Ranking College Football's Best Dynamic Duos in 2018

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2018

Ranking College Football's Best Dynamic Duos in 2018

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    College football offenses strive to boast a balanced attack with a variety of contributors, but a few teams have a couple of special big-play talents.

    West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and receiver David Sills V stand out immediately, but the following list isn't limited to connections between a passer and catcher. It takes more than one Khalil Tate to be included, though.

    Any pairing between quarterbacks, running backs and receivers was considered. The focus is on combinations of skill position players expected to both be top-tier producers in 2018.

    Level of talentas in whether someone is recognized as an "elite" playerdid not affect the rankings. The order is based on the projected combined number of explosive gains.

10. North Carolina State Wolfpack

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    The duo: Ryan Finley and Kelvin Harmon

    Finley's history: Due to an ankle injury and Brett Rypien's emergence at Boise State, Finley wisely sought a more favorable opportunity. He found it at North Carolina State—where former Broncos quarterbacks coach Eliah Drinkwitz had accepted a job—and served as the starting quarterback in 2016 and 2017. He threw for 3,514 yards with 17 scores and only six picks last year.

    Harmon's history: Harmon made a noteworthy impression as a freshman in 2016, providing 27 catches for 462 yards. As a sophomore, though, he led the Wolfpack with 1,017 yards on 69 receptions.

    2018 outlook: NC State can no longer force-feed touches to the NFL-bound Jaylen Samuels, so Harmon should anticipate more targets. Finley still has a couple of proven options in Jakobi Meyers and Stephen Louis to boost the Pack's big-play total, but Harmon is the clear leader of that talented receiving group.

9. Washington Huskies

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    The duo: Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin

    Browning's history: Browning endured necessary freshman growing pains before breaking out with 3,430 passing yards and 47 total touchdowns in 2016. Although the signal-caller's numbers dipped to 2,719 yards and 26 total scores last year, he still had 27 completions of 25-plus yards.

    Gaskin's history: Each of Gaskin's three seasons at UW has included at least 1,300 rushing yards. The running back totaled a career-high 24 touchdowns last year and added 19 receptions for 232 yards. Gaskin ranked 18th nationally with seven runs of 30-plus yards.

    2018 outlook: The major projection here is trusting Browning to find a big-play target who replaces Dante Pettis. Aaron Fuller played well late in 2017, Chico McClatcher returns from a left ankle injury and incoming freshman Marquis Spiker is a potential star. Gaskin will be reliable as always, so Browning must lift UW's offense to that elite level.

8. Georgia Bulldogs

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    The duo: Jake Fromm and D'Andre Swift

    Fromm's history: All he accomplished as a true freshman was leading Georgia to the national championship game. No big deal. Fromm replaced an injured Jacob Eason (knee) and locked up the quarterback job, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,615 yards and 24 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions.

    Swift's history: Swift only handled 81 carries as the third-string back behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but the freshman made those touches count. Swift notched 7.6 yards per attempt, ending 2017 with 618 yards and eight runs of 20-plus yards.

    2018 outlook: Fromm managed top-40 marks in gains of 20, 30, 40 and 50 or more yards. Now that he's an experienced quarterback, Georgia should start opening up the playbook. That'll improve Fromm's big-play numbers, and Swift, in his limited action, already showed he's a game-breaking threat.

7. Fresno State Bulldogs

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    The duo: Marcus McMaryion and KeeSean Johnson

    McMaryion's history: A rare two-year graduate transfer, McMaryion left a floundering Oregon State program before the 2017 season. He quickly supplanted Chason Virgil at QB and sparked a 9-2 finish for Fresno State. McMaryion completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,726 yards and 14 touchdowns.

    Johnson's history: As a freshman, Johnson reeled in 37 passes for 337 yards. The wideout tallied a team-high 773 yards in 2016 before climbing to 1,013 last season. Through three years with the Bulldogs, Johnson has collected a total of 180 receptions.

    2018 outlook: McMaryion is still developing as a passer, considering he never held a full-time role until 2017. But the learning curve is easier with a standout receiver such as Johnson. They have a terrific rapport on short and intermediate routes, and an improved downfield connection will benefit Fresno State.

6. Buffalo Bulls

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    The duo: Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson

    Jackson's history: Jackson averaged 217.1 yards of total offense as a freshman, and he lifted that number to 254.8 last season. He missed four contests, though. Still, the QB tied for eighth nationally with eight 50-plus-yard passes.

    Johnson's history: The nation's leading returning receiver, Johnson accumulated 76 catches, 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2017. He reached 140 yards in each of six gamesincluding all of the last threeand had five-plus receptions nine times. Plus, only two players had more 40-yard catches than Johnson.

    2018 outlook: Buffalo returns a majority of its pass-catching production, so Jackson has an appealing supporting cast. That will benefit Johnson too, since defenses cannot completely key on the wideout. Jackson should creep up the leaderboard in explosive gains with a healthy year and finish in a similar place to Johnson.

5. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    The duo: Manny Wilkins and N'Keal Harry

    Wilkins' history: Despite the arrival of touted Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, Wilkins retained and locked down the starting QB gig in 2017. In addition to 16 runs of 10-plus yards with seven rushing scoresand 13 such runs the year beforeWilkins threw for 3,270 yards and 20 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.

    Harry's history: One of the best receiver prospects in the 2016 class, Harry wasted no time making an impact. He gathered a team-best 58 receptions as a freshman, then amassed 82 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

    2018 outlook: We're giving offensive coordinater Rob Likens the benefit of the doubt, though the Herm Edwards experiment may fail miserably when he debuts as head coach in 2018. Likens was the passing game coordinator in 2017. That continuity should help Wilkins, whose decision-making is improving and who can make defenses pay on the ground. Harry is the obvious primary target, but he's especially important on third down and in the red zone.

4. Oklahoma Sooners

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    The duo: Rodney Anderson and Marquise Brown

    Anderson's history: The departures of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon created an opportunity in the Oklahoma backfield last season, and Anderson capitalized. He gathered 1,161 rushing yards with a 6.2-yard average and notched 16.5 yards per reception. The running back totaled 1,442 yards from scrimmage.

    Brown's history: Best known for his 265-yard obliteration of Oklahoma State, Brown eclipsed the 1,000-receiving-yard barrier as a sophomore. "Hollywood" had the second-most 50-plus-yard catches and was one of only three players with two 80-plus receptions.

    2018 outlook: Oklahoma is rebuilding the offensive line, but head coach Lincoln Riley is both extremely creative and intelligent. Big plays will come for the Kyler Murray-led Sooners, and Anderson and Brown will be relied upon as high-touch contributors.

3. Central Florida Knights

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    The duo: McKenzie Milton and Adrian Killins Jr.

    Milton's history: The promise Milton showed as a freshman led to a national spotlight in 2017. While leading UCF to a 13-0 record, he racked up 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns through the air and added 613 yards with eight scores on the ground. The QB's 33 completions of 30-plus yards tied for third nationally.

    Killins' history: Killins is one of the fastest players in college football. He flashed that skill with an 87-yard touchdown against Michigan in 2016, and the speedster performed well as UCF's starting running back last year. Killins averaged 6.5 yards over 122 carries, registering 790 yards and 10 scores.

    2018 outlook: Although head coach Scott Frost headed to Nebraska, the Knights brought in Josh Heupel. He oversaw a Missouri offense that led the nation in 50-plus-yard gains last season. Milton will remain a lethal downfield thrower, and Killinsdespite a crowded depth chartwill demand the plurality of carries because of his breakaway speed.

2. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    The duo: Will Grier and David Sills V

    Grier's history: Grier opened his career at Florida but transferred to West Virginia following a performance-enhancing-drug-related suspension. Even though he missed two games, the Mountaineers were happy to have him last season. The QB ranked top 10 in several categories, averaging 317.3 yards per game and 9.0 per attempt, tossing 34 touchdowns and completing 64.4 percent of his passes.

    Sills' history: College paths hardly get more adventurous than the journey of Sills, who's on his second stint in Morgantown. The onetime QB phenom has turned into an elite college receiver, evidenced by his FBS-leading 18 touchdown catches in 2017. Overall, Sills caught 60 passes for 980 yards as a junior.

    2018 outlook: In addition to Sills, Grier will target familiar faces in Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms. West Virginia's 42 gains of 30-plus yards tied for 10th nationally last season, and the standing should rise as long as Grier doesn't miss any action.

1. Missouri Tigers

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    The duo: Drew Lock and Emmanuel Hall

    Lock's history: In 2017his third year starting at MissouriLock paced the FBS with 44 touchdown passes. He finished the season throwing for 3,964 yards and completing 57.8 percent of his passes, guiding the program to a bowl appearance.

    Hall's history: Lock led the FBS with 19 completions of 50-plus yards, and Hall is a big reason. The speedster ranked third nationally with six such receptions. Hall wrapped up his junior campaign averaging a remarkable 24.8 yards, amassing 817 yards and eight touchdowns on only 33 catches.

    2018 outlook: Losing offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to UCF will sting, but opportunity is there for Hall. Although he's not as well-rounded a receiver as Johnathon Johnson, Hall is a premier downfield option. He and Lock will regularly connect for big plays.