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NFL draft: Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux leads our 5 prospects to watch this week

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The college football season is a few weeks underway now, and the debate has been hot already — especially at the quarterback spot.

We’ve highlighted one interesting QB prospect this week who figures to be drafted next spring, but we also have other noteworthy players to spotlight with good matchups worth watching.

Here are five 2022 NFL draft prospects we’ll be keying in on this weekend.

Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux

No. 12 Oregon at No. 3 Ohio State

Saturday, 12 p.m., Fox

We don’t yet know if Thibodeaux will suit up for this one at the Horseshoe. He’s listed as “day to day” heading into Saturday’s matchup of heavyweight teams after suffering an ankle injury in the Ducks' opening win over Fresno State. He ended up wearing a boot, although X-rays later were negative, giving hope he can suit up Saturday.

In his 19 defensive snaps last week, Thibodeaux — perhaps the non-QB with the best chance to be the No. 1 overall pick in 2022 — lined up on the right side of the line 10 times and the left side nine times. (He notched a sack and a forced fumble, too.)

So if Thibodeaux plays Saturday, he’s likely to face both Ohio State tackles, Nicholas Petit-Frere on the left side and Dawand Jones on the right. Petit-Frere is a possible first-rounder in 2022, but don’t overlook Jones, who looked terrific last week against Minnesotsa in only his second career college start.

Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux was dominant in his 2021 debut against Fresno State before getting hurt. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux was dominant in his 2021 debut against Fresno State before getting hurt. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Thibodeaux is an exciting prospect with outstanding juice, size and pass-rush skills. If last week is an indication, he might be more refined in his pass-rush technique this season than he displayed last year. He's not in the Chase Young category of defensive prospect, but a healthy Thibodeaux isn’t too far off.

If he doesn’t play Saturday, it might not cost him a top-five draft slot in the end. But, boy, scouts sure would love to see him in a marquee matchup such as this — and selfishly, so would we.

(And for a bonus matchup in this game, keep an eye on Ducks cornerback Mykael Wright in a fantastic matchup against Ohio State’s receivers. We could see the 5-foot-11, 178-pound Wright tasked with covering Chris Olave in a matchup of smooth, fluid athletes with slimmer builds. Wright is a feisty competitor who doesn’t back down from tall challenges.)

Pitt QB Kenny Pickett

Pitt at Tennessee

Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN

Pickett was dialed in against UMass last week in what amounted to a warmup game to start the season (27 of 37 passes completed, 272 yards, two TDs, four dropped passes). The redshirt senior has a much stiffer test this weekend at Rocky Top.

The Vols weren’t perfect last week defensively against Bowling Green, but they settled down quickly after two long field-goal drives. This secondary has some lower-end NFL talent in CBs Alontae Taylor and Kenneth George, and safeties Trevon Flowers and Theo Jackson (last week’s star with 2.5 tackles for loss, three passes defended). The pass rush also was hot last week.

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has a big test this week at Tennessee. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has a big test this week at Tennessee. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pickett is a gutsy performer with more arm talent — especially throwing on the move — than he’s sometimes given credit for. But is he special? Can he stay healthy? And can Pickett earn a statement victory in tough surroundings?

Two years ago, Pickett led Pitt to a big comeback vs. UCF, and last season he was solid in the win over a decent Louisville team. Otherwise, he has come up short in some of the Panthers’ biggest games — even though Pickett typically hasn’t received the help he needs in matchups against the biggest foes.

This game could help improve Pickett’s stock. He came into his fifth college season earning mostly fourth- to fifth-round draft grades, but a handful of teams believe he could end up going higher.

Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar

Iowa at Iowa State

Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC

First is the matter of whether Kolar will play. He missed the narrow season-opening win over FCS Northern Iowa last week and remains questionable for this one with an ankle injury. (He went through pregame warmups last week, which is part of the reason we mention him here.)

Kolar has the chance to be regarded as one of the best tight end prospects in the 2022 draft. That's promising considering this looks like one of the better groups at that position in at least a few years.

The 6-foot-6, 257-pound Kolar checks off all the size boxes for NFL scouts, with huge hands (10 inches), very long arms (34 1/4 inches) and a massive wingspan (82 1/4 inches). His athleticism isn’t close to what Kyle Pitts offered this spring, but Kolar runs relatively well and looks strong. He’s a natural pass catcher whose intellect also intrigues scouts. He projects to be a solid-to-very-good NFL tight end with receiving and blocking skills, a rare two-way option for this generation when most tight ends in the league are stronger at one over the other.

His health is a concern. Kolar has been banged up and missed the season opener now two straight years. He returned in the second game last season and could do so in the huge CyHawk home matchup this weekend.

Kolar started last season slowly while dealing with the injury before heating up. We’ll be fascinated to see how he stacks up against a talented Iowa defense that shut down Indiana last week, especially in pass coverage.

Utah LB Devin Lloyd

Utah at BYU

Saturday, 10:15 p.m., ESPN

In a recent conversation with a West Coast scout, we asked: “Who is a prospect we’re sleeping on in your area?”

The scout offered up Lloyd — without even thinking twice about it. 

So we went to the tape. And we really liked what we saw.

Then Lloyd went out and had a banner first showing in his 2021 debut. Who cares that it came vs. Weber State? Lloyd looked like a man possessed, collecting a game-high 12 tackles (one for loss), plus a sack, a diving interception off a deflected pass and a forced fumble.

The 6-3, 233-pound Lloyd is blessed with 4.5 speed and can do a little of everything — a modern-day, three-down linebacker prospect. He’s facile in zone coverage, can rush the passer on occasion, plays with great intensity and makes great hustle plays from the backside.

The BYU offense might not be the juggernaut it was last season with Zach Wilson and Co., but QB Jaran Hall has some ability and the Cougars can run the ball. Expect Lloyd to be at the center of the action in this one, just as he was against BYU in his first career start as a sophomore.

He’s vastly improved since then; now Lloyd is one of the best linebackers in the country. Planning on being up late Saturday night? Flip on this game and dial in on No. 0 for the Utes. You won’t be disappointed.

Arkansas S Jalen Catalon

Texas at Arkansas

Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN

Only a redshirt sophomore, Catalan broke out last season as a first-time starter and continued his ascension last week with a two-pick debut against Rice.

The 5-10, 200-pound safety also was in on 11 tackles last week, including one for a loss. In 813 career defensive snaps, Catalan has amassed 116 tackles (three for losses), five interceptions (one run back for a TD), 10 passes defended and one forced fumble. He has limited length but has keen instincts and plays with a terrific temperament.

Arkansas defensive back Jalen Catalon is off to a great start in 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Woods).
Arkansas defensive back Jalen Catalon is off to a great start in 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Woods).

This game features a strong Hogs run defense (long run of 7 yards allowed last week) vs. Texas RB Bijon Robinson, who might be the best pure runner in college football. Expect Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom to sell out stopping Robinson and putting a lot of onus on his secondary against QB Hudson Card in his second start.

That could mean we see a lot of Catalon playing in space and managing multiple assignments. He’s an intense player who stepped up in big settings. His best games in 2020 came against Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida, and he’ll be jacked for this game against an old Southwest Conference rival in what should be a raucous environment — the Razorbacks’ first sellout in four years.

Catalon will have his imprint on this game and continue elevating his draft stock.

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