Evan Engram: RSO Cheat Code?

Updated: July 24th 2017

This week we examine one of the rookies who I am taking in many rookie drafts, New York Giant tight end Evan Engram. The title of this article really emphasizes the fact that Engram is a receiver but gets the tight end designation in fantasy leagues.  It is a big advantage and the reader might look to last year’s fantasy stats for why that matters.  Last season’s WR32 scored more fantasy points than the TE4 in PPR leagues.  A player must only put up moderate receiving numbers to become a consistent fantasy starter at tight end.  I take a deeper look below as to why Engram could eventually become a monster for your RSO team.

The Player

Engram led all FBS tight ends, by a significant margin, with 926 receiving yards in 2016. The next closest tight end from a power-5 conference was Clemson’s Jordan Leggett with nearly 200 less yards.  Unlike other players taking advantage of small school athletes, Engram routinely beat up on upper-level competition.  His top 6 receiving games, all with 95 yards or better, came against five SEC conference opponents and ACC powerhouse Florida State.  His top receiving performance of 2016 came against national champion runner-up Alabama, whom he dismantled for 138 yards.  Per Pro Football Focus, Engram led all draft eligible tight ends in touchdowns and yards per route run out of the slot.

Put simply, Engram is the best route runner and receiver at tight end in this rookie class by a wide margin. Linebackers looked silly trying to stay with Engram and he routinely defeated defensive backs.  His tape shows a player with the quickness and agility to separate easily for short, easy completions while also displaying blazing straight line speed to win deep as a “seam-buster” or on the boundaries.  The Mississippi standout attacks all levels of the field with success as shown by his target map below.  Another weapon in the Rebel’s arsenal is his ability to win near the endzone where his leaping ability and route running stood out.  If you do not trust my evaluation, just listen to 2016 Giants defensive captain linebacker Jonathan Casillas describing Engram during New York OTAs:  “He is not a small guy. He runs routes just as good as any receiver we have on our team. He creates separation and he has great hands.”

 

Evan Engram Target Map (Pro Football Focus)

 

The Athlete

Engram is a physical marvel. His 4.42 forty yard dash at the NFL combine is among the fastest ever for a tight end.  His size adjusted speed score is the eight best at the position since 2000.  Player Profiler shows a player testing in the top 16% of each workout metric for tight ends.  In fact, Engram is such a high-end athletic outlier that he has no true comparable at tight end in terms of draft position, size, and athleticism.  One must look to big and fast receivers like Terrelle Pryor and Demaryius Thomas for players with athletic traits approaching Engram’s.

But do those traits work at the NFL level? Some people say a “tweener” like Engram rarely succeeds in the NFL.  This is a myth.  There are many recent examples of smaller move tight ends and large wide receivers with similar physical profiles having successful seasons in the NFL.  A few high level examples of these players, all of whom weighed within about 10 pounds of Engram at the combine, include Delanie Walker, Aaron Hernandez, Jordan Reed, Marquise Colston, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Calvin Johnson, and the aforementioned Thomas.  Engram is a superior athletic specimen to many on that list.  The main reason that few players with Engram’s size and athleticism have succeeded in the NFL is that there are so few players with Engram’s combination of size and athleticism.

Situation

The community seems somewhat polarized on the situation in New York with many claiming a bad, crowded situation and others seeing a very nice landing spot. I am somewhere in the middle.  Most people agree Engram should see the big majority of tight end targets in short order with only undrafted Will Tye and late rounder Jerell Adams as the primary competition for touches.  The passing game is a mixed bag in New York.  On the plus side, the Giants have finished eighth or better in passing attempts the last two seasons.  The offense should continue emphasizing the pass game with a bad offensive line and running backs who are replacement level type players.  On the down side, those attempts will be made by Eli Manning.  Manning has always been one of the more erratic quarterbacks throughout his career but is nearing the end and looked dreadful in 2016 finishing between Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz in QBR.

The receiving core is also not nearly the obstacle many people claim. Odell Beckham Jr. will continue to dominate targets without much question.  Brandon Marshall, on the other hand, produced one of the worst receiving seasons in recent memory last season and turned 33 this year.  It was not all his fault.   Jets QBs burdened Marshall with one of the worst catchable ball rates in the league.  Marshall’s new contract and interviews make it clear he likely has, at most, two years left in the league.  Sterling Shepard had a decent rookie campaign but his production was over exaggerated by a big target load necessitated by a lack of quality receiving options in New York.  Shepard recorded the third least receiving yards and yards per reception of anyone with his target load. His production per target was more in line with running backs and older tight ends than quality receivers.

Role

Engram will move all over the field in the slot, out wide, attached, and even in the backfield at times. Most importantly, the addition of Engram (and Marshall) brings diversity to a somewhat predictable Giants offense.  New York used more three wide receiver formations than any team in the league last year relying primarily on undersized Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Shepard.  The Giants can now use more 2-WR and multiple tight end sets with Marshall, OBJ, and Engram as the primary receivers.  Perimeter blocking should be improved for the run and shallow passing game with two large receivers matching up against smaller defensive backs at times on the perimeter.  This is done without losing much in the passing game.  At other times, Manning receives isolation opportunities for easy completions when defenses attempt to cover Engram with linebackers.

RSO Outlook

Engram’s distribution of outcomes is wider than most tight ends given his unique skillset and size at the position, meaning he has higher probabilities on both the high side and low-end of production possibilities. This is exactly what you want at tight end where middle of the road starters are both cheap and plentiful through trade or the waiver wire in most leagues. The floor for Engram is a multi-dimensional H-back type of player who the Giants do not figure out how to use consistently.  He does not see the field regularly due to his smaller size and lack of blocking ability leading to fantasy irrelevance.  The fantasy ceiling sees Engram used consistently on the field as a receiver who is a tight end in designation only.  This is where his wide receiver-like attributes give Engram a big leg up on the other rookie tight ends for fantasy purposes.  One might think of a Marques Colston or Jordan Matthews type of role in which Engram eventually sees 100+ targets yearly. This would put him in the conversation as a yearly top 6 option at tight end given the likely efficiency at the NFL level and touchdown potential.

Engram is currently going off the board as the 13th player in rookie drafts and the third tight end behind O.J. Howard and David Njoku.  I am happy to take the discount on the player with the highest fantasy upside at the position and is only a moderate risk at his cost.  The difference between Engram and other tight ends is clear.  One hopes the other rookie tight ends eventually become good tight end options for your RSO team.  You hope Engram evolves into a good receiver who happens to be designated as a tight end which makes for a potential fantasy monster.


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

The Watch List: Sun Belt Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Jordan Chunn, RB, Troy: Chunn is my pick for the player from the Sun Belt most likely to end up on your fantasy team next Spring.  He has good size for a RB at 6’1″ and 231 lb (very similar to D’onta Foreman and James Connor from this class).  As a true freshman in 2013, Chunn split time as the lead back and had a solid 514 rushing yards, 21 receptions and 104 receiving yards; he added an eye-popping 14 rushing TDs.  He was less of a pass catcher in 2014 but upped his per carry average slightly despite not getting the bulk of the carries.  He finished 2014 with a 111-509-6 rushing line.  In 2016, Chunn was the unquestioned top back and went for 279-1,288-16 while adding 30 receptions and 228 yards through the air.  I was able to view a find some student-made highlight reelss from last year’s Troy’s games.  Chunn is a straight ahead runner who would much rather go through the defender than around.  He didn’t show me much elusiveness or speed (maybe 4.60-4.65) but that’s not why you’d be drafting him.  Two negatives I’ll mention… First, he runs upright which the conventional wisdom says is a concern as it makes him a bigger target for tacklers.  Second, he was sidelined for nearly all of 2015 with a collarbone injury.  Luckily for his future pro prospects, a broken collarbone will give GMs less pause than a knee.  Come May 2018, Chunn could find himself on a team looking for a little “thunder” to go with their “lightning.”
  • Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State: It was even harder to find film out there for Moore.  I didn’t have the patience to sit through long highlight packages of random Sun Belt games just to see a glimpse of him two or three times on touchdowns or long runs.  It’s disappointing because he was the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and named to the All-Sun Belt First Team and I wanted to actually see him in action.  Funnily enough, it’s far easier to find high school highlights of his.  As a freshman in 2015, Moore ran for 731 yards on just 99 carries, a 7.4 per carry average.  In 2016, he was the lead guy and had a 237-1,402-10 rushing line.  Unfortunately, he adds very little in the passing game with just five career receptions, all in 2016.  Moore started 2016 slowly but exploded in the fourth game against Akron for 257 yards and 2 TDs on 39 carries.  He had seven more 100+ yard games after that to finish strong enough to make you forget about the earlier struggles (two of which came against Tennessee and Miami FL).  Moore is 5’11” and 205 lbs, lighter than you’d hope for in an every-down back; size-wise he compares similarly to Christian McCaffery.  Moore is only a junior so he has some time to bulk up (and put some good tape out there) but there’s no guarantee he comes out in 2018.
  • Matt Linehan, QB, Idaho: If I’m being honest, I had not heard of Matt Linehan before I started my Sun Belt research.  Idaho originally caught my eye because they are moving back to FCS (more on that below) so I decided to learn more about their quarterback.  He’s been the starter since 2014 as a true freshman when the Vandals joined the Sun Belt and now he will see them out of the conference.  Linehan has some inflated counting stats from a heavy pass offense but the stats aren’t great when you look closely.  He finished strong with 10 TDs and just 3 INTs in the final four games of the season (including a 4 TD game in the Idaho Potato Bowl against Colorado State), but he started the year with just 2 TDs and 1 INT in the first four (granted one was against Washington but the other three were against Montana State [FCS], Washington State [112th passing defense] and UNLV [81st]).  Despite a high volume of attempts, he just doesn’t hit paydirt often enough  (just 46 career TDs over 35 games).  His career completion percentage of 61.1% is good enough but in the film I watched he looked pretty inaccurate.  I watched Linehan play against Washington and predictably his teammates did him no favors: he was sacked, had to scramble and suffered a number of drops.  He does look comfortable throwing on the run, which is a positive because Idaho ranks 108th in returning offensive line starts per Phil Steele.  I also watched his tape against Colorado State and two plays from that game give me hope.  On two of his four TD tosses, Linehan identified the blitz and threw to a hot route receiver for a touchdown.  Maybe I’m being hard on the guy, but I just wasn’t impressed when delving into his stats or his tape.  Two of my favorite resources disagree though.  Phil Steele has Linehan as his #16 draft eligible QB, meanwhile DraftScout.com has Linehan as the #3 senior QB (notably ahead of Baker Mayfield).  For what it’s worth, his dad is Scott Linehan, Cowboys offensive coordinator and former Rams head coach so that will all but guarantee he gets a shot with an NFL team.  Linehan is a guy I will definitely be checking in on again in the future to see if my initial impressions were right or off base.
  • Blake Mack, TE, Arkansas State: Here’s a deep name for you.  I realized that in my first few previews, I didn’t list a single TE as a player to watch so I was determined to find one to write about from the Sun Belt.  Lindy’s lists Mack as the 10th best draft eligible player from the conference so maybe I’m on to something.  I was initially turned away from Mack because of his size.  At 6’3″ 231lb, he’s smaller than Evan Engram who was 2017’s smallest TE prospect.  Some talk, from myself included, supposed that Engram might transition to WR or at least play most of his snaps out of the slot.  That’s likely the future for Mack too.  I found a highlight reel for Mack from 2016 and was interested to see where the Red Wolves utilized him.  He was very versatile, lining up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield.  He was not on the line often and I did not see a single highlight of him blocking (possibly more a feature of what constitutes a highlight, but my gut tells me he doesn’t block much).  He has the speed to beat safeties and linebackers in coverage, which he did on a number of plays.  Mack looks smaller on the field than expected so I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even enter the combine as a TE but instead as a WR (or maybe with the RBs as an H-back).  Perhaps not the best comparison these days, but his usage and versatility reminded me of Aaron Hernandez at Florida.  You’ll have to be in a pretty deep league to consider Mack but hey that’s why I’m here!

Storylines to Watch

  • Idaho moving down to the FCS: As far as I can tell, no team has left the FBS for the FCS by choice in decades.  Some have left due to funding or NCAA sanctions, but to leave the top division willingly is unprecedented.  It’s an interesting story and one that gets more interesting when you think about the future of head coach Paul Petrino.  Petrino has been with Idaho since they moved up to the FBS in 2013 (they played as an independent for a season before joining the Sun Belt in 2014).  His overall record is bad (15-33) but the trend line is encouraging.  The Vandals started off with two 0-11 seasons but improved to 4-8 in 2015 and then 9-4 last season.  If Petrino can keep the team competitive, which should be made easier with such an experienced quarterback like Matt Linehan, I would expect him to stay in the FBS and latch on with another up-and-coming Group of 5 team.
  • Troy’s experience will help them surprise: As readers will know, I like to refer to Phil Steele’s experience charts to determine potential surprise teams.  What did I find for the Sun Belt?  Troy is returning an insane 98.7% of their offensive yards from last year – the highest percentage in the FBS.  Their top seven rushers and receivers will all be back for 2017, including standout RB Jordan Chunn.  Troy has two tough non-conference games against Boise State and LSU, which I’m assuming will be losses, but they avoid Appalachian State who should lead the conference.  If Troy can avoid a late season upset like they suffered in 2016 against Georgia Southern, they should challenge App State for the title.

Games to Watch

  • September 2, Appalachian State at Georgia: I’m a Michigan fan so I know all about opening weekend upsets against App State.  Georgia will be a preseason Top 25 team and features some bonafide NFL prospects (including RBs Nick Chub and Sony Michel) but they need to make sure they don’t get caught looking ahead to Notre Dame who they play the following weekend.  It’ll also be a good opportunity to see RB Jalin Moore play on what should be a national broadcast.
  • September 16, Coastal Carolina at UAB: This probably won’t be a football game featuring any future NFL talent but it is at least an interesting story.  UAB is returning to football after two seasons off and Coastal Carolina will be playing its first season in the FBS.  Both of these teams literally have nowhere to go but up.
  • December 2, Troy at Arkansas State: Without a conference championship game, this is probably the closest we’ll get.  As I mentioned above, I think Troy will challenge for first and you’d expect Arkansas State to be in the running since they have the best conference record over the last three, five and ten years.

Next up… the independents!

 

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

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

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

League Contract Settings

Updated: July 23rd 2017

As we round the final turn heading into training camp, let’s get into the final segment of the League Settings article series.  If case you’ve missed them, the first two articles focused on League Scoring Settings and League Configuration and Settings. As Alec Baldwin emphatically states in my favorite movie, Glengarry Glen Ross in reference to executing contracts, “there’s only one thing that matters: get them to sign on the line that is DOTTED!”.

The Reality Sports Online platform is unlike any other with respect to contracts. The Free Agent Auction Room and the online rookie draft allow for all sorts of both fixed priced contracts (rookie wage scale) and dynamic market-priced deals (free agent auction). Therefore, when a commissioner is creating or tweaking contract settings in their league, there are a myriad of things to consider so let’s dive in head-first.

1) Don’t Go Too Crazy With Long Term Contracts

I know, I know. You joined this platform because you actually wanted to use your brain. All the other keeper leagues feature roster keeper decisions that anyone can make. Keep Mike Evans for another year? Sure, can I have more steak with that? The RSO element of a league or commissioner-elected quantity of multi-year contracts enables maximum strategy on how you prioritize who gets long-term deals and manage yearly salary cap space.

Each year, you get the same allotment of contracts elected by your league (I know this is a question I get from newbies all the time so I wanted to address this). However, post-auction you can make any type of roster moves and trades to acquire whatever long-term or short-term talent you want as long as you have the cap space and roster slots to do it. If you want your team to consist of all four-year contract players, it may be difficult to amass, but it can happen.

When folks join a league like this, the inkling is to keep your studs in perpetuity. Talent and value constantly change, and making a multi-year contract mistake in your first year is crippling. My inaugural year had teams splurge on Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller. It took a lot to get out from under those deals.

As a result, my recommendation is to start your league with the following contract allotment: 4 year contracts: one, 3 year contracts: two, 2 year contracts: three. The good part of this approach is it focuses your four year deal on someone you really value or the possibility of hitting a developmental home run at a cheaper price.

One year deals can be incredibly value in RSO leagues, assuming you strategize them well. For instance, in last year’s RSO Superflex writers league, I picked up Melvin Gordon on a one year, $8.0 million deal coming off an injury. I loved his talent and figured that his zero touchdowns scored in his rookie season was an anomaly. I was right, and now I have used my franchise tag on Gordon for the upcoming season for one year, $20.3 million.

I personally like using at least one of my two year deals on a quarterback and tend to like wide receivers for long term deals. It is rare for me to give a running back more than two years, based on how frequently that position changes and the short life span of most high-end backs.

2) Have A Two or Three Round Rookie Draft; Have Them Offline

If you’ve read some of our offseason pieces, the rookie draft has been a huge focus. I love the fixed price of rookies, especially at the top of the second round where the contract costs drop precipitously. To keep the rookie pool from getting diluted (like in a five round rookie draft), I recommend having two to three rounds of rookie drafts for most leagues that have 10 to 12 teams. That way there are a few coveted rookies who spill into the auction (think Jay Ajayi two years ago), but enough talent to not have rookies get dropped from rosters for weekly moves.

In terms of having the rookie draft offline, this is a mindset shift for me after having our writers league draft over email this year. I was astonished by how many trades occurred and how efficiently we could still pick rookies. I adhere to the more strategy the better, so I loved all the trade activity that occurred in the rookie draft.

Rookies remain incredibly valuable, especially if you can hit on your draft picks. Those who don’t like rookies can maximize their value by trading these picks for prime assets either at the trade deadline, throughout the offseason, etc.

3) The New Normal: In-season Contract Extensions

In April, Reality Sports Online released details on in-season contract extensions here. In general, I’m a fan of this as it adds another element of strategy to the league. However, I would recommend that owners proceed with caution on banking on in-season extensions or making trades with limited knowledge of how this will work in practice (it is all theory now) this offseason.

For starters, I would recommend that all leagues vote on how many in-season extensions they want to adopt each season (and potentially revisit this decision after the first year of this feature). My main league voted on one extension for transparency purposes with the thought being that we love the auction and want the player pool to be as deep as possible in the auction, but still allowing the opportunity to exercise the in-season extension for one key player per team.

One thing is obvious from all the guidance in Kyle’s release and my interactions with Stephen and Matt on the in-season extension. Players will not be taking pay cuts. So if you franchised tagged a player last season and the breakout season never came, that salary still serves as the base for a potential extension in season. These will be difficult decisions to make.

Further, until you see what the algorithm spits out in Weeks 4 through 13 of the 2017 season, it is a totally crapshoot. Especially with the famed rookie class featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins. Those rookies have a low base salary by virtue of the rookie wage scale but figure to jump to what they’d command in the auction if they were free agents on the in-season extension market. For instance, I paid 4 years, $169 million for OBJ in an auction last summer.

Both historic player performance and current year performance will factor into player salaries as well, so you really would be making a decision with imperfect information if you were basing 2017 offseason moves (including franchise tagging a player in hopes of extending them next summer) or trading for a player who could be extended.

4) An Outside-the-Box Thought

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of RSO and it is currently the only league platform I play on. That said, there are inherent limitations of any start-up which has to weigh the costs and benefits of making platform changes. For me, one sticking point is the fact that any player thrown out by an owner in an auction has to be thrown out at a minimum bid. Often towards the end of the auction, there’s a developmental type player I have my eye on and unless someone else throws that player out or I do and ensure that someone else bids on that player, the player I’m targeting may end up on my team as a one-year guy, which wasn’t my intent.

As a result and based on a conversation I had with Stephen this offseason, our league has adopted an off-platform workaround to that issue. Basically, every team in our league has the ability to convert a 1 year, $500k minimum contract to a multi-year contract of the length of their choice (two, three, or four years) within 24 hours of the auction by notifying the commissioner in writing. The commissioner would then have to use the edit contracts feature to alter the contract length. The intent would be for this player to be of the devy type, so ideally defenses and kickers would be excluded but your league could decide on that as you see fit.

By implementing this option, your league would be adding another layer of strategy without impacting the overall contract allotment that you have elected for your auctions.

5) Franchise Tags

The franchise tag is a super-valuable strategic piece that has been in RSO leagues since inception. Basically any expiring player can be extended for the higher of 120% of current year salary or the Top 5 positional average of your league for players under contract.

Since the salary of these players can get fairly high, I recommend that each league allows one franchise tag per team. A player can be franchise tagged and traded if the “Finalize Franchise Tag” button is selected in the offseason.

I personally have used my tag before and it typically pays off if you signed an oft-injured player who produced on his deal. For instance, I turned a two year, $26 million deal for Rob Gronkowski from our inaugural year into to franchise tags at 120% raises. Gronk is now out of franchise tags and will return to the player pool this offseason.

Positionally, depending on your league, there are some leagues where significant value can be found in using the franchise tag for positions like quarterbacks (those late round QB types), tight ends and DSTs. Wide receivers and running backs typically command a prettier penny.

6) Trades/Waivers

I think trades and waivers are fairly standard in RSO leagues. For trades, we let our commissioner review and make the decision. In a format like this, almost every deal has some form of long-term strategy, so something would have to be egregious or somehow demonstrate collusion (which frankly is super rare) for a deal to get rejected. To ensure that teams that are trading draft picks are invested long-term in our league, we make teams trading future year picks kick in at least 50% of next year’s league dues upon trade execution.

In terms of waivers, the FAAB system prevails for one year players. It is fairly standard.

 


Matt Goodwin is entering his fourth season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year five of his main league. He also contributed for numberFire for several years. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a Cleveland Indians World Series victory a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (7 year old son) and Lainie (2 year old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

The Watch List: Mountain West

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Depending on where you look, junior Josh Allen is one of the top quarterback prospects for 2018 along with USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.  I had heard and read some of the Allen hype, so going into my MWC preview, I knew he would be featured.  I honestly came away a bit disappointed but with a lot of notes.  I decided to watch tape of Allen against Nebraska, figuring that was the most NFL-like defense he would have faced.  Nebraska predictably dominated at the line of scrimmage and Allen was under pressure all game long.  Allen finished with a horrible stat line: 16-32, 189 yards, 1 TD, 5 INTs (he also had a backward pass that was recovered as a fumble and was not charged to him).  He was erratic and inaccurate for most of the game including three bad under throws which led to interceptions.  The inaccuracy is borne out in his season totals too: a poor 56% completion percentage and 15 INTs.  There were also at least two times when Allen was about to be sacked and he just flung the ball trying to avoid the loss; one resulted in an intentional grounding and another harmlessly hit the turf but could have been another turnover.  If he doesn’t have pocket presence against Nebraska, will he have it against the Houston Texans?  It wasn’t all negative though, there were some good takeaways.  First off, Allen is big and statuesque at 6’5″ and 222lb.  When he takes a shotgun snap and quickly gets the ball out without a drop step, he looks like an NFL quarterback.  He didn’t show it against Nebraska, but Allen is a threat on the ground too (523 yards, 7 TDs).  I don’t think it’ll be enough to consider him a mobile quarterback in the NFL but he could have the same 300 yard, 3 TD rushing upside as Andrew Luck if he puts on a few pounds.  NFL personnel will also like the fact that Wyoming’s offense features a number of plays from under center: against Nebraska, I counted ten snaps from under center.  One play against Nebraska sums up everything Allen can do right…  It was a 4th and 12 from 35 yards out with just a few seconds to go in the half.  Not trusting the kicker, Allen and the offense stayed on the field.  He rolls right to buy time for his receivers, starts directing traffic in front of him and hurls a high arching pass to the back corner where nobody but his receiver could get to it – near perfection.  If Allen can show scouts, and RSO owners, plays similar to that throughout 2017 he will stay at the top of draft boards.  Luckily, two early season games against Iowa and Oregon will give us some good tape to digest.  At this point, I expect Allen to go in the Top 5 in the NFL draft and depending on your RSO format, anywhere from mid- or late 1st (Superflex) to mid-2nd (standard).
  • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien, another junior QB, is Phil Steele’s 15th ranked draft eligible quarterback for 2018.  Another resource I use, Lindy’s, has him at 17th but says they don’t think he will come out early.  I did some further online research and couldn’t come up with anything more definitive either way.  For now, keep Rypien on your radar but don’t waste a devy pick on him.  He won’t be the best at his position in the MWC but he could garner enough draft hype to force him to come out.  He’s significantly smaller than Allen (6’2″, 200 lb) which caught my eye because media guides often lie and that even 200 sure looks like it was rounded up.  I looked back and there are not many QBs in recent years who weigh as little as 200 lb.  The lightest two from 2017 were Brad Kaaya (214) and Seth Russell (213) but at least they were an inch or two taller.  Rypien is not a scrambler, but still, NFL scouts will be concerned about his ability to stay healthy throughout a season.  His stats over two years as the starter are good: nearly 7,000 yards, 44 TDs, 16 INTs and a 62.8% completion percentage.  Ultimately, I think Rypien’s stock will be buoyed by the name cachet of Boise State and some gaudy numbers, like the 5 TD game against New Mexico last year, but once he hits the combine, his stock will fall.
  • Cedric Wilson, WR, Boise State: Rypien will need somebody to throw to and more often than not, that will be 2016 JUCO transfer Cedric Wilson.  Wilson is tall at 6’3″ but needs to add at least ten pounds to his 183 lb frame (since 2010, no WR measuring 6’3″ weighed less than 194 lb at the combine).  I watched Wilson’s tape against San Jose State and he really impressed me as a blocker: he flew in with reckless abandon, and with effect, multiple times.  I was disappointed in seeing how often he lets the ball get into his body rather than catching it with his hands, hopefully something he can improve on.  In the tape I watched, it seemed that his height was wasted on crossing patterns and bubble screens, routes that don’t seem to match his stature; I’d need to watch more film to see if that was constant throughout the season.  Wilson averaged an impressive 20.2 yards per reception in 2016 so even when he gets the ball near the line of scrimmage he can pick up yards.
  • Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Like Wilson, Gallup is a former JUCO transfer so we don’t have much of a sample to work on, although what we do have from 2016 was great: 76 receptions, 1,272 yards and 14 TDs.  He had monstrous games against Air Force (13-213-1) and San Diego State (7-139-3) so we know he can dominate a game.  I’ll be interested to see how he tests at the combine; when watching highlights of him, it seems like he accelerates faster than anybody else on the field once the ball is in his hands.  He had a number of nice contested catches against Fresno State and Air Force so his ability in the air might be better than his 6’1″ height would suggest.  I’m going to keep Gallup’s name filed away and check in late in the season to see if he dominates the MWC like he did in 2016.  If so, he could be a late round steal for a savvy RSO owner.

Storylines to Watch

  • It’s all about the Mountain Division: Forgive me West Division, but I just don’t find you interesting.  The Mountain will feature a three team race to the conference championship between Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State.  I’ve written enough above and below about Boise and Wyoming, who will go as far as their quarterbacks can carry them, but let me spill a few more words about Colorado State.  They won’t feature the best QB in the league in Nick Stevens but they will likely have the most potent ground game.  Head Coach Mike Bobo likes to spread the carries around, evidenced by having three 500+ yard rushers the last two seasons.  Two of the backs, Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Mathews, were there for both seasons and will provide a good one-two punch.  As I mentioned in my MAC preview when I picked Central Michigan as a potential division spoiler, I like to consult Phil Steele’s experience charts to find teams that could outperform last year.  The Rams return a whopping 88% of their offensive yards from 2016 (15th in the NCAA).  That bodes well for 2017.  The games between Boise, Wyoming and CSU should be fun to watch and will feature a number of NFL prospects.  They should be high scoring too: the teams ranked 52nd, 104th and 69th in total defense respectively.
  • San Diego State’s special teams will steal them a big win: I have otherwise ignored the West Division in this preview but I knew I had to at least mention the team that should win the division: San Diego State.  Strangely, it was their special teams that stood out to me.  RB/KR Rashaad Penny won MW Special Teams Player of the Year the last two seasons (32.4 average with 5 TDs).  Penny will also see an uptick in touches on offense with Donnell Pumphrey gone to the NFL; he had nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 14 combined rushing/receiving TDs in 2016.  Kicker John Baron was an impressive 21-23 with a long of 50 yards.  Reliable college kickers are hard to come by and an explosive return man can be a significant field position advantage in a close game.  My bold prediction is that the combination of Penny and Baron will help the Aztecs steal a non-conference win against either Arizona State or Stanford.

Games to Watch

  • September 1, Colorado vs Colorado State; September 16, Colorado State at Alabama: The Rams have a tough non-conference schedule in 2017 (also including Oregon State).  Colorado and Alabama had the 20th and 24th ranked pass defenses last year, respectively, so they will be a great test for WR Michael Gallup.  Gallup went 10-81-1 combined in his two biggest games last year against Colorado and Minnesota so he needs to prove that he can produce against NFL talent, not just against our future servicemen.
  • October 21, Wyoming at Boise State: It’s all about the two quarterbacks: Rypien vs Allen.  Most of the games these two play this season won’t make it onto the national radar but this one should be with a late eastern time zone start time and not much else scheduled against it.  They’ll both need to make it count as it will be the biggest game they play in the second half of the season until a bowl game and another national broadcast.

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

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

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

The Watch List: MAC Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Corey Willis, WR, Central Michigan: Willis is probably best known for his highlight reel hail mary touchdown against Oklahoma State last year.  Honestly, he didn’t do a whole lot on that play, the ball was tipped back to him by a teammate, but it’s the type of play that gets a small school guy some attention and SportsCenter buzz.  He has good speed, maybe 4.50, and is a good open field runner.  He catches the ball away from his body which is good because he’s relying on his hands rather than his body to catch the ball.  John Brown and Travis Benjamin are two good size and speed comparisons, I think.  He had a productive 72/1,091/9 season in 2016 and had his best game against a Power 5 team (albeit a bad one in 2-10 Virginia) racking up 145 yards and 2 TDs on 6 catches.  I think CMU could be a spoiler in the MAC and if Willis is again the leading WR he will creep up NFL and RSO draft boards.  His draft stock might be similar to Taywan Taylor this year.
  • Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan: Franklin’s pro prospects will hinge on what he does in 2017.  He dominated as a freshman in 2014 with 306 carries, 1,531 yards and 24 TDs but had a disappointing sophomore season.  He was back to a starring role in 2016, with 1,353 yards and 12 TDs (plus he was more of a pass catcher with 25 receptions and 288 receiving yards) but was overshadowed by WR Corey Davis.  With Davis gone, and QB Zach Terrell gone, and head coach PJ Fleck gone, can Franklin carry the team to another bowl game?  If so he could be a solid late round RB.
  • James Gilbert, RB, Ball State: The reason I decided to research Gilbert was his tremendous output against Buffalo last year: 34 carries, 264 yards and 2 TDs.  In the last five seasons, only 16 players have had a better D1 game than Gilbert (and the list includes some great NFL fantasy names: Le’veon Bell, Derrick Henry, Thomas Rawls).  Gilbert was the leading rusher on a bad 4-8 Ball State team last year (just 1-7 in conference) but he managed to improve his per carry average (4.0 in 2015 to 5.3 in 2016) and is just shy of 2,000 career yards.  His biggest weakness?  He has just 4 career catches.  Another issue with Gilbert, at least for me as a writer?  Good luck finding game film or highlight reels.  If he shines again on a bad team, and makes some good tape for himself, he might look to leave early for the NFL.

Storylines to Watch

  • The exodus from Western Michigan: The Broncos are losing the three biggest reasons they went to the Cotton Bowl last year: head coach PJ Fleck, WR Corey Davis and QB Zach Terrell.  Fleck has left to “row the boat” at Minnesota; Davis will be catching balls from Marcus Mariota in Tennessee; Terrell signed as a free agent with the Ravens (ironically Joe Flacco’s younger brother Tom could be starting for Western Michigan this year).  The team only returns 9 starters, just 3 of which are on the offensive side of the ball.  Luckily for returning RB Jarvion Franklin, another one of those returners is monstrous LT Chukwuma Okorafor (6’6″, 330lb and a possible first round NFL pick).
  • Central Michigan as spoilers: Most preseason magazines and online previews I have seen have Central Michigan somewhere in the 4-7 range in the conference.  That might be right but I have them pegged as a potential spoiler.  The Chippewas have a winnable non-conference schedule (Kansas, Syracuse and Boston College) and luckily get to host Toledo, Northern Illinois and Miami Ohio, most of the top conference competition, at home.  Another thing working in their favor is their experience.  Per Phil Steele, CMU returns the most seniors in the “two-deep” depth chart in the MAC; they also have the most returning OL starts, a boon for a middling offense.  I enjoyed watching highlights of Corey Willis so maybe I’m just trying to convince myself so I have a reason to tune into Central Michigan’s games this season but I think they could surprise.

Games to Watch

  • September 23, Toledo at Miami (FL): When I first saw this one on the schedule, I assumed it was supposed to be Miami of Ohio but was pleasantly surprised to see I was wrong and that it was in fact Miami of Florida.  If Toledo has any chance of making it to a top bowl game this year, like Western Michigan did last year, it will likely come down to this game.  Western Michigan stole an early season game by one point against Northwestern last season and if Toledo could do the same it would propel them and QB Logan Woodside to the national discussion.  Of course, they also need to win-out in conference otherwise it’s all for naught.
  • October 31, Miami Ohio at Ohio: Looking for some MACtion on Halloween night?  The Tuesday night games in the MAC can be dull but this one should be entertaining.  The in-state foes should be pacing the East division and whoever wins could end the season with the tiebreaker that gets them in the conference championship.
  • November 24, Northern Illinois at Central Michigan: As I mentioned above, I think CMU has a chance to weasel their way into the conference championship.  Chances are they wouldn’t have any margin for error, so winning against NIU in the last game of the season would be necessary.  Even if it isn’t Central Michigan playing spoiler for Toledo, it could be NIU.  Either way, the winner of this game will be hoping to beat out Toledo for the West division crown.

Thanks for reading.  Check back soon for the Mountain West preview.


Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

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

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

The Watch List: C-USA Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Ray Lawry, RB, Old Dominion: Lawry wasn’t the first player I researched from C-USA but something about his running style caught my eye.  He doesn’t have much wiggle, but he has a low center of gravity and is always moving forward.  Size wise, he compares to Paul Perkins and Theo Riddick.  He will be a senior and four year contributor (528 carries, 3,338 yards, 38 rushing TDs, 49 receptions, 441 yards, 2 receiving TDs so far) who will likely stay under the radar.  Keep an eye on him and I’ll bet he’ll be available late in your 2018 rookie draft.
  • Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky: White has prototypical NFL quarterback size at 6’4″ and 215lb, although in reality his height is probably exaggerated as most college media guide measurables are.  White is a pocket passer, out of the gun, who does not offer anything on the ground.  Ironically, the highlight of his that stood out came against North Texas when he scrambled, making multiple defenders miss, and had the presence to find an open receiver streaking through the middle for a long gain.  He’s a former USF transfer who moved to Western Kentucky to start.  In 2016, his TD:INT ratio was spectacular (37:7) and if he can repeat that type of production without Taywan Taylor then he could get some mid-round NFL consideration.
  • Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss: Smith is small and I couldn’t avoid the inevitable Darren Sproles comparison while taking notes.  In the right offense, he could offer some great PPR value.  He has good lateral quickness, he loves to jump cut and even has a cool looking jump-cut-swim-move he uses occasionally to avoid a tackle.  That lateral quickness lets him keep his pads parallel to the line and find holes – which don’t have to be that big for him to fit through.  I can’t imagine he gets much draft buzz but depending on landing spot he could have some limited fantasy value early in his career.

Storylines to Watch

  • Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis rebooting their careers in the C-USA.  Even casual college football fans likely know the names Lane Kiffin and Butch Davis.  Kiffin has managed to get jobs at the highest level – USC, Oakland Raiders, Alabama – but seems to always find a way to run himself out of town.  Meanwhile, Davis won three conference championships with the Miami Hurricanes in the early aughts, flamed out with the Cleveland Browns after promisingly making the playoffs in his second year and then found himself in the middle of an academic scandal at UNC.  Scandal or not, Davis was mostly mediocre at UNC and might have been let go soon anyway (28-23 regular season record if you count the vacated wins and a 1-2 bowl record).  Both coaches are seeking a chance to rebuild their careers with low level jobs in Florida: Kiffin at Florida Atlantic and Davis at Florida International.  If I had to guess which one gets another chance at a big job I would go with Kiffin mostly because he’s younger and will inevitably convince another AD (or NFL owner) that he’s worth the shot.  If nothing else, it’s going to be a boon for Florida high school players because recruiting is going to ratchet up.

Games to Watch

  • October 20, Western Kentucky at Old Dominion:  This game will be a good measuring stick for two of my players mentioned above.  ODU back Ray Lawry was shut out last year against Western Kentucky, rushing eight times for 27 yards and catching two passes for -2 yards.  If he can put up a respectable game against what should be the top conference foe, it will speak wonders to his pro prospects.  WKU QB Mike White lit up the Monarchs for 378 yards and 4 TDs last season; he also had a season-high completion percentage of 87.5%.  ODU could challenge in the division but no matter, these are the types of games a hopeful pro quarterback needs to excel in.
  • November 18, Florida International at Florida Atlantic: Call it the Reboot Bowl.  Kiffin vs Davis.  Chances are that come November 18, none of us will be able to name a single player on either team but this one should still be entertaining.  Over/under on the number of graphics showing each coach’s previous jobs?  Both coaches are working mostly with the previous regime’s players but in a year or two this might really be a game to watch – assuming both coaches are still there.

Thanks for reading!  Check back soon for the MAC preview.


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

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

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