fbpx
Skip to main content

Top 10 NFL Draft prospects to watch this week in college football, including Michael Penix Jr.

NFL Draft prospects
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the midst of another thrilling college football season, where we’ve seen several quarterback prospects like Stetson Bennett improve their draft stock. Others, like Brock Bowers have only since solidified their status as a future top pick in the NFL draft. In this case, we’re looking at the top NFL draft prospects to watch this week in college football, only, Bowers won’t be included since he’s not eligible for the player selection process in 2023. We’ll save him for next year.

But don’t worry, there are plenty others who are on the radar for the 2023 NFL Draft. Here are just ten players we’ve hand selected to watch in Week 5 of college football action this weekend.

Related: College football games today

Top future NFL Draft prospects include Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

michael penix jr
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Michael Penix plays UCLA on Friday at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN

Finally healthy, Michael Penix Jr.’s draft stock is soaring in his junior season. He’s taking care of the football yet is still showing off his strong arm by taking shots downfield. Penix has mobility, he just prefers to do his damage from the pocket, where the lefty’s quite good as he can get the ball out in a flash.

UCLA’s defense should present a challenge, but not one Penix and his talented pass-catching corps can’t overcome. Especially after he shredded the Spartans defense with a 397-yard, four-touchdown performance two weeks ago. At 6-foot-3, Penix has everything NFL scouts look for, it’s only a matter of putting more impressive film out there. So far, he’s done just that in 2022.

Devin Leary, QB, NC State

devin leary
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
  • Devin Leary plays Clemson on Saturday at 7:30 PM ET on ABC

Two seasons ago, Devin Leary’s season was wiped out by injury after just four games. In 2021, the then-redshirt sophomore bounced back with a 3,400-yard season while throwing 35 touchdowns and five interceptions. But the former four-star recruit will need more than just one outstanding season to truly impress NFL minds.

The 6-foot-1 quarterback does have limits to his ceiling. He doesn’t have a flashy arm in that it’s not particularly strong, and he’s not overly athletic. Yet, he can still make all the throws, and he does have above-average mobility that allows Leary to extend plays and make throws on the run. Overall, Leary has enough zip on his passes to receive some NFL looks, and how he handles himself against a deeply talented Clemson defense will be a big talking point during his pre-draft evaluation process.

Related: Top 10 college football quarterbacks: Hendon Hooker catches on in Week 4

Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Georgia Tech
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  • Zach Evans plays Kentucky on Saturday at 12 PM ET on ESPN

Featured more in his junior season, Zach Evans still isn’t utilized enough in the passing game, but his vision and burst make it clear that he should be getting the ball more often. Evans has good vision, quickly identifying and hitting the open lane, and his agility is lethal in the open field, where he usually falls forward.

The one aspect football coaches at any level love about Evans is his ball security, as he’s yet to fumble in over 200 touches in his college football career. Evans won’t be landing in the first round, most running backs don’t, but he should be in the mix to be one of the first off the board next April. A strong showing against Kentucky, one of the top defenses in the nation (13 points allowed per game) , would go a long way toward improving his draft stock.

Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU

quentin johnston
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
  • Quentin Johnston plays Oklahoma on Saturday at 12 PM on ABC

A 6-foot-4 speed demon, Johnston hasn’t had the season many expected through three games thus far, but the junior has put enough on tape to garner NFL interest. Johnston not only has speed, but he also has the elusive agility to match and the leaping ability to be a dangerous threat on deep passing plays down field. Playing in the TCU offense, he doesn’t get many chances to shine, and that may be the case on Saturday against the Sooners too.

At this point, Johnston’s stock is slipping, and he seems unlikely to reclaim his potential first-round pick status. Unless he can show up in big games like this upcoming opportunity, landing in the mid-round seems more likely. We just need to see more production.

Related: 4 potential Nebraska coaching candidates to replace Scott Frost

Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa

sam laporta
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Sam LaPorta plays Michigan on Saturday at 12 PM ET on FOX

Following in a long line of successful Iowa tight ends at the NFL level, Sam LaPorta may just be the next Hawkeye pass-catching sensation. LaPorta does it all on the football field. Need a chip block or a pancake? LaPorta can come through. But his best ability shines when used as a receiver, as his strong hands give Spencer Petras a reliable option in the seam.

Yet, LaPorta’s also athletic enough that he can even line up outside at wideout and still be an effective option, especially after the catch, where his stiff arm helps him pick up extra YAC. Taking on a top-ranked Michigan team, with a defense that’s ranked seventh in the nation in points allowed, LaPorta may not get many opportunities to shine.

Related: College football picks against the spread 2022

Gervon Dexter, DT, Florida

Syndication: Gainesville Sun
Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Gervon Dexter plays Wake Forest on Saturday at 3:30 PM ET on ABC

Another player who snuck onto Bruce Feldman’s annual Freak List highlighting the athletic freaks in college football, Dexter is a 6-foot-6 tree trunk with an extremely strong base. Dexter uses his leverage well and wins with power at the line of scrimmage, but he’s still learning to be more consistent with his technique.

Still, Dexter has shown flashes of greatness, handling Alabama’s interior well a season ago, and he appears just as hungry to chew through blockers in 2022. More athletic than you’d expect, Dexter has all the traits to be a top pro in the NFL, but he needs to show up more often on gameday. We’ll see if he brings it against Sam Hartman’s Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday.

Related: College Football standings 2022

Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

NCAA Football: Utah State at Alabama
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
  • Will Anderson Jr. plays Arkansas on Saturday at 3:30 PM on CBS

Will Anderson Jr. has long been on the map. If rules allowed, the junior would have been selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, likely as a top pick. Instead, several NFL teams have their eye on possibly college football’s top pass rusher at the top of round 1 next April.

Anderson led all of college football with 34.5 tackles for loss plus 17.5 sacks a year ago. He’s a bonafide game-wrecker in the mold of a Von Miller in his prime. Not only will Anderson be a popular player at the NFL Scouting Combine, he just might be the top overall pick for some lucky team who ends up with the first choice in the 2023 NFL Draft. Playing Arkansas will give Anderson yet another chance to show he’s among the best players, not only when pinning his ears back chasing quarterbacks but also coming down to stop the run.

Related: NFL mock draft 2023: Four QBs in Round 1, Chicago Bears hold No. 1 pick

Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa

jack campbell
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Jack Campbell plays Michigan on Saturday at 12 PM ET on FOX

There’s no question Jack Campbell looks the part as a future NFL linebacker, he’s 6-foot-5, 246 pounds. After racking up a nation-leading 140 tackles, he also added a sack and two interceptions a year ago. Now Campbell’s back for more as a senior.

He profiles as an inside linebacker or a 4-3 OLB as he won’t offer much as a blitzer, other than his sheer size and strength, but what he offers otherwise is really sharp. Campbell is great at stopping the run, and he holds his own in coverage as well. Most importantly, Campbell has a nose for the football and has good instincts on the gridiron. His biggest flaws may be his lack of top-end speed, but make no mistake, he can still be a three-down player at the next level.

Related: College Football Playoff 2022-’23: CFP championship odds, CFP Semifinal predictions

Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Oregon
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
  • Christian Gonzalez plays Stanford on Saturday at 11 PM on FS1

To be clear, Gonzalez may not enter the 2023 draft class, as a redshirt sophomore junior, he could opt to join the 2024 class instead. We’ll see how his first season in Oregon goes after transferring from Colorado, but he’s already tallied his first career interception.

NFL scouts will be excited about Gonzalez’s athletic profile, as the cornerback stands 6-foot-2 and reportedly can reach 23 miles per hour, which is freakish fast, so much so that the defensive back made the Bruce Feldman Freaks List. Did we mention he also has a 42-inch vertical leap?

While his potential can’t be understated, Gonzalez still needs to learn the finer points of playing cornerback and understand how to use his speed to his advantage. Finally getting his hands on a pass for the first time in his college career in his 20th game, Gonzalez could still improve his ball skills and his general tracking ability to find the football.

Related: Highest-paid college football coaches 2022: Dabo Swinney’s latest extension sees him climb the ranks

Brian Branch, S, Alabama

NCAA Football: Alabama at Texas
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
  • Brian Branch plays Arkansas on Friday

Any time Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide takes the field, it’s worth a watch. Pumping out NFL talent each year, safety Brian Branch might be the latest to go pro. Branch isn’t a physical freak from a measurable standpoint, but he packs a punch on the field. Not only is Branch a hard hitter, he rarely misses tackles, with just three missed opportunities in his career, a miss percentage of just 1.9%.

Will that remain true if he takes on KJ Jefferson, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound quarterback with a knack for running through defenders? While Branch is a stout tackler, he still needs to improve in coverage, which will be something to watch on Saturday night.

Related: Most Heisman Trophy winners from college football’s elite schools