Down Goes Russell

How many of you had Seth Russell in your DFS lineups only to find out the once superman of college quarterbacking statistics was human like the rest of us?  Count me as one.  Every DFS week that Baylor played, even at the $10K price tag he was playing with, I had to start him in at least one of my lineups.  I would get in my comfortable chair on Saturday afternoons and enjoy watching him carve up defenses and rack up fantasy points in video game fashion.  Sadly to say after taking a blow to the neck and shoulder during last week’s Iowa State game, Russell was removed in the 4th quarter with severe neck pain.  A few days later we discovered the neck injury is definitely season ending.  Say it isn’t so?  But unfortunately it is.  Your heart breaks for the young man who was having a Heisman worthy season going 119 out of 200, for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns and only six interceptions in not quite seven full games.  In addition, he had 49 carries for 402 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.  Fantasy Gold I call it.  While Russell’s pain and suffering is far greater than that of DFS players who count on him week in and week out during the college football season, we too have to make some adjustments.

While there are many other college quarterbacks to choose from with ample production, Paxton Lynch, Greg Ward, Brandon Doughty, and Luke Falk come immediately to mind,  for the purposes of this exercise, I would like to focus on what Seth Russell’s absence means for the rest of Baylor’s skill players.  So let’s start with his replacement.

Insert Jarrett Stidham, five-star recruit, true freshman, Elite 11 finalist, and the future leader of an offensive juggernaut.  Well the future is now.  It’s not often that a true freshman can avoid being redshirted, but Stidham was so good coming out of camp that that is exactly what Art Briles did, naming him the #2 QB coming into the season.  In what has been mostly mop up duty at the end of blowout games, Stidham has really impressed, throwing at an eye-popping 85% completion percentage with six touchdowns and zero interceptions.  Helping his cause is that Stidham ran the Baylor offense in high school, so he’s been able to pick up the college system quickly, thus shortening his learning curve.  So does that mean Stidham will come right in and duplicate Russell’s numbers?  In the famous words of College Game Day’s Lee Corso….not so fast my friend!

Let’s look at a comparable QB in true freshman Josh Rosen of UCLA.  Also highly touted coming out of high school, very similar to Stidham, Rosen unlike Stidham didn’t have a proven QB ahead of him on the depth chart.  So when UCLA decided to start Rosen no one was sure of what to expect out of the talented young man.  Well Rosen has had a mostly up and down year with some very good games like Virginia and some stinkers like BYU mixed in, but if you look at his production over the last few games, despite some losses, Rosen has really stepped up, showing more poise while working through some tough stretches.

So what does this have to do with Jarrett Stidham you ask?  My gut tells me that we can expect much of the same ups and downs from Stidham much like Rosen.  Sure he has all of those weapons in Corey Coleman, Jay Lee, K.D. Cannon, and Shock Linwood to help him along, but let’s not expect Seth Russell 2.0.  Stidham will have some good games but will likely make some freshman mistakes along the way.

Now, because in DFS we care more about points than winning, here’s the good news.  Stidham has a full two weeks to get ready to start since Baylor had a bye this past weekend. Secondly, he’ll probably be undervalued in DFS for his first couple of games as an injury replacement.  While I wouldn’t bet the house on him, Stidham should be able to outproduce his value early against Kansas State.  Then comes the tough final stretch of Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, TCU, and a much-improved Texas.  For my money, I think there might be safer options out there.  I expect there to be at least one or two games of lower production somewhere in that stretch and I would rather use my money elsewhere.

Another reason I think Stidham’s production might see a significant drop off from Russell’s: depth at running back.  What is an inexperienced quarterback’s best friend?  That’s right, a strong running game.  So expect an uptick in production out of Shock Linwood, Terence Williams, Johnny Jefferson, and Devin Chafin as Baylor will run more to take some pressure off of Stidham.  I especially like Linwood in DFS and will be targeting him to outproduce his current price tag.

Conversely, I expect a drop off in Baylor’s top three receiving targets Corey Coleman, Jay Lee, and K.D. Cannon.  With Baylor likely to lean more on the running game, Coleman, and to a lesser extent Lee and Cannon, will be overpriced in DFS.  While it might be tempting to put them in your lineup, I personally plan to take a wait-and-see approach.  With the depth of productive wideouts in DFS, there will be better values out there to be had for your money.

So with the exception of Shock Linwood’s uptick in production, I will be looking elsewhere in DFS and getting rid of the Bears for now. Meanwhile, here’s to Seth Russell’s speedy recovery and a return to the gridiron in 2016!  We are all pulling for you, Seth.

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