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Steelers 2023 NFL Draft Preview: Prospects to watch in Conference Championship Week

It’s Conference Championship Weekend in College Football! Here are some NFL Draft prospects to keep an eye on.

Georgia v Mississippi State Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

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.

#10 Kansas State vs. #3 TCU — Noon ET on ABC

Kansas State Spotlight: Julius Brents — CB (6’3”, 202 lbs); Malik Knowles — WR (6’2”, 200 lbs)
TCU Spotlight: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson — CB (5’8”, 180 lbs); Steve Avila — C/G (6’3”, 330 lbs)

Julius Brents is an unknown prospect to many, but his combination of size and speed on the boundary will give NFL teams a desire to dive into his tape. Brents has shown great development this season, but he is still pretty raw overall. Flipping his hips and remaining fluid in coverage is one of the rougher areas of his game, but he will have a chance to prove himself Saturday, matching up against TCU standout Quentin Johnson.

If TCU takes care of business on Saturday, they will give the Big 12 a representative in the College Football Playoff. A big part of their success has come from strong play in their defensive secondary, and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson has been the leading force for that unit. Size is definitely a concern, but he is quick, and he displays good ball skills. A team in need of a nickel cornerback may find value with Hodges-Tomlinson in the middle rounds.

#14 LSU vs. #1 Georgia — 3:30 ET on CBS

LSU Spotlight: Jaquelin Roy — DT (6’3”, 315 lbs); John Emery, Jr. (5’11”, 220 lbs)
Georgia Spotlight: Kelee Ringo — CB (6’2”, 210 lbs); Darnell Washington — TE (6’6”, 270 lbs)

Jaquelin Roy is not likely to be a three-down defender at the next level, but he is a solid run defender who can occasionally push the pocket on passing downs. He does not consistently get great penetration, but he maintains a low pad level and displays good overall awareness. Emery, Jr. is not a well-known prospect, but he has the combination of speed and power that teams are looking for in a modern-day running back. He could be a late-round gem.

If the Steelers win any more games, the chances of landing Kelee Ringo become highly unlikely, but in the event the Steelers are picking inside the top ten, Ringo, along with Cam Smith and Joey Porter, Jr., have to be considered. As for Darnell Washington, the production has not been excellent, but he has grown tremendously as a blocker during his time at Georgia. He could realistically be one of the top three tight ends off the board this April.

Montana vs. North Dakota State — 3:30 ET on ESPN+

Montana Spotlight: Patrick O’Connell — LB (6’1”, 230 lbs)
North Dakota Spotlight: Cody Mauch — OT (6’6”, 303 lbs)

O’Connell is no Troy Andersen, but he is a rangy linebacker with outstanding blitzing ability. The real prospect to pay attention to in this game, though, is North Dakota State tackle Cody Mauch. Mauch will have many eyes on him at the Senior Bowl, as he has dominated FCS competition. Despite not having the thickest frame, Mauch has been outstanding as a run blocker, displaying the ability to fend off any EDGE defender as well as the ability to get to the second level and overpower any linebacker. He could emerge as a top tackle in this class with a strong pre-draft process.

#9 Clemson vs. #23 North Carolina — 8:00 ET on ABC

Clemson Spotlight: Joseph Ngata — WR (6’3”, 215 lbs); Trenton Simpson — LB (6’3”, 240 lbs)
North Carolina Spotlight: Josh Downs — WR (5’10”, 175 lbs); Storm Duck — CB (6’0”, 200 lbs)

Ngata has struggled to produce this season, but there is enough physical upside to warrant a draft selection. Part of his struggles have been the quarterback play, but his inability to separate downfield has been extremely detrimental to his game. Trenton Simpson is a guy I love athletically, but I have not been impressed with his overall body of work. I am really hoping he makes a statement Saturday night.

For the Heels, it has to start with Josh Downs. Downs has been a menace this season and has been the go-to guy for breakout quarterback Drake Maye. The slight frame will scare some people off, and adding weight will definitely need to be a priority when entering the NFL, but his quickness is on another level. If all goes well during the pre-draft process, expect Downs to be a top-50 selection come April.

Which names and games do you have circled this Championship Saturday? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and feel free to chime in throughout the day as we soak in some great competition!