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CFF Targets - Manhattan, where small-town charm meets big-time dreams
KSU's Will Howard is a QB worth taking a chance on late in CFF drafts
The night moves keeping me up
- Roosevelt, Musician
I wrote on twitter the other day that I had began writing this article while on a long train ride last week. During that trip, another passenger who was obviously mentally ill, or intoxicated — or both — sat across the aisle from me as I attempted to write this article. She constantly yelled profanities out loud and often directed them to the couple sitting directly behind me (who I think were playing the Magic the Gathering card game — what a throwback). I half-suspected at one point that the sound of my typing was setting her off. You might assume that the staff responsible for the train might intervene in some capacity, but such was not the case.
Long story short, that scenario plus a variety of other factors made writing this article too much of an inconvenience in the moment, and I decided to shelf it; instead working on a write-up for Vanderbilt’s WR Will Sheppard, which was just an easier task.
Nonetheless, it is currently late night and I cannot sleep; so I figured fuck it, why not get back to writing on VP? One intoxicated passenger and incompetent train staff can’t stop this locomotive, baby.
Okay, that last line was kind of cringe (only kind of VP?), but you know what isn’t cringe? The Kansas State (KSU) coaching staff’s ability to get the best out of their players. Last August, I made a gamble on KSU winning the BIG-12. I was heavily invested in Deuce Vaughn in CFF, and had already bet on KSU clearing their win total. To my delight, KSU — in thrilling fashion — did end up winning the league. I’ve always liked the Wildcats but ever since last season, my affinity for the program from *the real* Manhattan has soared to new heights.
I valued Vaughn as the 1.01 going into the 2022 season in CFF (gasp!), and overall, I wasn’t disappointed. That wasn’t always the case throughout the season, though. KSU’s transfer at QB — Adrian Martinez, aggressively monopolized seemingly every rushing TD in the first month of the season. While I had anticipated that more rushing scores would be vultured by Martinez, I did not anticipate that it would be that bad. Making matters worse, whatever glimmer of hope I had had when then-unknown backup QB Will Howard came in in relief of Martinez was swept away as he stole yet another goal-line TD from DV in his first start. Things were looking bleak early on but one mental note I did make was: this kid Will Howard looks like a player.
Now, with that scoundrel Adrian Martinez out of the picture, Howard has a chance to reign hellfire down on the BIG-12 in 2023.
Coaching & System
Head coach Chris Klieman has been a stalwart of midwest football since the 1990s. He’s been with the Wildcats since 2019, joining the boys in purple after a long stint with the North Dakota State Bison from 2011-2018. His background is on the defensive side of the ball, so I’m not going to spend much time on him. All I’ll say is that I’ve been impressed with what he’s done with this program. While I don’t expect the Cats to win the BIG-12 again (and will not be betting on this), I still think KSU will be a solid outfit in 2023.
The KSU OC — Collin Klein, knows a thing or two about elite QB play. Klein was a heisman trophy finalist and — according to his bio on the KSU website — “one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever don a Kansas State uniform”. He’s been the OC at K-State since 2022, but alternated between QBs coach and co-OC with KSU from 2017 to 2021, spending the 2018 season as one of the OCs (I assume in an interim role). Prior to KSU, he served as the QBs coach at Northern Iowa in 2016. He got his start in coaching at KSU in 2014 as assistant director of recruiting and defensive quality control (we know my guy knows a thing or two about dissecting those…).
His QB1 in 2022 — Adrian ‘Mr. steal yo rushing touchdown’ Martinez (AM), was a very strong CFF asset in the first half of the season. He had season highs of 3 and 4 rushing TDs vs. Oklahoma and Texas Tech, respectively, and was efficient enough as a passer to provide some strong production for any AM shareholders. His season total numbers are a bit misleading, as he picked up an injury early in the game vs. TCU in mid-October, and did not play much vs. Baylor in November. In total, AM passed for over 1200 yards, 6 TDs to 1 INT, ran for over 600 yards and scored 10 rushing TDs in 9 games (but more like 7 games). Removing the two outlier games, AM averaged just over 27 FPG (calculated manually since I couldn’t find AM on Fantrax, if that isn’t worth a like or a sub, I don’t know what is).
At Northern Iowa, Klein’s QB1 — Aaron Bailey, passed for 882 yards and 6 TDs to 1 INT in 7 games. He also rushed 124 times for 584 yards and another 6 scores (~21 FPG). Clearly Klein likes his QBs to move.
What I like about Klein is he seemed to morph his KSU offence around the QB’s strengths. AM was a dynamic open field runner, but less polished as a passer. Howard was bigger, had a better arm, and was allowed to sit back in the pocket and uncork the pigskin all over the field. For context, Howard averaged 28.42 pass attempts when he played for the Cats last season, AM never attempted more than 24 in a game. So this offence is going to look different in 2023.
QB Will Howard — 6’5, 245
Howard is a DJ Uiagalelei-sized QB at 6’5, 245 pounds. The former three-star prospect out of PA is entering his fourth year of CFB with the Wildcats, and averaged 21.7 FPG in 2022 (his career best). In 7 games played, Howard passed for 1633 yards, 15 TDs to 4 INTs, while rushing for another 3 TDs (averaged about a rushing TD every other game). Keep in mind this FPG average is with Martinez playing in some of these games as well.
The first thing to note is that Will Howard is not quite the rushing threat that AM was. In 2022, Howard ran for 22 yards on 35 attempts (0.6 ypc) and 3 TDs. I guess I should be more precise with my language — Howard is not as dynamic of a runner in the open field. But with a 6’5, 240+ frame, he is virtually unstoppable anywhere near the goal-line. QB rushing TDs are at a premium in most CFF leagues, where passing TDs go for 4 points as opposed to 6 for rushing, so Howard’s likely paltry future rushing yardage in 2023 will not be a huge detriment to his CFF profile.
Our friend @CFF_Nate will tell you that in CFF, there are really only two archetypes of elite QBs: those that see immense passing volume (35+ pass attempts per game) or those who are legitimate dual threat rushers. In the case of Howard, picture a scenario where he is passing around 30 times per game, plus getting goal-line/red-zone rushing touches. He may finish the year with a remarkable 0.5 ypc, but if he scores rushing TDs then who cares? I will clarify — I agree with the general sentiment about elite CFF QBs coming in two sizes, but there are definitely ‘edge cases’ of archetypes that can be very successful — Howard fits into that category if and only if he is getting goal-line touches on top of solid pass usage. Or maybe I should just say Howard fits into a ‘modified dual threat’ category.
As mentioned, Howard doesn’t exactly fit the profile of the two archetypes of elite CFF QBs. He will need to be more efficient as a passer (59.8% in 2022), and a stronger ypc average wouldn’t hurt. Even if he were to increase his efficiency, if he isn’t scoring on the ground with regularity, then it is very unlikely that he will be an elite CFF QB throwing the ball 28-30 times a game (and elite CFF QBs is all we roster around here).
Outside of AM, this staff doesn’t actually have a long track record of strong CFF assets at QB. So we’re charting new territory here, so to speak.
The Cats brought in FSU transfer RB Treshaun Ward, and also bring back RB DJ Giddens. There could be a world where KSU relies on its runners in goal-line packages instead of Howard. Though, this staff had legitimately one of the best backs in CFB last year and still insisted on using the QBs for rushing TDs in the redzone often.
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