…And a child shall lead them.
— Isaiah 11:6
Don’t think freshmen can become solid college Fantasy Football contributors? Think again.
For you naysayers out there, take a gander at some recent freshman efforts that turned these young boys into Fantasy men:
2004: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma: 344-1,937-15
2005: Jamaal Charles, RB, Texas: 133-1,015-13
2009: LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: 247-1,714-14
2010: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: 278-1,609-19
….and oh, yeah: some freshman named Manziel shredded defenses last fall and won a Heisman. Chances are that he was either undrafted or a late round afterthought in most leagues that (unlike the College Fantasy Football League I’ve played in over the last 14 seasons) didn’t have a Texas A&M graduate in it.
There is Fantasy gold amongst this year’s freshman class, and those who dig smartly will at the very least get a player that provides above-average numbers. While there may not be a Johnny Football at the end of the rainbow, these players stand a good chance of restoring your faith in today’s youth.
1) Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
T.J. Yeldon is a potential Heisman candidate and the incumbent for the two-time defending national champions, yet the sheer size (6-3, 242) and talent of Henry will force Yeldon to give way to some of his carries. Yes, you read it right: Henry is 6-3, 242 and can make like a Christopher Cross song and run like the wind (kids, Christopher Cross was a…oh, never mind. Just Google him). Keep in mind that Yeldon ran for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as the backup to Eddie Lacy last fall, which means it’s not a stretch to imagine Henry either equalling or coming damn close to those numbers.Projected totals: 155-1,150-13.
2) Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke has downplayed Green’s performance in fall practice, yet don’t be fooled: the nation’s #2 back should have no problem overtaking incumbent Fitzgerald Toussaint and handle the bulk of the running duties. With the departure of Dennard Robinson, Michigan will go to more a pro-style attack, which means the 5-11, 200-pound Green will have ample opportunities to display his potential. Projected totals: 235-1,250-11.
3) Baker Mayfield, QB, Texas Tech
“Who is Mayfield?” you ask? Denied a scholarship, Mayfield walked onto the Red Raiders roster, entered fall practice as a longshot, yet now has put himself in position to start next Friday’s lid-lifter at SMU. For years, the Tech QB position has produced top-tier Fantasy numbers, from current coach Kliff Kingsbury, Graham Harrell and Seth Doege. If Mayfield holds off injured Michael Brewer and highly touted freshman Davis Webb, he could emerge as a top 10 Fantasy passer. Projected totals: 4,050-31-14; 20-70-2.
4) Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
National Signing Day fiends remember Collins as the kid whose mom went Thief in the Night with his letter of intent after being disappointed her son didn’t choose Miami (Fla.). Sanity eventually prevailed, giving new Razorbacks coach Brent Bielema a potential cornerstone of his offense. One only needs to see the Fantasy value Montee Ball had in Wisconsin under Bielema and understand just how good Collins can be. He’ll likely share carries with Jonathan Williams, and while it may appear on the surface to hurt his Fantasy value, keep in mind James White remained a fairly productive Fantasy option while splitting time with Ball in Wisconsin. Projected totals: 195-1,015-8.
5) Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor
Tevin Reese opens the season as the Bears’ feature wideout, but keep a very close (and quick) eye on Rhodes, who opened eyes with a 4-112 effort in Baylor’s spring scrimmage. Regarded as one of the nation’s top five prep receivers when he committed to the Bears, Rhodes could play the role Reese played last season to current Cowboys rookie Terrance Williams: a productive Fantasy sidekick. There will be plenty of touches for Rhodes to receive, and don’t be too surprised if coach Art Briles turns him into a Percy Harvin-like player. Projected totals: 60-945-10.
6) Thomas Tyner, RB Oregon
A foot injury sustained in practice almost two weeks ago provided a wincing moment for the nation’s #3 back, but the 5-11, 200-pound Tyner has way, way, way (did we mention way?) too much talent to sit on the sidelines. Byron Marshall showed flashes of his potential working behind Kejon Barner last season and opens 2013 as the lead back, yet Tyner and his explosive speed (he holds the Oregon prep 100-meter record) will become a factor as the season goes on. Keep in mind that De’Anthony Thomas will steal carries, but Tyner is a gold-plated pick in college keeper leagues and a potential Top 10 Fantasy back if something happens to Marshall. Projected totals: 90-600-7.
7) Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Much of the offseason hype in Gainsville centered around sophomore Matt Jones, but a viral infection has kept him out of fall practice. Enter Taylor, the son of former Gator and NFL standout Fred Taylor, who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. If Jones — who will miss the season opener against Toledo — is slow to get back into form, Kelvin Taylor is capable of handling the heavy workload coach Will Muschamp expects out of his backs. At the very least, this could become a timeshare, so keep an eye on this situation. Projected totals: 180-850-9.
8) Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
It shouldn’t take long for this 6-5, 225-pound manchild to work his way into the starting lineup. With only Mike Evans the only returning player with more than 26 receptions from last season, Jones will provide Manziel with a dangerous downfield threat along with a unholy target inside the red zone. Apply patience with Jones early on; it would be a surprise if he’s not in the starting lineup by the end of September. Projected totals: 55-825-9.
9) Jared Goff, QB, California
Having beat out redshirt frosh Zach Klein for the starting role, Goff has a chance to thrive in the pass-happy system of new coach Sonny Dykes, whose Louisiana Tech offense averaged 51.5 points per game last fall. The Bears will have two early games (Northwestern and Portland State) to ease Goff into the fire that will begin to rise with a September 14 visit from Ohio State. Only two teams in the Pac-12 allowed fewer than 225 yards passing per game last fall, which means that while Cal may be on the tail end of the scoreboard often, it will present Goff the opportunity to put up solid numbers in the air. Projected totals: 3,100-24-12; 70-200-3.
10) Derrick Griffin, WR/TE, Miami (Fla.)
A freakish hybrid of size (6-7, 215) and speed (4.5), Griffin was a late surprise signing for The U. The ‘Canes appear to be on the verge of returning to national significance and Griffin will be a huge part of that revival in Coral Gables. Miami returns its top three receivers from last season, but Griffin has the talent to make himself a Fantasy factor. Don’t expect much early on, as it will take some time for him to develop, yet keep him in mind once QB Stephen Morris discovers how fun it can be to have a huge, athletic target like Griffin in the red zone. Projected totals: 40-550-7.
Five More to Watch
1) Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia
2) Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
3) MarQuez North, WR, Tennessee
4) Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
5) T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina
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