Since Dontari Poe’s selection in 2012, the Memphis Tigers have been a consistent provider of talent for the NFL’s annual selection event. Can they continue their pipeline to the pros in the 2023 NFL Draft? Ahead of the 2022 college football season, who are the top prospects to watch out for when watching Memphis this year?
Memphis prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
Memphis lost a ton of production on both sides of the ball at the end of last season. Most notably, they’ll be replacing leading receiver and now Pittsburgh Steeler Calvin Austin III plus leading tackler JJ Russell. With a loss of talent comes opportunity for several players to emerge as not just team leaders, but also as 2023 NFL Draft prospects. Which players could help the Tigers extend their consecutive NFL draft selections streak to 10 years?
Quindell Johnson, S
The return of redshirt-junior safety Quindell Johnson is huge for Memphis’ hopes this season. Johnson tallied 104 tackles with 11 pass breakups and an interception last fall. He may also be their best chance of having a player selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.
A forceful hitter from the secondary, Johnson also possesses great speed and agility that he flashes in coverage and coming downhill. Meanwhile, he showcases the ball skills to be impactful at the catch point. The 6’1″, 195-pound safety should be on the draft radar this season.
Jacob Likes, C
Last cycle, offensive lineman Dylan Parham was Memphis’ highest selected player and the offensive line could once again be represented in the 2023 NFL Draft. There are a number of experienced players, but redshirt-junior center Jacob Likes stands out on tape. He’s a little undersized at 6’2″, 280 pounds. However, he flashes play strength, quick and accurate hand placement, and plays with an understanding of leverage that mitigates some of the size concerns. He’s also adept at getting out to the second level in the run game.
Xavier “Zay” Cullens, LB
While they might have lost their leading tackler, Memphis returns their most disruptive threat in the backfield in linebacker Xavier “Zay” Cullens. The fifth-year senior led the team with 8½ tackles for loss last fall, while also snagging an interception.
The 6’1″, 225-pound linebacker is a veteran presence, with 40 appearances. He’s explosive off the snap and quick to penetrate gaps while possessing the agility to pose a threat in coverage. If Cullens can improve some of his tackling technique, he could attract 2023 NFL Draft attention.
Jaylon Allen, EDGE
With a change of defensive coordinator, there is the opportunity for several prospects on that side of the ball to elevate their play and earn 2023 NFL Draft consideration. One of those is redshirt-senior edge Jaylon Allen.
The 6’2″, 238-pound pass rusher led the team in sacks last fall, so he already has a solid base to build on. Allen has showcased great athletic ability, with impressive straight-line speed, flexibility, and the agility to drop back into coverage. He pairs that with football awareness to pose a dangerous defensive threat.
Jevyon Ducker, RB
After a slow start to last season, Jevyon Ducker exploded onto the scene as one of the top running backs in the nation. Tallying 1,184 rushing yards, the former Northern Illinois RB had seven games with over 100 yards, including a 210-yard night against Bowling Green.
The 5’10, 194-pound rusher showcases impressive cut ability, has proven elusive, and possesses excellent vision. Coaches rave about Ducker’s preparation and football intelligence. I’d expect the new Memphis RB to get a lot of touches alongside Brandon Thomas this fall.
Geoffrey Cantin-Arku, LB
A 10-game starter for Syracuse in 2020, Geoffrey Cantin-Arku had a productive campaign with 61 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and four sacks. However, with some ascending young players for the Orange, he entered the transfer portal and should slide straight in next to Cullens in the linebacker room.
Cantin-Arku has decent size at 6’4″, 230 pounds, possesses good length, and has flashed impressive athletic tendencies. Meanwhile, his experience and excellence on special teams could earn him attention in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Wardalis Ducksworth, EDGE
A surefire entry into the “all-name” team for the 2023 NFL Draft, Wardalis Ducksworth is more than just an entertaining name. The 6’4″, 246-pound EDGE has been consistently productive for the Tigers, tallying four tackles for loss and four sacks in each of his last two seasons.
Ducksworth plays with a relentless style and showcases impressive strength for a player listed under 250 pounds. He’s also demonstrated an array of pass-rush moves. A standout year with elevated production should boost Ducksworth’s draft potential.
Rodney Owens, S
For a team that ranked 91st in points allowed last fall, Memphis has some impressive 2023 NFL Draft prospects in their secondary. Alongside Johnson, Rodney Owens should have the opportunity to impress this fall.
When you switch on Memphis tape, the 6’0″, 180-pound safety is constantly around the ball. He has the athletic ability to wreck offenses in the backfield and isn’t afraid to mix it up at the point of attack. Meanwhile, Owens possesses the ball skills to be impactful in coverage.
Eddie Lewis, WR
With Austin and Sean Dykes departed, someone is going to have to pick up the slack for a Memphis offense that lost 15 touchdowns and over 1,800 yards of receiving offense. My money would be on former Rutgers wide receiver Eddie Lewis.
The 5’11”, 192-pound pass catcher actually led the Tigers in yards per catch last fall. With an expanded role, he could become a highly coveted 2023 NFL Draft prospect. Lewis has the straight-line speed and agility to be a deep threat, and has showcased toughness over the middle of the field.