They always come out invariably this time every year. The piles of yellow legal pads with jottings only he can decipher. Hall of Fame sportswriter Ray Didinger is supposed to be retired. It doesn’t mean the prestigious Francis “Reds” Bagnell Award winner has stopped breaking down film and looking at those gold nuggets that may be available in the later rounds of the NFL Draft.
No one would ever question Didinger’s meticulous research and he was gracious enough recently to speak with Bleeding Green Nation about five sleepers the Eagles and other NFL teams could look at in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft.
Moro Ojomo, Texas, DT, 6’3,” 284 pounds
“I don’t project him to be any kind of breakout star in the NFL, but I think in the right system, the way teams play defensive linemen right now, everyone rotates. You have three of four tackles that play, three or four ends that play. I can see him being a rotation kind of player and in the right defense, he can be an effective player. He’s not a big pass rusher, which is the one area he might be able to improve, but he is very strong, and very stout against the run. If you’re looking for a defensive tackle who is a three technique is going to go up field against the pass, you need one guy to stay at home and pick up the run. Ojomo could be that type of player.”
Ivan Pace Jr., Cincinnati, LB, 5’10½,” 232 pounds
“I always try to take a guy, and they very often fall in the linebacker position, who is a little undersized and can really play. They are very active, good solid tacklers and give you dual value in certain defensive packages, and especially on special teams. This is a guy who I really feel falls into that category. He’s 5-10½ and a solid 230 and runs a 4.5. He’s from Cincinnati and it’s a program that turns out a lot of NFL players—and good NFL players. Look at the Kelce brothers and Brent Celek. I’m not saying this guy is in that category, but he is a guy that over the last two years had 262 tackles, and 34.5 of them were tackles for loss. Every time I saw Cincinnati, he was everywhere. Is his size an issue, probably, and especially in pass coverage. But if you’re looking for a linebacker who would be rock solid against the run and a core player on your special teams, this guy is it. He certainly won’t go on day one. Scouts and personnel guys will look at 5-10 and say no, no, no. He will go around round four or round five. Every year, I feel, there are guys who are picked in the first round and are going to struggle to make a team. This guy will make the team on day one. Once coaches get him, they’re going to love him.”
Riley Moss, Iowa, CB/S, 6’1,” 193 pounds
“I don’t know how the scouts are going to look at him. He was a cornerback at Iowa. They may just decide he’s not fast enough. I think he is. He’s a 4.45 guy and if you have good instincts, and you’re smart, you can play corner with that kind of speed. If you wanted to make him a safety, you could probably do that, too. One of the things I really like about him is he’s a very instinctive player who is really smart and never really out of position. Unlike a lot of guys who cover on the corner, he can really hit. He tackles like a safety, which is why I think some teams will project him as a safety. He has the cover skills to cover on the outside. This isn’t a really good draft for corners. There are some stars, but no one like a Sauce Gardner, who can step right in and make an impact, I don’t think. There is good depth at the cornerback position of guys who can come in and play in the NFL.”
Tyjae Spears, Tulane, RB, 5’10,” 201 pounds
“He runs a 4.47 and every time I saw him, he played a lot bigger than his size, and played faster than he was timed. He has really good quickness when he runs, he has great vision, and he sets up blocks really well. He gets the most out of every carry, and then some, and he doesn’t do dumb stuff, like bouncing plays outside when he doesn’t have to. He runs the play that supposed to be run and he gets everything there and more. He averaged almost seven yards a carry. He ran for almost 1,600 yards. He scored 21 touchdowns. The thing that jumped out at me was his performance in the Cotton Bowl. Tulane is not a great team. They did not have a ton of NFL players and they played Southern Cal. They were down huge, and down huge in the second half. Spears brought them back. He ran for 205 yards on 17 carries and scored four touchdowns. It’s a fair comparison to call him a bigger Boston Scott. But Scott is very explosive. I don’t know if Spears is quite as explosive. What impressed me is that he’s a smart runner. He runs the play the way it is designed. He beat Southern Cal, which had a lot more talent than Tulane. He falls into the sleeper category, but he could be a third-round pick. The way teams play their running backs, rotating their backs, Spears would be perfect for that.”
Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State, RB, 5’5,” 180 pounds
“This is kind of personal for me. It goes way back to 2005 when I liked Darren Sproles, who scouts said couldn’t do the things he was able to do because of his size. Sproles had an impact, and a far greater impact than anyone thought he would have. It started at Kansas State with Sproles, then Jordy Nelson who’s having a nice career. He had the kind of size, the kind of speed, I felt if he could go to the right place, he could be something. Tyler Lockett was another Kansas State player, kind of like Sproles, undersized, who had to find the right situation—and then did. Every year I try to find a K-State guy, and this year was easy. Deuce is a lot like Sproles, and even smaller. He’s fearless, tough, always seems to make a key play in a key moment. That was Sproles with the Chargers and Eagles, Lockett with Seattle, and Vaughn could do that in the NFL. In a spread formation, he can line up in the slot against a linebacker, he can make some big plays. At K-State in his final year, he had almost 2,000 total yards. He rushed for over 1,500 yards and had 42 catches and scored 12 touchdowns. In his sophomore year, he rushed for over 1,400 yards and averaged six yards a carry and had 18 touchdowns. Every time you saw K-State, he was going to make big plays. He’s a Sproles-like contributor and be an immediate contributor on special teams.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.