The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, Sleepers

Updated: March 23rd 2019

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

In this installment of The Watch List, we are going to take a closer look at some of my favorite under-the-radar NFL Draft prospects.  These guys are all undervalued right now and I think fantasy owners can find a good return on their investment.  In addition to the four players I’ve highlighted, one at each offensive skill position, I added a few honorable mentions at the bottom.  I am officially suffering from NFL Draft hysteria, so without further ado, let’s get to it!

Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse

  • Measurables: 6040/226 (per Sports-Reference.com; did not participate in the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 226-371, 60.9% completion percentage, 2,868 yards, 18 TDs, 9 INTs, 754 rushing yards, 15 rushing TDs

Eric Dungey made his first impression on me in 2017 when he stole a victory against #2 Clemson and their fearsome defense (278 passing yards, 3 TDs and 61 rushing yards).  Dungey followed up that performance with another plus outing in 2018 (250 yards and 2 rushing TDs).  The local Syracuse newspaper did an interesting multi-piece feature on Dungey where they dug into his “warrior-like persona” and his push back on the “injury prone” label.  The article regarding his injury history was most informative to me because I had already made the assumption that he was injury prone.  However, Dungey and his family question the school’s decision to keep him out of numerous games for a concussion despite him being cleared by doctors.  Dungey did miss most of the Notre Dame game in 2018 with a back injury but thankfully he was healthy otherwise so we were able to get a full-season sample size.

Dungey completes just over 60% of his passes which is just good enough but not ideal.  When I watched his Clemson 2018 game, I thought that Dungey threw with good accuracy and touch on short and intermediate passes, especially on screen/swing routes; he also led his receivers with anticipation.  He can be inconsistent with his mechanics and needs work on his feet.  He often throws without stepping into the pass or off his back foot.  Despite his poor footwork, Dungey showed me that he has a big arm and can place the deep ball well.  On this play, he has the rush in his face, fades away and throws a dime to the sideline.

Dungey also adds a dimension in the running game (35 career rushing yards).  He’s not an explosive runner but he is effective as a power runner near the goal line or in short yardage situations.  Part of that success surely stems from his caution-to-the-wind attitude which rallies his teammates.  He throws well enough on the move to run designed rolls and sprint outs.

Maybe it’s the fact that he wears #2.  Maybe it’s the confident personality.  Or, maybe I’m just crazy.  But, when I watch Dungey I see a poor man’s Johnny Manziel (seemingly without the off-field issues).  If teams can look past Dungey’s injury history, I think they will be getting a solid football player who could have a Taysom Hill like impact early in his career as a short yardage gadget player.  Draft Prediction: Round 5-6

 

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

  • Measurables: 5095/211, 4.47 40 yard dash (per the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 172 carries, 954 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 5 TDs; 21 receptions, 112 yards, 5.3 yards per reception, 1 TD

Mike Weber has had one of the most interesting paths to being an NFL Draft prospect. Two years ago, he looked like he could be the next star rusher for the Buckeyes. And then in 2017 he promptly lost his starting spot to true freshman JK Dobbins. Dobbins played well from the start and Weber battled through a nagging hamstring which helped Dobbins further entrench his leading role. Weber stayed in the mix though and in 2018 he nearly topped 1,000 yards. Then Weber went on to run a surprising 4.47 40 yard dash at the combine (the rest of his combine was lackluster though). You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know what to make of Weber’s draft stock.

His per-touch averages dropped in 2018 but I’m less concerned with that and more encouraged by the increase in volume. Since Weber was playing second-fiddle to Dobbins, much of his usage came when the team was winning. You could spin this as making the most of garbage time or you could spin it that the team trusted him with the ball to seal the victory. I typically lean towards the former but you can pass your own judgment.

The main reason I value Weber is that he’s a well balanced back in that he makes contributions as a runner, receiver and blocker. He has 54 career receptions, topping 20 in his two healthiest seasons. In 2016, his only as the starter, Pro Football Focus gave Weber a pass blocking grade of 88.1. For comparison, only six other backs in this draft class had a season with a higher pass blocking grade. (Full disclosure: he fared worse the last two seasons.) At the combine, he showed that he has speed and strength and that appears on tape as well.

In this play against Washington, Weber uses his speed to turn the corner against the safety and then finishes the run strong.  Finishing strong is something that I saw repeatedly; he’s not one to step out of bounds to avoid a hit.

Unfortunately, the 2018 tape available featured none of Weber’s solid receiving games.  However, in the Washington game we did get a single glimpse at how he can serve as a safety valve and use his downhill running style to pick up a first down.  Not surprisingly, he finishes this run well too.

I’ve said before that Weber is not a “sexy” name and I stand by that. Fans won’t go ga-ga for him after he’s drafted but I feel strongly that they’ll be getting a player who can fill a number of roles in an NFL backfield. If he finds himself behind a shaky incumbent, Weber could be starting come September.  At the very least, I think Weber will be utilized late in games where his running style can wear down a defense and his versatility gives the play caller options without changing personnel. Draft Prediction: Round 4-5

Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

  • Measurables: 6053/227, 4.48 40 yard dash (per the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 60 receptions, 1,318 yards, 22.0 yards per reception, 9 TDs

It’s becoming harder and harder to call Butler a “sleeper” as his momentum builds. I kept him in this piece as planned though because I still believe he’s undervalued in the fantasy football world.

Butler was the second target behind the similarly-sized Allen Lazard last season, and yet he still managed a 41-697-7 line. This year as the primary option, he improved to 60-1318-9. Where Butler’s 2018 stats really stand out is his yards per reception: 22.0. Based solely on his stats, you would assume Butler is a shifty slot receiver, however he’s really a speedy 6053/227 behemoth with a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl jealous.

Butler has the potential to be a factor in the redzone, although he did not show that much in 2018.  In fact, he caught just 3 of his 60 balls inside the twenty (for 2 TDs).  I’d like to think that that surprising stat has more to do with his deployment and the play calls than his ability.  I was encouraged by how perfect one of those redzone targets looked against Kansas State.  Butler hesitates at the snap, breaks outside and leans into the corner as the ball is thrown.  He uses this leverage to make some space for a back shoulder throw.  Butler goes up with two hands and is strong enough to hold onto the ball as he’s contacted and as the defender tries to swipe at the ball at the last moment.  It was a textbook redzone fade that gives me hope that Butler can excel in similar situations in the NFL.

That’s not to say that Butler can only be utilized in the redzone or as an X receiver.  He lines up all over the field and uses his rare combination of size, speed and strength to create mismatches all over.  He’s a feisty blocker who lacks technique but not motivation.  He uses that same physicality at the top of his routes where I saw him plant more than one defender in the grass.  In fact, defenders seem to hit the ground all around Butler.  One of my favorite highlights of Butler came in the Oklahoma game.  I remember watching this one live and was glad to find a clip online.  He catches the ball in traffic, spins out of multiple tackles and wills himself to the endzone, defenders toppling like bowling pins.

There’s one last clip I just have to show of Butler.  In this one he’s illustrating one of my favorite traits of a wide receiver, what I call “going over and through.”  Butler has such a height advantage that he’s able to reach back behind the corner and secure the catch (he adds a little YAC to this one too).

Butler certainly isn’t a perfect prospect, even if his physique may suggest otherwise.  I noted multiple drops in the Kansas State game and he was also a frequent culprit of OPI.  Despite some small question marks, Butler is currently my WR5.  I believe that he could be a steal in the second round for fantasy owners.  Draft Prediction: Round 2-3

Donald Parham, TE, Stetson

  • Measurables: 6083/243 (per the Senior Bowl; did not participate in the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 85 receptions, 1,319 yards, 13 TDs

I have written extensively about Donald Parham since I first stumbled across him a year ago. In fact, I recently included him in my FCS NFL Draft preview. I was going to profile somebody else in this piece until I watched Parham’s highlight reel from the 2018 Morehead State game. The plays he made in that game showed me a facet of Parham’s game that I was not able to see in more limited clip packages from other games. Specifically, I was able to see just how great his hands are. He repeatedly catches the ball away from his body, utilizing his spectacular catch radius to his advantage. Parham does not have great straight-line speed or agility but his stride is so long that he covers ground deceptively well. In this clip, you can see how he gets away from the defender with relative ease after catching the post.

His route running was also more noticeable, although it certainly needs more refinement. I was encouraged by the nuance in this route because it showed a sign of Parham that I had not often seen. The defense is playing zone which he exploits by drawing the linebacker towards the boundary, cuts inside and stops his route in front of the safety. He makes the grab and spins away from contact.  This allows him to pick up an extra twenty yards after the catch. It was an unremarkable play but it showed me that he may be able to succeed from the slot and not just be typecast as a red zone receiver.

Parham does not have the bulk to be an in-line blocker in the NFL. I also believe he lacks the quickness and play strength to beat press coverage and start as an X receiver. So, he will need to find a role as a mismatch-inducing slot receiver. He will most definitely start his career as a situational player but given his unique size that may still be valuable to fantasy owners. I have a feeling that a team will be enticed by his physical potential and grabs him on Day Two, ahead of more complete tight ends. Draft Prediction: Round 2-3

Honorable Mentions

  • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien is currently my QB4.  He has decent measureables, tons of experience and a good-enough arm.  He’ll be a Day Two guy and might become fantasy relevant based on team fit.
  • Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State: According to Pro Football Focus, Jalin Moore is the best pass blocking running back the last two years running.  Moore missed much of 2018 with an injury so he’s going to go later than he would have six months ago.  I expect him to go during the inevitable RB run in the 4th round.  Even though he wasn’t a factor as a receiver, I expect him to earn an early role as a reliable pass protector.
  • Marcus Jones, RB, Gannon: The stats that Marcus Jones put up the last two seasons are incredible: 3,884 yards and 50 TDs.  Granted, that was against DII competition but his highlights are still impressive.  Jones received an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (a low level postseason showcase game) but played out of position at FB.  He finished with zero carries and just one catch.  Sadly, that’s probably the death blow to his draft stock but I won’t give up until I see him in training camp.  I believe.
  • David Sills, WR, West Virginia: I have Sills higher in my rankings than many others.  The reason for that is that I think he will have immediate situational value in the NFL.  A rookie stat line of 25-200-6 would not surprise me and would mean that Sills could be a bye-week option in deeper leagues.
  • Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona: Butler has good size and athleticism.  He excels in the air and in contested catch situations.  I also think he has the right mentality to find success as a late-rounder.
  • Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State: Warring landed on my radar after he had a great combine.  He ran well (4.70, 76th percentile) and did as good or better in the jumps and shuttles.  He only has 19 career games and 51 career receptions so a small sample size is a concern.  After my limited exposure, he looks like a plus blocker so he’ll get drafted for that on Day Three and maybe his athleticism shines through.

 


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part III

Updated: December 22nd 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Watch List: 2018 Week 3 Preview

Updated: September 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 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. 

Games to Watch

  • #5 Oklahoma at Iowa State, 12:00pm, ABC:  The 2017 version of this matchup was possibly my most memorable game of the season.  David Montgomery was a constant threat out of the backfield, LB Joel Lanning filled in at QB, Allen Lazard caught a contested game-winner, Baker Mayfield scored 3 total TDs and Trey Sermon had a breakout game on national television.  The fact that the Cyclones stole the W made it even more satisfying as a fan.  A number of the stars from that game have moved on but we’ll still see some solid play on the ground with Montgomery, Sermon and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray.  Against Iowa last week, Montgomery played to his doubters, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on 17 totes.  Through two games the Sooners are allowing more than 130 yards per game so I expect Montgomery to improve.  Sermon and Murray have combined for 174 yards and 3 scores thus far.  The onus will fall on them now that starting RB Rodney Anderson is out for the year.  (By the way, I was so disappointed to hear the Anderson news.  I was ready to peg him as my RB1 for the 2019 class.)
  • UC Davis at #9 Stanford, 2:00pm, PAC-12 Network: I talked about Stanford last week so I’m not going to rehash their players to watch.  This matchup is interesting because it will give us a spotlight game for UC Davis WR Keelan Doss.  Doss, who dominated the FCS last season, started the season strong with 11 receptions and 85 yards in a victory over San Jose State of the FBS.  I studied Doss in the preseason and noted that he uses his 6030/209 size to dominate smaller corners.  He is elite at the catch point with strong hands.  This matchup will mean a lot for his NFL Draft stock.  (Update:  Bryce Love has been ruled out for the game.)
  • #12 LSU at #7 Auburn, 3:30pm, CBS: I see this game finishing 15-9 and being a defensive classic.  Combined, the two defenses gave up 33 points to their opening weekend opponents, both of which were ranked in the top ten.  The game is also worth watching because it will feature two potential first rounders in LSU LB Devin White and Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham.  Stidham had a great game against Washington, completing 72.2% of his passes for 273 yards and a score.  White meanwhile is making his case to be the first inside linebacker off the board with 19 tackles through the first two games.  We’ll have to keep an eye on his interest to declare early, one article I found was not sure he’d make the leap early.  The winner of this one will be in the driver seat to compete against Alabama for the SEC West crown.
  • #17 Boise State at #24 Oklahoma State, 3:30pm, ESPN:  If you like points, tune into this matchup at 3:30pm instead.  Boise and OK State are 5th and 8th in points per game (117.5 combined).  In addition to being entertaining, the game will feature a few notable draft prospects.  On the Bronco side, we have QB Brett Rypien and RB Alexander Mattison.  RB Justice Hill is the player to watch for the Cowboys.  Hill hasn’t been involved in the passing game yet (just 2 receptions) and that was one of the things buoying his stock.  Now that he’ll be facing a worthy foe, I am hopeful that Hill will get more work.
  • #4 Ohio State at #15 TCU, 8:00pm, ABC:  I’m really not sure what to make of the Buckeyes yet this season.  That seems crazy to say when you consider they have outscored two Power 5 opponents 129-34 this year but neither Oregon State or Rutgers truly provided a test.  When you factor in all of the off-field drama it’s tough to forecast where this squad will end up in three months.  TCU started slow against SMU but ended up with a 42-12 victory.  The Horned Frogs’ defense is ranked sixth in yards allowed this year (they finished 19th last year so it’s not a fluke) and will be a tougher adversary for Ohio State.  Unsurprisingly, Ohio State’s backfield trio of QB Dwayne Haskins and RBs Mike Weber and JK Dobbins are succeeding so far.  Weber and Dobbins have combined for 364 yards, 4 TDs through two weeks.  TCU’s Shawn Robinson has also been productive, albeit more so on the ground than the air.  Robinson has 328 yards passing, 4 TDs and 1 INT plus 112 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs.  I’ll be keeping an eye on Ohio State’s aggressive defensive line to see how well they can keep Robinson in the pocket.  We know DE Nick Bosa is a generational pass rusher and it looks like sophomore Chase Young isn’t too shabby himself (he had a great strip sack against Rutgers that was ultimately reversed on replay).  If the pass rush gets too far up field and Robinson escapes he’ll be the difference maker in a close one.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins earned the starting job this Spring and his play so far has proved that he was the best option for the Buckeyes for 2018.  He’s completing 79.2% of his passes and has tossed 9 TDs to just 1 INT.  In limited duty in 2017, Haskins was nearly as efficient with the ball so I don’t think his successes are a factor of the weak foes he’s faced.  Haskins is a redshirt sophomore so there’s no guarantee he declares after this season but if he continues to play well, I would expect him to give the NFL a go a la Cardale Jones.
  • Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin:  Unfortunately for fantasy players, but thankfully for college football fans, Taylor is not draft eligible after this season.  So, I won’t give him the full treatment this season but his stats warrant mention.  Taylor totaled 1,977-13 last season and is on pace to blow away those marks.  He started well against Western Kentucky with 145-2 and somehow improved against New Mexico with 253-3.  Taylor is an electrifying combination of size, speed and elusiveness.  He’ll be coming out in a crowded 2020 running back class so it remains to be seen how high he’ll climb but he has 1.01 potential.
  • Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State:  Washington is the heir to the San Diego State rushing title throne.  Prior to him, Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny both led the FBS in rushing in their senior seasons.  Washington, just a junior, is already off to a great start with 314 yards and 4 TDs.  158 of those yards came against a solid Stanford defense.  Washington is diminutive (5070/190) but runs with enough power to be effective in short yardage situations.  He runs with a shiftiness and quickness that you’d expect of somebody his size.  Tarik Cohen would be an easy comparison based on size but it’s important to realize that Washington is nowhere near as accomplished as a receiver (just 9 career receptions).  Washington is an experienced returner who brought three kicks back in his career.  His return ability should earn him an NFL nod but some proof that he is worthy of passing down work would make him a fantasy consideration.

Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

  • Listed at 6040/210  per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Hawaii 2018
  • 2017: Redshirt after transferring (16 receptions, 247 yards and 2 TDs in 7 games with Tennessee in 2015-2016)
  • 2018: 3 games, 27 receptions, 391 yards, 4 TDs

Williams is an interesting NFL Draft prospect who wasn’t really on my radar this offseason.  I had heard the name numerous times on SiriusXM’s ESPNU radio but I didn’t follow through with any research.  Now that Williams has excelled to start the season, it was time to dive in.

Before we look at Williams’ stats and film, let’s discuss his background.  Williams is a former 5-star recruit who chose Tennessee over numerous top schools (i.e. Alabama, Clemson, Auburn).  When he decided to transfer, it was rumored that he could join Miami, Cal or UCLA.  Ultimately he chose Colorado State because he had relationships with some of the Rams coaches.  Before he took his first snap for CSU, Williams was suspended indefinitely for an altercation with his girlfriend (he shoved her when she was trying to move out).  Williams pleaded guilty, is no longer facing legal ramifications and was reinstated to the team before their first game.

On the field it’s clear that Williams needs some seasoning but there were a few plays that showcased his ability and got me excited.  He appears slow out of his breaks and does not seem to have the violent, fast-twitch movement you would want from your receiver off the snap.  Williams lines up all over the field which is a good sign for his versatility to fit into an NFL scheme.  I don’t see enough from him as a route runner yet.  To my eye, it seems like he’s coasting, knowing that his physical gifts can bail him out of situations.  He does let the ball get into his body but when he attacks it with his hands, he can make good fingertip catches.  On the two below plays, Williams tracks the ball, makes an adjustment and catches it with his fingertips.

As you can see in the first clip above, Williams does have some ability after the catch.  He’s not very fast, probably in the 4.55-4.60 range, but he has a long stride and runs with strength and determination.  He showed this perfectly later in the Hawaii game:

It’s a shame he wasn’t able to hit paydirt on that one but the play is still very instructive.  He uses a combination of acceleration, field awareness and power moves to stay in bounds and shed tacklers for extra yardage.  Honestly, it was the play that made me decide to feature him here.

Williams lit up Hawaii to start the season for 9-188-2.  What’s more impressive is that he followed up that effort with solid games against Power 5 opponents.  In those games against Colorado and Arkansas, Williams totaled 18-203-2.  Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a Colorado State receiver is racking up the yards because the Rams have produced two mid-round NFL prospects over the last few years in Rashard Higgins (5th round) and Michael Gallup (3rd round).  Williams will be hoping to continue the trend.  Williams only has 43 career receptions so this may be a bit premature but I think he has the pedigree and athletic ability to earn himself a mid- to late-round draft grade if he keeps up his statistical pace and comes out in 2019.

 


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 Mountain West Preview

Updated: June 27th 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:  Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State.  Rypien is an enigma.  Heading into 2017 I said that Rypien’s potential draft stock would be “be buoyed by the name cachet of Boise State and some gaudy numbers.”  Things didn’t quite work out for Rypien in 2017 (in fact, he lost snaps to backup Montell Cozart) but I feel the same now as I did then.  Rypien will have a number of huge games passing for a team that is a national brand.  If he can do it over thirteen games, he’d be as likely as anybody in the Group of 5 to get a Heisman vote.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Armani Rogers, QB, UNLV.  Seven of the last eight Heisman awards were won by quarterbacks.  Those seven averaged 921 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in their Heisman winning seasons.  The only passer in the Mountain West capable of sustaining that rushing attack over a full season is Rogers.  The Rebels kickoff the season with a showcase game at USC which would be a great chance for Rogers to become part of the national conversation.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Marcus McMaryion, QB, Fresno State.  I was between Rogers and McMaryion for this pick.  I figured I would go with the more experienced McMaryion who I believe is playing on a team with 10-2 potential.  McMaryion threw for 2,726 yards and 14 TDs while adding 300 rushing yards and four more scores on the ground.  I expect his numbers to increase in 2018 since he’ll be the starter from Day One.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming.  Wingard finished 5th in the conference in tackles last season (114) and tied for the most interceptions (5).  He also added 8 tackles for loss, a sack, two forced fumbles and a recovery.  Assuming he avoids injury, Wingard could hit 500 career tackles.  He’ll be on the shortlist of top safety prospects heading into the 2019 NFL Draft season.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  KJ Carta-Samuels, QB, Colorado State.  By the time you read this preview, Carta-Samuels will have arrived on campus as a graduate transfer but he will have missed Spring practices.  Despite that, he’s likely the favorite to take over for Nick Stevens.  Carta-Samuels attempted just 47 passes in his career as a Washington Husky.  He was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school who earned a high score from 247Sports.  Interestingly, he turned down an offer from Boise State to join Washington so the October 19th matchup between them and Colorado State could be interesting.   (Honorable Mention: Khalil Shakir, WR, Boise State.  This kid’s Hudl.com highlights really impressed me.  If he earns playing time he could rack up all-purpose yardage as a receiver, runner and returner.)
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Armani Rogers, QB, UNLV.  Rogers, a quarterback, is the conference’s third leading returning rusher from 2017 with 780 yards and 8 TDs.  Rogers averaged less than 19 passes per game and was not particularly efficient (122.9 rating) or accurate (52.4% completion percentage) when he did throw the ball.  Despite some of the passing struggles, I am excited to watch Rogers this season.  I sampled some highlights of his and he appears to have a number of good tools, including: height, long speed, toughness and a strong arm.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Marcus McMaryion and KeeSean Johnson, Fresno State.  McMaryion was a rare graduate transfer with two years of eligibility when he joined the Bulldogs in 2017 from Oregon State.  By the end of September he had earned the starting role and WR KeeSean Johnson was the immediate benefactor.  In McMaryion’s first start, against Nevada, Johnson finished with a 7-104-3 line.
  • Best RB Corps: UNLV.  The Rebs have an impressive running game on tap for 2018.  Senior RB Lexington Thomas ran 211 times for 1,336 and 17 TDs, taking a huge step forward after sophomore Charles Williams went down.  Williams is returning from that ankle injury that cost him all but one game in 2017.  As a freshman in 2016 he totaled 141-763-3 and was the team’s leading rusher ahead of Thomas.  Williams is a little bit bigger but Thomas has more experience as a pass catcher.  It’ll probably be a 1A and 1B situation.  Also returning is senior RB Xzaviar Campbell (72-336-1) who gets my vote for best name in the conference.  Let’s not forget that QB Armani Rogers is a big part of the run game as well.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Tony Sanchez, UNLV.  It was surprisingly difficult to pick a coach to single out in this spot.  The others I considered are either too new or too established at their position to come down on them for a bad season (i.e. Brent Brennan from San Jose State or Bob Davie from New Mexico).  Sanchez has a career record of 12-24 at UNLV but has beaten the win projection each season according to CoachingTreeHotseat.com.  Still, I think it would be tough to hold onto the coach through another losing season if the Rebels don’t get to a bowl in season four when Sanchez is playing with his own recruits now.

Teams to Watch

 UNLV (5-7 in 2017)

After doing a bunch of research on the Rebels for this preview, I’m confident that they will be bowl eligible in 2018.  They have a fourth year coach in Tony Sanchez who was increased the team’s win total year-over-year (albeit by just one each season).  The team has a solid offense that will be led by dual-threat QB Armani Rogers and they are my pick for the conference’s best rushing corps.  If Lexington Thomas can keep up last year’s rushing pace while Charles Williams returns from injury, they will be poised to hold onto the ball and win time of possession.  Keeping the defense off the field will be key because it ranked 114th in the FBS in yards per game allowed (458.7).  UNLV has played in just two bowls over the last two plus decades so it’ll be a big deal if they can accomplish the feat in 2018.

 Fresno State (10-4 in 2017)

There’s not much room for the Bulldogs to improve in 2018 but they still earn a spot on my “Teams to Watch” list because of the duo of QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson.  I predict that they will lead the conference in passing in 2018 and that Johnson will become a vogue NFL Draft sleeper.  Fresno had the conference’s second best defense in terms of both points and yards allowed per game and they return the entire back seven which will help overcome inexperience up front.  They have two non-conference home games against Idaho and Toledo where Fresno State should be favored; the other two non-conference games are away at UCLA and Minnesota which are obviously more difficult but not unwinnable.  It’s not impossible for Fresno to win three of those four and end the regular season at 10-2 on the way to the MWC Championship game.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Ty Gangi, QB, Nevada:  My favorite play from the Madden video game series, circa 2010, was the “Quick Kick” play that was in the Steelers playbook.  The quarterback would receive the shotgun snap and then punt it over the heads of the safeties.  It was such a fun play and was oddly successful.  Why do I bring that up when previewing Nevada’s quarterback?  When researching Gangi, I realized he punted the ball six times last year for a 29.0 yard average.  In all seriousness, Gangi improved his rate stats from 2016 to 2017 and has two of the conference’s leading receivers returning.  If Nevada is to rebound from a disappointing 3-9 campaign, it’ll come down to Gangi.
  • Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State:  The Aztecs seem to be Running Back University lately with back-to-back NCAA leading rushers (Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny).  I don’t have the same expectation for the diminutive (5070) Juwan Washington but he’s certainly going to put up stats.  He finished with 759 yards and 7 TDs in 2017 and added 2 kick return scores.  Washington is fast.  There are limited college highlights of his available online so I watched some high school clips.  The frame rate can’t keep up with his legs.  In the few college highlights I was able to watch, I saw a number of successful goal line carries which surprised me.  I’ll be watching to see if Washington can play with enough physicality to overcome the inevitable questions his size will bring.
  • Olabisi Johnson, WR, Colorado State:  Johnson is a former high school track star with 71 career receptions, including a career high of 41 as a junior last season.  He averages 17.2 yards per reception, for a career total of 1,223 yards, and has 7 TDs.  The Rams are losing their top passer, rusher and receiver heading into 2018 so there is a lot of production to be had if Johnson can step up.  Colorado State’s last two dominant receivers (Michael Gallup and Rashard Higgins) were both good enough to earn mid-round NFL Draft picks so a payday could be in Johnson’s future as well.
  • Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming:  The aforementioned Wingard is a box score dream.  In three years as a starter he has: 367 total tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 8 INTs, 7 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery and 5 forced fumbles.  At 6000/209, he may be a little undersized to earn a high draft grade for the NFL (nobody 6000 or less was drafted higher than the 4th round in 2018).  I watched Wingard’s 2017 film against Iowa.  He frequently lines up close to the line as a box safety and rarely drops deep into coverage.  I envision him earning a situational rover-safety role in the NFL where he would have the freedom to play close to the line of scrimmage.

Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State

I mentioned above that Rypien had a strange 2017 and that he’ll be looking to prove he is the BMOC in 2018.  Rypien lost snaps in each game to grad transfer QB Montell Cozart.  Cozart ended the year with 97 pass attempts and 86 rush attempts so it was a significant amount of time that Rypien ceded to his backup.  He has average size at 6020/210 but lacks speed despite running a zone read offense at Boise (I only saw him take one designated run in the two games I watched).  Rypien has above average short and medium accuracy; he’s also accurate while on the run, specifically rolling to his right.  When it comes to the deep ball, Rypien is no different than most college passers in that he struggles to hit his receivers with regularity.  He did make a number of 40-50 yard throws look effortless.  Those throws are made easier when Rypien relies on positive mechanics but he too often gets lazy.  I noted a number of throws where he was off-balance, throwing without his feet set, falling away, etc.  There were multiple “fade aways,” as I called them in my notes, that led to interceptions at the goal line because he lacked the requisite touch.  While Rypien may not have much speed, he does move well in the pocket; he often avoids the rush by shuffling to and fro while keeping his eyes downfield.  Keeping those eyes downfield may be an issue though because he takes frequent sacks.  What was most concerning in the pocket was his lack of ability to feel blindside pressure.  There was one play in each of the two games I watched where he simply turned his back to the rush from the RE and took a hit square in the spine.  If you do that against NFL pass rushers you are not going to be long for the starting role.  Rypien is going to come out as a four-year starter with a lot of experience so even if he has some flaws, he’ll get a late round NFL Draft look.  Right now I’m thinking he’s more of a backup with upside rather than a potential starter.  (Film watched: Oregon 2017, Virginia 2017)

Lexington Thomas, RB, UNLV

Thomas is an undersized back who made the most of the opportunity he earned when Charles Williams went down with an injury.  He’s listed at 5090 and just 170lbs but he does look and play bigger than that weight.  I’d expect him to come in at closer to 180-185 this season.  Thomas racked up 17 TDs and 1,336 yards last season and averaged over 6.0 yards per carry.  I watched his Ohio State and New Mexico films.  I figured those would give me a feel for Thomas at his best and his worst and I think that was about right.  He’s often the victim of poor offensive line play, getting contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage.  Luckily, Thomas displays good indirect contact balance so he is often able to bounce off and maintain his run.  He frequently tries to spin out of tackles, further showing his balance, and has a solid stiff arm.  You would not expect Thomas to be great in pass protection given his size but he is above average at worst.  He does not have the strength to hold off most defenders but he can still be effective, especially when cut blocking.  Thomas’ best trait may be his breakaway speed and acceleration.  He’s probably in the 4.45 range and he uses intelligent angles to make safeties miss in the open field and seem even faster.  Thomas has excellent ball security (zero fumbles on 335 carries over the last two years!).  Unfortunately I picked two games to watch in which he did not catch a pass and ran few routes so I cannot evaluate that part of his game.  Thomas will likely need to share the load with the returning Williams which may hurt his NFL Draft chances.  If he improves as a pass catcher (just 8 receptions in 2017) and continues to be a serviceable blocker he would be a viable late rounder or priority UDFA.  (Film watched: Ohio State 2017, New Mexico 2017)

KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State

To answer your question… no, there is no relation between KeeSean Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson.  KeeSean is listed at 6020/202 and plays bigger than that height.  His highlights from 2016 and 2017 feature frequent contested catches in the air.  He shows strong hands in those situations so I wish he always used those hands to catch the ball.  Oftentimes, Johnson relies on body catches when he’s open or in the middle of the field.  I did notice inconsistent hand placement on a few of his jump ball catches.  Johnson has the ability it’s just a matter of getting the proper technique down so I’m not detracting anything from him at this point.  His speed should test in the 4.55 range which is fast enough but does not make him a burner.  His run after catch numbers are limited, again mostly because of bad habits rather than ability.  On multiple plays, Johnson was able to make a great diving play for the end zone but on others he lazily steps out of bounds to avoid contact.  My question of his mindset was reinforced when I saw him get a penalty for a throat-slashing gesture directed at a defending player.  I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, I just think he needs to be motivated to do what’s best for the team on every play.  There was no full game package of Johnson available online so I’ll need some further study to evaluate his route running, release and blocking.  Johnson will greatly benefit from another season with McMaryion.  His stat line from 2017 was 77-1,013-8; I don’t think 1,300 yards and 12 TDs is out of the question.  I have a feeling he will go from “off the radar” to “sleeper” in a few months time.  (Film watched: 2016 & 2017 highlight packages)


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 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: Mountain West

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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 Heisman 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. 

Players to Watch

  • Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Depending on where you look, junior Josh Allen is one of the top quarterback prospects for 2018 along with USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.  I had heard and read some of the Allen hype, so going into my MWC preview, I knew he would be featured.  I honestly came away a bit disappointed but with a lot of notes.  I decided to watch tape of Allen against Nebraska, figuring that was the most NFL-like defense he would have faced.  Nebraska predictably dominated at the line of scrimmage and Allen was under pressure all game long.  Allen finished with a horrible stat line: 16-32, 189 yards, 1 TD, 5 INTs (he also had a backward pass that was recovered as a fumble and was not charged to him).  He was erratic and inaccurate for most of the game including three bad under throws which led to interceptions.  The inaccuracy is borne out in his season totals too: a poor 56% completion percentage and 15 INTs.  There were also at least two times when Allen was about to be sacked and he just flung the ball trying to avoid the loss; one resulted in an intentional grounding and another harmlessly hit the turf but could have been another turnover.  If he doesn’t have pocket presence against Nebraska, will he have it against the Houston Texans?  It wasn’t all negative though, there were some good takeaways.  First off, Allen is big and statuesque at 6’5″ and 222lb.  When he takes a shotgun snap and quickly gets the ball out without a drop step, he looks like an NFL quarterback.  He didn’t show it against Nebraska, but Allen is a threat on the ground too (523 yards, 7 TDs).  I don’t think it’ll be enough to consider him a mobile quarterback in the NFL but he could have the same 300 yard, 3 TD rushing upside as Andrew Luck if he puts on a few pounds.  NFL personnel will also like the fact that Wyoming’s offense features a number of plays from under center: against Nebraska, I counted ten snaps from under center.  One play against Nebraska sums up everything Allen can do right…  It was a 4th and 12 from 35 yards out with just a few seconds to go in the half.  Not trusting the kicker, Allen and the offense stayed on the field.  He rolls right to buy time for his receivers, starts directing traffic in front of him and hurls a high arching pass to the back corner where nobody but his receiver could get to it – near perfection.  If Allen can show scouts, and RSO owners, plays similar to that throughout 2017 he will stay at the top of draft boards.  Luckily, two early season games against Iowa and Oregon will give us some good tape to digest.  At this point, I expect Allen to go in the Top 5 in the NFL draft and depending on your RSO format, anywhere from mid- or late 1st (Superflex) to mid-2nd (standard).
  • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien, another junior QB, is Phil Steele’s 15th ranked draft eligible quarterback for 2018.  Another resource I use, Lindy’s, has him at 17th but says they don’t think he will come out early.  I did some further online research and couldn’t come up with anything more definitive either way.  For now, keep Rypien on your radar but don’t waste a devy pick on him.  He won’t be the best at his position in the MWC but he could garner enough draft hype to force him to come out.  He’s significantly smaller than Allen (6’2″, 200 lb) which caught my eye because media guides often lie and that even 200 sure looks like it was rounded up.  I looked back and there are not many QBs in recent years who weigh as little as 200 lb.  The lightest two from 2017 were Brad Kaaya (214) and Seth Russell (213) but at least they were an inch or two taller.  Rypien is not a scrambler, but still, NFL scouts will be concerned about his ability to stay healthy throughout a season.  His stats over two years as the starter are good: nearly 7,000 yards, 44 TDs, 16 INTs and a 62.8% completion percentage.  Ultimately, I think Rypien’s stock will be buoyed by the name cachet of Boise State and some gaudy numbers, like the 5 TD game against New Mexico last year, but once he hits the combine, his stock will fall.
  • Cedric Wilson, WR, Boise State: Rypien will need somebody to throw to and more often than not, that will be 2016 JUCO transfer Cedric Wilson.  Wilson is tall at 6’3″ but needs to add at least ten pounds to his 183 lb frame (since 2010, no WR measuring 6’3″ weighed less than 194 lb at the combine).  I watched Wilson’s tape against San Jose State and he really impressed me as a blocker: he flew in with reckless abandon, and with effect, multiple times.  I was disappointed in seeing how often he lets the ball get into his body rather than catching it with his hands, hopefully something he can improve on.  In the tape I watched, it seemed that his height was wasted on crossing patterns and bubble screens, routes that don’t seem to match his stature; I’d need to watch more film to see if that was constant throughout the season.  Wilson averaged an impressive 20.2 yards per reception in 2016 so even when he gets the ball near the line of scrimmage he can pick up yards.
  • Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Like Wilson, Gallup is a former JUCO transfer so we don’t have much of a sample to work on, although what we do have from 2016 was great: 76 receptions, 1,272 yards and 14 TDs.  He had monstrous games against Air Force (13-213-1) and San Diego State (7-139-3) so we know he can dominate a game.  I’ll be interested to see how he tests at the combine; when watching highlights of him, it seems like he accelerates faster than anybody else on the field once the ball is in his hands.  He had a number of nice contested catches against Fresno State and Air Force so his ability in the air might be better than his 6’1″ height would suggest.  I’m going to keep Gallup’s name filed away and check in late in the season to see if he dominates the MWC like he did in 2016.  If so, he could be a late round steal for a savvy RSO owner.

Storylines to Watch

  • It’s all about the Mountain Division: Forgive me West Division, but I just don’t find you interesting.  The Mountain will feature a three team race to the conference championship between Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State.  I’ve written enough above and below about Boise and Wyoming, who will go as far as their quarterbacks can carry them, but let me spill a few more words about Colorado State.  They won’t feature the best QB in the league in Nick Stevens but they will likely have the most potent ground game.  Head Coach Mike Bobo likes to spread the carries around, evidenced by having three 500+ yard rushers the last two seasons.  Two of the backs, Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Mathews, were there for both seasons and will provide a good one-two punch.  As I mentioned in my MAC preview when I picked Central Michigan as a potential division spoiler, I like to consult Phil Steele’s experience charts to find teams that could outperform last year.  The Rams return a whopping 88% of their offensive yards from 2016 (15th in the NCAA).  That bodes well for 2017.  The games between Boise, Wyoming and CSU should be fun to watch and will feature a number of NFL prospects.  They should be high scoring too: the teams ranked 52nd, 104th and 69th in total defense respectively.
  • San Diego State’s special teams will steal them a big win: I have otherwise ignored the West Division in this preview but I knew I had to at least mention the team that should win the division: San Diego State.  Strangely, it was their special teams that stood out to me.  RB/KR Rashaad Penny won MW Special Teams Player of the Year the last two seasons (32.4 average with 5 TDs).  Penny will also see an uptick in touches on offense with Donnell Pumphrey gone to the NFL; he had nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 14 combined rushing/receiving TDs in 2016.  Kicker John Baron was an impressive 21-23 with a long of 50 yards.  Reliable college kickers are hard to come by and an explosive return man can be a significant field position advantage in a close game.  My bold prediction is that the combination of Penny and Baron will help the Aztecs steal a non-conference win against either Arizona State or Stanford.

Games to Watch

  • September 1, Colorado vs Colorado State; September 16, Colorado State at Alabama: The Rams have a tough non-conference schedule in 2017 (also including Oregon State).  Colorado and Alabama had the 20th and 24th ranked pass defenses last year, respectively, so they will be a great test for WR Michael Gallup.  Gallup went 10-81-1 combined in his two biggest games last year against Colorado and Minnesota so he needs to prove that he can produce against NFL talent, not just against our future servicemen.
  • October 21, Wyoming at Boise State: It’s all about the two quarterbacks: Rypien vs Allen.  Most of the games these two play this season won’t make it onto the national radar but this one should be with a late eastern time zone start time and not much else scheduled against it.  They’ll both need to make it count as it will be the biggest game they play in the second half of the season until a bowl game and another national broadcast.

Note: When watching film for a player, 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, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, 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

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