Top NFL draft prospects, predictions, buzz for college football Week 4

Top NFL draft prospects, predictions, buzz for college football Week 4 post thumbnail image

Week 4 of the 2022 college football season is on deck and features plenty of top 2023 NFL draft prospects in action, eager to make a statement. Could this be the week the top of the receiver class produces? And what will Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud do against a tough Wisconsin defense?

Outside of Wisconsin-Ohio State, Wake Forest gets Clemson’s excellent defensive front in a meeting of ranked teams, and Florida makes a trip to Tennessee. Texas and Texas Tech will do battle in Lubbock, Notre Dame tries to get back on track at UNC, and Arkansas gets a test against Texas A&M. As part of the late slate, Stanford meets Washington in a Pac-12 showdown.

Ahead of the loaded schedule, 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. Our experts wrap it all up by making one big prediction for Week 4 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.

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Prospects to know | What to watch
Small-schooler | Big predictions
Emptying the notebook

Plant your flag: Who is your guy to watch this weekend?

Miller: C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State (vs. Wisconsin). He has dominated the stat sheet so far — 941 passing yards, 11 TDs and zero interceptions — but the 6-foot-3, 218-pound passer hasn’t really been tested, playing against Notre Dame, Arkansas State and Toledo. Wisconsin’s defense, led by coordinator Jim Leonhard, will give him his best challenge to date; premier edge rusher Nick Herbig and defensive tackle Keeanu Benton can wreck a game plan.

Scouts will be watching Stroud closely. How will he manage pressure? Will he use his legs to manipulate and move in the pocket? Stroud has been close to perfect this season and is my current QB1, and Saturday night serves as a great opportunity to further establish his case to be the draft class’ top quarterback.

McShay: Nick Herbig, OLB, Wisconsin (at Ohio State). I’m looking at the flip side of that Wisconsin-OSU matchup. Herbig is an undersized (6-foot-2, 228 pounds) but sudden and relentless edge rusher, and he knows how to set up offensive tackles with his lightning-quick hands and devastating redirect quickness on outside-in moves.

He is currently tied for sixth in the FBS with four sacks through three games, so the Buckeyes need to account for him every time Stroud drops to pass. Herbig can single-handedly wreck the rhythm of Ohio State’s passing attack. He’s more than living up to the Day 2 grade that I gave him in the preseason, and he has a chance to make a big statement on Saturday.

Reid: Jaelyn Duncan, OT, Maryland (at Michigan). It was actually last year’s matchup with the Wolverines that really served as a coming-out party for Duncan, as he played well against future top-two-round picks Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Michigan’s threats off the edge aren’t nearly as good this year, but this still serves as a key moment for Duncan.

I watched him live a few weeks ago against Charlotte, and he’s as good as advertised. My No. 2-ranked offensive tackle at the moment, Duncan moves very fluidly as a pass-protector but still needs to improve his hand placement and consistency as a run-blocker. He has allowed just one pressure (no sacks) through three games this season.


What is the one thing you’re watching this weekend?

Reid: I’ll have a close eye on the trenches this week, even beyond Duncan’s play in Ann Arbor. One to watch: Wisconsin’s Benton is an interior defender who has caught my eye early this season, and he gets a tough test against an Ohio State offensive line that’s playing well right now. This is a huge opportunity for him.

Benton came into the season as a late-Day 2 prospect, but his arrow is pointing up through the first quarter of the season. I love his first-step quickness and his point-of-attack strength, but I’m watching to see how he improves his finishing ability and run-game concept recognition — starting on Saturday. Benton has eight tackles, five pressures and 1.5 tackles for loss through three contests.

Miller: This is definitely a great week for O-line vs. D-line play, Jordan, but I’m going to focus on the wide receivers. We’re still waiting for breakout games from Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State) and Jermaine Burton (Alabama). Each was praised by scouts and evaluators this summer, but to date, they have not produced to back up that hype. (LSU’s Kayshon Boutte has also started slow, but he will miss Saturday’s game against New Mexico to attend the birth of his child.)

Smith-Njigba has just four catches for 36 yards through two games, but he can put concern to bed with a big game against Wisconsin. And while Burton did have five catches for 35 yards and two touchdowns in the opener against Utah State, he has produced just three receptions for 26 yards since — and a visit from Vanderbilt provides a chance get back on track.

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C.J. Stroud throws for five touchdowns in Ohio State’s blowout of Toledo at home.

McShay: I know you touched on this a bit, Matt, but I just can’t wait to see Stroud against Wisconsin’s defense, which does an excellent job of disguising coverages on the back end and dialing up complex pressures up front. Wisconsin has surrendered just 24 points in three games, and its 5.0 yards per dropback allowed is a top-25 number in the nation.

How does Stroud handle all the Badgers’ defensive looks and pressures? He’s my QB1 right now in large part because of his fast eyes and composure under pressure, and his 98.9 QBR under pressure is second in the country. But Wisconsin’s defense is getting pressure on 39.8% of opponent dropbacks (fifth). This is a big test.

I’ll also have an eye on the rest of this offense, though. How effective will Smith-Njigba be after returning from a hamstring injury last week? Can tackle Paris Johnson Jr. hold up against the Wisconsin edge rush? A lot of opportunity here.


Which small-school prospect has a key matchup on deck?

Muench: Lew Nichols III, RB, Central Michigan (at Penn State). Yes, he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry this season (71 attempts for 258 yards and five TDs), but Nichols is a talented back with good burst for his size, and he did lead the FBS in rushing yards last year (1,848). He runs a little high, but he has the power to push the pile and break tackles. The Nittany Lions’ defense is holding offenses to 3.3 yards per carry, and Central Michigan had a tough time blocking the Oklahoma State front in the opener. What Nichols does here could catch the eye of scouts.

But I’m particularly interested in what the 5-foot-11, 222-pounder does in the pass game. One of the reasons he projects as a Day 2 pick is his ability to be a three-down back. Nichols caught 40 passes last year and is versatile enough to move around the formation. If the Chippewas fall behind and struggle to run the ball consistently, look for him to get involved there against the No. 14 team in the country.


What’s your best Week 4 prediction?

McShay: Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson will bounce back this week against Tennessee. He was sensational in a Week 1 upset of Utah, but Kentucky and South Florida have now shut him down in back-to-back games. Look for coach Billy Napier to have a good plan in place for this meeting with the Volunteers, and I expect Richardson will get loose running the football early, which will give him much-needed confidence.

My No. 5 QB right now, Richardson has a strong arm and quick release, but he is still looking for his first TD pass of the season. This game could be back-and-forth with a good amount of scoring, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Florida pulls off an upset — as long as Richardson settles in.

Reid: I’m a believer in what Volunteers coach Josh Heupel has built at Tennessee, and I’m picking Tennessee to hold off Richardson and the Gators. In a battle of ranked teams, the Vols will get the victory and head into their bye week at 4-0.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker continues to revive his career after transferring from Virginia Tech in 2021, throwing for 844 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions so far this season. The fifth-year signal-caller has turned himself into an intriguing Day 3 option who has a chance to climb higher if he continues to play well.

Miller: USC will take down Oregon State in a convincing win in Corvallis. The Trojans’ defense hasn’t been great, but it did intercept Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener and cause a fumble last week. Oregon State, meanwhile, is well-coached, and Reser Stadium is a notoriously tough venue for opposing teams. But Trojans coach Lincoln Riley has this offense cooking with quarterback Caleb Williams, running back Travis Dye and receiver Jordan Addison. The USC defense will continue to jell, and the Trojans will get a key road win in conference play.

Muench: NFL scouts might be watching Smith-Njigba, but look for Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. to catch at least one touchdown pass in his third consecutive game. The 2024 NFL draft prospect has five touchdown catches over the past two weeks.

The Badgers’ pass defense can get after the quarterback and tends to match patterns well on the back end, but Harrison is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His route running, contested-catch skill and ability to get open quickly make him a tough matchup in the red zone, while his burst after the catch and top-end speed make him a big-play threat averaging 19.0 yards per catch.


Let’s empty the notebooks

McShay: SMU receiver Rashee Rice is making the most of his senior year, and NFL scouts are noticing. He has at least eight catches and 132 yards in each of his three games so far. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound fourth-year has finally elevated to the role of primary target for the Mustangs, and he’s on track for a 1,500-plus-yard season. He’s silky smooth with pro-level route-running skills, and he generates a ton of yards after the catch. He’s one of the most underrated prospects in the 2023 draft class. I had a middle-round grade on him in the preseason, but he’s playing his way into Day 2 consideration. Can he keep that momentum rolling against a struggling TCU pass defense?

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Tanner Mordecai hits Rashee Rice with an 8-yard touchdown pass for SMU.

Reid: One of the best prospect vs. prospect matchups of the week is Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison against Kansas State edge rusher Felix Anudike-Uzomah. I thought Harrison was outstanding last week against Nebraska. At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, he caught my eye during summer scouting, but he has been inconsistent. Anudike-Uzomah is explosive, and he’s making life hard for passers with 2.5 sacks and nine pressures through three games. Both are potential Day 2 picks.

Miller: I talked to scouts this week about USC’s Addison. One said the 6-foot, 175-pound junior has a “rocked-up, tough frame” and that he “plays much bigger than you’d expect.” Addison has 18 catches for 295 yards and five touchdowns, helping him up to No. 12 on my board. I’m excited to see what he does against Oregon State.

McShay: Notre Dame edge rusher Isaiah Foskey is coming off one of his best career games. Against Cal, he had five tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and eight pressures. He continues to upgrade his pass-rush repertoire and is showing a more advanced plan as an edge rusher. He has good bend, length, strength and closing burst. What I loved most about his performance last weekend was how he delivered late in the game when the Fighting Irish had a lead and Cal was forced to become one-dimensional. That’s when the great pass-rushers show up. Foskey is considered by many teams as a potential first-round pick, and I’m excited to see his continued development this week against UNC.

Miller: I’ll throw in one more great matchup this weekend: the Clemson defensive line — led by defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and edge rusher Myles Murphy, both potential first-rounders — against the Wake Forest offense. Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has been prolific, and receiver A.T. Perry is currently one of the best big wide receivers in the nation, so the Tigers’ defense will have a tough test. How well Bresee, Murphy & Co. can disrupt Hartman will have an impact both on the game and on their draft stock.

Reid: Perry had a lot of success against the Tigers’ secondary last season, as he finished with 113 receiving yards on five catches. He is in the Day 3 range but could be trending toward the third- or fourth-round range with continued success. Perry has 12 catches for 222 yards and a TD in 2022. On the opposite side, I’ll have a close eye on linebacker Trenton Simpson; he has been red hot through the first three games (14 tackles). An instinctive and physical second-level player, he has all the makings of a top-15 pick in 2023.

McShay: It’s great to see Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim back healthy this season. We had a fifth-round grade on him coming into the season mainly because of his injury history, including last year’s season-ending ruptured Achilles. After three games this season, he is tied for second nationally with 464 rushing yards (6.9 yards per carry), and his seven TD runs and 24 forced missed tackles both top the FBS. He is coming off a massive 202-yard game against a dreadful Colorado defense, but this week’s meeting at Michigan State will be a much better litmus test. He’s certainly rising up my board.

Reid: Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders is a Day 3 prospect who has helped himself in a tremendous way since transferring from Alabama and put himself in the Day 2 discussion through just three games. At 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, Sanders is used in a bunch of ways. He has been effective off the edge, as he’s currently tied for second in the nation with five sacks. He has been terrific at the second level, recording 32 tackles. He also has a forced fumble and two passes broken up. Keep an eye on No. 42 this week against Texas A&M.



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