Preseason rankings are always tricky for college football players. So much football is yet to be played with changing circumstances that are inherent to the college game. Coaches change, roles change, teammates change. Expectations can, too.
Those changes don’t always benefit players. In the case of these five players who were top-100 prospects for the 2024 NFL draft entering the year, the college season performance just hasn’t met the preseason hype or expectations for evaluation.
Jared Verse, EDGE, Florida State
Preseason ranking: No. 5 overall
Current rank: 23
It’s not that Verse has played poorly. The Seminoles pass rusher is having a good year with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 TFLs in seven games, and he’s had some impressive pass rush wins. The issue for Verse is that he’s not come close to the high bar he set in his 2022 campaign after transferring from Albany.
Verse hasn’t really expanded his repertoire of pass-rush moves or his hand usage in defeating blocks. He thrives on beating bad block attempts and slow-footed offensive tackles. However, good technique blocking and tackles who can properly reset are giving Verse more trouble than expected.
He opened the season as a potential top-10 overall pick. Because he’s a great athlete and carries some legit results, Verse could still linger around the first half of the first round. If you solely watch his 2023 tape, it’s just not close to that level. NFL teams want to see growth, not stagnation.
Jeremiah Trotter Jr., LB, Clemson
Preseason rank: No. 7 overall
Current rank: No. 39
Trotter is another player who, like Verse, looks like a legit NFL talent but just hasn’t progressed his game in the way that was hoped. The biggest issue for Trotter is missed tackles.
In 2022, PFF charted Trotter with 60 total tackles and 12 misses. That’s not a great ratio, a 20 percent miss-to-hit rate. This year, it’s gone the wrong direction: 35 tackles, eight misses. His aim point on tackles isn’t always great, a la former NFL LB Joe Schobert.
Schobert is quickly becoming my comp for Trotter. Like the one-time Pro Bowler, Trotter is very hit-and-miss in coverage. He’s solid, often better than that, in man coverage on TEs and RBs out of the backfield but can be too quick to recognize and fire when left without a direct assignment.
Entering the 2023 college season, Trotter got a lot of top-50 overall prospect buzz (I was much more bullish than that). He’s looking more now like a player in Schobert’s range —No. 99 overall in 2016.
Kingsley Suamataia, OT, BYU
Preseason rank: 56
Current rank: 197
Suamataia has great length and a powerful punch, two things NFL teams covet at offensive tackle. The issue in 2023 for Suamataia has been coordinating those two things. The punch has looked slow, and it allows defenders who can get off and into him quickly to nullify the power.
Pass protection is still solid; Suamataia is athletic enough at his length to force edge rushers high around the end, even when he doesn’t initially win. He’s shown limited range as a run blocker, but more to the point: Suamataia isn’t reliably keeping his feet moving in the run game. The three BYU games I’ve watched in 2023 have not been kind to the one-time Oregon transfer.
Max Melton, CB, Rutgers
Preseason rank: 71
Current rank: 199
Melton is a case where seeing a player in person has been impressionable. I saw Melton play at Michigan State in 2022 and came away thinking I witnessed a Day 2 cover man with good aggression in the run game.
I was at Rutgers’ game at Michigan and I didn’t see the same Melton. He was passive, for lack of a better word. Too careful. No top-end gear in coverage to make up against faster wideouts. The game film of the Scarlet Knights against Virginia Tech showed the same. Melton is trending in a very wrong direction for me.
Caleb Williams, QB, USC
Preseason rank: No. 2 overall
Current rank: No. 6
Let’s get it out of the way immediately: Williams is still a potentially elite-level NFL quarterback prospect. The issue here is that the word “potentially” is more emphasized now than it was in August or September.
Over the summer, I wrote a piece on where Williams could improve his game in the NFL. To be blunt, none of it has happened. If anything, his ability to read defenses and his propensity for pointless pocket movement have gotten worse. He’s still got a great arm and great legs, a willingness to challenge defenses and an easy leadership that shows across the board. But Williams hasn’t done much to alleviate concerns about handling pressure. The Notre Dame and Arizona games only heightened them.