College Football Players Who Will Put Up Ridiculous Stats in 2019
Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson turned video-game numbers into run-of-the-mill performances over the past few years, making it difficult for any college football player to put up statistics in 2019 that will blow us away. But this group of stars is going to put forth a spirited effort anyway, and a few of them will likely succeed in that mission.
In Jonathan Taylor, Rondale Moore and J.K. Dobbins, the Big Ten is loaded with athletes who should put up mind-blowing stats this fall. There are also several less-heralded-equally-lethal quarterbacks from the Group of Five who are destined for statistical greatness as well as a to-be-determined player in a system that churns out unreal numbers year in and year out.
This is not intended to be a ranking of the top candidates to win the Heisman Trophy. (For that matter, it's not a ranking at all but rather a list of players in alphabetical order by last name.) Instead, these are the players who figure to be statistically dominant at their positions this coming season based on a combination of performance in previous years, roster situation and difficulty of schedule.
With all due respect to players like Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa and Virginia’s Bryce Hall who should put up some fantastic numbers on defense, only quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers were considered for this exercise.
Pick Basically Any Skill-Position Player from Alabama or Clemson
Had I felt so inclined, this entire thing could've just been offensive players from the two favorites to win the 2020 College Football Playoff. Instead, let's just start out with one section dedicated to both teams as a testament to why they're probably going to meet for the national championship once again.
One year removed from each having a major decision to make at quarterback, Alabama and Clemson now have the two favorites to win the Heisman in Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence, respectively. Those young stars combined for 7,246 passing yards, 73 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions last season—making it hard to believe there was ever the slightest debate about whether they deserved to start.
At running back, both teams lost two key players from the depth chart, but they are still loaded with talent. The Tigers will have Travis Etienne back after he rushed for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns. They also have Lyn-J Dixon, who averaged 8.8 yards per carry as a true freshman last year. For the Crimson Tide, 2017's No. 2 overall recruit Najee Harris will finally be the featured back. He'll be joined by Brian Robinson Jr. and 2019's No. 1 running back (Trey Sanders).
Alabama and Clemson are even more loaded at wide receiver, as one could put any combination of Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle and Henry Ruggs III on this list.
Even on the defensive side of the field, Clemson's Xavier Thomas and Alabama's Dylan Moses could (should) be preseason All-Americans.
If we had to choose just one player from the group to highlight, it would be Tagovailoa. He battled through a bunch of injuries last year, but he was nearly perfect during the regular season. And he ought to be playing with a chip on his shoulder after A) losing the Heisman to Kyler Murray and B) losing the national championship to Clemson. He was already great as a sophomore, but his junior-year "revenge tour" should be something special.
J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
2018 Stats: 230 carries, 1,053 yards, 10 TD; 26 receptions, 263 yards, 2 TD
It's a good thing Ohio State had Dwayne Haskins to throw for 50 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards, because its rushing attack was much worse than anyone could have guessed.
In 2017, the Buckeyes averaged 243.4 rushing yards per game, 5.8 yards per carry and 2.4 rushing touchdowns per game. It was one of the most potent running games in the country, and more of the same was to be expected with both Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins returning for another year.
However, the offensive line had more holes than Swiss cheese, resulting in plummets to 177.0 YPG, 4.3 YPC and 1.7 TD. Dobbins couldn't find any running lanes and averaged 4.6 yards—a major drop from his 7.2 mark as a freshman.
Haskins' lack of mobility was part of the problem, though. With J.T. Barrett running the show for most of 2014-17, opposing defenses had to respect the option, scrambles and designed QB draws. That made it easier for the running backs to find space. The (presumed) transition to dual-threat Justin Fields at quarterback ought to re-open the playbook and refuel the running game.
And with Weber now with the Dallas Cowboys, Dobbins figures to benefit as the clear-cut starting running back.
In his career, Dobbins has only had four games with 19 or more carries, and never in back-to-back contests. He'll be expected to shoulder a much heavier workload this season, which might put him neck-and-neck with Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor for the rushing title.
Mason Fine, QB, North Texas
2018 Stats: 303-469, 64.6% Completion, 3,793 yards, 27 TD, 5 INT, 149.4 PER
Mason Fine has thrown for more yards over the past two seasons than any other player, and it's not that close.
The reigning two-time Conference USA Player of the Year has amassed 7,845 passing yards since the beginning of 2017. No. 2 on that list is former Missouri QB Drew Lock at 7,462.
Only 10 quarterbacks put up at least 6,200 yards between the 2017 and 2018 campaigns, and Fine is the only one* who will still be playing college football in 2019.
The Mean Green went 1-11 with an awful passing game the year before he joined the team, but they have won nine games in each of the past two years. In each season, he had five games with at least 300 passing yards and multiple touchdowns. Prior to injuring his hamstring in the New Mexico Bowl loss to Utah State, he had thrown for at least 185 yards and a score in 23 consecutive contests.
The gunslinger for North Texas doesn't have a household name because he plays for a relatively obscure team and isn't much of an NFL prospect at 5'11" with little to no mobility. But he should be more well-known because he has a cannon for an arm and four of his five primary targets from last year are returning.
Even if he doesn't lead the nation in passing yards, Fine is going to be on the short list of guys who average at least 300 yards per game in 2019.
*UCF's McKenzie Milton is one of the 10 quarterbacks with at least 6,200 yards and he still has one year of eligibility remaining, but the knee injury is going to keep him from playing in 2019.
D'Eriq King, QB, Houston
2018 Stats: 219-345, 63.5% Completion, 2,982 yards, 36 TD, 6 INT, 167.0 PER; 111 carries, 674 yards, 14 TD
Lost in the shuffle of Kyler Murray, Tua Tagovailoa and Dwayne Haskins combining for 135 passing touchdowns in an absurd year for college quarterbacks, Houston's D'Eriq King had an unbelievable campaign of his own.
King tore his meniscus in the first half of Houston's 11th game of the year, but he accomplished more in 10.5 contests than the vast majority of quarterbacks have been able to manage in a full season. He became just the eighth quarterback since 2000 to put up at least 2,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards, 35 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns in a single season. Five of the other seven finished top five in the Heisman vote for that season, including Robert Griffin III, Marcus Mariota and Kyler Murray winning that award. All seven played in at least 13 games and had both more pass attempts and more rush attempts than King.
Two noteworthy names not on that list are Lamar Jackson and Tim Tebow, neither of which ever had as many passing touchdowns in a season as King did in his first "full" year as a starter.
He finished with 50 total touchdowns. Had he been able to avoid the knee injury, he might have broken Colt Brennan's FBS record of 63 touchdowns. If nothing else, he would have finished ahead of both Haskins and Murray (54 each) for the most touchdowns in the 2018 season.
Prior to the injury, King had at least two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in each game played. He had three games with at least 115 rushing yards as well as three games with at least 400 passing yards. In the win over South Florida, he hit both of those plateaus and accounted for seven TDs.
If he is able to fully recover from the torn meniscus and remain on the field the whole year, King should be in the running for the Heisman.
Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
2018 Stats: 114 receptions, 1,258 yards, 12 TD; 21 carries, 213 yards, 2 TD; 662 kick-return yards
Aside from perhaps Memphis' Darrell Henderson and top Heisman vote-getters Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa, no college football player was more electric than Rondale Moore in 2018.
The biggest star of Purdue's 2018 recruiting class immediately became a household name in the season opener. On a Thursday night otherwise devoid of intriguing matchups, Moore torched Northwestern for both a 32-yard touchdown reception and a 76-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He finished the night with 313 all-purpose yards, putting together quite the debut for a true freshman—although it wasn't enough for the Boilermakers to get the win.
In 10 of 13 games, Moore had at least 150 all-purpose yards. Most notable was his season-high 170 receiving yards with two touchdowns in Purdue's national-landscape-altering upset of Ohio State. Iowa was one of the only teams capable of slowing Moore down—31 receiving yards; 88 all-purpose yards—but the Hawkeyes were so worried about him that they allowed other Boilermakers to beat them deep many times in another Purdue upset of a ranked foe.
Moore became the first freshman to amass at least 2,100 all-purpose yards since both Sammy Watkins and De'Anthony Thomas did so in 2011.
And why should this year be any different? With the Boilermakers replacing David Blough, D.J. Knox, Markell Jones, Isaac Zico and Terry Wright, their offense will likely be even more dependent on Moore than it already was. He probably won't be quite as unbelievable as sophomore-year Christian McCaffrey (3,864 all-purpose yards), but Moore might join him as one of the few players in FBS history to go over 3,000 total yards in a single season.
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
2018 Stats (9 games): 86 receptions, 1,011 yards, 6 TD; 17 carries, 115 yards, 5 TD
Laviska Shenault Jr. came out of nowhere last year, and The Athletic's Chantel Jennings recently wrote about his unlikely journey to stardom, which began on the freshman-B team at DeSoto High School.
"When he showed up to tryouts and ran routes, he looked like what he was—a basketball-playing linebacker running wide receiver routes for the first time," Jennings wrote.
He eventually came to thrive as a wideout in his latter years of high school, but his freshman season at Colorado did little to suggest big things were coming in Year 2. He made just seven catches, and never more than one in a game. The only rational justification for expecting a breakout year from Shenault was that the Buffaloes were losing all three of their leading receivers, as well as star running back Phillip Lindsay. Someone—anyone—had to become a go-to player on offense.
And goodness did he ever.
In pacing Colorado to an unexpected 5-0 start to the season, Shenault had 51 catches for 708 yards and six touchdowns, scoring at least once in each game. He also got four of his five rushing touchdowns during that window, so he was averaging two total touchdowns per game. Assuming one more win for bowl eligibility and thus 13 games, he was on pace for 1,840 receiving yards—a mark only three players (Michael Crabtree, Greg Salas and Jordan White) have reached in a single season since 2000.
But Shenault tapered off a bit over the next four games and missed the final three with a turf toe injury. After he scored 10 touchdowns in five games, he had just one the rest of the way. It's hardly a coincidence Colorado's seven-game losing streak began when Shenault stopped racking up yards and touchdowns at will.
Assuming he's a full go and won't be held back by that toe in 2019, he should at least break Colorado's record for receiving yards in a single season—a mark of 1,343 set by Paul Richardson in 2013.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
2018 Stats: 307 carries, 2,194 yards, 16 touchdowns
It is preposterous that Jonathan Taylor didn't finish in the top five of the Heisman vote after either of his first two seasons.
The Badger almost ran for 2,000 yards as a true freshman in 2017, and then he blew by that mark with room to spare in one fewer game last year. Taylor racked up 285 more yards than any other player and was 434 yards ahead of the next-closest power-conference back (Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams).
And yet, he finished sixth in the Heisman vote two years ago and ninth last year. Yes, Wisconsin had a disappointing 2018 season, but Taylor almost single-handedly produced three of his team's eight wins. He deserved better for becoming just the fifth player since 2000 to rush for at least 2,190 yards in a single season.
There's no good reason to expect his numbers to dip, either.
The offensive line is still loaded with talent, no one on the depth chart is breathing down Taylor's neck for touches, the quarterback situation is up in the air and Wisconsin has rushed for the sixth-most yards in the country over the past decade. As long as he doesn't get hurt, Taylor should receive roughly 300 carries, which should be plenty to lead the nation in rushing yards again.
After two years, Taylor is already ranked 103rd on the career rushing yards leaderboard. If he adds at least 1,451 yards this season—well below his annual average—he will move into the top seven with one year of eligibility remaining. Everyone in the top 15 played four seasons, for what it's worth.
Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
2018 Stats: 86 receptions, 1,491 yards, 12 TD
Following the 2017 season, Oklahoma State lost quarterback Mason Rudolph and wide receivers James Washington and Marcell Ateman. Rudolph led the nation in passing yards, Washington was No. 1 in receiving yards and Ateman finished in 13th place. The Cowboys offense understandably took a bit of a hit after it lost all those key weapons, but it was still quite potent thanks in large part to the breakout campaign of Tylan Wallace.
After he recorded just seven receptions as a freshman, Wallace finished his sophomore season with more receiving yards than all players not named Andy Isabella (1,698). And Wallace brought the lumber in Oklahoma State's most important games. He had 10 catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Texas and a nearly identical 10 receptions for 220 yards and two scores in the one-point loss at Oklahoma.
Though he's only 6'0", Wallace was one of the best "Just throw it up there, and I'll go get it" receivers in the country last season. He showed he could make catches against double teams, blow right by cornerbacks on go routes or high point the ball on fade routes, and he was not an easy player to tackle once he made the catch.
Even though Oklahoma State has to make a change at quarterback for the second consecutive summer, Wallace is so gifted that it shouldn't matter. As long as head coach Mike Gundy can find a guy with a big enough arm to put passes in the general vicinity of Wallace 20 or more yards down the sideline, he'll get his. And considering Gundy has had quarterbacks like Rudolph, Brandon Weeden and Taylor Cornelius in the past decade, that isn't asking too much.
TBD Washington State QB
It's unclear who Washington State's starting quarterback will be this season.
Fifth-year seniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon are definitely in the running for the job. So are Eastern Washington graduate transfer Gage Gubrud and redshirt freshman Cammon Cooper. And if head coach Mike Leach plays this thing as close to the vest as he did last season, it might be midway through the first quarter of the first game (vs. New Mexico State) before we find out who wins that battle.
Regardless of who it is, though, we do know that player is going to put up ridiculous numbers in Leach's Air Raid offense.
Washington State has ranked in the top five nationally in passing yards per game each of the past six seasons. The Cougars had at least 36 passing touchdowns and averaged at least 360 yards per game in each of those six seasons. In transitioning from Connor Halliday to Luke Falk and then Gardner Minshew, there wasn't any noticeable drop in production from one season to the next. Hell, Halliday suffered a broken leg on November 1, 2014, and Falk came in and averaged 443.3 yards and three touchdowns per game for the rest of that season.
So whether it's Gordon, Gubrud, Tinsley or Cooper taking snaps from the shotgun, as long as the same guy gets the bulk of the playing time for the entire campaign, it's almost inevitable that he is going to throw the ball close to 50 times per game for at least 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Anything less wouldn't be very Leach-like.