Spring ball has wrapped up and soon enough summer practices will begin at campuses across America. College football often offers us plenty of surprises, whether it be 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 the 79-70 portion of the rankings.
Players to Watch: Jamarius Henderson, Running Back
Tre’Quan Smith, Wide Receiver, Redshirt Junior
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Smith has been the focal point of UCF’s offense for the past two seasons. During his redshirt freshman campaign he compiled a dominator rating of .32, and last year he increased that number to .34. If Smith can become even more dominant this year (or in his final season), or continue increasing his yards per reception, he could wind up looking like an extremely undervalued prospect.
Kevin Cole broke down how wide receiver production translates to NFL success, and if he hits either of these benchmarks in his final season he’ll be part of a cohort of wide receivers that has a 61% (Market Share of Yards over 42%) or 57% (yards per reception over 16) success rate in the NFL (which Cole defined as having at least one top 24 PPR season in a player’s first three seasons).
In year two of Scott Frost’s offense, Smith could wind up being even more productive than he was the past two seasons. In particular, I’d like to see him tap into some of his explosive downfield ability, which the Solid Verbal highlighted in this tweet:
WR Yards/Rec vs Ranked
(min 3 games, 10 rec)
1. DeAngelo Yancey
2. Tre’Quan Smith
3. Taj Williams
4. James Washington
5. Dede Westbrook
— The Solid Verbal (@SolidVerbal) December 6, 2016
At 6’1”, 200 pounds, Smith is small enough to have speed to stretch the defense vertically, but also plays much bigger than his size indicates so he thrives in jump ball situations. He made quite a few acrobatic catches over the course of his career that have shown off not only his leaping ability, but his concentration and strong hands. Smith is a very underrated player and I look forward to seeing him progress further this season.
D’Angelo Brewer, Running Back, Senior
Brewer is an explosive back who ran for over 1,400 yards last year while splitting carries with James Flanders last season. He had 264 carries, yet his team loses 77% (350) of their non-Brewer carries from last year. He should easily exceed 300 carries this year, and he has a chance to lead the entire country in carries. Brewer should also see his touchdown numbers increase, as he only scored seven last year since Flanders served as the goal line back and punched it in 18 times last season.
As I mentioned above, he’s an explosive back with solid top end speed, good agility and flexibility, and excellent vision. At 5’9”, 185 pounds, his size is a bit of a concern for me, especially since he’s not super fast (projected 4.52 forty for a low speed score of 88) and has almost no production in the passing game. However, he’s shown that he can handle heavy workloads – he had back-to-back 46 and 38 carry games last year and was 11th in the country in total carries. He’s a solid all around back, and I like him enough to have him as my running back number 18 for next year’s class.
76. Boston College
Players To Watch: Jon Hillman and AJ Dillion, Running Backs
Torrance Gibson, Quarterback
Gibson transferred to Cincinnati this off-season after spending his first two seasons at Ohio State. He was recruited as a quarterback, but eventually switched to receiver. He was expected to play a big role for the Buckeyes last year before the school (not the team) suspended him for the year. Coach Urban Meyer expressed his disappointment about the situation, but ultimately Gibson was forced to sit out for the year. After feeling disrespected by the entire situation, he followed Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell across the state. However, Gibson may have to sit out again this year due to academic issues associated with his transfer.
Even if we have to wait another year to finally see him get on the field, it’s worth the wait. He possesses tremendous athleticism, which will allow him to succeed in a spread option scheme. After not playing the position last year and primarily being a running threat in high school, Gibson will need to refine the nuances of his game. He has a strong arm, has good touch on most of his throws, and shows solid accuracy on deep balls. He’s also excellent at throwing on the run, as his arm strength and accuracy, plus his tendency to keep his eyes down the field while rolling out allow him to extend plays that lead to huge gains.
The defense also has to respect his blazing speed, as he ran a 4.55 forty yard dash in high school. At 6’4”, 205 pounds, he may even be faster now since he’s gone through college weight and speed training, without adding any weight. It’s a bit of a concern for me, but he still has time to fill out his frame. I think Gibson’s athletic ability and natural talent at the quarterback position make him a great name to remember, and he’s someone who could potentially bring Cincinnati back to national relevance
74. Western Michigan
Players to Watch: Jarvion Franklin, Jamari Bougan and Matthew Falcon, Running Backs
73. Utah State
Players to Watch: Lajuan Hunt, Running Back
Ty Johnson, Running Back, Junior
Johnson is arguably the most explosive running back in the country, as his 9.1 yards per carry were tops in the nation last year. Even though he only received 110 carries, he still managed to produce over 1,000 yards on the ground. However, he’s a very boom or bust type player, as he had six games with over eight yards per carry, but also had four games with under three yards per carry. He feasted on bad teams, as he had 55 carries, 673 yards, and five touchdowns against Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Rutgers, and Boston College.
It’s clear from some of his long runs that Johnson possesses elite top end speed, and he also has the ability to cut on a dime and make defenders miss. Although his line didn’t help him much, Johnson’s vision concerns, as does his lack of physicality. Some people, particularly Russell Clay, think very highly of Johnson:
In english — Maryland RB Ty Johnson did something very rare in 2016, and is a potentially top 3-to-5 2018 RB.
— Russell Clay (@RussellJClay) February 26, 2017
I wouldn’t put Johnson nearly that high, as he would fit somewhere in the range of early 20s in the 2018 running back class for me, in the same tier as Justin Jackson and Kerryon Johnson. I want to see Johnson get more touches this season, and he needs to perform better against good teams for him to move up for me. If he can continue to post such high efficiency numbers, he’ll be a very controversial prospect in next year’s draft.
Anthony McFarland, Running Back, Freshman
McFarland is a four star incoming freshman who had 29 offers, including from nearly every top school in the country. He spurned these national powers to stay in his home state of Maryland in hopes of leading the program into the national spotlight.
As a top 100 player and the number nine running back in this year’s class, McFarland is immensely talented. His top end speed is amazing, and while his 4.53 forty yard dash time may not portray it when he gets going no one is going to catch him from behind. At 5’9”, 203 pounds, he’s purely muscle and can likely add a little more weight. He runs with a physicality that I love to see from smaller backs, consistently breaking tackles and even trucking a defender here and there. McFarland has also shown solid vision, which will certainly help him behind Maryland’s subpar offensive line. If he seems even a glimmer of a crease, he’ll immediately shoot through the hole and turn on the jets.
One thing that disappointed me when watching McFarland was his lateral ability. It’s not bad, and in fact he posted one of the best 20 yard short shuttle times at the Opening. But he’s a very stiff player, and while this may not have mattered much in high school it could come back to bite him in college. I’m not sure how much playing time he’ll get this year, since the Terrapins have both Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison returning, but if he lives up to the big expectations that the program has for him then it’ll be almost impossible to keep him off the field.
Players to Watch – Since the service academies will not allow players to delay their service to pursue an NFL career, I wouldn’t consider any Navy players on the NFL radar.
Player to Watch: Sonny Abrahamsen, Quarterback
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