College football is back!
As the 2022 season rolls along, so will our weekly previews of games and NFL prospects to watch. This will come in addition to our sporadic NFL Draft coverage over the course of the fall and winter. Whether you’re a fan of the draft or just a college football fan, this series looks to give you an idea of what to watch each week.
Windy City Gridiron’s Lead Draft Analyst Jacob Infante will be taking a look at what to expect in Week 7 of this year’s college football campaign.
Game of the Week
Jacob: No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 5 Michigan, Saturday Oct. 15, 11:00 a.m. CST
Two of the Big Ten’s best will go at it on Saturday, and NFL teams will surely be paying attention.
Penn State’s list of prospects is led by Joey Porter Jr., the son of the former All-Pro Steelers linebacker. He has been on my radar since before the 2021 season started, but he is truly coming into his own this year. With 10 pass deflections in 5 games, he has been a shutdown corner in every sense of the phrase. The Nittany Lions also have one of the highest risers in the 2023 draft class in offensive tackle Olu Fashanu. He has fantastic length, great athleticism and good hand placement at the point of attack, and a strong argument could be made he’s pushing himself into first-round territory. Wide receiver Parker Washington is a thickly-built receiver with serious hops and reliable hands. Other notable prospects include edge rusher Adisa Isaac, wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, tight end Theo Johnson, safety Ji’Ayir Brown and defensive lineman P.J. Mustipher — yes, that Mustipher.
Michigan could be more of a team to watch with 2024 draft prospects, especially if sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy lives up to his potential. However, there are still plenty of draftable talents worth keeping an eye on in this year’s class. Their offense features such offensive weapons as running back Blake Corum — arguably the highest-rising back in the class — tight end Erick All, and wide receivers Cornelius Johnson and Ronnie Bell. Offensive linemen Ryan Hayes and Olusegun Oluwatimi both currently carry late Day 2 grades on my board, as well. On defense, nose tackle Mazi Smith is one of the most athletic interior defenders in the nation. The Wolverines’ secondary is also loaded with potential 2023 draft picks like cornerbacks D.J. Turner and Gemon Green, as well as safety R.J. Moten.
Big Matchup to Watch
Jacob: Tennessee OT Darnell Wright vs. No. 3 Alabama, Saturday Oct. 15, 2:30 p.m. CST
If there’s any game for an offensive tackle to use as practice for the NFL, it might as well be against a blue-chip program like Alabama.
Darnell Wright is a massive offensive lineman at 6-foot-5 and 347 pounds. He seems to have solid arm length and packs an incredibly mean punch at the point of attack. His raw power stands out on tape, where he consistently delivered nasty jabs and has the drive in his lower half needed to generate push at the point of attack. When he engages in contact, his red-hot effort shows up on a consistent basis. For someone as big as he is, his short-area burst is pretty impressive, too. Though his quickness against speed rushes isn’t great and his body control can improve a bit, he has the tools to grow into an NFL starting role if developed properly.
Alabama’s defensive line features arguably the best overall prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft in Will Anderson. His explosiveness is an issue for any offensive lineman to go up against. When Anderson doesn’t line up against Wright, the Tennessee offensive lineman will be tasked with going up against true sophomore Dallas Turner. Though he isn’t draft eligible this year, he figures to be one of the early top prospects for the 2024 draft. Wright will have his hands full on Saturday, but if he can put together even a solid performance, that will go a long way for his draft stock.
Jacob: Arkansas LB Drew Sanders @ BYU, Saturday Oct. 15, 3:30 p.m. CST
He may be a “sleeper” now, but give it even a few weeks. You’ll know the name of Drew Sanders if you follow the 2023 draft if you don’t already.
A backup at Alabama in his previous two seasons before transferring to Arkansas, Sanders is a lengthy linebacker at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds with a wingspan that looks to be massive on tape. His production has been bonkers good; he has 60 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss and 7 sacks through his first 6 games in 2022. He has very good downhill burst, as well as very good hand activity and finesse as a pass-rusher. Sanders is also pretty versatile, as he rushes off the edge but could project as either a MIKE or WILL linebacker. Though he may be a bit raw in terms of pad level and having a skinny frame, the physical tools are there for him to be the type of prospect coaches drool over.
BYU has some intriguing pieces on offense, including the likes of quarterback Jaren Hall, wide receiver Puka Nacua and offensive tackle Blake Freeland. Though they’re not ranked in the top 25 anymore, they’re still easily one of the best teams outside of the Power 5 in college football. Sanders has been shooting up boards in some draft circles, and if he continues to put together strong performances like he has so far this year, Sanders could very well be a consensus first-round pick in due time.