The Manhattan Project: KSU's Pig is Going Nuclear in 2024
Shades of Ray Davis-esque infatuation from VP as he delves into Kansas State's DJ Giddens.
Toto, I’ve a feeling KSU isn’t running a committee anymore…
- VP (while watching the Pop Tarts Bowl)
I feel like every time Kansas State’s (KSU) DJ Giddens is given a chance to shine, he absolutely torches the football field. When last season’s RB1B, Treshaun Ward, missed Week Four in 2023 with injury, Giddens paced all RBs with a positively radioactive 293 total yards and four TDs on the week (61 points!). In their Bowl Game vs. NC State (when Ward had already transferred), Giddens once again went nuclear, rushing for 151 yards and scoring twice.
Now, looking toward 2024, there’s some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that the OC who oversaw Giddens’ ascent, and utilized former KSU runner Deuce Vaughn heavily from 2021-22, is gone. He took the OC job at Texas A&M.
The good news is that the runner Giddens was splitting work with last year— Treshaun Ward, transferred out to Boston College. The other good news is that the new OC was the guy who called the plays during KSU’s Bowl Game, where Giddens had a very productive day.
KSU has been a favourite program of mine for a little while now. I like Chris Klieman, and I think he does a damn fine job with his progrum. His former 5’6” Swiss army knife— Deuce Vaughn, was a standout for College Fantasy Football (CFF) players for three straight seasons. Now, once again, we have a Wildcat runner who looks primed for a big year.
Side note: I’m going to have to start keeping count of how many programs are named ‘Wildcats’ in CFB. O/U a half dozen seem about right?
Coming back to the topic at hand, as the regular readers know, normally we start off these types of articles with a look at the staff in place. In today’s profile, that feels even more appropriate given that the main question mark we will have regarding Giddens is the new OC. So let’s get into it.
Coaching & System
The aforementioned Chris Klieman is the head coach of KSU, and has been since 2019. His background is on the defensive side, rising up the ranks at the FCS level as DC at North Dakota State and Northern Iowa in the 2010s. He’s a midwest guy, that much is obvious. However, since his background is defence, I’m going to focus more on the new OC, Connor Riley, who was elevated up from offensive line coach, and the new co-OC, Matt Wells, who figures to also be involved in calling plays.
Wells joins the program by way of Oklahoma, where he occupied the role of Offensive Analyst. Prior to that, he was actually the head coach of another BIG-12 program— Texas Tech, from 2019 to 2021. Prior to Tech, he was the head coach of Utah State from 2013 to 2018. He was also the OC of Utah State in 2012.
Ironically, Wells’ last RB1 when he was calling plays back in 2021 was one Tahj Brooks… anybody recognize that name? That year was a complete committee, however, and Brooks finished with only 568 yards.
The year prior, the lead runner finished with 109 carries for 610 yards. That was also the COVID season. Tech played a full schedule though, as the BIG-12 proceeded as normal in the 2020 season.
The 2019 campaign was more of the same, with a split between three runners. Not only did Wells not have a 1000-yard rusher during this time, he didn’t have a 1000-yard receiver either.
During his six seasons at Utah State, he had two runners go over 1000 yards. One came off the back of a fairly even split, though, in 2018’s Darwin Thompson, who rushed 153 times for 1044 yards and 14 TDs. The RB2 rushed 141 times for 888 yards and 10 TDs. The other 1000-yard rusher— Joey DeMartino, led the way in 2013 with 221 carries for 1221 yards and 13 TDs.
Overall, Wells’ history doesn’t wow me here in regards to the RB production and volume concentration. The bright side is: he’s not the only one responsible for calling the offence at KSU, in fact, he’s likely not even the primary play caller.
Connor Riley took over as the interim OC when Colin Klein moved on to A&M late in 2023. During that time, KSU played NC State in something called the Pop-Tarts Bowl. As mentioned, Giddens rushed for 151 yards, and scored twice (one through the air, one on the ground), off 28 carries in that contest. He also caught one pass for 37 yards for the aforementioned score through the air.
Riley’s been with the program since Kleiman, joining as the OL coach in 2019. Before that, he was the run game coordinator (RGC) and OL coach at North Dakota State (NDSU) with coach Kleiman (2017-18), and just the OL coach from 2014-16. This is just conjecture, but there are old CFF wiseman tales that state that OL coaches tend to favour the run game when they get their chance to call plays… that’s what they say around camp fires all along the Midwest, at least. Take that for what you will.
In his two seasons as the RGC, one was a committee (2019), and the other had a volume pig in Bruce Anderson. Mr. Anderson rushed 234 times for 1249 yards and 12 TDs. The next leading RBs ran the ball 93 and 76 times that season.
I think I’ve seen enough to where I’m comfortable saying that the staff in place aren’t a huge plus, nor a huge con, they’re just sort of here. The big data point is the Bowl game. If that is any indication of how Giddens will be used in 2024, then you’re looking at a massive volume pig.
I’d be more concerned if Ward was still hanging around, especially with this staff, but given that the runway has seemingly opened up now, I think Giddens is going to be a 20+ touch per game guy. Speaking of…
DJ Giddens — 6’1, 212
Giddens is entering his fourth year of CFB with the Wildcats. Formerly an unranked prospect out of Junction City, KS, he arrived in Manhattan as part of the 2021 class, which was a strangely strong RB group in the Sunflower state.
He redshirted his first year on campus, appearing in only one game, and registering no stats. The following season (2022), he emerged as the RB2 for the Wildcats behind First Team All-VP Selection Deuce Vaughn. Speaking as a shareholder of Vaughn, I can say that I saw first hand then that KSU potentially had another pig coming through the pipeline.
“Toto, mark down #31 on KSU as one to watch for the future…”
Vaughn dealt with injury throughout the 2022 campaign, so Giddens registered some decent volume. He finished the year with 89 carries in 14 games, rushing for 518 yards and six scores (7.5 PPG in 1PPR formats).
Had it not been for former FSU RB Treshaun Ward’s transfer into the program in the 2023 offseason, I think Giddens would have been a highly sought after commodity in last summer’s drafts. Ward’s presence muddied the waters, and undoubtedly limited the ceiling and floor on Giddens’ production in 2023.
Even still, Giddens finished the year averaging over 20 PPG. However, I would point out that this was not a conventional 20 PPG average. Notably, his Week Four 61 point performance skews the average heavily. Excluding that outlier, he did not score more than 14 points in a game until Oct. 21.
We need not worry about Ward any longer, however, as he has transferred once more, this time to Boston College. The runway appears clear now, and Giddens’ ascendence later in the year screams future pig for 2024. However, as with most players, his profile isn’t without any blemishes.
Summary of Concerns:
Will be playing with a run-heavy QB who will steal red zone TDs
New play caller always brings some uncertainty
KSU returns only 35% of OL snaps from a year ago
I think Giddens will be this year’s Ray Davis, in that he probably won’t be valued as a first round player — in fact, I’d expect his ADP to track to the third-ish round by the summer — but he will produce like a first rounder in the season. I’m obviously quite optimistic about Giddens given the variables here, but as any good physicist will tell you: theory can only take you so far. Nothing is a sure thing, not in the simple world of nuclear physics, nor in the infinitely complicated web of CFF.
Fingers crossed that his ADP doesn’t push into the first, because he is the perfect third selection of a three straight RB draft strategy— which I’m just going to go ahead and call the Nuclear Pig Philosophy or ‘NPP’.
“Hey man, how was your draft?”
“Not bad, I went with an NPP build to start off, so I’m feeling pretty good about it…”
One such example in a mock draft I recently participated in — which would have been ideal — was a selection of a player like Minnesota’s RB1 Darius Taylor, Boise’s Ashton Jeanty, or OSU’s Ollie Gordon in the first round, Texas Tech’s Tahj Brooks in the second, and Giddens in the third. If for nothing else in that draft, you will know that you are coming out of it with at least one alpha RB that you can rely on for the entirety of the upcoming season. In my case, Giddens didn’t quite make it back to me in the third.
Sticking with ADP anecdotes, Ray Davis was a unanimous second round selection for my programs last year, despite an ADP hovering around the 40-50 range. While I would be comfortable drafting Giddens at the back end of the first round if all of the other RBs I value in that range are already off the board, ideally we would like to acquire a player like this in the third round—second at the earliest.
Would you have been upset with drafting Davis in the first last year despite his third/fourth round ADP? Probably not, but we want to optimize our min/max draft strategy for as much efficiency as possible. So let’s keep this one on the DL.
“Amateurs seek the sun. Get eaten. Power stays in the shadows.”
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