During the college football season, Eric Galko, the Shrine Bowl Director of Football Operations and Player Personnel, will give us his breakout performers from the previous week’s action — the names you should know … because it’s never too early to talk NFL Draft.
Cameron Ward, QB, Washington State
Ward transferred from Incarnate Word, where he won the 2021 Jerry Rice Award, given to the most outstanding freshman player in FCS football. He finished the season completing 60% of his throws with 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions, while averaging 376.7 yards per game. As a sophomore, he was named a second-team FCS All-American and the Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He led the team to a 10-3 record, completing 65% of his passes for 4,648 yards, 47 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged 357.5 yards a game, including three 400-yard games, and a school-best 610-yard game against Southeastern Louisiana. In Ward’s first season in Pullman, he started all 13 games and finished with 3,232 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He was named All-Pac-12 Conference Honorable Mention. He’s off to a strong start in 2023, including Saturday’s huge win over Wisconsin, where he threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns.
Eric Galko: “Ward’s superpower is his ability to improvise and adapt when the play breaks down or his initial read isn’t there, and he did that at the highest level against Wisconsin. His stat line is already impressive, but he nearly had two rushing TDs and another passing touchdown off his receivers hands that would’ve made it that much more dominant. Ward’s shown the growth and control that scouts hoped he would, and his development is starting to marry his clear NFL upside.”
Dylan Laube, RB/WR/OW, New Hampshire
During the 2022 season, Laube rushed for 1,205 yards and added another 464 receiving yards, and he scored 17 total touchdowns, including both a punt and a kick return score. Not surprisingly, he was named to seven All-American postseason teams following 2022. He’s been outstanding through two games this season. Saturday’s performance against Central Michigan of the FBS was a hugely impressive one: Laub had 295 receiving yards on 12 catches and scored three total touchdowns.
Galko: “No sleeper to scouts who’ve gotten to see him the last two years, Laube took the next step in the Christian McCaffrey comparisons he’s already started to draw from scouts. High praise, but putting up 295 receiving yards against an FBS opponent , and doing it on screens and making guys miss, out of the backfield as a route runner, and as a truly aligned slot receiver is something else. Laube will truly have the “offensive weapon” or “Joker’ designation for NFL teams, because he’s going to be able to make an impact as a running back, receiver, and returner early in his NFL career.”
Luke McCaffrey, WR, Rice
Yes, he’s Christian McCaffrey’s brother, but the former Nebraska transfer has made a name for himself at Rice, where the transition to wide receiver has been a smooth one. That was obvious last week, when he caught seven passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Houston. Following the 2022 season, he was voted team MVP by his teammates after leading the Owls with 58 receptions, 903 all-purpose yards and six touchdown catches in his first season at receiver.
Galko: “Luke felt like the entire offense in the first half for Rice and again made his impact in the overtime periods. For a former quarterback who’s still fairly new to the position, seeing how confident he is away from his frame, the nuance and detail in his routes, and the clear football IQ carryover from quarterback is wildly impressive. And he’s still only scratching the surface of his receiver development.”
For more draft coverage, you can hear in-depth analysis twice a week on “With the First Pick” — our year-round NFL Draft podcast that features former longtime Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. You can find “With the First Pick” wherever you get your podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, etc. Listen to the latest episode below!
Christian Jones, OT, Texas
Jones opted to return to Austin for a sixth season, and he’s only improved his draft stock through two games, including that huge win on the road vs. Alabama on Saturday night. He has made 37 career starts, was named 2022 All-Big 12 honorable mention, and has also been named to the Academic All-Big 12 Teams in 2021 and 2022.
Keep your eye on the right tackle, No. 70, below:
Galko: “Truly an unsung hero of the Texas win, Jones shutdown Christian Braswell and Dallas Turner almost every time he had to face one of them, helping set up more than a few big runs that Texas needed to keep drives alive and capitalize in the red zone. Jones has started a LOT of games for Texas, and his confidence and technique shows, but seeing him take the next step in his development is a strong sign that he still has room to get even better.”
Dominick Puni, OT, Kansas
Puni began his career at Division II Central Michigan where he earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors in 2019. The team didn’t play in 2020 because of COVID, and he appeared in just one game in 2021 before being sidelined with a knee injury. He joined the Jayhawks before the 2022 campaign and was a starter along the offensive line for the season opener against Tennessee Tech. He didn’t allow a sack in his first three games (all starts), and started 11 games last season. He was impressive in Saturday’s win over Illinois, where he played left tackle and more than held his own against defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton, a likely first-round pick next spring.
Galko: “Puni entered the year with ample NFL excitement and talent as a tackle/guard prospect, but he’s continued to impress all season. His play against a versatile, highly talented Illinois defensive front seven will be a key tape NFL scouts and decision makers go back to watch when deciding how early to draft Puni. It’s to find versatile, balanced and strong offensive linemen like Puni, and he’s proving to be among the best in the country this season so far.
Jasheen Davis, EDGE, Wake Forest
Davis entered the 2023 season tied for 11th in career sacks in Wake Forest history with 12.5. He had seven a year ago, and he’s tallied 1.5 sacks through two games in 2023. He was consistently in the backfield against Vanderbilt and has one of the highest motors of any player in the country. He was named second-team Freshman All-American in 2021 and earned All-ACC Honorable Mention in 2022.
Galko: “Davis was dominant against Vanderbilt, putting up seven pressures and nearly having three sacks on the game. More impressively, he won with first-step burst, bend off the edge, counter rushes back inside, penetration from interior alignments and working through double teams with strong hands and balance. Davis was unblockable in multiple ways,, which shows he’ll be able to win in any NFL scheme.”
Jahdae Barron, DB, Texas
In his Texas career, Barron has scored on a blocked punt return, a fumble recovery and a pick-six. He was Honorable Mention All-Big 12 last season and a first-team Academic All-Big 12 in 2021. He started nine games in 2022 and finished with two interceptions and three pass breakups. He’s been exceptional through two games this season.
Galko: “Barron plays the STAR position for the Texas defense and lived up to that position in the team’s win over Alabama. Not only did he have a key interception that swung the game, but he proved to be an important run defender, a mid-field coverage defender who gave Jalen Milroe fits, and a galvanizing leader before and during the game.”