CFB DFS: B1G Spring Report
It’s about this time I start to question my sanity. Am I really researching schools like Purdue and Illinois in May?! Yes. Yes, I am. And to be quite honest, I enjoy it way too much. There are a lot of storylines in this conference with one of the best B1G running back classes come and gone. We are going to see guys like Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon and Jeremy Langford pass the torch to the next guy in line, but who is that guy? While some schools have a clear replacement, it’s not so easy to replace a player of that level. Let’s take a look at what’s shaking in the B1G this offseason.
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The Hoosiers lost their playmaker to the NFL Draft, but they feel they have a guy who can replace Tevin Coleman’s production to this offense. He might not play running back, but he has the ability to put up big numbers. People forget that in split duty in 2013, Nate Sudfeld put up some very good numbers (60.2%, 2,523 yards, 21 TDs). This is probably because he only played in six games last season, but he looks back on track. In a little over one half of spring football, Sudfeld threw for 187 yards on 17 of 24 passing and added one touchdown.
When it comes to the Hoosiers offense, it’s nice to have Jordan Howard (transfer RB from UAB), but Sudfeld is more likely to shoulder the load. They have had some solid production from some receivers and have done a great job of recruiting that position, so I would expect a name or two to pop up during the season (Camion Patrick, Dominique Booth, Nick Westbrook possibly). The Hoosiers also plan to get back to a very up-tempo offense and getting as many plays off as they can during the games, which is great for CFB DFS players.
Crabcakes and football. That’s what Maryland does! Or it does one of the two. The Terps are likely to struggle this season with a quarterback competition that none of the guys truly want to win (Caleb Rowe should end up being the guy), and not a whole lot of experience on the offensive line. But, one thing to like is possible receiver play. They lost Stefon Diggs to the draft, so a gap will need to be filled. If you’re looking at the spring game to find out who, then it is clearly Marcus Leak. He caught three TD passes and made a ridiculous catch or two. He’s not a tall guy (6’0), but made a few big plays for the quarterbacks who struggled with consistency.
I’ll have to look into why he disappeared the final six games of the regular season (4/44/0 compared to 16/253/3 in first six) more, but it’s hard to imagine any of these receivers will be a great option besides the very beginning and end of next season’s schedule. These five games include favorable matchups like Richmond, BGSU, South Florida, Rutgers and Indiana.
The Michigan running backs all seem to be at the same level of talent and position on the depth chart and part of that might be because they all possess the same style of running. Ty Isaac, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are all 228lbs or heavier, and not surprisingly, they don’t have blazing speed. There’s no telling who’s going to win this battle come fall or if they’ll even have one guy carry the load. If I had to put money on it, I’d go with Isaac. If you’re going big then you might as well go real big!
This offense is going to be a weak one and it showed in the spring game. The final score was 7-0 and likely starter heading into the fall, Shane Morris, looked average at best. Jake Rudock could take over quarterback duties once he becomes eligible, but I don’t see that as much of an upgrade. The offensive line is pretty weak and the wide receivers have no proven talent.
The biggest news out of East Lansing this offseason came when running back Delton Williams was arrested and suspended indefinitely. We don’t know how long he’ll be suspended, but someone has to win this job and there are a few likely candidates we need to keep an eye on. LJ Scott is a touted freshman who arrives in the fall, but for now it’s between Gerald Holmes and Madre London. While Holmes is more likely to make one cut and put his head down, London is a shifty, but big, runner. Holmes was more impressive in the spring game, but both are freshman trying to be the next stat stuffing MSU running back.
With Tony Lippett gone, there are two receivers that should replace him as Connor Cook’s top target: Macgarrett Kings Jr. and DeAnthony Arnett. They won’t replace Lippett in the system, but both are talented players who could put up big numbers in the play action game for MSU. Kings Jr. needs to stay out of trouble, while Arnett needs to become more productive than his 30 career catches in four seasons.
It looks like Cardale Jones is going to be the guy for Ohio State come fall with Barrett and Braxton sidelined right now. Jones was impressive this spring and ended it all with a 19-42 for 304 yards and two TD performance. The big thing to note is that Jones at quarterback means big days from Ezekiel Elliot and the emergence of their receivers in DFS. They won’t tear up every team, so in competitive battles Jones is going to have to be as impressive as Elliot. In the spring game, Corey Smith caught those two touchdown passes (37 and 58-yard TDs). Smith ended the day with a stat line of 6/174/2. It certainly feels like he’s the guy replacing Devin Smith as the deep target, a major role in this offensive system. Jones throws the deep ball very well and whoever that guy is, should have major value for CFB DFS.
The Nittany Lions had offensive line issues last season and that’s likely to continue in 2015. In just the first half of the spring game, the starters gave up five sacks to second and third-stringers. This doesn’t bode well for the passing game and Christian Hackenberg. Saeed Blacknail is a name to remember heading into the fall, as he was the top receiver in the game going for 6/71/1. Akeel Lynce ran well even with the offensive line struggling, going for 50 yards on nine carries. Nick Scott did even better totaling 77 yards on nine carries as well. With James Franklin being a fan of using multiple backs, something we saw a ton of in 2014, there’s a good chance both get carries come fall and even a freshman like Saquon Barkley could jump into the mix if he grasps the playbook well from day one.
The Rutgers quarterback battle is going to be an uninteresting one between Chris Laviano (the likely leader) and Hayden Rettig (LSU transfer) getting after it this spring and summer. They might end up being playable at quarterback, but it’s going to take some time to trust either of them and their situation. The key to this team is their lack of size on defense. They have some talent on the defensive line with a real solid defensive tackle and end, but they aren’t the biggest of guys. Two of their defensive ends have gotten a bunch of snaps at defensive tackle making them even smaller. Rutgers is going to continue to struggle against the run because of this, something CFB DFS players will want to take advantage of.
The Fighting Illini are going to be a part of some very high scoring games early on in 2015. Their schedule is really soft to start, but sadly they don’t face the cupcakes in the B1G schedule. This offense will miss Mike Dudek (out for season – injury) but has plenty of weapons to be very good against weaker opponents. They’re a pass first team with a quarterback that can handle himself. Wes Lunt was very good in the spring game throwing for two touchdowns and 236 yards. The two top receivers won’t surprise you as Geronimo Allison and Justin Hardee both caught touchdowns and had great games overall. With all of this passing though, Josh Ferguson was still named the spring MVP. He had a very good season two years ago, but didn’t perform consistently in 2014. I suspect his performance improves even though he’s going to put up most of his CFB DFS points through PPR scoring.
The Hawkeyes left spring camp with one major offensive injury (Jake Duzey) and one quarterback transfer (Jake Rudock). The good news is that Duzey is going to be out 3-4 months and not the whole season and C.J. Beathard should be fine in the offense. Now, the offense isn’t going to be based around the pass, so losing Rudock isn’t all that serious, but at least we know who and what to expect when the Hawkeyes take the field. Mark Weisman has graduated, so the running duties have fallen to Jordan Canzeri, Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell. Canzeri was the starter listed on the depth chart at the end of March, so that’s who we’re considering to be the guy to start the season. He ran for 4.8 yards/carry and had four games of 10+ carries in 2014. This offense is built around the run and the best part is that those are the guys that eat up all of the touchdowns. Iowa scored 43 offensive touchdowns in 2014 and 22 of them came from running plays. Last season Weisman ran for 3.8 yards/carry, but scored 16 times, making him an extremely viable play when he had a good matchup. I expect we’ll see more of the same, but this time with Canzeri in 2015.
Minnesota is a team focused on the run because of their style of offense and their quarterback situation. Mitch Leidner is a running quarterback who is most consistent when throwing short passes. Anything other than that and Leidner is a below average quarterback. Because of this, I was disappointed to see Jeff Jones, former stud running back recruit, be moved to wide receiver. While, I do think it hinders his value, everything I’ve heard makes it seem like he’s going to be a DJ Foster-esque player. He’s going to get carries in a crowded backfield and he’s going to be the receiver Leidner targets the most. Without Maxx Williams, there’s a big gap in playmaking ability out wide. Hopefully Jones shows himself to be such a playmaker that he can lock down the important carries (the ones inside the ten) and get 6-8 targets in the passing game.
When Ameer Abdullah was drafted by the Lions in the second round of the NFL Draft, I was ready to mark Tommy Armstrong a possible breakout Fantasy quarterback for the upcoming season. Now, I’m not so sure that that’s going to happen. There are reports out of Lincoln that Armstrong has the quarterback duties only because he was the guy last season and not because of how he has played. That’s not a good sign for him or for CFB DFS players. Then, the new head coach, Mike Riley, decided he wants to change the spread offense Nebraska had in 2014 for the pro-style offense Oregon State had. We’re going to see a new offense this season, but maybe not for long. There’s going to be a tipping point where Riley decides to scrap his offense and game plan for what works. When that happens, Armstrong will become a very good option in CFB DFS, as long as Riley lets him use his legs.
The Wildcats have a lot of questions out wide and under center, which is never a good sign for an offense. It sounds like redshirt-freshman Clayton Thorson is going to be the quarterback, which is a good start due to his talent level (4-star pro-style quarterback ranking) and size (6’4, 200), but that’s no guarantee. Zack Oliver is a fifth-year senior who started the final game of the season in 2014 but didn’t perform well at all. He committed five turnovers in the 47-33 loss. I think Thorson ends up with the gig and will need his receivers to take shape and make plays for him to be successful (duh). Christian Jones is coming off an injury, so that’s a shaky start for them, but they do have Miles Shuler and super back, Dan Vitale, returning to help shoulder the load. At the end of the day, the load will be given to sophomore Justin Jackson. As a true freshman, he had 20+ carries in eight games and found the end zone 11 times.
I don’t want to sit here and spend too much time playing “what ifs,” but if Austin Appleby is the number one quarterback in the fall then I think we can start taking a look at Bilal Marshall as a possible dirt cheap CFB DFS option at receiver. He’s a former dual-threat quarterback still learning the position, but Appleby seems to feel confident with him at times stating that he doesn’t mind tossing up jump balls for him when he’s covered. Marshall is 6’2 and a quick receiver who could be a real surprise for even Purdue fans due to his inexperience in college. He has more pass attempts (one) than catches (zero) in his career.
Looking at running backs is a mess and honestly not that important for me. The Boilermakers have shown in the spring and in previous seasons that they’re going to be spread out and pass it more than they run. The good news for those who care about Purdue running backs is that 266 of 402 rushes are gone as their top two rushers just graduated. D.J. Knox is a new name to write down at the position, but there really isn’t a whole lot to consider in this offense at this point.
This team is pretty much what you see is what you get. The Badgers are going to run the football and when they pass they won’t do it enough to make you consider anything about them. Corey Clement is the number one guy with Melvin Gordon passing the torch after being drafted in the first round. The real question to ask ourselves is who will be the number two guy in this run offense? Taiwan Deal showed a lot of talent in the spring but didn’t do enough to take over Dare Ogunbowale’s number two spot. After looking at video and reading multiple reports, it certainly seems like the confidence level is high on all three running backs. For all CFB DFS writers though, this battle should top the list of things we pray to the heavens for. I’m not sure I’m ready to type that name out each week.
Check out Chris’ Spring Reports for the other power conferences:
What players or teams do you have your eye on for the upcoming CFB DFS season?