Not every collegiate star sees his career pan out exactly as anticipated. Many don’t finish where they started. Some see injuries, personal or family problems necessitate a detour. Troy Aikman had his career at Oklahoma change immediately following a broken ankle, an injury that allowed Jamelle Holieway take over the starting job and lead Oklahoma to the title back during the height of the mullet era. Aikman headed west to UCLA and the rest, as they say, is history. Zak Kustok began his career at Notre Dame before he transferred to Northwestern and electrified a rejuvenated Wildcat program. More recently BYU great Max Hall began his career at Arizona State. Ben Mauk moved to Cincy after starting in Winston-Salem, and Jevan Snead has helped Ole Miss reach new heights after losing a heated quarterback battle with Colt McCoy. A transfer, unexpected redshirt or family/personal problems shouldn’t cause a fantasy drafter to see a potential risk; rather they should signal an opportunity. Things change, and talented players who land in the right system can become immediate impact players.
2009 will see plenty of such players looking to set their careers back on track. They may be new faces in new places, old faces looking to reclaim a key role, or they may be recruits that many have forgotten after less-than-spectacular freshman campaigns. All have gotten older, grown stronger, and have likely matured as they’ve had to adapt, improvise and overcome. They all may not be draft day homers, but the fantasy football drafter would be wise to remember each as draft day approaches.
#1 Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Living here in the Midwest I’ve seen some very talented quarterbacks go through Ann Arbor. And not one, save for maybe Drew Henson, appeared to have more raw ability than Ryan Mallett. Filling for the injured Chad Henne in 2007 Mallett at times looked the part of deer-in-headlights freshman. His 2007 numbers (43% pass completion, 892 yards with seven touchdowns against five picks) didn’t overwhelm, but again, these don’t tell the whole story. Because at other points Mallet appeared, to paraphrase a line from Crash Davis, to have been blessed by gods who reached down and turned his right arm into a thunderbolt. The switch from a Lloyd Carr traditional set to the spread attack favored by Rich Rodriguez caused Mallet to look elsewhere. And Bobby Petrino was waiting with open arms.
And it is likely Mallet’s practice performances were the impetus behind quarterback Nathan Dick’s decision to depart Fayetteville and head to Central Arkansas. The job is Mallet’s.
The Razorbacks certainly have their holes. But they also have an interesting group of skill talent, led by the speedster back Michael Smith (to be spelled by USC transfer Broderick Green) and the dynamic tight end D.J. Williams. Super athlete Joe Adams has us intrigued at wide receiver, and both Marques Wade and Lucas Miller appear on track to return from their knee injuries.
Yes the Razorbacks have to navigate a SEC gauntlet that features games with Georgia, Bama, Florida and LSU. But they also open with Missouri State, draw Eastern Michigan on Halloween and Troy two weeks later. As your other quarterbacks are engaged in grueling slugfests Mallet could blow up during these stretch run contests. And considering that Bobby Petrino has recently worked magic with Stefon LeFors and Brian Brohm, is it really hard to envision a super season and career from this Texarkana talent?
#2 Mike Williams, Syracuse
I like the Mike Williams and Syracuse story for two reasons. First because Williams, who was suspended for the 2008 season thanks to an academic integrity issue, had every reason in the world to tuck his tail between his legs, head to a lower division school and then try his shot at Sunday. But as Donnie Webb articulates well in his Syracuse blog Williams took the road less traveled by and decided to finish what he started with the Orange.
Second because I’m impressed as hell with new Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. One of this writer’s favorite finds this season has been the The Quad Blog by The New York Times, a collection of news and comment on the world of college athletics. In a recent piece the intense, Syracuse-loving Marrone spelled out his plan to rebuild the proud program. And I’m on board with whatever this guy would tell me to do.
Syracuse will not be a very good football team, but it will be a better team. There are questions at quarterback, and their prime runner, Curtis Brinkley, has moved on. But they do return an intriguing back in Antwon Bailey and a roster full of workers who appear willing to really compete. And Mike Williams will be ready to go.
Williams caught 60 balls for 837 yards in 2007, and one would expect that the wiser Williams would be in even better shape than before. Marrone will cater to his team’s strengths, and this will likely mean lots of deep balls to his top receiver, regardless of who’s taking the snaps.
#3 Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech
The former Louisville runner will add yet another talent to the Georgia Tech backfield; though there is concern about a lack of carries, even in the triple option. Allen averaged 4.7 yards per carry for Louisville while tallying seven ground scores in 2007. Even though he may not emerge as a prime threat in the GT offense, these numbers are certainly within reach for 2009.
He’ll have to compete with Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt, Roddy Jones and Lucas Cox, but for a team that is content to throw the ball as often as Woody Hayes, don’t let the depth ahead of Allen scare you away. He’ll be especially valuable in a total-points league where you can stand a sub par week because the potential for a 250-3 week will be present as long as Anthony Allen is running the ball for Paul Johnson.
#4 Darrell Scott, Colorado
The fact that very few freshmen make a splash isn’t enough to appease fans when the consensus top running back recruit fails to come close to expectations. When Darrell Scott spurned Texas and chose Boulder as his college town the marriage seemed tailor-made for an incoming freshman back to emerge as one of the nation’s top fantasy backs. And following a season with 448 yards and one touchdown, it aint no surprise we have love on the rocks. But fantasy owners shouldn’t give up on this relationship just yet.
Whatever could go wrong for Darrell Scott in 2008 did go wrong. He needed to take care of some academic business over the summer, and then he stopped mixing in enough salads. When finally in the mix Scott couldn’t stay healthy, and the running back duties fell to sophomore Demetrius Sumler and the relatively unknown freshman Rodney Stewart. While each showed flashes, neither possesses anywhere near the ability of Darrell Scott.
Colorado appears very close to doing some very good things offensively. And with a schedule that doesn’t feature too many dominating defenses it’s likely we’ll see a significant improvement on their 20 points per game average of 2008. If this happens it’ll likely be on the back of this leaner and more mature sophomore runner.
#5 Ryan Mathews, Fresno State
There are more questions than answers with Ryan Mathews. Can he recover from a very strange knee/foot injury that essentially ended his season around Halloween? Can he remain healthy for the entire campaign? Who will emerge as the fifth Fresno State offensive coordinator in the last five years? And finally, what type of impact will the loss of quarterback Tom Brandstater have on the running game?
It’s easy to forget about Mathews. After all there are about 20 national backs that fall into the “Boy, he could be really good provided______” category. But it’d behoove owners to remember that he has scored 22 touchdowns in his first season and a half. Consider him one of those flyer picks that is made once you’re confident about your running back depth.
#6 Kevin Jurovich, San Jose State
Back in middle school it was cool to say you had mono. It seemed that any time a pretty girl was out for more than a day it was because she had, “you know…mono” and all the boys wished they had it too. Clearly the draw of mononucleosis wanes the older one becomes; in fact it can end a college football season or a career. If Kevin Jurovich is granted a medical redshirt and allowed to participate in 2009 then we have the return of a top-flight national wide receiver.
Jurovich’s bout with mono cost him nearly the entire 2008 campaign, and this was a big loss for both the Spartans and fantasy owners considering Jurovich was coming off a 85-1183-9 2007 season. By our calculations Jurovich has a redshirt year to burn and the NCAA usualy looks favorably on these situations. Look for quarterback Kyle Reed to mature as a passer, and he’ll need to lean on Jurovich. San Jose State’s season came apart because they struggled to move the ball against defenses that possessed any type of talent. In fact the Spartans averaged nine points in their final three contests.
This woeful offensive output was enough to jettison offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo off to Wyoming, and now it appears that coach Steve Morton will tweak a spread offense that did very little in 2008. No matter what happens they’d be wise to feature Kevin Jurovich.
#7 Keith Nichol, Michigan State
His inclusion on this list does not mean we’re putting all our chips on the Oklahoma refugee winning the starting quarterback job for the Spartans, but we’re feeling pretty confident. Nichol’s time in Norman has been well documented. He initially spurned the Spartans for a chance to lead the Sooners, and as a true freshman he engaged in a battle with Sam Bradford and Joey Hazle that went down the wire during the summer of 2007. Bradford emerged as the victor, and now he has a nice trophy at home.
Nichol returned to his home state to play for the Spartans, and this wasn’t done with holding a clipboard in mind. He’ll need to fend off Kirk Cousins, who throws a very nice pass, but it’ll be Nichol’s run-pass threat that will likely make the difference.
We said it before and we’ll say it again: the MSU offense of 2009 will show little resemblance to the 2008 version. Expect more shotgun formations, sprint outs and quarterback draws that will better suit an offense adding a mobile quarterback while subtracting a workhorse tailback.
#8 Jaycen Taylor, Purdue
Taylor was all set to team with Curtis Painter and Kory Sheets in order to send Joe Tiller off into the sunset and to the legendary coach’s Wyoming ranch. As the poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” A knee injury ended Taylor’s season before it began, Sheets carried a bad team, and Joe Tiller handed the keys to Danny Hope following a 4-8 season. Assuming he receives a medical redshirt, which is not a guarantee, Taylor returns with a rehabilitated knee and a chance to emerge as the clear #1 Purdue running back for the first time in his career.
The JUCO from Los Angeles was a contributor immediately upon his arrival in West Lafayette. In 2007 he ran for 560 yards and scored four touchdowns, with the season highlighted by a 20-157-2 showing against Northwestern. He has shown an ability to gain Big Ten yardage that is often hard to find, and he’ll be expected to lead a team in transition.
The Purdue schedule doesn’t have many games that scream offensive explosion, but it is certainly possible to envision a healthy Jaycen Taylor concluding his collegiate career with a 800-8 senior season.
#9 Jameel Sewell, Virginia
We spoke of Sewell in our recent ACC Coastal Look Ahead, and as we’re out of new things to say, we’ll just repeat a great deal right here. The Cavaliers will become the 115th D-1 program to commit to a spread attack, and Sewell’s return presents an interesting fantasy prospect who appears hell-bent on making amends for an academic misstep that cost him the 2008 campaign.
Al Groh probably doesn’t want to sell his house, especially not in this market, and the best chance for the coach to remain gainfully employed in Charlottesville likely involves putting his offense in the hands of this fifth-year senior. And we think he'll do just that.
Sewell has shown flashes during his career, but not enough to declare him the clear-cut favorite to start over Marc Verica or even Vic Hall, let alone emerge as a start-worthy fantasy quarterback. And let’s be honest here folks, other than Heath Miller the Cavaliers haven’t produced many fantasy stars of late. Still Sewell is at least intriguing enough to make the list.
#10 James Montgomery, Washington State
It seems like a lot longer than four years ago when Jerome Harrison turned in a season that saw him gain over 2100 yards from scrimmage to go along with 17 touchdowns. Since then the scatback has seen some carries for the Cleveland Browns while his alma mater has fallen on hard times. And now the Cougars hope that a transfer from Cal, James Montgomery, can improve an offensive unit that has nowhere to go but up.
Montgomery was a highly touted prep star who found himself behind some talented backs and residing in Berkeley, California. And he didn’t like either. Now he heads to Pullman with hopes of emerging as the man in the backfield. Montgomery saw about 35 carries for Cal in 2007, and one would assume he’s going to be revved up and ready to go when the Cougars kick off the season by hosting Stanford.
Speaking of schedules, the Cougars do have an interesting slate. After the season-opening conference tilt they welcome two defensively challenged squads, SMU and Hawaii, to Pullman. Of course you can forget about Montgomery for a while as Wazzu travels to USC and Oregon and Cal in three of the next four weeks.
He’ll be nowhere near an every-week back, but James Montgomery may emerge as a player in Pac-10 leagues and as a desperation early-season starter.
Others of note
QB Nick Foles, Arizona
The Michigan State transfer will seriously push Matt Scott for the starting quarterback job. He's more like Tuitama (relatively immobile) but with a stronger arm.
QB Justin Burke, Louisville
The decision of Matt Simms has thrown the Louisville quarterback job wide open. And this N.C. State transfer will be in the mix.
QB Nick Fanuzzi, Rice
He'll compete to take over for Chase Clement. At least the bar wasn't set too high...
RB Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
Tailback redshirted last year and watched Darren Evans emerge as the every-down back. Hard to envision a big year.
RB Luke Lippincott, Nevada
First he needs to receive a medical redshirt. Then he needs to supplant Vai Taua.
WR DeSean Hales, Texas
His future is at receiver and we could see an emergence from this speedster.
WR Jarred Fayson, Illinois
The Florida transfer has definite talent, but if Illinois can't get the ball in Benn's hands with any regularity should we expect real production from Fayson?
Impact players that will be back (medical redshirts or other)/b>
QB Jameel Sewell, Virginia
RB Re'quan Boyette, Duke
RB Jaycen Taylor, Purdue
WR Jordan Shipley, Texas
WR Mike Williams, Syracuse
TE Jameson Konz, Kent State
Impact players that could be back (medical redshirts or other)/b>
RB Luke Lippincott, Nevada
RB Manase Tonga, BYU
WR Ty Paffett, Air Force
TE Tony Moeaki, Iowa
Transfers eligible to play 2009
QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
QB G.J. Kinne, Tulsa
QB Keith Nichol, Michigan State
QB Nick Fanuzzi, Rice
QB Nick Foles, Arizona
QB Justin Burke, Louisville
QB Peter Lalich, Oregon State
QB Clark Harrell, Abilene Christian (Div-II)
QB Curtis Pulley, Florida A&M (Div-II)
RB Alex Allen, Georgia Tech
RB James Montgomery, Wazzu
RB Lance Smith, Memphis
RB Randy Hardin, Lousiana Tech
RB Riley Nelson, BYU
RB Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
WR James Cleveland, Houston
WR Jarred Fayson, Illinios
WR Josh Jarboe, Troy
WR Ryan Ellis, Arizona
WR Terence Jeffers, Vanderbilt
WR Tray Herndon, Vanderbilt
TE Colin Peek, Alabama
TE DajLeon Furr, Memphis
Transfers eligible to play 2010
QB Cameron Sexton, TBD (Div-II)
QB Chris Smelley , Alabama (baseball)
QB Giovanni Vizza, Texas A&M
QB J.J. McDermott, SMU
QB Jake Christensen, TBD (possibly Illinois State)
QB Josh Portis, TBD
QB Logan Turner, Southeastern Oklahoma (Div-II)
QB Matt Simms, Cinci
QB Mike Paulus, TBD
QB Nathan Dick, University of Central Arkansas
QB Nick Graziano, Arkansas Tech
QB Pat Devlin, Delaware
QB Phillip Bates, Ohio
QB Robert Marve, TBD
QB Tommy Beecher, South Carolina
QB Wesley Carroll, FIU
RB Broderick Green, Arkansas
RB Sam McGuffie, Rice
RB Shawnbrey McNeal, SMU (seeking a waiver to be eligible in 2009)
WR Chris Slaughter, Copiah-Lincoln Community College
WR Freddie Brown , TBD (Div-II)
WR Jeremy Francis, May be back for Oregon State
WR Jermaine McKenzie, Memphis
WR LaVorick Williams, Texas Tech (track)
WR Ralph Spry, Auburn
WR Ricky Dixon , Texas Southern
WR Tyler Stradford , North Texas (seeking a waiver to be eligible in 2009)
WR Vidal Hazelton, Cincinnati
TE Will Yeatman, Maryland (lacrosse)