The Watch List 2021: Early RB Tiers

Updated: January 14th 2021

Throughout the offseason I will be compiling early positional tiers for the 2021 NFL Draft. In past years I’ve done early rankings but in hindsight those feel counterproductive to my ultimate goal of creating RSO’s rookie rankings that are used in the draft room. Frankly, it’s hard to change a ranking because it feels “locked in” once I put it out into the world. When I would create my early rankings I would always start by grouping the players into themed tiers first, so that’s what I will be sharing in this series. Each tier includes players whose potential and plot line feel similar to me; the sequence of tiers is indicative of a general order of expected draft value. I’ll repeat though: these are not rankings. Within each tier players are sorted alphabetically.

(Note: This article was written between January 7-13. By the time you read this it’s likely that many players will have made official announcements about whether they will enter the NFL Draft, transfer or return to school. Rumors abound about each player’s decision but we’ll know for sure by the time you read this.)

1.01 Contenders

  • Travis Etienne

  • Najee Harris

  • Javonte Williams

Two of the names in this cohort should not surprise you. Both Travis Etienne and Najee Harris would have been 1.01 contenders in the 2020 class if they came out after their junior years; and they did nothing to dispel that potential for 2021. Etienne has been my favorite running back in this class since I first saw him as a true freshman. He has speed to spare and has grown as a player to become a better pass catcher and blocker. Etienne had a good but not great season — his yards per carry was down to 5.4 while his first three seasons were all over 7.2 — but he really showed up as a receiver with 48-588-2. Harris had a fantastic season and likely edges out Etienne in most 1.01 conversations but their final order will come down to their landing spot. Harris is a beast at 6020/230 and yet is nimble on his feet and is a plus pass catcher. He had nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage and scored 30 TDs this season. Get ready for a vociferous debate all winter long about which is the better back. If one player has a chance at upsetting the proverbial 1.01 applecart, I would say it’s Javonte Williams. He had solid production his first two years as a Tar Heel but exploded onto the national radar with a crazy six-week midseason run in 2020. In those six games, all against ACC opponents, Williams rushed for 754 yards and 11 scores. He has average or better size, speed and pass catching ability. Every season there seems to be one player who catapults themselves into the conversation for the top rookie pick and Williams might have done enough this season that a successful offseason will jump him up fantasy draft boards.  (All of this 1.01 talk is assuming you’re not playing superflex. If you are, please take Trevor Lawrence. If you’re playing in a 1 QB league the value changes so you should go RB or WR, but if I’m being honest, I’d still find it hard to pass on Lawrence and the value he could bring in the RSO format.)

Day Two Targets

  • Kenny Gainwell

  • Kylin Hill

  • Chuba Hubbard

  • Zamir White

If recent history is any indication, Day Two is typically when the running back run happens in the NFL Draft. The guys taken in that range are destined to become the late 1st and early 2nd rounders in your rookie drafts. Like a few other players featured in this article, Kenny Gainwell decided to opt out of the 2020 season and get ready for the NFL Draft. He does so with the confidence that his stellar 2019 season at Memphis will be enough to land among the top handful of prospects at the position. Memphis has had a tremendous run of producing NFL running back talent and it seems that Gainwell may be the best of the bunch. His 2019 highlights and totals are eye popping: 231 carries for 1,459 yards and 13 TDs combined with 51 receptions for 601 receiving yards and 3 receiving TDs. Gainwell is an excellent receiver and can accelerate into the secondary in a blink. He should test well which may quiet concerns about him being a one-year wonder. Kylin Hill has been on the cusp of breaking out for awhile now. His production crescendoed in 2019 as a junior when he put up a 1,350-10 season. Hill opted out after an injury in 2020 so we didn’t get to see much of him and will be relying on that 2019 tape to evaluate him. For whatever reason I never studied Kylin Hill closely so I need to fix that ASAP. Chuba Hubbard did play in 2020 and it’s likely that his average performance will cost him in terms of draft capital. Before the season I had predicted that Hubbard, a solid all-round back who can run with nuance, would be in the 1.01 conversation. He’s probably still a first round rookie pick but in terms of NFL value he may be better off returning for another season. Zamir White just can’t catch a break. The kid earned a near-perfect score as a recruit from 247Sports but endured back-to-back ACL tears which delayed the beginning of his college career. He contributed late in the 2019 season and was expected to star in 2020. He led the Bulldogs with 779-11 rushing but the season was off-kilter from the start between covid and a revolving door in the quarterback room. White will be a coveted early down runner at the next level whenever he decides to leave Athens.

Regular Season Risers

  • Michael Carter

  • Khalil Herbert

  • Jaret Patterson

The three backs I slotted here helped their NFL Draft stock immensely with their production in 2020 (ironically they are all also almost the exact same size at 5090/200). They may have started the season as being on the fringe of being draftable but now it’s possible they may have elevated themselves over some of the better-known names below. Let’s not fall too hard for recency bias though, these players will need to prove it throughout the pre-draft process as well. Michael Carter was the second head in the two-headed monster that was UNC’s rushing attack this season. In addition to 1,245-9 on the ground, Carter added 25-267-2 as a receiver (keep in mind that is in just eleven games). At 5080/199 he has a low center of gravity, and thick tree trunk-like legs, that make him a tough tackle. Carter has experience as a kick returner so I can easily see him earning a roster spot on special teams in training camp and then working his way into the offense. Admittedly, I have a blind spot for Khalil Herbert and am including him here based on his 2020 stats (1,183-8) and highlights (a very direct runner with 4.40 top end speed). Until I have a chance to study him further take Herbert’s placement with a grain of salt. The MAC played a six game season in 2020 so you’d think that Jaret Patterson didn’t have much time to wow amateur scouts like myself. You’d be wrong because he made the most of those opportunities. In mid-November he had back-to-back games with 301-4 and 409-8. That’s incredible, regardless of what level you’re playing at. Patterson led the MAC’s second-best running back, his teammate Kevin Marks, by a whopping 331 yards. His success was no fluke either: Patterson has fifteen career games with 100+ rushing yards. Patterson is small-ish, probably smaller than he’s listed, but he finds a way to get it done. A high draft pick and instant fantasy relevance may elude Patterson but I’m not going to bet against a guy who showed he can be a wildly productive high-volume running back.

Riddle-Wrapped Enigmas

  • Journey Brown

  • Jermar Jefferson

  • Trey Sermon

  • Stephen Carr

Journey Brown opted out of the 2020 season, a decision surely motivated by the 2021 NFL Draft. As a sophomore in 2019, Brown excelled down the stretch when he was the lead runner. In those last five games he averaged 118 yards per game and scored 9 TDs. Brown ticks a lot of boxes — ideal measurables at 5110/217, 4.40 speed, sublime contact balance — but he has just one game in his career where he handled 20+ carries and only three with 15+ carries. Brown has talent but I’m wary to project him too high in my rankings. After his 1,380 yard freshman season I assumed we would be talking highly of Jermar Jefferson in 2021 but an injury plagued sophomore season slowed his progress. His 6.5 yards per carry in 2020 was his best yet so maybe I should be feeling more bullish on his future fantasy value. Jefferson is a balanced back who has above average speed, elusiveness, power and balance. I wrote about Trey Sermon heading into the championship game and was looking forward to a big game to cement his rising draft stock. Sadly he got hurt on his first carry of the game and didn’t return. I still think Sermon’s slashing running style will find a home in the NFL. Oh, Stephen Carr. I gushed about this guy way back in 2017 when he was a highly touted true freshman but injuries and ineffectiveness limited his touches in the intervening years. He popped up with two scores in the Trojans’ first two games in 2020 and then had just 24 carries in the last four games. I refuse to give up on him, even if USC has.

Pass Catching Playmakers

  • Max Borghi

  • Deon Jackson

  • Isaih Pacheco

Heading into the 2020 season I was very excited about Max Borghi. I thought he could be the NFL’s next great pass catching back because he has the ability to stretch the defense horizontally before punishing would-be tacklers when he turns upfield. Unfortunately a back injury sidelined him for all but one game so it seems unlikely he makes the jump for 2021. Deon Jackson is my current pick for the out-of-nowhere fantasy relevant rookie running back in 2021. He was an unheralded 3-star recruit back in 2016 and averaged just 4.3 yards per carry in his career on some middling Duke teams. When I watched him for my Week 7 preview, I noted that he is patient but decisive. I saw fantastic skills as a receiver and saw him trusted in pass protection. I’ll be following Jackson closely in the pre-draft process to see if he starts to earn any plaudits from draft pundits. I root hard for my hometown Rutgers Scarlet Knights (although the Michigan Wolverines were my first love) so it’s exciting to finally highlight one of my favorite “choppers.” Isaih [sic] Pacheco has super lateral quickness and deploys a deadly horizontal cut at the line of scrimmage that sets him up for big runs off the edge. He’s a plus receiver and I think he’ll test well athletically. Unfortunately there’s literally zero cut-ups out there for Pacheco so I’m going off memory here and can’t wait for him to receive some well deserved exposure.

Spacey Satellites

  • Javian Hawkins

  • Pooka Williams

Hawkins and Williams are both smaller prospects who are likely to be seen as “space” players at the pro level. Both players feature blazing speed and quickness. Hawkins, listed at 5090/196, runs with a ferociousness that belies his frame. I doubt he himself is convinced he can’t be between-the-tackles runner in the NFL. I watched Hawkins against Miami back in September and was impressed with how he ran against the 17th ranked ‘Canes. Hawkins, whose nickname is Playstation because of his video game-like moves, had a career-high 16 receptions in 2020 and will need to continue to develop as a receiver as that’s likely to be a part of his role in the NFL. Pooka Williams, 5100/170, isn’t afraid of a little contact either but his game is predicated on his impressive ability to stop and change direction on a dime. He’s also an angle buster when he breaks through the second level which makes it even harder for safeties and corners to catch him. Williams played in just four games this season before opting out for family reasons; those four performances were lackluster and didn’t help his draft stock if I’m being honest. He also has a domestic violence arrest in his past so Williams comes with baggage that teams will need to unpack. I think Williams may be best served by returning to Kansas and reminding us once again why we loved watching him.

Undervalued, Underdrafted

  • Keaontay Ingram

  • Brian Robinson

  • Larry Rountree

  • CJ Verdell

The four players in this tier are Power 5 guys who I feel may be undervalued right now, and as such, will be underdrafted when it comes to your 2021 rookie drafts. Keaontay Ingram was a big cog in the Longhorns’ offense in his first two seasons on campus, coming in as a heralded 4-star recruit. Unfortunately, an ankle injury cut his 2020 season short. Ingram runs with a suddenness and forward pad lean that I think will translate to the pros. He also has excellent hands out of the backfield. If Brian Robinson were on any other team than Alabama he’d probably be an All-Conference player and find himself high atop these rankings. I’ve highlighted him a few times on The Watch List, always waiting for his breakout that never quite came. Robinson has great size at 6000/226 and I have previously noted that he runs with vision. I’ll take an educated guess that more than one team will see him as ready-made for the NFL. Perhaps most undervalued on this list is Larry Rountree. He was the main reason that recent iterations of the Mizzou Tigers weren’t even more irrelevant in the SEC. Rountree is trending upward at just the right time: in 2020 he increased his per-touch numbers, and set a career-high for both rushing touchdowns (14) and receptions (15). Rountree may not be a sexy name but to me he looks like the type of back who can stick around. I watched CJ Verdell’s opening match against Stanford this year and was impressed with his brute force running style. His signature play from the game, and the one sure to feature on his NFL Draft coverage, is a bone crunching hit he delivers to two Cardinals at the goal line to force his way in for the points. He caught two balls in that game and I thought he should have been featured more as a receiver (he did have 27 receptions as a frosh). I’m not sure that Verdell has reached his potential yet and that’s saying something for somebody who has two 1,000 yard campaigns under his belt.

Short Yardage Specialists

  • Rakeem Boyd

  • Stevie Scott

  • Master Teague

These three backs were difficult for me to place in my running back hierarchy. It’s not that these guys didn’t catch any passes in college — Boyd and Scott each have a 20+ reception season in their past — it’s that I feel their future role will be limited to a situational runner. They may get drafted above some of the aforementioned players but in terms of fantasy value they will be lacking. Vulturing some touchdowns is nice but touchdowns are difficult to predict and as such I would often lean towards a player with a better chance at reliable touches. Stevie Scott is the biggest of the bunch here (6020/231) but is likely the most limited of the trio. I liked what I saw of Boyd when I did a quick study of him early in the season, however he struggled for much of 2020. I coined a phrase to describe him: a wallop-gallop runner. I didn’t watch the season on which he was featured but he was a star on Last Chance U if you’re interested in seeing some of his back story.  I think Teague has the most natural talent of these later round options and has a chance to transcend a situational role. He has a small-ish sample size and has dealt with a number of serious injuries throughout his career (concussion, Achilles, foot) so I would actually expect him to return to Ohio State for his senior season and hopefully put together a full season.

Small School Sleepers

  • Spencer Brown

  • Brenden Knox

  • Elijah Mitchell

  • Trey Ragas

My “Small School Sleepers” would usually include some solid FCS players to watch, however we largely missed out on an FCS season. Side note: doesn’t it feel like those early season games featuring teams like Central Arkansas and Campbell were played three years ago? 24 of the 26 players featured above are all Power 5 prospects so I figured this was the spot to share some Group of Five love. Trey Ragas and Elijah Mitchell were mainstays for the Ragin’ Cajuns for the last four years. Ragas accumulated 4,001 career yards from scrimmage and 43 touchdowns; meanwhile Mitchell totaled 3,864 and 46. That’s a hell of a duo. Ragas and Mitchell popped up on The Watch List back in 2018 and 2019 but I have not recently watched them so they deserve some closer attention this offseason. Spencer Brown dazzled as a true freshman but fell out of favor with #DraftTwitter after a lackluster junior season. In a shortened 2020 senior season he put up good totals — 10 TDs, six games with 100+ yards — but I recall that he looked pedestrian for the most part in his showcase game against Miami. I’m not sure that Brown has NFL-level ability when it comes to power, speed or receiving but there’s something to be said for dur-ability and avail-ability. Way back in 2018 and 2019 I had said that Brown could be “a star in the making” and surmised that he could “find a role in the NFL as an early down runner.” I may have missed the mark there but I have a soft spot for Brown and hope he gets a shot in the NFL. Brenden Knox always makes me question my spell checker — that’s two Es and no As please. Knox capitalized on the increased attention at the beginning of the season when most of the Power 5 was still idle, averaging 112 yards per game and scoring nine times in his first six games. I see a back with the jump and the juice to get the edge and the power to move the pile. As a junior with two more years of eligibility we may not see him hit the draft in 2021 but he’s somebody we should study closely when he does.

 

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, nflmockdraftdatabase.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: Championship Game Preview

Updated: January 10th 2021

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.

Well, we made it. The 2020 college football season was an interesting ride from start to finish, full of unexpected hurdles and plenty of last minute gameplan changes. It’s fun to debate the merits of a 4-team playoff but I think it’s fair to say that we got two deserving teams in the championship. Alabama, as usual, stood out among the SEC and added another chapter to the story of Nick Saban’s dynasty. Ohio State, controversially, has played half as many games as Alabama but proved they belong with a convincing win against Clemson in the semi-finals. Both teams are loaded with NFL talent on both sides of the ball. As is my custom on The Watch List, below I am sharing the draft-eligible offensive skill position players you should be keeping an eye on in the game. Much of these players are “name brand” guys so I have also included a few under the radar honorable mentions at the end. (In true 2020 style I’ll share a familiar caveat: it’s possible that players mentioned in this preview are ruled out of the game for covid-related reasons between writing and publication.)

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

Mac Jones started the 2020 season mostly as an unknown quantity to fans like myself. He played well enough in relief of Tua Tagovailoa in 2019, but it was a small-ish sample size and he lacked the recruiting pedigree of typical Alabama stars. So, it was fair to question whether he could lead the Tide to greatness. Jones put the questions to rest quickly after a second game statement win over Texas A&M. He ultimately ended with 4,036 passing yards and 36 TDs to just 4 INTs. Jones came in third in Heisman voting but received the consolation prize of seeing his favorite target, DeVonta Smith, win the trophy. Jones reads the field well and throws a tremendous deep ball that is accurate and perfectly placed. If he comes out he’ll probably end up being a late first rounder but another season on campus might elevate him even higher.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

For non-superflex leagues, Najee Harris has made the best case this season for the 1.01 pick. Harris is a bear to bring down, fully utilizing his 6020/230 build in goal line and short yardage situations. Harris led the nation in rushing touchdowns this season (24) and was near the top in attempts (229) and yards (1,387); he is also a big part of the passing game (36-346-3). Based on his size and his dominant performance this season, it’s easy to compare Harris to former Alabama star Derrick Henry but Harris is a more balanced back than Henry. I have a years-long love of Clemson’s Travis Etienne but even I need to admit that it may be time to put Harris atop the 2020 running back class. Ohio State had the nation’s second-best rushing defense (just 89.0 yards per game) so we’ll get a great showcase game for Harris to end on.

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

DeVonta Smith racked up the end-of-season accolades: SEC Offensive Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, Biletnikoff Award, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Heisman Trophy, etc. Let me be the first last to tell you that DeVonta Smith is good. Smith is an innate route runner, he has great body control at the boundary, and he is quick and shifty after the catch. If Smith was twenty pounds heavier, he would probably be the highest rated receiver prospect in a decade. The biggest question about Smith is whether his size (6010/175) will reduce his impact in the NFL. #DraftTwitter is full of hot takes but I won’t add to them because Smith has been dominant for 2+ years and has never missed a game in college. Until he proves otherwise, Smith is my WR1 over LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase who sat out this season. We should relish the chance to watch DeVonta Smith in crimson one last time.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

When I started writing this preview I did not include Waddle on my list because I didn’t think there was any shot he would play after suffering a fractured ankle earlier in the season. As of Sunday morning, word is that he may play though so he’s a necessary inclusion on this list. If Waddle does see the field it might only take one touch for him to make a difference. Waddle is the ultimate low-volume, high-impact player. For his career he averages just 4.75 touches per game (receptions, rushing attempts and returns) but an impressive 88.75 all-purpose yards per game. Like Smith, Waddle is undersized at 5100/180 but he’s a dynamo when he has the ball in his hands. He’s a true track star in football pads. Speed sells in the NFL and as such I expect Waddle to be a late first rounder at worst come April. If Waddle is able to play and prove he’s fully healthy it will only further improve his draft stock.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Whether he’s drafted 2nd or 3rd overall on April 29th, the team that drafts Justin Fields will be getting a cornerstone for their franchise for years to come. Fields is still my QB2 in this class and the toughness he showed in the semi-final against Clemson only solidified that for me. Sure, the six passing touchdowns were gaudy but it’s not the first time this season that he’s put up eye-popping numbers. In just seven games, Fields has scored 26 total TDs. Fields is listed at 6030/228 but looks even bigger than that on the screen. He’s a smart runner, reads the zone-read well and is a leader on and off the field. I love watching him sling it and that’s tough to admit as a lifelong Michigan fan.

Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State

Leading into the 2019 season I was high on Trey Sermon. I thought he was the better of the two backs for the Sooners, over Kennedy Brooks, but he found himself on the wrong side of the time share. Sermon moved to Ohio State as a grad transfer for this season and now that he’s more comfortable in the offense he’s excelled. In the last three games against Michigan State, Northwestern and Clemson, Sermon has compiled 636 rushing yards and 4 TDs. His 331 yards against Northwestern were the second-most in a single game this year in the FBS. Sermon is a bit lanky at 6010/215 so he may not have the prototypical dimensions for a three down back in the NFL but I don’t think that will be his role. I believe Sermon can be a successful change of pace back in a zone running scheme where he can use his first-step quickness to get upfield. In past studies, I thought Sermon could also be a decent pass protector and pass catcher too. Sermon’s year-one role may only translate to a late round rookie draft flyer but I’d be interested in taking the chance because I think Sermon is better than he’s ever gotten credit for.

Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Between Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Justin Fields has a powerful one-two punch at receiver. Wilson, a sophomore, isn’t draft eligible yet so we’ll focus on Olave here. Olave is a crafty route runner who inevitably finds a way to get open for his quarterback. He’s not really a yards-after-catch threat but that doesn’t matter if he catches it on the run with his straight line speed. I noticed that Olave seems to modulate his momentum well as he tracks a deep ball, allowing him to slow down and get under the ball to catch it in stride. Receivers will often outrun the ball and then come back to it, but Olave manages to catch most of his deep balls while still moving forward which translates to more touchdowns. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that by a receiver and am now excited to watch that closely during the championship game. Olave is just a junior so we don’t know yet if he’ll declare early but if he comes out ESPN’s Todd McShay predicts he’ll be a first rounder.

Jeremy Ruckert, TE, Ohio State

I recently wrote about Jeremy Ruckert in my TE tiers article and described him as underused in the Buckeyes attack. Between drafting that sentiment and publishing my article, Ruckert went out and scored twice against Clemson in the semi-finals. He’s undoubtedly a block-first tight end but he does have a knack for the red zone. I foresee Ruckert getting drafted ahead of some recognizable pass-catching tight end names because he will have an instant impact as a blocker.

Honorable Mentions

  • Brian Robinson, RB, Alabama: Robinson has been a four-year contributor for the Tide who should get a look in the NFL. He’s been in Harris’ shadow this season but shined when given the chance against Arkansas with 17 touches for 76 yards and 3 TDs. I profiled Robinson heading into the season and wondered if he could have a Josh Jacobs-esque rise after being a bit player for three years.
  • Miller Forristall, TE, Alabama: I hear Brad Nessler saying “Miller Forristall” in my dreams. It feels like he’s been around forever (actually, just since 2016) and yet had his best season in 2020 with 23 grabs for 253 yards. About half of his production has come in the last three gotta-have-them games so I’m thinking he’ll figure in this one too. Forristall may not have the fantasy upside as recent ‘Bama tight ends like OJ Howard or Irv Smith but he’ll be playing on Sundays.
  • Master Teague, RB, Ohio State: Master Teague, all All-Name Team nominee, started the season as the Buckeyes’ bellcow. Teague racked up 380 yards and 6 TDs in the first four games. He got hurt in the Big Ten Championship game trying to hurdle a defender and it’s unclear if he’ll suit up for this one. Teague is a former 4-star recruit with a bowling ball body at 5110/225. He’s a straight ahead runner who pairs well with the aforementioned Trey Sermon. If he goes pro I would expect Teague to get some attention as an early down runner.

 

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, nflmockdraftdatabase.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: 2020 Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: May 21st 2019

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

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday April 23rd. So, why am I bothering to create a mock draft so far in advance? I’ve found that creating mock drafts forces me to create both my positional rankings and my overall rankings. It would certainly be easier to ride the fence but I’d rather start thinking critically about these players now and edit as I go. The usual caveats apply here. This mock draft is a snapshot of my thinking at this moment. We have yet to see the best that many of these players are capable of producing so this list is very much a living document. A number of these underclassmen will decide to return to school and will create a gaping hole in my rankings. Some will be injured or lose their starting role for myriad reasons. Some will grow and mature physically, while others will do so mentally. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about this draft class but there is one thing I am sure of: I have never been so excited to study and write about a group of players!

1.01 | D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

Swift appears to be the full package. He is a combination back who combines effortless cutting ability with a desire to fight through contact. He is a natural receiver who has great hands and adjusts well to the ball. He has long speed to outrun chasing defenders even if he does take an extra beat to get up to top speed. Jerry Jeudy will give Swift a run for his money so I doubt he’s an unanimous 1.01 but he has my vote right now.

1.02 | Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

Jeudy is an A+ route runner who also utilizes that change of direction to be a handful after the catch. He’s explosive and can create big plays seemingly out of nothing. He can stop on a dime which helps him feint defensive backs both on a route and with the ball in his hands. As of today, we haven’t seen a glaring weakness in his game. Jeudy could be a Top 10 NFL Draft target after two years without a can’t miss wide receiver prospect.

1.03 | JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Dobbins has ascended to RB2 in my 2020 rankings. He’s an old school style player who will appeal to NFL scouts. He’s short and compact with a sturdy base. That base and his play strength help him excel in pass protection. He’s a decisive runner who plays with more power than speed. Although, that’s not to say he’s slow, he’s probably 4.45-4.50 quick. Dobbins is also a good pass catcher. I expect him to project as a three-down back at the next level.

1.04 | Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Etienne has the speed to outrun just about any defender to the boundary before he cuts up field and jets to pay dirt. He’s a fun guy to watch because he’s a seventy yarder just waiting to happen. He has not yet been a factor as a receiver (17 career receptions) but I don’t think he’s incapable, just under utilized. If he shows as a pass catcher this year he’ll solidify his spot in the top tier of backs.

1.05 | CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Lamb’s upside is immense so I pushed him all the way up to 1.05. I originally had him in the 2.01 range but decided I’d rather bet on his potential, now that he’ll be the Sooners’ top target. He has elite body control, easily tight-roping or toe-tapping the sideline. He is a one-hander extraordinaire with hands that are strong yet soft. His long speed is bettered by his long stride. Even though he weighs in at just 189lb he blocks with a tenacity and effectiveness that surprised me. Lamb has an alpha male attitude on the field that I loved. He has the rare combination of opportunity and talent that will help him blossom in 2019.

1.06 | Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

Shenault is a versatile playmaker who lines up all over the field. In fact, he often lines up in an h-back role and serves as an energetic blocker. He has a thick lower body that drives a powerful running style that can kick into an extra gear in the open field. He fights for extra yardage with above average play strength. Shenault catches the ball with his hands, utilizing great hand placement. Two injuries sidelined a promising 2018 campaign so I’m excited to see what we can do with a full season.

1.07 | Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Taylor leads my second tier of running backs right now. He’s an effective one-cut runner with power back wallop. He rarely goes down on first contact. I did observe that Taylor sometimes stutters too long at the line of scrimmage, so I’d like to see him more decisively select his lane. Like Etienne, he will need to get more involved as a receiver to avoid being type cast as a two-down back. As a Rutgers fan, Taylor is the one that got away. Instead, I have to watch him dominating Big Ten defenses in a different shade of red.

1.08 | Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

Okwuegbunam surprised me in that he plays as an in-line tight end more than I anticipated. He lacks suddenness and explosion in his blocks but at least he has that experience. Okwuegbunam has good body control and tracks the ball well over his shoulder. He’s a hands catcher who uses his fingertips to snag the ball which is a great trait to have so early in a career. Okwuegbunam will start the season as the prohibitive favorite to be the first TE off the board next April, as such he should be atop our fantasy boards too.

1.09 | Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma

Sermon is a running back well suited for the zone read offense. He slashes through holes, sells his fakes and gets upfield to block for the quarterback. I think Sermon’s “Football IQ” is very high too. He knows his pass blocking assignments, understands the game situation and runs a variety of routes from the backfield. He has a great stiff arm and doesn’t shy from contact. Sermon should get the lion’s share of the carries in the Sooner backfield this season and if he does he has first round rookie draft potential pending scheme fit.

1.10 | Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Herbert was my QB1 last season before he decided to return for his senior year. He retains that mantle to start the 2020 NFL Draft campaign. Herbert has the size that NFL teams covet (6060/233). He has enough athleticism to pick up short yardage conversions and keep the defense honest but he’s certainly not a high volume runner. The biggest knock right now would be his accuracy (59.4% completion percentage last year was a career low). In 1QB RSO leagues, I believe it’s a good strategy to grab your preferred passer here because you get that fifth year option. If you’re playing Superflex/2QB, you’ll need to target him much earlier in the round.

2.01 | Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

Johnson is the biggest of the top receivers in the class at 6060/220. Whether he’s high-pointing the ball or making a full extension diving catch, he uses that long and lean frame to get to balls that others couldn’t. Johnson releases well with quick feet and is an adept hand fighter to get the corner’s hands off of him. He also has excellent situational awareness, I noted many times when he made a smart decision about how deep to run a route or when to protect the ball instead of fight for yardage. If he can add a few pounds without sacrificing his quickness, Johnson will be the best prototypical X receiver in this class.

2.02 | Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

Johnson, one of the rare seniors in this mock draft, can win from both outside and slot alignments. He has explosive feet off the snap and out of his route breaks. He uncovers well which helps make him a target for the quarterback on most plays, even when the defender is closely trailing him. Johnson shines after the catch where he pairs elusiveness with elite breakaway speed. I may be lower on Johnson than other writers so I owe him a thorough study this offseason.

2.03 | Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

Reagor is a literal track star: he excelled in the long jump and relay races in high school. He brought those talents with him to Fort Worth where he’s shown off his elite speed and athleticism for Horned Frog fans. What surprised me was how well he wins in the air despite being just 5110/195. He’s nearly impossible to cover, especially against Cover 2 when he can split the safeties on a deep post and leave his man in the dust. He also wins after the catch where his strength and contact balance help him rack up yards. Unfortunately there was no game film to watch so my exposure was limited to highlight reels. Reagor will be a first round consideration if his full game films live up to the expectations his highlights set.

2.04 | Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Akers is a tough study because of how poor his offensive line play has been both years in Tallahassee. The film I watched of Akers showed that he has a balanced running style with 4.50 speed and more power than I expected. He’s adept at submarining for additional yardage by getting lower than the defender. The Akers I see in my mind’s eye, perhaps from expectations in his freshman season, has more wiggle than I saw. He runs a ton of routes out of the backfield but I didn’t get to see him pass protect much. I’m hopeful that the Seminoles are a better team in 2019 so we get to see how well Akers plays when his team is competing.

2.05 | Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma

Brooks plays larger than his 5110/205 frame, running with an upright and downhill style. He’s a patient runner who waits for his blocks and follows them through the hole. Brooks is not a flashy runner but he’ll get every yard that’s available by powering through defenders and falling forward. He keeps his feet well and can break low tackles. I didn’t get much exposure to his pass blocking and catching ability but what I did see appeared average, at worst. Brooks, a redshirt sophomore, will continue to split touches with Trey Sermon so who knows if he’ll come out early with a small sample size. If he does, keep an eye on him.

2.06 | Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is a big back at 6020/230 and it’s hard not to see Derrick Henry when watching him (the 2s on the jersey and hairs poking out of his helmet certainly help make the connection). He’s a former top recruit but has not had many carries yet in his career due to the depth at the position for the Tide. He shows excellent vision, seeing cut back lanes and hitting them strongly. His size and strength lend some power to his evasive moves. He’s largely a projection at this point but Harris should have plenty of opportunity to show us his skills in 2019 and is likely to creep up my draft board.

2.07 | Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

Benjamin is fun to watch because of his elusiveness. He has a Swiss army knife’s worth of moves at his disposal: spins, jukes, cuts, hurdles. His feet are dynamic and never stop moving. Benjamin is susceptible to getting tripped up or being caught by his jersey so I would like to see him improve his strength and balance. It could be a one game coincidence but ball security could be a concern as well. Where Benjamin excels is as a pass catcher, he has good hands and knows how to get open. His receiving upside will help increase his value early in his NFL career.

2.08 | Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards is a powerfully built outside receiver who started his Gamecock career strong in 2016. His numbers have failed to bloom like draft fans had hoped though. He’s still a solid prospect whose floor projects as a reliable possession receiver in the NFL. He has strong hands which he uses to consistently catch the ball away from his body. There was only one game film available, and that from 2017, so I still have a lot to learn about Edwards. I am comfortable putting him here though because I feel that he has a high floor as a prospect.

2.09 | Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa is undeniably talented and his name has been on everybody’s lips for a year. So, why do I have him as my QB2 and so low in my overall rankings? I think we first need to see that Tua can make it through a full season unscathed. He loves to improvise and takes a lot of hits which lead to some wear and tear as the season progressed. As much as we remember his game-winning relief performance in the championship game as a freshman, let’s not forget that he himself was pulled in this year’s championship. He’s now the unquestioned starter and will contend for QB1 if he puts together a complete and successful season. Tua has first overall potential: he is athletic, throws a beautiful deep ball and has impeccable character.

3.10 | Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Higgins uses his length to box-out defenders and win at the catch point. He’s a curl and comeback king, running smart routes and making sure-handed catches for first downs. He attacks the ball with his hands when he comes out of his breaks, not wasting precious moments for the ball to come to him. He has elite separation for somebody of his height (6040). Chances are that you saw a few of Higgins circus catch highlights last year because his concentration helps him snag batted or tipped balls with regularity. Higgins will be catching passes from one of the country’s most ballyhooed quarterbacks, sophomore Trevor Lawrence, so it’s inevitable that we see his highlights all season long.

Honorable Mentions

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

Dillon is a big and powerful back, likely the best thumper in the class. He’s rarely brought down on first contact and often dishes out more punishment than he receives. He doesn’t have top end speed (4.60?) but he doesn’t need it for his playing style. Dillon ran more routes than I anticipated based on his number of receptions so I think there is room for growth in that area. Similarly, he needs to improve as a pass blocker. He was hampered by an ankle injury for much of 2018 so I’m excited to see Dillon bounce back and show us he has every down potential.

Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma

Calcaterra is the lightest TE on my watch list at 221 so we’re likely looking more at a “big slot” than an in-line tight end for the purposes of his NFL Draft evaluation. Regardless, he’s a playmaker with soft hands and is a big play threat up the seam. Oklahoma does have a lot of mouths to feed and is losing another Heisman winning quarterback, so it’s possible we see Calc’s numbers dip this year. Even if that’s the case, I don’t think his draft stock should.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 SEC Preview

Updated: August 28th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

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

Teams to Watch

 South Carolina (9-4 in 2017)

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

 Florida (4-7 in 2017)

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

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

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

Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

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

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

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

AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

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

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

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

Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

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

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

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


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: National Championship Preview

Updated: January 5th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  During the college bowl season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year.  Note: times listed are Eastern.

The finish line is in sight, the marathon that is the bowl season is nearly over, just one more game remaining.  While listening to ESPNU Radio these past few days (a must-listen for anybody with SiriusXM) a number of callers and pundits have expressed disappointment in an all-SEC championship.  I say, “who cares,” because they are the two best teams in the country in my mind.  Let’s not forget that despite all the banter about Bama’s playoff resume, they were still ranked #1 in the AP Poll until they lost to Auburn on Nov 25.  Georgia didn’t get that high but was #2 for about a month in the middle of the year.  I have covered these two teams a lot this season so I wanted to avoid rehashing the same analysis and the same talking points.  So, I decided to go with a “tale of the tape” type preview.  I will compare the teams’ various units to see who has the advantage before making my prediction.

Quarterback: Alabama

Ironically the first unit I looked at was probably the hardest for me to determine my pick.  Jake Fromm leads Jalen Hurts in most passing categories but I give Hurts the nod for two reasons: 1) his experience and 2) his ability to protect the ball.  Hurts may only be a sophomore but he’s literally been here before.  This game will be Hurts fourth College Football Playoff game.  He has played okay in those games but it’s less about what he does do and more about what he doesn’t do: turn the ball over.  Hurts has just one interception and two fumbles lost this season.  Fromm has five and two – not a huge increase but he had far fewer “touches” this season than Hurts.  The two had basically the same number of passing attempts (248 vs 259) but Hurts had a hundred more carries and played in one less game.  Fromm will likely outplay Hurts as a passer but I’d rather have Hurts.

Running Backs: Georgia

Both teams feature a stable of backs that contribute.  Georgia uses Nick Chubb and Sony Michel almost equally but also sprinkles in freshman D’Andre Swift.  Meanwhile, Alabama uses Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris and Joshua Jacobs.  Najee Harris and Jacobs only combined for three touches against Clemson but they were both utilized more during the regular season.  Damien Harris is the lead back (19 carries for 77 yards last week) but Scarborough will still see plenty of action.  Damien Harris averages 7.6 yards per carry on the season which is great but is actually eclipsed by Georgia’s Sony Michel (8.0).  If you watched Georgia beat Oklahoma you were surely impressed by Michel.  He out-touched Chubb 15-14 because of his four receptions.  Michel is a better pass catcher than Chubb but his receiving against Oklahoma was mostly unexpected; he had just nine receptions on the season and only once in his four season career has he had four receptions in a game.  My guess is that they did not feel they could trust freshman D’Andre Swift, the leading pass catcher among running backs this season, in pass protection which meant Michel getting more snaps on passing downs.  If Georgia’s backs can match half their Rose Bowl output (367 total yards, 6 TDs) they’ll give the Bulldogs a shot.

Receivers: Alabama

Neither team had a receiver crack 60 receptions or 1,000 yards this season which is surprising to me.  In an atmosphere that is so pass-heavy right now in college football, the nation’s two best teams are run-first and run-second offenses.  Georgia WR Javon Wims arguably had the best game of his career in the Rose Bowl (6-73-1) but was not a huge factor in the offense until later in the season (25 of his 44 receptions came in the last five games, just 19 in the first eight).  Alabama’s leading receiver is Calvin Ridley.  Statistically, Ridley had the worst season of his career (59-935-4) but I’m not deterred: he’s still my WR1 for 2018 rookie drafts.  Ridley is fast, has good hands, catches the ball away from his body and is a very good route runner.  In Alabama’s rush oriented offense he may not put up big numbers but he’s a difference maker.

Defensive Line: Alabama

I’ll venture a guess that none of Georgia’s defensive lineman have a receiving touchdown this season like Daron Payne does now.  That’s not why I’m taking the Tide’s line though, it’s the combination of Payne, Da’Shawn Hand and Raekwon Davis that clinches it.  Payne, a 308lb DT, should be a first round pick this year if he declares early.  Davis is a 6’7″ monster at DE who had 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks this season; he was a factor in the Sugar Bowl with 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack.  Hand has been limited by injuries throughout his career but is still an early Day Two prospect.  Phil Steele ranked Alabama as the 6th best d-line corps in the preseason and they lived up to that billing this season (for what it’s worth, Georgia was not far behind at 11th).  Georgia’s Trenton Thompson was a top high school recruit, had a good sophomore season (capped off by an 8 tackle, 3 sack bowl game vs TCU) but didn’t live up to his potential in 2017 (just 35 tackles, no sacks).  DE Jonathan Ledbetter recorded a sack and six tackles last week against Oklahoma so keep an eye on him too.  There’s a funny pun somewhere in the names of Davis, Hand and Payne but all I can come up with is “On MonDavis, Da’Shawn’s Hands will cause Jake Fromm some Payne.”  I’m sorry.

Linebackers: Georgia

Alabama is used to having a “next man up” mentality on defense because they graduate so many players to the NFL.  That was no truer than at linebacker this year when they lost Reuben Foster and Ryan Anderson last season and then lost Shaun Dion Hamilton to injury earlier this year.  The Tide’s linebacker room sustained another blow this week when they heard that Anfernee Jennings underwent knee surgery.  Rashaan Evans has stepped up in the meantime, especially in the Sugar Bowl tallying 9 tackles and a sack.  Evans has 9+ tackles in four of the five games since Shaun Dion Hamilton went down.  Unquestionably, the best linebacker on the field will be Roquan Smith.  Smith is a potential Top 10 pick in the Spring (a la Reuben Foster last year).  He’s a tackle monster, 218 combined the last two years, and added 5.5 sacks in 2017.  Not surprisingly, he had 11 tackles in the Rose Bowl and made a key tackle to prevent a first down late in the game.  The Bulldogs’ best OLB is Lorenzo Carter.  Carter is long at 6’6″ and plays well in coverage when he’s not rushing the passer (Carter was PFF’s 11th ranked pass rusher in the FBS).  Like Smith, Carter also went for double digit sacks against Oklahoma; that’s the first time he’s done that in his career so maybe he has a knack for the big game.  If Alabama wasn’t facing injuries this unit matchup would be closer but it would still be tough to beat consensus All-American Roquan Smith.

Secondary: Alabama

Similar to how Georgia has one standout in the linebacker unit, so does Alabama in the secondary.  Meet Minkah Fitzpatrick, a guy guaranteed to go in the Top 5 in the NFL Draft (maybe higher if any of the QBs return to college).  Fitzpatrick is also a consensus All-American despite battling injury this season.  He missed a game but still managed 55 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception.  That lone INT was a big drop from the six he had last season but it won’t hurt his draft stock, he has ball skills.  What Fitzpatrick also has is versatility: he has played at both corner and safety and will be an immediate starter at the next level.  Safety Ronnie Harrison and CB Anthony Averett will also get drafted high, maybe Day Two for both of them.  Levi Wallace led the team in passes defended (14) and won SEC Defensive Player of the Week twice.  He wasn’t even on my radar prior to writing this preview but the stats caught my eye.  Safety Dominck Sanders is Georgia’s most well-rounded and productive DB with 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 INTs and 5 passes defended.  He’s been a durable three year starter and could be a late round draft prospect but I honestly have not done any research on him.  There won’t be a ton of passing in this one so spending more time on the secondary is probably not worth it, just don’t forget to pay attention to Fitzpatrick.

Specialists: Alabama

If this game turns out to be a defensive battle, the specialists will figure.  Alabama punter JK Scott is an all-time great punter in SEC history (5th best average in the FBS since 2000).  He averages 45.5 yards per punt for his career so he can flip the field and give the Tide the field position advantage.  Georgia’s Cameron Nizialek is no slouch either; he averaged 44.9 yards per punt this year which was fourth best in the SEC and actually better than Scott this year.  I have a feeling we could be seeing Hurts and Fromm starting a lot of drives from their own eleven yard line.  The slight field goal kicking edge goes to Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship (17-20 on FG, 61-61 on PAT) over Andy Pappanastos (16-21, 54-54).  Blankenship wears a sweet pair of rec-specs while he plays so maybe I should give him a larger advantage than I am.  Neither team has returned a single kick or punt for a touchdown this season but now that I say that we’ll probably get two in the final.  This unit matchup is almost too close to call.  Since it’s close, I will go with Alabama because they have the best individual player in the bunch, JK Scott.

Prediction: Roll Tide

 

 


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.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

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Week 13

Updated: November 22nd 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Note: the rankings referenced below refer to the Week 13 AP poll.  CFP rankings were not yet available at the time of writing.

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update:  Despite some new “character concerns” about Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, he’s still my Heisman favorite.  Mayfield threw for 257 yards and 3 TDs against Kansas – solid but not standout.  What did standout was Mayfield grabbing his crotch and cursing at Kansas players.  The school has already announced that he will not start against West Virginia but whether that means he misses one play, one drive or one quarter we don’t know.  Chances are that however long the discipline lasts it won’t impact his Heisman hopes.  I’ve slightly wavered recently about who the #2 on the ballot should be between Saquon Barkley or Bryce Love.  This week clinched it for me.  Love went for 101 yards and a score against Cal but left early in the 4th quarter, still hampered by an ankle injury which has impacted him in multiple games.  Meanwhile, Barkley racked up 224 total yards and scored three rushing touchdowns.  I don’t really see a clear-cut defensive player who might land on the ballot and earn a trip to New York for the ceremony.  Preseason chalk favorites like Florida State S Derwin James or Alabama CB Minkah Fitzpatrick might get the nod but I would bet against them and take the field.  Realistically, a dark horse defensive hopeful needs to come from a Power 5 school and have some big games in conference.  I would look at North Carolina State DE Bradley Chubb as the top option.  Chubb has 66 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.  Most of his sacks (8.5) came in conference games (I’m including the game against Notre Dame since they are effectively ACC football members); he had three 2+ sack games against Florida State, Syracuse and Boston College.  A darker-horse option might be Iowa CB Joshua Jackson.  Jackson has 43 tackles, 7 INTs and 17 passes defended.  The biggest reason Jackson could get a visit to NYC?  His performance in two nationally televised games versus Top 10 teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin).  In those two games, Jackson totaled 5 INTs and returned two for TDs against Wisconsin.  As much as I’d love for my sleeper defensive Heisman pick, Ball State DE Anthony Winbush, to get a vote it’s much more likely to go to a player from a Power 5 team who showed out when voters were watching.
  • Playoff Picture:  As of this writing on Monday evening, I do not expect the CFP committee to make any changes to the Top 4.  I think Alabama, Clemson, Miami and Oklahoma will still be there but I would not be surprised if Clemson and Miami flip spots.  Proponents of an 8- or 16-team playoff format should really pay attention to the schedule this week and next.  9 of the Top 10 in the current AP poll will play another Top 10 team over the next two weeks.  That makes all of those games playoff play-in games essentially.  If Auburn loses to Alabama – they’re out.  If Wisconsin loses to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship – they’re out.  And so on.  I’m not even sure that undefeated Alabama or Miami can get by with a loss and still stay in the Top 4.  The biggest knock on both teams this season has been their strength of schedule and a loss, albeit against another Top 10 team, would bump them out.  My current prediction is: Alabama (over Auburn and Georgia), Clemson (over Miami), Wisconsin (over Ohio State) and Oklahoma (over TCU).  I think Wisconsin lands ahead of Oklahoma because Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State should rate better than Oklahoma’s against TCU.
  • Coaching Carousel:  There’s a phrase used in the NFL to describe the day after the season ends when most coaches are fired: Black Monday.  The FBS is coming up on it’s own “Black Sunday” in less than a week so I thought it was a good time to check in on the coaching carousel.  Rather than spotlighting players this week, we are going to briefly examine a number of coaches who are under the microscope.  You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to follow the rumors but two useful pages I came across are here and here.  Why should you care?  Aside from the ridiculousness of the will-he-won’t-he, the impending coaching changes will greatly impact the draft stock of certain players.  Some key draft prospects could decide to declare early or stay for an extra season depending on what happens with their head coach; some players, typically underclassmen, could decide to transfer and sit out a season; coaching changes could also be a factor with graduate transfers where the player doesn’t have to sit out and can pick their landing spot like an NFL free agent.

Coaches to Watch

  • Chip Kelly, ESPN “Analyst”:  Kelly is probably the sexiest name that’s been bandied about because of his immense success at Oregon (his failures in the NFL notwithstanding).  I have heard Kelly connected to both the Florida job and the UCLA job.  I’d guess that Kelly would lean towards UCLA given his PAC-12 experience but that’s just a gut call.  Kelly belongs in the college game so I’ll be happy to see him back.  Wouldn’t it be fun if he signs with UCLA and convinces Josh Rosen to come back for another season?  Hmm.  Is a return to Oregon completely out of the question?  Double hmm.
  • Jon Gruden, ESPN Analyst:  Gruden’s name has come up with Florida and also Tennessee.  One of the reasons I heard that he would consider Tennessee is that his wife was a cheerleader there.  The real connection is that Gruden was a graduate assistant at Tennessee in 1986.  Yeah, I’m still not buying it.  I will continue to believe that Gruden stays in the booth until proven otherwise.  He has passed up better jobs than either Florida or Tennessee in both college and the NFL.  Also, don’t forget that he’s never been a head coach at the college level so why start now?
  • Scott Frost, UCF Coach:  Frost is a Nebraska alum so the connect-the-dots analysis has him going there whenever the Huskers fire coach Mike Riley.  Nebraska does play in the weaker Big Ten West but I don’t see them unseating Wisconsin anytime soon even with Frost.  In my opinion, his best shot at playing in New Year’s Six bowls is by staying at UCF for another season or two.  By then he might get a shot at a true A+ job.  Frost to Oregon instead of Nebraska isn’t that far off either, he worked there under Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich from 2009-2015.
  • Willie Taggart, Oregon Coach:  Speaking of Oregon, the SB Nation article I linked to above has multiple mentions of Willie Taggart being considered for other positions.  Why?  Taggart is just 6-5 so far in his first season with Oregon.  I like his potential as he salvaged two programs in Western Kentucky and USF but it’s a bit premature to jump to another premier job for Taggart.  If he does move on (or maybe is fired, who knows) I’ll bet rumors about Oregon will swirl faster than Florida and Tennessee.  It’s fun to imagine Chip Kelly returning to Eugene or an offensive mind like Scott Frost bringing some excitement back to the Ducks.  If Oregon was guaranteed to get either Kelly or Frost, I think they would part ways with the underwhelming Taggart in a blink.
  • Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Coach:  The Seminoles are having a bad season for sure but is it bad enough for Jimbo to jump ship?  I don’t think so.  He’ll have Deondre Francois back next year and has a great young running back in Cam Akers.  He’ll lose some NFL talent like WR Auden Tate and S Derwin James but the cupboard is perpetually full in Tallahassee.  If Jimbo leaves for Texas A&M as was speculated last week, I think it would be a big mistake.  I also heard that Auburn could be a possibility for Jimbo if that job opened up.  I don’t see that one either.  Moving into a division with Nick Saban is a good way to get yourself fired in three years.

Games to Watch

  • #22 USF at #15 UCF, Friday 3:30pm on ABC:  The Friday after Thanksgiving usually gives us a few good college football games but this year is a pretty poor slate despite featuring #3 Miami and #12 TCU.  The game with the biggest possibility to create bowl chaos is UCF’s matchup against USF.  If UCF wins, they likely guarantee themselves a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl as I don’t think Memphis would overtake them even with the head-to-head championship win (don’t forget UCF already beat them 40-13 this season so the series would be tied at 1-1).  If USF wins, they put themselves back in the AAC conversation.
  • #9 Ohio State at #24 Michigan, Saturday 12:00pm on FOX:  Simply, “The Game.”  Michigan is adding injury to insult now that third string QB Brandon Peters is hurt along with recently banged up RBs Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac.  John O’Korn will likely be under center and I have zero confidence in him as a Michigan fan.  Ohio State’s QB JT Barrett has struggled in November and needs to finish his career with three strong games to get NFL draft consideration.  I was encouraged to see that RB Mike Weber was back in the fold the last two weeks (162-2 and 108-2).  I was high on him to start the season but have tempered expectations after freshman JK Dobbins took over the lead role.  It’s good to see Weber dominate again, even if in a blowout.  It goes without saying but this one means a lot this season as Ohio State must have it to stay in consideration for the playoff.
  • #1 Alabama at #6 Auburn, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS:  Stop me if you’ve heard this before… the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn will be the best matchup of the weekend.  I did not realize just how high powered the Auburn offense was until I started to research.  They have scored 40+ points in nine of twelve games and in four straight.  They are led by RB Kerryon Johnson (1,172 yards, 16 TDs) but keep an eye on sophomore Kam Martin.  Martin had 83 yards and a score last week against UL-Monroe and is getting more touches with Kamryn Pettway injured.  QB Jarrett Stidham continues to be efficient (68.7% completion percentage) and careful with the ball (just 4 INTs).  Alabama’s rush-heavy offense is still paced by the familiar names of Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris and QB Jalen Hurts but there is one other player who will factor in: sophomore Josh Jacobs.  Jacobs has 50+ total yards in five of the last six games and is a factor in the passing game.  In those five games, Jacobs has two receptions in each game and is averaging 15.9 yards per catch with two touchdowns.  If you haven’t watched much of the Alabama’s defense this season, now is your chance against a good Auburn offense.  CB/S Minkah Fitzpatrick says he’s 100% healthy now and will be a Top 5 draft pick come April.  S Ronnie Harrison is also looking at a first round draft grade.  If you play in an IDP league, check these two out now so you can be ahead of your opponents.
  • #14 Washington State at #18 Washington, Saturday 8:00pm on FOX:  If the Cougars can win The Apple Cup they will earn the PAC-12 North’s championship berth against USC.  Washington is out of contention; if Washington wins, it means that Stanford gets the spot (regardless of the outcome of their game against Notre Dame).  I don’t have a dog in the fight so I’m just hoping for a good game and some good performances from the NFL prospects on the field (i.e. Washington State QB Luke Falk and Washington WR Dante Pettis).  The Stanford vs Notre Dame game may actually be a better game to watch but since Stanford cannot control their own destiny, this is the one to tune into at 8:00pm.

Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.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

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper