A 12-Pack of Chilled Plays

You know what’s better than a humorous intro.

No intro.

Especially when you — “you” being “me” — start writing this piece a few hours before it’s due.

I’M NOT SAYING THAT THAT”S WHAT IS HAPPENING!

I was merely speaking in generalizations.

You know the drill. Let’s get to it.

In this article I give six recommended plays each for the 12 PM ET and 6 PM ET slates of Saturday games. Within the six recommendations for each slate, three are “Paying Up” plays (top-12 salary at their positions), and three are “Digging Deep” plays (outside top-12 salary at their positions).

EARLY SLATE: 12 PM ET

QUARTERBACKS

Paying Up: Matt Johnson (Bowling Green State) – $8,700

Johnson is first in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards passing and second in touchdowns passing, pass attempts, and completions. Through two games, he is the most productive passer in the country. He is certainly the most productive quarterback of the early slate — and he has only the seventh-highest salary at the position, which would make sense if his matchup this week against Memphis were absolutely brutal, but it’s not.

Although Memphis has been relatively stingy on defense this season — allowing only 15 points, 136 yards passing, and no TDs passing per game — that stoutness has more to do with two beneficial matchups than with anything inherent to the team, and the Las Vegas books agree. Playing at home in a game with a 79-point over/under (the highest in the slate), BGSU is a three-point underdog but still projected to score 38 points. In what should be a fast-paced game featuring lots of back-and-forth scoring, Johnson will throw the ball plenty and should have no fewer than 325 yards and two TDs passing. Four TDs passing are a real possibility for Johnson.

Digging Deep: Jeff Lockie (Oregon) – $7,100

This recommendation is more about the matchup than the player. Oregon is a 44.5-point favorite at home against a Georgia State team with a defense that has subpar numbers — and isn’t as good as its numbers. Playing in a game with a 72-point over/under (the slate’s second-highest), Oregon is projected to score 58.25 points (the slate’s highest point total). You could probably be Oregon’s quarterback in this game and live up to Lockie’s salary, the 17th-highest at the position.

And what about starting quarterback Vernon Adams, who has the position’s highest salary in the slate? He has a broken finger on his throwing hand. He played through it last week against a tough Michigan State team — but the Ducks can win this matchup without Adams, and his status for Saturday’s game is still uncertain. Adams very well might sit out this game, and even if he were to play he would likely be pulled early in the contest, leaving a lot of potential production for Lockie. A number of mediocre quarterbacks have been productive for Oregon in the past: Darron Thomas, Jeremiah Masoli, and Dennis Dixon. Lockie could easily add his name to that list this weekend. If he starts, Lockie has an excellent chance to produce 250 yards and two TDs as a passer and another 50 yards and a TD as a runner.


RUNNING BACKS

Paying Up: De’Veon Smih (Michigan) –$7,400

Tied for the eighth-highest salary in the slate at his position, Smith has the potential to finish Week 3 as a top-three running back. Through the first two games, Smith has been Michigan’s workhorse, with 40 carries for 173 yards and three TDs, plus three receptions for 30 yards. He has handily led UM in carries both games. In the week 1 loss, Smith still had 18 touches, and in UM’s Week 2 win he exploded for 150 yards and three TDs on 25 touches. Win or lose, Smith gets his touches.

But Smith likely won’t have to worry about UM losing in Week 3, and his performance last week in UM’s 35-7 victory might serve to represent his potential this week. UM is a 34-point favorite at home and projected to score 41.75 points against Nevada-Las Vegas, which last year allowed 293.8 yards and 2.8 TDs rushing on 52.1 carries per game. UNLV is simply one of the worst teams in college football at defending the run — and on an unadjusted basis Smith in 2015 has a strong 57.7 percent of UM’s rushing yards, 75 percent of its rushing TDs, and 50 percent of all the offensive TDs. Given the matchup and Smith’s centrality to UM’s offense, he has a strong chance of rushing for 100 yards and two TDs.

Digging Deep: D’Andre Ferby (Western Kentucky) – $5,300

Since 2010, with a variety of head coaches, WKU has had a string of productive workhorse running backs who were all capable receivers out of the backfield: Bobby Rainey, Antonio Andrews, and Leon Allen — but none of those guys are in this game. Rainey and Andrews are wallowing on NFL benches, and Allen (a senior who finished last season with 272 carries and 51 receptions for 2,018 scrummage yards and 16 all-purpose TDs in 13 games) will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Also out indefinitely with a knee injury is Anthony West, the primary backup to Allen last year, so the lead back for WKU in this game is Ferby, a redshirt freshman with massive size at 6’1” and 240 lbs.

After Allen injured his knee in Week 2, Ferby entered the game and, though inefficient, he had 14 carries for 39 yards and a TD — and, most importantly, he had three receptions for 16 yards. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s not as good as Allen, but WKU can use Ferby in the same fashion that Allen was used. As the last man standing, Ferby has limited competition for touches in this matchup. WKU is a 1.5-point underdog to Indiana on the road but still projected to score 34 points. The game should be close enough for Ferby to see lots of touches and high-scoring enough for some of those touches to come near the goal-line. And if WKU gets behind, Ferby can contribute as a receiver. Ferby is the only active running back on the team who has scored a TD or carried the ball more than twice this season. With WKU projected to get a lot of points, some of them are likely to go to the starting running back, as they have for years.


WIDE RECEIVERS

Paying Up: Williams Fuller (Notre Dame) – $7,800

One of the most productive wide receivers in the nation last year, Fuller is the slate’s second-most productive receiver through the first two games of the season, with 12 receptions for 266 yards and four TDs. With that raw production, Fuller has 35.3 percent of ND’s receptions, 51.2 percent of its yards receiving, and 66.7 percent of its TDs receiving — which are highly elite numbers. He could be the best receiver in college football right now.

Fuller’s seasonal prospects are hampered by QB Malik Zaire’s unfortunate season-ending ankle injury, but it should not dramatically limit Fuller’s production, as last year he totaled 76 receptions for 1,094 yards and 15 TDs with Everett Golson as his quarterback for most of the season. ND is a 2.5-point underdog at home to Georgia Tech, and, although the 55-point over/under for the game is among the slate’s lowest, ND is still projected to score 26.25 points, ND’s offense runs through Fuller, and he has captured 44.4 percent of the team’s total offensive TDs this season. Fuller has an excellent chance of going over 100 yards and catching at least one TD pass.

Digging Deep: Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M) – $5,400

Last year, Reynolds was a scoring machine for A&M, averaging one TD receiving per game and also leading the team in receiving yardage with a 52-842-13 stat line. And, now, after only two game games this season, Reynolds isn’t even the highest-priced wide receiver on his own team: That’s Christian Kirk, a talented five-star recruit who, as a true freshman, is leading A&M with 10 receptions for 149 yards and two TDs — and he also returned a punt 79 yards for a TD in the season opener. Although Kirk is a talented player, it might be too soon to value him as A&M’s No. 1 receiver based on what he has done in only two games that were both won by a minimum of 21 points each.

Reynolds didn’t do much in the first two games (only five receptions for 81 yards and one TD), but A&M also didn’t need him to do much. Of course, given that A&M is a 34-point favorite at home and projected to score 49.25 points against Nevada, and given how Reynolds has done this season in blowout victories, one might wonder why he should be expected to perform well in Week 3. The answer is that this game, unlike the previous two games, is the final contest before A&M’s conference schedule starts. A&M will likely want to get its best receiver from last season into a productive rhythm before he faces defenses from the Southeastern Conference. And, regardless, plenty of points should be scored in this contest. If a team is scoring lots of TDs, eventually a guy who has scored 14 TDs over the last 15 games is going to catch more TDs.


LATE SLATE: 6 PM ET

QUARTERBACKS

Paying Up: Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) – $8,900

Mahomes has been the slate’s most productive quarterback through the first two weeks of the season, averaging 43.77 fantasy points on 43 pass attempts for 393 yards and four TDs passing as well as 5.5 carries for 35.5 yards and one TD rushing per contest. Basically, Mahomes is Matt Johnson (second in the FBS in yards and TDs passing) — except he also gets production as a runner. Mahomes is tied with Cody Kessler of Southern California for the slate’s second-highest quarterback salary, and they are both $1000 cheaper than Trevone Boykin of Texas Christian and Luke Falk of Washington State. Considering that Mahomes has scored significantly more points than all three of the other quarterbacks, he is a relative discount even though he is still expensive.

Texas Tech is playing in a matchup with a 70.5-point over/under, the highest in the slate, and the Red Raiders are projected to score 29.25 points against Arkansas as a 12-point underdog on the road. While it might be surprising for the Razorbacks to hold Tech under 30 points, even if that does happen Mahomes has a high floor because of his rushing ability and the sheer number of passes he throws in Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense — and he definitely has a high ceiling as evidenced by his production so far. Mahomes has a strong chance of passing for 325 yards, rushing for 25 yards, and scoring three TDs. As an underdog, he should play the entire game, and that might not be the case for Boykin and Falk.

Digging Deep: C.J. Beathard (Iowa) – $6,500

Out of all the quarterbacks with salaries that aren’t exorbitant, Beathard is the best option with only the 14th-highest salary at the position and per-game production that surpasses Kessler’s (27.67 pts. vs. 26.9 pts.). Although Beathard is not especially prolific as a passer, with only 49 attempts for 426 yards and four TDs in the season’s first two games, he is well above average as a runner. In 2015, he is averaging nine carries for 51.5 yards and one TD per game. Essentially, he is his own short-yardage and change-of-pace running back, as he has 50 percent of Iowa’s TDs rushing so far.

This week, Iowa is a 5.5-point favorite at home against Pittsburgh and projected to score 26.25 points. While that point total is low, and while the 47-point over/under for this game is the second-lowest in the slate, Beathard is still a good play because, either passing or rushing, he has accounted for 75 percent of Iowa’s 2015 TDs. Even if Iowa scores only three TDs, Beathard has a strong chance of scoring two of them and accumulating 200 yards passing and 50 yards rushing.


RUNNING BACKS

Paying Up: Derrick Henry (Alabama) – $9,200

This is my third week in a row to recommend Henry. I’ll probably keep on doing it as long he isn’t his slate’s most expensive running back. Last week, Henry had the exact same salary — and then he rushed 18 times for 96 yards and three TDs. How has his salary not gone up? He is by far the slate’s most productive runner with 33.25 fantasy points per game, but he is $700 cheaper than the slate’s second-most productive runner, Nick Chubb of Georgia. With 31 rushes for 243 yards and six TDs, Henry has been both incredibly efficient and productive. All that limits him is the degree to which Nick Saban wants to give Henry touches in any given week.

As Alabama moves into SEC play and faces Mississippi, its first conference opponent of the season, Henry should touch the ball at least as often as he has the previous two weeks and probably more, since Alabama is “only” a 7-point favorite at home. With Alabama’s quarterback situation largely uncertain, Henry should be the focal point of the offense, as he has scored 60 percent of the team’s total offensive TDs, which is an incredibly high percentage for a running back. This week, Alabama is projected to score 29.75 points. The chances are good that Henry has at least 100 scrimmage yards and two TDs.

Digging Deep: Michael Adkins (Colorado) – $5,700

Despite having only the slate’s 18th-most expensive running back salary, Adkins has per-game production (22.8 pts.) comparable to that of several rushers with top-10 salaries. The clear lead back on a Colorado team that relies much more on running the ball than passing it, Adkins has 41 carries for 209 yards and three TDs through two games. In Week 1’s close loss to Hawaii on the road, Adkins dominated the running back production with 22 carries for 90 yards and two TDs, and how he was used in Week 1 could signal how he is likely to be used this week.

On the road playing against in-state rival Colorado State, the Buffaloes are 3-point favorites and projected to score 30 points. This is the type of matchup in which the lead running back for the road team is likely to see an abundance of touches, and last year CSU was susceptible to the run, allowing a 40.6 carries for 200.3 yards and 2.1 TDs per contest. Given the point total, the opponent, and Adkins’ role in the offense, he has a good chance of accumulating 100 scrimmage yards and two TDs in Week 3.


WIDE RECEIVERS

Paying Up: Gabe Marks (Washington State) – $7,500

The second-most productive wide receiver in this slate through two games, Marks has the fifth-most expensive wide receiver salary. The primary receiver for the quarterback who leads the nation in completions and pass attempts, Marks is blessed to be on a team that passes so much that its victory formation is a five-wide set. On a team with three other receivers who have combined in the season’s first two games to produce a 28-367-4 stat line, Marks has managed to accumulate a 20-222-2 stat line. Even if his percentage of the WSU passing pie is smaller than that of the typical lead receiver in another offense, Mark’s piece of the receiving production is still big simply by virtue of his offense’s proclivity.

In Week 3, Washington State is a 24.5-point favorite at home against Wyoming and projected to score 44.5 points in a game with a 64.5-point over/under, the third-highest of the slate. Going against a team with a weak defense, Marks — managing 33.4 percent of WSU’s offensive TDs so far — has a strong chance of catching one TD and a decent chance of two TDs to go along with his 100 yards.

Digging Deep: Kolby Listenbee (Texas Christian) – $5,600

Listenbee is a fine player on his own, but this play is all about the matchup. Texas Christian is a 37.5-point favorite at home against in-state rival Southern Methodist and projected to score 52 points — the highest total of the slate. SMU has a highly exploitable defense and so far has given up 275.5 yards and three TDs on 33 pass attempts per game. When Baylor played against SMU in Week 1, the Bears scored 56 points and four different wide receivers caught TD passes. That could easily be the blueprint for TCU in Week 3.

As the team’s No. 2 receiver and biggest deep threat, Listenbee has seven receptions for 151 yards and a TD and happens to trail No. 1 receiver Josh Doctson on the season by only five receptions and four yards. Listenbee is a boom-or-bust player, but this is one of those games in which a high-flying No. 2 receiver is likely to produce. Last week, against Stephen F. Austin from the Football Championship Subdivision, five TCU wide receivers caught TDs on the way to the team’s 70-7 victory. If TCU scores 50 points, the odds are decent that at least three wide receivers will have TD receptions — and in that case the odds are also low that Listenbee won’t be one of them.

 
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