NFL Draft Prospect Battles To Watch in Week 12
Kentucky QB Will Levis vs. Georgia DEF Jalen Carter, Kelee Ringo, Christopher Smith
Will Levis remains one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft across the national consensus. But his 2022 season hasn’t generated as much confidence as other players. Levis has just 2,012 yards, 16 touchdowns, and nine picks in nine games played.
Thirty-four sacks have undoubtedly taken their toll on Levis’ body at this point. But only so many excuses can be made for a QB with his talent. Simply put, he hasn’t yet elevated his offense, and at times, appeared incapable of operating in structure.
After seeing Kentucky’s offense against Vanderbilt, there’s a natural skepticism that sets in as they gear up to face Georgia. But if Levis can get back on track, this game — against high-level prospects like Jalen Carter, Kelee Ringo, and Christopher Smith — would be a great place to get it done.
Levis played well against Georgia last year. Despite notching a loss, he showed good pocket poise against constant pressure and toughness working the middle of the field. He’s visibly regressed in some of those areas in 2022, so a bounce-back week is on the list of needs.
TCU OL Steve Avila vs. Baylor DT Siaki Ika
There’s almost 700 total pounds of linemen in this trench battle between TCU offensive guard Steve Avila and Baylor nose tackle Siaki Ika. Avila is a boxy 6’4″, 330-pound interior blocker with suffocating strength and awesome power. Ika matches Avila’s strength at 6’4″, 350 pounds, but also has enough burst to provide value on passing downs.
This would be an even better matchup if Avila was at center, the position he played in 2021. But they’ll still likely cross paths a good amount on Saturday. Avila’s wide frame is simply hard to get around in pass protection. Ika, however, will make it difficult for Avila to displace on the ground, and he has the pass-rushing chops to make some noise.
Tennessee WRs Jalin Hyatt, Bru McCoy vs. South Carolina CB Cam Smith
As of this writing, it’s unclear if Cedric Tillman will be available for Tennessee on Saturday. Regardless of whether he is or isn’t active, however, there will be a matchup to watch between the Volunteers’ receivers and South Carolina CB Cam Smith.
Smith is a tier below CB1 candidates like Ringo, Christian Gonzalez, and Joey Porter Jr. But he’s still a very solid 2023 NFL Draft prospect with early-round potential. Smith has good length and athleticism, but also expands past the eye test with gritty run-support skills and high-level instincts at the catch point.
Should Tillman be unavailable, 6’3″ talent Bru McCoy will take the brunt of his reps for Tennessee. McCoy will test Smith’s physicality and play strength at the point, while Jalin Hyatt — Tennessee’s resident speed demon — will test his top gear.
That said, physicality will be just as important for Smith against Hyatt. One way to combat Hyatt’s speed is to dictate the rep with authoritative hands and disciplined technique.
Purdue WR Charlie Jones vs. Northwestern CB Cameron Mitchell
He’s cooled off a bit from his historic season-opening pace, but Charlie Jones is still one of the most productive receiving talents on the national stage this season. He has 87 catches for 1,010 yards and 10 scores with two regular-season games to go.
Each week provides a new test for Jones. Last week, it was the sticky, physical Devon Witherspoon for Illinois. This week, it’s Northwestern’s Cameron Mitchell.
While not quite as physical, Mitchell is an incredibly smooth, instinctive athlete who has a pick and seven deflections this year.
For the fourth-year cornerback, this game could be pivotal in solidifying his 2023 NFL Draft stock. Jones’ ability to separate and execute with undying consistency can stress DBs, but Mitchell has the discipline and natural mobility to combat it.
West Virginia WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton vs. Kansas State CB Julius Brents
Size, length, and athleticism. That’s what this matchup provides — on both sides.
On one end, you have Bryce Ford-Wheaton, a 6’3″, 220-pound vertical threat with impressive body control. On the other end, you have Julius Brents — a lean, spry athlete at 6’4″, with the 34″ arms of an offensive lineman.
Ford-Wheaton has the edge on Brents in terms of play strength, but Brents’ length can be suffocating even for larger receivers — when he’s in position. That’s the caveat with Brents, who can still become a more instinctive playmaker with his length. But the list of CBs who can match up with Ford-Wheaton’s size is sparse, and Brents is on it.
Iowa DL Lukas Van Ness vs. Minnesota C John Michael Schmitz, rest of OL
Lukas Van Ness likely won’t see John Michael Schmitz on a majority of his snaps. But against Schmitz and the rest of the Golden Gophers’ offensive line, Van Ness is a must-watch prospect in Week 12.
The 6’5″, 264-pound redshirt sophomore has 5.5 sacks and nine TFLs so far this year and has been a nightmare for opposing lines, both on the interior and on the edge.
Van Ness has impressive explosiveness, twitch, and flexibility for his size, but also expertly leverages power through both his lower body and length. That’s what allows him to be so alignment flexible.
Should Van Ness stunt inside and face Schmitz, he’ll be tested by Schmitz’s raw strength and physicality at the contact point. But if Van Ness can stay disruptive from multiple spots, it’ll only further strengthen his case to declare early.
Kansas C Mike Novitsky vs. Texas DT Keondre Coburn
Every so often, opportunities arise for sleepers to put up more résumé tape late in the season. Kansas center Mike Novitsky has that kind of opportunity this week against a stalwart Texas front four.
Novitsky is very much under the draft radar, but he’s put more than a few good reps on tape for the Jayhawks this season. In Kansas’ diverse scheme, Novitsky gets asked to execute a number of different blocks. At 6’5″, 300 pounds, he has good size and initial mobility, and his assignment-sound style is a big part of what they do.
All this being said, Novitsky can improve his play strength and leverage consistently in close quarters, and Texas’ Keondre Coburn will keep him honest there. Coburn is a menace of a nose tackle at 6’2″, 348 pounds, who has four TFLs and 2.5 sacks this year. One-on-one, he can be overwhelming, so Novitsky will have to be on top of his game.
Iowa State WR Xavier Hutchinson vs. Texas Tech CB Rayshad Williams
A couple weeks ago, I highlighted a matchup between TCU WR Quentin Johnston and Texas Tech CB Rayshad Williams as one to watch. That battle ended up not coming to fruition, as a tweaked ankle kept Johnston out of the game.
Nevertheless, Williams has another prove-it matchup on tap this week against Iowa State. The Cyclones have Xavier Hutchinson, a Senior Bowl commit with size (6’3″, 205 pounds), lateral athleticism and separation ability, superb catching instincts, and year-over-year production to back up his traits.
Hutchinson’s complete skill set can be a problem for cornerbacks, but Williams has the size to match up at 6’3″, 195 pounds. He’s a smooth athlete with excellent ball skills dropping back. This is a potential money-making game late in the year for Williams.
Arkansas WR Jadon Haselwood vs. Ole Miss CB Deantre Prince
If you’re looking for a 2023 NFL Draft prospect matchup between SEC sleepers, look no further than the Arkansas-Ole Miss contest coming up this week.
In this game, you have Jadon Haselwood — a former highly-touted receiver recruit with a strong 6’3″, 213-pound frame — going up against Rebels cornerback Deantre Prince, a light but light-footed cover man embarking on a career year with a pick and nine pass deflections.
With 49 catches for 592 yards and three scores, Haselwood has also reached career-high marks this year. It’s why he earned a spot on the Shrine Bowl‘s roster. But Prince’s smooth athleticism and conversion ability at the catch point will force Haselwood to use his physicality to get a leg up.
Utah State OT Jacob South vs. San Jose State DL Viliami Fehoko
This is an intriguing prospect battle to keep an eye on in the late-game slate. Jacob South is a deep sleeper at tackle with solid athleticism and length, but lacking mass. The headliner here, however, is Viliami Fehoko — one of the most disruptive defenders in the nation.
Over the past two seasons, Fehoko has almost 100 tackles, 15 sacks, 28 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles. In 2022 alone, he has eight sacks and 15 TFLs.
Coming from San Jose State, he doesn’t always get the hype he deserves as a prospect, but he has fans — including Shrine Bowl Director of College Scouting Shane Coughlin.
Coughlin had this to say about Fehoko in a Prospect Roundup earlier this year:
“He’s one of my absolute favorite players in the whole country. He’s an evolving body type — about 270, 6’4” with long arms. He’s a mismatch 3-tech who also plays from the 2-point as a 9-tech. But either way, I view him as one of the most technically-sound players in the country, period.
“You watch his hand-fighting and his ability to stay clean, how tight he stays to the arc, or how efficiently he slants inside, and how efficient he is with his movements overall, I think he’s super versatile. I think he’s going to have instant Day 1 impact because of how sound everything already is.”
South has the mobility to match athletes like Fehoko, but he’s struggled mightily with power this year. Look for Fehoko to exploit that and keep racking up production.
Other NFL Draft Prospects To Watch in Week 12
- Illinois OT Julian Pearl vs. Michigan EDGE Mike Morris
- Louisiana WR Michael Jefferson vs. Florida State S Jammie Robinson
- UConn OT Chase Lundt vs. Army EDGE Andre Carter II
- Michigan State WR Jayden Reed vs. Indiana CB Tiawan Mullen
- TCU WR Derius Davis vs. Baylor DB Al Walcott
- Charlotte WR Grant DuBose vs. Louisiana Tech CB Myles Brooks
- Ole Miss WR Jonathan Mingo vs. Arkansas DB Dwight McGlothern
- Utah OTs Braeden Daniels, Sataoa Laumea vs. Oregon DL Brandon Dorlus, DJ Johnson
- Georgetown WR Joshua Thomas vs. Holy Cross CBs Devin Haskins, John Smith
- North Dakota State OT Cody Mauch vs. North Dakota EDGE Ben McNaboe