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: 2019 Big Ten Season Preview

Updated: August 30th 2019

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

Storylines to Watch

Heisman Contender: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin.  Three non-QBs have won the Heisman since 2000: Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush.  All three running backs rushed for 1,600+ yards and had at least 16 rushing touchdowns.  Taylor should match those numbers by mid-November.  Taylor will earn Heisman votes again in 2019 — he finished 6th in Heisman voting in 2017 and 9th in 2018 — and if Wisconsin contends for the Big Ten he’s likely to get an invite to New York.

Underclassman to Watch: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue.  Moore is the most exciting playmaker in the Big Ten.  Full stop.  Moore totaled 180 touches as a receiver, rusher and returner and amassed 2,215 all-purpose yards.  His 14 touchdowns from scrimmage were second best in the conference to Taylor (as were his 1,471 yards from scrimmage).  Moore would be difficult to tackle if you were both locked inside a phone booth.  He’s lightning quick and fast in the open field; he is also more physical than you’d assume by looking at him (5090/180).  Moore is easily on the short list for 2021 and could give Justyn Ross some competition for the fantasy WR1 spot in that class.

Newcomer of the Year: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State.  Just a year ago, Fields was a 5-star recruit joining an uber-talented Georgia Bulldogs team.  Fields saw the field sparingly as a true freshman and when it was clear that he could not wrest the starting job away from Jake Fromm, he decided to transfer.  There was some question as to his eligibility waiver, but it was approved by the NCAA and he’s clear to play immediately.  Fields chose Ohio State and was just recently announced as the starter for Week 1.  Last year at Georgia he was responsible for eight touchdowns — four passing and four rushing.  He was efficient too, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and completing nearly 70% of his passes.  Ryan Day takes over as the Ohio State head coach this year so we should expect some changes on offense but the Buckeyes will still hang points.  Look out for 4,000 combined yards and 40 total TDs. (Honorable mention: Hunter Johnson, QB, Northwestern.  Johnson is also a former 5-star recruit.  He moved on from Clemson after the signing of Trevor Lawrence.  After four years of stability with Clayton Thorson under center, the Wildcats will lean on Johnson’s pedigree to repeat as division champs.)

Coaching Carousel: The newest head coach in the league is Maryland’s Mike Locksley.  Locksley isn’t even 50 yet but is well-traveled.  Interestingly, this is his third stint at Maryland.  In his decade-plus of previous experience at Maryland, Locksley held a number of titles: running back coach, quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, interim head coach.  As a head coach, Locksley has just three wins and thirty-one losses.  He spent the last three years as an assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama so I’m sure Terps fans expect Locksley to be ready for the spotlight now.  The biggest coaching change in the Big Ten though is in Columbus where Ryan Day officially takes over for Urban Meyer.  The hand-off seemed likely after Day served as interim coach during Meyer’s three game suspension last September, but it was still big news.  With Meyer’s on-again-off-again history, would anybody have been surprised if he had decided to return?  I’m not ruling out another coaching gig for Meyer elsewhere in 2020, but this is Day’s team now.

Players to Watch

JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

This is the eighth time that JK Dobbins has landed on The Watch List.  I first mentioned him way back in October 2017 when he was a true freshman who grabbed the job from a banged up Mike Weber.  My most recent article including Dobbins was the first iteration of my 2020 fantasy mock draft.  In that mock draft, I slotted Dobbins as the 1.03 and the second RB off the board (behind Georgia’s D’Andre Swift).  It appears that I’m higher on Dobbins than other #DraftTwitter rankers so I am looking forward to seeing how this season unfolds for him and the Buckeyes.  At the next level, Dobbins will be a do-it-all back who does it all well.

Before we look at some of his best traits, let’s take a quick look at his stats.  Dobbins rushed for 1,403 yards in 2017 and 1,053 in 2018.  Frustratingly for fans like myself, his yards per carry decreased from 7.2 to 4.6 over those two seasons.  He’s an active receiver with a career line of 48-398-3.  My biggest concern about Dobbins, if you caught me in a moment of candor, is his lack of big plays.  I recently studied the big play output of my top five running backs — D’Andre Swift, Dobbins, Travis Etienne, Jonathan Taylor and Trey Sermon — and Dobbins came in dead last in each of the three categories.  I haven’t done any research as to whether big play output is predictive of NFL success so I’m not letting it worry me yet but it’s something to keep filed away.

When I study Dobbins, I see a player that uses his compact frame and low center of gravity to his advantage.  He’s listed at 5100/214 but may be a tick shorter; he’s thicc.  This sturdy base helps him hold his ground in pass protection (good technique and play recognition don’t hurt either).  It’s rare to share a blocking highlight for a running back in a preseason preview but I feel that strongly that his pass protection ability will be one of the reasons he gets drafted in the Top 100.  On this play you can see that the coaching staff trusts him as a blocker because he’s isolated on the right side.  His first thought is to help his right tackle but then he sees a corner coming on a blitz so he shuffles his feet and squares up the rusher.  He makes first contact and spins the defender away from the quarterback and finishes his block off-camera.  It wasn’t a de-cleater of a block but it was executed well and shows each facet of his blocking ability.

Unsurprisingly, Dobbins runs with some pop and power.  My notes are strewn with comments like “breaks arm tackle” or “pushes pile.”  Rather than showing a play where Dobbins plowed up the middle for a short yardage victory, I decided to highlight this play instead.  You’ll see Dobbins determination pay off as he gets stuffed, keeps his feet moving and finds a way out.  He manages to keep his feet and dives for the end zone.  He’s short of the score but it’s illustrative of what his runs often look like.

Lest you think Dobbins is simply a power rusher (and productive receiver and reliable pass protector), I’m here to tell you that he has some wheels as well.  I think Dobbins has 4.45 speed, if not better.  In high school he reportedly ran a 4.44; at an OSU combine event he ran a 4.32.  That time is surely favorable, but for comparison Denzel Ward and Parris Campbell ran just .09 and .05 seconds slower at the NFL Combine than they did at OSU.  So it’s definitely possible that Dobbins could run a 4.40.  In the last five years, just two running backs have ran 4.40 or better at more than 210 lbs: Keith Marshall and Saquon Barkley.  It’s safe to say that Dobbins ends up somewhere between those two disparate career paths, but I’d skew closer to Barkley because the fact is that few backs are that big and that quick.

When I think about Dobbins I can’t help but think of the famous line from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, “How do I love thee? / Let me count the ways.”  Dobbins is a jack-of-all-trades, without that pesky master-of-none caveat, and will be a Top 100 player in 2020.

 

Johnathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Oh, Jonathan Taylor.  I love watching Taylor play but it’s always bittersweet for me as a New Jersey native and Rutgers fan.  Taylor, who hails from southern Jersey, always had his eye on Wisconsin and Badger fans are grateful.  In two seasons in Madison, Taylor has 606 carries for 4,171 yards and 29 TDs.  Those numbers are impressive and if he can repeat his successes in 2019 his career stats will be staggering.  In the aforementioned study of big plays, I was shocked to see that Taylor had SIXTY-ONE runs of 10+ yards in 2018.  Again, I have no research to show that that stat is predictive of anything but I love it nonetheless.

One of the most frequent talking points for a running back is the “tread on the tires” and it is reasonable to worry about wear and tear on his body.  He’s been durable so far though so I’m not going to ding his stock due to a high volume of carries.  If it does worry you, think of it this way: he does play in an NFL style offense so he should be able to adjust quickly and not waste precious time adapting.  Perhaps most concerning for Taylor’s prospects is his lack of involvement in the passing game.  In 27 career games, Taylor has just 16 receptions.  Per MaxPreps, Taylor had just 9 receptions in his last two seasons in high school.

Let’s get into what makes Taylor so much fun to watch.  Taylor is a momentum runner who can punish defenses when he makes a decisive cut.  In this play against Miami from 2018, Taylor hits the second level and makes an effective cut which puts him in position to break two ankle tackles and pick up a few extra yards.

Taylor is outstanding at turning a short gain into a longer one.  In this next play, Taylor gets bottled up at the line of scrimmage but he remains patient and finds a hole.  In a blink he has the entire defense chasing him Keystone Cops style.

Taylor’s speed is something that will be talked about a lot this season.  In my offseason notes I put down that I thought he had 4.55 speed with good acceleration.  The evidence points to me being wrong on his top-end speed though.  Taylor made Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List and was a former high school track star.  In Feldman’s article, he shares that Taylor ran a 4.30 this offseason.  I’m open minded and willing to admit I might have been wrong about Taylor’s speed.

Taylor is within 2,234 yards of the FBS record for career rushing yards and I’m hopeful that he puts up another monster season and breaks the mark.  Even if it’s not a record-breaking season, I expect Taylor to come out for the 2020 NFL Draft.  If he does declare early, Taylor will be a Top 5 back in the class.

Honorable Mentions

Nathan Stanley, QB, Iowa: The Big Ten has a number of quarterback prospects who are on the fringe of being draftable. I don’t feel confident about it but right now I’d pick Stanley over Shea Patterson or Brian Lewerke. Honestly, I think it might be the fact that I’ve seen less of Stanley and so the unknown makes me wonder about his potential. Of the three, Stanley is the biggest (a stout 6040/43) and has the most experience (31 games, 26 starts).  He also plays in a pro-style offense that has consistently produced NFL talent.  In highlights it looks like Stanley has great touch and adequate arm strength.  As I write this and the more I watch of his highlights, the more I’m ready to talk myself into Stanley as a Top 10 quarterback in this class.

KJ Hill, WR, Ohio State: Hill is a productive slot receiver whose route running is top notch.  He sells his changes of direction well which allows him to get open when some other receivers would still be covered.  Hill is good for some run after catch yardage and features a spin-out move that is effective.  He’s a willing blocker and has above average play strength.  One of my favorite #DraftTwitter follows is Mark Jarvis of @WhatsOnDraftNFL and he currently has Hill as his WR1 for the 2020 class.  Jarvis watches a ton of tape so I’m happy to see that a player I liked made (the top of) his list.

Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota: When all is said and done come January, I think Tyler Johnson could be the 2020 prospect with the widest range of potential outcomes.  I’ve seen him ranked as high as WR1 and have also seen analysts leave him off their rankings altogether.  I’m somewhere in between those extremes.  Johnson can win both inside and out so he’s a high-volume target in an otherwise mediocre Gopher offense.  His feet are explosive off the snap and out of his breaks and he understands how to uncover to make himself a target.  After the catch he’s a dynamic runner who is elusive and break-away fast.  Before we commit to any hot takes about Johnson, let’s wait and see how he fares in 2019.  Right now, I would predict that a solid NFL Combine cements Johnson to a mid-rounder.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Michigan: Donovan Peoples-Jones is part of a talented group of receivers in Ann Arbor that also includes Nico Collins and Tarik Black.  Peoples-Jones is the only of the three who has stayed healthy in his first two seasons though, so he has a leg up when it comes to his draft stock.  In addition to being a solid possession receiver with good body control, Peoples-Jones excels as a punt returner — he leads the NCAA in returns and is third in yards over the last two seasons.  His open-field running skills are on display after the catch as well.  Peoples-Jones probably hasn’t proven himself enough to garner much hype yet but keep an eye on him.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Bowl Game Previews, Part III

Updated: December 22nd 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. 

First Responder Bowl, Boston College (7-5) vs Boise State (10-3), Wed 12/26 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
    • Stop me if you’ve heard this before… the 2019 quarterback class is one of the weakest in the last decade. Because of that position scarcity, mediocre quarterbacks will find their draft stock waxing. Rypien is better than mediocre so it’s inevitable that he’s overdrafted. When I watched him in the preseason, I came away with a positive impression but was not blown away. He’s been a four-year starter for a successful Boise State team (although he lost some starter’s snaps in 2017). He is average in size (6020/202) but has a strong enough arm. In my notes I questioned his touch near the end zone and his ability to feel the blindside rush. Compared to 2017, Rypien improved his rate stats and ended with a very good 3,705-30-7 line. His 2018 performance was enough to earn him MWC Offensive Player of the Year honors. If I had to guess right now, I would say that Rypien gets drafted on Day Two which makes him a possible target for you in your 2019 rookie drafts.
  • My Pick: Boise State, -3
    • Is it possible that Boston College would have a better shot in this one if star RB AJ Dillon sat out due to his lingering injuries? That might sound crazy but it might be true because the strength of Boise’s defense is against the run (ranked 22nd). Boston College QB Anthony Brown has shown some flashes in the games I’ve watched but Rypien is the far better signal caller. Expect the defense to keep it low scoring (the last five Boise State games have gone under) and for Rypien to manage the game and milk the Broncos time of possession advantage.

Quick Lane Bowl, Minnesota (6-6) vs Georgia Tech (7-5), Wed 12/26 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
    • I’ve had Tyler Johnson on my watch list for awhile now but I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to dive in. Despite being a Big Ten apologist, I think I went the entire regular season without watching a snap of the Gophers. Johnson ranked second in the conference with 1,112 yards and added 10 TDs. His 74 receptions was more than double his output in 2017 which is a sign of positive progression. I watched two of Johnson’s game from 2017 and was disappointed.  He predominantly lines up outside but I don’t think he’ll have the size or strength to do so in the NFL.  His hands were inconsistent (too many drops, too often let the ball get into his body) and he did not succeed enough in contested situations. I haven’t seen anything definitive about whether Johnson will declare early (he probably will) but I think he’d be better served from another season at Minnesota.
  • My Pick: Georgia Tech, -5.5
    • This is one of the bigger numbers we’ve seen so far. I’ll lean towards Georgia Tech solely because of the novelty of their offense. Minnesota has more time to prepare than for a regular season game but even if they slow the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack they will still control the game and put up points. Tech leads the FBS in rushing yards per game (335.0) by a whopping margin (38.7 yards per game more than 2nd ranked Army). Minnesota’s rush defense is a middling 76th best. Even though they lost RB KirVonte Benson early in the year, Georgia Tech still managed to finish with seven rushers over 200 yards each. Tech will roll.

Cheez-It Bowl, TCU (6-6) vs Cal (7-5), Wed 12/26 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Ben Banogu, DE, TCU
    • Banogu is a former transfer from Louisiana-Monroe who joined TCU in 2017 and factored in immediately. His 2017 and 2018 lines are remarkably similar: 55-16.5-8.5 and 52-17.0-7.5. Banogu is well built as listed 6040/249 but I fear those numbers may be inflated.  When I watched his tape against Oklahoma from this season he looked slight.  Granted, my exposure was limited to that one game against a team with a good offensive line, but in that film he lacked the play strength and power moves to make an impact at the next level.  When he does impact the play it’s because of his raw speed rather than technique or strength. I also noticed two missed tackles and a play where he lost contain which led to a touchdown. My initial gut reaction is that Banogu is somebody who will be overdrafted based on production and measureables but struggle to find a role as anything but a situational speed rusher.
  • My Pick: Cal, +2
    • Blah. I’m not sure about other college football fans but I am just finding it impossible to get excited about this one. Vegas felt the same because the game opened even. Since then it’s moved towards TCU being the favorite even though they are 4-8 ATS. Cal isn’t much better (6-5-1) but OddsShark.com has them winning by nearly seven. This looks to be a game where casual fans are taking TCU for the recent name recognition and you can get a bargain with Cal at +2.

Independence Bowl, Temple (8-4) vs Duke (7-5), Thur 12/27 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
    • Jones is one of the more polarizing quarterback prospects in the weak 2019 class. I started the season with Jones as my QB2 (behind Herbert) but would probably bump him down a bit if I were ranking today (at least behind Haskins too). Jones has a lot to improve upon, namely his touch and accuracy, but he has physical tools that others don’t. He has good size at 6050/220, is a productive runner (16 career rushing TDs) and throws well on the run. Unfortunately, Jones has been battling injuries and his status for this one is up in the air. He showed immense toughness by coming back from an in-season broken clavicle so I would not count him out. If he does not play, keep an eye on the status of Temple RB Ryquell Armstead. He’s also banged up and may not play. If he does, you could get a glimpse of an interesting prospect. If the name sounds familiar it’s because he rushed for four scores against Boston College and another six against Houston.
  • My Pick: Duke, +3.5
    • With both teams missing key offensive pieces, I’ll take the points. Duke is better than Temple when it comes to turnovers and penalties which could be the edge in a game I expect to be pretty boring and low scoring. Duke is 5-0 ATS this season when receiving points so this one feels like a safe, but small, bet.

Pinstripe Bowl, Wisconsin (7-5) vs Miami (7-5), Thur 12/27 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami
    • Picking a draft eligible player was tough for this one because both teams have so many guys who will get drafted who casual fans just won’t pay attention to.  Wisconsin could have four offensive linemen drafted in the first 100 picks and the same could be said for Miami’s defense.  I settled on Johnson because he’s somebody I have mentioned in the past and have some familiarity with.  Johnson’s stats decreased this season due to missing time with a hamstring injury but he was still productive and led the team in tackles (79).  He also has 7 career INTs and a combined 9 forced and recovered fumbles.  He’s listed at 5110/190 which is a bit small for a physical box safety.  In the last three draft classes, only one safety (Justin Evans, 198) was drafted in the first three rounds at less than 200lbs.  I watched Johnson’s tape against Boston College and he definitely profiles more as a strong safety than a free safety.  He frequently lines up near the line of scrimmage or over a slot receiver and rarely in deep coverage.  He’s good in run support with no qualms about flowing to the ball carrier despite his smaller frame.  Johnson has first round potential so keep an eye on him in this one against the run-first Badgers.
  • My Pick: Wisconsin, +3.5
    • These two teams matched up less than a year ago in the Orange Bowl.  That one went Wisconsin’s way with a final of 34-24.  I see a similar outcome for the 2018 rendition.  The key will be Wisconsin’s rushing attack with RB Jonathan Taylor and that brick-wall offensive line.  Miami’s 24th ranked rushing defense allows just 127.3 yards so something’s gotta give and I expect it’ll be them.  I’ve been hard on Miami since their undefeated run to start 2017 so I admit this pick may be jaded.  I would take the Badgers on the moneyline so the 3.5 is just gravy.

Texas Bowl, Baylor (6-6) vs Vanderbilt (6-6), Thur 12/27 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
    • Mims will be an interesting prospect for 2019 because he has an excellent combination of size and speed.  The question will be whether his strength and technique can improve enough in the offseason to make him the complete package at receiver.  Mims is listed at 6030/208 and is a former track star in high school.  I found a high school track stat site that list listed Mims’ personal best in the 100-meter dash as 10.88 seconds.  That would equate to 4.01 seconds for a 40-yard dash.  Certainly the races aren’t the same and you can’t just apply that simple math but my point is that this dude is quick.  I’d love to see even bigger production from Mims (110 receptions, 1,786 yards and 16 TDs over the last two seasons) but the numbers are good enough.  I watched his 2017 tape against Oklahoma and I came away impressed.  He showed an ability to hands-catch the ball away from his body, excellent body control and leaping ability.  Mims alone might turn this game into a must-watch for me.
  • My Pick: Baylor, +4.5
    • The safest bet in this one might actually be the under because both teams have gone under in their last three.  When I’m stuck between two medicore teams, I’ll usually lean towards the better offense.  Baylor leads Vandy in most offensive categories, most importantly: points and time of possession.  Thursday would be a good time to plan some time with the family because you can record the game and fast forward to Baylor’s offensive possessions for some Mims exposure.

Music City Bowl, Auburn (7-5) vs Purdue (6-6), Fri 12/28 at 1:30pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn
    • Stidham certainly won’t be the best pro prospect on the field in this one but his is an interesting story.  I’ve previously compared Stidham to Alex Smith because he had the feel of a future game manager with enough athleticism to make plays with his legs in clutch situations.  Unfortunately, Stidham struggled in 2018.  His completion percentage, yards per attempt, rating and ratio all decreased significantly from 2017.  Similarly, he was less effective as a runner (and was sacked more frequently).  Stidham has already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl so he’ll have two more shots to show scouts that his issues were more a product of the Auburn offense than he himself.
  • My Pick: Purdue, +3.5
    • Similary to the Texas Bowl, I’ll take Purdue and the points because they have the better O.  Specifically, the Boilermakers will feature the game’s biggest playmaker in WR Rondale Moore.  Moore earned consensus All-American honors earlier this month, the first freshman to do so since Adrian Peterson in 2004.  Moore ended with 121 touches for 1,367 yards and 13 TDs: just awesome.  It’s probably not best to bet a game based on one player’s potential performance but ultimately betting is entertainment for me and there’s nobody more entertaining in college football right now than Rondale Moore.

Camping World Bowl, Syracuse (9-3) vs West Virginia (9-3), Fri 12/28 at 5:15pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: David Sills, WR, West Virginia
    • Since his quarterback (Will Grier) is sitting out the game, I expect Sills to be a focal point of the broadcast. He has a very interesting backstory, he was recruited by Lane Kiffin as a middle school quarterback, and has been uber productive. Sills proved to be a red zone monster in 2017 by leading the FBS in receiving touchdowns with 18 (12 of which came in the red zone). He nearly duplicated the feat in 2018 by catching 15 more (9). Sills is listed at 6040 but he feels bigger than that because he is long and lean. I’d like to see him add a few pounds to his 210lb frame in order to withstand the abuse that a boundary receiver endures in the NFL. Sills may not get the hype of some of the top receivers in this outstanding class but he will certainly be productive in the pros.
  • My Pick: Syracuse, +1.5
    • The Orange have been a good story this season and I’m thinking there’s a good chance it continues in the Camping World Bowl. Syracuse QB Eric Dungey is one of my favorite players so it’s a shame he is so often injured. It appears that he’s healthy enough now so ‘Cuse should have the edge under center with draft hopeful Will Grier preserving himself. Dungey himself could get late round or priority UDFA consideration despite the injuries. Syracuse has the nation’s 12th ranked offense (40.8 points per game) and should overpower the Mountaineers.

Alamo Bowl, Iowa State (8-4) vs Washington State (10-2), Fri 12/28 at 9:00pm on ESPN:

  • Draft Eligible Player to Watch: David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State
    • I’ve developed a soft spot for David Montgomery. He might have the best highlight reels of anybody in the draft class and seems like a good kid from what I’ve seen in profiles. Back in 2017, I figured it would be between he and WR N’Keal Harry for the 2019 1.01 spot. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more difficult to explain away Montgomery’s limitations by pointing to his flashy plays. Montgomery lacks top-end or long speed (I expect him to run in the 4.50-4.60 range). He also gets stuffed in the backfield or for no gain too often which makes me question his vision at the line of scrimmage. This observation is borne out in the stats too: his career average of 4.7 yards per carry is low for somebody considered the best of the bunch. Montgomery does have fantastic contact balance and can break tackles. He caught 18 balls in 2018 but showed in 2017 that he can be a bigger part of the passing game (36 receptions). One interesting thing I noticed while watching him is a spin move that he utilizes sometimes when catching the ball out of the backfield. It forces the first defender to miss and can lead to big plays.
  • My Pick: Washington State, -3.5
    • I’ve been rooting for both of these underdog teams all season so I’m looking forward to see them face off in this bowl. The outcome will be decided by the Washington State passing offense vs the Iowa State passing defense. Wazzou paced the FBS in passing offense (379.8 yards per game), led by QB Gardner Minshew who quietly finished 5th in Heisman voting, Meanwhile the Cyclones rank 63rd in passing defense (228.8). It’ll be close late but I think Washington State is good enough to continue to win ATS (10-2 this season).

 

Lines and betting stats courtesy of OddsShark.com, as of 12/11.

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.

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