Credit: Boston College Athletics

We’re back for a second rendition of college football key takeaways, where we take a look at statistical trends during the college season in an effort to help managers make moves early. Snap counts and target shares are a great way to key in on future studs and emerging freshmen.

1. Week 1 Target Leaders

This was a high-scoring week across college football with some surprising beneficiaries.

NAMESCHOOLTARGETSTGT %
Charlie JonesPurdue1829.51%
Cam CamperIndiana1732.69%
Bryce Ford-WheatonWest Virginia1640.00%
Isaiah WilliamsIllinois1541.67%
Zay FlowersBoston College1536.59%
Zakhari FranklinUTSA1432.56%
Ashtyn HawkinsTexas State1427.45%
JuanCarlos SantanaTulsa1426.92%
Kris ThorntonJames Madison1442.42%
Brant Kuithe (TE)Utah1443.75%
All target data from PFF

Charlie Jones is the name that jumps out at first glance. Purdue’s top receiver is always a must-have for fantasy purposes, and O’Connell looked his way early and often in this one. Jones responded with a big day (12/153/1). We assumed Tyrone Tracy would be the main man here, but another performance like this one from Jones will make him almost impossible to acquire. I’d advocate spending up on waivers this week to ensure he ends up on your squad.

Who the heck is Cam Camper?? I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of him. Camper had 0 stars coming out of high school, so he went to Trinity Valley Community College for two years, earned a spot as the top JUCO WR in the country (according to the 247 Composite), and is in his first season for the Hoosiers. The only thing that would’ve made his debut better was a touchdown, but he still acquitted himself well against a P5 defense. I’ll be keeping an eye on Camper because he looks to be an NFL-level athlete and has pretty dang good size (6’2, 190).

Bryce Ford-Wheaton appears to be the early front-runner for WR1 status at West Virginia, which should be extremely valuable moving forward. Graham Harrell’s top receiver is always a lock for 1,000 yards and can finish with anywhere between 60 and 100+ receptions on the season (think Drake London, Michael Pittman, and Amon-Ra St. Brown). Hopefully, his brutal drop doesn’t shatter his confidence moving forward.

Phil Jurkovec is back and healthy for Boston College, and no one is happier about that than Zay Flowers. Flowers has consistently been his go-to guy over the course of their time together, although Flowers has not always been the most efficient guy. Flowers returned to school this year to improve his draft stock, which was hurt by the absence of Jurkovec last season. 117 yards and two touchdowns is a great start for his revenge tour, and he could be a weekly starter as the season progresses.

Kris Thornton is one of the more intriguing names on this list because it confirms our priors that he would be the leading receiver for a James Madison team that is brand new to the FBS level this season. Thornton finished the day with 11 catches, 145 yards, and three touchdowns. Thornton operated mostly in the slot (75%) but seems to have a connection with transfer QB Todd Centeio. With a fairly hefty ADOT (12.2) and minimal YAC, Thornton operated in the intermediate and deep areas of the field, although he is not necessarily a threat to take the top off a defense. Thornton is probably rostered in your league but could be cheap to acquire, and JMU does not have a particularly difficult schedule.

Isaiah Williams was the focal point of the Illini passing game for the second week in a row. The big drawback with Williams is that starting QB Tommy DeVito is terrible on passes deeper than ten yards from scrimmage. He has a 22.2% completion percentage on passes deeper than 20 yards and only 50% on passes in the 10-19 yard range. Luckily for Williams, his strength is in the YAC game. Williams evokes memories of Kadarius Toney with his shifty, elusive style, and he is clearly the best receiver on the roster. As long as the marriage of DeVito and Williams persists, I expect them to be fruitful. I still think Williams is a Day 3 guy, which ultimately limits long-term value, but you could do much worse as a Flex play or bye-week fill-in.

The last name I want to highlight here is Brant Kuithe, Utah’s H-back/TE hybrid. Although Utah threw this one away late, the blame can’t fall on Kuithe’s shoulders. Kuithe ran a route on 31 of 32 passing snaps in which he was on the field, which is extremely telling for his usage moving forward. He lines up all over the place and is a chess piece for this coaching staff (56.3% slot, 21.9% wide, 21.9% in-line) as they seek mismatches for him. Kuithe could be a cheat code at TE.

Credit: Fansided

2. Freshman Snap Counts

As always, shout out to PJ, our mock draft guru, who pulls a bunch of these stats each week and collates them into a Twitter thread. Here are some of his intriguing freshmen snap counts for week 1:

Plenty of names stand out here, both in good and bad ways. The Oklahoma freshman RBs got some hype this offseason, but only 9 snaps for Jovantae Barnes in week 1 is a bit surprising. The most shocking development of the week is that Jordan James outsnapped Byron Cardwell for Oregon against Georgia. That’s a situation to monitor over the next few weeks. Alabama freshmen also saw the field at a decent rate. We could see some decent contributions from that group over the course of the season.

but I want to cover some of the lesser-talked about freshmen who could continue to gain snaps as the year goes on. Let’s start with Tennessee, who brought in a big group of talented guys. Running back Dylan Sampson actually got more snaps than the popular Justin Williams (now Justin Williams-Thomas). Sampson was listed at 180 in high school, and we worried he would need a year or two to bulk up if he ever managed to do it. He’s currently listed at 190, which is not ideal, but he still got 10 carries and a target in this one. FWR Squirrel White saw 15 snaps, most of the freshmen receivers. He finished with two catches for 19 yards. Kaleb Webb and Justin Williams-Thomas both had logged four snaps.

Wake Forest receiver Wesley Grimes saw 12/64 snaps in their win over VMI, which was 6th amongst the receiver group. He didn’t run many routes, but his presence was a good sign. We have high hopes for Grimes in this offense over the next few years.

Some other notable freshman snap counts this week:

Penn State:

  • Nicholas Singleton – 24/78
  • Kaytron Allen – 28/78
  • Omari Evans – 4/78 (no Kaden Saunders notable)

Arizona State:

  • Tevin White – 11/65

Ole Miss:

  • Quinshon Judkins – 23/73

SMU:

  • RJ Maryland – 25/65

Clemson:

  • Cade Klubnik – 10/69
  • Antonio Williams – 22/69
Credit: Pitt Athletics

3. Interesting Backfield Splits

PITT

In a total homer move, I’m taking us to Pittsburgh to take a look at the Panthers’ backfield. We’ve been high on Israel Abanikanda for three years, and he’s been a disappointment every year. With new Offensive Coordinator Frank Cignetti entering the fold, who runs a much more rush-heavy offense, we gave Izzy one more year to get it together. He was not the best back on the night for Pitt. Rodney Hammond saw more snaps (32 to 29) and doubled his touches. He added two touchdowns on top of that. Hammond did leave this game with an injury, which is something to monitor, but he could be a big name moving forward.

FLORIDA

I want to keep my eye on this backfield, mostly because Billy Napier has consistently produced top rush offenses during his time in college. This one had a definite rotation, with Montrell Johnson (29 snaps, 12 carries) leading the way. Nay’Quan Wright was second (22 snaps, 10 carries), and freshman Trevor Etienne (14 snaps, 5 carries) brought up the rear. Florida doesn’t get a lot of easy matchups, so this could easily turn into a very TD-reliant backfield for fantasy purposes. I want to see what these splits look like over the next few weeks.

Credit: Southwest Arkansas Today

4. Your TE Could Never

Let’s go to the other side of the Backyard Brawl for this one to take a look at true freshman RB/TE hybrid CJ Donaldson. Donaldson didn’t get a ton of snaps, but he made the most of his 7 carries to the tune of 125 yards and a score. This kid does not look like he’s 240 pounds. As smooth a mover as you’ll see at the position, Donaldson is just a rare athlete for the position. Graham Harrell is not known for producing top RB seasons, and there are a few other guys there to compete with, but Donaldson has something that most other TEs don’t: he has dual eligibility on Fantrax. If he gets consistent touches there, he could be an absolute cheat code in your TE slot.

Speaking of dual eligibility, it’s time we start taking Trey Knox seriously. Many forget that Knox entered Arkansas in the same class as Titans WR Treylon Burks and received more hype than him in their initial spring camp. Alas, Burks surpassed him in year two and parlayed that success into first-round draft capital. Knox has now bulked up to over 240 pounds and presents an enormous target with his 6’6 frame. We’ve tried to guess who the Burks replacement would be, but after week 1 my money is on Knox. He has WR eligibility in some leagues, which you can take advantage of.

Credit: Cleveland.com

5. Injuries to Monitor

JOSH DOWNS

As with any week in college football, key injuries popped up that will impact teams moving forward. UNC receiver Josh Downs is the biggest name that sat out this week due to an undisclosed injury suffered late in their week 0 game against FAMU. There’s no timetable for his return at the moment, although it isn’t thought to be something that will keep him out for a significant length of time. In his absence, UNC spread the ball around a bit more than usual. The target leader for the Tarheels was Downs’ replacement, second-year player Kobe Paysour. Paysour ran all 41 of his routes out of the slot and saw 8 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. Paysour should 100% be stashed at some point this season if that role is his, as it’s extremely valuable for fantasy purposes. 

Beyond Paysour, WR JJ Jones had another solid week with 7 targets, TEs Morales (5) and Nesbit (4) both saw decent targets, and the rest were spread amongst various players. Notably, freshman Andre Greene Jr. saw a target this week but still has yet to record a stat and has graded out poorly according to PFF. Paysour is the obvious target in the short term, but if you’re hoping a second guy in this offense breaks out to accompany the slot position, JJ Jones or the TEs should be your route into this offense.

JADEN BRAY

This one blindsided me, I’ll admit. I had not heard any rumors of an injury to Bray in the lead-up to this one. Spotted with a cast on his arm, we may not see him any time soon. Boundary receivers are generally the target in this offense, and even without Bray, this proved to be true in week 1. Braydon Johnson led the team in targets (10), receptions (6), yardage (133), and was one of four OSU players to score a receiving touchdown. I like Johnson as a weekly starting option with Bray (presumptively) down for a few weeks.

It’s also notable that hyped freshman Talyn Shettron did not see a single target in this one. Gundy has always disliked freshmen, so we may have to wait a bit to see Shettron dominating.

JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA

This one actually occurred during week 1, hurting many teams relying on him as a WR1. JSN came up gimpy after a hit in the first quarter against ND, tried to gut it out, but ended up leaving the game. He did not return. 

This passing attack struggled after he left, but it’s unclear if it was due to his absence or a strong Notre Dame defense. The load fell mostly on Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, who both finished with 11 targets. Egbuka was much more effective, but I wouldn’t worry about Harrison yet. He’ll be fine if he continues to receive that type of target share.

As for JSN, Ohio State gets Arkansas State this week, so I’d doubt he plays in that one. It did not sound like the injury was long-term, so expect him back shortly after that.

OTHER

Tyler Shough left Texas Tech’s game with an apparent collarbone injury. Donovan Smith stepped in and looked good in relief, albeit against weak opposition. Managers should fire Smith up in Shough’s absence.

Chandler Morris also left TCU’s game this weekend, and Max Duggan will step in for him. I don’t have much interest in this development at this time.

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