After a way-too-long off-season, college football is back.
In this series, we take a look at future NFL players with a focus on offensive skill positions to help those of you in developmental (devy) leagues. For those in regular dynasty formats, we’ll give you all the information you need to help you start the preparation for 2017 rookie drafts.
The opening week gives us more of a spread out schedule, so there will be a pair of installments this week. In this one, we’ll take a look at the games and players to watch on Thursday and Friday. Later this week, we’ll break down the Saturday, Sunday and Monday affairs.
Football is back, ya’ll. Enjoy it.
Oregon State at Minnesota (BTN, 9:00)
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Admittedly, Thursday doesn’t give us the strongest slate of games, but there are some notable players to watch, particularly with Tennessee in action. In terms of two solid programs going at each other, though, this matchup is the best of the night.
Oregon State features wideout Jordan Villamin, who is our fifth-ranked receiver in the loaded 2017 class. Entering his junior season, Villamin has yet to put up numbers befitting of a highly-regarded prospect. After hauling in 35 grabs for 578 yards and six scores in a promising freshman campaign, he posted 43 catches for 660 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.
Villamin is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, so the size is there. His lack of eye-popping stats isn’t completely his fault, either, as the Beavers’ signal callers combined to throw 10 touchdowns and 11 picks last year.
There isn’t much else to watch for as far as Oregon State is concerned, which is about what you’d expect from a team which went 2-10 last year, including a winless campaign in the Pac 12. It’s a far cry from the days of Head Coach Mike Riley, when it seemed the Beavers were good for a couple NFL picks each season.
Minnesota, on the other hand, has a decent amount of talent at the skill positions. Quarterbacks Mitch Leidner and Demry Croft are both a part of our devy rankings while Shannon Brooks is our third-ranked running back in the 2018 class. Tight end Brandon Lingen is also a player to keep an eye on.
Leidner, a senior, is expected to start and is our 19th-ranked quarterback for the 2017 class. Last year was his first year as the full-time starter, and he completed 59.5% of his passes for 2,701 yards, 14 scores and 11 picks. He also rushed for 270 yards and three more touchdowns.
Croft, our seventh-ranked quarterback for 2018, was Rivals’ 28th-ranked dual-threat quarterback in 2015. He saw very limited action last season (17 pass attempts), and it’ll likely be the same song and dance this year, barring an injury to Leidner. Croft should be someone to watch in 2017, though.
Brooks was just a three-star recruit, per Rivals, but he turned in a superb freshman season last year. He rushed for 709 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. He also made 17 catches for 167 yards. He’s certainly a back to know for the 2018 draft-eligible class. Unfortunately, Brooks may be out for this one with a foot injury.
Linegen is trying to keep up the tradition of Minnesota putting tight ends into the NFL. He put up solid numbers — 33 receptions, 428 yards and three scores — last season as a sophomore. With last year’s top wideout K.J. Maye now a member of the New York Giants, Linegen may be more of a focal point of the Gophers’ aerial attack.
Other notable teams in action Thursday, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Charlotte at No. 19 Louisville, ESPN3, 7:00
• Indiana (Simmie Cobbs) at Florida International, ESPNU, 7:30
• Appalachian State at No. 9 Tennessee (Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Joshua Hobbs, Carlin Fils-aime), SECN, 7:30
• South Carolina at Vanderbilt, ESPN, 8:00
Kansas State at No. 8 Stanford (FS1, 9:00)
It’s worth tuning in to watch Christian McCaffrey every time Stanford plays this season. The Cardinal open with a game against Kansas State, which is the top matchup on Friday.
Barring something unforeseen, McCaffrey is pretty much a lock to be a first-round pick in 2017 rookie drafts. We have him as the sixth overall player and fourth-ranked running back. That tells you how special the top-end is of the 2017 class.
What didn’t McCaffrey do last season? The all-everything star racked up 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, 645 yards and five scores through the air, two passing touchdowns and two more scores as a returner. A lot of times you’ll read that a player can do it all, but it truly applies in the case of McCaffrey.
McCaffrey will be one of college football’s most talked about players this year, so let’s move on. The Cardinal have some other intriguing prospects.
After sitting behind Austin Hooper, Dalton Schultz will get a chance to shine at tight end this season. He put up just 10 grabs for 121 yards and one score in limited playing time a year ago. Schultz — a junior who is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds — is our 10th-ranked tight end for 2017.
Sophomore wideout Trent Irwin, like Schultz, was buried on the depth chart a year ago, but he will likely get more run in 2016. A former five-star recruit, according to Rivals, Irwin made 12 receptions for 150 yards a year ago.
Running back Bryce Love is a very interesting player. Three of our rankers have him slotted in the top 11 in the 2018 class. Love isn’t going to get to display his full talents until McCaffrey is out of the picture, but he flashed last year as a freshman, averaging 7.8 yards per carry and scoring twice on 29 attempts.
Stanford hauled in some enticing talent in their 2016 recruiting class. Kaden Smith, K.J. Costello and Trevor Speights are all worth keeping an eye on, although each is unlikely to see the field much as a first-year player.
Per Rivals, Smith was the third-ranked tight end in last year’s high school class. He’s our second-ranked tight end for 2019. Costello checked in as Rivals’ second-ranked pro-style quarterback for the 2016 high school class while Speights was the 22nd-ranked running back.
For Kansas State, their only player to make an appearance in our devy rankings is freshman quarterback Skylar Thompson, the 19th-ranked signal caller for 2019. Rivals had him as a four-star recruit and the 10th-ranked dual-threat quarterback. He is expected to redshirt this season.
Other teams in action Friday, along with some players to watch, include:
• Army at Temple (Ventell Bryant, Jehad Thomas), CBSSN, 7:00
• Furman at No. 12 Michigan State (L.J. Scott, R.J. Shelton), BTN, 7:00
• Northwestern State at No. 23 Baylor (Shock Linwood, Johnny Jefferson, Seth Russell, Jarrett Stidham, KD Cannon, Ishmael Zamora), N/A, 7:30
• Toledo (Kareem Hunt) at Arkansas State, ESPNU, 9:00