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Tony Pauline’s Week 15 College Football Risers: Burrow, Higgins highlight list

Tony Pauline's Week 15 College Football Risers: Burrow, Higgins highlight list
Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Championship weekend in college football gave us some exciting games and a few clunkers.  This year’s final version of the Risers & Sliders column will look at every conference title game from the weekend and which next level prospects stood out – no negatives this week.  I’m not limiting myself to just one player from each game and there may be a few repeat risers from this past college football season.  So for the final time in 2019, here are my Week 15 college football Risers.

2020 NFL Draft Risers

SEC Championship Game – Joe Burrow/QB/LSU

Cue the Captain Obvious commercials, but Joe Burrow had not made my risers list this season and there’s no time like the present to finally do so. Burrow was flawless during the blowout victory over Georgia. 

The numbers tell a fraction of the story – 28 of 38 passing, 349 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions.  He spread the ball around to seven receivers and also rushed for 41 yards.  As I said during the college football live blog on game day – “Burrow’s decision making and ability to make quick decisions under duress (decisions which are right on the money more often than not) is most impressive. His poise under the rush and ability to see the field, make proper reads, and spread the ball around will excite next level decision-makers.”

PAC 12 Championship Game – Oregon’s Offensive Line

The Oregon offense put up 432 yards of total offense against a good Utah defense, which includes a talented defensive line.  Chalk this strong performance up to Oregon’s offensive line, who has been consistently good all season long and includes four draftable prospects. 

Center Jake Hanson was most impressive, and along with Shane Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton and Alabama transfer Dallas Womack, they dominated the Utes all game long.

Big 12 Championship Game – Chris Miller/S/Baylor

I graded Chris Miller as a priority free agent (PFA) before the season as he’s a terrific football player despite lacking great measurables.  He stood out for Baylor during the overtime loss to Oklahoma, posting a game-leading 13 tackles and breaking up a pass.

Miller has athletic limitations but offers next-level instincts and intensity.  In a zone system, he could be the third safety on an NFL roster and provide value on special teams.

Sun Belt Championship Game – Akeem Davis-Gaither/Linebacker/Appalachian State

Bigtime players step up in the big moments, and that’s exactly what Akeem Davis-Gaither did as Appalachian State won another conference title.  The player we highlighted during our game preview as well as a week four riser back in September, Davis-Gaither led the Mountaineers with 10 tackles and was omnipresent all game.

I’m excited he’ll be participating in the Senior Bowl down in Mobile.

Conference USA Championship Game – Brandon Walton/OL/Florida Atlantic

Scouts graded Brandon Walton as a street free agent entering the season, but I saw enough in his game to stamp the senior as a PFA.  Walton helped keep his quarterback upright in the conference title game as UAB did not record a single sack and got thumped by the FAU offense, which amassed 485 yards of total offense.

Walton lines up at left tackle for the Owls but projects to guard on Sunday and has the body type and skillset to make a practice squad.

Mid-American Championship Game – Miami Defensive Backs Manny Rugamba & Travion Banks

It was a game that came down to the wire and the Redhawks eventually eked out the MAC title as both Manny Rugamba and Travion Banks made big contributions.

Rugamba, a junior who transferred from Iowa, finished with 11 tackles and broke up one pass.  He’s a feisty corner, as his numbers lead you to believe, and a defensive back with solid ball skills.  I grade Rugamba as a seventh-round prospect and he finished the season with 82 tackles, 1 INT and 8 PBU’s.

Banks was ignored by scouts coming into the season but makes a lot of flash plays.  He came up with a big interception during the game, his fifth of the season. Banks could surprise in an NFL camp next summer and make a roster as a dime back.

Mountain West Championship Game – John Molchon/G/Boise State

John Molchon was stamped as a street free agent by scouts. but I think he’s good enough to get late-round consideration.  He’s a small area blocker who anchors in pass protection but also opens holes for the running game.  The Broncos rushed for 156 yards during the victory, much if it behind Molchon.

American Athletic Championship Game – Antonio Gibson/WR/Memphis

Antonio Gibson was my Week 12 Sleeper Prospect after he torched the Houston Cougars at receiver.  This time he paved the way for Memphis carrying the ball.  With starter Patrick Taylor still ailing, Gibson stepped in and carried the ball 11 times for 130 yards while adding 3 receptions for 32 yards.  He also scored 2 touchdowns.

Gibson was ignored by scouts entering the season. However, it’s at running back or wide receiver, where I presently have him graded, Gibson has moved onto the scouting radar with a string 2019 campaign.

Big 10 Championship Game – Quintez Cephus/WR/Wisconsin

Quintez Cephus is the lone name on this list who played for a losing team during Championship Weekend.  Given the stern competition he faced plus his performance, Cephus deserves the honor. 

Granted a few of the Buckeye cornerbacks were dealing with nicks and bruises, but 7 receptions for 122 receiving yards is a hell of a performance, never mind it took place against three cornerbacks who are top 75 picks.  There’s still no word on whether Cephus will enter the 2020 NFL Draft.

ACC Championship Game – Tee Higgins/WR/Clemson

It was no surprise Clemson blew the doors off Virginia, or that they scored 62 points.  Tee Higgins performance was no surprise either, but 7 receptions for 182 yards and 3 touchdowns is a noteworthy performance regardless of the competition. 

Though I still need confirmation, rumblings have Higgins leaving Clemson to take his game to the NFL next year.

Tony Pauline is Pro Football Network’s NFL Draft Analyst and Insider. Follow him on Twitter @TonyPauline. Follow PFN on Twitter @PFN365.

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