Week 11 Risers & Sliders

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

Auburn’s demolition of Georgia will send shock waves through the top of the national rankings. Alabama’s last-minute victory over Mississippi State may also impact the rankings. This week we look at several next-level linebackers and running backs flying under the radar, as well as the best small school cornerback you've probably never heard of. Here are the Risers & Sliders for Week 11.

Stephen Roberts/S/Auburn: Roberts was a player I wanted to place in the risers column the past few weeks, and his play against Georgia cinched the deal. The underrated safety finished the game with a team leading six tackles and two pass breakups. He helped hold the lethal Georgia duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to a combined 49 yards rushing while making several plays against screen passes which resulted in little yardage for the Bulldogs. Roberts lacks classic size, measuring under 6-foot and 200 pounds, but plays fast, instinctive football and makes plays sideline to sideline. I graded him as a potential third-rounder before the season began and I believe Roberts comes with a great deal of scheme versatility.

Leighton Vander Esch/LB/Boise State: The Broncos have had a number of front seven players selected in the early part of recent drafts (Kamalei Correa, Demarcus Lawrence, Shea McClellin), and Vander Esch could be the best of the bunch. Called a “special player” by some in the scouting community, the redshirt junior has been dominant this season after being limited to six games last year with assorted injuries. Vander Esch has posted 99 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and three forced fumbles in 10 games this season. He’s also intercepted two passes and broken up three more throws. He posted 13 tackles during the Broncos' wild comeback victory against Colorado State. A three-down linebacker with excellent size and a developing game, Vander Esch grades as an early pick. At present time, the feeling is he’ll stay at Boise State for his senior season.

T.J. Edwards/LB/Wisconsin: When Jack Cichy was lost to a knee injury before the season, some wondered about the middle of the Badgers defense. Enter Edwards, a three-year starter with a more complete game than his injured teammate. The athletic junior has proven himself as a terrific run defender as well as a linebacker with next-level ball skills. During the Badgers' drubbing of Iowa, he finished with five tackles while intercepting one pass and breaking up another. For the season, he’s posted 49 tackles, six tackles for loss and four INTs. Though vertically challenged, Edwards is a potential three-down player for the next level who stacks well against the run while showing the ability to cover running backs or tight ends on passing downs.

Nyheim Hines/RB/North Carolina State: The dynamic skill player put on a clinic against the stingy Boston College defense, proving he can score from any point on the field. Hines led the Wolfpack with 110 yards rushing on 19 carries, including a 50-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to clinch victory. The junior also added two receptions and returned three punts for 77 yards. Possessing game-breaking speed as well as the foot quickness to create yardage, Hines makes defenders miss and can run to daylight if given the slightest bit of open space. While not an every-down ball carrier for the next level, Hines is the type of player who can line up as a situational runner, a pass catcher out of the backfield or in the slot as well as a return specialist. His home run-hitting speed will be sought out once he’s available for the draft.

Myles Gaskin/RB/Washington: Gaskin is another smaller ball carrier making a big impact every weekend. While overshadowed during the upset loss to Stanford by fellow runner Bryce Love, the speedy junior still finished the game with 120 rushing yards on 18 carries (6.7 average) and brought three carries into the end zone for scores. For the season, Gaskin’s totals include 1038 yards rushing and 13 TDs. He’s another situational ball carrier with the ability to turn the perimeter then run to daylight. Gaskin must improve his pass-catching skill, but he’s a gamebreaker for the next level.

Hayden Hurst/TE/South Carolina: I mentioned Hurst prior to the season, and while the junior is not having a spectacular campaign he’s been steady. Consistently coming away with clutch receptions during the game's important moments, he hauled in seven receptions for 93 yards against Georgia and caught five passes for 59 yards during the victory over Florida last weekend. Hurst is not a blazer but has enough speed to stretch the seam and possesses the size and strength to be a blocking asset at the next level.

Sleeper Prospect - Dejon Allen/G/Hawaii: Entering the season, little was known about Allen but the senior has elevated his game to the point where he could sneak into the middle rounds of the draft. A wide-bodied blocker at 6-feet-2.5 and almost 300 pounds, Allen is quick, explosive and powerful while also displaying athleticism as well as top-flight footwork from his tackle position. Offering a large degree of versatility and the ability to line up in multiple blocking schemes, Allen has the potential to develop into a starting guard at the next level.

Small School Prospect - Michael Joseph/CB/Dubuque: Joseph continues the long line of cornerbacks from the small-school level whose names have been mentioned in this column. The D-III star has next level size (6-feet, 190 pounds), speed (low 4.4s 40) and ball skills. His eight interceptions this season makes 15 for his career at Dubuque. Joseph is a hard-hitting defensive back who plays smart, instinctive football and does a great job reading the action. Easily tracking the pass in the air, he shows great hands for the interception and catches the ball like a receiver. After watching him on film, I really believe Joseph is best at the next level in a zone system or backed off the line of scrimmage. Before any of that happens, Joseph will be making a trip down south in January to participate in the Senior Bowl. His ability to hold his own among the elite upperclassmen in the nation will go a long way in determining his final draft grade.


Folorunso Fatukasi/DL/UConn: The talented big man is struggling at nose tackle this season, and more than anything else, he's never really improved from his outstanding sophomore season of 2015. With three games left he’s totaled 38 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks -- all below his production from three years ago. Fatukasi has the size, quickness and athleticism to play at the next level but must step up his production.

Tracy Walker/S/Louisiana-Lafayette: Walker was graded as a potential second-day pick by scouts before the season, but on film he looks like a last-day player. There’s nothing outstanding about his game. Walker is a solid run defender (59 tackles in nine games) and a solid pass defenders (two INTs this season), yet his play does not warrant a second-day grade.