New episodes dropping every Friday! Football is finally back in full swing! Stetson Bennett, Anthony Richardson and C.J. Stroud each had important weeks to open the season. There are a few other standout performers from across the country as well. Plus, Chris looks ahead to another big weekend of college football games and reacts to Thursday Night Football.
Week 1 of the 2022 college football season is in the books! It was a thrilling first week of action from Pitt’s wild win over West Virginia on Thursday night through a tense Clemson-Georgia Tech showdown on Monday. We had some outrageous finishes in Boone, Gainesville and New Orleans in between.
I had a chance to watch a bunch of games over the weekend and there were a bunch of players who really impressed me and several others who fell short of the mark. I won’t pretend I watched every game, but here was my watch list so far from the weekend:
I still have several more that I want to watch, including NC State-East Carolina, UNC-App State, Coastal Carolina-Army, Penn State-Purdue and Oklahoma State-Central Michigan.
Each week, I am going to write this column to highlight which players I think boosted their draft stocks and which players are trending in the wrong direction. Not every player that I liked is going to get a shoutout and not every player that I was underwhelmed by will be mentioned. I am also limiting this to draft-eligible players for 2023. So while Drake Maye and Malaki Starks looked great, neither is going to be on this list.
Without further ado, here is my stock up and stock down after Week 1.
Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WR, West Virginia
Week 1 stat line: 9 catches, 97 yards, 2 TDs
While West Virginia came up short on Thursday night to open the season, Ford-Wheaton caught everyone’s attention with a fantastic performance. He showcased his size, ability to adjust to the ball in the air and solid hands. It looks like he will be JT Daniels’ go-to target in this offense. What’s more, finding the end zone twice is a huge improvement for a player that has yet to top three touchdowns in a single season. There is a long season ahead to prove that this wasn’t a fluke, but it was about as strong a start Ford-Wheaton could have hoped for.
Tiyon Evans, RB, Louisville
Week 1 stat line: 13 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 2 yards
The stat line might not look like much at first glance. However, averaging 6.8 yards per carry against a Syracuse defense that allowed 2.7 combined to all other rushers in the game. Evans was about the only bright spot for a Louisville offense that struggled to get anything going. I liked what I saw from him at Tennessee and it seems like he has picked up right where he left off with the Cardinals. I would love to see a bit more production out of the backfield, but this was a really good start.
Stetson Bennett, QB, Georgia
Week 1 stat line: 25/31, 368 yards, 2 TDs, 2 carries, 8 yards, 1 TD
It turns out that Bennett might just have an NFL future after all. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. He is still nowhere near the level of Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, but he looks like he could be a capable starter in the right system. Todd Monken put him in some very easy positions to make plays, but Bennett made the correct decision every time. He is mobile and crafty. He had some truly special plays in this game and posted a new career-high in passing yards. Bennett still has a number of questions to answer when it comes to arm strength, but he is winning over doubters.
Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State
Week 1 stat line: 3 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, blocked field goal
What a coming out party for the Albany transfer! Verse absolutely dominated LSU’s offensive line, frequently getting himself into the backfield. He won with a variety of pass-rush moves and made life very difficult for Jayden Daniels. The blocked field goal early in the game was simply icing on the cake. For anyone wondering if Verse would be able to adjust to playing Power 5 football after transferring from an FCS program, it seems like the transition has not been an issue.
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Week 1 stat line: 17/24, 168 yards, 11 carries, 106 yards, 3 TDs
Richardson lit the world on fire with a stunning performance in the Swamp. He flashed that incredible ability last season, but now he stepped into the full-time starter role. So far, so good for the Gators. He had some plays against Utah that were just absurd. Most of the damage was done on the ground. Richardson might be the best running quarterback in the country, although LSU’s Jayden Daniels would like a word. I would still like to see a bit more in the passing game from Richardson, but he does more than enough to make me think he is trending towards being a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft. He still has a very small sample size to draw from, but plenty of opportunities left to prove he is a special kind of player.
K.J. Henry, EDGE, Clemson
Week 1 stat line: 7 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
There are about half a dozen Clemson defenders I was already monitoring this year. Henry was not one of them entering Monday night, but he is now. He dominated this ball game against Georgia Tech. He made the Yellow Jackets offensive line look foolish for much of the night, perfectly executing pass-rush stunts and routinely showing his ability to use his hands to find separation on the edge. Entering the game, he only had 9.5 sacks combined in his first four seasons. He could be primed for a breakout year that sees him landed in the middle rounds of the NFL draft. Keep in mind, he was ESPN’s No. 6 recruit back in 2018. Looks like he might finally be living up to his potential.
Garrett Shrader, QB, Syracuse
Week 1 stat line: 18/25, 236 yards, 2 TDs, 16 carries, 94 yards, 1 TD
So full disclosure, I am a Syracuse alum, but wow, I was blown away by the development seen from Shrader. A year ago, he struggled to complete passes, looked wildly inaccurate and seemed overmatched by the competition in the ACC. It was just one game, but he looked poised, showing greatly improved accuracy and continuing to be a threat with his legs. He has to repeat this type of performance several times this season to warrant being drafted, but he started the weekend nowhere near the radar. He at least has the attention of scouts now heading into a three-game stretch against UConn, Purdue and Virginia.
Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon
Week 1 stat line: 3 tackles
I had very high expectations for Sewell heading into this season. He featured in my most recent mock draft as a late first-round selection. It certainly does not look like that will be the case through one week. I went back and watched Sewell closely after Georgia stomped Oregon. Sewell routinely looked lost. He was missing reads, falling for the window dressing that the Bulldogs were running with misdirections and players in motion. There were still a couple of plays where he flowed downhill and got to the football, but the bad definitely outweighed the good in this one. It was a huge stage for Sewell to prove himself. He definitely fell flat and will have some questions to answer moving forward.
Cade McNamara, QB, Michigan
Week 1 stat line: 9/18, 136 yards, 1 TD, 1 carry, -8 yards
It is looking more and more likely that McNamara will lose his starting job in the coming weeks. He struggled early against Colorado State, missing open receivers regularly. His touchdown pass came on a busted coverage on a swing pass. For a quarterback that already seemed like he was on the fringes of the draft conversation, this just further indicates that he does not have an NFL future. Michigan’s offense looked better when he was not in the game. McNamara seemed to settle in a little bit as the game went on, but with J.J. McCarthy set to start in Week 2 against Hawaii, I wouldn’t be surprised if McNamara loses the job.
Trevor Reid, OT, Louisville
Week 1 stat line: Uhhh…
The JuCo transfer is now in his second season as Louisville’s starting left tackle. His 2022 campaign got off to a rocky start. He was flagged for holding on a couple of occasions. He also whiffed on several pass block reps and struggled to set the edge in the run game. The 6’5″ senior has the build that folks were hoping he could take the next step and enter the draft conversation. It looks like he is headed in the opposite direction at the moment, which could prove costly for Cardinals quarterback Malik Cunningham, who has legitimate draft hopes as a dual threat player. Reid will need to step up moving forward, especially with a trip to UCF up next followed by a visit from Jared Verse and Florida State.
Ali Gaye, EDGE, LSU
Week 1 stat line: 1 tackle
Gaye was one of the more under-the-radar draft prospects I really liked and was excited to watch coming into this season. He has good physical tools and a great first step. He really needed to up his production in 2022 as a fifth-year senior. His season got off to a disastrous start. LSU struggled to get off the field on third down all night. Gaye was not generating much pressure until he got a free run at Jordan Travis in the third quarter. He ended up headbutting Travis right in the helmet well after he threw it on a vicious hit, which earned him an early trip to the showers and will cost him the first half of the Tigers’ next game. It looked like a play of pure frustration that proved to be very costly.
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