The American Athletic Conference is likely the strongest G5 conference, finishing the 2019 season with three top-25 teams. It is also definitively the top G5 conference for devy talent. The Eastern division of the conference, in particular, boasts exciting talent at the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions.
Last season Cincinnati, UCF, and Temple all had solid seasons that relied on the emergence of underclassmen. ECU also seems to have the building blocks in place to compete within their division this year, or at least cause the bigger teams problems. USF is the only team in the division that lacks devy assets entering 2020.
Below are the majority of the players that you should be aware of for the coming season, along with some that may not be relevant for a few years. The teams are listed in the order they finished in 2019, and the players are loosely placed in the order that you’ll see them go in a devy draft if you were to do one now.
Cincinnati had a great season in 2019, finishing 11-3 and at the top of the AAC East. They had a big win over UCF but struggled in their other games against ranked teams. After finishing the year at No. 21, they look to flip the script in their more difficult contests.
Cincinnati returns Head Coach Luke Fickell is perhaps the most important cog in the Cincy football machine. Fickell, the former coordinator and interim head coach at Ohio State, has slowly built this program since taking over in 2016. They’ve consistently built their recruiting up over his tenure. He is probably the hottest non-P5 coach out there.
The Bearcats lose TE Josiah Deguara (Packers 3rd Round Pick) and RB Michael Warren (Eagles UDFA). Both were big contributors in their offense in 2019 and will be missed.
Players to Watch
Jerome Ford – (Nerds RB #N/A)(2021) Devywatch ADP – 113.70
Ford made news this offseason when he announced that he was transferring from Alabama to Cincinnati. In limited time with the Crimson Tide, he showed good contact balance and pro-level acceleration. The former 4-star recruit may struggle for playing time this season with the shortened offseason schedule. The other backs on the roster are not of much interest to devy owners, although they may limit Ford’s usefulness in campus to canton rosters in 2020.
Desmond Ridder – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2021)
Ridder is a former 3-star recruit who took over the starting job as a redshirt freshman. He showed promise his first year on campus, but regressed in virtually every statistical category as a sophomore. The major downfall; he threw only 5 interceptions in his first year as a starter, but doubled that total last season while dropping his incompletion percentage by 7 points. Ridder returns as a redshirt junior to show that his initial success was not a fluke. Ridder is a true pro-style quarterback with good arm strength but inconsistent ball placement. Although effective with his feet, he projects as more of a pocket passer in the pros. If he struggles again this year, he may have a position battle on his hands with highly touted freshman dual-threat Evan Prater (‘23).
Jadon Thompson – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2023)
An incoming 4-star wide receiver from Illinois who had several P5 offers including both Michigan schools and Iowa. He likely needs a season to bulk up, but is dangerous on kick returns and as a receiver. His potential could be further unlocked by…
Evan Prater – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2023)
I’ve already written a full breakdown on Prater for Dynasty Nerds, but in short, he’s a 4-star, dual-threat quarterback that is still developing the mental part of his game. If he figures it out, he can be great. If he doesn’t, he can still be a strong college quarterback on a top-25 team.
Perhaps most well-known for claiming a portion of the 2017 National Championship, the Golden Knights are still a relatively strong squad. They just missed out on winning the AAC East in 2019, losing to eventual champ Cincinnati by 3. With their returning talent, they should be a threat to compete again this season.
Head Coach Josh Heupel returns for his third year and has averaged 11 wins a season since joining the program. He picked up right where former coach Scott Frost left off with their undefeated 2017 campaign. UCF has a knack for discovering these unheralded coaches and turning them into hot commodities.
UCF loses a key piece in wide receiver Gabe Davis (Bills 4th Round Pick), but returns the majority of an offense that averaged roughly 44 points per game in 2019. They’ll rely on a committee of WRs to replace his production.
Players to Watch
Dillon Gabriel – (Nerds QB #28)(2022) Devywatch ADP – 116.78
Gabriel stepped into the void left behind by the injured McKenzie Milton (‘21) and exceeded all expectations. With Milton’s football future still uncertain, Gabriel will continue as the starter in 2020. Although his arm strength is questionable, Gabriel rarely makes a bad decision and his ball placement as a true freshman was excellent. Gabriel is also on the smaller side, so any bulking this season will be a step forward. His physical restrictions suggest limited upside as a devy option moving forward.
Greg McCrae – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2021)
UCF loses Adrian Killins, but they may be the team most reliant on RBBC in the entire country. Greg McCrae, Otis Anderson (‘21), and Bentavious Thompson (‘21), all saw significant touches in 2019 and will do so again in 2020. None of them are particularly interesting for devy purposes, although McCrae probably has the highest profile of the trio. A solid pass catching back with above average athletic ability, he could profile as a change of pace back in the NFL.
UCF only has the 6th ranked class in the AAC for 2020, although they typically don’t rely on top recruits anyway. This means that they are unlikely to have a freshman emerge during the season. The closest thing that they have as a sleeper for this season is Jaylon Robinson (‘21), a transfer WR from Oklahoma. Robinson saw limited action for the Sooners, but was highly recruited out of high school. He projects as a slot guy at 5’10, 170 and can also contribute in the return game.
Temple was rather mediocre in 2019, finishing with an 8-5 record and a bowl appearance against UNC which they lost 55-13. They did beat Memphis last season and played Cincy tough, suggesting they may have the potential to compete for their conference in 2020.
Temple has been a revolving door at Head Coach for the better part of the last decade, continuously losing their head coaches to bigger programs. These coaches included Al Golden (to Miami), Steve Addazio (Boston College), Matt Rhule (Baylor, then the NFL), and Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech). In 2019, Temple announced Rod Carey as their head coach and in his first season he led the team to an 8-5 record and a third place AAC finish. That’s not bad for Temple, but they’ll expect a stronger showing in 2020 with the amount of talent they have returning.
Temple lost a few minor contributors from last season, but return most of the major players from their 2019 squad.
Players to Watch
Re’Mahn Davis – (Nerds RB #40)(2022) Devywatch ADP – 110.13
Davis is the devy headliner for the Owls program. As a true freshman in 2019, Davis posted a 936/8 statline and carried the offense in several games. He has good size at 5’9, 210 and is a tough runner. The only worrying characteristic for Davis is his lack of long speed. Although recent backs have had success in the NFL without top rate speed, Davis is noticeably slow on tape. His upside may be limited as a result, but Davis is still a solid NFL prospect and should be owned in many devy leagues. The Film Nerds team interviewed Davis live on their show, as shown below.
Re-Al Mitchell – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2022)
Anthony Russo (‘21) is the starting quarterback for 2020 but is unlikely to have any real devy impact moving forward. That does not mean, however, that the positional depth chart is devoid of interesting prospects. Re-Al Mitchell is a dual-threat quarterback who was originally recruited to play at Iowa State before transferring to Temple. He has to sit out the season, but fits the mold of what Carey wants at QB and should start in 2021. Even if he never becomes a high end prospect in his own right, he should be a successful college player and useful in campus to canton leagues.
Jadan Blue & Branden Mack – Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP (both 2021)
Grouping these two together because they have both had decent production at Temple. Either could end up as a late round NFL pick with a strong performance in 2020. Blue in particular has been a statistical standout, ending 2019 with 95 catches for over 1000 yards and 4 touchdowns.
USF Head Coach Jeff Scott arrives this offseason from Clemson where he served as WR coach and co-offensive coordinator and brings a host of transfers with him. It speaks to the talent on the roster that he felt the need to add experienced players from outside the program to develop.
The cupboard is bare at virtually every offensive skill position, so Scott has his hands full. Luckily for the Bulls, he has shown that he is capable of recruiting and developing wide receivers while at Clemson. He also has experience recruiting in Florida, something that will be vital to the future of the program. While they do not currently have any players worth rostering in devy leagues, the quarterback position is intriguing.
EAST CAROLINA PIRATES
2019 Recap/Coaching/Vacated Positions
East Carolina didn’t finish 2019 with a great record, but they kept many games close and played well in the second half of the season. Entering his second year as the ECU Head coach, Mike Houston will look to continue building a high-powered offense that gave teams fits down the home stretch in 2019. The team returns most of the heavy hitters on offense, including a couple of players that should be on devy radars entering 2020.
Players to Watch
CJ Johnson – (Nerds WR #26)(2022) Devywatch ADP – 58.26
Johnson is likely the best devy asset in the AAC East. As a true freshman last year, he exploded with a 54 catch, 900 yard performance. He has excellent size (6’2, 229) and uses it to his advantage, bullying corners at the catchpoint and through route stems. He needs to work a bit on creating more separation, but should be owned in the majority of devy leagues entering 2020.
Holton Ahlers – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2021)
Ahlers is a bit of a wildcard but put up big numbers in 2019. He has some wonky mechanics with a long windup and his footwork can be inconsistent. However, there is no denying that he can play. He seemed to have more success when the game plan required him to hit quick passes on three-step drops. He is also a bit of a sneaky athlete (cue the lunch pail jokes), which adds another element to his game. Another one to keep an eye on, but should not be owned in anything other than campus to canton leagues at this point.
Mason Garcia – (Unranked by Dynasty Nerds & no Devywatch ADP)(2023)
The Pirates likely don’t have any running backs or tight ends that will end up as contributors in the pros. What they do have is an incoming freshman quarterback with an NFL-quality arm. Mason Garcia is a 3-star according to the 247 composite with a big arm and great size (6’4, 220). He is also moderately mobile, and is able to take games over with his skill set. Garcia won’t touch the field in 2020 without an injury to Ahlers, and he might not play in 2021 either, but he has a chance to develop into an early round draft selection.
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