It was a college football weekend that saw several exciting games that were decided in the final seconds. But it was also a Saturday in which teams at the top of the national rankings dominated the opposition. There were some outstanding performances from NFL draft prospects even as their teams lost, and multiple offensive linemen were impressive. That’s where our Week 3 list of 2023 big board risers begins.
2023 Big Board Risers
Warren McClendon, OT, Georgia
The thought that South Carolina could upset Georgia ended quickly, as the Bulldogs put the ball in the end zone on their first three possessions and annihilated the Gamecocks. The offensive line pushed the South Carolina defense around for all four quarters, combining for almost 550 yards in offense. No UGA lineman was as dominant as McClendon.
The junior left tackle is large and powerful but also very athletic and mobile. He presently grades as a Day 2 pick on my board, though McClendon may not have the size, specifically height, teams want at tackle; a move to guard could be in his future in the NFL.
Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
The Sooners were another team that annihilated their opponent, embarrassing Nebraska in Lincoln by a score of 49-14. Oklahoma amassed 580 yards of offense, pushing the NU Blackshirts around the field. Harrison, who I handed a third-round grade before the season, continues to impress and looks much improved.
He’s an athletic left tackle with a terrific combination of power and mobility. He’s effective sliding off the edge or blocking in motion, and Harrison shows terrific football intelligence. He, too, is a bit vertically challenged, yet Harrison is such a good blindside protector that it may be difficult to move him from the all-important left tackle position.
Ji’Ayir Brown, S, Penn State
It was a game never in doubt as Penn State traveled south and thrashed Auburn from the onset. The Nittany Lions’ defense held the home team to just 12 points, and Brown was outstanding in all facets of the game. The senior safety finished with five tackles, one TFL, and one sack and intercepted a pass late in the contest as Auburn was driving with the hopes of getting back into the game.
Brown is a terrific player with good instincts and discipline. He’s not a great athlete and will likely test poorly before the draft. Still, the ability to make plays against the run and cover the pass will surely help Brown find a spot in the draft’s third day and onto a roster next September.
Rashee Rice, WR, SMU
Despite SMU being under new management, the aerial attack implemented under former head coach Sonny Dykes is still alive and was on full display against Maryland. Rashee Rice, graded as a third-round prospect on my board, posted 193 receiving yards on 11 receptions during the Mustangs’ seven-point loss to the Terps.
That makes 28 receptions for 491 yards in three games for Rice, who is now the focal point of the passing offense with Danny Gray and Reggie Roberson moving on to the NFL. Rice is fast, reliable, and versatile, which will make him attractive in next year’s draft.
Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion
Entering the season, Kuntz was graded as one of the top tight ends from the senior class — and why not? Measuring 6-foot-7.5 and 250 pounds with a 40 time in the low 4.7-second range, Kunz looks like a power forward on the football field.
He scored the go-ahead touchdown in the game against Virginia, a lead ODU was unable to hold. He also finished with six receptions for 83 yards. Kuntz has the size NFL teams desire, but his final draft stock will come down to how well he works out before April’s event as well as the belief in his blocking ability.
Payne Durham, TE, Purdue
Purdue’s contest against Syracuse was one of the most exciting of the weekend, as the Boilermakers lost in the final seconds. Yet Durham stood out for Purdue the entire game, finishing with nine receptions for 83 yards and two TDs. Looking past the stats, Durham came up big for Purdue, snatching the go-ahead score with just over a minute left. He made several difficult catches in the middle of crowds or in contorted positions to help keep the offense moving.
Durham is well built at 6-foot-5.5 and 265 pounds, but the lack of pure speed (his 40 time is estimated to be 4.85 seconds) will push him deep in the draft. Regardless, Durham has enough ability to make an NFL roster as a pass-catching and blocking tight end.
Rusty Staats, C, Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers blew a late lead and then lost a thrilling game in overtime to Indiana. The WKU offense put up 30 points on 545 yards of offense, much of it gained behind their center, Rusty Staats. The senior is a fundamentally sound lineman who blocks with great leverage and pad level. He’s athletic, moves very well, and has terrific football intelligence.
Staats comes with nice length at 6-foot-4 but also must add strength to his game. His ability to block in motion and upside potential could help him grab a spot late in the 2023 draft.
Sleeper prospect: X’Zauvea Gadlin, OL, Liberty
Malik Willis made Liberty the center of the scouting world during parts of the 2021 season, but few are now paying attention to the program. As a result, they are ignoring one of the most underrated next-level offensive linemen in the nation. In 2019, as the starting left tackle for Tulsa, I was awed by the flashes Gadlin showed as well as his athleticism. He sat on the sidelines during the COVID season of 2020, then returned to play inside of Tyler Smith at guard last season.
Gadlin has since transferred to Liberty and has looked terrific at guard, as well as tackle. He stood out on the line during the Flames’ 36-35 loss to Wake Forest at both right tackle and left guard. Gadlin showed terrific power as well as the ability to get out in space and block in motion. I presently have a sixth-round grade on Gadlin, whose name is responded to with lots of shrugged shoulders around the scouting community.
Small-school prospect: Maalik Hall, LB, SE Oklahoma
A full-time starter the past two seasons, Hall is slowly turning his terrific athleticism into production on the football field. His latest gem was a six-tackle, two-TFL, one-sack performance against rival Southwestern Oklahoma.
Hall possesses classic weakside linebacker computer numbers at 6’0, 235 pounds with 4.7-second speed. Those measurables coupled with his production since 2021 could be enough to push him into the seventh round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Hall has the ability to make a next-level roster as an eighth linebacker/special-teams player.
2023 Big Board Sliders
Spencer Rattler, QB, South Carolina
Rattler was ineffective against a tough Georgia defense, completing 13 of 25 passes for just 118 yards and two INTs, including one pick early in the contest that set the tone of the game. He was unable to engineer a scoring drive, and for the season, Rattler has two TD passes versus three INTs.
One year ago, many, including myself, stamped Rattler as a Heisman Trophy candidate and potential top-three pick. He eventually lost his starting job at Oklahoma to Caleb Williams then transferred to South Carolina. Watching Rattler the past three weeks makes you believe he would be in danger of losing his starting job with the Gamecocks if they had a Caleb Williams type waiting in the wings.