Week 8 of the 2023 college football season had a little bit of everything. Ohio State held off Penn State. Virginia upset North Carolina. Alabama got revenge on Tennessee after last season's loss. Utah handed USC its second straight loss. Minnesota had a controversial win over Iowa. And Oklahoma just managed to sneak past UCF. But how did the top draft prospects look during Saturday's action?
NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Matt Miller, Jordan Reid and Steve Muench answered big draft-related questions coming out of the weekend's slate, focusing in on the interesting cornerback class. Miller picked out prospects rising after Saturday's action, and Reid identified players currently flying under the radar who could get a draft stock boost with more high-level play. Muench broke down a key highlight that is making him go back to the tape for more evaluation, and Kiper turned the page to Week 9 with a few things to watch for next weekend. Finally, our analysts emptied their notebooks with everything they saw and heard over this past weekend.
Who is CB1? | Sleeper corners
Risers | Under the radar | Back to the tape
Week 9 lookahead | Latest draft buzz, notes
Who is your No. 1 cornerback in the class?
Miller: Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama. I'm sticking with the cornerback who started the season as my top player at the position. No, McKinstry hasn't been perfect, but no cornerback in this class is standing out like Sauce Gardner did in his final year (No. 4 pick in 2022), and I haven't really seen a true riser like Devon Witherspoon (No. 5 pick in 2023). McKinstry is simply the best of what looks like an average group.
He has playmaking instincts, really good length at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds and plenty of quickness. McKinstry is my No. 12 overall player in the class and projects well as a man coverage corner at the next level.
Kiper: Cooper DeJean, Iowa. I really think his tape is the best in this class, and he has elite physical tools that NFL coaches will love to work with. Over the past two seasons, DeJean has been targeted 88 times as the nearest defender in coverage, and he has given up one touchdown on those throws while having seven interceptions. At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, he's physical in press coverage, and he can play off receivers and break on the ball to get in front of it. He can play outside or in the slot, too.
DeJean also is a tremendous punt returner -- he had a potential game winner taken off the board Saturday against Minnesota -- which shows that he's just a playmaker. No other cornerback in the 2024 class has played as well as DeJean the past two seasons.
Muench: Nate Wiggins, Clemson. He has the length to get his hands on receivers and the speed to stay in phase in press coverage. Plus, Wiggins is scheme-versatile with the strength and balance to match up with bigger receivers. He's smooth changing directions, especially for a taller corner (6-foot-2, 185 pounds).
Wiggins has two career interceptions, but he returned both for touchdowns. He has the frame to compete for 50-50 balls and can make it difficult for receivers to finish catches by ripping through their hands at the catch point. I also love the effort and technique he showed chasing down Miami's Brashard Smith and forcing a fumble at the goal line on Saturday.
Reid: McKinstry. The flash plays catch your eye on a weekly basis (three pass breakups this season), and he has an NFL-ready frame for an outside corner and the movement skills to match. McKinstry has been the most consistent of this year's corner class, but his technique still needs some work.
How many cornerbacks will go in Round 1?
Kiper: I'm going to say three, with the potential for one more, matching the total from the past two draft classes. DeJean and McKinstry are in. Wiggins is my fourth-ranked corner, but he'll be right there in the discussion, too. And then there's Penn State's Kalen King, who had a tough day against Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. on Saturday, but I can't hold that against him ... because Harrison knocks every corner down a peg. King is still a really good player, though I gave his former teammate Joey Porter Jr. a higher grade, and Porter ended up going with the first pick of Round 2 in April.
The reality is cornerbacks are incredibly valuable in the modern NFL, and a few could rise based on their performances at postseason all-star games, the combine and pro days. Teams always overdraft based on physical tools, hoping they can mold a talent.
Who is a sleeper corner who could rise over the next few months?
Reid: Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri. Abrams-Draine has been consistent in coverage this season, showing a knack for finding the ball. He has an interception in four of his past six games, and at 5-foot-11, 178 pounds, he has the versatility to play inside at nickel or outside. Because of that experience at both spots, Abrams-Draine could be a top-100 pick, and I've heard "third round" consistently when discussing his projection with scouts. Opponents have been limited to a 0.8 QBR when targeting him this season, second best in the FBS.
Kiper: Mike Sainristil, Michigan. He's not the biggest (5-foot-10, 182 pounds), and he's not the fastest, but he just makes plays out of the slot. Here's his stat line from the past two seasons: 81 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 4 interceptions and 10 pass breakups. The converted receiver is always around the football, and coach Jim Harbaugh raves about him. NFL teams are always looking for slot corners, and Sainristil could be an instant contributor.
Miller: Denzel Burke, Ohio State. Burke jumped onto the scene with an awesome freshman year in 2021 (10 pass breakups, one interception) but struggled last season with inconsistent tape when asked to be a true CB1 (five pass breakups, zero interceptions). Burke has rebounded in 2023 and is showing consistent technique and timing in coverage. He has one INT on the season, and while he is outside my top 100 right now, Burke is moving up each week. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior is one of the best-kept secrets at the position in this class.
Muench: Kamal Hadden, Tennessee. An ascending player, Hadden is really good at reading receivers' breaks, getting his eyes on the quarterback and breaking on the ball in off-coverage. His length allows him to disrupt receivers getting off the line in press and break up passes. He has three picks this season and flashes the ability to pluck the ball out of the air. His 6-foot-1, 197-pound frame, great instincts and solid ball skills have earned him an early-Day 3 grade at this point in the process, but he has the potential to continue to climb boards.
Miller's draft risers from Week 8
J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan
It wasn't a pretty week for the top quarterbacks -- USC's Caleb Williams, North Carolina's Drake Maye and Washington's Michael Penix Jr. all struggled, and Texas' Quinn Ewers left the game against Houston with a shoulder injury. But McCarthy put on a clinic against Michigan State in a 49-0 rout. He won't wow you with arm talent or running ability, but he's incredibly accurate and efficient with the football. He threw for four touchdown passes and 287 yards on a 21-of-27 day while showing more arm strength and velocity than I had previously seen.
McCarthy seems to be settling into the Michigan scheme and is improving weekly. I currently have a late-Round 1 grade on him.
Chris Braswell, EDGE, Alabama
We've talked a lot about Dallas Turner, the other Alabama pass-rusher, but Braswell also has first-round potential. He put together another dominant performance against Tennessee on Saturday with two sacks. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior has power and quickness to stun offensive tackles, and he already has 6.5 sacks this year. He has gone from a Day 3 projection to start the season to a top-50 ranking today.
Devontez Walker, WR, North Carolina
Jordan highlighted him last week, and it has been so great to see Walker on the field after he was unable to start the season on time due to NCAA transfer rules. He has played in only three games so far, but he now has back-to-back weeks with over 130 yards receiving and has four touchdowns on the year. Walker, a 6-foot-3 junior, has top-50 talent and should be a top-two-round prospect for 2024.
Reid's draft sleepers to keep an eye on
Landon Jackson, EDGE, Arkansas
Jackson blew me away last week with 3.5 sacks against Alabama, and while he didn't have a sack against Mississippi State on Saturday, he created a lot of pressure and consistently forced Mike Wright to get the ball out quickly. At 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds, Jackson has high-end pass-rush tools that should translate to the next level. He still needs to gain weight to build out his frame, but the Day 3 prospect has pre-draft riser potential.
Daequan Hardy, CB, Penn State
Coming into Saturday, Hardy allowed only a 15.3% completion percentage on throws into his coverage, the best mark in the FBS. And with three pass breakups against the Buckeyes, his reactionary quickness and ability to make plays on the ball jumped out.
At 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, Hardy is strictly an inside corner, but the potential Day 3 selection has the makings of a quick contributor at the next level.
Quinyon Mitchell, CB, Toledo
An area scout mentioned Mitchell to me over the summer as a prospect to watch after his four-interception performance against Northern Illinois last season put him on the national radar. Mitchell has remained a steady presence in the Rockets' secondary, and at 6 feet, 196 pounds, he's one of the best Group of 5 prospects in this year's draft class. Because of his size and ball production, many evaluators believe Mitchell could be taken in the top 100. But scouts also want to see him during the all-star game circuit, which could spark a rise.
Muench's Week 8 highlight that is sending him back to the tape
Virginia receiver Malik Washington make game-winning touchdown catch
Washington is a threat after the catch, and he shows great determination and contact balance for his size (5-foot-8, 194 pounds) on this play. It's subtle, but you can see that he's drifting to the inside and yet he effortlessly adjusts to the pass thrown to his outside shoulder. That puts him in great position to produce after the catch and get into the end zone on a 14-yard score.
The Northwestern transfer leads the ACC in receptions (56) and receiving yards (783), and he has six TDs. Washington grades out as a sub-package slot receiver in the NFL who can provide some depth as a kickoff returner. He projects as a Day 3 pick.
Kiper's two things to watch in Week 9
To keep on the earlier theme of cornerbacks, I have two matchups to watch this week. The first is an evaluation game for Wake Forest's Caelen Carson, my CB8. He's going to be asked to slow down Florida State's Keon Coleman, a potential top-15 pick who will have four inches on him. Carson is likely a Round 3 pick right now, but he could rise with a great performance.
Next up is an early look at the 2025 draft, as Colorado's Travis Hunter will be matched up with UCLA's J. Michael Sturdivant, one of eight wideouts in my Big Board rankings. Hunter has flashed elite cover-guy potential, but he'll need a big game (on offense too) if the Buffaloes want to pull off an upset. Sturdivant is a deep threat with great speed; can he get open against Hunter?
Let's empty the notebooks ...
• Despite inconsistent quarterback play, Ohio State's Harrison keeps showing why he's one of the best prospects in the 2024 draft. Much was made of the matchup between him and Penn State's King, but the Ohio State wideout once again got the best of him for a second consecutive season. He finished with 11 catches for 162 yards and a game-clinching touchdown, showing off his inside-out versatility. It's hard to envision Harrison being drafted outside of the top three picks in April.
• I asked five different scouts last week for their top three running backs in this class, and all five had different names and rankings. That sums up this confusing and underwhelming group of rushers. But Oregon's Bucky Irving continues to stand out. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he's a smaller runner but plays the game with a physical nature. And with back-to-back 125-yard rushing performances, he has displayed a combination of short-area quickness, vision and explosive play ability. Irving was outside of my top five running backs on my board, but that will change; I currently have a third-round grade on him.
• Penn State edge rusher Chop Robinson left the game against the Buckeyes in the second quarter after a head-to-head collision. Keep an eye on the injury and whether he might miss time. Robinson is currently the No. 18 overall prospect on my board.
• Ohio State pass-rusher JT Tuimoloau loves playing against Penn State. One year after posting a career-best two sacks and a forced fumble against the Nittany Lions, Tuimoloau once again saved his best for the big game and had a sack, consistently created hurries and kept the offense going away from his side. In a loaded edge rusher class, Tuimoloau has a shot at the late first round if he declares for the 2024 draft.
• USC safety Calen Bullock grabbed his second interception of the season on Saturday night, with a pick-six in a crucial moment late against Utah. Bullock is a slender 6-foot-3, 190-pound free safety who doesn't love to get involved as a tackler consistently. But his coverage ability and range are notable. He has grabbed seven interceptions since the start of the 2022 season and is my lone safety prospect with a first-round grade.