Debating NFL draft sleepers, risers and big questions: Making cases for the No. 3 QB in the class

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Week 3 of the 2023 college football season was highlighted by a massive victory for Florida against Tennessee, a Missouri upset of Kansas State, shockingly narrow wins for Florida State (over Boston College) and Alabama (over South Florida) and a double-overtime W for Colorado over Colorado State. But how’d the top draft prospects look in Saturday’s action? Who is standing out in the early weeks of the season?

NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Matt Miller, Jordan Reid and Steve Muench answered big draft-related questions coming out of the weekend’s slate, including who is the class’ current QB3. Then Miller picked out prospects rising up his draft board, and Reid identified players currently flying under the radar who could get a draft stock boost with more high-level play. Muench broke down a key highlight that is making him go back to the tape for more evaluation, and Kiper turned the page to Week 4 with three things to watch for next weekend. Finally, our analysts emptied their notebooks with everything they saw and heard over the weekend.

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Who is the class’ QB3?
Risers | Under the radar | Back to the tape
Week 3 lookahead | Latest draft buzz, notes

Who is the class’ QB3 behind USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye?

Reid: Quinn Ewers, Texas. I think we all agree Williams and Maye are the clear top two quarterbacks, but the race for QB3 is off to an exciting start. I’m sticking with the guy I had at No. 3 in the preseason, though. I’ve been encouraged by the improvement in Ewers’ deep ball, and the 6-foot-2, 195-pound passer looked great in Texas’ victory over Alabama two weeks ago. The overall arm talent is impossible to ignore, as the second-year starter has three 40-plus-yard touchdowns this season. For context, he had only one such touchdown all of last season, and that arm strength has helped the Longhorns to their first 3-0 start since 2012.

That all said, the consistency question still looms, and we saw it come out on Saturday against Wyoming when he got off to a 1-for-6 start. He finished 11-for-21 for 131 yards and two touchdowns. “I’m still trying to figure him out,” an AFC scout texted me. “He looked like a first-rounder against Alabama but then goes out and underwhelms against Wyoming.” The unevenness could open the door for numerous other contenders.

Kiper: Shedeur Sanders, Colorado. I have Ewers No. 4 in my QB rankings, just behind Sanders, who I’m all-in on as a future top-10 pick — either in 2024 or 2025. The true junior was lights-out again in Colorado’s come-from-behind win over Colorado State on Saturday night. He completed 80.9% of his 47 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He had an interception — it went right through the hands of his receiver — which was the first of his season.

Sanders has been so, so impressive for the Buffs. He can make every throw with accuracy and touch. He’s tough. He was without top receiver Travis Hunter for the entire second half on Saturday and still found a way to pick up first downs. At 6-foot-2, he has put on some muscle this season, and he looks bigger than he did at Jackson State. As I wrote in my updated Big Board last week, it’s time to believe the hype in Sanders. He’s a legit NFL prospect.

Muench: J.J. McCarthy, Michigan. Tough timing here on this question, as McCarthy is coming off arguably the worst game of his career after throwing for three interceptions against Bowling Green on Saturday. He can get into trouble when he tries to make too much happen, though the tape wasn’t quite as bad as the stat line.

Even after the rough start, I decided to stick with him as QB3 right now for the same reasons I ranked him there coming into the season. McCarthy is an effective intermediate-level passer who is more consistent than his completion percentage down the stretch in 2022 might suggest (53.6% in final six games). And while he needs to strike a better balance, he’s not afraid to be aggressive and attack. McCarthy is 15-1 as a starter, and the way he battled against TCU in the College Football Playoff last season shows his toughness and resolve even when almost everything goes wrong. Plus, at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, he has the mobility to extend plays and run for first downs.



Xavier Worthy goes 44 yards to the house

Quinn Ewers dishes it to Xavier Worthy, who tip-toes down the sideline for a Texas touchdown.

Miller: Ewers. As Jordan mentioned, he didn’t play like QB3 in an uneven performance against Wyoming on Saturday night, but the potential is still there. Ewers has the arm strength, pocket mobility and field vision of a first-round quarterback. But he has to have more top-tier games, like the one against Alabama, over the rest of the season to secure QB3 status — especially in a quarterback group that is as deep as I can remember.

Who else could rise into the QB3 spot by the end of the season?

Miller: Washington senior Michael Penix Jr. will be in the mix. He went off on Sunday against Michigan State with four touchdowns and 473 yards on 27-of-35 passing. He has torched defenses for 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season with a nation-leading QBR of 94.2. Yes, the 6-3, 213-pound Penix is an older prospect at 23, and he has suffered ACL and shoulder injuries in the past, but he’s a playmaker with a great deep ball.

Outside of Penix, I’m keeping an eye on Duke’s Riley Leonard and Oregon’s Bo Nix as strong options. Leonard is an accurate passer who excels on timing and rhythm plays. The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder is a mobile threat, too, as he can pull the ball down and make plays happen with his feet. And Nix (6-2, 217 pounds), who transferred to Oregon from Auburn last year, already has eight touchdown passes this season and is completing 73% of his passes in his two years with the Ducks.

Miller’s draft risers from Week 3

Audric Estime, RB, Notre Dame

Estime wasn’t on my scouting list when the season began since he’s a junior, but he has quickly rushed his way into the rankings (No. 85 overall at the moment). He punished the Central Michigan defense to the tune of 176 yards and a score on 20 carries over the weekend, and he also ripped off a 41-yarder that showed off his runaway speed on a 5-foot-11, 227-pound frame.

Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU

Having the chance to see the big man from BYU in person at Arkansas on Saturday night added to my love for his game. Suamataia is an agile mover in space, but it’s his ability to slide and shuffle in pass pro that really catches your eye. He’s a trim 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds but moves like a much smaller blocker. That was evident on Saturday when he got into the open field to spring a 45-yard touchdown run by LJ Martin. Suamataia ranks at No. 36 on my board, but he’s rising in his first year playing left tackle and has the look of a first-rounder.

Tory Horton, WR, Colorado State

All eyes were on the Buffaloes in the interstate rivalry, but it was the Rams’ Horton who stole the show even in the Colorado State loss. Horton dominated the Colorado secondary with 16 catches, 133 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder has an excellent catch radius and great over-the-top ability to win 50/50 balls. He’s a top-100 player on my board and is only moving up.

Reid’s draft sleepers to keep an eye on

Xavier Legette, WR, South Carolina

After back-to-back games with 115-plus receiving yards to start the season, Legette had seven catches for 71 yards against Georgia. At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, he’s a well-built receiver with strong hands. He displays a diverse route tree and is averaging 16.7 yards per catch on the year. Legette was seen mostly as a late-Day 3 prospect coming into the season, but if he continues on his current track, he could sneak into the latter portions of Day 2.

Malachi Corley, WR, Western Kentucky

Corley had plenty to gain against Ohio State, and he lived up to the hype, catching eight passes for 88 yards and touchdown against the Buckeyes’ secondary. Corley showcased his best trait — yards after the catch. He had an FBS-leading 982 yards after the catch last season, and Corley used his tackle-breaking ability to pick up 70 after the catch on Saturday afternoon. At 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, he powered into the end zone for his lone touchdown catch off of a screen. A top-100 prospect coming into the season, Corley might end up in the top 75.

Dallin Holker, TE, Colorado State

There arguably wasn’t another prospect who gained more by playing on a national stage over the weekend than Holker. He had six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns against Colorado, and I saw multiple tough catches. I asked one NFC area scout about Holker, and he texted back, “He wasn’t on our radar at all.” The 6-foot-5, 235-pound BYU transfer needs to continue to build on his standout performance, but it was clear on Saturday night that he has receiving upside.

Muench’s Week 3 highlight that is sending him back to the tape

Memphis running back Blake Watson rushes for 69 yards against Navy



Blake Watson breaks off 69-yard rush

Blake Watson breaks off 69-yard rush

Watson showed a nice blend of patience, change-of-direction quickness and burst at Old Dominion last season before transferring to Memphis, and we saw those traits all over the tape from Thursday’s win against Navy. The awareness he shows in cutting up at midfield and the way he churns his legs at the end of this long run jump out to me.

Watson rushed for 169 yards Thursday on just 10 carries — but he also caught six passes for 68 yards. After catching a single-season Old Dominion RB-record 37 passes in 2022, he now has 15 catches for 130 receiving yards in just three games this year. Watson has the potential to develop into a three-down back if he gets more consistent in pass pro, and I see midround value at this point in the process.

Kiper’s three things to watch in Week 4

Ohio State travels to South Bend, Indiana, next Saturday to take on the Fighting Irish, and it’s the first real test of Notre Dame left tackle Joe Alt’s season. At 6-foot-8, 315 pounds, he usually swallows up edge rushers with his size and movement skills. But he’ll have his hands full with Buckeyes pass-rusher JT Tuimoloau, who plays most of his time at right defensive end. Tuimoloau is inconsistent, but he shows flashes of elite traits.

Florida State struggled big-time with Boston College over the weekend, and Keon Coleman — my second-ranked wideout — had zero catches on three targets. That’s not a winning recipe for the Seminoles. They have to force the ball into his hands and get him going after the catch. Coleman and 6-foot-7 Johnny Wilson are a fun receiving tandem, but keep an eye on how they match up against Clemson corner Nate Wiggins next Saturday. Wiggins has the tools to be a first-round pick; he’ll be a physical matchup for FSU’s star wideouts.

Week 4 features undefeated UCLA at undefeated Utah, and it’s another chance to impress for edge rusher Laiatu Latu, who I moved up last week to No. 18 on my Big Board. He has 14.5 sacks over his past 15 games, including four in three games this season. He’ll see a lot of time against tackle Sataoa Laumea, who at 6-foot-4, 311 pounds likely will end up as a guard at the next level. Latu is a strip-sack machine, and if he can create turnovers in this one, the Bruins could pull off a huge road victory.

Let’s empty the notebooks …


• Georgia offensive tackle Amarius Mims exited the game against South Carolina in the second quarter after suffering a left ankle injury, and coach Kirby Smart said Mims would undergo TightRope surgery. His timetable to return is still uncertain. Mims is currently the No. 4-ranked OT on my board, and many scouts believe he had the traits to be drafted as high as OT2 behind Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu. But he has only five career starts and is now expected to miss multiple games, which could hurt his stock.

• Before being ejected in overtime for targeting, Colorado State edge rusher Mohamed Kamara had at least two sacks for the third time in his career. The Colorado offensive front had issues blocking him all game long, as he lined up at both defensive end and defensive tackle. His effort pursuing the ball stood out most; he had multiple chase-down tackles and sacks that ended drives for Colorado. At 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, Kamara is a borderline draftable prospect as a designated pass-rusher, but his draft stock is trending up.

• A kicker in the draft notebook? Yes! Mizzou’s Harrison Mevis kicked a 61-yard game-winner that helped the Tigers secure a 30-27 upset win over No. 15 ranked Kansas State. It broke a 1984 SEC record (60 yards) and was a perfect showcase of Mevis’ leg power. My top-ranked kicker going into the season, he finished the game 3-of-4, and his five field goals of 50 or more yards over the past two seasons rank second in the FBS. Mevis has been uncharacteristically inaccurate to start the season, but his distance could help him be the first kicker off the board in April.

• One of the more interesting situations unfolding in the first quarter of the season is Wisconsin’s usage of running back Braelon Allen. The Badgers are notorious for heavy personnel sets and condensed formations, but offensive coordinator Phil Longo has brought more of a spread offense mindset. After only seven carries a week ago in a loss to Washington State, Allen was much better against Georgia Southern in the second half, finishing with 94 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. He has a unique skill set that requires a certain type of offense, so scouts are paying attention. “He’s a strong, downhill power back type,” said an AFC scout. “He won’t be for everybody because of that.” Even so, Allen is still viewed as a Day 2 prospect in a running back class that still has plenty of question marks.


• The WR2 debate (behind Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr.) will rage all season, and LSU’s Malik Nabers had a resume game on Saturday to make his case. Nabers torched Mississippi State with 13 catches for 239 yards and two scores. The 6-foot junior is a true X receiver with fast footwork on breaking routes but also enough speed to separate over the top. Nabers is in the mix with players like Keon Coleman (FSU) and Rome Odunze (Washington) on my board and currently ranks No. 16 overall.

• Maye had been largely anointed as QB2 in the 2024 class, but his performance this year has been hit and miss. He threw two more interceptions on Saturday against Minnesota to run his season total up to four in three games. The North Carolina signal-caller has also only thrown four touchdowns. However, he has completed 72.5% of his passes and went for over 414 yards on Saturday. I asked an AFC scout about Maye, and he said: “Remember he’s all they have there. He’s going to force some passes and make mistakes, but he’ll be just fine. His arm talent, mobility and personality are high-first-round-caliber.”



Drake Maye slings it to Bryson Nesbit for his 2nd passing TD

Bryson Nesbit hauls in the strike from Drake Maye to give the Tar Heels a 21-3 lead.

• Illinois defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton continues to scoot up my board and is now locked in at DT1. Newton has fast hands and quickness in his lower body, and he is a “wow” player when it comes to effort and motor. The Illini aren’t putting W’s on the field, but Newton is winning most of his reps despite seeing double-teams and schemes to avoid him. With his ability to create pressure and hurries, Newton is the ideal 3-technique pass-rusher. Those skills would look great in a 4-3 defense for, say, the Chicago Bears or even with what the Seattle Seahawks are doing in their three-man front.

Source: ESPN

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