The 2023 NFL Draft is closing in with and of all 32 teams counting down the days until the first selections are announced. While many football lovers are now familiar with some of the top prospects in the 2023 draft class, there are still some players flying under the radar.
Underrated draft prospects don’t necessarily have to be projected Day 2 selections. Sometimes there’s a first-round talent who is still not receiving quite enough recognition in positional rankings and 2023 NFL mock drafts.
Related: Most overrated prospects in 2023 NFL Draft
While that is the case for one prospect on our list of most undervalued players, the remaining examples will all likely not hear their names called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in Round 1. Instead, they will achieve their childhood dream on Day 2 as they hope to join a growing list of players who went outside the first round and then achieved excellence in the NFL.
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Let’s dive into the five most underrated prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver, Ohio State
Before the 2022 college football season began, many viewed Jaxon Smith-Njigba as the best wide receiver in the draft class. The Ohio State Buckeyes star delivered a memorable performance in the Rose Bowl, a showing that everyone hoped would springboard him into stardom.
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Instead, everything that could go wrong for the 2021 third-team All-American did this past year. Smith-Njigba played in just three games and collected just three receptions for 10 receiving yards in two of those contests. A nagging hamstring injury derailed his junior season and eventually led to him sitting out of the CFP Semifinal. Fortunately, the pre-draft process is reminding everyone just how good he can be.
“I don’t ever remember anyone ever covering Jaxon.”Ohio State coach Ryan Day on wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (H/T James Palmer)
Related: 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver rankings
While some had concerns with his speed, Smith-Njigba’s 4.5 40 time is right on par with the likes of CeeDee Lamb and Amon-Ra St. Brown. The 6-foot wideout posted an 8.56 Relative Athletic Score, a favorable number for his size.
We now get to Smith-Njigba simply as a football player. He is the best route runner in the 2023 NFL Draft, showing an understanding of route-running that is usually only seen in veteran NFL receivers. He might only be suited to play in the slot, but St. Brown just posted a 1,100-yard season with 106 receptions in 16 games from the slot. Smith-Njigba can be the go-to receiver in the right offense.
Jack Campbell, linebacker, Iowa
Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell is another example of a player whose draft stock was relatively lower heading into the NFL Combine over his lack of athleticism. All the 6-foot-5 former Hawkeyes’ defensive leader did is post a 9.98 RAS that compares to T.J. Watt and Leighton Vander Esch.
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Campbell, PFF’s highest-graded linebacker since 2016, is excellent against the run. He ranked 13th in the nation in PFF’s run-defense grade (85.6), recording 32 run stops and just a 9.1 percent missed tackle rate. It’s an important skill to have in an era when NFL teams are getting worse at run defense. Of course, he’s also extremely reliable in coverage – 70.2 passer rating allowed in coverage – making him a quality three-down starter who will be available midway through Day 2.
Darnell Washington, tight end, Georgia
A realistic scenario for Georgia Bulldogs’ tight end might be him becoming the next Marcedes Lewis. While that might not be the flashiest name, consider that Lewis has played in the NFL for 17 seasons and there are multiple teams that want to sign him in free agency.
Washington could also be even better than Lewis. Receiving a 9.87 RAS from a phenomenal showing at the NFL Combine, Lewis is a rare athlete for a 6-foot-6 and 264-pound tight end. Not only is he an outstanding blocker, who some might even view as a future offensive lineman, but he can also make spectacular catches in traffic and be a dominant force in the red zone. Washington is the player who an entire coach staff and the starting quarterback will love.
Roschon Johnson, running back, Texas
NFL teams in need of reinforcements at running back should be quite pleased with the 2023 draft class. One club will have to spend a first-round pick on Bijan Robinson and he’s the generational talent at the position who warrants that selection. Later in the 2023 NFL Draft, another team is going to land a gem with Roschon Johnson.
Johnson, Robinson’s backup at Texas, will enter the NFL with no concerns about the workload he received influencing the length of his career. That’s already a huge factor working in his favor. Putting that aside, Johnson forced 42 missed tackles (PFF) last season and averaged a higher yards after contact average (4.28) than Robinson (4.17).
If that’s not enough to entice you, Johnson’s 12.8 percent rate of big runs (10-plus yards) helps prove why he can be a very effective 1B running back in the NFL and he should be available in the fourth round.
Zach Harrison, edge rusher, Ohio State
Similar to his Ohio State teammate, expectations were quite high for Zach Harrison entering the 2022 season. If he played well, everyone believed the Buckeyes’ pass rusher would become a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite all come together for him.
While the stat line disappointed NFL teams, their focus is on Harrison’s future. The pre-draft process helped the 6-foo5-4 defensive end demonstrate why he should be a much better NFL player than he was in college.
Harrison’s arm length (36.25 inches), athleticism (8.69 RAS), pedigree (five-star recruit in 2019) and size check off all the boxes for a prototype edge rusher. He does play smaller at times, showing a lack of physicality and aggressiveness, but those are things that can be worked on with a defensive line coach. Get Harrison to the right organization, paired with a veteran pass rusher, and he’ll become an impact starter by 2025 while playing a complementary role in 2023.