The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part IV

Updated: December 28th 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. 

Peach Bowl, Florida (9-3) vs Michigan (10-2), Sat 12/29 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch: Chase Winovich, EDGE, Michigan
    • I was originally going to profile Winovich in this space but changed my mind after Todd McShay’s most recent big board ranked fellow LB Devin Bush 10th overall. Then I figured why not mention both? Then on the morning I was writing this, Bush declared for the draft and announced that he’d skip the bowl due to a hip injury. Woe, the travails of bowl season for somebody writing advance previews. Winovich is a can’t miss player on the field, 1) because of his golden locks and 2) because of his persistence attacking the ball. He’s a smart player who will quickly curry favor in the locker room and on the practice field.  I expect him to land on Day Two come April.
  • My Pick: Florida, +7.5
    • As repeat readers know, I am a Michigan fan so this is a tough one to pick. My heart says to go for the Wolverines and a blowout victory but my brain says it’ll be close (if not a loss). Michigan has lost their last three games against the spread which does not bode well. Both teams feature strong defenses (advantage: Michigan) so it should be relatively low scoring. I’d be surprised to see either team win by more than a field goal.

Belk Bowl, South Carolina (7-5) vs Virginia (7-5), Sat 12/29 at 12:00pm on ABC:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina
    • The Gamecocks have two receiver prospects in Edwards and Deebo Samuel. Samuel has already announced that he will not play in the bowl so Edwards should receive the spotlight treatment. Since the USC offense is less than explosive, Edwards’ numbers are good but not great. His 2018 line finished at 52-809-7. He’s listed at 6030/220 and plays strong. In the preseason, I noted that I was impressed with his ball tracking, body control and ability to complete circus catches. I previously had Edwards as my 1.03 for 2019 rookie drafts so keep a close eye on his postseason performance.
  • My Pick: Virginia, +5
    • I was honestly surprised to see that Virginia ended up bowl eligible and with a winning record to boot. Like Minnesota which I mentioned in a previous installment, Virginia is one of the rare Power 5 teams I have not seen a lick of this season. Virginia has a better record ATS (8-4) and the better defense (a top 25 group in most categories) so I’ll take them and the points. You should follow along on Twitter because the people behind the Belk Bowl’s Twitter account are fantastic at their jobs.

Arizona Bowl, Nevada (7-5) vs Arkansas State (8-4), Sat 12/29 at 1:15pm on CBSSN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Justice Hansen, QB, Arkansas State
    • Hansen will be looking to cap off a very productive career at Arkansas State in this one. He was twice named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and should crest 10,000 career passing yards in the bowl (he’s sitting at 9,858). Hansen has good size at 6040/224 and is a threat as a runner as well. He moves well in the pocket but has much room to grow as a passer. His touch and accuracy are below average for pro prospects but he does show a quick release and an ability to run a zone-read offense. I see him being a priority UDFA and finding a home as a project backup to a run-first quarterback.
  • My Pick: Arkansas State, -2
    • Saturday 12/29 is a day with some big games. This is not one of them. Both teams have top 20 passing offenses, however Nevada’s pass defense is much weaker. Trust in the Red Wolves and Justice Hansen.

Military Bowl, Virginia Tech (6-6) vs Cincinnati (10-2), Mon 12/31 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch: Ricky Walker, DT, Virginia Tech & Marquise Copeland, DT, Cincinnati
    • The best draft eligible guys in this one are both interior defensive linemen. Both players are listed at 6020 but Walker has the weight advantage (300 vs 287). They were both three year starters who finished with similar 2018 lines. Walker had 49 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, while Copeland had 43 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. I’m not familiar with either player’s film so I referred to two of my favorite sites’ positional rankings: The Draft Network and DraftTek. DrafTek has both guys as Top 100 players with a slight edge to Copeland. The Draft Network, on the other hand, has Walker ranked significantly higher on their big board (91 vs 460). It’ll be interesting to see them on alternating possessions and compare and contrast their abilities.
  • My Pick: Cincinnati, -5.5
    • The Bearcats finished the season with an impressive 10-2 record (7-5 ATS). Their explosive offense was led by sophomore RB Michael Warren II. Warren recorded nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage and 18 total TDs. He’s currently injured but expected to play. I’ll assume he does play and helps Cinci cement the victory. According to the OddsShark “edge finder,” Cincinnati leads Virginia Tech in eleven of twelve categories. Perhaps not surprisingly then, OddsShark predicts Cincinnati will win this one 45-19.

Sun Bowl, Stanford (8-4) vs Pitt (7-6), Mon 12/31 at 2:30pm on CBS:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford
    • JJAW was not on my radar when I started making my 2019 position rankings in June of 2018. He exploded at the beginning of the year though and made people like myself notice. By September I had moved him up to the 2.08 slot and today I would probably put him in the late first round. Arcega-Whiteside is a prototypical “box-out” receiver who uses his play strength, length and leaping ability to win in contested situations. He has good hands and superior ball tracking ability. He does not rely on speed or RAC but he doesn’t need to. I’d say there’s at least a 50/50 chance that he stays for another year so let’s monitor his status.
  • My Pick: Stanford, -6
    • Stanford’s offense will be missing former Heisman runner-up RB Bryce Love because he decided to skip the bowl as he prepares for the NFL. Twelve months ago, missing Love would have left a gulf in the middle of the Stanford offense. He’s continued to play banged up and did not perform at a high level this season (just 739-6 in 2018 vs 2,118-19 in 2017). QB KJ Costello finished the season strong with a 10:2 TD:INT ratio over the last three games.  Costello himself could factor into the NFL Draft conversation if he decides to forego his senior season. Even without Love, Stanford has enough to hold off Pitt to improve to 4-0-1 ATS since the start of November.

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/18.

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2019 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 19th 2018

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

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

1.01 – N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

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

1.02 – Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

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

1.03 – Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

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

1.04 – AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.05 – David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

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

1.06 – DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.07 – Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

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

1.08 – Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

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

1.09 – Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

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

1.10 – Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

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

2.01 – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

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

2.02 – Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

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

2.03 – Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

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

2.04 – Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

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

2.05 – Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

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

2.06 – Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

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

2.07 – Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

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

2.08 – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

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

2.09 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

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

2.10 – Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

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

3.01 – Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

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

3.02 – David Sills, WR, West Virginia

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

3.03 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

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

3.04 – Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

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

3.05 – Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

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

3.06 – Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

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

3.07 – Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

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

3.08 – Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

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

3.09 – Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

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

3.10 – Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Week 2 Preview

Updated: September 6th 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

  • Arizona at Houston, 12:00pm on ABC/ESPN2:  DT Ed Oliver started the season strong with 13 tackles against Rice in Week 1.  Unless he completely implodes this season he’ll remain atop most positional rankings for the 2019 NFL Draft.  It will be interesting to see him chasing Arizona QB Khalil Tate.  Tate rushed for a short yardage score against BYU in the opener but otherwise had just 7 attempts for 12 yards.
  • UCLA at #6 Oklahoma, 1:00pm on FOX:  New UCLA coach Chip Kelly got off to a rough start with a loss last week against Cincinnati and it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to rebound in Norman.  OU got off to a solid start on offense with QB Kyler Murray tossing 2 TDs and 209 yards on just 11 attempts.  Similarly, RB Rodney Anderson dominated, rushing for 100 yards and 2 TDs on just five carries.  It’s premature to say definitively, but Anderson is growing on me and will contend for my RB1 spot come the Spring.
  • #3 Georgia at #24 South Carolina, 3:30pm on CBS:  This game is one of the reasons I picked South Carolina as a team to watch in the SEC.  It’s rare to play your biggest divisional game so early in the season before teams are in their groove.  The fact that the Gamecocks get the game at home is even more encouraging.  Both teams dominated FCS foes last week so we didn’t really learn anything.  I’m still picking Georgia to get the road victory but this game is a must-watch for the chance that it totally upends the CFP.
  • Iowa State at Iowa, 5:00pm on FOX:  Iowa State’s opener was cancelled so this will be our first chance to see RB David Montgomery, one of my favorites from last season.  The fact that this one also includes Iowa draft hopefuls QB Nate Stanley and TE Noah Fant make it a good midday watch if the 3:30pm games are blowouts.
  • Kentucky at #25 Florida, 7:30pm on SEC Network:  Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida since 1986 but this may be the year.  I am not a Florida fan and I will likely find myself picking against them all year.  This one is easy for me to pick against the Gators though because I’m becoming a Benny Snell fan.  He started the season well with 125 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries against Central Michigan to start the season.  He’s likely to be a 2019 fantasy asset so you might as well start paying attention now.
  • #17 USC at #12 Stanford, 8:30pm on FOX:  I literally put my money where my mouth is when it comes to USC this season.  Now that sports betting is legal in New Jersey, I placed a few season long futures and one of which was the over on 8.5 wins for the Trojans.  USC let UNLV hang around last week but they ended up winning convincingly in the 4th quarter.  USC’s true freshmen stole the show in that contest.  QB JT Daniels threw for 282 yards and a TD while WR Amon-Ra St. Brown caught 7 balls for 98 yards and a score.  Their 4th quarter touchdown connection was a beauty and is hopefully a sign of things to come.  When Stanford has the ball, the two who should have your attention are RB Bryce Love and WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside.  Love disappointed with just 29 yards on 18 carries so he’ll need a big bounce back game to stay in Heisman consideration; I’ll cover Arcega-Whiteside more below.  USC may be too inexperienced for this early-season conference matchup but it’ll be a fun one to watch regardless.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Daniel Jones, QB, Duke:  Jones started well against Army last week.  He completed 13 of 17 passes for 197 yards and a TD while adding 43 yards and a touch on the ground.  I still believe Jones has the raw tools to be the top quarterback in this class but he has to prove that he can play with the same efficiency for an entire season.
  • Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama:  Tua isn’t draft eligible so don’t get too excited yet but my god did he look explosive against Louisville.  I don’t know if he has the mechanics of the position down yet but there’s an ease and fluidity to his movement that you don’t see in other players.  It’s like he’s playing at a higher frame rate than the other 21 guys on the field.
  • Patrick Laird, RB, Cal:  Laird had an impressive 33 touches against UNC in the opener, gaining 109 total yards and 2 TDs.  Laird posseses good size (6000/205) and pass catching ability (45 receptions last season; switched from receiver).  Laird is a former walk-on who impressed me in interviews at PAC-12 Media Day while talking about his children’s summer reading campaign.  He may not be a top prospect but I’ll bet his combination of size, hands and character lands him on an NFL roster.
  • TJ Vasher, WR, Texas Tech:  Vasher made the highlight catch of the weekend with a ridiculous Odell-esque one-hander.  He is a lean redshirt sophomore who is listed at 6060/190.  He should blow away last year’s 29-545-6 line by midseason on the high powered Texas Tech offense.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

  • Listed at 6030/225 per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: USC 2017, SDSU 2018
  • 2017: 11 games, 48 receptions, 781 yards, 16.3 yards per reception, 9 TDs
  • 2018: 1 game, 6 receptions, 226 yards, 37.7 yards per reception, 3 TDs

If JJ Arcega-Whiteside is going to be a big name this year (pun intended), we need to agree on a nickname for him.  I submit: J-JAW.  Sure it’s an obvious one and misplaces the hyphen but it sounds pretty awesome.  Do you know what else is pretty awesome?  Arcega-Whiteside’s performance in Week 1 against San Diego State.  I wasn’t home during the game so I didn’t get to see it live but every time I fired up Twitter it seemed like he had just made another highlight catch.  I was able to watch some extended highlights after the game and was definitely impressed.  So much so that I decided he would be the first player I would spotlight this season.  Arcega-Whiteside’s biggest strength is his ability to play above the rim and dominate in the air.  He is strong and can easily box out the defender.  Here’s a good example of his ability to use his body to keep the defender out of the passing lane:

His ball tracking appears to be good to elite.  His hands are good and he often hand-catches the ball rather than letting it get into his body.  In the limited sample I watched he also showed good sideline awareness to make plays near the boundary.  Below is an example of him using all three skills on a single play.  The defender’s hand flashes in front of his eyes just as he’s about to catch the ball but he manages to still make the grab while spotting the landing.

Arcega-Whiteside isn’t a burner but does have enough speed to create separation on downfield routes.  Because of his jump-ball play style, he does not often find himself in RAC situations (save for a long score against SDSU when the defender fell down).  DraftScout.com predicts his speed to be 4.59 but I think he looked a shade quicker.  I need to see more to give him an accurate comparison but as far as size and speed go, you can equate him to somebody like Allen Robinson.  I saw comps on Twitter to Mike Evans which I can see when it comes to him winning in the air but Evans is at another level physically.  My viewing did not expose me to much of Arcega-Whiteside as a blocker or as a route runner.  I’ll need more time, and more film, to give him a proper grade in these areas.

J-JAW’s fantastic first game put him squarely on my radar for the 2019 NFL Draft.  We should monitor him closely over the next few games, especially this week against a superior USC defense.  If he continues to produce he’ll deserve a deep dive in the offseason.

 


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 PAC-12 Preview

Updated: August 8th 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:  Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona.  Back in my Mountain West preview, I shared the following statistics: “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.”  Tate figures to have those totals locked up by Week 8.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Bryce Love, RB, Stanford.  Love finished second in the Heisman voting in 2017 (losing to QB Baker Mayfield).  Despite nagging injuries forcing him to miss snaps, Love still put up astronomical totals: 2,118 yards, 8.1 yards per carry and 19 TDs.  According to Stanford’s media guide, Love is now at 196lbs, hopefully he can put on a few more which could help him better absorb the blows of the position.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona.  If Tate plays all twelve regular season games in 2018, nobody in the PAC-12 will match his production.  He’s an easy, but boring, pick for OPOY.  Bonus pick… Ross Bowers, QB, Cal.  Bowers is the conference’s leading returning passer in terms of yards per game and has two of the conference’s top four returning receivers alongside.  Cal won’t be great but Bowers, if he holds off South Carolina transfer Brandon McIlwain, should find success in his second year at the helm.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Porter Gustin, LB, USC.  I’m going a bit off the beaten path with this one.  Gustin is a capable edge rusher who missed most of 2017 with injury.  He has 23 tackles for loss and 14 sacks over his career which is solid but not eye-opening.  What is eye-opening is his athletic ability; Gustin has potential to be a fast riser up draft boards when fans see him again this season.  NFL.com profiled him in a “most freakish athletes” article last season (he returned to the list this offseason).  If the measureables quoted are close, we are looking at an athletic profile similar to 5th overall pick Bradley Chubb.  If Gustin plays at full health for 13 games he could hit double digit sacks and will be a threat on every snap.  He may not be the most valuable player on a dominant Trojan defense but he’ll be the most visible.
  • Newcomers of the Year:  Chip Kelly, UCLA and Herm Edwards, Arizona State.  The PAC-12 brought in two brand-name coaches in Kelly and Edwards.  Fans of both the NFL and the NCAA will recognize their names so they will inevitably draw eyeballs to their teams’ games.  I have much more faith in Kelly who has a 46-7 career record as a college head coach.  Herm, on the other hand, last coached in the NCAA before all of his players were born (1987-89 as a defensive backs coach at San Jose State).  I’d bet that both teams end with losing records; they’ll be interesting storylines but for the wrong reasons.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Stephen Carr, RB, USC.  As a true freshman, Carr played second-fiddle to Ronald Jones last season but stood out to me on a number of occasions.  The game I remember watching him play most was against Stanford.  In that game he totaled 137 yards on 12 touches.  I went back and watched the highlights and there were three crucial plays, two runs and one catch.  He has a big frame at 6000/210 and I think his speed is deceiving because of his upright running style and long gait.  Carr has to prove that he can stay healthy because he just had back surgery and also missed time in 2017 with a foot.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem: Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry, Arizona State.  Wilkins is embarking on his third season as the Sun Devil starter and looks to continue his upward statistical trend.  He threw for 3,270 yards last season which is the highest total for a returning passer in the league.  Harry has been starting with Wilkins all along and has a career 140-1,801-13 line to show for it.  Harry is one of the highest ranked 2019 receiver prospects so I expect that he’ll continue to make Wilkins look good.
  • Best RB Corps:  Stanford.  Stanford and UCLA are the only two PAC-12 teams whose top two returning rushers are running backs. UCLA’s backs, Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo, could be valuable in Kelly’s offense but I need to see it before I put them above Bryce Love and Cameron Scarlett.  It’s probably not fair to call Scarlett the Robin to Love’s Batman but they do make a good one-two punch.  Scarlett ended up getting 91 carries last season, gaining 389 yards and scoring a whopping 8 TDs.  I wonder if head coach David Shaw will manage Love’s snaps to keep him healthier down the homestretch.  If he does, Scarlett will be a valuable piece in the Cardinal offense.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Herm Edwards, Arizona State.  Is it too early to put Herm on the hot seat before his first game with the Sun Devils?  Arizona State immediately received some blow back after the appointment and then we heard that some of former coach Todd Graham’s staff was staying on at the suggestion of the school’s administration.  I presume the thinking was that Edwards is long removed from coaching, especially at the collegiate level, so he might struggle to put together a contemporary staff.  If that was a concern of the ASU brass, maybe they should not have hired Edwards in the first place.

Teams to Watch

 Oregon (7-6 in 2017)

Oregon has two things going for it in 2018: a top NFL prospect under center and a soft schedule.  Sure, promoted offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal loses RB Royce Freeman to the Broncos but the Ducks have not had trouble in recent memory replacing running backs.  QB Justin Herbert is a big prospect, pun intended.  I will feature him elsewhere in this preview but it goes without saying that he’ll be the key to Oregon’s ascent in 2018.  The non-conference schedule is Downy soft: home games against Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State.  The Ducks don’t even need to leave Eugene to face Washington or Stanford, their two biggest rivals for the division crown.  In their cross-over schedule, Oregon avoided USC this season.  It’s all lining up for Cristobal to get to double digit wins and a potential PAC-12 title game.

 UCLA (6-7 in 2017)

Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly takes over in Los Angeles this season and he’ll have his work cut out for him.  ESPN’s Football Power Index and Phil Steele both agree that UCLA faces the toughest schedule in the nation this season.  They have conference cross-over games against the top of the PAC-12 North: Washington, Utah and Oregon.  Their non-conference schedule is tough too, hosting Cincinnati and Fresno State with a visit to Oklahoma in between.  You’d be less concerned about the schedule if Kelly had an experienced quarterback to run his specialized offense.  Unfortunately, Josh Rosen has departed (and wouldn’t have been a great fit anyway) and left behind some uncertainty.  There are three options on the table for Kelly and I have no idea which one he’ll go with.  Wilton Speight transferred in from Michigan where he continually underwhelmed Wolverine fans like myself.  Incumbent Devon Modster had a 152.6 rating in limited action last year when Rosen was hurt.  True freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson was a 4-star recruit and the 2nd ranked dual-threat QB in the class according to 247Sports.  If I had to guess now, I would predict that Kelly rides with Thompson-Robinson for most of the season after letting either Modster or Speight take the lumps against the Sooners.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona:  If you’re playing college fantasy football, look no further than Khalil Tate as your QB1 and 1.01.  Tate took over as the starter in October last year and didn’t look back.  He completes passes at a higher rate than you would anticipate given his penchant for running the ball (62.0%).  Tate is not a high volume passer (just three games with 20+ attempts and just two games with 200+ yards), instead he derives his value on the ground.  He rushed for 1,411 yards and 12 TDs last season.  I anticipate he’ll get more touches in 2018 and should hit the 1,500 yard and 15 TD marks.  Size-wise he’s similar to Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson from the 2017 class.  It will be interesting to see Tate’s progression this season and next (I think he’ll need to return for his senior season to prove he can cut it as an NFL-level passer).
  • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington:  Gaskin was an NFL Draft prospect last Winter before deciding to return to the Huskies for his senior year.  In my first 2018 mock, I slotted Gaskin into the 3.02 spot and as RB9.  I anticipate the 2018 running back class will be a bit lighter than 2017’s so Gaskin has a shot at moving higher in my rankings.  When I wrote about Gaskin during bowl season, I acknowledged that my ranking of him was probably a product of an east coast bias because I just don’t get to see him play that often.  It’s hard to argue with Gaskin’s production: three straight 1,300+ yard seasons and 45 career rushing TDs.  He definitely deserves more of my attention this season.
  • Zack Moss, RB, Utah:  I have seen Moss described as a “raging bull” and as “the juggernaut” on Twitter.  Both are apt.  Moss is a compact yet powerful runner at 5010/210.  He seeks contact and can bowl over defensive backs.  He rushed for 1,173 and 10 TDs last season and added an impressive 29-243 line as a receiver.
  • Michael Pittman, WR, USC:  Pittman was overshadowed last season WRs Deontay Burnett, Tyler Vaughns and Stephen Mitchell. As the fourth option he still managed 23-404-2.  Vaughns also returns, so why am I highlighting Pittman?  His size.  He’s listed at 6040/215 which is tailor made for the NFL.  Vaughns is more slight at 6020/185.  Pittman was a 4-star recruit himself so he’s no slouch.  With over 120 receptions graduated, I expect Pittman to take a big step forward.  Something that might go under the radar is his special teams ability which will help him secure an NFL roster spot.  He has 13 career tackles and has both blocked and returned punts (including one great trick return for a score).
  • PAC-12 Tight Ends:  A PAC-12 tight end will be drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft in 2019.  Book it.  Just don’t ask me which one.  Stanford’s Kaden Smith, UCLA’s Caleb Wilson and Oregon’s Jacob Breeland all have a shot to land near the top of 2019 tight end rankings  (and I’m sure there’s somebody I’m missing too).  He’s only a sophomore, and coming off injury, but Washington’s Hunter Bryant is one to keep an eye on too for 2020.
  • Trey Adams, OT, Washington:  Adams missed much of last season due to an ACL injury but when he was fully healthy in 2016 he was an All-PAC-12 performer and earned 2nd-Team All-American honors from the FWAA.  Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller predicted Adams will be a top ten pick in the 2019 draft; the scout he interviewed compared Adams to Taylor Lewan.  Phil Steele’s preview magazine lists him as the 4th best draft eligible tackle in the nation.  In order to be drafted that high, Adams will need to prove to scouts that he is fully recovered from his ACL injury.
  • Cameron Smith, LB, USC:  Smith has been a starter and a leader on this unit since he was a true freshman.  The Trojan defense will be one of the best in the FBS so I anticipate Smith getting a lot of attention.  He’s a high volume tackler, 112 in 2017, who can also cover.  He has 10 career pass break-ups and 4 INTs.  I expect him to have another successful season that will be capped off with being selected on Day Two of the NFL Draft.
  • Marvell Tell, S, USC:  It was tough deciding whether I should feature Tell or CB Iman Marshall from the USC secondary.  I went with Tell since his profile seems to be on the rise.  Tell totaled 85 tackles last season along with 3 INTs.  He is the top ranked safety prospect by a number of sources, including DraftScout.com and Phil Steele.  Jesse Bates, a second round choice by the Bengals in 2017, would be a good size, speed and production comparison.  There are no games available to watch of Tell so instead I watched some of Marshall’s film to get an idea of Tell’s playing style.  He’s lanky and while he has a respectable amount of tackles, he does not seem to be as aggressive as I would like.  It was a very small sample of plays I watched so I’m not making a judgment call, just making a mental note until I see him live this year.

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

I currently have Justin Herbert as my highest rated quarterback for the 2019 NFL Draft (full disclosure: I have only thoroughly studied about a dozen guys so far and few from the Power 5).  Herbert has played eight games in both of his first two seasons at Oregon.  In 2016, he took over midseason and ended with 1,936 yards, 19 TDs, 4 INTs and a 63.5% completion percentage.  In 2017, Herbert threw less passes but increased his completion percentage to 67.6%; he missed the middle of the season with a broken collarbone.  Herbert’s injury concerns date back to high school when he broke his leg as a junior.  He does offer a bit on the ground with 344 career rushing yards and 7 TDs.  After looking at his stats and injury history it’s tough to justify the placement of Herbert as QB1 but my ranking is more on potential than anything else.

Herbert measures in with elite size at 6060/225 and is projected to run a 4.81 by DraftScout.com.  Of the 40 quarterbacks to measure 6050/220 or better and run under a 5.00 at the combine, an incredible 36 were drafted.  Seventeen of them were first rounders.  Based purely on his size and athleticism, Herbert is as safe a bet as any to be a first rounder.

Luckily, his measureables are borne out on film.  When I watch Herbert, I see a quarterback with above average speed and athleticism for his size and position.  He throws well on the run compared to others I have watched thus far this offseason.  It’s a great trait for somebody who runs the zone read and plays off play-action so often.  I noted average arm strength so I would like to see that improve this season.  His accuracy is best in the mid-range passing game but is serviceable short and deep as well.  Like many QBs at this stage of their career, Herbert needs to work on his footwork and mechanics.  He showed me positive field and situational awareness and he utilizes an effective pump fake.

Herbert certainly has a lot to prove in 2018 but if I’m predicting somebody to be the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s Herbert.  The reality is that a quarterback will rise up draft boards, despite how strong this year’s defensive line class is.  Before we crown him though, let’s see if Herbert stays healthy and continues to improve in the aforementioned key areas.  (Film watched: Arizona State 2017, Boise State 2017)

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Of all the players I have previewed this offseason, Bryce Love likely has the most recognizable name to casual fans.  That acclaim is thanks to Love’s second place Heisman finish in 2017.  He totaled 2,118 yards rushing and 19 TDs last season on his way to All-American and PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors.  Perhaps most impressive was Love’s yards per carry: 8.1 over 263 carries.  If you’re studying Love’s stats and game logs, you will notice that he is not a part of the passing game (just 6 receptions last year).  Love’s height is perfect for a running back (5100) but he needs to bulk up in order to be a top NFL prospect at the position.  Over the last two seasons, just nine backs were 5090-5100 and weighed between 190-205lbs.  Two of them were drafted (former teammate Christian McCaffrey and Miami’s Mark Walton) but they were both just over 200lbs; none of those under 200lbs in that cohort were drafted.  As I mentioned above, Love battled nagging injuries last season, perhaps a function of his frame, and missed snaps in multiple games.  Nobody can question Love’s toughness however, despite reportedly having a high ankle sprain, he managed to play through and only missed one game.

I saw Love play a number of times in 2017 but I was eager to dive in and watch some film to jog my memory of his strengths and weaknesses.  Love’s big play ability jumps off the screen immediately, accentuated by his 4.40 speed.  He is a nuanced runner who exhibits numerous skill moves to make defenders miss (i.e. spin move, hurdle and stiff arm).  Love also utilizes devastating cutting ability, oftentimes multiple times on the same play, to leave defenders grasping at air.  He has very good patience at the line of scrimmage as he squares his shoulder to the line and stutter steps as he identifies which hole to hit.  Love runs stronger than you would expect based on measureables.  He’s a tough runner who takes a lot of contact.  He can get stood up by bigger defenders but he’s sometimes able to spin out of the tackle rather than bowl over the defender.  As I alluded to above, Love is not a passing game feature.  In the two games I re-watched he had just one catch and it was on a shovel pass.  I tenuously have Love down as an average pass blocker.  Unfortunately his size means there were multiple plays where he was pushed back into the passer.  Just like when he runs the ball, he does not shy away from contact so it’s not a matter of want-to.

I’m probably lower on most when it comes to Love’s real-life and fantasy draft stocks.  He’ll probably start the season as a mid-1st rounder for most dynasty rankers but I will probably have him closer to the end of the first.  (Film watched: Washington 2017, TCU 2017)

N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry landed on my radar about a year ago, after his freshman season, when I was doing some devy research and came across his name.  I didn’t get a chance to watch him live at all in 2017 but I had filed away his name waiting for the right time to profile him.  He has prototypical #1 receiver size at 6040/216 and is projected to run in the 4.50 range (think: AJ Green).  He had a successful freshman season in 2016, ending with a 58-659-5 line.  In 2017, he improved to 82 receptions, 1,142 yards and 8 TDs.  As good as the numbers are and as big as the hype is, I was not as blown away by his tape as I had expected to be.

There’s no doubt that Harry exhibits a few elite skills.  First off, he has some of the best body control and sideline awareness of any receiver I have studied in the last two years.  He routinely makes toe-tapping sideline catches.  Harry also shows great concentration when making contested catches.  Even with a defender draped over his shoulders and a hand in his line of sight he is able to find the ball and hang on with his strong hands.  He is often physical at the top of his vertical route stem, utilizing his size to gain separation from smaller DBs.  Unfortunately, in the two games I watched, Harry did not run a variety of routes; I would say that half of his routes were screens and another chunk were simple curls or comebacks.  I do have some concern about his speed – I’m thinking he’s in the 4.55 range – because he looked slower than I anticipated.  Although, I must admit he showed good burst on a few individual plays.  He’s fine when he gets to top gear but I did not note too many occasions where his speed afforded him a good release off the line.  At this point in his career, Harry appears to be a below average blocker.  He shows okay form on a number of attempts but there are numerous whiffs and disinterest as well.  Despite the negatives that I noticed, Harry has the ability to make you forget all of that with one spectacular play.  When watching the UCLA game I was ready to bump him down my rankings until he took over a drive late in the game.  On the first play, he makes a great high-pointed hands catch and manages to keep his feet in bounds, all while maintaining control to the ground.  On the second play, he takes an outside release into double coverage and makes a great concentration catch.  Not too many players in the NFL could have made both catches, let alone in the FBS.

If we were drafting today, Harry would be in the running for the 1.01 for 2018 rookie drafts.  As usual a lot will come down to his NFL team’s scheme and depth chart but he has the physical tools to transcend situation.  (Film watched: UCLA 2017, Texas Tech 2017)


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
  • 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

2018 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v2.1

Updated: January 27th 2018

My first 2018 rookie mock draft was published back on Sept 6 and while some things have changed, I am actually quite pleased with how my mock draft held up throughout the season.  I followed the same guidelines here as I did back in September.  Namely,  I used two base assumptions: 1) a standard one QB roster setup and 2) any junior good enough to be considered will declare early (the deadline is Jan 15 so by the time you read this we may already know that some guys are not going into the draft).  Players are broken down into tiers and I have noted where they were mocked last time to show their movement from version to version.  To view version 1.0, click here.  Version 2.0 never saw the light of day as Bryce Love, Damien Harris and Myles Gaskin decided to return to school before publishing (for what it’s worth they were at 1.09, 2.06 and 2.09 respectively).  I also compile mock draft information for the /r/DynastyFF sub Reddit which you can view here.  Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @robertfcowper.

1.01, Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (last: 1.01)

Barkley is in a tier all by himself.  He’s a supreme athlete (possibly sub-4.40 speed) with good vision and is a good pass catcher.  He’ll be the consensus first pick in just about every fantasy rookie draft and could be a Top 5 NFL Draft pick.  Don’t overthink it.

1.02, Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (1.03)

1.03, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (1.02)

(Note: this was written prior to Nick Chubb’s poor performance in the championship game.  In hindsight, I am less confident about placing him at 1.02.  One game does not a career make but still he played poorly against a defense full of NFL talent.  I will re-visit this in the offseason)  I now have Chubb and Guice flipped compared to where I had them to start the season.  Heading into the season, Chubb’s 2015 knee injury felt like more of a concern than it does now since he has completed two full seasons since.  Their stats this season were similar but Chubb had a slight edge as a rusher (1,320 yards and 15 TDs for Chubb, 1,251 and 11 TDs for Guice).  Neither is a receiver like Barkley.  Both backs have a career high of 18 receptions in a season – Guice did so in 2017 while Chubb did so as a freshman in 2014.  The margin between the two for me is razor thin.  I lean towards Chubb since we have a bigger sample size.

1.04, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (1.04)

1.05, James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (1.08)

1.06, Ronald Jones, RB, USC (2.07)

I still have Ridley as my WR1 even though 2017 was not a great season (just 59 receptions, 935 yards and 4 TDs prior to the championship game).  To my eye, he is just the most skilled WR in the class, regardless of his production.  He is very fast (4.35 40 yard dash in the Spring), jumps well enough to out play his 6’1″ height and is a good route runner.  Washington is pretty quick himself but he just doesn’t seem as polished as Ridley.  It’s hard to argue against Washington’s production but I think he’ll be drafted later than Ridley and won’t be as good of a pro in the long run.  Washington is this high though because I think he will make an early impact in the league if he lands on the right team.  Jones makes a huge jump from 2.07 to 1.06.  I questioned his size to start the year, I thought he was too tall for his weight, but am no longer as concerned because he put on some weight.  He’s such a quick and fast runner and was very productive this year (1,550 yards, 19 TDs).  If he was a little more “squat” but just as fast and nimble he’d be challenging for the 1.02.

1.07, Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State (undrafted)

1.08, Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (1.07)

Rashaad Penny made a huge impression on me this season.  I noticed Penny in August but thought he was more of a returner than a running back.  He proved his worth as a rusher (his 2,248 yards led the FBS) but still managed to contribute as a return man (3 return TDs).  Penny will probably be an early Day Three draft selection but I think his value as a return man will help him see the field earlier.  Bryce Love originally found himself in this tier before deciding to return to school.  Conversely to the ascending Penny, Sutton’s stock is falling for me.  Sutton has the best size of the top three receivers (6’4, 215lbs) but I have some concerns.  In my past research, I found that he mostly beat up on bad defenses; against the best defense he played this year (TCU), he was held to one catch for zero yards.  It also bothers me that Sutton was not the leading receiver on his team this year (Trey Quinn had more receptions, yards and touchdowns).  Sutton likely saw extra defensive attention but if he’s to be an NFL star, he must be able to dominate even against double coverage in games against lesser defenses.  Interesting stat for Sutton, 8 of his 31 career receiving touchdowns came in three games against North Texas.  I want to see him at the combine – if he comes in smaller than advertised he could fall out of my first round.

1.09, Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (1.07)

1.10, Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis (2.02)

2.01, Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (2.06)

2.02, Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M (1.05)

This tier features some of my favorite players in the draft in terms of value.  I was high on Freeman to start the season before he came out on fire (10 TDs in the first four games).  His pace slowed in the middle of the season but he finished strong too with 6 TDs in the games against Arizona and Oregon State.  He decided to skip the bowl which was disappointing because I wanted to see him against Boise State’s defense.  Despite the positive impression he made on me, I do have him a little lower now because he was jumped by Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny at the position.  Two players who did not skip the end of their seasons are Anthony Miller and Sony Michel.  Miller is an absolute gamer who I want on my team.  He’s not that big or that fast but he’s just productive.  He runs routes well and has possibly the best hands in the class.  He could have broken his leg in the AAC Championship game and he would have still finished the overtime.  It may be a bit of a reach but I’m willing to take Miller at the end of the first to guarantee I get him.  Michel is sometimes overshadowed by Chubb but he’s just as good in his own right.  He has two 1,000+ yard seasons to his name and a career 6.1 yards per carry average.  He is a better receiver than his 9 receptions in 2017 show.  In 2015 and 2016 he had 48 combined.  The hype on Michel is growing so you may not be able to get him at 2.01 but let’s not overreact to two nationally televised games.  Michel will be a solid pro but I’m not willing to jump him over Chubb.  Kirk dropped because I was probably too high on him originally but I still like him.  He’s a great return man but so many of his receptions come at the line of scrimmage that I worry his NFL role may be limited.

2.03, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (2.08)

2.04, Sam Darnold, QB, USC (2.01)

This is where my RSO mock will diverge slightly from a true dynasty mock.  I strongly believe that going quarterback early in the second round of your rookie mock is the way to go.  The salary paid will be less than $2mil per season which is a fantastic bargain for a starting quarterback, especially considering that most quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL Draft will see game action sometime in the first season.  The return on investment here is so high when you “hit” that it’s worth taking a chance on a “miss.”  Readers will notice that 1) Rosen has jumped Darnold and 2) I am taking the QBs a little later now.  Neither guy had a great season and they both come with some warts so I think this spot feels right.  Even if Darnold gets drafted higher, barring some crazy trade that lands him on a good team, I would go with Rosen first as I feel he is more NFL-ready and will realize more value during his four year RSO rookie contract.

2.05, Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame (2.03)

2.06, Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa (undrafted)

2.07, Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State (3.07)

This was a very tough stretch for me to rank.  I originally included Myles Gaskin and Damien Harris in this tier but they are now removed as they seek a higher grade next year.  St. Brown dropped between mocks because he only had 33 receptions.  Like Calvin Ridley, he was the leading receiver on a run-heavy offense.  I didn’t count that against Ridley but I do against St. Brown because it’s tough to invest highly in a guy with just 92 career receptions.  St. Brown would have dropped further if it weren’t for the decisions of Love and Harris ahead of him.  Wadley and Gallup mostly stayed under the radar this season but move up in my rankings even though their per-touch averages decreased.  They both significantly increased the number of touches they handled this season and played well in their biggest games.  Gallup totaled 21 receptions and 282 yards in three games against Power 5 defenses (Oregon State, Colorado, Alabama); Wadley had 158 total yards versus Ohio State in what was ultimately the death blow for the Buckeyes’ playoff chances.

2.08, Dante Pettis, WR, Washington (2.04)

2.09, Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama (1.06)

2.10, Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame (undrafted)

Bringing up the rear of the second round are three Power 5 players that I would be willing to take a shot on despite my concerns about their size.  Pettis is a dynamo and can change a game with one touch.  He had four punt return touchdowns this year and led the FBS in punt return average.  He managed to increase his receptions this year but his per-touch averages decreased.  He’s 6’1″ but about 195lbs so he’s a little too light.  The fact that his former teammate John Ross was such a bust as a first rounder last year probably hurts Pettis even if it’s not fair.  Scarborough and Adams were both productive in college but at 6’2″ they might be too tall to play running back effectively in the NFL.  The comps in that size are not favorable.  The best is Derrick Henry but other than that it’s a lot of no-name players over the last decade.

3.01, Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (undrafted)

If it makes RSO salary cap sense to take a quarterback near the top of the second, it stands to reason you should at the top of the third.  Mayfield is currently my QB3 after an incredibly efficient season but I want to watch more tape.  Heading into the season I had both Mason Rudolph, Lamar Jackson and Luke Falk ranked higher.  Right now Rudolph would be the only one I consider putting here instead of Mayfield.

3.02, Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State (undrafted)

3.03, Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (3.01)

3.04, Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina (3.05)

3.05, Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (2.10)

Let the tight end run begin!  I think everybody would agree that this year’s tight end class pales in comparison to last year but when is the right time to take one?  I’m having trouble valuing them so I’ll bet others are too.  My guess is that once one goes in your RSO draft, two or three will follow shortly after.  Gesicki gets the nod as the top prospect because he’s bigger than both Andrews and Hurst and at least as athletic, if not more.  Hurst is more of a traditional TE than the other two as he blocks better but he’s also fast enough and a good pass catcher.  I had Hurst above Andrews in my early 2018 positional rankings and will stick with my gut.  It takes time for tight ends to develop, Evan Engram notwithstanding, so I’ll knock Andrews down a peg because he so rarely lined up as a tight end in college.  Lazard isn’t a TE but he’s a big-bodied receiver who I am a fan of.  He was a key part of Iowa State’s miracle run (71-941-10).  I wish I was able to find him a spot higher because it feels like I’m down on him compared to start the season but that’s not the case.

3.06, Auden Tate, WR, Florida State (undrafted)

3.07, Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana (undrafted)

3.08, Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State (3.04)

3.09, Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville, (undrafted)

3.10, Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (1.10)

Similarly to how I ended the second round, I will end the third round with a group of Power 5 players who I will take a flyer on.  Tate has elite size, ball skills and body control but has just 65 career receptions.  Cobbs also has elite size but he concerns me.  He was suspended to start the 2016 season for “not living up to the responsibilities of the program,” and then subsequently suffered a season ending injury in his first game that year.  In the summer of 2017 he was arrested at a concert.  He didn’t face any discipline so it’s probably nothing but still I would worry about a pattern of negative behavior.  Ballage is a bowling ball at 6’3″ and 230lbs.  He is an effective receiver but averages just 4.4 yards per carry in his career.  His size concerns me too.  It’s hard to find a back with receiving stats like he had in 2016, so with a late third, what the heck.  I don’t know enough about Jaylen Smith to properly evaluate him yet but our friends at the Dynasty Command Center are very high on him so I’ll trust their analysis.  Smith had a crazy 22.9 yards per reception average in 2016 which was unsustainable (in 2017 it was still a solid 16.3).  Deon Cain is another player who concerns me off the field.  After a failed drug test, Clemson suspended him in 2015 for both of their College Football Playoff games and continued to hold him out through Spring practice.  He lead the Tigers in yards (734) and TDs (6) this season but I was hoping for more now that he was out of Mike Williams’ shadow.

Honorable Mentions

4.01, Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State (undrafted)

4.02, Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State (undrafted)

4.03, Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (undrafted)

4.04, Adam Breneman, TE, UMass (undrafted)

4.05, Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn (undrafted)

4.06, Deontay Burnett, WR, USC (undrafted)

4.07, Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State (undrafted)

4.08, Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State (undrafted)

4.09, Jaylen Samuels, TE, North Carolina State (undrafted)

4.10, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (undrafted)

Guys who I like but couldn’t find space for yet: Ryan Finley, Ito Smith, Jordan Chunn, Cedric Wilson, Antonio Callaway, Troy Fumagali


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Bowl Game Previews, Part IV

Updated: December 26th 2017

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

Thursday, Dec. 28

Camping World Bowl, #22 Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. #19 Oklahoma State (9-3), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Virginia Tech: 65th scoring offense, 61st passing offense, 63rd rushing offense; 5th scoring defense, 21st passing defense, 16th rushing defense
  • Oklahoma State: 3rd scoring offense, 1st passing offense, 43rd rushing offense; 86th scoring defense, 120th passing defense, 27th rushing defense

Six weeks ago it seemed that both of these teams could be destined for their conference championship games but late season losses to #5 Oklahoma and #10 Miami dashed those hopes.  It’ll be an interesting strength vs strength matchup when Oklahoma State has the ball.

When Oklahoma State does have the ball, they often score.  They average 46.3 points per game.  Their lowest output of the season came against Texas with just 13 points but other than that they have scored 31+ in every game.  Responsible for those points are QB Mason Rudolph, RB Justice Hill,  WR James Washington and WR Marcell Ateman.  Rudolph is one of my top 2018 rookie QBs for fantasy purposes (he’s big, good accuracy, typically limits mistakes and is a better runner than the stats show because of negative yardage from sacks).  I profiled Rudolph twice this season, once in the preseason and once in Week 4 if you’d like to read more.  I also discussed Washington in depth in Week 6 but to recap, he is a burner who was a high school track star.  He caught 69 balls this year for 1,423 yards and 12 TDs.  That works out to a 20.6 yards per reception average which was 10th in the FBS this season.  Washington will be a Top 3 WR in most fantasy leagues this Spring.  The other two offensive stars, Hill and Ateman, don’t get enough publicity.  Hill is a second year starter as a sophomore and already has nearly 2,500 career yards; he improved as a pass catcher this year which allows him to stay on the field for more snaps.  Ateman may just end up being the best pro player out of the group.  He’s big at 6’4″ and 220lbs and uses that frame to high point the ball and fight for contested catches.  Highlight reels can be misleading, but check out the string of catches he makes in this recent Youtube video from 1:22 to 1:45.  Ateman won’t get drafted as high as Washington but he’ll be productive in the NFL if he keeps playing like that.

Unfortunately for Hokie fans, they will be without senior WR Cam Phillips in this one as he heals from a hernia.  Phillips led the FBS in receptions early in the season and ended with a 71-964-7 line.  He has had 40+ receptions in each of his four seasons which is great sustained productdion.  He hasn’t been super productive as far as touchdowns go though (just 17) but he did have mediocre quarterback play for his first two seasons.  That quarterback play has been decent this season with freshman Josh Jackson.  Jackson has 2,743 yards, 19 TDs and 8 INTs, completes 60.3% of his passes and added 4 rushing TDs.  There’s a drop off from Phillips to the team’s next receiver, freshman Sean Savoy (39-454-4), so I expect the offense to struggle.  On defense, LB Tremaine Edmunds does not struggle.  Edmunds is a two year starter who totaled 101 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks this season.  He also added 3 forced fumbles.  Edmunds has been getting a lot of hype on Twitter lately so I think he’ll start moving up draft boards as people digest more film.  Edmunds is WalterFootball.com’s 4th ranked OLB prospect so a first round pick is not out of the question but second round is more likely.

The Hokies defense is good but they won’t be able to stop Oklahoma State’s offense.  Sure, they might slow them down and keep the Cowboys under 35 points but there’s no way Virginia Tech can match that with Phillips out.  I originally was going VaTech but I’ve flipped.  Prediction: Oklahoma State

Valero Alamo Bowl, #12 Stanford (9-4) vs. #15 TCU (10-3), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Stanford: 39th scoring offense, 98th passing offense, 32nd rushing offense; 29th scoring defense, 72nd passing defense, 73rd rushing defense
  • TCU: 34th scoring offense, 59th passing offense, 52nd rushing offense; 12th scoring defense, 74th passing defense, 4th rushing defense

Between the Camping World Bowl at 5:15pm and the Alamo Bowl at 9:00pm, we are looking at a great doubleheader Thursday night with just enough time to sneak in a quick, late dinner with your significant other.  Stanford may be ranked higher, likely because of Bryce Love love, but I think TCU is the stronger team.  Both teams are coming off of conference championship losses so it’ll be interesting to see how they rebound.

Stanford started the season with Keller Chryst starting at quarterback with occasional appearances by freshman backup KJ Costello.  Costello took over full-time in the November 4th game against Washington State and struggled (9-20, 105 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT).  He has played better since but his stats are those of a game-manager rather than a game-winner.  The game-winner for the Cardinal is Heisman runner-up Bryce Love.  Love finished the season with 1,793 yards and 17 TDs.  He battled through injuries but still managed to miss just one game.  He’s a bit undersized but is still a workhorse with seven games of 20+ carries.  He had eleven games of 100+ yards (the lone game he didn’t hit the century mark was against Washington State when he came in very questionable), including 263 and 301 yard games.  I covered Love many times throughout the season as he moved up the Heisman ballot – my deepest dive was in Week 7.  Love is currently my RB5 for 2018 rookies because I am a little concerned about his size and durability; I expect him to be a late 1st or early 2nd round rookie fantasy draft pick in 2018.  On defense, Stanford is led by safety Justin Reid who had 92 tackles and 5 INTs in 2017.  He was voted to the second team All-America team and was a first team PAC-12 selection.  Reid will be a second round pick and will factor into IDP leagues as a rookie.

Per my research, TCU does not have any clear cut draft prospects, except maybe for senior LB Travin Howard.  Instead, I’ll touch on a few offensive players who will make a difference in this game.  First up is QB Kenny Hill.  Hill is a former Texas A&M transfer who has started both years at TCU.  He significantly improved his rate stats in 2017 (including completion percentage, passer rating, TD:INT ratio and yards per attempt) but was less of a factor as a runner this year.  He still had 4 rushing TDs but that was significantly less than his 10 from 2016.  RB Darius Anderson (768-8) is injured and may not play.  In his place senior Kyle Hicks will get more carries. Hicks was a 1,000 yard rusher last season but saw a reduced role behind Anderson this season.  My prediction for the player who most benefits from Anderson’s injury will be KR/WR KaVontae Turpin.  Turpin is tiny (5’9″ and 153lbs) but a potential game breaker.  In his career he has 17 career TDs: 1 passing, 2 rushing, 10 receiving, 3 returning punts and 1 returning kicks.  He had seven touches (6 receptions, 1 punt return) and 91 all-purpose yards (39 receiving, 52 returning punts) against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship; that was the most touches he had had in six games.  I would expect a similar number of touches in the bowl game and bet he’ll score in some unexpected or spectacular way.

It’s hard picking against somebody of Bryce Love’s caliber but I’m taking the Horned Frogs.  I think that TCU’s strong rush defense will keep Love under 150 yards which will be enough to win a close one.  Prediction: TCU

Friday, Dec. 29

Belk Bowl, Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Texas A&M (7-5), 1 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Wake Forest: 32nd scoring offense, 35th passing offense, 47th rushing offense; 62nd scoring defense, 104th passing defense, 93rd rushing defense
  • Texas A&M: 44th scoring offense, 65th passing offense, 74th rushing offense; 81st scoring defense, 67th passing defense, 65th rushing defense

The biggest storyline surrounding either of these teams is surely FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher leaving Tallahassee for College Station.  Jimbo won’t be coaching in the bowl game, that duty will fall to special teams coach Jeff Banks, but I’m sure his presence will be felt.

Wake Forest started the season strong with four straight wins, three over eventual bowl teams, but went on to lose five of their last eight.  Their crowning victory in the second half of the season came against #19 North Carolina State who could have tied Clemson for the division lead if it weren’t for the Wake Forest loss.  Wake Forest’s senior QB John Wolford had the best season of his career in 2017.  He threw for 2,792 yards, 25 TDs and just 6 INTs.  What is most encouraging when looking at his stats is the huge increase in efficiency this year.  Wolford is undersized at 6’1″ and 200lbs (it’s always a red flag when somebody weighs in exactly at 200lbs, surely he’s less than that).  I don’t think his that quick but he is productive as a runner with 615 yards and 10 TDs.  Wake’s most explosive player, WR Greg Dortch is injured and out for the bowl which is a shame.  Dortch set a school record with 4 TDs against Louisville.  I watched his highlights from that game and he’s like a punt returner whenever he gets the ball in the open field: fast, quick cuts, sets up blockers.  I’m looking forward to watching more of him next year.

Hot take alert: Texas A&M isn’t even as good as their 7-5 record indicates.  They did not beat a ranked opponent all season (in three tries) and their three wins over Power 5 teams were all just by one score.  The Aggie offense is paced by WR Christian Kirk.  Kirk first caught my eye in the preseason while writing my SEC preview.  Kirk is very fast, sub 4.40 speed, and is great when he has the ball in his hands.  Since many of his receptions are at or behind the line of scrimmage, I question his route running and ability to get open at the NFL level; but, as long as the team can scheme for him with screens and drag routes across the field he’ll succeed because of his running after the catch.  Kirk’s value as an NFL player is insulated by his return prowess.  He has 7 career return TDs and if he qualified with two more returns he would have led the FBS in punt return average (21.9 vs the leader who has 19.5) again in 2017, something he did in both 2015 and 2016.  Kirk will be an early second round rookie pick in 2018 so keep an eye on him.

One last note on the Aggies, take a look at their offensive and defensive rankings – they are no better than 44th in any category.  Of the twenty teams covered in this preview, all but three have a unit ranked 43rd or better: Kentucky, Utah State and Texas A&M.  Jimbo will surely shake things up next season but that won’t help in the Belk Bowl.  Prediction: Wake Forest

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Kentucky (7-5) vs. #21 Northwestern (9-3), 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Kentucky: 87th scoring offense, 100th passing offense, 58th rushing offense; 80th scoring defense, 113th passing defense, 60th rushing defense
  • Northwestern: 55th scoring offense, 51st passing offense, 71st rushing offense; 19th scoring defense, 100th passing defense, 9th rushing defense

If you told me you were watching a Kentucky vs Northwestern matchup in December, I would probably guess you were watching basketball not football because historically these are two weaker Power 5 programs.  Kentucky is playing in their second consecutive bowl while Northwestern’s streak is at three so both have found recent success under their current coaches.  As far as this season goes, Northwestern is on an impressive seven game winning streak which includes a win over #16 Michigan State.  Conversely, Kentucky lost their last two (both by nearly 30 points) and three of the last four.

Kentucky has two players that interest me after doing some research.  The first is sophomore RB Benjamin (Benny) Snell.  Snell set a number of Kentucky freshman records last year and was named a freshman All-American by the Football Writer’s Association of America.  In that freshman season he rushed for 1,039 yards and 13 TDs.  In 2017, Snell added 70 carries and managed to top 1,300 yards and scored 18 TDs.  He also became a slightly larger factor in the passing game (10 receptions vs 2).  Snell’s per-carry average fell in 2017 but it’s good to see that he has held up (he’s 5’11” and 223lbs which is a good size for a running back) without any serious injury.  On defense, SS Mike Edwards could be a mid-round draft pick if he declares early.  Phil Steele had him ranked as the #9 draft eligible SS in the preseason and NFLDraftScout.com has him ranked in the same spot in his 2019 draft class.  Since 2010, there were 17 safeties drafted between the 4th and 6th round that compare similarly to his size; there were also four safeties drafted higher but that’d be a reach for Edwards based on my limited research.  I watched some 2016 highlights of Edwards and noted his ball tracking and good form on a number of his tackles. Edwards has 228 career tackles and 8 INTs so he has been productive, just not at an elite level.

Wildcats QB Clayton Thorson will be best served by staying on campus for his senior season but I have seen some 2018 draft hype for him on Twitter.  The positives: he’s tall at 6’4″, is a good runner, has a lot of experience as a third year starter and improved his completion percentage year-over-year.  I watched tape of Thorson from last year’s Pinstripe Bowl and I had mixed feelings.  I believe Thorson has the requisite “arm talent” for the NFL but he gets sacked too often and seems to make a lot of one-read throws.  Regarding the sacks, in 2017 Thorson was sacked the 13th most in the FBS and in 2016 he was sacked the 3rd most.  He hasn’t missed a game for Northwestern but all of those hits must add up eventually.  Northwestern’s best prospect is RB Justin Jackson.  Jackson is a true three-down back who averages 3.12 receptions per game over the last two seasons.  Jackson has also rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons, the biggest total coming in 2016 with 1,524 yards.  Jackson lost carries this year to freshman backup Jeremy Larkin but he still managed 1,154 yards.  Jackson is quick and probably best suited for a zone-blocking scheme where he’s not plowing into the line head first.  He’ll probably start his career as a third down, situational back but I don’t think it’ll be long before he earns more touches.  The third round is probably the best case scenario and he’s a steal if he makes it midway through the fourth.

Despite the strength of the two lead running backs, this one will probably come down to the passing game due to how poor the passing defenses are.  Thorson is superior so I’ll go with Northwestern.  Prediction: Northwestern

Arizona Bowl, New Mexico State (6-6) vs. Utah State (6-6), 5:30 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • New Mexico State: 56th scoring offense, 4th passing offense, 124th rushing offense; 87th scoring defense, 78th passing defense, 64th rushing defense
  • Utah State: 45th scoring offense, 71st passing offense, 56th rushing offense; 70th scoring defense, 16th passing defense, 117th rushing defense

I’ll be honest, it’s hard to say much of anything positive regarding a bowl matchup featuring two 6-6 mid-majors after we’ve had a number of Top 25 matchups.  I’m tempted to do as my mother taught me, “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all,” but I know you are here for some hard-hitting analysis.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time this season that I have written about New Mexico State.  In Week 11, I shined a spotlight on Aggies RB Larry Rose III.  I observed that Rose has good lateral and straight line speed and his explosiveness.  Unfortunately, he’s playing on a weak team (just 14 career wins as a four year starter) so his opportunities to shine have been few; he’s also dealt with a number of injuries, including a sports hernia and a knee.  Rose’s best attribute is his pass catching ability: he has 49 receptions for 474 yards and 2 TDs this year.  He probably doesn’t get drafted but it’s a name to monitor in training camp in case he catches on somewhere.  Speaking of four year starters with an injury history, QB Tyler Rogers threw for 3,825 yards, 26 TDs and 16 INTs this season.  He improved his rate stats in 2017 but was featured less frequently as a ball carrier.  His top target is 6’6″ JUCO transfer Jaleel Scott.  Scott is a red zone threat with 5 of his 8 TDs coming from inside the twenty.

After researching Utah State, I’m honestly surprised that head coach Matt Wells still has a job.  He took over for Gary Anderson after a big 11-2 season and subsequently won 19 games over his next two years at the helm.  In the three years since, he has just 15 combined wins.  Maybe he has some dirt on the athletic director?  Throughout the season, Wells has rotated quarterback snaps between Kent Myers and Jordan Love.  Combined they have about 2,500 passing yards, 16 TDs and 13 INTs.  The defense is led by junior LB Suliasi Tamaivena.  Tamaivena had 109 tackles and 3 sacks in his first season at Utah State.  He had a rough road to Logan and FBS football, which included a junior college stop and academic issues that kept him from joining Washington State.  He’s probably too old to be considered as a draft prospect but he’s a good story of perseverance nonetheless.

I don’t know enough about either team to make a truly informed decision about this one but since I like Larry Rose, I’ll go with his squad.  Prediction: New Mexico State


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

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

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

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