2023 Big Board Risers and Sliders: Israel Abanikanda Raises Eyebrows in Monster Performance

    Continuing to look ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft, Tony Pauline shares his 2023 Big Board Risers and Sliders from Week 6 of the college season.

    At the top of the college football national rankings, Alabama had another tough contest but came away the victor, while Auburn and Ohio State dominated the opposition. Meanwhile, several underrated and little-known prospects are building momentum for themselves in the scouting community, but this week’s story focuses on two highly-rated receivers. One was dominant and is moving up draft boards, while another continues to disappoint. Here are the Risers and Sliders from Week 6.

    2023 Big Board Risers

    Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

    In a college career full of highlights, Quentin Johnston’s performance against previously undefeated Kansas topped them all. He finished the game with 14 receptions for 206 yards and one TD, which was an acrobatic 24-yard catch with a minute and a half left to seal the win for the Horned Frogs.

    Much has been written about Johnston, a large athletic receiver who is developing nicely and heading toward the second round of the NFL draft.

    Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh

    I wrote about Israel Abanikanda during my summer preview of Pitt, mentioning that he was a late-round pick and a potential situational ball carrier for the next level. This season, Abanikanda is trying to prove he can be a feature ball carrier in the NFL.

    In four of the Panthers’ six games this year, Abanikanda has rushed for 130 yards or more, most recently pounding out 320 yards on 36 carries with six touchdowns against Virginia Tech. He’s a quick, creative runner who runs hard. Abanikanda must get more involved in the passing game, but he’s definitely raised eyebrows this season.

    Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee

    Hendon Hooker is slowly making his way up NFL draft boards based on his efficient, mistake-free football. His latest gem was 12-for-17 passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns during the Volunteers’ 40-13 thrashing of LSU. Hooker’s 63% completion rate was only the second time this season he’s been under 70% in a single game.

    His two touchdown tosses pushed his total to 10 scoring strikes this season with no interceptions. Hooker is a nice-sized signal-caller with big hands, a bigger brain, and a next-level arm. The way he’s led Tennessee’s offense the past two seasons has been impressive, not only to Volunteers fans but NFL decision-makers.

    Chase Brown, RB, Illinois

    The Fighting Illini are off to a 5-1 start this season after squeaking past Iowa. Once again, it was running back Chase Brown who carried the team’s offense, finishing the game with 146 yards on 31 carries. In the prior three games, Brown totaled 129 yards against Wisconsin, 151 yards against Wyoming, and 199 against Indiana.

    He’s a smallish but quick and creative ball carrier who runs incredibly hard. If he tests well before the 2023 NFL Draft and proves he can catch the ball out of the backfield, Brown will slide into the late rounds, as a coach will fall in love with his style and tenacity.

    Jakorian Bennett, CB, Maryland

    The Terps lost a close battle to Purdue, 31-29, and Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell had a terrific game. Yet, I continue to be impressed by Maryland senior cornerback Jakorian Bennett. For the game, Bennett broke up three passes, intercepted one throw, and collected three tackles.

    For the season, Bennett has nine breakups. He possesses next-level size and speed and has developed Sunday cover skills. Bennett does a nice job staying on the receiver’s hip out of breaks and shows the ability to dive to the ball out of his plant. Initially graded as a late-round prospect, Bennett will move into the middle of Day 3 if he keeps improving.

    Dallas Gant, LB, Toledo

    Dallas Gant entered the transfer portal from Ohio State and has recently been on fire for his new school at Toledo. During the Rockets’ two-game winning streak, Gant totaled 15 tackles against Northern Illinois on Saturday and 13 against Central Michigan the prior week, when he also had two PBUs.

    He’s an athletic run-defending linebacker with next-level size at 6’2 1/2″ and 235 pounds. If Gant works out well before the draft, he will slide into the late rounds.

    Sleeper Prospect: Marcellus Johnson, T, Eastern Michigan

    EMU has a pair of offensive linemen graded on my board — Marcellus Johnson and Sidy Sow. It was scouting Sow this summer that I noticed Johnson, an athletic left tackle with a lot of ability blocking in motion.

    Johnson’s blocking skills were fully displayed during Eastern Michigan’s dismantling of Western Michigan, landing him on our Week 6 Team of the Week in the process.

    EMU totaled more than 400 yards of offense during the 45-23 victory, and much of it was due to Johnson helping push the WMU defense up and down the field. Despite the fact that he’s ignored by scouts, I have a seventh-round grade on Johnson, who may ultimately play guard at the next level.

    Small-school Prospect: Andrei Iosivas, WR, Princeton

    On Friday, Andrei Iosivas was featured as my small-school prospect of the week. He must’ve received the memo, as the wideout was dominant against Lafayette. The senior finished the game with 10 receptions for 150 yards, an average of 15 yards per catch.

    Coming into the contest, the decathlete from Hawaii was averaging 14.3 yards on 18 catches. As mentioned Friday, Iosivas is an explosive athlete with excellent size and a 40 time that could clock in the 4.2s. After running roughshod through the Ivy League this season, I expect to see Iosivas at the Shrine or Senior Bowl in January and then the Combine come March.

    2023 Big Board Sliders

    Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU

    Much was expected from Kayshon Boutte entering the season, but little has been delivered. The wideout has been hamstrung with inconsistent quarterback play, but he’s also been his own worst enemy. Boutte has dropped too many catchable passes and is playing uninspired football.

    His numbers against Tennessee included six receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown, though much of that came when the game’s outcome was already in hand and LSU threw caution to the wind. In the prior four games, Boutte combined for just 11 receptions, 97 receiving yards, and no scores.

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