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CFF Targets - This 5'7 RB is set to DOMINATE the MAC in 2023
All signs point toward this MAC transfer seeing some major volume this season
Today, we head back to the land of gambling degenerates and last-minute scratches — the MAC. We will be looking at a player that CFF managers should already be familiar with. As a result, the informational ‘delta’ may not be immense in this article for many in the CFF community. But, I have a commitment to publishing every other day, and this was low hanging fruit — so don’t judge me too hard.
Please do me a favour, if Ball State’s RB Marquez Cooper is available in your re-draft rounds three or above, draft this man.
Now, let me say that I get the trepidation around his size. If you had asked me two years ago, I would have been completely out on Cooper. I would have laughed if you told me I’d be drafting Deuce Vaughn (DV) in the first round like I did in 2022.
Vaughn’s 2021 season changed everything for me. Like Cooper, Vaughn was an undersized back at 5’6, 176 pounds. DV finished as one of the highest scoring RBs in recent memory averaging 28.2 FPG (1-ppr) and was a key component of the eventual league winner’s roster in my 2021 CFF pool. Vaughn was acquired around the fifth round that year — a phenomenal return on investment if you ask me.
Full disclosure, I am currently battling some ‘spring allergies’ as I write this article and thus the final product may be sloppier than usual — a test for the reader, of course, to point out any flaws in my calculation. Yea… let’s go with that.
I’ve pulled out the big guns (liquid form antihistamines and the opening theme of Severance for background music) in an attempt to transform myself into a state that will produce something non-pathetic and useless.
Let’s see what we can do, shall we?
Coaching & System
I hope that we are now at the point with VP that the reader anticipates the structure of each article as we follow roughly the same formula each time. This article will be no exception, as the system in place at Ball State is a key component of my optimism for Cooper’s CFF outlook in 2023.
The first thing to note is that Ball State has been an elite run outfit in the MAC under HC Mike Neu (2016-present). In his first season with the Cardinals, Ball State’s offence averaged 220 rushing yards per game, its highest since 1978 (238.6). Neu’s RB1s have gone over 1000 yards in five of the seven seasons since he’s been Cardinals CEO. If we discard the COVID year, he has five in six seasons.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
For some reason my text editor also feels the need to continue to stack the cards against me tonight, as it insists on changing Neu’s name to ‘New’ every time I write it. Very annoying, so much so that I felt the need to let the reader know so that they can share in my lament.
Equally frustrating, ChatGPT lied to me when I requested it to bring up stats on Ball State’s leading rushers since 2016. Remember friends, always fact check AI provided numbers!
Evidently, even AIs have off days… spring allergies maybe?
Coming back to the topic at hand, the Ball State OC — Kevin Lynch, basically has the same track record as the HC, as he’s been an assistant moving up the ranks of the Cardinals program since 2016. He joined as an assistant with ‘coach New’ (I’m just leaning into it now…), and was promoted in 2020 to OC/RBs coach. In 2021 he moved to OC/QBs coach. Since Lynch has been OC, the Cardinals have had two 1000-yard RBs out of three seasons. Again, if we discard the COVID season, that’s two in two. It’s worth noting however, as many of you probably already know, it was the same runner in 2021 and 2022 who crossed the 1000-yard threshold. Carson Steele was the runner, and he has since moved on to UCLA in the Power-Five (P5).
The system in place is very strong. And, the QB play may leave much to be desired next season — opening up the possibility for the Cardinals to adopt an even more run-heavy approach.
RB Marquez Cooper - 5’7, 184
RB Marquez Cooper transferred within the MAC conference this past offseason, swapping allegiances from the Golden Flashes of Kent State for the Ball State Cardinals. The rising senior out of Maryland had a productive three-year career at his previous stop, as he averaged 15.2, 14.6 and 18.9 fantasy points per game (FPG) in 2020, 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Most notably, he has demonstrated an ability to withstand a large workload, toting the rock 241 and 285 times in the last two season. In 2022, he averaged 23.75 carries a game, and played in every contest that Kent State had scheduled. This is important, as with smaller players like this durability is always the first concern. The rare few — like Deuce Vaughn, can be potent CFF weapons and withstand the punishment.
I mention Vaughn a lot in this article but I want to be clear, I am not suggesting Cooper will be like him for 2023. There is a key distinction between the two, Vaughn offered immense receiving upside. Cooper was barely used in the pass game at Kent State. Which is odd, because you would have expected a player like this to be used in such a fashion. The fact that he wasn’t, suggests to me that he is probably not a great receiver. This limits his upside somewhat, but if the rushing volume is there, he should still be able to clear 20 FPG easily, especially in conference play.
That being said, perhaps that was why Cooper sought a change of scenery. Look at his comments from Ball State’s spring camp:
I'm very versatile toward this offence, bringing speed and just hands, making people miss, making explosive plays . . . you're gonna see me lined up a lot of different places this season and it's gonna be a good for us.
Ok, maybe I’m wrong about just how high the upside of Cooper is in 2023. At the very least, I can definitively say that he will not have the upside Vaughn had during Ball State’s out-of-conference (OOC) schedule (Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana State, and Georgia Southern) in September. Of course, I say that and yet, last season vs. UGA, Cooper ran for 90 yards and a TD on 21 carries and caught 2 passes for 40 yards.
Cooper added that he feels he “could do a lot more” in this offence. Without any more specifics, we are left speculating what this means exactly. I guess the logical conclusion is he’ll also see work in the pass game now? That would be great, but would only be an added bonus to what’s to like for Cooper in 2023.
But not so fast! Coach ‘New’ splashed the proverbial water in all our faces with his follow-up comments:
All spring I've felt very strongly that we've got six running backs in that room that can play for us and play at a high level . . . (Cooper and Pemberton), those guys been awesome, and obviously, we're going to have to do a great job of having some two-running-back sets where we have them on the field together.
Apparently, Cooper and another runner — Vaughn Pemberton, have been rotating in the first-team reps. This excerpt from a beat-writer report in particular disturbed me:
He and Pemberton rotated with the first unit all day, so it appears that duo will lead the backfield. They both flashed playmaking ability, with Pemberton especially standing out as a receiver on both his wheel-route TD from Kelly and in his route running during 1-on-1 short-yardage drills against linebackers.
So I don’t know who or what to trust here. However, like I said above, the reason to buy Cooper is his track record of durability and productivity, combined with the elite rushing system at Ball State. Anything after that is a bonus.
There is also the fact that Ball State loses all of its top WRs from last season. The most notable name — Jayshon Jackson, has moved on to the NFL. This should mean the Cardinals lean more on the ground game. They do return two top TEs, however, in Brady Hunt and Tanner ‘where did he go?’ Koziol. Some of you who owned Koziol shares last season may recall that he mysteriously disappeared for a long stretch of games there in October, leaving some of us in a tough spot with no announcement or information released on his status beforehand. What can you say, you just got to love the MAC, right?
There is the above mentioned concern about multiple backs seeing action in this offence. Of course, Cooper won’t be snagging every rushing attempt, but he is only worth the price if he is at least monopolizing the same share his predecessor Steele did.
There is currently a QB competition going on between Texas State transfer Layne ‘I can’t believe this guy’s still playing’ Hatcher and Kiael Kelly. There is no problem if Hatcher wins the gig, other than the fact that he might turn the ball over and stall the offence one too many times; however, if Kelly wins there could be cause for concern. He is a dual threat QB and could possibly vulture a significant amount of redzone TDs from Cooper.
There is a steep price to acquire Cooper. He is generally gone by round three in re-drafts — so there is a level of risk that falls on CFF managers seeking to acquire him.
The Cards have a pretty crappy OOC schedule in September. His performance against UGA last season notwithstanding, he is probably not a good play against UK and UGA to open the season. That’s a small price to pay though for a potential MAC dominator in October and November.
The team is starved for playmakers, which is a good thing in terms of opportunities for Cooper, but could be problematic for scoring opportunities. Hard to predict that in advance, though, and even in some really poor seasons, Neu’s Cards have had 1000+ yard rushers.
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