As one of the Pac-12’s top returning producers on the ground, what does the NFL Draft stock of Oregon RB CJ Verdell look like — and what does he need to do to strengthen his scouting report in 2021? Here’s a look at one player who could be a solid value in the 2022 NFL Draft.
CJ Verdell NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: Oregon
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 5’8″
- Weight: 211 pounds
CJ Verdell Scouting Report
First-round running backs are great, but the NFL is trending toward less high-round investment in RBs. It’s a slow, gradual process, and some backs will continue to be selected highly. However, it’s become clear that the position is more replaceable than most.
The heightened supply of quality running backs drives the desired price point down, encouraging more teams to use less valuable draft capital on the position. It’s simple economics, and it points to middle-round RBs being the most valuable. They don’t use up early-round capital, yet they can be just as productive in the right situation. Does Verdell fit that description? Let’s look at his profile and find out.
CJ Verdell’s athletic profile
Verdell is only around 5’8″, 211 pounds, but he packs a surprising punch for his size. A lot of that force can be traced back to his explosiveness. Verdell has great straight-line explosiveness, and he charges through lanes with energy. He also possesses torrid short-range burst, and he executes cuts with scary abruptness. With his ability to accelerate vertically, the Oregon RB can get chunks of yards through tiny seams in the box.
Beyond his explosiveness, Verdell has exceptional contact balance as well. He has a compact frame, and he bounces off of would-be tacklers and quickly re-gathers his pace. Verdell has good leg churn through contact, and he fights to stay on his feet. He also flashes good balance when defenders swipe at his legs.
Expanding on Verdell’s physical traits, the Oregon RB has stellar long speed. He isn’t easily run down from behind, and he has enough speed to get around the edge and explode upfield along the sideline. Farther inward, Verdell has impressive traits in tight spaces. He has loose hips and quick twitch navigating through congestion. Verdell also adjusts his attack angles with impressive efficiency.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Verdell’s athleticism, especially with his density and low center of gravity, is exciting. But beyond that, he has even more appeal in the executional sphere.
Verdell has great vision at the line. He not only sees lanes as they open up, but he has the confidence to commit with full speed. His footwork follows his vision well. Verdell seamlessly works off of blocks, and he sneaks through small crevices with hop-steps.
Verdell no doubt has elements of finesse at his disposal, but a physical, hard-nosed demeanor tie together his game. His downhill mentality complements his explosive, twitchy style extremely well, and he plays with contagious energy. This energy shows up in every phase, even as a pass blocker. There, Verdell patrols the pocket with urgency and zeal, and his hands fly in contact situations. He keeps his head on a swivel and uses his burst to engage defenders quickly.
Going further, Verdell is a capable receiver. He gets open from the backfield and earns yards after catch with his burst and contact balance. Additionally, the Oregon RB flashes suddenness as a route runner, and he can be valuable on schemed catches that give him open space to traverse.
Areas for improvement
You know the drill by now. You get hyped up, and then this section tears it all down. In all seriousness, no prospect is perfect. Verdell is an exciting player, but he does have a few things to clean up. That’s to be expected, and luckily for Verdell, many of his issues are minor.
While Verdell is solid in many areas, it’s worth wondering if he has an elite trait outside of his explosiveness. His contact balance is good, but he can’t always withstand or avoid initial contact. Furthermore, his size can be a hindrance against larger tacklers. His speed is solid enough to elongate the field, but he doesn’t quite have dominant breakaway speed.
Even with his explosiveness, Verdell could play with more control and patience. He sometimes works himself into dead ends within the box, and his jittery nature in congestion can cause him to shuffle into contact. Despite this strength, Verdell doesn’t seem to be incredibly elusive or creative in the backfield. He’s more of a vertical runner who gets upfield with burst and then employs other traits.
Among other things, Verdell sometimes passes up cutback lanes to go outside, using up available space. Injuries are also a modest concern. He was banged up for much of 2019, and a thumb injury impacted his 2020 season.
CJ Verdell’s NFL Draft scouting report overview
Entering 2021, Verdell will be looking for a redemptive year of sorts. He wasn’t fully healthy in 2020, but now he is, and he can do wonders for his stock with a strong campaign. Verdell can still refine his game a bit, but already, his skill set is well-rounded. He’s a strong runner and an able receiver, and he’s strong enough as a pass protector to have an every-down role. In that role, Verdell has exciting upside.
It’s not a one-to-one comparison, but some aspects of Verdell’s game are reminiscent of Devonta Freeman. Both backs are small and compact but explosive, physical, balanced through contact, and twitchy in short areas. Verdell might be more explosive and slightly less dense, but he still has a thick enough frame to bounce off defenders and break tackles at the second level.
In the Day 2 to early Day 3 range, Verdell presents enticing value. Immediately, he can be a great rotational back with spark-plug potential. Yet, he has the tools to be a dynamic workhorse if the opportunity presents itself.
CJ Verdell’s Player Profile
Verdell may want to look into a NIL deal with Energizer because he was quite literally the Energizer Bunny in high school. As a senior at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista, California, Verdell won CIF San Diego Section Offensive Player of the Year after carrying the ball 262 times for 2,399 yards and 36 touchdowns. The year before, he amassed 2,135 yards on just 169 carries, averaging 12.6 yards per rush.
Verdell’s production helped earn him notoriety on the recruiting trail. The future Oregon RB was rated as a four-star recruit and the 32nd-best player at his position. He fielded scholarship offers from Power Five schools like Wisconsin, UCLA, Utah, Washington State, and Baylor. But an offer from Oregon proved to have the most allure, and Verdell ultimately signed with the Ducks.
Verdell’s career at Oregon
Verdell redshirted his true freshman year in 2017, but after that, it was right back to producing for the California native. As a redshirt freshman, Verdell broke 1,000 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving while only starting five of 13 games. In total, he amassed 1,018 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 202 carries while adding 315 yards and 2 scores on 27 receptions.
In 2019, Verdell became the primary back for Oregon, and he continued to fill up the stat sheet. He started 10 of 14 games, registering 1,220 yards and 8 touchdowns on 197 carries, earning a career-high 6.2 yards per carry. Although he produced less through the air, the Oregon RB still earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors from the coaches.
COVID-19 largely impacted the 2020 season, and the Pac-12 especially felt those impacts. On top of that, Verdell dealt with his thumb injury. He only played five games but logged 285 yards and 3 scores on 65 carries. Verdell broke 2,500 career rushing yards and entered the top 10 on Oregon’s all-time rushing list.
CJ Verdell’s NFL Draft ascension
Returning to Eugene for one last season, Verdell has already become one of the school’s most illustrious runners. Along the way, he’s put enough quality tape on record to have a fairly safe NFL Draft scouting report. Verdell should at least be drafted next April, barring a complete collapse. The only question is where.
At his best moments, Verdell shows off torrid explosiveness and exciting contact balance. That combination, at its peak, can be deadly for NFL defenses. He also has the vision to get into space and use those traits. The objectives for Verdell should be to stay healthy and consistent in 2021. If he can do that, a Day 2 selection is very much within reach.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for CJ Verdell
Positives: Creative ball carrier who is effective catching the ball out of the backfield. Patient, finds the running lanes, and has a burst through the hole. Quick-footed, makes defenders miss, and easily darts around piles to create yardage. Runs with good lean and behind his pads.
Multi-cut ball carrier who squeezes through the small openings of the offensive line and quickly cuts back against the grain. Outstanding pass catcher out of the backfield who adjusts to errant throws and makes receptions in stride. Displays terrific eye/hand coordination.
Negatives: Has struggled with injuries in the past. Easily brought down at the point and doesn’t pick up much yardage off initial contact.
Analysis: Verdell was a very productive ball carrier for Oregon and is also a threat as a pass catcher. He’s the perfect situational or third-down back on Sundays who fits as a zone runner. Verdell also comes with return ability. More than anything else, he must stay healthy and show durability to have a career in the NFL.