The Baylor Defensive Line is loaded with draft prospects

Photo via Baylor Athletics

The Baylor Bears have plenty of defensive talent poised for a big 2022 season!

baylor defensive line
Photo Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Baylor Bears were one of the better defenses during the 2021 college football season due in large part to the stout play from their defensive line. Despite ranking 31st in the country and fourth in BIG 12 in total defense, the squad allowed only 345.9 yards per game while only giving up 29 total touchdowns to their opponents.

Last year the team sent quite a few of their players to the NFL including defenders Jalen Pitre and Terrell Bernard. In the 2023 Draft. Baylor looks to add many more players to NFL rosters next year, including stout offensive linemen Jacob Gall and Connor Galvin. However, it seems the defense will once again carry the bulk of future professionals — led by their defensive line.

Siaki Ika – Defensive Tackle

Chief among the Baylor defenders is defensive tackle Siaki Ika. After spending the two previous seasons with the LSU Tigers, Ika joined the Bears in 2021 and immediately made his presence known. He finished the season with 24 total tackles, six tackles for a loss and four sacks.

Ika won the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year award for his efforts on the field. Additionally, Ika was named to the Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List, an honor presented to the best defensive player of the year. As the core of the Baylor defense, Ika looks to lead the unit to another year of high-level play against a wide open Big 12 conference.

As a pure prospect, Ika is one of the best nose tackles in the country due to his elite play strength, vision and pass rush prowess. Despite his 6-4, 358 build, Ika has plenty of pass rush juice, proving his ability to toss opponents using a combination of hand quickness and power. He’s able to dictate run lanes with hand placement and force runners into cut back lanes.

Gabe Hall – Defensive End

The number two on the Baylor defensive line is five-technique defensive end Gabe Hall. Despite not receiving any big honors last season, it was a productive outing for the junior defensive linemen. Hall finished last season with five sacks, 18 total tackles and seven tackles for a loss.

At 6-6, 296 pounds, Hall plays with a ton of power behind his frame and can hold his own at the point of attack. Baylor likes to deploy him at defensive end while also dropping him inside at three-technique. He has strong hands which allows him to toss offensive linemen in the run game when acting as a gap penetrator.

Hall is an ideal player on a three-man front given his versatility and above-average athletic traits. Hall looks to have a breakout season for the Bears defense playing next to Ika. He’s continuing to work on his pass rush abilities, which were already intriguing as is.

Jaxon Player – Rotational Defensive Tackle

Ika isn’t the only transfer the Baylor Bears will be fielding during the 2022 season. Former Tulsa Golden Hurricane Jaxon Player joined the squad earlier this year after opting to leave his former program following the 2021 college football campaign.

Player is known for this stout build at 6-0, 299 pounds, as well as his raw display of power from his low pad level. He shows incredible first step quickness from his three technique spot, which allows him to hit his opponents with good force to leverage pressure.

2021 was Player’s best statistical season to date, finishing the year with 50 total tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and five sacks. He has solid bend in his hips, which allows him to push the pocket and leverage pressure in the backfield. Although he may not start, Player will give plenty of juice to an already impressive defensive line.

Closing Thoughts

The Baylor Bears are likely to have another successful season in a BIG 12 conference without a clear cut headliner. The rotation of Ika, Hall, and Player is enough to handle the elite runners from Texas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State.

TJ Franklin and Cole Maxwell are other key players on the Baylor defense, despite not being on NFL Draft radars just yet. Even so, the Baylor defense is an elite unit (especially on their defensive line) from top to bottom and will be a fun study this fall.

2023 NFL Draft Watch List: Wide Receivers

Summer scouting season is underway and continues with the wide receiver class. Here’s Hussam Patels’ 2023 NFL Draft wide receiver watchlist.

Summer scouting season is underway and continues with the wide receiver class. Here is my 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list.

LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte tops Hussam Patel's 2023 NFL Draft watch list at the position.
Photo Credit: MG Miller, USA TODAY Sports

Top 5 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list

Kayshon Boutte

The top wide receiver of the 2023 class had a very productive freshman 2021 season and sadly dropped off a little bit due to injuries in 2022. Boutte is an extremely well-rounded receiver. He flashes the foot quickness and toughness to handle slot duties at the next level and lines up all over the field. Boutte is dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Speaking of, the Tigers product hands’ accepts the ball fluidly on most throws and is ready to make a play afterward. He makes catches in traffic, even going up over taller defenders with vertical and toughness.

Kayson Boutte is one of the most athletically gifted players in the 2023 class, who possess great speed, acceleration, and size, and combines these traits with decent hands and outstanding route running. 

The only reservation I have of Boutte is his medical issue. If he has a quality year in 2022, Boutte could easily become the top-rated receiver come the 2023 NFL Draft. Still, Boutte is the top prospect on the 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list.

Jaxson Smith-Njigba

At the age of 20, Jaxson Smith-Njigba has fine-tuned his route running and has a great understanding of how to dissect different zones and attack the leverage on defensive backs.

As a sophomore in 2021 he played in 13 games and had 95 catches for 1595 yards for an average of 16.8 yards per catch, with 9 TDs, and a QB rating when targeted of 141.8

The Buckeyes standout has the strongest hands any NFL wide receiver coach and quarterback would covet. He tracks the deep ball over either shoulder and brings in passes fluidly without breaking stride downfield

Expect 2022 to be even better than 2021, as Smith-Njigba will be gifted the number one receiving spot on the Buckeye’s offense. I have him slated as the number two prospect to watch on this 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list.

Jordan Addison

The third pass-catcher in this 2023 NFL draft wide receivers watch list is USC’s Jordan Addison. Addison had a very productive season last year winning the Biletnikoff trophy at Pittsburgh.

This off-season he transferred to USC and will play for offensive mastermind Lincoln Riley. Addison is looking to replicate his 2021 season with Caleb Williams as his quarterback.

The Trojan playmaker has amazing flexibility and can pretty much make any catch you ask him to.

The speed element of his game is evident, along with the ability to break the ankles of defenders in the open field. A slippery athlete, Addison is a headache to deal with when he has the football in his hands

Addison’s catch comfortability does not instill much confidence, as he does tend to bring passes into his frame rather than working with his hands away from his chest. The further outside of his frame he has to work, the less dependable his hands become.

He has a chance this year to become to establish himself as a top-ten pick if he continues to play at the level he displayed as a sophomore at Pittsburgh.

Parker Washington

Nittany Lions’ receiver Parker Washington had an 800 yard season sitting behind Jahan Dotson as the number two option. With a prime role coming this season, he’s looking to absolutely breakout and torch Big Ten defensive backs.

Washington saw the bulk of his snaps from the slot last year, and got a lot of free releases. I expect to see him on the outside a little more, and how he handles contact at the line of scrimmage will be crucial.

He is very good at tracking the ball in the air and, for his size, does a great job timing jumps to beat defenders for contested catches. So far in his career, he has brought in 11 out of 23 attempts on contested balls. A big reason as to why is due to his strong hands.

When Washington gets in the open field, he can take it the distance. He snags the ball well and is able to fully extend on off-target passes by extending his arms rather than with pure speed.

Marvin Mims

Marvin Mims has the versatility to line up at all three receiving positions (X, Flanker, and Slot), and is able to execute at all three levels of the field. 

A savvy, natural pass-catcher with reliable hands and very good focus. He routinely looks the ball into his hands and can maintain concentration to haul in circus catches way outside of his framework.

Despite being a smaller receiver, Mims competes well above his weight class and his competitive toughness shines as a blocker. Mims is one of the few receivers in this draft class who blocks well, which catapults him to the fifth spot in the 2023 NFL Draft wide receivers watch list.

In 2023, Mims could solidify himself as a first-round talent if Oklahoma builds on his route tree. He runs the routes in his package well, but a more diverse route tree will allow him to produce more and more quickly at the NFL level.

Honorable Mentions: 

Josh Downs-UNC, Dontay Demus-Maryland, Zay Flowers-BC, Quentin Johnson-TCU, Xavier Hutchinson-Iowa State.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

2023 NFL Draft Watch List Quarterbacks

Summer scouting season is underway and it kicks off with the 2023 quarterback class. Here is Hussam Patels’ 2023 NFL Draft quarterback watchlist.

Summer scouting season is underway and it kicks off with the 2023 quarterback class. Here is my 2023 NFL draft quarterbacks watch list.

Bryce Young tops the 2023 NFL Draft watch list for quarterbacks
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Top 5 2023 NFL draft quarterbacks watch list

Bryce Young

Alabama’s Bryce Young is coming off a Heisman season and is looking to build off that, as he’s regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation at making throws out of the pocket and out of structure. 

Although, his draft stock may be hurt by his slight frame. Young looks more like a slot receiver compared to what a franchise quarterback is billed at.

Young led the Crimson Tide to a win in the SEC Championship game, becoming the only quarterback to beat the vaunted Georgia defense last season. In that game he was 26 of 44 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns. 

While the Crimson Tide ended up losing in the title game in the rematch against Georgia, Young showed throughout the season that he could play the position at a high level.

In the play above you see Young’s quick feet moving him to allow him a clean pocket. He throws a rope in-between two defenders outside the hash marks. 

His anticipation and touch at this level makes him one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and number one in this 2023 NFL draft quarterbacks watch list.

C.J. Stroud

Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud is one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks in this class. He completed 72% of his passes in 2022. Stroud will look to build off what he did in the Rose Bowl game against Utah.

Stroud is accurate, aggressive, willing to attack the middle of the field, and reads the field extremely well as a passer.

Pre-snap, Utah shows single-high coverage in the defensive backfield. However, the post-snap reality does not match the pre-snap expectations. The Utes defense converts into a two-deep shell.

Stroud, after opening to the left side of the field, reads the rotation and throws to the post route to Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

He’s a smart signal-caller who is a natural leader with great instincts and the ability to quickly cycle through his reads. Which makes him the second quarterback on my 2023 quarterback watch list.

Tyler Van Dyke

There is excitement in the area around the Miami Hurricanes this season, mainly in part to new head coach Mario Cristobal. Tyler Van Dyke’s play last season is another big reason for that excitement.

In 2021, as a sophomore, he played in 10 games as he passed for 2918 yards on 326 attempts with a completion percentage of 62 for an average of 9.0 yards per pass, with 25 TDs. He also took 23 sacks while putting up a QB rating of 108.9. After the first year as starting quarterback, he earned ACC Rookie of the Year and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This touchdown early in that contest is a good example of how well Van Dyke sees the field and throws with anticipation. He hits the post route for a touchdown on a switch concept, letting the ball fly as the receiver gets into his break.

Van Dyke is my third ranked prospect in this 2023 quarterback watchlist because of his processing skills. Also, he uses good technique, squaring his shoulders to the target and stepping into his throws

Will Levis

Kentucky’s Will Levis came from nowhere last year and is now looked at as a legitimate first-round talent. He has great physical gifts as well as good accuracy and a powerful, quick release. Levis also possesses a natural feel for the game

Levis offers a nice blend of size, arm strength, and toughness. In the pocket, he has a good feel to climb and avoid pressure — and also possesses enough athleticism to extend plays with his legs.

If he can work on ball placement issues, and lower-body inconsistencies with his mechanics, he’ll live up to the hype.

The Wildcat product has an elite quick-release coupled with fast processing skills which makes him an ideal for a condensed formation offense, similar to the likes of the Rams.

Tanner McKee

In his first year starting at Stanford, Tanner McKee showcased a handful of NFL traits. He has elite size for the position — standing 6’6″ and weighing 230lbs — and has the arm strength to match.

The Cardinals product’s accuracy is decent, but his ball placement is one of his best traits overall. McKee shows excellent accuracy on short timing routes to backs and receivers. He frequently places the ball in front of the receiver to lead them to potential yardage after the catch.

This completion against Oregon highlights two of his strengths: Aggression and ball placement. McKee is not afraid of challenging small throwing windows, and has no fear throwing over the middle. Couple that with accuracy, and McKee can have a solid foundation for the NFL.

He’s an intriguing pro prospect due to his obvious tangibles. McKee looks the part, possessing prototypical drop-back passer qualities, is a quick decision-maker, and has decent accuracy. He can easily transition into a pro-style offense which makes him the fifth prospect on this watch list.

2023 NFL Draft Quarterbacks Honorable Mentions: 

Phil Jurkovec-Boston College, Spencer Rattler– South Carolina, Hendon Hooker-Tennessee, Anthony Richardson-Florida, Jake Haener-Fresno State.

Kartik Akkihal and the South Asian Athlete

Kartik Akkihal has always played sports as a little kid. Akkihal always dreamed about walking onto the field as a Longhorns player. That dream finally came true.

Nowadays, playing recreational sports as an Indian kid is not that uncommon at all.

Kartik Akkihal has always played sports as a little kid. Four vs. Four soccer, flag football, and almost every Indian American’s favorite sport, basketball. 

Akkihal always dreamed about walking into the DRK Texas Memorial Stadium field as a Longhorns player. That dream finally came true.

In high school, the former Longhorns wide receiver played some snaps at quarterback. However, he was mostly a wide receiver and at times a tight end. He even lettered in track before lettering in football.

Little did Akkihal know at that time he represented only 1.76% of Division I athletes during the 2020 season, according to the NCAA’s Race and Gender Demographics Database.

At 6-foot-2 192 pounds, Kartik Akkihal tied his cleats onto the Longhorns squad as a freshman in 2018.

Akkihal’s start in football made him realize the lack of a role that football played in the Asian community. He didn’t see players that looked like him on his high school’s field or many at Texas.

“It’s always been like that, I did not feel anything by just being the only Asian kid on the football field on my team or my opponents”

It’s not about the lack of interest from first or second generation Americans in athletics like football. It is more so about the way South Asian communities tend to look at sports in general. 

“Some kids in the community do not have the opportunity to get into sports, they are not able to do anything but focus on academics and studying”

Kartik Akkihal echoes the same message many understand, it all starts at home and in the community. Luckily for Akkihal, his parents were supportive to him as a child. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school and played for the Longhorns in college.

Akkihal says there has to be more representation in the community. It’s not necessarily about meeting a quota of diverse athletes, it’s to be good enough.

The Asian community prides itself on being the best at what they do and they have a passion for it. However, it is structured in a way that it is purely academically driven.

What many in the Asian-American community fail to understand that is you can still be studious and participate in athletics — it’s what Akkihal has been doing since he was a kid.

“The way we can get the community to open up more to it is by seeing others do it. They see what I have done, getting the good grades that I’ve had and being successful in sports. Now they are asking how can their children be like me, asking questions on how to get started, what to do.”

These are all talking points to get the buy-in of Asian American communities and especially the South Asian community in America.

While he was not recruited out of Vandergrift high school, Akkihal was convinced by his now WR coach. Former Longhorns wide receiver Mike Adams convinced Akkihal that he can play college football.

“He came during my senior year of high school and told me that I could play football at the next level, and I started to think about it.”

Donning number 82, Akkihal appeared in a handful of games his junior year before taking a back seat to the coaching change his final year as a Longhorn. College football not only taught him about practice and preparation in skills, but a valuable lesson in different leadership styles

Kartik Akkihal was present during Tom Herman’s last three years at Texas and Steve Sarkisian’s’ first year at Texas. Akkihal noted that Sarkisian is more of a technician and explains concepts well to players, whereas Herman was more of a disciplinarian.

Different styles resonate with different people and it was a great learning experience for Akkihal.

Akkihal’s biggest inspiration was not someone like him, instead it was the 2005-2009 Texas Longhorns football team.

An Austin native, Kartik Akkihal admired the way Vince Young and Colt McCoy led those teams and wanted to be a part of Texas’ rich college football history.

“I loved the longhorns and wanted to play for Texas, why would you not play for the best team down the street”

Akkihal was nurtured as a kid to have a healthy balance of school and sports by his parents. His father, from Dharwad, and his mother from Kerela, both from India had a kid growing up in Austin who also played college football.

Soon enough, Kartik Akkihal hopes there will be more people like him in college and the NFL.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

Nick Saban’s Comments On Rival NIL Deals Sparks Drama

Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders drew criticism from Nick Saban over NIL and star recruit Travis Hunter
Photo Credit: JSU / Edward Waters

During a media interview, Alabama head coach Nick Saban attempted to reveal his competition’s unscrupulous techniques in bringing recruits — mainly concerning NIL practices — into their institution. During said interview, Saban accused SEC rival Texas A&M of “buying every player,” while also pointing the charge at Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders for paying top recruit Travis Hunter one million dollars to commit to his school.

The college football community was incensed by these accusations, and both head coaches were enraged by what was said about them. Jimbo Fisher was the first to answer, and he delivered a Nas-worthy ether, calling Saban a “narcissist” and saying that some individuals believe they are God.

It’s one thing to poke fun at a competitor, but to accuse them of nefarious business practices is plain unprofessional and makes you appear entitled. The next person who quickly responded was Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders and his number one recruit, Travis Hunter.

These claims were swiftly debunked, with Sanders writing, “We as a People Don’t Have to Pay Our People to Play With Our People.” Even the millionaire recruit chimed in, tweeting, “I got a mill, but my mom still lives in a three-bedroom house with five kids.”

What Does All This Mean

This essentially implies that when it comes to recruiting, every school’s football program is on an equal playing field. While pay-for-play has been practiced in college sports for many years, Saban should not be concerned; if anything, it raises the level of competitiveness.

This coach is known as the Bill Belichick of college football, having sent countless Crimson Tide players to the NFL. It simply appears he feels as if the pressure is coming, and has real challenges ahead.

The SEC has grown a little stronger, and if Alabama is still the powerhouse it has been for the previous ten years, what happens inside another school’s program shouldn’t be their business. Saban’s remarks have undoubtedly made their games against Texas A&M a little more personal this season.

Jackson State Is A Huge Threat

When Jackson State hired Deion Sanders, he immediately transformed that program, putting all eyes on the HBCUs. In his debut season, he led his team to a near-unbeaten season and the SWAC conference championship. He also gained a number of recruits, the most notable being Travis Hunter, the nation’s number one recruit, who switched from Florida State to Jackson State.

Simply put, HBCU football programs are back, and Deion is leading the fight. With him at the helm, it is evident that prospects do not need to attend a big school to flourish; it is possible to do so at an HBCU.

If Hunter can flourish at Jackson State, the sky is the limit for Deion, as countless recruits will follow suit and leave a legacy rather than simply being a part of a winning program. It’s clear that NIL has changed the landscape of college football, and the comments from Nick Saban clearly reflect that.