News & Analysis

The long-term fantasy fallout of college football's declaration day

Dec 22, 2017; Boise, ID, USA; Wyoming Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen (17) during the first half in the 2017 Potato Bowl versus Central Michigan Chippewas at Albertsons Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

If you are reading this article, it works best while listening to the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go.”

January 15 marks an important day in the NFL draft process. While it doesn’t receive the coverage of the NFL combine, the declaration date for underclassmen to decide on their eligibility shapes the draft more than any other day from the end of the season to the actual day of the draft. It also impacts fantasy owners as it adds (or subtracts) from the talent pool entering the NFL. Below, we are highlighting players based on the strength of the football decision only, ignoring any personal reasons for electing to leave or stay.

Time to go

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Sam Darnold, QB, USC
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

This underclassman group is who should be considered near-locks to become first-round NFL selections at the skill positions. Returning to school would have only delayed the selection and put their futures at risk. Expect Darnold and Rosen to be the top two picks in the draft while the rest likely slot into the top half of the first round. All of them should contribute early for NFL and fantasy teams and they could be the top six picks in superflex or 2QB dynasty rookie drafts.

Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Ronald Jones, RB, USC

This group all have a chance to become first-round NFL selections with some more likely than others. Guice, Jackson, and Kirk should all garner serious interest in the middle to late first round and could easily see a team become smitten with one of these players. Andrews is the top tight end and a great receiver (2.63 yards per route run led the position) but does not stand up to last year’s class of athletic freaks at the position. As for Jones, he finished as the third-rated running back by PFF, showing his three-down ability in the process. Andrews and Jackson are the most volatile from a fantasy perspective, but they are talented enough to be starters for your team.

Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
Auden Tate, WR, Florida State

This group has serious upside. Varying levels of success in college leave the door wide open for the draft process to really matter for these players. Tate and St. Brown were considered first-round picks at different points in their college careers but have also seen some lows that have teams skeptical. Adams (led all running backs with 4.95 yards per attempt after contact) and Moore (tied for sixth with 19 forced missed tackles) both broke out after assuming full-time roles but they could be seen has aberrations. With Schultz, he wasn’t much of a receiver (32 targets) but was 19th at the position with 710 snaps, showing the team’s belief in his all-around ability. It’s possible that one of these players becomes a late first- or early second-round pick while another lasts until day three.

Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State
Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
Mark Walton, RB, Miami

While none of these players are first-round NFL picks, all of them have shown that level of talent. However, they have all either struggled off the field (Callaway), on the field (Scarbrough, Cain), or with injuries (James, Pettway, Walton). Expect someone in this group to elevate in status and potentially become the riser of the offseason, especially if there is a favorable landing spot. It’s likely that someone from this group also stumbles and becomes another case of “what if.”

Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Mississippi
Tre’Quan Smith, WR, UCF

Here are some personal favorites among those who declared early. Coutee was the sixth-ranked wide receiver this year and had the most yards after the catch (778) at the position). Hurst will be an older rookie (25 when the season starts) but was 10th in receptions (44) at the position and fourth in yards after the catch (287). Johnson forced over 50 missed tackles on runs and receptions last year while increasing his snap rate (62 percent) for the third straight season. Robertson finished 10th in WR rating (123.8) and was tied for sixth with 19 forced missed tackles. Smith did a little better, finishing fifth in WR rating (141.0) and had the highest catch rate (70.8 percent) on targets of 20-plus yards.

Some other notables: Deontay Burnett, WR, USC; Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana; Chase Litton, QB, Marshall; Trey Quinn, WR, SMU

I think I’ll stay

Most players tend to leave if their stock is high, but there were a handful of notable players who decided to stay.

Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State

Finley seems to be able to make all the throws. He was 23rd in deep-ball accuracy (20-plus yard attempts) and had the 16th-most volume at the position. Under pressure, Finley’s accuracy was 11th (66.7 percent) and overall he had one of the quickest times to release (2.32 seconds, 11th) among qualified starters. He could play himself into the first if he manages another strong season.

Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin has gone from surefire prospect to uncertain future and back again. His 2017 was his best with highs in yardage and touchdowns as he finished 13th in elusive rating and 18th in breakaway percentage. This decision may prove fruitful as the 2019 draft class looks less ominous from a talent perspective.

Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

One of the more intriguing quarterback prospects, Grier elected to return despite being a day two prospect for most evaluators. He finished fifth in PFF’s quarterback rating and had some bad luck with the 12th-highest drop rate (8.0 percent). Grier gets back his top two receivers and should have another chance to stand out and become a first-round pick.

Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Perhaps the second-most surprising on the list, Harris is also betting on a weaker running back draft class next year. Already with two rushing seasons of 1,000-plus yards, Harris had the ninth-highest elusive rating last year and finished fourth with 4.80 yards after contact per attempt. Expect him to operate as the primary option in Alabama’s 2018 running back committee.

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Some would consider this a shock given Love’s 2,118 rushing yards last year. He finished sixth in elusive rating (124.6) and was second in 15-plus-yard runs (35) but first in breakaway percentage (66.3 percent) as he gained over 1,400 yards on those big plays. Love will likely stay out of the first round due to his size (5-foot-11, 196 pounds) as well as limited success in the passing game (six catches in 2017), but he could be the first running back drafted nonetheless.

Some other notables: Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia; Drew Lock, QB, Missouri; David Sills, WR, West Virginia; Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

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