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    CFB Week 1 2023: Draft Prospects Shedeur Sanders, Joe Milton, and Drake Maye Stand Out

    The PFN Scouting Team shares their in-depth notes on all of college football's Week 1 action, highlighting the standout performers from across the nation.

    College football’s Week 1 slate didn’t disappoint when it came to thrilling action and drama. Our 2024 NFL Draft evaluations have already begun and the risers have started early.

    PFN analysts Ian Valentino, Ian Cummings, Dalton Miller, and Lorenzo Reyna were able to have eyes on every game. We’ll be teaming up throughout the season to give a full rundown of the weekend’s action from a scouting point of view. Here’s our Week 1 draft prospect report.

    Standout 2024 NFL Draft Prospects | CFB Week 1

    Colorado vs. TCU

    There’s no other place to start this week’s scouting news and notes than with Shedeur Sanders. The Colorado quarterback was magnificent, setting school records in his debut against a defense with a handful of NFL Draft prospects that played in the national title game last year. But it’s not the raw numbers that impressed me — it’s how Sanders got there.

    Sanders overcame some early errant passes and caught absolute fire. His throwing motion was something to focus on after showing an elongated, winding action that started too low. That’s been tightened up, and Sanders did a much better job keeping his upper and lower body married.

    MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Prospect Watchlist

    There was a lot more to like than just improved mechanics. He remained poised and held up against a talented defense that did not offer a lot of gaps until he started breaking the pocket and creating passing windows. Then, his natural playmaking talent took over, and he continued to pepper the Horned Frogs with accurate throws despite not releasing from a clean launching point.

    It’s not too early to raise Sanders from the mid-round grade I had on him in the preseason. The first round is only a ways off because consistency matters, but I needed to see him play well and improve his mechanics before buying in. Sanders showed his talent belongs in the discussion and has the intrinsic moxie needed to be very good. – Ian Valentino

    North Carolina vs. South Carolina

    Drake Maye wasn’t without his miscues in his first big test of the season. His situational precision is elite at its peak, but he got a bit a couple of times taking risks with his arm. Nevertheless, Maye was largely in rhythm for most of the day, and one of his most underrated traits behind Caleb Williams’ shadow — his raw talent and off-platform ability — was there for everyone to see.

    For a 6’4”, 225-pound passer, Maye boasts abrupt spryness as a pocket evader, smooth hip torquing ability on the scramble drill, and all-encompassing arm elasticity and angle freedom. Williams is often billed as the higher-upside QB prospect of the two, but it’s important not to discount Maye’s physical ability.

    He’s up there in the top tier as well, and he’s as viable a QB1 candidate.

    Edge rusher Kaimon Rucker was everywhere — and I mean everywhere — in North Carolina’s win over the inferior Carolina. The 6’1”, 260-pound defender had eight tackles, a whopping 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and two sacks.

    Already, he’s close to surpassing his full-season totals from 2022. Without elite length, Rucker might not field early-round interest at his size. But as a rush LB with insane pursuit utility – derived from his closing burst, hyperactive twitch, and turbocharged motor – he can provide lots of appeal. – Ian Cummings

    South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler looked good through the air, but his offensive line continuously struggled to get their protections right against North Carolina’s pass rush. Rattler looked more decisive and used his legs well when given an avenue to escape.

    Antwane Wells Jr. played injured and eventually had to sit, which was a bummer because he could climb in this class. Considering this, I hoped tight end Trey Knox would be a bigger factor. But he wasn’t featured in the offense.

    Instead, the Gamecocks highlighted Xavier Leggette and Ahmarean Brown. Leggette has great size and was easily the most productive Gamecocks receiver. Brown is quick as heck, but his hands are too suspect to trust on money downs like Rattler tried doing.

    On the defensive side, I made note of Tonka Hemingway. Hemingway made life tough for Maye a few times. He looked especially quick chasing Maye to the right sideline. – Dalton Miller

    Ohio State vs. Indiana

    Listen, as a mid-Michigan resident, I’m all for clowning the Ohio State Buckeyes when they look less than perfect. But them scoring only 10 points in the first half wasn’t their doing alone. Indiana’s defense looks very good this year and could have legitimate NFL prospects at all three levels.

    The headliners from this game were linebackers Aaron Casey and Jacob Mangum-Farrar. Casey racked up 11 tackles and a TFL, proving his mettle as a hard-charging, quick-processing gap invader with ruthless tenacity and play pace. Mangum-Farrar, meanwhile, complemented Casey perfectly as the versatile attacking piece.

    The Stanford transfer, at 6’4”, 240 pounds, did almost everything. He crashed gaps, rushed the passer as an interior-alignment blitzer, and made plays in coverage (notching two pass breakups).

    Elsewhere on the Indiana defense, several other players made eye-catching plays. Western Michigan transfer Andre Carter was a consistent factor in run defense off the edge, using his sturdy frame and pursuit ability to limit chunk gains. And while Nicolas Toomer, a cornerback transfer from Stanford, took some lumps against Marvin Harrison Jr., he had his share of attention-grabbing reps.

    Fitting the Hoosiers’ mantra in run support, Toomer flies downhill and plays blocks well, using his spidery 6’2” frame to occlude running lanes outside. He has the tools to rise if he can improve his match technique, tempo, and eye discipline.

    Defensive tackle Michael Hall Jr. may have only had one tackle and no sacks on the stat sheet, but he was constantly serving as a disruptive force for the Buckeyes against Indiana on Saturday.

    Not only was the 6’2”, 290-pound terror overwhelming the Hoosiers’ blockers with his explosiveness, torquing capacity, and flexibility, but he was also stacking rush moves, expanding beyond initial power, and chasing quarterbacks all through reps. In the fourth quarter, he had a particularly impressive win, using his twitch to widen his blocker, then wrenching past with a violent swim move. 

    Safety Josh Proctor could be making a resurgence on the defensive side of the ball. After spending several years as a primary special teamer, the 6’2”, 200-pound Proctor took reps as a hybrid slot defender against Indiana and displayed two-phase utility.

    Not only did he log a pass breakup in coverage, but he also screamed downhill as a run defender, using his untethered aggression and attacking range to put a lid on lateral plays. On one occasion, he slabbed an Indiana pass catcher when he corralled a screen, leveling his opponent for a loss. Ian Cummings

    Utah vs. Florida

    As far as the Gators go, throw the whole thing into the swamp. Dan Mullen’s refusal to recruit will hold this team back until these young guys can carry the squad.

    Cornerback Jason Marshall might get clowned for the first play, but it was a good play call, and bad coverage distribution is more to blame than Marshall. Cover 3 leverage never gave him a chance to defend the post. Then, the safety dove down on the dig route.

    Star edge rusher Princely Umanmielen Jr. didn’t show up on the box score, but the same high-end traits that have made him a potential early-round EDGE prospect were evident. He has great length, burst, flashes of impressive hand usage, and a nice spin move in his arsenal. – Dalton Miller

    Coastal Carolina vs. UCLA

    Freshly after joining UCLA from Cal, wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant showed off in his debut with Chip Kelly. He proved he has the speed and ball tracking to take a deep pass to the house, which were not obvious parts of his game at Cal.

    He showed excellent body control and hand strength on a few catches. Sturdivant was great in his season debut. He’s not super sudden, but did a nice job executing when needed and boosted his outlook for the remainder of the season.

    Pass rusher Laiatu Latu was all over the field as the game progressed and had a terrific pure edge sack. Some will say that’s not a surprise given his impressive raw numbers last year, but his tape in 2022 was good and not great. He often won on coverage sacks, or UCLA brought chaotic blitzes that earned him easy looks at the quarterback.

    Latu started similarly in this one, going completely unnoticed until the last drive of the first half. Then, he suddenly unleashed a great set of pass-rush moves and just enough speed to beat his blockers. He finished with three sacks and a handful of disruptive plays.

    He came into his own and mastered his hand usage and move set in the second half. Latu was more effective with hands and having him wide opened up more possibilities with his speed. I’m still concerned with his lack of lateral explosiveness — he can’t recover when he gets too far in one direction. Nonetheless, it’s easier to project him on Day 2 if he can string performances like this together.

    New running back Carson Steele was someone I had concerns with entering the game because of his own athletic limitations. Steele was not the more explosive back between him and T.J. Harden, and UCLA went with Harden more down the stretch.

    Steele looked slow, but his contact balance continued to be a plus. He was beaten badly on a pass-block rep by a defensive back, which was not a good look. The good news is Steele always falls forward, and he did have a receiving TD from the flat that was an affirmation of his potential value there.

    Defensive tackle Jay Toia stood out for the right reasons. Compared to last year, Toia was quicker off the line and did better to get into his blocker’s hip. He used a more advantageous stance, leaning forward more and aligned less like a frog. This led to better quickness and more aggressiveness.

    Finally, defensive end Gabriel Murphy was shooting off the line and did well to disrupt some plays even if he wasn’t finishing. I’m still concerned about his contact balance because he’s fairly light for even a rotational role in the NFL. But I like his creativity because he’ll jab step and let a blocker lunge into the ground or use his speed advantage at the right moment.

    Because UCLA moves him around, it’s clear he won’t win consistently inside as a 3-tech. He’s best standing up as a chaos player on an all-out blitz. He’s a draftable guy who is used oddly. – Ian Valentino

    Nevada vs. USC

    We know about Caleb Williams‘ brilliance; he was back at it again this week. Williams had a few spectacular improvisational throws as usual but mixed in a handful of examples of playing in rhythm and on time. The real scouting story of this week was his playmakers.

    Dorian Singer had a fantastic over-the-shoulder, one-handed diving catch on Williams’ insane extend play on the first drive. This is the usual for Singer, who needs to show he can routinely separate and create after the case. But it was impressive nonetheless.

    Receivers Brenden Rice and Tajh Washington also had their own moments. Rice was sharper in his route running than last year, allowing him to accelerate better at the apex of his routes. Washington’s speed also made a difference, easily outrunning defenders twice on deep passes.

    Both running backs MarShawn Lloyd and Austin Jones did well, too. Lloyd is particularly interesting because of his power and speed combination. His impressive, contorting catch up the seam where he barely broke stride confirmed his athleticism. I think he’s a guy who can get into the Day 2 range and potentially start in the NFL.

    Linebacker Shane Lee filled up the stat sheet despite being more of a lumbering presence. Lee reminds me of Ivan Pace Jr. as an athlete but lacks the same wallop as a tackler. He’s quick to read, react, and attack in coverage and run support, but his lack of dynamic movement ability laterally showed.

    Star safety Calen Bullock showed well too — creating a pass breakup thanks to his huge range. More importantly, Bullock was more active as a tackler and more involved in underneath coverage. The competition was low, but his mindset in those areas has been an area for improvement. – Ian Valentino

    Virginia vs. Tennessee

    Quarterback Joe Milton has the strongest arm in the country; all he does is show it off. The quarterbacking side will remain a question for him until he gets to the NFL level because of the UT offense and his lackadaisical decision-making. Still, that arm paired with his outrageous size and good athleticism will make him one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2024 class.

    Edge rusher Tyler Baron had about as quiet of a monster game as you can have in Tennessee’s opener. He was instrumental in suffocating the Virginia offense throughout the event and ended the day with two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. At 6’5”, 260 pounds, Baron has an impressive frame with excellent burst and overall athleticism.

    He’s long been used as an alignment-versatile battering ram for the Volunteers, and he can draw double-teams with his power. But he flashed additional pass-rushing chops in Week 1, using his crisp agility, closing speed, and length to wreak havoc.

    MORE: Top QBs in the 2024 NFL Draft

    The Cavaliers’ defense put on an admirable showing for most of the first half, and several potential prospects stood out. Edge rusher Kameron Butler was extremely active, using his hot motor and size to impact plays consistently.

    Meanwhile, in the secondary, Jonas Sanker and Langston Long stood out. At 6’2”, 215 pounds, Long showed off his versatility. Early on, he erupted into the backfield, made a fourth-down stop, and then used his length to secure a deflection over the middle of the field.

    Sanker, at 6’1”, 205 pounds, displayed coverage chops out of the slot, notching two deflections, one of which was an end-zone target, on which Sanker expertly timed his extension by keying in on his WR’s eye movements. – Ian Cummings

    Buffalo vs. Wisconsin

    The Badgers have a true NFL running back duo with Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi. Allen has the most hype, but Mellusi threw his hat into the ring with a 157-yard debut in 2023 — complete with a massive 89-yard touchdown.

    Allen is the dominating physical specimen between the two, but Mellusi has legitimate open-field burst and impressive lateral flexibility, and his superior versatility may win over scouts.

    It’s also important to note that Wisconsin’s running efficiency wouldn’t be possible without the team’s stellar offensive line. In particular, left tackle Jack Nelson is a worthy early-round prospect. On Mellusi’s long TD run, Nelson obliterated the left side of the defensive line with his explosiveness and power. – Ian Cummings

    Utah State vs. Iowa

    We saw nothing new for cornerback Cooper DeJean, but that’s a good thing. He was stellar all day against Utah State, particularly in run support. His 6’1”, 208-pound frame gives him unique strength at the point of attack, which he can use to stall blocks and take away space at the boundary.

    True sophomore safety Xavier Nwankpa isn’t eligible until the 2025 NFL Draft cycle, but he’s a name to watch as a potential first-round target in the distant future. At 6’2”, 210 pounds, he’s a paragon of range and playmaking ability on the back end. He used his explosiveness, fluidity, and keen eyes to snipe an impressive interception off an intermediate post route.

    Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Iowa Hawkeyes have more NFL talent at tight end. This time, however, it’s two prospects simultaneously instead of one.

    Erick All, a Michigan transfer, only caught three passes for 15 yards. However, he converted in clutch situations, hauling in a contested third-down pass off an efficient slant, and scored a TD.

    Luke Lachey, meanwhile, paced the offense with seven catches for 73 yards, using his gliding seam athleticism, upper-echelon contortion ability, and reach to overwhelm defensive backs. Lachey has the higher ceiling, but both TE prospects could feasibly be drafted. – Ian Cummings

    Fresno State vs. Purdue

    The 2023 season may have started with a disappointing loss for Purdue, but there’s a bright side. After a stretch of having NFL Draft prospects like Rondale Moore, David Bell, and Charlie Jones, the Boilermakers might have their next one in redshirt sophomore Deion Burks.

    Burks caught four passes for 152 yards and two scores, including a long of 84 yards. His first TD, in particular, was a three-level masterclass. Burks used a hyperactive split release and a crisp slant to separate, effortlessly adjusted for a high pass while maintaining his stride, and showed off size-defying contact balance at 5’11”, 195 pounds while scraping upfield.

    Then, once he could recollect his feet, he re-accelerated and took it the distance. Burks is a playmaker, and he’s on the rise. – Ian Cummings

    Fresno State quarterback Mikey Keene replaced the beloved Jake Haener by joining the Bulldogs via UCF. Keene delivered a Haener-like moment reminiscent of a 2021 contest down in Pasadena. Keene ends up orchestrating a game-winning 79-yard drive to seal the road win…and do it inside a Big 10 venue.

    It’s one thing to throw for 366 yards and win your first game as a Bulldog. But here’s how Keene immediately becomes revered by Fresno State fans post Haener: His first Fresno State win is against a Power Five opponent. Since the days of Jim Sweeney and later popularized by Pat Hill, Fresno State has taken immense pride in beating Power Five opponents. Keene is already in the record books at Fresno for leading the Bulldogs to their first-ever win over Purdue.

    How did Keene do it? He shows tremendous poise, comfort, and trust in his new surroundings. Additionally, Keene showed a knack for attacking linebackers in man coverage — a trait Haener did efficiently at Fresno State.

    In playing for renowned QB guru Jeff Tedford, Keene already took advantage of one Tedford staple: The fake handoff and rollout, displayed in Keene’s first TD pass. Keene, however, also shows this trait that’ll win over Tedford and Co. — a tuck it and run but then fire the pass side of him. With an opening and two oncoming defenders, Keene still showed tremendous awareness in pulling back his arm for the throw on the second TD for Fresno State when he found a wide-open Jalen Moss in the end zone.

    He’s a throw-on-the-run-type QB. Teams down the road are more than likely going to set up a spy defender on Keene moving forward or do everything in their power to keep him from going outside the tackles. Plus, with Keene’s stature under 6’0″, questions will arise if he’s more comfortable throwing outside his right or left tackle. Still, he impressed with his composure, ability to spread the ball around by getting nine different wide receivers involved, and not being rattled by a Power Five crowd.

    He’s got a chance to solidify his popularity after the home opener against Eastern Washington. The Scottsdale native takes on the past local university Arizona State in his Arizona homecoming. – Lorenzo Reyna

    UTSA vs. Houston

    The Houston Cougars won a tight game that was made much better by their beautiful blue jerseys, an ode to the Oilers’ perfect throwbacks. Edge rushers Nelson Ceaser and David Ugwoegbo were two players I focused on while they were on defense.

    Caeser notched a beautiful sack with a textbook bull rush, using his inside arm to get under the blocker’s shoulder pad. It was a more explosive move than he’s shown in the past as he’s been too reliant on chaotic energy than stringing moves together. His inside hand worked well again later, too.

    Developing a signature move and having the strength to make it work is huge for Caeser. He has plus quickness in space to recover if a quarterback bounces outside of his rush but had trouble getting there. Caeser is still a snap jumper but he’s a good athlete. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, and his lack of size shows as a properly balanced tackle can jar his chest and end the move.

    Ugwoegbo looked better in coverage than as a pass rusher. He’s more fluid than last year and looks faster, but his pass rush still needs a lot of work. He primarily relies on power, but he’s not overly dominant there.

    The good news is that he was solid, dropping back into space and closing. Playing as a 3-4 OLB might be his best spot moving forward. It’s great how reactive and quick he is in the run game, and he did a nice job reading keys and getting where he needed to.

    New quarterback Donovan Smith met the expectations of someone in a new system and situation. Smith did not quickly process what he saw and was a little too willing to break the pocket with no pressure. The good news is Smith took control of the game in a few instances where he just ran, and that’s the type of feel he needs to show.

    He undoubtedly has a strong arm but struggles to throw to where guys are compared to where they’re going, so he underthrows routinely by a tad. We’ll see his mobility more, which is good.

    It was a concerning game for left tackle Patrick Paul. Paul struggled more with his balance than expected, ending up on the ground several times. We knew he had some physical limitations but wasn’t as dominant as we had hoped considering the offseason offered the chance to improve. He’ll need to master his balance and strike this season or become a later-round guy. – Ian Valentino

    Nebraska vs. Minnesota

    Nebraska quarterback Jeff Sims helped the Minnesota defense play fast and opportunistically. Still, the Golden Gophers’ defense might truly be one of the best units in the nation — not just in the Big Ten.

    On the defensive line, they have Jalen Logan-Redding — a powerful, alignment-versatile rusher who logged two TFLs and a sack in Week 1. They also have Jah Joyner and Danny Striggow on the edge — each logged a sack. Both players have an eye-catching mix of closing burst and length and could be risers in the 2024 NFL Draft cycle.

    Minnesota’s defensive line is talented, but the secondary could be a confounding unit for opposing quarterbacks this season. Justin Walley is an instinctive ball hawk who’s also proven his mettle in attacking ball carriers and generating turnovers. Tre’Von Jones, a transfer from Elon, netted a pick with his eye discipline and route-recognition ability.

    Of course, the headliner of Minnesota’s secondary is safety Tyler Nubin. After a strong 2022 campaign, Nubin hit the ground running in 2023 with two interceptions against Nebraska, including a game-winner in the fourth quarter. Nubin does everything for the Golden Gophers.

    At 6’2”, 205 pounds, he’s an aggressive, proactive run support defender with excellent angle IQ. But his most marketable plays come in coverage, where he has the smooth spatial mobility and management skills, the quick processing ability, and the reaction speed to take advantage of any QB miscues.

    He entered the year as an early-round prospect, and he’s only cementing his range. – Ian Cummings

    Washington State vs. Colorado State

    It’s easy to get lost in the numbers game regarding the stacked 2024 NFL Draft safety class, but don’t forget Jaden Hicks.

    The Washington State star had a phenomenal 2023 debut, accumulating seven tackles, a half-TFL, and a pick-six in the Cougars’ Week 1 victory. At 6’3”, 202 pounds, Hicks is a homing missile entering the box. As he showed on his pick-six, he also has the route-recognition skills to hawk in front of short passes and the ball skills to convert and generate turnovers. – Ian Cummings

    Central Michigan vs. Michigan State

    Michigan State’s running back duo of Nathan Carter and Jalen Berger is worth watching. Carter rumbled for 113 yards and a score on 18 carries in his MSU debut, using rare energy and combativeness for his 5’9”, 190-pound frame to carve up Central’s defense. Berger wasn’t as efficient as a runner but displayed impressive receiving ability for his 6’1”, 215-pound frame. His trademark fluidity was once again under the spotlight.

    On defense, Charles Brantley is a player to watch for the Spartans. The 6’0”, 170-pound DB is slight of frame, but he makes up for it with his tenacity and fast play pace. His click-and-close speed in run support is eye-popping at times, and he’s incredibly instinctive in run defense with his angle awareness and block-evasion ability. He also has the twitch and ball skills to hold his own in coverage, as he displayed while notching a pass deflection. – Ian Cummings

    North Texas vs. Cal

    Colorado’s Travis Hunter wasn’t just the only dominating sophomore in Texas. Cal witnessed its second-year player take advantage of a brand new offense, though one familiar to Golden Bears fans. With Jake Spavital back, Ott took advantage of some lanes wide enough to fit an SUV in the 58-21 romp of North Texas.

    Ott, as a freshman, was a back reliant on speed. It parlayed to an 897-yard debut. But he played in what became a disoriented offense that led to an in-season firing of Bill Musgrave as offensive coordinator. Against UNT and Spavital calling the offense, Ott instead showed a higher sense of patience in letting the blocks develop, following through with a quicker burst from his freshman season.

    The big key for Ott will be to develop multiple performances like Saturday’s in this new system. On an offense expected to be passer-friendly, the ground game thrashed the defense. – Lorenzo Reyna

    The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

    I must remind you to keep an eye on Georgia Southern RB Jalen White. Explosive, physical runner at 6’0”, 215 pounds, who was on Feldman’s Freaks list this offseason. In his season debut, he rumbled for 125 yards and a score on 19 carries, averaging almost seven yards per tote. – Ian Cummings

    Bethune-Cookman vs. Memphis

    Old Dominion transfer Blake Watson was one of my favorite RB sleepers in the 2024 NFL Draft entering the season, and he’s off to a hot start with the Memphis Tigers.

    In his Memphis debut, Watson ran the ball 10 times for 75 yards and three scores and caught five passes for 37 yards. At 5’9”, 185 pounds, Watson is a smooth, slippery runner with impressive contact balance for his size, who also has underrated receiving chops.

    At Memphis — the same school that helped develop Antonio Gibson — it appears that Watson will be able to show that. – Ian Cummings

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