Devy 100: Three Star Running Backs (Part One)

Rob Willette

Fantasy football is an inexact science. Numerous factors can conspire to make even the surest of things an uber-bust (looking at you, Trent Richardson). Take this one level down to the college ranks, and you’re really engaging in a mostly futile exercise which involves interpreting how college talent translates to the NFL. This leads to an incredibly high bust rate and immortalizes individuals like Jamie Harper in the Hall of Disappointment.

This is the third annual installment of The Devy 100, an endeavor which embraces the Sisyphus-esque journey known as a devy league. Rather than a standard, mundane numbered list, this breaks 100 players into tiers. As an ode to recruiting rankings, they’ve been assigned a star ranking. A brief description of each star ranking and how I perceive them below:

  • Five Star: The elite. They look poised to become high NFL draft picks and have the skills to become annual fantasy contributors.
  • Four Star: These are potentially elite players. They just have one flaw – be it inexperience, modest physical tools, or limited production – which prevents them from joining the top tier.
  • Three Star: These are individuals I would not be actively pursuing in standard, smaller devy leagues. However, in larger leagues they merit a roster spot and at the least they’re someone worth monitoring.

There are, of course, players who don’t fit any of these criteria but we’re not talking about them in an article. We continue with three star players at running back.

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L.J. Scott, RB Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans may not have earned a spot in the college football playoff without L.J. Scott. His yeoman effort on the final drive of the Big Ten championship game was the catalyst in toppling Iowa and earning the conference crown. A no frills approach was Scott’s hallmark all year, as he bullied his way to 699 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Unfortunately, we did not get to see the true freshman flash much beyond his power run game; I thought he was able to display more explosiveness and pass catching ability on his high school tape. The Spartans develop players with the best of them, and Scott’s game could grow as the offense evolves around him, but at this point I am left wanting a little bit dynamism.

Josh Adams, RB Notre Dame Fighting Irish

A somewhat unheralded recruit after having his junior season washed away by a knee injury, Josh Adams nonetheless staved off the more highly regarded Dexter Williams to become a major cog in the Irish backfield. Adams rewarded the coaching staff’s faith by averaging a whopping 7.1 yards per tote and stepping in as a key offensive contributor following a late season injury to C.J. Prosise. At 6’2”, his stride is long yet purposeful, and he’s decisive and has excellent second level burst even if it looks a bit awkward. He’s an incredibly unique talent, and offers great value as a relative unknown.

Nick Wilson, RB Arizona Wildcats

There’s little Nick Wilson leaves on the field. He runs like a wind-up toy, wildly gesticulating himself for five to ten seconds before hitting the turf and starting all over. This may not sound complimentary, but it is a testament to how hard Wilson runs and how much effort he appears to put into each carry. Were it not for a string of injuries late in 2015, he’d be mentioned more in a deep class of 2017 runners, even if he lacks the raw talent of many of his peers. Despite being undersized and lacking a standout trait, Wilson piques my interest due to his balance and mentality. At the very least, he looks like a better prospect than 2014 fourth round pick and former Wildcat Ka’Deem Carey, who has stuck around the Bears’ backfield.

Royce Freeman, RB Oregon Ducks

Stop me if you have heard this: the 2017 running back class is loaded. Sell your 2016 picks for 2017 selections and enjoy the renaissance of the running back position. It is a common refrain, and one of the individuals most often tagged as a supreme talent for 2017 is Royce Freeman. Undoubtedly, he has assumed control of the Oregon backfield, dominating touches and dominating Pac 12 defenses. But I struggle to see where he separates himself from his peers in the class. He looks to be a prospect who does a lot of things at an above-average level, yet none at a high level, and I fail to see the second gear when he is in the open field. I am certainly not dismissing Freeman; he’s a large human being who’s been incredibly productive in a talented league. I’m just not seeing a surefire NFL starter.

Jacques Patrick, RB Florida State Seminoles

Jacques Patrick became a folklore hero after immolating a teammate during a Seminoles’ scrimmage. Unfortunately, his raw power and light feet were seldom seen thanks to the presence of Dalvin Cook, a Heisman snub and the best back in the nation during 2015 in my estimation. Cook still remains on campus, and will lead this backfield until he heads off to the NFL, but Patrick should get enough work behind to stay on the devy radar until his breakout in 2017.

Tavien Feaster, RB Clemson Tigers

Following rather lukewarm performances at the Shrine Game and the Army All-American bowl,   the once ballyhooed Tavien Feaster has become somewhat of a forgotten man despite still maintaining a lofty perch in the recruiting rankings. The recent announcement he is undergoing shoulder surgery is another blow to Feaster’s stock – particularly as it relates to his ability to make an early impact – but the magnitude of these blemishes pale in comparison to the natural talent Feaster possesses. A true burner and natural receiver, he is a gamebreaking talent embarking on a career within an offensive factory. He’s a natural complement to the hard-charging, between the tackles maven Wayne Gallman, offering him opportunity to make splash plays early despite a down performance on the postseason circuit.

Mike Weber, RB Ohio State Buckeyes

Despite college football’s proclivity for wide open spread offenses and the ability to eviscerate a defense through the air, there’s still room for throwback runners like Mike Weber. Compact and bulked up, Weber is not the all-purpose superstar Ezekiel Elliott was but his burst to the second level and insatiable desire to churn for extra yards portends a future as a foundation back in the Horseshoe, especially if versatile Curtis Samuel remains the team’s H-back.

Soso Jamabo, RB UCLA Bruins

Rather than obstinately sticking to my initial impression of Soso Jamabo – which I am wont to do – I’ve molded my opinion after watching the Plano, Texas product play apprentice to Paul Perkins in his freshman season. I whiffed on my initial evaluation, painting Jamabo as a leggy, outside runner whose best fit is as a bit player. While his build is certainly atypical for the running back position, he’s got excellent feet and quick, productive strides which allow him to elegantly weave through traffic and break down defenders in tight spaces. He will have an opportunity to be an offensive centerpiece next to Josh Rosen in 2016 and has the early look of one of the better runners in the 2018 class.

Kallen Ballage, RB Arizona State Sun Devils

Ask UCLA how difficult it is to tackle Kallen Ballage. The Arizona State sophomore is athletic enough to play multiple positions (the Sun Devils occasionally ask him to rush the passer) yet thrives as a battering ram runner and is an ideal complement to backfield mate Demario Richard. Large human beings who run with a purpose and possess soft hands have a place in the NFL, which makes Ballage an intriguing prospect even though we’d have a tough time placing him in the comfortable little boxes we like to have prospects nestle.

Sony Michel, RB Georgia Bulldogs

Harken back to this time 2014, and it was Sony Michel – not Nick Chubb – who was supposed to take college football by storm. Chubb was hardly overlooked as a consensus top ten back, yet Michel was a 247 composite five star and the third ranked back in what was regarded as a loaded class. Fast forward two years, and he has been productive although not nearly as dynamic as many of his peers. A slashing runner who is an adept pass catcher, he comfortably assumed the starting role following the injury to Georgia’s bellcow and performed admirably. I don’t see stardom in his future, though his physical maturation and well-rounded game leave me confident he has a role at the NFL level.


rob willette