Every week in the lead up to the slate of college football games on Saturday, we will be highlighting several high-profile games as well as several college football prospects in each matchup that project to be sought after in the 2022 NFL Draft, and specifically how they may be viewed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Liberty at Ole Miss – 11AM CST
From a scouting perspective, this matchup between the Flames and the Rebels has been one of the most anticipated games on the season thanks to two top QB prospects will have the chance to go toe-to-toe in Oxford Saturday afternoon. QB Malik Willis took college football by storm last season, showcasing the athletic ability as a dynamic dual threat with his legs as well as the arm talent to make impressive off-platform throws while on the run, having the arm strength to put the ball on his target 60+ yards downfield. Turnovers and decision making have been my knocks on Willis, and having the opportunity to show out against an SEC defense will help scouts feel confident in projecting Willis as an NFL QB.
On the opposite sideline, QB Matt Corral will look to rebound after the loss last weekend to Auburn and come out on top as the better QB in this contest. Corral has done a better job limiting his turnover-worthy plays this season, directly playing himself into first round consideration after being a fringe guy in 2020. However, many want to see him operate as a traditional passer, taking shots down the field and over the middle with more regularity rather than the RPO/quick screen game Ole Miss often operates in. Facing a Liberty defense compared to the stout SEC competition Corral faces on a weekly basis should provide him the chance to open it up and have a great day on the stat sheet.
#13 Auburn at #14 Texas A&M – 2:30PM CST
With Auburn coming off a nice win against Ole Miss last weekend, they will be now tasked with playing another Top 15 team in Texas A&M riding a hot streak. My eyes will be on CB Roger McCeary who doesn’t garner the same recognition in the media as he does in the scouting community. The 6’0″, 190 lb. senior is a battle-tested corner, having faced the SEC’s best over the past three seasons as a full-time starter. He has the length, athleticism, and ball skills to fit as an ideal boundary corner at the NFL level. He tends to get baited occasionally in attempt to make a play on the football, but he is right often and could make a big play on QB Zach Calzada.
For the Aggies, DL DeMarvin Leal will be the lead defender that will have all eyes on him from a scouting perspective. Leal is a man child, standing at 6’4″, 290 lbs. as a junior that is extremely versatile when it comes to his alignment. He has played from the A-Gap to a standup position as a 7-technique outside of the OT, having the combination of strength, power, and explosiveness to cause havoc upfront. His skillset coupled with his upside make him a tantalizing prospect, and having the chance to dismantle the Auburn offensive line as a pass rusher could do wonders for his draft stock while holding his own against the running game that the Tigers will look to establish early and often.
Virginia Tech at Boston College – 6:30PM CST
This ACC matchup may not feature a ranked team, but I will be tuning in to check out the big nasties upfront for both squads. Seeing as Trai Turner may not be back in 2022, guard will likely be on the list of positions Pittsburgh will have to address in the draft. OG Lecitus Smith for the Hokies will be the name to watch for the visiting team, as the 6’3″, 320 lb. junior has the size and build to consistently displace opponents in the run game. He gets a great push upfront and has become the guy to watch on the offensive line since Christian Darrisaw left for the pros. I will be watching his foot quickness specifically in pass protection as his potential dealbreaker.
For the Eagles, OL Zion Johnson will be the man to watch. The 6’3″, 316 lb. senior has been a starter for several seasons for the Eagles, having played and started at both LT and LG. Being more of a size fit for guard, Johnson would fit right in to what Pittsburgh is trying to do up front, having the strength and demeanor to generate a clear surge upfront in the running game, taking pride in running the opposition out of the play and planting them into the turf for the pancake block. He plays with great aggressiveness and is dangerous as a puller on counter runs. Again, pass protection will be a key factor in determining his draft stock, but the position versatility helps.
LSU at #2 Alabama – 6:30PM CST
While this matchup between the Tigers and the Tide may not be the Top 5 clash we are used to seeing, that doesn’t mean that this game won’t feature some great NFL talent. For LSU, LB Damone Clark will be the guy circled to watch as the leader both on and off the field for the program. The 6’3″, 245 lb. senior is a do-it-all linebacker, providing great pursuit as a run-and-chase defender against the run as well as a capable coverage player and blitzer. He is a guy that doesn’t get all the headlines at the position, but he is one of the most consistent defenders for the Tigers you will find. A strong performance against the Crimson Tide will help him climb the draft boards.
For the Crimson Tide, LB Christian Harris will look to outplay Clark in his matchup to maintain his status as one of the top ILBs in this draft class. The 6’2″, 232 lb. junior is a physical striker that will run through you as a tackler, having no regard for his prey. He does a great job shooting gaps as a run defender and has phenomenal pursuit as a pass rusher when he gets to hunt the QB. So far, I personally haven’t been impressed with Harris is coverage, which could hurt his draft stock if he is seen as a two-down player at the next level. He needs to play with better play recognition and awareness to cover backs at tight ends in open space.
#4 Oregon at Washington
This PAC-12 matchup will feature several defensive backs that are likely future contributors on NFL defenses. For the Ducks, S Verone McKinley III is the clear alpha in the Oregon secondary, contributing as both a deep middle/split zone safety that has the range and instincts to make plays on the ball down the field. He also is a willing tackler, occasionally rolling up in the box to make plays against the run and stick his face in the fan. He’s forced a fumble and has picked off four passes thus far this season, and will be looking to add to his career total of nine INTs Saturday night as a dangerous ballhawk scouts will have their eyes on.
For the Huskies to pull off the upset, their defense will have to do an equal job of stopping the run as well as limit big plays down the field in the passing game. CB Trent McDuffie will have his hand in both objectives for Washington, as the 5’11″, 195 lb. redshirt sophomore likely is the best run support CB in this draft class. His pursuit of the football is outstanding, and he drives his feet on contact with the ball carrier, doing a great job to take out motors and limit YAC. He may not have elite speed or size, but McDuffie has the instinctual awareness to excel in off-man or zone coverage situations, being quick to click-and-close on the pass once thrown, breaking on the ball to break up the pass.
Being in a similar mold to former Husky Byron Murphy, McDuffie likely would best fit as a high-end nickel at the next level, but also could play on the outside in the right system. A strong showing against the fourth-ranked Oregon offense Saturday would help answer questions to whether he can hold up on the outside or if he should be relegated to slot duties in the league.
What are your thoughts of the games and prospects listed above? How do you think they will fare on Saturday? Will you be tuning into any of these games specifically? Who else will you be watching for this weekend as a potential draft prospect for Pittsburgh? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!