I wrote this same piece last season and I wanted to continue with my favorite players heading into the season. For those who didn’t read last year’s piece, these are players that aren’t necessarily the best or even a top 10 player at his position, but player’s that I like to make significant contributions that may be overlooked. I can’t always explain why I like a player but I will make my case for why you should like him too.
Deondre Francois, Florida State- I think Francois has all the tools to take Florida State into the playoff and possibly a national title. In his first year as a starter in 2016, he had plenty of ups and downs. The one thing that remained consistent was his toughness. The guy took an absolute beating last season and each time he got up and delivered his next throw without a flinch. If Florida State can offer a little more protection this season, I don’t see why Francois can’t lead the Seminoles to the playoff. He opens the season against Alabama so it will be an early test and possibly a preview of a national title game matchup. Another reason I like Francois are for things like this:
Gus Ragland, Miami (OH)- My love for Ragland actually started heading into the bowl season last year. As most of you know, I hosted the annual Bowl Bash contest and Ragland was one of my “cheap” plays for it. I kept trying to talk myself out of it and I kept coming back to playing him so I just rolled with it. He had a nice bowl game against Mississippi State throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 51 yards on the ground. The most impressive thing about him last season was that he turned an 0-6 team around into a bowl eligible 6-6 team after returning to the starting lineup. That was the first time in history that had been done. His final stats on the season were quite impressive as he finished with a 17/1 TD/INT ratio. So maybe I’m just hoping he continues his performance into the 2017 season but I can’t wait to see him play an entire season with this team.
Zach Abey, Navy- Ok maybe it’s because we share the same name, or maybe it’s because I love triple option QBs, but I like Abey a lot in 2017. This is assuming it is his job to lose but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. After filling in for starter Will Worth last season, Abey played a significant amount of time in the last three games. He scored a total of six touchdowns in thosethree games with five of them coming on the ground. The good thing about Abey is that if he remains healthy, he is a great QB to have on your roster as he will consistently carry the ball 15-25 times per game. If he can improve on his limited playing time from last season, he could have a fantastic 2017.
Alexander Mattison, Boise State- My buddies Andrew Katz (@andrewpkatz) and Adam Boleman (@PutBoobieIn) can back me up when I say that I have liked Mattison since before last season. He was overshadowed by fantasy stud Jeremy McNichols aka McWeapon. Now that McWeapon has entered the NFL Draft, Mattison should be in line for a massive season assuming he gets fully healthy after shoulder surgery this winter. He will be out of spring practices but should be good to go by the fall. Last season as a freshman, he had 67 carries for 328 yards and four touchdowns. Not eye-popping but he was the clear cut #2 back in that offense.
Isaiah Saunders, Idaho- Saunders had his breakout game in the bowl game last season. He rushed for 147 yards on 33 carries while scoring three times in the game. Depending on your league configuration, Saunders could be a nice guy to have late in the draft or as a last minute injury replacement. Saunders is built a lot like Jeremy McNichols. At 5’10, 223 lbs, he has the size to be a durable back especially in the Sun Belt. Just a caution to those in keeper/dynasty leagues though, Idaho moves to FCS next season you will only get one year out of him.
Cam Akers, Florida State- Akers hasn’t taken a snap at the collegiate level yet but with the departure of Dalvin Cook, the Seminoles are looking for someone to fill that void. I’m not calling for Akers to be Dalvin Cook as a true freshman, but I do think it is possible for Akers to assume the role and do quite well. According to ESPN recruiting rankings, Akers was the #1 RB in the 2017 class so the expectations are lofty. With that said, I think it’s fair to assume he will contribute early and often. In case you haven’t seen it, here is Akers’ high school highlight tape:
Benjamin Snell Jr., Kentucky- Snell quietly had a monster season in 2016 especially when you take into account he was a true freshman in the SEC for Kentucky. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and didn’t even have a single carry in the first two games of the season. He had five games of over 100 yards rushing and found the end zone 13 times. That was while playing alongside Stanley “Boom” Williams too. Now that Williams is heading to the NFL, Snell is one of my favorite RBs especially in the SEC. I really love him in a dynasty league as he has 2 more years at the least of availability. The Wildcats have a great one in Snell and I just hope he is the catalyst for change in Lexington and can propel them to challenge for the SEC East title.
Cedrick Wilson, Boise State- I am partial to Wilson for two reasons. 1) Obviously, I like Wilson because he plays for my favorite team in Boise State. 2) Cedrick Wilson is from Memphis, Tennessee, my hometown. He actually played quarterback in high school right up the road from where I went to school. Enough about that though. Wilson has some pretty big shoes to fill with Boise State’s all-time leading receiver, Thomas Sperbeck, graduating. While playing alongside Sperbeck, Wilson hauled in 56 passes for 1,129 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games. Oh did mention he played quarterback in high school? Wilson also completed both pass attempts last season for 84 yards and a touchdown. This was in his first year at Boise State after arriving via Junior College. In 2017, Wilson should be in line for a monster year especially with the Broncos returning starting quarterback Brett Rypien and breaking in earlier mentioned running back Alexander Mattison.
Kirk Merritt, Texas A&M- I’ll say this, the Aggies may have two of the most explosive weapons at wideout this fall in Christian Kirk and Merritt. The 5’11, 205 lb former four star recruit will finally suit up this fall after sitting out last year after transferring in from Oregon. It remains to be seen how the Aggies utilize Merritt but we should get a glimpse of it in the coming weeks with spring practice just around the corner. He had very limited on field experience at Oregon but was used in multiple ways. He did, however, lose two fumbles in his limited number of touches but I wouldn’t look much into that just yet. All you need to know is that his athleticism is off the charts. If he can find his way into the starting lineup in College Station, I think great things can happen. He should have a great chance as three of the Aggies’ top four receivers departed for the NFL.
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State- As the season progressed, Harry became more involved in the Sun Devil offense. The true freshman tallied 58 receptions for 659 yards and five touchdowns. He also found the end zone twice on the ground in 2016. I love what this guy can do moving forward. Arizona State was fairly disappointing as a team in 2016 but things are looking up for 2017. They got themselves a quarterback by the way of transfer from Alabama in Blake Barnett. Barnett was the starter for the Crimson Tide for all of about 2 possessions until Jalen Hurts took over. Barnett has the talent as he was one of the top QB prospects out of high school so if he can develop the chemistry with Harry, big things could happen. Harry was quite the high school prospect himself. According to ESPN recruiting, Harry was the #1 WR in the 2016 class and he showed why last season. He has the size (6’3, 210 lbs) to use his physicality and the quickness to get by his defenders. The PAC-12 was put on notice in 2016 so we’ll see how he handles the natural expectation to elevate his game. I believe that he will and could be the top WR in the PAC-12 in 2017.
Chico McClatcher, Washington- Last but not least, McClatcher is probably my favorite player in college football. A combination of his name, size, and utilzation in the Huskies’ offense make for a pretty cool player. At 5’7, 180 lbs. McClatcher draws comparisons to Darren Sproles, De’Anthony Thomas, (insert fast, little guy here), etc. He took a back seat to potential 1st rounder John Ross and Dante Pettis in 2016. Although Pettis is back, the Huskies need someone to fill the void left by Ross. I’m not expecting Chico to just fill that void but I think his numbers rise from 2016. He had 31 catches and 18 carries last year for 574 and 131 yards respectively. If he can get back to returning kicks like he did in 2015, then his value increases even more. I know it may just be wishful thinking but this is my guy and I’m not giving up on him. At the very least, he is worth owning in deep leagues.
As I sit here and recap this piece, I have noticed I seem to be partial to those west coast guys at WR. Just as a reminder, these aren’t guys that I expect to be studs. Some may be. Some may not. The purpose of this article was more to bring awareness to these guys and to let you guys know who’s corner I’m in this season. We have what seems like forever until fall camp starts but we do have spring ball to look forward to as it is already here for some and starting within the next week or so for others. I’ll be keeping an eye on spring practices going on across the country and be looking for more guys to add to this list.