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Zach's Best 5
Ezekiel Elliott(Ohio State)- Elliot finished the 2014 season as the 3rd leading rusher in all of college football with nearly 1900 yards and 18 TDs. He fumbled only twice all year and lost only 1. Perhaps no other team with playoff hopes plays an easier schedule than Ohio State. Though they lead off the season at Virginia Tech, the team who handed them their only loss in 2014, the Buckeye's first taste of competition comes in the form of the Penn State Nittany Lions, who they have at home in week 7. Other than Penn State, the Buckeye's play absolutely no one for the first 11 weeks. Though they are loaded at QB, Myer losses Devon Smith, his lone deep threat. Expect lots of carries in the away game against Virginia Tech followed by a potential for a second half scratch in weeks 3 and 4. Also, keep an eye on how his 2nd wrist surgery will effect him. In conclusion, despite having the deepest QBs in the country, Elliot was a top performer in 2014 and there is little chance that he doesn't remain a top 10 scorer in 2015
Donnel Pumphrey (SDSU)-Pumphrey had only 4 games where he had under 20 carries in 2014. 3 of those were the first 3 games of the season. Pumphrey was held under 100 yards only 3 times, but rushed for over 150 yards in 4 different games. He lost 4 fumbles, though that's hardly a legitimate concern. What I really like about Pumphrey is that he had only 1 game in 2014 where he didn't have a reception, though he had no reception TDs. That streak can't stand in 2015. Getting a bonus 2 points every game is awfully nice. Having a real chance to snake a 7 point play at some point in the season is tempting. Against their better competition (UNC, Boise, Oregon State), Pumphrey still managed to get his. Though the Aztecs lost all 3 games, Pumphrey still managed 340 yards and 5 TDs. Other than having 3 bye weeks, the only major concern I have comes in game 8 against Utah State, who has been phenomenal against the run.
James Connor(Pitt)-Few backs in the country had as many carries as Connor. The 6'2" 250 pound back isn't a homerun threat, but he can break the long one on occasion. In the meantime, he can take 30+ carries a game. The carries dropped off mid-season, but Connor still managed multiple TD games in all but a blowout win against Syracuse with Miami the nest week. With a new head coach Narduzzi replacing Chryst, one can expect the defensive minded coach to take advantage to an upper classman workhorse in his backfield. The season stacks up perfectly for Connor, with a bye the week before a showdown with Virginia Tech, which will allow the Panthers to maximize his production. Be cautious with starting him against UNC, even though the 2014 matchup with them was one of his best performances. The Tarheels have a much better defensive coordinator. Additionally, be aware of Louisville following an away game against Duke. But, in all honesty, it's hard to go wrong against a guy who gets the number of carries he gets. Especially inside the 20.
Derrick Henry(Ala)-The perfect storm is brewing for fantasy owners with Henry. The Tide finished A-day with a combined 6 INTs tossed and a wide open QB battle going into the fall. The Tide have talent at WR, but nothing to compare to Amari Cooper. Additionally, Drake is more of a 3rd and long back than a combo back, as we have seen the Tide use in the past. With Saban's affinity to control the clock, Henry could average 25 carries a game. Perhaps not a homerun hitter, few backs in the country have the ability to pound out 3 yards per carry....even without an offensive line. Certainly not a team with a cupcake schedule, that works in Henry's favor. The only thing that may steal points from him will be OJ Howard in the redzone. But, I wouldn't sweat it.
Paul Perkins (UCLA)- Despite the obvious focus on Hundley, Perkins turned in a solid 2015 campaign. He is a bit boom or bust in terms of rush yards, but he makes up for it in other ways. First off, Perkins is a focus against premier competition. His best games were against Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Arizona State, and Kansas State. Against lesser opponents, he is best left on the bench or as a flex player. Normally, I want a guy who is guaranteed 20 carries and 100 yards per game. Knowing how he is played makes him valuable to me, more so for knowing who to start and who to sit than his obvious potential for big games. But, he is serviceable in all weeks because of his value as a pass catcher. Perkins caught 26 balls for 2 TDs in 2014. With Hundley gone and the a fairly tough overall schedule, Perkins is a must have.
Next Best 5 Up
Nick Chubb(UGA)-A explosive replacement for Todd Gurley, Chubb had a monster of a second half of the year as a replacement back. Like 2014, he will be valuable down the stretch and may not be a great early round pick. Why? Because the Dogs are breaking in yet another QB. The first 4 games won't be premier competition and the 5th is against the Tide. I am not discounting the Gamecocks, but I don't have much expectations for them in 2015. Expect Richt to keep a tight hold of his carries leading into that showdown in Tuscaloosa while tuning up the passing game with his new QB and experienced WRs. His only legitimate chance to win that game is with a healthy Chubb. UL-Monroe, Vandy, South Carolina, and Southern University are not the time to use up your feature back. Does that mean he won't have points? No. But, there is as likely a chance of him to blow up then to find himself on the bench in the second half. He would make a great Flex play, if you have a good 1 and 2 back already. Down the stretch, there are few players I would rather have, though the week 11 game at Auburn, against an improving Muschamp defense may be a shaky play. Rest assured that he will still be one of the first players taken, over all. I think he will be over-value, especially early in the season. And, I do believe in a sophomore slump. Keep in mind that he WILL be pulled in garbage time to give carries to Michele and Douglass.
Justin Jackson(NW)-Because he was a freshman, his workload early in 2014 was limited, which kept him off a lot of fantasy radars. The Wildcats open up against Stanford, which could be a shaky play to begin the year. But, one thing is for certain, the Wildcats have some huge questions at QB and a playmaker in Jackson. Jackson had 22 catches out of the backfield and 1 TD to go with his 1200 rushing yards and 10 TDs. What I REALLY like about him, other than his use as a pass catcher in PPR leagues, is that he is a near lock for a 100-yard game, which is a hard requirement for me. Outside of a slow start, he was held under 100 yards only 2 games, but still managed 6 receptions and a TD. Northwestern is a great team to get a player from because they don't have huge drop offs due to graduation year to year. When they have a playmaker, they can win lots of games, but they will always be fundamentally sound, especially up front. This guy has real value and will probably be available later in the draft than he should. I would keep an eye on how the Wildcats do against Duke, as that will be a real litmus test for the rest of the year.
Shock Linwood(BAY)-No Bryce Petty means go time for Linwood. Having shared carries in 2013 with Seastrunk and taking a backseat to Petty (until the injury), Linwood closed the year in solid fashion until a tough bowl game. What I like about Linwood is that he found the endzone in all by 2 games last year and had 4 multi-TD games. Used sparingly in the passing game, his 7 catches still gives him so added value. Though he only had 4 100-plus yard games, he hovered right at that line in every single regular season game, despite playing on a pass-first offense. Other than Kansas State, all of the big games are at home.
DJ Foster (Ariz)-Few guys in the country are used like Foster. This is a guy who who will slip through the cracks early in the draft because he will be sorted as a RB based upon rushing yards. Yet Foster isn't valued because of his rushing yards, but his touches. He caught an astounding 62 passes last year, though he only scored on 3. As a pure running back, he hovered around a 15 touch average. While he is capable of big rushing games, don't rely on that for his value. His value is that he is going to score you points and he has the potential to have a 40+ point game at any point. Just keep in mind that he struggles in big games. My feeling is that those will be week 4 and 9. He is also a shakey play against TAMU. I don't think I would start him as a 1 or 2 against an upstart Chavis-led defense.
Leonard Fournette(LSU)-Fournette is a combination of Chubb and Henry. If you are looking for a player who has a QB issue in front of him, coming off a strong coming out year...look no further. Miles eased him into his true freshman season, limiting him to under 20 carries until playing Florida. Against one of the best defenses in the country, he went off for 150 yards. He finished the year with 5 100-yard games despite not always being the featured back. That won't happen again this year. However, like Chubb...I believe in the sophomore slump. I also believe that he wont' be used in week 1 as Miles tunes up his passing game and saves him for the following week against Mississippi State in Starkville. A week 2 showdown in one of the loudest stadiums should be the perfect time to unleash Fournette. The following week against Auburn will be another slugfest. The only way they will stay in that game is by 20+ carries and the play action pass. He may not have the total yardage, but expect lots of carries. Week 8 will be a good time to trade him high, as he will be going into a cupcake matchup, then a bye week, then 4 straight SEC matchups against good defenses. I can't state that enough. Going into the playoffs isn't the time for a big time bust, which is a very real possibility with him.
Zach's Top Sneaky Plays
Jarvion Franklin(WMi)-Few backs had more carries(306) than Franklin in 2014. However, he wilted down the stretch and began to have fumblitis late in the year. Additionally, the Broncos face much stiffer competition in 2015. They open with Michigan State, then have Ohio State in week 4. Someone will take him early based upon his achievements in 2014, but will surely we ready to unload him after week 4, specifically because he has a bye in week 5. If you can get him cheap (or free) at that point, it is worth snatching him up in midseason. This is the kind of guy who will win you the league, especially in the playoff when you need stability.
Corey Clement (Wisc)- Honestly, I don't expect this to be a great secret. In his sparingly used 2014 season, he did a fair amount of damage when stepping in for Melvin Gordon. Additionally, he caught 14 passes in light duty. He will be the last of Bielema's recruits and Bielema never missed on a running back. Chryst steps in as the new head coach and giving Clement the ball gives him a lot of stability, especially considering that Wisconsin closed the year with dreadful QB play and development. Week 1 doesn't get any tougher (BAMA) and many people may be hesitant to take a chance on a new starter, especially considering week 1. However, if you take the week 1 matchup out of the equation, you can ride Clement the rest of the season.