Mark Lindquist

Fantasy Draft

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Deep Diving for CFB Sleepers

Tuesday, August 1, 2017






Deep Diving for CFB Fantasy Sleepers


If you’re looking for a more general overview of the fantasy landscape, check out the work from our CFB fantasy guru Thor Nystrom and his comprehensive rankings. We’ll be swimming into the deep dark waters of the later-round sleeper, here.



Quarterback


Tanner Mangum, BYU -- Take a trip with me back to September 5, 2015, to the humble hamlet of Lincoln, Nebraska. In the first half as the Cougars did battle with the Huskers, BYU QB Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending foot injury. The Cougs would go on to win, anyway, thanks to the surprise work of freshman Tanner Mangum, a four-star native of Eagle, Idaho, who it turned out, had a flair for the dramatic Hail Mary. He finished that campaign with 3,377 yards with a 23/10 TD/INT ratio. Mangum sat behind a rejuvenated Hill last season, but is set to take on the mantle in full for the coming season. He won’t give you anything in the way of points as a rusher, but rather a big arm worth a late gamble.


Troy Williams, Utah -- The Utes’ quarterback battle between Williams and Tyler Huntley is an open one (with Alabama transfer QB Cooper Bateman in the mix but mostly receiving third-team reps at the start of camp), but my guess would be that Williams -- who started all 13 games last season -- will end up coming out on top, same as he did a year ago. While he did post modest numbers in 2016 (2,757 yards passing, 15/8 TD/INT ratio), there’s a reason to believe he’ll have a real opportunity to turbocharge those. That’s courtesy of OC Troy Taylor, who will bring the fast-paced attack he helped lead at Eastern Washington over to Salt Lake City. That Darren Carrington found his way to Utah after his exile from Oregon earlier in the month gives Williams a No. 1 wideout that the Utes did not even have two weeks ago.


Tanner Lee, Nebraska -- The Tommy Armstrong Era in Lincoln will probably end up being viewed as something of an underrated offensive time for the Huskers. Armstrong was incredibly flawed, but also capable of the occasional big performance to even things out. Up next is Tulane transfer Tanner Lee, a Johnny Unitis Golden Arm watch-lister who impressed at the Manning Passing Academy this summer surrounded by the likes of Sam Darnold and Lamar Jackson. The Senior Bowl's Patrick Woo wrote afterward that Lee "embodies everything you want in a true pocket passer. Lee was anointed as starter in the spring follow a strong performance in the spring game -- always a good sign that he’s ready to hit the ground running. A few caveats beyond the burbling brook of the internet -- Lee had a ho-hum 23/21 TD/INT ratio with Tulane and Nebraska’s offensive upside could be limited due to deficiencies at the skill positions.  


Austin Allen, Arkansas -- Allen doesn’t have the athletic sizzle of a youngster like, say, Miami’s N’Kosi Perry, but he was a rock-steady performer last season, when he threw for 3,430 yards (61.1% completions) with a 25/15 TD/INT ratio in 12 games and led the SEC in passing yardage and completions while finishing second in touchdown tosses. That’s the good. The bad? He also led the conference in interceptions and saw his production fall off the table in the second half of the season. To wit, he owned an 18/6 TD/INT ratio in the first seven games, compared to a 7/9 TD/INT ratio in six games down the stretch. Some consistency would be nice, but he faces a more top-heavy schedule this season that might allow him to put up some bigger numbers in the back-half of the campaign against the likes of Coastal Carolina and Mississippi State. SEC Country’s Oliver Connolly views Allen as the most underrated quarterback in the conference.


Jacob Park, Iowa State -- Park sat behind Joel Lanning for most of the past season before finally taking over as starter for the final five games of the campaign. He averaged 264.40 yards passing in those five contests -- a mark which would have placed him only behind conference stalwarts Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph among returning Big 12 gunslingers had you extrapolated it to a full season. Park threw for at least 280 yards in three of those five starts and fired off eight touchdowns to just two interceptions in that starting space. Iowa State has intriguing offensive upside and Park-to-Lazard is going to be heard ad nauseum in Ames.


Running back


Leon Allen, Western Kentucky -- There are red flags, here, plenty of red flags. In July, WKU HC Mike Sanford said that Allen had “a ways to go” in his recovery from several knee surgeries following his season-ending injury in September of 2015. Most recently, he underwent a procedure in the spring for an infection in the knee. Quinton Baker (542 yards, 5.5 YPC, four touchdowns) should be the first young man in the Hilltoppers running backs room for fantasy purposes during the coming season -- Thor ranks him as the No. 73 RB heading into 2017. All of this being said, Allen rushed for 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns during a healthy 2014 season. He is a prime candidate to stash on IR until his status for the coming season becomes more clear one way or another.


Thomas Tyner, Oregon State -- An even bigger lottery ticket than Allen. Tyner actually retired due to medical concerns (shoulder issues in his case) last winter only to unretire and transfer from Oregon to the rival Beavers in May. He’s already seeing some reps with the first team as Oregon State starts up August camp. Ryan Nall remains OSU’s big back (a...wrecking Nall, almost), but Nall missed two games due to injury last season and while this won’t be an outright time-share, you can expect Tyner -- who has blazing fast speed -- to see plenty of touches so long as he stays healthy. And if Nall goes down, his value skyrockets.


Terence Williams, Baylor -- Allow me to offer something of a counter-correction to the market. In July, HC Matt Rhule said that Williams would miss at least three games to start the regular season due to a shoulder injury sustained in the spring. Jamycal Hasty is the clear Baylor back to target early in drafts, but we’re also seeing Williams go undrafted. That shouldn’t be the case. He was the expected starter prior to his shoulder woes and while Hasty will have a little freeway to build up momentum, Williams should by no means be counted out as a potential big-time producer. In 12 games last season, he rushed for 1,048 yards (5.7 YPC) and 11 touchdowns. Patience will be rewarded, here, so long as Williams’ injury does not linger.


Zack Moss, Utah -- Throw a few darts at Utah’s roster and maybe you will hit on their Joe Williams replacement. Thor Nystrom likes the prospects of Devonta’e Henry-Cole (his No. 81 RB), but I’ll play champion for Mr. Moss. He rushed for 382 yards (4.5 YPC) and two touchdowns last season, including games of 95 and 90 yards rushing against San Jose State and USC in back-to-back September contests while playing as a true freshman. Williams’ reemergence from the rocking chair of retirement prevented him from putting together a more sustained surge. And if you’re looking for yet a third Utah back to potentially emerge, Armand Shyne -- 373 yards in a limited five games due to injury last season -- is also in play. My suggestion, if you’re going to take one of them, reconsider and take two to hedge your bets.


Najee Harris, Alabama -- Harris, a five-star frosh who has drawn comparisons to Leonard Fournette and Adrian Peterson, has a tendency to be overdrafted despite the fact that he plays in a loaded backfield and is going to have to crush August camp if he’s going to receive immediate carries behind Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris (plus Joshua Jacobs). But therein lies the rub -- there is a very real path to Harris (Najee) receiving double-digit carries as the season unfolds. Scarbrough is returning off a broken leg and part of the reason that he, himself, had a chance to blow up at the end of last season is that Harris (Damien) was himself hobbled with lower leg injuries on-and-off in 2016. Najee is going to have to work for it, but this is an injury-prone enough backfield that he shouldn’t be ruled out as an impact fantasy performer. It will just take a few twists and turns to get him there.


Tony Brooks-James, Oregon -- A potential star in PPR leagues due to his receiving ability out of the backfield, Brooks-James is a threat for 1,100-1,300 yards from scrimmage, even with Royce Freeman receiving the bulk of the backfield looks. In late July, HC Willie Taggart said that Brooks-James is a prime candidate to receiving more work in the passing game this season due to Oregon’s relative inexperience out wide (thanks to Darren Carrington’s dismissal). He led the Pac-12 with 7.6 YPC last season while rushing for 771 yards and nine touchdowns, plus a 17-155-1 receiving line.


Tonny Lindsey, Utah State -- Lindsey was one of just two Mountain West running backs named to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list this summer. Stepping in for an injured Devante Mays (no longer with the team) last season, Lindsey started 10 of 12 games while racking up 763 yards rushing (5.2 YPC) and six touchdowns to go with 17 catches for 123 yards. LaJuan Hunt will push him for carries in camp, but Hunt has averaged a cloud-of-dust YPC-clip of just 3.9 yards for his career. This is going to be Lindsey’s show.



Wide receiver


Jordan Jones, Arkansas -- A hot-off-the-presses sleeper for you. They’ve been raving about Jones, a four-star recruit and consensus top-100 prospect out of high school for the 2016 cycle, early in camp. That praise has reason to turn into result very fast, as expected No. 1 WR Jared Cornelius is expected to miss what is only being termed as a “significant amount of time” due to a back injury he suffered at the start of camp. The senior battled back problems last year, too.


Ron'Quavion Tarver, Utah State -- A JUCO transfer who joined Utah State as a sophomore last season, Tarver returns as the team’s leading wideout after putting up a 42-603-3 receiving line in 2016. And that was with an Aggies teach which failed to even average 24 points a game. Mouth-watering yet? It does get better. At least it could. New OC David Yost is bringing a speed-attack to the offense he was QB coach with Oregon, which should tell you all you need to know. Kent Myers did not play well as a full-time starter last season, but if Yost’s scheme-upgrade clicks with him, Tarver could be a late-round steal.


C.J. Carroll, Virginia Tech -- The Hokies are replacing WR Isaiah Ford and TE Bucky Hodges. Outside of senior Cam Phillips (Thor’s No. 23 wideout), Carroll is the team’s leading returning receiver from 2016 after catching 18 passes for 258 yards out of the slot last season. Sitting out the spring due to an injury didn’t fortify his depth-chart standing, but Carroll -- a redshirt junior -- has the experience factor going for him over freshman WR Kalil Pimpleton. If you like what HC Justin Fuente is building with the Hokies and want a piece of that action, Carroll needs just a healthy August camp to be worth a flier. In addition to his pass-catching prowess, he could also see some work as a rusher and in the return game.


Datrin Guyton, Bowling Green -- Guyton transferred over to the Falcons after being dismissed by Oregon State in November of 2015 due to a violation of team rules. Prior to his booting, he had caught 14 passes for 178 yards. He resurfaces with Bowling Green, now, where he is looking to find depth chart footing along with fantasy stud Scott Miller. A 6-foot-5, 199-pound athlete, Guyton already has the body to swim with the sharks. That he is now joining an Air Raid scheme is all the better. Oh, and the Falcons surrendered in excess of 38 points on average last season. They’re going to be throwing it left and right just to try to keep up.


Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan -- Like we spoke about with Najee Harris earlier in the column, there’s a decent chance that Peoples-Jones is overdrafted based on name-recognition alone. Unlike Harris, five-star Peoples-Jones could see playing time right out of the gate when UM clashes with Florida on September 2. DPJ was putting up NFL-caliber athletic numbers during Michigan’s spring testing -- 4.41s 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump -- and the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder should be ready to play out of the box as a true freshman. His value as a fantasy prospect is limited by the run-heavy offense which Michigan runs, but with unproven options across the board, he’s the safest bet in the receiving corp. Fellow highly-recruited freshman WR Tarik Black is another name to consider if you want a little Wolverine flavor on your roster late in drafts.


Binjimen Victor, Ohio State -- Victor ranked as Rivals’ No. 91 overall prospect in the 2016 class. He played sparingly as a freshman -- just four catches for 64 yards and a score last season -- but in a wide-receiving corps which is still sorting itself out, he’s in line for targets. OSU HC Urban Meyer said that he was “as talented as any (wideout) I’ve ever coached” during spring ball, while Eleven Warriors’ Tim Shoemaker writes that there is a “strong chance Victor emerges into a superstar at wide receiver in 2017.”


Johnnie Dixon, Ohio State -- Let’s stick with the Buckeyes for a moment. Meyer hasn’t just been heaping Victor with praise. He has been doing likewise with redshirt junior Johnnie Dixon, saying that he can “flat run” and saying that he has been performing “off the charts” this offseason. Dixon (a former four-star recruit, aren’t they all?) flashed in the spring game, catching six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t done much on the field when it matters, though, with knee injuries keeping him from any sort of real ascension during his time with the Buckeyes -- for his career, Dixon has just seven catches for 55 yards. All signs have been pointing toward him finally breaking through this season assuming his health.


Daylon Charlot, Kansas -- Charlot was not on the fantasy radar until about a day ago, but he has blipped in a big way. That’s because LaQuvionte Gonzalez -- KU’s second leading receiver behind Steven Sims -- was just dismissed from the team due to a violation of team rules. Sims will continue to draw No. 1 targets, but Gonzalez (62-729-3) was productive in his own right last season and this opens a huge door for Charlot to potentially gain a foothold on the depth chart. The wideout initially joined Kansas as a transfer from Alabama last summer. As tends to be the case with everything Alabama, Charlot was a four-star recruit for the 2015 cycle and ranked as Rivals’ No. 78 overall player in the class. Kansas will be operating the Air Raid under OC Doug Meacham and a player of Charlot’s talent could thrive in the system if he can take advantage of his newfound opportunity.



Tight ends


Joseph Wysocki, Idaho -- The Vandals threw the ball to the tight end a lot last season. Like a lot a lot. Trent Cowan and Deon Watson combined for an 89-1,242-9 receiving line in 2016 and they’re both gone, now. Wysocki has yet to catch a pass, but is in line to start and will have a prime opportunity to suck up some of the targets vacated by Cowan and Watson. It also helps his cause that QB Matt Linehan should be at the peak of his collegiate development heading into the coming season.


Irv Smith Jr., Alabama -- There is no clear immediate successor to O.J. Howard, even at Alabama, where there is seemingly an immediate successor at every position every year. With junior Hale Hentges more of a blocking tight end and sophomore Miller Forristall still finding his way, former four-star Smith -- who worked on special teams last season -- looks to be the most offensively-involved chess piece for OC Brian Daboll (former Pats TE coach, if you’ll recall) at the position. Per AL.com’s Matt Zenitz, Smith was rock-solid in both spring practice and summer workouts.


Hunter Bryant, Washington -- Bryant has yet to catch a college pass, but the four-star freshman ranked as 247Sports’ composite’s No. 189 overall prospect in the incoming class. The 6-foot-2, 239-pounder comes with a body ready for the rigors of collegiate play and The News Tribune’s Christian Caple writes that he is “[t]he true freshman pass-catcher who could have the biggest impact” during the coming season. He will have to fight for a starting role in August camp and is not assured of targets, but if you’re taking a chance on a freshman tight end in an explosive offense late in the draft, Bryant fits that bill.      




Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.
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