Key Surprises from the 2020 Season

Updated: November 27th 2020

Each year we find unexpected fantasy performances which alter the landscape of fantasy leagues.  This week’s article takes a look at a few of the major surprises from the early 2020 fantasy season, highlighted by some rookie performances.

 

Buffalo Passing Attack

Many thought Josh Allen would be a quality fantasy quarterback in 2020, largely due to his rushing production. Many believed we would see another leap from Allen in his passing effectiveness.  I don’t think many in the industry predicted Allen’s massive jump in quarterback play this year.  Allen was a bottom-tier passer by most metrics through his first two seasons.  He ranked just 25th in passing yards per attempt, 24th in QBR, and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ QB30 last year.  A big leap would have put him in the middle tier of passers.  Allen blew those expectations out of the water so far in 2020.

He ranks 8th in YPA, 6th in QBR, and is PFF’s QB8.  Maybe more surprising is how Buffalo changed the offense.  This was a run-first offense in previous years, sitting among the bottom 3rd in passing attempts last season while ranking 6th in rushing attempts.  Buffalo currently ranks 14th this season in passes with the 8th least carries so far.  Allen is on pace for a whopping 26% increase in throws.  The offense truly runs through the 3rd year quarterback.  We don’t see this massive of a change in offensive philosophy very often with the same head coach and quarterback.  Stefon Diggs benefited from Allen’s emergence (and vice versa) ranking second in targets and receiving yardage.  He vastly out-produced his RSO salary in most leagues.

Justin Herbert Crushes from the Start

Many of the thoughts from Buffalo may be copied and pasted here.  Not much was expected from the Chargers passing game with Tyrod Taylor or rookie Herbert when he eventually would be put in as the starter.  Taylor got hurt early, Los Angeles started Herbert, and the Chargers never looked back.  Herbert has been a locked-in rock solid QB1 thanks to tremendous deep-ball success and quality play when pressured.  Herbert’s success translated to Keenan Allen who, like Diggs, was coming at a sharp discount in RSO leagues due to the questionable quarterback situation.  Allen dominated, like usual, this season as the WR3 with usual sticky hands and jaw-dropping separation skills.

Jonathan Taylor Struggles

Jonathan Taylor was widely expected to post huge fantasy numbers this season once Marlon Mack suffered a season-ending injury early and was the rookie RB1 for many analysts coming into the year.  The super-athletic running back crushed Big Ten competition putting massive rushing totals.  The expected fantasy points have not materialized so far.  Taylor struggled mightily, looking timid and missing open rushing lanes routinely.  So what happened to the near sure-loc k running back?

Wisconsin largely utilized I-back/fullback formations with power/gap running concepts giving Taylor fairly easy reads for him to utilize his breakaway speed and nifty feet.  Early in the year, Indianapolis used much more offset single-back looks and zone rushing schemes forcing Taylor to make reads and manipulate linebackers in a way he simply was not used to.  We are so use to thinking of running back as ready to contribute straight out of college but, with Taylor, we see a player who really misses needed preseason reps.  A few positive notes going forward for Taylor is that the Colts utilized more I-back runs last week and Taylor consistently shows off his explosiveness when given chances in the passing game.  I definitely view him as a buy for any leagues where people are down on him.

The James Robinson Undrafted Rookie Party

On the other end of the spectrum, Robinson is one of the feel-good fantasy stories of the year.  It took a lot of bizarre twists for Robinson to see the field.  The Jaguars released former first-round pick Leonard Fournette early in the preseason, Ryquell Armstead was lost for the season due to COVID-related complications, while Devine Ozigbo and passing-down specialist Chris Thompson struggled with injuries.  The undrafted free agent assumed the RB1 role for Jacksonville week one and stuck ever since.  Robinson posted double-digit PPR fantasy points each week, averaged over a 100 scrimmage yards per game and stayed healthy so far.   Fantasy players lucky enough to get Robinson early have a RB1 on their roster for waiver wire costs. 


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

The Watch List: 2019 NFL Mock Draft, Picks 1-16

Updated: April 21st 2019

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

For the first time in my mock draft career, I decided to do a mock NFL Draft using draft pick trades.  Let me tell you, it was incredibly fun!  In addition to doing a full two round mock, I included some “best of the rest” players that I expect to outperform their late round draft stock.   Over the next two weeks, you’ll see the full mock broken into four parts, released in reverse order.  At the end of this post I have included a number of important notes that you may want to read before diving in.  To view the other parts, click here.

1.16, Carolina Panthers | DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

[ESPN 30 for 30 Music Plays] What if I told you that in 2019 the Carolina Panthers built the most athletic offense ever fielded in the NFL. They accomplished this feat by adding the incomparable DK Metcalf to the nucleus of QB Cam Newton, RB Christian McCaffery and WR DJ Moore. Unfortunately, they still finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

1.15, Pittsburgh Steelers | Greedy Williams, CB, LSU

Pick 15 would be the furthest CB1 has fallen since 2001. The Steelers need CB help and jump up to greedily grab Williams. They did sign Steven Nelson from KC but his roster bonus and escalating salary mean it’s unlikely he sticks around past 2019.

1.14, Atlanta Falcons | Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi St

Despite spending first rounders on Tak McKinley and Vic Beasley, the Falcons pass rush still stutters: they finished 27th in sacks in 2017. Beasley and DT Grady Jarrett are both free agents after 2019 so Atlanta should invest another pick on the defensive line now.

1.13, Cincinnati Bengals | Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida

New head coach Zac Taylor should resist the urge to make a splash pick. In my scenario, I have the Bengals trading back twice consecutively to pick up additional mid-round picks so they can build out their depth. Even after trading back, the Bengals still land the top tackle in the class.

1.12, Miami Dolphins | Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

The Bengals trade back again since they don’t plan on taking a quarterback yet and could use the extra picks. The Dolphins need to add a young quarterback after trading Ryan Tannehill and signing Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason. Jones is an athletic QB who needs to work on his consistency and accuracy. Ironically, he compares well to Tannehill.

1.11, Green Bay Packers | Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The Packers should add more playmakers to the offense to placate QB Aaron Rodgers and I have them moving up to grab one here. Fant lacks the size of the departed Jimmy Graham but he’s an athletic freak. You don’t draft a first round tight end to block, you draft him to create mismatches.

1.10, Denver Broncos | Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

John Elway loves to constantly tweak his QB depth chart. Out goes Case Keenum after one year, in comes Joe Flacco via trade. There’s no easy “out” in Flacco’s contract but there’s no way he’s the starter through 2021. If they take a QB now he can sit for a year without the urgency to start. I have not been a big fan of Lock but he has a great arm and a high ceiling.

1.09, Buffalo Bills | Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Jerry Hughes, Shaw Lawson and Jordan Phillips are all free agents after the 2019 season. Ed Oliver’s size was a concern heading into the combine but he did end up weighing in at 287 and plays with the athleticism of an OLB. There were some rumors about standing Oliver up and having him start as an inside linebacker but that’d be a poor use of his explosiveness. He’ll earn snaps at both DT and DE depending on the game situation.

1.08, Detroit Lions | TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa

The Lions signed Jesse James from the Steelers this offseason but I don’t think anybody believes he’s a long term answer. After Ebron exploded in Indy, Lions brass might feel the need to reinvest in the position to appease their fans. Hockenson is the most complete tight end in the class and upgrades the offense right away.

1.07, Jacksonville Jaguars | Brian Burns, DE, Florida State

The Jags have used five Top 100 picks on their front seven in the last four drafts. That investment, plus the addition of veteran Calais Campbell, was a big factor in their 2017 success. I think they’ll return to the DL at 1.07 even though there’s more pressing needs elsewhere.

1.06, New York Giants | Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio St

I really hope this is the pick the Giants make because I can’t quite possibly survive another season of NYC sports talk if they don’t. Haskins is a pure pocket passer who could learn a thing or two from Eli Manning. If the Giants get cute and wait on quarterback, expect them to add an edge rusher here.

1.05, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Devin White, ILB, LSU

The Bucs lost MLB Kwon Alexander in free agency so this is a natural fit. White will be a talented off-ball linebacker but he’s my pick for a “Top 5 guy” who could fall. My original version of this mock had him falling out of the Top 10.

1.04, Oakland Raiders | Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

The Raiders have three first rounders and as such, the luxury of going BPA. Quinnen Williams is the best player in the class, let alone left on the board, according to some draft analysts so getting him at 1.04 is great value. The Raiders did invest three picks on the DL last year but none of those players established themselves yet. Williams will leapfrog all of them on the depth chart immediately.

1.03, New York Jets | Josh Allen, DE, Kentucky

The Jets should actively shop the third overall pick. After trading up last year they have a dearth of picks and could use the extra draft capital to build around QB Sam Darnold. However, it’s a weak quarterback class so I doubt teams will be angling to move up. If the Jets have to pick here I think they should go for Josh Allen. Quinnen Williams is the best player available but Allen is also very good and fills an immediate need at edge rusher.

1.02, San Francisco 49ers | Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

The 49ers will end up being the beneficiary of the Kyler Murray hype. Two months ago they wouldn’t have thought that landing Bosa would be an option but here we are. There’s been some recent negative news about Bosa and his political leanings but ignore that unless something truly damning comes out. On the field he’s a dominating pass rusher so don’t overthink it.

1.01, Arizona Cardinals | Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I wouldn’t make the pick myself but it sounds like this is what GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury want to do. We all have questions about Kyler and how his body type will hold up in the NFL. There’s no questioning his arm or dynamism though so it will be fun to watch, that’s for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few housekeeping notes:

  • The full mock draft was written between April 4-10.  Any moves or news released after that point would not be taken into account.
  • To help me track my mock draft, I used a very useful tool I found on Reddit called RST’s 2019 Draft Tracker.
  • This spreadsheet lets you easily trade draft picks and uses a pick value chart so you can try and keep trades fair.  All of the trades except for Washington/Arizona were pick for pick and I required that the team moving up offer more value than the value chart suggested was fair.
  • Since the trades all included late picks not covered in this mock I didn’t bother noting each individual trade.  Instead, I described my general thinking for the trade.
  • For each pick, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the GM.  If given the chance, I would not necessarily make all of the same picks as I value some players and positions differently.
  • Keep in mind that my predicted draft order does not necessarily correspond to my personal positional rankings.
  • I could not have put together the roster and contract notes without the help of two invaluable sites: Our Lads and Spotrac.

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.  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 writing a full report for a player, I typically pick two games of film to watch.  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 my articles I use a number of valuable resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.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, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, 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, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com (the media home for FWAA members)
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a 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 SEC Preview

Updated: August 28th 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:  Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama.  Get used to hearing Tua’s name because you are going to hear it a lot.  He became a household name when he replaced Jalen Hurts at halftime in the national championship and led Alabama to victory against Georgia.  Tagovailoa won’t be the running threat that Hurts was but he’ll add enough to keep defenses honest.  Picking a quarterback from a championship favorite with instant name recognition is a safe Heisman bet to make, even if he’s just a sophomore.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Jordan Ta’amu, QB, Ole Miss.  The Rebels will struggle as they are still dealing with the fallout from the recent recruiting scandal but I have a feeling that JUCO transfer quarterback Jordan Ta’amu will impress this year.  College football fantasy players are bullish on his potential which makes me think he could sneak into the Heisman conversation with big passing and rushing numbers.  Ta’amu has the luxury of throwing to the best receiving corps in the country which will make him look good on a regular basis; the team is also returning four starting offensive linemen which should keep him upright.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Drew Lock, QB, Missouri.  Lock led the NCAA in TDs last season (44) and threw for nearly 4,000 yards.  He loses his offensive coordinator this year but the Tigers will still put up points.  Lock will top the charts of most conference passing stats.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Devin White, LB, LSU.  White was a stat-stuffing force last season.  He led the conference in tackles per game (10.2; 133 overall).  He also added 14.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.  Since Alabama has much turnover on their defense, White should be able to steal the spotlight on defense in the SEC.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Demetris Robertson, WR, Georgia.  Robertson is transferring in from Cal and was granted immediate eligibility so he will see the field in 2018.  As a true freshman in 2016, Robertson snagged 50 balls for 767 yards and 7 TDs.  Robertson was the top ranked receiver in his recruiting class per 247Sports so he comes with high expectations.  Georgia has lacked a true difference maker at the position in recent years so it will be fun to see how much QB Jake Fromm is able to grow with Robertson as a target.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia.  Swift takes over the reigns with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel on to the NFL.  Swift got involved as a true freshman, rushing for 618-3 and adding 17 receptions.  He’ll earn 1,200+ total yards and double digit scores this season.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Jordan Ta’amu and AJ Brown, Ole Miss.  As I’ve mentioned, Ole Miss has a stellar group of receivers which is led by Brown.  He may the best of the bunch in the conference, although South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards may disagree (more on both below).  Ta’amu was efficient in limited duty in 2017 and will give the offense a boost as the full-time signal caller in 2018.
  • Best RB Corps:  Alabama.  The Crimson Tide have two #1 running back recruits on their roster according to Phil Steele: senior Damien Harris and sophomore Najee Harris (no relation).  The Harris brothers combined for nearly 1,400 yards and 14 TDs.  Josh Jacobs is the best receiver of the bunch (14 receptions last year) and would probably start for most other teams.  Alabama had the conference’s second-best rushing attack in 2017.  Even though they lost Bo Scarborough, the Tide will continue to dominate on the ground.  Keep on eye on Georgia’s backfield as well, they are just as deep but younger (Editor’s note: UGA freshman RB Zamir White tore his ACL and is out for the year).
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee.  Judging by the vim and vigor that Vols fans ran off Greg Schiano before he was even offered the job, I fear for Pruitt’s safety if Tennessee fails to be bowl eligible again in 2018.  In reality there’s no way he would lose the job after one season, barring some off-field scandal, but I figure he’s probably the odds-on favorite to be the next to lose a job in the SEC.  Other new guys like Dan Mullen, Jimbo Fisher, Matt Luke and Chad Morris each have a longer rope (for different reasons, of course).  Hopefully the Pruitt family decided to rent rather than buy.

Teams to Watch

 South Carolina (9-4 in 2017)

The Gamecocks finished the regular season at 8-4 in 2017 and tacked on an Outback Bowl win over Michigan to get to nine victories.  I am predicting South Carolina to finish the season with the same record as last year so why are they on my Teams to Watch list?  Because there’s a non-zero chance they come out atop the SEC East and steal a conference championship appearance.  At this point it’s safe to pick Georgia to win the division but these two skirmish in Week 2.  It’s rare to have such a heavyweight divisional game that early and it could be South Carolina’s shot to shock the college football world.  As Tom Luginbill recently pointed out on XM radio, South Carolina lucks out in their cross-over games.  They avoid Alabama, Auburn and LSU and instead get Missouri, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.  The offense returns all of its productive skill position players except for TE Hayden Hurst.  Thanks to NFL prospect receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, QB Jake Bentley should be able to keep the offense moving.  The defense will be missing a number of key pieces from the 2017 unit (which held opponents to just 20.7 ppg), but they have gone into the last two seasons with just six returners and should fare fine.  I don’t think I’m willing to bet the over with any significant amount but I would not be surprised to see USC contending late in the season.

 Florida (4-7 in 2017)

I am certainly no Gator fan but they are an easy pick as a team to improve.  New head coach Dan Mullen comes to Gainesville with the luxury of 19 projected returning starters.  RB Jordan Scarlett returns after his season-long suspension for participating in a credit card fraud scheme.  Scarlett rushed for 1,070 yards in 2016 so he’s a valuable piece to get back and add to last year’s leading rushers Lamical Perine and Malik Davis.  The quarterback position is a big question mark.  I would not be surprised to see Mullen reboot and start freshman Emory Jones under center at some point this season.  Like South Carolina, Florida’s schedule sets up nicely for 7-8 win potential.  They only play four true road games and get their hardest cross-division opponent, LSU, at home.  I won’t be rooting for Florida to become bowl eligible but it’s going to happen.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn: My opinion of Stidham fluctuated throughout the 2017 season. I questioned him early but was impressed with him late. In the Georgia and Alabama games, Stidham made a positive impression on me as a smart runner with the ball. This may be damning with faint praise but I likened him to Alex Smith at one point last season (you may remember, Smith was the first overall pick in 2005 so that comp is actually saying a lot). In 2017, Stidham gained 3,158 yards through the air; he added 153 on the ground.  That rushing total belies his true impact though.  Per Phil Steele’s stats, Stidham gained 383 yards on the ground but lost 230 of them to sacks.  Stidham scored 22 combined TDs which I’d like to see increase to 30 this time around. He’s in the conversation for the first quarterback off the board at the 2019 NFL Draft so I’ll be monitoring him all season long.
  • Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State: A number of college football minds that I listen to and read love Fitzgerald.  Admittedly, I have not watched much of him so this is a speculative addition to my preview based on what I’ve heard elsewhere. Fitzgerald is a dual-threat quarterback who rushed for 984 yards and 14 TDs.  He threw for 1,782 yards and 15 TDs with 11 INTs.  Fitzgerald missed the end of the 2017 season with a dislocated ankle but he’ll be fine for 2018.  Hopefully the injury does not hamper his rushing ability in any way.  Fitzgerald has an NFL-ready body at 6050/230 so if we see passing game improvement he could land on the draft radar.
  • Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky: Throughout his first two seasons on campus, Snell has been supremely productive. Over those 26 games, he has 2,424 yards and 32 TDs.  He added ten receptions in 2017; that’s a nice addition to his resume but in 2017 he should strive for twenty. I have limited exposure to Snell but from what I have seen he appears to have patience and vision at the line and enough size and speed for the next level. I have a feeling that Snell will be a sneaky fantasy rookie come 2018 if he lands in a good spot.
  • Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M:  Williams is an interesting running back prospect to me because his height and running style don’t seem to match.  I’m not quite sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  I watched some 2016 highlight videos and his 2017 game against Auburn.  He’s an upright runner who appears to always be running downhill.  He’s listed at 5090/200 but he looks smaller on film.  I didn’t see a ton of wiggle and tackle breaking ability but he has the speed to hit a hole and gain the necessary yardage.  What was most interesting was seeing that he’s such a good receiver that the Aggies trust him to line up split out.  Let’s see how he rates as a pass blocker but after a quick glance I think Williams will project as a valuable passing down back in the NFL.
  • Damien Harris, RB, Alabama: Harris was in the running for a first round fantasy draft grade last season but decided to return to Alabama for his senior season. I’m not quite sure that was the right decision because the Tide backfield is crowded. Harris is a durable 5110/221 runner with speed and elusiveness to break off big runs. He has averaged over 7.0 yards per carry the last two seasons which is impressive for anybody, but especially for a back who is 220+. I’ve seen Harris labeled as “under the radar” but I find that narrative hard to believe. He’s a former top recruit who has two back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons at Alabama. That’s about as “on the radar” as you can get.
  • DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss: Metcalf has elite size (6040/225) and measureables. He made Sports Illustrated’s 2017 “Freaks List” because of his past exploits as a high school track star. Metcalf reportedly ran a 4.46 last offseason which would instantly make him a first round NFL Draft prospect. Before we jump to conclusions though, let’s see how Metcalf does in 2018, sharing the wealth again with a stacked receiving corps. In 2017, he ended with a respectable 39-646-7 line; it really is a shame that Metcalf is competing for targets instead of being a no-brainer WR1 for his squad.
  • Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina: It’s so disappointing as a college football fan that somebody as talented as Deebo Samuel has struggled with injuries. Samuel has played in just 18 career games in three years at South Carolina. His career totals of 86-1,194-5 receiving and 17-128-7 rushing and 3 return TDs are encouraging. I’ll be rooting for Samuel to get through a full season so we can fully evaluate his NFL Draft stock come the Spring.
  • Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri: The man of many nicknames. My favorite so far might be “A-Ok” but it’s going to be a long draft season of pronunciation jokes directed at Mr. Okwuegbunam. He’s going to be a redshirt sophomore this season so there is no guarantee he comes out, especially considering how long it usually takes tight ends to develop. If Okwuegbunam does come out, he’ll be highly sought for his potential. As a redshirt freshman, Okwuegbunam had 29 receptions, 415 yards and 11 TDs. His touchdowns will regress in 2018 but I expect his other totals to improve. He has size similar to that of Dallas Goedert from the 2018 class.  To reach that level though he will need to prove he’s a good blocker and all-around athlete.
  • Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia: Nauta’s fantasy potential took a hit last season because of a significant decrease in production. He put up a great 29-361-3 line in 2016 which earned him Freshman All-American honors by a number of publications. In 2017, however, Nauta caught just nine balls despite playing in all fifteen games. Improving as a blocker in the dominant Bulldog rushing offense is important in NFL terms, but it won’t help Nauta’s fantasy draft stock. Hopefully we see more balance from Nauta this year as Georgia moves to a more balanced attack.
  • Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky: The “other” Josh Allen might just end up being the better professional prospect. This Josh Allen is a pass rushing outside ‘backer at Kentucky. He has led the Wildcats in sacks each of the last two seasons (7, 7) and topped 60 tackles in both campaigns. His size, speed and statistical profiles remind me of Lorenzo Carter who I was very high on last season. I’m looking forward to watching some tape of Allen’s this year to see if that comp holds true.
  • Devin White, LB, LSU:  The aforementioned White is a productive MLB who I frequently see popping up as a first rounder for next year’s NFL Draft.  White appears to have more than enough speed to get to the edge and has the ability to fight off blocks and chase down runners.  He is an impact player who gets into the backfield and is constantly disruptive.
  • Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Is there a better nickname for a cornerback? Williams lived up to the moniker in 2017 by snatching 6 INTs. He added 38 tackles and 10 pass breakups as well. Williams is long at 6030 and will be coveted for his size and ball skills.

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Lock, who has started since early in his freshman season, is another name to remember come April.  He’s currently in the running for the QB1 spot and if history is any indication he could creep into first round consideration.  Lock nearly eclipsed 4,000 passing yards last season (3,964) and threw an FBS best 44 TDs.  He threw 13 INTs which was worst in the conference but you can excuse that when he puts up the points he does.  In fact, Missouri led the SEC in scoring with 37.5 points per game.  Lock loses offensive coordinator, and quarterback whisperer, Josh Heupel, who took the UCF job.  For Lock’s future, it’s less about whether the offense keeps moving and more about working on his consistency.

While watching Lock, I felt that both the speed and touch on his balls was average to above average but inconsistent.  To borrow a cliche, he has the “arm talent” but he doesn’t display it on every rep.  I have to admit that he can throw a beauty of a ball, dude can spin it.  Lock needs to improve his accuracy and I’d also like to see him anticipate his receiver’s movements a bit more.  He has enough speed and athleticism to escape the pocket but I did not see him complete a single pass after being flushed against South Carolina.  Lock is listed at 6040 but I bet he’ll measure in smaller than that; at times he seemed to disappear behind the offensive line.

Lock isn’t my QB1 at the moment but he’s flirting with the top five in my rankings.  I was encouraged enough by what I saw to know that I need to keep a close eye on him this season.  He’s going to be a prospect whose value relies heavily on which games you choose to watch.  (Film watched: South Carolina 2017, Highlights 2017)

AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

As I have mentioned elsewhere in this preview, Brown is one cog in a mighty Ole Miss receiving machine.  He led the team in receptions, yards and TDs in 2017 (75-1,252-11).  One knock against Brown would be that his stats are inflated by three huge games against subpar opponents.  Against South Alabama, he went for 8-233-2; the following week against Tenn-Martin he totaled 8-156-2.  Later in the season, versus Louisiana-Lafayette, he hauled in 14 balls for 185 yards and two scores.

Brown is a 6010/225 slot receiver who makes his hay after the catch.  He is a bear to bring down and creates extra yardage while defenders try to drag him down.  He has enough speed to break free when he is able to shrug off a would-be tackler.  In addition to power moves, he has some finesse moves as well; against South Carolina he executed a fantastic juke that literally may have broken the defender’s ankle.  I was not able to devote the time to fully study Brown’s route running so I will need to check back on that.  In the Kentucky game he ran a lot of short and intermediate routes.  I’d love to see him used outside and on more varied routes in 2018.  I did not observe Brown in any high point contested catch situations but I don’t doubt his ability to win in those situations with his strength.

Because he feasted on lesser defenses, it will be vitally important to track how Brown does in 2018 versus top competition.  If he shows that he can play against the big boys too, he’ll be near the top of my 2019 receiver rankings.  Ironically, he might be fighting off teammate DK Metcalf for the top spot on my list.  (Film watched: Kentucky 2017, Highlights 2017)

Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Surprise, another wide receiver who is vying for the pinnacle of the position.  Have I mentioned that 2019 will be a good year for rookie wide receivers?  Through two years as a starter, Edwards has 108 receptions, 1,383 yards and 9 TDs.  His stats are not eye-popping but against tough SEC opposition it’s understandable.  Similarly to Brown, Edwards best games came outside of the Southeastern Conference.  His two best totals, 122 and 90 yards, came against Louisiana Tech and Wofford, respectively.  Edwards is listed at 6030/215 which puts him in a sweet spot of talented NFL wide receivers.  I’d like to see his speed and acceleration improve but even if he runs in the 4.55-4.60 range, at that height, he could draw comps to Michael Thomas or Allen Robinson.  Edwards certainly has some ways to go though before we truly bestow that comparison upon him though.

Unfortunately, there is not much tape yet available for Edwards.  I was stuck with just a single game to choose from.  In that game, against NC State, I noted that Edwards is violent out of his route breaks, whipping his head towards the quarterback and looking for the ball.  He also showed that he’s not afraid to go over the middle to make a catch.  It’s important to keep an even keel when scouting highlight videos, after all they are by definition the player’s best moments, but I came away very impressed with Edwards.  In those highlights he showed an ability to win both at the catch point and after the catch.  There were a number of circus grabs that showcased his tracking, concentration and body control.  In a few close-up replays I even got a glimpse of his footwork at the line of scrimmage which looked positive.

At no point while watching highlights did I feel “this is the best we’ll ever see from Edwards.”  Instead, I thought to myself, “there’s so much potential for Edwards to show us more.”  I’m glad South Carolina has such a big game early in the season (Week 2 vs Georgia) because it will give me a chance to study him even further.  (Film watched: NC State 2017, Highlights 2017)


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

2018 Post-Draft Rookie Rankings

Updated: May 11th 2018

I’m feeling a bit bittersweet today.  After months of research, statistical analysis and film watching this will be my last post about the 2018 rookie class.  You’ll be in capable hands with the rest of our RSO writing crew but I can’t help but feel sad about losing “my guys.”  I’m looking at you Anthony Miller and Rashaad Penny.  I had been a casual college football writer for years, and a fan for much longer, but the 2018 class was the first that I went truly deep on.  Alas, I will probably feel the same about the 2019 class this time next year.  Speaking of the 2019 class, expect to see content rolling out starting in June.  I have compiled a watch list of 150 players from the FBS to Division III.  I will release conference previews in the Summer, along with a way-too-early mock draft.  I will also unveil a Madden-like grading system I devised as a way to quantitatively compare players across levels and positions.  Before all of that though, let’s take one last look at my 2018 rookie rankings.  These were updated after the NFL Draft and I have also included a write-up about some noteworthy players.  Enjoy!

#3 – Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

I have vacillated on Chubb’s ranking more than anybody else at the top of my rankings. Earlier in the year I had Chubb and Derrius Guice alternating as my RB2/RB3. Immediately after the draft I bumped Chubb down to RB4 (1.04), behind Ronald Jones, due to concerns about playing on a poor Browns team that has a crowded backfield. The more I thought about it though, I decided I’d rather have Chubb because I think he’s a better player and will earn ample opportunity early enough in his career to warrant the 1.03 pick.

#5 – Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks

It was hard not to have Penny rocket up my rankings after he went 27th overall to the Seahawks. It felt like a confirmation of everything I saw and loved during the 2017 season. I tempered my excitement though for two reasons. First, Penny’s struggles as a pass protector are well known and I fear this could limit his touches to start his career. Second, the Seahawks have a weak offensive line (ranked 27th by PFF after 2017) that will test even Penny’s elite evasion. I was also building some return game work into Penny’s valuation but now that he’s a first round draft pick I doubt there’s any chance he gets to return kicks.

#6 – Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons
#7 – DJ Moore, WR, Panthers

I’m sticking to my guns here. I have had Ridley as my WR1 throughout the season and I still don’t feel he has done anything to change that for me. Moore certainly impressed at the combine more so than Ridley but it’s not like Ridley looked like Orlando Brown out there. Moore was a victim of a poor passing game at Maryland, but you could say the same about Ridley who was rarely featured. Moore will get a lot of early targets as the lead receiver in Carolina but I’d rather have Ridley’s fit in Atlanta with a top passing offense. Julio Jones will dictate coverage which should leave Ridley and his superb separation and route running skills wide open.

#20 – Bradley Chubb, DE, Broncos
#21 – Josh Rosen, QB, Cardinals

Chubb and Rosen come in as the first of their position in my rankings. IDP and QBs are always tough to rank because they are so heavily dependent on league settings and scoring. In general, for a typical RSO IDP league, I think that taking your first IDP near the second turn is a good bet; same with quarterbacks in a 1QB league. If you’re in a league featuring high IDP scoring or in a Superflex or 2QB league, you’ll need to push these guys higher by about a round. Similarly to Ridley, Chubb joins a unit where he won’t be the focus and can prosper. I’d be buying shares of the Broncos in team defense leagues, boy are they going to rack up the sacks. Rosen was the fourth quarterback taken in the NFL Draft but I think he should be the first off the board in your fantasy draft because he has the best combination of short-term opportunity and supporting cast in my opinion. Darnold and Allen may see the field just as soon but they won’t be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Christian Kirk. Mayfield is the wildcard if he beats out Tyrod Taylor, who the Browns spent a 3rd round pick on in a trade, because the Browns skill position players look intriguing if they all stay healthy and out of trouble.

#39 – Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Giants

I have a man crush on Lorenzo Carter. He’s a quick and lanky edge rusher who also showed the ability to drop into coverage late in the season. He’ll probably start as a situational pass rusher but the Giants will soon find that they found a gem in Carter. If you’re playing in an IDP league you can probably get Carter later than 39th overall but I wouldn’t chance it. Take him in the third round, stash him on your bench and be the envy of your league this time next year.

#45 – Ito Smith, RB, Falcons

Like Carter, Smith is a sneaky late round pick to stash on your bench. He’ll be lucky to find 50 touches in 2018 behind Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman but once Coleman leaves in free agency, Smith will fall into a fruitful timeshare. Smith ran for 1,100+ yards each of the last three years while catching 40+ passes. Smith is strong and thick with powerful leg drive. I rated him as a B+ blocker in his class so despite his short stature he isn’t a liability in pass protection. Smith will be the type of back who earns 75% of his fantasy production in the last two minutes of each half. He’ll come on the field for his mix of receiving and protection and stay on the field while the team runs the hurry-up.

#48 – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Packers
#49 – J’mon Moore, WR, Packers

I’m not very high on either of these Packer receivers but one of them is going to emerge, it’s just a matter of which one does. There were rumors that St. Brown fell in the draft because of his “diva” personality which shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anybody who has done any research about his family. That pedigree and promise is what garnered St. Brown buzz the last two years – it certainly wasn’t his on-the-field production. Moore is shorter, lighter and slower but put up two solid seasons at Mizzou in 2016 and 2017 (60+ receptions, 1,000+ yards, 8+ TDs). I wouldn’t recommend drafting either player, you’re better off waiting to see which one hits and then scramble to the waiver wire, but if I had to pick I would go with St. Brown for his superior physical attributes.

#50 – Mason Rudolph, QB, Steelers

I like Rudolph as a speculative third round pick in Superflex and 2QB leagues. While Ben Roethlisberger has been squawking about the Rudolph pick, let’s not forget that just a year ago he was considering retirement. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the Steelers brass decided to draft James Washington and then pair him with his college quarterback. There’s also a chance that Rudolph gets playing time in the short-term due to an injury to Big Ben. Ben has only played a full 16 game season three times in his 14 year career. If you happen to get two games out of Rudolph in 2018 when your own starter is hurt or on bye you’ll already be ahead of the game value-wise.

#64 – Josh Sweat, DE, Eagles

Josh Sweat is another IDP sleeper of mine. Sweat may not get much opportunity early in his career but he had first round talent and physicals but was available later due to his injury history. The stories about his knee injury are pretty gnarly so I would not recommend spending much draft capital on him but if you’re in a deep IDP league and looking for a long shot, he’s your guy.

#80 – Richie James, WR, 49ers

So you’re saying there’s a chance? The 49ers offense is an enigma at the moment. As a Jimmy G owner, I’m excited for what he showed late last year but I am concerned about who he’ll be targeting this year. Pierre Garcon will be back from injury but he’s old. Marquise Goodwin is back too but he’s nothing more than a complementary player in my opinion. The door is open for somebody to emerge and Richie James has as much of a chance as anybody else on the roster. James had two uber productive seasons to start his career: 107-1,334-8 and 105-1,625-12. He lost most of 2017 to injury but is healthy now and reports are that he played well at the team’s first mini camp. You’d have to be in a pretty deep league to consider drafting James but once you get past WR15 it’s a crap shoot anyway.


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

2018 NFL Mock Draft: Part I, Picks 1-16

Updated: April 24th 2018

If you have not already read Part IV of my mock draft, please start there so you can start at the bottom and follow through to the beginning.  Part IV includes detailed notes about my methodology and process.  You can then move on to Part III and then to Part II before continuing below.  An important note to remind readers is that this mock draft was compiled on March 30-31 so please keep the timing in mind as you read in case there are trades or free agent signings in the interim.

#16 – Ravens – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The Ravens have been desperate for a WR1 for what feels like a decade.  Sadly, I don’t think free agent signing Michael Crabtree is the answer nor are there are any true standout WR prospects in the class.  Despite my criticism, I believe that Ridley is the best of the bunch.  Aside from a solid 40 yard dash, Ridley mostly hurt his stock at the combine.  I previously had him as a Top 10 player but have dropped him because of lingering doubts.  Ridley is quick, shows good hands and is an excellent route runner.  When I watch him on film he just pops, damn the stats or the combine results.  I’m less convinced about his chance to become a team’s WR1 now than I was a year ago but I still think he can be a productive NFL receiver.

#15 – Cardinals – Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

Denzel Ward at #15 is an absolute steal.  In real life, I believe Ward will go higher because some team will either trade their pick to a team looking for a corner or some team will just go BPA and snag him.  He very likely could go a spot earlier to Green Bay but instead I have him falling to the Cardinals.  Unfortunately for the Cards, none of the top quarterbacks have made it this far so they’ll be the ones to go BPA and take Ward.  While researching Ward, I came across a telling stat: opposing quarterbacks completed just 32% of their passes when targeting Ward.  He had a very positive combine to go with the tape.  He tied for the fastest 40 yard dash by a corner (4.32), had the longest broad jump and the second highest vertical.

#14 – Packers – Derwin James, S, Florida State

James started the year in Top 5 consideration with Minkah Fitzpatrick but slipped a bit during a disappointing season for the Seminoles.  Long time starting safety Morgan Burnett is gone to the Steelers so Green Bay has a vacancy in their defensive backfield.  James excels in run support and near the line of scrimmage which would fit perfectly with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at free safety.  The Packers did draft a safety last year in the second round, Josh Jones, but I don’t think that would be enough to make them pass on James.  Even though he and the team struggled at times, James still put up good totals (84 tackles and 2 INTs) in his comeback season from 2016’s knee injury.  Corner may be a more immediate need for the Packers but something about Derwin James in Green Bay felt right.

#13 – Redskins – Vita Vea, DT, Washington

The Redskins need a NT for their 3-4 scheme and there is none better in this class than Vita Vea.  He has refrigerator like size: 6’4″ and 347lbs.  He ran a 5.10 which sounds slow since we’re so conditioned to the times for RBs and WRs so let me put it into context.  Since 2010, he ran the second fastest of any defensive lineman 345lbs or more.  The only player faster was Dontari Poe who went 11th overall to the Chiefs in 2012.  Vea’s stat line isn’t overwhelming (43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks in 2017) but that’s because you can’t measure his impact with the boxscore.  Lining him up alongside 2017 first rounder Jonathan Allen will create a stellar one-two punch for years to come.

#12 – Bills – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

In my preview of Lamar Jackson this offseason, I comped him to then Bills QB Tyrod Taylor so it’s ironic that I have him landing here after Taylor’s trade to the Browns.  Jackson is an incredible runner as we all know.  There was rumors that he should switch to WR but that was ridiculous – he’s a good quarterback.  He may have a smaller frame than you would want from a run-first QB but he played 38 games in college and is not injury prone like the narrative suggests.  Could he sustain a freak, season-ending injury?  Of course, just ask Tom Brady.  Jackson’s accuracy needs to improve to truly make it in the NFL (57% career completion percentage).  I think he will start his career as an inefficient, big-play-waiting-to-happen type of quarterback.  It’ll come down to the timing of those big plays.  One last thought, can you imagine Lamar Jackson and LeSean McCoy running the read option together?  My god.

#11 – Dolphins – Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have said that Smith would be the first linebacker off the board.  Fast forward to April and Tremaine Edmunds has leapfrogged him but the Dolphins would still be getting a Pro Bowl caliber player here.  Smith is slightly faster than Edmunds (4.51 vs 4.54) but is smaller at 6’1″ and 236lbs.  Over his final three games, under the brightest of spotlights in the SEC Championship and the College Football Playoff, Smith totaled 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.  Pairing Smith with returners Kiko Alonso and Cameron Wake, the newly acquired Robert Quinn, and a hopefully-healthy Raekwon McMillan would give the Dolphins a fearsome front seven.

#10 – Raiders – Mike McGlinchey, T, Notre Dame

Much like how I picked Nelson for the 49ers to help protect their big money quarterback, I have done the same for the Raiders with McGlinchey.  Incumbent LT Donald Penn is 34 years old and coming off a season-ending foot injury in 2017 which could cause him to miss some offseason time.  Penn also has a huge roster bonus due in 2019, the last year of his deal, so I’ll bet that the Raiders are planning to move on from him regardless of his injury status.  The Raiders offensive line was already a strength of the team (they allowed just 24 sacks, tied for third best in the league) but adding somebody like McGlinchey would solidify the position long term.

#9 – 49ers – Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

I was surprised to see that Nelson didn’t fit anywhere earlier for me.  He’s probably a Top 5 talent but teams rarely draft a guard that high.  A guard has only been taken this high four times since 1985 (coincidentally, twice in 2015; one of which is the much maligned Ereck Flowers from the Giants).  Nelson has some fantastic highlights and I love watching them whenever they show up on my Twitter timeline.  I’m not convinced the 49ers truly need to draft a guard this high but I figured that they just invested a ton of money in Jimmy Garappolo so they might as well add a piece to protect that investment.

#8 – Bears – Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds has climbed up draft boards since the start of 2017 and finds himself at #8 in my mock now.  He ran very well at the combine (4.54) and has fantastic size as well (6’5″ and 253lbs).  He was very productive in 2017: 108 tackles and 5.5 sacks.  Pair that production with his size and speed and you have a can’t miss linebacker.  He will feature as an ILB in the Bears 3-4 defense but because of his speed and explosiveness, he can get to the quarterback too so he’ll have value as a situational pass rusher as well.

#7 – Bucs – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

Tampa has thus far only re-signed one of their four free agent DBs, and have not signed any from other teams, signaling to me that it is a position they plan to target in the NFL Draft.  What better player to target than Fitzpatrick who played both CB and S at Alabama.  He likely factors more as a safety in the NFL but could see time as a strong nickel.  Depending on the matchup, I would expect to see him in shadow coverage against a dominant tight end.  Fitzpatrick struggled through a hamstring injury in 2017 but still managed to play 13 games.  Don’t overthink it.

#6 – Colts – Bradley Chubb, EDGE, NC State

Before the Colts traded the #3 pick to the Jets, Chubb was a common pick for them in mock drafts.  The fact that the Colts traded back, adding multiple second round picks, and still land Chubb is awesome.  Chubb put together back-to-back seasons with at least 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss.  He finished the year as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American.  Like Barkley, he’s a better player than his draft slot would lead you to believe.

#5 – Broncos – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Broncos traded QB Trevor Siemian and signed journeyman Case Keenum in free agency.  Keenum is 30 years old and his deal is only for two years so they’ve created a perfect situation to bring in a project QB like Allen.  Keenum can start in 2018 and possibly even into 2019 if necessary.  Allen’s accuracy issues are well documented and I am personally not a fan because of them.  Many who know more than I, however, think he has the tools to be a star in the league.  Coming in behind an established veteran would be the best thing for Allen’s future prospects.

#4 – Browns – Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley is possibly the best true football player in the class, at worst he’s second to Bradley Chubb.  However, the quarterback run and general hesitance to draft running backs high lowers Barkley’s stock.  He’s an absolute stud and will be a fantasy monster from Day One.  He has an uncommon combination of size and speed and is a great receiver.  He did struggle at times in 2017 as a runner but when he did, he made up for it in the passing game.  If the Browns do go the direction I have planned for them, they would end up with a formidable offense in 2018.

#3 – Jets – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The run on quarterbacks continues!  I have read a lot of Mayfield/Jets connections in the last few months and when there is smoke, there is fire.  Mayfield is hyper-accurate and just plain hyper.  His personality has undoubtedly taken him off some teams’ draft boards but I would want him on my team.  My favorite part of the Senior Bowl might have been watching Mayfield on the sideline.  It was a non-competitive all-star game but there he was living and dying with each play, hyping up teammates and helping his fellow quarterbacks.  The only thing that makes me question this pick is the fact that the Jets brought in Teddy Bridgewater.  I have never been a Bridgewater fan so I still think the Jets should go for a QB here.

#2 – Giants – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

I have previously compared Rosen to Giants QB Eli Manning so this seems like a great fit.  In my opinion, Rosen is the most NFL ready quarterback of this class.  He does have injuries in his past and some like to question his “love for the game” but that’s not factoring into my analysis.  He’s a prototypical pocket passer who will have a long NFL career.  It’s not often that you get a chance to draft a franchise quarterback so the Giants need to just make this pick and stop pretending that Manning is anything more than a stopgap option at this point in his career.

#1 – Browns – Sam Darnold, QB, USC

I don’t believe that Darnold is the best quarterback of this class, but I do think that he will be the first overall pick.  Darnold is a confident passer which results in turnovers just as often as it does spectacular plays.  He has an ability to extend the play with athleticism in the pocket and he is a team leader and motivator.  I noticed that he has a long throwing motion which worries me and might be the explanation for the high number of interceptions (the window closes before he actually gets rid of the ball) and the fumbles (because the ball dips so low, it’s a target for rushing defenders).  He has a high ceiling but also has a low floor – a high risk, high reward pick.


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: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey. 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

Updated 2018 Positional Rookie Rankings

Updated: March 15th 2018

Back in November, I released the first draft of my 2018 positional rookie rankings. Today, I will revisit the rankings and go deeper than before (TWSS?). Before we get started, please remember that we are still early in the draft process. All of these players just completed the combine and as of this writing, none have yet had a pro day or an individual workout. We’ll likely learn more about some prospects before this article even gets published; we’ll surely know a lot more a month from now. As in November, I did struggle at times as to whether the rankings should be based on my perceived fantasy value or in what order I believe players will be drafted. Ultimately, I am ranking based more so on expected fantasy value than predicted draft order but the two are highly correlated. I’ll post separate fantasy and NFL mock drafts in April so you’ll be able to see where the two values diverge. I have included brief notes on interesting players for each position and designated tiers. For more detailed analysis follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper and check out my “RSO Rookie Rundown” series.

Note: this was written prior to the retirement of Adam Breneman.

Quarterbacks

My quarterback rankings are likely more controversial than my rankings at other positions. I truly believe that Josh Rosen is the most NFL-ready of the top prospects and as such I still rank him first. I don’t think he will be drafted first at that position but honestly that might do more to help his fantasy stock than hurt it. I have been low on Sam Darnold and Josh Allen since October so their rankings should come as no surprise. The more I watch and read about Lamar Jackson, the more impressed I am with him as a quarterback; don’t believe the WR narrative. I am much higher on Mason Rudolph than many analysts. He may be a little stiff but he was highly productive, excelled in some advanced metrics and was a quiet leader in Stillwater. I think Rudolph will get drafted by a team who benches him for Year One only to give him the keys to the car to start Year Two (i.e. Pat Mahomes). Luke Falk and Mike White find themselves ahead of the next tier due to their elite size and above average production. Of the rest, my picks for guys who may move up the rankings are JT Barrett and Chase Litton. Barrett was a proven winner at one of the nation’s best programs so I won’t count him out yet. Litton threw too many interceptions in college but is one of the biggest quarterbacks in the class and as such will get a shot somewhere.

Running Backs

No change at the top for me. It’s Barkley well above Guice and Chubb. Jones, Penny and Michel are the next tier and are all very close. I have not elevated Sony Michel as high as some others because I am wary of the recency effect. Michel was in the RB5-10 range all season and one great game against Oklahoma shouldn’t really change that. All of the things we “learned” against Oklahoma were already baked into Michel’s ranking. We knew he could catch the ball, we knew he was explosive, we knew he didn’t need 20 carries to make a difference, etc. To bump him higher based off that one game is essentially a double counting accounting error. Freeman (early in the season), Balage (at the combine) and Johnson (late in the season) are an interesting tier as they all flashed at different times. I’m intrigued by Balage and his combination of size and athleticism; I want to study him more and could slide him up into the third tier. Two big names that have slid down the rankings are Josh Adams and Bo Scarborough. Both concern me because of their size: running backs as tall as they are just don’t often succeed in the NFL (which is also a concern for Balage). There are three FCS prospects on the list (Martez Carter, Chase Edmonds, Roc Thomas). My favorite of that group is Martez Carter. He is short and stout and is a dynamic pass catcher. Edmonds showed out at the combine and will likely move up NFL Draft boards. I’m not a fan of John Kelly because he has a lack of production, size and speed that worries me even though he’s starting to get some buzz. If I had to pick one mid- to late-round pick that will have the biggest immediate impact in the NFL, it might be Ito Smith. Smith was a very good blocker according to PFF’s metrics and is a fantastic receiver (40+ catches each of the last three seasons).

Wide Receivers

I have had Calvin Ridley as my WR1 since the start of the year and I have not been discouraged by the mediocre stats or his middling combine performance. I still believe in Ridley’s raw ability and think that he’s the best of this class. Unlike last year, this class lacks a Top 10 talent so Ridley may be artificially moved up draft boards simply because he may be the best at a position of need. Many other analysts have either Washington or Sutton at WR1 and I can’t really argue with that. They both out-produced Ridley over their careers and each have their own athletic attributes. Ironically, both Washington and Sutton are the only two to have a teammate also make this list so maybe I’m undervaluing just how dominant they could have been on another team. I love all of the guys in my second tier and I don’t think NFL teams will go wrong with any of them. If I was an NFL GM I would probably pass on Ridley in the first and instead grab one of Miller, Moore, Kirk or Gallup in the second. All four have a similar profile: they are versatile, quick and can make spectacular catches. Auden Tate is a big, pun intended, wildcard for me because his sample size is so small (just 65 career catches). However, he has the size and body control to be a true X receiver in the league. Dante Pettis is being too undervalued right now in my opinion. Many analysts seem to have forgotten all about him. He was a four year contributor on a championship contending team. He’ll get on the field early with his punt return and run after catch ability, maybe like how Tyreek Hill started his career, and could be a late round steal in fantasy drafts. Allen Lazard has fallen far down my rankings, mostly because he just failed to impress me at points this past season. There is talk of him moving to TE which would do wonders for his fantasy value. There are three guys in the bottom tiers who are more talented than their rankings: Cain and Callaway (off the field issues) and James (injury). I ended up watching a number of Syracuse games this year and became a fan of Steve Ishmael. He had a fantastic 105-1,347-7 line while playing for a bad Orange team. He has good size and made a number of big-time catches in the games I watched him play against Florida State and Clemson.

Tight Ends

The consensus opinion currently states that Mark Andrews is the best player at the position but I strongly disagree. I did not see enough out of Andrews for me to think he could be a starting NFL tight end. I would feel much more confident drafting one of the other top four for my squad. Goedert is the most well rounded player in the group and he’s such a likable person to boot. Gesicki and Hurst are right with Goedert. Gesicki is an incredible athlete but has a wrap for being a poor blocker. Hurst is underrated because he doesn’t score much (just 3 career TDs) but catches a lot of balls and can block better than most in the class. Adam Breneman has serious injury concerns which drags down his potential – if it weren’t for his history of knee injuries he could be atop this group (Editor’s Note: Breneman has since retired from football). Tight end was a difficult position to rank for me because there were few prospects I had a great feel for. Admittedly, everybody past Troy Fumagalli is a dart throw. Chances are that your fantasy league won’t need to draft the position deeper than that but if you do, I provided a bunch of names of guys to keep on your radar. I prioritized players with either great size or great production – very few had both – and left off some players who might be selected in the NFL Draft but likely have no shot at factoring in fantasy-wise. If you have to go deeper, take the guy who gets drafted highest, regardless of where he ended up in my ranking because there’s so little between TE7 and TE13. The two at the bottom, Yurachek and Akins, are truly deep sleepers. Both are undersized, “move” tight ends who could see a hybrid TE/WR role in the NFL. Teams may be less hesitant to draft somebody of their size and speed after the success of Evan Engram in 2017.


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: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey. 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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