While the Power Five conferences steal all the headlines, there’s always talent to be found in the nation’s lesser leagues. This season in particular is flush with talent at the lower levels.
Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan Broncos
Corey Davis has been a devy darling since early in his freshman season, a rare feat for a small school player with little recruiting fanfare. A strong performance against Michigan State in his collegiate debut started the hype train; incremental strides since then have allowed him to become one of the most ballyhooed receivers in the college game. Dubbed a technician, Davis looked like a pedestrian athlete early in his career yet, has been able to add speed and explosion to his game as he’s matured as both a player and human being. Combine testing may be more crucial for him than most, but there’s little question he’s got a NFL future.
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Kareem Hunt, RB Toledo Rockets
A compact runner with incredible balance, Kareem Hunt may do a better job of making himself small at the point of contact than anyone in college football. His pop at the point of contact and short-area quickness stand out immediately as traits that will seamlessly translate to the next level. Of course, major question marks surround his level of competition. Those won’t be answered during his college career; bank on his talent instead and enjoy the rewards.
Elijah McGuire, RB Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns
Versatility is the hallmark of Elijah McGuire’s game. While not particularly dynamic as a pure runner, he’s comfortable operating in all facets of the passing game and can challenge a defense with his receiving chops out of the backfield. With a decent frame, good burst, and plus receiving skills, McGuire could be an extremely effective niche player.
Corey Robinson, WR Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Admiral’s son has made a living making splash plays in South Bend; a jumbo receiver with incredible ball skills, Corey Robinson highlight videos are a rare treat. The looming question is whether or not he has the wares to become a complete receiver with the size to dominate at every level of the defense. At this juncture, I’m not investing as I don’t see huge upside beyond his jump ball game.
Mekale McKay, WR Cincinnati Bearcats
With his thin frame, Mekale McKay looks to be about eleven feet tall on the football field. Despite flailing elbows and knees, he’s a relatively smooth athlete that can threaten a defense vertically. He’s not particularly dynamic in one area; however, tall receivers with a track record of production are going to get a look, and McKay’s still an unfinished product.
Tajae Sharpe, WR Massachusetts Minutemen
Long, lanky, and with easy acceleration, there’s a lot to like about Tajae Sharpe. Unfortunately, he plays for a bad football team and against bad competition. That limits what is available on him for the casual fan; there’s also a different game speed that allows Sharpe to be the best athlete on the field in most instances. This may lead to his value being tempered until postseason all-star games.
Keevan Lucas, WR Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Teams looking to push the pace will turn their adorning gaze to Keevan Lucas, a shot out of a cannon speedster that excels with the ball in space. In a deep class, his skill-set stands out as relatively unique.
Kenneth Dixon, RB Louisiana Tech Red Raiders
Kenneth Dixon wins with a raw, insatiable need to gain yardage. A pedestrian athlete with size that would be described as “Normal Guy” in NES’ classic Ice Hockey, he nonetheless succeeds due to sheer willpower and passing game chops. Despite limitations, he is tough to bet against since he has just enough juice in his legs to compliment a high compete level.
Jonnu Smith, TE Florida International Panthers
Any tight end with a pulse is going have eyes on them these days thanks to the dearth of receiving talent at the position. Jonnu Smith has been one of the nation’s premier playmakers at the position, and is firmly in the second tier of tight end talent nationally.
Gunner Kiel, QB Cincinnati Bearcats
Best known for his seemingly endless recruiting saga, Gunner Kiel has finally become a top tier college passer and legitimate NFL prospect. Big armed and with ideal size, he looks the part. He still has a lot of room to grow as a decision-maker, with inconsistency being his biggest hurdle to becoming a top prospect in 2016.
Tarean Folston, RB Notre Dame Fighting Irish
In what was an injury-plagued opening Saturday around college football, the season-ending injury to Tarean Folston went relatively unnoticed. An uber-productive collegiate runner, Folston is not the transcendent talent poised to surge right past a serious lower body injury and his already murky pro prospects have been further clouded.
Taysom Hill, QB BYU Cougars
Taysom Hill is quietly one of the more indispensable players in college football, which is bad news for BYU as they lost Hill once again for the season in Saturday’s season opener against Nebraska. A true heart and soul quarterback with dual-threat abilities, Hill is fun to watch but not much of a pro prospect.
Marlon Mack, RB South Florida Bulls
Marlon Mack – much like Jarvion Franklin – entered college football and immediately became his team’s workhorse, rushing 202 times for 1,041 yards. A slashing runner, Mack lacks the dynamic athleticism or tackle breaking ability at this juncture to have much devy value.
Leon Allen, RB Western Kentucky Hilltopers
Leon Allen had some power back appeal before a gruesome leg injury that appears poised to wash away his 2015 season. There’s still opportunity for him to crawl his way back into the picture, but a lost season for players in his position are often a bad sign.
Jarvion Franklin, RB Western Michigan Broncos
Seldom do true freshman line up and carry the ball 306 times, yet Jarvion Franklin did so with grace and aplomb on his way to 1,525 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. A big, downhill runner with physical panache, Franklin’s got the look of a high-end college power runner, yet needs to develop more explosive qualities as his career unfolds.
Paxton Lynch, QB Memphis Tigers
The massive Paxton Lynch has evolved into an effective dual-threat quarterback at the college level. That is likely where the path ends for him.
Will Fuller, WR Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Will Fuller is poised to be one of the nation’s more productive wideouts in 2015. That may be the pinnacle of his football career. A lightning quick and savvy receiver, Fuller is limited by a thin frame and modest overall athleticism. He may be the next Rashad Greene.
Ready To Emerge
This is bordering on cheating, since we saw Malik Zaire carve up an overmatched Texas defense in Week 1. However, earning the start in Brian Kelly’s offense and armed with a deep group of receivers, it was safe to assume Zaire was poised to at least make a splash in 2015, even if he mirrored Everett Golson’s frenetic play in 2014. With adequate if unspectacular size and athleticism, Zaire is not a physical marvel yet can fit the ball into a tight window and looks incredibly composed in the pocket. There’s still a long way to go, but with college football starving for top tier talent at the quarterback position, Zaire offers hope for the future.
I can see the appeal of Corey Robinson, especially as a lover of the catch point. He’s huge, has great bloodlines, and has shown an affinity for circus catches. It is everything else that concerns me, with explosion off the line of scrimmage and consistent mitts being my main concern. He’s still got time to arch upward on his developmental curve, which is encouraging. I am just not buying at his current price.
Sticking with Notre Dame wide receivers, I’ll dub true freshman Miles Boykin as a talent being a bit underappreciated in devy circles. Many prefer fellow freshman Equanimous St. Brown, an equally large yet less dynamic talent. Boykin is smooth in every facet of the game and plays like a man at the catch point. The early returns will be minimal, but the long-term upside is as high as any receiver in this class.
Non-Power5 Top 10
- Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan
- Elijah McGuire, RB Louisiana-Lafayette
- Kareem Hunt, RB Toledo
- Malik Zaire, QB Notre Dame
- Keevan Lucas, WR Tulsa
- Tajae Sharpe, WR Massachusetts
- Corey Robinson, WR Notre Dame
- Miles Boykin, WR Notre Dame
- Mekale McKay, WR Cincinnati
- Gunner Kiel, QB Cincinnati