The Watch List 2021: Week 4 Preview

Updated: September 25th 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.

The SEC is back! College football has certainly felt different so far this season but I think this week will be the first that feels “normal” because we can get lost in some matchups from the Southeastern Conference. We only get one Top 25 matchup this week from the SEC (Kentucky at Auburn) but no matter, the games will be fun to watch. To help you plan your schedule on Saturday, I am going to present you the best SEC game to watch in each broadcast window to maximize your prospect viewing pleasure.

12:00pm | Kentucky at Auburn

The SEC season kicks off with the league’s only Top 25 matchup of the day: Kentucky at Auburn. If I’m being honest, Auburn is the reason to watch this one. Kentucky may end up having a solid season but they are ranked 23rd simply because 40% of the Power 5 are not playing (yet). Before we get into Auburn, I will share one future NFL name from the Wildcats: Punter Max Duffy. Duffy won the Ray Guy award in 2019 after leading the NCAA in average yards per punt (48.1). If you’re recording the game to watch later, hit play when you see Duffy trot onto the field. You might get to see the NFL’s next best field-flipper in action, but it also means that Bo Nix and the Auburn offense are coming back onto the field.

Bo Nix isn’t yet draft eligible but he’s a name you should know because he’s likely to build on a solid true freshman season and make a case as a 2022 first rounder. He had 23 total TDs but was inefficient at times, especially in big games against Oregon, Florida and Alabama. The Tigers did pull out the victory over Alabama, but it was more in spite of Nix than thanks to him. Nix has plenty of room to grow and I suspect he will.

His top target from 2019, Seth Williams, is back for his junior season. A lanky outside receiver, Williams, put up a 59-830-8 line last year. He played a smaller role in 2018 as a freshman but managed a 20.5 yards per catch average and 5 TDs on just 26 receptions. I watched Williams tape from the 2019 LSU matchup. I was nonplussed for the first 57 minutes of the game before he finally flashed his potential. On those late snaps, I finally saw Williams use his 6030/211 size to his advantage. He isn’t the strongest receiver prospect but on those key plays he used his length and leverage to make plays. The capper of the drive was a too-little-too-late score from five yards out. He jab steps outside, knocks the corner’s hands off him, and then leans into his slant route to use his body to protect the incoming ball. Youtube clips show how well Williams does in the air, especially at the boundary or the back of the end zone. Maybe it’s because he too went to Auburn and I just saw him on Monday Night Football, but my mind went to Darius Slayton while watching Williams’ highlight reels.

Tune into this one for the Nix-Williams connection and hope we get a glimpse of their ceiling together.

4:00pm | Georgia at Arkansas

Few teams were in the national college football headlines as often this offseason as Georgia. Grad transfer QB Jamie Newman coming in from Wake Forest was big news because he would give the offense a different dynamic than in recent years. Then there were murmurs about USC’s deposed signal caller, JT Daniels, coming to Athens to be the heir apparent for 2021. But wait, there’s more. Daniels was granted an immediate eligibility waiver from the NCAA giving head coach Kirby Smart a decision to make. Just a few weeks ago, Jamie Newman made the decision himself and decided to opt out of the season. So, we presume Daniels will be the starter but as of this writing, Smart had not yet made an official announcement — whether it’s just pregame posturing or the staff having doubts about Daniels’ ACL recovery, we don’t truly know. (Editor’s note: As of Thursday, Daniels still has not been cleared to play. Looks like D’Wan Mathis, who overcame emergency surgery for a brain cyst last year, will get the start.) 

Both Newman and Daniels will be draft eligible in 2021 so it will be interesting to see how they stack up in the eyes of NFL scouts. Newman is a dual-threat while Daniels is a pocket passer who was very highly touted out of high school. If Daniels does win the job and decides to declare early I think he will get plenty of attention; it’s hard to say at this point what Newman opting out will do for his draft stock.. What I’m most interested in, despite what the ten sentence lead-in may have you believe, is who will be running the rock for Georgia.

Junior running back Zamir White is likely to get the biggest piece of the RBBC pie in 2020. As a high school recruit, White earned a near-perfect score from 247Sports (0.9957) and was a top player in the 2018 class. Unfortunately, White suffered ACL injuries to both knees in back-to-back years, effectively delaying the start of his highly anticipated college career. White had 78 carries in 2019, gaining 408 yards and scoring three times. He was the lead ballcarrier in the bowl game against Baylor and rushed for 92 yards and a score on 18 carries. White is big (6000/215, and maybe even larger) and runs with power and momentum. He only has two career receptions so I have no idea if he can be a receiver at the next level. There isn’t much of a sample size for White at this point so I’m trusting the recruiting hype and will check in again after a few games.  I always root for guys like White who had so much potential squashed by injury so I’m really hoping he can stay healthy.

Arkansas has their own draft eligible back to watch and his name is Rakeem Boyd. Boyd started his career at Texas A&M but ended up transferring down to JUCO for academic reasons. He returned to the SEC in 2018 with the Razorbacks and over two seasons has rushed for 1,867 yards and 10 TDs. I don’t recall watching Boyd play before, and haven’t seen the newer seasons of Last Chance U where he was profiled, so being introduced to his 2019 highlights was a delight. Boyd is a straight-ahead runner who passes the proverbial “eye test.” I came up with a fun description for him while watching: he’s a wallop-gallop runner. He can run over a tackler with sheer power and then outrun a safety to the endzone. Boyd also contributes in the passing game, making him a solid three down back.

Let’s hope this one stays close so that both White and Boyd log plenty of snaps. Another reason to hope for a close, low scoring, run heavy game: it’ll keep the clock ticking so we don’t miss the start of our next highlighted game…

7:00pm | Alabama at Missouri

Alabama is so chock full of NFL talent that I could devote this entire piece to their squad and still not cover everybody. I have previously written about RB Najee Harris so I’ll gloss over him today but that doesn’t mean I’m any less eager to watch him. There’s also LB Dylan Moses and CB Patrick Surtain who are slam dunk 2021 first rounders. But, in truth, I’ll be watching this one for the pass catchers. The Crimson Tide have had a steady stream of All-American receivers over the last decade and that spigot is still flowing. This year’s tandem, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, are both likely to be first round talents next year.

Smith was eligible for the 2020 draft but declined even after a huge season where he accrued 1,256 yards and 14 TDs on 68 catches. Smith is perhaps most known by casual fans for his game-winning score in the championship game of his freshman year (that’s the one where Tua Tagovailoa came in at halftime) but he’s made so many more eye-catching plays since then. DeVonta Smith is just a damn fun player to watch. He doesn’t truly break tackles, instead he accelerates around or through tacklers who can barely get their hands on him. Smith has the contact balance of an elite running back but also a smoothness that looks more like a track athlete than a football player. I haven’t studied him closely enough yet to know how well he runs routes but considering how polished the recent Bama receivers were in that department I’m sure it’s a strong suit of his as well. Let’s be thankful that Smith decided to return for his senior season because it means we get to watch one of the nation’s best dominate once again.

Waddle, a junior, was the third or fourth option much of the time during his first two years on campus. In those two years combined, Waddle has a 78-1,408-13 line, averaging 18.1 yards per catch. Waddle is fantastic in space. He has 4.35 speed, sharp change of direction and great vision. Alabama found ways to get him touches in the open field: punt returns, kick returns, screens, crossing patterns. The biggest concern when it comes to Waddle’s pro potential is his size. He’s listed at just 5100/182. In the last five draft classes, only seven receivers have weighed that or less at the combine and been drafted (many others went undrafted). Two of those, Marquise Brown and KJ Hamler, were Top 50 picks but the rest of the bunch were Day Three prospects. I think Waddle’s skillset and pedigree hews closer to Marquise Brown than the others in the cohort so I still think it’s likely that he’s a first rounder. Playmakers like Waddle simply don’t come along too often.

On the Mizzou offense we have two potential late-round prospects to keep an eye on in RB Larry Rountree and WR Damon Hazelton. Rountree feels like he’s been playing college football for more than a decade, [checks notes] but apparently his freshman season was in 2017 not 2007. As a four-year starter who has logged 38 career games, Rountree has racked up the counting stats: 537 carries, 2,748 yards, 26 TDs. If he has a halfway decent season in 2020 he’ll become the Tigers all-time second-leading rusher behind former dual-threat QB Brad Smith. From what I’ve seen of Rountree over the years I don’t recall seeing any elite traits but he’s good enough to get drafted and seems like the kind of back who will stick around on an NFL roster for years.

Hazelton is a well traveled receiver who comes to Columbia as a grade transfer from Virginia Tech (who had previously transferred from Ball State). He’s a 6030/215 big bodied guy who should profile as a late round red zone specialist. Twelve of his twenty career touchdowns came in the red zone. He’s consistently produced at his two previous stops and Tigers fans will hope that continues this year — a 50-700-6 line is easily within his reach.

Week 3 saw a rash of Covid-related cancellations and I think this is the game I would miss most from the Week 4 slate. The season is young but I have already watched a lot of mediocre to bad football and I’m (Mac) Jonesing for something great.

 

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: 2019 Week 2 Preview

Updated: September 5th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Freshmen Quarterbacks: A number of true freshman signal callers got the start in Week 1.  The top names to watch are Hank Bachmeier (Boise State), Sam Howell (North Carolina), Bo Nix (Auburn) and Jayden Daniels (Arizona State).  Each of these four led their team to victories to start the season.  Bachmeier, Howell and Nix all helped engineer comebacks against teams that were either higher ranked or favored by the oddsmakers; Daniels had an easier task against Kent State but still looked good from what I saw.  It will be fun to follow this quartet throughout the season, especially once they get into the heart of their schedule.

Hurts for Heisman: Speaking of quarterbacks, I think Jalen Hurts’ Sooner debut went well enough to jump him ahead of Trevor Lawrence as a 2019 Heisman hopeful.  Hurts looked like an NFL prospect against Houston, more so than I recall while he was playing for Alabama.  His final Week 1 stat line was fantastic: 20-23 for 332 yards and 3 TDs passing and 16 rushes for 176 yards and 3 TDs.  I would be feeling encouraged today if I took “the field” over Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa as the Heisman winner.

Games to Watch

Nebraska (-7.5) at Colorado, Saturday 3:30pm on FOX: This matchup will feature two of the nation’s most talked about all-purpose players: Colorado’s Laviska Shenault and Nebraska’s Wan’Dale Robinson.  Shenault, who is currently my WR3 in the 2020 class, had a decent output against Colorado State of 83 scrimmage yards and a score on six touches.  Robinson is a 4-star recruit who 247Sports ranked as the top prospect coming out of Kentucky and as a Top 100 player in the nation.  In his Cornhusker debut he had seven touches for 54 yards — given the hype, expect his usage and production to steadily grow.  I’m taking Colorado, at home, to win straight up. My prediction: Colorado 25 – Nebraska 22

#6 LSU (-4) at #10 Texas, Saturday 7:30pm on ABC: This is the only Top 10 matchup for Week 2, so on paper it’s a must watch.  Both teams won easily in Week 1 so this will be their first test.  Texas QB Sam Ehlinger started strong, tossing 4 TDs, while WR Collin Johnson once again showed off his incredible catch radius.  I wasn’t able to catch any of the LSU opener but Joe Burrow dominated the boxscore, completing 85% of his passes for 278 yards and 5 TDs.  Despite all of the points these teams scored in Week 1 (100), I have an inkling that this one will be a low scoring, defensive affair favoring the Tigers. My prediction: LSU 19 – Texas 15

Players to Watch

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

Hubbard just missed the cut when I was working on my Big 12 season preview back in August. I had read some hype about him as a prospect but as a redshirt sophomore I figured that I should prioritize players more likely to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. It didn’t take long for Hubbard to make his case for The Watch List after erupting against Oregon State in Week 1 for 221 rushing yards and 3 TDs. The Beavers are far from a top defense but they are a Power 5 opponent so I’m not going to discount the performance too much.

Hubbard is a deliberate runner who gets north-south with above average speed and power.  He deploys an effective stiff arm and modulates his speed and acceleration to deceive tacklers.  He did not show it in the opener, but Hubbard is also a capable receiver who tallied 22 receptions in 2018.  I loved the nuance of his opening touchdown scamper against Oregon State.  The replay angle allows you to better see the play develop.  He stretches the defense horizontally as he awaits the pitch.  Once he secures the ball he gets upfield and uses a nearly imperceptible hesitation move to get around his engaged blocker.

The Pokes face off against McNeese State and Tulsa in their next two contests so Hubbard will have a chance to pad his stats before getting into conference play. We will see Hubbard tested again when they travel to Austin to face the Texas Longhorns on September 21st.  It’s not crazy to think that Hubbard will be leading the FBS in rushing at the end of September.

 

Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest

 

Sage Surratt is another redshirt sophomore whose stellar showing last week put him on the radar of amateur draft analysts like myself. Surratt contributed as a redshirt freshman last season, finishing as the Demon Deacons’ second-leading receiver (41-581-4). With Greg Dortch now fighting for an NFL roster spot, Surratt stole the spotlight early against Utah State. Surratt caught the first points of the game, less than three minutes in, on a 22-yard rainbow from the opposite hash. The corner was over-matched and wasn’t physical enough to keep Surratt from making the play. Later, Surratt made a nice play by attacking the ball at its high point, shrugging off the tackle as he landed and ran for a big gain. He lacked the long speed to score but it proved to be the vital play that led to Wake Forest taking the lead.

Surratt is built well at 6030/215 and showed off his play strength on this key third quarter play. It was 3rd and 9 with Wake Forest trailing. Surratt runs a simple hitch but his route is a few yards short of the sticks. No matter, because he breaks three tackles and needs to be dragged down by four defenders.

Overall it was a great showing for Surratt to start the 2019 season.  I’ve added Surratt to my watch list for the 2020 class and you should 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.  When studying a player I rely on game film “cuts” which are most frequently found on Youtube. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels.  Keep in mind these highlight reels are the best plays of that player. When I have the option, I will choose to watch a game versus the better defense. 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: 2020 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: 2019 SEC Season Preview

Updated: August 25th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.  Tagovailoa, the 2018 runner-up, is my preseason pick to win the 2019 Heisman.  He’ll need to fend off Oregon’s Justin Herbert for the QB1 mantle, but Tagovailoa has the inside track for the trophy because he’ll put up bigger numbers and contend for a championship.

Underclassman to Watch: JaTarvious Whitlow, RB, Auburn. Redshirt sophomore running back JaTarvious Whitlow earned the starting job last season but battled multiple injuries which limited his effectiveness in a few games.  He finished with a 787-6 rushing line and added 15-173-2 as a receiver.  Whitlow is wide-shouldered and stout, and runs with a downhill style; his style is especially effective when the defense is spread wide and Whitlow can find creases between the tackles.  He served as the team’s wildcat quarterback and I would expect even more trick plays this year, like the touchdown pass he threw against Georgia.  Whitlow will be pushed by senior Kam Martin and freshman Mark-Antony Richards.  It’s still unclear who will be handing off to the running backs, either redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood or true freshman Bo Nix.  Head coach Gus Malzahn has been coy about who his season opening starter will be.  Regardless, the Tigers backfield is set for years to come. [Editor’s note: Bo Nix was named the starter.]

Newcomer of the Year: Riley Neal, QB, Vanderbilt.  The draft stocks of the Commodores’ three NFL-ready prospects — RB Ke-Shawn Vaughn, WR Kalija Lipscomb and TE Jared Pinkney — will rely heavily on graduate transfer quarterback Riley Neal.  Neal joins from Ball State where he battled injury and inconsistency the last few seasons.  He’s experienced with 34 career games and has NFL size at 6060/225 but is his arm worthy of the SEC?  Neal’s pro upside may be limited to that of a camp arm, however he’ll be a capable game manager that can get Vanderbilt their first winning season since 2013.

Coaching Carousel: There’s not a single new head coach in the SEC this season, so instead we’ll concentrate on the coach on the hottest seat.  That’s likely Arkansas gipper Chad Morris.  Morris left SMU after just three seasons, finishing with a 14-23 record and just one bowl game (a 51-10 shellacking from Louisiana Tech).  Prior to SMU, he made a name for himself as Clemson’s offensive coordinator from 2011-2014, the first four seasons of their rise under Dabo Swinney.  I think we’re twelve disappointing games away from realizing that Morris wasn’t yet ready to land an SEC head coaching job.

Players to Watch

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

For the last three years, #DraftTwitter has been talking about Tua Tagovailoa so his impending draft eligibility feels bittersweet.  By now, Tua’s story is well known to even casual fans but let’s hit the highlights here.  Tagovailoa, a lefty from Hawaii, was the top quarterback prospect in the 2017 class according to multiple recruiting services.  Despite his tremendous potential, he was the understudy for much of the 2017 season.  That is, until the Hollywood-esque climax in the national championship game where he came in at halftime to spell an ineffective Jalen Hurts.  Tagovailoa kept the starting job in 2018 and led the Tide to another championship appearance on his way to a second place Heisman finish.  The 2019 season starts with even larger expectations as Tagovailoa is the unquestioned leader — Hurts grad transferred to Oklahoma — and has an incomparable receiving corps at his fingertips.

Plenty of digital ink has been spilled on Tagovailoa and his best traits so it’s doubtful I’m blazing any new trails in my analysis.  He throws a beautifully weighted deep ball that always manages to lead the receiver just right.  He is a jazz maestro who can improvise when a play breaks down.  When he wants to be, he can be mobile and pick-up key first downs with his feet.  His pocket awareness is typically great and he can tap dance his way out of pressure while keeping his eyes downfield.  Tagovailoa has such an innate ability to succeed on any given play that it can actually be difficult to put into words.

Like you, I watched plenty of Alabama football last season.  However, I wanted to look at Tagovailoa with fresh eyes so I concentrated on two 2018 game films: Tennessee and Georgia.  Much of my initial assumptions about his play held, but it was clear to me that there were two aspects of his game that I should highlight.

In this play against Tennessee, you’ll see what it looks like when Tagovailoa is at his improvisational best.  He starts going through his progressions as the play unfolds.  There’s a split second where he considers leaving the pocket but instead he keeps looking for an open receiver.  He ultimately sees Jerry Jeudy in single coverage.  Jeudy recognizes that his quarterback is in trouble and looks to get open.  He starts towards the center of the field to give Tagovailoa a shorter throw, but instead, Tagovailoa leads him towards the far sideline of the end zone.  Even from the opposite hash, the ball is placed well.  Any cross-body throw can be dangerous but it seems like Jeudy was the only one in position to make a play.  I bet it was a conscious decision to throw Jeudy towards the sideline so that the sitting defender was out of the play.

You’ll see similar scramble drill touchdowns strewn throughout Tagovailoa’s highlights.  There are a number of times that it doesn’t work out positively though.  I think that he wins so often that it’s difficult for Tagovailoa to realize when a sack or a throw-away are the best available options.  In this play against Georgia, he pirouettes his way into an eleven yard loss.  He was already outside the pocket when he set his feet the first time so once he realized he didn’t have an open receiver he could have thrown it away for another shot from the six yard line.  Instead, he threw an interception on the next play.

My favorite play of Tagovailoa’s from this study came in the third quarter of the Tennessee game.  The game was well in hand and this score actually was his last snap of the game.  What stood out was his ability to manipulate the pocket with his feet.  Tagovailoa often shows a feel for when to climb the pocket, when to sidestep the rush or when to escape, but this play against Tennessee was just wonderful.  It’s hard to see it in GIF form but if you watch the actual footage on YouTube and slow it down you can really see how natural his pocket mobility can be.  After he drops back he feels the pressure coming from the right side, his blindside.  He steps up then takes two subtle steps to his right.  These gather steps, as I’ll call them, are what screamed out to me to be featured in this preview.  By moving to his right, Tagovailoa is able to get a few steps further away from the collapsing pocket and gives himself a better throwing lane.  It also puts him square in the sight of the middle linebacker who is coming on a delayed rush.  Tagovailoa surely sees the linebacker sprinting straight at him but he still delivers a lofted deep ball.  The receiver is able to get underneath it and has just enough length to make the play in stride.  I loved it.

It’s clear to me that Tagovailoa has a natural ability that can transcend.  I think he has the potential to be truly special.  I do think he has some more to show NFL scouts though, such as making smarter decisions under pressure and that he can limit the accumulation of small injuries.  We’ll be debating Tua Tagovailoa versus Justin Herbert all season and I can’t wait.  If Tagovailoa isn’t the first overall pick in April, he’ll surely be off the board second or third.

Honorable Mentions

With so many NFL prospects in the SEC, I found myself struggling to decide who to feature in the Players to Watch section.  In an effort to give readers a feel for the breadth of NFL talent in the conference, I decided to give Tua Tagovailoa a full spotlight and then include more honorable mentions than I usually do.

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia: Fromm pulled a “Wally Pipp” in 2017, stealing the starting job when incumbent Jacob Eason went down with an injury in the season opener.  He hasn’t looked back since, mostly because his success forced both Eason and the highly touted Justin Fields to transfer.  Eason is battling for the job at Washington and Fields is expected to be the number one for Ohio State.  I’ve often viewed Fromm as a game-manager type but I need to reconsider due to the the fact that he beat out two guys who may lead their respective teams to playoff contention.  Fromm is listed at 6020/220 and looks cocked and ready in the pocket as he scans the field.  He confidently slings it in highlights.  Fromm isn’t a threat to take off running but he shows good functional mobility in the pocket.  I predict NFL teams will feel he’s immediately pro-ready and he’ll be drafted higher than #DraftTwitter rates him.

Lamical Perine, RB, Florida: Perine has been the beneficiary of some recent online hype so I decided I should take a look at some highlights to get a feel for his game.  I didn’t note any elite physical traits, but Perine doesn’t need them to succeed because in my short study it appears that he has fantastic patience and vision.  He sets up his blocks well and keeps his eyes forward to find his next avenue.  One specific run against Vanderbilt sealed it for me because he essentially hid in his blocker’s shadow, with a hand on his back, for much of the 20+ yard run.  I never seem to watch much Gator football but if Perine crests 1,000 yards this year he’ll be on my short list for offseason study.

D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia: Swift is my current 1.01 for 2020 rookie drafts.  He’s a smart runner who takes excellent angles in the second level and can make tacklers miss with strong cuts.  Swift is also an excellent receiver who runs multiple routes, uses his hands to catch and adjusts well to the ball in the air.  I noted he’s very aware pre-snap, reading the defense and his assignment, which signals to me that he has potential to be an excellent pass protector as he develops.  Swift doesn’t have the short area speed that some other backs in the class have but his long speed is more than enough to break off long runs.  The 2020 running back class could be historic and Swift will be one of the reasons why.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, RB, Vanderbilt: Vaughn is a former Illinois transfer who showed out in his first season in Nashville.  He ended the year with 1,244 rushing yards and 12 TDs; his 7.9 yards per carry led the SEC.  Vaughn runs with a useful combination of power and speed: he can convert near the goal line and has a 4.45 top speed.  I also noted great contact balance which helps him keep runs alive after contact.  His vision is also a plus.  I thought he showed an innate ability to find cut back lanes and secondary holes.  When he does find these, he sticks his foot in the ground and generates enough push to bounce outside or get upfield.  As a fifth year senior, Vaughn is an older prospect which might limit his NFL window but he should still factor in at the next level.

Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina: Edwards is a powerfully built outside receiver who tracks the ball well and frequently secures difficult catches.  He’s fast enough at the college level to separate and be a downfield threat, but I think his NFL role will be more of a reliable possession receiver.  That role will best suit his play strength and body control which allow him to excel along the sidelines and when contested.  Edwards isn’t a sexy name in this class but he has a high floor and is likely to be fantasy relevant in the pros.

Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama: Jerry Jeudy really deserved a larger write-up for this preview.  However, I know he’s somebody I will be writing about throughout the season so I thought it was best to sacrifice some column inches here in order to highlight a few other players.  Jeudy is sudden as a route runner — he can change directions in a blink and can stop on a dime.  He displays both long and short speed with what I described in my notes as “incredible acceleration.”  The biggest knock on Jeudy will be his size.  At a lean 6010/192, Jeudy needs to prove that his body can withstand the punishment of an NFL season.  Perhaps the criticism is unfair because Jeudy played in all 29 of Alabama’s games in his first two seasons (he did have a minor knee surgery before the 2018 season but didn’t miss any of the regular season).  If he paces a talented group of Tide receivers again in 2019, Jeudy will contend for the 1.01 in 2020 rookie drafts.

Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt: Kalija Lipscomb is deployed all over the field: as a receiver he lines up on both sides, inside and out; he takes hand-offs; he returned punts his first two seasons.  I watched Lipscomb against Georgia and Notre Dame from last season and came away impressed with his route running.  He uses leverage well, varies his speed to confuse the corner and can suddenly change direction.  Lipscomb is listed at 6010/201 but looks more wiry than that, especially in his lower body.  Despite that, he’s feisty, often hand fighting on his route and not being afraid to throw a block or come across the middle.  Lipscomb is a do-everything receiver who will find a role in the NFL, likely out of the slot and on special teams.

Henry Ruggs, WR, Alabama: Henry Ruggs stood out among a crowd of Alabama pass catchers because of his his sticky-strong hands.  The highlight reel I watched was subtitled “go go gadget hands” in a nod to the Inspector Gadget character, and it fits Ruggs.  He can make tough hands catches away from his body, even with a defender on his back.  I was also impressed with him after the catch because he runs with great burst and an abandon that belies his stature.  Ruggs and fellow WR Devonta Smith will be fascinating players for draft rankers.  I think it would be easy to subconsciously lower a player like Ruggs in your rankings because it feels odd to highly rank two players of the same position from the same team, but if Ruggs checks the metaphorical boxes why should we discount him just because of who else is on his team (a la Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson in the 2019 class).

Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri: Okwuegbunam was the first prospect I studied this offseason because I remembered his dominant eleven touchdown redshirt freshman year (on just 29 receptions).  His scoring rate and yards per catch dropped in 2018 but he was more involved in the offense overall, grabbing 43 balls.  Okwuegbunam is an excellent receiver who uses his hands and fingertips to secure the catch and utilizes good body control to finish.  I felt he lacked the suddenness and explosion in his blocks but I was surprised by how often he lined up as an inline blocker, so there may be room for improvement.  The biggest concern with Okwuegbunam may be his availability — he missed three games last year with a shoulder injury and this offseason he’s been dealing with a knee and “a number of things.”  If healthy, Okwuegbunam is likely to be a Top 10 tight end in the class.

Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt: Of the three Commodores, Jared Pinkney, probably has the highest draft stock right now.  At 6040/260, Pinkney has the size of a traditional blocking tight end but he put up the production of a move tight end (50-774-7 last year).  Draftscout.com has Pinkney as their top senior tight end and the fifth overall behind a few underclassmen.  They project Pinkney as having 4.67 speed.  No other tight end in the last four classes has weighed 260+ and run under a 2.70.  I only watched a few clips of Pinkney but I am encouraged by what I saw, especially when paired with his size/speed/production profile.

 

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.  When studying a player I rely on game film “cuts” which are most frequently found on Youtube. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels.  Keep in mind these highlight reels are the best plays of that player. When I have the option, I will choose to watch a game versus the better defense. 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: 2020 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