Football season is finally upon us despite most preseason games being about as exciting as dinner with your in-laws. After months of constant evaluation and roster reconstruction, our fantasy lineups are ready to take to the imaginary field. Though we will likely be caught up in tracking our teams’ success (or lack thereof) throughout the 2018 season, it’s never too early to keep an eye on future NFL stars in the college game. If you play in a devy (developmental) league, these players are likely sitting on the back end of rosters at the moment, so throw out some trade offers for these underrated future dynasty assets.
QB, Ball State – Senior – 6’6, 225 lbs
Neal is an intriguing quarterback prospect entering his senior year for the Cardinals. Quarterbacks over 6’6 seem to have developed a poor reputation ever since Brock Osweiler‘s fall from grace. Likely as a result, the Josh Allen hate has gone too far as well, and ultra tall quarterbacks in general have been received poorly by draft analysts in recent history.
However, Neal is made from a different mold. He shows the willingness to stand in the pocket and go through his reads, even with pressure in his face. In addition, Neal has very good arm strength and can to make throws to the opposite hash with relatively good accuracy. While he does need to sharpen his release time and improve his ball placement in short areas of the field, overall he’s an excellent quarterback prospect. Neal may not be elite, but he resembles the reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles and could flash in the league next year. In superflex or 2QB leagues, Neal is worth a late round dart throw as we approach the 2018 season.
RB, Ohio State – Redshirt Junior – 5’10, 214 lbs
Weber has been somewhat forgotten after freshman sensation J.K. Dobbins stole the spotlight in 2017. Despite only seeing 101 carries in 12 games last season, Weber remained extremely efficient with a whopping 6.2 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns. He displays fantastic agility and change of direction, making defenders miss in the open field. At the point of hand-off, Weber’s sharp instincts and good vision allow him to hit holes with ease, and his burst and explosiveness generate big gains after finding those holes.
He needs to improve on his work in the passing game, but Weber is a reliable receiver for the most part with a little Ray Rice to his game. While Weber is unlikely to produce record-setting stats in 2018, it’s very possible that he will dazzle at the combine and propel himself into the early rounds of the draft come next April. Now is the time to go get Weber before the hype train starts rolling.
WR, Penn State – Redshirt Junior – 6’2, 226 lbs
The Nittany Lion offense is looking to replace its three main skill position players from last season: Mike Gesicki (Eagles), DaeSean Hamilton (Broncos), and Jesus Saquon Barkley (Giants). There’s a good chance that Johnson is the receiver most likely to take over as the go-to guy for quarterback Trace McSorley. Despite being the fourth option on offense in 2017 and seeing the end zone only once, Johnson compiled an impressive 54 receptions for 701 yards. Johnson’s big frame allows him show off his wide catch radius and fully extend to catch errant throws. He is comfortable playing over the middle as well and will hold onto the ball even after taking big hits from punishing linebackers, and his quick breaks out of routes help him separate in the short areas of the field.
While Johnson can use some polish getting off the line of scrimmage and releasing faster on vertical routes, he has the qualities needed to succeed in the league and shoot up draft boards as the season progresses. Michael Thomas didn’t set any records while at Ohio State but showed well enough in his final season to become a second-round NFL Draft pick, and now he’s a perennial elite fantasy wide receiver and the go-to guy for future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees. Johnson has the traits and potential to follow in Thomas’s footsteps.
TE, Georgia – Junior – 6’4, 246 lbs
Despite losing both star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to Cleveland and New England, respectively, the Georgia run game looks ready to remain dominant with a rising star in DeAndre Swift at running back and a loaded receiving corps led by Nauta. Nauta is coming off a somewhat disappointing season stats-wise, but that can partially be attributed to Georgia’s reliance on the run game. The 6’4 Nauta has the speed to stretch the seams as a receiver and transitions quickly from receiver to ball carrier after the catch. He has excellent body control to make great adjustments to overthrown passes, and Nauta’s broad catch radius makes him a lethal red-zone threat.
His breaks at the top of his routes lack sharpness, and like many college tight ends, his run-blocking needs work before he can become an every-down tight end in the NFL. That said, Nauta has massive potential at the next level if he can develop into a more well-rounded tight end. Look for Nauta to be more involved in the offense as a receiver in 2018. He has the ability to become one of the premier tight ends in college football this year and raise his draft capital significantly for both the NFL Draft as well as fantasy drafts this coming offseason.