2017 RSO Writer’s League Reviews and Lessons

Updated: February 18th 2018

The contributors to Reality Sports Online finished our second season of the RSO Writer’s League recently.  The 10-team league features PPR scoring and each team rosters 20 players with 1QB/ 2RBs/ 2WRs/ 1TE/1 Open Flex/1 Flex starting requirements.  One of the goals for this league was providing the readers content and insight into the ways writers view their own team situations.  This article focuses on a couple of team reviews and lessons learned from some of the RSO staff.  Special thanks to Matt Goodwin (@mattgoody2) for his significant contribution.

Team Reviews

Matt Goodwin (5th Place Regular Season)

Another year, another earlier exit than I hoped for in the playoffs. Unlike last year where I was Le’Veoned in the playoffs, this year I created my own demise by starting Tom Savage as QB2 at the last minute over DeShone Kizer who had a solid game against the Packers. Had I made that move the playoff landscape could have changed as I would’ve knocked Bernard and his Todd Gurley hot streak out of the playoffs.  Anyways, I could make all sorts of excuses for my team underperforming this year such as OBJ’s season-ending injury, Hunter Henry’s role in the Chargers offense, and Jay Ajayi’s trade to the Eagles mid-season, but in the end through building a deep team and some trades I had a decent shot to go far in the playoffs.

Year 3 presents significant challenges for me. While I have a very nice core coming back (an extended Tom Brady, OBJ, Kareem Hunt on a 1.08 rookie deal, Ajayi in his first year as starter in a nice Philly offense, Henry with no Gates (if he ever retires), I will need Corey Davis to step up and be my WR2 to have a legitimate shot to win this league in 2018. I traded my 2018 first along with Melvin Gordon and AP post-auction for Ajayi and Davis with the thought that Davis could contribute as a rookie and if not, I had a high-priced top WR (Beckham) and a likely stud WR (Davis) on a reasonable rookie deal to basically settle my WR corps at a solid average price. That remains a decent possibility. If not, I still have a good bit of faith in Jamison Crowder who is going to cost me $4.2 million next year. If Davis produces, I can slide Crowder to the flex and my starting lineup is basically done save for a QB2.

I swung and missed on a few guys this year on smaller multiyear deals and jettisoned a few already by cutting Paxton Lynch and trading Samaje Perine. My biggest miss was my two year deal for Isaiah Crowell figuring the Browns invested enough in their line to commit to the run game while being more competitive. Well, Hue Jackson foiled that plan with his stubborn play-calling (as a Browns fan I’m pleading for the team to fire Jackson and pick up anyone but Jeff Fisher). So Crowell heads into real-life free-agency and I’m saddled with a $19.1 million salary for him in 2018, which may be somewhat paralyzing given that my 2018 cap commits are already $139.3 million.

So I’m somewhat cap constrained and down a 2018 first rounder, but optimistic I can fill my needs well and fairly cheaply other than potentially the QB2 position in our Superflex league. The available QB Free Agents in our league have potential (Cousins, Rivers, Bortles, Tyrod, A. Smith), but we’ll see what happens.

Bernard Faller (3rd Place Regular Season, League Champion)

Nothing is quite as good in fantasy as unexpectedly winning a championship which occurred for my team this season.  Like many other teams, Todd Gurley almost singlehandedly bullied my squad to the league title.  I viewed my team as an above average group with three pieces (Gurley, Evans, and Reed) capable of producing near the very top of their position and solid starters elsewhere.  My expected typical weekly starting lineup going into the season was:

QB1 – Stafford, Open Flex- Rivers, RB1 – Gurley, RB2 -Miller, WR1 – Evans, WR2 – Jeffrey, TE – Reed, Flex – C.J. Anderson/Emmanuel Sanders.

What went wrong: My biggest fail starts with Jordan Reed.  Reed played hurt most of the season when he was available and split time with Vernon Davis throughout the year.  Reed did not play after week 8 and Washington put him on I.R. late in the year.  I counted on Reed as an elite option at tight end but instead he wasted a roster spot on my bench most of the year on the hope he would come back by the end of season.  Mike Evans hugely underperformed this season due in part to erratic quarterback play as Jameis Winston played with a shoulder injury for stretches.  Evans also suffered bad luck in the touchdown department.  My flex spot was a mess for much of the season forcing me to use the waiver wire extensively.  While Anderson played well this season, Denver went to a more committee approach at running back after the first month and negative game script adversely affected him.  Sanders suffered from nagging injuries and ugly QB play all year.

What went right:  The biggest winning move before the season undoubtedly was trading my 2018 1st and a year of Brandon Marshall for Gurley and his large contract ($23M this season) mid-season in 2016 after a bad start to the year for Gurley.   It was a bet on Gurley’s talent and against Jeff Fisher being the coach going forward.  New coach Sean McVay fully exploited Gurley’s explosiveness with the ball in his hands both as a runner and receiver.  I was not planning on using my 2nd round rookie pick, Evan Engram, extensively going into the season as rookie tight ends rarely produce.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s injury really opened the door for Engram to have a big role and allowed him to showcase his skill-set producing one of the better rookie tight end seasons in recent memory.  He was not a game-changer this year but hitting on what looks like a reliable starter moving forward is definitely a win from a 2nd round pick.  I played the value game at quarterback, spending less than $15M combined salary for my two quarterbacks.  The move played out well with Stafford and Rivers ending as the QB7 and QB8 in our league.

Looking forward:  Most of my starters return on contract except for Rivers and Reed.  The hope is that Jimmy Garoppolo, who has looked great in his brief career so far (and whom I have signed to a very cheap deal in our last free agent auction), will be a solid replacement for Rivers on my team.  Gurley and Evans form a nice young core with each showing the ability to vie for top scorer at their respective position.  I accumulated another late 1st in addition to my normal rookie picks and will have about $50M to spend in the free agent auction to help my team.  With reliable starters largely in place, the main offseason goal is adding as many high upside players as possible in free agency and the draft.  My free agency strategy typically revolves around using long-term contracts on safer options and cheaper high-upside gambles while using shorter-term contracts on expensive starters.  While potentially missing out on some star players, this strategy allows fielding a competitive team year after year with costly mistakes easily rectified in short order.

Lessons Learned

Stephen Wendell – “I must value draft picks now”.

This will be a popular sentiment after last year’s rookie class success.  Draft picks generally rise in value for superflex leagues.  The additional starting spot means quarterbacks, who usually are not drafted until the late 2nd round, will routinely be taken starting in the 1st round of rookie drafts.

Robert F. Cowper – “Trust the process”.

The key here is do not panic if things go wrong in a single season.  Remain committed to a rebuild if that is the path you chose or you could end up with a mediocre team for a long time.  Do not change your valuations of rookie picks just because some did not pan out.

Matt Goodwin – In looking at our league, it seems that the frequent trading teams seem to do well and those that have two solid QBs in their starting lineup, with few exceptions. I think my decision to trade down in the second round and free myself from Sterling Shepard’s contract cost me Deshaun Watson who will be a significant force in this league for years to come. Getting a QB in the rookie draft in Round 2 and hitting on it is the best potential value you can extract in this league and I missed with Kizer who will surely be replaced by the Browns first overall pick this offseason. It’ll definitely be another fun ride (and hopefully every team in the league has less injuries next season).

Bernard Faller – 1. Doubling down on Matt’s point about having two reliable quarterbacks (or more) because it is so important.  You are putting yourself at a big disadvantage forcing positional players in your superflex spot.  An owner typically must pay a premium salary for a positional player to score an equivalent level of points.  2.  In a shallow league like this, there will almost always be quality players left on the waiver wire.  Make sure you keep some salary available to reinforce weak spots on your team or grab that great player who shows up out of nowhere.  3.  Do not bail on the season too early.  The rewards of winning a championship dictate you should try as hard as possible to make the playoffs.  Make a realistic assessment of your team but anything can happen if you get in the playoffs.

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.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2018 NFL Free Agency

Updated: February 18th 2018

Welcome back! With the NFL free agency just around the corner and the RSO and the site reopened, it is time to start watching who is a free agent or a potential cut candidate before the official offseason kicks off. There will be a few windows between now and March to either sell a player before he moves into a worse situation or buy a player before he joins a prolific offense. Here is a preview of each position’s key free agents as well as some player who could be cut before or during the offseason. Similar to last year I will be picking players that relocate to feature in the Free Agency Expectancy article series done throughout the offseason.


QB FAs QB Cuts
Drew Brees Eli Manning
Kirk Cousins Tyrod Taylor
Sam Bradford Ryan Tannehill
Josh McCown Mike Glennon
Case Keenum
Teddy Bridgewater
Blaine Gabbert
Jay Cutler
A.J. McCarron

The fireworks have already started with regards to the quarterback market with Alex Smith being dealt to Washington which should signal the end of Kirk Cousins in the Capital. Without knowing whether or not Drew Brees is going to seriously test free agency we have to assume that Cousins will be the one who will receive the largest contract. We haven’t seen a healthy, young(ish), competent QB hit the market in years so it will interesting to see how teams will court him. There should only be a handful of teams that don’t take a serious look at their starter and wonder if Cousins could be better. For the rest of the available and possibly available QBs, it’s a mixed bag in terms of fantasy relevance. Not sure many will have an impact outside of 2QB league but we’ll see where they land.

Running Backs

RB FAs RB Cuts
Le’Veon Bell DeMarco Murray
Carlos Hyde Doug Martin
Jerrick McKinnon Adrian Peterson
Dion Lewis Chris Ivory
Isaiah Crowell Mike Gillislee
Alfred Morris
Eddie Lacy
Jeremy Hill
LeGarrette Blount
Frank Gore
Rex Burkhead
Charles Sims
Thomas Rawls – RFA
Alex Collins – ERFA

Much like last year, I don’t expect Le’Veon Bell to hit the market, whether it is another year on the franchise tag or Pittsburgh comes to a long-term deal with him. Carlos Hyde would likely have the most upside of any free agent but he does have a history of injuries. He could find himself in a similar situation as Latavius Murray was last year where a team signs him but transitions to a rookie later in the season. After those two it would be hard to trust any RB to be more than an RB3-4 on a week-to-week basis. With another incoming rookie class that is extremely talented and super deep at the position, it will be tough for anyone to feel confident acquiring these available players. At best some will be able to share the backfield with a rookie or one another veteran. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

Wide Receivers

WR FAs WR Cuts
Jarvis Landry Jordy Nelson
Allen Robinson Brandon Marshall
Danny Amendola Randall Cobb
Paul Richardson Dez Bryant
Marqise Lee Emmanuel Sanders
Jordan Matthews Allen Hurns
Sammy Watkins Jeremy Maclin
Terrelle Pryor
Donte Moncrief
John Brown
Mike Wallace
Kendall Wright
Jeff Janis
Cameron Meredith – RFA
Quincy Enunwa – RFA
Tyrell Williams – RFA
Willie Snead – RFA
Brandon Coleman – RFA
Josh Gordon – ERFA

There are some big names available in the receiver market as well as some bigger names on the cut list which could make for savvy buy/sell opportunities between now and March. If Allen Robinson finds a new team with an efficient QB he will see his value spike back up to the mid WR1 conversation that it was a couple years ago. Same goes for Jarvis Landry who had good production in Miami with less than efficient offenses the last two seasons. If either or both Packers receivers are booted from Aaron Rodgers’ offense their value will crater. I would be selling both of them over the next three weeks before the trade value completely falls out from under them. Overall, this is the position group to watch throughout the offseason. Lots of moving pieces may create incredible value for a number of these players.

Tight Ends

TE FAs TE Cuts
Jimmy Graham Julius Thomas
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Eric Ebron
Tyler Eifert Vance McDonald
Antonio Gates C.J. Fiedorowicz
Benjamin Watson
Trey Burton
Cameron Brate – RFA  

Tight ends lag behind again as there are very few fantasy relevant options that will hit the open market and the ones that are available are extremely risky. Jimmy Graham started to be productive in Seattle last season with the offense needing to open up and carry their surprisingly weak defense. If he stays in Seattle he could be reconsidered in the top 3 conversation again for TE value. Until we know for sure his value is in flux. The rest of the group is either seriously flawed, injury prone or contemplating retirement which doesn’t bode well for fantasy value. Hopefully, the youth movement comes to blossom soon for this position otherwise it could be a wasteland if Gronk is serious about his retirement.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 TEs, Part I

Updated: February 11th 2018

Welcome to the RSO Rookie Rundown, a resource to help RSO owners prepare for their upcoming rookie drafts. For more college football and NFL Draft coverage, follow me on Twitter at @robertfcowper. Throughout the offseason, the RSO Rookie Rundown will delve into dozens of future rookies for your consideration. Each prospect will be evaluated on a number of criteria including size, production, performance, character and durability. This is an inexact science but the goal is to gain a better perspective of each player through research. Each player will be given a draft round grade as well as a recent NFL player comparison. For draft round grades, it’s important to remember that some positions are valued more highly than others in the NFL. For player comparisons, it’s important to remember that it is a rough heuristic for illustrative purposes and is based on a physical and statistical basis rather than a prediction of a similar NFL career.

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Dallas Goedert is an FCS star who deserves your attention.  Goedert was not even on my radar when I started researching the 2017 season but an RSO reader suggested I look him up and since then I have had Goedert as a top player at the position.  Goedert was selected for the Senior Bowl but ultimately had to pull out due to a hamstring injury.  Luckily he was still able to weigh-in so we could get a firm handle on his height and weight.  Goedert came in at 6044 (a handy shorthand that says he is 6 feet, 04 inches and 4/8) and 260lbs which was just about what we expected.  I will be very interested in seeing how Goedert runs at the combine.  NFLDraftScout.com predicts he’ll run about 4.81, whereas a Sports Illustrated profile from the preseason gave him 4.65 speed.  That’s a huge gap (think Julius Thomas vs Kyle Rudolph).  Unfortunately, the hamstring wasn’t Goedert’s first injury of the season.  He left SDSU’s quarterfinal matchup against New Hampshire early with an ankle injury; the injury subsequently kept him out of the semi-final against James Madison.  Goedert played in each game in 2015 and 2016 so I’m not that concerned that this is part of a bigger pattern (he was redshirted in 2013 and a limited contributor in 2014).  Goedert does not have any character concerns that I came across during my research.  To the contrary, he seems like a fun, quirky kid that fans will fall in love with.  My research of Goedert provided the most unexpected article from AOL titled “A Walk-On Unicyclist from South Dakota Might be the NFL Draft’s Top Tight End Prospect.”  The article did not skimp on unicycling details and actually included a snapshot from the local paper showing Goedert atop a six-foot high unicycle.  Awesome.  Let’s hope he gets drafted by the team featured on Hard Knocks so we can see him in the rookie talent show!

Stats & Accolades:  As an FCS player, there are few “advanced” stats out there for Goedert.  Good thing he dominated so much the last two seasons that we don’t need the advanced stats to tell us how good Goedert is.  2016 was his high water mark with a 92-1,293-11 campaign.  His counting stats decreased in 2017 but his rate stat of yards per reception did increase (15.4 in 2017 vs 14.1 in 2016).  I expect the decrease in 2017 was likely due to the fact that MVC defenses had more time to watch film of Goedert and to gameplan against him.  Goedert has five games in his career with 10+ receptions.  To give you a feel for how dominant that is, let’s compare to other top TE prospects in this class.  Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst and Troy Fumagalli all have zero such games.  Adam Breneman, featured below, is the only other top prospect with any 10+ games and he has just two.  Casual fans may interject and say, “Bob, surely he dominated because he was by far the best receiver on his team.”  I would point out that Goedert was sharing the targets with four-year standout WR Jake Wieneke who averaged nearly 1,300 yards and 15 TDs per season.  An easy knock against Goedert (and Wieneke) will be the quality of opponent.  To get a feel for how Goedert did in his team’s biggest games, I looked at a set of six games.  The first was his only game against a Power 5 opponent, TCU in 2016.  In that game he had a 5-96-1 line.  The other five games all were against North Dakota State.  I chose to concentrate on this subset of his game logs because NDSU was by far the most dominant team in the FCS in recent history (they won six of seven championships).  In those five games against championship level teams, Goedert totaled 29 receptions for 389 yards and 3 TDs.  On average, that would be 5.8 receptions, 77.8 yards and .6 TDs.  That’s a stat line that fantasy owners would kill for from the TE position on a regular basis.

Goedert was named to the Missouri Valley Conference First Team for three straight seasons from 2015-2017.  He was also named, unanimously, to back-to-back FCS All-American teams in 2016 and 2017.  He was also a Walter Payton Award (i.e. the FCS Heisman) finalist both seasons.  He has quite a list of accomplishments and I am looking forward to seeing him ply his trade at the next level.

Year Games Rec Yards TD
2014 14 8 100 0
2015 12 26 484 3
2016 13 92 1293 11
2017 14 72 1111 7

Film Study: North Dakota State (2017), TCU (2016)

I watched Goedert against North Dakota State and TCU – the two key opponents mentioned above.  Let’s first look at Goedert in 2017 vs NDSU.  I was immediately struck by how versatile his usage was in the Jackrabbit offense.  Not only did Goedert line up inline, he lined up offset, split out and in the backfield.  Goedert is not a great blocker but I would say he is at least above average for the class.  Two blocks, coincidentally on back-to-back plays on the tape yet separated by minutes in the game, showed decent strength and form.  Don’t get me wrong, he will need improvement as a blocker in the NFL but what rookie tight end doesn’t?  Here are the two blocks:

In the first play, Goedert initiates contact with the defender with a quick strike.  He uses strong leg drive to push the defensive end back and hooks him to create a hole for the runner.  In the second play, Goedert again initiates the contact by getting his hands on the defender first.  He uses the linebacker’s aggressiveness against him as he pushes him inside just as the receiver comes past on the end-around.

Later in the game, Goedert impressed me with his concentration when he tipped a ball to himself and caught it with one hand.  He gets a clean release off the line and beats the covering linebacker.  He makes the tip and the catch look effortless as he walks into the endzone.  It was just one of a number of good-to-great catches I saw him make while watching tape and highlight reels.  Granted, it is easier to make the spectacular play when you’re playing against lesser competition.

On the ensuing two point conversion, Goedert stars in a clever trick play.  The running back takes a handoff and then hands to Goedert who comes on the reverse.  Goedert then pitches the ball to the quarterback who is in the flat.  It’s an ugly and dangerous pitch but it worked.  I don’t think there’s anything to glean from the play aside from reinforcing his versatility.

Against TCU, Goedert had a nice score that tied the game at 31.  He was lined up on the line and feigned blocking long enough to sell the fake on the jet sweep.  The defenders all fall for the fake and leave Goedert wide open.  He catches the ball in the open field and his size advantage is immediately apparent: there’s no way that the smaller safety can bring him down before the goal line.

While watching the TCU tape, I found myself disappointed in Goedert’s route running.  A number of his routes looked labored and slow.  One particular play late in the third quarter just looked like a lazy post pattern.  The safety is easily able to cover Goedert and break on the ball.  An NFL safety may have turned it into an interception.  The play ends in a defensive pass interference but that’s a moot point.  He should have done better on that play with the game still in the balance.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Size, volume of production in college, durability from 2013-2016, personality, versatility.

Weaknesses: 2017 injuries, level of competition in the FCS, speed (pending combine measurement), route running.

Opportunities: Due to his size and production in college, teams may view Goedert as a potential starter rather than a situational receiver.

Threats: Teams may get caught up on the recent ankle and hamstring injuries, or the lack of high level competition, and drop Goedert down their board.  Teams may be hesitant on Goedert until after they see him run at the combine as that will greatly impact his value.

Draft Round Grade:  Early 2nd Round

I believe that Goedert’s stock will continue to rise as more and more people get eyes on him.  A solid combine will also propel him higher in the draft as it’ll be the first time scouts can compare him to FBS players (the Senior Bowl injury really hurt, in my opinion).  Goedert isn’t the best blocker but he’s good enough that teams will view him as a more complete tight end prospect than somebody like Mark Andrews.

Recent NFL Comparison: Travis Kelce

While watching Goedert’s usage on tape, I felt there was a strong correlation to how Kelce is used by the Chiefs.  Kelce lines up in multiple positions, is used heavily on screens and non-traditional TE routes, and is included on trick plays.  Goedert will need to run closer to the Sports Illustrated estimate (4.65) than his NFLDraftScout.com estimate (4.81) to get close to Kelce’s speed (4.63).  I don’t think he’ll get under 4.70 so he’s definitely slower than Kelce but they are of a similar build.  Like Goedert, Kelce was not without some negatives (a suspension and lack of production) but he was worth the risk.


Jaylen Samuels, TE/RB/FB, North Carolina State

As the loquacious Winston Churchill might say if he were an NFL Draft analyst, Jaylen Samuels is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  My Twitter followers may recognize the name because I groused about Samuels at numerous times last season.  To say that Samuels may be the precursor to “positionless” football is not a stretch.  More so than for any other prospect, Samuels’ fantasy value will come down to who drafts him and their plans to utilize him.  In reality, Samuels does not fit in a preview of tight end prospects, he will most surely be drafted as a hybrid RB/FB.  I kept him with the tight ends for now more out of personal convenience than anything else.  At the Senior Bowl, Samuels measured in at 5114 (remember that’s shorthand for 5’11” and 4/8″) and 223lbs.  Since 2010, not a single TE has measured at 6’0″ or shorter at the combine; just one weighed less than 230lbs.  Like I said, he’s not a TE.  He’s also too light to be a true FB because he’d be the second lightest FB since 2010.  I keep talking about what Samuels isn’t, so let’s shift gears and talk about what he is: Samuels is the ultimate third down and two minute drill weapon.  His versatility lining up all over the field means that he has experience running pass patterns from a variety of formations.  His experience as an inline TE should mean he’s at least an average blocker (sadly the tape I watched didn’t highlight any of his blocks).  His prowess as a receiver and a short yardage runner is evident by looking at his stats and a cursory glance at his tape.  As far as injury or character concerns, there is not much to report.  Samuels has fought through a few minor injuries (foot, hamstring, possible concussion) but did not miss any games in 2015, 2016 or 2017.  I expect Samuels to be under-drafted in the NFL Draft compared to how excited some fantasy players are about his potential.  Ultimately, his jack-of-all-trades versatility could be both a blessing and a curse.  I’d love it if my favorite team grabbed him in the 5th round but any earlier than that may be asking too much.

Stats & Accolades:  Since I included Samuels with the tight ends today, let’s start with his receiving stats.  Starting with his sophomore season, he’s had 195 receptions (an average of 65) and 18 TDs.  He averages 9.2 yards per reception which is quite low but he’s not meant to be a big play threat.  Per Pro Football Focus, Samuels was one of the top slot receivers of 2017.  42 of his 75 receptions came from the slot and he had a 76.4% catch rate from the slot.  That catch rate was good enough to rank seventh best in the FBS.  Unfortunately, Samuels ranked low in PFF’s two other signature receiving stats: overall drop rate and yards per route run.  Another area where he excelled was as a receiver on third and long.  On third downs of four or more yards, Samuels caught 15 passes and converted 10 for first downs.  He wasn’t as successful converting on third down as a rusher (just 2 for 8) but he was given the rock on fourth down seven times.  Five of those seven went for first downs, including two TDs.  Samuels was particularly effective in the red zone.  14 of his 16 touchdowns in 2017 came in the red zone (11 rushing, 3 receiving).  His 2016 situational stats show a similar trend: 11 of his 13 scores came from inside the twenty.  Not only is Samuels an interesting prospect in that he’s an equally adept receiver and rusher, but he also has limited experience as a kick returner (12 for 230 yards) and as a passer on trick plays (2 for 3, 84 yards and 1 TD).  Samuels even recorded a forced fumble and fumble recovery in 2014 on a great hustle play (more on that below).  Samuels was selected to the 2017 All-ACC team as an “all-purpose” player – a perfect description.

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 North Carolina State ACC FR TE 11 6 96 16.0 1 15 143 9.5 1 21 239 11.4 2
*2015 North Carolina State ACC SO TE 13 65 597 9.2 7 56 368 6.6 9 121 965 8.0 16
*2016 North Carolina State ACC JR TE 13 55 565 10.3 7 33 189 5.7 6 88 754 8.6 13
2017 North Carolina State ACC SR TE 13 75 593 7.9 4 78 407 5.2 12 153 1000 6.5 16
Career North Carolina State 201 1851 9.2 19 182 1107 6.1 28 383 2958 7.7 47
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2018.

Film Study:  Arizona State (2017)

Let’s start by taking a look at the aforementioned hustle play that Samuels made in 2014 as a freshman against Georgia Tech.  It’s not instructive of any of his main skills but I think it further illustrates the fact that Samuels is just a good football player and a guy you would want on your team.  He lines up in the slot as a receiver and his route takes him about seven yards deep into the end zone before the ball is intercepted by a line backer.  Samuels does not give up on the play.  To the contrary, he runs the defender down and tackles him about seventy yards later.  Not only does he make the tackle but he strips the ball and recovers it to give the Wolfpack the ball back (unfortunately, Jacoby Brissett threw a pick-six on the ensuing play, oh well).  Keep in mind this play came when Samuels was just a freshman.  Nobody would have faulted him for not being involved in the play because he was so far out of it but he had the sense, and the speed, to make a difference.

Since Samuels is a prospect unlike others I have researched the last two years, I decided to do handle his film study differently.  Rather than a brief look at two films, I decided to dive deeper on one.  I chose the Arizona State game since it was the last game of the season and I felt that would give me a better representation of Samuels than tape from early in 2017 or even 2016.  The first time I watched the film, I kept track of where he lined up on each snap.  I realized quickly that Samuels is a player whose analysis suffers from watching on Youtube rather than a full game on television but it was my only option at the moment.  One of the flaws of watching “tape” on Youtube is that cut-ups typically only show plays that a player was involved in rather than every snap.  In the Arizona State game I didn’t count a single play shown where Samuels was specifically assigned as a blocker.  It’s hard for me to say whether that’s a factor of Samuels’ true usage in the game or if the creator of the clip eschewed blocking highlights.  I digress, my pet peeves aside, tracking Samuels’ snaps is still illustrative because it shows us that he can have an impact from myriad formations.  I started my film study with four designations: inline tight end, offset tight end, slot receiver, backfield.  I quickly realized that these four buckets were not enough because Samuels was lined up split out wide in a stack formation on one of the first plays shown and then shortly after at wildcat quarterback.  I tracked any wildcat snaps as “backfield” and any wide snaps as “slot receiver” for simplicity’s sake.  I counted zero inline, two offset, nine slot and five backfield.  After doing my statistical research and reading up about Samuels, that was what I had expected but it was good to see it borne out in film.

On my second watch of the film, I took more traditional notes on Samuels, including some strengths and key plays.  In my estimation, Samuels is an above average route runner.  He appears to have good movement at the top of his route stem and on multiple occasions showed good field awareness by knowing how far his route needed to go for a first down.  He has good hands which were shown on a couple of nice catches.  He caught these passes with his hands rather than letting them get into his body.  One particular example also featured a skilled mid-air adjustment.  His momentum was carrying him across the field as the pass went to his back shoulder.  He adjusted while in the air, caught the ball with his hands and maintained control through the ground.  It was a 3rd and 17 and resulted in a first down on top of a highlight catch.

Late in the game, Samuels took a wildcat snap which he took in for a game-sealing score.  He patiently presses the line after taking the direct snap and finds a hole off tackle.  He gets low and plunges into the end zone.  There wasn’t much to the play but I wanted to include it because it could be a signal of how he will be utilized in the NFL.

In my third watch of the film, my goal was to track the plays that Samuels carried the ball, specifically those plays when he was used as a traditional running back.  I wanted to track these snaps as it’s clear Samuels will need to predominantly play running back, at least to start his career.  Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed.  Per the game log, Samuels had six carries in that game but only two of them were as a running back from the backfield.  Two of them were from the wildcat and I counted four other plays when he was a receiver and got the ball on a pop-pass, end around or jet sweep (the pop-passes would count as receptions but functionally they are jet sweeps).  Both traditional carries came late in the 4th quarter, both went for a two yard gain on 2nd down and both were stretch plays.  The first was a conversion for a first down while the second came up just short of the goal line (and led to the wildcat touchdown above).  Neither were bad plays, they essentially met the goal of the play call, but they didn’t assure me that Samuels can make the transition to being a traditional running back.  If anything, these two plays reinforced my notion that Samuels needs to land on a team with a dynamic offense in order to be fantasy relevant.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Clutch, red zone weapon, versatile, stayed relatively healthy, route running, hands.

Weaknesses: Size does not translate to playing either TE or FB, doesn’t do any one thing great, lacks top end speed as a RB, lack of reps as a traditional RB.

Opportunities: A creative offense will salivate over his potential to create mismatches all over the formation.  Teams may see him as an ideal 53rd man as he can be serviceable at multiple positions.

Threats: Some coaches may feel that he doesn’t fit well into their scheme or into their playbook.  Teams may be hesitant to invest draft capital on somebody they believe is a gadget player.

Draft Round Grade:  5th Round

I love Samuels and I wish him success in the NFL but I don’t think he’s worth a Day Two, or early Day Three pick.  If he was two inches taller, fifteen pounds heavier and two tenths faster we could be talking about a first rounder but alas that is not the case.  Samuels will offer his NFL team a lot but I think it may be some time before he pays off.  His path to NFL success may be similar to that of Delanie Walker, another undersized TE/FB tweener, who needed eight years and a change of scenery to breakout.

Recent NFL Comparison: Joique Bell

Delanie Walker is a popular comp for Samuels but Walker is significantly bigger (6’1″ and 240lbs) than Samuels so I didn’t think it was apt to compare the two.  Instead, I decided to go with a running back who succeeded in short yardage situations, was an excellent pass catcher and had just enough speed to break off an occasional big run: Joique Bell.  Bell came from DII Wayne State so film is hard to find and of horrible quality.  Instead, I watched highlights of Bell with the Lions to refresh my memory of his style.  Bell does look larger than Samuels even though their measurements are nearly identical coming out of college.  Bell struggled to catch on in the NFL initially but ultimately had four solid seasons with the Lions.  I think Samuels has the perfect skill set to mirror Bell’s breakout season when he had 82 rushes and 52 receptions for a total of 899 yards and 3 TDs.


Adam Breneman, TE, University of Massachusetts

Adam Breneman, a former Penn State Nittany Lion, is one of the least talked about tight end prospects atop this class (the other being Hayden Hurst). Players like Mike Gesicki, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert have seen their stock fluctuate recently for varying reasons but Breneman has stayed out of the conversation for the most part. At the Senior Bowl, Breneman measured in at 6’4″ and 241lbs which was smaller than expected. Since 2010, there were sixteen tight ends drafted in the 1st through 3rd rounds who were 6’5″ or 6’6″ between 250-265lbs. For smaller tight ends (6’3″ or 6’4″ between 235-250lbs), that number of top draftees falls to just eight. One encouraging sign for Breneman though, is that three of those eight (David Njoku, Gerald Everett and Jonnu Smith) were taken last season alone. After reading a background story about Breneman on Bleacher Report, I am impressed by him as a person. After semi-retiring from Penn State due to recurring knee injuries, Breneman started working in politics for a state senator. The senator was so inspired by Breneman, then 21 years old, that he offered him a job as his chief of staff. After the respite that politics provided, Breneman’s knee was cleared by his doctors and he was convinced by UMass’ starting quarterback, Andrew Ford, to come play for the Minutemen. It didn’t hurt that Breneman and Ford had been best friends since high school. And that’s how we find ourselves here, evaluating one of the top tight end prospects from one of the nation’s worst football programs. The obvious issue with Breneman’s back story is the knee. It started as a torn ACL in high school and has lingered since; he’s had multiple procedures but the details on those are limited. NFL teams will surely do a thorough evaluation before adding him to their board. It’s unfortunate because somebody with the physical traits of Breneman should be drafted higher than he will be due to the injury history.

Stats & Accolades:  Breneman has a much smaller sample size than either Samuels or Goedert so I think it’s important to take his standout numbers with a grain of salt.  Similarly to Goedert, this is due to the quality of competition he has faced over the last two seasons at UMass.  His season totals are very good but he was often the best player on the field so you should expect him to succeed.  I looked at per-game stats to control for the fact that Breneman played in less games the last two years than most (a factor of an ankle injury this year that caused him to miss 1.5 games and the lack of any postseason games for UMass).  In 2016, he was the second ranked tight end in terms of yards per game and receptions per game (behind Evan Engram).  In 2017, Breneman improved and ranked first in both categories.  Breneman did have a number of games against Power 5 teams (Florida, Mississippi State twice, Boston College and South Carolina) plus two against BYU.  BYU may have struggled this year but prior to that they were bowl eligible for twelve straight seasons so I’ll include them in this subset.  In those seven games, Breneman averaged a respectable 4.7 receptions, 52 yards and 0.4 TDs.  According to Pro Football Focus, Breneman ranked seventh in Yards Per Route Run.  So, not only is he targeted often, he’s targeted downfield.  He was also atop the Drop Rate table checking in with a perfect 0.0% (he caught 57 of 57 catchable balls).  Breneman was selected to a few post season All-American teams in honor of his accomplishments as a receiver.

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
2013 Penn State Big Ten FR TE 8 15 186 12.4 3 0 0 0 15 186 12.4 3
*2015 Penn State Big Ten SO TE 0 0 0
2016 Massachusetts Ind JR TE 12 70 808 11.5 8 0 0 0 70 808 11.5 8
2017 Massachusetts Ind SR TE 11 64 764 11.9 4 0 0 0 64 764 11.9 4
Career Overall 149 1758 11.8 15 0 0 0 149 1758 11.8 15
Penn State 15 186 12.4 3 0 0 0 15 186 12.4 3
Massachusetts 134 1572 11.7 12 0 0 0 134 1572 11.7 12
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2018.

Film Study:  Ohio (2017), South Carolina (2016)

The two main traits I concentrated on while reviewing Breneman’s film were his blocking and his hands.  Let’s start with the blocking.  Compared to other tight ends in this class with approximately the same value, I would say that Breneman is a below average blocker.  He is a mix of misses and near-misses when it comes to blocking.  When he succeeds with a blocking assignment, it’s often not pretty.  That’s not to say he isn’t ever effective but it’s important to keep in mind the quality of the rushers he’s facing.  I have concerns about his ability to hold up to an NFL pass rush.  Two back to back plays illustrate my “misses and near-misses” thinking.  On the first play, he ultimately keeps the defender in front of him but looks stiff while doing so.  The defender makes the initial contact and almost beats him to the inside which would have been devastating since it was a flea flicker and easily could have led to a fumble on the pitch back.  After watching a few times in slow-mo, I noticed he grabbed the defenders jersey right from the start but it was only visible near the end of the block when the defender tried to shrug him off (no penalty was called).  On the second play, Breneman does his best impression of a Spanish matador and gets beat off the snap.  The play is meant to go the other direction so it’s not much of an issue but he again grabs the jersey and could have been called for a hold which would have wiped out the sixteen yard gain.

Against South Carolina, it was much of the same as far as blocking.  There were a few more positive plays than I noticed against Ohio, a good sign against a superior opponent.  I didn’t track such plays but my impression after watching both films is that Breneman is much better when blocking up field or when split out, likely because he’s blocking a smaller DB.  He struggles most as an inline blocker.  His worst play against South Carolina was probably the worst attempt at a block I have seen while watching film so far this offseason.  Breneman just gets blown up at the snap by the defender’s bull rush.  He doesn’t get his hands on his man and loses his feet right away.  It did impact the play even though it still went for a first down.  I fear this is what he may look like when blocking at the next level.

I didn’t see much evidence of Breneman’s supreme hands against Ohio but there was one worthy example in the second quarter.  Breneman shows good concentration on the play as he is knocked off his route by the line backer and the safety very nearly tips the ball as it sails over his head.  Breneman is able to find an opening in the back of the end zone and looks the ball into his hands without being distracted.  He spots his landing and gets both feet in bounds for what would have been a score even in the NFL.  The play looked simple but others could not have made it look as effortless as he did.

I was largely unimpressed with Breneman against South Carolina.  He had a fumble in the first quarter.  He was heavily involved throughout the game (9-94-2) but there was only one catch that I noted as a must watch.  That being said, the play I do include below is fantastic.  It’s 3rd and 17, with less than five minutes left, with his team down by 13.  Breneman is lined up in a stack behind a receiver.  He gets a free release and runs up the seam into traffic.  Ford throws the ball to his outside shoulder which lets Breneman pirouette and use his body to box out the  oncoming defender.  He takes a big hit as he catches the ball but holds on for the score.  The play serves as a fitting illustration of exactly what Breneman can offer.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths:  Character, leadership, hands.

Weaknesses:  Health, smaller than estimated in the preseason, lacks top speed for the position.

Opportunities:  Teams will fall in love with Breneman in interviews which could increase his stock.

Threats:  Teams may decide to leave Breneman off their board completely due to his lengthy injury history.  His disappointing measureables may cause some scouts to question what they saw on tape (i.e. “maybe he was a product of the competition”).

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd, Early 3rd Round

I have been high on Breneman since the start of the 2017 season so I really hope he hits the high end of my projection.  It’s a shame his health is such a concern otherwise we could be talking about a similar draft stock as Evan Engram from 2017 (23rd overall).

Recent NFL Comparison:  Maxx Williams

Maxx Williams was one of my favorite players coming out of college football in 2015.  He had a propensity for circus catches: one-handed, toe-tapping, defender-draped.  Breneman doesn’t quite have the highlight reel of Williams but the similarities are numerous.  They are close in size and speed, both had two years of production in college, both showcased great hands, both were below average inline blockers and sadly both had their careers derailed by injury.  Williams’ worst injuries came once he landed in the NFL whereas Breneman’s started back in high school but that’s even more to the point.  Scouts who see a 6’4″, sticky-handed move tight end with knee injuries may think about the wasted pick that Williams has become.

Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, 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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Tech Corner: Early Off-season Additions

Updated: February 9th 2018

Now that I’m full-time here with RSO (more info on that here if you didn’t already see it), it makes sense for you to hear from me more often than you have been.  Changes should be coming faster than they have in the past and you deserve to know what’s been done and what’s coming down the line.  These posts won’t include everything we’ve been working on, but will focus on the items that will affect a large portion of you rather than the dozen bugs we fixed which 99% of you will never know existed.  With that said, here are the items from this update:

Rookie Option

We’ve added in a rookie option.  You can now exercise the option on 1st round rookie picks for the average of the top 10 salaries at the position, similar to what happens in the NFL.  This occurs immediately in the off-season during the same time that you place your franchise tag.  The key is that this happens the off-season one year before their contract expires.  This means that right now this off-season if you have 3 year rookie contracts that the 2016 rookies like Zeke and Michael Thomas are available for the option.  If you have 4 year rookies then the 2015 rookies of Gurley and Gordon would be available now.  Some other quick hitting items on the option:

  • It’s a league setting that is ‘off’ by default.  Your commish will need to turn on the setting in the ‘Draft’ panel of the league settings.
  • Limited to just 1st round picks
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re team drafted them or not.  All that matters is if they are on their draft rookie contract, whether you traded for them or picked them yourself.  If they were picked up in FAAB there’s no rookie option.
  • There’s no limit to the number of options you can exercise.  If they fit all the requirements above you can give them the option.
  • Unlike in the NFL, we are treating these options just like any other contract on the platform which means that the option is 50% guaranteed.  If your league decides they like to follow how the NFL does it, then the commish can easily remove the contract when the time comes from the commish tools with no cap hit.

Off-season/Tag Extension

This is the other big item that has been added this off-season, though this one we’ve talked about a bit in the past.  You can now extend the player that you used your franchise tag on in the off-season.  The first step is finalizing your tag choice, either through the ‘Finalize Tag’ functionality or just waiting for 3 days before your rookie draft.  Only after you finalize the tag will you be able to see the extension option.  From that point, you have until 3 days before your league auction to extend the tagged player or not.  Here’s a few other things you should know:

  • A teams number of extensions used is reset with our site rollover that just happened in February.  This means that last seasons extensions don’t affect your ability to extend this off-season or during the 2018 season.
  • The flip side of that is that if your league only allows one extension and you use it on your tagged player in the off-season, no in-season extensions for your team.
  • Players do use their tagged salary as a bit of a starting point.  Don’t tag someone whose not worth the tag thinking that their extension offer will be much lower…you’ll be sorely disappointed.
  • Unlike the in-season extension, these values don’t fluctuate week to week
  • You can can for a tagged player and then extend them yourself as long as it’s before the auction as mentioned above.  You don’t have to be the team that tags the player to extend them.

Up Next: Updating and re-styling the league pages  ETA: March

More Analysis by Kyle English

Super Bowl Projections

Updated: February 2nd 2018

Super Bowl Weekend is upon us! And for many of us who are diehard Eagles fans (remember RSO was literally born in the Eagles front office when Matt and I worked together there in 2010-2011), this weekend takes on even more importance. It is basically a David vs. Goliath scenario as Tom Brady is starting his 37th playoff game whereas Nick Foles has made 39 regular season NFL starts in his career. That being said, Foles looked like one of the best QBs in the league two weeks ago against a tough Vikings defense. The Patriots are certainly not the best they have ever been, but they have continued to find ways to win games throughout this season, and when the game is on the line in the 4th quarter, there is nobody better than Tom Brady. Everyone seems to think this is going to be a close one, and I tend to agree. Read below for our writer’s predictions and see how they have fared thus far throughout the playoffs:

  1. Stephen Wendell: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 3-1 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 2-2 ATS / Championship Weekend: 2-0 ML & 1-1 ATS (8-2 ML & 6-4 ATS)
  2. Matt Papson: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 2-2 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 2-0 ML & 2-0 ATS (7-3 ML & 8-2 ATS)
  3. Bob Cowper: Wildcard Weekend: 3-1 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 3-1 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 0-2 ML & 1-1 ATS (6-4 ML & 6-4 ATS)
  4. Matt Goodwin: Wildcard Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 4-0 ATS / Championship Weekend: 0-2 ML & 2-0 ATS (2-8 ML & 7-3 ATS)
  5. Nick Andrews: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 0-4 ATS / Divisional Weekend: 2-2 ML & 3-1 ATS / Championship Weekend: 1-1 ML & 1-1 ATS (5-5 ML & 4-6 ATS)
  6. Bernard Faller: Wildcard Weekend: 2-2 ML & 1-3 ATS  / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 1-3 ATS / Championship Weekend: 1-1 ML & 0-2 ATS (4-6 ML & 2-8 ATS)
  7. Dave Sanders: Wildcard Weekend: No Picks / Divisional Weekend: 1-3 ML & 2-2 ATS / Championship Weekend: No Picks (N/A)

#1 Philadelphia Eagles (13-3) vs. #1 New England Patriots (13-3) [Line: NE -4.5]

Stephen Wendell: Matt and I will not have much to say on this game. It is impossible to take your own bias out of the equation. We would never even predict (much less bet) against our own team. Bottom line, Birds get it done some way somehow. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Patriots 20.

Matt Papson: See what Stephen said. Projected Score: Eagles 24 – Patriots 23.

Robert Cowper: Much of the talk surrounding the Super Bowl will be about the big stars so I wanted to look in a different direction for interesting stats: Stephen Gostkowski.  Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski will be a huge part of the game but not just as a field goal kicker like one would assume.  Of course his leg will be valuable if drives are stalling near the red zone, he was a perfect 25-25 this season on field goals less than 40 yards, but he’s worth even more to the team than that.  I came across something intriguing that I expect to make a difference: the Patriots’ superior ability to force bad starting field position.  New England forced teams to start, on average, at their 24.3 yard line.  They were the only special teams unit to force the opposition inside the 25 yard line (i.e. where a touchback from a kickoff starts).  In 2016 they were also the league best with an even 25.0.  For comparison, the Eagles ranked a respectable 13th this season, forcing an average start of the 28.0 yard line for their opposition.  It may not sound like much but four yards could ultimately be the difference, especially when the team is on the verge of field goal range.  Do they decide to go for it on fourth down or punt or try a long field goal?  If the Patriots are starting their drives four yards further up field they’ll win the battle of attrition because more of those drives will convert.  According to the kickoff stats compiled by www.footballdb.com, Gostkowski has had 58 kickoffs returned this season.  The next closest kicker had 44 returned.  In 2015, less than a third of Gostkowski’s kickoffs were returned (i.e. when a touchback only brought the ball to the 20 yard line); in 2016 after the rule change, about 45% of his kickoffs were returned; in 2017, it was nearly 60%.  At first glance this feels counter-intuitive, but it seems that the Patriots have figured out that they can regularly cover kicks well enough to get better field position by letting the kickoffs be returned.  It should be mentioned here that the Eagles ranked 27th in the league this season, averaging just 19.7 yards per return.  Expect the Eagles to start a number of their drives inside the twenty.  The ability of Gostkowski to angle and pin returners in the corners will be key.  It sounds crazy but the Eagles best shot at a late game-winning drive may hinge on whether Gostkowski is willing to risk a kickoff out of bounds to make it even harder on the returner. Projected Score: Patriots 25 – Eagles 19

Matt Goodwin: This is a tough one for me as I’m not a huge fan of either fan base. With the exception of the RSO guys, I’ve barely met an Eagles fan I can tolerate. I’ve been wrong most of the playoffs (especially on the Eagles). As I mentioned on Twitter this week, I’m more excited about the shift to the NFL offseason because of RSO implications and the Alex Smith trade jump-started that for me. The Giants are the only blueprint for the Eagles to follow in terms of winning a Super Bowl against the Patriots. Luckily for the Eagles, their defensive front is built like the Giants and can have success if they get consistent, unrelenting pressure on Tom Brady. Unlike what Atlanta abandoned in the second half of last year’s Super Bowl, the Eagles will also have to commit deeply to the run in an attempt to control the clock. I think that the Eagles have a big enough stable of versatile, different-styled running backs to have success against the Patriots and the right mix in the passing game with guys like Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz. As much as picking against Tom Brady seems counterintuitive to me, there’s something about this Patriots team that seems a little more awry than in year’s past. In the end, Matt and Stephen are belting “Fly Eagles Fly” at the top of their lungs as Jake Elliott’s leg is the difference, connecting on 4 field goals.  Projected Score: Eagles 19 – Patriots 17.

Nick Andrews: New England Super Bowls have a tendency to be tight contests, with late game dramatics and one crazy catch. Here are my predictions for what will happen in the big game. 1) The Patriots will score a point in the first quarter, something they haven’t done in their previous 7 under Belichick and Brady. 2) The Eagles will have 4+ sacks. 3) Rob Gronkowski makes a one-handed catch over linebacker Mychal Kendricks for a TD. 4) Patriots never trail in the fourth quarter. Projected Score: Patriots 28 – Eagles 24.

Bernard Faller: Philadelphia possesses the tools for an upset of New England.  Philadelphia’s defensive and offensive lines are fully capable of dominating the line of scrimmage.  The Eagle’s defense has not allowed more than 10 points in any contest over the last four weeks.  Nick Foles played lights out in the NFC championship game.  I am still picking New England.  The Patriots’ O-line is playing well enough to produce in the run game and allow Tom Brady enough time for adjustments against whatever defensive scheme is thrown at them.  Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Eagles 24.

Dave SandersMaybe this is the Eagles fan in me talking, but I really think the birds have a chance on Sunday. I’d expect Ajayi and Blount to be heavily featured and combined for 35+ carries as the Eagles will try to control the clock and keep Brady and Co. off the field.  To counter the Eagles strong rotation of defensive lineman that have pressured QBs all year, I’d expect the Patriots run an extensive amount of no huddle and target Lewis, Burkhead and White frequently out of the backfield. If the Eagles can’t get pressure on Brady or Foles struggled, this could be over in a hurry. That said, I think it’s a close game and believe the Eagles will do just enough to pull it out. Projected Score: Eagles 27 – Patriots 24.


More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 RBs, Part I

Updated: February 2nd 2018

Welcome to the RSO Rookie Rundown, a resource to help RSO owners prepare for their upcoming rookie drafts. For more college football and NFL Draft coverage, follow me on Twitter at @robertfcowper. Throughout the offseason, the RSO Rookie Rundown will delve into dozens of future rookies for your consideration. Each prospect will be evaluated on a number of criteria including size, production, performance, character and durability. This is an inexact science but the goal is to gain a better perspective of each player through research. Each player will be given a draft round grade as well as a recent NFL player comparison. For draft round grades, it’s important to remember that some positions are valued more highly than others in the NFL. For player comparisons, it’s important to remember that it is a rough heuristic for illustrative purposes and is based on a physical and statistical basis rather than a prediction of a similar NFL career.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny put up incredible production in 2017, largely against inferior opposition though.  He’s a fantastic kick returner which will help insulate his value and ensure he earns a role out of training camp.  I also believe he’s an underrated pass catcher because he proved to be a factor in the passing game when his team needed it against the biggest opponents (see the Stats & Accolades section for details on this point).  Penny does not have any injury concerns to report, nor any character concerns.  Penny decided to stay in school for his senior year despite a 1,000+ yard 2016 season when he was the second fiddle to FBS leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey.  Coming back to school ended up being a great decision for Penny.  At the Senior Bowl, Penny actually measured taller and heavier than I expected which is a good thing.  He is officially being listed at 5’11” and 224lbs on the Senior Bowl roster (some sites estimated 5’10” and 220lbs”).  We don’t have a 40 yard dash time for Penny yet but NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run in the 4.52 range – good but not great.

Stats & Accolades:  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I tell you that Penny was a standout this season: his 2,248 rushing yards led the FBS.  He started with a limited role as a sophomore in 2015 but still managed 5 TDs from scrimmage and added three more as a returner.  In 2016 he took on a bigger role and ended with 1,242 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs; he also returned a pair of kickoffs for scores too.  In 2017, he exploded.  Despite being the bellcow on his way to that FBS leading rushing total, Penny still managed to add 2 receiving TDs, and 3 return TDs.  All told, he has 52 career TDs.  What may be even more impressive is that Penny has a 7.5 yards per carry average for his career.  Penny’s game logs don’t disappoint either.  He has 15 career games with over 100 rushing yards.  He’s gone over 200 yards in seven games, including a streak of five straight to end 2017.  One knock on Penny is his competition playing in the Mountain West.  To get a feel for his production against Power 5 teams I delved deeper into his 2015, 2016 and 2017 game logs.  He played five games in those three years against Power 5 opponents (Arizona State, Stanford, Cal twice, Penn State).  In those games, Penny rushed 64 times for 508 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per carry) and 2 TDs.  He added 11 receptions, 97 yards and 2 receiving TDs.  But wait there’s more… he also totaled 3 kickoff return TDs.  Interestingly, 26% of his career receptions came against Power 5 opponents which made up just 12% of his games from 2015-2017.  That’s a good sign in my opinion as it shows he can be a receiver when needed.  Let’s recap, in five games against Power 5 teams, Penny averaged over 8 yards per touch, not counting the kick return yards, and scored seven touchdowns.  Sign me up.  Not only is Penny clutch against better teams, he’s also clutch when his team is behind the sticks.  On 3rd downs, Penny’s yards per carry average jumped to 11.79 in 2017; on 39 such carries, he converted 20 of them for a first.  I checked Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stat Guide to see if their stats backed up the traditional stats that show below and discussed above.  Unsurprisingly, they do.  PFF ranked Penny as the 3rd highest in their Elusive Rating stat.  Elusive Rating takes broken tackles and yards after contact into account to help control for uneven offensive line play.  The two backs ranked higher than Penny, Damien Harris and Bryce Love, both decided to return to school for their senior seasons so Penny reigns supreme as the most elusive back in the draft.  Over his career, Penny fumbled the ball seven times, losing five.  In 2017, Penny had an incredible number of long runs.  He had 58 over 10 yards and 29 over 20 yards.  For comparison, the other two backs in this profile were well behind: Michel had 33/11 while Jones had 41/16.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 2 22 11.0 0 0 0 0 2 22 11.0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 61 368 6.0 4 8 120 15.0 1 69 488 7.1 5
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 136 1018 7.5 11 15 224 14.9 3 151 1242 8.2 14
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 289 2248 7.8 23 19 135 7.1 2 308 2383 7.7 25
Career San Diego State 488 3656 7.5 38 42 479 11.4 6 530 4135 7.8 44
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.
Kick & Punt Returns Table
Kick Ret Punt Ret
Year School Conf Class Pos G Ret Yds Avg TD Ret Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 20 500 25.0 0 0 0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 24 804 33.5 3 0 0 0
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 20 624 31.2 2 0 0 0
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 17 521 30.6 2 2 70 35.0 1
Career San Diego State 81 2449 30.2 7 2 70 35.0 1
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

Film Study: Boise State (2017), Stanford (2017)

I remember watching the San Diego State vs Stanford game earlier in the season so that was my first choice.  I wanted to revisit that game and see if, with the benefit of hindsight, I was still impressed with Penny now as I was then.  The answer is yes.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t see some negatives though.  Against Boise State, a film I picked because of the Broncos’ above average defense, Penny mostly struggled but there was one highlight play I’ll touch on (including one awful play in pass protection that luckily didn’t end worse for his quarterback).

My overall impressions were that Penny is quicker than he is fast, cuts well, has excellent vision and is a versatile player who can be utilized in numerous ways.  I would say he is an average pass blocker.  I counted ten pass protection situations in the two games where I felt I could either grade Penny as a plus or a minus to the play’s protection; of those ten, I counted three negative plays.  Something that I had read about Penny and was interested to see on film is his tackle breaking ability.  He breaks some tackles (I counted twelve in the two games) but much of his yardage comes when he makes tacklers miss rather than breaking their tackle.  When reviewing PFF’s Elusive Rating stat, I have previously thought to myself, “why do they list it as ‘missed tackles’ rather than ‘broken tackles’?”  Now I realize why.  When Penny has the lane and the open space to make defenders miss, he does.  When he runs into contact at, or near, the line of scrimmage he is often bottled up for little gain.  He’s not the type of back that you can run into the defensive line on three successive plays and expect to move the chains before fourth down.  Penny is much more adept at pressing the line of scrimmage and waiting for his cut-back hole to open up.  He’s also good at bouncing the play outside but since he lacks elite speed he’s better off cutting it inside.  He’s not very good at lowering his head and ramming the ball downhill.  He does not keep his feet well and is often susceptible to low tackles that other stronger backs may shrug off.  Penny was heavily involved in the passing game against Stanford (5 passes) but not at all against Boise when he struggled.  He is utilized all over the field through different positions and motions.

There were a few good examples I found of Penny’s running style that I’ll describe here.  I would highly recommend checking out the links to these plays so you can see them in action.  I have linked them to the corresponding Youtube video right to the specific play.  The first prototypical example I’ll show comes early in the second half on first down.  Penny angles to the right, running right up the back of his guard.  The line gets such good push that he actually ends up cutting into the other A gap between the LG and C as they finish their blocks.  It’s an effortless run for 15 yards.  Later in the third, Penny shows an even better example of his vision.  Penny starts left as the RG and RT combo block the end before the guard moves to the LB on the second level.  The TE helps seal the hole and Penny cuts twice, first to the right and then back to the left through the hole.   The next play shows how Penny can adapt and use his elusiveness as a play breaks down.  He takes the pitch eight yards deep, sheds the first defender.  Just past the line another defender squares up to take Penny down.  As he runs towards the sidelines, with his shoulders parallel to the sideline, he cuts back towards the line of scrimmage and away from the defender.  It buys him just enough space to beat the tackler.  He then turns on his speed and makes it to the first down before two pursuing defenders.  It was a key play that came late in the upset over #19 Stanford.  Against Boise, Penny again shows his ability to get the edge, this time after his intended cut back lanes are clogged.  He bounces it outside and the defense, which was stacking the box all game, doesn’t have anybody with an angle to get Penny in time.

The last play I’ll discuss is the bad pass protection play against Boise.  Ultimately the play didn’t matter as it came in a big loss and the fumble that was caused was overturned but it’s still instructional.  Penny finds himself momentarily staring down two pass rushers.  He’s probably unsure about who he should block and hesitates.  The tackle ends up taking the inside rusher but by then it’s too late for Penny to get to the outside rusher.  The defender gets to the quarterback just as he is throwing the ball.  If he got there a split-second sooner, as the rusher probably would in the pros, it would have been a big hit right to the chops of the unprepared quarterback.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Durability, lack of an injury history, versatility as a kick returner, elusiveness, production vs Power 5 teams.

Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed, played lesser competition in the Mountain West, not very active in the passing game.

Opportunities: Can earn an instant roster spot in training camp as a kick returner.  Would be a great partner to an established veteran, a la Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans.

Threats: The lack of success by former teammate Donnel Pumphrey as a rookie may sour some on his potential (i.e. the “system” tag some QBs get).  Some teams may see him more of a kick returner than a feature back in the NFL and may not be willing to spend a high enough draft pick on him.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

I’d love to put Penny higher because he’s a favorite of mine but I don’t think NFL teams will bite.  Penny isn’t elite so he won’t see the 1st round and there are so few 2nd round running backs in recent history (just five in the last three drafts) that I think it’s inevitable he falls to the 3rd.  If Penny falls out of the 3rd round, he’ll be a prime trade up candidate to start Day 3.

Recent NFL Comparison: CJ Prosise

I struggled to find a comparison for Penny that ticked all of the boxes I usually seek.  I feel most comfortable with a comparison when they 1) have similar size and speed, 2) have a similar playing style, 3) produced similarly in college and 4) had a similar draft grade.  I was first leaning towards Boston College’s Andre Williams as his production somewhat mirrored that of Penny, especially in their senior seasons (down to receiving Heisman votes), but when you watch the two play they are of a totally different style.  Of all the other possibilities I considered, I thought Prosise was the best fit for playing style even if their production was not comparable.  Like Prosise, Penny gains most of his yards because of his vision, change of direction and elusiveness rather than by sheer strength and tackle breaking ability.  Prosise was a more accomplished receiver at Notre Dame but as I’ve outlined, I have faith in Penny’s receiving ability.  Prosise is conspicuously missing any kick or punt return experience so Penny has a huge advantage there.


Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Sony Michel has been rocketing up fantasy rookie draft boards lately after his success against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.  With good reason too: Michel totaled 202 yards from scrimmage and 4 TDs in that game.  It was the best of his career and it was extremely well timed.  Like many of the young men we’ll meet this draft season, Michel has an interesting story.  He’s the son of Haitian immigrantsHis parents and sister ended up getting jobs at his high school to help improve their meager means, an opportunity most certainly offered due to his standing and on-field success at the school.  As positive as my character notes are about Michel, my injury notes are quite negative.  In my opinion, there’s enough here to dent Michel’s draft stock.  In 2014 he broke his collarbone which forced him to miss multiple games.  In 2016 he broke his arm in what could have been a much more serious ATV accident; the injury occurred in the Summer and Michel ended up missing the season opener.  In 2017 Michel suffered two injuries: 1) a minor ankle injury against Notre Dame that led the coaches to hold him out against Samford and 2) a knee injury that forced him to leave the SEC Championship game early.  These injuries aren’t debilitating or impossible to come back from, obviously, but I fear it may signal missed time in the pros.  Michel has decent size for the position (5’11”, 215lbs) and has about 4.50 speed.  As a senior, Michel is a bit older than many prospects.  DLF lists him as 22.9 years old which is almost a full year older than Rashaad Penny and nearly 2.5 years older than Ronald Jones.  There’s a lot to like about Michel but armchair draftniks have to be careful that they avoid the recency bias and look at Michel’s full profile rather than his most recent stats.

Stats & Accolades: By now we all know the underlying story of Michel’s production.  For most of his time in Athens, he was the second option behind Nick Chubb (side note: I loved reading that Michel and Chubb are best friends, that’s awesome).  The only time that Michel got to shine as the lead back was in 2015 after Chubb had gone down with a serious knee injury.  In that season Michel had seven double digit carry games while he had just one combined the last two years.  You’ll notice that his per carry averages are lowest in that season (5.2) than the other seasons when he had the benefit of sharing the load (6.4, 5.5, 7.9).  I don’t necessarily think that Michel cannot handle a starter’s load but I am merely pointing out that he typically has not and when he has, his performance per carry has declined.  As I mentioned above, Michel had the best game of his career this postseason against Oklahoma (11 carries, 181 yards, 3 rushing TDs; 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 receiving TD).  He has four other 150+ rush yard games in his career so he does have the ability to go-off.  Michel found lots of success running the ball this season on a championship quality team.  He hit career bests in rushing yards, rushing TDs and yards per carry.  He led the SEC in yards per carry and ranked fifth in the FBS overall.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 7th back in their Elusive Rating category (interestingly, one spot behind Chubb).  Michel was most effective as a receiver as a sophomore and junior and then showed that ability again against Oklahoma this season.  In those two seasons, Chubb combined for a solid 29 receptions, 419 yards and 4 receiving TDs.  He’s far from the best pass catching back in this class but it does add to his value.  Michel has issues with ball security.  He has 12 career fumbles, five of which were lost to the defense.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 Georgia SEC FR RB 8 64 410 6.4 5 7 106 15.1 1 71 516 7.3 6
*2015 Georgia SEC SO RB 13 218 1136 5.2 8 26 270 10.4 3 244 1406 5.8 11
*2016 Georgia SEC JR RB 12 152 840 5.5 4 22 149 6.8 1 174 989 5.7 5
2017 Georgia SEC SR RB 14 156 1227 7.9 16 9 96 10.7 1 165 1323 8.0 17
Career Georgia 590 3613 6.1 33 64 621 9.7 6 654 4234 6.5 39
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.


Film Study: Auburn (2015), Notre Dame (2017), Alabama (2017)

I started with a film from 2015 so I could see Michel when he was the lead back with Chubb out.  The game that was available was against Auburn.  I was not impressed with Michel’s running in this one for the most part.  Most carries have him running right up the gut for little to no gain.  The first outside run I noted was a sweep in the middle of the third that gained 9 yards.  His best run came late in the third.  He takes a pitch right up the middle, uses his blockers well, breaks two tackles and collides with the defensive back.  He churns his feet and tries to push the defender forward.  He ultimately fails and is short of the first but it was still a good effort.  Michel had two attempts inside the five yard line in the game and failed on both.  One of those attempts was actually a fumble where he missed the pitch; it could have been equally the quarterback’s fault but ultimately it was charged to him (Georgia recovered it which led to his second failed attempt).  I counted five broken tackles, two of which came on that one play highlighted above, and that might have been generous.  Most times when Michel is contacted near the line of scrimmage the play ended shortly after.

I was encouraged by the progress that I saw in Michel in the 2017 film against Notre Dame.  His third run of the game was reminiscent of the run in the Auburn game where he failed to push the defender back.  This time, he nails the safety with a lowered shoulder and falls forward for the first.  In this game he looked much more explosive and patient than he did as a sophomore.  His best successes came when running inside of LT Isaiah Wynn (an NFL prospect himself).  The explosiveness and patience was evident in this late fourth quarter run.  It’s a 3rd and 1 when Georgia was down 19-17.  Michel takes the pitch left, the end is unblocked and it’s up to Michel to make him miss.  He does just that after a hard plant with his left foot and an explosive cut to the right.  He easily brushes past the arm tackle.  This happened in the backfield though so Michel still has yards to gain to get the first.  He sees WR Javon Wims blocking a corner and heads towards him rather than cutting upfield where he wouldn’t stand a chance.  He runs right at Wims which makes the defender decide if he wants to try and beat the block to the inside or the outside.  Michel calculates he won’t be able to make it around the outside so he waits for Wims to angle his block as the defender leans outside.  By that point Michel easily gained the first.  It was a great play that illustrated a number of traits that Michel improved between his sophomore and senior seasons.

Like you, I watched the Georgia vs Alabama game a few weeks ago but I wanted to watch the film once more.  I ended up not taking a single note about any of Michel’s runs because I was so impressed with his pass protection.  There were a number of plays where he excelled but there are two I’ll highlight, both blocking potential first round NFL talent.  I’ll show the later one first.  On this play, Michel is responsible for the blitzing safety, Ronnie Harrison.  Michel patiently waits for Harrison to hit the line and picks up the blitz to give QB Jake Fromm enough time to deliver a deep pass which ended up going for a score.  Michel does not show the best blocking mechanics on the play, it looks like he sets his base too soon and may get beat inside if the play extended but it was enough to let Fromm get the ball out.  An even better pass protection play came earlier when Michel stood up 308lb DT Da’Ron Payne.  The DTs run an inside stunt and Payne ends up with what would be a free rush at the QB if Michel did not stay home on the play.  Wynn, the LT, pushed his rusher inside but before he can come back outside for Payne, he falls.  Michel was in good position and actually initiates contact with Payne driving a shoulder right under his chin, which momentarily pushed Payne back.  Michel keeps Payne in front of him with good hand placement.  Of all the good runs I saw Michel make while watching these three games, this was the single most impressive play I saw.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Personality, pass catching ability, pass protection, flashed in biggest games of his career this postseason, is a good teammate as evidenced by his friendship with starter Nick Chubb.

Weaknesses: Injury history, ball security, was rarely used as the RB1 except for in 2015 after Chubb’s injury, age.

Opportunities: Teams will view Michel as a solid third down back because of his pass catching and pass blocking abilities.  He’ll be a good locker room guy as coaches will not have to worry about him complaining about playing time.

Threats: Teams may hesitate to draft Michel as their lead back which could hurt his draft stock – it’s hard to draft a situational player in the second round.  The combination of his injuries, age and usage in college could be just enough to scare off teams.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

Since he played behind Nick Chubb for most of his career, there’s a chance we haven’t seen Michel’s full potential.  Unfortunately, he does have numerous injuries in his history.  When I started this profile, I was anywhere between early 3rd and 5th round.  After studying his stats and history, I was leaning towards the 4th round.  However, after seeing how adept at pass protection Michel was against Alabama, I’m willing to bump him into the middle of the 3rd round.

Recent NFL Comparison: Marlon Mack

Mack and Michel are nearly identical prospects when you consider their size, speed and production.  Mack measured at 5’11” and 213 whereas Michel is estimated at 5’11” and 215lbs.  Mack ran a 4.50 whereas NFLDraftScout.com estimates Michel will run a 4.52.  Mack rushed for 3,609 yards, a 6.2 yards per carry average, 32 rushing TDs and added 65 receptions; Michel’s line is 3,613 yards, a 6.1 average, 33 rushing TDs and 64 receptions.  Mack was drafted in the 4th round so the draft grade is reasonably close too.  When I watch highlights of Mack, he looks to run with a more upright style but there’s enough similarity there for me to make the comparison, especially compared to Michel’s Notre Dame tape.


Ronald Jones, RB, USC

I was low on Ronald “RoJo” Jones to start the 2017 season but I have come around in a big way.  My biggest concern about Jones was his weight.  At approximately 6’0″ he needs to weigh in at at least 200lbs.  Looking back at NFL Combine measurements since 2010, you’ll notice a bad trend for somebody Jones’ size: only three backs have measured 5’11” or taller and less than 200lbs.  Unfortunately, those players don’t exactly inspire confidence as they are Taiwan Jones, CJ Spiller and Joe McKnight.  Luckily, Jones has increased his weight year-over-year and I expect him to get near 210lbs when he officially weighs in.  I checked USC media guides for the last three years and his weight progression was 185-195-200; an LA Times article from July said that Jones was already up to 205lbs at that point.  If Jones weighs in at less than 200lbs, I plan on dropping him down my board.  A benefit of not carrying too much bulk is that Jones is lightning quick.  NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run a 4.39.  Jones has a few minor injury nicks on his resume.  The first being a 2016 rib injury that he played through but limited his touches (just 36 carries in the first five games).  The second being a 2017 injury that kept him out of the game against Cal; the injury was reported as both an ankle and a thigh injury so I’m not sure which it truly was but I expect the ankle.  Thankfully that injury did not linger as he gained 128 yards the next week against Washington State.  Even though he was a three year starter, Jones is exceedingly young.  Per DLF, Jones is the youngest prospect in the class at 20.5 years old.  When I was researching Jones’ personality and character I did not find much of note.  I found an interview prior to the Cotton Bowl where he said “I like to play silently” which ultimately explained the dearth of articles out there.  There were two funny things I came across in my character research… 1) teammate Stephen Carr said that Jones has “horse legs” which made me actually laugh out loud and 2) “Ronald Jones” was apparently a character in both The Hunt for Red October and Halloween: H2O.  If the NFL doesn’t work out for Jones, maybe he has a future as a vanilla background character in Hollywood!

Stats & Accolades:  In addition to showing a good progression with his weight, Jones has a good progression with his base stats.  His carries, yards and touchdowns have all increased year-over-year, as have his receptions and receiving yards.  Jones is not a big pass catching threat with just 32 career receptions but his huge 13.4 average per catch this season is encouraging.  Jones’ yards per carry average has decreased each season, however it was still a strong 5.9 at it’s lowest so I’m not that concerned.  Jones had two huge games in 2017 with 216 rushing yards and 2 TDs against Arizona State and then following it up with a 3 TD and 233 scrimmage yard outing against Arizona.  Jones’ biggest game of 2015 came against Arizona too (177 yards) so maybe he just has a personal vendetta against the state?  I like that the Trojans gave Jones 261 carries this year (14th most in the FBS) which shows me they were less concerned about his durability this season than in the past, likely a factor of him bulking up.  In the aforementioned PFF Elusive Rating statistic, Jones ranked 15th.  He also shows up in their Pass Blocking Efficiency table with a 94.2% efficiency.  Per their stat tracking, Jones had 67 snaps in pass protection and allowed just five hurries and no sacks.  Jones has the best ball security by far of this trio of running backs.  He has just two career fumbles and lost just one.  He was perfect in 2017 without a single fumble.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2015 USC Pac-12 FR RB 14 153 987 6.5 8 7 39 5.6 1 160 1026 6.4 9
*2016 USC Pac-12 SO RB 13 177 1082 6.1 12 11 76 6.9 1 188 1158 6.2 13
2017 USC Pac-12 JR RB 13 261 1550 5.9 19 14 187 13.4 1 275 1737 6.3 20
Career USC 591 3619 6.1 39 32 302 9.4 3 623 3921 6.3 42
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2018.

Film Study: Texas (2017), Colorado (2017)

Jones was mostly held in check against Texas as a rusher (just 47 yards on 18 carries) but he still made a huge impression.  Two of the first three plays of the game for USC featured Jones split out blocking on wide receiver screens.  That tactic continued throughout the game when Jones was often utilized as a blocker in the open field.  This play is a good example of Jones blocking downfield.  He starts in the backfield but motions out to the right, to the wide side of the field.  He runs up field with a tight end to form a perfect lane for WR Steven Mitchell to run through after he catches the screen.  Due to the strength of the Longhorn defense, Jones was often called on to help in pass protection too.  I counted nine positive pass pro plays and no negative plays; he’ll need more size, experience and improved technique to stand up to NFL defenders but it’s a good start.  Jones only had one reception in the game but he made it count.  It was late in the second quarter with just 0:05 left with the score tied 7-7.  Jones stays in to protect at first but then leaks out as a safety valve for QB Sam Darnold.  Darnold is forced to scramble and finds Jones who had stopped his route in the open field to make an easy target for Darnold.  Jones turns up field, jukes the first defender, and then uses his speed (and a great block from Mitchell) to beat the defenders to the pylon.  At one point there are eight pursuing defenders in the frame and none of them can get an angle on Jones.  Without the momentum, and the points, that that play provided USC likely would have been upset by Texas.  Jones had two goal line carries and was stopped just short on both; the second came on 4th down so it was also a costly turnover.

Against Colorado’s softer defense, Jones was able to show me more as a runner.  Right from the start, his vision was apparent as he made three straight runs that impressed me (and the commentators too, who must have been the Colorado home game crew).  Jones is not a big broken tackle runner, similar to Penny he makes his yards by eluding defenders rather than overpowering them.  There were a few plays though that I noted key broken tackles by Jones, especially this 4th and Inches in the second quarter.  The linebacker has a free shot at Jones behind the line but he breaks the tackle and gets the first.  Two traits that Jones showed in the second half of the Colorado game were his jump cut and his patience.  This replay angle shows just how much ground his jump cut can cover which is almost unfair.  He later showed his patience on two plays as the Trojans were trying to run out the clock.  On the first, he slowly considers three separate potential holes before finally bouncing it to the sideline and nearly getting the first down.  It’s like watching him play real-life Frogger, making it up the field and toward the sideline a little at a time.  Shortly after that run, he takes a stretch handoff to the right, hesitates behind his blockers and then cuts it all the way back across the field for a score.  During my research, I came across many analysts who doubt Jones’ patience but I’m not nearly as concerned after watching those two plays.  Again, it’s not the main part of his game but Jones showed good play strength on this off tackle run in the third quarter.  A defender ends up on his back, which he shrugs off, and then he fights through a leg tackle to fall forward for a few extra yards.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Ball security, pass protection, speed, jump cut, age.

Weaknesses: Weight, lack of passing game activity, age.

Opportunities: Because of Jones’ ball security and pass protection, teams will trust him to be their back in all situations.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he hasn’t hit his full potential yet.

Threats: Due to the lack of receiving game work, teams may feel that Jones is not a great fit on third down or in the two minute drill even though he’s a good blocker.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he will be immature.

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd Round

I think that Jones is the perfect mix of known and unknown which will entice NFL scouts.  He has enough on tape to warrant being a Top 60 pick and the fact that he is so young will surely make a team want to take a chance on him becoming even better.  As I mentioned in the Opportunities section above, teams will feel that they can trust Jones.

Recent NFL Comparison:  Jamaal Charles

I vacillated between Lamar Miller and CJ Spiller for Jones’ comparison at first but then extended my search of combine measureables back further and found an even better comp in Charles.  Charles averaged 6.2 yards per carry at Texas to Jones’s 6.1 average.  Charles was a little more active as a pass catcher but not by much.  Both had two sub-200 carry seasons to start their career and then ended with 250+ in their junior season before coming out early.  Assuming Jones comes in at about 200lb they should match up near identically when it comes to measureables plus they run with a similar elusive, cutting style.  Charles was picked in the early 3rd round which is probably the worst case scenario for Jones.


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, 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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper