Every NFL team is looking for difference-makers who rise to the occasion at critical moments, inspiring teammates with their talent and timing, alike.
Week Four of the 2018 college football season featured several such players, some of whom sparked huge upset wins or fared well in a critical conference showdown. All are earning a jump up NFLDraftScout.com’s player rankings.
Consistency throughout the season, of course, is typically required for a player to truly improve one’s grade but at this early point, the goal is just to capture the attention of scouts.
And, with their performances Saturday, these five rising NFL prospects certainly accomplished that.
5. Jonathan Duhart, WR, Old Dominion, 6-3, 210, 4.55, # 9
There is plenty of credit to go around for Old Dominion’s stunning 49-35 win over 13th ranked Virginia Tech but no one played bigger than Duhart, who caught three of backup quarterback Blake LaRussa’s four touchdown throws on nine grabs for 142 yards in one of the biggest upsets in recent college football history. Like edge rusher Oshane Ximines, Duhart entered the game already very much on scouts’ radar, tying current Indianapolis Colts wideout Zach Pascal with nine touchdowns as a junior in 2016 before missing all but two games a year ago due to a broken right foot and redshirting. Duhart uses his big frame well to beat defenders on contested throws, such as he did in stalling and tracking this rainbow from LaRussa in the final moments to put ODU up for good.
4. Isaiah Buggs, DL, Alabama, 6-4, 292, 4.94, # 49
From the most surprising result of the weekend, we shift to consensus No. 1 Alabama, a team with no shortage of top NFL draft picks. While junior Raekwon Davis and even redshirt sophomore Quinnen Williams have generated plenty of buzz for their play, it was Buggs who dominated Texas A&M on Saturday, fighting his reputation as more of a run enforcer with seven tackles, including three sacks and two QB hurries. His five sacks so far this season top what he’s done in any of his three previous seasons, the first two of which came at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where Buggs emerged as one of the top two JUCO prospects in the entire country prior to signing to with the Crimson Tide and starting 13 games immediately (51 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks) last season. What Buggs may lack in quick-twitch explosiveness off the snap he makes up for with power and tenacity. Watch his bull rush and pounce on the quarterback on this snap.
3. David Blough, QB, Purdue, 6-0, 205, 4.74, # 11
Virginia Tech wasn’t the only ranked team in the ACC up-ended by a one-time backup quarterback over the weekend as Blough and the previously winless Boilermakers thumped a solid Boston College squad 30-13 in West Lafayette. Blough earns a spot in this week’s Risers list for tossing for 296 yards and three touchdowns in Purdue’s big win but he was even more impressive in a losing effort last week, when the fifth-year senior threw for a school-record 572 yards and set a Big Ten mark for total offense with 590 yards in a 40-37 loss to Missouri. Blough lacks preferred size and has a troubling history of injuries but his accuracy and toughness have turned heads in recent weeks -- as has breathtaking freshman wideout Rondale Moore.
2. JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford, 6-2, 222, 4.59, # 4
Heisman candidates Justin Herbert and Bryce Love got much of the attention in the build-up and game coverage of the pivotal Pac-12 showdown between Oregon and Stanford but it was the Cardinal’s power forward (err wide receiver), Arcega-Whiteside who made some of the most critical plays down the stretch. The senior pass-catcher now has seven touchdowns in four games this season after hauling in two scores Saturday night against the Ducks, emerging as Stanford’s most consistent weapon as Love has battled injuries and the clear focus of every defense. While perhaps lacking top straight-line speed, as the clip below demonstrates, Arcega-Whiteside possesses terrific quickness and body control to get free to go along with the height and physicality that has always made him such a weapon on jump balls. Arcega-Whiteside now has 21 touchdown receptions over the past three seasons.
1. Gerald Willis III, DT, Miami, 6-3, 285, 4.94, # 9
Stop me if you’ve heard this before but the 2019 defensive line class is loaded. And, with all due respect to projected top 10 picks like Michigan’s Rashan Gary or Alabama’s Raekwon Davis, they have not put up anything close to the numbers that Willis, a former five star recruit and Florida-transfer has so far for the Hurricanes (19 tackles, including 10 for loss and two sacks), including the five tackles and three stops behind the line he posted over just three quarters against an overmatched Florida International squad. Now, should a talent like Willis dominate FIU? Sure, but Willis was even more dominant in a Week One loss to LSU, recording a career-highs in tackles (eight) and tackles for loss (four). Willis possesses great quickness for a man of his size, coordinating his feet and hands beautifully to penetrate gaps but he comes with significant off-field questions dating back to his time at Florida and sitting out last season due to personal reasons. Scouts traveling through Coral Gables over the summer characterized Willis as a “new man” and his 2018 debut (switching to jersey No. 9 after previously playing as 91) against LSU was certainly encouraging. Maintaining that consistency with top effort regardless of his opponent has Willis – the national co-leader in tackles for loss -- rising up draft boards quickly.