The Watch List: Big 12 Preview

Updated: July 31st 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph is the top QB prospect in the conference and likely has the most to gain from a good 2017 season.  His Heisman odds stand at 20:1 right now, tied for 5th highest; interestingly, fellow Big 12 QB Baker Mayfield is higher on that list but is seen as less of a pro prospect by most.  Rudolph has prototypical size at 6’5″ 230lbs and is a better runner than his 61 yard and 6 TD stat line would have you believe (don’t forget college rushing stats for QBs minus sack yardage; per Phil Steele’s stats he had 264 positive rushing yards in 2017).  In 2014, Coach Mike Gundy decided to remove Rudolph’s redshirt to have him start the last three games of the season.  In 2015 he was the starter and finished with 3,770 yards, 21 TDs and 9 INTs.  He improved on those stats in 2016 finishing with 4,091/28/4; other categories like completion percentage and yards per attempt increased slightly as well.  My main concerns after watching film of Rudolph against Oklahoma and Colorado last year are his accuracy and his ball security.  During the game against Oklahoma he fumbled one snap and dropped the ball during a zone read fake (he recovered both himself).  The rain may have exacerbated his handle of the ball but it’s not like he’ll never play in the rain in the NFL.  He also made a very poor decision on a quick out that was behind the back and nearly returned for a pick six; the play was a 1st down early in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys were down by 11 – there was absolutely no reason to take the chance and possibly lose any chance at a comeback.  During that game he had multiple bad throws, some underthrown and some overthrown.  Rudolph does throw the ball with some touch though.  Against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, he had a nice touch pass from the opposite hash on a key 3rd & 9 in the 2nd quarter.  It was an NFL throw and shows the confidence that Rudolph has in himself.  As I mentioned above, Rudolph does have some rushing ability but I do not think that will translate into the NFL.  He is not quick and looks more like a statue in the pocket than a scrambler.  Against Oklahoma, I did count four designed runs for him, one of which was a TD, but none against Colorado.  I only noted one play combined in both games, where Rudolph bootlegged out of the pocket and threw on the run (not counting scrambles forced by the rush).  It was an inaccurate throw which leads me to believe that he and his coaching staff know that throwing on the run is not an attribute of his.  One thing that stood out while studying his stats were his game logs: in 22 of 29 career starts he has 250+ yards.  One last, cautionary, stat to point out: Rudolph’s red zone completion percentage last year was just 56.5% (compared to 62.7% for top QB prospect Sam Darnold and 70% for Mayfield).  He’s Phil Steele’s 3rd ranked QB for the 2018 draft, he’s WalterFootball.com’s 9th ranked QB and he’s DraftScout.com’s 1st ranked senior QB.  Ultimately I think that Rudolph will start the mock draft season as a late 1st round pick but will creep up into the 12-18 range come April 2018.  For RSO owners, you’re probably looking at an early third rounder in single QB leagues, maybe a round earlier in superflex.
  • James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: I got a sneak peek of Washington while I was watching Mason Rudolph’s tape and I honestly was not that impressed.  I was hoping that further study of his stats and game logs would help but I just can’t get excited about him as a pro prospect yet.  Washington has contributed since he was a true freshman in 2014.  In 2016 he totaled 71 receptions, 1,380 yards and 10 TDs.  He was 2nd Team Big 12 in 2015 and 3rd Team All-American in 2016.  I watched tape of Washington from 2016 against Texas and Kansas State.  It’s clear pretty quickly that he is fast (I would guess 4.30 fast) and a great open field runner (quick feet, good juke moves).  He has good hands and catches the ball away from his body – as evidenced by a double-clutch catch on a screen against Kansas State, I’m not sure how he ended up with it and gained positive yardage from it.  Also against K State, he had a beautiful high-point touchdown catch on a post.  His separation speed against single coverage reminded me of Desean Jackson (who is significantly smaller than Washington; his closest recent combine comp is Torrey Smith).  All that sounds great but there were a few things that gave me pause.  The Cowboys offense features Washington on a lot of short routes, screens and shallow crosses which help pad his stats a bit.  In the two games’ worth of film I watched, there were just two plays I noted that Washington was a plus blocker.  On other plays he was either to the opposite side or just disinterested (in fairness, the person making his film reels may be leaving out blocking plays).  On a number of plays across the middle when Washington was victimized by QB Mason Rudolph’s inaccuracy, Washington had alligator arms.  Rather than going all-out for the catch, he pulled back and let the ball fall incomplete (or worse, he let it be intercepted as happened against Kansas State which was then returned for a touchdown).  In the game against Texas, Washington ended up leaving early due to a concussion.  Not a huge red flag since I bet most of the 2018 prospects will have at least one in their history but it’s certainly not a positive.  I think most analysts will be higher on Washington than I.  As of today, I would say he’s a second round RSO target.
  • Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Lazard is a senior and is looking to improve his counting stats for the fourth year in a row.  He shows a nice progression in receptions (45-56-69), yards (593-808-1,018), yards per catch (13.2-14.4-14.8) and TDs (3-6-7).  Lazard’s best attribute his his size: 6’5″ and 225lb.  Frequent Watch List readers will know I love to check combine comparables and Lazard has one of the best in Mike Evans.  I did not watch enough film of Lazard, just a mostly forgettable game against Oklahoma last year, to judge his concentration, hands or blocking ability.  Either way, I have him circled in my notebook and will keep an eye on him.  He was by far the best player on a bad Cyclones team the last two seasons (3-9 in both) so at least we know he’ll get the lion’s share of the targets in 2017.
  • Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: This redshirt junior is massive. Like, unbelievably so at 6’8″ 340lb. He was Phil Steele’s #1 ranked OT prospect in his high school class and is still that now that he’s looking forward to the NFL. He decided to stay in school one more year despite being draft eligible for 2017 – not a chance he stays for his senior season. I’m no expert on offensive linemen technique but even in the few minutes of tape I watched I can see how dominant he can be. Don’t be surprised to see Brown atop NFL draft boards come the Spring.

Storylines to Watch

  • OU’s Experienced OL: The Sooners return the most offensive lineman career starts in the Big 12 (9th overall in the FBS). Experienced offensive lineman often translate into reliable offensive production which should help Baker Mayfield & Co. eclipse the 43.9 points per game that they put up last year. OT Orlando Brown is the clear leader of the bunch but they also have versatile OG Dru Samia Jr., who is Phil Steele’s 18th ranked draft eligible player at the position, and has starts at RG, LG and RT in his career. This group will buoy Baker Mayfield’s NFL draft stock and will help an inexperienced RB corps decimated by the departures of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
  • Return to Relevance for Texas: New head coach Tom Herman comes into town hot off of two spectacular seasons at Houston. Herman managed to beat both Oklahoma and Louisville last year, both ranked 3rd in the nation at the time. If Herman can beat OU this year he will immediately endear himself to the Longhorn faithful. Herman had an impressive record at Houston (22-4, 3-0 vs Top 10, 6-0 vs Top 25) and with a larger recruiting base at Texas he should thrive if given time. The squad did lose their best offensive player in D’Onta Foreman but they return their top three receivers and sophomore QB Shane Buechle. As a true freshman, Buechle was solid enough to warrant some excitement this year under Herman (2,958 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs).
  • Baylor Under New Rhule: We all know that Baylor is a mess. I would not have been upset to see their program get the “death penalty” given how likely it is that the coaching staff and administration knew what was going on. Instead, the Bears are gearing up for another season and this one under Matt Rhule. Rhule’s resume is less impressive than Herman’s so I’m less bullish. Rhule is 28-23 in his career as a head coach but can hang his hat on back-to-back 10-4 seasons at Temple. If Rhule can win a game in the second half of the season, the Baylor fans should welcome the change with open arms (Baylor started 6-0 last year and finished 7-6 after a bowl win).

Games to Watch

  • September 16, Oklahoma State at Pitt: The 2016 version of this matchup ended up being a 45-38 shootout in which OKST prevailed. It’s the Cowboys toughest non-conference game and is in the middle of a stretch where three of four games are on the road. If OKST can come through unscathed, specifically against Pitt, they will be in good position to challenge Oklahoma for the title.
  • October 14, Oklahoma vs Texas: The Red River Rivalry is one of the best name-brand rivalries in college football. Despite Texas’ struggles in recent years, it is surprising to see how close it has been. In the past four years Oklahoma has come into the game ranked while Texas was unranked; they split the series 2-2. Texas coach Tom Herman will have a lot to prove and the Sooners will be looking to stay relevant in the conference championship race – this should be a good one.
  • November 4, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: Over the last five years, Bedlam has been just that: the games average 73.6 total points. This matchup will likely be a conference championship game preview (new for 2017 for the Big 12) and that is likely the reason it is being played earlier in November than the usual late season date. If somehow both teams make it to Stillwater undefeated, I would bet that even the loser has an outside shot to factor into the College Football Playoff.

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

FA Expectancy: Robert Woods

Updated: July 31st 2017

For the final 2017 FA Expectancy article, I wanted to shine the spotlight on Robert Woods who signed with the L.A. Rams. His arrival wasn’t a big splash like Brandin Cooks in New England or Alshon Jeffery in Philadelphia and most owners have seen Woods move from one stagnant offense in Buffalo to another in L.A. as neutral at best. So why should anyone be excited about a receiver moving to the 27th ranked team in pass attempts in 2016 and who hasn’t accumulated more than 700 yards or 5 touchdowns in a season? It all has to do with the situation he finds himself with new coach Sean McVay and the lack of experienced receivers on the depth chart.

Can Woods Be the #1 Option?

The Bills for the last two seasons under Rex Ryan finished 31st and 32nd in pass attempts. Before Ryan arrived Woods had 65-699-5 in his sophomore season playing alongside Sammy Watkins and the team was ranked 13th in pass attempts. With the three years that most expect receivers to develop it would have been interesting to see how Woods would have developed in a moderate passing offense these last two years.

Last season Watkins missed weeks 2-11 forcing Woods to be the WR1 and he produced an average of 10.66 points in PPR leagues. This was highlighted by his game on Monday Night Football in week 9 against Seattle of all teams when he had 10 catches for 162 yards. Clearly, he can contribute enough to be a fantasy relevant receiver and this all came with only a single touchdown in 2016. Increasing his touchdown total to even a moderate 5 or 6 would make Woods a solid WR3 with WR2 upside on a weekly basis.

Fisher-less Rams

Despite some confusion midseason with the Rams giving Jeff Fisher a contract extension the team finally came to their senses and fired him before the end of the season. His replacement, Sean McVay, is the youngest head coach in the modern NFL history (30). With all the hype surrounding Kyle Shanahan and how he will be changing the fortunes of the 49ers, there’s not much being talked about with McVay’s success. I argued this in a previous article that Shanahan wasn’t that dominant of a play caller for Washington and after McVay replaced him the team actually scored a slightly higher amount of touchdowns (38:34) per season.

So why are people so high on players like Pierre Garcon and Joe Williams but aren’t as high on Robert Woods and Todd Gurley? The only reason must be because of how little publicity the moves the team made in the offseason have been and the stigma of a Fisher-led team leaves. We should remember that before last year’s draft most expected Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to be developmental QBs and were likely going to be 2-3 years away before deciding what their NFL talent levels would be. Therefore, it should be expected that there be an improvement from last year. Even if the quarterback play doesn’t improve drastically from Goff the addition of McVay should increase the passing numbers from Fisher’s 27th ranking last year.

 

Addition by Subtraction

The team added Andrew Whitworth to the offensive line which was a big reason for Gurley’s disappointing sophomore season. Getting a running game involved in the offense will always help open up zones in the secondary which is where Woods earns his money. At 6ft, 200lbs and a 4.51 40-time Woods isn’t going to blow the top off or box out defenders, he will need time to create separation and make himself open. Luckily for Woods, the Rams still have Tavon Austin who can be the speedy, gadget player that can stretch the field. They also released last year’s receiving leader Kenny Britt along with Brian Quick which immediately put Woods in the role of the X receiver. The team did draft Josh Reynolds (a Matt Waldman darling) and Cooper Kupp who people are very excited about for the future. Still, somebody has to be the primary option and at least for 2017 that would seem to be Woods. Averaging 10PPR points seems like a floor for Woods who wouldn’t need to be more than a WR4/5 on any roster. With the upside of being a target volume vacuum in what should be a more pass friendly team, the cost of $3-6MM for Woods offers tremendous value for the stat line he could have.

 

Early RSO Contracts: QBs

Updated: July 31st 2017

Knowing the types of contracts given out by other fantasy teams can give the alert reader a big advantage when your own RSO free agency auction arrives.  Your league settings and available players will have a big impact on the size of contracts given out at various positions, but looking at the relative contracts within position groups provides some useful information.  To that end, I begin a new series examining early RSO auctions starting with a look at quarterbacks.

The Elite

Aaron Rodgers comes in as the most expensive quarterback by more than four million per season for a good reason.  He finished as the QB1 or QB2 every health season except for one (he finished as the QB7) while he was a starter.  There is not a safer player in all of fantasy football in my view. Historically, Rodgers has not been among the league passing attempts leaders, which sometimes limits his yardage totals.  He more than makes up for lack of volume with massive yearly touchdown totals do to extreme efficiency and extensive red-zone usage.  The Packer star also adds nearly mistake-free play, not throwing double-digit interceptions for seven seasons.  With all of the gushing praise just put on Rodgers, I will not own him in many leagues.  The drop-off from Rodgers to more cost-friendly options is not enough for me to justify the enormous premium placed on Rodgers in most instances.

Andrew Luck is the next quarterback at $5.5 million more per season than the third QB.  Luck finished as the QB2 and QB5 in PPG for 2014 and 2016.  The talent and upside are undeniable but his current price does not reflect the risk involved of a quarterback with multiple shoulder injuries who is not throwing the ball yet.  There are others available for a much cheaper cost (Russell Wilson for example) with similar upside and without the injury concerns.

Youth vs Veterans

The youth movement appears to be in full effect for quarterbacks in RSO leagues.  Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, and Dak Prescott come off the board next.  Carr and Winston, in particular, represent purely speculative projections at this point.  Carr paved the way to his best fantasy finish as the QB10 in PPG while Winston has not finished better than the QB19.  Tampa Bay added premier deep-threat DeSean Jackson and the first tight end taken in the NFL draft, O.J. Howard this offseason where Oakland took a more modest approach on the receiving spectrum adding tight end Jared Cook and return specialist Cordarrelle Patterson.  None of these additions warrant the cost of these players.

Moving down our table we find Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Matt Ryan as the QB9 through QB11.  This seems like a bargain for the QB2, QB3, and QB5 from last season even taking into account the expected regression from the group in 2017.  Ryan obliterated his previous career highs in essentially every statistical passing category and the Falcons lost their offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who moved on to coach San Francisco.  Less discussed is Brady’s likely regression coming into his age 40 season.  The Patriots’ quarterback put up his best season since his 50-touchdown performance in 2007 with a campaign that included a crazy 28-2 touchdown to interception ratio.  Brees, on the other hand, had a very normal Brees-type season.  He is among the most consistent quarterbacks in the league.  One must look all the way back to his time in San Diego for a finish outside the top 6.  Expect another one in 2017 with around 5,000 passing yards.

The Bargain Bin

There are many less expensive, quality alternatives to be found for those looking to go cheap at quarterback in either 1-QB 2-QB/Superflex leagues.  Phillip Rivers is a rock solid borderline QB1/QB2 who consistently provides value at his mid-QB2 cost.  Andy Dalton provides a lot of upside at the QB18 position.  He finished as the QB3 in 2013 and was the QB4 through week 13 in 2015 prior to an injury which ended his season.  The Bengals signal-caller carries more volatility than most with a revamped offensive line that struggled in 2016 and arguably lost its two best linemen in free agency.  This is balanced by a loaded skill position group which gets two of Cincinnati’s most dynamic playmakers back from injury, tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receiver A.J. Green.  The Bengals also added two of the top offensive talents in the draft, wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon.  For my money, Tyrod Taylor represents the best value among quarterbacks in 2017.  He finished as as a QB1 in PPG the last two season thanks in large part to his dynamic rushing ability.  His limitations as a pocket passer likely prevent him from being a top end performer, but the ability to get a solid starter at backup money is what makes an RSO team.

Rivers, Dalton, and Taylor all cost less than Philadelphia Eagles Carson Wentz for some reason.  Wentz predictably struggled mightily as a rookie finishing outside the top-24 quarterbacks in passer rating and QBR.  He was let down by one of the worst receiving groups in the NFL and a coaching staff that asked far too much of a rookie forcing Wentz to throw the fifth most attempts in the league.  Wentz has the physical tools to become a good quarterback, but there is not much reason for an RSO team to gamble with a significant, long-term investment on an unknown when there are plenty of cheap, reliable alternatives.

 

Average RSO Quarterback Contracts

 


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

The Watch List: AAC Preview

Updated: July 24th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Do you want the good news or the bad news first?  Let’s start with the good news.  Sutton has a big, NFL-ready frame at 6’4″ and 215lb; some recent combine comps at that size would be Mike Williams and Kenny Golladay from 2016 and AJ Green and Martavis Bryant from past seasons.  Sutton put up lines of 49-862-9 and 76-1,246-10 in the last two seasons respectively (he received a medical redshirt in 2014 after just two receptions).  In addition to solid season-long totals, it’s clear that Sutton can dominate a game as evidenced by a 13-252-2 game against North Texas and a 12-166-2 game against East Carolina in back-to-back games.  In that standout game against North Texas, Sutton had two highlight reel touchdown catches.  The first was a hail mary which he came down with surrounded by four defenders.  The second was an acrobatic toe-tapping catch in the back of the end zone that he was able to secure despite a PI penalty.  Now onto the bad news… All five of Sutton’s 100+ yard games in 2016 came against subpar defenses.  Those big games came against USF (122nd out of 128 by average receiving yards per game allowed), ECU (62nd), TCU (77th), Baylor (71st) and North Texas (26th).  The North Texas ranking was surprising but judging by the highlights I watched of that game it’s likely due more to their opposition than their talent.  Conversely, the one top passing defense they played, Temple (3rd), led to a 4-43 game for Sutton.  In addition to some highlight reels of Sutton, I checked out Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room episode dedicated to Sutton.  Waldman has concerns with Sutton’s hand placement and his tracking of the ball.  I’m a big fan of Waldman’s and have come to trust most of his evaluations and after watching his study of Sutton I found myself questioning some of the film I had already watched.  Phil Steele has Sutton as his 3rd ranked draft eligible WR; WalterFootball.com has him as the 4th; DLF has him as their 1st WR and 3rd overall prospect.  Concerns or not, Sutton is shaping up to be a top RSO draft pick in 2018 so he deserves your attention.
  • Quinton Flowers, QB, USF: Flowers will battle Memphis QB Riley Ferguson for the title of best AAC quarterback this season.  Because of his dual-threat ability and experience at the FBS level, I give the nod to Flowers.  Unfortunately, DraftBreakdown.com only has one film available on Flowers, and it’s from 2015, so I instead found myself searching Youtube.  I did not want to just watch a highlight reel because I feel that is even less illustrative for QBs than RBs or WRs.  I came across a Youtube channel called OneHourFootball which I would definitely suggest you check out for commercial free game footage.  On their channel, I found footage of USF vs Memphis from 2016 which was perfect because that would let me see peak Flowers as it was his best of the season.  In that game he went 24-29 for 263 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs; he also added a crazy 210 yards rushing and 3 TDs.  The USF offense under former coach Willie Taggart (now at Oregon, see below) is purely run out of the shotgun and featured a lot of quick pass patterns, spread runs and jet sweeps.  So, in other words, it doesn’t give much of a glimpse of Flowers in an NFL setting.  Flowers definitely had the quick release required by the offense but there were multiple times when his accuracy suffered as he rushed to get the ball out and did not have a great handle.  I was impressed with his smarts as a rusher – he knows when to turn it up the field and hit the hole, when to slide and when to get out of bounds.  On one key 2nd quarter 4th down, he took the snap on a designed run, momentarily waited for his blocks after a jet sweep fake and hit the hole at full speed for a 45 yard touchdown.  It was a great play and really showed his ability as a rusher.  Unfortunately for Flowers, the Bulls don’t have a marquee Power 5 matchup on the schedule this year and he played rather poorly in the two biggest games of his career against Florida State (combined 17-38 for 285 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs).  Ultimately, I fear that Flowers will be too small to be seriously considered by NFL teams.  Since 2010, there have been twelve QBs at the combine who measured 6’0″ or smaller.  Just one of those, Russell Wilson, blossomed into a solid NFL player; the second best on the list would be Johnny Manziel.  If Flowers can continue to improve his numbers and hit the 3,000 yard and 25 TD marks in 2017 he will likely find himself drafted in the late rounds or as a priority free agent for a team needing a backup for their mobile quarterback.  If he does end up in a landing spot like that he could be a cheap and valuable handcuff to your expensive franchise quarterback (a tactic that I think is under-utilized in a dynasty contract format).
  • Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis: Anthony Miller will be the next Antonio Brown.  No, not really (but if he is, then I definitely meant it) but he does compare favorably to Brown’s size and speed.  Miller is 5’11” and 190lb and NFLDraftScout.com has him down for an estimated 4.53 40 yard dash.  Miller put in a strong line in 2015 as a sophomore with 47-694-5 and followed that up with a great 95-1,434-14 line in 2016.  His senior year is shaping up to be even better but it remains to be seen if it will be enough for him to come out early.  While I was watching film on Flowers, one play from Miller really stood out.  He made an incredible one-handed catch that reminded me of the iconic Odell Beckham Jr. catch against the Cowboys.  I came into my research of Miller not expecting much but now I’m thinking he is somebody that will creep up NFL and RSO draft boards into the third round range for 2018.
  • Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: An honorable mention, as he’s not even draft eligible in 2018, but somebody you should try to watch at least once this season.  As a true freshman he had 65 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.  He came in as #4 on ESPN’s top recruiting list and has a grade of 92 by their scouts.  Watch just one highlight reel and you’ll be impressed with his athleticism, pursuit and speed.

Storylines to Watch

  • #POW6R: The AAC desperately wants you to think that college football features a “Power 6” rather than a “Power 5.”  Until the College Football Playoff committee recognizes the change I doubt fans will, but that isn’t stopping the AAC from trying.  Right now, the AAC is considered part of the “Group of 5” which also includes the Mountain West, MAC, C-USA and the Sun Belt.  Honestly, I do feel that the AAC is a step above those four in overall quality but they are not on the level of the Big 12, who I would consider to be the weakest “Power 5” conference right now.  The Big 12 seems to agree that the AAC is a step down; they were considering expansion last year and a whopping seven AAC teams applied for the openings (Cinci, Houston, SMU, USF, Tulane, UCF and UConn) but ultimately no teams were added.  I give the AAC and their administration credit for their dogged determination.  After the draft, they tried trolling the Big 12 on social media by using the hashtag #POW6R because more of their players were drafted to the NFL.  They also gave their teams “P6” helmet stickers to wear at times last year (ironically, they had to delay the roll out until after it was announced that nobody would be jumping to the Big 12, that would have been embarrassing).  The AAC can gain some more ground this year because they’ll likely have two Day One or Day Two draft picks in WRs Courtland Sutton and Anthony Miller.  AAC teams also feature a number of games against big “Power 5” names (including Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Michigan, TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma) so a few upset victories could help too.
  • The Coaching Exodus from AAC: A sign of the improving quality of the AAC brand is that their coaches keep leaving for bigger and better jobs.  After last season the league lost coaches to Baylor (Matt Rhule), Oregon (Willie Taggart) and Texas (Tom Herman).  College football writer Kevin McGuire pointed out on Twitter that in the last twelve months, 9 of the 12 teams have had a coaching change; ESPN had a good article about the exodus as well.  Part of me believes that this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy though: the more people write about the promotions (myself included), the more likely they are to happen.

Games to Watch

  • September 15, Illinois at USF:  USF is the AAC’s best hope at a New Years Six bowl game so it’s disappointing to see their weak non-conference schedule this season.  If the Fighting Illini were the easiest Power 5 team on the schedule, that would bode well for USF’s chances to climb the ranks but instead Illinois is the only Power 5 test.  Don’t let the Power 5 label fool you, Illinois will not be good in 2017 and a loss would sink the Bulls’ season before the conference schedule starts.
  • September 21, Temple at USF: If USF survives the Friday night spotlight game against Illinois they won’t have long to rest before the next biggest game of their season.  That’s because they’ll be back at it the following Thursday against Temple.  Luckily both games are at home for USF so there is no travel involved and Temple has the same Friday/Thursday turn-around.  Temple beat USF 46-30 last year which ended any big bowl hopes for Quinton Flowers & Co.
  • October 7, Air Force at Navy: I continue putting service academy games in these previews because I think it’s important that these athletes get the recognition they deserve. Many will be going on to serve our country in far more important ways and games like this are a great way to put aside our differences and celebrate their sacrifices.  Will it be the best game of the day?  Definitely not (looking at you Michigan State at Michigan) but it’s worth at least a few minutes of your time.
  • November 3, Memphis at Tulsa: It’s doubtful that either team is in the running for the conference title come early November, but this is still a game that you should circle because it will feature a few potential pro prospects.  As I mentioned above, Memphis WR Anthony Miller has a chance to be a second or third round pick in 2018, and the guy slinging him the ball, Riley Ferguson will get some draft consideration too.  Ferguson is a former Tennessee recruit who went the JUCO route before moving onto Memphis last year; he’s tall at 6’4″ and put up good numbers to close out 2016.  Tulsa RB D’Angelo Brewer is small (5’9″ and 185lb; would be sixth lightest RB at the combine since 2010) and has missed a few games to injury, but he has put up 2,272 yards, 13 TDs and a 5.33 ypc average over the last two seasons.  Tulsa averaged the fifth most rushing attempts per game last year in the FBS, so while Brewer may be far from a guarantee to get drafted the Tulsa offense will feed him and give him opportunities to shine.

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

The Watch List: Independents Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Adam Breneman, TE, UMass: I’m not ready to anoint Breneman as my favorite prospect yet, but he’s at least my favorite that you’ve never heard of.  Breneman transferred to UMass from Penn State and made a name for himself in 2016 after sitting out 2015.  He led the FBS in receptions by a TE (70) and was second in yards (808) and TDs (8).  I had honestly never heard of him before my research for this article and I guess that’s what happens when you play on a 2-10 independent team.  As a freshman, Breneman caught just 16 passes but for a solid 12.4 yards per catch.  He’s 6’4″ and 243lb – comparable to Dennis Pitta when he came out of BYU.  Film is tough to come by right now, but the first two clips on his “official” highlight reel are of one-handed catches.  Hopefully those sure hands are borne out when we have some more film to digest.  Maybe  my optimism is misplaced but the potential for an athletic, decently sized TE with good hands is too good to ignore.  Watch for him in early games against Hawaii and Tennessee, broadcasts that should be widely available, and impress your friends with your deep TE sleeper knowledge.
  • Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame:  The first thing that stood out to me about St. Brown, aside from his name, was how long and lean he looked on the field when I watched his film against Miami from 2016.  He’s 6’4″ and 205lb and needs to add 5-10lb before coming out for the NFL.  Of the seven WR who measured 6’4″ and around 205lb at the combine since 2010, all were busts.  If he puts on about 10lb, he’ll measure up with the likes of AJ Green and Martavis Bryant.  ESB has just one year of production and those numbers don’t jump off the page.  As a freshman in 2015, he played predominantly as a reserve with some special teams snaps (I was surprised to see a blocked punt against USC in his 2015 game logs).  In 2016 he transitioned into the lead target and had a line of 58-961-9.  I was not impressed by the film I watched of his against Miami.  Most of his receptions were on screens or short hitch routes.  From what I saw, he does not attack the ball and catch with his hands away from his body.  He’s tall but against Miami his height wasn’t used at all.  In fact, his touchdown catch was a diving catch where he basically trapped the ball against his body while falling to the ground and blocking out the defender.  It was a nice play and maybe a sign of his versatility but at his size he should be going over defenders, not through the middle.  There were three plays that I counted where he was an aggressive and useful blocker, another good sign.  Luckily for ESB, the Irish play a tough, cupcake-less schedule so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show us what he’s got.  Phil Steele has him as his 14th ranked draft-eligible WR; meanwhile WalterFootball.com doesn’t even have him ranked.  Looks like others are as equally as unsure about his future fantasy and NFL draft stock.
  • Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame: I was really looking to have a prospect from BYU in this preview but nobody really stood out for me.  Instead I decided to go with Adams.  He has two solid seasons under his belt, but neither has been overly impressive.  In 2015 he rushed 116 times for 838 yards and 6 TDs; in 2016 it was 158, 933 and 5.  In 2016 he also added in 21 receptions and 193 yards.  In the tape I watched of Adams against Stanford, I was surprised by how often he seemed to be a decoy, usually by running patterns from the backfield.  He rarely stayed in to block; I counted just one time that he was in pass protection.  The times when he was handed the ball, it was mostly up-the-gut and stuffed; he didn’t show me much speed, bounce or cutting ability.  Speaking of his speed, DraftScout.com has him listed as a projected 4.58 – I don’t see it.  He’d be lucky to get close to the similarly sized TJ Yeldon who ran a 4.61 in 2015.  It may not seem like a big difference but there’s something mental about going slower than 4.60.  I’ll have to watch some more tape of Adams to get a better feel for his athleticism.  With a good 2017 season and about 1,300 rushing yards, Adams will become the fifth leading rusher in Irish history – that will get him noticed.

Storylines to Watch

  • Brian Kelly on the Hot Seat: Kelly is a household name but his record at Notre Dame doesn’t really deserve the recognition.  Everybody knows the Irish severely under performed last year when they started the preseason at #10 but finished at 4-8.  The previous winning seasons should make up for it right?  I’m not so sure.  Kelly is 59-31 overall at Notre Dame, a respectable record for most coaches, but he’s just 2-5 against Top 10 opponents, 11-14 against the Top 25 and 3-3 in bowls.  Losing records against top competition is not the way to curry favor with fervent Notre Dame fans.  Kelly has to start fresh at QB which will make 2017 even tougher (DeShone Kizer was drafted by the Browns and Malik Zaire transferred to Florida).  If Kelly doesn’t win 9+ games and win a name-brand bowl, he should be looking for a new job next Spring.
  • Can Army Repeat 2016: The Black Knights were a surprising 8-5 in 2016 and managed upset wins over Temple, Wake Forest and Navy.  Can they repeat the winning ways in 2017?  My money would be on no based on their past track record.  Before last season, Army had just one winning season (7-6 in 2010) since 1995.  The argument for continued success is that Army returns 12 starters and nearly 85% of their offensive yards, per Phil Steele.  Call me patriotic, but the college football world is just better when Army is winning games.
  • The Return of Tanner Mangum:  Mangum had a good 2015 season when filling in for the injured Taysom Hill (3,377 yards, 23 TDs) but was benched in favor of Hill again in 2016.  Mangum got back under center for the bowl game when Hill was hurt again, but he was disappointing with just eight completions and one TD.  I considered spotlighting Mangum as one of my draft prospects but he will be 25 years old at the start of the 2018 season if he came out after his junior season. That’s likely too old for NFL teams to strongly consider him as their QB of the future, and compounded if he stays for a senior year (he missed his first two years of eligibility for mission work).

Games to Watch

  • September 2, BYU vs LSU: As far as early season games go, this is nearly as good as it gets.  If Mangum has any hope of gaining some draft buzz, a strong start to the season is his ticket.  After LSU, BYU also plays Utah and Wisconsin.  If they go 2-1 in those three games I bet they end up in the Top 25 and buoy Mangum’s prospects despite my concerns about his age.
  • September 9, Georgia at Notre Dame: Another banner early season game finds Georgia traveling to South Bend for the first time in school history.  Georgia should be Top 15 to start the season but I’m a bit worried they will get caught looking ahead to the Irish when the play Appalachian State on September 2.  If the Bulldogs don’t falter to start the season, getting a scalp against Georgia could very well save Brian Kelly’s job.
  • December 9, Army vs Navy: This matchup is always one of my favorite games of the season.  The game rightfully has the spotlight to itself before the bowl games kick off and it usually features some fun-to-watch triple option offenses.  It’s rare you can watch a game and find yourself rooting for both sides, enjoy it.  ‘Merica!

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

FA Expectancy: Marshall & Decker

Updated: July 24th 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Like the Raiders of the 2000’s, the Jets might be the worst place for NFL talent to go this decade. Despite having career years in 2015 Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were unable to propel the Jets back to playoffs for the first time since 2010. Then last year, an injury ended Decker’s season before October and Marshall’s stats came crashing back down due to the poor quarterback play of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. Both receivers were released and the Jets are once again in rebuilding mode. Both players are over 30 years old now (Decker 30, Marshall 33) but still have fantasy value for the right price and while the Jets are expected to have an awful record they do have some interesting young receivers that could benefit from garbage time points and be savvy plays week to week.

Marshall to New York 2.0

It made sense that Brandon Marshall would want to stay in New York with his frequent appearances on Inside the NFL and luckily the Giants are trying to keep their playoff window open. Therefore, it was a mutually beneficial acquisition. The Giants are looking to build on their playoff appearance last year but needed more than just Odell Beckham Jr. to beat the Falcons, Packers, Seahawks, and Cowboys. Marshall is no stranger to playing in an offense that features a #1 and 1A receiver, though he’s usually been the first option so it will be interesting to see what his role will be as the #2. There shouldn’t be a decline in production from Odell’s standpoint and much like Mike Evans the addition of another passing option should help keep safeties from shading one side of the field. Expect another top 10 fantasy production season in 2017.

Probably the player that has been most affected by this addition is sophomore receiver Sterling Shepard who looked like he may be coming into his own during the final games of last season. While the Giants have been one of the more consistent teams to run 3 WR sets their WR3 the last two seasons has not been fantasy relevant scoring only 101 PPR points. Shepard may be one of the better buy-low candidates because of his long term upside but for RSO owners it would be difficult without there being an injury to Marshall. Because of the RSO rookie contract format, he was likely a 1st round rookie pick last year which means that he will be under contract for as long as Marshall is in town. He may have the opportunity to regain his WR2 role after 2 years but then he will be back in your auction in 2018 or 2019. If you think he will be a great receiver moving into the next decade or you do not trust Marshall to stay healthy he should be easy to acquire. It will also be unlikely that he asks for a large salary with the new resign feature so it would be possible to hold him for another 5-7 years. Otherwise, if you drafted him last year and you want to have value now it’s probably best to get at least a 2nd round return for him before he loses more value.

Eli Manning should benefit from having another weapon to get the ball to in the end zone as they lacked a running game to finish off drives last year. Marshall has been one of the better targets in the end zone having 8 or more touchdowns 4 out of the last 5 years. Any given week Manning has the upside to be a QB1 but often manages to disappoint owners in easy matchups and therefore can be a headache to start. There are several other QBs that would cost the same or slightly less (Taylor, Rivers, Stafford) that I would rather pick up in the auction. Let others be frustrated with the highs and lows a typical Eli season.

Decker’s Move to the Music City

Decker Titans

Much like Marshall’s ties to New York, it made sense that Eric Decker would move to Nashville to be closer to the country music scene where his wife, country singer Jessie James works. It probably also helped that the Titans are shaping up to be a pretty good team in the AFC South and could be the sleeper team to win the division this season.

There are two pressing questions that are holding down Decker’s fantasy value for owners in 2017. The first is his health and whether at 30 years old he will be able to continue to play at a high level coming off of shoulder and hip surgeries. Adam Schefter reported that he was medically cleared back in June and the Titans would have done their due diligence before signing him. Still, they only signed him to a one year deal which could suggest that he was brought in to see what’s left and act more as a mentor to their young receiving core of Corey Davis, Taywon Taylor, and Tajae Sharpe.

The second question is what Decker’s role will be in the “smashmouth” offense of Head Coach Mike Mularkey and whether Corey Davis/Rishard Matthews can be the primary receiver. When Decker was able to operate as the second option behind Demaryius Thomas (2012, 2013) and Brandon Marshall (2015) he was able to take advantage of the coverage and averaged 84 catches, 1100 yards and 12 touchdowns in those three seasons. His 2014 season with the Jets he had to function as the primary receiver and he only had 5 touchdowns and less than 1,000 yards. In an offense that has two powerful redzone RBs and another receiver (Matthews) that also operates as a redzone threat, it might be difficult for Decker to accumulate the scores that he has been known to do over the last 5 seasons. Luckily, no one should be drafting Decker to expect his 2012-2013 stats but his 2015 season (less a few touchdowns) could be a reasonable expectation. He presents WR2 upside so he should be a value in auctions between $4-8MM. Just don’t get carried away and offer more than 1 year as we don’t know what his situation will be this time next year.

Low Flying Jets

The Jets cleaned house after a 4-12 season letting go of several key players on both sides of the ball. The team is unlikely to have a lot of wins in 2017 but luckily for fantasy, there are always garbage points. With the top two options gone the depth chart is also wide open for a receiver to accumulate these points. Quincy Enunwa is thought to be the first choice for fantasy owners as he played the most snaps last year of the remaining receivers and he showed fantasy value for deeper leagues. He has the size and athleticism (6’2”, 225lbs) that you would want from an X receiver which is where most people think he fits best. Playing opposite to Marshall last season he didn’t have to face many double teams and blanket coverages which could be a problem if he is unable to win off the line or create space for himself. WR3 is probably a ceiling for Enunwa but he also has the highest floor of any Jet receivers. I acquired him in my first auction of the season for $14MM/4yr and he earned $17.5MM/3yr in my home league. I expect at least one owner in each league to value him in about this range. Depending on how late in your auction he is nominated he may go for even less.

For those who don’t want to spend the same money on Enunwa, you can add Robby Anderson who I also got at the end of the auction for $1MM. Anderson is the opposite of Enunwa, a lighter receiver (190lbs) that is likely going to be playing mostly out of the slot. Depending on whether the QB that wins the starting job likes to press the ball downfield or wants to throw short, underneath routes will likely determine whether Anderson has any fantasy value in 2017. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jets games where Anderson gobbles up curl and drag route catches in the 4th quarter to turn 3 point games into 10 point games in PPR. Predicting these games will require a little bit of luck but for what is essentially a free player you can see what he has and then move on during the season if need be.


Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Leave me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.