The more Melvin Gordon, Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland sparkle on the football field on Saturdays, the more each Wisconsin player’s NFL Draft stock appears to rise.
Three months remain in the season, and still four months loom after that for combines and interviews to determine draft placements. By no means do judgments in early October stick until the May draft. These decisions are fluid, after all.
But, as of today, where do three of the Badgers’ standout players fit in when it comes to draft potential? FOXSportsWisconsin.com asked a couple NFL Draft experts for their thoughts:
Melvin Gordon, 6-foot-1, 207-pound running back
Gordon, a redshirt sophomore, opened this season with four consecutive 100-yard rushing games to burst onto the scene. In the span of a month, he was being considered a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. And Sept. 24, a Sports Illustrated mock draft listed Gordon as a first-round pick, going No. 29 overall to the Houston Texans.
Gordon had an average game against Ohio State, but his overall numbers remain stellar. His 139.6 yards per game rank No. 8 nationally and his 10.3 yards per carry is tops among all FBS players this season with at least 40 rushing attempts.
Rob Rang is the senior NFL Draft analyst for CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com, and he has been impressed with Gordon’s combination of speed, size and power.
Rang said there did not appear to be a senior running back worth first- or second-round consideration in the 2014 draft. For that reason, he expected a number of underclassmen to consider leaving school early, including Gordon.
Currently, Rang’s top-rated underclassman running back is Baylor junior Lache Seastrunk, who ranks ninth nationally in yards per game (139.0) just behind Gordon. Gordon is in the mix with Washington’s Bishop Sankey and Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey as potential top-50 picks and second-round draftees.
“He’s a natural runner,” Rang said of Gordon. “And he has excellent vision. You see him when there is a hole there, he shows the ability to quickly get to the line of scrimmage, get through it and make plays. When it’s not there, he’s also patient enough to find a hole.
“I believe that’s a combination of his experience in a zone blocking offense as well as the straight up man blocking offense that it makes him a little bit more ready to make that NFL jump than a lot of running backs who have played in only one offense over their career.”
If Gordon is indeed projected as a first- or second-round pick come the spring, Rang acknowledged it would be difficult for a player to pass up the opportunity.
“In today’s world, if you’re a running back and you’re considered a second-round prospect, then you may have to consider it,” Rang said. “Because there’s going to be so very few running backs who are going to warrant first-round consideration any longer.”
But not everybody is sold on Gordon just yet.
Tony Pauline, an NFL Draft analyst and publisher of Draftinsider.net, doesn’t believe Gordon has done enough to warrant such a high draft stock consideration. Pauline pointed out Gordon had a total of 150 carries in his entire college career.
“I don’t have him anywhere,” Pauline said. “I mean, he’s a redshirt sophomore. He’s got a very slim body of work. Wisconsin backs are always very tough to project to the next level. More times than not, whether it be Michael Bennett, whether it be Ron Dayne, a lot of times they don’t live up to expectations when they get to the next level.”
Additionally, Pauline said Wisconsin’s schedule this season, outside of Ohio State, had come against teams with porous defenses. Purdue (87th), Arizona State (92nd) and UMass (121st) all had sub-standard rush defenses.
As for the notion Sports Illustrated is projecting Gordon as a first-round pick?
“I think that’s utterly ridiculous,” Pauline said. “That is what you call a knee-jerk reaction rather than actually doing homework on a player.”
Jared Abbrederis, 6-2, 190-pound wide receiver
Abbrederis’ draft stock is at an all-time high just days after recording 10 catches for 207 yards — both career highs — against Ohio State. Many of those plays came while matched up against Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby, who many consider to be a first-round draft pick.
Following the performance, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples listed Abbrederis as the No. 32 overall draft prospect on his big board — one spot ahead of Roby. And SI’s Chris Burke wrote: “Abbrederis may not have off-the-chart measurables, but he has solidified his case as a second-day prospect and he might even be able to make a Round 1 push.”
Abbrederis has excelled the past two seasons at Wisconsin despite the Badgers having limited options at wide receiver behind him. This season, Abbrederis has caught 33 passes for 572 yards with four touchdowns. The rest of Wisconsin’s wide receivers have caught a total of 16 passes for 199 yards with no touchdowns.
Still, where Abbrederis gets drafted could come down to how he performs at the NFL combine or his pro day.
“That’s going to be the determining factor,” Pauline said. “The faster that he runs, the more people say, ‘Well maybe he’s not a No. 4 receiver. Maybe he has the potential to line up as a No. 3 or a No. 2.'”
Pauline compared Abbrederis to former Ohio State wide receiver Brian Hartline, who now plays for the Miami Dolphins. Hartline is a 6-2, 199-pounder in his fifth NFL season.
Rang, too, had concerns about Abbrederis’ straight-line speed.
“Just how fast is he?” Rang said. “There’s no doubt he had a spectacular game against Roby, and that certainly is going to help his draft spot. I think it’s unfair that he is sometimes portrayed as the next Wes Welker or these other receivers out there because he’s a crafty route runner. I don’t think it gives enough credit to Abbrederis’ athletic ability.”
Rang said he saw more similarities between Abbrederis and current Minnesota Vikings receiver Greg Jennings because both are fluid athletes and good route runners who catch the ball well. At this point, he considers Abbrederis to be a third- or fourth-round prospect.
“He’s got some savviness to him,” Rang said. “He understands how to set up defenders, including Roby. That was a very impressive performance. … He was very much an NFL prospect before this game. Now I think it’s going to be a question of just how fast is he that’s going to determine where he’s going to go. Is he in the top 100 spots or does he fight to get up earlier than that if he runs really well?”
Badgers coach Gary Andersen described Abbrederis as “the full package” and refuted the notion his star wide receiver somehow wasn’t fast enough to compete at the next level.
“Jared is not deceptively fast,” Andersen said. “Jared’s fast. And that is the bottom line. You watch him on film and he’s a fast kid. All those things combined and then his ability to be able to get into man coverage — and you can see it a couple times on the TV version where he gets into guys and leans and gets himself back off.
“He just has a great feel of breaking off routes, whether it’s the top of the route, the bottom of the route or the beginning of the route to cause separation.”
Chris Borland, 5-foot-11, 246-pound linebacker
By college standards, Borland is a beast in the middle on defense and makes plays rarely seen on fields across America. He tied a career high with 16 tackles against Ohio State and stopped running back Carlos Hyde dead in his tracks on two separate short-yardage situations. Borland has amassed 46 tackles in five games, which is 21 more than any other player on Wisconsin.
Andersen said Borland’s ability to make tackles sideline to sideline in plays that don’t necessarily involve him as the primary tackler have been particularly impressive.
“The bottom line is he is a tremendous tackler, tremendously strong,” Andersen said. “He’s the best I’ve been around. I think I’ve been around some pretty good ones.”
Still, Borland’s lack of size and perceived lack of athleticism may hurt him when the draft approaches, according to NFL Draft analysts. Rang compared Borland to former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, another 5-11 linebacker, who was taken in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times in his career.
“It’s going to be similar to Abbrederis in that he’s a terrific football player,” Rang said. “There may be a lot of how big is he really and how fast is he? If he does not run well — because I have some real reservations about straight-line speed with him — then I can see him being the kind of guy that doesn’t get drafted, a sixth or seventh rounder, maybe even falling to undrafted free agency. Once he gets on an NFL team and is able to show off instincts and reliable open-field tackling that he’s shown throughout his career at Wisconsin, then he’s going to make an NFL roster.”
Rang said that, pound for pound, Borland was as tough as any college player in the country. For that reason, some of the size and speed numbers may be less important to teams.
“Just say watch the tape,” he said. “The kid’s a football player. He’s one of those guys that could fall a little bit on draft day but at the same time is just too good of a player to not get a chance at the NFL level.”
Pauline suggested Borland could go in the third or fourth round if he performs well at the combine or his pro day and praised Borland for his hustle and competitiveness.
“He’s not a one-dimensional downhill type of linebacker,” Pauline said. “He’s not a two-down defender. There will be mismatches. If you put him in coverage and he tries to cover a 6-4, 6-5 tight end, there’s going to be some mismatches there. But the fact is I think in certain systems he can be a three-down defender, and he also comes with a special teams mentality.”