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Sleepers & Busts: 2014 NCAAF Fantasy Duds

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Arvydas Sabonis.


This article takes a look at the poor fantasy values of the upcoming season, but you can scan our Sleepers article from earlier this week if you would like to dig for bargains.

AAC

Darius Joseph, WR, SMU


If you take a glance at SMU's stats from last year, you'll notice a whole lot of pass catching going on. Joseph, Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman combined for 282 catches in 12 games, with Joseph posting 103 catches himself. Johnson and Holman graduated in the offseason, which would seem to make Joseph a near lock to post a monstrous reception total this year. The problem with this assumption is that quarterback Garrett Gilbert also graduated, meaning SMU might tinker with its playcalling after attempting 51.6 passes per game last year. After all, Gilbert only attempted 38.9 passes per game in his first year at SMU, so the Mustangs will likely scale back the passing volume as they introduce a new starter this year, too.

There's a possibility that Texas A&M transfer and former high recruit Matt Davis will step in as SMU's new quarterback, and if he does, his background as a running quarterback will likely cause even more of a decline in SMU's pass attempt volume. Meanwhile, Joseph's miserable average of 7.8 yards per catch illustrates a problematic lack of big-play ability, and SMU has a pretty tough schedule featuring Baylor, Texas A&M, TCU, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston. Let someone else reach for Joseph.

Brandon Hayes, RB, Memphis

The Memphis offense probably couldn't be any worse than it was last year knock on wood and as the lead ballcarrier for the Tigers, Hayes should be able to produce similarly to last year, when he ran for 860 yards and five touchdowns while adding 20 catches for 119 yards and two scores. Even with the transfer of carry thief Marquis Warford, though, Hayes' production probably doesn't have room for growth. He badly wore down in the second half of last year, averaging less than four yards per carry in all of his final five games, and his 2014 schedule is not friendly, especially in the first half. Memphis has byes in Weeks 3 and 8, with matches at UCLA, at Mississippi, at Cincinnati and at home against Houston in that same stretch, making Hayes basically unusable for seven weeks.

ACC

Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia


Parks is one of the nation's most accomplished players, as the senior heads into 2014 with 3,074 yards and 27 touchdowns from scrimmage, including 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. He did all that despite running against stacked fronts in a Virginia offense plagued by one of the worst passing games in the country. Coming off such a strong 2013 season, though, Parks will likely carry a price tag higher than what his return will be worth. Parks averaged 22.1 touches per game last year, and that figure will likely decrease since all of Khalek Shepherd, Taquan Mizzell and Daniel Hamm are pushing for snaps. Parks should provide a good return in PPR leagues, on the other hand he has 73 receptions in his career.

Dominique Brown, RB, Louisville

Brown's 2012 redshirt year was evidently very good for his development at running back, as the former quarterback proved effective as both a runner (825 yards, eight touchdowns) and receiver (24 catches for 228 yards and one touchdown). Given the graduation of Senorise Perry, it might be tempting to expect even bigger numbers from Brown in 2014, but his numbers will more than likely stay the same, making Brown a prime candidate to get overdrafted in fantasy leagues. Louisville plans to rotate its running backs heavily this year, and Brown will struggle to reach the 15-carry mark most weeks with all of Michael Dyer, L.J. Scott and Brandon Radcliff all pushing for snaps.

Big 12

Levi Norwood, WR, Baylor


After Antwan Goodley, Norwood is likely Baylor's most reliable wide receiver. Unfortunately for his fantasy potential, he might be more like the fourth or fifth-best in terms of pure talent. That means he might struggle to be much more than a high-floor pick this year, as former top recruits Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes are closing in on Norwood's snaps and targets. He probably won't be all that cheap in fantasy drafts after finishing last year with a touchdown in six straight games, but he's unlikely to maintain that level of production.

Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia

With Charles Sims off to the NFL, it might be tempting to single out Smith as a potential breakout player in 2014. He was a change-of-pace runner behind Sims last year, offering a more bruising running style at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, and he might be the favorite to emerge as West Virginia's top runner in 2014. The problem is that Smith wasn't as efficient as you'd hope as an off-the-bench runner last year, and West Virginia has at least four other running backs who should fit prominently into the 2014 offense. Former blue chip recruit and Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell is the most obvious threat to Smith's workload, but there's also Dustin Garrison, Wendell Smallwood and Andrew Buie.

Big Ten

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska


Abdullah is probably the most blasphemous entry on the list up to this point, as he's almost universally considered a top-10 or top-five fantasy back heading into this year. He's almost certain to be overpaid for in fantasy drafts, however. Abdullah is an excellent player, but he's a dual-threat back with a returner background who makes his fantasy points through yardage rather than touchdowns. In fact, he might not be Nebraska's primary short-yardage and red-zone runner, as backup Imani Cross has as many rushing touchdowns the last two years (17) as Abdullah, and that's on 367 fewer carries.

Instead of touchdowns, Abdullah was a huge fantasy hit last year due to his 1,922 yards from scrimmage. That number is probably not sustainable, both because Abdullah will be an injury risk if he takes 307 touches again and also because it simply won't be easy for Abdullah to average 6.0 yards per carry over 281 rushes and 8.9 yards per catch over 26 receptions for the second year in a row. His touchdown production is not likely to increase enough to account for the likely decline in yardage, meanwhile. Abdullah has one touchdown for every 26.5 touches over the last two years. By contrast, fellow Big Ten backs (and superior 2014 fantasy prospects) Tevin Coleman and Jeremy Langford respectively scored once every 12.5 and 16.8 touches last year. Abdullah ought to be drafted in the 12-to-18 range among RBs this year, not the 5-to-10 range.

Treyvon Green, RB, Northwestern

Northwestern simply has too many mouths to feed at running back. Green might be the best of that crowded backfield after posting 736 yards (5.3 YPC) and eight touchdowns as a runner last year, as well as 71 yards and another touchdown as a receiver, but Venric Mark and Stephen Buckley are pretty good, too. Mark totaled 1,470 yards from scrimmage and 15 total touchdowns in 2012 before injuries wrecked his 2013, and Buckley ran for 265 yards and a touchdown on just 50 carries as a freshman last year. It's difficult to see a workhorse emerging at Northwestern, Green or otherwise.

Conference-USA

Aaron Jones, RB, UTEP

Jones might look like a good breakout candidate in 2014 since he's coming off a strong freshman season in which he ran for 811 yards (5.2 YPC) and four touchdowns in nine games, but his 2013 numbers look more like his ceiling than a starting point. That's not Jones' fault he definitely played at a high level last year but UTEP also brings back incumbent 2013 starter Nathan Jeffery, whose early season injuries allowed Jones to get onto the field in the first place. When Jones dealt with injuries of his own late in the year, missing the last three games, Jeffery reminded everyone why he was the incumbent, running for 130 yards and two touchdowns against Florida International and bolting for 140 yards and two scores against Middle Tennessee State. Jones and Jeffery appear destined to negate the fantasy value of the other.

Independents

Terry Baggett, RB, Army


It's too bad for Baggett's fantasy potential, but Army's football program received some good real-life news when running back Raymond Maples was granted another year of eligibility this offseason. It gives Army a highly-productive trio of returning runners in Baggett, Maples and Larry Dixon, which of course means none of the three is likely to get enough carries to make a reliable fantasy impact in most leagues this year. Despite coming off a 1,113-yard, eight-touchdown season in which he averaged 7.9 yards per carry, Baggett will doubtlessly lose a great deal of work to Maples (1,215 yards in 2012) and Dixon (839 yards in 2012).

Cam McDaniel, RB, Notre Dame

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly turned to McDaniel to serve as Notre Dame's top runner in 2013, but that had less to do with McDaniel's actual talent level than it did with Kelly's impatience for original starting runner George Atkinson. Meanwhile, Kelly didn't feel comfortable turning the keys over to the Irish's promising pair of freshmen runners Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston, either. McDaniel did his best, but the 704 yards (4.6 YPC) and three touchdowns won't cut it in 2014, and the Irish are almost compelled to turn to Bryant and Folston instead.

MAC

Saylor Lavallii, RB, Central Michigan


Lavallii might be forced to start at running back for the Chippewas this year, but his production up to this point in his career indicates that he's likely a backup-level talent. Aside from a promising trio of games against Toledo, Miami (OH) and Ohio in which he ran for 479 yards and three touchdowns, Lavallii managed to post just 328 yards (3.1 YPC) and two scores in his other nine games. Although Lavallii might be a trendy sleeper pick now that star running back Zurlon Tipton is gone, there's no guarantee that he'll be able to earn a starting role in 2014. Both Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore and Anthony Garland look capable of putting real heat on Lavallii for the starting job.


Tommylee Lewis, WR, Northern Illinois


Northern Illinois is short on proven quarterbacks now that Jordan Lynch is gone, leaving all of Drew Hare, Matt McIntosh and Anthony Maddie competing for the starting role despite none of the three having a track record to point toward. The Huskies are deep at receiver, on the other hand, so Lewis might be charged with the task of holding off a lot of competition for a small piece of pie. Lewis should remain a factor in MAC-only formats after running for 356 yards and a score last year, but he'll have a hard time repeating his 86 catches for 715 yards and three scores with Da'Ron Brown, Juwan Brescacin and Chad Beebe surging at wideout.

MWC

Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State


Like Ameer Abdullah earlier in this article, it's important to note that Harper's entry on the 'bust' list is only relative to his sky-high demand in fantasy drafts. By general standards Harper should have a strong 2014 season, but he won't be held to general standards. With the departures of Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse, Harper will be expected to post truly enormous numbers after catching 79 passes for 1,011 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, to the point that he might be rated as the No. 1 fantasy wideout in the nation on many boards.

Expect him to rank more in the 10-to-20 range in 2014, however. The new opportunities afforded to Harper in light of Adams and Burse leaving are largely negated by the departure of quarterback Derek Carr, which will likely lead the Fresno State offense to take a much more run-oriented approach in 2014, particularly since Duke transfer Brandon Connette is one of the nation's best running quarterbacks. If Connette starts this year, Fresno should throw 12-to-15 fewer passes per game than the 51.9 attempts per game they attempted with Carr last year. Also, it's important to note that Harper has had injury issues in his career, missing two games last year, seven in 2012 and two in 2011.


Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State


Higgins is a fine player in a stable, functional offense, and he might be one of the nation's most productive receivers in a year or two. It's difficult to see that transformation occurring in 2014, however. His 68 catches for 837 yards and six scores look like very good numbers last year, especially for a freshman, but they're less impressive when you note that Colorado State played 14 games. Projected over 12 games, in other words, Higgins looks more like 717 yards and five touchdowns, which obviously isn't that exciting. He should improve his per-game production this year to the point that he'll likely match his 14-game numbers from last year in the first 12 games of this year, but he'll be hard-pressed to do much better than that. Colorado State is deep at receiver, as all of Joe Hansley, Charles Lovett, Jordon Vaden and Thomas Coffman are back after totaling 115 receptions last season.

Pac-12

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State


Mannion is one of the top candidates to be overdrafted in college fantasy football leagues this year. His numbers from last year look great at a glance, as he threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns in 13 games. The yardage was good for second in the nation, and the touchdown total tied for fourth. Of course, his production didn't translate perfectly into fantasy production, both because he threw 15 interceptions and because he logged minus-223 yards as a rusher. In other words, once you subtract his rushing penalty from his fantasy prouction, Mannion's passing yardage is basically worth more like 4,100 yards. By either measure, Mannion's numbers will decline in 2014 now that he'll be without Biletnikoff Award-winning wideout and first-round NFL pick Brandin Cooks.

Javorius Allen, RB, USC

Allen might be one of the top running back talents in the country, as the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder showed a three-down, workhorse-like skill set in 2013, running for 774 yards (5.8 YPC) and 14 touchdowns while catching 22 passes for 252 yards and another touchdown. He started the year deep on the USC bench behind all of Silas Redd, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, however, and it wasn't until those three were hurt that Allen finally got his chance. Although Allen hit it out of the park in his audition, posting 637 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in the final six weeks, adding 19 catches for 243 yards and a score over that span, Madden and Davis will be back and stealing snaps in 2014. All three players look like elite talents, which means it will be difficult for any of the trio to pull away from the others.

SEC

Malcome Kennedy, WR, Texas A&M


The offseason departures of Mike Evans, Derel Walker and Travis Labhart might lead one to expect a breakout season for Kennedy, as the trio combined for 171 catches for 2,838 yards (16.6 YPC) and 25 touchdowns last year. It's not unreasonable, especially since Kennedy snagged 60 passes for 658 yards and seven scores himself in 2013. It generally looks like Kennedy isn't capable of offering much upside, though, as he failed to hit the 100-yard mark a year ago and averages just 11.2 yards per catch over his career. That means he'd need 90 catches to project to the 1,000-yard mark, and it's highly unlikely that he'll pull that off in 12 games. Not only is Texas A&M breaking in a new quarterback this year, but Kennedy will have to compete for catches with former high recruits like Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil, Ja'Quay Williams, LaQuvionte Gonzalez, and Ed Pope.

Marquez North, WR, Tennessee

North looks like quite an athletic talent and an imposing target at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, and the big wideout heads into his sophomore year with high expectations after showing big-play ability and leading the Volunteers in receiving yardage as a true freshman. There are at least two obstacles in his way when it comes to providing fantasy value, however. The first is that Tennessee might not have a strong passing game in 2014 sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs showed promise as a playmaker last year, but his passing fundamentals were very raw, as he threw for just 695 yards (5.7 YPA), two touchdowns and six interceptions. The second problem is that Tennessee is very deep at receiver. Pig Howard, Jason Croom, Johnathon Johnson and Josh Smith should all see regular playing time, too. That's not to mention that incoming freshman Josh Malone might be better than all of them.

Sun Belt

Rashon Ceaser, WR, Louisiana-Monroe


Ceaser looks like one of the best receivers in the non-AQ conferences, as he broke out in his sophomore season last year for 65 catches for 964 yards (14.8 YPC) and five scores despite playing in a weak passing offense. Unfortunately, that latter fact will likely remain the case in 2014, and might even get worse since starting 2013 quarterback Kolton Browning is no longer around. Ceaser is light at 6-foot, 188 pounds, so he doesn't look like a potential red-zone menace, and he isn't obviously fast or quick enough to reliably create big plays after the catch. If you draft him at a slot based on the 471 yards and five scores he posted in the final four weeks of last year, you will overpay.

Robert Lowe, RB, Texas State

Lowe was rather impressive as a part-time runner in 2013, providing the Bobcats with a team-leading 945 yards (5.8 YPC) and nine touchdowns on the ground in just 12 games. The problem for his prospective fantasy owners it that his upside and reliability are both compromised by a deep Texas State backfield, not to mention an offensive scheme that seems determined to spread the ball around. The team still has Chris Nutall (477 yards, six touchdowns in 2013) in the backfield, as well as leading 2011 rusher Terrence Franks and the promising Tim Gay (349 yards and two touchdowns on 36 career carries). Despite his excellent efficiency as a runner last year, Lowe's production was subjected to a lot of volatility, as he failed to score in five games and posted less than 80 yards rushing in six games.

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