This week has become my favorite week of the year over the past couple seasons, mostly for one reason: it’s the week LSU and Alabama play each other. We’ll talk about those two later, but they’re far from the only showdown as Clemson takes on Florida State and TCU faces off with Oklahoma State. This is probably the best week thus far for watching prospects battle head-to-head.
In this series, we take a look at college players with a focus on the offensive skill positions to help those of you in developmental (devy) leagues. We’ll give you several games to watch, along with some key devy players who will be in action. For those in regular dynasty formats, this gives you a chance to check out some of the players who will be available in 2016 (and beyond) rookie drafts.
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Wake Up and Watch: No. 5 Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (ABC, 12:00)
Notre Dame was featured in last week’s article. I tried to avoid highlighting the Irish again, but the combination of receivers Tyler Boyd and Will Fuller was too much to resist.
Boyd, as I mentioned a few weeks back, is right there in the mix to be one of the first receivers off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft along with Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Michael Thomas and Laquon Treadwell. Boyd doesn’t possess the jump-off-the-screen athleticism some of the other top receivers do, but he may be the most refined of the group.
Boyd, who has 578 yards and four touchdowns, isn’t necessarily elite at one thing; he’s just really, really good. His two best traits are his hands and his route running, which is miles ahead of most college receivers. He doesn’t play as physically as most elite receivers and struggles with contested catches. Due to poor quarterback play, Boyd is only averaging 9.2 yards per catch, a paltry number for an NFL prospect. The Panthers will likely have to take shots down field to top Notre Dame, and Boyd figures to be the target on most of those throws.
Boyd and the Panthers haven’t played too tough of a schedule thus far, although they did lose by three points at undefeated Iowa earlier this year. Notre Dame will be the most talented team Pittsburgh has played. For Boyd, it’s a chance to matchup with Irish cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who is rated as a top 10 corner for the 2016 class. Russell didn’t show well against USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, giving up 139 yards and a touchdown, although he didn’t shadow him every play.
I won’t spend too much time on the Irish, considering I just talked about them last week. Will Fuller hauled in a 17-yard touchdown from DeShone Kizer to give Notre Dame a come-from-behind win over Temple last Saturday. Kizer, a redshirt freshman, finished with 442 total yards of offense, including a 79-yard touchdown run, but he threw a pair of picks in the red zone. Part of what makes Kizer fun to watch is his penchant for making aggressive throws. He’ll learn to pick his spots. C.J. Prosise was held to 25 yards on 14 carries. He’s only been held under 98 yards twice this season.
Other teams in action around the noon hour, along with some players to focus on, include:
- Penn State (Christian Hackenberg, Saquon Barkley) at Northwestern, ESPNU, 12:00
- Vanderbilt at Florida (Demarcus Robinson, Kelvin Taylor), ESPN, 12:00
- Stanford (Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey, Trenton Irwin) at Colorado, PACN, 1:00
Midday Marquee: No. 16 Florida State at No. 1 Clemson (ABC, 3:30)
You know it’s a heck of a day when this game isn’t the most-anticipated game of the week.
Back in 2013, the last time these two met up in Death Valley, Jameis Winston and the Seminoles routed the Tigers by a score of 51-14. Last season, with Winston suspended, Florida State prevailed again, this time 26-20 in overtime thanks to a Karlos Williams game-winning touchdown run.
I think it goes without saying, but freshly-crowned No. 1 Clemson is going to be amped up for this one. For the Tigers, it’s really the last major hurdle on their schedule, although the regular-season finale at South Carolina is far from a cakewalk.
Deshaun Watson, a sophomore, has been masterful for Clemson this season, completing 70.3 percent of his passes while tossing 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. On the ground, he’s added 386 yards and four more touchdowns. Unfairly, Watson gets labeled with the spread running quarterbacks, but that’s not him. Yes, he can run, but he’s a fantastic passer who can make some “wow” throws and is fairly comfortable in the pocket. I would rate him above Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff, the consensus top quarterbacks in the 2016 class.
The fact Clemson is rolling like this, especially offensively, without Mike Williams speaks volumes about Watson’s ability. Before the season, Williams, who is out with a serious neck injury, was right there in the conversation as the best receiver prospect. Sophomore Artavis Scott, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound burner, has been Watson’s No. 1 receiver while true freshman Deon Cain is averaging 20.1 yards per catch.
Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman has come on after a slow start. He has surpassed 100 yards in five of the last six games, including a 172-yard outing last week against North Carolina State.
Florida State is loaded up and down its roster as Head Coach Jimbo Fisher has been doing work on the recruiting trail. Dalvin Cook, Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson, Everett Golson, Ermon Lane, Auden Tate, George Campbell, Auden Tate and Jacques Patrick are all listed in our devy rankings. Florida State is in position to win for a while.
The Seminoles have a little quarterback controversy on their hands. At the time of writing this, Florida State hadn’t committed to Sean Maguire or Golson as the starter for the Clemson game. Golson had been the starter all year, but he missed last week’s game against Syracuse due to injury. Maguire stepped in, much like he did against Clemson a year ago, and played well, tossing for nearly 350 years and three scores. While Golson is a scrambler who likes to abandon the pocket when the first option is covered, Maguire is more of a pro-style, check-it-down quarterback.
Cook, a sophomore running back, missed the Syracuse game but is expected to play versus the Tigers. In seven games, he’s amassed 1,037 yards and 11 scores. Last year, while sharing the backfield with Williams, Cook was able to crack the century mark as a true freshman. While some running back from LSU is stealing all the headlines (more on him later), Cook is a heck of a prospect himself, and he is our third-ranked back for the 2017 class.
Wilson, Rudolph and Kermit Whitfield all have at least 400 yards receiving for Florida State. Rudolph, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, leads the way with 501 yards and six touchdowns. Whitfield, a junior who is a slot-type weapon, has 461 yards and two scores. Wilson, another junior, has 407 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Lane, Tate, Patrick and Campbell are all receivers to keep an eye on in the future, but they’re currently buried on a loaded depth chart.
Other teams in midday action, along with some players to watch, include:
- Rutgers (Leonte Carroo is questionable) at No. 17 Michigan (Jake Butt), BTN, 3:30
- Arkansas (Alex Collins) at No. 18 Mississippi (Evan Engram, Laquon Treadwell, Markell Pack, DaMarkus Lodge), CBS, 3:30
- No. 8 TCU (Josh Doctson, Trevone Boykin, Aaron Green) at No. 14 Oklahoma State (David Glidden, James Washington), FOX, 3:30
- Arizona State (D.J. Foster, Demario Richard) at Washington State, FS1, 3:30
- Cincinnati (Gunner Kiel) at No. 25 Houston, ESPN2, 3:30
- No. 23 UCLA (Soso Jamabo, Paul Perkins, Josh Rosen, Jordan Payton) at Oregon State (Jordan Villamin), PACN, 4:00
Primetime Play: No. 2 LSU at No. 4 Alabama (CBS, 8:00)
This is completely unofficial, but I don’t think any series has had a stretch where it produced as much NFL talent as these two teams have over the past five or so years. Jeremy Hill, Alfred Blue, Mark Ingram, Stevan Ridley, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Kenny Hilliard, Spencer Ware and T.J. Yeldon all played key roles in this game over the last handful of seasons — and that’s just the running backs, four of whom sit in the top 12 of our running back rankings. Maybe some of those vintage Miami-Florida State games of the early 1990s could hang talent-wise, but the talent and intensity in this game has been incredible.
The 2011 regular season game, billed as the Game of the Century, still stands as my favorite college football game of all time. Yes, there were zero touchdowns. No, I do not care. As someone who relishes watching great athletes compete against each other at a high level, there’s no beating that 9-6 matchup. In fact, 45 players from that game were eventually drafted into the NFL, which is the record for a regular-season game. Think about that: 45! It was hard to look at the TV screen that night and not see a future NFL player.
I digress. You’re here to read about this year’s devy talent, and I will abide by your wishes.
What could I possibly say about Leonard Fournette that hasn’t already been said? He’s amazing. We all know that. I’ll let his numbers do the talking. Through seven games, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore has totaled 1,352 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 176 carries. His lowest rushing total in a game this season came last week, when he ran for only 150 yards against Western Kentucky. Fournette has more three-touchdown games (three) than one-touchdown games (two).
Knowing Head Coach Nick Saban and Alabama, they’ll do everything to try to prevent Fournette from beating them. Knowing Head Coach Les Miles and the Tigers, they’ll feed Fournette and do everything to make sure their quarterback doesn’t lose them the game. It’s going to be awesome.
LSU is loaded at wide receiver, but the passing deficiencies of quarterback Brandon Harris, coupled with the team’s (completely justified) commitment to running Fournette, bogs down the stats of their receivers. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre are, remarkably, in this day and age of pass-happy college football, the only two LSU wideouts with over 20 catches and neither has over 25. Dural, a junior, is our No. 14 receiver for 2016 while Dupre, a sophomore, ranks second in the 2017 class.
Lastly for the Tigers, Derrius Guice may be the best No. 2 back in the nation. A Rivals’ five-star recruit and the No. 2 running back in the 2015 high school class, Guice has shown extremely well in a secondary role. He’s carried the ball 34 times for 316 yards (9.3 YPC) and two scores. He will likely have to wait until his junior season to get significant volume, but he’ll probably enter the NFL with a lot less wear and tear than Fournette.
Alabama running backs Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake don’t take a backseat in many matchups. Henry, our No. 2 back for the 2016 class, has a unique build (6-foot-3, 242 pounds) and running style (more upright). He’s the latest in Saban’s assembly line of studs at the running back position. He’s racked up 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first season as Alabama’s workhorse. Drake will be well-suited for a pass-game role in the NFL. He’s rushed 265 yards and added another 181 yards as a receiver.
True freshman Calvin Ridley has emerged as the Crimson Tide’s top receiver. He’s going to be a big-time prospect. Ridley is a bouncy, quick-twitch athlete with great speed and hands. Rivals’ No. 1 wideout in the 2015 high school class, Ridley has made 45 receptions for 525 yards and three touchdowns. ArDarius Stewart, a sophomore, is second on the team with 31 catches for 331 yards. O.J. Howard, our No. 3 tight end for 2016, has totaled 26 grabs for 290 yards.
The best part about this game is all this offensive NFL talent will be staring across the line at a bunch of NFL defensive talent. It’s the beauty of this game over the last handful of seasons. We’re ultimately interested in how these players will perform against other NFL-level players, and this is as close as we can get to finding out before we see them on Sundays.
Other teams with evening games, along with some players to focus on, include:
- Iowa State (Allen Lazard) at No. 15 Oklahoma (Sterling Shepard, Joe Mixon, Baker Mayfield, Samaje Perine, Michiah Quick), ESPNU, 7:00
- No. 7 Michigan State (Connor Cook, L.J. Scott, Macgarrett Kings) at Nebraska, ESPN, 7:00
- Navy at No. 13 Memphis (Paxton Lynch), ESPN2, 7:00
- Auburn (Peyton Barber) at No. 19 Texas A&M (Kyler Murray, Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk), SECN, 7:30
- No. 12 Utah (Devontae Booker) at Washington, FOX, 7:30
- Minnesota at No. 3 Ohio State (Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller), ABC, 8:00
- Arizona (Nick Wilson) at USC (Juju Smith-Schuster, Cody Kessler, Isaac Whitney, Justin Davis, Adoree Jackson), ESPN, 10:30