Year in and year out, there are college football programs that consistently produce some of the top NFL Draft prospects. They have become factories for the NFL, and this season is no different. Whether it be recruiting at an elite level or having the coaching staff to develop top athletes, these programs have the system in place to regularly churn out the brightest stars in the league at skill positions.
Look at Oklahoma and Lincoln Riley’s resume with quarterbacks. During his time at Oklahoma, the program has produced five Heisman finalists, multiple No. 1 overall draft picks, and it has routinely attracted the top high school quarterback recruits. Programs such as Oklahoma have the stability and resources to develop their players at a level that makes them ever-so-slightly easier to project. With the college football season in full swing, it is the perfect time to examine some of the top talent at “Position U” to have a complete understanding of what is coming down the devy pipeline.
There is no better way to start this piece than with the quarterback situation in Norman. Spencer Rattler (6’1” 200 lbs) entered the season as a Heisman front-runner and presumed No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Rattler and the Oklahoma offense struggled to find their rhythm and narrowly escaped upset bids against Tulane, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Kansas State. Rattler was benched in the second quarter of the Texas game and is unlikely to regain the starting role.
There is a wide range of outcomes regarding his professional prospects. The talent is undeniable, and I am confident that he will remain highly sought after by NFL teams. In 20 career games, Rattler has compiled 4,483 passing yards, 48 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, but the production dipped significantly from his redshirt freshman to sophomore season. He is now firmly in the second tier of quarterbacks in the 2022 draft class. There is always the chance he decides to transfer and try rehabilitating his stock at another program.
Caleb Williams (6’1” 218 lbs), the true freshman who has taken the college football world by storm, is the new big man on campus at Oklahoma. Williams replaced Rattler in the above-mentioned Texas game, and things have been nothing but aces since.
Caleb Williams TD pass to Marvin Mims.— Russell Clay (@RussellJClay) October 15, 2021
There are so many ridiculous things that happened on this play. pic.twitter.com/98FAevN1pO
In just over six quarters as a collegiate player, Williams has thrown for 609 yards, ran for an additional 215 yards, and scored nine touchdowns. Williams is capable of putting together an RGIII-esque true freshman season. The schedule is relatively soft for several weeks before Williams’ first big test on the road against Oklahoma State on November 27th. There is a good chance that it is a matchup of undefeated teams with major playoff implications.
Williams is shooting up devy boards across the industry and has a compelling case to be in the top tier of prospects. He isn’t draft-eligible until 2024, but we could be looking at college football’s next superstar following Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Sam Bradford, and Jason White. Williams is next up in a long line of Oklahoma quarterbacks that have earned their school the title of QBU.
The 2021 season has largely been a disappointment for Clemson. That doesn’t change the fact that their track record at quarterback can challenge just about any program in the country. D.J. Uiagalelei (6’4” 250 lbs) walked onto campus as one of the most hyped young quarterbacks in recent memory.
Following the illustrious college career of Trevor Lawrence, the Big Ben-Cam Newton hybrid seemed poised to follow right where Lawrence left off at Clemson. Uiagalelei burst onto the national scene with an impressive performance last November against Notre Dame on primetime television, completing 29 of 44 passes for 439 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. His stock went to the moon, but Uiagalelei has come crashing back down to earth since that game. His production this season has been well below expectations, with a significant dip in completion rate and yards per attempt while struggling to finish off drives.
Clemson has one of the worst offenses in football by almost every measure, and the DJU hype has tempered. Please make no mistake, though; he has the skill set, the physical traits, and the pedigree to be a complete quarterback prospect. Uigalelei has generational arm strength, very good touch on his passes, an excellent feel for the game, and the athleticism to move well outside of the pocket. He is still considered one of the top devy prospects. My long-term outlook on him has not wavered much at all. While Ben Roethlisberger was a common comparison for Uiagalelei coming out of high school, there were also a handful of JaMarcus Russell comps.
Playing the role of QB2 at Clemson this season is Taisun Phommachanh (6’3” 225 lbs). Coming out of high school, he was a highly recruited four-star prospect from Connecticut. He has good size, and his dual-threat ability is significant. He needs to become a more accurate passer with intermediate and deep throws. His skill set translates to today’s NFL.
The real star in waiting is five-star 2022 commit Cade Klubnik (6’3” 185 lbs) out of Westlake High School. Klubnik is one of the best players in Texas and competing against the best 6A competition the state has to offer. He displays a strong arm, good decision-making, and the ability to process information quickly. He plays with a certain creativity and profiles as a high-impact college quarterback. For years, Clemson has been a quarterback factory with players like Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, Tajh Boyd, and even Charlie Whitehurst. Uiagalelei and Klubnik appear to be right in that same mold.
Honorable mention: Alabama (Bryce Young ’23, Jalen Milroe ’24, Ty Simpson ’25)
RUNNING BACK U
No program in the country develops running backs quite like ‘Bama. Derrick Henry, Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and the list goes on. Next up at RBU is fifth-year senior Brian Robinson Jr. (6’1” 225 lbs).
In six games this season, Robinson has totaled 744 yards on 130 touches and has scored ten touchdowns. He is a powerful runner with size, excellent vision, and an improved ability as a receiver. While some dynasty managers may have concerns about his age, he doesn’t have many miles as a running back as this is his first season with over 100 carries. Robinson is my RB6 in the 2022 class. I see no reason he shouldn’t be one of the first players selected in devy depleted drafts.
Jase McClellan (5’11” 212 lbs) has been Robinson’s primary backup for much of the year, but he is out with a knee injury for the season. A talented back with incredible contact balance, McClellan will have plenty of opportunities to get consistent work before being draft-eligible in 2023. The more interesting running back prospect on the roster is sophomore Roydell Williams (5’10” 208 lbs). With his rare combination of strength and explosiveness, he profiles as an early-round NFL draft pick. With McClellan out for the season, Williams’ usage should get a significant increase.
Many folks in devy circles were excited about as recently as last summer is Trey Sanders (6’0” 214 lbs). The former five-star recruit is the third option in the Alabama backfield. To date, his collegiate career has been a disappointment. I’m not ready to give up on him as a high-impact NFL prospect. l have been discouraged by the fact that he has lost so much work to others in that backfield and has been a non-factor in the passing game. Once considered a future first-round pick, Sanders needs to capitalize on an increase in touches with McClellan out.
In Tuscaloosa, others to keep an eye on include true freshman Camar Wheaton (5’11” 190 lbs), a big-bodied five-star recruit in the 2021 class with elite speed. The prized running back coming to Alabama from the incoming 2022 high school class is local five-star Emmanuel Henderson (6’1” 185 lbs). He’s an exceptional athlete who should be able to add plenty of bulk once he gets on campus. This is an embarrassment of riches unlike any other.
The no-doubt RBU, if you exclude Alabama, is Wisconsin. They have produced two first-round picks in Jonathan Taylor and Melvin Gordon to go along with complementary backs like Corey Clement, James White, and Dare Ogunbowale. The tradition continues, but you may have to wait a few years until another Wisconsin running back is ready to make a major impact at the next level. The current starter, Chez Mellusi (5’11” 204 lbs), is a transfer from Clemson, who had a great spring before being named the lead back. He is a decent pro prospect, maybe a third-day pick, but ultimately nothing excites me about his profile.
Braelon Allen can’t vote, but he can do this. #Badgers pic.twitter.com/IkEPc3W5Dd— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) October 17, 2021
True freshman Braelon Allen (6’2” 238 lbs) appears to be the most talented running back on the team and the one to target in devy leagues. His size is noteworthy, and he plays a very physical style of football for a running back. He’s still just 17 years old due to reclassing and could enter the NFL at age 20. His speed in gym shorts may not impress (4.62 verified 40-yard dash), but his game speed will translate just fine. He will be one of my favorite devy prospects to follow in the coming years. A player I’m anxious to see get some work is true freshman Jackson Acker (6’1” 229 lbs). He is another big-bodied back that Wisconsin is known for. He lacks acceleration but looks like a yards after contact machine.
Honorable mention: Georgia (Zamir White ’22, Kendall Milton ’23, Branson Robinson ’25)
WIDE RECEIVER U
It’s almost hard to comprehend all the talent that was on the 2019 LSU National Championship team. As Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase continue down their path to superstardom in the NFL, it’s becoming clear exactly why that offense was so unstoppable. It doesn’t stop with those two, though. LSU has an impressive list of receivers at the next level, including Odell Beckham Jr., D.J. Chark, Jarvis Landry, Terrace Marshall Jr., and Russell Gage.
It’s no surprise that the program currently rosters the WR1 of the 2023 class. Kayshon Boutte (6’0” 190 lbs) spent the early part of the season dominating defenses with a mediocre quarterback before being sidelined with an ankle injury for the rest of the season. In 16 career games at LSU, Boutte has 83 receptions for 1,243 yards and 14 touchdowns. Drawing comparisons to Stefon Diggs, Boutte is a clear first-round talent with world-class speed and advanced ball skills.
Deion Smith (6’3” 198 lbs) may be the highest-ceiling receiver on the roster after Boutte. He is already contributing to the team in a big way as a true freshman with 186 yards in five games and leading the team in yards per catch. Smith is a difference-maker in the vertical passing game and will now get a more featured role. Another prospect worth keeping an eye on in Baton Rouge is Malik Nabers (6’1” 188 lbs). He excels with contested catches and has some of the best jump-ball ability in the country. While his size doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, Nabers uses his body well and physically dominates defenders.
Again from the 2021 high school class, Brian Thomas Jr. (6’5” 198 lbs) is a four-star recruit and impresses in his ability to high point the ball and get yards after the catch. Another name to keep in mind is Jack Bech (6’2” 207 lbs). He has been listed at wide receiver and tight end, although I feel his future is with the latter. Bech is a talented, big-bodied pass catcher who is getting a lot of work with Boutte sidelined.
The rate at which Alabama puts its players in the NFL, at all positions, is unprecedented. Wide receiver is no different from existing studs in the NFL like Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, Jerry Jeudy, Amari Cooper, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs. The Alabama receiver I am most excited about as a devy prospect is Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams (6’2” 189 lbs).
I got the opportunity to watch Williams live multiple times when he was in high school, so I can’t say that I am surprised by his breakout season. He is an extremely well-rounded receiver with elite top-end speed. Williams is the type of player that can score from anywhere on the field. I believe he will be drafted higher than the fantasy community expects. In the meantime, his devy stock will continue to skyrocket.
John Metchie III (6’0” 195 lbs) was the assumed new alpha receiver in Tuscaloosa, but Williams’ breakout has overshadowed Metchie to a degree. Metchie leads the team in receptions with 41 this season but is not nearly as efficient as others in the receiving corp. He still has a shot at Day 2 draft capital.
A fun devy prospect that I am keeping tabs on is true freshman JoJo Earle (5’10” 170 lbs). This season’s impact has been minimal, but he has been involved in every game, which tells me Saban trusts him enough to keep him on the field. Earle is undeniably undersized but makes up for it with elite burst and route running. Traeshon Holden (6’3” 208 lbs) is another ‘Bama receiver to watch. He has good chemistry with Bryce Young and will take advantage of an opportunity when one presents itself.
Alabama has the top-ranked 2022 recruiting class, to nobody’s surprise. The prized receiver to this point appears to be four-star Kobe Prentice (5’10” 170 lbs). With a 10.81 100-meter dash time, he has game-altering speed. He will be in an offense that is very familiar with developing undersized, blazing-fast receivers.
Honorable mention: Ohio State (Garrett Wilson ’22, Chris Olave ’22, Jaxon Smith-Njigba ’23)
TIGHT END U
What Alabama does with running backs and wide receivers, Iowa does on a smaller scale with tight ends. Three of my top eight dynasty tight ends are from Iowa; George Kittle, T.J. Hockenson, and Noah Fant. The next great Hawkeye tight end to transition to the pros will be Luke Lachey (6’6” 248 lbs). His athleticism is impressive considering his large frame, and he has an excellent feel for the game. Lachey plays very smoothly as a receiver. He’s already put on significant mass since getting on campus last year and will be a complete tight end prospect by the time he’s draft-eligible in 2023.
When Lachey moves onto the next level, Iowa’s next-man-up will be 2022 commit Cael Vanderbush (6’6” 200 lbs). The program develops tight ends better than any staff in the country, and they must have a type because Vanderbush’s profile is almost identical to Lachey’s. A tall, athletic prospect who should bulk up quickly and remain a very skilled receiver.
South Bend has recently become a pipeline of NFL talent at tight end, with Cole Kmet, Tommy Tremble, and Durham Smythe being drafted in the last four classes. Of course, veteran Kyle Rudolph is still hanging around the league as well. Currently, Notre Dame has three tight ends on the roster who profile as impact NFL players, highlighted by Michael Mayer (6’4” 251 lbs). A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Mayer has one of the highest ceilings of anyone at this position and is my devy TE1 (although I see you, Brock Bowers). He is an excellent pass catcher with size and receiver-like athleticism. This season, Mayer has been Notre Dame’s go-to receiver and has a 12-game pace of 76 receptions, 864 yards, and seven touchdowns. That’ll play just fine.
Also in the 2023 draft-eligible class is Kevin Bauman (6’4” 242 lbs). He profiles as a more impactful blocker than Mayer but not quite as refined of a receiver. Bauman has been sidelined with a leg injury, but we should get to see him on the field sometime in November. True freshman Cane Berrong (6’3” 235 lbs) is out for the season with a torn ACL but is an interesting TE prospect in the 2024 draft class. From watching his tape, he is talented but very raw in his development at this point. He looks to be a good route runner and should grow into the position well.
Notre Dame will add another top prospect to the group when 2022 high school recruit Eli Raridon (6’6” 228 lbs) arrives on campus. I am very high on him as a prospect, and he may quickly carve out a role in the offense. Raridon is a physical, athletic prospect who plays both sides of the ball and is also a gifted basketball player.
Honorable mention: Stanford (Benjamin Yurosek ‘22, Lukas Ungar ‘23, CJ Hawkins ’25)
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