2023 NFL Combine sleepers who shined: These 10 had awesome workouts, but are they actually good prospects?

2023 NFL Combine sleepers who shined: These 10 had awesome workouts, but are they actually good prospects?

What a tremendous 2023 NFL Combine. We had the the most explosive quarterback in event history (Anthony Richardson), a 282-pound defensive linemen run a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash (Adetomiwa Adebawore), an awesomely athletic group of tight ends, and Calijah Kancey having an Aaron Donald-ian workout.

The combine has widespread buzz-generating powers. So if you’re pumped about this draft class now, I get it. Believe me, I’m a combine advocate. 

But as you come down from your combine-induced high, I’ve found it’s vital to ask yourself: Are the obscure combine winners actually good prospects? I’ll answer for you below as we look at 10 sleepers who stood out. 

Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.55 seconds (second among TE)
  • Vertical jump: 40 inches (first)
  • Broad jump: 10-foot-8 (first)
  • Three-cone: 6.87 seconds (first)

Is he good?: Yes | New projected round range: Round 3-4

Kuntz turns 24 in June, so he’s one of the older prospects who stayed in school for their extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic. That’s the only real knock on him as a receiving tight end. At 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, Kuntz’ combine was almost identical to Mike Gesicki’s back in 2018. And when utilized as a focal part of the offense, Gesicki’s been a dynamic weapon. Kuntz is a similar-type: a vertical seam stretcher who aggressively attacks the ball in the air. What’s interesting, in this loaded tight end class, is that Kuntz being available on Day 3 would not be crazy.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WR, West Virginia

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.38 seconds (tied fourth among WR)
  • Vertical jump: 41 inches (first)
  • Three-cone: 6.97 seconds (seventh — but at 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds)

Is he good?: In a niche role | New projected round range: Round 3-4

Ford-Wheaton is exactly what you’re probably thinking given his height, weight, and combine performance: outside, combat-catch specialist who wins after the catch simply due to how large and explosive he is. Will Ford-Wheaton run ultra-crisp routes to generate space against hyper-athletic cornerbacks? No. But in many cases, that’s fine. He’ll win at the catch point. As a vertical-only option as I will say, he did a lot for his stock at the combine. Before it, he was widely considered a mid-to-late Day 3 pick. Now he could even sneak into Day 2.

Daniel Scott, FS, California

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds (second among S)
  • Vertical jump: 39.5 inches (fifth among S)
  • Three-cone: 6.75 seconds (fourth among all prospects)

Is he good?: Yes | New projected round range: Round 3-4

Scott (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) is one of the most active, high-energy safeties in a quality class at the position. And he has serious, old-school free safety range in coverage, which is a challenge to find in the draft. Now we know he’s not just getting to the football with instincts alone. While there are some missed tackles on film, probably more than most teams would like at the safety spot, there’s also a lot more splash plays because of his athleticism and authoritative nature on the field. Scott is older, as he’ll turn 25 during his rookie campaign, but he really brings everything you’d want at safety.

Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.43 seconds (tied 11th among WR)
  • Vertical jump: 39 inches (tied 10th)
  • Three-cone: 6.85 seconds (second)

Is he good?: Yes | New projected round range: Round 3-4

At his size (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and with his measured athleticism (that pops on film), Iosivas is an ascending prospect. The Senior Bowl wasn’t too big for him, and now we know his physical gifts are absolutely NFL-caliber. Iosivas dominated the Ivy League, and while he’s not a tremendous hands-catcher — often letting the ball into his frame — he succeeded in many of the opportunities to make grabs in traffic in college. There needs to be more power to his game while running routes and after the catch. But, to date, he’s done everything right during the pre-draft process and is absolutely in consideration to land late on the second day of the draft.

Earl Bostick Jr., OT, Kansas

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 5.05 seconds (eighth among OL)
  • Vertical jump: 31 inches (tied eighth)
  • Broad jump: 9-foot-3 (tied sixth)

Is he good?: No | New projected round range: Round 7

Bostick (6-foot-6, 309 pounds) is a sleek, lengthy offensive tackle who looks the part but has serious power and soft edge deficiencies. He needs to add 15-20 pounds to his frame and pack on more power in his lower half at the NFL level. There are too many times in which he either opens the gate too early/easily or simply does not play with any anchor whatsoever. As evidenced by a strong showing in Indy, Bostick’s real specialty lies with his explosion off the ball and smooth footwork to glide in pass protection. He’s a developmental offensive tackle prospect with upside because of his fluidity, length, and overall athleticism.

Jalen Redmond, DT, Oklahoma

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds (second among DT)
  • Vertical jump: 34.5 inches (first)
  • Broad jump: 9-foot-8 (tied first)
  • Three-cone: 7.30 seconds (first)

Is he good?: Yes, just play him in the right alignment/role | New projected round range: Round 2-4

Here’s all you really need to know about Redmond (6-foot-2, 291 pounds) — he generated a pressure on 12% of his pass-rush snaps over the past two seasons at Oklahoma. That’s a big number, particularly considering Redmond played about a third of his snaps at a true nose tackle position. His juice at the combine translates to the field; Redmond got upfield in a hurry when he was instructed to at Oklahoma, instead of reacting laterally as a 0 or 1 technique. As a pure penetrating three technique, Redmond has sneaky upside, and now we know he’s a freaky athletic specimen at 6-foot-2 and 291 pounds. He has an almost identical build — and combine workout — to former Jets and Vikings star Sheldon Richardson.

Blake Freeland, OT, BYU

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.98 seconds (tied second among OL)
  • Vertical jump: 37 inches (first — combine record for OL)
  • Broad jump: 10 feet (first)
  • Three-cone: 7.46 seconds (fourth)

Is he good?: It’s complicated | New projected round range: Round 2-3

From a traits perspective, of course, Freeland (6-foot-8, 302 pounds) is the man. He’s what offensive line coaches dream about at night. He’s 6-foot-8 with arms just under 34 inches and elite explosiveness. On film, his lateral quicks get pushed to the limit often, and he clearly has to add more mass to his 302-pound frame, or he’ll get bullied against power. All this means — don’t expect Freeland to be Tristan Wirfs out of the gate in the NFL. A few years down the road, though, he very well could be Brian O’Neill, and you can’t say that about many offensive tackle prospects.

Elijah Higgins, WR, Stanford

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.54 seconds (would have been tied first for TE)
  • Vertical jump: 35 inches (would have been tied seventh for TE)
  • Broad jump: 10-foot-6 (would have been third for TE)
  • Three-cone: 7.46 seconds (would have been third for TE)

Is he good?: Yes, at a different position | New projected round range: Round 5-6

Higgins (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) is a chiseled, “big slot” built like a short TE. And he’s chiseled. He’s the classic “quicker than fast” prospect, but he won’t routinely separate from CBs in the NFL. However, if he moves to tight end, his overall athletic profile could give fits to some slower, less athletic NFL linebackers. Higgins really stars after the catch because he’s an ox to bring to the turf. A conversion to tight end could be in the cards at the next level, and from that perspective, his size and workout closely resembles Chigoziem Okonkwo, who rocked for the Titans as a rookie in 2022.

Jon Gaines II, OG, UCLA

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 5.01 seconds (tied sixth among OL)
  • Vertical jump: 32.5 inches (tied third)
  • Broad jump: 9-foot-6 (tied third)
  • Three-cone: 7.31 seconds (first)

Is he good?: Yes | New projected round range: Round 4-5

Gaines (6-foot-4, 303 pounds) was explosive at the combine and is a burst-based blocker on film. He’s clearly a fluid athlete at guard with long arms and quality knee bend. He makes a concerted effort to get low to get under interior defensive linemen and does so often. What I love, too — Gaines has plenty of experience and showcased improvement in his final season. He’s not perfect on film — there are some sloppy wins — but he can recover often because of his athleticism, and recovery skill is vastly underrated along the offensive line. For a team that prioritizes mobility in its blockers, Gaines will be a fine mid-round selection.

Keaton Mitchell, RB, East Carolina

Notable workout figures

  • 40-yard dash: 4.37 seconds (third among RB)
  • Vertical jump: 38 inches (third)
  • Broad jump: 10-foot-6 (second)

Is he good?: Yes | New projected round range: Round 4-5

Mitchell (5-foot-8, 179 pounds) is a small scat-sized runner with big-play ability. He actually plays with quality contact balance at his size. His long speed snuck up on people at East Carolina, where he ran away from everyone once he got a crease. It won’t sneak up on anyone anymore with that 40 time. What’s intriguing about Mitchell is that he wasn’t deployed in some gadgety, sub-package role in college. Dude carried the ball 201 times — at 7.2 yards per! — in 2022. There’s outstanding vision between the tackles, and he’s very useful in the receiving game, even on the perimeter. He good.

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