College Fantasy Football is a different monster than other fantasy football games and part of the challenge comes from the sheer number of players. Because of this, there is often value that can be found deep in player pools.

Even in the bottom half of the CFF Consensus Rankings here at Campus2Canton, there are players that I believe necessitate a closer look and should be on the radar of CFF, C2C, and College Dynasty heading into the 2023 season. I have affectionately dubbed these guys “Bottom-Half Bangers” and they are a player group that will always be near and dear to my heart as they’re the deepest of sleepers and the guys that are essentially free in many of your leagues.

This series is designed to take a closer look at those options and provide a profile of why they’re in the bottom half of rankings but also provide an argument for why they should be higher.

Today’s article will focus on QB but in the coming days, we’ll also repeat the process in checking on RBs, WRs, and TEs. There are currently 151 QBs ranked by the CFF Team here at Campus2Canton so for the purpose of this article, I only looked for QBs ranked 76th and below.

Rocky Lombardi, Northern Illinois – QB86

Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi (12) works during the second half of an NCAA football game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Atlanta.
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press/Danny Karnik
Why He Isn’t Higher

During Lombardi’s time in the national spotlight, he squandered his opportunity and failed to live up to expectation. In his 17 games at Michigan State, he threw for 1,902 yards with a 47.89% completion percentage. On top of the primary narrative already having a negative slant, he’s now in an offense that is notoriously run-heavy. Since he arrived at Northern Illinois, they’ve had a 30% (2021) and 28.1% (2022)  Neutral Game Script Pass Rate. To top it all off, he was shut down last season, after suffering an undisclosed leg injury, to preserve his redshirt. 

Why He Should Be

Lombardi’s situation this year is perhaps the most conducive to his success that he’s seen during his time in college. He returns as a sixth-year senior who has adjusted to and grown accustomed to the speed of the game and has plenty of experience reading defenses and studying game film. He also gets star-WR Trayvon Rudolph back after an injury kept Rudolph out for the entirety of last season.

Strengthening the argument for Lombardi’s success is the clear growth trajectory he has had during each year, culminating in last season’s 50-for-75 (66.7%) outing for 645 yards and five touchdowns over the course of his shortened season. During his 2021 season he also ran for 473 yards and nine touchdowns so he’s far from a zero with his legs. Assuming this offense decides to open up the offense just a bit (with the return of Rudolph and the departure of Harrison Waylee), Lombardi should have a clear path to modest CFF success this season. 

Jalen Mayden, San Diego State – QB94

San Diego State quarterback Jalen Mayden takes a shot downfield during first half against Fresno State.
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press/Gary Kazanjian
Why He Isn’t Higher

Last season, Mayden put forth a roller coaster of production with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12:10. In 13 games, he threw for 2,030 yards but the tumultuous turnover situation does call into question how long of a leash he’ll have heading into 2023. Also working against Mayden is the fact that he is a QB-turned-safety-turned-QB-again.

Upon his transfer into San Diego State, Mayden switched to play defense in 2021. In 2022, they put him back on the offensive side of the ball at QB. Seeing that his suitability at the QB position was called into question previously, it makes sense that he’s not highly touted this season. The final piece to this puzzle comes in the fact that, like Lombardi, Mayden is in an offense that specializes in a slow, run-first attack. Over the last three seasons as the Aztecs Head Coach, Brady Hoke has an average Neutral Game Script Pass Rate of 42.5%.

Why He Should Be

The game script argument is a strong one as San Diego State’s defense has always been stout and typically controls the games and puts the offense in rushing-favorable positions. This season, however, they only return six starters and have some legitimate question marks on their defensive line. If other teams are able to exploit these areas of concern, the Aztecs may be forced to rely a bit more on some explosive plays from Mayden and the passing game.

Despite the stat above about a three-year average of a 42.5% pass rate in neutral game script situations, last year’s rate was the highest it’s been under Hoke at 48%. This suggests there is some belief that Mayden can handle more volume than the standard Aztec quarterback. Hoke also has a history of using his dual threat quarterbacks’ legs whenever he gets the chance (see: Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, and even Nate Davis back when Hoke was at Ball State). Mayden ran for 231 yards on 69 attempts last season and scored three rushing touchdowns. It’s not out of the question that Mayden’s rushing opportunity sees an increase in 2023.

Finally, also have Ryan Lindley (former Aztec QB) being promoted from QB Coach to Offensive Coordinator this season. Knowing that Lindley was Mayden’s position coach last season, there is an expectation that he knows which situations in which Mayden will thrive. I fully anticipate an expanded role for Mayden this Fall and an opportunity for him to use his legs and add value for this offense. 

Dylan Hopkins, New Mexico – QB139

Dylan Hopkins - UAB football
Photo Courtesy of UAB Athletics
Why He Isn’t Higher

Let’s be real, the University of New Mexico is a poverty program when it comes to football. They haven’t had a season with more than three wins since 2016 and have finished above .500 in only six of their last 20 seasons. Most recently, the Lobos struggled to throw for over 1,000 yards on the entire season, last season, finishing dead last in total offense. Over the last three seasons, Danny Gonzales’ offenses have averaged a 35% Neutral Game Script Pass Rate, which bottomed out at a meager 29% last season. So why isn’t Hopkins on the radar for most in CFF this season? Well, he’s the QB for a historically bad offensive team that loves to run the ball.

Why He Should Be

There’s new blood in Albuquerque this season as Bryant Vincent (the former OC and interim Head Coach at UAB last season) becomes the Offensive Coordinator for the Lobos. He is the reason Hopkins traveled across the country to transfer to New Mexico. There’s nowhere to go but up for this offense. Head Coach Danny Gonzales enters his fourth year and is likely willing to relinquish whatever control is necessary to make sure Vincent can run this offense as he sees fit.

In his last two seasons under Vincent at UAB, Hopkins averaged 2,093 yards per season through the air on a UAB team that was able to run the ball heavily with the advantage of playing with the lead (or in close games) through most of those matchups. This New Mexico offense returns eight starters on offense (not including Hopkins), so there should be more cohesion and experience on that side of the ball in general.

Despite modest volume, Hopkins was tenth in the nation last year in yards/attempt, so if given the opportunity, he should be able to connect on the deep ball at an above average clip. Add in the fact that Hopkins is a non-zero with his legs and I think there’s legitimate reason to at least add him to your watchlists heading into the season. Even if the Lobos want to run the ball, their defense losing coordinator Rocky Long along with nine starters means they will need to lean on Hopkins and the passing attack more than UAB did in previous years. If New Mexico wants to stay in games, Hopkins will be asked to play some hero ball and should have the opportunity to be the impact player this program desperately needs.

Make sure to check back in later this week as we explore the bottom-half bangers at RB, WR, and TE.

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