The Watch List 2021: Week 5 Preview

Updated: October 3rd 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 season as The Watch List will preview the prospects you should be watching each week so you know who will be fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

The 2020 college football season started in earnest last week with the SEC kicking off and things are only looking up for draft fans as the rest of the college football world returns soon. Until then, we’re “stuck” with the SEC for our premier matchups. The centerpiece game of Week 5 is without a doubt the matchup between #7 Auburn and #4 Georgia at 7:30pm on ESPN. Neither team looked convincing in their opening victories so this will be an important game for one of them to get back on track with a statement win. I touched on a number of players from those two squads last week (I see you Seth Williams) so for this preview I am instead going to direct your attention to two Top 10 talents who will be playing earlier in the day. At 12:00pm you should be watching TE Kyle Pitts and Florida face off against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Then at 3:30pm turn to ESPN+ for your only chance at seeing NDSU’s Trey Lance this year. Want to learn more about these two? You should…

 

Kyle Pitts, WR, Florida

Nobody did more for their professional prospects in Week 4 than Florida TE Kyle Pitts. He seemed even more dominant than his 8-170-4 stat line would dictate if that’s even possible. Regular readers will remember that I profiled Pitts in the Spring and predicted he would be a “hot NFL Draft commodity.” Frankly, I thought that would take more than just a single game but here we are. #DraftTwitter is abuzz with “Pitts as TE1” talk and I’m here for it.

So what was it about his outing against Ole Miss that has fans looking forward to his matchup against South Carolina this week? Let’s take a closer look thanks to this perfect tweet from the SEC Network that has a short video including each of Pitts four scores.

https://twitter.com/SECNetwork/status/1309956964403810304?s=20

If you were trying to cherry pick a season-long highlight package that showcased all of Pitts strengths you couldn’t do better than the above video. On the first play you see how Pitts can be deployed as if he is going to block before sneaking out into the flat for an easy score. (Pitts being a serviceable and willing blocker obviously helps with this feint.) On the second score he fights with the press corner off the line of scrimmage and then again at the top of his stem. He maybe pushes off a bit but spins off the defender and locates the well-placed ball and makes the catch as he falls past the goal line. Neither defender had a chance to make a play on the ball, just a perfect connection between quarterback and receiver. On the third touchdown Pitts shows us his speed and separation as he beats his defender down the seam. Like in the second play, he adjusts well to the ball that is under thrown. He lands a stiff arm that knocks the tackler off of him because of his longer reach. Then it’s off to the races, and none of the three DBs gets within five yards of him. Finally, Pitts showed us that he can be a weapon in the red zone. He’s lined up just off the line of scrimmage, runs a middle route against double coverage and beats both defenders in the air. At 6060/240, Pitts can win just about any jump ball.

Pitts literally put on a clinic against Ole Miss and I’m so glad I was tuned in and will certainly be watching again this week against South Carolina. If we were drafting today, I have no doubt that Kyle Pitts would be the top tight end selected and surely in the top half of the first round. Hopefully this Gator keeps chomping all the way throughout the season.

 

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

In a year full of strange seasons, perhaps none is stranger than that of the North Dakota State Bison. The FCS, as a collective, is not playing football this fall, however some of its teams were permitted by their conference to create their own schedule. Some of those teams, like Central Arkansas and Houston Baptist, have benefited from the situation because their early games surely had more viewers than in a usual year. NDSU has just a single game on their schedule and it comes this week against the aforementioned Central Arkansas. Thankfully for draft fans the game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN+ giving us a chance to see superstar quarterback Trey Lance in action once more before he inevitably starts his NFL Draft preparation. To his credit, Lance is apparently going to play in the game and says his focus is on the game and not his future. If he returns to campus next year it’ll be a big surprise.

Lance leapt into the national conversation about halfway through his redshirt freshman season, his first as the starter. He accounted for 11 total TDs through the campaign’s first three games and kept up an impressive pace all season long. He ended with 2,786 passing yards, 28 passing TDs and ZERO interceptions; he also added an even 1,100 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. Lance had a record-setting season and led the Bison to a perfect 16-0 record. The list of his 2019 accomplishments on his athletic department bio has twenty-two bullet points. In case the stats weren’t enough to convince you, take a look at these highlights:

On the field, Lance is a multi-faceted force for defenses to gameplan against. Size-wise he’s listed at 6040/226 and DraftScout.com predicts he’ll run in the 4.60 range (think: Ryan Tannehill). When I wrote about Lance back in May, I gushed about his arm talent saying that “Lance has the ability to uncork the ball with placement.” Outside the pocket, he keeps his eyes downfield and throws very well on the move. When running Lance looks more like an upright running back than a scrambling QB. He’s not afraid to initiate contact and is a high effort player who will sacrifice his body for a first down. (That’s admirable but he’ll need to make sure he keeps himself healthy and avoids big hits.) I can’t wait to study Lance further and get to know him better as a prospect because he could be special. I have not seen that much of Lance yet, none of us really have given he’ll essentially come out as a one-year starter, so take this next sentence with the requisite grain of salt: Lance oozes natural talent, confidence and charisma that has me as excited as I was when studying Patrick Mahomes back in 2017.

 

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 2021: Spring Scouting, TEs

Updated: May 25th 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.

In today’s installment of Spring Scouting, I will be focusing on the top three tight end prospects in the 2021 class: Kyle Pitts, Brevin Jordan and Pat Freiermuth. For the other entries in my Spring Scouting series I concentrated on under the radar players who deserved some attention, but I went in a different direction for the tight ends. I felt it was important to highlight these three standouts because they are less known to casual NFL Draft fans than the big names at other positions. Each player comes with an impressive pedigree (4-star recruits all around) and each has a shot at becoming the TE1 in the class.

(An honorable mention goes out to Matt Bushman of BYU. I was excited for Bushman heading into the 2019 season. He ended up meeting my expectations stats-wise but decided to skip the draft and come back for 2020. To read last year’s write-up on Bushman, click here.)

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

  • Measurables: 6060/239
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 3 receptions, 73 rec yards, 24.3 ypc, 1 rec TD
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 54 receptions, 649 rec yards, 12.0 ypc, 5 rec TDs

Pitts, a product of Philly and an Under Armour All-America game alumni, earned a starting role for the Gators in 2019. Throughout the 2018 season he played primarily on special teams but did score one long-distance touchdown against Idaho. I’m not sure what made me search for the highlight but I’m glad I did. The play itself was fine — Pitts was lined up outside, caught the post against an overmatched DB and ran 50 yards to the house — but it was the celebration afterward that caught my eye. The score put the Gators up 21-0 in a game that was in no doubt, and yet the players celebrated with Pitts like it was a game clinching score against Georgia. I love when I get to watch a player who is beloved by his teammates, especially when he was just a backup true freshman. A Gators fan blog called it “The Kyle Pitts Factor” in a 2019 post.

Put simply, Pitts is a first round talent. I checked out his game against LSU from last season to get a feel for his game against the nation’s best. I was impressed with how well-rounded Pitts’ game was for an underclassmen with only one season’s worth of starts. Pitts won’t be the best blocking tight end in the class but he lined up inline more than I anticipated and he acquitted himself well enough against LSU. He splits out often but he’s most dangerous lining up on the wing where he can get a free release and uses his speed to beat the linebacker tasked with covering him. In this play you see that the Tigers assigned All-American linebacker-safety hybrid Grant Delpit to cover Pitts. Pitts takes advantage of Delpit’s aggression to sell the underneath route before breaking upfield along the sideline. They hand fight and then Pitts uses his leverage to gain a modicum of separation to make the spectacular diving catch.

I’m excited to see Pitts pitted against SEC greats, and future NFL stars like Delpit, once again in 2020. With speed and a 6060/239 frame he’s an impossible matchup for most defenders. I would assume that Pitts declares early and becomes a hot NFL Draft commodity.

 

Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (FL)

  • Measurables: 6030/235
  • 2018 Stats: 12 games, 32 receptions, 287 rec yards, 9.0 ypc, 4 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games 35 receptions, 495 rec yards, 14.1 ypc, 2 rec TDs

Brevin Jordan, a rising junior, joined the Hurricanes in 2018 as the top rated tight end recruit in the nation. He was held catchless in his first-ever game against LSU but went on to tally 12-119-3 in his next two games, not bad for a true freshman. His final totals in both 2018 and 2019 are about average for the position but more impressive considering he missed time both years. Before we move on, a word on Jordan’s past injuries. Jordan missed a game and a half at the end of 2018 with an ankle injury (he returned for the bowl game). He then bruised his knee in March 2019 during offseason workouts which some thought might have been a more serious injury. In November of 2019 he injured his left foot and missed two games. He returned for the regular season finale but was shutout and then sat out the bowl game. In early March of 2020, pre-coronavirus, the Miami Herald reported that Jordan would miss all of Spring due to that nagging foot injury.

Enough injury talk, let’s talk about what makes Jordan great on the field. Jordan showcases his versatility on nearly every play because he lines up all over the formation. He features as an inline blocker more frequently than his 6030/235 size would dictate. He is a willing blocker but to my untrained eye it looks like he is sometimes too quick to initiate contact and in turn, overextending himself or falling for an evasive move. Jordan is a security blanket for his (ever-changing) quarterback. He’s particularly adept at selling a block before breaking into the flat for a chunk play. When he does get down field he has enough speed to burst past linebackers and find openings in the defense. In this sample play you see Jordan run a simple post from an inline position. The ball is tipped at the line of scrimmage but he maintains focus and makes the catch by using his body to protect the ball from the safety. He breaks the safety’s tackle and gets into the endzone for a key score in a big bragging rights game.

Jordan is a talented prospect and will be in the running for TE1 next draft season. I hope that he’s able to fully recover from his foot injury so we can see him at full strength in 2020.

 

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State

  • Measurables: 6050/256
  • 2018 Stats: 12 games, 26 receptions, 368 rec yards, 14.2 ypc, 8 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 43 receptions, 507 rec yards, 11.8 ypc, 7 rec TDs

Freiermuth, another highly touted junior tight end, is thisclose to Penn State history. He is currently tied with Mike Gesicki, the Nittany Lions’ last great tight end prospect, for career touchdown receptions at the position. If Freiermuth matches his previous touchdown output in 2020 he will vault to 2nd or 3rd on the Penn State career receiving touchdown list, ahead of familiar NFL names like WRs Chris Godwin and Allen Robinson. We are about to see, pending pandemic-related postponements, Freiermuth cement his place in Happy Valley lore.

I watched Freiermuth’s tape from Minnesota last season, arguably his best game of the season (7 receptions, 104 yards in a close loss). Interestingly, he seemed to line up on the line of scrimmage less frequently than either Pitts or Jordan did in their games that I watched. That, however, doesn’t mean he doesn’t feature as a key blocker. To the contrary, he is often used from the slot or the wing to seal the edge for his running back. He turns his blocks well, using leverage and angles to preserve running lanes, and does not rush. I loved this play where he patiently comes across the formation looking to help make an impact play. He ends up finding a DB who came up in run support and takes him out of the play to allow RB Journey Brown to cut back and turn a short gain into a big gain.

As a receiver, Freiermuth is a zone buster. He can find the soft spot and shows his numbers to the quarterback, making him an easy target. On this play you see his awareness as both the corner and linebacker sit on his short route. As the play breaks down, he releases down the field into an open area, putting his hand up to make sure he’s seen by his scrambling quarterback. He makes the catch and holds on through a crunching tackle.

I’ve always been honest that I grew up as a Michigan fan and now root for my nearby Scarlet Knights so I am pro-Big Ten. However, there’s no Big Ten bias here: Pat Freiermuth looks like a surefire NFL talent and will be a first rounder next April.

 

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