Devy Primer: Week Zero (2021 Fantasy Football)
At last, the long national nightmare is over. We have arrived at the start of the college football season. A light schedule that features just five games serves as an appetizer before the season breaks into full swing. Still, football is football, and several games can help to whet the appetite. Kevin Coleman, Christian Williams, and Jeff Bell guide you through the opening weekend action.
This offseason, the college news cycle has churned nonstop, and conference realignment is perhaps the single most significant item. Texas and Oklahoma were the first dominoes to fall; a move to the SEC has left the remnants of the Big 12 in shambles. Later the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac 12 announced a partnership to protect their interests. How this partnership will work out remains to be seen, but the future of the sport is as murky as it has been in decades.
Name, Image, & Likeness Legislation
The entire landscape of college football, and collegiate athletics, in general, changed this offseason drastically. It is now legal for student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness, and the true impact of this reality hasn’t surfaced just yet. Student-athletes now are presented with a different set of choices: should they go to a Power 5 school and get the preloaded name recognition, or should they head to a smaller school and cultivate their brand? Collegiate athletics, as we know them, are gone. The new monetary dynamic will undoubtedly be an intriguing storyline to watch throughout the 2021 college football season.
This past off-season, the NCAA Division I Council approved a long-awaited measure to grant all players the ability to transfer once in their careers and be immediately eligible. The vote eschewed a rule from the 1960s that penalized athletes in certain sports by forcing them to miss their first season at their new school. The new rule allowed all athletes to move freely at least once, though it included some stipulations we saw an unprecedented amount of college transfers this off-season. Like it or not, the business of College Football has changed, and it’s something that all fans need to acclimate.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson (SR – UCLA) 6’1, 205 lbs
Dorian Thompson-Robinson has had quite a collegiate career. The talent was always apparent from his freshman year, but the throw-to-throw consistency was virtually nonexistent. The trend has always pointed upward, and in a shortened 2020, Dorian displayed the growth that we had hoped to see in his sophomore year. Now entering his senior year, the hope is that the development will a) remain or b) continue. Last year, he posted a 65% completion rate, threw for 1,120 yards (an average of 8.1 per completion – a career-high), 12 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. It was his best statistical season since enrolling in UCLA, and we could be looking at one of the 2022 NFL Draft’s biggest risers here in this opening game against Hawaii.
Dorian should be a player in C2C formats, as his rushing floor is more significant than quite a few quarterbacks. He has dialed back his rushing in an attempt to improve his passing, and I think we’re going to see that on display this weekend.
Adrian Martinez (RS JR – Nebraska) 6’2, 220 lbs
A player that we probably should have a radar on but may not currently is Adrian Martinez. After rumors that he could declare in 2021, Martinez returned to school for his fourth season in college football. He has had an up and down career thus far, but the tools are there. Martinez has an off-platform game that will get NFL scouts’ ears perked, and he has plus-placement at this stage of his collegiate career. If Martinez takes steps forward, we could be looking at a borderline-Day two selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Nebraska passing attack won’t be full of volume for college fantasy purposes, but if Martinez takes steps forward, he could be an efficient option for your lineup.
Ronnie Rivers (SR – Fresno St) 5’9, 195 lbs
Ronnie Rivers could have gone to the NFL. Rivers led the Mountain West in all-purpose yards but said of his return: “I feel that I have more to accomplish, and that was one of the main draws. We have the potential to be a great team this year.” He has a fantastic opportunity to rank near the top of the school record books with a strong season, already tying for the most rushing touchdowns in school history. Rivers is a great play this week against UCONN, though his DFS price will top most slates. His frame will limit him at the next level, though he can play a fundamental role in returning and passing games.
Calvin Turner (SR – Hawaii) 5’11, 195 lbs
Calvin Turner is technically a running back. He is also a wide receiver, occasional wildcat quarterback, and kick returner. This versatility landed him on the preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, awarded to the most versatile player in college football annually. For DFS purposes, the matchup with UCLA features the highest total on the slate at 68.5 points. Hawaii will be in a position to play catchup, which bodes very well for Turner’s output. Much like Rivers, Turner is a player who is already on NFL radars, and a strong season can propel him onto the next step.
Zavier Betts (SO – Nebraska) 6’2, 200 lbs
Nebraska had a very rough off-season with transfers, and they saw their biggest hits come at the wide receiver position. Their leading receiver from last season, Wan’dale Robinson, transferred to Kentucky, and his departure has left a giant hole at the position for the Cornhuskers. Aside from Omar Manning, the only other receiver I have high hopes for on that roster is Zavier Betts.
Betts came to Lincoln as one of the highest-rated recruits out of Nebraska since the early 2000s. In his prep career, he accumulated just over 3,300 yards receiving and scored 46 touchdowns. Betts saw the field sparingly as a true freshman, catching 12 passes for 131 yards, which surprisingly ranked third on the team. That should tell you everything you needed to know about how bad that offense was. Regardless, Betts should see a volume and usage increase next season.
As a prospect, Betts is a physical specimen and runs a pretty decent 40 times (4.59). When he gets the ball in space, he shows enough elusiveness to create yards after the catch and can be dangerous with the ball. He’s a Redzone threat because of his contested catch ability and athleticism. Look for him to outperform his 2020 numbers significantly and is a breakout candidate heading into the 2021 season.
Jalen Cropper (JR – Fresno State) 6’0 172 lbs.
Jalen Cropper is one of the most versatile athletes in college football that no one mentions. Cropper lined up at wide receiver in high school, running back, quarterback, defensive back, and a returner. He recorded 22 receptions, three touchdowns, and a team-high 565 yards for a 25.7-yard average his senior season. Cropper also rushed for 179 yards, four touchdowns on 25 carries on offense, and recorded two interceptions on defense. He then chose hometown Fresno State over Boise State, Cal, Utah, Nebraska, and Oregon.
While at Fresno State, he amassed 52 receptions, 716 yards, and five touchdowns while also adding 370 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. He led the team in receiving last season as a sophomore with 520 yards and averaged just over fourteen yards per catch. He also earned an All-Mountain West honorable mention selection and contributed in the return game.
As a prospect, he primarily lines up in the slot finishing with a Slot Snap percentage of 90.0%. He has a great release when unchallenged at the line of scrimmage, and he utilizes his speed well. His speed allows him to be yards after catch threat when he gets the ball in open spaces. Cropper also had already hit his 30% breakout threshold last season. He needs to work on his hands, and he could use more strength when challenged in press coverage. Regardless, senior quarterback Jake Haener Fresno State has a tremendous young offense that ranked 11th in plays ran. This season, Cropper should be Haener’s #1 target and has a realistic chance at NFL draft capital in 2021.
Games Of The Week
Nebraska (-7) @ Illinois
Nebraska coach Scott Frost enters the 2021 season on the hot seat after starting 12-20 in his first three seasons and recent news about potential NCAA violations. A 41-23 Illinois victory in 2020 may mark the low water mark of Frost’s tenure. Revenge against the Illini will be necessary as Nebraska plays Oklahoma, Michigan, and Ohio State outside their Big Ten West Schedule. QB Adrian Martinez returns for his fourth season, and TE Austin Allen’s 236 yards represent the leading returning receiver in an inexperienced offense. Allen is a massive 6’8″ TE who could land on draft radars.
Illinois will mark the debut of coach Bret Bielema. A well-known name, especially in the Big Ten West, with seven years at Wisconsin following a playing career with Iowa. Since 2014 the program has made one bowl appearance in the 2019 Redbox Bowl. QB Brandon Peters returns for his fifth college season, and RB Chase Brown joins him in the backfield. Brown was 3rd team All-Big Ten in 2020, leading a Fighting Illini rushing attack that finished 3rd in the conference. Look for Illinois to cover the spread due to the turmoil surrounding Nebraska.
UCONN @ Fresno St (-27.5)
The UConn Huskies are playing as an independent on Saturday for the first time since 2003. They moved to independent status last season after playing in the American Athletic Conference in 2013. They also opted out of the season in 2020, so this is a massive game for their school and program. The Huskies could be the worst program in college football. Their offense was terrible two years ago, but their defense was even worse. They allowed 467 yards and 41 points per game in 2019, and after losing players to the transfer portal, we shouldn’t expect a drastic improvement. The Huskies’ best weapon is senior RB Kevin Mensah. The Senior ran for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018/2019 and has career stats of 577 Att, 2,619 YDS, and 19 TD.
Fresno State had an excellent season in 2020 behind first-year head coach Kalen DeBoer. They finished 3-3 in the shortened season, and their offense finished No. 1 in the Mountain West and fifth in the nation in passing. The key player to watch is Washington transfer Jake Haener. The young QB had a 65% completion percentage with 2,021 yards and 14 touchdowns with five picks last year. The Bulldogs also have RB Ronnie Rivers and WR Jalen Cropper. Both players should play a role this season, and each has a chance to make NFL rosters next fall. I expect Fresno State to cover the spread and challenge for an MWC title this season.
Hawaii @ UCLA (-17)
The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors had a winning record in 2020. That’s one of the kinder things to say about them, to be quite honest. Their passing attack should lack consistency, and while they have a decent rushing attack led by Calvin Turner, the Rainbow Warriors are rightfully deemed 17-point underdogs in this matchup. UCLA, however, is poised for a decent season, provided that QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson can continue to take steps forward. A dual-threat quarterback, DTR has ultimately been inefficient. In the abbreviated 2020 season, he took steps forward as a passer, and the Bruins’ conference chances ride heavily on if that comes to fruition once again. Outside of Greg Dulcich, there aren’t a ton of proven pass catchers on the team. I expect UCLA to cover the spread in this matchup, as I think their offensive line will dominate the lackluster Hawaii pass rush.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.