A revised Week 5 college football schedule gives some smaller-school NFL draft prospects the opportunity to shine in the national spotlight. Can South Carolina State’s Jeblonski Green, Eastern Washington’s Freddie Roberson, and several others rise to the occasion and elevate their draft stock in the process?
Patrick Paul and Bralen Trice lead NFL draft prospects to watch in Week 5
As always in this 2023 NFL Draft prospect watch, we’ve tried to provide a good mix of offensive and defensive prospects spread out across the hours of action while shining some light on the sleepers in the class rather than repeatedly highlighting the established superstars.
Patrick Paul, OT, Houston
An exciting Friday night slate in college football Week 5 sees an all-conference clash between two teams with AAC championship expectations attached to them even at this early part of the season.
Houston and Tulane are backed full on 2023 NFL Draft prospects on both sides of the ball, and we’ve already highlighted Green Wave linebacker Dorian Williams in recent weeks.
Facing a Tulane defense that ranks at the top of the AAC in a number of metrics, Houston offensive tackle Patrick Paul could be a key cog in deciding the winner of this game and ultimately the destination of the conference championship game.
While protecting Clayton Tune will be significant, his ability in the ground game to spring Ta’Zhawn Henry will be under particular scrutiny against a Tulane defense that has been stingy against the run.
At 6’7″ and 315 pounds, the brother of now Washington Commander Chris Paul is an imposing figure to navigate. He’s impressively strong and possesses that nasty streak in the ground game that separates the good from the great.
Meanwhile, the Houston OT has solid athletic capability, with excellent footwork that allows him to mirror his opponent well.
Bralen Trice, EDGE, Washington
The college football scheduling gods have really spoiled us in Week 5, with Friday night featuring another all-conference clash that has us licking our lips in anticipation.
Washington travels to UCLA in a matchup featuring two undefeated teams that should be well worth watching even with the 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff time.
Washington has established itself as a top-tier producer of defensive talent in recent years — particularly in the secondary — and there’s a ton of 2023 NFL Draft prospects to feast your eyes on during Friday night’s action.
Highly-regarded pass rusher Zion Tupuloa-Fetui has rebounded well from a serious injury last year, but it’s his teammate Bralen Trice who leads the Huskies with seven tackles for loss and four and a half sacks through four games and is emerging as the Washington pass rusher to watch for in the 2023 NFL Draft.
As we continue to hammer home, numbers don’t count for more than how you achieve them. Trice has been dominant in that respect so far this fall. Like his team-mate ZTF, the 6’4″, 269 pounds defensive dynamo is an explosive athlete that springs into the opposition backfield like a coiled snake that is ready to pounce.
He has violence in his hands and heart, combining both to relentlessly overcome anyone who halts his progress to the QB.
Jeblonski Green, DE, South Carolina State
South Carolina State travels to William-Brice Stadium to face South Carolina in a hastily rearranged schedule that now kicks off college football Week 5. Neither team has had a particularly successful start to the season, with the reigning HBCU national champions coming off the back of a heavy defeat to North Carolina A&T.
However, they have an impactful defensive playmaker in Jeblonski Green, who will be looking to assert himself against FBS opposition. Games like this can help solidify small-school NFL draft prospects in the eyes of all-star games, and Green is already on the radar of the East-West Shrine Bowl. He also impressed in SC State’s season opener against UCF.
The 6’3″, 265 pounds Bulldogs defensive playmaker is a strong and explosive presence off the edge who has experience standing up and with his hand in the dirt. Green has the ability to collapse the pocket with a combination of upper body strength and lower body power. Meanwhile, he’s showcased the instincts to be an impact maker in the ground game.
Cory Trice, CB, Purdue
Do not adjust your sets. Do not question your vision. There is more than one Trice prospect in this week’s 2023 NFL Draft prospects to watch article. In that respect, you could say there are three times as many as there was last week.
Will it be a case of once bitten, thrice shy? In all seriousness, though, and with all the terrible puns worked out of my system, Purdue has a legitimate cornerback prospect to watch in the form of redshirt senior Cory Trice.
Trice snagged three interceptions in 2019 and was one of Purdue’s potential NFL draft prospects last year but suffered a season-ending injury. He’s already logged four pass breakups this year and has caught the attention of the East-West Shrine Bowl with his performances, with Director of Player Personnel Eric Galko highlighting him during a recent weekly meeting with Pro Football Network.
A former safety, Trice has impressive size for the cornerback position at 6’3″ and 215 pounds. The Boilermakers’ defensive back weaponizes that size with impressive length to be a disruptive force at the catch point.
While some bigger NFL draft prospects at the CB position struggle from a movement perspective, Trice has the athleticism — most importantly the fluidity — to be a quality player at the NFL level.
He’ll have the opportunity to show his skills against the run game when Purdue faces Minnesota this week.
Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas
Even as the transfer portal becomes a more frequently utilized tool for prospects to elevate their NFL draft stock, having the opportunity to return to a former program in a “revenge game” is rare.
Yet as Alabama and Arkansas prepare to face off in one of the premier matchups of college football Week 5, that’s exactly what linebacker Drew Sanders has the opportunity to do this weekend.
Sanders has been unequivocally one of the top defensive players in the nation this fall. He’s beginning to realize the elite athletic potential that made him a heavily-recruited five-star high school prospect and the number one “athlete” in the 2020 recruiting class.
He already has seven tackles for loss, six sacks, and two forced fumbles to his name this year. Furthermore, he was named PFN’s Defensive Player of the Week earlier in the season.
Sanders flies around the field with dangerous intentions. The athletic allure that oozed out of his recruiting profile is evident in every play. As a result, he can impact the opposition offense with his sideline-to-sideline speed while possessing pass rush upside with speed and explosion.
The Arkansas linebacker also displays coverage ability — aided by his 6’5″ height and impressive length — to be an effective and dangerous weapon in all phases of defense.
Cameron Ward, QB, Washington State
After a murky quarterback class year, it’s fair to say that every analyst under the sun was excited to switch to the passer prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Yet, early in the cycle, there seems to be a significant drop-off after established front-runners C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young.
All that means is that there’s the potential for a playmaker to make a leap into the QB3 spot with their play during this college football season. We’ve seen Kansas QB Jalon Daniels and Tennessee dual-threat Hendon Hooker stake their claim early on. However, there’s another quarterback who is impressing — don’t sleep on Washington State’s Cameron Ward.
The 6’2″, 220 pounds former Incarnate Word quarterback is still developing, and there are some throws that make you watch with your hands cupped over your face in despair.
However, he continues to showcase the poise, pocket presence, and off-script playmaking ability that should prove alluring for NFL teams. He’s blessed with legitimate arm talent and will get the chance to unleash it on a California pass defense that is one of the worst in the conference.
DeWayne “Debo” McBride, RB, UAB
Nestled in amongst a ridiculous amount of brilliant running back performances two weeks ago, UAB rusher Dewayne McBride racked up four touchdowns and 223 yards while averaging a ludicrous eight yards per carrier as the Blazers torched a Georgia Southern team that effectively ended Scott Frost’s tenure at Nebraska the previous week.
The performance somehow evaded national attention, but the true junior should be viewed as one of UAB’s top prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
At 5’11” and 215 pounds, McBride is a physical running back who thrives at punishing his opponent. His nation-leading 5.7 yards per rush after contact is a testament to his ability to barrel through defenses.
However, he’s not all ground and pound as McBride has enough long speed to break off chunk plays and the vision to find rushing lanes for himself. The Blazers face a Rice rush defense that is one of the stingiest in Conference USA, giving him the opportunity to help elevate his reputation and draft stock in the process.
Ladarius Henderson, G, Arizona State
The 2023 NFL Draft offensive line class doesn’t possess the same certainty as the previous cycle and is crying out for some prospects to assert their dominance over it. We’ve already begun to see Paris Johnson emerge as the guy at the offensive tackle position.
John Michael-Schmitz appears to have locked up the OC1 position early in the season. Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence is a front-runner at the guard spot. However, don’t rule out Arizona State Sun Devil Ladarius Henderson from muscling his way into the conversation.
The 6’5″, 310 pounds offensive lineman adds long arms to dominating size to be a dominating figure at the heart of the ASU offensive line. Henderson showcases a powerful punch combined with a mauler mentality and overall strength that allows him to be a bully.
He’s also a stellar athlete with burst off the snap. A matchup with an undefeated USC team gives him an opportunity to further strengthen his stock.
Freddie Roberson, WR, Eastern Washington
With Hurricane Ian bearing down on Florida, the Gators took the sensible decision to switch their game with Eastern Washington to Sunday. It transforms what would have been a game swept aside from national attention into must-watch college football on a Sunday afternoon.
A kickoff time one hour before the NFL slate of NFL games kicks off means there’s sure to be more eyes on this game than either time could have imagined.
It’s in these moments that FCS NFL draft prospects get their opportunity to shine. Eastern Washington Freddie Roberson is one of those that should emerge from this weekend firmly on the national radar for the 2023 NFL Draft class.
The fifth-year pass catcher opened the season on the Shrine Bowl 1000 Watchlist and has already showcased his ability against FBS opposition, logging three receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.
At 6’2″ and 195 pounds, Roberson has NFL size at the position. An established basketball star at the high school level, his experience on the hardcourt is evident in his ability to go above the rim and secure the ball at the catch point.
However, he’s more than just a jump ball threat. Roberson flashes decent speed, but more than that, he’s elusive while proving physical in the open field. The Eastern Washington receiver is a big play threat who can add after the catch yardage and will prove a test for the Florida defense on Sunday.
Now that you’re done reading, see where these prospects and others rank in the PFN Mock Draft Simulator!