Every week leading up to the slate of college football games on Saturday, we will be highlighting several high-profile games as well as several players in those matchups that project to be sought after in the 2024 NFL Draft and specifically how they may be viewed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
#7 Penn State at Illinois 12:00PM EST FOX
When the Nittany Lions take the field Saturday, all eyes should be on OT #74 Olumuyiwa Fashanu. The 6-foot-6, 319-pound redshirt junior flashed in 2022 after starting only one game the previous season, rising quickly up the boards as one of the top draft-eligible tackles. He decided to come back for this season, firmly placing himself in the top-10 conversation for this coming spring. He has the size and length you look for at the blindside position on the offensive line and has the athleticism and footwork to mirror pass rushers. He sets the depth of the pocket well and has quick feet to cut rushers off their path.
For the Fighting Illini, the guys you need to watch is DL #4 Jer’Zhan Newton. Newton was a big name last season in college football, posting 5.5 sacks as one of the most disruptive forces in the game. He returned for his fourth college season, having already accumulated two sacks. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound redshirt junior may be a bit smaller in size, but he has the strength and fluidity to be a nightmare for opposing interior offensive linemen, overwhelming them with his ferocious pursuit and movement skills relative to his size.
South Carolina at #1 Georgia 3:30PM EST CBS
While the game itself should very well be a blowout, there are still several matchups to watch between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs. The name to watch for South Carolina is QB #7 Spencer Rattler, who is enjoying a strong 2023 season. The 6-foot-1, 217-pound senior has completed 83.3% of his passes for 698 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions thus far, looking a lot more composed in the pocket while showing off the arm talent that made him one of the top high school recruits in the country. He will face the biggest test in college football, going against a stifling Bulldog defense on the road in Athens. However, should Rattler represent himself well in that matchup, his outlook as a draft prospect should continue to rise.
For the Bulldogs, one player to watch is C #63 Sedrick Van Pran. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior is one of the best center prosects in the country, having the size as well as the movement skills at the position that are hard to teach. He’s started since his freshman season, being a trusted leader along the offensive line who does well getting out in space and making blocks on linebackers and safeties. He needs to continue to clean up his pass-protection technique and improve his core strength, but Van Pran is playing himself into Round One consideration. He can help solidify that case with another strong performance against South Carolina.
#8 Washington at Michigan State 5:00PM EST Peacock
The Huskies are led on offense by QB #9 Michael Penix Jr., who has had a blazing start to the 2023 season. Penix has thrown for 859 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception in his first two games, completing 73.1% of his passes. Washington has stomped Boise State and Tulsa with 40-plus points in both contests, and Penix has been a big part of that as an accurate passer who has diced up the opposing secondaries like a card dealer from the pocket. The sixth-year senior has dealt with numerous injuries during his time in college, likely affecting his draft stock. However, should Penix continue his hot start, we could see a similar rise to that of Hendon Hooker of Tennessee last season as an older prospect who tore up college football.
Last season, I touted EDGE #4 Jacoby Windmon a lot for his hot start to the season. However, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior cooled off as the season progressed as well as got into trouble due to a postgame incident at Michigan last season, which led to a fight in the tunnel and charges being filed. The case has since been dismissed and Windmon has gotten off to another strong start, showcasing the pass-rush prowess of an NFL-caliber outside linebacker. Washington will be a great test for Windmon, who failed to produce against top teams last season but still had six forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks.
#11 Tennessee at Florida 7:00PM EST ESPN
One player who appears to be heating up for the Volunteers is EDGE #9 Tyler Baron. Baron racked up three total stops, three tackles for loss and two sacks in the first game of the season against Virginia and followed that up with another sack last week against Austin Peay. The Knoxville native has been showcasing his pass rush skills while displaying a 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame that NFL scouts desire in their edge rushers. Should he continue to get in the stat sheet in sacks this weekend, Baron could become more of a breakout name as he continues to try and boost his draft stock in his senior season.
One player for the Florida Gators that will be hard to miss on tape is DL #21 Desmond Watson. Watson tips the scales at 6-foot-5, 435 pounds… and that is not a typo. He is the biggest player in high-level college football from a weight perspective, and he uses that size to clog up the middle against the run. The junior doesn’t bring much as a pass rusher, but his presence in the middle as two-down run stuffer speaks for itself. He does need to learn to play with more consistent leverage and use his hands better to get off blocks, but Watson is a name that will draws eyes thanks to his outlier size and the potential he has to be a notable interior run defender at the next level.