That time of the year is finally upon us college football fanatics! The opening weekend of America’s finest sport and it’s time to take the collective sum of our offseason research to field those winning rosters. Spring and fall practices provided a fair share of developing situations and we will examine the most compelling of those headlines as they relate to daily fantasy.
10. Will the appointment of Tom Herman as head coach lead to further fantasy breakouts from the Houston roster?
Not sure how else to explain it other than to be frank, Greg Ward Jr. is simply one of the most dynamic fantasy quarterbacks in college football. He emerged under former HC Tony Levine’s watch after starting the first five games of the 2014 season as a wide receiver. New HC Tom Herman created a bit of a stir by failing to declare Ward as his starter upon accepting the job. Utah transfer Adam Schultz is technically still in the running, but with a 76.0 accuracy percentage (FBS’ 11th-highest), including 54.5 percent at a depth of 20-plus yards (4th-best), the decision shouldn’t be very difficult.
In the backfield, the vastly underrated Kenneth Farrow will return for his senior season after furnishing the 11th-highest elusive rating in college football. The position itching for a breakout is at wide receiver where the departure of Deontay Greenberry presents a golden opportunity. Of the starters named by Coach Herman, Demarcus Ayers and Chance Allen are the two with the most to offer. We can slim that list down to one when you consider Ayers only produced an 0.86 yards/route run (YPRR) value with Ward behind center. Allen was given a transfer-exemption from Oregon for a family situation and could very well explode onto the fantasy scene in 2015.
9. Can a reinstated Dalvin Cook and newly-minted Everett Golson continue FSUs dominance of the ACC?
While the true test will come in Memorial Stadium on November 7th @Clemson, a significant body of work will already have been collected in order to discover the Seminoles prospects. With Cook in the backfield, the team will be setting up Golson for success when considering he provided Jameis Winston with a 98.8 NFL QBR on 162 snaps in route and Mario Pender, his expected replacement, offered a 72.3 rating on 94 snaps.
Required to replace nine starters on offense is a formidable task, but HC Jimbo Fisher ingeniously collected 31 highly touted prospects from the 2014-15 classes. Despite committing 22 turnovers under center for Notre Dame, Golson generated 37 total TDs, and his 72.7 accuracy percentage will be the 15th-best among returning quarterbacks.
Cook finds himself in a perfect situation to showcase his 4.46-speed within the ‘Nole power running, pro-set veer lined up as a single-back and trey formation. He recorded 51.0 percent of his yardage on 15-plus yard runs (9th-best in the country) and will bring a top-end 75.6 elusive rating into a Week 1 matchup with Texas State. Cook will provide more than enough to justify his DFS salary, and Golson could be a great GPP-target with heavily accepted preconceived opinions lowering his ownership percentage.
8. How many mouths can the aerial assaults at California and Washington State possibly feed?
The depth of quality receivers in the Pac-12 is currently unrivaled by any other conference in the entire college football landscape. The Big-12 may have the advantage on the elite options, but the offenses in Berkeley and Pullman offer an impressive collection of players worth your time to become acquainted.
The 6th-rated passing offense of California is led by junior-gunslinger Jared Goff and he will choose his targets within the Bear Raid offense between Kenny Lawler, Trevor Davis, Stephen Anderson, and Bryce Treggs. Lawler produced a 2.04 YPRR value that led the team and secured all of his catchable targets at 20-plus yards (8) for three TDs. The remainder of those targets produced YPRR values of 1.93, 1.85, and 1.30, respectively. By producing 81.3 plays per game last season (seventh-highest in the FBS), the Golden Bears are perfectly capable of providing each receiver with a significant volume to justify mid-to-low salary usage.
Mike Leach’s Air Raid is easily one of the most entertaining shows on FieldTurf. The offensive philosophy is built around confusing defenses by sending four receivers and a running back into unpredictable, contrasting patterns that provide the quarterback with wide-open options. With QB Luke Falk passing on three-quarters of every one of their 90 plays per game (4th), WRs River Cracraft, Dom Williams, Gabe Marks, and Kyrin Priester offer DFS rosters a Neapolitan of options to consider.
7. Will uncertainty at quarterback derail the season for the Crimson Tide?
The only way to begin this breakdown is with a question. Does a situation exist that is both as confusing and consistently fed by a flow of inaccurate information exist in college football? Bare with me here: Jake Coker OR Cooper Bateman OR Alec Morris with Blake Barnett OR David Cornwell following closely behind and previously promoted as the starter. Perplexed? The most frustrating aspect is that each of these players has been reported at various times as “impressing the coaching staff” at such-and-such practice with an “inside track to the starting position.”
If HC Nick Saban and OC Lane Kiffin can decide on a starting quarterback prior to their Week 1 matchup with Wisconsin, the surrounding talent could vault him towards considerable DFS potential. Despite the loss of all-world receiver Amari Cooper, ArDarius Stewart produced a 2.81 YPRR on 53 snaps in ’14 action, and emerged in the spring scrimmage with eight receptions, 116 yards, and 2 TDs. Stewart is joined by WRs Robert Foster, Chris Black, and a true freshman-phenom in Calvin Ridley who will eventually give Alabama a formidable duo.
In addition, the Tide properly assembled a trio of running backs that rivals the best in the nation. Kenyan Drake excels in the passing game (6.30 YPRR) and provides trustworthy pass protection. Damian Harris is dynamite in a bottle and will be discussed later. Finally, we have Derrick Henry, who recently headlined my Top 25 breakout players of 2015 list. Bottom line, the talent at quarterback is disgustingly good, and, hopefully, the situation is resolved this weekend in order to prevent it from becoming a distraction.
6. What can we expect from the Vernon Adams-led spread-option offense in Eugene?
Make no mistake about the situation, Eastern Washington made it very clear that they would not welcome the return of Adams to the school after he initiated a graduate-transfer to join Oregon. Storybook tales are scripted in this exact fashion and Adams is, understandably, chomping at the bit to leave a footprint on his former team.
Adams dismantled the University of Washington to the tune of 467 passing yards, 7-0 TDs-INTs, and an amazing 140.7 NFL QBR last season. The FCS’ 81st-ranked passing defense of the Eagles have set themselves up for an embarrassing loss considering that Adams completed 8-of-14 attempts at 20-plus yards for five of the TDs against the Huskies. With speedsters Byron Marshall and Charles Nelson on the outside, the elusiveness of Royce Freeman in the backfield, and Adams unlikely to take his foot off of the gas … the DFS potential for this matchup is off the charts.
5. Which of the nations true freshman running backs will emerge as RB1s?
We will begin by looking at the previously mentioned Damien Harris of Alabama. Harris shredded high school competition for 215-plus yards rushing/game over the last two seasons. With Kenyan Drake likely to fill multiple roles, Harris will be called upon to provide immediate results against Wisconsin in Week 1 … California’s Lonny Powell joined the team early in the year to make an impact on the staff and he was more than successful. After producing 3.46 sacks/game, 42.7 rushing YPG, 31.8 receiving YPG, and 1.3 total TDs/game during his senior season in high school, Powell has turned heads in practice and could be on the fast-track to meaningful carries.
With back-to-back offseason injuries to expected USC starter Justin Davis, Tre Maddon successfully jumped the depth chart to earn the opening day nod. That battle could soon prove moot if Ronald Jones II can live up to expectations. He brings the speed (4.45) missing from his competition and used it to average 2,000 yards/season during his final two years in high school … Staying within the Pac-12, a shoulder injury has removed Oregon’s Thomas Tyner from the backfield rotation and jettisoned Taj Griffin into the spotlight. One of the most impressive recruits in the country, Griffin has 4.31-speed and an amazing 45.8” vertical. Likely to see a 10 carry/game workload, defenders will get a front row seat to the youngsters explosiveness.
Honorable Mentions: Jordan Scarlett (UF), Chris Warren III (TEX), Mark Walton (MIA), Jacques Patrick (FSU), L.J. Scott (MSU), Soso Jamabo (UCLA).
4. Can Deshaun Watson remain upright to direct the stacked Clemson offense?
Edge rusher Shaq Lawson will do his part to continue Clemson’s defensive dominance of the ACC with hopes that Watson can avoid the injuries that dashed the Tiger’s chances last season. Wide receiver Mike Williams racked up 92 receptions, 1,015 receiving yards, and 2.43 YPRR. He produced 28.9% of his receiving yards on 20-plus passes after securing nine of 11 catchable deep passes for three TDs.
It was the deep connection with Watson that proved elite as the signal caller completed 13-of-26 go routes in 2014, with a 7:0 TD to INT ratio, and a 135.4 NFL QBR. Far from forgotten, Artavis Scott also secured 92 receptions where, out of 965 receiving yards, 43 of those receptions, and 481 yards came via screen passes. He was able to produce such an impressive yardage total on the back of an FBS best 12.4 yards after the catch/reception … a healthy 19.4 percent higher than second on the list.
The list of weapons does not end there, with TE Jordan Leggett, WRs Charone Peake, Germone Hopper, and true freshman-phenom Deon Cain looking to provide their support. The potential is present and abundant, but Clemson must have Watson and his 131.2 NFL QBR on the field for more than 31 percent of total dropbacks to make a run at an ACC title.
3. Is 2015 the year of the (Auburn) Tiger to secure the SEC championship?
On the surface, Auburn lost the (metrically-proven) finest scrambling quarterback in the country in Nick Marshall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, WR Sammie Coates plus top-five center Reese Dismukes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and RB Cameron Artis-Payne to the Carolina Panthers. You could argue that these losses alone would cripple the team’s immediate future. That is, if you are not considering their replacements as capable.
Despite seeing less than three games worth of total passing attempts the last two seasons, Jeremy Johnson played exceptionally-well during that time to present a positive outlook. He completed 73.1 percent of his 78 passing attempts with an NFL QBR exceeding 195.0. At running back, the Tigers lured 6’0”, 230 pound, top-JUCO back Jovon Robinson from Georgia Military. The 2013 NJCAA National Player of the Year generated 2,387 rushing yards, 198.9 YPG, and 34 TDs.
Looking to replace the explosiveness of Coates, WR Duke Williams has a high-level of talent that is only matched by his propensity for getting into trouble. Should he avoid conduct violations, Williams will bring a YPRR value (3.28) that was only exceeded by seven other receivers in all of college football last season. Williams will see coverage averted by efficient (2.23 YPRR) senior Ricardo Louis and Mississippi Gulf Coast JUCO-transfer, QB-to-WR convert Jason Smith. Auburn presents a balanced collection of offensive playmakers that can only be matched within the conference by the young-but-talented Tuscaloosa squad and the extremely impressive collection in Knoxville, Tennessee.
2. Could this be Baylor’s most dominant roster in team history?
My positional rankings for the seasons first weekend of college football finds a Bear as the top quarterback, holding down the top-two spots of the receiver list, and as the ninth running back. Looking beyond the skill positions, we find three offensive lineman, and at least seven defenders with obviously significant NFL potential. The catalyst of the attack is QB Seth Russell who produced a touchdown pass/per snap at a 28.9 percent greater rate than his predecessor Bryce Petty. Not only that, but Russell also projects to produce rushing yards (71.4 vs. 8.42) and rushing TDs (1.15 vs. 0.5) that will simply annihilate those produced by Petty.
After previously touting the Baylor receivers as the finest group the nation has to offer, absolutely nothing has transpired in the last week to alter that perception. KD Cannon and Corey Coleman combined to secure 25-of-28 catchable passes traveling 20-plus yards for an astounding 16 TDs last year. Cannon actually generated 65.0 percent of his 1,030 yards on those deep targets and established a genuine connection during game action with Russell. Coleman produced the seventh-highest YPRR value (3.59) and the second-best QB rating on intended targets (146.9) in the country. The dynamic duo will be joined by Jay Lee (2.00 YPRR) and Lynx Hawthorne (1.83) to fill the four receiver positions to vertically propel the up-tempo spread offense.
Should a receiver succumb to injury, future-superstar Ishmael Zamora, Davion Hall, and recent QB-to-WR convert Chris Johnson will look to maintain the offensive impetus. When you consider the combination of Tre’Von Armstead and the 400-plus pound LaQuan McGowan at tight end, the sheer magnitude of the rosters potential reaches a lucidly discernable level. The only defense for this level of attack is an equally dynamic offense and that is what it will take to restrain the Bears from the College Football Playoffs.
1. Who will win the Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback competition?
Whereas the Alabama quarterback competition lacks experience, the Columbus contingent proved to be the polar opposite. Braxton Miller and Torrance Gibson even shifted to wide receiver to maximize their opportunities. The individual chosen to lead the Buckeye’s offense will be at the helm of a roster possessing “SEC speed.” The nations top-running back (Ezekiel Elliott) will carry the ground game and available targets include Michael Thomas, H-backs Miller and Curtis Samuel, as well as Y-receivers Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson.
Should the victor be chosen based on passing ability alone, the decision would be overwhelmingly in favor of Jones. Barrett took 52 attempts at 20-plus yards, completing 40.4 percent of those passes, for nine TDs, but also four interceptions. Jones reached the endzone on six of his attempts at that depth (zero interceptions), but only required 24 passes to do his damage, and completed 54.2 percent of those targets. When consideration is made for pocket presence, a clear distinction favoring Jones is exposed. In the face of pressure, Jones topped Barrett in accuracy percentage (70.8 vs. 56.1), NFL QBR (114.8 vs. 67.2), and a significantly lower sack percentage allowed (9.5 vs. 24.0).
On the flip side, were HC Urban Meyer to prefer a breakaway threat, Barrett would be his man. Averaging 7.3 yards/attempt, Barrett totaled 1,100 yards with 539 provided post-contact. He added 11 TDs to that impressive line, whereas Jones “only” managed 5.0 yards/attempt, but did collect 70.8 percent of his yardage after contact. Coach Meyer has suggested that both could see action @Virginia Tech, but one has to speculate that an option will emerge to force his way into a featured role. Were that scenario to be realized, the starter would become a major player in the DFS landscape.