The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Stud Sophomores

Updated: June 26th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. 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 Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Each spring when I start the research on the next draft class, I keep an eye out for any true sophomores who should be on my radar. Those players may not be eligible for the upcoming draft but they are likely to be the stars of the season and are worthy of a quick look now to help set future expectations. In my 2019 season previews, I included coverage of a few sophomores who now find themselves squarely in the middle of my draft prep: namely Justyn Ross, Rondale Moore and Jaret Patterson. (Note: Clemson announced on June 1 that Ross would miss the season due to a neck injury.) I have included ten true sophomores below who I’ll be watching closely in 2020.

Hank Bachmeier, QB, Boise State

  • Measurables: 6010/202
  • 2019 Stats: 8 games, 137-219, 62.6%, 1,879 pass yards, 8.6 ypa, 9 pass TDs, 6 INTs, 142.7 rating; 41 carries, 69 rush yards, 1.7 ypc, 1 rush TD

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State’s highest rated recruit since 2014, started his college career strong with a comeback win against Florida State. He played well over the next four games before getting hurt against Hawaii. He returned to finish the season and will start 2020 as the top quarterback in the Mountain West. Bachmeier is poised in the pocket, has functional mobility and can throw fastballs. Home matchups against Florida State and BYU will give us a good midseason barometer for Bachmeier’s progression; a potential NY6 bowl game would also help increase his national name recognition heading into the 2021 NFL Draft season.

Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

  • Measurables: 6010/225
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 259-422, 61.4%, 3,641 pass yards, 8.6 ypa, 38 pass TDs, 7 INTs, 160.2 rating; 94 carries, 35 rush yards, 0.4 ypc, 1 rush TD; 3 receptions, 23 rec yards, 7.7 ypr, 1 rec TD

Sam Howell, a North Carolina native, was everything Mack Brown and Tar Heels’ faithful hoped he would be. He finished a superb freshman season with 3,641 passing yards, 38 TDs and just 7 INTs. UNC’s new air raid offense may not necessarily prepare him for a “pro style” offense but who cares, it’s fun to watch and makes for great highlights. Howell throws pinpoint deep passes with beautiful weight and touch. When he needs to, he can zing a quick hitter on a slant or screen. He didn’t get too many rushing attempts in 2019, probably because they wanted to keep him upright, but I think he has potential there as well. Howell’s intangible swagger means there are plays he just simply wills into success. I don’t mean to damn with faint praise but some of Howell’s highlights remind me of Aggies-era Johnny Manziel. The sky’s the limit for Howell who should be the early favorite for QB1 in 2022.

Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

  • Measurables: 6020/200
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 282-392, 71.9%, 3,502 pass yards, 8.9 ypa, 30 pass TDs, 9 INTs, 167.6 rating

Kedon Slovis had an interesting and unexpected 2019 season. He started the season as the backup to incumbent sophomore starter JT Daniels but an early injury got Slovis on the field and he didn’t look back. Fast forward a year and Slovis is clearly the Trojans starter with Daniels transferring to Georgia. Like Sam Howell, Slovis benefited from a new air raid offense installed by coordinator Graham Harrell. In his first game as starter, he threw for 377 yards and 3 TDs, one of five games where he had 300+ yards and 3+ TDs. Slovis can chuck it half the field without exerting obvious effort. I had to watch one highlight against Fresno State three times; he threw it 50 yards, perfectly placed, from the opposite hash mark. It’s not a throw too many college passers can make regularly, let alone after coming in off the bench in the season opener as a true freshman. Slovis may not be able to make his own case for the NFL Draft this year but he’ll surely help the stock of WRs Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Zach Charbonnet, RB, Michigan

  • Measurables: 6010/220
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 149 carries, 726 rush yards, 4.9 ypc, 11 rush TDs; 8 receptions, 30 rec yards, 3.8 ypr, 0 rec TD

Zach Charbonnet is a throwback to the days of the 90s and early 2000s when Michigan always seemed to have a powerful RB1 pacing the offense. As a Wolverines fan, it pains me to admit it but Michigan has whiffed on a number of top running back prospects over the last ten years (see: Green, Derrick and Hayes, Justice). Charbonnet walked onto campus as a 4-star recruit and the fourth best running back in the nation per 247Sports. In just the second game of the season, against Army, Charbonnet made his presence known by shouldering a 33 carry load for 100 yards and 3 scores. He didn’t crack the 20 carry mark again in the season, and only topped 100 yards once more, but I’ll spin that positively and hope that he’ll be fresh for 2020. He’s a strong tackle breaker who could be deadly if he adds a stiff arm to his repertoire. Charbonnet looks like a prototypical between the tackles runner and yet he had plenty of success out of the shotgun in Michigan’s spread attack last year. I expect Charbonnet to excel in Year Two of Josh Gattis’ offense and to surpass 1,200 yards and 15 TDs.

Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

  • Measurables: 6010/205
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 186 carries, 897 rush yards, 4.8 ypc, 9 rush TDs; 23 receptions, 252 rec yards, 11.0 ypr, 1 rec TD

By mid-October, Breece Hall had assured Cyclone faithful that they didn’t need to wait long for somebody to fill the fissure left behind by the beloved David Montgomery. In his first three games as the primary ballcarrier, Hall rushed for 391 yards and 7 TDs; he also added 10 receptions for 120 yards. I absolutely loved Hall’s highlight reels. He’s a silky smooth runner who seems to be playing at a higher frame rate than his opposition. He runs with great contact balance, deploys a useful spin move and has enough power to score from the goal line. He’s also a plus receiver who has 30+ reception potential. Somehow I missed seeing Hall play in 2019 so I am very excited to see him ball in 2020.

David Bell, WR, Purdue

  • Measurables: 6030/210
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 86 receptions, 1,035 rec yards, 12.0 ypr, 7 rec TDs; 3 carries, 12 rush yards, 4.0 ypc, 1 rush TD

David Bell was thrust into a starring role early in 2019, after teammate Rondale Moore went down with an injury, and went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. In nine Big Ten games, Bell racked up 80 receptions for 904 yards and 6 TDs. His three best games came against each of the Big Ten West’s 10-win teams: Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. In those three huge games, Bell’s average line was 11-140-0.6, an unfathomable output for a true freshman on a middling team. Bell is formidable at 6030/210 and uses that frame to box out his defender. He’s a jump ball and contested catch specialist who isn’t afraid to come across the field. Bell has enough speed to stretch the defense deep when his quarterback can deliver the throw accurately. I doubt that the Boilermakers will challenge in the Big Ten West but every team on their schedule is going to have to gameplan for the dynamic duo of Bell and Moore in 2020.

George Pickens, WR, Georgia

  • Measurables: 6030/190
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 49 receptions, 727 rec yards, 14.8 ypr, 8 rec TDs

As a true freshman, George Pickens led the Dawgs in receiving so there’s no doubt that he’ll be the top target in 2020. What is in doubt, however, is who will be throwing him those passes. Earlier this spring, it seemed likely that that would be Jamie Newman, a dual-threat grad transfer from Wake Forest. Recently, though, former USC quarterback JT Daniels announced he would transfer to Georgia and it’s unclear if he’ll have immediate eligibility. Pickens looks to have great hands, above average strength and body control, and a flair for the spectacular catch. My only nitpick is that I hope we get to see him in more YAC situations this year to see him excel after the catch. Pickens is long — I’ll bet his wingspan outpaces his 6030 listed height — and has the potential to be an alpha outside receiver.

Wan’dale Robinson, WR, Nebraska

  • Measurables: 5100/190
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games, 40 receptions, 453 rec yards, 11.3 ypr, 2 rec TDs; 88 carries, 340 rush yards, 3.9 ypc, 3 rush TDs; 11 kick returns, 21.5 ypr, 0 return TD

Wan’dale Robinson is a running back-wide receiver tweener who is bound to rack up all-purpose yards in 2020. Robinson started his freshman season off a bit slow, totaling 146 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches, but, like David Bell above, he flourished once conference play started. In his premiere Big Ten contest against Illinois, Robinson rushed for 19-89-1 and went for 8-79-2 as a receiver. He had 12 or more touches in four of the next five matchups. Unfortunately he got hurt in November and injuries limited him to just one half of football down the final stretch. Robinson is a spark plug — he’s got 4.40 speed and bounces off tacklers. He can be deployed creatively: taking handoffs, lining up in the slot, featuring on gadget plays and returning kicks. Robinson’s versatility will allow him to flourish as a college player but what does it mean for his NFL potential?

Joshua Simon, TE, Western Kentucky

  • Measurables: 6050/230
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 30 receptions, 430 rec yards, 14.3 ypr, 4 rec TDs

Joshua Simon was recruited out of high school as a wide receiver and landed with the Hilltoppers as their fourth-best recruit at the position in the 2019 class per 247Sports. And yet, Simon exploded as a true freshman, while lining up at tight end, finishing the season with a 30-430-4 line and leading the team in yards per reception at 14.3. Unfortunately, highlights of Simon are nigh impossible to find online so I’m including him here based solely on size and output, which are both encouraging for a young tight end. Western Kentucky figures to be in the running for the C-USA East title so I hope a game or two of his will be available nationwide this season.

Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

  • Measurables: 6050/260
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 32 receptions, 447 rec yards, 14.0 ypr, 6 rec TDs

Talk about a successful start to your college football career: four of Jalen Wydermyer’s first nine receptions went for scores. He ultimately led the Aggies in receiving touchdowns last season and also surpassed the other pass catchers in yards per reception. I found a highlight package that included all of his receptions from 2019 and it’s clear that Wydermyer is a talented receiver. He has soft and reliable hands. He’s also a big dude at 6050/260 so he’s tough to bring down after the catch. The highlight package didn’t show any of Wydermyer as a blocker so that aspect of his game remains to be seen, but he’s got the frame for it so I’m not concerned. I’ve got a feeling about Jalen Wydermyer and I can’t wait to see more of him in 2020.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 Week 5 Preview

Updated: September 28th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

UCF’s Cinderella Run Ends: The Golden Knights fairy tale has come to a close after a close loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers last Saturday.  The last time UCF lost a regular season game was all the way back in 2016 when Scott Frost was in his first season as head coach in Orlando.  Current coach Josh Heupel may have been at the reigns when the chariot transformed back into a pumpkin, but Heupel has found his prince in quarterback Dillon Gabriel.  Gabriel, a true freshman from Hawaii, has shined in his first month.  During the Pitt matchup, the broadcasters repeatedly mentioned how injured quarterback McKenzie Milton, also from Hawaii, has played a large role in Gabriel’s ascent from third-string to starter.  Maybe the Golden Knights are shaping up to be more “made for TV movie” than “fairy tale” this season.

USC’s Quarterback Injuries Continue: Speaking of third-string quarterbacks, against all odds the Trojans remain #21 in the new AP Top 25 poll.  After losing sophomore starter JT Daniels in the opener, USC lost freshman Kedon Slovis to a concussion against #10 Utah.  Junior Matt Fink filled in admirably, throwing for 350 yards and 3 TDs while completing 70% of his passes.  Having two steady signal callers with big game experience might be key for Clay Helton down the stretch.  I’m interested to see who he names as the starter when both Slovis and Fink are healthy, or if he plays both.  USC has a tough road ahead with matchups on the road against #17 Washington and #10 Notre Dame (luckily they get a week off in between).  If they can split those two contests, I think USC would have to be the favorite to come out of the Pac-12 South.

Games to Watch

#21 USC at #17 Washington, 3:30pm Saturday on FOX: This game is a must for me because it’s a rare afternoon kickoff for these two PAC-12 powerhouses.  Above I outlined the quarterback carousel that USC has been riding but there’s no such worry at Washington because Jacob Eason has been on fire to start the season.  He’s already topped 1,000 passing yards and has ten scores to just two interceptions.  WR Aaron Fuller is leading the team with 21 receptions and might also lead the nation in highlight reel catches.  The Trojans have their own 2019 NFL Draft hopefuls in WRs Michael Pittman Jr. (31-437-3) and Tyler Vaughns (27-370-2).  Pittman had an incredible 10-232-1 game against Utah and was easily the favorite target of fill-in Matt Fink — read more about Pittman below.  The last three battles between these two have been low scoring but I’ll be taking the over and hoping for an offensive explosion.  My prediction: USC 39, Washington 35

Colorado State at Utah State, 7:30pm Saturday on CBSSN: I’m not loving the primetime slate this week so I might instead give some love to the Mountain West on Saturday night.  In case you haven’t gotten the pun yet: the main draw in this matchup will be Aggies’ QB Jordan Love.  Love started the year strong with a 416-3-3 outing in a close loss to Wake Forest, however he hasn’t put up the stats in the last two victories against Stony Brook and SDSU.  The game sets up to be strength versus strength because Colorado State held Love to just 169-1-0 last season and their passing defense is even better this year (allowing less than 200 passing yards per game).  I will be watching to see if Love can overcome.  My prediction: Utah State 19, Colorado State 13

Players to Watch

Michael Pittman, WR, USC

Michael Pittman’s stock is on the rise and draft fans like you and I need to start investing our attention. As I mentioned above, Pittman had a huge game against #10 Utah, finishing with 10 catches for 232 yards and 1 TD. Last Saturday was far from an aberration, in fact it was just the latest “big game” for the senior. Dating back to the beginning of October 2018, Pittman has amassed 61 receptions, 986 yards and 8 TDs. Over a nine game stretch, he’s nearly averaging 7-110-1. His production is even more impressive when you consider that Pittman continues to battle for targets with two other future NFL receivers (Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown).

In addition to his outstanding output, Pittman has the size and pedigree that NFL teams covet. He’s listed at 6040/220 and projected to run in the 4.52 range by DraftScout.com (think: Kenny Golladay). His father played in the NFL for eleven years and had a very productive career as a pass catching running back.

“All that’s great,” you say, “but what about his tape?” So far there isn’t much film out there but we do have one tape from last year (UCLA) and highlights from this season. I perused both so I could get a feel for Pittman’s game beyond his stats and size. As you’d expect, Pittman’s primary role is as an outside possession receiver who can excel along the sideline. His ability to catch the ball with his hands at the high point also allows him to win jump balls down the field. He does not have breakaway speed but is functionally fast. In my limited review, I did not notice much success as a blocker but that’s secondary at this point. Pittman does show some versatility in his deployment — he occasionally lines up from the slot or in motion — so I am hopeful that we’ll see positive route running skills when we study him further this offseason.

I’ll leave you with this play that Pittman pulled off against Utah. He gets inside leverage against the corner and jets upfield. The ball is placed between the two converging defenders and Pittman is able to slow himself, jump and hands-catch the ball. He has the balance to keep his feet as he comes down and is able to fend off the tackle all the way to the end zone. The score put USC up by two scores and proved to be a pivotal moment in the upset.

 

LeVante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan

I first wrote about LeVante Bellamy back in July as part of my MAC season preview. In that writing, I said that Bellamy was “a burner…and it shows on his highlight reels.” At the time, I was basing my speed assumptions on a report that he ran a 4.32 laser time in 2018. Now the school is reporting that he ran a 4.28 laser time this offseason! If that speed holds true throughout the draft process, Bellamy will be one of the fastest prospects we’ve seen in years.

Bellamy’s 165-2 outburst against Syracuse last week wasn’t the first time he showed up against the Power 5 (in which I include BYU). Since he returned from a 2016 ACL injury, he has played seven games against higher echelon foes. In those games, Bellamy averages 99.9 yards from scrimmage and scored four times (ironically all against Syracuse).

As a runner, Bellamy pairs his angle-busting speed with above average play strength. He’s nimble enough to tiptoe along the sideline to gain an extra yard or two. He uses his compact frame (5090/190) to his advantage by squeezing through tight spaces. In the below play, you can see Bellamy making the most of his size and speed as she crashes through the line, angles towards the sideline and then sprints for the goal line.

In addition to being the primary ball carrier, Bellamy is a good outlet receiver and also has experience as a kick returner. I hope to see more of him in these situations as it is more likely to translate to an NFL role for a player of his skill set.

Two cliches come to mind as I close my thoughts on Bellamy.  First: you can’t teach speed.  Second: the best ability is availability.  Unfortunately he missed significant time in 2016 and 2017 and got banged up last week too. I hope he can stay healthy because Bellamy’s speed makes him a late rounder with sleeper potential.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper