Prospect Profile

2023 Prospect Profile: CB Deonte Banks

Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions for analysts to evaluate from the college to professional levels, especially once you get past the first few names on the board. That’s currently where Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks sits: in that danger zone that normally falls from the middle to the end of the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Banks is a hometown kid, going to Edgewood High School (Maryland), about an hour north of the University of Maryland. He was a three-star athlete that, despite some impressive play-making ability, struggled to attract much attention on the recruiting circuit. He didn’t receive his first offers until just after his junior season when he received interest from a number of Division II and FCS schools, eventually attracting the attention of a couple of Group of 5 schools like Buffalo and Kent State. Just before his senior season, Banks got the dream offer from his home-state school. He committed two weeks later.

Banks became an earlier contributor for the Terrapins as a freshman, making 28 tackles and tallying one interception and two passes defensed while starting eight of 11 games. He returned as a starter in 2020, but due to the COVID-shortened nature of the season, he was only able to make three starts in five games. His junior season was cut short, as well, when he suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery in just his second start of the season.

Coming back from the long-term injury, Banks shined in his return to the field as a redshirt junior. He reached career highs in total tackles (38) and passes defensed (9) while adding on another interception, half of a sack, and half of a tackle for a loss. He had perhaps his strongest game under the brightest lights, limiting Ohio State’s star receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. to five catches for 68 yards and no touchdowns. In that game, Banks tallied two pass breakups and blocked an extra point that got returned by a teammate for a defensive two-point conversion.

There are a couple parts of his game that could cause him to struggle in the NFL. A lack of production isn’t uncommon in college football, where the easiest way to avoid turnovers is to not target the opposing team’s best corner, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Banks only recorded two interceptions during his four years in College Park. He’s not too far behind the draft’s top corners in that regard, though. Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez only had four interceptions, with all of them coming this season. Devon Witherspoon out of Illinois has five interceptions even though he had zero in two of his four seasons of play. Joey Porter Jr. at Penn State had even less that Banks, recording only one interception in four years.

Besides that, Banks is physical, which defensive coaches love, until they don’t. If he draws too much attention at the NFL level with his aggression on defense, he’ll be the target of quite a few penalties, which are much more costly in the NFL than in college.

On the positive side, though, Banks has an ideal frame, matching size, strength, and speed. He uses his aggression to perfection to slow receivers off the line of scrimmage then uses quick hips and smooth footwork to trail receivers relentlessly. He could do a better job of reading between the quarterback and receiver, usually focusing only on the receiver, but he reads the receiver with impressive consistency and does a good job playing through their hands. He utilizes his aggression just as successfully on run plays and special teams and has the relentless motor needed for both.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which team may end up selecting Banks, as pretty much any team could use more depth at cornerback, besides maybe the Dolphins, but it’s hard to imagine Banks slipping out of the first round with how many playoff teams in the back half of the first round desperately need help at cornerback. The Steelers would love a young Day 1 starter opposite Patrick Peterson. The Giants need someone to hold down the other side opposite Adoree’ Jackson. The Vikings are short on big names at the position, as well. I imagine Banks would love nothing more than to continue putting on for his city and playing for the nearby Ravens, who need someone opposite Marlon Humphrey with Marcus Peters still on the free agent market.

So far, there’s been no shortage of interest in Banks. All four of the above-mentioned teams, and an impressive 11 more, have met with the 22-year-old. It seems the biggest indicator for when he will be picked is going to be when the cornerbacks ranked above him get drafted. If Gonzalez and Witherspoon get selected relatively early, the teams in the late 20s likely won’t see Banks on the board. But if the draft is slow to cornerbacks, Banks could find himself in a pivotal role for a playoff contender.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: TCU WR Quentin Johnston

We all know the recent history of drafting TCU wide receivers, especially in the first round. Since 2000, only Jeremy Kerley has surpassed 600 yards receiving in a season, while former first round picks Josh Doctson and Jalen Reagor both failed to finish out their rookie contracts with the teams that drafted them. Doctson was released just before his fourth year in the league, while Reagor was traded around the same time last year. The latest Horned Frog to attempt to erase the dreadful history of receivers out of Fort Worth is junior wideout Quentin Johnston.

Johnston was a consensus four-star wide receiver out of Temple High School (Texas) in the Class of 2020. After initially committing to Texas before his senior year, Johnston would eventually flip to TCU after the dismissal of Longhorns wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer. With Reagor leaving for the NFL, a spot at the top of the depth chart was wide open for the taking.

Johnston earned a starting role in Fort Worth immediately as a freshman, leading the team with 487 receiving yards and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. As a sophomore, he would earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after leading the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Then, this past year, Johnston lead the Horned Frogs in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns en route to his second straight year on the All-Big 12 first team. Over his three-year career at TCU, Johnston totaled 115 catches for 2,190 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Among the other top receiver prospects, Johnston reigns as the biggest of the bunch, establishing himself physically as a potential WR1. His size obviously assists him, with length and strength inherent in his frame, but it doesn’t keep him from being as agile as the smaller receivers in the draft. Johnston used his burst and acceleration to rank second in the nation in yards after catch per reception. His combination of size and elusiveness make him one of the tougher receivers to bring down after the catch. Before the catch, he has great awareness to track the ball and use his leaping ability and body control to make grabs.

The biggest problem showing up on Johnston’s film is drops. Whether it’s a lack of confidence in his hands that results in inconsistent body-catching or a lack of focus as he fails to secure the ball before turning his eyes upfield to run, drops plagued Johnston in 2022. Luckily, drops have been a bit of an issue for the rest of the receivers expected to be first-rounders, as well, making his eight drops hurt a little less. Boston College’s Zay Flowers surpassed Johnston with nine drops of his own this year. Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba dropped six passes in his only full season of play. USC’s Jordan Addison only had two this year but had 21 during his two years at Pittsburgh. Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt may be the exception of the group, with only eight drops in his collegiate career, but five of those came in 2022.

Looking past the drops, Johnston has only a few other things to work on. Tight hips and a lack of variety at TCU mean that he has some work to do on route-running. Also, despite his size, Johnston didn’t have the best track record with contested catches.

Plenty of teams have done their homework on Johnston. So far, in the pre-draft process, Johnston has met with or planned to meet with the Giants, Ravens, Chiefs, Cowboys, Cardinals, Falcons, Vikings, Jaguars, and Titans. Basically, any team looking to add some size to their receiving corps has done some research on Johnston.

The 21-year-old makes a lot of sense for that purpose. The disastrous history of TCU wideouts going pro and Johnston’s drops will be overlooked fairly easily. Not only will teams overlook them because of his size but because he uses his athleticism to blend that size congruously with speed and strength. He’s almost certain to hear his name on Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft later this month, but at what point in the night he is selected has yet to be determined.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker

We’ve already seen plenty of reports on the 2023 NFL Draft class’s top passing prospects. After the expected first-rounders (Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, and Kentucky’s Will Levis), nearly all other quarterback prospects aren’t expected to hear their names until Day 3 of the draft. The exception to that statement is Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, considered one of the draft’s top passers who shouldn’t be available for long, if at all, after the first 31 picks.

Hooker is one of the older quarterbacks in the draft, graduating from Dudley High School (NC) back in 2017. Considered a Top 247 player and the fifth-ranked dual-threat quarterback by 247Sports, Hooker initially committed to Virginia Tech a few weeks after receiving an offer and stuck with the Hokies despite some late flirting with Oregon.

In Blacksburg, Hooker competed with redshirt freshman Josh Jackson for the starting job at quarterback before redshirting, himself. In 2018, he would sit once again behind Kansas transfer Ryan Willis. The next year, Hooker would finally get an opportunity to start for the Hokies after a disappointing start to the season for Willis. With Hooker behind center, Virginia Tech rebounded to find their way to a bowl game thanks to Hooker’s 1,555 passing yards, 18 total touchdowns, and only two interceptions. Hooker returned as the starter in 2020 but only appeared in eight of 11 possible games. Overall, during his career with the Hokies, Hooker completed 63.1-percent of his passes for 2,894 yards, 22 touchdowns, and seven interceptions over 21 total games, adding 1,033 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.

Seeking greener pastures, Hooker transferred to Tennessee with many thinking he would back up Joe Milton, the Michigan transfer who was widely expected to take over after the departure of Jarrett Guarantano. An early injury to Milton, though, opened the door for Hooker to take the reins, and Hooker didn’t look back. A breakout season saw Hooker throw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns to just three interceptions, adding 616 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He utilized his extra COVID year of eligibility to return in 2022. Playing in two fewer games due to an ACL tear that ended his final year early, Hooker threw for 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, adding 430 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

The late-season ACL tear obviously hurts his draft stock, but maybe not quite as much as you might think. The 25-year-old was already likely expected to need some development after playing in Josh Heupel‘s extremely quarterback-friendly offense in Knoxville. His jump in success from Virginia Tech to Tennessee could be a result of the Volunteers’ offense that included mostly play action passes that had largely predetermined targets.

The convenient offense affected his ability to make reads which led to frequent checkdowns when his initial reads weren’t there. When he didn’t immediately check down, any hint of pressure would push him out of the pocket. While finding success on rollouts and scrambles, it did lead to a worrying 39 fumbles over his college career.

Additionally, his knee might not be the only concern health-wise. A potential heart condition was discovered when undergoing tests after a positive COVID test, according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. The condition was determined to be a “false alarm” as a result of a procedure, but Hooker later suffered a convulsive episode that he blamed on medication from the heart procedure.

Looking past all that, Hooker was dominant at Tennessee. He took advantage of the quarterback-friendly offense for a masterfully efficient 58 touchdowns to five interceptions. He has a strong arm and touch that makes him a phenomenal deep ball passer. He didn’t rely on it in college, but he has an instinctive ability in the open field, utilizing agility, elusiveness, and toughness. Heupel lauded him as a hard worker and a strong leader, as well.

There’s a lot to like about Hooker’s long-term upside. His mental development over his collegiate career bodes well for his ability to attack the learning-curve he’ll face in the NFL. He boasts some strong tools, as well, that will come in handy when he does catch up to the professional game. As long as health is of no concern, there’s no reason that Hooker can’t develop into a starter at the NFL-level.

So who will take a chance on Hooker? As a bit of a project with recent health issues, it will likely be a team with a short-term or unproven situation at quarterback in 2023. Think the Commanders (Sam Howell), the Falcons (Desmond Ridder), the Colts (Gardner Minshew, Nick Foles), or the Texans (Davis Mills). The Ravens might even be a possibility with the current uncertainty surrounding Lamar Jackson.

While many expect him to fall to the second round, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see a team trade up to the back of the first round as Baltimore did with Jackson in 2018. The extra fifth-year option could prove useful if Hooker sits for a year or two. Even if that’s not how it plays out, Hooker likely won’t sit around for long into Day 2. We’ll find out in just under two weeks from now.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson

At the beginning of the 2021-22 college football season, no one expected hometown Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson to become a favorite for the No.1 overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. Months later and days away from the first round of the Draft, Hutchinson is almost certainly one of four prospects being considered by Jacksonville for the honor of No.1 draft pick. 

Hutchinson was a consensus four-star recruit at Divine Child HS in Dearborn, MI. His recruitment process was drama-free as he decided to attend nearby University of Michigan, the alma mater of his father, Chris Hutchinson, who played for the Wolverines back from 1989-92. Aidan appeared in every game of his freshman and sophomore year, breaking out a bit as a starter his second season with 68 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 10.0 tackles for loss, adding four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Hutchinson was set to start for the second straight year opposite Kwity Paye for the COVID-shortened season, before his year came to an early end after suffering a fracture in his leg that would require season-ending surgery.

Coming into his senior year, Hutchinson had 98 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 11.5 tackles for loss, adding seven quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles to the stat line for his career. The numbers are nothing to scoff at, especially when you consider that most of them are solely from his sophomore year, but, still, no one really put Hutchinson in the same realm as the expected first overall pick at the time, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Fast-forward now to the end of Hutchinson’s senior season. Hutchinson set a school record with 14.0 sacks in a single season, more than tripling his output from his first three years combined. He tacked on 62 tackles and led the teams in tackles for loss and quarterback hurries with 16.5 and 12, respectively. After a dominant performance versus rival Ohio State that saw the 21-year-old tally 3.0 sacks and 3.0 tackles for loss, Hutchinson shot up draft boards, pushing what was likely a first-round selection into conversations for the No. 1 overall selection.

When it was all said and done, after the season and the Combine and the pro day, Aidan Hutchinson sat atop the Draft prospect rankings of both Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network and Dane Brugler of The Athletic. Hutchinson is built to be a pass-rusher. He’s extremely strong with quick feet and efficient hand use. He knows he can win relatively easily at the college level, so he tends to tolerate a bit more contact than is necessary, something he’ll need to avoid at the next level using the multitude of pass-rushing moves at his disposal. He’s a weight room warrior, but likely won’t be able to add much more weight at the next level. He’s probably maxed out his size. He has a high motor and quick recognition, but his instincts in the running game can hurt him occasionally. He’s often posed as a slightly lesser version of the Bosa brothers with a bit less bend.

Hutchinson attended this year’s Heisman ceremony, but left empty-handed. He’ll be in Las Vegas this Thursday and is sure to leave this time with a brand new jersey and hat. The odds of them being teal, black, and gold are extremely high, and, if they are, he may just be on a mission to reinstitute the moniker of “Sacksonville.”

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux

Long considered the favorite to be chosen No. 1 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft, Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is feeling some momentum behind his name again, according to ESPN’s Matt Miller. The 21-year-old, who Miller said is the first or second defensive end on most teams’ boards, will travel to Vegas next week with expectations of hearing his name early into the night. 

Thibodeaux was a consensus five-star recruit coming out of Oaks Christian HS just outside of Los Angeles. Considered by many as the second-best defensive end in the class at the time, Thibodeaux reserved his time for only the best, taking official visits to Alabama, Oregon, Florida, and Florida State, with FSU getting a little help from then-head coach Willie Taggart, who recruited Thibodeaux during his time at Oregon. Thibodeaux signed and enrolled early at Oregon, becoming the gem of a top-ten recruiting class for the Ducks.

In three years in Eugene, Thibodeaux did exactly as he was recruited to do, leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss all three seasons. He finished his career with 19.0 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss, only failing to amass double-digit TFLs in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, when he had 9.5 through seven games. He also added 14 quarterback hurries over his career, leading the team last year with 8.

In early February, Thibodeaux started to see his draft stock affected in a way not uncommon to Oregon alumni. In an interview with Bleacher Report, as reported by Paul Kasabian, ESPN’s Todd McShay spouted his opinions on the top prospect saying, “I heard a lot about Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, including concerns that he just doesn’t play with the same fire as some other top prospects…it wouldn’t shock me if Thibodeaux fell out of the top five.”

These questions of effort and maturity are concerns that were draped on former Oregon draft picks Justin Herbert (Bleacher Report’s Michael Weinreb) and Penei Sewell (James Crepea of The Oregonian) as they were preparing to enter the league, as well. Whether warranted or not, those concerns didn’t stop Herbert or Sewell from becoming top-ten draft picks who have excelled so far in their young NFL careers.

Thibodeaux’s success has a ton to do with his power and strength. He moves off the snap with ferocity, usually granting him the advantage in setting the edge on run plays or bull-rushing on pass plays. He makes quick, decisive moves at the line of scrimmage and shows an impressive pursuit speed, both attributes that contributed to his impressive tackle for loss numbers. His speed and strength off the ball certainly help give him good pass-rushing tools, but he needs to improve his technique to become a consistent threat to the quarterback. If he can develop and incorporate some hand usage and bend into his arsenal, Thibodeaux could be dominant at the next level. For now, his punch-and-extend, bull-rush, and shoulder-dip moves should be plenty serviceable against NFL tackles.

His fall down draft boards was reflected in the analyst rankings with Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network ranking Thibodeaux as the 10th best overall prospect and Dane Brugler of The Athletic slotting him in at 8th overall. Both analysts have Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson ranked above him at 1st overall. Hutchinson’s dominant performance against Ohio State late in the season was a large component in supplanting Thibodeaux as the Draft’s top prospect. They also have Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker slotted above Thibodeaux, but Walker doesn’t necessarily play the same role on the defensive line as Thibodeaux. Jeremiah also puts Walker’s former teammate, Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson II, over Thibodeaux, while Brugler slots Johnson II a few spots behind the Oregon defender.

As the Draft draws ever nearer, predictions have become murkier and murkier. Once hailed as a future No.1 draft pick, some mock drafts have Thibodeaux falling deeper into the top ten. Miller’s tweet at the beginning of this article seems to indicate that teams are coming back around on the Oregon Duck with his name being grouped in the top five with Hutchinson, Walker, Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal, and NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. Regardless, it seems almost guaranteed that we’ll hear the commissioner call Thibodeaux’s name, position, and school within the first ten picks on Thursday night.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Liberty QB Malik Willis

The story of Malik Willis is the story of a second chance, the story of finding where you fit best. After making a move that most would’ve viewed as a demotion or a resignation that the NFL was not in his future, Willis proved the doubters wrong and became one of the Draft’s most sought-after quarterbacks from the smallest of stages. 

Willis came out of Roswell HS in Atlanta as a consensus three-star athlete. His recruitment was fairly quiet, as he only received offers from fourteen schools with only three of them being from Power 5 conferences. Willis didn’t receive much attention until the offseason after his junior year and he committed to Virginia Tech that summer. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Auburn made a late push for Willis, flipping him in late December, a week before he arrived on campus in Alabama as an early-enrollee.

Willis spent two years at Auburn backing up Jarrett Stidham. In a recent interview with Tzvi Machlin of Sports Illustrated, Willis admitted that his immaturity at the time likely kept him from succeeding at Auburn. After two years, he decided to transfer and found his way to joining Hugh Freeze at Liberty University, a school that had only joined the FBS ranks two years prior.

After sitting out for a year, due to transfer rules, Willis was named the team’s starting quarterback and decided to set the college football world on fire. In his first season at the helm of the Flames’ offense, Willis had eye-popping numbers, despite the COVID-shortened season. In ten games, Willis completed 64.2% of his passes for 2,250 yards, tossing 20 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He tacked on a casual 944 yards rushing, nearly averaging 100 yards per game, along with 14 additional touchdowns on the ground. The Flames were ranked as high as 21 throughout the season with their only loss being a one-point road defeat at NC State. In their bowl game, they were matched up with fellow small-market phenom Coastal Carolina in an exciting overtime affair that left Willis victorious over the Chanticleers.

Willis decided to return for his redshirt-senior year and led the Flames to an impressive 8-5 against a tougher schedule than the prior year. Despite constant pressure from a less than reliable offensive line, Willis put up career passing numbers throwing for 2,857 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He again added a huge component on the ground, racking up 878 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.

The obvious asset that Willis brings to the table over the other quarterbacks in the Draft is his legs. He has a quick burst and excellent vision on designed runs and options. The Cardinals, Ravens, 49ers, and plenty of other teams have shown that an offense that incorporates run-pass-option plays (RPOs) can have a ton of success in the NFL if you have a quarterback who can run it effectively.

That being said, Willis is a quarterback, and a good one at that. He’s impressed NFL teams in meetings with his intelligence and ability to pick up on NFL concepts. He has elite arm strength and flashes the ability to fit the ball in tight windows. There are some technique/coaching issues that may help him improve his consistency and touch. He can take some gas off the ball effectively but needs to improve the arch he puts in the ball’s flight. There are quite a few things for Willis to improve on, but he has so many tools already that the potential from these improvements gives him the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft.

It’s become a popular thought around the league that two quarterbacks will be taken in the Top 10 picks of the Draft with their likely destinations being with the Falcons, Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Willis ranked as the 27th best overall prospect in the Draft and Dane Brugler of The Athletic has Willis just behind fellow quarterback prospect Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh at 32nd. Despite ranking behind Pickett in both rankings, most analysts agree that Willis has the higher ceiling of the two and, due to his potential, Willis has every right to expect to be the first quarterback taken off the board later this month.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett

Kenny Pickett‘s status as one of the top quarterback prospects available in the 2022 NFL Draft is the result of hard work and an example of taking advantage of every opportunity presented. He will have a chance to continue overachieving later this month when he is likely to hear his name called early on the first night of the Draft. 

Pickett will watching the Draft with his family and fiancé from his hometown in New Jersey. Jersey was where it all started for Pickett, a consensus three-star recruit from Ocean Township HS. Despite ranking as 247Sports’ 10th-best pro-style quarterback of the 2017 class (33rd-ranked pro-style quarterback in the site’s composite rankings), Pickett only fielded offers from eleven schools, only four of them from a Power 5 Conference. He received his first offer from nearby Temple shortly following his sophomore year of high school, but, not content with only one scholarship offer, Pickett attended several camps starting with in-state Rutgers and branching out to several ACC schools like Boston College, Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia.

After receiving more offers from the likes of Toledo, Monmouth, Buffalo, Texas State, UConn, and Coastal Carolina, Pickett made the decision to commit to the first school that offered him and joined the Owls’ 2017 class. About a month later, following the conclusion of his junior year, his first Power 5 offers came in from Boston College and then Pittsburgh, about two weeks apart. Five days later, Pickett de-committed from Temple, intrigued by the momentum of larger schools. Three days after opening up his recruitment, Pickett took his first unofficial visit of the summer to Pitt. He returned two weeks later and the Panthers landed a commitment from the rising-junior. Pickett graduated high school early and enrolled at Pitt in January of 2017, eager to get to work.

Pickett spent most of his freshman season on the bench behind starter Ben DiNucci and backup Max Browne, who transferred in from USC. He made his debut late in a Week 6 loss to Syracuse and appeared twice more for late relief work in losses to NC State and Virginia Tech. With the season all but over and Pittsburgh sitting at 4-7 going into a season finale against the ACC Coastal Champion Miami Hurricanes, who were ranked #2 in the College Football Playoff rankings at the time, Pickett became the first true freshman to start a game for Pittsburgh at quarterback since Pat Bostick in 2007. Pickett ruined Miami’s victory lap finale completing 62.1% of his passes for 193 yards and a touchdown while adding 60 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 24-14 upset of the second-ranked Hurricanes in his first start.

Pickett took that starting opportunity and never relinquished it, returning to start every game of his sophomore season and leading the Panthers to their first ever ACC Coastal Championship with a 7-5 regular season record (6-2 in the ACC). Pickett’s stats didn’t jump off the page as he only threw for 1,969 yards, throwing 12 touchdowns to 6 interceptions.

Pickett took a large step forward in his development in his junior season with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple increasing the emphasis on the Panthers’ passing attack. The Panthers once again finished the regular season 7-5, but this time with Pickett throwing for 3,098 yards with 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In Pickett’s COVID-shortened senior year, he put up similar production with 2,408 yards and the exact same number of touchdowns and picks as the previous year in three fewer games.

Due to COVID-19, Pickett was given the rare opportunity to return for one more year of eligibility, and it was easily the best decision of his career to do so. Pickett had a prolific season, leading the Panthers to their first ever ACC Championship. He was named a first-team All-American and finished 3rd in Heisman voting. Pickett’s statistics in his last year exploded off the page as he threw for 4,319 yards with 42 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, adding 233 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground.

Pickett now enters the Draft as one of the top quarterback prospects on the board, commonly grouped with Liberty’s Malik Willis as one of the top-2. Pickett has a lot of variables that NFL teams covet: ideal size, excellent accuracy and anticipation, and impressive athleticism that allows him to escape trouble. He can throw from multiple arm angles, something that’s become popular in the NFL lately, and is comfortable throwing on the move. He has a tendency to get antsy and throw the ball before getting his feet set, which can affect ball-placement, and some in NFL circles have talked about his hand size and the fact that he throws with gloves on. It’s a fun news story, but most people in those circles do not view his hands as an issue, as the acceptable NFL ball size-range largely overlaps with the NCAA ball size-range and shouldn’t affect his ability too much at the next level.

It’s looking more and more likely that at least two quarterbacks will be taken in the Top 10 picks of the Draft with their likely destinations being with the Falcons, Panthers, Giants, or Seahawks. The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Pickett ranked as the 24th best overall prospect in his rankings and The Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Pickett at 31st overall. Pickett should get used to the idea of being a first-round draft pick, as it is all but certain at this point, and might want to start trying out the moniker of “Top-10 draft pick,” as that’s looking more and more likely every day.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Arkansas WR Treylon Burks

Treylon Burks has spent his entire life living in Arkansas. The kid is Arkansas born and raised. After only three years of play at the University of Arkansas, NFL teams are dying to give Burks his first home outside of The Natural State. 

Burks left Warren High School as the top-ranked player in the state, despite missing most of his senior season due to a torn ACL. The multi-sport athlete signed to continue his education in-state and made an immediate impact. As a true freshman, Burks gave the Razorbacks 475 yards receiving. Although, Burks is a big-body receiver (measured at 6’2″ and 225 lb. this weekend in Indianapolis), the freshman was so explosive in the open field that his coaches gave him kick- and punt-returner duties. Burks took the opportunity and ran with it, being named 2nd Team All-Sec as a return specialist his freshman year.

In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Burks broke out in a big way, racking up 820 yards and 7 touchdowns in only 8 games. With all eyes on him and expectations sky-high for the 2021 college season, Burks soared. Despite constant double-teams as the only perceived receiving threat for the Razorbacks, Burks still managed to catch 66 balls for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns. He even managed to add on 112 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown to the ledger.

As a pro, Burks screams No. 1 receiver material. He has the physical, big body to dominate in jump ball scenarios along with run-after-catch ability to be a threat outside the red-zone, as well. He tracks and adjusts to the ball well in the air and his catch radius will give his future quarterback a bit of leeway to just throw the ball in his general direction. His versatility from college with returns and some rushing attempts have appropriately earned him multiple comparisons to a big-bodied Deebo Samuel.

In The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s prospect position rankings from December, Burks was listed as the third best receiver behind Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson and Alabama’s Jameson Williams. Many mock drafts see Burks as the second or third wide receiver generally taken off the board behind Wilson and USC’s Drake London. Burks is nearly a consensus first round pick, with many evaluators predicting him to gone by the second half of the first round.

Regardless of when he gets picked up, the lack of any NFL teams in Arkansas guarantees that Burks will soon be heading for a new destination. Whichever team gives him a call on draft night is going to receive an NFL-ready, Day 1 starter ready to compete with NFL corners. Look for teams who currently lack a true No. 1 receiver to pull the trigger somewhere in the middle of the first round, if not earlier.

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Utah LB Devin Lloyd

Devin Lloyd is what happens when hidden talent works hard to shine. Lloyd was a 3-star recruit out of Otay Ranch High School where he had to play not only offense and defense but special teams, as well. His tape at safety, wide receiver, and punter earned him one Power Five offer: Utah. He chose to make the move to Salt Lake City, committing to Utah over UNLV, Colorado State, Sacramento State, San Jose State, and Utah State. 

From there, Lloyd took the long way to the NFL. He redshirted his true freshman year and spent most of his redshirt-freshman year on special teams. As a redshirt-sophomore, Lloyd earned a starting spot at rover and led the team in tackles. Over Utah’s five-game 2020 season and full return to football in 2021, Lloyd never relinquished the title as the Utes’ lead tackler while moving to the team’s mac (middle) linebacker position. Over his last three years with the team, Lloyd tallied 249 tackles over 33 games, adding 43.0 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks.

It’s easy to see that Lloyd lit up the stat sheet as he gained more and more experience leading the defense. It’s harder to understand when watching his film. Lloyd’s defensive approach in a bit unorthodox. Film-watchers will note his inconsistency diagnosing plays or his sometimes indirect flow to the ball. Call it luck, call it instinct, call it raw talent, but despite those technical red flags, Lloyd’s production is consistent and dominant. The best comparison for this phenomenon that comes to mind is an offensive prospect from a few years back. Between his game film and horrible performance at the NFL Combine, Orlando Brown Jr. had scouts raising questions over the tackle’s technique. He dominated at the college level, but was the switch to the big leagues going to overwhelm his poor technique? Brown is currently the only offensive tackle to make the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons. I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect similar success for Lloyd.

Despite his inconsistencies in technique and reading the offense, Devin Lloyd dominates. He’s an incredibly physical, every down linebacker. His wide frame and aggression make him hard to shake and, if you happen to sneak by him, he has great burst to pursue. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah called him “an angry missile with long arms.”

Lloyd tops The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s positional rankings for linebackers. In Brugler’s updated Top 100 big board, Lloyd sits near the top as the seventh overall player available in the 2022 NFL Draft. In mock drafts, Lloyd’s gone anywhere from 7th to the Giants to 9th to the Broncos to 14th to the Eagles.

Lloyd is a sure Day One-pick that will immediately be on watchlists for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The redshirt-senior from Utah will be ready to take his experience leading the Utes’ and use it to become the focal point of one lucky franchise’s defense.

PFR’s 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Profile Series

In the lead-up to the 2021 NFL Draft, we’re taking a closer look at some of the brightest stars in this year’s class. There’s more to come, but here’s a look at our Prospect Profile series thus far: