College Fantasy Football Preview: The Names to Know in the Big Ten West, Including Wisconsin, Iowa & Nebraska
Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kendric Pryor.
It’s college fantasy football season, and our friends at the CFF Site are here to help us out.
They’ve broken down the key players to watch in the Big Ten West ahead of the season, including those from expected champion Wisconsin all the way to those at Bret Bielema-led Illinois.
Check out their breakdown for all seven teams in the division below.
Top Play: RB Chase Brown
Potential Bust: RB Chase Brown
Sleeper: WR Brian Hightower
Impact Transfer: WR Jafar Armstrong
Dynasty Prospect: RB Chase Brown
Fantastic Freshman: QB Samari Collier
There’s no secret what a Bret Bielema offense plans to do, and that was heightened even further with the hiring of offensive coordinator Tony Petersen: Run the football.
Where it gets a little hairy is the differences in philosophy, as Bielema has typically employed the bell-cow approach, while Petersen has gone with a committee for the most part.
In over half of the 19 seasons in which Petersen has been an offensive coordinator at the Division I level, he’s had at least three different running backs carry the ball 50 times or more. And the Ilini have the depth to make that happen with Chase Brown, Mike Epstein, and East Carolina and Arkansas transfer Chase Hayden.
Brown is the clear favorite to start coming off a third-team All-Big Ten performance a year ago, rushing for 540 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll now run behind a line that returns four starters. Brown currently isn’t in the top 88 among running backs in Fantrax’s ADP and is a definite “buy” at that price.
The biggest question mark on the Illinois offense comes at receiver. Illinois boasts a pair of Power 5 transfers in Jafar Armstrong and Brian Hightower looking to revitalize their careers. Armstrong could never find a firm role during his time at Notre Dame, splitting between multiple positions and was never healthy. He should get ample playing time, as there isn’t much else to work with beyond these two.
Top Play: RB Tyler Goodson
Potential Bust: N/A
Sleeper: WR Tyrone Tracy Jr.
Impact Transfer: N/A
Dynasty Prospect: RB Gavin Williams
Fantastic Freshman: WR Keagan Johnson
As is the case every year with Iowa, we can skip right over whoever is playing quarterback and focus on the position of interest at running back.
Returning starter Tyler Goodson helped Iowa produce its best rushing season in 13 years. It makes sense that happened as Iowa finished in the top 10 nationally in rushing grades, per PFF.
However, Iowa will have to replace three starters up front entering this season. Confidence appears to be high in at least four of the five spots, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression with the amount of turnover in personnel.
As for Goodson, his 17.8 carries per game were the most by an Iowa running back in 2017, and there is questionable depth behind him this year with a redshirt freshman in Gavin Williams (eight career carries) and an injury-prone senior in Ivory Kelly-Martin.
The staff appears confident in the 215-pound Williams based on spring reports, and he would be a low-cost dynasty stash with Goodson being an NFL Draft prospect after this year.
Incoming true freshman Keagan Johnson (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) was already taking first-team reps this spring and looks set to start immediately
Editor’s Note: It was announced Tuesday that Northwestern running back Cam Porter would miss the season with a lower-body injury. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald also announced Hunter Johnson would be the starting quarterback.
Top Play: RB Cam Porter (out for season)
Potential Bust: N/A
Sleeper: WR Stephon Robinson
Impact Transfer: QB Ryan Hilinski
Dynasty Prospect: WR Jordan Mosley
Fantastic Freshman: RB Anthony Tyus III
Cam Porter is one of my favorite “buys” over the last few months, sitting at RB68 in Fantrax’s ADP.
Three-star recruit Anthony Tyus is expected to see the field immediately as a freshman.
Fitzgerald brought in South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski, who should be able to direct the offense like his predecessor Peyton Ramsey did, but there’s no interest from a CFF standpoint.
Kansas transfer Stephon Robinson appears a safe bet to wind up as the WR1 with 75 receptions over the last three years. WR1 for Northwestern has averaged 51 catches per year over the last seven seasons.
Top Play: RB Mohamed Ibrahim
Potential Bust: N/A
Sleeper: WR Daniel Jackson
Impact Transfer: WR Dylan Wright
Dynasty Prospect: RBs Behind Ibrahim
Fantastic Freshman: RB Mar’Keise Irving
If you prefer a more conservative approach to your CFF drafts, I don’t have much of an issue if you select Mohamed Ibrahim over Bijan Robinson in redraft formats.
With five starters back up front, Big Mo should be in for another monster season. With Ibrahim being a senior, we need to uncover who his successor will be.
Trey Potts and Cam Wiley appear to be 2A and 2B at the moment, and both possess differing running styles with the former being an east-west runner and Wiley being one-cut and getting upfield.
But as we’ve seen from head coach P.J. Fleck in the past, it’s not always a one-man band in the backfield. In dynasty formats, I’ll look to add both players, and there seems to be an outside chance Ky Thomas could still wind up being a factor for the Gophers at some point as well.
The top two are set at receiver with Chris Autman-Bell and Daniel Jackson, with the latter being undervalued right now, as the WR2 under Fleck has been exceptionally productive over the years. They have averaged 54 catches and six TDs over the last seven seasons.
I like 6-foot-3 Texas A&M transfer Dylan Wright as a dynasty asset for next year when Autman-Bell likely heads off to the NFL, as they play similar roles as a field-stretcher with the size/speed combination.
Top Play: QB Adrian Martinez
Potential Bust: RB Markese Stepp
Sleeper: WR Omar Manning
Impact Transfer: WR Samori Toure
Dynasty Prospect: TE Thomas Fidone
Fantastic Freshman: RB Gabe Ervin
Are we expecting Adrian Martinez to finally put it together in his fourth season as the starter? At some point, a player is what he is, right?
Martinez did complete 71.5% of his throws, a school record, but turnovers continue to plague him, and his best games came late in the year against two of the lesser defenses in the Big Ten in Minnesota and Purdue.
Where Martinez gets a lot of his value is as a dual-threat signal-caller. He’s guaranteed to produce 600 rushing yards and at least seven rushing scores based on the last four years of production under Scott Frost.
He’s best served as a backup CFF quarterback and streaming option.
USC transfer Markese Stepp likely gets the first carry of the season, but his career to this point has been marred by injuries, and that continued in the spring.
I’m most intrigued by 200-pound true freshman Gabe Ervin, who looks to have the goods after watching his spring game performance in which he ran for 57 yards on 12 carries.
Regardless of who starts, don’t bank on any one player having 200 carries here.
The top three at receiver comprises of Samori Toure, Omar Manning and Oliver Martin — each of whom garnered plenty of praise during the spring.
Talent-wise, Manning tops the group, but I feel confident it will be Toure leading the group in terms of receptions with an 87-catch season already on his resume.
Four-star tight end Thomas Fidone is set for a redshirt after a knee injury in the spring but shouldn’t be ignored in dynasty drafts as a key offensive piece in the future.
Top Play: WR David Bell
Potential Bust: RB Zander Horvath
Sleeper: WR Milton Wright
Impact Transfer: WR Broc Thompson
Dynasty Prospect: WR T.J. Sheffield
Fantastic Freshman: WR Deion Burks
Regardless of which quarterback Purdue settles on this season, David Bell is the consensus WR1 for CFF this season and should lead the nation in targets and receptions.
As for the WR2, the three candidates appear to be 6-foot-3 Milton Wright or slot receivers T.J. Sheffield and Jackson Anthrop.
Arguments could be made for all three, and I have dynasty shares of both Wright and Sheffield with multiple years of eligibility remaining.
To round out the depth beyond the top four, Broc Thompson was brought over from Marshall and three-star early enrollee Deion Burks was the highest-rated offensive recruit in the Boilermakers’ class.
I’ve been reluctant to have any shares of starter Zander Horvath despite his ranking of RB61 on my board. Purdue was abysmal running the football last year, ranking 124th nationally and finished dead last in the conference for a second straight season.
Top Play: RB Jalen Berger
Potential Bust: RB Jalen Berger
Sleeper: TE Jake Ferguson
Impact Transfer: RB Chez Mellusi
Dynasty Prospect: RB Loyal Crawford
Fantastic Freshman: WR Markus Allen
There’s a lot of projection and prior history with Wisconsin running backs when it comes to predicting possible outcomes for sophomore Jalen Berger, who never carried the ball more than 15 times in a game last season.
Berger saw his workload increase as the season went along and finished as the team’s leading rusher for 301 yards and a 5.0 YPC average.
Expecting a Jonathan Taylor-like workload this season is probably unrealistic, but 1,000 yards and double-digit TDs should be more than attainable behind a Wisconsin line that will be one of the best in the nation with eight returnees on last year’s two-deep and 59 career starts between them.
With Berger’s inexperience and no surefire RB2 as insurance, the Badgers added former four-star recruit and Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi who should be a serviceable backup.
The Wisconsin passing game desires minimal attention, though I like its receiving corps with Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor and Chimere Dike from a pure football standpoint.
Tight end Jake Ferguson is the best of the bunch and relatively cheap at TE15 for someone with 40-reception upside. If you wait on tight ends until the final rounds of a redraft, Ferguson is a prime target.