Week 2 of the 2022 college football season is on deck, including a Kentucky-Florida matchup that will feature two of the top 2023 NFL draft prospect quarterbacks in Will Levis and Anthony Richardson. Can either of them make a big jump with a strong performance in a head-to-head setting?
Elsewhere, Alabama visits the Longhorns in Texas, South Carolina gets a good test against Arkansas, Tennessee takes on Pitt, USC makes a trip to Stanford and Baylor tries to hold off BYU. Numerous top draft prospects will have big opportunities to make a statement.
Ahead of the loaded slate, NFL draft analysts Todd McShay, Jordan Reid and Matt Miller pick out prospects to watch this weekend, along with the one thing they are keeping an eye on. Then Steve Muench points to a small-school prospect who could get more draft attention with a big performance on Saturday. Our experts wrap it all up by making one big prediction for Week 2 and then emptying their notebooks with everything they saw and heard this week heading into this weekend’s games. Let’s get started with the top prospects to watch this week.
Plant your flag: Who is your guy to watch this weekend?
McShay: Jaheim Bell, TE, South Carolina (at Arkansas). I’m excited to see how Gamecocks coach Shane Beemer and his staff utilize Bell’s versatile skill set against Arkansas on Saturday. He’s a hybrid tight end/fullback/big slot receiver who caught four passes in South Carolina’s opener last week — a 35-14 win over Georgia State — and also carried the ball seven times for 39 yards. That’s 5.6 yards per carry! This a really strong tight end class, and Bell is probably the most uniquely talented prospect of the group. Can he showcase his continued development under Beamer against a much-improved and ranked Razorbacks team?
Miller: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas (vs. Alabama). Robinson is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and my top-ranked running back prospect with a great combination of contact balance, power and speed, but he’ll get a tough test this weekend against the Crimson Tide’s defense. A young Texas offensive line will have its hands full with an NFL-caliber Bama defensive line, meaning we should get a look at what Robinson can do when his team is outmatched up front. He’s also a viable pass-catcher out of the backfield and an electric runner in space, so coach Steve Sarkisian might try featuring him more in the passing game this week.
Reid: Will Levis, QB, Kentucky (at Florida). In a key matchup for his draft evaluation, Levis will see an improved Florida defense on Saturday night. He threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-13 win over Miami (OH) week, and his decision-making has improved. That is crucial after he threw 13 interceptions in 2021. The arm strength, mobility and overall upside are clear, and now he has a chance to help his draft situation tremendously against a high-quality opponent in a hostile environment.
What is the one thing you’re watching this weekend?
McShay: I’ll be at Kentucky-Florida for this high-end quarterback matchup between Levis (QB3 on my board) and Anthony Richardson (QB5). As Jordan pointed out, Levis has a big opportunity on Saturday. I studied Levis’ opening-game tape and talked to his coordinator yesterday. This year’s Kentucky offense is more progression-based and features more intermediate throws. And Levis showed good field vision on most of his dropbacks and made a lot of quick, efficient reads, including off play-action, in Week 1. He was under duress on the vast majority of throws, but now starting left tackle Kenneth Horsey returns from injury — and he will be needed against a far more ferocious pass rush.
Richardson showed promise in his second career start (last week in a 29-26 upset of Utah), and two plays particularly stood out. First, he hit tight end Ricky Pearsall on a rope in the first quarter, beating a safety dropping down in zone coverage. Then he recognized a coverage void to his left late in the second quarter and took off on a 45-yard TD run. I want to see more development from him in the pocket, but the arrow is pointing up. Both of these QBs have the chance to rise up draft boards this fall, and this matchup offers a huge opportunity for both.
Anthony Richardson turns on the burners and finds pay dirt to give the Gators the lead.
Reid: A lot of eyes will be on that QB matchup in Gainesville, but mine will be glued on how BYU passer Jaren Hall plays against Baylor. Dave Aranda’s defense has consistently been one of the better units in the country, so this will be a tough test for Hall. The Cougars’ signal-caller recorded a career-high 25 completions last week (78.1% completion percentage) in a 50-21 victory against South Florida. Hall is a stoutly built and strong-armed thrower who can play from multiple platforms. His biggest challenge has been durability, but now healthy, he’s looking for a signature performance against a disciplined Bears defense.
Miller: South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler went from the 2022 draft class’ potential QB1 (then at Oklahoma) to benched pretty quickly last fall, and he ultimately transferred to the Gamecocks. His first real test of this season, as he attempts to rebuild his draft status, comes against a well-coached Arkansas defense led by coordinator Barry Odom — even though star safety Jalen Catalon won’t play.
Rattler’s arm talent and ability to make off-platform throws is well-documented, but he has struggled when asked to — or when the defense forces him to — stay in the pocket and play on-schedule. Can he hit those rhythm throws? Can he manipulate the middle of the field, especially with Alabama transfer Drew Sanders patrolling at inside linebacker for the Razorbacks? In a muddy quarterback class, Rattler’s talent could push him back up the board, but he has to show out and dominate a very tough SEC schedule to answer questions that popped up last season.
Which small-school prospect has a key matchup on deck?
Muench: Kivon Bennett, EDGE, Arkansas State (at Ohio State). Bennett is a Tennessee transfer with active hands, and I love the way he used his initial burst to get the tackle on his back foot before transitioning to a bull rush against Grambling State last week, a 58-3 win for the Red Wolves. He projected as a midround pick coming into the season, and a strong showing against Ohio State would help boost his position, considering left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. is the top-ranked tackle on our board and right tackle Dawand Jones projects as a midrounder. But he’s only 236 pounds, so can he hold up when the Buckeyes run at him?
What’s your best Week 2 prediction?
Miller: Led by quarterback Hendon Hooker and receiver Cedric Tillman, Tennessee will go into Pittsburgh and take down the Panthers. Sure, the Vols are nearly a touchdown favorite, but this has the feeling of a trap game with Pitt coming off an emotionally charged win against rival West Virginia last week. Still, Tennessee’s offense has the juice to press a very good Pitt front seven that includes NFL prospects Habakkuk Baldonado and Calijah Kancey.
Reid: Florida’s Richardson will continue his hot start by accumulating more than 350 yards of total offense against Kentucky and lead the Gators to a victory. I’m looking for at least 250 passing yards and 100-plus yards on the ground. Richardson’s ability as a competitive runner and explosive arm strength present headaches for defenses and make him a highly intriguing prospect. He will test this Kentucky defense.
McShay: Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee will surprise some people this weekend with a big game against USC. The Trojans’ Caleb Williams has the buzz, but don’t be surprised if McKee outduels him on Saturday night. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, McKee shows touch and zip on his throws, and he’s one of the QBs in this class who could rise up draft boards over the course of the season.
Muench: Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs will rush for more yards than Texas’ Robinson. A Texas offensive line with three first-year starters, including two freshmen, faces an Alabama defense that will vary alignments, mask how they fit the front with post-snap movement and get its safeties involved, which means Robinson could struggle a bit. Texas held Louisiana-Monroe to 2.2 yards per carry last week, but the Tide offense is more experienced up front, won’t have to rotate guards like they did last week if Emil Ekiyor Jr. is able to play the whole game, and tight end Cameron Latu is expected to play. Alabama should be motivated to establish the run after coach Nick Saban called it inconsistent.
Let’s empty the notebooks
Reid: Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. against Notre Dame edge rusher Isaiah Foskey was the clear best prospect vs. prospect matchup of Week 1 (OSU won 21-10) — and the junior tackle passed the test. After starting 13 games at right guard last season, Johnson is now at his more natural position of left tackle. His poise in pass protection stood out during the season-opener, and while he still needs to gain strength as a run-blocker, he already has high-end traits as a pass protector. Foskey, a potential first-round pick, was neutralized most of the game.
McShay: LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte (my No. 6 prospect and WR1) showed obvious frustration after catching two of six targets for 20 yards in the Tigers’ loss to Florida State on Sunday. He was far from the focus of LSU’s offensive game plan — though FSU did a nice job bracketing him over the top with safety help — which was shocking considering he’s arguably the most explosive player in the nation. He was an afterthought and didn’t seem happy with his role — and that’s even before he joined other Tigers receivers in scrubbing their Instagrams of LSU mentions this week. What’s the full story here? I’m curious how this is going to play out.
Miller: Stock is up on Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. through two weeks of play. He has the ideal measurements at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, with excellent arm length and power throughout a stocky build. In a Week 1 win vs. Purdue, Porter was tested by quarterback Aidan O’Connell and proved himself as a shut-down cornerback. He’s putting himself in the early conversation as a potential Round 1 player.
McShay: It was great to see quarterback Bryce Young willing to use his mobility in Alabama’s 55-0 blowout of an overmatched Utah State squad. My fourth-ranked prospect rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on only five carries, and his aggressiveness as a runner can really benefit the Crimson Tide this season if it continues. That begins against Texas this weekend.
Alabama QB Bryce Young turns on the jets for an impressive rushing effort.
Reid: Georgia safety Christopher Smith popped on tape in the Bulldogs’ dominant performance against Oregon. With six tackles and an interception, he played much faster than what we’ve seen from him previously. On the interception, he anticipated the route concept and broke on it well before the ball was out of quarterback Bo Nix‘s hand. As a run defender, he ran the alley with aggressiveness and securely wrapped up and finished his tackles. Smith isn’t an enforcer as a hitter, but he’s a consistent tackler in the open field. As a fifth-year senior, he’s the clear leader in the Georgia secondary.
McShay: This Clemson front is unreal. Defensive tackle Bryan Bresee had a great offseason, and it showed against Georgia Tech on Monday night (41-10 win for the Tigers). He was borderline unblockable most of the night. What really stands out is his hand usage; he knows how to rush the edges of an offensive lineman, and he’s always continuing his rush with quick, strong and efficient hands. He models his game after J.J. Watt, and I see a lot of similarities.
Linebacker Trenton Simpson was all over the field, too. I love his versatility and speed, and his instincts seem to be improving. He’s what the NFL is looking for in a linebacker. Defensive end K.J. Henry flashed on Monday with seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He’s a talented player who might be starting to put it all together.
Miller: Yeah, the Clemson offense got off to a slow start on Monday night, but let’s hear it for this defensive line. All four starters — Myles Murphy, Henry, Bresee and Tyler Davis — looked fantastic in pressuring Georgia Tech’s mobile quarterback Jeff Sims. Murphy and Bresee looked like the first-round prospects, but it was Henry who stole the show for me with a big play to start the game when he hit Sims’ arm and caused an interception. Clemson’s D-line will be must-see TV all year.
Reid: Florida State edge rusher Jared Verse (an Albany transfer) had a scorching hot first two weeks, getting some interest from NFL scouts. At 6-4 and 250 pounds, he’s a long, active and sudden defender off of the edge who impacts the game in a multitude of ways. Verse had two sacks and blocked the game-winning extra point attempt against LSU.
McShay: Utah tight end Brant Kuithe is one of my favorite prospects in the class. He has had some injuries during his career, but he’s such an underrated playmaker. It was great to see him utilized as a focus in Utah’s passing attack last week, leading the team against Florida with nine catches for 105 yards and a score. The thing that separates him from so many other tight end prospects is his ability to create after the catch, and NFL scouts are always looking for guys who can produce in that area. Even though he is undersized at 6-2 and 219 pounds, he’s going to be a steal for some team that takes a chance on him in the midround range.
Miller: Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders has fans around the NFL. The senior was impressive in the Cowboys’ win over Central Michigan, when he passed for 406 yards and four TDs. In a very deep year for quarterbacks, Sanders put together a statement game, leading to an uptick in buzz about him around the league.