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Shedeur Sanders, Colorado (47 att / 38 comp / 510 yds / 4 TD)
At this point, you’ve read and seen everything that there is with regard to Colorado’s stunning defeat of TCU. The story has captured the hearts and minds of football fans, in a way we haven’t seen for a very long time, with much of the commentary centered around coach Prime. No list should omit the absolute gem of a game that Shedeur Sanders played in Week 1. Having not seen him during his Jackson State days, I was immediately struck with how deliberate and poised his movement was, while on his way to throwing for a record 510 yards in his first FBS game.
This player whom I and many others had known so little about is immediately in the NFL draft prospect conversation. His throwing motion and footwork seemed to have some noise at times but his ball placement and touch were outstanding in this performance. Whether in the pocket or on the move, he throws a highly catchable ball to a cast of quality offensive weapons. After week 1, the wind is at their backs and all eyes are on Shedeur and Coach Prime. Every team that has them on their schedule has taken note and will throw everything within their will at them. Many folks may have to recalibrate their QB ranks for the draft ahead if this keeps up.
Caleb Williams, USC (24 att / 18 comp / 319 yds / 5 TD)
Highly regarded as the future No. 1 pick of the 2024 draft just last season, Caleb Williams has followed up his 2022 season with two colossal performances. He picked up right where he left off with his week 0 performance of 18/26, 278 yards and 4 touchdowns against San Jose State, with the same, special improv ability, limitless arm talent, and a glow to his game that almost suggests that maybe God himself has touched this man.
In week 1 vs Nevada, Williams came through with 319 yards and 5 touchdowns on just 18 completions. Again, with the same themes of shortstop-like playmaking via his multiplicity of arm angles to meet the unique delivery needs of the windows he throws through, and an air of untouchableness about him.
I find it to be an inappropriate comp, but I get it when folks suggest Mahomes as his player comparison. I felt it was a bit far-fetched at the time, as there were plays on his 2022 tape that suggested that he had a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long, preferring the big play to open up as a defense broke down. He’s masterful at it for this level of competition, but the NFL purges either that tendency from the player or the player themself. The San Jose and Nevada games went as we all expected. With a tougher schedule ahead, I look forward to seeing Williams cement his claim as the top prospect of the 2024 draft class.
Michael Pennix Jr., Washington (40 att / 29 comp / 450 yds / 5 TD)
I wrote about Pennix in this series last year. With his return to Washington for another season, he came out and performed exactly the way you want to see a returning veteran leader. His footwork was lean and mean, being both precisely tied to the receiver's routes and having very little wasted movement. He threw with conviction, velocity, and superb ball placement. The touchdown pass he threw at approximately the 14:15 second mark of the second quarter showed his veteran poise as he bobbled the snap and had to take his eyes off the defense to regain the ball. The defense was in a middle-of-the-field-open look, with two high safeties, and he very calmly gathered and threw the touchdown strike to the post route from the slot. A good play call and good execution.
Pennix had a big opening week and has raised the bar for himself and his draft stock. He has hit the ground running for the 2023 campaign and rounds out a fascinating QB landscape for the 2024 draft.
Jaydn Ott, Cal (20 att / 192 yds / 2 td)
Listed at 6’ 200 lbs, Ott plays like he’s a 215 lb back who refuses to go down at first contact. The beating heart and lone light of the disappointing 4-8 ‘22 Cal Golden Bears, Ott put together a strong game v North Texas in the season opener. Largely an RPO offense with pin-and-pull blocking looks, Ott showed zero hesitation in attacking tight creases. He has enough speed to threaten the edge and the combination of his contact balance and drive makes him a threat to defensive backs in that area of the field, as he’ll punish any deficiency in a defender's tackling. With 1 fumble already logged, it’s worth noting that his ball-carrying in traffic and in the open field could be more secure. In the chaos of the defensive box, he will carry the ball over his chest but won’t lock the wrist with his other hand and has a tendency to carry the ball cradled to his side as he opens up his stride. He is a year away from NFL eligibility and is a prospect to keep an eye on.
Emani Bailey, TCU (14 att / 164 yds / 0 td)
Bailey had several big moments in the intense back-and-forth that TCU and Colorado had in Week 1. The 5’9 207 lb back doesn’t have homerun speed but showed good close-quarter movement and elite peripheral vision and reaction in the open field.
He opened as the starter for TCU but would go on to have 2 less snaps (15) than Trey Sanders (17), who himself had a strong performance after being rewarded with the lion's share of the goalline carries.
Kimani Vidal, Troy (24 att / 257 yds* / 0 td) *school record
Jimmy Horn Jr., Colorado (13 tgt / 11 rec / 117 yds / 1 td)
The Colorado slot receiver had a big game at the expense of TCU. His reluctance to go out of bounds earned him and the Buffalo tough, grinding yardage after the catch. At one point in the game, having had several consecutive catches, he was in a rhythm with Sanders and proved uncontainable for the Horned Frogs. He threatens all levels of the field with his dangerous athleticism and is a tough player with the embodiment of a true football players spirit; the refusal to go out of bounds.
Troy Franklin, Oregon (9 tgt / 7 rec / 106 yds / 2 td)
Returning to the series, Troy Franklin has agility and speed to pair with his 6’3 height that has dynasty fans excited for 2024 rookie drafts. He wins his reps with some of the best route running in his class and has explosive movement that makes him a threat on the field, every single snap. He’s a core player in the Oregon offense and 2023 looks to be a buzz worthy season ahead.
Nick Nash, San Jose (8 tgt / 6 rec / 89 rds / 3 td)
Nash had a big day pulling in 3 TD grabs vs USC. The second catch is what stands out; split out to the boundary on a 2nd & 5 in the third, he faces tight coverage off the line and tips back to himself a 32 yard score. On his second score, the offense was at the 2-yard line. Nash was the initial read on the play but it wasn’t until Cordeiro came back to him after having to look to his second read that they were able to connect for the score. The play paired Nash on a slant from in-tight to the right with the tight end running a drag route. The middle of the field opened up and he sat at the goalpost and worked his way back to the QB where they were able to connect. It will be important to note how he fairs against tight and press coverage as the season moves along.
Xavier Weaver, Colorado (8 tgt / 6 rec / 118 yds)
Ben Yurosek, Stanford (11 tgt / 9 rec / 138 yds)
At precisely this time a year ago, I mentioned Yurosek in an occasional piece that I would do highlighting tight ends. While he’s 6’4 242 and often plays the position in its most classic sense, attached to the formation in a 3-point stance, he can get off the ball and put a move on any defender who may underestimate his athleticism and speed.
He can access the medium and deep areas of the field and has great hands at the catch point and thus has the makeup of a quality tight end at the next level.