We have waited a long time for college football to return. Unfortunately, we still have to wait a bit longer to see marquee games return to the schedule. Only two Top 25 teams will be in action in Week 0, with USC hosting San Jose State and Notre Dame taking on Navy in Dublin, Ireland. However, there are plenty of pro prospects on the Trojans and on the Irish worth keeping an eye on this weekend. Of course, Caleb Williams and Joe Alt are household names, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into these two squads. Here are the five 2024 draft prospects at USC and Notre Dame that I am most excited to watch this weekend.
Brenden Rice, Wide Receiver, USC
Believe it or not, this should be a decent test for the USC offense. San Jose State finished in the top 50 in pass defense and the top 25 in scoring defense a year ago. Caleb Williams likely won’t change many folks’ minds based on his performance against the Spartans. However, there is a player with an even more famous last name who needs to prove he belongs in the NFL draft conversation. Brenden Rice is the son of NFL legend Jerry Rice and put together a solid first season with the Trojans after transferring from Colorado. He has the prototypical NFL size, listed at 6’3″, 205 lbs. If he can take the next step in this pass-happy offense, he has a chance to push himself into the Day two conversation.
Audric Estime, Running Back, Notre Dame
The Irish open the season in week 0 against Navy, which should result in an easy win. However, the Midshipmen are known for being stout against the run. In 2022, Navy ranked 6th in yards allowed per game and 7th in yards allowed per carry. That is going to offer up an excellent proving ground for Estime. The junior running back led the Irish with 920 yards a year ago and has the size to be a problem at the next level. He likely won’t be a lead back in the NFL given his lack of top-end speed and limited production as a pass catcher, but there is still a need for bruising backs who can work between the tackles. Saturday against Navy offers Estime his first opportunity to prove his worth.
Calen Bullock, Safety, USC
One of the top safeties in this draft class, Bullock is a versatile defensive back with a lot of enticing athletic traits. He enters the season as a potential first-round pick as a true junior. In 2022, he turned a lot of heads with five interceptions, bringing him up to seven in his career. He is unusually tall for a safety, listed at 6’3″ by the Trojans, which would be the 96th percentile for defensive backs. However, he needs to add a bit more to his frame. Listed at 180 lbs, he would be in the 1st percentile for defensive backs. I will be watching closely to see if he has bulked up at all during the offseason.
Rylie Mills, Defensive Line, Notre Dame
If you are going to have success against the service academies, you are going to need your defensive line to step up against the run. Mills will likely be at the center point of that conversation in Dublin. He already underwent a major transformation this offseason, bulking up to 306 pounds after playing under 290 a season ago. I’m excited to see if he can still move as effectively as he did in the past at this new weight. He will be doing a lot of the dirty work on the interior against one of the best rushing attacks in 2022.
Mason Cobb, Linebacker, USC
Lincoln Riley rebuilt this USC team and turned them into a national contender very quickly in large part due to his work in the transfer portal. Cobb is one of the newest additions to the Trojans defense, arriving from Oklahoma State. He led the Cowboys in tackles and tackles for loss in 2022. Seeing a proven player in a new setting is always exciting. Watching Cobb fly around in Alex Grinch’s defense will definitely be one of the highlights on that side of the ball for USC, even if San Jose State does not offer a huge test, or at least they shouldn’t.