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Is Oregon RB C.J. Verdell Underrated?

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Can the young back join the pantheon of former great running backs in program history?

Oregon v Oregon State Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Brad Crawford of 247 Sports wrote a piece today on the 10 Most Underrated in College Football today. He lists Ducks running back C.J. Verdell as one of the more underrated players.

Here’s his quote on Verdell:

“Verdell crossed the 1,000-yard mark and averaged 5 yards per carry as a freshman, spearheading Oregon’s rushing efforts. Those in Eugene recognize his talent level, mentioning him among recognizable program greats in his career infancy, but he isn’t a national name yet in the conversation with other elite ballcarriers. That changes this season, especially if Verdell rushes for 100-plus and multiple scores in Oregon’s opener vs. nationally-ranked Auburn. Duck Territory’s Erik Skopil puts Verdell in the conversation with other Oregon backfield stars before him. “He’s diminutive but still powerful like (LaMichael) James, has good balance like (Kenjon) Barner and is a more than capable pass catcher like (Byron) Marshall,” Skopil writes. “I think he’s more complete a running back than Marshall was.”

Is Verdell properly rated, overrated, or underrated?

Verdell is a tad too youthful to consider among the legion of former Duck greats at his position. He is well on his way, however with a solid redshirt freshman campaign. Provided that he can keep up the current pace of production, he can reach the lofty heights of yesteryear’s glories of LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Marshall, and even Jonathan Stewart. Hardly anyone outside of the west coast and the scouting community knows who he is. If he shows up on the big stage in 2019, he will get some draft hype entering the 2020 NFL Draft process in which he is eligible as a redshirt sophomore. In order to do so, he will have to put up Doak Walker Award winning numbers and be the bellcow of the offense. I’m not sure he can be given the likely timeshare he’s in with Travis Dye and potentially Sean Dollars + Cyrus Habibi-Likio.

How does his freshman season compare to the greats?

Note: all stats courtesy of college football reference.

Verdell 2018: 202 carries for 1,018 yards, 5.0 ypc, 10 touchdowns. 27 receptions for 315 yards and two touchdowns receiving.

James 2009: 230 carries for 1,546 yards, 6.7 ypc, 14 touchdowns. 17 receptions 168 yards.

Stewart 2005: 53 carries for 188 yards, 3.5 ypc, six touchdowns. Seven receptions for 45 yards, one touchdown receiving

Marshall 2012: 87 carries for 447 yards, 5.1 ypc, four touchdowns.

Barner 2009: 61 carries for 366 yards 6.0 ypc, three touchdowns. Four receptions for 30 yards

DAT 2011: 55 carries for 595 yards, 10.8 ypc, seven touchdowns. 46 receptions for 605 yards, Nine touchdowns receiving

Freeman 2014: 252 carries for 1,365 yards, 5.4 ypc, 18 touchdowns. 16 receptions for 158 yards, one touchdown.

What’s the context?

If you look at the raw data, one could reasonably extrapolate that Verdell had a comparable freshman season to Freeman and James. LMJ far outpaces him in total yards but he had a similar amount of total touchdowns.

DAT is the outlier of the group due to the versatility of his overall game. If he was just a pure runner, I'd imagine that his rushing total would be higher.

Theoretically, if there was no overlap between Barner, James, and ultimately DAT, they would have higher individual statistics.

Freeman was the only back that was consistently given the ball on a near every down basis throughout his career. The rest had that one standout year and the rest of their careers were a mixed bag.

Can Verdell live up to the standards of his predecessors?

I believe that he can if he expands upon his production as the primary back for the next two years or so. While he likely won’t reach the top levels of the Ducks RB legacy, he can leave his mark on the record books. It depends on his usage rates and what Marcus Arroyo calls for him. He certainly has the tools to do so with an impressive offensive line in front of him and a system that runs the ball frequently. The only issue is that the share between the running backs may limit his touches.

How can we foresee his production given the limited data set?

Given that Verdell received 46% of the carries compared to 32% for Travis Dye last season, we can figure out some things. CFB reference says that the Ducks averaged 40 rushing attempts to 32 pass attempts a game last season. If the same formula holds true for 2019, then I would expect Verdell to once again get the lions’ share of the work. Let’s say that Sean Dollars and CHL chip into Dye’s totals into near even carries. Also, presume that the Ducks increase their run totals to 42 attempts a game, that would equal out to 504 team wide carries. In this theory, Verdell gets 48% of the carries along with Dye, CHL, Dollars’ split of the rest into 20%, 16%, 16%. CJV would end up with 242 carries at the current 5.0 ypc clip, he would finish the regular season with 1,210 yards. Note that I did not factor in Justin Herbert’s yards as his totals include sacks so it’s rather inconclusive, although he did get 71 total carries last season, sacks included. As for the pass game, it’s truly a tossup on what happens there given Arroyo’s habit of not calling anything for the back unless it was absolutely necessary. Verdell was the third leading receiver on the team with 27 receptions. I expect that to decrease given the talent at receiver. While he won’t be abandoned in the pass game, expect the Freeman model to be replicated, not the DAT program.

What’s the endgame?

Verdell currently ranks 37th all time in school history for rushing yards and 33rd in touchdowns. He has a real chance to break into the top 15 all time in both yards and touchdowns after 2019. Right now as it stands, he’s in the top 10 of all time Oregon backs, talent wise. After his college career is over, he could possibly be considered in the top five if things break right for him. He has a shot at getting over 600 career carries in the next two years (if he stays that long.)

I think he’s underrated given that the RB class ahead of him is stacked beyond belief even after the exodus of running back talent in the past couple of years. He would be RB10 on my board.