How Good is CJ Verdell?

Ryan Robertson Editorials 42 Comments

CJ Verdell is an anomaly. The junior running back has rushed for 1,000 or more yards in each of his first two seasons. Despite the high yardage total, Verdell has only just surpassed the freshman single season total of Royce Freeman, who had an astounding 18 touchdowns in his first season.

Sitting at 19 career rushing touchdowns, Verdell seems to be a tier below Freeman and Ducks great LaMichael James, who rushed for an eye-popping 21 touchdowns in 2010. Is the comparison to two of the greatest running backs to ever wear green and yellow really fair? James and Freeman both played in far more prolific scoring offenses than Verdell and both of them had their best seasons in years the Ducks made the national championship game.

Verdell doesn’t possess the speed or elusiveness of James, and he lacks the sheer size and strength of Freeman, but the Ducks running back makes up for his lack of raw talent with a ferocious running style that wears down defenders due to the constant hits to the chest.

Verdell isn’t going to rush for 1,000 yards in 2020, there just aren’t enough games in the season. But with fewer “almost” scores and an offense that gets him the ball in space instead of running in to six defenders on every play, the longtime Ducks might just prove he belongs in the conversation with his predecessors.

Ryan Robertson
Yuma, Arizona
Top photo from the University of Oregon

(Readers….FishDuck will have an article every day, but most will have the objective of getting the discussion in the comments going as this one from Ryan does. They will be shorter, but they will be superb at fueling the wonderful Oregon Sports Community we have at FishDuck!  Charles Fischer)

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Charles Fischer

OREGON ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Walk Earns Pac-12 Offensive Lineman Honors

EUGENE, Ore. – After a dominating performance that saw Ryan Walk finish as the nation’s second highest-graded offensive lineman, the Oregon offensive guard has been named the Pac-12 Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week.   

Walk earned an 89.6 rating from Pro Football Focus (PFF) over the 58 snaps he split between right and left guard against Stanford on Saturday. Walk, who made his first career start against the Cardinal, was the top graded Pac-12 Conference offensive lineman and the No. 1 rated guard in the country. He earned a 100 percent assignment grade from the Oregon coaching staff after helping Oregon rush for a conference-best 269 yards in the opening weekend of the season.

Walk Notables
» Named to the PFF National Team of the Week.
» Run-blocking grade of 90.2 was second highest in the country for an offensive lineman.
» Became the fourth Ducks’ offensive lineman to win the honor since its inception before the 2019 season.
» Joins Penei Sewell (4), Shane Lemieux (2) and Calvin Throckmorton (2) as Ducks who have combined to win the award nine times in the 13 weeks a UO lineman could be nominated.
» Spearheaded a rushing attack that had three different Ducks rush for over 70 yards each for the first time since 2017.
» Awarded a scholarship a week before the Stanford game after spending three years as a walkon.

oregon111

I don’t dig it when people judge football players by statistics. The Beavs have a good RB, but he plays for the Beavers.

As for Verdell, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give him about a 6.

He breaks few tackles, he doesn’t make people miss. And he isn’t big enough to be Lagarett Blount.
He hangs on to the ball for the most part. He hits the hole (or most likely non-hole) nice and hard, and he is durable. He is also surprisingly fast for his body type – if he get through the line untouched, he goes a long way.

Moorhead needs to find ways to help Verdell be productive.
ie. screens, passes on wheel routes, draws, pitchouts, etc.

If they are going run dive plays from the pistol, might as well sub out the QB for an H back, sub the slot receiver for another TE or offensive tackle, and let Verdell run it from a wildcat formation.

Travis Dye was very impressive in his first game this year. I see some LaMike in him.

Verdell hit his ceiling in his redshirt freshmen year. We keep seeing the same play with the same RB and it keeps getting the same results — not much until the defense wears down – and this won’t work against top 10 types of teams

Sherman

Back on topic.
I think CJ is a thoroughly adequate runner who hasn’t been utilized to his fullest potential.
I say that with the understanding that most of Oregon’s skill players haven’t been given the opportunity to maximize their abilities.
BUT, Moorhead’s offense showed flashes on Saturday of getting us back to where we once were.
1st off…. Jaylin Redd and Sean Dollars need to be utilized WAY MORE!!! Those 2 guys have the explosive play, DAT stamp all over them. And back in the day, there was no one in college football more dynamic.
As a matter of fact, if Oregon utilized those 2 properly, their floor would be Byron Marshall (who was an extraordinarily clutch performer who made explosive catches and runs) and their ceiling would be DAT.
And while DJ Johnson was fantastic on Saturday, I look forward to the double tandem of Kampmoyer and Spencer Webb (who reminds me of George Kittle, unguardable by most linebackers or nicklebacks)….we just got to get them the ball.
And while the Ducks 3 headed monster of Verdell/Dye/CHL are the envy of the PAC12, I look forward to the second coming of Royce Freeman::::: Trey Benson, 6’1 and 211lbs….which after a year in Feld’s program should bulk him up to 220lbs.
That kid is gonna be a beast.

All of this is heavily dependent on Moorhead “getting them the rock in space”. If he can create those opportunities, the Ducks can climb the mountain of offensive innovation and supremacy once again.
I hope it happens!

Last edited 14 days ago by Sherman
Charles Fischer

Well, you and me both. These offensive linemen could do very well with the Counter-Trey play from the past or the Sweep-Read or Outside Zone Read, but that would be copying Chip Kelly or Taggart and Cristobal cannot do that!

Those latter two plays are tailor-made for Redd and Dollars, but I would bet we won’t see the plays.

But I loved the Speed-Double Option out of the Pistol on key third downs…so I will enjoy what I can.

Sherman

Off Topic!!!
Mark my words:::
The player the Ducks are going to miss the most this year is NOT Jevon Holland or Penei Sewell or Troy Dye or Justin Herbert.
The Ducks have players who can fill those respective spots admirably.
Nope.
The Ducks are gonna miss Brady Breeze the most.
From the moment he started last season he made his presence felt ALL OVER THE FIELD!
Tackling, interceptions, pushing receivers out of their comfort zones.
He was a raging ballhawk.
There is nobody on the Ducks (safeties) that can do what Breeze did last year.
So, because of his absence….I’m honestly worried about Oregon’s secondary.

oregon111

That is what I noticed too. Breeze would have come up and made some good sticks on those RBs. I still can’t see why called it a “career” after only getting playing time for half a season?

Haywarduck

I agree, but at the same time he may miss not playing for the Ducks this year more than we miss him.

Maybe a Bill Bellichick will draft him late and he will have a very nice career. He could also go undrafted and never get the chance he should get to prove what he showed at the end of last season. His not playing this year is the biggest head scratcher out there.

30Duck

I agree with Sherman, that Breeze was a force unlike any other player that we know about for now, his last two games were as good as I remember a Ducks DB having, and perhaps why he did decide to move on. He definitely left on top.

Sherman

Haywarduck,
Here’s my response to that:
In Joe Moorhead’s comments today, he said this maxim about elite defenders and his offensive philosophy – “Never let gamewreckers wreck a game.”
In my opinion, that IS Brady Breeze.
Nick Pickett and Steve Stephens have not shown that ability.
As far as whether or not 1 more year in Oregon’s program will affect his draft prospects….that’s not for me to say.
I just know that the Ducks are going to miss his on-field presence dramatically.

Last edited 14 days ago by Sherman
Jon Joseph

How good is he?

He starts for the 12th ranked team in the country.

I rest my case.

Brent Pennington

That was Sweet, Counselor.

30Duck

Jon it is true that Verdell starts for the Ducks, that means he’s the best RB on the roster, past that, the case is open.

UtahDuck

Personally I think he is a good running back. He doesn’t have elite vision nor does he have the speed to outrun the majority of Safeties. I think he has better than average power for a small back but this low center of gravity has also left a lot to be desired as he often gets tackled by the shoelaces.

My biggest knock on him especially going forward as he is a definite 3-7 round pick in the draft is his pass protection. He just gets beat too often in this. Which surprises me considering the coaches emphasizing blocking.

duckcardinal

Read a Stanford publication piece on Bryce Love a couple years ago. He was an age group track sprinter phenom in North Carolina, with even more raw speed than LMJ, and impressive rushing numbers out of high school. Yet when he got to Stanford he was labeled as a ‘speed only’ guy and rarely saw the field his first two years.

But he had Christian McCaffrey to watch, and worked tirelessly with his RB coach to develop his patience and vision so that by his third year he was able to win a starting job, and have a blow up season, arguably the best of any RB in the country that year.

One sees gifted vs grinder discussions in sports all the time, but examples of extremes on one end or the other tend to dominate. However, most elite performers have some blend of these qualities that is uniquely perfect, for them. Verdell was gifted enough in high school to be named CIF San Diego Section Offensive POY, plus he has transformed his body and honed his craft relentlessly since coming to Eugene.I love his game right now.

Did you ever see LMJ helicopter a defender like Verdell’s first TD yesterday?

Was that not a thing of beauty?

30Duck

The game against the Cougars is still a mystery. The offense looked better than I thought it would, the defense worse than I thought it would, and with the Cougars playing the Beavers, how do we grade them?

For one thing, this isn’t the Leach WSU. The QB finished 18-33, 227 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT. That wasn’t at halftime, that’s for the entire game! The Cougars ran the ball 30 times, 229 yards. Nearly 50/50 pass/run.
The Cougars scored 38, that’s good, but what kind of defense did the Beavers offer against them? Conversely, WSU gave up 28 to the Beavers, with OSU outscoring WSU 14-10 in the 4th quarter. Oregon state went 34-48 329 1TD & ran 31-122 Neither team lost a fumble, with the Beavers getting 1 interception. OSU finished, 329 in the air, 122 on the ground. Not nearly as balanced, but their 451 was only 5 less than WSU’s 456.

The Ducks and Cougars, along with every other team, have parts of their games to work on. We’ve talked about where the Ducks can certainly tighten up. It will be interesting. Important to note, WSU’s leading RB from last season, Max Borghi , did not play.

Last edited 14 days ago by 30Duck
Jon Joseph

And that’s 229 plus what I think was 3 sacks of the WSU QB?

It baffles me that unlike the NFL, CFB counts yardage lost due to sacks against the rushing total.

David Marsh

Very difficult to see the match-ups… however, I think Oregon will run the ball pretty easily against WSU. Oregon State before halftime did a pretty good job running the ball with an offensive line that was basically non-exsistent. Oregon’s oline should give Shough time to pass as well. Stanford was the team that created the most negative plays for Oregon last year and this year they did a decent job slowing Oregon down in the first half but I don’t think WSU has the same caliber of linemen…

I also think we will see some major growth from Noah Sewell as there typically is a learning curve from game one to game two for new players. In addition I expect KT to have a party in the backfield as WSU’s new offense doesn’t get the ball out of the QBs hand as fast as Leach’s offense… especially if they are looking at running the ball.

I think Oregon matches up against WSU much better this year than in previous years…

But then again I might just be pumping sunshine…

Charles Fischer

I have recorded the game, but have not had time to watch the WSU game of last week. Both you and 30Duck gave us all good intel to chew on and I’ll keep it in mind watching the game.

And since I have a GameDay article for Saturday to write!

30Duck

I think “matching up” with WSU will not at all be the problem it was in the past. I agree that KT should have a much bigger presence in this game as yeah, I don’t think that WSU’s O line is equal to Stanford’s. Agreed on the Ducks getting the running game going, and I think the passing game will only get better as the season moves on.

Drake

Verdell started for the Ducks as a true freshman. Not many of us can say that about ourselves. The guy puts on the pads and plays a hard nosed style of ball and he will probably get a chance to play at the next level. That should earn the title of being great.

Dude has earned my respect.

UtahDuck

Verdell shirted his first year back in 2017. He sat behind Freeman and TBJ. I think I remember reports of him being dinged up during the season as well and that is why Felix got some touches that year over him.

duckcardinal

And I believe Verdell’s redshirt was prior to the 4 freebies rule as well, so not even some mop up duty.

BigDucksFan

You don’t have to be “great” to play in the NFL. We’ve seen too many one year wonders to know that.

David Marsh

Verdell likes contact… I think we really saw some of the constant collisions between Verdell and Stanford in the second half. Stanford by the second half was just getting worn down by the contact and Verdell was carrying defenders multiple yards after contact. When Stanford was fresh they stuffed him for two yard gains… when Stanford was tired Verdell dragged them for seven to eight yard gains.

This was also helped by Shough running the ball outside which forced Stanford not to load the box on every single pistol formation play… which continues to be an annoying tell. Oregon in the Pistol is either a run play up the gut or a pass play… though Shough did start pulling the ball and make Stanford stay honest. Though for the most part if Oregon is in the Shotgun then the Running back is going to become a passing threat but typically not a running threat.

I am hoping the vanilla offense was somewhat by design against Stanford. Oregon didn’t need to show off too many new bells and whistles as vanilla was enough to beat Stanford. Save some of the fun stuff for later… also breaking in a new offensive line and new quarterback so maybe they haven’t developed the playbook as deep as possible yet.

Jon Joseph

Yet, per SP+ rankings, Stanford is the 2nd toughest game on the Ducks 6 game schedule.

David Marsh

If that proves to be true then I think by the time we end up going against Washington Oregon will be at full power and have a full offensive playbook to use.

Though it does look like PFF has Oregon with the too o-line of the week which is a pretty big deal considering they still look like they need some improvements though in the second half they settled down and played much better.

Santa Rosa Duck

Thank you Ryan. I think CJ Verdell is perfectly suited to our new evolving Morehead scheme. He can run, block and catch the football. GO CJ, GO DUCKS!

Haywarduck

Love Verdell and all of our backs from the past. Comparing is only good head to head, and that just won’t happen.

How good is he, good enough for now, that is what counts. We can wish for a better, bigger, faster back, but he is our starter and will always be a great Duck.

My only reservation is our RB development. LMJ was a four star recruit, and excelled. Barner was a three star recruit and excelled. What I have seen, in development, is underperformance. It is time for a recruit to come in and over perform.

My hope is he has taken his education seriously and has a wonderful life after football.

Mudslide

I certainly agree with most that you’re saying. But let me point out that CJ was a modest 3*, ranking below CH-L. Given the offense that he has had to play on, I think he has excelled in a different way. It’s an apples and oranges comparison of him with other great backs. See Mr. Marsh’s comment regarding the pistol. And I believe he has been coached to hit the planned hole…hard and fast. Note, that none of the backs have the patient approach to the line … say like LaMike. Maybe that’s a vision problem. But the coaches seen to like his style.

And regarding his speed…NFL Draft Scout has his 40 at 4.42. That’ not exactly pedestrian.

Haywarduck

Interesting statement, agree he is what the coaches want in their RB. They want a back that will run into a clogged hole, even if there is a gap where the run wasn’t called. This is where, I think, most Duck fans just keep scratching their heads. I know I can’t figure out how our running game makes sense a lot of the time. The pistol makes me even question my support for the second amendment.

Mudslide

Funny stuff, Hayward. Thanks for the chuckle. The head scratcher for me is also why THAT cross-your-fingers-and-hope running game. I am left to surmise that it’s an attempt to set up other, more dangerous plays, and to soften up the D-line.

But then even Charles is almost hairless from scratching his head over the Ducks offense. ;-)

Charles Fischer

You got that right, although deep down….I really understand what I think is going on…

Frank Solich was fired at Nebraska for following Tom Osbourne, as was Gene Bartow following John Wooden. It is hard to follow a legend, and at Oregon–many people put up Chip Kelly as one to be worshiped.

Cristobal does not want to try to “look” like Chip Kelly; he wants to establish his own identity, and that means not doing anything that Chip Kelly did.

30Duck

Charles, you are so right about this, and why I think Helfrich ultimately failed, he was handpicked to follow Chip because he was as close to Chip as could be found. Unfortunately he wasn’t really allowed to be Mark Helfrich, and we saw what happened.

Cristobal not only didn’t have to be Chip, he was the savior after Willie T.
Talk about a nice starting point.

duckcardinal

After his RS year LMJ was given the starter’s role in Game 2 via the post Boise suspension of LaGarrett Blount. Hard to say what Sean Dollars would do given a similar situation, yet he may not see meaningful touches until his 3rd or even 4th year in the program (if he stays…)

While I love the outcomes and direction of the program these days, seems hard to make a meaningful judgement comparing development, based on performances in Kelly’s well tuned spread offense vs Cristobal’s buttoned down offenses.

Last edited 14 days ago by duckcardinal
BigDucksFan

I think you’re right about Oregon having a lack of RB development. As good as LMJ and Barner were in college when they hit the NFL they were at best only So-So.

Oregon also has had a lack of QB development in the past.

Charles Fischer

Verdell is a good back, and I should be more appreciative than I am, but the problem is that I have a lot of RBs in Oregon’s past to compare him to. He does not have the 4.34 breakaway speed of LMJ, nor the elusiveness of McCullough and while he has good vision–it is not like Barner’s eyes.

So he is fine for where we are in the resurgence of Oregon football, and yet I hope the truly great five-star running back joins us soon.

Quackanadian

Sorry I missed yesterday’s post game chat as I was driving all day.

CJ and Dye look like new and improved versions of themselves. This is awesome to see.

Sewell replacing Dru at LB was a huge improvement. Wow. I had higher hopes for Dru due to his measurables, but he couldn’t shed blocks or get to the gaps in the first quarter. Sewell was a BEAST!

Malaesala on the O line. Someone posted a highlight video on Twitter of his one handed “tossings of the children” he was facing on the Stanford D. Just wow. First start? Just wow. Jones was no slouch either pancaking dudes like it was breakfast and he hadn’t eaten in days. TJ Bass looked good too.

Wright looked good as a DB!

JJ3 and Pittman can catch any ball tossed their way. Unreal.

Shough was way more impressive that I thought both with his arm and his feet.

Could be a good year as long as the trajectory is up every quarter.

Cheers.

Brent Pennington

Verdell is a great Ducks running back whose hallmark is all-around talent. He is tough to defend and his value far surpasses total career yards and career TD’s. Faking, blocking, inside and outside capabilities, good hands, guts, resiliency, and more. CJ Verdell is talented and valuable.

BigDucksFan

Yes, but:

Verdell is not a franchise running back. He’s good right now not because he is a gifted, natural running back but because he has had enough reps over the years that he has gotten better at the position, but not great. How long ago was it we would see Verdell take the ball and run into the backs of his own lineman trying to make a hole for himself when just a step to the right or left was nothin but a wide open space. Verdell did not have peripheral vision back then, he was not “running for daylight”. It had to be taught to him it wasn’t natural for him to do it.

Verdell also has a tendency to slow down over the season. In last Saturdays game we saw Verdell run with energy, (not as much as Dye) but more than we will see him with in a few games down the road.

No Verdell is not a great running back but he’s the best experienced back we’ve got right now.

Last edited 14 days ago by BigDucksFan
30Duck

I’m with you on CJ, BDF. It’s not “hating on him” in any respect to not put him on the same level as LMJ or Freeman. He’s a warrior, the run up the middle for the touchdown that beat the Huskies in ’18 is iconic. He’s improved each year. But with all this, I’m still going to be thinking, hoping, that the Ducks will get a better RB to replace him with.

BigDucksFan

Right on 30Duck.

Brent Pennington

No, not a franchise back in your definition. A Swiss Army knife and Duck warrior in mine. Verdell will likely produce some big games this year during the short season. Remember the play calling, Offensive Coordinator and transition during his career. I hear what you and 30Duck are saying, but there may be more to the story if you look deeper into Verdell’s record and contributions to Oregon football.