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CFF Targets - Oregon Ducks WRs on VP watch with new OC in town
Will Stein's track record with WRs at UTSA has my attention, let's look at who could benefit the most from his move to Oregon
Taylor Swift, a pop culture icon, once sang the lyrics, “midnights have become my afternoons”. As a night owl, I always appreciated that line. As a college football fan, being a night owl comes with the added benefit of watching the exciting 'PAC After Dark' games on Saturdays in the fall.
As it happens, I am currently writing this article while I listen to Swift's Anti-Hero, a hit song off her 2022 album entitled 'Midnights'. Full disclosure (and apologies to all the swifties out there), I am not a fan of Swift, I never listen to her music. That being said, a hit is a hit, and this song slaps.
During my time in CFF, I have never drafted or acquired an Oregon Duck, which is unfortunate because I have a good friend who is a devout fan of the Ducks (shoutout to Devin). However, like with my music selection, I like to keep an open-mind, and in the ever-changing landscape of CFF, it pays to be non-dicsriminatory. You never know where a new hit will emerge.
That's not to say that the Ducks haven't had some great players in the past. There was QB Bo Nix last season, and RB Travis Dye was pretty good the year before too. However, the Ducks tend to spread the ball around a lot, similar to my own UGA Dawgs, they often don't funnel enough volume into one or two individuals to support elite CFF stock (unless your name is Brock Bowers…).
It’s also often the case that, outside of night owls like myself and Taylor Swift, many do not watch PAC-12 play, as games typically go well past the midnight hours (some don’t even start until 11pm EST). The result is that many of their players go under the radar on the east coast. But the CFF crowd is a little different than the casual college football (CFB) fan, in a more degenerate sense, that is, and many are already all over Bo Nix, and WR Troy Franklin. Last season, I was completely caught off guard by Nix's success. I'll admit that openly. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I'll also admit that I shed a tear last night while listening to Andrea Bocelli’s stunning live performance from the Piazza Dei Cavalieri in 1997.
Jokes aside (am I joking?), the offseason acquisition of former UTSA OC Will Stein has my attention from a CFF standpoint. Before getting into the players, I think the logical place to start is with him.
Coaching & System
New OC Will Stein spent the last three seasons with the Roadrunners at UTSA. He began this stint as the passing game coordinator and WRs coach, and in 2022, he was promoted to co-OC. That 2022 season produced three CFF-relevant WRs in Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus and De’Corian Clark. I would compare the 2022 version of UTSA to how Ohio State has operated in recent years with their WRs: they rarely substituted their three main guys off of the field. That has benefits from a CFF standpoint (exhibit A below), and I’m hoping Stein brings that philosophy to Eugene.
The year prior, when Stein was the passing game coordinator and WRs coach, the Roadrunners put up similar numbers, in the exact same order in fact. The hierarchy was quite clear, Franklin was WR1, Cephus WR2, and so on.
With dual threat QB Bo Nix choosing to return to CFB this season we have yet another parallel, as UTSA QB Frank Harris was a standout runner too. Despite Harris’ production on the ground, it’s comforting that the UTSA system sustained solid production for three separate WRs. I think that’s a good sign of things to come for the Ducks next season.
Troy Franklin (6’2, 178) established himself as Nix’s favourite target last season, as he brought in 61 receptions (on 90 targets), 891 yards and 9 receiving TDs. In 1-ppr leagues he finished 2022 averaging 15.7 fantasy points per game (FPG).
Franklin was a high end recruit coming out of Menlo Park, California in the 2021 class, so it shouldn’t surprise us that he is proving an effective receiver in Eugene. I have no reason to believe he won’t continue trending onward and upward in 2023. In fact, I’d go as far as saying I think he is a solid dark horse candidate to win the Biletnikoff award next season. I’m a big fan of his game, and as long as Nix and Stein keep funnelling passes to him, he should do damage in the PAC-12.
The WR1 in UTSA’s offence averaged 1082 yards, 13.5 TDs on 87 receptions the last two seasons, and I think it’s a good omen that both players share the last name Franklin. Zakhari also occupied a boundary role in the offence and presents a similar build to Troy.
I generally aim to select RBs in the first three rounds of drafts, however, Franklin is a receiver I’d be comfortable with selecting in the third round, at the highest.
As noted above, the offence Stein comes from supported multiple CFF-relevant WRs at UTSA, so in addition to Franklin it’s worth taking a look at the ‘others’. Franklin’s primary competitors for targets are Alabama transfer Traeshon Holden (25-331-6) and former Troy Trojan slot receiver Tez Johnson (56-863-4).
Johnson was pretty productive last year at Troy, and occupies a different role in the offence than Franklin. The UTSA offence doesn’t really have a ‘slot’ role, per se, as they list their WR positions as ‘X’, ‘Z’ and ‘F’. Let’s just assume that the F maps to the slot the most out of those positions. The F receiver (Joshua Cephas) was the second leading receiver for UTSA in 2021 and 2022. That bodes well for Johnson's outlook in 2023. I probably won’t be taking a chance on any Oregon WR not named Troy Franklin in re-drafts, but Johnson intrigues me. He’s probably worth a late flyer in 1-ppr formats, especially.
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