Ladies and Gents, I would title this article ‘Mike’s Misfits,’ but I don’t want to assume everyone listens to the Back 2 Devy podcast. Also, I know other contributors are intrigued by some of these players on the list, so I can’t solely claim them in good faith. I see the founders of C2C have been very intrigued by draft strategies lately, and often we hear the question, “What are some late-round guys that may have devy potential?” I wanted to state the case for quite a few players, and then you can decide for yourself if the risk is worth taking.
It’s easy to fall in love, but it’s gotten harder WITH ALL THESE COVID ELIGIBLE GRANDPAS STICKING AROUND. The rest of the world, and I, don’t need to see Mid McMidson starting for his sixth year. Let’s see some other guys step up to the plate. The truth is, once the NFL draft rolls around, there’s a MAX of five guys we truly care about, and maybe three of those five work out. Early breakouts don’t mean much in this position group, but it’s hard to call a shot on a player that we haven’t seen play in two years, and they still have the chance of being transferred over. It’s a rough world for young collegiate QBs. I chose to only give three names, and I look forward to the day when these senior citizens leading a QB room finally run out of eligibility. So we can get more new faces year to year.
Hank Brown – Auburn
C2C ADP: N/A
There are not a ton of prototypical-sized QB recruits this year outside the top 20, but we find Brown in an SEC offense that has a very lackluster QB room. Payton Thorne will likely lead this room. Brown played in the Tennessee D2-AA competition, this is not a high-level high school competition, but he dominated for the Lipscomb Academy Mustangs with a perfect 13-0 record and a state championship.
MaxPreps ranked Lipscomb Academy #13 in the nation. Brown played under head coach, and ex-Superbowl QB, Trent Dilfer. Brown passed for 3,264 yards, 47 touchdowns (fifth in Tennessee state history), and a 73.3 completion percentage as a senior. I think he profiles more of a pocket passer at the next level. Brown may lock onto his reads, but he has some really excellent touch and consistently hits his guys in stride. He doesn’t have the greatest arm strength, but he certainly doesn’t have a noodle.
Brown arrives at Auburn this summer, and with Coach Hugh Freeze’s poor track record of getting players out of the portal, I think Brown has a chance at being the starting QB for Auburn next season. This is a very deep shot, so he’s always available in round 45, but worth a stash in those super deep leagues.
Will Howard – Kansas State
C2C ADP: QB91
Howard’s development since his true freshman season is truly a wonder. He’s developed into a nice game manager finishing out the Wildcat’s season 6-2, including a win over TCU in the conference title and his only full-game loss coming from Alabama. He did lose to TCU in OT when he filled in for Adrian Martinez.
Howard has some sneaky athleticism in this draft class with some tools to develop, but it’s hard to poke major holes in his game. Look for Howard to take another step, and I feel comfortable projecting him as a mid-round pick in the NFL with some upside to get early day 2 recognition. He is an easy go-to for those using the late-QB strategy.
Brady Allen – Louisville
C2C ADP: QB75
Allen put his team in a tough spot with the debacle of going in and out of the transfer portal. He’s often a forgotten name, but he follows HC Jeff Brohm from Purdue to Louisville. Allen boasts prototypical pocket passer sizes and tools, and he will play behind Jack Plummer for his final year of eligibility. It’s easily projectable for Allen to take over the lead QB role in a very successful air raid system with one of the most underrated WR rooms in college football.
Usually, by the third year, the WR devy pool is predictable, with maybe one or two surprises that typically crop up during the Senior Bowl. I’d like to draw attention to the second-year player pool. We know how important it is for the top 300 recruits to hit the Y1Z thresholds, but none of us have extensively expanded into the depths of recruits. Beyond the top 300, every wide receiver (with the exception of Cedric Tillman) drafted in the top three rounds had some sort of impact as a true freshman. I predict that when/if we expanded the Y1Z model, we will find some level of true freshmen production to correlate to draft capital. Alas, let’s get to the list.
C2C ADP: WR144
Brown was an early enrollee in 2021 as a true freshman. He was WR91 in the composite and a three-star prospect. He started drawing rave reviews in the spring while playing amongst the third team. By the second day of summer camp, they moved him up to the second team. Brown won ‘Play of the Day’ and ‘Player of the Day’ during the two weeks of practice.
Brown saw three games with over 20 snaps and one of those being against Arkansas, where he went 4-83-1. This receiving line became the highest of any single-game performance by an Auburn WR.
The new coaching staff at Auburn under HC Hugh Freeze praised Brown before the 2023 spring injury. Making it the second coaching staff that was impressed by his skillset. Auburn also saw a mass exodus of its veteran WR talent. There will be a lot of new faces, but Brown will be one of the most experienced that stayed. He has a serious shot at leading this SEC offense in receiving yards with an upgraded system across every position. Brown has NFL size; look for more versatile usage, more diverse route running, and look for him on Saturdays.
Makai Jackson – App State
C2C ADP: N/A
Jackson was THE MAN of the most prolific FCS true freshmen last year and a Jerry Rice Award finalist. Jackson had an 85-991-9 receiving line with a kick return for a TD. His usage was primarily in the short area, allowing him to showcase his YAC ability, but over the final two games, his ADoT was 17.0 and 13.4, showcasing his deep-threat ability. Jackson is about as versatile a player as you can find. He did receive offers from P5 games like Mississippi State but elected to go to App State. I’m not overly thrilled by the G5 selection, but I’ll be watching to see if he dominates again as he moves up from FCS to FBS. App State message boards are already buzzing.
Joseph Griffin Jr.
C2C ADP: WR91
Boston College occasionally has a skill position player making headlines every couple of years, and we just saw Zay Flowers go in the first round. Joseph Griffin is 6’4″ and 200 lbs. with some frame to fill out. QB play is expected to be terrible, but Griffin became the starter over the final five weeks of the season and saw over 20 snaps in three of those games. In those games, he went 12-206-2. On the entire season, he saw 34 targets and was not credited with a single drop. He showcased some sneaky separation ability for a player his size.
Griffin was a spring injury casualty, so there hasn’t been more word on his development. Players his size aren’t expected to develop into route runners, but I’ve seen plenty of body adjustment and ball-tracking ability to project his ability at the catch point. I just need to see him develop physically and show a more dominant dog.
Octavian Smith Jr. – Maryland
C2C ADP: N/A
I think this call may be a year too early, but let’s get into the good first. Smith was a high 4-star ranked as the #9 athlete, and the expectation was for him to play safety, but he converted to WR. He is a slender 6’0″ and 170 lbs. with some home run speed. Smith saw over 20 snaps in his final two games and saw a 7-113-1 receiving line and beating the Y1Z mold.
During the spring game, he rotated with the first team. Smith ran simple routes and honestly didn’t flash anything complex, but his movement ability against air and athleticism leads me to believe he has serious tools that can be developed. He did showcase some good body adjustment catches. Smith is surprisingly gritty for a player with his thin frame. If he develops his physique, you’re going to start hearing people call him a dawg.
Maryland finds itself getting talented players but lately failing in developing talent. They brought in OC Josh Gattis, who’s been on a CRIME SPREE of murdering offenses and tanking players’ devy value. I’m hoping Gattis finds that magic from his early career or quickly tanks this offense so they can fire him before it’s too late for Smith. Hopefully, we see flashes of electric ability during the 2023 season.
Malachi Fields – UVA
C2C ADP: N/A
Fields missed the majority of his sophomore campaign due to a broken leg and missed the rest of his season due to the tragedy that struck UVA football. Fields boasts alpha size and some high level of athletic ability, He saw very limited work in his return, but he made the most of it by going 5-58-1 on only 19 snaps. UVA is another collegiate program that’s just on fire and crumbling apart at every turn. There is a very serious chance that Fields is the lone bright spot, and the offense funnels through him during a negative game script. If he succeeds with the lackluster talent around him and defenses only required to game plan against him, then we could see a special talent arise out of him.
Omari Evans – PSU
C2C ADP: N/A
Penn State finds themselves developing some nice talent every couple of years, i.e., Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, and Jahan Dotson. Evans came in as an early enrollee last year with some amazing athletic ability and great movement ability. He played quite a bit of wildcat QB in high school, holding him back from developing because his team needed him to play every position he could.
Last year, we saw him used in kick returns and some passing offense snaps. Evans never got significant playing time, but beat reports are saying he can play in the WR3 role this year. Penn State only brings in Malik McClain, failed WR from FSU, and Dante Cephus, a G5 stud coming off an injury that had just recently arrived on campus. This WR room is honestly uninspiring and makes you want to say, “Why not Omari Evans?” I don’t know the nature of Cephas’s injury, and I’ve seen enough of Malik McClain not to be impressed or believe in his potential development. Evans has the tools to develop into a route-running possession type, and he’ll be tied to an NFL-caliber QB in Drew Allar. Look for Evans to take over this WR room throughout the season.
Jeremiah Hunter – CAL
C2C ADP: WR101
Cal’s offense hasn’t been exciting since Aaron Rodgers, but Hunter has been the bright spot this last year and showing success against NFL-level corners and leading this WR room ten of twelve games. Hunter put up 965 receiving yards during the regular season with a 5-96-0 performance against 2023 first-rounder Christian Gonzalez in coverage.
Hunter has NFL size and showcases a complete skillset with a good release and excellent ball skills while having decent route running ability. I’m not confident he has a WR1 level of talent for an NFL offense, but if he can become a reliable WR2, then I think for the price he’s going, I would be very satisfied.
The main concern is that Cal’s offense will no longer have statue-in-the-pocket Jack Plummer but an undersized dual-threat in TCU transfer Sam Jackson. Hunter will need to rely upon efficiency in what should be fewer opportunities, even though there’s less competition on the roster and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl would help.
Keagan Johnson – KSU
C2C ADP: WR138
Johnson transfers in from Iowa and saw his sophomore campaign derailed due to injury. As a true freshman, with Spencer “The WOAT” Petras throwing, he showcased an 18-352-2. Johnson’s ability to succeed in Iowa as a true freshman warrants a Heisman-level award, given the conditions. He clearly has a very high-end YAC skillset on tape; when given the ball in space, he is reliable and occasionally able to make magic happen. He’s an absolute dawg and playmaker with the ball in his hands. The real question is how he has developed his route running beyond short area usage.
Johnson’s inheriting the WR1 role in a wide-open WR receiver with a QB that should be one of the best passers in the Big 12. Spring reports have only raved about his performances, and without any top returning talent, it’s hard to doubt. I expect Johnson to take the next step and find himself inside most top15 at the skill position by the time the off-season rolls around
Chris Bell – Louisville
Bell came in as a 6’2″ and 220 lb. freak of an athlete on the field, and now he gets HC Jeff Brohm and his air raid offense. This team is going through a change of identity, and there are some talented guys in the WR room. Bell has flashed success in high school by dominating CB1, and #1 overall recruit, Travis Hunter. He’s shown some good fundamentals last year, just needs to improve on that start/stop ability. I think he could be the boundary player for Louisville, and given his athletic traits, I’m intrigued to see if his usage increase to the point where he’s the projected WR1 for next year’s season.
Elijah Spencer – Minnesota
C2C ADP: WR99
Spencer is a G5 to P5 transfer, and it’s a scary jump when evaluating WRs with a colored history of failure and a few success stories. Jacob Cowing transferred up and looked great, but Konata Mumpfield transferred up and struggled to get his footing. Spencer did finish fourth in receiving yards among all second-year WRs during the regular season. He outproduced his teammate Grant Dubose who moved on to the Senior Bowl and was drafted late on Day 3. Spencer showcases a versatile tree and a few deceptive moves to help gain separation, but this was against G5 corners. Minnesota appears to be transitioning to a more passing-friendly offense with toolsy QB Athan Kalikmanis. It’s hard to bet on a Minnesota passing option, but the spring showed Spencer firmly in the WR1 role.
With late-round RBs, you’re just looking for guys with a workhorse physical profile, and they are lead backs in a P5 system. That statement alone cuts the list tremendously when you think about the amount of sub-200 lb. backs that win with pure speed around the edge in college. Passing-catching backs have been overrated for years when transitioning to the NFL, the skillset is not rare, and teams are easily finding cheap replacements. Occasionally, one or two will find their way into a top 24 finish each year, but that typically comes with an injury to the early down back or an aging vet that is willing to dump the ball off a ton. POWER and contact balance continue to be the dominant traits when finding a potential devy running back. Here are a few that have flashed some of that skillset but need further development.
C2C ADP: RB31
Whelp….. He’s appropriately drafted here, maybe a little over-drafted. I started talking about him on Back2Devy late in the 2022 regular season, and I just really wanted to write about him. Ball State transfer and assumed starter Carson Steele is struggling at camp in more ways than one. Harden, who played behind Zach Charbonnet, was always efficient when given the opportunity (44-326-2).
Harden already has workhorse size and showcases a complete skillset. The only question in his game is what is his athletic ceiling, and it does not look very high right now. At the price of RB31, you’re getting the potential lead RB at UCLA for at least two years (probably three) and maybe a priority handcuff RB with early Day 3 draft capital at the next level. That should be considered a win at that cost.
Samuel Brown V
C2C ADP: RB61
Brown came into college already a big boy at 6’1″ and 220 lbs. He is a hammer, that is, unfortunately, running behind a very poor offensive line. He doesn’t have the skill set to win around the edge, but he has some sneaky build-up speed that would be showcased more if his line could create some lanes for him. His production profile showcased a poor 4.3 YPC, but his yards after contact is 3.05, which placed 13th among true freshmen.
With improved line play, we could see some nice plays when Brown hits that second gear, and tiny 170 lb. corners don’t stand a chance of stopping this freight train. The devy upside is a long shot, and I don’t believe he’ll develop into the type of runner that can be creative in the open field. Brown is more of a straight-line hammer that you hope falls in the perfect situation at the next level to give him some opportunities.
C2C ADP: RB52
The price is a bit rich for my blood, but everything said about Brown should be said for Norton. He is also stuck behind a bad line and lacks the skillset to win with speed around the edge. Norton does have a decent pass-catching skillset but is not quite the power runner that Brown is.
Personally, I haven’t seen Norton get taken this early, but he’s someone to target that is the unquestioned RB1 on a team that has shown success in developing NFL-caliber RBs. The inefficiency on paper is discouraging, but he’s a perfect late-round target. It’s a long shot for devy, I don’t think he quite has that high of a ceiling, but I’m not opposed to the pathway of early Day 3 with a relatively complete skillset by the time the NFL Draft comes up.