2020 Rookie Rankings Explained: Part I

Updated: May 4th 2020

This was my fourth year creating the rookie rankings for Reality Sports and it was as rewarding as ever in 2020. I look forward to the rankings each year because it’s such a unique experience and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help inform literally every single RSO rookie draft. Since my rookie rankings can have a large impact on roster composition, I shy away from “hot taeks” and am more risk-averse than I might be in my own personal rookie drafting. I view the rookies through the lens of an RSO league and how a 3- or 4-year rookie contract can change the value of a player compared to dynasty formats. In order to create rankings that are representative for the majority of RSO leagues, I made a few assumptions on rosters and scoring (i.e. 1QB, offense scores more than defense and IDP scoring heavy on tackles/sacks). Each year there are a few themes and surprises that emerge as I’m ranking and over the next two articles I will share those with you. First up are my notes about this historically deep wide receiver class.

Click here to view the 2020 Reality Sports rookie rankings, compiled by Robert F. Cowper

Judged Jeudy

I had settled on CeeDee Lamb over Jerry Jeudy a few months ago in my personal rankings but I knew their final ranking would rely heavily on opportunity and team fit. Jeudy joins a Broncos team that has invested much draft capital in the offense the last two years. Jeudy certainly has the potential to be a fantasy stud but Drew Lock has a significantly smaller sample size of success than Dak Prescott. Your initial reaction to Lamb might have been “but they just re-signed Amari Cooper to a long-term deal” but the details are important to examine. Only $40mil of the $100mil is guaranteed and the Cowboys can cut Cooper with minimal dead cap after the 2021 season. By then I fully expect Lamb to be the alpha boundary receiver I think he’s destined to become.

ShRuggs at 1.08

In the RSO Writer’s League mock draft, I took Ruggs at 1.06 and argued that his upside was worth the reach at that point. I still believe in his blazing speed and big play ability but the fact that he was the first receiver drafted, and drafted by the Raiders, gives me pause. There’s going to be pressure on the Raiders to have Ruggs produce early and I think that that will be difficult for an undersized receiver who made much of his impact by stretching defenses horizontally before gashing them vertically. As good as those SEC defenses were, they don’t compare to the speed and skill in the NFL. I would have felt more confident in Ruggs as a rookie draft pick if he was drafted to a more stable quarterback situation and with less expectation.

Later Reagor

I vacillated on Reagor more than any other top thirty player and I ultimately ranked him lower than I expected. He’s a fun player to watch who has track athlete speed and a leaping ability that belies his 5110 height. His 2019 season, however, was a disappointment (43-611-5) as was his 40 yard dash at the combine. I ultimately put Reagor behind Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson because Jefferson is bigger, tested faster and his trend line jumped off the page after a stellar season. The Eagles have featured a strong passing offense under Doug Pederson, despite injuries to QB Carson Wentz and just about every receiver, so there is an opportunity for Reagor and I wouldn’t be upset if he proved me wrong.

 

Pitt the man in 2021?

Michael Pittman Jr. was the beneficiary of the biggest bump in my rankings post-draft among the top receivers. Pittman will be joining the new look Colts offense who are likely to start veteran QB Philip Rivers and rookie RB Jonathan Taylor this fall. The Colts had the NFL’s 30th ranked passing offense last season but that will be buoyed by the high-volume RIvers, a healthy TY Hilton and the emergence of Pittman. Pittman has prototypical outside receiver size at 6040/223 which should allow the offense the flexibility to predominantly line Hilton up on the inside to best showcase his abilities. Hilton is on the last year of his contract and it seems unlikely the team would re-sign the then 31 year old to a lengthy deal. I expect Pittman to have a fantasy-relevant role in 2020 with the chance to lead the Colts passing attack in 2021.

Flexy and They Know It

Two players who are likely to be drafted in most RSO leagues have great flex appeal for the NFL teams, but what does it mean for your fantasy team? Lynn Bowden Jr. was the do-it-all Wildcat that led Kentucky to a late season winning streak and a Belk Bowl victory. Bowden, who was previously a receiver and returner, was pressed into service under center early in the season. He ended the year as both the team’s leading rusher and leading receiver and had a 6-2 record as the starting quarterback. Mike Mayock of the Raiders said that they project Bowden as a running back, rather than a receiver. He never played as a true running back so I presume he’ll be deployed more as a gadget player taking wildcat snaps, running sweeps, receiving screens and returning kicks. Considering the Raiders drafted somebody like Henry Ruggs earlier in the draft who should succeed in some of the “in space” roles it remains to be seen how many touches Bowden can expect in 2020. Antonio Gibson of the Redskins has a similar skillset but is bigger, faster and more explosive than Bowden. Last year at Memphis his touches were an even split between receptions and rushes. He also served as the Tigers main kick returner. If Gibson landed on a squad other than the Redskins I would probably be more bullish on his versatile potential. Bowden and Gibson were tough to rank so I ultimately placed them one-two at the end of a standard three round rookie draft.

 

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: 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 Big 12 Season Preview

Updated: July 28th 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: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma.  An Oklahoma quarterback has won the last two Heisman trophies so this was a pretty easy prediction.  Hurts is an efficient quarterback who makes few mistakes.  I’m sure head coach Lincoln Riley will have Hurts playing in a more aggressive fashion this season which will help increase his counting stats.  In order to get serious Heisman consideration, I think Hurts will need to be on pace for 3,500 total yards and 40 TDs and leading his team to the playoff.

Underclassman to Watch: Pooka Williams, RB, Kansas.  Pooka starred as a freshman for the Jayhawks, earning All-Big 12 and Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors. In eleven games, he had over 1,400 yards from scrimmage (161 carries, 33 receptions) and 9 TDs; plus, he handled kick return duties.  His ability to combine hesitation with elite acceleration and long-speed is impressive.  I was also surprised to see how often he broke tackles or bowled over would-be tacklers despite his 5110/170 size.  One thing to keep in mind is that Williams was suspended this offseason during a domestic violence investigation; afterwards, he was subsequently suspended for the season opener.  If Williams can show personal growth off the field and add some girth on it, we’ll be talking about him near the top of the 2021 class.

Newcomer of the Year: Austin Kendall, QB, West Virginia.  There will be a changing of the guard in Morgantown this year.  Out goes QB Will Grier who led the Mountaineers attack the last two years; also leaving is head coach Dana Holgorsen who left for Houston.  Austin Kendall, a grad transfer, leaves Oklahoma to join new West Virginia head coach Neal Brown.  Brown recruited Kendall back when he was an assistant at Kentucky so presumably they already have a relationship.  Brown says the quarterback competition is open but all three preview magazines I consulted predict he’ll win the job.  Kendall ended up behind Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at OU and escapes another season on the bench in Norman.  In very limited action in 2016 and 2018, Kendall completed 71.8% of his passes and tossed three touchdowns to zero interceptions.  He has two years of eligibility remaining so he’ll have two bites at the apple.

Coaching Carousel: Les “The Mad Hatter” Miles is back in our college football lives as he takes over at Kansas.  Les has a reputation as being a zealous play caller who is unafraid to take chances.  I think his personality can rub some people the wrong way, recently evidenced by some of the push back he’s receiving for the suspension of Pooka Williams.  He said he “stands by” the suspension even though it wasn’t his decision.  I won’t comment on the incident itself, but I have a feeling we’re going to end up with some troublesome sound bite from Miles regarding the situation before long.  Miles has a career coaching record of 142-55 and finished 9-3 in his final full season at LSU.  Kansas has only won nine games total in the last five seasons.  It’s a good hire for the Jayhawks to jump start the program, but I don’t think Miles is the type who can be the long term answer — time will tell.

Players to Watch

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

CeeDee Lamb has been a devy favorite for over two years now since he joined the Sooners as a touted 4-star recruit, eschewing offers of home-state titans Texas and Texas A&M.  I recall seeing Lamb play in his rookie season and thinking he looked a little light but he’s filled out his frame and is now listed at 6020/189.  As a freshman, he recorded 46 receptions for 807 yards and 7 TDs.  He improved in 2018 to 65-1,158-11, despite sharing the spotlight with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.  In 2019, Lamb should be the unquestioned top target for new quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Before we delve into Lamb’s film, I wanted to share one intangible that came through as I watched.  Lamb is an alpha male.  He has an attitude and a swagger that I would love from my WR1 if I was a teammate or a fan.  I don’t know if it should factor into his evaluation but I felt it was worth mentioning.  This huge block in last year’s Red River Shootout is a example of what I mean.  It’s hard to see in the replay but he looks down at the flattened defender as if to add further insult to injury.

In the two games I watched, Texas and Alabama, Lamb continually made difficult plays along the sideline look routine.  He has superb body control with the instincts to toe-tap just as he’s going out of bounds.  The first play is a catch against Alabama where Lamb traps a back shoulder throw against his chest as he gets his feet in bounds (if I were to nitpick, I would say that Lamb does often body-catch the ball which can be, but hasn’t yet, been a concern).  The second play against Texas Tech looks similar but he makes the catch using his hands this time.

Lamb is a long strider who covers ground quickly when he wants to.  He’s also good at selling route fakes by manipulating his speed or using subtle body feints.  On this deep post he uses his speed and a head fake to gain enough space to make the play.  As usual, he’s able to get his feet in bounds, this time in the back of the end zone.

The two games I watched were lacking in the “oh my gosh did he just do that” department.  (That’s probably a testament to how natural he looks making difficult plays.)  I knew Lamb had a few incredible plays on his resume so I sought out some highlight reels so I could share a few.  These next two plays came against UCLA early in the season.  In the first play, Lamb one-hands the ball while streaking across the field.  In the second play, Lamb nearly makes the play of the decade by plucking the ball with one hand at full extension, sadly his feet come down on the line.

I currently have Lamb ranked as my WR2 behind Jerry Jeudy and ahead of Leviska Shenault.  He is a well-balanced wide receiver prospect who lines up all over the formation and is bound to make a huge impact this season.  Since Lamb has already been productive and shown a penchant for the unbelievable, I think he has a higher floor and a higher ceiling than most of the 2020 class.

 

Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State

When I first started my 2020 NFL Draft preparation back in May, I admittedly did not know much about Tylan Wallace.  I had heard of his name and must have seen him during the Bedlam matchup against Oklahoma but I didn’t remember much.  The receivers below in the Honorable Mentions section may have better name recognition right now than Wallace but I thought it was important to spotlight him here and give him his due.

As a freshman Wallace tallied just seven receptions, but he exploded as a sophomore.  His 2018 line finished at 86-1,491-12, which was enough yardage to finish second in the FBS.  Despite his dominance, Wallace didn’t earn much All-American recognition, perhaps confirming my thought that people are sleeping on him.

Wallace may not have the height of an elite outside receiver (6000) but he certainly has the catch radius.  He has strong hands that allow him to snag the ball away from his body at a full extension.  Combined with his strength, his leaping ability make him a frequent winner in contested situations.  In this first clip, you’ll see him take an inside stem, then extend as he comes across the middle.  He grabs the football in front of the defender before he can make a play on it.

In this clip, you’ll see Wallace make another first down catch at full extension.  The play is unlikely to end up on the evening highlight reels but it was an important play late in a close game and it readily shows how great his hands are.

Wallace also has excellent speed and acceleration.  I originally pegged him at 4.50 speed but he may be even quicker than that in confined space.  He quickly gets out of his breaks and is able to return to top speed immediately.  On this play against Kansas State, Wallace is running an out-and-up route but he slips while making his break.  He quickly gathers himself and bursts upfield, edging out the corner and the incoming safety.  Ultimately, Wallace wins the jump ball in double coverage for a big gain.

Wallace isn’t all hands and speed though, I also noted numerous times where he succeeded as a blocker.  I actually labeled him as a “feisty” blocker because it looks like he relishes the role.  Here’s just one example of the “feisty” blocks I saw from Wallace in my study.

It will be difficult for Wallace to improve on last year’s output but he should come close.  Hopefully he garners the national recognition he deserves because he’s a Top 10 receiver in the class.

Honorable Mentions

Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma: Brooks was the first of the two Oklahoma running backs I studied this Summer, which was before the recent news about a Title IX investigation. He’s been reinstated to the team but we don’t currently know the details. On the field, I noted that Brooks is an upright and downhill runner. He’s patient, follows his blocks and gets every yard that is available. I didn’t see too many examples in my film study, but I get the impression that he’s average or better in both pass protection and receiving. Brooks is just a redshirt sophomore so it’s unlikely he’ll do enough in a shared role to justify coming out early but he’s still somebody to monitor.

Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma: I was pleasantly surprised by Sermon’s film when I studied him earlier this offseason. Sermon runs with a slashing style and is ideal in a zone read offense. Because of his running style I assumed he was smaller than he is, but he’s listed at 6000/224.  In fact, he invites contact and has a great stiff arm. Sermon shows a high football IQ, specifically when it comes to pass protection and blocking for his rushing QB. Forced to decide between he and Brooks, I would take Sermon. Luckily, head coach Lincoln Riley doesn’t have to choose and will run both of them alongside QB Jalen Hurts. I expect another 1,000+ scrimmage yard season with double digit touchdowns, which might be enough to have Sermon declare in January.

Collin Johnson, WR, Texas: I watched Johnson’s film against TCU and was impressed by a number of his traits. He has a long and lean body type (6060/220) which he uses to reach balls others couldn’t. He hand-fights the corner well and ran a variety of routes in the game I saw. I also noted that he has excellent situational awareness: he knows where the marker is, when to fight for extra yardage and when to protect the ball. Johnson was on my 2019 NFL Draft radar before deciding to return for his senior season; part of his decision to return to the Longhorns was that he did not receive a high grade from the NFL. A 1,000 yard season in 2019 will improve his chances to be a Day Two prospect.

Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU: Reagor is an electrifying track star playing wide receiver. He has elite athletic ability which allows him to transcend his presumed role as a receiver with a 5110/195 frame. Reagor easily outleaps DBs and is able to high point the ball. He’s nearly uncoverable 1-on-1 and safeties don’t have the speed to turn and chase when playing Cover 2. I’m hesitant to put Reagor in my top five wide receivers until I’m able to study some game film instead of highlights — as of my writing there were no full clips available yet. Reagor’s upside is immense so keep an eye on him.

Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma: Calcaterra is the prototype of the new “big-slot” tight end.  He’s listed at 6040/221 and has 4.60 speed.  Per ESPN’s recruiting service, Calcaterra was the fastest TE in his recruiting class, running a 4.64 in 2017.  I haven’t watched him close enough to gauge his blocking ability but from what I’ve seen casually watching Sooners games the last two years he’s really just a receiver.  To check that assumption, I fast forwarded through his tape from Texas last season and saw just a single play where he lined up on the line of scrimmage.  At the end of that game, he made an incredible touchdown catch to seal the victory: contested, over the shoulder and one-handed.  Catches like that are why we need to pay attention to Calcaterra this season.

 

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: 2020 Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: May 21st 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.

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday April 23rd. So, why am I bothering to create a mock draft so far in advance? I’ve found that creating mock drafts forces me to create both my positional rankings and my overall rankings. It would certainly be easier to ride the fence but I’d rather start thinking critically about these players now and edit as I go. The usual caveats apply here. This mock draft is a snapshot of my thinking at this moment. We have yet to see the best that many of these players are capable of producing so this list is very much a living document. A number of these underclassmen will decide to return to school and will create a gaping hole in my rankings. Some will be injured or lose their starting role for myriad reasons. Some will grow and mature physically, while others will do so mentally. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about this draft class but there is one thing I am sure of: I have never been so excited to study and write about a group of players!

1.01 | D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

Swift appears to be the full package. He is a combination back who combines effortless cutting ability with a desire to fight through contact. He is a natural receiver who has great hands and adjusts well to the ball. He has long speed to outrun chasing defenders even if he does take an extra beat to get up to top speed. Jerry Jeudy will give Swift a run for his money so I doubt he’s an unanimous 1.01 but he has my vote right now.

1.02 | Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

Jeudy is an A+ route runner who also utilizes that change of direction to be a handful after the catch. He’s explosive and can create big plays seemingly out of nothing. He can stop on a dime which helps him feint defensive backs both on a route and with the ball in his hands. As of today, we haven’t seen a glaring weakness in his game. Jeudy could be a Top 10 NFL Draft target after two years without a can’t miss wide receiver prospect.

1.03 | JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Dobbins has ascended to RB2 in my 2020 rankings. He’s an old school style player who will appeal to NFL scouts. He’s short and compact with a sturdy base. That base and his play strength help him excel in pass protection. He’s a decisive runner who plays with more power than speed. Although, that’s not to say he’s slow, he’s probably 4.45-4.50 quick. Dobbins is also a good pass catcher. I expect him to project as a three-down back at the next level.

1.04 | Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Etienne has the speed to outrun just about any defender to the boundary before he cuts up field and jets to pay dirt. He’s a fun guy to watch because he’s a seventy yarder just waiting to happen. He has not yet been a factor as a receiver (17 career receptions) but I don’t think he’s incapable, just under utilized. If he shows as a pass catcher this year he’ll solidify his spot in the top tier of backs.

1.05 | CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Lamb’s upside is immense so I pushed him all the way up to 1.05. I originally had him in the 2.01 range but decided I’d rather bet on his potential, now that he’ll be the Sooners’ top target. He has elite body control, easily tight-roping or toe-tapping the sideline. He is a one-hander extraordinaire with hands that are strong yet soft. His long speed is bettered by his long stride. Even though he weighs in at just 189lb he blocks with a tenacity and effectiveness that surprised me. Lamb has an alpha male attitude on the field that I loved. He has the rare combination of opportunity and talent that will help him blossom in 2019.

1.06 | Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

Shenault is a versatile playmaker who lines up all over the field. In fact, he often lines up in an h-back role and serves as an energetic blocker. He has a thick lower body that drives a powerful running style that can kick into an extra gear in the open field. He fights for extra yardage with above average play strength. Shenault catches the ball with his hands, utilizing great hand placement. Two injuries sidelined a promising 2018 campaign so I’m excited to see what we can do with a full season.

1.07 | Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Taylor leads my second tier of running backs right now. He’s an effective one-cut runner with power back wallop. He rarely goes down on first contact. I did observe that Taylor sometimes stutters too long at the line of scrimmage, so I’d like to see him more decisively select his lane. Like Etienne, he will need to get more involved as a receiver to avoid being type cast as a two-down back. As a Rutgers fan, Taylor is the one that got away. Instead, I have to watch him dominating Big Ten defenses in a different shade of red.

1.08 | Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

Okwuegbunam surprised me in that he plays as an in-line tight end more than I anticipated. He lacks suddenness and explosion in his blocks but at least he has that experience. Okwuegbunam has good body control and tracks the ball well over his shoulder. He’s a hands catcher who uses his fingertips to snag the ball which is a great trait to have so early in a career. Okwuegbunam will start the season as the prohibitive favorite to be the first TE off the board next April, as such he should be atop our fantasy boards too.

1.09 | Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma

Sermon is a running back well suited for the zone read offense. He slashes through holes, sells his fakes and gets upfield to block for the quarterback. I think Sermon’s “Football IQ” is very high too. He knows his pass blocking assignments, understands the game situation and runs a variety of routes from the backfield. He has a great stiff arm and doesn’t shy from contact. Sermon should get the lion’s share of the carries in the Sooner backfield this season and if he does he has first round rookie draft potential pending scheme fit.

1.10 | Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Herbert was my QB1 last season before he decided to return for his senior year. He retains that mantle to start the 2020 NFL Draft campaign. Herbert has the size that NFL teams covet (6060/233). He has enough athleticism to pick up short yardage conversions and keep the defense honest but he’s certainly not a high volume runner. The biggest knock right now would be his accuracy (59.4% completion percentage last year was a career low). In 1QB RSO leagues, I believe it’s a good strategy to grab your preferred passer here because you get that fifth year option. If you’re playing Superflex/2QB, you’ll need to target him much earlier in the round.

2.01 | Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

Johnson is the biggest of the top receivers in the class at 6060/220. Whether he’s high-pointing the ball or making a full extension diving catch, he uses that long and lean frame to get to balls that others couldn’t. Johnson releases well with quick feet and is an adept hand fighter to get the corner’s hands off of him. He also has excellent situational awareness, I noted many times when he made a smart decision about how deep to run a route or when to protect the ball instead of fight for yardage. If he can add a few pounds without sacrificing his quickness, Johnson will be the best prototypical X receiver in this class.

2.02 | Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

Johnson, one of the rare seniors in this mock draft, can win from both outside and slot alignments. He has explosive feet off the snap and out of his route breaks. He uncovers well which helps make him a target for the quarterback on most plays, even when the defender is closely trailing him. Johnson shines after the catch where he pairs elusiveness with elite breakaway speed. I may be lower on Johnson than other writers so I owe him a thorough study this offseason.

2.03 | Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

Reagor is a literal track star: he excelled in the long jump and relay races in high school. He brought those talents with him to Fort Worth where he’s shown off his elite speed and athleticism for Horned Frog fans. What surprised me was how well he wins in the air despite being just 5110/195. He’s nearly impossible to cover, especially against Cover 2 when he can split the safeties on a deep post and leave his man in the dust. He also wins after the catch where his strength and contact balance help him rack up yards. Unfortunately there was no game film to watch so my exposure was limited to highlight reels. Reagor will be a first round consideration if his full game films live up to the expectations his highlights set.

2.04 | Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Akers is a tough study because of how poor his offensive line play has been both years in Tallahassee. The film I watched of Akers showed that he has a balanced running style with 4.50 speed and more power than I expected. He’s adept at submarining for additional yardage by getting lower than the defender. The Akers I see in my mind’s eye, perhaps from expectations in his freshman season, has more wiggle than I saw. He runs a ton of routes out of the backfield but I didn’t get to see him pass protect much. I’m hopeful that the Seminoles are a better team in 2019 so we get to see how well Akers plays when his team is competing.

2.05 | Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma

Brooks plays larger than his 5110/205 frame, running with an upright and downhill style. He’s a patient runner who waits for his blocks and follows them through the hole. Brooks is not a flashy runner but he’ll get every yard that’s available by powering through defenders and falling forward. He keeps his feet well and can break low tackles. I didn’t get much exposure to his pass blocking and catching ability but what I did see appeared average, at worst. Brooks, a redshirt sophomore, will continue to split touches with Trey Sermon so who knows if he’ll come out early with a small sample size. If he does, keep an eye on him.

2.06 | Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is a big back at 6020/230 and it’s hard not to see Derrick Henry when watching him (the 2s on the jersey and hairs poking out of his helmet certainly help make the connection). He’s a former top recruit but has not had many carries yet in his career due to the depth at the position for the Tide. He shows excellent vision, seeing cut back lanes and hitting them strongly. His size and strength lend some power to his evasive moves. He’s largely a projection at this point but Harris should have plenty of opportunity to show us his skills in 2019 and is likely to creep up my draft board.

2.07 | Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

Benjamin is fun to watch because of his elusiveness. He has a Swiss army knife’s worth of moves at his disposal: spins, jukes, cuts, hurdles. His feet are dynamic and never stop moving. Benjamin is susceptible to getting tripped up or being caught by his jersey so I would like to see him improve his strength and balance. It could be a one game coincidence but ball security could be a concern as well. Where Benjamin excels is as a pass catcher, he has good hands and knows how to get open. His receiving upside will help increase his value early in his NFL career.

2.08 | Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards is a powerfully built outside receiver who started his Gamecock career strong in 2016. His numbers have failed to bloom like draft fans had hoped though. He’s still a solid prospect whose floor projects as a reliable possession receiver in the NFL. He has strong hands which he uses to consistently catch the ball away from his body. There was only one game film available, and that from 2017, so I still have a lot to learn about Edwards. I am comfortable putting him here though because I feel that he has a high floor as a prospect.

2.09 | Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa is undeniably talented and his name has been on everybody’s lips for a year. So, why do I have him as my QB2 and so low in my overall rankings? I think we first need to see that Tua can make it through a full season unscathed. He loves to improvise and takes a lot of hits which lead to some wear and tear as the season progressed. As much as we remember his game-winning relief performance in the championship game as a freshman, let’s not forget that he himself was pulled in this year’s championship. He’s now the unquestioned starter and will contend for QB1 if he puts together a complete and successful season. Tua has first overall potential: he is athletic, throws a beautiful deep ball and has impeccable character.

3.10 | Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Higgins uses his length to box-out defenders and win at the catch point. He’s a curl and comeback king, running smart routes and making sure-handed catches for first downs. He attacks the ball with his hands when he comes out of his breaks, not wasting precious moments for the ball to come to him. He has elite separation for somebody of his height (6040). Chances are that you saw a few of Higgins circus catch highlights last year because his concentration helps him snag batted or tipped balls with regularity. Higgins will be catching passes from one of the country’s most ballyhooed quarterbacks, sophomore Trevor Lawrence, so it’s inevitable that we see his highlights all season long.

Honorable Mentions

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

Dillon is a big and powerful back, likely the best thumper in the class. He’s rarely brought down on first contact and often dishes out more punishment than he receives. He doesn’t have top end speed (4.60?) but he doesn’t need it for his playing style. Dillon ran more routes than I anticipated based on his number of receptions so I think there is room for growth in that area. Similarly, he needs to improve as a pass blocker. He was hampered by an ankle injury for much of 2018 so I’m excited to see Dillon bounce back and show us he has every down potential.

Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma

Calcaterra is the lightest TE on my watch list at 221 so we’re likely looking more at a “big slot” than an in-line tight end for the purposes of his NFL Draft evaluation. Regardless, he’s a playmaker with soft hands and is a big play threat up the seam. Oklahoma does have a lot of mouths to feed and is losing another Heisman winning quarterback, so it’s possible we see Calc’s numbers dip this year. Even if that’s the case, I don’t think his draft stock should.

 

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