5 late-round prospects who deserve more love in the 2023 NFL draft

It can be hard to remember that the NFL draft extends out to seven rounds. Much of the focus goes to the first couple of rounds, the realm where teams are selecting mostly players that fans watched excel in college and all-star games. The later rounds don’t get as much recognition, often featuring prospects that are more under the national radar.

Here are five players who generally project in the final rounds of the draft, or perhaps even as a priority free agent, who should be ranked higher or shown more pre-draft love.

Chase Brown, RB, Illinois

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Brown isn’t as highly rated as his twin brother, Sydney, who is a Day 2 prospect at safety. Chase Brown has a lot to offer, too.

Powerfully built at 5-foot-9 and 209 pounds, Brown offers breakaway speed and instant acceleration through the hole. Illinois tracked his top speed at 22.5 MPH and it shows on game film. Brown reliably catches the ball out of the backfield and can turn it upfield quickly.

There are two legit knocks on Brown: he fumbles too much and he’s often too fast for his blocking. Fumbling can be helped with coaching. Adding more variety into his all-gas/no-brakes style could help Brown become an Austin Ekeler-type of player at the next level. The native Canadian has that kind of talent ceiling, yet Brown is consistently projected in the 150-200 overall range of the draft.

Caleb Murphy, EDGE, Ferris State

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Murphy set the NCAA record by bagging 25.5 sacks as a senior for the Bulldogs, the D-II national champion. His burst off the snap and ability to finish plays in the backfield leaps off game film and certainly in person, where I saw Murphy three times in his college career.

The first of those viewings came while Murphy was at Grand Valley State, the archrival of Ferris State and a national power in its own right. Murphy pulled off the D-II equivalent of transferring from LSU to Alabama and thrived.

As a prospect, Murphy compares to a bigger version of 2022 sixth-round pick James Houston, who finished second amongst rookies in sacks for the Lions. Murphy is a little tight as an athlete and needs to learn some countermoves for when he doesn’t win off the snap. His NFL Scouting Combine testing numbers were underwhelming, which leaves Murphy as a late Day 3 prospect or priority free agent. I’ve seen him play faster than he timed, and there might not be five better finishers in this draft class.

Kei'Trel Clark, CB, Louisville

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Clark appeals to fans who don’t mind corners who will give up a big play or two as a tradeoff for making more plays. He’s an aggressive corner with a good fight/size of dog ratio.

A transfer from Liberty, Clark moved to the slot for his final season at Louisville and found where he’ll play at the next level. His quick reactions, above-average agility and savvy to sniff out screens and combo routes stood out. Clark steadily improved his positioning and ability to handle more physical receivers on the inside.

He’s a Day 3 prospect because Clark is smallish (5-10/181) with small hands, short arms and a propensity to get lost in bunch set coverages. Clark showed real promise in the slot, albeit with some expected growing pains. His progress arc should continue upward with a coaching staff that appreciates what kind of player he is.

McClendon Curtis, OL, Chattanooga

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Curtis has some impressive game film from his days at FCS-level Chattanooga, where he played both guard spots as well as left tackle for the Moccs. He’ll be a guard in the NFL thanks to some athletic limitations with foot quickness and balance in space.

The Senior Bowl was a great opportunity for Curtis to prove he could handle himself against higher-level competition, and the 6-foot-6, 324-pounder took advantage. His ability to anchor, extend his arms and create movement in team drills. While playing guard, Curtis also showed he could handle interior pass rushers in one-on-one drills, especially those who tried to run through him to the QB.

Curtis could be a nice late-round find for a gap-scheme team that can let him develop for a year on the practice squad. Baed on what we saw from him in Mobile, Curtis could beat that timeline expectation too.

Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska

Palmer emerged in 2022 after transferring to Nebraska from LSU, where he never really cracked the rotation for the Tigers. Despite inconsistent quarterback play and a supporting cast that didn’t help ease pressure, Palmer became a quality deep threat.

Speed is his calling card. Palmer clocked the fastest time of any wideout during Senior Bowl week and backed it up with a 4.33 40-yard dash. While it needs some work, there is some shiftiness to his route-running and variety of speeds to help Palmer do more than just run past defenders.

Teams looking for a vertical threat who can also offer potential as a return specialist should like what they see from Palmer in the fifth or sixth round. If his route running and blocking develop, he could outplay that draft status early in his NFL career.

Story originally appeared on Draft Wire