2021 CFF Sleeper Quarterbacks

·15 min read

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Group of Five CFF QB Sleepers

Carter Bradley | Toledo

A high three-star recruit who was rated the 25th pro-style quarterback from the 2018 prep cycle, Bradley boasted a .8718 247Sports player rating coming out of high school. He has the highest such rating of any quarterback on the roster, including his top challenger Dequan Finn who carries a .8491 grade. The Jacksonville, FL native received several P5 offers that he turned down in favor of leading HC Jason Candle’s powerful offense that has ranked in the top-40 in offensive performance six of the last seven seasons.

The one time Toledo slipped from the ranks of elite FBS offenses was in 2019 when a rebuilding Rockets ranked 79th offensively, averaging 27.3 points and 210 yards per game - both HC Candle-era lows. Last year Eli Peters won the job out of camp starting four games before succumbing to injury and retiring. Bradley took over and in the first start of his career threw for 432 yards (7th most in UT history) and three touchdowns in a 41-24 conquest over Northern Illinois. In his final start of the year Bradley was under siege from CMU who racked up six sacks in the contest, completing 18-of-33 passes for 265 yards and a 3-to-3 TD/INT rate in a narrow 24-23 victory over the Chippewas.

In total, Bradley completed 55-of-90 attempts for 851 yards, 9.5 YPA, 11.3 average target depth and a 9-to-5 ratio while earning a strong 80.9 passing grade on the season according to PFF. Toledo improved from 27 PPG-to-35 PPG and 210 passing yards-to-326 passing yards year over year and plays the 8th easiest schedule in the country, with only one paycheck game against Notre Dame on the slate. UT returns 10 starters, including six OL who have at least seven games of starting experience, and has won the MAC recruiting title the last three years in a row with a MAC best .8509 average 247Sports rating for their offensive starters.

I think UT returns to the halcyon passing days of the Logan Woodside era and we see a 290+ PYPG average along with a 38+ PPG offensive output, with Bradley reaping the benefits as their QB1. He has been basically ignored in my three recent 12-team best ball drafts this summer, being picked only once in R24 of the most recent CFFSite.com industry expert draft and QB28 in Round 7 of the recent QB-starved NBC Sports Edge Group of Five 16-Team Industry Expert Draft. He’s basically free in most standard leagues and well worth a stab in the late-teens as your QB 3 or 4.

Logan Bonner | Utah State

Utah State brings in a new coaching staff to pick up the pieces in the wake of former HC Gary Anderson running the program into the ground in just 16 months following former HC Matt Wells’ departure for Texas Tech before being fired. In comes former Arkansas State HC Blake Anderson who took the Red Wolves to six bowl games in seven years while lighting Sun Belt secondaries on fire by averaging at least 312 passing yards per game in three of the last four years while scoring over 33 points per game in each of them. He also hired former UCF Co-OC and RB coach Anthony Tucker to serve as his offensive coordinator, so the entire offensive power structure has produced some prolific passing attacks in recent years.

In 2019 and 2020 Anderson employed one of the more successful two-quarterback rotations in recent memory between Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher, producing the following two seasons of passing totals between them:

2019: 298-469-4057-37-11 passing, 99-39-2 rushing

2020: 275-463-4008-39-9 passing, 77-40-0 rushing (11 games)

Bonner elected to transfer to USU and follow his longtime HC to Logan, Utah where he can finally have a shot at being alone at he top of the depth chart. In 2020 Bonner completed 156-of-264 passes for 1,885 yards, a 60% completion rate and an 18-to-6 ratio. His adjusted completion rate is much better at 68.6% because he was victimized by 19 dropped passes from a wide receiver corps that sported a double-digit 11% drop rate. He is set to battle Utah State QB Andrew Peasley for the starting job, and was slowed in spring by a broken foot, but Peasley completed only 53% of his passes with a 4-to-3 ratio last year and should be beaten out by the more established Bonner who has a robust history with the incoming HC so long as his foot ailment has healed by the time camp rolls around.

Bonner is being all but ignored in standard sized leagues and starts to come into play with 16+ team formats. He was taken at the end of Round 9 as QB34 in the aforementioned 16-Team G5 Only Best Ball Draft and could return top-50 overall QB value in standard sized leagues if things break right considering USU plays the 100th ranked schedule in the country in terms of strength.

Bailey Hockman | Middle Tennessee State

Dual-threat 1,058 yard rusher Asher O’Hara elected to transfer and longtime OC Tony Franklin retired in the offseason. In response 16 year HC Rick Stockstill brought in former Kansas OC Brent Dearmon and four-star NC State quarterback Bailey Hockman. The pair appear to be great fits for each other schematically, as Hockman started 11 games in the Wolfpack’s pass-heavy offense completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,088 yards in 2020. For his part OC Dearmon is cut from the air-raid tree and coaxed some credible passing output out of one of the Power Five’s most morose offenses in 2019 before the wheels fell off this year, generating a 61% completion rate, 2,664 yards and a 24-to-11 ratio out of the QB group.

For his part, Stockstill’s teams have performed best under pro-style, accurate signal callers as opposed to dual-threat options. From 2016-2018 Blue Raider quarterbacks averaged 3,716 passing yards and 31 touchdowns passes per season. A strong wide receiver trio of Jarrin Pierce, Yusuf Ali and CJ Windham, who wento to high school with Hockman and is one of the reasons he transferred to MTSU, provide the weapons needed to run the up-tempo, quick-hit style of offense OC Dearmon wants to run. When asked post spring, he said “I like our guys’ tempo and excitement today. [They] were moving around a little better than just a normal practice. You could feel it became game-day like. We got to see some guys come out competing today. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up. We’ve thrown a lot at these kids in a seven, eight-day window here, but I was pretty happy with how our guys at least came out and competed and flew around today.” The NC State transfer took the majority of spring game snaps, completing 11-of-18 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

With a vet like Hockman coming in who had a 75.5% adjusted completion rate and 73.9 total offensive grade according to PFF last year, a quality offensive leader in Dearmon and an organizational culture already in place around Stockstill to support them, I see Hockman taking a step and carving up MTSU’s soft #116 ranked schedule this year. The former Florida State blue-chip has been totally off the radar in standard CFF drafts and was taken as QB36 in R10 in the latest G5 Only Best Ball. A return to the pre-O’Hara era passing numbers is on the horizon with Hockman as the catalyst.

Power Five Sleepers

Sam Hartman | Wake Forest

Wake Forest had their run of four consecutive winning seasons snapped in 2020, as the pandemic (Sage Surratt opting out) and roster turnover (Jamie Newman transferring to UGA) finally caught up to HC Dave Clawson and his perennially overachieving program. However the lumps Wake took last season helped to bolster this year’s squad, as they return all 11 starters on offense and 91% of their offensive production from last season, making the Demon Deacons the 16th most experienced offensive unit in the nation.

Grizzled fourth-year redshirt sophomore Sam Hartman has already had his share of ups and downs, winning the starting quarterback job as a freshman before succumbing to Jamie Newman in 2019, and then reclaiming the job in 2020. Last year Hartman led the Demon Deacons to 281 passing yards and 36 points per game, as WF didn’t experience any drop-off from 2019 when they threw for 288 YPG and scored 32 PPG behind Newman. His numbers were solid, completing 159-of-274 passes for 2,224 yards and a 13-to-5 ratio. His advanced numbers were pretty good as well, with 21 big time throws to 13 turnover worthy plays, and a respectable 78.9 passing grade according to PFF.

Hartman excels on deep passes, completing 23-of-56 passes 20+ yards downfield for 905 yards, a sterling 16.2 YPA and a 3-to-0 ratio while earning a strong 92.5 passing grade. And also on medium range throws where he completed 31-of-64 passes for 482 yards and a 6-to-0 ratio. Interestingly where he got into trouble was on short timing routes, as he threw all five of his interceptions within the first nine yards of the line of scrimmage.

The key for Hartman is handling pressure, with the redshirt sophomore signal caller sporting a pristine 91.0 passing grade when kept clean, but a dismal 44.0 grade when facing pressure. Wake was set to return all five starting offensive linemen, spanning 102 total line starts, but RT Je’Vionte Nash suffered a recent summer injury that will knock him out for the season. Still, the top-four are back and have two talented sophomores ready to step in at right tackle. Additionally as redshirt freshman possession receiver Taylor Morin matures and 6’5/212 outside threat A.T. Perry takes over for injured Donovan Greene on the outside, second-team All-ACC WR Jaquarii Roberson should see more favorable matchups downfield, with Hartman being well stocked with credible receivers.

Wake Forest’s schedule is much more favorable this year as well, with the Demon Deacons playing Phil Steele’s 71st ranked schedule and dodging the top-four teams out of the ACC Coastal. Their off-conference slate is a dream as well, with Old Dominion, Norfolk State and Army on the docket. It’s entirely reasonable to expect Wake Forest to challenge the 40 points/300 passing yards per game thresholds given their returning talent, schedule and experience. If they do, Sam Hartman is going to be a very valuable CFF commodity. He went off the board as QB28 in our Power Five only draft and in the 16th Round/QB38 of the most recent 12-Team TheCFFSite.Com Blue Bloods Industry Expert Best Ball draft, with me being the person to select him. Michael Pratt, Taulia Tagovailoa and Max Johnson were taken ahead of him, that shouldn’t be happening. Hartman has the upside to provide QB20-25 numbers with a very high floor. He should be given higher priority at his currently low cost of acquisition.

Connor Bazelak | Missouri

A four-star recruit from Dayton, Ohio, the 6-foot-3, 220 pound gunslinger was beaten out by TCU transfer Shawn Robinson as the Mizzou starter for the first two games of 2020. Bazelak took over against LSU and proceeded to complete 29-of-34 passes for 407 yards, 12.0 YPA and four touchdowns to secure the starting job and never look back. He finished fourth in the SEC in passing yards per game with a 237 yard average and earned a 77.4 passing grade that ranks ninth among returning Power Five quarterbacks thanks to a pinpoint accurate 74.8% adjusted completion percentage.

At his best when working in the intermediate range where he completed 64% of his passes for 10.7 yards per attempt and a sterling 88.7 PFF passing grade. He was quite effective down field as well, averaging 8.3 YPA with 12 big time throws to just four turnover worthy plays and an 80.6 passing grade, but his productivity was hurt by a 22.6% drop rate. When kept clean and throwing 10-plus yards downfield, Bazelak's grade ranked 20th in the FBS and 12th among returners from that group.

In 2020 Missouri had to replace three offensive line starters and accounted for just 3.9 yards per carry on the year in a reset year for HC Drinkwitz. This season the Tigers lose RT Larry Borom to the NFL Draft (5th Round DC) but do return RT Hyrin White who has 19 games of experience and played 375 snaps in 2019. MU also brings in Montana State 2019 FCS honorable mention All-American Connor Wood along with former four-star guard E.J. Ndoma-Ogar from Oklahoma. Mizzou brings back four upperclassmen line starters in total and should be a vastly improved unit that allowed just 15 sacks last season.

Having stable line play in front of Bazelak will be vital, as the fledgling signal caller was most comfortable, as most QBs are, throwing from a clean pocket where he earned a strong 88.4 passer rating and posted a crisp 79.3% adjusted completion percentage. His offensive performance dropped precipitously on the 24% of his passes when facing pressure, with his adjusted completion rate plummeting to 57% to accompany a woeful 42.1% overall offensive grade when under duress. His veteran offensive line should help minimize the damage Bazelak takes from the rush this year. Bazelak learned a new offense in an abbreviated time frame last year thanks to the pandemic. HC Drinkwitz erred on the side of caution with somewhat conservative play calling last year and can be expected to open things up with a more seasoned Bazelak under center and a full slate of practices to iron out the details.

In his first year as a starting quarterback in the SEC, Bazelak’s overall body of work foretells a promising future for the Tigers. Ohio State transfer WR Mookie Cooper in town and showing good chemistry with Bazelak in spring, and now in the second year in HC Drinkwitz’s offense Mizzou has a full set of practices in the preseason to iron out the offensive kinks. They have a delicious non-conference slate against Central Michigan, SE Missouri State, @BC and North Texas, draw Texas A&M and Arkansas from the SEC West and play the 57th ranked schedule in the country.

As the OC at Boise State and NC State, Drinkwitz consistently unleashed between 37 and 40 passes per game. Missouri only averaged 26 PPG in 2020 and should improve that mark by a touchdown or so this year. Bazelak could challenge for 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns this season and came off the board as QB35 in our recent Power Five Best Ball Draft, which is about QB65 or so overall. You can grab Bazelak in the 20th-23rd round range in standard 12/14-team formats and get a quarterback who will play in your best ball lineup 5 or 6 weeks during the season if things break right.

Jarrett Doege | West Virginia

Last year following his transfer from Bowling Green where he was a two-year starter, Doege led HC Neal Brown’s high-volume, short passing offense that saw 235 of his throws travel 10 yards or less in the air, the most in the nation in 2020. These check-downs and dump-offs helped Doege achieve a 75% on-target pass rate, which ranked 13th in FBS last year. He didn’t make many mistakes either, throwing only four interceptions in 374 attempts. However the focus on the horizontal passing game suppressed some of the offense’s explosiveness, as the Mountaineer signal caller only threw 14 touchdowns passes on the year.

Following the spring, when questioned about what Doege needed to work on in regard to the passing game, HC Brown stated “Our focus for him in the spring was to move better in the pocket and improve accuracy on the deep balls,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of exotic pass plays you can call, but you’ve got to complete go balls and post balls.”

Upon closer examination of this stated goal, last year Doege completed 18-of-60 deep passes, a 30 percent completion rate, 532 yards, 8.9 YPA and a 4-to-0 ratio. While you would clearly like to see the completion rate climb there are still some positive signs to indicate a jump in effectiveness is possible. On deep shots he produced 12 Big Time Throws while committing only two Turnover Worthy Plays according to PFF. WVU’s wide receiver corps was plagued by drops last year, with the group as a whole dedicating themselves to making strides in their ball security in the offseason.

So it’s reasonable to expect last year’s 14% drop rate on downfield throws to improve. Additionally while Doege’s most effective zone came between 10-19 yards where he averaged 10.7 YPA, However his highest PFF graded zone came on downfield throws where he was assigned a strong 82.5 passer grade on throws of 20 or more yards. It appears the pieces are in place for Doege to improve upon his downfield performance this season.

In 2019 West Virginia cleared out the impact players on offense as well as HC Dana Holgerson as Neal Brown entered a rebuilding situation, posting the 106th best offensive performance in Year 1. Last season the Mountaineers improved to the 89th offense in the land, going from 20.6 points and 322 total yards per game to 26.5 points and 413 total yards on average. While not eye-popping marks, the positive upward production trend, third-year of HC Neal Brown’s tenure and nine returning starters has me thinking this WVU offense could score 30 points per game this season. If they do, Doege will likely break into the top-50 of quarterback scoring in 6-point per passing TD leagues. He’s currently being ranked in the QB65 range despite throwing over 285 yards in half of his starts, but could finish in the QB40 ballpark if things break right.