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2023 NFL Draft Matchups: Most Important Game for Top Five Prospects Who Transferred This Offseason

This offseason, we witnessed some college football superstars switch teams via the transfer portal. For the top 2023 NFL Draft prospects in that group, playing well on their new teams will be important.

The 2022 college football season will feature a host of top-flight players on new teams. A handful of these transfers are projected to be high draft picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. With a dominant 2022 season, each of these players could solidify a spot in the first round.

Some weekends are more important than others for a player’s draft stock. Over the course of the season, each of the top transfers will have at least one difficult game that tests that player's ability. This piece walks through the most consequential matchups with which these top-prospect transfers will have to contend.

To be sure, the list of transfers with a chance to get drafted in 2023 is quite long. A few of the players who didn’t make this list, but easily could have, include quarterback Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma to South Carolina), wide receiver Jadon Haselwood (Oklahoma to Arkansas), tight end Jahleel Billingsley (Alabama to Texas), and EDGE Ochaun Mathis (TCU to Nebraska).

The five to follow are all legitimate first-round level prospects at this (early) point in the draft process. The players are listed in order of the matchup’s date on the calendar.

RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (transferred from Georgia Tech)

Oct. 1 at Arkansas

Jahmyr Gibbs Alabama

Gibbs joins the Tide from Georgia Tech, where he made waves as a dual-threat back. Gibbs has the strength and patience to pound the ball inside, but he also has impressive hands and a knack for making plays in the passing game. He accumulated more than double the number of yards from scrimmage that anyone else on the Yellow Jackets was able to put together in 2021. Now, Gibbs will have the opportunity to shine this season at Alabama.

Unsurprisingly, Alabama’s schedule features numerous games that would qualify as important matchups. But for Gibbs, the Arkansas contest seems like a great pick. Two of the best players on the Razorbacks are safety Jalen Catalon and linebacker Bumper Pool. Catalon is firmly in the second-round conversation for 2023, and he is one of the hardest hitters in the college ranks. As for Pool, he is a run-stuffing linebacker who should be selected in the middle rounds. With these two defenders locking down the middle of the field, Gibbs will have to be creative if he is going to rack up yards.

C Olusegun Oluwatimi, Michigan (transferred from Virginia)

Oct. 1 at Iowa

Olusegun Oluwatimi Michigan

Oluwatimi’s move from UVA to Michigan may be the most underrated transfer of the entire offseason. I actually projected Oluwatimi to the Seattle Seahawks with the 25th pick of the first round in my latest 2023 NFL mock draft. Michigan's new center started 32 straight games at UVA, was a second-team All-American last season and earned selection as one of three finalists for the 2021 Rimington Trophy. Put simply, he is an elite interior offensive lineman whose run-blocking ability will make him highly valuable to the Wolverines.

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The Iowa game is going to be pivotal for Oluwatimi’s draft stock. My colleague Jack Borowsky recently profiled some of the top 2023 prospects on the Hawkeyes, and he highlighted three players who could give Oluwatimi some trouble. First is defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness, who might wait until 2024 to declare for the draft. Fortunately for Oluwatimi, it looks like Van Ness is playing defensive end this year.

But the second and third players to watch, Jestin Jacobs and Jack Campbell, are both talented linebackers (and likely early-round picks next year) who will seek to blow up the Michigan run game. Oluwatimi will need to neutralize them when he reaches the second level on running plays, and he will probably also need to keep track of blitz packages involving the two linebackers when he coordinates Michigan’s pass protections.

WR Jordan Addison, USC (transferred from Pittsburgh)

Oct. 15 at Utah

USC WR Jordan Addison

Addison was the top transfer prospect in all of college football. He left Pittsburgh after the departure of QB Kenny Pickett (whom the Pittsburgh Steelers picked in the first round of this year’s draft). Addison decided to join the newly revamped USC Trojans, a team that just signed former Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley to lead the program.

Addison is not going to have it easy against Utah. Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III is a budding superstar who could end up in the first round of the 2023 draft. On his way to making the All-Pac-12 second team in 2021, Phillips demonstrated impressive play recognition skills and terrific athleticism. He is a bit on the smaller side, but excels at matching receivers stride for stride. Phillips will likely guard Addison, who won the Biletnikoff Award last season after racking up 100 catches for 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns. Fortunately for the Utah defender, Addison does not have the size to dominate him on the outside; as such, this matchup will be all about skill.

S Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame (transferred from Northwestern)

Oct. 15 vs. Stanford

Brandon Joseph Notre Dame

The Irish have a difficult schedule, and Joseph will face a few prolific offenses in 2022. The most obvious pick here is the Ohio State game on Sept. 3 (in Columbus, no less). I already named that contest as the most important matchup for Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud this season. I could also see the Boston College game (at home on Nov. 19) presenting difficulties if Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec lives up to the hype. And the USC game (away on Nov. 26) will demand that Joseph keep new Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley’s high-octane offense in check.

One game that is not getting as much attention is Notre Dame’s midseason matchup with Stanford. Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee is one of the most polarizing players in this year’s draft class; some see him as a first-rounder and others don’t even have him in the Top 10 at his position. If McKee breaks out this season, Joseph’s performance against both him and Stanford tight end Benjamin Yurosek (a willing blocker and prolific pass-catcher who could be a mid-round pick in 2023) might make a difference in what NFL scouts think about the Notre Dame safety.

CB Eli Ricks, Alabama (transferred from LSU)

Nov. 5 at LSU

Alabama CB Eli Ricks

This one is easy. Ricks is one of the best corners in college football, and his transfer from LSU to Alabama this offseason shook up the SEC in a major way. He’ll need to become a more consistent defensive back—particularly when it comes to tracking the football and positioning his body at the catch point—but all of the tools are there for Ricks to make it into the first round of the draft next year.

On Nov. 5, Ricks returns to LSU. What’s more, the LSU game may be the most difficult one on the schedule for Ricks. He’ll have to face off against LSU wideout Kayshon Boutte, who could be WR1 in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Boutte is one of the few “complete” receivers in college football today; he can run the whole route tree, catch the ball in traffic and make plays in the open field. It remains to be seen who is taking snaps at quarterback for LSU at this point in the offseason, but the Ricks-Boutte matchup is undoubtedly one to which NFL scouts are looking forward to seeing.