Five rising NFL prospects who stood out during conference title games
Every NFL team is looking for difference-makers who rise to the occasion at critical moments, inspiring teammates with their talent and timing, alike.
That was certainly the case during the conference title games, where several relatively anonymous future NFL prospects shined on the big stage, capturing the imagination of scouts watching. With just the bowl games remaining before draft season officially arrives, be sure to familiarize yourself with these names – as well as the list of risers from previous weeks below.
All are earning a jump up NFLDraftScout.com’s player rankings.
5. Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama, 6-1, 218, 4.62, JR, # 2
While most risers are relatively anonymous to the average fan, Hurts is an obvious exception having gone 26-2 as Alabama’s starting quarterback prior to famously being replaced by Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of last year’s thrilling national championship victory over Georgia. This year, it was Hurts coming off the bench to save the day for the Tide as Tagovailoa was knocked out of the game with several leg injuries. Hurts’ dramatic run for the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining in regulation made all of the highlight reels but scouts knew that he is an effective scrambler. The more impressive development was the poise and accuracy as a passer he demonstrated, hitting 7 of 9 passes for 82 yards and rushing for another 28 yards in less than a quarter of action. This strike to Jerry Jeudy - which tied the game and culminated a 16-play, 80 yard drive that took up nearly half of the final quarter – shows the dual-threat capabilities that some creative NFL offensive coordinator seeking to attack with run-pass-options will put to great use, whenever Hurts opts to make himself eligible for the draft.
4. Johnnie Dixon, WR, Ohio State, 5-11, 198, rSr, # 1
The clear-cut top prospect in the Buckeyes' 45-24 win over Northwestern Saturday night was redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who threw for a conference record 499 yards and five touchdowns. Haskins was highlighted as a Riser back in Week Five, however, and scouts, of course, are already quite familiar with the Heisman candidate and projected first round pick. Dixon, on the other hand, needed to remind scouts of his talents after struggling with various injuries over his college career since signing with the Buckeyes as a highly touted prep out of the state of Florida. While not as explosive as teammate Parris Campbell or yet as reliable a pass-catcher as another draftable Ohio State wideout, K.J. Hill, he showed enough Saturday night against Northwestern to suggest that the Buckeyes could have a third receiver selected in the 2019 draft, leading all participants with a career-high seven receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. Dixon possesses a well-built frame for the next level and shows good quickness and physicality, including as a downfield blocker.
3. Tre Lamar, ILB, Clemson, 6-2, 255, 4.72, Jr, # 55
Their dominant defensive line has earned plenty of attention as the "biggest" reason why the Tigers are returning to the playoffs but don't overlook the play of Lamar, whose nine tackles, including two tackles for loss Saturday night against Pittsburgh helped Clemson win their fourth consecutive ACC title. Bigger than some defensive linemen, Lamar is an intimidating presence in the middle against power running teams like the Panthers and yet he also shows surprising agility and closing speed (as the clip below against Georgia Tech earlier this season shows). Lamar missed the ACC title game a year ago due to a nagging shoulder injury but he made up for lost time against Pitt, making one of the nation's most dominant running games appear merely mortal, averaging a relatively pedestrian four yards per rush (on 48 carries!) and limiting the the Panthers to just 200 yards of total offense in a 42-10 shellacking. Overshadowed by teammates, Lamar does not receive as much attention as some of the other top inside linebackers of this class but scouts are intrigued by his versatility and yet-to-be-tapped upside. Lamar earned Second Team All-ACC honors this season and is within striking distance of the team lead in total tackles (he's currently seven behind fellow LB Isaiah Simmons with an unofficial 74 stops) this year, despite playing roughly 200 less snaps.
2. Trysten Hill, DT, Central Florida, 6-1, 315, 5.10 (est.), Jr, # 9
Throughout the first half of Saturday's American Athletic Conference title game, it was Memphis running back Darrell Henderson - a Week Six riser - taking the starring role but Hill and the Knights persevered and returned after halftime to outscore the Tigers 35-3 to win their 25th consecutive game. With his bowling ball-like frame and mobility, Hill played a key role in limiting Henderson to just three rushing yards over the final 30 minutes of action after he'd dominated UCF over the first half, rushing for a staggering 207 yards and three touchdowns to stake the visiting Tigers to what appeared to be a commanding 38-21 lead. Instead, Hill and the Knights rallied around backup true freshman quarterback Darriel Mack, Jr. with leader McKenzie Milton still recovering from emergency surgery after suffering a ghastly injury last week in a win over South Florida. While much of the attention not surprisingly focused on Mack, Milton and the rest of the skill position players, scouts couldn't help but notice Hill, who previously has shown an ability to step up his play against top competition, as the clip from last year's Peach Bowl win over Auburn proved. Hill possesses terrific initial quickness and power, frequently blowing up the middle and allowing teammates to clean up the play. He tied his career high with six total tackles in UCF's impressive comeback win Saturday, setting a personal best with three tackles for loss.
1. Byron Murphy, CB, Washington, 5-11, 192, 4.45 (est.), rSoph, # 1
Given that Utah entered Friday night's PAC-12 championship game fielding backups at quarterback and running back, perhaps it was expected that Murphy - a projected first round prospect - and Washington's talented secondary would perform well but scouts aren't interested in hype, they want production. Murphy delivered, scoring the game's only touchdown on a pick-six that demonstrated his quick reactions, soft hands and the straight-line speed which has helped him emerge as arguably the top cornerback prospect in the entire country. Murphy made the Utes pay nearly every time they passed in his direction, intercepting two passes overall in Washington's 10-3 victory and sealing the win with a breakup of a 4th down pass over the middle. A smoother athlete than predecessors Sidney Jones and Kevin King - who each earned top 50 picks in the 2017 draft - Murphy boasts a similar brand of fluidity, physicality and ball-skills which helped former Ohio State standouts Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward shoot to the top of their respective draft classes despite starting just one year at the collegiate level.
Check out past Risers columns: