The Watch List: 2018 Conference Championship Previews

Updated: November 30th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks and observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

It’s been awhile, dear readers.  My apologies for the long lay-off between articles, you can blame my now-wife for that!  College football was a welcome, albeit infrequent, reprieve from our ever-encompassing wedding duties, but I was just not able to find the time to sit down and put flesh to keyboard.  What better time to get back into the swing than the week of conference championships!  For each matchup, I present a draft-eligible name you should know as well as my take and prediction.

MAC: Northern Illinois (7-5) vs Buffalo (10-2), 7:00pm Friday on ESPN2

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch:
    • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Johnson was one of my top prospects heading into the 2019 season.  He was shortly derailed by a hamstring injury but is back in the fold now.  Johnson’s numbers have been disappointing (45-820-9) compared to last season (76-1,356-14).  The explanation is likely the injury plus the fact that the Bulls are averaging nearly 60 yards per game more rushing this season.  Johnson has the ability to dominate lesser, in size and skill, defenders.  Whether his skills are dominant enough for the NFL remains to be seen but I think he has a shot at being a mid-rounder if he shows out in the last two games.
  • Prediction:  Buffalo -4.  Buffalo’s closest win this season was by seven over Temple and Eastern Michigan (two other bowl teams), so when they win they usually win big.  The Bulls have more potential NFL talent on both sides of the ball (don’t forget about QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I don’t expect this to be particularly close.

PAC-12: #17 Utah (9-3) vs #11 Washington (9-3), 8:00pm Friday on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington: #DraftTwitter seems to hate Gaskin. I don’t think he’s the next coming of Saquon Barkley but the hate has probably gone too far. You can nitpick and say he’s not very big (5110/193) or could be more involved as a receiver (53 combined receptions over the last three seasons). However, it’s hard to argue with somebody who has 5,131 career rushing yards which is 18th best in the NCAA dating back to the 1950s. He’s the first back in PAC-12 history to rush for 1,000+ yards in four plus seasons. I’d like to see him more decisive hitting the hole but he does have good feet that are always moving. He has enough speed and power to be an every-down back in college but his NFL role will be more limited.
  • Prediction:  Utah +5.  This one feels like a trap game for casual bettors (myself included).  Washington is a big name in recent college football seasons and will get attention.  Utah is without its best pro prospect in RB Zack Moss but I’d still expect them to keep it close.  They’ve scored 35+ in seven of their last eight games so the offense can score.  Washington was favored in six of their last seven and lost to the spread in five of those contests.

Big 12: #5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #14 Texas (9-3), 12:00pm Saturday on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Brown is a dynamo.  Despite his diminutive size (5110/168) he often lines up outside and instead uses motion and his route running ability to avoid contact and get open.  Once he has the ball in his hands it’s nearly impossible to catch him.  Brown was quiet through the middle part of the season but he exploded last week against West Virginia for 11-243-2.  The emergence of Tyreek Hill as a viable NFL receiver is going to help boost Brown’s stock.  He won’t be a first rounder but I feel pretty confident that a team will fall in love enough to reach for him on Day Two.
  • Prediction:  Texas +7.5.  The Sooners won their last four games by a total of just 24 points, while they were favored by a combined 73.5.  Their defense has appeared to be a liability this season and that is borne out in the stats: their defense is dead last in the conference in points and total yards.  I would take OU straight up but Texas with the points.

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2), 12:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State: Duck had a strong freshmen and sophomore seasons with a combined 11 interceptions, 14 passes defended and 107 tackles. His numbers decreased this season (1-4-44), so this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel!  (Unfortunately, the best prospect on either team is hurt and out for the season, ‘Neer RB Jalin Moore.  Moore is good in pass protection and was on his way to a third consecutive 1,000 yard season before dislocating his ankle.  If he’s not fully recovered to take part in the draft process, a team is going to get a bargain.)
  • Prediction:  Appalachian State -18.  This one is a rematch from October which App State won 27-17.  The Mountaineers lost their succeeding game but rebounded with four wins to end the season, including three big wins (two pushes, one cover).  I admit that part of this pick may be name recognition more than anything else but if I had to pick against the spread I would take App State to cover.

C-USA: Middle Tennessee (8-4) at UAB (9-3), 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee: It feels like Stockstill has been a Blue Raider for most of my adult life.  He grayshirted in 2013 then redshirted in 2014.  In 2015 he started 13 games but then missed chunks of 2016 and 2017 due to injury.  He’s stayed on the field thus far in 2018.  The positive vibes continue with his stat logs: he is completing 71.1% of his passes, has improved his rate stats and has a career low of interceptions (6).  Stockstill throws with good touch but his accuracy is inconsistent.  His age and injury history likely make him a priority UDFA but in such a weak quarterback class, who knows?
  • Prediction:  UAB +1.5.  I was very surprised to see the Blazers as a home underdog in this one.  They are 6-0 at home this season (5-1 ATS).  A big part of that line may be the uncertainty surrounding RB Spencer Brown’s availability (996-15).  I’ll take the gamble that he plays.  He’s just a sophomore and not yet draft eligible so there’s some incentive to shine in a big game, and throw down a few bucks on UAB with the points.

AAC: #8 UCF (11-0) vs Memphis (8-4), 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis:  Henderson led a dominant Tigers rushing attack this season.  His regular season totals ended at: 1,699 yards, 19 TDs, 8.6 yards per carry, 17 receptions, 286 yards  and 3 TDs.  That’s impressive even before you consider that he’s splitting touches with Patrick Taylor (894-14) and Tony Pollard (398-5).  Henderson measures in at 5090/200 and yet runs with an upright, downhill style.  You can feel his momentum when he’s on the move.  He may be too small for an every down role in the NFL but he runs with a physicality that belies his height and that will endear him to his teammates.
  • Prediction:  Memphis +3.  It’s hard to write the narrative for this game right now.  Does UCF rebound and battle for their fallen quarterback?  Or do they collapse with a backup signal caller under center?  Considering their last matchup was a 31-30 victory for UCF, I’ll take Memphis and the points here because I think McKenzie Milton is worth way more than a few points.  (I do hope I am wrong on this one though because I am wishing for CFP mayhem.)

SEC: #1 Alabama (12-0) vs #4 Georgia (11-1), 4:00pm on CBS

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: This game is obviously chock full of pro talent so why am I highlighting a tight end? Because you’ve probably missed Irv Smith’s ascension amidst the Alabaman domination this season. I am here to tell you that he should be on your radar as a potential rookie draft target for 2019. Smith has a good 35-613-7 line thus far, despite inconsistent production (five games with 2 or less receptions). In three of those games he managed to score a touchdown so he can still be a difference maker without a high target share. He’s listed at 6040/241 and has the speed to be a matchup nightmare for linebackers. If he shows consistency in Alabama’s biggest games, we’ll see his draft stock skyrocket. While your friends are waxing poetic about Tua and Quinnen, you can drop some knowledge about Irv, who will factor into next year’s rookie draft.
  • Prediction:  Alabama -13. ‘Bama has covered big numbers in its last five SEC games. The only one in the last six games that they didn’t cover was -53.5 against doormat foe Citadel. I see no reason to believe that the Tide won’t roll again. They are just too talented all over the field, probably the most talented team I’ve ever seen.

Mountain West: #25 Fresno State (10-2) at #22 Boise State (10-2), 7:45pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State:  Rypien is a name that you should monitor closely throughout the draft process.  The 2019 quarterback class is weak so it’s possible that somebody like Rypien emerges to become a first rounder just by virtue of scarcity.  He has average size at 6020/202.  He shows good pocket presence and above average short and medium accuracy.  He needs to show more consistency with his mechanics because he often lets himself throw off-platform, off-balance or with his feet unset.  In a previous film study, I noted that Rypien does not feel blindside pressure well which will be a problem in the NFL.  He’s probably a Day Two guy with the potential to land higher if teams are desperate.
  • Prediction:  Fresno State +2.5.  I’ve almost convinced myself that Fresno will win this one straight up because I’ve followed them closely this year after I stacked QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson in my college fantasy league.  So I’ll have to take the points.  The Bulldogs have lost their last three ATS but before that were on a seven game winning streak.  Bonus tidbit: the last four games for both teams went under (including their November 9 matchup).

Big Ten: #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs #21 Northwestern (8-4), 8:00pm on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins is a fast-rising redshirt sophomore who got his chance to lead Ohio State this season after JT Barrett’s graduation.  Haskins checks in at 6030/220 but I think that might be a slight exaggeration.  He’s not small but he does lack elite size.  He’s not a burner as a runner but he’s recently shown that he can be effective and clutch in short yardage situations.  It’s hard to find fault when looking at his statistics because he’s setting numerous Ohio State and Big Ten records.  He topped 4,000 yards (4,081) and has tossed 42 TDs to just 7 INTs.  His rating (171.7) and completion percentage (69.0%) are phenomenal.  Haskins has seen a meteoric rise to his draft stock, in fact, The Draft Network now projects him as QB2 in the 2019 eligible class.
  • Prediction:  Ohio State -14.  As a Michigan fan, it was particularly hard to watch the 62-39 drubbing last weekend.  I’m a firm believer in rooting for the team that beats you (if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to the eventual champion) so I’ll be all-in on the Buckeyes.  Northwestern has a top third defense in the conference but their weak spot is against the pass (ranked 11th) so they will not be able to slow Haskins enough to keep it close.

ACC: #2 Clemson (12-0) vs Pitt (7-5), 8:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • The Entire Defensive Line, Clemson:  There are so many “brand name” players on the Clemson defense that it would be impossible to single one of them out.  The fact that their biggest offensive stars are underclassmen (QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne and WR Tee Higgins) also helps concentrate focus on the defense.  Clelin Ferrell has distanced himself as the best prospect on the line with 10.5 sacks this season.  Interior linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are a dynamic duo who both feature rare combinations of size and athleticism (notably they have a combined 3 rushing TDs this season).  Austin Bryant, playing fourth fiddle, would probably be the defensive leader for most teams (19 career sacks and 116 career tackles).
  • Prediction:  Clemson -26.5.  What a snoozer in the 8:00pm window, I bet ABC is not happy.  Clemson is only 6-6 ATS this season while Pitt is 8-4 but I won’t let that sway my thinking.  I’ll be okay with losing this one if Clemson doesn’t cover but my gut tells me they run up the score to prove that they belong in the conversation with Alabama.  Give the points and switch the channel.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 11/27.

Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  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 watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2019 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 19th 2018

I wrote the first draft of last year’s rookie mock draft on August 23, 2017 and by the time June 2018 rolled around, five of my first ten picks were still first rounders (according to ADP data compiled by DLF).  I’m happy with that but overall my mock draft was a mixed bag.  There were some good calls: like Royce Freeman at 1.07 and Sam Darnold as the first QB off the board.  There were some duds too: Bo Scarborough at 1.06 and third round flyers on Corey Willis and Jordan Chunn.  The exercise of mock drafting this early is helpful because it forces me to start ranking by position.  It also requires me to evaluate each position group to see how their strength compares to each other.

Remember, it’s early. Very early. Players will overperform, underperform, go on hot streaks, go through slumps, get hurt, get suspended, get arrested or maybe not even declare early. What I’m trying to say is use this as a tool to start your rookie research but don’t bank on it come May. When creating this mock draft, I used two base assumptions: 1) a standard 1 QB roster setup and 2) any redshirt sophomore or junior good enough to be considered will declare early.  If you’re playing superflex, I typically suggest to move quarterbacks up a half round or so.  For more information on these players, check out my The Watch List series which feature deeper dives on stats and film study.  Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @robertfcowper.

1.01 – N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry broke out as a true freshman and has been on the devy radar since then.  He’s big at 6040/213 and uses his size to win in contested situations.  I questioned his run after catch ability when I studied him this preseason and he promptly proved me wrong.  He put up 82-1,142-8 last season and if he repeats that line in 2018 he’ll be the first receiver off the board next spring.

1.02 – Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

I’m higher on Harmon than other rankers who have him behind Edwards and Brown.  I think he’s shorter than his 6030 listed height but it does not stop him from winning in the air.  He’s an excellent route runner who I compared to Stefon Diggs.  His stats won’t jump off the screen but his film does.

1.03 – Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards has a flair for circus catches that showcase his ball tracking, concentration and body control.  Like Harmon, his stats will look underwhelming (64-793-5 last season) but you need to watch him play in order to appreciate his ability.  There was limited film available in the preseason but from what I saw I was very impressed.

1.04 – AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

Like last year, Brown is off to a strong start against weaker competition (15-251-3 in two games).  He’s a bear to tackle after the catch who possesses enough power and skill moves to keep defenders guessing.  He lines up predominantly out of the slot so I’d love to see him lined up elsewhere to get a feel for how he does against the press and along the sideline.  Brown will need to show scouts that he’s versatile and can put up big games more consistently against stronger opponents.

1.05 – David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

To start the season, I was between Montgomery and Anderson for my RB1 spot.  After Anderson’s injury it’s a much easier decision.  Montgomery has the ability to make spectacular plays by virtue of his tackle breaking skills.  He’s also a good receiver who had 36 receptions and 296 yards last year.  The knock against Montgomery is that too many of his carries go for a loss or short gain.  Whether that’s due to poor vision or poor line play will require more film study.  I foresee Montgomery going earlier in fantasy draft based on team need but in a vacuum, I’ll start with the receivers.

1.06 – DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Whereas I question Brown’s ability to be an outside receiver in the pros, I have less doubt that Metcalf can.  He’s huge at 6040/225.  He’s a former high school track star who reportedly ran a 4.46 last year.  If that’s true come combine, Metcalf will be a first rounder.  As his body of work grows, his draft stock will as well.

1.07 – Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

This was a really tough choice for me.  Anderson was in contention for my RB1 spot before his season-ending knee injury.  This will be the second season that Anderson loses to injury and he also has some off-field questions.  It’s very likely that his NFL Draft prospects will reflect those question marks but if he is healthy in camp he has the ability to win the job.  If I’m forecasting now, I’ll predict that his talent wins out.

1.08 – Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

Love finished 2nd in Heisman voting last year after a spectacular 2,118-19 season.  He battled injuries throughout 2017 and is banged up again in 2018 (he’s going to miss Week 3 against UC Davis with a knee).  The injuries and his lack of pass catching are two big knocks against Love.  He’s reportedly put on some weight which is vital because he’s going to need to find a niche in the NFL, that may have to be as a two-down back if he can’t cut it as a receiver.  I think Love will need to be part of a committee so his fantasy value will rely largely on which committee that turns out to be.

1.09 – Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

Devin “Motor” Singletary is an electrifying runner who rushed for 1,912 yards and 32 TDs last season.  Yes, you read that correct: thirty two.  He feasted on lesser opponents, collecting seven games with 3+ touchdowns.  In five games against Power 5 opponents, Singletary has just 188 yards and 2 TDs.  That’s a bit of a red flag for me because you really want your Group of 5 back to prove it against the stronger opposition (a la Rashaad Penny and Kareem Hunt, both of which had multiple 100+ games against Power 5 teams).  Unfortunately, we won’t see Singletary against a Power 5 team again this season so his draft stock will include a bit of projection.

1.10 – Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

I fell in love with Brady when I watched him this preseason while writing my C-USA preview.  In that preview I praised Brady, specifically saying that I thought he had the potential to be a starting X receiver in the NFL.  He has 4.40 speed, strong hands, toe-tapping body control and solid route running skills.  He’s a former Miami transfer so you know he had high expectations out of high school.  Brady is off to a strong start through two games (15-182-3) and I predict he will be a riser on draft boards so I’m calling my shot.

2.01 – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

I constantly espouse the “QB at 2.01” strategy for RSO owners.  Locking in a young passer with starting potential for four years and less than $2 million is fantastic value.  The 2019 quarterback class currently looks weaker than the 2018 class but that doesn’t change my strategy.  Herbert is my QB1 right now because he has the size and athleticism that will excite pro scouts.  His arm strength is average it seems but he’s accurate enough to compensate.  He can be careless with the ball but hopefully that improves with experience.

2.02 – Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

I originally had Johnson below Samuel but as I looked at my list I just couldn’t justify it. Johnson is a dominant receiver who joined Buffalo in 2017 as a JUCO transfer. He immediately set the MAC ablaze, leading the league in receiving yards and TDs. He plays larger than his 6020/210 size suggests and will be another riser at WR this year.

2.03 – Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

Samuel is undeniably talented but he’s been plagued by injuries throughout his career. In his first three seasons, he played in just 18 games. He recorded 87 receptions, 969 yards and 5 TDs in those contests. He’ll need to get through all of 2018 in one piece in order to figure as a fantasy asset next year.

2.04 – Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin is about as consistent as it comes. He rushed for 1,300+ yards and double digit touchdowns each of his three seasons. Gaskins also had 19 receptions in both 2016 and 2017. It may take time for his NFL fans to warm to him but he will find a valuable role in the NFL and has the tools to be an every down back.

2.05 – Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

Snell has grown on me the more I have watched and studied him. He has great size at 5110/223 and runs with the power you’d expect. I have limited exposure to Snell but from what I have seen he appears to have patience and vision at the line and enough speed for the next level.  It’s a toss-up for me with him and the two backs below because he’s youngest of the trio.

2.06 – Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

I had Harris pegged for the 2018 draft but he decided to return for his senior season. Ultimately, I think that will decrease his draft value rather than increase it. The Tide have so many name-brand backs on their roster that it’s hard for any of them to get a large enough share (for example, through three games he has 24 carries this season). He’s a former top recruit who has two 1,000+ yards rushing in the toughest division in college football. I don’t doubt his pedigree or his ability but, like with Gaskin, he’s not a sexy prospect right now.

2.07 – Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

I put Hill at the back of this run on RBs because I feel his NFL role may be the most limited. He’s a great receiver (31 receptions last year; strangely just 2 so far in 2018) and a bit light at 190. I’d like to see him add a few pounds and put out plenty of up-the-middle tape to feel better about his chances to be a three down back.

2.08 – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

I just recently covered J-JAW so check out my more in depth study for details. He’s a big-bodied receiver who literally boxes out DBs. If draft stock was something you could literally invest in, I would be buying Arcega-Whiteside.

2.09 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

Fant is my first TE off the board. I have him significantly lower than I did the tight ends of the last two classes because I feel there is more unknown with this group. Both he and Albert Okwuegbunam are no guarantee to come out and the typical thinking goes that TEs need time to develop (I’d love to see the breakdown of tight ends who declare early versus those who stay). He had 30 receptions, 494 yards and 11 TDs in 2017 as a sophomore. He already has 12-140-2 in 2018 so he’s on pace to beat last year’s marks.

2.10 – Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

Sanders is a former 5-star recruit who sat behind the legendary Saquon Barkley for two seasons. He’s off to a good start so far now that he’s the man (295 yards, 6.0 yards per carry). Since we have such a small sample size, his value is bound to fluctuate.

3.01 – Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

If Jones didn’t get hurt in Week 2 he might have showed up higher on this list. The 2019 quarterback class doesn’t stack up to the 2018 class which left the door open for an outsider like Jones to contend for a first round NFL Draft selection. Jones is a dual-threat passer who throws well on the run and isn’t afraid of contact. He needs to improve his touch and accuracy but his physical tools are there. I hope that Jones can return this year and prove he deserves a look.  Similarly to the 2.01 spot, I like to go QB at 3.01 to maximize value.

3.02 – David Sills, WR, West Virginia

Sills was a favorite of mine all of last season while he was leading the FBS in receiving touchdowns (18). He has good size at 6040/210 and excels in the red zone (12 of his 18 TDs came inside the twenty). Sills is a former quarterback who was recruited in middle school by Lane Kiffin. So, not only does he have the talent but he has an interesting back story.

3.03 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Mattison looks like an NFL running back to me when I see him in highlights. Thankfully, the stats back it up. In 2017 he totaled 1,086 yards and 12 TDs rushing and added 28 receptions, 284 yards and a score. I’m sure that the film study will as well. If he continues to put up big numbers in 2018, he’ll jump some of the Power 5 backs listed above.

3.04 – Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

I kept moving Johnson down my rankings because the best argument I could make for him is his size (6060/220). I still don’t feel great about him at 3.04 but I guess as the cliche goes, you can’t teach size.  He has played for an anemic Longhorn offense so his numbers aren’t great. His 54-765 line from last year is encouraging until you see that he scored just 2 TDs. Somebody with size like that should be able to score in close (see: Sills, David). I don’t watch Texas close enough to know how much of that is on Johnson and how much is on the offense as a whole so he’ll require some further study.

3.05 – Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

I have compared Stidham to Alex Smith on multiple occasions. While that may be damning with faint praise, I think it’s a compliment. Smith has carved out a nice NFL career as an athletic game-manager. Stidham’s numbers are down so far this year though so let’s revisit him after he hits the meat of his SEC West schedule.

3.06 – Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

Smith is a deep threat who took full advantage of Lamar Jackson’s arm in 2016 and 2017. He averaged over 18 yards per catch on 87 receptions in those seasons. This season though has been different. The Cardinals offense has struggled and the new quarterback, the aptly named Jawon Pass, has already been benched. Smith went “oh-fer” in the games against Alabama and Kentucky, not good. I have him ranked here because we have seen his big play ability in action but I have a feeling by season’s end he’ll be lower on my list.

3.07 – Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

Butler is big (6060/225) and apparently very difficult to tackle, as we learned against Oklahoma. Butler vaulted himself into my third round with that performance. Now that Allen Lazard has moved on, I expect Butler to rack up the touchdowns this year as Iowa State gets deeper into their Big 12 schedule.

3.08 – Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

I’m a bit partial to Moore because he agreed to do a Q&A with me this offseason. Besides that though, I think he has an NFL future because of his skills as a pass blocker.  According to Pro Football Focus, he was the top rated back in pass blocking efficiency last season. He has two back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons with 10+ touchdowns in each. I’d like to see him eclipse last year’s 12 receptions to fully prove his worth on third down.

3.09 – Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

I’m not sure what to make of Weber as an NFL prospect. I’m sure he’ll be drafted and hang around because of his all-round talent but if Ohio State doesn’t trust him to be their feature back, will an NFL team?

3.10 – Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

His name is Big Al and he hits dingers. Okwuegbunam is a redshirt sophomore so who knows if he declares early or returns to school for another year (or two) of seasoning. He has started strong with 14-100-2 this season after 29-415-11 last season. At 6050/260 he has enough size to be a red zone threat and an inline blocker. Whether or not he can prove his meddle as a blocker in the SEC will be important to monitor.

Honorable Mentions

  • 4.01 – Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis
  • 4.02 – Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami
  • 4.03 – Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford
  • 4.04 – Felton Davis, WR, Michigan State
  • 4.05 – TJ Vasher, WR, Texas Tech
  • 4.06 – Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA
  • 4.07 – Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
  • 4.08 – LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State
  • 4.09 – Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
  • 4.10 – Zack Moss, RB, Utah

Note: I wrote this article between September 14-18 so any big games or injuries after that point are not taken into account.


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  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 watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Q&A with Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

Updated: June 13th 2018

I’m excited to bring you another interview with a 2019 NFL Draft prospect. Last week, we had Stetson TE Donald Parham. This week we are featuring Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore. I most recently wrote about Moore in my 2018 Sun Belt preview. In that piece, I picked Moore as my favorite to be the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year. He was draft eligible in 2018 so I covered him multiple times last season too. Moore is listed at about 210lbs and is an excellent pass blocker who runs with power. I hope to see Moore continue to get more involved as a pass catcher in 2018 which would really help increase his NFL Draft stock. Before we get to my Q&A with Jalin, let me show you my favorite play of his that I saw while studying some of his film. In this 31 yard touchdown run you see a bit of everything: his balance to avoid being tripped up, his speed to gain separation and his strong stiff arm.

Q: What’s the most memorable football game you ever played? Why does that one stick out?

A: The Idaho game my freshman year in 2015. It was a game where I got the opportunity I had been waiting for since I got here. I had been telling myself, with everybody on the team when you get to college, you don’t get too many chances, so I had in my head that this was my chance. I tried to make the most of the opportunity. (Moore certainly made the most his that opportunity; he ran 27 times for 244 yards in a 47-20 romp.)

Q: When you were growing up whose posters were on your wall?

A: Growing up, I was so good at basketball as a kid, everybody thought I was going to the NBA, so I had Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe, Tracy McGrady. I had all the jerseys, too. I was a real basketball fan growing up, and it’s funny now, I don’t even like playing for fun too much.

Q: If you could play one other position in college, offense or defense, what would it be? Why?

A: I’d probably say cornerback. Corners, they get to wear anything … long sleeves, towels. They’re not really in the trenches a lot, but they get to look good while they’re doing everything. They’re not bumping and grinding. They’re on the outskirts, so if I could play another position, it’d probably be corner.

Q: Do you have a player or team you particularly enjoy playing against? Maybe it’s a former teammate or a hated rival?

A: I’ve got to say Georgia Southern. Whether it’s Duke and Carolina and all the other teams, it’s up there with all the big rivalries in North Carolina. That’s Hate Week with trash talking and everybody saying everything to each other, and anything goes that week.

Q: Do you have any pregame rituals?

A: On the way back from the Mountaineer Walk, you meet with the fans, I’ll put my headphones back on when you get on the field just to get my mind right. I just try to zone out of everything and think about everything but the game. I can’t think about the game for too long. If I think about the game three hours before the game, by the time it gets there, I’d be drained out. I try to relax and get my mind right.

Q: What’s your favorite play that you’re always hoping gets called? Why is that your favorite?

A: Outside zone. That’s a play that’ll wear defenses down. You might get it the first four times, but you run it 30, 40 times, you get tired of running side to side. That’s when we’re going to chop you down and cut it straight up.

Q: Do you have any specific personal goals for the 2018 season?

A: I’ve got a few, but my No. 1 personal goal is to be the leader that this team needs me to be. We’ve got talent, but it takes way more than that.

Q: Is there a current NFL player that you model your game after?

A: I don’t really my model my game after him, but I feel like we have some of the same qualities, and he’s a young guy — Alvin Kamara. I feel like we have similar footwork, quick on the speed and shifty. Soft hands out of the backfield, I feel like I showed last year that I can catch the ball out of the backfield, too. As I look at his film, I feel like I see some of the same things.

Q: If fans want to follow you on social media, where can they find you?

A: On Twitter, it’s @itz__boobie.

(The above Q&A was lightly edited for formatting and clarification. Answers were received on June 8, 2018 via e-mail.)

Check back throughout the offseason as we showcase more 2019 NFL Draft Prospects. If there is somebody you would like to see us feature, please reach out to me on Twitter @robertfcowper.


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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Sun Belt and Independents Preview

Updated: May 24th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Favorite:  Brandon Wimbush, QB, Notre Dame.  Few players in this group have the skill or pedigree to be a true Heisman candidate.  If I had to pick a player, I would go with Wimbush because he has upside, despite his flaws, and plays for a name brand like Notre Dame.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Justice Hansen.  In the very unlikely event that the Red Wolves upset Alabama on September 8th, Hansen would leap onto the national radar.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State.  Moore is one of the Sun Belt’s best players and I’m glad he returned to school so he can improve his NFL Draft stock.  He gained 1,037 yards in 2017, the second time in his career he passed the thousand mark.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Corbin Kaufusi, DE, BYU.  Talk about an interesting prospect.  Kaufusi is listed at 6090 and 280lbs and is a former BYU basketball player.  His brother was a third round draft pick by the Ravens; another brother and cousin currently play for BYU; his dad is a position coach for BYU; his mom is the mayor of Provo.  Not only does he have an interesting story and a great pedigree but he can back it up with some stats: he recorded 67 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 6 sacks last season.  There’s very little about him online, I just happened to stumble upon him.  I think he seemingly will come out of nowhere this season and become a buzz-worthy draft prospect.
  • Newcomer of the Year: Traveon Samuel, WR, Troy.  Samuel is an undersized graduate transfer WR coming from Louisville.  Samuel has 57 career receptions, 746 yards and 2 TDs.  He also contributes in the running game (17-162-1 for his career) and as a kick returner.  He never really broke through but should find more playing time at Troy.
  • Underclassman to Watch: Matt Bushman, TE, BYU. Bushman is listed at 6050/230 which gives him a leaner build than typical tight end prospects but he has time to fill out that frame. He grabbed 49 passes for 520 yards and 3 TDs as a true freshman in 2017. I haven’t done the research but it feels very rare to see a freshman TE put up numbers like that.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Andrew Ford and Andy Isabella, UMass.  Isabella is UMass’ leading receiver over the last two seasons with 1,821 yards and 17 TDs.  Most of those passes came from rising senior QB Andrew Ford.  Ford lost his other favorite target, TE Adam Breneman, so he’ll need to lean on Isabella even more this season.  Ford could turn into a late round flyer quarterback if he improves his rate stats and efficiency again in 2018.
  • Best RB Corps:  Appalachian State.  App State led the Sun Belt in rushing yards per game (223.6) last season and I would expect the ground dominance to continue.  The team did lose rushing QB Taylor Lamb, but they still have the aforementioned Jalin Moore as the starting tailback.  He’s joined by redshirt sophomore Marcus Williams who filled in at times for Moore last year.  He totaled an even 500 rushing yards, including two big games against UMass (125) and Georgia Southern (130).  Sophomore Daetrich Harrington tore his ACL in February so it’s unlikely that he’ll contribute in 2018.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Brian Kelly.  This is an easy one because it seems that there are rumors of Kelly’s impending firing every offseason.  The Irish went 10-3 in 2017 but the wounds of a 4-8 season in 2016 are still fresh.  Kelly is 69-34 in South Bend with a 4-3 bowl record; while that may cut it at most programs, it doesn’t when you have a national television contract.  I think Kelly needs a double-digit win season plus a bowl victory to keep his job.

Teams to Watch

 Liberty (6-5 in 2017 at FCS level)

If Liberty sounds familiar it’s probably because they upset Baylor last September in a back-and-forth contest that ended 48-45.  Quarterback Stephen Calvert (29 TDs and 6 INTs in 2017) returns.  Against Baylor he went 44-60 for 447 yards and 3 TDs.  He added four other 300+ yard games last season so we know he has the potential to sling it.  WR Antonio Gandy-Golden also feasted on the Bears, hauling in 13 passes for 192 yards and two scores.  Liberty will struggle as they adapt to the FBS but it’s fun any time we have a new team to watch and digest.

 Louisiana Monroe (4-8 in 2017)

When I look for an under the radar team to watch, I typically check to see who is returning a majority of their starters.  Louisiana Monroe fits the bill there.  According to Street & Smith’s projected depth chart, the Warhawks will return all eleven starters.  Last year’s leading rusher, Derrick Gore, is a former transfer from Alabama.  He only averaged 3.6 yards per carry in 2017 but he did add 13 receptions so that’s a positive.  Senior WR Marcus Green is the one to watch and is a potential game breaker.  He had a 54-812-5 line as a receiver but also added 175 yards rushing and four kick return touchdowns.  He has breakaway speed and can break tackles if somebody does manage to get a hand on him.  I’m not sure he’s NFL Draft worthy but he might end up on my watch list if he shows out again in 2018.  I expect Louisiana Monroe to improve on the 4-8 record of the last two seasons and to steal a few Sun Belt wins.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Brandon Wimbush, QB, Notre Dame:  I am not a Wimbush fan but he’s currently the starting quarterback of one of history’s most successful teams.  So, he has to be mentioned.  Wimbush lost snaps to Ian Book at times in 2017 and I’ll bet the same happens in 2018.  He completed less than 50% of his passes last season (49.5%).  He excels as a rusher though: 804 yards and 14 TDs.  He looks smaller than his listed 6010/228 which worries me in terms of his durability.  Wimbush has such a wide range of outcomes in 2018 that it’s hard to project.
  • Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State:  Hart is an undersized receiver at 5080/180 but he’s been productive on a bad Georgia State team.  He’s particularly dangerous out of the backfield where he’s a complete mismatch for linebackers.  As a freshman in 2015 he had a 72-1,109-8 line.  He missed most of 2016 due to injury but returned to form with 74-1,121-8 last season.  I watched his film against Oregon from 2015 and was impressed by his route running and some of his moves after the catch.  He has a nice hesitation move, varies his speed to mess with pursuers angles and appears to have great change of direction ability.  I doubt he would come out for 2019 but he is draft eligible and deserves a little attention.
  • Andy Isabella, WR, UMass:  Isabella is a former running back, who still wears #23, that plays a versatile role for the Minutemen.  He plays out of the slot, takes hand offs and can use his RAC ability as a kick returner too.  He has back-to-back 60+ reception seasons and a third could put him on the NFL radar.
  • Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame:  Mack is all potential right now.  He measures 6040 and 250, right in the middle of my tight end watch list.  He has just 19 career receptions in six games.  He’s missed time due to injury, suspension and eligibility so who knows if NFL teams even want to take a chance despite his athleticism.
  • Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame:  Tillery is a mountain of a man, listed at 6060/306, who broke out as a junior in 2017.  He totaled 56 tackles, 9 of them for loss, and 4.5 sacks.  Tillery decided to return for his senior season instead of testing the pro waters.  There’s limited film out there but the little I did watch (Texas 2016 and NC State 2017) did not impress me.  I watched a handful of plays from each game and did not see Tillery make much of an impact.  He was often pushed off the line, did not control his gaps nor did he get pressure.  My sample size is very small so I’ll need to do more research.

Justice Hansen, QB, Arkansas State

Hansen finished 2017 second in the Sun Belt in most passing stats except for one: he lead the conference with 37 passing TDs.  Second place had just 27.  He has good height at 6040 but could use some extra weight because he’s listed at just 207lbs.  Along with those 37 scores, Hansen accumulated 3,967 yards passing and 415 yards rushing.  He did throw 16 INTs though which is not good.  His completion percentage (62.6%) and yards per attempt (8.1) are average when compared to those on my 2019 watch list.  Arkansas State runs a pass-heavy spread offense that is high volume.  You can interpret that as a positive or a negative depending on your opinion of Hansen.  I see a quarterback who runs the zone read well and shows good vision and patience when he runs with the ball.  He has above average speed for the position but needs to work on ball security if he’s to feature as a runner in the NFL.  He has a quick release, key for all the screens he throws, but lacks touch on his passes.  The lack of touch is especially evident on throws near the endzone, like fades.  His movement translates to the pocket too where he can slide to avoid the rush and scramble.  Hansen exhibits below average accuracy on the run and in the intermediate to deep range.  Right now I would project Hansen as a late round guy and somebody unlikely to be fantasy relevant in 2019.  (Film watched: MTSU 2017, LA-Lafayette 2017)

Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

Moore is one of my favorite prospects for 2019 already.  I was touting him for 2018 before he decided to go back to school, something that was ultimately a prudent decision.  He’s a little light at 185lbs but has good height at 6000.  Moore rushed for 1,037 yards in 2017 despite missing some time to injury.  In 2016 he topped 1,400 yards.  He’s not a receiving threat but he excels at pass blocking.  According to Pro Football Focus’ advanced stats, Moore was the best back in the FBS in terms of pass blocking efficiency.  Per their stats, he pass blocked on 38% of his snaps and did not allow a single sack, hit, hurry or pressure.  Most rookie RBs struggle in pass protection which limits their snaps early in their career but that won’t be a concern for Moore.  When I watch Moore I see a back who runs with power and does not fear contact.  He often lowers his head and falls forward for extra yards.  He is not fast, maybe 4.55 speed at best, but he does show some finesse at the line of scrimmage.  I made multiple notes of Moore getting skinny at the hole and finding a way through tight quarters.  He shows some vision and patience but is inconsistent with it, running right into a blocker or defender at times.  Pass protection was a mixed bag in my study; I noted three positive examples and two negatives.  The two worst were in the Miami game from 2016 so considering the PFF stats I’m guessing Moore improved mightily.  Aside from one very good stiff arm on a long touchdown run, I did not see Moore make any special moves like spins, hurdles or make-them-miss jump cuts.  He also did not catch any balls in the two games I watched so I can’t evaluate that part of his game.  Moore does not appear to have the speed or arsenal to be an every down back in the NFL but I believe he’ll find a role at the next level.  (Film watched: Toledo 2017, Miami FL 2016)

Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame

Claypool is an interesting prospect because he has elite size but a very small sample size of production.  It’s hard to make much of him at this early stage and another season with the inaccurate Brandon Wimbush under center may not help settle matters either.  Claypool checks in at 6040 and 228lbs, one of the biggest receivers on my 2019 watch list.  He had just 29 grabs in 2017 though, for a disappointing total of 402 yards and 2 TDs.  I was hoping to give Claypool a proper film study but the only thing I could find online was a 2017 highlight reel.  That short reel was still instructive though.  My first takeaway was that, unsurprisingly, Claypool can dominate in the air.  There were multiple examples of him hanging in the air and coming down with a contested catch.  That will be important for Notre Dame to help hide Wimbush’s inaccuracy.  My second takeaway was that Claypool often lets the ball get into his body and does not have good hand placement when attempting a catch.  Due to the limited film available to watch, I was not able to evaluate Claypool’s route running.  In order to be a true NFL Draft prospect, Claypool will have to improve his technique in 2018.  (Film watched: 2017 Highlight reel)


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the second 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.  Then watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  For top prospects I may add a third game, while for long shots I might only devote the time for one. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2018 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v2.1

Updated: January 27th 2018

My first 2018 rookie mock draft was published back on Sept 6 and while some things have changed, I am actually quite pleased with how my mock draft held up throughout the season.  I followed the same guidelines here as I did back in September.  Namely,  I used two base assumptions: 1) a standard one QB roster setup and 2) any junior good enough to be considered will declare early (the deadline is Jan 15 so by the time you read this we may already know that some guys are not going into the draft).  Players are broken down into tiers and I have noted where they were mocked last time to show their movement from version to version.  To view version 1.0, click here.  Version 2.0 never saw the light of day as Bryce Love, Damien Harris and Myles Gaskin decided to return to school before publishing (for what it’s worth they were at 1.09, 2.06 and 2.09 respectively).  I also compile mock draft information for the /r/DynastyFF sub Reddit which you can view here.  Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @robertfcowper.

1.01, Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (last: 1.01)

Barkley is in a tier all by himself.  He’s a supreme athlete (possibly sub-4.40 speed) with good vision and is a good pass catcher.  He’ll be the consensus first pick in just about every fantasy rookie draft and could be a Top 5 NFL Draft pick.  Don’t overthink it.

1.02, Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (1.03)

1.03, Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (1.02)

(Note: this was written prior to Nick Chubb’s poor performance in the championship game.  In hindsight, I am less confident about placing him at 1.02.  One game does not a career make but still he played poorly against a defense full of NFL talent.  I will re-visit this in the offseason)  I now have Chubb and Guice flipped compared to where I had them to start the season.  Heading into the season, Chubb’s 2015 knee injury felt like more of a concern than it does now since he has completed two full seasons since.  Their stats this season were similar but Chubb had a slight edge as a rusher (1,320 yards and 15 TDs for Chubb, 1,251 and 11 TDs for Guice).  Neither is a receiver like Barkley.  Both backs have a career high of 18 receptions in a season – Guice did so in 2017 while Chubb did so as a freshman in 2014.  The margin between the two for me is razor thin.  I lean towards Chubb since we have a bigger sample size.

1.04, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama (1.04)

1.05, James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (1.08)

1.06, Ronald Jones, RB, USC (2.07)

I still have Ridley as my WR1 even though 2017 was not a great season (just 59 receptions, 935 yards and 4 TDs prior to the championship game).  To my eye, he is just the most skilled WR in the class, regardless of his production.  He is very fast (4.35 40 yard dash in the Spring), jumps well enough to out play his 6’1″ height and is a good route runner.  Washington is pretty quick himself but he just doesn’t seem as polished as Ridley.  It’s hard to argue against Washington’s production but I think he’ll be drafted later than Ridley and won’t be as good of a pro in the long run.  Washington is this high though because I think he will make an early impact in the league if he lands on the right team.  Jones makes a huge jump from 2.07 to 1.06.  I questioned his size to start the year, I thought he was too tall for his weight, but am no longer as concerned because he put on some weight.  He’s such a quick and fast runner and was very productive this year (1,550 yards, 19 TDs).  If he was a little more “squat” but just as fast and nimble he’d be challenging for the 1.02.

1.07, Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State (undrafted)

1.08, Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU (1.07)

Rashaad Penny made a huge impression on me this season.  I noticed Penny in August but thought he was more of a returner than a running back.  He proved his worth as a rusher (his 2,248 yards led the FBS) but still managed to contribute as a return man (3 return TDs).  Penny will probably be an early Day Three draft selection but I think his value as a return man will help him see the field earlier.  Bryce Love originally found himself in this tier before deciding to return to school.  Conversely to the ascending Penny, Sutton’s stock is falling for me.  Sutton has the best size of the top three receivers (6’4, 215lbs) but I have some concerns.  In my past research, I found that he mostly beat up on bad defenses; against the best defense he played this year (TCU), he was held to one catch for zero yards.  It also bothers me that Sutton was not the leading receiver on his team this year (Trey Quinn had more receptions, yards and touchdowns).  Sutton likely saw extra defensive attention but if he’s to be an NFL star, he must be able to dominate even against double coverage in games against lesser defenses.  Interesting stat for Sutton, 8 of his 31 career receiving touchdowns came in three games against North Texas.  I want to see him at the combine – if he comes in smaller than advertised he could fall out of my first round.

1.09, Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (1.07)

1.10, Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis (2.02)

2.01, Sony Michel, RB, Georgia (2.06)

2.02, Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M (1.05)

This tier features some of my favorite players in the draft in terms of value.  I was high on Freeman to start the season before he came out on fire (10 TDs in the first four games).  His pace slowed in the middle of the season but he finished strong too with 6 TDs in the games against Arizona and Oregon State.  He decided to skip the bowl which was disappointing because I wanted to see him against Boise State’s defense.  Despite the positive impression he made on me, I do have him a little lower now because he was jumped by Ronald Jones and Rashaad Penny at the position.  Two players who did not skip the end of their seasons are Anthony Miller and Sony Michel.  Miller is an absolute gamer who I want on my team.  He’s not that big or that fast but he’s just productive.  He runs routes well and has possibly the best hands in the class.  He could have broken his leg in the AAC Championship game and he would have still finished the overtime.  It may be a bit of a reach but I’m willing to take Miller at the end of the first to guarantee I get him.  Michel is sometimes overshadowed by Chubb but he’s just as good in his own right.  He has two 1,000+ yard seasons to his name and a career 6.1 yards per carry average.  He is a better receiver than his 9 receptions in 2017 show.  In 2015 and 2016 he had 48 combined.  The hype on Michel is growing so you may not be able to get him at 2.01 but let’s not overreact to two nationally televised games.  Michel will be a solid pro but I’m not willing to jump him over Chubb.  Kirk dropped because I was probably too high on him originally but I still like him.  He’s a great return man but so many of his receptions come at the line of scrimmage that I worry his NFL role may be limited.

2.03, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (2.08)

2.04, Sam Darnold, QB, USC (2.01)

This is where my RSO mock will diverge slightly from a true dynasty mock.  I strongly believe that going quarterback early in the second round of your rookie mock is the way to go.  The salary paid will be less than $2mil per season which is a fantastic bargain for a starting quarterback, especially considering that most quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL Draft will see game action sometime in the first season.  The return on investment here is so high when you “hit” that it’s worth taking a chance on a “miss.”  Readers will notice that 1) Rosen has jumped Darnold and 2) I am taking the QBs a little later now.  Neither guy had a great season and they both come with some warts so I think this spot feels right.  Even if Darnold gets drafted higher, barring some crazy trade that lands him on a good team, I would go with Rosen first as I feel he is more NFL-ready and will realize more value during his four year RSO rookie contract.

2.05, Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame (2.03)

2.06, Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa (undrafted)

2.07, Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State (3.07)

This was a very tough stretch for me to rank.  I originally included Myles Gaskin and Damien Harris in this tier but they are now removed as they seek a higher grade next year.  St. Brown dropped between mocks because he only had 33 receptions.  Like Calvin Ridley, he was the leading receiver on a run-heavy offense.  I didn’t count that against Ridley but I do against St. Brown because it’s tough to invest highly in a guy with just 92 career receptions.  St. Brown would have dropped further if it weren’t for the decisions of Love and Harris ahead of him.  Wadley and Gallup mostly stayed under the radar this season but move up in my rankings even though their per-touch averages decreased.  They both significantly increased the number of touches they handled this season and played well in their biggest games.  Gallup totaled 21 receptions and 282 yards in three games against Power 5 defenses (Oregon State, Colorado, Alabama); Wadley had 158 total yards versus Ohio State in what was ultimately the death blow for the Buckeyes’ playoff chances.

2.08, Dante Pettis, WR, Washington (2.04)

2.09, Bo Scarborough, RB, Alabama (1.06)

2.10, Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame (undrafted)

Bringing up the rear of the second round are three Power 5 players that I would be willing to take a shot on despite my concerns about their size.  Pettis is a dynamo and can change a game with one touch.  He had four punt return touchdowns this year and led the FBS in punt return average.  He managed to increase his receptions this year but his per-touch averages decreased.  He’s 6’1″ but about 195lbs so he’s a little too light.  The fact that his former teammate John Ross was such a bust as a first rounder last year probably hurts Pettis even if it’s not fair.  Scarborough and Adams were both productive in college but at 6’2″ they might be too tall to play running back effectively in the NFL.  The comps in that size are not favorable.  The best is Derrick Henry but other than that it’s a lot of no-name players over the last decade.

3.01, Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (undrafted)

If it makes RSO salary cap sense to take a quarterback near the top of the second, it stands to reason you should at the top of the third.  Mayfield is currently my QB3 after an incredibly efficient season but I want to watch more tape.  Heading into the season I had both Mason Rudolph, Lamar Jackson and Luke Falk ranked higher.  Right now Rudolph would be the only one I consider putting here instead of Mayfield.

3.02, Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State (undrafted)

3.03, Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (3.01)

3.04, Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina (3.05)

3.05, Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma (2.10)

Let the tight end run begin!  I think everybody would agree that this year’s tight end class pales in comparison to last year but when is the right time to take one?  I’m having trouble valuing them so I’ll bet others are too.  My guess is that once one goes in your RSO draft, two or three will follow shortly after.  Gesicki gets the nod as the top prospect because he’s bigger than both Andrews and Hurst and at least as athletic, if not more.  Hurst is more of a traditional TE than the other two as he blocks better but he’s also fast enough and a good pass catcher.  I had Hurst above Andrews in my early 2018 positional rankings and will stick with my gut.  It takes time for tight ends to develop, Evan Engram notwithstanding, so I’ll knock Andrews down a peg because he so rarely lined up as a tight end in college.  Lazard isn’t a TE but he’s a big-bodied receiver who I am a fan of.  He was a key part of Iowa State’s miracle run (71-941-10).  I wish I was able to find him a spot higher because it feels like I’m down on him compared to start the season but that’s not the case.

3.06, Auden Tate, WR, Florida State (undrafted)

3.07, Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana (undrafted)

3.08, Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State (3.04)

3.09, Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville, (undrafted)

3.10, Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (1.10)

Similarly to how I ended the second round, I will end the third round with a group of Power 5 players who I will take a flyer on.  Tate has elite size, ball skills and body control but has just 65 career receptions.  Cobbs also has elite size but he concerns me.  He was suspended to start the 2016 season for “not living up to the responsibilities of the program,” and then subsequently suffered a season ending injury in his first game that year.  In the summer of 2017 he was arrested at a concert.  He didn’t face any discipline so it’s probably nothing but still I would worry about a pattern of negative behavior.  Ballage is a bowling ball at 6’3″ and 230lbs.  He is an effective receiver but averages just 4.4 yards per carry in his career.  His size concerns me too.  It’s hard to find a back with receiving stats like he had in 2016, so with a late third, what the heck.  I don’t know enough about Jaylen Smith to properly evaluate him yet but our friends at the Dynasty Command Center are very high on him so I’ll trust their analysis.  Smith had a crazy 22.9 yards per reception average in 2016 which was unsustainable (in 2017 it was still a solid 16.3).  Deon Cain is another player who concerns me off the field.  After a failed drug test, Clemson suspended him in 2015 for both of their College Football Playoff games and continued to hold him out through Spring practice.  He lead the Tigers in yards (734) and TDs (6) this season but I was hoping for more now that he was out of Mike Williams’ shadow.

Honorable Mentions

4.01, Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee State (undrafted)

4.02, Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State (undrafted)

4.03, Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (undrafted)

4.04, Adam Breneman, TE, UMass (undrafted)

4.05, Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn (undrafted)

4.06, Deontay Burnett, WR, USC (undrafted)

4.07, Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State (undrafted)

4.08, Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State (undrafted)

4.09, Jaylen Samuels, TE, North Carolina State (undrafted)

4.10, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (undrafted)

Guys who I like but couldn’t find space for yet: Ryan Finley, Ito Smith, Jordan Chunn, Cedric Wilson, Antonio Callaway, Troy Fumagali


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Bowl Game Previews, Part II

Updated: December 14th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  During the college bowl season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year.  Note: times listed are Eastern.

Friday, Dec. 22

Bahamas Bowl, UAB (8-4) vs. Ohio (8-4), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • UAB: 67th scoring offense, 106th passing offense, 37th rushing offense; 46th scoring defense, 22nd passing defense, 72nd rushing defense
  • Ohio: 14th scoring offense, 94th passing offense, 17th rushing offense; 59th scoring defense, 109th passing defense, 10th rushing defense

The offensive/defensive rankings in this one make for an interesting matchup.  Neither team throws the ball well but both run the ball with aplomb (UAB averages 190 yards per game while Ohio averages 245).  When UAB is running the ball it’ll be strength against strength with the Ohio rush defense.  Ohio’s offense is led by the two-pronged ground attack of JUCO transfer QB Nathan Rourke and RB AJ Ouellette.  Rourke has an incredible amount of rushing touchdowns: 21.  That is 2nd overall in the FBS – not among QBs, among all players.  It’s four more than Lamar Jackson has.  Ouellette is injured and his status for the bowl is unknown.  He finished 5th in the MAC in rushing but durability is a concern as I pointed out back in Week 10 before his most recent injury.  Backup RB Dorian Brown is also questionable so the bulk of the carries may have to go to undersized freshman Julian Ross (who went 19-81 against Buffalo in the team’s last game).  UAB also has their own mobile QB, AJ Erdely, who transferred from Middle Tennessee State.  Eredely’s rushing stats pale in comparison to Rourke, but he completes more passes (61.8% vs 54.2%) and has a better TD:INT ratio.  UAB’s lead back is freshman Spencer Brown (1,292 yards, 10 TDs).  It’s worth noting that this is UAB’s first season back in the FBS after ending their football program in 2014.  Bill Clark is a name that nobody knows but that should be getting national recognition.  He has done a fantastic job getting UAB to just its second ever bowl while also setting the school record for wins in a season since joining the FBS in 1996.  I’m really torn on this one.  As much as I’d love to root for a UAB bowl victory, which would have been improbable in September, the Bahamas Bowl will come down to the health of Ohio’s running backs and whether their rush defense can slow down Brown.  I’ll guess that one of the injured Ohio backs can play and that UAB won’t be able to slow down the tandem with Nathan Rourke.  Prediction: Ohio

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Central Michigan (8-4) vs. Wyoming (7-5), 4 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Central Michigan: 54th scoring offense, 48th passing offense, 93rd rushing offense; 68th scoring defense, 23rd passing defense, 91st rushing defense
  • Wyoming: 108th scoring offense, 101st passing offense, 120th rushing offense; 13th scoring defense, 5th passing defense, 74th rushing defense

This is an odd game to break down.  When I first saw that Wyoming ended bowl eligible and was picked for a game, I figured I would have to go deep on QB Josh Allen but I find myself more excited by the Chippewas.  Allen, as you probably know, is a first round NFL Draft prospect who struggled mightily this season before hurting his shoulder.  That 101st ranking for the Cowboys’ passing offense is not a typo – they were that bad.  Honestly, the shoulder injury might have done more to help his draft stock rather than hurt it.  Before going down, Allen was averaging just 165.8 yards per game with a disappointing 56.2% completion percentage.  His passer rating was 124.0 (ranked 97th in the FBS).  Allen’s yards per pass also decreased about 25% from last season.  So, if the stats are so bad, why is Allen still considered a first round draft prospect?  Because he can do things like this.  That play is loaded with positives if you watch closely.  First off, Allen is under center (which he does a minority of the time but it’s more than most other QB prospects).  Second, he really sells the play fake, using his prototypical size to hide the ball from the defense.  Third, he delivers a nicely timed ball to his back who is running a wheel route from the backfield.  Despite all the negatives, it’s this potential that has scouts excited.  I’m hopeful that Allen plays so we can see him once more heading into the NFL Draft.  Heading into the season, I predicted good things for Central Michigan and thought they would be a “spoiler” in the conference.  Turns out, I had that right.  CMU won close games against Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, both of which were predicted to finish ahead of them in the division by Phil Steele; they even got a win over Ohio, the predicted best in the East division.  CMU has two players I like: former Michigan QB Shane Morris and big play WR Corey Willis.  Morris turns the ball over too much (13 INTs) and does not complete enough of his passes to be a real worry but he’s experienced and a former Michigan man so I like him.  If you throw out a bad game against Boston College his stats would look better (yeah, yeah, I know I’m cherry picking).  In the preseason, I compared Willis to John Brown from the Arizona Cardinals and thought his draft stock could mirror that of 2016 stat-stuffer Taywan Taylor.  Unfortunately, injuries slowed Willis and limited him to just eight games.  Still, those games were encouraging.  He totaled 42-625-9 on the season and had four big games since returning from injury.  Willis has at least one touchdown in five straight games, scoring eight of his nine touchdowns in that span.  It doesn’t get much more under the radar than Willis: NFLDraftScout.com has him as the 46th ranked receiver in his class while Phil Steele had him as the 72nd ranked draft eligible receiver.  I might be the only draft analyst advocating for Willis but I really am a believer and will enjoy watching him in the bowl game and at the combine.  Prediction: Central Michigan

Saturday, Dec. 23

Birmingham Bowl, Texas Tech (6-6) vs. South Florida (9-2), 12 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Texas Tech: 26th scoring offense, 11th passing offense, 96th rushing offense; 98th scoring defense, 124th passing defense, 53rd rushing defense
  • South Florida: 16th scoring offense, 54th passing offense, 9th rushing offense; 37th scoring defense, 58th passing defense, 23rd rushing defense

Here’s a prop bet for you: take the over on the total number of yards earned by Texas Tech and South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl.  I’ll guess that combined the teams gain somewhere between 950-1,000 yards combined.  This one may not feature the best football but it will be fun to watch.  It’ll be long too with all the scoring so I recommend DVRing it and watching it on fast forward later in the day.  Not surprisingly this is the first matchup between the two teams in their history and it was made possible by the fact that the SEC didn’t have enough teams to fulfill all of its bowl tie-ins.  That isn’t to say the SEC was weak, it’s just that Georgia, Alabama and Auburn will all be playing in a New Year’s Six bowl which means less teams for the lower bowls.  Texas Tech’s offense is led by junior QB Nic Shimonek and WR Keke Coutee.  Shimonek is very efficient as a passer and ranks near the top of many passing categories such as completions, completion percentage and passer rating.  His TD:INT ratio is 30:8 which is good too.  Even though he has thrown the ball well this season, he was briefly benched for a game by coach Kliff Klingsbury.  Shimonek came off the bench versus Texas in that game and led the team to a win; he’s already been confirmed as the bowl game starter.  His top target, Coutee, has an 82-1,242-9 line on the season.  South Florida is powered by the legs and the arm of QB Quinton Flowers.  Flowers has 31 total passing and rushing touchdowns this season and 107 during his career.  It’s a shame he’s so undersized (6’0″ and 210lbs) or he’d be a fun draft prospect to evaluate; chances are he’ll still give the NFL a shot but likely after a position change.  Flowers is a winner: he has led the Bulls to a 29-9 record over the last three seasons.  He should notch another one here to cap off a prolific career.  Prediction: South Florida

 

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Army (8-3) vs San Diego State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Army: 43rd scoring offense, 130th passing offense, 1st rushing offense; 30th scoring defense, 40th passing defense, 54th rushing defense
  • San Diego State: 50th scoring offense, 118th passing offense, 12th rushing offense; 15th scoring defense, 26th passing defense, 8th rushing defense

Oh San Diego State, one of my favorite teams of the year.  Their 12th ranked rushing offense is paced by RB Rashaad Penny who has undoubtedly made himself a millionaire this season with his meteoric rise.  In the preseason, I mentioned Penny as a special teams difference maker.  In Week 3, I discussed how Penny helped the Aztecs overcome their first Power 5 opponent in Arizona State.  By Week 5, the Aztecs made it into my “Games to Watch” segment with Penny as the headliner.  Come Week 6, I spotlighted Penny as my top player to watch that week and had already run out of superlatives for his success.  A week later, Penny was in my “Heisman Watch” segment.  Sure, Penny’s meteor has fallen back to earth but he’s still a great player who deserves your attention.  Penny has 2,169 total yards (most in the FBS) and 24 total TDs on the season.  Those scores break down to 19 rushing, 2 receiving, 2 kick return and 1 punt return.  He truly is a jack-of-all-trades and may be a top ten RB in the 2018 rookie class.  Army is led by senior QB Ahmad Bradshaw.  Bradshaw is a “quarterback” only in the sense that he takes the ball from under center each play.  He passes so infrequently that Sports-Reference.com shows his rushing stats ahead of his passing stats (he went 1-1 for 20 yards against Navy).  He is a very effective rusher who averages 7.5 yards per attempt, for a total of 1,566 yards and 12 TDs this season.  Not surprisingly, Army has a stable of backs with 500+ yards including Darnell Woolfolk, Kell Walker and Andy Davidson.  If you didn’t watch Army’s last game against Navy in the snow, you missed one heck of a game that Army pulled out late.  The game against Navy is, without a doubt, the biggest game of their season but I’m sure they will get up again next week for SDSU.  Ultimately, I think the strong Aztec defense plus Penny will be too much to overcome for Army.  In case this one is close, I will note that San Diego State has a good kicker in John Baron; he only went 12-15 this season because the offense converted drives into touchdowns but he can be counted on in the clutch.  Prediction: San Diego State

Dollar General Bowl, Toledo (11-2) vs. Appalachian State (8-4), 7 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Toledo: 11th scoring offense, 20th passing offense, 26th rushing offense; 56th scoring defense, 49th passing defense, 68th rushing defense
  • Appalachian State: 33rd scoring offense, 72nd passing offense, 28th rushing offense; 33rd scoring defense, 45th passing defense, 43rd rushing defense

Saturday Dec. 23 is looking to be a great day of good games, finishing off with yet another high scoring affair in the Dollar General Bowl.  Toledo ended the season on a three game winning streak including the MAC Championship against Akron.  Toledo is led by the strength of their offense.  Senior RB Terry Swanson is the standout back of the bunch (1,319 yards, 14 TDs).  Swanson went for 466 yards and 3 TDs over the last three games of the season including 180-2 in the MAC Championship.  Freshman RB Shakif Seymour has earned a larger role of late, especially after a five touchdown game against Bowling Green.  The top target for QB Logan Woodside, more on him in a moment, is WR Diontae Johnson.  Johnson is a big play guy who averages 17.5 yards per reception and also has two return touchdowns this season.  The aforementioned Woodside is Toledo’s best draft prospect but he’s maybe a 7th rounder at best heading into the combine.  I watched Woodside earlier in the year against Eastern Michigan and he mostly disappointed in that one.  He had fantastic numbers last season (4,129 yards, 45 TDs, 69.1% completion percentage) but just about all of his stats except INTs has regressed in 2017.  It’s looking more and more like Woodside will be an UDFA but who knows maybe that works out the best for him so he can choose his landing spot.  I included Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore in my Early 2018 Positional Rankings for one reason: his pass blocking will get him drafted.  Per Pro Football Focus, Moore has the highest pass blocking efficiency by a running back in the FBS.  It was a good thing to see Moore get 12 receptions this year (just five in his first two seasons) because if he’s going to be on the field in pass blocking situations in the NFL he better work on his receiving skills.  Moore battled a foot injury this season and missed some time but when he was healthy he was very productive.  He had two games over 200 yards (239 and 241) and two games over 100 yards where he also scored 2 TDs.  The Mountaineers QB Taylor Lamb is a four year starter who will be playing in his last game for the team.  He’s a dual threat (539 yards and 5 TDs rushing) and careful with the ball (just 6 INTs this year).  I went into researching this game thinking I would take Toledo and Woodside but I’m now leaning towards App State.  They have the better defense and I have a gut feeling Lamb will show-out.  Prediction: Appalachian State

Sunday, Dec. 24

Hawaii Bowl, Fresno State (9-4) vs. Houston (7-4), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Fresno State: 79th scoring offense, 66th passing offense, 77th rushing offense; 9th scoring defense, 37th passing defense, 14th rushing defense
  • Houston: 67th scoring offense, 38th passing offense, 54th rushing offense; 39th scoring defense, 118th passing defense, 46th rushing defense

Fresno State is probably the bowl team that I have the least feel for – I can’t recall watching a single minute of their games this season before the MWC Championship.  Fresno won four straight to earn that MWC Championship game berth, including a win over 23rd ranked Boise State.  Lead WR KeeSean Johnson could be a longshot 2019 NFL Draft prospect if he improves his stats again in 2018.  His receptions, yards, yards per reception and touchdowns have all increased year over year.  In 2017 he finished with 66 receptions, 918 yards and 8 TDs.  Fresno’s rush attack is led by a trio of underclassman including freshman Jordan Mims (142 attempts, 604 yards, 6 TDs), sophomore Josh Hokit (117-519-7) and freshman Ronnie Rivers (95-473-5).  Mims is the go-to guy, he had 10+ carries in eight straight games before the MWC Championship game, but it’s definitely a “hot hand” situation.  The Cougars offense is not in good shape, despite their middling rankings, and clearly misses former head coach Tom Herman.  They are currently on their third starting quarterback, having settled on dual threat freshman D’Erig King in late October.  Since taking over, King has 6 passing TDs and 7 rushing TDs.  Houston has one player that you must watch: DT Ed Oliver.  Oliver is just a sophomore so he’s not draft eligible but I’ll bet he’s in the conversation for a Top 10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.  He’s 6’3″ and 290lbs but athletic.  His stats won’t be amazing because he is often double teamed but he still managed 69 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 2017.  Total gut call but I have more faith in Fresno State’s offense after doing my research so I’ll take them and the bonus that is their strong defense.  Prediction: Fresno State

Tuesday, Dec. 26

Heart of Dallas Bowl, West Virginia (7-5) vs. Utah (6-6), 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • West Virginia: 19th scoring offense, 12th passing offense, 72nd rushing offense; 92nd scoring defense, 101st passing defense, 105th rushing defense
  • Utah: 59th scoring offense, 43rd passing offense, 70th rushing offense; 42nd scoring defense, 54th passing defense, 36th rushing defense

West Virginia enters the Heart of Dallas Bowl with their 12th ranked pass offense in flux.  QB Will Grier is questionable after a finger injury ended his season early.  In the game and a half the Mountaineers played without Grier, backup Chris Chugunov went 24-46 for 326 yards and 1 TD.  The team did lose both of those games though, one against Texas and one against Oklahoma.  I covered Grier back in Week 8 but since he’s injured I won’t go into more detail here other than to say that I am lower on him than others.  The must-watch offensive prospect, in my opinion, on West Virginia is QB turned WR David Sills.  Sills has good height at 6’3″ and uses that size to be a dominant red zone target.  Sills totaled 18 TDs on the season (enough to lead the FBS); 12 of those TDs came in the red zone.  NFLDraftScout.com predicts Sills to have 4.58 speed which not elite but is good enough and subsequently has him as the 6th ranked WR in his 2019 draft class (note: that does not include other 2018 guys who come out early). WalterFootball.com has him as the 14th if he were to come out this season.  I have Sills as my 10th WR for 2018 so I really like his potential.   I’ll predict that coach Dana Holgorsen calls up a key trick play where Sills gets to throw the ball and remind everybody that he used to play QB.  Utah is also dealing with an injured quarterback as Tyler Huntley is questionable for the bowl.  Troy Williams, a former Washington transfer who started in 2016, has not played particularly well in relief duty this year (2 TDs, 4 INTs, 54.5% completion percentage).  Senior WR Darren Carrington was unable to cement his status as an NFL Draft prospect but he’ll still get a late round look (66-918-6 this season).  The Utes best shot at a win is to ride RB Zack Moss.  Moss has 1,023 yards rushing, 9 rushing TDs, 28 receptions and 234 yards receiving this season.  When Utah has the ball, pay attention to West Virginia S Kyzir White, brother of Bears WR Kevin White.  White is a top safety prospect who has 81 tackles and 3 INTs this season.  As long as Chugunov can get the ball to Sills and target-hog Gary Jennings (94 receptions) the Mountaineers will be fine against a mediocre Utah team.  Prediction: West Virginia

Quick Lane Bowl, Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6), 5:15 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Northern Illinois: 51st scoring offense, 87th passing offense, 38th rushing offense; 26th scoring defense, 57th passing defense, 11th rushing defense
  • Duke: 86th scoring offense, 80th passing offense, 59th rushing offense; 25th scoring defense, 12th passing defense, 62nd rushing defense

Duke was recently in the college football headlines because head coach David Cutcliffe was offered, and declined, the Tennessee job.  Considering what a sideshow that search became, I think we would all agree that was a good decision by Cutcliffe.  Cutcliffe has brought relevance to a struggling Duke program (they went to four straight bowls from 2012-2015) but finished just 4-8 last season.  I’m not a Duke fan and don’t follow the team closely but from afar I have to say that I like Cutcliffe and appreciate that he shunned a bigger job to continue building at Duke.  Maybe one reason Cutcliffe decided to return was the opportunity to continue working with redshirt sophomore QB Daniel Jones.  Jones has prototypical height at 6’5″ but needs to add weight to his 215lb frame.  Of the 18 quarterbacks who were drafted since 2010 and measured at 6’5″ or taller at the combine, none weighed less than 223lbs.  Per my two favorite draft sources, WalterFootball.com has him as the 15th ranked quarterback if he came out in 2018 while NFLDraftScout pegs him as the 6th best if he waits until 2020.  Jones will be best served by another season or two in college because he wouldn’t get drafted today based on his production.  His completion percentage is too low (55.7%) and his TD:INT is poor (12:11).  Part of that could be excused by a lackluster supporting cast but a top quarterback prospect needs to transcend his team.  Keep an eye on Jones to see if he improves next season.  The NIU quarterback situation is the polar opposite of the stability that Duke enjoys.  Like the Houston Cougars, the Huskies are on their third starting quarterback this year, moving on from the first two due to injury and ineffectiveness.  They are currently starting dual threat freshman Marcus Childers.  Childers took over in October and has been productive: 20 combined passing and rushing TDs.  Protecting the blindside of Childers is a mountain of a man named Max Scharping.  Scharping, a junior, is 6’6″ and 312lbs.  Per Pro Football Focus he is third in the nation in pass blocking efficiency by offensive tackles.  According to their stat guide, Scharping has only allowed one hit and just four hurries.  If Scharping comes out, I’ll bet he’s a Day Two prospect.  Neither team really won my heart here but I’ll go with NIU and their stronger scoring offense.  Prediction: Northern Illinois

Cactus Bowl, Kansas State (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6), 9 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Kansas State: 37th scoring offense, 99th passing offense, 42nd rushing offense; 58th scoring defense, 129th passing defense, 18th rushing defense
  • UCLA: 30th scoring offense, 5th passing offense, 114th rushing offense; 118th scoring defense, 39th passing defense, 129th rushing defense

Apologies to Kansas State and legendary head coach Bill Snyder but this preview is all about UCLA’s Josh Rosen because he will be the biggest topic of conversation in this one.  The Rosen discussion, is dominated by one thought: will Rosen even play?  One of the oft-mentioned negatives of Rosen is that he might lack the passion for the game that some players exude.  I’ve heard some pundits say something to the effect of Josh not “needing” the game.  I obviously don’t know Rosen personally and haven’t studied him enough to have my own opinion but it does worry me that if that is true maybe he won’t bother suiting up for this meaningless game.  We saw a number of top prospects take that approach last year (Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffery) and can you really blame them?  The first overall pick and millions of dollars are on the line for Rosen.  I would not at all be surprised to read reports of Rosen’s shoulder injury “lingering” long enough to keep him out of the Cactus Bowl.  Regardless of whether he plays or how well he plays, Rosen is my pick for the first  pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.  I have gone deep on Rosen earlier in the season so I won’t rehash everything here but long story short is that he is the most pro-ready quarterback in the class.  He plays in a pro-style offense, has good size and arm strength and has been very productive in college.  He’s not without his negatives (i.e. the aforementioned mentality questions, low completion percentage, some poor decisions) but he has a high floor.  His ceiling may not be as high as somebody like Sam Darnold, who is younger but needs more seasoning for the NFL level, but Rosen is worthy enough of the top pick and can start from Day One.  I lied about ignoring Kansas State because there are three things I want to touch on.  First, starting QB Jesse Ertz is out and has been replaced by freshman Skylar Thompson, a QB with the same size and skill set as Ertz.  Second, Junior CB D.J. Reed is a difference maker on defense (43 tackles, 4 INTs, 9 passes defended) and on special teams (2 TDs, led Big 12 in punt and kickoff yards per return) when he is healthy.  Unfortunately, Reed is hurt and it’s unsure if he’ll be able to play.  If he does, I’ll be interested to see him vs Rosen.  Third, Kansas State has an interesting OL prospect in junior Dalton Risner.  Risner was the team’s starting C as a redshirt freshman and has since switched over to RT.  He is ranked second in the pass block efficiency stat by PFF at the tackle position.  If Risner enters the NFL Draft as a C prospect he could be a Day Two pick due to his versatility.  It’s hard to throw out praise for a team’s starting quarterback like I did and then pick against them but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  If Rosen can’t or won’t go, they could have to go to third stringer Matt Lynch because backup Devon Modster is questionable with his own injury.  No thanks, let’s go Wildcats.   Prediction: Kansas State


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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