Heading into Week 6 of the college football season, which 2023 NFL Draft sleepers deserve more hype? Here’s the latest batch of sleepers, fully stocked with exciting defensive prospects but led by a breakout receiver prospect in the Big Ten West.
2023 NFL Draft Sleepers To Watch in Week 6
Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska
Trey Palmer was identified as a potential breakout candidate in 2022 after transferring from LSU to Nebraska. And five games in, he’s followed that trajectory to a T. Palmer already has career highs in receptions and receiving yards. After his hot start, he was recently added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. Through five games, Palmer has 36 catches for 480 yards and two scores — with no game below 80 yards receiving.
Palmer was known to have the necessary traits at LSU. He was a smooth athlete at 6’1″, 190 pounds, with a background that told of speed and burst. But at Nebraska, he might just be putting things together. His speed helps him separate deep, but he also has stellar ball-tracking ability and body control. He can displace defenders at the stem with crisp lateral moves while sustaining acceleration.
Luke Schoonmaker, TE, Michigan
In the wake of Erick All’s unfortunate injury, Luke Schoonmaker has emerged as a top passing weapon in Michigan’s offense. He was already profiled as a prospect who could be drafted much higher than expected. Now, he’s only going to gain more steam down the line. Schoonmaker has 11 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown over the past two weeks — impressive receiving production for an athletic 6’6″, 250-pound tight end who’s already a near-elite blocker. Every week, he’s on the front end of big runs from Blake Corum, and his dual-phase utility will ensure that he has a consistent role in the NFL.
Steele Chambers, LB, Ohio State
Steele Chambers may now be shedding his sleeper status after a dominant Week 5 outing that saw him rack up 11 total tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception on defense. But in a linebacker class that remains far from settled, perhaps Chambers still needs more hype as a potential early-round option. He’s not the largest linebacker at 6’1″, 220 pounds, but he’s quick, rangy, instinctive, and has a background as a running back that helps him in the box. And for his size, he holds up surprisingly well as a tackler in pursuit.
Ja’Von Hicks, S, Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bearcats lost Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant, and Bryan Cook to the 2022 NFL Draft. But that loss of talent in no way kept them from finding a new premier playmaker for the 2022 season. Ja’Von Hicks was already a known entity heading into the year, but he’s taken things up a notch and emerged as a dynamic presence on the back end. In Week 5, Hicks had five tackles, a pick, and three pass deflections in a standout performance. He covers ground well on the back end and can make plays on the ball. Furthermore, he brings quick recognition ability and a physical edge at contact, which he uses to jar passes loose.
Jabari Taylor, DT, Cincinnati
Jabari Taylor has been a steady rotational asset on the defensive line for Cincinnati over the past four seasons. But in Year 5, he may be hitting a new gear. The Tulsa game was a mini-breakout for Taylor, who was incredibly disruptive in both phases of the game. The 6’1″, 293-pound defensive tackle had 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks against a hapless Golden Hurricane interior line.
Taylor might not have much in the way of length, but he’s a strong, athletic lineman with a quickness and violence to his movement. If he finds his stride and strings together standout performances, he could rise up boards.
Kristian Williams, DT, Missouri
Missouri’s defense is flush with 2023 NFL Draft prospects. Players like Isaiah McGuire, Kris Abrams-Draine, and Jaylon Carlies lead the way, but there’s also a lot of depth to the Tigers’ class. Defensive lineman Kristian Williams is a perfect example of that. An Oregon transfer and former four-star recruit, Williams has come alive as of late after a quiet start to his career. He had a sack against Auburn and added another tackle for loss in a near-upset against Georgia. At 6’2″, 314 pounds, Williams is stout and strong, but he also flashes surprising explosiveness off the snap. He brings a translatable skill set and could be a legitimate sleeper in this DT class.
Charlie Thomas, LB, Georgia Tech
Standing at 6’2″, 207 pounds, it’s still a bit unclear where Charlie Thomas will project at the NFL level. He has experience at nickel back and linebacker, but he might be a position-less prospect of sorts. Nevertheless, he’s a playmaker in spite of his size, and that’s something he showed against Pitt. Thomas used his closing speed and instincts to make plays against the run and the pass. He made a backside pursuit tackle that caused a fumble, which he recovered. And later, he broke on a dig route over the middle of the field, scraping past a receiver to secure a crucial interception.
Bangally Kamara, LB, Pittsburgh
The Panthers already have a heavily coveted linebacker prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class with Sir’Vocea Dennis. Another eligible talent to keep an eye on is Bangally Kamara next to him. Kamara is a junior, and he may end up returning for the 2024 cycle. But the 6’2″, 225-pound linebacker has a dynamism and versatility that catches the eye. He’s rangy in space, with the speed and burst to seal off runners in pursuit. But he also has the lateral agility to offset blockers as a blitzer and the motor to provide a threat shooting gaps. Athleticism is far from sparse in Pitt’s LB room, and Kamara is a big part of that.
Jerrick Reed II, DB, New Mexico
Traverse the Group of Five, and you’ll find few defensive backs who’ve been more productive than New Mexico’s Jerrick Reed II over the past four seasons. Reed has six interceptions and 17 deflections across that span, and seven of those deflections have already come in what’s been a tremendous 2022 campaign. Reed is a bit undersized at 5’10”, 192 pounds, but he has a well-proportioned frame. He’s also a smooth athlete with a good backpedal, great reaction quickness, and versatility between the slot and deep coverage. Keep Reed on your radar — he’s a playmaker.
Adam Plant Jr., EDGE, UNLV
The UNLV Rebels have talent worth knowing in the NFL Draft sphere. On offense, Doug Brumfield, Aidan Robbins, and Ricky White have all shown promise. And on defense, defensive back Cameron Oliver and Jordyn Morgan have established themselves as playmakers. But the subject of this section is edge rusher Adam Plant Jr.
Plant is a TCU transfer who brings a lot of the desired athletic traits. Standing at 6’5″, 250 pounds with above-average length, he has the physical profile and lateral spryness you want in an edge defender. He’s been consistent in three years at UNLV, but this is shaping up to be his best season yet. He’s nearing career highs in both sacks and tackles for loss, and we’re not even to the halfway point yet.
2023 NFL Draft Sleepers at the FCS Level
Geno Hess, RB, SE Missouri State
SE Missouri State is quietly a team stocked with potential NFL talent — both in the 2023 NFL Draft class and prospective risers to watch for 2024. But right now, no one on the Redhawks roster is producing more effusively than running back Geno Hess. Hess is coming off a career outing against Lindenwood in which the senior back rumbled for 276 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries.
Hess is a distinct kind of running back — a 5’8″, 222-pound bowling ball who’s a terror to deal with in solo tackling situations. He has 2,324 yards and 31 touchdowns over his last 23 games, and that’s no accident. Not only does Hess have the density and physicality, but he’s also surprisingly agile on the lateral plane, and he has enough burst to reach the second level — even if he’s not a breakaway threat. His ability to create additional yards can’t go unnoticed.
Naseim Brantley, WR, Western Illinois
At the FCS level, it’s easier to tell who looks the part and who doesn’t. Naseim Brantley absolutely does look the part. The problem hasn’t been selling onlookers on his traits. Brantley is 6’4″, 200 pounds, with a long frame and good burst upfield. The problem has been delivering with production. In four years at Sacred Heart, Brantley never eclipsed 410 yards or two touchdowns.
Now, in just five games with Western Illinois, Brantley has achieved career-high numbers in both categories. He’s one of the top receivers across the FCS ranks (25 catches for 495 yards and five touchdowns). Three times this year, Brantley has crossed the 100-yard mark. And even as the Leathernecks struggle, Brantley remains a consistent threat with his size, high-end catching instincts, and hand strength.