San Jose State’s offense in 2022 underperformed our expectations despite an influx of transfers and improvements made in the offseason. Ranking 87th in offensive EPA/Play during the regular season, year one of the Chevan Cordeiro era still had the team bowling at 7-5. I think this unit feels they could be scoring 30+ points per game but ranked 72nd.
The offensive line struggled mightily in 2021 but with massive turnover from the 2021 season and an influx of transfers, it should have been more expected. Entering the 2022 season, the offensive line lost LT Jackson Snyder, C Kyle Hopes, LG/RG Tyler Stevens, and Trevor Robbins. Losing four starting linemen is one thing but they also lost three depth options at the time. Seven experienced linemen leaving the program in a single offseason is hard for any team to withstand. As a result, the unit brought in James McNorton, Malik Williams, and Marist Talavou. Losing four starters and replacing them with inexperience and transfers was a major reason this unit ranked 104th in average line yards and 116th in passing down sack rate.
Chevan Cordeiro adjusted as admirably as possible last year coming from Hawai’i to the Spartans. Moving from Todd Graham’s offense on the Island to Kevin McGiven’s system was never going to be easy but now with a full offseason and a year already in the system, Cordeiro should take the strides we projected in 2022. Cordeiro flipped between many systems including G.J. Kinne’s system which is a knock-off of Gus Malzahn’s that is spread but with heavy RPO influence and reliance on a mobile quarterback.
To paint an entire offensive picture, here’s how the Spartans ranked in 2022 in key metrics:
- Yards Per Play: 90th
- Points Per Opportunity: 84th
- Offensive Explosiveness: 86th
- Offensive Succes Rate: 81st
The defensive performance on aggregate has been very good for the Spartans over the last few years. The defensive line has been among the best at the Group of Five level for a handful of years now, limiting the need to be a high-flying passing offense. The quality of defensive play, ranked 33rd in EPA per defensive play with the defensive line ranked 5th in power success rate. Last year’s defense was the best unit that head coach Brent Brennan has had since taking over in 2017.
However, they lose Viliami Fehoko, who was by far the MVP on the team last year as a defensive lineman and was Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. They also lose All-Mountain West First Teamers Cade Hall and Kyle Harmon. Both Fehoko and Harmon were defensive leaders and three-time selections on the All-MWC First Team. That’s a lot of experience and production to lose without internal production to replace them.
Expectations for 2023
While the defense is missing key contributors from the 2022 season, the offense is in, much better shape. First, quarterback Chevan Cordeiro is now in year two of the Kevin McGiven offense after finishing the season as QB33 in fantasy points per game. Cordeio’s 36 pass attempts per game were a career-high and while that’s on the upper half of college teams, better (for the offense) game scripts can push this number upwards of 40-42.
In 2023, he averaged 8.1 adjusted yards per attempt. We already know his rushing ability, evidenced by his nine touchdowns but was held back by a bottom-15 passing block offensive line and allowed 3.2 sacks per game (111th). When removing sacks, Corderio had 548 rushing yards on 5.4 yards per attempt. He’s a good athlete with the ability to run and with almost 300 yards lost to sack yardage, if he can make up a fraction of that, it’s an improvement.
The somewhat surprising return of Kairee Robinson keeps continuity in this room with potential upside based on improved offensive line play. Robinson is a smaller back (5’8” 185lbs) but is a contributor in both phases of the game. He averaged 15 touches per game with 29 targets, running 227 routes. He’s going to be a player who sees 10-15 touches with receiving upside but won’t operate as a feature back.
Behind Robinson, transfer Quali Conley emerged as the RB2 in the spring. A transfer from Utah Tech, Conley is the bigger back( (5’11” 207lbs) of the two and has experience operating in a more between-the-tackles role. Conley, a First Team All-WAC RB, last season with 1,085 yards and 8 touchdowns but struggled in the passing game with only 12 receptions in 2022. If it’s not Conley, Jabari Bates, should be in the rotation.
Ultimately, if you’re drafting an RB for CFF upside, it’s Robinson but I expect it to be a relatively limited role again this season with the transfers in of Conley and Ifanse. He’s the leader in the room but with weekly upside but a low floor – he’s preferable in a bestball format.
I expect Cordeiro to make the aforementioned jump given the experience on this unit. LT Fernando Carmona started all twelve games last year and proved to be solid at the position. There’s room for Carmona to improve as he was a first-time starter and allowed only one sack in his final 469 snaps, improving much throughout the year. At guard, second-year Jake Steele made a very strong impression in spring, emerging as the likely starter on the left side. He’s stepping into a spot that saw a heavy rotation last season and should provide stability. At the center spot, Anthony Pardue returns after starting last season and playing every snap under center but three of 806. Pardue is a good player who made a big leap as a full-time starter last year and like Carmona, is still improving.
The right side has two players who were transfers last year. Marist Talavou was a guard from Utah who started but suffered injuries and was more of a rotation piece than a full-time starter. In limited time, he had the best pass-blocking grade on the team and allowed a single pressure in all six games. This spot might be a position where Ryan Stewart slots in, he started the first three games last year prior to injury and is widely considered to be a starter and should be healthy by fall camp. At tackle, Jaime Navarro should start week one with James McNorton backing him up. Navarro played all over the line last season, logging starts are three positions. Navarro is a six-year player who has played over 550 snaps in three straight years. For more information, check out 247’s Inside the Spartans.
Overall, this unit excites us compared to what we saw last year. The unit returns eight linemen who saw over 120 snaps and all five who had more than 580. They also return Ryan Stewart from injury and expect more improvement from Steele and Talavou. Improvement on this unit should elevate the entire offense.
The Spartans’ receiving room is objectively downgraded with Elijah Cooks leaving and Jermaine Braddock transferring but it does create an opportunity for younger depth on the roster. On the outside, Justin Lockhart returns as the leading receiver and will step into the WR1 role vacated by Cooks. Cooks ranked WR11 in points per game in 2022 and based on current data, Lockhart is ranked WR29 in Campus2Canton’s CFF ranks and is currently WR48 in Average Draft Position (ADP). At his ADP, there’s room for substantial outperformance and even in our staff rankings, I can imagine him in the WR2 range to end the season.
Outside of Lockhart, this unit returns Charles Ross in the slot who played in only six games last season but had 4.3 targets per game competing for slot snaps with a now departed Braddock. Ross suffered from injuries in the middle of the season but in his four starts prior to the injury, he saw 20 targets for 204 yards. Interestingly, his best game of the year came against Auburn, posting 5-89-0. It was clear he had been transitioning into a larger offensive role prior to the injury and that should continue in 2023. I think he’s worth a last-round shot in BestBalls and CFF drafts as he’s going entirely undrafted.
The third option at receiver is likely tight end Dominick Mazotti. Mazotti played in seven games, starting in five and being heavily involved down the stretch. In his last five games, he had 186 yards and three touchdowns but on 28 targets. An average of 5.6 targets per game would rank third among returning right ends nationally. At 6’4” 232lbs, he doesn’t have a traditional build and is rarely asked to block (85.4% route participation rate.) The offense also returns Sam Olson but runs a significant amount 2TE sets and Olson pales in comparison as the same potential receiving weapon. Mazotti is another undervalued player, ranked by only one staff member at Campus2Canton, at TE53. He needs to be going higher and my ranking will reflect that moving forward.
This receiver room is good and Losing Elijah Cooks is tough to replace. However, this team brings depth to the position and exciting options on the inside. Give me this entire receiving room at a discount, one we see in drafts.
A year late on the offensive explosion, expect this offense to take a step forward with comfort level post transfer of a handful of skill position players. The offense also returns all five starters among the offense line and experience on the two-deep that last year’s unit lacked. The biggest takeaway however is that the defense, especially the defensive line, is going to take a massive step back this year, a boon for offensive production. I am buying back in on the offense for 2023.