In this series, we take a look at future NFL players with a focus on offensive skill positions to help those of you in developmental (devy) leagues. For those in regular dynasty formats, we’ll give you some of the key players to watch as you start preparing for 2017 rookie drafts.
We have in-depth rankings for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 classes, which we update throughout the season. We also have a breakdown on what the heck a devy league is, in case it’s foreign to you.
Today, we’ll take our first look at North Carolina, a team with plenty of ability at the skill positions. We’ll also check in on Christian McCaffrey before the nightcap between LSU and Alabama, which is always full of NFL-caliber talent.
Wake Up and Watch
Georgia Tech at No. 21 North Carolina (ACCN, 12:30)
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North Carolina — who is 16-3 in their last 19 ACC games — is having a very good season, and they’ve been pretty close to having a great one. After a season-opening loss to Georgia, the Tar Heels have won six of their last seven, including road wins at both Florida State and Miami. The loss, however, was an ugly one as the Heels were trounced 34-3 at home by Virginia Tech.
Junior signal caller Mitch Trubisky is playing very well in his first season as the starter. Trubisky owns a pristine 71.2 percent completion percentage, tossing 18 touchdown to two picks. He played his best game of the year at Florida State, finishing 31 of 38 for 405 yards and three touchdowns.
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At this point, Trubisky is probably behind DeShone Kizer and Deshaun Watson on most draft board, but his stock is certainly rising. Shoot, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. just ranked him as 2017’s top passer. The evaluation is tough because Trubisky is in the midst of his one and only season as the starter, but if he keeps impressing, he’ll be in the mix to be the first signal caller off the board. I still like Kizer and Watson more, but Trubisky’s ability to stay composed in the pocket has him gaining ground.
North Carolina’s top running back is junior Elijah Hood, who is the RB9 in our consensus rankings. The fact a player of Hood’s ability and pedigree could be available in the second round of 2017 rookie drafts is precisely why people are drunk on this class.
Hood was Rivals’ fourth-ranked back in the 2014 high school class, choosing North Carolina over some of the more traditional powers. After not playing much as a freshman, Hood excelled last season, racking up 1,463 rushing yards on 219 attempts (6.7 YPC) with 17 touchdowns. He hasn’t been quite as efficient on the ground in 2016, posting a 96-476-5 line, but he’s shown an improved ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. After making a total of 15 grabs through his first two seasons, he’s already snagged 18 balls for 77 yards.
Backup senior running back T.J. Logan is having another solid season. He’s run it 75 times for 470 yards (6.3 YPC) and six scores. For his career, he’s picked up 5.6 yards per run, rushing for 1,985 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Tar Heels feature two very good wideouts, Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard. Switzer — a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior — leads the team in catches (66) and yards (678) while scoring three touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Howard is enticing, but his athletic gifts have yet to result in big-time numbers. With that said, he’s on pace to have a career year, amassing 36-538-4 line through eight games. Howard has 17 receptions for 265 yards over the past two games (Miami and Virginia).
Other notable teams in action around the noon hour, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Navy at Notre Dame (QB DeShone Kizer, RB Tarean Folston, RB Josh Adams, WR Equanimeous St. Brown), CBS, 11:30
• Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (TE Evan Engram, QB Chad Kelly), ESPNU, 12:00
• No. 4 Texas A&M (WR Josh Reynolds, WR Speedy Noil, WR Christian Kirk, RB Trayveon Williams) at Mississippi State (WR Fred Ross), SECN, 12:00
• Vanderbilt at No. 9 Auburn (RB Kerryon Johnson, RB Kamryn Pettway), ESPN, 12:00
• No. 7 Louisville (QB Lamar Jackson, RB Brandon Radcliff, WR James Quick, WR Jamari Staples) at Boston College, ESPN2, 12:00
• Texas (WR John Burt, QB Shane Buechele) at Texas Tech (WR Jonathan Giles), FS1, 12:00
• Michigan State (WR Donnie Corley, RB LJ Scott) at Illinois, ESPNEWS, 12:00
• No. 8 Wisconsin (RB Corey Clement) at Northwestern, ABC, 12:00
• Pittsburgh (RB James Conner) at Miami (QB Brad Kaaya, WR Stacy Coley, RB Joseph Yearby, RB Mark Walton, WR Ahmmon Richards), ACCN, 12:30
Oregon State at Stanford (FS1, 3:30)
The bar was set impossibly high for Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, and while he isn’t churning out as many weekly highlight-reel plays as he did last season, he’s still putting together a good campaign.
McCaffrey has rushed for 781 yards and five scores on 143 carries, picking up 5.5 yards per attempt. As a pass-catcher, he’s added 24 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns. In a loaded running back class, McCaffrey is our fourth-ranked runner.
His backup, Bryce Love, is an intriguing talent. Getting more snaps than he did as a true freshman, Love has totaled 339 yards on 59 carries (5.7 YPC). Rivals’ No. 6 back in the 2015 high school class, Love will have to wait until next year — assuming McCaffrey declares after this season — to be the top dog.
Oregon State receiver Jordan Villamin is having a troubling season. Our WR11 for the 2017 class, Villamin has basically been a non-factor for the Beavers. He’s been held to one or no catches in over half of his games this season. It’s really puzzling.
Since a solid freshman year, Villamin has failed to progress, and he’ll likely find himself back at Oregon State — or possibly a fourth-year transfer, since it looks like he’s being phased out — for his senior year barring a late increase in production
Other notable teams in midday action, along with some players to focus on, include:
• Maryland at No. 3 Michigan (WR Jehu Chesson, TE Jake Butt), ESPN, 3:30
• No. 18 Oklahoma State (QB Mason Rudolph, WR James Washington) at Kansas State, ABC, 3:30
• Purdue at Minnesota (RB Shannon Brooks, RB Rodney Smith), BTN, 3:30
• Syracuse at No. 2 Clemson (WR Mike Williams, TE Jordan Leggett, QB Deshaun Watson, WR Deon Cain, WR Artavis Scott, WR Wayne Gallman), ABC, 3:30
• No 19 Virginia Tech (WR Isaiah Ford) at Duke, ESPNU, 3:30
• TCU at No. 8 Baylor (QB Seth Russell, WR K.D. Cannon, RB Shock Linwood, RB Terence Williams, WR Ishmael Zamora), FOX, 3:30
• No. 11 Florida (RB Lamical Perine, RB Jordan Scarlett, WR Antonio Callaway) at Arkansas (RB Rawleigh Williams III), CBS, 3:30
• Arizona (RB Nick Wilson) at No. 25 Washington State (QB David Falk, WR Gabe Marks), PAC12N, 4:00
• Idaho at Louisiana Lafayette (RB Elijah McGuire), ESPN3, 5:00
No. 1 Alabama at No. 13 LSU (CBS, 8:00)
Like last week’s night game between Florida State and Clemson, this is a matchup between two schools flooding the NFL with players. Over the past three drafts, there have been a total of 39 players taken from Alabama and LSU, including a whopping 16 in the 2014 NFL Draft. While a lot of the NFL-caliber talent on these two teams resides on the defensive side of the ball, they possess some big-time playmakers on offense, too.
Let’s start at running back. LSU boasts Leonard Fournette; you may have heard of him. After an ungodly season in 2015, Fournette has dealt with some injuries this season, but he’s still putting up silly numbers, running the ball 83 times for 670 yards (8.1 YPC) and five touchdowns. Fournette’s injuries have allowed LSU to give sophomore stud Derrius Guice more run, and he’s shown why he’s a star in his own right, basically matching Fournette’s production with a 78-627-7 line.
Last year, the Alabama defense stifled Fournette and LSU’s ground game — which was basically their entire offense — holding him to 31 yards on 19 carries. The Tide did it with great personnel and by loading the box with defenders, daring LSU to beat them through the air. Brandon Harris couldn’t do it, but this year, Harris lost his job to Purdue transfer Danny Etling, who has been a nice upgrade.
Considering how dominant LSU has been running the ball, Alabama will probably use the same strategy this year and see if Etling can do the job. If he can’t it won’t be because LSU doesn’t have great weapons out wide. We have LSU’s Malachi Dupre (23-288-2) and Travin Dural (24-246-1) ranked among our top 12 receivers for 2017, and junior D.J. Chark (16-269-3) is having a decent season.
The Tide have three notable running backs. Sophomore Damien Harris (86-700-1) has jumped to the top of the pecking order. Freshman Joshua Jacobs (54-378-3) has received more work as the year has progressed, and sophomore Bo Scarbrough (51-306-5) typically gets a handful of carries each game.
Alabama’s top wideout, sophomore Calvin Ridley, is our No. 1 wideout for 2018. Ridley has hauled in 44 passes for 497 yards and five touchdowns. Junior ArDarius Stewart (28-472-4) has been the Tide’s big-play threat, averaging 16.9 yards per grab. Tight end O.J. Howard may be the first tight end taken in this year’s NFL Draft, but he isn’t necessarily a big part of Alabama’s offense. With that said, he blew up in last year’s national championship, totaling five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Howard is coming off season-highs of eight catches and 69 yards in a win over Texas A&M.
Other notable teams in evening action, along with some players to focus on, include:
• No. 22 Florida State (RB Dalvin Cook, RB Jacques Patrick, WR Travis Rudolph, WR Auden Tate, WR Jesus Wilson) at North Carolina State (RB Matthew Dayes), ESPNU, 7:00
• Oregon (RB Royce Freeman, RB Tony Brooks-James, WR Darren Carrington, TE John Mundt, TE Pharaoh Brown) at USC (WR Juju Smith-Schuster, QB Sam Darnold, WR Darreus Rogers, RB Justin Davis, RB Ronald Jones II), 7:00, ESPN
• Hawaii at San Diego State (RB Donnel Pumphrey), CBSSN, 7:00
• Georgia (RB Sony Michel, RB Nick Chubb, WR Terry Godwin, TE Jeb Blazevich) at Kentucky (RB Benny Snell), SECN, 7:30
• Iowa at No. 12 Penn State (RB Saquon Barkley, WR DeAndre Thompkins, WR Chris Godwin), BTN, 7:30
• East Carolina (WR Zay Jones) at Tulsa, ESPNEWS, 8:00
• No. 10 Nebraska (WR Alonzo Moore, WR Jordan Westerkamp) at No. 6 Ohio State (RB Mike Weber, RB Demario McCall, RB Curtis Samuel, WR Noah Brown), ABC, 8:00
• No. 5 Washington (RB Myles Gaskin, QB Jake Browning, WR John Ross, WR Dante Pettis) at California, ESPN, 10:30