The start of the 2023 NFL Draft is less than one month away. However, there are still a few players who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. These are three players who might get drafted on Day 3 but will still make a sizeable impact in the NFL.
3 NFL Draft Sleepers
D.J. Johnson, Outside Linebacker
D.J. Johnson has evolved through this pre-draft process. He showed out at the Senior Bowl, and when watching his tape, it’s obvious he used to play tight end. He has good size at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. He ran a 4.90 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which will grab everybody’s attention. Johnson also benched 28 reps with 225 pounds.
His technique is raw, but he has excellent first-step quickness. The inconsistencies in his technique can be corrected. The thing you can’t coach is the energy and the effort that he plays with. He goes 90 miles per hour on every down. Defensive line coaches will fall in love with Johnson because of his potential.
He is a little older, but Johnson does not have a lot of tread on his tires. He’ll have an impact in his rookie season as a rotational pass rusher while learning and growing into his position. He reminds me of D.J. Wonnum, who we drafted out of South Carolina during my time with the Minnesota Vikings. We selected Wonnum in the fourth round, so I could see Johnson going early on Day 3.
Eric Gray, Running Back
Oklahoma running back Eric Gray (scouting report) is another player who isn’t getting enough recognition. He transferred from Tennessee after the 2020 season and played well with the Sooners.
Gray is a violent runner on film, and the only rookie from the 2022 season who ran with as much violence was Isiah Pacheco. There’s something different with Gray, though. He can stop and start to make people miss in the open field and lower his shoulder to get a lot of yards after contact. Gray can also catch the ball out of the backfield well.
He might get lost in the shuffle because this is such a strong running back class. His most significant weakness is probably his pure speed. He did not run at the combine, so I’m eager to see what he runs at his pro day. If I had to make an NFL comparison, Gray reminds me a lot of long-time New York Giants RB Tiki Barber. Gray’s pass-catching skills and ability to start, stop and run hard remind me of Barber’s running style.
Gray’s only negative is his lack of long speed to finish plays once he gets to the second level. But he will create a lot of chunk yards for some team.
Trey Palmer, Wide Receiver
When you watch Nebraska WR Trey Palmer (scouting report), there’s no question he’ll be a vertical threat in the NFL. He needs some route refinement, but he does have strong hands, allowing him to make a lot of plays down the field.
He had a massive game against Purdue this year. He recorded seven catches, 237 yards receiving, 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns against the Boilermakers. Palmer joined the Cornhuskers after transferring from LSU following the 2021 season. His game reminds me a lot of Mike Wallace because of that vertical speed. Wallace had four seasons with at least 900 yards receiving in his career.
Palmer has a legit chance to make a lot of big plays down the field because he’s going to blow by defenders at the next level. There are a lot of teams watching this kid. They’ve watched him at the Senior Bowl, and there are probably a lot of internal conversations about him. I’d wager more than the exposure he’s getting from the media. Palmer probably won’t get drafted on Day 2, but he’s on the borderline of Days 2 and 3.
Rick Spielman is a former general manager of the Dolphins and Vikings, and winner of the NFL Executive of the Year award by Pro Football Weekly in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @spielman_rick