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College football players to watch for: Week 3

Related: College football players to watch for: Week 2

Chick-fil-A Kickoff - Alabama v Miami Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ season is officially underway, meaning we’re all spending a bit too much time dissecting their past and future performances.

For the past week we’ve all made the transition from analyzing the lost to the Miami Dolphins to prepping for the New York Jets. Despite our love for all things NFL, it can get a bit tiresome. That is why I’m here. I want to reprieve you all from the shackles of an NFL week and give you a glimpse into the wonder and beauty that is the college game.

So much like the last two weeks, I want to give you all some information about some top college prospects that you could see in the NFL someday. Not all of them will become Patriots — though we did profile five of New England’s eight draft picks last season — but they do all possess something that could lead to them finding their way to Foxborough one day. In a sense, we’re all just here to have some fun and dream a little bit.

So without further ado, here are five players you should watch for on College Football Saturday.

Nik Bonitto (#11), OLB, #3 Oklahoma

  • Matchup: vs. Nebraska
  • Gametime: 12 p.m. ET
  • Network: FOX

Despite his draft stock already floating around the back end of the first round, Nik Bonnito has the chance to lift himself up another 10 or so spots with a big season, landing him in the 18-25 range of the first round. That is exactly where most pundits believe the Patriots — a team that is never scared to just take the best player available — will be sitting. There is no doubt that when New England scouted linebacker Ronnie Perkins ahead of the 2021 NFL draft, they saw a lot of Bonitto.

Bonitto is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound All-American linebacker who spends most of his time on the ball. Despite his lack of functional strength at that spot, his lateral agility and ability to defeat blocks reminds me a lot of Josh Uche’s, especially when rushing the quarterback. He is likely going to fit best off ball at the next level, that would allow for him to better use his athleticism and impact the game in more than one facet. When you do watch Bonitto, take note of the path he takes to some of the plays he’s involved in. He loves to avoid traffic by looping around, yet still makes plays he has no business making. With better coaching at the next level he should always be around the ball.

Bonitto will lead the Oklahoma defense into battle against a motivated Nebraska team. Nebraska head coach Scott Frost has been disappointing in his three seasons at the helm of the Cornhuskers. If he can get his team to put up a fight against Oklahoma then he may stave off a potential coaching change. Bonitto and Co. should have the opposite in mind.

John Metchie III (#8), WR, #1 Alabama

  • Matchup: vs. #11 Florida
  • Gametime: 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: CBS

Is anyone shocked that we would profile an Alabama wide receiver on one of these lists? Nick Saban and Belichick’s relationship spans almost four decades. Belichick has drafted 14 Saban players since taking over as head coach in New England in 2000. The Patriots are still in need of a young wide receiver to step up and serve as a building block for the future. All the stars line up on this one.

Despite being the third option in Alabama’s offense last season, John Metchie III put up 916 yards on 55 receptions, scoring seven touchdowns in the process. Now as the No. 1 guy, the 6-foot, 190-pounder will have every chance to prove he should be the next in a long line of great Alabama receivers.

Alabama will take on the Florida Gators in what is sure to be a heavyweight SEC fight. Metchie will likely be an important target for redshirt-freshman quarterback Bryce Young as he faces a tenacious Florida defense.

Drake London (#15), WR, USC

  • Matchup: @ Washington State
  • Gametime: 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: FOX

Here is another instance where all of the stars align for the Patriots. They need a wide receiver and Drake London will be a mid-round target. It’s as simple as that. New England likely needs some time to recover from the N’Keal Harry pick before they go throwing first-rounders at any more wide receivers. That’s why we like to mix in a few value plays like London.

London is a 6-foot-5 wide receiver with a mammoth wingspan that has hauled in 72 receptions for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns over the course of his two seasons with the USC football team. He also moonlighted as a shooting guard for their basketball team in the spring of 2020. The two-sport athlete chose to stick with football for the last two seasons, and it’s paying off as he’s set himself up to improve his NFL draft stock all the way into the middle rounds.

I would have loved to save London for a week when USC was facing a better team. Unfortunately the other games between 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. are snooze-fests. I couldn’t bring myself to suggest that you guys watch Bryant take on Akron. At least he should put up some big numbers.

Owen Pappoe (#0), LB, #22 Auburn

  • Matchup: vs. #10 Penn State
  • Gametime: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Network: ABC

People aren’t happy that I keep trying to replace Adrian Phillips; and to be honest with you, neither am I. He has become a vital part of the Patriots’ defense over the past two seasons and I would love to see what they can do with him once he truly gets comfortable. Unfortunately a guy like that doesn’t last long in New England because other teams would love to hand him a boatload of money. Maybe I am wrong, heck, I am definitely going to be wrong, but the Patriots will have a perfect replacement staring at them come April. His name is Owen Pappoe.

Pappoe is an undersized (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) linebacker prospect that runs a 4.47 40-yard dash and led the Auburn Tigers in tackles one season ago. He’s a true thumper in the middle who also possesses great sideline-to-sideline range that makes him an intriguing prospect at the next level. He needs work in coverage and doesn’t look great when working backwards, but the raw talent for a “star” role in the Patriots defense is certainly there.

The Penn State offense has a quarterback problem. Despite the talent around him, Sean Clifford is destined to make a few mistakes to keep games close. Pappoe could capitalize on one or a few of them.

Sean Rhyan (#74), OT, #13 UCLA

  • Matchup: vs. Fresno State
  • Gametime: 10:45 p.m. ET
  • Network: PAC-12 Network

There will never be a draft in the history of the world where Belichick is uninterested in a left tackle, that is just a fact. The second most important position on the field is locked up through 2022 with Isaiah Wynn, but the right tackle job could very well be up for grabs after Trent Brown’s contract elapses this offseason. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about the future.

Sean Rhyan will likely be a top-64 pick, as one of the top tackle prospects in the country. He reminds me a lot of Dolphins rookie Liam Eichenberg when I watch him play. He will be a name to look out for in the future as a potential guy to grab after a trade back.

Late night games are always tough in New England, but if you’re a night own go have some fun and watch Chip Kelly’s boys sling it around.