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CFF Offseason Targets Series - Part 1 (February 2023)
A series of articles focused on players I like for re-drafts this offseason.
As the old saying goes, there are three things in this life that are guaranteed: death, taxes, and the BIG10 providing CFF relevant RBs. I have identified in this article two that are worth your consideration. For many of you, they will be familiar names.
Disclosure: We are early in the offseason and things can change quickly. I reserve the right to change my mind as we gather new information.
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Josh McCray (6’1, 235), RB - Illinois
Josh McCray needs to be talked about more in CFF circles this offseason. Everyone knows the numbers RB Chase Brown put up in this system last year, right? We also saw what fellow BIG10 plus-sized RB Braelon Allen (6’2, 235) did when he was playing under a run-first head coach at Wisconsin, right? Shoot, McCray even wears that fat number ‘0’ like Braelon. I think you can see where I’m going with this…
Coincidently Bret Bielema, Illinois head football coach, at one point coached at Wisconsin too. This guy lives and breathes the run game. A BIG10 West head coach if i’ve ever seen one. During his time as head coach at Arkansas (2013-2017), his team featured a 1000 yard rusher in four out of the five seasons, including two in 2014. During his time as head coach at Wisconsin (2006-2012) his team featured a 1000 yard rusher every season except 2008, including two in 2010.
We know what Illinois wants to do offensively, the same OC that saw Brown carry the rock 328(!) times for 1643 yards and 10 TDs last season returns to the helm, and I believe it is his intention to establish the run once again this season. Indeed, the run should be established behind a senior-laden offensive line in 2023, the question on our minds is whether that volume will be concentrated into one player, and if so, who?
I guess my fellow CFF managers have forgotten about my boy McCray. Allow me to bring him to your attention. McCray, a 6’1 235 pound monster, hails from Enterprise, Alabama and is entering his third year of CFB. It might be easy to forget about him, as Brown stole all the headlines last season in a surprisingly strong campaign for the Illinois football team. However, McCray already has a history of solid production in his short career. In 2021, his freshman season, McCray ran 112 times for 549 yards and 2 TDs. Sure, I would have liked to see more TDs, but Illinois was bad in 2021, and the yards per cary average for McCray was strong at 4.9.
Now you might be saying, well, sure the system is solid but it’s not a forgone conclusion that McCray wins the starting position this upcoming season. This is true. When you look at rushing statistics for the Fighting Illini in 2022, underneath Brown you see Reggie Love (71-330-2) and Chase Hayden (22-87-0), and then you see McCray (19-56-0). Fret not fellow CFF managers. First, McCray was injured for most of 2022, and this gave way to other players to get carries. Next, Hayden has run out of eligibility (…this is still a thing?) and will not be on the roster next season. When you look at 2021 the rotation is clear, McCray was number two behind Brown, and substantially ahead of Reggie Love in terms of carries. In fact, McCray cannibalized Brown’s CFF value enough in 2021 to render him borderline unusable as a CFF asset. Lest we forget that before Brown’s prolific season in 2022, McCray was the big dog breathing down his neck in 2021.
McCray has the size to withstand a substantial workload and it is my hunch that he will be numero uno (or numero cero, I suppose) on that depth chart come August. If he is he should be regarded as a valuable CFF asset, and I would not hesitate to invest significant draft capital on him. Illinois’ system favours the run, and what’s more, they’ll be breaking in a new QB in Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmyer, encouraging signs for McCray’s breakout season potential. Sure, the staff could end up splitting the backfield carries in a similar manner to 2021, that’s definitely a risk. However, this team saw much more success in 2022 with a bell-cow as the focal point on offence, and I believe that the staff will seek to re-produce this formula in 2023. Indeed, I foresee a volume pig running wild in Champaign this season. Hop aboard the hype train with me.
Side note. For those who may be new to CFF it bears spelling out directly while I’m on the topic of McCray’s CFF profile. Hopefully it is becoming obvious the more I write these articles. When assessing a player’s CFF value, the emphasis of my thought process comes down to the system. What is the system’s track record at that position, what are the tendencies of the play callers etc. The system is everything, volume is king- I mean, it’s in the name of my content, VolumePigs, for a reason. You might not think that a player is very good. That’s OK. The pivotal question is whether the player occupies a position in a system that features that position heavily. If the answer is yes then I’m already 80% in. It doesn’t matter if he’s featured on PFF twitter graphics, or where Mel Kiper has him mock drafted, or the logo on his helmet. Blah blah blah. None of that matters in CFF. Follow the volume, the volume (almost always) will lead you to the production.
Kaleb Johnson (6'0, 212) RB - Iowa
Speaking of systems, I’m interested in investing in one of the lowest scoring units in CFB last year- wait, what?
Don’t worry, Brian Ferentz didn’t have a gun to my head when I wrote this profile. My interest is genuine. I assume many of my fellow CFF managers are aware of Kaleb Johnson from last season. A true freshman out of Hamilton, Ohio, KJ had a stellar first season considering the anemic offence he played in, rushing 151 times for 779 yards, 6 TDs, and a cool 5.2 ypc. Those are good numbers for a frosh, but they won’t cut it as a stellar CFF asset. I think there’s reason to believe his production will jump in 2023, so let’s turn the heat up here shall we?
I love when there are unique situations in CFB. Deion Sanders coaching his son at Colorado also comes to mind. Unique in the sense that the play calling might abnormally focus volume and stats into a particular player, or emphasize scoring more than usual. There’s just something about familial connections on football staffs that says to me, some crazy shit could happen here. KJ finds himself in a unique situation in 2023 too.
Let’s just go through a quick recap of the Iowa Hawkeye offence in the last two seasons under OC Brian Ferentz. Iowa finished 130th and 123rd nationally in team offence (total yards per game) in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Many speculated that Brian Ferentz would be fired this offseason. He may very well have if not for the fact that his father, Kirk Ferentz, currently CEOs the Hawkeye football program. Instead, Brian’s contract was revised in a unique way that could benefit CFF managers. One of the amendments that caught my eye was the stipulation that Iowa must average at least 25 points per game by the end of the 2023 season. My mind immediately went to the Iowa Hawkeyes OOC schedule. Iowa opens the season with Utah State, Iowa State and Western Michigan. Bingo. Brian Ferentz would be wise to run the score up as much as possible on the weaker opponents of their schedule next season, and Utah State and Western Michigan in particular should be ripe for the taking. Iowa also plays Northwestern, Rutgers, Purdue, Nebraska and Michigan State, which should be games where they can score significant points too.
This team will not be taking knees, or conservatively running out the clock late in the 4th quarter under Brian Ferentz next season- well, not if he wants to keep his job, which I’m assuming he does, perhaps to my detriment. Of course, Iowa will still play to win games, but I would expect that the OC will be looking for every and any opportunity to put points up.
Now you might be saying that this situation is not as unique as you make it seem, VolumePigs, it is implicitly implied that every OC should try to score as much as possible. Sure, there is truth to that. But I think the fact that the terms are laid out so explicitly, in a matter of fact way that the offence must reach a certain threshold, combined with the fact that the head coach is the OC’s dad (who probably wants to see him succeed) signals to me that there should be an organizational push to put up points. That’s what we want as CFF managers. KJ is the best player on this offence, and he should benefit the most from what I believe will be a tangible shift in the approach and play calling from the Iowa coaching staff.
My concern is the traditional tendency of Iowa to not funnel carries into one player, and although the shift to more aggressive play calling should be beneficial, that alone is not enough to justify KJ as a lock to be a high-end CFF RB. Iowa has typically been one of these conservative types of offences built around RBs and TEs, however they do not have a recent track record of high level CFF production from the RB1. They typically split most of the carries between two RBs, and you essentially have to go back all the way to 2011 to find the last high level CFF Iowa RB in Marcus Coker (281-1384-15).
Tyler Goodson, Iowa RB from 2019-2021, ran 256 times for 1151 yards and 6 TDs in his last season in Des Moines. That’s pretty good, but it is not exceptional. Ideally we would like to see a higher number of carries for KJ next season. I suppose the obvious question we should consider is if KJ’s predecessor couldn’t put up higher numbers, why will it be different now? Although Goodson had a solid freshman season too, and put up similar numbers to KJ’s, I do not believe he was as talented as KJ (this is just my own eye-test, take this with a grain of salt). KJ appears stronger with more potential to be explosive than Goodson, and KJ is bigger (6’0, 212) compared to Goodson (5’10, 199). That, and the fact that the OC’s seat is on fire should provide plenty of ammunition to put the ball in KJ’s hands in 2023. The OC needs points and KJ is one of, if not Iowa’s best offensive players, the formula should be simple, and I plan to bet on that in re-drafts this summer.
Right now I am looking at KJ as a potential round 10+ guy. At the very least he should provide some pop in September when Iowa plays Utah state and Western Michigan. Depending on how sharp your league is, and how many of them read VolumePigs (hopefully these two statements become synonymous one day), a big brain play could be to use KJ in September and then trade him when his stock is high before the in-conference schedule kicks off (double big brain if it’s a swap for a MAC stud, IYKYK…)