Thor Nystrom

Fantasy Draft

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CFB Fantasy WR Rankings

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tier I

1. A.J. Brown (Mississippi)
2. Anthony Johnson (Buffalo)
3. Trevon Brown (ECU)
4. Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee)
5. N’Keal Harry (Arizona State)
6. T.J. Vasher (Texas Tech)
7. Gary Jennings (West Virginia)
8. David Sills (West Virginia)
9. Devin Butler (Syracuse)

  • A.J. Brown was knocked out early in last September’s game at Cal with a leg injury. He didn’t look like himself the next week against Alabama (no Rebel did; the Tide rolled 66-3). In those two weeks, Brown had exactly one catch for six yards. In the other 10 games, he posted a gorgeous 74-1246-11 line— averaging 7.4 catches, 124.6 receiving yards and 1.1 touchdown catches per game. Extrapolate those numbers to a 12-game schedule and you get a 89-1495-13 line. And with Jordan Wilkins and Van Jefferson gone, perhaps a few more targets will come Brown's way. Brown is the best receiver in college football, the best receiving prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft, and the top fantasy receiver in CFB this fall. It’s a treat when you see an elite talent placed in an ideal offensive system to showcase his gifts. That’s exactly what we have here.


  • Last season, Anthony Johnson (76-1356-14) went from unknown JUCO transfer to one of the best receivers in college football. He finished No. 2 in the FBS with an average of 113 receiving yards per game. Here’s the crazy thing: Johnson did all that despite Buffalo’s volatile quarterback situation. Tyree Jackson was mediocre in the pocket out of the gate, completing 55.4% of his passes for 733 yards and a 3/1 TD/INT before going down with an injury in Week 4. QB2 Drew Anderson started the next three before he was knocked out for the year against NIU, forcing the Bulls to start true frosh Kyle Vantrease. By the time Jackson returned for the last four games, he’d strangely become a different (and much better) quarterback, completing 63.4% of his passes for 1,363 yards and a 9/2 TD/INT rate. Guess what happened to Johnson’s numbers down the stretch? After logging a 49-827-6 line through eight games (roughly six catches for 103 yards and three-quarters of a TD per game), Jackson posted a 27-529-8 line in the last four (an average line of 7-132-2 per game). Here’s the best news: I think Good Tyree is here to stay (and likely to keep improving in 2018). 


  • No matter how bad (or good) ECU is, they always produce star fantasy WRs. Trevon Brown is the newest. He accumulated a 60-1069-7 line in 12 games last year and is in line for an uptick. He’ll be a target hog on a one-dimensional ECU offense.


  • Ty Lee posted a 79-955-5 line last year and also kicked in 109 rushing yards and a ground TD. He got his first taste of WR1 duties with Richie James in-and-out of the lineup due to injuries. Now, James is the in the NFL, making Lee the undisputed lead dog. In 2015 and 2016, when he was healthy, James put up absurd lines of 107-1334-8 and 105-1625-12.


  • It’s hard to know how Arizona State will look this fall under Herm Edwards. Though I hated that hire, it shouldn’t have any repercussions for N’Keal Harry’s stats in what will almost assuredly be his last season at ASU. Harry posted an 82-1142-8 line last year. He’ll be counted on all the heavier this fall with RBs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard out the door.


  • Since-departed Texas Tech WR1 Keke Coutee posted a 93-1429-10 line in 2017. In HC Kliff Kingsbury’s five seasons, only once has the WR1 not reached 1,000 receiving yards and 10 receiving TD (it was that bizarre year when Vinny Testaverde’s son somehow attempted 26 passes for a team that had Davis Webb and Patrick Mahomes on the roster). I'm expecting a line of around 75-1250-10 out of T.J. Vasher this fall.


  • Holy cow was the David Sills story fun last year! (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google: “Lane Kiffin offers 13-year-old quarterback a scholarship to USC.”). Sills went off for a stupid 60-980-18 line, proving to be one of the nation’s nastiest red zone targets. Sills’ athleticism remains a question, but there’s no question that he’s one of the nation’s best in contested situations. And boy was that surprise for a former quarterback playing his first season of FBS ball at receiver. I have one concern: Sills caught only 60 balls (for 980 yards) last year, and yet he recorded an incredible 18 touchdowns. Exactly three-of-every-10 catches went for six. I don’t need to tell you that that’s not a sustainable touchdown percentage. To not suffer any downturn in fantasy value this fall, Sills is going to need to catch more balls this season. That’s certainly possible, but keep in mind that target-hog Gary Jennings and his 97 catches remain on the roster. Marcus Simms (35 catches last year) is also back, and the Mountaineers imported Alabama transfer WR T.J. Simmons. Sills finished No. 3 on the team in targets last year (101), with the departed Ka’Raun White (107) also sliding in front of him.


  • Back to Jennings for a second. I’m more or less out on an island in ranking him above Sills. But in fantasy projections, I trust targets more than touchdowns. In the same way that Sills’ absurdly high touchdown rate is probably unsustainable, Jennings’ absurdly low touchdown rate probably is as well. In 2016, West Virginia’s top three receivers all finished with between five and eight receiving TD (the passing offense was less explosive with Skyler Howard behind center). Look for WVU's receiving TD numbers to come closer to evening out in 2018. Jennings is an ultra-efficient slot receiver in an offensive system that makes great use of its slots. Last year, Jennings converted 133 targets into a 97-1096-1 line. He's a PPR monster who will be all the more dangerous if he can find the endzone more often in 2018.


  • Devin Butler is the heavy, heavy favorite to emerge as the Orange’s WR1 in 2018. The WR1 in Dino Babers’ offenses is fantasy napalm (105-1347-7, 94-1482-14, 85-1544-16 and 73-1094-7 lines over his four-year coaching career). Butler, Syracuse’s leading-returning receiver after Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips graduated, bulked up to 208 pounds over the offseason (up from 194) to get ready for his increased usage. Speed and athleticism has never been a question. The only lingering concern is whether he’ll actually earn that WR1 role. Earlier this week, Orange beat writer Stephen Bailey tweeted the following: “Babers said WR Devin Butler needs to be more consistent to make the jump to the No. 1 guy in the offense. Nothing specific, but said Butler knows the message he’s sending.” Butler is Babers’ best No. 1 option, and any public messages Babers sends to Butler over the next few weeks should be read as confirmation of that fact.


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Tier II

10. Tyre Brady (Marshall)
11. Teddy Veal (Louisiana Tech)
12. Hakeem Butler (Iowa State)
13. Kelvin Harmon (NC State)
14. McLane Mannix (Nevada)
15. KeeSean Johnson (Fresno State)
16. Penny Hart (Georgia State)
17. Olamide Zaccheaus (Virginia)
18. Damonte Coxie (Memphis)
19. Denzel Mims (Baylor)
20. Andy Isabella (UMass)
21. Juwan Johnson (Penn State)
22. Davontavean Martin (Washington State)
23. Brendan O’Leary Orange (Nevada)
24. Jaylen Smith (Louisville)
25. Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)
26. Scott Miller (Bowling Green)
27. Cody Thompson (Toledo)
28. Justin Hall (Ball State)
29. Stanley Morgan (Nebraska)
30. James Gardner (Miami OH)

  • I’m looking for all available opportunities to buy Marshall shares in CFF this summer. Tyre Brady, of course, is the most attractive of the Thundering Herd’s fantasy offerings. New OC Tim Cramsey runs a high-tempo offense (77.1 plays per game at Sam Houston last year) that is both pass-happy and extremely aggressive. His last QB, Jeremiah Briscoe, threw 579 times for 5,003 yards and averaged almost 15 yards per completion in 2017. Brady (6’3/210), a former Miami Hurricane who is an NFL-caliber pass-catcher, is well-suited to play lead dog in this scheme. Expect a jump from his 62-942-8 line last year.


  • Kelvin Harmon had 69 catches for 1,017 yards last year. His fantasy value was suppressed by only four TD catches. Expect that TD total to double, and don’t be shocked if it triples. More targets are coming Harmon’s way, too, with Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels out the door.


  • Last season, Memphis WR1 Anthony Miller posted a ridiculous 96-1462-18 line on 148 targets. With Miller (and WR2 Phil Mayhue) gone, plenty of receptions are up for grabs. Damonte Coxie is the heavy, heavy favorite to emerge as Memphis’ go-to receiver. At 6’3/200, he bears little physical resemblance to Miller, but that’s not an issue for a Memphis offensive braintrust that tailors its system to the talent on hand. Former QB Riley Ferguson called Coxie “a young A.J. Green.” Poor grades cost Coxie scholarship offers to LSU, Alabama and Florida, among other schools. Coxie has the talent, opportunity and offensive system to be the top-20 CFF receiver I project him to be this fall. The only question will be whether Memphis can find a competent replacement for Ferguson out of the Brady White (ex-Arizona State)/David Moore competition.


  • As with all UMass players, scheduling quirks take a small bite out of Andy Isabella’s value (same goes for Sadiq Palmer, a deep sleeper I would otherwise like). Isabella’s “Week 0” opener against Duquesne (on August 25, one week before the rest of college football kicks off) will not be counted by Fantrax. Almost as devastating: Isabella has a bye in Week 13, which some leagues use for the championship (others cut off at Week 12; make sure you know your league’s schedule before investing in Minutemen). The upshot is this: Isabella loses one game of fantasy production, he may or may not be eligible for your league’s championship, and his Week 11 and 12 matchups against BYU and Georgia are brutal, as both will occur during your league’s playoffs. All of that said, Isabella is one of the safest receivers in CFF. He’s posted receiving lines of 62-801-7 (15.8 fantasy ppg) and 60-980-9 (20.1) the past few years. He’s a reliable, high-floor player who will absolutely help you reach the playoffs, but may not help you win in them (though, to be fair, he dropped nearly 30 fantasy points on Mississippi State last November with a 7-158-1 line).



  • Super slot McLane Mannix, a strong athlete, will torch any Mountain West corner in a one-on-one situation. He’s deadly in the Wolf Pack’s Air Raid attack. I prefer him to Brendan O’Leary Orange (but boy would I like to own both).


  • Denzel Mims would be ranked a tick higher except for the fact that I think his targets will get cut into by Baylor’s exceptional WR2/WR3 combo of Jalen Hurd and Chris Platt (the Bears are also deep in the backfield).


  • As with Mims, I had a few minors concerns that caused me to knock Jaylen Smith a few spots down the board: Smith has to share touches with Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins, and we don’t yet know how effective Puma Pass will be in the pocket when bullets are flying around him.


  • I think Bowling Green WR Scott Miller is being undervalued in summer drafts. In a Group of 5 industry Best Ball draft that I conducted for Rotoworld in late June, I nabbed him in the middle of the fifth round, No. 65 overall. And that was G5-only! In 2016, as a sophomore, Miller averaged almost 20 fantasy points per game (74-968-10). Last year, amid poor QB play and an inconsistent offense, he dropped off ever so slightly (63-722-4). I think Miller has a decent chance of posting a career-best campaign in 2018. First off, Bowling Green’s offense is assured of being better, now that we’re in Year 3 of Mike Jinks’ Air Raid offense and sophomore QB Jarret Doege has established himself as the starter (Andrew Clair has also emerged as a legitimately dangerous RB). Further, with Datrin Guyton booted off the team in June, Miller accounts for an enormous share of Bowling Green’s returning receiving production. After Miller’s 63 catches, BGU’s next-highest returning receiver (Janarvis Pough) had 11 receptions in 2017. As the undisputed WR1 in an ascending Air Raid offense, Miller is the ever-tantalizing fantasy mix of enormous-ceiling and high-floor. Draft confidently.


  • Ball State fended off a handful of teams that included Western Kentucky and Colorado State to land the three-star Justin Hall. As a true freshman, Hall made an extremely compelling argument that he should have garnered P5 offers and been rated higher by recruiting services. He posted 801 receiving yards and was named to the Freshman All-American team.


  • I would rank Davontavean Martin even higher were it not for one fact: I don’t trust Washington State’s offense (or quarterback play) this fall. But Wazzu’s WR1 as a rule has an inflated floor, making Martin a top-30 preseason guy with a chance to be more.


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Thor Nystrom is a former associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
Email :Thor Nystrom

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