At the precipice of the season and approaching the postseason, we will slightly alter the angle of identification. These playmakers have topped each of the categories covered within the Emerging Playmakers column and will be available to fill DraftKings rosters during conference championship weekend.
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Aggressive gunslingers targeting receivers on 20-plus yard (deep) attempts
Connor Cook ($6,300) – Michigan State vs. Iowa
A list of reasons exist for why you will find Cook towards the top of many draft boards during the upcoming NFL draft. One of those reasons encircles an ability to dial in on receivers at-or-beyond the third level of the defense. The season-long leader in vertical accuracy, Cook found a home for 33-of-62 deep targets on the season. With eight TDs to two INTs from those attempts, Cook will provide a significant challenge for the Iowa defense, and fading the Hinckley, Ohio native may not be the wisest course.
Marquise Williams ($8,300) – North Carolina vs. Clemson
While writing preseason conference previews, one of the obvious issues surrounding the play of Williams in 2014 was a low accuracy percentage on 20-plus yard targets (37.5 percent). Williams has followed up that issue with a three-fold improvement. Describing that augmentation begins with a 15.8 percent increase in accuracy to finish the regular season with the 13th-highest percentage in the country (53.3). He actually achieved the feat with a 4.5 percent increase in vertical attempts and, maybe most impressively, dropped his intercepted passes on those deep attempts from eight in 2014 to only one this season.
Nick Mullens ($7,300) – Southern Miss at Western Kentucky
While not quite at the level of improvement seen for the Tar Heels shot-caller, Mullens performance is impressive nonetheless. The Golden Eagles provided Mullens with a 14.3 percent increase in dropbacks and he responded with a 65.7 percent increase in TD passes. Mullens increased his accuracy on deep passes by 10.8 percent to finish directly behind Williams at 53.1 percent.
Previously discussed: Chris Johnson, Karson Roberts, Jake Coker, Jared Goff, Jake Rudock, Jarrett Stidham, Mason Rudolph, Marquise Williams, Brandon Allen, Vernon Adams Jr., Sean Maguire, Quinton Flowers, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, Jerrard Randall, Deshaun Watson, Sefo Liufau, Phillip Ely, Connor Cook, Brad Kaaya, DeShone Kizer, Baker Mayfield, Brett Rypien, Cardale Jones, Hayden Moore, Brent Stockstill, Josh Rosen, Jerrod Heard, Dane Evans, Matt Davis, Luke Falk, Greg Ward Jr., Tanner Mangum, Matt Johnson, Chad Kelly, Joe Hubener
Quarterbacks who simply dominated opponents with pinpoint accuracy. These signal callers will be chosen based on the PFF College metric termed Accuracy Percentage: (Completions + Drops) / (Attempts – Throw Aways – Spikes – Batted Passes – Hit As Thrown)
Cody Kessler ($6,500) – Southern California vs. Stanford
The loss of WR Nelson Agholor and RB Javorius Allen to the NFL has played a large role, but, regardless, Kessler has seen a significant dip in his numbers from last season. A 17.9 percent drop in passing yardage and 30.8 percent decrease in TD passes can partially be attributed to the string of coaching changes. What cannot be listed for the blame is the accuracy offered by Kessler. He has successfully followed his 2014 nation-leading number of 80.3 percent with the fourth-highest value this season at 78.6 percent. The USC/Stanford matchup offers one of the most closely matched contests of conference championship weekend.
Greg Ward Jr. ($7,900) – Houston vs. Temple
Not only did Ward lead his squad to an 11-1 record, he did so with a long list of very impressive metrics. In addition to 893 yards and 17 TDs on the ground, Ward finished with the sixth-highest accuracy percentage in the nation. His matchup with Temple would seem like a tall order, but the Owls have struggled when facing dynamic dual-threat QBs (DeShone Kizer, Quentin Flowers, and Matt Davis) and will have a difficult time bottling-up one of the best in Ward.
Kevin Hogan ($6,400) – Stanford vs. Southern California
One of the keys for Stanford on Saturday will be the effectiveness of the passing offense in attacking the nations 88th-best passing defense of the Trojans. Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan has been excellent all year and his receiving unit rates with the 10th-best efficiency in the NCAA this season. Hogan can appropriately be credited with that success, as he has improved his NFL draft stock as much as any QB in college this season, and that result can be traced to finishing with the 14th-best accuracy percentage (76.6 percent).
Previously discussed: Dane Evans, Kenny Potter, Vernon Adams Jr., J.T. Barrett, DeShone Kizer, Cade Apsay, Jarrett Stidham, Brad Kaaya, Matt Johnson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Jake Browning, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, Joel Lanning, Paxton Lynch, Nate Sudfeld, Joel Stave, Greg Ward Jr., Everett Golson, Brandon Harris, Mason Rudolph, Blake Frohnapfel, Nick Mullins, Skyler Howard, Brett Rypien, C.J. Beathard, Nate Peterman, Blake Kemp, Greyson Lambert, Skyler Howard, Drew Hare, Jacoby Brissett, Malik Zaire, Will Grier, Mike Bercovici.
The homerun ability of a running back is, in its nature, a game altering addition to an offense, and DraftKings gold in your pocket. These are the backs who emerged with the most production on 15-plus yard (long) runs
Ito Smith ($5,300) – Southern Miss at Western Kentucky
Perhaps you’ve not witnessed the exploits of Smith this season for whatever reason. You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, as that regret should be on the Alabama Crimson Tide for allowing both Nick Mullens and Smith to be recruited out-of-state to Southern Miss. Smith finished the regular season with the proud distinction of finishing in the top-five in both breakaway percentage and elusive rating. The list of college running backs over the last two seasons with that honor can be counted with two fingers. Smith produced 60.9 percent of his rushing yardage on long runs and he will add another to the list of problems for the Hilltoppers to overcome in their attempt to capture the Conference USA crown.
Jahad Thomas ($7,000) – Temple vs. Houston
The reported return to 100 percent health for Temple RB Jahad Thomas was a major key to Temple’s success in Week 13 and sets the stage for an excellent matchup. Thomas was able to rack up 119 rushing yards and two TDs on the team that just handed Houston its only loss of the season. The credit for that victory should mostly go to the defense for holding the Huskies running game to 0.3 yards per rushing attempt. While the drop-off in breakaway percentage from Smith to Thomas is significant, Jahad still managed to accrue 46.1 percent of his rushing yardage on 15-plus yard runs. Thomas has performed facing top-25 run defenses in three games this season, yet his ownership percentage could be lower than usual facing the 13th-ranked rushing defense of the Houston front-seven.
Timothy McVey ($4,800) – Air Force vs. San Diego State
McVey sticks out as a sore thumb among this trio of running backs, but his success last weekend is noteworthy. He received 17 touches in Week 13 against a poor run defense of New Mexico and, a potential reason, the game went into overtime. While his usage could possibly be reduced to somewhere around the ten touches received in Week 12, consider that incumbent starter Jacobi Owens only received 11 carries last week. Regardless, McVey has made an impression with limited touches, furnishing 67.9 percent of his yardage on long runs this season.
Previously discussed: Jeremy McNichols, Brandon Ross, Shannon Brooks, Elijah Hood, Alvin Kamara, LeShun Daniels Jr., Jordan Howard, Akrum Wadley, Ramadi Warren, Kalen Ballage, C.J. Jones, Gerard Wicks, Kenneth Farrow, Joe Mixon, Ronald Jones II, Christian McCaffrey, Anthony Wales, Saquon Barkley, Jordan Canzeri, Travon McMillan, Mike Warren, Ezekiel Elliott, L.J. Scott, Alex Collins, DeAndre Washington, Matt Dayes, Wendell Smallwood, Samaje Perine, Adam Hine, Larry Rose III, C.J. Prosise, Brian Hill, Boom Williams, Ray Lawry, Tre Maddon, Soso Jamabo.
Depending on long runs can be a fruitless endeavor, but the ability to elude defenders is a talent these running backs have mastered, and in reliable fashion. These backs generated dominant Elusive Ratings (a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers)
Derrick Henry ($8,500) – Alabama vs. Florida
Various arguments for College Playoff seeding and Heisman-worthiness aside, Henry will enter conference championship weekend trailing only Ito Smith in elusive rating (83.0) among backs that will take the field. It’s metrics such as these that can partially explain three-straight 200-plus yard efforts against SEC competition. The remainder of the reasoning can be credited to 99.9th-percentile freak-like athleticism. Henry comes at a lofty price, but is worth every penny.
Elijah Hood ($6,900) – North Carolina vs. Clemson
One of the most impressive late-season offensive explosions was put forth by North Carolina’s Hood. While a programs quarterback is usually the target for crediting success, Hood has emerged from a time-share during his freshman-2014 season to become every bit as important to the Tar Heel offense as Marquise Williams. Checking in one spot below Henry, Hood produced an 80.6 elusive rating, and actually concluded the season with a yards after contact per attempt ten percent higher than Henry’s.
L.J. Scott ($4,000) – Michigan State vs. Iowa
It wouldn’t be right not to highlight a true freshman running back after so many emerged this season … but the limited number of teams on this weekends slate cut the options down to USC RB Ronald Jones II and Scott. Purely based on the numbers, Scott is deserving of his placement on this list and actually finished with an elusive rating (92.1) in excess of both Henry and Hood. He should have an asterisk placed next to that statement, as he received around half the carries of the others. Facing an Iowa defense that prides itself on stopping the run will be a significant hurdle … but Scott has excelled when provided the opportunity.
Previously discussed: James Butler, Justin Davis, Gerard Wicks, Samaje Perine, Kalen Ballage, Tre Watson, Sony Michel, Marlon Mack, Josh Ferguson, Jacques Patrick, Demario Richard, Wendell Smallwood, Matt Dayes, Soso Jamabo, Jamarius Henderson, Myles Gaskin, Travis Greene, Robert Martin, Shannon Brooks, Conor Hundley, Dare Ogunbawale, Brian Hill, Wayne Gallman, Nick Scott, Vic Enware, Elijah Hood, Kelvin Taylor, Saquon Barkley, Joseph Yearby, Justin Silmon, Dalvin Cook, Terrell Newby, Chris Carson, Shaun Wilson, De’Veon Smith, Jahad Thomas.
A list of the receivers who furnished the weekends best performances on tracking down (deep) targets traveling greater than 20 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster ($6,400) – Southern California vs. Stanford
The success of QB Cody Kessler discussed above is deep-seeded within the play put forth by Smith-Schuster. While his numbers may have taken a slight dip in recent weeks, it would probably be important to remember that JuJu suffered what appeared to be a season-ending hand injury against California in Week 9, and took the field anyway the following week. He has failed to reach the endzone or to eclipse 100-yards the last three weeks, but that could serve to lower his ownership percentage for GPP gold. Heading into the Pac-12 Championship, Smith-Schuster was able to collect 10-of-12 deep targets for the fifth-most vertical TDs (6) in the nation.
Aaron Burbridge ($6,500) – Michigan State vs. Iowa
You can find Burbridge’s battery-mate, Connor Cook, gracing the Mad Bomber QBs list, and Burbridge has been the beneficiary of that success. He has secured 16-of-18 catchable 20-plus yard passes (the FBS’ third-most receptions) with three TDs. He also finished seventh with 475 yards from that production and will be an intelligent player to target against an Iowa secondary with a few third-level gaps in its secondary.
Shelton Gibson ($5,000) – West Virginia at Kansas State
After collecting at least three receptions and a TD in the Mountaineers first seven games, Gibson was surprisingly the forgotten man over the next three weeks. He received the fifth-most targets (7) on the team during that stretch and only managed a single reception for nine yards. His performance in Week 13 against Iowa State holds promise and, on the season, he collected 8-of-11 vertical bombs for a healthy four TDs.
Previously discussed: K.D. Cannon, Devin Lucien, Chance Allen, Jehu Chesson, Domonique Young, Jamir Tillman, Chris Moore, Mack Hollins, Dominique Reed, Travis Rudolph, Ricardo Louis, Antonio Callaway, Keyarris Garrett, Chris Godwin, Anthony Miller, Artavis Scott, Taywan Taylor, Allen Lazard, Leonte Carroo, Tim White, Jerome Lane, Kenny Lawler, Marcell Ateman, DeAngelo Yancey, Ed’Marques Batties, Demarcus Ayers, Thomas Sperbeck, Aaron Burbridge, Jordan Westerkamp, Carlos Harris, Roger Lewis, Trevor Davis, Tyrain Taylor, Gehrig Deter, Courtland Sutton, Braxton Miller.
While many of the nations receivers are capable of producing high yardage output with a large number of targets, this list will highlight the players who generated the most efficient use of each snap in route
Corey Coleman ($6,400) – Baylor vs. Texas
The route efficiency discussion for the receivers expected to take the field this weekend must begin with Coleman. He could finish the season with the highest yards per route run (YPRR), a spot he currently holds, with a solid performance against Texas. He has taken 314 snaps in route and responded with a nation-high 4.04 YPRR. Much of that damage was done with Seth Russell under center, but, opinion-or-not, many have written off QB Chris Johnson far too soon.
Taywan Taylor ($5,900) – Western Kentucky vs. Southern Miss
One of the primary beneficiaries, as there were several, of the amazing statistical season recorded by QB Brandon Doughty fell into the hands of Taylor. However, his route efficiency is not merely a number a receiver can fake, as he finished with the fifth-highest YPRR value on the season (3.77). In a game likely to see a shootout of scoring strikes, Taylor will be one of Saturday’s superior plays.
Demarcus Ayers ($5,900) – Houston vs. Temple
Among the top-five breakouts this season at wide receiver, Ayers stepped-up after the former No. 1 wideout (Deontay Greenberry) decided to declare for the draft. While Greenberry is currently a free agent, Ayers responded to an offering of 116 targets and 386 snaps in route to manufacture the ninth-highest YPRR value in the FBS this season (2.94). The looming matchup with Temple will present the passing offense with a large challenge, but a large-amount of any success through the air will likely fall into the hands of Ayers.
Previously discussed: Rashard Higgins, Simmie Cobbs Jr., Jamari Staples, Michael Thomas, Marcel Ateman, Michael Rector, Darren Carrington, Thomas Duarte, Devon Blackmon, Johnny Holton, Justin Hobbs, Ryan Switzer, Britain Covey, Cayleb Jones, Robby Anderson, Ricardo Louis, Anthony Miller, Kermit Whitfield, Deon Cain, Stacy Coley, Hunter Sharp, KaVontae Turpin, Calvin Ridley, Dede Westbrook, Laquon Treadwell, Christian Kirk, Drew Morgan, Isaiah Ford, Ricky Jones, Trent Sherfield, Quincy Adeboyejo, Mitchell Juergens, Matt VandeBerg, Rashawn Scott, Johnell Barnes, Bug Howard.