2018 NFL Mock Draft: Part IV, Picks 49-64

Updated: April 11th 2018

Are you starting to suffer from #DraftTwitter mock draft fatigue?  Honestly, I am.  There are so many mock drafts out there that I’ve actually found myself tuning out and avoiding those tweets, articles, blog posts, etc.  Instead, I started to work on my own NFL mock draft.  Mocking is a great way to force yourself to do some research and make qualitative decisions about specific players.  It’s also the best way to define your own opinions on the players, rather than relying on the #DraftTwitter groupthink.

Here’s the method to my madness… I started out by creating positional rankings and tiers for each position, concentrating on players who could potentially be drafted in the Top 100.  Next, I consulted my preferred team needs resource which was a community effort on the r/NFL_Draft subreddit.  The spreadsheet collects info about primary and secondary team needs, scheme, draft strategy and character risk tolerance.  While it may not be perfect, I think it’s more useful than most similar sites and is far better than I could compile on my own.  Next, I referred to Our Lads depth charts which are my favorite (you should also bookmark their glossary).  For some teams I also visited Spotrac to get invaluable information about contracts and free agency.  To keep track of my picks, I am using the mock draft spreadsheet created by Reddit user Mbrr1214, to which I made a few slight tweaks.  Team names are color coded for quick recognition; colored pick numbers correspond to the pick’s original owner.

A few notes before we get started…

  • This mock draft was compiled predominantly on March 30-31 with some edits in the following days.  It will be posted in pieces over the three weeks leading up to the NFL Draft so please keep in mind the dates in which it was first created should there be any breaking news in the interim.
  • My knowledge of offensive skill players far outpaces that of offensive linemen and defensive players.  That’s not to say I haven’t seen the other players play, it’s just that my analysis is more shallow.  I covered many of these linemen and defensive players during the season and during my bowl previews but I have admittedly not done a deep study.
  • I did not include any trades which can obviously turn this mock draft on its head.  Personally, I think mock drafts that include trades are a cop-out and a way for the author to skirt around tough decisions.  Real GMs may not always have the option of trading out of a pick and must make a decision on whether they go BPA (Best Player Available) or reach to fill a team need.  For a mock draft author to say “well, Quenton Nelson is the best player on the board, let’s trade this pick to a team that needs a guard” is missing the point of the exercise.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve done mock drafts before but never a full two rounder with “honorable mentions.”  I walked away with a few insights:

  1. More quarterbacks will be drafted than you think and they will be drafted earlier than you hoped.
  2. Solid offensive tackle prospects are becoming less common and, as such, teams will have to reach for them nearly as often as they do for quarterbacks.
  3. If I had to build my own team, I would rarely use a top 75 pick on a running back or wide receiver.  Offensive skill players, aside from the quarterbacks, fell much further down my mock than anticipated.

Honorable Mentions

These players did not get selected in my mock but I had originally listed them as potential targets when I started my research.  Since I considered them while working on this project, I thought I should share their names as they could be some of the top targets in Rounds 3 and 4.  They are ordered by position then by last name – they are not ranked.

 

 

Welcome to the 2018 NFL Mock Draft…

#64 – Browns – Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers

Homer pick alert.  With my last pick in my two-round mock, and the first one that you’re reading, I have the Browns taking Kemoko Turay.  As a Rutgers season ticket holder, I have been both enticed by and disappointed by Turay.  His blocked field goal against Michigan in 2014 remains one of my favorite football moments ever experienced in person at the stadium.  The “Kemoko Dragon” performed well at the Senior Bowl and became a darling of one of my favorite draft resources: NDT Scouting.  NDT had numerous pieces highlighting Turay around the Senior Bowl but I feel like his name has fizzled a bit as of late.  Turay’s career stats are marred by injuries and ineffectiveness but he has raw ability that teams covet.  I use the word raw on purpose because he definitely needs some work.  His senior season at Rutgers was a pretty good one: 60 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks.  Edge rusher is not a position of immediate need for the Browns, but when you five of the first 64 picks, you can afford a luxury pick or two.  The depth chart ahead of him is why I would love to see Turay taken by the Browns.  He can come in and learn while he bulks up.  Given time, I think that Turay will be a starting end in the league.

#63 – Patriots – Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

Rumors are swirling that the Patriots might take a quarterback late in the first round.  I think it’s more likely that they take one here at pick #63 (mostly because I doubt they hold onto both of those late first rounders).  If the Patriots pull the trigger in the first round, it would be for Mason Rudolph, whereas if they wait until the second I think it would be Kyle Lauletta.  Lauletta played at Richmond in the Colonial Athletic Association in the FCS.  Lauletta threw for 3,737 yards and 28 TDs last season, adding 4 rushing TDs.  Lauletta has a career completion percentage of 63.5% and improved his accuracy each year as the starter.  He does throw too many interceptions though, 35 over the last three seasons.  My first look at Lauletta came in the lead up to the Senior Bowl when I read Benjamin Solak’s “Contextualized Quarterbacking” piece about the Senior Bowl quarterbacks.  He went on to win the MVP award at the Senior Bowl, moving himself up draft boards.  I went back and re-read Lauletta’s section and two words confirmed for me that the Patriots would target him: “mechanically pure.”  In case you were wondering, the Pats took Jimmy Garoppolo, an FCS quarterback who thew too many interceptions but had a quick release, with pick #62 in 2014.

#62 – Vikings – Braden Smith, G, Auburn

The most immediate need that I identified for the Vikings was their offensive line.  I wanted to address the line with both of their first two picks, hopefully ensuring that new QB Kirk Cousins can last for the duration of his fully guaranteed contract.  Smith is my highest rated lineman on the board at this point so it was an easy pick.  He was an AP All-American in 2017 and starred at the combine.  Smith came in as the biggest guard (6’6″ and 315lbs) in the class.  He also had the highest vertical jump and came in second in the bench press and broad jump.  He’s big enough and athletic enough to hold his own across the line so he could prove to be a valuable addition to the Vikings offense.

#61 – Jaguars – Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado St

I was surprised when the Jaguars let Allen Robinson leave in free agency and then cut Allen Hurns.  I figured they would at least hold onto one of them.  Instead, they decided to re-sign Marqise Lee and add Donte Moncrief from the Colts.  Moncrief is now the highest paid receiver on the team, but they must not be too convinced because they only gave him a one year deal.  Michael Gallup has an interesting personal story which I wrote about a few weeks ago.  He had numerous Power 5 scholarship offers but his test scores were not good enough so he had to go the JUCO route and then ended up at Colorado State.  If he had played at a school like Missouri originally, we could be talking about the top receiver in the class.  Some experts still feel that way about Gallup and trust his pedigree over his route to the pros.  I like Gallup but he has a few negatives that bump him down for me.  Primarily, he lacks elite measureables and is prone to losing focus.  There’s a lot to like though so that seems like nit-picking.  Gallup plays faster than his 4.51 forty indicates.  He is good with the ball in his hands after the catch, utilizing his all-around athletic ability (he earned sixteen varsity letters in high school).  I believe Gallup’s play strength is better than advertised which will be a useful trait as he adds weight for the NFL.  If Lee continues to ascend as he did in 2017, and Moncrief proves he’s not a bust, the Jaguars could be looking at an under the radar receiving corps this year.

#60 – Steelers – Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina St

Similarly to the 49ers below, the Steelers brass would not have expected to need to spend draft capital on an inside linebacker if you had asked them a few months ago.  Unfortunately, though, that is the reality after Ryan Shazier’s frightening spinal injury.  Shazier says he’ll play again but I think it’s safe to say that that will not be any time soon.  You’re forgiven if you have never heard of Darius Leonard.  Leonard is a fifth year senior from South Carolina State, a 3-7 MEAC side.  I had heard the name a few months back but never did any research so I decided to watch one of his 2017 game films and a highlight reel as a quick primer.  Against FCS foe NC Central, he often looked like the best player on the field, showing good speed, especially to the sideline.  He is effective in coverage and plays a great QB spy because he has the quickness to shadow the passer and then meet him at the edge.  Leonard tallied 100+ tackles each of the last two seasons and is an adept pass rusher despite his coverage responsibilities (20 career sacks).  Leonard will likely compete with free agent signing Jon Bostic for a starting role.  Bostic is on his fifth team in five years so I’d put my money on the rookie.

#59 – 49ers – Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

The thought of the 49ers drafting a linebacker in the second round of the 2018 draft would have seemed a little crazy eleven months ago.  Fast forward though and it’s possible that San Fran needs to plan for a future without MLB Reuben Foster.  Foster was arrested twice this offseason and missed six games due to various injuries in 2017.  When researching his off-field issues, I also came across a story about him getting sent home from the combine last year which I had forgotten all about.  Jefferson would be a good pick for the 49ers because he could fill the MLB slot until Foster returns from an anticipated suspension.  Jefferson’s best position, according to Charlie Campbell and Lance Zierlein, may end up being at WLB.  The projected starter at that spot for the 49ers is Malcolm Smith who missed all of 2017 with a torn pectoral.  Either way, whether it’s in the middle or on the weak side, Jefferson will prove valuable from Day One.

#58 – Falcons – Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech

This feels a little early for Settle because I had at least one other DT ranked above him, however, he fits a more immediate need for the Falcons at NT.  The Falcons signed Dontari Poe to a one year deal in 2017 and let him move on to division rival Carolina this offseason.  Settle is big at 6’3″ and 329lbs and would be a space eater for the Falcons.  Settle is a former 5-star recruit who was ranked by ESPN as the 19th best overall recruit in his class and the second best at the position.  In college, he never really “settled” in.  He’s a redshirt sophomore so maturity and experience are a concern, as is his low level of production.  Settle has just four career sacks, all coming in 2017, and 53 career tackles.  The Falcons are a pretty complete team so I think it’s best for them to address a need, even if it may be a bit of a reach.

#57 – Titans – Taven Bryan, DT/DE, Florida

Any time somebody draws comparisons to JJ Watt, you should take note.  When researching Bryan, I came across multiple sources running with the comp, including the NFL Research Twitter account.  Bryan’s production continued to increase in 2017, when he finished with career highs in snaps, sacks, quarterback hits and hurries.  Bryan played as a DT in a 4-3 at Florida and will likely play DE in 3-4 sets with the Titans.  I expect the Titans to use multiple sets though so Bryan could move inside when they switch to a 4-3.  I also envision Bryan playing inside of the 3-4 on passing downs to give offenses a different look and increase pass rush pressure.  Bryan blew away the DT class with his explosiveness and agility at the combine, leading in four drills: vertical jump, broad jump, shuttle and 3-cone.

#56 – Bills – Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State

This is Buffalo’s fourth pick in the first two rounds.  Earlier I have them address quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker.  With #56, I wanted the Bills to make a value pick for the future.  If Billy Price didn’t tear a pectoral muscle at the combine, he would have been a late first round prospect.  Price can play at either guard position or center, as he did for the Buckeyes, but I’d expect him to find a home as an NFL center.  Sadly, starter Eric Wood was forced to retire after last season due to an injury so the Bills could use a long term solution at the position.  They did sign Russell Bodine from Cincinnati last month but it’s just a two year deal with a potential out after 2018.  That would be perfect timing to give Price time to recover before becoming the permanent starter in 2019.

#55 – Panthers – Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Miller is my favorite player in this draft class.  His measureables don’t stand up to others in the class, which is why we find him at #55 and not at the top of the second, but I’m not deterred.  Miller’s release is superb and he makes the spectacular catch look routine with excellent body control.  In addition to his playmaking ability, Miller has repeatedly impressed me with his toughness and determination.  There were times when he willed the Tigers to comeback or to victory, often exhausted or banged up.  He has the versatility to line up anywhere and was Pro Football Focus’ sixth ranked slot receiver in 2017.  With Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith on the field with him this season, I would anticipate seeing Miller in the slot.  In terms of Miller’s long term projection, this fit works well because I doubt that either Smith or Funchess stick around long.

#54 – Chiefs – Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State

I was of two minds when considering the Chiefs first pick of the 2018 draft (they traded their first rounder in the deal to land Pat Mahomes last year).  My first thought was that the Chiefs should be cautious, opting for a sure thing since they are missing a first rounder.  My second thought was that because they were missing that first rounder that they should be more aggressive and make a high risk, high reward pick.  My id won out and here we have Josh Sweat.  Sweat is a complicated prospect because he has a history of knee injuries that make him a risk.  Those injuries though are the only reason that Sweat would be available to the Chiefs at this pick.  A player with Sweat’s combine measureables (4.53 40 yard dash at 6’4″ and 251lbs) and production (29 career tackles for loss and 14.5 career sacks) would not normally be available here.

#53 – Bills – Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa

It’s startling how little draft capital the Bills have invested in the linebacker position.  Only two of the seven backers currently on the roster were drafted, the rest were all college free agents.  Those two who were drafted, Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo, were fifth and sixth rounders last year.  The Bills drafted the position this high twice before in recent memory, in 2013 and 2016, but both Reggie Ragland and Kiko Alonso were traded away.  Jewell is the next up in my linebacker rankings and he would be a good fit at MLB in the Bills system.  It’s fun reading scouting reports on Jewell and seeing how the author tries to tiptoe around the fact that Jewell is simply unathletic.  However, he is quite productive: he recorded 124 or more tackles each of the last three years.  In his write up about Jewell, Matt Miller said that “all those hyperbolic cliches like ‘tackling machine’ actually apply to Jewell.”  If history is any indication, Jewell may not be long for Buffalo but I’m confident that he would make an impact before his subsequent trade.

#52 – Ravens – Martinas Rankin, T/C, Mississippi State

The Ravens offensive line ranked 18th in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus.  Perhaps that should come as a surprise given that the Ravens spend the 28th most, on a per player average, on the offensive line.  The team spends even less at center where they rank 29th in spending.  Rankin is a versatile lineman who played tackle in college but could end up playing center in the pros.  The Bulldogs tried him out at center last Spring but kept him at tackle instead.  Drafting a player like Rankin would give the Ravens a lot of flexibility and could help solidify the line both at tackle and center, wherever the immediate need is.

#51 – Lions – James Daniels, C, Iowa

The Lions need a center and James Daniels is a damn good one.  Last year’s starting center, Travis Swanson, has signed with the Jets.  The Lions did sign G/C Wesley Johnson, ironically from the Jets but he doesn’t really satisfy the team need.  Johnson is a former tackle who moved inside for the NFL, he’s not a true center.  Neither is guard Graham Glasgow who would project as the starting center for Detroit this year if they don’t address the position.  While doing some research on Daniels, I came across this highlight where he owns a BC linebacker and I couldn’t help but watch it a number of times.  Daniels came in smaller than some of the other top center prospects but he showed his supreme agility by owning the competition in the shuttle and 3-cone.

#50 – Cowboys – D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

There’s been a number of rumors that the Cowboys are considering a wide receiver with their first pick, specifically Calvin Ridley  I think that would be a mistake, even though Ridley is my highest rated receiver, and sincerely hope they continue to add to their already-strong offensive line instead.  I’d much rather see the Cowboys wait, full disclosure that I’m a fan, and grab a receiver at this pick.  I have Anthony Miller ranked higher in my rankings at the moment but I think that Moore is the more likely selection for the ‘Boys.  Per WalterFootball.com, Moore has met with the Cowboys on multiple occasions.  Moore was not on my watch list to start the season but by the end of it he had worked his way into my positional rankings.  Moore is quick (4.42 speed) and explosive (first among WRs in the broad jump, second in the vertical) and runs with purpose once he has the ball in his hands.  He had awful quarterback play at Maryland so the fact that he performed as well as he did at times is impressive.  In my preview of Moore, I called him a “trick play master” which could come in handy when the Cowboys offense becomes predictably run-heavy.

#49 – Colts – Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

I believe there’s zero chance that the Colts head into training camp with just Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Josh Ferguson, Robert Turbin and Matt Jones competing for running back reps.  They are a lock to add a running back in the first few rounds.  Mack should be the favorite to come out of that group but I don’t think he’s able to be a bellcow and none of the journeyman inspire confidence.  Chubb was pegged as the top back of this class years ago as a freshman but he has since fallen down the rankings due to an ACL injury and sharing the spotlight with Sony Michel.  I still prefer Chubb to Michel as a pro prospect but I do admit that Chubb’s running style likely means he’ll serve a shorter career.  Chubb had three 1,000+ yard seasons and averaged 6.3 yards per carry over 47 games.  His 44 career rushing TDs are fourth most in the SEC since 1956, per Sports-Reference.  Chubb is not a receiving back but that’s okay because that’s Mack’s strength.  The biggest knock on Chubb is his ACL injury from 2016.  I’m not that concerned because he returned and completed two full seasons since then, even if he has lost some of his pop.  Having a formidable running back duo will help Andrew Luck get back into form because the team will not have to rely solely on him to move the offense.


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Updated 2018 Positional Rookie Rankings

Updated: March 15th 2018

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

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

Quarterbacks

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

Running Backs

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

Wide Receivers

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

Tight Ends

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 RBs

Updated: March 30th 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.

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State

Rashaad Penny put up incredible production in 2017, largely against inferior opposition though.  He’s a fantastic kick returner which will help insulate his value and ensure he earns a role out of training camp.  I also believe he’s an underrated pass catcher because he proved to be a factor in the passing game when his team needed it against the biggest opponents (see the Stats & Accolades section for details on this point).  Penny does not have any injury concerns to report, nor any character concerns.  Penny decided to stay in school for his senior year despite a 1,000+ yard 2016 season when he was the second fiddle to FBS leading rusher Donnel Pumphrey.  Coming back to school ended up being a great decision for Penny.  At the Senior Bowl, Penny actually measured taller and heavier than I expected which is a good thing.  He is officially being listed at 5’11” and 224lbs on the Senior Bowl roster (some sites estimated 5’10” and 220lbs”).  We don’t have a 40 yard dash time for Penny yet but NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run in the 4.52 range – good but not great.

Stats & Accolades:  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I tell you that Penny was a standout this season: his 2,248 rushing yards led the FBS.  He started with a limited role as a sophomore in 2015 but still managed 5 TDs from scrimmage and added three more as a returner.  In 2016 he took on a bigger role and ended with 1,242 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs; he also returned a pair of kickoffs for scores too.  In 2017, he exploded.  Despite being the bellcow on his way to that FBS leading rushing total, Penny still managed to add 2 receiving TDs, and 3 return TDs.  All told, he has 52 career TDs.  What may be even more impressive is that Penny has a 7.5 yards per carry average for his career.  Penny’s game logs don’t disappoint either.  He has 15 career games with over 100 rushing yards.  He’s gone over 200 yards in seven games, including a streak of five straight to end 2017.  One knock on Penny is his competition playing in the Mountain West.  To get a feel for his production against Power 5 teams I delved deeper into his 2015, 2016 and 2017 game logs.  He played five games in those three years against Power 5 opponents (Arizona State, Stanford, Cal twice, Penn State).  In those games, Penny rushed 64 times for 508 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per carry) and 2 TDs.  He added 11 receptions, 97 yards and 2 receiving TDs.  But wait there’s more… he also totaled 3 kickoff return TDs.  Interestingly, 26% of his career receptions came against Power 5 opponents which made up just 12% of his games from 2015-2017.  That’s a good sign in my opinion as it shows he can be a receiver when needed.  Let’s recap, in five games against Power 5 teams, Penny averaged over 8 yards per touch, not counting the kick return yards, and scored seven touchdowns.  Sign me up.  Not only is Penny clutch against better teams, he’s also clutch when his team is behind the sticks.  On 3rd downs, Penny’s yards per carry average jumped to 11.79 in 2017; on 39 such carries, he converted 20 of them for a first.  I checked Pro Football Focus’ Signature Stat Guide to see if their stats backed up the traditional stats that show below and discussed above.  Unsurprisingly, they do.  PFF ranked Penny as the 3rd highest in their Elusive Rating stat.  Elusive Rating takes broken tackles and yards after contact into account to help control for uneven offensive line play.  The two backs ranked higher than Penny, Damien Harris and Bryce Love, both decided to return to school for their senior seasons so Penny reigns supreme as the most elusive back in the draft.  Over his career, Penny fumbled the ball seven times, losing five.  In 2017, Penny had an incredible number of long runs.  He had 58 over 10 yards and 29 over 20 yards.  For comparison, the other two backs in this profile were well behind: Michel had 33/11 while Jones had 41/16.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 2 22 11.0 0 0 0 0 2 22 11.0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 61 368 6.0 4 8 120 15.0 1 69 488 7.1 5
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 136 1018 7.5 11 15 224 14.9 3 151 1242 8.2 14
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 289 2248 7.8 23 19 135 7.1 2 308 2383 7.7 25
Career San Diego State 488 3656 7.5 38 42 479 11.4 6 530 4135 7.8 44
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.
Kick & Punt Returns Table
Kick Ret Punt Ret
Year School Conf Class Pos G Ret Yds Avg TD Ret Yds Avg TD
*2014 San Diego State MWC FR RB 10 20 500 25.0 0 0 0 0
*2015 San Diego State MWC SO RB 14 24 804 33.5 3 0 0 0
*2016 San Diego State MWC JR RB 14 20 624 31.2 2 0 0 0
2017 San Diego State MWC SR RB 13 17 521 30.6 2 2 70 35.0 1
Career San Diego State 81 2449 30.2 7 2 70 35.0 1
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

Film Study: Boise State (2017), Stanford (2017)

I remember watching the San Diego State vs Stanford game earlier in the season so that was my first choice.  I wanted to revisit that game and see if, with the benefit of hindsight, I was still impressed with Penny now as I was then.  The answer is yes.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t see some negatives though.  Against Boise State, a film I picked because of the Broncos’ above average defense, Penny mostly struggled but there was one highlight play I’ll touch on (including one awful play in pass protection that luckily didn’t end worse for his quarterback).

My overall impressions were that Penny is quicker than he is fast, cuts well, has excellent vision and is a versatile player who can be utilized in numerous ways.  I would say he is an average pass blocker.  I counted ten pass protection situations in the two games where I felt I could either grade Penny as a plus or a minus to the play’s protection; of those ten, I counted three negative plays.  Something that I had read about Penny and was interested to see on film is his tackle breaking ability.  He breaks some tackles (I counted twelve in the two games) but much of his yardage comes when he makes tacklers miss rather than breaking their tackle.  When reviewing PFF’s Elusive Rating stat, I have previously thought to myself, “why do they list it as ‘missed tackles’ rather than ‘broken tackles’?”  Now I realize why.  When Penny has the lane and the open space to make defenders miss, he does.  When he runs into contact at, or near, the line of scrimmage he is often bottled up for little gain.  He’s not the type of back that you can run into the defensive line on three successive plays and expect to move the chains before fourth down.  Penny is much more adept at pressing the line of scrimmage and waiting for his cut-back hole to open up.  He’s also good at bouncing the play outside but since he lacks elite speed he’s better off cutting it inside.  He’s not very good at lowering his head and ramming the ball downhill.  He does not keep his feet well and is often susceptible to low tackles that other stronger backs may shrug off.  Penny was heavily involved in the passing game against Stanford (5 passes) but not at all against Boise when he struggled.  He is utilized all over the field through different positions and motions.

There were a few good examples I found of Penny’s running style that I’ll describe here.  I would highly recommend checking out the links to these plays so you can see them in action.  I have linked them to the corresponding Youtube video right to the specific play.  The first prototypical example I’ll show comes early in the second half on first down.  Penny angles to the right, running right up the back of his guard.  The line gets such good push that he actually ends up cutting into the other A gap between the LG and C as they finish their blocks.  It’s an effortless run for 15 yards.  Later in the third, Penny shows an even better example of his vision.  Penny starts left as the RG and RT combo block the end before the guard moves to the LB on the second level.  The TE helps seal the hole and Penny cuts twice, first to the right and then back to the left through the hole.   The next play shows how Penny can adapt and use his elusiveness as a play breaks down.  He takes the pitch eight yards deep, sheds the first defender.  Just past the line another defender squares up to take Penny down.  As he runs towards the sidelines, with his shoulders parallel to the sideline, he cuts back towards the line of scrimmage and away from the defender.  It buys him just enough space to beat the tackler.  He then turns on his speed and makes it to the first down before two pursuing defenders.  It was a key play that came late in the upset over #19 Stanford.  Against Boise, Penny again shows his ability to get the edge, this time after his intended cut back lanes are clogged.  He bounces it outside and the defense, which was stacking the box all game, doesn’t have anybody with an angle to get Penny in time.

The last play I’ll discuss is the bad pass protection play against Boise.  Ultimately the play didn’t matter as it came in a big loss and the fumble that was caused was overturned but it’s still instructional.  Penny finds himself momentarily staring down two pass rushers.  He’s probably unsure about who he should block and hesitates.  The tackle ends up taking the inside rusher but by then it’s too late for Penny to get to the outside rusher.  The defender gets to the quarterback just as he is throwing the ball.  If he got there a split-second sooner, as the rusher probably would in the pros, it would have been a big hit right to the chops of the unprepared quarterback.

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: Durability, lack of an injury history, versatility as a kick returner, elusiveness, production vs Power 5 teams.

Weaknesses: Lacks elite speed, played lesser competition in the Mountain West, not very active in the passing game.

Opportunities: Can earn an instant roster spot in training camp as a kick returner.  Would be a great partner to an established veteran, a la Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans.

Threats: The lack of success by former teammate Donnel Pumphrey as a rookie may sour some on his potential (i.e. the “system” tag some QBs get).  Some teams may see him more of a kick returner than a feature back in the NFL and may not be willing to spend a high enough draft pick on him.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

I’d love to put Penny higher because he’s a favorite of mine but I don’t think NFL teams will bite.  Penny isn’t elite so he won’t see the 1st round and there are so few 2nd round running backs in recent history (just five in the last three drafts) that I think it’s inevitable he falls to the 3rd.  If Penny falls out of the 3rd round, he’ll be a prime trade up candidate to start Day 3.

Recent NFL Comparison: CJ Prosise

I struggled to find a comparison for Penny that ticked all of the boxes I usually seek.  I feel most comfortable with a comparison when they 1) have similar size and speed, 2) have a similar playing style, 3) produced similarly in college and 4) had a similar draft grade.  I was first leaning towards Boston College’s Andre Williams as his production somewhat mirrored that of Penny, especially in their senior seasons (down to receiving Heisman votes), but when you watch the two play they are of a totally different style.  Of all the other possibilities I considered, I thought Prosise was the best fit for playing style even if their production was not comparable.  Like Prosise, Penny gains most of his yards because of his vision, change of direction and elusiveness rather than by sheer strength and tackle breaking ability.  Prosise was a more accomplished receiver at Notre Dame but as I’ve outlined, I have faith in Penny’s receiving ability.  Prosise is conspicuously missing any kick or punt return experience so Penny has a huge advantage there.

 

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

Sony Michel has been rocketing up fantasy rookie draft boards lately after his success against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semi-finals.  With good reason too: Michel totaled 202 yards from scrimmage and 4 TDs in that game.  It was the best of his career and it was extremely well timed.  Like many of the young men we’ll meet this draft season, Michel has an interesting story.  He’s the son of Haitian immigrantsHis parents and sister ended up getting jobs at his high school to help improve their meager means, an opportunity most certainly offered due to his standing and on-field success at the school.  As positive as my character notes are about Michel, my injury notes are quite negative.  In my opinion, there’s enough here to dent Michel’s draft stock.  In 2014 he broke his collarbone which forced him to miss multiple games.  In 2016 he broke his arm in what could have been a much more serious ATV accident; the injury occurred in the Summer and Michel ended up missing the season opener.  In 2017 Michel suffered two injuries: 1) a minor ankle injury against Notre Dame that led the coaches to hold him out against Samford and 2) a knee injury that forced him to leave the SEC Championship game early.  These injuries aren’t debilitating or impossible to come back from, obviously, but I fear it may signal missed time in the pros.  Michel has decent size for the position (5’11”, 215lbs) and has about 4.50 speed.  As a senior, Michel is a bit older than many prospects.  DLF lists him as 22.9 years old which is almost a full year older than Rashaad Penny and nearly 2.5 years older than Ronald Jones.  There’s a lot to like about Michel but armchair draftniks have to be careful that they avoid the recency bias and look at Michel’s full profile rather than his most recent stats.

Stats & Accolades: By now we all know the underlying story of Michel’s production.  For most of his time in Athens, he was the second option behind Nick Chubb (side note: I loved reading that Michel and Chubb are best friends, that’s awesome).  The only time that Michel got to shine as the lead back was in 2015 after Chubb had gone down with a serious knee injury.  In that season Michel had seven double digit carry games while he had just one combined the last two years.  You’ll notice that his per carry averages are lowest in that season (5.2) than the other seasons when he had the benefit of sharing the load (6.4, 5.5, 7.9).  I don’t necessarily think that Michel cannot handle a starter’s load but I am merely pointing out that he typically has not and when he has, his performance per carry has declined.  As I mentioned above, Michel had the best game of his career this postseason against Oklahoma (11 carries, 181 yards, 3 rushing TDs; 4 receptions, 41 yards, 1 receiving TD).  He has four other 150+ rush yard games in his career so he does have the ability to go-off.  Michel found lots of success running the ball this season on a championship quality team.  He hit career bests in rushing yards, rushing TDs and yards per carry.  He led the SEC in yards per carry and ranked fifth in the FBS overall.  Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 7th back in their Elusive Rating category (interestingly, one spot behind Chubb).  Michel was most effective as a receiver as a sophomore and junior and then showed that ability again against Oklahoma this season.  In those two seasons, Chubb combined for a solid 29 receptions, 419 yards and 4 receiving TDs.  He’s far from the best pass catching back in this class but it does add to his value.  Michel has issues with ball security.  He has 12 career fumbles, five of which were lost to the defense.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 Georgia SEC FR RB 8 64 410 6.4 5 7 106 15.1 1 71 516 7.3 6
*2015 Georgia SEC SO RB 13 218 1136 5.2 8 26 270 10.4 3 244 1406 5.8 11
*2016 Georgia SEC JR RB 12 152 840 5.5 4 22 149 6.8 1 174 989 5.7 5
2017 Georgia SEC SR RB 14 156 1227 7.9 16 9 96 10.7 1 165 1323 8.0 17
Career Georgia 590 3613 6.1 33 64 621 9.7 6 654 4234 6.5 39
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2018.

 

Film Study: Auburn (2015), Notre Dame (2017), Alabama (2017)

I started with a film from 2015 so I could see Michel when he was the lead back with Chubb out.  The game that was available was against Auburn.  I was not impressed with Michel’s running in this one for the most part.  Most carries have him running right up the gut for little to no gain.  The first outside run I noted was a sweep in the middle of the third that gained 9 yards.  His best run came late in the third.  He takes a pitch right up the middle, uses his blockers well, breaks two tackles and collides with the defensive back.  He churns his feet and tries to push the defender forward.  He ultimately fails and is short of the first but it was still a good effort.  Michel had two attempts inside the five yard line in the game and failed on both.  One of those attempts was actually a fumble where he missed the pitch; it could have been equally the quarterback’s fault but ultimately it was charged to him (Georgia recovered it which led to his second failed attempt).  I counted five broken tackles, two of which came on that one play highlighted above, and that might have been generous.  Most times when Michel is contacted near the line of scrimmage the play ended shortly after.

I was encouraged by the progress that I saw in Michel in the 2017 film against Notre Dame.  His third run of the game was reminiscent of the run in the Auburn game where he failed to push the defender back.  This time, he nails the safety with a lowered shoulder and falls forward for the first.  In this game he looked much more explosive and patient than he did as a sophomore.  His best successes came when running inside of LT Isaiah Wynn (an NFL prospect himself).  The explosiveness and patience was evident in this late fourth quarter run.  It’s a 3rd and 1 when Georgia was down 19-17.  Michel takes the pitch left, the end is unblocked and it’s up to Michel to make him miss.  He does just that after a hard plant with his left foot and an explosive cut to the right.  He easily brushes past the arm tackle.  This happened in the backfield though so Michel still has yards to gain to get the first.  He sees WR Javon Wims blocking a corner and heads towards him rather than cutting upfield where he wouldn’t stand a chance.  He runs right at Wims which makes the defender decide if he wants to try and beat the block to the inside or the outside.  Michel calculates he won’t be able to make it around the outside so he waits for Wims to angle his block as the defender leans outside.  By that point Michel easily gained the first.  It was a great play that illustrated a number of traits that Michel improved between his sophomore and senior seasons.

Like you, I watched the Georgia vs Alabama game a few weeks ago but I wanted to watch the film once more.  I ended up not taking a single note about any of Michel’s runs because I was so impressed with his pass protection.  There were a number of plays where he excelled but there are two I’ll highlight, both blocking potential first round NFL talent.  I’ll show the later one first.  On this play, Michel is responsible for the blitzing safety, Ronnie Harrison.  Michel patiently waits for Harrison to hit the line and picks up the blitz to give QB Jake Fromm enough time to deliver a deep pass which ended up going for a score.  Michel does not show the best blocking mechanics on the play, it looks like he sets his base too soon and may get beat inside if the play extended but it was enough to let Fromm get the ball out.  An even better pass protection play came earlier when Michel stood up 308lb DT Da’Ron Payne.  The DTs run an inside stunt and Payne ends up with what would be a free rush at the QB if Michel did not stay home on the play.  Wynn, the LT, pushed his rusher inside but before he can come back outside for Payne, he falls.  Michel was in good position and actually initiates contact with Payne driving a shoulder right under his chin, which momentarily pushed Payne back.  Michel keeps Payne in front of him with good hand placement.  Of all the good runs I saw Michel make while watching these three games, this was the single most impressive play I saw.

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: Personality, pass catching ability, pass protection, flashed in biggest games of his career this postseason, is a good teammate as evidenced by his friendship with starter Nick Chubb.

Weaknesses: Injury history, ball security, was rarely used as the RB1 except for in 2015 after Chubb’s injury, age.

Opportunities: Teams will view Michel as a solid third down back because of his pass catching and pass blocking abilities.  He’ll be a good locker room guy as coaches will not have to worry about him complaining about playing time.

Threats: Teams may hesitate to draft Michel as their lead back which could hurt his draft stock – it’s hard to draft a situational player in the second round.  The combination of his injuries, age and usage in college could be just enough to scare off teams.

Draft Round Grade:  Mid to Late 3rd Round

Since he played behind Nick Chubb for most of his career, there’s a chance we haven’t seen Michel’s full potential.  Unfortunately, he does have numerous injuries in his history.  When I started this profile, I was anywhere between early 3rd and 5th round.  After studying his stats and history, I was leaning towards the 4th round.  However, after seeing how adept at pass protection Michel was against Alabama, I’m willing to bump him into the middle of the 3rd round.

Recent NFL Comparison: Marlon Mack

Mack and Michel are nearly identical prospects when you consider their size, speed and production.  Mack measured at 5’11” and 213 whereas Michel is estimated at 5’11” and 215lbs.  Mack ran a 4.50 whereas NFLDraftScout.com estimates Michel will run a 4.52.  Mack rushed for 3,609 yards, a 6.2 yards per carry average, 32 rushing TDs and added 65 receptions; Michel’s line is 3,613 yards, a 6.1 average, 33 rushing TDs and 64 receptions.  Mack was drafted in the 4th round so the draft grade is reasonably close too.  When I watch highlights of Mack, he looks to run with a more upright style but there’s enough similarity there for me to make the comparison, especially compared to Michel’s Notre Dame tape.

 

Ronald Jones, RB, USC

I was low on Ronald “RoJo” Jones to start the 2017 season but I have come around in a big way.  My biggest concern about Jones was his weight.  At approximately 6’0″ he needs to weigh in at at least 200lbs.  Looking back at NFL Combine measurements since 2010, you’ll notice a bad trend for somebody Jones’ size: only three backs have measured 5’11” or taller and less than 200lbs.  Unfortunately, those players don’t exactly inspire confidence as they are Taiwan Jones, CJ Spiller and Joe McKnight.  Luckily, Jones has increased his weight year-over-year and I expect him to get near 210lbs when he officially weighs in.  I checked USC media guides for the last three years and his weight progression was 185-195-200; an LA Times article from July said that Jones was already up to 205lbs at that point.  If Jones weighs in at less than 200lbs, I plan on dropping him down my board.  A benefit of not carrying too much bulk is that Jones is lightning quick.  NFLDraftScout.com estimates he’ll run a 4.39.  Jones has a few minor injury nicks on his resume.  The first being a 2016 rib injury that he played through but limited his touches (just 36 carries in the first five games).  The second being a 2017 injury that kept him out of the game against Cal; the injury was reported as both an ankle and a thigh injury so I’m not sure which it truly was but I expect the ankle.  Thankfully that injury did not linger as he gained 128 yards the next week against Washington State.  Even though he was a three year starter, Jones is exceedingly young.  Per DLF, Jones is the youngest prospect in the class at 20.5 years old.  When I was researching Jones’ personality and character I did not find much of note.  I found an interview prior to the Cotton Bowl where he said “I like to play silently” which ultimately explained the dearth of articles out there.  There were two funny things I came across in my character research… 1) teammate Stephen Carr said that Jones has “horse legs” which made me actually laugh out loud and 2) “Ronald Jones” was apparently a character in both The Hunt for Red October and Halloween: H2O.  If the NFL doesn’t work out for Jones, maybe he has a future as a vanilla background character in Hollywood!

Stats & Accolades:  In addition to showing a good progression with his weight, Jones has a good progression with his base stats.  His carries, yards and touchdowns have all increased year-over-year, as have his receptions and receiving yards.  Jones is not a big pass catching threat with just 32 career receptions but his huge 13.4 average per catch this season is encouraging.  Jones’ yards per carry average has decreased each season, however it was still a strong 5.9 at it’s lowest so I’m not that concerned.  Jones had two huge games in 2017 with 216 rushing yards and 2 TDs against Arizona State and then following it up with a 3 TD and 233 scrimmage yard outing against Arizona.  Jones’ biggest game of 2015 came against Arizona too (177 yards) so maybe he just has a personal vendetta against the state?  I like that the Trojans gave Jones 261 carries this year (14th most in the FBS) which shows me they were less concerned about his durability this season than in the past, likely a factor of him bulking up.  In the aforementioned PFF Elusive Rating statistic, Jones ranked 15th.  He also shows up in their Pass Blocking Efficiency table with a 94.2% efficiency.  Per their stat tracking, Jones had 67 snaps in pass protection and allowed just five hurries and no sacks.  Jones has the best ball security by far of this trio of running backs.  He has just two career fumbles and lost just one.  He was perfect in 2017 without a single fumble.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2015 USC Pac-12 FR RB 14 153 987 6.5 8 7 39 5.6 1 160 1026 6.4 9
*2016 USC Pac-12 SO RB 13 177 1082 6.1 12 11 76 6.9 1 188 1158 6.2 13
2017 USC Pac-12 JR RB 13 261 1550 5.9 19 14 187 13.4 1 275 1737 6.3 20
Career USC 591 3619 6.1 39 32 302 9.4 3 623 3921 6.3 42
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/27/2018.

Film Study: Texas (2017), Colorado (2017)

Jones was mostly held in check against Texas as a rusher (just 47 yards on 18 carries) but he still made a huge impression.  Two of the first three plays of the game for USC featured Jones split out blocking on wide receiver screens.  That tactic continued throughout the game when Jones was often utilized as a blocker in the open field.  This play is a good example of Jones blocking downfield.  He starts in the backfield but motions out to the right, to the wide side of the field.  He runs up field with a tight end to form a perfect lane for WR Steven Mitchell to run through after he catches the screen.  Due to the strength of the Longhorn defense, Jones was often called on to help in pass protection too.  I counted nine positive pass pro plays and no negative plays; he’ll need more size, experience and improved technique to stand up to NFL defenders but it’s a good start.  Jones only had one reception in the game but he made it count.  It was late in the second quarter with just 0:05 left with the score tied 7-7.  Jones stays in to protect at first but then leaks out as a safety valve for QB Sam Darnold.  Darnold is forced to scramble and finds Jones who had stopped his route in the open field to make an easy target for Darnold.  Jones turns up field, jukes the first defender, and then uses his speed (and a great block from Mitchell) to beat the defenders to the pylon.  At one point there are eight pursuing defenders in the frame and none of them can get an angle on Jones.  Without the momentum, and the points, that that play provided USC likely would have been upset by Texas.  Jones had two goal line carries and was stopped just short on both; the second came on 4th down so it was also a costly turnover.

Against Colorado’s softer defense, Jones was able to show me more as a runner.  Right from the start, his vision was apparent as he made three straight runs that impressed me (and the commentators too, who must have been the Colorado home game crew).  Jones is not a big broken tackle runner, similar to Penny he makes his yards by eluding defenders rather than overpowering them.  There were a few plays though that I noted key broken tackles by Jones, especially this 4th and Inches in the second quarter.  The linebacker has a free shot at Jones behind the line but he breaks the tackle and gets the first.  Two traits that Jones showed in the second half of the Colorado game were his jump cut and his patience.  This replay angle shows just how much ground his jump cut can cover which is almost unfair.  He later showed his patience on two plays as the Trojans were trying to run out the clock.  On the first, he slowly considers three separate potential holes before finally bouncing it to the sideline and nearly getting the first down.  It’s like watching him play real-life Frogger, making it up the field and toward the sideline a little at a time.  Shortly after that run, he takes a stretch handoff to the right, hesitates behind his blockers and then cuts it all the way back across the field for a score.  During my research, I came across many analysts who doubt Jones’ patience but I’m not nearly as concerned after watching those two plays.  Again, it’s not the main part of his game but Jones showed good play strength on this off tackle run in the third quarter.  A defender ends up on his back, which he shrugs off, and then he fights through a leg tackle to fall forward for a few extra yards.

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: Ball security, pass protection, speed, jump cut, age.

Weaknesses: Weight, lack of passing game activity, age.

Opportunities: Because of Jones’ ball security and pass protection, teams will trust him to be their back in all situations.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he hasn’t hit his full potential yet.

Threats: Due to the lack of receiving game work, teams may feel that Jones is not a great fit on third down or in the two minute drill even though he’s a good blocker.  Teams can spin age either way, in this case they may feel that since he’s so young he will be immature.

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd Round

I think that Jones is the perfect mix of known and unknown which will entice NFL scouts.  He has enough on tape to warrant being a Top 60 pick and the fact that he is so young will surely make a team want to take a chance on him becoming even better.  As I mentioned in the Opportunities section above, teams will feel that they can trust Jones.

Recent NFL Comparison:  Jamaal Charles

I vacillated between Lamar Miller and CJ Spiller for Jones’ comparison at first but then extended my search of combine measureables back further and found an even better comp in Charles.  Charles averaged 6.2 yards per carry at Texas to Jones’s 6.1 average.  Charles was a little more active as a pass catcher but not by much.  Both had two sub-200 carry seasons to start their career and then ended with 250+ in their junior season before coming out early.  Assuming Jones comes in at about 200lb they should match up near identically when it comes to measureables plus they run with a similar elusive, cutting style.  Charles was picked in the early 3rd round which is probably the worst case scenario for Jones.

 


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2018 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v2.1

Updated: January 27th 2018

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

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

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

1.02, Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (1.03)

1.03, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (1.02)

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

1.04, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (1.04)

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

1.06, Ronald Jones, RB, USC (2.07)

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

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

1.08, Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (1.07)

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

1.09, Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (1.07)

1.10, Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis (2.02)

2.01, Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (2.06)

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

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

2.03, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (2.08)

2.04, Sam Darnold, QB, USC (2.01)

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

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

2.06, Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa (undrafted)

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

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

2.08, Dante Pettis, WR, Washington (2.04)

2.09, Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama (1.06)

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

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

3.01, Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (undrafted)

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

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

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

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

3.05, Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (2.10)

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

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

3.07, Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana (undrafted)

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

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

3.10, Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (1.10)

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

4.04, Adam Breneman, TE, UMass (undrafted)

4.05, Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn (undrafted)

4.06, Deontay Burnett, WR, USC (undrafted)

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

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

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

4.10, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (undrafted)

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 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

The Watch List: Week 7

Updated: October 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.  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:  No player did more for their Heisman chances in Week 6 than Bryce Love.  Love is finally getting some national attention and just when more viewers started paying attention he shined again.  Against Utah, a decent rush defense, Love ran 20 times for 152 yards and a score.  What if I told you that that stat line was Love’s worst of the season?  Strange but true because he’s been that good.  More on Love below so let’s not dive too deep yet.  I thought it was very interesting to see the top ten players as far as current Heisman odds.  I ended up needing to go to the eleventh spot to get to my man crush, Rashaad Penny.  I think Penny is criminally undervalued and would be worth a bet if I were so inclined; meanwhile Jalen Hurts and Jake Browning are at least five spots too high but buoyed because their teams are undefeated and in the Top 5.  Here are the current odds per OddsShark.com:
    1. Saquon Barkley
    2. Baker Mayfield
    3. Bryce Love
    4. Mason Rudolph
    5. Lamar Jackson
    6. Sam Darnold
    7. Luke Falk
    8. JT Barrett
    9. Jalen Hurts
    10. Jake Browning
    11. Rashaad Penny
  • Winter is Coming:  The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released in three weeks.  When I saw that I couldn’t believe it – we are already half way through the season, wow.  I can’t share my thoughts on the actual CFP ranks yet but here is how I would have them:
    1. Clemson – based on resume more so than the eye test.  Clemson has beaten three top teams (#13 Auburn, #14 Louisville, #12 Virginia Tech) and up until this point has the harder schedule between them and Alabama.
    2. Alabama – the Tide may end up being a victim of a weaker SEC and their weak cross-division schedule this season.  There’s no regular season matchup against Florida or Georgia this season and the jewel non-conference win against Florida State is looking less special as the weeks progress.  Alabama will likely have two back-to-back Top 10 games to end the season against Auburn and in the SEC Championship game but by then I think Clemson will be well established as #1.
    3. Georgia – There’s no way the CFP committee would actually have Alabama and Georgia play in the semi-finals since it’s likely a SEC Championship repeat but it would still be awesome to see.  Georgia is a lot of fun to watch and they will challenge Alabama if they both make it to the end undefeated.
    4. TCU – I struggled with putting TCU over Penn State for the last spot.  Ultimately, I went with resume over the eye test again as I did above.  TCU has two Top 25 wins (#6 Oklahoma and #12 West Virginia) while PSU has zero.
    5. Penn State – However, Penn State will have a chance to prove themselves over the next three game stretch.  They are off this weekend but will then face #17 Michigan, #9 Ohio State and #21 Michigan State in successive weeks.
  • Co-Backups in Clemson:  File this under something I have never seen before, Clemson has named Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson as “co-backups” on their updated depth chart.  Hmm.  The reason for the subterfuge is starting quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle injury.  Some reports say that he’ll play while others say it is a game time decision.  Who knows.  My gut says that he will not play and Dabo is just playing with Syracuse’s ability to gameplan.  Bryant is also the team’s leading rusher (97 carries, 401 yards, 7 TDs) so having to factor for him is a big deal if all that goes out the window when he is inactive.  If Bryant can’t go, I expect Hunter Johnson to take the lead.  He went 5-5 for 42 yards and a score against Wake Forest when he split relief duties with Cooper.  Johnson is a former 4-star recruit who was #21 in the ESPN300 and was the top quarterback recruit of his class.  The concern is less about Syracuse, I would expect Clemson to win either way, but more about the tougher games against North Carolina State and Florida State coming later in the month.

Players to Watch

  • Bryce Love, RB, Stanford:  There’s a lot of talk about the East Coast Bias that is going against Love and that he’s being ignored.  That’s certainly not the case here at Reality Sports.  It’s unfortunate that there is not more tape of Love available – DraftBreakdown.com has just one game from 2017 and one from 2016.  I decided to fire up that lone 2017 film and take a closer look.  Let’s start with the negatives.  Love is not a pass catcher with just 4 receptions this season and 8 last year.  I was looking for positive pass protection moments and found one in the 4th quarter during Stanford’s comeback bid where he capably picked up the blitz and gave Keller Chryst time to throw.  Unfortunately, on his next offensive play, later in the quarter, he whiffed on a block and let Chryst get blown up.  It’ll take more film study to see which of those plays was closer to the reality.  When you watch Love two things stand out, his spectacular speed and his tackle breaking ability.  To illustrate those two skills, we’ll take a closer look at two plays from the first half.  In the 1st quarter, Love took a toss left and sprinted through a massive hole for a 75 yard score.  The blocking was great, yes, but Love was at the second level before anybody on the defense could even react let alone catch him.  With seconds left to go in the 2nd quarter, Love took a pointless handoff meant to kill the clock.  Most backs would probably run up the back of their center and head into the locker room but not so for Love.  He immediately breaks a tackle five yards behind the line of scrimmage as he tries to break right, he then reverses field and breaks another tackle still five yards deep, he then makes his way up field for a minimal gain.  It was a nothing play, barely a blip in the play-by-play, but it illustrated his elusiveness and also his heart.  It didn’t matter to him that it was a clock killing play while the team was out of field goal range, he still gave it his all.  Love is 5’10” and 196lb.  He was a 4 star recruit and #215 in the ESPN300.  A definitive 40-yard dash time is hard to find but there were two numbers quoted online: 4.30 and a 4.32.  He ran a 10.7 second 100m dash in high school which is Olympian speed (8th place in the men’s 100m gold medal race at the 2016 Olympics ran a 10.6 for comparison).  To further illustrate how dominant his speed is, let’s look at combine comparables in his size range.  CJ Spiller ran a 4.37 and Jahvid Best ran a 4.34 – Love would have both of them beat.  Love is on his way to being a top RB prospect.  Right now I would have him in the RB5-RB7 range but might have to move him above guys like Bo Scarborough, Mike Weber and Ronald Jones if he keeps the production up.  Oh, hey, speaking of production… Love has 1,240 yards and is averaging 10.5 yards per carry.
  • Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn:  I haven’t seen enough of Kerryon Johnson to have a full formed opinion yet but I am definitely intrigued by his potential and production thus far.  While watching Michigan vs Michigan State last weekend a stat on the bottom line caught my eye: that Johnson had rushed for 3 TD in three consecutive games.  That stat doesn’t even give the full story because one of those games was 5 TDs (!!) and all three came against the SEC.  I was sure one of them must have been against McNeese State or some directional school.  I’m not saying that Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss all have good run defenses but they are all respectable Power 5 teams.  Johnson did miss two games this season with a hamstring injury but it is encouraging that all three of these monster games have come after his return – at least we know there is no lingering injury.  Johnson is 6’0″ and 212lb and looks to have a long stride which helps him cover ground without elite speed (NFLDraftScout.com estimates 4.45 speed).  I watched film of Johnson against Mississippi State and noted his power at the goal line and in short yardage.  He also looks to be a patient runner at the line of scrimmage; on multiple runs he placed his hand on the blockers back to follow them through the hole.  One negative that was apparent is that Johnson is not much of a receiving threat: he has just 36 career receptions (14, 17, 5).  I need to see more before I can properly give him a draft projection but he’s probably a 5th-6th round NFL prospect now and a fringe RSO prospect depending on how deep your league is.

Games to Watch

  • #2 Clemson @ Syracuse, Friday 7:00pm on ESPN:  If you can only devote one weekend night to watching college football this week, make it Friday since there are two good games.  As discussed above, there is some intrigue around who will be starting for Clemson.  Either way, I don’t expect it to matter.  It will be interesting to see Clemson’s smothering defense against Syracuse QB Eric Dungey.  Dungey is 2nd in the NCAA in passing attempts and 8th in yards; plus he leads the team in rushing yards (325) and rushing TDs (8).  He’s not as skilled as Bryant but he does pose the same type of dual-threat as Bryant.   I’m not calling for the upset but, pending the line, I will be tempted to take the Orangemen with the points.
  • #8 Washington State @ Cal, Friday 10:30pm on ESPN:  It’s not often that you get a Friday night doubleheader featuring two Top 10 teams on the road.  Wazzou’s defense is for real – 6th against the pass, 11th in total yards and 8th most turnovers.  They will be facing a turnover prone QB in Cal’s Ross Bowers.  Bowers has thrown 9 INTs so far which is 5th worst in the NCAA.  He’s a high volume, low efficiency passer so I expect the Cougars to be opportunistic.  This one won’t be nearly as close as the Clemson matchup but it’s worth staying up for since in addition to seeing one of the country’s best defenses, you’ll also get to watch Heisman hopeful Luke Falk pepper the Bears defense (he had 373 yards and 5 TDs against Cal last year).
  • #6 TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 12:00pm on FS1:  The Horned Frogs disappointed me a bit last week, I thought they would have played better against West Virginia.  Specifically, I thought RB Darius Anderson would do well (he went just 9-43).  Kenny Hill did score his first rushing touchdown of the season but was less efficient than he has been in past weeks.  Kansas State was ranked earlier in the season but lost last week to Texas and is trending in the wrong direction.  If TCU wants to be in the CFP conversation, this is the type of game they need to win convincingly.
  • #10 Auburn @ LSU, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS:  You wouldn’t know it by listening to sports talk radio, but the LSU Tigers are 4-2.  Coach Ed Orgeron has been under fire, from his own supporters no less.  They pulled off a nice 17-16 win against #21 Florida last week so hopefully that has bought Coach O some time.  Auburn’s been led lately by the aforementioned Kerryon Johnson, but it’s also important to point out QB Jarrett Stidham’s recent improvement.  He started slow but since the poor outing against Clemson, he has just 19 incompletions in the last four games.  The Auburn defense is 21st or better in just about every stat category except turnovers forced.  Expect this one to be a low scoring 16-9 type affair.
  • #13 Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 3:30pm on ESPN:  The Red River Rivalry is usually good for a fun game.  In my Big 12 season preview, I noted that the last four matchups have featured a ranked Oklahoma and an unranked Texas.  They have split those four.  OU is coming off a disappointing loss to Iowa State, a team that Texas beat.  Texas has still vacillated at QB but went with freshman Sam Ehlinger last week against Kansas State.  He ended up playing well and went 30-50 for 380 yards with 2 TDs and an INT.  Baker Mayfield & Co were not at fault for the Sooners’ loss last week, it was the defense that allowed the comeback from a walk-on QB and a remarkable two-way performance from LB/QB Joel Lanning.  This game feels like a true toss up, regardless of the early line (Oklahoma -8).

 


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