The first full weekend of college football is finally here, and there are a ton of high-profile prospects set to hit the field for the first time since January. A few heavyweight matchups will headline the weekend led by No. 2 Ohio State and No. 5 Notre Dame for a battle in “The Shoe.” That matchup features a plethora of all-star pass catchers for the Buckeyes and a multitude of defensive prospects for the Irish. The reigning national champion No. 3 ranked Georgia Bulldogs have a big initial test against former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning and the No. 11 Oregon Ducks. There’s a lot to touch on in those games and plenty more key prospect matchups you’ll want to tune into for Week 1.
Ohio State Receivers (Jaxon Smith-Njigba/Marvin Harrison Jr./Julian Fleming) vs. S Brandon Joseph
The marquee game of the week has plenty of matchups to keep an eye on, but it will be difficult to turn your focus anywhere but to this matchup. Ohio State has the best receiver room in the country comfortably, and it’s led by Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Smith-Njigba is one of the best receivers in college football and certainly looks like one of the smartest players on the field. Not gifted with supreme speed, he makes up for it with football IQ and elite route-running ability and a rebounder’s mentality when attacking the football. The last time anyone laid eyes on him in a college football game, he put up 347 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Harrison Jr. is a superb No. 2 who is just a true sophomore. Yes—he is the son of NFL Hall of Fame receiver and Indianapolis Colts legend Marvin Harrison. He’s not eligible until 2024, but you’re likely to see a huge breakout from the NFL legacy in 2022.
Fleming was a highly touted recruit who hasn’t quite found his spark in the Buckeyes. The departure of first-rounders Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave will give Fleming an opportunity to show why he had five stars next to his name in high school.
Brandon Joseph is a high-profile incoming transfer for Notre Dame who was once looked at as one of the best safety prospects in college. Joseph was an All-American as a redshirt freshman in 2020, but a shaky season at Northwestern in 2021 brings up questions about what his upside is as a prospect. There will be nowhere for Joseph to hide against this wide receiver group Saturday. A strong showing could once again vault his draft praise.
Georgia Tight Ends (Arik Gilbert/Darnell Washington/Brock Bowers) vs. Noah Sewell
The Bulldogs have a trio of freaks at the tight end position, with two former five-stars in Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington being eligible for the 2023 NFL Draft. Their third running mate, Bowers, was a first-team All American as a true freshman.
Gilbert is 6’5” and 255 lbs of pure athlete. His return to the field has been much anticipated after he missed the entirety of 2021 for personal reasons. Gilbert was a first-team All SEC selection at LSU in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season before transferring to Georgia. Gilbert has unicorn traits at the position and has the makings of a first-round pick if everything goes as planned in Athens this season despite not seeing game action in almost two years.
Georgia has a very compelling case for the most ‘first off the bus” players on one single college football roster. None may be more impressive than the 6’7” 270-lb Darnell Washington. To this point, there isn’t a lot of production (10 catches, 154 yards in 2021), but he clearly stands out on television and he’d be easy to confuse with one of Georgia’s offensive tackles if he didn’t wear “0” on his jersey. There’s a lot to like about Washington as an in-line tight end prospect with unbelievable size, blocking potential, and more speed than you’d be able to understand at first glance. Georgia’s offense will limit his opportunities in the passing game, but more production from him this year will allow teams to see what his receiving output could be at the next level.
We won’t touch too much on Bowers as he’s not eligible until the 2024 NFL Draft. But he’s going to be a stud. He started at Georgia as a true freshman where he amassed nearly 900 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns in 2021. He’s a physical freak and a smooth mover in his own right.
The younger brother of Detroit Lions star Penei Sewell, Noah Sewell is likely Oregon’s top prospect heading into 2022. He’s uniquely built for a modern-day middle linebacker standing 6’2” and over 250 lbs. He presents serious problems for offenses as a run defender, jolting offensive linemen and ball carriers. He has clear ability moving sideline to sideline despite his compact, muscular frame. It will be intriguing to watch Sewell work in coverage on Georgia’s NFL-caliber tight ends on Saturday afternoon and how he deals with that challenge in his roaming areas.
LSU’s entire defensive front against Florida State - Ali Gaye/BJ Ojulari/ Jaquelin Roy/ Maason Smith
LSU has one of the best defensive fronts in college football boasted by three 2023 NFL Draft eligible players in Gaye, Ojulari, and Roy. Smith is a former five-star likely to earn a ton of snaps for the Tigers as a sophomore. The 2023 eligible group is very talented, but needs to be better in the run game. That’s something to keep an eye on when the Tigers face the Seminoles on Sunday.
Gaye only played in four games in 2021 with a couple of different injuries plaguing him. He had 2.5 sacks in those games which followed a 9.5 sack season in 2020. He has all of the traits you look for in an NFL defensive end standing 6’6” and 265 lbs with plus athleticism. There’s a lot of requisites already available to Gaye that he can build on going into 2022.
The Tigers’ main pass-rush weapon is junior edge rusher BJ Ojulari. It’s in the Ojulari blood to get after the quarterback and BJ is following in the footsteps of his brother, Azeez Ojulari—who plays linebacker for the Colts. Ojulari is an explosive athlete who has all of the tools and moves to get after the quarterback. His question, like his counterparts on the front, comes with being a sound player against the run and his reliability in that manner. BJ has similar size to his brother at 6’3” and 250 lbs. Sunday will be a litmus test to determine if he can play with his hand in the dirt in the NFL or if he’ll need to be hidden in an odd front. The video below shows off Ojulari’s ability to counter and rip through the opposing left tackle.
Defensive tackle Jacquelin Roy is another athlete for offensive lines to deal with. A pure gap penetrator, he has plenty of 3-technique upside at the NFL level. His anchor remains his biggest question as a prospect.
Maason Smith is a talented defensive tackle to keep your eye on if you want to watch a future 2024 draft selection work. He has mammoth size and the talent to be a game wrecker.
Game of the Week
No. 5 Notre Dame @ No. 2 Ohio State
Saturday, 7:30 PM Eastern
This is a true Week 1 heavyweight tilt that has plenty of star power. The main focus will surely be Ohio State’s quarterback CJ Stroud and receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Stroud is a toolsy passer who seemed to put it all together in the latter stages of the 2021 season. Notre Dame has a few “dudes” to keep tabs of including possibly the best tight end prospect in the country—Michael Mayer. Edge rusher Isaiah Foskey is another name to keep your eye on in addition to the aforementioned Brandon Joseph at safety.
The Irish will have a difficult time slowing down the Ohio State’s attack led by Stroud and Smith-Njigba. The Buckeyes also boast a pair of NFL tackles—2023 eligible players Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones are dudes at the point of attack to keep an eye on as they work against Foskey. Edge rusher Zach Harrison and safety Josh Proctor are two to keep an eye on when the Buckeyes are on defense Saturday.