As we enter the home stretch of the 2019 college football offseason, it’s time to gain a better understanding of the teams and players we will see on Saturdays.
If you’re a DFS or College Fantasy Football player, or a bettor hoping to pounce on a team that might be undervalued early in the season, it pays to know the new players ready to take the place of graduated seniors and NFL draftees. With that in mind, we offer 20 underrated names you should know in 2019.
In alphabetical order:
WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
The Herm Edwards experiment wasn’t a disaster at Arizona State, at least in Year 1 with quarterback Manny Wilkins, receiver N’Keal Henry and running back Eno Benjamin. Unfortunately for Edwards, Wilkins and Henry are off to the NFL, and though Benjamin is one of the top players in college football, the Sun Devils need a complementary player on the outside to keep defenses honest.
Senior wideout Brandon Aiyuk has a chance to be that threat. Aiyuk caught 33 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns in his first season at ASU, and blends the pass-catching ability of Kyle Williams with the explosiveness of Frank Darby. He gives quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole (or touted freshman Jayden Daniels) his best all-around receiving option.
WR Lawrence Cager, Georgia
Georgia is a surefire College Football Playoff contender, but receiver is a major question mark for the Bulldogs. It already was an issue when Georgia lost four of its top five receivers (three to the NFL and one to graduation), and Jeremiah Holloman’s dismissal only made matters worse.
There’s talent, but it’s largely unproven: 2018 Cal transfer Demetris Robertson, 6-foot-5 sophomore Matthew Landers and a couple of elite freshmen in Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens.
The top returnee at receiver according to production last year is Tyler Simmons, who caught nine passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. That opens the door for Miami transfer Lawrence Cager – who led the Hurricanes with six touchdown catches in 2018 – to make an immediate impact. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Cager has an NFL body, and he is also capable of stretching the field. In 2018, he averaged 17.8 yards on 21 receptions.
WR Boobie Curry, Arizona
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate didn’t look like the video-game quarterback we expected him to in 2018, relying more on his arm than his legs while working through an ankle injury and a coaching change.
Tate made some progress as a passer, particularly late in the season, but he’ll have a new receiving corps. Tate’s top three targets graduated, and No. 4 receiver Devaughn Cooper opted to test the transfer portal.
With Cedric Peterson (268 yards, 4 TD) and Stanley Berryhill (218 yards, 2 TD) as the only returning wideouts to catch double-digit passes last season, we can expect freshman Jalen “Boobie” Curry to play immediately.
Curry was the highest-rated player in Kevin Sumlin’s most recent recruiting class. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Texan has the size and ball skills to make an early impact. If Tate regains his form as a runner, and Curry fulfills his potential, the Wildcats should be dangerous.
RB Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
Many Ole Miss fans have guarded their expectactions when it comes to Ealy. He decommitted from the Rebels shortly before National Signing Day, and he also appeared headed for the early rounds of the Major League Baseball draft.
Ealy signed with Ole Miss, opting to play football and baseball in Oxford. As a five-star running back with a terrific all-around skillset, he’ll have an opportunity to play early. Ealy might even challenge starter Scottie Phillips in 2019.
RB John Emery Jr., LSU
Earlier this year, I wrote about impact true freshmen on potential national championship teams. Because LSU fell just outside my list of top contenders then, Emery Jr. didn’t make the cut. But Emery is the most ballyhooed running back to sign with the Tigers since Leonard Fournette, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he has as big of an early impact.
Emery should shoot up the depth chart, and could blossom into an eventual Heisman Trophy candidate. The main question is when he’ll start to take over.
RB Walter Fletcher, Ball State
If you know a single fact about Ball State’s running backs, it’s probably that James Gilbert transferred to Kansas State.
Gilbert’s departure (and quarterback Riley Neal’s) is a blow to Mike Neu’s squad, but the running game should be in good hands with transfer Walter Fletcher.
In three seasons at Division II Edinboro University (Go Fighting Scots!), Fletcher ran for 3,913 yards and 41 touchdowns. He added 692 receiving yards and six scores on 93 catches.
Put that production behind the MAC’s only offensive line returning all five starters, and a defense that brings back nine, and Ball State could be a competitive underdog.
DL Siulagisipai Fuimaono, Cal
Cal has made a defensive transformation under head coach Justin Wilcox, climbing into the top 15 in total defense last season on the strength of a top-notch secondary.
Wilcox and his coaching staff have utilized a creative approach, turning over every stone to search for impact defenders.
Defensive lineman Siulagispai Fuimaono arrived in Berkeley after playing high school football in Okinawa, Japan. He appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2018, and registered just nine tackles and half a tackle for loss, but is the front-runner to start at nose guard.
As the 6-foot-4, 305-pound centerpiece of one of the top defenses in the country, announcers will spend plenty of time learning to pronounce his name. You should remember it as well.
QB Mike Glass III, Eastern Michigan
A player sure to show up on your TV during a few midweek November #MACtion games, Glass backed up Tyler Wiegers for most of the 2019 season.
Glass III threw for 284 yards against Buffalo and 204 yards against Georgia Southern as the starter in the Camellia Bowl, throwing a combined five touchdowns in those two games.
Glass III is at his most dangerous on the ground. He surpassed 100 rushing yards twice, and finished his junior season with 412 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 71 carries (5.8 yards per carry including sacks).
DE Kyler Gordon, Washington
As evidenced by his recent addition to Bruce Feldman’s annual college football freaks list, Washington defensive back Kyler Gordon has the physical tools to become one of the top playmakers in the Pac-12.
Gordon should make an impact as a redshirt freshman, given the personnel losses the Huskies suffered in the secondary.
Only one Washington defensive back with more than two starts returns (All-Pac-12 nickelback Myles Bryant). And with Elijah Molden likely to shift over to safety, Gordon has the inside track to start alongside junior Keith Taylor at corner.
His incredible athleticism, including a 42.5-inch vertical leap and a 3.87-second time in the pro agility drill (better than anyone who competed in the 2019 NFL Combine) means he’ll likely excel.
RB Jaren Mangham, Colorado
The Colorado Buffaloes have the making of an explosive passing attack with quarterback Steven Montez and receivers Laviska Shenault and K.D. Dixon. However, word out of Boulder is that new head coach Mel Tucker (like most defensively-minded coaches) would prefer to lean on the running game.
Running back arguably is the weakest position on the
roster. Alex Fontenot is the most experienced player now that Beau Bisharat has
moved to tight end, and therefore the front-runner to start.
But highly-recruited, 6-foot-1, 214-pound true freshman Jaren Mangham looks like the running back of the not-so-distant future.
DT Lamonte McDougle, Washington State
With Air Raid quarterbacks still putting up huge numbers under Mike Leach, you might have missed the fact Washington State has built a competent defense.
The biggest jump has come with an upgraded defensive line. That process continues in 2019 as only one full-time starter returns. However, a newcomer likely to make his first career start in a month has a chance to be the best Leach has had.
McDougle played in all 13 games as a freshman at West Virginia in 2017 (23 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 sacks).
McDougle transferred to Washington State and sat out the 2018 season. The Florida native wasn’t scared by the Pullman winter, and has a year in Tracy Claeys’ defensive system. He’ll start, and at 6-foot and 295 pounds, should be a disruptive nose tackle for the Cougars.
LB Dimitri Moore, Vanderbilt
Expectations for the Commodores are modest (as
always), despite some NFL talent at the skill positions on offense.
The defense has become the weak link for former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
On paper, it seems unlikely Vanderbilt will improve defensively, as just four starters return from a unit that finished 99th nationally in yards per game allowed. However, one of those is sophomore Dimitri Moore, who led all first-year SEC players with 84 total tackles.
The active Moore recorded at least eight tackles in 12 games. He could put up huge tackle totals in 2019, and should improve upon his one sack and four quarterback hurries.
RB Jaret Patterson, Buffalo
The Buffalo Bulls took a huge step forward in 2018, winning 10 games and a MAC East title.
Lance Leopold’s squad appears poised for a step back following the departure of dynamic quarterback Tyree Jackson, receivers Anthony Johnson and K.J. Osborn and tight end Tyler Mabry.
But don’t forget about running back Jaret Patterson.
Patterson split carries with fellow freshman Kevin Marks in 2018, but Patterson still piled up 1,013 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns (5.5 yards per carry). He surpassed 100 yards in three games, topped 90 three other times, and by the end of the season, emerged as the No. 1 tailback.
Expect Patterson to stay there in 2019, and for Leopold to lean heavily on the running game and an experienced offensive line.
WR Kendrick Rogers, Texas A&M
At receiver, Texas A&M has a far different problem than Georgia.
The Aggies have so many talented receivers, it’s difficult to feed them. Quartney Davis and Jhamon Ausbon arrived in College Station as big-time recruits, and last season the pair combined for 76 catches. Davis ranked second on the team in receptions (45), yards (585) and touchdowns (7).
The third man on the totem pole is Rogers, who caught 27 passes for 336 yards and five scores. But at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Rogers is a more physical receiver with arguably more upside. He also came up big in the biggest games, including 120 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson and two TDs against LSU.
LT Sean Rhyan, UCLA
There are several UCLA Bruins poised for big things in 2019.
Joshua Kelley was a breakout performer as a transfer. It will be fun to watch a healthy and semi-experienced Dorian Thompson-Robinson operate in Chip Kelly’s revamped offense.
Feldman singled out defensive ends Osa Odighizuwa and Ottio Ogbonnia as athletic freaks, and 6-foot-5 receiver Michael Ezeike is a name to know. But Rhyan might be the most important player on the roster.
Odds are the 6-foot-5, 309-pound Rhyan will join four returning starters in the lineup. How well Rhyan meshes with the rest of the starting linemen meshes will be pivotal to UCLA’s bowl hopes.
RB Julian Ross, Ohio
Ohio running back Julian Ross gets his name on this list. But JUCO transfer De’Montre Tuggle, freshman Walter Wilbon III and redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison could become the name.
Whomever emerges as the go-to ball-carrier for the Bobcats is due to break out.
Ohio head coach Frank Solich and OC Tim Albin turned little-known A.J. Ouellette into a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher, and still found a way for Rourke to pick up 860-plus in both seasons.
Ross and Allison picked up seven touches last season, and entered spring competing to start. Tuggle ran for 883 yards and seven touchdowns and added 320 receiving yards at Kilgore Junior College last year, while Wilbon – listed at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds – is the type of overlooked three-star prospect the Bobcats have leaned on to become annual MAC contenders.
WR Justin Shorter, Penn State
Shorter is a former five-star prospect who has yet to live up to that status. Ranked as the No. 1 receiver in the 2018 recruiting class, Shorter played in four games as a true freshman and redshirted.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Shorter is built like Calvin Johnson. But he managed just three catches for 20 yards while struggling to find a place in the receiver rotation for the Nittany Lions.
After a solid set of bowl practices, Shorter made his biggest on-field impact against Kentucky (two catches, 17 yards) and set himself up for a starting role following the departures of Juwan Johnson (to Oregon) and DeAndre Thompkins (to graduation).
WR Osiris St. Brown, Stanford
Stanford shifted offensive to a more basketball-on-grass passing game in 2018, often after plowing into the line for 1- or 2-yard gains on first and second down.
Quarterback K.J. Costello racked up 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns bailing out the Cardinal. His favorite target was 6-foot-3, 225-pound J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who excelled boxing opponents out to clear space for him to grab jump-ball passes, often in the end zone.
Arcega-Whiteside, No. 2 receiver Trenton Irwin and tight end Kaden Smith have transitioned to the NFL, but Costello still has capable receivers.
Tight end Colby Parkinson will be a big-time target in the red zone (seven of his 29 catches went for TDs in 2018). Brown, who gained 204 receiving yards, will take on a much bigger role in 2019.
ATH/QB Isaiah Williams, Illinois
There are plenty of interesting newcomers on the Illinois roster. Though the addition of Michigan transfer Brandon Peters makes it far less likely Isaiah Williams wins the starting quarterback job, Lovie Smith would be wise to put the football in Williams’ hands.
Williams was one of two crown jewels of Smith’s most recent signing class (along with receiver Marquez Beason), and the pair are the two highest-rated recruits for the Illini in Smith’s tenure (and only Peters, and fellow transfers Richie Petitbon from Alabama and Oluwole Betiku from USC) received higher marks in the 247Sports Composite as high school prospects.
CB Mykael Wright, Oregon
Oregon is a legitimate Pac-12 contender, and could become a national contender by beating Auburn.
Mario Cristobal arguably has built the best offensive line in the country, and he’s cultivated talent around future first-round quarterback Justin Herbert.
Thought the defense was far from dominant last season, one of the strongest units on the squad is the secondary. It returns three starters, including a pair of all-conference candidates at cornerback.
Wright may be the player with the most upside. He wowed the coaching staff this spring and made a strong push to be (at least) the No. 3 corner. He ended the spring game with an acrobatic interception, and should put himself in position to make more plays this fall.