College Football
Defensive stars set to steal the spotlight in college football Week 10
College Football

Defensive stars set to steal the spotlight in college football Week 10

Updated Feb. 16, 2023 3:39 p.m. ET

Quarterbacks are the most important players on a football field, but the men who are tasked with chasing them rank a close second in the eyes of pro scouts.

Week 10 of the college football season offers a bonanza of opportunities to evaluate these players, with arguably the most gifted of the bunch — Texas Tech’s future first-round pick Tyree Wilson — headlining the action in the "Big Noon Kickoff" showdown against undefeated TCU and its own rising NFL prospect, quarterback Max Duggan

Flashy quarterbacks like Duggan and later, Heisman hopefuls Hendon Hooker (Tennessee) and Stetson Bennett (Georgia), are sure to generate buzz, but this week’s action puts some of the nation’s elite defenders on the big stage, demanding that pro scouts — and you — should be watching.

Previewing No. 7 TCU vs. Texas Tech

Joel Klatt previews No. 7 TCU vs. Texas Tech. Can Frogs quarterback Max Duggan be a Heisman contender?

Here is a breakdown of this week’s top individual matchups, with an eye toward their futures in the NFL.

Texas Tech at No. 7 TCU (noon ET; FOX and the FOX Sports app)

Football-loving Texas often produces more NFL prospects than any other state in the country, but the Red Raiders have historically lagged behind the Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies — and even Houston and TCU — when it comes to generating blue-chip talent.

The most recent and notable exception, of course, was quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was selected 10th overall in 2017 and has since become an MVP and Super Bowl champion for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Scouts currently view three players in the state likely to be among the first to hear their names called this spring — Texas running back Bijan Robinson and two standouts competing in this game, Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson and TCU wideout Quentin Johnston

At 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds with 35 5/8" arms, Wilson is the physical prototype for a modern-day pass rusher, boasting size, length and power to go with impressive burst and bend off the corner. Despite earning consistent double (and triple) teams this season, Wilson has racked up an eye-popping 51 tackles through eight games, including 11.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks. He is a constant source of harassment for opposing quarterbacks, ranking second in the country with 41 quarterback pressures. He is not as twitched up as some elite edge rushers in recent years, but is more pro-ready and versatile than some suggest due to having experience on both edges, as well as out of both the two and three-point stances.

We highlighted TCU’s equally imposing first-round candidate — the receiver Johnston — just two weeks ago, but if the hometown Horned Frogs are unable to slow down Wilson, Duggan will find it difficult to get him the ball.

Duggan has shown remarkable resilience on and off the field and possesses the dual-threat ability to keep Wilson and the Red Raiders off-balance. He is an aggressive, powerful runner with both a rifle for an arm and pillow-soft touch to take advantage of Johnston and the rest of a formidable collection of TCU pass-catchers, including 6-foot-7, 255-pound tight end Jared Wiley

Duggan looks and plays bigger than his listed 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, barreling through contact and showing toughness in and out of the pocket. Even when operating for previous defensive-minded TCU head coach Gary Patterson, Duggan showed natural playmaking ability, generating 60 touchdowns (41 passing) against just 20 interceptions while completing 59% of his passes. This season, under offensive guru Sonny Dykes, his game has leaped to a different level — 67.4% completion percentage, a sparkling 22/2 touchdown to interception ratio — to skyrocket up NFL draft boards. 

No. 1 Tennessee at No. 3 Georgia (3:30 p.m. ET)

It would be easy to keep up the quarterback conversation in this space with Tennessee’s Hooker, who is second in the Heisman race according to a survey of staffers and earns a similar rating on my personal QB draft prospect rankings. The No. 1 Volunteers are far from a one-man show, though, including in the backfield, where running backs Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright have made big impacts.

Forgive the pun, but Small has played a large part in Tennessee’s success, excelling as the lead back (in terms of carries) with 475 yards on 110 carries and a team-leading eight touchdowns on the ground. The 5-foot-11, 206-pounder has a compact frame with light feet and greasy knees to stutter-step his way to and through the line of scrimmage, alternately dashing through holes or making defenders miss with creative lateral jukes to gain his own space. The junior has two more touchdowns as a receiver and shows greater toughness in pass protection than his name and frame might suggest.

Hendon Hooker finds Jabari Small for a TD

Jabari Small scored a 16-yard touchdown against Florida earlier this season.

Wright is slightly lankier than his teammate (5-foot-11, 200 pounds). The true sophomore actually leads the Vols with 478 rushing yards (on 18 fewer carries than Small) and it is easy to understand why given Wright’s blend of burst and balance through contact. Defenders really have to wrap him up, as Wright has the agility of a gymnast on the balance beam, spinning off contact and dead-legging opponents, bouncing away on one leg to regain his momentum and dart further downfield for big plays.

Of course, Tennessee’s tandem at running back is facing the most formidable defense in the country, and the defending national champions are somehow just as talented as last season despite losing an NFL-record five defenders in the first round of the draft, including No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker

With all due respect to the rest of Georgia's deep cast, the star in the middle of Athens is Jalen Carter, who entered this year ranked second overall on my personal NFL draft Big Board.

Few 300-pounders boast Carter’s first-step quickness and agility. He combines that mobility with awesome strength to simply overwhelm would-be blockers at the point of attack. Tennessee has the skill position talent to play (and beat) anyone in the country, but its offensive line has struggled to consistently generate movement, especially along the interior. There are popcorn-worthy matchups all over the field in this contest, but none of them will matter much if the Vols can't slow down Carter inside. 

No. 6 Alabama at No. 10 LSU (7 p.m. ET)

It isn’t often that Alabama-LSU checks in third on the list of games to watch, but given that is yet another top-10 showdown pitting some of the most athletic big men in the country, it will be well worth the wait. 

After losing All-American Evan Neal to the New York Giants via the first round the draft, some wondered how Alabama might protect Bryce Young. But then the Crimson Tide lured former Vanderbilt standout Tyler Steen to take over at left tackle, and his initial quickness has actually proven to be an upgrade over Neal’s.

That isn’t to say that Steen is the same caliber of prospect as Neal. While shockingly quick off the ball in both pass protection and in the running game, Steen lacks his predecessor’s length and strength, struggling to consistently latch and control opponents.

Though the statistics do not necessarily reflect their talent, LSU features a two-headed problem at edge rusher in BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye, both of whom have the light feet and aggressive hand-play to give Steen issues.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 244 pounds (but appearing larger on tape), Ojulari is the more physical of the Tigers’ edge rushers, swiping, swimming and stabbing would-be blockers to win early in the snap, while also showing better strength for pull-down tackles than his size would suggest. 

Gaye, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound fifth-year senior, is lankier. But he uses his long arms to great effectiveness, batting down passes at the line of scrimmage and lassoing ball carriers seemingly out of his grasp. LSU rotates its rushers off either edge, and while Alabama right tackle JC Latham also will have his work cut out for him in this contest — especially given that it will be a night game in Death Valley — Steen is tasked with protecting Young’s blindside, making his matchup the one to focus on.

No. 24 Texas at No. 13 Kansas State (7 p.m. ET; FS1 and the FOX Sports app)

Running back aficionados will want to tune into this one to watch Robinson and Kansas State’s diminutive but dynamic Deuce Vaughn, each of whom has been highlighted in this space in recent weeks. 

But a bigger key to determining who wins the game could lie in whether Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers can avoid the grasp of defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, whose 7.5 sacks is tied for the most among Power 5 players.

Ewers and the visiting Longhorns will have their hands full with Anudike-Uzomah, who possesses the burst and bend to wreak havoc off the edge. At "just" 6-foot-3, 253 pounds, he does not offer the same length and power as his aforementioned Big 12 counterpart, Wilson, but he’s even more slippery, slithering through double teams as if his jersey was coated with butter.

Ewers has flashed the command and control which made him a highly-regarded prep prospect, helping throw an early scare into visiting Alabama back in Week 2. He has not thrown with the same accuracy and confidence since suffering an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against the Tide, however, missing three full games and throwing three interceptions in an ugly 49-19 loss at Oklahoma State two weeks ago.

Ewers’ arm and poise were both impressive against the Crimson Tide, but that was at home — as was every other game he’s started thus far. Fortunately for Ewers and head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Longhorns had a bye last week to regroup. They might need it with Anudike-Uzomoah looking to pad his statistics against a talented but young Texas offensive line.

Florida State at Miami (7:30 p.m. ET)

At 5-3 and 4-4, respectively, 2022 has not yet been the year Florida State and Miami fans were hoping for, but savvy scouts know the pipeline of talent to the NFL remains in full force.

"Force" is an appropriate word when discussing two of the flashier prospects for these programs, as Seminoles safety Jammie Robinson and Hurricanes’ defensive tackle Akheem Mesidor generate the kind of big plays that can push scouts to overlook their lack of ideal size.

At 5-foot-11, 199 pounds, Robinson is both shorter and slimmer than scouts would prefer, but he’s a proven playmaker dating back to his time at South Carolina. He enters this week’s rivalry game with 280 career tackles, as well as 14 passes broken up, seven interceptions (including one last year against Miami), and three forced fumbles. While smaller than preferred, he’s scrappy, playing with the tenacity and instincts to overcome his limited frame. Robinson is also a fluid athlete with good vision and ball skills, doubling as a returner early in his career and offering the NFL special teams ability.

Mesidor is also a transfer, traveling south to "The U" after previously standing out at West Virginia. At just 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds, he is even more significantly undersized for his position, but his ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage has made him quite the nuisance for opposing linemen.

Nearly a quarter of Mesidor's career tackles (95) have gone for a loss (22.5), and he is already pushing his all-time bests with eight TFLs and five sacks among 25 tackles this season. He’s cat-quick off the snap and coordinates his upper and lower body well to squeeze through gaps, tracking down ball carriers with impressive closing speed and the kind of high-revving motor that used to typify top prospects from both of these programs.

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Rob Rang is an NFL Draft analyst for FOX Sports. He has been covering the NFL Draft for more than 20 years, with work at FOX, Sports Illustrated,, USA Today, Yahoo, and, among others. He also works as a scout with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Follow him on Twitter @RobRang.


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