At one point the running back position was one of the highest values in the NFL. Actual football treated the position the same way fantasy football does — you need a great one if you’re going to do anything and you need to draft him highly.
But nowadays, drafting a running back highly is viewed as an antiquated allocation of resources. The phrase “running backs are a dime a dozen” is cliché, but cliché for a good reason. You can find productive running backs just about anywhere in the draft and you don’t need to spend a high draft pick on an elite athlete.
In some cases, eye-popping workouts can blind evaluators to the traits that make runners consistently successful in the NFL. Those being vision to see holes developing and the contact balance to keep running despite flailing hands or tackle attempts.
Enter Ohio State running back Trey Sermon, who transferred from Oklahoma after the 2019 season. Sermon doesn’t have elite athleticsm, but he is one of the most consistent runners in college football thanks to his football IQ, vision, and contact balance.
That could be good news for the New York Giants, who could be looking for a reliable mid-round replacement for Wayne Gallman Jr.
Prospect: Trey Sermon
- For Oklahoma: vs. Houston (2019), vs. Texas Tech (2019)
- For Ohio State: vs. Penn State (2020), vs. Clemson (2020)
Red Flags: Broken collarbone (2021 - National Championship game)
Games Played: 45
Yards (YPC): 2,946 (6.5 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 468 (10.1 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 51 (48 rushing/3 receiving)
(At Ohio State)
Games Played: 8
Yards (YPC): 870 (7.5 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 95 (7.9 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 4 (4 rushing/0 receiving)
Best: Vision, contact balance, play strength, scheme diversity
Worst: Explosiveness, long speed
Projection: An important rotational back with scheme versatility.
Ohio State running back Trey Sermon has good size and short-area quickness for the position at the NFL level.
Sermon was a productive runner for three years at Oklahoma before transferring to play his final season at Ohio State. He has been successful running out of the shotgun formation, as well as from the pistol and with the quarterback under center. Sermon also has the ability to run out of a variety of blocking schemes, finding success running out of man-gap, inside zone, split zone, and outside zone schemes.
Sermon shows very good patience behind the line of scrimmage, routinely giving his blockers the time they need to establish running lanes. He also shows very good vision as a runner, with the ability to both anticipate holes as well as keep track of defenders at the second and third levels. Sermon’s successful runs frequently see him running with good tempo behind the line of scrimmage, timing his burst just as holes are established and before defenders are in position.
Sermon has excellent contact balance, with enough play strength to disregard arm tackles, as well as the ability to bounce off of hits and regain his balance while still moving. He shows some ability to run behind his pads as well, occasionally carrying defenders to pick up extra yards in short-yardage situations.
He is an adequate piece in passing situations, able to be a reliable checkdown option as well as a reliable pass protector. Sermon is a willing blocker in pass protection and shows a good understanding of blocking schemes. He always knows his role and assignment within a blocking scheme and executes well. His technique visibly improved from his final year at Oklahoma to the end of his time at Ohio State, and he now has solid technique and hand usage.
But while Sermon is a functional checkdown option, he is not a natural catcher of the ball. He doesn’t extend to attack the ball in the air, instead basket catching the ball and occasionally allowing it into his chestplate.
Sermon is also only an average athlete. He lacks elite explosiveness and long speed in the open field. He also lacks elite play strength as a runner and pass protector. He can create some movement and stand up to blitzing defensive backs, but he won’t wow anyone with his power.
Overall Grade: 6.8 - This prospect has a high floor and should be a reliable contributor in a rotation on most downs in most offenses.
Trey Sermon projects as a rotational running back with scheme versatility at the NFL level.
Sermon doesn’t have the elite athletic traits to be an exciting home run hitting, highlight reel player. That being said, his vision, contact balance, and burst make for a runner who should be consistently productive. He does a great job of understanding blocking schemes, setting up his blocks, timing his runs, and bursting through the offensive line. Sermon has very good contact balance, allowing him to keep his feet through tackle attempts and pick up yards after contact. He also has a subtle habit of changing his body angles to present poor targets to defenders.
Sermon is an adequate-enough receiver and pass protector to stay on the field on passing downs. However, he is not a natural catcher of the ball and his route tree largely consists of releasing into the flat or hook/curl area for checkdowns. Sermon is a willing pass protector with a good understanding of protection schemes, his role within them, and blitz designs. He also has improving pass protection technique, which isn’t ideal yet but certainly functional. Teams, however, should try to keep Sermon from having to take on bigger defenders, as he can be bulled backwards when blocking.
Interestingly, despite being a true senior for two different schools which lean on their rushing attacks, Sermon is a relatively low-milage running back. He has just 455 carries across 45 career games, or an average of 113 carries per season.
Sermon might not have the elite measurables or receiving utility to be drafted highly, but he should be a reliable contributor and a good value for the team that drafts him.