Biggest NFL Draft Risers and Fallers After Week 9 of College Football
Week 9 of the college football season brought several key matchups that shook up the standings. Joe Burrow led LSU past Auburn in a narrow home win. Oklahoma shockingly dropped the ball against Kansas State in Manhattan, opening the door for a slew of College Football Playoff contenders. And the Big Ten saw big winners with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota.
Beyond the biggest games, numerous individuals across the nation stood out or struggled.
The NFL always keeps a close eye on Saturdays to unearth the next great playmaker. We've been watching as well and have found eight individuals who helped or hurt their 2020 draft stock in Week 9.
This week's risers can build on this momentum or slide back into the pack, while those who are trending downward can still rebound. That's the beauty of college football—another game is just days away to prove oneself.
We're looking at traits and situational play for each of these eight risers and fallers. It's not just about the numbers, though often those who produce are doing so because of a special skill set.
Riser: CJ Verdell, RB, Oregon
Production tends to come in large flurries for Oregon running back CJ Verdell. The redshirt sophomore has been in rotation for much of the year but has taken over two of the last three games for the Ducks. His latest achievement was a virtuoso performance against Washington State.
Racking up a career-high 257 yards on the ground and three scores to go with 56 receiving yards put Verdell on the NFL's map. Stoutly built at 5'9" and 210 pounds, Verdell can withstand contact and maintain his speed to find extra yards. He repeatedly gashed the Cougars defense by creating advantageous angles with his vision and relying on his burst to zoom past defenders.
His production spike comes behind one of the nation's better offensive lines but isn't solely due to his surrounding cast. Verdell already looks like a potential third-down specialist at the next level with room to grow into a bigger role. He's the biggest winner from action this weekend.
Faller: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
2019 has been a massively disappointing year for Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. Expectations were high that he would take the next step in his developmental arc after a productive 2018 campaign. But he's been exposed after the departures of head coach Matt Wells and running back Darwin Thompson.
Despite his beautiful throwing motion, Love's inconsistencies with accuracy and poise under pressure were on display in a shocking beatdown by Air Force. He completed just 14 of 23 passes for 114 yards, continually opting to check down and failing to convert on eight of nine third-down opportunities.
Love has natural talent to develop at the next level. Talk that he is a first-round, ready-to-start talent should be gone, though, as he clearly needs reps to improve. The mental side of his game must catch up to his physical gifts.
Love can be a great quarterback if that happens, but it's fair to ask whether his situation at Utah State will help him reach that ceiling.
Riser: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
Flash back to a year ago when Ohio State struggled to run the ball despite boasting a talented duo in Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins. Weber ended up being drafted in the seventh round, and excitement around Dobbins was muted because of his drop in production. But the issues that plagued the 2018 Buckeyes included poor run blocking, which masked how well Dobbins can perform when given a crease.
He showed this again Saturday as he outgained Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor in a Buckeyes blowout. Dobbins squeezed through tight lanes on interior runs to post 8.2 yards per carry and raced into the open field on outside zone calls to complement his inside rush ability. He totaled 221 yards on only 23 touches.
His explosiveness has never been in question, but his ability to be a workhorse was confirmed this week. Beating up on a tough and disciplined Wisconsin front in the rain is an impressive feat. He cemented himself as a top-three back in the upcoming draft class with this performance.
Faller: Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Considered arguably the best defensive player in the nation entering the year, LSU junior Grant Delpit hasn't had the same impact this season as we saw in 2018. Delpit has played in coverage more often but has rarely been seen near the ball. That continued against a freshman quarterback at home this past week.
Playing against Bo Nix was a good time for Delpit to show dominance with turnover-worthy plays. He had five tackles and logged a pass breakup, but explosive plays have been missing all year. He has just 43 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups.
He could've turned a mediocre season around with this game. Instead, the 6'3", 203-pound safety appears to be more of a box defender than a rangy, dangerous coverage option for NFL teams. That doesn't mean he's bad, but predecessor Jamal Adams has had similar struggles producing turnovers at the next level. It's getting harder to justify taking that type of safety high in the first round.
Riser: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Although LSU was able to pull out the key home win, the best player on the field besides quarterback Joe Burrow was Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. The massive 6'5", 318-pounder has been beating up on offensive linemen all year, but it's important he showed out against LSU in a prime-time battle. Brown likely solidified his top-15 value this week.
He stuffed the stat sheet with seven tackles and one sack. LSU repeatedly found success running the ball, but it was away from Brown in order to avoid his disruption. The constant double-teams and directional running show the effect of a dominant presence on the interior.
Brown's blend of speed off the line of scrimmage and strength to anchor his lower body is NFL-ready. He wasn't good enough to single-handedly win this game for the Tigers, but his disruptiveness projects him as a valuable NFL talent.
Faller: Cole Van Lanen, LT, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin-Ohio State showdown was the opportunity of a lifetime for those tasked with blocking future top-three NFL pick Chase Young. The Wisconsin offensive line absolutely failed the challenge, giving up six tackles, four sacks and five tackles for loss. While Young deserves Heisman hype, the individual talent on Wisconsin's line disappointed.
Left tackle Cole Van Lanen had the most on the line this week and looked overwhelmed when the two matched up. He lacked the lower-body strength to withstand Young's powerful leg drive and the speed to stop him from bending around the edge. NFL edge players are going to beat him in similar ways.
The potential solution is likely for Van Lanen to move to right tackle in the pros if he has similar issues next year. The junior may very well continue to improve his technique and body strength before he makes the jump, but there's no question he isn't ready for the life of an NFL left tackle.
Riser: Xavier Jones, RB, SMU
Another running back who helped himself tremendously this week is SMU's Xavier Jones. The senior back from Spring, Texas, lit up the Houston Cougars on prime time Thursday, springing loose for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Having been in the audience that night, I can confirm the terror he put into Houston fans and the defense each time he touched the ball.
His dazzling 62-yard touchdown run was a showing of excellent natural balance and vision to find the open field. He cut back across the field to find daylight and then exploded through several would-be tacklers before he eventually scored. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game and his sixth in eight games this year.
Jones had mostly been a forgotten man after an injury-shortened junior campaign, but he's assembled two seasons in 2017 and 2019 where he's established himself as a playmaker on the ground. Watch for him to get Day 3 looks from teams that need depth and upside from their third running backs.
Faller: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
For much of the season, we have seen an improved Oklahoma Sooners defense. Alex Grinch produced much better gap control as a first-year defensive coordinator, and linebacker Kenneth Murray was the main finisher around the line of scrimmage. Then the wheels came off against Kansas State in a shocking upset.
Murray was often nowhere to be found as the powerful Wildcats rushing attack took over this contest in the middle quarters. K-State running back James Gilbert led the way with 105 yards on only 13 carries. Murray failed to log a tackle for loss and had only four stops the entire night. The Sooners desperately needed their defensive captain to make an impact play.
That never happened, and the Sooners fell. Murray's struggles shedding blocks reappeared, and his play strength was an issue as it was in prior years. He'll project into the NFL as a rangy coverage option, possibly as a weak-side linebacker, but his fit in the middle leaves too many question marks about whether he can handle that beating.