RSO Staff Picks: Week 5

Updated: October 5th 2017

Week 4 Results

1. Papson – 13-3

2. English 11-5

3. Wendell – 9-7

Overall Standings

1. English – 42-21

2. Papson – 41-22

3. Wendell 39-24

Papson with a huuuuge week going 13-3 (rumor has it he went 9-0 ATS last week as well)! English with a very solid 11-5 himself and Wendell bringing up the rear with a very mediocre 9-7, dropping him to last in the standings (a familiar spot in his fantasy leagues as well). Papson went on a limb with a few games and was rewarded with the big week. Some very interesting games are on the slate for this week with the Thursday Night Football game pitting a couple two-win teams against each other in the Pats and the Bucs. If the Bucs defend home turf, the Pats will be sub .500 through five games for the first time since 2002 (that is 15 years if you are counting at home). Meanwhile, Matt and Stephen’s beloved Eagles are heavy favorites to move to 4-1 and be well atop the NFC East. The Rams host the Seahawks and we will see how good this new look Jared Goff offense really is, and DeShaun Watson and the new look Texans will try to knock off the league’s last unbeaten team, the Chiefs, on Sunday Night Football. Here are our picks for Week 5:

NFL Game Picks

Game

Wendell

Papson

English

NE @ TB

ARI @ PHI

BUF @ CIN

NYJ @ CLV

CAR @ DET

SF @ IND

TEN @ MIA

LAC @ NYG

JAX @ PIT

BAL @ OAK

SEA @ LAR

GB @ DAL

KC @ HOU

MIN @ CHI

 

The Unexpected: Week 5

Updated: October 5th 2017

There are always surprises at the start of the NFL season, some of which may be sustainable through the year while others likely are not.  Determining if your player’s good start is something which will continue may be the difference in figuring out if your team is a true contender or possibly making a poor trade.  With four weeks of the NFL season already in the books, we can start to look at trends and get some idea of different players’ usage going forward.

Quarterbacks

Alex Smith QB2 – Smith rocketed out of the gates with a 4-touchdown thrashing of New England in week 1.  The Kansas City starter made few mistakes since.  Smith leads the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage while pacing the Chiefs to the only undefeated record remaining.  He has been nothing short of great so far throwing for 8 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

Moving forward – While I foresee continued solid play from Smith, do not expect this production to remain.  The usage is very much in line with recent history, currently tied for 18th in attempts, but his rates are not.  His current 76% completion rate leads the all-time NFL season mark (Sam Bradford 2016) by more than 4 points.  The 8.8 yards per attempt is 1.4 more than any Smith season in Kansas City.  Look for solid QB2 numbers going forward and a quality weekly streaming option.

Jared Goff QB10 – What a difference environment can make.  The second year starter went from a historically bad rookie season to the current leading passer in yards per attempt and third ranked quarterback in passer rating. The additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan transformed one of the worst lines in football last year benefitting both the run and pass game.  The Rams also brought in a host of new receiving options for Goff including Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods in free agency plus Cooper Kupp in the draft.  Most importantly Los Angeles brought in 30 year old head coach Sean McVay to completely revamp the offensive scheme.  Goff’s throws became far more manageable this season including increased check downs to Todd Gurley out of the backfield and more open throws throughout the field.

Moving forward – The schedule could become much more difficult over the rest of season with few matchups for which I would be thrilled about for Goff and the Rams.  Goff only ranks 22nd in passing attempts over the season and provides nothing as a rusher to fall back on.  I would not count on Goff as my starter in RSO leagues.  I am more likely to try and capitalize on the hot start with a trade or continue stashing Goff if I drafted him as a cheap backup/streaming option.

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt RB2 – No rookie started out hotter than Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt.  Hunt leads the NFL in rushing yards by nearly 40% over the next player (Todd Gurley) thanks to an enormous 7.4 yards per attempt to start the season.  The rookie also displayed significant receiving ability catching 13 balls for a robust 12.1 yards per reception.

Moving forward – Hunt should remain a locked in RB1 throughout the year.  Kansas City should be competitive throughout the season, he shows off impressive lower body strength to power through tacklers, and enough burst to turn open lanes and bad tackling angles into big plays.  He is also heavily involved in the passing game.  The KC offensive line has consistently opened up huge holes for Hunt this season as well.  He is a set and forget player at this point.

Chris Thompson RB6 – Perhaps no player has done more with less than Washington running back Chris Thompson.  Thompson owns a hefty 7.1 rushing yards per attempt over 20 carries in addition to a huge 16.8 yards per reception for 14 catches which combine to a massive 11 yards per touch.  The Washington passing down back also contributed four touchdowns so far.

Moving forward – Thompson is a really good player but anywhere near this level of production is unsustainable.  He averages less than 9 touches per game and that is unlikely to improve much with a load of offensive weapons to choose from in Washington and a quarterback who generally spreads the ball around.  Thompson is nothing more than a flex play in deeper leagues.  Sell if you can get anything of significance for him.

Wide Receivers

Stephon Diggs WR1 / Adam Thielen WR13 – The Minnesota receivers find themselves ranked well above preseason expectations so far.  Each is top-3 in receiving yardage and Diggs has scored four times already.  Case Keenum has been surprisingly solid in Sam Bradford’s absence and the two Vikings own a very large target share of the offense.  Both accumulated 32 targets, double the next most targeted player on the team.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph has reverted to the low volume, low yardage receiver we saw most of his career without Bradford and with an improved offensive line.

Moving forward – There are a lot of questions going forward for two high volume players.  It is fair to wonder how the loss of rookie sensation Dalvin Cook will affect these receivers and the offense as a whole.  Will the Latavius Murray/Jerrick McKinnon combo provide enough in the run game to open up deeper route combinations?  Will Rudolph gain a larger target share with the return of Bradford?  What does Michael Floyd, who reportedly had a superb training camp and likely replaces inconsequential former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, bring to the table? The questions have me downgrading both slightly going forward.  Diggs remains a must-start player for me but I am looking at Thielen as more of a flex play going forward.

Chris Hogan WR10 – The former Bill performed well so far in his time in New England providing a nice downfield threat with reliable hands.  Hogan has been on the plus side of the touchdown equation scoring four times this season in the high powered New England offense and is tied for second in targets on the team.  He remains a reliable target for Tom Brady on a team with many injuries at wide receiver.

Moving forward – Hogan will have a big role in the offense but will be a volatile weekly play with likely touchdown regression coming.  With plenty of quality receiving options available for the Patriots including Gronkowski, Cooks, Amendola, and White; consider Hogan more of a borderline WR2/WR3 going forward.

Tight Ends

Charles Clay TE4 – Clay was one of my featured streaming options going into the season.  Buffalo ended up trading away the talented Sammy Watkins to the Rams and trading for Jordan Matthews before the season started.  With speedster Marquise Goodwin moving on Clay became Tyrod Taylor’s only significant returning target left outside of running back Lesean McCoy.  Matthews immediately suffered a chest injury further delaying his familiarity with Taylor which focused more of the offense through Clay early in the season.

Moving forward – Matthews suffered another injury last week, this time resulting in thumb surgery which could keep him out for a month.  The low volume Buffalo passing attack is not a fantasy player’s dream, but Clay owns a large 25% market share so far and Matthew’s time off should ensure a continued big role.  Consider Clay a weekly starter with the number of significant injuries at the position.

Evan Engram TE7 – One of the golden rules in fantasy football is not relying on rookie tight ends.  They rarely have big passing roles the first season taking time to learn all the nuances of the position.  Engram is proving the exception to the rule.  I wrote an entire article this offseason detailing the virtues of Engram but even I was not counting on immediate starting fantasy value.  The rookie is currently tied for second in targets, tied for fourth in receptions, and ranks sixth in yardage among all tight ends.

Moving forward – The Giants have virtually no run game to speak of, thanks in large part to a struggling offensive line, which likely means a continued short pass-happy offense from coach Ben McAdoo for the rest of season.  The athletic tight end has at least four receptions each game so far and his targets have trended upward throughout the season.  Engram should be a locked-in weekly starter given his consistent heavy usage and lack of quality options at the position.


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

The Watch List: Week 6

Updated: October 7th 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:  With my non-existent vote, I am still taking Saquon Barkley.  He had just 107 total yards against Indiana but also added a passing touchdown and returned the opening kickoff for a score to set the tone.  QBs Mason Rudolph and Lamar Jackson held serve with 3 passing TD each and fill out my top three.  The two Pac-12 QBs, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, have fallen in my Heisman ranks but are still my top NFL prospects at the position.  I think we need to start considering Oklahoma State WR James Washington in the conversation because his numbers are fantastic, more on him below.
  • Sam is Sliding:  I have not been impressed by Darnold through the first five weeks of the season and have removed him from realistic Heisman consideration.  He will still be a top two NFL draft pick, barring catastrophic injury, but the bloom may be off the rose so to speak.  I have not been shy about my concerns of Darnold’s throwing motion.  One of my Twitter follows, who I can’t recall and I didn’t favorite it, had a good point: Darnold’s elongated throwing motion may be telegraphing his passes and leading to the turnovers.  What he means is that defenders have an extra fraction of a second to react to Darnold’s eyes because it takes longer for the ball to come up and be released.  So far he has 7 INTs which is third most in the FBS.  Whether that’s causation or just correlation I don’t know but it worries me.  In my Pac-12 preview, I comped Darnold physically to Christian Hackenberg, maybe I was right in more ways than one.
  • Nick Saban for President:  It’s Nick Saban’s world and we’re all just living in it.  Alabama is off to a 5-0 start and has outscored opponents 231-43.  The opponents don’t make up the country’s toughest starting schedule, but there are no true cream puffs in the bunch: Florida State with a healthy Deondre Francois, Fresno State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.  An amazing, if unsurprising, stat I found while researching Alabama for this piece: they are the only FBS team without a turnover.  Not a single giveaway in five games.  Another great stat is that the team has four 199+ yard rushers in QB Jalen Hurts and RBs Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough and Najee Harris.  The running backs are splitting carries relatively evenly and have combined for 11 TDs thus far.  It’s going to to take something special to beat the Tide this season.

Players to Watch

  • Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State:  I have used a number of superlatives to describe Penny on my Twitter.  There is no denying his skill and ability at the college level, what I want to find out is if he can cut it in the pros.  In 2016, Penny had just over 1,000 yards and 14 total TDs playing second fiddle to Donnell Pumphrey.  In 2017, he already has 823 yards and 9 TDs.  It will be telling to see if he can hold up over the course of a full 250+ touch season.  As far as physical comps go, I think fair ones for Penny would be Christine Michael or Devontae Booker.  Neither has realized much NFL success yet but I feel those two are also solid comps as far as draft stock: late 2nd to early 4th round.  Because of my man crush on Penny, I have already watched him more than most prospects this season.  I watched both the Stanford and Northern Illinois games in full and bits of the Arizona State and Air Force games.  My general perceptions are that Penny runs with power between the tackles, is quick but not fast, is average in pass protection, above average as a receiver and is a dynamic kick returner.  I was not taking copious notes while watching these games, that type of study will come in the offseason, but I cannot recall seeing a single negative run by Penny.  I’m sure there are a few of them there but they are few.  Right now I would rank Penny somewhere in the 5-7 range at running back for 2018.  He is definitively behind Barkley, Guice, Chubb and Ronald Jones for me.  He would be in the conversation with Bo Scarborough, Mike Weber, Sony Michel and Bryce Love.  For Penny to have moved up that high on my list that quickly was surprising but it’s impossible to deny what he’s doing for this undefeated Aztec team.
  • James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State:  Washington’s stats have been buoyed by Mason Rudolph’s success and the team’s system but still, Washington is impressing me.  He has 28 receptions, 647 yards and 5 TDs with a 23.1 average per reception.  If you look at Washington’s game logs, it isn’t dominated by one outlier as is the case for some other prospects this early in the season.  To date he has 145, 98, 124, 153 and 127 yards in each game; not bad when 98 yards is your lowest output.  He’s 6’1″ and 205lbs and is a burner.  A good recent NFL combine physical comp would be Torrey Smith.  Smith is known for his speed and breakaway ability but less so for his hands which is not a concern for Washington in my research.  I can’t find any primary source giving a 40 yard dash time for Washington but we can estimate.  NFLDraftScout.com has Washington projected 4.35-4.55.  I found an article discussing his high school track success which stated that he ran a 21.4 in the 200 yard dash.  I know the math doesn’t actually work this way but that would be a 4.28 pace over 40 yards.  Let’s round up and use the lower bound of the NFLDraftScout.com prediction and say he runs a 4.35, where does that put him?  It would be the second fastest time run by a WR in his size range (6’0″-6’2″ and between 200-210lb) since 2010 (seventh best if you go back to 2000).  Washington was a track star in multiple events so his athleticism is not at all in question.  During the offseason I will need to go back and watch some more film of Washington regarding his hand placement, tracking and route running but based on my research and what I’ve seen in limited exposure to Oklahoma State this season I am impressed.  Early gut call, Washington will end up as my WR2 heading into the draft process.

Games to Watch

  •  #17 Louisville @ #24 North Carolina State, Thursday 8:00pm on ESPN:  One of just two Top 25 matchups this week, this game will pose another good foil to the subpar NFL game on Thursday.  If any defense will stop Lamar Jackson, maybe it’s the Wolfpack.  NC State is 7th in rushing yards allowed per game and is led by DE Bradley Chubb and LB Jerod Fernandez (44 tackles, 14 last week vs Syracuse).  In the game last week against Syracuse, the Wolfpack defense held QB Eric Dungey to just 44 yards although they did allow him to score twice.  I’m in no way saying that Dungey and Jackson are on the same level but if they could limit a normal rushing quarterback, maybe they could at least slow down Jackson.
  • Wake Forest @ #2 Clemson, Saturday 12:00pm on ESPN2:  Wake Forest is 12th in the nation in points allowed (with games against BC, Utah State, App State and Florida State) and will look to be opportunistic against Clemson QB Kelly Bryant.  Bryant has been efficient this season (66.2% completion percentage) but has just 3 TDs to 3 INTs.  Where Bryant stands out is on the run where he has 7 TDs already.  As of this writing, I haven’t checked the lines but if it’s anything more than 17, I’m taking Wake to keep it close.
  • Eastern Michigan @ Toledo, Saturday 12:00pm on CBSSN:  No, this isn’t a misprint.  I will actually be checking into this one to see Toledo QB Logan Woodside.  Woodside has an outside chance at climbing up NFL draft rankings and could be a late round draft pick next Spring.  So far he has 1,346 yards with 11 TDs and just 1 INT, including 342-3-0 against a Miami team that is now ranked 13th in the AP Poll.
  • #23 West Virginia @ #8 TCU, Saturday 3:30pm on FS1:  This is the other Top 25 matchup this week.  Sadly, for us college football fans, I don’t predict that this one will be very close.  WVU is 108th in the FBS by total yards per game and is even worse (114th) against the run.  TCU’s sophomore running back Darius Anderson stood out last game against Oklahoma State (160 yards, 3 TDs) and will trounce the Mountaineers.  TCU is a complete team with a solid offense and a defense that ranks in the Top 30 in points, total yards and rush yards per game.
  • Michigan State @ #7 Michigan, Saturday 7:30pm on ABC:  As a Michigan fan, I am worried about this one.  Sparty is currently 3-1 but I don’t believe they can compete in the division title race so this game will be their “bowl game” and mean more than a typical regular season game.  MSU won a close one last week, 17-10, over an underrated Iowa team.  On the Wolverines’ side, they will be without starting quarterback Wilton Speight.  I’m not convinced that is a bad thing though.  Former Houston transfer John O’Korn filled in ably in relief last week throwing for 270 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT against Purdue.  This one will be a low scoring, physical affair and the Spartans will stay in striking distance.  Keep an eye out for one of Dantonio’s signature trick plays if it’s close and his team needs the momentum and a “shot” play.

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.

Week 5 Street FA Report

Updated: October 5th 2017

Each week we will recommend a group of players that are owned in less than 50% of RSO league that should be rostered. Depending on roster and league sizes not all of these players may be available. For that, we will offer 1 player that is owned in <10% of leagues as our Sleeper add.

BYES: New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, Washington

Add of the Week

Aaron Jones, RB – GB (Owned 28%)

Week 4: 13 Car/49 yards, 1 TD

You never hope for an injury to another person but once Ty Montgomery went out with a chest injury Thursday night I was excited to finally see what Jamaal Williams would do. Unfortunately, he also was injured after 4 carries leaving the Aarons, Jones and Ripkowski, as the only two options for Green Bay right now. Ripkowski is more of a fullback which means that Jones could be in for a heavy usage while the other two RBs are out. There are conflicting reports about how serious Montgomery’s injury is; some says he’s day-to-day while others suggest it could be 2-4 weeks. What is for sure is that with the amount of touches that Montgomery has received over the first 3 games suggests that Aaron Jones may have more than his fair number of chances moving forward.

Suggested Bid: $2,000,000 – $5,000,000

RB Adds

Elijah McGuire, RB – NYJ (Owned 30%)

Week 4: 10 Car/93 yards, 1 TD, 2 Rec/38 yards

I must be crazy for suggesting a Jets player 3 out of the first 4 weeks but they just keep exceeding expectations for me. McGuire, a 6th round rookie, had one of the two Jet runs that went for over 60 yards on their way to an overtime win last week. While Bilal Powell more than doubled his touches (25:12) it’ll be interesting to see what coaches want to do moving forward. The Jets are a team in rebuild and may want to see what they have at each position going into next offseason. They may not be able to run the ball as effectively as they did against the Jags each week but McGuire does have the speed and pass-catching ability to be used as a receiving back in this offense when needed.

Suggested Bid: $500,000 – $1,500,000

 

Alex Collins, RB – BAL (Owned 47%)

Week 4: 9 Car/82 yards

Baltimore’s offense has looked like molasses the past two weeks which makes it hard for fantasy owners to trust using any player on a weekly basis. Javorius Allen is still the back to own in PPR leagues since he is featured heavily in Joe Flacco’s passing game however, Alex Collins has shown that he is now likely the between tackles/goal line back. He had more carries than both Allen and Terrance West combined (9:6) last week. If he can stop fumbling the ball once a game Collins should have at least some use for the coming bye weeks.

Suggested Bid: $500,000 – $1,500,000

WR Adds

Adam Humphries, WR – TB (Owned 3%)

Week 4: 6 Rec/70 yards

Let me start by saying that I would only be adding Humphries in a league where I am hurting at WR for week 5 and may need a Hail Mary option. The Bucs face the Patriots (on a short week) who have been one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history through 4 games. Bill Belichick usually takes away your number option which means double coverage for Mike Evans. But there is nothing to suggest that one-on-one coverage everywhere else will slow down a team’s passing attack this year. In what could be another Thursday Night shootout Humphries could have a similar stat line to last week. A touchdown would just be icing.

Suggested Bid: $500,000

TE Adds

Tyler Kroft, TE – CIN (Owned 3%)

Week 4: 6 Rec/68 yards, 2 TD

Cincinnati loves to feature its tight ends no matter who is available. With Tyler Eifert out for a second straight week, Kroft took advantage of a poor Browns defense scoring two touchdowns. Though he will never outrank A.J. Green in targets Kroft is likely only competing with LaFell for second in target shares with Eifert out. Similar to what I said last week about Jordan Reed’s injury concerns leading to Vernon Davis’ week-to-week value the longer Eifert is out the more weeks that Kroft should be at least a TE2 option.

Suggested Bid: $500,000

Sleeper Add

ANYONE WITH FUTURE VALUE

I know this might sound like a cop-out but with RSOs new resign feature coming available this week if you have room at the end of your bench and don’t already have a resign candidate in mind (or the values are out of your price range) then why not take a shot with a player that might have value in 2018 and beyond. Several young QBs that could find themselves in starting roles next year are likely available including Jimmy Garoppolo, A.J. McCarron, and Jacoby Brissett. As well, there may be injured players that could be bargain bin finds to scoop up before they become healthy prior to next year’s auctions. A prime candidate for this would be Quincy Enunwa (yes another Jet) who is available in 22% of leagues. Remember that it will take a week for the system to process a free agent’s resign value so you won’t be able to see what their value is until week 6. But if you’re already thinking of using this strategy then you’re thinking long term anyway.

Suggested Bid: $500,000

RSO Staff Picks: Week 4

Updated: September 28th 2017

Week 3 Results

1. Wendell – 9-7

T2. English 8-8

T2. Papson – 8-8

Overall Standings

1. English – 31-16

2. Wendell 30-17

3. Papson – 28-19

Well, that was an extremely weird week of games, which was probably to be expected with so many home underdogs. Huge surprises with the Jaguars destroying the Ravens in London, Buffalo defending home turf against the Broncos, the Bears upsetting the Steelers in OT, and the Redskins getting the best of the Raiders on both sides of the ball. Winning on the road in the NFL is just hard…period. It was an up and down week for us as well, as Wendell goes 9-7, one game better than both Papson and English at 8-8. English leads the yearly standings by one game over Wendell and three over Papson, so one week could change everything. Here are our picks for the week:

NFL Game Picks

Game

Wendell

English

Papson

CHI @ GB

NO @ MIA

BUF @ ATL

CIN @ CLV

LAR @ DAL

DET @ MIN

CAR @ NE

JAX @ NYJ

PIT @ BAL

TEN @ HOU

SF @ ARI

PHI @ LAC

NYG @ TB

OAK @ DEN

IND @ SEA

WAS @ KC

Everyone enjoy the games in Week 4 and best of luck this week in your leagues!

The Watch List: Week 5

Updated: September 27th 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: I am starting to regret my plan to include a Heisman update in every weekly Watch List article.  The weekly movement so far has been greater than I expected but I do anticipate that we will have some more clarity in two or three weeks after teams get deeper into their conference schedule.  After his dominating performance against Iowa’s 26th ranked rush defense, Saquon Barkley leap frogs Mason Rudolph to my top spot.  Barkley had 305 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown and was key to the Nittany Lions’ comeback victory.  Barkley just might be better than advertised.  Four QBs, in no particular order at the moment, round out my top five: Rudolph, Darnold, Rosen and Jackson.  Combined, those four threw just 9 TDs this weekend and a whopping 7 INTs.  They did throw for a lot of yards (1,400) but it was just a good reminder that none of them is perfect.
  • Georgia’s QB Controversy:  Head coach Kirby Smart has found himself living the old adage that “if you have two quarterbacks, you have zero.”  True freshman Jake Fromm took over for sophomore Jacob Eason after Eason was hurt to start the season.  Fromm has lead the team capably since then and has improved on Eason’s numbers from last year.  Eason was just over 55% completion percentage in 2016 while Fromm is over 62% this season.  As far as TD:INT ratio goes, Eason was 16:8 while Fromm is 7:1.  Smart has to stick with the hot hand for now but would be smart to find Eason some time in lopsided games, you never know when Eason will have to return to the starting role.  One last note, can everybody please stop with the “Jake Fromm State Farm” joke on Twitter?  Thank you.
  • Injuries to RB Prospects:  I have not done 2018 positional rankings yet but both Derrius Guice and Ronald Jones would be in or near my Top 5 as of today.  The problem is that both are struggling with injuries which have left the door open for their understudy to steal some share of the carries.  Jones, unexpectedly at least to me, did not travel to Cal and missed the game.  That let true freshman Stephen Carr load up with 26 touches and he succeeded with 129 total yards and a touchdown.  Guice did play against Auburn, in fact he had a one yard touchdown run on the Tigers first play that was set up by an interception, but was limited to just 8 carries and 14 yards.  Similar to Carr, Darrel Williams had 142 total yards and a score.  Even if Guice and Jones retain the biggest piece of the pie, I think there is no question that their teams will not rush them back.

Players to Watch

  • Jaylen Samuels, TE, NC State:  I’ll start off by saying that I have no idea what Samuels’ pro prospects are but it doesn’t matter, he’s quickly become one of my favorite college players.  Samuels is listed as a TE but he really isn’t.  At 5’11” and 228lb, he would be the first TE at the combine since 2000 to be shorter than 6’1″ (Pro-football-reference.com only goes back to 2000, I would bet that record would go back further).  What Samuels lacks in stature, he makes up for with “want to.”  Whatever you need him to do on the field, he wants to.  I have never seen such interesting game logs than his.  He has 164 career carries, 117 receptions and 2 passing completions.  He has 18 rushing TDs, 20 receiving TDs and 1 passing TD.  Against Florida State this past weekend, he had 17 touches for 75 yards and 2 TDs.  In the NFL he’ll project more as an h-back (same size as Matt Asiata) but could be the ultimate 3rd down weapon if he lands on the right team.
  • David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State:  By all accounts David Montgomery is a good kid with a good story which makes his success so far for the Cyclones refreshing.  Montgomery finished his freshman season off strong with 341 yards over the last three games and has continued that success into 2017.  His trend line, yards wise, is heading in the right direction this year with 82, 113 and 127 yards against Northern Iowa, Iowa and Akron respectively.  He’s also getting involved in the passing game with five catches each of the last two.  Montgomery is just a sophomore but I’m rooting for him to keep up the success and look forward to doing more in depth research next season.
  • Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson:  Etienne is a true freshman who has found a role as the hammer to close out Clemson’s wins.  He had a late 4th quarter touchdown against both Louisville and Boston College.  His yardage totals are impressive 81-98-113 but are mostly composed of yards gained on his three 50+ yard runs.  There is something strange looking about Etienne’s gait, I think it’s because he is such a long strider, but he is undeniably fast and explosive.  If he sees any daylight, he is gone.  In high school, he ran a hand-timed 4.24 40-yard dash.  I question the accuracy but given three years of college experience, I have no doubt that Etienne can end up in that range at the 2020 NFL combine.  Playing devil’s advocate to my own thoughts, I should point out that I am evaluating Etienne on the smallest of sample sizes: has just 23 carries through three games and zero receptions.  I’m hoping that he proves durable enough to earn 10-12 touches per game the rest of the way.
  • Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State:  Chubb will be one of the top ranked DE prospects in 2018 and is likely a first round talent.  I’ll bet most casual fans have never heard of him but if you watched the game against Florida State you might have noticed him.  Chubb had 7 tackles and 2 sacks.  Chubb also had a forced fumble but was not credited with one, maybe because of the crazy melee that followed trying to recover the fumble.

Games to Watch

  • #5 USC @ #16 Washington State, 10:30pm Friday on ESPN:  Pac-12 after dark is usually a great way to end your Saturdays but this week we get a great Friday night matchup to start off the weekend.  As returning readers know, I am down on QB Sam Darnold but up on RBs Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr.  Neither defense is great so we’ll see a lot of points.  I am interested in seeing Washington State QB Luke Falk against a defense with some NFL prospects, especially CB Iman Marshall.
  • Northwestern @ #10 Wisconsin, 12:00pm Saturday on ABC:  Northwestern’s senior RB Justin Jackson is on my watch list but I haven’t done enough research yet to feature him.  He had a great game against Bowling Green last game (121 yards, 3 TDs) but struggled against Duke the week before (just 18 yards).  Seeing him face Wisconsin’s 9th ranked rush defense will be telling.  Wisconsin’s QB, Alex Hornibrook, has been steady and takes care of the ball (70% completion percentage and just 1 INT).  The surprise for the Badgers though has been true freshman RB Jonathan Taylor.  Taylor is just a 3 star recruit from NJ but is averaging an impressive 8.3 yards per carry.  He lit up FAU for 223 yards and 3 TDs and followed that up with 128-1 against BYU.  The matchup has 13-9 written all over it but I’ll still be tuning in.
  • #2 Clemson @ #12 Virginia Tech, 8:00pm Saturday on ABC:  Beating Clemson would be a career defining win for Hokie coach Justin Fuente.  Fuente’s stock is already rising after a 10-4 season last year and a strong start to 2017.  There aren’t too many jobs bigger than Virginia Tech but he’ll be a candidate for some of them if he keeps it up.  Tech WR Cam Phillips has 34 receptions (4th most in the NCAA) which is nearly half of QB Josh Jackson’s completions.  Keep your eye on Clemson’s star in the making, freshman RB Travis Etienne.
  • Northern Illinois @ #19 San Diego State, 10:30 Saturday on CBSSN: Northern Illinois has a good non-conference win already under their belt against Nebraska and they will be looking to add another scalp in #19 San Diego State.  I think the 19th ranking is a little disrespectful, they should be ahead of South Florida.  Rashaad Penny, after his fantastic start, will find himself in the 5-7 range of my 2018 RBs when I start working on positional rankings.  Penny is second in the NCAA in rushing yards (716) and second in yards from scrimmage (803).  SDSU’s defense is good enough to make me feel confident in picking the Aztecs to keep their run alive.

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.