As we move through the offseason, managers will begin to assess their needs heading into 2022. One of the biggest keys to success is getting ahead of the curve on a player or getting out before it’s too late. Drafting and trading are a big part of that, as well as finding value. In the first part of this series, I will be looking at mid-to-late round options outside the top 50 in ADP. Players who have the potential to climb into that range over the next year. I’ll be avoiding freshmen (because that feels like cheating) and focusing on the veterans or rising sophomores who may have slipped through the cracks.
From a zero-star recruit to a 4-star ranking as one of the most sought-after quarterbacks in the transfer portal , Cameron Ward’s rise has been quick.
After playing in a low-volume run-heavy offense in high school that barely asked him to throw the ball, Ward could only find a home in the FCS with San Antonio’s Incarnate Word. The 6’3″, 225-pound quarterback was then asked to throw an average of 47 passes a game over the next two years as a Cardinal. He led the FCS with 48 touchdowns in 2021 and threw for over 350 yards a game. His impressive numbers earned the attention of Power-5 programs like West Virginia, Ole Miss, and Washington State – a team that just so happened to hire his ex-FCS coach to be their offensive coordinator.
After losing their own starting QB to the transfer portal, the stars aligned, and Ward’s choice became an easy one. The newest quarterback for the Cougars hopes to replicate his success at the next level of collegiate competition. Ward’s imposing size, sneaky pocket mobility, and powerful arm (he claims to be able to throw a ball 70+ yards) have even led some head coaches to boldly claim Ward as a potential first-round NFL Draft pick.
I’ll need to see if Cameron can deliver at the next level before declaring a similar statement, but he couldn’t have asked for a better situation to put up numbers and build on his growing hype. He’s already drawing praise with his new team and continues to be one of the most buzz-worthy names in the CFF, C2C, and Devy communities. His cost could end up a little higher than the rest of the names on this list. Ward is worth taking a shot on in the middle rounds of your draft.
Hooker had a relatively quiet start to his career at Virginia Tech. After sitting through most of his freshman season, he would go on to start 16 games over the next two years for the Hokies. He accounted for just under 2900 passing yards, 976 rushing yards, and 36 touchdowns. The 6’4″, 218-pound quarterback decided to opt for a change of scenery in his senior year. He transferred to the Tennessee Volunteers and linked up with new head coach Josh Heupe, who is known for his QB-friendly, “veer and shoot” up-tempo offense.
After former starting QB Joe Milton got injured shortly into their Week 2 game, Hooker would take over the starting position and never look back. Heupel’s offense and Hooker’s dual-threat ability were a match made in heaven. It helped Hooker hit career highs in passing (2945), rushing (620), touchdowns (36), and completion percentage (68.2%). He was responsible for the fourth-most yards from scrimmage in the SEC. He also had the conference’s second-highest completion percentage and the highest yards per attempt.
Hooker didn’t just shine as a passer. His tough and dynamic rushing ability added a spark to the Volunteers’ offense, averaging almost five yards per attempt after contact. He received PFF’s second-highest rushing grade and scored the second-most rushing touchdowns for non-RBS in the SEC (min. 60 attempts).
Hooker is a dynamic, big-bodied dual-threat who is already receiving some sneaky Heisman praise going into 2022. The 2023 QB class is begging for a few more names to consider, and the NFL loves QBs who can make plays out of structure. Yes, Hooker will be almost 25 years old by the time he hits the NFL, but he is somebody I’ll be looking to take a shot in later in drafts.
SLEEPER: Evan Prater, Cincinnati Bearcats
With Desmond Ridder off to the NFL, Cincinnati could turn to 4-star quarterback Evan Prater to be their guy under center heading into 2022. The 6’4″, 200-pound redshirt sophomore was a true dual-threat QB in high school. He rushed for over 4,100 yards and 74 touchdowns in his career, adding another 5,600 and 72 scores through the air. His commitment to Cincinnati made him the highest-ranked recruit in program history. He is thought of as the likely successor to Ridder after patiently waiting his turn for the past two years.
Prater’s mobility and rushing ability make him a potentially ideal fit for new offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli. Over the past two seasons, he was the QB coach and sat under the now-departed OC Mike Denbrock over the past five years. During that time, they asked their starting QB to rush an average of 118 times a season, with almost 500 rushing yards and six touchdowns per year. Prater gave us glimpses of that ability in 2021, rushing for 105 yards and two TDs last year while adding another two scores through the air.
Giudugli continues to preach that this is a QB competition heading into the spring. Fifth-year QB Ben Bryant returned to Cincinnati this year, and although he doesn’t offer the same upside as Prater as a rusher, he has far more experience as a pure passer. Prater will have to continue to show growth in the passing game throughout the spring. He quickly has the most upside in this QB room and the tools to develop into an early-round NFL prospect. If the staff decides to go in a different direction, I have little doubt we could see Prater playing in a new uniform this summer, making him an intriguing dart throw deep in your drafts.
When Kendall Milton joined UGA as a borderline 5-star recruit I never expected to find his ADP outside the top 50. Entering spring of 2022, that’s exactly where you can find him. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise though, as Milton has only seen 14 games through two years at Georgia while battling nagging injuries. He’s seen 93 attempts over that time and only received double-digit carries on two separate occasions, totaling just under 500 yards in his career.
2022 brings a new opportunity for Milton. With UGA’s top two rushers departing through the NFL draft and 65% of last year’s rushing production out the door, the 6’1”, 220-pound back is finally in line for a larger role. He enters spring hungry and fully healed from last season’s injuries. He and senior RB Kenny McIntosh have been splitting reps with the first team. The duo is set to continue the Bulldogs’ traditional 1A/1B approach. Both have received strong praise from coaches and reporters through the spring.
The Georgia Bulldogs have commonly been referred to as “RBU.” They are one of the run-heaviest teams in the SEC and have a decorated track record of NFL success at the position, averaging 2.6 round draft capital over the last seven years. They’ve had two All-Pro selections and 6 Pro Bowl appearances during that time. Last year’s leading rushers, James Cook and Zamir White, are currently projected as mid-round picks in the upcoming draft. They saw massive boosts in value following their brief stint as Georgia’s leading duo.
Milton is in line to see a similar boost throughout this upcoming season. He has NFL size and surprising quickness for a back with his build. If he can prove he can stay healthy, he could fly back up rankings, making him a must-draft around his current 4th-5th round ADP.
Through two weeks of the 2021 season, Byron Cardwell hadn’t seen a snap for the Oregon Ducks. In fact, the true freshman RB would only receive nine carries through Week 6. A season-ending injury to starting RB CJ Verdell would thrust Cardwell into a larger role.
The true freshman took 52 more carries operating as the number two back. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry over the season’s back half and finished with 417 yards rushing yards. Cardwell had a three-game stretch where he ran the ball 32 times for 280 yards and three touchdowns, earning him PAC-12 freshman of the week honors. He was a big-play threat for the Ducks. 52% of his yards came on breakaway runs, and over 13% of his 61 attempts resulted in 15 or more yards, both of which led his backfield.
With Verdell off to the NFL and Travis Dye transferring to USC, Cardwell should climb to the top of the depth chart entering 2022. His backfield teammate, Seven McGee, also switched over to WR, opening up over 75% of the rushing production from last year. Only one RB on the roster has more than 14 carries in their career, giving Cardwell a clear opportunity to seize the starting role this spring.
The 4-star recruit out of California already brings NFL size to the table with a 6-foot 210-pound frame and seems to have the athleticism to back it up. If he can prove he can handle the lead role and build on his promising start, he should have Day 2 upside in the NFL. I expect Cardwell to be a top 4 round selection in devy drafts next year, if not by the start of the season.
SLEEPER: Kendre Miller, TCU Horned Frogs
With former TCU running back Zach Evans departing for Ole Miss through the transfer portal, Kendre Miller has the opportunity to step into the leading role for the Horned Frogs.
The 6 foot, 214-pound 3-star athlete – who was also thought of as an outside linebacker – has looked good through his first two years as a backup to Evans. He averaged over seven yards per carry in both years, including a 7.5 average in 2021. That number bested his 5-star teammate on a similar workload (83 attempts to 92). Miller was able to score more touchdowns (7 to 5), force more missed tackles (28 to 26), and have a higher BDR (backfield dominator rating) than his highly-regarded teammate(40% to 38%). He finished the year as the Horned Frogs’ most efficient running back.
Miller didn’t just flash in comparison to his teammates. His 5.06 YCO/A (yards after contact per attempt) was the highest in the nation, with a whopping 67% of his 623 rushing yards coming after contact. His 60.5% breakaway percentage was third in the country, with 15% of his attempts going for more than 10+ yards. Kendre showcased himself as a powerful and explosive big-play threat in the Big-12.
New TCU head coach Sonny Dykes isn’t exactly known for his running game, although he has had a top 15 offense in the country over the past three years. His starting RB has averaged just over 50% of the backfield work with 1,000 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns during his time at SMU. Adding a receiving profile would be the last piece of the puzzle for Kendre. It’s an area Dykes has supplied a modest 14% of the receiving market share to his RBs during his time at SMU, with his RB1 averaging over 20 receptions a year. Miller is a sneaky and trendy name that continues to have a growing buzz in the community but can still be found at a value.
As a true freshman, Lorenzo Styles was an afterthought throughout much of the season. In a spread-out passing attack, he only had 23 snaps through Week 8. The Notre Dame passing offense as a whole saw a down year. No WRs would break the 1,000-yard mark, and their second-highest output came from their TE, Michael Mayer. So what changes entering 2022?
A head coaching change before the Fighting Irish’s bowl game would give Styles, a 6’1″, 186-pound 4-star prospect, the most snaps he had seen all season. As Notre Dame’s main slot receiver, he rewarded the extra playing time with an impressive eight-catch, 136 yards, and one touchdown performance. Which begged the question, why wasn’t Styles used like that all season? Notre Dame also brings in Chansi Stuckey to coach the WRs in 2022. Along with being part of Clemson’s 2019 and 2020 staff that included college playoff appearances, Stuckey got the most out of Baylor receivers last year and helped them achieve career highs across the board.
Notre Dame will also see the departure of their leading receiver from last year. Although they return most of their other options, nobody in that room currently profiles as a legitimate threat to Styles’ slot role. The Irish will also see a change at QB, shifting to borderline 5-star prospect Tyler Buchner. He should help bring out a more potent passing attack in 2022 and beyond. Styles has the size, athleticism (verified 4.47-second 40-yard dash), and youth to develop into a focal point of Notre Dame’s passing attack.
The Irish have had success in putting WRs into the NFL, averaging third-round draft capital over the past six years. That includes the second-round selection of Chase Claypool and the first-round selection of Will Fuller. Styles has a skill-set the NFL will covet and has the opportunity to build on his freshman season. Target Styles in the middle rounds of your devy drafts.
A.T Perry broke onto the scene in 2021 after a quiet first two seasons with Wake Forest. He finished third in the ACC with 1,293 yards and second with 15 touchdowns, the most TDs by a Wake Forest WR in school history. His production resulted in a first-team All-ACC selection and could grab the attention of NFL scouts, but many devy managers still have this question: Does Perry translate to the NFL?
The NFL is seemingly moving away from the large, predominantly outside possession receivers and focusing on the more versatile, separation-artists and speedsters who play all over the field. It’s a fair question to ask, but Perry might be a little more than that stereotype.
His 4.6-second 40-yard dash and 37.5″ vertical in high school are very encouraging numbers to build on for his size. He routinely took care of press coverage and created separation down the field, averaging over 18 yards per catch. He received a 99.9 PFF grade on passes that traveled 20 or more yards down the field. Perry also graded out as a top 12 receiver against man and zone coverage in the ACC, per PFF. All in all, Perry might have a little more in his tool chest than he was given credit for.
Wake Forest seems primed for another top 10 offensive finish in the NCAA, with most of the supporting cast returning for 2022. A.T Perry should have every opportunity to prove he deserves a fair look in next year’s class. He could develop into a Day 2 NFL pick, making him an intriguing grab in the later rounds of your devy drafts.
SLEEPER: Malik Nabers, LSU Tigers
When LSU lost star wide receiver Kayshon Boutte for the season, the Tigers had to look towards the rest of their receiving core for someone to help fill his shoes. Part of that solution was freshman wide receiver Malik Nabers, a 6’1″, 188-pound 4-star recruit in the Tigers’ 2021 class.
After only seeing ten targets through the first six weeks, Nabers would see 36 of them over the final seven games. He finished fourth on the team in yards but finished within 100 yards of LSU’s leading receiver. His 14.8 yards per reception led the team and was good enough for the tenth highest number in the entire SEC. His efforts over the final seven weeks were enough to earn him a spot on the All-SEC freshman team.
Boutte should return to the lineup in 2022, but a second clean-up surgery has pushed his expected absence to August at the earliest. LSU also returns most of their leading receivers from last year, but most of the bodies could clear out by 2023. It remains to be seen how the pecking order will break out under new head coach Brian Kelly and a potential change at quarterback. A Boutte-less spring gives Nabers an early chance to impress his new head coach and carve out an early role.
Nabers has already started his career off on the right foot. 2022 should be another strong year of growth for Nabers, and he could be a starting WR for the Tigers entering 2023. LSU has had one of the best track records with developing WRs into NFL talents, and Nabers has the potential to grow into one of the next.
*Note: Most of these tight ends come at a fairly low price in devy leagues but could be worth a shot if you’re scrambling at the position in a deeper league.
As a high 4-star prospect with offers from most of the major programs in the country, Austin Stogner was a highly sought-after recruit. After a quiet first year as an Olahoma Sooner, He was well on his way to a breakout in 2020 with almost 500 yards and three touchdowns through eight games. His season was derailed by a major injury and complications throughout the offseason. It resulted in a quiet role during his Junior campaign, with only 14 catches for less than 200 yards. It’s safe to say that the 6’6″, 262-pound TE hasn’t yet received the opportunity to show us his true potential.
Despite the injury, we did get a glimpse in 2020, where Stogner still finished with a top 12 receiving grade in the country for all TEs, according to PFF. He’s also maintained a strong pass blocking grade and has spent almost 50% of his time as an in-line TE over the past two years, giving him the versatility the NFL wants at the next level.
2022 brings a new opportunity for Stogner, who decided to follow his QB, Spencer Rattler, into the transfer portal and take their talents to South Carolina. Their strong connection should bring immediate chemistry to the Gamecocks. TEs made up for two of their top three leading receivers in 2021 and with Arkansas State transfer Corey Rucker being the only meaningful addition to this receiving core, it could be more of the same in 2022. The incoming transfers should help bring life to one of the least-potent offensive units in the country.
Stogner has impressive size, fluid athleticism, and the versatility to become a weapon at the next level. He could work himself into serious draft capital with an impressive senior season.
Sam Laporta has gone from recruiting afterthought to one of the most productive TEs in college football. After a quiet freshman season at Iowa, Laporta became a full-time starter in the Hawkeyes’ pandemic-shortened 2020 season, finishing as their second-leading receiver. In 2021, he would become the offense’s focal point, leading the team with more than double the yards of the next leading receiver.
On top of leading his team, and he also led all TEs in the BIG10 in receptions and yards. His 6’4″, 259-pound frame helped him box out defenders and lead the conference with 18 contested catches, eight more than the next best TE. With solid verified testing that includes a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, he was a mismatch against linebackers and safeties, spending almost 40% of his snaps in the slot or out wide.
The Hawkeyes have an excellent resume over the last few years when it comes to putting TEs in the NFL. TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant were the NFL’s first TE duo to be taken in the first NFL draft round after attending the same school. George Kittle is an All-Pro tight end and received the highest contract for an NFL TE in history. Before opting to return to school for his senior season, LaPorta was already getting NFL attention as a top 10 tight end in the class and a top 100 prospect . Another strong season could make him one of the more highly sought-after tight ends in the 2023 draft class.
SLEEPER: Maliq Carr, MSU Spartans
After only making one reception as a freshman WR for the Purdue Boilermakers, Maliq Carr transferred to the Michigan State Spartans, where he embraced a full-time switch to the TE position. Checking in at 6’5″ and 230 pounds as a freshman, Carr had always been a bit of a tweener at the position. After a year with the Spartans, he packed on some good weight, which now lists him at 245 pounds. Carr is a dynamic mismatch who excels as a vertical threat with a verified 4.6-second 40-yard dash, a 4.2 second shuttle time, and a background as a basketball player.
Carr’s first year as a Spartan started slowly with the position switch. He only saw three in-game appearances through Week 8 but played in each of the Spartans’ final six games. Although his role was small, Carr still made an impression with eight catches for 135 scoreless yards. He averaged an impressive 16.9 yards per catch and spent almost 30% of his time split out wide as a receiver.
The Spartans lost their starting TE last year to the NFL draft, and the staff expects Carr to take the next step in year three. Although the Spartans aren’t particularly known for their TE production, they saw a significant boost in offensive production in the second year under head coach Mel Tucker’s regime and have never quite had an athlete like Maliq Carr at the position.
Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson has already talked about Carr’s role and what his added versatility brings to the table. With the NFL continuing to trend towards mismatches and athleticism at the tight end position, Carr could be worth taking a shot on in your deeper devy leagues.
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