News & Analysis

Top 12 long-term fantasy prospects in college after pro declarations

Dec 27, 2017; Shreveport, LA, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Cam Akers (3) rushes in the second quarter against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in the 2017 Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

With NFL draft declarations complete and a new incoming class of freshmen mostly decided, the devy landscape has seen its annual upheaval. Gone are devy assets like Equanimeous St. Brown who have graduated to the NFL, but never fear, his brother Amon-Ra is an incoming five-star freshman. While none of the freshmen made the initial list, expect at least one to break in by the end of the 2018 college season. Below is an initial look at the top-12 devy assets as we go further into the offseason.

12. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

Swift came in as a freshman on arguably the most talented backfield in the country last year. Considering he contended with Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and fellow elite prospect Elijah Holyfield, it was amazing that Swift had the highest yards after contact per attempt (4.38), over a half-yard higher than anyone else. His breakaway percentage (53.6 percent) was just below Michel’s (55.0 percent) and he had 10 runs of 15-plus yards on just 81 attempts. Swift is a big-play threat and at 220 pounds, he has the look of a high-volume running back.

11. Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami

Richards has been a deep-ball target in college, with nearly 30 percent of his targets being aimed 20-plus yards down the field (he has caught 45 percent of those). Injuries cropped up this year, suppressing his overall numbers, but Richards has another season before eligibility to show 2016 (934 receiving yards on 49 receptions) was no fluke. Given his game-breaking speed and ability to make defenders miss (18 forced missed tackles on 73 career receptions), Richards could re-ignite discussions of him as a first-round NFL draft pick.

10. Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards certainly has the look of a top receiver (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) and so far has put together two solid seasons including 2017’s 64 receptions and 793 yards — both led the team despite the presence of future NFL tight end Hayden Hurst. Part of that was due to the team’s usage of Edwards, who was 50th in routes run (414) and was targeted on roughly 25 percent of those (102 targets). The return of Deebo Samuel from injury gives Edwards a running mate and should help show if Edwards can maintain lead status with another NFL-caliber receiver beside him.

9. Dekaylin “D.K.” Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Metcalf is another physical specimen, measuring 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, coming into college as a heralded prospect. After seeing a 25.6 percent snap rate in 2016, that number jumped to 83.3 percent last year despite a strong wide receiver group (more on that later). That increase in snap rate also placed him 36th in the nation in routes run (438) but he finished fourth on the team in receptions with 37. Metcalf will need to do more with the opportunity, but he won’t have blue-chip quarterback Shea Patterson (transfer) to throw the ball to him. This season will be paramount to his NFL value.

8. Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State

Before you dismiss Harmon due to his program, understand that he has an NFL-caliber quarterback (Ryan Finley) returning for next year. Harmon is talented and capable of making big plays, as his 12 deep-target receptions are tied for 14th overall. The Wolfpack clearly want to use him, his 464 routes run tied for 22nd, and had an 82.3 percent snap share this season. Another big receiver (6-foot-3, 213 pounds), Harmon has the look and production (69 receptions for 1,017 yards) NFL teams fawn over.

7. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Dobbins, a true freshman in 2017, burst onto the scene with 181 rushing yards in his first game against Indiana. From there, Dobbins accumulated 1,403 rushing yards and ranked 13th with 4.19 yards after contact per attempt, showing off his ability to extend plays. Dobbins also finished 15th with 20 rushes of 15-plus yards. He still has some questions around his receiving ability — he finished 94 of 102 qualified running backs with 0.62 yards per route run — but Dobbins has everything the NFL looks for in a primary ball carrier.

6. Michael Pittman, WR, USC

While Pittman had a slow start to the season, he flourished down the stretch, scoring positively by PFF in five of his last six games including the conference championship and bowl game. During that run, he caught 20 of his 23 receptions including both touchdowns on the season. In particular, his game against Stanford for the conference championship showed his potential as he caught all seven of his targets, including a touchdown and three catches that went for 20-plus yards. Overall, 35 percent of his receptions went for 20-plus yards, showing off his big-play ability, which is stunning given his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. Even without Sam Darnold, expect a huge season to solidify Pittman as a first-round NFL selection.

5. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

The surprise returnee among draft-eligible players, Love finished second among running backs with 2,116 rushing yards. He was seventh in elusive rating (124.6) and first in breakaway percentage (66.3) while finishing 11th with 4.28 yards per attempt after contact. His 35 runs of 15-plus yards tied Rashaad Penny for second in 2017. Love is a tremendous playmaker in the backfield and only his lack of receiving keeps him outside the top four, something he can remedy with another year at Stanford.

4. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss

Brown may have had the most impressive 2017 season of any college receiver. He finished second in wide receiver rating (144.5) after catching 73 of his 94 targets. Brown was also 17th in yards per route run (3.10), partially due to his 58 percent catch rate (11th) on deep targets of 20-plus yards. As if he wasn’t enough of a playmaker, Brown finished third with 23 forced missed tackles, a testament to his body control and 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame. Within the next 12 months, Brown could emerge as the top wide receiver, and even the top dynasty rookie pick in 2019.

3. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Another true freshman running back, Taylor entered camp as the fourth-string running back due to his inexperience. By the end of the season, Taylor fell just 23 yards short of a 2,000-yard rushing effort and finished fifth with 65 forced missed tackles. He also was seventh with 4.51 yards after contact per attempt and had 29 runs of 15-plus yards, good for fourth at the position. Over the next two years, Taylor will need to show some aptitude in the receiving game, a tough task at Wisconsin, but his long speed (10.49-second 100-meter dash in high school) and tackle breaking ability will make NFL teams salivate.

2. N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry is a dominant player. He had nearly 35 percent of the Sun Devils’ receiving yards and 40 percent of their passing touchdowns while playing 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Harry ran 470 snaps, good for 19th at the position, while his yards per route run at 2.43 was respectable. With 12 forced missed tackles on 82 receptions, Harry can also turn big plays when seemingly cornered. At 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, Harry should be the favorite as the top receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft, assuming he declares.

1. Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

After the true freshman logged more than 1,000 rushing yards in 2017, it seems Akers made the right choice to focus his efforts on the running back position after playing both quarterback and running back in high school. The former five-star recruit averaged 3.59 yards after contact per attempt (35th) and had 39 forced missed tackles on just 193 carries, good for 28th overall. With two years before draft eligibility, Akers should see a bump in snap share (44.5 percent) and gain experience to catch up with his tremendous athletic ability. He already has an NFL running back’s build (5-foot-11, 213 pounds); now he just has to prove he can live up to the potential.

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