In the excitement and uproar of a new college football season, certain players can get caught in an upwind of hype or a downpour of criticism that pushes their perspective outlooks into an unearned realm of skewed expectations.
This week I’d like to address a player and team that has received a lot of criticism in the pre-season CFF universe – Drew Lock and the Missouri Tigers. In skimming numerous rankings and Sleeper/Bust articles from the CFF industry experts, I’ve noticed an emerging consensus from prognosticators impugning the fantasy value of the SEC All-Time Single Season Passing Touchdown Leader, Drew Lock.
As an example – noted CFF theologian Thor Nystrom of Rotoworld, who puts out an otherwise excellent set of pre-season CFF rankings, has the audacity to rank Drew Lock behind inferior players such as the forward pass averse Brandon Wimbush of Notre Dame and CFF media darling Bryce Perkins. Since the hate has simply gone too far, someone has to stand up for Drew Lock and his 44 Touchdown Passes of a year ago. I intend to compare and contrast the team fantasy outlook of Bryce Perkins and Drew Lock to show how I evaluate the whole situation for each player.
2017 was a tale of 2 seasons for Missouri. The first 5 FBS games of the season they went 0-5 and scored only 18 Points Per Game. However, in their next six games against a much lighter schedule, they averaged 51 points per game and went 6-0 to end the regular season. ESPN’s 2017 FPI rated Missouri’s offense as the #19th best in the country, while S&P+ had them 13th. The Tigers amassed an impressive 37.5 PPG and 502 YPG and Drew Lock threw for an SEC record 44 TD’s. By any measure, 2017 was a stellar year for the Missouri offense. Alas, we don’t get points for what our players did in 2017, so what data can we cull from last year to give us insight into how potent Missouri will be in 2018?
In 2016, Barry Odom took over as HC from the retiring Gary Pinkel and had to replace all five starters from an offensive line that only managed a meager 115 rushing yards (3.5 YPC) and 281 YPG the previous year while allowing 30 sacks. Odom whipped the completely rebuilt line into shape to the tune of 205 rushing YPG on 4.9 YPC and more than cut their sack total in half to 14 sacks allowed. Last year, the Offensive Line returned all 5 starters and improved to 5.2 YPC and only 13 Sacks allowed, while increasing their PPG from 31.4 to 37.5.
2018 Roster Outlook
In 2018, all 5 Offensive Lineman return once again and are poised to be one of the best units in the SEC, and are ranked as the #10 O-Line in the country by Phil Steele. This is especially important to Lock’s success because he thrived under pressure last season, throwing for 18 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions for a PFF grade of 79.9 when being blitzed by opposing defenses. Having continuity from an offensive line that has been intact since 2016 allows Lock to stand confidently in the pocket and deliver the deep balls to Emmanuel Hall for which he is renowned.
Though Missouri loses their #1 RB, Ish Witter, they return 2017 opening day starter and all-time Missouri Freshman rushing leader (1,062/6.9YPC All-SEC 3rd Team as FR), Damarea Crockett, who was injured mid-season and finished #3. Mizzou also returns their #2 rusher in Larry Rountree, who as a freshman amassed 703 Yds/6TD/6.0 YPC in a complementary role and appears ready to handle a more significant load as both backs were listed as co-starters heading into fall camp.
Much like the RB corps, Missouri loses top WR J’Mon Moore (65/1082/10 TD), but return the other three main cogs in the passing game in Emmanuel Hall (33/817/8 TD/24.8 YPC, 1st Team SEC), Johnathon Johnson (41/724/6 TD/17.7 YPC) and TE Albert Okwuegbunam (29/415/11TD – 2nd Team SEC). Throw in 4-Star Oregon transfer Alex Ofodile and Nate Brown and you’ve got an excellent set of returning skill players. Brown had an impressive spring and looks locked into a starting WR spot.
To top it off, Missouri had Steele’s #25 ranked Special Teams unit of 2017 and their Punter Corey Fatony ranked 12th in S&P+ punting efficiency rating. Punt Return Specialist Richaud Floyd had two return TD’s while averaging 19.8 Yds per return, frequently giving Lock a short field to work with.
Which brings us to Drew Lock, who as a true freshman started eight games in relief of the ineffective Maty Mauk to the tune of a modest 1,332 Yds, 49% Comp Pct and a 4-8 ratio. The 2015 team only averaged 13.6 PPG, however with an offseason of reps as the starter Lock showed progress by throwing for 3,399 Yds, 55% Comp Pct, and 23-10 TD/INT ratio, and improving the PPG by almost 18 points in 2016 to 31.4 PPG. Though the numbers weren’t eye-popping for fantasy purposes, Lock managed this improvement with only three returning starters on offense in 2016 and a new HC in Odom.
In 2017 Lock formally broke out with 3,964 Yds, 57.8 Comp Pct, and a 44-13 TD/INT ratio. We’ve seen Lock get demonstrably better every season, and this is backed up by PFF’s performance grades steadily increasing from 43.7 in 2015, to 67.8 in 2016 and finally 82.1 last year. It’s also important to keep in mind that Mizzou was borderline helpless their first six games of the year, then proceeded to demolish every defense in their path for the next six games at a 51 PPG clip. For 2018, S&P+ predicts Missouri’s production to improve slightly from being the #13 ranked offense in 2017 to #11 this season.
2018 Schedule Outlook
Critics point to a soft schedule as the catalyst for Lock’s gaudy numbers, which is indeed a fair assessment. However how much more difficult is the 2018 Missouri schedule than 2017? FPI ranks their 2018 schedule as the #37th toughest in the country. Last year MU played Missouri St, Purdue, Idaho, and UCONN in their non-conference matchups while pulling Auburn and Arkansas out of the SEC West. This year they play UT Martin, Wyoming, Purdue, and Memphis. With ‘Bama and Arkansas from the West.
That schedule has the potential for exploitation, as there are matchups along the way that bodes well for Missoula and Lock.
Purdue’s stingy 2017 D allowed only 20.5 PPG, but the 2018 version returns only four starters, loses 9 of its top 12 tacklers, and is projected by Phil Steele to allow 33 PPG. Prepare for a fantasy-riffic shootout in week 3 between them. That goes for Memphis as well; who allowed 32.5 PPG and will have no problem throwing on Mizzou’s porous pass D, I’m envisioning a 75+ Over/Under from Vegas. Wyoming has eight returning starters from an excellent G5 D that allowed 17.5 PPG. However, they also gave up 49 points to Oregon LY and will have to prove they can stop a Top-20 caliber offense like Mizzou.
In conference, Missouri swaps in ‘Bama for Auburn and plays Arkansas again, which is a push since you’re not starting Lock against either. Missouri’s 2018 schedule is objectively tougher from an overall team strength perspective, yet FPI still ranks them as having a 46% or better chance of winning in 10 of their 12 games. Even accounting for an improved Florida, Missouri’s schedule is still capable of facilitating several fantasy-friendly shootouts and should be viewed as a positive.
Mizzou has 9 Returning Starters (10 if you count Crockett) from a team that accounted for 37.5 PPG and 309 Passing YPG in the SEC last year and is projected by Phil Steele/S&P+ to actually improve on that performance by posting 323 PYPG and 39.7 PPG in 2018. Missouri has the personnel and schedule for continued success in 2018. Of course, Mizzou’s much-ballyhooed OC Josh Heupel jumped ship to become UCF HC and was replaced by the much maligned former Tennessee HC, Derek Dooley.
Having not been an OC at any level and serving as Dallas Cowboys WR Coach from ’12-’16, Dooley is widely being viewed as a harbinger of doom for this established Missouri offense. Dooley is expected to run a more pro-style offense than Heupel, which means more complexity and reads for the QB. With a 4-Year starter at QB in Lock who is determined to show NFL scouts that he can handle a more challenging offense, I feel it is premature and short-sighted to label a battle-tested and still improving Drew Lock as a player to avoid coming into this CFF draft season. If Dooley can tailor the offense around Lock’s talents, Mizzou is going to produce fantasy profit across the entire offensive roster.
The second season of Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia tenure was in some ways the opposite of Missouri. Virginia started out winning 5 of their first six games, upsetting Boise St week 4 then defeating Duke and UNC in one-score affairs and were favored by a touchdown heading into Boston College.
Then everything fell apart as Virginia sputtered to a 1-6 finish, getting blown out in every game except their 4 point victory over a listless Georgia Tech team that went on to lose 4 of their last five before getting thrashed by Navy in the Military Bowl 49-7.
In 2016 Virginia went 2-10 and ranked as the 88th best team in the country according to S&P+. Interestingly, though UVA improved to 6-7 in ’17, they only moved up to #85 on the S&P+ rankings with their offense ranking as the 109th “best” offense in the country (FPI ranked their offense 95th). Though the offense as a whole struggled, posting a mere 342 YPG/22.5 PPG in both ’16 and ’17, their rushing offense was particularly ineffective posting a lowly 94 Rushing YPG/3.1YPC. in ’17.
In 2017, The offensive line returned only 34 career starts and had 5 Freshman on their two-deep as UVA fruitlessly searched for continuity in the trenches. 2018 presents similar challenges as they return only two starters and 48 career line starts, 3rd fewest in the ACC. They must replace their starting LT/LG/RT and are ranked as the worst line in the ACC by Steele.
UVA’s RB unit returns intact, led by Senior Jordan Ellis who posted 836 yds/6TD/3.9 YPC in ’17 and being pushed by Soph PK Kier. Despite the line inexperience and with a more running oriented QB Steele predicts the Rush YPG to climb to 153 YPG this year, making Ellis worth monitoring in Deep and P5 leagues.
The WR unit loses 2 of their top 3 but returns their leader, slot receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who posted a receiving line of 85/895/5TD and ran for 27/182/1TD. With pocket passer Kurt Benkert at the helm, Zaccheaus excelled out of the slot, and his playmaking ability won him some carries on a team that desperately needed production from their backfield. OZ has been aggressively ranked due to his dual-threat capabilities, but I wonder how the QB change will affect his value, and if less reliance on the pass and a more efficient running game will sap some of his value. I wouldn’t select OZ in the Top 30 WR’s due to low TD potential and him playing on a mediocre offense in the midst of change.
QB Bryce Perkins comes to Charlottesville by way of Arizona Western where he completed 63% of his passes, ran for 353 yards in 10 games and played in the NJCAA championship game. Assuming Bryce Perkins wins the job over PS#44 ranked Prep QB Lindell Stone, Perkins gives UVA the ability to utilize more RPO plays with old friend Taysom Hill (In his Senior year, I think TH was the same age as Scott Bakula’s lead character in Necessary Roughness – Paul Blake. If you haven’t seen it, time to brush up on your 90’s) being floated as a comparison to how OC Robert Anae envisions his role. The problem with Bryce Perkins is we don’t know how he will fare against D1 competition and we don’t know how quickly this woeful offense of the past two years will come together.
As far as a how competitive the team will be, the offense returns only five starters and is projected as the #108th best offense and #73rd ranked team overall in 2018. FPI ranks their schedule as the #58th toughest in the country, where Steele ranks it 45th, which is pretty favorable. Their light off conference slate consists of Richmond/Indiana/Ohio/Liberty, and they miss Florida St and Clemson out of the Atlantic. I don’t think UVA could reasonably ask for a better draw than what they’ve been dealt in 2018. Even still, FPI gives UVA less than a 35% chance of victory in 8 of their 12 games. This is a bad sign since the team D is returning eight starters and projects to allow around 25 points per game, while Steele predicts their offense to produce 22.6 PPG.
Given their personnel and strength on D, UVA will be best served to move toward a more run-oriented, grind it out style behind Perkins. Mendenhall doesn’t care about our CFF desires. He wants to win games and utilizing a fantasy-friendly system isn’t how UVA is going to succeed.
The bottom line is this. Don’t be swayed by the hype and take an untested JUCO QB playing in a historically hapless offense projected to score mid 20’s PPG, on a team that is likely to finish in the basement of the ACC with an O-Line still in flux just because you heard some camp buzz that he’s dreamy. Perkins is a Junior, and this is a 2-year plan that will experience growing plans this year and likely be more effective in 2019 when they’ve had time to gel as a unit. Drew Lock is a battle-tested, 4-year starter, in an already potent offense that projects to be just as good as last year so long as Fredo Dooley can manage to not stumble over himself. Choosing Bryce Perkins over him is fantasy malpractice, act accordingly or suffer for your insolence!