For one of my final 2023 NFL Draft opinion articles this year, I’m talking about my sleepers. Forget about who the Pittsburgh Steelers are or aren’t interested in. These are just guys I’d pound the table for no matter what war room I was in. Underrated, undervalued, and prospects being slept on this year. Here’s my list.
Roschon Johnson/RB Texas – Bijan Robinson gets all the attention, understandably so, but Johnson is going to be a far more productive NFL player than in college when once he’s given a greater role. With good size and great physicality, his leg churn and tackle-breaking ability is top-notch whether you’re watching the tape or looking at the analytics. Johnson can block, catch a little, and will be a ferocious special teamer. All while putting the team-first, as he did as Texas’ backup, opting early in his college career not to redshirt in order to keep helping the team. Johnson lacks long speed and won’t break off huge runs but he’s a James Conner-type runner who can be a starter in the NFL.
Wanya Morris/OT Oklahoma – After the top few names, I don’t love the bulk of this tackle class. But zone-heavy teams should be high on Morris, a strong athlete able to reach and cut-off in the run game. He has experience at both tackle spots, and while he isn’t the biggest tackle in the class, he has great length with over 35-inch arms and a mean streak to bury defenders in the run game. He’s gotta be a bit more coordinated and clean up his angles but there’s potential here.
Sidy Sow/OG Eastern Michigan – One of the final prospects I watched, and I’m glad I did. Sow is a people-mover in the run game with a thick body and great torque to leverage and take defensive linemen to the ground. He’s also a solid athlete who fires out of his stance and can pull, though he’s a bit slow-footed in space and top-heavy in pass protection. If you want an old-school run blocker with light feet, Sow is going to be a steal on Day Three. Can’t beat his experience of over 50 starts either.
Jerome Carvin/OG Tennessee – Some NFL players make it because they carve out a role at one spot. Others make it because of the versatility they bring to the bottom of a roster. Carvin will be the latter. An experienced leader, Carvin started 43 career games — 21 at left guard, 17 at right guard, and five at center. He may never be a long-time starter but he’ll have enough staying power in the NFL to earn a second contract. He doesn’t have to be taught a new position and won’t be overwhelmed by moving around in his first training camp compared to one-position players trying to adjust on the fly.
Juice Scruggs/C Penn State – It’s a good center class and Scruggs is one of its most slept-on names. While he doesn’t have a ton of experience, especially at center, his tape was really good. A powerful run blocker able to drive and wash, he works angles well. In the pass game, he has a powerful anchor and stonewalled Michigan NT Mazi Smith this past year. Scruggs’ pass sets can be a little too aggressive and there may be concern over a 2019 back injury but the tape here is excellent. I put a second-round grade on him.
Marvin Mims/WR Oklahoma – One of my favorite receivers in a class that isn’t terribly strong. I didn’t sit down and specifically watch Mims but whenever I turned on Sooners tape, he was the guy who caught my eye. Speed, speed, speed, that’s Mims’ game. With 4.38 40 speed, he averaged 19.5 yards per reception in his career, found the end zone once every 10 grabs, and had nine 100+ yard receiving games. He can also work in the punt return game. He won’t be high-volume but he’ll be a DeSean Jackson/Mike Wallace type who will have a key role in any big-game passing attack. The only caveat here: Mims is going to be a Day-Two pick, maybe sooner rather than later, so he’s not exactly “slept” on. Still, I like him more than most.
Noah Gindorff/TE North Dakota State – Gindorff is a stellar blocker with soft hands and ability to make catches in traffic. He was part of that aggressive and run-heavy Bison offense and won’t need any time to learn how to block at the next level. Gindorff has bulk and length, and though tape as receiver is limited, he made downfield plays in 2019 when Trey Lance was the team’s QB. If a recurring ankle injury checks out, he’ll play in the NFL for years.
Payne Durham/TE Purdue – Durham, a well-rounded tight end with size, can catch and block and was really productive last season with Aidan O’Connell throwing him the football. Durham had a solid Senior Bowl week and fine Combine testing. He’ll never wow and probably won’t be a #1 for any stretch of time but he’ll be a steady #2 throughout his career.
Brodric Martin/DT Western Kentucky – Big man in the middle with great length and surprisingly light feet. He’s underdeveloped as a pass rusher, but he can move and his game can be developed. Odds have been reduced that Pittsburgh’s going to take him but he’s a run stuffer who can stack and shed and offer something as a pass rusher out of base personnel.
Scott Matlock/DE Boise State – Going deep sleeper here. Matlock has good size at 6041, 296 pounds though lacks a little length with 32 3/4-inch arms. He’s played a ton of snaps as a three-year starter who didn’t often come off the field. College production is there too with 19.5 TFL and 11.5 sacks. I think he gets drafted and maybe the Steelers give him a late-round look. If he slips into UDFA territory, this is a guy who feels like he should come to Pittsburgh.
Yaya Diaby/EDGE Louisville – Diaby is a guy who feels like he should be a Steeler, something I alluded to the other day. Base 3-4 end who was way undersized but still productive, breaking out in 2022 with nearly double-digit sacks. Good hand-fighter who chases the ball and tested extremely well in the pre-draft process. He is good early Day Three value.
Lonnie Phelps/EDGE Kansas – If you want a special teamer, you want Phelps. He isn’t big or extremely long but has been consistently productive. He will be a dominant coverage guy, blowing up kick/punt return blocking schemes. Late Day Three name that is going to stick on someone’s roster.
Aubrey Miller/ILB Jackson State – A guy who caught my attention at the Senior Bowl, he might have some of the best pound-for-pound hit power. He forces a ton of fumbles, including in Mobile. Small schooler who will try to replicate the success James Houston had in Detroit last season, though they have different skill sets and roles. But Miller is going to stick somewhere.
Christopher Smith III/S Georgia – One of my draft dudes. And I feel better knowing our Owen Straley likes him too. Smith is small and ran slow and that’s usually a bad NFL combination. But the dude is just a smart player who finds the ball and makes plays. Six picks over the last two years. It helps when your front seven is an NFL defense in college but he’s going to be the outlier who makes it. I don’t know if I foresee a 10-year starter but he’ll have a sub-package role. Maybe he’ll have a Damontae Kazee-type of career arc.