Five 2023 NFL Draft prospects with something to prove in Week 5

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 Drew Sanders against Alabama and what happens if Will Levis can take care of the ball against Ole Miss, but those guys are already getting first-round buzz.

What about the under-the-radar guys? Perhaps that is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, it was! I finally have a new name for the players I am highlighting in this column. 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 and still have a lot to prove. So rather than talk about the biggest prospect in the draft, let’s discuss some players with something to prove.

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.

If you missed out on Week 4 and want to get caught up on some stock watch for draft prospects, I wrote about my takeaways here.

Spencer Sanders, QB, Oklahoma State
Year: 5th-year senior
Opponent: at #16 Baylor (Saturday at 3:30 pm ET on FOX)

Sanders has definitely made a name for himself with his play to this point, but this is still a very deep quarterback class and he is nowhere near the conversation at the top of the draft. At least not yet. If Sanders has any hopes of pushing his stock into first-round territory, he needs to perform against Baylor. In three matchups against the Bears defense since Dave Aranda took over in Waco, Sanders has thrown nine interceptions. Seven of them came in two games last season. If he continues to struggle against Baylor’s defense, typically one of the best in the Big 12, it raises questions about how he will fare at the next level. This is a huge opportunity for Sanders to prove that he is making strides as a passer and deserves some NFL buzz.

Noah Daniels, CB, TCU
Year: 6th-year senior
Opponent: vs. #18 Oklahoma (Saturday at noon ET on ABC)

Daniels is a name that people have probably heard before, but I would argue he is one of the toughest evaluations in this entire draft. He is incredibly talented and plays like a top 50 player. Unfortunately, Saturday against Oklahoma will also be Daniels’ 12th game since 2018. He missed all of 2019 due to injury and was limited to a combined eight games over the past two seasons. Facing an Oklahoma offense that boasts one of the most potent passing attacks in the nation would only make it harder for scouts to ignore his apparent ability in favor of his injury history. Daniels needs to stay on the field and show he is capable of dominating the competition.

Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA
Year: 4th-year senior
Opponent: vs. #15 Washington (Friday at 10:30 pm ET on ESPN)
How can a former five-star running back possibly be under the radar? I finally found a new name for these players I want to highlight. Charbonnet is a familiar name to many who have followed Big Ten or Pac-12 football over the past five years. He transferred to UCLA from Michigan before the 2021 season and has excelled with the Bruins. UCLA is one of the quietest 4-0 teams in the country and now Carbonnet will look to stamp their credentials, and his own, against a Washington defense allowing just 89 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry. This Huskies defense has only surrendered two rushing touchdowns through four games. If Charbonnet can perform against that stacked defensive front, he is going to be in the conversation for RB2 in this draft class, which is wide open behind Bijan Robinson.

Jacoby Windmon, EDGE, Michigan State
Year: 4th-year senior
Opponent: vs. Maryland (Saturday at 3:30 pm ET on FS1)

Talk about a coming out party. Entering the season, Windmon was a relatively unknown transfer from UNLV whose career-high in sacks to that point stood at 6.5 in a season. Fast forward to now, Windmon is drawing buzz everywhere, currently leading the nation in sacks with 5.5 quarterback takedowns through just four games. This is not a game that most would circle as a must-watch this weekend, but Windmon will get the opportunity to face Maryland offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan. Duncan definitely did not impress against Michigan, but he is widely regarded as a top 50 prospect and one of the five best offensive tackles in this draft class. I haven’t seen Windmon get a ton of love yet nationally. If he turns in another stellar performance, this time against an NFL-caliber tackle, his name will be flying up big boards everywhere.

D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson
Year: 3rd-year junior
Opponent: vs. #10 NC State (Saturday at 7:30 pm ET on ABC)
As if you needed another reason to watch this top-10 showdown in the ACC. Uiagalelei has had one of the most interesting careers in recent memory. Thought to be the successor to Trevor Lawrence, he dazzled in his one start against Notre Dame in 2020. Instead of picking up where he left off, Uiagalelei had a terrible year in 2021, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. At the beginning of the season, there were fans and analysts alike questioning whether or not freshman phenom Cade Klubnik deserved to start instead. Uiagaleli has quieted that chatter so far with 10 touchdown passes and just one interception so far this season. Suddenly, it feels like he might be a post-hype sleeper. His physical gifts are off the charts, but he still needs to improve his mechanics and show he can perform consistently. No better opportunity to prove himself than against an NC State defense allowing just 4.9 yards per attempt passing this year, the fourth-best mark in the country. This is a massive test for the true junior quarterback.

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NFL Draft Daily: Wrapping up my 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 328 days until the 2023 NFL Draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

I’m finally back to wrap up these quarterbacks. Turns out I needed a little break after the draft and sometimes life has its way of throwing other things your way.

It’s time for Part 3 of my watchlist, which includes 36 quarterbacks in total. Part 1 featured a lot of big names and Part 2 had a number of guys that could make things interesting with a big year. Part 3 of this loaded class has a couple of wild cards heading into this year that I think could make some noise. My final group also includes a few guys that have a lot to prove this year or likely candidates to return to school for another season. Let’s dive into these final 10 QBs.

Clayton Tune, Houston
I definitely did not pick the best game to watch for Tune. He threw four interceptions in the season opener against Texas Tech in 2021. As it turned out, it would be one of just two losses for Houston all season, in part due to Tune’s impressive play. He finished the year with over 3,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns. He cannot afford to have meltdowns like he did against the Red Raiders, where he was way too careless with the ball. Decision making can be improved though.

Payton Thorne, Michigan State
This final group is definitely not among the favorites to be selected early in the draft. Thorne is no exception. Following an impressive 2021 season, he will be on the radar at least heading into the 2023 draft. He has good touch on his throws, but lacks elite arm strength. He is a solid athlete showing his ability to make plays on read options this past year. He definitely benefited from a lot of short passes and screens in the Michigan State offense. I would like to see him hit some more NFL throws more consistently this year across the middle and in rhythm with his receivers. Those throws are there on his 2021 film, but few and far between.

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State
There was a time that I was very excited for Bachmeier to be draft eligible. The excitement has dropped off some, but he put together a solid junior season and I think could be in the mix as a late-round selection. He has a strong arm and throws a nice deep ball. The ball placement is a bit spotty at times. He has struggled with injuries, but he finally put together a full season in 2021. He is a decent scrambler, but he doesn’t do it too often. A bit undersized as well, he has a lot of questions to answer, but I like what he could become.

Jaren Hall, BYU
Meet Hall, your typical fifth-year junior. COVID has really messed up eligibility for a long time to come. On first watch, my initial assessment of Hall is that he is incredibly mobile and can throw on the run, but he is much less effective playing from the pocket. His accuracy is inconsistent and he overthrew a number of receivers downfield in the game I watched. That being said, I could see him having a ton of success in an offense that moves the pocket and allows him to roll out. It plays to his strengths and helps minimize the impact of his smaller frame.

Dylan Hopkins, UAB
Here’s a name you probably haven’t heard too much. Hopkins led UAB to a strong season with 18 touchdowns in his first full season as the starter. We don’t have a huge sample size with him given that he only attempted 235 passes last year. For reference, that’s less than half the number of attempts Bryce Young had in 2021. What I have seen is a player with a solid arm and a pretty deep ball. He also uses his eyes well to freeze or hold defenders. My concerns with Hopkins come to his mobility. He is not very quick in escaping the pocket and does not look overly comfortable throwing on the run. Hopefully, UAB will let him cut it loose a bit more often in 2022.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA
From a name you don’t know to one you have likely heard of. Thompson-Robinson, aka DTR, arrived at UCLA with a ton of fanfare. He has not quite delivered on the hype, but he has developed into a solid player. A clear dual-threat option, he is a really fun player to watch in the open field. His accuracy is a bit inconsistent, with him missing high on a number of occasions down the field. The throwing motion is a bit elongated as well. The physical traits are enticing, but I think he would really need to work on his mechanics to have a shot at the next level. He will need to be a bit more polished to garner attention heading into his fifth season with the Bruins.

Jayden Daniels, LSU
One of the most interesting transfers of this entire offseason, Daniels leaves an Arizona State program under fire for an LSU program that has a bit of a checkered history in its own right. One thing is undeniable though, Daniels will have weapons to work with in Baton Rouge. Kayshon Boutte and Jaray Jenkins are proven commodities at the college level. The Tigers have a few up-and-comers as well. Daniels will need to bounce back after throwing as many touchdowns (10) as he did interceptions in 2021. He has a very compact and quick throwing motion, but his footwork is a mess. The accuracy is good, but not great. I think it could improve with better footwork actually. As a runner, he is one of the best, scrambling to pick up extra yards and very capable on designed runs. He will get a chance to prove himself in the SEC this season.

Cameron Ward, Washington State
Hat tip to my favorite subreddit NFL_Draft for putting this guy on my radar. A former FCS quarterback at Incarnate Word, Ward won the Jerry Rice award. He has a very quick release and looks very comfortable playing from the pocket. Now, he will have a chance to prove himself in a Power Five conference after transferring to Washington State. He will get some real tests at Camp Randall this September and then in Pac-12 play. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed another year, but he has the potential to be an NFL quarterback.

Cade McNamara, Michigan
I had an old friend from high school reach out to me to ask why McNamara wasn’t part of my first two entries. After all, McNamara became the first Michigan quarterback to beat Ohio State since Denard Robinson. Plus, the Wolverines did reach the College Football Playoffs. McNamara undoubtedly benefits from a run-heavy scheme, but he is still talented. He lacks elite arm strength, but he has a nice deep ball. His release is a bit of a concern. His side-arm style leads to a number of passes to be batted at the line of scrimmage. I don’t think he will be garnering first-round attention, but he could be a late-round draft pick come April.

D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson
I’m going to be completely honest. I forgot about Uiagalelei when I first started putting together my watch list. He went from the dazzling replacement to Trevor Lawrence to an afterthought in just one season. I still don’t know what happened to the guy who racked up 439 yards passing and three total touchdowns against Notre Dame in 2020. Looking at his 2021 tape, his accuracy is all over the place. His throwing motion is a bit elongated. As a runner, he has a bit of wiggle, but he is not a burner by any means. He doesn’t have as much power as you would expect for a player listed at 250 pounds either. There are still some special moments on film and his physical traits are great, but none of that is going to matter if he continues to complete 55 percent of his passes and throw only nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

Follow the Aftermath via email to get every article delivered right to your inbox. Enter your email in the text box to subscribe. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also check out our weekly podcast Draft Season Never Ends with new episodes every Friday, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts.