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CFF Targets - This Mountain West RB is poised for VOLUME PIG status in 2023
Wyoming's been RB friendly since head coach Bohl's arrival, will the trend continue this season?
You know, the only problem with being on top of the world is that eventually, some fucker is gonna come along and knock you off.
- Daniel Craig, Layer Cake (2004)
New Wyoming tailback Harrison Waylee was on top of the CFF world during the opening two weeks of the 2021 season, scoring 21 and 31.5 fantasy points (FPs) in back-to-back games. The NIU Huskies fed him a cool 27 and 26 carries in each game, and Waylee repaid them going over 100 yards both times. Unfortunately, in the world of CFF, there is always some f*cker waiting to knock you off and take your spot. Which is exactly what happened to Waylee; after he returned from injury later in the 2021 season, Antario Brown and Jeyvon Ducker had established themselves in their own right within the rotation. Evidently, Waylee’s days of seeing 25+ carries in consecutive games were over. Even with Ducker’s departure last offseason, The NIU staff continued to split carries between Waylee and Brown in 2022. That’s bad news for the CFF outlook of both.
But just as the world drags us down, it can also turn around... this offseason Waylee decided that the sparkle in Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl’s eye was enough to keep him alive once again, finding sanctuary in Laramie, Wyoming via the transfer portal.
Albeit it was in a limited sample size, Waylee’s no stranger to turning heads as the bellcow back of a program, and now the Iowa native has a chance to make a killing in the Mountain West for the 2023 season.
Coaching & System
Bohl has been the head coach of the Wyoming Cowboys since 2014. Prior to that he spent over a decade at FCS powerhouse North Dakota State (NDSU). His OC — Tim Polasek, has been with the Cowboys since the 2021 season. Ironically, he also spent time with NDSU, but he joined the season after Bohl left.
Upon arrival in Laramie, Bohl greeted Waylee and told him “don’t think about all those things you fear, just be glad to be here”. Of course, what Bohl is referring to is the fact that Waylee need not fear whether he will be returning to volume pig status in 2023 — the Cowboys have had a 1000-yard rusher four seasons in a row excluding the COVID year. It was Swen doing damage last season, rushing 207 times for 1039 yards and 8 TDs, plus catching 14 passes (30 targets) for 108 yards in 12 games (14.7 FPG). Before him, now NFL RB Xazavian Valladay put together a remarkably similar stat line, rushing 207 times for 1063 yards and 6 TDs in 2021. The two seasons prior to the COVID year were better; in 2019 Valladay rushed 247 times for 1263 yards and 6 TDs; in 2018 Nico Evans ran 201 times for 1306 yards and 8 TDs. There appears to be a pattern here of solid usage and yardage, but some struggles to score TDs across multiple RBs.
The 2017 season did not have a bellcow back — instead it was no-name QB Josh Allen combined with two RBs diluting the team’s rush production between three players.
The 2015 and 2016 seasons were absurd. Bohl’s RB1 — Brian Hill, rushed 349 times for 1860 yards and 22 TDs (how’s that for TD production?) in 2016, and 281 times for 1631 yards and 6 TDs (that looks more like Wyoming) in 2015.
Finally, Bohl’s first season with the Cowboys in 2014 was a timeshare. If you’re keeping score at home, that means that in six of the eight full seasons (I’m excluding 2020) that Bohl has been with the Cowboys, there has been a 1000-yard bellcow in the backfield.
From a system perspective, there’s a lot to like about that certainty in identity of Wyoming. However, the volume hasn’t always correlated to FP production, as we see with Swen, who — despite being given solid volume and rushing for over 1000 yards — still only averaged 14.7 FPG. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value, though. Swen was good in certain occasions.
Now, if you know me you know I don’t like uncertainty and large fluctuations in the FP scores of my RBs. But that’s in cases where I can’t predict when players are going to go off, such as in a timeshare like Penn State’s backfield, or even Michigan’s. In this case, I know that against weak run defences Wyoming’s RB is a strong play. I used Swen in this type of role last season on a few of my rosters, and I think Waylee could fill a similar function in 2023.
This upcoming season, the Cowboys get FCS program Portland State, New Mexico, UNLV, Colorado State, Nevada and Hawaii. Each of these games will likely be a good opportunity for Waylee and the Cowboys to have major rushing success. If we look at Swen last season, he had a nice 27 point game vs. FCS program Northern Colorado, 19 vs. Air Force, 37.5 vs. Utah State, and 29.9 vs. Boise State. He also had solid showings vs. BYU (14.3) and New Mexico (11.3). His worst game of the season was vs. Hawaii (1.4 FPs), but that was because he left the game early with injury.
If we isolate for yardage only, the Cowboys actually finished 33rd in the FBS in average yards per rushing attempt (4.92) and 44th in rushing (181.4 ypg) in 2022. It was the team’s overall struggle to score that held Swen’s CFF profile back. Still, Swen was a solid play in half of their games last season, so if they can manage to score with higher regularity, then you’re looking at a potential 20+ FPG RB in Waylee.
RB Harrison Waylee — 5’10, 200
Waylee is entering his fourth year of CFB. After spending his first three seasons in the MAC with NIU, he entered the portal this offseason and found a new home in Wyoming. He broke out immediately as a freshman in 2020 in a late November game vs. Western Michigan, where he accumulated a total of 95 yards and a score on 28 touches (18.5 FPs). He followed that up the next two weeks with back-to-back 100-yard performances on his way to 22.8 and 13.8 points. He later finished that season with a 12 FPG average, rushing for 456 yards and a score on 107 attempts in 6 games.
The 2021 season looked to be the official coming out party for Waylee, as he opened the season with 21 and 31.5 point performances, and received over 25 carries in each contest. Unfortunately, Waylee would later go down with injury, and he would find a very different backfield rotation upon his return. He still managed to salvage a solid FPG average, finishing the 2021 campaign with 16.7 FPG.
The 2022 season was Waylee’s first (mostly) full season. He appeared in 11 games, rushing for 899 yards and 5 scores on 165 carries. He also caught 17 passes on 22 targets for 119 yards (13.7 FPG).
With Wyoming, Waylee has a chance to return to being the featured player in the offence once again. By this quote, it sounds like he was a guy the Wyoming staff highly prioritized this offseason:
As soon as I (Waylee) hopped into the portal, they (Wyoming) pursued me right from the get-go. Gordie was on me, and I really appreciate that . . . I was like, might as well look into, and as I looked into it, I really liked the program and what they’re doing. I wanted to be a part of it.
It also sounds like Waylee’s assimilated into the Cowboys’ program so far, here’s QB Andrew Peasley on him:
He’s good, he was moving . . . He’s learning the playbook, but he’ll get there. He’s a football player and he has proven that somewhere else. He’ll be solid.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to gather any information on this backfield via the spring game as Waylee sat out with knee swelling, and returning running backs Dawaiian McNeely and D.Q. James were still recovering from injuries suffered last season. In their absence, LJ Richardson had six carries for 52 yards and a touchdown, Sam Scott had 11 carries for 21 yards and Jeremy Hollingsworth had eight carries for 29 yards and a touchdown.
The same concern that has plagued previous Wyoming RBs in the past has to be the first one that comes to mind: the lack of TDs. However, as mentioned, the historical trend in consistent volume and yardage makes Waylee a solid asset in terms of CFF floor. If Wyoming happens to score more TDs then he goes from a solid asset to a good asset and potentially a great one. At the very least, I think he’s a guy that can be plugged in to the lineup when they play weaker run defences.
There are actually a lot of RBs on the roster. As I alluded to earlier, we couldn’t gather much intel on the rotation this spring as the key guys were all absent due to injury. McNeely and James are the two biggest threats to Waylee in my mind, however, this staff has shown a long history of leaning on volume pigs in the backfield. There are a few timeshare years sprinkled in there, though.
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