After Week 9 of college football, who are the 2023 NFL Draft prospects who need more hype at the national level? Our latest 2023 NFL Draft Sleepers segment has a keen eye on the western states, but a couple of SEC products first lead the way.
2023 NFL Draft Sleepers to Watch in Week 9
Micah Baskerville, LB, LSU
LSU’s defense is quietly packed with NFL-caliber talent. That may not be a surprise from a program that has a history of NFL development, but nevertheless, more than a few of these prospects deserve more hype on the 2023 NFL Draft stage.
One of those prospects is linebacker Micah Baskerville — a 6’1″, 231-pound spark plug who has 35 total tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and three deflections over the past three games. This past week, in a win against Ole Miss, Baskerville had nine tackles, a TFL, and two PBUs.
Baskerville doesn’t quite bring the upside or versatility of LSU’s star freshman Harold Perkins, who figures to be a coveted early-round prospect in a couple of years. But Baskerville is quietly blossoming into a potential three-down talent.
With his density, play strength, and physicality, he can scrape across the middle of the field, fight blocks, and suffocate gaps as a run defender. But he also has enough short-area freedom and awareness to have an impact in coverage, and he’s an explosive blitzing threat as well.
Ennis Rakestraw Jr., CB, Missouri
In a 17-14 win over Vanderbilt this past weekend, Missouri CB Ennis Rakestraw Jr. was a prime contributor. The 6’0″, 170-pound defender made plays both in run support and in coverage, with two tackles for loss and two pass deflections on the day.
Across the year, he’s up to three TFLs and six deflections, along with an interception — a career campaign for the former three-star recruit.
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At 170 pounds, Rakestraw’s weight will be a major question mark in his transition to the NFL. He assuredly needs to add mass, but his willingness to play physically in support regardless is a refreshing sight.
He’s explosive coming downhill, with excellent transition speed, and he has the proportional length and ball skills to convert in spite of his lighter frame. In some ways, Rakestraw bears similarities to LSU’s Cordale Flott, who was drafted in Round 3 by the Giants this past cycle.
Titus Swen, RB, Wyoming
Titus Swen was one of the top performers in the Week 8 college football slate, with 28 carries for 160 yards and three scores in a double-digit Wyoming victory over Utah State. Swen was the engine behind his team’s success in this game. But beyond being a simple top performer in college, Swen also has a few translatable traits as an NFL Draft prospect.
At 5’11”, 206 pounds, Swen has good density. He’s more of a north-south back for his size, but his foundational traits serve him very well in that mold. Swen has the straight-line explosiveness to hit lanes quickly and get upfield with little delay. And once he’s through that lane, he’s a high-energy runner who’s hard to bring down without direct contact.
There’s always a change-of-pace role in waiting for a back like Swen, who has the burst and decisiveness to make the most of fleeting opportunities.
Jordan Dunbar, CB, Rice
A redshirt sophomore, Rice’s Jordan Dunbar is more likely than not a stash for the 2024 or 2025 NFL Draft class. But he’s eligible, and he’s playing incredibly well, so there’s merit in mentioning his name, at the very least.
Dunbar broke onto the scene with seven deflections as a redshirt freshman in 2021, and he’s already matched that total in 2022. This past week, in a close win against Louisiana Tech, he had three pass breakups — a career-high for the 5’11”, 194-pound cornerback.
Players who can make it look natural at cornerback often stand out, especially at the Group of Five level, and Dunbar does that. He’s a fluid athlete with good corrective mobility who can play low in his stance and pin himself close to receivers.
He’s not the most physical player, particularly in run support, but his natural coverage ability and playmaking traits should keep him on the radar when his time comes.
David Perales, EDGE, Fresno State
David Perales feels like an overlooked Group of Five prospect who’ll go on to have a stable rotational role in the NFL. At 6’3″, 246 pounds, he’s a bit undersized for a true EDGE role, but his play style and full pallet of traits negate a lot of the downsides that come with his frame.
Perales has solid get-off and flexibility, which he can use to win around the arc. But he’s also a nuanced pass rusher who can stack euro-steps and swipes at the corner, and he uses strong hands to capitalize.
Two weeks ago, Perales put up a dominant showing with five tackles for loss and four sacks, and this past week, he added another tackle for loss to his total. He lives in the backfield, and while he doesn’t have elite traits, his play is impossible to ignore.
2023 NFL Draft sleepers to watch at the FCS level
Rodrick Ward, S, Southern Utah
One can make a compelling argument that the most productive defensive back to this point at the FCS level is Southern Utah safety Rodrick Ward. The redshirt junior has been a breakout star for the Thunderbirds, with three interceptions and 11 pass deflections through just eight games.
Ward hasn’t gone a game without making at least one play on the ball, and he’s also shown he can make plays in the open field, with 39 total tackles.
The most marketable of Ward’s traits, however, is his playmaking ability at the catch point — but also his ability to position himself effectively on the back end.
He’s an instinctive defender with great zone awareness at multiple levels. He reads the QB’s eyes and has the fast feet and range to loom in front of passes and capitalize on opportunities. He might not declare this year, but with his production, he’s a player who needs tabs kept on him.
Elijah Dotson, RB, Northern Colorado
He has virtually no name recognition on the 2023 NFL Draft circuit, and it’s most likely that Elijah Dotson’s NFL opportunity comes via the UDFA pool. But Dotson is absolutely a name to watch, especially looking at his background.
He’ll be an older prospect, as he’s a 2017 high school graduate. And at 6’0″, 200 pounds, he’s not an overwhelming size threat. But Dotson’s running style is alluring, and so too is the versatility that he provides.
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At Sacramento State from 2017 to 2019, Dotson had over 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of those three seasons. In 2019, he caught 70 passes for 702 yards and four touchdowns. Now, at Northern Colorado, he’s maintaining his impact, with almost 1,000 total rushing and receiving yards through eight games and a punt return TD to boot.
Dotson is an energetic short-area athlete with impressive agility and control of his movement, to go along with an urgent style and surprising contact balance. And to top it off, he has the explosiveness to get to the boundary after disrupting tackling angles with quick cuts.
He needs to improve his pass protection, but he’s an incredibly fun player to watch with the ball in his hands.
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