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2023 NFL Draft prospects to keep an eye on

Never too early to be thinking about the draft

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 19 Big Ten Championship Game - Northwestern v Ohio State
Peter Skoronski
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders are off this weekend but we’ve got Week 1 of college football kicking off, which means it’s the first opportunity for a lot of NFL Draft prospects to show what they’ve got and start making some money.

While the draft is still several months away, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on a few prospects throughout the season, so I put together a list of three players with some cliff notes on their skill sets at what I see as the Raiders’ four biggest needs heading into the regular season. Obviously, a lot can change between now and late April, but it never hurts to get a jump on things and at least know some of the big names in college football this season.

Offensive Tackles

Hopefully, either Jermaine Eluemunor or Thayer Munford step in and steady the ship but for now, right tackle remains the biggest glaring hole on Las Vegas’ roster. This year’s tackle class isn’t looking great heading into the season to be fully transparent, however, there are a few guys who have the potential to be good pros.

Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board rank: 16th overall, No. 1 OT

Analysis from The Athletic’s Dane Brugler:

Though not on Rashawn Slater’s level as a prospect, Skoronski is smooth in his setup, with the mirroring skills to ride outside speed or redirect his weight to cut off inside rush lanes. Thanks to his quick processor and controlled feet, he consistently wins with quality positioning while also flashing the hand strength and punch timing to stymie pass rushers. Skoronski has the skills of a longtime NFL starter.

Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State

NMDD rank: 19th overall, No. 2 OT

Analysis from Pro Football Focus:

Johnson spent last year at guard for the Buckeyes, earning a 79.1 overall grade. Make no mistake about it, though: Johnson is a tackle. He’ll be on the left side this fall, where his feet, length and athleticism will be on full display.

Jaelyn Duncan, Maryland

NMDD rank: 31st overall, No. 3 OT

Analysis from The Draft Network’s Keith Sanchez:

Pros: Jaelyn Duncan plays LT for the scheme-versatile Maryland Terps offense. Duncan has a massive frame combined with good athleticism that makes him an ideal LT prospect for the NFL. Watching the film, it is immediately apparent that Duncan has the lateral movement to mirror edge rushers in pass sets. Duncan has the ability to match defenders’ counters on both the horizontal plane and vertical plane. In the run game, Duncan also shows to be a good enough athlete to work to the second level. At Maryland, he is also asked to pull and become a lead blocker, which he can do effectively. Duncan is a player with a high upside that just needs a few refinements from a technique perspective to complete his skill set as an LT.

Cornerback

Rock Ya-Sin and Anthony Averett are in the last year of their respective contracts and Amik Robertson is only signed through 2023, so it’s looking like the Raiders will be in the cornerback market soon rather than later. Also, it’s probably one of the weaker position groups on the roster heading into the regular season.

Kelee Ringo, Georgia

NMDD rank: 11th overall, No. 1 CB

Analysis from PFF:

Being bigger [6’2” and 210lbs] and also faster than most receivers you face is helpful for playing the cornerback position. While that’s true for many corners in college, it will also be true for the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder in the NFL. He’s got low-4.3 speed at that size, and it showed with how infrequently he let guys get by him. On 17 deep targets last season, Ringo caught as many balls (two) as opposing wide receivers.

Clark Phillips, Utah

Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One Venture X - Ohio State v Utah
Clark Phillips
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

NMDD rank: 43rd overall, No. 6 CB

Analysis from Brugler:

Similar in ways to Trent McDuffie (the No. 21 pick in April), Phillips is slightly undersized and isn’t expected to run a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. But he has the athletic twitch, ball skills and coverage feel that translates to any level of football. He led the Pac-12 in passes defended (15) last season.

Cam Smith, South Carolina

NMDD rank: 34th overall, No. 4 CB

Analysis from TDN’s Joe Marino:

Pros: Cam Smith is a highly-competitive defender that plays the game with confidence and physicality. He’s a twitchy athlete with good speed, loose hips, and quick feet that lead to sticky reps in man coverage. Smith is patient and balanced at the line of scrimmage and he’s more than willing to crowd and leverage releases to create early disruption on routes. I love the way he competes to get off blocks and tackle. He’s an enthusiastic tackler that is never passive. Smith features dynamic click-and-close ability when driving back down the stem to invade the catch point. He is a poised defender that never panics. Smith showcases outstanding ball skills where his body control ability to locate the football leads to exciting plays on the ball in the air. Overall, Smith is a sharp processor with excellent play recognition skills.

Safety

We’ll stick within the Raiders’ defensive backfield for our next crop of prospects. Johnathan Abram, Duron Harmon and Roderic Teamer are all set to become free agents at the end of the season, leaving Tre’von Moehrig and undrafted free agent Isaiah Pola-Mao as the only two safeties on the active roster with how things currently stand. New defensive coordinator Patrick Graham loves to use versatile safeties, so you can bet that he’ll be pounding the table to draft one in April.

Jordan Battle, Alabama

NMDD rank: 25th overall, No. 2 SAF

Analysis from TDN’s Sanchez:

Pros: Jordan Battle has a prototypical frame with great height and length. To add to his athletic profile, Battle is a good athlete that showcases great range as a safety. In the run game, Battle is quick to read, run, and trigger downhill to run the alley and make the tackle. In the pass game, he shows his range by closing downhill and jumping in front of receivers to break up the pass or intercept the ball. Battle shows to be a very smart football player that is always in the right place. Watching Battle last year I thought he would have been a high pick, so I’m interested to see what elements he adds to his game this upcoming year.

Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M

NMDD rank: 17th overall, No. 1 SAF

Analysis from Brugler:

The Texas A&M secondary is loaded with future NFL dudes, and Johnson might be the most intriguing of the bunch. With his impressive physical traits and budding instincts, versatility is the calling card for Johnson, who can play cornerback, nickel or safety. He is at his best when he can float underneath and match up against slot targets while also showing the range to be an enforcer versus the run.

Jalen Catalon, Arkansas

NMDD rank: 39th overall, No. 4 SAF

Analysis from TDN’s Kyle Crabbs:

Pros: Jalen Catalon is a striking safety who offers firm instincts and a sharp nose for the football. A consistent ball magnet who found ample opportunities in zone coverage to convert turnovers or alternatively jar the football loose at the catch point, Catalon is capable of impact plays in a number of roles. The Razorbacks frequently implemented drop-eight coverage and aligned with three high safeties on the field—a modern defensive layer to accommodate the spacing issues presented in today’s game. And while Catalon served as the center safety in many of these pre-snap alignments, his impact extended much further than just playing high middle.

Catalon has a fair amount of versatility; I’ve seen a lot of Cover 3, some quarters coverage, and subpackage looks that drop him down onto the second level of the defense as a sub-linebacker. I think he’s tailor-made for those kinds of roles in the NFL with his play style, particularly the shallow zone roles and playing closer to the line to account for a gap in the run game. Catalon is a blur running to fit the box in the run game and offers some flashes of Budda Baker with his violent finishes and confident tackles...Consider him an overall playmaker.

Linebackers

While there has been talk about extending Denzel Perryman all offseason, the ink has yet to meet paper and the Pro Bowler’s current deal is set to expire in March. Jayon Brown is on a one-year deal too, potentially leaving Divine Deablo and undrafted free agents Darien Butler and Luke Masterson as the only backers on the roster heading into the offseason.

Noah Sewell, Oregon

Oregon v UCLA
Noah Sewell
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

NMDD rank: 14th overall, No. 1 LB

Analysis from TDN’s Brentley Weissman:

Pros: Noah Sewell is an exciting linebacker prospect and projects to join his older brother Penei Sewell as the next Sewell brother to hear his name called in the first round of the NFL draft. Sewell possesses outstanding size for the linebacker position and is well built with a muscular upper half and thick lower body. He is a very good athlete with excellent closing burst and good overall speed and change of direction.

In the run game, Sewell displays excellent eyes and instincts and an ability to trigger downhill in a hurry. He has rare take-on ability and can displace ensuing blockers with ease as his hands are so powerful. He is a good overall tackler. In the passing game, Sewell shows above-average instincts in zone coverage and has the athleticism to match in man versus tight ends and running backs. He is an outstanding blitzer and has excellent snap anticipation and the ability to finish. This is a big-play linebacker who is the heart and soul of Oregon’s defense.

Jack Campbell, Iowa

NMDD rank: 85th overall, No. 4 LB

Analysis from Brugler:

An easy player to appreciate, Campbell plays with a high degree of urgency and confidence that is apparent on tape. He senses what is about to happen and trusts his vision to take him to the football, which allows him to play at full speed. As a run defender, Campbell hits gaps with purpose and thump, but he also shows enough control to drive through the ball carrier. In coverage, he shows a good sense for angles and proximity.

Campbell didn’t have an interception in the box score against Maryland last season, but he was responsible for the turnover seen here. The middle linebacker uses proper spatial relationship with the slot receiver, while maintaining middle-of-the-field leverage and not overplaying his hand. His ability to toggle his vision between the route and the quarterback allows him to turn his hips, locate the football and disrupt the passing lane with his outstretched hand.

Trenton Simpson, Clemson

NMDD rank: 20th overall, No. 2 LB

Analysis from Brugler:

Simpson is a physically impressive athlete with the fluidity and closing speed that sets him apart from most linebackers. He is an explosive tackler and plays extremely well through contact, using his physical hands to work off blockers. With another season of development at the college level, Simpson has the traits to be a difference-maker in the NFL.