Spring ball has wrapped up, and soon enough summer practices will begin at campuses across America. College football offers us plenty of surprises, whether it is an unexpected upset, a team that comes out of nowhere to have rousing success, or a player who suddenly breaks out and turns into one of the best in the nation.
Using the preliminary S&P+ rankings from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly as a guide, I’ll be going through each FBS team and highlighting some players to watch for during the upcoming season. Some are draft eligible, while others are names for devy owners to remember.
In this edition, I’ll look at players from a few teams that fell outside the top 100, but are still worth keeping an eye on even if their teams aren’t very good.
Matt Linehan, Idaho, Senior
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Linehan has been a starter during all three seasons during his time at Idaho, and has been instrumental in turning the program around. I initially discovered Linehan since I owned a few Idaho receivers in a college fantasy league, and I liked his size (6’3”, 220 pounds) and production.
While researching him, I discovered that just last week Mark Schofield published a piece on him on Inside the Pylon and in it he points out how the Vandals run a pro style offense with a ton of concepts the Patriots run. Linehan’s father, Scott, is a former NFL head coach and the current offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. Schofield compared him to 49ers rookie CJ Beathard, since both may be picked higher than expected due to their pro-style experience.
Linehan has displayed good accuracy on short and medium throws, has great mechanics, can scramble if needed, and has a solid arm. His deep ball accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, and he needs to do a better job against pressure. While his footwork is okay, he is caught flat-footed sometimes and often bounces in the pocket. I would expect him to be picked at some point in next year’s draft, and depending who declares he could go as high as the third round.
Armani Rogers, UNLV, Redshirt Freshman
Rogers was a four star recruit who redshirted last season, but is expected to start this season for the Runnin Rebels. He’s got great size (6’5”, 225 pounds) and decent speed (4.72 40 yard dash). From his high school tape, he showed good ball placement and great scrambling ability. He has an above average arm, but nothing that I would consider special.
Right now, he reminds me of former Ole Miss and current Bronco quarterback Chad Kelly. He’s a capable runner who is more than adequate as a passer, and a player who will help his team win games. If he can continue to develop, Rogers has a shot to make the NFL, but at the very least he should improve the UNLV program a great deal.
Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii, Redshirt Senior
Saint Juste caught my eye during the Hawai’i Bowl against Middle Tennessee State (because yes, I’d rather be watching college football than celebrating the holiday). He’s a smaller back at 5’8”, 195 pounds, but displayed great patience and decent lateral movement and speed in that game. He averaged over six yards per carry and broke 1,000 yards last year, so he could be in for an even bigger season this year. I’m not sure if he’ll ever make it in the NFL because of his size, age, and school, but at the very least he’s a name to remember during the college football season.
James Butler, Nevada, Senior
Butler is a bigger back for his size (5’9”, 210 pounds) who has rushed for over 1,300 yards in each of the past two seasons. He was also able to reel in 37 receptions last season, proving that he’s more than capable as a receiver out of the backfield.
While he’s been very productive, I wasn’t particularly impressed after watching his tape. He’s a slower back who has below average vision, often running into his line or trying to bounce outside. He also went down on first contact a lot and wasn’t a very strong runner up the middle. However, when he got in the open field he was able to make defenders miss with his lateral ability.
His Adjusted Dominator Rating (percentage of scrimmage yards not including QB rushing in games decided by 28 points or less) of .36 is comparable to Elijah McGuire and D’Onta Foreman, who were both drafted this year. While I don’t like Butler’s film, if he continues putting up good numbers and tests decently, he has a shot to crack a roster next year.
Larry Rose, New Mexico State, Senior
While he missed the first three games of last season and saw his numbers dip as a result, Rose had a tremendous season his sophomore year. In fact, only six other backs have put up a comparable season to his 2015 year since 2000:
Reggie Bush and Larry Johnson both had excellent NFL careers, but it’s unlikely Rose will ever see their level of success. Griffin was a fourth round pick who flamed out after tearing his ACL midway through his rookie season, and both the Western Kentucky backs went undrafted. Andrews had a brief stint of fantasy relevance and finished a season with over 500 rushing yards, but he’s been unable to stick on a roster. Wales is currently at Redskins minicamp, and I believe he has a decent shot at making the roster as the team’s fourth running back.
Based on this list, Rose has a long shot of ever being fantasy relevant. He runs a little high and lacks great top end speed, as he had a tendency to get caught from behind. However, he displayed nice lateral ability, good vision, and excellent balance. He should put up huge numbers again this year and at the very least will get a tryout next year.
Robert Washington, Charlotte, Sophomore
Coming out of high school, I absolutely loved Washington. He initially committed to Florida before flipping to Syracuse minutes after he announced his decision. However, he eventually decomitted from the Orange, and after a rough senior year in which he was homeless for a portion of time, moved from North Carolina to Connecticut and back to North Carolina, and was ruled ineligible for the first half of the football season, he eventually ended up at Charlotte.
He was at one time a four star recruit and the number 11 back in the nation, but ended up being a three star and the 63rd ranked back in his class. Through all these tough times, one thing never changed: Washington’s talent. Even though Charlotte had an experienced starter in Kalif Phillips (currently with the Packers), Washington managed to almost crack 100 carries as a true freshman. He also had five rushing touchdowns, averaged five yards per reception, and caught 13 passes.
He’s a bigger back who has been listed between 210 and 220 pounds, but even with this size he has maintained excellent lateral ability. He’ll be the starter, and likely the focal point, of Charlotte’s offense this season, and should be primed for a big breakout year. Here’s some of his high school highlights:
Daylon Charlot, Kansas, Redshirt Sophomore
LaQuivionte Gonzales, Kansas, Redshirt Senior
Kansas has two former high recruits as their top receivers. Charlot was a four star who transferred from Alabama after his freshman season, while Gonzales was a four star who transferred from Texas A&M after his sophomore season. Gonzales was the Jayhawks second leading receiver last season, while Charlot sat out the season since he was transferring.
Gonzales is on the smaller side at 5’10”, 176 pounds and Charlot is a little bigger at 6’, 195 pounds. Charlot was also the more heralded recruit coming out of school, as he was a top 100 player. He’s had rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring, and supposedly benches over 400 pounds. He’s clearly the most talented player for Kansas on the offensive side of the ball and I would expect coordinator Doug Meacham to feature him like he did with Josh Doctson at TCU a few seasons ago. With these two lined up out wide, the Kansas offense may be better than expected.
Devonte Boyd, UNLV, Senior
Boyd has been extremely productive for the Runnin Rebels since he stepped on campus, producing over 900 yards in each of his first two seasons. I was impressed by his freshman season, but was disappointed to find out that he actually grayshirted and played most of his freshman year at 20 years old.
At 6’1”, 180 pounds, he doesn’t have the dominating physical profile that you’d like to see from a player from a smaller school. He did post a .33 dominator rating his sophomore season, and a .32 dominator rating last year while missing three games (meaning it would have been much higher without his injury).
He looks very smooth on the field, as he runs crisp routes and is sudden at the top of his breaks. He also has very strong hands and good speed. However, he doesn’t offer much in terms of after the catch ability or as a go up and get it jump ball receiver. Boyd has an outside chance to crack an NFL roster, and his profile may end up being similar to former Temple and current Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson.
Adam Breneman, UMass, Redshirt Senior
Brenneman was a five star who was the number one tight end in his recruiting class. After showing promise during his true freshman season at Penn State, he suffered multiple knee injuries which briefly forced him to retire. After working on a political campaign in Pennsylvania, he transferred to UMass where he was one of the top tight ends in the country last season.
At 6’4”, 250 pounds he has adequate size for the position. He also has amazing hands, is a solid route runner, and has a knack for finding soft spots in a zone. If he keeps up his production I’d expect him to have an NFL future. However, with his history of knee injuries the NFL may view him as a big risk, which could cause him to go undrafted. If he stays healthy (a big if), I’d expect him to stick around in the league for a long time.
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