After three losing seasons, including an 0-5 campaign in 2020, the Arizona Wildcats moved off head coach Kevin Sumlin and hired Jedd Fisch. Well, Fisch’s first year didn’t provide much hope. Fresh off a 1-11 campaign and zero players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Wildcats need a rebound. Who are Arizona’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects, and will any crack the Day 2 range for the first time since Nick Foles in 2012?
Arizona prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
Arizona is a few seasons away from competing in the Pac-12. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent on the roster. In fact, they had 10 players land on the Shrine Bowl 1000. Fisch has his work cut out for him, but these 2023 draft prospects should make it a little easier.
Jayden de Laura, QB
Despite Arizona’s website listing Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura as a true sophomore, he is entering his third collegiate season. Thus, he is draft-eligible … although I don’t believe he will declare this year.
De Laura flashed in his 36 attempts across two seasons with the Cougars, but he has to rein in the mistakes. The physical tools are there, but inexperience could lead to a rough first year as a starter.
Jordan McCloud, QB
Jordan McCloud is technically a true senior, but because of the extra COVID year, he has two years of eligibility remaining. Still, he didn’t show enough at USF to maintain his starting gig, started two games before a season-ending injury last year, and now de Laura is slated to start in 2022. Unfortunately, it seems McCloud will be on the outside looking in come April — either this year or next.
Michael Wiley and DJ Williams, RB
Michael Wiley averaged 7.2 yards per carry on 31 attempts in 2020. So, with an increased workload last year, many anticipated a huge jump in production. While he did see more work (92 carries), Wiley averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt. But it wasn’t all his fault. The offensive line struggled, and the offense as a whole was inept.
Meanwhile, DJ Williams is on his third team in as many years (Auburn and Florida State). It’s unlikely either joins Gary Brightwell in the NFL via the draft.
Jacob Cowing, WR
Following three years of dominance at UTEP, culminating in a 1,361-yard campaign in 2021, Jacob Cowing took his talents to the Power Five. Arizona may not be a powerhouse, but they offer Cowing the stage to showcase his skill set against Pac-12 defenders.
He’s light at 5’11” and 170 pounds, but Cowing understands leverage, sells vertical, and is an impressive route runner. Although his size and lack of elite traits may limit his draft ceiling, Cowing should hear his name called in the middle rounds.
Jordan Morgan, OT
There’s a lot to like with Jordan Morgan. He plays a physical brand of football and enjoys crushing defenders. Powerful hands lead to pop on contact, and his anchor is hard to displace.
Still, Morgan’s technique needs some work — which is expected from a young tackle — and his overall athleticism leaves some to be desired. A commanding performance in 2022 that highlights technical development could lead Morgan to declare and earn mid-round draft capital.
Josh Donovan, G
Outside of center Josh McCauley, Josh Donovan was Arizona’s top pass protector last year. He returns to man the right guard spot, where he allowed zero sacks in 2021. Cutting down penalties (six last season) and developing as a run blocker will enhance Donovan’s standing among analysts and scouts alike.
Josh Baker, OL
Josh Baker has played all three interior positions at Arizona, splitting starting reps at left and right guard last year. Now, he’s primed to take over first-team center duties.
That versatility is obviously valuable — and necessary for a smaller 6’3″ and 299-pound lineman. Baker doesn’t gain much push up front as a run blocker, but he could take strides there as he continues to develop his frame. Even if he plays well in 2022, Baker will likely return for his senior campaign to solidify his draft stock.
Paiton Fears, OT
A staple on the offensive line since 2019, Paiton Fears stands 6’6″ and 320 pounds. Quicker pass rushers can take advantage of his heavy feet, but Fears’ length and strength are suffocating. Yet, if no improvements are made in pass protection, it will be hard for a team to justify spending a draft pick on him.
Hunter Echols, EDGE
Across four seasons and 37 games at USC, Hunter Echols compiled 50 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and three PBUs. The production isn’t there for Echols to make the leap to the NFL, but he does have projectable size at 6’5″ and 245 pounds. He’s a strong tackler and run defender, but Echols’ pass-rushing skill set can be underwhelming — although he had a great game against his new team last year.
Jalen Harris and JB Brown, EDGE
Jalen Harris and JB Brown will rotate with Echols as the top three edge rushers for the Wildcats. Harris has been a constant force on the defensive line since 2018. He has noticeably built up his frame over the years, producing 121 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks. He’s had five different position coaches and four defensive coordinators. With some stability and positive regression from the team in 2022, this could be Harris’ best outing yet.
Meanwhile, JB Brown returns to the team after opting out of 2020 and playing just four games last season before leaving the team for personal reasons. Regardless, he has totaled over 1,000 career snaps all along the defensive line. At 6’3″ and roughly 270 pounds, Brown is tapped out physically. Still, he doesn’t have NFL size, and his lack of a pass-rushing repertoire will likely hold him back.
Kyon Barrs, DT
Kyon Barrs was one of Arizona’s best defenders last season. Their record may lead some to believe that isn’t exactly a compliment, but the Wildcats quietly have some playmakers on defense.
Barrs was above average as both a run stopper and pass rusher on the interior. He registered eight tackles for loss and five sacks in 2021, earning All-Pac-12 second-team honors in the process. The 6’3″ and nearly 300-pound DT has gone from unranked high school recruit to on the verge of a breakout campaign in 2022.
Jerry Roberts, LB
With Anthony Pandy gone, Jerry Roberts leads Arizona’s linebacking corps in 2022. A broken leg robbed him of the final game of the season, but Roberts has said he is “150% healthy.”
At 6’2″ and 225 pounds, he’s played at EDGE, in the box, and in the slot during his time at Bowling Green and his first year in Tucson (2021). The Wildcats opted to keep Roberts in a true linebacker role, and the transition came with some growing pains. Despite his versatility, Roberts is unlikely to draw looks in the draft.
Christian Roland-Wallace, CB
Arizona’s top defensive prospects stem from the secondary. Christian Roland-Wallace split time in the slot and on the outside last year. Corners and run defense aren’t typically synonymous, but Roland-Wallace triggered downhill with ease.
He has racked up 13 pass deflections since starting eight games as a true freshman in 2019, displaying his ball skills. Roland-Wallace’s size (6’0″, 200 pounds), length, physicality, and athleticism will create fans from draft analysts and NFL scouts alike.
Isaiah Rutherford, CB
After a quick stint at Notre Dame, Isaiah Rutherford joined Arizona prior to last season. The former four-star recruit is a long 6’1″ and 190-pound corner with some untapped potential. An injury forced him out after seven starts last year — his first real collegiate experience.
Rutherford could pair with Roland-Wallace to form one of the conference’s best and most underrated CB duos. The NFL isn’t out of the question if he can rekindle the spark from the recruiting process.
Christian Young, S
A member of the prestigious “Feldman Freak’s List,” Christian Young’s physical tools scream NFL. At 6’3″ and 222 pounds, he topped out at 22.6 mph against Oregon last year. He has the speed to chase ball carriers sideline to sideline and keep up with receivers downfield.
Young has legitimately done it all for the Wildcats, lining up at outside corner, deep safety, in the slot, and in the box. That versatility, paired with his natural size/speed combination, will garner NFL attention. And if he can make it translate to the box score in 2022, Young should have no issue hearing his name called next spring.
Jaxen Turner, S
Jaxen Turner enjoyed a solid campaign as Arizona’s deep safety in 2021. He notched 60 total tackles, five tackles for loss, five pass deflections, and one forced fumble. His basketball background is easy to see in his leaping ability above the proverbial rim. Turner still has unrealized upside — upside that could land him in the pros.
Kyle Ostendorp, P
Punters are people too. After a decent — albeit unremarkable — true freshman campaign, Kyle Ostendorp sat out in 2020 due to COVID-19. But the world wasn’t ready for what his right leg had in store. He finished the year with the third highest punting average in the nation (49.3 yards), behind only Matt Araiza and Ryan Stonehouse.
Ostendorp set a career-long of 71 yards, routinely set his punt coverage unit up for success, and received first-team All-Pac-12 recognition. Four punters were selected last cycle. With another strong showing in 2022, Ostendorp could put his name in the 2023 NFL Draft hat.
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