With Week 16 of the NFL season in the books, the 2016 fantasy year is complete. However, as any avid dynasty player — and our site motto — can attest: There is no off-season! This is when preparation for rookie drafts starts to ramp up.
The college bowl season is in full swing. While a lot of people will tune in to watch the marquee games featuring traditional powers, for me, the best part of bowl season is getting to watch the players and teams who aren’t typically featured in nationally televised games. For example, Stefon Diggs, Thomas Rawls, Breshad Perriman, Jay Ajayi and Jamison Crowder all played in lesser, oddly-named bowl games last year.
This installment of our 2015-16 bowl coverage is going to take a look at a pair of games being played on Monday, December 28th — Pittsburgh versus Navy and Central Michigan against Minnesota.
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Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4) vs No. 21 Navy Midshipmen (10-2), 2:30, ESPN
This is clearly the superior matchup of the day, and it features a handful of NFL prospects. Unfortunately, it’s on in the afternoon on a day when most people will be working. What kind of world is this?
By my estimation, there are five total NFL prospects in this game, but for fantasy purposes, there are just two: Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Panthers junior wideout Tyler Boyd.
Let’s start with Reynolds, who is one of the most intriguing players in this class. Piloting Navy’s triple-option offense, Reynolds has been a machine over the past four years. Here’s a quick rundown of all the records he has broken, per Navy’s official website.
- Most rushing touchdowns in NCAA Division I history (85)
- Most rushing touchdowns by a QB in a game (7), season (31) and career (85)
- Most games scoring 3 TDs or more (15)
- Most points in a career in FBS history (512)
- Most 100-yard rushing games by active QB (21, next closest has 9)
- Has 4,415 career rushing yards, which is third all-time for a quarterback. He needs 81 in the Military Bowl to pass Denard Robinson for first all-time
I know he’s not playing elite competition. I also understand Navy’s offense and sheer volume (44 career starts) has also played a role in setting some of these records. Still, it’s hard to not to be impressed with his durability and production. At a minimum, it tells us Reynolds is pretty special with the ball in his hands. The fact he’s doing this at a place like Navy, where he’s taking a class titled “National Security Decision Making in the Cyber Age,” also tells us about Reynolds makeup and character. While he’s not a pro passer by any means, his career 29-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio is another testament to his decision making.
As a Naval Academy graduate, Reynolds has a minimum service requirement, but it is unlikely to deter him from pursuing an NFL career. Last season, Midshipmen long snapper Joe Cardona was drafted by the New England Patriots, and Navy suspended his assignment until after this season, which allowed him to play for the Patriots while balancing an unusual schedule. Reynolds will likely travel a similar path.
Obviously, Reynolds is not going to try to play quarterback in the NFL, but I do think he has a chance to be a running back at the next level. Denard Robinson, Julian Edelman and Jerick McKinnon are all examples college quarterbacks who transitioned to become solid pro players at a different position.
At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Reynolds is a master at squeezing himself into and through the narrowest of creases. On film, he doesn’t appear to possess elite top-end speed, although NFL Draft Scout lists his best 40 time at 4.45. I don’t see him playing at that kind of speed, but he does possess great short-area burst, getting to his full speed in about three or four steps. Reynolds does a really nice job reading and setting up blocks. People use the term slippery a lot to describe backs, but for a guy who carries the ball as often as he does (953 times in his career) Reynolds rarely gets stuck and driven backwards. There’s nothing to go off of when rating his pass-catching ability, so that will be something worth monitoring going forward.
Ostensibly, the transition from a triple-option quarterback to a running back wouldn’t be extremely difficult, considering Reynolds basically plays running back at Navy. It may take some time, but I believe he can be an adequate NFL player, and his athleticism should allow him to contribute on special teams, which can help him make the active roster on Sundays.
When rating him among the 2016 running backs, I’d put him around 15th, which makes him roughly a sixth- or seventh-round pick in the NFL Draft. Teams will likely fall in love with his character, so if he tests well at the combine, his stock could rise. In rookie drafts, at this point, Reynolds is likely a fourth- or fifth-round choice.
Given Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick’s affinity for the Navy, intelligent players and versatility, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Reynolds wind up in New England.
Navy also boasts fullback Chris Swain, who is rated among the class’ top fullbacks.
On the other sideline will be Boyd, Pittsburgh’s top prospect as well a s one of the top wideouts for 2016. A junior, Boyd has said he is undecided about leaving school after this year, but it would be surprising to see him stick around for his senior season. Boyd, who is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, is ranked among the top wideouts in the 2016 class. We have him rated as our No. 3 receiver.
Rivals ranked Boyd as the No. 12 receiver in the 2013 high school class, and he burst onto the scene with a monster freshman year. Playing with quarterback Tom Savage, Boyd hauled in 85 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, which immediately put him near the top of his class. Boyd cemented his stock with a superb sophomore season, putting up 78 grabs for 1,261 yards and eight scores despite losing Savage and fellow wideout Devin Street.
Hurt by mediocre quarterback play this year, Boyd struggled to make big plays down the field as he totaled 85 catches for just 873 yards and six touchdowns. Boyd has actually spent significant time at running back, trying to help out an injury-ravaged offense. He’s carried the ball 35 times for 294 yards (8.4 YPC), which is somewhat significant and a testament to how good he is with the ball in his hands.
Boyd is an interesting prospect because he’s not going to shred the combine with freak athleticism, and he doesn’t really jump off the screen with any jaw-dropping plays. However, Boyd is an extremely good football player who is very sound in the fundamentals of playing wideout — hands, route running, working back to get open, etc. Typically, with a lot of top receiver prospects (think: Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham), it’s the other way around, where they feature elite athleticism but struggle with the nuances of the position.
If NFL comparisons are your thing, I think Boyd has similarities to Keenan Allen and Nelson Agholor when those two were entering the draft. Allen fits especially well because he’s a receiver who can play in the slot or on the outside, and he wins with crisp route running, which is what Boyd will have to do in the NFL.
Boyd was a known commodity prior to this year, so I don’t believe he has hurt or helped his draft stock this season. He will almost certainly be a first-round pick in 2016 rookie drafts, and Boyd is in the mix to be a first rounder in the NFL Draft. Barring something unforeseen, he’ll be one of the first wideouts off the board. If you have a first-round pick this season, he’s a guy with whom you need to get familiar. Navy doesn’t have much in the secondary, so Boyd could go nuts in this one.
Pittsburgh’s other prospects in this game include defensive end Ejuan Price and corner Lafayette Pitts.
Quick Lane Bowl
Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7), 5:00, ESPN2
Neither Central Michigan nor Minnesota has any 2016 draft eligible prospects at the skill positions, but there is some defensive talent in this one.
For Minnesota, cornerbacks Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun are the team’s top two prospects. Murray has been invited to the Senior Bowl while Boddy-Calhoun has nine career interceptions. Defensive end Theiren Cockran and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell are solid prospects, as well.
On the other side of the ball, the Gophers are paced by true freshman running back Shannon Brooks. A three-star running back, according to Rivals, Brooks assumed a bigger workload as the season progressed, and he’s delivered with 644 yards and seven scores on 104 carries (6.2 YPC). He’s also caught 13 balls for 122 yards. Brooks owns a pair of 170-yard games. He’s a guy to monitor in 2016.
K.J. Maye is Minnesota’s top wideout. Maye, a senior, has made 65 receptions for 706 yards and four touchdowns. He had just 417 yards in his first three seasons.
Completely unrelated: Why is a five-win team in a bowl?
Central Michigan’s top prospect is safety Kavon Frazier, who has made over 100 tackles this season.
Offensively, the Chippewas are quarterbacked by junior Cooper Rush, who is having a nice campaign. Rush has passed for 3,703 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 picks while completing 67 percent of his throws. As of now, Rush is unlikely to be drafted in 2017, but that could change with a big senior season. Senior Jesse Kroll is Central Michigan’s top receiver. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound wideout has made 59 catches for 856 yards and four scores.
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