Every week in the lead-up to the slate of college football games on Saturday, we will be highlighting several high-profile games as well as several college football prospects in each matchup that project to be sought after in the 2024 NFL Draft and specifically how they may be viewed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
#10 Louisville at Miami 12:00PM EST ABC
The Louisville Cardinals are enjoying an impressive 9-1 season and hope to take that to double digits Saturday against the Miami Hurricanes. The Cardinals got a boost to their wide receiver corps his offseason with WR #1 Jamari Thrash transferring from Georgia State to Louisville, providing a big-play threat in the passing game. Thrash has 49 receptions for 734 yards and six TDs so far this season after topping 1,100 yards last year at Georgia State, possessing a unique blend of speed and quickness to get over the top of defenses and win with his route running over the middle. The 6-1, 185-pound junior could be a mid-round pick this coming spring and a value selection for a team looking for another wideout.
For the Hurricanes, keep an eye on DL #56 Leonard Taylor. The 6-5, 305-pound redshirt sophomore was considered one of the top players coming out of high school, being a five-star prospect that committed to the Hurricanes. Taylor is extremely explosive for his size, having a quick get-off that allows him to penetrate into the backfield as a run-stopper as well as cause havoc upfront as a pass rusher. He has six sacks in his college career and is only scratching the surface of his athletic ability as a football player, needing to continue to develop his hand usage to maximize his gifts. A likely top-60 selection, Taylor is a name to watch for teams wanting to improve their defensive line.
#22 Utah at #17 Arizona 2:30PM EST Pac-12 Network
The Utes and the Wildcats square off in a top-25 Pac-12 showdown Saturday afternoon. For the Utes, be sure to watch EDGE #83 Jonah Elliss who ranks second in college football with 12 sacks on the season. The 6-2, 246-pound junior from Moscow, Idaho has blown up in 2023, going from three sacks last season to 12 this season, showing a relentless pursuit of the quarterback by using a variety of pass rush moves. His go-to move is a wicked inside spin that is eerily similar to current Pittsburgh Steelers OLB Alex Highsmith, winning to the inside across the face of the tackle. Elliss will look to add to his sack total and continue to strengthen his case to declare early this coming spring.
Elliss will be a part of a must-watch matchup between him and OT #77 Jordan Morgan for Arizona. Morgan is the name to watch for the Wildcats as the fifth-year senior is recognized as one of the better tackle prospects in the draft class. The 6-foot-6, 320-pounder got some action with Arizona in 2019 and became a full-time starter in 2021, having started the last three seasons at left tackle. He has all the tools to become a good pass protector, but just needs more consistency as there are times on tape when his technique starts to wane. Morgan is looking to be a Day Two prospect but will have to prove himself against one of the more productive guys in college football on Saturday.
#20 UNC at Clemson 2:30PM EST ESPN
When the Tar Heels travel to Death Valley to take on the Clemson Tigers, one prospect that Steelers fans should keep an eye on for North Carolina is LB #33 Cedric Gray. The 6-3, 233-pound senior has the frame of an NFL off-ball linebacker as well as the production over the last two seasons in college. He racked up 144 total tackles last season for the Tar Heels and is at 96 total stops, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and three pass deflections this season. Needless to say, Gray is all over the field for the Tar Heels defense, being one of the top tacklers in college football the last two years. The quarterback of the defense, Gray figures to be a potential three-down player at the next level given his measurables and his playmaking.
For the Tigers, your attention should be directed to CB #2 Nate Wiggins. The 6-2, 185-pound junior is considered one of the top cornerback prospects in this draft class, having the size, length, and athleticism to match up with receivers on the perimeter. He also has the quickness to break on the ball quickly, using his long arms to contest passes. He held his own quite well against a talented Florida State passing attack and will look to do the same against QB Drake Maye and a high-flying Tar Heels offensive on Saturday afternoon.
#5 Washington at #11 Oregon State 7:30 PM EST ABC
The Huskies look to keep their unbeaten season alive as they travel to Oregon State to play the Beavers in a top-12 matchup. One name to keep an eye on for the Huskies is OT #55 Troy Fautanu. The 6-4, 317-pound redshirt junior became a full-time starter last season, playing 866 snaps and conceded 12 pressures, two quarterback hits, and no sacks at left tackle in 2022. Fautanu is a big-bodied blocker who can be tough to work around in pass protection while using his size to generate a good push in the run game. The Huskies’ high-flying offense will rely on Fautanu to keep QB Michael Penix clean in the pocket while carving out running lanes for RB Dillon Johnson in their prime-time matchup.
The Beavers have their own highly-touted prospect on the offensive line in OT #75 Taliese Fuaga. Fuaga is a massive human being, standing 6-6, 334 pounds, and stars at right tackle for the Beavers, being a dominating run blocker that buries opposing defensive ends and linebackers into the turf. He also is a capable pass protector, being hard to disengage from once he gets his hands on you. Fuaga is projected to be a mid-round pick right now but is quickly rising up the boards for some in the industry who think he can be a top-60 selection.