By: Ryan Bickerstaff
I’m not going to drone on with a long introduction here.
As dynasty footballers, we build and improve our rosters through rookie drafts each offseason, much like NFL teams. One of the best ways to remain ahead of your league-mates is to stay up-to-date on the names you need to know within the college ranks. Watching the schools with the most talent is the best place to start.
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There are great matchups in college football each year, but 2021 has some particularly tasty ones for those of us itching to sink our teeth into some fall season battles packed to the brim with NFL talent.
Let’s get it.
Liberty @ Ole Miss (11/6/2021)
Liberty – QB Malik Willis (redshirt senior)
Ole Miss – QB Matt Corral (redshirt junior), RB Jerrion Ealy (junior), RB Snoop Conner (junior), WR Jonathan Mingo (junior)
USC @ Notre Dame (10/23/2021)
USC – QB Kedon Slovis (junior), RB Keaontay Ingram (senior), WR Drake London (junior), WR Bru McCoy (redshirt sophomore), WR Tahj Washington (redshirt sophomore)
Notre Dame – RB Kyren Williams (junior), TE Michael Mayer (sophomore)
#5: Florida @ LSU (10/16/2021)
Florida – Redshirt junior Emory Jones deserves mention as he steps into the starting role at quarterback for the Gators. He feels like a backup at the next level but has some draftable traits. At running back, Dameon Pierce looks to repeat as Florida’s leading rusher. The senior is a bigger back who moves well given his size and has flashed as a pass-catcher. He’s a sleeper to keep an eye on for the 2022 draft cycle. At receiver, redshirt junior Jacob Copeland is a great athlete in line for a larger role following the departure of Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney. The best player on offense might be Xzavier Henderson, though. Standing 6-3 while possessing the frame to reach 200 pounds, great speed, and a large catch radius, the sophomore will emerge as one of the better receivers in the SEC East this year.
LSU – On the other side, LSU returns sophomore Max Johnson, the son of former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl champion Brad Johnson, as the starting QB. The lefty looked good for the Tigers late last year and should continue to improve alongside a strong supporting cast. The running back position is headlined by juniors John Emery Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price. Emery is a five-star prospect with an all-around skill set and workhorse size. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for underperforming on a bad team during a weird covid season in 2020. Davis-Price is a bruiser of a back at 6-1, 230 pounds and moves exceptionally well for a man his size. Both will receive some NFL buzz. As good as that tandem is, the centerpiece of this LSU offense is undoubtedly sophomore receiver Kayshon Boutte, who will be one of the best offensive players in the country until he’s selected in the first round of the 2023 draft. Finally, keep an eye on receiver Deion Smith. He’s a true freshman but stood out during the research process and can make some noise as a deep threat early in his college career.
#4: Iowa State @ Oklahoma (11/20/2021)
Iowa State – With the recent news that Oklahoma will be joining the SEC, this will likely be the last in-conference matchup between these two teams. At least it’ll be a good one. The Cyclones are led by senior quarterback Brock Purdy. After flashing star potential as a freshman, Purdy has been in slow decline from first-round upside to backup material. The ability is there, but will he put it all together in his final season? Luckily, Purdy will be aided by a solid supporting cast which includes one of the nation’s best running backs in junior Breece Hall. The First Team All-American has every necessary ingredient to becoming a workhorse at the next level, and I’m expecting him to put on a show again in 2021. Also returning is senior receiver Xavier Hutchinson, a First Team All-Big 12 selection from 2020. He looks like a future mid-to-late-round draft choice. Redshirt senior Charlie Kolar is one of the top tight ends in the country with the size (6-6, 260), athleticism, and smarts (mechanical engineering major, 3.99 GPA) to become a good starter in the pros.
Oklahoma – The Sooners are far more loaded than their rivals from up north, starting with the nation’s top draft-eligible quarterback, Spencer Rattler. The redshirt sophomore is a natural thrower with a great arm and quick release. He’s athletic enough to offer some playmaking ability and is already in the conversation for the #1 overall pick in 2022. A dynamic trio of running backs consisting of redshirt junior Kennedy Brooks, junior Eric Gray, and sophomore Seth McGowan will handle the carries. Brooks, a two-time 1000-yard rusher, returns after a 2020 opt-out. He’s a smooth runner with good size but doesn’t offer much as a receiver, likely keeping him in the day three conversation. Gray, a transfer from Tennessee, has day two upside with a skill set better suited to the modern NFL. McGowan popped on film while I was doing this research. He’s strong as a runner and receiver, adding some explosiveness and good size. His time to shine will be in 2022. By my count, the Sooners have five receivers with varying degrees of NFL upside. My favorite of the group is sophomore Marvin Mims, who broke out as a star for the team last year as its leading receiver. Also in the mix are a pair of five-star recruits in redshirt sophomore Jadon Haselwood and junior Theo Wease. Haselwood might have the highest ceiling of the bunch and was primed for a breakout in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury. I’m less high on Wease, though he has shown some promise through two years as a possession receiver. Michael Woods II, a transfer from Arkansas, might garner some late-round interest. And I’m calling my shot on freshman Mario Williams to eventually play on Sundays. He may not see the field a lot in 2021 but the four-star is a twitchy athlete with home run potential each time he gets the ball. Wrapping things up for this contest is tight end Austin Stogner. The junior is quite similar to his Cyclones counterpart, Charlie Kolar, and will be a name to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
#3: Penn State @ Ohio State (10/30/2021)
Penn State – The Nittany Lions trot out a talented running back duo in junior Noah Cain and sophomore Keyvone Lee. Cain impressed as a freshman in 2019 but suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of 2020. That injury opened the door for Lee, a 230-pound bruiser of a back, who really took that opportunity and ran with it. Both of these runners have NFL potential. Headlining the receiving corps is senior Jahan Dotson, one of my favorites in this upcoming class. He’s underrated for now but has the talent to hear his name called in the second round. Sophomore Parker Washington is primed to put his name on the Big 10 map after a strong freshman campaign. Redshirt sophomore Brenton Strange is a sleeper to keep an eye on. He’s a plus athlete with good ball skills and fits the mold of the “oversized receiver” archetype at tight end.
Ohio State – At the time of writing this, there is little clarity around who Ohio State’s starting quarterback will be, though the most buzz is around redshirt freshman CJ Stroud. The Buckeyes have a problem, though. Freshman super-prospect Quinn Ewers skipped his senior year of high school to join the team. According to 247, Ewers is rated higher as a prospect than Trevor Lawrence was. If Ohio State commits to someone else, Ewers walks out the door. Stroud has NFL upside in his own right, so they can’t really go wrong with him, but Ewers has one of the craziest arms I’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to see how everything shakes out. The running back position appears to have more clarity around it, but perhaps not. I’ll explain. Redshirt junior Master Teague III is atop the depth chart. However, I believe he is only nominally positioned there. Teague is a JAG and won’t be a high draft selection. He’ll likely find an NFL home in the later rounds. Incoming freshman TreVeyon Henderson, on the other hand, is uber-athletic and dangerous as a runner and receiver. His talent will likely land him in the first round of the 2024 draft, and might even overtake Teague as the primary ball carrier this year. The Buckeyes also boast the nation’s best receiving duo in senior Chris Olave and junior Garrett Wilson. As route running and separation specialists, they terrorized defensive backs in 2020 and get to do it again this season, except for more games this time. It’s likely that both are first-round draft selections in 2022. Five-star sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba is also in line for more playing time. He looks like the real deal as a receiver who can do damage at all levels of the passing game with great hands and plenty of speed. To make this group extra unfair, let’s throw in Marvin Harrison Jr. Yes, he’s the son of the Marvin Harrison you’re thinking of. The four-star freshman is bigger than his Hall of Famer father and has already made some noise for the Buckeyes with a big-time performance in the program’s spring game. Senior tight end Jeremy Ruckert deserves a shoutout here, too. He’s not a high-end prospect, but he’s better than 2021 fifth-round draft selection Luke Farrell.
#2: Alabama @ Texas A&M (10/9/2021)
Alabama – Similar to Ohio State, Alabama is completely loaded. So, what else is new? Well, for starters, the quarterback. Alabama’s last three QBs were selected in either the first or second round. Sophomore Bryce Young is better than all of them. With a strong arm, deadly accuracy and smarts, as well as the playmaking ability coveted in the modern NFL, Young will be a high draft selection in 2023. The running back situation is a jumbled mess here. Brian Robinson Jr. is the O-G of the group as a redshirt senior. He figures to handle most of the carries, but looks like a day three prospect. Also in the backfield are redshirt sophomore Trey Sanders and sophomores Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams, all of whom have NFL upside. How the carries are split among these guys is anyone’s guess. Sanders has the highest ceiling of all runners on this roster but has struggled to stay healthy. McClellan is someone I’m personally high on. He’s a threat to take it to the house every time he gets the ball. Williams has a similar overall talent level to McClellan but isn’t quite as fast. Despite putting four first-round receivers into the NFL in the past two years, Bama is loaded at the position yet again. It begins with John Metchie III, a junior who broke out for the Tide last year and now steps into the #1 role. He may very well be Bama’s next first-round receiver. Jameson Williams, a junior transfer from Ohio State, is another interesting player to keep an eye on with his explosiveness and legit track speed. He appears to be in line for a sizable workload in 2021. Redshirt junior Slade Bolden played well after Jaylen Waddle went down with an injury in 2020 and might be a day three selection. True freshman Agiye Hall made a name for himself with a huge performance in the spring game, much like Metchie did in 2019. Metchie, of course, was buried on the depth chart in the regular season but burst onto the scene as a sophomore. I see Hall taking a similar career arc. Finally, Jahleel Billingsley is still in sleeper territory but will emerge as one of the better tight ends in the country this season. The junior is a mismatch problem with his “oversized receiver” build and athleticism.
Texas A&M – Like Ohio State, there is no confirmed starter at quarterback for the Aggies at this time. My money is on redshirt freshman Haynes King, though. I can’t help but get Ryan Tannehill vibes from King. He has receiver-like athleticism and can do as much damage with his legs as he can with his arm. Taking some pressure off the young QB is junior Isaiah Spiller. The total package at running back, Spiller is in the conversation with the aforementioned Breece Hall as the best draft-eligible back in the nation. Junior Ainias Smith, a running back-receiver hybrid, will see an increased workload for A&M. He’s a bit undersized but is a good athlete with a diverse skill set and is a definite sleeper to keep an eye on for dynasty purposes. Wrapping up the Aggies is perhaps the best tight end in the country, Jalen Wydermyer. Massive (6-5, 265) with great hands and exceptional athleticism for his size, the junior looks every bit the part of a first-round prospect and NFL starter.
#1: Georgia @ Clemson (9/4/2021)
Georgia – The football gods have gifted us with a clash between two college football giants to begin the 2021 season. This matchup features more pro potential at the fantasy-relevant positions than any other regular-season game this year. The Bulldogs return JT Daniels as their starting quarterback. Now two years removed from an ACL tear, the redshirt junior is primed to put up crazy numbers with an elite supporting cast. Daniels, to me, is a day-two prospect, though I can’t rule out a climb into first-round territory. He will be handing the ball off to a talented stable of running backs headlined by redshirt junior Zamir White and sophomore Kendall Milton. White, a top 10 overall recruit from the 2018 cycle, possesses workhorse size and is an all-around good runner but offers little in the passing game, which will likely cap his draft upside. Milton is a tenacious runner who refuses to go down easily. He has great burst for a 220-pound back and is the type who can just wear down a defense with his physicality. Despite losing junior receiver George Pickens to an ACL injury, the Bulldogs aren’t going to miss a step at the position. This is a pick-your-poison group just oozing with pro potential. By my count, four (including Pickens) have first-round upside. Sophomore transfer Arik Gilbert was an elite tight-end prospect from the 2020 cycle but has made the switch to receiver. Concerns about his top-end speed (as a receiver) aside, Gilbert’s 6-5, 250-pound frame paired with his ability to make catches in traffic is going to make him a matchup nightmare. Also lining up at receiver are sophomore Jermaine Burton and redshirt freshman Arian Smith. Burton is strong, has good size, great speed, and even better hands. He’s a future NFL starter if I’ve ever seen one. Smith’s testing numbers will be off the charts when he goes to the combine. He’s an explosive athlete with track speed and legit home run ability. Finally, Darnell Washington is a mountain of a man at tight end. Standing 6-7 and weighing around 265 pounds with plus athleticism for his size, the sophomore will be a near-impossible matchup for defenders and a dangerous weapon in the red zone.
Clemson – Trevor Lawrence left for the NFL? No problem! Stepping into Lawrence’s shoes is DJ Uiagalelei, a five-star prospect with the best arm in years. The sophomore has ridiculous upside and can make throws that few others, if any, are capable of. He’s a solid athlete, to boot, and will likely be the top QB in the class of 2023. Stepping into the role vacated by Travis Etienne is Lyn-J Dixon. The senior has been a capable backup for the Tigers throughout his career and might draw some attention as a late-round draft selection. The real story at running back, though, is incoming freshman Will Shipley. A five-star prospect, reports suggest Shipley is already making an impression in camp. He’s dangerous as a runner and receiver and possesses great speed to go with his 5-11, 200-plus frame. There could be first-round upside here. The receiving group is an improvement over what Clemson had last year, with the key factor being the return of Justyn Ross. After missing the entire 2020 season, doctors have cleared the redshirt junior to suit up once again. If Ross returns to form, he is arguably the top receiver in the class of 2022 for dynasty purposes and will be a surefire first-round draft selection. Also returning from an injury in 2020 is Joe Ngata. A big, physically imposing target similar to Ross, the junior possesses every tool to be successful; he just needs to stay healthy. Two more receivers to keep an eye on are junior Frank Ladson Jr. and sophomore EJ Williams. Both stand 6-3 and come with a four-star pedigree. Ladson is a good route runner with great leaping ability, and Williams flashed as a playmaker throughout his freshman season.
Wow, that was a lot. If you’ve read this far, thank you.
If there’s anyone you think I missed, let me know! I can be found on Twitter @thedevydirtbag and Reddit u/thedevydirtbag. I create content consistently throughout the football season, so be sure to follow me if you want to stay in the loop.