The Watch List: Week 8

Updated: October 19th 2017

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

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Penn State and Saquon Barkley were off so no change to his Heisman hopes, he’s my top choice.  The other RB in the running is Stanford’s Bryce Love who just keeps on producing with another 148 yards and 2 TDs against Oregon.  The bad news is that Love injured his ankle; the good news is they are off again and he has until October 26 to heal.  Lamar Jackson is still tremendous (especially on the ground where he added 180 yards and 3 TDs) but the Cardinals are not a good team so he’s likely out of the Heisman running.  I’ll bet that Jackson will be on every ballot this year, a nod to his win last year, but he shouldn’t win if Louisville keeps playing so poorly.  Sam Darnold and Mason Rudolph are still the other two front runners.  Darnold was inefficient but didn’t throw any picks which is a nice change; Rudolph lit up a poor Baylor defense for 459 yards and 3 TDs on just 19 completions.
  • Topsy Turvy Top 25:  Four Top 10 teams lost this past weekend so there is some turnover this week.  Those losses went to #2 Clemson, #5 Washington, #8 Washington State and #10 Auburn.  Clemson fell to #7 while the others fell out of the Top 10.  Meanwhile, #8 Miami, #9 Oklahoma and #10 Oklahoma State all move into playoff consideration.  Miami is undefeated but I think an inferior team to both Oklahoma teams (not to mention they lost starting RB Mark Walton for the season).  The losses last week make it likely that we’ll see two SEC teams in the final four.  Even after one of Georgia or Alabama loses to the other in the SEC Championship, the loss will be to such a superior team to the likes of TCU that the committee will have to put them both in.
  • Bowl Projections:  I am working on a full bowl projection piece but here’s a bit of a preview of some of my favorite make-believe matchups.  Check back later this week for the full slate of my bowl projections and then check back after the regular season to read my previews for all of the real bowl matchups.
    • Sun Bowl, UCLA vs Florida State: Before they both head to the NFL it would be fun to see top QB prospect Josh Rosen face off against top S prospect Derwin James.
    • TaxSlayer Bowl, LSU vs Michigan: Could be the most entertaining 9-6 game ever televised.  The game would feature two standout DL prospects in LSU’s Arden Key and Michigan’s Rashan Gary.  Who knew keeping your eye off the ball could be fun.
    • Cotton Bowl, South Florida vs Oklahoma State:  If the over was 100, I would take the over.  My god would this one be incredible to watch although it would probably last about five hours.

Players to Watch

  • Will Grier, QB, West Virginia:  A number of my draft/scouting Twitter follows have been talking about Will Grier lately so I figured it was time to look more closely since I knew the name but not much about the prospect. Grier has an interesting back story. He started at Florida where he started six games as a freshman but was then suspended for a failed drug test for a performance enhancing drug. Grier claims he took an over-the-counter supplement that had a banned substance in it but denies doing anything wrong willfully. I’m not sure if I believe him but it doesn’t really matter. Grier transferred to West Virginia and was cleared to start the 2017 season by the NCAA after they determined that the season he sat out as a transfer could count towards his season-long PED suspension. So, where does Grier find himself now that he is in Morgantown? How about atop the NCAA passing ranks. Grier has 21 passing TDs which paces the country and is 9th in yards (2,092). Grier’s completion percentage (65.6% vs 65.7%) and TD:INT ratio (10:3 vs 21:5) have stayed consistent between his starts in 2015 and 2017 so the time off did not cause any lingering effect. What has changed is that his yards per attempt is up to 9.1 from 7.5. Extrapolated out for a full 2017 season, that higher YPA would be worth an extra 800 yards. After looking closely at Grier’s stats, I question his “clutch” ability. When it matters most, in the 4th quarter and on 3rd down, Grier’s completion percentage takes a huge dip to less than 55%. His efficiency is buoyed by what he does on 1st down (71.2%, 11 TDs) rather than what he does afterwards (61% and 10 TDs for 2nd-4th down). I have not watched much film of Grier except for some highlight reels and a DraftBreakdown.com film of Grier against Virginia Tech.  After watching Grier’s tape, I have some concern about his mechanics and need to see more.  Something is wonky about his short throws to the left that looks like he’s almost shot-putting the ball; throws to the center and right look more natural.  File this under possibly related, I only counted two deep throws to the left, both inaccurate and incomplete, whereas many more were thrown deep down the middle or to the right.  Maybe it was coverage or personnel or maybe he’s less confident throwing left.  That’s purely a guess based off 12 minutes of tape so take it with a huge grain of salt.  There were also a number of throws off balance or off his back foot, some of which actually were completed.  He’s fast enough to be a rushing threat and kept the ball on a number of zone read plays.  Per ESPN’s recruiting service he ran a 4.73 as a recruit so I would expect him to now be in the 4.65-4.70 range (Trubisky was 4.67). As far as his size, Grier is below average at 6’2″ and 204lb (Mitch Trubisky was the same height but 18lb heavier last year).  There’s definitely some things to like about Grier but I am not ready to add him to my top 2018 QB prospect list. He would benefit from another season at WVU where he can get more time in the weight room and prove that the PED suspension was a fluke. If Grier does come out, I would expect him to be a late Day 3 prospect and off the board in RSO leagues.
  • Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss:  As a proud owner of both Kareem Hunt and Tarik Cohen in three of my six leagues, I wanted to try and identify next season’s small school back who surprises in September. I’m not predicting he will have the pro premiere that either Hunt or Cohen did, but Ito Smith would get my vote if I had to pick somebody right now. Smith is a senior and has played a big role since late in his freshman season. Smith has played in 44 games so far in his career which means he has a ton of experience, few injury concerns and is durable despite his size. In 2015, Smith ran 171 times for 1,128 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 49 receptions, 515 receiving yards and 3 TDs. In 2016 his rushing line was 265-1459-17 while he added 43-459-2 receiving. Smith’s 2017 numbers are on pace to match or surpass 2016 (118-733-7, 21-192-0). I know, that’s a lot of numbers to digest. Let’s just summarize the above section to say that Ito Smith has been supremely productive. The two biggest positives for me are 1) his receiving ability and 2) the 250+ attempts he had last season and is on pace for this season. Given Smith’s measurables and pass catching prowess he likely projects as a passing down back. What will increase his draft stock is his ability to play every down, illustrated by the number of touches he racks up on a bad Southern Miss team. Film of Smith from 2017 is not yet available on DraftBreakdown.com so I watched some 2016 tape instead. In my short study, I would say that he is patient, has enough speed to get to the edge (but not elite speed, maybe 4.50) and is an average to below average blocker. I couldn’t put my finger on who he reminded me of visually but he is thick and stout below the waist.  Like Grier, Smith looks to be a Day 3 or UDFA NFL prospect and could find a home on some deeper league RSO teams a la Tarik Cohen or Matt Breida depending on team depth chart.

Games to Watch

  •  #25 Memphis @ Houston, Thursday 8:00pm on ESPN:  Two NFL prospects will be on display in Memphis WR Anthony Miller and Houston DT Ed Oliver.  Oliver is just a sophomore and is enduring a bit of a sophomore slump this season (just 0.5 sacks but 36 tackles).  Meanwhile, Miller has been playing incredibly over the last two weeks (25 receptions, 314 yards and 6 TDs).
  • Maryland @ #5 Wisconsin, Saturday 12:00pm on FOX:  Penn State has a tough conference game this week while Wisconsin gets an easier opponent so it’s very important for the Badgers to hold serve here.  A loss, even a close one, to Maryland in a week where two of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State will win could be devastating to their CFP hopes.  After Maryland, Wisconsin has Illinois and Indiana so they can cement their Top 5 spot over the rest of the month before the stretch run.
  • #10 Oklahoma State @ Texas, Saturday 12:00pm on ABC:  I have written a lot about these two teams so I won’t go into much detail other than to say you know who to keep your eyes on: Mason Rudolph and James Washington.  Texas may have found their QB in Sam Ehlinger.  He now has 658 total yards in the last two contests against Kansas State and Oklahoma, neither of which are push overs.  Ehlinger is a true freshman so he won’t be draft eligible for awhile, but a name to monitor.
  • #19 Michigan @ #2 Penn State, Saturday 7:30pm on ABC:  The UM offense has been terrible, even with John O’Korn pressed into service.  The Wolverines are 79th and 89th in points and yards respectively.  Penn State has no such issues on offense with superstar RB Saquon Barkley and the oft-forgotten senior QB Trace McSorley.  McSorley quietly is having a better, more efficient season than last.  He has a 67% completion percentage which is ten points higher than 2016 and his TD:INT ratio is very good 13:4.  He has also added four rushing scores.  This will be a close rivalry game but give the nod to the home team Nittany Lions.
  • #11 USC @ #13 Notre Dame, Saturday 7:30pm on NBC:  My, oh my, will it feel like a throwback night of football with two simultaneous games featuring four of the all-time winningest programs in Division 1 history.  USC and Notre Dame won’t have as much CFP implication since I think both teams are out of the picture, but it will be a great game and a scout’s dream.  The usual suspects who we have covered in this space will be present: Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones and Equanimeous St. Brown to name a few.  Keep an eye on some other draftable names too: Josh Adams and Deontay Burnett.  Adams has 776 yards and 5 TDs despite being pulled from some lopsided wins; he is averaging a crazy 9.0 yards per carry to truly illustrate his dominance.  Burnett is slight of frame but looms large for the Trojan offense.  Burnett is a first down machine: 29 of 49 receptions have gone for a first down, while all 7 of his third down receptions have converted.

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

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

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

The Watch List: Independents Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Adam Breneman, TE, UMass: I’m not ready to anoint Breneman as my favorite prospect yet, but he’s at least my favorite that you’ve never heard of.  Breneman transferred to UMass from Penn State and made a name for himself in 2016 after sitting out 2015.  He led the FBS in receptions by a TE (70) and was second in yards (808) and TDs (8).  I had honestly never heard of him before my research for this article and I guess that’s what happens when you play on a 2-10 independent team.  As a freshman, Breneman caught just 16 passes but for a solid 12.4 yards per catch.  He’s 6’4″ and 243lb – comparable to Dennis Pitta when he came out of BYU.  Film is tough to come by right now, but the first two clips on his “official” highlight reel are of one-handed catches.  Hopefully those sure hands are borne out when we have some more film to digest.  Maybe  my optimism is misplaced but the potential for an athletic, decently sized TE with good hands is too good to ignore.  Watch for him in early games against Hawaii and Tennessee, broadcasts that should be widely available, and impress your friends with your deep TE sleeper knowledge.
  • Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame:  The first thing that stood out to me about St. Brown, aside from his name, was how long and lean he looked on the field when I watched his film against Miami from 2016.  He’s 6’4″ and 205lb and needs to add 5-10lb before coming out for the NFL.  Of the seven WR who measured 6’4″ and around 205lb at the combine since 2010, all were busts.  If he puts on about 10lb, he’ll measure up with the likes of AJ Green and Martavis Bryant.  ESB has just one year of production and those numbers don’t jump off the page.  As a freshman in 2015, he played predominantly as a reserve with some special teams snaps (I was surprised to see a blocked punt against USC in his 2015 game logs).  In 2016 he transitioned into the lead target and had a line of 58-961-9.  I was not impressed by the film I watched of his against Miami.  Most of his receptions were on screens or short hitch routes.  From what I saw, he does not attack the ball and catch with his hands away from his body.  He’s tall but against Miami his height wasn’t used at all.  In fact, his touchdown catch was a diving catch where he basically trapped the ball against his body while falling to the ground and blocking out the defender.  It was a nice play and maybe a sign of his versatility but at his size he should be going over defenders, not through the middle.  There were three plays that I counted where he was an aggressive and useful blocker, another good sign.  Luckily for ESB, the Irish play a tough, cupcake-less schedule so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show us what he’s got.  Phil Steele has him as his 14th ranked draft-eligible WR; meanwhile WalterFootball.com doesn’t even have him ranked.  Looks like others are as equally as unsure about his future fantasy and NFL draft stock.
  • Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame: I was really looking to have a prospect from BYU in this preview but nobody really stood out for me.  Instead I decided to go with Adams.  He has two solid seasons under his belt, but neither has been overly impressive.  In 2015 he rushed 116 times for 838 yards and 6 TDs; in 2016 it was 158, 933 and 5.  In 2016 he also added in 21 receptions and 193 yards.  In the tape I watched of Adams against Stanford, I was surprised by how often he seemed to be a decoy, usually by running patterns from the backfield.  He rarely stayed in to block; I counted just one time that he was in pass protection.  The times when he was handed the ball, it was mostly up-the-gut and stuffed; he didn’t show me much speed, bounce or cutting ability.  Speaking of his speed, DraftScout.com has him listed as a projected 4.58 – I don’t see it.  He’d be lucky to get close to the similarly sized TJ Yeldon who ran a 4.61 in 2015.  It may not seem like a big difference but there’s something mental about going slower than 4.60.  I’ll have to watch some more tape of Adams to get a better feel for his athleticism.  With a good 2017 season and about 1,300 rushing yards, Adams will become the fifth leading rusher in Irish history – that will get him noticed.

Storylines to Watch

  • Brian Kelly on the Hot Seat: Kelly is a household name but his record at Notre Dame doesn’t really deserve the recognition.  Everybody knows the Irish severely under performed last year when they started the preseason at #10 but finished at 4-8.  The previous winning seasons should make up for it right?  I’m not so sure.  Kelly is 59-31 overall at Notre Dame, a respectable record for most coaches, but he’s just 2-5 against Top 10 opponents, 11-14 against the Top 25 and 3-3 in bowls.  Losing records against top competition is not the way to curry favor with fervent Notre Dame fans.  Kelly has to start fresh at QB which will make 2017 even tougher (DeShone Kizer was drafted by the Browns and Malik Zaire transferred to Florida).  If Kelly doesn’t win 9+ games and win a name-brand bowl, he should be looking for a new job next Spring.
  • Can Army Repeat 2016: The Black Knights were a surprising 8-5 in 2016 and managed upset wins over Temple, Wake Forest and Navy.  Can they repeat the winning ways in 2017?  My money would be on no based on their past track record.  Before last season, Army had just one winning season (7-6 in 2010) since 1995.  The argument for continued success is that Army returns 12 starters and nearly 85% of their offensive yards, per Phil Steele.  Call me patriotic, but the college football world is just better when Army is winning games.
  • The Return of Tanner Mangum:  Mangum had a good 2015 season when filling in for the injured Taysom Hill (3,377 yards, 23 TDs) but was benched in favor of Hill again in 2016.  Mangum got back under center for the bowl game when Hill was hurt again, but he was disappointing with just eight completions and one TD.  I considered spotlighting Mangum as one of my draft prospects but he will be 25 years old at the start of the 2018 season if he came out after his junior season. That’s likely too old for NFL teams to strongly consider him as their QB of the future, and compounded if he stays for a senior year (he missed his first two years of eligibility for mission work).

Games to Watch

  • September 2, BYU vs LSU: As far as early season games go, this is nearly as good as it gets.  If Mangum has any hope of gaining some draft buzz, a strong start to the season is his ticket.  After LSU, BYU also plays Utah and Wisconsin.  If they go 2-1 in those three games I bet they end up in the Top 25 and buoy Mangum’s prospects despite my concerns about his age.
  • September 9, Georgia at Notre Dame: Another banner early season game finds Georgia traveling to South Bend for the first time in school history.  Georgia should be Top 15 to start the season but I’m a bit worried they will get caught looking ahead to the Irish when the play Appalachian State on September 2.  If the Bulldogs don’t falter to start the season, getting a scalp against Georgia could very well save Brian Kelly’s job.
  • December 9, Army vs Navy: This matchup is always one of my favorite games of the season.  The game rightfully has the spotlight to itself before the bowl games kick off and it usually features some fun-to-watch triple option offenses.  It’s rare you can watch a game and find yourself rooting for both sides, enjoy it.  ‘Merica!

 

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

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

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