Throughout the 2022-2023 college football bowl season, we’ll be highlighting each game and the key 2022 NFL Draft prospects Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans should be keeping an eye on.
MUSIC CITY BOWL IOWA VS. KENTUCKY 12:00 PM EST ABC
My home state Iowa Hawkeyes travel to Nashville, Tennessee to battle the Kentucky Wildcats for the second-straight year in postseason play in the Music City Bowl.
The Wildcats will be represented by DL #52 Justin Rogers on defense in this game. Rogers isn’t a stat sheet stuffer, but does stuff gaps against the run, using his large frame (6’3, 332lb) as well as his strength at the point of attack to take on double teams and plug holes. He is just a junior and could go back for another year, but Rogers profiles to be a Day Three pick should he declare.
The Hawkeyes have had S Kaevon Merriweather opt out of this game, but they will have LB #31 Jack Campbell up for this contest. Campbell makes plays all over the field as a downhill run stuffer as well as a capable zone coverage defender. He isn’t the most dynamic athlete in terms of burst or twitch, but the 6’5, 243lb senior has the size, tenacity, and instincts you want in an off-ball linebacker that can play in the middle of an NFL defense for years to come.
CB #33 Riley Moss also projects to be a middle-round pick as the 6’1, 193lb redshirt senior has shown impressive ball skills in college, picking off 11 passes and deflecting 25 more as a Hawkeye. Injuries held him back this season, but his instincts and feel for zone coverage should get him drafted as a developmental corner and special teams contributor. EDGE #91 Lukas Van Ness profiles as a high-upside prospect, standing 6’5, 269lb while possessing an impressive blend of strength and power. He is only a redshirt sophomore and could go back to improve his draft stock, but with 13 sacks in his first two seasons, Van Ness has the potential to vault up draft boards should he declare.
TE #84 Sam LaPorta was held back in the poor Hawkeyes’ passing offense, but the 6’4, 249lb senior has the size, hands, and ability to play in-line as a blocker to make an NFL very happy as a potential TE2 on the roster with upside to develop into more. LB #44 Seth Benson has the chance of getting drafted as a late-round pick or will sign as a UDFA who does well in coverage as well as a run defender despite being undersized (6’0, 232lb). P #9 Tory Taylor has been touted as one of the best punters in the country and has a legit chance of getting drafted.
SUGAR BOWL #5 ALABAMA VS. #9 KANSAS STATE 12:00 PM EST ESPN
The Crimson Tide look to finish what has been a disappointing season by their standards on a high note Saturday afternoon as they face off against the Wildcats of Kansas State in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Crimson Tide will have both of their potential top-five picks playing in this game as EDGE #31 Will Anderson Jr. and QB #9 Bryce Young play their final college game. Anderson is recognized as a blue-chip prospect and has entrenched himself as the #1 prospect in this draft class and the likely #1 overall pick that isn’t a QB in the upcoming 2023 Draft. His statistical performance hasn’t reached the heights it did last season, but Anderson remains one of the surest things in all of college football when it comes to pro projections. With 34.5 sacks in three seasons, Anderson is a certified QB hunter that also excels in run defense.
S #9 Jordan Battle is a 6’1, 206lb senior that has gotten better each season, but took a step back in 2022. He is a great fit as a strong/box safety that can also play split zone on the backend. He is a big hitter but needs to be more consistent with his tackling to avoid missed attempts. A likely Day Two pick right now, Battle could stand to finish the season strong with a big performance against the team he haunted last season to boost his draft stock.
LB #10 Henry To’oTo’o is a tad undersized, (6’2, 228lb), but he plays a physical brand of football, both by coming downhill and having the sideline-to-sideline speed to play run and chase in pursuit. To’oTo’o is a capable blitzer and possesses good instincts, having a feel for zone coverage while also being able to run with backs and tight ends in man coverage. He is a steady, high-floor defender that will likely be a Day Two pick.
RB #1 Jahmyr Gibbs is a dual threat back, being a skilled pass catcher as well as an elusive, explosive runner that should be one of the first backs drafted. CB #7 Eli Ricks has had an up-and-down college career after breaking out as a true freshman at LSU. His height and length are enticing (6’2, 190lb), but his lack of speed and instinctual awareness leads to some missed opportunities and catches allowed he should be able to defend. DB #14 Brian Branch is a versatile defender that can play anywhere in the secondary, having the skill set to play safety or nickel corner. He’s a plus athlete and could be the first safety prospect off the board this spring.
Fellow DB #13 Malachi Moore is also an underclassman that could go back to school after having a down year from a stat perspective, but his athletic profile could make him a middle-round pick. IOL #55 Emil Ekiyor took his lumps to start his college career but put together his best season with the Tide as a potential high-end backup/serviceable starter at guard. The same goes for OL #60 Kendall Randolph who played mostly as a jumbo TE prior to this season and will get consideration late in the draft.
TE #81 Cameron Latu came on strong last season as a pass catcher in the CFP and followed that up with a so-so 2022 season. He mainly will be a pass-catching TE at the next level as he needs to develop more as a blocker. DL #47 Byron Young has developed into a disruptive defender during his time with the program and his size (6’3, 292lb) and versatility should get him drafted in the middle rounds as an early contributor. Other potential late-round draft picks for the Tide include DL #94 DJ Dale, OT #54 Tyler Steen, and DB #2 DeMarcco Hellams.
Kansas State may not have the sheer number of NFL Draft prospects on their team like Alabama, but they do have a few interesting players to watch. DE #91 Felix Anudike-Uzomah. The 6’4, 255lb junior is one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the country as he is coming off an 11-sack performance in 2021 which included six forced fumbles, and followed that up with 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles this season. He wins with a wicked-fast get-off on the snap of the football. Pair that with powerful hands to bull rush blockers into the pocket, and you have yourself quite the EDGE prospect that should go in the first three rounds.
Former Hawkeye and current Wildcat CB #23 Julius Brents made himself a lot on money this season, snagging four INTs and four PBUs along with 43 total stops and a forced fumble. Pair that with a 6’4, 202lb frame with impressive burst and explosiveness, and you got yourself a big-bodied CB to cover on the perimeter. He lacks quickness and will get beat by nuanced route runners, but Brents has traits that you cannot teach.
OL #50 Cooper Beebe is an experienced, versatile blocker, having started 13 games at LT last season, four at RG, three at RT, and has been the team’s full-time starting LG this season. He has some good play strength and can displace defenders off their spot at the LOS while having enough athleticism and mobility to move and pick up blocks in space. While his overall athletic profile may be limited, Beebe’s experience and position versatility make him a valuable prospect that can play multiple positions at the next level as either a capable starter or high-end backup.
RB #22 Deuce Vaughn has yet to declare for the draft, but the undersized (5’6, 176lb) runner has been a beast the last three seasons for Kansas State. He is a shifty runner that plays with good strength and contact balance for his size while also being a skilled pass catcher. Undoubtedly going to get comparisons to fellow former Wildcat Darren Sproles, Vaughn could get drafted as a top-tier satellite back that wins as a pass catcher and third-down back at the next level.
FIESTA BOWL (CFP) #2 MICHIGAN VS. #3 TCU 4:00 PM EST ESPN
The College Football Playoff kicks off semifinal play with the Wolverines and the Horned Frogs squaring off in Glendale, Arizona for the right to play in the National Championship Game.
The Wolverines have several draft prospects that round out a well-balanced squad. CB #5 DJ Turner is a two-year starter at CB for the Wolverines and has been one of their best players in the secondary since earning the starting job. He only has average measurables (6’0, 180lb) and doesn’t blow you away with his athleticism, but he is a steady presence in the secondary being a willing tackler against the run as well as playing with good instincts in coverage, being a likely Day Two pick in this year’s upcoming draft.
C #55 Olusegun Oluwatimi is a 6’3, 307lb redshirt senior who transferred from Virginia this spring and started 35 games at the pivot position. He has helped stabilize and talented Michigan offensive line, having fluidity in pass protection to protect the interior while moving DL off their spot in the Wolverines’ dynamic rushing attack. RB Blake Corum can thank Olusegun Oluwatimi and the rest of his OL for a breakout 2022 season as the center can pull and climb to the second level to pick up defenders, giving RBs plenty of open room to run.
OT #76 Ryan Hayes is another legit OL prospect for the Wolverines upfront. 6’7, 305lb redshirt senior has appeared in 36 games in his career with 26 starts at left tackle. Hayes is a large man that generates a big push up front in the running game, leading to the success of the Michigan rushing attack and propelling RB Blake Corum into the Heisman conversation. A good athlete in his own right, Hayes projects to be a capable starting tackle at the next level or a high-end backup that should be able to contribute quickly.
DL #58 Mazi Smith is a stout run defender in the middle of the defense, standing 6’3, 337lb, and possesses impressive play strength at the point of attack. He moves extremely well for a player of his size as well, being a legit pass rusher with his quickness of the ball and hand usage. Smith is recognized as one of the best DL prospects in the draft class but will have to have his off-field character vetted during the pre-draft process to be a top 75 selection his play suggests he should be.
DL #90 Mike Morris profiles more as a 3-tech/4i and has been quite the pass rusher for the Wolverines this season, posting seven sacks and a forced fumble. He has great size and length (6’6, 292lb) to hold his own against the run and should be drafted in the middle rounds this coming spring. WR #8 Ronnie Bell has average size and speed, but is good after the catch, being a threat in open space with the ball in his hands. WR #6 Cornelius Johnson provides more size (6’3, 208lb) to the table as a potential late-round draft pick. TE #86 Luke Schoonmaker has good size (6’6, 250lb) to help aid as a blocker in the running as well as providing an offense with a red zone threat.
The Horned Frogs may have the first receiver drafted this spring in WR #1 Quentin Johnston. Johnston has played three seasons for TCU and is having his best season in 2022, posting 53 catches for 903 yards and five TDs. Johnston has great size and length (6’4, 193lb) to win contested catch situations as well as the speed to stretch defenses vertically down the field. CB #1 Tre’Vius Hodges Tomlinson lacks the size you like to see in NFL defensive backs (5’9, 180lb), but he has good speed, quickness, and the competitive demeanor to match up with receivers on the outside. He will likely have to kick inside to the slot at the next level, but Tomlinson should get drafted in the middle rounds.
Fellow CB #24 Josh Newton is an underclassman and could go back for another year, but he has played himself into the middle rounds this season, breaking up 12 passes and picking off three passes, one of which he returned for a score. Given that he has better size than his teammate (6’0, 195lb), there’s a chance he goes before Tomlinson in the draft. CB #21 Noah Daniels hasn’t had the same ball production as his teammates, but the 6’0, 210lb senior has good size and could be a late-round pick. OL #79 Steve Avila is an intriguing prospect, being center/guard versatile, and has great size (6’4, 330lb) to displace defenders in the run game as a likely middle-round pick.
RB #33 Kendre Miller has had himself quite the season for TCU on the ground, rushing for 1,342 yards on 216 attempts (6.2 YPC) and 17 TDs while catching 16 passes for 116 yards. Having feature back size (6’0, 220lb) along with good power to run between the tackles and burst to create in the second level, Miller could decide to declare early with a strong performance. QB #15 Max Duggan has played himself into a draftable prospect after starting out his career raw. He is a good athlete, having rushed for 1,837 yards and 25 TDs during his college career while improving as a passer, throwing for 3,321 yards and 30 TDs this season. Duggan is a middle-to-late-round prospect.
PEACH BOWL (CFP) #1 GEORGIA VS. #4 OHIO STATE 8:00 PM EST ESPN
The New Year’s Eve college football slate concludes Saturday night in Atlanta with the Ohio State Buckeyes looking to dethrone the reign champion Georgia Bulldogs on their home turf.
The Bulldogs are stacked with NFL talent with the top dawg being DL #88 Jalen Carter. Carter is a blue-chip prospect as a 6’3, 300lb junior. He possesses incredible strength and power to routinely defeat blocks and wreak havoc on the LOS. Carter also is a good athlete for his size, possessing great burst off the snap as well as the quickness to put blockers in a bind. Carter is a foundational piece on the defensive line that should expect to go in the top five picks in April and become an impact defensive lineman for hopefully the next decade.
CB #5 Kelee Ringo has been touted as one of the top CB prospects in the nation prior to the start of the 2022 season after being a key piece on the dominant Bulldogs defense last season which helped them win a National Championship. Ringo returned for his junior season and has been playing well as of late after a quiet start to the year, being more consistent in man coverage while using his size and athleticism to keep opposing WRs at bay. Ringo has all the physical tools you look for in a prototypical outside CB and will have the opportunity to become Pittsburgh’s CB1 for 2023 and beyond.
OT #59 Broderick Jones has quickly become one of the top tackles in the draft class in his first season as a full-time starter. The 6’4, 315lb redshirt sophomore is raw in terms of technique and experience, having only four starts under his belt coming into this season, but he allowed no sacks, no hits, and only four hurries on 233 pass-blocking snaps in 2021. He is a powerful run blocker that got the best of stud pass rusher Will Anderson from Alabama at times last season and is nimble on his feet for the position. He will have to work on his pass set to claim first-round consideration, but Jones has the traits you can’t teach.
S #29 Christopher Smith has had himself quite the season as a redshirt senior, picking off three passes and deflecting five others as a cerebral defender on the backend of the defense. He has some athletic limitations, but Smith should be taken near the top of the safety draft class. TE #0 Darnell Washington may not be the most prolific tight end on his own team, but the 6’7, 270lb prospect has incredible size to aid in the run game as an extra blocker as well as a big-bodied pass catcher on possession downs or in the red zone.
OL #70 Warren McClendon and #63 Sedrick Van Pran are both underclassmen that could go back to school, but both have put out good tape this season and could declare should they capture a second-straight title. RB #6 Kenny McIntosh is the latest Georgia RB to make his transition to the pros as a strong runner with speed and burst as well as having the pass-catching chops (33 receptions for 406 yards) to play all three downs. QB #13 Stenson Bennett has captained the offense for several years now, not possessing optimal measurables or arm strength, but has been a poised, accurate passer that could get drafted late as an NFL backup. EDGE #33 Robert Beal Jr. could get some consideration late as well.
The Buckeyes are led on offense by QB #7 C.J Stroud who figures to be a top-ten selection in this year’s draft.
The Buckeyes have a pair of NFL-caliber tackles, in OT #77 Paris Johnson Jr & OT #79 Dawand Jones. The 6’6, 310lb Johnson moved to the blindside after seeing action at guard before this season and has fared well, having the athleticism and size scouts look for in NFL OTs. He plays with a lot of effort in the run and has held his own quite well on the edge in pass protection as a likely top-20 pick, Jones is a giant at RT, standing 6’8, 359lb. Jones struggled last season with his technique and consistency to warrant Round One consideration. However, Jones has rebounded this season, representing himself better in pass protection while being one of the best run-blockers in the country.
Ohio State has a lot of talent on the offensive line including C #53 Luke Wypler. The 6’3, 300lb junior has been climbing up boards thanks to his impressive play in pass protection along with his ability to get out in space and finish in the running game. He could decide to return after the season, but should Wypler continue his strong play, we may see him declare like fellow OL Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones and one of the better centers in this draft class.
The Buckeyes are led by LB #35 Tommy Eichenberg on defense. The 6’2, 239lb senior is the field general for the Ohio State defense, having nearly 100 total tackles on the season (92) along with 2.5 sacks, two PBUs, and an INT returned for a TD against the Iowa Hawkeyes a few weeks ago. While not the most dynamic athlete in terms of speed or quickness, Eichenberg is a cerebral defender that quickly diagnoses the play and flows to the football. He is a solid run defender that also does a great job occupying zones in coverage. Eichenberg should get selected in the middle rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.
EDGE #9 Zach Harrison is an intriguing prospect, standing 6’6, 272lb, and was projected to be the next great Ohio State pass rusher, but his production never matched the hype he got prior to the 2021 season (three sacks, two forced fumbles). Harrison decided to go back for his senior season and showed improvement as a pass rusher when it comes to winning around the corner and defeating blocks, but his production still doesn’t inspire confidence (three sacks & three forced fumbles. Harrison has the size, athleticism, and tools to develop into a productive pass rusher at the next level. He likely will be a middle-round pick that carries a lot of upside, but some risk as well.
S #14 Ronnie Hickman showed some strides in his second season as a starter, being a capable run defender while chipping in six PBUs and an INT as a potential Day Three selection. RB #3 Miyan Williams is a bowling ball of a runner, having a short, compact frame (5’9, 225lb) to grind it between the tackles as a potential Day Three pick if he declares.
Which of the names listed above will you be specifically watching? Do you think any of the prospects would be a good fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!
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