With five matchups against top-25 opponents in their first eight games, the Houston Cougars have to come out of the gates ready to compete. Head coach Dana Holgorsen will once again rely on an explosive offense that leads to a winning record. We’re previewing the Cougars’ 2024 NFL Draft prospects.
Houston Cougars Roster and Depth Chart Changes
It wasn’t a surprise that the Cougars finished the 2022 season with the 17th-best scoring offense in the country. Led by an outstanding quarterback in Clayton Tune, the Cougars piled on points thanks to an incredibly efficient passing game. Unfortunately, Houston’s offense was overly reliant on Tune after losing rusher Alton McCaskill to a torn ACL, and the defense fell to 112th in scoring allowed.
Tune and star receiver Tank Dell graduated, and McCaskill transferred to Colorado, leaving Holgorsen to rely on the transfer portal for reinforcements. Houston will likely start former Texas Tech QB Donovan Smith and former West Virginia rusher Tony Mathis Jr. in the backfield. In total, the offense added eight transfers.
Smith will benefit from playing behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation. Left tackle Patrick Paul is the star of the group, but the rest of the line has a redshirt senior in place. Smith himself isn’t an NFL prospect, but at 6’5″ and 230 pounds, he can enter the draft’s radar for 2025 if his accuracy and mechanics improve.
Houston’s defense is the bigger concern. They lack star power on the defense but added five transfers to help bolster the pass defense in particular. The most notable newcomer is former Oklahoma LB David Ugwoegbu, who will be transitioning to EDGE to finish his career.
Houston NFL Draft Prospects
Patrick Paul, OT
The 2024 offensive tackle class is stacked with first-round caliber blockers, and Paul is firmly in the mix to be a top-100 pick. Paul has a long, powerful frame at 6’7″ and 307 pounds, allowing him to redirect rushers and comfortably handle stunts. His best attribute, though, is his patience in pass protection.
Rarely one to panic or expose his hands to defenders, Paul has great control of his own body, which forces defenders to show their move first. Paul’s blend of great technique, raw power, and patience allowed him to be a force throughout 2022.
Where Paul struggles to compare to his peers is his natural athleticism. He’s a very good run blocker but isn’t the freakish athlete who can effortlessly landmark at the second level. His limited agility and tendency to bend at the waist against speed rushers do show an upside that’s not quite on par with better athletes.
Nelson Ceaser, EDGE
Built like a speed rusher at 6’2″ and 248 pounds, Nelson Ceaser ranked second on the Cougars in tackles for loss and filled the stat sheet with a forced fumble, two pass breakups, and an interception in 2022.
Ceaser’s tape confirms that his activity level and usage allowed him to often be present. He was used in coverage occasionally and looked comfortable working in space, including executing on zone drops, QB spy responsibilities, and as a delayed blitzer.
Ceaser’s size as a true EDGE led to some issues finishing plays, though. Over two seasons, he has only 7.5 sacks and struggles to hold up as a run defender due to his lack of lower-body strength. Improving his ability to hold up in the run game or improving his balance through contact as a pass rusher can lead to improving Ceaser’s late Day 3 grade.
David Ugwoegbu, EDGE
Transferring from Oklahoma as a former linebacker, Ugwoegbu was super productive as an off-ball defender in 2022. However, he wanted to move back to his original position and chase quarterbacks before turning to the NFL.
That’s a good decision based on his large 6’4″, 248-pound frame simply lacking the speed and suddenness to consistently succeed in space.
Ugwoegbu’s pass-rush reps from Oklahoma weren’t encouraging that he’ll be a sack artist, but that doesn’t mean he can’t bring power as a strongside end. Ugwoegbu has good power but not speed and bend, so continuing to bulk up and mastering a bull rush and anchor against the run can put him into the draftable range.
Houston Cougars Schedule
- Week 1
- Week 2
Sept. 2: vs. UTSA Roadrunners
- Week 3
Sept. 9: at Rice Owls
- Week 4
Sept. 16: vs. TCU Horned Frogs
- Week 5
Sept. 23: vs. Sam Houston Bearkats
- Week 6
Sept. 29: at Texas Tech Red Raiders
- Week 7
- Week 8
Oct. 12: vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
- Week 9
Oct. 21: vs. Texas Longhorns
- Week 10
Oct. 28: at Kansas State Wildcats
- Week 11
Nov. 4: at Baylor Bears
- Week 12
Nov. 11: vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
- Week 13
Nov. 18: vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys
- Week 14
Nov. 25: at UCF Knights
- Week 15
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