Throughout the 2021-2022 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.
Outback Bowl #21 Arkansas vs. Penn State – 11:00AM CST ESPN2
The Nittnay Lions take on the Razorbacks to kickoff New Year’s Day action Saturday morning down in Tampa, Florida. Penn State will be without star WR #5 Jahan Dotson in this game as he has decided to opt out and start preparing for the 2022 NFL Draft.
S #1 S Jaquan Brisker, LB #12 Brandon Smith, LB #13 Ellis Brooks, DT #54 Derrick Tangelo, and DE #17 Arnold Ebiketie have all opted out of the Outback Bowl. Brisker and Dotson are the big names of this group as Dotson is expected to be a fringe-first round pick this spring and Brisker potentially the 2nd safety off the board after Notre Dame star Kyle Hamilton thanks to his size and playmaking ability.
Two players to keep an eye on for Penn State that sound like they will play in this game are CB #5 Tariq Castro-Fields and OT #53 Rasheed Walker. Castro-Fields is a 6’0, 194lb redshirt senior that doesn’t have ample ball production in his time in Happy Valley (three career INTs) but is a good athlete with the length you love to see at CB. Walker is a strong, powerful run blocker that has his ups-and-downs in pass protection, having inconsistencies vs speed rushers. However, the 6’6, 325lb junior has the size, length, and experience that scouts will be intrigued with as a potential mid-round draft selection that can develop into a starting-caliber tackle in the league with improved technique.
The razorbacks also have had their stud WR #16 Treylon Burks decide to opt out of the game today, playing it safe and declare for the NFL Draft. The 6’3, 225lb junior is a height/weight/speed specimen at WR, being a threat to take the ball to the house anytime he gets it in his hands. His size, explosiveness, and play style are easily comparable to A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans as Burks will look to have a similar impact on the game at the professional level. EDGE #55 Tre Williams has also opted out of the bowl game.
Two draft hopefuls who will be suiting up for The Hogs in this one are OT #76 Myron Cunningham and DL #99 John Ridgeway. Both Cunningham and Ridgeway transferred into Arkansas and have made immediate impacts on opposite sides of the trenches with Cunningham manning down the LT spot with steady play both as a run blocker and pass protector, standing 6’7, 320lb. The 6’6, 320lb Ridgeway eats up double teams as a prototypical NT but has the fluid athleticism to play chase after the ballcarrier. He is strong at the point of attack and stacks and sheds blocks well. Look for both guys to have their names called sometime between late Day Two or on Day Three.
Citrus Bowl #15 Iowa vs. #22 Kentucky – 12:00PM CST ABC
The Hawkeyes face off against the Wildcats in Orlando in a battle between two teams that pride themselves in controlling the trenches. For my hometown Hawks, the name to watch is C #65 Tyler Linderbaum. The 6’3, 290lb junior won the Rimington Award this season as the nation’s top center, leading the way for the Hawkeye offensive line known for rolling out NFL talent on a regular basis. Linderbaum’s athleticism and explosiveness for the position are absurd, being able to pick up blocks 20+ yards downfield. As the highest-graded center in recent memory, look for “Lindy” to go off the board in the first half of the First Round as the top center taken in April.
Other Hawkeyes that expect to hear their names called on Draft include CB #33 Riley Moss, RB #15 Tyler Goodson, LB #31 Jack Campbell, CB #8 Matt Hankins, and DE #97 Zach VanValkenburg. Campbell is a 6’5, 243lb junior that has yet to declare whereas Goodson has been the focal point of the Hawkeye offense and has already opted out of the game. Moss is a player to watch for Iowa as the 6’1, 194lb senior has been a ball magnet for the opportunistic Hawkeye defense, nabbing ten INTs in his college career while deflecting another 15. He has great instincts and will break on the ball quickly in off-man/zone coverage to jump the route and make the splash play.
For the Wildcats, they have their own dominant trench player in OT #70 Darrian Kinnard. The 6’5, 345lb senior is the prototype tackle for a power run scheme, having the strength and power to get a push upfront and displace defenders off the LOS for big running lanes. His flexibility and fluidity in pass protection against top-tier edge rushers will be tested at the next level, but he can be a great scheme fit for teams looking to run down opponent’s throat. Look for Kinnard to be taken somewhere in the first three rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
The offensive weapon of choice for Kentucky through the air is WR #1 Wan’Dale Robinson. The 5’11, 185lb junior has enjoyed a strong 2021 campaign, totaling 94 receptions for 1,164 yards and seven TDs. The Nebraska transfer has experience as a runner too, carrying the ball 141 times for 691 yards and four scores in his college career. Robinson is dangerous in open space and has the YAC ability to take it the distance if he sees daylight.
Other names to keep an eye on for Kentucky include EDGE #4 Joshua Pascal, OL #51 Dare Rosenthal, and RB #24 Chris Rodriguez Jr. Pascal is a versatile defensive lineman that can play all over the LOS for the Wildcats and Rodriguez has picked up where Benny Snell Jr. did for the Wildcats as that power back in-between the tackles.
Fiesta Bowl #5 Notre Dame vs. #9 Oklahoma State – 12:00PM CST ESPN
The Fighting Irish take on the Cowboys at high noon Saturday in Glendale, Arizona. The top draft prospect for Notre Dame, S #14 Kyle Hamilton, has opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the 2022 NFL Draft. Hamilton looks like he has been built in a lab, standing 6’4, 220lb with the athleticism and instincts to match as a blue-chip prospect and likely Top Ten pick as the #1 safety off the board come April.
RB #23 Kyren Williams has also opted out of the Fiesta Bowl. However, EDGE #7 Isaiah Foskey looks primed to play in the bowl game for the Fighting Irish as the 6’5, 260lb redshirt sophomore is weighing his options in terms of coming back or declaring this year for the draft. Foskey has been a force in 2021, racking up 47 total stops, ten sacks, five forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. He is a menace off the edge as a pass rusher and has improved as a run defender. Foskey also has made a name for himself on special teams, making him an intriguing developmental option with tons of upside given his athletic profile and upside should he declare.
Another name to watch for the Fighting Irish is OL #55 Jarett Patterson, the 6’4, 307lb junior who was the lone returning starter from last year’s offensive line loaded with NFL talent that has established himself as one of the better center prospects in this draft class with the ability to play at guard as well at the next level.
For the Pokes, the name to watch is S #31 Kolby Harvell-Peel. The 6’0, 207lb senior has been a mainstay for the Cowboys defense since arriving in Stillwater, tallying 229 total stops (162 solo), 23 PBUs, five sacks, two forced fumbles, and ten INTs in four seasons played. He is at his best near the LOS as a box safety/dime defender or when he is allowed to flow to the football on the backend of the defense. He appears to be a little tight, making him a potential liability in man coverage situations, but Harvell-Peel has been a big piece of this defense for several seasons, making him a legit middle-to-late round prospect as a likely strong safety in the league.
Other names to watch for Oklahoma State include OL #72 Josh Sills, LB #20 Malcolm Rodriquez, S #3 Tre Sterling, and QB #3 Spencer Sanders. Sills is a 6’6, 325lb senior that transferred from West Virginia to fill the LG spot for the Cowboys, providing a big body to move people in the run game as a potential late round draft selection in April.
Rose Bowl #6 Ohio State vs. #11 Utah – 4:00PM CST ESPN
The Buckeyes travel to the West Coast to battle the Utes Saturday afternoon in “The Grandaddy of Them All” in Pasadena, California. Sadly for Ohio State, a majority of their draft talent has decided to bypass the Rose Bowl with WR #2 Chris Olave, WR #5 Garrett Wilson, OT #78 Nicholas Petit-Frere, and DL #92 Haskell Garrett all opting out. Wilson and Olave headline this group as both WRs rank near the top of their position and have a chance to replicate what Alabama has done the previous two drafts to be teammates selected in the first round at the WR position.
Draft prospects that are expected to play for the Buckeyes on offense include TE #88 Jeremy Ruckert, OL #75 Thayer Munford, and RB #33 Master Teague III. Ruckert came on strong at the end of last season during the CFP but opted to return and try and boost his stock this season. The 6’5, 252lb senior is a strong blocker in the run game and has developed as a pass catcher, presenting a well-rounded TE prospect that will be selected somewhere in the middle rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.
On defense for the Buckeyes, the names to watch include EDGE #9 Zach Harrison, CB #7 Sevyn Banks EDGE #11 Tyreke Smith, S #23 Marcus Hooker, and S #41 Josh Proctor. Harrison is an intriguing prosect, standing 6’6, 268lb 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). Still, the junior is raw and has the size, athleticism, and tools to develop into a productive pass rusher at the next level. Harrison could go back for another year, but should he declare, he’d be an interested stash for a team looking for a high-upside defender.
For the Utes, the man to watch is LB #0 Devin Lloyd. The 6’3, 235lb junior has been one of the most productive defenders in the nation this season, recording 107 total tackles (63 solo), eight sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, six PBUs, and four INTs. Lloyd is a long, rangy linebacker that plays all over for the Utah defense, lining up as a traditional off-ball backer, split out in the nickel, and even on the edge of the LOS as a situational pass rusher, beating OTs with speed around the edge. He seems to be a tad slow diagnosing the play at times, but his instincts and playmaking ability have him as a favorite to be LB1 in this draft class.
Other names to watch for the Utes include TE/FB #80 Brant Kuithe, TE #86 Dalton Kincaid, and RB #9 Tavion Thomas. Thomas is a 6’2, 221lb redshirt sophomore that was projected to return to Utah next season but has enjoyed a breakout 2021 season rushing 186 times for 1,041 yards and 20 TDs. He has ended the season on a tear and depending on where his draft stock falls after the Rose Bowl game, look for Thomas to potentially declare early.
Sugar Bowl #7 Baylor vs. #8 Ole Miss – 7:45PM CST ESPN
The final bowl game of the night features the Bears and the Rebels in a showdown in the New Orleans Caesar’s Superdome. The Rebels had no players opt out of this one, meaning we get to watch QB #2 Matt Corral spin it one last time before heading off to the league. The 6’0, 200lb junior is one of the favorites to be QB1 in this draft class, having the powerful arm and rushing ability to get it done through the air as well as with his legs. He dealt with turnover issues last season but cleaned that up in a big way this season throwing 20TDs to only four INTs.
He was more productive as a passer last season, but Ole Miss was able to lean more on the run this year as well as Corral picking up 597 yards and 11 scores on the ground himself. His height and durability will be heavily vetted by scouts in the pre-draft process, but his arm talent and football character warrant first round consideration this coming April.
For the Rebels defense, the name to watch is EDGE #7 Sam Williams. The 6’4, 265lb senior set the Ole Miss single-season sack record with 12.5 this season, taking his career total to 22.5. he is a relentless pass rusher, winning with a variety of moves around the edge with speed or using power into the blocker to shock him backward. He also holds his own against the run, but with more consistency setting an edge, Williams can be a legit three-down threat as a defender at the next level.
Other draft prospects for Ole miss to watch include WR #11 Dontario Drummond, OL #64 Nick Broeker, RB #9 Jerrion Ealy, and WR #1 Jonathan Mingo. My friend and fellow Steelers Depot contributor Wesley Cantliffe has been high on Drummond since the beginning of the season, as the 6’1, 220lb senior has been the favorite target for Corral in the passing game. He is a thickly built receiver that also has the body control and hands to be a sneaky target in the later rounds of the draft.
For the Bears, a name to watch is S #8 Jalen Pitre. The 6’0, 197lb senior has been productive in a variety of ways for Baylor, racking up 70 total tackles (54 solo), 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, seven PBUs, and two INTs this season. Pitre does most of his damage as a strong safety close to the LOS, being that quintessential headhunter over the middle of the field as the enforcer of the defense. He will have to prove to be more competent in coverage, but Pitre has a skill set and physical demeanor to fill that box safety role and core special teams player in the league.
For the Bears offense, the engine that makes the train go is RB #7 Abram Smith. The 5’11, 221lb senior converted from linebacker to running back this season and it has paid off in a big way, carrying the rock 232 times for 1,429 yards and 12 TDs. For just learning the position this season, Smith played well displaying power up the middle and sneaky acceleration in the open field. He may never become a feature back at the next level, but should be able to contribute in tandem with another back in a committee approach for a team wanting to utilize multiple backs.
Which of the names listed above will you be specifically watching this weekend? 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!