The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part II

Updated: December 15th 2018

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

Gasparilla Bowl, South Florida (7-5) vs Marshall (8-4), Thur 12/20 at 8:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
    • I first reviewed Tyre Brady’s film in the offseason and came away very impressed. I admit that it may be primacy bias since Brady was the first wideout I studied this draft year. He’s definitely somebody I plan to revisit. I posited that Brady looked like he could develop into a starting X receiver in the NFL. I liked his acrobatic nature, his strong hands and his toe-tapping body control. His speed and fluid change of direction ability will be important traits as he matures as a route runner. Brady’s numbers dipped a bit in 2018 (60-819-9) but I’m still optimistic. In his last two games of the C-USA regular season (before the Va Tech makeup) he went for a combined 11-207-3. I previously suggested a Day Two grade for Brady but after a somewhat disappointing stat line, I’ll bump him down to the 4th round.
  • My Pick: USF, +2.5
    • Both teams are a horrendous 4-8 ATS this season, including 20+ point losses for both in their last contest. USF has been disappointing this season but they might get a bit of an edge playing in-state. Take the points but you won’t feel great about it.

Bahamas Bowl, FIU (8-4) vs Toledo (7-5), Fri 12/21 at 12:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Cody Thompson, WR, Toledo
    • Thompson is a fifth year senior who was granted an extra year of eligibility after breaking his leg early in 2017. From 2015-2017, Thompson averaged a whopping 20.3 yards per catch. However, that fell to just 13.8 in 2018. The biggest difference for Thompson? He was originally catching balls from the prolific Logan Woodside so it’s hard to say if it’s quarterback play or a slow return post-injury. Pre-injury, Thompson was not fast but he showed skills after the catch, particularly with a killer spin move. He’s inconsistent with his hands, often body catching the ball. One unexpected bright spot was his blocking; he lacks top end strength but shows a willingness and above average technique for the position. He’s likely a late rounder but will latch on to a team as a special teamer.
  • My Pick: FIU, +6
    • FIU has been an underdog three times this season (Indiana, Miami, Marshall) and won ATS each time. For the season they are 9-3 and are 5-0 away from home. Toledo has struggled at QB this season, switching between Mitch Guadagni and Eli Peters (for both health and production reasons). Meanwhile, graduate transfer QB James Morgan has been playing very well for the Golden Panthers and lead the conference in most passing stats. If you’re telling me I am getting the better quarterback and the points, slam dunk.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Western Michigan (7-5) vs BYU (6-6), Fri 12/21 at 4:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Corbin Kaufusi, DE, BYU
    • When I came across Kaufusi this past offseason, I felt like I found a diamond in the rough. Here’s a largely unknown guy who measures in at an immense 6090-275 and makes plays in the backfield (18.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 tackles in his career). Not only is he an interesting prospect but he comes from an interesting family. His dad was the longtime defensive line coach at BYU; his older brother Brandon was a 3rd round pick by the Ravens in 2016 (he’s now with the Jets); his younger brother Devin and cousin Isaiah are also on the football team; and his mom is the mayor of Provo! I watched some of Kaufusi against Boise State from 2017 and he honestly did not jump off the screen with burst or explosiveness. He’ll win the workout though.
  • My Pick: Western Michigan, +12
    • I really struggled with this pick. I went into the preview thinking that BYU was going to be a no-brainer pick but the more I looked at the team stats I started to sway towards the Broncos. Western Michigan leads BYU in each offensive team stat, including significant advantages in time of possession and yards per play.  BYU has the better defense so maybe they keep it low scoring.  Twelve is a big number so if I had to bet it, I’ll take the points.

Birmingham Bowl, Wake Forest (6-6) vs Memphis (8-5), Sat 12/22 at 12:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
    • I’ve been waxing poetic about Henderson for awhile now so there’s no reason to stop now.  Henderson is a bit undersized at 5090/200 but his playing style belies his size.  He runs downhill with a momentum you can feel through the screen.  When necessary, he can use his shorter stature to his advantage to get through tight holes.  He contributes well in the passing game, averaging 21 receptions per season.  His per-rush numbers are off the charts: per Sports-Reference.com, Henderson leads the NCAA in yards per attempt (8.2) for rushers since 1956.  Henderson will be an interesting study in the offseason because I like his tape and his stats but the rest of the industry does not seem to be buying in yet.
  • My Pick: Memphis, -5
    • I’ve been watching Memphis closely the last two years because they’ve featured two of my favorite prospects (Henderson and Anthony Miller).  So, I may be partial but some of the betting stats are on my side too.  Memphis is 8-5 ATS this season while Wake is just 4-8.  The Tigers have won their last five ATS as a favorite.  Expect a high scoring game because the defenses rank 93rd and 101st.

Armed Forces Bowl, Army (9-2) vs Houston (8-4), Sat 12/22 at 3:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Austin Robinson, LB, Houston
    • Buzz, your girlfriend, woof.  No offense to Mr. Robinson but I would much rather be writing about either Ed Oliver or D’Eriq King in this space.  Both are dynamic playmakers for the Cougs, however neither will be playing in this one.  Oliver is sitting out for self-preservation purposes (he’s likely to be a top 2019 pick) and King suffered a knee injury in November.  (Admittedly, King is not a realistic draft prospect for 2019 but still, he’s so explosive he’d warrant a write-up).  Without any draft hopefuls on the Army squad, Robinson will need to carry the mantle.  He’s a quarterback turned linebacker and exploded in 2018 for 115 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.  Robinson had a mind-boggling stat line against the other triple-option service academy on Houston’s schedule: 21 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.  I think it’s safe to say that Robinson is going to standout in this one.
  • My Pick: Houston, +3
    • As I mentioned above, Army deploys a triple-option offense which is usually tough to gameplan against.  However, Houston should be prepared because they play Navy every year who features a similar run-heavy offense.  Houston won the last two against Navy by double digits.  The line started out at Houston -1.5 but has moved towards Army.  This feels like a steal to be getting points.  Army is better than Navy and Houston will be missing key pieces but still, I will take them straight up.

Dollar General Bowl, Buffalo (9-3) vs Troy (9-3), Sat 12/22 at 7:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo
    • Prior to the MAC Championship, I suggested that Johnson could play his way into a mid-round grade if he played strongly in his last two contests. Game one for Johnson went well. Against NIU, he finished with a 7-124-2 line. The Bulls ended up losing after a furious Huskies comeback but Johnson wasn’t to blame. Johnson is an outside receiver with starter potential; he’s 6020 so a bit shorter than other elite X prospects but he is strong in the air. I’m not as high on him as I was heading into 2019 but he’s still likely to factor into your rookie drafts next season.
  • My Pick: Buffalo, -2.5
    • I haven’t seen any of Troy’s games this year so it’s hard to pick them with less than a field goal advantage. Buffalo has a few NFL hopefuls (including QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I would expect them to field the better team. Buffalo was a three point favorite over Northern Illinois and blew it so that does give me pause. I’d pass on this one if I could.

Hawaii Bowl, Louisiana Tech (7-5) vs Hawaii (8-5), Sat 12/22 at 10:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Lousiana Tech
    • I recently read a profile of Ferguson on The Athletic and was happy to come across his name again when researching this bowl. His 2018 stands out (60 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 15.0 sacks) but he has produced consistently all four years at La Tech. His 42.5 career sack number is one of the highest I have seen in recent memory. In fact, according to Sports-Reference.com, Ferguson leads the FBS in career sacks since they started tracking since 2005. Since I was not familiar with Ferguson’s tape, I consulted TheDraftNetwork.com for some insight. According to their scouting reports, we should expect Ferguson to find a home as a run-stopping end in the NFL. He may not be the most athletic prospect in the class but it’s impossible to ignore his production over a four-year career.
  • My Pick: Hawaii, -1
    • This should be an overlooked game that turns out to be a fun watch (plus, your SO will probably already be asleep by the time it gets going so you can watch it in peace). Hawaii features the 9th best passing offense in the FBS while Tech only allows 193.6 passing yards per game (29th best). I agree with Vegas that this will be a close one. I’ll lean towards Hawaii who is a rare bowl team playing a home game. (Bettors beware: Hawaii is 2-4-1 ATS at home this season so be cautious and don’t bet big)

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/5.

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Conference Championship Previews

Updated: November 30th 2018

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

It’s been awhile, dear readers.  My apologies for the long lay-off between articles, you can blame my now-wife for that!  College football was a welcome, albeit infrequent, reprieve from our ever-encompassing wedding duties, but I was just not able to find the time to sit down and put flesh to keyboard.  What better time to get back into the swing than the week of conference championships!  For each matchup, I present a draft-eligible name you should know as well as my take and prediction.

MAC: Northern Illinois (7-5) vs Buffalo (10-2), 7:00pm Friday on ESPN2

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch:
    • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Johnson was one of my top prospects heading into the 2019 season.  He was shortly derailed by a hamstring injury but is back in the fold now.  Johnson’s numbers have been disappointing (45-820-9) compared to last season (76-1,356-14).  The explanation is likely the injury plus the fact that the Bulls are averaging nearly 60 yards per game more rushing this season.  Johnson has the ability to dominate lesser, in size and skill, defenders.  Whether his skills are dominant enough for the NFL remains to be seen but I think he has a shot at being a mid-rounder if he shows out in the last two games.
  • Prediction:  Buffalo -4.  Buffalo’s closest win this season was by seven over Temple and Eastern Michigan (two other bowl teams), so when they win they usually win big.  The Bulls have more potential NFL talent on both sides of the ball (don’t forget about QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I don’t expect this to be particularly close.

PAC-12: #17 Utah (9-3) vs #11 Washington (9-3), 8:00pm Friday on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington: #DraftTwitter seems to hate Gaskin. I don’t think he’s the next coming of Saquon Barkley but the hate has probably gone too far. You can nitpick and say he’s not very big (5110/193) or could be more involved as a receiver (53 combined receptions over the last three seasons). However, it’s hard to argue with somebody who has 5,131 career rushing yards which is 18th best in the NCAA dating back to the 1950s. He’s the first back in PAC-12 history to rush for 1,000+ yards in four plus seasons. I’d like to see him more decisive hitting the hole but he does have good feet that are always moving. He has enough speed and power to be an every-down back in college but his NFL role will be more limited.
  • Prediction:  Utah +5.  This one feels like a trap game for casual bettors (myself included).  Washington is a big name in recent college football seasons and will get attention.  Utah is without its best pro prospect in RB Zack Moss but I’d still expect them to keep it close.  They’ve scored 35+ in seven of their last eight games so the offense can score.  Washington was favored in six of their last seven and lost to the spread in five of those contests.

Big 12: #5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #14 Texas (9-3), 12:00pm Saturday on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Brown is a dynamo.  Despite his diminutive size (5110/168) he often lines up outside and instead uses motion and his route running ability to avoid contact and get open.  Once he has the ball in his hands it’s nearly impossible to catch him.  Brown was quiet through the middle part of the season but he exploded last week against West Virginia for 11-243-2.  The emergence of Tyreek Hill as a viable NFL receiver is going to help boost Brown’s stock.  He won’t be a first rounder but I feel pretty confident that a team will fall in love enough to reach for him on Day Two.
  • Prediction:  Texas +7.5.  The Sooners won their last four games by a total of just 24 points, while they were favored by a combined 73.5.  Their defense has appeared to be a liability this season and that is borne out in the stats: their defense is dead last in the conference in points and total yards.  I would take OU straight up but Texas with the points.

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2), 12:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State: Duck had a strong freshmen and sophomore seasons with a combined 11 interceptions, 14 passes defended and 107 tackles. His numbers decreased this season (1-4-44), so this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel!  (Unfortunately, the best prospect on either team is hurt and out for the season, ‘Neer RB Jalin Moore.  Moore is good in pass protection and was on his way to a third consecutive 1,000 yard season before dislocating his ankle.  If he’s not fully recovered to take part in the draft process, a team is going to get a bargain.)
  • Prediction:  Appalachian State -18.  This one is a rematch from October which App State won 27-17.  The Mountaineers lost their succeeding game but rebounded with four wins to end the season, including three big wins (two pushes, one cover).  I admit that part of this pick may be name recognition more than anything else but if I had to pick against the spread I would take App State to cover.

C-USA: Middle Tennessee (8-4) at UAB (9-3), 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee: It feels like Stockstill has been a Blue Raider for most of my adult life.  He grayshirted in 2013 then redshirted in 2014.  In 2015 he started 13 games but then missed chunks of 2016 and 2017 due to injury.  He’s stayed on the field thus far in 2018.  The positive vibes continue with his stat logs: he is completing 71.1% of his passes, has improved his rate stats and has a career low of interceptions (6).  Stockstill throws with good touch but his accuracy is inconsistent.  His age and injury history likely make him a priority UDFA but in such a weak quarterback class, who knows?
  • Prediction:  UAB +1.5.  I was very surprised to see the Blazers as a home underdog in this one.  They are 6-0 at home this season (5-1 ATS).  A big part of that line may be the uncertainty surrounding RB Spencer Brown’s availability (996-15).  I’ll take the gamble that he plays.  He’s just a sophomore and not yet draft eligible so there’s some incentive to shine in a big game, and throw down a few bucks on UAB with the points.

AAC: #8 UCF (11-0) vs Memphis (8-4), 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis:  Henderson led a dominant Tigers rushing attack this season.  His regular season totals ended at: 1,699 yards, 19 TDs, 8.6 yards per carry, 17 receptions, 286 yards  and 3 TDs.  That’s impressive even before you consider that he’s splitting touches with Patrick Taylor (894-14) and Tony Pollard (398-5).  Henderson measures in at 5090/200 and yet runs with an upright, downhill style.  You can feel his momentum when he’s on the move.  He may be too small for an every down role in the NFL but he runs with a physicality that belies his height and that will endear him to his teammates.
  • Prediction:  Memphis +3.  It’s hard to write the narrative for this game right now.  Does UCF rebound and battle for their fallen quarterback?  Or do they collapse with a backup signal caller under center?  Considering their last matchup was a 31-30 victory for UCF, I’ll take Memphis and the points here because I think McKenzie Milton is worth way more than a few points.  (I do hope I am wrong on this one though because I am wishing for CFP mayhem.)

SEC: #1 Alabama (12-0) vs #4 Georgia (11-1), 4:00pm on CBS

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: This game is obviously chock full of pro talent so why am I highlighting a tight end? Because you’ve probably missed Irv Smith’s ascension amidst the Alabaman domination this season. I am here to tell you that he should be on your radar as a potential rookie draft target for 2019. Smith has a good 35-613-7 line thus far, despite inconsistent production (five games with 2 or less receptions). In three of those games he managed to score a touchdown so he can still be a difference maker without a high target share. He’s listed at 6040/241 and has the speed to be a matchup nightmare for linebackers. If he shows consistency in Alabama’s biggest games, we’ll see his draft stock skyrocket. While your friends are waxing poetic about Tua and Quinnen, you can drop some knowledge about Irv, who will factor into next year’s rookie draft.
  • Prediction:  Alabama -13. ‘Bama has covered big numbers in its last five SEC games. The only one in the last six games that they didn’t cover was -53.5 against doormat foe Citadel. I see no reason to believe that the Tide won’t roll again. They are just too talented all over the field, probably the most talented team I’ve ever seen.

Mountain West: #25 Fresno State (10-2) at #22 Boise State (10-2), 7:45pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State:  Rypien is a name that you should monitor closely throughout the draft process.  The 2019 quarterback class is weak so it’s possible that somebody like Rypien emerges to become a first rounder just by virtue of scarcity.  He has average size at 6020/202.  He shows good pocket presence and above average short and medium accuracy.  He needs to show more consistency with his mechanics because he often lets himself throw off-platform, off-balance or with his feet unset.  In a previous film study, I noted that Rypien does not feel blindside pressure well which will be a problem in the NFL.  He’s probably a Day Two guy with the potential to land higher if teams are desperate.
  • Prediction:  Fresno State +2.5.  I’ve almost convinced myself that Fresno will win this one straight up because I’ve followed them closely this year after I stacked QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson in my college fantasy league.  So I’ll have to take the points.  The Bulldogs have lost their last three ATS but before that were on a seven game winning streak.  Bonus tidbit: the last four games for both teams went under (including their November 9 matchup).

Big Ten: #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs #21 Northwestern (8-4), 8:00pm on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins is a fast-rising redshirt sophomore who got his chance to lead Ohio State this season after JT Barrett’s graduation.  Haskins checks in at 6030/220 but I think that might be a slight exaggeration.  He’s not small but he does lack elite size.  He’s not a burner as a runner but he’s recently shown that he can be effective and clutch in short yardage situations.  It’s hard to find fault when looking at his statistics because he’s setting numerous Ohio State and Big Ten records.  He topped 4,000 yards (4,081) and has tossed 42 TDs to just 7 INTs.  His rating (171.7) and completion percentage (69.0%) are phenomenal.  Haskins has seen a meteoric rise to his draft stock, in fact, The Draft Network now projects him as QB2 in the 2019 eligible class.
  • Prediction:  Ohio State -14.  As a Michigan fan, it was particularly hard to watch the 62-39 drubbing last weekend.  I’m a firm believer in rooting for the team that beats you (if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to the eventual champion) so I’ll be all-in on the Buckeyes.  Northwestern has a top third defense in the conference but their weak spot is against the pass (ranked 11th) so they will not be able to slow Haskins enough to keep it close.

ACC: #2 Clemson (12-0) vs Pitt (7-5), 8:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • The Entire Defensive Line, Clemson:  There are so many “brand name” players on the Clemson defense that it would be impossible to single one of them out.  The fact that their biggest offensive stars are underclassmen (QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne and WR Tee Higgins) also helps concentrate focus on the defense.  Clelin Ferrell has distanced himself as the best prospect on the line with 10.5 sacks this season.  Interior linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are a dynamic duo who both feature rare combinations of size and athleticism (notably they have a combined 3 rushing TDs this season).  Austin Bryant, playing fourth fiddle, would probably be the defensive leader for most teams (19 career sacks and 116 career tackles).
  • Prediction:  Clemson -26.5.  What a snoozer in the 8:00pm window, I bet ABC is not happy.  Clemson is only 6-6 ATS this season while Pitt is 8-4 but I won’t let that sway my thinking.  I’ll be okay with losing this one if Clemson doesn’t cover but my gut tells me they run up the score to prove that they belong in the conversation with Alabama.  Give the points and switch the channel.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 11/27.

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Week 5 Preview

Updated: September 26th 2018

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

Games to Watch

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

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

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

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2019 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 19th 2018

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

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

1.01 – N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

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

1.02 – Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

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

1.03 – Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

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

1.04 – AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.05 – David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

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

1.06 – DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.07 – Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

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

1.08 – Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

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

1.09 – Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

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

1.10 – Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

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

2.01 – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

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

2.02 – Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

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

2.03 – Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

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

2.04 – Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

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

2.05 – Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

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

2.06 – Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

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

2.07 – Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

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

2.08 – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

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

2.09 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

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

2.10 – Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

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

3.01 – Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

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

3.02 – David Sills, WR, West Virginia

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

3.03 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

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

3.04 – Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

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

3.05 – Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

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

3.06 – Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

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

3.07 – Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

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

3.08 – Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

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

3.09 – Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

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

3.10 – Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 AAC Preview

Updated: July 21st 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:  McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF.  Milton thrived under coach Scott Frost last season, throwing for 4,037 yards and 37 TDs.  It remains to be seen how Milton progresses under new head coach Josh Heupel but I assume he’ll do just fine with such a strong supporting cast.  He may be the next in the line of “great college quarterbacks who can’t make it as a pro” but that won’t diminish my enjoyment watching him in 2018.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Ed Oliver, DT, Houston.  Picking a defensive lineman for the Heisman is about as darkhorse as it gets.  Oliver is a beast who will be in the conversation for a top draft pick so it stands to reason he may earn a Heisman vote or two like Roquan Smith received in 2017.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis.  Henderson will have a strong season but will never get the publicity of Milton so I wanted to honor Henderson here while giving Milton my AAC Heisman vote.  Per Phil Steele, Memphis ranks 11th in the nation in offensive line starts returning for 2018, so Henderson will have an experienced line blocking for him.  Add in the fact that the Tigers lose their star QB and WR and we’ll be looking at an offensive attack more focused on the run this season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Ed Oliver, DT, Houston.  I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing Ed Oliver’s name because there is more of him to come in this preview and I’ll be talking about him all season long.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Tavion Thomas, RB, Cincinnati.  Thomas was a highly sought recruit who earned offers from the likes of Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama.  Thomas committed to the Sooners before changing his mind in January.  He was the 17th ranked back according to 247Sports and was #29 per Phil Steele.  Thomas has a shot at emerging from Cinci’s young but crowded backfield.  The Bearcats return two sophomores in Gerrid Doaks and Michael Warren who had 520-2 and 334-1 respectively as freshmen.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF.  The Knights are losing two of their top three receivers (Tre’Quan Smith and Jordan Akins) so the door is open for Davis to take on a bigger role in 2018.  In 2017 as a true freshman his line was 27-391-4.  He has a big body at 6’3″ and 219lb so it’ll be interesting to see if the high volume offense of UCF vaults him into 2020 draft consideration.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  McKenzie Milton and Dredrick Snelson.  I thought about being flippant here and selecting Zach Abey and Malcolm Perry, see below, but I figured I should give some real analysis instead.  Ultimately I chose Milton and Snelson more out of necessity than desire.  The AAC only returns one of its top ten receivers from last year so my options were quite limited here.  That sole returner, East Carolina’s Trevon Brown, will be playing with a new passer this season so I couldn’t go with that tandem.  Snelson is the Knights leading returning receiver; he had 46-695-8 last year.  Snelson was Phil Steele’s 35th ranked recruit in his class so he has some potential and could land on NFL Draft radars as a junior.
  • Best RB Corps:  Navy.  I haven’t had such an easy choice yet in my season preview research.  The Midshipmen return two 1,000+ yard rushers in Zach Abey and Malcolm Perry.  They also return FB Anthony Gargiulo who rushed for 424 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.  Notice that I left off position designations for Abey and Perry because there’s an interesting battle, forgive the pun, between them heading into this season.  They both had starts at QB last year but Perry is the better athlete (Perry played at WR while Abey started at QB).  Reports are that Abey will be moving to WR which we know is not a premier assignment in a triple option offense.  I’ll bet that head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been game planning all offseason and keeping both players on the field at the same time will make Navy even harder to defend.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Randy Edsall, UCONN.  I don’t really get the allure of Randy Edsall.  He left the Huskies back in 2010 for a five year stint at Maryland that netted him just 22 wins.  Then Connecticut brought him back in 2017 after firing Bob Diaco.  Edsall has a 73-72 career record with Connecticut but the team was dreadful last year at 3-9.  Those three wins were by a combined seventeen points and one of them was over 4-7 Holy Cross from the FCS.  Not exactly a winning resume.  When I researched Edsall for this preview, I was reminded of his recent tirade about paying college players.  While I agree with the idea, going off on that tangent probably isn’t the best way to keep your job with an NCAA member institution.  Neither is suing the school’s Citizen Ethics Advisory Board.

Teams to Watch

 Memphis (10-3 in 2017)

I’m really interested to see what Memphis can do in 2018 after losing so much with QB Riley Ferguson and WR Anthony Miller moving on.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere in this preview, the Tigers have a number of offensive weapons leftover including RB Darrell Henderson, do-everything dynamo Tony Pollard and TE Joey Magnifico.  The Tigers won the West division last season with a 7-1 record.  They return 15 starters from that team and have a favorable non-conference schedule (easily winnable home games against Mercer, Georgia State and South Alabama).  An odd midseason matchup against SEC foe Missouri could end up being the make-or-break contest.  Memphis will easily hold onto the division mantle but a sneaky win against Missouri would catapult them into playoff contention (it would be a better Power 5 win than UCF had last year over Maryland).  Memphis may have the widest range of possible outcomes this upcoming season in the AAC, because of the uncertainty of replacing two huge pieces of the offense, but if I had to bet (and hey I may soon be able to, thank you New Jersey!) I would take the over and pick them to improve on last year’s 10 wins.

 Cincinnati (4-8 in 2017)

What is a Bearcat anyway?  Nobody seems to know for sure, unless you accept this tenuous explanation from the school.  One thing I do know about Cincinnati is that they will be on the come this season.  Per Phil Steele, Cinci returns 78% of their offensive yards, the most in the conference.  They also have a soft non-conference schedule after opening at UCLA.  They have an annual game against Miami Ohio which the Bearcats have won every season since 2006; two weeks later they have another winnable, albeit more difficult, MAC matchup against Ohio.  Between those two, Alabama A&M comes to town which Cincinnati should beat easily.  They get Navy and USF at home which will help them steal a win against one of the higher ranked AAC teams.  The offense features a number of underclassman running backs that could be either a blessing or a curse for head coach Luke Fickell.  The experienced QB Hayden Moore returns but may be beat out by true freshman Ben Bryant.  It may be a big if, but if Fickell can juggle his myriad backfield options, Cinci could surprise in the East and get to eight wins.  Even if that may be a stretch, I like Fickell’s chances of getting to 7-5 in his second season at the helm.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF:  Milton was fantastic in 2017 and should light up AAC defenses again this season, even under a new coach.  Jeff Heupel was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for fellow NFL prospect Drew Lock at Missouri; Heupel also worked closely with NFL quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones at OU.  So, Heupel’s quarterback coach credentials could help increase Milton’s stock.  Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be an uphill battle for Milton as he is severely undersized at 5110/180.  It’s a shame because he has a great arm and makes some of his throws look effortless.  Another 4,000 yard and 35 TD season should be expected.
  • Ryquell Armstead, RB, Temple:  Armstead followed up a promising sophomore season (919-14) with a disappointing junior campaign (604-5).  Interestingly, he had the exact same number of carries in each season (156).  One positive of 2017 was that Armstead got involved with 14 receptions, although for only 75 yards.  Armstead has good size (5110, 205) but needs to show that he can be the lead back and wrest carries away from veteran David Hood.
  • Adrian Killins, RB, UCF:  Listed weights for Killins range between 150-170 but either way he’s light and slight at 5080.  What Killins lacks in size, he makes up in speed.  He offered up some bulletin board material last year leading into the Peach Bowl when he boasted that Auburn hadn’t seen speed like he and the Knights had.  DraftScout.com predicts Killins speed will range between 4.40-4.59.  After watching some highlights, this one specifically, I’m going to guess he’s safely in the 4.40 discussion.  Killins was involved as a receiver with 25 receptions in 2017; he totaled 959 yards and 11 TDs from scrimmage on 148 touches.  He also has some limited experience returning kicks which is where he could be deployed early in his pro career.
  • Tony Pollard, WR/RB/KR, Memphis:  Pollard is an all-purpose threat.  In 2017 he had 10 touchdowns: 2 rushing, 4 receiving, 4 kick return.  He only had 66 touches from scrimmage but averaged over 11 yards per touch.  He’ll still be behind RB Darrell Henderson in the offensive pecking order but with WR Anthony Miller gone, Pollard will see more snaps.  It’s not impossible that Pollard could parlay his size (5110/200) and versatility into a “Jaylen Samuels lite” draft profile.
  • Justin Hobbs, WR, Tulsa:  Hobbs finished 2017 with a respectable 55-830-3 line on a bad Tulsa team that averaged just 173 yards passing per game.  Hobbs has not showed a knack for finding the end zone (just 9 career TDs in three seasons) but has a redzone worthy frame at 6040/218.  I watched a 2017 highlight package of Hobbs and was disappointed to see how infrequently he used that size to his advantage by playing in the air.  I’ll monitor Hobbs this year to see if he improves in that regard.
  • Joey Magnifico, TE, Memphis:  Here we have another player who stands to benefit from Memphis WR Anthony Miller leaving for the NFL.  You may be quick to counter that I’m attributing too much added production to Henderson, Pollard and Magnifico but you need to remember what a black hole Miller was in this offense.  He had 100+ touches in both 2016 and 2017 that need to be replaced.  Magnifico is listed at 6040/235 which puts him on the smaller side of the last two tight end classes.  Size wise he comps to Evan Engram or Gerald Everett but DraftScout.com predicts he’ll be significantly slower.  Magnifico has just 30 career receptions (365 yards, 5 TDs) so this is pure speculation here but he’s likely the best TE in the conference so so let’s keep an eye on him.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Regardless of what source you’re looking at, Ed Oliver is about as unanimous a selection as you’ll find for the nation’s best at their position. He checks in at 6030/290 and is projected in the 4.90 range.  He ran a 4.87 as a high school prospect and in my experience, guys tend to get a tick faster once they are on campus and start training at a higher level.  NFL.com quotes some sick athletic feats as well in the vertical and broad jump categories.  No prospect in 2018, at 290+ pounds, would have a better profile.  Taven Bryan and Kolton Miller would come close, and both were first rounders, but Oliver would have them beat by nearly a full tenth of a second in the 40 yard dash.  Oliver is in the running for the top pick and I’ll bet that some team is going to get tremendous value for him at #2 or #3 after a quarterback inevitably rises up the draft board.  By no means am I an expert when it comes to defensive line play so I’m not going to try and break down his technique but it’s impossible to watch Oliver and not see the impact he has on the game every single snap.  Considering the attention offensive lines pay him, his stats are great: 73 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017.  I watched a fair bit of Oliver last season so I did not do a new round of film study for this preview (honestly, seems kind of pointless… he’s good), but I encourage you to take four minutes and watch this highlight reel entitled “Absolute Domination” which just about sums him up.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

Henderson is a 5090/200 running back who made fantastic use of his 154 touches last season.  On those touches, 24 of which were receptions, Henderson averaged 8.96 yards per and scored 11 TDs.  In my database of nearly fifty running backs for this class, Henderson led them all in yards per carry, by nearly a yard too.  He also had a productive freshman season with over 700 scrimmage yards and 8 TDs.  As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam in this preview, Memphis has a lot of offensive production to replace in 2018.  I expect to see Henderson’s touches creep closer to 200 and while his rate stats will surely decrease he will still be productive and could be a fast riser.  Henderson uses his squat body type to run with a balanced combination of speed and power, often pinballing off defenders.  He showed me great contact balance and an ability to stay upright, especially while avoiding ankle tackles.  He accelerates well and has a top speed in the 4.50 range, in my opinion.  His hands need some work and he appears to be a hesitant (and inexperienced) blocker but that may improve with experience.  Henderson offers the Memphis offense versatility which they used to create mismatches for Henderson and his teammates.  In one perfect example against SMU, Henderson motioned out of the backfield to line up in the slot.  The linebackers shift and it’s clear there’s some confusion.  Amidst that confusion, WR Anthony Miller splits the linebackers and scores on a touch pass over the middle.  If the defenders were not concerned about Henderson playing out of the slot the touchdown never would have materialized.  If I were ranking today, Henderson probably cracks my Top 20 at the position but I was impressed enough with his power/speed combination to reserve final judgment.  (Film watched: UCF 2017, SMU 2017)

Trevon Brown, WR, East Carolina

Brown was not on my radar when I started researching the AAC for this preview.  He stood out, however, when I realized how few productive receivers were returning to the AAC this season.  Brown finished 2017 with a line of 60-1,069-7 for the Pirates, making him the only one of the conference’s top ten receivers coming back to campus.  His 17.8 yards per catch average led the conference by receivers with 60+ receptions.  Brown had a solid sophomore season in 2015 (41-496-4) but was forced to sit out 2016 after being declared academically ineligible.  Since he’s not a buzzworthy name, there was not much film of Brown to find online.  I was able to watch one full game and a highlight reel package.  His game against Cinci ended up looking good on the stat sheet (9-270-2) but it was buoyed by a huge 95 yard score.  It concerned me that a number of Brown’s best routes went untargeted by the quarterback.  Part of that is likely the fact that Brown lines up almost exclusively on the left and his right handed QB just didn’t have the time or ability to read the full field.  Brown shows strong hands, in fact I did not note a single drop.  He runs a limited route tree but found success on numerous post routes.  On those posts, he used his body to shield the defender while making the catch with his hands.  In general, he has average speed and acceleration but he does have an extra gear when he wants to shift into it making him dangerous after the catch.  It did concern me that Brown appears to be uninterested on plays that are designed to go away from him, rarely did I see him try to sell a route or hold a block when he knew he wouldn’t see action.  I’m hoping that Brown’s upward statistical trajectory continues because he has decent enough size and speed (6020/211, DraftScout.com predicts in the 4.55 range) to get drafted as a late round flyer a la Cedrick Wilson from this year.  (Film watched: Cincinnati 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.  Then 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
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, 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
  • 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

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.

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