The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, FCS Prospects

Updated: January 18th 2019

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Winter and Spring as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Today’s previews will feature four FCS players who may be flying under your radar.  All four were featured in my 2018 FCS preview so if you’d like to read more about them, please check out that piece as well.  Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State

  • Listed at: 6020/221 (per www.stats.washingtonpost.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Delaware 2018
  • Stats:
    • 2017: 164 of 264, 62.1% completion percentage, 2,466 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTs; 112 rushing attempts, 663 yards, 12 TDs
    • 2018: 175 of 281, 62.3% completion percentage, 2,752 yards, 28 TDs, 7 INTs; 117 rushing attempts, 677 yards, 17 TDs

Stick has gained some publicity lately, possibly because of superficial comparisons to former Bison standout Carson Wentz.  The opinions of draft analysts I follow are all over the map on Stick so I knew it was inevitable that he would require some study.  As far as measureables and statistics go, Stick is just able to check each box.  He doesn’t posses top tier arm strength, size or speed but he’s good enough all-around for NFL consideration.

My biggest takeaway from my initial introduction to Stick was his accuracy and ball placement.  That was similarly illustrated in the new film I watched against Delaware (a middling Colonial foe).  Stick shows an ability to place the ball with accuracy and anticipation.  This touchdown toss is instructive when you watch it from the broadcast angle and then on replay.  On the reverse angle, you can see that the running back was Stick’s second read.  More impressive, you can see that he releases the ball to the inside of the defender while his target is to the outside and not looking for the ball.  It caught my eye as a good example of throwing a receiver open.

A later throw in the Delaware bout showed that Stick can throw it with accuracy deeper down the field as well.  On this play he has great protection and has forever to throw as he surveys the field.  He finds a receiver 35 yards down the opposite sideline and drops the ball in with a great trajectory over the defender and before the on-rushing safety.

In my opinion, Stick’s rushing totals belie his rushing ability.  He has decent speed and runs with determination but he’s certainly not fast or agile.  The successful rushes against Delaware were fine but I doubt that will be a part of his game at the next level.  One thing that will help him at that next level is the fact that he took snaps from under center in college.  He looks awkward under center, like he’s crouching too low, but having a head start on timing the last step of his drop will be helpful.  As far as his pocket presence is concerned, I felt that Stick was too eager to leave the pocket, specifically to his right.  NFL defenders will be much less likely to lose contain and will be able to chase him down from behind before he gets the corner.  When he did throw while on the run, he showed me average or better accuracy.  As shown above, Stick does have enough arm to make cross-field throws but he will grade behind others in that aspect.  Interestingly for somebody with his strengths, I think he lacked touch on screens and short passes.

When I previewed Stick in my FCS preview this season, I predicted a Day Two grade for him.  I’ll stick to that prediction (pun intended) because quarterbacks are always overdrafted.  In addition to what I’ve discussed, teams will love that Stick was a three-year starter and a two-time champion. Draft Prediction: Rounds 2-3

 

Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis

  • Listed at: 6030/209 (per www.stats.washingtonpost.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Eastern Washington 2018, Highlights 2018
  • Stats:
    • 2017: 115 receptions, 1,499 yards, 13.0 yards per catch, 7 TDs
    • 2018: 118 receptions, 1,334 yards, 11.3 yards per catch, 9 TDs

Doss followed up a stellar 2017 season with an equally productive 2018 campaign.  He finished in the top five in the FCS in both receptions per game and receiving yards, earning him second team FCS All-American honors by the Associated Press.  When I first previewed Doss, there was no film available besides highlight reels.  Thankfully, his tape against eventual finalist Eastern Washington is now up.  Once I realized this I wanted to dive right in.

Let’s start with the negatives for a change.  I did not see much separation, straight line speed or run after catch from Doss.  Part of that may be on the quarterback throwing with poor placement or anticipation but it appeared, at least partially, on Doss.  (It’s also a small sample size.)  He was inconsistent with using his hands to snag the ball away from his body and his timing was off on some jumps.  This was visible on the play below where Doss needs to make a last second adjustment to make the catch after an awkward leap.  I give him credit for ultimately making the catch but he made it harder on himself than somebody of his size needs to.

I felt like I was nitpicking Doss’s jumping but literally the first play of the 2018 highlight reel I chose showed the same poorly timed leap.  The angle isn’t great, but you can again see that Doss must adjust to the ball while he’s already in the air.  He makes the catch but he should more easily win these targets.

Now onto the positives.  Doss has a big frame that honestly looks bigger than the listed 6030/209.  While that size does not appear to translate to victories in the air, Doss shows that he can use his body to shield defenders from the ball.  In the Eastern Washington game he came across the middle of the field a number of times, including this play that resulted in a first down.  He snatches the ball in the air and brings it into his body with two hands, bracing for the impact of the defender and the ground.

You’ll notice that Doss was lined up in the slot on the above play.  I saw a number of different deployments from him, including coming in motion and taking a jet sweep handoff.  Since I question Doss’s ability to win in the air as an X receiver, being able to succeed from the slot may presage his NFL usage.  If he does play between the numbers, his awareness to find the soft spot of the zone, as he shows below, will be key.

I struggled with who should get the higher draft grade: Doss or Emmanuel Butler (below).  I saw more negatives in Doss’s tape but I had to remind myself that Butler’s tape was two years old and pre-injuries.  Because of that I’ll give Doss the slight advantage heading into the pre-draft process.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 5-6

 

Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona

  • Listed at: 6040/220 (per www.stats.washingtonpost.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Eastern Washington 2016, Highlights 2018
  • Stats:
    • 2016: 11 games, 69 receptions, 1,003 yards, 14.5 yards per catch, 9 TDs (missed most of 2017 with a shoulder injury)
    • 2018: 9 games, 35 receptions, 676 yards, 19.3 yards per catch, 7 TDs

Unfortunately, Butler’s promise has been partially derailed by injury.  In 2017 he missed most of the season (2 games, 6 receptions) with a shoulder injury that required surgery.  In 2018, he missed time as well after taking a big hit to his midsection.  Since he’s missed time recently and had a disappointing 2018 season, there’s not much hype (or film) for Butler.  Nevertheless, I think fans should keep an eye on Butler because I think he’ll pop-up come training camp.

The lone game available to study was from 2016, before his shoulder injury.  Butler consistently shows his ability to win in the air.  He showcases one of my favorite receiver attributes, being able to go “over and through” a defender as I call it.  By that I mean that Butler is able to outjump the defender and he uses his wingspan to catch the ball in front of the defender; it’s as if he were able to shove his hands through the defender’s midsection.  Here’s a good example of what I mean:

You can also see how strong his hands are on this play.  He has less than ideal hand placement but he’s able to hold onto the ball despite the defender’s arm getting in between.  You can also see that Butler comes down out of bounds which I noticed more than once, so he may not have the body control and spatial awareness of other elite above-the-rim receivers.

My favorite highlight of Butler’s actually came on an interception (and is one I pointed out back in the preseason).  The ball is intercepted with Butler fighting for the ball.  The DB gets up and returns the interception.  Butler hurries to his feet, fights off a block and runs down the streaking defender, saving a likely touchdown.  One of the best hustle plays I’ve ever seen.

I wanted to check-in with some post-injury 2018 film but struggled to find relevant highlights.  The reels I found weren’t dated so I’m not sure which games are featured.  What I saw though validated some of my prior observations, namely that Butler is an acrobatic receiver who can make fantastic catches.  Without further film study it’s hard to gauge Butler’s route running and blocking ability.  From the little I’ve seen, I think he may be below average in both respects.

Butler is a potential steal for a team late in the NFL Draft because of his high ceiling and discounted price due to the injuries.  Sadly, he probably won’t factor into your RSO rookie drafts but you should remember his name just in case he gets an opportunity.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 6-7

Donald Parham, TE, Stetson

  • Listed at: 6080/240 (per www.stats.washingtonpost.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Highlights 2016, 2017, 2018
  • Stats:
    • 2017: 10 games, 58 receptions, 817 yards, 14.1 yards per catch, 1 TDs
    • 2018: 9 games, 85 receptions, 1,319 yards, 15.5 yards per catch, 13 TDs

My dude.  I came across Parham in May 2018 while doing some deep sleeper research.  I first profiled him in my 2018 FCS preview and then followed up with an interview, because I just had to learn more.  I thought Parham’s line from 2017, 58/817/1 was impressive, and was blown away when I saw his 2018 numbers.  I really did not expect his production to jump as high as it did (85/1,319/13) but Parham ended up being an first team FCS All-American.  Unfortunately there’s no new film on Parham (thankfully he’ll be at the Senior Bowl) so I’ll have to settle for sharing two highlights I previously shared with my readers.  In the first, you’ll see just how valuable his extra inches are.  In the second, you’ll see what Parham told me was his most memorable football moment, a diving catch against Sacred Heart.

The positive signs for Parham are 1) his production has increased year over year, 2) he’s bulked up nearly 40lbs since his freshmen season and 3) he received that vital Senior Bowl invite.  I fully anticipate that Parham’s stock will increase after the Senior Bowl.  Even if his performance isn’t great, people will be intrigued by somebody with his measureables.  Adam Shaheen went from relative anonymity to second round draft pick in short order in 2017 and I’m expecting a similar rise for Parham.  Like Shaheen, Parham will need time to develop but he’s worth the investment.  I’m calling my shot here: Parham will be drafted on Day Two and he’ll inevitably end up on one of my dynasty teams.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 2-3

 

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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, Athlon Sports
  • 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, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  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: 2019 National Championship Game Preview

Updated: January 5th 2019

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

National Championship Game, Alabama (14-0) vs Clemson (14-0), Mon 1/7 at 8:00pm on ESPN:

Well, here we go again. Alabama and Clemson are building a nice intra-conference rivalry with all of these CFP matchups (the Tide lead the recent series, 2-1). I’ve heard some fans express disappointment that we’re getting such a familiar matchup for the championship but I’m a fan. For me, as an amateur draft analyst, this game is fantastic because of the sheer volume of NFL talent that will be on display. I’ve recently written about a number of these prospects so rather than rehash those players, I decided to spotlight two guys who I have yet to discuss this season: Alabama RB Josh Jacobs and Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow. If you’d like to revisit my previous players-to-watch from earlier this postseason, please check out my Conference Championship Preview (Irv Smith) and Part VI of my Bowl Previews (Clelin Ferrel, Quinnen Williams).  I’ve also provided my prediction and best bets below.  Good luck and enjoy!

Draft Eligible Players to Watch:

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Josh Jacobs likely saw his NFL Draft stock rise quicker than anybody else who played last week. In that game against Oklahoma, Jacobs totaled 19 touches for 158 yards and a score. Throughout his career, Jacobs has been sharing the workload with a number of talented backs (currently, the Harris “twins” of Damien and Najee) but maybe coach Nick Saban finally realized that Jacobs was the best of the bunch. It’s impossible to evaluate Jacobs based on his stats because he shared so many touches. His career numbers are: 240 attempts, 1,444 yards, 16 rushing TDs, 47 receptions, 555 yards and 5 receiving TDs. Don’t be the fantasy owner who ignores him because his career stats don’t look great on paper. I was that guy when it came to Alvin Kamara in 2017 and I hope not to repeat that mistake. I’m certainly not predicting that Jacobs will have Kamara’s rise to stardom, it’s far too soon for a prediction like that, but I’m saying that there’s more than the boxscore for fantasy owners to consider.

I first wrote about Jacobs in November 2017 but since then I haven’t watched him too closely, so it was time for a refresher.  I decided to go back and watch Jacobs against Mississippi State from earlier this season. His 20 carries in that game were a career high so I figured it would give me a feel for his ceiling.  On the first play of the State film, Jacobs took the snap from the wildcat and showcased his penchant for lowering his head and surging into defenders.  He wallops the first defender and then shoulders another as he’s being dragged down around the waist.  The run went for a first down but what stood out more was how un-fun it would be to lineup opposite Jacobs.

In addition to his size and power, Jacobs showed an ability to make sharp, quick cuts to get around defenders.  This one near the end zone was particularly eye-catching.  Jacobs sets up two defenders to the outside, plants his right foot and explodes upfield while avoiding much contact.  Without the benefit of the full broadcast, it’s hard to tell if Jacobs scores on the play but either way that cut was a thing of beauty.

I was most surprised by Jacobs’ ability to pass protect.  Perhaps that should not have come as a surprise since Nick Saban trusts him as the passing down back.  Other backs have the desire to block, but I struggled thinking of a back who showed the intelligence in picking up their assignments as Jacobs did.  There were three separate instances against Mississippi State where I noted that Jacobs quickly diagnosed the rush and found his man, even from across the formation.  I chose to highlight this specific play because you can also see Jacobs square up, set his base and prepare for the block.

Due to the small sample size we have for Jacobs, I can understand why fantasy owners may be leery about taking the plunge next Spring.  I however, need no further convincing that Jacobs deserves to move up my positional rankings.  He has a wonderful combination of size, power, agility, intelligence and pass catching ability that will endear him to scouts.  Come May, we will be talking about Jacobs as a potential Day Two NFL prospect and as a second round target in rookie drafts.

 

 

Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson

ESPN put it best in their recent piece, saying that “Hunter Renfrow is a timeless legend at Clemson.” Renfrow doesn’t project as a big-name prospect like some of the other dudes in this contest, so why highlight him? For starters, that “legendary” status paired with Dabo Swinney’s playful playcalling means that Renfrow will inevitably be featured on a trick play. He played as a triple-option quarterback in high school, was the team’s emergency quarterback while Trevor Lawrence was banged up and kicked a 42-yard punt against Wake Forest.  Once the Wake game was out of hand, Renfrow got some snaps at QB.  Check out the downfield block he makes on this run that helps spring the back for a score.  “Want-to” plays like this is what makes fans fall in love with Renfrow.

While Renfrow’s regular season production throughout his career has been mediocre (about 3 catches for 40 yards, on average), he has shown an ability to show up for big games. Renfrow has played in each of the three CFP matchups versus ‘Bama and has a total of 22 receptions, 211 and 2 TDs (including the last second game winner in 2017). Those stats, against the perennially strong Alabama defense in the seasons’ biggest games, are impressive.

Renfrow will get a crack in the NFL as a slot receiver but he won’t be highly sought in a deep receiver class. He has sticky hands, runs his routes well and is a clutch performer.  While I was looking for highlights of Renfrow, I came across this catch which immediately reminded me of the game-winning catch Cole Beasley made against the Giants in Week 17.  Renfrow breaks off his route to adjust for the scrambling quarterback, heads towards open space to make himself a target, hands-catches the ball in midair and gets a foot in for the score.

Beasley is smaller than Renfrow, so I think a better comparison would be fellow Clemson alumni, Adam Humphries from the Buccaneers. Humphries went undrafted, as did Beasley, which is too a possibility for Renfrow but I think it’s more likely he’ll be a sixth or seventh round guy because of his name recognition.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how Renfrow is deployed in this one.  Running a “Clemson Special” with Renfrow may be too obvious so instead I’m thinking he might be involved in a trick special teams play (in addition to his regular receiver work, of course).

My Prediction:

There’s not much to separate these two teams. They have so much in common: both have underclassmen on offense who are surefire NFL pros, both have stellar defenses led by fierce front sevens, both have championship experience, both have great coaching staffs, and on and on. When I came into this preview, I knew it was going to be difficult to avoid the urge to name-drop all of the potential difference makers. The two guys mentioned above will surely figure into the action but the main draw will undoubtedly be the quarterbacks. Clemson’s true freshman Trevor Lawrence is a herculean specimen who looked, and played, the part from day one. Alabama’s sophomore Tua Tagovailoa is like a jazz musician with his ability to improvise and produce moments of magic extemporaneously. If pressed, I would predict that Lawrence has the better game overall but Tua produces the single most important moment of the game and wins a defensive battle for the Tide.  Alabama 29, Clemson 25

My Bets:

  • Clemson, +5.5
  • Under 58.5

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 1/4.

 

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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, Athlon Sports
  • 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, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  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: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part VI

Updated: December 28th 2018

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

Cotton Bowl (Semi-Final), Clemson (13-0) vs Notre Dame (12-0), Sat 12/29 at 4:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
    • Ferrell has ensconced himself as the top prospect on Clemson’s talented defense. He’s a slam dunk first round pick because of his combination of size (6050/260) and speed. His career stats are excellent as well: 158 tackles, 48.0 tackles for loss and 26.0 sacks. Ferrell plays with a relentless but not reckless pace. He appears to have very good instincts and can quickly diagnose what’s going on in the offensive backfield. Ferrell plays as a down lineman so I’d expect 4-3 teams to target him but he’s probably good enough to adapt to any system.
  • My Pick: Clemson, -12.5
    • The line for this one keeps creeping larger and larger but it doesn’t matter to me. Clemson would be my pick if the line was twice as big. Notre Dame is a solid team who finally found their QB in Ian Book, however Clemson has them bested at each position. Much of the talk in this one will be about Clemson’s defense but RSO owners should also pay attention to the star underclassmen that the Tigers have on offense (QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne, WR Tee Higgins).

Orange Bowl (Semi-Final), Alabama (13-0) vs Oklahoma (12-1), Sat 12/29 at 8:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
    • There are so many draft eligible players in this one that it’s an impossible task to pick one. I settled on Williams because his name has been en vogue lately. Williams is a redshirt sophomore who played sparingly in 2017. In 2018 he totaled 66 tackles, 18.0 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks. The reason that Williams’ name has become so hot is because he’s on a five game tear. In those five games he has at least one sack in each contest (6.5 total), 33 total tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. His best game of the bunch was a dominating performance against #4 LSU (10-3.5-2.5) so I decided to watch the film. Williams measures in at 6040/289 but his quickness belies his size. He has fast hands and is typically on the blocker faster than they can react. He was often double- and triple-teamed but still made an impact. His push through the interior disrupts the pocket and leads to sacks or tackles for loss for his teammates. My initial impression before watching the LSU film was that #DraftTwitter was overreacting to a small sample size of recent games but that thought was wrong. Williams is the real deal and will be a Top 10 pick if he comes out.
  • My Pick: Alabama, -14
    • I won’t be playing this game ATS or on the moneyline. It’s just too fraught to pick in my opinion. Nick Saban has won his last three semi-final games by a combined score of 86-13, while the three subsequent championship games were all single digit margins. That tells me that if you give the Tide time to prepare, they will destroy you. Then what’s my hang up? The Sooners offense, led by QB Kyler Murray, is ranked 1st overall in the FBS. They can put up points but have not played a defense like Alabama’s yet. If I had to guess, I would say that Alabama’s defense outplays Oklahoma’s offense but I have enough doubt to sit this one out. I will be betting the over though. The teams have gone over a combined 19 times in 26 games.

Fiesta Bowl, LSU (9-3) vs UCF (12-0), Tue 1/1 at 1:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Devin White, LB, LSU
    • White has led the Tigers in tackles the last two seasons, totaling 248 between. He’s constantly around the ball and will be an IDP darling because he also collects sacks and turnovers. White is ranked as the #2 interior linebacker, and #24 overall, in the class by TheDraftNetwork.com and is even higher on some other industry lists. When I was searching for tape online, I came across a highlight clip titled “Fastest Linebacker in the Country.” After watching the clip, I have to admit that I was impressed with his straight line speed. Whether he’s using it to rush the quarterback right up the gut or going sideline-to-sideline pursuing a running back, White has an extra gear that most in his position don’t. It’ll be so much fun watching him matchup with a running quarterback like UCF’s Darriel Mack.
  • My Pick: UCF, +7.5
    • If you like fun, don’t bet on LSU. I took them in numerous games this season and was let down each time. They ended up 6-6 ATS and I might have had them in each of those six losses, oh well. UCF on the other hand is 9-3 ATS, including 5-1 in the last six. You can’t disregard the loss of QB McKenzie Milton but backup Darriel Mack showed he’s capable. Mack single-handedly engineered a comeback in the AAC Championship game by rushing for four 2nd half touchdowns. Take the points and enjoy yourself rooting for a UCF team that won’t be out of it even if they’re down.

Rose Bowl, Washington (10-3) vs Ohio State (12-1), Tue 1/1 at 5:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
    • [Insert quippy boilerplate “2019 Quarterback Class” comment here]. After his first year as the starter, Haskins has catapulted near the top of 2019 quarterback rankings. He completes a conference-leading 70.2% of his passes and finished with a crazy 47:8 TD:INT ratio. There’s a chance that Haskins surpasses 5,000 passing yards – he needs 420, a mark he’s beat three times this year. There’s no question that Haskins has an accurate arm, anticipates his receivers well and throws with touch. The recent track record of run-first Buckeye QBs may hurt Haskins in the eyes of casual fans but don’t let it jade you, he’s a natural thrower who is a quarterback through and through. In the 2019 class he’s likely a first rounder due to the lack of solid quarterback prospects.
  • My Pick: Ohio State, -7
    • Neither team has been great for bettors recently so I’m not picking this one based on trends or stats. It’s just a gut feeling. Ohio State undoubtedly thinks they should be in the playoff. They will be playing angry and will run up the score to show the committee they made a mistake. The players are also playing their last game for Urban Meyer so there will be an added impetus to play well. I’m going Ohio State and might even play an alternate line and lay even more points.

Sugar Bowl, Texas (9-4) vs Georgia (11-2), Tue 1/1 at 8:45pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Riley Ridley, WR, Georgia
    • Riley is the younger brother of Falcons rookie WR Calvin Ridley. And, if you believe the hype on Twitter, Ridley the younger could be just as good. I’ve seen a number of Georgia games this season but did not have a feel for Ridley so I decided to go back and watch one of his films. The only one I could find from 2018 was against LSU when he had a 3-75-1 stat line. Unfortunately the lack of sample size is an issue for Ridley in general, not just in the LSU game I watched. He has just 64 career receptions, 38 of which came in 2018. During the LSU game, I saw a receiver with a good get-off and quick feet out of his breaks. He relies on his speed and quickness to get separation rather than physicality or strength. To get a better feel for his hands, I watched an extended highlight package from the season. He tracks the ball well and shows sticky hands even if he’s forced into an awkward hand placement. When he runs after the catch he likes to utilize a backwards cut that helps him find space and gain extra yardage. Unsurprisingly, I saw him whiff on a number of blocks. I have not seen enough of Ridley to properly rank him but I definitely see that he has the raw tools to be an NFL receiver.
  • My Pick: Georgia, -13
    • No offense to Texas but they don’t feel like they belong in a New Years Six bowl game. Luckily they have two NFL receivers in Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey so they’ll be worth watching. Georgia won their last two ATS while Texas has lost their last two, so the trends point toward the Bulldogs.

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/26.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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, Athlon Sports
  • 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, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  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: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part V

Updated: December 28th 2018

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

Redbox Bowl, Michigan State (7-5) vs Oregon (8-4), Mon 12/31 at 3:00pm on FOX:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon (Editor’s note: After this was written, Herbert announced that he will be returning to Oregon for his senior season)
    • The name to know while watching the inaugural Redbox Bowl will undoubtedly be Oregon QB Justin Herbert. Herbert has confirmed that he is going to play in the bowl which is a departure from other top prospects, including fellow QB Will Grier. Herbert has prototypical NFL quarterback size at 6060/233 to go along with his above average athleticism and speed. His mechanics and footwork could use some improvement but he has enough accuracy and arm strength to overcome some of his poorer habits. Herbert will be in contention for the first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft so be prepared to hear about him all offseason. This matchup against the Spartans defense, who ranks 13th overall in the FBS in points allowed, will prove to be a tricky final exam.
  • My Pick: Oregon, -2.5
    • This may be the game with the worst combined record ATS this season (both teams are 4-8 for a combined 8-16 mark). The Spartans offense pales in comparison to its defense (120th in points scored versus 13th in points against) and it could be without starting QB Brian Lewerke. Herbert will be able to move the ball because the defense is weaker against the pass than the run.

Liberty Bowl, Oklahoma State (6-6) vs Missouri (8-4), Mon 12/31 at 3:45pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
    • In my opinion, Lock has a wide range of potential draft outcomes. He could go first overall (as can any other Top 10 quarterback prospect once we get into “shorts and t-shirt” season) or fall to the fifth round. Depending on when you looked, Lock has fluctuated greatly on experts’ big boards. He exploded in 2017 for 3,964 yards and 44 TDs but regressed statistically in 2018 (3,125-25). I haven’t done a recent study of Lock but in the preseason I summed him up thusly: “I felt that both the speed and touch on his balls was average to above average but inconsistent. To borrow a cliche, he has the ‘arm talent’ but he doesn’t display it on every rep. I have to admit that he can throw a beauty of a ball [though], dude can spin it.” Lock has already accepted a Senior Bowl invitation so his showcase circuit is just beginning. Unfortunately, two other offensive draft prospects will likely sit out of this one due to injury: Mizzou TE Albert Okwuegbunam and Cowboy RB Justice Hill.
  • My Pick: Missouri, -8
    • This one is a big number but Oklahoma State’s defense is just not good enough to slow down Lock. The Tigers are 3-1 in their last four games ATS and I expect that trend to continue.

Holiday Bowl, Northwestern (8-5) vs Utah (9-4), Mon 12/31 at 7:00pm on FS1:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Chase Hansen, LB, Utah
    • I came across Hansen’s name for the first time while looking for a player to spotlight for this game. His 2018 totals stood out: 114 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 2 INTs. After I read his bio, I was even more intrigued. Hansen redshirted all the way back in 2012 and then went on a church mission trip for two years. He returned to campus for the 2015 season which was cut short due to injury. During that initial campaign, Hansen played at both safety and quarterback. In 2016, he switched to defense full-time but split time between linebacker and safety. He did the same in 2017 but again missed time to injury. Fast forward to this season where his determination finally paid off with All-American and All-Pac-12 honors. Along the way, Hansen has won All-Academic awards and was a candidate for the IMPACT Trophy which is given to a defensive player who shows great character. What does this all mean for Hansen’s prospects as a professional? I have no idea. The biggest knock against him will certainly be his age (other guys from the 2012 recruiting class: Landon Collins, Stefon Diggs, Jameis Winston). After reading about his back story, I have no doubt that Hansen has the patience and perseverance to make an NFL roster. If he does, he’ll stick because his versatility will make him ideal on special teams.
  • My Pick: Northwestern, +7
    • Both teams are banged up and will come into this one short-handed. Utah has a top defense which should keep it close. Since I’m expecting a low-scoring affair, and since both teams lost their last two ATS, I will take the points and hope for the best.

Gator Bowl, Texas A&M (8-4) vs NC State (9-3), Mon 12/31 at 7:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
    • Sternberger is a former transfer from Kansas who excelled in his first season with the Aggies and new coach Jimbo Fisher. He led all FBS tight ends in receiving TDs (10) and finished second in yards (804). Sternberger is listed at 6040/250 but as usual appears smaller on film (that’s not a knock on him, just something I try to remind readers). He shows good enough speed and agility to run after the catch and is a natural pass catcher. I will need to do a more thorough study to evaluate his blocking ability but in truth it probably doesn’t matter. If guys like Evan Engram and Mark Andrews were first rounders, it’s possible that Sternberger could elevate to that level too. I haven’t seen anything official that Sternberger will declare for the NFL Draft so file his name away for next year if he decides to return.
  • My Pick: NC State, +7
    • The line on this one started at +3 and moved all the way to +7. The hate has gone too far, methinks. A&M’s rushing defense is ranked 2nd in the FBS, meanwhile State’s is 13th. The passing defenses though are ranked 118th and 108th respectively. This one will hinge on which quarterback is more efficient with the ball and that will be Wolfpack QB Ryan Finley.

Outback Bowl, Mississippi State (8-4) vs Iowa (8-4), Tue 1/1 at 12:00pm on ESPN2:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa
    • Back-to-back tight ends? You bet, 2019 is shaping up to be a pretty good class. Hockenson will have an opportunity to make his case to America that he’s the better tight end on the Hawkeyes (Noah Fant will be sitting out the bowl game). Like Sternberger, Hockenson has not officially declared yet but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paying attention. Despite Fant getting all of the plaudits, Hockenson led the team in receiving (46-717-6). Fant will have the edge athletically, but Hockenson is bigger (6050/250). Considering how weak the tight end position was in fantasy this year, I have a feeling many of us will be looking for 2019 lottery tickets at the position.
  • My Pick: Mississippi State, -7
    • Similar to the NC State game, this line has moved a lot. I wanted to lean Iowa because of my Big Ten fandom but the stats tell me otherwise. The Bulldogs are 8-4 ATS on the season and 4-1 ATS in their last five games. In the three games this season when Iowa was getting points, they lost all three straight up and failed to cover.

Citrus Bowl, Penn State (9-3) vs Kentucky (9-3), Tue 1/1 at 1:00pm on ABC:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky
    • Benjamin Snell Jr. became one of my favorite players to watch this season. He finished the year with 1,330 rushing yards and 14 TDs to bring his career totals to 3,754 rushing yards and 46 TDs. That’s A+ production for a three-year starter. Snell lacks top-end speed but he’s fast enough for the NFL. I think he’ll predominantly be a two-down back in the NFL but he has the versatility to play passing downs. Since he’s unlikely to be a flashy prospect you may be able to get him for a bargain come your rookie draft.
  • My Pick: Penn State, -6.5
    • Kentucky has struggled to cover recently, losing 2-5 in their last seven. Penn State also features the better quarterback (Trace McSorley) and their own NFL hopeful back (Miles Sanders). So, I’ll take Penn State and lay the points.

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/24.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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, Athlon Sports
  • 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, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  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: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part IV

Updated: December 28th 2018

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

Peach Bowl, Florida (9-3) vs Michigan (10-2), Sat 12/29 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch: Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan
    • I was originally going to profile Winovich in this space but changed my mind after Todd McShay’s most recent big board ranked fellow LB Devin Bush 10th overall. Then I figured why not mention both? Then on the morning I was writing this, Bush declared for the draft and announced that he’d skip the bowl due to a hip injury. Woe, the travails of bowl season for somebody writing advance previews. Winovich is a can’t miss player on the field, 1) because of his golden locks and 2) because of his persistence attacking the ball. He’s a smart player who will quickly curry favor in the locker room and on the practice field.  I expect him to land on Day Two come April.
  • My Pick: Florida, +7.5
    • As repeat readers know, I am a Michigan fan so this is a tough one to pick. My heart says to go for the Wolverines and a blowout victory but my brain says it’ll be close (if not a loss). Michigan has lost their last three games against the spread which does not bode well. Both teams feature strong defenses (advantage: Michigan) so it should be relatively low scoring. I’d be surprised to see either team win by more than a field goal.

Belk Bowl, South Carolina (7-5) vs Virginia (7-5), Sat 12/29 at 12:00pm on ABC:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina
    • The Gamecocks have two receiver prospects in Edwards and Deebo Samuel. Samuel has already announced that he will not play in the bowl so Edwards should receive the spotlight treatment. Since the USC offense is less than explosive, Edwards’ numbers are good but not great. His 2018 line finished at 52-809-7. He’s listed at 6030/220 and plays strong. In the preseason, I noted that I was impressed with his ball tracking, body control and ability to complete circus catches. I previously had Edwards as my 1.03 for 2019 rookie drafts so keep a close eye on his postseason performance.
  • My Pick: Virginia, +5
    • I was honestly surprised to see that Virginia ended up bowl eligible and with a winning record to boot. Like Minnesota which I mentioned in a previous installment, Virginia is one of the rare Power 5 teams I have not seen a lick of this season. Virginia has a better record ATS (8-4) and the better defense (a top 25 group in most categories) so I’ll take them and the points. You should follow along on Twitter because the people behind the Belk Bowl’s Twitter account are fantastic at their jobs.

Arizona Bowl, Nevada (7-5) vs Arkansas State (8-4), Sat 12/29 at 1:15pm on CBSSN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Justice Hansen, QB, Arkansas State
    • Hansen will be looking to cap off a very productive career at Arkansas State in this one. He was twice named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and should crest 10,000 career passing yards in the bowl (he’s sitting at 9,858). Hansen has good size at 6040/224 and is a threat as a runner as well. He moves well in the pocket but has much room to grow as a passer. His touch and accuracy are below average for pro prospects but he does show a quick release and an ability to run a zone-read offense. I see him being a priority UDFA and finding a home as a project backup to a run-first quarterback.
  • My Pick: Arkansas State, -2
    • Saturday 12/29 is a day with some big games. This is not one of them. Both teams have top 20 passing offenses, however Nevada’s pass defense is much weaker. Trust in the Red Wolves and Justice Hansen.

Military Bowl, Virginia Tech (6-6) vs Cincinnati (10-2), Mon 12/31 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch: Ricky Walker, DT, Virginia Tech & Marquise Copeland, DT, Cincinnati
    • The best draft eligible guys in this one are both interior defensive linemen. Both players are listed at 6020 but Walker has the weight advantage (300 vs 287). They were both three year starters who finished with similar 2018 lines. Walker had 49 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, while Copeland had 43 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. I’m not familiar with either player’s film so I referred to two of my favorite sites’ positional rankings: The Draft Network and DraftTek. DrafTek has both guys as Top 100 players with a slight edge to Copeland. The Draft Network, on the other hand, has Walker ranked significantly higher on their big board (91 vs 460). It’ll be interesting to see them on alternating possessions and compare and contrast their abilities.
  • My Pick: Cincinnati, -5.5
    • The Bearcats finished the season with an impressive 10-2 record (7-5 ATS). Their explosive offense was led by sophomore RB Michael Warren II. Warren recorded nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage and 18 total TDs. He’s currently injured but expected to play. I’ll assume he does play and helps Cinci cement the victory. According to the OddsShark “edge finder,” Cincinnati leads Virginia Tech in eleven of twelve categories. Perhaps not surprisingly then, OddsShark predicts Cincinnati will win this one 45-19.

Sun Bowl, Stanford (8-4) vs Pitt (7-6), Mon 12/31 at 2:30pm on CBS:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
    • JJAW was not on my radar when I started making my 2019 position rankings in June of 2018. He exploded at the beginning of the year though and made people like myself notice. By September I had moved him up to the 2.08 slot and today I would probably put him in the late first round. Arcega-Whiteside is a prototypical “box-out” receiver who uses his play strength, length and leaping ability to win in contested situations. He has good hands and superior ball tracking ability. He does not rely on speed or RAC but he doesn’t need to. I’d say there’s at least a 50/50 chance that he stays for another year so let’s monitor his status.
  • My Pick: Stanford, -6
    • Stanford’s offense will be missing former Heisman runner-up RB Bryce Love because he decided to skip the bowl as he prepares for the NFL. Twelve months ago, missing Love would have left a gulf in the middle of the Stanford offense. He’s continued to play banged up and did not perform at a high level this season (just 739-6 in 2018 vs 2,118-19 in 2017). QB KJ Costello finished the season strong with a 10:2 TD:INT ratio over the last three games.  Costello himself could factor into the NFL Draft conversation if he decides to forego his senior season. Even without Love, Stanford has enough to hold off Pitt to improve to 4-0-1 ATS since the start of November.

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/18.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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, Athlon Sports
  • 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, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  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: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part III

Updated: December 22nd 2018

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

First Responder Bowl, Boston College (7-5) vs Boise State (10-3), Wed 12/26 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
    • Stop me if you’ve heard this before… the 2019 quarterback class is one of the weakest in the last decade. Because of that position scarcity, mediocre quarterbacks will find their draft stock waxing. Rypien is better than mediocre so it’s inevitable that he’s overdrafted. When I watched him in the preseason, I came away with a positive impression but was not blown away. He’s been a four-year starter for a successful Boise State team (although he lost some starter’s snaps in 2017). He is average in size (6020/202) but has a strong enough arm. In my notes I questioned his touch near the end zone and his ability to feel the blindside rush. Compared to 2017, Rypien improved his rate stats and ended with a very good 3,705-30-7 line. His 2018 performance was enough to earn him MWC Offensive Player of the Year honors. If I had to guess right now, I would say that Rypien gets drafted on Day Two which makes him a possible target for you in your 2019 rookie drafts.
  • My Pick: Boise State, -3
    • Is it possible that Boston College would have a better shot in this one if star RB AJ Dillon sat out due to his lingering injuries? That might sound crazy but it might be true because the strength of Boise’s defense is against the run (ranked 22nd). Boston College QB Anthony Brown has shown some flashes in the games I’ve watched but Rypien is the far better signal caller. Expect the defense to keep it low scoring (the last five Boise State games have gone under) and for Rypien to manage the game and milk the Broncos time of possession advantage.

Quick Lane Bowl, Minnesota (6-6) vs Georgia Tech (7-5), Wed 12/26 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
    • I’ve had Tyler Johnson on my watch list for awhile now but I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to dive in. Despite being a Big Ten apologist, I think I went the entire regular season without watching a snap of the Gophers. Johnson ranked second in the conference with 1,112 yards and added 10 TDs. His 74 receptions was more than double his output in 2017 which is a sign of positive progression. I watched two of Johnson’s game from 2017 and was disappointed.  He predominantly lines up outside but I don’t think he’ll have the size or strength to do so in the NFL.  His hands were inconsistent (too many drops, too often let the ball get into his body) and he did not succeed enough in contested situations. I haven’t seen anything definitive about whether Johnson will declare early (he probably will) but I think he’d be better served from another season at Minnesota.
  • My Pick: Georgia Tech, -5.5
    • This is one of the bigger numbers we’ve seen so far. I’ll lean towards Georgia Tech solely because of the novelty of their offense. Minnesota has more time to prepare than for a regular season game but even if they slow the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack they will still control the game and put up points. Tech leads the FBS in rushing yards per game (335.0) by a whopping margin (38.7 yards per game more than 2nd ranked Army). Minnesota’s rush defense is a middling 76th best. Even though they lost RB KirVonte Benson early in the year, Georgia Tech still managed to finish with seven rushers over 200 yards each. Tech will roll.

Cheez-It Bowl, TCU (6-6) vs Cal (7-5), Wed 12/26 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Ben Banogu, DE, TCU
    • Banogu is a former transfer from Louisiana-Monroe who joined TCU in 2017 and factored in immediately. His 2017 and 2018 lines are remarkably similar: 55-16.5-8.5 and 52-17.0-7.5. Banogu is well built as listed 6040/249 but I fear those numbers may be inflated.  When I watched his tape against Oklahoma from this season he looked slight.  Granted, my exposure was limited to that one game against a team with a good offensive line, but in that film he lacked the play strength and power moves to make an impact at the next level.  When he does impact the play it’s because of his raw speed rather than technique or strength. I also noticed two missed tackles and a play where he lost contain which led to a touchdown. My initial gut reaction is that Banogu is somebody who will be overdrafted based on production and measureables but struggle to find a role as anything but a situational speed rusher.
  • My Pick: Cal, +2
    • Blah. I’m not sure about other college football fans but I am just finding it impossible to get excited about this one. Vegas felt the same because the game opened even. Since then it’s moved towards TCU being the favorite even though they are 4-8 ATS. Cal isn’t much better (6-5-1) but OddsShark.com has them winning by nearly seven. This looks to be a game where casual fans are taking TCU for the recent name recognition and you can get a bargain with Cal at +2.

Independence Bowl, Temple (8-4) vs Duke (7-5), Thur 12/27 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
    • Jones is one of the more polarizing quarterback prospects in the weak 2019 class. I started the season with Jones as my QB2 (behind Herbert) but would probably bump him down a bit if I were ranking today (at least behind Haskins too). Jones has a lot to improve upon, namely his touch and accuracy, but he has physical tools that others don’t. He has good size at 6050/220, is a productive runner (16 career rushing TDs) and throws well on the run. Unfortunately, Jones has been battling injuries and his status for this one is up in the air. He showed immense toughness by coming back from an in-season broken clavicle so I would not count him out. If he does not play, keep an eye on the status of Temple RB Ryquell Armstead. He’s also banged up and may not play. If he does, you could get a glimpse of an interesting prospect. If the name sounds familiar it’s because he rushed for four scores against Boston College and another six against Houston.
  • My Pick: Duke, +3.5
    • With both teams missing key offensive pieces, I’ll take the points. Duke is better than Temple when it comes to turnovers and penalties which could be the edge in a game I expect to be pretty boring and low scoring. Duke is 5-0 ATS this season when receiving points so this one feels like a safe, but small, bet.

Pinstripe Bowl, Wisconsin (7-5) vs Miami (7-5), Thur 12/27 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami
    • Picking a draft eligible player was tough for this one because both teams have so many guys who will get drafted who casual fans just won’t pay attention to.  Wisconsin could have four offensive linemen drafted in the first 100 picks and the same could be said for Miami’s defense.  I settled on Johnson because he’s somebody I have mentioned in the past and have some familiarity with.  Johnson’s stats decreased this season due to missing time with a hamstring injury but he was still productive and led the team in tackles (79).  He also has 7 career INTs and a combined 9 forced and recovered fumbles.  He’s listed at 5110/190 which is a bit small for a physical box safety.  In the last three draft classes, only one safety (Justin Evans, 198) was drafted in the first three rounds at less than 200lbs.  I watched Johnson’s tape against Boston College and he definitely profiles more as a strong safety than a free safety.  He frequently lines up near the line of scrimmage or over a slot receiver and rarely in deep coverage.  He’s good in run support with no qualms about flowing to the ball carrier despite his smaller frame.  Johnson has first round potential so keep an eye on him in this one against the run-first Badgers.
  • My Pick: Wisconsin, +3.5
    • These two teams matched up less than a year ago in the Orange Bowl.  That one went Wisconsin’s way with a final of 34-24.  I see a similar outcome for the 2018 rendition.  The key will be Wisconsin’s rushing attack with RB Jonathan Taylor and that brick-wall offensive line.  Miami’s 24th ranked rushing defense allows just 127.3 yards so something’s gotta give and I expect it’ll be them.  I’ve been hard on Miami since their undefeated run to start 2017 so I admit this pick may be jaded.  I would take the Badgers on the moneyline so the 3.5 is just gravy.

Texas Bowl, Baylor (6-6) vs Vanderbilt (6-6), Thur 12/27 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
    • Mims will be an interesting prospect for 2019 because he has an excellent combination of size and speed.  The question will be whether his strength and technique can improve enough in the offseason to make him the complete package at receiver.  Mims is listed at 6030/208 and is a former track star in high school.  I found a high school track stat site that list listed Mims’ personal best in the 100-meter dash as 10.88 seconds.  That would equate to 4.01 seconds for a 40-yard dash.  Certainly the races aren’t the same and you can’t just apply that simple math but my point is that this dude is quick.  I’d love to see even bigger production from Mims (110 receptions, 1,786 yards and 16 TDs over the last two seasons) but the numbers are good enough.  I watched his 2017 tape against Oklahoma and I came away impressed.  He showed an ability to hands-catch the ball away from his body, excellent body control and leaping ability.  Mims alone might turn this game into a must-watch for me.
  • My Pick: Baylor, +4.5
    • The safest bet in this one might actually be the under because both teams have gone under in their last three.  When I’m stuck between two medicore teams, I’ll usually lean towards the better offense.  Baylor leads Vandy in most offensive categories, most importantly: points and time of possession.  Thursday would be a good time to plan some time with the family because you can record the game and fast forward to Baylor’s offensive possessions for some Mims exposure.

Music City Bowl, Auburn (7-5) vs Purdue (6-6), Fri 12/28 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
    • Stidham certainly won’t be the best pro prospect on the field in this one but his is an interesting story.  I’ve previously compared Stidham to Alex Smith because he had the feel of a future game manager with enough athleticism to make plays with his legs in clutch situations.  Unfortunately, Stidham struggled in 2018.  His completion percentage, yards per attempt, rating and ratio all decreased significantly from 2017.  Similarly, he was less effective as a runner (and was sacked more frequently).  Stidham has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl so he’ll have two more shots to show scouts that his issues were more a product of the Auburn offense than he himself.
  • My Pick: Purdue, +3.5
    • Similary to the Texas Bowl, I’ll take Purdue and the points because they have the better O.  Specifically, the Boilermakers will feature the game’s biggest playmaker in WR Rondale Moore.  Moore earned consensus All-American honors earlier this month, the first freshman to do so since Adrian Peterson in 2004.  Moore ended with 121 touches for 1,367 yards and 13 TDs: just awesome.  It’s probably not best to bet a game based on one player’s potential performance but ultimately betting is entertainment for me and there’s nobody more entertaining in college football right now than Rondale Moore.

Camping World Bowl, Syracuse (9-3) vs West Virginia (9-3), Fri 12/28 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: David Sills, WR, West Virginia
    • Since his quarterback (Will Grier) is sitting out the game, I expect Sills to be a focal point of the broadcast. He has a very interesting backstory, he was recruited by Lane Kiffin as a middle school quarterback, and has been uber productive. Sills proved to be a red zone monster in 2017 by leading the FBS in receiving touchdowns with 18 (12 of which came in the red zone). He nearly duplicated the feat in 2018 by catching 15 more (9). Sills is listed at 6040 but he feels bigger than that because he is long and lean. I’d like to see him add a few pounds to his 210lb frame in order to withstand the abuse that a boundary receiver endures in the NFL. Sills may not get the hype of some of the top receivers in this outstanding class but he will certainly be productive in the pros.
  • My Pick: Syracuse, +1.5
    • The Orange have been a good story this season and I’m thinking there’s a good chance it continues in the Camping World Bowl. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey is one of my favorite players so it’s a shame he is so often injured. It appears that he’s healthy enough now so ‘Cuse should have the edge under center with draft hopeful Will Grier preserving himself. Dungey himself could get late round or priority UDFA consideration despite the injuries. Syracuse has the nation’s 12th ranked offense (40.8 points per game) and should overpower the Mountaineers.

Alamo Bowl, Iowa State (8-4) vs Washington State (10-2), Fri 12/28 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State
    • I’ve developed a soft spot for David Montgomery. He might have the best highlight reels of anybody in the draft class and seems like a good kid from what I’ve seen in profiles. Back in 2017, I figured it would be between he and WR N’Keal Harry for the 2019 1.01 spot. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to explain away Montgomery’s limitations by pointing to his flashy plays. Montgomery lacks top-end or long speed (I expect him to run in the 4.50-4.60 range). He also gets stuffed in the backfield or for no gain too often which makes me question his vision at the line of scrimmage. This observation is borne out in the stats too: his career average of 4.7 yards per carry is low for somebody considered the best of the bunch. Montgomery does have fantastic contact balance and can break tackles. He caught 18 balls in 2018 but showed in 2017 that he can be a bigger part of the passing game (36 receptions). One interesting thing I noticed while watching him is a spin move that he utilizes sometimes when catching the ball out of the backfield. It forces the first defender to miss and can lead to big plays.
  • My Pick: Washington State, -3.5
    • I’ve been rooting for both of these underdog teams all season so I’m looking forward to see them face off in this bowl. The outcome will be decided by the Washington State passing offense vs the Iowa State passing defense. Wazzou paced the FBS in passing offense (379.8 yards per game), led by QB Gardner Minshew who quietly finished 5th in Heisman voting, Meanwhile the Cyclones rank 63rd in passing defense (228.8). It’ll be close late but I think Washington State is good enough to continue to win ATS (10-2 this season).

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/11.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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, Athlon Sports
  • 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, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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