Top Prospect Battles To Watch In Week 3

We’re still one week out from conference play taking center stage. But in Week 3 of the college football season, there are still a host of 2023 NFL Draft prospect matchups to keep a watchful eye on. Here’s a look at the top battles on tap, from the Power Five to the Group of Five, all the way to the FCS.

2023 NFL Draft Board: Top prospects to watch in Week 3

LSU WR Kayshon Boutte vs. Mississippi State CB Emmanuel Forbes

With just seven catches and 62 yards through two games, it hasn’t been the explosive campaign that we expected from LSU’s Kayshon Boutte. It’s difficult to bank on a change of pace against a Mississippi State defense that has Emmanuel Forbes on the boundary. But if Boutte can show out against Forbes, it would be a big step toward righting the ship. Forbes has been spectacular so far this year — an extension of his career as a whole. He’s a future NFL starter with explosiveness, short-area agility, length, and ball skills. He gives Boutte a challenge in every phase of the snap.

Penn State OT Olumuyiwa Fashanu vs. Auburn EDGE Derick Hall Jr.

This is one of the most enticing matchups of the Week 3 slate — a potential rising star at offensive tackle against an accomplished senior and team captain on the other side. Olumuyiwa Fashanu may only be a redshirt sophomore, but he’s quickly setting aside a place for himself high on 2023 NFL Draft boards. At 6’6″ and 321 pounds, he has the necessary size and length. But he’s also a tremendously athletic blocker, and he’s already shown he can use independent hands and fight extensions. Hall brings burst, power, natural leverage, and strong, surgical hands, but Fashanu has the tools to go toe-to-toe with him.

South Carolina WR Antwane Wells Jr. vs. Georgia CB Kelee Ringo

Antwane Wells Jr. presented himself as a 2023 NFL Draft riser last week, with an explosive eight-catch, 189-yard, one-touchdown outing against the Arkansas Razorbacks. This week, South Carolina goes up against the toughest defense in the league: The Georgia Bulldogs. It’s already been well-established that if you can’t produce big plays, you’re not keeping up with Kirby Smart’s squad. Thus, Wells’ burst and RAC ability could be relied upon again. But when he’s on his game, former five-star Kelee Ringo has the size, length, physicality, and short-area athleticism to lock Wells down.

Syracuse RB Sean Tucker vs. Purdue LB/S Jalen Graham

Over his last 11 games, Sean Tucker has eclipsed the 100-yard mark 10 times. He’s undoubtedly one of the most consistent backs in college football. And with his explosive north-south style, he has fans in the draft community as well. Syracuse’s offensive line should be able to open lanes for him against Purdue, but how he navigates the second level could be key. Jalen Graham, a hybrid linebacker-safety at 6’3″, 220 pounds, has the size, athleticism, and physicality to match Tucker and slow him in space. While Graham has the traits, however, he’ll need to maintain gap discipline and follow his keys.

Purdue WR Charlie Jones vs. Syracuse CB Garrett Williams

One of the biggest breakout stars of the 2022 college football season has been Purdue receiver Charlie Jones. Freed from an anemic Iowa offense, Jones has piled up 21 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns through two games with the Boilermakers. At 6’0″, 188 pounds, he’s a very natural separator with a translatable skill set. But his toughest test yet comes this Saturday in the form of Syracuse CB Garrett Williams. Williams is similarly sized but also fleet-footed and very athletic, with high-end ball skills. Williams has received Day 2 hype in some corners, so there’s a chance for Jones to compound momentum here.

SMU WR Rashee Rice vs. Maryland CB Jakorian Bennett

This season may be a test to see if anyone can stop Rashee Rice. The SMU receiver is off to a torrid start in 2022, with 17 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns over the first two games. He has all the makings of a productive NFL receiver — size, length, frame density, explosiveness, natural instincts, and a chippy competitive mentality. For all his production, however, Rice hasn’t faced a cornerback like Jakorian Bennett yet this year. Bennett is fluid and physical, and he serves as a nice barometer for Rice. If Rice keeps racking up numbers in this one, there’ll be no denying his early-round potential.

Villanova OT Temi Ajirotutu vs. Army EDGE Andre Carter II

On the surface, Army vs. Villanova isn’t a prospect-dense contest. But there is a matchup worth watching in the trenches. We all know about Andre Carter II. He’s the ultra-athletic, ultra-bendy edge rusher with a 6’7″, 260-pound frame. But Villanova has a tackle with NFL potential in Temi Ajirotutu, who could use a good performance against Carter as a springboard to greater recognition. Ajirotutu has solid size and length at 6’4″, 310 pounds, and also flashes impressive foot speed and recovery athleticism. His clash with Carter — a tools-rich EDGE lacking elite strength and hand usage — is an opportunity to prove himself.

BYU WR Puka Nacua (+) vs. Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez

This matchup hinges on Puka Nacua’s health. The BYU star was out for the team’s win over Baylor. While he’s not a lock for the game as of this writing, he’s trending closer and closer to playing. If he does, his battle with Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez will be a must-watch spectacle. Both prospects have size and athleticism on their side, but Nacua is the one who’s delivered more consistently on those traits. Nacua has eye-catching long-strider explosiveness at 6’2″, 205 pounds. If there was ever a CB who could blanket him with their raw traits, it’s Gonzalez. But Nacua’s catching instincts may prove superior.

Florida State OT Robert Scott Jr. vs. Louisville EDGE YaYa Diaby

YaYa Diaby flashed last year with his burst and bend at his size. He wasn’t ready to make the leap to the NFL yet, but early on, it looks like he’s accelerating toward that point. The 6’4″, 270-pound lineman is coming off a 1.5-sack outing against UCF and faces a tackle on the 2023 NFL Draft radar in Florida State’s Robert Scott Jr. Scott has size and athleticism, but some technical flaws have still popped up on tape this year. Most notably, Diaby could exploit his set angle and choppy footwork. Diaby has the explosiveness and ankle flexion to work around the apex, as well as the power to go straight through Scott with his bull rush.

Old Dominion WR Ali Jennings vs. Virginia CB Anthony Johnson

You don’t hear his name with the top receivers, but Ali Jennings has been keeping pace with the best so far this season. The former West Virginia signee has 13 catches for 322 yards and three scores through two games this year. He’s averaging almost 25 yards per catch and is coming off a 200-yard, three-touchdown outing against ECU. Anthony Johnson has length and playmaking ability at the catch point, but his coverage skills and instincts will be put to the test against Jennings. Jennings is a textbook big-play threat, with body control and focus that can be hard to disrupt.

Other prospect battles to watch in Week 3

  • Penn State WRs Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley vs. Auburn CB Nehemiah Pritchett
  • Texas State OL Kyle Hergel vs. Baylor DTs Siaki Ika, Gabe Hall
  • Western Kentucky WR Malachi Corley vs. Indiana CB Tiawan Mullen
  • Buffalo OL Gabe Wallace vs. Coastal Carolina DT Jerrod Clark
  • Kansas OT Earl Bostick Jr. vs. Houston EDGEs D’Anthony Jones, Derek Parish, Nelson Ceaser
  • Michigan State OT Jarrett Horst vs. Washington EDGE Bralen Trice
  • Western Michigan WR Corey Crooms vs. Pittsburgh CB M.J. Devonshire
  • Texas Tech RB Tahj Brooks vs. NC State LBs Isaiah Moore, Payton Wilson, Drake Thomas
  • Alabama OT Tyler Steen vs. UL Monroe EDGE Anthony Campbell
  • Montana State RB Isaiah Ifanse vs. Oregon State LB Omar Speights

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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