The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, Sleepers

Updated: March 23rd 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 installment of The Watch List, we are going to take a closer look at some of my favorite under-the-radar NFL Draft prospects.  These guys are all undervalued right now and I think fantasy owners can find a good return on their investment.  In addition to the four players I’ve highlighted, one at each offensive skill position, I added a few honorable mentions at the bottom.  I am officially suffering from NFL Draft hysteria, so without further ado, let’s get to it!

Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse

  • Measurables: 6040/226 (per Sports-Reference.com; did not participate in the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 226-371, 60.9% completion percentage, 2,868 yards, 18 TDs, 9 INTs, 754 rushing yards, 15 rushing TDs

Eric Dungey made his first impression on me in 2017 when he stole a victory against #2 Clemson and their fearsome defense (278 passing yards, 3 TDs and 61 rushing yards).  Dungey followed up that performance with another plus outing in 2018 (250 yards and 2 rushing TDs).  The local Syracuse newspaper did an interesting multi-piece feature on Dungey where they dug into his “warrior-like persona” and his push back on the “injury prone” label.  The article regarding his injury history was most informative to me because I had already made the assumption that he was injury prone.  However, Dungey and his family question the school’s decision to keep him out of numerous games for a concussion despite him being cleared by doctors.  Dungey did miss most of the Notre Dame game in 2018 with a back injury but thankfully he was healthy otherwise so we were able to get a full-season sample size.

Dungey completes just over 60% of his passes which is just good enough but not ideal.  When I watched his Clemson 2018 game, I thought that Dungey threw with good accuracy and touch on short and intermediate passes, especially on screen/swing routes; he also led his receivers with anticipation.  He can be inconsistent with his mechanics and needs work on his feet.  He often throws without stepping into the pass or off his back foot.  Despite his poor footwork, Dungey showed me that he has a big arm and can place the deep ball well.  On this play, he has the rush in his face, fades away and throws a dime to the sideline.

Dungey also adds a dimension in the running game (35 career rushing yards).  He’s not an explosive runner but he is effective as a power runner near the goal line or in short yardage situations.  Part of that success surely stems from his caution-to-the-wind attitude which rallies his teammates.  He throws well enough on the move to run designed rolls and sprint outs.

Maybe it’s the fact that he wears #2.  Maybe it’s the confident personality.  Or, maybe I’m just crazy.  But, when I watch Dungey I see a poor man’s Johnny Manziel (seemingly without the off-field issues).  If teams can look past Dungey’s injury history, I think they will be getting a solid football player who could have a Taysom Hill like impact early in his career as a short yardage gadget player.  Draft Prediction: Round 5-6

 

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

  • Measurables: 5095/211, 4.47 40 yard dash (per the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 172 carries, 954 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 5 TDs; 21 receptions, 112 yards, 5.3 yards per reception, 1 TD

Mike Weber has had one of the most interesting paths to being an NFL Draft prospect. Two years ago, he looked like he could be the next star rusher for the Buckeyes. And then in 2017 he promptly lost his starting spot to true freshman JK Dobbins. Dobbins played well from the start and Weber battled through a nagging hamstring which helped Dobbins further entrench his leading role. Weber stayed in the mix though and in 2018 he nearly topped 1,000 yards. Then Weber went on to run a surprising 4.47 40 yard dash at the combine (the rest of his combine was lackluster though). You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know what to make of Weber’s draft stock.

His per-touch averages dropped in 2018 but I’m less concerned with that and more encouraged by the increase in volume. Since Weber was playing second-fiddle to Dobbins, much of his usage came when the team was winning. You could spin this as making the most of garbage time or you could spin it that the team trusted him with the ball to seal the victory. I typically lean towards the former but you can pass your own judgment.

The main reason I value Weber is that he’s a well balanced back in that he makes contributions as a runner, receiver and blocker. He has 54 career receptions, topping 20 in his two healthiest seasons. In 2016, his only as the starter, Pro Football Focus gave Weber a pass blocking grade of 88.1. For comparison, only six other backs in this draft class had a season with a higher pass blocking grade. (Full disclosure: he fared worse the last two seasons.) At the combine, he showed that he has speed and strength and that appears on tape as well.

In this play against Washington, Weber uses his speed to turn the corner against the safety and then finishes the run strong.  Finishing strong is something that I saw repeatedly; he’s not one to step out of bounds to avoid a hit.

Unfortunately, the 2018 tape available featured none of Weber’s solid receiving games.  However, in the Washington game we did get a single glimpse at how he can serve as a safety valve and use his downhill running style to pick up a first down.  Not surprisingly, he finishes this run well too.

I’ve said before that Weber is not a “sexy” name and I stand by that. Fans won’t go ga-ga for him after he’s drafted but I feel strongly that they’ll be getting a player who can fill a number of roles in an NFL backfield. If he finds himself behind a shaky incumbent, Weber could be starting come September.  At the very least, I think Weber will be utilized late in games where his running style can wear down a defense and his versatility gives the play caller options without changing personnel. Draft Prediction: Round 4-5

Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

  • Measurables: 6053/227, 4.48 40 yard dash (per the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 60 receptions, 1,318 yards, 22.0 yards per reception, 9 TDs

It’s becoming harder and harder to call Butler a “sleeper” as his momentum builds. I kept him in this piece as planned though because I still believe he’s undervalued in the fantasy football world.

Butler was the second target behind the similarly-sized Allen Lazard last season, and yet he still managed a 41-697-7 line. This year as the primary option, he improved to 60-1318-9. Where Butler’s 2018 stats really stand out is his yards per reception: 22.0. Based solely on his stats, you would assume Butler is a shifty slot receiver, however he’s really a speedy 6053/227 behemoth with a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl jealous.

Butler has the potential to be a factor in the redzone, although he did not show that much in 2018.  In fact, he caught just 3 of his 60 balls inside the twenty (for 2 TDs).  I’d like to think that that surprising stat has more to do with his deployment and the play calls than his ability.  I was encouraged by how perfect one of those redzone targets looked against Kansas State.  Butler hesitates at the snap, breaks outside and leans into the corner as the ball is thrown.  He uses this leverage to make some space for a back shoulder throw.  Butler goes up with two hands and is strong enough to hold onto the ball as he’s contacted and as the defender tries to swipe at the ball at the last moment.  It was a textbook redzone fade that gives me hope that Butler can excel in similar situations in the NFL.

That’s not to say that Butler can only be utilized in the redzone or as an X receiver.  He lines up all over the field and uses his rare combination of size, speed and strength to create mismatches all over.  He’s a feisty blocker who lacks technique but not motivation.  He uses that same physicality at the top of his routes where I saw him plant more than one defender in the grass.  In fact, defenders seem to hit the ground all around Butler.  One of my favorite highlights of Butler came in the Oklahoma game.  I remember watching this one live and was glad to find a clip online.  He catches the ball in traffic, spins out of multiple tackles and wills himself to the endzone, defenders toppling like bowling pins.

There’s one last clip I just have to show of Butler.  In this one he’s illustrating one of my favorite traits of a wide receiver, what I call “going over and through.”  Butler has such a height advantage that he’s able to reach back behind the corner and secure the catch (he adds a little YAC to this one too).

Butler certainly isn’t a perfect prospect, even if his physique may suggest otherwise.  I noted multiple drops in the Kansas State game and he was also a frequent culprit of OPI.  Despite some small question marks, Butler is currently my WR5.  I believe that he could be a steal in the second round for fantasy owners.  Draft Prediction: Round 2-3

Donald Parham, TE, Stetson

  • Measurables: 6083/243 (per the Senior Bowl; did not participate in the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 85 receptions, 1,319 yards, 13 TDs

I have written extensively about Donald Parham since I first stumbled across him a year ago. In fact, I recently included him in my FCS NFL Draft preview. I was going to profile somebody else in this piece until I watched Parham’s highlight reel from the 2018 Morehead State game. The plays he made in that game showed me a facet of Parham’s game that I was not able to see in more limited clip packages from other games. Specifically, I was able to see just how great his hands are. He repeatedly catches the ball away from his body, utilizing his spectacular catch radius to his advantage. Parham does not have great straight-line speed or agility but his stride is so long that he covers ground deceptively well. In this clip, you can see how he gets away from the defender with relative ease after catching the post.

His route running was also more noticeable, although it certainly needs more refinement. I was encouraged by the nuance in this route because it showed a sign of Parham that I had not often seen. The defense is playing zone which he exploits by drawing the linebacker towards the boundary, cuts inside and stops his route in front of the safety. He makes the grab and spins away from contact.  This allows him to pick up an extra twenty yards after the catch. It was an unremarkable play but it showed me that he may be able to succeed from the slot and not just be typecast as a red zone receiver.

Parham does not have the bulk to be an in-line blocker in the NFL. I also believe he lacks the quickness and play strength to beat press coverage and start as an X receiver. So, he will need to find a role as a mismatch-inducing slot receiver. He will most definitely start his career as a situational player but given his unique size that may still be valuable to fantasy owners. I have a feeling that a team will be enticed by his physical potential and grabs him on Day Two, ahead of more complete tight ends. Draft Prediction: Round 2-3

Honorable Mentions

  • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien is currently my QB4.  He has decent measureables, tons of experience and a good-enough arm.  He’ll be a Day Two guy and might become fantasy relevant based on team fit.
  • Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State: According to Pro Football Focus, Jalin Moore is the best pass blocking running back the last two years running.  Moore missed much of 2018 with an injury so he’s going to go later than he would have six months ago.  I expect him to go during the inevitable RB run in the 4th round.  Even though he wasn’t a factor as a receiver, I expect him to earn an early role as a reliable pass protector.
  • Marcus Jones, RB, Gannon: The stats that Marcus Jones put up the last two seasons are incredible: 3,884 yards and 50 TDs.  Granted, that was against DII competition but his highlights are still impressive.  Jones received an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (a low level postseason showcase game) but played out of position at FB.  He finished with zero carries and just one catch.  Sadly, that’s probably the death blow to his draft stock but I won’t give up until I see him in training camp.  I believe.
  • David Sills, WR, West Virginia: I have Sills higher in my rankings than many others.  The reason for that is that I think he will have immediate situational value in the NFL.  A rookie stat line of 25-200-6 would not surprise me and would mean that Sills could be a bye-week option in deeper leagues.
  • Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona: Butler has good size and athleticism.  He excels in the air and in contested catch situations.  I also think he has the right mentality to find success as a late-rounder.
  • Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State: Warring landed on my radar after he had a great combine.  He ran well (4.70, 76th percentile) and did as good or better in the jumps and shuttles.  He only has 19 career games and 51 career receptions so a small sample size is a concern.  After my limited exposure, he looks like a plus blocker so he’ll get drafted for that on Day Three and maybe his athleticism shines through.

 


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

The Watch List: 2018 FCS Preview

Updated: May 20th 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. 

Players to Watch

Easton Stick, QB, North Dakota State: Stick is my favorite of the three top FCS quarterback prospects that I have studied.  Stick, besides having a great name, has elite accuracy and good touch.  I noted very few missed passes while watching two of his games.  He is not a deep passer but does show at least average arm strength.  Stick needs to improve his pocket presence and better see and feel the pass rush.  When he does scramble, which he does often, he is adept at keeping plays alive and is willing to take a hit.  He is not very agile or quick and looks labored as a runner but he can rack up the yards (663 in 2017).  Stick does not play in a high volume passing offense like the two FCS passers I profile below which could help or hurt his professional prospects depending on who you ask.  He completed a respectable 62.1% of his passes and finished near the top of the QBs on my watch list in terms of yards per attempt (9.3) and rating (169.5).  Stick is 6’2″ and 220lbs which did not impact him against FCS defenses but it could turn into an issue at the NFL level if he continues with his reckless play style.  The comparisons to Carson Wentz are inevitable but I caution armchair analysts to remember that Wentz was a superior athlete.  Stick will get NFL Draft buzz and if I had to guess now, we’re looking at a Day 2 grade for him.

Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington: Gubrud is a redshirt senior starting his third year eat EWU.  He excelled in 2016 with two future NFL targets (Cooper Kupp and Kendrick Bourne) but saw his stats come back to earth in 2017.  He was still productive though with 3,342 yards and 26 TDs.  Gubrud has a strong arm but lacks accuracy.  His strong arm means he often overthrows deep receivers.  In fact, I did not note a single deep completion in my two game film study.  He possesses good pocket presence and relishes the chance to improvise and scramble.  Gubrud already proved he can lead EWU to success (12-2 in 2016) so let’s see if they can get back in championship contention.

Devlin Hodges, QB, Samford: The Bulldogs have made it to the FCS Playoffs the last two years under starter Devlin Hodges.  Unfortunately they have yet to win a playoff game after back-to-back first round exits.  Hodges is a touch thrower with a strong arm and a wonky motion.  His sidearm motion does not look natural to me and almost looks like he’s trying to shot put the football.  The motion and his height (listed at 6’1″ but probably shorter) lead to batted balls at the line and numerous short passes landing in the dirt as he tries to get it over a defender.  Despite those misses, Hodges does complete a high percentage of passes (65.7%).  He threw for 3,983 yards in 2017 which is second to just McKenzie Milton on my 2019 watch list (albeit against FCS opponents).  Hodges did have a very notable game against Georgia in 2017: 26-35, 227 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs.  It was the kind of game that makes you think he could persevere and get a shot at the next level.  He’s not a dynamic running threat but he does have good pocket mobility and throws well on the run.  His height and motion will probably be disqualifying to NFL scouts but he’s interesting nonetheless as a fun college player.

Marcus Jones, RB, Gannon:  Gannon, you ask?  It’s actually a small Division II school in Erie, PA.  I’m not enough of a masochist to do a Division II preview so I figured I would add Jones here.  I came across him while researching some hidden NFL Draft prospects and was blown away by his 2017 stats and measureables.  Sure, the stats can be minimized because of the competition but they are still eye-popping: 2,176 rushing yards, 8.1 yards per carry, 24 receptions, 288 receiving yards and 31 total TDs.  His size can’t be explained-away because he comes in at a near perfect running back size of 5’11” and 225lbs (think Nick Chubb).  Film of Jones is predictably impossible to find but I was able to scrape together a few highlights.  In those highlights I see a thick-bottomed back with a good stiff arm and the athleticism to hurdle a defender on his way to a run-away touchdown.  I really hope I get to see more of this kid.

Bruce Anderson, RB, North Dakota State: I’m looking forward to watching more of Anderson but at this point there’s not much out there to watch except for a few FCS Playoff highlights.  From the little I did see of him, he looks fast.  He’s at least 4.50 fast but is probably a touch faster.  He shows good balance and adds versatility as a kick returner.  After watching his highlights, I was surprised to see he only had 8 receptions this season; since they all seemed to come in big moments, I’ll bet we see more of him as a pass catcher in 2018.  Anderson only averaged 5.2 yards per carry which sounds like a lot to NFL fans but is below the 5.8 average of my watch list sample.  I include Anderson here because he plays for the reigning FCS champion and we’ll probably see a lot of him this year, especially if Easton Stick starts getting the spotlight.

Dominick Bragalone, RB, Lehigh: Bragalone is another RB prospect who you’ll be hard pressed to find film on.  I was able to find a number of highlight packages from the school that I could piece together to get a feel for his game.  He’s squat, like a bowling ball, and runs strong.  He is not fast, likely in the 4.60-4.65 range.  He easily brushes off arm tackles and keeps his feet well.  It appears that he’s at least above average when it comes to pass protection, if not better.  He racked up the carries in 2017 (247) and averaged 5.6 yards per for a total of 1,388 yards.  He had 22 total TDs too which is one of the highest totals in my sample.  My opinion is that Bragalone will be used more like a FB in the NFL or as a situational short yardage back but could handle the starting load for short spells (maybe like Peyton Hillis?).

Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis: Keelan Doss is a name to remember.  After my limited research, yet another FCS prospect with no game films out there, I think he could factor into fantasy drafts next season.  Doss has good size at 6’3″ and 206lbs but lacks elite speed (4.55 at best).  He uses that size well to dominate FCS corners.  Doss shows good to elite hand and play strength.  He is not afraid to go over the middle and is a bear in contested catch situations.  He often snags the ball with solid hands and does not let the ball get into his body.  Doss put together the best 2017 stat line of all my watch list receivers: 115 receptions, 1,499 yards and 7 TDs.  Of the fifty receivers on my list, he led them all in receptions and yards.  I need to watch more of Doss to evaluate his route running and willingness to block but my gut tells me he could be special.

Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona: Butler is the only player on this list who was a possibility for the 2018 NFL Draft.  He missed most of 2017 due to a shoulder injury that resulted in surgery.  If it weren’t for that injury he likely would have come out after the 2017 season.  Instead he returns for his fifth season and gives us another look.  Butler got the Matt Waldman treatment back in February before it was clear that Butler would return.  In summary, Waldman likes what he sees so who am I to disagree?  When I watch Butler I see somebody who uses his elite size (6’4″ and 220lbs) to go over and through smaller and weaker corners.  He exhibits strong hands and has a few spectacular one-handed grabs on film.  He is a motivated player who does not give up on the play.  One play in specific comes to mind, it’s one that Waldman highlighted as well.  Against Eastern Washington, Butler’s quarterback throws an interception on an end zone fade.  After hitting the turf, Butler gets up and runs down the defender, likely saving six points.  It’s the type of play that few players make so it stood out on the tape.  It’ll be a close race between Doss and Butler to see who can be the top FCS receiving prospect this year.

Donald Parham, TE, Stetson: Parham is Lanky with a capital L.  He’s listed at 6’9″ and 235lbs.  That makes him the tallest TE on my watch list but one of the lightest.  He looks raw and uncoordinated as an athlete but as the cliche goes, “you can’t teach size.”  In fact, Parham would be the tallest skill position player since at least 2000, when Pro-Football-Reference.com started tracking, if he managed a combine invite.  I was only able to find a few short highlights so I can’t actually evaluate him as a player but we should all bookmark him just in case he is able to fill out his frame and continue his above average production.  He missed games in both 2016 and 2017 but if you extrapolate his stats over a twelve game season he would finish with a 60-804-4 line.


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