The Watch List 2021: The Battle for 1.01

Updated: July 15th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Will we or won’t we? It’s too soon to know whether we’ll have a college football season in the Fall or how it will impact the pre-draft process for 2021 prospects. I’ve held off on writing and research the last few weeks — honestly, it was hard to find inspiration with so many question marks — but I’m back at it today bringing you three players I think have a chance at being the 1.01 in 2021 rookie drafts. In my opinion, the three players that have distanced themselves from the field at this point are RB Travis Etienne, RB Chuba Hubbard and WR Ja’marr Chase. (WR Rondale Moore of Purdue may be in the conversation as well but he’s coming off a season-ending injury and I’ve already written about him this offseason.) This potential three-man race is reminding me of 2017 when we had to decide between Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette and Corey Davis at the top of rookie drafts. I personally ranked them Fournette, Davis and McCaffrey but I recall many analysts had Davis leading their lists. McCaffrey, as we know with the benefit of hindsight, was the best selection but at the time he was atop fewer rankings than Fournette or Davis. The 2021 top tier, featuring two running backs and one wide receiver, looks to be an equally tough race to handicap. (Note: I sorted these three alphabetically, I’m not yet ready to put them in order!)

 

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

  • Measurables: 6010/200
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 23 receptions, 313 rec yards, 13.6 ypr, 3 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 84 receptions, 1,780 rec yards, 21.2 ypr, 20 rec TDs

In the English language we lack a superlative to describe just how truly prolific the LSU passing offense was in 2019. Quarterback Joe Burrow’s 60 passing touchdown mark may not be broken any time soon but what really caught my eye was that the Tigers had two players pacing the country in receiving touchdowns. Ja’Marr Chase led the nation with 20 while teammate Justin Jefferson had 18. Chase also led the FBS in receiving yards (1,780), won the Fred Biletnikoff Award and was named a consensus All-American. What a season! Can Chase match his output on a reloading LSU offense?

I watched three videos of Chase to get a good barometer of his game: games against Alabama and Auburn and a season-long highlight package. I was impressed with Chase’s ability to help keep a play alive while his quarterback looks for an open receiver. I’d bet the average length of play on Chase’s targets was the longest in the country. When he is targeted, Chase uses his short-area quickness and leaping ability to find slivers of space. He adjusts well to the ball when it’s in the air and loves coming back to the ball to make the grab. His hands appear to be sticky and strong, with most catches secured away from his body. I was surprised with how physical Chase was on certain plays. This completion against Auburn shows Chase fighting with the corner all the way across the field. Burrow places the ball well, but Chase did well to get enough separation to make the play possible.

Chase also showed his physicality on this play later in the Auburn game. He takes his route outside along the boundary and leans on the corner. The leverage gives him enough space to create a one-handed, over-the-shoulder masterpiece.

I did notice, however, that Chase was not consistently willing to engage in plays that weren’t going his way. I saw a few half-hearted attempts at blocks or decoy routes. The worst example was on a key play late in a one possession game against Alabama. Chase completely blew off his blocking assignment on a play that appeared designed to run to his side. His running back still converted the score but I want to see my top receiver trying to dominate his defender with the game on the line.

As I watched Chase, I vacillated on my opinion. His highlights are eye-popping, I think he’ll be a versatile slot receiver in the NFL, but there were moments where I wanted more from him. He is still young and it’s clear he is a talented player so I don’t want to be too critical in my evaluation. Chase has the upside of a first round pick and another Biletnikoff-winning season will put him in contention for the 1.01.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

  • Measurables: 5100/210
  • 2017 Stats: 13 games, 107 carries, 766 rush yards, 7.2 ypc, 13 rush TDs; 5 receptions, 57 rec yards, 11.4 ypr, 0 rec TDs; 19 kick returns, 20.5 ypr
  • 2018 Stats: 15 games, 204 carries, 1,658 rush yards, 8.1 ypc, 24 rush TDs; 12 receptions, 78 rec yards, 6.5 ypr, 2 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 15 games, 207 carries, 1,614 rush yards, 7.8 ypc, 19 rush TDs; 37 receptions, 432 rec yards, 11.7 ypr, 4 rec TDs

Travis Etienne is my favorite player in the college game at the moment. I started writing about him back in September 2017 and here we are nearly three years later. In last year’s ACC preview, I started Etienne’s writeup by saying, “Travis Etienne may hold the record for the player I have written about the most in my The Watch List series.” Well, here we are again! Since I last wrote about Etienne, all he did was lead the ACC in rushing again and win his second ACC Player of the Year award. Etienne is no one-hit wonder either: he led the NCAA in touchdowns from scrimmage in 2018. He already owns the record for most rushing touchdowns in modern ACC history and should put that record out of reach in 2020.

Any sports fan with a pulse has seen Etienne crushing defenses the last three years as Clemson rose to the top of the totem pole. I’ll keep it simple… Etienne is a long strider with breakaway speed, he is surprisingly difficult to bring down because he combines power and balance, and he has become a reliable receiver. To help illustrate the strengths of Etienne’s game, I picked out three of my favorite plays from late in the 2019 season. In this play against Virginia in the ACC Championship Game, you see Etienne read his off-tackle cut before setting his sights on the end zone. He fends off two leg tackles and then stiff arms the safety for five yards, making it impossible for the defender to get his hands on him to bring him down.

Etienne played a key role against Ohio State in the semi-finals, scoring three touchdowns. The first points for the Tigers came on this option play that was doomed after the pitch. Etienne is twelve yards from the goal line with two defenders in his face. He stretches the defense towards the sideline, hand fights with the defender, and somehow finds a way through the crowd to the promised land. As Etienne scores there are eight Buckeyes in the frame who all had a chance to bring him down at some point. This play, along with the one against Virginia, show Etienne’s strength and balance, as well as his determination to succeed.

His second receiving touchdown of the Ohio State game shows his evolution as a pass catcher and I’ll bet it was a play they held onto for a key situation. The linebackers cheat up which lets Etienne sneak behind them. QB Trevor Lawrence delivers a Tebow-esque jump pass over the line of scrimmage which Etienne hands-catches as he spins upfield and accelerates. His movement is so fluid in that moment that I found myself rewinding repeatedly to watch it again. The linebacker was just a yard away when Etienne caught the pass but he had no hope of tackling him in the open field. Two defensive backs do get to Etienne but neither could bring him down before the touchdown. The cherry on top? It was the go-ahead score that put Clemson into the national championship game.

I’ll be rooting for Etienne in 2020 and hope he can end his Clemson career on a high note. He’s my pick to be the top running back on NFL draft boards in 2021 and deserves strong 1.01 consideration for rookie drafts.

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

  • Measurables: 6010/207
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 124 carries, 740 rush yards, 6.0ypc, 7 rush TDs; 22 receptions, 229 rec yards, 10.4 ypr, 2 rec TDs; 23 kick returns, 22.2 ypr
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 328 carries, 2,094 rush yards, 6.4 ypc, 21 rush TDs; 23 receptions, 198 rec yards, 8.6 ypr, 0 rec TDs

When I wrote about Chuba Hubbard in early September 2019, I suggested that “it’s not crazy to think that Hubbard will be leading the FBS in rushing at the end of September.” Not only did Hubbard dominate in September, he had continued success the rest of the year too and finished as the leading rusher in the nation. He also led the way in rushing attempts and touchdowns too so it should be no surprise that he was a consensus All-American and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Since he was just a sophomore and not draft eligible, I didn’t watch Hubbard too closely after the beginning of the season. However, I did want to share one observation I made at the time about the “nuance” that Hubbard runs with. The play I was referring to was a touchdown scamper against Oregon State. “The replay angle allows you to better see the play develop. He stretches the defense horizontally as he awaits the pitch. Once he secures the ball he gets upfield and uses a nearly imperceptible hesitation move to get around his engaged blocker.” I forgot all about that play but fell in love with it again once I revisited it.

Hubbard is a high-volume running back who had a combined 57 carries in the two games I watched (Texas and TCU from 2019). He is a balanced runner who shows some pop and some speed but lacks elite power or quickness. Hubbard shines when he is able to run north-south rather than east-west. Instead of trying to stretch the defense, Hubbard excels when he’s able to keep his pads parallel to the line of scrimmage and use his vision and patience to find the best crease. That patience can turn into indecisiveness at times but it’s usually a positive rather than a negative. Against Texas I noted a number of good blocks in pass protection which is a great skill for a young running back to have already.

This run against Texas was a good example of Hubbard’s ceiling. He takes the handoff at the twenty and strings the play along, continuing towards the sideline with no clear running lanes. As a defender fights off a block, Hubbard needs to decide whether he should try to cut it inside or continue to the outside. He sees his receivers have their blocks sealed so he has a shot at the end zone from the outside. He shrugs off a weak arm-tackle attempt, slows his momentum to stay in bounds, keeps his balance, and uses his body to protect the ball as he absorbs a hit at the goal line.

Hubbard may not have the explosiveness that Etienne has but he still has long speed, which you can see on this play against TCU. Hubbard gets the ball at about the five yard line and has his choice of two huge off-center holes. He takes the left side, runs past two potential tacklers and then outruns three guys trying to catch him. It was the first of two important second half touchdowns against the Horned Frogs.

I sure hope we have football in 2020 so I can watch Hubbard’s game evolve. All-round backs who can block are always going to be in demand in the NFL and from what I’ve seen so far he has the potential to be a top draft pick if he comes out in 2021.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Stud Sophomores

Updated: June 26th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Each spring when I start the research on the next draft class, I keep an eye out for any true sophomores who should be on my radar. Those players may not be eligible for the upcoming draft but they are likely to be the stars of the season and are worthy of a quick look now to help set future expectations. In my 2019 season previews, I included coverage of a few sophomores who now find themselves squarely in the middle of my draft prep: namely Justyn Ross, Rondale Moore and Jaret Patterson. (Note: Clemson announced on June 1 that Ross would miss the season due to a neck injury.) I have included ten true sophomores below who I’ll be watching closely in 2020.

Hank Bachmeier, QB, Boise State

  • Measurables: 6010/202
  • 2019 Stats: 8 games, 137-219, 62.6%, 1,879 pass yards, 8.6 ypa, 9 pass TDs, 6 INTs, 142.7 rating; 41 carries, 69 rush yards, 1.7 ypc, 1 rush TD

Hank Bachmeier, Boise State’s highest rated recruit since 2014, started his college career strong with a comeback win against Florida State. He played well over the next four games before getting hurt against Hawaii. He returned to finish the season and will start 2020 as the top quarterback in the Mountain West. Bachmeier is poised in the pocket, has functional mobility and can throw fastballs. Home matchups against Florida State and BYU will give us a good midseason barometer for Bachmeier’s progression; a potential NY6 bowl game would also help increase his national name recognition heading into the 2021 NFL Draft season.

Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina

  • Measurables: 6010/225
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 259-422, 61.4%, 3,641 pass yards, 8.6 ypa, 38 pass TDs, 7 INTs, 160.2 rating; 94 carries, 35 rush yards, 0.4 ypc, 1 rush TD; 3 receptions, 23 rec yards, 7.7 ypr, 1 rec TD

Sam Howell, a North Carolina native, was everything Mack Brown and Tar Heels’ faithful hoped he would be. He finished a superb freshman season with 3,641 passing yards, 38 TDs and just 7 INTs. UNC’s new air raid offense may not necessarily prepare him for a “pro style” offense but who cares, it’s fun to watch and makes for great highlights. Howell throws pinpoint deep passes with beautiful weight and touch. When he needs to, he can zing a quick hitter on a slant or screen. He didn’t get too many rushing attempts in 2019, probably because they wanted to keep him upright, but I think he has potential there as well. Howell’s intangible swagger means there are plays he just simply wills into success. I don’t mean to damn with faint praise but some of Howell’s highlights remind me of Aggies-era Johnny Manziel. The sky’s the limit for Howell who should be the early favorite for QB1 in 2022.

Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

  • Measurables: 6020/200
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 282-392, 71.9%, 3,502 pass yards, 8.9 ypa, 30 pass TDs, 9 INTs, 167.6 rating

Kedon Slovis had an interesting and unexpected 2019 season. He started the season as the backup to incumbent sophomore starter JT Daniels but an early injury got Slovis on the field and he didn’t look back. Fast forward a year and Slovis is clearly the Trojans starter with Daniels transferring to Georgia. Like Sam Howell, Slovis benefited from a new air raid offense installed by coordinator Graham Harrell. In his first game as starter, he threw for 377 yards and 3 TDs, one of five games where he had 300+ yards and 3+ TDs. Slovis can chuck it half the field without exerting obvious effort. I had to watch one highlight against Fresno State three times; he threw it 50 yards, perfectly placed, from the opposite hash mark. It’s not a throw too many college passers can make regularly, let alone after coming in off the bench in the season opener as a true freshman. Slovis may not be able to make his own case for the NFL Draft this year but he’ll surely help the stock of WRs Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Zach Charbonnet, RB, Michigan

  • Measurables: 6010/220
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 149 carries, 726 rush yards, 4.9 ypc, 11 rush TDs; 8 receptions, 30 rec yards, 3.8 ypr, 0 rec TD

Zach Charbonnet is a throwback to the days of the 90s and early 2000s when Michigan always seemed to have a powerful RB1 pacing the offense. As a Wolverines fan, it pains me to admit it but Michigan has whiffed on a number of top running back prospects over the last ten years (see: Green, Derrick and Hayes, Justice). Charbonnet walked onto campus as a 4-star recruit and the fourth best running back in the nation per 247Sports. In just the second game of the season, against Army, Charbonnet made his presence known by shouldering a 33 carry load for 100 yards and 3 scores. He didn’t crack the 20 carry mark again in the season, and only topped 100 yards once more, but I’ll spin that positively and hope that he’ll be fresh for 2020. He’s a strong tackle breaker who could be deadly if he adds a stiff arm to his repertoire. Charbonnet looks like a prototypical between the tackles runner and yet he had plenty of success out of the shotgun in Michigan’s spread attack last year. I expect Charbonnet to excel in Year Two of Josh Gattis’ offense and to surpass 1,200 yards and 15 TDs.

Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

  • Measurables: 6010/205
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 186 carries, 897 rush yards, 4.8 ypc, 9 rush TDs; 23 receptions, 252 rec yards, 11.0 ypr, 1 rec TD

By mid-October, Breece Hall had assured Cyclone faithful that they didn’t need to wait long for somebody to fill the fissure left behind by the beloved David Montgomery. In his first three games as the primary ballcarrier, Hall rushed for 391 yards and 7 TDs; he also added 10 receptions for 120 yards. I absolutely loved Hall’s highlight reels. He’s a silky smooth runner who seems to be playing at a higher frame rate than his opposition. He runs with great contact balance, deploys a useful spin move and has enough power to score from the goal line. He’s also a plus receiver who has 30+ reception potential. Somehow I missed seeing Hall play in 2019 so I am very excited to see him ball in 2020.

David Bell, WR, Purdue

  • Measurables: 6030/210
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 86 receptions, 1,035 rec yards, 12.0 ypr, 7 rec TDs; 3 carries, 12 rush yards, 4.0 ypc, 1 rush TD

David Bell was thrust into a starring role early in 2019, after teammate Rondale Moore went down with an injury, and went on to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. In nine Big Ten games, Bell racked up 80 receptions for 904 yards and 6 TDs. His three best games came against each of the Big Ten West’s 10-win teams: Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. In those three huge games, Bell’s average line was 11-140-0.6, an unfathomable output for a true freshman on a middling team. Bell is formidable at 6030/210 and uses that frame to box out his defender. He’s a jump ball and contested catch specialist who isn’t afraid to come across the field. Bell has enough speed to stretch the defense deep when his quarterback can deliver the throw accurately. I doubt that the Boilermakers will challenge in the Big Ten West but every team on their schedule is going to have to gameplan for the dynamic duo of Bell and Moore in 2020.

George Pickens, WR, Georgia

  • Measurables: 6030/190
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 49 receptions, 727 rec yards, 14.8 ypr, 8 rec TDs

As a true freshman, George Pickens led the Dawgs in receiving so there’s no doubt that he’ll be the top target in 2020. What is in doubt, however, is who will be throwing him those passes. Earlier this spring, it seemed likely that that would be Jamie Newman, a dual-threat grad transfer from Wake Forest. Recently, though, former USC quarterback JT Daniels announced he would transfer to Georgia and it’s unclear if he’ll have immediate eligibility. Pickens looks to have great hands, above average strength and body control, and a flair for the spectacular catch. My only nitpick is that I hope we get to see him in more YAC situations this year to see him excel after the catch. Pickens is long — I’ll bet his wingspan outpaces his 6030 listed height — and has the potential to be an alpha outside receiver.

Wan’dale Robinson, WR, Nebraska

  • Measurables: 5100/190
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games, 40 receptions, 453 rec yards, 11.3 ypr, 2 rec TDs; 88 carries, 340 rush yards, 3.9 ypc, 3 rush TDs; 11 kick returns, 21.5 ypr, 0 return TD

Wan’dale Robinson is a running back-wide receiver tweener who is bound to rack up all-purpose yards in 2020. Robinson started his freshman season off a bit slow, totaling 146 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches, but, like David Bell above, he flourished once conference play started. In his premiere Big Ten contest against Illinois, Robinson rushed for 19-89-1 and went for 8-79-2 as a receiver. He had 12 or more touches in four of the next five matchups. Unfortunately he got hurt in November and injuries limited him to just one half of football down the final stretch. Robinson is a spark plug — he’s got 4.40 speed and bounces off tacklers. He can be deployed creatively: taking handoffs, lining up in the slot, featuring on gadget plays and returning kicks. Robinson’s versatility will allow him to flourish as a college player but what does it mean for his NFL potential?

Joshua Simon, TE, Western Kentucky

  • Measurables: 6050/230
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 30 receptions, 430 rec yards, 14.3 ypr, 4 rec TDs

Joshua Simon was recruited out of high school as a wide receiver and landed with the Hilltoppers as their fourth-best recruit at the position in the 2019 class per 247Sports. And yet, Simon exploded as a true freshman, while lining up at tight end, finishing the season with a 30-430-4 line and leading the team in yards per reception at 14.3. Unfortunately, highlights of Simon are nigh impossible to find online so I’m including him here based solely on size and output, which are both encouraging for a young tight end. Western Kentucky figures to be in the running for the C-USA East title so I hope a game or two of his will be available nationwide this season.

Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M

  • Measurables: 6050/260
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 32 receptions, 447 rec yards, 14.0 ypr, 6 rec TDs

Talk about a successful start to your college football career: four of Jalen Wydermyer’s first nine receptions went for scores. He ultimately led the Aggies in receiving touchdowns last season and also surpassed the other pass catchers in yards per reception. I found a highlight package that included all of his receptions from 2019 and it’s clear that Wydermyer is a talented receiver. He has soft and reliable hands. He’s also a big dude at 6050/260 so he’s tough to bring down after the catch. The highlight package didn’t show any of Wydermyer as a blocker so that aspect of his game remains to be seen, but he’s got the frame for it so I’m not concerned. I’ve got a feeling about Jalen Wydermyer and I can’t wait to see more of him in 2020.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Group of 5 Gems

Updated: June 14th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Each year when we evaluate the draft classes of individual NFL teams, it often comes down to the value they find in the middle rounds. After all, it’s not all that hard to identify the next Calvin Ridley, finding the next Michael Gallup is the real test. I don’t think it’s a coincidence then that we typically see the gems from the Group of 5 start going off the board in the third round right as teams are starting to look for players who will return big on their draft capital investment. Sure, the guys from the Group of 5 may not have been 5-star recruits or All-American talents but they produced at a high level on a consistent basis. Today, we will take a closer look at three players who I think will fall into that “safe bet” category of draft pick. Will they be rookie Pro Bowlers, probably not. Will they find an immediate role on an NFL team, definitely.

Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

  • Measurables5090/195
  • 2018 Stats13 games, 174 carries, 978 rush yards, 5.6 ypc, 14 rush TDs; 7 receptions, 62 rec yards, 8.9 ypr, 0 rec TD
  • 2019 Stats13 games, 312 carries, 1,799 rush yards, 5.8 ypc, 19 rush TDs; 13 receptions, 209 rec yards, 16.1 ypr, 1 rec TD

Imagine the Oklahoma drills in the backyard of the Patterson household with RB Jaret facing off against LB James. The twins still face off in practice now that they are starring for the Buffalo Bulls. James may be a key part of the defense but today we are going to be focusing on Jaret who set the MAC on fire in 2019. Patterson set school records last year in rushing yards (1,799) and rushing touchdowns (19). His rushing total was good enough to lead the MAC and to finish 5th nationwide. Patterson is no one-hit-wonder either, his success as a rookie earned him the MAC Freshman of the Year title in 2018. I knew Patterson’s name from my 2019 preseason research but I don’t recall seeing him in any live game action last year so I was eager to jump into some tape.

I watched Patterson’s two available games, Penn State and Charlotte, which coincidentally bookended his season. I came away from my study thinking that Patterson is a well-rounded back who isn’t truly elite in any single area. By virtue of his stocky frame he has the power to overcome defenders and has the agility to utilize a number of specialty moves like a hurdle and spin move. I think he has more to offer as a receiver too, he just didn’t get too many targets coming out of the Bull’s preferred two-back shotgun set. One phrase I wrote down when watching Patterson was “want to.” As in, this “want to” run where he refused to go down without a first down while Buffalo was still within striking distance of Penn State.

Perhaps what will help make Patterson’s draft stock is his ability as a pass blocker. The Buffalo coaching staff clearly trusts him in that role because he was constantly in protection in the two games I watched. He acquitted himself quite well too even though he’s not a big back. He had a number of good blocks against Charlotte but this was by far my favorite. It’s not clear in the gif but you can see him reading the defense looking for his assignment. The player he originally spies twists inside which leaves him to get the blitzing nickel. He shuffles over, sets his feet and flips the corner over his shoulder.

Patterson’s stats are impressive but I would expect that he needs two more seasons to convince scouts that he’s worthy of an NFL draft pick. Although, he’ll have two good chances to make that case in 2020 with Power 5 matchups against Kansas State and Ohio State. Whether it’s 2021 or 2022, keep an eye on Patterson’s landing spot.

Damonte Coxie, WR, Memphis

  • Measurables6030/197
  • 2017 Stats11 games, 21 receptions, 323 rec yards, 15.4 ypr, 3 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats14 games, 72 receptions, 1,174 rec yards, 16.3 ypr, 7 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 76 receptions, 1,276 rec yards, 16.8 ypr, 9 rec TDs

We’ve all heard the cliches of teams dubbing themselves “Linebacker U” or “DB U”, but what about “Dynamic Skill Position U?” I guess that doesn’t really roll off the tongue but it is a nickname that the Memphis Tigers should consider. The player we are going to highlight here, WR Damonte Coxie, is just one in a long list of current and future NFL players — including Kenny Gainwell, Antonio Gibson, Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard and Anthony Miller — who all found success at Memphis under former coach Mike Norvell. New head coach Ryan Silverfield has history as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach, and had two stints with Norvell at Arizona State and Memphis. Hopefully Silverfield will be able to keep the magic alive.

On paper, Coxie’s numbers speak for themselves: he could feasibly finish his career with 250 receptions, 4,000 yards and 40 TDs. To get a better feel for his skillset, I turned to his available cuts and found a special treat: all-22 footage of his regular season matchup against Cincinnati. This type of footage is rare to find for amateur draft fans like myself but it gives a great perspective, especially for receivers. One thing that shows up on the all-22 versus regular highlights is just how physical Coxie is on every play. He reminded me of a skilled heavyweight boxer: constantly throwing jabs to set up a future haymaker and using his size to lean on his opponent to gain leverage. Coxie can catch it all whether it’s one-handed, over the shoulder, in traffic. He’s also quick with explosive feet at the snap that were reminiscent of former teammate Anthony Miller. This endzone angle is all you need to see of Coxie to understand his playing style. He fends off the double team, then makes a lunging catch before absorbing a big collision. As he tries to break away, he has the presence of mind to cut it back past an oncoming tackler which nets him an extra ten yards. He may not have the flat out speed to convert that play into a score but few receivers would have made it as far as he did.

I’ve been a fan of Coxie for over a year now and I hope you’ll give him a close look this season too. I don’t think it’s fair to call Coxie a “sleeper” at this point, he has to be in the conversation on Day Two. I will not be surprised when he ends up drafted higher than some well-known Power 5 names.

Warren Jackson, WR, Colorado State

  • Measurables: 6060/219
  • 2017 Stats: 13 games, 15 receptions, 265 rec yards, 17.7 ypr, 2 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 10 games, 32 receptions, 405 rec yards, 12.7 ypr, 4 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games, 77 receptions, 1,119 rec yards, 14.5 ypr, 8 rec TDs

It’s hard to hide somebody who is 6060/219 but it feels like that is what the Mountain West is doing to CSU standout Warren Jackson. I had honestly not heard of Jackson before I started my preseason research and that surprised me because I was a big fan of the last two star Ram receivers, Rashard Higgins and Michael Gallup. Apparently, Jackson was a big fan of those two also, because the dream of following in their footsteps caused him to change his commitment from Arizona and to ignore other P5 offers.

Jackson defied some of my preconceived notions because I assumed that he’d be a statuesque outside receiver. On the contrary, in the tape and highlights I watched, I saw that Jackson is a versatile receiver who also lines up in the slot and comes in motion frequently. That versatility of deployment is surely to highlight the matchup nightmare he can be — he’s too big for a nickel corner and he’s too fast for a linebacker. His release off the line of scrimmage is good for somebody his size. When he’s against close coverage, he can fight off the defender to free himself. When he has some space in the slot, he can stem inside or out and run a clever route. Jackson is a priority in the red zone where he can high point the ball above anybody on the field. In fact, 12 of his 14 career touchdowns have come from inside the twenty. If he bulks up a bit more he’ll be able to dominate. Check out this play that I found in a 2019 highlight package which perfectly sums up Jackson’s game. Backed up deep in their own end, the Rams take a deep shot. Jackson, forty yards downfield, times his jump well and rips the ball out of the air. He lands, keeps his feet, avoids contact with the colliding defenders and gallops off. None of the pursuing tacklers make it within five yards.

CSU starts the season with a great showcase game: a visit from Colorado. That game is surely going to be easy to find on the dial so I’m already looking forward to tuning in and seeing Jackson create some #DraftTwitter buzz for himself.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, WRs

Updated: June 7th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

The next crop of players featured in my Spring Scouting series all have something in common: they are all slot receivers. Towering outside receivers typically get the love from #DraftTwitter but it’s looking like the 2021 class is bound to have a few studs in the slot. Whether because of injury or a teammate leaving for the NFL, each receiver profiled below is also looking to make the argument that they can be their team’s top target in 2020. Let’s get to it…

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

  • Measurables: 5090/180
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 114 receptions, 1,258 rec yards, 11.0 ypr, 12 rec TDs, 21 rush attempts, 213 rush yards, 10.1 ypa, 2 rush TDs, 33 kick returns, 20.1 ypr, 12 punt returns, 6.8 ypr
  • 2019 Stats: 4 games, 29 receptions, 387 rec yards, 13.3 ypr, 2 rec TDs, 3 rush attempts, 3 rush yards, 1.0 ypa, 0 rush TDs, 9 kick returns, 16.8 ypr, 5 punt returns, 7.2 ypr

Rondale Moore, as a true freshman, was the most exciting player in college football in 2018. He started 2019 with promise before going down with what was ultimately a season-ending hamstring injury. In his short seventeen game career, Moore has eight games with 11 or more receptions. He only has three games with less than three receptions, and one of those was the game when he got hurt. Purdue has a strong schedule this season — non-con games against Memphis, Air Force and Boston College, as well as a division crossover game at Michigan — so we’re bound to see plenty of Moore this season. To quote Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing.”

I fell in love with Moore in 2018 when he went off for 12-170-2 in an upset victory over Ohio State (admitted Michigan fan here). In addition to re-watching that performance, I watched Moore against Nevada in last year’s opener. Interestingly, it seems like there was a clear gameplan shift from one year to the next: against Nevada Moore was constantly in motion pre-snap, whereas against Ohio State he was mostly stationary in the slot (except for a key play shown below, maybe not an accident?). Moore is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. If he’s unable to break a tackle, he’ll submarine the defender to earn an extra yard or two. Moore is a smart route runner who instinctively knows when to bend or break off a route, or when to settle in between zone coverage. Against Ohio State, he was often matched up against fellow freshman Shawn Wade, a corner who will likely be a first rounder in 2021. Check out this route he ran against Wade. Not only does Moore beat him on the out route with his explosiveness but there is a subtle head fake that Moore uses before the top of the stem to unsettle Wade. I love discovering this type of play and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Moore was just a true freshman at the time.

The ultimate Rondale Moore highlight came later in the Ohio State game and guaranteed the W. Moore is sent in motion by the quarterback and makes a beeline for the sideline. He secures the catch as he shifts his momentum upfield, with two defenders in pursuit. Moore slips an ankle tackle, stays in bounds, then lowers the shoulder into the boundary corner and spins out of his bear hug. There was still more to do though, Moore hits the afterburners and angles his way into the end zone away from a last ditch diving tackle. Seven different Buckeyes get within a yard of Moore on the play and none of them could bring him down.

There is just so much to love about Moore’s game that it was difficult to only select two highlights to showcase. If Moore can stay healthy and duplicate even 80% of his 2018 production he’ll be a first round pick next year.

 

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

  • Measurables: 5100/210
  • 2017 Stats: 14 games, 19 receptions, 123 rec yards, 6.5 ypr, 0 TDs, 2 punt returns, 7.5 ypr, 0 punt return TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 15 games, 55 receptions, 575 rec yards, 10.5 ypr, 4 TDs, 39 punt returns, 7.7 ypr, 1 punt return TD
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 30 receptions, 426 rec yards, 14.2 ypr, 4 TDs, 18 punt returns, 8.4 ypr, 0 punt return TDs

Amari Rodgers is poised to be the favorite target of Trevor Lawrence in 2020 after the news that Justyn Ross will miss the entire season. Rodgers suffered a preseason injury of his own in 2019, a torn ACL. Somehow, Rodgers was back in the lineup in September and missed just ONE game! His recovery took less than six months which is unheard of. Rodgers, a former Mr. Tennessee honoree and Top 100 recruit, has had flashes of greatness in Death Valley but has yet to be the BMOC. This will be his time to shine and show scouts that he deserves to be a coveted NFL prospect.

I watched Rodgers’ game tape from his 2019 outing against Syracuse as well as some highlight packages. Rodgers is a strong and compact slot receiver whose unique 5100/210 body type is well suited to breaking tackles. In the last two wide receiver classes, only Deebo Samuel compares to his sub-6000 height and 210+ weight. He looks like a punt returner once he gets the ball on a screen so it’s no surprise that he’s also been the team’s primary punt returner, even after a serious knee injury. Rodgers appears to have reliable hands, although I would like to see him attack the ball more often. DraftScout.com predicts Rodgers to have 4.60 speed but I see him being faster than that, maybe even pushing the 4.49 he ran as a high schooler per ESPN. He has a top gear that defensive backs just can’t match, so he’s gone if he gets beyond the second level. On this play you can see the full package that Rodgers will offer in the pros. He adjusts to a bad throw and has to break a tackle behind the line of scrimmage just a moment after securing the catch. He accelerates around the corner, shrugs off an attempt to push him out of bounds, and outruns everybody on the field.

Rodgers was an interesting study because he’s a contrast to the towering outside receivers that Clemson has produced in recent memory. I think Rodgers will have an instant role in the NFL as a reliable underneath receiver and dynamic punt returner.

 

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

  • Measurables: 6010/195
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 60 receptions, 750 rec yards, 12.5 ypr, 3 rec TDs, 2 rush attempts, 9 rush yards, 4.5 ypa, 0 rush TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 77 receptions, 1,042 rec yards, 13.5 ypr, 6 rec TDs, 7 rush attempts, 60 rush yards, 8.6 ypa, 1 rush TD, 12 punt returns, 5.5 ypr

Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a “household name” since before he even set foot on campus at USC. He was 247Sports’ 11th ranked prospect in the class, hailing from the football factory Mater Dei, but that’s not why he’s so well known. The (St.) Brown family is football’s answer to the Ball family of basketball: three talented brothers with unique names driven to future stardom by their father. Amon-Ra’s older brothers are Equanimeous (Green Bay via Notre Dame) and Osiris (Stanford). If you haven’t seen the HBO Real Sports segment about the family, I would highly recommend it. Name recognition based on off-the-field factors can be a double-edged sword. It’s nice to be well known but does that raise expectations too high? To know for sure I needed to check out some game action.

I chose to watch St. Brown against Iowa in last year’s Holiday Bowl. The Trojans were worn down by the Hawkeyes defense and lost 49-24, but St. Brown wasn’t to blame, earning 163 of the team’s 260 receiving yards. I had some preconceived “diva” notions about St. Brown (dating back to a bush league celebration in the 2018 Under Armour All-American game), so I was very happy to see how physical and scrappy he is. St. Brown is always getting his hands on the opposing defender. Sometimes it’s hand fighting on the route, sometimes it’s a little shove after the play, sometimes it’s pulling somebody off a pile. I wouldn’t want to play against him, and that’s exactly the point. I was also impressed with how strong St. Brown’s hands were catching the ball, often snagging it far away from his body. St. Brown’s best play against Iowa was a deep over the shoulder grab that landed him just shy of paydirt. I checked some highlights to see if his ball tracking and deep ball skills were recurrent, and they were.

I can see St. Brown having success at the next level as a strong slot, with a height and strength advantage over nickel corners. Given his deep ball ability, I think he could also play a role on the outside as well. Without Michael Pittman hogging targets from QB Kedon Slovis, St. Brown should expect an even bigger share of the offense this season. One thing is for sure, Amon-Ra St. Brown has more than just his name going for him heading into the 2021 NFL Draft process.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, RBs

Updated: June 7th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Next up in my Spring Scouting series are a trio of running backs who are looking to make a bigger name for themselves in 2020: Max Borghi, Zamir White and Brian Robinson Jr. All three backs have less than 200 career rushing attempts, for one reason or another, so have not yet become household names like Clemson’s Travis Etienne or Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard. I thought it would be valuable for my readers to take a deeper dive into each player to see if there are hints of their future pro potential.

Max Borghi, RB, Washington State

  • Measurables: 5100/197
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 72 carries, 366 rush yards, 5.1 ypc, 8 rush TDs, 53 receptions, 374 rec yards, 7.1 ypr, 4 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 127 carries, 817 rush yards, 6.4 ypc, 11 rush TDs, 86 receptions, 597 rec yards, 6.9 ypr, 5 rec TDs

In the last two seasons, running back Max Borghi has more receptions (139) than any other returning Cougar. That passing game success was under former head coach Mike Leach so Borghi will have to earn a role in the new scheme and that may be more difficult than I thought before I started research for this piece. New head coach Nick Rolovich and new offensive coordinator Brian Smith helmed Top 10 passing offenses the last two seasons at Hawaii so there are surely targets to go around. Interestingly for Borghi, however, is that the Rainbow Warriors’ pass-heavy offense rarely utilized the running back. Only about 5% of receptions went to running backs in 2018 and 2019 combined at Hawaii (rough estimate, about 35 of 700 completions). For comparison, that percentage at Wazzou in the same period would have been over 25%, a stark difference between systems. I am going to spin this positively and make the case that since Borghi has already proven his mettle as a pass catcher that a change in role will allow him to show himself as an adaptable well-rounded prospect.

I jumped into Borghi’s 2019 outing versus Washington as well as some highlight reels. As a receiver, Borghi is primarily used to stretch the defense horizontally, either by coming across the formation or by running quick routes in the flat. Borghi catches the ball away from his body well, which helps him keep his momentum rather than slowing down to let the ball come to him. As a runner, he often attacks the defense head-on before seeing his running lane and making an effective quick-footed cut to the outside. Once he has the ball in his hands, Borghi uses his squat stature, low center of gravity and strong churning legs to fight for extra yards and to punish tacklers. Unfortunately, I did not note a single play in the Washington game where Borghi was tasked with pass protection. I don’t mean it as a knock on Borghi — he can’t do what he’s not asked to — but it’s something to keep in mind because he has the other skills to be a prototypical third down back in the NFL. (I thought it might have been the case that the creator of the cut excluded those snaps so I skipped through another cut by a different creator and it was the same thing.) This sample play was a good distillation of Borghi as a receiver: he stretches the defense then uses a combination of speed and smart open-field running to get to the house.

If you need more reason to root for Borghi: his full name is Massimiliano Borghi. How great is that? In all seriousness though, you should keep an eye on Borghi this season. He may not have been as highly touted as other prospects, including the two below, but as an underclassman Borghi had great success as a pass catching back, an increasingly vital role in the NFL.

 

Zamir White, RB, Georgia

  • Measurables: 6000/215
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 78 carries, 408 rush yards, 5.2 ypc, 3 rush TDs, 2 receptions, 20 rec yards, 10.0 ypr, 0 rec TDs

Georgia has had a stable of horses in the backfield lately, from Nick Chubb to Sony Michel to the recently departed D’Andre Swift. Zamir White, believe it or not, was more highly-touted than all of them coming out of high school. White earned a near perfect 0.9957 score from 247Sports and was their RB1, and ninth overall player, of the 2018 recruiting class. Unfortunately, White suffered a torn ACL in 2017 during his final high school game and then tore the other ACL in training camp at Georgia in 2018. White returned to the field in 2019 and for much of the year he played in a reserve role to Swift. He ended on a high note with a 18-92-1 outing against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the delay to his UGA career, expectations are high for White heading into 2020.

White featured prominently in three games last year, luckily for me two of them were available as film cuts: Murray State and Baylor. White’s size stands out as soon as you hit play — he might be the rare player where his listed measurables are actually less than reality. He’s tall and runs with a powerful forward momentum that pairs well with his patience. It may be a tired phrase but he is a high effort runner, rarely going down on first contact and never being pushed backward. The two condensed games I watched included just one target and one pass protection assignment. White went one-for-one in those tests. The pass disappointingly bounced off his midsection but he walloped the free pass rusher and saved his quarterback from sure destruction. This play against Murray State was my favorite of the lot. White finds his way through the first level, spins out of a tackle and turns it into a big play. The would-be tackler needs nearly ten yards to finally bring White down.

I hate when a player with so much potential has to deal with injury adversity like White has so far in his young career. I hope that he’s able to take the reins and lead the Bulldog rushing attack in 2020, cementing his place near the top of this running back class.

 

Brian Robinson, RB, Alabama

  • Measurables: 6010/226
  • 2017 Stats: 11 games, 24 carries, 165 rush yards, 6.9 ypc, 2 rush TDs, 0 receptions
  • 2018 Stats: 15 games, 63 carries, 272 rush yards, 4.3 ypc, 2 rush TDs, 0 receptions
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 96 carries, 441 rush yards, 4.6 ypc, 5 rush TDs, 11 receptions, 124 rec yards, 11.3 ypr, 0 rec TDs

Brian Robinson Jr has been a contributor for the Crimson Tide for three seasons and is (hopefully) primed for a larger role in 2020. Since joining Alabama as a 4-star recruit, Robinson has been buried on the depth chart. In 2017 and 2018, he had to play second (or third) fiddle to the likes of Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough. In 2019, Robinson’s path to production cleared a bit and he was only behind fellow 2021 NFL Draft hopeful Najee Harris for running back reps. Robinson did not transfer as some others have to find playing time elsewhere. Instead, heading into his senior season, he’s an experienced back (39 career games) on one of the nation’s top teams, who also has experience playing on special teams and in crucial games.

Robinson, at 6010/226, is clearly suited to a short yardage role and that is borne out in his stats and highlights. In his career he’s converted 14 of 19 attempts on 3rd and short, and 7 of his 9 rushing TDs have come from within the red zone. I could see that skillset in games against Arkansas and South Carolina last year. What Robinson lacks in burst, he makes up for in power and vision. He picks his way through the line carefully. If he’s given a chance to accelerate he can be tough to bring down as his momentum carries him downfield. He doesn’t have much experience as a pass catcher but he often made himself available to the quarterback as a checkdown option. The coaching staff trusted Robinson in pass protection as he often stayed in to block before leaking out of the backfield, unfortunately the Tide’s strong offensive line meant he didn’t get too many opportunities to deliver a block in those two games. I particularly liked this play against South Carolina. Robinson takes the hand off and deliberately slaloms from inside to out and back again. It ultimately takes three guys to bring him down.

They are different players, but let’s not forget that former teammate Josh Jacobs, who left ‘Bama with just 251 carries, ended up being the only first round running back in 2019. Like Jacobs, Brian Robinson Jr carved out a role for himself on a talented Alabama team and can show that his fresh legs and experience under Nick Saban are a boon for his draft stock.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, TEs

Updated: May 25th 2020

Welcome to The Watch List for the 2021 NFL Draft season. a resource to help RSO owners identify the players from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the Summer as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

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

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

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

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

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

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

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

 

Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (FL)

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

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

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

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

 

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2021 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper