Springtime in college football is always a time to look for important position battles to replace guys who’ve graduated or left for the NFL. The transfer portal has added a nuance to this on a variety of levels. Following coaching moves, looking for a starting job, system fits, or simply a change of scenery are the some of the many reasons we will continue to see more turnover in the college game and the spring is our first glimpse for the majority of these familiar faces in new places. No one loves the hogs and good line play like me but for this article I’ll focus on battles that will impact college fantasy football, so offensive skill players. For QB’s, and some RB’s, it will be a traditional battle for 1 starting spot but in the case of most WR’s cores I will look at groups losing multiple players (i.e.- Alabama and Ohio St.) and examine who is in contention for the multiple open spots, as that is more realistic to fantasy value. I will focus on legitimate battles as well, not scenarios where a transfer player (Caleb Williams or Spencer Rattler) will undoubtedly get the job.
Contenders: T.J. Finley, Zach Calzada, Robby Ashford
The Battle: T.J. Finley, who spent his first year at LSU, started the final 3 games of 2021 for the Tigers when Bo Nix went down with injury. The bad thing for Finley is that the team went 0-3 in those games, losing each by a single possession. The gargantuan Finley completed 54.7% of his passes for 6 TD’s and only a single interception. Zach Calzada comes to the Plains from Texas A&M where he replaced the injured Haynes King, starting 10 games in which the Aggies went 6-4. His numbers show 56.3 completion percentage combined with 17 TD’s and 9 interceptions. Neither Finley or Calzada give Bryan Harsin, yes he’s still there, much of a threat in the run game but Oregon transfer Robby Ashford sure does. Ashford did not see any game action in 2 years for the Ducks, though he did regularly play for them on the baseball diamond. Like Calzada he will have 3 seasons to play. The Hoover product is a dual threat guy who has skills totally absent from the other two.
Prediction: If game 1 were tomorrow I’d bet on Calzada and his even keel, not spectacular, ways to get the start. I think Ashford is the least likely to start but the most likely to spell whoever does start based on his skillset. The returning Finley certainly will battle Calzada for the starting job.
Contenders: Myles Brennan, Jayden Daniels
The Battle: Myles Brennan returns to LSU for his 6th season of college football, despite briefly testing the transfer portal waters. He did not play in any games last year due to a preseason injury that ended his campaign. He did start 3 games in 2020 and saw action in 8 during the national title run of 2019. He’s a career 60% passer with 13 TD’s and 6 interceptions. The much more dynamic Daniels comes to Brian Kelly’s family from Arizona St. where his athletic prowess was often negated by his accuracy issues and occasional bad decisions. Still, he possesses the tools that very few have and clearly a coach as accomplished as Kelly will think he is the man who can correct what has ailed Daniels. Though maybe a guy like Brennan means they can roll the dice on Daniels and see what happens.
Prediction: I am in the minority here who would give Brennan the edge right now. I’d say 60/40 in his favor at this point. The upside with Daniels is way higher and the floor much lower, I believe in year 1 Kelly will want to steady the ship, at least in the season opener against Florida St.
Contenders: Max Johnson, Haynes King, Conner Weigman
The Battle: Moving on from the Tigers we lead off with the transfer from LSU, Max Johnson. Johnson had a career 8-2 record over 2 seasons with a 59.8 completion rate and an impressive 35-7 TD-Int ratio. King was the starter to begin last season until he went down injured in week 2 against Colorado. He has a career 61.5% and a 3-4 TD-Int ratio in very limited experience. Weigman deserves a mention as he is the highest rated QB Jimbo has signed since Jameis Winston, and we know how that college career turned out. Weigman will be new to college football but if Jimbo was so sold on him that he declined to get involved on the Quinn Ewers transfer sweepstakes I have to believe the hype is real.
Prediction: With the crew Jimbo is assembling in College Station they will feel like if they figure out the QB they may have a shot at the playoffs. I expect it to be a 2 man race between Johnson and King, provided King is healthy. At the end of the day I don’t think Johnson leaves a starting job at LSU unless he’s pretty well certain he’ll be the guy for the Aggies. I’d feel safer betting on Johnson here than anyone in the other 3 QB battles I’m talking about in this article.
Contenders: Tyler Shough, Donovan Smith, Jacob Rodriguez
The Battle: The former Oregon player Shough has had a very polarizing career so far that the stats don’t fully represent. His 66.4 completion % and 22-9 TD-Int ratio is not accurate to his play. He has been outstanding against the teams he should beat and very poor against above average squads. Donovan Smith played in 9 games last year for the Red Raiders, compared to 4 for Shough. Smith had flashes where he looked decent, as did Shough. Smith had a 61.2% and a 7-2 TD-Int. In one of the biggest transfer portal surprises, Jacob Rodriguez landed in Lubbock after spending last year with the Virginia Cavaliers. He played in all 12 games last year both running and catching the ball though not throwing any passes. The dual threat Rodriguez may seem like an odd fit, especially with former Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Zach Kittley now running the O, but if new HC Joey McGuire chose to use his recruiting prowess on Rodriguez then there has to be something.
Prediction: Shough, if he’s healthy. His skillset and throwing strengths best match those of what Kittley wants in an offense, just look at Bailey Zappe last fall. His lack of mobility shouldn’t prove to be an issue with the way the Raiders will play in 2022. Smith could be a guy to monitor in the summer transfer portal. His father, DeAndre, had been the RB coach here but recently left to take the same position with the New York Giants. If Smith doesn’t figure to be the guy here, he should be the guy somewhere else.
Contenders: Jalen Berger, Jarek Broussard
The Battle: In the quest to takeover for All-American Kenneth Walker the Spartans have brought in 2 transfers. Berger comes from fellow Big Ten school Wisconsin and Broussard comes from head coach Mel Tucker’s former school Colorado. Berger carried the ball 24 times for 91 yards for the Badgers last fall. Broussard was the 2020 Pac 12 offensive player of the year when he ran for 813 yards in only 5 games and last fall he ran for 661 yards and 2 TD’s. I’d expect Broussard to be the lead back early on though both of these guys look to see plenty of action as touches will be plentiful in the run oriented offense the Spartans will feature.
Contenders: Trelon Smith, Emani Bailey, Emari Demarcado, Kendre Miller
The Battle: Replacing Zach Evans will be no easy task. He was a top level talent who will be a big addition to the Lane Train at Ole Miss. Trelon Smith arrives in Fort Worth from Arkansas where he was the leading RB for the Hogs. His 598 yards were second only to QB KJ Jefferson. He also contributed 5 TD’s on the ground. Bailey comes to the Frogs from the UL Rajin’ Cajuns where he ran for 615 yards and 8 TD’s while also adding 15 catches. Both Smith and Bailey will be familiar with the multi-back style they can expect from new boss Sonny Cumbie. Demarcado and Miller return to the backfield in the post-GP era and both will feel like the job could be in the cards for them. Miller was the 2nd leading rusher last season and Demarcado 3rd, both trailing Evans who only played 6 games. Miller averaged a whopping 7.6 yards a carry and Demarcado a respectable 4.6. These 4 are all solid RB’s who are P5 caliber players, still 4 seems like a crowd. With Smith and Bailey having just arrived I would not be surprised if we see one of the returners hit the transfer portal out in the summer, Demarcado would be my bet. Both he and Miller are too good to not see the field and Miller’s style will be more of a contrast to Smith’s that could offer a changeup. If I were a betting man in CFB fantasy, and I most certainly am, I’d rank them Smith, Miller, Bailey, Demarcado heading into the season.
Contenders: Raheim Sanders, Domonique Johnson
The Battle: Who will replace the aforementioned Trelon Smith is the question Sam Pittman needs to answer. Luckily they still return the dual threat KJ Jefferson who offers great support in the run game. Sanders ran for 578 and 5 TD’s last fall with Johnson close on his tail with 575 and 7 TD’s. Sanders added 11 catches to Johnson’s 7. This battle is too close to call, especially considering the wildcard of Jefferson keeping near the goal line. Both Sanders and Johnson will see significant carries next fall as Arkansas will likely be more run oriented in the post Treylon Burks era. I’d say both will be solid fantasy additions but not elite level, like Jefferson may be.
Contenders: Logan Diggs, Chris Tyree, Jadarian Price
The Battle: The post Brian Kelly era under Marcus Freeman has been a smooth transition so far, especially considering the long term success and consistency Kelly had brought to South Bend. That consistency included mauling O lines and TE after TE who made running the ball a way of life for the Irish. Replacing Kyren Williams might be the biggest question they have entering spring football. With Tommy Rees opting to remain as OC for the Irish and a good nucleus of players returning, whoever gets this job figures to be in for a hefty workload especially since we have seen them feature 1 back in recent years. Diggs and Tyree return after putting up almost identical rushing stat lines last season. Diggs carried the ball 52 times for 230 yards compared to 56 carries and 222 yards for Tyree. They found the end zone 3 and 1 times respectively. Tyree did have an impressive 24 receptions to go with that, while Diggs brought down 6 passes. The highly rated incoming freshman Price stands 5’11 and weighs 180 with a frame to put on weight. I wouldn’t bet on him to win the job week 1 but with Kyren Williams gone you never know if he will show flashes and gain an increase in carries as the season progresses. Right now I’d give a slight edge to the junior Tyree over the sophomore Diggs for the week 1 starting job but both look to see touches until one of them establishes themselves as the #1.
Key Losses: Jameson Williams, John Metchie III, Slade Bolden, Jahleel Billingsley(TE). Williams (15), Metchie (8), and Bolden (3) accounted for 26 receiving TD’s last year, all other Tide WR’s combined for 4.
Likely Replacements: Jermaine Burton made one of the more controversial uses of the transfer portal so far and we’d be foolish to expect anything less than him being Bryce Young’s top target this fall. The former Georgia WR addresses a key need for Alabama and is a top level player. Expect him to absorb more of Jameson Williams’ targets than anyone else. Ja’Corey Brooks played in all 15 games for Alabama last fall, though he will miss this spring with injury according to Nick Saban. Still he should be in a good position to start come fall provided he is healthy. JoJo Earle played in 12 games last fall and looks set to be given first crack at replacing Slade Bolden in that slot WR role. This player has never gotten the bulk of catches for Saban or Bill O’Brien but plenty of redzone targets usually make this spot a meaningful one. Agiye Hall replaced Williams in the title game when he went down and will likely receive meaningful first team reps and targets. Traeshon Holden looks the likely candidate to backup the outside receivers with Christian Leary the next guy in the slot. Cameron Latu returns as the primary TE, a role he assumed after Billingsley got in Nick’s doghouse. He caught an impressive 8 TD’s last fall. The number 2 TE job is very much up for grabs with Robbie Ouzts, a prototypical in-line (Y) tight end, the early front runner.
Key Losses: Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Jeremy Ruckert(TE).
Likely Replacements: C.J. Stroud will be right behind Young when the Heisman odds come out for this season. Jaxon Smith-Njigba had 95 catches last fall, easily more than the 70 of Wilson and 65 of Olave but they each had double digit TD’s unlike JSN who had 9. Though his record breaking Rose Bowl of 15 catches and 3 scores, played without Wilson and Olave, makes a difference there. Still he will be the unquestioned slot WR and go-to guy for the Buckeyes in 2022. No other returning receiver had more than 12 catches. Those 12 were by Julian Fleming. Fleming, a junior, looks to be the front-runner for one of the outside WR positions with Marvin Harrison Jr. as the likely candidate for the spot on the opposite side of the field. All 3 of them look to be top level fantasy WR’s in the fall. Emeka Egbuke played in 10 games last fall and will enter the spring as JSN’s backup in the slot, though he will also see the field a good amount when they go 4 wide. Kamryn Babb and Jayden Ballard look to be the next guys up at the outside WR spots and are worth a monitor if Fleming or Harrison get injured. Kaleb Brown and Kyion Grayes are both highly touted incoming freshmen WR’s who could make an impact as well, though they may not be a reliable play until later in the season. Mitch Rossi and Gee Scott Jr. will vie for the TE spot in the wake of Ruckert’s graduation. Rossi is listed as top of the depth chart thus far.
Key Losses: Jahan Dotson. Dotson had 91 catches, almost 30 more than the next guy as well as 12 TD’s, 8 more than anyone else on the squad. He may be the only significant loss at WR but if you view it as losing production then James Franklin has a big question to answer here.
Likely Replacements: Dotson won’t be replaced by any single player, replacing that production will need to be spread out. Returning Parker Washington is a good sign for PSU. He was 2nd in every receiving category last fall and should be able to pick up at least some of the production lost. KeAndre Lambert-Smith returns as well and his 34 catches and 3 TD’s were good enough for 3rd in each category. Washington and KLS both look to be penciled in as starters for the spring as they played a ton last fall. The 3rd spot could go to Mitchell Tinsley who transfers to Happy Valley from Western Kentucky (we will get to them later) where he was part of a high powered passing attack and hauled in 87 catches and 14 TD’s for the Hilltoppers. Tinsley comes from a system where they loved to throw and catch the ball and his proven success makes him an appetizing newcomer for fantasy players. While I don’t expect him to reach the output of Dotson, I would peg him as the favorite to be Sean Clifford’s #1 target next fall. Kaden Saunders is a highly rated incoming player who could also see the field. Jaden Dottin and Malick Meiga are also names to watch in case any of the main 3 go down with injury or other issues.
Key losses: Jerreth Sterns 150 catches (yes, you read that correctly) and 17 TD’s. Mitchell Tinsley 87 and 14. No oone else had half as many catches as Sterns or Tinsley. Again, it is as much about replacing the production as the spots.
Likely Replacements: The Hilltoppers lose offensive coordinator Zach Kittley to Texas Tech and Bailey Zappe will also be replaced by West Virginia transfer Jarret Doege. New OC and QB coach Ben Arbuckle was an analyst for the Toppers last fall. Daewood Davis and Malachi Corley are the top two returning receivers. Davis had 43 catches for 763 yards and 8 TD’s while Corley posted a line of 73-791-7. The Sterns family connection does continue though and Josh Sterns, Jerr’s younger brother, is reported to be a superb athlete who could also be a major factor for WKU this year. Dakota Thomas and Dalvin Smith are also returning WR’s for Ty Helton who will have the opportunity to see more playing time in 2022. As I say, the transfer portal giveth and it taketh away, this was also the case for WKU. Though they lost Tinsley to Penn St. they also brought in two solid additions at the position. Michael Mathison transfers in from Akron where he was the Zips 2nd leading receiver with 56 grabs and 3 scores. Another significant transfer in comes from Western Michigan and that is Jaylen Hall. Hall brought down 46 catches for 3 TD’s with the Broncos. Do not expect the overwhelming numbers and production of the Kittley/Zappe season but the offensive philosophy shouldn’t change too much. Mathison, Davis, and Josh Sterns would be the top 3 I’d favor right now, with Sterns operating our of the slot, but Hall and Corley are two guys close enough to the rest of the pack to grab a starting spot if things go well.