NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2018. This is the fourth in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason. Click through the tabs below to see all of them.
Most NFL evaluators expected Stanford running back Bryce Love to bolt for the next level following his outstanding 2017 season. Love led the Power Five in rushing yards and he was likely to be selected in the top 3 rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. However, after giving it some careful thought, he elected to return to Stanford for his senior season. Several publications are listing him as the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this fall (he was the Heisman runner-up last year). I recently spent some time studying his game film for our First Look series. Here's my report.
Bryce Love, senior running back, Stanford
Height, weight: 5-foot-10, 196 pounds (school measurements).
2017 statistics: 263 rushes for 2,118 yards (8.1 average), 19 TDs; 6 catches for 33 yards (5.5 average).
Game tape watched: USC (Sept. 9, 2017), San Diego State (Sept. 16, 2017), USC (Pac-12 championship game; Dec. 1, 2017).
What I liked: The production jumps off the stat sheet. Love had the tough assignment of taking over the position from Christian McCaffrey, one of the most productive running backs in NCAA history. While he wasn't nearly as prolific in the passing game, he rushed for more yards than McCaffrey ever did in a single season. Love set an FBS record with 13 runs of 50 yards or more last fall. That is incredible.
From a skill-set standpoint, I came away very impressed with his vision, decisiveness and balance. He also runs much bigger than his size, powering through tacklers at the line of scrimmage and finishing every run. He has the ability to make defenders miss at the second and third level without gearing down. That is what leads to many of his long runs.
Where he needs to improve: Love needs to become more polished in the passing game. He has limited catch production (29 in his career) and he will fight the ball on occasion. I believe he will become more comfortable as a receiver with added opportunities. His biggest issue is in pass protection. His lack of size shows up in this area, as he struggles to anchor down vs. blitzing linebackers. I love his awareness and courage, but he needs to do a better job of quickly closing the distance and running his feet once he makes contact.
Biggest takeaway: I think Love made the right decision to return to school. The 2018 running back class was loaded, and, as I mentioned, he still had some areas of his game to clean up. I'm sure head coach David Shaw will find ways to get him more involved as a receiver and I expect him to make big gains in pass protection, as well. Former Georgia RBs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb both benefited from returning to school for their senior season and I believe Bryce Love will, too.
He reminds me of: As a runner, he reminds me of Jacquizz Rodgers when he was coming out of Oregon State. Both guys lack ideal measurables, but they have natural instincts, toughness and a ton of production. Love has a little more top speed than Rodgers, but they both possess outstanding quickness. I don't see Love becoming a heavy-workload back at the next level, but he should have a long, successful NFL career as a complementary back.
I can't wait to see him play: San Diego State on Aug. 31. Love can kickstart his Heisman campaign the very first week of the season if he can post monster numbers and avenge last year's loss to the Aztecs. SDSU head coach Rocky Long always does a brilliant job of putting a winning scheme together on the defensive side of the ball and it will be fun to see how Love performs in this matchup.