This article is part of our Conference Preview series.
In the latest installment in our Conference Preview series we're shifting to the Mid-American, or the MAC for short.
As with other conferences, we'll have first-, second- and third-team MAC selections from a fantasy perspective along with sleeper and busts. To the right of each player's name, you'll find their overall position ranking.
All-MAC Fantasy Team
QB: Nathan Rourke, Ohio (4)
RB: Shakif Seymour, Toledo (24)
RB: Emmanuel Reed, Buffalo (58)
WR: Anthony Johnson, Buffalo (2)
WR: James Gardner, Miami (OH) (7)
TE: Tyler Mabry, Buffalo (11)
QB: Tyree Jackson, Buffalo (23)
RB: Marcus Jones, Northern Illinois (80)
RB: Tre Harbison, Northern Illinois (87)
WR: Cody Thompson, Toledo (25)
WR: Diontae Johnson, Toledo (60)
TE: Connor Brown, Ohio (19)
QB: Gus Ragland, Miami (OH) (36)
RB: Art Thompkins, Toledo (113)
RB: Theo Anderson, Buffalo (118)
WR: KJ Osborn, Buffalo (91)
WR: Spencer Tears, Northern Illinois (128)
TE: Jordan Fisher, Toledo (NR)
Jonathan Ward, RB, Central Michigan
It's hard to call the MAC's third-leading rusher last year, and the returning conference leader in yards from scrimmage a fantasy sleeper. But here we are with Ward.
With Michigan transfer Shane Morris starting under center last season, Ward had 11 or fewer carries in four of the first six games. His involvement in the passing game was heavy, with 40 catches on 54 targets in those first half-dozen games, but Ward finally got more work as a runner down the stretch. Over the final five regular season games he averaged 16.6 carries per game (7.6 yards per carry), with three 100-yard rushing games and seven touchdowns on the ground over that span.
Tony Poljan is stepping as the Chippewas'starting quarterback, and the offense will be tweaked to fit what he does best. With an inexperienced group of receivers, that surely means some designed runs for the quarterback and a generally more run-oriented approach. The latter point is good news for Ward, as the lead back and a legit dual threat.
Justin Hall, WR, Ball State
With four different quarterbacks throwing passes for Ball State last year, Hall's production as a freshman (78 receptions for 801 yards and three touchdowns) was practically a revelation. But Riley Neal is back at full strength after missing the final nine games last year, and that is good news for Hall.
Over the three games Neal played in 2017, Hall had 17 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Narrowing in on the last two of those games, Hall had 15 receptions (on 19 targets) for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Project that two-game run to a full 12 games, and it's 90 catches for 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns. Stability under center, assuming Neal stays healthy, sets Hall up for a nice sophomore campaign.
Mitchell Guadagni, QB, Toledo
Guadagni, with six career pass attempts, is the top candidate to replace Logan Woodside as Toledo's starting quarterback. If he can simply be functional, he's falling into a great situation.
With the return of a healthy Cody Thompson to go with Diontae Johnson and Jon'Vea Johnson, the Rockets have the best trio of wide receivers in the MAC. Terry Swanson is gone, but Shakif Seymour and Art Thompkins were capable fill-ins and will now each go up a spot on the running back depth chart. If that's not enough, four of Toledo's projected starting offensive lineman are juniors or seniors.
Assuming he wins the job, Guadagni just has to keep the fast car (Toledo's offense) on the road to find solid fantasy value.
Kato Nelson, QB, Akron
Nelson started the Zips'final five games last season when Tommy Woodson was injured, and he threw for 866 yards with nine total touchdowns (eight passing, one rushing) over that span. Overall as a freshman, in 10 games of action, he completed 50 percent of his passes (7.1 yards per attempt, 125.3 passer rating) with eight touchdowns and two interceptions along with 198 rushing yards.
Woodson is gone, so Nelson has the starting job to himself. He doesn't have elite skill position talent around him, but the offensive line looks solid with three returning starters.
Woodson, when healthy and on the right track, was able to produce solid fantasy numbers. After a solid finish last year, Nelson has nice upside that's likely to fall below the radar this year.
Justin Rankin, RB, Kent State
Rankin represented whatever fantasy value could be found on Kent State's roster last year, as the team's leading rusher (490 yards) and receiver (42 catches) with five total touchdowns (three rushing, two receiving). Wide receiver Trey Harrell led the team in receiving yards with 337, but Rankin was a close second with 311.
But things look somewhat promising for the Golden Flashes'offense this year. First-time head coach Sean Lewis is bringing a faster pace with him from Syracuse, and former Auburn quarterback Woody Barrett is coming in as JUCO transfer as the front runner to take over the starting job.
After topping 800 total yards as both a freshman and a sophomore, and as a threat for 200 touches, a new production ceiling is well within reach for Rankin during his junior season.
Emmanuel Reed, RB, Buffalo
Reed had a breakout sophomore season last year, leading the Bulls with 840 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. But he faded as the season went on, with less than 65 rushing yards five times in the last seven games while Theo Anderson had 36 carries for 224 yards in two November games.
Senior Jonathan Hawkins will also be back in the mix this year, after missing the final nine games of 2017 due to injury. A three-man split of the workload may be coming, perhaps with Reed leading the way, but Anderson and Hawkins will be factors if they're healthy.
After totaling 81 carries a three-game stretch last year, Reed started to drop-off. His workload won't have to be like that at any point this year, but a likely reduction overall is bad for his fantasy upside.
Jon'Vea Johnson, WR, Toledo
Counting the game Cody Thompson suffered his season-ending leg injury in last year, Johnson had at least six targets five times in his next eight games with at least 56 yards in five of six games during that stretch.
Thompson is back and ready to go, which will necessarily push Johnson to No. 3 in the wide receiver pecking order. Add in a big question at quarterback and two solid running backs (Shakif Seymour, Art Thompkins), and someone is bound to fall the wayside. The easy bet on who that will be is Jon'Vea Johnson.
Andrew Clair, RB, Bowling Green
Clair burst onto the scene last year as a freshman, with four straight 100-yard rushing games in October. He finished with 725 rushing yards and six total touchdowns, and with Josh Cleveland and Donovan Wilson gone he has an easy path to being Bowling Green's lead back this year.
But as Lee Corso says, not so fast, my friends. Matt Domer was limited to five games by a foot injury last year, but he averaged a robust 6.0 yards per carry when he did play and he could push Clair for playing time this year. The Falcons are also counting on quarterback Jarret Doege to emerge in his first full season as the starter, with a fairly tough first two games (Oregon, Maryland) to make that progress curve a little steeper. Stopping the running game is sure to be the priority for opposing defenses, and MAC defenses were already limiting Clair late last year.
A.J. Ouellette, RB, Ohio
After playing just one game in 2016, Ouellette stayed mostly healthy and topped 1,000 yards on the ground last year. But he suffered a shoulder injury in the regular season finale and missed most of the Bobcats'bowl game after re-injuring it. While it shouldn't be a lingering issue, it's a sign of durability concerns Ouellette can't quite shake.
Dorian Brown has graduated, but Maleek Irons is back after missing all of last season and Julian Ross showed his potential with 81 yards on 19 carries in that final regular season game against Buffalo. There's almost no chance Ouellette repeats last year's 192 carries if Irons and Ross are available, which leaves him with goal line work (seven touchdowns last year) as the best path to fantasy upside. But quarterback Nathan Rourke had 21 rushing touchdowns last year, so Ouellette will be sharing that portion of the ground work too.
Ouellette has significant downside and, at minimum, diminished upside. That feels like a fantasy bust.
James Gilbert, RB, Ball State
Gilbert finished third in the MAC in rushing as a sophomore in 2016 (1,332 yards), and he also tied for the conference lead in rushing touchdowns (12). But he was limited to just three games by a thumb injury last year, which opened the door for Caleb Huntley
to put up a 1,000-yard season as a freshman with a strong finish to boot (51 carries for 300 yards over the last two games).
Gilbert should step back into a prominent role this year. But that's far from a sure bet, with Huntley and to a lesser degree Malik Dunner in the mix. A carry split would be a negative for the fantasy value of all involved, but Gilbert would be the headliner and the lead bust candidate.