Five under-the-radar 2023 NFL Draft prospects to watch in Week 3

Week 1 featured a ton of wild finishes. Week 2 followed with three top 10 teams going down. Who knows what Week 3 is going to have in store, especially with some great clashes between 2023 NFL draft prospects on the docket.

If you missed out on Week 2 and want to get caught up on some stock watch for draft prospects, I wrote about my takeaways here.

Unfortunately, like every week, some of the games we want to watch are going to be at the same time, so break out the tablet or set your DVR if you want to watch all of the amazing action from this weekend.

Each week, I like to highlight a few of the draft-eligible players I am most excited to watch this weekend. Sure, I am looking forward to seeing C.J. Stroud against a Toledo team he struggled with in 2021 and Tyler Van Dyke against a really talented Texas A&M defense, but those are the types of prospects most people already know to watch anyway.

What about the under-the-radar guys? Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer. Many of these players fans of college football have likely heard of. However, these are not the guys you will likely see in a first-round mock draft at this point. So rather than just tell people to watch the games they already know to turn on, let’s take a look at some players who might not be household names yet, but could very well be Top 100 players at the end of the season.

Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue
Year: 6th-year senior
Opponent: at Syracuse (Saturday at 12 pm ET on ESPN2)

One of the more seasoned passers in this class, O’Connell is, like many others, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility thanks to COVID. The former walk-on has pushed himself into the NFL conversation in a deep quarterback class. He put up big numbers to open the season against Penn State, but completed just north of 50 percent of his passes. He torched Indiana State a week ago, but now he needs to show he can be more efficient against Power 5 competition. Syracuse’s defense made life miserable for Malik Cunningham already this season. This is a sneaky good chance for O’Connell to prove himself.

Blake Freeland, OT, BYU
Year: 4th-year junior
Opponent: at #25 Oregon (Saturday at 3:30 pm on FOX)

There are few offensive linemen in this draft class who are as experienced as Freeland. He took over at right tackle in 2019 as a true freshman and started the final seven games of the year. He worked his way over to the left side by 2021 and started all 13 games. Saturday will be the 31st start of his collegiate career. He is massive at 6’8″ and has a track and field background. That combination of size and athleticism is enticing. He should get a good test from an Oregon defense loaded with NFL talent. I’m hoping he will get a good number of snaps against Brandon Dolrus. That should be a really fun matchup to watch.

Tank Bigsby, RB, Auburn
Year: 3rd-year junior
Opponent: vs. #24 Penn State (Saturday at 3:30 pm ET on CBS)
Meet the latest Auburn running back to catch the attention of NFL scouts. Bigsby is an incredibly elusive runner who is a menace in the open field. His change of direction is impressive. He has put up solid numbers so far, but he will get a big step up in competition this weekend when Penn State comes to visit. The Nittany Lions have a much tougher defense than Mercer or San Jose State. This is the type of game where he will need to stand out and show he can be a threat on the ground and in the passing game. Penn State has held opponents to just 80 yards per game rushing so far.

Akheem Mesidor, DL, Miami
Year: 3rd-year sophomore
Opponent: at #24 Texas A&M (Saturday at 9 pm ET on ESPN)

I am cheating a little bit with this one. Most mock drafts you read will not have Mesidor as a first-round prospect. Mine do though. I put on Mesidor’s tape over the summer. I was actually watching Oklahoma vs. West Virginia (Mesidor transferred to Miami this year) to check out the Sooners’ offensive line. Mesidor ended up being the guy I was watching more than anyone else by the end of the game. With the Hurricanes, he got his season off to a great start against Bethune Cookman, with a sack and a batted pass at the line that led to a pick-six. He missed last week’s game against Southern Miss, but now he is back and ready for the huge stage that will come with playing Texas A&M. My guess is he will be on everyone’s radar by Sunday morning.

Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State
Year: 5th-year senior
Opponent: at #7 USC (Saturday at 10:30 pm on FOX)

This is shaping up to be a really interesting quarterback class. One of the players still looking to crash the party is Haener. He started his career at Washington before transferring to Fresno State in 2019. He hasn’t lit the world on fire so far this year, but his completion percentage has taken a big jump so far this season, up to 74.7 from 67.1 from a year ago. After facing Cal Poly and Oregon State to open the season, USC will be a much bigger test. The Trojans defense is far from elite, but a nationally televised game against a top-10 opponent is the perfect stage for Haener to prove himself. He needs a big performance to prove to scouts that he is ready to be an NFL quarterback. He will be 24-years-old by the time the 2023 NFL draft rolls around, so he will not have as much leeway as some younger prospects.

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NFL Draft Daily: Continuing to take an early look at the 2023 quarterback class

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 345 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

Who is ready for part 2? I started my early look at the 2023 quarterback class Monday with my first 15 quarterbacks that I have started to evaluate heading into this 2022 college football season. There are still a lot of games to be played and a lot of work to be done before I am anywhere near ranking these players, but this has been a good way to start learning the names of the prospects that will make up this draft class.

As I have mentioned a few times, this is one of the deepest quarterback classes that I can remember. There are nearly three dozen quarterbacks currently on my watch list, which is simply outrageous. Not all of them will get drafted and there is a good chance many of them will return to school given the bonus year of eligibility granted to all NCAA athletes following the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this to say, I will actually be dropping a part 3 to my watchlist on Wednesday. It’s been a busy week of watching film and I don’t want to shortchange any of these prospects by not taking at least a few minutes to get to know their game. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into this second batch of quarterbacks, featuring 11 more draft-eligible passers.

Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
One of the more intriguing prospects in this draft class, Jurkovec had some big-time draft buzz surrounding him before he got hurt and missed half the season. He began his college career at Notre Dame before transferring to BC in 2020. He turned a lot of heads that season, taking over the starting job and posting some solid numbers. He has a prototypical NFL body, listed at 6’5″, 214 pounds. However, he lacks elite arm strength, oftentimes leading to him throwing short or low to his intended target. His arm is good enough to make it in the pros though. He is a solid runner, with the ability to extend plays outside the pocket. You will see some really nice touch passes on his film. I want to see how he plays fully healthy, because he did not look right when he returned last season.

Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
Armstrong took a massive step forward in 2021, accounting for over 4,449 passing yards and 40 total touchdowns. He rewrote much of Virginia’s record book in doing so. While the numbers look nice, his throwing motion does not. It is elongated and a bit unorthodox. It definitely impacts his accuracy at times and limits his ability to throw on the run. He has decent arm strength with the ability to stretch the field. Additionally, he uses his legs well to extend plays and scramble for extra yards, even if he does not possess blazing speed. If he can shorten up his throwing motion and cut down on the interceptions a little bit, I think there will be some NFL teams interested.

Tanner McKee, Stanford
It is hard to miss the latest Stanford quarterback to garner attention from NFL draft scouts. That may have something to do with the fact that he is 6’6″ and 226 pounds. McKee is a long-levered passer with a strong arm who has some inconsistencies with his accuracy and ball placement. He flashes decent wiggle in the pocket and can scramble for some extra yards when the play breaks down. I’ve only watched one game of him so far, and nothing popped that made me think he is going to be a special player, but he does a lot of the little things well. I would love to see him put a little more touch on his throws. He has a chance to answer a lot of questions in his second year as the starter.

Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
If you are looking for a gunslinger, this might be your guy. Hartman excels in Wake Forest’s wide open vertical passing game. His 508 pass attempts in 2021 were the fifth most in the country. Unfortunately, he has a career completion percentage of 57.7, including a 58.9 mark this past year. That being said, Hartman looks like an NFL quarterback. He has great arm strength, a smooth release and plus athleticism for the position. However, he is a bit undersized and struggles a bit under pressure. I am looking forward to watching more of him this season.

Aidan O’Connell, Purdue
How about some love for the Big Ten? I haven’t had too many quarterbacks from the conference pop up on my watchlist yet. O’Connell is likely the most promising after CJ Stroud. He put up some impressive numbers in his senior season. 3,712 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and a 71.6 percent completion percentage was more than enough to turn some heads. He checks the box from a size perspective and has enough mobility to be effective. Watching him against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, I like the zip he puts on his throws and his ball placement. It’s really impressive. This kid doesn’t have a ton of hype right now, but he should pick up some steam as people start watching his tape more.

Tyler Shough, Texas Tech
Yet another transfer quarterback, Shough started his career at Oregon before making the move to Texas Tech last year. His 2021 season got off to a solid start before it was cut short by a broken collar bone. Watching a little bit of him both at Texas Tech and Oregon, he runs a ton of RPOs and zone reads, but he actually does a decent job going through his progressions when asked. His arm is good, but not great. There are moments when he shows good zip on underneath or intermediate throws, but he is guilty of underthrowing deep balls on occasion. If he can stay healthy this season, I think he will be in the mix to be drafted this year.

Will Rogers, Mississippi State
Rogers is a tough evaluation. Only Bailey Zappe attempted more passes than him in 2021. However, Zappe averaged 8.7 yards per attempt while Rogers had only 6.9. And that was despite Rogers completing nearly four percent more of his attempts. Unquestionably, Rogers benefits from playing in Mike Leach’s pass-happy system often featuring four or five receivers. Many of his attempts are at or behind the line of scrimmage. That being said, he can get into a rhythm and pick apart defenses if they drop back into zone or give him too much time. He also has some decent zip on his throws and a quick release. He almost always knows where his safety net is and has no problem taking the short, easy completion. I would love to see him show off his arm a bit more regularly this season, but he already looks like a good fit for any NFL team that runs a West Coast style offense.

K.J. Jefferson, Arkansas
There are few players who made as big of a jump statistically in 2021 as Jefferson did. In very limited action through his first two seasons with Arkansas, he completed fewer than 50 percent of his pass attempts. In 2021, he completed 67.3 percent of his throws and posted a stellar 9.1 yards per attempt average, good for seventh in the country. I put on his Auburn tape, and it is kind of a mixed bag. He has some really nice throws down the field, but his ball placement is sporadic. He also seems to lack quickness. He is a good runner, but it takes him a bit to get up to speed and he is inconsistent when trying to throw on the run. I am going to need to see a lot more from him, especially playing without Treylon Burks this season.

Stetson Bennett, Georgia
I felt obligated to include Bennett even though I don’t think he has too much of a pro future. What else are you supposed to do with a player that just won the national championship and is returning to school with hopes of running it back? He does have moments of sheer brilliance on film. He is clearly a fairly smart player, willing to check it down and throw it away when it’s not there. He also showed is capable of uncorking an impressive deep ball on that throw to George Pickens in the national title game. I want to watch more of him, but my initial assessment is that he lacks elite NFL traits. I hope he proves me wrong.

Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland
This name should sound familiar. Unfortunately for Taulia, he is undersized as far as NFL quarterbacks go, much like his brother, Tua. The jury is still out on the elder Tagovailoa brother as a pro, but the Maryland quarterback has a chance to write his own story. He started off at Alabama, but transferred to Maryland in 2020 for a chance at more playing time. After some early struggles, he put together a much stronger 2021 season. Like many of the quarterbacks in this draft class, he benefits from a lot of short, quick throws. However, there are some flashes on film of impressive zip on intermediate routes downfield and even some solid deep throws. He is going to have to overcome the questions about his size, so I think there is a long road ahead for Tagovailoa. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returned to Maryland for his final year of eligibility.

Tanner Mordecai, SMU
A former Lincoln Riley recruit at Oklahoma, Mordecai has put up some impressive numbers in his first year at SMU. He threw for 39 touchdowns and 3,628 yards with a solid 67.8 completion percentage. My initial assessment of him on film is that he is still a bit rough around the edges. He does well to step up in the pocket and is not afraid to make plays with pressure coming. However, his footwork is a bit of a mess, which leads to some wayward passes. He has a decently strong arm, but his ball placement is a bit spotty. Plus, there are definitely moments where he rushes his mechanics to try to get the ball out quicker. As of now, I see him being a late-round project with some upside.

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