2018 NFL Mock Draft: Part II, Picks 17-32

Updated: April 19th 2018

If you have not already read Part IV of my mock draft, please start there so you can start at the bottom and follow through to the beginning.  Part IV includes detailed notes about my methodology and process.  You can then move on to Part III and then finally to Part I once it is posted.  An important note to remind readers is that this mock draft was compiled on March 30-31 so please keep the timing in mind as you read in case there are trades or free agent signings in the interim.

 

#32 – Eagles – Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma

If Orlando Brown didn’t attend the combine he would have been drafted higher.  Instead, he did participate and promptly became the butt of many jokes on #DraftTwitter.  The reason for the hate was just how unathletic Brown looked.  He ran a 5.85 40 yard dash, had a 19.5″ vertical jump, a 82″ broad jump and 14 bench reps – all worst at the position.  On the field though, Brown has been lauded with accolades throughout his career.  He was a 2017 consensus All-American and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy.  In 2015 and 2016, he was named to various awards lists as well.  The Eagles have added to the defense in the offseason, trading for DE Michael Bennett and CB Daryl Worley, so I think it makes sense to go offense here, specifically the line.  Starting tackles, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are good but are not always available.  Peters is 36 and has a long injury history, meanwhile Johnson has already been suspended twice for PEDs in his short career.  Nobody should have been surprised that Brown is not an elite athlete, just watch some tape, but the hate has gone too far.  He’s 6’8″ and 345lbs and you can’t teach size.  The fact that he’s played 40 career games and is not an injury risk is just further reason to take him here and benefit from the discount his awful combine created.

#31 – Patriots – Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

The Patriots love to go defense with their first pick and have done so every year, except 2011, since 2006.  In that range, there were two high profile LBs taken, Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo, so we know the Patriots aren’t averse to drafting the position high.  Vander Esch was uber productive in the Mountain West this season (141 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 forced fumbles) but really only has one year of experience as a starter because of a redshirt and a season mostly lost to injury.  If Vander Esch returned to school in 2018 and put up similar numbers, I would expect him to jump into the first half of the first round.  Instead, he’ll sneak in here and unsurprisingly, the Patriots will find value with a late first round pick.

#30 – Vikings – Connor Williams, T, Texas

In most years, Connor Williams probably wouldn’t warrant being the third tackle off the board but this is not the strongest class (similar to last year where only two were taken in the first round).  In 2016, Williams was a consensus All-American, improving on a freshman season that earned him freshman All-American honors.  In 2017, however, he only played in five games due to injury.  At the combine, Williams measured in as one of the smallest tackles so it’s possible that teams may try to move him inside.  Regardless of whether he deserves to be a first rounder, I think the Vikings will feel the need to add to their offensive line to help protect their new franchise quarterback, Kirk Cousins.  Centers Frank Ragnow or James Daniels are probably the best lineman on the board at this point but the Vikings are already set at the position with Pat Elflein.  Chalk this one up to team need rather than BPA.

#29 – Jaguars – Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

Evans is a versatile linebacker who started his career as a pass rusher and has since transitioned inside.  He played very well down the stretch when the Tide needed him to be the primary inside backer due to injuries to Shaun Dion Hamilton and others.  Over his last six games, Evans had 8+ tackles in five of them.  Adding Evans to a starting linebacking corps of Telvin Smith and Myles Jack is almost unfair to the rest of the AFC South.  Evans has a lot of potential and I think he would fit right in with the ethos of the Jaguars defense.

#28 – Steelers – Mike Hughes, CB, UCF

Per Spotrac.com, the Steelers have yet to resign four DBs from 2017’s squad.  They did bring in safety Morgan Burnett from the Packers but they still need more depth.  Mike Hughes is an interesting prospect.  He started his career at UNC but was suspended after an alleged assault at a frat party.  After leaving UNC, he became a JUCO All-American and ended up at UCF where he shined in 2017 as a junior with 49 tackles and 4 INTs.  Hughes also contributes on special teams where he ranked top five in both kick return and punt return average.  In addition to his one interception return touchdown, he also returned two kicks and one punt for scores.  The Steelers ranked near the bottom of the league in both kick and punt return average in 2017.  So, even if Hughes is unable to unseat Joe Haden or Artie Burns as a starting corner, he could add value as a nickel and a return man.  The Steelers tend to use their starting receivers as returners, but it might behoove them to protect both Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and let somebody else handle the kicks.

#27 – Saints – Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

I really struggled with the Saints pick here at #27.  I considered local edge rusher Arden Key from LSU but decided he wasn’t worth the pick.  I also considered Mason Rudolph, the next best quarterback on my board, as the heir apparent for the aging Drew Brees.  Gesicki was my other choice but part of me didn’t want to put two tight ends back-to-back.  Once my mind flashed to Jimmy Graham back in the day with Brees and the Saints, I was sold.  Gesicki is an incredible athlete and labeling him as a tight end might be a misnomer because he’s not a good blocker and will serve primarily as a receiver.  Gesicki’s 2017 output at Penn State, 57 receptions for 563 yards and 9 TDs, is better than all three of the Saints’ 2017 tight ends combined.  The Saints did re-sign TE Benjamin Watson for a second stint which also made me hesitate with this pick.  Watson missed all of 2016 with an achilles injury but rebounded with a 61-522-4 line in 2017 as a 36 year old with Baltimore.  Watson is not going to factor into the team’s plans past this season (neither will Coby Fleener whose dead cap number drops next offseason), so it’s not crazy to think that they target another weapon for Brees.

#26 – Falcons – Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Dallas Goedert is now my top ranked TE in the class.  At various times over the last year, I have had Mike Gesicki and Hayden Hurst in that spot but I’ve become enamored enough with Goedert to push him up.  His usage in college reminded me of Travis Kelce with the Chiefs.  The team made a concerted effort to get the ball in his hands in creative ways to showcase his plus athleticism.  At worst, he’s an average blocker when compared to the other top prospects at the position.  That means he should be able to see playing time early in his career.  I like the idea of adding him to the Falcons’ 8th ranked passing offense.  I doubt the team is ready to give up on 2016 draft choice Austin Hooper, but combining Goedert with Hooper could shore up the only weakness of this offense.

#25 – Titans – Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State

Hubbard is my highest rated edge rusher left on the board.  His stat line of 42-13.5-7 is not amazing but that’s mostly a factor of playing on Ohio State’s dominant defensive line where he shared snaps with a number of future pros.  Hubbard played as a 4-3 end so it remains to be seen how he would fit with the Titans and new coach Mike Vrabel.  Like Matt Patricia, I expect Vrabel to adopt more of a multiple scheme rather than locking into a 3-4 or a 4-3, even though DC Dean Pees prefers a 3-4.  The Titans have spent heavily on former Patriot players Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler, perhaps no surprise given Vrabel’s history in New England.  The relationship between Bill Belichick and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano is well known.  Since Vrabel has already shown a desire to create Patriots South with his free agent signings, I’ll bet that he continues that in the draft and targets a player who will be vouched for by two trusted coaches.

#24 – Panthers – Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa

The Panthers traded starter Daryl Worley to the Eagles for WR Torrey Smith so they currently have a need at the position.  Jackson led the nation in 2017 with 8 INTs, including five combined against top Big Ten foes Ohio State and Wisconsin.  He has tremendous ball skills (he also had 18 pass break ups).  Jackson is a converted receiver, hence the ball skills.  Jackson played better in run support in 2017 as a full-time starter, totaling 48 tackles.  The Panthers passing defense finished in the bottom half in yards per attempt, yards per game, interceptions and average rating so adding somebody like Jackson is a no-brainer.

#23 – Rams – Lorenzo Carter, EDGE, Georgia

(Editor’s note: The Rams traded this pick to the Patriots as part of the Brandin Cooks deal.  Cowper is upset because it likely means that whatever chance his beloved Lorenzo Carter had as a first rounder are dashed.  Cowper doubts whether the Pats will hold the pick but if they do, they may be hoping to grab a falling LT)  This pick is my biggest reach of the first round but I love Lorenzo Carter.  I introduced my readers to Carter in Week 4 when I said that he could ultimately end up with a first round grade.  He put up good numbers this year: 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries.  He put up even better combine numbers, running a 4.50 and broad jumping 130″ at 6’6″ and 250lbs.  That was the fastest time and longest jump for anybody 6’5″ and 240lbs or bigger.  I was pleasantly surprised to see Carter used in coverage at times down the stretch in 2017 so I don’t think he is limited just to situational pass rushing.  In time, I think he can be an every down linebacker who has exceptional length and speed.

#22 – Bills – James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State

The Bills have spent heavily on the WR position recently.  They traded for Kelvin Benjamin and used a second round pick on Zay Jones in 2017.  Going back a bit further, they used a first rounder on Sammy Watkins in 2014 and a second rounder on Robert Woods in 2013 – neither of which is still with the team.  The recent disturbing video of Zay Jones has me thinking that the Bills will need to invest another high pick on a wide receiver.  Having two first rounders makes it a bit easier to do so.  If they do, I think they should grab Washington instead of Courtland Sutton.  Sutton is a big bodied receiver who would be too similar to Benjamin.  Washington is basically a running back playing out wide.  He has good speed, excellent acceleration and is a former high school track star.  He lacks the size and strength to fight for contested balls but his quickness means he rarely has to if the quarterback can hit him in stride.  Once he has the ball in his hands, he has good vision in the open field and often breaks big plays (he averages over 20 yards per reception for his career).

#21 – Bengals – Kolton Miller, T, UCLA

The Bengals offensive line unit is largely a group of no-name guys.  Unless you’re a masochistic Bengals fan, you probably wouldn’t recognize any of the names on their depth chart, maybe aside from Cordy Glenn who was just acquired in a trade.  The Bengals allowed 40 sacks in 2017, ranking them in the bottom half; their running backs averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, ranking them third worst.  Adding Miller instantly upgrades the unit.  The NFL.com scouting report on Miller describes him as an “average athlete.”  He rejected that notion at the combine where he finished third or better among tackles in the 40 yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, 3-cone and shuttle.  Oh, and did I mention that he came in at 6’9″ and is the tallest prospect in the class?

#20 – Lions – Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

New Lions head coach Matt Patricia will not run a set 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, instead he will adjust based on the matchup as he did in New England.  Because of this, he will need edge rushers who can get to the quarterback regardless of their alignment.  Landry fits the bill.  He played as a 4-3 end at BC but he has the speed and quickness to rush from a stand-up position in a 3-4 (at the combine he had the fastest shuttle and second fastest 3-cone among DE/EDGE).  In true Patriot fashion, the Lions would be getting a discount on Landry because he would have been taken higher if he came out last year after a 16.5 sack junior season.  Instead, he missed time in 2017 with an ankle injury and when he was on the field he was less effective.

#19 – Cowboys – Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

The Cowboys offensive line has been a strength of the team after they spent first round picks on linemen in 2011, 2013 and 2014.  The Cowboys also took a chance on La’el Collins who was a first round talent but went undrafted due to off the field concerns.  Collins and 2014 first rounder Zack Martin are a formidable duo of guards but I still want the Cowboys, my favorite team, to add to the offensive line.  Hernandez is the best lineman on the board at this pick so I would take him even though the team has two young starting guards.  Since that 2014 pick of Martin, the Cowboys have only used two draft picks on offensive lineman (a 3rd and a 7th in 2015) so it’s time to reinvest in the position.  Similar to how the Travis Frederick pick in 2013 disappointed Cowboys fans, myself included, this pick is not sexy but it would go a long way to keeping Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott healthy.

#18 – Seahawks – Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA

This is the third time I picked Davenport in this mock draft.  I second guessed the first two and replaced him with a different player.  When I got down here to the Seahawks I felt it was a perfect pick even with Harold Landry still on the board.  The Seahawks defense is in flux and two big name defensive linemen, Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson, won’t be there in 2018.  That opens the door for a prospect like Davenport to come in and be part of the new look Legion of Boom.  Davenport is a raw prospect but is very athletic for his size.  When compared to other DE/EDGE prospects at the combine, he excelled at the 40 yard dash and the broad jump while putting up respectable numbers in the vertical and bench press.  Davenport had a 55-17.5-8.5 line this season as a stand-up rusher.  What convinced me that the Seahawks would pounce on somebody like Davenport was researching their “Leo” position.  As I learned, Pete Carroll plays a modified 4-3 that features one defensive end “standing up or with his hand in the ground, and [his] sole focus is to be the primary pass rusher and wreak havoc in the backfield.”  That sure sounds like Davenport to me when you watch his highlights.  I don’t think he will be an every down player in the NFL early in his career but he will flash enough to get noticed.

#17 – Chargers – Isaiah Wynn, G/T, Georgia

Wynn is a versatile offensive lineman whose future in the NFL is likely at guard but he could see action at tackle or center as well.  He bounced between LT and LG at Georgia but is too small to start as a LT in the NFL on a regular basis.  I believe he would be a good target for the Chargers because of his versatility.  Both of the Chargers’ projected starting tackles, Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale, are 30 years old.  Okung has been placed on the IR twice in his career while Barksdale missed multiple games last year with a foot injury.  New C/G Mike Pouncey has a history of hip injuries and played a full season last year for the first time since 2012.  When you Google “Mike Pouncey injury,” one of the results trumpets the fact that the hip injury is not career-threatening.  Well, that’s encouraging.  Last year’s second round pick, G Forrest Lamp, missed his entire rookie season after an ACL tear.  What I’m driving at is that the Chargers will very likely need to juggle their offensive line this year and having somebody like Wynn who could fill a number of roles would be tremendous.  Both tackles also have smaller dead cap numbers for 2019, so maybe the Chargers can groom him, despite his smaller size, to be the team’s starting RT for 2019 and beyond.


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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Updated 2018 Positional Rookie Rankings

Updated: March 15th 2018

Back in November, I released the first draft of my 2018 positional rookie rankings. Today, I will revisit the rankings and go deeper than before (TWSS?). Before we get started, please remember that we are still early in the draft process. All of these players just completed the combine and as of this writing, none have yet had a pro day or an individual workout. We’ll likely learn more about some prospects before this article even gets published; we’ll surely know a lot more a month from now. As in November, I did struggle at times as to whether the rankings should be based on my perceived fantasy value or in what order I believe players will be drafted. Ultimately, I am ranking based more so on expected fantasy value than predicted draft order but the two are highly correlated. I’ll post separate fantasy and NFL mock drafts in April so you’ll be able to see where the two values diverge. I have included brief notes on interesting players for each position and designated tiers. For more detailed analysis follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper and check out my “RSO Rookie Rundown” series.

Note: this was written prior to the retirement of Adam Breneman.

Quarterbacks

My quarterback rankings are likely more controversial than my rankings at other positions. I truly believe that Josh Rosen is the most NFL-ready of the top prospects and as such I still rank him first. I don’t think he will be drafted first at that position but honestly that might do more to help his fantasy stock than hurt it. I have been low on Sam Darnold and Josh Allen since October so their rankings should come as no surprise. The more I watch and read about Lamar Jackson, the more impressed I am with him as a quarterback; don’t believe the WR narrative. I am much higher on Mason Rudolph than many analysts. He may be a little stiff but he was highly productive, excelled in some advanced metrics and was a quiet leader in Stillwater. I think Rudolph will get drafted by a team who benches him for Year One only to give him the keys to the car to start Year Two (i.e. Pat Mahomes). Luke Falk and Mike White find themselves ahead of the next tier due to their elite size and above average production. Of the rest, my picks for guys who may move up the rankings are JT Barrett and Chase Litton. Barrett was a proven winner at one of the nation’s best programs so I won’t count him out yet. Litton threw too many interceptions in college but is one of the biggest quarterbacks in the class and as such will get a shot somewhere.

Running Backs

No change at the top for me. It’s Barkley well above Guice and Chubb. Jones, Penny and Michel are the next tier and are all very close. I have not elevated Sony Michel as high as some others because I am wary of the recency effect. Michel was in the RB5-10 range all season and one great game against Oklahoma shouldn’t really change that. All of the things we “learned” against Oklahoma were already baked into Michel’s ranking. We knew he could catch the ball, we knew he was explosive, we knew he didn’t need 20 carries to make a difference, etc. To bump him higher based off that one game is essentially a double counting accounting error. Freeman (early in the season), Balage (at the combine) and Johnson (late in the season) are an interesting tier as they all flashed at different times. I’m intrigued by Balage and his combination of size and athleticism; I want to study him more and could slide him up into the third tier. Two big names that have slid down the rankings are Josh Adams and Bo Scarborough. Both concern me because of their size: running backs as tall as they are just don’t often succeed in the NFL (which is also a concern for Balage). There are three FCS prospects on the list (Martez Carter, Chase Edmonds, Roc Thomas). My favorite of that group is Martez Carter. He is short and stout and is a dynamic pass catcher. Edmonds showed out at the combine and will likely move up NFL Draft boards. I’m not a fan of John Kelly because he has a lack of production, size and speed that worries me even though he’s starting to get some buzz. If I had to pick one mid- to late-round pick that will have the biggest immediate impact in the NFL, it might be Ito Smith. Smith was a very good blocker according to PFF’s metrics and is a fantastic receiver (40+ catches each of the last three seasons).

Wide Receivers

I have had Calvin Ridley as my WR1 since the start of the year and I have not been discouraged by the mediocre stats or his middling combine performance. I still believe in Ridley’s raw ability and think that he’s the best of this class. Unlike last year, this class lacks a Top 10 talent so Ridley may be artificially moved up draft boards simply because he may be the best at a position of need. Many other analysts have either Washington or Sutton at WR1 and I can’t really argue with that. They both out-produced Ridley over their careers and each have their own athletic attributes. Ironically, both Washington and Sutton are the only two to have a teammate also make this list so maybe I’m undervaluing just how dominant they could have been on another team. I love all of the guys in my second tier and I don’t think NFL teams will go wrong with any of them. If I was an NFL GM I would probably pass on Ridley in the first and instead grab one of Miller, Moore, Kirk or Gallup in the second. All four have a similar profile: they are versatile, quick and can make spectacular catches. Auden Tate is a big, pun intended, wildcard for me because his sample size is so small (just 65 career catches). However, he has the size and body control to be a true X receiver in the league. Dante Pettis is being too undervalued right now in my opinion. Many analysts seem to have forgotten all about him. He was a four year contributor on a championship contending team. He’ll get on the field early with his punt return and run after catch ability, maybe like how Tyreek Hill started his career, and could be a late round steal in fantasy drafts. Allen Lazard has fallen far down my rankings, mostly because he just failed to impress me at points this past season. There is talk of him moving to TE which would do wonders for his fantasy value. There are three guys in the bottom tiers who are more talented than their rankings: Cain and Callaway (off the field issues) and James (injury). I ended up watching a number of Syracuse games this year and became a fan of Steve Ishmael. He had a fantastic 105-1,347-7 line while playing for a bad Orange team. He has good size and made a number of big-time catches in the games I watched him play against Florida State and Clemson.

Tight Ends

The consensus opinion currently states that Mark Andrews is the best player at the position but I strongly disagree. I did not see enough out of Andrews for me to think he could be a starting NFL tight end. I would feel much more confident drafting one of the other top four for my squad. Goedert is the most well rounded player in the group and he’s such a likable person to boot. Gesicki and Hurst are right with Goedert. Gesicki is an incredible athlete but has a wrap for being a poor blocker. Hurst is underrated because he doesn’t score much (just 3 career TDs) but catches a lot of balls and can block better than most in the class. Adam Breneman has serious injury concerns which drags down his potential – if it weren’t for his history of knee injuries he could be atop this group (Editor’s Note: Breneman has since retired from football). Tight end was a difficult position to rank for me because there were few prospects I had a great feel for. Admittedly, everybody past Troy Fumagalli is a dart throw. Chances are that your fantasy league won’t need to draft the position deeper than that but if you do, I provided a bunch of names of guys to keep on your radar. I prioritized players with either great size or great production – very few had both – and left off some players who might be selected in the NFL Draft but likely have no shot at factoring in fantasy-wise. If you have to go deeper, take the guy who gets drafted highest, regardless of where he ended up in my ranking because there’s so little between TE7 and TE13. The two at the bottom, Yurachek and Akins, are truly deep sleepers. Both are undersized, “move” tight ends who could see a hybrid TE/WR role in the NFL. Teams may be less hesitant to draft somebody of their size and speed after the success of Evan Engram in 2017.


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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 TEs, Part I

Updated: February 11th 2018

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

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draft Round Grade:  Early 2nd Round

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

Recent NFL Comparison: Travis Kelce

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

 

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

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

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

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

Film Study:  Arizona State (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Draft Round Grade:  5th Round

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

Recent NFL Comparison: Joique Bell

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

 

Adam Breneman, TE, University of Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengths:  Character, leadership, hands.

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

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

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

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

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

Recent NFL Comparison:  Maxx Williams

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


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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2018 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v2.1

Updated: January 27th 2018

My first 2018 rookie mock draft was published back on Sept 6 and while some things have changed, I am actually quite pleased with how my mock draft held up throughout the season.  I followed the same guidelines here as I did back in September.  Namely,  I used two base assumptions: 1) a standard one QB roster setup and 2) any junior good enough to be considered will declare early (the deadline is Jan 15 so by the time you read this we may already know that some guys are not going into the draft).  Players are broken down into tiers and I have noted where they were mocked last time to show their movement from version to version.  To view version 1.0, click here.  Version 2.0 never saw the light of day as Bryce Love, Damien Harris and Myles Gaskin decided to return to school before publishing (for what it’s worth they were at 1.09, 2.06 and 2.09 respectively).  I also compile mock draft information for the /r/DynastyFF sub Reddit which you can view here.  Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @robertfcowper.

1.01, Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (last: 1.01)

Barkley is in a tier all by himself.  He’s a supreme athlete (possibly sub-4.40 speed) with good vision and is a good pass catcher.  He’ll be the consensus first pick in just about every fantasy rookie draft and could be a Top 5 NFL Draft pick.  Don’t overthink it.

1.02, Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (1.03)

1.03, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (1.02)

(Note: this was written prior to Nick Chubb’s poor performance in the championship game.  In hindsight, I am less confident about placing him at 1.02.  One game does not a career make but still he played poorly against a defense full of NFL talent.  I will re-visit this in the offseason)  I now have Chubb and Guice flipped compared to where I had them to start the season.  Heading into the season, Chubb’s 2015 knee injury felt like more of a concern than it does now since he has completed two full seasons since.  Their stats this season were similar but Chubb had a slight edge as a rusher (1,320 yards and 15 TDs for Chubb, 1,251 and 11 TDs for Guice).  Neither is a receiver like Barkley.  Both backs have a career high of 18 receptions in a season – Guice did so in 2017 while Chubb did so as a freshman in 2014.  The margin between the two for me is razor thin.  I lean towards Chubb since we have a bigger sample size.

1.04, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (1.04)

1.05, James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (1.08)

1.06, Ronald Jones, RB, USC (2.07)

I still have Ridley as my WR1 even though 2017 was not a great season (just 59 receptions, 935 yards and 4 TDs prior to the championship game).  To my eye, he is just the most skilled WR in the class, regardless of his production.  He is very fast (4.35 40 yard dash in the Spring), jumps well enough to out play his 6’1″ height and is a good route runner.  Washington is pretty quick himself but he just doesn’t seem as polished as Ridley.  It’s hard to argue against Washington’s production but I think he’ll be drafted later than Ridley and won’t be as good of a pro in the long run.  Washington is this high though because I think he will make an early impact in the league if he lands on the right team.  Jones makes a huge jump from 2.07 to 1.06.  I questioned his size to start the year, I thought he was too tall for his weight, but am no longer as concerned because he put on some weight.  He’s such a quick and fast runner and was very productive this year (1,550 yards, 19 TDs).  If he was a little more “squat” but just as fast and nimble he’d be challenging for the 1.02.

1.07, Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State (undrafted)

1.08, Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (1.07)

Rashaad Penny made a huge impression on me this season.  I noticed Penny in August but thought he was more of a returner than a running back.  He proved his worth as a rusher (his 2,248 yards led the FBS) but still managed to contribute as a return man (3 return TDs).  Penny will probably be an early Day Three draft selection but I think his value as a return man will help him see the field earlier.  Bryce Love originally found himself in this tier before deciding to return to school.  Conversely to the ascending Penny, Sutton’s stock is falling for me.  Sutton has the best size of the top three receivers (6’4, 215lbs) but I have some concerns.  In my past research, I found that he mostly beat up on bad defenses; against the best defense he played this year (TCU), he was held to one catch for zero yards.  It also bothers me that Sutton was not the leading receiver on his team this year (Trey Quinn had more receptions, yards and touchdowns).  Sutton likely saw extra defensive attention but if he’s to be an NFL star, he must be able to dominate even against double coverage in games against lesser defenses.  Interesting stat for Sutton, 8 of his 31 career receiving touchdowns came in three games against North Texas.  I want to see him at the combine – if he comes in smaller than advertised he could fall out of my first round.

1.09, Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (1.07)

1.10, Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis (2.02)

2.01, Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (2.06)

2.02, Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M (1.05)

This tier features some of my favorite players in the draft in terms of value.  I was high on Freeman to start the season before he came out on fire (10 TDs in the first four games).  His pace slowed in the middle of the season but he finished strong too with 6 TDs in the games against Arizona and Oregon State.  He decided to skip the bowl which was disappointing because I wanted to see him against Boise State’s defense.  Despite the positive impression he made on me, I do have him a little lower now because he was jumped by Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny at the position.  Two players who did not skip the end of their seasons are Anthony Miller and Sony Michel.  Miller is an absolute gamer who I want on my team.  He’s not that big or that fast but he’s just productive.  He runs routes well and has possibly the best hands in the class.  He could have broken his leg in the AAC Championship game and he would have still finished the overtime.  It may be a bit of a reach but I’m willing to take Miller at the end of the first to guarantee I get him.  Michel is sometimes overshadowed by Chubb but he’s just as good in his own right.  He has two 1,000+ yard seasons to his name and a career 6.1 yards per carry average.  He is a better receiver than his 9 receptions in 2017 show.  In 2015 and 2016 he had 48 combined.  The hype on Michel is growing so you may not be able to get him at 2.01 but let’s not overreact to two nationally televised games.  Michel will be a solid pro but I’m not willing to jump him over Chubb.  Kirk dropped because I was probably too high on him originally but I still like him.  He’s a great return man but so many of his receptions come at the line of scrimmage that I worry his NFL role may be limited.

2.03, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (2.08)

2.04, Sam Darnold, QB, USC (2.01)

This is where my RSO mock will diverge slightly from a true dynasty mock.  I strongly believe that going quarterback early in the second round of your rookie mock is the way to go.  The salary paid will be less than $2mil per season which is a fantastic bargain for a starting quarterback, especially considering that most quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL Draft will see game action sometime in the first season.  The return on investment here is so high when you “hit” that it’s worth taking a chance on a “miss.”  Readers will notice that 1) Rosen has jumped Darnold and 2) I am taking the QBs a little later now.  Neither guy had a great season and they both come with some warts so I think this spot feels right.  Even if Darnold gets drafted higher, barring some crazy trade that lands him on a good team, I would go with Rosen first as I feel he is more NFL-ready and will realize more value during his four year RSO rookie contract.

2.05, Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame (2.03)

2.06, Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa (undrafted)

2.07, Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State (3.07)

This was a very tough stretch for me to rank.  I originally included Myles Gaskin and Damien Harris in this tier but they are now removed as they seek a higher grade next year.  St. Brown dropped between mocks because he only had 33 receptions.  Like Calvin Ridley, he was the leading receiver on a run-heavy offense.  I didn’t count that against Ridley but I do against St. Brown because it’s tough to invest highly in a guy with just 92 career receptions.  St. Brown would have dropped further if it weren’t for the decisions of Love and Harris ahead of him.  Wadley and Gallup mostly stayed under the radar this season but move up in my rankings even though their per-touch averages decreased.  They both significantly increased the number of touches they handled this season and played well in their biggest games.  Gallup totaled 21 receptions and 282 yards in three games against Power 5 defenses (Oregon State, Colorado, Alabama); Wadley had 158 total yards versus Ohio State in what was ultimately the death blow for the Buckeyes’ playoff chances.

2.08, Dante Pettis, WR, Washington (2.04)

2.09, Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama (1.06)

2.10, Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame (undrafted)

Bringing up the rear of the second round are three Power 5 players that I would be willing to take a shot on despite my concerns about their size.  Pettis is a dynamo and can change a game with one touch.  He had four punt return touchdowns this year and led the FBS in punt return average.  He managed to increase his receptions this year but his per-touch averages decreased.  He’s 6’1″ but about 195lbs so he’s a little too light.  The fact that his former teammate John Ross was such a bust as a first rounder last year probably hurts Pettis even if it’s not fair.  Scarborough and Adams were both productive in college but at 6’2″ they might be too tall to play running back effectively in the NFL.  The comps in that size are not favorable.  The best is Derrick Henry but other than that it’s a lot of no-name players over the last decade.

3.01, Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (undrafted)

If it makes RSO salary cap sense to take a quarterback near the top of the second, it stands to reason you should at the top of the third.  Mayfield is currently my QB3 after an incredibly efficient season but I want to watch more tape.  Heading into the season I had both Mason Rudolph, Lamar Jackson and Luke Falk ranked higher.  Right now Rudolph would be the only one I consider putting here instead of Mayfield.

3.02, Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State (undrafted)

3.03, Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (3.01)

3.04, Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina (3.05)

3.05, Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (2.10)

Let the tight end run begin!  I think everybody would agree that this year’s tight end class pales in comparison to last year but when is the right time to take one?  I’m having trouble valuing them so I’ll bet others are too.  My guess is that once one goes in your RSO draft, two or three will follow shortly after.  Gesicki gets the nod as the top prospect because he’s bigger than both Andrews and Hurst and at least as athletic, if not more.  Hurst is more of a traditional TE than the other two as he blocks better but he’s also fast enough and a good pass catcher.  I had Hurst above Andrews in my early 2018 positional rankings and will stick with my gut.  It takes time for tight ends to develop, Evan Engram notwithstanding, so I’ll knock Andrews down a peg because he so rarely lined up as a tight end in college.  Lazard isn’t a TE but he’s a big-bodied receiver who I am a fan of.  He was a key part of Iowa State’s miracle run (71-941-10).  I wish I was able to find him a spot higher because it feels like I’m down on him compared to start the season but that’s not the case.

3.06, Auden Tate, WR, Florida State (undrafted)

3.07, Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana (undrafted)

3.08, Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State (3.04)

3.09, Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville, (undrafted)

3.10, Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (1.10)

Similarly to how I ended the second round, I will end the third round with a group of Power 5 players who I will take a flyer on.  Tate has elite size, ball skills and body control but has just 65 career receptions.  Cobbs also has elite size but he concerns me.  He was suspended to start the 2016 season for “not living up to the responsibilities of the program,” and then subsequently suffered a season ending injury in his first game that year.  In the summer of 2017 he was arrested at a concert.  He didn’t face any discipline so it’s probably nothing but still I would worry about a pattern of negative behavior.  Ballage is a bowling ball at 6’3″ and 230lbs.  He is an effective receiver but averages just 4.4 yards per carry in his career.  His size concerns me too.  It’s hard to find a back with receiving stats like he had in 2016, so with a late third, what the heck.  I don’t know enough about Jaylen Smith to properly evaluate him yet but our friends at the Dynasty Command Center are very high on him so I’ll trust their analysis.  Smith had a crazy 22.9 yards per reception average in 2016 which was unsustainable (in 2017 it was still a solid 16.3).  Deon Cain is another player who concerns me off the field.  After a failed drug test, Clemson suspended him in 2015 for both of their College Football Playoff games and continued to hold him out through Spring practice.  He lead the Tigers in yards (734) and TDs (6) this season but I was hoping for more now that he was out of Mike Williams’ shadow.

Honorable Mentions

4.01, Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State (undrafted)

4.02, Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State (undrafted)

4.03, Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (undrafted)

4.04, Adam Breneman, TE, UMass (undrafted)

4.05, Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn (undrafted)

4.06, Deontay Burnett, WR, USC (undrafted)

4.07, Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State (undrafted)

4.08, Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State (undrafted)

4.09, Jaylen Samuels, TE, North Carolina State (undrafted)

4.10, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (undrafted)

Guys who I like but couldn’t find space for yet: Ryan Finley, Ito Smith, Jordan Chunn, Cedric Wilson, Antonio Callaway, Troy Fumagali


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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

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.

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