Three-Point Stance: Surprising players, underachieving units, no-name depth
Rivals national columnist Mike Farrell is here with the five most surprising players so far this season, five position groups that have been downright awful and a few teams with rosters that make you scratch your head.
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1. FIVE PLAYERS HAVING SURPRISINGLY DOMINANT SEASONS
I talked about disappointing players last week but let’s give some props to players having dominant seasons that came a bit out of left field.
1. RB Kenneth Walker, Michigan State — We saw glimpses of his ability at Wake Forest but did we really expect a Heisman run like this and to have him leading an undefeated Michigan State team and leading the nation in rushing? Nope.
2. QB Kenny Pickett, Pitt — In an odd year for quarterbacks, Pickett leads the best passing attack in the country and has 19 touchdowns and only one interception. It’s time for him to start getting more national love.
3. WR Josh Downs, North Carolina — We loved Downs as a high school prospect and felt he’d be a great fit in the Tar Heels' offense but he’s fourth in the country in receiving yards and has six touchdown catches on the season. It would be scary to see where the North Carolina offense would be without him.
4. DT Zachary Carter, Florida — Carter had a very good season last year but decided to come back and show everyone his progress as he tries to reach the first round. He already has as many sacks (five) and one fewer tackle for a loss (eight) than all of last season.
5. DB Verone McKinley, Oregon — McKinley was overshadowed last year even by guys who opted out, but his play this season has been off the charts including a great game against Ohio State. He’s tied for the most interceptions in the nation with four because of anticipation.
2. POSITION GROUPS THAT HAVE UNDERACHIEVED
I also showcased some surprising good positional groups last week and perhaps cursed a few (e.g. Florida's offensive line). So maybe calling out the bad will turn their seasons around?
Oklahoma's Offensive Line: One of the main reasons that Spencer Rattler and the rest of the Sooners' offense have struggled so much this season is that they are not getting even average play out of their offensive line. Tennessee transfer Wanya Morris was supposed to come in to help shore up the unit, but he can't even get on the field, and the unit as a whole has really struggled in run blocking. None of their starters is earning a PFF grade of higher than 66.3 and that’s horrible. The Sooners rank 75th in the country in rushing in large part due to their poor play up front and Rattler is often running for his life.
Clemson's Wide Receivers: Yes, quarterback and the offense in general has been a problem for the Tigers this season, as they are now unranked for the first time since 2014, but this wide receiver unit was supposed to be among the best in the country with the return of Justyn Ross and Joe Ngata. But they have struggled mightily with only 564 yards and three touchdowns between the two of them and there is an overall lack of separation we are used to seeing from the Clemson receivers.
LSU's Defensive Backs: Coming into the season, we envisioned this group as one of the best in the country, with both Elias Ricks and Derek Stingley Jr. back in the fold, but both guys have underwhelmed greatly. And their team as a whole ranks 93rd in the country in pass defense. They are allowing teams to convert third downs at a 46-percent clip, good for 112th in the country.
Wisconsin's Offensive Line: Over the past 20-plus years, we've come to expect the Badgers to have one of the best lines in the country, year in and year out. But their unit this year is among the worst in the country, having PFF's eighth-worst pass-blocking grade out of the entire power five. They let their quarterbacks get sacked six times this past weekend against Michigan as just another example of poor communication and overall play. Left tackle Tyler Beach has been particularly bad, earning PFF's third-worst pass-blocking grade among all Power Five tackles.
UCLA's Defensive Backs: The Bruins started the season off hot, but they've slipped in two of their last three games, and have been especially susceptible against the pass. For the season they rank 128th in the country in passing yards allowed, giving up 321.4 per game, and have only one interception on the season. Quentin Lake and the rest of the defensive backs are the unit that is holding back what could have been a Pac-12 title contender.
3. FOUR PROGRAMS WITH SURPRISING DEPTH CHARTS
Finally, while perusing some rosters it wasn’t a surprise to have to look up a few guys from teams such as Wake Forest and Cincinnati to see where they came from in recruiting or from the transfer portal. But blueblood rosters with no-names? Here are four programs that have surprises on their depths charts and some players you may have never heard of.
Tennessee: Although the Vols haven't recruited at the same level as Georgia or Alabama in recent years, they've still had plenty of good classes. But you wouldn't know that by looking on the field this season, as they lost so many guys to the transfer portal after last year that this year's team is a motley crew of no names. Unless you're a die-hard Tennessee fan, there are not a lot of names that you know here as their leading rusher is JUCO transplant Tiyon Evans and their leading receiver is Velus Jones from the 2016 USC class.
Florida State: Remember when the entirety of Florida State's roster was full of four- and five-star prospects? That is definitely no longer the case. Their most visible players are both transfers (Jermaine Johnson and McKenzie Milton), and they have gotten next to nothing out of any of the few recent big names they've recruited. Impact players recruited out of high school such as Amari Gainer are few and far between.
Washington: There was a time when the Huskies were in the mix every year in the Pac-12, and they had plenty of big names especially in the secondary. But with their struggles this season, they've been relying more on lesser-known guys and transfers than ever. Outside of Trent McDuffie and Bookie Radley-Hiles (who has missed time himself), there's not a lot of recognizable names making an impact.
Miami: Yet again, it's the transfers who are the ones that everyone knows. In this case it's D'Eriq King (now injured again) and receiver Charleston Rambo. But when was the last time that we saw The U recruit and develop a true weapon on offense? Mike Harley drops half of the balls that are thrown his way, and there isn't anything in the backfield. Bubba Bolden is the biggest name on defense and there is some young hope from Leonard Taylor and James Williams but will they fade into oblivion like many others.