Biggest NFL Draft Risers and Fallers After Week 14 of College Football
The final regular-season tune-up before championship week gave us some memorable games and legendary performances.
A few players had the types of showings that will go down in the annals of their respective programs' histories. Case in point: You think Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins' performance to end 15 years of futility against Virginia Tech won't be memorialized somehow?
In another rendition of "The Game" in Ann Arbor, Ohio State's "other" Heisman Trophy candidate proved he at least belongs in the conversation along with quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young.
Conversely, a couple of big-armed quarterbacks had weekends they'd like to have back.
NFL analysts don't base their draft slots only on Saturday performances, but games against rival opponents on big stages obviously carry weight.
Let's take a look at players who possibly earned some money this weekend and others who raised questions.
Riser: J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State Running Back
The heroes for the Buckeyes were numerous Saturday afternoon in yet another beatdown of the rival Wolverines, who looked to be making a late-season run and hoping to be in prime position for an upset.
Instead, Ohio State outscored the Wolverines 28-11 in the second half to wind up walloping coach Jim Harbaugh's team 56-27.
Yes, quarterback Justin Fields had four touchdowns despite exiting the game briefly with an injury. But the star of the show was backfield mate J.K. Dobbins, who may just wind up surging to the top of the running back board.
He should be battling Najee Harris, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers and Chuba Hubbard as the top runner taken overall. With Dobbins' game-breaking ability and his between-the-tackles prowess, he has it all.
Against Michigan, he ran 31 times for 211 yards and four touchdowns.
With Fields definitely back in Columbus for another year, Dobbins and star defensive end Chase Young have decisions to make. Young's seems obvious, but Dobbins could return for another season.
He may just be playing his way into the first round, though.
Faller: Anthony Gordon, Washington State Quarterback
In B/R colleague Matt Hayes' brilliant feature last week on Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon, coach Mike Leach heaped praise on his senior quarterback.
Like Gardner Minshew, Gordon burst onto the scene as a senior for the Cougars. And like with Minshew, Leach said, NFL scouts will have plenty of questions.
They'll likely have more after Friday's frustrating 31-13 loss to rival Washington in yet another Apple Cup cupcake for the Huskies.
Gordon needed to be the catalyst for the Cougars in beating a mediocre Washington team, but instead it was the Huskies who confused Gordon much of the game, kept him from doing anything downfield and stuffed nearly every drive.
Completing mostly underneath routes, he wound up 48-of-62 for 308 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Perhaps most damning: five red-zone trips resulted in just one touchdown and two field goals.
This was a game Gordon would love to forget, and though he's posted huge numbers that lead college football in several high-visibility categories, this Huskies secondary has struggled at times this year, and he couldn't take advantage.
When you couple performances like this with his slight frame (6'3", 210 lbs) and the fact that he can't make every throw on the field, Gordon may be a late-round pick if he's selected at all.
Riser: Tee Higgins, Clemson Wide Receiver
Tee Higgins does things most receivers cannot do.
Good thing for Clemson he has a fellow receiver in Justyn Ross who can make ridiculously athletic plays too. The Tigers are thankful Ross has another year in orange, but it would be a stunner if Higgins didn't forgo his final year at Clemson and head to the NFL.
He's definitely ready.
Clemson put the game against South Carolina on cruise control in the second half on its way to a 38-3 win, and while Ross led the team in catches and yards, Higgins had the big ones early.
The lanky 6'4" junior from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, had three catches for 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Tigers built their lead. That puts Higgins' numbers on the season at 43 catches for 900 yards and 10 scoring grabs.
With at least two more games (and likely more) to play, a 1,000-yard season should be expected.
Trevor Lawrence and Co. are thriving, and Saturday's win over the Gamecocks marked the seventh consecutive game he's had at least three scoring tosses.
Clemson is dangerous for anybody, and Higgins is looking unguardable.
Faller: Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri Tight End
This has been a disappointing season for Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who was supposed to be the nation's top prospect at his position.
Though he's been battling injuries and didn't play a week ago against Tennessee, Okwuegbunam was a nonfactor against Arkansas in a 24-14 win. Maybe he wasn't 100 percent, but a player as talented as him must get touches.
This is more of an indictment against former coach Barry Odom (who was fired Saturday) and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley. One of these days when Okwuegbunam is an NFL star, everybody is going to be puzzled by his final season in Columbia.
He still has a bowl game to play, but he has just 26 catches for 306 yards and six touchdowns this year. No, those aren't bad numbers, but he should have been a bigger part of the offense.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons Mizzou is looking for a new coach.
This season was a bust, with Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant never developing a relationship with Dooley or finding an identity with the Tigers while battling through his own share of injuries.
Drew Lock was a much better-suited maestro for this offense, but he left plenty of weapons for Bryant to utilize, and Okwuegbunam was the biggest. The Odom-Dooley tandem wasted him.
Riser: Bryce Huff, Memphis Edge
Bryce Huff is a 6'3", 255-pound senior defensive end on a team known only for its offensive prowess. But you'd better believe NFL scouts will pay attention to him when they're flocking around Memphis' program.
Yes, Damonte Coxie, Kenneth Gainwell and even quarterback Brady White will have extended looks by NFL teams, but in a year when edge-rushers are at a premium, the Mobile, Alabama, native could get selected on Day 2 of the draft.
Games like Friday's will help.
With Cincinnati breaking in new quarterback Ben Bryant, Huff pinned his ears back and got after him. He was one of the biggest playmakers on the field and in college football's final weekend.
He teamed with Joseph Dorceus for a formidable one-two punch for which the Bearcats simply had no answer.
Huff finished with eight tackles (seven solo), two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in the 34-24 victory. He also forced a pair of fumbles and terrorized the Bearcats all night.
If he does it again next week in the AAC title game, he may continue to see his stock rise. Just how far up the ladder can Huff go? He's proving every week he may be more explosive than was originally expected.
Faller: Nate Stanley, Iowa Quarterback
When an NFL scout talks about somebody being able to "make all the throws," that doesn't always mean he does.
But Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley can. With his big frame and big arm, he'll be on NFL draft boards. The 6'4", 243-pound Hawkeyes signal-caller almost certainly will get drafted after exhausting his eligibility this season.
But it's hit-or-miss for Stanley from week to week. Maybe it's coach Kirk Ferentz's conservative system, or maybe he just isn't the complete package at quarterback.
All the tools are there, but there are plenty of times Stanley's numbers leave you puzzled. Friday's narrow 27-24 win over Nebraska was one of those. Yes, he got the Hawkeyes in position for the game-winning field goal at the end of the game.
But his numbers were mediocre, at best. Against a porous Cornhuskers defense, Stanley finished 11-of-24 for 99 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
HawkeyeNation.com's David Schwartz wrote a great column on Stanley's legacy with this excerpt: "What we can do is wonder out loud how his career—his legacy—would have been different if he had ever totally figured out how to control the strength of his arm as some of history’s most storied QBs had to learn before they could become great, players such as John Elway and Brett Favre."
Perhaps Stanley is just a late-blooming quarterback who will come into his own in the right NFL system. Somebody is going to take a chance on him because of his immense talent, but Stanley has to eradicate games like Friday's.
Riser: Bryce Perkins, Virginia Quarterback
Nobody is talking about Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins in the signal-caller pecking order, but perhaps we should start.
Even if an NFL team doesn't think he can cut it behind center, the Hoos' senior is proving every week he'll be able to play somewhere in the pros.
At 6'3", 215 pounds and running a 4.55 40-yard dash, Perkins has a unique skill set. It's one Reuters (via Yahoo Sports) thinks highly enough of to compare Perkins to Lamar Jackson "from a size and style perspective."
That's high praise. Coach Bronco Mendenhall echoed the accolades.
"I don't think there's anything he can't do. There's not a play he can't make," he told NBC29.com's Mike Shiers. "I think Bryce Perkins changes the face of UVA football. This era certainly doesn't happen without Bryce at quarterback."
But, as the Reuters article states, "While talented, Perkins remains quite raw as a passer, too often throwing off his back foot and spraying the ball."
Virginia Tech would probably vouch for his ability. Perkins was instrumental in ending the Hokies' 15-year winning streak over the Cavaliers with an unreal performance in a 39-30 victory on Friday. Perkins completed 20-of-33 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown and ran for 164 yards and two more scores.
Regardless of what his position is in the pros, Perkins will have a spot somewhere.
Riser: Zack Baun, Wisconsin Outside Linebacker
Wisconsin took all those good vibes from Minnesota's feel-good, one-loss season and squashed them like a gopher in a snare on Saturday afternoon in a 38-17 win.
While there were plenty of heroes on both sides of the ball for the Badgers in a good, old-fashioned Big Ten powerhouse win like they had earlier in the season, the biggest playmaker for coach Paul Chryst was Zack Baun.
The 6'3", 235-pound outside linebacker started the season scorching-hot back when Wisconsin wasn't allowing its opponents to do anything at all on offense, but he quieted down through the middle of the season. Against the Golden Gophers, he was wreaking havoc again.
Baun led the team with nine tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. That brings his total to 11.5 sacks this year, tying him with teammate Chris Orr for second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Chase Young.
With his size, speed and defensive intelligence, Baun is going to make some NFL team extremely happy. He also has the ability to do well in coverage, too. The senior can be an all-around package as an outside linebacker.
According to Wisconsin State-Journal reporter Colten Bartholomew, "CBS’ Josh Edwards lists Baun as a 'priority Day 2 prospect,' meaning a high-level pick in the second or third round of the draft."
Baun was one of the few bright spots in Wisconsin's 38-7 loss to Ohio State earlier this year with 10 tackles and a sack, and with another spotlight game on Saturday with a Big Ten championship game berth on the line, he rose to the occasion again.
That's the kind of leadership and impact NFL teams covet.
Faller: Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado Wide Receiver
How long is it going to be until the NFL is in "show-me" mode with Laviska Shenault Jr.?
The Colorado junior wide receiver can be one of college football's top playmakers with the ball in his hands, and the Buffaloes try various ways to get him the ball. But when they needed him to be explosive against the Pac-12's top team on Saturday, he wasn't able to.
It's hard critiquing Shenault too badly since he finished with a team-high four catches for 43 yards and added 25 yards on five carries, but 68 total yards in a 45-15 slaughter by the Utes was not exactly the type of ringing showing he needed.
Several NFL draft boards have Shenault as a late-first round pick because of his ability to be a game-breaker, his special teams acumen and the extra gear he has that some others don't. But this hasn't been a particularly superb season.
Even with a senior quarterback in Steven Montez throwing him the ball, Shenault hasn't been nearly as explosive as some of the top receivers in the nation. And that's who we're supposed to be comparing him to, right?
The Texas native has 764 receiving yards this year, but he's only scored four times through the air and another two times on the ground. He's been a nonfactor in several big games.
For every monster game like the one against USC, there's been a dud like the early-season win over Nebraska. Shenault needs to develop more consistency. The spotty play won't cut it in the pros.
Riser: Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky Athlete
Maybe you haven't heard too much about Kentucky do-it-all junior superstar Lynn Bowden Jr. because he plays for a mediocre team.
But what he's been able to accomplish this year for the bowl-eligible Wildcats is nothing short of remarkable. The way head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran tailored their offense to fit Bowden's skill set saved the season and has the Wildcats going back to a solid bowl.
Last year, the 6'1", 200-pound wide receiver led Kentucky with 67 catches for 745 yards and scored five touchdowns on arguably the Wildcats' best football team ever. He was expected to return this year and be UK's top playmaker, and boy, has he ever.
It just hasn't been in the capacity expected.
After injuries and inefficiency plagued Kentucky's quarterback situation following a season-ending injury to Terry Wilson, the Cats inserted Bowden as their signal-caller. He's not a traditional quarterback, but the elite athlete has willed UK to several wins.
One of those came in a rivalry blowout of Louisville on Saturday in which he finished with 22 carries for 284 yards and four touchdowns. The Cardinals simply could not stop him the entire game in a 45-13 thumping. Bowden attempted just two passes and completed one for four yards.
He finished the year with 330 passing yards and two touchdowns, 1,235 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground and 348 yards and another touchdown through the air.
Bowden won't play quarterback in the pros, but he's had as big of an impact playing the position on the fly as anybody in the SEC since Georgia's Hines Ward way back in the 1990s. He'll be electric in the NFL.