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For students of the NFL Draft, there is a never-ending amount of information to consume, and it's never too early to start looking ahead at the draft prospects of tomorrow. With at least two years standing between them and their first NFL snap, many factors can change a player's draft outlook. One year ago, Spencer Rattler was near the top of every 2023 draft board before getting benched at Oklahoma and looking for redemption after a transfer to South Carolina. Before his legendary 2019 season, no one gave Joe Burrow much consideration for future NFL success. By contrast, players like Trevor Lawrence and Saquon Barkley were pegged early in their college careers and went on to be top-two picks in their respective draft classes. All that is part of the fun in looking ahead to who might become a priority for NFL scouts beyond the 2023 draft cycle. In this article, we'll look at underclassmen coming off of big performances and those who have the chance to elevate their stock in the upcoming weekend.
Top Week 1 Performances
RB Braelon Allen, Wisconsin - 14 carries for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns
There was some thought that Allen might play linebacker in college. Luckily for Badger fans, that notion didn't last long. While his Week 1 competition wasn't elite (Illinois St), he reminded everyone why he was named a 2021 Walter Camp Freshman All-American with a 96-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, where he showed excellent patience in waiting for the play to develop before accelerating through the defense. He's not a perfect prospect as he's been limited as a pass catcher thus far, but his massive 6-foot-2, 236-pound frame provides an interesting template.
WR Emeka Egbuka, Ohio St - 9 receptions for 90 yards and 1 touchdown
Everyone knows by now that Ohio St. is a wide receiver factory. Egbuka was widely regarded as the top high school receiver from the 2021 recruiting class and gets his chance to shine now that Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have departed for the NFL. Early on in the Buckeyes' Week 1 match-up with Notre Dame, star wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba went down with an injury, clearing the way for Egbuka to become the top option in C.J. Stroud's passing attack. Despite his average size, he excels in contested catch situations and is a technician of his craft. He's in the perfect system to continue molding him into an elite prospect in time for the 2024 draft.
QB Drake Maye, North Carolina - 24/36 for 352 and 4 touchdowns, while rushing for 76 yards and 1 touchdown
In easily the most thrilling game of the week, Maye led his team to a narrow victory over Appalachian State. A highly regarded recruit, he gets his turn now that Sam Howell has moved on to the NFL. It's taken him no time to put up stellar numbers through two starts. With prototypical size (6-foot-4 and 220 pounds), he'll find plenty of interest from league executives in need of a star quarterback if he can continue this pace during conference play.
QB Caleb Williams, USC - 19/22 for 249 yards, 2 passing touchdowns, and 68 rushing yards
Williams famously took over for Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma during the Texas game last season and then followed coach Lincoln Riley to Southern Cal. Through approximately eight games as a starter, he's shown a strong all-around game with great arm strength and an ability to make big-time throws. He's not overly reliant on his legs, but he can make the defense pay if given the room to run. He'll face stiffer competition than Rice as the season progresses, but it's nice to see dominant players be dominant when they're supposed to be.
Who to Watch in Week 2
QB Quinn Ewers, WR Xavier Worthy, TE Ja'Tavion Sanders, Texas
This trio of Longhorns will all be eligible for the 2024 NFL Draft, and we'll learn a lot about them as they welcome #1 Alabama in Week 2. Sanders is a former 5-star recruit that found a home at the tight end position where his athleticism will help him excel. He put up a 6/85/1 line in Week 1. Worthy flashed major big-play ability as a freshman last year despite only tipping the scales at around 160 lbs. Ewers gets his first big test as the former #1 overall recruit gets to show what he's made of against a Crimson Tide defense chocked full of future NFL talent.
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