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CFF Targets - ODU is the 2023 version of 2021 WKU
New faces in Norfolk bring major implications for ODU's CFF outlook
It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that and I know…
- Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
That quote from the New Jersey don himself couldn’t be any more true in CFF. Finding value that very few are aware of is at the centre of what CFF is all about, and it is what separates the men from the boys in this game. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (WKU) in the 2021 offseason were a great example of this; indeed, many a CFF manager won leagues based off the output of QB Bailey Zappe and WR Jerreth Sterns, among others. The Old Dominion Monarchs (ODU) in 2023 represent a similar opportunity. While some of the audience are probably rolling their eyes at the title, there are many similarities between ODU in 2023 to the 2021 WKU program transformation, of which I will explain in more detail below.
It seems that despite my writing about ODU’s new passing attack through an article on WR Javon Harvey earlier this year, many in the community remain non-believers. That works for me—I hope to acquire ODU’s WR Javon Harvey in every single CFF draft I partake in.
Unfortunately for me, I’m not the only one, that bastard—Nate Marchese, plucked Harvey away from me in his CFF dynasty league draft earlier this summer. While I’m still recovering from this loss, I did go out of my way to acquire both of the QBs that are vying for the starting position as retaliation. Generally speaking, I hate doing that (drafting two QBs from the same team), but given that this was a dynasty format (with 45 rounds, mind you), I deemed it acceptable. In standard re-draft formats, with spots so limited, I wouldn’t recommend that approach.
So what’s all the hype about? As usual, it starts with the staff.
ODU adopting new OC’s air-raid system
New OC Kevin Decker spent the previous four seasons (2019-2022) as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the Fordham Rams. In 2022, Fordham led the FCS and had the second-best offence in FCS history with 609 yards per game and ranked second in the country with 49.5 points per game. The Rams also led the FCS in first downs and passing offence.
Make sure you are paying attention to this next line. Fordham quarterback, Tim DeMorat, led the country in touchdown passes, total touchdowns, passing yards and total offence with (brace yourself for this), 4891 yards and 56 passing TDs to only 10 INTs.
You’re probably thinking, that’s a lot of passing TDs, someone had to catch all those passes right? Well, three players actually. In 2022 Fordham provided THREE 1000-yard receivers with the top dog catching 104 passes for 1354 yards and 15 TDs.
The season before that the Rams didn’t have a 1000 yard receiver (they had two that were close though) but they did have two receivers catch double digit TD passes. Fotis Kokosioulis was a 5’9 slot receiver while Dequece Carter (6’0, 196) was a boundary WR (side note, Carter is now at Indiana and is undrafted in most drafts).
Presumed starter and retuning WR2 from 2022—Javon Harvey’s build (5’11, 180) suggests he could be lining up in the slot or on the boundary for the Monarchs in 2023.
We can be pretty confident that the 2023 system at ODU is going to be passing a lot, and Harvey is the lead returning receiver of ODU’s WR group.
What’s more, with ODU's three star playmakers — WR A. Jennings, TE Z. Kuntz, and RB B. Watson — having moved on, there are significant shoes to fill for the Monarchs. The opportunity for Harvey is here and the system in place is well equipped to provide the platform for him to reach volume pig status in 2023.
Coming back to the QB position, we can see that Decker’s presence coincided with an uptick in DeMorat’s rushing yardage, but not actually in attempts. I find that to be interesting, and I wonder why that is. More importantly, his passing TDs to INT ratio in his final two years was much better than before.
It may not be a Bailey Zappe-Zack Kittley level connection, but Decker does bring a Fordham QB over to help transition ODU to the new air-raid style he brings in Grant Wilson. Apparently, the starting QB position is still under competition, with Wilson competing with redshirt-sophomore Jack Shields. From a local beat report:
Two candidates for quarterback, Fordham junior transfer Grant Wilson and redshirt sophomore Jack Shields, split reps, zipping passes both short and deep while demonstrating in flashes the ability to escape trouble.
Both seem to have a pretty good rapport with Harvey already:
Highlights included a pair of touchdown catches by Harvey. On the first, he managed to get a foot inbounds in the back left corner of the end zone while diving to catch a Wilson pass.
On the other, Harvey leapt in the same corner to snatch a Shields delivery away from a pair of defenders despite being held.
Here’s some more detail on the offence Decker brings with him, from a local writer:
I also think ODU has the players to run the offense effectively. It's a spread attack that often employs four wideouts and hands a ton of power over to the quarterback to take what the defense gives him.
One fan described it as a jump back in history to ODU's roots, meaning the pass-happy days when Taylor Heinicke was ODU's quarterback. But this offense, made famous at Tennessee by head coach Josh Heupel, is different. It can employ the run as much as the pass.
Finally — even though it was under a different OC — the Monarchs are vacating 54 receptions, 959 yards and 9 TDs from a year ago in WR Ali Jennings (22.4 FPG in 1-ppr). Jennings was targeted 88 times across 9 games played (~9.7 targets/game). The head coach remains the same from that 2022 squad, though, so there is at least some continuity for that target share. This should bode well for Harvey.
ODU QB competition
From ODU reports back in late April, two QBs—Jack Shields and Grant Wilson, are duking it out for top dog on the depth chart:
Grant Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 208-pound junior, is a transfer from Fordham, where he was the backup for All-American Tim DeMorat, who led the nation with 4,891 passing yards.
Wilson has two years under his belt practicing the offense at Fordham and was in essence a coach on the field as Rahne and his staff installed the new attack this spring.
Wilson played at Yorktown High School in Arlington, where he was a two-time district Offensive Player of the Year and completed 179 of 262 passes for 2,632 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Wilson threw three TD passes in ODU's scrimmage and one interception. Both he and Jack Shields also kept the ball for long runs.
Shields appeared to have the better day, although the reverse was sometimes true in practice.
The 6-1, 192 redshirt sophomore walked on at ODU without a scholarship in 2021. Like Wilson, he's from Northern Virginia, and was rated a 3-star recruit by ESPN at Centreville High School in Fairfax County.
Shields tossed four TD passes, including a beautiful throw deep to the left side of the end zone that was hauled in by former Maury High star Ahmarian Granger.
My money is on Wilson to win the job, that would be very WKU-esque. In this case it’s a little different from that team, in that there isn’t a clear starter, but Wilson, as mentioned above, knows the system pretty well.
Who is WR2?
I mentioned in the C&S section that Decker’s offence produced three separate 1000-yard receivers last year, so naturally my question is: beyond Harvey, are there any other notable names at WR?
One name that is intriguing is Kelby Williams—a JuCo product that played at Trinity Valley Community College last year. At 6’2, 170 pounds, it’s likely he’d be on the outside if he starts for the Monarchs. His stats from 2022 are fairly minimal—the Texas native caught 10 passes for 185 yards and 2 scores in 11 games.
Still, this is one of the first prospects that the new regime will have had influence in bringing in, and he chose the Monarchs over offers from Ball State, Rice, and Temple, among others.
There is also rising junior Jordan Bly (5’10, 166). While the North Carolina native scored a measly 4 FPG last season, his targets are almost sure to go up if he is a starter, meaning in turn he could be a CFF relevant asset. I haven’t seen anything in particular that would push me to prescribe Bly to my readers, but it’s a name to keep in mind.
Another name is rising junior Isaiah Paige (5’8, 160), who averaged just over 3 FPG in 2022. Like Bly, he is small as a WR, so I’m interested to see if one of these two wins the starting slot role, and Harvey plays out wide. At the same time, Harvey could end up playing the slot himself. It was the slot receiver that led Fordham in receiving last season (104/1354/15).
As far as boundary players go, Ahmarian Granger (6’1, 175) is a larger body in the room. Like Paige and Bly, he’s barely made a mark in college football thus far (3 FPG in 2022), but the true sophomore is likely to take a step forward in year two.
If you want to read my article on Harvey, you can find it here.
I am all in on Harvey for CFF in 2023. I am cautiously optimistic about whoever wins the QB competition due to the system alone. There isn’t another WR worth drafting in standard re-drafts (16-17 round drafts), nor even in deeper leagues as far as I’m concerned. I am currently in a 45 round dynasty league draft—this is perhaps the only format where I may grab a share of another ODU WR or TE.
There may also be value in the RBs, fellow C2C contributor and friend Justice tells me that it sounds like Keshawn Wicks has the inside track for RB1. The Fordham Rams RB1 rushed for 1141 yards and 5 TDs on 197 carries in 2022, however, the RB2 was also significantly involved—carrying the rock 131 times for 929 yards and 8 scores. Unless the Monarchs are moving the ball as effectively this year as the Rams were last, I don’t think there will be a 1000-yard runner on this team.
Some words of caution: this ODU team has the potential to be very poor with a rough schedule this season. They are depleted from a talent standpoint, losing their WR1, RB1 and TE1 on offence from a year ago. The QBs being in a competition is to be expected, but after a certain point if one still hasn’t distanced themselves, that’s a bad sign and usually means neither one is going to be extremely productive in-season. In standard re-draft, despite what I said up top, it’s probably not worth it to burn two slots on this QB room. If one emerges sooner rather than later, then that’s a definite buy for me.
It’s possible that the desired offensive explosion is one year away, and that this article may be premature. However, I think it’s only a matter of time, and at the very least, the WR—Harvey, should be a strong asset in year one.
With that said, I’ll end with this note: “people will learn about the ODU OC and pass game soon enough”, is what a well-known CFF degenerate recently told me. Draft accordingly.
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