Dating back to the first NFL draft in 1936, what we now call the “Power-5” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) have produced over 77 percent of all first-round picks. These are the conferences and schools that attract the top high school talent every year and ultimately produce the majority of devy talent for dynasty league owners. I’ve covered some of the main prospects you need to be aware of in each of the Power-5 conferences over the past month, so now it’s time to cast the net a little wider and a little deeper.
Although the Power-5 is responsible for over three-quarters of first-round picks in NFL history, there have been some great talents emerge from smaller schools. Elite fantasy stars Antonio Brown and David Johnson were not Power-5 prospects. It can pay to know these names. Some of these players will go on to be fantasy relevant and they’ll be a little cheaper for you in devy and rookie drafts because of the relative lack of school and recruiting pedigree.
Brett Rypien, Boise State
The nephew of Super Bowl champion quarterback Mark Rypien enters his senior year with 60 touchdowns and 8.4 yards per attempt for his career. Turnovers have been a problem when facing Power-5 teams. His touchdown:interception clip is 43:9 against Mountain West teams for his career, but is just 8:8 against Power-5 schools. Boise State should contend for a New Year’s Day bowl this season, so Rypien could get a shot to show what he can do on the big stage. He will have over 40 starts on his resume when he enters the draft, won’t be penalized for height (he’s 6-2), and has a name NFL teams will recognize, so he should get a strong look and a chance to make an NFL roster even if he doesn’t get selected in the early rounds. We saw this recently when the Broncos gambled on Chad Kelly (Jim Kelly’s nephew) despite a number of questions in his profile.
Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
Singletary isn’t a household name yet, but he will be by the end of 2018. Back-to-back stellar seasons to open his college career have him on every preseason awards list for 2018 and he was already a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award in 2017. Singletary is an excellent creator in space and has displayed requisite receiving ability as well. He is a true threat for 2,000 rushing yards in 2018, a feat that helped Rashaad Penny become a dynasty rookie draft darling — and more importantly, a first-round NFL pick. “Motor” is one of my favorite players to watch in college football right now and I’ve been targeting him in devy drafts this season.
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
A threat to score on any play, Henderson scored seven touchdowns of 50 yards or longer as a sophomore in 2017. Boasting a career 7.5 yards per carry on 217 carries and 44 receptions, the 5-9, 200-pound Henderson is building a profile that should garner him plenty of attention from NFL scouts. He faced one Power-5 school in 2017 (UCLA) and didn’t skip a beat, as he amassed 105 rushing yards on 14 carries and added three receptions. The school is undergoing a transition year on offense due to the departures of Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller. Henderson should see more volume than ever before as a result.
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
After cutting his teeth at two community colleges, Johnson landed at Buffalo in 2017 and scorched the earth to the tune of 76 receptions for 1356 yards and 14 touchdowns. Johnson performed well against every opponent last season, posting either 60 yards or a touchdown in every game. He faced one Power-5 opponent (Minnesota) and shined brightly with 11 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown in that contest. The late bloomer displayed ability at all three levels of the field and showed he can run away from defenders once the ball is in his hands. He’s also a cousin of Jadeveon Clowney – the bloodlines are there. We have seen NFL teams willing to draft small-school receivers very early in the draft in recent years, with Corey Davis and Courtland Sutton going in the top two rounds in 2016 and 2017. Johnson will be the next to join them.
James Gardner, Miami (Ohio)
Thanks in large part to a statuesque 6-4 frame, Gardner dominated opponents in 2017, averaging nearly 20 yards per catch and crossing the stripe 11 times. One of his best performances as junior came against Notre Dame, when he scored twice and had 115 receiving yards. He has done a great job of adding bulk in college, as he was just 190 pounds as a recruit but is now 219. Gardner should easily post his third consecutive season with at least 750 receiving yards in 2018 despite having to overcome subpar quarterback play and quarterback injuries. If he can run 4.6 or better at the combine, it’s possible he could hear his name called late on day two of the 2019 NFL Draft.