The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part III

Updated: December 22nd 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 observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout bowl season as The Watch List will preview every game and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

First Responder Bowl, Boston College (7-5) vs Boise State (10-3), Wed 12/26 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
    • Stop me if you’ve heard this before… the 2019 quarterback class is one of the weakest in the last decade. Because of that position scarcity, mediocre quarterbacks will find their draft stock waxing. Rypien is better than mediocre so it’s inevitable that he’s overdrafted. When I watched him in the preseason, I came away with a positive impression but was not blown away. He’s been a four-year starter for a successful Boise State team (although he lost some starter’s snaps in 2017). He is average in size (6020/202) but has a strong enough arm. In my notes I questioned his touch near the end zone and his ability to feel the blindside rush. Compared to 2017, Rypien improved his rate stats and ended with a very good 3,705-30-7 line. His 2018 performance was enough to earn him MWC Offensive Player of the Year honors. If I had to guess right now, I would say that Rypien gets drafted on Day Two which makes him a possible target for you in your 2019 rookie drafts.
  • My Pick: Boise State, -3
    • Is it possible that Boston College would have a better shot in this one if star RB AJ Dillon sat out due to his lingering injuries? That might sound crazy but it might be true because the strength of Boise’s defense is against the run (ranked 22nd). Boston College QB Anthony Brown has shown some flashes in the games I’ve watched but Rypien is the far better signal caller. Expect the defense to keep it low scoring (the last five Boise State games have gone under) and for Rypien to manage the game and milk the Broncos time of possession advantage.

Quick Lane Bowl, Minnesota (6-6) vs Georgia Tech (7-5), Wed 12/26 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
    • I’ve had Tyler Johnson on my watch list for awhile now but I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to dive in. Despite being a Big Ten apologist, I think I went the entire regular season without watching a snap of the Gophers. Johnson ranked second in the conference with 1,112 yards and added 10 TDs. His 74 receptions was more than double his output in 2017 which is a sign of positive progression. I watched two of Johnson’s game from 2017 and was disappointed.  He predominantly lines up outside but I don’t think he’ll have the size or strength to do so in the NFL.  His hands were inconsistent (too many drops, too often let the ball get into his body) and he did not succeed enough in contested situations. I haven’t seen anything definitive about whether Johnson will declare early (he probably will) but I think he’d be better served from another season at Minnesota.
  • My Pick: Georgia Tech, -5.5
    • This is one of the bigger numbers we’ve seen so far. I’ll lean towards Georgia Tech solely because of the novelty of their offense. Minnesota has more time to prepare than for a regular season game but even if they slow the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack they will still control the game and put up points. Tech leads the FBS in rushing yards per game (335.0) by a whopping margin (38.7 yards per game more than 2nd ranked Army). Minnesota’s rush defense is a middling 76th best. Even though they lost RB KirVonte Benson early in the year, Georgia Tech still managed to finish with seven rushers over 200 yards each. Tech will roll.

Cheez-It Bowl, TCU (6-6) vs Cal (7-5), Wed 12/26 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Ben Banogu, DE, TCU
    • Banogu is a former transfer from Louisiana-Monroe who joined TCU in 2017 and factored in immediately. His 2017 and 2018 lines are remarkably similar: 55-16.5-8.5 and 52-17.0-7.5. Banogu is well built as listed 6040/249 but I fear those numbers may be inflated.  When I watched his tape against Oklahoma from this season he looked slight.  Granted, my exposure was limited to that one game against a team with a good offensive line, but in that film he lacked the play strength and power moves to make an impact at the next level.  When he does impact the play it’s because of his raw speed rather than technique or strength. I also noticed two missed tackles and a play where he lost contain which led to a touchdown. My initial gut reaction is that Banogu is somebody who will be overdrafted based on production and measureables but struggle to find a role as anything but a situational speed rusher.
  • My Pick: Cal, +2
    • Blah. I’m not sure about other college football fans but I am just finding it impossible to get excited about this one. Vegas felt the same because the game opened even. Since then it’s moved towards TCU being the favorite even though they are 4-8 ATS. Cal isn’t much better (6-5-1) but OddsShark.com has them winning by nearly seven. This looks to be a game where casual fans are taking TCU for the recent name recognition and you can get a bargain with Cal at +2.

Independence Bowl, Temple (8-4) vs Duke (7-5), Thur 12/27 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
    • Jones is one of the more polarizing quarterback prospects in the weak 2019 class. I started the season with Jones as my QB2 (behind Herbert) but would probably bump him down a bit if I were ranking today (at least behind Haskins too). Jones has a lot to improve upon, namely his touch and accuracy, but he has physical tools that others don’t. He has good size at 6050/220, is a productive runner (16 career rushing TDs) and throws well on the run. Unfortunately, Jones has been battling injuries and his status for this one is up in the air. He showed immense toughness by coming back from an in-season broken clavicle so I would not count him out. If he does not play, keep an eye on the status of Temple RB Ryquell Armstead. He’s also banged up and may not play. If he does, you could get a glimpse of an interesting prospect. If the name sounds familiar it’s because he rushed for four scores against Boston College and another six against Houston.
  • My Pick: Duke, +3.5
    • With both teams missing key offensive pieces, I’ll take the points. Duke is better than Temple when it comes to turnovers and penalties which could be the edge in a game I expect to be pretty boring and low scoring. Duke is 5-0 ATS this season when receiving points so this one feels like a safe, but small, bet.

Pinstripe Bowl, Wisconsin (7-5) vs Miami (7-5), Thur 12/27 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami
    • Picking a draft eligible player was tough for this one because both teams have so many guys who will get drafted who casual fans just won’t pay attention to.  Wisconsin could have four offensive linemen drafted in the first 100 picks and the same could be said for Miami’s defense.  I settled on Johnson because he’s somebody I have mentioned in the past and have some familiarity with.  Johnson’s stats decreased this season due to missing time with a hamstring injury but he was still productive and led the team in tackles (79).  He also has 7 career INTs and a combined 9 forced and recovered fumbles.  He’s listed at 5110/190 which is a bit small for a physical box safety.  In the last three draft classes, only one safety (Justin Evans, 198) was drafted in the first three rounds at less than 200lbs.  I watched Johnson’s tape against Boston College and he definitely profiles more as a strong safety than a free safety.  He frequently lines up near the line of scrimmage or over a slot receiver and rarely in deep coverage.  He’s good in run support with no qualms about flowing to the ball carrier despite his smaller frame.  Johnson has first round potential so keep an eye on him in this one against the run-first Badgers.
  • My Pick: Wisconsin, +3.5
    • These two teams matched up less than a year ago in the Orange Bowl.  That one went Wisconsin’s way with a final of 34-24.  I see a similar outcome for the 2018 rendition.  The key will be Wisconsin’s rushing attack with RB Jonathan Taylor and that brick-wall offensive line.  Miami’s 24th ranked rushing defense allows just 127.3 yards so something’s gotta give and I expect it’ll be them.  I’ve been hard on Miami since their undefeated run to start 2017 so I admit this pick may be jaded.  I would take the Badgers on the moneyline so the 3.5 is just gravy.

Texas Bowl, Baylor (6-6) vs Vanderbilt (6-6), Thur 12/27 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
    • Mims will be an interesting prospect for 2019 because he has an excellent combination of size and speed.  The question will be whether his strength and technique can improve enough in the offseason to make him the complete package at receiver.  Mims is listed at 6030/208 and is a former track star in high school.  I found a high school track stat site that list listed Mims’ personal best in the 100-meter dash as 10.88 seconds.  That would equate to 4.01 seconds for a 40-yard dash.  Certainly the races aren’t the same and you can’t just apply that simple math but my point is that this dude is quick.  I’d love to see even bigger production from Mims (110 receptions, 1,786 yards and 16 TDs over the last two seasons) but the numbers are good enough.  I watched his 2017 tape against Oklahoma and I came away impressed.  He showed an ability to hands-catch the ball away from his body, excellent body control and leaping ability.  Mims alone might turn this game into a must-watch for me.
  • My Pick: Baylor, +4.5
    • The safest bet in this one might actually be the under because both teams have gone under in their last three.  When I’m stuck between two medicore teams, I’ll usually lean towards the better offense.  Baylor leads Vandy in most offensive categories, most importantly: points and time of possession.  Thursday would be a good time to plan some time with the family because you can record the game and fast forward to Baylor’s offensive possessions for some Mims exposure.

Music City Bowl, Auburn (7-5) vs Purdue (6-6), Fri 12/28 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
    • Stidham certainly won’t be the best pro prospect on the field in this one but his is an interesting story.  I’ve previously compared Stidham to Alex Smith because he had the feel of a future game manager with enough athleticism to make plays with his legs in clutch situations.  Unfortunately, Stidham struggled in 2018.  His completion percentage, yards per attempt, rating and ratio all decreased significantly from 2017.  Similarly, he was less effective as a runner (and was sacked more frequently).  Stidham has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl so he’ll have two more shots to show scouts that his issues were more a product of the Auburn offense than he himself.
  • My Pick: Purdue, +3.5
    • Similary to the Texas Bowl, I’ll take Purdue and the points because they have the better O.  Specifically, the Boilermakers will feature the game’s biggest playmaker in WR Rondale Moore.  Moore earned consensus All-American honors earlier this month, the first freshman to do so since Adrian Peterson in 2004.  Moore ended with 121 touches for 1,367 yards and 13 TDs: just awesome.  It’s probably not best to bet a game based on one player’s potential performance but ultimately betting is entertainment for me and there’s nobody more entertaining in college football right now than Rondale Moore.

Camping World Bowl, Syracuse (9-3) vs West Virginia (9-3), Fri 12/28 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: David Sills, WR, West Virginia
    • Since his quarterback (Will Grier) is sitting out the game, I expect Sills to be a focal point of the broadcast. He has a very interesting backstory, he was recruited by Lane Kiffin as a middle school quarterback, and has been uber productive. Sills proved to be a red zone monster in 2017 by leading the FBS in receiving touchdowns with 18 (12 of which came in the red zone). He nearly duplicated the feat in 2018 by catching 15 more (9). Sills is listed at 6040 but he feels bigger than that because he is long and lean. I’d like to see him add a few pounds to his 210lb frame in order to withstand the abuse that a boundary receiver endures in the NFL. Sills may not get the hype of some of the top receivers in this outstanding class but he will certainly be productive in the pros.
  • My Pick: Syracuse, +1.5
    • The Orange have been a good story this season and I’m thinking there’s a good chance it continues in the Camping World Bowl. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey is one of my favorite players so it’s a shame he is so often injured. It appears that he’s healthy enough now so ‘Cuse should have the edge under center with draft hopeful Will Grier preserving himself. Dungey himself could get late round or priority UDFA consideration despite the injuries. Syracuse has the nation’s 12th ranked offense (40.8 points per game) and should overpower the Mountaineers.

Alamo Bowl, Iowa State (8-4) vs Washington State (10-2), Fri 12/28 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State
    • I’ve developed a soft spot for David Montgomery. He might have the best highlight reels of anybody in the draft class and seems like a good kid from what I’ve seen in profiles. Back in 2017, I figured it would be between he and WR N’Keal Harry for the 2019 1.01 spot. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to explain away Montgomery’s limitations by pointing to his flashy plays. Montgomery lacks top-end or long speed (I expect him to run in the 4.50-4.60 range). He also gets stuffed in the backfield or for no gain too often which makes me question his vision at the line of scrimmage. This observation is borne out in the stats too: his career average of 4.7 yards per carry is low for somebody considered the best of the bunch. Montgomery does have fantastic contact balance and can break tackles. He caught 18 balls in 2018 but showed in 2017 that he can be a bigger part of the passing game (36 receptions). One interesting thing I noticed while watching him is a spin move that he utilizes sometimes when catching the ball out of the backfield. It forces the first defender to miss and can lead to big plays.
  • My Pick: Washington State, -3.5
    • I’ve been rooting for both of these underdog teams all season so I’m looking forward to see them face off in this bowl. The outcome will be decided by the Washington State passing offense vs the Iowa State passing defense. Wazzou paced the FBS in passing offense (379.8 yards per game), led by QB Gardner Minshew who quietly finished 5th in Heisman voting, Meanwhile the Cyclones rank 63rd in passing defense (228.8). It’ll be close late but I think Washington State is good enough to continue to win ATS (10-2 this season).

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/11.

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

The Watch List: 2018 Week 3 Preview

Updated: September 15th 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. 

Games to Watch

  • #5 Oklahoma at Iowa State, 12:00pm, ABC:  The 2017 version of this matchup was possibly my most memorable game of the season.  David Montgomery was a constant threat out of the backfield, LB Joel Lanning filled in at QB, Allen Lazard caught a contested game-winner, Baker Mayfield scored 3 total TDs and Trey Sermon had a breakout game on national television.  The fact that the Cyclones stole the W made it even more satisfying as a fan.  A number of the stars from that game have moved on but we’ll still see some solid play on the ground with Montgomery, Sermon and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray.  Against Iowa last week, Montgomery played to his doubters, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on 17 totes.  Through two games the Sooners are allowing more than 130 yards per game so I expect Montgomery to improve.  Sermon and Murray have combined for 174 yards and 3 scores thus far.  The onus will fall on them now that starting RB Rodney Anderson is out for the year.  (By the way, I was so disappointed to hear the Anderson news.  I was ready to peg him as my RB1 for the 2019 class.)
  • UC Davis at #9 Stanford, 2:00pm, PAC-12 Network: I talked about Stanford last week so I’m not going to rehash their players to watch.  This matchup is interesting because it will give us a spotlight game for UC Davis WR Keelan Doss.  Doss, who dominated the FCS last season, started the season strong with 11 receptions and 85 yards in a victory over San Jose State of the FBS.  I studied Doss in the preseason and noted that he uses his 6030/209 size to dominate smaller corners.  He is elite at the catch point with strong hands.  This matchup will mean a lot for his NFL Draft stock.  (Update:  Bryce Love has been ruled out for the game.)
  • #12 LSU at #7 Auburn, 3:30pm, CBS: I see this game finishing 15-9 and being a defensive classic.  Combined, the two defenses gave up 33 points to their opening weekend opponents, both of which were ranked in the top ten.  The game is also worth watching because it will feature two potential first rounders in LSU LB Devin White and Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham.  Stidham had a great game against Washington, completing 72.2% of his passes for 273 yards and a score.  White meanwhile is making his case to be the first inside linebacker off the board with 19 tackles through the first two games.  We’ll have to keep an eye on his interest to declare early, one article I found was not sure he’d make the leap early.  The winner of this one will be in the driver seat to compete against Alabama for the SEC West crown.
  • #17 Boise State at #24 Oklahoma State, 3:30pm, ESPN:  If you like points, tune into this matchup at 3:30pm instead.  Boise and OK State are 5th and 8th in points per game (117.5 combined).  In addition to being entertaining, the game will feature a few notable draft prospects.  On the Bronco side, we have QB Brett Rypien and RB Alexander Mattison.  RB Justice Hill is the player to watch for the Cowboys.  Hill hasn’t been involved in the passing game yet (just 2 receptions) and that was one of the things buoying his stock.  Now that he’ll be facing a worthy foe, I am hopeful that Hill will get more work.
  • #4 Ohio State at #15 TCU, 8:00pm, ABC:  I’m really not sure what to make of the Buckeyes yet this season.  That seems crazy to say when you consider they have outscored two Power 5 opponents 129-34 this year but neither Oregon State or Rutgers truly provided a test.  When you factor in all of the off-field drama it’s tough to forecast where this squad will end up in three months.  TCU started slow against SMU but ended up with a 42-12 victory.  The Horned Frogs’ defense is ranked sixth in yards allowed this year (they finished 19th last year so it’s not a fluke) and will be a tougher adversary for Ohio State.  Unsurprisingly, Ohio State’s backfield trio of QB Dwayne Haskins and RBs Mike Weber and JK Dobbins are succeeding so far.  Weber and Dobbins have combined for 364 yards, 4 TDs through two weeks.  TCU’s Shawn Robinson has also been productive, albeit more so on the ground than the air.  Robinson has 328 yards passing, 4 TDs and 1 INT plus 112 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs.  I’ll be keeping an eye on Ohio State’s aggressive defensive line to see how well they can keep Robinson in the pocket.  We know DE Nick Bosa is a generational pass rusher and it looks like sophomore Chase Young isn’t too shabby himself (he had a great strip sack against Rutgers that was ultimately reversed on replay).  If the pass rush gets too far up field and Robinson escapes he’ll be the difference maker in a close one.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins earned the starting job this Spring and his play so far has proved that he was the best option for the Buckeyes for 2018.  He’s completing 79.2% of his passes and has tossed 9 TDs to just 1 INT.  In limited duty in 2017, Haskins was nearly as efficient with the ball so I don’t think his successes are a factor of the weak foes he’s faced.  Haskins is a redshirt sophomore so there’s no guarantee he declares after this season but if he continues to play well, I would expect him to give the NFL a go a la Cardale Jones.
  • Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin:  Unfortunately for fantasy players, but thankfully for college football fans, Taylor is not draft eligible after this season.  So, I won’t give him the full treatment this season but his stats warrant mention.  Taylor totaled 1,977-13 last season and is on pace to blow away those marks.  He started well against Western Kentucky with 145-2 and somehow improved against New Mexico with 253-3.  Taylor is an electrifying combination of size, speed and elusiveness.  He’ll be coming out in a crowded 2020 running back class so it remains to be seen how high he’ll climb but he has 1.01 potential.
  • Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State:  Washington is the heir to the San Diego State rushing title throne.  Prior to him, Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny both led the FBS in rushing in their senior seasons.  Washington, just a junior, is already off to a great start with 314 yards and 4 TDs.  158 of those yards came against a solid Stanford defense.  Washington is diminutive (5070/190) but runs with enough power to be effective in short yardage situations.  He runs with a shiftiness and quickness that you’d expect of somebody his size.  Tarik Cohen would be an easy comparison based on size but it’s important to realize that Washington is nowhere near as accomplished as a receiver (just 9 career receptions).  Washington is an experienced returner who brought three kicks back in his career.  His return ability should earn him an NFL nod but some proof that he is worthy of passing down work would make him a fantasy consideration.

Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

  • Listed at 6040/210  per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Hawaii 2018
  • 2017: Redshirt after transferring (16 receptions, 247 yards and 2 TDs in 7 games with Tennessee in 2015-2016)
  • 2018: 3 games, 27 receptions, 391 yards, 4 TDs

Williams is an interesting NFL Draft prospect who wasn’t really on my radar this offseason.  I had heard the name numerous times on SiriusXM’s ESPNU radio but I didn’t follow through with any research.  Now that Williams has excelled to start the season, it was time to dive in.

Before we look at Williams’ stats and film, let’s discuss his background.  Williams is a former 5-star recruit who chose Tennessee over numerous top schools (i.e. Alabama, Clemson, Auburn).  When he decided to transfer, it was rumored that he could join Miami, Cal or UCLA.  Ultimately he chose Colorado State because he had relationships with some of the Rams coaches.  Before he took his first snap for CSU, Williams was suspended indefinitely for an altercation with his girlfriend (he shoved her when she was trying to move out).  Williams pleaded guilty, is no longer facing legal ramifications and was reinstated to the team before their first game.

On the field it’s clear that Williams needs some seasoning but there were a few plays that showcased his ability and got me excited.  He appears slow out of his breaks and does not seem to have the violent, fast-twitch movement you would want from your receiver off the snap.  Williams lines up all over the field which is a good sign for his versatility to fit into an NFL scheme.  I don’t see enough from him as a route runner yet.  To my eye, it seems like he’s coasting, knowing that his physical gifts can bail him out of situations.  He does let the ball get into his body but when he attacks it with his hands, he can make good fingertip catches.  On the two below plays, Williams tracks the ball, makes an adjustment and catches it with his fingertips.

As you can see in the first clip above, Williams does have some ability after the catch.  He’s not very fast, probably in the 4.55-4.60 range, but he has a long stride and runs with strength and determination.  He showed this perfectly later in the Hawaii game:

It’s a shame he wasn’t able to hit paydirt on that one but the play is still very instructive.  He uses a combination of acceleration, field awareness and power moves to stay in bounds and shed tacklers for extra yardage.  Honestly, it was the play that made me decide to feature him here.

Williams lit up Hawaii to start the season for 9-188-2.  What’s more impressive is that he followed up that effort with solid games against Power 5 opponents.  In those games against Colorado and Arkansas, Williams totaled 18-203-2.  Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a Colorado State receiver is racking up the yards because the Rams have produced two mid-round NFL prospects over the last few years in Rashard Higgins (5th round) and Michael Gallup (3rd round).  Williams will be hoping to continue the trend.  Williams only has 43 career receptions so this may be a bit premature but I think he has the pedigree and athletic ability to earn himself a mid- to late-round draft grade if he keeps up his statistical pace and comes out in 2019.

 


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

The Watch List: 2018 Big Ten Preview

Updated: September 4th 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:  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin. My top Heisman pick is usually the conference’s top dual-threat quarterback but without a dominant one in the Big Ten, I am going with the machine that is Taylor. As a true freshman, Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 TDs, numbers he’ll surely beat this year behind a dominant Badger line. Taylor finished 6th in Heisman voting last year so it’s a good bet that he moves closer to the prize this year.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State.  The more likely quarterback candidate is McSorley but you’ll get far better odds on Haskins.  Haskins won the job in the Spring and has a lot to prove while taking over for long-time leader JT Barrett. He’s not the rushing threat that Barrett was but he has a bigger arm. A season with 3,500 total yards and 30 total TDs may be asking a lot for a new starter but it’d be enough to put Haskins on a few Heisman ballots if the Buckeyes make the CFP.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin. It’s impossible for me to pick anybody else here. Taylor will lead the conference in scrimmage yards and scores so let’s not get cute.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State. I went with the chalk pick for Offensive Player of the Year but I’m skipping the skilled pass rushers for this one. Instead, I am going with do-everything linebacker Joe Bachie from Michigan State. He won’t be a sexy name for draftniks but he was undeniably productive in his first full season as a Spartan. He totaled 100 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan. It’s rare for somebody of Patterson’s caliber to transfer and to be immediately eligible so it was a big story all offseason long. Patterson is a former 5-star recruit who was the top ranked pro-style quarterback in his class according to 247Sports.com. He’s a few years older now, and coming off a knee injury, but Michigan fans are optimistic because that position has struggled under coach Jim Harbaugh.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State.  Dobbins pulled a Wally Pipp and stole the Buckeyes starting role from Mike Weber while Weber was slowed by injury.  Heading into the opener, the running back situation was unclear but Dobbins clarified things real quick with 29 carries and 181 yards.  He wouldn’t surpass 18 carries again but he still produced, finishing with 1,403 yards and 7 TDs.  He also added 22 receptions.  To my eye, Dobbins looks smaller than his listed 5010/214 frame but he proved he can be durable and run with power.  The 2020 running back class is looking historic with players like Dobbins, Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor and AJ Dillon.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Tracy McSorley and Juwan Johnson, Penn State. Considering what Penn State lost to the NFL this season, it’s amazing I even considered them for this spot. McSorley has lost 164 receptions, 2,052 yards and 21 TDs in the departing trio of WR Daesean Hamilton, TE Mike Gesicki and RB Saquon Barkley. McSorley is still going to sling it and I expect junior Juwan Johnson to be the beneficiary. Johnson was overshadowed last season but still grabbed 53 balls for 701 yards and a score. He’ll be the team’s leading receiver in 2018 and forms a strong battery with McSorley. (Honorable mention: Brian Lewerke and Felton Davis from Michigan State)
  • Best RB Corps:  Ohio State. The combination of JK Dobbins and Mike Weber paced the conference in rushing last year (with the help of QB JT Barrett). Ohio State ran the ball very well, averaging 243.4 yards per game, the league best. For comparison, Wisconsin averaged 223.2 and was the only other team above 200; Minnesota, who ranked third, was more than 60 yards worse than Ohio State. 2,500 combined scrimmage yards and 20 TDs for Dobbins and Weber is not as crazy as it sounds.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. It would be easy to go with Urban Meyer here but too much digital ink has already been spilled on that situation. Instead, I think the hottest seat belongs to Harbaugh. I don’t think there’s any way UM would fire him but instead I can foresee a situation where he “resigns” after a disappointing season. Harbaugh was supposed to be a savior, and while he has improved things post Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, Michigan still feels second-class to Ohio State. The only Ws that matter for coaches of the Wolverines are national championship wins and Ohio State wins; Harbaugh doesn’t have either. I doubt Michigan contends for the playoff so it’ll come down to The Game.

Teams to Watch

 Penn State (11-2 in 2017)

I know, I’m crazy. Penn State finished the regular season at 10-2 last year and won the Fiesta Bowl over Washington. You’ll struggle to find a college football fan who would take the over on those ten regular season wins but I would consider taking the bet. There’s no doubt the Nittany Lions have lost a lot (see above) but sometimes in college football it comes down to has the best quarterback. I don’t think McSorley is the best pro prospect of the conference but he’ll be the most productive and that’s what matters right now. When I picked the winner of every game this preseason (yes, every game) I unexpectedly landed on Penn State at 11-1. When I laid out the CFP with my predicted results, I landed on Penn State beating Oklahoma in the semi-final and losing to Alabama in the championship. This is me calling my shot, don’t @ me if I’m wrong!

 Iowa (8-5 in 2017)

Iowa is another Big Ten team I predict will improve even after a successful bowl-winning season last year. Iowa made it to eight wins by virtue of their Pinstripe Bowl victory and I think they should set their sights on a bigger bowl now. QB Nate Stanley returns and will improve. His top two targets last season, WR Nick Easley (51-530-4) and TE Noah Fant (30-494-11), are also back for this campaign. It’s a good thing the offense will be strong because, even though the Hawkeyes return eight on defense, they lose their best two in Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson. Iowa has three winnable home non-conference games (Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa) and avoids three of the East’s heavyweights in the cross-over games (they draw Penn State and Maryland, skipping Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State). I think the schedule sets up for a shot at a nine win season.

Players to Watch

Unfortunately, the end of this offseason got away from me a bit so I didn’t end up having the time to do a deep film study of three Big Ten players like I have for the other conferences. Rest assured readers, I have written up a super-sized version of my “honorable mentions” section for you so you can be prepared with the conference’s biggest names. For what it’s worth, the three players I was going to spotlight were McSorley, Davis and Fant. Much of the Big Ten’s top NFL Draft talent resides on the offensive and defensive lines so it will be interesting to see which skill position players flourish this year.  Here are my picks for the top players to watch in the Big Ten this season:

Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan: Head coach Jim Harbaugh has received a pass on some of his recent disappointing seasons because he rarely had great quarterback play. Enter Shea Patterson. Patterson transferred from the sinking ship that was Ole Miss and was granted immediate eligibility. I have not seen enough of Patterson to truly evaluate his NFL prospects but, judging by the rankings on Draft Network, he could be a top ten player at the position in this class. He’s listed at 6020/205 and suffered a torn PCL last year which makes me worry, as a Wolverines fan, that he may not make it through the full season. When Patterson was on the field last season, he was efficient (63.8% completion percentage and 151.5 rating). Michigan fans have high hopes for Patterson and I’m cautiously optimistic but I can’t help but think that backup Brandon Peters is the better option.

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Haskins outlasted Joe Burrow, who transferred to LSU, to win the Buckeyes’ starting gig this season. Haskins may be a familiar name to fans because he subbed in for JT Barrett last season against Michigan. He played well (6-7 for 94 yards and 24 yards rushing) and led Ohio State to a W. Haskins also played in mop-up duty in a few other games and finished the season with a 70.2% completion percentage and a passer rating of 173.1. It’s a small sample size but as a freshman it was enough to feel comfortable with him as the starter heading into 2018.  With all of the negativity surrounding the program recently, it will be fun to root for the new guy in Haskins.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: McSorley has a swagger and confidence that exudes from his pores the second he steps on the field. His four touchdown outing against USC in the 2016 Rose Bowl stands out in my memory because he made both plays and mistakes. Thankfully, McSorley’s accuracy improved in 2017 which was a good sign (57.9% to 66.5%). He’s small at 6000/200 but still runs the ball often.  In 2017 he rushed 144 times for 491 yards and 11 TDs. He’s probably too small and raw to draft high but it’s tough to argue with his intangibles and production. McSorley is somebody on my list to give a thorough viewing this offseason.

LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State: Scott is a player that I won’t own on any of my fantasy teams in 2019. However, he’s going to get drafted because of his 6010/229 size, so he warrants a mention in this preview. Scott earned the most carries and receptions of his career in 2017 but both his rushing and receiving yards decreased. His yards per touch shrunk significantly: from 5.88 to 4.72. A worrying sign was that Scott was a healthy scratch in a game after he returned from injury; he dressed but never saw the field. As I wrote about in December, he has been charged SEVEN times for driving with a suspended license. In a sport where there’s much worse going on, it’s hard to come down on a player for driving with a suspended license but c’mon you need to learn your lesson sooner or later.

Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State: Talk about playing “second fiddle.” Miles Sanders, a former 5-star recruit, backed up the phenom named Saquon Barkley for two years. Over those two seasons, Sanders totaled just 56 carries and 375 yards and 3 scores. In 2018 he finally gets his chance to prove that he can be the lead back. At 5110/209 he could put on a few pounds, which I’m sure he will. Since he played so sparingly there’s a dearth of film out there so I can’t reliably comment on his strengths or weaknesses. If I had to guess I’ll predict that Sanders returns for his senior season but we should pay attention now because I predict the Nittany Lions will have a great season.

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State: As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Weber led the Buckeyes in rushing with 1,096 yards. Expectations were high heading into 2017 but Weber battled injury and lost the RB1 spot to true freshman JK Dobbins. Weber still managed 720 yards on 111 touches and had 10 rushing TDs. His best stretch of the year came against Michigan State and Illinois where he rushed for 270-4. What’s most reassuring about those two big games is that Dobbins played in both so that’s proof that they can co-exist in the offense. With JT Barrett gone and first-year starter Dwayne Haskins taking over, I expect Urban Meyer to lean on his running backs.

Felton Davis, WR, Michigan State: Davis checks in at 6040/195 and looks every bit of that length in highlights. He has the strength and body control you’d hope for from a big target around the sideline. His 55-776-9 led all Spartan receivers in each category. Hopefully QB Brian Lewerke continues to mature in his second season as the starter so both of their NFL Draft stocks improve.

Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana:  Westbrook missed the 2017 season after tearing his ACL on the opening kickoff in last season’s opener against Ohio State.  In 2016 he grabbed 54 balls for 995 yards and 6 TDs as a sophomore.  The Hoosiers lost Simmie Cobbs so there’s a void to fill and Westbrook’s 6030/215 frame can fill it.

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: Fant is on the short list for the top TE spot in 2018 after he had a 30-494-11 line in 2017. He was second on the squad in receptions and yards and first in scores and his connection with junior QB Nate Stanley will only improve now that they both have a full season behind them. His size is a bit of a concern because he’s listed at 6050/241; for comparison, Evan Engram was 6030/234 at his combine. Since he’s undersized it remains to be seen how Fant will hold up at the end of an NFL line of scrimmage. Even if he fails to prove his worth as a blocker, Fant should factor in as a second or third round rookie for fantasy purposes next year if he comes out.

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Bosa is one of those college prospects that feels like he’s been on my NFL Draft radar forever. It’s been a long first two years for Bosa but he’s finally draft eligible and I’m not sure there’s another underclassmen who is as much of a lock to turn pro as he. Bosa, as you may have guessed, is the younger brother of San Diego Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa. Bosa the younger plays a similar game to that of his brother and has a career total of 63 tackles, 23.0 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Since he’s played on such dominant defenses and receives so much attention those good-not-great stats belie his true impact. Look for Bosa to be in the conversation for the first overall pick next year.

Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan: Gary’s draft stock seems to be fluctuating in recent months but I bet come April he’s near the top of DT rankings again. Gary totaled 58 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017 as a sophomore. Reportedly, he ran a 4.57 40 yard dash last year which would be incredible if true; the fastest 40 yard dash at the 2018 combine by anybody 280+ was 4.75. Gary’s combination of size and speed that makes it tough to categorize him as either a DT or DE and I expect that’s why some have hesitated in their evaluation. At 280lbs he doesn’t have prototypical tackle size but his speed and pass rushing is that of an end. I expect him to start his NFL career switching between the two, playing outside on run downs and inside on pass downs.


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 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
  • 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

The Watch List: Bowl Game Previews, Part V

Updated: December 30th 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. 29

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Arizona State (7-5) vs. #24 North Carolina State (8-4), 2 p.m. (CBS)

  • Arizona State: 40th scoring offense, 49th passing offense, 50th rushing offense; 88th scoring defense, 119th passing defense, 82nd rushing defense
  • NC State: 47th scoring offense, 29nd passing offense, 51st rushing offense; 50th scoring defense, 97th passing defense, 29th rushing defense

Both of these teams have endured some coaching carousel drama over the last month.  NC State’s Dave Doeren was an early target in Tennessee’s never-ending coach search but ultimately he spurned the Vols to stick with the Wolfpack.  Doeren has NC State playing in their fourth straight bowl and should the team stay competitive next year he’ll probably be in the running for an even bigger job at the end of 2018.  Arizona State made the odd, in my opinion, hire of Herm Edwards.  Herm is a master motivator for sure but Herm has not been involved with the college game since 1989.  Even more odd is that outgoing coach Todd Graham is sticking around to coach the bowl.

Arizona State’s offense is led by two NFL hopefuls in senior RB Kalen Ballage and sophomore WR N’Keal Harry.  Ballage is a big back at 6’3″ and 230lbs.  His size concerns me because few backs have been successful in the NFL at that height.  Since 2010, only four backs have measured 6’2″ and 225lbs or bigger at the combine: Derrick Henry, Matt Jones, Dominique Brown and James Wilder.  Henry has potential but he has not yet earned the starting role in Tennessee and teams may be hesitant to roll the dice on a big back like Ballage.  Ballage has not handled a full load in any of his four seasons but he is a productive pass catcher (44 receptions in 2016, 19 this year).  His high number of carries came this year with 153.  He has under 2,000 yards in his career.  I’m just not able to get that excited about him, honestly.  I have read comparisons to David Johnson but I think that is crazy: Johnson was more than twice as productive in most stat categories in college.  Ballage will get drafted in fantasy leagues but it won’t be by me.  The other big name for the Sun Devils is WR N’Keal Harry.  Harry is not draft eligible so it’s not worth a deep dive yet but you will hear his name constantly next season.  He has elite height (6’4″) and has been very productive as a young receiver on a mediocre team (career line of 131-1,659-12).  Add Harry to your 2019 short list now!

North Carolina State has three draft prospects that I will touch on.  First and foremost is DE Bradley Chubb.  I mentioned Chubb a few times in the middle of the season when NC State was looking like it could challenge Clemson for the conference title.  He has 25 sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss in his career.  Chubb is relentless and should be a Top 5 pick in the NFL Draft.  Sadly, he’s banged up and may miss the bowl game.  On offense, QB Ryan Finley and TE Jaylen Samuels are the two to watch.  Samuels is one of my favorite players of the season because he transcends position.  He is listed as a TE but he’s really too small to play the position in the NFL.  Instead he’ll probably factor in as a hybrid RB, FB, TE who lines up all over the field.  To give you an idea of Samuels’ versatility, look at his 2017 stats: 68 receptions, 547 receiving yards, 4 rushing TDs, 72 rushing attempts, 387 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs.  Samuels was the only player in the FBS with more than 65 receptions and rushing attempts.  More so than any other prospect, Samuels’ 2018 fantasy value relies heavily on his landing spot.  If he gets drafted by a team with a creative offense he could turn into the ultimate third down and short yardage weapon.  Finley is a late round quarterback prospect that is hard for me to get excited about.  He should add a few pounds to his 6’4″ frame because he’s listed at just 210lbs and may be lighter.  He’s efficient and does not turn the ball over often.  Finley does have another year of eligibility so we could see him come back for another season to improve his draft stock.  WalterFootball.com has him as QB16 for 2018 while NFLDraftScout.com has him as QB14 in his 2019 class.  If he can show a more prolific side to his game in 2018, he could become a mid-rounder next year.

Even if it weren’t for the Sun Devils coaching distractions, I would have gone for NC State because Arizona State’s defense is so bad.  Prediction: North Carolina State

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, #8 USC (11-2) vs. #5 Ohio State (11-2), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • USC: 24th scoring offense, 19th passing offense, 36th rushing offense; 61st scoring defense, 98th passing defense, 57th rushing defense
  • Ohio State: 5th scoring offense, 28th passing offense, 13th rushing offense; 22nd scoring defense, 18th passing defense, 7th rushing defense

I don’t care what the name of this bowl is, it’s the Rose Bowl to me.  I hate the fact that with the new CFP we lose the historical tradition of some of the biggest games.  The folks running the Cotton Bowl got themselves a doozy of a matchup with two Power 5 conference champions and a slew of NFL prospects.  Covering each and every one of the draft hopefuls in this game is impossible – I will touch on a few but by no means is this a comprehensive list.

Let’s start with Ohio State.  By now, we have all heard and participated in the debate about whether or not Ohio State should have been in the playoff.  I fear that topic will be prominent during the telecast and will overshadow some of the great players on the field for the Buckeyes.  QB JT Barrett improved on a number of stats this season but probably hurt his chances of playing quarterback in the NFL after poor performances in three big games (against Iowa, Michigan [before the injury], and Wisconsin).  I don’t have an opinion yet on whether Barrett should enter the draft process as a QB but my gut says he will.  The RB duo of freshman JK Dobbins and redshirt sophomore Mike Weber was very productive (nearly 2,000 combined rushing yards and 17 TDs).  Dobbins took advantage of an early, and lingering, injury to Weber to steal the lead role.  If Weber comes out for the 2018 draft, I think his stock is less now than it was four months ago.  He could return but it’s clear he won’t be the first choice back.  Maybe he transfers, sits out a year, and dominates at a lower level Power 5 school in 2019.  I listed Weber as my RB13 in November so if he does come out he’s a mid-rounder at best.  The strength of Ohio State’s team lies outside of the offensive skill positions.  Drafttek.com has six Buckeyes ranked in their Top 10 NFL draft prospects from the Big Ten: three defensive linemen (Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, Dante Booker), one corner (Denzel Ward) and two offensive linemen (Jamarco Jones and Billy Price).  I’ll venture a guess that four of the six go in the first round (Ward, Hubbard, Price, Jones) with the other two following on Day Two.  The best prospect on the defense, sophomore DE Nick Bosa, is not yet draft eligible but he’d be a first rounder too if he were.

The biggest name on USC’s team is QB Sam Darnold but he has really hurt his draft stock this season.  Darnold was a walking turnover in 2017: 12 INTs and 10 fumbles (7 of which were lost).  Elite quarterback prospects just can’t turn the ball over that often; for comparison, Rosen (13) and Mayfield (5) combine for fewer turnovers than Darnold.  Darnold is only a redshirt sophomore so he is young and still has two more years of eligibility should he decide to return to college for further seasoning.  Ultimately, I think Darnold comes out and is a Top 3 pick because of the potential the he has shown.  Despite his turnovers, the yardage, scoring and efficiency are all above average.  He’s also an above average runner with enough speed to earn first downs when flushed from the pocket.  What Darnold has that doesn’t show up in the box score is his confidence and swagger.  If I had to pick one college QB to lead my team in a comeback, I would take Darnold because he wouldn’t shrink from the challenge.  One negative: Darnold’s throwing motion.  I noticed this in the offseason and plan on watching more film before the draft to see if it’s improved.  Darnold’s favorite receiver is WR Deontay Burnett.  Burnett is undersized (6’0″ and 170lbs) so he likely won’t garner early round attention but I’ve raved about him numerous times this season.  A close size comp for Burnett would be Travis Benjamin who was a 4th round pick back in 2012.  Burnett was good, but not great, this season going for 74-975-9.  I started the season low on RB Ronald Jones but I came around by mid-September.  He is just so quick and agile that it’s almost not fair to defenders.  I was previously concerned about his size but no longer.  Even though he missed a game due to injury, Jones totaled 1,486 yards and 18 rushing TDs; he added 13 receptions for 165 yards and another score.  After a down game against Notre Dame, Jones ended the season strong with over 800 yards and 10 TDs in the last five games.  He’s fun to watch and I am so happy he won’t be skipping the Cotton Bowl.  On defense, the Trojans have a number of prospects including Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin.  Gustin missed most of the season, and is doubtful for the bowl, but could get drafted based on a solid sophomore season if he comes out (68 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks).  Smith is a prototypical MLB who has 263 career tackles and has been a big part of the USC defense for three years; according to WalterFootball.com he is looking at a mid-round grade.

Ohio State’s defense will be the best unit on the field and is strong enough to limit Darnold and Jones.  I expect the Buckeyes to win in a game where they beat USC in time of possession.  Prediction: Ohio State

Saturday, Dec. 30

TaxSlayer Bowl, Louisville (8-4) vs. #23 Mississippi State (8-4), 12 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Louisville: 13th scoring offense, 15th passing offense, 14th rushing offense; 71st scoring defense, 77th passing defense, 52nd rushing defense
  • Mississippi State: 38th scoring offense, 109th passing offense, 15th rushing offense; 24th scoring defense, 13th passing defense, 24th rushing defense

As far as the NFL Draft prospects go this matchup is all about Louisville, let’s touch on Mississippi State first though.  QB Nick Fitzgerald could be an interesting study in 2019 but I don’t think he has enough of a resume to warrant coming out for 2018, especially after a season-ending ankle injury sustained on Thanksgiving.  NFLDraftScout.com has him as the QB6 in his 2019 draft class.  Fitzgerald will need to improve on his efficiency in 2018 because he doesn’t complete enough passes (55.6%) and throws too many INTs (15:11 ratio this season).  He’s a tremendous rushing threat with 33 career rushing TDs and nearly 2,500 yards but that won’t matter to scouts if he’s missing throws.  The backup QB is freshman Keytaon Thompson.  I don’t think I have seen any of Thompson play this season but I am intrigued by the combination of his size (6’4″ 222lbs) and rushing ability (he played in nine games this season totaling 299 yards and 3 TDs rushing).  Thompson played significant snaps in the Egg Bowl vs Ole Miss after Fitzgerald went down so at least he’s not coming in cold.  He rushed for 121 yards and a score but only completed 13 of his 27 passes for 195 yards.  I came across the name of DB JT Gray on NDT Scouting’s website while researching potential draft prospects from Mississippi State.  He has played at both linebacker and safety and his listed measureables are similar to those of Jabril Peppers who was a first rounder last year; maybe he could be a poor man’s Pepper in the late rounds.  Per Pro Football Focus, Gray did not allow a single TD in coverage this year and the passer rating against him was 70.4 which is above average.

Louisville has their own DB, Jaire Alexander, who excels in those same metrics.  Alexander has also shut out opposing receivers and, this is not a typo, has allowed a passer rating against of just 17.7.  For comparison, a QB who had one completion for negative nine yards would have a rating of 16.  Alexander allowed just five receptions on the season and ranks 5th in PFF’s “Cover Snaps per Reception” stat, meaning he is in coverage a lot and allows few receptions.  Alexander declared for the 2018 draft already and is skipping the bowl so you won’t get to see him play against Mississippi State but you’ll see him playing on Sundays soon.  You may be thinking to yourself, how has he not mentioned Lamar Jackson yet?  You’re right I may be burying the lede but Jackson has been talked about ad nauseam on every platform this season.  That includes me too: I tagged Jackson in eight of my weekly The Watch List pieces and focused on him in my preseason preview.  Talk of Jackson changing position is useless, in my opinion, because Jackson will go into the NFL as a quarterback.  If anything, the brief spark of Deshaun Watson this season shows NFL teams that a lightning quick deep-ball thrower with accuracy issues can still lead a team to victory.  Some team will take Jackson in the first round but I don’t think I’ll be taking him in any of my fantasy drafts.  Jackson’s top target is junior WR Jaylen Smith.  Smith is 6’4″ and 219lbs which is great size for a receiver but it’s his speed and deep-ball ability that makes him a threat to the defense.  To illustrate this, despite his size, only three of his 53 receptions came in the red zone; meanwhile he had seven receptions of 25+ yards.  He totaled 873 yards and 6 TDs (he missed three games due to a wrist injury).  I’m not as high on Smith as some, including our friends at Dynasty Command Center who have him as their WR5 for 2018 rookies.  Jackson and Smith versus the stout Bulldog defense will be fun to watch, regardless of what you think of their NFL chances.

Defense wins championships, sure, but offense wins college bowl games.  Take the Cardinals.  Prediction: Louisville

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Iowa State (7-5) vs. #20 Memphis (10-2), 12:30 p.m. (ABC)

  • Iowa State: 53rd scoring offense, 32nd passing offense, 112th rushing offense; 28th scoring defense, 81st passing defense, 31st rushing defense
  • Memphis: 2nd scoring offense, 8th passing offense, 31st rushing offense; 104th scoring defense, 123rd passing defense, 100th rushing defense

Iowa State had a whirlwind of a season.  Get it?  The Cyclones had a whirlwind…. okay, okay I’ll stop.  Seriously though, Iowa State was a surprisingly fun team to watch this season.  They had a number of interesting story lines throughout the season including 1) an up-and-coming head coach in Matt Campbell, 2) jack-of-all-trades Joel Lanning playing at both LB and QB in a number of games, 3) the continued emergence of RB David Montgomery, 4) the revolving door at quarterback including underclassmen, walk-ons and transfers and 5) the upset of #3 Oklahoma and #4 TCU.  Montgomery is fantastic.  He has good speed, is amazing at breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact and is a reliable receiver.  He is just a sophomore so he’s not coming out in 2018 but there’s a chance he is my top RB next year.  Leading receiver Allen Lazard is a 6’5″ red zone monster (15 of his 25 career touchdowns came inside the twenty).  I think Lazard is underappreciated as far as draftniks go.  I had him as WR13 a few weeks ago but will likely move him up into the WR10 range.  The Iowa State defense has played well most of the season and is led by emotional leader Joel Lanning (the aforementioned former QB).  As much as I enjoy rooting for Lanning, I don’t think he’ll be considered by NFL teams.

Memphis has an incredibly efficient and high scoring offense that will be fun to watch against the solid Iowa State defense.  QB Riley Ferguson is a former Tennessee transfer who has played exceptionally well in his two seasons at Memphis.  Ferguson throws a lot of touchdowns, completes more than 63% of his passes, has never thrown more than 10 INTs in a season and has 10 career rushing touchdowns.  He’s also 6’4″; like Ryan Finley at NC State he is just 210lbs so needs to add some weight for the NFL.  I think Ferguson sneaks up NFL draft boards and gets taken on Day Two.  Ferguson’s top target was undoubtedly WR Anthony Miller.  I fell in love with Miller in the preseason when I jokingly compared him to Antonio Brown.  In hindsight that comp may have been more accurate than I could have guessed.  Miller caught 92 balls for 1,407 yards and 17 TDs.  Miller has unreal hands, great body control and is tough.  If you watched the AAC Championship game you might recall how exhausted and banged up he was yet he was on the field and still making plays when it mattered the most.  I want him on my NFL team and my fantasy team and I don’t care what pick it takes.  In September, I had him at 2.02 for 2018 rookie drafts but now I would even be willing to part with a late first for him.

By the rankings this may not be the best game of the day but I bet it’s the most entertaining.  The Tigers offense is just too good to stop.  Prediction: Memphis

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, #11 Washington Huskies (10-2) vs. #9 Penn State (10-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Washington: 17th scoring offense, 73rd passing offense, 39th rushing offense; 6th scoring defense, 19th passing defense, 2nd rushing defense
  • Penn State: 7th scoring offense, 26th passing offense, 62nd rushing offense; 7th scoring defense, 43rd passing defense, 17th rushing defense

This PAC-12 vs Big Ten matchup definitely has less going for it than the Ohio State vs USC matchup but it’s still a game with some key NFL prospects to keep an eye on.  Thankfully, Penn State RB Saquon Barkley confirmed back in November that he planned to play in the team’s bowl game.

Penn State was looking like a favorite to make the playoff when they were ranked #2 in late October but back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Michigan State put an end to that.  Even the most casual of fan knows about Barkley and I have covered him exhaustively for RSO.  In fact, I tagged Barkley in thirteen different articles this season.  My deepest dive on Barkley came in the preseason in my Big Ten conference preview.  At some point you just run out of things to say but he was so dominant at points he just demanded to be discussed.  Barkley ran the ball less this year but he increased his yards per attempt (5.5 to 5.7) and became more involved as a receiver (47 receptions, 594 yards and 3 TDs).  He’ll likely be a Top 5 NFL Draft pick and will be the unanimous 1.01 pick in fantasy rookie drafts.  QB Trace McSorley is also draft eligible but he will probably return for another season.  He won’t be able to improve on his size (just 6’0″ and 202lbs) but he can continue to improve his efficiency and yards per attempt.  The pass catcher with the highest draft grade in my opinion will be TE Mike Gesicki.  Gesicki went for 51-501-9 this season and had one of my favorite highlights of the season when he hurdled McSorley after a touchdown.  Penn State keeps track of some combine-like measureables and supposedly Gesicki ran a 4.54 40 yard dash – that is crazy good for somebody his size.  I expect that number to increase at the combine, it must be the benefit of some “home cooking,” but still he’s looking at a favorable size/speed comp to the likes of Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce.  The first round may be too early for Gesicki realistically but he’s a Day Two guy at worst.  The Nittany Lions’ top defensive prospect is senior safety Marcus Allen.  I researched him in the preseason and was nonplussed.  I felt he needed to show scouts that he was equally as good in coverage as he is in run support.  He still succeeded in run support (just two missed tackles against the run per Pro Football Focus) but he only had one interception (the first of his career) and had just two pass break-ups (just ten in his career).  He’ll probably start his career as a situational player and won’t be an IDP factor right away unless he can prove he should stay on the field for every snap.

Washington QB Jake Browning finished 6th in Heisman voting in 2016 after a huge 43 TD season.  Unfortunately for Huskies fans, that season was the outlier for Browning as he returned to his 2015 levels with just 18 TDs this year.  His completion percentage did increase significantly this year (62.1% to 68.8%) but all of his other rate stats decreased.  One of my favorite plays in football is the quick kick from a quarterback and Browning excels at that: he has 11 career punts, averaging about 35 yards per kick.  The two offensive standouts are WR Dante Pettis and RB Myles Gaskin.  I’ve never been a huge fan of either and I am willing to admit it is probably an east coast bias since I don’t see them play that often.  I previewed Pettis in the preseason and expressed concerns that his size would limit him in the NFL.  Pettis played in thirteen games each of his first three seasons so he’s avoid any long-term injuries but he is currently hurt (but probabl for the bowl game).  He is a good receiver (averaging 40 receptions, 500 yards and 6 TDs per year over his four year career) but a better punt returner (9 career punt return TDs, including 4 in 2017).  He’s currently my WR8 and should find himself drafted in the late second round.  RB Myles Gaskin is ranked a little lower in my positional rankings (RB13) but he’s somebody that I definitely need to revisit.  Gaskin’s numbers are great and if they were attached to a different name I would probably be higher on him.  He rushed for 1,282 yards this season and rushed for 19 TDs.  He also added 18 grabs for 228 yards and 3 receiving scores.  He has been consistent, and healthy, throughout his three year career.  He’s gone over 1,300 total yards each year and has 47 career TDs.  He’s slightly undersized (think Theo Riddick) but not so small that he can’t play a heavy role in an NFL offense.  On defense, LB Azeem Victor and DT Vita Vea are both likley Day Two prospects.  Victor’s college career has been marred by injuries and off-field issues (he was suspended to start 2017 for a failed drug test and was suspended late in the season after a DUI arrest).  In 2015, his only full season, Victor had 95 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception.  Vea is an agile, space-eating DT who could end up going in the late first if he dominates the combine.  Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports had Vea going 19th overall in his December 5th mock; Trapasso thinks that Vea may be the most physically strong prospect in the entire draft class.

Given the strength of the two defenses, I expect this one to be a low scoring affair.  I’ll take the team with the best player on the field.  Prediction: Penn State

Capital One Orange Bowl, #10 Miami (10-2) vs. #6 Wisconsin (12-1), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

  • Miami: 58th scoring offense, 50th passing offense, 73rd rushing offense; 21st scoring defense, 52nd passing defense, 44th rushing defense
  • Wisconsin: 31st scoring offense, 95th passing offense, 21st rushing offense; 4th scoring defense, 4th passing defense, 1st rushing defense

The Orange Bowl may feature two Top 10 teams but I’m just not finding the matchup all that intriguing.  I was down on Miami for most of the season before the team imploded against an unranked Pitt team and laid an egg against Clemson in the ACC Championship game.  At least Wisconsin was competitive in their conference championship and proved that they belonged in the playoff conversation despite a weak schedule.

Hurricanes QB Malik Rosier was overrated, in my opinion, during Miami’s unbeaten run to start the season.  He ranks 89th in adjusted completion percentage according to Pro Football Focus; that metric is meant to give a better picture of a quarterback’s accuracy by not counting spikes/throwaways against them and by giving them credit for drops.  Per their stats, the Miami receivers dropped 22 passes, which is about average, but even after factoring those back in he is still at the bottom of the list (there are only twelve worse qualifying QBs).  Rosier did rush for 427 yards and 5 TDs which helps make up for his negative plays but it’s not enough in big games.  Case in point: Rosier was pulled late in the Pitt game to give redshirt sophomore backup Evan Shirreffs a shot.  Shirreffs had five career passing attempts at that point so in that moment the coaches though he gave them a better shot than Rosier (predictably, Shirreffs did nothing and was replaced by Rosier).  Miami lost RB Mark Walton early in the season but sophomore Travis Homer has emerged in his stead.  Homer has over 1,100 total yards and scored 8 TDs.  He had a big game against #3 Notre Dame (18 rushes for 146 yards) but had just 55 combined rushing and receiving yards in the late losses to Pitt and Clemson.  If Miami is to stand a chance against Wisconsin’s great defense it will fall on Walton.  Senior DE Chad Thomas had 30 total pressures per PFF and finished the year with 3.5 sacks.  Safety Jaquon Johnson improved his stats in 2017 to end with 85 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 4 INTs.  Miami’s defense did get better in 2017 but gone are the days when the NFL Draft was littered with Hurricane defenders; Thomas and Johnson could be mid-round picks but I doubt anybody goes higher than that.

Speaking of defense, Wisconsin’s is a juggernaut.  They are 4th in scoring, 4th against the pass and 1st against the run.  They don’t have a weakness and it’s unfortunate we did not get to see them play a stronger schedule.  We may never know if this was a historic unit or just a product of a soft schedule.  Their leader, LB TJ Edwards, is good in both run support (27th ranked in run stop percentage per PFF) and in coverage (4 INTs).  According to DraftTek.com, he’s the 11th ranked prospect in the conference and according to WalterFootball.com he’s looking at a 3rd-5th round grade.  Edwards may not be a Watt brother but he’s keeping up the tradition of productive Wisconsin linebackers with initials instead of first names!  The Badgers offense is all about freshman RB Jonathan Taylor.  Taylor had 1,847 rushing yards and 13 TDs this season and he finished 6th in Heisman voting.  Those rushing yards ranked him first in the conference and third in the FBS.  Not bad for a three star recruit.  Taylor still has two more seasons before he’s draft eligible so we have to wait and see what he develops into but he’ll probably be on my Heisman watch list for next season.  Aside from offensive tackle Beau Benzschawel, the best offensive prospect is TE Troy Fumagalli.  Fumagalli has a long injury history that I discussed in my Big Ten preview, but I still like his chances in the NFL.  He’s more of a traditional TE than the “move TE” that is en vogue right now so that may lower how high he is drafted.  Regardless of where he is drafted, he will be on the field from day one because of his above average blocking ability.  Fumagalli led the team with 43 receptions, 516 yards and 4 TDs.  He has already declared for the NFL Draft but Fumagalli has confirmed that he will play in the bowl.    Fumagalli may not be a fantasy factor in his rookie season but he’ll still be worth a third round pick.

I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Wisconsin will win this one.  Prediction: Wisconsin

 


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: Conference Championship Week

Updated: November 30th 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.  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. 

Note: the rankings referenced below refer to the Week 14 AP poll.  CFP rankings were not yet available at the time of writing.

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Baker Mayfield finished off his regular season with a 281 yard, 3 TD outing.  The Heisman winner is Mayfield.  Moving on to more important topics.
  • Playoff Picture: Last week, I postulated that Alabama and Miami would be in danger of missing the playoff even if they lost and finished with one loss.  I was not expecting them to both lose!  Having them both lose keeps a potential playoff spot open for the other if championship results fall properly.  As of this writing on Sunday evening, I anticipate the Top 7 to be: Clemson, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Auburn, Georgia, Miami and Alabama.  The order of Georgia, Miami and Alabama is tough but I put Alabama last because while their loss was “better” than Miami’s, they do not have as good of a win on their resume as Miami over #3 Notre Dame.  Two of the four spots are easy: the winner of Auburn/Georgia is in, as is the winner of Clemson/Miami.  If Oklahoma and Wisconsin win, they are obviously in too and the playoff is set.  Things get very interesting though if one of them loses, specifically Oklahoma.  If Oklahoma loses, there is no obvious replacement like if Wisconsin loses (a win against #3 Wisconsin might be enough to jump Ohio State to the #4 spot and squeak in, see below for an alternate possibility).  I think that if Oklahoma and Clemson lose, we might see Clemson hang in with the #4 ranking (they would have five Top 25 wins, a 3-point loss when their quarterback was hurt and a loss to my projected #6 in Miami – that is still a better two loss resume than others).  For now, I’m predicting chalk but am hoping for some chaos.
  • Undefeated UCF:  Here’s a fun thought experiment for you… is there anyway we get an undefeated UCF into the Top 4?  Probably not but here’s what I think you would need:
    • Stanford win over USC in the PAC-12 Championship so that both finish behind UCF in the final rankings.
    • Oklahoma win over TCU in the Big 12 Championship.  TCU would move up in the rankings and stay ahead of UCF with a win over Oklahoma.  Better for UCF to cede one of the playoff spots to Oklahoma and jump ahead of TCU.
    • Georgia win over Auburn in the SEC Championship.  Auburn would be totally out of contention with 3 losses; if Georgia loses they probably stay ahead of UCF with a strong two loss resume.  I think we’d all take Auburn in a head-to-head matchup against UCF but it’ll be hard for the committee to put an undefeated UCF behind a three loss team.
    • Clemson wins big over Miami in the ACC Championship.  If Miami loses two straight, especially an embarrassing one to Clemson, they should fall out of the Top 10.
    • Ohio State wins close over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.  If Wisconsin wins, they are in but the reverse is not guaranteed.  In three iterations of the CFP, we have not yet had a two loss team make the cut.  If Ohio State gets a close, unconvincing win against Wisconsin, is it possible that the committee leaves a two loss Ohio State out in favor of an undefeated UCF?  Maybe the injury to JT Barrett factors into the decision if it lingers and the committee says that a weakened Ohio State is not worthy of the playoff.
  • Florida State vs History:  Florida State will be playing this week but not in the ACC Championship as they would have hoped a few months ago.  Instead, the Seminoles will be battling 4-7 UL-Monroe (the game was cancelled earlier in the year due to Hurricane Irma).  Florida State has a lot of history riding on this inconsequential game because they have not finished with less than six wins in a season since 1976 which was Bobby Bowden’s first season at the helm.  What an incredible run of success for a team.  I don’t know for sure but I assume that has to be a record for most consecutive seasons with a .500 record or better.  It’s a little iffy to get that sixth win in a game like this but hey it counts in the record books and in a few years nobody will even remember the circumstance.

Players to Watch

  • Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn:  I haven’t been the highest on Stidham so far this season but boy did he standout against Alabama last week, especially with his legs.  One thing I have previously pointed out about Stidham is his efficiency.  Stidham’s completion percentage (68.5%) ranks 4th in the FBS; his passing efficiency rating (160.0) is 9th; his yards per attempt (9.1) is 8th.  If you only look at his games since Week 3 following the Clemson loss, Stidham’s completion percentage rises to 70.8%, including six games 74% or higher.  So, the rate stats are all fantastic but what about the counting stats?  They are less eye-popping because of Auburn’s tendency to lean on RB Kerryon Johnson.  Stidham has 2,682 yards and just 16 TDs but he has also only thrown 4 INTs.  Those only looking at the stats and not watching the film will underestimate Stidham’s athleticism and his rushing ability as I had.  The game logs say he only has 153 yards but don’t forget that factors in all of his sacks.  If I had to guess, I would say that that Stidham probably has gained about 300 yards rushing (figuring about 10-15 rushing yards per game lost to sacks).  Side note: if you don’t typically purchase Phil Steele’s annual preview magazine, this is one big reason why you should because they break down yards gained and lost to get a true sense for a quarterback’s rushing ability.  Going back to that Alabama game, Stidham went 21-28 for 237 yards in the passing game which is expected but what surprised me was the 51 rushing yards.  A few plays stood out, one passing and three rushing.  On one of the first plays of the game, Stidham double clutched to force the rushing lineman into the air for an attempted pass breakup so he had a throwing lane for the quick screen.  The color commentator compared it to a shot fake in basketball which was a perfect analogy.  To me, it showed Stidham’s composure under pressure when it would have been understandable for him to be skittish in the first drive of the biggest game of his career.  The next play I highlighted was a late third quarter scramble on third and long when Auburn was down 14-13.  Stidham took a three step drop out of shotgun so he was nine yards behind the line of scrimmage.  He goes through his progressions, evades a rusher, slips out of the pocket, beats CB Tony Brown to the first down and dives head first to ensure he gets enough yardage.  It was a turning point play in the game.  A few plays later he ran again for 13 yards right up the gut.  Those two runs kept the drive alive and led to a touchdown for Kerryon Johnson.  The last play where Stidham surprised me was in the 4th quarter with Auburn up 20-14.  Stidham fakes the handoff to Johnson on the zone read and keeps the ball himself.  He quickly directs his blockers and rolls left.  He accelerates as he turns up field and just beats all of the Alabama defenders to the goal line.  Ultimately five players were close enough to get a hand on him but he just wanted it more and made the play.  I knew Stidham was an efficient and effective passer and was really happy to see this side of his game.  Stidham is playing in his first season at Auburn after transferring from Baylor in 2015, so it’s probably more likely that he stays in college for another season rather than declaring for the draft.  As I was watching Stidham play against Alabama I saw Alex Smith.  They are very similar in size and speed and have a similar game.  If he stays in, he will be a preseason target of mine next season.

Games to Watch

  •  #14 Stanford vs #11 USC, Friday 8:00pm on ESPN:  The PAC-12 Championship isn’t worth all that much this season.  Neither team has a shot at the playoff and since the Rose Bowl is part of the playoff, a PAC-12 championship doesn’t even get you a bid into the “granddaddy of them all.”  If nothing else, this game will be a true showcase game for a few draft prospects, namely Stanford RB Bryce Love (who is within reach of a 2,000 yard season at 1,848) and USC QB Sam Darnold (whose wavering play has some thinking he’ll stay in college another season).  I’ll have my eye on USC WR Deontay Burnett too – he isn’t getting much draft love, mostly because of his size, but I really like him and am significantly higher than most.
  • #10 TCU vs #2 Oklahoma, Saturday 12:30pm on FOX:  Oklahoma has much more to play for than TCU so I’ll bet the Sooners come out firing and bury the Frogs.  Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield is incredibly efficient (71.4% completion percentage and just 5 INTs) and is my no-brainer Heisman winner.  The good news is that TCU has the conference’s best passing defense (227.5 yards per game); the bad news is that puts them at 73rd in the FBS overall.  When these two teams last faced off, TCU’s conference-best defense allowed 333 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, forced zero turnovers and lost by 18.  Unless they hold Oklahoma to under 300 total yards they don’t stand a chance at keeping Oklahoma from their playoff berth.
  • #6 Georgia vs #4 Auburn, Saturday 4:00pm on CBS:  For me, this will be the best game of the weekend if Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson is able to play.  Johnson played through an injured shoulder against Alabama but it sounds like there is a chance he misses the SEC Championship.  Jonhson had 33 touches (for 125 total yards and a score) in the Alabama game which is the third time in four weeks that he has had 30+ touches, 125+ total yards and a touchdown.  Like TCU/Oklahoma, this game is a rematch from earlier in the year.  Auburn shellacked Georgia in that one by a final score of 40-17 (and it wasn’t even that close because of a late garbage time Georgia TD).  Georgia has the SEC’s second best defense, led by LB prospects Roquan Smith (100 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Lorenzo Carter (42-4), so I’ll bet that they’ll keep it closer the second time around.  This one is for all the marbles: the winner is onto the playoff without question while the loser is out of contention.
  • #7 Miami vs #1 Clemson, Saturday 8:00pm on ABC:  I have been picking against Miami all season long and it finally paid off with their upset against 4-7 Pitt.  I just don’t trust QB Malik Rosier because he is so inaccurate (55.2% on the season and 44.1% against Pitt).  Sophomore RB Travis Homer has filled in reasonably well for the injured Mark Walton but you’ll be hard pressed to find a tailback that can compensate for a quarterback missing half his passes.  Miami’s defense is 14th in points but 42nd in yards allowed which is an odd dichotomy.  Clemson has been my #2 squad for awhile and is now my top team.  I haven’t been a huge Kelly Bryant fan but he is a solid game manager as a passer and a dynamic rushing threat (639 yards and 10 TDs).  True freshman RB Travis Etienne is a burner who carved out a role for himself after a hot start.  Etienne has had more carries than incumbent Tavien Feaster in four straight games.  His stats have been mediocre but I am interested in seeing WR Deon Cain against Miami’s defense; Cain is a prospect that I have been lower on than the consensus.  I have highlighted many of the Clemson defensive stars (i.e. Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins) but a name that you may not know is LB Dorian O’Daniel.  O’Daniel has 80 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 2 INTs (both of which returned for scores in key Top 15 wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech).  If I had to bet meaningful money on any of the championship games, this would be the one.
  • #3 Wisconsin vs #8 Ohio State, Saturday 8:00pm on FOX:  As a Michigan and a Rutgers fan, I don’t know who to root for in this one.  It’s a shame there are no ties in college football.  Since Ohio State isn’t a shoo-in for the playoff with a win, it’s probably best for the conference for Wisconsin to win it.  The bright spot on Wisconsin’s offense is freshman RB Jonathan Taylor.  Ohio State has the 13th ranked rush defense in the FBS (112.8 yards per game) and has held opponents to 100 rushing yards or less in seven games this season (including three straight after they were gashed for 243 yards against Iowa).  Taylor has 125+ rushing yards in seven of his last eight games and I expect him to continue that streak.  Wisconsin’s rush defense is actually better than Ohio State’s (1st in the FBS at 80.5 yards per game) so I doubt that either JK Dobbins or Mike Weber will be a major factor.  Much of this game will come down to whether JT Barrett can return from a knee injury sustained against Michigan.  Ironically, I think that the Buckeyes might be better off with Dwayne Haskins under center because he’s more of a pass-oriented quarterback.  Wisconsin’s pass defense is ranked 2nd so while it may be weaker it’s hardly a weakness.  Regardless of who is under center, I think Ohio State will struggle to move the ball like they did early against Michigan, and the Badgers will win a close one.

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: Week 12

Updated: November 16th 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.  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. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Saquon Barkley is still my 1.01 fantasy draft pick but he’s no longer my Heisman favorite.  That honor now goes to Baker Mayfield.  Last week, I said that if Barkley’s 96 total yard game was the worst of his season that the award would be his.  Instead of coming out strong against Rutgers, he struggled and totaled just 55 yards (albeit with two scores).  Mayfield is just so on fire lately that it probably doesn’t matter what Barkley or Bryce Love do down the stretch.  Since his loss to Iowa State, Mayfield is averaging 384.8 yards per game and has 16 TDs to just 4 INTs.  The Heisman is his to lose.
  • CFP Playoff Picture:  The newest CFP rankings went about as expected.  Georgia and Notre Dame fell far after big losses to Top 10 opponents.  Meanwhile the teams that beat them, Miami and Auburn, jumped up a number of spots.  I was a bit surprised to see Wisconsin at #5.  Their strength of schedule is weak and is only slightly redeemed if they win out and beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship.  Before this ranking, I did not think that an undefeated Wisconsin would rank over a one-loss Georgia but the committee disagreed.  I think this is their signal that if Wisconsin wins out, they are in, strength of schedule be damned (keep in mind one of Miami and Clemson have to lose and fall out of the Top 4).  Want to play around with the many permutations?  Check out FiveThirtyEight’s prediction module.
  • Why You Should Care About the FCS:  I won’t lie, I don’t usually pay attention to the FCS until their playoffs start.  I am a bit ahead of the game this season since I’ve done some research on a few FCS prospects but still, my FCS knowledge is basic at best.  That being said, the FCS deserves our attention for the rest of the season.  The FCS playoff is compelling television and there will be a number of 2018 NFL Draft prospects playing in those playoff games.  There are two fantasy relevant players who came out of the FCS this season: Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bears RB Tarik Cohen.  A few other less familiar but potentially relevant names include: Patriots DE Derek Rivers, 49ers WR Kendrick Bourne, Cardinals WR Chad Williams and Broncos RB D’Angelo Henderson.  The first-round playoff games will be played on Saturday November 25th but you can safely ignore those games and wait for the second-round on December 2nd which will include the top eight teams who received byes.  The top predicted teams per HeroSports.com are James Madison, North Dakota State, Central Arkansas, Jacksonville State, South Dakota State, Wofford, Southern Utah, Western Illinois, Sam Houston State, North Carolina A&T and Grambling.  If you’re looking to keep up with FCS stats and information, quality sites are hard to find.  A few I have bookmarked include HeroSports.com and FCS.football.  FOX Sports also has game logs and season stats for all FCS players which is sometimes like finding a needle in a haystack.  If you want to find some of these games live, check the WatchESPN app which airs many live and keeps them available for replay for about a week.

Players to Watch (FCS Edition)

  • Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State:  If Dallas Goedert’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because I had included him in my early 2018 positional rankings where he came in at TE7.  I watched two games of Goedert’s 2016 film, against TCU and North Dakota State, and was very impressed.  Goedert has good size at 6’4″ 260lbs and uses it to his advantage on contested passes across the middle of the field.  His route running does not appear to be the most sophisticated but he was able to get himself open on a number of drags and crosses; near the red zone his route running is less of a factor anyway as he can easily high point the ball over smaller defenders.  The film against TCU was only composed of his passing targets so I did not see any blocking but what I saw of him blocking against NDSU was very good.  He’s probably the best, or second best to Hayden Hurst, blocking TE I have studied so far this season.  There was one sequence that made me laugh and feel sorry for Goedert.  On the first play, Goedert seemingly catches a tipped ball after landing flat on his back after being hit high to the helmet (a targeting penalty was called).  It was called incomplete although to my eye it looked good.  On the next play, Goedert ran a skinny post and caught the touchdown over a defender only to have it called back for a penalty.  On the third play, he runs a shallow crossing route left-to-right, catches the ball in open space but is tackled well a yard short of the first down and two yards short of the goal line (he probably should have ran his route a little deeper).  The next play was fourth down and I’m not sure if they went for it or kicked a field goal because the tape doesn’t show the play but they did come away empty handed.  The tape is backed up by his production: Goedert’s 2017 line is solid at 49-849-5 and 2016 was even better at 92-1,293-11.  Ultimately, I may have to revise my TE rankings and push Goedert up a bit, he’s going to be a factor in the near future for RSO owners.
  • Jake Wieneke, WR, South Dakota State:  Wieneke is another Jackrabbit that should be on your 2018 NFL Draft radar.  Wieneke has a streak of three consecutive seasons with 70+ receptions, 1,300+ yards and 11+ TDs.  That’s impressive.  He’s well off the marks so far through ten games this year but there is still time if they make a playoff run.  Wieneke is 6’4″ 215lbs and is projected to run a 4.59 by NFLDraftScout.com.  Pie in the sky comps at those measureables would be Michael Thomas and Allen Robinson.  Let’s temper expectations though as only 8 of the 19 size/speed comps I looked at were actually drafted; ironically 5 of the 8 were 1st or 2nd rounders so it seems to be real boom or bust for some reason for this group.  I also watched tape of Wieneke against TCU from last season.  I honestly think he has a chance to beat that 4.59 estimate as there were three plays where he just simply beat the defender with his speed, two of which went for a score.  There were a number of positive routes that I noted where he used either a hesitation move or a sharp jab step to change direction and fool the defender.  The film I watched only featured his targets so unfortunately I don’t have any notes on his run blocking.  An article I read while researching Wieneke brought up a great point about him, one that will be a selling point to scouts: his “catch radius.”  He’s long and athletic which lets him play even beyond his 6’4″ frame.  Like with Goedert, I came away from my study of Wieneke with positive thoughts and will have to find a spot for him in my WR rankings going forward.
  • Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham:  Edmonds caught my eye when he played Army earlier this season.  Unfortunately, his season has been disjointed due to injury.  A good sign was that Edmonds returned from injury last week and totaled 109 yards and 2 TDs against Holy Cross.  It’s easy to forget the recent injury struggles when you look at Edmonds annual stats.  He dominated in his first three seasons.  Over those seasons, Edmonds averaged 1,761 yards, 21 rushing TDs, 25 receptions, 258 receiving yards and 2 receiving TDs.  Fordham is struggling this season (they have 6 losses already while totaling just 9 losses in Edmonds’ first three years) and whether that is the cause or effect of Edmonds’ struggles I don’t know.  Edmonds has four career games against FBS opponents (coincidentally all against either Army or Navy) and in those games he’s averaged 131 total yards and a score; that average does include a huge game in 2015 which skews the average but it counts nonetheless.  I re-watched Edmonds play against Army and was encouraged by what I saw on film prior to his injuries.  Edmonds shows good change of direction and balance but I did notice a tendency to run left (possibly a factor of where the strength of the OL lies).  He has good hands and ball tracking skills out of the backfield which he showed twice, once on a bad snap that was popped into the air and once on a tipped pass.  I’d say he was above average in pass protection.  There was one major whiff in protection but a number of good blocks.  I’m interested in seeing film of Edmonds post-injury to see if his cutting and speed are impacted at all.
  • Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State:  Briscoe is a former UAB player who transferred to Sam Houston State when the Blazers football program was cut.  Briscoe has average size at 6’3″ 225lbs (similar to AJ McCarron).  He has a lot of experience (43 career games) but is an old prospect at 24.  I can’t really explain why, but when I watched his film against Incarnate Word from 2016, I thought of Dak Prescott.  He’s a little lighter than Dak and not nearly as athletic so I don’t know why I thought it but my brain kept flashing to Dak.  Briscoe’s stats in 2016 were stellar: 4,602 yards, 57 TDs and 10 INTs.  2017 has been less kind: 3,429-32-10.  His completion percentage is also down from 62.6% to 55.7%.  The film I watched of Briscoe was of horrible quality so I’m not putting much stock into it but it was clear that there were a number of inaccurate throws.  I also noted that he has an odd-looking throwing motion.  I likened it to a pitcher throwing from the stretch with a runner on base, meaning that his motion seems to be shortened and rushed.  I used the term “short arm” in my notes which isn’t a great sign for a QB prospect.  Briscoe is not a rushing threat so a change of position is not a possibility for him to increase his draft stock.  The fact that Briscoe started his career as an FBS player and that he put up 57 TDs in a season mean he should get consideration but he’s more like a training camp arm than anything else.
  • Bryan Schor, QB, James Madison:  Schor is a two year starter for #1 James Madison (10-0).  JMU won the FCS championship with Schor at the helm.  He is efficient but unspectacular, as evidenced by his championship game performance: 7 of 12, 112 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.  In addition to being an efficient passer, Schor is also a rushing threat who has at least 7 carries in each game this season.  His per carry average in 2017 is just 2.1 but was 4.5 in 2016; in 2016 he ran for 569 yards and 10 TDs but just 192-3 this season.  Schor’s height is okay at 6’2″ but he’s too light at 213lbs to be a dual threat QB in the pros.  The fact that Schor plays for the #1 team in the FCS probably raises his stock higher than it should be based off his abilities.  I didn’t see enough in my statistical research to warrant a more in depth look so put his name on the back burner for now until after the season.
  • Damon Gibson, WR, Minnesota State University – Moorhead:  Gibson plays in Division 2, not the FCS, but I decided to include him here.  I love a good deep dive on prospects but I’m definitely not planning a D2 article anytime soon!  Gibson has elite size if he measures in as advertised: 6’4″ 236lbs.  Per his Hudl.com profile, his 40 yard dash clocks in at 4.58.  That size and speed combination nets him a short list of comps, namely Devin Funchess and Mike Evans (who was an inch taller but a few pounds lighter).  Gibson caught 90 balls in 2016 for 1,549 yards and 17 TDs (17.21 yards per catch).  His stats in 2017 aren’t as eye-popping but they are still solid: 54-649-3-12.02.  Gibson earned a nomination for the Harlon Hill award in 2016 (the D2 Heisman equivalent).  I watched some of Gibson’s target montage posted to his Hudl.com profile and it’s immediately obvious that he was a man among boys at the D2 level.  Since he’s a standout at the D2 level, he could factor in at the 2018 draft because of his measureables.  Let’s see if he gets a combine invite and what he makes of it.

Games to Watch

  • Wofford at South Carolina, 4:00pm Saturday on SEC Network:  We have five FCS vs FBS matchups this weekend which feels like a lot for Week 12.  FCS #7 Wofford is the best candidate for an upset.  They are 9-1 and focus heavily on the rush (they have three 500+ yard rushers and their QB is averaging just 5.8 completions per game).  The other cross-division matchups are: Mercer at #1 Alabama; Delaware State at Florida State; Citadel at #2 Clemson; Western Carolina at North Carolina.
  • #24 Michigan at #5 Wisconsin, 12:00pm Saturday on FOX:  This is the only Top 25 matchup of the weekend, so enjoy.  I’m a Michigan fan and honestly I would be okay with the Wolverines losing at Camp Randall in the best interest of the conference.  I’d rather see a 13-0 Wisconsin force the committee’s hand than see a 2- or 3-loss Big Ten champion.  Both teams feature strong running games.  Wisconsin is led by freshman Jonathan Taylor (1,525-12) while Michigan has a three-headed monster featuring Karan Higdon (854-10), Chris Evans (569-6) and Ty Isaac (548-2).
  • #15 UCF at Temple, 12:00pm Saturday on ESPNU:  Finding great games this week is tough.  #1 and #2 play FCS opponents while the rest of the Top 10, minus Wisconsin, play significantly weaker opponents.  I decided to highlight UCF’s game against Temple because it probably has the biggest bowl implication as UCF needs to win out to get a New Year’s Six berth.  If UCF loses, it will be an interesting decision for the committee as to who should be ranked higher, UCF or Memphis.  UCF beat Memphis 40-13 earlier in the season but Memphis has been on a roll since then trying to outduel UCF, scoring 239 total points in those five games since.  UCF is led by QB McKenzie Milton who has tossed for 2,720 yards, 22 TDs and 5 INTs.  Their rushing attack is strong too.  The leading rushers are Milton and RB Adrian Killins but the love is spread around (seven different players have 2+ rushing TDs and six have 100+ rushing yards).  UCF is 37th in rushing yards per game but 6th in rushing TDs per game, go figure.  Luckily for the Golden Knights, Temple has the 77th ranked rush defense.

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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