Chicago general manager Ryan Poles was quite active over Labor Day weekend, flying across the country to watch some top prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Busy weekend for Bears GM Ryan Poles:— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) September 5, 2023
Saturday: East Carolina/Michigan, followed by North Carolina/South Carolina.
This weekend marked Week 1 of the 2023 college football season, and with such Top 25 teams as Clemson, LSU and TCU going down, it was surely an entertaining way to kick off the new year. As his travel schedule would indicate, Poles was able to experience that excitement firsthand.
Having known which games Poles attended this weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you all the prospects I’ve watched who played in each of these games. Here are the players I’ve scouted to this point that played in each of the aforementioned four games, along with a general range of rounds I have them graded in early and a breakdown of the top prospects.
No. 2 Michigan handily beat East Carolina 30-3 at home, thanks largely in part to the play of quarterback J.J. McCarthy.
The La Grange Park native, who torched my Benet Academy Redwings as a sophomore in my senior year of high school, went 26-for-30 with 280 yards and 3 touchdowns. His play was aided greatly by Blake Corum rushing for 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, as well as Roman Wilson breaking out at receiver for 6 catches, 78 yards and all three of McCarthy’s touchdowns.
Caleb Williams and Drake Maye seem safe as QB1 and QB2, but the QB3 race for the 2024 #NFLDraft.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) September 2, 2023
J.J. McCarthy is my front runner for that spot. He’s off to a great start today: 22-for-26, 244 yards, 3 TD and no INT. Arm talent for days. pic.twitter.com/MaYpbhKaC8
Corum and Wilson both helped their draft stock significantly, even as a Power 5 team against Group of 5 competition. That said, in a draft class that has a tight QB3 race, McCarthy showed that he has the arm talent and flashes of brilliance to warrant a strong case for that consideration. Defensively, Mike Sainristil contributed his first interception of the 2023 season.
East Carolina prospects:
- N/A (sorry, guys)
- QB J.J. McCarthy (Round 1-2)
- RB Blake Corum (Round 2-3)
- S Rod Moore (Round 2-3)
- DL Kris Jenkins (Round 2-3)
- RB Donovan Edwards (Round 3-4)
- LB Junior Colson (Round 3-4)
- WR Roman Wilson (Round 3-4)
- EDGE Josaiah Stewart (Round 4-5)
- CB Mike Sainristil (Round 4-5)
- C Drake Nugent (Round 4-5)
- OG LaDarius Henderson (Round 5-6)
- OG Zak Zinter (Round 5-6)
- WR Cornelius Johnson (Round 6-7)
- CB Josh Wallace (Round 6-7)
North Carolina-South Carolina
The No. 21 Tar Heels ended up picking up the 31-17 win in the Duke’s Mayo Classic.
Drake Maye was the star of the show heading into this matchup. The cannon-armed QB is currently my No. 3 overall prospect in the 2024 draft and my QB2 behind USC’s Caleb Williams. He’s a big quarterback with great natural touch behind his throws and good athleticism. He threw two interceptions against the Gamecocks — showcasing his decision-making still needs to improve — but overall looked pretty good leading his team to victory.
Defensively, linebacker Cedric Gray led the way with 9 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
It was certainly an interesting statline for South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler. The Oklahoma transfer, who was at one point a favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, went 30-for-39 for 353 yards and no interceptions: an impressive outing at first glance. However, he didn’t score a single touchdown and got sacked 9 times. Antwane Wells Jr. suffered an injury and didn’t play much, which no doubt hurt the Gamecocks’ chances of pulling off the upset.
North Carolina prospects:
- QB Drake Maye (Top 5)
- LB Cedric Gray (Round 2-3)
- WR Devontez Walker (Round 3-4, didn’t play)
- TE Bryson Nesbit (Round 5-6)
- C Willie Lampkin (Round 7-UDFA)
- DL Myles Murphy (Round 7-UDFA)
- LB Amari Gainer (Round 7-UDFA)
South Carolina prospects:
- WR Antwane Wells Jr. (Round 4-5)
- QB Spencer Rattler (Round 5-6)
- EDGE Jordan Strachan (Round 7-UDFA)
Many expected No. 8 Florida State to be good in 2023, but few saw them dominating No. 5 LSU the way they did on Sunday.
Florida State’s offensive performance was nothing short of incredible in their 45-24 win. Quarterback Jordan Travis totaled 5 touchdowns from scrimmage, going 23-for-31 with 342 yards and one interception through the air. The skyscraping wide receiver tandem of Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman feasted to a combined statline of 16 catches for 226 yards, with Coleman scoring 3 touchdowns in his Seminole debut.
Keon Coleman with his first TD on his first catch at Florida State!— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) September 4, 2023
Love Coleman’s game. 6’4”, 215 lbs with great hands, ball skills and YAC ability. Day 2 guy for me who I could see shooting into Round 1 territory with a big year. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/2BivIDEYjI
Swiss army knife tight end Jaheim Bell scored a touchdown both on the ground and through the air, too. Edge rusher Jared Verse saw plenty of double-team focus, thus limiting his stat sheet, but he dominated when given one-on-one opportunities.
Ups and downs followed Jayden Daniels, who had a 59.4 completion percentage with just one touchdown and an interception. However, the quarterback did throw for 347 yards and added 64 yards on the ground. Though he took a backseat to junior Brian Thomas Jr. — whom I have yet to scout but might have to watch soon — wide receiver Malik Nabers had 6 catches for 67 yards. On defense for the Tigers, Duce Chestnut struggled at times in his LSU debut but did end up with both an interception and a tackle for a loss.
- DL Maason Smith (Top 20)
- WR Malik Nabers (Round 1)
- DL Mekhi Wingo (Round 2-3)
- CB Duce Chestnut (Round 6-7)
- EDGE Sai’vion Jones (Round 6-7)
- WR Chris Hilton Jr. (Round 6-7)
- LB Omar Speights (Round 6-7)
- CB Zy Alexander (Round 7-UDFA)
- CB J.K. Johnson (Round 7-UDFA)
- QB Jayden Daniels (Round 7-UDFA)
Florida State prospects:
- EDGE Jared Verse (Top 10)
- WR Johnny Wilson (Round 1-2)
- WR Keon Coleman (Round 2-3)
- TE Jaheim Bell (Round 3-4)
- CB Fentrell Cypress II (Round 3-4)
- QB Jordan Travis (Round 3-4)
- RB Trey Benson (Round 4-5)
- OT Robert Scott Jr. (Round 4-5)
- S Akeem Dent (Round 5-6)
- DL Fabien Lovett Sr. (Round 6-7)
- DL Braden Fiske (Round 7-UDFA)
- EDGE Patrick Payton (Round 7-UDFA)
Duke fans will long remember the name their unranked Blue Demons pulled off a major upset in front of their home crowd, soundly defeating No. 9 Clemson 28-7.
Quarterback Riley Leonard had a rough go at times through the air, going 17-for-33 with 175 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. That said, the dual-threat signal-caller exploded for 98 rushing yards and a touchdown on 8 carries, and his rushing ability played a big role in Duke’s victory. Defensive lineman DeWayne Carter contributed 7 tackles and a batted pass at the line of scrimmage, while left tackle Graham Barton — who’s likely a guard in the NFL — played a big role in making sure Leonard didn’t get sacked once all night.
Duke Riley Leonard's just pulled off an amazing run! pic.twitter.com/IbrfdvlHoS— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 5, 2023
It’s hard to be impressed with a 7-point outing as a top-10 team, and Clemson’s offense outside of running back Will Shipley struggled significantly. Nonetheless, Shipley ran for 114 yards on 17 carries and caught the Tigers’ only touchdown of the game. The defense ran out of steam a bit in the fourth quarter but more than held its own for most of the game. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. led the team with 9 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss, adding a key third-down pressure in the process.
Jeremiah Trotter Jr. with the pressure. Impressive speed! pic.twitter.com/LsQJ8WYsYe— Ian Valentino (@NFLDraftStudy) September 5, 2023
Star safety Andrew Mukuba contributed 7 tackles, 0.5 tackles for a loss and a pass deflection of his own, too. Clemson’s defense wasn’t the reason they lost this game.
- LB Barrett Carter (Round 1-2)
- LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (Round 1-2)
- S Andrew Mukuba (Round 2-3)
- CB Nate Wiggins (Round 2-3)
- RB Will Shipley (Round 2-3)
- DL Tyler Davis (Round 2-3)
- DL Ruke Orhorhoro (Round 2-3)
- WR Beaux Collins (Round 7-UDFA)
- EDGE Xavier Thomas (Round 7-UDFA)
- CB Sheridan Jones (Round 7-UDFA)
- OL Graham Barton (Round 1-2)
- DL DeWayne Carter (Round 3-4)
- QB Riley Leonard (Round 3-4)