Taking five games with either conference, College Football Playoff, or historical rivalry ramifications, we’ve highlighted a player from each team who should garner attention in the upcoming NFL draft class.
Top 2023 NFL Draft Prospects To Watch in Week 13
Mazi Smith, DT, Michigan
Michigan holds its College Football Playoff fate in their own hands when they travel to Columbus for one of the biggest rivalry games in all of football. This game has all the ingredients that we referenced in the introduction, with a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and CFP “final four” putting the icing on the cake of the Wolverines’ rivalry with Ohio State. Win, and they’re likely into both.
While there are multiple playmakers that hold the key to this matchup, Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith may prove to be pivotal. The freakish athlete — who has a documented 33″ vertical and 6.95 three-cone time despite weighing 337 pounds — combines a quick first step and excellent agility with incredible strength to be a force on the interior.
Smith’s ability to impact the passing game, as well as clog running lanes, could be the key to this Michigan defensive front winning the trench battle. With Ohio State’s ability to transition from a heavy-duty passing game to a run-focused offense in a heartbeat, Smith’s ability to disrupt in both facets of the game is extremely valuable.
Miyan Williams, RB, Ohio State
Ohio State is absolutely laden with 2023 NFL Draft prospects, including some at the very top of their position. C.J. Stroud could become the Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in the next six months, while Paris Johnson Jr. is a legitimate contender to be the first offensive tackle taken in April. While those two have garnered national attention, there’s another prospect who could decide this game.
When Stroud has struggled this season, the running game has picked up the slack and ensured that the Buckeyes succeed. Miyan Williams might be one of the most underrated prospects in the nation. The 5’9″, 225-pound bowling ball boasts the physicality you’d expect from his size while possessing the foot speed to make cuts and burst through the hole in a way that you might not expect.
Meanwhile, Williams possesses the vision that can often be the difference between a good and great running back. He’s been dinged up in recent weeks, putting a question mark against his participation in “The Game.” If he plays, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him emerge as the driving force of this Buckeyes offense.
Brad Rozner, WR, Rice
It’s not very often that a 2 p.m. ET Conference USA clash finds its way onto our 2023 NFL Draft prospects watch, but this game is positively brimming with postseason permutations. Be sure not to miss a second with a free trial of fuboTV.
For the Rice Owls, a victory over C-USA rivals North Texas will give them their sixth win of the season, ensuring bowl eligibility and four conference wins for the first time since the 2014 season that saw them in the Hawaii Bowl.
Wide receiver Brad Rozner has emerged as a dominant pass-catching force for the Owls this season. He leads the team with 20.7 yards per catch, 806 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns.
The Rice receiver is a 6’5″, 204-pound catch-point menace who uses his frame to box out his opponent. Strong hands and good ball tracking round out Rozner’s ball skills. However, Rozner is also a deceptive athlete with decent straight-line speed and quick feet to separate on release.
Ridge Texada, CB, North Texas
Hoping to stop Rice reach their first bowl game since 2014 is a North Texas team with postseason aspirations of their own. The Mean Green are already bowl-season-bound for the third successive season under Seth Littrell. But with a win over Rice in Apogee Stadium on Saturday afternoon, they can book a place in the C-USA Championship Game for the first time since 2017.
North Texas DB Ridge Texada will be tasked with stopping Rozner, a task pivotal to the Mean Green’s chances of victory. The true junior leads North Texas with 15 pass breakups and three interceptions this season. At 5’8″ and 181 pounds, there’s a very noticeable size mismatch, but Texada has the skill set to nullify that size disadvantage.
A former high school relay runner, Texada showcases speed both on interception returns and in his ability to click and close to make plays on the ball. With quick feet, Texada backpedals well and transitions fluidly.
Meanwhile, he demonstrates good football instincts, while having the ball-tracking skills to make a play on the ball in flight. For a smaller DB, Texada attacks the catch point well.
Owen Pappoe, LB, Auburn
Since the departure of Bryan Harsin, Auburn has undergone a resurgence and are heading into the Iron Bowl rivalry against Alabama with bowl eligibility a possibility that often seemed unlikely throughout the 2022 season. Momentum is also with Cadillac Williams’ team, which features several potential prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
One of those is senior linebacker Owen Pappoe. Finally healthy after an injury ended his season prematurely last year, the 6’1″ and 226-pound linebacker leads the Tigers with 81 tackles through 11 games. He’s been able to showcase his elite athleticism, high-level intelligence, and laid some brutal hits.
While potentially considered undersized, Pappoe’s ability to be impactful in all phases of defense should see him garner attention next April.
Tyler Steen, OT, Alabama
Alabama enters the Iron Bowl in an unusual position. In this final week of the season, all the Crimson Tide are playing for is pride and potentially a better bowl game. However, there’s no SEC Championship Game or College Football Playoff berth to battle for.
Nevertheless, for some of their lesser NFL draft prospects, it’s another opportunity to put good tape on the table ahead of the selection event. For instance, Tyler Steen hasn’t received the attention usually afforded Alabama OT prospects, but the Vanderbilt transfer has shown that he has an NFL future.
The 6’5″, 315-pound left tackle is powerful, athletic, and demonstrates an excellent understanding of winning with leverage. Some minor technical refinement could earn Steen Day 2 capital. A standout showing against an Auburn defense that contains some impressive 2023 NFL Draft prospects should help his stock.
Ryan O’Keefe, WR, UCF
With wins over Cincinnati and Tulane earlier in the year, UCF is virtually guaranteed a spot in the AAC Championship. That said, they have to hold up their own end of the bargain by beating the USF Bulls later today.
With South Florida failing to win a single AAC game this season, and UCF reaching national recognition with their performances, that feels like a given. But, stranger things have happened in college football this season.
UCF’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects are led by Ryan O’Keefe, who has the opportunity to wreak havoc against a suboptimal USF defense. The UCF wide receiver is a genuine speedster who has the burst and agility to be an elusive threat in the short and intermediate game. O’Keefe also has twitch to separate on deep routes with an alluring combination of strong hands and toughness beyond his 5’10”, 175-pound frame.
Dwayne Boyles, LB, USF
Calling the USF defense suboptimal is perhaps an understatement. They’ve allowed over 40 points per game, the most rushing and passing yards, the highest opposition QB completion percentage, and the most total touchdowns in the AAC this season.
You might not expect to find any 2023 NFL Draft prospects residing on the Bulls’ defensive roster, but you’d be pleasantly surprised.
Dwayne Boyles — the 6’3″, 227-pound do-it-all linebacker — is one of those USF 2023 NFL Draft prospects. He has some exciting athletic attributes, like the speed to be a force around the edge and the physicality to bring a man to his knees. However, the most impressive element of Boyles’ game is the football IQ and play diagnosis he uses to be a versatile threat in the front seven.
Jon Sot, P, Notre Dame
Notre Dame started the season as a potential College Football Playoff contender. While the Fighting Irish’s inconsistency has taken them out of the equation, they have the opportunity to play spoiler on the final weekend of the season.
Isaiah Foskey and Jarrett Patterson have earned attention in the upcoming class, but it’s another one of their 2023 NFL Draft prospects who could dictate their game with USC.
Punters are prospects too, and Jon Sot has been one of the most consistent performers in this most inconsistent of seasons for the Fighting Irish. The senior punter started the season with a 75-yard rocket against Ohio State, showcasing his leg strength.
Meanwhile, Sot’s averaged a respectable 43.34 yards per punt this fall. Yet, it’s his ability to pin opponents inside the 20 (47.7% of punts) that will be pivotal to Sot’s draft stock — and Notre Dame’s ability to upset the Trojans.
Shane Lee, LB, USC
USC has one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation. However, their defense has struggled containing the run, allowing 21 rushing touchdowns and over 4.5 yards per carry.
Notre Dame is at the most potent when they run the rock, so the performance of linebacker Shane Lee in combating the ground game could prove pivotal to this game’s outcome — and USC’s bit to reach the College Football Playoff.
The former Alabama linebacker leads the Trojans with 66 tackles, while adding 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions (with one touchdown). A stellar athlete, Lee’s quickness is weaponized by impressive football intelligence to ensure that he’s always around the ball. Furthermore, he’s a reliable and impactful tackler who also possesses the coverage capability that should earn him next-level attention.