The Watch List: 2020 Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: May 21st 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.

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday April 23rd. So, why am I bothering to create a mock draft so far in advance? I’ve found that creating mock drafts forces me to create both my positional rankings and my overall rankings. It would certainly be easier to ride the fence but I’d rather start thinking critically about these players now and edit as I go. The usual caveats apply here. This mock draft is a snapshot of my thinking at this moment. We have yet to see the best that many of these players are capable of producing so this list is very much a living document. A number of these underclassmen will decide to return to school and will create a gaping hole in my rankings. Some will be injured or lose their starting role for myriad reasons. Some will grow and mature physically, while others will do so mentally. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about this draft class but there is one thing I am sure of: I have never been so excited to study and write about a group of players!

1.01 | D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

Swift appears to be the full package. He is a combination back who combines effortless cutting ability with a desire to fight through contact. He is a natural receiver who has great hands and adjusts well to the ball. He has long speed to outrun chasing defenders even if he does take an extra beat to get up to top speed. Jerry Jeudy will give Swift a run for his money so I doubt he’s an unanimous 1.01 but he has my vote right now.

1.02 | Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

Jeudy is an A+ route runner who also utilizes that change of direction to be a handful after the catch. He’s explosive and can create big plays seemingly out of nothing. He can stop on a dime which helps him feint defensive backs both on a route and with the ball in his hands. As of today, we haven’t seen a glaring weakness in his game. Jeudy could be a Top 10 NFL Draft target after two years without a can’t miss wide receiver prospect.

1.03 | JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Dobbins has ascended to RB2 in my 2020 rankings. He’s an old school style player who will appeal to NFL scouts. He’s short and compact with a sturdy base. That base and his play strength help him excel in pass protection. He’s a decisive runner who plays with more power than speed. Although, that’s not to say he’s slow, he’s probably 4.45-4.50 quick. Dobbins is also a good pass catcher. I expect him to project as a three-down back at the next level.

1.04 | Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Etienne has the speed to outrun just about any defender to the boundary before he cuts up field and jets to pay dirt. He’s a fun guy to watch because he’s a seventy yarder just waiting to happen. He has not yet been a factor as a receiver (17 career receptions) but I don’t think he’s incapable, just under utilized. If he shows as a pass catcher this year he’ll solidify his spot in the top tier of backs.

1.05 | CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Lamb’s upside is immense so I pushed him all the way up to 1.05. I originally had him in the 2.01 range but decided I’d rather bet on his potential, now that he’ll be the Sooners’ top target. He has elite body control, easily tight-roping or toe-tapping the sideline. He is a one-hander extraordinaire with hands that are strong yet soft. His long speed is bettered by his long stride. Even though he weighs in at just 189lb he blocks with a tenacity and effectiveness that surprised me. Lamb has an alpha male attitude on the field that I loved. He has the rare combination of opportunity and talent that will help him blossom in 2019.

1.06 | Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

Shenault is a versatile playmaker who lines up all over the field. In fact, he often lines up in an h-back role and serves as an energetic blocker. He has a thick lower body that drives a powerful running style that can kick into an extra gear in the open field. He fights for extra yardage with above average play strength. Shenault catches the ball with his hands, utilizing great hand placement. Two injuries sidelined a promising 2018 campaign so I’m excited to see what we can do with a full season.

1.07 | Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Taylor leads my second tier of running backs right now. He’s an effective one-cut runner with power back wallop. He rarely goes down on first contact. I did observe that Taylor sometimes stutters too long at the line of scrimmage, so I’d like to see him more decisively select his lane. Like Etienne, he will need to get more involved as a receiver to avoid being type cast as a two-down back. As a Rutgers fan, Taylor is the one that got away. Instead, I have to watch him dominating Big Ten defenses in a different shade of red.

1.08 | Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

Okwuegbunam surprised me in that he plays as an in-line tight end more than I anticipated. He lacks suddenness and explosion in his blocks but at least he has that experience. Okwuegbunam has good body control and tracks the ball well over his shoulder. He’s a hands catcher who uses his fingertips to snag the ball which is a great trait to have so early in a career. Okwuegbunam will start the season as the prohibitive favorite to be the first TE off the board next April, as such he should be atop our fantasy boards too.

1.09 | Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma

Sermon is a running back well suited for the zone read offense. He slashes through holes, sells his fakes and gets upfield to block for the quarterback. I think Sermon’s “Football IQ” is very high too. He knows his pass blocking assignments, understands the game situation and runs a variety of routes from the backfield. He has a great stiff arm and doesn’t shy from contact. Sermon should get the lion’s share of the carries in the Sooner backfield this season and if he does he has first round rookie draft potential pending scheme fit.

1.10 | Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Herbert was my QB1 last season before he decided to return for his senior year. He retains that mantle to start the 2020 NFL Draft campaign. Herbert has the size that NFL teams covet (6060/233). He has enough athleticism to pick up short yardage conversions and keep the defense honest but he’s certainly not a high volume runner. The biggest knock right now would be his accuracy (59.4% completion percentage last year was a career low). In 1QB RSO leagues, I believe it’s a good strategy to grab your preferred passer here because you get that fifth year option. If you’re playing Superflex/2QB, you’ll need to target him much earlier in the round.

2.01 | Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

Johnson is the biggest of the top receivers in the class at 6060/220. Whether he’s high-pointing the ball or making a full extension diving catch, he uses that long and lean frame to get to balls that others couldn’t. Johnson releases well with quick feet and is an adept hand fighter to get the corner’s hands off of him. He also has excellent situational awareness, I noted many times when he made a smart decision about how deep to run a route or when to protect the ball instead of fight for yardage. If he can add a few pounds without sacrificing his quickness, Johnson will be the best prototypical X receiver in this class.

2.02 | Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

Johnson, one of the rare seniors in this mock draft, can win from both outside and slot alignments. He has explosive feet off the snap and out of his route breaks. He uncovers well which helps make him a target for the quarterback on most plays, even when the defender is closely trailing him. Johnson shines after the catch where he pairs elusiveness with elite breakaway speed. I may be lower on Johnson than other writers so I owe him a thorough study this offseason.

2.03 | Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

Reagor is a literal track star: he excelled in the long jump and relay races in high school. He brought those talents with him to Fort Worth where he’s shown off his elite speed and athleticism for Horned Frog fans. What surprised me was how well he wins in the air despite being just 5110/195. He’s nearly impossible to cover, especially against Cover 2 when he can split the safeties on a deep post and leave his man in the dust. He also wins after the catch where his strength and contact balance help him rack up yards. Unfortunately there was no game film to watch so my exposure was limited to highlight reels. Reagor will be a first round consideration if his full game films live up to the expectations his highlights set.

2.04 | Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Akers is a tough study because of how poor his offensive line play has been both years in Tallahassee. The film I watched of Akers showed that he has a balanced running style with 4.50 speed and more power than I expected. He’s adept at submarining for additional yardage by getting lower than the defender. The Akers I see in my mind’s eye, perhaps from expectations in his freshman season, has more wiggle than I saw. He runs a ton of routes out of the backfield but I didn’t get to see him pass protect much. I’m hopeful that the Seminoles are a better team in 2019 so we get to see how well Akers plays when his team is competing.

2.05 | Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma

Brooks plays larger than his 5110/205 frame, running with an upright and downhill style. He’s a patient runner who waits for his blocks and follows them through the hole. Brooks is not a flashy runner but he’ll get every yard that’s available by powering through defenders and falling forward. He keeps his feet well and can break low tackles. I didn’t get much exposure to his pass blocking and catching ability but what I did see appeared average, at worst. Brooks, a redshirt sophomore, will continue to split touches with Trey Sermon so who knows if he’ll come out early with a small sample size. If he does, keep an eye on him.

2.06 | Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is a big back at 6020/230 and it’s hard not to see Derrick Henry when watching him (the 2s on the jersey and hairs poking out of his helmet certainly help make the connection). He’s a former top recruit but has not had many carries yet in his career due to the depth at the position for the Tide. He shows excellent vision, seeing cut back lanes and hitting them strongly. His size and strength lend some power to his evasive moves. He’s largely a projection at this point but Harris should have plenty of opportunity to show us his skills in 2019 and is likely to creep up my draft board.

2.07 | Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

Benjamin is fun to watch because of his elusiveness. He has a Swiss army knife’s worth of moves at his disposal: spins, jukes, cuts, hurdles. His feet are dynamic and never stop moving. Benjamin is susceptible to getting tripped up or being caught by his jersey so I would like to see him improve his strength and balance. It could be a one game coincidence but ball security could be a concern as well. Where Benjamin excels is as a pass catcher, he has good hands and knows how to get open. His receiving upside will help increase his value early in his NFL career.

2.08 | Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards is a powerfully built outside receiver who started his Gamecock career strong in 2016. His numbers have failed to bloom like draft fans had hoped though. He’s still a solid prospect whose floor projects as a reliable possession receiver in the NFL. He has strong hands which he uses to consistently catch the ball away from his body. There was only one game film available, and that from 2017, so I still have a lot to learn about Edwards. I am comfortable putting him here though because I feel that he has a high floor as a prospect.

2.09 | Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa is undeniably talented and his name has been on everybody’s lips for a year. So, why do I have him as my QB2 and so low in my overall rankings? I think we first need to see that Tua can make it through a full season unscathed. He loves to improvise and takes a lot of hits which lead to some wear and tear as the season progressed. As much as we remember his game-winning relief performance in the championship game as a freshman, let’s not forget that he himself was pulled in this year’s championship. He’s now the unquestioned starter and will contend for QB1 if he puts together a complete and successful season. Tua has first overall potential: he is athletic, throws a beautiful deep ball and has impeccable character.

3.10 | Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Higgins uses his length to box-out defenders and win at the catch point. He’s a curl and comeback king, running smart routes and making sure-handed catches for first downs. He attacks the ball with his hands when he comes out of his breaks, not wasting precious moments for the ball to come to him. He has elite separation for somebody of his height (6040). Chances are that you saw a few of Higgins circus catch highlights last year because his concentration helps him snag batted or tipped balls with regularity. Higgins will be catching passes from one of the country’s most ballyhooed quarterbacks, sophomore Trevor Lawrence, so it’s inevitable that we see his highlights all season long.

Honorable Mentions

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

Dillon is a big and powerful back, likely the best thumper in the class. He’s rarely brought down on first contact and often dishes out more punishment than he receives. He doesn’t have top end speed (4.60?) but he doesn’t need it for his playing style. Dillon ran more routes than I anticipated based on his number of receptions so I think there is room for growth in that area. Similarly, he needs to improve as a pass blocker. He was hampered by an ankle injury for much of 2018 so I’m excited to see Dillon bounce back and show us he has every down potential.

Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma

Calcaterra is the lightest TE on my watch list at 221 so we’re likely looking more at a “big slot” than an in-line tight end for the purposes of his NFL Draft evaluation. Regardless, he’s a playmaker with soft hands and is a big play threat up the seam. Oklahoma does have a lot of mouths to feed and is losing another Heisman winning quarterback, so it’s possible we see Calc’s numbers dip this year. Even if that’s the case, I don’t think his draft stock should.

 

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

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

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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Week 11

Updated: November 8th 2017

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

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  In my opinion, Saquon Barkley is still the favorite to win the Heisman.  He did have a down game compared to his high standards but he did still total 96 yards on 17 touches.  If that is his worst game of the season, he’s your Heisman winner.  Michigan State was the first team to hold Barkley without a touchdown since Ohio State did on October 22, 2016 (15 games).  Both Bryce Love and Lamar Jackson likely fall in the rankings.  Love was slow in his return from injury (16 rushes for 63 yards and one score) while Jackson simply was off while Baker Mayfield lit up Oklahoma State.  Mayfield has played two games against ranked opponents and has totaled 984 yards and 8 TDs in those two contests.  Mayfield has been a historically good quarterback the last two seasons (he finished fourth and third in Heisman voting the last two years) but 2017 is even better; all of his rate stats (completion percentage, yards per attempt and TD:INT ratio) have all improved this season.  I’ve been slow to add Mayfield to the top of my Heisman ballot but he’s probably my second choice right now.
  • Playoff Picture:  After a number of surprise losses last week (i.e. Ohio State and Penn State), there are just nine 0- or 1-loss teams remaining.  Some of those teams will face off over the next three weeks or presumably in conference championship games so what does that mean?  We are probably looking at a CFP with at least one 2-loss team and I’ll bet at least one 1-loss conference champion misses out (probably Washington).  Right now I would rank them Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame.  I rank them this way because right now I would take Georgia over Alabama in the SEC Championship (I reserve the right to change that after I see Alabama play Mississippi State and Auburn) and I think Clemson runs the table (which would likely mean two wins over highly ranked Miami to add to their already solid resume).  Interestingly, this ranking leaves three Power 5 conference champions out of the playoff because the SEC gets two bids and Notre Dame sneaks in.

Players to Watch

  • Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado:  Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  Lindsay does not have elite size for an NFL prospect.  He’s just 5’8″ and 190lbs.  Since 2010, there have been 38 RBs to measure 5’8″ or shorter at the combine.  Of those 38, only seven were lighter than Lindsay and just sixteen were drafted (42%).  If you factor in Lindsay’s projected speed (4.49 per NFLDraftScout.com) things do get a little better: 19 of those 38 ran a sub 4.50, nine of which were drafted (47%).  So, if Lindsay runs a sub 4.50, my guess is that an NFL team would give him a chance given his immense production.  Speaking of Lindsay’s production, let’s take a look at his stats and game logs.  Lindsay is a two year starter and four year contributor for the Buffaloes.  He averages 5.0 yards per carry over his career and is also a weapon out of the backfield because he averages 2.3 receptions per game.  In 2016, Lindsay rushed for 1,252 yards and 16 TDs and caught 53 balls for 493 yards and a score.  In 2017, his lines are currently at 1,334-12 and 20-233-1.  Looking at his game logs, the beastly nicknames “bell cow” and “work horse” come to mind.  Lindsay has 22 career games with at least 15 carries.  Through 2016-2017, when Lindsay was the primary ball carrier for the team, he has thirteen games with 15 carries and 2 receptions.  There are two other backs ahead of him on that list: Ito Smith of Southern Miss and Justin Jackson of Northwestern.  Notice that the dynamic pass catching back named Saquon Barkley is behind Lindsay on this list.  Obviously, I’m not saying Lindsay is a better player, I’m just simply illustrating that Lindsay’s production is impressive.  DraftBreakdown.com only has film of Lindsay from 2016, nothing from 2017 yet, but I decided to dive into his tape against Washington State since they had the best rush defense of those films available.  Due to his dimensions, Lindsay has a low center of gravity that he uses to his advantage to bounce off defenders like a pool ball.  I didn’t note many broken wrap tackles where a defender actually had hands on him.  So, while I don’t question his toughness and grit, I do question his play strength.  A number of plays went for minimal or no gain after a blown block lead to contact in the backfield that he could not bounce off of.  Lindsay shows a willingness to run between the tackles, although his NFL team is unlikely to deploy him this way, and is at least average in his cuts.  He had a wonderful play in pass protection in the first quarter where he saved his quarterback from demolition on a blitz.  Unfortunately, he did fumble the ball twice (one of which was lost).  I’ll end on two positives: Lindsay has not suffered any serious injuries in college and has great hair.  Ultimately, I came away encouraged but with the slightest hint of hesitation.  It’s a toss-up whether or not Lindsay gets drafted so until we know more I don’t think I can accurately figure his RSO value.
  • Larry Rose, RB, New Mexico State:  I came across Larry Rose’s name while researching some stats for my Lindsay write up.  Rose has a similar statistical profile (heavy workload, a factor in the receiving game) but he’s bigger at 5’11” and 195lbs.  Rose’s best seasons came as a freshman (1,102 yards rushing) and sophomore (1,657) so he’s been off the radar recently.  As a junior, Rose rushed for 865 yards in 9 games and this year he has 613 yards in 8 games.  Those missed games are due to injuries; Rose missed the start of 2016 after sports hernia surgery and missed time in 2017 with a knee.  He has 108 career receptions for just under a thousand yards so he’s very productive as a receiver.  Similarly to Lindsay, DraftBreakdown.com did not have much to choose from but I was able to watch Rose against Georgia Southern last year.  I came away impressed with both his straight line and lateral speed.  When given the chance to get out of the backfield, he is an explosive runner.  Unfortunately, he’s playing on a bad team and there are more negative plays than positive plays.  In pass protection, he looks to be average although he’s infrequently in to protect (just 19.9% of pass plays per Pro Football Focus).  I fear that that lack of pass protection experience will hamper Rose’s chances at the next level.  We may be looking at an UDFA in Rose so it’s hard to get too excited but considering how dominant he was earlier in his career I am interested in following him through the draft process.
  • Steve Ishmael, WR, Syracuse:  I have come across Ishmael’s name a few times this season as he has been near the top of the FBS receiving stat lists for most of the year.  He’s currently 2nd in receptions (78) and 4th in yards (986).  Ishmael’s reception totals have increased year over year (27-39-48-78) which is a positive sign of his development.  He only has 16 career touchdowns, despite being a four-year contributor, but let’s not forget how poor Syracuse has been in recent memory.  Ishmael has good size (6’2″ 209lbs) and decent speed (4.53 estimate from NFLDraftScout.com); given his size and possession receiver skills (41 of 78 receptions went for a first down) I would comp him to Keenan Allen.  Sadly, DraftBreakdown.com does not have any film of Ishmael yet – from any season.  So, further film study of Ishmael will have to wait but I like what I have seen in limited exposure while watching Syracuse against Florida State and Clemson.  Another positive for Ishmael is that he seems to be clutch.  Two of his biggest games came against LSU and NC State, both ranked at various times this season, in which he combined for a 18-243-2 line.  Furthermore, 44 of his 78 receptions have come while the Orangemen were trailing the opponent.  I’m looking forward to learning more about Ishmael, he’s a sneaky deep sleeper to target.

Games to Watch

  •  #1 Georgia at #10 Auburn, 3:30pm Saturday on CBS:  Georgia gets another CFP resume builder here against a highly ranked Auburn team.  Auburn has the 24th ranked rush defense in the FBS (126.4 yards per game); meanwhile, Georgia has the nation’s 8th ranked rush offense (279.7).  The Georgia rushing attack is headlined by Nick Chubb (867 yards, 9 TDs) but don’t forget about Sony Michel (867-9) and freshman D’Andre Swift (388-1).
  • Iowa at #8 Wisconsin, 3:30pm Saturday on ABC:  Wisconsin can’t even afford a close loss in this one.  Iowa is coming off a great win versus Ohio State so the Badgers will be on high alert and need a beatdown victory.  Their only hope at clinching a CFP spot would be to finish the season undefeated (including a Big Ten Championship).
  • #2 Alabama at #16 Mississippi State, 7:00pm Saturday on ESPN:  This one will be a defensive struggle.  Alabama has the 2nd ranked defense by points and 3rd by yards; Mississippi State’s ranks 14th and 7th.  I’m interested in seeing QB Nick Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald was getting some draft hype a few weeks ago after good games against BYU and Kentucky but he’s since come back to Earth.  He’s pretty inefficient with a 56.8% completion percentage and a 13:10 TD:INT ratio.  A big game against the Tide would buoy his draft stock again.
  • #3 Notre Dame at #7 Miami, 8:00pm Saturday on ABC:  I’m not old enough to remember the “Catholics vs Convicts” game that happened in 1988 when I was just a year old but this one will be nearly as important even though both teams are not undefeated.  I’ve been saying Miami was underrated and would lose for the last few weeks and they have proved me wrong each week.  I’m still picking them to lose unless they make it to the ACC Championship.  The injury status of RB Josh Adams and QB Brandon Wimbush will be big stories heading into Saturday.
  • #6 TCU at #5 Oklahoma, 8:00pm Saturday on FOX:  These two teams are tied in the Big 12 standings at 5-1.  The loser still stands a chance in the conference championship game race but will have to duke it out with the winner of the Oklahoma State and Iowa State game (both of those teams are 4-2).  TCU features the best pass defense in the Big 12 allowing 214.4 yards per game in the air.  Iowa State, the team that beat Oklahoma a few weeks ago, has the conference’s second best passing defense.  I’m not calling for the upset, Mayfield is en fuego, but it will be close.

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper