The college football and NFL seasons play out on similar timelines through January. While NFL coaching staffs will be focused on the day-to-day minutia that comes with Super Bowl contention, the personnel department will be focused on prospects across college football, always with an eye toward "what's next."
Here is one draft prospect that every NFL team should have their eye on this season:
Bengals: OT Tyler Guyton, Oklahoma
The Bengals flipped Jonah Williams to right tackle upon signing Orlando Brown Jr. in free agency. Williams is slated to hit free agency and the team is unable to rely on La'El Collins. Guyton could be a solution to the franchise's problem long term. Guyton showed a lot of potential in five starts replacing Wanya Morris, who was taken in the third round by the Chiefs. Guyton is a prospect who could rise into the first round.
Bills: OT Blake Fisher, Notre Dame
It is an important season for third-year offensive tackle Spencer Brown. Brown was beaten on 6.3% of pass-blocking snaps and allowed four sacks, according to TruMedia. Ryan Van Demark and Germain Ifedi are the swing tackle options. Fisher, a former five-star recruit, is entering his second season as the full-time starter for the Irish. The Indiana native allowed five sacks last season but got off to a good start last week against Navy.
A handful of Buffalo defensive linemen are to become free agents at season's end as well.
Broncos: DT McKinnley Jackson, Texas A&M
Denver's interior defensive line had been a strength just a few seasons ago but that group has been harvested and harvested, but not replanted. The Broncos have a few promising pass rushers but a relatively twitchy Jackson eats up some of those blocks freeing the likes of Jonathon Cooper and Baron Browning. The Aggie may fall shy of the first round but the expectation is that he finds a soft landing spot in the top 100.
Browns: DT Kris Jenkins, Michigan
Cleveland is once again without a first-round pick as part of the Deshaun Watson trade. The Browns have few needs on the roster so any projection of draft needs will need to be done with a specific scenario in mind. Three defensive tackles are slated to be free agents but they return Dalvin Tomlinson and Siaki Ika. Offensive guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio are expensive. Could they look for an off-ramp to those contracts? One or both of Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones are likely to be gone so, do they add someone to pair with Cedric Tillman and Elijah Moore? Linebacker remains a need as well.
For the sake of this conversation, the choice is interior defensive line, more specifically, Jenkins. He has not shown a lot of pass-rush production to this point but has had a professional model his whole life give his father played in the league for 10 seasons.
Chargers: LB Barrett Carter, Clemson
Carter has a natural feel for the game and he flies around the football field. He is a modern day linebacker who is capable of making plays in space. The Chargers had a similar vision for Kenneth Murray when they selected him in the first round but Carter has a better feel for the game at the same stage. He recorded 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions last season.
Cornerback could also be a direction in which the franchise goes if J.C. Jackson does not return to form.
Chiefs: DT Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State
Kansas City made a trade with Las Vegas to bring in defensive tackle Neil Farrell, who may have been cut by the Raiders anyway. Chris Jones is entering the final year of his contract and that has obviously been a sticking point as he continues to hold out. If they are not able to find a compromise, then the situation will come to a head after the season. Hall could theoretically slide into the starting rotation or, at the very least, provide valuable depth at a key position early in his career.
Colts: CB Nate Wiggins, Clemson
Indianapolis parted with fifth-round selection Darius Rush in their final wave of cuts. Many assumed that Rush would factor into the rotation at cornerback this season because the Colts are really thin and lack upside. Wiggins is a physical cornerback that is willing to provide run support. Ball production has been limited as a result of not getting his eyes back. He has great size and good speed to be an impact performer at the next level.
Dolphins: OT Graham Barton, Duke
Three offensive linemen are projected to hit free agency next offseason: Robert Hunt, Connor Williams and Isaiah Wynn. Terron Armstead recently turned 32 and there are questions regarding Austin Jackson's capabilities at right tackle. The franchise needs to find some building blocks along the offensive line, especially given Tua Tagovailoa's injury history.
Barton is a prospect thought to be capable of playing all five positions along the offensive line. His versatility would give the AFC East franchise options based on how it chooses to build that unit moving forward.
Jaguars: CB Denzel Burke, Ohio State
Darious Williams and Tyson Campbell are in a position to start for the AFC contenders. Williams would be 31 when the 2024 season opens. By cutting him next offseason, the team would save $10 million toward its salary cap. He is a potential cap casualty looking forward to next year.
Burke is unlikely to challenge for top cornerback in the class but he is a top-100 talent all day. Campbell and Burke can stabilize that unit for years.
Jets: OT Amarius Mims, Georgia
Mims did not become the full-time starter until late in the season but what he showed in that small sample size was sensational. When all is said and done, Mims will likely challenge Penn State's Olu Fashanu as the top offensive tackle prospect in the class, which would likely put him out of the Jets' reach. However, they have proven to be aggressive in the past trading up to acquire Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Patriots: OT J.C. Latham, Alabama
New England flipped Trent Brown from right tackle to the left side. Soon-to-be 35-year-old Riley Reiff is manning the right side. Brown is a free agent after the season. The Patriots should be in the market for two starting offensive tackles in the next few years so Latham allows them to get an early start. The AFC East franchise will have to be picking mid to early first round for a chance at Latham, who has been coached by Bill Belichick's close friend Nick Saban.
A need at wide receiver persists as well.
Raiders: QB J.J. McCarthy, Michigan
Las Vegas has a good enough roster to play themselves out of the USC quarterback Caleb Williams or North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye sweepstakes. If so, they will be perusing the second group of quarterbacks, which includes the likes of Texas' Quinn Ewers, Duke's Riley Leonard, McCarthy and others.
McCarthy is the figure head of Michigan's College Football Playoff run. If they are able to put together a second run, then McCarthy's draft prospects will blast off. Soon-to-be 32-year-old quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is playing out a one-year contract in Las Vegas.
Ravens: OT Kingsley Suamataia, BYU
Baltimore made the anticipated investment into quarterback Lamar Jackson so now they are tasked with protecting that investment. Morgan Moses is 32 and beginning his 10th season in the NFL. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has played 17 of a possible 50 games over the past three seasons. There is too much long-term instability at that position so adding a powerful right tackle like Suamataia protects them from potential injury. He projects as a first-round pick.
The Ravens also need to identify some pass rushers this season.
Steelers: LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson
Pittsburgh is not afraid to take a linebacker in the first round, position value be darn. The son of former the Eagles linebacker is a disciplined, hard-working linebacker who brings accountability to that unit. He embodies the rugged aura for which the franchise has been known throughout its history. Trotter is one of the top linebacker prospects eligible for the draft.
Texans: WR Xavier Worthy, Texas
The hope is that Nico Collins takes the next step in his career and, with any luck, Tank Dell and John Metchie III will fulfill valuable roles. Worthy has a slender build with great speed. He managed 60 receptions for 760 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The Longhorns are flush with skill talent as Adonai Mitchell is added to Ja'Tavion Sanders and Worthy. Quarterback Quinn Ewers is a magician with the ball in his hands but needs to become more consistent.
Titans: OT Joe Alt, Notre Dame
Tennessee signed Andre Dillard this offseason to play left tackle but few expect that to be a long-term solution. If the Titans are hovering around the equator again this year, as Mike Vrabel's teams have done since he arrived, then they will likely miss out on top offensive tackle prospects like Penn State's Olu Fashanu and Alabama's J.C. Latham. Alt is among that second tier of tackle prospects and Irish linemen have fared well at the next level. It becomes an even more important selection if Will Levis or Malik Willis are identified as the future at quarterback.
49ers: TE Cade Stover, Ohio State
George Kittle turns 30 early in the season. His well-rounded skill set allows San Francisco to trust him on the field for run-blocking and route-running. His presence on the field does not tip the defense off to any particular play type. Stover was a coveted linebacker prospect coming out of high school and that mentality is evident in the way he plays offense. He is an effective blocker as well as a rising pass catcher. Kittle may have a few more years in him but Stover's presence gives the team insurance in the event of injury while allowing him to learn from one of the best in the game.
Bears: EDGE J.T. Tuimoloau, Ohio State
Matt Eberflus wants twitched-up edge rushers just like any other coach but not at the expense of containing the corner. Tuimoloau is a powerful defensive end who is still formulating his own pass-rush plan. Indianapolis took Kwity Paye in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft with a similar vision but the Buckeye has more upside.
Chicago finished dead last with just 20 sacks in 2022.
Buccaneers: QB Drake Maye, North Carolina
Tampa Bay is obviously a franchise in transition right now. Bits and pieces of the offensive line, as well as quarterback Tom Brady, have moved on. Other key pieces of that Super Bowl-winning roster are slated to hit free agency after the upcoming season: wide receiver Mike Evans, linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David, safety Antoine Winfield Jr. Are the Buccaneers aiming to compete in a relatively open NFC South or is this the beginning of a full reset?
While Baker Mayfield is slated to start the season, he is also a free agent in 2024. The franchise may be introducing a new head coach and new quarterback if the season goes as poorly as Las Vegas projects.
Cardinals: QB Caleb Williams, USC
Kyler Murray is expected to be sidelined for a good portion of the season. Why rush him back when afforded the opportunity to add a top quarterback prospect on a rookie deal? Williams is a special talent and the new Cardinals regime is not tied to Murray.
Williams and the Trojans opened their season last weekend against San Jose State. I.
Commanders: EDGE Jared Verse, Florida State
Washington has roughly $43 million in salary cap space earmarked for defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen in 2024. Edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat are to hit free agency after the upcoming season. Can they afford to pay all four? Do they see how the season unfolds for both and then trade one at the deadline? It seems inevitable that a difficult decision will have to be made so the team accounts for that shift.
Quarterback Sam Howell looked solid during the preseason so the hope is that continues. Offensive tackle is another area of need.
Cowboys: CB Kalen King, Penn State
Stephon Gilmore will soon turn 33 and is entering the final year of his contract. Either next year or soon thereafter, Dallas needs to have a backup plan in motion. King steps in across from Trevon Diggs. He has replaced Joey Porter Jr. as the cornerback to know in Happy Valley.
Terence Steele and Tyron Smith are both entering the final season on their contact as well. Offensive tackle, or interior offensive line based on what they do with Tyler Smith, could be a need as well.
Eagles: S Kamren Kinchens, Miami
Philadelphia's safety depth chart lacks inspiration and perhaps that is by design. They may not feel that is a priority position. However, they have already executed contingency plans to replace other impactful veterans like Cam Jurgens and Brandon Graham.
Kinchens is an intuitive prospect with a physical style of play. He is not just an impactful talent but rather a player who fits into the gritty, attacking style on which the franchise hangs its hat. The Miami safety had six interceptions a year ago.
Falcons: CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama
Atlanta is hoping that Jeff Okudah is the savior opposite A.J. Terrell but that feels like a fruitless venture. Options beyond Okudah are even more of a stretch. McKinstry is arguably the top cornerback prospect in the class. The Falcons are not a team that I expect to take a huge leap this season so they should be in the range necessary to draft McKinstry.
Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has empowered McKinstry since he stepped foot on campus as a true freshman.
Giants: OG Zak Zinter, Michigan
New York may be tired of talking about its offensive line because it is a narrative that bubbles to the surface on an annual basis. The hope is that Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal lock down the corner while John Michael Schmitz provides some stability along the interior offensive line. Zinter is a prospect who really turns that unit into a strength. He is a supremely aware lineman with great strength and situational understanding.
The Giants could also target a true No. 1 wide receiver. They've assembled a hodge-podge of talent at the position without adding anyone that truly elevates that room. Running back could also be on the list of needs next offseason as the Saquon Barkley contract conversation resurfaces.
Lions: CB Kamari Lassiter, Georgia
Lassiter is a relatively young prospect. As he continues to mature and settle into his role, he could really blossom. Detroit was linked to the cornerback position for most of the 2023 pre-draft process but opted for running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell instead. Veterans Emmanuel Moseley and Cam Sutton are slated to start on the boundary this season but the plan lacks a long-term vision.
Packers: S Calen Bullock, USC
The safety tandem of Rudy Ford and Darnell Savage have not offered any assurances through their play. Bullock has seven total interceptions over the past two seasons. He needs to fill out a bit more but is a ballhawk nonetheless. Green Bay also needs more reliable contributions from its defensive front. Devonte Wyatt needs to take a step forward.
Panthers: WR Malik Nabers, LSU
Nabers is the second-highest rated wide receiver in this draft class, for me, behind Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. Nabers has the size and speed to excel in a featured role alongside Bryce Young, but what really makes him special is his body control down the field. He is capable of high-pointing the football and contorting his body down the field like CeeDee Lamb showed coming out of Oklahoma.
Rams: QB Quinn Ewers, Texas
The union between Matthew Stafford and Los Angeles has served its purpose and the upcoming season will likely prove that it has run its course. Stafford will soon turn 36. If rookie Stetson Bennett proves that he deserves a longer look, then that is a desirable outcome. However, those expectations are generally unrealistic of a fourth-round pick.
Ewers was wildly inconsistent in his first season as a starter for the Longhorns. If he is able to stay healthy and provide those splash plays more consistently, then the likelihood of him becoming a first-round pick improve dramatically.
Los Angeles has a lot of needs so it could go the route of raising the floor on both sides of the ball before worrying about plugging in the quarterback.
Saints: EDGE Bralen Trice, Washington
New Orleans' defensive line looks rather unsettled over the past few years losing some key pieces. Cam Jordan just turned 34 and no one has stepped up opposite him yet. Trice is a bigger-framed pass rusher who should be able to shoulder the responsibility of an edge rusher in that system.
Seahawks: OG Cooper Beebe, Kansas State
Seattle has done a fantastic job adding talent to the roster in the last two draft classes. The interior offensive line is one place that deserves a bit more attention. Beebe is an incredibly physical player who will set the tone for that entire unit. If the Seahawks want to run downhill and grind out victories, then Beebe is the lineman for the job.
Vikings: EDGE Jack Sawyer, Ohio State
Minnesota traded away Za'Darius Smith this offseason. Danielle Hunter and Marcus Davenport are tentatively expected to become free agents after the season. The Vikings seem to have some self-awareness about where they are as a franchise. They need to make some changes and identify some building blocks.
Sawyer is a versatile prospect who can rush the passer or make plays in space. Minnesota finished in the bottom half of the league in sacks in 2022.