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2024 NFL Draft prospects: Ten early-season risers among potential Senior Bowl participants

After finishing second in the nation with 4,641 passing yards last season, Washington's Michael Penix Jr. has eclipsed 400 yards in each of his first two games of 2023. (Stephen Brashear/AP)
After finishing second in the nation with 4,641 passing yards last season, Washington's Michael Penix Jr. has eclipsed 400 yards in each of his first two games of 2023. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

The 2023 college football season is only three weeks old, but some of the 720 players on this year's Reese's Senior Bowl watch list have already established themselves as stocks on the rise.

The 10 players below, ranked in descending order based on my current draft projections for them, were not on my initial list of top Senior Bowl prospects, but they could be on future updates as potential Day 2 selections. These guys have certainly taken the first step toward earning an invitation to the 2024 Senior Bowl, which will be held at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, on Feb. 3, 2024, and broadcast live on NFL Network (1 p.m. ET).

NOTE: Heights and weights are via school measurements.

10) Jaden Davis, CB, Miami (5-foot-10, 182 pounds)

Davis, an Oklahoma transfer, has quickly become a leader on the Hurricanes' defense. He missed the Sooners' final three regular-season games last year due to injury but shows no signs of wear. Miami claimed a top-25 spot in the polls with a home win over Texas A&M and the help of Davis' physicality as an open-field tackler. He made multiple third-down stops and forced a fumble at the end of the third quarter, setting up the touchdown that created a two-score deficit. Davis' speed and tenacity allow him to play outside or inside, though his size and blitzing acumen (tackle for loss vs. a run play, one pass breakup against the Aggies) will likely make him a nickel back at the next level.

9) Clay Webb, IOL, Jacksonville State (6-3, 290)

The former five-star recruit and 2019 University of Georgia Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year transferred to start at left guard for the Gamecocks last season. He's stood out this year, beginning with a stand-off against potential NFL draft picks Keenan Stewart and Praise Amaewhule in the team's season-opening 17-14 win over UTEP. Webb's strong hands and anchor help him fight off advances in pass protection. His mobility in the run game is impressive: pulling from his left guard spot to the right side and hitting second-level targets on combo blocks. Seeing how Webb was rated as the top center prospect nationally coming out of Alabama's Oxford High School, NFL teams might work him out at that position as a worthy late third- or early fourth-round pick.

8) Jo'Quavious Marks, RB, Mississippi State (5-10, 210)

"Woody" Marks (nicknamed after the character from Toy Story, one of his favorite movies growing up) is getting more carries in Mississippi State's new offense. He had 113 carries last season, which led the team, but he has toted the rock 43 times through two games this year, ranking seventh in the FBS with 125 rushing yards per contest. Marks presses the line and finds cutback lanes from the pistol formation. Also, he's effective on shotgun zone plays because of his speed and strong plant-and-go running inside. Marks' low center of gravity makes him tough to bring down in the open field. He's an adept receiver (8-91-11.4 this season) and showed strong hands to grab passes away from his frame against Arizona last week. Continuing to carry the load for the Bulldogs in 2023 will show NFL teams he'll be able to do so on Sundays.

7) Jared Wiley, TE, TCU (6-7, 260)

Wiley caught 24 passes for the Horned Frogs in 2022, five more than he caught in three seasons at Texas. He began this season by grabbing five passes for 60 yards and a score in the team's loss to Colorado. Wiley uses his 6-7, 260-pound frame for blocking in-line and in space, freeing up running backs and receivers. He's a receiving threat on all three levels with agility in the open field and flexibility adjusting to off-target throws (check out his one-handed grab against the Buffaloes).

6) Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington (6-3, 213)

Knee and shoulder injuries prematurely ended all four of Penix's seasons at Indiana, but he started all 13 games for the Huskies in 2022, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors, and has completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 859 yards and eight scores through two games this season. The left-hander leads his talented receivers (who dropped multiple throws last week against Tulsa) on short and intermediate throws, and his deep passes turn over beautifully. He's able to run for first downs when plays break down, though he's smartly protecting himself by sliding more regularly. Penix's injury history will be a factor in NFL teams' evaluations, but if he can stay healthy and effectively deliver passes to second or third options when the pocket isn't clean, he could end up being a top-100 pick.

5) John Campbell Jr., OT, Tennessee (6-5, 320)

Campbell finally got a full-time job at left tackle for the Miami Hurricanes in 2022 after losing the previous season due to injury. He transferred to Tennessee for the 2023 campaign and has excelled protecting the blind side for Joe Milton III. Campbell stoned Virginia's pass rushers (albeit with Senior Bowl watch list member Chico Bennett Jr. out) in the Vols' 49-13 season-opening win with heavy hands and a strong anchor. Despite his obvious power moving the pile in the run game, the Florida native presents nice footwork for his size, picking up twists adeptly and getting enough of late blitzers to keep his quarterback clean. Campbell went viral for blocking a Cavaliers linebacker all the way through the end zone on a touchdown run. NFL teams could project him as a starter at either tackle spot.

4) Payton Wilson, LB, N.C. State (6-4, 238)

Wilson's talent has also been overshadowed by knee and shoulder injuries over the past five years, but scouts can't ignore his athleticism and production (he is currently tied for seventh in the FBS with an average of 12 tackles per game). He started with a strong performance at UConn, where he was all over the field in coverage, ultimately making the game-clinching interception. Wilson did what he could against Notre Dame, chasing receivers downfield and fighting off blocks to stop ball carriers. His lean frame belies a toughness between the tackles, reminding me of recent Day 2 picks Zach Cunningham, Chad Muma and Drew Sanders.

3) Kaimon Rucker, Edge, North Carolina (6-1 1/2, 265)

During the summer, it felt like Rucker could explode onto the scene in 2023 after recording 15.5 tackles for loss (including 7.5 sacks) as a part-time starter over the previous three seasons. He did just that in the Tar Heels' opening win over South Carolina, posting eight tackles, including 5.5 for loss with two sacks. Rucker won against both tackles with strong hands, attacked inside gaps on third down from the 3- and 5-technique spots, and aggressively twisted inside to collapse the pocket. He consistently beat single blocks in the run game with leverage and quickness to stop plays in the backfield. Rucker's game reminds me of 2022 second-round pick Josh Paschal.

2) Tre Harris, WR, Mississippi (6-2, 205)

Cleveland Harris III took his talents to Ole Miss after a stellar career at Louisiana Tech, where "Tre" earned 2022 first-team All-Conference USA honors with 10 touchdown receptions. He starred in the Rebels' season opener, showing no mercy for Mercer by catching four touchdown passes from junior Jaxson Dart. Harris spun off his man after grabbing a slant on the opening drive, beating two defenders to the end zone. He fought through tackles on his other three scores, the first on a back-shoulder throw, the next coming back to Dart to present a target downfield, and the last on a stop-and-go route over the middle. His size, short-area quickness and strength during and after the catch will draw comparisons to Rashee Rice, Kansas City's second-round pick in April.

1) Michael Pratt, QB, Tulane (6-3, 220)

In Tulane's season-opening 37-17 win over South Alabama, Pratt displayed the accuracy and athleticism that nearly landed him on my preseason watch list -- and made him the most efficient passer in the country that week (14-for-15, 294 yards, four TDs). He kept his feet active and squared up to second or third options before delivery. Also, his touch on throws over the top was excellent. Pratt's dart-throwing motion zipped passes in the short and intermediate game and allowed him to hit targets moving to his left and right. While not an elite athlete, he avoided pass rushers and took off for multiple first downs on scrambles and designed runs. Pratt must keep his eyes off the pass rush if his initial target is covered and protect himself as a runner -- but if the knee injury that kept him out of last Saturday's loss to Ole Miss is indeed minor, he'll receive starter grades.

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