Football is undoubtedly a “what have you done for me lately” sport. Form may indeed be temporary, but recency bias can inform opinion as much as an entire body of work. There is no individual in better form than Ohio State Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon, but how does that impact his 2021 NFL Draft projection?
Is Trey Sermon the most “in form” running back in college football?
When discussing a player’s form, it’s hard to argue with cold hard statistics.
In his last three games, Trey Sermon has compiled 636 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He racked up 112 yards at 11.2 yards per carry against Michigan State. Despite Justin Fields drawing acclaim for his six touchdown passes in the College Football Playoff Semifinal win over Clemson, Sermon romped to 193 yards rushing yards and a touchdown. Additionally, Sermon accounted for 61 of Fields passing yards.
Sandwiched deliciously in between those two impressive performances was the standout game of his season, nay, his career.
Sermon has had standout games before
In 2018, he amassed 206 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Texas Tech. Previously, as a Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Sermon trampled Baylor to the tune of 198 yards and two touchdowns. As he approaches the end of his college career he has eight 100+ yard games under his belt.
Those two performances pale into insignificance compared to his awe-inspiring, game-changing, record-setting outing against Northwestern. Sermon’s 331 yards broke Eddie George’s Buckeyes rushing record. He also set a new Big Ten Championship game record.
When Fields was faltering, Sermon shone, putting the team on his back and driving them to victory.
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How does current dominance compare to historical performance?
Trey Sermon has emerged as an unlikely savior for Ohio State late in the season. However, the Buckeyes have been linked closely to the running back his entire career. They made him an offer coming out of Sprayberry High School after he attended the Ohio State Friday Night Lights camp.
Despite missing a chunk of his junior season with a back injury, Sermon was impressive at the high school level. His performances prompted Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley to call him “dominant as a sophomore” and describe him as “exactly what we’re looking for.”
Although he had a flirtation with the Buckeyes, there was an expectation that he would stay home in Georgia. However, Sermon signed his letter of intent in December 2016 to join the Oklahoma Sooners. He impressed as a freshman and excelled as a sophomore. Sermon came up just shy of 1,000 rushing yards and rushed for 13 touchdowns as Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff.
A slow start to Sermon’s Ohio State career
However, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows for Trey Sermon. Following a season-ending knee injury in 2019, he lost the Oklahoma starting job to Kennedy Brooks. As a graduate, he took the opportunity to transfer and seek a starting job elsewhere landing in Columbus, some four years after he’d first walked into the building.
The early season didn’t go exactly according to plan. Through his first four games with the Buckeyes, Sermon played second fiddle to Master Teague and failed to rush for more than 100 yards in a game. Additionally, he’d failed to find the end zone, whereas Teague and Fields combined for nine rushing touchdowns.
Trey Sermon’s skill set and question marks over his game
His performances over the final three games of the season have forced NFL Draft analysts to reconsider Trey Sermon’s NFL Draft projection. Naturally, he isn’t going to challenge the likes of Najee Harris and Travis Etienne at the top of the class as he simply isn’t at their level.
However, Sermon brings a number of desirable traits to the running back position.
Strengths and weaknesses in Sermon’s game
At 6’1″ and 215 pounds, he has the build to be a physical runner. When you watch his tape, you can see that physicality at work in a number of ways. His lower body strength is evident in the way he churns his legs to gain extra yardage after contact. His upper body strength is showcased with a mean stiff arm, and is also evident in blitz situations when asked to pass protect.
Although his height dictates that he has an upright running style, that doesn’t stop him from ensuring that he falls forward on contact and gains maximum available yardage.
The main red flags against Sermon’s draft stock are his injury history and a lack of any real speed. He has lost large amounts of playing time with a back injury in high school and a knee injury at Oklahoma. Although Sermon brings good initial burst and change of direction, his long speed is somewhat lacking. He has enough speed to get around the edge but isn’t going to pull away in the open field.
So where does this leave his 2021 NFL Draft stock?
In Trey Sermon’s recent player profile, Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings described him as a Day 3, sixth or seventh-round player. Additionally, in his latest big board for Pro Football Network, Tony Pauline has Sermon ranked as his 285th overall prospect, with a fifth-round grade. Interestingly, Pauline has Sermon ranked below teammate Teague in the rankings which were last updated prior to the Big Ten Championship game.
Some analysts have a higher view of what Sermon brings to the NFL Draft table. Former Bleacher Report analyst Matt Miller has Sermon ranked as his RB6.
Meanwhile, Jim Nagy of the Senior Bowl has an even higher opinion.
“Josh Jacobs was a backup in college and is a stud in the NFL. Trey Sermon has been a backup in college and WILL be a stud in the NFL. Evaluate the player, not the depth chart.”
NFL teams will get the opportunity to evaluate Sermon on the biggest stage in college football. Last time he faced Alabama they held him to just 19 yards on nine attempts. He did, however, find the end zone. A game-winning performance akin to against Northwestern could further positively impact Trey Sermon’s draft projection.
Oliver Hodgkinson is an NLF Draft contributor for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.