The Watch List 2021: Early WR Tiers

Updated: February 12th 2021

Throughout the offseason I will be compiling early positional tiers for the 2021 NFL Draft. In past years I’ve done early rankings but in hindsight those feel counterproductive to my ultimate goal of creating RSO’s rookie rankings that are used in the draft room. Frankly, it’s hard to change a ranking because it feels “locked in” once I put it out into the world. When I would create my early rankings I would always start by grouping the players into themed tiers first, so that’s what I will be sharing in this series. Each tier includes players whose potential and plot line feel similar to me; the sequence of tiers is indicative of a general order of expected draft value. I’ll repeat though: these are not rankings. Within each tier players are sorted alphabetically. (Note: this article was written on February 7th.)

Dear reader, today we come to the end of my positional tiers series. I hope you have found these loose rankings as instructive as I have while I prepare to create the rookie rankings for the RSO rookie draft room. I saved the receivers for last because it was the hardest group for me to nail down my expectations. The top of this receiver class is stronger than last year: we may end up with three WRs off the board by the 12th pick which is where last year’s WR1 (Henry Ruggs) went. Things stay strong into the second round but then it feels like there is a drop and leveling off after the top 6-7 names. Would I love for my NFL team to add Seth Williams? Definitely, but he’s not on par with Chase Claypool or Denzel Mims who were similarly ranked in last year’s class. I am interested to see if NFL teams start to reach in the late second or early third rounds, worried that they need to get their receiver now or they may be on the wrong side of a run. You may encounter the same phenomenon in your RSO rookie draft so be prepared. Enough stutter-stepping, let’s get to it…

First Round Locks

  • Ja’Marr Chase

  • DeVonta Smith

  • Jaylen Waddle

Do you know the popular gif of a raggedy looking Elmo seemingly summoning a wall of flame? That’s what I envision in my mind’s eye when I think of #DraftTwitter arguing over the order of these three wide receivers. You could make an argument that any of them will be the first receiver off the board in April because they all have elite talent but some perceived “knock” against them. Unless you’re hosting your rookie draft before the NFL Draft (please don’t, unless you’re a devy league) there’s no need to settle on an order just yet. Scheme and team fit will be huge in determining their fantasy prospects. Ja’Marr Chase was last seen on the field in 2019 when he led the NCAA in receiving yards (1,780) and touchdowns (20) on his way to consensus All-America honors. I’ve wondered what impact Chase’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season will have on his draft stock — it’ll be an interesting case study for future studs who might want to preserve themselves for the pros. I last profiled Chase when I was writing about potential rookie draft 1.01 picks and I heaped on the praise. His short-area quickness, leaping ability, and hands are all fantastic. Plus he’s physical on his route and doesn’t shy away from a battle with a corner. There were moments though when I wanted to see more from Chase, specifically when he wasn’t the primary target of a play. He’s a superb talent, is just 20 years old, and has a crazy high ceiling; Chase will be the top receiver for most heading into the draft. If I had to choose today, I would rank DeVonta Smith just a hair higher than Chase. Smith, the Heisman winner, had a superlative-laden season that even eclipsed Chase’s standout campaign last year. Smith’s eye-popping line was: 117-1,856-23. He’s a technician who is consistently open, has ridiculous body control and has go-go-gadget arms to snag balls that other receivers could never reach. Smith is a bit slight (listed 6010/175) and is two years older than Chase so I can understand why some discount his future production.  Until Smith shows otherwise he’s my favorite in the class. If Jaylen Waddle didn’t suffer a midseason injury he would have been in the WR1 conversation as well (and some might still have him there). Waddle is a singular talent as an athlete with the ability to break any play for a score. Waddle is small (5100/182) and has a small-ish sample size (just 106 career receptions) but speed sells. Like Henry Ruggs last year, Waddle may end up going higher than expected because an NFL team fell in love with his gamebreaking nature. To recap, these three guys are essentially locks to be first rounders in your rookie draft as well as the NFL Draft; don’t get too hung up on their order just yet.

Fringe Firsts

  • Rashod Bateman

  • Terrace Marshall

  • Rondale Moore

I envision “Number of First Round Wide Receivers” being an oft-discussed prop bet in April. Last year’s class saw six go in the first round; 2015 was the only other year in the last decade that we had that many. The 2018 and 2019 drafts had just four receivers combined go in the opening round. If I was the book, I would probably set the line at 4.5 this season. I believe the three players mentioned above are locks to go in the top twenty so squeezing in two or three of these fringe firsts feels about right. Terrace Marshall was a beneficiary of Ja’Marr Chase’s decision to sit out the year. Marshall led a mediocre Tigers team with 48 receptions and 10 TDs, his 731 receiving yards was just barely bested by freshman Kayshon Boutte. It was hard for me to distill what Marshall does well into one or two sentences: put simply, he’s a dude. He has perfect size at 6030/200, isn’t easy to bring down, has super strong hands, has a keen sense of timing, and knows when to check back to his quarterback to make himself an easier target. I really liked what I saw out of Marshall and I’m sure NFL scouts will too. Back in early 2019, we were talking about the wrong Golden Gophers receiver (hmm, interesting transition after talking about Terrace Marshall [thinking emoji]). Instead of ruminating on Tyler Johnson, we should have been paying more attention to Rashod Bateman. Bateman originally opted out of the 2020 season but ended up playing after the Big Ten reversed course. He leapt off the screen during the opener against Michigan (9-101) and again against Illinois (10-139-1). Bateman is a contested catch king; I have previously called out his timely leaping and strength at the catch point. Bateman is also dangerous on slants and crossing patterns where he can leverage his acceleration, fearlessness and shiftiness to great effect. Rondale Moore started his career as the most exciting player in college football as a true freshman back in 2018. Disappointingly, things have mostly been downhill from there for Moore though. His sophomore season was cut short due to injury and his junior year was delayed by an undisclosed injury. Those two shortened years combined for seven games and a 64-657-2 line. Moore’s 2020 highlights were encouraging but his medicals will be more important to monitor. Moore is a dynamic playmaker whose talent is worthy of a first round pick when he’s fully healthy. After writing this blurb, I would guess that Marshall is the most likely of this bunch to land in the first round, with Bateman right there behind him, and Moore lagging behind pending his medical evaluations. (Mocking Kadarius Toney, see below, in the first has also become en vogue so he may be due for a jump up to this tier soon.)

Day Two Targets

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown

  • Tylan Wallace

  • Seth Williams

I’m happy I was able to squeeze these three into a tier together because they are my favorites as compared to their expected draft value. Said another way, I would draft these guys higher than they inevitably will be in both the NFL Draft and your rookie drafts. St. Brown averaged 7-80-1 in the shortened season and continued his high-floor run. By my rough PPR math, St. Brown has had 8+ fantasy points in 37 of 41 career games. I love how physical he is and can’t wait to see him in the NFL, dominating nickels as a strong slot. Tylan Wallace came back strong after an injury-shortened 2019 season, tallying a respectable 59-922-6. Wallace is a consensus pick for the All Catch Radius team and has ample speed and acceleration to make him a threat to stretch the defense. Seth Williams is probably my favorite receiver in the class to root for. He’s a bit boom-and-bust but when he’s on, I relish watching his hands-catching, toe-tapping, defender-hurdling style. Williams plays bigger than his sizeable 6030/211 frame so I’ll be interested to see how he measures in officially. It’s looking like St. Brown, Wallace and Williams have Day Two written all over them and will be solid investments for your fantasy team.

Regular Season Risers

  • D’wayne Eskridge

  • Elijah Moore

  • Kadarius Toney

The three players in this tier have seen a Gamestop-esque rise in their value the last few months. Using data from www.mockdraftdatabase.com, here’s how their overall ranking has gone to the moon: Eskridge from 300th to 125th, Moore from 292nd to 68th and Toney from 121st to 29th. It’s not crazy to say that these three guys might go from off the radar in the preseason to first rounders. I owe each of these three rocketing risers a closer study because I did not delve into them at all during the 2020 season. Toney is the freakiest of the bunch and cannot be stopped by single man coverage. Many of his touches are manufactured (screens, sweeps, returns) so I expect he’ll need some work to refine himself as a receiver but it’s hard to argue against somebody who can move like he can. Elijah Moore had possibly the quietest 86-1,193-8 season ever (especially when you realize that line was compiled in just eight games). He has some of the same speed and shiftiness that Toney offers but looks like a bonafide receiver in the highlight packages I viewed. The buzz around Eskridge is growing; a recent CBS mock draft had him going at 28th overall, meanwhile one from SI had him as a second rounder. Eskridge looks smaller than both Toney and Moore (or at least is about the same) and put up worse numbers (33-768-8) against lesser competition. I’ll be jumping into his tape soon because it must be spectacular. Let’s continue to monitor these guys throughout the draft process to ensure they offer some return on investment.

Undervalued, Underdrafted

  • Dyami Brown

  • Dazz Newsome

  • Ihmir Smith-Marsette

The players who land in my “Undervalued, Underdrafted” tier are Power 5 players who are solid yet unsexy prospects. Brown and Newsome were the primary targets of Sam Howell and the Tar Heels prolific passing offense in 2020. I wrote about the dynamic duo back in September ahead of their season opener. I noted that Brown is a “home run hitting downfield threat” and that proved true: 47% of Brown’s receptions went for 15+ yards and 25% went for 25+. He was most successful downfield on first down which highlights just how much their dominant rushing game opened up the passing game. Newsome, on the other hand, is more of a make-a-man-miss receiver and punt returner. Newsome has superb balance, no surprise given his punt return prowess, and succeeds in the open field. In addition to Brown and Newsome, draftniks will also be considering running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter: this Tar Heel fatigue is why I think the pair may end up undervalued for fantasy purposes. Ihmir Smith-Marsette may be the most underappreciated Power 5 receiver coming out this year. Smith-Marsette looks like the new wave NFL receiver to me: he’s long (6020) and fast (4.40) and can be deployed on screens or jet sweeps (he does need to put on some pounds though). He’s also a great kick returner who owns the modern Big Ten record for career kick return average (28.7). I’ll bet Smith-Marsette goes undrafted in all but the deepest leagues but I’d also bet that somebody picks him up midseason after he makes a big play. If you have an extra late rookie draft pick try to snag one of these guys to stash before they make a name for themselves in camp.

Spacey Satellites

  • Tutu Atwell

  • Amari Rodgers

  • Anthony Schwartz

The aforementioned axiom that “speed sells” returns for this tier of receivers. Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell is a sub-4.40 burner who led the ACC in receiving in 2019 (69-1,272-11) and followed that up with a solid junior year (46-625-7 in nine games). Atwell is tiny at 5090/165 but if you can get him in space he’s a big play waiting to happen. Amari Rodgers, Clemson’s leading receiver at 77-1,020-7, isn’t much taller than Atwell (5100) but packs on an extra 20+ pounds on his compact frame. Rodgers is an A-1 punt returner who could make you miss in a phone booth. He’s often typecast as an underneath receiver but he also shows the ball tracking, lower body control and strong hands to be a downfield receiver too. I would want Rodgers on my football team, I have a feeling he’ll be one of those players we realized we were sleeping on because he was outshone by his teammates. My love for Seth Williams might have created a blindspot for his teammate Anthony Schwartz. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about Schwartz when I started researching this article so I had to do a quick dive into his stats and Youtube clips. Schwartz is taller than Atwell and Rodgers, an even 6000, and looks more durable than his 179 listed weight would indicate. When he has the ball in his hands, Schwartz moves like an upright running back with the vision to utilize his blockers and make the most of his angles. Admittedly I have only watched highlights of Schwartz so I can’t say with certainty but he looks promising in those snippets. When this playmaking trio finds space, good things will happen for your fantasy lineup.

Known Unknowns

  • Nico Collins

  • Damonte Coxie

  • Sage Surratt

  • Tamorrion Terry

At one time or another over the last two years, I valued these four players higher than the consensus. Now, however, their value is at its nadir. Collins, Coxie and Surratt all opted out of the 2020 season; Terry played in six games but played through injury and ineffective quarterbacking before deciding to leave the team early. I think Terry’s was a good decision because I still believe in his size/speed combination — nothing positive would have come out of catching passes from a rotating quarterback while hobbled by a wonky knee — but the other three may have allowed others to pass them in scouts’ minds. Collins, like Terry, never realized his potential because of the poor passers the Wolverines trotted out. He has prototypical size (6040/215) and the attributes to be a starting possession receiver at the next level. Coxie, on the other hand, has shown us how dominant he can be with back-to-back seasons with 70+ receptions and 1,100+ yards. He played in two games in 2020 before ending his year early (16-175-1). I love the description I wrote for his physical play when I profiled him last spring: “he reminded me of a skilled heavyweight boxer: constantly throwing jabs to set up a future haymaker and using his size to lean on his opponent to gain leverage.” Coxie has fallen out of favor on #DraftTwitter but I’m still a believer. Sage Surratt had a surprising 2019 which ended with him eking out a 1,000 yard season before going down with a shoulder injury (66-1,001-11). He’s not fast or elusive but his size and play strength make for a good redzone receiver (10 career redzone scores). These four “known unknowns” will probably go late-ish in the NFL Draft, but don’t be surprised when they pop up on our fantasy radars and remind us of why we loved them a year or two ago.

Small School Sleepers

  • Marlon Williams

  • Marquez Stevenson

  • Warren Jackson

As I mentioned in my RB Tiers article, I would typically highlight some FCS and DII hopefuls in this section. However, most FCS teams did not play in the fall and the impending spring season is full of question marks. Instead, I’ll hit a few guys here who have excelled at the Group of 5 level. I wrote about Williams back in Week 9 and was a fan of his all-around skillset. UCF featured him frequently on screens from a stack formation and otherwise he showed up all over the formation. Williams played out in 2020 and easily eclipsed last year’s totals in four less games (71-1,039-10). He’s likely a late rounder but should catch on if given a chance. Contrary to a few of the risers listed above, Marquez Stevenson saw a precipitous drop in his NFL Draft value in 2020. Per the www.nflmockdraftdatabase.com, Stevenson was a target as high as 28th overall in mocks in the fall. Lately, he’s been all over the place, from the third round all the way down to the seventh. Houston had a strange covid-riddled season so I don’t put too much weight on Stevenson’s disappointing output (20-307-4 in five games). Stevenson will win the workout — on his most recent Freaks List, Bruce Feldman predicted 4.30 speed — and as such I expect he’ll be drafted ahead of current predictions. Warren Jackson is bound to be the next small school guy who breaks my heart. Jackson caught my eye last spring after a 77-1,119-8 junior season but unfortunately opted out of 2020 to prepare for the NFL. I fell in love then, writing “backed up deep in their own end, the Rams take a deep shot. Jackson, forty yards downfield, times his jump well and rips the ball out of the air. He lands, keeps his feet, avoids contact with the colliding defenders and gallops off. None of the pursuing tacklers make it within five yards.” I also felt that his versatility belies his stature (6060/215) and thought he could be more than just a redzone target. I’m unsure what the future brings for Jackson but I’ll be watching closely, the same goes for Williams and Stevenson.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com, nflmockdraftdatabase.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and 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 2021: Week 6 Preview

Updated: October 9th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will preview the prospects you should be watching each week so you know who will be fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Forgive me for sounding like a cub reporter for the The Tiger, the student newspaper at Clemson, but this week’s entry is going to focus on the nation’s best. Clemson has started the season 3-0 with relatively easy contests against Wake Forest, The Citadel and Virginia. So far they have outscored opponents 127-36, and were never really in danger against UVA even though they did allow the Cavaliers to keep it somewhat close for awhile. The #1 ranked Tigers will face a real test this week when #7 Miami travels to Death Valley for Week 6, looking to protect their own unbeaten start. Since the first three Clemson outings were snoozers broadcast on the depths of your channel guide, many of you, like me, probably haven’t seen too much of the Tigers yet in 2020. I thought it would be good to check in on a few of the key draft eligible players who might make a difference on Saturday night.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

“And that’s the one Marvin, that’s the silver tuna.” I’m not sure why that Home Alone quote was the first thing to come to mind when I was brainstorming a quirky opening sentence that summed up Trevor Lawrence and his place atop the college football world, but hey it works! During his three years as the Clemson starter, I have not written much about Lawrence because frankly there isn’t much for me to say. Lawrence has been the darling of #DraftTwitter since before he even took a snap for Clemson. Back before the 2018 season, I was ready to pencil him in over incumbent Kelly Bryant right away, saying “it’s only a matter of time before we see Lawrence take over at Clemson.” In hindsight, that seems like a “no duh” sentiment and it should have been because Bryant had no business playing over Lawrence to start that campaign. Barring injury, or a self-preservation redshirt, Lawrence will end his career with over 10,000 passing yards, more than 100 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing scores. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence is the all-time leader in passing efficiency in ACC history. This week against Miami, Lawrence will be facing the best and most opportunistic defense he’s seen so far (and maybe until the playoff).

Trevor Lawrence has it all as a quarterback. He has better than prototypical size at 6060/220. His arm is strong and he trusts himself to squeeze it into tight spaces. He’s accurate and doesn’t make many mistakes (a 73:12 TD:INT ratio is good right?). He’s effective as a short yardage runner and has enough juice in those long legs to break off an occasional long run. Check out this first half highlight reel from his last game against UVA where you see him do a little of everything:

In addition to his traits on the field, something else that I was pleased to see this offseason was Lawrence’s leadership off the field. Regardless of your personal opinion on the viability of this year’s college football season amid a pandemic, it was nice to see Lawrence rallying players from across the country. Lawrence has also been a leading voice in the college football world when it comes to equality and social change. Sports Illustrated recently quoted him saying, “I’m not an activist of any sorts, but I do think I have a responsibility to promote equality and help the people I love.”

Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and will undoubtedly be the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s also going to be a first rounder in your rookie draft; even if you’re not playing superflex he’s going to go earlier than you think because somebody will want to build around a once-in-a-generation talent.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

I last wrote about Travis Etienne, currently my favorite college football player, in the Spring when I previewed three potential 1.01 rookie draft picks. In that preview, I gushed about Etienne once again. Over his career, Etienne averages 7.7 yards per carry and has scored 65 total touchdowns. It’s hard to argue with that production, especially when you consider the level of competition he’s facing at Clemson. In six career playoff games, Etienne has nine scores and over 450 scrimmage yards. So far this year, Etienne has earned 315 yards from scrimmage and 3 total TDs. He’s not off to a blazing start but that doesn’t worry me. With a modified offseason and a mediocre opening slate, I would not be surprised if the plan was to ease Etienne into the season until they need him most.

Etienne started his career as a home run hitting speedster. Since then, he’s developed his body and his game and has become powerful at the point of contact. He has also overcame his reluctance as a receiver to be a valuable option out of the backfield (37 receptions, 432 yards and 4 receiving TDs last year). The two snippets below show just how his game has evolved. The first highlight is from his freshman season in 2017 and it shows just how quickly he can accelerate and stride past all eleven defenders. The icing on the cake was the sprinter’s lean as he crossed the goal line. The second play came against Virginia last week; it’s only a sixteen yard run to the endzone but he shows us so much. The clip illustrates his patience, strength and contact balance while four defenders have a chance to stop him.

https://twitter.com/TheHHShow_/status/1312559519390593024?s=20

I think it’s inevitable that Travis Etienne is a first rounder in the NFL Draft in 2021 and a Top 3 pick in your next rookie draft. I hope I luck into a number of shares because I love watching him play and expect he’ll continue to develop into a complete three-down NFL running back.

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

A few months back we did not expect that Amari Rodgers would be the Tigers’ leading receiver. Instead, we assumed it would have been Justyn Ross, however a neck/spine injury has sidelined him for this year (and hopefully only this year.) Through his first three years on campus, Rodgers proved to be a trustworthy complementary target with a career stat line of 104-1,124-8. When I wrote about Rodgers in the Spring, I described him as a “strong and compact slot receiver whose unique 5100/210 body type is well suited to breaking tackles.” I went on to suggest that Rodgers would “have an instant role in the NFL as a reliable underneath receiver and dynamic punt returner.”

Against Virginia, Rodgers had one of the best games of his career, going for 72 yards and 2 TDs on six grabs. His best play of the game didn’t count though: an acrobatic diving touchdown that was ruled incomplete but should have been reviewed. Rodgers showed the ceiling and the floor of his potential versus the Cavaliers. The two clips below will help illustrate my point. At worst, as I mentioned above, he’s a satellite player who can succeed in space, whether that’s on screens or returns. At best, he can use his speed and nimble nature to get open on deep posts and make difficult receptions. I don’t expect him to regularly win contested downfield balls against NFL defensive backs but if he can occasionally stretch the defense to open up options for his teammates he’ll be a key contributor at the next level. I’ll bet Rodgers, likely a late rounder, becomes a fan favorite by the end of the season because we’re going to see a lot of Clemson in primetime and he’s bound to make some memorable plays.

 

 

Jackson Carman, LT, Clemson

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have an eye for scouting offensive lineman. But, you don’t need a scout’s eye to notice Jackson Carman and his gargantuan 6050/335 build. Carman took over as the starter in 2019 and has twenty career starts thus far at left tackle. Phil Steele, one of my most trusted voices in college football, had Carman as the 12th best offensive tackle in the draft-eligible class before the season began. The Draft Network has him ranked even higher at the 6th best in the class. In their scouting report, TDN described Carman as a “road grader in the run game” and said that “no pass rusher is going through him.” Sounds good to me. Dabo Swinney has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the nation and he wouldn’t trust his phenom quarterback’s blindside to just anybody.

Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson

The Clemson defense has been without its two biggest prospects to start the season: Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas. That has left the door open for other guys to make a name for themselves, including graduate linebacker Baylon Spector. Spector is the team’s leading tackler with 20 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.0 sack through three games. He lit up the box score last week against UVA, tallying 13 total tackles. Clemson’s defense has been an NFL factory of late but that usually comes from the edge rushers and secondary. Some of their recent off-ball linebackers like Kendall Joseph and Ben Boulware went undrafted but got a sniff in the NFL as undrafted free agents. Spector may be in the same situation if he can continue to rack up the counting stats this season. Admittedly, I’m also a sucker for a good “human interest” story and Baylon’s younger brother Brannon is on the squad too. He’s a redshirt freshman receiver who had four receptions last week. The Athletic recently had an entertaining profile of the brothers and how they trained together throughout the pandemic. It’s unlikely that either Spector is a viable NFL Draft prospect but I’ll be rooting for them anyway.

 

PS: The Hurricanes offense will be paced by dual-threat QB D’Eriq King and TE Brevin Jordan but we should be paying attention to junior RB Cam’Ron Harris too. It’s been four years since the ‘Canes had a 1,000 yard rusher and even in a shortened season Harris is on pace for 1,140 rushing yards and 18 scores. He caught my eye in their opener against UAB, showing both long speed and power to push the pile. He has an ideal build at 5100/210 and should continue to earn passing game work too.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and 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 2021: Spring Scouting, WRs

Updated: June 7th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

The next crop of players featured in my Spring Scouting series all have something in common: they are all slot receivers. Towering outside receivers typically get the love from #DraftTwitter but it’s looking like the 2021 class is bound to have a few studs in the slot. Whether because of injury or a teammate leaving for the NFL, each receiver profiled below is also looking to make the argument that they can be their team’s top target in 2020. Let’s get to it…

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

  • Measurables: 5090/180
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 114 receptions, 1,258 rec yards, 11.0 ypr, 12 rec TDs, 21 rush attempts, 213 rush yards, 10.1 ypa, 2 rush TDs, 33 kick returns, 20.1 ypr, 12 punt returns, 6.8 ypr
  • 2019 Stats: 4 games, 29 receptions, 387 rec yards, 13.3 ypr, 2 rec TDs, 3 rush attempts, 3 rush yards, 1.0 ypa, 0 rush TDs, 9 kick returns, 16.8 ypr, 5 punt returns, 7.2 ypr

Rondale Moore, as a true freshman, was the most exciting player in college football in 2018. He started 2019 with promise before going down with what was ultimately a season-ending hamstring injury. In his short seventeen game career, Moore has eight games with 11 or more receptions. He only has three games with less than three receptions, and one of those was the game when he got hurt. Purdue has a strong schedule this season — non-con games against Memphis, Air Force and Boston College, as well as a division crossover game at Michigan — so we’re bound to see plenty of Moore this season. To quote Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing.”

I fell in love with Moore in 2018 when he went off for 12-170-2 in an upset victory over Ohio State (admitted Michigan fan here). In addition to re-watching that performance, I watched Moore against Nevada in last year’s opener. Interestingly, it seems like there was a clear gameplan shift from one year to the next: against Nevada Moore was constantly in motion pre-snap, whereas against Ohio State he was mostly stationary in the slot (except for a key play shown below, maybe not an accident?). Moore is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. If he’s unable to break a tackle, he’ll submarine the defender to earn an extra yard or two. Moore is a smart route runner who instinctively knows when to bend or break off a route, or when to settle in between zone coverage. Against Ohio State, he was often matched up against fellow freshman Shawn Wade, a corner who will likely be a first rounder in 2021. Check out this route he ran against Wade. Not only does Moore beat him on the out route with his explosiveness but there is a subtle head fake that Moore uses before the top of the stem to unsettle Wade. I love discovering this type of play and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Moore was just a true freshman at the time.

The ultimate Rondale Moore highlight came later in the Ohio State game and guaranteed the W. Moore is sent in motion by the quarterback and makes a beeline for the sideline. He secures the catch as he shifts his momentum upfield, with two defenders in pursuit. Moore slips an ankle tackle, stays in bounds, then lowers the shoulder into the boundary corner and spins out of his bear hug. There was still more to do though, Moore hits the afterburners and angles his way into the end zone away from a last ditch diving tackle. Seven different Buckeyes get within a yard of Moore on the play and none of them could bring him down.

There is just so much to love about Moore’s game that it was difficult to only select two highlights to showcase. If Moore can stay healthy and duplicate even 80% of his 2018 production he’ll be a first round pick next year.

 

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

  • Measurables: 5100/210
  • 2017 Stats: 14 games, 19 receptions, 123 rec yards, 6.5 ypr, 0 TDs, 2 punt returns, 7.5 ypr, 0 punt return TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 15 games, 55 receptions, 575 rec yards, 10.5 ypr, 4 TDs, 39 punt returns, 7.7 ypr, 1 punt return TD
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 30 receptions, 426 rec yards, 14.2 ypr, 4 TDs, 18 punt returns, 8.4 ypr, 0 punt return TDs

Amari Rodgers is poised to be the favorite target of Trevor Lawrence in 2020 after the news that Justyn Ross will miss the entire season. Rodgers suffered a preseason injury of his own in 2019, a torn ACL. Somehow, Rodgers was back in the lineup in September and missed just ONE game! His recovery took less than six months which is unheard of. Rodgers, a former Mr. Tennessee honoree and Top 100 recruit, has had flashes of greatness in Death Valley but has yet to be the BMOC. This will be his time to shine and show scouts that he deserves to be a coveted NFL prospect.

I watched Rodgers’ game tape from his 2019 outing against Syracuse as well as some highlight packages. Rodgers is a strong and compact slot receiver whose unique 5100/210 body type is well suited to breaking tackles. In the last two wide receiver classes, only Deebo Samuel compares to his sub-6000 height and 210+ weight. He looks like a punt returner once he gets the ball on a screen so it’s no surprise that he’s also been the team’s primary punt returner, even after a serious knee injury. Rodgers appears to have reliable hands, although I would like to see him attack the ball more often. DraftScout.com predicts Rodgers to have 4.60 speed but I see him being faster than that, maybe even pushing the 4.49 he ran as a high schooler per ESPN. He has a top gear that defensive backs just can’t match, so he’s gone if he gets beyond the second level. On this play you can see the full package that Rodgers will offer in the pros. He adjusts to a bad throw and has to break a tackle behind the line of scrimmage just a moment after securing the catch. He accelerates around the corner, shrugs off an attempt to push him out of bounds, and outruns everybody on the field.

Rodgers was an interesting study because he’s a contrast to the towering outside receivers that Clemson has produced in recent memory. I think Rodgers will have an instant role in the NFL as a reliable underneath receiver and dynamic punt returner.

 

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

  • Measurables: 6010/195
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 60 receptions, 750 rec yards, 12.5 ypr, 3 rec TDs, 2 rush attempts, 9 rush yards, 4.5 ypa, 0 rush TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 77 receptions, 1,042 rec yards, 13.5 ypr, 6 rec TDs, 7 rush attempts, 60 rush yards, 8.6 ypa, 1 rush TD, 12 punt returns, 5.5 ypr

Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a “household name” since before he even set foot on campus at USC. He was 247Sports’ 11th ranked prospect in the class, hailing from the football factory Mater Dei, but that’s not why he’s so well known. The (St.) Brown family is football’s answer to the Ball family of basketball: three talented brothers with unique names driven to future stardom by their father. Amon-Ra’s older brothers are Equanimeous (Green Bay via Notre Dame) and Osiris (Stanford). If you haven’t seen the HBO Real Sports segment about the family, I would highly recommend it. Name recognition based on off-the-field factors can be a double-edged sword. It’s nice to be well known but does that raise expectations too high? To know for sure I needed to check out some game action.

I chose to watch St. Brown against Iowa in last year’s Holiday Bowl. The Trojans were worn down by the Hawkeyes defense and lost 49-24, but St. Brown wasn’t to blame, earning 163 of the team’s 260 receiving yards. I had some preconceived “diva” notions about St. Brown (dating back to a bush league celebration in the 2018 Under Armour All-American game), so I was very happy to see how physical and scrappy he is. St. Brown is always getting his hands on the opposing defender. Sometimes it’s hand fighting on the route, sometimes it’s a little shove after the play, sometimes it’s pulling somebody off a pile. I wouldn’t want to play against him, and that’s exactly the point. I was also impressed with how strong St. Brown’s hands were catching the ball, often snagging it far away from his body. St. Brown’s best play against Iowa was a deep over the shoulder grab that landed him just shy of paydirt. I checked some highlights to see if his ball tracking and deep ball skills were recurrent, and they were.

I can see St. Brown having success at the next level as a strong slot, with a height and strength advantage over nickel corners. Given his deep ball ability, I think he could also play a role on the outside as well. Without Michael Pittman hogging targets from QB Kedon Slovis, St. Brown should expect an even bigger share of the offense this season. One thing is for sure, Amon-Ra St. Brown has more than just his name going for him heading into the 2021 NFL Draft process.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

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