Risers & Sliders -- Week 8

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Week 8 on the college schedule saw another undefeated team get manhandled and fall in the rankings, and it was another week where defensive players stepped to the forefront. Here are the Risers & Sliders for Week 8.

Risers

Brian Burns/Edge/Florida State: Burns could’ve been added to the risers list any number of weeks this season, but as he was tearing up opposing offenses, opponents were tearing up Florida State. The Seminoles have seemingly turned the corner, and Burns was terrific during their win over Wake Forest. He finished the game with four tackles including two for loss, two sacks and two hurries. His fourth-down sack early in the game when Wake Forest owned a 10-point lead and was driving for another score changed the momentum of the game. In seven games this season, Burns has recorded nine sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. I graded him as a second-round prospect in July and would not be surprised if Burns slides into the first round.

Chase Winovich/Edge/Michigan: With star defensive lineman Rashan Gary sidelined with a shoulder issue the past three weeks, Winovich was forced to shoulder the load up front and he’s done exactly that. The Wolverines held interstate rival Michigan State to a total of 112 yards during their 21-7 victory, and Winovich was all over the field. He finished the game with four tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and three hurries and made a nuisance of himself all game. Winovich is a relentless defender who plays as though his hair’s on fire, sacrificing his body to make the tackle. He comes with poor computer numbers, which will likely keep him out of the draft’s initial 90 picks, but has the temperament and ability to make an active roster in the NFL as a situational pass rusher.

Juan Thornhill/DB/Virginia: The Cavaliers are one victory away from bowl eligibility, and their defense has helped lead the team to a 5-2 record. Thornhill, a player who entered the season with mid-round grades and someone we spoke highly of during our Virginia preview, has been impressive throughout the campaign. During the victory over Duke and their highly rated quarterback Daniel Jones, Thornhill accounted for eight tackles and one interception. He leads the UVA defense with 45 tackles and four interceptions after seven games and is watching his draft stock head north. Thornhill is a nice-sized defensive back with a physical nature to his game. He’s stout defending the run and offers solid ball skills. Solid predraft workouts could push Thornhill into the third round.

T.J. Hockenson/TE/Iowa: When the topic turns to Hawkeyes tight ends, the name Noah Fant is usually the first one uttered, but Hockenson has outplayed his teammate in recent weeks. While Fant has been good, Hockenson has shown great improvement and is shoulder to shoulder with his teammate. He finished the Maryland game on Saturday with three receptions for 30 yards after four receptions for 107 yards the prior week against Indiana. Fant is still rated higher on our board, but Hockenson is a legitimate next-level prospect who will be drafted much earlier than people presently predict.

Cortez Broughton/DE/Cincinnati: Broughton has quietly had a terrific season and performed well during the Bearcats' first loss of the season at the hands of Temple. He finished the contest with four tackles, two tackles for loss and one pass breakup, which gives Broughton 13 tackles for loss and five sacks in seven games this season. Graded as a priority free agent entering the season, Broughton has the size and style to line up as a three-technique tackle at the next level and he may be doing just enough in 2018 to squeeze into the late rounds of April's draft.

Sleeper Prospect - Anthony Rush/NT/Alabama Birmingham: You have to love the UAB football program. Less than two seasons after returning from the dead, the team is making a run for the Conference USA title and is doing it with defense. One of the main cogs up front is Rush, a massive lineman who takes up a large swath of space while showing nice athleticism in his game. Rush measures just under 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at 350 pounds but easily moves about the field. He beats blockers with shear power as well as quickness and slides around them as easily as he bullrushes past opponents. I presently grade Rush as a sixth-round prospect, and he’s a name to remember heading towards next April’s draft.

Small-School Prospect - Brandon Dillon/TE/Marian: With the senior tight end class lacking star talent, the hunt is on for sleepers at the position; enter Dillon. The small-school prospect has big-league production and next-level measurables. He hits the tape at 6-foot-3.5, tips the scales at 245 pounds and times in the 4.7s. In seven games this season, Dillon has caught 29 passes for 502 yards (17.3 yard average) with four touchdowns. He’s averaged slightly under 16 yards per reception the past four years. I’m hoping Dillon is offered an invite to the Shrine Game and gets the same opportunity Eric Saubert received two years ago. Good workouts in the lead-up to the draft could push Dillon into the last round.

Sliders

Jalen Jelks/Edge/Oregon: Jelks grades out high in the areas of football intelligence, effort and competitiveness but grades poorly in the measurables area; something that was very evident the past two weeks. He totaled four tackles against Washington then produced the same numbers against Washington State. During the loss to WSU on Saturday, Jelks was routinely manhandled by Cougars left tackle Andre Dillard. In seven games this season, he’s registered 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. We gave Jelks a mid-to-late second-round grade entering the season, which was a full frame higher than scouts who stamped him as a third-round prospect. There’s been talk about Jelks as a potential top-20 selection in Round 1, something I just don’t see happening. This is not to say Jelks won’t be a good football player in the NFL in due time, but people are overrating where he’ll end up in next April’s draft.