The Watch List 2021: Week 2 Preview

Updated: September 10th 2020

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

How good did it feel to watch some live college football these last few days? We saw the invention of the RPPO, the run-pass-punt option, by Austin Peay in the season’s first game after they lost multiple long snappers to Covid-related absences. We saw Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and the gang return for a Zoom-based College Gameday premiere. We saw Memphis kick start the “should the AAC winner get the fourth playoff spot” conversation. As I write this, we’re about to hear Herbie and Rece Davis on the BYU/Navy broadcast which will give the game a gravitas that I’m excited for. Any ambivalence I had about the return of the college football season, after a trying spring and summer, was gone in a flash.

Week 2 sees the ACC, Big 12 and AAC return to play so we have a bevy of draft eligible prospects to watch. Heavy hitters like Trevor Lawrence and Chuba Hubbard start their season on Saturday but my goal in these weekly previews will be to focus your attention on players who may not yet be household names. Let’s get to it…

 

Thursday, September 10

Brevin Jordan, WR, Miami (FL)

I’m really excited for this UAB vs Miami (FL) matchup after the Blazers scored 45 in their opener. Instead of being a high-scoring but one-sided affair, I’m hopeful that UAB can stay competitive and make it a game for awhile against the Hurricanes. Miami will be unveiling their new starting quarterback, Houston transfer D’Eriq King. King is a dynamic playmaker and may be the steadying presence Miami needs after a few seasons of uncertainty at the position. I hope the game is close because I want to see four quarters of King throwing to tight end Brevin Jordan, Miami’s leading returning receiver. I highlighted Jordan in my Spring Scouting series and posited that if Jordan could stay healthy — he’s battled some nagging injuries during his short career — he would be in the running for TE1. Jordan has said that he’s “better than ever” after recovering from a foot injury and that gets me excited. When I watched Jordan I saw a supremely versatile player who can line up all over the formation and cause matchup issues for the defense. He’s small-ish compared to previous elite tight end prospects (6030/245) but is still deployed inline where he’s an instant mismatch against a linebacker. If Jordan can stay healthy for the full season and rack up a 40-600-6 type of season he’ll be on the shortlist come April. (An interesting note to consider in this strange 2020 season… a number of other top tight end hopefuls will not be playing this year, including Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth and Michigan’s Nick Eubanks. What that means will be a regular storyline in 2020 for NFL Draft fans.)
I was also hoping to see Jordan’s teammate DE Gregory Rousseau in this one but he recently announced that he was opting out of the 2021 season. Rousseau is a 6’7″ monster who is projected on some mocks to be the first non-QB drafted next year. He exploded as a redshirt freshman last year with 54 tackles and 15.5 sacks. After just one season Rousseau may be more potential than proven but he’ll be a high pick next year.

Friday, September 11

Shane Buechele, QB, SMU

After I started prepping for this piece, it was announced that the SMU vs TCU game on September 11 in Forth Worth was postponed due to a spate of positive coronavirus tests for the Horned Frogs. Since we already saw Buechele in action this season and will certainly see the Mustangs a bunch on ESPN, I thought it would be a good idea to keep him in this write-up. Buechele’s name is familiar to casual fans because he started as a true freshman for the Texas Longhorns back in 2016, before losing his job to Sam Ehlinger in 2017. He transferred to SMU for the 2019 season and set a ton of school passing records in his first year on campus. Heading into 2020, Buechele was on all the major award watchlists, so observers are expecting a big season from the fifth-year senior.

I watched much of the contest against Texas State and I was disappointed that Buechele didn’t carve up the Bobcat defense better than he did. The final stats look okay, 26-36 for 367 yards and a touch, but he also threw two picks. (He did also have a naked bootleg score called back where he had the entire defense fooled, so that’s a positive.) Buechele looks comfortable in the pocket and isn’t afraid to step into an onrushing defender to deliver a pass. That confidence led to the first pick though, where he tried to hit an opposite-hash out route against pressure. The pick led to a Texas State game-tying score that could have spelled disaster for SMU. When he has time and throws from structure, he can deliver a wonderfully placed ball for his receivers to feast after the catch. During the broadcast, the announcers repeatedly referenced Buechele’s leadership; I think that paired with his experience are going to factor into his NFL outlook, making him attractive to teams as a steady and trustworthy backup.

Saturday, September 12

Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State

Regular readers of mine will remember how much I loved David Montgomery in 2017 when he was just a sophomore and had not yet fully made his case for being an NFL starter. So, when I tuned in to watch the Cyclones during the 2018 season I saw flashes of what Brock Purdy would become in 2019. As a true freshman in that 2018 campaign, Purdy took over the starting job in October and never looked back. He ended up with 21 total TDs, won the award for Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and was the unquestioned starter heading into 2019. Again, Purdy did not disappoint, setting eighteen school passing records as a sophomore. Expectations are even higher now for Purdy who is frequently mentioned as a must-watch quarterback prospect in the 2021 class. Brock Purdy is perhaps best when he’s able to improvise and is on the move. His highlight reels are littered with rabbit-out-of-the-hat evasive maneuvers that he punctuates with finding an open receiver downfield. When he’s throwing on schedule, usually after a zone-read fake, he’s often tossing quick hitting slants or screens with accuracy and timing. His pocket mobility means he’s a threat to keep it on those zone-read plays as well (he has 557 career rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs). At 6010/221 he doesn’t have prototypical QB1 size but he’s plenty big for the new era of quarterback in the NFL. I really like what I’ve seen so far from Purdy and I am looking forward to studying him more deeply in the offseason. If he leads Iowa State to another winning season in 2020, I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that he plays his way into a late first round grade.

Tutu Atwell, WR, Louisville

Despite a memorable name, it’s likely that many readers are coming across Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell for the first time. Atwell was a dual-threat quarterback in high school who chose Louisville over Group of Five offers from the likes of Florida Atlantic and East Carolina. As a freshman in 2018, Atwell put up 24-406-2 in a complementary role. In 2019, he stole the show in the ACC, leading the conference in both receiving yards and touchdowns (69-1,272-11). He ended the season on Pro Football Focus’ All-American team. I was pleasantly surprised to see when researching him that Atwell has played in all 25 career games; you would expect somebody with his 5090/165 frame to get nicked up and miss time. Conversation about Atwell’s professional aspirations will certainly center on his size and relative inexperience at the position. I don’t argue that there may be some limitations to how he fits into an NFL offense but the old adage that “you can’t teach speed” is still true. Atwell is a sub-4.40 burner who can make defenders look silly and stuck in the mud. Louisville will continue to manufacture touches for him — jet sweeps, pop passes — and he will continue to put up gaudy numbers. I believe the Cardinals are going to be an ACC contender this year because they return their top two passers, rushers, receivers, tacklers and sackers: that experienced depth will be key in a season full of Covid-19 contact tracing. Tutu Atwell figures to be a large part of that success and I’m looking forward to seeing him shine again this year.

 

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

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

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

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