The Watch List: 2019 Mountain West Season Preview

Updated: July 14th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State.  Love has the ingredients needed for my mid-major Heisman recipe: efficiency, lots of points and a strong non-conference schedule.  The Aggies, led by Love, will score a lot — they led the MWC in points per game by more than twelve points (47.5).  So, I expect them to be competitive in non-con games against Wake Forest, LSU and BYU.  If Love eclipses 4,000+ passing yards, 40+ total TDs and bags two upsets, he’ll earn a few Heisman votes, a la McKenzie Milton in 2017.

Underclassman to Watch: Toa Taua, RB, Nevada.  Taua started the season as a true freshman role player for the Wolfpack but by mid-season he had earned a larger share of the carries.  He ultimately led the team in rushing with 872 yards and added six scores.  He has an interesting body shape at 5080/220 and an even more interesting following on YouTube.  The video titles I found when searching for him included “The Greatest 12 Year Old Football Player” and “The Most Savage High School Player I Have Ever Seen” and “This Kid is Like Troy Polamalu at Running Back.”  After my short exposure to his highlights, I have to agree.  He’s thick, nigh impossible to arm tackle and has deceiving long speed.  He also deploys subtle, but smart, cuts that allow him to find creases or get out of trouble at the line of scrimmage.  I can’t wait to see the YouTube titles after he blows up the Mountain West in 2019.

Newcomer of the Year: Hank Bachmeier, QB, Boise State.  Bachmeier, a 4-star recruit, joins the Broncos at the perfect time as longtime starter Brett Rypien has graduated.  Bachmeier is labeled as a pro-style quarterback by the recruiting services but he looks like a plus athlete who was too much to handle for high school defenses.  He throws well on the move and spins the deep ball.  I only watched a few minutes of Hudl highlights but I’m already drinking the Kool-Aid and hope Bachmeier gets a chance to start as a true freshman.

Coaching Carousel: Gary Andersen returns to Logan this season to lead Utah State once again.  Andersen left the Aggies in 2012, after earning the school’s first-ever double digit win season (11-2), and has had a rocky few years since.  First, he took the Wisconsin job and led the Badgers to a 19-7 record.  Andersen then unexpectedly took the Oregon State job and was fired mid-way through 2017 after two and a half unsuccessful seasons.  He returns to Utah State and it sounds like neither he nor the fans could forget his initial tenure.  A profile of Andersen in the Salt Lake Tribune makes it clear that Andersen never really left Logan and is content to be back.  It’s fitting that he takes over after the school’s second-ever 11-2 season — he’ll get the chance to see if he can push the team to a twelfth win, something he missed out on last time.

Players to Watch

Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

There was no sophomore slump for Jordan Love in 2018.  In fact, he led the MWC in efficiency and scored 39 total TDs.  In 2019, he’ll be hoping to continue his upward trend and impress NFL scouts enough to come out for the 2020 NFL Draft.  Love checks in at 6040/225 which, historically, is a prototypical build (think: Josh Rosen).  What separates Love from other players in the same size range is that he’s not solely a pocket passer.  Love’s career rushing stats aren’t gaudy, 228-9, but he is an effective short yardage running threat.  I knew I’d have to watch for that when reviewing his film.  I also wanted to get a feel for Love’s arm and awareness.  Let’s get into my observations.

I’ll start by saying that Love is tough as nails.  I watched him against Michigan State and you see it on nearly every play.  The Spartan defense was coming at him and he kept getting up.  When that pressure was in his face, Love did make some poor decisions so improved pocket presence will be important for him (granted, it was the first game of the season so he likely improved already).  Those poor decisions turned into various negative plays — sacks, interceptions, intentional grounding, near fumbles — that could have been avoided.  Yeah, I know, easy for me to say from my couch.  I know Love has the ability to read the game situation and make a positive play, I just want to see him accomplish it more often.  Take these two plays, for example.  In the first, you’ll see Love deliver a strike to his receiver on a 3rd and 7 late in the game with just one second left on the play clock.  The defense, trying to capitalize on the stressful situation, shows blitz but drops into a zone to confuse Love.  He throws to his first read and it turns into a first down.

The second example of Love being able to manage a difficult moment came on the very next play.  Unrattled, he sees the defense trying to make a sub and rushes the snap.  He catches the defense offside and earns a free play with the flag.  That’s a veteran move uncommon for underclassmen.

The Aggies primarily run a quick-hitting passing offense that relies on screens and quick patterns.  That suits Love who has a quick release, which you can see in the first play above.  Love also shows a malleable throwing motion which can be both a blessing and a curse.  It allows him to flexibly get the ball to his receiver when under pressure, but it also causes him to be complacent and short-arm some deep passes.  In a play early against Michigan State, Love comes over the top with his motion to avoid a rusher right in front of him and to ensure a downward trajectory on the ball for his crossing receiver.  It’s hard to see that in gif form but this alternate play better shows Love compacting his motion so he can dump the ball to his running back before the defender gets to him.

Love is a productive runner in short yardage and red zone situations.  He has enough speed to get upfield and has a predictable but useful juke move.  He’s also not afraid to take some contact to get the first or the touchdown.  This play from Michigan State was probably the best illustration of his rushing ability, even though it ended short of the goal line.

I’ll leave you with one of the prettiest passes Love completed in last season’s opener.  He puts his mobility to use as he rolls right and delivers a wonderfully weighted and placed pass over the leaping defender and ahead of his oncoming receiver.  That’s an NFL-quality throw.

I dove deeper into Jordan Love than anticipated because I saw that he has the raw talent to be a future NFL passer.  With some more experience and seasoning, he will be worthy of Day Two consideration in a top-heavy quarterback class.

Jared Rice, TE, Fresno State

I had not heard of Jared Rice before I started my Mountain West research but his 55-664-3 line caught my eye.  He measures in at 6050/238 and has a lanky body type that screams “new age tight end.”  In his sophomore season, Rice averaged 17.6 yards per catch on 22 receptions.  That average came down in 2018 to 12.1, which is okay but hopefully he can split the difference in 2019.  I was only able to watch a very limited sample of Rice — individual plays from Fresno State highlight reels — but what I saw impressed me so I wanted to feature him.

Given his body type and statistics, you’d expect Rice to be a threat in the passing game.  And he is.  Rice appears to be an above average route runner for his age and position.  He excels on vertical routes, especially seams and wheel routes.  He’s also adept at faking blocks to help himself find space.  On this play, you’ll see Rice feint like he is going to block for the bubble screen but instead he bends his run upfield and turns it into a wheel route.  He finds himself in acres of space and makes a fingertip over-the-shoulder catch for a score.

On this next play, you’ll see Rice run another vertical route: a seam.  He is lined up on the line of scrimmage but does not block.  The defense is playing in a zone, however Rice is behind the MLB before he can get to his area of responsibility.  Neither safety is within ten yards and Rice is easily able to find paydirt.

I wasn’t able to observe Rice in any blocking situations so I honestly have no idea how he’ll be in that role.  If he’s able to prove himself as a serviceable blocker, he’ll be very dangerous on plays like those shown above.  Rice is mostly a projection at this point but I’ll keep him on my shortlist for 2020.

Honorable Mentions

Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii:  McDonald has become a cult hero on #DraftTwitter for the recent news of a twinge-inducing injury complication he played through last season.  He threw for 3,875 yards and 36 TDs and finished Top 10 in the FBS in most passing categories.  McDonald, listed at 6040/205, throws an accurate deep ball and is a rushing threat as well.  He exhibits an attitude and coolness that comes through even in highlights.  It’s early and I have a deep dive yet to do, but my first impression is that McDonald will be a Top 75 prospect in this class.

Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State: Washington may be small at 5070/190, but he’s more than just a space player.  He’s unafraid to run up the middle and take a hit.  He converted 3rd and short more than 50% of the time each of the last two years and has scored 15 of his 23 career rushing yards from inside the red zone.  He has big play potential, and shows that as a kick returner, but he’s more of a complete runner than most players in his cohort.  His 2018 season was cut short by injury and left him frustratingly at 199 carries for 999 yards (and 10 TDs).  If he can stay healthy and cross the 200-1,000 threshold, I’ll be buying him as a late rookie stash.

Cedric Byrd, WR, Hawaii: Out of Hawaii’s three leading receivers last season, Byrd had the lowest yards per catch average (12.3).  So, going into his highlights, I assumed he was going to just be a dink-and-dunk screen receiver.  That’s not at all what I saw.  Instead, I saw Byrd running myriad routes from the slot and winning over the middle despite being just 5090/170.  Byrd made a number of difficult catches so I think he may have a flair for the acrobatic.  Last season’s leading receiver has graduated so Byrd is poised to explode and has 90+ reception and 1,500+ yard upside.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 MAC Season Preview

Updated: July 14th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio.  In a recent article for The Athletic, writer Max Olson compiled a list of 2018 quarterbacks who led the FBS in his preferred efficiency metric: Yards Per Play.  The leaders in the stat, Alabama QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, were no surprise.  The third name on the list was unexpected for me: Nathan Rourke.  I expect Rourke to stay atop the leaderboard and put up gaudy numbers in 2019.

Underclassman to Watch: Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo.  Patterson won MAC Freshman of the Year honors in 2018 with an impressive 1,013-14 output.  He’s listed at 5090/195 but looks bigger in highlights because of his play style.  Patterson is difficult to bring down because of his excellent contact balance and his powerful leg drive.  At the line of scrimmage he has shifty and frequent feet which help him pick his way through the trash.  Another 1,000+ yard season seems like a lock since the Bulls passing offense was gutted by transfers and players leaving for the NFL.  The offensive focus will need to be Patterson and his running mate Kevin Marks (6000/200, 845-13).

Newcomer of the Year: Joachim Bangda, RB, Kent State.  I wasn’t expecting to feature a player from Kent State in my preview but I came across Bangda’s name in Phil Steele’s preview magazine.  Steele had Bangda ranked as a “very highly touted” recruit and his 38th best running back of the class (other recruiting services had him ranked 31st, 67th and 69th).  According to a local news report, Bangda originally committed to Georgia Tech but flipped when coach Paul Johnson retired; he also had scholarship offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan among others.  I watched Bangda’s pinned Hudl reel and he appears to be a powerful, angry runner who can break tackles and has ample speed to get the edge.  Incumbent senior Jo-El Shaw may begin the season as the nominal starter but Bangda should end the year with more touches.

Coaching Carousel: Does Jim McElwain’s name sound familiar?  It might because the Internet had a lot of fun at his expense a few years ago when he “had to field questions about whether or not he’d humped a dead shark while naked on the deck of a boat.”  McElwain joined Michigan as their receivers coach last year, partly I presume to restart his career after Florida and partly to get away from the ocean.  This year McElwain finds himself at the helm of the Central Michigan Chippewas.  CMU had an abysmal 1-11 mark last season but had gone to four consecutive bowl games prior.  McElwain should bring a Power 5 recruiting touch with him and right the ship.

Player to Watch

 

Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio

Nathan Rourke has been immensely productive since joining the Bobcats in 2017.  He easily leads the MAC in touchdowns responsible for (passing + rushing) over the last two seasons with 77 — his next closest competition was Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson who had a total of 51.  Much of Rourke’s offensive impact comes on the ground in an option-heavy offense but he still managed to improve his passing efficiency stats last season.  Since Rourke’s pro scouting report is going to hinge on his passing ability, I wanted to concentrate on that aspect of his game during my film study.

The Ohio passing offense relies on short and quick patterns so it was disappointing to see Rourke’s accuracy match his subpar career completion percentage (57.4%).  I was hopeful that the percentage might have been dragged down by numerous missed deep balls.  In both games I watched, Buffalo 2018 and Bowling Green 2018, Rourke sailed an early pass that should have been an easy completion.  There were also multiple missed short outs.  There were a few short passes that lacked touch too.  Overall though, he did lead receivers well on swing and screen passes.  Rourke’s ball placement improved on targets in the middle of the field where he could better anticipate the receiver’s movement.  On this pass he is able to step up in the pocket and delivery a strike, in stride, which leads to a score.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that Rourke has inconsistent ball placement and touch because there are some moments when he flashes.  On this play, for example, Rourke throws a nice 25-yard back-shoulder touch pass to the end zone which results in a touchdown.

I only saw a few deep passes from Rourke and I believe this was the only one I saw him complete.  He essentially throws his speedy receiver open by leading him towards the middle of the field.  It’s the type of pass he’ll need to complete more of in 2019 in order to fill out his repertoire.

Ohio’s offense features a lot of option which is ideal for Rourke.  He is also quick to evade the pocket and scramble.  As a runner he is patient and elusive.  He does not have much straight-line speed but he is able to plant his foot and burst upfield for bonus yardage.  He’s also not afraid of contact, in fact he often initiates it.  In this clip you can see Rourke’s improvisational skill which makes him a dangerous scrambler.

I had a hard time settling on a final verdict for Rourke.  I have enjoyed watching him so far in his career and I really wanted to see a draftable quarterback.  Ultimately, I think he’s a fantastic college quarterback, however, I think he lacks the polish as a passer to be a true NFL prospect.

Honorable Mentions

Quinten Dormady, QB, Central Michigan: I had never heard of Dormady prior to my MAC research but my interest was piqued because he had such an interesting path to CMU.  He was a 4-star recruit out of high school who 247Sports predicted would land at Alabama.  He chose Tennessee instead and transferred after just thirteen appearances over three seasons.  He went to Houston where he sat behind D’Eriq King and ultimately took a redshirt.  Now he’s likely to be the leading signal caller for the Chippewas.  He has NFL size at 6040/222 but he’s the ultimate wildcard right now.  He could be the reason they upset Wisconsin or Miami; or he could end up benched and buried on a depth chart with two returners and two new signees.  In his Tennessee highlights, Dormady looks like a throwback quarterback, circa 1995, so I’m actually very excited to watch him in the aforementioned Power 5 tests.

Jonathan Ward, RB, Central Michigan: I wrote about Ward a number of times last year because I was expecting him to progress after a flag-planting 2017 outing.  In 2017, Ward had 178-1,024-10 rushing and added 48-470-3 receiving.  The receiving numbers are what stood out to me because you rarely see that production from a college running back.  Ward was ineffective to begin 2018 and then finished the season hurt, totaling just 253 yards on 88 touches.  I’m hopeful he’ll regain his role and rebound in 2019 because he has a promising combination of size (6000/202), speed, power and hands.

Levante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan: Bellamy is a smaller scat and speed back who returned from a season-ending injury in 2017 to earn first team All-MAC honors last season.  He’s a burner — apparently he ran a 4.32 laser-timed 40 yard dash last season — and it shows on his highlight reels.  At just 5090/185, he shows enough strength to shrug off chasing defenders and does surprisingly well battling through traffic.  Bellamy contributes as a receiver (30 receptions) but unfortunately that aspect of his game was largely absent from the film I watched (he did have one impressive catch on a swing pass though).  Bellamy shared carries last year but will be the unquestioned lead back in 2019 which will allow him to make a name for himself.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Roster Dynamics

Updated: July 3rd 2019

Dynamics sounds like a very technical term that might intimidate some people.  It really should not.  Definitions of dynamics may include something as simple as a process of change or the properties which affect change.  With regards to roster value in the fantasy football realm, this article focuses on how selected properties change our roster value over time and how these forces are affected by different league settings.  In particular, we look at the following primary sources of roster value change in this article: rookie draft picks, free agent auction acquisitions, waiver wire additions, trades, and changes in player values.

Why do we care about how our roster value changes?  The aforementioned properties can have big implications for how we approach initial fantasy start-ups and our off-season team building.  How do we maintain a competitive roster year to year for example?  The following gives the basics for thinking about how your team changes in value and the consequences of such changes.

Rookie Draft Picks

Rookie picks effectively make up a roster’s “income stream” from year to year in dynasty leagues and they are a primary source of added value each year to rosters in RSO leagues.  Each team reliably obtains a number of these picks each year, the number associated with how many rounds are included in a league’s draft.  There is a random component to how valuable these picks are due to uncertainty of each team’s relative finish before the season ends, quality of incoming rookie class, and other factors.  Rookie picks also tend to be relatively more easily transferrable when compared to specific players.

Key Considerations:  While the number of picks each team gets is typically the same for every team, the expected value of those picks can be vastly different.  The value of rookie picks from bad or rebuilding teams will typically far exceed that of competitive teams because rookie pick value is typically weighted so heavily toward the top picks.

League size also has a big impact on rookie pick values.  Two competing factors influence the impact of league size.  Bigger leagues with more teams lead to more starting players needed in the league making each startable player and consequently each draft pick more valuable (Note this analysis also applies to leagues with deeper starting requirements which make draft picks more valuable than in shallower leagues).   On the other hand, bigger leagues mean the average draft position of rookie picks decreases.  For example, the average rookie pick spot in the first and second rounds would be 5.5 and 15.5 in 10-team leagues where they would be 10.5 and 30.5 in 20-team leagues.  That is a huge discrepancy in values for random picks.  This latter effect dominates the earlier because the value of later draft picks drops so dramatically when compared to the relatively small increase in value due to increased starting requirements.

Free Agent Auction Acquisitions

This is the staple of roster change in RSO leagues.   Salary cap not spent on current contracts and rookies are available for the free agent auction.  The available free agents, current team rosters, available salary cap dollars, and other factors may vary dramatically from team to team and year to year.  This means applying a unique strategy to your free agent auction each year.

Key Considerations:  The number and length of available contracts in league settings has a big impact on the available player pool as the league moves forward each season.  A higher number of contracts available each year naturally leads to less players available for future free agent auctions as your league progresses.  This decrease in the supply of talent may eventually increase the prices of players during the free agent auction and trades.

In-season Free Agent and Waiver Wire Additions

Typical dynasty leagues setup a blind bidding pool for unrostered players with bidding periods taking place during the off-season and in-season.  For RSO leagues, whatever salary cap dollars not spent in the free agent auction are now available during the season for players not on contract and the waiver wire for claiming dropped player contracts.  The key implication of this is that a team’s yearly auction strategy directly impacts in-season additions.  Spending more cap dollars in the free agent auction reduces the cap available for in-season additions.

Key Considerations:  Many view roster size as the key component in waiver wire strategy.  The available player pool decreases as roster sizes grow larger.  Teams are more able to hold speculative players such as running back handcuffs and development rookies.  This provides less incentive to not utilize your salary cap dollars in the free agent auction.

There are a couple of arguments for holding more of your cap dollars to address in-season additions in certain situations.  First, many RSO startups and free agent auctions occur prior to NFL rosters and depth charts being set which means RSO teams speculate on which players win NFL battles for the last starting wide receiver or backup running back.  An RSO owner who spends more of their cap during the season may have an information advantage in many instances as NFL depth charts are mainly set at this point.  Second, more available in-season cap dollars gives an RSO team more flexibility in trade negotiations.  Teams up against the salary cap may be forced into including assets they do not want to give up as a way to make the trade work for cap purposes.

Trades

If rookie picks are the building blocks of fantasy teams, trades represent the transformation process for fantasy rosters in which we make our roster into the type we want.  We may divide trades into a few broad categories or combination of them.  Inter-positional trades involve exchanging players from one position group to another, such as trading a running back for a wide receiver.  Inter-temporal trades concern moving value in one time frame to another, for example a team trading cheaper rookie picks or a longer-term player in exchange for a more expensive shorter-term player.  A less common scenario, intra-positional trades, sees teams trading players from the same position group.  RSO leagues offer another alternative.  Salary cap space itself is an asset in RSO leagues.  We may therefore see trades in which one team gives up assets in order to gain salary cap space such as giving rookie draft picks in exchange for that team taking on a bad contract.

One thing we should note is that trades are not a zero sum game.  Both teams in a trade may increase their short-term winning chances by upgrading one position group at the expense of another position of strength.  A rebuilding team may sacrifice short-term production, which has zero or negative value to that particular team, in exchange for longer-term assets such as rookie picks.

Key Considerations:  View the league positional starting requirements.  One of the reasons I prefer leagues with increased quarterback and tight end values is that it opens up another world for trading.  Many basic fantasy leagues have so little separation between the values of most tight ends and quarterbacks that they are rarely more than simple “add-ons” for trades between other positions.  There exists no real motivation to make trades centered on wide receivers or running backs in exchange for tight ends or quarterbacks given the supply differences between the positions.  Adding value to quarterbacks and tight ends (by adding more starting spots to those positions for example) greatly increases the potential trade activity in many leagues.

Changes in Player Values

A funny thing happens in fantasy football when looking at player values.  Players are continuously depreciating assets meaning they are always losing production value.  Each year or game played is one more taken off the lifetime value of that player.  We just do not necessarily know ahead of time what that future production value will look like.  The market or trade value of a player, however, may see drastic ups and downs on a weekly basis.  New information such as injuries, suspensions, coaching, and surrounding depth charts makes a big impact on how the fantasy community views a player’s future production.

Key Considerations:  Maximize the difference between production value and trade value by acquiring players at valleys or trading away players at peaks in market value.  This requires anticipation of changes to a player’s situation such as moving up a depth chart or potentially moving teams to one with better surrounding talent.  We also must consider the sustainability of recent production factoring in the natural ups and downs of statistical production which happens to all players.

Main Takeaway

It is never easy maintaining a consistent winner year to year in fantasy football.  That task becomes even more difficult in deeper competitive leagues as the number of teams gets larger and larger.  This is particularly true in startups.  The primary avenues of adding roster value no longer produce enough talent to continuously improve your team as leagues get deeper with more teams. Rookie picks become less and less valuable.  The free agent pool eventually shrinks to players with little value.  The waiver wire becomes practically barren.   The focus of teams must move more toward trading for value and acquiring players which can reasonably see upticks in market value to trade later or accumulating those with market values below anticipated production levels.    


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 C-USA Season Preview

Updated: July 3rd 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Mason Fine, QB, North Texas.  Fine is the C-USA quarterback most likely to put up Heisman-worthy numbers in 2019.  He also has notable, but winnable, non-conference games against Cal and Houston.  If the Mean Green end their opening slog 5-0, Fine may get some national publicity.  More on him below…

Underclassman to Watch: Brendan Knox, RB, Marshall.  Knox is a compact but powerful redshirt sophomore who took over as the starter last November.  In his five starts, he topped 100 yards in three.  The marquee game was a 27-204-2 explosion against Virginia Tech.  I found two highlight packages online and was surprised by how nimble he looked because he’s listed at 6000/223.  He’s definitely smaller than that listed size but he appeared to have a good combination of power and elusiveness.  I’ll flag Knox’s name for 2021 and check back in on him next offseason. (By the way, that late season makeup against Virginia Tech was such a fascinating situation for sports administration nerds like myself.  Va Tech needed the makeup because they cancelled a game in September due to a hurricane and wouldn’t have been bowl eligible with a 6-5 record.  Luckily for them, nearby Marshall also cancelled a game that same weekend.  So the teams devised a contingency plan that would schedule a game on December 1st if the Hokies were one win away from eligibility.  Marshall got a cool $300,000 and a future home-and-home series out of the deal.  If the game wasn’t needed, Marshall still would have pocketed $100,000.  Love it.)

Newcomer of the Year: BJ Emmons, RB, Florida Atlantic.  Emmons will see the field for the first time as an Owl in 2019 — he signed last year but sat out the season.  He’s reunited with Lane Kiffin who was his OC at Alabama in 2016.  Due to an injury and a backfield logjam, Emmons played in just seven games as a true freshman for the Tide that season, earning 35 carries.  He transferred down to Hutchinson Community College, where he rushed for 694-10 on 150 carries in 2017.  Emmons was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school and was the top running back per Rivals and ESPN, so he has a pedigree and some underlying talent.  He remains an unknown but he looks to have some power and some pop on his JUCO highlights.  It’ll be interesting to see if he can take over for Devin Singletary and show that he was worthy of his younger plaudits.

Coaching Carousel: The top C-USA teams all managed to hold onto their head coaches.  The only changes come at Western Kentucky (Tyson Helton) and Charlotte (Will Healy).  I won’t pretend to have had a feel for him before doing some research, but I’m interested to see how Helton does in his first year as a head coach (at any level).  He’s the younger brother of USC’s Clay Helton.  Helton the younger bounced around smaller schools for years — his first coordinator job was here at Western Kentucky — before landing on his brother’s staff at USC as the quarterbacks coach.  Last year he moved on to be the OC at Tennessee.  Helton’s resume may not yet inspire confidence, but his roster may.  The Hilltoppers return sixteen starters, ten on the offense; per Phil Steele’s experience chart, they return nearly 80% of their offensive yards from last season.  That will help the offensive-minded Helton find some success in his rookie season.  Non-conference games against Louisville and Arkansas offer the possibility of a season-making upset.  (Here’s a scheduling oddity that struck me: Western Kentucky and Louisville will be playing their neutral site game in Tennessee.)

Players to Watch

Mason Fine, QB, North Texas

Over the last two seasons, Mason Fine has put up an impressive 7,845 passing yards and 58 TDs. That yardage total leads the FBS over that span. You may have recently heard of some of the guys just behind him on that list: Drew Lock, Ryan Finley and Will Grier. I don’t think Fine will be a Top 100 prospect like that trio but I don’t think we should ignore him just because he’s undersized (5110/185).

When I watched Fine’s film from Liberty 2018, it was clear that his size did impact his game, however he is often able to overcome.  I noted a few times when he needed to improvise and either had to jump-throw or modify his arm slot to try and complete a pass.  His feet can be inconsistent, especially when on the move because he doesn’t always try to set himself, instead relying on his arm strength.  It may be a strike against him for his pro evaluation, but Fine’s improvisation can be successful and makes him fun to watch.  This play is a simple illustration of Fine needing to jump in order to complete a throw.

Fine’s greatest trait may be his awareness and how that translates to an ability to read the rush, the field and the situation.  When he scrambles he keeps his eyes downfield; if there’s nobody open, he decides when it’s best to throw it away or try to gain a few yards on the ground.  He doesn’t force the ball into his first read and instead checks it down underneath (I wish I saw him go to a second downfield read but I didn’t see that in my study).  Fine often deploys a pump fake to try and manipulate defenders — a skill that only the top prospects usually display.

Fine has a strong arm which is capable of 50 yard scrambling deep balls as well as deep outs to the opposite hash.  If he improves his mechanics he could have a great arm.  This play from one of Fine’s highlight reels shows a combination of some of the notes I shared above: pocket awareness, scrambling with an eye downfield, a strong arm and an unconventional delivery that ultimately ends positively.

Whether or not we value undersized quarterback prospects like Fine or Houston’s D’Eriq King for 2020 is going to weigh heavily on Kyler Murray’s rookie season. Admittedly, Fine is far from the athlete that Murray is, but he’s going to finish as one of the most productive passers of the decade and should get a shot to prove himself in an NFL camp.

Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic

Before we get into Harrison Bryant’s stats and film, I have a confession to make. I consistently confuse the names of Harrison Bryant (TE, Florida Atlantic) and Hunter Bryant (TE, Washington) when I’m writing. I really don’t think it’s fair to have two H. Bryant tight end prospects in the same class. I’d like to submit that one of the two go by their middle name going forward.

Harrison Bryant improved on an encouraging sophomore season with an even better junior outing. All told over the two seasons, Bryant has 77 receptions for 1,070 yards and 9 TDs. Bryant’s size (6050/240) and production mirror the new trend of “move tight ends” who are basically big slot receivers. When I first flipped on his film, I was surprised at how much he really did look like a receiver out there — he’ll need to bulk up a bit prior to that combine weigh-in.

My first impression was that Bryant was going to be a liability as a blocker but that wasn’t the case.  He spends about half his time lined up in the slot with the rest in an h-back role (I only noted a handful of in-line alignments).  His best blocking attempts come from that h-back spot, either leading the running back through the hole or sealing off the edge.  This play might have been Bryant’s best blocking effort of the day.  He initially chips the end before getting to the linebacker in the second level.  He turns the defender to keep him out of the play and as the play develops he stays with the block.  He and the linebacker end up in the middle of the action so Bryant finishes the block by taking his man to the ground.  If he can consistently complete that play he’ll earn a lot of snaps in the NFL.

His soft hands and speed are especially valuable when he’s a believable blocker.  There was one sequence of plays against North Texas that perfectly encapsulate Bryant’s potential.  The first two plays have Bryant blocking up the gut for the back.  Once the defense was expecting run on 3rd and 1, Lane Kiffin calls for play action.  Bryant splits the defenders who are reading run and streaks up the seam for an easy touchdown catch.  It was a wonderful showcase for a player like Bryant.

Bryant is listed as the tenth best draft eligible tight end by DraftScout.com in Phil Steele’s season preview magazine.  I haven’t studied many tight ends yet this offseason but I think it’ll be hard not to put him higher.

Honorable Mentions

Spencer Brown, RB, UAB: UAB reinstated their football program in 2017 and true freshman Spencer Brown was a huge factor in their surprising 8-5 season. He amassed 1,329 rushing yards and scored 10 TDs. He followed that up with another great season in 2018: 1,227 and 16. His touches went up and his yardage went down which is a slight concern but he’s a high volume guy who hasn’t yet missed a game. The knock against his production would be that he has just twelve career receptions. Listed at 6000/220, Brown is built and runs with power. He lacks game-breaking speed but he’ll find a role in the NFL as an early down runner.

Rico Bussey, WR, North Texas: Bussey, a senior, enjoyed his most successful season in 2018. He totaled 68 receptions for 1,017 yards and 12 TDs, the biggest beneficiary of Mason Fine’s prolific arm. I was happy to see that Bussey was listed at 6020 because so many productive mid-major receivers are undersized slot guys. He’s a little light, especially in his lower body, but he appears to have enough speed and strength to win as an outside receiver in C-USA play. Whether he can do that against tougher competition will be key. The Mean Green have the aforementioned matchups against Cal and Houston which will give Bussey two tests this season against tougher non-conference competition. In his two career games against the Power 5, versus Iowa and Arkansas, Bussey has just 6-34-1. His highlights included a number of acrobatic contested catches so I’m excited to see more.

Ty Lee, WR, Middle Tennessee State: Speaking of undersized slot guys, Ty Lee is a name to know. Lee measures just 5090/178 but he’s a dynamo. He’s been a steady presence in the Blue Raiders offense for three years even though he has never eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season. His average receiving line is a solid 71-845-7. If he continues the trend he’ll have one of the most consistent resumes of all FBS receivers. Lee is also featured as a runner with 234 career yards and 2 scores on 49 attempts. Surprisingly he’s rarely been used as a kick or punt returner which would be the natural assumption for a player of his profile. With the ball in his hands, Lee is nearly unstoppable. His change of direction is silky smooth and he strategically deploys a wicked spin move. Players like Tarik Cohen have shown that there is a role in the NFL for Ty Lee and I expect him to get a shot. He may not be worth drafting in your rookie draft but I’d bet there’s a week or two in 2020 where he’s fantasy relevant.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 Sun Belt Season Preview

Updated: June 25th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Zac Thomas, QB, Appalachian State.  In his first season as the starter, Thomas showed Mountaineers fans that he could ably take over for long-time starter Taylor Lamb.  Thomas is a dual-threat quarterback who runs the zone read well.  He has the potential to hit 3,000 combined yards and 30 combined TDs.  Non-conference upsets against North Carolina and South Carolina would earn Thomas and App State some national pub.

Underclassman to Watch: Marcel Murray, RB, Arkansas State.  As a true freshmen last season, Murray led Arkansas State in rushing with 860-8.  He also added 16 receptions for 141 yards and 2 scores.  The team vacates nearly 1,500 yards in rushing so there should be plenty of touches for Murray.

Newcomer of the Year: Dahu Green, WR, Arkansas State.  The Red Wolves had the conference’s most prolific passing attack in 2018, averaging 281.5 yards per game.  They return three of their four leading receivers, however they need to break in a new quarterback this season.  In addition to those three returners will be Dahu Green.  Green isn’t technically a “newcomer” but he might as well be.  He’s a former 3-star recruit who transferred from Oklahoma after the 2016 season.  He sat out 2017 and then got hurt in the first outing of 2018.  Green, who is listed at 6050/197, will be a wildcard in Arkansas State’s effort to maintain their passing prominence.

Coaching Carousel: The Sun Belt’s top two teams, Troy and Appalachian State, welcome new head coaches this season and may struggle to repeat a combined 14-2 conference record in 2019.  Both new coaches, Chip Lindsey and Eli Drinkwitz, got their starts as position coaches in the Sun Belt before ultimately moving on to Power 5 offensive coordinator positions.  Drinkwitz went from Arkansas State to Boise State to North Carolina State; Lindsey went from Troy to Southern Miss to Auburn.  If Arkansas State wants to wrest the championship trophy from the East, this will be their chance while the West reloads.

Players to Watch

Caleb Evans, QB, Louisiana-Monroe

Evans is likely the best quarterback prospect in the conference so I thought it was important to feature him in my preview.  Evans will be a third year starter and will be looking for his first winning season in 2019.  In both 2017 and 2018 he topped 2,800 passing yards and had 33 combined passing TDs.  Unfortunately his interceptions spiked in 2018, from 6 to 12.  He’s a running threat with rushing lines of 573-13 and 632-10 the last two campaigns.  Evans is listed at 6020/210 and looks sturdy enough for the next level.

Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to find good film of Evans this early because he’s an unheralded name.  I was able to find a number of highlight reels on Youtube (the best of which created by the school itself which is rare in my experience, so props to the ULM video team).  What struck me first about Evans was that he looks composed and poised in the pocket.  He does not appear to get rattled by the rush and even though he’s a good runner, he can still keep his eyes upfield.  In this example from the South Alabama game, Evans is flushed after a blown block.  It looks like he’s going to take it himself but he’s unlikely to get the first down.  Instead, he flips it to an alert receiver who easily gains the first.

When he does decide to keep the ball, Evans can make defenders miss.  This dance routine against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2017 is from a bad angle but you can see how many times he tries to find a crease only to have to move on to the next.  When he does finally get forward, he tries to make one last guy miss by spinning out of the tackle so he falls forward and gains extra yardage.

I wish I were able to get a better feel for Evans arm strength and ball placement but that proved to be difficult with the film available.  I suspect that he has better placement than power but I’ll need to watch more before I can truly say that.  The Warhawks have two early season contests, Florida State and Iowa State, that will be proper showcases for Evans against Power 5 defenses.

We may hear a lot about Evans in 2019 because I suspect they may be a surprise eight win team.  Per Phil Steele, ULM is one of the most experienced teams in the nation.  Even better news for Evans, all five offensive line starters return, combining for the second most returning offensive line starts in the FBS.  It’s clear that Evans has some desirable physical tools and he will have a chance to display those again this season.  If he protects the ball better and shows us his arm talent, he’ll be a priority UDFA, if not better.

 

Kirk Merritt, WR, Arkansas State

I settled on Kirk Merritt as my second player preview for the most pragmatic of reasons: there was a full game film available on Youtube.  At first glance, I thought I was going to have a simple write-up of a productive slot receiver.  However, after I did some more research, I realized there is a lot to Merritt’s journey to Jonesboro as a sought after JUCO transfer.  Merritt was originally a 4-star recruit who landed at Oregon and played in eleven games as a freshman (he mostly played special teams).  He transferred for family reasons in 2016 to Texas A&M.  He would never see the field for the Aggies though because he was dismissed from the team after two alleged incidents of “indecent exposure” (Merritt’s lawyer blamed it on a severe case of “jock itch” which seems dubious).  Merritt landed at East Mississippi Community College, the host of the aptly named Netflix series Last Chance U.  He led the team with 52 receptions on their way to another national championship.  247Sports had Merritt pegged as the 4th best JUCO receiver.  He chose Arkansas State over offers from Bowling Green, Troy and others.  A lot to digest there but let’s move on.

Once he saw the field at Arkansas State, Merritt produced right away.  He ended the season as the leading receiver of a fertile passing offense: 85-1,005-7.  Merritt is strictly a slot and screen receiver from what I saw.  His game logs back up that assertion as well: he had seven games where he had 3+ receptions and averaged less than 10.0 yards per reception.  The team force feeds him the ball as an extension of the running game (in fact, his 6010/215 frame looks more like a running back) because he can make tacklers miss in the open field.  He usually avoids the first defender and then if he has a block or some open space he can hit the second level and beyond.  I was glad to see he did often use his hands to snatch the ball.  He’s often stationary and facing the quarterback when he catches the ball so it would be easy to let the ball get into his body.  On this play, you can see Merritt hands-catch the ball and then he shows a flash of his dynamism as he performs a looping spin move around the first defender and then has a short sprint to the goal line.

Merritt’s entrée into the NFL will be as a special teamer.  He’s a good blocker — more on that in a second — and wherever he’s played he’s contributed as both a punt and kick returner.  My favorite play of Merritt’s was a block early in the Georgia Southern game.  It was the first of many times I saw Merritt win as a blocker.  He squares up, maintains contact with the defender for nearly five seconds and then finishes the block by bringing him to the ground out of bounds.  To me, it shows that Merritt is a high effort player who doesn’t mind doing the little things.  The play made me feel like Merritt is tailor made for a special teams role — imagine him wrestling with a gunner on a punt return.

I don’t know Merritt and his background enough to make a personal judgment, so I’ll just leave it at this: Merritt has the ability to land in the NFL as a special team stalwart.

Honorable Mentions:

Dan Ellington, QB, Georgia State: Ellington, a JUCO transfer, suffered through a 2-10 season in his first on campus in Atlanta.  Despite the poor record, there are some things that intrigue me about Ellington.  First is his size: he’s listed at 6030/205 and has a thick frame for a quarterback.  Second is his rushing ability: he led the team with 625 yards of rushing and 5 TDs.  Lastly, in the highlights I watched it appears that Ellington has the ability to throw a pretty deep ball.  We’ll get to see Ellington versus the Tennessee Volunteers in Week 1 so let’s see how he does against an SEC defense — if he holds his own, we’ll need to monitor him.

Trey Ragas, RB, Louisiana-Lafayette: Ragas is a bear of a back at 5110/227.  He runs with good balance and an ability to get lower than the tackler, requiring multiple defenders to bring him down.  What he lacks in breakaway speed he makes up for in short-yardage punch.  He caught more balls than I expected based on what I saw (25-229-2) which was a pleasant surprise.  Ragas is unlikely to be sought after in next year’s draft but he could catch on in a situational role.

Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State: Evans was the beneficiary of RB Jalin Moore’s injury-shortened 2018 season.  Evans led the Mountaineers rushing attack with 1,187 yards and 7 TDs.  I watched his sophomore and junior highlights and was impressed with his open-field ability.  He has 4.45-4.50 speed and just enough strength to shed a tackler.  He’s listed at 5110/191 but looks a bit leaner than that.  Evans adds to the squad on special teams — 26.3 kick return average and 2 TDs — but I would like to see him produce more as a receiver this season.

Corey Sutton, WR, Appalachian State:  When I started researching Corey Sutton I came across the unfortunate mess that his 2017 transfer from Kansas State became.  Seemingly through no fault of his own, Sutton’s saga became headline fodder.  Then head coach Bill Snyder denied Sutton’s release to all 35 schools Sutton requested, none of which were K-State opponents.  Snyder added to the drama when he said that Sutton failed two drug tests, a rumor that Sutton denied and that after my search seems unfounded.  What a mess.  I’m glad that Sutton landed on his feet at Appalachian State and was able to succeed in 2018.  His stat line for the year was 44-773-10.  Sutton, listed at 6030/205, lines up both in the slot and outside.  I think his future will be as a big slot who has big play potential and an acrobatic flair.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 Independents Season Preview

Updated: June 10th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame.  Book was the savior for the 2018 Notre Dame squad and he’s expected to be the BMOC again in 2019.  Four extra starts at last year’s pace would put Book just shy of 3,500 yards and 30 TDs which could be enough to get on the Heisman short list.

Underclassman to Watch: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU.  Like Book, Wilson began the season as the backup but earned rave reviews after taking over.  Wilson ended the season with 1,578 passing yards, 12 TDs and 3 INTs with a surprisingly high 65.9% completion percentage.  He’s comfortable on the move and adds as a rusher as well (221-2).  Wilson started and ended the season well, book-ending the season with four total touchdown performances.  Cougar fans have their fingers crossed that Wilson can apply that production to a full season in 2019.

Newcomer of the Year: Andrew Brito, QB, UMass.  I struggled to find a freshman or graduate transfer who was likely to make an immediate impact in 2019.  I decided to pick Brito for this spot because he may be the one preventing a complete meltdown in Amherst.  The Minutemen are losing their top passer, rusher and receiver heading into the new season and will be desperate for a new leader.  Brito is a JUCO transfer from the College of the Canyons, a renowned JUCO program.  He had a strong 2017-18 season, topping 3,000 passing yards and totaling 34 TDs, finishing with a 10-1 record.  Brito is likely too small to be a dual-threat at the FBS level but if he earns the starting role this Summer he would give the offense a little excitement.

Coaching Carousel: Liberty welcomes a familiar name to Lynchburg in new head coach Hugh Freeze.  Most famously, Freeze was the coach at Ole Miss for five seasons, posting a respectable 39-25 regular season record and a 3-1 bowl record.  Most infamously, Freeze was caught up in numerous scandals at Oxford, including calls to an escort service on recruiting trips.  Ole Miss led the SEC in passing their last two seasons with Freeze at the helm, so expect big numbers from QB Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert and WR Antonio Gandy-Golden.  I struggle to see how Freeze fits in with Liberty’s evangelically inclined mission statement but he’s undoubtedly a big name for them to bring on board.

Players to Watch

Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty

Gandy-Golden is listed at 6040/220 and while that may be a shade exaggerated, he plays big with his jumping ability.  He’s not a tackle breaker but he does have 4.45-4.50 straight-line speed.  Not only does he look the part of a big-time receiver, he plays it too.  He has gained over 1,000 yards and scored 10 TDs in each of the last two seasons.  The most recent of those two campaigns, 71-1,037-10, came at the FBS level which is encouraging.  However, in his two P5 games in 2018, AGG went for just 5-60-0.  He has four tough matchups this season (Syracuse, Rutgers, BYU and Virginia) and I’ll need to see him succeed in those games to be truly sold.

A few things stood out to me when I watched Gandy-Golden’s highlight reels.  First was how strong his hands were, especially when catching the ball away from his body.  In the clip below, the defensive back tries to rip the ball out after a fingertip catch but Gandy-Golden holds on even as he goes to ground and takes a hit.

In addition to his strong hands, you can see his concentration and body control in this next clip.  It’s a hard place on the field to secure a contested catch but he does it with relative ease and gets the score.  His highlights are littered with similar clips where he should lose sight of the ball but still makes the grab.

It may be early in the preseason, but I’m already declaring Antonio Gandy-Golden as my mid-major sleeper.  He checks nearly every box, although it’s fair to question his level of competition.  My initial reactions are based on highlight reels so it is important to remember there’s still a lot to learn about him as a player.  I’ll be watching closely this season to monitor his consistency and how well he does against Power 5 competition.

 

Matt Bushman, TE, BYU

Bushman is a versatile tight end who was utilized all over the formation last season by BYU.  He most frequently lines up in-line but he’s also split wide or in the backfield.  He came into 2018 with high expectations after a standout 49-520-3 freshman season.  Unfortunately, his stats decreased last season (29-511-2), although he did greatly improve his yards per catch average to 17.6.  Part of his sophomore slump can be attributed to QB Tanner Mangum who was pulled for the aforementioned Zach Wilson mid-season.  In the games Wilson started, Bushman averaged 54 yards per game which would net him nearly 650 yards over a full season.

Another reason that Bushman’s stats fell in 2018 is that he was asked to block more.  He is one of the best blockers I’ve seen as an underclassman.  He’s also a good route runner which is rare for the position at his age.  Bushman stands out though for his hands.  He’s a natural pass catcher, although if I’m nitpicking he does sometimes let the ball come to him rather than attack it.  He also shows good field awareness and body control.  He ties all of those traits up into the two below catches.  The first is a one-hander over a defender that ends with him somehow landing his knee in bounds.  The second is a hard-fought touchdown after a good play action fake frees the middle of the field; after he makes the catch he still has some work to do to hit paydirt.

The hope for Cougars fans will be that the Wilson and Bushman connection, showcased above in the Utah game, improves further in 2019.  I expect that it will and am expecting a 40-650-5 season.  I’m not sure if Bushman has any pending mission work which would pause his professional aspirations, but if not he’ll be a Top 5 prospect at the position for the 2020 NFL Draft.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame: Ian Book took over as the starter for the playoff-bound Irish heading into game four. That first game, against Wake Forest, was stellar. Book tossed two touchdowns and rushed for three more. He scarcely slowed down after that, keeping the winning streak alive all the way to the semi-final. He averaged 292 yards in his nine starts and totaled 19 passing TDs to 7 INTs. Head coach Brian Kelly turned to Book because he offered a more balanced, and more accurate, option under center, rather than the run-first Brandon Wimbush. When I watch Book, I see a risk-averse passer who is content to check down or use his pocket patience to find an escape.  When he evades the rush he often keeps his eyes upfield so he can find his receivers as they uncover.  Book is a scrambler but he’s not fast.  He has average arm strength, or at least he didn’t uncork one in either of the games I watched.  He’s accurate and throws with some anticipation on short and intermediate routes.  He’s adept at placing the ball between the levels of a zone defense.  If Book leads the way to another playoff berth we may talk about him as a mid-round prospect next year.
  • Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State: Huntley is a satellite player — somebody you want to get out into space.  He has game breaking speed, is a great open-field runner, and shines as both a receiver and a returner.  Over the last two years, he has a combined 86-892-5 receiving line to go with five return touchdowns.  If you play college fantasy football, he would be a sneaky asset as the Aggies are likely to be behind often.  His thin frame (5080/188) doesn’t lend itself to between the tackles running so his professional upside may be limited but he could develop into a special teamer.
  • Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame: Claypool has a shot to get an NFL look because of his size: 6040/227.  Compared to combine participants from the last five years, Claypool would be the biggest receiver of the bunch.  Technically, three NFL players did measure larger but they were all moved to TE (Devon Cajuste, Darren Waller and Ricky Seals-Jones).  It’s tough to predict a position change this early in the process but it could be a consideration for Claypool.  Unsurprisingly, he plays with strength and is unafraid to go over the middle. I’d like to see him use his height to win more balls in the air but he was mostly used as a possession receiver in 2018. I took a closer look at Claypool’s situational stats and was surprised to see that more than half of his production comes on first down and just five receptions came in the fourth quarter. He did convert 11-13 on third and fourth down which confirmed what I saw, that Book trusts him in short-yardage situations. Ideally, with Miles Boykin gone, we’ll see Claypool become a clutch target in 2019.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper