The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, WRs Harmon & Metcalf

Updated: March 8th 2019

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

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

 

Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State

  • Combine measurements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

  • Combine measurements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, RBs Montgomery & Jacobs

Updated: February 27th 2019

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

In this week’s entry in my NFL Draft Previews series, we’ll be taking a closer look at running backs David Montgomery and Josh Jacobs.  I purposefully put these two backs in the same preview because I thought their paths to this point in the 2019 NFL Draft process are contrasting.  It will be interesting to see which player ends up with the better draft pedigree: the guy whose been on dynasty owners’ radars for three years, or the guy whose workload was limited by a talented supporting cast but recently showed his full potential.  Let’s get to it!

David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

  • Listed at: 5110/216 (per www.sports-reference.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Iowa 2018, Washington State 2018
  • Stats:
Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece Scri Scri Scri Scri
Year School G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
2016 Iowa State 12 109 563 5.2 2 13 129 9.9 0 122 692 5.7 2
*2017 Iowa State 13 258 1146 4.4 11 36 296 8.2 0 294 1442 4.9 11
*2018 Iowa State 12 257 1216 4.7 13 22 157 7.1 0 279 1373 4.9 13
Career Iowa State 624 2925 4.7 26 71 582 8.2 0 695 3507 5.0 26
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2019.

David Mongtomery was my first love of the 2019 running back class from way back in late 2016.  I did a rudimentary Twitter search and count that I have tweeted about him seventeen different times.  I am positive that is the most of any player I’ve covered.  I’ve also written about Montgomery a number of times for the site, with my 2018 Big 12 preview being my most in-depth treatise.  In that piece, I concentrated on a few talking points: 1) his break-tackle ability, 2) his boom or bust tendency and 3) his contributions as a pass catcher.  This clip of Montgomery is one of my favorites and sums up just how hard it is to tackle him:

As that clip illustrates, Montgomery is tough to bring down.  He caught the 3rd and 1 swing pass and was destined for a loss.  Instead he made multiple defenders miss, deployed a killer spin move, set up a block well and dragged a defender for extra yardage.  In addition to his balance, his ability to break tackles is improved by his low center of gravity and leg strength.  Look at how compact he makes himself on this attempted tackle by a Wazzou defensive back.  The blow momentarily knocks him back but he has the power to keep himself upright and finish the run.

I was also looking for further evidence of Montgomery on passing downs as a blocker.  After all, if he may be the top back off the board in your fantasy draft you want to ensure you’re getting somebody with three down capability.  Unfortunately, I did not find too many instances of Montgomery in pass protection.  He’s on the field on passing downs but he’s often faking a handoff, running a route out of the backfield or lining up as a receiver.  In the three instances I took note of Montgomery’s blocking, he lost twice and won once.  This attempted cut block on 4th down against Iowa was a particularly bad example.

The most discussed knock on Montgomery is his speed.  He’s definitely not a burner with long speed, but I think he has enough functional speed to be productive in the pros.  My eye tells me he’ll probably run in the 4.55-4.60 range (i.e. Jamaal Williams or Wayne Gallman). What is most concerning to me is the fact that Montgomery seems to get bottled up for no gain far too often.  He can be very boom or bust.  My initial assumption was that it was due to a lack of vision but I found some advanced stats from Football Outsiders that made me pause and reconsider my judgment.  Per Football Outsiders, Iowa State’s offensive line ranked 105th (of 128) in Standard Downs Line Yards.  This stat essentially shows how many yards the offensive line helped create on a standard rushing down.  When you look at Opportunity Rate, which takes the running back’s performance more into account, the Cyclones rank moves up to 61st.  So, I’d like to optimistically think that Montgomery was mostly a victim of poor line play.  (For what it’s worth, Josh Jacobs’ Alabama ranked 2nd and 5th, respectively).

Since Montgomery has been my top prospect at the position for awhile, I know I am being harder on him than I will be on future evaluations.  I also know that the Josh Jacobs hype train is coming on strong which will bring more attention to Mongtomery’s flaws.  I still see value in Montgomery’s balance, pass catching and durability.  I also think that teams will love to see how often he lined up as a receiver.  I think that pick 50-65 is about right for Montgomery because he’s unlikely to move up draft boards after the combine.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 1-2

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

  • Listed at: 5100/216 (per www.sports-reference.com)
  • Film watched for this profile: Tennessee 2018, Clemson 2019, Highlights 2018
  • Stats:
Rushing & Receiving Table
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rece Rece Rece Rece Scri Scri Scri Scri
Year School G Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
*2016 Alabama 14 85 567 6.7 4 14 156 11.1 0 99 723 7.3 4
*2017 Alabama 11 46 284 6.2 1 14 168 12.0 2 60 452 7.5 3
*2018 Alabama 15 120 640 5.3 11 20 247 12.4 3 140 887 6.3 14
Career Alabama 251 1491 5.9 16 48 571 11.9 5 299 2062 6.9 21
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2019.

Josh Jacobs is a very interesting contrast to David Montgomery because he’s only been ballyhooed for months rather than years.  That doesn’t mean he’s any less of a prospect though, so don’t disregard him on a “sample size” or “work load” basis.  A lot of very knowledgeable experts will end up with Jacobs as their top back in the class and I’m okay with that because I am considering it strongly myself.

When I watched Jacobs live during the season, specifically at the end of the season, two things stood out more than anything else: 1) his burst and power as a straight ahead runner and 2) his success as a pass blocker.  Let’s investigate these two strengths further.

One of the best examples of the difficulty of tackling Jacobs came on a kick return against Louisville.  I had forgotten about this play but was thankfully reminded by a highlight reel I found on YouTube.  Jacobs receives the kick at about the 25 yard line and patiently lets his blocks develop.  He gets narrow through a hole, stiff arms a defender, breaks two tackles, maintains his balance along the sideline and manages enough speed to get to the endzone before the defenders catch him.  There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle in the run, just a lot of forward momentum that propelled him to the promised land.

A seemingly minor 2nd and 9 early in the contest against Tennessee really illustrated just how well Jacobs creates yardage after contact by keeping his feet moving and falling forward.  On this play he squeezes through a small hole at the line of scrimmage and is first contacted about four yards short of the line to gain.  He breaks through the arm tackle and then lowers his shoulder to allow himself to rebound over the second defender who is going for a low tackle.  Ultimately he lands about twelve yards down field, getting the first down and putting the Tide well inside the red zone.  Jacobs did this a number of other times in my study and while each felt similarly unimportant, those additional yards add up on the stat sheet and on the defender’s body.

Against Clemson in the National Championship game, Jacobs was deployed as the Wildcat quarterback on multiple short yardage plays.  This replay angle of one of those plays wonderfully shows just how hard Jacobs had to work for that single yard.

After watching Jacobs live, I had very positive takeaways regarding his pass protection.  When I went back and re-watched some of the film though, I was less impressed.  I do believe that Jacobs has the instincts and intelligence to protect well, but he’ll need some work on timing and technique.  Sony Michel set a high bar for me in 2018 as a back who could block well which ultimately helped him earn a first round selection.  I don’t think Jacobs is on that level but he’s closer than many others in the class.  Here’s a play from the Clemson game in which Jacob finds his assignment and makes the block.  I’d like to see him take a sooner step towards the defender instead of letting him get into his body but the block was still effective enough.  What I enjoyed most was that after making the initial block, Jacobs does not give up on the play and hits the defender again to ensure that he opened a lane for his scrambling quarterback.

Jacobs has a chance to leapfrog the incumbent Montgomery as RB1 but I’m not quite ready to make the switch yet.  One of the consequences of Jacobs not having much tape is that he doesn’t have much bad tape.  Is that because he’s the best back in the class?  Or is it because Montgomery had more touches in the first nine games this year than Jacobs had in the last two seasons combined? Regardless of whether he’s the first or fifth running back off the board, it’s clear that Jacobs will be highly sought and could end up being a first rounder.  I think he will have immediate value in the NFL because of his ability to play on passing downs.  Draft Prediction: Rounds 1-2


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part I

Updated: December 9th 2018

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

Celebration Bowl, North Carolina A&T (9-2) vs Alcorn State (9-3), Sat 12/15 at 12:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Lamar Raynard, QB, North Carolina A&T
    • I recalled watching Raynard last year in the Celebration Bowl and wanted to learn some more so I watched his 2018 film against Jacksonville State.  I came away more encouraged than I expected.  He has a good arm that allows him to chuck an effortless looking deep ball, however, his accuracy appears below average.  His footwork in the pocket is crisp.  I think he may be a little eager to leave the pocket but he has enough speed to pick up extra yardage.  Raynard had a great 2017 season (2,932-27-7) but regressed a bit in 2018 (1,630-18-5).  His career completion percentage is a shade under 60% which backs up my accuracy concerns.  Raynard is lanky at 6040/195 so a few extra pounds would do him well.  A&T primarily plays a zone-read offense but I did see him take some snaps from under center which is a bonus.  Given his height and arm strength I think somebody will give Raynard a shot, probably as a priority UDFA, to back up their running QB.
  • My Pick:  North Carolina A&T, -7.5
    • I won’t pretend to have a feel for this game because I don’t.  Chances are, your book won’t list this game anyway (I had to find a line on a European site) but if you do decide to play it, go for the Aggies.  A&T beat FBS team East Carolina earlier, has a recognizable name at quarterback and is on a four game winning streak.

Cure Bowl, Louisiana Lafayette (7-6) vs Tulane (6-6), Sat 12/15 at 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft (In)Eligible Player to Watch: Trey Ragas, RB, Lousiana Lafayette
    • I struggled with selecting a worthy draft eligible player for this game.  I cheated and selected sophomore back Trey Ragas instead.  I figured it would make more sense to watch film of somebody who might actually factor into the game than somebody we’ll never hear from again.  I watched an extended highlight package of the Cajuns blowout loss to Alabama so I could glimpse Ragas against a top foe.  Ragas is a stout back at 5110/227 and as such prefers running straight ahead between the tackles.  He doesn’t stray from contact and in fact shows good contact balance and an ability to keep his feet moving leading to long runs.  I also thought he looked to be an eager, albeit over matched, blocker against an elite rush.  He didn’t record any receptions in the Alabama game but he does have 22 receptions and 188 receiving yards on the year.  That pairs with his 1,040 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs to make for a great season.  Ragas won’t factor into the 2019 draft class but we could be talking about him again a year from now.
  • My Pick: Louisiana Lafayette, +3.5
    • This one is a toss-up between mediocre teams so I’ll take the points.  Louisiana-Lafayette is 9-4 ATS this season whereas Tulane is 5-7, which is just confirmation of the way I was leaning anyway.  The Cajuns have a strong rushing offense (fellow sophomore Elijah Mitchell added 866-12) and Tulane’s rush defense allowed 153.9 yards per game during the regular season.

New Mexico Bowl, Utah State (10-2) vs North Texas (9-3), Sat 12/15 at 2:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: EJ Ejiya, LB, North Texas
    • While I was looking through statistics for these two teams, Ejiya stood out to me because he had both a high number of tackles (113) and a high number of sacks (9); he also had a conference-leading 23.5 tackles for loss.  It’s uncommon for somebody to have tallies that high in all three categories, especially for an inside linebacker.  I figured, “surely this guy must be a one year wonder.”  But he had an almost as impressive 108-12.0-7.0 line in 2017 as a junior.  I sampled Ejiya’s tape against Florida Atlantic and Rice from 2018.  What I saw tempered my expectations.  Ejiya looks small on the field (listed at 6030/230 which is a bit light anyway) and was often caught in the trash in the middle of the play.  I rarely saw him make quick, instinctual reads of the play.  Despite whatever he may lack, Ejiya does keep coming and is determined to make the play.  I saw him ultimately make the tackle on numerous snaps where it looked like he was going to be blocked or out of the play.  Ejiya has the capability to take over a game (four games with 11+ tackles, four games with 3.0+ tackles for loss, three games with 2.0 sacks) so it’ll be interesting to see him lined up across from Utah State’s standout sophomore QB Jordan Love (3,193-28-4, plus 60-6 rushing).
  • My Pick: Utah State, -10
    • Utah State has lost against the spread in their last two contests but prior to that they were 9-1 on the season.  Their offense ranks 3rd overall in the FBS in points scored (47.2) while North Texas averages 36.4.  Both teams feature strong quarterback play (Mason Fine, who helms the Mean Green, is efficient and prolific but too small for NFL consideration I believe) so I expect this one to be full of offense and Utah State’s is better.

Las Vegas Bowl, Arizona State (7-5) vs Fresno State (11-2), Sat 12/15 at 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State
    • The Las Vegas Bowl is becoming known as the “One of These Teams has a Premier Prospect but Who Knows if They’ll Play Bowl.” Last year it was Oregon RB Royce Freeman (who ultimately declined to play). This year it could be N’Keal Harry. Harry has publicly said he didn’t yet make a decision about playing. If he does play, you’ll get a glimpse of the possible WR1 in the 2019 class. Harry has 6040 height but the speed and RAC ability of smaller receivers. He succeeds in contested situations because of his strength and vertical. If he plays, his 2018 stat line of 73-1,088-9 will improve and be right on par with his production from 2017 (82-1,142-8). If Harry does not play, keep an eye on Fresno WR KeeSean Johnson (no relation to Keyshawn). Johnson has improved year over year and looks like a mid-rounder for 2019.
  • My Pick: Fresno State, -3.  
    • I took Fresno and the points against Boise and they ended up winning straight up (really wish I took that moneyline!). They will easily handle Arizona State, especially if the Sun Devils are missing Harry. As I mentioned last week, seven of Fresno State’s last eight have gone under.

Camellia Bowl, Eastern Michigan (7-5) vs Georgia Southern (9-3), Sat 12/15 at 5:30pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyler Wiegers, QB, Eastern Michigan
    • This one is a bit of a stretch but there aren’t too many draft prospects in this game. I briefly considered Southern RB Wesley Fields (959-9) and Eastern’s edge rusher Maxx Crosby (62-7.5) but settled on Wiegers. Whenever you’re looking for a draft prospect, you can do worse than a 6040/227 quarterback. Wiegers started his career in Iowa but grad transferred to Ypsilanti for the 2018 season. He has a small sample size, just 270 career attempts, but as I’ll say dozens of times this offseason, it’s a weak quarterback class. Admittedly, I haven’t watched Wiegers tape, save for a few minutes of live game time here and there. His stat logs show an efficient, yet unexciting passer: 64.8% completion percentage, 7.1 yards per attempt, 11 TDs and just 3 INTs. In EMU’s last three wins, Wiegers has thrown for just 418-1-2 so let’s not get too excited.
  • My Pick: Georgia Southern, +3.5
    • Georgia Southern runs a triple option offense so I’ll give them the nod for novelty. The narrative will be that Eastern Michigan has time to prepare but by virtue of playing on the first day of bowl games, it’s not that much longer than usual. Southern has five guys with 300+ yards and as a team average 261.5 rushing yards per game (9th best in the FBS). Despite having such a robust rushing attack, they somehow manage to place dead last in the FBS in offensive plays per game – that was very surprising. They’ll roll against the Eagles’ 93rd ranked rushing defense and win this one straight up to hit double digit wins for the first time in program history.

New Orleans Bowl, Middle Tennessee (8-5) vs Appalachian State (10-2), Sat 12/15 at 9:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Ty Lee, WR, Middle Tennessee
    • I profiled Blue Raider QB Brent Stockstill last week so I figured this week I should focus on one of his targets. Lee is diminutive at 5090/178, but unlike his quarterback he’s been able to stay healthy throughout his career. Lee’s three seasons have been pretty similar and average out to a 69-820-7 line. In 2017 he also had 39 “rushing attempts” for 109-1 (presumably, most of these were screens that went backwards, save for some wildcat snaps). I watched segments of Lee’s 2017 Florida Atlantic tape and loved how varied his usage was. I saw him line up in the slot on both sides, flanking the quarterback and in the wildcat. I didn’t see too much speed so I checked for an estimate on DraftScout.com and they have him in the 4.49 range – hopefully he tests a bit quicker than that. He’s primarily a screen and swing receiver but his versatility could earn him a limited role at the next level.
  • My Pick: Middle Tennessee, +7
    • I’m going with an intangible, emotional argument on this one. MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill will be playing in his last game for the school and for his dad, Rick who is the head coach. Stockstill has spent six years with the program after gray-shirting in 2013. As I mentioned last week, he’s an old and oft-injured prospect but he’s got a good story. There’s nothing to back this up but I think his teammates will play for him and get the W. (Plus, App State is 0-1-2 in their last three contests ATS).

Boca Raton Bowl, Northern Illinois (8-5) vs UAB (10-3), Tue 12/18 at 7:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Sutton Smith, LB, Northern Illinois
    • I skipped over Sutton Smith last week to feature Buffalo WR Anthony Johnson. I think Mr. Smith took that to heart because he came out with a dominating 10 tackle and 2.0 sack performance in the MAC Championship Game. I was only half watching the game but it felt like I heard his name called on nearly every play. Smith’s stats are outstanding and he’s been rewarded for them (2017 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, 2017 Consensus All-American). Over the last two seasons, he’s combined for: 109 tackles, 51.0 tackles for loss and 27 sacks. If he were bigger, we’d be talking about him as a potential first rounder. He’s listed at 6010/237 and that feels favorable. Smith will be drafted and be given a chance as a situational pass rusher but I think he’ll be one of those college stars that doesn’t translate in the pros.
  • My Pick: UAB, -1.5
    • I figured that UAB RB Spencer Brown would be the key to the C-USA Championship Game, if he played, and he was. Brown returned with a vengeance, racking up 31 carries for 156 yards and a score. He was, no doubt, the key to the rematch against Middle Tennessee. Northern Illinois has the nation’s 14th best rush defense so it’ll be a good strength vs strength battle. I’m looking forward to studying Brown for the 2020 draft so I’ll pick with my heart and lean Blazers.

Frisco Bowl, San Diego State (7-5) vs Ohio (8-4), Wed 12/19 at 8:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: AJ Ouellette, RB, Ohio
    • Oullette is your basic vanilla mid-major runner. That sounds like an insult but I promise it isn’t. He has back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and catches just enough passes to be relevant (19 receptions in 2018). From my limited exposure over the years, I don’t think he does anything particularly great but he’s good enough all-around. He’s a straight-ahead runner without much long speed. He does have enough wiggle to make a cut through a hole or make a defender miss and is a fall-forward kind of runner. As I write this, UDFA Gus Edwards is having a moment for the Ravens, and I feel like that’s the type of career Ouellette can have in the NFL. He’ll be a late rounder or a priority free agent and just about everybody will forget about him until he makes an unexpected impact. It probably won’t matter for fantasy purposes but as an actual fan of his NFL team you’ll be glad you had him.
  • My Pick: Ohio, -3
    • In addition to Ouellette, the Bobcats feature dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke. Rourke finished the season with a four score rushing performance against Akron (he ended with 816 rushing yards and 13 TDs). He’s also an efficient passer when called upon. The Aztecs have been a mess for bettors this year (3-9 ATS) and RB Juwan Washington doesn’t seem to be fully recovered from his midseason injury so I wouldn’t think twice about giving the points here.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/2.

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Conference Championship Previews

Updated: November 30th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks and observations, 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. 

It’s been awhile, dear readers.  My apologies for the long lay-off between articles, you can blame my now-wife for that!  College football was a welcome, albeit infrequent, reprieve from our ever-encompassing wedding duties, but I was just not able to find the time to sit down and put flesh to keyboard.  What better time to get back into the swing than the week of conference championships!  For each matchup, I present a draft-eligible name you should know as well as my take and prediction.

MAC: Northern Illinois (7-5) vs Buffalo (10-2), 7:00pm Friday on ESPN2

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch:
    • Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo:  Johnson was one of my top prospects heading into the 2019 season.  He was shortly derailed by a hamstring injury but is back in the fold now.  Johnson’s numbers have been disappointing (45-820-9) compared to last season (76-1,356-14).  The explanation is likely the injury plus the fact that the Bulls are averaging nearly 60 yards per game more rushing this season.  Johnson has the ability to dominate lesser, in size and skill, defenders.  Whether his skills are dominant enough for the NFL remains to be seen but I think he has a shot at being a mid-rounder if he shows out in the last two games.
  • Prediction:  Buffalo -4.  Buffalo’s closest win this season was by seven over Temple and Eastern Michigan (two other bowl teams), so when they win they usually win big.  The Bulls have more potential NFL talent on both sides of the ball (don’t forget about QB Tyree Jackson and LB Khalil Hodge) so I don’t expect this to be particularly close.

PAC-12: #17 Utah (9-3) vs #11 Washington (9-3), 8:00pm Friday on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington: #DraftTwitter seems to hate Gaskin. I don’t think he’s the next coming of Saquon Barkley but the hate has probably gone too far. You can nitpick and say he’s not very big (5110/193) or could be more involved as a receiver (53 combined receptions over the last three seasons). However, it’s hard to argue with somebody who has 5,131 career rushing yards which is 18th best in the NCAA dating back to the 1950s. He’s the first back in PAC-12 history to rush for 1,000+ yards in four plus seasons. I’d like to see him more decisive hitting the hole but he does have good feet that are always moving. He has enough speed and power to be an every-down back in college but his NFL role will be more limited.
  • Prediction:  Utah +5.  This one feels like a trap game for casual bettors (myself included).  Washington is a big name in recent college football seasons and will get attention.  Utah is without its best pro prospect in RB Zack Moss but I’d still expect them to keep it close.  They’ve scored 35+ in seven of their last eight games so the offense can score.  Washington was favored in six of their last seven and lost to the spread in five of those contests.

Big 12: #5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #14 Texas (9-3), 12:00pm Saturday on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: Brown is a dynamo.  Despite his diminutive size (5110/168) he often lines up outside and instead uses motion and his route running ability to avoid contact and get open.  Once he has the ball in his hands it’s nearly impossible to catch him.  Brown was quiet through the middle part of the season but he exploded last week against West Virginia for 11-243-2.  The emergence of Tyreek Hill as a viable NFL receiver is going to help boost Brown’s stock.  He won’t be a first rounder but I feel pretty confident that a team will fall in love enough to reach for him on Day Two.
  • Prediction:  Texas +7.5.  The Sooners won their last four games by a total of just 24 points, while they were favored by a combined 73.5.  Their defense has appeared to be a liability this season and that is borne out in the stats: their defense is dead last in the conference in points and total yards.  I would take OU straight up but Texas with the points.

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette (7-5) at Appalachian State (9-2), 12:00pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Clifton Duck, CB, Appalachian State: Duck had a strong freshmen and sophomore seasons with a combined 11 interceptions, 14 passes defended and 107 tackles. His numbers decreased this season (1-4-44), so this really feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel!  (Unfortunately, the best prospect on either team is hurt and out for the season, ‘Neer RB Jalin Moore.  Moore is good in pass protection and was on his way to a third consecutive 1,000 yard season before dislocating his ankle.  If he’s not fully recovered to take part in the draft process, a team is going to get a bargain.)
  • Prediction:  Appalachian State -18.  This one is a rematch from October which App State won 27-17.  The Mountaineers lost their succeeding game but rebounded with four wins to end the season, including three big wins (two pushes, one cover).  I admit that part of this pick may be name recognition more than anything else but if I had to pick against the spread I would take App State to cover.

C-USA: Middle Tennessee (8-4) at UAB (9-3), 1:30pm on CBSSN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brent Stockstill, QB, Middle Tennessee: It feels like Stockstill has been a Blue Raider for most of my adult life.  He grayshirted in 2013 then redshirted in 2014.  In 2015 he started 13 games but then missed chunks of 2016 and 2017 due to injury.  He’s stayed on the field thus far in 2018.  The positive vibes continue with his stat logs: he is completing 71.1% of his passes, has improved his rate stats and has a career low of interceptions (6).  Stockstill throws with good touch but his accuracy is inconsistent.  His age and injury history likely make him a priority UDFA but in such a weak quarterback class, who knows?
  • Prediction:  UAB +1.5.  I was very surprised to see the Blazers as a home underdog in this one.  They are 6-0 at home this season (5-1 ATS).  A big part of that line may be the uncertainty surrounding RB Spencer Brown’s availability (996-15).  I’ll take the gamble that he plays.  He’s just a sophomore and not yet draft eligible so there’s some incentive to shine in a big game, and throw down a few bucks on UAB with the points.

AAC: #8 UCF (11-0) vs Memphis (8-4), 3:30pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis:  Henderson led a dominant Tigers rushing attack this season.  His regular season totals ended at: 1,699 yards, 19 TDs, 8.6 yards per carry, 17 receptions, 286 yards  and 3 TDs.  That’s impressive even before you consider that he’s splitting touches with Patrick Taylor (894-14) and Tony Pollard (398-5).  Henderson measures in at 5090/200 and yet runs with an upright, downhill style.  You can feel his momentum when he’s on the move.  He may be too small for an every down role in the NFL but he runs with a physicality that belies his height and that will endear him to his teammates.
  • Prediction:  Memphis +3.  It’s hard to write the narrative for this game right now.  Does UCF rebound and battle for their fallen quarterback?  Or do they collapse with a backup signal caller under center?  Considering their last matchup was a 31-30 victory for UCF, I’ll take Memphis and the points here because I think McKenzie Milton is worth way more than a few points.  (I do hope I am wrong on this one though because I am wishing for CFP mayhem.)

SEC: #1 Alabama (12-0) vs #4 Georgia (11-1), 4:00pm on CBS

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: This game is obviously chock full of pro talent so why am I highlighting a tight end? Because you’ve probably missed Irv Smith’s ascension amidst the Alabaman domination this season. I am here to tell you that he should be on your radar as a potential rookie draft target for 2019. Smith has a good 35-613-7 line thus far, despite inconsistent production (five games with 2 or less receptions). In three of those games he managed to score a touchdown so he can still be a difference maker without a high target share. He’s listed at 6040/241 and has the speed to be a matchup nightmare for linebackers. If he shows consistency in Alabama’s biggest games, we’ll see his draft stock skyrocket. While your friends are waxing poetic about Tua and Quinnen, you can drop some knowledge about Irv, who will factor into next year’s rookie draft.
  • Prediction:  Alabama -13. ‘Bama has covered big numbers in its last five SEC games. The only one in the last six games that they didn’t cover was -53.5 against doormat foe Citadel. I see no reason to believe that the Tide won’t roll again. They are just too talented all over the field, probably the most talented team I’ve ever seen.

Mountain West: #25 Fresno State (10-2) at #22 Boise State (10-2), 7:45pm on ESPN

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State:  Rypien is a name that you should monitor closely throughout the draft process.  The 2019 quarterback class is weak so it’s possible that somebody like Rypien emerges to become a first rounder just by virtue of scarcity.  He has average size at 6020/202.  He shows good pocket presence and above average short and medium accuracy.  He needs to show more consistency with his mechanics because he often lets himself throw off-platform, off-balance or with his feet unset.  In a previous film study, I noted that Rypien does not feel blindside pressure well which will be a problem in the NFL.  He’s probably a Day Two guy with the potential to land higher if teams are desperate.
  • Prediction:  Fresno State +2.5.  I’ve almost convinced myself that Fresno will win this one straight up because I’ve followed them closely this year after I stacked QB Marcus McMaryion and WR KeeSean Johnson in my college fantasy league.  So I’ll have to take the points.  The Bulldogs have lost their last three ATS but before that were on a seven game winning streak.  Bonus tidbit: the last four games for both teams went under (including their November 9 matchup).

Big Ten: #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs #21 Northwestern (8-4), 8:00pm on FOX

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins is a fast-rising redshirt sophomore who got his chance to lead Ohio State this season after JT Barrett’s graduation.  Haskins checks in at 6030/220 but I think that might be a slight exaggeration.  He’s not small but he does lack elite size.  He’s not a burner as a runner but he’s recently shown that he can be effective and clutch in short yardage situations.  It’s hard to find fault when looking at his statistics because he’s setting numerous Ohio State and Big Ten records.  He topped 4,000 yards (4,081) and has tossed 42 TDs to just 7 INTs.  His rating (171.7) and completion percentage (69.0%) are phenomenal.  Haskins has seen a meteoric rise to his draft stock, in fact, The Draft Network now projects him as QB2 in the 2019 eligible class.
  • Prediction:  Ohio State -14.  As a Michigan fan, it was particularly hard to watch the 62-39 drubbing last weekend.  I’m a firm believer in rooting for the team that beats you (if you’re going to lose, it might as well be to the eventual champion) so I’ll be all-in on the Buckeyes.  Northwestern has a top third defense in the conference but their weak spot is against the pass (ranked 11th) so they will not be able to slow Haskins enough to keep it close.

ACC: #2 Clemson (12-0) vs Pitt (7-5), 8:00pm on ABC

  • Draft Eligible Players to Watch:
    • The Entire Defensive Line, Clemson:  There are so many “brand name” players on the Clemson defense that it would be impossible to single one of them out.  The fact that their biggest offensive stars are underclassmen (QB Trevor Lawrence, RB Travis Etienne and WR Tee Higgins) also helps concentrate focus on the defense.  Clelin Ferrell has distanced himself as the best prospect on the line with 10.5 sacks this season.  Interior linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins are a dynamic duo who both feature rare combinations of size and athleticism (notably they have a combined 3 rushing TDs this season).  Austin Bryant, playing fourth fiddle, would probably be the defensive leader for most teams (19 career sacks and 116 career tackles).
  • Prediction:  Clemson -26.5.  What a snoozer in the 8:00pm window, I bet ABC is not happy.  Clemson is only 6-6 ATS this season while Pitt is 8-4 but I won’t let that sway my thinking.  I’ll be okay with losing this one if Clemson doesn’t cover but my gut tells me they run up the score to prove that they belong in the conversation with Alabama.  Give the points and switch the channel.

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 11/27.

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.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
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: oddsshark.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Week 6 Preview

Updated: October 6th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks and observations, 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. 

Games to Watch

#19 Texas vs #7 Oklahoma, 12:00pm on FOX: The Red River Rivalry. I love that they kick this one off at 11:00am local time. I think it gives it even more of a “this is something special” atmosphere. The last time both teams were ranked was 2012 (which capped off a run of seven straight ranked matchups). Oklahoma won that one 63-21 and I fear the 2018 edition will go the same way. OU hasn’t missed a step without RB Rodney Anderson like I thought they might. QB Kyler Murray and WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown are an exciting pair to watch. Brown is averaging 22.7 yards per catch and seems to always be behind the last defender (see below for more on Brown). WR CeeDee Lamb may not be as explosive, but I think he’ll end up being the better pro (he’s no slouch with his stats either, 19-348-5). Texas QB Sam Ehlinger has increased his completion percentage and efficiency this year but the difference in talent (and supporting cast) between he and Murray will be evident.

#4 Clemson at Wake Forest, 3:30pm on ESPN: Uh oh. Clemson fans’ worst fears were realized early in the contest against Syracuse when true frosh Trevor Lawrence went down with an injury. I’m not sure if Lawrence suffered a concussion or just a neck strain as has been reported so who knows if he plays in this one. Either way, it will be a story line to follow. Is it too late for Kelly Bryant to return? Can third-stringer Chase Brice keep the team winning in Lawrence’s absence? Regardless of who is taking the snaps, Clemson’s offense should be good enough with RBs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster to beat Wake, especially when you factor in their dominant front seven.

#5 LSU at #22 Florida, 3:30pm on CBS: I’ve somehow gone five weeks without watching much of #5 LSU so this will be the week I get my fill during an iffy 3:30pm window. I did watch parts of LSU’s matchup with Auburn and was nonplussed with QB Joe Burrow. RB Nick Brossette is 4th in the conference with 481 yards rushing and has 6 rushing TDs. Florida has the third-worst rushing defense in the SEC (172.6 yards per game) so I expect Brossette to pace the offense. As long as Burrow continues to take care of the ball, the Tigers should be victorious again.

#6 Notre Dame at #24 Virginia Tech, 8:00pm on ABC: Rewind a week and it would be hard to believe that the Hokies would be ranked again after a crushing loss to Old Dominion. Va. Tech, however, rebounded with a strong win against Duke with backup quarterback Ryan Willis at the helm. Speaking of quarterbacks, Notre Dame has undoubtedly found theirs in Ian Book. Book has completed 74.3% of his passes to go with 6 TDs and zero INTs. I tend to root against the Irish but having them undefeated is good for the sport.

Fresno State at Nevada, 10:30pm on ESPNU: Before the season started I picked Fresno to lose the division to San Diego State. Now that the Aztecs have lost RB Juwan Washington and won their last three games unconvincingly, the door may be open for the Bulldogs. Fresno features the league’s best QB-WR duo in Marcus McMaryion (1,050-7) and KeeSean Johnson (394-3). I’ll also be watching because I have McMaryion and Johnson on my college football fantasy team!

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Steven Montez, QB, Colorado: Montez is the nation’s leader in completion percentage through five weeks (75.8%). He fell into playing time as a redshirt freshmen and was the full time starter in 2017 as a sophomore, so he has experience. Montez also has NFL size at 6050/235 and is starting to get pub on my Twitter timeline as a potential draft sleeper. If he plays well against USC, Washington and Utah he’ll continue to climb rankings and will deserve further film study if it looks like he’ll come out.
  • Ryquell Armstead, RB, Temple: Armstead earned some buzz way back in 2016 when he rushed for 14 TDs and gained 5.9 yards per carry and was key for a surprising 10-4 Owls’ team. He dented his draft stock in 2017 though when his yards per carry dipped all the way down to 3.9. 2018 is looking more like 2016 so far. After a slow start against Villanova (14 for 31 yards), Armstead has four straight 100+ yard games. He ripped off 171 and 4 TDs last week against Boston College. BC doesn’t have a great defense but Group of 5 backs need to feast in Power 5 games to get attention and Armstead did just that.
  • Andy Isabella, WR, UMass: Isabella crested 1,000 yards last season (1,020) but was overshadowed by TE Adam Breneman in the Minutemen offense. This season, as the primary target, Isabella is stealing the spotlight. He’s currently 6th in the NCAA in receptions (40) and 2nd in yards (647). Worth noting: UMass played in Week Zero so Isabella has an extra game compared to everybody else. Still, the numbers are encouraging. Isabella is a 5100/190 screen receiver who is a converted running back (he has 31 rushing attempts since 2016). He also returned kicks as a freshman. Isabella is likely to find a role in the NFL because of his versatility.

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown

  • Listed at 5100/168  per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Oklahoma State 2017, Iowa State 2018
  • 2017: 13 games, 57 receptions, 1,095 yards, 19.2 yards per reception, 7 TDs
  • 2018: 5 games, 24 receptions, 544 yards, 22.7 yards per reception, 5 TDs

Hollywood is leading the Big 12 in yards per reception and has been a dynamo all season long. He’s more than just a one-hit wonder though. He has four or more receptions and a touchdown in every game this year and has three 130+ yard games. This is his second season as a Sooner; he transferred from a junior college after a successful freshman season (50-754-10 plus two return touchdowns according to his media bio). There is no doubt about his playmaking ability but the foremost detraction of Brown is his size. He’s listed at just 5100/168 on in the 2018 media guide.  After another big game against Baylor (5-132-2), I decided it was time for me to watch some film of Brown instead of dismissing him because of his size.

Since my biggest concern about Hollywood is his size, I thought it would be important to study how he lines up.  He takes a few snaps from the slot and while in motion, so as to limit how easily the defensive back can jam him at the line, but the majority of snaps come when he lined up as an outside receiver.  My uneducated presumption was that he would solely be an inside receiver.  I don’t have tracking data to back up my estimate but I’d guess he lines up outside about 90% of the time.  Head coach Lincoln Riley cleverly deploys Brown when he lines up outside to avoid physical play along the sideline.  Sometimes he carries the route inside before breaking outside, as you’ll see in this clip from this year’s Iowa State game.  He’s the receiver at the bottom of the screen (#5), he drifts inside closely to his fellow receiver and disappears from the screen momentarily.  When he makes the catch he’s heading back towards the sideline with plenty of cushion from the defender.

Other times, as shown in this clip, Brown lines up in a “plus split”.  This alignment puts Brown on the outside to the field rather than the boundary (i.e. the side opposite the hash the ball is on), which gives him more space to maneuver.  On this play the Sooners are lined up on the left hash with Brown inside the numbers to the right.  He has plenty of space to the sideline and you can see his route stem is more diagonal than vertical.  The zone defense has nobody in the space that Brown bee-lines to and he picks up nine yards on a 2nd and 11.

This next clip is from 2017 when the Sooners played Oklahoma State.  This one ended up going for an 84 yard score.  It’s hard to say what was the key aspect of the play, was it Brown’s well-run slant route?  Or was it his breathtaking breakaway speed?  It’s hard to notice but look at the hesitation he gives the corner at the top of the route stem.  That pause, paired with Mayfield’s pump fake, freezes the corner long enough to let Brown catch it freely and jet towards the end zone.  On his way he avoids an ankle tackle while splitting three defenders and out runs everybody on the field.

It’s easy to find big play highlights of Brown so I went into my study looking for other positive indicators.  His route running, speed/agility and awareness are all encouraging.  My favorite play of his was this one from the 2017 Oklahoma State game that showed bits of each trait.  It’s a 1st and 10 from the opponent’s 20 yard line.  Brown lines up in the aforementioned plus-split and keeps his route alive while QB Baker Mayfield is scrambling.  Brown probably runs 40 yards on the route only to gain 9 but it was a good illustration of his awareness and determination to get open.

Even though I loved much of what I saw from Brown on tape, realistically, his NFL Draft stock is going to hinge predominantly on his combine measurements.  Dating back to 2010, there are only three guys who measured in his cohort and were drafted. You’ve never heard of two of them and the third is JJ Nelson. I think Brown will benefit from another year on campus so he can gain more reps on the field and in the weight room.  It is asking a lot but if Brown can bulk up to 185-190 he’d measure similarly to Brandin Cooks.  If he does come out in 2019, I anticipate his immediate upside being limited as a gadget and return guy.  However, if Brown does return and bulk up, I may be all-in next year.  I really enjoyed watching his film.

 


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Big Ten Preview

Updated: September 4th 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:  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin. My top Heisman pick is usually the conference’s top dual-threat quarterback but without a dominant one in the Big Ten, I am going with the machine that is Taylor. As a true freshman, Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 TDs, numbers he’ll surely beat this year behind a dominant Badger line. Taylor finished 6th in Heisman voting last year so it’s a good bet that he moves closer to the prize this year.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State.  The more likely quarterback candidate is McSorley but you’ll get far better odds on Haskins.  Haskins won the job in the Spring and has a lot to prove while taking over for long-time leader JT Barrett. He’s not the rushing threat that Barrett was but he has a bigger arm. A season with 3,500 total yards and 30 total TDs may be asking a lot for a new starter but it’d be enough to put Haskins on a few Heisman ballots if the Buckeyes make the CFP.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin. It’s impossible for me to pick anybody else here. Taylor will lead the conference in scrimmage yards and scores so let’s not get cute.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State. I went with the chalk pick for Offensive Player of the Year but I’m skipping the skilled pass rushers for this one. Instead, I am going with do-everything linebacker Joe Bachie from Michigan State. He won’t be a sexy name for draftniks but he was undeniably productive in his first full season as a Spartan. He totaled 100 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan. It’s rare for somebody of Patterson’s caliber to transfer and to be immediately eligible so it was a big story all offseason long. Patterson is a former 5-star recruit who was the top ranked pro-style quarterback in his class according to 247Sports.com. He’s a few years older now, and coming off a knee injury, but Michigan fans are optimistic because that position has struggled under coach Jim Harbaugh.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State.  Dobbins pulled a Wally Pipp and stole the Buckeyes starting role from Mike Weber while Weber was slowed by injury.  Heading into the opener, the running back situation was unclear but Dobbins clarified things real quick with 29 carries and 181 yards.  He wouldn’t surpass 18 carries again but he still produced, finishing with 1,403 yards and 7 TDs.  He also added 22 receptions.  To my eye, Dobbins looks smaller than his listed 5010/214 frame but he proved he can be durable and run with power.  The 2020 running back class is looking historic with players like Dobbins, Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor and AJ Dillon.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Tracy McSorley and Juwan Johnson, Penn State. Considering what Penn State lost to the NFL this season, it’s amazing I even considered them for this spot. McSorley has lost 164 receptions, 2,052 yards and 21 TDs in the departing trio of WR Daesean Hamilton, TE Mike Gesicki and RB Saquon Barkley. McSorley is still going to sling it and I expect junior Juwan Johnson to be the beneficiary. Johnson was overshadowed last season but still grabbed 53 balls for 701 yards and a score. He’ll be the team’s leading receiver in 2018 and forms a strong battery with McSorley. (Honorable mention: Brian Lewerke and Felton Davis from Michigan State)
  • Best RB Corps:  Ohio State. The combination of JK Dobbins and Mike Weber paced the conference in rushing last year (with the help of QB JT Barrett). Ohio State ran the ball very well, averaging 243.4 yards per game, the league best. For comparison, Wisconsin averaged 223.2 and was the only other team above 200; Minnesota, who ranked third, was more than 60 yards worse than Ohio State. 2,500 combined scrimmage yards and 20 TDs for Dobbins and Weber is not as crazy as it sounds.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan. It would be easy to go with Urban Meyer here but too much digital ink has already been spilled on that situation. Instead, I think the hottest seat belongs to Harbaugh. I don’t think there’s any way UM would fire him but instead I can foresee a situation where he “resigns” after a disappointing season. Harbaugh was supposed to be a savior, and while he has improved things post Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, Michigan still feels second-class to Ohio State. The only Ws that matter for coaches of the Wolverines are national championship wins and Ohio State wins; Harbaugh doesn’t have either. I doubt Michigan contends for the playoff so it’ll come down to The Game.

Teams to Watch

 Penn State (11-2 in 2017)

I know, I’m crazy. Penn State finished the regular season at 10-2 last year and won the Fiesta Bowl over Washington. You’ll struggle to find a college football fan who would take the over on those ten regular season wins but I would consider taking the bet. There’s no doubt the Nittany Lions have lost a lot (see above) but sometimes in college football it comes down to has the best quarterback. I don’t think McSorley is the best pro prospect of the conference but he’ll be the most productive and that’s what matters right now. When I picked the winner of every game this preseason (yes, every game) I unexpectedly landed on Penn State at 11-1. When I laid out the CFP with my predicted results, I landed on Penn State beating Oklahoma in the semi-final and losing to Alabama in the championship. This is me calling my shot, don’t @ me if I’m wrong!

 Iowa (8-5 in 2017)

Iowa is another Big Ten team I predict will improve even after a successful bowl-winning season last year. Iowa made it to eight wins by virtue of their Pinstripe Bowl victory and I think they should set their sights on a bigger bowl now. QB Nate Stanley returns and will improve. His top two targets last season, WR Nick Easley (51-530-4) and TE Noah Fant (30-494-11), are also back for this campaign. It’s a good thing the offense will be strong because, even though the Hawkeyes return eight on defense, they lose their best two in Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson. Iowa has three winnable home non-conference games (Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa) and avoids three of the East’s heavyweights in the cross-over games (they draw Penn State and Maryland, skipping Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State). I think the schedule sets up for a shot at a nine win season.

Players to Watch

Unfortunately, the end of this offseason got away from me a bit so I didn’t end up having the time to do a deep film study of three Big Ten players like I have for the other conferences. Rest assured readers, I have written up a super-sized version of my “honorable mentions” section for you so you can be prepared with the conference’s biggest names. For what it’s worth, the three players I was going to spotlight were McSorley, Davis and Fant. Much of the Big Ten’s top NFL Draft talent resides on the offensive and defensive lines so it will be interesting to see which skill position players flourish this year.  Here are my picks for the top players to watch in the Big Ten this season:

Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan: Head coach Jim Harbaugh has received a pass on some of his recent disappointing seasons because he rarely had great quarterback play. Enter Shea Patterson. Patterson transferred from the sinking ship that was Ole Miss and was granted immediate eligibility. I have not seen enough of Patterson to truly evaluate his NFL prospects but, judging by the rankings on Draft Network, he could be a top ten player at the position in this class. He’s listed at 6020/205 and suffered a torn PCL last year which makes me worry, as a Wolverines fan, that he may not make it through the full season. When Patterson was on the field last season, he was efficient (63.8% completion percentage and 151.5 rating). Michigan fans have high hopes for Patterson and I’m cautiously optimistic but I can’t help but think that backup Brandon Peters is the better option.

Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: Haskins outlasted Joe Burrow, who transferred to LSU, to win the Buckeyes’ starting gig this season. Haskins may be a familiar name to fans because he subbed in for JT Barrett last season against Michigan. He played well (6-7 for 94 yards and 24 yards rushing) and led Ohio State to a W. Haskins also played in mop-up duty in a few other games and finished the season with a 70.2% completion percentage and a passer rating of 173.1. It’s a small sample size but as a freshman it was enough to feel comfortable with him as the starter heading into 2018.  With all of the negativity surrounding the program recently, it will be fun to root for the new guy in Haskins.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: McSorley has a swagger and confidence that exudes from his pores the second he steps on the field. His four touchdown outing against USC in the 2016 Rose Bowl stands out in my memory because he made both plays and mistakes. Thankfully, McSorley’s accuracy improved in 2017 which was a good sign (57.9% to 66.5%). He’s small at 6000/200 but still runs the ball often.  In 2017 he rushed 144 times for 491 yards and 11 TDs. He’s probably too small and raw to draft high but it’s tough to argue with his intangibles and production. McSorley is somebody on my list to give a thorough viewing this offseason.

LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State: Scott is a player that I won’t own on any of my fantasy teams in 2019. However, he’s going to get drafted because of his 6010/229 size, so he warrants a mention in this preview. Scott earned the most carries and receptions of his career in 2017 but both his rushing and receiving yards decreased. His yards per touch shrunk significantly: from 5.88 to 4.72. A worrying sign was that Scott was a healthy scratch in a game after he returned from injury; he dressed but never saw the field. As I wrote about in December, he has been charged SEVEN times for driving with a suspended license. In a sport where there’s much worse going on, it’s hard to come down on a player for driving with a suspended license but c’mon you need to learn your lesson sooner or later.

Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State: Talk about playing “second fiddle.” Miles Sanders, a former 5-star recruit, backed up the phenom named Saquon Barkley for two years. Over those two seasons, Sanders totaled just 56 carries and 375 yards and 3 scores. In 2018 he finally gets his chance to prove that he can be the lead back. At 5110/209 he could put on a few pounds, which I’m sure he will. Since he played so sparingly there’s a dearth of film out there so I can’t reliably comment on his strengths or weaknesses. If I had to guess I’ll predict that Sanders returns for his senior season but we should pay attention now because I predict the Nittany Lions will have a great season.

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State: As a redshirt freshman in 2016, Weber led the Buckeyes in rushing with 1,096 yards. Expectations were high heading into 2017 but Weber battled injury and lost the RB1 spot to true freshman JK Dobbins. Weber still managed 720 yards on 111 touches and had 10 rushing TDs. His best stretch of the year came against Michigan State and Illinois where he rushed for 270-4. What’s most reassuring about those two big games is that Dobbins played in both so that’s proof that they can co-exist in the offense. With JT Barrett gone and first-year starter Dwayne Haskins taking over, I expect Urban Meyer to lean on his running backs.

Felton Davis, WR, Michigan State: Davis checks in at 6040/195 and looks every bit of that length in highlights. He has the strength and body control you’d hope for from a big target around the sideline. His 55-776-9 led all Spartan receivers in each category. Hopefully QB Brian Lewerke continues to mature in his second season as the starter so both of their NFL Draft stocks improve.

Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana:  Westbrook missed the 2017 season after tearing his ACL on the opening kickoff in last season’s opener against Ohio State.  In 2016 he grabbed 54 balls for 995 yards and 6 TDs as a sophomore.  The Hoosiers lost Simmie Cobbs so there’s a void to fill and Westbrook’s 6030/215 frame can fill it.

Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: Fant is on the short list for the top TE spot in 2018 after he had a 30-494-11 line in 2017. He was second on the squad in receptions and yards and first in scores and his connection with junior QB Nate Stanley will only improve now that they both have a full season behind them. His size is a bit of a concern because he’s listed at 6050/241; for comparison, Evan Engram was 6030/234 at his combine. Since he’s undersized it remains to be seen how Fant will hold up at the end of an NFL line of scrimmage. Even if he fails to prove his worth as a blocker, Fant should factor in as a second or third round rookie for fantasy purposes next year if he comes out.

Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: Bosa is one of those college prospects that feels like he’s been on my NFL Draft radar forever. It’s been a long first two years for Bosa but he’s finally draft eligible and I’m not sure there’s another underclassmen who is as much of a lock to turn pro as he. Bosa, as you may have guessed, is the younger brother of San Diego Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa. Bosa the younger plays a similar game to that of his brother and has a career total of 63 tackles, 23.0 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. Since he’s played on such dominant defenses and receives so much attention those good-not-great stats belie his true impact. Look for Bosa to be in the conversation for the first overall pick next year.

Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan: Gary’s draft stock seems to be fluctuating in recent months but I bet come April he’s near the top of DT rankings again. Gary totaled 58 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017 as a sophomore. Reportedly, he ran a 4.57 40 yard dash last year which would be incredible if true; the fastest 40 yard dash at the 2018 combine by anybody 280+ was 4.75. Gary’s combination of size and speed that makes it tough to categorize him as either a DT or DE and I expect that’s why some have hesitated in their evaluation. At 280lbs he doesn’t have prototypical tackle size but his speed and pass rushing is that of an end. I expect him to start his NFL career switching between the two, playing outside on run downs and inside on pass downs.


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