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Branden Oliver, Alex Neutz, Adam Muema, and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: “We Meet Again, Trebek”
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With the NFL regular season winding down and the college football bowl season starting, we at RotoViz are beginning to transition our focus from 2013 to 2014. In particular, we’ll start providing coverage on draft-eligible 2014 prospects, and we’re starting with a series of Bowl Game Previews calling your attention to intriguing players in each contest.

So, without much ado, let’s start looking at some of the Bowl Games to be played on Saturday, December 21st.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Buffalo (8-4, MAC)
Shortly before the college football season started, I wrote about my somewhat non-obvious top-four 2013 college RBs, using the nQBDR metric as my primary tool. (For more on nQBDR, which measures the extent to which any non-QB rusher outproduces the other non-QB rushers on his team, here’s my introduction to the metric. Additionally, I prefer to look at the highest nQBDR a prospect produces in college, as I want to gauge upside.) In my preseason piece, I highlighted Buffalo’s Branden Oliver on account of his outstanding 2011 production, and here seems like a great place to follow up. “We meet again, Trebek.”

How did the 23-year-old redshirt senior do in his 12-game sophomore season?

Att

RuYds

RuAvg

RuTD

Rec

ReYds

ReAvg

ReTD

Total nQBDR

306

1395

4.6

13

38

365

9.6

0

0.91

That’s pretty freaking good. In August, I compared him to players such as Danny Woodhead (0.91 nQBDR), Brian Westbrook (0.89 nQBDR), and Ray Rice (0.94 nQBDR), primarily because of his size (5’8” and 208 lbs, according to his Buffalo player bio) and ability as a receiver. In 2012, Oliver saw a large drop in production due in part to a leg injury that caused him to miss 5 games. Entering 2013, Oliver most likely needed to show (especially since he plays in the underappreciated MAC) that he had regained his pre-injury ability in order to avoid a tumble off of draft boards à la Montel Harris (0.91 nQBDR) this year. Needless to say, despite missing an early-season game against Stony Brook, Oliver has returned to form:

Att

RuYds

RuAvg

RuTD

Rec

ReYds

ReAvg

ReTD

Total nQBDR

282

1421

5

15

22

151

6.9

0

0.79

While his nQBDR has dropped, he has still displayed the ability to accumulate lots of yards on lots of touches on the ground and through the air—and an nQBDR of 0.79 isn’t exactly horrible. Currently #12 in the nation in both rushing yards and rushing TDs, Oliver looks to finish his season strong against San Diego State.

Depending on how he does at the Combine, he could potentially go as high as the fourth round in the draft, although I think he’s likelier to be chosen later, if at all, even with good pre-draft workouts. In that case, he’ll compare rather precisely to Bobby Rainey (0.87 nQBDR), who went undrafted in 2011 and is now flexing his workhorse muscles (which is unsurprising). Few people in the draftnik community are talking about Oliver (for instance, Josh Norris didn’t mention him in his Rotoworld CFB Bowl Preview)—and that’s fantastic. The fewer people talking about Oliver, the better. As of now, this is a dude I want on my dynasty teams, and he’ll probably be acquirable for cheap. His upside is Zac Stacy.

One other Buffalo player I’m curious to see play is redshirt senior Alex Neutz, who (like Tulane’s Ryan Grant in the New Orleans Bowl) is very close to achieving a 1000-10 season—and if he were to do so it would be his second in a row. Here are his 2012 and 2013 stats:

Year

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

DR Rec

DR Yds

DR TDs

Total DR

Games

2012

65

1015

15.6

11

0.38

0.46

0.65

0.555

11

2013

58

947

16.3

11

0.25

0.34

0.5

0.42

12

You’ll see that from last year to this year Neutz’s DR has fallen from an outrageously high 0.55 to a very high 0.42. While that decline may seem alarming, I’m inclined to see this as statistical (not actual) regression. Maintaining a 0.55 DR would be almost impossible for even the best of prospects to do (and Neutz isn’t one of those), and one of the reasons he saw so much action in 2012 was because Oliver’s injury-caused absence led the team to employ a rather unbalanced offensive attack in which the best player was relentlessly targeted out of necessity. In reality, Neutz’s problem isn’t his statistical regression.

Rather, if Neutz has a problem, it’ll likely be his athleticism. He has nice size (he’s 6’3” and 205 lbs, according to his Buffalo player profile), but, like Ryan Swope before the 2013 Combine, Neutz has been characterized as primarily a possession/slot/“savvy route runner” receiver who produces more through his determination, knowledge of his offensive system, and “intangibles” and less through any athletic qualities he may actually possess. In other words, he’s white.

At best, Neutz is a fourth-round selection, in which case he could have something like Jerricho Cotchery, Cecil Shorts, or even early-career Austin Collie upside—but he could just as easily be the next Greg Salas or Austin Pettis. He’s likelier, however, to be selected late in the draft, if at all, in which case his upside will be (maybe) Donald Driver, if he’s able to run a 40 time close to 4.50. If he runs slower than that, his (unlikely best-case scenario) upside will probably be Steve Johnson; his downside? Pick almost any slow-ish late-round/undrafted WR at random. Those types of guys almost never make it in the NFL as anything more than special teams players—and I’m sure you remember what Billy Riggins says about special teams. I like Neutz, but unless he shows NFL athleticism in his pre-draft workouts, he probably won’t have an NFL future.

San Diego State (7-5, MWC)
In addition to writing a preseason piece on my top-4 non-obvious 2013 college RBs, I also posted my 2013 Collegiate RB Watch List, which included San Diego State’s 22-year-old redshirt junior Adam Muema. As Josh Norris said in his Rotoworld CFB Bowl Preview), Muema is expected to declare for the draft.

Here’s what I said about Muema almost 4 months ago:

Replacing the NFL-departed Ronnie Hillman in 2012, Adam Muema basically looked like a slightly less productive but larger Hillman (5’9”, 200 lbs., 68.65 nQBDR) with fewer catches. If his nQBDR improves to around 70, Muema might call to mind a slightly less reception-oriented Johnathan Franklin (5’10”, 205 lbs., 69.66 nQBDR). If he turns out to be a mid-4.4 guy with a high nQBDR, he might call to mind Jordan Todman (5’9”, 203 lbs., 89.97 nQBDR).

Depending on his pre-draft workouts, Meuma may be a guy I think about in dynasty drafts—but he probably won’t be. He has adequate size (5’10” and 205 lbs, according to his Aztec player profile), but I generally prefer larger RBs, unless a smallish RB has exceptional athleticism and strong collegiate production. We’ll see about his athleticism in a couple of months; here are his 2012 and 2013 stats:

Year

Att

RuYds

RuAvg

RuTD

Rec

ReYds

ReAvg

ReTD

Total nQBDR

*2012

237

1458

6.2

16

9

147

16.3

1

0.61

2013

228

1015

4.5

12

17

94

5.5

0

0.49

On a similar number of carries, he has fewer TDs and far fewer rushing and receiving yards in 2013. On top of that, his nQBDR has plummeted. I’m not saying that he’ll definitely suck in the NFL. I am saying, though, that right now he reminds me a lot of Johnathan Franklin—and I didn’t like Franklin before the draft, and while at least one smart guy preferred him to Lacy prior to the regular season I don’t think Franklin showed enough in 2013 to warrant a change in my pessimistic perspective.

Could Muema turn into something like Shane Vereen? Perhaps, but for every Vereen we find a Ronnie Hillman, a Johnathan Franklin, and three other smallish RBs who seem bound to accomplish little in the NFL—and let’s also remember that, although Vereen has shown flashes, he really hasn’t produced on a consistent basis either. Watch the Potato Bowl and see what you think about Muema, because I feel that his name is bound to be thrown around quite a bit in the coming months as one of the premier small RBs of the 2014 Draft. But unless he displays truly exceptional athleticism in his pre-draft workouts, his low nQBDR means that I likely won’t be buying what others may be selling.

 

Interested in other Bowl Game Previews? Here are others for your perusal:

As the bowl season progresses, more previews (and other pieces) may be found at my RotoViz Author Page. Want to compare one college WR with another? Check out our College Career Graph WR App. Want to talk about other college prospects? Hit me up on Twitter. And, yes, my name is really Matt Freedman. No, I’m not nine years old.

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