Much of the discussion going into rookie drafts centers on the first few rounds. While not every player who goes that early will hit, the percentage that does is pretty high. If you can hit on a player in the later rounds, as everyone else is taking players who you aren’t even considering, it’s like you are getting a free first-rounder. They might not hit right away, but that’s why we have taxi squads.
Evan Hull, IND (Round 5)
The player: Hull has good size (209), speed (4.47), and production on the ground (1,009-7 in 2021, 913-6 in 2022). But what probably gets him on the field the quickest is his pass-catching. Hull had 55 catches for 546 yards in 2022, leading FBS backs.
NerdADP: 186 overall and RB55 between Kareem Hunt and Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Path to snaps: Hull may be buried on the depth chart for 2023. Jonathan Taylor is going to demand the bulk of the carries, and Zach Moss (76-365 in 2022) and Deon Jackson (68-236 and 30 catches-209) will each have a role. But all three of them are free agents after this season. Even if he doesn’t carve out many snaps this year, Hull could have a substantial role next year.
Northwestern RB Evan Hull is one of the most underrated playmakers in the 2023 NFL Draft. Shows his open field burst on this 4th down TD.— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) December 25, 2022
Really exciting player in space + a natural pass catcher. Led RBs in catches (55) and receiving yards (546) this season. Going to @seniorbowl pic.twitter.com/oBIAtT4CLm
Chase Brown, CIN (Round 5)
The player: Brown has good size (209), great speed (4.43), and was very productive in his last two years at Illinois. As a junior, he ran for 1,005 and five scores and increased to 1,643 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground with 27 catches for 240 yards and three scores in 2022.
NerdADP: 155 overall and RB45 between Ezekiel Elliott and Israel Abanikanda.
Path to snaps: With Samaje Perrine off to Denver, unless the Bengals sign another veteran, Brown slides immediately into a competition for the backup role with Chris Evans and Traveyon Williams. That was 555 snaps, 95 carries, and 51 targets for Perrine. Mixon is on a bloated contract that doesn’t match his play. He will likely be asked to redo his deal this offseason and is a likely cap casualty after the season, where the team can save over ten million with his release.
Chase Brown counter TD pic.twitter.com/P1Ukp1Owod— Matt (@CoachMinich) April 29, 2023
Zach Evans, LAR (Round 6)
The player: Evans was solid at both TCU and Ole Miss. While he only started 16 games over three years, his career average was 6.9 per carry (936 yards and 18 TDs in 2022). He’s got adequate size (5’11” 202) and speed (4.5) to be in the mix as a primary back.
NerdADP: 172 overall and RB50 between Damien Harris and Leonard Fournette.
Path to snaps: Evans’s path is what makes him most enticing. Cam Akers is a free agent after this year, and despite his success late last year, he has had a turbulent time in Los Angeles. The 2022 fifth-round pick Kyren Williams will also be in the mix. He had 35 carries and nine catches last year. Neither Akers nor Williams is rocks for a rebuilding team who would likely love to be able to go as cheaply as possible at RB.
Keaton Mitchell, BAL (Undrafted)
The player: Mitchell’s too small to ever be a primary back but too good and too fast (4.37) not to carve out a role somewhere. With 1,100+ yards and nine TDs in 2021 and 1,700 total yards and 14 rushing TDs in 2022, he was very productive.
Path to snaps: For a team that loves to run the football, there has to be a role for him. Dobbins will be the primary back, but he’s not reliable. Neither are Gus Edwards or Justice Hill. Dobbins and Edwards are both free agents next year. Mitchell could vacillate from having explosive plays in one game and decent fantasy numbers to being a nonfactor the next.
Sean Tucker, TBB (Undrafted)
The player: Tucker was very productive at Syracuse (3,000+ yards and 27 TDs over his career) but fell out of the draft reportedly due to an injury. Then the Bucs gave him a $155,000 guaranteed deal. If he can stay healthy, he is one of my favorite wildcards.
NerdADP: 234 overall and RB67 between James Robinson and Michael Carter.
Path to snaps: Rachaad White is going to be given the chance to lead this room with Chase Edmonds and Ke’Shawn Vaughn as veteran backups. Both Vaughn and Edmonds are free agents after this year giving a nice pathway to a rotational role for Tucker for 2024 at the latest.
Justin Shorter, BUF (Round 5)
The player: He has great size and good speed at 6’4” and 229 lbs, and he ran a 4.55 40 at the combine. Shorter caught 29-577-2 with a 19.9 avg in 2022 and 41-550-3 in 2021. He had just one drop during that time.
Path to snaps: Special teams should get Shorter on the roster in 2023. Any impact he has likely won’t come until 2024 and will be determined by how he plays this year and what happens with soon-to-be free agent Gabe Davis. DeAndre Hopkins is also a possibility, but he is 31.
AT Perry, NOS (Round 6)
The player: Perry is a big WR in a draft that didn’t have many. He is also a big play WR with 1,000+ yards in each of the last two years, when he had 15 TDs in 2021 and 11 in 2022.
Path to snaps: This comes down to Michael Thomas. His health and age leave questions. He’s caught just 56 balls over the last three injury-plagued years. Chris Olave is the centerpiece of that WR room, and Rashid Shaheed is a fun story, but there are lots of snaps available.
Trey Palmer, TBB (Round 6)
The player: Palmer blew up after transferring from LSU to Nebraska, catching 71-1043-9 in 2022. He has decent size and experience returning kicks. His 4.33 speed will give the Bucs a lot to work with.
Path to snaps: Beyond their starters, the Bucs are especially thin at WR. Gage and Godwin are signed through the next two years, but Evans is a free agent next year. Outside of the big three, Deven Thompkins had 79 snaps, and Kaylon Geiger only nine. There is an opportunity to make the roster in 2023 and carve out meaningful snaps in 2024.
Rakim Jarrett, TBB (Undrafted)
The player: Jarrett was mostly a slot receiver at Maryland, where he never caught more than 830 yards in three years of starting. He posted a 4.44 forty at the combine. Jarrett went undrafted despite skipping his final season.
NerdADP: 209 overall, WR92 in between Khalil Shakir and Mecole Hardman.
Path to snaps: Jarrett enters the same roster as Trey Palmer but with slightly less investment. He has a long-term upside on a team with big questions beyond the top three. The Bucs gave him $225,000 guaranteed to sign as a UDFA.
Rakim Jarrett’s 62-yard TD. Second of the day for the Freshman. pic.twitter.com/CsedBoqiFZ— Morgan Weaver (@morganweaver_) November 7, 2020
Elijah Higgins, MIA (Round 6)
The player: The 6’3″ and 235-pound Higgins played WR at Stanford but was announced as a TE for the Dolphins. He led Stanford in receiving in both 2021 (45-500-4) and 2022 (59-704-2), with 79% of his snaps coming from the slot. He has great speed, having run a 4.54 forty at the combine, which would have tied for fastest amongst TEs. PFF gave him a 61.7 run-blocking grade on 217 snaps.
Path to snaps: The Dolphins return starter Durham Smythe but must replace Mike Gesicki. Smythe had 598 total snaps with nearly 70% blocking. He caught 15-129-1. Gesicki is on to the Patriots, taking with him his 506 snaps and 32 catches on 52 targets. The team did add Eric Saubert, who caught 15-148-1 for the Broncos last year.
.@StanfordFball staff told us WR Elijah Higgins hit 21.5 mph GPS on this 56-yard TD last year. Only offensive players faster than that at last year’s @seniorbowl were third-round WRs Danny Gray (22.0) & Velus Jones (21.7). Stupid speed considering @ehigggz is around 240 lbs. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/ml4d6F8vb7— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) July 27, 2022
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