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Sleepers & Busts: 2014 NCAAF Breakout Threats

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

Look for the 'Busts' half of this series to surface later this week.


Mekale McKay, WR, Cincinnati

It wasn't long ago that McKay was the top returning receiver for the Arkansas Razorbacks, but he decided to head to Cincinnati after coach Bret Bielema took over Arkansas. Despite playing as the fourth wideout as a transfer last year, McKay somehow scored seven touchdowns and produced 485 yards (30.3 YPC) on just 16 catches. At 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, McKay obviously has rare downfield playmaking skills, and he'll get a much bigger role this year both because it's his second in the Cincinnati program and also because No. 1 Cincinnati wideout Anthony McClung graduated in the offseason. With pocket passer and former No. 1 QB recruit Gunner Kiel taking over the offense, Cincinnati should have its best passing game since Ben Mauk threw for 31 touchdowns in 2007.

Marquez Grayson, RB, East Carolina

Grayson is a complete wildcard at this point, as it's not known whether he'll have any significant role in the East Carolina offense this year. There are at least a couple reasons to suspect that he will, however. Grayson redshirted a year ago, mostly because the Pirates already had their workhorse runner in Vintavious Cooper, who posted 1,605 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage last year. Cooper is gone now, though, and East Carolina's most proven returning runner (Breon Allen) posted just 311 yards and three touchdowns on the ground last year. Grayson would appear to have a talent advantage over Allen, as Grayson was a high three-star recruit in 2013, reportedly choosing the Pirates over schools like South Carolina, Clemson, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.


Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

It seems that this is one name that won't go out of fashion any time soon, especially for wide receivers, for whatever reason. Like the ones from USC and Syracuse, this Mike Williams appears poised for a productive career at Clemson, and there's plenty of reason to think he'll emerge as the team's top receiver in 2014. Williams (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) is a big target who received high reviews for his practice performances heading into his true freshman season last year, and he followed through with a promising season despite losing a huge number of targets to NFL wideouts Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Williams snagged 20 catches for 316 yards (15.8 YPC) and three touchdowns, and he'll step up in a big way this year now that Watkins and Bryant are gone.

Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina

Hood was one of the elite running back recruits of 2014. It's not yet clear whether he'll play or face a redshirt, but the general feeling is that Hood will be immediately useful for a North Carolina squad that couldn't establish the run at all in 2013. Hood (6-foot, 220 pounds) looks like a legitimate workhorse prospect and has a huge opportunity in front of him since no returning Tar Heel runner managed to reach the 600-yard mark a year ago.

Big 12

Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Although Levi Norwood is more established in the Baylor offense after catching 87 passes over the last two seasons, it's Coleman who has more upside and the ability to make a bigger impact as Baylor's second wideout behind lead man Antwan Goodley. Coleman is small at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, but he's likely one of the fastest players in the country, and he has major upside as a sophomore this year after posting 35 catches for 527 yards and two scores in 2013. He's a bit of a wildcard until he takes the next step in his development, however, because Baylor is extremely deep at receiver. Besides Goodley and Norwood, the Bears also bring back Robbie Rhodes, Clay Fuller and Jay Lee.

Reginald Davis, WR, Texas Tech

Jakeem Grant is a near lock to serve as the Red Raiders' top wideout target this year, and Bradley Marquez is likely next in line heading into the fall, but Davis quietly possesses big upside this year as Texas Tech attempts to replace top 2013 pass catchers Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined for 189 catches last year. There's only so much of that workload that Grant and Marquez can take up after already combining for 114 catches last year, so growth in the Red Raider passing game will have to come from targets other than them. Davis is perhaps the best candidate to break out and seize the opportunities in the Texas Tech offense. At 6-foot, 190 pounds he's significantly bigger than Grant and Marquez, and he's coming off a redshirt freshman season in which he caught 15 passes for 200 yards and three scores. Davis was a high-ranking wideout recruit in 2012 and should step up for Tech in 2014.

Big Ten

DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue

Purdue's football program doesn't seem to have much reason for hope these days, but Yancey is one of the bright spots. Along with quarterback Danny Etling, Yancey will be the primary building block for Purdue on offense after leading the team with 546 yards through the air as a freshman last year. Yancey (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) showed some serious upside in the second half of 2013, combining for 27 catches for 471 yards (17.4 YPC) and two scores in four games against Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana. Purdue probably won't be able to stop many teams on defense this year, so Yancey and the Boilermakers offense should be in shootout mode quite often.

Nick Stoner and Dominique Booth, WR, Indiana

The Hoosiers will likely remain prolific in the passing game this year after throwing for 3,680 yards and 36 touchdowns in 12 games last year, but Shane Wynn is the only proven returning pass catcher since Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser are all gone. Stoner (6-foot-1, 191) is a track guy returning for his senior year at Indiana after making 12 catches for 226 yards (18.8 YPC) and a touchdown last year, making him a decent bet to emerge as the Hoosiers' second target this year. If not Stoner, the other best candidate might be Booth, a four-star recruit who chose Indiana over a long list of elite football programs. Freshmen Coray Keel, Simmie Cobbs and J-Shun Harris are also fine candidates to emerge for Indiana. Latimer, Hughes and Bolser are huge voids to fill in any case, as they combined for 154 catches for 2,155 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.


Devon Johnson, TE, Marshall

Gator Hoskins graduated in the offseason, and with his exit the Thundering Herd loses its valuable touchdown machine in the passing game. Hoskins caught 25 touchdowns over the last two years, leaving Marshall in search of a new red-zone target for quarterback Rakeem Cato. Johnson may be Marshall's new Hoskins. Johnson not only showed upside as a pass catcher last year, snagging 12 passes for 218 yards and two scores off the bench, but he also showed the novel ability to run the ball in short-yardage situations, scoring three times on five carries. Marshall had 120 receptions made by seniors last year, so Johnson will likely push for three or more receptions per game in 2014.

Jamari Staples, WR, UAB

Although Jamarcus Nelson is rightfully identified as the best player on the UAB offense, Staples' promising 2013 freshman year has him looking like a potential impact prospect himself. Staples (6-foot-4, 190) is a big target who quietly showed very good consistency in 2013 despite playing as a true freshman in a barely functional offense. Prior to a November ankle sprain that derailed the rest of his season, Staples posted 25 catches for 365 yards and four touchdowns in seven games, either scoring or catching at least five passes in all but one of those seven games. Between his personal development and the arrival of coach Bill Clark, whose Jacksonville State teams proved quite effective on offense, Staples should take a big step forward in 2014.


Greg Bryant, RB, Notre Dame

Bryant was a five-star running back recruit last year but was unable to get onto the field, mostly due to injury. The Notre Dame running game mostly floundered under the watch of Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson last year, so the Irish could really use Bryant this year if he's the top-notch talent everyone thinks he is. He'll first need to displace McDaniel from the starting lineup and hold off fellow high-ranking 2013 recruit Tarean Folston, however, so Bryant won't have anything handed to him. Still, he's probably worth a pick in the later rounds of some drafts just in case he sends McDaniel to the bench.

Jordan Leslie and Mitch Mathews, WR, BYU

Leslie and Mathews are set to take over as BYU's top two receivers now that Cody Hoffman and Skyler Ridley are gone. At 6-foot-6, Mathews is a very intriguing touchdown threat after catching 23 passes for 397 yards (17.3 YPC) and four touchdowns in nine games last year, and Leslie is a UTEP transfer who produced at a high level for the Miners. It's possible that both players will be fantasy factors in 2014, though it's tough to tell which is the better fantasy target straight up.


Gehrig Dieter, WR, Bowling Green

Dieter was originally a three-star recruit for SMU back in 2012. After catching 10 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in nine games as a freshman, Dieter decided to transfer to Bowling Green, where he'll attempt to establish himself as the top wideout in the new offense of coach Dino Babers (ex. Eastern Illinois). At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Dieter has the build to turn into the team's lead red-zone threat since top returning wideout Ronnie Moore stands at just 5-foot-9, 164. Quarterback Matt Johnson is one of the most promising in the country, and Babers' Eastern Illinois passing attacks were hugely productive.

Blake Frohnapfel, QB, Massachusetts

Frohnapfel has a grim task ahead of him as he tries to take control of a Massachusetts offense that just might have been the worst in the nation over the last two years, but the Marshall transfer showed some promising production despite sitting behind the prolific Rakeem Cato. Frohnapfel (6-foot-6, 225) completed 35-of-45 passes in two years at Marshall, totaling 386 yards (8.6 YPA), five touchdowns and two interceptions and showing big upside as a runner by bolting for 164 yards and two touchdowns on just 24 carries (6.8 YPC). The arrival of coach Mark Whipple provides some hope for a turnaround at UMass, and if a turnaround occurs it will likely have a lot to do with Frohnapfel.


Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, RB, UNLV

Murray-Lawrence is way off the national radar, but it appears that everything is in place for a major breakout season. UNLV's starting back in 2013, Tim Cornett, ran for 1,284 yards and 15 touchdowns in 13 games, but Cornett graduated in the offseason. That leaves Murray-Lawrence as the top returning UNLV runner after bolting for 418 yards and two touchdowns on just 47 carries last year, good for an average of 8.9 yards per carry. Although he's just 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, Murray-Lawrence is a slippery and quick runner with the speed to pull away from a secondary, just like he did against Minnesota and Arizona, games where he combined for 190 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries.

Aaron Peck, WR, Fresno State

The Fresno State passing game will likely take a big step back in 2014, both because few quarterbacks throw the ball as well as Derek Carr and because Carr's potential replacements have running backgrounds that could lead the Bulldogs to shift toward a more run-heavy offense in 2013. Still, with both Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse off to the NFL, there's room for at least one receiver other than Josh Harper to make a fantasy impact in the Fresno offense in 2014. Peck is a fine candidate to emerge from the void left by Adams and Burse, as Peck (6-foot-3, 211 pounds) caught 11 passes in the final two weeks of 2013. If it isn't Peck that emerges as Fresno's No. 2 wideout next to Harper, it will probably be Greg Watson (21 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown in 2013) that does it.


De'marieya Nelson, TE, Arizona State

Nelson is a unique tight end prospect in that he both catches passes and takes handoffs from the backfield, making him almost like a fullback that can put his hand down at the line of scrimmage. Nelson (6-foot-3, 230) generated a fair amount of hype in the offseason after posting seven catches for 107 yards and two scores last year while running for 53 yards and two more scores, and he's set to see a huge role increase now that 2013 tight end Chris Coyle is gone. The Sun Devils are short on proven targets aside from wideout Jaelen Strong, and it was only two years ago that Coyle led Arizona State in receptions and receiving yardage, so Nelson should figure prominently into the progressions of quarterback Taylor Kelly.

Jared Goff, QB, California

Goff isn't exactly an unknown after throwing for 3,488 yards last year as a true freshman, but he's set to see a big increase in his production as he heads into his second season in coach Sonny Dykes' uptempo spread scheme. In an offense that attempts well over 40 passes per game, Goff should show significant improvement over the 18 touchdowns he threw for last year, and his YPA of 6.6 ought to improve a fair amount, as well. Goff has three talented, improving receivers to throw to in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler, and a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season might be within reach in 2014.


Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina

After arriving to South Carolina as one of the nation's elite receiver recruits in 2012, Roland disappointed as a true freshman by catching just five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. He made strides as a sophomore in 2013, however, bulking from 6-foot-1, 173 pounds up to 190 pounds and posting 25 catches for 455 yards (18.2 YPC) and five touchdowns in 10 games. He's one of the country's most dangerous big-play threats at receiver and should get a significantly bigger role in 2014 now that leading 2013 wideout Bruce Ellington (49 catches for 775 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013) is off to the NFL.

Jay Rome, TE, Georgia

Georgia tends to post good production at the tight end position, as Arthur Lynch passed the 400-yard mark each of the last two years, and Orson Charles did the same in each of the two years prior to that. Lynch graduated in the offseason, leaving Rome as the next Georgia starting tight end. Rome (6-foot-6, 254) was a high-ranking tight end recruit in 2011 and might have more natural talent than both Lynch and Charles, so he ought to produce this year after totaling 251 yards and two scores off the bench the last two years.

Sun Belt

Robert Davis, WR, Georgia State

Albert Wilson was Georgia State's leading receiver in 2013, and he turned out to be one of the nation's most productive receivers despite dealing with poor quarterback play on a team playing for the first time at the FBS level. Wilson is trying his hand at the pro level now, leaving Davis to take over as the Panthers' top wideout for 2014. Davis was rather productive as a true freshman last year, posting 44 receptions for 711 yards (16.2 YPC) and four touchdowns in 12 games. His numbers should go way up this year, as Wilson's departure leaves a void of 71 catches for 1,177 yards and eight touchdowns in the Georgia State passing game. Other than Davis, no returning Panther wideout caught more than nine passes last year.

Brandon Bridge, QB, South Alabama

Bridge only completed 29-of-66 passes last year as a backup, but that was mostly due to a scattering of insignificant brief appearances throughout the year where he just happened to post a poor completion percentage while playing meaningless snaps. Bridge (6-foot-5, 220) did well in his lone extended showing an Oct. 5 matchup against Troy completing 11-of-20 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while running for 54 yards on 11 carries. The South Alabama offense grants lots of rushing production to its quarterback 2013 starter Ross Metheny ran for 606 yards and 10 scores and Bridge has the wheels to capitalize as starter in 2014. He'll have a very deep group of pass catchers to throw to in tight end Wes Saxton and receivers Shavarez Smith, Danny Woodson and Jereme Jones.