Every NFL Draft, players like Corey Davis, Haason Reddick, Forrest Lamp, Khalil Mack and Eric Fisher emerge from the relative obscurity of the Group of Five to become first day draft darlings. Heading into 2017, FAM provided you a list of players to watch from outside the Power Five, offensively and defensively, to monitor this college football season. Now we are updating the prospects, with how they played in 2017, and adding in a few other names to keep an eye on this winter. Then, come April, you seem like a GM with your knowledge of The Group of Five Guys.
Offense | Defense
Adam Breneman — Tight End — UMASS Minutemen — The former Penn State star recruit took a circuitous path to college stardom, but has found it after solidifying himself as one of the country’s best tight ends, and likely the most talented pass-catcher at the position. He’s got size, those aforementioned hands, and NFL scouts drooling.
Riley Ferguson — QB — Memphis Tigers — A prototype quarterback in terms of size and arm strength, Ferguson was one of college football’s top quarterbacks once again in 2017. He lit defenses afire throwing to Anthony Miller, and overall was the sixth most efficient quarterback, threw for the third most yards (sixth most per game), and the third most touchdowns. Loves the big throw, and was successful at them, yet accuracy is a concern.
Michael Gallup — WR — Colorado State Rams — Was simply one of the most dominant receivers in college football, catching over 100 balls, and averaging over 100 yards per game. Has good size (6-1 200), goes after the ball with tenacity, and is a demon after the catch. Likely one of the biggest steals of the draft.
Michael Gallup is one bad man…. pic.twitter.com/5m88frsuzH
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) December 17, 2017
Colby Gossett — OG — Appalachian State Mountaineers — A veteran of 46 starts and tenacious run blocker, Gossett was part of a dominant right side for the Mountaineers. At 6-5 315, with his ability to maul defenders, he’s a perfect fit for an NFL offense looking to add toughness and skill on the inside.
Will Hernandez — OG — UTEP Miners — Another giant of a guard and dominating run blocker, Hernandez is one of the top guards in the draft regardless of conference. He again was All-Everything, and the best lineman of any Group of Five school. Also easily the most disproportionate player-to-team quality ratio (we made this up just now), as he was elite on what was statistically the worst team in the nation.
Chukwuma Okorafor — OT — WMU Broncos — A 39 game starter at tackle, the mammoth 6-6 330-pounder dominated as a run blocker for the Broncos and running back Jarvion Franklin. He’s still scratching the surface, and will be a steal for whichever team drafts him and pairs him an excellent line coach.
Rashaad Penny — RB/KR — San Diego State University — The electric Penny lived up to all the hype of our preseason predictions, rushing for over 2K despite a completely rebuilt offensive line. He’s big (220 pounds), but elusive and possessing break-away speed for a running back. Also an elite kick returner thanks to his ability to cut on a dime, adding to his value.
Nick Stevens — QB — Colorado State Rams — With a litany of weapons, including Michael Gallup, the 6-3 215-pound senior led a great Rams offense in 2017. He’s not an elite arm, but he’s not deficient and more than makes up for it with great leadership and a knack for making plays. Could end up a long term backup or an average NFL starter in the right system.
Courtland Sutton — WR — SMU Mustangs — Just a junior, the 6-4 Sutton boasts NFL measurables and is a red-zone nightmare, and thus is rightfully off to the NFL Draft. He amassed over 1000 yards receiving, 12 scores, and touted a 16.4 yard per catch average; Sutton is unquestionably a big play threat. Shocker for us, Mustang teammate Trey Quinn proved the more efficient and productive receiver in 2017. Both are great, but the lead horse ended up Quinn, surprisingly, and not the strong handed and imposing Sutton.
— PFDZ (@PFDZ44) December 28, 2017
Mike White — QB — Western Kentucky Hilltoppers — White lost arguably one of the best pure coaches in NCAA football in quarterback whisperer Jeff Brohm, his two primary receivers, and three starting linemen (one being a first rounder), but he was phenomenal in his role once again. His numbers weren’t as gaudy as 2016 (4177 yards, 26 scores), but he was once again deadly accurate and avoided the pick (just 8 in 560 attempts). With those quarterbacking traits, his pedigree under Brohm, and physical make-up, we expect White to be a sleeper of the draft at the position. He could end up a terrific NFL quarterback despite his little fanfare entering the Combine, and at the very least an invaluable backup for years (then likely a coach).
Jake Bennett — Center — Colorado State Rams — Yet another Rams offensive star, we were tempted to add him in the preseason list but his size (6-2 300) caused us pause. That said, the stalwart at the pivot showed this season that he was among the country’s best at the position. He allowed almost no pressure on Nick Stevens, and paved the way for a duo of backs to have solid seasons. One of the most underrated college centers in years.
Anthony Johnson — Wide Receiver — Buffalo Bulls — The junior has yet to declare, but it wouldn’t shock us if he left after a breakout 2017 season where he rampaged through MAC play, and finished with 1356 yards and 12 scores (a UB record). We lean towards the 6-2 play-maker returning for one more monster season with quarterback Tyree Jackson and coach Lance Leipold, thus helping Johnson and the former gain big-time draft hype, and saving the latter’s job… perhaps.
— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) October 14, 2017
Anthony Miller — Wide Receiver — Memphis Tigers — Shame on us for leaving off Miller to start the year, but we weren’t sure if it was Ferguson or Miller in the chicken/egg scenario. We’re still watching Ferguson as a QB, but we really like Miller as a receiver… REALLY like him. He’s not big at all, but he’s elusive and his change of direction is superb. Great route running and precision cuts make the former walk-on (ah size…) uncoverable, and then he catches most everything. Imagine if his quarterback was more accurate…
Trey Quinn — Wide Receiver — SMU Mustangs — As we mentioned above, the former blue-chipper and LSU Tiger roared in and stole the lion’s share of the passes from Courtland Sutton. Both players benefited from the offense, but Quinn went from just a Power Five cast-off to potential NFL superstar. He’s precise, catches everything, and boasts a good frame for an NFL target. If he tests well, expect his stock to rise quickly. Could provide an immediate boost to an NFL offense thanks to his reliability.
Max Scharping — Offensive Tackle — NIU Huskies — All indications are he’s returning to Dekalb for 2018, however he’s going to be a solid NFL blocker once he heads off to Sundays. Was near perfect in pass protection this season despite a young, running quarterback behind him. Also paved the way for another lethal NIU rushing attack. Regardless of when he enters, watch him…
Jaleel Scott — Wide Receiver — New Mexico State Aggies — NFL teams love a big bodied receiver, and that’s precisely what the NMSU senior is at 6-6 215 pounds. He amassed 73 catches for 1042 yards and 8 touchdowns in a pass-first attack, but his numbers are deceiving as he probably could have had bigger stats with more efficient quarterback play. Makes tough grabs in tough situations, and was a large part of why the Aggies went bowling for the first time in decades.
Ryan Smith — Tight End — Miami (Ohio) RedHawks — While his numbers were not eye-popping (35/454/4), the team’s second leading receiver managed this despite turnover at quarterback and the emergence of a true number one at actual wide-receiver (James Gardner). The scrappy Chicagoland product has good size, blocks well, but his knack for clutch plays is his best attribute.
Tre’Quan Smith — Wide Receiver — UCF Golden Knights — Another receiver, but rightfully so in a class that improved drastically thanks to Group of Five players playing like Power Five talents. Smith has good size, but elite speed and solid hands, making him one of college football’s best deep threats and play-makers… or an NFL superstar in waiting for the 2018 draft.
Ryan Yurachek — Tight End — Marshall Thundering Herd — He’s not a massive target, but he’s a sure handed and clutch receiver (led team in catch rate, scores), tough-as-nails, and an excellent blocker for his 6-3 239-pound size. Was superb in his final bowl game, willing his team to a win with several effort plays. NFL coaches will love him, and his ability to catch and block could see him flexed around to see the field.
Our Eyes are Off
Devonte Boyd — WR — UNLV Rebels — Injury derailed his 2016 in the desert, and a lack of a passing game in general killed his 2017 production (34/612/3). He’s got the Shrine Bowl to show off, but likely goes undrafted due to dropping numbers and injury fears. That said, we’re still gambling with Boyd as a late pick or UFA if we are a team looking for a potential gem with natural ball skills.
Josh Allen — QB — Wyoming Cowboys — The 6-5 230-pounder will get drafted despite a poor 2017 campaign. He lost most all his weapons from 2016, and it showed, yet he’s still the darling of some draftniks. He’ll be drafted too high, forced into play too early, and likely not live up to the hype and attention.
Allenzae Staggers — WR — Southern Miss Golden Eagles — The former JUCO exploded in 2016, but suffered from lesser QB play this season. However more-so he was supplanted as the primary target in the USM offense, in the process showing an inability to make catches with regularity and break the big play when the ball was in his hands. Very disappointing campaign but could draw a flyer in camps with a good individual workout at his pro day.
Cody Thompson — WR — Toledo Rockets — Injury derailed the go-to target’s 2017 season after five games, and he’ll return for a fifth year thanks to medical hardship. Look for him in the 2018 season to battle Anthony Johnson of Buffalo as the MAC’s top wide receiver, and subsequently in the 2019 Draft, albeit with a medical flag. So we are still watching, just waiting…