For now, the Indiana Hoosiers are projected to round out the bottom of the Big Ten conference. But can the team’s crop of 2023 NFL Draft talent assist them in exceeding expectations? With many 2022 draft prospects returning and many transfers coming in through the portal, Indiana might be primed for a new uptick in production.
Indiana’s prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
Of the schools in the Big Ten, the Indiana Hoosiers made perhaps the most use of the transfer portal in the 2022 offseason, along with teams like Michigan State and Nebraska. Indiana may not leap back to contender status, but there’s plenty of talent worth looking at. And some players could go on to make noise in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Connor Bazelak, QB
At this time last year, Connor Bazelak was being discussed as a potential breakout quarterback. Unfortunately, his Missouri career ended on an unspectacular note. He completed 65.3% of his passes in 2021, amassing 2,548 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
Nevertheless, Bazelak presents a prospective upgrade for Indiana. While he’s not the most dynamic player, he’s an accurate passer who can provide stability in the pocket and potentially maximize the weapons in his offense.
Shaun Shivers, RB
The Hoosiers were active in the transfer portal this offseason, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. After adding Stephen Carr ahead of the 2021 season, they added Auburn transfer Shaun Shivers and North Carolina transfer Josh Henderson for 2022. Henderson has better size, but Shivers might be the more intriguing of the two.
Shivers is only 5’7″, 189 pounds, but he plays bigger than his frame and is an incredibly energetic runner with good burst. He logged over 1,000 total yards in four seasons at Auburn and also flashed ability as a receiver in 2021.
Emery Simmons, WR
Along with Henderson, the Hoosiers also brought in wide receiver Emery Simmons from North Carolina. In three seasons with the Tar Heels, Simmons logged 30 catches for 516 yards and three scores. In 2021, though he only caught 11 passes, he averaged an eye-catching 22.1 yards per reception, racking up 243 yards and a score.
The 6’1″, 187-pound Simmons has the feel of a receiver who hasn’t even come close to showing the full scale of what he can do. It remains to be seen whether Indiana can unlock his potential, but he’s a tremendous vertical athlete who plays with a chip on his shoulder.
D.J. Matthews Jr., WR
Standing at 5’11”, 160 pounds, it’s unlikely that D.J. Matthews Jr. commands heavy interest in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle. That said, he should get a chance in camp, as many veteran college WRs do.
Matthews has spent most of his collegiate career at Florida State to this point. There, he maxed out with 42 catches for 382 yards in 2019, while also providing returning ability. In 2021, Matthews suited up with Indiana but only caught 13 passes for 165 yards. His returning ability gives him some unique appeal as a prospect, but it’s unclear if a breakout is in the cards.
AJ Barner, TE
AJ Barner has most often been a special-teams contributor for the Indiana Hoosiers. 2021 wasn’t a breakout season for the 6’6″, 251-pound pass catcher, but he did show flashes over the course of the year, finishing with 14 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.
Now, if Bazelak proves to provide stability at QB, Barner could experience an emergence. Barner has been building up his frame and flashes smooth athleticism as a RAC threat, as well as impressive body control in contested situations.
Luke Haggard, OT
Despite being a redshirt senior, 2021 was just Luke Haggard’s first season as a full-time starter at offensive tackle. Haggard was a JUCO product who first joined the Hoosiers in 2020. He’s steadily developed over his first two FBS seasons but still has room for improvement in 2022.
At 6’7″, 303 pounds, Haggard is a bit light for the position. That said, he flashes nice athleticism off the line and can move his feet quickly. He needs to get stronger, as well as become more controlled with his technique, but there is some upside here.
Matthew Bedford, G
Penciled in as one of the top guards early on in the 2022 NFL Draft process, Matthew Bedford has since fallen under the radar again. He may not be an early-round 2023 NFL Draft prospect, but he has tools that make him worth a look in the Day 3 range, especially if he closes out his career with a strong campaign.
Bedford is a bigger blocker on the interior, listed at 6’6″ with impressive length. That height can be the source of pad level issues, and he’s not the most flexible in the hips, either. But Bedford’s size also makes him hard to get around, and he can channel lots of power with his length.
Cam Jones, LB
Cam Jones had some buzz in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle. Instead, he returns as a redshirt senior in the 2023 NFL Draft pool. Jones is a very intriguing prospect. He started his career at Indiana as a hybrid safety-linebacker known as a “Husky” but now plays in a more traditional box role.
For his 6’3″, 222-pound frame, Jones is a good accelerator, and he’s shown he can lay the wood in close quarters. He’s also an able coverage defender, with two picks and eight deflections over four seasons. Jones has been a steady producer since joining the Hoosiers, but he’s still looking for his final breakout.
Jared Casey, LB
A redshirt junior from Kentucky, Jared Casey joins the Hoosiers as a prospect with much more left to prove. The 6’3″, 221-pound linebacker was a rotational defender at best with the Wildcats, racking up 30 total tackles and two tackles for loss in three seasons. At this point, it’s unclear how Casey factors in for Indiana. But with his pedigree and size, he’s at least a name to watch heading into the 2022 campaign.
Bradley Jennings Jr., LB
Casey wasn’t the only LB the Hoosiers added via the transfer portal. They also brought in Bradley Jennings Jr., formerly of the Miami Hurricanes. A sixth-year senior, Jennings brings experience to Indiana’s roster but not much proven production.
Jennings’ best year came in 2020, when he put up 39 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss, three sacks, and a pass deflection for the Hurricanes. He wasn’t able to sustain a starting role, however, and now heads to Indiana for his final season. Perhaps the 6’1″, 222-pound defender can get back on track in the Big Ten.
Jaylin Williams, CB
The Hoosiers return one of the better CB duos in college football in Jaylin Williams and Tiawan Mullen. Williams is a different mold than Mullen. He’s visibly longer and more of a size match for outside receivers.
That size also comes with less fluidity, but Williams still has enough athleticism and coordination to make plays on the ball. In fact, he flashes the body control to play passes like a WR at the catch point. That playmaking ability earned him 11 deflections in 2021 and could help fuel a 2023 NFL Draft ascension this coming season.
Tiawan Mullen, CB
Mullen has had the NFL draft on his radar since breaking out as a true freshman with 13 pass deflections in 2019. Since then, he hasn’t been quite as productive, but the appealing traits are still there.
Mullen is visibly undersized at around 5’10”, 180 pounds, but he’s a very active defender who employs fast feet and fluid hips in coverage, as well as great zone awareness in space. Although his ball production hasn’t kept up through 2021, Mullen’s shown before that he can be a playmaker and play the ball through the catch process.
Noah Pierre, CB
Now a redshirt senior, Noah Pierre’s emergence has been delayed in a deep secondary. Nevertheless, Pierre showed plenty of promise in 2021, particularly against Michigan State, when he made a gravity-defying interception in the end zone off Payton Thorne.
The returns of both Mullen and Williams likely relegate Pierre to a rotational or slot role. But Pierre has shown he has the quick-twitch athleticism and ball skills to be a viable player there.
Devon Matthews, S
With a talented cornerback cast, Devon Matthews could be primed for a rise ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. Matthews has been a steady contributor for the Hoosiers over the past few seasons. Since 2019, he’s accumulated 125 total tackles, five tackles for loss, a sack, two interceptions, and 11 pass deflections.
Standing at 6’2″, 205 pounds, Matthews has the size to come into the box and make tackles in run support. However, he’s also accrued experience in several different alignments on the back end, including single-high.
Bryant Fitzgerald, S
Playing the Hoosiers’ “Husky” position, Bryant Fitzgerald showed flashes of promise in 2021. The Indiana defender logged 41 total tackles, 5½ tackles for loss, and a sack in a hybrid safety role. Standing at 6’0″, 203 pounds, he might be a bit too small for a hybrid role in the NFL. That said, he’s proven to be physical enough at the point of attack, and he can close quickly coming downhill against runs and screens.
Josh Sanguinetti, S
It’s well established that the secondary is one of the strongest position groups on Indiana’s roster. Not only that, but it also appears to have an abundance of future NFL talent. One player near the back of the depth chart, but also assuredly in the pipeline, is defensive back Josh Sanguinetti.
With Fitzgerald presumably keeping his hybrid role, Sanguinetti may be asked to play more two-high safety alongside Matthews. Sanguinetti is a long 6’1″, 185-pound defender, who’s flashed the same ball skills that make many of his teammates coveted athletes.