris can return to Michigan for his senior season and he might but he is currently sitting as a consensus fifth round selection. Expect to hear a lot more of Morris in the coming months.
Team Fits: Bengals, Cowboys, Cardinals
EDGE: Nick Hampton, App State
Hampton had a down season in 2022 which still saw him post 39 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks with three forced fumbles and 26 pressures. Hampton is a tweener at the edge position and it shows in his versatile nature at only 6-4, 235 pounds, he’s going to and likely will add weight before the combine. Hampton features one of the best bend and pass rush move traits in the entire class. He also has experience in soft zone coverage which will be an enticing development for NFL teams. Over 46 career games he racked up 175 tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks, 11 breakups, three recoveries, seven forced fumbles, 134 pressures and 101 run stops. Hampton will be a great fit for numerous 3-4 teams that can utilize his quick step and speed to win at the point of attack. He’ll rise a lot higher than his current fifth round projection.
Team Fits: Packers, Lions, Giants
LB: Dorian Williams, Tulane
Williams is very similar to Chiefs LB Nick Bolton as a prospect and overall player. Williams has elite athleticism and sideline to sideline range. He’s great in soft zone drops and does a fantastic job identifying running lanes and blowing up a play. He’s well built on a 6-2, 230 pound frame while also moving super well and playing physical. Tulane understood how to utilize him and really showed off his best skills in 2022 which saw him record 115 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions, 12 breakups and two forced fumbles. He also added 22 pressures and eight quarterback hits on only 90 blitz attempts. In coverage, Williams was one of the best in the nation, allowing just 18 receptions for 156 yards, a 64.1 QBR and zero touchdowns. Williams will participate in the Senior Bowl where his stock will only rise even more.
Team Fits: Chiefs, Bears, Jets
LB: Drake Thomas, NC State
Thomas isn’t the most polished linebacker but he’s one of the best run defenders and the most versatile in the entire country and the draft class. A career starter since his freshman season in 2019 Thomas has posted 281 tackles, 44 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, four interceptions, a touchdown, 14 breakups. Thomas has also shown the ability to be basically a three way player, and is an incredibly similar prospect to Broncos OLB Baron Browning. Thomas has over 422 pass rush snaps, with most coming off the edge allowing him to win with a first step and speed. He has 88 career pressures and 39 quarterback hits as well to add with his sack counts. As a run defender, 144 stops. In Coverage he’s only allowed 548 yards and 71 receptions in four years with just one touchdown as well. There’s a lot to like with Thomas, he’s rangy, physical and athletic.
Team Fits: Broncos, Cowboys, Jets
CB: Avery Young, Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights have rotated Young between free safety, outside corner and the slot over his five year career and he’s impressed at all three but likely fits as a nickel in the NFL. At 6-1, 205 he adds good speed and a really strong trigger and identity for the running game. When watching him you’ll notice his strong hips, quick feet and instincts all of which will be intriguing for NFL teams. Over 54 career games with 48 starts, he’s posted 310 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three interceptions, two touchdowns, 31 breakups and five forced fumbles. Young has struggled in coverage up till the last two seasons where he slid into the slot and really has hit his stride. He’s allowed just two touchdowns and a 78.1 quarterback rating off just 25 receptions with 55 targets.
Team Fits: Chargers, Seahawks, Rams
CB: Darrell Luter Jr, South Alabama
South Alabama’s defense was a huge part of their success in 2022 and a lot of that can be attributed to Luter basically taking away half the field. He’s a rangy corner with good size at 6-1, 200 pounds and will likely run in the high 4.4 range. This season, he allowed 29 receptions on 57 targets for 318 yards and just one touchdown while adding an interception and seven breakups. 2021 was one of the best seasons we’ve seen from a college corner in maybe history as he only allowed 12 receptions off 49 targets for 88 yards with four interceptions and 12 breakups with an NCAA record low 3.9 QBR. There’s a lot to like about Luter but he’s a raw prospect that’s going to need work, he’s continued to get better especially in zone coverage but DB coaches will fall in love with his athleticism, aggressive nature, and ball hawk instincts likely seeing him drafted in the top 150 selections.
Team Fits: Browns, Bills, Patriots
CB: Myles Brooks, Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs have put out some strong DB’s in recent seasons notably Amik Robertson and LaJarius Sneed. That looks to be the case again with Brooks. In his first year at the Division one level after transferring from Stephen F. Austin, he posted 30 tackles, four interceptions, eight breakups, and a touchdown. In coverage, his 6-2/200 frame really showed especially with his aggressive nature and physical play style in man coverage. Brooks only allowed 20 receptions off 55 targets for 219 yards, two touchdowns and a 46 QBR. Brooks looks like the next NFL starter to come out of Louisiana Tech. Brooks is sitting as a 7th round prospect but will quickly rise especially after the combine and I could see him ending up around a 4th round selection.
Team Fits: Cardinals, Commanders, Giants
S: Jartavius Martin, Illinois
Devon Witherspoon is taking the majority of the spotlight for Illinois defensive backs this year, with good reason too but don’t sleep on Martin. The Fighting Illini have produced a ton of NFL starting defensive backs the last two seasons including Nate Hobbs and Kerby Joseph. Martin can rotate between the slot, safety and corner but his best film is at safety. He’s posted 220 tackles, seven interceptions and 22 breakups in just 33 games since 2018. Martin does a great job at identifying routes and waiting on the ball before jumping on the route to make a play. He’s a willing tackler, something that NFL teams love and simply does everything well. I can see Martin landing on teams’ radars as a starting slot corner or free safety and skyrocketing into the 3rd or 4th round range.
Team Fits: Lions, Raiders, Bengals
S: Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State
Hickman is sitting as a 6th round selection currently, something that’ll change rather quickly once he’s able to show off his athleticism and the draft cycle take clearer snape. He’s only played 30 games but quickly added 155 tackles, three interceptions, 11 breakups and two forced fumbles with a touchdown as well. Hickman is a big body at 6-2, 210 pounds and plays a traditional strong safety role with fantastic coverage skills. In 2022, he only allowed 79 yards, 12 receptions and a 34.7 QBR in 29 targets. He’s a playmaker and can move around into the box as a dime LB or even as a nickel corner if teams need him to be.
Team Fits: Broncos, Seahawks, Giants