Time again for my annual list of undervalued draft sleepers and smaller school prospects who deserve more attention in the NFL draft.
For 19 years now, I have made the analysis of lesser-known, small school, and undervalued NFL draft prospects my obsession. Over the years, I’ve tweeted about, written about, mock-drafted, interviewed, argued about, and generally died on the hilltop for “my” guys. Over the years, I’ve missed on a few I liked (Hello, Buckshot Calvert!) and missed on some I should have included but didn’t (hello, Darius Leonard!)
However, I did hit on a few very unexpected home runs, too. Like when I watched 15 minutes of Texas Tech film and shouted “Patrick Mahomes is what a future Hall Of Fame QB looks like.” My work here is done… almost.
Here are a few past B2Bers, more or less the B2B Hall Of Fame:
Patrick Mahomes, Jared Veldheer, Richard Sherman, Carlos Dunlap, Emmanuel Sanders, Jimmy Graham, Josh Norman, Alterraun Verner, Junior Galette, Jordan Cameron, Tarik Cohen, Kevin Byard, Kenny Golladay, Julius Thomas, Buster Skrine, Doug Martin, Bruce Irvin, Robert Turbin, J.R.Sweezy, Jamie Collins, Brandon Williams, Paul Worrilow, Jarvis Landry, Javon Hargrave, George Fant, Malcolm Mitchell, Karl Joseph, Adrian Colbert, Cooper Rush, Chase Allen, Sharif Finch, Jatavis Brown, J.T. Hassel, Jessie Bates, Nik Needham, James Robinson, Donald Parham, Garrett Wallow, Elijah Mitchell, Kenneth Gainwell, Larry Borom, Cole Strange, … and more each year.
In general, I tend to favor what a player shows they can do that has outlier potential– what is the best this player can be– paired with the football personality and working style to bring that to fruition. Give me a guy with heart, football smarts, and athletic ability and shame on you if you can’t figure out how to make him a player.
This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive. I’m sure there will be a sleeper or two who make it in the NFL who isn’t on this list… but it’s not because I didn’t try to find him.
For some background on how I got started with this and a list of previous year’s teams, click the following links:
2015 B2B Directional State Team
2016 B2B Directional State Team
2017 B2B Directional State Team
2018 B2B Directional State Team
2019 B2B Directional State Team
2020 B2B Directional State Team
2021 B2B Directional State Team
and the 2022 B2B Driectional State Team
Read this, and I promise you’ll know more about the rosters of preseason games and the XFL/USFL than you ever thought possible! (Hello, Lucky Jackson!) Amaze your friends!
Special shout out to: Ric Serritella, Bill Carroll, everyone at in the Annual Draft-A-Team, Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan, Damond Talbot at DraftDiamonds.com and especially Korey Karbowsky for doing the digging and bringing names forward.
Without further ado, the best of the B2Best:
B2B Directional Player of the Year: QB Kory Curtis, Gannon (Bryant/Ohio State)
Scouting quarterbacks for their NFL potential can turn into an endless loop of spread offenses, checkdowns, and skittish runs out of pressure in the pocket. But all that wading through the usual suspects makes the experience of seeing someone special so staggering.
Like the very best prospects I have seen over the years of doing this, his play jumps off the tape immediately. He’s opbivously big-like in the neighborhood of Big Ben big-and has outrageous arm velocity that is immediately obvious. But dig a little deeper and you see some of that mysterious thing we call “it”. He plays with ton of confidence and has the arm to deliver the promises his ego makes… that is simply the best trait combo a QB can have. His accuracy and navigation of the pocket with subtle movement… advanced.
Throws with fantastic velocity and can place throws exactly where they need to be. Gets through progression better than most college QBs and throws with more anticipation than majority of his colleagues as well. –Korey Karbowsky at SC Draft Analysis
So, how did he end up in Erie, PA, playing Division 2 football? Curtis believed in himself enough to turn down full scholarship offers elsewhere to walk-on to an Ohio State team with two future top 15 NFL pick QBs already there (Dwayne Haskins, Joe Burrow). He ended up playing a season+ running the scout team with full contact practices against a star-studded defense with multiple NFL 1st round picks. Of course, he had his own roster of NFL studs, but learning the speed of the game vs elite defenders was a huge growing experience. Basically, he studied football with offensive guru Ryan Day while earning a degree in Molecular Biology, then left in search of not only playing time but also in search of a school with a grad degree program that was a priority for him outside of football. On the field, he learned his third offensive system while proving himself yet again at the Division II level in scenic Erie, PA.
If he had stayed at OSU, maybe he would have gotten a shot after his best friend Dwayne Haskins left, or maybe the recruited QBs being brought in would continue to leapfrog him in the pecking order… who knows. He might have been in the conversation to be the first overall pick. As it is, he proved what he can do and was likely one of the most impressive in meetings and workouts. All he needs is a shot.
Off-the Map Power 5 Defensive POY: S Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma St
As they face a continuous barrage of short passing game and RPOs, it can be challenging to evaluate safety play in modern college football. Lately I have been looking for safeties who make plays at all three levels of the defense. It indicates to me that they’re not lined up too deep, that their read and react skills are on point, their tackling a good trait, and generally that they have football IQ and awareness. I mean you can drift through your career and be okay, but playmakers are gold. Jason Taylor is a real playmaker, with underrated deep range, closing instincts in zone, and the desire to be involved in tackling and run support. 99 tackles, 6 INTs, 3.5 TFL, 7 passes defensed are outstanding numbers for a safety. He was definitely a player I didn’t have any expectations about who kept popping to the top of my list.
Off-the Map Power 5 Offensive POY: Alex Forsyth, Oregon
When you’re playing an unsung position of the unsung fraternity that is offensive line… and the first clip of your highlight video is you burying one of the best interior DL of the last 10 years, you have my attention. Not the greatest athlete on paper, but the game isn’t played on paper.
Strong play strength and has a great anchor. Road paver in the run game and is scheme versatile. Vice grip hands. Good puller from the center position and is a great logger. Don’t overthink (it). –SC Draft Analysis
Underappreciated Non-Power 5 FBS DPOY: Durrell Johnson, Liberty
Starting in the obscurity that comes with playing JUCO ball and continuing into his career at still-off-the-radar Liberty, Durrell Johnson hasn’t gained much national attention but it hasn’t stopped him from using his tremendous length (6032 251 33 7/8 arm, 80 1/4 wingspan) and tenacity to pretty much wreck opponents’ offensive plans. In his career, he had 56.5TFL, 30 sacks, 3 FF, 2 INT, 6 PD, and 3 FR.
Underappreciated Non-Power 5 FBS OPOY: Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, Houston
In the last two seasons, tank Dell has 199 receptions and 30 TDs on 242 touches… most of them spectacular. If draft rankings were based on fun quotient, he’d be a top 5 pick, easily. Sure, you can attempt to pigeonhole him as an undersized waterbug, but the truth is more nuamced. Even thought he weighs less than 170lbs, he has a football build and can handle and even thrive under contact. PFF reported that he led CFB in yards per target vs man coverage, and watching him terrorize big, fast CBs it’s not hard to believe that stat.
FCS Defensive Player Of The Year: LB Marte Mapu, Sacramento State
If I take the season as a whole, from the start of camp to the championships and on into the all-star circuit, the defensive player who impressed me most was the position-flexible LB/S from Hawthorne, CA. The All-American and Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year accumulated 165 tackles, 13 TFL, 7 INT, a blocked punt, and 22 pass breakups in his career, but it was his staggeringly standout play at the NFLPA and especially Senior Bowl that elevated him to perhaps the top defensive sleeper prospect in the draft class. Measuring a very linebacker size of 6’3″ and 221lbs in Mobile, he blanketed shifty RBs & strong TEs in coverage, then blew up multiple run plays, including one where he blasted through a FB, knocking the hapless blocker into the RB.
FCS Offensive Player of the Year: Hunter Luepke, NDSU
Hunter Luepke was simply the best player on a team over the course of his tenure that was inarguably the best team in the entire FCS. He was their featured runner, their top receiver, and basically their everything. His reward for that kind of outstanding play and production? He gets labeled a Fullback by lazy draft analysts. Let’s review:
FB Kyle Juszczyk 6012 248 4.71 40y
HB Derrick Henry 6025 247 4.54
HB LeGarrette Blount 6004 241 4.74
HB Najee Harris 6013 232 4.52 (supposedly)
?? Hunter Luepke 6012 234 4.57
Why do people think Luepke is a FB? It’s not his weight. It’s not his speed. What is it? Hunter Luepke is a prize– a running back with incredible versatility to go with size and speed. Sure, a team could use him in a Kyle Juszczyk role as a multi tool role player, but Luepke is so much more than that. 274 carries for 1665 yds 24 TDs as a rusher & 38 receptions for 494 yards and 9 TDs as a receiver. That means he gained 6.9 yards per touch and scored a TD basically 1 out of 9 times he touched the ball. Bottom line: he’s a great football player and is going to be a stud in the NFL.
D2 Defensive Player Of The Year: DJ Adediwura, Slippery Rock
After losing the 2020 season to COVID cancellations and the entire 2021 season to a knee injury, Adediwura returned with a vengeance after almost 3 years off a football field. He racked up 10.5 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, 15 QB hurries, and a spot on the Division 2 1st team All-American. He finished his four-year career with 54.0 tackles for loss, which ranked fifth among all active Division II players in the nation.
D2 Offensive Player Of The Year: John Matocha, Colorado School of Mines
It’s really a shame there isn’t a league of regular sized people for guys like this to play in. Total gamer, nice touch, elusive in the pocket… he’s just undersized and under-armed for the NFL level. Harlon Hill winner who completely outclassed Tyson Bagent and his team in the semifinal. If he had even an average NFL arm, he’d be a prospect just because he’s a great football player. Going to rule pickup football games for the next 30 years
D3/NAIA POY: Ethan Greenfield, North Central
North Central College is one of the annual powerhouse teams in D3, and Ethan Greenfield was the heartbeat of their dream season, 14-0 year culminating in the D3 National Championship. His D3-leading 1,997 rushing yards & 26 rushing touchdowns featured remarkable consistency: he rushed for at least 100 yards in 13 of 14 contests. His running style would best be described as determined– he ran around, through, and past defenders, while also being a quality receiving target and pass protector.
The “If This Were 1975, I’d be a 1st Rd Pick” or “Borderline Too Violent For This Sport” Award:
JD DiRenzo, Rutgers
Kyle Nunez, Stony Brook
Lachlan Pitts, William & Mary
What is the best part of football?
‘Legalized violence’ – JD DiRenzo, Rutgers
DiRenzo–grandson of a 1940s Philadelphia Eagle and former QB––plays like a 1940s leather-helmeted guy with violence issues. But then there’s the 363lb bully, Nunez, who grew up hearing the legends of the 1970s Steelers from his family of diehard fans, then apparently decided to play like their defense from that era. And, oh yeah, Pitts, a 6’6″ 263lb TE who blocks like an elite 300lb O-Lineman. Too hard to decide which one wins. This year, we salute the meanest, borderline illegal, most violent blockers in the class:
The B2B Honorary Karl Joseph People Had Me As A Third Rounder But I’m Going In The top 50 Award: AJ Finley, Mississippi
I feel like some day before the draft, people are going to suddenly realize there’s a good-sized playmaking safety from the SEC who is available in a somewhat barren safety class… and they’re going to be like OH MY GOD. Finley played four years in the best conference in football and is still only 21 years old. With 6 interceptions, the ability to play in the box or in the deep half, and a game-sealing pick six vs Texas A&M, he should be one of the first safeties off the board.
“Rangy safety who has good hips. Great ball skills. Solid tackler… Young guy which will boost his draft stock. Lots to like…”–SC_Draft Analysis
B2B Unwanted to NFL Award: BJ Wilson, Quincy
BJ Wilson was high school TE interested in playing basketball and the basketball coach at Quincy almost stole him on his recruiting visit… but in the end his football coach let him no in no uncertain terms that Wilson was going to be “his” on the football team. After a redshirt season, the coaches came to him and said, “How would you feel about switching to OL?”
Wilson said, ” Uh, I really like being a tight end.”
Coaches, ” Uh, well, you’re switching.
Wilson said he wasn’t happy but then a funny thing happened: he got good at being a tackle– it helps to be 6’6″ with 37″ arms–and one day, NFL scouts starting dropping by. His coaches were like, “See? That’s why we wanted you to switch.”
So, once he starting having success and NFL attention, why did he stay at such a remote-in-football-terms school? Here’s what he had to say:
“I think there are good football players at every level. Everybody understands that. I was extremely loyal to Quincy. I believe I had opportunities to transfer and play at a bigger program but I wanted to finish my career at Quincy. That’s the school that gave me an opportunity and I wanted to repay their loyalty.”
That kind of loyalty and “team”-centered behavior off the field to go with his determination to beat down opponents on the field may pay off in the long run.
New for 2022: Honorary McKenzie-Griffin-McCourty-Hollister-Pouncey Seeing Double Award: Chase and Sydney Brown, Illinois
No one could get too mixed up between these two Canadian twins playing on opposite sides of the ball for Illinois (unlike Bryon Young of Alabama & Byron Young of Tennessee both playing defensive line for the same Senior Bowl team), but both will find their way into the NFL draft. Sydney, in particular, had a tremendous season in the defensive backfield for perhaps the best defensive backfield in CFB and is a terrific athlete, besting his twin by a half inch with a 40.5″ vertical jump.
Honorable mention: CB Anthony Johnson, Virginia, S Anthony Johnson, Iowa State, & S Antonio Johnson Texas A&M
Meatloaf “I Would Do Anything For Love (but I Can’t Do That)” Award: Calvin Avery, Illinois
— Nick Martin (@themicknartin) April 13, 2023
Coaches came to the nearly-400lb Defensive Tackle after last season and told him he could be a starter on one of the best defenses in college football… but only if he dropped 40lbs. So, they gave him a choice: either you drop 40lbs on your own, or we will make you move in to the Strength Coach’s apartment, eat what he eats, stay at home like he does, and be the most boring college kid on the team. Avery opted to lose 40lbs on his own… and did. He started and played extremely well, with his season highlighted by his performance against John Michael Schmitz–the likely 1st Center picked in the draft–including tossing Schmitz like a rag doll on the opening snap of the game.
B2B For The Love Of The Game Award: Ja’Veon Ensley, Stetson
The Jim Thorpe “The More You Can Do” Award: Sy Barnett, Davenport
SJSU WR Elijah Cooks shares what it means to make the SportsCenter Top 10 and breaks down the catch that brought him there. pic.twitter.com/HnwI7K00wh
— The Spear (@TheSpearSJSU) November 17, 2022
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) August 31, 2019
WR Tank Dell, Houston
WR Jadakis Bonds, Hampton
DT Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma
DL Kobie Turner, Wake Forest
DT Calvin Avery, Illinois
EDGE Durrell Johnson, Liberty
EDGE George Tarlas, Boise State
LB Marte Mapu, Sacramento State
LB Lonnie Phelps, Jr., Kansas
LB Zaire Barnes, Western Michigan
SCB Christian Braswell, Rutgers
CB Isaiah Bolden, Jackson State
CB Kaleb Hayes, Brigham Young
S Nico Bolden, Kent State
S Jason Taylor II, Oklahoma State
The 2023 B2B Directional State Team
RB Izzy Ibanikanda, PittsburghRB Deneric Prince, Tulsa
RB Maurice Washington, Grambling What a story for this prospect. On a purely talent basis– like the stuff you can’t teach–he’s a top 5 RB in the class. He has tremendous hands, breakaway speed, and perhaps the best vision in the class. After being a highly coveted recruit, his trajectory at Nebraska seemed on course for a Heisman candidacy, but got derailed over a technicality conviction for sending a friend and illegally recorded video of her as a minor. He got booted from school, and then re-surfaced a year later at Grambling, where he continued to show the speed and skills he demonstrated in the Power 5. But still, there’s been something off since mid-year. He was sharing carries with lesser talent, he left school early to declare for the draft, he made one great play in an all-star game practice and then hurt his knee (after measuring 25-30lbs less than his season playing weight… and has been notably absent from the two pro days where he was invited. I don’t know where this leaves him in terms of what’s next, but watch this highlight reel. He can really play and, if he can get it together, there’s a real chance he surfaces in the NFL.
“Great vision, fuck you runner who isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder. Has good speed and can accelerate past LBs and Safeties who take bad angles. Doesn’t waste time and gets upfield when there is a hole. Very shifty and has great contact balance. Extremely good pass protector, good technique and has the strength to stick guys. Soft hands and runs good routes. Very complete package as a RB and has a nasty mentality that a lot of RBs are succeeding with right now.” –SC Draft Analysis
OL Chris Toth, Aurora His teammate told us Toth hasn’t lost a pass-rushing rep in his entire practice career at Aurora. I don’t care where you play, that’s impressive. A tackle by trade, he’ll slide perfectly into a guard position and give some team a lot of bang for the price tag.
OL Ahofitu Maka, Texas-San Antonio
OL BJ Wilson, Quincy
OL Joey Fisher, Shepherd
OL Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion
“Freak show jump ball catcher. Plays with ridiculous strength at the catchpoint. ELITE tester and has more YAC ability than WVU set him up for. Has a focus issue on his hands…but when he’s locked in his hands are phenomenal.”– SC Draft Analysis
WR Thyrick Pitts, Delaware Pitts was a star at the FCS level, with 1o TDs in 2021, then when his school moved up to FBS, he continued to dominate with another 10 receiving TDs, a third of all of the Blue Hens receiving TDs in 2022.
WR Nathaniel ‘Tank’ Dell, Houston (see above)
DL J-Min Pelley, Calgary One of the great draft season injustices is that this planet-theory human didn’t get a chance to work out for NFL scouts. Due to a weird quirk and the effects of COVID restrictions, he was granted a waiver to enter a CFL supplemental draft last year, so even though he is draft eligible–and it’s not impossible he’ll be selected in the NFL draft–the NFL prohibited him from attending a pro day nor working out for scouts. This was most likely due to the NFL wanting to play nice with the CFL, who has him under contract. But here’s the thing: he’s an athletic 6’5″ 335lb… at least… with massive size and tree-length arms. He was unblockable in Canadian USports, playing as both a nose tackle and 5-technique (his college highlight reel is ridiculous). His coach with the Edmonton Eskimos (CFL) said recently he thinks the sky’s the limit for Pelley, and it’s not hard to believe he might get there… he can almost reach it standing on flat feet.
LB Dorian Williams, Tulane
LB Isaiah Land, Florida A&M
LB Ryan Greenhagen, Fordham Tackling machine who once had 20 tackles in a game vs Nebraska. But also surprisingly adept in coverage for a guy most will see as a thumper MLB.
“Great instincts coming downhill. Not afriad to bring the contact to the OL and will move them backwards on contact. Great at sifting from the back-side and is very gap-disciplined… very good at getting to his zone benchmarks and closing windows and (stood out at Hula Bowl) in backs v. backers which is notoriously slanted towards RBs. Very good short area quickness especially for his size.”-SCDraftAnalysis
LB Chris Kolarevic, Nebraska
LB Amaud Willis-Dalton, McNeese State
LB Johnny Buchanan, Delaware
LB Ben Van Sumeren, Michigan State
LB Zeke Vandenburgh, Illinois State
LB Lonnie Phelps, Jr., Kansas Absolute wrecking ball when blitzing or coming downhill vs the run. As a bonus, a fantastic STs contriubtor who seems built for that part of the game.
ST coaches are lobbying GMs right now to draft @KU_Football sleeper Lonnie Phelps Jr., who runs 4.55 at 245 lbs.
BUT he also affects QB w/ relentless Tasmanian Devil-like rush game (15.5 sacks past 2 years).
Trust us, you want @Lonniephelps10 on your NFL team next fall.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) April 12, 2023
LB Ben Van Summeren, Michigan State Nowaske’s counterpart at the power 5 level. Another absolute workout freak. His production isn’t eye-popping but he does stand out on the field––moves more fluidly than other guys.
“Good sideline to sideline speed. Very good in coverage.” –SC Draft Analysis
LB Carlton Martial, Troy
LB Issac Slade-Matautia, Southern Methodist
LB Michael Ayers, Ashland (6017 224 lb 3338 arm 900 hand) Smaller school players getting their chance at a big college all-star game make for great stories, but Ayers––who plays at a school so obscure, even I had to double-check to remind myself it’s located between Columbus and Akron, OH and about a million miles from THE Ohio State or the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That said, Ayers definitely belongs alongside the prospects with higher pedigrees and bigger names. He has good instincts and a willingness to act on it which resulted in him sniffing out RPOs and always being around the ball. He is one of the better 2023 LBs in coverage, which as a former safety with very fluid movement skills should be the strength of his game and is. His 2022 campaign featured 81 tackles, 10.5 TFL, three sacks, an interception, eight pass breakups, 11 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Nice pass breakup by Ashland LB Michael Ayers pic.twitter.com/GcNAAFey86
— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 29, 2023
LB Cam Jones, Indiana
LB Dillon Doyle, Baylor
CB Isaiah Bolden, Jackson State Sometimes when I’m compiling this roster of prospects I’m just dumbfounded by the lack of notoriety and draft buzz for some of these guys. Isaiah Bolden is the CB that pretty much every GM and fan is searching for: over 6’3″, 210 lbs, and ran the 40 in 4.31. On top of that, he’s been coached by one of the greatest CBs in the history of the game, which doesn’t hurt. Watching him at the NFLPA Bowl practices, he exuded the confidence that kind of training and experience yields. With long arms, great vertical speed and the ability to play inside, outside, and even safety, he should be on every team’s radar. Oh, and he is one of the best Punt and Kick Returners in the draft:
Christian Braswell, Rutgers
Braswell is simply one of the very best defensive slot players in the draft–a position that has greatly increased in importance and teams are not only moving to using nickel formation a majority of the time but also because offenses are challenging slot defenders by running at them and using an eclectic range of size and shapes as receivers in the slot. He hunts tackles underneath and in the run game, he blankets slot receivers, and he has the versatility to pretty much line up anywhere in the defensive backfield against anyone the offense can send out there. The fact that he wasn’t; invited to the combine is the NFL’s loss. At his pro day he backed up his performance on film with an outstanding 4.49 40yd, a 4.21 short shuttle, a 6.82 3-cone, a 40″ Vertical, and an explosive 11′ broad jump.
CB Kaleb Hayes, BYU (5113 196 lb 3338 arm 848 hand) Confident, loose hips. Plays well at the catch point and exercises patience to wait for the ball and play through the receiver’s pocket to knock away would-be catches. No panic.
CB Art Green, Houston
CB Kyeon Taylor, Kean
CB Cameron McCutcheon, Western Carolina
CB Rezjohn Wright, Oregon State
CB Darrel Luter, South Alabama
CB De’Jahn Warren, Jackson State
CB Mason Pierce, Colorado School of Mines
CB Jaylin White, UC-Davis
CB Darrious Gaines, Western Colorado
CB Steven Jones Jr., Appalachian State
CB Montrae Braswell, Missouri State
CB Steven Jones Jr., Appalachian State
CB Steven Gilmore, Marshall
CB AJ Woods, Pittsburgh
CB BJ Bohler, Florida A&M
CB Benito Speight, Maine
CB Carrington Valentine, Kentucky
CB Tyrique Stephenson, Miami (Florida)
CB Anthony Kendall, Baldwin-Wallace It’s not every day you find a good-sized, physical DB with high-pointing ball skills in Division III football, but here we are. Kendall put up a nice pro day to go with D2 All-American honors and senior season with 56 tackles,1 sack 4 TFL, 1 FF, & 3 INTs.
CB Christian Braswell, Rutgers (see above)
CB Jordan Jones, Rhode Island
CB Starling Thomas IV, Alabama-Birmingham
CB Devious Christman, Bethel (TN)
CB Nirion Washington, Charleston
CB Cameron Mitchell, Northwestern
CB Keenan Isaac, Alabama State
S Hunter Reynolds, Utah State
S Jason Taylor, Oklahoma State (see above)
“Super versatile player who can play every position in the defensive backfield. Played mostly safety for Rutgers and did a good job preventing big plays and covering ground. Played outside corner at the hula bowl in 1v1s and was one of if not the best performer there. Played lots of nickel in the game and shut that down well with two PBUs. Bumped back to safety and was everywhere filling gaps in the run game.”–SC Draft Analysis
WR Mac Hippenhammer, Miami (OH)
CB DJ Ivey, Miami (FL)