Developing Assets: Championship Week

Austan Kas

watsonSadly, it’s already championship weekend. It’s amazing how quickly the season flies by. It’s a much lighter slate than usual this week, with just 14 games across the FBS.

We focus primarily on individuals here, but it’s fun to breakdown the college football playoff scenarios. The SEC, Big 10, PAC 12 and ACC all play their conference title games today. With wins, Alabama and Clemson will join Oklahoma in the four-team playoff. The winner between Michigan State and Iowa will lock up the fourth spot. That’s easy enough. However, if either Alabama or Clemson lose today, things will get weird. It should be a fun day.

I’m not getting into detail on Louisiana-Lafayette’s game against Troy, but I wanted to mention Ragin’ Cajuns’ running back Elijah McGuire. The game is at 5:00 p.m. on ESPN3. If you are tired of watching Florida punt against Alabama, flip it over and check out McGuire. We’ll cover him more in-depth if he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft, but he’s a junior running back with intriguing ability.

In this series, we take a look at NFL prospects 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 start checking out some of the players who will be available in 2016 (and beyond) rookie drafts.

We have in-depth rankings for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 classes, which we update throughout the season. We also have a breakdown on what the heck a devy league is, in case it’s foreign to you.


Wake Up and Watch: Texas at No. 12 Baylor (ESPN, 12:00)

It’s pretty unbelievable how far Texas has fallen over the past handful of seasons. Once a go-to destination for NFL scouts, the Longhorns have had just 15 players drafted over the last five years. For reference, other blue-blood programs such as Alabama (37) and LSU (33) are running circles around Texas, although, to be fair, ‘Bama and LSU are running circles around everyone in terms of producing NFL talent. Heck, even Iowa (19), who typically gets labeled as boring, has had more players chosen in the last five years than Texas.

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

When searching for devy talent on Texas, there’s not much to comb through. Johnathan Gray is their top prospect. The senior running back has followed a similar path to former Longhorn running back Malcolm Brown, and that may continue as he enters the NFL. Both were highly-rated recruits (with Rivals ranking Gray as the No. 1 back in the 2012 high school class) who never quite lived up to the billing in Austin. Brown signed on with the Rams as an undrafted free agent, and Gray will likely take the same route to the NFL.

A 5-foot-10, 211-pound runner, Gray has underwhelmed since a promising freshman year when he racked up 701 yards. He rushed for 2,118 yards in his first three seasons in Austin, but he had a career-low 637 yards rushing as a junior. He needed to show improvement this season to get drafted, but he’s struggled, racking up just 489 yards on 4.0 yards per carry. Barring superb workouts in the pre-draft process, Gray is unlikely to be drafted.

D’Onta Foreman, a sophomore, has been Texas’ best running back this year. He’s rushed for 681 yards and five scores on 95 carries (7.2 YPC). The receivers are tough to evaluate because of the Longhorns’ shoddy quarterback play. Senior Marcus Johnson came into the year as a possible late-round draft choice, but he’s only caught 12 balls all year. Freshman John Burt has shown flashes. At 6-foot-2, 184 pounds, he has the height but needs to develop some bulk. Burt is averaging 18.2 yards per grab on 24 receptions.

Baylor is not lacking for devy talent, but unfortunately the Bears are operating with their third-string quarterback, Chris Johnson, after injuries to Jarrett Stidham and Seth Russell. Receiver Corey Coleman has improved his draft stock with a monster junior season. Laquon Treadwell has been the top 2016 receiver for some time, but Coleman is threatening to snatch that title, if he hasn’t already. Coleman caught a touchdown in Baylor’s first eight games, with seven of those being multi-touchdown efforts. He’s slowed recently, due in large part to the quarterback injuries, but Coleman still has 67 receptions for 1,314 yards and 20 scores.

Sophomore KD Cannon is our No. 5 wideout for the 2017 class. He’s made 42 catches for 802 yards and six scores. Senior receiver Jay Lee has caught 35 balls for 721 yards and eight touchdowns. In the backfield, junior Shock Linwood is averaging 6.9 yards per carry. He’s amassed 1,298 yards and 10 scores, adding 71 yards and a touchdown through the air.


Midday Marquee: No. 18 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama (CBS, 4:00)

Alabama has been spearheaded by its running game. Derrick Henry is making a push for the Heisman, and he’s also gaining ground on Ezekiel Elliott in the race to be the first running back off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft, assuming he leaves early. Henry has an absurd 295 carries and has rushed for 1,797 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Change-of-pace back Kenyan Drake may miss the game due to an arm injury. His season was cut short because of a broken leg a year ago, but he’s bounced back this year with 333 rushing yards, 234 receiving yards and two total touchdowns. He’s a utility weapon for the Crimson Tide.

Freshman receiver Calvin Ridley has emerged as Alabama’s top threat in the passing game. He’s been a starter all year and has recorded at least three receptions in every game. Ridley has really come on over the second half of the season, averaging 6.4 catches per game over the last seven contests. For the year, he’s made 67 catches for 791 yards and five touchdowns.

For Florida, it’s probably going to be a struggle to move the ball. Alabama represents the back end of a brutal two-game stretch for the Gators, who were shellacked 27-2 by Florida State a week ago. Without suspended quarterback Will Grier, who started the year 6-0, the Gators haven’t been close to the same team offensively. It’s hurt the numbers of top wideout Demarcus Robinson. The 6-foot-1, 204-pound junior has made just 47 catches for 502 yards and five scores. Just 14 of those receptions have come in the five games without Grier.

Other teams in midday action, along with some players to watch, include:

  • Troy at Louisiana-Lafayette (Elijah McGuire), ESPN3, 5:00


Primetime Play: No. 10 North Carolina vs. No. 1 Clemson (ABC, 8:00)

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has been excellent this season. I’d argue he’s the best quarterback in all of college football, and it’s between either he or Josh Rosen as to who is the best NFL prospect. Watson is the only quarterback in the country with 3,000 passing yards and 750 rushing yards. He’s completing 70.4 percent of his passes for 3,223 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 picks. His 27 scores have gone to nine different receivers. On the ground, he’s added 756 yards and nine more touchdowns. Don’t forget, he’s doing this without injured wideout Mike Williams, an elite receiver.

Although the Tigers’ game at South Carolina was a game they should win, it was never going to be easy. Playing on the road against their biggest rival, Clemson had everything to lose. After the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 cushion, the Gamecocks cut it to 28-25 early in the fourth quarter. It was a great chance to see how Watson would respond under intense pressure. He guided the Tigers on a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capping it off with a short touchdown run. It was exactly what you want to see. He finished the game with 393 total yards (20-of-27 passing for 279 yards) and four touchdowns (three rushing).

In the absence of top wideout Williams, receivers Artavis Scott and Deon Cain have been Clemson’s top weapons on the outside. Cain, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound freshman, has made 32 grabs for 570 yards and five scores, specializing in the big play. A 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore, Scott is more of a possession-type receiver. He’s caught 77 passes for 709 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman has put together a nice season as a workhorse back, but he’s lacking efficiency. Gallman has rushed for 1,145 yards and nine touchdowns on 215 carries (5.3 YPC).

North Carolina opened its season with a loss to South Carolina, but the Tar Heels have ripped off 11 straight wins. Ranked 10th, North Carolina needs a lot of things to happen to move up into the top four, but all of those scenarios begin with a win over Clemson.

The Tar Heels have four wideouts who I’d consider draft prospects in Quinshad Davis, Bug Howard, Ryan Switzer and Mack Hollins. Each has made at least 25 receptions for 400 yards. Switzer and Davis are more of the chain-moving, possession wideouts while Howard and Hollins are big-play weapons. Switzer, a junior, has 49 catches for 627 yards and four scores, and Davis, a senior, has reeled in 46 passes for 505 yards and four touchdowns. Hollins, a junior, leads the team in receiving yards (670) while averaging an incredible 25.8 yards per catch. Howard, also a junior, is averaging 17.4 yards per reception and has totaled 434 yards with three scores.

Sophomore running back Elijah Hood has exploded onto the scene this year. Rivals rated him as a five-star recruit and the No. 4 running back in the 2014 high school class. He averaged just 3.9 yards per carry while rushing for 259 yards as a freshman, but he’s been excellent as a sophomore. Hood has carried the ball 192 times for 1,280 yards (6.7 YPC) and 16 touchdowns. He’s rushed for at least 98 yards in six of North Carolina’s last seven games, with the lone exception being a 35-point win where his services weren’t required for four quarters. In what’s shaping up as a pretty good 2017 running back class, we have Hood ranked sixth in our devy rankings.

Other teams with evening games, along with some players to focus on, include:

  • No. 7 Stanford (Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey) vs. No. 20 USC (Juju Smith-Schuster, Cody Kessler, Adoree’ Jackson, Ronald Jones, Justin Davis), ESPN, 7:45 p.m.
  • No. 5 Michigan State (Connor Cook, L.J. Scott, Macgarrett Kings) vs. No. 4 Iowa, FOX, 8:15