2021 NFL draft prospects: Ohio State RB Trey Sermon

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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Ohio State RB Trey Sermon

6-foot-1, 217 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.83 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Two-school standout whose hot-and-cold career and lack of elite athletic traits might temper his draft grades somewhat

Games watched: Texas Tech (2018), Houston (2019), Michigan State (2020), Northwestern (2020), Clemson (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 171 nationally), Sermon left the Atlanta area in high school and enrolled early at Oklahoma. As a freshman in 2017, he ran 121 times for 744 yards and five TDs, and caught 16 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games (three starts). Sermon started 12 of 14 games as a sophomore in 2018, rushing 164 times for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 181 yards.

In an injury-shortened 2019 season, he ran 54 times for 385 yards and four TDs and caught eight passes for 71 yards and one TD. Sermon opted to transfer to Ohio State in 2020, running 116 times for 870 yards and four TDs and catching 12 passes for 95 yards in eight games. He suffered an injury on the first play from scrimmage against Alabama in the national title game, ending his college career, and Sermon was forced to opt out of the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Well-proportioned back with workhorse size. Had games with 35, 32 and 26 touches. Low-mileage back for a four-year starter — just over 500 career touches.

Determined runner — breaks tackles with sheer effort. Great contact balance. Always falling forward. Consistently productive when given the chance — career averages of 6.5 yards per rush and 10.0 yards per reception. Handled both man- and zone-blocked runs well. Good mixture of power and quickness.

Very smooth athlete. Corners the edge extremely well — deceptive speed and burst to the outside that might not be reflected in testing numbers. Great lower-body flexibility — shows off loose hips and ankles to make sudden changes of direction while maintaining balance.

Dec 19, 2020; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon (8) rushes for 65 yards ahead of wide receiver Kamryn Babb (18) and Northwestern Wildcats linebacker Chris Bergin (28) during the third quarter of the Big Ten Championship football game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Ohio State won 22-10. Mandatory Credit: Joshua A. Bickel-USA TODAY NETWORK
Ohio State RB Trey Sermon was dominant in the Big Ten championship game. (Photo by Joshua A. Bickel-USA TODAY NETWORK)

Clutch performer who usually saved his best for the biggest stages. Had huge effort and scored go-ahead TD late against rival Oklahoma State as a sophomore. Dominated two good defenses late in 2020: Northwestern in the Big Ten title game (29 rushes, 331 yards, two TDs) and Clemson in the playoff semifinals (31 carries, 193 yards, TD; four receptions, 61 yards).

Undersold third-down ability. Soft hands as a receiver — should have been deployed more in this department. Reliable in pass protection (after a few hiccups early last season while learning different protection schemes). Zero fumbles over his final 394 college touches. Gets after it as a blocker. Has overcome personal tragedy and difficult circumstances to thrive.

Downside: Not a special athlete. Could have middle-of-the-road testing numbers. Long speed isn’t anything great — requires time and room to build up to max mph.

Notable injury history — suffered a fracture in his back (lumbar vertebra) during his junior year of high school, suffered an LCL injury his junior year at OU and suffered a shoulder injury in his final game at OSU. Running style and lack of elite athleticism made him a contact magnet. Medical evaluation will carry more weight in his evaluation than it will for other prospects.

A bit upright as a runner. Vision is a question mark — will miss cutback opportunities and head into harm’s way. Requires more patience, and is best when lanes are clean — not the most creative runner out there.

Underused in the passing game — targeted only 61 times in 45 career games. Not a creative or versatile receiver. Most of his yards came after the catch. Must adapt to more sophisticated pass-protection schemes and be able to spy oncoming blitzers a bit quicker.

Production comes with an asterisk — he ran behind two deep, strong offensive lines littered with NFL talent and was surrounded by skill-position studs and strong QB play. Wasn’t asked to carry the load consistently. Three fumbles in 2018 (on 176 touches).

Reportedly got in Lincoln Riley’s doghouse in 2019 — started four of the first games that season before seeing snaps and touches greatly reduced, which was unrelated to his knee injury. Took a while to adjust to OSU’s system after transferring during the pandemic. All but stopped talking to Ohio State RB coach Tony Alford early last season before they repaired the relationship.

Best-suited destination: Sermon has three-down potential for the right team, perhaps as an inside-outside zone runner, but likely will have his best success working up to that role, first as a change-up runner. He has the skill to thrive as a lead back but will need an expansion of his third-down repertoire and could need some time adjusting to professional life.

Did you know: Sermon’s mother, Natoshia Mitchell, wrote a book in 2012 titled “When My Soul Cried,” which detailed some harrowing details of her life. It included both of her brothers dying, including one who was shot seven times, along with the unexpected deaths of both her parents. It also included the death of her son at the hands of the baby’s father, who is now serving a life sentence in prison.

Mitchell wouldn’t let that bring her down, however, as she raised two other children. She has earned bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and is close to finishing her doctorate in psychology. Mitchell started a nonprofit called Arise by Faith, which helps treat domestic violence survivors and plans to open another clinic to help support women in abusive relationships.

Sermon has tattoos on each of his biceps — they read “Trust” on his right arm and “God” on his left arm.

Player comp: Sermon has a somewhat similar style to Joe Mixon and JK Dobbins, albeit with less athletic skill than either.

Expected draft range: Rounds 3 to 5