College Fantasy Football: Looking Back at 2010's Impact Freshmen

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College Fantasy Football: Looking Back at 2010's Impact Freshmen
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore

Another National Signing Day has come and gone.  In this world of instant gratification that we live in, our Twitter feeds over the 24 hours will surely be chock full o' "Winners & Losers" and "Grading Recruiting Class" articles.  Because we need to know RIGHT NOW who won the recruiting battles.  Must know now!  It's silly when you think about it.  Most of these kids won't even see the field until 2012 and 2013.

But it is what it is.

In the world of college fantasy football, the goal is to sift through the over-hyping garbage and try to find a few skill position prospects that might actually see the field and put up some stats this fall.  The position to zero in on is running back, where the transition from high school to college is historically the smoothest.  

Rivals.com has dished out 24 five-star designations at the running back position since 2002 (not including this year's crop).  Here are the names: Ciatrick Fason, Gerald Riggs Jr., Jerious Norwood, Reggie Bush, Kregg Lumpkin, Demetris Summers, Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Stewart, Marlon Lucky, Jason Gwaltney, Kevin Grady, Chris Wells, Stafon Johnson, James Aldridge, Joe McKnight, Marc Tyler, Darrell Scott, Jermie Calhoun, Bryce Brown, Trent Richardson, Christine Michael, Marcus Lattimore, Michael Dyer, Lache Seastrunk.

How many of these "can't miss" recruits actually achieved some level of stardom at the collegiate level?  Maybe half of them (and that's being generous)?  How many of them made an immediate fantasy impact their freshman year?  Not many.

The point is not to get caught star-gazing when it comes to analyzing this year's crop of incoming recruits, especially when it comes to stepping right in and producing from day one.

When looking for an impact freshman, naturally out-of-this-world ability is obviously a factor.  But it's equally important to find someone who will get an opportunity for major playing time right away. 

Last year's freshman class served as a prime example. Only South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore was a true workhorse that lived up to his hype immediately.  Auburn's Michael Dyer showed flashes of good things to come - especially in the national title game - but 5 total TDs is not exactly what fantasy owners are looking for out of a starting RB.  It's interesting to note that three of the top five fantasy RB producers were only three-star recruits.  These overlooked prepsters were able to produce because - shocker - they actually got on the field.  Whether it be because of the graduation of a senior star ball carrier, or by an injury to the current starter, they found themselves to be in the right place at the right time. 

Let's take a closer look at last year's top freshman producers. (For a glance forward to 2011's freshmen running backs, click here.)


Top Five Freshman Fantasy Running Backs of 2010

Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (Rivals.com's No. 1 RB recruit in 2010)
249-1,197-17 TDs, 29-412-2 receiving
Lived up to the hype as 2010's consensus top-rated high school running back recruit.

James White, Wisconsin (Rivals' No. 42 RB)
157-1,055-14, 11-88-0 receiving
Three-star recruit benefitted from the injury to John Clay.  Became solid fantasy contributor although Montell Ball stood in his way to becoming a true star.

Orleans Darkwa, Tulane (Rivals' No. 64 RB)
184-925-11 rushing, 15-135-0 receiving
Three-star recruit burst onto the scene in the second half of the season.  Strung together five straight 100+ rushing yard performances in weeks 9-13.   

James Sims, Kansas (Rivals' No. 51 RB)
168-742-9 rushing, 19-134-1 receiving
Three-star recruit who, like Darkwa and White, was not on the preseason fantasy radar.  Had five strong fantasy outings, but his other six performances left much to be desired.

Michael Dyer, Auburn (Rivals' No. 2 RB)
181-1,097-5 rushing, 1-9-0 receiving
Much-hyped five-star recruit was instrumental to Auburn's national title chase, but was not a very reliable fantasy option.  Cam Newton stole most of the rushing TD opportunities.

What's the lesson learned here?  It's wise to curb your enthusiasm with these youngsters. 

The only running back from last year's freshman recruiting class that was a viable soup-to-nuts every week fantasy starter was Lattimore.  That's ONE guy among 120 FBS schools!  Sure, James White was a solid start at times, but he shared the load with John Clay (when healthy) and Montee Ball.  Starting White every week was a risky proposition.  Darkwa became a nice option in deeper leagues in the final month, but he was non-existent early on.

The other positions were even less predictable.  Here are the top 2010 freshmen performers at quarterback and wide receiver:


Top Four Freshman Fantasy Quarterbacks of 2010

Jeffrey Godfrey, Central Florida (Rivals No. 8 Dual-Threat QB)
2,159 passing yards, 13 TDs, 566 rushing yards, 10 rush TD
Led all freshman QBs in total fantasy points.  Still, he was nothing more than a free agent pick-up who wound up as a QB3 in most All-120 formats.

David Piland, Houston (Rivals No. 32 Pro-Style QB)
2,641 passing yards, 24 TDs, 28 rushing yards, 0 rush TD
Handed the keys to a Ferrari when Case Keenum went down to a season ending injury (beating out fellow frosh Terrance Broadway).  Only played in 8 games.  Grew into a solid QB2 in All-120 formats.

Jake Heaps, BYU (Rivals' No. 1 Pro-Style QB)
2,316 passing yards, 15 TDs, -100 rushing yards, 1 rush TD
Heaps showed flashes of his tremendous upside in year one, but was barely a blip on the fantasy radar stat-wise. if you relied on Heaps in an All-120 format you probably didn't have a stellar season.

Tyler Bray, Tennessee (Rivals' No. 7 Pro-Style QB)
1,849 passing yards, 18 TDs, -104, 0 TDs
Won the starting QB job in October.  Was strong down the stretch, posting 300+ passing yards in four of his final five outings.  

Other than Heaps, who was selected as a flier on draft day in some deeper leagues, the other three prospects were mid-season free agent additions. 


Top Three Freshmen Fantasy Wide Receivers of 2010

Marquess Wilson, Washington State (Rivals' Unranked, Three-Star WR)
55-1,006-6 receiving
Came out of nowhere to start the season.  Seemed to run out of gas in November.

Nick Harwell, Miami-OH (Rivals' Unranked, Two-Star WR)
64-871-6 receiving
Another guy completely off the radar who started to make his presence felt in Week 6.  He eventually supplanted Armand Robinson as the top receiving target for the Redhawks.

Robert Woods, USC (Rivals' No. 1 Athlete)
64-787-6 receiving
Big-time free agent addition after a two week October stretch where he found paydirt five times.  Unfortunately, he battled injuries and didn't do much the rest of the way.

None of these receivers made it into fantasy starting lineups for more than maybe a month.  Further proof that it's smart to keep your expectations in check with true freshman.

So now that we've put a bit of a buzzkill on National Signing Day, are there any freshman prospects to put on the fantasy radar for 2011?  We've got a few guys in mind, as outlined in this article.

Todd DeVries is the founder of CollegeFootballGeek.com, your home for all things college fantasy football.

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