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The college football regular season is officially over. A few conference championship upsets and blowouts last weekend have led us to this point.
Georgia, Michigan, TCU, and Ohio State now begin preparation for their playoff runs, but dozens of other teams are now heading into bowl season -- or as I like to affectionately call it, bowl opt-out season.
For those unaware, college football bowl season has come under fire recently as players with NFL aspirations declare for the upcoming draft and opt out of their team's bowl game. Perhaps even more detrimental to the future of bowl games is the college football transfer portal, which took on more than 1,000 players on Monday when it officially opened.
NFL hopefuls have until January 16th to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft, but some high-profile players have already decided to make the leap. Over these next few weeks, we will highlight a few of these early declares as dynasty leaguers become further invested in a new crop of talent to lead their teams for years to come.
Note: Stats and information courtesy of PFF.com, CollegeFootballData.com and Sports-Reference.com.
Anthony Richardson, QB (Florida)
Passing: 2,449 yards, 17 TDs, 9 INTs, 53.8 comp %
Rushing: 103 carries, 654 yards, 9 TDs
There may not be a more heavily-debated quarterback in this year's draft than Anthony Richardson. A 6-foot-4, 232-pound size/speed specimen, Richardson has all the tools in the world to perform at the NFL level. However, he's also one of the rawest prospects in the draft and may need to sit a season before he's fully ready to play on Sundays.
Physically, Richardson may be the closest thing we've seen to Cam Newton. Newton measured at 6-foot-5, 248-pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine back in 2011 and ran a 4.60 40-time -- he was also a more polished prospect. While Richardson is a bit smaller and likely faster, it goes without saying that guys like him don't come around often.
Developmentally, Richardson may be discussed similarly to Malik Willis. Like Richardson, Willis was also considered a raw, athletic prospect with a rocket arm. Viewed by some as a potential first round pick, he didn't come off the board until the third round when the Titans took him with the 86th overall pick. The fine folks over at Player Profiler offer us a look at Richardson's athletic profile as a four-star recruit in 2020, but his 4.94 40-time is expected to be closer to a 4.5 when he tests this spring.
When it comes to highlights, Richardson offers plenty.
However, among 89 qualified passers this season, Richardson ranks 87th in completion percentage, 88th in adjusted completion percentage (63.9%), and was 55th among 62 quarterbacks in pressured completion rate (38.0%). He was second from last in completion percentage when facing the blitz.
To say he has some work to do as a passer would be an understatement, but Richardson's ceiling is that of an elite playmaker and fantasy asset if a team can fully unlock his potential.
Tavion Thomas, RB (Utah)
Rushing: 142 carries, 687 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving: 6 receptions, 43 yards, 0 TDs
Tavion Thomas' path to the NFL began in 2018 when he arrived to Cincinnati as a three-star recruit. While with the Bearcats, Thomas totaled 129 carries for 689 yards and seven touchdowns, but family concerns and COVID-19 led to him playing for Independence Community College in 2020.
In 2021, he returned to an FBS program, joining the Utes and taking over as their lead back. In his first season with the team, Thomas rushed 204 times for 1,106 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading all Pac-12 runners in touchdowns while ranking fourth in rushing yards. His 3.81 YCO/ATT ranked fifth among qualified runners.
This season, a toe injury resulted in Thomas appearing in just 10 games. Of the 10 games he played in, Thomas saw fewer than 10 carries in three of those games and rushed 11 times or less in half of his appearances.
Thomas' efficiency took a major hit in 2022, which could come up during the pre-draft process this offseason. His 3.81 YCO/ATT dropped to 2.95 YCO/ATT this season, while his breakaway yards percentage dropped from 29.7% to 25.6%. He forced a missed tackle on 30.4% of his carries in 2021 but saw that number drop to 20.4% in 2022.
More of a bruiser than an evasive runner, Thomas ranked 96th among 151 qualified backs in PFF's elusiveness rating last season (59.8) but was 16th among qualified runners last season (114.8).
With just 10 career receptions, Thomas certainly doesn't profile as much of a receiver and needs to improve as a pass blocker, but he has some upside as an early-down grinder. Joining a potentially loaded running back class, Thomas may not hear his name called until Day 3 of the draft. Having already accepted an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl, he'll have a chance to boost his stock if he's well enough to play, otherwise, he'll need to wait until the combine to impress scouts.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR (Ohio State)
Receiving (2021): 95 receptions, 1,595 yards, 9 TDs
If Jaxon Smith-Njigba would have been eligible for the 2022 draft, he would've been a first-round pick. It's possible he may have been the first receiver taken.
An injury-plagued 2022 limited JSN to just three games this season, where he caught five passes for 43 yards and no touchdowns. With a lost 2022, we have no choice but to look back on JSN's 2021 season -- which was one of the more dominant of any receiver that season.
Among qualified receivers, JSN ranked among the top at his position in several categories. His 95 receptions and 1,595 yards were more than teammates Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who went in the first round of last year's draft.
A former five-star recruit from the 2020 class, Smith-Njigba was the No. 2 ranked receiver in his class per 247Sports.com and was the 15th ranked player overall.
While he was unable to do much as a true freshman, JSN's sophomore breakout showed enough to get dynasty leaguers excited for his arrival. In addition to being an elite playmaker with the ball in his hands, JSN has the ability to win contested targets and can make tacklers miss in the open field. In last season's win over Utah in the Rose Bowl, he put a little bit of everything on display while going for 15-336-3 against a top-ranked Utah defense.
JSN is already in the conversation as the WR1 of the 2023 NFL Draft class. He'll have some talented receivers to compete against -- with TCU's Quentin Johnston and USC's Jordan Addison both expected to declare in the near future, but he has a legitimate case to be the first receiver off the board next year.