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 teams ranked 59th and 58th in the rankings.
Cody Thompson, Wide Receiver, Senior
Thompson was one of the top receivers in the nation last season, piling up over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns on 19.8 yards per reception. He’s a very skilled player who’s a solid route runner with strong hands. He’s also a tough player who is difficult to bring down in the open field. However, Thompson looks a little limited athletically, as his leaping ability and speed look to be just average or even slightly below average.
At 6’2”, 200 pounds, he has perfectly adequate size for the position that will let him play any receiver position in the NFL. He’s had two seasons with solid playing time, and so far his production shows he’s one of the better deep threats in recent memory. Here is the list of players to have a career with at least 2,000 yards, 15 touchdowns, and over 20 yards per reception:
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Charles Rogers was the second overall pick, Devin Smith a second rounder, and Robinette likely would’ve been selected this year if not for his obligations to the Air Force. Brennan Marion set the single season record for yards per reception (31.9!!!), and is also the all time leader in the same category. He tore his ACL in his last collegiate game and re-tore it in minicamp and never played an NFL down. These comps show that although Thompson is an elite college producer, he may not make it in the NFL. He does, however fall into the second most successful node of college production according to Kevin Cole’s decision tree:
A 57% rate of success in the NFL is higher than you would expect from a receiver from Toledo, and if Thompson can keep up this pace he’ll be someone I’ll consider taking late in rookie drafts next season.
Logan Woodside, Quarterback, Senior
Statistically, Woodside is one of the top returning quarterbacks in all of college football. He threw for over 4,100 yards on a 69% completion percentage last season to go along with 45 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.
To put that season in perspective, here’s all the players since 2000 who have thrown for at least 35 touchdowns, completed 68% of their passes, had greater than a five to one touchdown to interceptions ratio, an adjusted yards per attempt of ten or more, and fewer than ten interceptions:
Of the six players who already are out of college, three were first round picks who have been fantasy relevant at some point in their careers. However, all three attended Power Five schools, and the discrepancy between the success of the quarterbacks and the level of school they attended is quite obvious. Case Keenum was able to be a spot starter for the Rams for the past two seasons but wasn’t very good. Brandon Doughty and Kellen Moore have had no impact at all in the NFL.
As great as Woodside was for the Rockets last year, if his upside is Keenum I don’t think he has much of an NFL future. This was evident on his tape as well, as he doesn’t have a big arm and is very inconsistent with his accuracy. He was excellent against pressure last year, and I like his pocket presence. With the departure of star running back Kareem Hunt, Woodside could put up even bigger numbers this year, so for College Fantasy purposes he’s one of the top options in the nation. Overall he’s a fun player who offers little-to-no NFL potential.
Jon’Vea Johnson, Wide Receiver, Junior
Thompson may but up bigger numbers and be the more heralded prospect, but Johnson is an exceptional deep threat and a player that deserves some attention. He averaged over 19 yards per reception last year, and also scored ten touchdowns on just 40 receptions. His combination of efficiency and vertical ability land him in the company of some highly-touted prospects:
Stallworth had a stellar NFL career, Henry had a few productive seasons before flaming out due to off-field reasons, and Leonte Carroo, Phillip Dorsett, and Smith were all high draft picks who have yet to pan out. Coby Fleener plays tight end, but has had some success in the NFL, and Jester Weah has been generating a considerable amount of buzz on Twitter.
At the very least Johnson should be getting close to the same amount of buzz as Weah. He is smaller than Weah at 6’1”, 185 pounds, and also wasn’t as productive as him last season. However, Johnson can flat out fly. His high school 100 meter dash time puts him in the 76th percentile of all high school football players who ran the event, and his 200m time places him in the 86th percentile. Again, these times are just slightly slower than Weah, but he looks to be the premier deep threat in next year’s class. Johnson has two more years of eligibility, and if he continues his production and efficiency, he too can eventually be one of the top deep threats in his draft class.
58. Arizona State
Kalen Ballage, Running Back, Senior
While Ballage may not get the most touches in his team’s backfield, he certainly makes the most of them. He’s been known in devy circles for quite some time, but he burst into the national spotlight against Texas Tech when he turned 15 touches into 185 yards and eight touchdowns. Besides his obvious athletic prowess, Ballage’s best trait is his receiving ability. He can line up out wide, or come out of the backfield. Either way his soft hands and route running ability make him the best receiving back in next year’s class. Unlike most receiving backs, Ballage is massive at 6’3”, 230 pounds. Just like you’d expect from a back his size he’s got awesome power. His combination of size, speed, and power is comparable to Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. His movement skills for a player his size are amazing, as his flexibility and lateral movement makes him a very unique player. For example his production compares to some quite successful NFL backs, yet none are even remotely close to his size:
Kalen Ballage is one of 10 RBs from P-5 schools (since 00) to have a season with 12+ RUSH TDs and 400+ REC YDs on 10.0+ YPR. pic.twitter.com/fua9bT90Ap
— Russell Clay (@RussellJClay) June 15, 2017
His lack of carries, and low yards per carry, and at this point that will ultimately prevent me from saying he’s better than a back like Leonard Fournette. He’s the RB3 for me in this year’s class, and would slot in at four or five in last year’s class.
N’Keal Harry, Wide Receiver, Sophomore
Harry was the one of the best freshman receivers in the nation last season, and he’ll look to build on his success with Alabama transfer and former five star quarterback Blake Barnett now under center. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, he already has the body of a prototypical NFL wide receiver one. He’s very strong, and his strength lends to his physical style of play. If you want to see a display of his strength, here’s a video of Harry breaking a backboard in high school!
His basketball ability also appears in his style of play, as he’s a tremendous jump ball receiver. Pairing his top notch hands with his high flying leaping ability makes for a truly dangerous receiver in the red zone and when the ball is in the air. He runs solid routes, but I’d like to see more consistency and diversity in the routes that he runs.
Production wise, he “only” put up a stat line of 58/659/5. However, he did put up a dominator rating (average of market share of yards and market share of touchdowns) of .26 With Arizona State likely passing more this season with Barnett at quarterback and leading receiver Tim White graduating, Harry could put up massive numbers. It’s not hard to envision him being one of the top receivers in the country by the end of the season, and that’s why he’s currently the number one his receiver in his class for me.
John Humphrey, Wide Receiver, Redshirt Freshman
Humphrey, an Oklahoma transfer, will benefit greatly from playing alongside another receiver as talented as Harry. He’s unlikely to ever receive any double coverage since Harry will be playing opposite him, allowing him to use his blazing speed to take the top off of defenses. And boy does Humphrey have speed. According to Humphrey, “My fastest 40-yard dash time was a 4.25, ran it three times.” While he ran a 4.50 at the Opening when he was a recruit, I can easily see him possessing low 4.4’s or high 4.3’s based on his tape and the natural development of a college player.
Humphrey is also electric in the open field, breaking defender’s ankles with ease and then leaving them in the dust with his trademark speed. In high school he really only ran vertical routes, screens, and the occasional slant, so I want to see how much his route running has improved since then. I expect Humphrey to break out this year, and he could end up being one of the best deep threats in the 2019 class.
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