With the conference slates underway in week 4, we are guaranteed Power 5 and 2023 NFL Draft Prospects matchups in every weekend game slot.
Friday, September 23
Virginia @ Syracuse (7:00 PM)
WR Dontayvion Wicks vs. CB Garrett Williams
Under new head coach Tony Elliott, Virginia has struggled out of the gate to begin the 2022 season. The Wahoos collected an expected win against Richmond before falling apart against Illinois and scraping by Old Dominion. Elliott’s conservative style has limited this offense to the tune of the 72nd-ranked offense in the country despite ranking 21st in 2021. On the other hand, Syracuse has looked better than expected, coasting by Connecticut and Louisville while winning a nail-biter in the Carrier Dome against Purdue a week ago. These teams’ trajectories are headed in opposite directions, but UVA could right the ship if the passing game can gain some momentum.
Wicks led the 2021 Cavaliers in receiving with 1,203 yards and nine TDs. However, given the decreased passing volume from the offense (going from 46.1 pass attempts per game in 2021 to just 34.7 this year), Wicks has yet to get his legs underneath him. He is currently second on the team in receptions and third in yards. Wicks is a leggy WR with all the tools to be an effective downfield threat. While he has decent height, he’s not necessarily a catch-point weapon. What he does effectively is keeping a DB in his back pocket and varying his speed to manipulate the defender. He needs to work on fighting the ball into his hands on occasion, as well as mixing up his release package.
Williams may not be the most explosive athlete, but he does everything a coach could possibly want from a DB. Williams leads the Orange in tackles with 26 to add to a sack and interception in this young season. The scrappy corner has fairly messy mechanics but recovers well and utilizes good closing speed to be in the right place at the right time. He could raise his draft stock further if he can tone down his gambles while fine-tuning his aggressiveness. Evaluators will dislike his form, but he functions well within the Tony White system with a “my ball” mentality. Williams’ physicality will leave a lasting impression on the coaching staffs during the draft process.
Overall, this is an interesting matchup because of the interplay between each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Wicks’ ability to quickly get downfield may seem like a boon against Wiliams’ weak pedal. Still, in reality, this frees Williams to turn and run without worrying about an underneath route. With UVA’s struggling OL, Wicks will need to take advantage of the space in the medium range, where there are plenty of contested catch situations that both players excel in. Expect this battle of 2023 Day 2 picks to come down to Williams’ physical play versus Wicks’ concentration and balance. The Wahoos may need to wait another week for their stud WR to get going.
Saturday, September 24
Maryland @ Michigan (12:00 PM)
OT Jaelyn Duncan vs. EDGE Julius Welschof
Maryland and Michigan meet in the first B1G matchup for both teams this season. The Wolverines have flexed their offensive power through the first few weeks, while the Terps have shown a dependence on their offense to compensate for their poor situational defense. Maryland’s lack of discipline permeates the entire team but is most apparent and detrimental on the offensive line. Michigan comes into 2022 having to replace the outstanding production of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
Duncan has anchored the left side of the Maryland offensive line for four years. Duncan has received some attention in a weak tackle class for his ideal size. At 6’6″ and 315 pounds, the OT is a decent mover who would rather drive forward than kick step back. Despite his mass, he leaves some functional play strength to be desired. Maryland’s favorite route concept is a stacked WR set with a switch release into a sideline levels concept using a seven-yard out and a corner route behind it. The Terps usually run this to the left side because they trust Duncan to wall off for the roughly five seconds it takes for the play to develop. With good experience and a plus punch (which needs some improved accuracy), Duncan projects as a developmental tackle prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
Welschof garnered media attention during his recruitment as a Euro prospect with a unique background. His background in moguls skiing can be observed in his awkward proportions, which may lower his draft stock a bit. Though he stands at 6’6″, Welschof is mostly torso with arms that hang almost to his knees. He has ludicrous speed for a man his size (weighing around 280 pounds) with an estimated 4.7-second 40. Jim Nagy recently pointed him out running with the defensive backs on kickoff coverage. Welschof’s heavy hands help him demolish the edge of the line, creating havoc across the front. His rush toolbox needs drastic development, but he has all the tools he needs to be an effective player.
Duncan has a 30+ pound advantage on Welschof but may actually be outmatched in strength. Maryland is fairly creative in generating seals on the edge, so Duncan’s performance won’t make or break the run game. However, in the passing game, Welschof’s bowling ball mentality presents a problem for the tackle. Expect Duncan to focus on redirecting Welschof’s momentum rather than trying to win a boxing match throughout the game. If Welschof can keep his head on a swivel, he can wreck the run game by overpowering smaller offensive linemen.
Stanford @ Washington (10:30 PM)
TE Benjamin Yurosek vs. LB Alphonzo Tuputala
One of the biggest surprises this season has been the Washington Huskies. In Kalen DeBoer’s first year, the team has already produced stellar results with a blowout win over then-#11 Michigan State and comfortable wins over lower competition. Stanford entered the season with hopes of a turnaround. They’re led by a QB who has been gaining hype from certain evaluators while returning names like EJ Smith, Elijah Higgins, and Benjamin Yurosek on offense. While neither outcome for Stanford’s two games thus far has been a surprise, this team will go as far as Tanner McKee takes them. The double-digit underdogs will need to make an offensive statement to keep up with Michael Penix and the Huskies.
Yurosek exemplifies the colloquialism: “jack of all trades and master of none.” Much like many of the Stanford TEs before him, Yurosek is a decent blocker who is at his best as a receiver facing the QB. He has shades of Dalton Schultz in that once he catches the ball, there is a second gear he uses to wiggle through the secondary. He will need to add bulk and functional strength to be a factor in the NFL, as he is too thin to be an effective Y but not nearly agile enough to primarily contribute split out.
Tuputala returns to shore up the Husky defense after missing most of last season to injury. Leading the team in tackles, he has justified the praise that the coaches heaped on him all offseason. With great physicality at the point of attack, Tuputala has been a menace to running backs at the line of scrimmage. Despite having the lowest recruiting rating in the LB room, Tuputala has taken to a leadership role and backed it up with his play. He has decent size for the Pac-12 but may see a low draft stock for the NFL. But, as he has shown in college, he won’t let the doubters bother him. He needs to work on his block shedding, as that is the main area where his lack of experience is apparent.
Yurosek’s production will be difficult for any defense to completely smother. Stanford’s offense lacks established explosive threats on the outside, and the offensive line has been suspect at times. But, Tuputala must physically overwhelm the tight end to limit yardage. Yurosek will have to win the battle for play leverage, as the linebacker’s strength will be difficult to deal with. I expect a penalty or two in favor of the Cardinal due to Tuputala’s overeagerness. Still, I think Yurosek also gets his usual number of receptions, albeit for fewer yards than expected.