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. This summer, I’ll be taking you on a tour of each of the Power-5 conferences (and maybe even some non-Power-5 schools too) and sharing some of my favorite devy prospects at each position.
The SEC has enjoyed a lasting tradition of restocking NFL cupboards with high-end talent all over the field. Which players in the conference make up the next crop of future NFL fantasy stars? Here are 13 names you need to know for devy purposes.
Drew Lock, Missouri
Lock decided to return for his senior season rather than be evaluated as part of the 2018 cohort. That will likely prove to be a wise decision. Lock has an arm like Brett Favre and a similar mental makeup too – there isn’t a throw he won’t attempt due to his confidence in his arm strength. Unfortunately, this also leads to turnovers. Lock has also been criticized for his poor accuracy, although I think we should note that he has improved it by several percentage points each season. He will also be operating under his third offensive scheme in 2018. I think scouts will evaluate Lock on his positive traits and think they can coach him up to minimize his imperfections. Mel Kiper Jr. has already hinted that Lock is the quarterback NFL teams will be most excited about in next year’s class. In established devy leagues, Lock has likely been owned for several years now, but in startup devy leagues it’s absolutely reasonable to have him in your top tier of quarterback targets.
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Considered by many to be the top overall quarterback and dual-threat recruit of the 2015 high school class, Stidham has long been on the NFL and devy radars. Originally enrolled at Baylor, Stidham sat out the 2016 season after transferring to Auburn. He didn’t disappoint in his first full season as a Tiger, throwing for more than 3,000 yards and posting a completion percentage in the high 60s. He had offseason surgery on his non-throwing arm, so that’s something to monitor, but there haven’t been any setbacks and he’s expected to be unrestricted for summer practices. Athletically, Stidham is capable of providing a fantasy boost to his bottom line with rushing production, but we haven’t seen his ceiling reached on the field in the department yet.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
The 2017 four-star recruit was impressive as a true freshman, starting eight games and posting a 15:4 touchdown:interception ratio. After attending a Georgia practice in early July, former NFL head coach Bruce Arians was quoted as saying, “I’m amazed at Jake, his command of the team, not just on the field. When I was in the meeting room, he walked in and you could tell it was his team.”
With two more years to develop before being draft-eligible, Fromm has as high of a ceiling as any devy quarterback you can own.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
The sophomore from Hawaii will have a difficult time following up his brilliant second half in the national championship game. Tagovailoa profiles like the next Russell Wilson. The top overall dual-threat quarterback recruit in the 2016 class has agility, patience, and arm talent to go with a strong frame. He needs more time to develop but I’ve already got him penciled in as my top devy quarterback, albeit sharing a tier with several other talented signal-callers. The only thing standing in his way for 2018 could be coach Nick Saban, who may opt to give Jalen Hurts another chance after beginning his career 26-2 as starter.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
Williams had as a strong a freshman campaign, but he followed it with a much less efficient sophomore season. Incoming head coach Jimbo Fisher has consistently put his top runners in a position to dominate statistically. Williams has multiple seasons with 19 or more receptions and I also expect that number to climb in 2018. I think he will flourish in Fisher’s pro-style system and should move up many devy rankers’ lists over the course of the 2018 season.
Damien Harris, Alabama
Harris opted to return to Alabama for his senior season to earn his degree despite being graded by many as a day-two selection for the 2018 NFL Draft. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and will likely be featured again in 2018, although Alabama has some other players deserving of touches as well. Harris is already firmly on the radar of NFL scouts at this point and probably can’t do much to improve his draft stock via his play on the field at this point. Avoiding injury is priority one.
Benny Snell, Kentucky
Snell is the focal point of the run-heavy Kentucky offense. He already has four games with over 175 yards rushing against Power-5 opponents through his first two seasons. Snell is probably only going to be a two-down player in the NFL based on what he has shown on the field so far in his career, so keep that in mind for fantasy purposes. He has the look of a capable committee back who could find his way to solid fantasy production for a couple seasons in the right system, a la Alfred Morris.
A.J. Brown, Mississippi
Brown’s 1,252 receiving yards as a sophomore were the most by a SEC receiver since Amari Cooper posted 1,727 in 2014. He’s likely found in any devy fantasy football analyst’s top five at this point, but I still have a small concern I’d like to see addressed before determining whether he’s got a shot to rise any higher in my rankings. Brown absolutely scorches lesser competition but hasn’t shown the same dominance in marquee matchups.
Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
Another giant receiver with early production (seriously, it’s a theme with this class), Edwards has established himself as a solid possession receiver. Hopefully in 2018 the team will use him more downfield, but he’s making the most of the opportunities he’s being given. He posted four or more receptions in 10 of 13 games in 2017.
D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi
Like teammate A.J. Brown, Metcalf doesn’t have elite freshman production on his stat sheet, but he did famously score a touchdown on both of his receptions that season. If his improvement arc continues, Metcalf should post bigger numbers in 2018 while defenses are busy trying to contain Brown.
Tyrie Cleveland, Florida
Cleveland was a blue-chip recruit out of high school but hasn’t been able to put it together on the field yet in college. He has some nice highlight tape but has not developed into a weekly impact player yet. His ceiling remains sky high but his junior season is going to be critical to his future as a NFL and fantasy prospect.
Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Nauta was the consensus top tight end recruit in the country in 2016. After a promising freshman season, Nauta was an afterthought in the 2017 version of the Bulldogs offense. New offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is a former NFL tight end position coach, so I have some hope that Nauta will have a more prominent role in 2018. Quarterback Jake Fromm should also continue to develop as a sophomore and perhaps the team will throw the ball more.
C.J. Conrad, Kentucky
Conrad was in the midst of his best season in 2017 but it was unfortunately cut short by a foot injury. Though he was already running, he sat out of spring ball this offseason to allow the injury to fully heal. The former 4-star recruit is capable of chewing up yards in chunks and should be a top option in the Wildcats offense in 2018 after leading the team in receiving touchdowns last season.