The Watch List: 2018 Week 5 Preview

Updated: September 26th 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

  • Syracuse at #3 Clemson, 12:00pm on ABC: Well, it looks like this one will be the battle for the ACC Atlantic. The Orangemen beat the Tigers 27-24 last season so Clemson will be looking for blood in this rematch. Clemson just announced that Trevor Lawrence will be taking over as the full-time signal caller so either coach Dabo Swinney is overlooking Syracuse or he’s so worried about them that he’s abandoning his QBBC strategy.
  • #12 West Virginia at #25 Texas Tech, 12:00pm on ESPN2: This matchup showcases the 21st and 5th highest scoring offenses in the country. Combined they average an eye-popping 94.3 points per game. I’ll be watching the trio of towering receivers that will feature in this one: West Virginia’s David Sills (6040; 19-246-5) and Tech’s Antoine Wesley (6050; 30-511-4) and TJ Vasher (6060; 16-273-3). I’m not a huge fan of WVU’s Will Grier but he’s a quarterback name you should know. Expect an entertaining four hour game with a whole lot of points.
  • Baylor at #6 Oklahoma, 3:30pm on ABC: This one is a potential trap game for Oklahoma. They are coming off a harder-than-anticipated victory against Army and have Texas in the Red River Shootout next week. Baylor’s offense isn’t as explosive as years’ past but they do have two NFL hopeful receivers in Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd. Keep an eye on this one just in case it’s close late.
  • #4 Ohio State at #9 Penn State, 7:30pm on ABC: Ohio State and Penn State both won big last week (a combined 82 point margin). They got there differently though, with Ohio State hanging 42 on Tulane in the first half, whereas Penn State poured it on late but let Illinois stay close early. RB Miles Sanders ended with an even 200 yards and 3 scores for PSU. Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins continued his uber efficient season going 21-24 for 304 yards and 5 TDs. Haskins’ TD:INT ratio is now an outstanding 16:1. I can’t pick against Ohio State, even if they are missing their best player (Nick Bosa).
  • #7 Stanford at #8 Notre Dame, 7:30pm on NBC: Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly finally made the decision to start Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush and the decision paid off. Notre Dame beat Wake Forest 56-27 with Book leading the way (325-2-0, plus 43-3 rushing). As far as I have seen there has been no announcement about this week’s starter but it has to be Book. Let’s see how he fairs against a bend-don’t-break Stanford defense that ranks 10th best in points but 56th in yards allowed.
  • #20 BYU at #11 Washington, 7:30pm on FOX: I think Top 25 rankers are setting BYU up for a fall here by putting them at #20. Their scalp of #6 Wisconsin was impressive but the Cougars don’t have a strong enough offense to keep hanging with top Power 5 teams. RB Squally Canada has played well (322-5) but aside from him the offense is struggling. QB Tanner Mangum has just 3 TDs and the team’s leading receiver has just 129 yards (Aleva Hifo). The defense is the stronger unit (they are ranked 25th by points) and features one of my preseason favorites: DE Corbin Kaufusi. Kaufusi has 21 tackles and 2 sacks so far, including six stops in that big Wisconsin game.  Washington’s offense isn’t great either but it’s led by name-brand guys like QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon:  I’ve been listing Herbert as my QB1 for awhile now and nothing I have seen thus far changes that.  If anything, the injury to Duke’s Daniel Jones (my QB2 at the moment) helps cement Herbert atop the ranks.  Herbert was fantastic in regulation against Stanford, completing 25 of 27 attempts.  He totaled 346 passing yards for the game and added 35 yards on 11 rushing tries.  Herbert is as good of a bet for the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft as we have right now.
  • D’Eriq King, QB, Houston: King is an undersized junior (5110/195) who is unlikely to come out as a quarterback but that doesn’t make him any less fun to watch now.  He came into the season as the basis for one of my favorite stats: he was Houston’s leading returner passer (1,260 yards) and receiver (264 yards).  Houston is off this week so he’s a name to file away for next week when he’ll be facing off against Tulsa on the national Thursday night game.  King has 20 total TDs and is being careful with the ball (62.7% completion percentage, just 1 INT).
  • Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State:  I’ve talked a lot about the Ohio State quarterbacks and running backs in my articles this season but I don’t think I have discussed a single pass catcher for the Buckeyes yet.  Campbell’s 8-147-2 line against Tulane caught my eye because he’s rarely been a volume play in this offense (53 career receptions in 25 games before 2018).  Campbell often gets the ball on screens and jet sweeps but I was pleased to see three promising downfield plays against Tulane.  Late in the second quarter he caught a fifteen yard out after which he had the awareness to get his feet down and get out of bounds.  His two touchdown catches were even more telling of his potential.  Both scores required him to track the ball through traffic and concentrate on a bobbling ball to secure it.  Granted, it would have been better to catch it clean but the fact that he was able to adjust and make the play is great.  Campbell is already halfway to last year’s production and has a touchdown in all four games this season.  I’m starting to wonder if Campbell will be somebody we look back at in a few years and regret that we overlooked.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

  • Listed at 5090/200 per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Georgia State 2018, Navy 2018
  • 2017: 12 games, 130 carries, 1,154 rushing yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 9 rushing TDs; 24 receptions, 226 receiving yards, 9.4 yards per reception, 2 receiving TDs
  • 2018: 4 games, 58 carries, 709 rushing yards, 12.2 yards per carry, 8 rushing TDs; 6 receptions, 124 receiving yards, 20.7 yards per reception, 1 receiving TD

The per-touch numbers that Henderson has through four games are just unfathomable.  When you combine his rushes and receptions, Henderson is averaging 13.02 yards per touch.  I haven’t done the math for other running backs but I assure you, nobody else is close to that.  Henderson leads the FBS in yards from scrimmage with 833 (second place Jonathan Taylor has 648).  What’s that you say?  This must be a case of a small sample size giving us fluke results.  Consider this: Henderson averaged 8.9 yards per carry last season, leading all FBS running backs.  Despite all of the statistical superlatives I just rattled off, I knew I had to take a look at Henderson’s film to make sure this wasn’t fool’s gold.

Henderson is listed at 5090 but runs with an upright style.  He’s a downhill runner who runs with good acceleration and momentum.  In this clip you can just feel his momentum.  It’s as if the field is tilted towards the opposing end zone.  The defenders at the end of the run didn’t stand a chance of staying on their feet.

Since he’s not the biggest, Henderson probably won’t project as a goal line or short yardage back at the next level but that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to fight for yardage.  Against Navy he ran right into the pile, kept his legs moving and found space to the outside for the score.

Against Georgia State, Henderson showed that he can use his smaller stature to squeeze through holes that bigger backs couldn’t.  Take a look at this play as a perfect example.  He stutter steps in the backfield, uncertain where to break the run.  He decides to hit a closing hole, slips an arm tackle, hurdles a prone defender and then stiff arms another defender.  After breaking the second tackle he turns on the jets and gains extra yardage.  In addition to getting skinny in the hole, he also showed that he has good contact balance which is a very important trait for running backs.

My favorite play of Henderson’s came in the middle of the third quarter against Navy.  The Tigers were down and needed a big play on a 2nd and 10.  Henderson delivered.  It was a 78 yard touchdown run but Henderson probably ran 120 yards to get to pay dirt.  He starts off tackle left and speeds through the hole.  He senses space to the right, breaks three tackles, patiently waits for downfield blocks and then outruns the entire naval academy.  The run showcases so many of his attributes that I felt it was a perfect way to end this study of him.

It feels odd to say but I think we need to see Henderson fail before we can truly evaluate him.  He’s playing so well right now that there are a dearth of negative plays on his tape.  It’s like you’re always watching a highlight reel.  In version 1.0 of my 2019 mock draft, I had Henderson as my RB13 and that already feels woefully low.  I’ll need to reevaluate my rankings but I don’t want to overreact just yet.  For now, I’ll say that Henderson is likely a top ten back with the potential to leapfrog some Power 5 names like Myles Gaskin and Damien Harris if he keeps up this production.

 


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: Week 7

Updated: October 14th 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:  No player did more for their Heisman chances in Week 6 than Bryce Love.  Love is finally getting some national attention and just when more viewers started paying attention he shined again.  Against Utah, a decent rush defense, Love ran 20 times for 152 yards and a score.  What if I told you that that stat line was Love’s worst of the season?  Strange but true because he’s been that good.  More on Love below so let’s not dive too deep yet.  I thought it was very interesting to see the top ten players as far as current Heisman odds.  I ended up needing to go to the eleventh spot to get to my man crush, Rashaad Penny.  I think Penny is criminally undervalued and would be worth a bet if I were so inclined; meanwhile Jalen Hurts and Jake Browning are at least five spots too high but buoyed because their teams are undefeated and in the Top 5.  Here are the current odds per OddsShark.com:
    1. Saquon Barkley
    2. Baker Mayfield
    3. Bryce Love
    4. Mason Rudolph
    5. Lamar Jackson
    6. Sam Darnold
    7. Luke Falk
    8. JT Barrett
    9. Jalen Hurts
    10. Jake Browning
    11. Rashaad Penny
  • Winter is Coming:  The first College Football Playoff rankings will be released in three weeks.  When I saw that I couldn’t believe it – we are already half way through the season, wow.  I can’t share my thoughts on the actual CFP ranks yet but here is how I would have them:
    1. Clemson – based on resume more so than the eye test.  Clemson has beaten three top teams (#13 Auburn, #14 Louisville, #12 Virginia Tech) and up until this point has the harder schedule between them and Alabama.
    2. Alabama – the Tide may end up being a victim of a weaker SEC and their weak cross-division schedule this season.  There’s no regular season matchup against Florida or Georgia this season and the jewel non-conference win against Florida State is looking less special as the weeks progress.  Alabama will likely have two back-to-back Top 10 games to end the season against Auburn and in the SEC Championship game but by then I think Clemson will be well established as #1.
    3. Georgia – There’s no way the CFP committee would actually have Alabama and Georgia play in the semi-finals since it’s likely a SEC Championship repeat but it would still be awesome to see.  Georgia is a lot of fun to watch and they will challenge Alabama if they both make it to the end undefeated.
    4. TCU – I struggled with putting TCU over Penn State for the last spot.  Ultimately, I went with resume over the eye test again as I did above.  TCU has two Top 25 wins (#6 Oklahoma and #12 West Virginia) while PSU has zero.
    5. Penn State – However, Penn State will have a chance to prove themselves over the next three game stretch.  They are off this weekend but will then face #17 Michigan, #9 Ohio State and #21 Michigan State in successive weeks.
  • Co-Backups in Clemson:  File this under something I have never seen before, Clemson has named Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson as “co-backups” on their updated depth chart.  Hmm.  The reason for the subterfuge is starting quarterback Kelly Bryant’s ankle injury.  Some reports say that he’ll play while others say it is a game time decision.  Who knows.  My gut says that he will not play and Dabo is just playing with Syracuse’s ability to gameplan.  Bryant is also the team’s leading rusher (97 carries, 401 yards, 7 TDs) so having to factor for him is a big deal if all that goes out the window when he is inactive.  If Bryant can’t go, I expect Hunter Johnson to take the lead.  He went 5-5 for 42 yards and a score against Wake Forest when he split relief duties with Cooper.  Johnson is a former 4-star recruit who was #21 in the ESPN300 and was the top quarterback recruit of his class.  The concern is less about Syracuse, I would expect Clemson to win either way, but more about the tougher games against North Carolina State and Florida State coming later in the month.

Players to Watch

  • Bryce Love, RB, Stanford:  There’s a lot of talk about the East Coast Bias that is going against Love and that he’s being ignored.  That’s certainly not the case here at Reality Sports.  It’s unfortunate that there is not more tape of Love available – DraftBreakdown.com has just one game from 2017 and one from 2016.  I decided to fire up that lone 2017 film and take a closer look.  Let’s start with the negatives.  Love is not a pass catcher with just 4 receptions this season and 8 last year.  I was looking for positive pass protection moments and found one in the 4th quarter during Stanford’s comeback bid where he capably picked up the blitz and gave Keller Chryst time to throw.  Unfortunately, on his next offensive play, later in the quarter, he whiffed on a block and let Chryst get blown up.  It’ll take more film study to see which of those plays was closer to the reality.  When you watch Love two things stand out, his spectacular speed and his tackle breaking ability.  To illustrate those two skills, we’ll take a closer look at two plays from the first half.  In the 1st quarter, Love took a toss left and sprinted through a massive hole for a 75 yard score.  The blocking was great, yes, but Love was at the second level before anybody on the defense could even react let alone catch him.  With seconds left to go in the 2nd quarter, Love took a pointless handoff meant to kill the clock.  Most backs would probably run up the back of their center and head into the locker room but not so for Love.  He immediately breaks a tackle five yards behind the line of scrimmage as he tries to break right, he then reverses field and breaks another tackle still five yards deep, he then makes his way up field for a minimal gain.  It was a nothing play, barely a blip in the play-by-play, but it illustrated his elusiveness and also his heart.  It didn’t matter to him that it was a clock killing play while the team was out of field goal range, he still gave it his all.  Love is 5’10” and 196lb.  He was a 4 star recruit and #215 in the ESPN300.  A definitive 40-yard dash time is hard to find but there were two numbers quoted online: 4.30 and a 4.32.  He ran a 10.7 second 100m dash in high school which is Olympian speed (8th place in the men’s 100m gold medal race at the 2016 Olympics ran a 10.6 for comparison).  To further illustrate how dominant his speed is, let’s look at combine comparables in his size range.  CJ Spiller ran a 4.37 and Jahvid Best ran a 4.34 – Love would have both of them beat.  Love is on his way to being a top RB prospect.  Right now I would have him in the RB5-RB7 range but might have to move him above guys like Bo Scarborough, Mike Weber and Ronald Jones if he keeps the production up.  Oh, hey, speaking of production… Love has 1,240 yards and is averaging 10.5 yards per carry.
  • Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn:  I haven’t seen enough of Kerryon Johnson to have a full formed opinion yet but I am definitely intrigued by his potential and production thus far.  While watching Michigan vs Michigan State last weekend a stat on the bottom line caught my eye: that Johnson had rushed for 3 TD in three consecutive games.  That stat doesn’t even give the full story because one of those games was 5 TDs (!!) and all three came against the SEC.  I was sure one of them must have been against McNeese State or some directional school.  I’m not saying that Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss all have good run defenses but they are all respectable Power 5 teams.  Johnson did miss two games this season with a hamstring injury but it is encouraging that all three of these monster games have come after his return – at least we know there is no lingering injury.  Johnson is 6’0″ and 212lb and looks to have a long stride which helps him cover ground without elite speed (NFLDraftScout.com estimates 4.45 speed).  I watched film of Johnson against Mississippi State and noted his power at the goal line and in short yardage.  He also looks to be a patient runner at the line of scrimmage; on multiple runs he placed his hand on the blockers back to follow them through the hole.  One negative that was apparent is that Johnson is not much of a receiving threat: he has just 36 career receptions (14, 17, 5).  I need to see more before I can properly give him a draft projection but he’s probably a 5th-6th round NFL prospect now and a fringe RSO prospect depending on how deep your league is.

Games to Watch

  • #2 Clemson @ Syracuse, Friday 7:00pm on ESPN:  If you can only devote one weekend night to watching college football this week, make it Friday since there are two good games.  As discussed above, there is some intrigue around who will be starting for Clemson.  Either way, I don’t expect it to matter.  It will be interesting to see Clemson’s smothering defense against Syracuse QB Eric Dungey.  Dungey is 2nd in the NCAA in passing attempts and 8th in yards; plus he leads the team in rushing yards (325) and rushing TDs (8).  He’s not as skilled as Bryant but he does pose the same type of dual-threat as Bryant.   I’m not calling for the upset but, pending the line, I will be tempted to take the Orangemen with the points.
  • #8 Washington State @ Cal, Friday 10:30pm on ESPN:  It’s not often that you get a Friday night doubleheader featuring two Top 10 teams on the road.  Wazzou’s defense is for real – 6th against the pass, 11th in total yards and 8th most turnovers.  They will be facing a turnover prone QB in Cal’s Ross Bowers.  Bowers has thrown 9 INTs so far which is 5th worst in the NCAA.  He’s a high volume, low efficiency passer so I expect the Cougars to be opportunistic.  This one won’t be nearly as close as the Clemson matchup but it’s worth staying up for since in addition to seeing one of the country’s best defenses, you’ll also get to watch Heisman hopeful Luke Falk pepper the Bears defense (he had 373 yards and 5 TDs against Cal last year).
  • #6 TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 12:00pm on FS1:  The Horned Frogs disappointed me a bit last week, I thought they would have played better against West Virginia.  Specifically, I thought RB Darius Anderson would do well (he went just 9-43).  Kenny Hill did score his first rushing touchdown of the season but was less efficient than he has been in past weeks.  Kansas State was ranked earlier in the season but lost last week to Texas and is trending in the wrong direction.  If TCU wants to be in the CFP conversation, this is the type of game they need to win convincingly.
  • #10 Auburn @ LSU, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS:  You wouldn’t know it by listening to sports talk radio, but the LSU Tigers are 4-2.  Coach Ed Orgeron has been under fire, from his own supporters no less.  They pulled off a nice 17-16 win against #21 Florida last week so hopefully that has bought Coach O some time.  Auburn’s been led lately by the aforementioned Kerryon Johnson, but it’s also important to point out QB Jarrett Stidham’s recent improvement.  He started slow but since the poor outing against Clemson, he has just 19 incompletions in the last four games.  The Auburn defense is 21st or better in just about every stat category except turnovers forced.  Expect this one to be a low scoring 16-9 type affair.
  • #13 Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 3:30pm on ESPN:  The Red River Rivalry is usually good for a fun game.  In my Big 12 season preview, I noted that the last four matchups have featured a ranked Oklahoma and an unranked Texas.  They have split those four.  OU is coming off a disappointing loss to Iowa State, a team that Texas beat.  Texas has still vacillated at QB but went with freshman Sam Ehlinger last week against Kansas State.  He ended up playing well and went 30-50 for 380 yards with 2 TDs and an INT.  Baker Mayfield & Co were not at fault for the Sooners’ loss last week, it was the defense that allowed the comeback from a walk-on QB and a remarkable two-way performance from LB/QB Joel Lanning.  This game feels like a true toss up, regardless of the early line (Oklahoma -8).

 


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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper