Devy 100: Three Star Running Backs (Part Two)

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, part deux.

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Joe Mixon, RB Oklahoma Sooners

We finally got to see Joe Mixon, whose 2015 season was washed away following an ugly incident on Oklahoma’s campus. On the field, Mixon quickly made a major impact for the Sooners, piling up over 1,100 combo yards and 11 touchdowns. His limbs work in perfect concert with one another and he features smooth, powerful strides which allow him chew up yards and run with excellent power. Toss in natural receiver skills and it is easy to see why Mixon was a five star prospect and an elite all-purpose back out of California. Were it not for a blemish off the field, I’d be pretty bullish on Mixon and he could enter the mix as one of 2017’s top running back prospects.

Elijah McGuire, RB Louisiana-Lafayette Rajun Cajuns

The value of Elijah McGuire skyrocketed during the 2015 off-season, with hype pushing him into the top three rounds of many devy mocks with the expectation his 2015 output would rocket him to a top five ranking in this running back class. Instead, McGuire looked a bit off during the course of the season, sapped of a bit of explosiveness and looking more like a quality collegiate back than electric prospect. He’s still a highly productive and athletic runner with receiving chops; he’s just faded back into the crowd a bit. 2016 looms large as (alert the media!) draft seasons are kind of important.

Jeremy McNichols, RB Boise State Broncos

Perhaps college football’s quietest breakout star, Jeremy McNichols rumbled across the blue turf and crossed the white goal line 20 times in 2015. His game features no frills; he simply beats you with balance, decisiveness, and short choppy strides which belie excellent feet. He could follow Doug Martin and Jay Ajayi as Bronco backs destined for the NFL.

Curtis Samuel, RB Ohio State Buckeyes

Curtis Samuel is a tough evaluation. He assumed the H-back role in the 2015 version of the Ohio State offense after getting a decent amount of work out of the backfield during his freshman season. There’s a lot to like, from his impressive burst to his compact frame which offers more power than one would expect. You’d like to see him settle in at one spot (preferably running back); he has the raw talent to become a breakout star in 2016 with many of the Buckeyes’ top weapons moving on.

Johnny Jefferson, RB Baylor Bears

It is too bad Johnny Jefferson does not have escalators in his contract (well, he could – this is college football). An epic performance against North Carolina in Baylor’s bowl game pushed Jefferson to exactly 1,000 yards on the season, and gave him an opportunity to showcase himself outside of Shock Linwood’s shadow. Jefferson showcased some pretty electric skills, slashing through a hopeless Tar Heels defense using nimble feet and a runaway train mentality. It is easy and just more entertaining to crown a younger player as more gifted than their predecessor; however, in Jefferson’s case, it is warranted.

Chris Warren, RB Texas Longhorns

It is not difficult to have your breakout game against Texas Tech. Chris Warren’s infamous 91 yard touchdown run against the Red Raiders looked like the aliens from Space Jam attaining their new powers and dunking over Tweety Bird. While the competition was overmatched, the game in general was a chance for Warren to showcase his talents for the first time all season. The supersized back has surprising long speed and despite an upright running style he powers through arm tackles. Much like other big backs, you almost want to see him slim down and see how it impacts his burst, but early signs are positive and having the Longhorn faithful thankful the coin flip went their way.

Roc Thomas, RB Auburn Tigers

Loyalty is a dangerous trait in fantasy football, yet it is one I find myself attached to since I seem to be so spellbound with Roc Thomas. Anointed the starting running back in August, Thomas was quickly displaced by the more workmanlike and no-nonsense Peyton Barber, rendering the former five star recruit a change of pace runner for the second straight season. Injuries contributed to his limited usage, but he also failed to earn the coaching staff’s trust as anything more than a niche player. He’s incredibly explosive, and the Auburn offense as a whole was a mess for much of 2015, but the clock is ticking on his tenure as a devy asset.

Larry Rose III, New Mexico State Aggies

Some players are just plain fun, and Larry Rose III fits the bill as an effortless mover who laughs at the hopeless angles defenders take. His cuts are seamless and he plays at one speed: fast. He’s very slight, and seldom powers for extra yards, even at a low level of football. However, his wheels and overall playmaking ability could earn him a paycheck at the next level.

Joseph Yearby, RB Miami Hurricanes

Miami has been the home of slashing, quicker than fast runners, from Lamar Miller to Duke Johnson and now Joseph Yearby. Yearby is not a great athlete, yet he wins by running with patience and savvy and contributing in the receiving game. I am not sure he is explosive enough to warrant a heavy investment, but he’s got a well-rounded skill-set which could lead to a role at the next level.

Justin Davis, RB USC Trojans

Justin Davis is no stranger to the shadow of others. From Buck Allen to Ronald Jones, he has been the lesser heralded piece in his own backfield and now appears destined to be lost in a deep class of 2017 runners. In a normal year, Davis could push to be a top five back, as despite a tall, lanky frame he possesses a lot of wiggle and has little reticence about motoring down the field in a hurry. Despite entering his senior season, he is still very young (21 in November) and appears poised for a strong final season. He’s perhaps one of the more underrated devy commodities around.

Mike Warren, RB Iowa State Cyclones

I felt as though I saw two different players as I watched Mike Warren carry the football. On one play, he was a careless, runaway freight train with little concern for ball security or where the sticks were. On another, he had quick yet calculated feet and used them to pick up chunks of yardage at a time. I like Warren’s hard-charging style; I am just not sure if he is dynamic enough to make it work at higher levels. Regardless, following a very productive redshirt freshman season for a middling program, he is firmly on the watch list as he career unfolds.

Olamide Zaccheaus, RB Virginia Cavaliers

Olamide Zaccheaus. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it. Just ask me to watch him. Zaccheaus is a smooth runner with impeccable balance and receiving skills so good the Cavaliers actually switched him to wide receiver after they were hit by the injury bug. He seldom wastes motion and is impervious to contact, absorbing it and bouncing off defenders rather than crumbling to the turf or taking big hits. He likely plays apprentice to Taquan Mizzell for one more year, but I actually prefer his overall talent to his predecessor’s.


rob willette