This is Part One of a five-part series analyzing the potential fantasy impact of the 2009 incoming freshmen.
The 2009 college football season unofficially began on Wednesday, February 4th. National Signing Day.
Also referred to as "LOI Day", this is the date when high school football stars from across the country sign on the dotted line with their school of choice.
With ESPNU’s nine hours of continuous coverage, ridiculously choreographed press conferences, hats being tossed around like bras at a Bon Jovi concert, and Mel Kiper-isms like “good motor” and “tremendous upside” being flung about by every pundit, the event has become NFL Draft Lite.
It’s quite a circus.
For the purposes of college fantasy football, we’ll try to weed through the madness and pluck out a few players who could make an impact in the upcoming 2009 season, and also highlight those to watch in 2010 and beyond. But before we do, let’s take a look back at those freshmen who made an impact in the 2008 campaign.
This list is comprised of true freshmen (not redshirt freshmen or JUCO transfers).
Robert Griffin (Baylor) - 4-star recruit who surprised many by selecting Baylor over the likes of Tennessee, Nebraska and Kansas. He had a fantastic freshman year passing for 2,091 yards, rushing for another 843, and compiling a total of 28 touchdowns.
He is a superior talent who carried the Baylor offense on his shoulders. Not easy to do as a freshman. Griffin was a must-start in most fantasy formats.
Bo Levi Mitchell (SMU)- BLM wasn’t as highly recruited as Griffin, but he wound up in the right system to produce fantasy stats. The 2-star product from Katy, Texas, had interest from Boise State, Hawaii, and Houston (all fantasy juggernaut offenses).
He wasn’t expected to do much his freshman year. But Justin Willis didn’t get the starting nod from new coach June Jones as many expected, and Mitchell took over the reins.
He was an inconsistent fantasy player, but did have a handful of big games. Stats: 2,865 passing yards, 28 total touchdowns, 23 INT’s.
Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State)- When the most heralded recruit in the land signed on to become a Buckeye, most thought he would serve as backup to incumbent starter Todd Boeckman. At best, maybe he’d get a few snaps each game in a special package designed to suit his unique abilities.
But when Boeckman struggled early, Coach Tress turned to Pryor and stuck with him for the remainder of the season. He was a decent spot fantasy starter. Stats: 1,311 passing yards, 631 rushing, 19 total touchdowns.
Redshirt freshmen: Austin Davis (Southern Miss), Kellen Moore (Boise State), Russell Wilson (NC State)
Running Backs (5)
Jacquizz Rogers (Oregon State)- 3-star prospect from Texas who spurned offers from Arizona and Illinois to sign on with the Beavers. Nobody expected him to have the instant impact he had in his first season. Most figured Ryan McCants would be top the depth chart and thus, Quizz went undrafted in all but the deepest fantasy leagues.
After impressive outings early in the year, Quizz was an waiver wire grab for owners in every league. Stats: 1,253 rushing, 247 receiving, 12 touchdowns.
Mark Ingram (Alabama)- The athlete from Flint, Mich., was one of over twenty 4 or 5-star prospects to commit to Nick Saban in 2008. With such an influx of talent in this class, plus having Glen Coffee and Terry Grant already ahead of him on the RB depth chart, it was difficult to gauge what kind of impact, if any, Ingram would make.
But he quickly became part of a dangerous 1-2 punch with Coffee. Stats: 728 rushing, 54 receiving, 12 touchdowns.
Bryce Beall (Houston) - The 2-star DB from Tatum, TX had offers from Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State. Upon his arrival at Houston, he wasn’t on the fantasy map.
In his first three games, he had a few touches here and there. But a month into the season, Beall became the “Brian Westbrook” of the Cougar’s offense: a factor in the running and passing game.
He took the fantasy world by storm accounting for nearly 1,750 total yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns.
Keola Antolin (Arizona) - 3-star all-purpose back who had also offers from Iowa and Oregon State. It might be a stretch including Antolin on this list as he only racked up 525 rushing yards, but there is no question he made an impact on most fantasy leagues.
With Grigsby’s fumbling issues and questions surrounding whether he was in Coach Stoops’ “doghouse,” Antolin was a hot waiver wire pickup in the hopes that he might win eventually the starting job.
He had a couple monster games, but Grigsby held onto the job at the end of the year. Still, Antolin produced nicely with 525 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Montel Harris (Boston College) - A 2-star running back from Jacksonville who surprised most by signing with BC over Duke.
Going into the season, the freshman most expected to make a splash at running back was 4-star Josh Haden. However, Harris outplayed Haden during the year, racking up 1,060 total yards from scrimmage and 6 touchdowns.
Redshirt freshmen: John Clay (Wisconsin), Darren Evans (Virginia Tech), Robert Turbin (Utah State)
Wide Receivers (8)
DeAndre Brown (Southern Miss) - Here is a guy who lived up to the pre-season hype. He was on everyone’s fantasy watch list and he delivered. The 5-star talent spurned offers from the SEC giants and chose to attend Southern Miss.
He quickly became a fantasy must-start and had a great season before breaking his leg in the bowl game. Stats: 67 catches, 1,117 yards, 12 touchdowns.
Damaris Johnson (Tulsa) - 4-star talent who chose Tulsa over Minnesota, TCU and Memphis. Since he was a top talent going to a lower-level school, he was someone to earmark heading into the preseason.
However, there were so many receiving options at Tulsa that he wasn’t drafted in most leagues. Finished the year with 1,070 total yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns.
T.Y. Hilton (Florida Int’l) - 2-star wide receiver also had an offer from Ole Miss. He came alive in October and stayed hot through November.
T.Y. was a hot waiver wire pick up in the second half of the fantasy season. Stats: 41 catches, 1,013 receiving yards (a whopping 25 yards per catch!) and 12 TDs on the year.
Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) - 5-star talent from Minnesota with offers from big boys such as Ohio State, Florida, and Michigan. He was someone who you figured would have a chance to contribute right away given the lack of playmakers on the Irish depth chart, and the pass-first mentality of Chuck Weis.
However, optimism was tempered a bit since the Irish offense was so woeful in 2007. Floyd wound up having a nice year before battling injuries down the stretch. Stats: 48 catches, 719 yards and 7 touchdowns.
A.J. Green (Georgia) - 5-star stud who committed to UGA a year and a half prior to LOI day! He was someone bound for early playing time. The question was whether he would see enough passes in the Bulldawg’s run-first offense.
The good news was he had star QB Matthew Stafford tossing the rock. Green was drafted in most leagues in the late rounds. Those owners were rewarded with a nice rookie season from the South Carolina phenom. Stats: 56 catches, 963 yards, 8 touchdowns.
Julio Jones (Alabama) - Another 5-star recruit where the big fantasy question was how he would be implemented into a run-first attack. Like A.J. Green, Jones was drafted in most leagues in the late rounds, and he posted similar numbers. Stats: 58 catches, 924 yards, 4 touchdowns.
Briggs Orsbon (Ball State) - 3-star player with offers from most of the MAC schools. Was thrust into duty when Dante Love went down with a serious neck injury.
Orsbon didn’t hit the fantasy radar until the Love injury. Became one of Nate Davis’s favorite targets and was a waiver wire pickup in many leagues. Stats: 68 catches, 813 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M) - 4-star stud with an impressive list of suitors, including Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan and Ohio State. While Fuller was very talented, he was not drafted in most leagues due to the uncertainty of the A&M passing game with a new coaching staff.
As it turns out, Jerrod Johnson took the reigns at QB and lead a pass-heavy attack, and Fuller thrived. Stats: 50 catches, 630 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns.
Tight Ends (0)
There were no true freshmen who made a fantasy impact in 2008.
Ross Evans (TCU)
Field goals: 16/20, PAT: 49/55
Kevin Gessling (Fresno State)
Field goals: 15/22, PAT: 46/47
Blair Walsh (Georgia)
Field goals: 15/23, PAT: 50/50
Note: All “star” rankings per Rivals.com.
A Look Inside the Numbers:
Approximately 1,000 offensive skill position players signed on 2008’s National Signing Day. By our estimation, sixteen of them (non-kickers) made a significant fantasy impact last fall. The “star” breakdown of the sixteen players above:
* Number of 5-stars: 5
* Number of 4-stars: 4
* Number of 3-stars: 3
* Number of 2-stars: 4
There were 108 four or five-star players at the offensive skill positions in 2008. Only nine of them made a fantasy impact.
What’s the lesson learned here?
Don’t bank on too many of the big-name freshman panning out in year one. Take a look at the list above. How many of those guys were drafted in your league? Probably not many. There’s nothing wrong with taking a flyer on a freshman in your draft, but don’t go nuts unless you are in a very deep league.
The better strategy is to compile a freshman watch list for potential waiver wire pickups. See who emerges in the first few weeks of the season, and then strike.
In order to create that short list of players, you really want to zero in on three main factors:
1. Does the player have a good chance for early playing time? This could be due to starters graduating or defecting to the NFL, or it could be due to…
2. ...superior athletic ability. We’re talking about the “man child” who is is just so good that he blows away any incumbent starters. This can happen when a smaller school lands a big-time four or five-star recruit (think Southern Miss and DeAndre Brown).
3. Is the player going to a system that is a traditional fantasy juggernaut or that suits his skills perfectly? For example, a QB competing for the starting job at a Tulsa or SMU or Hawaii.
In Part Two of our series, we'll take a look at the potential fantasy impact freshman quarterbacks for 2009.
Todd DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com, your premier resource for college fantasy football information. Check us out.