The Watch List: 2019 Rookie Mock Draft 2.0

Updated: April 13th 2019

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

In this installment of The Watch List, I’ll be sharing version 2.0 of my 2019 Rookie Mock Draft.  This labor-intensive exercise will soon be worthless once the NFL Draft ends but it’s still a helpful tool for a rookie ranker like myself.  Let’s skip a lengthy preamble and get to it!

1.01 | N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry has an enticing combination of high floor and high ceiling which has kept him atop my rookie mock draft for the entire season. At various times in his career, he’s shown us that he can do it all – win in the air, manufacture yards after the catch, overpower defenders – and I trust that he will put it all together in the pros. I expect him to earn targets in Year One and be a valuable fantasy asset by Year Two.

1.02 | Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

If Harmon fared better at the NFL Combine he would have challenged Harry for my top choice. A disappointing combine, though, isn’t enough for me to forget what I saw from Harmon when I watched him all season. He appears to be a nuanced route runner who has the play strength and body control to live on the outside. Harmon will be a good compromise for owners who miss out on Harry but aren’t willing to take the risk on Metcalf.

1.03 | DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Metcalf may go down as the most polarizing player for #DraftTwitter. His upside is evident but so are the question marks. Metcalf is a physical specimen unlike anybody we’ve seen recently. His size, speed and strength are almost literally off the charts. Unfortunately, his small sample size and injury concerns cloud the outlook for fantasy owners. I am very unlikely to own Metcalf in any of my RSO leagues but would consider him more in pure dynasty formats where there is no clock on his development.

1.04 | Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

If I were forced to choose between Butler or Metcalf for my fantasy team, I think I would ultimately choose Butler. I think that is far from consensus and unlikely to happen in many RSO drafts though so that’s why I list Butler after Metcalf in this mock draft. (Side note: I always vacillate on whether these rookie mock drafts should mirror my rankings or what is most likely to happen in a typical league.) In my most recent NFL Draft preview article, I described Butler as “a speedy 6053/227 behemoth with a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl jealous.” I think that perfectly sums up why he continues creeping up draft boards, mine included. https://cms.realitysportsonline.com/the-watch-list-2019-nfl-draft-previews-sleepers/

1.05 | David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

Finally, our first running back! Like Harry has been my top wideout, Montgomery has been my top rusher in the class for nearly two years. Other names have ebbed in popularity since I started writing about this running back class, but Montgomery has always remained constant. Montgomery lacks the long speed to be a breakaway runner but he more than makes up for it with tremendous contact balance that allows him to keep plays alive as he pinballs off defenders. He is also a plus receiver and pass blocker which will help him see the field early.

1.06 | Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

The Sooners’ diminutive duo of QB Kyler Murray and WR Marquise Brown combined for numerous spectacular plays in 2018, cementing Brown’s “Hollywood” moniker. He’s lightning quick with a Mach 2 top speed – the type of player that friends would need to agree to bench when playing NCAA 14. When I studied Brown earlier this season, I was happy to see that he was not just a quick slot receiver. In fact, according to PFF’s play data, less than half of Brown’s receptions came from the slot (32 of 75). The obvious knock against Brown is his size (5093/166) but a creative offense will find a way to utilize him in space. If a team invests significant draft capital in him you can be sure that fantasy owners will take the hint.

1.07 | AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

The forgotten man of the 2019 draft class is AJ Brown. I honestly don’t have a good reason as to why he fell from 1.04 to 1.07 since September. It really just comes down to an excitement around Metcalf, Butler and Hollywood Brown that I don’t feel for AJ Brown. If he wasn’t in Metcalf’s shadow, we would be talking more about Brown because he performed well at the combine and put up an SEC leading 1,320 yards in 2018. I believe that Brown will be a fantasy asset whose value is independent of quarterback play because his ability to win in the slot will appeal to both savvy veterans and struggling sophomores seeking a safety valve. As somebody who owns a number of picks in the 1.07-1.09 range, I am secretly glad to see Brown fading in popularity.

1.08 | Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The difference between Fant and TJ Hockenson for the TE1 spot is minimal. Fant is more athletic while Hockenson is the better blocker. Fant had the better 2017, while Hockenson led the way in 2018. For fantasy purposes, I think Fant makes an earlier impact because he’s more likely to see targets as a rookie. For reality purposes, I’m leaning towards Hockenson because he’s the more complete tight end right now. It’s close and the tie will ultimately be broken by team fit. Counterintuitively, I lean Fant because I think he comes off the board second, meaning he’s more likely to land in a better situation.

1.09 | Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Two months ago we were talking about Jacobs’ rise and how he could emerge as the unquestioned RB1 in this class. I never quite made that jump, although I did propel him to RB2 after his late season dominance. Jacobs ran a disappointing 4.60 at his pro day but it’s important to remember that straight-line speed is only part of the evaluation. I’m currently thinking that Jacobs is drafted first but for our purposes here I’m not ready to have him leapfrog Montgomery until we see just how much draft capital is invested in both players. Both are well-rounded backs who contribute as receivers and pass protectors, but Mongtomery has the much longer track record.

1.10 | Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

I have been a strong proponent of the “2.01 Rookie QB” in my time playing on RSO. I always figured that, much like in the real NFL, locking up a young starting QB on a team-friendly deal was exorbitantly valuable. I still think that’s the case, but two things have slightly tweaked my thinking. First, my RSO leagues are superflex and I think that is becoming more popular. The most frequent ranking question I get is how to adjust for superflex and I feel that having the first quarterback come off the board in the second round is not as illustrative as it was four years ago. Second, RSO now has a fifth year option for first rounders. I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I’ll save that for my more mathematically inclined colleagues, but my gut feeling is that an extra year of somebody like Mitch Trubisky is worth more than the difference in salary between 1.10 and 2.01. Put another way, the salaries at 1.10 and 2.01 are both below market value for a young and startable QB in many leagues, so you might as well maneuver to 1.10 and get the option.

Haskins emerged as my QB1 once it was clear that Oregon’s Justin Herbert was eyeing a return to Eugene. He’s a solid pocket passer who has the arm strength and accuracy for the NFL. His mobility is limited though which will be a stark difference between him and Kyler Murray (or even Daniel Jones). Haskins may end up as the second quarterback off the board but if I was choosing between him or Murray to be the leader of my RSO franchise, I would make the safer pick.

2.01 | Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

If Kyler Murray isn’t the first quarterback selected in your rookie draft, I guarantee you that he’ll be taken with the successive pick. There will be at least one Kool-Aid drinker in every league and if that person doesn’t reach for Kyler early in the first, they certainly will once the quarterback bubble bursts to make sure they get him before a run starts. As an RSO owner, I would be okay with Murray at 2.01 but will miss out on him if my leagues value him more highly. If the naysayers are proven right and his body cannot withstand the NFL, your dead cap number at 2.01 will be less than half as much than if you had taken him early. If the yaysayers are proven right and his dynamism and cannon-like arm make for a singularly talented prospect, you’ll have the bargain of all bargains.

A suggestion for RSO commissioners: have a proactive rule in place should Murray (or anybody) decide to quit football and return to baseball during his career. Some keeper and dynasty leagues I play in don’t have foolproof rules regarding players who stop playing but don’t clearly retire (i.e. Marshawn Lynch, Ladarius Green). Since Murray’s case may not be a true “retirement” I think you should address it now to avoid a messy league vote later.

2.02 | TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa

See: Fant, Noah.

2.03 | Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

Henderson has unbelievable per-touch numbers the last two seasons. Over 387 combined touches, Henderson averaged 9.26 yards from scrimmage (3,584 total). I don’t know if that’s a record or not but I’ve never seen production like that sustained over two full seasons. He’s undersized at 5083/208 but he runs with a downhill style that belies his shorter stature. If the traditional stats aren’t enough to sell you on Henderson’s potential, check out PFF’s advanced metrics. He’s their second ranked back in Elusive Rating and first in Breakaway Percentage and Drop Rate. We might all be sleeping on Henderson. (In fact, while writing Henderson’s blurb, I decided to flip-flop him and Anderson. How could I be so impressed with all of his stats and not give him the edge over the oft-injured Anderson.)

2.04 | JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

I fell in love with JJAW early in the season when he started the campaign on fire (17-408-7 after four games). He’s long and strong which is helpful because he’s not a great leaper. He can still win contested catches due to his play strength and wingspan. He didn’t test at the combine so his pro day was going to be huge and he did not disappoint. Arcega-Whiteside ran a 4.49 forty which far exceeded my expectation. Pro day times are always favorable to a player so I doubt he’s truly that fast but it did make me reconsider what was probably his biggest negative. In my opinion, Arcega-Whiteside has the potential to be a team’s starting boundary receiver but he lacks the athletic upside that some others in the class possess.

2.05 | Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

If not for his history of serious injuries (ACL, broken leg, broken neck bone), Rodney Anderson would be my RB1. I studied him early in the season and he just popped off the screen. He runs with great momentum, using his power and speed to run over defenders. He’s agile enough to quickly change direction at speed. Due to the small sample size (just 17 receptions in 17 career games) it’s tough to know how talented he is as a receiver. If 2.05 was my first rookie pick of the draft, there isn’t a chance I’m risking it on Anderson. However, if I have a nice cache of draft capital I’m going to take a shot and hope he stays healthy.

2.06 | Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State

I still have not come around fully on Parris Campbell. I fully admit it may be because I am a Michigan fan, even though I try not to let that tint my evaluations. My rebuttal about Campbell was always that he was a one-trick pony and didn’t produce enough to be considered a top receiver prospect. Well, I was quite surprised to see that Campbell ended 2018 with ninety (!) receptions. He did muster 24 of those in the final three contests but I can’t spin that as a negative when I would usually applaud a player for showing up when it mattered most (one of those three games was a 6-192-2 explosion against my Wolverines). When it comes to advanced stats, Campbell stands out as well. According to PFF, he is top five in Yards Per Route Run, Slot Receptions and Slot Receiving Yards. Campbell added a stellar combine performance to all of those great stats. He finished in the 90th percentile or higher in the following categories: 40 yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump. Campbell is definitely somebody that I need to study more closely after we see who drafts him.

2.07 | Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

After Saquon Barkley left for the NFL, Sanders never really earned the buzz that I thought he might once he became the lead back. I’m guilty of this myself because I didn’t devote any time during the season to studying Sanders. Now, as the NFL Draft approaches, my fellow analysts are starting to remember the promise with which Sanders arrived to Happy Valley as a highly touted teenager. Some have put Sanders as high as RB1 but I’m not ready to catapult him yet until I have a chance to study him more closely. He did put together a solid combine and his basic stats are very good: 1,274 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs, 24 receptions, 139 receiving yards. Stay tuned.

2.08 | Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

The order of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs is a tough one. Up until my last batch of rankings, I had Harris higher because he beat Jacobs for touches and had the higher pedigree coming out of high school. Jacobs’ late surge though showed that he just might be the better three-down back at ‘Bama. Harris checks in at 5101/216 so he has middling size to go with mediocre 4.57 speed. Despite never eclipsing 150 carries in a season, Harris has been consistent, managing two 1,000 yard seasons and cresting 3,000 career rushing yards. He’s a good receiver but not a great pass blocker. Best case: Harris is just good enough in short-yardage situations, in the open field and in pass protection that he earns an every down role. Worst case: Harris is just small enough and slow enough to get passed over in his team’s pecking order.

2.09 | Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

Similar to Harris, I think Weber has a wide range of possibilities in the NFL. He’s an all-round back who I think will greatly outperform his draft position. I foresee a narrative where Weber impresses in training camp and earns a spot in the rotation before Week 1. I just recently wrote about Weber for my NFL Draft sleepers article, so check that out for a deeper dive. LINK: https://realitysportsonline.com/Content.aspx?articleID=the-watch-list-2019-nfl-draft-previews-sleepers

2.10 | Irv Smith, TE, Alabama

Irv Smith has one of the more bizarre “spider graphs” I have ever seen on Mockdraftable (LINK). He’s very small for the position (6023/242, 8th percentile) but quick (4.63, 83rd percentile). He also has short arms so any hope of him punching above his weight as a blocker is unlikely. The knee-jerk reaction is to label Smith as a big slot, but I also foresee him being used in an h-back role. Lining Smith up off the line of scrimmage, or in motion along the line, allows him to avoid getting jammed at the snap. Instead, he is able to use his speed to get open in the flat or to spring up field past slower linebackers.

3.01 | Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

Johnson went the JUCO route out of high school, playing one season each at two different schools before getting an offer from Buffalo (and South Alabama). He was very productive for the Bulls, finishing his career with 133 receptions, 2,367 yards and 25 TDs. Johnson plays bigger and stronger than his 6017/209 frame and ran surprisingly well at his pro day (unofficial times reported were between 4.41-4.50). He’ll be a solid, if not exciting, addition to any NFL offense.

3.02 | Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

Another JUCO transfer WR, Preston Williams excelled in his one season at Colorado State, totaling 1,345 yards and 14 TDs on 96 receptions. He’s a lanky receiver who adjusts to the ball well and has an innate ability to make spectacular catches. Williams is a 5-star talent that some team will get for a discount because of his off the field concerns.

3.03 | Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

“Motor” Singletary put up fantastic numbers on the field the last two seasons (3,266 rushing yards and 54 TDs), unfortunately, his combine measurables left much to be desired. He is tiny at 5071 and ran just 4.66. He looks faster and stronger than those numbers suggest so we’ll need to see him perform in the preseason before investing much capital in him

3.04 | Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

The catch (pun intended) with Samuel is that he’s been injured far too often in his career so I just haven’t seen enough of him to form a strong opinion. We finally got a full season out of Samuel in 2018 and he did produce: 62-882-11. He’s great with the ball in his hands and also adds a dimension as a kick returner (29.0 career average, 4 TDs) which will increase the chances that he makes an early impact. I wanted to put Samuel higher but I just had a hard time justifying it for a receiver who has a history of injuries and didn’t standout at the combine.

3.05 | David Sills, WR, West Virginia

I’m higher on Sills, for fantasy purposes, than many others. I think he will have an instant role in the NFL as a redzone threat and be deployed similar to Mark Andrews in his debut season. I’m expecting a rookie stat line of 25-200-6 which would have utility during bye weeks.

3.06 | Andy Isabella, WR, UMass

Isabella is beguiling because based on his size (5083/188) you would assume he’s just a dink-and-dunk slot receiver. To the contrary, he finished second in PFF’s Deep Receiving Yards stat and led in Yards Per Route Run. After watching some tape it’s easy to see why he is so successful at the deep ball: he’s fast and tracks the ball incredibly well. I have never seen so many over-the-shoulder catches. So, while he may look like a prototypical Patriot pass catcher, we shouldn’t discount his versatility and upside.

3.07 | Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison intrigues me like no other mid-tier back. I’ve tried to steer away from comps this year as they can be counterproductive but I keep coming back to Kareem Hunt when I see clips of Mattison play. He’s a powerful runner and a good receiver. He’ll be a fifth rounder with little hype but I think he’s worth a late stash in your fantasy draft.

3.08 | Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

Snell seems destined to be a two-down back in the NFL. He can succeed in short yardage situations and runs with a bruising mentality. He’s been extremely durable despite a large workload (39 games, 737 carries) which you could spin as a “tread on the tire” negative but I’m not worried because I don’t expect him to be an every down player anyway.

3.09 | Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

Just about every time you read about Daniel Jones, you will inevitably also hear the name David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe earned his quarterback whisperer title working with the Mannings, so I can understand the excitement. Jones is big, athletic, throws well on the move and is smart. He’s going to be drafted higher than you expect, maybe in the first twelve picks.

3.10 | Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin was the ultimate compiler at Washington. He managed to stay healthy throughout 52 career games, amassing 945 career carries and four straight thousand yard seasons. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he was so durable at his size (5091/205) because he’s stronger than others in his cohort (24 bench reps). His smaller stature will mean some teams won’t believe he can be an every down starter but he’s worth grabbing late in your draft just in case.

4.01 | Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
4.02 | Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State
4.03 | Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
4.04 | Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
4.05 | Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
4.06 | Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri
4.07 | Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame
4.08 | Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State
4.09 | Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
4.10 | Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona
5.01 | Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M
5.02 | KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State
5.03 | Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State
5.04 | Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State
5.05 | Donald Parham, TE, Stetson
5.06 | Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis
5.07 | Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
5.08 | Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska
5.09 | Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis
5.10 | Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching 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, foxsports.com, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.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, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters 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, 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, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com (the media home for FWAA members)
  • 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 recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2019 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 19th 2018

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

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

1.01 – N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

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

1.02 – Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

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

1.03 – Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

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

1.04 – AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.05 – David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

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

1.06 – DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.07 – Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

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

1.08 – Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

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

1.09 – Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

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

1.10 – Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

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

2.01 – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

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

2.02 – Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

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

2.03 – Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

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

2.04 – Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

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

2.05 – Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

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

2.06 – Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

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

2.07 – Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

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

2.08 – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

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

2.09 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

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

2.10 – Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

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

3.01 – Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

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

3.02 – David Sills, WR, West Virginia

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

3.03 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

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

3.04 – Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

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

3.05 – Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

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

3.06 – Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

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

3.07 – Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

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

3.08 – Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

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

3.09 – Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

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

3.10 – Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 SEC Preview

Updated: August 28th 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:  Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.  Get used to hearing Tua’s name because you are going to hear it a lot.  He became a household name when he replaced Jalen Hurts at halftime in the national championship and led Alabama to victory against Georgia.  Tagovailoa won’t be the running threat that Hurts was but he’ll add enough to keep defenses honest.  Picking a quarterback from a championship favorite with instant name recognition is a safe Heisman bet to make, even if he’s just a sophomore.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Ole Miss.  The Rebels will struggle as they are still dealing with the fallout from the recent recruiting scandal but I have a feeling that JUCO transfer quarterback Jordan Ta’amu will impress this year.  College football fantasy players are bullish on his potential which makes me think he could sneak into the Heisman conversation with big passing and rushing numbers.  Ta’amu has the luxury of throwing to the best receiving corps in the country which will make him look good on a regular basis; the team is also returning four starting offensive linemen which should keep him upright.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Drew Lock, QB, Missouri.  Lock led the NCAA in TDs last season (44) and threw for nearly 4,000 yards.  He loses his offensive coordinator this year but the Tigers will still put up points.  Lock will top the charts of most conference passing stats.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Devin White, LB, LSU.  White was a stat-stuffing force last season.  He led the conference in tackles per game (10.2; 133 overall).  He also added 14.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.  Since Alabama has much turnover on their defense, White should be able to steal the spotlight on defense in the SEC.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Demetris Robertson, WR, Georgia.  Robertson is transferring in from Cal and was granted immediate eligibility so he will see the field in 2018.  As a true freshman in 2016, Robertson snagged 50 balls for 767 yards and 7 TDs.  Robertson was the top ranked receiver in his recruiting class per 247Sports so he comes with high expectations.  Georgia has lacked a true difference maker at the position in recent years so it will be fun to see how much QB Jake Fromm is able to grow with Robertson as a target.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia.  Swift takes over the reigns with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel on to the NFL.  Swift got involved as a true freshman, rushing for 618-3 and adding 17 receptions.  He’ll earn 1,200+ total yards and double digit scores this season.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Jordan Ta’amu and AJ Brown, Ole Miss.  As I’ve mentioned, Ole Miss has a stellar group of receivers which is led by Brown.  He may the best of the bunch in the conference, although South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards may disagree (more on both below).  Ta’amu was efficient in limited duty in 2017 and will give the offense a boost as the full-time signal caller in 2018.
  • Best RB Corps:  Alabama.  The Crimson Tide have two #1 running back recruits on their roster according to Phil Steele: senior Damien Harris and sophomore Najee Harris (no relation).  The Harris brothers combined for nearly 1,400 yards and 14 TDs.  Josh Jacobs is the best receiver of the bunch (14 receptions last year) and would probably start for most other teams.  Alabama had the conference’s second-best rushing attack in 2017.  Even though they lost Bo Scarborough, the Tide will continue to dominate on the ground.  Keep on eye on Georgia’s backfield as well, they are just as deep but younger (Editor’s note: UGA freshman RB Zamir White tore his ACL and is out for the year).
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee.  Judging by the vim and vigor that Vols fans ran off Greg Schiano before he was even offered the job, I fear for Pruitt’s safety if Tennessee fails to be bowl eligible again in 2018.  In reality there’s no way he would lose the job after one season, barring some off-field scandal, but I figure he’s probably the odds-on favorite to be the next to lose a job in the SEC.  Other new guys like Dan Mullen, Jimbo Fisher, Matt Luke and Chad Morris each have a longer rope (for different reasons, of course).  Hopefully the Pruitt family decided to rent rather than buy.

Teams to Watch

 South Carolina (9-4 in 2017)

The Gamecocks finished the regular season at 8-4 in 2017 and tacked on an Outback Bowl win over Michigan to get to nine victories.  I am predicting South Carolina to finish the season with the same record as last year so why are they on my Teams to Watch list?  Because there’s a non-zero chance they come out atop the SEC East and steal a conference championship appearance.  At this point it’s safe to pick Georgia to win the division but these two skirmish in Week 2.  It’s rare to have such a heavyweight divisional game that early and it could be South Carolina’s shot to shock the college football world.  As Tom Luginbill recently pointed out on XM radio, South Carolina lucks out in their cross-over games.  They avoid Alabama, Auburn and LSU and instead get Missouri, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.  The offense returns all of its productive skill position players except for TE Hayden Hurst.  Thanks to NFL prospect receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, QB Jake Bentley should be able to keep the offense moving.  The defense will be missing a number of key pieces from the 2017 unit (which held opponents to just 20.7 ppg), but they have gone into the last two seasons with just six returners and should fare fine.  I don’t think I’m willing to bet the over with any significant amount but I would not be surprised to see USC contending late in the season.

 Florida (4-7 in 2017)

I am certainly no Gator fan but they are an easy pick as a team to improve.  New head coach Dan Mullen comes to Gainesville with the luxury of 19 projected returning starters.  RB Jordan Scarlett returns after his season-long suspension for participating in a credit card fraud scheme.  Scarlett rushed for 1,070 yards in 2016 so he’s a valuable piece to get back and add to last year’s leading rushers Lamical Perine and Malik Davis.  The quarterback position is a big question mark.  I would not be surprised to see Mullen reboot and start freshman Emory Jones under center at some point this season.  Like South Carolina, Florida’s schedule sets up nicely for 7-8 win potential.  They only play four true road games and get their hardest cross-division opponent, LSU, at home.  I won’t be rooting for Florida to become bowl eligible but it’s going to happen.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn: My opinion of Stidham fluctuated throughout the 2017 season. I questioned him early but was impressed with him late. In the Georgia and Alabama games, Stidham made a positive impression on me as a smart runner with the ball. This may be damning with faint praise but I likened him to Alex Smith at one point last season (you may remember, Smith was the first overall pick in 2005 so that comp is actually saying a lot). In 2017, Stidham gained 3,158 yards through the air; he added 153 on the ground.  That rushing total belies his true impact though.  Per Phil Steele’s stats, Stidham gained 383 yards on the ground but lost 230 of them to sacks.  Stidham scored 22 combined TDs which I’d like to see increase to 30 this time around. He’s in the conversation for the first quarterback off the board at the 2019 NFL Draft so I’ll be monitoring him all season long.
  • Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State: A number of college football minds that I listen to and read love Fitzgerald.  Admittedly, I have not watched much of him so this is a speculative addition to my preview based on what I’ve heard elsewhere. Fitzgerald is a dual-threat quarterback who rushed for 984 yards and 14 TDs.  He threw for 1,782 yards and 15 TDs with 11 INTs.  Fitzgerald missed the end of the 2017 season with a dislocated ankle but he’ll be fine for 2018.  Hopefully the injury does not hamper his rushing ability in any way.  Fitzgerald has an NFL-ready body at 6050/230 so if we see passing game improvement he could land on the draft radar.
  • Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky: Throughout his first two seasons on campus, Snell has been supremely productive. Over those 26 games, he has 2,424 yards and 32 TDs.  He added ten receptions in 2017; that’s a nice addition to his resume but in 2017 he should strive for twenty. I have limited exposure to Snell but from what I have seen he appears to have patience and vision at the line and enough size and speed for the next level. I have a feeling that Snell will be a sneaky fantasy rookie come 2018 if he lands in a good spot.
  • Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M:  Williams is an interesting running back prospect to me because his height and running style don’t seem to match.  I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I watched some 2016 highlight videos and his 2017 game against Auburn.  He’s an upright runner who appears to always be running downhill.  He’s listed at 5090/200 but he looks smaller on film.  I didn’t see a ton of wiggle and tackle breaking ability but he has the speed to hit a hole and gain the necessary yardage.  What was most interesting was seeing that he’s such a good receiver that the Aggies trust him to line up split out.  Let’s see how he rates as a pass blocker but after a quick glance I think Williams will project as a valuable passing down back in the NFL.
  • Damien Harris, RB, Alabama: Harris was in the running for a first round fantasy draft grade last season but decided to return to Alabama for his senior season. I’m not quite sure that was the right decision because the Tide backfield is crowded. Harris is a durable 5110/221 runner with speed and elusiveness to break off big runs. He has averaged over 7.0 yards per carry the last two seasons which is impressive for anybody, but especially for a back who is 220+. I’ve seen Harris labeled as “under the radar” but I find that narrative hard to believe. He’s a former top recruit who has two back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons at Alabama. That’s about as “on the radar” as you can get.
  • DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss: Metcalf has elite size (6040/225) and measureables. He made Sports Illustrated’s 2017 “Freaks List” because of his past exploits as a high school track star. Metcalf reportedly ran a 4.46 last offseason which would instantly make him a first round NFL Draft prospect. Before we jump to conclusions though, let’s see how Metcalf does in 2018, sharing the wealth again with a stacked receiving corps. In 2017, he ended with a respectable 39-646-7 line; it really is a shame that Metcalf is competing for targets instead of being a no-brainer WR1 for his squad.
  • Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina: It’s so disappointing as a college football fan that somebody as talented as Deebo Samuel has struggled with injuries. Samuel has played in just 18 career games in three years at South Carolina. His career totals of 86-1,194-5 receiving and 17-128-7 rushing and 3 return TDs are encouraging. I’ll be rooting for Samuel to get through a full season so we can fully evaluate his NFL Draft stock come the Spring.
  • Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri: The man of many nicknames. My favorite so far might be “A-Ok” but it’s going to be a long draft season of pronunciation jokes directed at Mr. Okwuegbunam. He’s going to be a redshirt sophomore this season so there is no guarantee he comes out, especially considering how long it usually takes tight ends to develop. If Okwuegbunam does come out, he’ll be highly sought for his potential. As a redshirt freshman, Okwuegbunam had 29 receptions, 415 yards and 11 TDs. His touchdowns will regress in 2018 but I expect his other totals to improve. He has size similar to that of Dallas Goedert from the 2018 class.  To reach that level though he will need to prove he’s a good blocker and all-around athlete.
  • Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia: Nauta’s fantasy potential took a hit last season because of a significant decrease in production. He put up a great 29-361-3 line in 2016 which earned him Freshman All-American honors by a number of publications. In 2017, however, Nauta caught just nine balls despite playing in all fifteen games. Improving as a blocker in the dominant Bulldog rushing offense is important in NFL terms, but it won’t help Nauta’s fantasy draft stock. Hopefully we see more balance from Nauta this year as Georgia moves to a more balanced attack.
  • Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky: The “other” Josh Allen might just end up being the better professional prospect. This Josh Allen is a pass rushing outside ‘backer at Kentucky. He has led the Wildcats in sacks each of the last two seasons (7, 7) and topped 60 tackles in both campaigns. His size, speed and statistical profiles remind me of Lorenzo Carter who I was very high on last season. I’m looking forward to watching some tape of Allen’s this year to see if that comp holds true.
  • Devin White, LB, LSU:  The aforementioned White is a productive MLB who I frequently see popping up as a first rounder for next year’s NFL Draft.  White appears to have more than enough speed to get to the edge and has the ability to fight off blocks and chase down runners.  He is an impact player who gets into the backfield and is constantly disruptive.
  • Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Is there a better nickname for a cornerback? Williams lived up to the moniker in 2017 by snatching 6 INTs. He added 38 tackles and 10 pass breakups as well. Williams is long at 6030 and will be coveted for his size and ball skills.

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Lock, who has started since early in his freshman season, is another name to remember come April.  He’s currently in the running for the QB1 spot and if history is any indication he could creep into first round consideration.  Lock nearly eclipsed 4,000 passing yards last season (3,964) and threw an FBS best 44 TDs.  He threw 13 INTs which was worst in the conference but you can excuse that when he puts up the points he does.  In fact, Missouri led the SEC in scoring with 37.5 points per game.  Lock loses offensive coordinator, and quarterback whisperer, Josh Heupel, who took the UCF job.  For Lock’s future, it’s less about whether the offense keeps moving and more about working on his consistency.

While watching Lock, I felt that both the speed and touch on his balls was average to above average but inconsistent.  To borrow a cliche, he has the “arm talent” but he doesn’t display it on every rep.  I have to admit that he can throw a beauty of a ball, dude can spin it.  Lock needs to improve his accuracy and I’d also like to see him anticipate his receiver’s movements a bit more.  He has enough speed and athleticism to escape the pocket but I did not see him complete a single pass after being flushed against South Carolina.  Lock is listed at 6040 but I bet he’ll measure in smaller than that; at times he seemed to disappear behind the offensive line.

Lock isn’t my QB1 at the moment but he’s flirting with the top five in my rankings.  I was encouraged enough by what I saw to know that I need to keep a close eye on him this season.  He’s going to be a prospect whose value relies heavily on which games you choose to watch.  (Film watched: South Carolina 2017, Highlights 2017)

AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

As I have mentioned elsewhere in this preview, Brown is one cog in a mighty Ole Miss receiving machine.  He led the team in receptions, yards and TDs in 2017 (75-1,252-11).  One knock against Brown would be that his stats are inflated by three huge games against subpar opponents.  Against South Alabama, he went for 8-233-2; the following week against Tenn-Martin he totaled 8-156-2.  Later in the season, versus Louisiana-Lafayette, he hauled in 14 balls for 185 yards and two scores.

Brown is a 6010/225 slot receiver who makes his hay after the catch.  He is a bear to bring down and creates extra yardage while defenders try to drag him down.  He has enough speed to break free when he is able to shrug off a would-be tackler.  In addition to power moves, he has some finesse moves as well; against South Carolina he executed a fantastic juke that literally may have broken the defender’s ankle.  I was not able to devote the time to fully study Brown’s route running so I will need to check back on that.  In the Kentucky game he ran a lot of short and intermediate routes.  I’d love to see him used outside and on more varied routes in 2018.  I did not observe Brown in any high point contested catch situations but I don’t doubt his ability to win in those situations with his strength.

Because he feasted on lesser defenses, it will be vitally important to track how Brown does in 2018 versus top competition.  If he shows that he can play against the big boys too, he’ll be near the top of my 2019 receiver rankings.  Ironically, he might be fighting off teammate DK Metcalf for the top spot on my list.  (Film watched: Kentucky 2017, Highlights 2017)

Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Surprise, another wide receiver who is vying for the pinnacle of the position.  Have I mentioned that 2019 will be a good year for rookie wide receivers?  Through two years as a starter, Edwards has 108 receptions, 1,383 yards and 9 TDs.  His stats are not eye-popping but against tough SEC opposition it’s understandable.  Similarly to Brown, Edwards best games came outside of the Southeastern Conference.  His two best totals, 122 and 90 yards, came against Louisiana Tech and Wofford, respectively.  Edwards is listed at 6030/215 which puts him in a sweet spot of talented NFL wide receivers.  I’d like to see his speed and acceleration improve but even if he runs in the 4.55-4.60 range, at that height, he could draw comps to Michael Thomas or Allen Robinson.  Edwards certainly has some ways to go though before we truly bestow that comparison upon him though.

Unfortunately, there is not much tape yet available for Edwards.  I was stuck with just a single game to choose from.  In that game, against NC State, I noted that Edwards is violent out of his route breaks, whipping his head towards the quarterback and looking for the ball.  He also showed that he’s not afraid to go over the middle to make a catch.  It’s important to keep an even keel when scouting highlight videos, after all they are by definition the player’s best moments, but I came away very impressed with Edwards.  In those highlights he showed an ability to win both at the catch point and after the catch.  There were a number of circus grabs that showcased his tracking, concentration and body control.  In a few close-up replays I even got a glimpse of his footwork at the line of scrimmage which looked positive.

At no point while watching highlights did I feel “this is the best we’ll ever see from Edwards.”  Instead, I thought to myself, “there’s so much potential for Edwards to show us more.”  I’m glad South Carolina has such a big game early in the season (Week 2 vs Georgia) because it will give me a chance to study him even further.  (Film watched: NC State 2017, Highlights 2017)


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2018 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v2.1

Updated: January 27th 2018

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

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

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

1.02, Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (1.03)

1.03, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (1.02)

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

1.04, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (1.04)

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

1.06, Ronald Jones, RB, USC (2.07)

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

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

1.08, Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (1.07)

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

1.09, Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (1.07)

1.10, Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis (2.02)

2.01, Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (2.06)

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

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

2.03, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (2.08)

2.04, Sam Darnold, QB, USC (2.01)

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

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

2.06, Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa (undrafted)

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

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

2.08, Dante Pettis, WR, Washington (2.04)

2.09, Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama (1.06)

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

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

3.01, Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (undrafted)

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

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

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

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

3.05, Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (2.10)

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

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

3.07, Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana (undrafted)

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

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

3.10, Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (1.10)

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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

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

4.04, Adam Breneman, TE, UMass (undrafted)

4.05, Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn (undrafted)

4.06, Deontay Burnett, WR, USC (undrafted)

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

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

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

4.10, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (undrafted)

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: National Championship Preview

Updated: January 5th 2018

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

The finish line is in sight, the marathon that is the bowl season is nearly over, just one more game remaining.  While listening to ESPNU Radio these past few days (a must-listen for anybody with SiriusXM) a number of callers and pundits have expressed disappointment in an all-SEC championship.  I say, “who cares,” because they are the two best teams in the country in my mind.  Let’s not forget that despite all the banter about Bama’s playoff resume, they were still ranked #1 in the AP Poll until they lost to Auburn on Nov 25.  Georgia didn’t get that high but was #2 for about a month in the middle of the year.  I have covered these two teams a lot this season so I wanted to avoid rehashing the same analysis and the same talking points.  So, I decided to go with a “tale of the tape” type preview.  I will compare the teams’ various units to see who has the advantage before making my prediction.

Quarterback: Alabama

Ironically the first unit I looked at was probably the hardest for me to determine my pick.  Jake Fromm leads Jalen Hurts in most passing categories but I give Hurts the nod for two reasons: 1) his experience and 2) his ability to protect the ball.  Hurts may only be a sophomore but he’s literally been here before.  This game will be Hurts fourth College Football Playoff game.  He has played okay in those games but it’s less about what he does do and more about what he doesn’t do: turn the ball over.  Hurts has just one interception and two fumbles lost this season.  Fromm has five and two – not a huge increase but he had far fewer “touches” this season than Hurts.  The two had basically the same number of passing attempts (248 vs 259) but Hurts had a hundred more carries and played in one less game.  Fromm will likely outplay Hurts as a passer but I’d rather have Hurts.

Running Backs: Georgia

Both teams feature a stable of backs that contribute.  Georgia uses Nick Chubb and Sony Michel almost equally but also sprinkles in freshman D’Andre Swift.  Meanwhile, Alabama uses Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris and Joshua Jacobs.  Najee Harris and Jacobs only combined for three touches against Clemson but they were both utilized more during the regular season.  Damien Harris is the lead back (19 carries for 77 yards last week) but Scarborough will still see plenty of action.  Damien Harris averages 7.6 yards per carry on the season which is great but is actually eclipsed by Georgia’s Sony Michel (8.0).  If you watched Georgia beat Oklahoma you were surely impressed by Michel.  He out-touched Chubb 15-14 because of his four receptions.  Michel is a better pass catcher than Chubb but his receiving against Oklahoma was mostly unexpected; he had just nine receptions on the season and only once in his four season career has he had four receptions in a game.  My guess is that they did not feel they could trust freshman D’Andre Swift, the leading pass catcher among running backs this season, in pass protection which meant Michel getting more snaps on passing downs.  If Georgia’s backs can match half their Rose Bowl output (367 total yards, 6 TDs) they’ll give the Bulldogs a shot.

Receivers: Alabama

Neither team had a receiver crack 60 receptions or 1,000 yards this season which is surprising to me.  In an atmosphere that is so pass-heavy right now in college football, the nation’s two best teams are run-first and run-second offenses.  Georgia WR Javon Wims arguably had the best game of his career in the Rose Bowl (6-73-1) but was not a huge factor in the offense until later in the season (25 of his 44 receptions came in the last five games, just 19 in the first eight).  Alabama’s leading receiver is Calvin Ridley.  Statistically, Ridley had the worst season of his career (59-935-4) but I’m not deterred: he’s still my WR1 for 2018 rookie drafts.  Ridley is fast, has good hands, catches the ball away from his body and is a very good route runner.  In Alabama’s rush oriented offense he may not put up big numbers but he’s a difference maker.

Defensive Line: Alabama

I’ll venture a guess that none of Georgia’s defensive lineman have a receiving touchdown this season like Daron Payne does now.  That’s not why I’m taking the Tide’s line though, it’s the combination of Payne, Da’Shawn Hand and Raekwon Davis that clinches it.  Payne, a 308lb DT, should be a first round pick this year if he declares early.  Davis is a 6’7″ monster at DE who had 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks this season; he was a factor in the Sugar Bowl with 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack.  Hand has been limited by injuries throughout his career but is still an early Day Two prospect.  Phil Steele ranked Alabama as the 6th best d-line corps in the preseason and they lived up to that billing this season (for what it’s worth, Georgia was not far behind at 11th).  Georgia’s Trenton Thompson was a top high school recruit, had a good sophomore season (capped off by an 8 tackle, 3 sack bowl game vs TCU) but didn’t live up to his potential in 2017 (just 35 tackles, no sacks).  DE Jonathan Ledbetter recorded a sack and six tackles last week against Oklahoma so keep an eye on him too.  There’s a funny pun somewhere in the names of Davis, Hand and Payne but all I can come up with is “On MonDavis, Da’Shawn’s Hands will cause Jake Fromm some Payne.”  I’m sorry.

Linebackers: Georgia

Alabama is used to having a “next man up” mentality on defense because they graduate so many players to the NFL.  That was no truer than at linebacker this year when they lost Reuben Foster and Ryan Anderson last season and then lost Shaun Dion Hamilton to injury earlier this year.  The Tide’s linebacker room sustained another blow this week when they heard that Anfernee Jennings underwent knee surgery.  Rashaan Evans has stepped up in the meantime, especially in the Sugar Bowl tallying 9 tackles and a sack.  Evans has 9+ tackles in four of the five games since Shaun Dion Hamilton went down.  Unquestionably, the best linebacker on the field will be Roquan Smith.  Smith is a potential Top 10 pick in the Spring (a la Reuben Foster last year).  He’s a tackle monster, 218 combined the last two years, and added 5.5 sacks in 2017.  Not surprisingly, he had 11 tackles in the Rose Bowl and made a key tackle to prevent a first down late in the game.  The Bulldogs’ best OLB is Lorenzo Carter.  Carter is long at 6’6″ and plays well in coverage when he’s not rushing the passer (Carter was PFF’s 11th ranked pass rusher in the FBS).  Like Smith, Carter also went for double digit sacks against Oklahoma; that’s the first time he’s done that in his career so maybe he has a knack for the big game.  If Alabama wasn’t facing injuries this unit matchup would be closer but it would still be tough to beat consensus All-American Roquan Smith.

Secondary: Alabama

Similar to how Georgia has one standout in the linebacker unit, so does Alabama in the secondary.  Meet Minkah Fitzpatrick, a guy guaranteed to go in the Top 5 in the NFL Draft (maybe higher if any of the QBs return to college).  Fitzpatrick is also a consensus All-American despite battling injury this season.  He missed a game but still managed 55 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception.  That lone INT was a big drop from the six he had last season but it won’t hurt his draft stock, he has ball skills.  What Fitzpatrick also has is versatility: he has played at both corner and safety and will be an immediate starter at the next level.  Safety Ronnie Harrison and CB Anthony Averett will also get drafted high, maybe Day Two for both of them.  Levi Wallace led the team in passes defended (14) and won SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice.  He wasn’t even on my radar prior to writing this preview but the stats caught my eye.  Safety Dominck Sanders is Georgia’s most well-rounded and productive DB with 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 INTs and 5 passes defended.  He’s been a durable three year starter and could be a late round draft prospect but I honestly have not done any research on him.  There won’t be a ton of passing in this one so spending more time on the secondary is probably not worth it, just don’t forget to pay attention to Fitzpatrick.

Specialists: Alabama

If this game turns out to be a defensive battle, the specialists will figure.  Alabama punter JK Scott is an all-time great punter in SEC history (5th best average in the FBS since 2000).  He averages 45.5 yards per punt for his career so he can flip the field and give the Tide the field position advantage.  Georgia’s Cameron Nizialek is no slouch either; he averaged 44.9 yards per punt this year which was fourth best in the SEC and actually better than Scott this year.  I have a feeling we could be seeing Hurts and Fromm starting a lot of drives from their own eleven yard line.  The slight field goal kicking edge goes to Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship (17-20 on FG, 61-61 on PAT) over Andy Pappanastos (16-21, 54-54).  Blankenship wears a sweet pair of rec-specs while he plays so maybe I should give him a larger advantage than I am.  Neither team has returned a single kick or punt for a touchdown this season but now that I say that we’ll probably get two in the final.  This unit matchup is almost too close to call.  Since it’s close, I will go with Alabama because they have the best individual player in the bunch, JK Scott.

Prediction: Roll Tide

 

 


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Bowl Game Previews, Part VI

Updated: December 30th 2017

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

Monday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl, Michigan (8-4) vs. South Carolina (8-4), 12 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • Michigan: 88th scoring offense, 112th passing offense, 44th rushing offense; 14th scoring defense, 1st passing defense, 21st rushing defense
  • South Carolina: 99th scoring offense, 79th passing offense, 108th rushing offense; 27th scoring defense, 71st passing defense, 42nd rushing defense

As my readers know, I am a Michigan homer but I’m going to be as impartial here as possible. There is no reason this game should be on New Year’s Day. I guess the NCAA (read as: ESPN) prefer to have some of the biggest games spaced out on Dec 29 and Dec 30 but it’s hard to get excited by this matchup. Both teams are 8-4 and were a combined 1-5 against ranked teams (notably that single win was Michigan over #17 Florida in the first game of the season before we knew how bad Florida was going to be). The teams are also banged up: per Sports-Reference.com’s injury reports, the teams have a combined 22 players injured with varying severity.

Since Gamecocks WR Deebo Samuel has not returned to practice and will not play in the bowl, the most significant injury is likely to Michigan QB Brandon Peters. Peters started the year as the third stringer but was elevated to the starting role on Oct 28 against Rutgers. Wilton Speight got hurt in the team’s fourth game but wasn’t playing well anyway. Wolverines fans like myself got a taste of truly dreadful quarterback play when John O’Korn took over and struggled mightily. Peters has not been great (57.6% completion percentage, 4 TDs and 0 INTs) but he’s a significant improvement over the turnover prone O’Korn. The offense is led by a trio of running backs: Karan Higdon (929 yards, 11 TDs), Chris Evans (661-6) and Ty Isaac (548-2). Not surprisingly, none of the WRs are a factor. The team’s leading receiver is TE Sean McKeon (29-285-3). Keep an eye on FB Khalid Hill near the goal line. Hill only has 34 yards on 17 carries this season but he has three scores and had ten last year. Michigan’s defense is chock-full of NFL talent and they alone should warrant their own full-length piece. The biggest difference makers on that unit are DT Maurice Hurst and DE Rashan Gary. Hurst has 58 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks; Gary has 55-10.5-4. Gary is the better pro prospect, don’t be surprised if he’s a Top 3 pick in 2018, but the stats belie his skill because of how often he’s double teamed. This Youtube video is a good cut-up of 2016 highlights for a number of 2017’s key defensive players, including LBs Chase Winovich and Mike McCray.

It’s a shame Deebo Samuel won’t be back for the bowl after a broken leg. Reports earlier in the season were that he could return but he has not practiced. Samuel is draft eligible but he should probably return for another year. He has fifteen career touchdowns (7 rushing, 5 receiving, 3 returning) and is an explosive game breaker. Sophomore QB Jake Bentley regressed in 2017 in terms of his rate stats and efficiency. I have not watched much of Bentley so I’m not able to provide much analysis here but I’ll bet that there’s a good chance he doesn’t start 2018 as the starter. TE Hayden Hurst is the team’s best NFL prospect. He had 41 receptions for 518 yards and 2 TDs this year. He has not been a high volume scorer (just 3 career TDs) but he is a good pass catcher and at least an average blocker in my film study. Hurst was my TE2 when I did 2018 rookie positional rankings in November; he’ll probably come in a little lower than that but he’s still a possible rookie pick in many fantasy leagues. LB Skai Moore is a four year contributor who has 346 career tackles, 5 career sacks and 14 career interceptions. Moore is WalterFootball.com’s 12th ranked OLB. His versatility in pass coverage should earn him a Day Two draft pick.

Michigan’s defense, without a doubt, will be the most dominant unit on the field in this one. I’ll make the homer pick and take my Wolverines. Prediction: Michigan

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, #7 Auburn (10-3) vs. #12 Central Florida (12-0), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Auburn: 25th scoring offense, 68th passing offense, 22nd rushing offense; 10th scoring defense, 17th passing defense, 32nd rushing defense
  • UCF: 1st scoring offense, 7th passing offense, 34th rushing offense; 53rd scoring defense, 111th passing defense, 66th rushing defense

What a game this one is going to be.  We all know the story surrounding outgoing UCF head coach Scott Frost so let’s not beat the proverbial dead horse because the spotlight should be on the players.

Auburn had a roller coaster of a season.  Heading into SEC play they were 2-1 but with two poor wins and a close loss to #3 Clemson.  They made it up to #10 but a loss to LSU bumped them all the way down to #21.  From there they worked their way into the playoff picture with wins over #2 Georgia and #1 Alabama (both of whom are playing in the playoff despite their losses to Auburn).  A poor showing in the rematch against Georgia sealed their outside-looking-in fate.  Throughout the season they were led by two players on offense: QB Jarrett Stidham and RB Kerryon Johnson.  I was lukewarm regarding Stidham for most of the year but he won me over against Alabama.  I wrote him up that week and compared him favorably to Alex Smith.  He’s an efficient and athletic game manager which sounds like an insult but it’s actually high praise (don’t forget that Smith was taken first overall in 2005).  Stidham threw just one INT in SEC play but has a mixed bag of results in the year’s biggest games (good games against Georgia and Alabama, bad games against Georgia and Clemson).  UCF has a poor passing defense so I expect Stidham to put up big numbers.  Kerryon Johnson has battled some injuries this season but he was still very productive in eleven games (1,320 rushing yards, 23 rushing TDs, 23 receptions, 188 receiving yards, 2 receiving TDs).  I did not rank Johnson in my Top 15 for 2018 rookie RBs but his success in November has me re-thinking that: over 700 totals yards and 15 total TDs.  As far as non-offensive skill positions go, the Tigers have three NFL talents.  At corner, Carlton Davis could land near the end of the first round.  According to Pro Football Focus, Davis was the 50th ranked player in “Cover Snaps per Reception” and was average in passer rating against.  Still, my preferred draft sources (WalterFootball.com and NFLDraftScout.com) favor him over guys I like more like Josh Jackson or Jaire Alexander.  OG Braden Smith will be a second tier option for teams who miss on the elite prospects in a guard-heavy draft.  K Daniel Carlson will end up getting drafted before the 6th round by some team desperate to end their kicking woes; he has played in 52 career games and hit on 90 of his 111 attempts (plus a perfect 195-195 record on PATs).  In a game destined to come down to who has the ball last, Carlson could be a factor.

The UCF offense is all about QB McKenzie Milton.  I have been praising him for a few weeks now because he is one of the purest passers I remember watching in recent memory.  His deep ball looks effortless and he’s not afraid to throw it – he can just spin it.  Milton played as a freshman in 2016 but exploded in 2017.  He threw for 3,795 yards and 35 TDs and completed 69.2% of his passes.  The biggest knock on Milton is his size.  He’s listed at 5’11” and 177lbs and that might be soaking wet with two sets of shoulder pads on.  I don’t think there is any way we talk about Milton as a pro prospect next year so enjoy him now as a fun to watch college QB.  WR Tre’Quan Smith is the biggest benefactor of Milton’s prolific passing.  He only caught 54 balls but went for 1,082 yards (an outstanding 20.0 yards per reception) and 13 TDs.  Per PFF, Smith is fourth in the FBS in “Deep Receiving Catch Rate” by catching 68.4% of his deep attempts.  Smith has 50+ receptions in each of his three seasons so who knows maybe another solid 2018 gets him drafted.  UCF does not have any high level NFL hopefuls but you should read up on LB Shaquem Griffin.  He was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 after finishing with 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.  His stats all decreased this year but that doesn’t make him any less fun to watch.  Griffin’s left hand was amputated in 1999 and against all odds he is pushing for a shot in the NFL.  I envy people like Griffin who can overcome their physical limitations to do great things, I’m not sure I would have the strength to do so myself, and I don’t doubt for a second that he’ll make an impression on NFL scouts.

I’m not a gambler but if I were, I would avoid this one.  I’m picking with my heart and not my head here: I love watching UCF and am rooting for them to show the playoff committee that they deserved a chance.  Prediction: Central Florida

Citrus Bowl, #17 LSU (9-3) vs. #14 Notre Dame (9-3), 1 p.m. (ABC)

  • LSU: 72nd scoring offense, 86th passing offense, 30th rushing offense; 16th scoring defense, 20th passing defense, 22nd rushing defense
  • Notre Dame: 22nd scoring offense, 104th passing offense, 7th rushing offense; 32nd scoring defense, 51st passing defense, 49th rushing defense

LSU has earned some headlines over the last 24 hours as reports have come out that offensive coordinator Matt Canada is leaving the team.  Canada’s offense is famous for its pre-snap shifts and movement.  Ironically, Canada’s career is famous for its movement too because he can’t stick around anywhere too long (six different schools since 2010); maybe the gimmick just isn’t worth all of the effort and time it must take to learn.  Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is always surrounded by rumors too because half the fan base hates him.

LSU was an enigma to me this season.  Midway through the year, I was honestly surprised to see that 5-2 LSU was ranked #24.  One of those losses was to Troy from the Sun Belt which would seem to be disqualifying.  Of the other Power 5 teams in the Top 25, only Stanford (vs San Diego State) has a loss to a Group of 5 team; and that is without a doubt a stronger loss than LSU’s.  I guess the committee felt that LSU’s win over then #10 Auburn more than made up for the bad loss (but by that logic Ohio State should have been in over Alabama).  LSU has two players who will go at the top of drafts: DE Arden Key in the NFL Draft and RB Derrius Guice in your rookie draft.  Guice has been as under the radar as the soon to be 1.02 can.  Saquon Barkley has, deservedly, received a ton of attention this season but second tier backs like Ronald Jones and Bryce Love have stolen some of the shine that should be on Guice.  He has confirmed that he will play in the Citrus Bowl which is good because I figured he might follow former teammate Leonard Fournette’s lead and skip the bowl.  Guice had a solid season but was not as dominant as he was last year when sharing the backfield with Fournette.  This year Guice finished with a 1,153-11 line.  He’s not a big receiving threat (just 29 career receptions, 15 of which came this year) which could limit his utility at the start of his NFL career.  It turns out that my feelings about Guice from August were spot-on: “I’m very interested to see how Guice does without Fournette…in 2017.  If he can repeat even 75% of his production from 2016 he’ll be a first round NFL back.  What I saw in Guice’s tape was not enough for me to push him to RB1 over Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, but at worst, Guice will be your 1.02 for 2018.”  Injuries derailed Arden Key’s season and will cause him to miss the bowl.  He still has an elite size and speed combination plus enough production to guarantee he finds the Top 10 in the NFL Draft.  WR DJ Chark had 47 touches for 874 total yards and 4 TDs; his production is undraftable but his 6’4″ height could get him a look.  CB Donte Jackson is WalterFootball.com’s 3rd ranked corner.

The strength of Notre Dame’s team, stop me if you’ve heard this before, is their offensive line.  I would not at all be surprised for Notre Dame to have both the first tackle and the first guard drafted, both likely in the Top 15.  T Mike McGlinchey (6’8″ and 315lbs) and G Quentin Nelson (6’5″ and 330lbs) were both first team All-Americans.  They pave the way for RB Josh Adams and QB Brandon Wimbush to rack up rushing yards.  Adams finished with 1,386 yards and 9 TDs while Wimbush had 766 and 14.  I am not a fan of Wimbush because he is such an inaccurate passer but you can’t deny his ability as a runner.  I have waffled on Adams throughout the season but I remain concerned about his size at the next level (he’s too tall – click the link for my analysis).  In Week 9, I predicted he’d be a 3rd round rookie draft pick and I’ll stand by that now.  It’s a shame that Wimbush has struggled to complete passes because WR Equanimeious St. Brown (my vote for the first player to break RSO’s draft software because of the length of this name) has such potential.  St. Brown is long and lean (he really needs to add about 10lbs to make it in the NFL) with a good pedigree (4 star recruit, offers from a number of big schools).  If he comes out he is going to have to dominate the combine because his production is below average (90-1,437-13 in two seasons as a starter).  LB Nyles Morgan considered coming out after his junior year (88 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 4 sacks) but returned to school; unfortunately for Morgan, 2017 probably hurt his stock more than helped it (82-6.5-1).  Both WalterFootball.com and NFLDraftScout.com have him as either a 7th rounder or undrafted.

I struggled to pick this one because I’m not a fan of either team.  I’ll take LSU because of Guice and the strength of their defense (even without Key).  Prediction: LSU

College Football Playoff Semifinal #1, Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual, #3 Georgia (12-1) vs #2 Oklahoma (12-1), 5 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Georgia: 23rd scoring offense, 111th passing offense, 11th rushing offense; 3rd scoring defense, 2nd passing defense, 12th rushing defense
  • Oklahoma: 4th scoring offense, 3rd passing offense, 27th rushing offense; 52nd scoring defense, 87th passing defense, 39th rushing defense

And here we are, finally the College Football Playoff, 39 games later.  The Georgia vs Oklahoma matchup may lack the familiarity of the Alabama vs Clemson matchup but it will be equally entertaining featuring a great matchup of Oklahoma’s offense against Georgia’s defense.  Baker Mayfield is apparently sick but there’s no way that it keeps him off the field.

Oklahoma’s season was momentarily disrupted by their Oct 7 loss to Iowa State but they went on to win eight straight including three wins against teams ranked #8, #10 and #11.  Coming into the season, I had serious doubts about whether Baker Mayfield was going to 1) win the Heisman and 2) become a top NFL prospect.  Turns out that I was wrong on both accounts.  Mayfield has been exceptional this season.  Who would have thought it would be possible to improve on his 2016 numbers, but he did.  Mayfield finished with 4,340 yards (2nd in FBS), 41 passing TDs (2nd) and completed 71.0% of his passes (1st).  His interceptions went down, his yards per attempt went up, and on and on.  There just aren’t enough superlatives for what Mayfield accomplished on the field this season, especially considering that he is a former walk-on at Texas Tech.  Mayfield does have some “character” question marks but I don’t think any of them are enough to ding his draft stock.  I had Mayfield as my QB6 when I ranked potential 2018 rookies but I think he’ll likely be in the QB4 range by moving ahead of Luke Falk and Lamar Jackson.  I expect Mayfield to be drafted in the first half of the first round in April; depending on his landing spot he could be a factor in fantasy leagues as a rookie.  Mayfield is surrounded by a strong supporting cast composed mostly of underclassmen.  That includes sophomore RB Rodney Anderson (960 yards, 11 TDs), freshman RB Trey Sermon (710-5) and freshman WR CeeDee Lamb (40 receptions, 741 yards, 7 TDs).  Aside from Mayfield, the best pro prospect is TE Mark Andrews.  Andrews is 6’5″ and 254lbs and often plays in the slot to maximize his size advantage over smaller corners and safeties.  Andrews is certainly not the most well-rounded TE in the class but he will likely be the first drafted in 2018 rookie drafts for his receiving ability.  In my early 2018 mock rookie draft I had Andrews as the 2.10 pick and the first TE off the board.  Andrews led the team in receptions (58) and receiving TDs (8) and was second in receiving yards (906).  LT Orlando Brown seems to be a polarizing player in mock drafts as I have seen him as high as the 2nd overall pick to the 18th overall pick to all the way down to 59th overall.  The Sooners defense is led by DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.  Okoronkwo has two straight 70+ tackle and 8+ sack seasons.  He landed on numerous second team All-American lists and was the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year (shared with Malik Jefferson).

Georgia had some quarterback controversy very early in the year when freshman Jake Fromm took over for the injured Jacob Eason in the season opener.  Regardless of how well Eason played in 2016 as a freshman, there was no way he was getting the job back from Fromm once he took over.  By virtue of their strong rushing game, Fromm is not counted on to throw the ball much (he had six games with fewer than ten completions) but when he does he is efficient.  He ended the season with 21 TDs and 5 INTs and had rate stats significantly higher than those of Eason in 2016.  The run game is a three-headed monster featuring Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and D’Andre Swift.  Chubb led the way with 1,175 yards and 13 TDs; Michel had 948 yards and 13 TDs; Swift had 597 yards and 3 TDs.  Neither Chubb nor Michel are pass catchers but Swift did have 15 receptions.  Swift is a true freshman and a name to watch for next season after Chubb and Michel leave for the NFL.  Both Chubb and Michel were drafted in my 2018 early mock draft (Chubb at 1.03, Michel at 2.06).  Chubb has an injury history which may trouble some NFL teams but he’s been mostly healthy since his 2015 knee injury.  Swift closed out the SEC Championship game against Auburn and had 94 total yards on 10 touches – look for a similar output here in the bowl because Georgia will need to get the ball out quick to neutralize the pass rush.  The Georgia defense is led by two LBs who are bound to be IDP considerations in 2018.  The lesser prospect is DE/OLB rusher Lorenzo Carter.  Carter had 48 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries this season.  I researched him back in Week 4 and guessed he could end up as a first rounder – that may be a little high but he could still get picked on Day Two.  Roquan Smith is an elite prospect.  He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and is a first team All-American.  In 2016 he had 95 tackles with no sacks, this year he improved to 113 tackles and 5 sacks.  He’s the top draft eligible player at the position and will be a Top 10 draft pick.

I’m taking Oklahoma purely because of Baker Mayfield.  If the game is close, he’ll find a way to win it.  I worry that Georgia could get an early lead and milk to clock with their run game but if they start slow they’ll struggle to keep up with Mayfield, et al.  Prediction: Oklahoma

College Football Playoff Semifinal #2, Allstate Sugar Bowl, #4 Alabama (11-1) vs #1 Clemson (12-1), 8:45 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Alabama: 12th scoring offense, 83rd passing offense, 10th rushing offense; 1st scoring defense, 7th passing defense, 3rd rushing defense
  • Clemson: 21st scoring offense, 52nd passing offense, 33rd rushing offense; 2nd scoring defense, 8th passing defense, 13th rushing defense

How often is the third installment of a trilogy the best?  Probably never unless you’re a big Return of the Jedi fan.  I don’t think this one will have the juice of the last two matchups because we’re missing the star that is Deshaun Watson.  Don’t get me wrong it’ll be entertaining but we won’t be seeing this one on ESPN Classic in ten years.

Alabama snuck into the playoff in my opinion.  If it were up to me, I would have taken Ohio State because they won their conference and did not have any FCS wins.  Sure, Alabama has one less loss but in my mind they also have two less wins.  Alabama is full of familiar names so we’ll go through them quickly.  QB Jalen Hurts feels like he’s been around for half a decade but he’s just a sophomore.  He is a run-first quarterback (he led the team in rush attempts with 137) who really improved as a passer this year.  His yards per attempt went up to 9.0 from 7.3 and he threw just one INT (he also only lost one fumble).  He didn’t run as much in 2017 as he did in 2016 but he also increased his yards per rush this year.  Nick Saban trusts him with the ball in his hands and you can see why.  In the preseason, my preferred Crimson Tide RB was Bo Scarborough; he disappointed this year with just 549 yards and 8 TDs.  I will be lowering him in my 2018 rookie rankings (assuming he comes out).  The best back this year was Damien Harris who is also draft eligible; he leapfrogged Scarborough in my early 2018 positional rankings.  Harris ran for 906 yards and 11 TDs but added just 8 receptions.  He’ll probably be an early 2nd round rookie pick for me next year.  WR Calvin Ridley is still my WR1 despite the fact that many draft analysts disagree with me.  Ridley’s production has been hampered by a run-heavy offense so of course we aren’t going to see production like Amari Cooper or Julio Jones.  Ridley is a little too light so I would like to see him add about 10lbs in the offseason to approximate Cooper’s size.  Ridley has a pedigree that few prospects can match: he was ESPN’s #1 recruit in his class and was the leading receiver for Alabama in three straight seasons in which they contended for the national championship.  I’m not scared off by his decreasing production and will keep him as my WR1 until he proves me otherwise.  Alabama has a number of defensive prospects including LB Rashaan Evans, S Ronnie Harrison and DT Da’Shawn Hand but the number one guy is DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick has played both corner and safety so he offers versatility in both pass coverage and run support.  His stats decreased from 2016 (66 tackles vs 55, 6 INTs vs 1) but he was battling a hamstring injury so that could have been the cause.  He has four career interception return touchdowns so when he has the ball in his hands he can change a game too.  Fitzpatrick is likely to go in the Top 3 in the NFL Draft and will instantly makeover a struggling defense.

I put out my first playoff ranking in Week 7 and had Clemson as the #1 team (I also had Alabama and Georgia, three out of four ain’t bad) and am happy to see them ascend back to the #1 spot after that loss to Syracuse.  Like Alabama, the strength of the team lies on defense.  There might be fix or six guys from the defense drafted this Spring.  DT Christian Wilkins started the season with some preseason hype, played well and increased his stats in 2017 (52 tackles, 5.0 sacks).  Wilkins will be a first rounder but challenging him to be the first pick from Clemson will be DE Clelin Ferrell.  Ferrell is just a redshirt sophomore but he broke out in 2017 for 62 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.  The defense also has two tackle machines in Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel.  The Clemson offense is similar to that of Alabama in that it features an efficient rush-first quarterback.  That quarterback is Kelly Bryant.  Bryant managed to play in each game despite an ankle injury and a concussion (he left that loss to Syracuse early due to the concussion).  Bryant only threw for 13 TDs but rushed for 11 more.  Freshman RB Travis Etienne is a burner who came on early in the season with some big plays to close out blowout wins.  He finished strong too: he had six scores over the last four games.  Etienne only had double digit carries twice so he’s not a high volume player but his speed means he’s only one missed tackle away from a touchdown.  WR Deon Cain (55-659-6) is a top receiver prospect for many analysts but I’m not sold.  He does not have elite size or production; I’ll wait and see how he does at the combine but I’m not sure his speed will make up for the other aspects.  Cain was suspended for the semi-final and championship games in 2015 after a failed drug test which will factor into his draft evaluation too.  WRs Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud are undersized but trustworthy possession receivers.

I’m not sure they deserve to be here based on their resume but the Tide deserve to be here based on their roster.  Save for the defensive line, Alabama arguably has better players at every position than Clemson.  Roll Tide.  Prediction: Alabama


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

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

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

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