The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part II

Updated: December 15th 2018

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

Gasparilla Bowl, South Florida (7-5) vs Marshall (8-4), Thur 12/20 at 8:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
    • I first reviewed Tyre Brady’s film in the offseason and came away very impressed. I admit that it may be primacy bias since Brady was the first wideout I studied this draft year. He’s definitely somebody I plan to revisit. I posited that Brady looked like he could develop into a starting X receiver in the NFL. I liked his acrobatic nature, his strong hands and his toe-tapping body control. His speed and fluid change of direction ability will be important traits as he matures as a route runner. Brady’s numbers dipped a bit in 2018 (60-819-9) but I’m still optimistic. In his last two games of the C-USA regular season (before the Va Tech makeup) he went for a combined 11-207-3. I previously suggested a Day Two grade for Brady but after a somewhat disappointing stat line, I’ll bump him down to the 4th round.
  • My Pick: USF, +2.5
    • Both teams are a horrendous 4-8 ATS this season, including 20+ point losses for both in their last contest. USF has been disappointing this season but they might get a bit of an edge playing in-state. Take the points but you won’t feel great about it.

Bahamas Bowl, FIU (8-4) vs Toledo (7-5), Fri 12/21 at 12:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo
    • Thompson is a fifth year senior who was granted an extra year of eligibility after breaking his leg early in 2017. From 2015-2017, Thompson averaged a whopping 20.3 yards per catch. However, that fell to just 13.8 in 2018. The biggest difference for Thompson? He was originally catching balls from the prolific Logan Woodside so it’s hard to say if it’s quarterback play or a slow return post-injury. Pre-injury, Thompson was not fast but he showed skills after the catch, particularly with a killer spin move. He’s inconsistent with his hands, often body catching the ball. One unexpected bright spot was his blocking; he lacks top end strength but shows a willingness and above average technique for the position. He’s likely a late rounder but will latch on to a team as a special teamer.
  • My Pick: FIU, +6
    • FIU has been an underdog three times this season (Indiana, Miami, Marshall) and won ATS each time. For the season they are 9-3 and are 5-0 away from home. Toledo has struggled at QB this season, switching between Mitch Guadagni and Eli Peters (for both health and production reasons). Meanwhile, graduate transfer QB James Morgan has been playing very well for the Golden Panthers and lead the conference in most passing stats. If you’re telling me I am getting the better quarterback and the points, slam dunk.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Western Michigan (7-5) vs BYU (6-6), Fri 12/21 at 4:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Corbin Kaufusi, DE, BYU
    • When I came across Kaufusi this past offseason, I felt like I found a diamond in the rough. Here’s a largely unknown guy who measures in at an immense 6090-275 and makes plays in the backfield (18.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 tackles in his career). Not only is he an interesting prospect but he comes from an interesting family. His dad was the longtime defensive line coach at BYU; his older brother Brandon was a 3rd round pick by the Ravens in 2016 (he’s now with the Jets); his younger brother Devin and cousin Isaiah are also on the football team; and his mom is the mayor of Provo! I watched some of Kaufusi against Boise State from 2017 and he honestly did not jump off the screen with burst or explosiveness. He’ll win the workout though.
  • My Pick: Western Michigan, +12
    • I really struggled with this pick. I went into the preview thinking that BYU was going to be a no-brainer pick but the more I looked at the team stats I started to sway towards the Broncos. Western Michigan leads BYU in each offensive team stat, including significant advantages in time of possession and yards per play.  BYU has the better defense so maybe they keep it low scoring.  Twelve is a big number so if I had to bet it, I’ll take the points.

Birmingham Bowl, Wake Forest (6-6) vs Memphis (8-5), Sat 12/22 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
    • I’ve been waxing poetic about Henderson for awhile now so there’s no reason to stop now.  Henderson is a bit undersized at 5090/200 but his playing style belies his size.  He runs downhill with a momentum you can feel through the screen.  When necessary, he can use his shorter stature to his advantage to get through tight holes.  He contributes well in the passing game, averaging 21 receptions per season.  His per-rush numbers are off the charts: per Sports-Reference.com, Henderson leads the NCAA in yards per attempt (8.2) for rushers since 1956.  Henderson will be an interesting study in the offseason because I like his tape and his stats but the rest of the industry does not seem to be buying in yet.
  • My Pick: Memphis, -5
    • I’ve been watching Memphis closely the last two years because they’ve featured two of my favorite prospects (Henderson and Anthony Miller).  So, I may be partial but some of the betting stats are on my side too.  Memphis is 8-5 ATS this season while Wake is just 4-8.  The Tigers have won their last five ATS as a favorite.  Expect a high scoring game because the defenses rank 93rd and 101st.

Armed Forces Bowl, Army (9-2) vs Houston (8-4), Sat 12/22 at 3:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Austin Robinson, LB, Houston
    • Buzz, your girlfriend, woof.  No offense to Mr. Robinson but I would much rather be writing about either Ed Oliver or D’Eriq King in this space.  Both are dynamic playmakers for the Cougs, however neither will be playing in this one.  Oliver is sitting out for self-preservation purposes (he’s likely to be a top 2019 pick) and King suffered a knee injury in November.  (Admittedly, King is not a realistic draft prospect for 2019 but still, he’s so explosive he’d warrant a write-up).  Without any draft hopefuls on the Army squad, Robinson will need to carry the mantle.  He’s a quarterback turned linebacker and exploded in 2018 for 115 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.  Robinson had a mind-boggling stat line against the other triple-option service academy on Houston’s schedule: 21 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.  I think it’s safe to say that Robinson is going to standout in this one.
  • My Pick: Houston, +3
    • As I mentioned above, Army deploys a triple-option offense which is usually tough to gameplan against.  However, Houston should be prepared because they play Navy every year who features a similar run-heavy offense.  Houston won the last two against Navy by double digits.  The line started out at Houston -1.5 but has moved towards Army.  This feels like a steal to be getting points.  Army is better than Navy and Houston will be missing key pieces but still, I will take them straight up.

Dollar General Bowl, Buffalo (9-3) vs Troy (9-3), Sat 12/22 at 7:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo
    • Prior to the MAC Championship, I suggested that Johnson could play his way into a mid-round grade if he played strongly in his last two contests. Game one for Johnson went well. Against NIU, he finished with a 7-124-2 line. The Bulls ended up losing after a furious Huskies comeback but Johnson wasn’t to blame. Johnson is an outside receiver with starter potential; he’s 6020 so a bit shorter than other elite X prospects but he is strong in the air. I’m not as high on him as I was heading into 2019 but he’s still likely to factor into your rookie drafts next season.
  • My Pick: Buffalo, -2.5
    • I haven’t seen any of Troy’s games this year so it’s hard to pick them with less than a field goal advantage. Buffalo has a few NFL hopefuls (including QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I would expect them to field the better team. Buffalo was a three point favorite over Northern Illinois and blew it so that does give me pause. I’d pass on this one if I could.

Hawaii Bowl, Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs Hawaii (8-5), Sat 12/22 at 10:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Lousiana Tech
    • I recently read a profile of Ferguson on The Athletic and was happy to come across his name again when researching this bowl. His 2018 stands out (60 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks) but he has produced consistently all four years at La Tech. His 42.5 career sack number is one of the highest I have seen in recent memory. In fact, according to Sports-Reference.com, Ferguson leads the FBS in career sacks since they started tracking since 2005. Since I was not familiar with Ferguson’s tape, I consulted TheDraftNetwork.com for some insight. According to their scouting reports, we should expect Ferguson to find a home as a run-stopping end in the NFL. He may not be the most athletic prospect in the class but it’s impossible to ignore his production over a four-year career.
  • My Pick: Hawaii, -1
    • This should be an overlooked game that turns out to be a fun watch (plus, your SO will probably already be asleep by the time it gets going so you can watch it in peace). Hawaii features the 9th best passing offense in the FBS while Tech only allows 193.6 passing yards per game (29th best). I agree with Vegas that this will be a close one. I’ll lean towards Hawaii who is a rare bowl team playing a home game. (Bettors beware: Hawaii is 2-4-1 ATS at home this season so be cautious and don’t bet big)

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/5.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Conference Championship Previews

Updated: November 30th 2018

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

It’s been awhile, dear readers.  My apologies for the long lay-off between articles, you can blame my now-wife for that!  College football was a welcome, albeit infrequent, reprieve from our ever-encompassing wedding duties, but I was just not able to find the time to sit down and put flesh to keyboard.  What better time to get back into the swing than the week of conference championships!  For each matchup, I present a draft-eligible name you should know as well as my take and prediction.

MAC: Northern Illinois (7-5) vs Buffalo (10-2), 7:00pm Friday on ESPN2

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch:
    • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Johnson was one of my top prospects heading into the 2019 season.  He was shortly derailed by a hamstring injury but is back in the fold now.  Johnson’s numbers have been disappointing (45-820-9) compared to last season (76-1,356-14).  The explanation is likely the injury plus the fact that the Bulls are averaging nearly 60 yards per game more rushing this season.  Johnson has the ability to dominate lesser, in size and skill, defenders.  Whether his skills are dominant enough for the NFL remains to be seen but I think he has a shot at being a mid-rounder if he shows out in the last two games.
  • Prediction:  Buffalo -4.  Buffalo’s closest win this season was by seven over Temple and Eastern Michigan (two other bowl teams), so when they win they usually win big.  The Bulls have more potential NFL talent on both sides of the ball (don’t forget about QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I don’t expect this to be particularly close.

PAC-12: #17 Utah (9-3) vs #11 Washington (9-3), 8:00pm Friday on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington: #DraftTwitter seems to hate Gaskin. I don’t think he’s the next coming of Saquon Barkley but the hate has probably gone too far. You can nitpick and say he’s not very big (5110/193) or could be more involved as a receiver (53 combined receptions over the last three seasons). However, it’s hard to argue with somebody who has 5,131 career rushing yards which is 18th best in the NCAA dating back to the 1950s. He’s the first back in PAC-12 history to rush for 1,000+ yards in four plus seasons. I’d like to see him more decisive hitting the hole but he does have good feet that are always moving. He has enough speed and power to be an every-down back in college but his NFL role will be more limited.
  • Prediction:  Utah +5.  This one feels like a trap game for casual bettors (myself included).  Washington is a big name in recent college football seasons and will get attention.  Utah is without its best pro prospect in RB Zack Moss but I’d still expect them to keep it close.  They’ve scored 35+ in seven of their last eight games so the offense can score.  Washington was favored in six of their last seven and lost to the spread in five of those contests.

Big 12: #5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #14 Texas (9-3), 12:00pm Saturday on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Brown is a dynamo.  Despite his diminutive size (5110/168) he often lines up outside and instead uses motion and his route running ability to avoid contact and get open.  Once he has the ball in his hands it’s nearly impossible to catch him.  Brown was quiet through the middle part of the season but he exploded last week against West Virginia for 11-243-2.  The emergence of Tyreek Hill as a viable NFL receiver is going to help boost Brown’s stock.  He won’t be a first rounder but I feel pretty confident that a team will fall in love enough to reach for him on Day Two.
  • Prediction:  Texas +7.5.  The Sooners won their last four games by a total of just 24 points, while they were favored by a combined 73.5.  Their defense has appeared to be a liability this season and that is borne out in the stats: their defense is dead last in the conference in points and total yards.  I would take OU straight up but Texas with the points.

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2), 12:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State: Duck had a strong freshmen and sophomore seasons with a combined 11 interceptions, 14 passes defended and 107 tackles. His numbers decreased this season (1-4-44), so this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel!  (Unfortunately, the best prospect on either team is hurt and out for the season, ‘Neer RB Jalin Moore.  Moore is good in pass protection and was on his way to a third consecutive 1,000 yard season before dislocating his ankle.  If he’s not fully recovered to take part in the draft process, a team is going to get a bargain.)
  • Prediction:  Appalachian State -18.  This one is a rematch from October which App State won 27-17.  The Mountaineers lost their succeeding game but rebounded with four wins to end the season, including three big wins (two pushes, one cover).  I admit that part of this pick may be name recognition more than anything else but if I had to pick against the spread I would take App State to cover.

C-USA: Middle Tennessee (8-4) at UAB (9-3), 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee: It feels like Stockstill has been a Blue Raider for most of my adult life.  He grayshirted in 2013 then redshirted in 2014.  In 2015 he started 13 games but then missed chunks of 2016 and 2017 due to injury.  He’s stayed on the field thus far in 2018.  The positive vibes continue with his stat logs: he is completing 71.1% of his passes, has improved his rate stats and has a career low of interceptions (6).  Stockstill throws with good touch but his accuracy is inconsistent.  His age and injury history likely make him a priority UDFA but in such a weak quarterback class, who knows?
  • Prediction:  UAB +1.5.  I was very surprised to see the Blazers as a home underdog in this one.  They are 6-0 at home this season (5-1 ATS).  A big part of that line may be the uncertainty surrounding RB Spencer Brown’s availability (996-15).  I’ll take the gamble that he plays.  He’s just a sophomore and not yet draft eligible so there’s some incentive to shine in a big game, and throw down a few bucks on UAB with the points.

AAC: #8 UCF (11-0) vs Memphis (8-4), 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis:  Henderson led a dominant Tigers rushing attack this season.  His regular season totals ended at: 1,699 yards, 19 TDs, 8.6 yards per carry, 17 receptions, 286 yards  and 3 TDs.  That’s impressive even before you consider that he’s splitting touches with Patrick Taylor (894-14) and Tony Pollard (398-5).  Henderson measures in at 5090/200 and yet runs with an upright, downhill style.  You can feel his momentum when he’s on the move.  He may be too small for an every down role in the NFL but he runs with a physicality that belies his height and that will endear him to his teammates.
  • Prediction:  Memphis +3.  It’s hard to write the narrative for this game right now.  Does UCF rebound and battle for their fallen quarterback?  Or do they collapse with a backup signal caller under center?  Considering their last matchup was a 31-30 victory for UCF, I’ll take Memphis and the points here because I think McKenzie Milton is worth way more than a few points.  (I do hope I am wrong on this one though because I am wishing for CFP mayhem.)

SEC: #1 Alabama (12-0) vs #4 Georgia (11-1), 4:00pm on CBS

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: This game is obviously chock full of pro talent so why am I highlighting a tight end? Because you’ve probably missed Irv Smith’s ascension amidst the Alabaman domination this season. I am here to tell you that he should be on your radar as a potential rookie draft target for 2019. Smith has a good 35-613-7 line thus far, despite inconsistent production (five games with 2 or less receptions). In three of those games he managed to score a touchdown so he can still be a difference maker without a high target share. He’s listed at 6040/241 and has the speed to be a matchup nightmare for linebackers. If he shows consistency in Alabama’s biggest games, we’ll see his draft stock skyrocket. While your friends are waxing poetic about Tua and Quinnen, you can drop some knowledge about Irv, who will factor into next year’s rookie draft.
  • Prediction:  Alabama -13. ‘Bama has covered big numbers in its last five SEC games. The only one in the last six games that they didn’t cover was -53.5 against doormat foe Citadel. I see no reason to believe that the Tide won’t roll again. They are just too talented all over the field, probably the most talented team I’ve ever seen.

Mountain West: #25 Fresno State (10-2) at #22 Boise State (10-2), 7:45pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State:  Rypien is a name that you should monitor closely throughout the draft process.  The 2019 quarterback class is weak so it’s possible that somebody like Rypien emerges to become a first rounder just by virtue of scarcity.  He has average size at 6020/202.  He shows good pocket presence and above average short and medium accuracy.  He needs to show more consistency with his mechanics because he often lets himself throw off-platform, off-balance or with his feet unset.  In a previous film study, I noted that Rypien does not feel blindside pressure well which will be a problem in the NFL.  He’s probably a Day Two guy with the potential to land higher if teams are desperate.
  • Prediction:  Fresno State +2.5.  I’ve almost convinced myself that Fresno will win this one straight up because I’ve followed them closely this year after I stacked QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson in my college fantasy league.  So I’ll have to take the points.  The Bulldogs have lost their last three ATS but before that were on a seven game winning streak.  Bonus tidbit: the last four games for both teams went under (including their November 9 matchup).

Big Ten: #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs #21 Northwestern (8-4), 8:00pm on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins is a fast-rising redshirt sophomore who got his chance to lead Ohio State this season after JT Barrett’s graduation.  Haskins checks in at 6030/220 but I think that might be a slight exaggeration.  He’s not small but he does lack elite size.  He’s not a burner as a runner but he’s recently shown that he can be effective and clutch in short yardage situations.  It’s hard to find fault when looking at his statistics because he’s setting numerous Ohio State and Big Ten records.  He topped 4,000 yards (4,081) and has tossed 42 TDs to just 7 INTs.  His rating (171.7) and completion percentage (69.0%) are phenomenal.  Haskins has seen a meteoric rise to his draft stock, in fact, The Draft Network now projects him as QB2 in the 2019 eligible class.
  • Prediction:  Ohio State -14.  As a Michigan fan, it was particularly hard to watch the 62-39 drubbing last weekend.  I’m a firm believer in rooting for the team that beats you (if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to the eventual champion) so I’ll be all-in on the Buckeyes.  Northwestern has a top third defense in the conference but their weak spot is against the pass (ranked 11th) so they will not be able to slow Haskins enough to keep it close.

ACC: #2 Clemson (12-0) vs Pitt (7-5), 8:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • The Entire Defensive Line, Clemson:  There are so many “brand name” players on the Clemson defense that it would be impossible to single one of them out.  The fact that their biggest offensive stars are underclassmen (QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne and WR Tee Higgins) also helps concentrate focus on the defense.  Clelin Ferrell has distanced himself as the best prospect on the line with 10.5 sacks this season.  Interior linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are a dynamic duo who both feature rare combinations of size and athleticism (notably they have a combined 3 rushing TDs this season).  Austin Bryant, playing fourth fiddle, would probably be the defensive leader for most teams (19 career sacks and 116 career tackles).
  • Prediction:  Clemson -26.5.  What a snoozer in the 8:00pm window, I bet ABC is not happy.  Clemson is only 6-6 ATS this season while Pitt is 8-4 but I won’t let that sway my thinking.  I’ll be okay with losing this one if Clemson doesn’t cover but my gut tells me they run up the score to prove that they belong in the conversation with Alabama.  Give the points and switch the channel.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 11/27.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2019 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 19th 2018

I wrote the first draft of last year’s rookie mock draft on August 23, 2017 and by the time June 2018 rolled around, five of my first ten picks were still first rounders (according to ADP data compiled by DLF).  I’m happy with that but overall my mock draft was a mixed bag.  There were some good calls: like Royce Freeman at 1.07 and Sam Darnold as the first QB off the board.  There were some duds too: Bo Scarborough at 1.06 and third round flyers on Corey Willis and Jordan Chunn.  The exercise of mock drafting this early is helpful because it forces me to start ranking by position.  It also requires me to evaluate each position group to see how their strength compares to each other.

Remember, it’s early. Very early. Players will overperform, underperform, go on hot streaks, go through slumps, get hurt, get suspended, get arrested or maybe not even declare early. What I’m trying to say is use this as a tool to start your rookie research but don’t bank on it come May. When creating this mock draft, I used two base assumptions: 1) a standard 1 QB roster setup and 2) any redshirt sophomore or junior good enough to be considered will declare early.  If you’re playing superflex, I typically suggest to move quarterbacks up a half round or so.  For more information on these players, check out my The Watch List series which feature deeper dives on stats and film study.  Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @robertfcowper.

1.01 – N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry broke out as a true freshman and has been on the devy radar since then.  He’s big at 6040/213 and uses his size to win in contested situations.  I questioned his run after catch ability when I studied him this preseason and he promptly proved me wrong.  He put up 82-1,142-8 last season and if he repeats that line in 2018 he’ll be the first receiver off the board next spring.

1.02 – Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

I’m higher on Harmon than other rankers who have him behind Edwards and Brown.  I think he’s shorter than his 6030 listed height but it does not stop him from winning in the air.  He’s an excellent route runner who I compared to Stefon Diggs.  His stats won’t jump off the screen but his film does.

1.03 – Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards has a flair for circus catches that showcase his ball tracking, concentration and body control.  Like Harmon, his stats will look underwhelming (64-793-5 last season) but you need to watch him play in order to appreciate his ability.  There was limited film available in the preseason but from what I saw I was very impressed.

1.04 – AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

Like last year, Brown is off to a strong start against weaker competition (15-251-3 in two games).  He’s a bear to tackle after the catch who possesses enough power and skill moves to keep defenders guessing.  He lines up predominantly out of the slot so I’d love to see him lined up elsewhere to get a feel for how he does against the press and along the sideline.  Brown will need to show scouts that he’s versatile and can put up big games more consistently against stronger opponents.

1.05 – David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

To start the season, I was between Montgomery and Anderson for my RB1 spot.  After Anderson’s injury it’s a much easier decision.  Montgomery has the ability to make spectacular plays by virtue of his tackle breaking skills.  He’s also a good receiver who had 36 receptions and 296 yards last year.  The knock against Montgomery is that too many of his carries go for a loss or short gain.  Whether that’s due to poor vision or poor line play will require more film study.  I foresee Montgomery going earlier in fantasy draft based on team need but in a vacuum, I’ll start with the receivers.

1.06 – DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Whereas I question Brown’s ability to be an outside receiver in the pros, I have less doubt that Metcalf can.  He’s huge at 6040/225.  He’s a former high school track star who reportedly ran a 4.46 last year.  If that’s true come combine, Metcalf will be a first rounder.  As his body of work grows, his draft stock will as well.

1.07 – Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

This was a really tough choice for me.  Anderson was in contention for my RB1 spot before his season-ending knee injury.  This will be the second season that Anderson loses to injury and he also has some off-field questions.  It’s very likely that his NFL Draft prospects will reflect those question marks but if he is healthy in camp he has the ability to win the job.  If I’m forecasting now, I’ll predict that his talent wins out.

1.08 – Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Love finished 2nd in Heisman voting last year after a spectacular 2,118-19 season.  He battled injuries throughout 2017 and is banged up again in 2018 (he’s going to miss Week 3 against UC Davis with a knee).  The injuries and his lack of pass catching are two big knocks against Love.  He’s reportedly put on some weight which is vital because he’s going to need to find a niche in the NFL, that may have to be as a two-down back if he can’t cut it as a receiver.  I think Love will need to be part of a committee so his fantasy value will rely largely on which committee that turns out to be.

1.09 – Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

Devin “Motor” Singletary is an electrifying runner who rushed for 1,912 yards and 32 TDs last season.  Yes, you read that correct: thirty two.  He feasted on lesser opponents, collecting seven games with 3+ touchdowns.  In five games against Power 5 opponents, Singletary has just 188 yards and 2 TDs.  That’s a bit of a red flag for me because you really want your Group of 5 back to prove it against the stronger opposition (a la Rashaad Penny and Kareem Hunt, both of which had multiple 100+ games against Power 5 teams).  Unfortunately, we won’t see Singletary against a Power 5 team again this season so his draft stock will include a bit of projection.

1.10 – Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

I fell in love with Brady when I watched him this preseason while writing my C-USA preview.  In that preview I praised Brady, specifically saying that I thought he had the potential to be a starting X receiver in the NFL.  He has 4.40 speed, strong hands, toe-tapping body control and solid route running skills.  He’s a former Miami transfer so you know he had high expectations out of high school.  Brady is off to a strong start through two games (15-182-3) and I predict he will be a riser on draft boards so I’m calling my shot.

2.01 – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

I constantly espouse the “QB at 2.01” strategy for RSO owners.  Locking in a young passer with starting potential for four years and less than $2 million is fantastic value.  The 2019 quarterback class currently looks weaker than the 2018 class but that doesn’t change my strategy.  Herbert is my QB1 right now because he has the size and athleticism that will excite pro scouts.  His arm strength is average it seems but he’s accurate enough to compensate.  He can be careless with the ball but hopefully that improves with experience.

2.02 – Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

I originally had Johnson below Samuel but as I looked at my list I just couldn’t justify it. Johnson is a dominant receiver who joined Buffalo in 2017 as a JUCO transfer. He immediately set the MAC ablaze, leading the league in receiving yards and TDs. He plays larger than his 6020/210 size suggests and will be another riser at WR this year.

2.03 – Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

Samuel is undeniably talented but he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career. In his first three seasons, he played in just 18 games. He recorded 87 receptions, 969 yards and 5 TDs in those contests. He’ll need to get through all of 2018 in one piece in order to figure as a fantasy asset next year.

2.04 – Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin is about as consistent as it comes. He rushed for 1,300+ yards and double digit touchdowns each of his three seasons. Gaskins also had 19 receptions in both 2016 and 2017. It may take time for his NFL fans to warm to him but he will find a valuable role in the NFL and has the tools to be an every down back.

2.05 – Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

Snell has grown on me the more I have watched and studied him. He has great size at 5110/223 and runs with the power you’d expect. I have limited exposure to Snell but from what I have seen he appears to have patience and vision at the line and enough speed for the next level.  It’s a toss-up for me with him and the two backs below because he’s youngest of the trio.

2.06 – Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

I had Harris pegged for the 2018 draft but he decided to return for his senior season. Ultimately, I think that will decrease his draft value rather than increase it. The Tide have so many name-brand backs on their roster that it’s hard for any of them to get a large enough share (for example, through three games he has 24 carries this season). He’s a former top recruit who has two 1,000+ yards rushing in the toughest division in college football. I don’t doubt his pedigree or his ability but, like with Gaskin, he’s not a sexy prospect right now.

2.07 – Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

I put Hill at the back of this run on RBs because I feel his NFL role may be the most limited. He’s a great receiver (31 receptions last year; strangely just 2 so far in 2018) and a bit light at 190. I’d like to see him add a few pounds and put out plenty of up-the-middle tape to feel better about his chances to be a three down back.

2.08 – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

I just recently covered J-JAW so check out my more in depth study for details. He’s a big-bodied receiver who literally boxes out DBs. If draft stock was something you could literally invest in, I would be buying Arcega-Whiteside.

2.09 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

Fant is my first TE off the board. I have him significantly lower than I did the tight ends of the last two classes because I feel there is more unknown with this group. Both he and Albert Okwuegbunam are no guarantee to come out and the typical thinking goes that TEs need time to develop (I’d love to see the breakdown of tight ends who declare early versus those who stay). He had 30 receptions, 494 yards and 11 TDs in 2017 as a sophomore. He already has 12-140-2 in 2018 so he’s on pace to beat last year’s marks.

2.10 – Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

Sanders is a former 5-star recruit who sat behind the legendary Saquon Barkley for two seasons. He’s off to a good start so far now that he’s the man (295 yards, 6.0 yards per carry). Since we have such a small sample size, his value is bound to fluctuate.

3.01 – Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

If Jones didn’t get hurt in Week 2 he might have showed up higher on this list. The 2019 quarterback class doesn’t stack up to the 2018 class which left the door open for an outsider like Jones to contend for a first round NFL Draft selection. Jones is a dual-threat passer who throws well on the run and isn’t afraid of contact. He needs to improve his touch and accuracy but his physical tools are there. I hope that Jones can return this year and prove he deserves a look.  Similarly to the 2.01 spot, I like to go QB at 3.01 to maximize value.

3.02 – David Sills, WR, West Virginia

Sills was a favorite of mine all of last season while he was leading the FBS in receiving touchdowns (18). He has good size at 6040/210 and excels in the red zone (12 of his 18 TDs came inside the twenty). Sills is a former quarterback who was recruited in middle school by Lane Kiffin. So, not only does he have the talent but he has an interesting back story.

3.03 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Mattison looks like an NFL running back to me when I see him in highlights. Thankfully, the stats back it up. In 2017 he totaled 1,086 yards and 12 TDs rushing and added 28 receptions, 284 yards and a score. I’m sure that the film study will as well. If he continues to put up big numbers in 2018, he’ll jump some of the Power 5 backs listed above.

3.04 – Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

I kept moving Johnson down my rankings because the best argument I could make for him is his size (6060/220). I still don’t feel great about him at 3.04 but I guess as the cliche goes, you can’t teach size.  He has played for an anemic Longhorn offense so his numbers aren’t great. His 54-765 line from last year is encouraging until you see that he scored just 2 TDs. Somebody with size like that should be able to score in close (see: Sills, David). I don’t watch Texas close enough to know how much of that is on Johnson and how much is on the offense as a whole so he’ll require some further study.

3.05 – Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

I have compared Stidham to Alex Smith on multiple occasions. While that may be damning with faint praise, I think it’s a compliment. Smith has carved out a nice NFL career as an athletic game-manager. Stidham’s numbers are down so far this year though so let’s revisit him after he hits the meat of his SEC West schedule.

3.06 – Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

Smith is a deep threat who took full advantage of Lamar Jackson’s arm in 2016 and 2017. He averaged over 18 yards per catch on 87 receptions in those seasons. This season though has been different. The Cardinals offense has struggled and the new quarterback, the aptly named Jawon Pass, has already been benched. Smith went “oh-fer” in the games against Alabama and Kentucky, not good. I have him ranked here because we have seen his big play ability in action but I have a feeling by season’s end he’ll be lower on my list.

3.07 – Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

Butler is big (6060/225) and apparently very difficult to tackle, as we learned against Oklahoma. Butler vaulted himself into my third round with that performance. Now that Allen Lazard has moved on, I expect Butler to rack up the touchdowns this year as Iowa State gets deeper into their Big 12 schedule.

3.08 – Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

I’m a bit partial to Moore because he agreed to do a Q&A with me this offseason. Besides that though, I think he has an NFL future because of his skills as a pass blocker.  According to Pro Football Focus, he was the top rated back in pass blocking efficiency last season. He has two back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons with 10+ touchdowns in each. I’d like to see him eclipse last year’s 12 receptions to fully prove his worth on third down.

3.09 – Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

I’m not sure what to make of Weber as an NFL prospect. I’m sure he’ll be drafted and hang around because of his all-round talent but if Ohio State doesn’t trust him to be their feature back, will an NFL team?

3.10 – Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

His name is Big Al and he hits dingers. Okwuegbunam is a redshirt sophomore so who knows if he declares early or returns to school for another year (or two) of seasoning. He has started strong with 14-100-2 this season after 29-415-11 last season. At 6050/260 he has enough size to be a red zone threat and an inline blocker. Whether or not he can prove his meddle as a blocker in the SEC will be important to monitor.

Honorable Mentions

  • 4.01 – Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
  • 4.02 – Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami
  • 4.03 – Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford
  • 4.04 – Felton Davis, WR, Michigan State
  • 4.05 – TJ Vasher, WR, Texas Tech
  • 4.06 – Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA
  • 4.07 – Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
  • 4.08 – LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State
  • 4.09 – Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
  • 4.10 – Zack Moss, RB, Utah

Note: I wrote this article between September 14-18 so any big games or injuries after that point are not taken into account.


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, 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, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 MAC Preview

Updated: June 2nd 2018

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

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Favorite:  Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo.  It takes a dominant season for a Group of 5 player to end up on the Heisman ballot (see: Rashaad Penny finishing fifth after a 2,248 rushing yard season with 28 total TDs).  If anybody in the MAC has the potential to dominate enough to get noticed by voters, it’s Johnson who went 76-1,356-14 last year.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio.  Rourke was a force in 2017 but he’ll likely be discounted by Heisman voters in 2018.  He accounted for 39 total touchdowns (17 passing, 21 rushing, 1 receiving).  He’s the conference’s leading returner in terms of passing yards and fourth in rushing yards.  Four of his five starting linemen are back so I would expect Rourke to have continued success in 2018.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio.  Do I need to say more?
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo.  Hodge’s 153 tackles were second best in the FBS last year.  He had 13 more tackles than the second best tackler in the MAC.  His sacks and forced turnovers are just gravy.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Tyler Wiegers, QB, Eastern Michigan.  Wiegers is a graduate transfer from Iowa where he made five appearances and threw just six passes.  Wiegers will compete with redshirt sophomore Isaac Stiebeling for the starting role.  If coach Chris Creighton was confident in what he had seen of Stiebeling the last two years he probably would not have brought in Wiegers so I assume it’s his job to lose.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Shakif Seymour, RB, Toledo.  As a true freshman, Seymour played second fiddle to starter Terry Swanson who is now gone.  Seymour has great size for a back at 5110/218.  He averaged 6.1 yards per carry and showed that he can factor in as a pass catcher too.  Now that he’ll get the lion’s share of the touches, I expect his stats to double in 2018.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Tyree Jackson and Anthony Johnson, Buffalo.  Both Jackson and Johnson are on my 2019 NFL Draft watch list so it makes sense that they would be my conference leading tandem.  Johnson totaled 47 receptions, 898 yards and 11 TDs in his eight games with Jackson at the helm.  That’s a great season for most players, let alone an eight game subset; in fact, those yardage and touchdown totals would have been good enough for 3rd in the conference for the full year.
  • Best RB Corps:  Ball State.  Junior RB James Gilbert started 2017 well with 207 yards and 3 TDs before a season ending thumb injury in the third game.  True freshman Caleb Huntley filled in admirably, finishing with 1,0003 yards on 210 carries.  In those first three games they played together, Huntley had 182 yards to Gilbert’s 207 which makes for a nice one-two punch.  Huntley has the frame to handle the every down work (5110/225), and three more years of eligibility, so I expect him to emerge as the lead ball carrier by the end of the year.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Chuck Martin, Miami Ohio.  According to CoachingTreeHotseat.com, Martin has outperformed his team’s projected wins three of the last four seasons.  That sounds encouraging until you realize the record over that span is just 16-33, that’s just how bad the team was projected to be.  Martin has eleven returning senior starters per Athlon Sports so there’s no excuse for the Redhawks to miss a bowl game again in 2018.  Miami Ohio has had a rough decade and though little of that is Martin’s fault fans must be restless.

Teams to Watch

  Eastern Michigan (5-7 in 2017)

Eastern Michigan started and ended the season quite well.  The issue was the six game losing streak in between.  During that stretch the Eagles lost all six games by seven points or less, with the average loss being less than four points.  One bounce of the ball can turn the tide in games that close and to lose six of them in a row is extremely unlucky.  EMU had the second best defense in the conference in terms of points allowed, passing yards allowed and total yards allowed.  A strong defense, two returning running backs (Ian Eriksen and Shaq Vann) and better luck, should help them get past the growing pains of breaking in a new quarterback.  Head coach Chris Creighton got Eastern to its first bowl game in 2016 since the 1980s and I expect him to repeat that success in 2018.

 Buffalo (6-6 in 2017)

The Bulls improved to 6-6 last year, after a tough 2-10 campaign in 2016, but it could have been better.  Like Eastern Michigan, Buffalo was the victim of a number of close losses: all six were ten points or less, including two by just a single point.  The 2017 Bulls suffered through some quarterback injuries (three different players started a game).  The starter for 2018 will be Tyree Jackson who played in five of the team’s wins last season.  Between Jackson, WR Anthony Johnson and LB Khalil Hodge, Buffalo has a nucleus of NFL Draft hopefuls that few teams in the Group of 5 can match.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Riley Neal, QB, Ball State:  Neal is an interesting name to file away.  He currently has little buzz but that should change come September after Ball State visits Notre Dame and Indiana.  Those two games will give Neal a national spotlight.  Should he play well, draftniks will start talking him up.  Neal has elite size at 6060/225 and his rate stats have progressed nicely over his first three seasons.  Unfortunately, his 2017 season was cut short due to a leg injury.  In the three games he did play in, Neal was completing 67.7% of his passes and threw for 659 yards.
  • Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio:  Rourke is a college fantasy football player’s dream.  As I mentioned above, he’s the conference’s leading returning passer (2,203 yards)  He also has the fourth most rushing yards of any returner (907).  He even caught three passes in 2017 for 36 yards and a score.  Rourke managed to play in all 13 games last season but underwent surgery this offseason so that will be something to monitor.  His size (6020/210) and number of carries (137) combine to worry me that it’s a matter of time before he sustains a serious injury.  At this time Rourke is more of a fun college player to watch than an NFL Draft prospect.
  • Jonathan Ward, RB, Central Michigan:  Ward’s stats stood out to me not because of anything he did as a runner but instead what he did as a receiver.  As a sophomore in 2017, Ward totaled 48 receptions, 470 yards and 3 TDs.  His 48 receptions were sixth best in the FBS among running backs.  He did well on the ground too, adding 1,024 yards rushing and 10 scores.  Ward has good height at 6000 but needs to add a few pounds (estimates range between 185-195lbs).  If he repeats his 2017 production this season he might come out and take his chances as a late round flyer.
  • AJ Ouellette, RB, Ohio:  Ouelette is not a flashy prospect but he strikes me as the type of steady player who can latch onto the bottom of an NFL roster as a priority UDFA.  He missed all but three plays of 2016 with an injured foot but rebounded in 2017 with 1,006 yards and 7 TDs.  As a freshman in 2014, Ouellette featured prominently as a receiver with 21 grabs and 3 receiving TDs.  His receiving production fell off a bit since then but it’s good to see that he has that in his game.
  • James Gardner, WR, Miami Ohio:  Gardner has elite size at 6040/216 so that alone puts him on my radar.  He has back-to-back seasons of decent production, although I want to see more in 2018.  Between 2016 and 2017, Gardner averaged 46 receptions, 837 yards and 8 TDs.  His 19.7 yards per catch average in 2017 ranked 15th in the FBS.  Gardner is one of the few receiver prospects in the conference who has a returning senior quarterback throwing to him so that should help keep his production improve further.
  • Diontae Johnson, WR, Toledo:  I was torn on which Toledo WR I should more deeply study, either Diontae Johnson or Cody Thompson.  I decided on Thompson because he has better size but that doesn’t mean Johnson is a slouch. Johnson excelled in 2017 in Thompson’s absence with four of his biggest games coming after Thompson’s injury.  Johnson’s season totals were: 74 receptions, 1,278 yards and 13 TDs.  He’s an electric playmaker who is fantastic with the ball in his hands either after the catch or when returning kicks.  I watched two 2017 highlight reels and despite his 5110/181 size, he often lines up outside.  In those highlights he showed an ability to make contested catches.  After a quick study, it appears he has the tools to be a solid slot receiver in the NFL.
  • Max Scharping, OT, Northern Illinois:  Scharping is listed at 6060/320 and is a two-time All-MAC selection.  DraftScout.com currently has him listed as the 7th ranked OT in the 2019 senior class.  If he can prove that he is a worthy tackle, rather than having to move inside at the next level, he’ll gradually move up draft boards.
  • Sutton Smith, DE, Northern Illinois:  Smith burst onto the scene in 2017 with a FBS-leading 14 sack season (plus 30 tackles for loss).  Smith is a former high school running back who measures in at just 6000/220.  Those measurements would have made him the shortest and lightest DE/OLB prospect in the 2018 class.  He’s likely too small to get draft consideration but if he repeats his 2017 production he’ll have us talking about him nonetheless.
  • Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo:  Rising senior linebacker Khalil Hodge is a name to keep in mind for IDP players.  Hodge is a tackling machine with 276 tackles over the last two seasons.  His 153 in 2017 was second most in the FBS.  In 2017 he also improved his stat line by adding 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 INTs.  He’s a completely different player but sharing a name and alma mater with NFL standout Khalil Mack could help Hodge get even more attention.

Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

Anthony Johnson is a former JUCO transfer who showed up in a big way for the Bulls in 2019.  His line was an impressive: 76-1,356-14.  Many of those touchdowns were of the spectacular variety: one-handed, over-the-shoulder, toe-tapping, etc.  When you watch Johnson, he appears to play bigger than his 6020 height suggests so I expect him to test well at the NFL Combine.  He uses his length and jumping ability to high point the ball and snag contested throws.  I particularly like to see him go over and through defenders when he’s coming back for the ball, dominating them with his size and strength.  Johnson does lack elite speed which hurts him when releasing off the line and when running after the catch.  He does however appear to use his hands well when fighting off a press corner which helped him get enough separation on a number of plays.  He also uses leverage well, especially on some of the over-the-shoulder touchdown grabs, gaining just an extra inch of space.  Johnson is utilized in a variety of ways and frequently comes in motion (maybe to aid in his release and getting up to speed).  He is featured on trick plays and screens in addition to his regular route tree.  I did note a few plays where his breaks looked slow rather than quick and crisp.  Johnson’s ability to consistently win at the catch point and to dominate smaller defenders will help him rise up draft boards this fall.  Right now I’m thinking that he will be fantasy relevant for 2019.  (Film watched: Western Michigan 2017, Minnesota 2017, Highlights 2017)

Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo

I usually use “elite” to describe the top end of a specific trait; standardized adjectives make it easy for readers to compare and contrast as they read through my content.  I don’t have a superlative for Jackson’s size though because it’s even better than elite.  Let’s go with A++++.  Jackson measures in at 6070/245.  He pairs that size with deceiving speed and rushing ability, which is rare for a passer of his height.  As a thrower, Jackson has a monster arm.  Compared to all of the other FCS and Group of 5 quarterbacks I’ve studied so far, his arm is the strongest without a doubt.  There are multiple plays in my notes where the ball flew 50+ yards in the air.  Unfortunately, Jackson sacrifices accuracy with that strength.  He often misses behind his receivers and lacks anticipation.  I do not often see him reading the field and going through progressions so that’s something else I will need to see him showcase in 2018.  Like most quarterbacks in his range, pressure can really rattle him and force ill advised throws.  Wherever you think Jackson will go in the NFL Draft in 2019 (I’m betting he comes out), I guarantee that he will go higher.  There are very few prospects that have his measureables and NFL coaches will feel that they can fix the issues in his game.  I will not be surprised if we’re talking a Pat Mahomes like rise for Jackson come March 2019.  (Film watched: Minnesota 2017)

Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo

Thompson stood out to me during my preliminary MAC research because of his 20.0 yards per catch average over his career.  Thompson led the MAC in that stat in both 2015 and 2016 and was Top 10 in the FBS both years too.  His 2017 season was cut short due to injury, but his average through those first five games was impressive again: 19.2.  I watched two of Thompson’s games from 2016 to get a feel for his game pre-injury.  He is not the quickest, I’m thinking he has 4.60 speed.  He does well when he has the ball in his hands, utilizing good balance and a killer spin move to fight through defenders.  Speaking of his hands, Thompson too often body-catches the ball rather than using his hands.  His hand placement may also need work.  Against BYU he had a big 78 yard touchdown reception but on the highlight you can see his hands are very wide and the ball nearly goes through his hands before he grasps the back half of it.  Thompson was utilized all over the field, including from the slot and in motion.  One of the biggest reasons he was deployed that way was to take advantage of his blocking ability which is above average to good for the position.  He shows a willingness to engage with the defender and has good technique but he does lack the strength to hold the block for long.  Thompson lacks a high ceiling but will latch onto the bottom of an NFL roster and should contribute situationally and on special teams.  (Film watched: BYU 2016, Fresno State 2016)


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  Then watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  For top prospects I may add a third game, while for long shots I might only devote the time for one. 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.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.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Week 10

Updated: November 1st 2017

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

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley was mostly held in check against Ohio State but he did total 67 yards and two touchdowns. His first score came on the opening kickoff and just shows how effortlessly he can change the outlook of a game. I’m not yet ready to advocate for him to go first overall in the NFL Draft but he is undoubtedly a Top 3 pick for me. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson had another big game (491 combined passing and rushing yards with 4 total TDs) but the Cardinals lost again, this time to Wake Forest. I just don’t think the voters will go for him on a barely bowl eligible team. Much like stubborn baseball Hall of Fame voters refuse to put anybody in unanimously, I don’t think Heisman voters will want to give Jackson a second award that puts him in the most rarefied of air while playing on a bad team. Bryce Love did ultimately sit out last Thursday against Oregon State which I think hurts his Heisman stock. Playing in a primetime (instead of 10:00pm or later) weeknight game on ESPN would have helped a lot of east coast voters see him live. So, who would I have second? It has to be Notre Dame RB Josh Adams. I am not sold on his prospects at the next level but he put up another huge game against a solid NC State defense. Adams went for 202 yards and a touchdown and is making it harder and harder to ignore him.
  • CFP Rankings: I am writing this on Monday and Tuesday prior to the CFP ranking release “show.” A few thoughts… 1) why does this need to be a weekly show, just give us the rankings. 2) Remember, there is a lot of football left to play. Last year’s initial rankings were Alabama, Clemson, Michigan and Texas A&M. Michigan ended up 6th while A&M finished unranked. 3) Don’t be surprised to see Notre Dame at #4 in the CFP ranking despite being #5/8 in the AP/Coaches polls.  It’s hard for Notre Dame to fly under the radar but they have in my opinion. They are 3-1 against AP ranked teams (nobody else has more than 2 such wins) and that one loss was by a single point to #2 Georgia – the committee will heavily value that.
  • MACtion is Back: The novelty will wear off in a week or two but MACtion is back and I am excited. For the uninitiated, the MAC conference plays some Tuesday and Wednesday games later in the season on the ESPN networks. It gets them some national attention and gives us football every night of the week. Below in my Players to Watch section I highlight a few names you should keep an eye on when you tune in over the next few weeks.

Players to Watch (MACtion Edition)

  • Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo:  Woodside has a shot at being a late-round QB prospect if he finishes the season strong.  So far this season his stats have been a mixed bag.  He threw 45 TDs in 2016 and has 19 so far this season, so he’ll regress there; it’s hard to say that 35 TDs is a bad year but it’s regression nonetheless.  He has significantly improved his INT rate this season (just 2 INTs on 232 attempts) but his completion percentage is down nearly 7%.  I watched Woodside a few weeks ago against Eastern Michigan, it was actually one of my Games to Watch, but he struggled; Toledo got the win but he but he threw for just 289 and no touchdowns.  I expect him to get drafted but will likely start his career as a third stringer – little upside for RSO owners but he’s still a fun college QB to watch.
  • AJ Ouellette, RB, Ohio:  Ouellette is leading the MAC in rushing (752 yards) and has seven total touchdowns.  He’s the best offensive player on the best East division team so we’ll probably see a lot of him in the coming weeks.  I would be concerned about his durability if I was a scout so I doubt we see his name mentioned in the Spring.  He missed last season due to a foot injury and was supposedly injured earlier in the season with an “undisclosed injury” per RotoWorld; maybe the same foot but not sure.  Ouellette has 121 carries this season and will surpass his previous totals (151, 160) in the coming weeks so it will be telling to see if he can finish the year healthy.  He is a former walk-on so maybe I shouldn’t be counting him out.
  • Corey Willis, WR, Central Michigan:  I was high on Willis to start the season but he was slowed by a hand injury that forced him to miss multiple games.  In his second game back he went for 5-98-3 against Ball State so hopefully he is now fully healed.  Willis is not big (5’10” 175lb) or very fast (4.50 speed) but he has a knack for big plays.  In the preseason, I compared him to John Brown and Travis Benjamin; both have had weeks of fantasy relevance this season so I think Willis should be on your sleeper radar.
  • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Admittedly, I have not watched a minute of Buffalo or Johnson play this season.  I am including him simply because he leads the conference in receptions and reception yards and is second in receiving touchdowns.  Per the Buffalo media guide, Johnson is a JUCO transfer who honestly did not see much success at that level (40 receptions, 993 yards and 7 TDs over two seasons at two different schools) so it’s surprising to see his 55-888-6 line in his first season of FBS competition.
  • Anthony Winbush, DE, Ball State:  Nothing new to report, Winbush is good.  I’ve written about him twice now and still think he should get talked about more.  He had a disappointing game against Toledo (just 2 tackles) but his dominating games against Illinois and Central Michigan show his potential (combined between those two games: 14 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble).  Winbush leads the conference in sacks and forced fumbles.  I have no idea how he projects to the next level because he’s undersized (6’1″ and I have seen his weight listed at 207, 225 and 240lbs); it will come down to his 40-yard dash and cone drills to see if he has the speed and explosiveness to play upright as a 3-4 edge rusher.
  • Darius Phillips, CB, Western Michigan:  Phillips is a darling of Pro Football Focus and is one of their draft board risers.  He started the year strong with two great games against USC and Michigan State (4 tackles, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery and two kick return TDs) but has since slowed.  Phillips was originally recruited as a WR and actually saw his first offensive touches since 2014 a few weeks ago against Ball State.  In 2014, Phillips had 32 receptions, 479 receiving yards and 2 TDs as a freshman receiver.  He’s a talented player and I think the Broncos coaching staff will use some of these nationally televised MACtion games as an opportunity to get their guy some pub.  If you play in an IDP league you should consider Phillips because he has good ball skills and the chance for touches on special teams (or even offense in a limited package).

Games to Watch

  • #7 Penn State at #24 Michigan State, 12:00pm Saturday on FOX:  This matchup has lost some of it’s hype after both teams lost last weekend.  Still, it’s an important divisional matchup because the two 4-1 teams are just one game back of 5-0 Ohio State.  The winner will be like a dog waiting under the table for scraps as the Buckeyes finish out their season.  Plus, you should take any opportunity to watch Saquon Barkley.
  • South Carolina at #2 Georgia, 3:30pm Saturday on CBS:  We know that Georgia is a very good team but I’d bet that most fans don’t realize that the Gamecocks are 6-2 (I didn’t).  South Carolina’s rush defense is ranked 39th so it likely won’t stop the duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel but maybe they slow UGA enough to give sophomore QB Jake Bentley a chance.
  • #18 Stanford at #25 Washington State, 3:30pm Saturday on FOX:  An odd afternoon game for these two teams who are used to playing “PAC-12 after dark” games.  I hope that Bryce Love is back from injury so that he doesn’t miss his second straight chance to capture the national spotlight.  Prediction: Love goes but is outshined by the Cougars RB Jamal Morrow who has 747 total yards and 8 total TDs.
  • #19 LSU at #1 Alabama, 8:00pm Saturday on CBS:  I can’t remember the last time CBS had a primetime regular season game.  Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention but I don’t think it’s common.  So, let’s hope this one is uncommonly good.  I expect a low scoring game because of the strength of the two defenses; Alabama’s defense is Top 10 in most categories while LSU’s is Top 25.  LSU’s defensive weak spot is against the run where they are giving up 145 yards per game.  Considering that Alabama averages 298.8 yards per game on the ground (7th in the FBS, 3rd if you remove the triple option teams), I give them the edge.  Alabama’s one knock this season is their strength of schedule.  Only one of their wins came against a ranked opponent and that was the opener against Florida State who lost their quarterback and were obviously overrated in the preseason.  This one will be telling as it’s the Tide’s toughest test yet.
  • #13 Virginia Tech at #9 Miami, 8:00pm Saturday on ABC:  I have been saying over the last few weeks that Miami is overrated.  Their last four wins have been by a combined 18 points against middling opponents.  They have a tough schedule over the next two versus #13 Virginia Tech and #5 Notre Dame.  It’s time for me to pay more attention to the Hurricanes and that’ll start this week.  I’ll double down and guess that Miami loses both of these ranked contests.

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper