Photo Courtesy of UTSA Athletics

We are now approaching the third college football season in the Campus2Canton era. Time has really flown. It feels like just yesterday that Colin Decker and I were discussing purchasing a domain name, starting a podcast, and embarking into uncharted waters. And the fact that I’m now writing my third edition of anything for this site is truly crazy.

Last year, my bold predictions hit at a 30% clip, which isn’t bad, but I’m looking to improve for 2023. As always, make any moves based on this information responsibly.

1.   Andrew Paul leads the Georgia backfield after their bye week

Paul was an early favorite of the Campus2Canton recruiting team, but a torn ACL suffered in spring camp ultimately kept Paul off the field in 2022. Before the knee injury, Paul was earning rave reviews and could have received carries last year.

Georgia has such a strong reputation when it comes to running back development, but the current backfield is thin and inexperienced. Kendall Milton can’t stay healthy, and Branson Robinson has been banged up this off-season. Behind them, Daijun Edwards will be a factor, and Roderick Robinson is a true freshman. There’s not insurmountable talent here, which should help Paul’s quest for time. This is a gut call, but I think it’s going to be difficult to keep Andrew Paul off the field after he gets going.

2.       Carnell Tate is the first WR off boards next offseason

Generally, the top receiver off the board has a combination of maximum upside and great situation. In recent seasons, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Marvin Harrison Jr. have topped the charts for that exact reason. All at schools with potent offenses and a history of QB development.

And what’s not to like about Tate? We know that Ohio State wants to pass the ball around (22nd in the nation in 2022 in neutral game script pass rate), and we know that they’ll always have someone competent at quarterback. With Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. on their way out, Tate will be a starter for the Buckeyes entering 2024. Other contenders for WR1 in campus to canton drafts are either not attached to prolific offenses (Evan Stewart, Luther Burden, Barion Brown) or don’t have proven QB play (Johntay Cook). Tate will probably have both, and his production this season will be good enough that people will clamor for the next big OSU-receiving weapon.

For the record, I’d still take Johntay Cook over him, but the consensus will be Tate.

Photo Courtesy of Florida Gators Athletics

3.  Trevor Etienne averages over 15 fantasy points per game in .5 & full PPR formats

Freshman prospecting is a difficult proposition. All of us have our misses and hits each offseason. Etienne is one of my high-profile whiffs from the 2022 recruiting cycle, finishing as my RB31 behind elite prospects Arlen Harris Jr., Jaylon Glover, and Justin Williams, among others. Acknowledging the misses and adjusting is a big part of campus to canton, and that’s exactly what I’ve done with Etienne, who is now a top fifteen back in my rankings. 

Over the first five games of 2022, Etienne received double-digit snaps once and never had more than nine carries. In fact, before the Gators’ Week 8 bye, Etienne saw a max of 11 rush snaps and only had three total targets. But after the bye, his workload increased, including three games with double-digit carries. He had 17 attempts against both Florida State and Texas A&M and was productive against both defenses. Meanwhile, Montrell Johnson’s efficiency dropped over the second half of the season, which opened the door for Etienne.

Etienne is clearly the most talented back on a Gator team that is going to struggle to move the ball through the air in 2023. In the past, HC Billy Napier has used multiple backs, but his lead back typically averages 15-17 carries per game when healthy. With that kind of volume, Etienne can hit the 1,000-yard mark. With the lack of receiving weapons, I also don’t think it’s outrageous for him to end the season with roughly 25 receptions. A final line of 185/1,100/10 on the ground and 25/200/3 through the air put him over that mark in full PPR and .5 PPR leagues.

Is it a lock? No, it is not, but if it was, would I be talking about it in a BOLD predictions article?

4. Jaden Rashada’s stock tanks as he’s forced into action too early

After everything Rashada went through during the recruiting process, I feel bad piling on more. But it does sound like there’s a legitimate chance that he starts early due to an injury to projected starter Drew Pyne. Rashada is a very raw passer who loves to push the ball deep at every opportunity. Will the ASU offensive line hold up long enough to let him do that? And outside of Elijah Badger, do we fully believe in these weapons? I’m skeptical all around.

Also, I’d like it on the record that I think Kenny Dillingham’s ability as a QB developer is being overstated due to Bo Nix’s resurgence last year. Nix played on TERRIBLE Auburn teams that gave him no time to throw, and his weapons were underwhelming every year there. Last year, Nix thrived more due to his external circumstances than on any development from Dillingham. Look no further than the fact that Dillingham was the OC for Bo Nix’s freshman season, a year in which he completed fewer than 58% of his passes and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt. Dillingham’s other stops include a 55% passing season and a 1/1 TD/INT ratio from Heisman hopeful Jordan Travis, and the second-worst year of Brady White’s prolific career at Memphis. Let’s not give props when they aren’t due.

5. Malachi Corley finishes with over 125 receptions

Photo Courtesy of Stephen Lew – USA Today via College Football Network

Only 17 players have ever crossed the 125-catch threshold in a college season. Notably, the most recent member of that exclusive club is former Hilltopper Jerreth Sterns, who finished the 2021 season with 150 receptions. That’s the type of volume that this offense produces on a yearly basis.

Last season, Corley had 101 catches on 137 targets. That’s not a bad output by any means, but it’s 50 targets short of Sterns’s big season. There’s room for growth here for Corley and quarterback Austin Reed, who was making the jump from DII West Florida. I expect this passing attack to be even better than last season, which should boost everyone’s numbers, including Corley. A 1,500-yard season is not out of the question either.

6. Frank Harris does not finish as a top 36 QB

This one has the potential to blow up in my face, but there are so many red flags with this UTSA team. Over the past few years, the Roadrunners have been one of the consistently excellent offenses in the G5, and much of that has been due to seventh-year senior Harris. It has now been reported that Harris suffered a knee injury this offseason and had four surgeries to correct the issue. At one point, he considered quitting football. 

For a pocket passer, I wouldn’t be too worried about this development, but Harris has relied on rushing production for a solid floor. Over the past three years, Harris has rushed for over 500 yards, topping out at 602 last season. He also totaled 24 rush touchdowns during that time. So any issue with the knee could eliminate a significant portion of his points. 

Harris also benefited from a WR group that is, quite frankly, way too good for a school like UTSA, and that group has been depleted for 2023. Leading receiver Zakhari Franklin transferred to Ole Miss. Third-leading receiver De’Corian “JT” Clark is recovering from a knee injury suffered late last season. The backups are unproven, which will put a lot of pressure on Harris and Joshua Cephus. 

7. Malik Sherrod finishes as an RB1 this season

If you’ve played in college fantasy or Campus to Canton leagues for any length of time, you know that Fresno State regularly produces top fantasy season for their running backs, and it doesn’t matter who it is. Ronnie Rivers began his reign of terror in 2018, finishing with 209 PPR points that season. His monster 262-point season the next year is Fantasy Hall of Fame type stuff, and even though he split touches and was slightly banged up the next few years, he still produced at a reasonably high clip, as pictured below.

All data found in Campus2Canton’s Player Data Table Tool

Following Rivers’ departure, Jordan Mims carried the mantle in 2022. Mims spelled Rivers for years but performed at a similar level once he became the starter. He scored a whopping 282.8 points last year and was one of the smartest investments I made in drafts. He finished as the RB12 last year, according to our database.

All data found in Campus2Canton’s Player Data Table Tool

This year’s starter is Malik Sherrod, who was the backup last season. Although Fresno’s coaching staff has changed over the past year, new HC Jeff Tedford was the coach during the early Rivers years. We know he’s capable of producing big fantasy seasons for running backs. Is Sherrod supremely talented? Probably not, but neither were Rivers and Mims, and both thrived at Fresno. Factor in a relatively weak schedule, and everything is in place for Sherrod to go crazy in 2023.

8.  AD Mitchell helps his draft stock with his transfer to Texas, and is a First round-draft pick

Photo Courtesy of The Athletic

As we venture into the mid-tier Devy receivers, none stand out quite like third-year WR Adonai “AD” Mitchell. An under-recruited prospect due to Covid, Mitchell became an immediate threat at Georgia, finishing third on the team in receptions, fourth in yardage, and fourth in touchdowns. Last year, Mitchell missed significant time with an injury and decided to depart Georgia for Texas.

Although not an overwhelmingly technical route runner, Mitchell finds ways to get open and is one of the best in the country at the catch point. In that regard, he compares favorably to former Georgia receiver George Pickens. Mitchell can profile as a true “X” receiver, so NFL should be enamored by his athletic ability if he plays well this year at Texas. According to the Campus2Canton athletic database, one of Mitchell’s closest comps is Justyn Ross, so I feel decent about this projection.

9.  Jaquaize Pettaway sees the biggest rise in ADP from the freshman class

According to the one-of-a-kind Campus2Canton ADP tool (yes, a shameless plug), Jaquaize Pettaway is currently going off boards with an ADP of 232, which equates to pick 19.05. That surprises me because I’ve consistently seen him go even later in most of my drafts. But it’s still later than fellow WRs Dacari Collins, Kaleb Brown, and Antonio Gates Jr. I’d never consider drafting at least two of those guys in any normal league.

But I WOULD consider drafting Pettaway, the speedy freshman entering a very ambiguous receiver room. Outside of Jalil Farooq, I don’t think we can feel great about any of the receiving options for the Sooners. And even if one or two others step up and establish themselves, I’m confident that there’s no one else that can offer the game-changing speed that Pettaway possesses. We’ll see just enough flashes to make people excited, and with Jackson Arnold lined up to lead Oklahoma in 2024, people will be buying as many pieces of this offense as they can.

10. Nine of the Top-Ten receivers in the Campus2Canton Freshman Guide avoid Year 1 Zero status

This one feels absolutely crazy because we don’t adjust the Year 1 Zero info for injury, so I’m basically predicting no injuries AND some base level of production and snap % for our top freshmen. But I think all of them are extremely appealing for various reasons.

  • (1) Zachariah Branch: I think Branch hits the kick/punt return categories fairly easily, so there is very little concern here, even if he struggles to crack the receiver rotation, which I think is unlikely.
  • (2) Johntay Cook: Rumors he’s already involved with the first team with some injuries this fall. It wouldn’t shock me at all if he hits 500+ yards if this offense is potent.
  • (3) Makai Lemon: One of the trickier guys on this list because he probably doesn’t have the special teams out. Based on the hype out of fall camp, I’m inclined to think he gets some run-in blowouts and can hit the reception or touchdown numbers needed.
  • (4) Brandon Inniss: Was not an early enrollee but doesn’t sound like it has mattered much. Tate should factor in as the 5th receiver in the OSU pecking order. Last year’s WR5 hit over 100 yards and double-digit receptions.
  • (5) Jurrion Dickey: Dickey offers a red zone threat that no one else in Oregon can bring to the table. Plus, he’s physically ready for college football. I like his odds.
  • (6) Cordale Russell: TCU’s beat writers have consistently raved about how Russell has looked at practice. A school like TCU probably can’t afford to keep a 90th-percentile athlete off the field.
  • (7) Malik Benson: It sounds like Benson has been running with the starters in practice, so this one is self-explanatory. With two years in JUCO, Benson isn’t your typical freshman.
  • (8) Shelton Sampson Jr.: I worry a bit about Sampson, but LSU does not have solidified playmakers behind Malik Nabers, and Sampson’s size/speed combo is something that is unique on this team.
  • (9) Hykeem Williams: This is going to be the miss in this group. Shows up out of shape, behind Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman in the role he figures to fill. Just too much to overcome for Williams.
  • (10): Carnell Tate: I think Tate ends up starting multiple games for the Buckeyes. If that happens, this is a no-brainer.

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