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The Itis: CFF Treats - Observations from Week Six
This week's edition takes a look at new pigs emerging, provides an updated look at the WR1 race, and examines what's going wrong with some struggling players in CFF.
VP: “You guys used to have like a banana chocolate kind of thing for dessert, I don’t see it listed anymore on the menu…”
Waiter: “We actually just switched that out today.”
VP: “What?! Why?”
Waiter: “We were thinking that now that it’s getting colder, people would prefer something warmer for dessert.”
- Exchange between VP and his waiter at ‘Miku’, October 10, 2023.
Improved Offences / New Pigs Emerging?
Oklahoma State RB Ollie Gordon Emergence — I featured Gordon on my weekly waiver wire report two weeks ago after he was featured 18 times on the ground, plus saw another 8 opportunities via the air vs. Iowa State. He finished that game going over 120 yards, and catching four passes for 14 yards (17.5 points). Unfortunately, the Pokes would then go on a BYE week, so if you picked him up you had to stash him for at least that week, before a tough matchup vs. Kansas State. I have to say, the Pokes surprised me with how efficiently they ran the football vs. what is considered a fairly stingy defence. Gordon followed up his Week Four explosion with 21 carries for 136 yards and a score (21.1 points). Gordon was a popular pick in the offseason as a late round dart throw at RB; just based on system pedigree alone he was an attractive option. It seems like head coach Mike Gundy is settling in on Gordon as his next bellcow back. At least, it’s been that way two games in a row. You know how CFB is… maybe Gordon will see less than 10 touches total next week just to spite me like that waiter from Miku.
Sam Houston’s Improved Offence — As unfortunate as it was for me to have rostered Jacksonville State’s defence in the same week where SMHU found their offensive rhythm (Week Five), it did at least put me on notice to the potential improvements the Bearkats have been making on that side of the ball. As I mention in my weekly waiver report, I wasn’t really sold on RB John Gentry nor WR Noah Smith as viable CFF studs going forward. I might have been right on Gentry (he got injured this week, so that’s TBD), but — at least as it currently stands — was wrong on Smith. He has now seen 15+ targets two weeks in a row, and it seems like the staff at SMHU have basically defaulted to an offensive strategy of ‘let’s just get our playmakers the ball and see what happens’.
UCLA backfield still splitting work, but Steele had 30 carries — While Steele’s still been decently productive, there’s no doubt that splitting work with Keegan Jones and TJ Harden has hurt his stock as a CFF player. However, on Saturday vs. WSU, Steele saw a very Ball State-esque 30 carry workload. He accumulated 141 yards on the ground with those carries, looking like his old self in the process. Could it be a sign of things to come? I doubt it, but you never know… It feels like Steele is an injury away from being #Pigged once again over there at UCLA.
LSU’s RB Logan Diggs has ascended — Diggs now has 14, 19 and 24 carries in his last three games, and he’s gone over 100 yards in his last two. He isn’t used much as a pass-catcher, only seeing four targets in that span, but he’s definitely emerged as the primary runner in this backfield. His biggest competition is actually QB Jayden Daniel, who continues to rush often and score on the ground. Still, Diggs is averaging 18.9 points in his last three.
A star is born in Raleigh, NC— NC State’s Kevin Concepcion is legitimately a superstar in the making. In two out of his last three games, KC has scored 29.6 and 30.8 points, and has seen 27 targets over that span (averaging just over 8 per game). What’s especially noteworthy is that his best game of the season came during the first of MJ Morris’ starts this season. Morris targeted Concepcion 14 times, KC caught eight of those for 102 yards and two scores.
A new Kent State duo emerges? — In Gavin Garcia’s absence, Colorado State transfer Jaylen Thomas carried the rock 24 times on Saturday for 67 yards, and caught a pass on his only target for two yards (7.9 points). Even if Garcia misses extended time, his problem will likely be the same—the team overall is very poor, making scoring opportunities sparse. The volume in carries was good, though. I’ve already written at length now about WR Chrishon McCray, who caught six passes on his (10 targets) for 93 yards and two scores on Saturday. The week prior he was targeted 14 times, catching 10 for 105 yards, and also taking a hand off for 11 yards. I don’t think Thomas will be here to stay, but McCray definitely could be.
Temple’s air-raid not discussed enough — In one of the more random events of the season so far, Temple WR John Adams saw 15 targets on Saturday after totalling five in the season over four games. He caught 10 of those for 127 yards, and also took a hand off for 16 yards. With the clip that they throw it over there, there seems to be individual performances happening on a consistent basis, whether that be a TE, or WR. The problem with these types of scenarios is that they are very hard to predict ahead of time. Colorado State transfer Dante Wright has been battling a lingering injury, after seeing 12 targets back-to-back in Weeks One and Two, his volume dipped in the next two games he played, but did see double digit targets again this past Saturday.
RBs Struggles due to Injury or Other?
Fresno State RB Elijah Gilliam — After a promising start to the season, it appears lately that Malik Sherrod (who is now fully healthy) will be eating into the touch volume heavily. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that Sherrod looks more like the RB1 of this team lately. I think it’s probably time to drop Gilliam if you still have him.
Ole Miss RB Quinshon Judkins — QJ has been struggling with his health so far this season. For those that drafted him in the first round of your drafts, you might have been expecting a little bit more in terms of his production. I’d say he’s been pretty good so far, and ultimately the goal when picking first rounders is just to find someone who will be a consistent contributor for your squad. This past Saturday, fellow RB Ulysses Bentley carried the rock 13 times for 94 yards and a score (16.4 points). Just a flash in the pan or a sign of things to come? Tough to say, certainly it’s not great for QJ shareholders. I think he’s still probably not 100%, and it doesn’t help that QB Jaxon Dart is also a frequent rusher. But Dart was in the picture last year too, so that alone shouldn’t be enough to warrant QJ’s dip in production. While he’s only seen more than 20 carries once, it’s encouraging that he continues to get usage via the air.
Rutgers RB Kyle Monangai — We knew that tough sledding was ahead for Rutgers’ tailbacks, namely Kyle Monangai, as the Scarlett Knights embarked on their B1G schedule. A dud of a performacne vs. Michigan wasn’t a surprise. I would have liked to see more vs. Wisconsin, but it appears the Badgers are starting to find their footing also. A solid performance in-between those two duds vs. FCS program Wagner comforted the blow somewhat for his shareholders, but now looking ahead, it’s hard to find weeks where he could be played comfortably. Next week vs. MSU and the week after vs. Indiana are both good matchups, but then after their BYE week the schedule is brutal. You might want to take advantage if he has a couple of good games in a row here and attempt to trade him.
Mississippi State RB Jo’ Marks — Another player who had a hot start in the OOC schedule, Marks’ production has scaled back dramatically since. What to make of this? Is it just the SEC competition that’s harder? That’s probably part of it, but he’s also dealing with a lingering injury. This past weekend vs. WMU felt like a game he’d completely torch if fully healthy. Judging by the usage, and that little red flag they put on his profile on Fantrax, safe to say he’s not quite right right now. Similar to QJ, I still think Marks will be a valuable player to have rostered going forward. They’ve already got their hardest matchup out of the way (Alabama), remaining games vs. Arkansas, Auburn, Southern Miss and Ole Miss feel like pretty good matchups where — assuming Marks is healthy — he should be able to produce at a high level.
Michigan RB Donovan Edwards — Edwards has not taken the step forward that many expected of him so far this season. There was talk in the offseason that he wanted to see a more 50-50 split in carries with Corum, in fact, I believe he even said that himself. That hasn’t materialized, for whatever reason; Edwards has yet to score a rushing or receiving TD through six games so far, and his touch volume has definitely not been an even split with Corum. That’s been good news for those of you who drafted Corum, unfortunately Edwards shareholders are left holding the bag.
Pitt RB Rodney Hammond — Hammond emerged late in September after the coaches vowed to get him more involved. He looked to have turned the page on a slow start with a breakout performance vs. UNC, seeing 19 total opportunities and scoring 18.4 points. Unfortunately, he did pick up an injury late in that game, and despite playing the next week, I’d guess he’s probably still walking wounded. It’s true that at a certain point you’ve got to just cut losses and move on—I expect most shareholders of his have done so already. He is a player I’m keeping tabs on still, however, as we move into the second half of the season.
Updated Look at the WR1 Race
When I presented this list a few weeks ago (which I based off of FPG average and also my own judgement of how ‘real’ a player was at the time), I remarked that many of the players played in systems with track records of productive WRs. Many of those names remain on the updated list, but there are a few new names that have emerged since.
Luther Burden — 27.5 (FPG)
Tory Horton — 29.5
Malik Nabers — 26.5
Troy Franklin — 25.5
Brian Thomas — 25.2
Rome Odunze — 24.8
Caullin Lacy — 24.5
Malachi Corley — 24.3
Malik Washington — 23.4
LaJohntay Wester — 23.3
Terrell Vaughn — 23.1
I think one of the things that stands out to me the most is that LSU — a team run by an OC with no history of 1000-yard WRs save for last season — has two WRs in the top six WRs currently by FPG across six games. Technically, UW also has two with Jalen McMillan, but he’s missed time due to injury (he’s only played three games) so I discarded him from the discussion.
Repeat names from the last time I did an overview include: Nabers, Odunze, Franklin, Wester and Vaughn. Players that have fallen off since include: Erik Brooks, Pofele Ashlock, Evan Stewart, MHJ, Lincoln Victor (injury), Jamari Thrash, and Xavier Weaver (injury). Some of those guys are still in contention for the WR1 race, but they’ve just lost a bit of their potency recently.
New names on the list include: Luther Burden, Brian Thomas, Caullin Lacy, Malik Washington, and Malachi Corley. Corley isn’t surprising, he was expected to be here in the preseason and was drafted accordingly.
I think Thomas and Washington are the biggest surprises. Again, the LSU staff do not have an extensive track record of productive WRs, let alone supporting two to top 10 CFF WR finishes.
As far as UVA, their OC is a man by the name of Des Kitchings. He is most known for being the RBs coach at South Carolina during Kevin Harris’ monstrous season in 2020 (1300+ yards rushing in 10 games…), and producing three-straight 1000-yard rushers from 2016-18 for just the second time in NC State’s history. Long story short, his background is primarily as a RBs coach and has overseen very run-heavy teams as of late, so it’s definitely a surprise to see what UVA has done with Washington. You might say: ‘well, didn’t head coach Tony Elliot spend a lot of time at Clemson before this, they had pretty good WR seasons, right?’ Yes, that’s true, but Elliot served as the RBs coach for most of that stint (2011-2020) and was only promoted to co-OC officially in the 2015 season. Of note, Washington has been the go-to guy no matter who UVA has trotted out at QB so far this season, so clearly he’s been identified by the staff as a guy that needs to be targeted. He originally began his career at Northwestern, before transferring this offseason.
South Alabama’s Caullin Lacy is also somewhat of a surprise. He has benefited from the injury to his teammate—Devin Voisin. Though, Lacy had already been productive in the past. In 2022, he surpassed 800 yards and caught six TDs (14 FPG).
I would say that Burden, Horton, Franklin, Odunze, Corley, Wester and Vaughn are all very much system-style profiles. Of course, some of them are also very talented too. That always helps.
As a side note, when looking at the top list as it stands currently, there’s a pretty even split between boundary and slot receivers. Horton, Nabers, Franklin, Thomas, and Odunze are all primarily boundary players. The rest of that list are smaller, slot receiver type players. In terms of breakdown, that's 5/11 that are on the boundary vs. six for the slots (Luther Burden plays the slot this season, but was more on the boundary last).
Slot receivers are more my preference typically in CFF. Vaughn, Wester and Corley are very much ‘my type’ of players I’d say. Do you have a preference?
After a red-hot start, Hawaii’s slot receiver Pofele Ashlock has not scored in his last four games. That’s in spite of the fact that he is still seeing solid target volume—Ashlock’s been targeted 9, 8, 11, and 9 times during that span. You have to feel like something’s going to give eventually here, and the matchup vs. SDSU feels like as good a time as ever.
One of the tastiest matchups of the weekend—USC at Notre Dame, is a game I’m going to call an upset alert opportunity. We’re at the point of the season now where CFB diehards should be checking in on the weather forecasts for their games of interest when making decisions. For Audric Estime shareholders, the weather is supposed to be horrendous on Saturday. Heavy rain and wind is forecasted, and this would of course force both teams to rely on the ground game more than maybe they would otherwise. This should be an interesting game. The one caveat that I’d add is that weather forecasts are not perfect.
The Utah backfield is decimated. After losing Micah Bernard for the season, and being without a fully healthy JJ, the Utes took another hit with a season-ending injury to Chris Curry during practice. I’m still holding out hope on Jaylon Glover, who was a very productive player in Florida during his high school career. However, his ypc averages are troubling even when he gets the volume. By default — and without further update on JJ as of writing this — Glover is the uncontested volume pig at the moment, one can only imagine how great it’d be if he was actually an elite player too.
It was announced shortly after the weekend that OSU RB Dallan Hayden will redshirt this year. It was sort of an odd move from an outsider’s point of view, as presumably they could use all hands on deck this season. It might have been a decision made for the mutual benefit of the team and player. It’s likely that both Trey Henderson and Miyan Williams will be moving on this offseason, leaving only Evan Pryor and Chip Trayanum as competition for that top RB spot, Hayden’s a player that will probably be an attractive pick in CFF circles for 2024.
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