Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 12 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans, USF receiver Rodney Adams and Houston cornerback Brandon Wilson are just a few underrated players to watch in the American Athletic Conference in 2016. Here are a few other names to watch this fall:
The AAC's Most Underrated Players for 2016
Rodney Adams, WR, USF
Adams earned second-team American all-conference honors last season, but the senior is quietly flying under the national radar. After catching 25 passes in his first two years on campus, Adams had a breakout 2015 campaign, grabbing 45 receptions for 822 yards and nine scores. For the first time in Adams’ career, USF has stability at quarterback with the return of Quinton Flowers. With Flowers expected to take a step forward as a passer this fall, Adams should exceed his 2015 totals in a huge senior year.
Deyshawn Bond, C, Cincinnati
Bond is one of the unheralded stars from a Cincinnati offense that averaged 33.8 points a game in 2015. The Indianapolis native started 12 games last fall and earned second-team all-conference honors. Bond enters his senior year with 33 career starts and is Athlon’s pick as the American Athletic Conference top center for 2016.
Doroland Dorceus, RB, Memphis
Even though new coach Mike Norvell has to replace standout quarterback Paxton Lynch, the cupboard is far from bare on offense. The receiving corps is one of the best in the American Athletic Conference, and there’s a solid foundation in place up front. Until Riley Ferguson, Jason Stewart or Brady Davis settles in at quarterback, Norvell should get plenty of mileage out of the running backs. Dorceus leads a solid stable of backs after rushing for 659 yards and eight scores last season. Under Norvell’s direction at Arizona State, the Sun Devils ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing offense last season. Expect Dorceus to threaten the 1,000-yard mark after recording only 155 carries in 2015.
Dane Evans, QB, Tulsa
Tulsa showed marked improvement under first-year coach Philip Montgomery last season. After a 2-10 record in 2014, the Golden Hurricane finished 6-7 last year and made the program’s first bowl trip since 2012. In addition to Montgomery’s arrival, a big reason for the improvement in the win column is due to Evans’ development. The Texas native threw for 4,332 yards and 25 scores last season and ranked seventh nationally by averaging 333.2 passing yards per game.
Justin Holman, QB, UCF
Holman’s 2015 season was derailed by injury, but the Georgia native was on the verge of earning a spot among the American Athletic Conference’s top quarterbacks prior to last year. In nine appearances in 2015, Holman struggled with a young supporting cast and injuries and was limited to just 1,379 yards and seven passing scores. That’s a significant drop from his 2014 totals – 2,952 passing yards and 23 scores. With new coach Scott Frost directing a fast-paced spread attack at UCF, Holman should have a huge rebound year in 2016.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
Jones’ play-making ability and overall talent is no mystery to opposing American Athletic Conference coaches. However, Jones doesn’t get enough credit on the national level after a standout 2015 season. In 12 games, Jones grabbed 98 receptions for 1,099 yards and five scores. And for his career, Jones has 241 receptions and ranks third in school history with 2,533 receiving yards. After earning second-team American Athletic all-conference honors last season, Jones should receive a spot on the league’s first team for 2016.
Nico Marley, LB, Tulane
It may seem strange to list a first-team American all-conference selection here, but more around the nation need to take notice of Marley. The grandson of legendary reggae singer Bob Marley has accumulated 231 tackles (36.5 for a loss) and generated six forced turnovers over the last three seasons. Marley doesn’t have prototypical size (5-foot-10), but the Florida native simply makes plays and is one of the American Athletic Conference’s top defenders.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Year two of Chad Morris’ rebuilding effort is underway at SMU, and it’s tough to identify a player flying under the radar going into 2016. However, let’s give a tip of the cap to Sutton. While the American Athletic Conference had a crowded group of talented receivers in 2015, Sutton didn’t earn a spot on the postseason all-conference team after grabbing 49 passes for 862 yards and nine scores. Additionally, Sutton’s 17.6 per-catch average ranked fifth in the conference. The sophomore is not only one of the rising stars in the American Athletic Conference, but he also heads into 2016 as an underrated player.
Jamir Tillman, WR, Navy
It’s no secret opportunities to throw will be limited in Navy’s offense. The Midshipmen attempted only 122 passes last season and that was with standout senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds leading the way. While Reynolds will be missed, new quarterback Tago Smith should keep the offense performing at a high level. Tillman has quietly posted solid receiving totals over the last two years and grabbed 27 receptions for 570 yards and five scores in 2015. Additionally, Tillman’s 20.6 yards per catch average ranked second among receivers in the American Athletic Conference. Opportunities are limited, but Tillman has emerged as one of the league’s top big-play threats on the outside.
P.J. Walker, QB, Temple
Houston’s Greg Ward, Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch garnered most of the attention at quarterback in the American Athletic Conference last season. However, Walker quietly produced a solid junior campaign for the Owls, throwing for 2,973 yards and 19 scores. The New Jersey native heads into his senior year with the school record in touchdown passes, total offense and completions, while needing just 121 passing yards to set a new program high.
Jhavon Williams, CB, UConn
Anchored by standout cornerback Jamar Summers, UConn’s secondary was one of the best in the nation last year. While Summers is going to garner most of the preseason attention, Williams is a pretty good cornerback in his own right. The Florida native has started every game in each of the last two seasons and has 30 career starts since stepping onto campus. Williams finished the 2015 season with 55 tackles (two for a loss), three interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Brandon Wilson, CB, Houston
The departure of safeties Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald and cornerback William Jackson III leave big shoes to fill in Houston’s secondary for 2016. However, coordinator Todd Orlando can start the rebuilding effort around Wilson. The Louisiana native was a valuable two-way player for the Cougars at the end of last season and finished the year with 58 tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and averaged 26.6 yards on kickoff returns. With injuries limiting running backs Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson, Wilson stepped into the backfield and contributed 111 yards in the 52-31 win over Navy and 70 yards against Temple in the American Athletic Conference Championship.