With training camp finally here and the NFL season looming, many dynasty owners are waking from their offseason hibernation. Whether it's redraft, dynasty, Campus-to-Canton (C2C), or college fantasy football (CFF), the excitement is palpable. Today, let’s examine ten devy sleepers for deeper startups or depleted leagues.
Even though these unheralded picks will be made later in the draft, there's always a chance that they could be a future 1st round NFL draft selection.
Quarterback – Max Johnson – LSU
Okay, this one is a little bit of a softball. Injuries are a part of the game at all levels. Until recently, Max Johnson was in competition with Myles Brennan for LSU's starting quarterback job. Unfortunately, Myles Brennan suffered a broken arm in fall training camp. Given the recovery timeline, it's safe to assume that it'll be Johnson's job for 2021. The 2020 4-star prospect (per the 247Sports composite ranking) is the son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson. You know, the guy who followed the 2003 Buccaneers defense to a Super Bowl victory.
While Max may not have a ton of experience at the collegiate level, he filled in admirably when Brennan was injured midway through the 2020 season, throwing for 1069 yards for 8 touchdowns and one pick. His 58.7% completion rate can and should improve with an arsenal of weapons like Kayshon Boutte, Koy Moore, Jontre Kirklin, Trey Palmer and a stellar crop of freshman wideouts (Deion Smith, Chris Hilton Jr., Malik Nabers) surrounding him.
A final note, with TJ Finley transferring to Auburn before Brennan's injury, 2021 true freshman Garrett Nussmeier is the only other healthy quarterback of note on LSU's roster. While his high school tape is entertaining to watch, he likely won’t see the field this year.
Wide Receiver – Jaden Walley – Mississippi St.
Considering the surrounding cast, Walley was nothing short of a baller in 2020. A 3-star prospect (per the 247 Sports composite ranking) coming into the year, Walley greatly exceeded expectations.
The Bulldogs starting quarterback, KJ Costello, could be considered a supernova of sorts. He started his Mississippi State tenure as a bright, shining star, dropping 44 points on a stunned LSU team. The glimmer quickly faded as Costello proceeded to throw for one touchdown and eight picks over the next four games. He was mercifully yanked in favor of freshman quarterback Will Rogers.
While Rogers was more effective than Costello, he still falls short in the talent department. Despite the team's lack of experience and talent, Walley's last four regular-season games amounted to 29 catches for 520 yards and two touchdowns. Stretch that out over a regular season with a tad more stability and another year of experience under his belt, and Walley could be primed for a significant breakout.
Wide Receiver – Josh Downs – North Carolina
North Carolina's top two wide receivers, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, departed for the NFL after the 2020 season, leaving quarterback Sam Howell to find a new weapon for what everyone expects to be his final collegiate season.
Luckily for Howell, Josh Downs has been standing on the sideline all spring waving a large sign over his head which reads "Pick Me!". A freshman 4-star wide receiver (per the 247 Sports composite ranking) in the 2020 class, Downs played a small role in the shortened five-game season for the Tarheels. During that span, he reeled in seven catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns, most of which came in the bowl game against Texas A&M.
Listed at 5'10", 165lbs coming out of high school, Downs is now listed at 180lbs and hasn’t lost a step. In the past, the NFL showed a general disinterest in small-bodied wideouts, but a focus on speed, agility, and athleticism in recent years has seen many success stories to the contrary. With receivers of Downs' size now being drafted earlier and earlier, there's certainly a place for him on the back end of a devy roster.
Running Back – Kenneth Walker III – Michigan State
Let's start this one by talking about risk. Walker transferred this offseason from Wake Forest to Michigan State. College transfers have had their fair share of success stories as of late (Jalen Hurts, Trey Sermon, Justin Fields, Etc.), but that's not always the case. Different coaching, playbook, supporting cast, talent level, and location can all impact a college player. Remember, these aren't just avatars in a virtual reality game. These are actual young people, facing all of the challenges a typical 17 to 23-year-old person might expect.
On the other hand, Walker has the talent and a unique running style that could give him an edge compared with other running backs. If you're curious, feel free to watch his game film against N.C. State in 2020. While the athleticism doesn't stand out, his patience and vision at the line of scrimmage certainly do.
In total, Walker scampered for 579 yards and 13 touchdowns in seven games last year, acting as the primary threat for the Demon Deacons. Given Michigan State's anemic ground game in 2020, expect Walker to step in and right away garner the lion’s share of the workload.
Wide Receiver – Jahan Dotson – Penn State
It is absolutely perplexing that Jahan Dotson isn't getting more love from the devy community. A 4-star wideout (per the 247 Sports composite ranking) in the 2018 class, Dotson broke out in 2020 with 52 catches for 884 yards (a whopping 38% MS) and eight touchdowns. Sure, the competition level in the Big 10 isn't the same as a conference like the SEC.
That said, when playing against the best team in the conference (Ohio State), Dotson exploded for eight catches, 144 yards, and three touchdowns, proving that he can hang with the best defenses around.
Though still reasonably thin-framed (5'11, 180lbs), Dotson's ball skills, route running, speed, and YAC potential make him a solid candidate to be drafted and have an impactful NFL future. Additionally, Dotson fields punts and could always contribute on special teams at the NFL level while refining the rest of his game.
Running Back – Roydell Williams – Alabama
This is a kind reminder to draft Alabama players that have yet to pop or don't appear to have many opportunities. Mac Jones was undrafted in nearly every devy league last year but wound up being a 1st round draft pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Josh Jacobs was also once a late-round devy dart throw. Jacobs also went on to become a 1st round NFL draft pick. See the trend? Alabama churns out high-level NFL draft picks, which translates to value in all dynasty formats.
The downside of the current Alabama running back room is that it's full of talented freaks. That may even be an understatement. Of the five main running backs in the Bama backfield, two are 5-stars, and three are 4-stars (per the 247 Sports composite ranking).
The elder statesman, Brian Robinson Jr., is likely to get a fair share of touches while splitting time with sophomore Jase McClellan. The injury-riddled Trey Sanders could siphon away some of the workload as well, assuming he can recover from the hip injury he sustained in a car accident last season. Incoming 2021 freshman Camar Wheaton may not see the field in 2021 but is another top recruit that will certainly push for playing time.
It's not the rosiest picture for sophomore Roydell Williams, but there is good news. Williams played on starting quarterback Bryce Young's team in the spring game and received just as many carries as Jase McClellan (12). He took those carries for 45 yards, compared to McClellan's 46 yards.
Sure, the spring game is a long way from the actual season, and Brian Robinson Jr. couldn't participate, but this shows that Alabama certainly is considering Williams an option for the rotation. In the later rounds of a devy startup, owners could do a lot worse than a 4-star Alabama running back with the potential for carries in 2021.
Running Back – Sean Tucker – Syracuse
Syracuse might not be a hotbed for NFL talent, but they manage to find a gem every once in a while. With that in mind, Sean Tucker could be their Koh-i-Noor for the next two seasons. A 3-star freshman in 2020, Tucker was a revelation for the Orange, where he ran for 626 yards and four touchdowns on 137 carries.
Tucker wasn't expected to be the starting running back, but due to opt-outs from Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams, he took the job and ran with it – literally. Given the surrounding talent on the roster, most opposing teams knew that Syracuse would opt to run the ball as much as possible. In the last game of the season, Tucker was able to light up the Notre Dame defense for 101 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.
At 5'10", 210lbs, he already has the physical makeup of an NFL back and still has the frame to add additional muscle. As long as Tucker reprises a majority of the carries in 2021, expect him to continue his ascent into the top running back ranks of college football.
Running Back – Tyler Allgeier – BYU
What a year for BYU in 2020. Perhaps Zach Wilson finally had the supporting cast he had been missing in years prior. Maybe he saw one too many rocket ship emojis on Twitter and decided it was his turn to go to the moon. Either way, Wilson wasn't alone on that journey, and his prowess helped showcase the talents of many of his teammates.
Five players from BYU were selected in the 2020 NFL draft, with many more signing as undrafted free agents shortly after that. The high-octane passing game provided by Wilson also opened new opportunities for the team's running game. Enter Tyler Allgeier, who bulldozed the competition to the tune of 1130 yards and 13 touchdowns over 150 carries. Over the prior two years, Allgeier had logged a total of 26 carries, so his awakening was a shock to almost everyone.
A walk-on recruit in 2018, Allgeier reportedly now stands at 5'11", 220lbs, which might explain why he made a short-term switch to linebacker during the 2019 season. After this past season, it's expected that he'll stick at running back and make a solid push to increase his stock for the 2022 draft.
While Allgeier has been off most owner's radars until now, but with his 2020 performance, it's time to start acquiring some shares. With the uncertain 2022 running back class, there's a good chance another solid year could send his stock soaring.
Tight End – Greg Dulcich – UCLA
Drafting tight ends in devy is a dangerous game. Consider the NFL fantasy landscape for the position. There are maybe four to five guys owners want to start, another four to five that are serviceable, and the rest are pretty much undesirable. After a tight end is drafted, it typically takes multiple years to acclimate to the NFL game. Therefore, drafting a tight end in devy is a high-risk, long-term commitment when compared to other positions available.
That said, Greg Dulcich might be worth the gamble. One of the most significant indicators for success at the tight end position in today's NFL is athleticism, and Dulcich has that in spades. He started his career as a walk-on wide receiver in 2018 but has since switched to tight end and bulked up from 220lbs. to a reported 246lbs.
Over seven games last year, Dulcich managed to bring in 26 catches for 517 yards (team-leading) and five touchdowns. That's a whopping 19.9 yards per catch! In 2020, that number was second among all tight ends and 17th among ALL receivers across the entire college landscape.
As the NFL continues to show an interest in positional convert tight ends, another solid season from Dulcich could see him taken Day 2 in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Running Back – Kobe Pace – Clemson
Confusion abounds with regards to Kobe Pace. Coming out of HS in 2020, Pace was in the midst of changing his last name from Pryor, which led to many outstanding Campus-to-Canton startup draft arguments.
A 3-star running back out of Georgia, Pace was used sparingly in his freshman season, running for a meager 75 yards on 18 carries. This production wasn’t a surprise given the presence of Travis Ettiene, who has since left for the NFL. To make matters worse, Clemson brought in two top-15 running back recruits from the 2021 freshman class.
So why the sleeper status for Pace? In spring training, Pace turned heads and did everything he could to earn carries in that backfield. In the spring game, Pace led all running backs with 69 yards on six carries. While senior running back, Lyn-J Dixon, is expected to be the starter out of the gate, don't be surprised if Pace is leading the backfield by season's end.
Much like Alabama, Clemson has a history of producing top-tier draft selections, and Pace could be the next beneficiary in 2023. The time is now to get in on the ground floor for the low cost of a last-round devy pick.
Deeper Sleepers: Michael Penix, Dustin Crum, Raheim Sanders, Jo'Quavious Marks, Don Chaney Jr., Rome Odunze, Ajou Ajou, Khalil Shakir, Cole Turner