Summer practices are starting up again at campuses across the country and everyone’s favorite time of year is right around the corner: football season. 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 54th through 50th in the rankings
54. Oregon State
Jordan Villamin, Wide Receiver, Senior
Heading into last season, Villamin was one of the wide receivers I was most excited about in the 2017 class having displayed tremendous athleticism, possessing NFL size, and above-average production. Then, last season happened.
Villamin disappeared and was looked like a shell of his former self for much of 2016. He had no consistency in his game, and had more than a few lapses in concentration. Villamin stated that he played with complacency and became very frustrated with losing, and these are things that he simply can’t let happen.
During his sophomore and freshman campaigns, he showed superb body control and leaping ability which allowed him to dominate in jump ball and red zone situations. And as I mentioned above, Villamin is a very large player at 6’5”, 241 pounds. His combination of size, speed, and toughness make him extremely difficult to bring down in the open field.
To have any shot of making it at the next level, Villamin needs to return to and improve upon his level of play from his sophomore season. He’ll also need to test well and dominate what should be a putrid Oregon State offense. If he can’t be the lead receiver for what should be one of the worst teams in the Pac 12, how could he possibly do the same thing for an NFL team? Villamin was reportedly impressive during the Beavers spring practices, but for now he’s dropped outside my top 25 wide receivers in next year’s class.
Damarea Crockett, Running Back, Sophomore
Crockett is one of “my guys” and one of my favorite players in all of college football. He was a three star prospect last year and the number 30 running back in the country, however I had him ranked as the second best back in the class entering his freshman season. Heading into this year, I have Crockett ranked as the top back in his class and the third best back regardless of class, behind only Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice.
One of his best assets is that he’s a superb athlete. In high school he ran a 4.43 forty yard dash and had a 40.3 inch vertical jump, which allowed him to post a SPARQ score of 124. From his high school film, I saw a complete back who could step in and make a big impact right away wherever he ended up a la a back like Barkley. Like most, I expected this impact to be made at Boise State, where he was committed for a long period of time. However, late in the process Crockett flipped to Missouri, and while I was happy that he’d be get to show his talents on a bigger stage, I wasn’t sure if he would become a full time starter right away or if he would be able to play up to the high level of competition in the SEC.
These concerns proved fruitless, as he ran for over 1,000 yards, averaged 6.9 yards per carry, and scored ten touchdowns. He torched Florida and Tennessee for a combined 370 yards on 38 carries (9.7 yards per carry with a long of 38 yards), and scored four touchdowns against Middle Tennessee. Crockett is more than just a player who puts up good stats on a bad team. He displays excellent balance, acceleration, lateral movement, vision, and toughness. Subtle cuts, broken tackles, and broken ankles are all common place in his game. One thing that Crockett appears to lack is above average long speed. He got caught from behind a few times last season, and I’d like to see him get a bit faster this season. While he sometimes lined up out wide and looked like a natural receiver in high school, Crockett was seldom used in the Tigers’ passing attack last season.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Crockett’s late season arrest for possession of marijuana. He was suspended for the team’s’ last game of the season but as of now I’m not aware of any other penalties. While to most people this isn’t a huge deal, he could enter the NFL as a member of the of their “intervention program” meaning he’ll already have a strike against him and be drug tested twice a year. Again, this isn’t a major concern for me but he could end up being suspended much easier than most players.
Overall, Crockett is a phenomenal back. I expect him to truly break out this season and become a household name. If he can improve his long speed and get more receiving work, he’ll likely be the top returning back in the country next year and could even be a Heisman contender.
Jonathon Johnson, Wide Receiver, Sophomore
Johnson is a complete unknown with no hype or buzz surrounding him, yet he had a very unique freshman season. Here’s a list of players to have over 400 receiving yards, average 16 yards per reception, rush for over 100 yards, and average over 11 yards per punt return:
Westbrook was just drafted in the fourth round, Patterson and Berrian signed decent sized second contracts, and Moss and Tate have both been very successful in the NFL. I only discovered Johnson because his highlight tape was next up after Damarea Crockett’s, and he sure did manage to catch my eye. The first thing that sticks out about him is his speed. Once Johnson hits his top speed, no one is going to catch him. And it doesn’t take very long for him to reach this speed as his burst and acceleration jump off the screen. While I couldn’t find any other clips of him from Missouri, the same strength stood out from his high school tape. He didn’t run that many routes but did run a few nice double moves and slants that caught my eye. Overall I think Johnson could be a player that breaks out this season by building on his prolific freshman campaign.
52. San Diego State
Rashaad Penny, RB, Senior
With the all time leading rusher in NCAA history graduating, most teams would take a massive step back at the running back position. But not San Diego State. While he was overshadowed by Donnel Pumphrey, Penny quietly put up over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns last season on just 135 carries. And unlike Pumphrey, Penny has the size desired for an NFL running back at 5’11”, 220 pounds.
Up to this point in his career his biggest asset has been in the return game, where he’s able to utilize his speed and explosiveness to his advantage. Currently there’s two players since 2000 to rush for at least 1,300 yards, score at least 15 rushing touchdowns, have over 1,800 kick return yards, and over five kick return touchdowns: C.J. Spiller and Rashaad Penny. Obviously he’s much bigger than Spiller and doesn’t possess the same athleticism he did, but it shows the type of explosive player that he is. Even though he’s a bigger back, Penny isn’t a guy I would trust to consistently pick up tough yards between the tackles as he’s not a very tough runner and has trouble breaking tackles. He’s got average vision but he doesn’t do much in terms of creating for himself. I believe he is a capable receiver, as he caught 15 balls last year and the Aztecs lined him up out wide on multiple occasions.
Like I mentioned above, Penny’s speed and explosiveness is what will ultimately put him on the NFL’s radar. He likely will never have much of a role as a running back in the league but he could make the roster as a return specialist for a team. He should be one of the top producing running backs in college football this season and will do an adequate job replacing Pumphrey.
51. Western Kentucky
D’Andre Ferby, Running Back, Redshirt Junior
Ferby is expected to carry the workload for the Hilltoppers this season after previous bellcow Anthony Wales graduated. He will have to compete with Leon Allen, who was one of the best backs in the country in 2014 before suffering a serious knee injury that lead him to sit out all of the past two seasons. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility and finally got back on the field in March for the first time in nearly a year and a half.
Ferby is an inch taller and five pounds heavier than Allen at 6’1”, 240 pounds, and it shows up in his game. He’s a bowling ball who plows through opposing defenders with his powerful frame. But just like Allen he suffered a freak season ending injury last year by dislocating his collarbone so badly that he could have punctured his lung. As long as he returns healthy this season Ferby should put up huge numbers. His combination of power and shiftiness make him a nightmare for opposing defenses and I’m excited to see what he can do this year.
Shay Fields, Wide Receiver, Senior
Fields is the top receiver for a Colorado team that made it to the Pac 12 Championship last season and will try to get back there this year. At 5’11”, 185 pounds Fields is a little undersized but with a projected 40 time of 4.47 he makes up for it with his speed. He’s improved in every statistical category since his freshman year, and even managed to post a .34 dominator rating last year, which is above average.
Justis Mosqueda published his wide receiver watchlist for the 2018 NFL Draft in which he highlights the players that fit the prototype of players drafted in the first two rounds. Fields is one of nine seniors to appear on the list, which is very encouraging for a player with little-to-no buzz right now. He displays excellent ball tracking, concentration, and speed. However, his route running, open field ability, and his athleticism sans speed leave some to be desired. With some improvement this year, Fields has a decent shot at getting drafted this year, but without that improvement he may just be a college deep threat.
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