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 Ten – or Statement Saturday as some characterized it -- 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.
5. Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State, 6-5, 225, 4.59, rJr, # 18
Lost a bit in the shadows of this year’s potentially historic defensive line class is an underrated crop of receivers with future NFL contributors of virtually every size, shape and speed spread throughout the country. The physically-imposing Butler entered the 2018 season already on scouts’ radar after earning Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors a year ago opposite Allen Lazard, the school’s all-time leading receiver and now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Alongside fellow future NFL draft pick David Montgomery at running back, Butler has become the man of the house for the Cyclones this season, catching his team-leading 7th and 8th touchdowns of the season Saturday in a 27-3 win over Kansas. Like many big receivers, Butler lacks the quick-twitch burst to immediately separate from defenders but he showed good build-up speed to pull away on an 83-yard catch and run for a touchdown early on against Kansas and spun the defender like a Cyclone with his body control and strength for a second score just a few minutes later.
4. Michael Deiter, OG, Wisconsin, 6-5, 310, 5.36, rSr, # 63
On the surface, suggesting that a four-year starter (like Deiter) could boost his stock after the Badgers 31-17 home win over lowly Rutgers (1-8) would seem like a stretch. However, Saturday was a unique opportunity to evaluate Wisconsin’s offensive linemen because the team lost starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook to a head injury in the second quarter and head coach Paul Chryst opted to lean heavily – verrry heavily – on the running game in the second half. The Badgers ran the ball on literally every one of their plays from scrimmage in the third quarter, generating touchdown drives of 88 yards and 75 yards to turn a precarious 10-0 lead into a 24-3 laugher entering the final frame with backup quarterback Jack Coan completing just five passes in the second half. With many of their best runs coming behind Deiter at left guard, the Badgers averaged 6.9 yards on 46 carries overall Saturday, good for 317 yards when the opponent knew they’d be running the ball. Like many Badgers’ blockers before him, Dieter possesses the broad frame and power to generate movement in tight quarters. As the clip below shows, Dieter also possesses the agility to climb and adjust at the second level. The light feet, knee bend and long arms he uses for the successful block on this touchdown run are the same traits that could allow Deiter to prove just as versatile in the NFL as he has over the past four years in Madison, where he’s started at guard, left tackle and center. That reliability and versatility could make Deiter one of the first five offensive linemen drafted this year.
3. Lil’Jordan Humphrey, WR, Texas, 6-4, 225, 4.54, JR, # 84
The West Virginia Mountaineers and their gifted WR David Sills V got the last laugh in Austin, beating the Longhorns on a dramatic touchdown pass and two-point conversion from quarterback Will Grier (a Week One riser) but the NFL prospect who enjoyed the flashiest performance Saturday was Humphrey, who led all receivers with nine catches for a career-high 143 yards and a score in the 42-41 thriller. Humphrey’s unique first name has earned him plenty of attention over his career and he looked like a basketball player on the grab below, using every bit of his prototypical frame and leaping skills to haul in a prayer down the sideline from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Complementing Humphrey’s frame is his surprising lateral agility and strength, which aided him as a running back prior to his switching to receiver full-time for the Longhorns. Humphrey is not yet as refined as his pass-catching teammate Collin Johnson but he is a legitimate NFL prospect, as well.
2. Ross Pierschbacher, C/OG, Alabama, 6-3, 309, 5.21, rSr, # 71
Ross Pierschbacher (PEERSCH-baker) is often overlooked, perhaps partly due to his 13-letter last name, as well as the relatively anonymous nature of being an interior offensive lineman – especially on a team as loaded with NFL prospects as Alabama, which dominated the line of scrimmage against LSU, turning what was expected to be the “game of the year” into a 29-0 shellacking in Baton Rouge. While his teammate, Quinnen Williams, was clearly the top player on the field Saturday night, don’t overlook the impact that Pierschbacher and the Tide’s blockers played in the beatdown, a game in which Alabama won the rushing battle 281 to 12. Pierschbacher boasts a prototypical frame for interior duties with a short, compact build, including fire hydrants for legs. As one might expect of an Alabama interior linemen with 50 career starts, Pierschbacher’s game is technically refined. He shows excellent balance, sprawling his legs out wide and using his heft and upper-body strength to generate movement at the point of attack. But watch the center’s awareness of the late blitz and quick acceleration to eliminate the defender on this run by his Heisman Trophy front-running quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Pierschbacher’s underrated athleticism is a key part of Alabama’s success on offense this season and should help him join Deiter as one of the first senior blockers drafted this spring.
1. Karan Higdon, RB, Michigan, 5-09, 202, 4.52, Sr, # 22
Along with Alabama’s big win over rival LSU and some resilient play from two of the top quarterbacks eligible for next spring’s draft, Michigan made perhaps the biggest statement in Week 10, exacting revenge on 14th ranked Penn State for a loss a year ago with a 42-7 dress-down in the Big House. Virtually everyone on Jim Harbaugh’s 5th ranked squad deserves credit for the dominating performance, including several on defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit. But just like how Wisconsin and Alabama rolled over their opponents by featuring the running game, Michigan did the same to the Nittany Lions, outrushing Penn State 259 to 68. Higdon was the headliner, eclipsing the 100 yard rushing mark for Michigan for the seventh consecutive game, including this 50 yard jaunt on just the third play from scrimmage to set the tone. While lacking an intimidating frame, Higdon’s compact build, lateral agility and burst make him a virtual pinball in the open field. Working in tandem with dual-threat quarterback Shea Patterson, Higdon (NFLDraftScout.com’s No. 4-rated senior RB) gives Harbaugh his most formidable and well-rounded team since joining the Wolverines.
Check out past Risers columns: