The Watch List 2021: Early RB Tiers

Updated: January 14th 2021

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

(Note: This article was written between January 7-13. By the time you read this it’s likely that many players will have made official announcements about whether they will enter the NFL Draft, transfer or return to school. Rumors abound about each player’s decision but we’ll know for sure by the time you read this.)

1.01 Contenders

  • Travis Etienne

  • Najee Harris

  • Javonte Williams

Two of the names in this cohort should not surprise you. Both Travis Etienne and Najee Harris would have been 1.01 contenders in the 2020 class if they came out after their junior years; and they did nothing to dispel that potential for 2021. Etienne has been my favorite running back in this class since I first saw him as a true freshman. He has speed to spare and has grown as a player to become a better pass catcher and blocker. Etienne had a good but not great season — his yards per carry was down to 5.4 while his first three seasons were all over 7.2 — but he really showed up as a receiver with 48-588-2. Harris had a fantastic season and likely edges out Etienne in most 1.01 conversations but their final order will come down to their landing spot. Harris is a beast at 6020/230 and yet is nimble on his feet and is a plus pass catcher. He had nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage and scored 30 TDs this season. Get ready for a vociferous debate all winter long about which is the better back. If one player has a chance at upsetting the proverbial 1.01 applecart, I would say it’s Javonte Williams. He had solid production his first two years as a Tar Heel but exploded onto the national radar with a crazy six-week midseason run in 2020. In those six games, all against ACC opponents, Williams rushed for 754 yards and 11 scores. He has average or better size, speed and pass catching ability. Every season there seems to be one player who catapults themselves into the conversation for the top rookie pick and Williams might have done enough this season that a successful offseason will jump him up fantasy draft boards.  (All of this 1.01 talk is assuming you’re not playing superflex. If you are, please take Trevor Lawrence. If you’re playing in a 1 QB league the value changes so you should go RB or WR, but if I’m being honest, I’d still find it hard to pass on Lawrence and the value he could bring in the RSO format.)

Day Two Targets

  • Kenny Gainwell

  • Kylin Hill

  • Chuba Hubbard

  • Zamir White

If recent history is any indication, Day Two is typically when the running back run happens in the NFL Draft. The guys taken in that range are destined to become the late 1st and early 2nd rounders in your rookie drafts. Like a few other players featured in this article, Kenny Gainwell decided to opt out of the 2020 season and get ready for the NFL Draft. He does so with the confidence that his stellar 2019 season at Memphis will be enough to land among the top handful of prospects at the position. Memphis has had a tremendous run of producing NFL running back talent and it seems that Gainwell may be the best of the bunch. His 2019 highlights and totals are eye popping: 231 carries for 1,459 yards and 13 TDs combined with 51 receptions for 601 receiving yards and 3 receiving TDs. Gainwell is an excellent receiver and can accelerate into the secondary in a blink. He should test well which may quiet concerns about him being a one-year wonder. Kylin Hill has been on the cusp of breaking out for awhile now. His production crescendoed in 2019 as a junior when he put up a 1,350-10 season. Hill opted out after an injury in 2020 so we didn’t get to see much of him and will be relying on that 2019 tape to evaluate him. For whatever reason I never studied Kylin Hill closely so I need to fix that ASAP. Chuba Hubbard did play in 2020 and it’s likely that his average performance will cost him in terms of draft capital. Before the season I had predicted that Hubbard, a solid all-round back who can run with nuance, would be in the 1.01 conversation. He’s probably still a first round rookie pick but in terms of NFL value he may be better off returning for another season. Zamir White just can’t catch a break. The kid earned a near-perfect score as a recruit from 247Sports but endured back-to-back ACL tears which delayed the beginning of his college career. He contributed late in the 2019 season and was expected to star in 2020. He led the Bulldogs with 779-11 rushing but the season was off-kilter from the start between covid and a revolving door in the quarterback room. White will be a coveted early down runner at the next level whenever he decides to leave Athens.

Regular Season Risers

  • Michael Carter

  • Khalil Herbert

  • Jaret Patterson

The three backs I slotted here helped their NFL Draft stock immensely with their production in 2020 (ironically they are all also almost the exact same size at 5090/200). They may have started the season as being on the fringe of being draftable but now it’s possible they may have elevated themselves over some of the better-known names below. Let’s not fall too hard for recency bias though, these players will need to prove it throughout the pre-draft process as well. Michael Carter was the second head in the two-headed monster that was UNC’s rushing attack this season. In addition to 1,245-9 on the ground, Carter added 25-267-2 as a receiver (keep in mind that is in just eleven games). At 5080/199 he has a low center of gravity, and thick tree trunk-like legs, that make him a tough tackle. Carter has experience as a kick returner so I can easily see him earning a roster spot on special teams in training camp and then working his way into the offense. Admittedly, I have a blind spot for Khalil Herbert and am including him here based on his 2020 stats (1,183-8) and highlights (a very direct runner with 4.40 top end speed). Until I have a chance to study him further take Herbert’s placement with a grain of salt. The MAC played a six game season in 2020 so you’d think that Jaret Patterson didn’t have much time to wow amateur scouts like myself. You’d be wrong because he made the most of those opportunities. In mid-November he had back-to-back games with 301-4 and 409-8. That’s incredible, regardless of what level you’re playing at. Patterson led the MAC’s second-best running back, his teammate Kevin Marks, by a whopping 331 yards. His success was no fluke either: Patterson has fifteen career games with 100+ rushing yards. Patterson is small-ish, probably smaller than he’s listed, but he finds a way to get it done. A high draft pick and instant fantasy relevance may elude Patterson but I’m not going to bet against a guy who showed he can be a wildly productive high-volume running back.

Riddle-Wrapped Enigmas

  • Journey Brown

  • Jermar Jefferson

  • Trey Sermon

  • Stephen Carr

Journey Brown opted out of the 2020 season, a decision surely motivated by the 2021 NFL Draft. As a sophomore in 2019, Brown excelled down the stretch when he was the lead runner. In those last five games he averaged 118 yards per game and scored 9 TDs. Brown ticks a lot of boxes — ideal measurables at 5110/217, 4.40 speed, sublime contact balance — but he has just one game in his career where he handled 20+ carries and only three with 15+ carries. Brown has talent but I’m wary to project him too high in my rankings. After his 1,380 yard freshman season I assumed we would be talking highly of Jermar Jefferson in 2021 but an injury plagued sophomore season slowed his progress. His 6.5 yards per carry in 2020 was his best yet so maybe I should be feeling more bullish on his future fantasy value. Jefferson is a balanced back who has above average speed, elusiveness, power and balance. I wrote about Trey Sermon heading into the championship game and was looking forward to a big game to cement his rising draft stock. Sadly he got hurt on his first carry of the game and didn’t return. I still think Sermon’s slashing running style will find a home in the NFL. Oh, Stephen Carr. I gushed about this guy way back in 2017 when he was a highly touted true freshman but injuries and ineffectiveness limited his touches in the intervening years. He popped up with two scores in the Trojans’ first two games in 2020 and then had just 24 carries in the last four games. I refuse to give up on him, even if USC has.

Pass Catching Playmakers

  • Max Borghi

  • Deon Jackson

  • Isaih Pacheco

Heading into the 2020 season I was very excited about Max Borghi. I thought he could be the NFL’s next great pass catching back because he has the ability to stretch the defense horizontally before punishing would-be tacklers when he turns upfield. Unfortunately a back injury sidelined him for all but one game so it seems unlikely he makes the jump for 2021. Deon Jackson is my current pick for the out-of-nowhere fantasy relevant rookie running back in 2021. He was an unheralded 3-star recruit back in 2016 and averaged just 4.3 yards per carry in his career on some middling Duke teams. When I watched him for my Week 7 preview, I noted that he is patient but decisive. I saw fantastic skills as a receiver and saw him trusted in pass protection. I’ll be following Jackson closely in the pre-draft process to see if he starts to earn any plaudits from draft pundits. I root hard for my hometown Rutgers Scarlet Knights (although the Michigan Wolverines were my first love) so it’s exciting to finally highlight one of my favorite “choppers.” Isaih [sic] Pacheco has super lateral quickness and deploys a deadly horizontal cut at the line of scrimmage that sets him up for big runs off the edge. He’s a plus receiver and I think he’ll test well athletically. Unfortunately there’s literally zero cut-ups out there for Pacheco so I’m going off memory here and can’t wait for him to receive some well deserved exposure.

Spacey Satellites

  • Javian Hawkins

  • Pooka Williams

Hawkins and Williams are both smaller prospects who are likely to be seen as “space” players at the pro level. Both players feature blazing speed and quickness. Hawkins, listed at 5090/196, runs with a ferociousness that belies his frame. I doubt he himself is convinced he can’t be between-the-tackles runner in the NFL. I watched Hawkins against Miami back in September and was impressed with how he ran against the 17th ranked ‘Canes. Hawkins, whose nickname is Playstation because of his video game-like moves, had a career-high 16 receptions in 2020 and will need to continue to develop as a receiver as that’s likely to be a part of his role in the NFL. Pooka Williams, 5100/170, isn’t afraid of a little contact either but his game is predicated on his impressive ability to stop and change direction on a dime. He’s also an angle buster when he breaks through the second level which makes it even harder for safeties and corners to catch him. Williams played in just four games this season before opting out for family reasons; those four performances were lackluster and didn’t help his draft stock if I’m being honest. He also has a domestic violence arrest in his past so Williams comes with baggage that teams will need to unpack. I think Williams may be best served by returning to Kansas and reminding us once again why we loved watching him.

Undervalued, Underdrafted

  • Keaontay Ingram

  • Brian Robinson

  • Larry Rountree

  • CJ Verdell

The four players in this tier are Power 5 guys who I feel may be undervalued right now, and as such, will be underdrafted when it comes to your 2021 rookie drafts. Keaontay Ingram was a big cog in the Longhorns’ offense in his first two seasons on campus, coming in as a heralded 4-star recruit. Unfortunately, an ankle injury cut his 2020 season short. Ingram runs with a suddenness and forward pad lean that I think will translate to the pros. He also has excellent hands out of the backfield. If Brian Robinson were on any other team than Alabama he’d probably be an All-Conference player and find himself high atop these rankings. I’ve highlighted him a few times on The Watch List, always waiting for his breakout that never quite came. Robinson has great size at 6000/226 and I have previously noted that he runs with vision. I’ll take an educated guess that more than one team will see him as ready-made for the NFL. Perhaps most undervalued on this list is Larry Rountree. He was the main reason that recent iterations of the Mizzou Tigers weren’t even more irrelevant in the SEC. Rountree is trending upward at just the right time: in 2020 he increased his per-touch numbers, and set a career-high for both rushing touchdowns (14) and receptions (15). Rountree may not be a sexy name but to me he looks like the type of back who can stick around. I watched CJ Verdell’s opening match against Stanford this year and was impressed with his brute force running style. His signature play from the game, and the one sure to feature on his NFL Draft coverage, is a bone crunching hit he delivers to two Cardinals at the goal line to force his way in for the points. He caught two balls in that game and I thought he should have been featured more as a receiver (he did have 27 receptions as a frosh). I’m not sure that Verdell has reached his potential yet and that’s saying something for somebody who has two 1,000 yard campaigns under his belt.

Short Yardage Specialists

  • Rakeem Boyd

  • Stevie Scott

  • Master Teague

These three backs were difficult for me to place in my running back hierarchy. It’s not that these guys didn’t catch any passes in college — Boyd and Scott each have a 20+ reception season in their past — it’s that I feel their future role will be limited to a situational runner. They may get drafted above some of the aforementioned players but in terms of fantasy value they will be lacking. Vulturing some touchdowns is nice but touchdowns are difficult to predict and as such I would often lean towards a player with a better chance at reliable touches. Stevie Scott is the biggest of the bunch here (6020/231) but is likely the most limited of the trio. I liked what I saw of Boyd when I did a quick study of him early in the season, however he struggled for much of 2020. I coined a phrase to describe him: a wallop-gallop runner. I didn’t watch the season on which he was featured but he was a star on Last Chance U if you’re interested in seeing some of his back story.  I think Teague has the most natural talent of these later round options and has a chance to transcend a situational role. He has a small-ish sample size and has dealt with a number of serious injuries throughout his career (concussion, Achilles, foot) so I would actually expect him to return to Ohio State for his senior season and hopefully put together a full season.

Small School Sleepers

  • Spencer Brown

  • Brenden Knox

  • Elijah Mitchell

  • Trey Ragas

My “Small School Sleepers” would usually include some solid FCS players to watch, however we largely missed out on an FCS season. Side note: doesn’t it feel like those early season games featuring teams like Central Arkansas and Campbell were played three years ago? 24 of the 26 players featured above are all Power 5 prospects so I figured this was the spot to share some Group of Five love. Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell were mainstays for the Ragin’ Cajuns for the last four years. Ragas accumulated 4,001 career yards from scrimmage and 43 touchdowns; meanwhile Mitchell totaled 3,864 and 46. That’s a hell of a duo. Ragas and Mitchell popped up on The Watch List back in 2018 and 2019 but I have not recently watched them so they deserve some closer attention this offseason. Spencer Brown dazzled as a true freshman but fell out of favor with #DraftTwitter after a lackluster junior season. In a shortened 2020 senior season he put up good totals — 10 TDs, six games with 100+ yards — but I recall that he looked pedestrian for the most part in his showcase game against Miami. I’m not sure that Brown has NFL-level ability when it comes to power, speed or receiving but there’s something to be said for dur-ability and avail-ability. Way back in 2018 and 2019 I had said that Brown could be “a star in the making” and surmised that he could “find a role in the NFL as an early down runner.” I may have missed the mark there but I have a soft spot for Brown and hope he gets a shot in the NFL. Brenden Knox always makes me question my spell checker — that’s two Es and no As please. Knox capitalized on the increased attention at the beginning of the season when most of the Power 5 was still idle, averaging 112 yards per game and scoring nine times in his first six games. I see a back with the jump and the juice to get the edge and the power to move the pile. As a junior with two more years of eligibility we may not see him hit the draft in 2021 but he’s somebody we should study closely when he does.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: The Battle for 1.01

Updated: July 15th 2020

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

Will we or won’t we? It’s too soon to know whether we’ll have a college football season in the Fall or how it will impact the pre-draft process for 2021 prospects. I’ve held off on writing and research the last few weeks — honestly, it was hard to find inspiration with so many question marks — but I’m back at it today bringing you three players I think have a chance at being the 1.01 in 2021 rookie drafts. In my opinion, the three players that have distanced themselves from the field at this point are RB Travis Etienne, RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Ja’marr Chase. (WR Rondale Moore of Purdue may be in the conversation as well but he’s coming off a season-ending injury and I’ve already written about him this offseason.) This potential three-man race is reminding me of 2017 when we had to decide between Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and Corey Davis at the top of rookie drafts. I personally ranked them Fournette, Davis and McCaffrey but I recall many analysts had Davis leading their lists. McCaffrey, as we know with the benefit of hindsight, was the best selection but at the time he was atop fewer rankings than Fournette or Davis. The 2021 top tier, featuring two running backs and one wide receiver, looks to be an equally tough race to handicap. (Note: I sorted these three alphabetically, I’m not yet ready to put them in order!)

 

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

  • Measurables: 6010/200
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 23 receptions, 313 rec yards, 13.6 ypr, 3 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 84 receptions, 1,780 rec yards, 21.2 ypr, 20 rec TDs

In the English language we lack a superlative to describe just how truly prolific the LSU passing offense was in 2019. Quarterback Joe Burrow’s 60 passing touchdown mark may not be broken any time soon but what really caught my eye was that the Tigers had two players pacing the country in receiving touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase led the nation with 20 while teammate Justin Jefferson had 18. Chase also led the FBS in receiving yards (1,780), won the Fred Biletnikoff Award and was named a consensus All-American. What a season! Can Chase match his output on a reloading LSU offense?

I watched three videos of Chase to get a good barometer of his game: games against Alabama and Auburn and a season-long highlight package. I was impressed with Chase’s ability to help keep a play alive while his quarterback looks for an open receiver. I’d bet the average length of play on Chase’s targets was the longest in the country. When he is targeted, Chase uses his short-area quickness and leaping ability to find slivers of space. He adjusts well to the ball when it’s in the air and loves coming back to the ball to make the grab. His hands appear to be sticky and strong, with most catches secured away from his body. I was surprised with how physical Chase was on certain plays. This completion against Auburn shows Chase fighting with the corner all the way across the field. Burrow places the ball well, but Chase did well to get enough separation to make the play possible.

Chase also showed his physicality on this play later in the Auburn game. He takes his route outside along the boundary and leans on the corner. The leverage gives him enough space to create a one-handed, over-the-shoulder masterpiece.

I did notice, however, that Chase was not consistently willing to engage in plays that weren’t going his way. I saw a few half-hearted attempts at blocks or decoy routes. The worst example was on a key play late in a one possession game against Alabama. Chase completely blew off his blocking assignment on a play that appeared designed to run to his side. His running back still converted the score but I want to see my top receiver trying to dominate his defender with the game on the line.

As I watched Chase, I vacillated on my opinion. His highlights are eye-popping, I think he’ll be a versatile slot receiver in the NFL, but there were moments where I wanted more from him. He is still young and it’s clear he is a talented player so I don’t want to be too critical in my evaluation. Chase has the upside of a first round pick and another Biletnikoff-winning season will put him in contention for the 1.01.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

  • Measurables: 5100/210
  • 2017 Stats: 13 games, 107 carries, 766 rush yards, 7.2 ypc, 13 rush TDs; 5 receptions, 57 rec yards, 11.4 ypr, 0 rec TDs; 19 kick returns, 20.5 ypr
  • 2018 Stats: 15 games, 204 carries, 1,658 rush yards, 8.1 ypc, 24 rush TDs; 12 receptions, 78 rec yards, 6.5 ypr, 2 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 15 games, 207 carries, 1,614 rush yards, 7.8 ypc, 19 rush TDs; 37 receptions, 432 rec yards, 11.7 ypr, 4 rec TDs

Travis Etienne is my favorite player in the college game at the moment. I started writing about him back in September 2017 and here we are nearly three years later. In last year’s ACC preview, I started Etienne’s writeup by saying, “Travis Etienne may hold the record for the player I have written about the most in my The Watch List series.” Well, here we are again! Since I last wrote about Etienne, all he did was lead the ACC in rushing again and win his second ACC Player of the Year award. Etienne is no one-hit wonder either: he led the NCAA in touchdowns from scrimmage in 2018. He already owns the record for most rushing touchdowns in modern ACC history and should put that record out of reach in 2020.

Any sports fan with a pulse has seen Etienne crushing defenses the last three years as Clemson rose to the top of the totem pole. I’ll keep it simple… Etienne is a long strider with breakaway speed, he is surprisingly difficult to bring down because he combines power and balance, and he has become a reliable receiver. To help illustrate the strengths of Etienne’s game, I picked out three of my favorite plays from late in the 2019 season. In this play against Virginia in the ACC Championship Game, you see Etienne read his off-tackle cut before setting his sights on the end zone. He fends off two leg tackles and then stiff arms the safety for five yards, making it impossible for the defender to get his hands on him to bring him down.

Etienne played a key role against Ohio State in the semi-finals, scoring three touchdowns. The first points for the Tigers came on this option play that was doomed after the pitch. Etienne is twelve yards from the goal line with two defenders in his face. He stretches the defense towards the sideline, hand fights with the defender, and somehow finds a way through the crowd to the promised land. As Etienne scores there are eight Buckeyes in the frame who all had a chance to bring him down at some point. This play, along with the one against Virginia, show Etienne’s strength and balance, as well as his determination to succeed.

His second receiving touchdown of the Ohio State game shows his evolution as a pass catcher and I’ll bet it was a play they held onto for a key situation. The linebackers cheat up which lets Etienne sneak behind them. QB Trevor Lawrence delivers a Tebow-esque jump pass over the line of scrimmage which Etienne hands-catches as he spins upfield and accelerates. His movement is so fluid in that moment that I found myself rewinding repeatedly to watch it again. The linebacker was just a yard away when Etienne caught the pass but he had no hope of tackling him in the open field. Two defensive backs do get to Etienne but neither could bring him down before the touchdown. The cherry on top? It was the go-ahead score that put Clemson into the national championship game.

I’ll be rooting for Etienne in 2020 and hope he can end his Clemson career on a high note. He’s my pick to be the top running back on NFL draft boards in 2021 and deserves strong 1.01 consideration for rookie drafts.

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

  • Measurables: 6010/207
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 124 carries, 740 rush yards, 6.0ypc, 7 rush TDs; 22 receptions, 229 rec yards, 10.4 ypr, 2 rec TDs; 23 kick returns, 22.2 ypr
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 328 carries, 2,094 rush yards, 6.4 ypc, 21 rush TDs; 23 receptions, 198 rec yards, 8.6 ypr, 0 rec TDs

When I wrote about Chuba Hubbard in early September 2019, I suggested that “it’s not crazy to think that Hubbard will be leading the FBS in rushing at the end of September.” Not only did Hubbard dominate in September, he had continued success the rest of the year too and finished as the leading rusher in the nation. He also led the way in rushing attempts and touchdowns too so it should be no surprise that he was a consensus All-American and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Since he was just a sophomore and not draft eligible, I didn’t watch Hubbard too closely after the beginning of the season. However, I did want to share one observation I made at the time about the “nuance” that Hubbard runs with. The play I was referring to was a touchdown scamper against Oregon State. “The replay angle allows you to better see the play develop. He stretches the defense horizontally as he awaits the pitch. Once he secures the ball he gets upfield and uses a nearly imperceptible hesitation move to get around his engaged blocker.” I forgot all about that play but fell in love with it again once I revisited it.

Hubbard is a high-volume running back who had a combined 57 carries in the two games I watched (Texas and TCU from 2019). He is a balanced runner who shows some pop and some speed but lacks elite power or quickness. Hubbard shines when he is able to run north-south rather than east-west. Instead of trying to stretch the defense, Hubbard excels when he’s able to keep his pads parallel to the line of scrimmage and use his vision and patience to find the best crease. That patience can turn into indecisiveness at times but it’s usually a positive rather than a negative. Against Texas I noted a number of good blocks in pass protection which is a great skill for a young running back to have already.

This run against Texas was a good example of Hubbard’s ceiling. He takes the handoff at the twenty and strings the play along, continuing towards the sideline with no clear running lanes. As a defender fights off a block, Hubbard needs to decide whether he should try to cut it inside or continue to the outside. He sees his receivers have their blocks sealed so he has a shot at the end zone from the outside. He shrugs off a weak arm-tackle attempt, slows his momentum to stay in bounds, keeps his balance, and uses his body to protect the ball as he absorbs a hit at the goal line.

Hubbard may not have the explosiveness that Etienne has but he still has long speed, which you can see on this play against TCU. Hubbard gets the ball at about the five yard line and has his choice of two huge off-center holes. He takes the left side, runs past two potential tacklers and then outruns three guys trying to catch him. It was the first of two important second half touchdowns against the Horned Frogs.

I sure hope we have football in 2020 so I can watch Hubbard’s game evolve. All-round backs who can block are always going to be in demand in the NFL and from what I’ve seen so far he has the potential to be a top draft pick if he comes out in 2021.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 Week 2 Preview

Updated: September 5th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

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

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

Games to Watch

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

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

Players to Watch

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

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

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

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

 

Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest

 

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

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

Overall it was a great showing for Surratt to start the 2019 season.  I’ve added Surratt to my watch list for the 2020 class and you should too.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When studying a player I rely on game film “cuts” which are most frequently found on Youtube. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels.  Keep in mind these highlight reels are the best plays of that player. When I have the option, I will choose to watch a game versus the better defense. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2020 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

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