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2011 Independents Preview


QB Dayne Crist: will the job be all his? Icon SMI

Notre Dame

The Irish have a chance to be good on both offense and defense in 2011, and if the ghost of Declan Sullivan is happy with everyone related to him having season tickets then this season might just be a special one for the Domers.

Junior QB Dayne Crist is back as the official starter after a nasty season-ending knee injury in the loss to Tulsa, but the battle doesn’t quite have the feel of being definitively over-over, and the more mobile sophomore Tommy Rhees should see time. And don’t count out hot-shot redshirt freshman and Kelly recruit Andrew Hendrix seeing more than just mop-up time. I don’t want to say this is a developing platoon situation, but it wouldn’t surprise me to have things play out in a number of different fashions. Remember a few years ago when Tony Pike was a Heisman Hopeful for Cincinnati in 2009? Chazz Anderson had filled in admirably here and there the year prior and started that season as the ‘definite #2’ to quote the coach.  However, when Pike went down, it turned out to be a more mobile and then-unknown Zach Collaros who took the reigns of the offense.  There was considerable doubt about Pike regaining his starting job once he was again deemed healthy for action. This ND situation isn’t exactly the same, but it sort of gives off the same vibe. Don’t get me wrong, I think Crist is the guy but there is definitely some risk with the pick.Of course, with risk comes reward, and the good news is that whoever is taking the snaps will be pitching it to quite a nice group of pass catchers. Michael Floyd is in the conversation for the nation’s top WR, and should have the stats to back that up come January. His legal issues are behind him and he should be good to go from Week 1. Floyd is clearly the team’s #1, and there are a ton of options after him which will prevent defenses from doubling him. But the bad news for fantasy owners is that there are at least 3 folks vying for that #2 gig, making them mostly undraftable. Junior Theo Riddick is currently listed as the #2, but sophomore Tai-ler (TJ) Jones is the bigger talent and should take over the #2 role…eventually (TJ is a great keeper pick for 2012). John Goodman will likely slide into the disappointing Duval Kumara’s departed production, and like Kumara will eat into all non-Floyd receiving numbers. True freshman DaVaris Daniels also one to stash away for 2012 and is sure to crack the rotation this season as well. At least TE is set. Tyler Eifert stepped in when All-American Kyle Rudolph was lost for the season after 6 games and just about matched his mentor’s numbers over the final 7 contests of 2010. No reason to expect anything other than a continuation of where things left off for young master Eifert.  He should crack 50 catches for something in the 7-800 range and will flirt with double digit scores, making him draftable even in non-TE formats. Toting the rock will be Cerrie Wood, who took over mid-way though 2010 for an injured Armando Allen and posted nice but really just nice numbers. Wood is the #1 guy, not really any question about that. The real issue is how often will he get his number called? Kelly likes to pass, and the passing game is in good shape, so its hard to see the Irish exceeding their 22 rushes per game from 2010. That isn’t just Allen or Wood, that is ALL RUNNING BACKS. So even if Wood gets 70% of the carries that is barely 15 per game, which puts him right on the verge of being a 1,000 back. I am willing to bet there are a ton of guys you’ll be able to get long after Wood goes off the board in your draft who will meet or exceed his production. On the bright side, the OL goes from a liability in 2010 to an asset this season. Wood might be able to make the most of limited carries with 4 starters returning in front of him, making him worthy of a late-round flier if he is still hanging around.

Although the Irish haven’t had a draftable Team D in what seems like ages, with 8 starters back that might be changing this season. The schedule should feature some spot-starts where you can insert the Irish Defense without too much fear.

Speaking of schedule, it should be generally kind to offensive production until the end, where they face one of the best scoring defenses in the nation in Boston College for Week 12 then travel to Stanford in Week 13. The Trojans in W8 should also be tough. The BYE is W7.

Also worth noting is K Dave Ruffer. He is without a doubt one of the top Ks in the nation. Extremely accurate and has a leg as well (6-6 from 40+, 2 of which were from beyond 50). He should be kicking lots of XPs and without a truly potent ground game to punch it in, there might be more short FG chances in 2011 when the passing attack stalls in the compressed field of the Red Zone.

BYU

The Cougars returns almost everyone on offense. QB Jake Heaps was a true freshman learning on the job last season, now he is seasoned vet to start 2011 and already well on his way to becoming one of the next great BYU quarterbacks. He returns his top 2 WRs in Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson, but perhaps the top target in 2011 didn’t even play last year: @ 6-3 and 203 lbs, Ross Apo was a huge recruiting get out of Texas for the Cougars that got lost in the Heaps signing. He was never really healthy to start things off last year and ended up taking a redshirt. Plus the OL returns 4 starters (including Matt Reynolds who passed on the chance to go Pro early after 2010) and in fact almost everyone from the entire unit, only losing 2 seniors from the entire OL 3-deep. In short, the BYU passing game should be more than fine this season, there is every reason to expect Heaps to potentially be a Top 20 passer this year, with even more upside next season. The running game also sees the return of both JJ Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya, also added into the mix should be sophomore Josh Quezada (who led all rushers with 99 yards and a score in the bowl game blowout). Although officially a WR, freshman Drew Philips may also be added to the backfield mix at some point this season. Philips has drawn comparisons to Reggie Bush and is a true 2-way (offensive only, RB/WR) threat. With 2 starting WRs and 2 starting RBs departing after this season, no matter which way Philips ends up going on offense, he is sure to see his role blossom in 2012, a great keeper prospect. JJDL might present as an attractive target in your draft, but in general for the Cougrar RBs, as the 2nd half of 2010 turned out, expect more of the same this year: a committee approach in 2011. That doesn’t mean that no one is draftable here, but make sure you aren’t the one over-drafting. If JJDL is around late, feel free to add him as a complementary piece with the understanding that there will be games where he might disappear this season with so many other viable rushing options.

Fantasy note: JJDL is more of a pass-catching-threat-Jacquizz-Rodgers-type of RB, so bump him up in any PPR leagues (45 catches last season!) Sophomore Quezada fits in the APB-pass-catching mold too. Kariya, and behind him freshman Algernon Brown, are more of the pounding-between-the-tackles-Harvy-Unga-type. If you’re in a TD only league, Kariya and JJDL might finish close in total points scored. And of course if someone ends up being confidently named the starter out of fall camp, by all means don’t be afraid to draft ‘em early.

Defensively, BYU is being touted as having a draftable Team D this season. They only lose one starting DE, only one starting LB, but in a good-for-fantasy-offense-type-of-news must replace 3 starting DBs, including both corners plus 2010 season and bowl MPV SS Andrew Rich. BYU must replace 6 seniors in the entire DB 3-Deep. Translation: BYU has all the makings of a great offense, but they may find themselves in a lot of shootouts next season being unable to slowdown the opponent’s passing game. Even in the best case, it is easy to see opponents piling up yards and points in garbage time after Heaps & Co have put the game out of reach and the Cougars try to season some of their young DBs for what could be a National Title run in 2012.

Also of note is K Justin Sorensen. He was the unanimous #1 K prospect out of high school a few years ago and is back from him Mission and ready to kick. BYU should be scoring tons of points, giving him plenty of XP chances and the kid has a helluva leg, nailing multiple 60-yarders in high school without a tee. Accuracy could be an issue as he hasn’t kicked in a live game in 3 years, but if you get a premium for distance take a gamble on this Mormon.

The schedule is somewhat quirky, with BYEs in W10 AND W13, but otherwise the playoffs are nice for you with Idaho and New Mexico State in Weeks 11 and 12, and if your league goes to W14 you’ll get to take advantage of the @Hawaii game. @TCU in W9 is a must sit, and @Texas W2 and Utah W3 might make you think.

Army & Navy

Both triple-option teams who primarily use the FB as the 1st rushing option, so both have similar fantasy profiles. Generally, each team will only have 2 guys owned at a max this season. Don’t be fooled when the slotback pops up and Gee Gee Greene has a big game, these are flukes. Stick with the QB and FB only for these offenses.

For Army it is junior QB Trent Steelman returning under center, and he will be handing it off to FB Jared Hassin. Steelman has started every game for the Black Knights since his true freshman year in 2009. The schedule is improving since making the move to Independent status a few years ago and he could approach 2,000 total yards in 2011. He should be in the neighborhood of 20 scores, most of which will be on the ground of course. If your league puts a premium on rushing TDs (or any sort of penalty for passing TDs) then Steelman could be a nice steal in the later rounds. Hassin is also back at FB after cracking 1,000 yards in 2010.  As mentioned, the schedule is softer than last year (trading Notre Dame and Hawaii – don’t laugh, the Warriors had a decent D last season, for Ball State and 1-AA Fordham for instance). Hassin should see his numbers go up to the 1,100-1,200 range with a dozen or so scores, a nice late round grab for you.

For the Midshipmen, it is all about senior QB Kriss Proctor, who has spent the last 2 seasons as the understudy to Ricky Dobbs. Expect similar production from the upperclassman triggerman, this offense won’t miss a beat, and it could actually be more explosive than the 2010 version: The staff has said that Proctor might actually be faster getting to the edge than Dobbs was. Ricky was really more a power inside runner at heart, which is part of the reason he seemed to be so often banged up. Proctor is definitely more of an edge guy, which should result in similar numbers to what Ricky posted last season, but will also open up more room for FB Alexander Tiech to work in the middle of the field. If you like Hassin but miss him, don’t fret as Teich is a carbon copy and should end up with very similar numbers to his Army counterpart with the new emphasis on attacking the edges at the Naval Academy.

From a keeper standpoint, both Steelman and Hassin are juniors for Army and will be back in 2012.

But Proctor and Tiech are both playing their last seasons before going off to serve our nation. 2012 looks to be in the hands of Trey Miller at QB (who looks to have passed fellow sophomore Jarvis Cummings) and senior-to-be Prentice Christian at FB.

Defensively, Army had quite a surprisingly good unit in 2010, as evidenced by their bowl win over high-powered SMU, holding them to just 14 points and allowing just over 100 yards rushing and 300 yards passing (pretty good totals for a team featuring Zach Line, Kyle Padron, and Aldrick Robinson). The Cadets don’t return a lot of starters but they do replace a lot of starters with upperclassmen, the D should again be solid and worthy of a spot-start here and there.

Navy, not so much. While the Middies have made strides recent years, they always seem to have problems against the pass (generally speaking, the DBs tend to be slightly shorter than you’ll find elsewhere since everyone has to fit on a ship or a submarine when their playing days are over), and Navy will face much tougher offenses than will Army this season. Scheduling note for both: the Army-Navy game is showcased by itself in Week 15, meaning each team gets 2 BYEs this season. For Navy its weeks 4 and 13, for Army its 7 and 13. Army has no must-sits while Navy faces South Carolina W3 (home to one of the top DLs in the nation, featuring future 1st rounder and unanimous #1 overall recruit Jadevon Clowney at DE) and SMU in W11. Southern Miss, Norte Dame, and Troy might also be tough against the run this season in weeks 6, 9, and 10.

And due to the nature of these offenses, each K should also have value as the rushing attack stalls in the red zone from time to time. For Army, senior K Alex Carlton is back for his 3rd stint as starter. His scoring has increased each of the last 2 seasons and with the kinder schedule, his numbers should go up again. For Navy, last season the duties were split between John Teague and Joe Buckley, but with the Buckley stopping elsewhere this season (he graduated), it looks like the job is Teague’s alone. Each should be good for 20+ FG attempts, and they each could have weeks where they will be kicking 5 or more XPs.

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2 comments on “2011 Independents Preview

  1. Umm.. Where did you get the idea TJ Jones is the Bigger Talent did U watch the games last year ?? Get your facts straight. Riddick last year Showed he was better and if He stays healthy and with a Yr of playing WR under his Belt will EASILY put up better numbers than Jones being a Big part of the offensive gameplan.. look for Theo to catch 70+ passes and 8+ TD’s this year…unless he is moved back to RB in case of injury.

  2. Thanks for the comments!

    I’m certainly not calling Riddick chopped liver, only pointing out that TJ is a cut above. Similar in size, TJ is more explosive and that will natually lead to more big plays. TJ is generally thought of as a Top-10 WR in his NFL draft class with his agility and ball skills about as good as they come, and as a prep prospect was ranked about 100 spots higher than Riddick out of high school for what that’s worth (roughly they were overall #140 and #240 respectively)
    Now Riddick has upside, dont get me wrong. He switched from RB to WR and was basically learning on the job in 2010, you cant hold that against him. But Kelly runs a precision offense, and there are certain advantages that someone who has an entire prep-career’s worth of experience at the same position are going to have over someone who is still learning the subtle nuances. But being a former RB has its advantages too. Riddick does not shy away from contact and he should definately thrive in the slot, especially with another year under his belt.
    But remember that TJ was a true freshman in 2010. Generally, most players develop the most between their 1st and 2nd years in a program. So what Riddick will gain in experience at the position I expect to be offset by TJ’s increased physicality. I think he has the potential to be the next special WR as the split end in this offense.
    That being said, I fully expect Riddick to maintain his #2 target status to open things up this fall, but when it is all said and done I also expect TJ to have closed the gap considerably and possibly exceeded Riddick’s numbers.

    Of course, you cant forget about the other guys. Roby Toma, Dan Smith, and DaVaris Daniels are all youngsters who are too good not to see time, and they are all collectively going to cut into the totals of both Riddick and TJ, which makes drafting either one a risky proposition. 80/900/8 is the ceiling for either of them, and either one or both could be more like 50/600/5. After Floyd, there likely are better fantasy WR prospects elsewhere unless your league is uber-deep or is not a full-120.

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