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 Big Ten Preview

Updated: September 4th 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:  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin. My top Heisman pick is usually the conference’s top dual-threat quarterback but without a dominant one in the Big Ten, I am going with the machine that is Taylor. As a true freshman, Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 TDs, numbers he’ll surely beat this year behind a dominant Badger line. Taylor finished 6th in Heisman voting last year so it’s a good bet that he moves closer to the prize this year.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State.  The more likely quarterback candidate is McSorley but you’ll get far better odds on Haskins.  Haskins won the job in the Spring and has a lot to prove while taking over for long-time leader JT Barrett. He’s not the rushing threat that Barrett was but he has a bigger arm. A season with 3,500 total yards and 30 total TDs may be asking a lot for a new starter but it’d be enough to put Haskins on a few Heisman ballots if the Buckeyes make the CFP.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin. It’s impossible for me to pick anybody else here. Taylor will lead the conference in scrimmage yards and scores so let’s not get cute.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State. I went with the chalk pick for Offensive Player of the Year but I’m skipping the skilled pass rushers for this one. Instead, I am going with do-everything linebacker Joe Bachie from Michigan State. He won’t be a sexy name for draftniks but he was undeniably productive in his first full season as a Spartan. He totaled 100 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan. It’s rare for somebody of Patterson’s caliber to transfer and to be immediately eligible so it was a big story all offseason long. Patterson is a former 5-star recruit who was the top ranked pro-style quarterback in his class according to 247Sports.com. He’s a few years older now, and coming off a knee injury, but Michigan fans are optimistic because that position has struggled under coach Jim Harbaugh.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State.  Dobbins pulled a Wally Pipp and stole the Buckeyes starting role from Mike Weber while Weber was slowed by injury.  Heading into the opener, the running back situation was unclear but Dobbins clarified things real quick with 29 carries and 181 yards.  He wouldn’t surpass 18 carries again but he still produced, finishing with 1,403 yards and 7 TDs.  He also added 22 receptions.  To my eye, Dobbins looks smaller than his listed 5010/214 frame but he proved he can be durable and run with power.  The 2020 running back class is looking historic with players like Dobbins, Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor and AJ Dillon.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Tracy McSorley and Juwan Johnson, Penn State. Considering what Penn State lost to the NFL this season, it’s amazing I even considered them for this spot. McSorley has lost 164 receptions, 2,052 yards and 21 TDs in the departing trio of WR Daesean Hamilton, TE Mike Gesicki and RB Saquon Barkley. McSorley is still going to sling it and I expect junior Juwan Johnson to be the beneficiary. Johnson was overshadowed last season but still grabbed 53 balls for 701 yards and a score. He’ll be the team’s leading receiver in 2018 and forms a strong battery with McSorley. (Honorable mention: Brian Lewerke and Felton Davis from Michigan State)
  • Best RB Corps:  Ohio State. The combination of JK Dobbins and Mike Weber paced the conference in rushing last year (with the help of QB JT Barrett). Ohio State ran the ball very well, averaging 243.4 yards per game, the league best. For comparison, Wisconsin averaged 223.2 and was the only other team above 200; Minnesota, who ranked third, was more than 60 yards worse than Ohio State. 2,500 combined scrimmage yards and 20 TDs for Dobbins and Weber is not as crazy as it sounds.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. It would be easy to go with Urban Meyer here but too much digital ink has already been spilled on that situation. Instead, I think the hottest seat belongs to Harbaugh. I don’t think there’s any way UM would fire him but instead I can foresee a situation where he “resigns” after a disappointing season. Harbaugh was supposed to be a savior, and while he has improved things post Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, Michigan still feels second-class to Ohio State. The only Ws that matter for coaches of the Wolverines are national championship wins and Ohio State wins; Harbaugh doesn’t have either. I doubt Michigan contends for the playoff so it’ll come down to The Game.

Teams to Watch

 Penn State (11-2 in 2017)

I know, I’m crazy. Penn State finished the regular season at 10-2 last year and won the Fiesta Bowl over Washington. You’ll struggle to find a college football fan who would take the over on those ten regular season wins but I would consider taking the bet. There’s no doubt the Nittany Lions have lost a lot (see above) but sometimes in college football it comes down to has the best quarterback. I don’t think McSorley is the best pro prospect of the conference but he’ll be the most productive and that’s what matters right now. When I picked the winner of every game this preseason (yes, every game) I unexpectedly landed on Penn State at 11-1. When I laid out the CFP with my predicted results, I landed on Penn State beating Oklahoma in the semi-final and losing to Alabama in the championship. This is me calling my shot, don’t @ me if I’m wrong!

 Iowa (8-5 in 2017)

Iowa is another Big Ten team I predict will improve even after a successful bowl-winning season last year. Iowa made it to eight wins by virtue of their Pinstripe Bowl victory and I think they should set their sights on a bigger bowl now. QB Nate Stanley returns and will improve. His top two targets last season, WR Nick Easley (51-530-4) and TE Noah Fant (30-494-11), are also back for this campaign. It’s a good thing the offense will be strong because, even though the Hawkeyes return eight on defense, they lose their best two in Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson. Iowa has three winnable home non-conference games (Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa) and avoids three of the East’s heavyweights in the cross-over games (they draw Penn State and Maryland, skipping Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State). I think the schedule sets up for a shot at a nine win season.

Players to Watch

Unfortunately, the end of this offseason got away from me a bit so I didn’t end up having the time to do a deep film study of three Big Ten players like I have for the other conferences. Rest assured readers, I have written up a super-sized version of my “honorable mentions” section for you so you can be prepared with the conference’s biggest names. For what it’s worth, the three players I was going to spotlight were McSorley, Davis and Fant. Much of the Big Ten’s top NFL Draft talent resides on the offensive and defensive lines so it will be interesting to see which skill position players flourish this year.  Here are my picks for the top players to watch in the Big Ten this season:

Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan: Head coach Jim Harbaugh has received a pass on some of his recent disappointing seasons because he rarely had great quarterback play. Enter Shea Patterson. Patterson transferred from the sinking ship that was Ole Miss and was granted immediate eligibility. I have not seen enough of Patterson to truly evaluate his NFL prospects but, judging by the rankings on Draft Network, he could be a top ten player at the position in this class. He’s listed at 6020/205 and suffered a torn PCL last year which makes me worry, as a Wolverines fan, that he may not make it through the full season. When Patterson was on the field last season, he was efficient (63.8% completion percentage and 151.5 rating). Michigan fans have high hopes for Patterson and I’m cautiously optimistic but I can’t help but think that backup Brandon Peters is the better option.

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Haskins outlasted Joe Burrow, who transferred to LSU, to win the Buckeyes’ starting gig this season. Haskins may be a familiar name to fans because he subbed in for JT Barrett last season against Michigan. He played well (6-7 for 94 yards and 24 yards rushing) and led Ohio State to a W. Haskins also played in mop-up duty in a few other games and finished the season with a 70.2% completion percentage and a passer rating of 173.1. It’s a small sample size but as a freshman it was enough to feel comfortable with him as the starter heading into 2018.  With all of the negativity surrounding the program recently, it will be fun to root for the new guy in Haskins.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: McSorley has a swagger and confidence that exudes from his pores the second he steps on the field. His four touchdown outing against USC in the 2016 Rose Bowl stands out in my memory because he made both plays and mistakes. Thankfully, McSorley’s accuracy improved in 2017 which was a good sign (57.9% to 66.5%). He’s small at 6000/200 but still runs the ball often.  In 2017 he rushed 144 times for 491 yards and 11 TDs. He’s probably too small and raw to draft high but it’s tough to argue with his intangibles and production. McSorley is somebody on my list to give a thorough viewing this offseason.

LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State: Scott is a player that I won’t own on any of my fantasy teams in 2019. However, he’s going to get drafted because of his 6010/229 size, so he warrants a mention in this preview. Scott earned the most carries and receptions of his career in 2017 but both his rushing and receiving yards decreased. His yards per touch shrunk significantly: from 5.88 to 4.72. A worrying sign was that Scott was a healthy scratch in a game after he returned from injury; he dressed but never saw the field. As I wrote about in December, he has been charged SEVEN times for driving with a suspended license. In a sport where there’s much worse going on, it’s hard to come down on a player for driving with a suspended license but c’mon you need to learn your lesson sooner or later.

Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State: Talk about playing “second fiddle.” Miles Sanders, a former 5-star recruit, backed up the phenom named Saquon Barkley for two years. Over those two seasons, Sanders totaled just 56 carries and 375 yards and 3 scores. In 2018 he finally gets his chance to prove that he can be the lead back. At 5110/209 he could put on a few pounds, which I’m sure he will. Since he played so sparingly there’s a dearth of film out there so I can’t reliably comment on his strengths or weaknesses. If I had to guess I’ll predict that Sanders returns for his senior season but we should pay attention now because I predict the Nittany Lions will have a great season.

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State: As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Weber led the Buckeyes in rushing with 1,096 yards. Expectations were high heading into 2017 but Weber battled injury and lost the RB1 spot to true freshman JK Dobbins. Weber still managed 720 yards on 111 touches and had 10 rushing TDs. His best stretch of the year came against Michigan State and Illinois where he rushed for 270-4. What’s most reassuring about those two big games is that Dobbins played in both so that’s proof that they can co-exist in the offense. With JT Barrett gone and first-year starter Dwayne Haskins taking over, I expect Urban Meyer to lean on his running backs.

Felton Davis, WR, Michigan State: Davis checks in at 6040/195 and looks every bit of that length in highlights. He has the strength and body control you’d hope for from a big target around the sideline. His 55-776-9 led all Spartan receivers in each category. Hopefully QB Brian Lewerke continues to mature in his second season as the starter so both of their NFL Draft stocks improve.

Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana:  Westbrook missed the 2017 season after tearing his ACL on the opening kickoff in last season’s opener against Ohio State.  In 2016 he grabbed 54 balls for 995 yards and 6 TDs as a sophomore.  The Hoosiers lost Simmie Cobbs so there’s a void to fill and Westbrook’s 6030/215 frame can fill it.

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: Fant is on the short list for the top TE spot in 2018 after he had a 30-494-11 line in 2017. He was second on the squad in receptions and yards and first in scores and his connection with junior QB Nate Stanley will only improve now that they both have a full season behind them. His size is a bit of a concern because he’s listed at 6050/241; for comparison, Evan Engram was 6030/234 at his combine. Since he’s undersized it remains to be seen how Fant will hold up at the end of an NFL line of scrimmage. Even if he fails to prove his worth as a blocker, Fant should factor in as a second or third round rookie for fantasy purposes next year if he comes out.

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Bosa is one of those college prospects that feels like he’s been on my NFL Draft radar forever. It’s been a long first two years for Bosa but he’s finally draft eligible and I’m not sure there’s another underclassmen who is as much of a lock to turn pro as he. Bosa, as you may have guessed, is the younger brother of San Diego Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa. Bosa the younger plays a similar game to that of his brother and has a career total of 63 tackles, 23.0 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Since he’s played on such dominant defenses and receives so much attention those good-not-great stats belie his true impact. Look for Bosa to be in the conversation for the first overall pick next year.

Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan: Gary’s draft stock seems to be fluctuating in recent months but I bet come April he’s near the top of DT rankings again. Gary totaled 58 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017 as a sophomore. Reportedly, he ran a 4.57 40 yard dash last year which would be incredible if true; the fastest 40 yard dash at the 2018 combine by anybody 280+ was 4.75. Gary’s combination of size and speed that makes it tough to categorize him as either a DT or DE and I expect that’s why some have hesitated in their evaluation. At 280lbs he doesn’t have prototypical tackle size but his speed and pass rushing is that of an end. I expect him to start his NFL career switching between the two, playing outside on run downs and inside on pass downs.


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

The Watch List: Week 8

Updated: October 19th 2017

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

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Penn State and Saquon Barkley were off so no change to his Heisman hopes, he’s my top choice.  The other RB in the running is Stanford’s Bryce Love who just keeps on producing with another 148 yards and 2 TDs against Oregon.  The bad news is that Love injured his ankle; the good news is they are off again and he has until October 26 to heal.  Lamar Jackson is still tremendous (especially on the ground where he added 180 yards and 3 TDs) but the Cardinals are not a good team so he’s likely out of the Heisman running.  I’ll bet that Jackson will be on every ballot this year, a nod to his win last year, but he shouldn’t win if Louisville keeps playing so poorly.  Sam Darnold and Mason Rudolph are still the other two front runners.  Darnold was inefficient but didn’t throw any picks which is a nice change; Rudolph lit up a poor Baylor defense for 459 yards and 3 TDs on just 19 completions.
  • Topsy Turvy Top 25:  Four Top 10 teams lost this past weekend so there is some turnover this week.  Those losses went to #2 Clemson, #5 Washington, #8 Washington State and #10 Auburn.  Clemson fell to #7 while the others fell out of the Top 10.  Meanwhile, #8 Miami, #9 Oklahoma and #10 Oklahoma State all move into playoff consideration.  Miami is undefeated but I think an inferior team to both Oklahoma teams (not to mention they lost starting RB Mark Walton for the season).  The losses last week make it likely that we’ll see two SEC teams in the final four.  Even after one of Georgia or Alabama loses to the other in the SEC Championship, the loss will be to such a superior team to the likes of TCU that the committee will have to put them both in.
  • Bowl Projections:  I am working on a full bowl projection piece but here’s a bit of a preview of some of my favorite make-believe matchups.  Check back later this week for the full slate of my bowl projections and then check back after the regular season to read my previews for all of the real bowl matchups.
    • Sun Bowl, UCLA vs Florida State: Before they both head to the NFL it would be fun to see top QB prospect Josh Rosen face off against top S prospect Derwin James.
    • TaxSlayer Bowl, LSU vs Michigan: Could be the most entertaining 9-6 game ever televised.  The game would feature two standout DL prospects in LSU’s Arden Key and Michigan’s Rashan Gary.  Who knew keeping your eye off the ball could be fun.
    • Cotton Bowl, South Florida vs Oklahoma State:  If the over was 100, I would take the over.  My god would this one be incredible to watch although it would probably last about five hours.

Players to Watch

  • Will Grier, QB, West Virginia:  A number of my draft/scouting Twitter follows have been talking about Will Grier lately so I figured it was time to look more closely since I knew the name but not much about the prospect. Grier has an interesting back story. He started at Florida where he started six games as a freshman but was then suspended for a failed drug test for a performance enhancing drug. Grier claims he took an over-the-counter supplement that had a banned substance in it but denies doing anything wrong willfully. I’m not sure if I believe him but it doesn’t really matter. Grier transferred to West Virginia and was cleared to start the 2017 season by the NCAA after they determined that the season he sat out as a transfer could count towards his season-long PED suspension. So, where does Grier find himself now that he is in Morgantown? How about atop the NCAA passing ranks. Grier has 21 passing TDs which paces the country and is 9th in yards (2,092). Grier’s completion percentage (65.6% vs 65.7%) and TD:INT ratio (10:3 vs 21:5) have stayed consistent between his starts in 2015 and 2017 so the time off did not cause any lingering effect. What has changed is that his yards per attempt is up to 9.1 from 7.5. Extrapolated out for a full 2017 season, that higher YPA would be worth an extra 800 yards. After looking closely at Grier’s stats, I question his “clutch” ability. When it matters most, in the 4th quarter and on 3rd down, Grier’s completion percentage takes a huge dip to less than 55%. His efficiency is buoyed by what he does on 1st down (71.2%, 11 TDs) rather than what he does afterwards (61% and 10 TDs for 2nd-4th down). I have not watched much film of Grier except for some highlight reels and a DraftBreakdown.com film of Grier against Virginia Tech.  After watching Grier’s tape, I have some concern about his mechanics and need to see more.  Something is wonky about his short throws to the left that looks like he’s almost shot-putting the ball; throws to the center and right look more natural.  File this under possibly related, I only counted two deep throws to the left, both inaccurate and incomplete, whereas many more were thrown deep down the middle or to the right.  Maybe it was coverage or personnel or maybe he’s less confident throwing left.  That’s purely a guess based off 12 minutes of tape so take it with a huge grain of salt.  There were also a number of throws off balance or off his back foot, some of which actually were completed.  He’s fast enough to be a rushing threat and kept the ball on a number of zone read plays.  Per ESPN’s recruiting service he ran a 4.73 as a recruit so I would expect him to now be in the 4.65-4.70 range (Trubisky was 4.67). As far as his size, Grier is below average at 6’2″ and 204lb (Mitch Trubisky was the same height but 18lb heavier last year).  There’s definitely some things to like about Grier but I am not ready to add him to my top 2018 QB prospect list. He would benefit from another season at WVU where he can get more time in the weight room and prove that the PED suspension was a fluke. If Grier does come out, I would expect him to be a late Day 3 prospect and off the board in RSO leagues.
  • Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss:  As a proud owner of both Kareem Hunt and Tarik Cohen in three of my six leagues, I wanted to try and identify next season’s small school back who surprises in September. I’m not predicting he will have the pro premiere that either Hunt or Cohen did, but Ito Smith would get my vote if I had to pick somebody right now. Smith is a senior and has played a big role since late in his freshman season. Smith has played in 44 games so far in his career which means he has a ton of experience, few injury concerns and is durable despite his size. In 2015, Smith ran 171 times for 1,128 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 49 receptions, 515 receiving yards and 3 TDs. In 2016 his rushing line was 265-1459-17 while he added 43-459-2 receiving. Smith’s 2017 numbers are on pace to match or surpass 2016 (118-733-7, 21-192-0). I know, that’s a lot of numbers to digest. Let’s just summarize the above section to say that Ito Smith has been supremely productive. The two biggest positives for me are 1) his receiving ability and 2) the 250+ attempts he had last season and is on pace for this season. Given Smith’s measurables and pass catching prowess he likely projects as a passing down back. What will increase his draft stock is his ability to play every down, illustrated by the number of touches he racks up on a bad Southern Miss team. Film of Smith from 2017 is not yet available on DraftBreakdown.com so I watched some 2016 tape instead. In my short study, I would say that he is patient, has enough speed to get to the edge (but not elite speed, maybe 4.50) and is an average to below average blocker. I couldn’t put my finger on who he reminded me of visually but he is thick and stout below the waist.  Like Grier, Smith looks to be a Day 3 or UDFA NFL prospect and could find a home on some deeper league RSO teams a la Tarik Cohen or Matt Breida depending on team depth chart.

Games to Watch

  •  #25 Memphis @ Houston, Thursday 8:00pm on ESPN:  Two NFL prospects will be on display in Memphis WR Anthony Miller and Houston DT Ed Oliver.  Oliver is just a sophomore and is enduring a bit of a sophomore slump this season (just 0.5 sacks but 36 tackles).  Meanwhile, Miller has been playing incredibly over the last two weeks (25 receptions, 314 yards and 6 TDs).
  • Maryland @ #5 Wisconsin, Saturday 12:00pm on FOX:  Penn State has a tough conference game this week while Wisconsin gets an easier opponent so it’s very important for the Badgers to hold serve here.  A loss, even a close one, to Maryland in a week where two of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State will win could be devastating to their CFP hopes.  After Maryland, Wisconsin has Illinois and Indiana so they can cement their Top 5 spot over the rest of the month before the stretch run.
  • #10 Oklahoma State @ Texas, Saturday 12:00pm on ABC:  I have written a lot about these two teams so I won’t go into much detail other than to say you know who to keep your eyes on: Mason Rudolph and James Washington.  Texas may have found their QB in Sam Ehlinger.  He now has 658 total yards in the last two contests against Kansas State and Oklahoma, neither of which are push overs.  Ehlinger is a true freshman so he won’t be draft eligible for awhile, but a name to monitor.
  • #19 Michigan @ #2 Penn State, Saturday 7:30pm on ABC:  The UM offense has been terrible, even with John O’Korn pressed into service.  The Wolverines are 79th and 89th in points and yards respectively.  Penn State has no such issues on offense with superstar RB Saquon Barkley and the oft-forgotten senior QB Trace McSorley.  McSorley quietly is having a better, more efficient season than last.  He has a 67% completion percentage which is ten points higher than 2016 and his TD:INT ratio is very good 13:4.  He has also added four rushing scores.  This will be a close rivalry game but give the nod to the home team Nittany Lions.
  • #11 USC @ #13 Notre Dame, Saturday 7:30pm on NBC:  My, oh my, will it feel like a throwback night of football with two simultaneous games featuring four of the all-time winningest programs in Division 1 history.  USC and Notre Dame won’t have as much CFP implication since I think both teams are out of the picture, but it will be a great game and a scout’s dream.  The usual suspects who we have covered in this space will be present: Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones and Equanimeous St. Brown to name a few.  Keep an eye on some other draftable names too: Josh Adams and Deontay Burnett.  Adams has 776 yards and 5 TDs despite being pulled from some lopsided wins; he is averaging a crazy 9.0 yards per carry to truly illustrate his dominance.  Burnett is slight of frame but looms large for the Trojan offense.  Burnett is a first down machine: 29 of 49 receptions have gone for a first down, while all 7 of his third down receptions have converted.

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

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

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

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