The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Stud Sophomores

Updated: June 26th 2020

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

Each spring when I start the research on the next draft class, I keep an eye out for any true sophomores who should be on my radar. Those players may not be eligible for the upcoming draft but they are likely to be the stars of the season and are worthy of a quick look now to help set future expectations. In my 2019 season previews, I included coverage of a few sophomores who now find themselves squarely in the middle of my draft prep: namely Justyn Ross, Rondale Moore and Jaret Patterson. (Note: Clemson announced on June 1 that Ross would miss the season due to a neck injury.) I have included ten true sophomores below who I’ll be watching closely in 2020.

Hank Bachmeier, QB, Boise State

  • Measurables: 6010/202
  • 2019 Stats: 8 games, 137-219, 62.6%, 1,879 pass yards, 8.6 ypa, 9 pass TDs, 6 INTs, 142.7 rating; 41 carries, 69 rush yards, 1.7 ypc, 1 rush TD

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State’s highest rated recruit since 2014, started his college career strong with a comeback win against Florida State. He played well over the next four games before getting hurt against Hawaii. He returned to finish the season and will start 2020 as the top quarterback in the Mountain West. Bachmeier is poised in the pocket, has functional mobility and can throw fastballs. Home matchups against Florida State and BYU will give us a good midseason barometer for Bachmeier’s progression; a potential NY6 bowl game would also help increase his national name recognition heading into the 2021 NFL Draft season.

Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

  • Measurables: 6010/225
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 259-422, 61.4%, 3,641 pass yards, 8.6 ypa, 38 pass TDs, 7 INTs, 160.2 rating; 94 carries, 35 rush yards, 0.4 ypc, 1 rush TD; 3 receptions, 23 rec yards, 7.7 ypr, 1 rec TD

Sam Howell, a North Carolina native, was everything Mack Brown and Tar Heels’ faithful hoped he would be. He finished a superb freshman season with 3,641 passing yards, 38 TDs and just 7 INTs. UNC’s new air raid offense may not necessarily prepare him for a “pro style” offense but who cares, it’s fun to watch and makes for great highlights. Howell throws pinpoint deep passes with beautiful weight and touch. When he needs to, he can zing a quick hitter on a slant or screen. He didn’t get too many rushing attempts in 2019, probably because they wanted to keep him upright, but I think he has potential there as well. Howell’s intangible swagger means there are plays he just simply wills into success. I don’t mean to damn with faint praise but some of Howell’s highlights remind me of Aggies-era Johnny Manziel. The sky’s the limit for Howell who should be the early favorite for QB1 in 2022.

Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

  • Measurables: 6020/200
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 282-392, 71.9%, 3,502 pass yards, 8.9 ypa, 30 pass TDs, 9 INTs, 167.6 rating

Kedon Slovis had an interesting and unexpected 2019 season. He started the season as the backup to incumbent sophomore starter JT Daniels but an early injury got Slovis on the field and he didn’t look back. Fast forward a year and Slovis is clearly the Trojans starter with Daniels transferring to Georgia. Like Sam Howell, Slovis benefited from a new air raid offense installed by coordinator Graham Harrell. In his first game as starter, he threw for 377 yards and 3 TDs, one of five games where he had 300+ yards and 3+ TDs. Slovis can chuck it half the field without exerting obvious effort. I had to watch one highlight against Fresno State three times; he threw it 50 yards, perfectly placed, from the opposite hash mark. It’s not a throw too many college passers can make regularly, let alone after coming in off the bench in the season opener as a true freshman. Slovis may not be able to make his own case for the NFL Draft this year but he’ll surely help the stock of WRs Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Zach Charbonnet, RB, Michigan

  • Measurables: 6010/220
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 149 carries, 726 rush yards, 4.9 ypc, 11 rush TDs; 8 receptions, 30 rec yards, 3.8 ypr, 0 rec TD

Zach Charbonnet is a throwback to the days of the 90s and early 2000s when Michigan always seemed to have a powerful RB1 pacing the offense. As a Wolverines fan, it pains me to admit it but Michigan has whiffed on a number of top running back prospects over the last ten years (see: Green, Derrick and Hayes, Justice). Charbonnet walked onto campus as a 4-star recruit and the fourth best running back in the nation per 247Sports. In just the second game of the season, against Army, Charbonnet made his presence known by shouldering a 33 carry load for 100 yards and 3 scores. He didn’t crack the 20 carry mark again in the season, and only topped 100 yards once more, but I’ll spin that positively and hope that he’ll be fresh for 2020. He’s a strong tackle breaker who could be deadly if he adds a stiff arm to his repertoire. Charbonnet looks like a prototypical between the tackles runner and yet he had plenty of success out of the shotgun in Michigan’s spread attack last year. I expect Charbonnet to excel in Year Two of Josh Gattis’ offense and to surpass 1,200 yards and 15 TDs.

Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

  • Measurables: 6010/205
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 186 carries, 897 rush yards, 4.8 ypc, 9 rush TDs; 23 receptions, 252 rec yards, 11.0 ypr, 1 rec TD

By mid-October, Breece Hall had assured Cyclone faithful that they didn’t need to wait long for somebody to fill the fissure left behind by the beloved David Montgomery. In his first three games as the primary ballcarrier, Hall rushed for 391 yards and 7 TDs; he also added 10 receptions for 120 yards. I absolutely loved Hall’s highlight reels. He’s a silky smooth runner who seems to be playing at a higher frame rate than his opposition. He runs with great contact balance, deploys a useful spin move and has enough power to score from the goal line. He’s also a plus receiver who has 30+ reception potential. Somehow I missed seeing Hall play in 2019 so I am very excited to see him ball in 2020.

David Bell, WR, Purdue

  • Measurables: 6030/210
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 86 receptions, 1,035 rec yards, 12.0 ypr, 7 rec TDs; 3 carries, 12 rush yards, 4.0 ypc, 1 rush TD

David Bell was thrust into a starring role early in 2019, after teammate Rondale Moore went down with an injury, and went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. In nine Big Ten games, Bell racked up 80 receptions for 904 yards and 6 TDs. His three best games came against each of the Big Ten West’s 10-win teams: Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. In those three huge games, Bell’s average line was 11-140-0.6, an unfathomable output for a true freshman on a middling team. Bell is formidable at 6030/210 and uses that frame to box out his defender. He’s a jump ball and contested catch specialist who isn’t afraid to come across the field. Bell has enough speed to stretch the defense deep when his quarterback can deliver the throw accurately. I doubt that the Boilermakers will challenge in the Big Ten West but every team on their schedule is going to have to gameplan for the dynamic duo of Bell and Moore in 2020.

George Pickens, WR, Georgia

  • Measurables: 6030/190
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 49 receptions, 727 rec yards, 14.8 ypr, 8 rec TDs

As a true freshman, George Pickens led the Dawgs in receiving so there’s no doubt that he’ll be the top target in 2020. What is in doubt, however, is who will be throwing him those passes. Earlier this spring, it seemed likely that that would be Jamie Newman, a dual-threat grad transfer from Wake Forest. Recently, though, former USC quarterback JT Daniels announced he would transfer to Georgia and it’s unclear if he’ll have immediate eligibility. Pickens looks to have great hands, above average strength and body control, and a flair for the spectacular catch. My only nitpick is that I hope we get to see him in more YAC situations this year to see him excel after the catch. Pickens is long — I’ll bet his wingspan outpaces his 6030 listed height — and has the potential to be an alpha outside receiver.

Wan’dale Robinson, WR, Nebraska

  • Measurables: 5100/190
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games, 40 receptions, 453 rec yards, 11.3 ypr, 2 rec TDs; 88 carries, 340 rush yards, 3.9 ypc, 3 rush TDs; 11 kick returns, 21.5 ypr, 0 return TD

Wan’dale Robinson is a running back-wide receiver tweener who is bound to rack up all-purpose yards in 2020. Robinson started his freshman season off a bit slow, totaling 146 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches, but, like David Bell above, he flourished once conference play started. In his premiere Big Ten contest against Illinois, Robinson rushed for 19-89-1 and went for 8-79-2 as a receiver. He had 12 or more touches in four of the next five matchups. Unfortunately he got hurt in November and injuries limited him to just one half of football down the final stretch. Robinson is a spark plug — he’s got 4.40 speed and bounces off tacklers. He can be deployed creatively: taking handoffs, lining up in the slot, featuring on gadget plays and returning kicks. Robinson’s versatility will allow him to flourish as a college player but what does it mean for his NFL potential?

Joshua Simon, TE, Western Kentucky

  • Measurables: 6050/230
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 30 receptions, 430 rec yards, 14.3 ypr, 4 rec TDs

Joshua Simon was recruited out of high school as a wide receiver and landed with the Hilltoppers as their fourth-best recruit at the position in the 2019 class per 247Sports. And yet, Simon exploded as a true freshman, while lining up at tight end, finishing the season with a 30-430-4 line and leading the team in yards per reception at 14.3. Unfortunately, highlights of Simon are nigh impossible to find online so I’m including him here based solely on size and output, which are both encouraging for a young tight end. Western Kentucky figures to be in the running for the C-USA East title so I hope a game or two of his will be available nationwide this season.

Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

  • Measurables: 6050/260
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 32 receptions, 447 rec yards, 14.0 ypr, 6 rec TDs

Talk about a successful start to your college football career: four of Jalen Wydermyer’s first nine receptions went for scores. He ultimately led the Aggies in receiving touchdowns last season and also surpassed the other pass catchers in yards per reception. I found a highlight package that included all of his receptions from 2019 and it’s clear that Wydermyer is a talented receiver. He has soft and reliable hands. He’s also a big dude at 6050/260 so he’s tough to bring down after the catch. The highlight package didn’t show any of Wydermyer as a blocker so that aspect of his game remains to be seen, but he’s got the frame for it so I’m not concerned. I’ve got a feeling about Jalen Wydermyer and I can’t wait to see more of him in 2020.

 

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

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

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

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