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2023 NFL Draft Preview: BIG brother, BIG prospects, and BIG games for the BIG TEN

Two big rivalries are taking place in the Big Ten on Saturday, and there are some names to keep an eye on

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Draft is still months in the distance, but with college football having arrived, the beginning stages of the 2023 draft process has begun. With that in mind, it is time to dive into this week’s biggest games in the college football world, taking a look at potential Steelers draft targets to pay attention to during their respective games.

Offensive line is definitely an area the Steelers need to address, and the most likely resource for the solution is indeed the draft. Concerns at cornerback and linebacker also loom large over the Pittsburgh’s head. Although we will certainly break down prospects at other positions this season as well, these will be the primary positions of emphasis.

Nearly every week during the season, there are several highlight games that steal the headlines, but even when these games overshadow the rest of the college football landscape, we will not be negligent of the other games and prospects in action. Every week during the season, we will recap the previous week’s action and determine whose stock rose the most as it pertains to the NFL Draft.

As always, be sure to share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below, but without further adieu, here are the top prospects and games to keep an eye on this Saturday.

#2 Ohio State vs. #13 Penn State — Noon ET on FOX

Ohio State Spotlight: C.J. Stroud — QB (6’3”, 215 lbs); Dawand Jones — OT (6’8", 359 lbs)
Penn State Spotlight: Parker Washington — WR (5’10”, 212 lbs); Joey Porter, Jr. — CB (6’2”, 195 lbs)

By far the best game of the day on paper, this matchup will be the first true challenge for C.J. Stroud this season. Nobody is anticipating the Steelers taking a quarterback early, nor should they. However, the draft stock of the top quarterbacks could largely impact who may be available for the Steelers in Round 1. It may even determine whether or not the Steelers can get an offer to trade back.

For the Nittany Lions, Parker Washington is a guy who needs to be given a bigger role in this offense. He has a stocky build and a strong base, and slimmer cornerbacks often struggle to bring him down in the open field. And yes, I would be remiss not to at least mention Joey Porter, Jr. It seems as if everyone has finally jumped on board with me, as his draft status is safely in the first round as of today.

#20 Cincinnati vs. UCF — 3:30 ET on ESPN

Cincinnati Spotlight: Ja’von Hicks — S (6’2”, 210 lbs); Josh Whyle (6’5”, 245 lbs)
UCF Spotlight: Ryan Swoboda — OT (6’9”, 325 lbs); Davonte Brown — CB (6’1”, 185 lbs)

The Bearcats lost the majority of their secondary in the 2022 draft class, but fifth-year senior Ja’von Hicks has taken leadership of that unit this season. Hicks is not the best athlete in the world, but he has a good grasp on the basic concepts of the position. Most comfortable at free safety, Hicks has solid instincts and impressive reactive quickness, and he does not shy away from contact.

For UCF, I am intrigued by Ryan Swoboda, a transfer from Virginia who is simply a behemoth of a man. He uses his length well, but there are still some technical issues in his game he is working through. Davonte Brown is a talented corner with upside in just about any scheme, but consistency needs to become a hallmark of his game if he wants to up his draft stock.

Michigan State vs. #4 Michigan — 7:30 ET on ABC

Michigan State Spotlight: Jayden Reed — WR (5’11”, 190 lbs); Spencer Brown (6’6”, 320 lbs)
Michigan Spotlight: Ryan Hayes — OT (6’6”, 305 lbs); Mazi Smith — NT (6’3”, 337 lbs)

Reed had an opportunity to declare for the 2022 draft, but he chose to return for one more season at Michigan State in hopes of improving his draft status. He gave Michigan fits last season, and I expect Michigan State to line him up at different places throughout the game, hoping to get him against a corner not named DJ Turner. Keep an eye on Spencer Brown as well, as he will have his hands full containing a strong Michigan pass rush led by Mike Morris.

For my beloved Maize and Blue, one player not being talked enough about is Ryan Hayes. Hayes is a versatile lineman who can play on either side of the line at both guard and tackle. He may not have the thickest frame, but he understands leverage, and he is a fluid mover in space. Also, let’s not forget about the freaky Mazi Smith. The Steelers need a true nose tackle, and Smith has all the potential in the world.

Other Games of Note

#19 Kentucky vs. #3 Tennessee — 7:00 ET on ESPN
#9 Oklahoma State vs. #22 Kansas State — 2:30 on FOX

Which games and prospects are you watching in Week 9? Which prospects mentioned above intrigue you the most as a Steelers fan? Be sure to light up the comment section below throughout the day as you sit back and enjoy a phenomenal slate of games!