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QB - Austin Kendall, Louisiana Tech | 13% Owned
The well-traveled former four-star recruit was originally rated as the ninth best pro-style quarterback from the 2016 prep class, committing to Oklahoma before transferring to West Virginia when it became obvious that he wouldn’t ever see meaningful playing time in Norman. Though he started for the Mountaineers in 2019, Kendall was beat out for the job in 2020 by WVU QB Jarrett Doege. Nevertheless he persisted by choosing to transfer to La Tech this summer in order to play out his final season of eligibility as a starter.
The decision is proving to be prescient, as Kendall promptly beat out Luke Anthony and got the starting nod for the Bulldogs’ opener against Mississippi State. The Power Five transfer proceeded to throw for 269 yards and a 2-to-1 ratio to go with 68 rush yards and one touchdown against an SEC caliber defense. Last weekend against a potent SMU team, he threw for 351 yards, 8.6 YPA, a 4-to-1 ratio and a rushing TD en route to a 47.55 point explosion. Kendall deserved to win the game, but a hail-mary ricochet into Reggie Roberson’s arms for the heartbreaking loss.
La Tech begins their C-USA schedule this Saturday with a delectable matchup against North Texas who is 112th in total yardage allowed. Kendall will likely be posting his third 30+ point game of the season in the affair.
RB - Jaylen Warren, Oklahoma State | 7% Owned
With Utah State in disarray following the dismissal of former HC Gary Andersen who appeared totally checked out in 2020. Warren hit the portal on November 30 and, unlike many other G5 transfers who toiled for months with no offers, was officially a member of the OSU program a mere two weeks later. Though Warren (5’8/215) posted consecutive 100-yard games to start his collegiate career back in 2019, his workload was scaled back after ball security issues popped up.
His 2020 began with another high-volume debut, rushing 24 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns against Boise State. He then rushed for 121 yards and 13.4 YPC on just nine carries against Fresno State before entering the transfer portal once HC Andersen was fired immediately after the Fresno St. game.
This season Warren started out behind LD Brown and Dezmon Jackson in the RB pecking order. However after LD disappointed in his first two contests with 26 carries for 55 yards, one TD and a fumble, Warren was tabbed to carry the mail against Boise State last weekend. And carry the mail he did, rushing 32 times for 218 yards, 6.8 YPC and two touchdowns in the narrow 21-20 victory. In the post-game presser HC Gundy cryptically revealed that he has VERY little faith in their passing game behind Spencer Sanders and Shane Illingworth, with OSU attempting just 13 passes in the contest to 57 rushing attempts.
I expect a heavily run-based game script going forward for the Cowboys when they square off against Kansas State this Saturday, with Warren firmly established as the lead back. Go out and get him if he’s available in your league.
RB - Keaton Mitchell, ECU | 7% Owned
Through the course of the 2020 season RB Rahjai Harris (5’10/205) was the established lead back of ECU, averaging 42.5 snaps per game over the first seven contests. In their eighth game against Temple, Harris was injured after 25 snaps and unable to play in the season finale against SMU the following week. What’s very concerning about Harris is the fact that he fumbled a whopping six times in 2020.
Through the first six games of 2020 Mitchell logged an average of 16 reps per game as Harris’ backup. However in the next three games of the year he emerged as a vital part of the offense logging an average of 33 snaps while posting two, 100-yard games and two touchdowns while also securing 3-of-3 passes for 34 yards. Of the 50 carries Mitchell handled, eight of them went for 15+ yards as his explosiveness became evident.
Mitchell (5’9/170) has carried over the small sample size success from 2020 into this season. He only carried four times for 50 yards in Week one against Appalachian State, but was lethal through the air securing 6-of-7 passes for 80 yards and a 63-yard touchdown on a dump off pass where he turned on the jets and outran the entire Appy secondary. He didn’t do much in Week 2 against SEC opponent South Carolina, but against a strong Marshall defense Mitchell took a handoff and burst through the line for an 88-yard touchdown. According to Recruiting Analytics, Keaton hit a blistering 22.2 MPH on the run, which was the third fastest mark from the Week 3 slate.
Mitchell’s elite jets are somewhat akin to a G5 version of Texas A&M speed-merchant Devon Achane. Still just a second-year freshman, Mitchell’s ability to break off big runs is special. He’s an electric all-purpose weapon who has game-changing potential and should be snapped up this week as ECU faces FCS opponent Charleston Southern this Saturday.
WR - Micah Davis, Air Force | 9% Owned
Do you know what never fails to get my CFF juices flowing? Wide receivers who get copious amounts of snaps at running back, as it’s a lot easier to have the ball handed to a player than to try and catch it downfield. When it comes to Air Force, air-yards are at a premium while their rushing attack is amongst the most prolific in the nation on a yearly basis. Thus, if an option wideout isn’t occasionally getting totes, then that player is effectively worthless for CFF purposes.
Though I have never recommended an armed services pass catcher in my 20 years doing CFF, we’ve seen many things about our way of life change over the past 18 months. Why can’t option wideouts make a leap into relevance? Regarding Davis, it’s easy to have overlooked his potential heading into this season, as he saw just 25 offensive snaps in four appearances with all of them coming at wideout. Davis’ anonymity continued throughout the spring with the upstart wideout listed as a backup to Jake Spiewak, who I believe is the son of the California Angels’ starting pitcher, Dave Spiewak, in the comedic classic “Naked Gun” which contains arguably the greatest 15 minutes of baseball related comedy in cinematic history (earmuffs, Major League stans).
However once the season got rolling Davis not only had secured a starting role in the receiving alignment, but as a rotational backfield member as well. For perspective, Davis has logged 84 snaps in the backfield-to-71 snaps as a receiver through three games this year. As a rusher Davis has received 15 carries for 146 yards, 9.7 yards per carry and three touchdowns, with PFF bestowing a strong 78.8 rushing grade upon him so far. That’s not to say he hasn’t been a factor in the passing game either, as Davis has accounted for 164 of Air Force QB Haaziq Daniels’ 281 passing yards, a 58% yardage share, to go with one touchdown and a 14.9 yard ADOT, showing that when Daniels does throw to him, it’s generally downfield.
All told, Davis has accounted for 310 total yards on 22 touches and four touchdowns in just three games this year. His usage and productivity makes Davis an intriguing hybrid RB/WR pickup who retains WR eligibility despite the majority of his work coming out of the backfield.
WR - Dontayvion Wicks, UVA | 3% Owned
In 2019 Virginia was one of just three teams who produced three wide receivers with 100-targets or more, as then QB Bryce Perkins unleashed 520 passes which was 5th most in the country. HC Bronco Mendenhall's pass-happy ways have continued apace, as 2021 superstar CFF QB Brennan Armstrong has thrown 121 passes in three contests, good for eighth most in the nation.
One of my tried-and-true CFF initiatives in every single draft I participate in is to make sure to acquire at least one UVA wide receiver. While Billy Kemp was an obvious choice based on his 97 targets in 10 games in 2020, but who the other high-usage targets would be was still very much up in the air. The overwhelming favorite to be another target leader was Lavel Davis and his eye-popping 25.6 YPC in 2020. That plan was shuttered when fate intervened to snuff out Davis’ 2021 upside, as the big play wideout tore an ACL in spring, leading to rampant speculation as to who would assume the primary outside playmaker role.
The two most logical candidates were Ra’Shaun Henry and Dontayvion Wicks, and those two players have held serve by carving out the most snaps on the outside through three games. However it has been Wicks who established himself as the preferred option, catching 14-of-21 targets for 346 yards and three touchdowns in three games. His deep-threat role has been exceedingly consistent as well, with Wicks’ average target depth eclipsing 20 yards in all three games this season. Last week against UNC was clearly his breakout performance, as the rising sophomore secured 7-of-8 targets for 183 yards, 26.1 YPC and a touchdown in addition to reeling in three of his four contested targets.
With Wicks looking entrenched in his role as a field-stretching playmaker, his paltry 3% ownership rate will necessarily skyrocket. Hope on said rocket, and take the ride.
TE - Tyrick James, Tulane | 9% Owned
James wasn’t on anybody’s radar heading into the season, as the 6-foot-2, 245 pound H-Back had only caught 18-of-26 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns through a full 12-game season, despite the pandemic. Turning the page to 2021, Tulane has emerged as a powerful offensive force that has been both efficient and explosive, averaging a sterling 42.3 points per game with 17 touchdowns scored in just three weeks, with nine of those TDs coming through the air. Second-year freshman QB Michael Pratt has continued to improve upon his revelatory 2020 in which he was one of the best freshman quarterbacks in the country, regardless of their AAC schedule.
Tulane has increased their passing volume thanks to new OC Chip Long, who occupied the same post at blue-blood Notre Dame. In 2020 the Wave averaged 177 passing YPG. That number has jumped to 251 YPG, with Tyrick James being a significant beneficiary of the increased reliance on Pratt’s golden arm. In three contests, with two of them coming against Oklahoma and Ole Miss for Tom Brady’s (AKA - “God’s”) sake, James caught 11-of-12 targets for 189 yards and two touchdowns. In fact his 3.15 yards per route (hat tip to PFF, once again) ranks fifth in the country. Just as impressive, his passer rating when thrown to is a perfect 158.3. James is one of only three tight ends in the country to achieve that rating.
This week Tulane faces C-USA stalwart UAB, with games at defensively-challenged ECU (YES!) and Houston on tap thereafter. If James is lighting up upper-echelon Power 5 teams, imagine what he’s capable of in AAC play?
RB - Dylan McDuffie, Buffalo | 0%
RB - Montrell Johnson, Arkansas State | 1%
WR - Jalen McMillan, Washington | 12%
WR - A.T. Perry, Wake Forest | 1%
TE - Gerrit Prince, UAB | 1%