NFL draft buzz: Prospects to watch, predictions for Friday and Saturday games

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Week 13 of the 2022 college football season brings the big-time rivalry matchups, none bigger than Michigan-Ohio State. But Baylor will also face Texas, South Carolina visits Clemson, Florida meets Florida State and Notre Dame heads out to USC, among many others. Which 2023 NFL draft prospects will stand out Friday and Saturday?

Ahead of the loaded schedule, NFL draft analysts Todd McShay, Jordan Reid and Matt Miller pick prospects to watch this weekend, along with the one thing they each are keeping an eye on. Then Steve Muench points to a small-school prospect who could get more draft attention with a big performance. Our experts wrap it all up by making predictions for Week 13 and emptying their notebooks with everything they saw and heard this week.

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Prospects to know | What to watch
Small-schooler | Week 13 predictions
Emptying the notebook

Plant your flag: Who is your guy to watch this weekend?

McShay: Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State (vs. Michigan). At 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, Harrison has great length and very good straight-line speed. I’ve always liked his game, but he is finally putting it all together this season, displaying improved hand usage and leverage. Harrison is coming off his best career game with a season-high 70 snaps, 3.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. The sacks came on Maryland’s final two plays from scrimmage, including the game-clinching strip sack. I’ve always said that great pass-rushers are like great closers in MLB, and Harrison — who is currently No. 44 on my board — was Mariano Rivera last Saturday night. His ability to stay on the field for most of the game, set a hard edge against the run and get frequent pressure on Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy should be a big factor in Saturday’s outcome.

Miller: Mike Morris, DE, Michigan (at Ohio State). The Saturday after Thanksgiving means one thing: Ohio State versus Michigan. And this year, the battle between the Michigan pass-rushers and Ohio State offensive line is going to be special. Morris has a big test against left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. and right tackle Dawand Jones. Both Ohio State tackles look like potential first-rounders, but the 6-foot-6, 291-pounder has the power and length to wreck their day. Morris is just inside my top 40 right now, and scouts will be paying a lot of attention to how he performs in this one. He has 7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 25 pressures on the season.

Reid: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (vs. Michigan). Looks like we are all going to be watching The Game. These are the types of matchups that scouts love to watch high-level quarterback prospects, and Stroud has a chance to state his case as the best quarterback in this draft class. Michigan’s game plan against the Buckeyes last year was to dare Stroud to run, but he consistently stayed home. Stroud has recently started showing off some of his running strength and ability to escape, though, so it could be a different story this time around. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound signal-caller rushed for 79 yards just a few weeks ago against Northwestern.


What is the one thing you’re watching this weekend?

Reid: Can South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith have another dominant performance? I saw the Gamecocks’ big upset over Tennessee live last week and was blown away by Smith’s performance. He shadowed Volunteers wideout Jalin Hyatt out of the slot for the entire game and passed a big test, making seven tackles and keeping one of the most explosive receivers in the nation to 4.1 yards per target. Clemson offers another one. Smith has shown his fluidity in coverage, comfort playing the ball in the air and aggressiveness as a run defender all season long. At 6-foot, 188 pounds, Smith is a lean but feisty cornerback who plays with a lot of confidence. Already trending toward the first round, he could jump up the board with another impressive outing against the Tigers.

Miller: How does Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson end the season? Over the summer, many evaluators believed he had the talent to become a top-10 pick, but Richardson’s inaccuracy and decision-making are still issues. Still, he has a chance to put a statement on his season against rival Florida State on Friday night. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Richardson — my QB6 — has elite strength and excellent running ability, but his 14-to-8 touchdown/interception ratio and 71.7 QBR aren’t ideal. Can he refresh opinions on his upside and developmental potential with one last big performance?

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0:34

Anthony Richardson throws 16-yard touchdown vs. Vanderbilt

McShay: I’m sticking with the Michigan-Ohio State matchup and paying extra attention to the impact of Wolverines running back Blake Corum. He’s been a leader on that team, and it’s clear to me after watching his tape and talking to his teammates and coaches that there isn’t a player more valuable to his team in the entire country. In the first half alone against Illinois last week, he rushed 17 times for 103 yards and a TD and caught two passes for 39 yards. But he suffered a lower body injury, only played one snap in the second half and didn’t look himself trying to loosen up with agility drills on the sideline. If the 5-foot-8, 210-pound back is somehow 100% on Saturday, Michigan has a legitimate shot to upset Ohio State. But if he is limited, the Buckeyes could roll.


Which small-school prospect has a key matchup on deck?

Muench: Tim DeMorat, QB, Fordham (at New Hampshire). The plan was to write about Fordham’s explosive slot receiver Fotis Kokosioulis, but after watching the Rams’ tape from their game against Ohio, I switched to his quarterback. A four-year starter who leads the FCS with 4,561 passing yards and 53 touchdown throws, DeMorat kept his feet connected to his eyes as he worked through his progressions, completed 77.1% of his passes for a season-high 503 yards and showed good touch on his downfield throws against the Bobcats — the only FBS defense he has faced this year.

Yes, he has been a bit inconsistent, and he’s no escape artist as a scrambler. And while he didn’t really get great zip on his passes when throwing in the cold against Colgate last week, the potential late-round pick will get another chance to show NFL scouts he has the arm strength to drive the ball in less than ideal conditions and that he plays his best in big games with Fordham traveling to New Hampshire for a first-round playoff matchup this weekend.


What’s the Week 13 prediction you feel great about?

Miller: Texas running back Bijan Robinson will close out a Doak Walker Award-worthy regular season with 200-plus all-purpose yards against Baylor. The Longhorns haven’t been as good as expected this year, but Robinson has lived up to expectations. The 6-foot, 220-pound back has a very quiet 16 rushing touchdowns and over 1,400 rushing yards while sharing the backfield with future NFL back Roschon Johnson. Against the Bears on Friday, I think Robinson will go off, showing his unrivaled vision, contact balance, agility and power. And it will be just another example of why he’s the top-ranked runner in the class and a top-10 prospect.

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Bijan Robinson goes up and over the line for his third score of the day as Texas pads its lead to 31-0.

McShay: Notre Dame edge rusher Isaiah Foskey will create some problems for USC quarterback Caleb Williams on Saturday. He leads the team with 10 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, and he has notched at least one sack in four of the Fighting Irish’s past five games. His length, improved hand usage and closing burst have been on full display this season. Foskey projects as a likely top-50 pick next April, and I think he will be a big factor in Notre Dame making this a four-quarter battle. USC is coming off a taxing win over cross-town rival UCLA, while the Irish enter off a 44-0 tune-up against Boston College. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Foskey and this defense should keep things tight, as long as Notre Dame has a good plan for containing first-round receiver Jordan Addison.

Reid: Ohio State’s Stroud will have more than 250 passing yards and three TD throws, driving home his Heisman Trophy case. He will be looking to avenge last year’s loss to Michigan, and I expect Ohio State’s offense to come out firing on all cylinders, starting with a huge day from Stroud.

Muench: North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs will bounce back from his worst game this season and break 1,000 receiving yards for the second consecutive year. He ranks seventh in the FBS in receiving yards per game and needs just 122 yards to break the 1,000-yard mark. He also plays with one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country in Drake Maye, who faces a Wolfpack defense that has surrendered more than 300 passing yards in two of its past three games. Boston College receiver Zay Flowers had 130 receiving yards against NC State just two weeks ago, and while he lines up on the outside more than Downs, he caught a TD working out of the slot in that game. And the two smaller receivers — Downs is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds — are similar in that they have the burst to separate, threaten after the catch and beat defenders over the top.


Emptying the notebook: Everything we heard this week

Reid: We are already starting to see some notable prospects declare for the 2023 draft. Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson and South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft both announced their intentions to forgo the rest of their eligibility and enter the draft this week. Wilson suffered a season-ending foot injury against Kansas during Week 11, and Kraft has battled a nagging right ankle injury. Wilson has a chance to end up a top-15 pick, while scouts like Kraft on Day 2.

Miller: What does an ACL injury suffered in mid-November do to Tennessee senior quarterback Hendon Hooker‘s draft stock? Opinions will vary, but two scouts I spoke to this week believed the timing of the injury could significantly drop his stock. At a minimum, it’ll prevent him from pre-draft events like the Senior Bowl, combine and private workouts. The good news? Hooker could be back on the field early in his rookie season, though he has fell from potential top-50 pick to late-Round 3 prospect.

McShay: Georgia Tech edge rusher Keion White doesn’t get enough draft love. He’s a versatile 6-foot-6, 286-pounder who is disruptive against the run (11.5 tackles for loss) and has really shown improvement as a pass-rusher this season (team-high 7.5 sacks). He has also been functional when asked to spot drop into coverage, which is impressive for his size. But White didn’t play in 2020, transferred from Old Dominion to Georgia Tech before the 2021 season and only played four games last year due to an ankle injury. So you really have to go back to his 2019 tape at ODU to get a baseline evaluation of his talent, when he had 18 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. It’s great to see White — a Day 2 prospect who accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl — thriving again, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he stacks up against Georgia’s offensive line Saturday.

Reid: Yeah, I’m super excited to see White against Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran. White flashed in multiple ways last week against North Carolina, generating pressure and finishing with three tackles for loss and three sacks. Todd is right — White is one of the more underrated players in the country. And Van Pran (6-foot-4, 310 pounds) has been a steady presence in the middle of the Bulldogs’ offensive line. He isn’t a blocker who will constantly overwhelm first-level defenders, but he wins with his savviness and snap quickness. Both are late Day 2 options who could go on to become starters early in their pro careers.

Miller: Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley recently accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, and he continues to be fun to watch every weekend. A former high school quarterback, Henley initially signed at Nevada as a wide receiver before playing some defense and eventually turning into a hulking 6-foot-2, 232-pound hybrid safety/linebacker. I’ve had him ranked as high as No. 32 overall this season, and with 86 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and an interception on the year, he’s showing the type of versatility that defensive coordinators covet.

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0:30

Chase Brown stays on his feet in the hole and gets into the end zone for an Illinois touchdown.

McShay: Illinois’ twin brothers Chase Brown and Sydney Brown have really impressed me, overcoming a lot to become ultra-competitive team leaders. Chase — who is seen as a late Day 2 or early Day 3 running back prospect — lacks elite size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) or breakaway speed, but he is one of the most patient backs in the country and thrives at setting up blocks in Illinois’ gap scheme and accelerating in a flash once he sees a crease. And Sydney is a Day 3 box safety who attacks the run with great aggression and has shown outstanding ball skills this season, though the 6-foot, 205-pounder has clear downfield coverage limitations. Illinois is looking to snap a three-game losing streak at Northwestern on Saturday and finish the regular season with a very solid 8-4 record. And it will rely on the Brown brothers to do so.

Source: ESPN


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