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NFL Draft Film Room: Brock Bowers, Olu Fashanu and 8 other players who impressed in Week 3

Once the games end on college football Saturday, my work begins. That’s when I pore over the coaches’ film, taking notes and writing reports …

Here are 10 prospects who impressed over this past weekend, along with an all-22 clip (or two or three) to illustrate what makes each an intriguing NFL prospect:

With thousands of prospects on the radar for the 2023 NFL Draft, I rarely have the time to focus on freshmen or sophomores who aren’t yet draft-eligible (Bowers can turn pro after next season). But it is impossible to overlook the impact and talent of Bowers, who announced himself as a star last season as a freshman and is only getting better this year as a sophomore.

Against South Carolina on Saturday, Bowers split his 33 offensive snaps between the slot (17), inline (11) and out wide (5), as the Georgia offense used him across its formations. All the ways he can impact the game were on display for his three touchdowns (two receiving and one rushing).

The first score came early in the first quarter on a reverse from the 5-yard line. Who runs a reverse with a tight end, especially in the red zone where the field is condensed and defenders are closer to the line of scrimmage? Well, Georgia does, because it has a talent like Bowers with the speed to eliminate those pursuit angles.

The second score was a back-shoulder fade with Bowers again lined up wide. In the clip below, you’ll notice that the cornerback has tight coverage and gets his hands on the football, but Bowers displays his dominance — he snatches the football and has the wherewithal to make sure a foot (maybe two; it was close) stayed inbounds.

The third touchdown showcased what really separates Bowers from most tight ends. Yes, it is a coverage bust that leaves Bowers wide open in the middle of the field, but few tight ends have the skills to turn this catch into a 78-yard touchdown. Bowers makes two defensive backs miss with his balance and power and accelerates to top speed quickly to outrace everyone else. His ability after the catch creates flashbacks of Travis Kelce or George Kittle.

I’m a supporter of the NFL rule that says players must be three years removed from high school to be draft-eligible because 99 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds aren’t ready for the NFL. And now with NIL, players will have a chance to earn money while they develop at the college level. However, Bowers is part of the one percent who could be scoring touchdowns on Sundays right now if given the chance.

I avoid speaking in absolutes when it comes to the draft, especially this early. But it’s not a hot take to say if the draft happened tomorrow and he was eligible, Bowers would be a lock as a top-10 pick.

Olu Fashanu, LT, Penn State (6-6, 315)

Most evaluators agree: This offensive tackle draft class appears lackluster in terms of high-end talent. But Fashanu is one of the up-and-coming youngsters in college football who could help change that narrative. He has already been a clear upgrade at left tackle for the Nittany Lions over Rasheed Walker, who was drafted this past April by the Green Bay Packers.

Fashanu was dominant — especially in pass protection — against Penn State’s first two opponents, which made his matchup on Saturday with Auburn a must-see for NFL scouts. And Fashanu handled himself very well against a defensive line with several future pros. Fashanu even shut out Derick Hall, a potential day-two draft pick, when he was pitted against the senior pass rusher.

With only four career starts, Fashanu is still relatively young — and that pops up at times, especially in the run game. But he has the wide blocking base and athletic body control to answer whatever rushers throw at him off the edge. Fashanu can anchor down versus power and also shows the hand strength to own the point of attack. He is still building his resume, but the early results are very positive. Based on what he has put on tape already, Fashanu is on a first-round trajectory.

Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss (6-0, 215)

The No. 31 player on my early draft board, Evans made the move from TCU to Ole Miss this offseason and, as expected, has been the featured playmaker in Lane Kiffin’s offense. Against Georgia Tech on Saturday, he led the Rebels with 134 yards rushing (7.4 yards per carry) and a pair of touchdowns.

The play above is beautifully designed and blocked, but Evans’ explosive athleticism is what turns it into a 26-yard touchdown. His cut-and-go acceleration makes the defenders look like they are moving at half-speed and allows Evans to sneak through the hole just as it starts to tighten. Once he reaches the second level, Evans displays the vision and speed to eliminate pursuit angles and finish in the end zone.

There will be tougher tests on the schedule once Ole Miss reaches SEC play, but the Georgia Tech defense had been allowing under three yards per carry entering last weekend. Texas’ Bijan Robinson (who just had a dominant 183-yard performance against UTSA) is the draft’s top running back, but Evans and Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs aren’t far behind.

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Like I mentioned in last week’s NFL Draft Watch, Jones has been one of the season’s most impactful transfer prospects. And that continued this past weekend during Purdue’s loss in the final seconds to Syracuse — Jones finished with 11 receptions for 188 yards, including this fourth-quarter, 55-yard touchdown:

Lined up at the top of the screen, Jones cooks cornerback Garrett Williams with pure speed that the defender can’t match. Quarterback Adrian O’Connell, who had an up-and-down performance Saturday, delivers the ball when his receiver and the corner are hip-to-hip. Jones then does an outstanding job stacking, tracking the ball and creating late separation by accelerating through the catch.

After he was underutilized for two seasons in an anemic Iowa offense, Jones was a borderline draft pick for NFL evaluators entering the season — he had 21 catches for 323 yards and three TDs as a Hawkeye in 2021. As the featured weapon in the Boilermakers’ air attack, though, Jones already has 32 receptions for 474 yards and five touchdowns, in only three games with his new team. His route athleticism and ball skills are NFL-quality and plays like the one seen above (against a future NFL corner) are why his draft stock continues to rise.

DJ Johnson, edge, Oregon (6-4, 265)

For some prospects, it takes time and tinkering for them to approach their potential. Johnson falls in that category. After starting his college career at Miami (Fla.), he bounced between offense and defense with the Ducks — as a junior in 2021, Johnson logged 98 snaps on offense and 152 snaps on defense, while also seeing time on special teams. Prior to this season, Johnson moved to defensive end full-time and earned some attention after a high ranking on Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List.”

Johnson has always had intriguing traits with his athleticism and length, but now he is starting to put everything together on the field.

Lined up as a wide-nine rusher in this clip from Saturday’s contest against BYU, Johnson creates awesome momentum with his first two steps, then converts his speed to power to obliterate the tight end and flush quarterback Jaren Hall out of the pocket. Instead of ending up on the ground with the tight end, Johnson keeps his balance and chases down the QB.

Johnson, a sixth-year senior, eventually will be a 25-year-old NFL rookie and was once part of the same high school recruiting class as already-established NFL players like Najee Harris, Tua Tagovailoa and a few dozen others. Although he is older for a “breakthrough” player, Johnson has the size and athletic profile — along with the budding technique — to be a draft riser.

In a back-and-forth battle, Wilson was the X-factor for the Seminoles in a 35-31 win over Louisville. An Arizona State transfer, Wilson had one career touchdown catch prior to last Friday night and never had more than four catches or 70 yards in a single game. Against the Cardinals? Wilson finished with seven catches for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

He had several impressive grabs worth sharing, but this is a play that won’t show up in his stat sheet:

Lined up at the top of the screen against maybe the best cornerback he will face all season, Kei’Trel Clark, Wilson simply overwhelms his defender. The big receiver quickly eats up the cushion and stems the corner before stacking inside with subtle footwork to neutralize the defender’s leverage. As a result, Clark is forced to dive tackle Wilson and Florida State takes the free 15 yards on a pass interference penalty.

Wilson does a great job on one-cut routes (slants, posts, etc.) where he can accelerate out of his cut to separate downfield or welcome early contact. He consistently gives his quarterback a large target and uses his length to steal the ball from defenders.

An issue with Wilson at Arizona State was focus drops, but it wasn’t a problem in this game. I’ll be eager to evaluate the redshirt sophomore the rest of the season to see if he can sustain this type of impact.

A safety prospect who doesn’t receive enough national attention, Robinson has the talent to be one of the first three seniors drafted at his position in April. The South Carolina transfer will be dinged throughout the process because of his lack of ideal size — he’s under 5-foot-11, 200 pounds and has sub-30-inch arms. However, he is a sudden athlete who cleanly transfers his weight to make plays all over the field.

Against Louisville on Friday night, Robinson finished with six tackles and did a nice job in coverage, including on this pass breakup:

Quarterback Malik Cunningham sees the corner blitz in the boundary and bets on his receiver to beat the safety in space, but Robinson doesn’t panic. He stays controlled with his lower-body twitch to maintain route spacing, read the throw and arrive with impeccable timing to disrupt the catch.

Cam Jones, LB, Indiana (6-1, 220)

The senior class of linebackers is underwhelming at the top, but Jones is an underrated prospect. The Memphis native finished with a game-best 13 tackles in the Hoosiers’ overtime win over Western Kentucky on Saturday, and he produced numerous highlight-worthy plays on film.

On this second-and-6 play in the fourth quarter, the Hilltoppers use read-option (with the tight end lined up in the backfield opposite the read side). Using his 4.6 speed, Jones reacts with the motioning tight end and mirrors him all the way down the line of scrimmage.

With a pair of receivers blocking downfield, the tight end has a chance at a big play if he can make the linebacker miss, but Jones is one of the more physical and sure tacklers in college football. He uses his vice grip hands not only to slam the tight end to the ground, but to force a fumble with the violent tackle.

Whether he is standing up ball carriers in the hole or chasing down plays by the numbers, Jones has the backfield vision, read-react athleticism and finishing skills that make him one of the better run-defending linebacker prospects in the 2023 draft class.

Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma (5-10, 214)

After Gray flashed his impressive talent at Tennessee, I was excited to see him in Oklahoma’s offense following his transfer prior to the 2021 season. Although he served as Kennedy Brooks’ backup last season, Gray was my No. 3 senior running back this summer because of that talent and, so far, his play in 2022 has lived up to the ranking.

On Saturday, Gray had his most productive game in a Sooners’ uniform as Oklahoma stomped Nebraska. He finished with 11 rushes for 113 yards (10.3 yards per carry) and a pair of touchdowns. One of those TDs came on this 16-yard scamper, which showed his next-level abilities:

Gray uses just enough patience to allow the lead block to do his job and displays the lower-body quickness and coordination to squeeze through the hole. Once at the second level, he puts the safety in conflict by pushing upfield, then cuts back outside with burst to leave the defender in his dust.

Now the starter for the Sooners, Gray is averaging 7.7 yards per carry through three games and has shown the footwork and vision that should translate well to the pro level.

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Although the back half of the Louisville defense had trouble slowing down Florida State, Abdullah put together a strong performance in the front seven that won’t go unnoticed by NFL scouts. He finished with eight tackles, six pressures, 2.0 tackles for loss, a half sack, two passes defended and one interception.

Abdullah was everywhere for the Cardinals on Friday night. Playing a stand-up edge rusher role, his first-step quickness allowed him to consistently win the corner and pressure the pocket. He also did well when dropping and playing in space.

On this play right before halftime, Abdullah does a great job to read and drive on the screen before the blockers can reach him. He breaks down and makes a strong open-field tackle for a six-yard loss. His interception came two plays later.

With his tweener size, Abdullah won’t be an easy projection for every scheme. But his ability to affect the game will appeal to NFL coaches and could get him into the mid-round discussion as a prospect.

(Top photo of Brock Bowers: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

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