2018 NFL Free Agency

Updated: February 18th 2018

Welcome back! With the NFL free agency just around the corner and the RSO and the site reopened, it is time to start watching who is a free agent or a potential cut candidate before the official offseason kicks off. There will be a few windows between now and March to either sell a player before he moves into a worse situation or buy a player before he joins a prolific offense. Here is a preview of each position’s key free agents as well as some player who could be cut before or during the offseason. Similar to last year I will be picking players that relocate to feature in the Free Agency Expectancy article series done throughout the offseason.

Quarterbacks

QB FAs QB Cuts
Drew Brees Eli Manning
Kirk Cousins Tyrod Taylor
Sam Bradford Ryan Tannehill
Josh McCown Mike Glennon
Case Keenum
Teddy Bridgewater
Blaine Gabbert
Jay Cutler
A.J. McCarron

The fireworks have already started with regards to the quarterback market with Alex Smith being dealt to Washington which should signal the end of Kirk Cousins in the Capital. Without knowing whether or not Drew Brees is going to seriously test free agency we have to assume that Cousins will be the one who will receive the largest contract. We haven’t seen a healthy, young(ish), competent QB hit the market in years so it will interesting to see how teams will court him. There should only be a handful of teams that don’t take a serious look at their starter and wonder if Cousins could be better. For the rest of the available and possibly available QBs, it’s a mixed bag in terms of fantasy relevance. Not sure many will have an impact outside of 2QB league but we’ll see where they land.

Running Backs

RB FAs RB Cuts
Le’Veon Bell DeMarco Murray
Carlos Hyde Doug Martin
Jerrick McKinnon Adrian Peterson
Dion Lewis Chris Ivory
Isaiah Crowell Mike Gillislee
Alfred Morris
Eddie Lacy
Jeremy Hill
LeGarrette Blount
Frank Gore
Rex Burkhead
Charles Sims
Thomas Rawls – RFA
Alex Collins – ERFA

Much like last year, I don’t expect Le’Veon Bell to hit the market, whether it is another year on the franchise tag or Pittsburgh comes to a long-term deal with him. Carlos Hyde would likely have the most upside of any free agent but he does have a history of injuries. He could find himself in a similar situation as Latavius Murray was last year where a team signs him but transitions to a rookie later in the season. After those two it would be hard to trust any RB to be more than an RB3-4 on a week-to-week basis. With another incoming rookie class that is extremely talented and super deep at the position, it will be tough for anyone to feel confident acquiring these available players. At best some will be able to share the backfield with a rookie or one another veteran. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

Wide Receivers

WR FAs WR Cuts
Jarvis Landry Jordy Nelson
Allen Robinson Brandon Marshall
Danny Amendola Randall Cobb
Paul Richardson Dez Bryant
Marqise Lee Emmanuel Sanders
Jordan Matthews Allen Hurns
Sammy Watkins Jeremy Maclin
Terrelle Pryor
Donte Moncrief
John Brown
Mike Wallace
Kendall Wright
Jeff Janis
Cameron Meredith – RFA
Quincy Enunwa – RFA
Tyrell Williams – RFA
Willie Snead – RFA
Brandon Coleman – RFA
Josh Gordon – ERFA

There are some big names available in the receiver market as well as some bigger names on the cut list which could make for savvy buy/sell opportunities between now and March. If Allen Robinson finds a new team with an efficient QB he will see his value spike back up to the mid WR1 conversation that it was a couple years ago. Same goes for Jarvis Landry who had good production in Miami with less than efficient offenses the last two seasons. If either or both Packers receivers are booted from Aaron Rodgers’ offense their value will crater. I would be selling both of them over the next three weeks before the trade value completely falls out from under them. Overall, this is the position group to watch throughout the offseason. Lots of moving pieces may create incredible value for a number of these players.

Tight Ends

TE FAs TE Cuts
Jimmy Graham Julius Thomas
Austin Seferian-Jenkins Eric Ebron
Tyler Eifert Vance McDonald
Antonio Gates C.J. Fiedorowicz
Benjamin Watson
Trey Burton
Cameron Brate – RFA  

Tight ends lag behind again as there are very few fantasy relevant options that will hit the open market and the ones that are available are extremely risky. Jimmy Graham started to be productive in Seattle last season with the offense needing to open up and carry their surprisingly weak defense. If he stays in Seattle he could be reconsidered in the top 3 conversation again for TE value. Until we know for sure his value is in flux. The rest of the group is either seriously flawed, injury prone or contemplating retirement which doesn’t bode well for fantasy value. Hopefully, the youth movement comes to blossom soon for this position otherwise it could be a wasteland if Gronk is serious about his retirement.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 TEs, Part I

Updated: February 11th 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.

Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Dallas Goedert is an FCS star who deserves your attention.  Goedert was not even on my radar when I started researching the 2017 season but an RSO reader suggested I look him up and since then I have had Goedert as a top player at the position.  Goedert was selected for the Senior Bowl but ultimately had to pull out due to a hamstring injury.  Luckily he was still able to weigh-in so we could get a firm handle on his height and weight.  Goedert came in at 6044 (a handy shorthand that says he is 6 feet, 04 inches and 4/8) and 260lbs which was just about what we expected.  I will be very interested in seeing how Goedert runs at the combine.  NFLDraftScout.com predicts he’ll run about 4.81, whereas a Sports Illustrated profile from the preseason gave him 4.65 speed.  That’s a huge gap (think Julius Thomas vs Kyle Rudolph).  Unfortunately, the hamstring wasn’t Goedert’s first injury of the season.  He left SDSU’s quarterfinal matchup against New Hampshire early with an ankle injury; the injury subsequently kept him out of the semi-final against James Madison.  Goedert played in each game in 2015 and 2016 so I’m not that concerned that this is part of a bigger pattern (he was redshirted in 2013 and a limited contributor in 2014).  Goedert does not have any character concerns that I came across during my research.  To the contrary, he seems like a fun, quirky kid that fans will fall in love with.  My research of Goedert provided the most unexpected article from AOL titled “A Walk-On Unicyclist from South Dakota Might be the NFL Draft’s Top Tight End Prospect.”  The article did not skimp on unicycling details and actually included a snapshot from the local paper showing Goedert atop a six-foot high unicycle.  Awesome.  Let’s hope he gets drafted by the team featured on Hard Knocks so we can see him in the rookie talent show!

Stats & Accolades:  As an FCS player, there are few “advanced” stats out there for Goedert.  Good thing he dominated so much the last two seasons that we don’t need the advanced stats to tell us how good Goedert is.  2016 was his high water mark with a 92-1,293-11 campaign.  His counting stats decreased in 2017 but his rate stat of yards per reception did increase (15.4 in 2017 vs 14.1 in 2016).  I expect the decrease in 2017 was likely due to the fact that MVC defenses had more time to watch film of Goedert and to gameplan against him.  Goedert has five games in his career with 10+ receptions.  To give you a feel for how dominant that is, let’s compare to other top TE prospects in this class.  Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst and Troy Fumagalli all have zero such games.  Adam Breneman, featured below, is the only other top prospect with any 10+ games and he has just two.  Casual fans may interject and say, “Bob, surely he dominated because he was by far the best receiver on his team.”  I would point out that Goedert was sharing the targets with four-year standout WR Jake Wieneke who averaged nearly 1,300 yards and 15 TDs per season.  An easy knock against Goedert (and Wieneke) will be the quality of opponent.  To get a feel for how Goedert did in his team’s biggest games, I looked at a set of six games.  The first was his only game against a Power 5 opponent, TCU in 2016.  In that game he had a 5-96-1 line.  The other five games all were against North Dakota State.  I chose to concentrate on this subset of his game logs because NDSU was by far the most dominant team in the FCS in recent history (they won six of seven championships).  In those five games against championship level teams, Goedert totaled 29 receptions for 389 yards and 3 TDs.  On average, that would be 5.8 receptions, 77.8 yards and .6 TDs.  That’s a stat line that fantasy owners would kill for from the TE position on a regular basis.

Goedert was named to the Missouri Valley Conference First Team for three straight seasons from 2015-2017.  He was also named, unanimously, to back-to-back FCS All-American teams in 2016 and 2017.  He was also a Walter Payton Award (i.e. the FCS Heisman) finalist both seasons.  He has quite a list of accomplishments and I am looking forward to seeing him ply his trade at the next level.

Year Games Rec Yards TD
2014 14 8 100 0
2015 12 26 484 3
2016 13 92 1293 11
2017 14 72 1111 7

Film Study: North Dakota State (2017), TCU (2016)

I watched Goedert against North Dakota State and TCU – the two key opponents mentioned above.  Let’s first look at Goedert in 2017 vs NDSU.  I was immediately struck by how versatile his usage was in the Jackrabbit offense.  Not only did Goedert line up inline, he lined up offset, split out and in the backfield.  Goedert is not a great blocker but I would say he is at least above average for the class.  Two blocks, coincidentally on back-to-back plays on the tape yet separated by minutes in the game, showed decent strength and form.  Don’t get me wrong, he will need improvement as a blocker in the NFL but what rookie tight end doesn’t?  Here are the two blocks:

In the first play, Goedert initiates contact with the defender with a quick strike.  He uses strong leg drive to push the defensive end back and hooks him to create a hole for the runner.  In the second play, Goedert again initiates the contact by getting his hands on the defender first.  He uses the linebacker’s aggressiveness against him as he pushes him inside just as the receiver comes past on the end-around.

Later in the game, Goedert impressed me with his concentration when he tipped a ball to himself and caught it with one hand.  He gets a clean release off the line and beats the covering linebacker.  He makes the tip and the catch look effortless as he walks into the endzone.  It was just one of a number of good-to-great catches I saw him make while watching tape and highlight reels.  Granted, it is easier to make the spectacular play when you’re playing against lesser competition.

On the ensuing two point conversion, Goedert stars in a clever trick play.  The running back takes a handoff and then hands to Goedert who comes on the reverse.  Goedert then pitches the ball to the quarterback who is in the flat.  It’s an ugly and dangerous pitch but it worked.  I don’t think there’s anything to glean from the play aside from reinforcing his versatility.

Against TCU, Goedert had a nice score that tied the game at 31.  He was lined up on the line and feigned blocking long enough to sell the fake on the jet sweep.  The defenders all fall for the fake and leave Goedert wide open.  He catches the ball in the open field and his size advantage is immediately apparent: there’s no way that the smaller safety can bring him down before the goal line.

While watching the TCU tape, I found myself disappointed in Goedert’s route running.  A number of his routes looked labored and slow.  One particular play late in the third quarter just looked like a lazy post pattern.  The safety is easily able to cover Goedert and break on the ball.  An NFL safety may have turned it into an interception.  The play ends in a defensive pass interference but that’s a moot point.  He should have done better on that play with the game still in the balance.

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective.  The objective here: getting drafted.)

Strengths: Size, volume of production in college, durability from 2013-2016, personality, versatility.

Weaknesses: 2017 injuries, level of competition in the FCS, speed (pending combine measurement), route running.

Opportunities: Due to his size and production in college, teams may view Goedert as a potential starter rather than a situational receiver.

Threats: Teams may get caught up on the recent ankle and hamstring injuries, or the lack of high level competition, and drop Goedert down their board.  Teams may be hesitant on Goedert until after they see him run at the combine as that will greatly impact his value.

Draft Round Grade:  Early 2nd Round

I believe that Goedert’s stock will continue to rise as more and more people get eyes on him.  A solid combine will also propel him higher in the draft as it’ll be the first time scouts can compare him to FBS players (the Senior Bowl injury really hurt, in my opinion).  Goedert isn’t the best blocker but he’s good enough that teams will view him as a more complete tight end prospect than somebody like Mark Andrews.

Recent NFL Comparison: Travis Kelce

While watching Goedert’s usage on tape, I felt there was a strong correlation to how Kelce is used by the Chiefs.  Kelce lines up in multiple positions, is used heavily on screens and non-traditional TE routes, and is included on trick plays.  Goedert will need to run closer to the Sports Illustrated estimate (4.65) than his NFLDraftScout.com estimate (4.81) to get close to Kelce’s speed (4.63).  I don’t think he’ll get under 4.70 so he’s definitely slower than Kelce but they are of a similar build.  Like Goedert, Kelce was not without some negatives (a suspension and lack of production) but he was worth the risk.

 

Jaylen Samuels, TE/RB/FB, North Carolina State

As the loquacious Winston Churchill might say if he were an NFL Draft analyst, Jaylen Samuels is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  My Twitter followers may recognize the name because I groused about Samuels at numerous times last season.  To say that Samuels may be the precursor to “positionless” football is not a stretch.  More so than for any other prospect, Samuels’ fantasy value will come down to who drafts him and their plans to utilize him.  In reality, Samuels does not fit in a preview of tight end prospects, he will most surely be drafted as a hybrid RB/FB.  I kept him with the tight ends for now more out of personal convenience than anything else.  At the Senior Bowl, Samuels measured in at 5114 (remember that’s shorthand for 5’11” and 4/8″) and 223lbs.  Since 2010, not a single TE has measured at 6’0″ or shorter at the combine; just one weighed less than 230lbs.  Like I said, he’s not a TE.  He’s also too light to be a true FB because he’d be the second lightest FB since 2010.  I keep talking about what Samuels isn’t, so let’s shift gears and talk about what he is: Samuels is the ultimate third down and two minute drill weapon.  His versatility lining up all over the field means that he has experience running pass patterns from a variety of formations.  His experience as an inline TE should mean he’s at least an average blocker (sadly the tape I watched didn’t highlight any of his blocks).  His prowess as a receiver and a short yardage runner is evident by looking at his stats and a cursory glance at his tape.  As far as injury or character concerns, there is not much to report.  Samuels has fought through a few minor injuries (foot, hamstring, possible concussion) but did not miss any games in 2015, 2016 or 2017.  I expect Samuels to be under-drafted in the NFL Draft compared to how excited some fantasy players are about his potential.  Ultimately, his jack-of-all-trades versatility could be both a blessing and a curse.  I’d love it if my favorite team grabbed him in the 5th round but any earlier than that may be asking too much.

Stats & Accolades:  Since I included Samuels with the tight ends today, let’s start with his receiving stats.  Starting with his sophomore season, he’s had 195 receptions (an average of 65) and 18 TDs.  He averages 9.2 yards per reception which is quite low but he’s not meant to be a big play threat.  Per Pro Football Focus, Samuels was one of the top slot receivers of 2017.  42 of his 75 receptions came from the slot and he had a 76.4% catch rate from the slot.  That catch rate was good enough to rank seventh best in the FBS.  Unfortunately, Samuels ranked low in PFF’s two other signature receiving stats: overall drop rate and yards per route run.  Another area where he excelled was as a receiver on third and long.  On third downs of four or more yards, Samuels caught 15 passes and converted 10 for first downs.  He wasn’t as successful converting on third down as a rusher (just 2 for 8) but he was given the rock on fourth down seven times.  Five of those seven went for first downs, including two TDs.  Samuels was particularly effective in the red zone.  14 of his 16 touchdowns in 2017 came in the red zone (11 rushing, 3 receiving).  His 2016 situational stats show a similar trend: 11 of his 13 scores came from inside the twenty.  Not only is Samuels an interesting prospect in that he’s an equally adept receiver and rusher, but he also has limited experience as a kick returner (12 for 230 yards) and as a passer on trick plays (2 for 3, 84 yards and 1 TD).  Samuels even recorded a forced fumble and fumble recovery in 2014 on a great hustle play (more on that below).  Samuels was selected to the 2017 All-ACC team as an “all-purpose” player – a perfect description.

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2014 North Carolina State ACC FR TE 11 6 96 16.0 1 15 143 9.5 1 21 239 11.4 2
*2015 North Carolina State ACC SO TE 13 65 597 9.2 7 56 368 6.6 9 121 965 8.0 16
*2016 North Carolina State ACC JR TE 13 55 565 10.3 7 33 189 5.7 6 88 754 8.6 13
2017 North Carolina State ACC SR TE 13 75 593 7.9 4 78 407 5.2 12 153 1000 6.5 16
Career North Carolina State 201 1851 9.2 19 182 1107 6.1 28 383 2958 7.7 47
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2018.

Film Study:  Arizona State (2017)

Let’s start by taking a look at the aforementioned hustle play that Samuels made in 2014 as a freshman against Georgia Tech.  It’s not instructive of any of his main skills but I think it further illustrates the fact that Samuels is just a good football player and a guy you would want on your team.  He lines up in the slot as a receiver and his route takes him about seven yards deep into the end zone before the ball is intercepted by a line backer.  Samuels does not give up on the play.  To the contrary, he runs the defender down and tackles him about seventy yards later.  Not only does he make the tackle but he strips the ball and recovers it to give the Wolfpack the ball back (unfortunately, Jacoby Brissett threw a pick-six on the ensuing play, oh well).  Keep in mind this play came when Samuels was just a freshman.  Nobody would have faulted him for not being involved in the play because he was so far out of it but he had the sense, and the speed, to make a difference.

Since Samuels is a prospect unlike others I have researched the last two years, I decided to do handle his film study differently.  Rather than a brief look at two films, I decided to dive deeper on one.  I chose the Arizona State game since it was the last game of the season and I felt that would give me a better representation of Samuels than tape from early in 2017 or even 2016.  The first time I watched the film, I kept track of where he lined up on each snap.  I realized quickly that Samuels is a player whose analysis suffers from watching on Youtube rather than a full game on television but it was my only option at the moment.  One of the flaws of watching “tape” on Youtube is that cut-ups typically only show plays that a player was involved in rather than every snap.  In the Arizona State game I didn’t count a single play shown where Samuels was specifically assigned as a blocker.  It’s hard for me to say whether that’s a factor of Samuels’ true usage in the game or if the creator of the clip eschewed blocking highlights.  I digress, my pet peeves aside, tracking Samuels’ snaps is still illustrative because it shows us that he can have an impact from myriad formations.  I started my film study with four designations: inline tight end, offset tight end, slot receiver, backfield.  I quickly realized that these four buckets were not enough because Samuels was lined up split out wide in a stack formation on one of the first plays shown and then shortly after at wildcat quarterback.  I tracked any wildcat snaps as “backfield” and any wide snaps as “slot receiver” for simplicity’s sake.  I counted zero inline, two offset, nine slot and five backfield.  After doing my statistical research and reading up about Samuels, that was what I had expected but it was good to see it borne out in film.

On my second watch of the film, I took more traditional notes on Samuels, including some strengths and key plays.  In my estimation, Samuels is an above average route runner.  He appears to have good movement at the top of his route stem and on multiple occasions showed good field awareness by knowing how far his route needed to go for a first down.  He has good hands which were shown on a couple of nice catches.  He caught these passes with his hands rather than letting them get into his body.  One particular example also featured a skilled mid-air adjustment.  His momentum was carrying him across the field as the pass went to his back shoulder.  He adjusted while in the air, caught the ball with his hands and maintained control through the ground.  It was a 3rd and 17 and resulted in a first down on top of a highlight catch.

Late in the game, Samuels took a wildcat snap which he took in for a game-sealing score.  He patiently presses the line after taking the direct snap and finds a hole off tackle.  He gets low and plunges into the end zone.  There wasn’t much to the play but I wanted to include it because it could be a signal of how he will be utilized in the NFL.

In my third watch of the film, my goal was to track the plays that Samuels carried the ball, specifically those plays when he was used as a traditional running back.  I wanted to track these snaps as it’s clear Samuels will need to predominantly play running back, at least to start his career.  Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed.  Per the game log, Samuels had six carries in that game but only two of them were as a running back from the backfield.  Two of them were from the wildcat and I counted four other plays when he was a receiver and got the ball on a pop-pass, end around or jet sweep (the pop-passes would count as receptions but functionally they are jet sweeps).  Both traditional carries came late in the 4th quarter, both went for a two yard gain on 2nd down and both were stretch plays.  The first was a conversion for a first down while the second came up just short of the goal line (and led to the wildcat touchdown above).  Neither were bad plays, they essentially met the goal of the play call, but they didn’t assure me that Samuels can make the transition to being a traditional running back.  If anything, these two plays reinforced my notion that Samuels needs to land on a team with a dynamic offense in order to be fantasy relevant.

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: Clutch, red zone weapon, versatile, stayed relatively healthy, route running, hands.

Weaknesses: Size does not translate to playing either TE or FB, doesn’t do any one thing great, lacks top end speed as a RB, lack of reps as a traditional RB.

Opportunities: A creative offense will salivate over his potential to create mismatches all over the formation.  Teams may see him as an ideal 53rd man as he can be serviceable at multiple positions.

Threats: Some coaches may feel that he doesn’t fit well into their scheme or into their playbook.  Teams may be hesitant to invest draft capital on somebody they believe is a gadget player.

Draft Round Grade:  5th Round

I love Samuels and I wish him success in the NFL but I don’t think he’s worth a Day Two, or early Day Three pick.  If he was two inches taller, fifteen pounds heavier and two tenths faster we could be talking about a first rounder but alas that is not the case.  Samuels will offer his NFL team a lot but I think it may be some time before he pays off.  His path to NFL success may be similar to that of Delanie Walker, another undersized TE/FB tweener, who needed eight years and a change of scenery to breakout.

Recent NFL Comparison: Joique Bell

Delanie Walker is a popular comp for Samuels but Walker is significantly bigger (6’1″ and 240lbs) than Samuels so I didn’t think it was apt to compare the two.  Instead, I decided to go with a running back who succeeded in short yardage situations, was an excellent pass catcher and had just enough speed to break off an occasional big run: Joique Bell.  Bell came from DII Wayne State so film is hard to find and of horrible quality.  Instead, I watched highlights of Bell with the Lions to refresh my memory of his style.  Bell does look larger than Samuels even though their measurements are nearly identical coming out of college.  Bell struggled to catch on in the NFL initially but ultimately had four solid seasons with the Lions.  I think Samuels has the perfect skill set to mirror Bell’s breakout season when he had 82 rushes and 52 receptions for a total of 899 yards and 3 TDs.

 

Adam Breneman, TE, University of Massachusetts

Adam Breneman, a former Penn State Nittany Lion, is one of the least talked about tight end prospects atop this class (the other being Hayden Hurst). Players like Mike Gesicki, Mark Andrews and Dallas Goedert have seen their stock fluctuate recently for varying reasons but Breneman has stayed out of the conversation for the most part. At the Senior Bowl, Breneman measured in at 6’4″ and 241lbs which was smaller than expected. Since 2010, there were sixteen tight ends drafted in the 1st through 3rd rounds who were 6’5″ or 6’6″ between 250-265lbs. For smaller tight ends (6’3″ or 6’4″ between 235-250lbs), that number of top draftees falls to just eight. One encouraging sign for Breneman though, is that three of those eight (David Njoku, Gerald Everett and Jonnu Smith) were taken last season alone. After reading a background story about Breneman on Bleacher Report, I am impressed by him as a person. After semi-retiring from Penn State due to recurring knee injuries, Breneman started working in politics for a state senator. The senator was so inspired by Breneman, then 21 years old, that he offered him a job as his chief of staff. After the respite that politics provided, Breneman’s knee was cleared by his doctors and he was convinced by UMass’ starting quarterback, Andrew Ford, to come play for the Minutemen. It didn’t hurt that Breneman and Ford had been best friends since high school. And that’s how we find ourselves here, evaluating one of the top tight end prospects from one of the nation’s worst football programs. The obvious issue with Breneman’s back story is the knee. It started as a torn ACL in high school and has lingered since; he’s had multiple procedures but the details on those are limited. NFL teams will surely do a thorough evaluation before adding him to their board. It’s unfortunate because somebody with the physical traits of Breneman should be drafted higher than he will be due to the injury history.

Stats & Accolades:  Breneman has a much smaller sample size than either Samuels or Goedert so I think it’s important to take his standout numbers with a grain of salt.  Similarly to Goedert, this is due to the quality of competition he has faced over the last two seasons at UMass.  His season totals are very good but he was often the best player on the field so you should expect him to succeed.  I looked at per-game stats to control for the fact that Breneman played in less games the last two years than most (a factor of an ankle injury this year that caused him to miss 1.5 games and the lack of any postseason games for UMass).  In 2016, he was the second ranked tight end in terms of yards per game and receptions per game (behind Evan Engram).  In 2017, Breneman improved and ranked first in both categories.  Breneman did have a number of games against Power 5 teams (Florida, Mississippi State twice, Boston College and South Carolina) plus two against BYU.  BYU may have struggled this year but prior to that they were bowl eligible for twelve straight seasons so I’ll include them in this subset.  In those seven games, Breneman averaged a respectable 4.7 receptions, 52 yards and 0.4 TDs.  According to Pro Football Focus, Breneman ranked seventh in Yards Per Route Run.  So, not only is he targeted often, he’s targeted downfield.  He was also atop the Drop Rate table checking in with a perfect 0.0% (he caught 57 of 57 catchable balls).  Breneman was selected to a few post season All-American teams in honor of his accomplishments as a receiver.

Receiving & Rushing Table
Receiving Rushing Scrimmage
Year School Conf Class Pos G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
2013 Penn State Big Ten FR TE 8 15 186 12.4 3 0 0 0 15 186 12.4 3
*2015 Penn State Big Ten SO TE 0 0 0
2016 Massachusetts Ind JR TE 12 70 808 11.5 8 0 0 0 70 808 11.5 8
2017 Massachusetts Ind SR TE 11 64 764 11.9 4 0 0 0 64 764 11.9 4
Career Overall 149 1758 11.8 15 0 0 0 149 1758 11.8 15
Penn State 15 186 12.4 3 0 0 0 15 186 12.4 3
Massachusetts 134 1572 11.7 12 0 0 0 134 1572 11.7 12
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/31/2018.

Film Study:  Ohio (2017), South Carolina (2016)

The two main traits I concentrated on while reviewing Breneman’s film were his blocking and his hands.  Let’s start with the blocking.  Compared to other tight ends in this class with approximately the same value, I would say that Breneman is a below average blocker.  He is a mix of misses and near-misses when it comes to blocking.  When he succeeds with a blocking assignment, it’s often not pretty.  That’s not to say he isn’t ever effective but it’s important to keep in mind the quality of the rushers he’s facing.  I have concerns about his ability to hold up to an NFL pass rush.  Two back to back plays illustrate my “misses and near-misses” thinking.  On the first play, he ultimately keeps the defender in front of him but looks stiff while doing so.  The defender makes the initial contact and almost beats him to the inside which would have been devastating since it was a flea flicker and easily could have led to a fumble on the pitch back.  After watching a few times in slow-mo, I noticed he grabbed the defenders jersey right from the start but it was only visible near the end of the block when the defender tried to shrug him off (no penalty was called).  On the second play, Breneman does his best impression of a Spanish matador and gets beat off the snap.  The play is meant to go the other direction so it’s not much of an issue but he again grabs the jersey and could have been called for a hold which would have wiped out the sixteen yard gain.

Against South Carolina, it was much of the same as far as blocking.  There were a few more positive plays than I noticed against Ohio, a good sign against a superior opponent.  I didn’t track such plays but my impression after watching both films is that Breneman is much better when blocking up field or when split out, likely because he’s blocking a smaller DB.  He struggles most as an inline blocker.  His worst play against South Carolina was probably the worst attempt at a block I have seen while watching film so far this offseason.  Breneman just gets blown up at the snap by the defender’s bull rush.  He doesn’t get his hands on his man and loses his feet right away.  It did impact the play even though it still went for a first down.  I fear this is what he may look like when blocking at the next level.

I didn’t see much evidence of Breneman’s supreme hands against Ohio but there was one worthy example in the second quarter.  Breneman shows good concentration on the play as he is knocked off his route by the line backer and the safety very nearly tips the ball as it sails over his head.  Breneman is able to find an opening in the back of the end zone and looks the ball into his hands without being distracted.  He spots his landing and gets both feet in bounds for what would have been a score even in the NFL.  The play looked simple but others could not have made it look as effortless as he did.

I was largely unimpressed with Breneman against South Carolina.  He had a fumble in the first quarter.  He was heavily involved throughout the game (9-94-2) but there was only one catch that I noted as a must watch.  That being said, the play I do include below is fantastic.  It’s 3rd and 17, with less than five minutes left, with his team down by 13.  Breneman is lined up in a stack behind a receiver.  He gets a free release and runs up the seam into traffic.  Ford throws the ball to his outside shoulder which lets Breneman pirouette and use his body to box out the  oncoming defender.  He takes a big hit as he catches the ball but holds on for the score.  The play serves as a fitting illustration of exactly what Breneman can offer.

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:  Character, leadership, hands.

Weaknesses:  Health, smaller than estimated in the preseason, lacks top speed for the position.

Opportunities:  Teams will fall in love with Breneman in interviews which could increase his stock.

Threats:  Teams may decide to leave Breneman off their board completely due to his lengthy injury history.  His disappointing measureables may cause some scouts to question what they saw on tape (i.e. “maybe he was a product of the competition”).

Draft Round Grade:  Late 2nd, Early 3rd Round

I have been high on Breneman since the start of the 2017 season so I really hope he hits the high end of my projection.  It’s a shame his health is such a concern otherwise we could be talking about a similar draft stock as Evan Engram from 2017 (23rd overall).

Recent NFL Comparison:  Maxx Williams

Maxx Williams was one of my favorite players coming out of college football in 2015.  He had a propensity for circus catches: one-handed, toe-tapping, defender-draped.  Breneman doesn’t quite have the highlight reel of Williams but the similarities are numerous.  They are close in size and speed, both had two years of production in college, both showcased great hands, both were below average inline blockers and sadly both had their careers derailed by injury.  Williams’ worst injuries came once he landed in the NFL whereas Breneman’s started back in high school but that’s even more to the point.  Scouts who see a 6’4″, sticky-handed move tight end with knee injuries may think about the wasted pick that Williams has become.


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

RSO Rookie Rundown: 2018 QBs

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.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective. The objective here: getting drafted.)

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

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

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

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

Draft Round Grade: 2nd Round

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

Recent NFL Comparison: Tyrod Taylor

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

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective. The objective here: getting drafted.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent NFL Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger

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

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Study:

SWOT Analysis: (SWOT analysis is a way to study the internal and external factors that may help or hinder your ability to achieve an objective. The objective here: getting drafted.)

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

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

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

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

Draft Round Grade: Early to Mid 1st Round

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

Recent NFL Comparison: DeShone Kizer

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

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

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: National Championship Preview

Updated: January 5th 2018

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.

The finish line is in sight, the marathon that is the bowl season is nearly over, just one more game remaining.  While listening to ESPNU Radio these past few days (a must-listen for anybody with SiriusXM) a number of callers and pundits have expressed disappointment in an all-SEC championship.  I say, “who cares,” because they are the two best teams in the country in my mind.  Let’s not forget that despite all the banter about Bama’s playoff resume, they were still ranked #1 in the AP Poll until they lost to Auburn on Nov 25.  Georgia didn’t get that high but was #2 for about a month in the middle of the year.  I have covered these two teams a lot this season so I wanted to avoid rehashing the same analysis and the same talking points.  So, I decided to go with a “tale of the tape” type preview.  I will compare the teams’ various units to see who has the advantage before making my prediction.

Quarterback: Alabama

Ironically the first unit I looked at was probably the hardest for me to determine my pick.  Jake Fromm leads Jalen Hurts in most passing categories but I give Hurts the nod for two reasons: 1) his experience and 2) his ability to protect the ball.  Hurts may only be a sophomore but he’s literally been here before.  This game will be Hurts fourth College Football Playoff game.  He has played okay in those games but it’s less about what he does do and more about what he doesn’t do: turn the ball over.  Hurts has just one interception and two fumbles lost this season.  Fromm has five and two – not a huge increase but he had far fewer “touches” this season than Hurts.  The two had basically the same number of passing attempts (248 vs 259) but Hurts had a hundred more carries and played in one less game.  Fromm will likely outplay Hurts as a passer but I’d rather have Hurts.

Running Backs: Georgia

Both teams feature a stable of backs that contribute.  Georgia uses Nick Chubb and Sony Michel almost equally but also sprinkles in freshman D’Andre Swift.  Meanwhile, Alabama uses Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris and Joshua Jacobs.  Najee Harris and Jacobs only combined for three touches against Clemson but they were both utilized more during the regular season.  Damien Harris is the lead back (19 carries for 77 yards last week) but Scarborough will still see plenty of action.  Damien Harris averages 7.6 yards per carry on the season which is great but is actually eclipsed by Georgia’s Sony Michel (8.0).  If you watched Georgia beat Oklahoma you were surely impressed by Michel.  He out-touched Chubb 15-14 because of his four receptions.  Michel is a better pass catcher than Chubb but his receiving against Oklahoma was mostly unexpected; he had just nine receptions on the season and only once in his four season career has he had four receptions in a game.  My guess is that they did not feel they could trust freshman D’Andre Swift, the leading pass catcher among running backs this season, in pass protection which meant Michel getting more snaps on passing downs.  If Georgia’s backs can match half their Rose Bowl output (367 total yards, 6 TDs) they’ll give the Bulldogs a shot.

Receivers: Alabama

Neither team had a receiver crack 60 receptions or 1,000 yards this season which is surprising to me.  In an atmosphere that is so pass-heavy right now in college football, the nation’s two best teams are run-first and run-second offenses.  Georgia WR Javon Wims arguably had the best game of his career in the Rose Bowl (6-73-1) but was not a huge factor in the offense until later in the season (25 of his 44 receptions came in the last five games, just 19 in the first eight).  Alabama’s leading receiver is Calvin Ridley.  Statistically, Ridley had the worst season of his career (59-935-4) but I’m not deterred: he’s still my WR1 for 2018 rookie drafts.  Ridley is fast, has good hands, catches the ball away from his body and is a very good route runner.  In Alabama’s rush oriented offense he may not put up big numbers but he’s a difference maker.

Defensive Line: Alabama

I’ll venture a guess that none of Georgia’s defensive lineman have a receiving touchdown this season like Daron Payne does now.  That’s not why I’m taking the Tide’s line though, it’s the combination of Payne, Da’Shawn Hand and Raekwon Davis that clinches it.  Payne, a 308lb DT, should be a first round pick this year if he declares early.  Davis is a 6’7″ monster at DE who had 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks this season; he was a factor in the Sugar Bowl with 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack.  Hand has been limited by injuries throughout his career but is still an early Day Two prospect.  Phil Steele ranked Alabama as the 6th best d-line corps in the preseason and they lived up to that billing this season (for what it’s worth, Georgia was not far behind at 11th).  Georgia’s Trenton Thompson was a top high school recruit, had a good sophomore season (capped off by an 8 tackle, 3 sack bowl game vs TCU) but didn’t live up to his potential in 2017 (just 35 tackles, no sacks).  DE Jonathan Ledbetter recorded a sack and six tackles last week against Oklahoma so keep an eye on him too.  There’s a funny pun somewhere in the names of Davis, Hand and Payne but all I can come up with is “On MonDavis, Da’Shawn’s Hands will cause Jake Fromm some Payne.”  I’m sorry.

Linebackers: Georgia

Alabama is used to having a “next man up” mentality on defense because they graduate so many players to the NFL.  That was no truer than at linebacker this year when they lost Reuben Foster and Ryan Anderson last season and then lost Shaun Dion Hamilton to injury earlier this year.  The Tide’s linebacker room sustained another blow this week when they heard that Anfernee Jennings underwent knee surgery.  Rashaan Evans has stepped up in the meantime, especially in the Sugar Bowl tallying 9 tackles and a sack.  Evans has 9+ tackles in four of the five games since Shaun Dion Hamilton went down.  Unquestionably, the best linebacker on the field will be Roquan Smith.  Smith is a potential Top 10 pick in the Spring (a la Reuben Foster last year).  He’s a tackle monster, 218 combined the last two years, and added 5.5 sacks in 2017.  Not surprisingly, he had 11 tackles in the Rose Bowl and made a key tackle to prevent a first down late in the game.  The Bulldogs’ best OLB is Lorenzo Carter.  Carter is long at 6’6″ and plays well in coverage when he’s not rushing the passer (Carter was PFF’s 11th ranked pass rusher in the FBS).  Like Smith, Carter also went for double digit sacks against Oklahoma; that’s the first time he’s done that in his career so maybe he has a knack for the big game.  If Alabama wasn’t facing injuries this unit matchup would be closer but it would still be tough to beat consensus All-American Roquan Smith.

Secondary: Alabama

Similar to how Georgia has one standout in the linebacker unit, so does Alabama in the secondary.  Meet Minkah Fitzpatrick, a guy guaranteed to go in the Top 5 in the NFL Draft (maybe higher if any of the QBs return to college).  Fitzpatrick is also a consensus All-American despite battling injury this season.  He missed a game but still managed 55 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception.  That lone INT was a big drop from the six he had last season but it won’t hurt his draft stock, he has ball skills.  What Fitzpatrick also has is versatility: he has played at both corner and safety and will be an immediate starter at the next level.  Safety Ronnie Harrison and CB Anthony Averett will also get drafted high, maybe Day Two for both of them.  Levi Wallace led the team in passes defended (14) and won SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice.  He wasn’t even on my radar prior to writing this preview but the stats caught my eye.  Safety Dominck Sanders is Georgia’s most well-rounded and productive DB with 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 INTs and 5 passes defended.  He’s been a durable three year starter and could be a late round draft prospect but I honestly have not done any research on him.  There won’t be a ton of passing in this one so spending more time on the secondary is probably not worth it, just don’t forget to pay attention to Fitzpatrick.

Specialists: Alabama

If this game turns out to be a defensive battle, the specialists will figure.  Alabama punter JK Scott is an all-time great punter in SEC history (5th best average in the FBS since 2000).  He averages 45.5 yards per punt for his career so he can flip the field and give the Tide the field position advantage.  Georgia’s Cameron Nizialek is no slouch either; he averaged 44.9 yards per punt this year which was fourth best in the SEC and actually better than Scott this year.  I have a feeling we could be seeing Hurts and Fromm starting a lot of drives from their own eleven yard line.  The slight field goal kicking edge goes to Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship (17-20 on FG, 61-61 on PAT) over Andy Pappanastos (16-21, 54-54).  Blankenship wears a sweet pair of rec-specs while he plays so maybe I should give him a larger advantage than I am.  Neither team has returned a single kick or punt for a touchdown this season but now that I say that we’ll probably get two in the final.  This unit matchup is almost too close to call.  Since it’s close, I will go with Alabama because they have the best individual player in the bunch, JK Scott.

Prediction: Roll Tide

 

 


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