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 some of the key players to watch as you start preparing for 2017 rookie drafts.
We have in-depth rankings for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 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.
This week gives us the premier matchup of the season thus far as Louisville and Clemson tangle in what could be a thrilling game. We also get to see Michigan host Wisconsin in another battle between top-10 teams, although we won’t feature that game here.
Wake Up and Watch
No. 14 Miami at Georgia Tech (ESPN, Noon)
For our purposes, this game is all about the Hurricanes.
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Led by quarterback Brad Kaaya, one of the top signal callers in the 2017 class, Miami is off to a 3-0 start. With that said, their best win is probably a road victory at Appalachian State, which is a roundabout way of saying their schedule has been trash.
Kaaya, a junior, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft if he comes out early. He had a pretty good freshman campaign, tossing 26 touchdowns to 12 picks and completing 58.5 percent of his passes. He didn’t take a huge jump as a sophomore, upping his completion percentage to 61.2 percent but only throwing 16 scores. Kaaya is off to a blazing start this season, connecting on 65.8 percent of his throws and averaging 9.13 yards per attempt.
Stacy Coley, a senior, is Kaaya’s top wideout. After a promising freshman campaign, where he finished with 591 yards and seven touchdowns, Coley has yet to have another big year. He has put up 11 grabs for 136 yards and three scores through three games. At this point, he’s probably a Day 3 pick in next spring’s draft unless he improves his stock the rest of the way.
Junior running back Joseph Yearby paces Miami’s rushing attack. At 5-foot-9, 200 pounds, he burst onto the scene last year with a sparkling campaign. Yearby has an above-average skillset as a runner and pass catcher. He runs hard, pushes through contact and does an excellent job catching the ball. I see a lot of similarities to Kenneth Dixon, although I think Dixon is a superior player.
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In all, Yearby totaled 1,002 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2015, adding 23 receptions for 272 yards and two scores as a receiver. He has accumulated 256 yards and four touchdowns so far this season, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. Fun fact: Yearby and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook were high school teammates and classmates. That team probably won some games.
Other notable teams in action around the noon hour, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Notre Dame (QB DeShone Kizer, RB Tarean Folston, RB Josh Adams, WR Equanimeous St. Brown) at Syracuse (Steve Ishmael), ESPN, 12:00
• No. 13 Baylor (QB Seth Russell, WR K.D. Cannon, RB Shock Linwood, RB Terence Williams, WR Ishmael Zamora) at Iowa State (WR Allen Lazard), FS1, 12:00
• No. 22 Texas (WR John Burt, QB Shane Buechele) at Oklahoma State (QB Mason Rudolph, WR James Washington), ABC, 12:00
• Rutgers at No. 2 Ohio State (QB J.T. Barrett, RB Mike Weber, RB Curtis Samuel), BTN, 12:00
• UCF at East Carolina (WR Zay Jones), CBSSN, 12:00
• SMU (WR Courtland Sutton) at Temple (WR Ventell Bryant, RB Jehad Thomas), ESPNNEWS, 12:00
No. 11 Tennessee at No. 25 Georgia (CBS, 3:30)
We’ve hit the Vols pretty hard in this series, so let’s focus on Georgia. When you’re talking about Georgia, you’re talking about Nick Chubb, although he is questionable for this game due to a sprained ankle.
Similar to a player we’ll cover for the night game, Chubb suffered a serious injury last season, but he’s returned to health and regained his status as one of the top 2017 devy prospects. Barring another injury setback, Chubb will probably be taken in the first half of the first round in a majority of rookie drafts next spring. He’s part of a four-headed monster of great running backs at the top of the class — along with Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook — and it’ll be really fun to try rank those players are we progress through the draft process.
Chubb exploded in his true freshman year, coming on for an injured Todd Gurley and rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns (7.1 YPC). He upped his efficiency in 2015, gaining 8.1 yards per rush, before going down with a knee injury. Through 83 carries this fall, he’s run for 422 yards and three scores (5.1 YPC).
If Chubb isn’t able to suit up, we’ll get an extended look at fellow 2017 back Sony Michel. Last year, Michel did what Chubb did the season prior — play great after taking over for the injured megastar running back. Michel ran for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago, but he’s back in a reserve role this year. Still, the junior could elect to leave after this season, and we have him as the 12th-ranked back in the class.
The Bulldogs also feature a pair of enticing pass-catching weapons in receiver Terry Godwin and tight end Jeb Blazevich. Our No. 8 tight end for 2017, Blazevich isn’t used a ton, only going for 144 yards and one score last year, but he’s still a highly-regarded NFL prospect. Godwin, a true sophomore, flashed as a freshman, but he’s off to a slow start in 2016, making 12 receptions for 163 yards through four games.
Other notable teams in midday action, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Oregon State (WR Jordan Villamin) at Colorado, PAC12N, 2:30
• Louisiana Monroe at Auburn (RB Kerryon Johnson), SECN, 3:30
• North Carolina (RB Elijah Hood, WR Ryan Switzer, WR Mack Hollins, WR Bug Howard) at No. 12 Florida State (WR Travis Rudolph, RB Dalvin Cook, RB Jacques Patrick, WR Auden Tate, WR George Campbell, WR Ermon Lane), ESPN, 3:30
• No. 8 Wisconsin (RB Corey Clement) at No. 4 Michigan (TE Jake Butt, WR Jehu Chesson, ABC, 3:30
• Minnesota (RB Shannon Brooks) at Penn State (RB Saquon Barkley, WR Juwan Johnson, WR Chris Godwin), BTN, 3:30
• Illinois at No. 15 Nebraska (WR Alonzo Moore, WR Jordan Westerkamp), ESPN2, 3:30
• No. 9 Texas A&M (WR Josh Reynolds, WR Speedy Noil, WR Christian Kirk) at South Carolina, SECN, 4:00
• Oklahoma (RB Joe Mixon, WR Dede Westbrook, RB Samaje Perine, QB Baker Mayfield, WR/TE Mark Andrews) at No. 21 TCU, FOX, 5:00
No. 3 Louisville at No. 3 Clemson (ABC, 8:00)
Hopefully this is one of those big games which lives up to the hype, because, man, there’s a lot of reason to be geeked for this one.
Clemson alone boasts six players who are a part of our devy rankings, including Mike Williams, who may end up being the top pick in 2017 rookie drafts. Louisville doesn’t have the same amount of NFL talent at the skill positions — few teams do — but you may have caught wind of their quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
Both quarterbacks are top-end devy assets, although Clemson signal caller Deshaun Watson is more of a pro-ready player. Jackson is just, uh, well, amazing at football and so much fun to watch, but he has some developing to do as a pocket passer if he wants to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Then again, Tim Tebow was a first-round choice, so who knows.
To be fair, this is Jackson’s first year as a full-time starter, so the true sophomore has the rest of this season and all of next year to progress as a quarterback. All he’s done this year is take a blowtorch to college football. He’s completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 1,130 yards, 13 scores and three picks. Jackson has tacked on 526 yards and 12 more touchdowns on the ground. That’s 25 touchdowns in four games.
His top wideouts are seniors James Quick and Jamari Staples. Quick has hauled in 16 passes for 360 yards and three scores. Staples has made 14 catches for 313 yards. Athletic tight end Cole Hikutini — a 6-foot-5, 248-pound senior — is an intriguing talent who has three touchdowns this season. Senior running back Brandon Radcliff has rushed for 427 yards and three scores while gaining a whopping 9.3 yards per carry.
With a beatdown of Florida State already under their belt, if the Cardinals can prevail over Clemson, all that will stand between them and an unbeaten regular season is a November clash with No. 6 Houston — assuming they don’t slip up against an inferior opponent.
For Clemson, Watson has a trio of big-time wideouts around him in Williams, Artavis Scott and Deon Cain. After missing all of last year with a neck injury, Williams has come back and shown enough to restore our confidence in his abilities. He’s our second-ranked wideout for 2017, but three of our five rankers have him as the top receiver. Scott, a junior, is our seventh-ranked receiver for 2017, and Cain is our No. 3 wideout for the 2018 draft-eligible class.
The Tigers’ talent doesn’t stop there. Tight end Jordan Leggett checks in as our sixth-best tight end in the 2017 class while running back Wayne Gallman is 2017’s sixth-ranked running back.
With that much talent at the skill positions plus Watson — a pretty safe bet to be a top-five pick in the 2017 NFL Draft — pulling the strings, it’s really hard to believe Clemson is off to a “slow” start, at least by their standards. The Tigers have scored more than 30 points just once this season, and that came against renowned powerhouse South Carolina State.
Watson is a really, really good player who has very few question marks as a prospect, and I think, at this point, he should be the first quarterback off the board next spring, in both the real draft and rookie drafts. With that said, his play this year hasn’t been as good as it was last season. Watson’s completion percentage is down, his interception rate is up and the offense as a whole isn’t clicking the way it was in 2015. Louisville gave Watson fits last season, holding him to 199 yards, two scores and two picks — statistically his worst game outside of the monsoon contest against Notre Dame. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs in this one.
When I think about Watson, though, I keep thinking about the way he shredded last year’s loaded Alabama defense in the title game.
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Watson makes a throw — his last touchdown of the game, at the 4:36 mark — that is truly special. His tight end is covered well by the linebacker, but the defender hasn’t yet turned his head around. Watson throws Leggett away from the linebacker and puts it in an area away from the fast-closing safety. It’s a big-time, NFL throw, and it’s beautiful.
In all, Watson completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns in the loss. He added 20 rushes for 73 yards as a runner. DeShone Kizer has shot up draft boards for a reason — he’s really, really good — but Watson is still my top guy.
Other notable teams in evening action, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Memphis at No. 17 Ole Miss (QB Chad Kelly, WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, TE Evan Engram), N/A, 7:00
• Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (WR Calvin Ridley, RB Damien Harris, WR ArDarius Stewart, TE O.J. Howard, RB Bo Scarbrough), ESPN, 7:00
• Western Michigan (WR Corey Davis) at Central Michigan, CBSSN, 7:00
• Marshall at Pittsburgh (RB James Conner), ACCN, 7:30
• Missouri at No. 18 LSU (RB Leonard Fournette, RB Derrius Guice, WR Malachi Dupre, WR Travin Dural), SECN, 7:30
• No. 19 San Diego State (RB Donnel Pumphrey) at South Alabama, ESPNNEWS, 8:00
• Louisiana Lafayette (RB Elijah McGuire) at New Mexico State, ESPN3, 8:00
• Michigan State (RB L.J. Scott, WR Donnie Corley) at Indiana (WR Simmie Cobbs), BTN, 8:00
• Arizona State at USC (WR Juju Smith-Schuster, WR Darreus Rogers, RB Justin Davis) , FOX, 8:30
• Oregon (RB Royce Freeman, WR Darren Carrington, TE John Mundt, TE Pharaoh Brown) at Washington State (QB Luke Falk, WR Gabe Marks), PAC12N, 9:30
• Arizona (RB Nick Wilson) at UCLA (RB Soso Jamabo, QB Josh Rosen, WR Kenneth Walker), ESPN, 10:30
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