This entire calendar year has been crazy, especially in the world of college sports.
Over the summer, it was looking like we wouldn’t have college football. Both the MAC and Big Ten postponed their season until the spring and then both announced they would begin play late-October or early-November. Smaller conferences have cancelled/postponed their seasons. Despite all of this turmoil, we’re in the midst of the 2020 NCAA football season and it has been entertaining to say the least.
Many fantasy football analysts were advising fantasy gamers to stay away from rookies this year because of COVID-shortened offseason activities and training camps, and I personally heard the same about freshmen in #devy and/or Campus to Canton (C2C) leagues. Yes, some NCAA freshman (and NFL rookies) are on a slower road to production, but today, I’m going to focus on some of the top freshman producers in the nation through the first month of the 2020 college football season. Some of these guys were heralded recruits, rated highly by all scouting services and expected to produce in year one, while others were more under-the-radar prospects that have far exceeded expectations so far.
SPENCER RATTLER, Oklahoma
I’m going to start with the quarterbacks, and who better to begin with than QB1 himself, Spencer Rattler.
Despite Oklahoma’s struggles, starting 1-2 in their first three games, Rattler has looked pretty solid to kick off his redshirt freshman season. He was a consensus 5-star recruit, with a 0.9942 composite ranking by 247Sports, so he was expected to light it up after the departure of Jalen Hurts. Lincoln Riley has made Oklahoma the “South Beach” of landing spots for transfer QB’s, bagging Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts back-to-back-to-back. This year was a bit different though, with Rattler waiting in the wings, and I definitely wasn’t the only one excited to see what Riley could do with a handpicked, highly-rated QB, groomed in the Oklahoma offense.
In 2020, Oklahoma doesn’t look like the powerhouse they were for the past few years, but QB1 is the least of their concerns. In his first three games, Rattler has completed 69 (nice) of 94 passes for 977 passing yards and 10 passing touchdowns, while throwing 4 interceptions. He has also added 16 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. He has two games with 300+ passing yards (he had 290 in the other game) and two games with 4 passing touchdowns.
Rattler’s season thus far can be summed up by one game in particular: Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State. He went 30 for 41 for 387 passing yards, 4 passing touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. In this game, Rattler stuffed the box score, but he made some rookie mistakes as well. He missed a few key passes and sealed the Sooners’ fate with an interception on their final drive. I can see Rattler replicating this type of performance a few more times this year, showing obvious promise while also looking like a redshirt freshman thrust into a starting job. He’s a must-start in all C2C leagues, and a high-end devy prospect, eligible for the NFL Draft in 2022. As of today, I see Rattler a top-two QB prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft.
JEFF SIMS, georgia tech
As a true freshman this year at Georgia Tech, Jeff Sims has been a pleasant surprise. Although he was a 4-star recruit with a 0.9169 composite rating by 247Sports, he still had to compete for the quarterback spot with sophomore and incumbent starter, James Graham, and lesser candidates Jordan Yates and Tucker Gleason. Since beating out Graham for the starting job, Sims has impressed.
Through his first three games, Sims has completed 54 of 98 passes for 695 passing yards and 3 passing touchdowns, adding 187-yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground on 37 carries. The downside to his season so far is that he’s thrown 8 interceptions to this point, and the Yellow Jackets have now dropped two straight games in blowout fashion.
In his first game as a college quarterback, Sims led Georgia Tech to a victory over Florida State, completing 23 of 34 passes for 277 passing yards and a touchdown, while throwing two interceptions. He also added 64 rushing yards on 13 carries. Interceptions are a common problem with freshman quarterbacks, but 8 of them through only three games is quite a few. If Sims can iron out his accuracy and decision making a bit, he could be a mid-to-high-end NFL QB prospect in 2023. He’s a great hold in deep C2C and devy leagues.
GRAYSON MCCALL, coastal carolina
The dark horse freshman quarterback in 2020 is Grayson McCall. Only a 2-star recruit with a lowly 0.7902 composite rating by 247Sports, the redshirt freshman took the reigns for Coastal Carolina and hasn’t looked back. After hearing Coastal Carolina, your first thought was probably “level of competition.” Typically, I would agree, but the Chanticleers (I don’t know what this is either) have started the season 3-0 while facing off against a couple decent opponents.
McCall has thrown 42 completions out of 63 pass attempts for 728 yards and 9 touchdowns. He did all this through the air with only one single interception. He’s also a threat on the ground, rushing for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns on 31 attempts. Coastal Carolina has now defeated a Power 5 school (Kansas), Campbell, and Arkansas State. Kansas is awful, but they’re still in a major conference and put Coastal Carolina on their schedule as a “cupcake” game.
Arkansas State, on the other hand, is fairly underrated. They’re 1-2, but their two losses have come against Top-25 ranked Memphis, and the aforementioned Chanticleers. Arkansas State took down Kansas State in week 2. I’d like to remind you, as mentioned in the Rattler portion of this article, Kansas State took down Oklahoma, so basically… Coastal Carolina is better than Oklahoma by the transitive property of college football.
Anyways, back to McCall. He put up some highly-efficient numbers in the victory over Kansas, throwing only 18 passes, completing 11 of them for 133 yards and 3 touchdowns. He added 73 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground on 11 carries. McCall is a sneaky, under-the-radar, dual-threat quarterback prospect. He’s eligible for the NFL Draft in 2022 but I expect him to be a 2023 guy. He’s a must-start in C2C leagues and definitely worth a stash in deep devy leagues.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Shane Illingworth (Oklahoma State), DJ Uiagalelei (Clemson)
SETH MCGOWAN, oklahoma
I want to start with a guy who hasn’t put up Madden-type numbers but has looked good and has a lot of promise. Oklahoma’s true freshman running back Seth McGowan was a 4-star recruit with a 247Sports composite rating of 0.9378. He was a great prospect coming out of high school and is receiving an increased workload due to a COVID-19 opt-out by Kennedy Brooks.
McGowan has complied 181 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries, plus 79 receiving yards and a touchdown on 4 receptions. None of these numbers are eye-popping necessarily, but McGowan is flashing very early. He already has NFL bell-cow size and is both patient and shifty.
McGowan received 10 total touches (9 carries, 1 reception) in Oklahoma’s week 1 win against Missouri State. He turned those 10 touches into 98 yards and 2 touchdowns. While he scored a touchdown on his first collegiate carry and averaged 6.8 yards per carry for 61 rushing yards, his most impressive play was his 37-yard touchdown reception. He took a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage from Rattler and looked like he shot out of a cannon, veering away from defenders on his way to the end zone. I believe McGowan can be a legit NFL back. While he may or may not be a weekly start in C2C this year, he’ll get more work as he gains more experience. He’s a great pickup in deep devy leagues as well and a guy to keep an eye on for the 2023 class.
DEUCE VAUGHN, kansas state
Another Big 12 player that has impressed so far is Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State’s true freshman running back. While he’s small, standing at 5-5 and only weighing 168 pounds, he’s electric. He was a decent recruit coming into college, rated as a high 3-star all-purpose back. He’s tougher and stronger than you’d think by only looking at his size, and he has some juice to break away in the open field.
Through three games, Vaughn is Kansas State’s leading rusher AND their leading receiver. He has carried the ball 36 times for 205 yards and 3 touchdowns, but this isn’t the most impressive part of his game:
Vaughn is an excellent receiver, grabbing 8 passes for a whopping 234 yards and a touchdown. No other Kansas State player has more than 86 yards rushing, and the next leading receiver comes in with 163 receiving yards. He leads all FBS running backs in receiving yards and has caught a pass in each of his last two games in which he gained at least 70 yards. Facing off against (and defeating) Oklahoma, he only rushed for 45-yards and a touchdown, but he had 4 receptions for 129 yards, including a 77-yard reception. He’s averaging 29.3 yards per reception this year, and while this is obviously skewed a bit by his two long receptions, it shows Vaughn’s explosiveness.
This past week against Texas Tech was Vaughn’s best game thus far, leading the Wildcats in both rushing and receiving. On the ground, he had 113 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries and racked up 81 yards and a touchdown through the air on only 3 catches. Texas Tech is no pushover, and he put up almost 200 total yards on under 20 total touches. Vaughn is already the focal point for Kansas State’s offense as a true freshman, and he’s a weekly start in C2C. I’m not sure what his NFL potential looks like given his size, but I could see him being a mid-late round NFL selection in 2023 or 2024 and securing a role considering how the league is transitioning towards smaller and faster players.
Ulysses Bentlely IV, Southern Methodist
Last but certainly not least is Ulysses Bentley IV. Bentley was a 3-star recruit and is currently a redshirt freshman at SMU. His 247 composite rating was only 0.8308, but he’s definitely outplaying his recruiting profile right now.
In his first four games, Bentley has led SMU to a 4-0 record, rushing for 412 yards (1st of all freshman running backs) and 7 touchdowns (1st of ALL running backs). He also has 5 catches for 42 yards. He’s averaging nearly 8.5 yards per carry and has shown promise in the receiving game.
In a shootout against North Texas with a game total of exactly 100 points, Bentley went OFF. He carried the ball 19 times for a whopping 227 yards and 3 touchdowns, tacking on another 21 yards on one reception.
Bentley has had a few big games so far: Against Texas State, North Texas, and Stephen F. Austin. This past weekend, the Mustangs took down Memphis, but Bentley was not a major factor, averaging only 2.5 yards per carry, totaling 32 rushing yards on 13 carries with no touchdowns. I’m a bit hesitant to crown Bentley as a weekly starter in C2C or even a deep devy stash until he proves it against better competition. He did what he was supposed to do against weak competition, but fell flat against a ranked Memphis squad. Regardless, Bentley is worth keeping an eye on, but I wouldn’t give up a lot to get him yet, unless you’re a believer.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jahmyr Gibbs (Georgia Tech), Sean Tucker (Syracuse)
PASS CATCHERS (WIDE RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS)
JORDAN ADDISON, pittsburgh
I’m going give you four pass catchers instead of three, since I’m grouping wide receivers and tight ends together.
The first one on this list is a guy I’ve been touting since day 1, Panthers’ wideout Jordan Addison. As a true freshman, Addison is the leading receiver for Pittsburgh in targets, receptions, and touchdowns. Before he left with a shoulder injury last week against NC State (and DJ Turner erupted for 8-186-0), he was also Pitt’s leader in receiving yards, and I expect him to regain that top spot. Addison is fantastic; he’s a versatile weapon receiving consistent volume and looks like a polished receiver already. He was a 4-star recruit with a 0.9044 composite rating from 247Sports and took a seat in the WR1 chair in Pittsburgh before the season even started.
Through four games, Addison has caught 23 passes for 246 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. He also has 4 rushing attempts for 39 yards, 2 punt returns for 15 yards, and 4 kick returns for 39 yards. I know it’s early, but age adjusted production (Breakout Age) and versatility (Dynamic Score) are two of the most predictive metrics for NFL success for wide receivers. Addison is checking boxes and showing out.
In a win against Top-25 ranked Louisville, Addison caught 7 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. He also had a punt return for 21 yards and 4 kick returns for 39 yards. He was making plays all over the field for the Panthers and I expect him to continue his success. The shoulder injury he suffered against NC State is not believed to be serious, so if he plays next week against Boston College, it should be a prime spot to put up some numbers. After that, Pitt faces off against Miami and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. If Addison can perform well in those games, he will get even more national media attention. He’s a must-start in C2C leagues and he’s creeping up the devy ranks. This may sound like I’m jumping the gun, but Addison is my NUMBER ONE receiver in the 2023 class, and he’ll only garner more attention moving forward. Don’t sleep.
MARVIN MIMS, oklahoma
Another Oklahoma player on the “Next Up” list, no surprise there. Marvin Mims has been solid through the first month of the season, as expected. He was a 4-star recruit with a 0.9285 composite rating from 247Sports. He’s not getting a ton of volume yet, but when he’s been targeted, he’s shown well.
In his first three games, Mims has 11 catches for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s also returned 5 punts for 65 yards. Mims is an outside threat that can win on crisp route running but is also an explosive athlete.
In Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State, Mims caught 5 balls for 31 yards and 2 touchdowns including their first score of the game. He’s shown to be a reliable receiver, especially in the red zone given his verified 37.2-inch vertical jump. With his pedigree and being in Oklahoma’s system, Mims is a solid hold in C2C and deeper devy leagues.
TAYLOR MORIN, Wake Forest
Taylor Morin is a name I hadn’t heard of until week one of this season. He’s a redshirt freshman for Wake Forest and only a 3-star recruit with a 247Sports composite rating of 0.8209. As a small, shifty, slot receiver for Wake Forest, Morin has been impressive.
Morin has 14 catches for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns through three games while adding 5 punt returns for 76 yards. He leads the Demon Deacons in receptions and receiving touchdowns and is second on the team in receiving yards.
Facing off against number one ranked Clemson in Week 1, Morin burst onto the scene with 9 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. He also returned 3 punts for 38 yards. After this game against Clemson, Morin tailed-off a bit, totaling 5 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown over the next two games combined (at NC State, vs. Campbell) but his production against the best team in college football is encouraging. It shows that the Wake Forest coaching staff and quarterbacks trust Morin to get the job done against top competition. As a result, Morin is a hold in extremely deep C2C and devy leagues, but I wouldn’t expect a ton of production, at least for this season.
ARIK GILBERT, Louisiana State
The last freshman getting the spotlight treatment in Vol. 1 is the best rated tight end prospect of all time by 247Sports. Arik Gilbert is a beast. He’s a 5-star recruit for LSU with a 0.9972 composite rating. Gilbert has size, athleticism, and the receiving skills to be a top-end NFL tight end.
Through LSU’s first two games as a true freshman, Gilbert had 8 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Although tight ends are notorious for more modest college production and a longer-development in both the NCAA and NFL, I don’t see Gilbert conforming to these trends. He’s second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards, but I see Gilbert taking over the top spot within the next calendar year.
In his first game of his collegiate career, Gilbert caught 4 passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in a loss against Mississippi State. I believe he can build on this performance to have a breakout freshman season and the top tight end prospect in the 2023 NFL class. As soon as his name is called in the first-round of the 2023 NFL draft, Gilbert will be a top-5 dynasty tight end. Immediately. He’s a must-own in ALL devy and C2C formats, even without tight end premium scoring.