The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, TEs Fant & Hockenson

Updated: March 16th 2019

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

Apparently, the main ingredient needed to grow a tight end prospect is corn because Iowa has officially cemented their reputation as “TE U” with Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson atop this class. Last season, George Kittle showed fantasy owners just how productive a young athletic tight end can be. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that we could end up with all three recent Iowa TEs in the top ten of dynasty rankings as early as this Summer. It was a no-brainer to highlight Fant and Hockenson in this preview because they are the cream of the crop this season (pardon the corn puns). There’s a definite tier break between them and Alabama’s Irv Smith and an even further drop off to TE4. Both players will be selected in the top half of the first round but the order is still a topic of debate, so let’s get to it!

 

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

  • Combine measurements:

  • Stats:
Receiving & Rushing Table
Rece Rece Rece Rece
Year School Class G Rec Yds Avg TD
*2016 Iowa FR 6 9 70 7.8 1
*2017 Iowa SO 12 30 494 16.5 11
*2018 Iowa JR 12 39 519 13.3 7
Career Iowa 78 1083 13.9 19
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/9/2019.
  • Film watched for this profile: Penn State 2018, Iowa State 2018

Fant has been on the radar of devy owners for awhile now after he scored 11 TDs as a sophomore in 2017. The touchdown rate was unsustainable since it came on just 30 catches but people like myself were excited for 2018. Unfortunately, he started slow (just 41 yards in the first two games) and faded late (5-67-1 combined in the last three games). Through the middle of the season though, he showed just how productive he could be. His production in Games 3-9 would extrapolate to a 48-708-8 line. (Funny enough, that’s nearly the exact line that Hockenson had for 2018.)

In addition to promising production, Fant also displays tantalizing physical attributes. He’s been featured on various lists of “can’t miss” athletes and he proved just how athletic he is at the combine. He finished above the 90th percentile in four key categories: 40 yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and 3-cone. Fant’s size measureables are mediocre, 6041 and 249lb, but teams won’t be drafting him for his size.

The first trait I was looking for while studying Fant was his blocking.  He doesn’t have the strength to hold blocks for long or to dominate defenders at the point of contact, but Fant is a high energy blocker.  What I mean by that is that he often flies at defenders ready to make contact, but sometimes does it in an inefficient or mindless way.  He can struggle to get to defenders at the second level or on the outside of a play.  I noticed that a few times early in the Iowa State game and then saw this play later where Fant does block the OLB.  However, I think his running back lacked trust in him to hold the block for long.  Instead of kicking it outside, the back kept it inside and ran right into traffic.

On this attempted block, Fant lets the defensive end get inside leverage right at the snap and the play is over before it even starts.  The end contacts the runner in the backfield and is stopped for no gain.

Even though he isn’t a strong blocker, Fant does feign blocking well on his routes.  He sells the block on this play before breaking inside to make the catch.  He protects the ball as he’s contacted to avoid a fumble or incompletion.

Much of Fant’s production that I saw came on crossing routes, so it was encouraging to see him adjust to late throws.  Unfortunately, he was pretty inconsistent with his hand use when catching the ball, resulting in a few catchable drops.  This observation is backed up by data from Pro Football Focus which showed that Fant had a 9.3% Drop Rate last season (which is higher than the others in my top five at the position).  On this play he did show great hands and an ability to adjust in mid-stride, reaching back against his momentum to secure a bad throw.

There was a similar play against Penn State where the pass was behind him, limiting his opportunity to rack up extra yardage.  Fant uses his speed though and is still able to take a good angle to the sideline and secure a first down.

That play came late in the Penn State contest on a drive that, for better and worse, Fant was the focus.  He kept the sticks moving by converting two of his three receptions into first downs.  However, confusion at the goal line essentially ended the game for the Hawkeyes (they would get the ball back with a minute left but fail to score).  Without the context of the full broadcast replays it’s hard to know who exactly to fault but Fant was obviously not ready for the snap and is at least partially responsible for the turnover.

I’ll end with one last play that shows how Fant is most likely to be utilized in the NFL.  This pass resulted in an incompletion but it showed that Fant can be a mismatch in the red zone.  He clearly has the size advantage but a poor throw grounds the play.  More accurate passes in situations like this one, and on all of those crossing routes, would have increased Fant’s production mightily.  Even with suspect quarterback play at times, Fant managed to turn six of his eight red zone receptions into points.

Fant and Hockenson are a conundrum for rankers. Is Fant’s athleticism enough to push him past Hockenson who may be a more complete prospect? In my opinion, for fantasy purposes, the answer is yes. I undervalued Evan Engram two years ago and want to avoid making the same mistake twice. Fant put up better agility numbers than Engram, and did it with a bigger frame (Fant is .08 slower but that’s negligible in this context). Pending his team fit, Fant is the TE1 for me.  Draft Prediction: Round 1

 

TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa

  • Combine measurements:

  • Stats:
Receiving & Rushing Table
Rece Rece Rece Rece Rush Rush Rush Rush
Year School Class G Rec Yds Avg TD Att Yds Avg TD
*2017 Iowa FR 10 24 320 13.3 3 0 0 0
*2018 Iowa SO 13 49 760 15.5 6 1 4 4.0 1
Career Iowa 73 1080 14.8 9 1 4 4.0 1
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 3/9/2019.
  • Film watched for this profile: Wisconsin 2018, Iowa State 2018

TJ Hockenson’s ascension from contributing redshirt sophomore to Top 10 NFL Draft prospect is impressive.  I think it’s safe to say that at this time last year, few analysts would have had Hockenson on their big board, let alone ahead of Fant.  If it weren’t for some of the stellar numbers that Fant put up, we would be talking more about how well Hockenson did in the combine agility drills.  That’s likely why I came across a thread on Reddit today where numerous people claimed that TJ Hockenson was the “safest” pick of this draft class.  An athletic tight end who can also block?  That’s NFL Draft gold.  That may be true but to get a better sense we need to look more closely at Hockenson’s stats and film.

We can easily see that Hockenson bested Fant in terms of “traditional” statistics this season, so I wanted to go deeper.  I checked a number of metrics from CFBStats.com and PFF’s annual draft guide to get a better feel for Hockenson’s game before I dove into the tape.  Per these more advanced stats, it’s clear that Hockenson can be a go-to receiver on third downs (9 of 11 third down receptions converted).  His QB trusts him because he has sure hands, dropping just one catchable ball all season (2.0%).  A stat that surprised me was that Hockenson had a high Yards Per Route Run (2.21) according to PFF.  That in and of itself isn’t surprising but what was surprising was that Hockenson beat Fant in this metric, contrary to the conventional wisdom about their skill sets.  One cautionary thing I noticed is that Hockenson may have been the beneficiary of junk time to pad his stats.  Half of his touchdowns came when the Hawkeyes were up by 8+ points.  Furthermore, his yards per reception average spiked highly in those multi-possession situations.  When his team was up by 8+, Hockenson averaged 22.0 yards per reception, meanwhile in one possession games he averaged 14.02 yards.

When I watched Hockenson’s film, I wanted to evaluate his blocking in comparison to Fant.  The current narrative is that Hockenson is a much better blocker than Fant but I wanted to see for myself.  Second, I wanted to see if his hands were as good as advertised by his Drop Rate stat.  TL:DR, yes he is and yes they are.

My favorite block of Hockenson’s from the two games I watched came on this short gain against Wisconsin.  The play, a counter, starts slow as the back fakes to the left.  Hockenson hesitates to make first contact with the end, instead letting him see the back’s motion and using his aggression against him.  Once the back takes the hand-off and reverses his direction, Hockenson easily shepherds the defender out of the play.  It showed some patience and awareness, which was something that I thought Fant lacked as a blocker.

The next blocking highlight I chose shows Hockenson’s flexibility to lineup in the backfield in an h-back role.  His block helps spring the running back for a first down.

This last blocking clip wasn’t very pretty from Hockenson but it proved effective enough to help ensure victory against Iowa State.  Iowa has the ball at the goal line and Hockenson is on the line and covered up.  The run is headed to the left so the blockers all take their first step in that direction.  Hockenson hits is defender and pushes him back before moving on to the second level and getting a piece of another.  Hockenson’s blocks were instrumental to the score.

As for Hockenson’s hands, it sure appears that the film backs up the stats.  I repeatedly wrote down “soft hands” when describing his catches.  Perhaps none of the receptions I saw showed that as well as this replay.  Not only does he use great hand placement, he ran a perfect route for a first down and secured the ball before going to ground.

In the Iowa State game, I noted that much of his routes were either simple go routes or out routes to the sideline.  Against Wisconsin, a few games later, his routes were more varied.  I’m guessing that’s because the coaching staff started to trust him more as the season progressed.  That’s a good sign for his ability to run a bigger route tree in the pros.  This play shows him go in motion before the snap, he initially angles his route towards midfield, straightens his stem and then breaks it out.  The throw was behind him but he still managed to make the catch with his hands instead of his body.

The Fant/Hockenson debate will certainly continue but here’s my take after studying both… If I was drafting for an NFL team, I would take Hockenson first.  If I was drafting for my fantasy team, I would take Fant first.  I don’t think that’s a knock on either guy, it’s just a comment on their best traits. Either way, both players will be worth your RSO draft capital.  Draft Prediction: Round 1


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching 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, expandtheboxscore.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • 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: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, WRs Harmon & Metcalf

Updated: March 8th 2019

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

In this week’s entry in my NFL Draft Previews series, we’ll be taking a closer look at receivers Kelvin Harmon and DK Metcalf.  I decided to highlight Harmon because I am currently higher on him than the consensus.  I vacillated on who else to include until it recently became evident that I must include Metcalf too, because, well, dude is swole.  Harmon and Metcalf are actually a perfect duo for this piece because they are names that casual NFL Draft fans became more familiar with at the combine. Let’s get to it!

 

Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State

  • Combine measurements:

  • Stats:
Receiving & Rushing Table
Rece Rece Rece Rece
Year School Class G Rec Yds Avg TD
*2016 North Carolina State FR 10 27 462 17.1 5
*2017 North Carolina State SO 13 69 1017 14.7 4
*2018 North Carolina State JR 12 81 1186 14.6 7
Career North Carolina State 177 2665 15.1 16
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2019.
  • Film watched for this profile: Clemson 2017, Syracuse 2018

Full disclosure: Kelvin Harmon has been my WR1 or WR2 all season long.  I fell for him in the preseason and his great 2018 season only bolstered my confidence.  That’s saying a lot because this receiver class could be historic and on par with 2014 (my god: Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry).  The other leading receivers in the class, such as Metcalf and N’Keal Harry, all exhibit elite traits which they showed off at the combine.  Harmon, on the other hand, is less physically dominant and performed poorly at the combine.  Harmon shows, however, two traits that I value highly: route running and technique in the air.  He runs smart and varied patterns, and while he isn’t physical at the line, he uses his hands well at the top of his route.  While in the air, he shows an ability to adjust to the ball, uses his body well and catches the ball with his hands.  In such a congested class, I look for ways a player can differentiate himself.  Harmon does that with a nuance that some lack.  It would be easy to cast Harmon aside after his combine performance but I’ve seen enough on tape to still rank him highly.

My favorite route of Harmon’s came in the second quarter of the Syracuse game while the Pack were down 14 and needed a big play.  Harmon is set up on the outside to the field with plenty of room to work towards the sideline.  He sells the corner on an out-breaking route and cuts inside, using his head to sell the feint.  He’s free and clear immediately and nearly outruns the pass.  After he slows and makes the nice over-the-shoulder catch, he accelerates just enough to avoid the pursuing defender.

This replay angle from the 2017 Clemson game shows another great route by Harmon.  He puts in a lot of work before the ball is in the air so it’s unfortunate that the quarterback misses him so badly.

Awareness was something that I kept coming back to when watching Harmon’s film.  On this next play, Harmon makes a great effort as a blocker to give his running back a lane to the end zone.  The run ultimately fails, but you can see that Harmon is patient enough to let the play develop before he abruptly turns his body to put it between the defender and where the back should be.  I’ll bet they worked on this play frequently at practice and if the timing were right, that sudden turn would have been the reason the back made it to the goal line.  It was subtle but showed me that while he may not be the strongest blocker, he is an intelligent one.

Speaking of putting his body between the defender and the ball, Harmon continually showed me what my high school soccer coach called “ball-side, goal-side.”  Basically, he wanted us to keep ourselves, as defenders, between the player with the ball and the goal.  Harmon does that on nearly every route as he uses his frame to shield the defender from the ball.  On the play below against Clemson from 2017, most receivers would have body-caught the ball but Harmon makes the grab with his hands.  He quickly peeks over his shoulder for the nearest defender before he lands and turtles to protect the ball from the converging tacklers.

In addition to showing well on tape, Harmon also shows well in the boxscore.  He had a solid sophomore season in 2017 and improved further in 2018.  In fact, he led the ACC in receiving yards over the last two seasons with 2,203 (the next best was Olamide Zaccheaus with 1,953) and helped lead the Wolfpack to the 8th best passing offense in the FBS.  Harmon can be a compiler, as we saw in his game against Syracuse this season (he has eight career games with 8+ receptions), which is great for fantasy owners.

I’m disappointed that Harmon did not show better at the combine.  If he had, I would have locked him into my WR1 spot.  For now, I’ll pencil him at WR2, between Harry and Metcalf.  Hopefully he finds a favorable home in the NFL and I can keep him atop my rankings.  Draft Prediction: Round 2

 

DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

  • Combine measurements:

  • Stats:
Receiving & Rushing Table
Rece Rece Rece Rece
Year School Class G Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 Ole Miss FR 2 2 13 6.5 2
2017 Ole Miss FR 12 39 646 16.6 7
2018 Ole Miss SO 7 26 569 21.9 5
Career Ole Miss 67 1228 18.3 14
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2019.
  • Film watched for this profile: Kentucky 2017, Louisiana-Monroe 2018
Even the most casual of fans has seen Metcalf’s name pop-up on social media lately.  Metcalf, along with his well-defined six-pack, is like a modern day Atlas, holding up the #DraftTwitter world.  Fortunately for Metcalf, and his agent, the buzz before, and especially during, the combine has elevated his NFL Draft stock significantly.  Heading into the 2018 season, Metcalf could usually be found in the WR5 range, now he’s leading many rankings.  “Hold on Bob,” you say, that’s not such a big leap from WR5 to WR1.  You’re right, but you’re also forgetting that Metcalf suffered a broken neck in October.  I don’t know how similar the injury is, but I dinged Clemson WR Mike Williams’ draft stock for his neck injury, and that was after he returned from surgery with a full 98-1361-11 season.  Instead of rehabbing at school and showing his resiliency as a Rebel, Metcalf decided to go pro.  If I were an NFL decision maker, that would worry me.  Plain and simple.

Due to Metcalf’s injury history, he also missed most of his freshman year due to a broken foot, he doesn’t have much on the stat sheet.  His 67 career receptions are less than many receivers in the class have in their second-best season (like Harmon).  His rate stats are encouraging, though they aren’t pulling from a large sample size.  In 2018, nine of Metcalf’s 26 receptions went for 20+ yards, including four 40+ yard touchdowns.  That’s an impressive big play rate for somebody of his size.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by his penchant for big plays given his combine measurables.  Metcalf undoubtedly stole the show in Indy when he put up great numbers in everything but the 3-Cone and Shuttle.  One of the knocks I often hear about Metcalf is that he’s not a great route runner and that may presaged by those poor 3-Cone and Shuttle scores.  He may have sacrificed some agility and change of direction ability to get as big and straight-line fast as he is.

When I watched his tape I was not that concerned about that impacting his game at the next level. The first thing that stood out in the Kentucky game was how often Metcalf had a decent release but was not targeted.  He repeatedly has quick feet at the line and uses his hands well to knock the corner off him.  In this play, which did not result in a target, you can see Metcalf’s quick feet off the snap which helps him get outside of the defender.  You can’t clearly see it in the clip, but he also smacks the defender’s hand off him.

Metcalf showed how well he uses his hands and strength to get free on this play as well:

On this next play, Metcalf strings all of the above into one great play.  If you are looking for a reason to draft Metcalf at 1.01 in your league, this is the only play you’ll need to see.  He stems outside and chops the defender’s hands to get himself free.  He then cuts inside and turns on his straight-line afterburners.  By the time the ball arrives, he’s comfortably ahead of the corner as he makes an over the shoulder catch.  The defender makes a last ditch dive but Metcalf keeps his feet and scores.  Watching the wide-angle replay lets you get a birds-eye view of DK checking off all the boxes.

The ending of that play was similar to a play I noted against Louisiana-Monroe.  In this one, Metcalf capitalizes on a bad read by the corner, stays in bounds, and uses a combination of speed/balance/strength to get to the end zone despite two attempts at taking his feet.

Despite the run-after-catch that Metcalf displays on these two plays, I did not notice that as a larger piece of his game.  Unfortunately, he did not run many different routes, primarily go routes and comebacks, so there wasn’t ample opportunity for him to get gone unless it was along the sideline.  Similarly, I would have loved to see a more varied deployment to show that he could fill multiple roles; he was almost exclusively used on the left side, at the line of scrimmage.  The film I watched did not show much of Metcalf blocking but there was one particularly bad example.  Somebody of his stature should do better than this.  It wasn’t just poor technique, it was poor effort.

I don’t want to end on a negative note so I’ll leave you with this last great play.  This one showed Metcalf’s ability to win in the red zone with his size and body control.  He also uses strong hands to secure the ball and survive the ground.

Paired with the earlier score against Kentucky, you can see why fantasy GMs are eager to draft Metcalf.  It’s clear that he has tremendous physical potential, but potential often gets NFL coaches fired.  I tend to be risk-averse in my evaluations, so if it were up to me as an NFL GM, the earliest I would pull the trigger on DK would be in the 25-35 range.  Honestly though, there’s no way he makes it that far unless he fails a physical.  I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that I will likely own zero shares of Metcalf and I’ll have to be okay with that.  Draft Prediction: Round 1

 

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching 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, expandtheboxscore.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • 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

Early 2019 Free Agency Look: WRs

Updated: February 18th 2019

We see an interesting wide receiver class this offseason.  The free agent group holds lots of variety with everything from smaller slot receivers to big deep threats and much in between.  There is not a player in free agency which most teams would consider as their top receiver, however.  Every available free agent possesses some shortcoming which likely limits the role each will play with a new team.  This fact should not confuse anyone into thinking they will not be paid.  Players including Sammy Watkins and Donte Moncrief received big paydays last year in free agency.  With more teams predominantly playing three or more wide receiver sets, receiver depth becomes more important.  The group is potentially hurt by a deep class of wide receivers entering the NFL draft.

Golden Tate

This is the top receiver available, if based on resume, accumulating four 90 reception seasons to go with three 1,000 yard seasons.  Tate plays with uncommon strength, drive, and short-area movement which combine into one of the most evasive receivers in the game accumulating big yards after the catch.  The main questions entering free agency are his age (31) and the fact that much of his production in Detroit relied on short, gimmicky, manufactured touches.  Will a new team have a plan in place catering to Tate’s strengths or will he be forced into a more traditional receiver role into which he might not have as much success?

John Brown

Brown profiles similarly to T.Y. Hilton athletically as a small receiver with great speed who also displays some good route running with quality cuts into breaks.  Brown has a 1,000 yard season with Arizona and was on pace for a 1,000 yard season this year for Baltimore prior to Joe Flacco’s injury and subsequent benching.  The insertion of Lamar Jackson at quarterback decimated the passing attack for the Ravens and, with it, any meaningful production from receivers.  Brown struggles with health sometimes in part due to his sickle-cell trait.  The diminutive speedster offers a lot of potential for his new team.

Tyrell Williams

Williams boasts a lot of qualities teams covet from wide receivers.  He stands 6’-3” with upper level athleticism, including enviable speed, and a large wingspan to boot.  The former undrafted free agent is at his best stretching defenses as a deep threat and running underneath drag routes to utilize his long strides.  Williams produced a quality 2016 season with Keenan Allen injured.  Unfortunately, the numerous negatives match his positives.  Williams struggles with drops, is a limited route runner, and his thin frame gets taken advantage of by physical corners.  Despite his limitations, Williams’ other strengths make him a good bet for highest paid wide receiver free agent.

Jamison Crowder

Injuries and the Washington quarterback situation diminished what was expected to be a big year for Crowder in 2018.  On the surface, Crowder is a smaller receiver who tested poorly at the NFL combine.  There is more than appears, though.  He plays with a game speed and quickness that makes defensive backs appear silly at times.  Crowder offers a diverse route tree with experience working all levels of the field and lining up inside or out.  A solid market should emerge for Crowder but his size may limit teams’ envisioned role to primarily a slot receiver.

Adam Humphries

The timing just works out sometimes.  Humphries put up his best season as a pro in 2018 racking up 76 receptions on the verge of free agency.  This is the very definition a primary slot receiver in the NFL.  He provides a smart option with very reliable hands for teams in need of underneath help. Humphries knows how to find holes in zone coverage and fights hard for extra yards with the ball.  Humphries does not possess the traits needed to consistently win on the outside.  He can be a productive receiver in the right system.

Donte Moncrief

If one could build an X- receiver in a lab, that player would probably look much like Moncrief.  He possesses a big, thick frame while running extremely well with incredible hops.  Unfortunately Moncrief did not develop as a receiver in Indianapolis where his route running never really progressed.  He is a one-speed player who does not play up to his athleticism.  Moncrief swindled the Jaguars out of $10 million last season.  It is highly unlikely that scenario happens this year but you can bet some team will take a cheaper gamble on his athletic traits again.

Devin Funchess

There were questions about what position Funchess would play in the NFL.  The former college tight end remains somewhat of a “tweener” at the pro level.  He profiles as a big possession receiver but does not have the tools necessary to optimize that role.  His hands have stayed inconsistent and he does not win as many contested catches as someone with his size should.  Funchess displays some great playmaking skills at times but not with the regularity needed to stand out.  Teams will have interest in the very young (24) talented player who might still improve going forward.

Josh Gordon, Martavis Bryant, Robby Anderson

The odds are against each of these players hitting free agency for different reasons.  They showed dynamic deep-threat ability in the past, though, which makes them worth keeping track of.  The league indefinitely suspended Gordon and Bryant for yet another substance abuse infraction and we have no idea when or if they play again.  Gordon and Anderson are also restricted free agents limiting their chances of switching teams this year.  Watch the situations for updates.

Others to Monitor

Cole Beasley fits teams with a pure slot receiver need.  He is a professional receiver who just knows how to get open.  Injuries have taken their toll on Randall Cobb.  He has not looked like the same dynamic player from his early years in a long time.  If healthy, he provides a versatile player capable of filling slot and receiving roles in the slot and out of the backfield.  Buffalo players nicknamed Chris Hogan “7-Eleven” when he played for the Bills because he was always open.  We might need a new nickname after Hogan struggled to find any separation in 2019.  Is Dez Bryant done after an Achilles injury ended his 2018 season before it began?  Injuries and the retirement of Tony Romo sent Bryant’s career into one of the sharpest tailspins in recent memory from a top receiver.  Kelvin Benjamin produced a couple of quality seasons in Carolina to start his career.  He’s probably looking at a part-time role now as a short-yardage or redzone specialist now.  Jordan Matthews started his career with three consecutive 60+ reception seasons for Philadelphia playing considerably as a big slot receiver.  He can be a useful player for teams utilizing a similar role.  Former first-round picks Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, and Breshad Perriman will look to free agency after disappointing initial contract years.  On the older side, Dontrelle Inman and Rishard Matthews both proved very solid professionals throughout their careers when given ample opportunity.  The Texans recently released Demaryius Thomas after an Achilles tear ended his season.  It will be a tough comeback for 2019 given the late date of his injury.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, RBs Montgomery & Jacobs

Updated: February 27th 2019

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

In this week’s entry in my NFL Draft Previews series, we’ll be taking a closer look at running backs David Montgomery and Josh Jacobs.  I purposefully put these two backs in the same preview because I thought their paths to this point in the 2019 NFL Draft process are contrasting.  It will be interesting to see which player ends up with the better draft pedigree: the guy whose been on dynasty owners’ radars for three years, or the guy whose workload was limited by a talented supporting cast but recently showed his full potential.  Let’s get to it!

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

  • Listed at: 5110/216 (per www.sports-reference.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Iowa 2018, Washington State 2018
  • Stats:
Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece Scri Scri Scri Scri
Year School G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
2016 Iowa State 12 109 563 5.2 2 13 129 9.9 0 122 692 5.7 2
*2017 Iowa State 13 258 1146 4.4 11 36 296 8.2 0 294 1442 4.9 11
*2018 Iowa State 12 257 1216 4.7 13 22 157 7.1 0 279 1373 4.9 13
Career Iowa State 624 2925 4.7 26 71 582 8.2 0 695 3507 5.0 26
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2019.

David Mongtomery was my first love of the 2019 running back class from way back in late 2016.  I did a rudimentary Twitter search and count that I have tweeted about him seventeen different times.  I am positive that is the most of any player I’ve covered.  I’ve also written about Montgomery a number of times for the site, with my 2018 Big 12 preview being my most in-depth treatise.  In that piece, I concentrated on a few talking points: 1) his break-tackle ability, 2) his boom or bust tendency and 3) his contributions as a pass catcher.  This clip of Montgomery is one of my favorites and sums up just how hard it is to tackle him:

As that clip illustrates, Montgomery is tough to bring down.  He caught the 3rd and 1 swing pass and was destined for a loss.  Instead he made multiple defenders miss, deployed a killer spin move, set up a block well and dragged a defender for extra yardage.  In addition to his balance, his ability to break tackles is improved by his low center of gravity and leg strength.  Look at how compact he makes himself on this attempted tackle by a Wazzou defensive back.  The blow momentarily knocks him back but he has the power to keep himself upright and finish the run.

I was also looking for further evidence of Montgomery on passing downs as a blocker.  After all, if he may be the top back off the board in your fantasy draft you want to ensure you’re getting somebody with three down capability.  Unfortunately, I did not find too many instances of Montgomery in pass protection.  He’s on the field on passing downs but he’s often faking a handoff, running a route out of the backfield or lining up as a receiver.  In the three instances I took note of Montgomery’s blocking, he lost twice and won once.  This attempted cut block on 4th down against Iowa was a particularly bad example.

The most discussed knock on Montgomery is his speed.  He’s definitely not a burner with long speed, but I think he has enough functional speed to be productive in the pros.  My eye tells me he’ll probably run in the 4.55-4.60 range (i.e. Jamaal Williams or Wayne Gallman). What is most concerning to me is the fact that Montgomery seems to get bottled up for no gain far too often.  He can be very boom or bust.  My initial assumption was that it was due to a lack of vision but I found some advanced stats from Football Outsiders that made me pause and reconsider my judgment.  Per Football Outsiders, Iowa State’s offensive line ranked 105th (of 128) in Standard Downs Line Yards.  This stat essentially shows how many yards the offensive line helped create on a standard rushing down.  When you look at Opportunity Rate, which takes the running back’s performance more into account, the Cyclones rank moves up to 61st.  So, I’d like to optimistically think that Montgomery was mostly a victim of poor line play.  (For what it’s worth, Josh Jacobs’ Alabama ranked 2nd and 5th, respectively).

Since Montgomery has been my top prospect at the position for awhile, I know I am being harder on him than I will be on future evaluations.  I also know that the Josh Jacobs hype train is coming on strong which will bring more attention to Mongtomery’s flaws.  I still see value in Montgomery’s balance, pass catching and durability.  I also think that teams will love to see how often he lined up as a receiver.  I think that pick 50-65 is about right for Montgomery because he’s unlikely to move up draft boards after the combine.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 1-2

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

  • Listed at: 5100/216 (per www.sports-reference.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Tennessee 2018, Clemson 2019, Highlights 2018
  • Stats:
Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece Scri Scri Scri Scri
Year School G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2016 Alabama 14 85 567 6.7 4 14 156 11.1 0 99 723 7.3 4
*2017 Alabama 11 46 284 6.2 1 14 168 12.0 2 60 452 7.5 3
*2018 Alabama 15 120 640 5.3 11 20 247 12.4 3 140 887 6.3 14
Career Alabama 251 1491 5.9 16 48 571 11.9 5 299 2062 6.9 21
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2019.

Josh Jacobs is a very interesting contrast to David Montgomery because he’s only been ballyhooed for months rather than years.  That doesn’t mean he’s any less of a prospect though, so don’t disregard him on a “sample size” or “work load” basis.  A lot of very knowledgeable experts will end up with Jacobs as their top back in the class and I’m okay with that because I am considering it strongly myself.

When I watched Jacobs live during the season, specifically at the end of the season, two things stood out more than anything else: 1) his burst and power as a straight ahead runner and 2) his success as a pass blocker.  Let’s investigate these two strengths further.

One of the best examples of the difficulty of tackling Jacobs came on a kick return against Louisville.  I had forgotten about this play but was thankfully reminded by a highlight reel I found on YouTube.  Jacobs receives the kick at about the 25 yard line and patiently lets his blocks develop.  He gets narrow through a hole, stiff arms a defender, breaks two tackles, maintains his balance along the sideline and manages enough speed to get to the endzone before the defenders catch him.  There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle in the run, just a lot of forward momentum that propelled him to the promised land.

A seemingly minor 2nd and 9 early in the contest against Tennessee really illustrated just how well Jacobs creates yardage after contact by keeping his feet moving and falling forward.  On this play he squeezes through a small hole at the line of scrimmage and is first contacted about four yards short of the line to gain.  He breaks through the arm tackle and then lowers his shoulder to allow himself to rebound over the second defender who is going for a low tackle.  Ultimately he lands about twelve yards down field, getting the first down and putting the Tide well inside the red zone.  Jacobs did this a number of other times in my study and while each felt similarly unimportant, those additional yards add up on the stat sheet and on the defender’s body.

Against Clemson in the National Championship game, Jacobs was deployed as the Wildcat quarterback on multiple short yardage plays.  This replay angle of one of those plays wonderfully shows just how hard Jacobs had to work for that single yard.

After watching Jacobs live, I had very positive takeaways regarding his pass protection.  When I went back and re-watched some of the film though, I was less impressed.  I do believe that Jacobs has the instincts and intelligence to protect well, but he’ll need some work on timing and technique.  Sony Michel set a high bar for me in 2018 as a back who could block well which ultimately helped him earn a first round selection.  I don’t think Jacobs is on that level but he’s closer than many others in the class.  Here’s a play from the Clemson game in which Jacob finds his assignment and makes the block.  I’d like to see him take a sooner step towards the defender instead of letting him get into his body but the block was still effective enough.  What I enjoyed most was that after making the initial block, Jacobs does not give up on the play and hits the defender again to ensure that he opened a lane for his scrambling quarterback.

Jacobs has a chance to leapfrog the incumbent Montgomery as RB1 but I’m not quite ready to make the switch yet.  One of the consequences of Jacobs not having much tape is that he doesn’t have much bad tape.  Is that because he’s the best back in the class?  Or is it because Montgomery had more touches in the first nine games this year than Jacobs had in the last two seasons combined? Regardless of whether he’s the first or fifth running back off the board, it’s clear that Jacobs will be highly sought and could end up being a first rounder.  I think he will have immediate value in the NFL because of his ability to play on passing downs.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 1-2


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching 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, expandtheboxscore.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, 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

Super Bowl Predictions

Updated: February 3rd 2019

Welcome to Super Bowl weekend. As I mentioned on Twitter right after the game, what Tom Brady & Bill Belichick have accomplished over the last two decades will go down as the greatest achievement in modern sports. The parity in the NFL is second to none when compared to other leagues and sustained success is extremely rare, and since becoming the everyday starter in 2001 (and not including 2008 when he was injured), Brady has missed the playoffs once (in 2002 despite finishing in a tie at 9-7 with the Dolphins/Jets in the AFC East), and he has made the AFC Championship game 13 times…to give you some context, during this same time span, the Steelers (a widely successful franchise over the past 20 years) only made the playoffs 12 times. Now entering his 9th Super Bowl, Brady will have played in more Super Bowls than any other NFL franchise. So, what a story for Super Bowl 53. Perhaps the greatest storyline is that Brady (41) and Belichick (66) are up against Jared Goff (24) and Sean McVay (33)…who knows, maybe McVay and Goff are about to start a dynasty of their own (McVay seems to have all the skills of a young Belichick even if Goff seems far off from a young Tom Brady). Brady and Goff will get much of the pregame attention, but the running backs will be critical to the outcome of the game, which should be a classic.

After the first three rounds of the playoffs, here is how our writers stand with their respective predictions:

  1. Stephen Wendell: 6-4 ML & 6-4 ATS
  2. Matt Papson: 7-3 ML & 7-3 ATS
  3. Kyle English: 6-4 ML & 3-7 ATS
  4. Matt Goodwin: 6-4 ML & 5-5 ATS
  5. Nick Andrews: 6-4 ML & 5-5 ATS
  6. Bernard Faller: 6-4 ML & 7-3 ATS

Super Bowl Predictions below (we have four guys on the Pats and two guys on the Rams). Enjoy the game!

New England Patriots vs. @ Los Angeles Rams [Line: NE -2.5]

Stephen Wendell: There is no way Tom Brady loses this game. Something could get crazy with the spread at the end of the game I feel, but I think Tom gets it done in convincing fashion and Pats win by seven. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Rams 24.

Matt Papson: Tom Brady FTW. Projected Score: Patriots 31 – Rams 27.

Kyle English: No analysis, just predictions. Projected Score: Rams 24 – Patriots 23.

Matt Goodwin: Since I’ve picked against the Patriots since the divisional round, why not do it once more? While I hate to doubt the GOAT Tom Brady in the clutch and it seems unlikely he’d let the Patriots lose two Super Bowl games in a row, the Rams getting points as an underdog is appealing yet again. What a chess match this will be between Sean McVay and Bill Belichick who will be trying to neutralize the Rams offense. I fully expect Todd Gurley to bounce back big time in this game and have a dominant performance after a puzzling one in the NFC Championship.  The Patriots offensive line has been lights out in the playoffs and battles a tough front for the Rams. While Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski made big plays against the Chiefs and the Rams secondary is grossly overrated, I do think Nickell Robey Coleman is actually underrated as a slot corner. Sure, Edelman finds ways to make plays in big moments and the Patriots have looked very solid in the backfield with rookie Sony Michel (a likely 2019 fantasy stud) grinding, James White catching passes and Rex Burkhead doing a little bit of the rest. In the end, I think Jared Goff just figures out a way to carve up the Patriots defense and Greg the Leg gets it done in the dome. Maybe it’s wishful thinking that my son Jory will be happy after this game in that his Rams won, but that’s who I’m going with in what I think will be an incredibly entertaining game. Projected Score: Rams 30 – Patriots 27.

Nick Andrews: As much as the players will determine the outcome of this game the best matchups may be wearing the headsets on the sideline. Sean McVay vs. Bill Belichick is getting a lot of discussion but Josh McDaniels vs. Wade Phillips might be equally as masterful to watch this Sunday. Rarely is the coaching so evenly matched on both sides of the ball. In a close game the tie goes to the G.O.A.T. wearing number 12. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Rams 23.

Bernard Faller: Simple formula so far for New England offense in playoffs.  Consistently cram Michel down the defense’s throat to suck them in.  Throw to Edelman or check down to White when other receivers not open.  Keep marching down the field.  I see no reason to change now.   Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Rams 27.

 

More Analysis by Stephen Wendell

Early 2019 Free Agency Look: RBs

Updated: February 10th 2019

The running back position is fairly deep in this free agent class.  The group offers a diverse skill-set with three-down players among the best at the position and a deep group of backs with a history of solid rushing production.  Most of the proven players available are in the older age range for running backs and many of the younger ones have significant question marks.   Overall, though, this is a good group for teams not wanting to use draft picks on running backs.  The following list does not cover every free agent running back.  It does give the reader a brief overview of most free agent running backs with a chance to have significant roles with teams.

Tier 1 – Every-down Backs

Le’Veon Bell

Bell fits the mold of an every-down back in today’s NFL as well as anyone with prototypical size and incredible receiving ability.  Many would consider him one of the better slot receivers in the game.  He accumulated at least 75 receptions in different three years.  Still, a running back with three 1,800 scrimmage yard seasons should not have this many questions going into free agency.  Bell has significant past injury issues, a suspension, and over 1,500 touches already in his career.  Another issue is that every running back replacing Bell in recent memory, from DeAngelo Williams to James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, sustained success in the Pittsburgh backfield.  Teams will wonder how much of his production was due to the surrounding talent and scheme.  Part of Bell’s allure is the ability to continuously stay on the field during a game but one of his main complaints in Pittsburgh was the extensive usage.  He just sat out an entire year, refusing to play for $14.5 million after turning down a big contract extension offer from the Steelers.  Clearly Bell is looking for a huge payday.  What happens if the market does not develop as he is hoping for?  Ultimately, I do not think any of the questions will matter.  There are teams with loads of cap space for 2019 including the Colts, Jets, and Bills with the most cap room.  Someone will likely pay big money for the top back available.

Kareem Hunt

This one comes with a big asterisk.  Hunt was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after a video surfaced showing an ugly incident at a hotel and released by Kansas City.  The league is investigating this episode and other instances of alleged violent off the field behavior.  He will be suspended at some point, reportedly before free agency begins.  The early reports indicate Hunt playing in 2019 with multiple teams reportedly already showing interest in signing him.  There is a lot to like about the former Chief on the field.  Hunt won the rushing title in 2017 as a rookie and averaged over 100 scrimmage yards per game in his career.  He displays some of the best ability to take hits and stay on his feet in the NFL leading to a lot of missed tackles.  Hunt also turned himself a good receiver and pass blocker making him a good all-around back.  His contract situation will be interesting to follow.  Hunt has only two accrued years meaning any team signing him to a 1-year deal would have rights to Hunt in 2020 as a restricted free agent or as an exclusive rights free agent if Hunt’s upcoming suspension prevents him from earning an accrued season in 2019.  This makes for a potentially cost-friendly contract for a team willing to sign Hunt.

Tier 2 – Combo Back

Tevin Coleman

The thing a player wants in free agency is a skill-set that separates him from the pack.  Coleman is the only high-profile running back this year with true “home run” speed, the type of player who can take it the distance from any point on the field.  He also distances himself from most other backs as a plus route runner out of the backfield or lined up wide as a receiver.  These talents helped Coleman average an incredible eleven yards per reception over his career and at least four yards per carry in every season.  With the emphasis on the passing game for today’s NFL, his receiving ability combined with game-breaking jets probably get Coleman paid more than many predict.  He does not fit every running scheme.  He does not excel as an inside-heavy rusher as he does not possess the size to consistently push piles and brake tackles.  Coleman will not get 350 touches in a season.  Part of his draw on the free agent market will be that he touched the ball only a little over 600 times in his NFL career.  A team which exploits his outside running capability and heavily utilizes his receiving skills obtains a dynamic playmaker however who can lead a running back group.  He will be the target of many teams not wanting to pay Bell’s asking price.

Tier 3 – Rushing Down Backs

Mark Ingram

Good all-around rusher who developed quality hands for screen plays and quarterback check downs with the Saints.  Long history of solid production.  His best option is staying in New Orleans but could lead a committee elsewhere.  29 years old with only about the same number of touches in his career as Bell.

Jay Ajayi

One of the better tackle breakers in the game when healthy with nice combination of power and decent long-speed.  Career filled with knee concerns and that was before he tore his ACL.  Will the market develop for someone not fully healthy by the time free agency arrives?

C.J. Anderson

Big bodied back who showed spurts of really strong play with Denver and produced a huge end of year for the Rams after being cut by Panthers and Raiders.  Will it be enough to lead to a committee next season?

Latavius Murray

Large between the tackles runner with good breakaway speed once he hits his stride.  It makes a lot of sense for Minnesota to re-sign Murray given Dalvin Cook’s extensive injury history.

Adrian Peterson

The future hall of famer put up a bounce back campaign in 2018 showing off a little of the speed and power showcased throughout his early career.  He offers practically nothing as a receiver.  How much interest will develop for a one-dimensional 34 year old running back?

Frank Gore

The ageless wonder played very well in 2018.  He would like to stay in Miami.  The Dolphins have two young running backs on cheap rookie contracts for a rebuilding team where the need for an older veteran may be minimal.

The Raiders Backs

Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin (UFAs), and Jalen Richard (RFA) are all free agents.  Richard was excellent as a receiving specialist.  My first instinct is that Oakland signs Richard to a long-term deal and brings back one of Lynch or Martin depending on if Lynch retires.  Martin was serviceable replacing Lynch but graded out worse than the older back.

Tier 4 – Potential backups and role players to keep track of

T.J. Yeldon

Three down NFL size back with very good hands but average, at best, everywhere else.  Plays with the power of someone 20 lbs lighter and not much wiggle or speed with the ball.  Yeldon was one of PFF’s lowest graded qualified backs in 2018.  Reports of bad influence in locker room.  Solid do-it-all backup for teams which relies primarily on one back.

Jeremy Hill

Hill looked very good this preseason earning the big back role for New England before tearing his ACL in his first game with the Patriots.  Unlikely a team prioritizes running back recovering from knee surgery.

Bilal Powell

Underrated runner and receiver capable of receiving back or committee role.  Undersized and unknown recovery time from neck injury for player with long injury history.

Darren Sproles

The smaller dynamo says he might be back for another year.  He will be on the PPR radar if he plays depending on who the Eagles bring in at running back.

Ameer Abdullah

Smaller athletic back with 2nd round draft pedigree who never worked out with Detroit.  Will a new team be able to find a role?

Spencer Ware

Big, thick rusher who performed well throughout his time with Kansas City including a very good 2016.  Possible product of system as almost every rusher, given the chance, performs well in Kansas City.

Ty Montgomery

There are always potential spots on teams for former college wide receivers with running back size.  May always be a jack-of-all-trades player with no defined role or consistent usage.  Struggled with injuries throughout his time with Green Bay.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller