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.
It’s rivalry week, which is always fun but it also means the season is winding down. For us in the dynasty world, the clock is ticking on 2017 rookie drafts. You’ll be on the clock before you know it! Hopefully this series has helped introduce you to — or helped you know when to watch — some of the top college players, and at DLF, we’ll really get into the 2017 class over the next several months.
This week, we get to take in some conference championship games. We’ll see a pair of top-notch 2017 wideouts, and we also get a look at Donnel Pumphrey, a record-breaking runner from San Diego State.
Wake Up and Watch
No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 9 Oklahoma (FOX, 12:30)
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This game features two of the 2017 class’s top wideouts in Dede Westbrook and James Washington. That’s far from it, though, as both quarterbacks — Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield — are worth monitoring while Oklahoma boasts two talented running backs.
Let’s start with the wideouts.
Westbrook, a senior for the Sooners, has been one of the top risers in the 2017 class. Stepping into the role vacated by Sterling Shepard, Westbrook has hauled in 70 passes for 1,354 yards and 15 touchdowns. A junior college transfer, Westbrook posted a solid 46-743-4 line last season, but he’s obviously upped his game in 2016. The big year has led to an elevated draft stock and fantasy stock as Westbrook is a borderline first-round 2017 rookie draft pick right now, according to our own Ryan McDowell.
On the other sideline, Oklahoma State’s top weapon is junior receiver James Washington. For some, including McDowell, Washington is a first-round pick right now, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’s valued so highly when you look at his numbers. After putting up a 53-1,087-10 line as a sophomore, Washington has made 60 catches for 1,159 yards and nine scores this year.
Both quarterbacks have some gaudy numbers, as well. Rudolph, the Cowboys’ trigger man, profiles as more of an NFL-type pocket passer. He’s completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 3,591 yards, 25 touchdowns and four picks. As a sophomore last year, Rudolph, who is 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, posted a 62.3 percent completion percentage, throwing for 3,770 yards, 21 scores and nine interceptions.
Mayfield, Oklahoma’s senior signal caller, is an intriguing fantasy passer because of his athletic ability, specifically his knack for keeping plays alive by scrambling. While he’s among college football’s most entertaining players, his reckless, gun-slinging style doesn’t point to a successful pro career, in my view, unless he gets more comfortable — and better at — throwing from the pocket.
With all that said, Mayfield’s accuracy is superb, and his numbers these past two seasons are absolutely outstanding. In 2015, he completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 3,700 yards, 36 scores and seven picks. This year, he’s upped his completion percentage to a sparkling 71.4 percent while passing for 3,381 yards, 35 touchdowns and eight interceptions. That completion percentage and his 71-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio are out of this world.
In the backfield, the Sooners have a pair of NFL prospects in junior Samaje Perine and redshirt sophomore Joe Mixon. Perine burst onto the scene with a 1,713-yard, 21-touchdown freshman season, but his numbers have gotten worse each year.
Perine has missed three games, and that, coupled with the emergence of Mixon, has hurt his volume. Still, with the decrease in carries, he still hasn’t been able to replicate his stellar 6.5 yards per carry from his freshman season, although 6.0 yards per carry over 631 attempts is still awfully great. In a lot of years, a back with Perine’s pedigree and production would probably be a first-round pick in rookie drafts, but not with this running back class. He’s more than likely going to be a second-round choice, though there’s plenty of time for things to change.
As great as Perine has been for the Sooners, it’s Mixon, his backfield partner, who really revs my engine. While he’s had a troubled tenure in Norman off the field, including some very serious mistakes, he’s displayed special talent on it. The off-field issues could cause Mixon to fall in the NFL Draft, and he may end up staying in school another year to solidify his draft status. I don’t know how it’ll play out, but I know the talent is there, which is why I have Mixon as my fourth overall player and second-ranked back for 2017.
A smooth runner who is 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, Mixon has gained an unbelievable 6.8 yards per attempt on 271 rushes in his two-year career. He can beat you with speed, agility and power. Mixon also been a pass-game monster (see: second play in above video), making 58 catches for 786 yards and eight touchdowns since debuting in 2015.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 15 Florida (CBS, 4:00)
If it feels like Alabama is in this series every other week, well, they practically are — and for good reason. You don’t need me to tell you this, but Nick Saban’s unyielding machine of destruction is loaded with NFL talent.
Alabama has three NFL prospects in the backfield, led by sophomores Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. For all the (much deserved) love the 2017 crop of running backs has received, the 2018 class of runners may be better, and players like Harris and Scarbrough are a reason why.
Harris is gaining 7.3 yards per run, totaling 900 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t been the lead back lately, though, as Scarbrough has been getting the most work. For the year, Scarbrough has totaled 79 carries for 448 yards (5.7 YPC) and five touchdowns. Against Auburn a week ago, he led the team with 17 carries for 90 yards (5.3 YPC). Freshman Joshua Jacobs has run it 78 times for 513 yards (6.6 YPC) and three scores.
Calvin Ridley, O.J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart are Alabama’s top playmakers in the passing game. Stewart, a junior, leads the Crimson Tide in yards (810) and touchdowns (eight) while making 49 receptions. In his sophomore year, Ridley has put up a 62-684-7 line, which is a slight step back from the 89-1,1045-7 line he posted in 2015. The big plays haven’t been there for Ridley as he’s averaging just 11.0 yards per grab, compared to 16.5 for Stewart.
The 2017 tight end class is pretty dang good, and Howard is among the best of the bunch. A senior who opted to stay in school after last year’s big-time showing in the title game, Howard has hauled in 35 passes for 404 yards and two scores. He made 38 catches for 602 yards and two touchdowns last season.
For the Gators, this will be the culmination of one of the toughest three-game stretches imaginable as they’ve had to play at LSU, at Florida State and now they get the Tide. With a limited passing attack — Florida has just 2,322 passing yards and 14 passing touchdowns this year — none of the Gators’ wideouts have jaw-dropping numbers, but they do have some enticing weapons. Sophomore Antonio Callaway leads Florida in receptions (43), yards (603) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (two). Freshman Tyrie Cleveland has just 13 catches, but he’s made some big plays, racking up 21.7 yards per grab — although a lot of that stems from a 98-yard play.
In the backfield, sophomore Jordan Scarlett has become the Gators’ top back. Scarlett has carried the ball 154 times for 778 yards (5.1 YPC) and six touchdowns. Freshman Lamical Perine owns a pair of 100-yard games, but he’s taken a backseat to Scarlett of late. On the year, Perine has 81 attempts for 394 yards (4.9 YPC) and one score.
Other notable teams in midday action, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Louisiana Lafayette (RB Elijah McGuire) at Louisiana Monroe, ESPN3, 3:00
• Baylor (QB Seth Russell, WR K.D. Cannon, RB Shock Linwood, RB Terence Williams, WR Ishmael Zamora) at No. 18 West Virginia (RB Justin Crawford, WR Shelton Gibson), FS1, 3:30
San Diego State at Wyoming (ESPN, 7:45)
While the other two evening games feature a lot more NFL talent, we have already covered Clemson, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and Penn State multiple times this season, so let’s give some love to small-school dynamo Donnel Pumphrey.
Honestly, I need to give more love to the non-Power 5 prospects in this piece, but the TV schedule makes it hard. So many of the smaller schools, especially in the MAC, play midweek games, and this is a piece geared toward Saturdays. When the smaller schools play on Saturday, rarely are they on a TV station most people get, which makes it difficult to highlight their game as one to watch if you can’t actually watch it.
Well, this week is a little different, and the smaller schools get their chance to shine on national TV. Western Michigan stud Corey Davis was on ESPN last night, and Pumphrey, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior, is on ESPN tonight. It’s the perfect chance to take a look at a back who has absolutely destroyed his competition the past three years.
Pumphrey was a three-star recruit, and Rivals didn’t even bother assigning him a national ranking. He came into San Diego State and immediately turned heads with a solid freshman season, carrying the ball 125 times for 752 yards (6.0 YPC) and eight touchdowns. That was a good start, but his sophomore season catapulted him onto the map for NFL scouts as he racked up 20 touchdowns and 1,867 yards on 276 carries (6.8 YPC).
His efficiency dropped a tad in his junior season, but Pumphrey still ran the ball 309 times for 1,653 yards (5.4 YPC) and 17 scores. This year, he’s putting up a 305-1,908-15 line, gaining 6.3 yards per run. I mean, if college production is a huge factor for you when you evaluate running backs, it’s hard to top what Pumphrey has done. In fact, only four backs in the history of college football have run for more yards than Pumphrey’s career total of 6,180 rushing yards.
In addition to the ground work, Pumphrey gets it done as a pass-game weapon, too. He’s amassed at least 23 catches and 200 receiving yards in three of his four seasons. For 2016, Pumphrey is second in rushing yards (behind D’Onta Foreman) and tied with Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols for total yards from scrimmage (2,113). So, yeah, the kid can play.
This is the time when I tell you about the negatives. Actually, that doesn’t need to be plural, because with Pumphrey, there is really only one negative — his size. Pumphrey is listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds. It’ll be interesting to see what he measures at the combine, because he doesn’t look 5-foot-9 or 180 pounds.
Regardless, his size isn’t a death sentence. Two players who I think are very similar — both in playing style, size and fighting an uphill battle to make the NFL — are Danny Woodhead and Dion Lewis. Woodhead is listed at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds while Lewis is 5-foot-8, 195 pounds. Both have become solid NFL players who excel in the passing game. Lewis (4.7 YPC) and Woodhead (4.3 YPC) have also been effective runners, too, although neither has ever been a true workhorse back.
If Pumphrey produced like this and stood at, say, 6-foot tall and weighed 210 pounds, he could be a first-round draft pick. But it is what it is. He doesn’t have ideal size, but like Woodhead and Lewis have shown, if put in the right situation (dreaming of him with the Colts), Pumphrey can be a very productive NFL player — in both fantasy and real-life football.
Other notable teams in evening action, along with some players to focus on, include:
• No. 3 Clemson (WR Mike Williams, TE Jordan Leggett, QB Deshaun Watson, WR Deon Cain, WR Artavis Scott, RB Wayne Gallman) vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech (WR Isaiah Ford), ABC, 8:00
• No. 6 Wisconsin (RB Corey Clement) vs No. 7 Penn State (RB Saquon Barkley, WR DeAndre Thompkins, WR Chris Godwin), FOX, 8:00