The Watch List: Conference Championship Week

Updated: November 30th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Note: the rankings referenced below refer to the Week 14 AP poll.  CFP rankings were not yet available at the time of writing.

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Baker Mayfield finished off his regular season with a 281 yard, 3 TD outing.  The Heisman winner is Mayfield.  Moving on to more important topics.
  • Playoff Picture: Last week, I postulated that Alabama and Miami would be in danger of missing the playoff even if they lost and finished with one loss.  I was not expecting them to both lose!  Having them both lose keeps a potential playoff spot open for the other if championship results fall properly.  As of this writing on Sunday evening, I anticipate the Top 7 to be: Clemson, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Auburn, Georgia, Miami and Alabama.  The order of Georgia, Miami and Alabama is tough but I put Alabama last because while their loss was “better” than Miami’s, they do not have as good of a win on their resume as Miami over #3 Notre Dame.  Two of the four spots are easy: the winner of Auburn/Georgia is in, as is the winner of Clemson/Miami.  If Oklahoma and Wisconsin win, they are obviously in too and the playoff is set.  Things get very interesting though if one of them loses, specifically Oklahoma.  If Oklahoma loses, there is no obvious replacement like if Wisconsin loses (a win against #3 Wisconsin might be enough to jump Ohio State to the #4 spot and squeak in, see below for an alternate possibility).  I think that if Oklahoma and Clemson lose, we might see Clemson hang in with the #4 ranking (they would have five Top 25 wins, a 3-point loss when their quarterback was hurt and a loss to my projected #6 in Miami – that is still a better two loss resume than others).  For now, I’m predicting chalk but am hoping for some chaos.
  • Undefeated UCF:  Here’s a fun thought experiment for you… is there anyway we get an undefeated UCF into the Top 4?  Probably not but here’s what I think you would need:
    • Stanford win over USC in the PAC-12 Championship so that both finish behind UCF in the final rankings.
    • Oklahoma win over TCU in the Big 12 Championship.  TCU would move up in the rankings and stay ahead of UCF with a win over Oklahoma.  Better for UCF to cede one of the playoff spots to Oklahoma and jump ahead of TCU.
    • Georgia win over Auburn in the SEC Championship.  Auburn would be totally out of contention with 3 losses; if Georgia loses they probably stay ahead of UCF with a strong two loss resume.  I think we’d all take Auburn in a head-to-head matchup against UCF but it’ll be hard for the committee to put an undefeated UCF behind a three loss team.
    • Clemson wins big over Miami in the ACC Championship.  If Miami loses two straight, especially an embarrassing one to Clemson, they should fall out of the Top 10.
    • Ohio State wins close over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.  If Wisconsin wins, they are in but the reverse is not guaranteed.  In three iterations of the CFP, we have not yet had a two loss team make the cut.  If Ohio State gets a close, unconvincing win against Wisconsin, is it possible that the committee leaves a two loss Ohio State out in favor of an undefeated UCF?  Maybe the injury to JT Barrett factors into the decision if it lingers and the committee says that a weakened Ohio State is not worthy of the playoff.
  • Florida State vs History:  Florida State will be playing this week but not in the ACC Championship as they would have hoped a few months ago.  Instead, the Seminoles will be battling 4-7 UL-Monroe (the game was cancelled earlier in the year due to Hurricane Irma).  Florida State has a lot of history riding on this inconsequential game because they have not finished with less than six wins in a season since 1976 which was Bobby Bowden’s first season at the helm.  What an incredible run of success for a team.  I don’t know for sure but I assume that has to be a record for most consecutive seasons with a .500 record or better.  It’s a little iffy to get that sixth win in a game like this but hey it counts in the record books and in a few years nobody will even remember the circumstance.

Players to Watch

  • Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn:  I haven’t been the highest on Stidham so far this season but boy did he standout against Alabama last week, especially with his legs.  One thing I have previously pointed out about Stidham is his efficiency.  Stidham’s completion percentage (68.5%) ranks 4th in the FBS; his passing efficiency rating (160.0) is 9th; his yards per attempt (9.1) is 8th.  If you only look at his games since Week 3 following the Clemson loss, Stidham’s completion percentage rises to 70.8%, including six games 74% or higher.  So, the rate stats are all fantastic but what about the counting stats?  They are less eye-popping because of Auburn’s tendency to lean on RB Kerryon Johnson.  Stidham has 2,682 yards and just 16 TDs but he has also only thrown 4 INTs.  Those only looking at the stats and not watching the film will underestimate Stidham’s athleticism and his rushing ability as I had.  The game logs say he only has 153 yards but don’t forget that factors in all of his sacks.  If I had to guess, I would say that that Stidham probably has gained about 300 yards rushing (figuring about 10-15 rushing yards per game lost to sacks).  Side note: if you don’t typically purchase Phil Steele’s annual preview magazine, this is one big reason why you should because they break down yards gained and lost to get a true sense for a quarterback’s rushing ability.  Going back to that Alabama game, Stidham went 21-28 for 237 yards in the passing game which is expected but what surprised me was the 51 rushing yards.  A few plays stood out, one passing and three rushing.  On one of the first plays of the game, Stidham double clutched to force the rushing lineman into the air for an attempted pass breakup so he had a throwing lane for the quick screen.  The color commentator compared it to a shot fake in basketball which was a perfect analogy.  To me, it showed Stidham’s composure under pressure when it would have been understandable for him to be skittish in the first drive of the biggest game of his career.  The next play I highlighted was a late third quarter scramble on third and long when Auburn was down 14-13.  Stidham took a three step drop out of shotgun so he was nine yards behind the line of scrimmage.  He goes through his progressions, evades a rusher, slips out of the pocket, beats CB Tony Brown to the first down and dives head first to ensure he gets enough yardage.  It was a turning point play in the game.  A few plays later he ran again for 13 yards right up the gut.  Those two runs kept the drive alive and led to a touchdown for Kerryon Johnson.  The last play where Stidham surprised me was in the 4th quarter with Auburn up 20-14.  Stidham fakes the handoff to Johnson on the zone read and keeps the ball himself.  He quickly directs his blockers and rolls left.  He accelerates as he turns up field and just beats all of the Alabama defenders to the goal line.  Ultimately five players were close enough to get a hand on him but he just wanted it more and made the play.  I knew Stidham was an efficient and effective passer and was really happy to see this side of his game.  Stidham is playing in his first season at Auburn after transferring from Baylor in 2015, so it’s probably more likely that he stays in college for another season rather than declaring for the draft.  As I was watching Stidham play against Alabama I saw Alex Smith.  They are very similar in size and speed and have a similar game.  If he stays in, he will be a preseason target of mine next season.

Games to Watch

  •  #14 Stanford vs #11 USC, Friday 8:00pm on ESPN:  The PAC-12 Championship isn’t worth all that much this season.  Neither team has a shot at the playoff and since the Rose Bowl is part of the playoff, a PAC-12 championship doesn’t even get you a bid into the “granddaddy of them all.”  If nothing else, this game will be a true showcase game for a few draft prospects, namely Stanford RB Bryce Love (who is within reach of a 2,000 yard season at 1,848) and USC QB Sam Darnold (whose wavering play has some thinking he’ll stay in college another season).  I’ll have my eye on USC WR Deontay Burnett too – he isn’t getting much draft love, mostly because of his size, but I really like him and am significantly higher than most.
  • #10 TCU vs #2 Oklahoma, Saturday 12:30pm on FOX:  Oklahoma has much more to play for than TCU so I’ll bet the Sooners come out firing and bury the Frogs.  Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield is incredibly efficient (71.4% completion percentage and just 5 INTs) and is my no-brainer Heisman winner.  The good news is that TCU has the conference’s best passing defense (227.5 yards per game); the bad news is that puts them at 73rd in the FBS overall.  When these two teams last faced off, TCU’s conference-best defense allowed 333 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, forced zero turnovers and lost by 18.  Unless they hold Oklahoma to under 300 total yards they don’t stand a chance at keeping Oklahoma from their playoff berth.
  • #6 Georgia vs #4 Auburn, Saturday 4:00pm on CBS:  For me, this will be the best game of the weekend if Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson is able to play.  Johnson played through an injured shoulder against Alabama but it sounds like there is a chance he misses the SEC Championship.  Jonhson had 33 touches (for 125 total yards and a score) in the Alabama game which is the third time in four weeks that he has had 30+ touches, 125+ total yards and a touchdown.  Like TCU/Oklahoma, this game is a rematch from earlier in the year.  Auburn shellacked Georgia in that one by a final score of 40-17 (and it wasn’t even that close because of a late garbage time Georgia TD).  Georgia has the SEC’s second best defense, led by LB prospects Roquan Smith (100 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Lorenzo Carter (42-4), so I’ll bet that they’ll keep it closer the second time around.  This one is for all the marbles: the winner is onto the playoff without question while the loser is out of contention.
  • #7 Miami vs #1 Clemson, Saturday 8:00pm on ABC:  I have been picking against Miami all season long and it finally paid off with their upset against 4-7 Pitt.  I just don’t trust QB Malik Rosier because he is so inaccurate (55.2% on the season and 44.1% against Pitt).  Sophomore RB Travis Homer has filled in reasonably well for the injured Mark Walton but you’ll be hard pressed to find a tailback that can compensate for a quarterback missing half his passes.  Miami’s defense is 14th in points but 42nd in yards allowed which is an odd dichotomy.  Clemson has been my #2 squad for awhile and is now my top team.  I haven’t been a huge Kelly Bryant fan but he is a solid game manager as a passer and a dynamic rushing threat (639 yards and 10 TDs).  True freshman RB Travis Etienne is a burner who carved out a role for himself after a hot start.  Etienne has had more carries than incumbent Tavien Feaster in four straight games.  His stats have been mediocre but I am interested in seeing WR Deon Cain against Miami’s defense; Cain is a prospect that I have been lower on than the consensus.  I have highlighted many of the Clemson defensive stars (i.e. Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins) but a name that you may not know is LB Dorian O’Daniel.  O’Daniel has 80 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 INTs (both of which returned for scores in key Top 15 wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech).  If I had to bet meaningful money on any of the championship games, this would be the one.
  • #3 Wisconsin vs #8 Ohio State, Saturday 8:00pm on FOX:  As a Michigan and a Rutgers fan, I don’t know who to root for in this one.  It’s a shame there are no ties in college football.  Since Ohio State isn’t a shoo-in for the playoff with a win, it’s probably best for the conference for Wisconsin to win it.  The bright spot on Wisconsin’s offense is freshman RB Jonathan Taylor.  Ohio State has the 13th ranked rush defense in the FBS (112.8 yards per game) and has held opponents to 100 rushing yards or less in seven games this season (including three straight after they were gashed for 243 yards against Iowa).  Taylor has 125+ rushing yards in seven of his last eight games and I expect him to continue that streak.  Wisconsin’s rush defense is actually better than Ohio State’s (1st in the FBS at 80.5 yards per game) so I doubt that either JK Dobbins or Mike Weber will be a major factor.  Much of this game will come down to whether JT Barrett can return from a knee injury sustained against Michigan.  Ironically, I think that the Buckeyes might be better off with Dwayne Haskins under center because he’s more of a pass-oriented quarterback.  Wisconsin’s pass defense is ranked 2nd so while it may be weaker it’s hardly a weakness.  Regardless of who is under center, I think Ohio State will struggle to move the ball like they did early against Michigan, and the Badgers will win a close one.

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: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, 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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

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: Week 13

Updated: November 22nd 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Note: the rankings referenced below refer to the Week 13 AP poll.  CFP rankings were not yet available at the time of writing.

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Despite some new “character concerns” about Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, he’s still my Heisman favorite.  Mayfield threw for 257 yards and 3 TDs against Kansas – solid but not standout.  What did standout was Mayfield grabbing his crotch and cursing at Kansas players.  The school has already announced that he will not start against West Virginia but whether that means he misses one play, one drive or one quarter we don’t know.  Chances are that however long the discipline lasts it won’t impact his Heisman hopes.  I’ve slightly wavered recently about who the #2 on the ballot should be between Saquon Barkley or Bryce Love.  This week clinched it for me.  Love went for 101 yards and a score against Cal but left early in the 4th quarter, still hampered by an ankle injury which has impacted him in multiple games.  Meanwhile, Barkley racked up 224 total yards and scored three rushing touchdowns.  I don’t really see a clear-cut defensive player who might land on the ballot and earn a trip to New York for the ceremony.  Preseason chalk favorites like Florida State S Derwin James or Alabama CB Minkah Fitzpatrick might get the nod but I would bet against them and take the field.  Realistically, a dark horse defensive hopeful needs to come from a Power 5 school and have some big games in conference.  I would look at North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb as the top option.  Chubb has 66 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.  Most of his sacks (8.5) came in conference games (I’m including the game against Notre Dame since they are effectively ACC football members); he had three 2+ sack games against Florida State, Syracuse and Boston College.  A darker-horse option might be Iowa CB Joshua Jackson.  Jackson has 43 tackles, 7 INTs and 17 passes defended.  The biggest reason Jackson could get a visit to NYC?  His performance in two nationally televised games versus Top 10 teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin).  In those two games, Jackson totaled 5 INTs and returned two for TDs against Wisconsin.  As much as I’d love for my sleeper defensive Heisman pick, Ball State DE Anthony Winbush, to get a vote it’s much more likely to go to a player from a Power 5 team who showed out when voters were watching.
  • Playoff Picture:  As of this writing on Monday evening, I do not expect the CFP committee to make any changes to the Top 4.  I think Alabama, Clemson, Miami and Oklahoma will still be there but I would not be surprised if Clemson and Miami flip spots.  Proponents of an 8- or 16-team playoff format should really pay attention to the schedule this week and next.  9 of the Top 10 in the current AP poll will play another Top 10 team over the next two weeks.  That makes all of those games playoff play-in games essentially.  If Auburn loses to Alabama – they’re out.  If Wisconsin loses to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship – they’re out.  And so on.  I’m not even sure that undefeated Alabama or Miami can get by with a loss and still stay in the Top 4.  The biggest knock on both teams this season has been their strength of schedule and a loss, albeit against another Top 10 team, would bump them out.  My current prediction is: Alabama (over Auburn and Georgia), Clemson (over Miami), Wisconsin (over Ohio State) and Oklahoma (over TCU).  I think Wisconsin lands ahead of Oklahoma because Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State should rate better than Oklahoma’s against TCU.
  • Coaching Carousel:  There’s a phrase used in the NFL to describe the day after the season ends when most coaches are fired: Black Monday.  The FBS is coming up on it’s own “Black Sunday” in less than a week so I thought it was a good time to check in on the coaching carousel.  Rather than spotlighting players this week, we are going to briefly examine a number of coaches who are under the microscope.  You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to follow the rumors but two useful pages I came across are here and here.  Why should you care?  Aside from the ridiculousness of the will-he-won’t-he, the impending coaching changes will greatly impact the draft stock of certain players.  Some key draft prospects could decide to declare early or stay for an extra season depending on what happens with their head coach; some players, typically underclassmen, could decide to transfer and sit out a season; coaching changes could also be a factor with graduate transfers where the player doesn’t have to sit out and can pick their landing spot like an NFL free agent.

Coaches to Watch

  • Chip Kelly, ESPN “Analyst”:  Kelly is probably the sexiest name that’s been bandied about because of his immense success at Oregon (his failures in the NFL notwithstanding).  I have heard Kelly connected to both the Florida job and the UCLA job.  I’d guess that Kelly would lean towards UCLA given his PAC-12 experience but that’s just a gut call.  Kelly belongs in the college game so I’ll be happy to see him back.  Wouldn’t it be fun if he signs with UCLA and convinces Josh Rosen to come back for another season?  Hmm.  Is a return to Oregon completely out of the question?  Double hmm.
  • Jon Gruden, ESPN Analyst:  Gruden’s name has come up with Florida and also Tennessee.  One of the reasons I heard that he would consider Tennessee is that his wife was a cheerleader there.  The real connection is that Gruden was a graduate assistant at Tennessee in 1986.  Yeah, I’m still not buying it.  I will continue to believe that Gruden stays in the booth until proven otherwise.  He has passed up better jobs than either Florida or Tennessee in both college and the NFL.  Also, don’t forget that he’s never been a head coach at the college level so why start now?
  • Scott Frost, UCF Coach:  Frost is a Nebraska alum so the connect-the-dots analysis has him going there whenever the Huskers fire coach Mike Riley.  Nebraska does play in the weaker Big Ten West but I don’t see them unseating Wisconsin anytime soon even with Frost.  In my opinion, his best shot at playing in New Year’s Six bowls is by staying at UCF for another season or two.  By then he might get a shot at a true A+ job.  Frost to Oregon instead of Nebraska isn’t that far off either, he worked there under Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich from 2009-2015.
  • Willie Taggart, Oregon Coach:  Speaking of Oregon, the SB Nation article I linked to above has multiple mentions of Willie Taggart being considered for other positions.  Why?  Taggart is just 6-5 so far in his first season with Oregon.  I like his potential as he salvaged two programs in Western Kentucky and USF but it’s a bit premature to jump to another premier job for Taggart.  If he does move on (or maybe is fired, who knows) I’ll bet rumors about Oregon will swirl faster than Florida and Tennessee.  It’s fun to imagine Chip Kelly returning to Eugene or an offensive mind like Scott Frost bringing some excitement back to the Ducks.  If Oregon was guaranteed to get either Kelly or Frost, I think they would part ways with the underwhelming Taggart in a blink.
  • Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Coach:  The Seminoles are having a bad season for sure but is it bad enough for Jimbo to jump ship?  I don’t think so.  He’ll have Deondre Francois back next year and has a great young running back in Cam Akers.  He’ll lose some NFL talent like WR Auden Tate and S Derwin James but the cupboard is perpetually full in Tallahassee.  If Jimbo leaves for Texas A&M as was speculated last week, I think it would be a big mistake.  I also heard that Auburn could be a possibility for Jimbo if that job opened up.  I don’t see that one either.  Moving into a division with Nick Saban is a good way to get yourself fired in three years.

Games to Watch

  • #22 USF at #15 UCF, Friday 3:30pm on ABC:  The Friday after Thanksgiving usually gives us a few good college football games but this year is a pretty poor slate despite featuring #3 Miami and #12 TCU.  The game with the biggest possibility to create bowl chaos is UCF’s matchup against USF.  If UCF wins, they likely guarantee themselves a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl as I don’t think Memphis would overtake them even with the head-to-head championship win (don’t forget UCF already beat them 40-13 this season so the series would be tied at 1-1).  If USF wins, they put themselves back in the AAC conversation.
  • #9 Ohio State at #24 Michigan, Saturday 12:00pm on FOX:  Simply, “The Game.”  Michigan is adding injury to insult now that third string QB Brandon Peters is hurt along with recently banged up RBs Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac.  John O’Korn will likely be under center and I have zero confidence in him as a Michigan fan.  Ohio State’s QB JT Barrett has struggled in November and needs to finish his career with three strong games to get NFL draft consideration.  I was encouraged to see that RB Mike Weber was back in the fold the last two weeks (162-2 and 108-2).  I was high on him to start the season but have tempered expectations after freshman JK Dobbins took over the lead role.  It’s good to see Weber dominate again, even if in a blowout.  It goes without saying but this one means a lot this season as Ohio State must have it to stay in consideration for the playoff.
  • #1 Alabama at #6 Auburn, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS:  Stop me if you’ve heard this before… the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn will be the best matchup of the weekend.  I did not realize just how high powered the Auburn offense was until I started to research.  They have scored 40+ points in nine of twelve games and in four straight.  They are led by RB Kerryon Johnson (1,172 yards, 16 TDs) but keep an eye on sophomore Kam Martin.  Martin had 83 yards and a score last week against UL-Monroe and is getting more touches with Kamryn Pettway injured.  QB Jarrett Stidham continues to be efficient (68.7% completion percentage) and careful with the ball (just 4 INTs).  Alabama’s rush-heavy offense is still paced by the familiar names of Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris and QB Jalen Hurts but there is one other player who will factor in: sophomore Josh Jacobs.  Jacobs has 50+ total yards in five of the last six games and is a factor in the passing game.  In those five games, Jacobs has two receptions in each game and is averaging 15.9 yards per catch with two touchdowns.  If you haven’t watched much of the Alabama’s defense this season, now is your chance against a good Auburn offense.  CB/S Minkah Fitzpatrick says he’s 100% healthy now and will be a Top 5 draft pick come April.  S Ronnie Harrison is also looking at a first round draft grade.  If you play in an IDP league, check these two out now so you can be ahead of your opponents.
  • #14 Washington State at #18 Washington, Saturday 8:00pm on FOX:  If the Cougars can win The Apple Cup they will earn the PAC-12 North’s championship berth against USC.  Washington is out of contention; if Washington wins, it means that Stanford gets the spot (regardless of the outcome of their game against Notre Dame).  I don’t have a dog in the fight so I’m just hoping for a good game and some good performances from the NFL prospects on the field (i.e. Washington State QB Luke Falk and Washington WR Dante Pettis).  The Stanford vs Notre Dame game may actually be a better game to watch but since Stanford cannot control their own destiny, this is the one to tune into at 8:00pm.

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: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, 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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

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: Week 12

Updated: November 16th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Saquon Barkley is still my 1.01 fantasy draft pick but he’s no longer my Heisman favorite.  That honor now goes to Baker Mayfield.  Last week, I said that if Barkley’s 96 total yard game was the worst of his season that the award would be his.  Instead of coming out strong against Rutgers, he struggled and totaled just 55 yards (albeit with two scores).  Mayfield is just so on fire lately that it probably doesn’t matter what Barkley or Bryce Love do down the stretch.  Since his loss to Iowa State, Mayfield is averaging 384.8 yards per game and has 16 TDs to just 4 INTs.  The Heisman is his to lose.
  • CFP Playoff Picture:  The newest CFP rankings went about as expected.  Georgia and Notre Dame fell far after big losses to Top 10 opponents.  Meanwhile the teams that beat them, Miami and Auburn, jumped up a number of spots.  I was a bit surprised to see Wisconsin at #5.  Their strength of schedule is weak and is only slightly redeemed if they win out and beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship.  Before this ranking, I did not think that an undefeated Wisconsin would rank over a one-loss Georgia but the committee disagreed.  I think this is their signal that if Wisconsin wins out, they are in, strength of schedule be damned (keep in mind one of Miami and Clemson have to lose and fall out of the Top 4).  Want to play around with the many permutations?  Check out FiveThirtyEight’s prediction module.
  • Why You Should Care About the FCS:  I won’t lie, I don’t usually pay attention to the FCS until their playoffs start.  I am a bit ahead of the game this season since I’ve done some research on a few FCS prospects but still, my FCS knowledge is basic at best.  That being said, the FCS deserves our attention for the rest of the season.  The FCS playoff is compelling television and there will be a number of 2018 NFL Draft prospects playing in those playoff games.  There are two fantasy relevant players who came out of the FCS this season: Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bears RB Tarik Cohen.  A few other less familiar but potentially relevant names include: Patriots DE Derek Rivers, 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne, Cardinals WR Chad Williams and Broncos RB D’Angelo Henderson.  The first-round playoff games will be played on Saturday November 25th but you can safely ignore those games and wait for the second-round on December 2nd which will include the top eight teams who received byes.  The top predicted teams per HeroSports.com are James Madison, North Dakota State, Central Arkansas, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, Wofford, Southern Utah, Western Illinois, Sam Houston State, North Carolina A&T and Grambling.  If you’re looking to keep up with FCS stats and information, quality sites are hard to find.  A few I have bookmarked include HeroSports.com and FCS.football.  FOX Sports also has game logs and season stats for all FCS players which is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack.  If you want to find some of these games live, check the WatchESPN app which airs many live and keeps them available for replay for about a week.

Players to Watch (FCS Edition)

  • Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State:  If Dallas Goedert’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because I had included him in my early 2018 positional rankings where he came in at TE7.  I watched two games of Goedert’s 2016 film, against TCU and North Dakota State, and was very impressed.  Goedert has good size at 6’4″ 260lbs and uses it to his advantage on contested passes across the middle of the field.  His route running does not appear to be the most sophisticated but he was able to get himself open on a number of drags and crosses; near the red zone his route running is less of a factor anyway as he can easily high point the ball over smaller defenders.  The film against TCU was only composed of his passing targets so I did not see any blocking but what I saw of him blocking against NDSU was very good.  He’s probably the best, or second best to Hayden Hurst, blocking TE I have studied so far this season.  There was one sequence that made me laugh and feel sorry for Goedert.  On the first play, Goedert seemingly catches a tipped ball after landing flat on his back after being hit high to the helmet (a targeting penalty was called).  It was called incomplete although to my eye it looked good.  On the next play, Goedert ran a skinny post and caught the touchdown over a defender only to have it called back for a penalty.  On the third play, he runs a shallow crossing route left-to-right, catches the ball in open space but is tackled well a yard short of the first down and two yards short of the goal line (he probably should have ran his route a little deeper).  The next play was fourth down and I’m not sure if they went for it or kicked a field goal because the tape doesn’t show the play but they did come away empty handed.  The tape is backed up by his production: Goedert’s 2017 line is solid at 49-849-5 and 2016 was even better at 92-1,293-11.  Ultimately, I may have to revise my TE rankings and push Goedert up a bit, he’s going to be a factor in the near future for RSO owners.
  • Jake Wieneke, WR, South Dakota State:  Wieneke is another Jackrabbit that should be on your 2018 NFL Draft radar.  Wieneke has a streak of three consecutive seasons with 70+ receptions, 1,300+ yards and 11+ TDs.  That’s impressive.  He’s well off the marks so far through ten games this year but there is still time if they make a playoff run.  Wieneke is 6’4″ 215lbs and is projected to run a 4.59 by NFLDraftScout.com.  Pie in the sky comps at those measureables would be Michael Thomas and Allen Robinson.  Let’s temper expectations though as only 8 of the 19 size/speed comps I looked at were actually drafted; ironically 5 of the 8 were 1st or 2nd rounders so it seems to be real boom or bust for some reason for this group.  I also watched tape of Wieneke against TCU from last season.  I honestly think he has a chance to beat that 4.59 estimate as there were three plays where he just simply beat the defender with his speed, two of which went for a score.  There were a number of positive routes that I noted where he used either a hesitation move or a sharp jab step to change direction and fool the defender.  The film I watched only featured his targets so unfortunately I don’t have any notes on his run blocking.  An article I read while researching Wieneke brought up a great point about him, one that will be a selling point to scouts: his “catch radius.”  He’s long and athletic which lets him play even beyond his 6’4″ frame.  Like with Goedert, I came away from my study of Wieneke with positive thoughts and will have to find a spot for him in my WR rankings going forward.
  • Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham:  Edmonds caught my eye when he played Army earlier this season.  Unfortunately, his season has been disjointed due to injury.  A good sign was that Edmonds returned from injury last week and totaled 109 yards and 2 TDs against Holy Cross.  It’s easy to forget the recent injury struggles when you look at Edmonds annual stats.  He dominated in his first three seasons.  Over those seasons, Edmonds averaged 1,761 yards, 21 rushing TDs, 25 receptions, 258 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs.  Fordham is struggling this season (they have 6 losses already while totaling just 9 losses in Edmonds’ first three years) and whether that is the cause or effect of Edmonds’ struggles I don’t know.  Edmonds has four career games against FBS opponents (coincidentally all against either Army or Navy) and in those games he’s averaged 131 total yards and a score; that average does include a huge game in 2015 which skews the average but it counts nonetheless.  I re-watched Edmonds play against Army and was encouraged by what I saw on film prior to his injuries.  Edmonds shows good change of direction and balance but I did notice a tendency to run left (possibly a factor of where the strength of the OL lies).  He has good hands and ball tracking skills out of the backfield which he showed twice, once on a bad snap that was popped into the air and once on a tipped pass.  I’d say he was above average in pass protection.  There was one major whiff in protection but a number of good blocks.  I’m interested in seeing film of Edmonds post-injury to see if his cutting and speed are impacted at all.
  • Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State:  Briscoe is a former UAB player who transferred to Sam Houston State when the Blazers football program was cut.  Briscoe has average size at 6’3″ 225lbs (similar to AJ McCarron).  He has a lot of experience (43 career games) but is an old prospect at 24.  I can’t really explain why, but when I watched his film against Incarnate Word from 2016, I thought of Dak Prescott.  He’s a little lighter than Dak and not nearly as athletic so I don’t know why I thought it but my brain kept flashing to Dak.  Briscoe’s stats in 2016 were stellar: 4,602 yards, 57 TDs and 10 INTs.  2017 has been less kind: 3,429-32-10.  His completion percentage is also down from 62.6% to 55.7%.  The film I watched of Briscoe was of horrible quality so I’m not putting much stock into it but it was clear that there were a number of inaccurate throws.  I also noted that he has an odd-looking throwing motion.  I likened it to a pitcher throwing from the stretch with a runner on base, meaning that his motion seems to be shortened and rushed.  I used the term “short arm” in my notes which isn’t a great sign for a QB prospect.  Briscoe is not a rushing threat so a change of position is not a possibility for him to increase his draft stock.  The fact that Briscoe started his career as an FBS player and that he put up 57 TDs in a season mean he should get consideration but he’s more like a training camp arm than anything else.
  • Bryan Schor, QB, James Madison:  Schor is a two year starter for #1 James Madison (10-0).  JMU won the FCS championship with Schor at the helm.  He is efficient but unspectacular, as evidenced by his championship game performance: 7 of 12, 112 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.  In addition to being an efficient passer, Schor is also a rushing threat who has at least 7 carries in each game this season.  His per carry average in 2017 is just 2.1 but was 4.5 in 2016; in 2016 he ran for 569 yards and 10 TDs but just 192-3 this season.  Schor’s height is okay at 6’2″ but he’s too light at 213lbs to be a dual threat QB in the pros.  The fact that Schor plays for the #1 team in the FCS probably raises his stock higher than it should be based off his abilities.  I didn’t see enough in my statistical research to warrant a more in depth look so put his name on the back burner for now until after the season.
  • Damon Gibson, WR, Minnesota State University – Moorhead:  Gibson plays in Division 2, not the FCS, but I decided to include him here.  I love a good deep dive on prospects but I’m definitely not planning a D2 article anytime soon!  Gibson has elite size if he measures in as advertised: 6’4″ 236lbs.  Per his Hudl.com profile, his 40 yard dash clocks in at 4.58.  That size and speed combination nets him a short list of comps, namely Devin Funchess and Mike Evans (who was an inch taller but a few pounds lighter).  Gibson caught 90 balls in 2016 for 1,549 yards and 17 TDs (17.21 yards per catch).  His stats in 2017 aren’t as eye-popping but they are still solid: 54-649-3-12.02.  Gibson earned a nomination for the Harlon Hill award in 2016 (the D2 Heisman equivalent).  I watched some of Gibson’s target montage posted to his Hudl.com profile and it’s immediately obvious that he was a man among boys at the D2 level.  Since he’s a standout at the D2 level, he could factor in at the 2018 draft because of his measureables.  Let’s see if he gets a combine invite and what he makes of it.

Games to Watch

  • Wofford at South Carolina, 4:00pm Saturday on SEC Network:  We have five FCS vs FBS matchups this weekend which feels like a lot for Week 12.  FCS #7 Wofford is the best candidate for an upset.  They are 9-1 and focus heavily on the rush (they have three 500+ yard rushers and their QB is averaging just 5.8 completions per game).  The other cross-division matchups are: Mercer at #1 Alabama; Delaware State at Florida State; Citadel at #2 Clemson; Western Carolina at North Carolina.
  • #24 Michigan at #5 Wisconsin, 12:00pm Saturday on FOX:  This is the only Top 25 matchup of the weekend, so enjoy.  I’m a Michigan fan and honestly I would be okay with the Wolverines losing at Camp Randall in the best interest of the conference.  I’d rather see a 13-0 Wisconsin force the committee’s hand than see a 2- or 3-loss Big Ten champion.  Both teams feature strong running games.  Wisconsin is led by freshman Jonathan Taylor (1,525-12) while Michigan has a three-headed monster featuring Karan Higdon (854-10), Chris Evans (569-6) and Ty Isaac (548-2).
  • #15 UCF at Temple, 12:00pm Saturday on ESPNU:  Finding great games this week is tough.  #1 and #2 play FCS opponents while the rest of the Top 10, minus Wisconsin, play significantly weaker opponents.  I decided to highlight UCF’s game against Temple because it probably has the biggest bowl implication as UCF needs to win out to get a New Year’s Six berth.  If UCF loses, it will be an interesting decision for the committee as to who should be ranked higher, UCF or Memphis.  UCF beat Memphis 40-13 earlier in the season but Memphis has been on a roll since then trying to outduel UCF, scoring 239 total points in those five games since.  UCF is led by QB McKenzie Milton who has tossed for 2,720 yards, 22 TDs and 5 INTs.  Their rushing attack is strong too.  The leading rushers are Milton and RB Adrian Killins but the love is spread around (seven different players have 2+ rushing TDs and six have 100+ rushing yards).  UCF is 37th in rushing yards per game but 6th in rushing TDs per game, go figure.  Luckily for the Golden Knights, Temple has the 77th ranked rush defense.

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: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, 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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

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: Week 11

Updated: November 8th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  In my opinion, Saquon Barkley is still the favorite to win the Heisman.  He did have a down game compared to his high standards but he did still total 96 yards on 17 touches.  If that is his worst game of the season, he’s your Heisman winner.  Michigan State was the first team to hold Barkley without a touchdown since Ohio State did on October 22, 2016 (15 games).  Both Bryce Love and Lamar Jackson likely fall in the rankings.  Love was slow in his return from injury (16 rushes for 63 yards and one score) while Jackson simply was off while Baker Mayfield lit up Oklahoma State.  Mayfield has played two games against ranked opponents and has totaled 984 yards and 8 TDs in those two contests.  Mayfield has been a historically good quarterback the last two seasons (he finished fourth and third in Heisman voting the last two years) but 2017 is even better; all of his rate stats (completion percentage, yards per attempt and TD:INT ratio) have all improved this season.  I’ve been slow to add Mayfield to the top of my Heisman ballot but he’s probably my second choice right now.
  • Playoff Picture:  After a number of surprise losses last week (i.e. Ohio State and Penn State), there are just nine 0- or 1-loss teams remaining.  Some of those teams will face off over the next three weeks or presumably in conference championship games so what does that mean?  We are probably looking at a CFP with at least one 2-loss team and I’ll bet at least one 1-loss conference champion misses out (probably Washington).  Right now I would rank them Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame.  I rank them this way because right now I would take Georgia over Alabama in the SEC Championship (I reserve the right to change that after I see Alabama play Mississippi State and Auburn) and I think Clemson runs the table (which would likely mean two wins over highly ranked Miami to add to their already solid resume).  Interestingly, this ranking leaves three Power 5 conference champions out of the playoff because the SEC gets two bids and Notre Dame sneaks in.

Players to Watch

  • Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado:  Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  Lindsay does not have elite size for an NFL prospect.  He’s just 5’8″ and 190lbs.  Since 2010, there have been 38 RBs to measure 5’8″ or shorter at the combine.  Of those 38, only seven were lighter than Lindsay and just sixteen were drafted (42%).  If you factor in Lindsay’s projected speed (4.49 per NFLDraftScout.com) things do get a little better: 19 of those 38 ran a sub 4.50, nine of which were drafted (47%).  So, if Lindsay runs a sub 4.50, my guess is that an NFL team would give him a chance given his immense production.  Speaking of Lindsay’s production, let’s take a look at his stats and game logs.  Lindsay is a two year starter and four year contributor for the Buffaloes.  He averages 5.0 yards per carry over his career and is also a weapon out of the backfield because he averages 2.3 receptions per game.  In 2016, Lindsay rushed for 1,252 yards and 16 TDs and caught 53 balls for 493 yards and a score.  In 2017, his lines are currently at 1,334-12 and 20-233-1.  Looking at his game logs, the beastly nicknames “bell cow” and “work horse” come to mind.  Lindsay has 22 career games with at least 15 carries.  Through 2016-2017, when Lindsay was the primary ball carrier for the team, he has thirteen games with 15 carries and 2 receptions.  There are two other backs ahead of him on that list: Ito Smith of Southern Miss and Justin Jackson of Northwestern.  Notice that the dynamic pass catching back named Saquon Barkley is behind Lindsay on this list.  Obviously, I’m not saying Lindsay is a better player, I’m just simply illustrating that Lindsay’s production is impressive.  DraftBreakdown.com only has film of Lindsay from 2016, nothing from 2017 yet, but I decided to dive into his tape against Washington State since they had the best rush defense of those films available.  Due to his dimensions, Lindsay has a low center of gravity that he uses to his advantage to bounce off defenders like a pool ball.  I didn’t note many broken wrap tackles where a defender actually had hands on him.  So, while I don’t question his toughness and grit, I do question his play strength.  A number of plays went for minimal or no gain after a blown block lead to contact in the backfield that he could not bounce off of.  Lindsay shows a willingness to run between the tackles, although his NFL team is unlikely to deploy him this way, and is at least average in his cuts.  He had a wonderful play in pass protection in the first quarter where he saved his quarterback from demolition on a blitz.  Unfortunately, he did fumble the ball twice (one of which was lost).  I’ll end on two positives: Lindsay has not suffered any serious injuries in college and has great hair.  Ultimately, I came away encouraged but with the slightest hint of hesitation.  It’s a toss-up whether or not Lindsay gets drafted so until we know more I don’t think I can accurately figure his RSO value.
  • Larry Rose, RB, New Mexico State:  I came across Larry Rose’s name while researching some stats for my Lindsay write up.  Rose has a similar statistical profile (heavy workload, a factor in the receiving game) but he’s bigger at 5’11” and 195lbs.  Rose’s best seasons came as a freshman (1,102 yards rushing) and sophomore (1,657) so he’s been off the radar recently.  As a junior, Rose rushed for 865 yards in 9 games and this year he has 613 yards in 8 games.  Those missed games are due to injuries; Rose missed the start of 2016 after sports hernia surgery and missed time in 2017 with a knee.  He has 108 career receptions for just under a thousand yards so he’s very productive as a receiver.  Similarly to Lindsay, DraftBreakdown.com did not have much to choose from but I was able to watch Rose against Georgia Southern last year.  I came away impressed with both his straight line and lateral speed.  When given the chance to get out of the backfield, he is an explosive runner.  Unfortunately, he’s playing on a bad team and there are more negative plays than positive plays.  In pass protection, he looks to be average although he’s infrequently in to protect (just 19.9% of pass plays per Pro Football Focus).  I fear that that lack of pass protection experience will hamper Rose’s chances at the next level.  We may be looking at an UDFA in Rose so it’s hard to get too excited but considering how dominant he was earlier in his career I am interested in following him through the draft process.
  • Steve Ishmael, WR, Syracuse:  I have come across Ishmael’s name a few times this season as he has been near the top of the FBS receiving stat lists for most of the year.  He’s currently 2nd in receptions (78) and 4th in yards (986).  Ishmael’s reception totals have increased year over year (27-39-48-78) which is a positive sign of his development.  He only has 16 career touchdowns, despite being a four-year contributor, but let’s not forget how poor Syracuse has been in recent memory.  Ishmael has good size (6’2″ 209lbs) and decent speed (4.53 estimate from NFLDraftScout.com); given his size and possession receiver skills (41 of 78 receptions went for a first down) I would comp him to Keenan Allen.  Sadly, DraftBreakdown.com does not have any film of Ishmael yet – from any season.  So, further film study of Ishmael will have to wait but I like what I have seen in limited exposure while watching Syracuse against Florida State and Clemson.  Another positive for Ishmael is that he seems to be clutch.  Two of his biggest games came against LSU and NC State, both ranked at various times this season, in which he combined for a 18-243-2 line.  Furthermore, 44 of his 78 receptions have come while the Orangemen were trailing the opponent.  I’m looking forward to learning more about Ishmael, he’s a sneaky deep sleeper to target.

Games to Watch

  •  #1 Georgia at #10 Auburn, 3:30pm Saturday on CBS:  Georgia gets another CFP resume builder here against a highly ranked Auburn team.  Auburn has the 24th ranked rush defense in the FBS (126.4 yards per game); meanwhile, Georgia has the nation’s 8th ranked rush offense (279.7).  The Georgia rushing attack is headlined by Nick Chubb (867 yards, 9 TDs) but don’t forget about Sony Michel (867-9) and freshman D’Andre Swift (388-1).
  • Iowa at #8 Wisconsin, 3:30pm Saturday on ABC:  Wisconsin can’t even afford a close loss in this one.  Iowa is coming off a great win versus Ohio State so the Badgers will be on high alert and need a beatdown victory.  Their only hope at clinching a CFP spot would be to finish the season undefeated (including a Big Ten Championship).
  • #2 Alabama at #16 Mississippi State, 7:00pm Saturday on ESPN:  This one will be a defensive struggle.  Alabama has the 2nd ranked defense by points and 3rd by yards; Mississippi State’s ranks 14th and 7th.  I’m interested in seeing QB Nick Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald was getting some draft hype a few weeks ago after good games against BYU and Kentucky but he’s since come back to Earth.  He’s pretty inefficient with a 56.8% completion percentage and a 13:10 TD:INT ratio.  A big game against the Tide would buoy his draft stock again.
  • #3 Notre Dame at #7 Miami, 8:00pm Saturday on ABC:  I’m not old enough to remember the “Catholics vs Convicts” game that happened in 1988 when I was just a year old but this one will be nearly as important even though both teams are not undefeated.  I’ve been saying Miami was underrated and would lose for the last few weeks and they have proved me wrong each week.  I’m still picking them to lose unless they make it to the ACC Championship.  The injury status of RB Josh Adams and QB Brandon Wimbush will be big stories heading into Saturday.
  • #6 TCU at #5 Oklahoma, 8:00pm Saturday on FOX:  These two teams are tied in the Big 12 standings at 5-1.  The loser still stands a chance in the conference championship game race but will have to duke it out with the winner of the Oklahoma State and Iowa State game (both of those teams are 4-2).  TCU features the best pass defense in the Big 12 allowing 214.4 yards per game in the air.  Iowa State, the team that beat Oklahoma a few weeks ago, has the conference’s second best passing defense.  I’m not calling for the upset, Mayfield is en fuego, but it will be close.

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
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, 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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

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.

Early 2018 Positional Rankings

Updated: November 8th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

It may only be November but I think it’s time to start looking at positional rankings for 2018.  I did struggle at times with these rankings as to whether they should be based on my perceived fantasy value or in what order I believe players will be drafted.  Let’s say these rankings are a composite of both ideals.  I will separate out the two different mindsets in my future RSO and NFL mock drafts.  I have included brief notes on interesting players for each position.  For more detailed play analysis follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper or read my weekly The Watch List pieces which have, and will continue to, spotlight future fantasy relevant players.

Quarterbacks

Rosen is my QB1 because he is likely the most “pro ready” of the prospects since he is playing in a pro-style system with good size and stats.  Darnold looks likely to go back but if he does declare early he has hurt is stock with too many turnovers this year.  You may be surprised to see Finley and Litton on my list.  I have watched a bunch of NC State this year and have liked Finley’s ability to manage the game and limit mistakes.  Litton is a big (6’6″ 233lb) three year starter whose stats have been consistent through each season (including 590 yards and 4 TDs in his two games versus Power Five opponents); no guarantee he comes out but I’m intrigued.

Running Backs

The top of my list is pretty “chalk” for those who have been paying attention to the college season so far.  I did decide to put Chubb over Guice but they are so close it’s a pick’em.  Adams and Scarborough fall out of my Top 10 because I’m concerned about their size; few RBs at their height or taller (6’2″) have had sustained production in the NFL.  I sneak Jalin Moore in at RB15 because I think a team will take him for his pass protection skills as a great third down back; per Pro Football Focus he’s one of only a few RBs with a perfect “pass blocking efficiency.”

Wide Receivers

I have Ridley at WR1 even though he hasn’t put up huge numbers this season (or last).  I like his consistency because even though the offense focuses on the run, he still has three or more receptions in all but four of his 38 career games.  He also has a pedigree that few can match as he was the #1 receiver recruit in his class and had a breakout season as a freshman (89-1,045-7) in 2015.  He’s slight, just 190lb for his 6’1″ frame, which I have to acknowledge as a big negative because I am critical of guys like Pettis and Burnett for the same reason.  Read more about my Ridley opinion in my SEC season preview.  Sills, Cobbs and Burnett landed on my list because of seasons that beat my expectations so far.  I included two small school prospects in James and Wilson because I always need a sleeper to root for.  Watch for Wilson, he’s going to be a training camp riser for whatever team he lands on.

Tight Ends

The top four on this list may not quite compare to Howard, Engram and Njoku from 2017 but it is a very good group and I bet they will creep up fantasy draft boards given how barren the position has been this season with injury and ineffectiveness.  Jaylen Samuels is my favorite prospect in all of college football right now.  He has stat lines like no TE ever before (56-474-3 receiving and 39-209-7 rushing this season) and will likely project more as a FB or H-Back in the NFL.  Being position eligible at TE while getting goal line carries would be an incredible fantasy advantage.  If he lands with a creative offense he will be the ultimate third down weapon.  Never heard of Goedert or Yurachek?  Don’t worry I hadn’t either before I started my research but both are big and productive so I ranked them over some other smaller athletic types.


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
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, 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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

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: Week 10

Updated: November 1st 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley was mostly held in check against Ohio State but he did total 67 yards and two touchdowns. His first score came on the opening kickoff and just shows how effortlessly he can change the outlook of a game. I’m not yet ready to advocate for him to go first overall in the NFL Draft but he is undoubtedly a Top 3 pick for me. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson had another big game (491 combined passing and rushing yards with 4 total TDs) but the Cardinals lost again, this time to Wake Forest. I just don’t think the voters will go for him on a barely bowl eligible team. Much like stubborn baseball Hall of Fame voters refuse to put anybody in unanimously, I don’t think Heisman voters will want to give Jackson a second award that puts him in the most rarefied of air while playing on a bad team. Bryce Love did ultimately sit out last Thursday against Oregon State which I think hurts his Heisman stock. Playing in a primetime (instead of 10:00pm or later) weeknight game on ESPN would have helped a lot of east coast voters see him live. So, who would I have second? It has to be Notre Dame RB Josh Adams. I am not sold on his prospects at the next level but he put up another huge game against a solid NC State defense. Adams went for 202 yards and a touchdown and is making it harder and harder to ignore him.
  • CFP Rankings: I am writing this on Monday and Tuesday prior to the CFP ranking release “show.” A few thoughts… 1) why does this need to be a weekly show, just give us the rankings. 2) Remember, there is a lot of football left to play. Last year’s initial rankings were Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Texas A&M. Michigan ended up 6th while A&M finished unranked. 3) Don’t be surprised to see Notre Dame at #4 in the CFP ranking despite being #5/8 in the AP/Coaches polls.  It’s hard for Notre Dame to fly under the radar but they have in my opinion. They are 3-1 against AP ranked teams (nobody else has more than 2 such wins) and that one loss was by a single point to #2 Georgia – the committee will heavily value that.
  • MACtion is Back: The novelty will wear off in a week or two but MACtion is back and I am excited. For the uninitiated, the MAC conference plays some Tuesday and Wednesday games later in the season on the ESPN networks. It gets them some national attention and gives us football every night of the week. Below in my Players to Watch section I highlight a few names you should keep an eye on when you tune in over the next few weeks.

Players to Watch (MACtion Edition)

  • Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo:  Woodside has a shot at being a late-round QB prospect if he finishes the season strong.  So far this season his stats have been a mixed bag.  He threw 45 TDs in 2016 and has 19 so far this season, so he’ll regress there; it’s hard to say that 35 TDs is a bad year but it’s regression nonetheless.  He has significantly improved his INT rate this season (just 2 INTs on 232 attempts) but his completion percentage is down nearly 7%.  I watched Woodside a few weeks ago against Eastern Michigan, it was actually one of my Games to Watch, but he struggled; Toledo got the win but he but he threw for just 289 and no touchdowns.  I expect him to get drafted but will likely start his career as a third stringer – little upside for RSO owners but he’s still a fun college QB to watch.
  • AJ Ouellette, RB, Ohio:  Ouellette is leading the MAC in rushing (752 yards) and has seven total touchdowns.  He’s the best offensive player on the best East division team so we’ll probably see a lot of him in the coming weeks.  I would be concerned about his durability if I was a scout so I doubt we see his name mentioned in the Spring.  He missed last season due to a foot injury and was supposedly injured earlier in the season with an “undisclosed injury” per RotoWorld; maybe the same foot but not sure.  Ouellette has 121 carries this season and will surpass his previous totals (151, 160) in the coming weeks so it will be telling to see if he can finish the year healthy.  He is a former walk-on so maybe I shouldn’t be counting him out.
  • Corey Willis, WR, Central Michigan:  I was high on Willis to start the season but he was slowed by a hand injury that forced him to miss multiple games.  In his second game back he went for 5-98-3 against Ball State so hopefully he is now fully healed.  Willis is not big (5’10” 175lb) or very fast (4.50 speed) but he has a knack for big plays.  In the preseason, I compared him to John Brown and Travis Benjamin; both have had weeks of fantasy relevance this season so I think Willis should be on your sleeper radar.
  • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Admittedly, I have not watched a minute of Buffalo or Johnson play this season.  I am including him simply because he leads the conference in receptions and reception yards and is second in receiving touchdowns.  Per the Buffalo media guide, Johnson is a JUCO transfer who honestly did not see much success at that level (40 receptions, 993 yards and 7 TDs over two seasons at two different schools) so it’s surprising to see his 55-888-6 line in his first season of FBS competition.
  • Anthony Winbush, DE, Ball State:  Nothing new to report, Winbush is good.  I’ve written about him twice now and still think he should get talked about more.  He had a disappointing game against Toledo (just 2 tackles) but his dominating games against Illinois and Central Michigan show his potential (combined between those two games: 14 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble).  Winbush leads the conference in sacks and forced fumbles.  I have no idea how he projects to the next level because he’s undersized (6’1″ and I have seen his weight listed at 207, 225 and 240lbs); it will come down to his 40-yard dash and cone drills to see if he has the speed and explosiveness to play upright as a 3-4 edge rusher.
  • Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan:  Phillips is a darling of Pro Football Focus and is one of their draft board risers.  He started the year strong with two great games against USC and Michigan State (4 tackles, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and two kick return TDs) but has since slowed.  Phillips was originally recruited as a WR and actually saw his first offensive touches since 2014 a few weeks ago against Ball State.  In 2014, Phillips had 32 receptions, 479 receiving yards and 2 TDs as a freshman receiver.  He’s a talented player and I think the Broncos coaching staff will use some of these nationally televised MACtion games as an opportunity to get their guy some pub.  If you play in an IDP league you should consider Phillips because he has good ball skills and the chance for touches on special teams (or even offense in a limited package).

Games to Watch

  • #7 Penn State at #24 Michigan State, 12:00pm Saturday on FOX:  This matchup has lost some of it’s hype after both teams lost last weekend.  Still, it’s an important divisional matchup because the two 4-1 teams are just one game back of 5-0 Ohio State.  The winner will be like a dog waiting under the table for scraps as the Buckeyes finish out their season.  Plus, you should take any opportunity to watch Saquon Barkley.
  • South Carolina at #2 Georgia, 3:30pm Saturday on CBS:  We know that Georgia is a very good team but I’d bet that most fans don’t realize that the Gamecocks are 6-2 (I didn’t).  South Carolina’s rush defense is ranked 39th so it likely won’t stop the duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel but maybe they slow UGA enough to give sophomore QB Jake Bentley a chance.
  • #18 Stanford at #25 Washington State, 3:30pm Saturday on FOX:  An odd afternoon game for these two teams who are used to playing “PAC-12 after dark” games.  I hope that Bryce Love is back from injury so that he doesn’t miss his second straight chance to capture the national spotlight.  Prediction: Love goes but is outshined by the Cougars RB Jamal Morrow who has 747 total yards and 8 total TDs.
  • #19 LSU at #1 Alabama, 8:00pm Saturday on CBS:  I can’t remember the last time CBS had a primetime regular season game.  Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention but I don’t think it’s common.  So, let’s hope this one is uncommonly good.  I expect a low scoring game because of the strength of the two defenses; Alabama’s defense is Top 10 in most categories while LSU’s is Top 25.  LSU’s defensive weak spot is against the run where they are giving up 145 yards per game.  Considering that Alabama averages 298.8 yards per game on the ground (7th in the FBS, 3rd if you remove the triple option teams), I give them the edge.  Alabama’s one knock this season is their strength of schedule.  Only one of their wins came against a ranked opponent and that was the opener against Florida State who lost their quarterback and were obviously overrated in the preseason.  This one will be telling as it’s the Tide’s toughest test yet.
  • #13 Virginia Tech at #9 Miami, 8:00pm Saturday on ABC:  I have been saying over the last few weeks that Miami is overrated.  Their last four wins have been by a combined 18 points against middling opponents.  They have a tough schedule over the next two versus #13 Virginia Tech and #5 Notre Dame.  It’s time for me to pay more attention to the Hurricanes and that’ll start this week.  I’ll double down and guess that Miami loses both of these ranked contests.

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
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, 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
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

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.