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 69-65 portion of the rankings.
69. West Virginia
Will Grier, Quarterback, Redshirt Junior
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Grier was outstanding as a redshirt freshman for Florida. He played six games for the Gators in 2015, throwing for over 1,200 yards, ten touchdowns and three interceptions to go along with a 65.6% completion rate. However, he was suspended for PED use and later left the program to transfer to West Virginia.
As a recruit, he was a four star and the number three quarterback in his class behind Kyle Allen (who transferred from Texas A&M to Houston, where he will start this year), and Deshaun Watson. At 6’1”, 212 pounds, Grier is big enough to be a prototypical pro size passer, but also has the speed to be a good scrambler outside the pocket. He has a very strong arm, and has displayed excellent ball placement. Grier also has a natural feel for the game, as his pocket presence and decision-making shine through when watching him. This was something his coaches at West Virginia liked a lot, and they believe his natural instincts come from his father, who was a high school coach.
The air raid style spread system he played in in high school is nearly identical to the one that Dana Holgerson and the Mountaineers run. He also played in a po style offense at Florida, and the experience in multiple schemes is something that will help him succeed at the next level. I currently have Grier as my QB8 in next year’s class, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up higher by the end of next season
Justin Crawford, Running Back, Senior
Crawford was an unheralded recruit coming out of high school who ended up at community college for two years. He was a three star prospect with offers from Louisville, Missouri, and South Carolina, but he ultimately chose the Mountaineers.
Crawford is a shifty back with good speed. He’s also a tough runner who consistently breaks tackles in the open field and has a nice stiff arm. Crawford’s usage was oddly sporadic last year, but when given adequate opportunity he shined, as he averaged 143 yards per game in the seven game sin which he received double digit carries. He ran for 331 yards against Oklahoma on just 24 carries, averaging nearly 14 yards per carry. With West Virginia losing 44% of their carries from last year, Crawford should get more work this year and potentially serve as the Mountaineers feature back.
I have a few concerns about him, such as his tendency to bounce runs to the outside, his tendency to run with high pad level, and his lack of touchdown and receiving production. Crawford is currently my RB15 for next year, but depending on how much he improves and who declares he could end up as a top ten player at the position for me.
Nathan Tilford, Running Back, True Freshman
Tilford is an early enrollee who was the Wildcats top recruit for this year, and he’s expected to make an immediate impact for the team. While Nick Wilson, JJ Taylor, and Zach Green are all returning, none of them have been good enough to solidify themselves as a full time starter. Taylor is just 5’6” and recovering from a broken ankle, Wilson hasn’t been healthy since his freshman year, and Green is a senior who doesn’t even have 100 career carries. At 6’2” Tilford is the tallest back out of the four, and is also the second heaviest at 205 pounds. He has the physical build, recruiting profile, and practice reps to come in and instantly get carries in a run heavy offense. But what will he do with these carries?
Tilford is a very physical back who is difficult to bring down in the open field. He doesn’t have great speed, but he has good hips and ankle flexion, leading me to believe that his lateral ability is better than one would expect for a player his size. Because of injuries and Green’s lack of experience, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Tilford end up as Arizona’s top running back at the end of the season.
Ventrell Bryant, Wide Receiver, Redshirt Junior
Adonis Jennings, Wide Receiver, Senior
Temple has two NFL caliber receivers in Bryant and Jennings, but both have work to do before getting there. Bryant is a 6’3”, 189 pound receiver with incredible speed and excellent leaping ability. He’s also a solid route runner, but one thing he needs to work on are his hands. In some cases he has shown incredible concentration, but he also struggled with drops, particularly against Notre Dame two years ago. He could also stand to improve his releases off the line of scrimmage, and most definitely should try to add weight. The combination of these two weaknesses could cause him to get pushed around at the line when going up against press coverage.
Jennings was a highly touted four star recruit who started his career at Pitt before transferring to Temple. He’s built similarly to Bryant, at 6’3”, 205 pounds. While his speed doesn’t look like much of a concern on film, he ran a 4.72 forty in high school, and NFL Draft Scout projects him to run a 4.54. Couple this with a subpar SPARQ score of 78, and Jennings athleticism concerns me. His production is also extremely worrisome, as he was unable to do anything at Pitt and has just 674 career yards. If I had to choose between the two right now I’d take Bryant, but I also want to keep an eye on Jennings and see if he can finally put it all together and live up to his recruiting hype.
66. Texas Tech
Derrick Willies, Wide Receiver, Redshirt Senior
Willies is a former Iowa receiver who ended up going to a junior college for a year before signing with Texas Tech. You may have heard his name before, as he has this ridiculous box jump last off-season:
Willies didn’t play much last year, and redshirted the year before, but he should be a starter for the Red Raiders this year. At 6’3”, 215 pounds and with obvious athleticism to boot, he possesses all the tools to be a number one receiver. While NFL Draft Scout predicts his forty time to be 4.59, I’m positive that he’ll run closer to the low 4.5’s, high 4.4 range.
From his junior college tape he appears to have solid hands, but this is something I’d like to see more at the Power Five level. I have a few concerns about Willies, namely his lack of production, age and route running ability. If he starts this year, I won’t have as much concern about his lack of production, but because of Texas Tech’s scheme his route running ability will not be shown. Vertical routes, tunnel screens, and crossing routes will likely be the primary source of his production, but these will limit the number of routes he runs. Lastly, he’ll be over 24 years olds when he takes his first NFL snap, which is very old for any player. Willies has potential, but I’m not sure if it’s enough to offset these concerns.
Daniel Jones, Quarterback, Redshirt Sophomore
When last year’s expected starter Thomas Sirk went down with an Achillies injury, lightly recruited redshirt freshman Daniel Jones was tasked with filling his shoes. Without watching, one would think that an inexperienced, low level recruit playing quarterback in a Power Five conference would be the main reason for Duke going four and eight last season, but this was not the case. Jones was great last year, and showed the makings of a star over his last five games.
He’s a strong armed quarterback with great touch, good decision-making, excellent pocket presence, and scrambling ability. He also excels on rollouts and in play action situations. Isn’t this exactly what people want in a quarterback? Jones also has prototypical size at 6’5”, 210 pounds. And while Duke’s record may have been subpar, he helped to orchestrate comeback victories against Notre Dame and North Carolina. After watching Jones, I have him as my QB7 in next year’s draft class, just behind Lamar Jackson and ahead of Will Grier. He’s only played one year so I’d obviously like to see more, but if he can improve on his level of play from last year I think he’s a capable starter in the NFL.
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