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This week the quarterbacks come into focus. Three of the better Group of Five QB NFL draft prospects are in action this weekend, and each is taking a step up in competition.
Here's a look at this trio of talented passers, along with two terrific receiver vs. cornerback matchups, in this week's five 2022 NFL draft prospects to watch.
Nevada QB Carson Strong at Kansas State
Strong checks in as a riser in a deep QB class but perhaps one where there’s no Trevor Lawrence-level prospect. There might not even be a quarterback on the level of Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields yet, but Strong has a chance to crack the top three at that spot this coming spring with a continued ascension.
Strong delivered gorgeous long balls at Cal and led five scoring drives in a six-possession span on the road after falling behind 14-0. That was a terrific test for the 6-foot-4, 204-pound passer. He gets another one this weekend in his final Power Five matchup of the regular season.
The Wildcats have racked up 10 sacks, intercepted three passes, allowed only 18 passing first downs and haven’t given up a pass play longer than 29 yards in two games. Kansas State is solid and fairly deep in the secondary, and it has multiple rushers who can collapse the pocket.
Nevada’s offense is predicated on getting the ball to tight end Cole Turner and wideout Elijah Mitchell on intermediate routes and looking for WR Romeo Doubs to stretch the field. Can Strong hold up in this matchup? We expect quite a few scouts to be at this one. Strong is a potential first-round draft pick with growing intrigue.
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder at Indiana
The Ridder hype has slowly simmered since the end of last season, and he’s starting to put himself in the discussion of the top passing prospects in the 2022 class. He was smart to return to school for two reasons: to keep building off his 2020 growth, and to be part of a QB crop that he can more easily rise toward the top.
Ridder draws a Hoosiers defense that has played pretty well (against the pass, anyway) despite getting blown out in the opener at Iowa. This group has a particularly good back seven, led by cornerbacks Tiawan Mullen and Jaylin Williams (back from injury), jack-of-all-trades DB Marcelino McCrary-Ball and linebacker Micah McFadden.
Ridder has displayed steady improvement the past few years. His athleticism and arm talent will give him a shot to go high next year in the draft. He could still use a signature performance on the road against a solid-to-good defense such as this to kick his draft stock up a notch.
Fresno State QB Jake Haener at UCLA
Draft fans might already know Haener’s game, even if he’s still relatively unknown nationally. The 6-foot, 200-pound Haener is a later-round prospect. His game could use a bigger spotlight. He was terrific in layups against UConn and Cal Poly and not too shabby against Oregon, despite facing a wave of pressure up front, including a strip sack via Kayvon Thibodeaux.
That was one of Haener’s few missteps this season. He’s a poised, accurate passer, especially in the quick game, and though his athleticism isn't special, Haener does a good job navigating pressure and using his legs to keep plays alive.
With some quality receivers, along with running back Ronnie Rivers, Haener has a great skill-position crop with which to work. He might keep the Bruins’ hot offense off the field, however, with long drives. We can’t wait to see how he handles the pressure of this showcase matchup.
Florida CB Kaiir Elam vs. Alabama WR John Metchie III
There is going to be one heck of a debate by the end of draft season on who the nation’s best CB prospect is. LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. and Clemson’s Andrew Booth can lay claim to that title, but Elam has to be in the discussion.
Elam’s length is the first trait that stands out. At 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds, he’s nicely put together, but he isn’t just a press-man bully out there. Elam also can turn and run with speed receivers, owning some of the oilier hips you’ll find on a big man. He also has improved his tackling and might be this year’s Jaycee Horn when it’s all said and done.
Metchie could be Elam’s latest matchup, although it wouldn’t be shocking to see Elam matched with Jameson Williams. Both can roll, and Elam’s deep-coverage ability is something we want to double back on. He was beat deep a few times early last season but appeared to improve over the course of the year.
Elam moved around the field last year vs. Bama and was stung a few times by DeVonta Smith — then again, who wasn’t? But if Elam can help lock down the Tide’s playmakers outside, it could help vault him into that CB1 discussion.
Auburn CB Roger McCreary vs. Penn State WR Jahan Dotson
Another fine WR-CB matchup happens in Happy Valley this weekend, where one of the country’s best speedsters matches with a corner who can run as well as almost anyone at his position.
Dotson might not be a true blazer, and his small frame (5-foot-10, 172 pounds) can limit him in getting off press coverage and winning contested-catch situations. But he moves so fluidly and gets into his breaks so quickly, few corners can stick with him. He’s working more out of the slot this season, too, which presents defenses with a tough cover.
McCreary doesn’t venture inside a ton, but he’s a playmaker with an aggressive bent. His speed should allow him to run with Dotson, although talented deep receivers such as DeVonta Smith have been able to get on top of him downfield.
Despite McCrary's 2020 results being uneven, there are NFL scouts out there who see him as a potential first-round talent. Now he could stand to display more consistency to prove them right. This would be an excellent stage to do so.