College Football 2020: Week One Breakout Devy Prospects

By Alex Kurpeski

Week One of the College Football Season is in the books and what a week it was. We saw a bevy of breakout stars emerge during an abridged schedule, with a freshman QB, two unheralded backs, and a handful of other non-power conference playmakers show out with the cameras on them. Here’s a quick roundup of this week’s biggest standouts, for reasons both good and bad. 

Games Covered: Marshall/Eastern Kentucky, SMU/Texas State, Arkansas State/Memphis

Grant Wells, Marshall Thundering Herd

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Stats: 16/23, 307 passing yards, 4 passing touchdowns, 1 carry, 1 rushing yard

In his first-ever game of college action, Wells looked incredibly comfortable, efficiently shredding Eastern Kentucky’s defense to the tune of 307 passing yards, completing 69.5% of his throws for 4 touchdowns. At 6’1, 185 lbs, Wells does not have the typical frame for an NFL prospect but his instincts and accuracy are already there. Against EKU, Wells made a ton of plays with his legs while buying time in the pocket when necessary, and delivering accurate throws with consistency. Had it not been for a couple of ugly drops by his receivers and a few passes that sailed ever so slightly, Wells could have completed a much higher percentage of his passes. 

Though the Colonels defense could barely get any pressure on the young passer, his confidence in the pocket was marvelous. The highlight of the day for Wells was a beautiful deep throw that he completed to WR Jaron Woodyard for a touchdown, dropped perfectly behind the defender covering Woodyard in a spot where only his receiver could reel it in. Many of the throws made by Wells on Saturday were completed to open receivers, however, his mechanics in the pocket were very clean and his throws had some nice pop to them. Wells also did a great job of spreading the ball around, completing a pass to 9 different pass-catchers. There were a couple moments where I was reminded that Wells is in fact a freshman quarterback, as he did tend to get “happy feet” and throw off of the wrong foot. Thankfully Wells got away with these mistakes because the receiver he was targeted was socially distancing from the defense, but against a real team, he won’t be so lucky. 

It’s worth noting that Marshall won this game by a score of 59-0. This was a cakewalk for the Thundering Herd, make no mistake about it. When analyzing a player’s tape against a subdivision opponent, one must always take into consideration the context of the game. The Colonels were overmatched at every level, giving Wells an easy road to domination. While it wasn’t a major challenge, Wells played mistake-free football and displayed an excellent rapport with his pass-catchers in his first start, something that bodes well for his future with the program. I’m not going to anoint him as the next great QB prospect just yet, but this was as good of a start as Wells could ask for. If his playmaking skill carries over to contests against FBS teams he could very well become a draftable passer by the time his college career concludes. 

RB Brock Sturges & RB Calvin Hill, Texas State

Sturges Stats: 14 carries, 95 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 2 catches, 15 receiving yards

Hill Stats: 13 carries, 100 rushing yards, 1 catch, -1 receiving yard

The duo of Sturges and Hill catalyzed the Bobcats revamped offense despite the up-and-down play of QB Brady McBride. While McBride played recklessly, Texas State’s running game dominated the SMU defense, with Sturges and Hill combining for 156 yards on the ground in the first half. 

Sturges, a former Arizona State commit, led the way as the designated power back for the Bobcat. On two key plays, Sturges broke off huge runs to keep Texas State’s drive alive, including a 35-yard scamper on 3rd and long and a 27 yard run on 4th and 1. While Sturges was excellent as the “thunder”, Hill was an excellent complement as the lightning for the Bobcats offense. At 5’7, 175 lbs, the former three-star recruit is far from the largest back you’ll see, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with tremendous vision and balance. Hill broke off a pair of impressive runs in the first half, one for 19 yards and another for 13. 

It wasn’t all roses however, as Sturges coughed up the ball on a crucial run in the fourth quarter, though luckily he managed to recover it. Careless mistakes have been the downfall for many talented backs in the past so Sturges should nip that in the bud now before it becomes an issue. Both Hill and Sturges fell out of the game script with the Bobcats trailing in the second half, something that could happen often considering their defense allowed 32.6 PPG to their opponents last season.  For a team that averaged just over 78 rushing yards-per-game in 2019, the performance of Sturges and Hill bodes well for the present and the future. Sturges in particular has the look of an NFL back at 5’10, 200+ lbs and we can only hope that he can be as effective as he was on Saturday for the entire 2020 season. Hill is a less sure thing, but he has some nice shake and burst. Both Hill and Sturges were efficient and explosive in this game and they have firmly planted themselves on my radar. 

WR Danny Gray, SMU

Stats: 4 receptions, 72 receiving yards

The announcers for this game talked up Gray a lot, remarking often that Mustangs coach Sonny Dykes had called the JUCO transfer “the fastest player he’s ever coached”. It was clear that Dykes wanted to get Gray involved early and often, as he finished with 4 catches for 72 yards. The highlight of the day for Gray came on a 38-yard catch, where he looked every bit as fast as advertised. Gray proved that he could stretch the field effectively, something that bodes well for him considering his QB is Shane Buechele. 

It’s clear that Gray is the best athlete on this offense. The comfortability that he displayed in his first game with the program leads me to believe big things are in store for the speedster. At 6’1, 190 lbs, Gray has very good size and did an excellent job blocking downfield for his fellow receivers. He’s a bit of a gadget player at this stage in his career but his athletic profile and ability to collect yards after the catch makes him an intriguing watch for this season. If he can clean up his route running a bit, Gray could be SMU’s best receiver prospect since Courtland Sutton. 

QB Brady McBride, Texas State

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Stats: 21/39, 227 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 interception, 10 carries, 3 rushing yards

McBride’s arrival was one of the most hyped storylines heading into this game, as the former Memphis commit had been praised in the weeks leading up to Week One by his coach Jake Spavital. McBride, who was said to model his game after Patrick Mahomes and Johnny Manziel, certainly had no problem improvising when necessary. The sophomore scrambled and rolled on almost every drop back, firing off a ton of off-balance throws into coverage in an attempt to turn nothing into something.

In certain circumstances, McBride’s playstyle benefitted the Bobcats offense, as his legs helped him avoid several sacks and keep plays alive. However, there were far too many turnover worthy throws from McBride, who completed only 53% of his passes and turned the ball over on an especially ugly pick. The two sacks taken by McBride pushed the Bobcats into difficult field goal attempts, one of which was missed. Speaking of sacks — McBride took way too many hits. At 6’0, 200ish lbs, he does not have the frame to withstand the number of hits he took in this game on a weekly basis. On the bright side, McBride shook off all of these hits, a credit to his toughness. 

If McBride can cut down on the bad stuff without sterilizing his playstyle he may very well become a special player under Spatival, who has worked with the likes of Manziel, Geno Smith, and Brandon Weeden in the past. Unfortunately, Saturday’s game looked a lot more like the NFL version of Manziel — who was rumored to practice while intoxicated –rather than the Heisman Trophy Winning sensation that will forever be known to us as Johnny Football. Texas State’s offensive line didn’t do McBride many favors. Though his needless scrambling occasionally undermined the efforts of his blockers, giving the pass rush extra time to break through. At the very least, McBride’s backyard football style of play was fun to watch. 

WR/TE Sean Dykes, Memphis Tigers

Stats: 10 receptions, 137 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns 

With Kenneth Gainwell opting out, someone from the Tigers offense had to step up. Enter Sean Dykes, a converted receiver who missed most of last season with an injury. At 6’1, 230 lbs, Dykes is rather undersized for the position, but his receiving abilities were on full display Saturday night. Dykes paced the Tigers in every receiving category, looking much more comfortable than he did last season. 

A part-time player in each of his previous four seasons, Dykes may be in-line for a huge season if his Week One performance is any indication. Dykes’ blocking abilities are far from elite, but the Tigers offense rarely asked him to put them to a test in this matchup. Dykes had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, looking stronger with every catch he made. If his rapport with Brady White continues to be this strong, Dykes could find himself on an NFL roster next fall. A true “move” tight end, Dykes terrorized the Red Wolves secondary underneath, breaking off a pair of impressive post-catch runs. The Tigers used Dykes in a very intriguing manner, occasionally flexing him into the slot where he was simply too physical for the nickel corner tasked with covering him. It’s hard to say if this outing is merely a flash in the pan or a sign of a true breakout from Dykes but either way he’s put everyone on notice. 

 

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