Biggest NFL Draft Risers and Fallers After Week 11 of College Football
On a day when four undefeated teams faced off in two epic battles that lived up to the hype, several players took advantage of the brightest stages in college football.
In Tuscaloosa, there were so many offensive superstars that it's hard to say anybody fell in the eyes of the NFL scouts, but several elevated their games. Sure, the defenses sputtered along, but that was expected, wasn't it?
Then in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Golden Gophers shocked the college football world staying undefeated against Penn State.
It was a separation day for some of the running backs on the NFL's watch list, and several defenders made the list too. But the biggest game belonged to the Heisman Trophy front-runner, who looks like he sealed the deal in the biggest game of the year.
Let's take a look at the biggest risers and fallers in the NFL draft for Week 11 of college football's action.
Riser: Joe Burrow, LSU Quarterback
With everybody watching, Joe Burrow proved to the world he deserves to win the Heisman Trophy.
The LSU senior signal-caller may just be running away with it.
As the Bayou Bengals built their 33-13 halftime lead, Burrow was nearly perfect, misfiring on just one first-half pass. He wound up 31-of-39 passing for 393 yards and three touchdowns.
He also used his legs, gaining 64 yards on 14 carries and helping the Tigers finally put away the hard-charging Crimson Tide in the second half.
For every one of Tua Tagovailoa's haymakers after the break as the Tide tried to come back, Burrow countered with a body blow. Yes, Tagovailoa's numbers were a bit better, but the Alabama quarterback threw a massive interception and had a pivotal fumble in the first half.
He also didn't have quite the flair for the dramatic as Burrow, who is now the clear favorite for college football's top award. His Tigers looked unstoppable yet again offensively Saturday in an eventual 46-41 instant classic where LSU needed every ounce of Burrow's heroics.
After the game, the Ohio State transfer told the CBS television crew how he expected to play in games like this, just not in this uniform. He's going to go down as one of the Tigers' all-time greats, though, and NFL teams have to take notice.
He continues his surge from a Day 2 pick or worse all the way into the first round. Now, it's only a matter of how high he can go.
Faller: Sean Clifford, Penn State Quarterback
Listen: Sean Clifford likely was never going to come out as a redshirt sophomore and head to the NFL draft, so putting him on this list is a little bit of a low blow.
But the Penn State quarterback is draft-eligible, and after a dynamite start to the season, he made some gaffes Saturday against the Golden Gophers that hurt the Nittany Lions.
Clifford threw three picks, and he proved throughout the game that, while he has skills and will someday be a top-flight NFL prospect, he's not ready to make that leap. This is his first year as the Lions quarterback, and he's been a great fit for James Franklin's system.
But Clifford's decision-making must improve.
He was a gutsy performer Saturday, battling through fourth-quarter cramps. Also, he showed his leadership by taking blame for the loss in a game that was by no means his fault.
"It's one of those things where you can't help but blame yourself, especially after my performance today," Clifford told PennLive.com's Greg Pickel. "I think that I could have played a lot better. I say that each week, but this week it actually hurt us."
It's tough to put any player as a draft "faller" when he wasn't likely to come out, but the biggest positives from Saturday's 31-26 loss is how Clifford shouldered the load and then shouldered the blame. That's what you want to see.
Better days are ahead, and the NFL can wait.
Riser: Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota Safety
On the opposite side of the field from Sean Clifford was a nemesis who enjoyed a career day in his program's biggest win in decades.
Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is a bit undersized for a safety at 5'10", 205 pounds, and he has battled injuries throughout his career that have kept him from living up to his potential, but the redshirt sophomore showed out on the biggest stage against Penn State.
He wound up with 11 tackles and two huge interceptions of Clifford in the Gophers' classic win.
If you're thinking, "Man, that name sounds familiar," it should. His dad was an NFL All-Pro defensive back with the Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks who was a first-round pick after a great career at Ohio State.
The elder Winfield watched his son imitating his old man against Penn State.
As Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck would say, the younger Winfield had an "elite" day, for sure.
Winfield isn't going to climb many draft boards this year, most likely. With two years of eligibility and Minnesota's program ready to participate in more showcase games after its 9-0 start to the season, Winfield may want to head back to school for at least another year.
But it's games like Saturday's that will make him (and the NFL) think that one over.
Faller: A.J. Dillon, Boston College Running Back
Continuing with the hard-luck "fallers" on the list, Boston College's A.J. Dillon had 165 rushing yards against Florida State on Saturday.
But here's the deal: he did it on 40 carries (a 4.1 average), and he didn't get in the end zone in a 38-31 loss to Florida State. This was after the Seminoles fired coach Willie Taggart last week and lost top defender Marvin Wilson for the year to a hand injury.
This was a golden opportunity for the Eagles, who needed to ride their star running back to a victory over FSU. Instead, that didn't happen.
Boston College should have run all over a Seminoles team trying to find its way throughout another difficult season. While Dillon is going to be a big-time pickup for somebody, he is probably losing ground to other runners like Chuba Hubbard, Jonathan Taylor, D'Andre Swift, Najee Harris and Travis Etienne.
Every game is a battle where you know scouts are seeing how they perform, and while FSU runner Cam Akers didn't exactly dazzle, either, this was a missed opportunity for Dillon.
The 250-pound junior runner is a Marshawn Lynch clone who has a high ceiling and a definite spot on an NFL team, likely after this season. But the throwback runner will have better days than he did in a loss Saturday.
A rugged effort would have looked a whole lot better with a "W."
Riser: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Running Back
Jonathan Taylor needed this.
Wisconsin needed this.
The Badgers beat No. 18 Iowa and its rugged defense 24-22 in a slugfest at Camp Randall on Saturday afternoon, and Taylor was the workhorse. Like A.J. Dillon, he didn't get in the end zone. But he got the win for his team, and they couldn't have done it without riding the junior.
After losses to Illinois and Ohio State where Taylor couldn't make a difference (even turning into a nonfactor against the Buckeyes), the Badgers got a week off to rest. Taylor then showed a little spring in his step against the Hawkeyes.
He ran for a season-high 250 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry in a massive win for a Badgers team that can still salvage a strong season.
"We knew going in it was a heck of a defense we'd be facing. I thought guys, I think they played well. We had a good plan for them, but you've got to execute it. And obviously JT was big," Badgers coach Paul Chryst told the Wisconsin State Journal's Colten Bartholomew.
There's little else for the New Jersey native to show the NFL. He's done all he can on the college level, and now it's just a matter of positioning as far as where he goes in the draft if he elects to come out a year early.
Games like Saturday's show he can stay firmly in the first round, and this was a major rebound for one of the sport's biggest, most consistent stars.
Faller: Jalen Reagor, TCU Wide Receiver
There's no question TCU junior Jalen Reagor can be electrifying with the ball in his hands, but it's a bit puzzling he's getting some first-round buzz with so many terrific wide receivers out there.
Between the receiving corps of Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma, there are plenty of players who probably should be considered over Reagor, despite his change-of-pace potential that could make him the kind of next-level impact as Marquise "Hollywood" Brown or Mecole Hardman.
In Saturday's three-overtime tilt with unbeaten Baylor, there were plenty of opportunities for Reagor to prove he can separate from the pack.
He didn't do it.
TCU freshman quarterback Max Duggan completed just 14 of 32 passes, and Reagor barely scratched the stat sheet, catching one pass for eight yards and running two times for another four yards.
Ho-hum. He disappeared at one of the biggest moments of the season.
Reagor is going to go in the first two rounds, most likely, and you can't teach his type of speed. It will show extremely well in the NFL combine for sure. But he did not help his stock at all against Baylor on a day when CeeDee Lamb, DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Ja'Marr Chase had big games.
Riser: Najee Harris, Alabama Running Back
In the midst of all those PlayStation passing numbers posted by Tua Tagovailoa and his record-setting Alabama passing attack, you may have forgotten about running back Najee Harris.
The 2017 5-star top-ranked running back in the nation is still around, though, and he proved Saturday why you should remember him.
NFL scouts will, certainly.
While receivers pin-balled all over the field and Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow found them for big gains, both the Crimson Tide and Tigers had massive performances from their running backs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire drew Darren Sproles comparisons from the CBS crew with his herculean effort.
But Alabama, at times, rode on the shoulders of Harris, the junior from California whose numbers perhaps haven't been what you'd expect when he was a prospect. He had to wait his turn behind NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris.
Then, of course, there's all those big numbers from Tua and crew.
But Harris is still a star. He ran for 146 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown against the Tigers, at times powering through the line of scrimmage and punishing Bayou Bengals on the second level. He added three catches for 44 yards and another touchdown.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Harris is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, a trait that will make him more attractive to NFL teams. This was a massive effort in a loss that will show well with scouts.
Faller: Brycen Hopkins, Purdue Tight End
At 6'5", 245 pounds, Purdue tight end Brycen Hopkins has been a revelation in his senior year, and he should be the front-runner for the Mackey Award.
But the gap closed in Saturday's 24-22 win against Northwestern. The Wildcats keyed on the Nashville, Tennessee, native, and it showed. They were the first ones to really swarm him and slow him down.
With Rondale Moore going down earlier this year and quarterback injuries plaguing the team, this hasn't been a great year, but Hopkins had been a constant, torching Nebraska last weekend and entering Saturday with 42 catches for 538 yards and three touchdowns.
On Saturday, he didn't have a big part of the offense, finishing with just three grabs for 23 yards.
With Hopkins' ability to flex out as a receiver or play in-line and do everything you want at the position, he has a terrific chance to be the top tight end taken, and he could be selected as early as late in the first round. Every NFL team is looking for that next all-around matchup nightmare.
But games like Saturday will allow guys like Penn State's Pat Freiermuth, Stanford's Colby Parkinson and others to close the gap.
The Boilermakers survived against a bad Northwestern team, and they have dealt with a banged-up offense all year. They need Hopkins to be better than he was against the Wildcats if they're going to rally.
Riser: Quincy Roche, Temple Defensive End
You've probably not heard Quincy Roche's name. Playing at Temple, he doesn't get the headlines that many of the Power 5 defenders get.
But the weak-side defensive end is going to be on plenty of NFL teams' radars, and he may wind up playing his way up into the third or fourth round. The 6'4", 235-pound pass-rusher has the kind of speed off the edge you cannot teach.
Ask South Florida.
In Thursday night's 17-7 win over South Florida, the Owls defense was dominant against a Bulls team that had been playing much better since the insertion of freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud. Not against Temple, though. McCloud was sacked nine times.
Roche had 3.5 of them, more than doubling his season total of three.
While it wasn't a high-profile matchup and South Florida is far from a marquee opponent, this was a showcase game because of the prime-time slot in a non-Saturday game where an American Athletic Conference team can take advantage.
Roche has all the ability, even if he doesn't have the headlines. No front-seven defender in college football was better than him or more impactful on the game, and that's the kind of showing that gets you noticed.
Roche possibly made himself some money against the Bulls.
Faller: Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma Inside Linebacker
Oklahoma's defense is awful.
And, sure, it's possible for there to be quality NFL prospects on bad units like the Sooners defense, and Kenneth Murray certainly will wind up a relatively high draft pick.
But he's not a first-round pick, as some think.
The 6'2", 243-pound linebacker projects as an interior presence, but he's basically playing a rover or spotter position for OU right now, and that takes him out of a lot of plays. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has taken Murray out of his comfort zone, and it shows.
After tearing up the first part of the schedule, Murray has largely disappeared lately. It's no coincidence the Sooners are looking much worse on that side of the ball recently too.
On Saturday, they had to intercept an Iowa State two-point conversion attempt in the end zone to escape with a 42-41 win. Two weeks ago, Kansas State torched them, handing the Sooners their first loss of the season.
Murray hasn't made much of a difference in those two games.
"I wake up pissed off and I go to bed uneasy because the side of our ball didn't play to our standard," Murray told Norman News reporter Tyler Palmateer.
Grinch needs to make him a ball-hawking run-stopper where he belongs. If he doesn't, he's going to wind up costing Murray a whole lot of money. Murray will be a good NFL player and could be a steal in the second round, but he shouldn't be getting first-round buzz for now.