College football is back!
As the 2023 season rolls along, so will our weekly previews of games and NFL prospects to watch. This will come in addition to our 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 1 of this year’s college football campaign.
Game of the Week
College football kicks off in a big way this week, as two blue-blood programs face off in LSU and Florida State.
LSU features an intriguing defense, much of which is built up by recent transfers. Omar Speights is an athletic linebacker with a high motor coming over from Oregon State, and the trio of Zy Alexander, Darian Chestnut and J.K. Johnson figures to bring intriguing length and ball skills at cornerback to the Tigers’ secondary. Sai’vion Jones and Mekhi Wingo are both explosive defensive linemen who win with raw athletic attributes, and defensive tackle Maason Smith is a potential first-round who will be fun to watch once his suspension ends. That’s not even including star edge rusher Harold Perkins Jr., who isn’t even draft eligible yet. LSU’s offense is a bit less stacked in terms of 2024 draft prospects but features a proven veteran at quarterback in Jayden Daniels and an athletic deep threat in Malik Nabers with Round 1 potential.
Florida State’s turnaround as a program over the last few years has been incredible to watch. Their offense features potential Heisman-contending quarterback Jordan Travis and a boatload of talented weapons. Massive receivers Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman form what might be the tallest wide-out tandem in the Power 5, while South Carolina transfer Jaheim Bell and incumbent starter Trey Benson both have draftable upside at tight end and running back, respectfully. Left tackle Robert Scott Jr. is a tad raw but has the athleticism to be worth looks as a developmental NFL lineman. Their defense is led by potential top-10 pick edge rusher Jared Verse, whose flexibility, quickness and hand usage make him arguably the best pass-rusher in the nation. He’s joined on defense by future NFL defensive linemen like Fabien Lovett, Patrick Payton and Western Michigan transfer Braden Fiske. The Seminoles also feature some future NFLers in the form of fluid cornerback Fentrell Cypress II and hard-hitting safety Akeem Dent.
Big Matchup to Watch
Duke QB Riley Leonard vs. No. 9 Clemson, Monday Sept. 4, 7:00 p.m. CST
A tall Duke quarterback with a nice arm and sneaky good athleticism? Where have I heard that one before?
To expect Leonard to reach Daniel Jones’ level might be a bit high, but the current Blue Devils signal-caller has tools to warrant potential NFL starter looks down the line. His throws have good velocity behind them, and the distance combined with his deep-ball touch allows him to stretch the field quite well vertically. He ran for 699 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2022, showcasing very good breakaway speed and solid agility in space. He has a good natural sense of timing behind his throws, and while his pocket presence and footwork need work, the physical tools are there with Leonard.
Clemson serves as a big Week 1 test for Duke, as the Tigers are always a force to be reckoned with in the ACC. Their defensive line features possible Day 2 picks Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro and a Day 3 candidate in edge rusher Xavier Thomas. The linebacker tandem of Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. might be the best in the nation, as both players currently have top-25 grades on my board. Clemson’s secondary is also loaded, featuring cornerbacks Nate Wiggins and Sheridan Jones, as well as future NFL starter Andrew Mukuba at safety. Leonard will have his hands full to kick off the 2023 season, but he could boost his draft stock in a big way if he plays well.
Miami (OH) EDGE Corey Suttle vs. Miami (FL), Friday Sept. 1, 6:00 p.m. CST
Though the Florida version of the Miamis figures to be the heavy favorite on Friday, the Redhawks have a potential NFLer waiting in the ranks in Corey Suttle.
At 6-foot-4 and 261 pounds, Suttle is a lengthy defender who carries his weight extremely well. He’s taken plenty of reps inside as a 3-technique defensive tackle, though a 4-3 defensive end seems like the best fit for him right now. Coming off a 6-sack season in 2022, Suttle is a high-effort defender who converts speed to power well and has a quick first step off the ball. His hand activity is impressive, and though his anchor against the run and his pad level need improving, he has shown NFL-level physical gifts in spurts in college.
Whenever a Group of 5 prospect faces a Power 5 team, it’s going to be appointment viewing for teams monitoring that player. If Suttle can perform well against a Hurricanes offensive line that features future pros Zion Nelson and Javion Cohen, it could be exactly what he needs to further cement himself onto NFL radars.