Unpacking The Pac-12: Bryce Love Questions Won't Fade Away

This post will be updated with further Pac-12 notes later in Week 8 of college football.

Stanford v. Arizona State

The big story from this game has to be Stanford running back Bryce Love, who has endured one of the most disappointing and frustrating NFL Draft campaigns I can remember.

2017: Legit Heisman case. Record breaking season. Unbelievable highlight reel.

2018: All of that magic: gone.

We have to factors to consider here. The first is purely Love's tape. Coming into the season, I ranked Love as my second running back in the Pac-12, behind Washington's Myles Gaskin -- a lot of folks didn't like that. Even with his world-ending home run ability, Love had too many runs that could have broken into the second level but failed to clear the first.

There were a couple of reasons for that: Love often was brought down with arm tackles or glancing blows from much bigger defensive linemen. He's a smaller back who plays around 190 pounds at 5-foot-10, but he doesn't have elite flexibility or body control, so when he's greeted with contact, he doesn't squirt by the way USC's Ronald Jones or Toledo's Kareem Hunt did in recent classes.

Love also has to work on his sense of timing on zone flow, as he's too eager to bang the zone backside and invites quick contact from unblocked edge defenders instead of letting the playside blocks develop. He models good patience in power-blocking schemes and has the ability to pick his way through narrow spaces, but in zone concepts - which he'll need to run successfully in the NFL -- his reads aren't as pure.

When you're hitting a home run in ever game, these misses are easier to stomach. When those opportunities aren't coming your way, the stats fall off the cliff, and the poor tape is more evident.

The other main factor to consider with Love's falling stock: I don't know if we've seen him at 100% health since the middle of last season. Love went down with an ankle injury in the middle of the 2017 season against Oregon, missed a game against Oregon State, and then hustled back for an eventual loss to Wazzu. That Washington State game saw a hampered Love come in and out of the game, and generally, he lost his effectiveness save for one big run.

And since then, that's been the story. Love's broken a big one here or there, but overall, he's not nearly as dangerous of a player as he was. He doesn't win corners on boundary runs easily; he isn't the same gasp of smoke for plodding linebackers between the tackles. The juice seems drained.

Love has continue to aggravate and re-aggravate that ankle injury across lulls and swells -- he took a rest game against UC Davis this season, apparently with a knee injury. If the speed back can never recapture his burst because of chronic or recurring ankle injuries, his stock -- which was already in danger because of the film, the low weight, and the NFL's obsession with football robots -- will continue to plummet.

Quick notes

  • I remain fearful of Stanford LB Bobby Okereke, who has been reported a Day 2 player for some NFL teams. Last season against Utah, misdirection, play fakes, and jet motion had him spinning; and again, Arizona State had him jumping at shadows today. They targeted him for multiple RPOs with a lot of success.
  • Arizona State iDL Renell Wren also still gives me pause, but it's tough not to get suckered in on that athletic ability. Wren took the undersized Stanford C Jesse Burkett for multiple joy rides on Thursday night, showing excellent penetration ability and good handwork to re-leverage when necessary. I want to see more consistent play from his a pass-rusher.
  • Two Stanford defenders stand out to me, worthy of stars for the future: OLB Jordan Fox (No. 10) is a true junior, so technically he's eligible, but he's laboring for reps behind Sean Barton and Casey Toohill, so he likely won't declare. When he's on the field, he jumps off the tape with active hands and some bend. CB Paulson Adebo (No. 11) is a redshirt freshman who was the 12th ranked WR nationally in his recruiting class. His ball skills, length, and short-area quickness all scream NFL.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Deputy Editor of Bleeding Green Nation. Undergrad at UChicago.