The Watch List: 2019 Week 3 Preview

Updated: September 12th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

California Cares: The biggest story in college football right now has no impact on this weekend’s games. The California state house and senate have passed versions of a bill that would allow amateur athletes to earn money from off-the-field sponsorship opportunities — essentially paving the way for college football and basketball players to be paid for their talents. Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the two state legislative bodies still need to agree on a composite version of their bills before it lands on the governor’s desk, where it could be vetoed. The NCAA has already threatened that California-based colleges may not be able to compete for NCAA championships if the bill is ratified. I expect the NCAA and the Power 5 conferences to immediately put on the full-court press to lobby against this and future bills (the current bill would go into effect in 2023). Expect this topic to come up during this weekend’s pregame shows and game broadcasts, and to be a continuing topic throughout the season.

Maryland Dominates: The Terps are off to a surprising 2-0 start that’s included an FBS leading 142 total points. Their first win, 79-0 over Howard, was nothing to get excited about, however their 63-20 dominance of #21 Syracuse was. The offense is led by former Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson and features a balanced rushing attack that’s totaled 11 rushing scores already. Maryland has two tricky games to close out the month: at Temple and then home against #13 Penn State. If they finish September with a 4-0 mark they’ll be a Top 15 team looking at a favorable midseason schedule against Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota.

Games to Watch

Arizona State at #18 Michigan State, Saturday 4:00pm, FOX: In my opinion, FOX has both of the best matchups this week with Arizona State at Michigan State and Iowa at Iowa State. Unfortunately, both games are on at the same time so you’re going to wear out the “back” button on your remote. This matchup features two interesting quarterbacks. Arizona State’s true freshman Jayden Daniels is 2-0 to start his career, throwing for 588 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs (albeit against weak competition). Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke has previously struggled with consistency but so far his efficiency stats have improved. I haven’t seen Lewerke play live yet this year so I’m looking forward to seeing him play against a Herm Edwards defense. Also worth your attention is Sun Devils’ running back Eno Benjamin. Benjamin has impressed again as a receiver (7-126-2) and I’d expect his rushing numbers to catch up. My prediction: Michigan State 29, Arizona State 20.

#19 Iowa at Iowa State, Saturday 4:00pm, FS1: I was surprised to see the Cy-Hawk game given second billing and the FS1 broadcast. Michigan State may be a bigger draw nationally but this intrastate battle is full of rivalry and history. These two squads have faced off 66 times in their history, with Iowa leading the series 44-22, including the last four. Those records belie how close the recent matchups have been. Seven of the last eight contests have been decided by two possessions or less, including four games decided by a field goal. Iowa has a number of bonafide NFL prospects, including DE AJ Epenesa and offensive linemen Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs. QB Nathan Stanley has looked great to start the season and is also a late-round consideration. When I was searching Iowa State’s stats, senior WR Deshaunte Jones caught my eye. In the Cyclones’ overtime opener against Northern Iowa he tallied 14 receptions for 126 yards. Iowa State is likely to take a step back this season and that will start this week. My prediction: Iowa 23, Iowa State 10.

Players to Watch

Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

The Seminoles have been predictably disappointing at the outset this season. The lone bright spot has been running back Cam Akers. When I previewed the ACC in August, I asked whether Akers was part of the problem — it would be hard to argue that right now after he put up two of his best-ever games. Against Boise State in the opener, Akers finished with 128 yards on 17 touches. In the extra time squeaker against ULM, Akers totaled 248 yards on a whopping 41 touches.

I watched a condensed version of the game against ULM so I could see most of Akers touches. It felt like he was playing with a joie de vivre that I did not feel during previous viewings. I have always been impressed with his ability to run between the tackles and he showed that in this game, but he showed off his elusiveness as well. Akers’ biggest play of the game was his late receiving touchdown (see below) but I thought his best play came earlier on a second-and-long run that nearly netted a first down. Akers takes the shotgun hand-off and heads towards a big off-tackle hole. He avoids two arm tackles and then plants his foot hard for an upfield jump cut while his body is facing the sideline. He immediately lowers his helmet to protect the ball and barrel into a defender. Akers shrugs him off before being corralled by two others at the line to gain. I believe the play was a good encapsulation of Akers’ patience, cutting ability and power.

On the aforementioned touchdown reception, Akers does all the work after the catch. He once again shows his patience and vision as he sees the field and sets up his blocks. He picks his way down the field before lowering his shoulder to ensure he gets into the end zone.

I have admittedly vacillated on Akers’ professional prospects. Today, I’m feeling more bullish than if you had asked me six months ago.  I’m not ready to make any predictions just yet but Akers will definitely factor into this all-star running back class if he declares early.

 

Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas

I’ve been writing about Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson for awhile now, but it is time to shine a spotlight on fellow senior receiver Devin Duvernay.  While I watched the LSU vs Texas game last weekend, Duvernay kept standing out to me as a key for the Longhorn offense.  His stat line for the game ended as a career-best: 12 receptions, 154 yards and 1 TD.  Duvernay’s season line now stands at 21-209-3, which is nearly half of last season’s output already.

Duvernay is listed at 5110/210 and plays with a strength and tenacity that complements the long-limbed Johnson.  There were two back-t0-back plays against LSU that really made me want to highlight Duvernay.  Both plays were high-effort and feature Duvernay lowering his shoulder to overpower safety Grant Delpit, a future Top 10 pick.  Neither play will look like much on the boxscore but if I were coaching a team, I would want somebody like Duvernay on my sideline.

I have not studied him aside from watching the LSU game so I admit my praise may be premature, however Duvernay does look like a sturdy and sure-handed possession receiver who may be worthy of a late-round pick.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 Week 2 Preview

Updated: September 5th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Freshmen Quarterbacks: A number of true freshman signal callers got the start in Week 1.  The top names to watch are Hank Bachmeier (Boise State), Sam Howell (North Carolina), Bo Nix (Auburn) and Jayden Daniels (Arizona State).  Each of these four led their team to victories to start the season.  Bachmeier, Howell and Nix all helped engineer comebacks against teams that were either higher ranked or favored by the oddsmakers; Daniels had an easier task against Kent State but still looked good from what I saw.  It will be fun to follow this quartet throughout the season, especially once they get into the heart of their schedule.

Hurts for Heisman: Speaking of quarterbacks, I think Jalen Hurts’ Sooner debut went well enough to jump him ahead of Trevor Lawrence as a 2019 Heisman hopeful.  Hurts looked like an NFL prospect against Houston, more so than I recall while he was playing for Alabama.  His final Week 1 stat line was fantastic: 20-23 for 332 yards and 3 TDs passing and 16 rushes for 176 yards and 3 TDs.  I would be feeling encouraged today if I took “the field” over Lawrence or Tua Tagovailoa as the Heisman winner.

Games to Watch

Nebraska (-7.5) at Colorado, Saturday 3:30pm on FOX: This matchup will feature two of the nation’s most talked about all-purpose players: Colorado’s Laviska Shenault and Nebraska’s Wan’Dale Robinson.  Shenault, who is currently my WR3 in the 2020 class, had a decent output against Colorado State of 83 scrimmage yards and a score on six touches.  Robinson is a 4-star recruit who 247Sports ranked as the top prospect coming out of Kentucky and as a Top 100 player in the nation.  In his Cornhusker debut he had seven touches for 54 yards — given the hype, expect his usage and production to steadily grow.  I’m taking Colorado, at home, to win straight up. My prediction: Colorado 25 – Nebraska 22

#6 LSU (-4) at #10 Texas, Saturday 7:30pm on ABC: This is the only Top 10 matchup for Week 2, so on paper it’s a must watch.  Both teams won easily in Week 1 so this will be their first test.  Texas QB Sam Ehlinger started strong, tossing 4 TDs, while WR Collin Johnson once again showed off his incredible catch radius.  I wasn’t able to catch any of the LSU opener but Joe Burrow dominated the boxscore, completing 85% of his passes for 278 yards and 5 TDs.  Despite all of the points these teams scored in Week 1 (100), I have an inkling that this one will be a low scoring, defensive affair favoring the Tigers. My prediction: LSU 19 – Texas 15

Players to Watch

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

Hubbard just missed the cut when I was working on my Big 12 season preview back in August. I had read some hype about him as a prospect but as a redshirt sophomore I figured that I should prioritize players more likely to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. It didn’t take long for Hubbard to make his case for The Watch List after erupting against Oregon State in Week 1 for 221 rushing yards and 3 TDs. The Beavers are far from a top defense but they are a Power 5 opponent so I’m not going to discount the performance too much.

Hubbard is a deliberate runner who gets north-south with above average speed and power.  He deploys an effective stiff arm and modulates his speed and acceleration to deceive tacklers.  He did not show it in the opener, but Hubbard is also a capable receiver who tallied 22 receptions in 2018.  I loved the nuance of his opening touchdown scamper against Oregon State.  The replay angle allows you to better see the play develop.  He stretches the defense horizontally as he awaits the pitch.  Once he secures the ball he gets upfield and uses a nearly imperceptible hesitation move to get around his engaged blocker.

The Pokes face off against McNeese State and Tulsa in their next two contests so Hubbard will have a chance to pad his stats before getting into conference play. We will see Hubbard tested again when they travel to Austin to face the Texas Longhorns on September 21st.  It’s not crazy to think that Hubbard will be leading the FBS in rushing at the end of September.

 

Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest

 

Sage Surratt is another redshirt sophomore whose stellar showing last week put him on the radar of amateur draft analysts like myself. Surratt contributed as a redshirt freshman last season, finishing as the Demon Deacons’ second-leading receiver (41-581-4). With Greg Dortch now fighting for an NFL roster spot, Surratt stole the spotlight early against Utah State. Surratt caught the first points of the game, less than three minutes in, on a 22-yard rainbow from the opposite hash. The corner was over-matched and wasn’t physical enough to keep Surratt from making the play. Later, Surratt made a nice play by attacking the ball at its high point, shrugging off the tackle as he landed and ran for a big gain. He lacked the long speed to score but it proved to be the vital play that led to Wake Forest taking the lead.

Surratt is built well at 6030/215 and showed off his play strength on this key third quarter play. It was 3rd and 9 with Wake Forest trailing. Surratt runs a simple hitch but his route is a few yards short of the sticks. No matter, because he breaks three tackles and needs to be dragged down by four defenders.

Overall it was a great showing for Surratt to start the 2019 season.  I’ve added Surratt to my watch list for the 2020 class and you should too.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 Pac-12 Season Preview

Updated: August 9th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona.  According to betting markets, Oregon’s Justin Herbert is the top Heisman hopeful in the conference and if I was looking for a safe bet, I would agree.  However, if you’re looking for a dark horse candidate (+6000) that could help you cash in, go for Tate.  In 2017, Tate earned the starting job mid-season and still managed to rush for 1,411 yards and 12 TDs to go with 1,591-14-9 as a passer.  His future looked bright heading into 2018 but an ankle injury and a coaching change conspired against him to limit his impact.  If anybody has 4,000 yard and 40 TD upside, it’s Tate.

Underclassman to Watch: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State.  As a true freshman last season, Jefferson showed his promise in the second game of the season, going off for 238-4 against Southern Utah.  He finished with 1,380-12 and added 25 receptions.  I watched two highlight reels and my first thought was that he looked like David Montgomery.  I don’t like giving comps, especially this early, but once I thought it, I couldn’t unsee it.  Jefferson has ideal size for a running back at 5110/211.  He’s an elusive runner, displaying dynamic cuts and effective spin moves, and runs with above average power.  Like Montgomery, he appears to lack top-end speed but that’s not his game so it doesn’t worry me.  Oregon State won’t get much national attention this season but don’t let that stop you from eyeing Jefferson.

Newcomer of the Year: Bru McCoy, WR, USC. McCoy had a topsy-turvy start to his collegiate career.  He first committed to USC before switching to Texas (in response to Kliff Kingsbury leaving) only to transfer back to USC (because he was homesick).  He was the consensus top receiver in the 2019 recruiting class and based on his Hudl highlights, it looks like he could play in the NFL tomorrow.  I’m excited to see him play, sadly it might not be until 2020 unless his immediate eligibility waiver is approved.  (Looking for a true freshman who might make a difference in 2019?  Phil Steele predicts that QB Jayden Daniels will win the Arizona State job.  Daniels was Steele’s sixth ranked quarterback in the class.  Per 247Sports, Daniels is the highest rated prospect the Sun Devils have landed since Vontaze Burfict in 2009.)

Coaching Carousel: With just one head coaching change in the Pac-12 this offseason (Mel Tucker taking over at Colorado), the coaching carousel focus has to be on USC.  The aforementioned Kliff Kingsbury was hired in early December to take over as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, but jumped ship about a month later to take the Arizona Cardinals head coaching job.  Fans who weren’t sold on head coach Clay Helton must have been thinking, “if Kingsbury is good enough for the NFL, why didn’t we hire him as our head coach?”  Another former Texas Tech quarterback, Graham Harrell, was brought in to be the new-new offensive coordinator.  Double-digit win seasons in 2016 and 2017 haven’t earned Helton much job security because he’s often mentioned as a coach on the hot seat.  If Kingsbury starts strong in Arizona, the pressure will mount from the fan base who will want Helton fired so that a similarly-minded coordinator like Harrell can finally take over.  (When I researched articles to back-up my assertion about Helton’s job security, I was actually surprised just how prevalent Helton-on-the-hot-seat sentiment was.  These three articles all featured Helton either as their header image or atop their list.)

Players to Watch

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Get ready to hear a lot about Justin Herbert as the 2019 season progresses. He was a top prospect in last year’s class before returning to school and is pegged by most, myself included, as a future NFL quarterback. Herbert doesn’t have the buzz of some of the other quarterbacks right now in college football (i.e. Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence) but I think he shows enough traits, and has enough experience, for draftniks to feel comfortable with him at, or near, the top of their respective draft boards.

Let’s start off by looking at Herbert’s stats and game logs. Herbert took over the starting gig midway through his freshman season in 2016 and then was limited to just eight games in 2017 due to injury. He played a full slate of thirteen games in 2018. He has a career 63:18 TD:INT ratio and averages nearly 250 yards passing per game. His career completion percentage of 62.5% is just good enough but dipped last season. He’s a capable short yardage runner who has a career rushing line of 173-510-9. Strangely, if you remove Herbert’s games against subpar opponents (FCS and Group of Five [except Boise State]), some of his rate stats actually increase. His completion percentage increases to 64.4% and his interception rate decreases. His yardage and touchdown marks drop slightly but not significantly. I can’t say that I have seen Herbert play in many of these “big” games so I’m just looking at context-less numbers, but protecting the ball well against higher quality opponents is a good sign. Speaking of protecting the ball, I noticed that Herbert has only thrown five career interceptions in one possession games. With 367 attempts in those close moments, Herbert threw an interception just 1.3% of the time. (For comparison, Kyler Murray threw five interceptions on 225 attempts in those situations last season, for a 2.2% rate.)

Since Herbert was a top prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft, I had studied him prior to last season.  With an extra year of playing experience, I was interested to see how my initial observations stood up.  My high level takeaways then were: good speed and athleticism, throwing well on the run, average accuracy and arm strength, inconsistent footwork, positive field and situational awareness, and great pump and play fakes.  Add in elite size at 6060/237 and you can see why I had him atop my rankings.

I’m pleased to share that I was much more impressed with Herbert’s arm strength and accuracy when I watched his 2018 film against Stanford and Arizona State.  His ball placement, especially against Stanford, was impeccable.  There were numerous plays where he led his receiver away from coverage and put the ball in a safe spot away from the defender.  I don’t think his arm strength is his best attribute but it’s above average, at worst.  He’s able to throw short yardage fastballs and has ample power to drive the ball across or down the field.  This play against Stanford was a beautiful illustration of his combination of “arm talent.”  The Cardinal drop into a zone defense so his receiver settles into the void.  Herbert throws the pass with enough touch and enough mustard to get it over the first defender but have it hit the receiver before the converging safety.

In my 2018 study, Herbert’s athleticism factored in frequently.  He’s quick getting out of the pocket, has enough burst for short yardage, and can still throw with accuracy while on the move.  I’m glad I watched the Stanford game because that gameplan featured Herbert as a weapon on the zone read.  He rushed for a few key first downs, including one late in the game that totally fooled the defense (but not the commentators).  I planned on sharing one of those designed runs but instead chose a scramble so I could also touch on Herbert’s pocket presence.  Frankly, he needs to learn to feel the rush better than he did in the two games I watched because he was sacked too many times.  When he does scramble from the pocket he can be dangerous, as seen on this play.  He runs with pace, makes a corner miss and stays in bound long enough for a big gain.

It’s difficult to quantify, but I keep leaving Herbert’s study with the impression that he is composed and situationally aware.  Much of the Oregon offense is predicated on quick passes or zone read running, however when given the chance, Herbert is able to read the field and create extemporaneously.  My favorite of the plays I saw of Herbert was a key play late in the Stanford game where he showed off this composure and experience.  The Ducks were up by three and going for it on 4th and 1 to hopefully seal the game (spoiler alert: the defense let Stanford back in it and the game ultimately went to OT).  The play is busted from the start: either Herbert or the running back mess up the play fake as Herbert starts to roll to his right.  He doesn’t panic and instead waits for his wide receiver, Dillon Mitchell, to uncover.  Mitchell realizes his quarterback is in trouble so he takes a subtle step away from the defense and squares his shoulders to give Herbert a target.  Herbert, running out of field on his half-field read, delivers the ball across his body and Mitchell does the rest.  (The Mitchell touchdown was ultimately called back but Oregon converted on 1st and Goal to take a ten point lead.  In the end, they lost the game but that was more on the defense and a late fumble by a running back than it was on Herbert.  This key play was likely the peak of their win-probability graph for the game).

Justin Herbert ended 2018 as my QB1 for the 2019 NFL Draft class and starts the season as my QB1 again.  Herbert showed me how much he could progress in a season, so I think his decision to return to Oregon for his senior season was a positive one.  He’ll be pushed by Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but I think Herbert’s NFL-worthy combination of size, arm and athleticism will earn him the first overall pick next April.

 

Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

Laviska Shenault is a versatile player who filled a number of roles for the Buffaloes in 2018.  He’s deployed as a wide receiver, h-back and wildcat quarterback and often finds success in each role.  In nine games as a sophomore (he missed three games midseason with a foot injury), Shenault had a receiving line of 86-1,011-6 and a rushing line of 17-115-5.  If he played a full twelve games, that production would extrapolate to 1,501 scrimmage yards, which would have put him near the top of the Pac-12 in overall production.

As a receiver, Shenault shines as a hands-catcher with strong hands that he places well.  After the catch, he is a powerful runner in close quarters and near impossible to tackle.  He also has the acceleration to break away in the open field.  In my opinion, this is what gives him such a high ceiling as a prospect: it’s rare to have such a mix of power and explosion.  This play exemplifies all three points: Shenault catches the ball with his hands, avoids the first tackler, stiff arms the second and then sprints to the end zone.

In addition to using his talents as a receiver, Shenault is a dangerous red zone weapon as a runner.  Four of his five rushing scores came from inside the red zone, and on just seven attempts (RB Travon McMillian also had four but on twenty attempts).  Shenault’s thick lower body and play strength let him succeed in these high-leverage situations near the goal line.  In the below example, Shenault lines up as the wildcat quarterback on 4th and 1 from the 3 yard line.  He’s surely stopped before the line to gain but he keeps his legs churning and keeps moving forward.  He ultimately drags the pile close enough to the end zone so he can reach across for the score.  Wide receivers aren’t supposed to be able to do that!

Shenault is a jack-of-all-trades prospect whose versatility will appeal to NFL teams.  I’m hopeful that the Buffs manage his touches so he can stay healthy for a full season.  It feels like Shenault has Top 50 upside so expect him to be in the first round conversation come 2020.

 

Honorable Mentions

Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State: With the ball in his hands, Benjamin is a dynamic whirling dervish. He’s elusive in the open field by utilizing myriad cuts, jukes and spins. He’s not a power back but does have enough pop to win the extra yard in a one-on-one situation. His blocking definitely needs to improve, as does his decisiveness. It’s great that his feet never stop moving, but in some circumstances, like near the goal line, that can be a liability. Benjamin is a high-volume back who could top his 335 touches from last season (300 rushing attempts, 35 receptions). The Sun Devils offense is bound to look different in 2019 with the departures of QB Manny Wilkins and WR N’Keal Harry so I’m anxious to see what that means for Benjamin. If he approaches 2,000 scrimmage yards again, Benjamin will be a lock to declare for the NFL Draft.

Aaron Fuller, WR, Washington: One of my favorite Twitter follows, Brad Kelly, recently tweeted that he thought Fuller was going to be a Top 10 receiver in the 2020 class.  Even though I didn’t know much about Fuller I thought I should learn more and include him in this preview, Brad being the receiver guru and all.  Fuller led the Huskies in receiving last season with a 58-874-4 line.  His highlights feature a few spectacular one-handed catches that would be enough to get attention on their own.  What also caught my eye was how well Fuller tracks the ball.  His reels are littered with high-arcing deep balls which he’s able to bring in despite defensive distractions.  Fuller is quick and can be a handful after the catch: he reportedly ran a 4.36 coming out of high school and ran a 4.45 at last year’s Huskies Combine event.  If he continues to progress, I can see Fuller as a starting NFL slot receiver.

Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington: Bryant is a ballyhooed tight end prospect who garnered attention as a true freshman for the Huskies. He’s listed at 6020/241, short for a tight end, and looks lighter to my eye. I watched some of his 2018 Ohio State tape and some highlights to get a feel for both his ability as a receiver and as a blocker. He’s been gifted with great hands and is a bear to tackle. However, he’s lacking as a blocker; he was frequently knocked back at the point of contact by Buckeye DBs. Injuries have impacted Bryant’s first two seasons, perhaps a combination of his size and playing style, limiting him to just fourteen games and 33 receptions. I know he will be a popular name this draft season but for a number of reasons I’m not ready to buy in yet.

Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford: Like Bryant, Parkinson is a similarly unknown commodity at the tight end position. In Stanford’s offense last season, Parkinson played more of a big-receiver role than an in-line role, at least in the mid-season film I checked against Washington. When I say “big-receiver,” I mean it: Parkinson checks in at 6070/240 with room to add more heft. His size makes him a redzone threat and a difficult assignment for smaller corners. I didn’t see many plays where Parkinson was tasked with blocking but from the few times I did see him blocking downfield, I believe he’ll at least be a functional in-line blocker. If his four touchdown game against Oregon State is any indication, we could be looking at a defensive-gameplan-out-the-window type of player.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper