Every year, we see a handful of college football players play their way into the first round in the season leading up to the NFL draft. Last year, Jameson Williams and Kenny Pickett were able to get there. A couple of years ago we saw the meteoric rise of Joe Burrow. It can be hard to predict who these players are prior to the season, but I have a few ideas based on the tape I have seen from different players. So today we will be looking at three players who I could see rising up draft boards this fall.
Blake Freeland, OT, BYU
This offensive tackle class is not looking as impressive as the past couple of years. The top names this year include Paris Johnson and Peter Skoronski. They are nothing spectacular and there is a mix of players that could be considered for this list, but they will need to improve massively. However, BYU’s Blake Freeland really makes me excited as he is someone who could easily take the mantle of OT1 with a strong 2022.
He’s got godly size at 6’8’’ and 308 pounds. Despite the lower weight, he is a bulky dude with a solid frame as a whole. As a blocker, he is aggressive and a very nasty player. He is working to get defenders on the ground and I love that quality in him. As a run blocker, Freeland is usually asked to kick out edges and protect the C gap, but he can take good steps anywhere he needs to go. He drives his feet and is able to frequently create power off the line of scrimmage.
But, he really shines as a pass blocker. He’s got a smooth kickstep and a good anchor and is able to set in and not allow bull rushes to push him back for the most part. Otherwise, when he encounters rushers with moves or more athleticism, he is able to run them upfield or just shut them down because of his sheer size. Freeland is also very strong. He’s got powerful hands and strikes with force and inside hands. Freeland can struggle because of how tall he is. At 6’8’’, he struggles to drop his pads and stay balanced. Frequently you see him drive his feet and then fall off blocks because defenders slip out from underneath him. He misses some free linebackers or blitzes at times and he will need to weed that out.
Freeland is already very complete, I hope he can get some recognition he deserves and float into the top 10-15 conversation.
Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
I’ve already covered Joey Porter Jr. in a previous article. The cornerback class may not be as good this year, but Cam Smith is a guy who can certainly work into the first round and become a consensus top-three cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft. Following in former Gamecock Jaycee Horn’s footsteps, Smith is an extremely aggressive corner who excels in man coverage. His technique is super consistent and he is not afraid at all to get hands on receivers and reroute them early on in the play. Smith’s best skills are his ball skills. He is able to get his head to the football frequently and put his hands up to make plays. He also has favorable interception numbers.
Smith is also an amazing run supporter. He is aggressive in working to get off blocks and make stops. He is a powerful tackler and knows how to make open-field tackles consistently. While he is pretty small at 187 pounds and doesn’t have much experience in zone coverage, I can definitely see Smith taking over as CB1 at South Carolina and having a season similar to Jaycee Horn’s from 2020 to put him in that top fifteen conversation as well.
Jaquelin Roy, DL, LSU
The two top names at defensive tackle this year are Jalen Carter and Bryan Bresee. However, Jaquelin Roy is getting a bit of hype. He is a rotational player right now but with Neil Farrell’s departure, Roy will likely be a starter this year.
Roy showed a lot of flashes in the reps that he got in 2021. He can play anywhere from 0-tech to 4-tech pretty consistently. While he isn’t the best athlete, he is quick off the ball and comes upfield to attack rather than wait for the blocker to hit him. His main draw is his pass-rush ability. Roy is able to use some finesse to beat blockers and get into the backfield. He isn’t super productive, but he can certainly be disruptive and cause some problems in the pocket when he is able to break free. I love his arsenal of moves and his movement ability as a pass rusher.
As a run defender, Roy is not super productive, however, he does do a very good job of being able to hold his leverage against blockers and eat up double teams to free up gaps and blocks for his linebackers. Roy also has an amazing motor as a defensive lineman. He fights through the whistle consistently. There will be things Roy has to improve on such as getting hands off of him and being more consistent as a run defender. However, as a whole Roy shows a lot of promise and I think with the traits he already has he can certainly turn into a top defensive prospect next spring.