10 college players who need a bounceback 2017 season
While talent is the most important aspect when it comes to a player’s draft stock, timing is probably not far behind on the list. You often hear underclassmen entering the NFL Draft after a strong season or returning to school following weaker years after having considered leaving early. Below we take a look at players who have already proven that they are capable of playing at a high level, yet were unable to perform at that level in 2016, and should be prime candidates for bounceback seasons in 2017. Although these players’ last season did not go according to their expectations there is no reason to believe they will not be back at their best in September.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
2015 snaps: 703; Grade: 90.5
2016 snaps: 450; Grade: 74.1
It did not come as a big surprise to anyone when Freeman announced in December that he would return to Oregon for his senior season. The Ducks’ runner, marred by injuries, had a lackluster junior season that actually weakened his draft stock. Overall, it was not a disastrous season for Freeman, who still averaged 5.7 yards per carry, but it just was not up to the standard he set as a freshman and sophomore. Nevertheless, he averaged a career-high 4.0 yards after contact and still forced 47 missed tackles on 167 attempt. He just could not get enough carries to improve his draft position or to even break the 1,000-yards rushing barrier. It is tough to blame Freeman for his decision, especially taking into consideration the group of running backs entering the 2017 NFL Draft, and it is hard to imagine him not being talked as a first-round talent one year from now if he can avoid injuries in his senior season.
Jordan Villamin, WR, Oregon State
2015 snaps: 720; Grade: 73.8
2016 snaps: 436; Grade: 50.7
Villamin seemed to carve out a big role for himself during his sophomore season as he became Oregon State’s leading receiver and the highest-graded player at the position on his team. However, instead of building on that strong year, Villamin took a step back and nearly disappeared in 2016. Last season Villamin actually had fewer than half as many targets, receptions, receiving yards and yards after catch than in 2015. Furthermore, the junior receiver averaged just 3.7 yards after the catch, which was a significant dropoff from the 8.0 yards he averaged as a sophomore. Furthermore, despite the lack of targets, Villamin had four drops in 2016, which was just one shy from the number of dropped passes he had in 2015. In addition, to make things worse, he had the first fumble of his Oregon State career. However, Villamin will have every chance to once again play a bigger role in Oregon State’s offense in the next season with the departure of fellow receiver Victor Boldin Jr.
Danny Friend, TE, Indiana
2015 snaps: 120; Grade: 81.6
2016 snaps: 878; Grade: 44.1
While Friend had not had a strong full season prior to the 2016 campaign, he flashed sufficient ability to validate his presence on this list. As a matter of fact, Friend established himself as one of the better run-blocking tight ends in college football in 2015 prior to going down with a season-ending injury after the first four games of the season. Furthermore, Friend did not really lose blocks in his sophomore season as he could be counted on at the point of attack and could even contribute with receptions and earn yards after the catch. However, while he played in all 13 of Indiana’s games in 2016, he was not able to live up to his 2015 early-season form. Friend allowed multiple tackles by defenders he was blocking on running plays, including several that resulted in a tackle for loss. Also, his average yards after catch dropped from 10.3 to 2.4 yards, so evaluators will be looking to see Friend show improvement in both run-blocking and pass-catching in his senior season.
Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
2015 snaps: 625; Grade: 76.2
2016 snaps: 342; Grade: 43.1
While it’s true that Miller’s sophomore season was cut short due to an injury suffered against Arizona in Week 5, his campaign was not off to a good start prior to that either. The UCLA tackle put in a solid performance as a swing tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2015, and while his pass-blocking was a work in progress, his run-blocking more than made up for it. However, he surrendered more combined quarterback sacks and hits on significantly fewer snaps in 2016 than as a freshman, and his run-blocking was not near the 2015 level either. Miller’s junior season should go a long way in helping evaluators decide whether 2016 was just an off season for Miller or whether that is his ceiling as a full-time starter on an offensive line.
Nick Gates, T, Nebraska
2015 snaps: 727; Grade: 78.6
2016 snaps: 943; Grade: 46.5
Despite finishing the 2015 season very strongly, it was expected that Gates might struggle sophomore season as he transitioned from right tackle to left tackle in the offseason. However, Gates did just the opposite and started the 2016 campaign very well, before his play fell off a cliff after Nebraska’s bye week in Week 6. While he had no below-average performances in his first five games, he had six in his last eight games. As a result, Gates went from giving up 19 total pressures without a sack on 365 pass-blocking snaps at right tackle to surrendering 32 total pressures, including a sack, on 450 pass-protecting snaps at left tackle. Although transitioning from one position to another is never easy, Gates showed signs early in 2016 that he is capable of making the move, but he will need to try to prove it again for the length of an entire season in 2017.
Alan Knott, C, South Carolina
2015 snaps: 600; Grade: 79.5
2016 snaps: 830; Grade: 38.8
The decline of Knott was one of the most puzzling events of the 2016 season as he went from being the 32nd-ranked center in the nation in 2015 to the 132nd-best out of 146 qualifying players at the position last season. While Knott did struggle in his freshman campaign too, he took a significant step forward in 2015 as he did not allow a single sack or quarterback hit on 312 pass-blocking snaps while giving up only seven hurries and becoming a destructive force in the running game. However, he surrendered one sack, one hit and a disappointing 20 hurries in 2016 as he became a liability in run-blocking too. Knott has a tall task ahead as he is trying to come back from a disastrous 2016 campaign, but his sophomore season proved he is capable of such feat.
DeMarquis Gates, LB, Mississippi
2015 snaps: 594; Grade: 82.1
2016 snaps: 625; Grade: 48.5
While Gates had a statistically good season in 2016, this is a case where the numbers can be a bit deceiving and it is better to look at the complete picture when evaluating a player. While the Ole Miss linebacker did record four sacks and had a better pass-rushing campaign than in 2015, it was not significantly superior to his sophomore year, since he actually had fewer total pressures despite the sacks in 2016. However, the two aspects that actually placed Gates on this list were his run defense and his performance in coverage. While he was at his best defending the run in 2015, Gates became significantly less consistent at coming off blocks and making plays close to the line of scrimmage in his junior season. In addition, whereas the linebacker broke up two passes and allowed just one touchdown in his sophomore year, he failed to get his hands on any passes as he gave up three touchdowns in coverage in 2016.
Anthony Sherrils, S, Missouri
2015 snaps: 770; Grade: 80.1
2016 snaps: 508; Grade: 41.7
Sherrils showed promising signs as a sophomore, ranking ahead of players such as Jamal Adams, Marcus Williams and Budda Baker as the 41st-highest-graded safety in college football in 2015. However, unlike those other players, the Missouri defensive back failed to build on that encouraging campaign and, in fact, took a big step backward. In 2016, Sherrils was the 325th-ranked player at his position, as he had a weaker season in every aspect of football. It especially hurt Sherrils’ case that while run defense was one of his fortes in 2015, he missed twice as many tackles on fewer snaps in 2016 than in the year before. Sherrils will be looking to bounce back in coverage too, as he allowed his first two touchdown receptions in coverage in his college career over the last two games of the 2016 season.
Jamar Summers, CB, Connecticut
2015 snaps: 784; Grade: 84.3
2016 snaps: 853; Grade: 53.9
Summers was so good in 2015 he even made our Preseason All-Group of 5 Team in 2016 and was among the highest-graded players at his position as a sophomore. However, quarterbacks were not afraid of Summers — it was just the opposite, as they went after him and the UConn cornerback was unable to slow down passing games. Summers was actually fortunate when it came to touchdowns, as he gave up the same amount as in 2015, but he surrendered more than three times as many yards – 796 compared to 250 – as a junior than as a sophomore. Summers didn’t log many big plays, either, as the number of interceptions he recorded dropped from eight to just two in 2016. Since cornerback is one position that depends largely on confidence, the offseason and taking a break should do Summers well as he is in need of gaining confidence going into his final season as a Connecticut Husky.
Donovan Wilson, CB, Texas A&M
2015 snaps: 639; Grade: 81.8
2016 snaps: 744; Grade: 49.6
Despite being one of the most targeted cornerbacks in the slot – targeted once every 4.6 cover snaps – Wilson was among the best slot cornerbacks in the nation in 2015 as he allowed an NFL passer rating of just 49.0 when lining up there. This was, naturally, largely due to the fact that he recorded four interceptions – the most from the slot that year – and gave up just one touchdown in coverage from the slot. While his 2016 season was not necessarily terrible based on his coverage numbers (passer rating of 73.5 allowed in the slot), he was unable to make big plays and recorded just one interception all year. He especially struggled once receivers caught the ball as he missed 24 tackles, the most among cornerbacks with a comfortable margin.