From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#8 Trey Sermon / RB Ohio State – 6’0 213
- Contact balance
- Short-area quickness and footwork in tight spaces
- Nasty stiff arm
- Showed good enough hands to be a consistent check-down guy
- Pass protection isn’t new for him
- Lots of tread left on the tires – (only 4 games in college with 20+ carries)
- Breakaway speed
- Average athlete
- Can play too high in pass pro leading to him getting ran over
- Large variation in the type of play from the beginning of 2020 to the end
- Transferred to Ohio State from Oklahoma in 2020 as a graduate transfer
- 455 Carries – 2,946 yards – 6.5 ypc – 48 rushing TDs
- 48 Receptions – 468 yards – 10.1 ypc – 3 receiving TDs
- Broke Ohio State single-game rushing record in Big Ten Championship (331 yards)
- Broke collarbone in 2021 National Championship game
- Amassed over 2,000 yards rushing and scored 25 touchdowns in three seasons with the Sooners
- Broke vertebrae in his back in high school
- Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year
- Using his Pro Day to raise money for victims of domestic violence, his mother was a victim of DV before he was born
Trey Sermon burst onto the scene as a freshman on the 2017 Oklahoma Sooners team that was quarterbacked by Baker Mayfield. He earned himself the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year award with over 850 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. He’d follow that performance with an 1128 scrimmage yard, 13 touchdown season in 2018.
However, Sermon was never truly able to secure his stake as the leader of the backfield in Norman. Eventually losing his carries entirely to the likes of Kennedy Brooks and Rhamondre Stevenson in 2019. Sermon felt like he wasn’t getting the carries he deserved and entered the transfer portal, eventually signing to play in Columbus with Ohio State. Even there, he took a while to finally his footing in a COVID-shortened season with 636 of his 870 rushing yards coming in his final 3 games of the season before breaking his collarbone on his first touch of the National Championship.
Sermon was never viewed as the heavy-workload back in college. He has only 4 games under his belt with 20-plus carries, 2 of those came in his final 2 games minus the championship game he got injured. From a bird’s eye view, there is too much speculation to make any clear assessments here. Were the other Oklahoma backs better than him? Did they just want to spread out the carries and get everyone involved? Was there a falling out with the coaching staff? After he transferred, why did it take him a while to become acclimated with the offense? Why wasn’t he starting over Master Teague? Unfortunately, we will not be able to answer any of these questions to further evaluate the entirety of Sermon as a prospect.
So let’s dive deeper into his tape when he was playing and make our evaluations from what we DO know.
The first thing that jumps off the tape for me with Sermon is his footwork in tight quarters. He’s exceptionally nimble and light on his feet. On the below run against Penn State, you can see him play with tempo. Patiently waiting for his pulling lineman to get through the hole and then bursting off his backside. His low center of gravity also allows him to run through a lot of arm tackles.
While Sermon isn’t overly explosive his short-area quickness allows him to make a lot of people miss in space. Here you can see him square up this cornerback then burst outside. The corner has no chance.
Sermon showed elite contact balance in his 2 biggest games of 2020. Contact balance is the ability to absorb contact while changing direction and staying upright. It’s something mentioned a ton with Alvin Kamara and what makes him so successful as a running back. Below you can see him stiff arm, stumble, cut, stiff arm again, hurdle, and keep going for more yardage. It’s such an important trait as you can see running backs go down on first contact.
Here’s another example of Sermon showing off his contact balance. This time against Clemson. You can see his burst here too. Watch him ruin the safeties angle coming down to fill the hole. Then, he stays up while a defender is diving at his legs and another grabbing him up high. He finishes the run strong, with a stiff arm, to get a few extra yards.
One last example of Sermon’s contact balance and then we’ll move on. Ohio State chooses to run a sweep on 3rd and 9. Sermon is first contacted about 5 yards short of the line to gain. He’s able to muscle through the high contact and absorb the low contact from a second defender to his knee, spin, and somehow make it to the marker. Phenomenal effort.
When we talk about possible Pittsburgh Steelers running backs. You want them to be hard-nosed and to play with an added edge. Sermon can bring the heat. Look at him late in the Clemson game showing no mercy. His stiff arm is his go-to move and here you can see just how strong it is. As a defender, if you have a guy still running like this in the fourth quarter, it’s demoralizing.
Sermon’s not overly powerful either, but he often falls forward simply due to his leg churn. This easily could have been a tackle for loss, instead, thanks to his jump cut and knee drive, Sermon turns this into a 7 yard gain and a first down.
I have one final run clip of Sermon before we move onto the rest of his game. The below clip against Michigan State is what you’ll get from him as a running back. When I saved this to my computer I named the file “toolbox” because he pulls it all out here. You get to see his burst, strength to run through arm tackles, contact balance, footwork, and stiff-arm all in a single rep.
Moving on, we know to be an every-down back in the NFL you have to be more than just a runner. He’s proved to be a more than capable back out of the backfield. He shows instincts of being able to get in the line of sight of the QB to be a viable check-down option and shows soft hands when catching the football. He doesn’t fight the ball and almost always catches it away from his frame, showing confidence in his ability.
Coming from systems that like to air it out in Oklahoma and Ohio State, he had to do his fair share of pass blocking, especially out of shotgun. While there were some reps that you saw him playing too high and get knocked back, he’s still very willing as a blocker and isn’t afraid to mix it up.
The last clip for Sermon I wanted to show was how he plays away from the football. Here, he’s out on a flat route and his QB decides to tuck it and run. He proves again to be a willing blocker and clears the way for Justin Fields to get into the end zone untouched, and finishes with a pancake at that.
Through watching the tape of Sermon I see no reason why he can’t be an every-down back in today’s NFL. You may have to coach up some pass-blocking, but that’s true of almost every back coming out of college. The question that still bothers me is his lack of production in his last two years outside of the Northwestern and Clemson games. Don’t get me wrong he was the best player on the field both of those days but it makes me question if he can do it on a consistent basis.
Watching his early games of the 2020 seasons you see him running completely different than against Northwestern and Clemson. Was it a lack of confidence? Lack of comfort in the system? I’m not sure, but there was certainly a tentativeness in his game. There wasn’t the same fire.
If I know I’m getting the back from the second half of the 2020 year I’m all in on Sermon because he shows he can do it all and think he would fit the Steelers mold for a running back through and through. I see him as more of a complete back than any of the ones currently on Pittsburgh’s roster. The one true knock on him other than his production is he doesn’t have a true defining trait to his game. That and the way the league is viewing running backs today is the reason I have Sermon sliding to early day 3.
Projection: Round 4
Games Watched: at Penn State, Nebraska, at Michigan State, Northwestern, Clemson