The Watch List: 2019 Rookie Mock Draft 2.0

Updated: April 13th 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.

In this installment of The Watch List, I’ll be sharing version 2.0 of my 2019 Rookie Mock Draft.  This labor-intensive exercise will soon be worthless once the NFL Draft ends but it’s still a helpful tool for a rookie ranker like myself.  Let’s skip a lengthy preamble and get to it!

1.01 | N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry has an enticing combination of high floor and high ceiling which has kept him atop my rookie mock draft for the entire season. At various times in his career, he’s shown us that he can do it all – win in the air, manufacture yards after the catch, overpower defenders – and I trust that he will put it all together in the pros. I expect him to earn targets in Year One and be a valuable fantasy asset by Year Two.

1.02 | Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

If Harmon fared better at the NFL Combine he would have challenged Harry for my top choice. A disappointing combine, though, isn’t enough for me to forget what I saw from Harmon when I watched him all season. He appears to be a nuanced route runner who has the play strength and body control to live on the outside. Harmon will be a good compromise for owners who miss out on Harry but aren’t willing to take the risk on Metcalf.

1.03 | DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Metcalf may go down as the most polarizing player for #DraftTwitter. His upside is evident but so are the question marks. Metcalf is a physical specimen unlike anybody we’ve seen recently. His size, speed and strength are almost literally off the charts. Unfortunately, his small sample size and injury concerns cloud the outlook for fantasy owners. I am very unlikely to own Metcalf in any of my RSO leagues but would consider him more in pure dynasty formats where there is no clock on his development.

1.04 | Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

If I were forced to choose between Butler or Metcalf for my fantasy team, I think I would ultimately choose Butler. I think that is far from consensus and unlikely to happen in many RSO drafts though so that’s why I list Butler after Metcalf in this mock draft. (Side note: I always vacillate on whether these rookie mock drafts should mirror my rankings or what is most likely to happen in a typical league.) In my most recent NFL Draft preview article, I described Butler as “a speedy 6053/227 behemoth with a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl jealous.” I think that perfectly sums up why he continues creeping up draft boards, mine included. https://cms.realitysportsonline.com/the-watch-list-2019-nfl-draft-previews-sleepers/

1.05 | David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

Finally, our first running back! Like Harry has been my top wideout, Montgomery has been my top rusher in the class for nearly two years. Other names have ebbed in popularity since I started writing about this running back class, but Montgomery has always remained constant. Montgomery lacks the long speed to be a breakaway runner but he more than makes up for it with tremendous contact balance that allows him to keep plays alive as he pinballs off defenders. He is also a plus receiver and pass blocker which will help him see the field early.

1.06 | Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

The Sooners’ diminutive duo of QB Kyler Murray and WR Marquise Brown combined for numerous spectacular plays in 2018, cementing Brown’s “Hollywood” moniker. He’s lightning quick with a Mach 2 top speed – the type of player that friends would need to agree to bench when playing NCAA 14. When I studied Brown earlier this season, I was happy to see that he was not just a quick slot receiver. In fact, according to PFF’s play data, less than half of Brown’s receptions came from the slot (32 of 75). The obvious knock against Brown is his size (5093/166) but a creative offense will find a way to utilize him in space. If a team invests significant draft capital in him you can be sure that fantasy owners will take the hint.

1.07 | AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

The forgotten man of the 2019 draft class is AJ Brown. I honestly don’t have a good reason as to why he fell from 1.04 to 1.07 since September. It really just comes down to an excitement around Metcalf, Butler and Hollywood Brown that I don’t feel for AJ Brown. If he wasn’t in Metcalf’s shadow, we would be talking more about Brown because he performed well at the combine and put up an SEC leading 1,320 yards in 2018. I believe that Brown will be a fantasy asset whose value is independent of quarterback play because his ability to win in the slot will appeal to both savvy veterans and struggling sophomores seeking a safety valve. As somebody who owns a number of picks in the 1.07-1.09 range, I am secretly glad to see Brown fading in popularity.

1.08 | Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The difference between Fant and TJ Hockenson for the TE1 spot is minimal. Fant is more athletic while Hockenson is the better blocker. Fant had the better 2017, while Hockenson led the way in 2018. For fantasy purposes, I think Fant makes an earlier impact because he’s more likely to see targets as a rookie. For reality purposes, I’m leaning towards Hockenson because he’s the more complete tight end right now. It’s close and the tie will ultimately be broken by team fit. Counterintuitively, I lean Fant because I think he comes off the board second, meaning he’s more likely to land in a better situation.

1.09 | Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Two months ago we were talking about Jacobs’ rise and how he could emerge as the unquestioned RB1 in this class. I never quite made that jump, although I did propel him to RB2 after his late season dominance. Jacobs ran a disappointing 4.60 at his pro day but it’s important to remember that straight-line speed is only part of the evaluation. I’m currently thinking that Jacobs is drafted first but for our purposes here I’m not ready to have him leapfrog Montgomery until we see just how much draft capital is invested in both players. Both are well-rounded backs who contribute as receivers and pass protectors, but Mongtomery has the much longer track record.

1.10 | Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

I have been a strong proponent of the “2.01 Rookie QB” in my time playing on RSO. I always figured that, much like in the real NFL, locking up a young starting QB on a team-friendly deal was exorbitantly valuable. I still think that’s the case, but two things have slightly tweaked my thinking. First, my RSO leagues are superflex and I think that is becoming more popular. The most frequent ranking question I get is how to adjust for superflex and I feel that having the first quarterback come off the board in the second round is not as illustrative as it was four years ago. Second, RSO now has a fifth year option for first rounders. I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I’ll save that for my more mathematically inclined colleagues, but my gut feeling is that an extra year of somebody like Mitch Trubisky is worth more than the difference in salary between 1.10 and 2.01. Put another way, the salaries at 1.10 and 2.01 are both below market value for a young and startable QB in many leagues, so you might as well maneuver to 1.10 and get the option.

Haskins emerged as my QB1 once it was clear that Oregon’s Justin Herbert was eyeing a return to Eugene. He’s a solid pocket passer who has the arm strength and accuracy for the NFL. His mobility is limited though which will be a stark difference between him and Kyler Murray (or even Daniel Jones). Haskins may end up as the second quarterback off the board but if I was choosing between him or Murray to be the leader of my RSO franchise, I would make the safer pick.

2.01 | Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

If Kyler Murray isn’t the first quarterback selected in your rookie draft, I guarantee you that he’ll be taken with the successive pick. There will be at least one Kool-Aid drinker in every league and if that person doesn’t reach for Kyler early in the first, they certainly will once the quarterback bubble bursts to make sure they get him before a run starts. As an RSO owner, I would be okay with Murray at 2.01 but will miss out on him if my leagues value him more highly. If the naysayers are proven right and his body cannot withstand the NFL, your dead cap number at 2.01 will be less than half as much than if you had taken him early. If the yaysayers are proven right and his dynamism and cannon-like arm make for a singularly talented prospect, you’ll have the bargain of all bargains.

A suggestion for RSO commissioners: have a proactive rule in place should Murray (or anybody) decide to quit football and return to baseball during his career. Some keeper and dynasty leagues I play in don’t have foolproof rules regarding players who stop playing but don’t clearly retire (i.e. Marshawn Lynch, Ladarius Green). Since Murray’s case may not be a true “retirement” I think you should address it now to avoid a messy league vote later.

2.02 | TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa

See: Fant, Noah.

2.03 | Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

Henderson has unbelievable per-touch numbers the last two seasons. Over 387 combined touches, Henderson averaged 9.26 yards from scrimmage (3,584 total). I don’t know if that’s a record or not but I’ve never seen production like that sustained over two full seasons. He’s undersized at 5083/208 but he runs with a downhill style that belies his shorter stature. If the traditional stats aren’t enough to sell you on Henderson’s potential, check out PFF’s advanced metrics. He’s their second ranked back in Elusive Rating and first in Breakaway Percentage and Drop Rate. We might all be sleeping on Henderson. (In fact, while writing Henderson’s blurb, I decided to flip-flop him and Anderson. How could I be so impressed with all of his stats and not give him the edge over the oft-injured Anderson.)

2.04 | JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

I fell in love with JJAW early in the season when he started the campaign on fire (17-408-7 after four games). He’s long and strong which is helpful because he’s not a great leaper. He can still win contested catches due to his play strength and wingspan. He didn’t test at the combine so his pro day was going to be huge and he did not disappoint. Arcega-Whiteside ran a 4.49 forty which far exceeded my expectation. Pro day times are always favorable to a player so I doubt he’s truly that fast but it did make me reconsider what was probably his biggest negative. In my opinion, Arcega-Whiteside has the potential to be a team’s starting boundary receiver but he lacks the athletic upside that some others in the class possess.

2.05 | Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

If not for his history of serious injuries (ACL, broken leg, broken neck bone), Rodney Anderson would be my RB1. I studied him early in the season and he just popped off the screen. He runs with great momentum, using his power and speed to run over defenders. He’s agile enough to quickly change direction at speed. Due to the small sample size (just 17 receptions in 17 career games) it’s tough to know how talented he is as a receiver. If 2.05 was my first rookie pick of the draft, there isn’t a chance I’m risking it on Anderson. However, if I have a nice cache of draft capital I’m going to take a shot and hope he stays healthy.

2.06 | Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State

I still have not come around fully on Parris Campbell. I fully admit it may be because I am a Michigan fan, even though I try not to let that tint my evaluations. My rebuttal about Campbell was always that he was a one-trick pony and didn’t produce enough to be considered a top receiver prospect. Well, I was quite surprised to see that Campbell ended 2018 with ninety (!) receptions. He did muster 24 of those in the final three contests but I can’t spin that as a negative when I would usually applaud a player for showing up when it mattered most (one of those three games was a 6-192-2 explosion against my Wolverines). When it comes to advanced stats, Campbell stands out as well. According to PFF, he is top five in Yards Per Route Run, Slot Receptions and Slot Receiving Yards. Campbell added a stellar combine performance to all of those great stats. He finished in the 90th percentile or higher in the following categories: 40 yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump. Campbell is definitely somebody that I need to study more closely after we see who drafts him.

2.07 | Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

After Saquon Barkley left for the NFL, Sanders never really earned the buzz that I thought he might once he became the lead back. I’m guilty of this myself because I didn’t devote any time during the season to studying Sanders. Now, as the NFL Draft approaches, my fellow analysts are starting to remember the promise with which Sanders arrived to Happy Valley as a highly touted teenager. Some have put Sanders as high as RB1 but I’m not ready to catapult him yet until I have a chance to study him more closely. He did put together a solid combine and his basic stats are very good: 1,274 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs, 24 receptions, 139 receiving yards. Stay tuned.

2.08 | Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

The order of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs is a tough one. Up until my last batch of rankings, I had Harris higher because he beat Jacobs for touches and had the higher pedigree coming out of high school. Jacobs’ late surge though showed that he just might be the better three-down back at ‘Bama. Harris checks in at 5101/216 so he has middling size to go with mediocre 4.57 speed. Despite never eclipsing 150 carries in a season, Harris has been consistent, managing two 1,000 yard seasons and cresting 3,000 career rushing yards. He’s a good receiver but not a great pass blocker. Best case: Harris is just good enough in short-yardage situations, in the open field and in pass protection that he earns an every down role. Worst case: Harris is just small enough and slow enough to get passed over in his team’s pecking order.

2.09 | Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

Similar to Harris, I think Weber has a wide range of possibilities in the NFL. He’s an all-round back who I think will greatly outperform his draft position. I foresee a narrative where Weber impresses in training camp and earns a spot in the rotation before Week 1. I just recently wrote about Weber for my NFL Draft sleepers article, so check that out for a deeper dive. LINK: https://realitysportsonline.com/Content.aspx?articleID=the-watch-list-2019-nfl-draft-previews-sleepers

2.10 | Irv Smith, TE, Alabama

Irv Smith has one of the more bizarre “spider graphs” I have ever seen on Mockdraftable (LINK). He’s very small for the position (6023/242, 8th percentile) but quick (4.63, 83rd percentile). He also has short arms so any hope of him punching above his weight as a blocker is unlikely. The knee-jerk reaction is to label Smith as a big slot, but I also foresee him being used in an h-back role. Lining Smith up off the line of scrimmage, or in motion along the line, allows him to avoid getting jammed at the snap. Instead, he is able to use his speed to get open in the flat or to spring up field past slower linebackers.

3.01 | Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

Johnson went the JUCO route out of high school, playing one season each at two different schools before getting an offer from Buffalo (and South Alabama). He was very productive for the Bulls, finishing his career with 133 receptions, 2,367 yards and 25 TDs. Johnson plays bigger and stronger than his 6017/209 frame and ran surprisingly well at his pro day (unofficial times reported were between 4.41-4.50). He’ll be a solid, if not exciting, addition to any NFL offense.

3.02 | Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

Another JUCO transfer WR, Preston Williams excelled in his one season at Colorado State, totaling 1,345 yards and 14 TDs on 96 receptions. He’s a lanky receiver who adjusts to the ball well and has an innate ability to make spectacular catches. Williams is a 5-star talent that some team will get for a discount because of his off the field concerns.

3.03 | Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

“Motor” Singletary put up fantastic numbers on the field the last two seasons (3,266 rushing yards and 54 TDs), unfortunately, his combine measurables left much to be desired. He is tiny at 5071 and ran just 4.66. He looks faster and stronger than those numbers suggest so we’ll need to see him perform in the preseason before investing much capital in him

3.04 | Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

The catch (pun intended) with Samuel is that he’s been injured far too often in his career so I just haven’t seen enough of him to form a strong opinion. We finally got a full season out of Samuel in 2018 and he did produce: 62-882-11. He’s great with the ball in his hands and also adds a dimension as a kick returner (29.0 career average, 4 TDs) which will increase the chances that he makes an early impact. I wanted to put Samuel higher but I just had a hard time justifying it for a receiver who has a history of injuries and didn’t standout at the combine.

3.05 | David Sills, WR, West Virginia

I’m higher on Sills, for fantasy purposes, than many others. I think he will have an instant role in the NFL as a redzone threat and be deployed similar to Mark Andrews in his debut season. I’m expecting a rookie stat line of 25-200-6 which would have utility during bye weeks.

3.06 | Andy Isabella, WR, UMass

Isabella is beguiling because based on his size (5083/188) you would assume he’s just a dink-and-dunk slot receiver. To the contrary, he finished second in PFF’s Deep Receiving Yards stat and led in Yards Per Route Run. After watching some tape it’s easy to see why he is so successful at the deep ball: he’s fast and tracks the ball incredibly well. I have never seen so many over-the-shoulder catches. So, while he may look like a prototypical Patriot pass catcher, we shouldn’t discount his versatility and upside.

3.07 | Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison intrigues me like no other mid-tier back. I’ve tried to steer away from comps this year as they can be counterproductive but I keep coming back to Kareem Hunt when I see clips of Mattison play. He’s a powerful runner and a good receiver. He’ll be a fifth rounder with little hype but I think he’s worth a late stash in your fantasy draft.

3.08 | Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

Snell seems destined to be a two-down back in the NFL. He can succeed in short yardage situations and runs with a bruising mentality. He’s been extremely durable despite a large workload (39 games, 737 carries) which you could spin as a “tread on the tire” negative but I’m not worried because I don’t expect him to be an every down player anyway.

3.09 | Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

Just about every time you read about Daniel Jones, you will inevitably also hear the name David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe earned his quarterback whisperer title working with the Mannings, so I can understand the excitement. Jones is big, athletic, throws well on the move and is smart. He’s going to be drafted higher than you expect, maybe in the first twelve picks.

3.10 | Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin was the ultimate compiler at Washington. He managed to stay healthy throughout 52 career games, amassing 945 career carries and four straight thousand yard seasons. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he was so durable at his size (5091/205) because he’s stronger than others in his cohort (24 bench reps). His smaller stature will mean some teams won’t believe he can be an every down starter but he’s worth grabbing late in your draft just in case.

4.01 | Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
4.02 | Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State
4.03 | Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
4.04 | Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
4.05 | Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
4.06 | Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri
4.07 | Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame
4.08 | Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State
4.09 | Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
4.10 | Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona
5.01 | Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M
5.02 | KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State
5.03 | Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State
5.04 | Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State
5.05 | Donald Parham, TE, Stetson
5.06 | Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis
5.07 | Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
5.08 | Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska
5.09 | Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis
5.10 | Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo


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: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, WRs Harmon & Metcalf

Updated: March 8th 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 Winter and Spring as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

In this week’s entry in my NFL Draft Previews series, we’ll be taking a closer look at receivers Kelvin Harmon and DK Metcalf.  I decided to highlight Harmon because I am currently higher on him than the consensus.  I vacillated on who else to include until it recently became evident that I must include Metcalf too, because, well, dude is swole.  Harmon and Metcalf are actually a perfect duo for this piece because they are names that casual NFL Draft fans became more familiar with at the combine. Let’s get to it!

 

Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State

  • Combine measurements:

  • Stats:
Receiving & Rushing Table
Rece Rece Rece Rece
Year School Class G Rec Yds Avg TD
*2016 North Carolina State FR 10 27 462 17.1 5
*2017 North Carolina State SO 13 69 1017 14.7 4
*2018 North Carolina State JR 12 81 1186 14.6 7
Career North Carolina State 177 2665 15.1 16
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2019.
  • Film watched for this profile: Clemson 2017, Syracuse 2018

Full disclosure: Kelvin Harmon has been my WR1 or WR2 all season long.  I fell for him in the preseason and his great 2018 season only bolstered my confidence.  That’s saying a lot because this receiver class could be historic and on par with 2014 (my god: Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry).  The other leading receivers in the class, such as Metcalf and N’Keal Harry, all exhibit elite traits which they showed off at the combine.  Harmon, on the other hand, is less physically dominant and performed poorly at the combine.  Harmon shows, however, two traits that I value highly: route running and technique in the air.  He runs smart and varied patterns, and while he isn’t physical at the line, he uses his hands well at the top of his route.  While in the air, he shows an ability to adjust to the ball, uses his body well and catches the ball with his hands.  In such a congested class, I look for ways a player can differentiate himself.  Harmon does that with a nuance that some lack.  It would be easy to cast Harmon aside after his combine performance but I’ve seen enough on tape to still rank him highly.

My favorite route of Harmon’s came in the second quarter of the Syracuse game while the Pack were down 14 and needed a big play.  Harmon is set up on the outside to the field with plenty of room to work towards the sideline.  He sells the corner on an out-breaking route and cuts inside, using his head to sell the feint.  He’s free and clear immediately and nearly outruns the pass.  After he slows and makes the nice over-the-shoulder catch, he accelerates just enough to avoid the pursuing defender.

This replay angle from the 2017 Clemson game shows another great route by Harmon.  He puts in a lot of work before the ball is in the air so it’s unfortunate that the quarterback misses him so badly.

Awareness was something that I kept coming back to when watching Harmon’s film.  On this next play, Harmon makes a great effort as a blocker to give his running back a lane to the end zone.  The run ultimately fails, but you can see that Harmon is patient enough to let the play develop before he abruptly turns his body to put it between the defender and where the back should be.  I’ll bet they worked on this play frequently at practice and if the timing were right, that sudden turn would have been the reason the back made it to the goal line.  It was subtle but showed me that while he may not be the strongest blocker, he is an intelligent one.

Speaking of putting his body between the defender and the ball, Harmon continually showed me what my high school soccer coach called “ball-side, goal-side.”  Basically, he wanted us to keep ourselves, as defenders, between the player with the ball and the goal.  Harmon does that on nearly every route as he uses his frame to shield the defender from the ball.  On the play below against Clemson from 2017, most receivers would have body-caught the ball but Harmon makes the grab with his hands.  He quickly peeks over his shoulder for the nearest defender before he lands and turtles to protect the ball from the converging tacklers.

In addition to showing well on tape, Harmon also shows well in the boxscore.  He had a solid sophomore season in 2017 and improved further in 2018.  In fact, he led the ACC in receiving yards over the last two seasons with 2,203 (the next best was Olamide Zaccheaus with 1,953) and helped lead the Wolfpack to the 8th best passing offense in the FBS.  Harmon can be a compiler, as we saw in his game against Syracuse this season (he has eight career games with 8+ receptions), which is great for fantasy owners.

I’m disappointed that Harmon did not show better at the combine.  If he had, I would have locked him into my WR1 spot.  For now, I’ll pencil him at WR2, between Harry and Metcalf.  Hopefully he finds a favorable home in the NFL and I can keep him atop my rankings.  Draft Prediction: Round 2

 

DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

  • Combine measurements:

  • Stats:
Receiving & Rushing Table
Rece Rece Rece Rece
Year School Class G Rec Yds Avg TD
2016 Ole Miss FR 2 2 13 6.5 2
2017 Ole Miss FR 12 39 646 16.6 7
2018 Ole Miss SO 7 26 569 21.9 5
Career Ole Miss 67 1228 18.3 14
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 2/27/2019.
  • Film watched for this profile: Kentucky 2017, Louisiana-Monroe 2018
Even the most casual of fans has seen Metcalf’s name pop-up on social media lately.  Metcalf, along with his well-defined six-pack, is like a modern day Atlas, holding up the #DraftTwitter world.  Fortunately for Metcalf, and his agent, the buzz before, and especially during, the combine has elevated his NFL Draft stock significantly.  Heading into the 2018 season, Metcalf could usually be found in the WR5 range, now he’s leading many rankings.  “Hold on Bob,” you say, that’s not such a big leap from WR5 to WR1.  You’re right, but you’re also forgetting that Metcalf suffered a broken neck in October.  I don’t know how similar the injury is, but I dinged Clemson WR Mike Williams’ draft stock for his neck injury, and that was after he returned from surgery with a full 98-1361-11 season.  Instead of rehabbing at school and showing his resiliency as a Rebel, Metcalf decided to go pro.  If I were an NFL decision maker, that would worry me.  Plain and simple.

Due to Metcalf’s injury history, he also missed most of his freshman year due to a broken foot, he doesn’t have much on the stat sheet.  His 67 career receptions are less than many receivers in the class have in their second-best season (like Harmon).  His rate stats are encouraging, though they aren’t pulling from a large sample size.  In 2018, nine of Metcalf’s 26 receptions went for 20+ yards, including four 40+ yard touchdowns.  That’s an impressive big play rate for somebody of his size.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by his penchant for big plays given his combine measurables.  Metcalf undoubtedly stole the show in Indy when he put up great numbers in everything but the 3-Cone and Shuttle.  One of the knocks I often hear about Metcalf is that he’s not a great route runner and that may presaged by those poor 3-Cone and Shuttle scores.  He may have sacrificed some agility and change of direction ability to get as big and straight-line fast as he is.

When I watched his tape I was not that concerned about that impacting his game at the next level. The first thing that stood out in the Kentucky game was how often Metcalf had a decent release but was not targeted.  He repeatedly has quick feet at the line and uses his hands well to knock the corner off him.  In this play, which did not result in a target, you can see Metcalf’s quick feet off the snap which helps him get outside of the defender.  You can’t clearly see it in the clip, but he also smacks the defender’s hand off him.

Metcalf showed how well he uses his hands and strength to get free on this play as well:

On this next play, Metcalf strings all of the above into one great play.  If you are looking for a reason to draft Metcalf at 1.01 in your league, this is the only play you’ll need to see.  He stems outside and chops the defender’s hands to get himself free.  He then cuts inside and turns on his straight-line afterburners.  By the time the ball arrives, he’s comfortably ahead of the corner as he makes an over the shoulder catch.  The defender makes a last ditch dive but Metcalf keeps his feet and scores.  Watching the wide-angle replay lets you get a birds-eye view of DK checking off all the boxes.

The ending of that play was similar to a play I noted against Louisiana-Monroe.  In this one, Metcalf capitalizes on a bad read by the corner, stays in bounds, and uses a combination of speed/balance/strength to get to the end zone despite two attempts at taking his feet.

Despite the run-after-catch that Metcalf displays on these two plays, I did not notice that as a larger piece of his game.  Unfortunately, he did not run many different routes, primarily go routes and comebacks, so there wasn’t ample opportunity for him to get gone unless it was along the sideline.  Similarly, I would have loved to see a more varied deployment to show that he could fill multiple roles; he was almost exclusively used on the left side, at the line of scrimmage.  The film I watched did not show much of Metcalf blocking but there was one particularly bad example.  Somebody of his stature should do better than this.  It wasn’t just poor technique, it was poor effort.

I don’t want to end on a negative note so I’ll leave you with this last great play.  This one showed Metcalf’s ability to win in the red zone with his size and body control.  He also uses strong hands to secure the ball and survive the ground.

Paired with the earlier score against Kentucky, you can see why fantasy GMs are eager to draft Metcalf.  It’s clear that he has tremendous physical potential, but potential often gets NFL coaches fired.  I tend to be risk-averse in my evaluations, so if it were up to me as an NFL GM, the earliest I would pull the trigger on DK would be in the 25-35 range.  Honestly though, there’s no way he makes it that far unless he fails a physical.  I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that I will likely own zero shares of Metcalf and I’ll have to be okay with that.  Draft Prediction: Round 1

 

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 college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.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, thedraftnetwork.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
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

2019 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: September 19th 2018

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

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

1.01 – N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

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

1.02 – Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

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

1.03 – Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

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

1.04 – AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.05 – David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

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

1.06 – DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

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

1.07 – Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

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

1.08 – Bryce Love, RB, Stanford

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

1.09 – Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

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

1.10 – Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall

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

2.01 – Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

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

2.02 – Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

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

2.03 – Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

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

2.04 – Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

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

2.05 – Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

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

2.06 – Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

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

2.07 – Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State

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

2.08 – JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

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

2.09 – Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

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

2.10 – Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

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

3.01 – Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

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

3.02 – David Sills, WR, West Virginia

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

3.03 – Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

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

3.04 – Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

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

3.05 – Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

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

3.06 – Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville

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

3.07 – Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

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

3.08 – Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State

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

3.09 – Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

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

3.10 – Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

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

Honorable Mentions

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

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


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 ACC Preview

Updated: August 18th 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:  Cam Akers, RB, Florida State.  According to Vegas, running backs Cam Akers and AJ Dillon have the best odds of winning the Heisman from the ACC.  Clemson QB Kelly Bryant is close behind but I’m not sure he holds onto his starting job so I wouldn’t be putting money on him now.  Akers has 2,000 yard potential while Dillon has 20 TD potential; ultimately I lean towards Akers as he will be playing on a better team than Dillon and should get more national exposure.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Daniel Jones, QB, Duke.  As I have previously discussed in this space, picking a conference’s best dual-threat quarterback is your best bet for predicting the Heisman winner.  I’m a fan of Jones, see below, and think he has 3,000/750 yard upside but he needs to score more.  Last year he had just 18 total TDs and would need to double that to get in the Heisman conversation.  I’m not saying it’s likely, or even probable, but it’s possible.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Taquon Marshall, QB, Georgia Tech.  Few players in the FBS will be as valuable to their unit as Marshall to the Georgia Tech offense.  He won’t get the national recognition of somebody like Cam Akers but he’ll put up big numbers and be a CFF darling.  If he stays healthy, Marshall will top 1,000 yards each passing and rushing and will total 30+ TDs.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson.  Take your pick from the Clemson defensive line.  I’ll go with Lawrence because of the impact he has on the opposing line on every play.  Lawrence had a huge freshman season with 62 tackles and 6.5 sacks but regressed in 2017 to 33-2.0.  At 6040/340, he’s a mountain of a man.  It’s rare to find an interior defensive lineman with the combination of size and athleticism that Lawrence shows.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson.  According to 247Sports, Trevor Lawrence was the top rated recruit in the 2018 class and had a near-perfect grade of 0.9999, the highest I have seen on their site.  Lawrence is huge, listed at 6060, and put up equally big numbers in high school.  His recruiting profile on 247Sports touts a 160:21 ratio with over 13,000 passing yards.  I take high school stats with a grain of salt of course, but that’s just insane.  I am not a big Kelly Bryant fan so I think it’s only a matter of time before we see Lawrence take over at Clemson.
  • Underclassmen to Watch:  The ACC is chock-full of impact sophomores.  Rather than pick one, I decided I needed to mention a few:
    • Cam Akers, RB, Florida State:  Akers will be the best of a talented group of young backs in the ACC this season.
    • Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson:  Etienne is an explosive runner with a long stride.  He gained 766 yards and scored 13 TDs in a RBBC role last season and finished with a 7.2 yards per carry average.  It remains to be seen if he can be as effective with a larger workload.
    • AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College:  Dillon is a 6000/245 bruiser who has a nose for the end zone.  He scored 14 TDs last season and should see 20 this season.  He’s a workhorse back who earned 300 carries as a true freshman and had four games with over 30.
    • Greg Dortch, WR, Wake Forest:  Dortch is an undersized (5090/165) slot and screen receiver who dominated at times in 2017 before getting injured.  Against Louisville he had an incredible 10-167-4 line before falling to an abdominal injury.  He contributes as a rusher and returner as well.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Ryan Finley and Kelvin Harmon, NC State.  Finley is quietly the conference’s best quarterback prospect; meanwhile Harmon should be a first round fantasy rookie pick in 2019.  I doubt many casual fans know their names though because they shared the spotlight last season with draftees DE Bradley Chubb, TE Jaylen Samuels and RB Nyheim Hines.  Finley and Harmon eclipsed 3,500 and 1,000 yards respectively so they are a productive duo.  I have more on these two Wolfpack stars below.
  • Best RB Corps:  Georgia Tech.  It should come as no surprise that a triple option team like Tech would land in my “Best RB Corps” spot.  The Yellow Jackets led the conference in rushing (307 yards per game) and return their six leading rushers from that squad.  The two that catalyze the option attack are QB TaQuon Marshall (1,146-17 rushing and 927-10 passing) and RB KirVonte Benson (1,073-6).
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Larry Fedora, North Carolina.  Fedora has been in the news recently after his curious remarks at ACC Media Day.  Those comments were best summarized by Luke Decock in the Charlotte News-Observer: “This is all ludicrous, of course, the earnest hyperbole a little less dangerous than the willful denial.”  Even if Fedora didn’t put a target on his own back, he went 3-9 in 2017 and hasn’t won a bowl game since 2013.  The Tar Heels are also dealing with “another compliance black eye” after numerous players were suspended for selling team-issued apparel.  A winning coach could withstand most of this drama but not one who suffers another losing season.

Teams to Watch

 Miami (10-3 in 2017)

I was consistently down on Miami last season.  I did not believe they could run the table and kept picking against them during their winning streak.  The wheels finally came off in late November when Miami lost to Pitt, a game I still remember for how frustrating it was to watch, which started a season-ending three game losing skid.  Miami should be in the ACC Coastal running again but what makes them even more interesting to watch are the plethora of NFL prospects they will field.  On offense they will feature RB Travis Homer, WR Ahmmon Richards and TE Michael Irvin Jr (Editor’s note: Irvin Jr. is now injured).  The defense returns its top five tacklers, including first round hopeful safety Jaquan Johnson.  LB Shaq Quarterman and CB Michael Jackson should end with high draft grades as well.  The Hurricanes feature 14 returning starters, including QB Malik Rosier.  I was very critical of Rosier last season and hope that an additional season of experience helps him play more efficiently.  If he does, Miami will end up in another New Year’s Six bowl, as I am currently predicting, with a shot at the playoff.

 Florida State (7-6 in 2017)

I don’t think there is any disagreement among college football fans that the Seminoles will rebound from a demoralizing 7-6 season last year which required them to make up a meaningless game against UL-Monroe just to become bowl eligible.  The question is, just how high do they rebound with new head coach Willie Taggart?  I have gone out on a slimsy (yes, that’s a word) limb and predicted that they will be selected for the College Football Playoff.  Three of FSU’s toughest games (the nationally broadcast opener versus VaTech, Clemson and Florida) will be played in Tallahassee.  I’m also feeling optimistic because I think the offense will be miles ahead of 2017.  QB Deondre Francois returns from injury; if he’s shelved again, sophomore James Blackman now has valuable experience.  The offensive line, which tends to be a weak spot for Florida State, returns four starters.  The largest factor will be the running backs: wunderkind soph Cam Akers and senior Jacques Patrick.  Akers crested 1,000 yards (1,094) and earned 2nd-Team All-ACC honors as a true freshman.  Patrick is a 6030/231 bruiser who added 780 yards of his own.  Both backs had seven scores.  The receiving corps is filled with young and/or unproven targets but the team’s leading receiver, Nyqwan Murray returns.  The defense may struggle as they only return four starters and lost top prospect Derwin James.  One interesting stat gives me hope: per Phil Steele, the last time the Seminoles returned just four defensive starters, which was 2013, they allowed just 12.1 yards per game.  Oh, and by the way, that team went 14-0 and won the BCS National Championship.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Daniel Jones, QB, Duke:  Jones is on my shortlist of candidates for the 2019 QB1 spot.  In my limited study, I noted that he has good anticipation and throws excellently while on the run.  He has above average athleticism for the position and runs with good vision.  There are some areas for improvement, namely his passing accuracy and pocket awareness.  Plus, he could add a few pounds to fill out his 6050 body due to his physical playing style.  His touchdown total decreased last season (16 to 14) while his interceptions increased (9 to 11), which is not a good sign.  He did add 518-7 on the ground which helped keep the Blue Devil offense moving.  I’ll check in on Jones periodically this season.  If he improves nearer a 2:1 ratio he’ll be in consideration for a first round NFL Draft pick.
  • Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State:  This time last year, I was one of many college football fans who was expecting Francois to take a big step forward in 2017.  Unfortunately, that growth was stunted in the Seminoles’ opener against Alabama after he sustained a season-ending knee injury.  True freshman James Blackman filled in and, luckily for Francois, did not do enough to guarantee himself the job for 2018.  I think Francois has the inside track to win the starting job but it’s not impossible to think that Blackman wins the gig in Fall camp.  Francois is tough as nails but is on the smaller side for a quarterback prospect (6010/205).  He has 3,500 yard upside so I am pulling for him and I hope he gets a chance to realize his potential.  I am predicting that FSU will make a run to the College Football Playoff and that hope rests squarely on Francois’ shoulders.
  • Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse:  I loved watching Dungey last season and recall his standout games against Pitt and Clemson.  Sadly, Dungey has a long injury history which has limited him to just 26 career games over three seasons.  He’s not all that prolific or efficient (40:21 career ratio and 131.5 career passer rating) but there’s something about him that I enjoy watching.  He is a true dual-threat quarterback: in a shortened season he still managed 595 rushing yards and 9 TDs.  I’m not sure there exists a universe where Dungey is a relevant 2019 rookie but he’ll be fun to watch in 2018 as long as he stays healthy.
  • Travis Homer, RB, Miami:  Homer started the season as the backup to Mark Walton but took over after Walton went down with an injury.  He had a six game stretch in the middle of the season where he totaled 642 yards and 4 TDs; he also added 12-146-1 as a receiver in that span.  Homer did sputter a bit down the stretch but that middle-season burst is encouraging.  Per DLF, Homer is one of the youngest draft eligible players in the 2019 class which could increase his draft stock if he can enhance his numbers this season.
  • Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville: Our friends at the Dynasty Command Center loved Smith for the 2018 draft before he decided to return to school.  In Volume One of their rookie prospectus they listed Smith as the WR5.  Despite coming back for his senior season, Smith is just 21 years old.  He has elite size at 6040/219 and pairs his big frame with 4.50 speed.  He is a constant deep threat.  Eight of his 60 receptions in 2017 went for 25 or more yards; in 2016, on just 27 receptions, that number was even higher at nine.  A wrist injury caused him to miss time in 2017 but he finished strong with 7-107-1 in the Cardinals’ bowl game.  My biggest concern is whether new starting quarterback Jawon “Puma” Pass can hit Smith downfield with the same frequency.
  • Tommy Sweeney, TE, Boston College:  Sweeney is the leading returning receiver on a potentially ascending BC team.  Last season, he paced the Eagles with 36 receptions, 512 yards and 4 TDs.  The passing offense should improve in 2018 with QB Anthony Brown back under center.  Brown started the year as a redshirt freshman but missed the end of the campaign with an injury; when he was healthy he struggled (11:9, 51.9%) but another year of experience will help.  I have not watched any film of Sweeney but based on his size (6050/255) I expect that he will be able to hold his own as a blocker.
  • Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson:  I don’t have the space, or honestly the expertise, to delve into the Clemson defensive line in this preview.  Suffice it to say that they will be a fearsome group.  Come next Spring, we could see all four of these guys getting first round NFL Draft buzz.  If you don’t believe me, just check out one of many mock drafters who are predicting just that.  Some others are saying that this unit is overrated – let’s ask ACC quarterbacks what they think.
  • Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami:  Johnson is the leading safety prospect according to a number of sources I trust (i.e. Phil Steele’s preview magazine and DraftScout.com).  He’s a former 4-star recruit who decided to stay home and eschew offers from heavyweights like USC, LSU and Clemson.  Johnson became a full-time starter in 2016 and did not disappoint.  He finished with 96 tackles, 4 INTs, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.  The Miami offense prides itself in forcing turnovers and Johnson was an important link in that chain (pun intended).

Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State

Finley is entering his third season as the starting signal caller for NC State.  He transferred from Boise State in 2015 as a graduate transfer.  Finley was granted a sixth year of eligibility because his two seasons at Boise were marred by injuries.  So, he arrived at Raleigh as the rare graduate transfer with three years of eligibility for his new team.  If you’re thinking that Finley must be an old prospect after such a winding road, you’d be right.  Finley is currently 23.6 years old and is the oldest prospect on DLF’s 2019 age table.  Age doesn’t necessarily make or break somebody’s draft stock, but it will be a hurdle Finley needs to overcome in scouts’ eyes.

On the field, Finley has played well but has been more of a distributor than a dynamic playmaker.  He has completed 63.0% of his passes for NC State with a 35:14 ratio over two seasons.  He doesn’t commit many turnovers but he also doesn’t sling the ball around either.  He threw for a career-high 3,514 yards in 2017 but his yards per attempt dropped to 7.4 (sixth best in the ACC).  Finley added a bit on the ground in 2017: 198 yards and 3 TDs.  He’s not the type of prospect whose stats and game logs will garner attention from casual fans.  Instead, Finley will need to impress during film study.

I came away from my viewing of Finley feeling conflicted.  His best trait for me was his awareness, specifically his penchant for fakes of all kinds.  There’s a nuance to his play action and pump fakes that I don’t often notice in other college passers.  He also has a good awareness of the field and situation.  When he scrambles he rarely takes a hit and instead is able to take a track that gets him out of bounds before contact.  This combination of field and situational awareness was perhaps best illustrated by a play against FSU.  The Wolfpack were up eleven late in the game but Finley was in shotgun in his own end zone.  There was a bad snap and as Finley scrambled for the ball, he swatted it out of the back of the end zone for an intentional safety rather than allowing a defender to fall on it for a game-changing touchdown.

Unfortunately the rest of my notes on Finley were less glowing.  He has good accuracy and anticipation on short throws but he’s lacking on intermediate and deep throws.  A number of his deep throws were well overthrown or out of bounds so his receiver had no chance.  Speaking of short throws, many of his attempts are quick screens or slants without multiple reads.  As an athlete he is not quick (maybe 4.75) but he does have functional rushing ability to gain a few yards.  His arm is more confident than strong.  He trusts himself to fit the ball into tight windows but sometimes he lacks the zip or accuracy to get it done.  Right now, I see Finley projecting as an NFL backup with some upside to start an occasional game.  (Film watched: Clemson 2017, Florida State 2017)

Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State

Harmon emerged as a sophomore in 2017, finishing with 69 receptions, 1,017 yards and 4 TDs.  His season started off with a bang when he had a combined 19-235-1 line to start the year against South Carolina and Marshall.  He also had big games against Notre Dame (7-97-1), Clemson (8-155-1) and Wake Forest (8-105).  He has boom or bust capability, shown by a few duds on the game logs: four games under 25 yards.  Harmon exhibits a good mix of speed, size and strength.  I estimate he has 4.50 speed and he’s listed at 6030/213.  While I think Harmon may measure shorter than 6030, there’s no questioning his ability to win the ball in the air.

Put simply, Harmon excels in contested catch situations.  He often high points the ball and is strong enough to survive the defender and the ground with possession.  He’s also adept at catching the ball over his shoulder while in stride.  He’s a powerful runner after the catch who can break tackles and carry defenders on his back for extra yardage.  In the game against Clemson, I noted two spectacular routes that he ran which gave him separation.  It’s a shame there aren’t more full games cuts of Harmon because I would love to see more of his route running because what I saw was great.  He releases well off the line due to his combination of speed and strength.  If I were to nitpick, I would say that Harmon needs to be eliminate some of his body catches.  Sometimes it’s like he jumps too high which causes him to bring in the ball at his midsection rather than away from the body with his hands.

Based on the above size/speed measureables Harmon would be comparable to guys like Courtland Sutton and Allen Robinson.  I think Harmon will project more like Stefon Diggs in the NFL because of his excellent route running ability.  Harmon will be a first rounder in rookie drafts next year but I suspect his stock will fluctuate as he’s not as “sexy” as some of the other big name receiver prospects.  (Film watched: Clemson 2017, Highlights 2017)

Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami

Ahmmon Richards starred as a true freshman in 2016.  He earned freshman All-American honors after finishing the year with 49 receptions, 934 yards and 3 TDs.  His 19.1 yards per reception mark was fourth best in the ACC that season.  Expectations were high for Richards in 2017 as a sophomore but unfortunately injury sidelined him to start the season and again in October and then again in December.  Richards ended up playing just 7 games, totaling 24 catches for 439 yards and 3 TDs.  Encouragingly, he finished the regular season strong, combining for 7-98-2 against Virginia and Pitt.  Richards is a lean 6010/190.  At that size, I’d like to see him flash 4.45 speed which looks probable on film.  Per the Hurricanes, he’s ran a 4.31 and a 4.40 on previous attempts but you always need to question school-reported numbers.

Richards’ tape was frustrating to watch.  For starters, he was often the victim of poor quarterback play from Malik Rosier.  This was especially apparent against Florida State where Rosier chucked some ducks.  Pair that with questionable hands from Richards and you have multiple plays that should have gone for points instead of going incomplete.  Richards often body catches the ball; when it does hit his hands he too frequently let’s it zip right through so I question his hand placement and hand strength.  His play strength in contested situations is also lacking.  He’s not the type of receiver who will play above the rim and win jump balls with regularity.  Where Richards excelled is on shorter routes.  He has an elite ability to get off the line and away from press-man coverage on slants.  He quickly slaps the defender’s hands away and can chop through contact to get open.  After the catch, I noted a few plays where Richards showed his speed, cutting ability and some strength to gain extra yards.  He even had an impressive hurdle against Syracuse which showed his athletic ability.  Unfortunately, my sample size was just ten receptions so I want to see more opportunities for RAC this season.  Richards is a willing blocker whom I saw lay out two Seminole defenders (one was a penalty though).  He lined up tight in a few goal line situations and did not block well then but in the open field he’ll at least be average.  I want to see Richards stay healthy this season and improve the consistency of his hands.  If he can pair average hands with his speed and ability to get open at the line he could turn into a valuable NFL asset.  (Film watched: Syracuse 2017, Florida State 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