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9 college football players to watch in Week 1

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

While the college football season had its’ soft launch last weekend (Week 0), the high profile slate of games kicks off today with ranked teams playing tonight through the weekend. With the big name teams taking the field, top tier NFL draft prospects will get their shot at a first impression in the 2022 season. Here are some names to keep an eye on.

  • Habakkuk Baldonado, Edge, Pitt v. WVU (Thursday, 7 PM ET on ESPN): The Pitt defense features a high upside defensive lineman in Habakkuk Baldonado. The Italian native led the team in sacks last year and looks to keep taking steps forward as a more refined defender.
  • Ji’Ayir Brown, S, PSU v. Purdue (Thursday, 8 PM ET on Fox): Penn State’s defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft over the last two years, but still have a few intriguing players on the unit. Ji’Ayir was the team’s leading defensive back last year and picked off six passes. This year he can step up into a leadership role with Jaquan Brisker and Brandon Smith in the NFL.
  • Jayden Reed, WR, MSU v. WMU (Friday, 7 PM ET on ESPN): Jayden Reed is the most exciting receiver Michigan State has had in a long, long time. He is lightning in a bottle with instant speed that makes him dangerous with the ball in his hands. With Jalen Nailor in the NFL, Reed will take on an even bigger workload in the Spartan offense.
  • Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon v. UGA (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET on ABC): Noah Sewell was the leader of Oregon’s defense last year. With head coach Dan Lanning in town now, Sewell has a great opportunity to take a huge step forward as one of the nation’s best linebackers. UGA’s offense will test Sewell in every facet of defensive football.
  • Jalen Carter, DL, UGA v. Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET on ABC): On the other sideline will be Jalen Carter, one of UGA’s few returners after most of their legendary 2021 defense departed for the NFL. Carter has an extremely high ceiling as a penetrating defensive tackle. Expect him to see the field a lot against Oregon’s new look defense.
  • KJ Jefferson, QB, Arkansas v. Cincinnati (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET on ESPN): KJ Jefferson exploded last year and led Arkansas to a great season. The big armed, athletic quarterback can win through the air or on the ground. He gets to kick off his season against a feisty Cincinnati team.
  • Tavion Thomas, RB, Utah v. Florida (Saturday, 7 PM ET on ESPN): Tavion Thomas was a workhorse on Utah’s offense last year. The 230 pound back scored 21 times on the ground, punishing Pac-12 defenses with his hard running. Thomas will face down an athletic Florida defense in Utah’s opener.
  • CJ Stroud, QB, Ohio State v. Notre Dame (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET on ABC): CJ Stroud had a fantastic 2021 season. The big armed quarterback thrived in an offense with NFL talent at every position. With two of his top receivers from last year in the NFL now, Stroud will have to take a big step toward being an NFL ready quarterback. Tomorrow will be his firing shot in the race for QB1 in the 2023 draft.
  • Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame v. Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET on ABC): Notre Dame continues a long standing tradition of excellence at the Tight End position with Michael Mayer. Mayer is a big, athletic target who is a refined route runner with soft hands. He could be one of the highest profile pass catchers in the country this year.

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