College Football Breakout Stars
The players listed below are some of the nation's best bets to emerge as fantasy stars in 2012. All the players on this list are players with any combination of top recruiting pedigree, big numbers in limited playing time in the past or an otherwise ideal playing situation who are set to take up prominent roles for their teams.
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
Remember how Collin Klein ran for 27 touchdowns last year? Remember how everyone was surprised, even though Klein ran for 432 yards and six touchdowns as a backup in 2010? Lynch will be almost the exact same thing in 2012. Like Klein one year ago, Lynch’s experience as a passer (19-of-26 for 179 yards and two touchdowns) is very limited, but his running skills have been proven beyond any doubt – with just 76 carries Lynch bolted for 608 yards (8.0 YPC) and six touchdowns over the last two years. Chandler Harnish is gone now, and Lynch is about to put those running skills on full-time display. Fantasy fireworks are a near certainty.
Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
A redshirted 2011 season has Scott under the radar heading into 2012, but the quarterback who once beat out Nick Foles for the starting role in Arizona is set to take over the spotlight this year for the Wildcats. Not only is Scott one of the nation’s most athletic quarterbacks and an established dual threat, but his fantasy value has gone way up due to the arrival of coach Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez orchestrates a run-heavy spread that will make the most of Scott’s athleticism, and the Pac-12’s relatively friendly defensive schedule means that Scott should at least be a poor man’s Pat White/Denard Robinson in 2012.
Jameill Showers, QB, Texas A&M
Showers is basically a blank slate at this point, so he’s not someone you want to invest in heavily. He should, however, be drafted in most or all formats since he’s the expected starter in a Texas A&M offense that will be led by new coach Kevin Sumlin, who oversaw Houston’s program the last four years. Showers is believed to be a decent athlete at quarterback with a strong arm, and he should be attempting around 40 passes per game, not to mention the scrambles that come with so many dropbacks. He figures to have a rough start to the year with a road game against Louisiana Tech and then a match against the Gators, but Showers should make a strong off-the-bench fantasy start against SMU, South Carolina State, Arkansas and Mississippi after that.
Kerwynn Williams, RB, Utah State
Robert Turbin and Michael Smith combined for 2,387 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground last year, and both of them are in the NFL now. That leaves Williams to take over as the next top Utah State runner in an offense that should remain potent on the ground. He only needed 81 carries last year to total 542 yards (6.7 YPC) and three touchdowns, and the next highest carry total on the team among running backs was owned by Robert Marshall, who finished with just 13 carries. There's very little competition for Williams, in other words, so the explosive runner is likely to emerge as a workhorse and, as a result, a top fantasy option nation-wide.
David Fluellen, RB, Toledo
Fluellen is a lot like Williams in that he’s a projected workhorse in 2012 after serving as a productive third running back in 2010. He’s not as explosive as Williams, but Fluellen probably boasts a bit more power at 6-feet tall, 215 pounds (Williams is listed at 5-foot-9, 184 pounds). Fluellen is in any case a good bet to emerge as a starting fantasy option in all formats after running for 493 yards (5.1 YPC) and four touchdowns last year, particularly with Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams lost to graduation. That duo combined for 1,742 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground last year. Thomas and Williams were also active as pass catchers, totaling 517 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Considering Fluellen’s top competition for carries is Cassius McDowell – an impressive but undersized former wide receiver – Fluellen should see many carries and targets in 2012.
Hunter Lee, RB, Louisiana Tech
Although he’s a former walk-on for Louisiana Tech, Lee emerged as a more productive player in 2011 than Tennessee transfer Lennon Creer, and his strong showing gives reason to hope for a big 2012 season now that Creer is out of the picture. Although Creer totaled 838 yards and nine touchdowns on 198 carries last year, Lee managed to total 650 yards (4.8 YPC) and five touchdowns. All 646 of those yards and all five touchdowns came in the final eight weeks alone, so Lee should be one of the nation’s most productive runners in a full season as starter. His only returning competition for carries (Lyle Fitte) ran the ball just 12 times last year, so Lee should receive a big workload.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin have been very productive off-the-bench runners for Baylor, but it’s still difficult to anticipate either one from blocking Seastrunk’s path to the top running back role with the Bears. The former five-star recruit is an Oregon transfer whose skill set as a speedy homerun hitter figures to be a hit in Baylor’s high-flying spread offense. Salubi and Martin are too good to keep off the field, so don’t expect Seastrunk to get as big of a workload as Williams, Fluellen or Lee, but his per-play efficiency could be monstrous, and there’s definitely starting fantasy potential here. Try to land Seastrunk in a bench role if at all possible, though – there’s downside here, as well.
Mike Gillislee, RB, Florida
Gillislee has had some injury trouble to this point in his career and has been buried on the depth chart all along, but he heads into 2012 as Florida’s top runner and could have a huge season with a little luck in the durability department. Despite playing against SEC competition, few runners in the country have been as efficient on a per-carry basis as Gillislee the past few years. He has 920 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career on just 145 carries (6.3 YPC), and no returning Florida running back besides Gillislee had more than 18 carries last year.
Taylor Stockemer, WR, Arkansas State
Stockemer should be Arkansas State’s top receiver in 2012. He caught 48 passes for 756 yards and seven scores last year, and he should see his target total increase significantly now that Dwayne Frampton is gone. Frampton caught 94 passes last year, so there's no reason why Stockemer can't breeze past the 70-catch mark. With his big-play ability (Stockemer averages 17 yards per catch), that should turn into 1,000 or more yards for Stockemer.
Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa
Davis is likely to take over as Iowa’s lead wideout in 2012, a role that makes him a good bet to approach 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, if not more of each. He caught 50 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns last year, and the exit of Marvin McNutt leaves a void of 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns in the offense. Not only are McNutt’s targets up for grabs, but the team’s target count on the whole is likely to increase as former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis takes over the offense.
Titus Davis, WR, Central Michigan
Davis, along with teammate Courtney Williams, is a player under the national radar but could be poised to be 2012’s version of what Nick Harwell was last year. Harwell posted 856 yards and six touchdowns over the final nine weeks of 2010, and Davis closed out 2011 by catching 34 passes for 533 yards and eight touchdowns in the final six weeks. It’s unreasonable to expect Davis to match Harwell’s 97 catches for 1,425 yards from last year, but it wouldn’t surprise at all if Davis pushed for 1,200 yards while improving on Harwell’s nine touchdowns. The only concern with Davis is that he’s in a loaded wideout rotation – all of Davis, Williams and Cody Wilson look like fantasy factors.
Courtney Williams, WR, Central Michigan
Williams had injury troubles in 2011, but when he was on the field he was very promising – perhaps even more so than Davis or Wilson. He scored in all but one of the six games he played, catching 21 passes for 385 yards (18.3 YPC) and five scores. That includes a three-catch, 63-yard game (plus a touchdown) on the road against a very tough North Carolina State defense. His durability issues from last year leave Williams lower than Davis on the cheatsheet, but he has every bit as much upside as Davis.
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
Lyerla is one of the nation’s best athletes and was one of the top recruits from a year ago, so everyone expected him to be good at Oregon. But Lyerla was even more of a playmaker than anyone could have expected, totaling 147 yards and five touchdowns on just seven receptions. He'll see his reception total increase significantly in 2012, though, because last year's starting tight end (David Paulson) is gone after catching 31 passes for 438 yards and six touchdowns. Lyerla isn’t as proven as players like Tyler Eifert, Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Ryan Otten, but his upside can match any tight end in the country.
Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas
Gragg isn’t exactly under the radar after catching 41 passes for 518 yards last year, but he’s nonetheless expected to see his numbers go up significantly in 2012. Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams are all gone from the 2011 Arkansas offense, leaving a shortage of 141 catches. Wideout Cobi Hamilton will pick up a great deal of that slack, but Arkansas is otherwise unproven at receiver, so Gragg’s target count is going to increase quite a bit. A push for 800 yards seems very possible.