College football is back!
As the 2022 season rolls along, so will our weekly previews of games and NFL prospects to watch (except for Week 1 — sorry about that!). 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 3 of this year’s college football campaign.
Game of the Week
Jacob: Georgia vs. South Carolina, Saturday Sept. 17, 11:00 a.m. CST
Georgia enters this matchup as the heavy favorites, but both the Bulldogs and South Carolina feature plenty of NFL-caliber talents.
The 2023 headliner for Georgia is defensive tackle Jalen Carter. His quickness, power and arsenal as a pass-rusher give him legitimate All-Pro potential as a 3-technique at the next level. He projects as a surefire first-round pick and a likely top-10 selection. The Bulldogs have another defender who’s essentially a Round 1 lock in cornerback Kelee Ringo. My current CB1, Ringo is extremely gifted athletically and has the size at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds that teams drool over. Nolan Smith is an explosive edge rusher who could also end up going in the first round, while fellow edge rusher Robert Beal Jr. is a sleeper with impressive first-step acceleration.
Offensively, Georgia is led by arguably the best tight end group in college football. Brock Bowers isn’t draft eligible, but he seems like a future early-round pick in the making. Darnell Washington is a physical specimen at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds who blocks well and has plenty of athleticism for his size. Arik Gilbert hasn’t seen much playing time with a stacked room at his position, but his size, speed and red-zone value give him a super high ceiling. Offensive tackle Broderick Jones is extremely athletic and coordinated blocking on the move, and center Sedrick Van Pran is a traditional mauler along the interior. Running backs Kendall Milton and Kenny McIntosh provide a bit of a thunder-and-lightning combo out of the backfield, too.
South Carolina made headlines after landing former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler in the transfer portal. He’s been inconsistent to start the 2022 season, but there’s no denying the arm talent and athleticism that he has. The Gamecocks also possess plenty of talent at tight end, including athletic Swiss army knife Jaheim Bell and big-bodied possession weapon Austin Stogner. Both should end up getting drafted when it’s all said and done. Wide receiver Antwane Wells has also been quite productive in the first two games of the year.
If the aforementioned Ringo isn’t your CB1 in the 2023 draft, there’s a strong chance that it’s South Carolina’s Cam Smith. He draws a lot of similarities to former teammate and 2021 first-round pick Jaycee Horn, in that he’s a lengthy and physical boundary cornerback with good ball skills. It wouldn’t at all be shocking if Smith follows in Horn’s footsteps and also goes in Round 1. The Gamecocks also have a physically-gifted defensive lineman who could be selected on Day 2 in Zacch Pickens, as well a as slippery, under-the-radar edge rusher in former Georgia State star Jordan Strachan.
Big Matchup to Watch
Jacob: Florida State EDGE Jared Verse vs. Louisville, Friday Sept. 16, 6:30 p.m. CST
Few players in college football have done as much to boost their 2023 NFL Draft stock this early as Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse.
Through his first two games, Verse has notched 3 sacks and 4 tackles for a loss. He has the highest pass-rushing PFF grade among Power 5 defenders and has 9 quarterback pressures as of this writing. He dominated LSU’s offensive line and was a big reason the Seminoles came away with the win in Week 1. Verse’s explosiveness off the snap, flexibility turning the corner and quickness in his hand techniques have already solidified him as one of the best pass-rushers in the nation.
Verse has a tough task ahead of him, as Louisville has two offensive linemen who could get draft looks come 2023. Left tackle Trevor Reid is a prospect he could see a lot of. Reid has been on Bruce Feldman’s “athletic freaks list” and offers very good athletic ability for someone who’s 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds. Though a bit raw in terms of his hand placement, he has shown plenty of improvement as a technician over the last few years. Should Verse pop inside on stunts, he might go up against left guard Caleb Chandler. Chandler is a four-year collegiate starter with good situational awareness and a strong anchor.
In the last few weeks, Verse has gone from a virtual unknown to a player on NFL radars. With a strong outing against Louisville, it could only be a matter of time before he gets more consideration as a top-50 talent.
Jacob: UTSA WR Zakhari Franklin vs. Texas, Saturday Sept. 17, 7 p.m. CST
Zakhari Franklin is off to a fantastic start to the 2022 season. Just one year after catching 81 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns, the UTSA star has 20 receptions for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns through his first two games this year. He has excelled against both Houston and Army, catching 10 passes and topping 100 yards in each of those games. He is a fantastic ball-tracker with polished speed releases as a route runner and creativity running after the catch.
Though Franklin has faced solid competition to start the 2022 season, he will have his work cut out for him on Saturday. Texas is coming off of a nail-biter against Alabama and, even in a loss, has plenty of momentum behind them. Franklin could end up running some of his routes against Longhorns cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, an athletic fifth-year senior who has generated some NFL looks. Regardless of where Franklin lines up or who covers him, he could face an uptick in athleticism and physicality. Considering his ceiling in both regards is just okay, he could have to fight even harder to get open.
If you’re looking for high upside at the wide receiver position, Franklin might not be your guy. Given his reliability and polished skill set, though, he could be a solid weapon in the pros. I like him best early on Day 3 right now, but with another strong outing against Power 5 competition, his draft stock could rise even more.