The Big Ten East preview is headlined by Ohio State and features a mixed bag afterward. Michigan, still trying to find its identity under Jim Harbaugh, has failed to produce key offensive talent. Up-and-coming programs like Indiana are starting to make a name for themselves. Most of the East features good receivers and adequate quarterback play for the 2021 season but is ultimately headlined by elite defenses.
For our conference previews, we will try to include all the relevant offensive players for the 2021 season, broken into the following groups:
- Fantasy Relevant
- Roster Fillers
- Players avoid at ADP
All teams are listed in alphabetical order.
Michael Penix Jr, QB, returns in 2021 after a dominant start to 2020 was cut short by an ACL tear. Last season, through six games, Penix averaged 274.2 yards per game with over 2.3 touchdowns, all good for first in the Big 10. Penix loses Whop Philyor to the NFL but keeps Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot. Look for him to maintain status as a QB3 with QB2 upside weekly.
Ty Fryfogle, WR, should be the fixture of an Indiana offense that looks to improve on their 2020 campaign. As mentioned above, Philyor departing opens up a massive opportunity for Fryfogle, who in eight games managed to post 37-721-7 last season. The majority of his 2020 production came before Penix went down. Fryfogle should see a huge target share this season and has the upside to be an every-week WR2 in your lineup.
Peyton Hendershot, TE, also returns in 2021 as a fixture of the Hoosier’s passing game. Although his production in 2020 was underwhelming (23-151-4 in eight games), the departure of Philyor (noticing a trend?) lends itself to an opening role this season.
Donovan McCulley, QB, is a hot name right now as an incoming freshman this year. Although he’s clearly behind Penix, the dual-threat quarterback shows some nice traits. Including a 6’5” build that could lend itself to a potential impact player down the line. The four-star is worth a stash on an Indiana team trending long-term upward.
Stephen Carr, RB, transfers in from USC in a role he should have mostly to himself. With the transfer of Sampson James and the departure of Stevie Scott III to the NFL, it should be Carr’s backfield. Although not entirely productive at USC, he could benefit simply as being the last man standing in this backfield in 2021. I’m still not rushing to add him unless I’m in a deep league.
Players to Avoid at ADP
None. For the most part, Indiana players aren’t drafted high enough to warrant any fades at their ADP.
Dontay Demus Jr., WR, returned as Maryland’s top producer at the position with a 23-365-4 line in four games last season. A productive player, the Terrapins had an up and down year due to COVID-19, but should see some more stability in 2021. Demus Jr. has upside as a WR3 with the potential to be drafted in the NFL.
Rakim Jarrett, WR, is the name everyone knows in this WR room. A 20.1% weighted dominator in 2020, Jarrett was on track to living up to his five-star rating with a freshman breakout last season. The only concern when viewing Jarrett is that he’s far more of a devy prospect than a collegiate producer. Must draft in formats, but if you’re relying on him for a college production, at least this season, you probably want to look elsewhere.
Taulia Tagovailoa, QB, will start again this season after a tumultuous 2020. Last season he threw for 252.8 yards per game but, through four games, had a 7:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Although his leading receivers return this season, the Maryland offense should still be pedestrian and will only go as far as Tualia can take them. Tagovailoa is worth drafting for his upside in drafts, but he’s not someone you can rely on starting this season unless we see a massive step forward from the Terrapins.
Tayon Fleet-Davis, RB, should be the starter for Maryland this season but is a speculative stash at best. A 3-star recruit in 2017, he has failed to do much of anything thus far through four years on campus. At best, if the offense takes a step forward, he could see some production as he has some pass-catching ability, but for now, he’s worth a stash in only the deepest of leagues.
Players to Avoid at ADP
Like Indiana, Maryland has few players going high enough to justify fading entirely at ADP.
This is weird, but I don’t think a player on Michigan has true fantasy relevance for 2021. There are upside plays but nobody who is a weekly starter. It’s not a talent issue as it is a deeper problem; Brandon Haye (@hayeb3) does an excellent job breaking down what’s going on with the program here.
Again, most players at Michigan that garner interest are younger, stash-type guys with upside but are in the murkiest of situations.
Cade McNamara, QB, is the starter for this season and flashed some in 2020. With the departure of Joe Milton to Tennessee, it’s his job for as long as he can hold it. His highlight of last season was a four-touchdown performance against Rutgers, but he followed up that game with a 12 for 25, 91 yard game against Penn State. He isn’t in a position to start for your college team currently.
JJ McCarthy, QB, is the real Michigan quarterback to pay attention to. A 5-star from IMG Academy, McCarthy is the future of the Michigan program and could start this season if there are struggles in front of him. With a good arm and ability to make most throws well, McCarthy should see the field as the starter next season and is currently a high-end pick in C2C drafts.
Donovan Edwards, RB, is another incoming freshman with high hopes. Edwards has true dual-threat upside if used properly (a big ask) at Michigan, compared to some of the best receiving backs. Although he’s currently behind both Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, don’t be surprised if Edwards seizes a larger role as the season goes on.
Hassan Haskins, RB, is the starter this season, but in a Harbaugh offense, that isn’t worth much. He’s worth a stash as this is a good Michigan team that should have the lead in games, but he’s not worth starting unless his role gets solidified, which is unlikely given Harbaugh’s propensity to use a committee approach.
Blake Corum, RB, is the second guy up and in no-man land as far as C2C goes. Behind Haskins in 2021, Corum is also fighting off incoming freshman Edwards for touches. Like Zach Charbonnet before him, Corum could see that the grass is truly greener on the other side and high-tail it out of Ann Abor. Corum is still worth stashing as a four-star in last year’s class. However, his potential might not be reached playing for the Wolverines.
Players to Avoid at ADP
People know that Michigan has been an underwhelming producer of offensive talent in the Harbaugh era and has adjusted drafting accordingly; you’re safe from over-drafting currently.
Kenneth Walker, RB, should be the engine of the Spartan’s offense in 2021. A site favorite with legit upside, the Wake Forest transfer immediately seizes the starting role heading into the year. With 579 rushing yards on 119 carries and 13 touchdowns in only eight games, while splitting time, Walker should see an improved workload even if his efficiency suffers behind a poor Michigan State offensive line. He could have a week-to-week starting upside, but until we learn his true role and if the offense takes a step forward, he’s a bye-week fill-in for now.
Jalen Nailor, WR, returns as the Spartans’ lead option in 2021. A massive, 30.8% receiving yardage share last season, Nailor should maintain his dominance in the offense coming off a season with 515 yards and 4 touchdowns on 19.8 yards per reception. Nailor is a player to keep an eye on this season. If quarterback Payton Thorne can take a step forward, he could be the main beneficiary.
Jayden Reed, WR, comes back to Michigan State as their second-leading receiver with an impressive 24.3% yardage share last season. Reed would be higher up as a producer if the offense were better, but his main value comes as a stash candidate. In 2018, he led Western Michigan in receiving as a true freshman, and his first year at the Power 5 level, he managed the receiving share above. Keep an eye on Reed to be potentially drafted after this season if he chooses to declare.
Ricky White, WR, should be the other mainstay in 3-WR sets for the Spartans this season, assuming he’s healthy to start the year. White only played in three games last season as a true freshman but posted a monster 8-196-1 line against in-state rivals Michigan. White is an enigma as in his other two games, he only had a reception in each, but given his explosion against the Wolverines, he could be a hidden gem.
Players to Avoid at ADP
Like other teams in the Big Ten East, C2C drafters are wise to this conference’s general lack of production and have discounted players as such.
CJ Stroud, QB, is the presumptive (but not official) starter for the Buckeyes. Stroud should be able to post a dominant season, and given his top-5 Heisman odds, it seems there’s consensus in Vegas as well. Stroud, who sat last season behind Justin Fields, should have a chance to establish himself as a key cog in what should be one of the country’s best offenses.
Garrett Wilson, WR, had an exceptional 2020 season and only seeks to add to his resume in 2021. Last year, Wilson had 43-723-6 in only eight games while playing alongside Chris Olave. With a 33% weighted dominator last year, Wilson is already an analytics darling. Still, for this season, I expect similar per-game production from Wilson, and with another season akin to 2019 and 2020, he could be the first WR off the board in the NFL draft.
Chris Olave, WR, is Wilson’s counterpart for the Buckeyes and made the surprise decision to return to the team for 2021. Potentially hoping for a Devonta Smith-level rise, Olave should still be a fixture in this offense with a shot at a 1,000-yard season. As the team’s leading receiver in 2020, Olave could have more competition from the younger players on the roster but all things considered, he’s locked in, and a likely first-round pick come April.
Master Teague, RB, should start the season as the lead back for the Buckeyes as he did in 2020. Teague should be a product of a dynamic offense with potential for over a touchdown per game as long as he holds the starting job. The risk does come from Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson impressing in spring but as long as Teague is the main rusher, he has RB2 upside.
TreVeyon Henderson, RB, is clearly not a roster filler as a borderline first-round startup pick in C2C drafts, but this is the best way to categorize him for the preview. The clear RB1 in the 2020 class, it’s a question of if – not when – Henderson takes over the Ohio State backfield. Teague and Miyan Williams are both incumbents that won’t go away, but by the end of the year, don’t be surprised if Henderson is the top back.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, seems to have the WR3 role locked down for the Buckeyes and could easily slide into a productive spot if either WR above him goes down. Smith-Njigba (JSN), a five-star and fifth overall wide receiver in last year’s class, count on JSN to secure a role for himself and continue to rise up rankings.
Jeremy Ruckert, TE, should have a small role in the offense in 2021 as a tight end. Although not exceptionally productive in 2020, he did post a 3-55-2 line against Clemson in the playoffs. Based on the offense, that was likely an outlier, but it could mean more red-zone looks. Either way, look for Ruckert to potentially be more of an NFL-side play with week-to-week TE3 production.
Kyle McCord, QB, sounds like he’ll start the year as the QB2 for the Buckeyes but now has Quinn Ewers nipping at his heels. Nobody was hurt worse than Ewers joining the team. Although McCord is an incredibly talented QB in his own right, there’s a very real possibility he is no longer with the Buckeyes sooner rather than later. Due to his talent alone, he is a starter at most programs in the country and is worth a stash until his situation is “resolved.”
Miyan Williams, RB, is a Felix Sharpe (@sharpereview) special, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention him in this article. He’s going incredibly late in drafts, and given the reviews this spring, his good size, and mentality, he can earn himself a role this season.
Marvin Harrison Jr., WR was one of the first players to lose his black stripe this offseason (what does that even mean?) and has impressed coaches along the way since arriving on campus. The son of the Colts’ great, Harrison has already jumped incumbent wide receivers and could find himself pushing for a role as early as this season. He’s rising in C2C drafts, and justifiably so – he’s going to be really good.
Emeka Egbuka, WR, is somehow lost in the shuffle behind the other incoming impact freshman. Still, the WR1 in this year’s class and tenth-overall player should seize a role in a crowded Buckeyes receiving room at some point. It’s unlikely he carves out a big piece this year, but as one of the top recruits in the class, it’s likely only a matter of time.
Gee Scott, Jr., TE, is another player trying to make it work in the crowded wide receiver room. Small for a TE, Scott will try to make the transition by adding weight over the season but is likely an entirely speculative add as he’s still behind Jeremy Ruckert and is just beginning his position switch.
Quinn Ewers, QB, a.k.a. The Golden Boy. Ewers is the top quarterback prospect since Trevor Lawrence and recently had the coveted perfect grade on the 247 sports composite. Ewers is a special talent who enrolled early due to the NIL opportunity and is the future of the Ohio State program. He will likely be brought along slowly this season unless the QB(s) in front of him trip up but expect Ewers to compete and potentially win the job outright in 2022. He’s a first-round C2C pick.
Players to Avoid at ADP
Julian Fleming, WR, is still going absurdly high in drafts. With an average ADP of 66.5, Fleming has done nothing to sustain that level of value and has been jumped by incoming freshmen heading into this season. He likely transfers out to find a role elsewhere, but he’s one of the worst C2C values at his current ADP.
Sean Clifford, QB, is not a sexy name, but he’s someone who is likely an every-week starter for your college team. The key to unlocking Clifford is the addition of Mike Yurich as offensive coordinator. Yurich is a quarterback whisperer, getting Mason Rudolph drafted in the second round, helping Fields to a Heisman finalist season, and Sam Ehlinger’s strong 2020. Possibly his most impressive accomplishment is leading walk-on Taylor Cornelius to a monster 2018 season at Oklahoma State. Yurich loves to throw the ball and has done it with success (at all levels) over the last half-decade.
Jahan Dotson, WR, returns to Happy Valley as an electric downfield threat. In a 52-884-8 season in 2020, Dotson was the highlight of a team that consistently failed to move the ball and changed quarterbacks multiple times. As mentioned above, if Yurich can unlock Clifford, Dotson could be the primary beneficiary of a much-improved passing offense. Dotson is locked in as a WR2, but if Penn State takes a step forward, he could have a WR1 season.
Noah Cain, RB, should be the lead guy there, but Penn State, like many other teams in this conference, prefers the committee approach. Cain is much more interesting as a potential NFL prospect. RB6 in the 2019 recruiting class, Cain has good size for the position, and a strong year could vault him into the NFL draft conversation.
Parker Washington, WR, I love Parker Washington as much as the next analytics guy, but we need to pump the breaks on his production for 2021. A 24.1% weighted dominator in 2020 indicates Parker is clearly the WR2 on this offense and, as a true freshman breakout, should be climbing devy and NFL draft boards. However, given the struggles of this offense under Sean Clifford, it’s going to be difficult to rely on Washington as a weekly starter.
Keyvonne Lee, RB, is the next guy behind Noah Cain but probably the 1B in a committee based on James Franklin’s usage. Lee is fine as a player, but he’s unlikely to secure a large workload, and given the uphill climb to relevancy, he’s a stash at best and potentially qualifies as a roster clogger.
Branton Strange and Theo Johnson, TE, are fighting to fill the vacuum left behind by second-round pick Pat Freiermuth in 2021. Strange, the incumbent and TE2 last season has a leg up on Johnson, who is more athlete than TE at the moment. A keynote for both players is that if one assumes a large chunk of production, they are likely an every-week starter for your college team.
Players to Avoid at ADP
None. Parker Washington is the only one going early but given his production last year, it’s justified.
None. Rutgers offense is not conducive to high-end fantasy production at any position.
Bo Melton, WR, has been the lifeblood of a pedestrian Rutgers offense for years, and the super senior should continue his role in 2021. With 638 yards and six TDs in nine games last season, Melton is the primary target for Noah Verdell and the Scarlett Knights. He should be able to produce a WR4/5 season in 2021 and, in deep leagues, could be a weekly starter.
Isaih Pacheco, RB, returns as the lead back for the Scarlett Knights in 2021. Pacheco, a pedestrian runner, should contribute some in the passing game as he had 19 receptions in 9 games last season. However, his 515 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns make him a speculative add to your C2C roster (at best).
Players to Avoid at ADP