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 3 of this year’s college football campaign.
Game of the Week
Missouri vs. No. 15 Kansas State, Saturday Sept. 16, 11:00 a.m. CST
No, I’m not just putting this game as the Game of the Week because I’m a Mizzou fan, and this is our biggest non-conference game of the year.
All homerism aside, Mizzou has a handful of intriguing NFL prospects for the 2024 draft. The top prospect is a potential Day 2 candidate in cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine, a receiver-turned-corner who’s undersized but fluid, explosive and has impressive ball skills. Defensive lineman Darius Robinson is a versatile defender who’s a bit raw but has great length, good grip strength and impressive quickness off the line of scrimmage for someone who’s 295 pounds. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper was one of only two Power 5 players to earn a top-15 PFF grade as a coverage and pass-rushing linebacker last year, while linebacker Chad Bailey and safety Jaylon Carlies figure to be high-priority undrafted free agents. The Tigers’ offense isn’t as loaded with NFL talent, but keep an eye on left tackle Javon Foster as a powerful backup type a la Larry Borom. That’s not even including superstar sophomore wide receiver Luther Burden, who could be a first-rounder in 2025.
Kansas State isn’t as loaded in terms of draft prospects as they were last year, but the preseason hype far exceeded what they had heading into the year they won the Big 12. Cooper Beebe is a sound left guard who’s polished and powerful with immediate NFL starting potential. Left tackle KT Leveston is much more raw but features higher physical upside with his nasty demeanor, strong 330-pound frame and acceleration for his size. Right guard Hadley Panzer isn’t getting as much draft hype as a junior but could be a draftable talent should he declare. Quarterback Will Howard is a big-armed gunslinger with decision-making issues but prototypical arm strength and size that could see him get a shot, and H-back Ben Sinnott is a versatile weapon with good deep speed and nice fluidity across the middle of the field, as well as good enough size and blocking ability to serve as a fullback should NFL teams project him there.
Big Matchup to Watch
South Carolina WR Antwane Wells Jr. @ No. 1 Georgia, Saturday Sept. 16, 2:30 p.m. CST
Some people have have forgotten about Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler, and while I sure haven’t, I think it’s his top receiver who gets drafted before him.
After starring at James Madison for two seasons, Wells broke out as a first-team All-SEC receiver with 68 catches for 928 yards and 6 touchdowns for South Carolina in 2022. He’s a big receiver at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds who had a drop rate of just 2.6% last season. I like him best along the boundary, where his physicality in more condensed space and reliability in tight windows would be showcased more. Wells is also a smart route runner who knows how to eat up soft spots against zone coverage.
Georgia has been the gold standard for FBS defense for the last few years, and this season figures to be no exception. Cornerback Kamari Lassiter projects as an early-round pick in the 2024 draft, while other draft-eligible prospects like safety Javon Bullard and safety-nickel hybrid Tykee Smith also look like future NFLers. Wells will have him work cut out for him on Saturday, but he’s proven that he can produce well against SEC competition.
Western Kentucky WR Malachi Corley @ No. 6 Ohio State, Saturday Sept. 16, 3:00 p.m. CST
It feels weird calling someone who had a 1,000-yard season last year a “sleeper”, but as we’re in that weird transition period where it’s still a 4-team playoff but some of the top Group of 5 teams jumped for Power 5 schools, it seems like Group of 5 prospects have fallen under the radar more so early in this 2024 draft process.
Corley has the chance to change that with a strong performance on Saturday. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound receiver is a densely-built weapon who’s one of the best YAC players in the country. He offers above-average agility, a powerful running style and nice creativity with the ball in his hands. He’s also a sure-handed pass-catcher who, though not elite as a route-running technician, is a good enough athlete in short areas to where separation shouldn’t be a massive problem in the pros.
Ohio State is obviously a massive test for any prospect, let alone one from outside the Power 5. Corley will be responsible for getting open against potential 2024 first-round cornerback Denzel Burke, as well as other draft-eligible but not as likely to declare players like Jordan Hancock and Cameron Martinez. If Corley plays well enough on Saturday, he could see his name thrown around in Day 2 conversation as a ‘Z’ receiver who thrives across the middle of the field.