Happy “College Football Season Is Back” Week!
You know what that means! It’s time for tailgating, staring at large televisions for eight hours on a Saturday, and lying to yourself when you say that you’re “finally going to stay up to watch the late PAC-12 game!” And even if you aren’t crazy enough to watch Washington State vs. New Mexico play into the early morning, everyone loves a good “sleeper” article. Thing is, I hate the term “sleeper” so I just went with “Watch List” for this piece.
Some of these players you may already know. Others are just one prime time game away from some NFL Draft hype. Every single one has a real shot at taking the next step in solidifying their draft stock with a solid 2019 campaign given the opportunity at hand.
Whether you play in devy fantasy football leagues, enjoy the NFL Draft process, or you just want to sound smart at the bar next weekend with the guys, this article should give you some names to know that will most certainly be making some splashes this fall. So, without further ado, let’s dive into my 2019 College Football Watch List.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Love has been getting lots of love lately from a few NFL Draft writers, but he deserves much more attention. His freshman season for Utah State wasn’t great, but Love’s 2018 campaign was absolutely elite. Let’s take a look.
|Pass Yds/Att||8.6||Top 15|
|Adjusted Pass Yds/Att||9.4||Top 10|
|TD %||7.7%||Top 10|
|INT %||1.4%||Top 5|
Yes, he was a top-15 quarterback in virtually every relevant rate stat that exists. Using regression analysis, INT% has actually shown to be one of the stickiest indicators of future NFL success. TD% and A/YA have also shown to have some translation to the NFL, especially when it comes to draft capital.
It’s no wonder he led the Utah State Aggies to an 11-2 season. And yet most don’t even have him ranked anywhere on devy fantasy football or real NFL Draft boards. Love can make all the throws, reads progressions well, and will get the nod from old hat general managers that like their QBs 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds.
Utah State doesn’t typically play a strong schedule, but if Love puts up a similar season (or better) in 2019 he could and should generate more hype than Josh Allen did in 2018. And he’ll actually deserve it.
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska
In case you missed it, Adrian Martinez was the very first true freshman to ever open a season as the starter for Nebraska. That may not sound like a big deal, but there were less than five other true freshman starters at quarterback for Power Five schools last year. If it weren’t for the emergence of Trevor Lawrence (and Brock Purdy at Iowa State), everyone in the nation would be talking about Martinez.
Martinez was working working with undrafted free agent level talent across the board with the exception of speedster J.D. Spielman. But even Spielman was hobbled at times last season. And still Martinez racked up 25 total touchdowns and posted more than a 2:1 TD:INT ratio.
Now Martinez enters Year 2 in the mystical Scott Frost system and looks poised for a jump into stardom. In case you forgot, Frost took UCF from an 0-12 finish in 2015, to a 6-7 finish in 2016, all the way to a 13-o finish in 2017. He also took McKenzie Milton from a 5.9 AYA passer to a 4000-yard QB who coasted his way to 37 TDs and 11.1 AYA in one season. Martinez could see the biggest jump in QB numbers in the nation.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
It’s absolutely criminal how overlooked Desmond Ridder and the Cincinnati Bearcats were last season. Ridder led Cincinnati to an 11-2 finish and a bowl win over Virginia Tech. And just like Love, Ridder’s adjusted passing numbers were all impressive (especially for a redshirt freshman), but Ridder’s ball placement might be even better. If you don’t believe me, just check out this compilation I put together this summer.
Totally random, but I wanted to highlight a #CFB player that no one’s talking about.— Travis May (@FF_TravisM) July 11, 2019
Desmond Ridder, QB Cincinnati
Excellent ball placement for just a redshirt freshman. #Devy #NFL pic.twitter.com/fysaMsClmP
Ridder lost his lead receiver from last year in Kahlil Lewis, but returns virtually everyone else. In his second full year of quarterbacking, Ridder is in line to explode against some favorable Power Five matchups and rather easy MAC schedule.
Ricky Slade, Penn State
Penn State could very well turn into the new RB U if they keep it up. Saquon Barkley drafted second overall. Miles Sanders drafted in Round 2. Now it’s Ricky Slade’s turn. Slade is the only returning running back for the Nittany Lions who saw more than eight carries last season. He boasts legit 4.4 speed with a high school short shuttle time that would put his agility score in the 90th percentile for NFL prospects who have attended the NFL combine since the year 2000.1 Just like Sanders before him, Slade was the No. 1 RB recruit in the nation for his class. This year he should get to show the world why in a feature back role. Expect greatness.
Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Chuba Hubbard averaged over 18 yards per carry and scored 40 TDs in his final high school season. How is that possible? His speed likely has something to do with it. Hubbard ran a 10.55-second 100 meter in high school.
Now that Justice Hill is on the Ravens, and J.D. King transferred to Georgia Southern, Hubbard has virtually zero competition. Let’s take a look at the rushing production of Oklahoma State backfields over the past three seasons:
Oklahoma State Backfield 2016-2018
|Year||Carries||Rush Yards||Rush TDs||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Receiving TDs|
If the past three years are any indication, there should be over 2,400 yards from scrimmage up for grabs in the OSU backfield. Hubbard looks like he’ll be the primary beneficiary. He might not blow it up as a receiver, but he already grabbed 22 of 42 receptions in the backfield last year.
Patrick Taylor Jr., Memphis
Speaking of backfields with ridiculous amounts of opportunity, the Memphis Tigers just lost Darrell Henderson (LA Rams) and Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys) to the NFL. Patrick Taylor Jr. is going to feast in their stead. Taylor already has two seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and at least 14 TDs. Last season, the Tigers ran the ball an average of 44 times per game. Taylor will obviously be sharing the load, but he’s the only returning rusher with any significant experience. He also boasts true feature back size at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds. Picture Latavius Murray with a much more impressive production profile. That’s Taylor. If he posts the 2,000 yards and 25 TDs that are certainly there for the taking, expect his name to fly up draft boards.
Stephen Carr, USC
Most devy and dynasty fantasy footballers likely heard Stephen Carr’s name a couple years ago when he was a true freshman backing up Ronald Jones II at USC.2 By many accounts he looked better than Jones at times and was set to break out in 2018. But sadly he was forced to have back surgery and never looked like the same player when he played last year. Now that he’s had a year to recover, Carr should easily be the best USC running back. Vavae Malepeai looks like the only real competition early on given his raw speed.
USC is installing a brand new fast paced “air raid” offense, thanks to new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell (formerly with North Texas). Let’s compare Harrell’s North Texas offense to USC’s last season:
|Team||Pass Att/Game||Pass Yds/Game||Rush Att/Game||Rush Yds/Game||Total Plays/Game||Total Yards/Game|
|North Texas 2018||38.8||306.8||35.5||153.8||74.3||460.5|
The efficiency might not hold, given USC’s schedule is more difficult. However, the pace and spread nature of the offense should provide more space for Carr to work in. And if Harrell chooses to go with a clear lead back instead of a committee,3 Carr could finally show off his feature back ability.
Jashaun Corbin, Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher likes his feature backs. He rode Trayveon Williams for 271 carries in 2018. He rode Dalvin Cook in 2015 and 2016 for 229 and 288 carries, respectively. Devonta Freeman in 2013 too. The only recent examples of Fisher going with a committee look occurred when he was starting a true freshman (Cam Akers in 2017 and Dalvin Cook in 2014). With Corbin entering Year 2 as the only back with significant experience, history would tell us that Corbin is in line for a huge role. At 6-foot-0 and 210 pounds, Corbin should be the lead back for the Aggies if he can fend off true freshman Isaiah Spiller.
Seth Williams, Auburn
Seth Williams isn’t exactly a “sleeper” as far as devy fantasy football goes, but I don’t think people are realizing how good he was as a freshman, or just how huge his opportunity is in 2019. Williams impressed as a true freshman for the Tigers with a 27% adjusted dominator rating (better than Amon-Ra St. Brown for USC and Jaylen Waddle for Alabama). And he would have even been better had he not missed a few games with minor injuries. Williams may not average 20 yards per reception this season with a freshman QB at the helm in Bo Nix, but there are plenty of targets available. Just look at how many receptions left town after last year.
If Auburn has anywhere near the same number of pass attempts, there should be well over 100 receptions up for grabs. Some of them will definitely go to Anthony Schwartz, but Williams is the true X wide receiver for the Tigers. We could realistically see double-digit TDs and a 40% Dominator Rating from Williams in 2019.
J.D. Spielman, Nebraska
As I mentioned earlier, J.D. Spielman was the only draft-worthy talent on Nebraska’s roster last season. That fact rings even more true this year as both Stanley Morgan Jr. and Devine Ozigbo have now departed for NFL practice squads (hopefully). Spielman already has a pair of 800-yard seasons, and an impressive 60th percentile Adjusted Production Index score among drafted NFL wide receivers. He could easily improve that production profile this year with a budding QB. Plus, 1,300 yards and nearly 100 receptions were vacated from Nebraska’s offense just a year ago. Stack that with Spielman’s excellent return game ability and you get a player that’s a virtual lock for NFL draft capital.
Lynn Bowden, Kentucky
If you were looking for the most ridiculous market share opportunity in the country, look no further than Lynn Bowden for Kentucky. Let’s look at the reception leaders for the Wildcats last season.
C.J. Conrad, Benny Snell, David Bouvier, and Dorian Baker all graduated or left for the NFL. Tavin Richardson transferred to Marshall. The only returning “veteran” at receiver other than Bowden is Josh Ali, but even he only caught 10 balls a year ago. When you combine that with the fact that Kentucky may have to lean more on the pass this year without Snell carrying the load the potential becomes, wait for it .. .legendary.4
At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds with the ability to run the ball and add YAC, Bowden looks like the second coming of Randall Cobb, but potentially faster. Should give us a show in 2019.
Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
Ole Miss has their work cut out for them in the passing game for 2019. They’re replacing a QB and all three starting WRs. However, none of the new offensive faces may be more exciting than Elijah Moore. He’s listed as the Rebels’ starting slot receiver. In other words, he’s basically guaranteed a minimum of 65 receptions. That would be a huge increase over his 36-catch freshman campaign, but the ceiling is quite high given recent schematic target tendencies. The Ole Miss primary slot option has seen 85, 75, and 65 receptions over the past three seasons. The difference with Moore is that he actually looks like a slot receiver. A.J. Brown and Evan Engram were “big slot” types that added YAC with physicality. Elijah Moore actually has the speed and agility to create his own separation. If Corral develops any chemistry with Moore early, his reception ceiling might even be higher than both Brown and Engram.
Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
Wake Forest, really? Yes. Wake Forest sent 126 receptions, 1,659 yards, and 14 TDs packing after last season and this former two-sport genius of a young man is about to take advantage.
Sage Surratt could have been a top basketball recruit had he chosen to go with that over football. He finished his high school career with the second-most points scored in North Carolina State history. Not only that, but Surratt was originally committed to Harvard University (yes, that Harvard) thanks to his AP class-adjusted 5.09 high school GPA and impressive test scores. But when Wake Forest offered him a chance to stay closer to home, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound dominant wide receiver, genius, and basketball scoring machine elected to stay in the South.
Surratt tallied 41 receptions for 581 yards and four scores in his first collegiate action, breaking out in impressive fashion for a poor offense. Now he gets Jamie Newman at QB, who was the better Wake Forest quarterback by the numbers last year. If the pass volume holds steady, Suratt could easily work his way into a 35% Dominator season for the Deacons.
K.J. Hill, Ohio State
You may be sensing a trend here, but K.J. Hill enters the 2019 season with an incredible opportunity as well. But not just for a decent reception total. Hill enters the year with 144 career receptions for the Buckeyes. The record is 191, held by David Boston. If Hill comes anywhere close to last year’s numbers he would pass the links of Michael Jenkins, Cris Carter, and Boston on the all-time Ohio State reception leaders list. Hill’s already talked about pushing for that record (and a national championship, of course).
But let’s just look at all the production Ohio State lost last year through the air:
That’s nearly 200 receptions, all gone. Hill should assume the Parris Campbell role this season and coast into the Ohio State record books. If he does, you can bet Day 2 draft capital is in the cards for this potential slot option at the next level.
Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt
How many Power Five Conference tight ends had more receptions than Jared Pinkney last season? One. That’s it. But somehow Jared Pinkney can’t even get a mention by just about any national pundits. Why? He plays for Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt actually has the best trio of skill players in school history this season in Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB), Kalija Lipscomb (WR), and Pinkney. The only question will be whether the new quarterback can lead them well.
Pinkney definitely has the size (6’4″, 260) and balls skills to make an immediate impact at the next level. Don’t be surprised if Pinkney catches more than 50 balls this year and slots in as the TE1 for the 2020 NFL Draft class.
Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati
As I already mentioned, Cincinnati is loaded with a solid QB and weapons on both sides of the ball. However, they lost their lead WR last year, leaving a nice chunk of targets up for grabs. Josiah Deguara profiles as a solid “move” TE at the next level with his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame. But given Cincinnati’s heavy TE usage in the run game, Deguara’s run blocking could earn him a spot on an NFL roster too. If he’s featured in the receiving game like he could be this season, Deguara might help Travis Kelce and Brent Celek push Cincinnati into the TE University discussion.
And that’s all folks! Hope this got you pumped for the 2019 College Football season! Also make sure to check out Devy Weekly to learn more about breakout studs every week. And if you’re into College Football DFS make sure you’re following along with my Confident Cash Plays series. Last but not least, please find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM to chat more about all things college football and NFL! And as always, keep living that Dynasty Life!