Every year a handful of college fantasy footballers cap fine careers with great senior campaigns. Last year’s winner of our inaugural “Finish up Strong Award” was Florida State’s senior back Antone Smith. The Seminole began his career with a great deal of hype, drawing comparisons to Warrick Dunn. Smith’s first two seasons saw him share carries with Lorenzo Booker, and through three years he had only 11 touchdowns. Then he emerged to the tune of nearly 900 yards and 16 scores, causing owners who had tossed Smith back into the lake to lament their horrible misfortune.
In order to prevent ye of little of faith from giving up on yet another senior on the cusp of a breakout season I’ve compiled a list of five players with the potential to exceed the expectations that have been set through their first three years. Each is certainly capable of making major improvements as a senior, and cagey drafters can emerge with some mid-late round steals.
Brandon Minor, Michigan
Brandon Minor has seen his carries and yardage increase through his first three years in Ann Arbor, and his junior season saw him score 11 times. Though it’s his final six games of 2008 that really provide a glimpse at what 2009 could bring.
Minor scored nine touchdowns down the stretch, and as the Wolverines’ lost season sputtered to its merciful end, a team leader emerged. Minor doesn’t have blazing speed, but he runs hard. He’ll have a better fit at quarterback to take some of the heat off, and he also will see a schedule that is anything but daunting (open with four home games against Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and Indiana).
As we’ve previously mentioned, Minor is not Steve Slaton. But he’s a workhorse, and for a coach that could REALLY use a nice season to keep the wolves away from the door, it makes sense to lean on such a back.
C.J. Spiller, Clemson
C.J. Spiller has scored 27 touchdowns in his career, so it’s not like we’ve been sitting back waiting for this guy to do something. He’s a dual-threat, breakaway back and he’s teamed with James Davis to provide an impressive one-two punch. And now, though some young pups anxious for carries surround him, the Clemson running game may become The C.J. Spiller Show.
By all accounts Spiller and new coach Dabo Swinney have a great relationship; in fact Spiller spoke of hanging around back in October just to play for Coach Swinney. And we can expect that the senior, whose career-high in carries is 145, will definitely blow past that number, provided he can stay healthy.
Dabo Swinney needs a senior back to take pressure off the rest of his young skill position players. C.J. Spiller needs to prove to those Sunday folks that he can carry the load for an entire season. We think this turns out to be a win-win, and we’re all fans of those.
Spiller has gained 3252 total yards from scrimmage in his career, and this equates to 6.8 yards per touch. 220 carries and 40 receptions will equate to over 1700 yards from scrimmage and if touch to touchdown ratio is prorated then we’re looking at eleven scores…but keep in mind this is with another back vulturing many of the goal line touches.
Mike Kafka, Northwestern
Mike Kafka hasn’t done a great deal during his time in Evanston. He started four games in 2006, but his numbers didn’t show a great deal of fantasy promise, and the last two seasons have seen Mike Kafka watching C.J. Bacher lead the Wildcat offensive attack. Though thanks to C.J. Bacher’s injury woes Kafka did see significant action in two contests during the 2008 campaign. And each provided ample evidence that the rising senior may be in for a big 2009.
Last November Kafka saw significant action at Minnesota and against Ohio State. His passing numbers in the two games (30-43, 320 yards with two touchdowns and three picks) don’t stand out; it’s what the signal caller did with his wheels that jump off the page. Kafka ran for 217 yards and two scores against Minnesota, and he gained 83 yards and a touchdown against the stout Buckeye defense. And fantasy owners had visions of Zak Kustok dancing in their heads.
Kafka is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback who will lead a team in need of a new ground workhorse. The offensive line is improving by the minute, and the Wildcats’ schedule features non-league games against Miami (OH), Towson, Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. Ohio State and Michigan are nowhere to be found on the 2009 slate.
It’s unlikely that Kafka will outperform the likes of Terrelle Pryor, Juice Williams and Daryll Clark next season. But once we move past the expected big three, there is no reason to think that Kafka can’t emerge as the fourth-best quarterback in the conference, and one for BCS fantasy owners to consider when matchups are ideal.
David Gettis, Baylor
A couple of years ago a loyal reader emailed regarding this speedster at Baylor whom we had apparently overlooked. We had seen this youngster during the 2004 Army All-American Bowl but we had kind of forgotten because, after all, he was…going to Baylor. David Gettis was his name, and he was going to emerge as a deep threat and fantasy producer for Baylor. And now, two years later, David Gettis is a rising senior.
Kendall Wright is the best wide receiver on Baylor’s roster, and he’s one of the most promising pass catchers in the conference. But there are plenty of touchdown passes to be thrown by Robert Griffin in 2009, and he can’t throw them all to his favorite target. This is where the 6’3” Gettis (and his world-class speed) enters the picture.
Gettis has caught 64 balls for 880 yards and one touchdown during his three seasons in Waco. He hasn’t caught a touchdown since 2006, and his best game last season saw him catch five balls for only 73 yards in the win over Iowa State. Clearly Gettis has provided little reason to believe he’ll break out in a big way next season. Still, with all that speed and a quarterback improving by the minute, we think Gettis is worth a late round shot.
Baylor is often content to abandon the running game and just let Griffin make things happen. And more often than not Griffin makes the right the decision. Teams will double Wright, and Griffin’s continued maturation will allow him to look to the other side of the field. And he’ll find David Gettis behind the secondary on plenty of occasions. Many (if not all) drafters in your league will forget about Gettis, thus he’s a perfect sleeper: low risk/high reward.
Stafon Johnson, USC
I know, I know, I know. Since the departures of Reggie Bush and LenDale White it’s been impossible to put faith in ANY USC running back. There’s too much talent and too few carries to go around. Sure talented backs do transfer, but then more talented backs come right in and put us right back where we started. However with young Stafon Johnson there just seems to be a different feel.
This writer thinks Johnson is the most complete back of the bunch. He’s dealt with disappointment and he’s grown stronger for the experience. He’s seen his carries increase from three as a frosh, to 98 as a soph to 138 as a junior in 2008. Johnson ran for 905 yards in 2008 while scoring nine touchdowns, bringing his career totals to 1395 yards with 14 scores. While Joe McKnight was nursing his injuries Johnson was appearing in every USC contest. And now, heading into his senior year, Johnson should enter camp as the favorite to lead the ground attack while an unproven quarterback settles into his role.
Maybe I place too much emphasis on the fact that Johnson is a local kid who has hung around when it would have been easy to transfer or sulk when the carries weren’t coming. But I also recognize that veteran backs with the toughness to run between the tackles and the speed to outrun the secondary are few and far between. Stafon Johnson will have to share a little bit, but when all is said and done he may surpass 1200 yards and 12 scores in 2009.
Sometimes we’re too quick to give up on a player who may not perform up to our standards. It’s easy to cut bait and run, only to be burned when a Jordan Shipley does explode and become a fantasy superstar. In tough times like this it’s important to keep the faith and trust that players will mature and meet the high standards of fantasy owners everywhere.
Until next time, take care of yourselves…and each other.