The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Group of 5 Gems

Updated: June 14th 2020

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

Each year when we evaluate the draft classes of individual NFL teams, it often comes down to the value they find in the middle rounds. After all, it’s not all that hard to identify the next Calvin Ridley, finding the next Michael Gallup is the real test. I don’t think it’s a coincidence then that we typically see the gems from the Group of 5 start going off the board in the third round right as teams are starting to look for players who will return big on their draft capital investment. Sure, the guys from the Group of 5 may not have been 5-star recruits or All-American talents but they produced at a high level on a consistent basis. Today, we will take a closer look at three players who I think will fall into that “safe bet” category of draft pick. Will they be rookie Pro Bowlers, probably not. Will they find an immediate role on an NFL team, definitely.

Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

  • Measurables5090/195
  • 2018 Stats13 games, 174 carries, 978 rush yards, 5.6 ypc, 14 rush TDs; 7 receptions, 62 rec yards, 8.9 ypr, 0 rec TD
  • 2019 Stats13 games, 312 carries, 1,799 rush yards, 5.8 ypc, 19 rush TDs; 13 receptions, 209 rec yards, 16.1 ypr, 1 rec TD

Imagine the Oklahoma drills in the backyard of the Patterson household with RB Jaret facing off against LB James. The twins still face off in practice now that they are starring for the Buffalo Bulls. James may be a key part of the defense but today we are going to be focusing on Jaret who set the MAC on fire in 2019. Patterson set school records last year in rushing yards (1,799) and rushing touchdowns (19). His rushing total was good enough to lead the MAC and to finish 5th nationwide. Patterson is no one-hit-wonder either, his success as a rookie earned him the MAC Freshman of the Year title in 2018. I knew Patterson’s name from my 2019 preseason research but I don’t recall seeing him in any live game action last year so I was eager to jump into some tape.

I watched Patterson’s two available games, Penn State and Charlotte, which coincidentally bookended his season. I came away from my study thinking that Patterson is a well-rounded back who isn’t truly elite in any single area. By virtue of his stocky frame he has the power to overcome defenders and has the agility to utilize a number of specialty moves like a hurdle and spin move. I think he has more to offer as a receiver too, he just didn’t get too many targets coming out of the Bull’s preferred two-back shotgun set. One phrase I wrote down when watching Patterson was “want to.” As in, this “want to” run where he refused to go down without a first down while Buffalo was still within striking distance of Penn State.

Perhaps what will help make Patterson’s draft stock is his ability as a pass blocker. The Buffalo coaching staff clearly trusts him in that role because he was constantly in protection in the two games I watched. He acquitted himself quite well too even though he’s not a big back. He had a number of good blocks against Charlotte but this was by far my favorite. It’s not clear in the gif but you can see him reading the defense looking for his assignment. The player he originally spies twists inside which leaves him to get the blitzing nickel. He shuffles over, sets his feet and flips the corner over his shoulder.

Patterson’s stats are impressive but I would expect that he needs two more seasons to convince scouts that he’s worthy of an NFL draft pick. Although, he’ll have two good chances to make that case in 2020 with Power 5 matchups against Kansas State and Ohio State. Whether it’s 2021 or 2022, keep an eye on Patterson’s landing spot.

Damonte Coxie, WR, Memphis

  • Measurables6030/197
  • 2017 Stats11 games, 21 receptions, 323 rec yards, 15.4 ypr, 3 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats14 games, 72 receptions, 1,174 rec yards, 16.3 ypr, 7 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 76 receptions, 1,276 rec yards, 16.8 ypr, 9 rec TDs

We’ve all heard the cliches of teams dubbing themselves “Linebacker U” or “DB U”, but what about “Dynamic Skill Position U?” I guess that doesn’t really roll off the tongue but it is a nickname that the Memphis Tigers should consider. The player we are going to highlight here, WR Damonte Coxie, is just one in a long list of current and future NFL players — including Kenny Gainwell, Antonio Gibson, Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard and Anthony Miller — who all found success at Memphis under former coach Mike Norvell. New head coach Ryan Silverfield has history as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach, and had two stints with Norvell at Arizona State and Memphis. Hopefully Silverfield will be able to keep the magic alive.

On paper, Coxie’s numbers speak for themselves: he could feasibly finish his career with 250 receptions, 4,000 yards and 40 TDs. To get a better feel for his skillset, I turned to his available cuts and found a special treat: all-22 footage of his regular season matchup against Cincinnati. This type of footage is rare to find for amateur draft fans like myself but it gives a great perspective, especially for receivers. One thing that shows up on the all-22 versus regular highlights is just how physical Coxie is on every play. He reminded me of a skilled heavyweight boxer: constantly throwing jabs to set up a future haymaker and using his size to lean on his opponent to gain leverage. Coxie can catch it all whether it’s one-handed, over the shoulder, in traffic. He’s also quick with explosive feet at the snap that were reminiscent of former teammate Anthony Miller. This endzone angle is all you need to see of Coxie to understand his playing style. He fends off the double team, then makes a lunging catch before absorbing a big collision. As he tries to break away, he has the presence of mind to cut it back past an oncoming tackler which nets him an extra ten yards. He may not have the flat out speed to convert that play into a score but few receivers would have made it as far as he did.

I’ve been a fan of Coxie for over a year now and I hope you’ll give him a close look this season too. I don’t think it’s fair to call Coxie a “sleeper” at this point, he has to be in the conversation on Day Two. I will not be surprised when he ends up drafted higher than some well-known Power 5 names.

Warren Jackson, WR, Colorado State

  • Measurables: 6060/219
  • 2017 Stats: 13 games, 15 receptions, 265 rec yards, 17.7 ypr, 2 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 10 games, 32 receptions, 405 rec yards, 12.7 ypr, 4 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games, 77 receptions, 1,119 rec yards, 14.5 ypr, 8 rec TDs

It’s hard to hide somebody who is 6060/219 but it feels like that is what the Mountain West is doing to CSU standout Warren Jackson. I had honestly not heard of Jackson before I started my preseason research and that surprised me because I was a big fan of the last two star Ram receivers, Rashard Higgins and Michael Gallup. Apparently, Jackson was a big fan of those two also, because the dream of following in their footsteps caused him to change his commitment from Arizona and to ignore other P5 offers.

Jackson defied some of my preconceived notions because I assumed that he’d be a statuesque outside receiver. On the contrary, in the tape and highlights I watched, I saw that Jackson is a versatile receiver who also lines up in the slot and comes in motion frequently. That versatility of deployment is surely to highlight the matchup nightmare he can be — he’s too big for a nickel corner and he’s too fast for a linebacker. His release off the line of scrimmage is good for somebody his size. When he’s against close coverage, he can fight off the defender to free himself. When he has some space in the slot, he can stem inside or out and run a clever route. Jackson is a priority in the red zone where he can high point the ball above anybody on the field. In fact, 12 of his 14 career touchdowns have come from inside the twenty. If he bulks up a bit more he’ll be able to dominate. Check out this play that I found in a 2019 highlight package which perfectly sums up Jackson’s game. Backed up deep in their own end, the Rams take a deep shot. Jackson, forty yards downfield, times his jump well and rips the ball out of the air. He lands, keeps his feet, avoids contact with the colliding defenders and gallops off. None of the pursuing tacklers make it within five yards.

CSU starts the season with a great showcase game: a visit from Colorado. That game is surely going to be easy to find on the dial so I’m already looking forward to tuning in and seeing Jackson create some #DraftTwitter buzz for himself.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 AAC Season Preview

Updated: July 28th 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.

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: D’Eriq King, QB, Houston.  King is likely to be the most debated prospect in the 2020 class.  He has some of the upside and athleticism that Kyler Murray possessed last season when he won the Heisman.  The only downside is that he also shares Murray’s body type.  If King stays healthy — he missed the last two games of 2018 — he could hit 4,000 total yards and 50 TDs.  He’s on the short list for top Heisman candidates and a good bet if you take “the field” instead of Tua Tagovailoa or Trevor Lawrence.

Underclassman to Watch: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati.  Ridder took over midway through the season opener and retained the job throughout.  He is a dual-threat quarterback with 6040/212 size.  He completed 62.4% of his passes, threw 20 TDs to just 5 INTs, and rushed for 583-5.  In the highlight package I watched, Ridder’s composure in the pocket and his ball placement impressed me.  A comp came to mind but I’ll withhold it for now until I see full game tape.  The Bearcats are poised to win the AAC West this season with a weakened UCF and Ridder will be a huge factor.

Newcomer of the Year: Brandon Wimbush, QB, UCF.  Wimbush transfers in from Notre Dame where he flashed his playmaking ability but was plagued by inconsistency.  In McKenzie Milton’s absence, Wimbush was expected to battle with Darriel Mack for the starting role, however Mack went down with a non-football injury.  Wimbush is dynamic as a ball carrier but struggles to complete 50% of his passes.  Head coach Josh Heupel is known as a quarterback-friendly coach so I expect he can structure the offense to highlight Wimbush’s strengths and maintain the Knights’ winning way.

Coaching Carousel: Dana Holgorsen is the biggest name among new coaches in the American this season.  He joins Houston from West Virginia, a rare move down in conference prestige for a big-name coach.  Holgorsen, at $4.0mil per year, becomes the highest paid Group of Five coach (Memphis coach Josh Norvell is second at $2.6mil).  Holgorsen spent ten years in Texas as an assistant at Texas Tech and at Houston so he should know the talent-rich state well.  I have no doubt that he will have successful and high-scoring teams at Houston but I don’t understand why you would willingly give up a shot at playing in the College Football Playoff.

Players to Watch

D’Eriq King, QB, Houston

As I mentioned above, King is likely to be the most debated prospect in this year’s class.  He’s undeniably talented but is he an NFL quarterback?  If not, can he make a move back to receiver and find a role?  King is the next undersized dual-threat quarterback who will wow fans on his way to Heisman votes.  Last year we had Kyler Murray, who ended up going first overall to the Cardinals.  I went into King’s study expecting to see Murray and that was a mistake on my part because he’s not (yet?) on that level.  Before we get into my observations, let’s check in on King’s stats and measurables.

For those who are new to King as a player, let’s start with a quick primer.  He was recruited as a 3-star athlete and chose Houston over offers from Power 5 schools like Baylor and TCU.  Switched to receiver in 2016 so he could get on the field and became the starter at quarterback midway through 2017.  As a receiver, King was a slot/screen type, averaging less than ten yards per catch.  He also earned rushing touches as well.  In 2016, he had the rare distinction of scoring in four different ways: passing, rushing, receiving and kick returning.  At just 5110/190, King is undersized to be a starting quarterback but his athleticism makes up for whatever he may lack in height.

When I dug into his game film against Texas Tech from 2018, I noted that King regularly reads the field and throws to his second or third option on numerous plays.  There are definitely some quick-hitting single-read throws but when he’s given time and freedom to scan the field, he does.  You’ll actually see this trait on all three clips below.

On this first clip, you’ll see that King throws to his second read.  He bombs it more than fifty yards and places it well, just shading the receiver to the sideline away from help coverage.  The receiver still has a lot to do before he scores — over the shoulder catch, avoid a tackle, stay in bounds — but King makes it possible by delivering a beautiful ball.

I was surprised that I didn’t see King on more designed runs.  I saw him play sporadically last season, mostly in highlights, and assumed he was more of a primary rushing option.  Instead, much of his ground game comes when he evades the pass rush and gets out of the pocket.  I’m actually glad to see that, because functional mobility from the pocket as a scrambler is more important to an NFL team than a speedy option quarterback; forcing a defense to spy on the quarterback helps open up the field for other players.  On this play, King senses the play breaking down and sprints out of the pocket, accelerating just enough to beat the defense to the first down marker.

King is able to improvise with the ball in his hands, a skill he shows on this last clip.  The initial read on this 1st and Goal play is a quick screen.  King decides not to throw the ball and instead looks to his second option, a slant from the blocking receiver, which is well covered.  King then tucks it, rolls out of the pocket to his left and is the first to the pylon.  It’s an illustrative combination of the two previous clips and shows how dangerous King can be.

There are some negatives I noted as well when watching King.  As I stated above, he has the arm strength to deliver a deep ball 50+ yards but I think he needs to be more selective about when he employs that zip.  He too frequently overpowers short and intermediate passes which sacrifices touch and accuracy.  He’s a multi-faceted player but his versatility means that he hasn’t spent that much time as a starting quarterback at a high level.

He may need more than just his senior season to gain the experience and consistency to become a viable professional quarterback, however King flashes enough upside that some team is likely to stash him on their roster and see if he continues to develop.

 

Michael Warren II, RB, Cincinnati

When I previewed the AAC in 2018, I chose Cincinnati as a team on the rise.  One of my observations was that the Bearcats had a number of options at quarterback and running back and that “if [head coach Luke] Fickell [could] juggle his myriad backfield options, Cinci could surprise in the East and get to eight wins.”  Little did I know that eight wins would turn into eleven and that the two to emerge would be the aforementioned Desmond Ridder and RB Michael Warren II.  Warren fell into the job due to an injury and didn’t look back, going for 35-142-3 in the season-opening win against UCLA.  Warren totaled 1,329 yards and 19 TDs, an impressive output for somebody elevated to the starting spot.

Warren is listed at 5110/218 and runs with a throwback, between the tackles style.  He’s fantastic in short yardage situations when he can use his power to pick up tough yards.  Late in the UCLA game, Cinci found itself with a tenuous two point lead in the red zone.  While trying to seal the victory, they came upon a 4th and 2.  Dare I say everybody in the stadium knew what was coming: a Michael Warren run.  The Bruins put five on the line of scrimmage and come with the rush.  Warren is able to churn and fight for the all-important first down.  By no means is it a flashy play but it illustrates what his NFL role could be.

Warren also excels in the passing game.  He finished 2018 with 25 receptions for 232 yards and a score.  I don’t think those stats do justice to his pass catching ability though.  When I was watching the UCLA game there were numerous times when he was lined up as a slot or boundary receiver, so the coaching staff trusts him in that role.  Speaking of trust, he was put in a lot of pass protection situations early in the UCLA game, his first as the starter.  He did well and clearly knows his assignments, even if he lacks pop in his blocks.  Warren has good hands, catching the ball away from his body, and isn’t fearful of contact over the middle.  This first down catch shows just how versatile he can be in the passing game.  He’s lined up in the slot and runs a quick slant on a 3rd and 6.  He extends and makes the grab; he knows the safety is closing so he quickly gets both hands on the ball to secure it.  So far in my offseason study, I can’t recall seeing another back make a similar play as a receiver.

I was a bit disappointed that the only game film currently available was the UCLA game.  I was hoping to see Warren later in the season when he was full entrenched and had a number of starts under his belt.  So, I turned on some highlight reels I found on Youtube.  I’m glad I did.  One of my original notes on Warren was that he lacked top-end speed and was probably a 4.55-4.60 runner.  What I saw on highlights contradicted that.  You can see here against Tulane that he clearly has another gear after he breaks through the second level.  I updated my notes now to say that Warren accelerates well but struggles to maintain his top-end speed, maybe topping out at about 4.50.

Cincinnati figures to be in the running for the AAC championship in 2019 so we’re likely to see a lot of Warren this season.  I’m grateful because I think there’s more to his game than I was able to see in his lone game tape.  At worst, it appears that Warren could be a solid short yardage specialist with receiving upside at the next level.

Honorable Mentions

Damonte Coxie, WR, Memphis: Coxie emerged in 2018 as the Tigers’ leading receiver, ending with more than double the receptions of the next best receiver (72 vs 33).  He’s listed at 6030/200 and plays with above average play strength and excellent hand strength.  His play strength allows him to body-battle with defenders for 50/50 balls and also makes him a difficult tackle after the catch.  His hand strength helps him rip the ball away from defenders and is the reason why he’s often able to snare balls well away from his frame.  Coxie is a redshirt junior and will earn draft buzz if he repeats his 1,172 yard output from last season.

Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF: I watched a highlight reel and a full game film of Davis and I’m honestly not sure which I should put more stock in.  The highlight reel showed a downfield threat who wins contested balls while the full film showed a possession receiver with the ability to break a big play.  Either would be valuable, it’s just a matter of what does he do well consistently.  He led UCF in receiving with a 53-815-7 line last year but I expect that to decline with Brandon Wimbush at the helm.  Whether Davis can regularly show us his playmaking ability, and not his counting stats, will ultimately determine if he comes out as a junior.

James Proche, WR, SMU: Proche led the AAC and finished fifth in the FBS with 93 receptions in 2018.  He averaged 12.9 yards per catch, finishing with 1,199 yards (and 12 TDs).  Proche (pronounced Pro-shay) also returned kicks and punts for the Mustangs which will increase his chances of making an NFL roster.  He’s listed at 5110/190, has about 4.50 speed and made some spectacular catches last season.  I love that Proche shows up in big games.  In two career games against conference-leading UCF, Proche totaled 19-273-3.  In five games against Power 5 opponents, he amassed 32 receptions for 453 yards and 3 TDs, including an 11-166-2 coming-out party against Michigan.  I’m expecting big numbers from Proche again in 2019.

Isaiah Wright, WR, Temple: Wright was the AAC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2018 but he offers much more than that to the team. He’s deployed in myriad ways: wildcat, jet sweep, option, traditional receiver. Wright has fantastic change of direction skills and has straight line speed to outrun most defenders. At 6020/220 he’s built well and is bigger that most players with his skill set. In 2018 he scored seven total touchdowns: three receiving, one rushing, one kick return and two punt returns. He may be a gadget player in the NFL but he could still have fantasy value.

Mitchell Wilcox, TE, USF: Mitchell Wilcox is an easy prospect to fall in love with. He has better than average size at 6050/245 and ample speed for the position. He’s versatile because he’s also a competent blocker, which gives him a leg up on big-slot tight end prospects. Most impressively, Wilcox is a natural when it comes to catching the ball. He adjusts well to the ball in midair and loves to make highlight reel diving catches. After watching his highlights, I also feel that he has the potential to be an emotional leader for his team. Wilcox is a lock to be a Top 10 tight end prospect in the class and may end up even higher in my rankings.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper