RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 QBs, Part I

Updated: January 27th 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.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

Lamar Jackson is an interesting prospect so I wanted him to be the first player that I researched this offseason. His production and accolades are at odds with his NFL Draft stock and it’s important to know why. Jackson, a junior, is listed at 6’3″ and 211 lbs. Per NFLDraftScout.com he is estimated to run a 4.42 40 yard dash. Jackson has been free from serious injury, a surprise given his size and playing style. He also does not have any character concerns that I am aware of. There is a great story of Jackson’s mom pushing him hard as a youngster which ESPN ran last year.

Stats & Accolades:  Jackson has high name recognition because he was the 2016 Heisman winner and a finalist again in 2017. He was also the back-to-back winner of the ACC’s Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year awards. There’s no doubt that Jackson is talented and puts up big stats but there are a few red flags that warrant a closer look. First off is the fact that Jackson is not a very accurate passer. He has never completed 60% of his passes in a season which is not unheard of but is not a good sign. What doesn’t show up in the above stats are all of the sacks that Jackson takes. In 2017 he took 29 while in 2016 he took 46 (the most taken by a quarterback in 2017 was 39 by Luke Falk). When I looked deeper into Jackson’s statistics and game logs, I was even more concerned with Jackson’s accuracy. In the first quarter in 2017, Jackson completed over 66% of his passes. In subsequent quarters, it falls to under 60% with the worst percentage coming in the fourth quarter (54.9%). It seems that as the game wears on and Jackson tires from all of his running, his ability to complete passes suffers. It might also be that in clutch moments, Jackson (and likely his coaches) don’t trust his arm. As his completion percentage drops throughout the game, his yards per carry increases. His yards per carry average is highest in the fourth quarter (7.51 vs 6.66, 6.68 and 6.79). Jackson’s best game of the year, as a passer, came in the season opener against Purdue. He completed 65.2% of his passes and threw for 378 yards and two scores.

Passing Table
Passing
Year School Conf Class Pos G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
*2015 Louisville ACC FR QB 12 135 247 54.7 1840 7.4 7.0 12 8 126.8
*2016 Louisville ACC SO QB 13 230 409 56.2 3543 8.7 9.1 30 9 148.8
2017 Louisville ACC JR QB 13 254 430 59.1 3660 8.5 8.7 27 10 146.6
Career Louisville 619 1086 57.0 9043 8.3 8.5 69 27 142.9

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2018.

Rushing Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD
*2015 Louisville ACC FR QB 12 163 960 5.9 11
*2016 Louisville ACC SO QB 13 260 1571 6.0 21
2017 Louisville ACC JR QB 13 232 1601 6.9 18
Career Louisville 655 4132 6.3 50

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2018.

Film Study: Mississippi State (2017), Clemson (2017)

In addition to having a reputation as an inaccurate passer, Jackson has a reputation as having a good deep ball. Unfortunately, that deep pass was rarely on display in the two games I watched of him. I dug into Jackson against Mississippi State (the bowl game) and Clemson (third game of the season) so that I could watch him against two tough defenses and at different points of the season. On the whole, I was disappointed.

We know he is a supreme athlete and can run better than just about anybody in the game so I won’t spend much time on that. I did take note of one rushing touchdown which stood out because it showcased his speed and elusiveness but also his toughness which I think is under advertised. The play was in the second quarter against Mississippi State. Jackson took the shotgun snap from the left hash and sprinted right on a designed run. He realizes he cannot get the corner and instead plants his foot into the ground and makes a hard cut up field. The cut allows him to slip between an over-pursuing defender and one who was trying to join the play. After he makes the cut he accelerates for a few yards and, about three yards from the end zone, half-hurdles half-jukes a defender and awkwardly leaps into the end zone. He easily could have slid or gone down to protect his body but he sold out for the score. Obviously, that toughness can easily lead to injury but Jackson has been lucky in that regard.

In the Mississippi State game, Jackson missed a number of throws high and behind his receivers. It appears that he struggles to anticipate the receiver’s route on crossing patterns. This was a theme against Clemson too. Early in the first quarter, already down by a touchdown, Jackson had WR Jaylen Smith open on a deep post. He put the ball high and behind Smith and the ball fell incomplete. It would have been a big play to get the offense closer to scoring position but it also would have helped in the field position battle (after Clemson punted after their ensuing possession, Louisville got the ball back inside their own five). Throughout both games, it was clear that Jackson struggles feeling the rush and does not respond well to the pressure. This is borne out in the sack stats mentioned above. There was one strange play against Clemson where Jackson was pressured after Clemson got caught mid-substitution and managed to throw a touchdown pass to his TE who managed to high-point the ball. A pro-Jackson fan could say he put the ball high where he knew his taller TE could out jump the defender; an anti-Jackson fan would say that it was another high throw that he was lucky to complete. Jackson does not throw a ton of interceptions despite what I saw against Mississippi state when he threw four. In the Clemson game he did throw a particularly killer pick-six in the third quarter. The Cardinals were down 19-7, points on that drive would have significantly improved their chances to hang in the game. Instead, the poor pass turned into seven points the other way and after Clemson scored on their next possession the game was already out of reach at 33-7. I do not believe Jackson has much experience progressing through reads and reading the full field. On many completions he is simply throwing it to his first read; his second “read” is often to tuck the ball and run.

One positive on Jackson’s throwing ability is that he can really fire it to his receivers. At one point in the Clemson game, the commentator said he was throwing “heat seeking missiles” to Jaylen Smith. That arm strength can help him fit the ball into tight windows, when thrown accurately, and is the reason he can throw the deep ball successfully.

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: Rushing ability, 4.40 speed, arm strength, toughness, confidence, durability despite being a rushing quarterback.

Weaknesses: Accuracy, composure in the pocket, decision making under pressure, thin frame for an NFL quarterback.

Opportunities: Deshaun Watson showed NFL personnel that an athletic but inaccurate quarterback could have success in the NFL. If paired with a creative offensive coordinator and strong offensive line, Jackson could flourish.

Threats: Some NFL scouts will want to change his position. The Watson comparison also shows that injury is a risk. He will be very dependent on his head coach, offensive coordinator and supporting personnel more so than some quarterback prospects.

Draft Round Grade: 2nd Round

I believe that Jackson will fall out of the first and be a target for a team in the early 2nd Round, maybe a target for a team trading up to get the 33rd pick. I would not be surprised to hear that some teams have him off their board all together at QB. It only takes one team though to think that they know best and have the perfect scheme for him to succeed.

Recent NFL Comparison: Tyrod Taylor

Jackson is a bit taller than Taylor but otherwise they have similar athletic profiles. Their rate stats in college were also similar (i.e. under 60% completion percentage). Jackson is a more dynamic runner than Taylor though. In the NFL, Taylor has become a game-manager quarterback with a higher completion percentage and few mistakes but it took him four years as a backup to get to that point. Jackson likely won’t get that luxury being such a high pick. I anticipate that many people will compare Jackson to Robert Griffin III but I don’t see it. RGIII was a bit heavier and was a significantly more accurate passer than Jackson.

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

I am higher on Mason Rudolph than most analysts. Earlier in the year, I had Rudolph ranked as my second quarterback, ahead of Sam Darnold and just behind Josh Rosen and he’s still in that range for me. Rudolph likely won’t start in the NFL in 2018 but he has the experience, size and arm strength that scouts will love. In my opinion, he’s a high ceiling, low floor player. He may not have the star potential of Sam Darnold but but he’ll be a solid pro. Rudolph is a senior who played 42 games in his career in Stillwater. He has elite size at 6’5″ and 230lbs and I believe he has underrated mobility. Since taking over as the starter as a true freshman late in the 2014 season (the team had to burn his redshirt due to an injury to their starter), Rudolph has avoided injury. A sprained ankle forced him to miss all but one series against Oklahoma in 2015 and a “very minor,” yet undisclosed, injury limited his productivity this year against Texas. He’s also free from character concerns like suspensions or arrests. Rudolph instantly became the BMOC in 2014 when he led a comeback victory against a ranked Oklahoma team in their annual “Bedlam” rivalry game.

Stats & Accolades: Mason Rudolph’s stats speak for themselves. He’s a high volume, deep ball thrower who feasted on weaker Big 12 defenses. He has 92 career passing TDs and nearly 14,000 yards – crazy. In 2017, he led the FBS in passing yards, ranked 4th in passing TDs and was 3rd in rating. He won’t win any of the country’s biggest awards but he did win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award. That may not sound like much but when you look at the history of the award there is a great recent history: Deshaun Watson, Marcus Mariota, AJ McCarron, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and Eli Manning. Rudolph beat out Mayfield for the award, one would presume, based on character as that is listed as a key component. It’s easy to be blinded by the big numbers so let’s take a closer look. I used Pro Football Focus’ Signature State Guide to go deeper on Rudolph. In their three key quarterback metrics, Rudolph ranked 22nd or better. His Adjusted Completion Percentage, which accounts for drops, was 73.9% (22nd). His passer rating under pressure was 95.5 (15th). His passer rating on deep throws was 118.1 (7th). He threw for more yards on deep passes than any other player in the sample (1,562). I also reviewed Benjamin Solak’s Contextualized Quarterbacking treatise (a fantastic read, by the way). Solak’s data shows that Rudolph completes 61% of his passes when he goes beyond his first read. On those plays, he throws an “interceptable” ball 34% more often than when he throws to his first read. This may sound like a lot but not when compared to other top prospects, specifically, Baker Mayfield (throws interceptions 81.7% more often after the first read) and Josh Allen (288.9%). Solak goes on to show that Rudolph struggles when fitting a pass into a “tight window.” He only completes 35% of those passes and throws “interceptable” balls 402.2% more often, which is significantly worse than Mayfield and Allen. Solak’s data also shows that Rudolph does not benefit from Yards After Catch (YAC) as often as other passers do. In his study of the eight Senior Bowl quarterbacks, Rudolph had the second lowest YAC percentage (37.8%). When paired with the stats of his deep ball passing, it shows that Rudolph can really chuck it and accurately so. If you see a 58 yard reception in the box score, chances are the ball flew 50 yards with 8 yards coming after the catch, rather than vice versa.

Passing Table
Passing
Year School Conf Class Pos G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
*2014 Oklahoma State Big 12 FR QB 3 49 86 57.0 853 9.9 9.2 6 4 154.0
*2015 Oklahoma State Big 12 SO QB 13 264 424 62.3 3770 8.9 8.9 21 9 149.1
*2016 Oklahoma State Big 12 JR QB 13 284 448 63.4 4091 9.1 10.0 28 4 158.9
2017 Oklahoma State Big 12 SR QB 13 318 489 65.0 4904 10.0 10.7 37 9 170.6
Career Oklahoma State 915 1447 63.2 13618 9.4 9.9 92 26 159.7

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2018.

Rushing Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD
*2014 Oklahoma State Big 12 FR QB 3 14 -33 -2.4 0
*2015 Oklahoma State Big 12 SO QB 13 67 -35 -0.5 1
*2016 Oklahoma State Big 12 JR QB 13 83 61 0.7 6
2017 Oklahoma State Big 12 SR QB 13 61 38 0.6 10
Career Oklahoma State 225 31 0.1 17

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/17/2018.

Film Study: Pittsburgh (2017), Iowa State (2017)

After going through two games worth of Rudolph’s film I was not disappointed. Were there a few things I noted that could be improved, sure, but I do not feel that he has any glaring weakness to his game. The first thing I noted in the Pitt game was Rudolph’s excellent field awareness. The play came early in the first quarter when Rudolph was about to be sacked in his own end zone for a safety. He had the presence of mind to reach the ball across the line to avoid the turnover. It is a simple play but one that many less experienced quarterbacks would not make. His composure was on display on two big third down plays as well. The first, against Pitt, was a 3rd and 11 from his own 31 yard line. Rudolph takes the shotgun snap and takes a three step drop before the pocket collapses around him. He spins out of the grasp of the first defender and then breaks a second tackle as he rolls left. Rather than throwing while on the run in the opposite direction, he sets his feet and looks down field. He skips his first read and throws a 35 yard pass to Marcell Ateman. Ateman breaks a tackle and beats the last defender to the end zone. The sky cam replay showed a great view. Rudolph threw his receiver open along the sideline and away from the defender. A great play. Against Iowa State, he made a similar pass on a 3rd and 13. He stepped up to avoid the rush only to have the spy come forward to cut off Rudolph’s running lane. He gives a bit of a shimmy as he moves right and brushes off the arm tackle. He finishes off the play with a 20+ yard pass. Rudolph also shows his composure when he’s not chased from the pocket. Late in the Iowa State game, down by eight, the Cowboys found themselves behind the chains with a 3rd and 22. I couldn’t remember the outcome of the game but I just knew Rudolph would find a way to convert and keep his team in it. Sure enough, he delivered. He had great protection and showcased his great footwork in the pocket as he went through at least three reads. He did not get antsy and let the play develop. He finally airs one to Ateman in the back of the end zone for a score.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this write-up, I believe Rudolph has better mobility and is a better athlete than he is credited for. He won’t be winning any straight line races but he has enough wiggle and strength to fend off rushers and to rush for short gains. Some of the plays I described above showcased this ability perfectly. Another play that helps make my case came on a 4th down late in the Iowa State game. Oklahoma State needed six yards to keep the game alive – they were down by eight at the time. The play call was definitely a pass as all of the receivers are running routes and not blocking but as soon as he receives the snap, Rudolph takes off. I assume he made the decision pre-snap after seeing the defensive alignment (or maybe the play caller told him to do it but not tell the other players to really sell it, either way it’s a good sign). He runs for eight and safely slides to avoid a big hit.

Another positive I noted was Rudolph’s ability to lead his receiver and anticipate their route. It led to three scores to for the speedy WR Jalen McCleskey against Pitt.

Two negatives I noted were: 1) his play action fake does not seem to be very effective and 2) I counted four throws from the left hash to the right boundary that were poor. We know Rudolph has the arm strength to make the throw across the field but I think it comes down to the ball placement as Solak discusses in his Contextualized Quarterback research.

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, arm strength, deep ball, durability, experience, high character, composure, underrated mobility.

Weaknesses: Few passes outside of the pocket or on the run, ball placement in tight windows, offensive scheme in college, quiet leader.

Opportunities: Could start in year one if needed because he is experienced and has played in big games. He has already showed that he can come in as an inexperienced first-year player and win games. He appears to be a quiet leader which may not be great for the college game but will be better in the NFL. Due to his arm strength he will show-out at the combine, pro day and in training camp.

Threats: Some teams may not like that he is not a rah-rah guy. Teams may also question his ability to transition to an NFL style scheme. He’ll need to land with an offense who heavily utilizes shotgun as I don’t recall a single snap from under center. The heavier pass rush and tighter coverage he’ll face in the NFL could pose a problem for him.

Draft Round Grade: Late 1st, Early 2nd Round

Quarterbacks inevitably get drafted higher than we expect at this point in the process. I think Rudolph would be the perfect backup for a team with a one or two year transition coming at the position. Maybe to a team like Pittsburgh?

Recent NFL Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger

I had this comp in mind early during my research of Mason Rudolph and I just couldn’t get off it. I also considered Blake Bortles but Bortles was less experienced than Rudolph at this point in their careers and is likely a faster runner. Ben and Mason are of similar size and build. They were both three year starters who led their team to more wins than the school typically had throughout their history. They had similar senior seasons (37 TDs, 4,400+ yards, 63%+ completion percentage, rating around 170.0). Roethlisberger has a reputation of not being fast but of being good at moving in the pocket – given some more practice, I could see Rudolph playing similarly. Roethlisberger went 11th overall in 2004 in a quarterback class that featured two major names (Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) that overshadowed the other prospects. Sound familiar?

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Josh Allen has had a long and interesting road to this point in his football career. As an outside observer, I have to give him credit. Coming out of high school he did not receive a single offer and instead went the community college route before getting offers from Eastern Michigan and Wyomin. ESPN ran a detailed piece in the preseason which they updated in December which shows just how determined Allen was to get a shot. (Bonus points to author Mark Schlabach for one of the best lines I’ve read all year: “His unsolicited emails went over like a loan request from a Nigerian prince.”). Like Mason Rudolph, Allen has elite size; unlike Rudolph, Allen struggles with accuracy and did not dominate in college as you would expect against Mountain West competition. Allen will be a high draft pick but he won’t end up on any of my fantasy teams. His inaccuracy, failure to dominate lesser opposition and his injury history all give me pause. He seems like a good kid with a great story but he’s being over hyped in my opinion based on a handful of big plays.

Stats & Accolades: As I mentioned above, the biggest knock on Allen’s stats is his inaccuracy and his inability to succeed at a high level against lesser defenders. Over his two year career, Allen completed just 56.2% of his passes. His stats in 2016 were solid and promising given that he wasn’t on anybody’s radar but 2017 left a lot to be desired. Allen took better care of the football in 2017 (he cut down on his interceptions, 15 to 6, and fumbles lost, 5 to 2) but saw his yardage per attempt plummet. Allen played well but not great against many Mountain West foes. Against Boise State, the conference’s best defense this year, he completed just 44% of his passes for one score and two picks. In three career games against Power 5 opponents (Nebraska, Iowa, Oregon) Allen also struggled. He completed just 50% of his passes for a combined 427 yards, 1 TD and 8 INTs. My concerns with Allen hold up when you scrutinize some advanced stats. Pro Football Focus gives him an adjusted completion percentage of 65.2%. That may look good but keep in mind that it’s the lowest of any of the top quarterback prospects; Sam Darnold, second lowest, is at 70.6%. The same holds true for his completion percentage under pressure. He’s lowest of the cohort at 52.2% with Darnold second at 59.7%. The aforementioned Contextualized Quarterbacking study by Benjamin Solak finds that Allen’s placement is worse for throws behind the line of scrimmage than throws within nine yards of the line. That’s an odd stat that matches what I noticed while watching Allen against Iowa. Solak goes on to note that Allen rarely goes past his first read with just 18 completions on such plays. I struggled to find positives when studying Allen’s stats. His 2016 passer efficiency ranked 32nd in the FBS and his 28 TDs tied for 20th. His best stat in 2016 was yards per attempt which ranked 8th.

Passing Table
Passing
Year School Conf Class Pos G Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
2015 Wyoming MWC SO QB 2 4 6 66.7 51 8.5 8.5 0 0 138.1
*2016 Wyoming MWC SO QB 14 209 373 56.0 3203 8.6 8.3 28 15 144.9
2017 Wyoming MWC JR QB 11 152 270 56.3 1812 6.7 6.9 16 6 127.8
Career Wyoming 365 649 56.2 5066 7.8 7.7 44 21 137.7

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2018.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD
2015 Wyoming MWC SO QB 2 3 40 13.3 0
*2016 Wyoming MWC SO QB 14 142 523 3.7 7
2017 Wyoming MWC JR QB 11 92 204 2.2 5
Career Wyoming 237 767 3.2 12

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/19/2018.

Film Study:

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: Arm strength, perseverance and dedication to get this far, elite size, ability to throw on the run.

Weaknesses: Accuracy, performance against subpar opposition in MWC, questionable pocket presence, lack of pedigree, injury history.

Opportunities: Allen has some great plays on tape and some scouts will inevitably fall for him thinking they can fix the problems in his game. QBs of this size are always overvalued. The success of Carson Wentz and Jimmy Garoppolo so far will help show that you can be successful in the NFL even if you didn’t play against top talent in the NFL.

Threats: As scouts watch more tape, they may become more worried with the inaccurate throws and the degradation of Allen’s mechanics under pressure. There are some recent big name clavicle injuries (Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers) which could force Allen to undergo additional medical scrutiny.

Draft Round Grade: Early to Mid 1st Round

There’s too much buzz around Allen right now for him to fall out of the 1st Round. I wouldn’t bet on it but an Aaron Rodgers like fall to a pick in the 20s may not be out of the question. The hype may start to fade as NFL personnel guys start worrying about the negatives they are seeing on tape rather than gushing about the positives.

Recent NFL Comparison: DeShone Kizer

I picked Kizer for a few reasons. First, I felt similarly about Kizer at this point in the process last year as I do about Allen this year. There’s buzz but I don’t really agree with it. When I looked at incoming rookie QBs last year, here are a few of the conclusions I drew about Kizer, much of that mirrors exactly what I am saying about Allen:

  • “Kizer will be over-drafted because of his size, plain and simple. He is 6’4″ and 230lb which should peg him as the biggest quarterback prospect…”
  • “He certainly won’t be drafted for the stats he put up at Notre Dame. He had a horrendous completion percentage of 58.7% in 2016 and did not break 3,000 passing yards in either 2015 or 2016. He does have some “boom” capability though so be careful which tape you watch…”
  • “When I watched Kizer’s film, I was struck by how uncomfortable he looked under pressure…”
  • “Some quarterback desperate team will inevitably take Kizer in the Top 15 due to his physical tools but I wouldn’t want my team making that mistake – he will need time to develop and he won’t get that if he’s taken in the top half of the first round.”

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
  • 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: Bowl Game Previews, Part II

Updated: December 14th 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.  During the college bowl season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year.  Note: times listed are Eastern.

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • UAB: 67th scoring offense, 106th passing offense, 37th rushing offense; 46th scoring defense, 22nd passing defense, 72nd rushing defense
  • Ohio: 14th scoring offense, 94th passing offense, 17th rushing offense; 59th scoring defense, 109th passing defense, 10th rushing defense

The offensive/defensive rankings in this one make for an interesting matchup.  Neither team throws the ball well but both run the ball with aplomb (UAB averages 190 yards per game while Ohio averages 245).  When UAB is running the ball it’ll be strength against strength with the Ohio rush defense.  Ohio’s offense is led by the two-pronged ground attack of JUCO transfer QB Nathan Rourke and RB AJ Ouellette.  Rourke has an incredible amount of rushing touchdowns: 21.  That is 2nd overall in the FBS – not among QBs, among all players.  It’s four more than Lamar Jackson has.  Ouellette is injured and his status for the bowl is unknown.  He finished 5th in the MAC in rushing but durability is a concern as I pointed out back in Week 10 before his most recent injury.  Backup RB Dorian Brown is also questionable so the bulk of the carries may have to go to undersized freshman Julian Ross (who went 19-81 against Buffalo in the team’s last game).  UAB also has their own mobile QB, AJ Erdely, who transferred from Middle Tennessee State.  Eredely’s rushing stats pale in comparison to Rourke, but he completes more passes (61.8% vs 54.2%) and has a better TD:INT ratio.  UAB’s lead back is freshman Spencer Brown (1,292 yards, 10 TDs).  It’s worth noting that this is UAB’s first season back in the FBS after ending their football program in 2014.  Bill Clark is a name that nobody knows but that should be getting national recognition.  He has done a fantastic job getting UAB to just its second ever bowl while also setting the school record for wins in a season since joining the FBS in 1996.  I’m really torn on this one.  As much as I’d love to root for a UAB bowl victory, which would have been improbable in September, the Bahamas Bowl will come down to the health of Ohio’s running backs and whether their rush defense can slow down Brown.  I’ll guess that one of the injured Ohio backs can play and that UAB won’t be able to slow down the tandem with Nathan Rourke.  Prediction: Ohio

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5), 4 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Central Michigan: 54th scoring offense, 48th passing offense, 93rd rushing offense; 68th scoring defense, 23rd passing defense, 91st rushing defense
  • Wyoming: 108th scoring offense, 101st passing offense, 120th rushing offense; 13th scoring defense, 5th passing defense, 74th rushing defense

This is an odd game to break down.  When I first saw that Wyoming ended bowl eligible and was picked for a game, I figured I would have to go deep on QB Josh Allen but I find myself more excited by the Chippewas.  Allen, as you probably know, is a first round NFL Draft prospect who struggled mightily this season before hurting his shoulder.  That 101st ranking for the Cowboys’ passing offense is not a typo – they were that bad.  Honestly, the shoulder injury might have done more to help his draft stock rather than hurt it.  Before going down, Allen was averaging just 165.8 yards per game with a disappointing 56.2% completion percentage.  His passer rating was 124.0 (ranked 97th in the FBS).  Allen’s yards per pass also decreased about 25% from last season.  So, if the stats are so bad, why is Allen still considered a first round draft prospect?  Because he can do things like this.  That play is loaded with positives if you watch closely.  First off, Allen is under center (which he does a minority of the time but it’s more than most other QB prospects).  Second, he really sells the play fake, using his prototypical size to hide the ball from the defense.  Third, he delivers a nicely timed ball to his back who is running a wheel route from the backfield.  Despite all the negatives, it’s this potential that has scouts excited.  I’m hopeful that Allen plays so we can see him once more heading into the NFL Draft.  Heading into the season, I predicted good things for Central Michigan and thought they would be a “spoiler” in the conference.  Turns out, I had that right.  CMU won close games against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, both of which were predicted to finish ahead of them in the division by Phil Steele; they even got a win over Ohio, the predicted best in the East division.  CMU has two players I like: former Michigan QB Shane Morris and big play WR Corey Willis.  Morris turns the ball over too much (13 INTs) and does not complete enough of his passes to be a real worry but he’s experienced and a former Michigan man so I like him.  If you throw out a bad game against Boston College his stats would look better (yeah, yeah, I know I’m cherry picking).  In the preseason, I compared Willis to John Brown from the Arizona Cardinals and thought his draft stock could mirror that of 2016 stat-stuffer Taywan Taylor.  Unfortunately, injuries slowed Willis and limited him to just eight games.  Still, those games were encouraging.  He totaled 42-625-9 on the season and had four big games since returning from injury.  Willis has at least one touchdown in five straight games, scoring eight of his nine touchdowns in that span.  It doesn’t get much more under the radar than Willis: NFLDraftScout.com has him as the 46th ranked receiver in his class while Phil Steele had him as the 72nd ranked draft eligible receiver.  I might be the only draft analyst advocating for Willis but I really am a believer and will enjoy watching him in the bowl game and at the combine.  Prediction: Central Michigan

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2), 12 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Texas Tech: 26th scoring offense, 11th passing offense, 96th rushing offense; 98th scoring defense, 124th passing defense, 53rd rushing defense
  • South Florida: 16th scoring offense, 54th passing offense, 9th rushing offense; 37th scoring defense, 58th passing defense, 23rd rushing defense

Here’s a prop bet for you: take the over on the total number of yards earned by Texas Tech and South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.  I’ll guess that combined the teams gain somewhere between 950-1,000 yards combined.  This one may not feature the best football but it will be fun to watch.  It’ll be long too with all the scoring so I recommend DVRing it and watching it on fast forward later in the day.  Not surprisingly this is the first matchup between the two teams in their history and it was made possible by the fact that the SEC didn’t have enough teams to fulfill all of its bowl tie-ins.  That isn’t to say the SEC was weak, it’s just that Georgia, Alabama and Auburn will all be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl which means less teams for the lower bowls.  Texas Tech’s offense is led by junior QB Nic Shimonek and WR Keke Coutee.  Shimonek is very efficient as a passer and ranks near the top of many passing categories such as completions, completion percentage and passer rating.  His TD:INT ratio is 30:8 which is good too.  Even though he has thrown the ball well this season, he was briefly benched for a game by coach Kliff Klingsbury.  Shimonek came off the bench versus Texas in that game and led the team to a win; he’s already been confirmed as the bowl game starter.  His top target, Coutee, has an 82-1,242-9 line on the season.  South Florida is powered by the legs and the arm of QB Quinton Flowers.  Flowers has 31 total passing and rushing touchdowns this season and 107 during his career.  It’s a shame he’s so undersized (6’0″ and 210lbs) or he’d be a fun draft prospect to evaluate; chances are he’ll still give the NFL a shot but likely after a position change.  Flowers is a winner: he has led the Bulls to a 29-9 record over the last three seasons.  He should notch another one here to cap off a prolific career.  Prediction: South Florida

 

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Army (8-3) vs San Diego State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Army: 43rd scoring offense, 130th passing offense, 1st rushing offense; 30th scoring defense, 40th passing defense, 54th rushing defense
  • San Diego State: 50th scoring offense, 118th passing offense, 12th rushing offense; 15th scoring defense, 26th passing defense, 8th rushing defense

Oh San Diego State, one of my favorite teams of the year.  Their 12th ranked rushing offense is paced by RB Rashaad Penny who has undoubtedly made himself a millionaire this season with his meteoric rise.  In the preseason, I mentioned Penny as a special teams difference maker.  In Week 3, I discussed how Penny helped the Aztecs overcome their first Power 5 opponent in Arizona State.  By Week 5, the Aztecs made it into my “Games to Watch” segment with Penny as the headliner.  Come Week 6, I spotlighted Penny as my top player to watch that week and had already run out of superlatives for his success.  A week later, Penny was in my “Heisman Watch” segment.  Sure, Penny’s meteor has fallen back to earth but he’s still a great player who deserves your attention.  Penny has 2,169 total yards (most in the FBS) and 24 total TDs on the season.  Those scores break down to 19 rushing, 2 receiving, 2 kick return and 1 punt return.  He truly is a jack-of-all-trades and may be a top ten RB in the 2018 rookie class.  Army is led by senior QB Ahmad Bradshaw.  Bradshaw is a “quarterback” only in the sense that he takes the ball from under center each play.  He passes so infrequently that Sports-Reference.com shows his rushing stats ahead of his passing stats (he went 1-1 for 20 yards against Navy).  He is a very effective rusher who averages 7.5 yards per attempt, for a total of 1,566 yards and 12 TDs this season.  Not surprisingly, Army has a stable of backs with 500+ yards including Darnell Woolfolk, Kell Walker and Andy Davidson.  If you didn’t watch Army’s last game against Navy in the snow, you missed one heck of a game that Army pulled out late.  The game against Navy is, without a doubt, the biggest game of their season but I’m sure they will get up again next week for SDSU.  Ultimately, I think the strong Aztec defense plus Penny will be too much to overcome for Army.  In case this one is close, I will note that San Diego State has a good kicker in John Baron; he only went 12-15 this season because the offense converted drives into touchdowns but he can be counted on in the clutch.  Prediction: San Diego State

Dollar General Bowl, Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4), 7 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Toledo: 11th scoring offense, 20th passing offense, 26th rushing offense; 56th scoring defense, 49th passing defense, 68th rushing defense
  • Appalachian State: 33rd scoring offense, 72nd passing offense, 28th rushing offense; 33rd scoring defense, 45th passing defense, 43rd rushing defense

Saturday Dec. 23 is looking to be a great day of good games, finishing off with yet another high scoring affair in the Dollar General Bowl.  Toledo ended the season on a three game winning streak including the MAC Championship against Akron.  Toledo is led by the strength of their offense.  Senior RB Terry Swanson is the standout back of the bunch (1,319 yards, 14 TDs).  Swanson went for 466 yards and 3 TDs over the last three games of the season including 180-2 in the MAC Championship.  Freshman RB Shakif Seymour has earned a larger role of late, especially after a five touchdown game against Bowling Green.  The top target for QB Logan Woodside, more on him in a moment, is WR Diontae Johnson.  Johnson is a big play guy who averages 17.5 yards per reception and also has two return touchdowns this season.  The aforementioned Woodside is Toledo’s best draft prospect but he’s maybe a 7th rounder at best heading into the combine.  I watched Woodside earlier in the year against Eastern Michigan and he mostly disappointed in that one.  He had fantastic numbers last season (4,129 yards, 45 TDs, 69.1% completion percentage) but just about all of his stats except INTs has regressed in 2017.  It’s looking more and more like Woodside will be an UDFA but who knows maybe that works out the best for him so he can choose his landing spot.  I included Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore in my Early 2018 Positional Rankings for one reason: his pass blocking will get him drafted.  Per Pro Football Focus, Moore has the highest pass blocking efficiency by a running back in the FBS.  It was a good thing to see Moore get 12 receptions this year (just five in his first two seasons) because if he’s going to be on the field in pass blocking situations in the NFL he better work on his receiving skills.  Moore battled a foot injury this season and missed some time but when he was healthy he was very productive.  He had two games over 200 yards (239 and 241) and two games over 100 yards where he also scored 2 TDs.  The Mountaineers QB Taylor Lamb is a four year starter who will be playing in his last game for the team.  He’s a dual threat (539 yards and 5 TDs rushing) and careful with the ball (just 6 INTs this year).  I went into researching this game thinking I would take Toledo and Woodside but I’m now leaning towards App State.  They have the better defense and I have a gut feeling Lamb will show-out.  Prediction: Appalachian State

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Fresno State: 79th scoring offense, 66th passing offense, 77th rushing offense; 9th scoring defense, 37th passing defense, 14th rushing defense
  • Houston: 67th scoring offense, 38th passing offense, 54th rushing offense; 39th scoring defense, 118th passing defense, 46th rushing defense

Fresno State is probably the bowl team that I have the least feel for – I can’t recall watching a single minute of their games this season before the MWC Championship.  Fresno won four straight to earn that MWC Championship game berth, including a win over 23rd ranked Boise State.  Lead WR KeeSean Johnson could be a longshot 2019 NFL Draft prospect if he improves his stats again in 2018.  His receptions, yards, yards per reception and touchdowns have all increased year over year.  In 2017 he finished with 66 receptions, 918 yards and 8 TDs.  Fresno’s rush attack is led by a trio of underclassman including freshman Jordan Mims (142 attempts, 604 yards, 6 TDs), sophomore Josh Hokit (117-519-7) and freshman Ronnie Rivers (95-473-5).  Mims is the go-to guy, he had 10+ carries in eight straight games before the MWC Championship game, but it’s definitely a “hot hand” situation.  The Cougars offense is not in good shape, despite their middling rankings, and clearly misses former head coach Tom Herman.  They are currently on their third starting quarterback, having settled on dual threat freshman D’Erig King in late October.  Since taking over, King has 6 passing TDs and 7 rushing TDs.  Houston has one player that you must watch: DT Ed Oliver.  Oliver is just a sophomore so he’s not draft eligible but I’ll bet he’s in the conversation for a Top 10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.  He’s 6’3″ and 290lbs but athletic.  His stats won’t be amazing because he is often double teamed but he still managed 69 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 2017.  Total gut call but I have more faith in Fresno State’s offense after doing my research so I’ll take them and the bonus that is their strong defense.  Prediction: Fresno State

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • West Virginia: 19th scoring offense, 12th passing offense, 72nd rushing offense; 92nd scoring defense, 101st passing defense, 105th rushing defense
  • Utah: 59th scoring offense, 43rd passing offense, 70th rushing offense; 42nd scoring defense, 54th passing defense, 36th rushing defense

West Virginia enters the Heart of Dallas Bowl with their 12th ranked pass offense in flux.  QB Will Grier is questionable after a finger injury ended his season early.  In the game and a half the Mountaineers played without Grier, backup Chris Chugunov went 24-46 for 326 yards and 1 TD.  The team did lose both of those games though, one against Texas and one against Oklahoma.  I covered Grier back in Week 8 but since he’s injured I won’t go into more detail here other than to say that I am lower on him than others.  The must-watch offensive prospect, in my opinion, on West Virginia is QB turned WR David Sills.  Sills has good height at 6’3″ and uses that size to be a dominant red zone target.  Sills totaled 18 TDs on the season (enough to lead the FBS); 12 of those TDs came in the red zone.  NFLDraftScout.com predicts Sills to have 4.58 speed which not elite but is good enough and subsequently has him as the 6th ranked WR in his 2019 draft class (note: that does not include other 2018 guys who come out early). WalterFootball.com has him as the 14th if he were to come out this season.  I have Sills as my 10th WR for 2018 so I really like his potential.   I’ll predict that coach Dana Holgorsen calls up a key trick play where Sills gets to throw the ball and remind everybody that he used to play QB.  Utah is also dealing with an injured quarterback as Tyler Huntley is questionable for the bowl.  Troy Williams, a former Washington transfer who started in 2016, has not played particularly well in relief duty this year (2 TDs, 4 INTs, 54.5% completion percentage).  Senior WR Darren Carrington was unable to cement his status as an NFL Draft prospect but he’ll still get a late round look (66-918-6 this season).  The Utes best shot at a win is to ride RB Zack Moss.  Moss has 1,023 yards rushing, 9 rushing TDs, 28 receptions and 234 yards receiving this season.  When Utah has the ball, pay attention to West Virginia S Kyzir White, brother of Bears WR Kevin White.  White is a top safety prospect who has 81 tackles and 3 INTs this season.  As long as Chugunov can get the ball to Sills and target-hog Gary Jennings (94 receptions) the Mountaineers will be fine against a mediocre Utah team.  Prediction: West Virginia

Quick Lane Bowl, Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Northern Illinois: 51st scoring offense, 87th passing offense, 38th rushing offense; 26th scoring defense, 57th passing defense, 11th rushing defense
  • Duke: 86th scoring offense, 80th passing offense, 59th rushing offense; 25th scoring defense, 12th passing defense, 62nd rushing defense

Duke was recently in the college football headlines because head coach David Cutcliffe was offered, and declined, the Tennessee job.  Considering what a sideshow that search became, I think we would all agree that was a good decision by Cutcliffe.  Cutcliffe has brought relevance to a struggling Duke program (they went to four straight bowls from 2012-2015) but finished just 4-8 last season.  I’m not a Duke fan and don’t follow the team closely but from afar I have to say that I like Cutcliffe and appreciate that he shunned a bigger job to continue building at Duke.  Maybe one reason Cutcliffe decided to return was the opportunity to continue working with redshirt sophomore QB Daniel Jones.  Jones has prototypical height at 6’5″ but needs to add weight to his 215lb frame.  Of the 18 quarterbacks who were drafted since 2010 and measured at 6’5″ or taller at the combine, none weighed less than 223lbs.  Per my two favorite draft sources, WalterFootball.com has him as the 15th ranked quarterback if he came out in 2018 while NFLDraftScout pegs him as the 6th best if he waits until 2020.  Jones will be best served by another season or two in college because he wouldn’t get drafted today based on his production.  His completion percentage is too low (55.7%) and his TD:INT is poor (12:11).  Part of that could be excused by a lackluster supporting cast but a top quarterback prospect needs to transcend his team.  Keep an eye on Jones to see if he improves next season.  The NIU quarterback situation is the polar opposite of the stability that Duke enjoys.  Like the Houston Cougars, the Huskies are on their third starting quarterback this year, moving on from the first two due to injury and ineffectiveness.  They are currently starting dual threat freshman Marcus Childers.  Childers took over in October and has been productive: 20 combined passing and rushing TDs.  Protecting the blindside of Childers is a mountain of a man named Max Scharping.  Scharping, a junior, is 6’6″ and 312lbs.  Per Pro Football Focus he is third in the nation in pass blocking efficiency by offensive tackles.  According to their stat guide, Scharping has only allowed one hit and just four hurries.  If Scharping comes out, I’ll bet he’s a Day Two prospect.  Neither team really won my heart here but I’ll go with NIU and their stronger scoring offense.  Prediction: Northern Illinois

Cactus Bowl, Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Kansas State: 37th scoring offense, 99th passing offense, 42nd rushing offense; 58th scoring defense, 129th passing defense, 18th rushing defense
  • UCLA: 30th scoring offense, 5th passing offense, 114th rushing offense; 118th scoring defense, 39th passing defense, 129th rushing defense

Apologies to Kansas State and legendary head coach Bill Snyder but this preview is all about UCLA’s Josh Rosen because he will be the biggest topic of conversation in this one.  The Rosen discussion, is dominated by one thought: will Rosen even play?  One of the oft-mentioned negatives of Rosen is that he might lack the passion for the game that some players exude.  I’ve heard some pundits say something to the effect of Josh not “needing” the game.  I obviously don’t know Rosen personally and haven’t studied him enough to have my own opinion but it does worry me that if that is true maybe he won’t bother suiting up for this meaningless game.  We saw a number of top prospects take that approach last year (Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery) and can you really blame them?  The first overall pick and millions of dollars are on the line for Rosen.  I would not at all be surprised to read reports of Rosen’s shoulder injury “lingering” long enough to keep him out of the Cactus Bowl.  Regardless of whether he plays or how well he plays, Rosen is my pick for the first  pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.  I have gone deep on Rosen earlier in the season so I won’t rehash everything here but long story short is that he is the most pro-ready quarterback in the class.  He plays in a pro-style offense, has good size and arm strength and has been very productive in college.  He’s not without his negatives (i.e. the aforementioned mentality questions, low completion percentage, some poor decisions) but he has a high floor.  His ceiling may not be as high as somebody like Sam Darnold, who is younger but needs more seasoning for the NFL level, but Rosen is worthy enough of the top pick and can start from Day One.  I lied about ignoring Kansas State because there are three things I want to touch on.  First, starting QB Jesse Ertz is out and has been replaced by freshman Skylar Thompson, a QB with the same size and skill set as Ertz.  Second, Junior CB D.J. Reed is a difference maker on defense (43 tackles, 4 INTs, 9 passes defended) and on special teams (2 TDs, led Big 12 in punt and kickoff yards per return) when he is healthy.  Unfortunately, Reed is hurt and it’s unsure if he’ll be able to play.  If he does, I’ll be interested to see him vs Rosen.  Third, Kansas State has an interesting OL prospect in junior Dalton Risner.  Risner was the team’s starting C as a redshirt freshman and has since switched over to RT.  He is ranked second in the pass block efficiency stat by PFF at the tackle position.  If Risner enters the NFL Draft as a C prospect he could be a Day Two pick due to his versatility.  It’s hard to throw out praise for a team’s starting quarterback like I did and then pick against them but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  If Rosen can’t or won’t go, they could have to go to third stringer Matt Lynch because backup Devon Modster is questionable with his own injury.  No thanks, let’s go Wildcats.   Prediction: Kansas State


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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Mountain West

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

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

Storylines to Watch

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

Games to Watch

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

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

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

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

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