Every week in 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 2023 NFL Draft and specifically how they may be viewed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
#2 Ohio State at #13 Penn State 11:00AM CST FOX
The Buckeyes travel to Happy Valley Saturday to face off against their Big Ten conference foe Penn State. 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.
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. Both tackles will be put to the test against an athletic Nittnay Lions defensive front, hoping to keep C.J. Stroud clean and stay unbeaten on the season.
The Buckeyes will look to shred Penn State through the air on Saturday, putting pressure on CB #9 Joey Porter Jr. and the rest of the secondary to step up in a big way to secure the upset. Porter has enjoyed a breakout season thus far in 2022, ranking second in the country with 11 PBUs while allowing only 11 catches for 100 yards on 24 targets in seven games played according to Pro Football Focus. He will face his toughest assignment of the season this week, covering the plethora of weapons Ohio State has at WR.
#17 Illinois at Nebraska 2:30PM CST ABC
The Illini are off to their best start in over a decade, boasting a 6-1 record and hope to get their seventh win against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln this weekend. One player that has shined this season for Illinois is DL #4 Jer’Zhan Newton. Newton is only a redshirt sophomore, so he may choose to return to school. However, the 6’2, 295lb defensive lineman has garnered the attention of scouts thanks to his impressive pass rush ability for his size. Newton has racked up four sacks and ranks in the top three in pressures in college football. He has amazing twitch and quickness and can play up-and-down the LOS, being a fit for multiple defensive schemes at the next level.
Nebraska may not be having a great season in terms of their record, but WR #3 Trey Palmer is having himself a breakout campaign. Palmer currently ranks sixth in the FBS with 781 receiving yards on 47 receptions (16.6 YPR) with five touchdowns on the year. The LSU transfer is the highest-graded WR in the Power 5 by PFF, almost doubling his three previous seasons combined with the Tigers. Standing at 6’1, 190lb, Palmer doesn’t have an imposing frame, but his ability to generate separation and get loose downfield has resulted in plenty of big plays thus far in 2022.
Florida at #1 Georgia 2:30PM CST CBS
The Florida Gators face a daunting task this weekend as the face off against their heated rivals across the state line. If the Gators wish to somehow pull off the upset, they will rely on the defense getting pressure on the QB to disrupt the passing game.
EDGE #1 Brenton Cox Jr. will lead the charge upfront for the Gators, entering his final season as a 6’4, 253lb senior. Cox had a strong 2021 season, posting 14.5 TFLs and eight sacks, but decided to return for his senior season to improve his draft stock. Cox is a physically imposing edge rusher; having the frame and burst you look for in a pass rusher. Improved hand usage and consistency as a run defender will be the key for him to solidify his status as a Day Two prospect as well as give him a chance to make impact plays in this matchup.
For the Bulldogs, OT #59 Broderick Jones is the man that will be tasked with keep cox away from his QB should he line up on his side. 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’s allowed no sacks, no hits and only four hurries on 233 pass-blocking snaps. 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.
Northwestern at Iowa 2:30PM CST ESPN2
The Wildcats head to Iowa City Saturday afternoon to do battle with the fellow Big Ten Conference Iowa Hawkeyes. The Wildcats have one of the worst records in FBS football (1-6), but they have possibly the best offensive tackle prospect in a 2023 NFL Draft with OT #77 Peter Skoronski. The 6’4, 315lb junior lacks ideal length and size, but is one of the most technically sound offensive linemen in this draft class, mirroring pass rushers with ease while playing with great base and effort as a run blocker. He tops the list of PFF’s Midseason OT Prospects, having allowed only two pressures on 288 pass blocking snaps this season. According to their metrics, Skoronski has the best pass blocking grade in the country at 93.0.
The Hawkeyes have probably the worst offense in all of college football, but their defense has continued its stellar play to make up for its poor counterpart. The captain of the defense is LB #31 Jack Campbell who serves as the field general for the Hawks, making plays all over the field as a downhill run stuffer as well as a capable zone coverage defender. He has his athletic limitations, 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. He will be asked to lead the defense yet again and keep Northwestern off the scoreboard if Iowa hopes to avoid the home upset.
Michigan State at #4 Michigan 6:30PM CST ABC
The Spartans travel to Ann Arbor to battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy with in-state rival Michigan. The player to watch for Michigan State is EDGE #4 Jacoby Windmon. Windmon transferred from UNLV to the Spartans for 2022 and got off to a hot start, racking up 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in the first two games. However, Windmon has been quiet since then failing to log a sack in five straight contests. He has faced better competition in recent weeks including NFL prospects Jaxon Kirkland, Jaelyn Duncan, and the Ohio State OTs. Windmon hopes to get back on-track against a talented Michigan OL and show the first two games weren’t a fluke as a pass rusher with NFL talent.
I can’t mention the Wolverines without highlighting Josh Carney’s love child C #55 Olusegun Oluwatimi. The 6’3, 307 redshirt senior 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 has the ability to pull and climb to the second level to pick up defenders, giving RBs plenty of open room to run.
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!