NFL Draft Watch: 5 prospects with most to gain in Ohio State-Notre Dame showdown

Trending 10 months ago
ARTICLE AD BOX

The Athletic has live coverage of Notre Dame vs. Ohio State in Week 4 college football action

A showdown of two storied college football programs that has long been circled on the calendar by both fans and scouts, Ohio State at Notre Dame will be one of the most heavily attended games by NFL personnel this fall.

Notre Dame has scored 184 points this season, which ranks first in the FBS. Meanwhile, Ohio State is one of only two FBS teams that can say it has allowed two or fewer touchdowns in 2023. And between the two programs, there will be double-digit players selected in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Here are five who can really boost their draft projection with a strong performance Saturday:

Joe Alt, LT, Notre Dame (6-foot-8, 315 pounds)

Through four games this season, Alt has been absolutely dominant. However, the competition he’s faced has been subpar, so he hasn’t been truly tested — which makes this matchup with Ohio State’s edge defenders so important.

The No. 16 player on my preseason top 50, Alt is coordinated out of his stance with the technique and finishing demeanor to overwhelm defenders in the run game. In pass protection, he sets up quickly and plays with impressive body control for a player his size, helping him negate any pad-level restrictions.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Ohio State-Notre Dame film: Does Marcus Freeman have the horses to take down the Buckeyes?

One of the keys in this game will be how well Alt uses his hands. While his punch is eager, it isn’t always forceful, which it will need to be against Ohio State’s J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer. The Buckeyes’ top-two pass rushers (who also appeared on my preseason board), both have red-hot motors and physical hands. How the Notre Dame blocking — specifically, Alt and right tackle Blake Fisher — holds up will go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.

Sam Hartman, QB, Notre Dame (6-1, 210)

Hartman transferred to Notre Dame so he could be on this stage. Considered a mid-to-late-round pick after last season at Wake Forest, he has certainly helped himself based on the early sample size with the Irish.

Hartman is a Greg Maddux-style quarterback — average velocity but natural feel for placement. The Irish captain isn’t the most fleet of foot and can be late to read pressure packages at times, but he is generally a solid decision-maker, and there are no questions about his toughness. His intangibles alone will give him a boost when NFL teams are stacking quarterbacks on their draft boards.

This will be a very, very crowded quarterback class, and every little edge matters. A win and convincing performance by Hartman would certainly help prove to NFL teams that he can be a valuable backup and potential spot starter at the next level.

Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State (6-2 3/8, 236)

As productive as Notre Dame’s passing attack has been, the ground game is what unlocks everything for its offense. Junior RB Audric Estime leads the FBS with 521 rushing yards — 86 yards more than No. 2 on the list (Appalachian State’s Nate Noel) and 155 yards ahead of No. 3 (UMass’ Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams).

Eichenberg is Ohio State’s answer for Estime and the Irish rushing attack. He led the Buckeyes in tackles last season (120) and is doing so again this year (20) through three games. The senior has a trustworthy trigger and plays very disciplined with his eyes and run fits. As a tackler, Eichenberg takes sharp angles to the ball and bursts through the ball carrier with strong hands to finish.

Eichenberg, younger brother of former Notre Dame left tackle Liam Eichenberg, is the top-ranked senior linebacker for several NFL teams and has a chance to secure Day 2 draft status.

Cade Stover, TE, Ohio State (6-3 7/8, 251)

The Buckeyes’ wide receiver depth chart is arguably the best in college football, but Stover is an important weapon, too. He is second on the team in receiving yards (188) and leads all FBS tight ends in yards after catch (131). Although he is still searching for his first touchdown of 2023, eight of his 10 catches have resulted in a first down.

The main area where Stover must improve is his blocking. Scouts don’t have questions about the “want to,” but his lack of execution has been an issue, especially out in space on wide receiver screens. Stover needs to perform well as a blocker against the Irish to move the ball and also to help his draft grade.

He entered the season as my No. 1 senior at tight end, and that hasn’t changed, but he has work to do if he wants to be a top-100 draft pick.

Cade Stover is going to be such a problem this year. 😤@cstov8 x @OhioStateFB

📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/Q0DOmzoy6w

— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) September 2, 2023

Cam Hart, CB, Notre Dame (6-2 7/8, 194)

Regardless of his production in this game, Marvin Harrison Jr. is going to be drafted very high in April, so he doesn’t really qualify for the “most to gain” category Saturday. But the Irish cornerbacks tasked with covering Ohio State’s deep and talented receiving group have an opportunity to turn heads — especially Hart, who carries Day 3 draft grades.

At 6-3, 194 with almost 33-inch arms, Hart has the length and athleticism that will match up well with size at receiver. Penalties have been a problem for him in the past, but the fifth-year senior has yet to be flagged in 2023 and quarterbacks have completed only 27.3 percent of passes while targeting Hart this season.

Does he have the toughness and discipline to battle Harrison, Emeka Egbuka and the other Buckeyes receivers?


Three (more) must-see NFL prospects this weekend

1. Nate Wiggins, CB, Clemson (vs. Florida State, Noon ET, ABC): Despite ranking as the No. 12 prospect in my preseason top 50, Wiggins still feels like he’s flying under the radar. But this matchup against Florida State and talented WR Keon Coleman could help change that. At 6-2, 185, Wiggins is a quick-footed and fluid athlete who knows how to play through the hands of receivers. He had a pick six against Florida Atlantic last week.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Clemson calls K studying for online master's out of retirement

2. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon (vs. Colorado, 3:30 p.m., ABC): With all of the hype surrounding Colorado QB Shedeur Sanders, Nix has the chance for a “don’t forget about me” performance. Through three games in 2023, he is one of only nine FBS quarterbacks with an adjusted completion percentage north of 85 percent, and he has yet to turn the ball over (8-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio). Colorado’s defense ranks 122nd in the country, so expect fireworks.

3. Tre Harris, WR, Ole Miss (at Alabama, 3:30 p.m., CBS): After a productive 2022 season at Louisiana Tech, Harris transferred to the Rebels this offseason and has made a quick impact. Of his eight receptions in 2023, five have resulted in a touchdown, and he is averaging 23.5 yards per catch. Harris exited the Tulane game with a knee injury and missed last week, but he was back at practice this week and is expected to be ready for CB Kool-Aid McKinstry and the Alabama secondary.

Stat of the week

So far this season, just two FBS players have at least 24 receptions without a drop: LSU WR Malik Nabers and Colorado State WR Tory Horton. Both are coming off impressive performances.

Nabers had a career game against Mississippi State with 13 catches for 239 yards and two touchdowns (I broke down Nabers in this week’s Film Room). And in last week’s NFL Draft Watch, I highlighted Horton as a Group of 5 prospect ready to emerge on the big stage. He didn’t disappoint in a loss to Colorado, finishing with 16 catches (on 17 targets) for 133 yards and a touchdown. With his length, speed and ball skills, he is making a strong case for the top 100 picks.

Prospect trending up …

Washington redshirt senior QB Michael Penix Jr. deserves to be near the top of any Heisman list. But the most impressive part of Washington’s offense on tape has been its wide receivers, especially junior Rome Odunze.

The No. 45 player in my preseason top 50, Odunze is the only FBS player with 100-plus receiving yards in each of the first three games of the season. At 6-3 and 217 pounds, Odunze is a good-sized athlete with speed, toughness and coordinated ball skills. He makes full-extension grabs look routine, and 90.9 percent of his receptions this season have resulted in a first down or touchdown.

If there is a first-round player on the Huskies offense, it’s him.

Prospect trending down …

Midway through last Saturday’s game, Georgia junior RT Amarius Mims (6-7, 335) went down with an ankle sprain and didn’t return. It was announced this week that he will undergo tightrope surgery and is expected to miss four to six weeks.

Mims should return to the field for the Bulldogs’ stretch run in November, but it is a setback for a young prospect who was my No. 5 prospect and OT2 preseason. Though he has exciting first-round tools, Mims has just five career starts, leaving him without a first-round body of work. This injury won’t necessarily torpedo his draft projection, but it will be a missed opportunity for a prospect needing experience.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

NFL Draft Film Room: 10 key plays from Shedeur Sanders and other prospects in Week 3

Rookie revisited

As the Dallas Cowboys did some reshuffling on the offensive line last week, they called upon undrafted OT/G T.J. Bass to play starter-level snaps against the New York Jets. Seeing time at both left and right guard, the rookie lineman was up for the task and held his own against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Although he wasn’t drafted in April, Bass, who was graded as a fifth-sixth round prospect in The Beast, played really well in the preseason and has proven to be a valuable depth piece for the Cowboys.

Here is the summary from his scouting report in the 2023 NFL Draft Guide:

A three-year starter at Oregon, Bass lined up at left tackle in former offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham’s scheme. After cutting his teeth at the juco level, he started every game since arriving in Eugene and earned All-Pac-12 honors all three seasons. Bass struggled at times against aggressive edge rushers (see: 2022 Washington or 2022 Georgia tapes), but his lack of ideal length and responsive quicks should be easier to mask inside at guard. He has the body thickness and force behind his well-placed punch that’s desired for interior work. Overall, Bass doesn’t have high-level reactive athleticism to easily counter and keep blocks centered, but he gives as good as he gets because of his heavy hands and desire to finish. He projects as a rotational guard in a gap scheme.

Quotable

“Greg continues to fight, and we await further clarity on the extent of that battle. His incredible strength of character gives us confidence, but we also know that he needs our support now more than ever. Please keep Greg and our family in your prayers.”

– A statement from the family of LSU senior safety Greg Brooks Jr., providing an update after Brooks was diagnosed with a large brain tumor last week. He underwent emergency surgery to remove the mass. Per his family, Brooks is awaiting results from a tumor biopsy. 

(Photo of Sam Hartman: Lance King / Getty Images) 

More
Source theathletic
theathletic