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CFF Sell Series - Part 3
Boise State, Tennessee, and Minnesota players make an appearance on the black list this week.
The most contentious series of articles in CFF returns this week, this time I’m taking aim at the Boise State RB room, Tennessee WR room, and Minnesota RBs. These articles are intended to generate discussion, so if you disagree with something I say, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Boise State RBs Ashton Jeanty & George Holani
At the conclusion of the 2022 regular season, I dusted off my spreadsheets to begin preparations for 2023. Anticipating that Holani would be transitioning to the NFL, I circled Ashton Jeanty as a player I wanted early on. Upon the disappointing news that Holani would be returning, I couldn’t help but sigh.
In cases like these, it’s a double tragedy. Holani found his way to CFF stardom last season as he returned to his 2019 form, rushing for over 1000 yards and 10 TDs while catching 24 passes for 151 yards and three more scores. It’s rare in CFF that a 1000-yard rusher returns to CFB that I plan to avoid, but such is the case.
That is, of course, because rising sophomore stud Ashton Jeanty continues to push for more playing time. Last year, Boise State (BSU) successfully managed to juggle both Holani and Jeanty’s reps while providing enough volume to see GH’s CFF stock clear the 17 fantasy point per game (FPG) threshold. But that was with Jeanty being a true freshman. Now the Jacksonville native has a year of experience under his belt, and I fear the staff will be ready to unleash him in 2023.
I watched some of the BSU games last season as I acquired Holani off of the wire in multiple leagues in September. Outside of the opener, he never saw less than 16 carries in the regular season, and the passing game usage in the first two months of the season was fantastic. The BSU offence struggled early on, but kicked into overdrive when HC Andy Avalos fired OC Tim Plough and promoted BSU legend Dirk Koetter.
They also made a change at QB, moving dual-threat weapon Taylen Green into the starter role in relief of Hank Bachmeier. The offence morphed into an exceptionally run heavy outfit for the remainder of the season, and Holani was the focal point.
Between Holani and Jeanty, the two RBs carried the ball nearly 360 times in 2022. Holani finished 2022 with 17.8 FPG and Jeanty with 10.2. It feels like this backfield will be closer to a 50-50 split next season, and I fear that will render each RB’s CFF stock useless. On the other hand, Avalos could go full Lance Leipold mode and feed his top two carriers 500+ carries between them. I am not going to bank on that in drafts this summer, but it actually isn’t that unlikely when considering the makeup of the team.
Despite the fact that this is likely to be a split carry backfield, the run-heavy focus still offers value to CFF managers. In 2021, Braelon Allen’s CFF stock was catalyzed by Chez Mellusi’s injury late in the year. Like Jeanty, Allen still put up productive numbers as RB2 in Wisconsin’s run-first approach that year, so when Mellusi went down, CFF managers everywhere ran to the wire faster than Sillicon Valley Bank depositors demanding funds. I see a similar set of circumstances with BSU. If Holani were to be unavailable for an extended period of time (or vice-versa with Jeanty), there would be substantial value in owning either RB. That’s a difficult thing to bank on when drafting, however, and I suspect you’ll be able to take whichever BSU RB you want off the wire by October. If you’re in a deeper league with large roster sizes then there’s probably some value in drafting these RBs as a hedge against the injury risk; in leagues where roster spots are limited, it’s harder to justify executing this strategy.
Tennessee Volunteer WRs
Tennessee was extremely explosive in the pass game last year, so it’s understandable that CFF managers are looking into their pass-catchers for this upcoming season. There is no individual player that I am out on, rather, I don’t see myself paying a hefty price on any specific Vol in re-drafts.
My reasoning is that the room is very cloudy, and will likely remain cloudy this summer. It is difficult to determine which of the main guys (Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton, Marquariuse ‘Squirrel’ White and Oregon transfer Donte Thornton, among others) will be featured the most, and I don’t trust myself to identify (guess) the correct one in drafts.
As far as returning production, McCoy leads the way with an 11.92 (1-ppr) FPG average from 2022. Keyton is next at 9.02, White is not far behind at 8.24. Thornton appears to be the biggest gamble as he averaged only 5.2 FPG last season at Oregon, his best game of the season is ironically when he fumbled twice vs. Utah but secured 4 passes for 151 yards. McCoy (6’3), Keyton (6’3), and Thornton (6’5) are all larger bodied receivers who seem likely to play most of their snaps on the boundary. White (5’10) is the only one of the bunch that looks like he’ll be in the slot most of the time — that is also intriguing.
Of note, the two most productive WRs on the Vols last season were Hyatt, who operated primarily from the slot, and Tillman, who operated more from the boundary. At Heupel’s last stop, UCF, during his final season with the Knights, Marlon Williams led the team in receiving with 71 receptions for 1039 yards and 10 TDs while operating often from the slot position. Jaylon Robinson was a boundary WR on that team; he secured 55 receptions for 979 yards and 6 TDs.
The other reason is the QB position is uncertain. Not that uncertain, though, as incumbent QB Milton had a pretty good game to close out the season vs. Clemson with a 25 point (4-pt passing TD) performance. Milton finished 2022 with 971 yards passing and a 10-0 TD-INT ratio. In the game he started vs. the Tigers he threw over 250 yards, 3 TDs, and added another 5 yards on the ground. In the other game he started vs. Vanderbilt in relief of Hooker, Milton threw 147 yards and a TD on 11/21 completions.
It remains to be seen if he can keep the starting position in 2023 with five-star QB Nico Iamaleava breathing down his neck; if he does hold off Nico, that’s a good indicator that Milton is probably a pretty good football player. In which case the question is which of the WRs will benefit the most from that.
Last season I picked up Jaylin Hyatt off of the wire in multiple leagues and was rewarded for it. As it stands (March 2023) I don’t see enough evidence pointing to any one or two of the WRs specifically to justify going out of my way to draft one in the top 10 rounds, so I would rather pick whoever is the last one available or take one off the wire as I did with Hyatt in a low-risk scenario.
Minnesota RBs Sean Tyler, Bryce Williams & Zach Evans
Current Gopher head coach PJ Fleck is a degenerate human being. I mean that with love, of course, as his program has become something of a hotspot for CFF managers recently. When looking at the volume RB Mo Ibrahim saw 2020-2022 it is not hard to understand why. With Ibrahim finally moving on, many in the CFF community are focused on the RB room this offseason.
Making things even more interesting, Trey Potts, who was thought to be the incumbent in the Gopher RB room, entered the transfer portal in March. Minnesota had previously brought in Western Michigan (WMU) standout Sean Tyler via the portal. Fleck is quite familiar with the WMU Broncos as he spent four seasons as the head coach; it is where he earned a name for himself and landed on BIG10 radars. He returned the favour to the good people of Kalamazoo, MI, by taking their top WR (Corey Crooms) and their best RB (Sean Tyler) in the offseason.
Other returning RBs include R-SR Bryce Williams and R-FR Zach Evans. Williams has been around for awhile (2018-present) and has had his moments, but is unlikely at this stage in his career to take over the backfield, given that he hasn’t already in the past. Williams has the requisite size to take on a workhorse role, however, as he is listed at 6’0 215 pounds according to Fantrax.
Evans is intriguing, as he also has prototypical size at 5’10, 205. The Texas native participated in only one game last season — Nov. 12 vs. Northwestern, in which he an 6 times for 29 yards and a score.
As mentioned, the Gophers brought in transfer RB Sean Tyler, after he reneged on his commitment to Oklahoma State. It was an odd set of circumstances and one has to wonder what the Gopher staff told him that convinced him to shift gears completely and join up with his former teammate Crooms in Minneapolis. Nonetheless, he’s here now, and so he must be evaluated also.
Tyler, an Illinois native, is listed at 5’8, 185 pounds by Fantrax. I’m not sure I believe he’s that light, but either way he is lighter than his colleagues in the RB room and there are concerns about his durability in the BIG10.
The signs appear to be pointing towards a possible committee, which (believe it or not) PJ Fleck has deployed on numerous occasions in the past. I know CFF managers have short memories, but it was not that long ago that Minnesota consistently used a by-committee approach at RB. 2019 is an example, as is 2018 and 2017. In fact, as Fleck has been at Minnesota an even six seasons so far (2017-2022), there is a 50-50 split in seasons with a clear bell-cow and seasons without one. Sure, there is something to be said that the three seasons with a bell-cow were the latest three, however 1) it was the same player each year and 2) we should probably not let our recency bias override our thinking when it comes to this room. It’s not a forgone conclusion by any means that there has to be another bell-cow stepping in for Mo Ibrahim; and yes, while the staff showed a willingness to feed Potts in lieu of Ibrahim last season, the OC who was responsible for that is no longer on staff. The constant — PJ Fleck, has shown he is willing to take either approach.
That’s not to say there is absolutely no value here, even in those committee years, the Gophers ran effectively and often enough to provide the RB1 with solid production (see 2019 as example below).
My larger concern is that I think this team will be passing much more often than in the previous two seasons. The Gophers have a plethora of WRs on the roster, including the one they brought in via transfer, and so I would guess that the staff intend to use them accordingly. In addition, it should be noted that the two co-OCs are the TEs coach and the WRs coach, so I would guess that their focus is going to be on passing first.
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