When football season arrives, I – like many dynasty owners – will be almost as invested on Saturdays as I will be on Sundays. I watch a lot of college football, but instead of watching the game of the week from all over the country, I prefer to watch the Big Ten almost exclusively. Partially because I’m a devy owner, partially because I’m a Wisconsin fan, and also because I love smash mouth football and the Big Ten is the best place to find it.
With opening weekend just over a month away, let’s take a look at some of the names to watch coming out of the best (or at least what I think is the best) conference in college football.
Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
Anybody playing in a devy league already knows about Barkley, but that won’t stop me from gushing over him for a couple paragraphs.
Great in all facets of the game, Barkley is powerful between the tackles, has the speed to get the edge as a perimeter runner and is incredible quick at the line of scrimmage with a burst as good as any tailback that has come out of college in the last ten years. Also possessing the rare combination of being able to break arm tackles in the hole or break ankles in the open field as well as great hands out of the backfield and dependability as a pass protector, it’s easy to see why Barkley is regularly compared to Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell – also both out of the Big Ten.
If we were holding a 2018 rookie draft today, it’d be impossible to talk me out of taking Barkley first overall. In fact, if we were holding a 2017 rookie draft with devy players involved, I likely would only take Corey Davis over the Penn State runner.
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Parris Campbell, WR Ohio State
A little like former Buckeye Curtis Samuel, Campbell is explosive both as a receiver and a runner and may fill the roll Samuel vacated last year. The difference between the two lies in Campbell’s size. While Samuel measured at 5’-11” and 196 pounds, Campbell has a bigger frame at 6’-1” and 208 pounds. Bigger than Samuel, just as quick and elusive and a matchup nightmare no matter where he lines up, Campbell should be in line for a lot of touches in 2017 which could make him a riser on draft boards over the next ten months.
Troy Fumagalii, TE Wisconsin
While Penn State’s Mike Gesicki is a great target in the passing game but lacks ability as a blocker, in true Wisconsin tight end form, Fumagalli is much more well-rounded.
Although Fumagalli isn’t a blazer by any measure, he has just enough speed and is a very strong route runner who makes sharp breaks and understands how to get separation from linebackers as well as find opening in a zone defense. Tall and lengthy at 6’-6” and 247 pounds, he uses his size well to position himself in front of defenders and always catches the ball away from his body.
A throwback tight end with as much talent as a pass catcher as he has as a lead blocker much like Wesley Walls or Jay Novacek, Fumagalli will has the upside to make an impact for an NFL team as well as dynasty owners.
Mike Gesicki, TE Penn State
Gesicki has ideal NFL size for a tight end (6’-6”, 252 pounds) and has shown the potential to be a matchup nightmare in the middle of the field over his first three years at Penn State. With quick feet for a guy his size, he can press the seam and is far too quick for linebackers and way too big for a safety to handle. At the point of the catch, his long arms, above average leaping ability and knack for catching passes at its highest point make him a big time presence all over the field but particularly in the red zone.
Despite his talent as a pass catcher however, Gesicki has a long ways to go as a blocker. Unable to handle defensive ends or linebackers on his own, he’ll have to improve as both a pass blocker and run blocker to stay on the field at the next level.
Miles Sanders, RB Penn State
Those that think Barkley is the only show in the Penn State backfield should look again. Sanders played all 13 games for the Nittany Lions last year and contributed mostly as a return man as a true freshman. Despite his limited reps in the backfield (25 carries, 184 yards (7.4 YPC), 1 TD) he made an impression, showing great vision, exquisite cut back skills and incredible shake in the open field.
Although Barkley will without a doubt be showcased on Saturdays in Happy Valley, Sanders should get a handful of touches each week and I can’t wait to see what he does with them. With Barkley likely to bolt for the NFL after this year, 2018 should be the Miles Sanders show. Although the next heir apparent will also be a name to watch as Ricky Slade will join the mix in 2018.
L.J. Scott, RB Michigan State
Scott hasn’t been the focal point of the Spartans’ offense over the last couple years despite running for 1,693 yards and 17 touchdowns, but that will likely change in 2017. With Michigan State’s offense full of youth and inexperience, Scott is the holdover whom the offense will be built around this year.
Scott possesses the rare combination of patience behind the line of scrimmage and aggressive burst at the point of attack. He’s shown throughout his time in East Lansing he’s he’s willing to allow blocks to develop in front of him before exploding through a crease and breaking tackles at the second level.
Michigan State could be much improved in 2017 but it will likely take Scott becoming a bigger part of the offense including carving a role as a pass catcher and becoming a true every-down tailback. If he can do that, he has the potential to be a big time riser on dynasty draft boards.
Clayton Thorson, QB Northwestern
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot to be excited about at the quarterback position in the Big Ten in 2017. Thorson is the lone, somewhat unexpected, exception.
Showing massive growth in each of the last two seasons, Thorson has gone from an inaccurate passer with a bad habit of scrambling early and often to a very accurate passer with good pocket awareness and the savvy to know when the right time to use his feet is. Although he still lacks great arm strength at this point in his development, he’s improved dramatically in that facet as well and if he can continue that progression, he could develop into a starting caliber NFL passer down the road.
Akrum Wadley, RB Iowa
Wadley is underappreciated among devy rankers around the web. Sure he’s small (5’-11”, 191 pounds) but he’s fast, shifty and very difficult to bring down – particularly in the open field. Impressive as a perimeter runner and especially as a pass catcher out of the backfield, his skill set as a specialist is coveted by NFL play callers. At Iowa, he’s leaned on to carry the load most weeks which won’t be the case on Sundays and not asked to pass protect often which will be the case if he wants to play at the next level so it’s something he’ll need to work on as a senior.
Mike Weber, RB Ohio State
Weber is a very good Big Ten tailback. He’s at his best when he’s attacking the line of scrimmage between the tackles and using him above average vision to find creases, break arm tackles and shrug off linebackers and defensive backs. With good balance and the ability to read his blocks and time his cuts, he averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored nine times in 2016.
Although I wouldn’t be surprised if Weber did the same thing again in 2017, I’m not overly enthusiastic about his professional upside.
Weber doesn’t have great acceleration in the hole and runs very upright which will lead to big hits at times and keeps him from breaking tackles. He reminds me former Wisconsin tailback Corey Clement – who went undrafted this year.
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