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.
DUKE’S MAYO BOWL #23 NC STATE VS. MARYLAND 12:00 PM EST ESPN
The Wolfpack get to stay in-state for the Mayo Bowl against the Maryland Terrapins to kick off bowl game action Friday afternoon.
The Terrapins have already had their top three WRs opt out: Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr., and Jacob Copeland along with DB Denote Banks. However, it looks like OT #71 Jaelyn Duncan will play in this game before going to the pros. Duncan stands at 6’6″, 320lb as a senior, and has had his play match the measurables. He has done a good job keeping the QB clean in the pocket while also getting out in space in the running game, pulling from the tackle spot, and picking up linebackers and defensive backs in the screen game. Still, while Duncan had moments on tape that flashed, he was inconsistent with his anchor and aggressiveness as a run blocker, making him a Day 2 projection.
Another player to watch for Maryland is DB #2 Jakorian Bennett. Bennett started his career at the JUCO level before transferring to Maryland for the last three years. In 2022, Bennett has 39 total tackles, one interception, and 10 PBUs. He had three INTs and 11 PBUs last season, suggesting he can make plays on the ball. Bennett will be going back to his hometown in Mobile as he tries to increase his draft stock as a likely Day 3 prospect.
The Wolfpack will be represented by DL #48 Cory Durden. Durden has good size at defensive tackle, standing 6’4″, 310lb and can be a stout defender inside against the run. He doesn’t provide much as a pass rusher, but can push the pocket, having 11 sacks in his five years with the team. LB #11 Payton Wilson could return to school with a year of eligibility remaining, but he has the size (6’4″, 230lb) and production as a four-year contributor in the middle of the Wolfpack defense to potentially be a Day 3 pick if he declares. Keep an eye out for C #50 Grant Gibson as well as an undersized (6’1″, 310lb) but talented blocker that does well in space in the running game.
SUN BOWL #18 UCLA VS. PITT 2:00 PM EST CBS
The UCLA Bruins and Pitt Panthers converge in El Paso, Texas to compete in the Sun Bowl Friday afternoon.
The Panthers have had Calijah Kancey, Habakkuk Baldonado, Carter Warren, SirVocea Dennis, and Israel Abanikanda opt out already for the Sun Bowl. This leaves CB #31 Erick Hallett II as the most notable name that intends to enter the draft. Hallett has been a productive player the last three seasons for the Panthers, nabbing eight INTs, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and 21 PBUs during that timeframe. He is a capable tackler and does well at breaking on the ball in zone coverage. His long speed will be important in determining his fit at the next level as a player that can cover man-to-man but may need to kick inside depending on how he tests.
It’s the exact opposite for the Bruins as most of their NFL Draft prospects intend to play in this game. The top one is RB #24 Zach Charbonnet who is in the midst of a fantastic season, totaling 1,359 rushing yards on just 195 carries (7.0 YPC) and 14 TDs to go along with 37 receptions for 321 yards. The Michigan transfer has torn up the Pac-12 since coming to LA, showcasing a blend of size (6’1″, 220lb), power, and burst as a runner. Charbonnet should be one of the first backs drafted, potentially near the middle of Day 2 of the draft.
Another name tearing it up for the Bruins in 2022 is EDGE #15 Laiatu Latu. Latu was forced to quit his football career after a neck injury that ended his career in Seattle with the Huskies in 2019. However, he was medically cleared and entered the transfer portal, and ended up in Southern California playing for the Bruins. Latu has posted 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles so far this season and has the size, length, and athleticism (6’4″, 265lb) you look for in an NFL-caliber pass rusher. His previous medical history could push him down the draft board, but should he check out at the NFL Combine, Latu could be a steal somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft.
EDGE #12 Grayson Murphy is another name to watch as an underclassman that could go back to school, but he has posted 13.5 sacks in the last two seasons which could prompt an early declaration. S #4 Stephen Blaylock could potentially be drafted near the end of Day 3 as a backup/special teamer along with WR #9 Jake Bobo who has had his best season after transferring from Duke as a big-bodied (6’5″, 215lb) pass catcher who does his best work in the red zone.
GATOR BOWL #19 SOUTH CAROLINA VS. #21 NOTRE DAME 3:30 PM EST ESPN
The Gamecocks of South Carolina face off against fellow top 25-ranked Notre Dame in Jacksonville at TIAA Bank Field.
The Gamecocks have had several big-name prospects already opt out of the bowl game including CB Cam Smith, DL Zacch Pickens, and TE Jaheim Bell who entered the transfer portal. They will have WR #3 Juice Wells play in this game as he considers entering the NFL Draft or coming back for another season. The James Madison transfer played well against SEC competition. He posted 63 receptions for 898 yards and six TDs after going over 1,250 yards and 15 scores the year prior at the FCS level. Wells is a sure-handed possession receiver that is physical at the catch point, using his strength and size (6’1″, 207lb) to beat contested coverage.
His quarterback will also have to decide after the bowl game whether to enter the draft. That would be none other than QB #7 Spencer Rattler who was castoff from Oklahoma after going from being projected as the #1 overall pick prior to the 2021 season to getting benched for Caleb Williams. He transferred to South Carolina and had himself a redemptive season. Still, Rattler is undersized and would benefit from further development rather than declaring and getting selected as a hopeful Day 3 pick.
The Fighting Irish will be without several of their stud prospects as well with TE Michael Mayer and EDGE Isaiah Foskey opting out. IOL #55 Jarrett Patterson does intend to play in this game for Notre Dame. The 6’4″, 310lb redshirt senior is a four-year starter and team captain, having started 34 games at center but moved to guard in 2022. He excelled in his transition outside from the pivot, showcasing a strong anchor in pass protection along with the size and strength to get a push up the middle in the running game. His athletic upside may be capped, but Patterson is one of the steadiest, most consistent IOL in college football and profiles as a solid Day 2 pick.
S #16 Brandon Joseph remains a game-time decision regarding if he will play in the bowl game as one of the better safeties in the draft class. The 6’1″, 196lb redshirt junior transferred from Northwestern and had an up-and-down 2022 season, tallying only one INT after having nine in the previous two seasons combined. To be fair, that INT went for a pick-six, but his instincts and tackling have been shaky as well. Still, Joseph has good size, range, and athleticism as a fit at free safety at the next level and could decide to opt out for the draft as a Day 2 selection currently.
ARIZONA BOWL OHIO VS. WYOMING 4:30 PM EST BARSTOOL
The Ohio Bobcats take on the Wyoming Cowboys in Tucson, AZ in the Arizona Bowl airing live on Barstool Sports.
The Wildcats will be represented by WR #12 Sam Wiglusz. Wiglusz lacks the frame you desire for an NFL receiver (5’11″, 185lb) along with pure speed or explosiveness. Still, he’s been productive this season, posting 850 yards and 11 TDs. A likely UDFA, he would benefit from kicking inside to the slot to carve out a role in the league.
For the Cowboys, LB #28 Easton Gibbs is hoping to be the next productive Wyoming LB to transition to the pros. He had a strong 2022 campaign, posting 111 total tackles, two sacks, a fumble recovery, and a pass deflection. Gibbs is solid against the run and can cover well when dropping into zones. His man coverage and ability to create splash plays will need to improve at the next level as Gibbs projects as a Day 3 pick.
ORANGE BOWL #6 TENNESSEE VS #7 CLEMSON 8:00PM EST ESPN
Friday’s action ends in South Beach with the Volunteers of Tennessee facing the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl.
The Volunteers have had both Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tilman opt out of this game along with QB Hendon Hooker who will miss the game with an injury. They will have OL #58 Darnell Wright, however, who will be a player to watch. Wright is a 6’6″, 335lb senior who has fantastic size paired with the movement skills to be a strong run blocker, having the mobility to get out in space and climb to the second level to pick up linebackers and safeties. He has improved as a pass protector every season, having shut down Will Anderson Jr. and BJ Ojulari in 2022. Wright could be viewed as a RT prospect that can be kicked inside to guard and provide high-level play there.
S #1 Trevon Flowers is a Day 3 prospect that has been with the Vols for five seasons, becoming a full-time starter in the last three. He has 227 total tackles, five interceptions, and eight passes defended in his career. He is an athletic safety, but his instincts lead to feast-or-fame situations, causing issues in coverage that could affect his draft stock. LB #33 Jeremy Banks is an undersized LB that will likely be a late Day 3/UDFA player that will have to cut his teeth on special teams to make a roster. EDGE #6 Byron Young’s draft stock is all over the board as an explosive pass rusher that plays with great effort, but he will be a 25-year-old rookie.
The Tigers will be without several key players Friday night with EDGE Myles Murphy opting out and Trenton Simpson won’t play due to injury. One player that has fully committed to playing is DL #11 Bryan Bresee. Bresee is a young, raw defensive lineman that needs refinement in his technical development of the game as well as improved hand usage as a pass rusher, but the ceiling is immense. His athletic ability at his size is impressive, having a motor to run down skill position players rather routinely if he’s got the angle. He can move all over the defensive front. He projects to be a first-round pick and likely DT2 behind Jalen Carter.
The Tigers also have DL #13 Tyler Davis who figures to have his name called in the middle round of the draft this Spring. The 6’2″, 300lb senior may not have the measurables or freaky athleticism that teammate Bryan Bresee or Myles Murphy have, but Davis is a strong, stout defender in the middle that plays with great effort against the run and can generate a pass rush thanks to his leverage and motor. Davis should be a name to watch throughout the pre-draft process as a potential mid-round value selection who would provide depth along the DL as a player that can play different spots and generate a pass rush on top of his run defense.
Another defender that will garner the intrigue of scouts is EDGE #5 KJ Henry. Henry is an athletic specimen that has plenty of tools to make a smooth transition to the pros. He has great size and length (6’4″, 255lb) and is comfortable playing on his feet, and has experience dropping into coverage. He provides good effort against the run and ranks near the top of college football in pressures and pass rush win rate this season. He only has 12.5 sacks in five seasons with the team, but his burst, athleticism and effort in pursuit suggest he has more room to develop into a capable OLB/DE that can develop his pass rush arsenal more in an NFL locker room.
EDGE #3 Xavier Thomas has a chance to be drafted late or sign as a UDFA after not meeting the high expectation placed upon him as a recruit but still has the talent to be a capable pass rusher. TE #84 Davis Allen could be drafted late as a capable pass catcher at the position while DL #33 Ruke Orhorhoro can come in as a developmental 3-tech/4i. OL #71 Jordan McFadden could move inside to guard as he attempts to carve out a career in the pros while K #29 B.T. Potter could be drafted in the final rounds as a placekicker with an NFL leg.
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!