The 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver class has a high standard to live up to from previous years. Luckily, these NFL draft sleepers may help the 2023 group rise to the hype. Even if the 2023 class doesn’t have the top-end talent of years past, it most certainly has the depth.
2023 NFL Draft sleepers at WR
Jayden Reed, Michigan State
It’s strange how little hype Jayden Reed has heading into the 2022 season. The Michigan State WR was a respected prospect in 2021 before he chose to return to school. Some people, including PFN’s own Oli Hodgkinson, maintained that Reed was worth Day 2 capital. While he returns a year older as a prospect, the ability still resides. And it could help Reed outperform his draft position.
Reed doesn’t have overwhelming size, standing at around 6’0″, 185 pounds. But at that size, Reed brings a lot of desired qualities within the three-level framework. Reed can separate with smooth throttle control, speed, and hip sink. He’s surprisingly strong at the catch point and can both contort and work through contact. And he’s also a slippery RAC threat who fights through arm tackles. Not to mention, he’s a stellar blocker as well. Reed’s well-rounded profile, combined with his explosive athleticism, can take him far.
Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia
The Virginia offense was one of the more explosive units in college football behind the arm of Brennan Armstrong in 2021. But someone has to be a catalyst downfield, and Virginia had that as well. The Cavaliers’ catalyst was redshirt sophomore WR Dontayvion Wicks, who amassed 57 catches for 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns over the course of the season. This year, with Jelani Woods and Ra’Shaun Henry off to the NFL, he could expand on those numbers.
Wicks has a unique but very translatable frame. He stands at 6’1″, 206 pounds, with long arms that allow him to consistently come out victorious in contested situations. Wicks tracks the ball exceptionally downfield but can also do a lot of damage in close quarters with his burst, lateral twitch, and frame density. Wicks feels like a prospect that the consensus is still catching up to. But another strong season will cement his status.
Xavier Gipson, Stephen F. Austin
It’s unlikely that any FCS receiver will go nearly as high as Christian Watson did in the 2022 NFL Draft. That said, there’s still talent to be aware of in the championship subdivision. Xavier Gipson may be dwarfed by Watson from a size perspective, but he made just as strong an impact for his Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in 2021.
Gipson put up massive numbers in 2021, registering 74 catches for 1,367 yards and 14 touchdowns in just 11 games. He broke the 100-yard mark seven times and eclipsed 200 in a dominant outing against Dixie State. Gipson may only be 5’9″, 170 pounds, but he has the explosiveness, speed, and short-area twitch to flourish at that size. He’s a fantastic separator who can cut stems with quickness, and he also has the control to make plays at the catch point.
Elijah Higgins, Stanford
If you’re looking for a big-bodied receiver to fall in love with ahead of the 2022 season, Elijah Higgins might be your guy. Listed at 6’3″, 235 pounds heading into the coming campaign, Higgins is one of the largest, stockiest receivers on the college football circuit. He has the size and frame density of a hybrid tight end but also the mobility of a bona fide wide receiver.
Higgins’ production doesn’t pop off the page. The Cardinal WR had just 45 catches for 500 yards and four scores in 2021. But another year with ascending QB Tanner McKee could do wonders for him. Higgins needs to work on becoming a more natural separator, but his length and play strength make him a frightening matchup for any defensive back. He can easily fight through contact and snare passes with authoritative hands.
Rashee Rice, SMU
Last cycle, the SMU Mustangs produced two quality receiver prospects in Danny Gray and Reggie Roberson. As the 2023 NFL Draft comes into focus, they’re sure to have another one: Rashee Rice. And it might be the cliché thing to say, but there’s a chance Rice ends up being a better prospect than both of his predecessors.
Standing around 6’0″ and well over 200 pounds, Rice already brings a desirable mold at WR. His frame is not only dense and compact but also flexible and very easily recoils against contact in RAC situations. Rice is visibly explosive, with speed potentially ranging in the 4.4s. Those skills allow him to get into space, but he’s shown he can stay on his feet even when faced with contact.