2020 RSO Writer’s League Rookie Draft

Updated: May 13th 2020

Rookie drafts for Reality Sports Online teams involve a number of considerations different than a normal dynasty league.  Selected rookies are typically given three or four year contracts at, hopefully, a below market contract.  RSO GMs then have the option of extending a player with franchise tags, extensions, or final year options (depending on the chosen settings in your league) which usually are near or above market value for a given player.  This makes the initial rookie contract years potentially extremely valuable and the real measure of worth for a rookie player.

The RSO Writer’s League recently finished our three round rookie draft with results posted below. The league is a 10-team Superflex PPR format.  This article analyzes some of the interesting decisions with the help of fellow RSO Writer Nick Andrews and Matt Goodwin plus discussion throughout the league.  It focuses more on team-building, draft strategy, and trades rather than player evaluation.  The reader may find more specific player analysis in the pre-draft Writer’s League Mock (1QB).

 

2020 RSO Writer’s League Rookie Draft

Notes on Selected Picks

1.01, Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Nick:  For a rebuilding team it was the intent to trade down a couple spots and try and accumulate more talent. Unfortunately, trade partners were tough to come by as other owners felt the same way. The thought of having Clyde Edwards-Helaire and building around a stud running back was a hard option to pass on but when the cupboard is bare I tend to lean towards the QB in Superflex. Joe Burrow is a solid prospect and as long as the Bengals don’t ruin him he should be a valuable dynasty asset for multiple years. With the new resign feature also available, if Burrow becomes an elite player it is great to have control of a quarterback for a whole decade.

1.06, D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions & 1.07, Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

Bernard:  No wide receivers have been drafted at this point.  Lamb and Jeudy were definitely in play here for me.  I went with the running backs for a couple of key reasons.  Swift and Akers were the last of the running backs in my tier with “three down” workload potential and capabilities that I felt fairly comfortable with.  Conversely, I felt confident of obtaining quality wide receiver prospects later in the draft given the depth of this wide receiver class. League free agency also played a big role in this decision.  The free agent running back position is a dumpster fire in this league with Melvin Gordon and Raheem Mostert the likely top –two options.  Available free agent wide receivers look far better and deeper including Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, Odell Beckham Jr., Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp.  My team possesses the second-highest amount of cap space ensuring I should be able to land one or two quality wide receiver options in free agency.

2.03, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Nick:  Taking Ke’Shawn Vaughn early in the second round will be a regular in rookie drafts this offseason but I think this is a slight overvalue. In other drafts I have seen Vaughn creeping into the late first round which is even more of an egregious act. While being drafted to the Buccaneers is considered a bonus, I don’t consider it enough to take Vaughn over other better talent, some in equally valuable landing spots. Receivers going after him such as Jalen Reagor, Denzel Mims, Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman, and Brandon Aiyuk may not become immediate fantasy players but I can see their value being more in two or three years.

2.06, AJ Dillion, Green Bay & 3.01, Zach Moss, Buffalo Bills

Nick:  Several veteran running backs are likely to see their value drop due to incoming rookies but there are also a couple rookies who are being valued less due to their being a strong veteran ahead of them. Two examples of this are A.J. Dillion behind Aaron Jones in Green Bay and Zach Moss behind Devin Singletary in Buffalo. Few offenses feature a single running back as the ball carrier that is on the field for eighty percent of the plays anymore. Niche skillsets and fresh legs along with the devaluing (contract wise) of the position has allowed for multiple running backs to have fantasy value for many teams in the current NFL. Sean McDermott looks to build a complimentary backfield and over the last two seasons the ratio of carries has been 166:155 and 161:115. Dillion may need to wait a year before his path to touches is clearer but Moss should be a compliment to Singletary right away and will have his weeks of fantasy relevance.

3.02, Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers

Nick:  Brandon Aiyuk is a player that seems to be getting similar treatment in 2020 as Marquise “Hollywood” Brown did in 2019, a receiver drafted in the first round of the NFL draft but isn’t receiving the same value in fantasy community. Aiyuk is currently the 15th ranked rookie on DLF in standard leagues and 17th in Superflex but he is regularly going later in actual drafts, as seen here. Eventually, the value of a player that you may not have been interested in becomes a bargain and he just has to be drafted. Only in a draft this deep could a first round receiver fall this far in a rookie draft. While I wouldn’t trade up to get him, if you are sitting there at the end of the second round or early third he is a steal that you can stash on your team.

3.04, Jordan Love, Green Bay

Bernard:  The Love scenario will, undoubtedly, perplex RSO GMs this offseason.  How much of his RSO rookie contract does he actually play, if any?  I believe Love likely plays no later than year three.  Green Bay not only took Love in the first round but traded up to make sure they got him.  The Packers save cap space as early as 2021 trading Rodgers who should still have considerable trade value.  We should also remember Aaron is entering his age-37 season.  Not every quarterback plays into their 40s despite what Tom Brady and Drew Brees have done.  At this stage of the draft, Love’s voluminous arm-talent gives high-upside value at near no-risk cost.

Matt Goodwin’s Takes on the Draft

Immediately following the NFL draft Day 2, I realized at 1.05 that I was likely not going to get a QB I was excited about in the rookie draft (I’m just not sold on Herbert playing behind what was an amazing OL at Oregon and his lack of production there). Anyways, this being Superflex, I traded my 1.05 pick and two 2021 1sts for a combination of later draft picks and Russell Wilson on a $22M a year average. I remain very high on Lamb, but I didn’t think 1.05 was where I should nab either him or JK Dobbins prior to making a trade, the top players on my board there.

I tried to trade D.J. Chark on a third round rookie deal when seeing that Lamb was available at 1.08 and 1.09, but others believed in the value at that point and said, “fair offer, but no”. Totally understandable as the upsides of Lamb and Jeudy are pretty enticing.

With only picks 3.01 and 3.02 heading into the draft (I had traded 3.08 for Matt Breida on day 3 of the NFL Draft), I had my heart set on trading up to the mid-second round to draft Michael Pittman Jr. I was able to do that with Bernard by packaging 3.02 and a future pick for 2.05. WR is a big need of mine and I believe Frank Reich when he professes his love for Pittman, who should get serious run from day one and even more if T.Y. Hilton leaves as a free agent following this season.

At 3.01, I was on deck and hoping that Laviska Shenault, the playmaking WR from Colorado would last until my pick. However, defending champion Jaron Foster is a savvy GM and picked Shenault right before my pick at 2.10. I then grabbed Zack Moss and I think he’ll be in a timeshare at worst in Buffalo and love the value at a scarce position in our league at 3.01 and especially behind AJ Dillon who went earlier. Post draft I was able to grab Shenault and assume Tyrod Taylor’s salary by trading Nick Foles to Jaron in a rare three way trade in which my podcast co-host Luke Patrick was looking to shed salary.

So in the end, my draft ended up being Russell Wilson, Pittman Jr., Shenault, and Zack Moss in 30 total picks. I was able to get back a perceived high second round pick in 2021 for trading my two firsts which figure to be playoff teams if everything goes as planned. So all in all, a fun draft where everyone made picks and got involved.

Biggest values in draft: Lamb, Jeudy, Higgins, Shenault, Moss

Pick I’m least sure about: Cam Akers where he went and Vaughn’s role in Tampa Bay if he can’t pass protect for Brady

Late flier: Eason was practically free at end of draft and I do think he’ll succeed Rivers at some point before Love takes over for Rodgers

Notes on my Trades

Send 1.04 for 1.07 and 2.05

My top choices at 1.04 included Tua and Dobbins while Akers and Swift filled out this second tier for me.  I needed significant talent added to my roster with Gurley, Tyreek Hill and Courtland Sutton as my only notable starters at RB/WR.  I had a strong feeling @FantasyDocOC was probably looking at Tua here.  He dumped a lot of cap space and talent in what looks like the start of a re-tooling effort this offseason. Many people have a big tier drop at quarterback after Tua which makes the move very understandable.    In the end, I move back to get another mid-second round pick in this incredibly deep wide receiver class.

Send 2.05 for 3.02 and 2022 2nd

Unfortunately Jaelen Raegor, my first choice, went one pick before.   This spot started another tier of players for me, a wide grouping primarily composed of wide receivers.  One primary lesson for any fantasy draft is to never pick at the start of your tier if one can feasibly trade back and remain in that tier or trade up into a higher tier.  Another note: the depth of talent in this rookie class made extracting what would normally be considered fair trade value difficult.  This is not a trade I would have accepted in many other years but was OK with it in this particular season.

Send Darrell Henderson for 3.04 and 3.06

This move may seem odd to some considering I drafted Akers earlier.  Two 3rds also doesn’t seem like much value for a player drafted as high as mid-first territory as the season approached last year.  I don’t see Henderson as a direct backup or potential lead back, but more of a change-of-pace / situational player who likely splits work even if the lead back were to be injured.  The potential upside of Love, at a 3rd round contract price, was well worth Henderson to me.   The uber-productive Edwards placed a nice cherry on top.

Effective draft day trade tally:  Sent Tua and Darrell Henderson for Cam Akers, Brandon Aiyuk, Jordan Love, Bryan Edwards, and 2022 2nd.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

2020 Rookie Rankings Explained: Part I

Updated: May 4th 2020

This was my fourth year creating the rookie rankings for Reality Sports and it was as rewarding as ever in 2020. I look forward to the rankings each year because it’s such a unique experience and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help inform literally every single RSO rookie draft. Since my rookie rankings can have a large impact on roster composition, I shy away from “hot taeks” and am more risk-averse than I might be in my own personal rookie drafting. I view the rookies through the lens of an RSO league and how a 3- or 4-year rookie contract can change the value of a player compared to dynasty formats. In order to create rankings that are representative for the majority of RSO leagues, I made a few assumptions on rosters and scoring (i.e. 1QB, offense scores more than defense and IDP scoring heavy on tackles/sacks). Each year there are a few themes and surprises that emerge as I’m ranking and over the next two articles I will share those with you. First up are my notes about this historically deep wide receiver class.

Click here to view the 2020 Reality Sports rookie rankings, compiled by Robert F. Cowper

Judged Jeudy

I had settled on CeeDee Lamb over Jerry Jeudy a few months ago in my personal rankings but I knew their final ranking would rely heavily on opportunity and team fit. Jeudy joins a Broncos team that has invested much draft capital in the offense the last two years. Jeudy certainly has the potential to be a fantasy stud but Drew Lock has a significantly smaller sample size of success than Dak Prescott. Your initial reaction to Lamb might have been “but they just re-signed Amari Cooper to a long-term deal” but the details are important to examine. Only $40mil of the $100mil is guaranteed and the Cowboys can cut Cooper with minimal dead cap after the 2021 season. By then I fully expect Lamb to be the alpha boundary receiver I think he’s destined to become.

ShRuggs at 1.08

In the RSO Writer’s League mock draft, I took Ruggs at 1.06 and argued that his upside was worth the reach at that point. I still believe in his blazing speed and big play ability but the fact that he was the first receiver drafted, and drafted by the Raiders, gives me pause. There’s going to be pressure on the Raiders to have Ruggs produce early and I think that that will be difficult for an undersized receiver who made much of his impact by stretching defenses horizontally before gashing them vertically. As good as those SEC defenses were, they don’t compare to the speed and skill in the NFL. I would have felt more confident in Ruggs as a rookie draft pick if he was drafted to a more stable quarterback situation and with less expectation.

Later Reagor

I vacillated on Reagor more than any other top thirty player and I ultimately ranked him lower than I expected. He’s a fun player to watch who has track athlete speed and a leaping ability that belies his 5110 height. His 2019 season, however, was a disappointment (43-611-5) as was his 40 yard dash at the combine. I ultimately put Reagor behind Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson because Jefferson is bigger, tested faster and his trend line jumped off the page after a stellar season. The Eagles have featured a strong passing offense under Doug Pederson, despite injuries to QB Carson Wentz and just about every receiver, so there is an opportunity for Reagor and I wouldn’t be upset if he proved me wrong.

 

Pitt the man in 2021?

Michael Pittman Jr. was the beneficiary of the biggest bump in my rankings post-draft among the top receivers. Pittman will be joining the new look Colts offense who are likely to start veteran QB Philip Rivers and rookie RB Jonathan Taylor this fall. The Colts had the NFL’s 30th ranked passing offense last season but that will be buoyed by the high-volume RIvers, a healthy TY Hilton and the emergence of Pittman. Pittman has prototypical outside receiver size at 6040/223 which should allow the offense the flexibility to predominantly line Hilton up on the inside to best showcase his abilities. Hilton is on the last year of his contract and it seems unlikely the team would re-sign the then 31 year old to a lengthy deal. I expect Pittman to have a fantasy-relevant role in 2020 with the chance to lead the Colts passing attack in 2021.

Flexy and They Know It

Two players who are likely to be drafted in most RSO leagues have great flex appeal for the NFL teams, but what does it mean for your fantasy team? Lynn Bowden Jr. was the do-it-all Wildcat that led Kentucky to a late season winning streak and a Belk Bowl victory. Bowden, who was previously a receiver and returner, was pressed into service under center early in the season. He ended the year as both the team’s leading rusher and leading receiver and had a 6-2 record as the starting quarterback. Mike Mayock of the Raiders said that they project Bowden as a running back, rather than a receiver. He never played as a true running back so I presume he’ll be deployed more as a gadget player taking wildcat snaps, running sweeps, receiving screens and returning kicks. Considering the Raiders drafted somebody like Henry Ruggs earlier in the draft who should succeed in some of the “in space” roles it remains to be seen how many touches Bowden can expect in 2020. Antonio Gibson of the Redskins has a similar skillset but is bigger, faster and more explosive than Bowden. Last year at Memphis his touches were an even split between receptions and rushes. He also served as the Tigers main kick returner. If Gibson landed on a squad other than the Redskins I would probably be more bullish on his versatile potential. Bowden and Gibson were tough to rank so I ultimately placed them one-two at the end of a standard three round rookie draft.

 

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: 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

2020 Pre-Draft RSO Writer’s League Rookie Mock

Updated: April 19th 2020

The NFL Rookie draft is less than a week away.  Rookie drafts for Reality Sports Online teams involve a number of considerations different than a normal dynasty league.  Selected rookies are typically given three or four year contracts at, hopefully, a below market contract.  RSO GMs then have the option of extending a player with franchise tags, extensions, or final year options (depending on the chosen settings in your league) which usually are near or above market value for a given player.  This makes the initial rookie contract years potentially extremely valuable and the real measure of worth for a rookie contract.

The RSO Writer’s League crew produced a 1QB PPR 10-team mock draft recently to help demonstrate some of these concepts and how we viewed players pre-draft.   Writers Matt Goodwin (also Co-host of the All About Reality Podcast), Nick Andrews, Bob Cowper, and myself also give takes on our selections in the mock.  The article notes a few interesting items from this mock and differences from what you might see in other dynasty mocks and rankings:

  1. The top-5 is a tier similar to other mocks and unlikely to change much after the draft. It consists of strong wide receiver prospects and running backs with 2nd round or earlier NFL draft projection plus early big volume potential.  Perhaps the fabled high draft-pick Kansas City running back changes this somewhat but I do not see a lot of difference post-draft.
  2. The shorter window of RSO contracts, earlier production of running backs, and depth of wide receiver this year moved running backs up the board in our mock relative to other mocks. A lackluster tight end group and the long development window almost pushed TEs completely off the board.
  3. The projected depth at wide receiver in the NFL draft will give a lot of variation in how fantasy drafts play out. There are many players who did not even make it into this mock who I would have a lot of interest in putting on my RSO rosters.  2nd and 3rd round picks, in particular, gain value when compared to previous seasons.

1.01      Jonathan Taylor  RB

1.02      DeAndre Swift  RB

1.03      Ceedee Lamb  WR

1.04      JK Dobbins  RB  (Matt)

I’ve started to highlight my love for Dobbins on the All About Reality podcast and it’s all in the family as even my 10 year old son Jory came on the podcast to sing Dobbins’ praises. I love the strength and burst that Dobbins provides as an every-down back and his ability to get to the second level quickly is a differentiator. Additionally, he’s the best pass-blocking back in the class which will keep him on the field. Lastly, he had over 20 receptions in each of his three seasons at Ohio State, which is what you look for in a complete back. He was dominant against Clemson with 174 yards rushing a TD and 6 for 47 receiving, in spite of getting injured that game.

This tweet sums up Dobbins best:

https://twitter.com/BallBlastEm/status/1250291529232437251

While he weighed in one pound short of this at the combine, he meets all the other markers in pretty select company. If Dobbins lands in a place like Kansas City, he may be RB1 in the draft. Other landing spots that would be favorable include Tampa Bay, and much to my chagrin, Pittsburgh.

1.05      Jerry Jeudy  WR  (Nick)

Standard 1QB leagues will be more routine than their Superflex counterparts, and will likely figure to have the same five (5) players go off the board in various combinations. If you are drafting in any of these spots you can sit back and feel good about taking any of these players. That is what I did when selecting Jerry Jeudy out of Alabama without hesitation. What should be one of the safest picks in this year’s draft, Jeudy has the tools to be a day one NFL starter for all but the deepest of teams at receiver. Everyone notes how strong of a route runner he is and it shows. When he gets space off the line he can put the defender on skates if they commit to an early move in the route. My only concern at the present is that Jeudy is lighter (193lbs) than what I usually am looking for in a receiver and coupling that with his average shuttle time (4.53) means that if defenders get physical at the line he could struggle to get deep enough in the route tree to use his long speed. I don’t see his weight being an issue though, most guys put on 5-15lbs of muscle with the increase in professional training so select Jerry Jeudy at 1.05, chomp on your cigar like Iron Mike, and leave the draft knowing you got a solid talent at the mid-point of your first round.

1.06      Henry Ruggs  WR  (Bob)

To me it feels like there’s a tier break between picks 1.05 and 1.06 this year in standard leagues. The order of Dobbins, Jeudy, Lamb, Swift and Taylor will likely be contested all Summer long but I think the more interesting question is who comes next. It seems that consensus is settling on RB Cam Akers as the sixth player off the board but I decided to swing for the fences and went with Henry Ruggs instead.  Ruggs has elite speed, his 4.27 40 time was the best at the combine, and will be a home run threat from Day One in the NFL. He’s not without question marks – namely his size and ability to play against more physical pro corners – but I don’t mind taking a risk if there isn’t a no-brainer pick on the board.

1.07      Cam Akers  RB  (Bernard)

This is the stage of drafts where opinions really vary.  I decided on a potential three-down back in Cam Akers.  He generally shows good patience, taking a slower pace, as a runner and adds a second-level gear when openings appear.  His feet move in a nice quick motion to make cuts.  Florida State’s much-talked-about struggles on the offensive line led to Akers taking a bad approach sometimes bailing outside.  Akers displays plus feel for routes as a receiver against man and zone with reliable hands.  Akers is also extremely young at 20 years old which provides upside with more development.  Plus size, plus athleticism, plus receiving ability, and scheme diversity give Akers the chance of a huge running back role on Sundays.

1.08      Jalen Reagor  WR

1.09      Tee Higgins  WR

1.10      Justin Jefferson  WR

2.01      Clyde Edwards-Helaire  RB

2.02      Joe Burrow   QB

2.03      Denzel Mims  WR

2.04      Laviska Shenault  WR  (Bernard)

Perhaps no receiver embodies the “boom-bust” mantra more than Shenault.  The wide receiver in a running back’s body was Colorado’s offense breaking off big plays with breakaway speed.  He was a man among boys with the ball in his hand.  Like a lot of college receivers, he mainly ran vertical routes with quick screens limiting his route tree, but does display nice breaks for a man of his size and plus skills attacking the football.  Shenault was also used extensively in the run game, particularly around the goal line. A lengthy injury history and an injury-shortened NFL combine potentially push him down NFL and fantasy boards.

2.05      Tua Tagovailoa  QB   (Bob)

I feel less confident in this pick now in mid-April than I did back in mid-March because the most recent news surrounding Tua Tagovailoa has been more negative than positive.  However, I still think there’s a lot to love about Tua — his improvisational ability, his effortless-looking arm talent, intangible leadership qualities — and believe there will be at least one team who is enamored with him. I like to leave every rookie draft with a quarterback because if they hit the value is fantastic. Despite his injury concerns, Tua is still likely to be the second or third passer off the board and that means he’ll be a factor in your 2020 RSO league so I’d be happy to grab him in the mid-second.

2.06      Justin Herbert   QB  (Nick)

In standard leagues, I always like to grab a QB in the second round if I think a talented enough one is still on the board. While not as valuable as in Superflex, quarterbacks still seem to be overpaid in 1QB leagues due to their gaudy point totals and longevity of careers, compared to the other positions. Grabbing rookies that make <$2M per season gives a great advantage to a team over one with a costly veteran. With that being said Justin Herbert from Oregon is an ideal candidate to take if you are a team drafting in the back half of the second round. While he is not in the same tier as Tua Tagovailoa or Joe Burrow he is likely going inside the top 15 and maybe even top 10 of the real draft if a team finds a trade partner. For a guy who is 6’6” he has surprising mobility and just enough speed (4.68-40YD) that he wouldn’t be a liability if the offensive line that he is drafted behind isn’t a superbly talented group. Landing spot will be key for his development but with many current starters nearing the final years of their careers it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Herbert as a top 15 QB in a couple of years.

2.07      Jordan Love  QB  (Matt)

Basically just going Konami Code upside for someone with raw talent at the QB position in a one-QB league. Showed poor decision making in his final year at Utah State, but if he finds the right system has the arm strength and athletic ability to be more like Patrick Mahomes than DeShone Kizer.

2.08      Zack Moss  RB

2.09      Anthony McFarland  RB

2.10      Ke’Shawn Vaughn  RB

3.01      Eno Benjamin  RB

3.02      Lamichel Perine  RB

3.03      Brandon Aiyuk  WR

3.04      Antonio Gibson  RB  (Matt)

Just a playmaker who can play both RB and WR and could be drafted as either. He’s electric and shows fantastic vision and route-running ability. Coming from Memphis, which has a recent history of producing playmakers like Darrell Henderson, Gibson feels like a nice pickup in the third round of RSO rookie drafts.

3.05      Bryan Edwards   WR  (Nick)

Bryan Edwards is a player that somehow every time I am researching who people like as a flyer in the mid-rounds his name somehow always keeps coming up. Edwards broke his foot before the combine so other than basic height/weight metrics we don’t have a lot of comparables to go off of. Watching tape on him however and I see a lot of what N’Keal Harry was at Arizona State. He is a big, physical receiver who can go up and “Moss” a defender in jump ball situations. Like Harry though he has trouble with separation which may not translate well to the pros if teams place their “Brandon Browner” type of physical corner opposite him. Nevertheless, with his injury possibly fluctuating his NFL draft value it will be interesting to see how far down the draft he falls. If he is picked before the end of day two he might be a fringe second-round selection in standard leagues but in Superflex, he’s going to fall to the third. At less than $1M/year, I will gladly take a flyer on Edwards especially if he lands in an idea receiver situation.

3.06      Antonio Gandy-Golden  WR  (Bob)

Gandy-Golden didn’t test well at the NFL Combine but I’m not deterred, I want him on at least one of my fantasy teams. AGG has a wide catch radius and the size to body smaller corners thanks to his 6’3″/223 frame. Despite playing without a star supporting cast, he still put up great numbers and averaged 6.25 receptions and 101 yards per game last year. In four games against higher level opponents in 2019 (Syracuse, Rutgers, BYU and Virginia), Gandy-Golden actually surpassed those numbers so we know he didn’t feast only against other Independents. He’s a mid-major guy who I’ll bet on making a mark at the next level.

3.07      A.J. Dillon   RB  (Bernard)

Many will see Derrick Henry comps here.  He tested very similarly athletically to Derrick Henry at the NFL combine at about the same size while also having reasonably close college production profiles.  Dillon will get drafted much later in the NFL, however.  Scheme and team fit is more important for Dillon’s fantasy prospects than most prospects.  He needs real commitment as the lead back in a run-based attack for him to have fantasy success (see Henry for most of his first three years).  I find the gamble well worth it this deep in the draft to hit on the ever-scarce running back position.

3.08      Jalen Hurts  QB

3.09      Thaddeus Moss  TE

3.10      KJ Hamler  WR


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

The Watch List: 2019 Pac-12 Season Preview

Updated: August 9th 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: Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona.  According to betting markets, Oregon’s Justin Herbert is the top Heisman hopeful in the conference and if I was looking for a safe bet, I would agree.  However, if you’re looking for a dark horse candidate (+6000) that could help you cash in, go for Tate.  In 2017, Tate earned the starting job mid-season and still managed to rush for 1,411 yards and 12 TDs to go with 1,591-14-9 as a passer.  His future looked bright heading into 2018 but an ankle injury and a coaching change conspired against him to limit his impact.  If anybody has 4,000 yard and 40 TD upside, it’s Tate.

Underclassman to Watch: Jermar Jefferson, RB, Oregon State.  As a true freshman last season, Jefferson showed his promise in the second game of the season, going off for 238-4 against Southern Utah.  He finished with 1,380-12 and added 25 receptions.  I watched two highlight reels and my first thought was that he looked like David Montgomery.  I don’t like giving comps, especially this early, but once I thought it, I couldn’t unsee it.  Jefferson has ideal size for a running back at 5110/211.  He’s an elusive runner, displaying dynamic cuts and effective spin moves, and runs with above average power.  Like Montgomery, he appears to lack top-end speed but that’s not his game so it doesn’t worry me.  Oregon State won’t get much national attention this season but don’t let that stop you from eyeing Jefferson.

Newcomer of the Year: Bru McCoy, WR, USC. McCoy had a topsy-turvy start to his collegiate career.  He first committed to USC before switching to Texas (in response to Kliff Kingsbury leaving) only to transfer back to USC (because he was homesick).  He was the consensus top receiver in the 2019 recruiting class and based on his Hudl highlights, it looks like he could play in the NFL tomorrow.  I’m excited to see him play, sadly it might not be until 2020 unless his immediate eligibility waiver is approved.  (Looking for a true freshman who might make a difference in 2019?  Phil Steele predicts that QB Jayden Daniels will win the Arizona State job.  Daniels was Steele’s sixth ranked quarterback in the class.  Per 247Sports, Daniels is the highest rated prospect the Sun Devils have landed since Vontaze Burfict in 2009.)

Coaching Carousel: With just one head coaching change in the Pac-12 this offseason (Mel Tucker taking over at Colorado), the coaching carousel focus has to be on USC.  The aforementioned Kliff Kingsbury was hired in early December to take over as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, but jumped ship about a month later to take the Arizona Cardinals head coaching job.  Fans who weren’t sold on head coach Clay Helton must have been thinking, “if Kingsbury is good enough for the NFL, why didn’t we hire him as our head coach?”  Another former Texas Tech quarterback, Graham Harrell, was brought in to be the new-new offensive coordinator.  Double-digit win seasons in 2016 and 2017 haven’t earned Helton much job security because he’s often mentioned as a coach on the hot seat.  If Kingsbury starts strong in Arizona, the pressure will mount from the fan base who will want Helton fired so that a similarly-minded coordinator like Harrell can finally take over.  (When I researched articles to back-up my assertion about Helton’s job security, I was actually surprised just how prevalent Helton-on-the-hot-seat sentiment was.  These three articles all featured Helton either as their header image or atop their list.)

Players to Watch

Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Get ready to hear a lot about Justin Herbert as the 2019 season progresses. He was a top prospect in last year’s class before returning to school and is pegged by most, myself included, as a future NFL quarterback. Herbert doesn’t have the buzz of some of the other quarterbacks right now in college football (i.e. Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence) but I think he shows enough traits, and has enough experience, for draftniks to feel comfortable with him at, or near, the top of their respective draft boards.

Let’s start off by looking at Herbert’s stats and game logs. Herbert took over the starting gig midway through his freshman season in 2016 and then was limited to just eight games in 2017 due to injury. He played a full slate of thirteen games in 2018. He has a career 63:18 TD:INT ratio and averages nearly 250 yards passing per game. His career completion percentage of 62.5% is just good enough but dipped last season. He’s a capable short yardage runner who has a career rushing line of 173-510-9. Strangely, if you remove Herbert’s games against subpar opponents (FCS and Group of Five [except Boise State]), some of his rate stats actually increase. His completion percentage increases to 64.4% and his interception rate decreases. His yardage and touchdown marks drop slightly but not significantly. I can’t say that I have seen Herbert play in many of these “big” games so I’m just looking at context-less numbers, but protecting the ball well against higher quality opponents is a good sign. Speaking of protecting the ball, I noticed that Herbert has only thrown five career interceptions in one possession games. With 367 attempts in those close moments, Herbert threw an interception just 1.3% of the time. (For comparison, Kyler Murray threw five interceptions on 225 attempts in those situations last season, for a 2.2% rate.)

Since Herbert was a top prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft, I had studied him prior to last season.  With an extra year of playing experience, I was interested to see how my initial observations stood up.  My high level takeaways then were: good speed and athleticism, throwing well on the run, average accuracy and arm strength, inconsistent footwork, positive field and situational awareness, and great pump and play fakes.  Add in elite size at 6060/237 and you can see why I had him atop my rankings.

I’m pleased to share that I was much more impressed with Herbert’s arm strength and accuracy when I watched his 2018 film against Stanford and Arizona State.  His ball placement, especially against Stanford, was impeccable.  There were numerous plays where he led his receiver away from coverage and put the ball in a safe spot away from the defender.  I don’t think his arm strength is his best attribute but it’s above average, at worst.  He’s able to throw short yardage fastballs and has ample power to drive the ball across or down the field.  This play against Stanford was a beautiful illustration of his combination of “arm talent.”  The Cardinal drop into a zone defense so his receiver settles into the void.  Herbert throws the pass with enough touch and enough mustard to get it over the first defender but have it hit the receiver before the converging safety.

In my 2018 study, Herbert’s athleticism factored in frequently.  He’s quick getting out of the pocket, has enough burst for short yardage, and can still throw with accuracy while on the move.  I’m glad I watched the Stanford game because that gameplan featured Herbert as a weapon on the zone read.  He rushed for a few key first downs, including one late in the game that totally fooled the defense (but not the commentators).  I planned on sharing one of those designed runs but instead chose a scramble so I could also touch on Herbert’s pocket presence.  Frankly, he needs to learn to feel the rush better than he did in the two games I watched because he was sacked too many times.  When he does scramble from the pocket he can be dangerous, as seen on this play.  He runs with pace, makes a corner miss and stays in bound long enough for a big gain.

It’s difficult to quantify, but I keep leaving Herbert’s study with the impression that he is composed and situationally aware.  Much of the Oregon offense is predicated on quick passes or zone read running, however when given the chance, Herbert is able to read the field and create extemporaneously.  My favorite of the plays I saw of Herbert was a key play late in the Stanford game where he showed off this composure and experience.  The Ducks were up by three and going for it on 4th and 1 to hopefully seal the game (spoiler alert: the defense let Stanford back in it and the game ultimately went to OT).  The play is busted from the start: either Herbert or the running back mess up the play fake as Herbert starts to roll to his right.  He doesn’t panic and instead waits for his wide receiver, Dillon Mitchell, to uncover.  Mitchell realizes his quarterback is in trouble so he takes a subtle step away from the defense and squares his shoulders to give Herbert a target.  Herbert, running out of field on his half-field read, delivers the ball across his body and Mitchell does the rest.  (The Mitchell touchdown was ultimately called back but Oregon converted on 1st and Goal to take a ten point lead.  In the end, they lost the game but that was more on the defense and a late fumble by a running back than it was on Herbert.  This key play was likely the peak of their win-probability graph for the game).

Justin Herbert ended 2018 as my QB1 for the 2019 NFL Draft class and starts the season as my QB1 again.  Herbert showed me how much he could progress in a season, so I think his decision to return to Oregon for his senior season was a positive one.  He’ll be pushed by Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, but I think Herbert’s NFL-worthy combination of size, arm and athleticism will earn him the first overall pick next April.

 

Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

Laviska Shenault is a versatile player who filled a number of roles for the Buffaloes in 2018.  He’s deployed as a wide receiver, h-back and wildcat quarterback and often finds success in each role.  In nine games as a sophomore (he missed three games midseason with a foot injury), Shenault had a receiving line of 86-1,011-6 and a rushing line of 17-115-5.  If he played a full twelve games, that production would extrapolate to 1,501 scrimmage yards, which would have put him near the top of the Pac-12 in overall production.

As a receiver, Shenault shines as a hands-catcher with strong hands that he places well.  After the catch, he is a powerful runner in close quarters and near impossible to tackle.  He also has the acceleration to break away in the open field.  In my opinion, this is what gives him such a high ceiling as a prospect: it’s rare to have such a mix of power and explosion.  This play exemplifies all three points: Shenault catches the ball with his hands, avoids the first tackler, stiff arms the second and then sprints to the end zone.

In addition to using his talents as a receiver, Shenault is a dangerous red zone weapon as a runner.  Four of his five rushing scores came from inside the red zone, and on just seven attempts (RB Travon McMillian also had four but on twenty attempts).  Shenault’s thick lower body and play strength let him succeed in these high-leverage situations near the goal line.  In the below example, Shenault lines up as the wildcat quarterback on 4th and 1 from the 3 yard line.  He’s surely stopped before the line to gain but he keeps his legs churning and keeps moving forward.  He ultimately drags the pile close enough to the end zone so he can reach across for the score.  Wide receivers aren’t supposed to be able to do that!

Shenault is a jack-of-all-trades prospect whose versatility will appeal to NFL teams.  I’m hopeful that the Buffs manage his touches so he can stay healthy for a full season.  It feels like Shenault has Top 50 upside so expect him to be in the first round conversation come 2020.

 

Honorable Mentions

Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State: With the ball in his hands, Benjamin is a dynamic whirling dervish. He’s elusive in the open field by utilizing myriad cuts, jukes and spins. He’s not a power back but does have enough pop to win the extra yard in a one-on-one situation. His blocking definitely needs to improve, as does his decisiveness. It’s great that his feet never stop moving, but in some circumstances, like near the goal line, that can be a liability. Benjamin is a high-volume back who could top his 335 touches from last season (300 rushing attempts, 35 receptions). The Sun Devils offense is bound to look different in 2019 with the departures of QB Manny Wilkins and WR N’Keal Harry so I’m anxious to see what that means for Benjamin. If he approaches 2,000 scrimmage yards again, Benjamin will be a lock to declare for the NFL Draft.

Aaron Fuller, WR, Washington: One of my favorite Twitter follows, Brad Kelly, recently tweeted that he thought Fuller was going to be a Top 10 receiver in the 2020 class.  Even though I didn’t know much about Fuller I thought I should learn more and include him in this preview, Brad being the receiver guru and all.  Fuller led the Huskies in receiving last season with a 58-874-4 line.  His highlights feature a few spectacular one-handed catches that would be enough to get attention on their own.  What also caught my eye was how well Fuller tracks the ball.  His reels are littered with high-arcing deep balls which he’s able to bring in despite defensive distractions.  Fuller is quick and can be a handful after the catch: he reportedly ran a 4.36 coming out of high school and ran a 4.45 at last year’s Huskies Combine event.  If he continues to progress, I can see Fuller as a starting NFL slot receiver.

Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington: Bryant is a ballyhooed tight end prospect who garnered attention as a true freshman for the Huskies. He’s listed at 6020/241, short for a tight end, and looks lighter to my eye. I watched some of his 2018 Ohio State tape and some highlights to get a feel for both his ability as a receiver and as a blocker. He’s been gifted with great hands and is a bear to tackle. However, he’s lacking as a blocker; he was frequently knocked back at the point of contact by Buckeye DBs. Injuries have impacted Bryant’s first two seasons, perhaps a combination of his size and playing style, limiting him to just fourteen games and 33 receptions. I know he will be a popular name this draft season but for a number of reasons I’m not ready to buy in yet.

Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford: Like Bryant, Parkinson is a similarly unknown commodity at the tight end position. In Stanford’s offense last season, Parkinson played more of a big-receiver role than an in-line role, at least in the mid-season film I checked against Washington. When I say “big-receiver,” I mean it: Parkinson checks in at 6070/240 with room to add more heft. His size makes him a redzone threat and a difficult assignment for smaller corners. I didn’t see many plays where Parkinson was tasked with blocking but from the few times I did see him blocking downfield, I believe he’ll at least be a functional in-line blocker. If his four touchdown game against Oregon State is any indication, we could be looking at a defensive-gameplan-out-the-window type of player.

 

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: 2019 Mountain West Season Preview

Updated: July 14th 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: Jordan Love, QB, Utah State.  Love has the ingredients needed for my mid-major Heisman recipe: efficiency, lots of points and a strong non-conference schedule.  The Aggies, led by Love, will score a lot — they led the MWC in points per game by more than twelve points (47.5).  So, I expect them to be competitive in non-con games against Wake Forest, LSU and BYU.  If Love eclipses 4,000+ passing yards, 40+ total TDs and bags two upsets, he’ll earn a few Heisman votes, a la McKenzie Milton in 2017.

Underclassman to Watch: Toa Taua, RB, Nevada.  Taua started the season as a true freshman role player for the Wolfpack but by mid-season he had earned a larger share of the carries.  He ultimately led the team in rushing with 872 yards and added six scores.  He has an interesting body shape at 5080/220 and an even more interesting following on YouTube.  The video titles I found when searching for him included “The Greatest 12 Year Old Football Player” and “The Most Savage High School Player I Have Ever Seen” and “This Kid is Like Troy Polamalu at Running Back.”  After my short exposure to his highlights, I have to agree.  He’s thick, nigh impossible to arm tackle and has deceiving long speed.  He also deploys subtle, but smart, cuts that allow him to find creases or get out of trouble at the line of scrimmage.  I can’t wait to see the YouTube titles after he blows up the Mountain West in 2019.

Newcomer of the Year: Hank Bachmeier, QB, Boise State.  Bachmeier, a 4-star recruit, joins the Broncos at the perfect time as longtime starter Brett Rypien has graduated.  Bachmeier is labeled as a pro-style quarterback by the recruiting services but he looks like a plus athlete who was too much to handle for high school defenses.  He throws well on the move and spins the deep ball.  I only watched a few minutes of Hudl highlights but I’m already drinking the Kool-Aid and hope Bachmeier gets a chance to start as a true freshman.

Coaching Carousel: Gary Andersen returns to Logan this season to lead Utah State once again.  Andersen left the Aggies in 2012, after earning the school’s first-ever double digit win season (11-2), and has had a rocky few years since.  First, he took the Wisconsin job and led the Badgers to a 19-7 record.  Andersen then unexpectedly took the Oregon State job and was fired mid-way through 2017 after two and a half unsuccessful seasons.  He returns to Utah State and it sounds like neither he nor the fans could forget his initial tenure.  A profile of Andersen in the Salt Lake Tribune makes it clear that Andersen never really left Logan and is content to be back.  It’s fitting that he takes over after the school’s second-ever 11-2 season — he’ll get the chance to see if he can push the team to a twelfth win, something he missed out on last time.

Players to Watch

Jordan Love, QB, Utah State

There was no sophomore slump for Jordan Love in 2018.  In fact, he led the MWC in efficiency and scored 39 total TDs.  In 2019, he’ll be hoping to continue his upward trend and impress NFL scouts enough to come out for the 2020 NFL Draft.  Love checks in at 6040/225 which, historically, is a prototypical build (think: Josh Rosen).  What separates Love from other players in the same size range is that he’s not solely a pocket passer.  Love’s career rushing stats aren’t gaudy, 228-9, but he is an effective short yardage running threat.  I knew I’d have to watch for that when reviewing his film.  I also wanted to get a feel for Love’s arm and awareness.  Let’s get into my observations.

I’ll start by saying that Love is tough as nails.  I watched him against Michigan State and you see it on nearly every play.  The Spartan defense was coming at him and he kept getting up.  When that pressure was in his face, Love did make some poor decisions so improved pocket presence will be important for him (granted, it was the first game of the season so he likely improved already).  Those poor decisions turned into various negative plays — sacks, interceptions, intentional grounding, near fumbles — that could have been avoided.  Yeah, I know, easy for me to say from my couch.  I know Love has the ability to read the game situation and make a positive play, I just want to see him accomplish it more often.  Take these two plays, for example.  In the first, you’ll see Love deliver a strike to his receiver on a 3rd and 7 late in the game with just one second left on the play clock.  The defense, trying to capitalize on the stressful situation, shows blitz but drops into a zone to confuse Love.  He throws to his first read and it turns into a first down.

The second example of Love being able to manage a difficult moment came on the very next play.  Unrattled, he sees the defense trying to make a sub and rushes the snap.  He catches the defense offside and earns a free play with the flag.  That’s a veteran move uncommon for underclassmen.

The Aggies primarily run a quick-hitting passing offense that relies on screens and quick patterns.  That suits Love who has a quick release, which you can see in the first play above.  Love also shows a malleable throwing motion which can be both a blessing and a curse.  It allows him to flexibly get the ball to his receiver when under pressure, but it also causes him to be complacent and short-arm some deep passes.  In a play early against Michigan State, Love comes over the top with his motion to avoid a rusher right in front of him and to ensure a downward trajectory on the ball for his crossing receiver.  It’s hard to see that in gif form but this alternate play better shows Love compacting his motion so he can dump the ball to his running back before the defender gets to him.

Love is a productive runner in short yardage and red zone situations.  He has enough speed to get upfield and has a predictable but useful juke move.  He’s also not afraid to take some contact to get the first or the touchdown.  This play from Michigan State was probably the best illustration of his rushing ability, even though it ended short of the goal line.

I’ll leave you with one of the prettiest passes Love completed in last season’s opener.  He puts his mobility to use as he rolls right and delivers a wonderfully weighted and placed pass over the leaping defender and ahead of his oncoming receiver.  That’s an NFL-quality throw.

I dove deeper into Jordan Love than anticipated because I saw that he has the raw talent to be a future NFL passer.  With some more experience and seasoning, he will be worthy of Day Two consideration in a top-heavy quarterback class.

Jared Rice, TE, Fresno State

I had not heard of Jared Rice before I started my Mountain West research but his 55-664-3 line caught my eye.  He measures in at 6050/238 and has a lanky body type that screams “new age tight end.”  In his sophomore season, Rice averaged 17.6 yards per catch on 22 receptions.  That average came down in 2018 to 12.1, which is okay but hopefully he can split the difference in 2019.  I was only able to watch a very limited sample of Rice — individual plays from Fresno State highlight reels — but what I saw impressed me so I wanted to feature him.

Given his body type and statistics, you’d expect Rice to be a threat in the passing game.  And he is.  Rice appears to be an above average route runner for his age and position.  He excels on vertical routes, especially seams and wheel routes.  He’s also adept at faking blocks to help himself find space.  On this play, you’ll see Rice feint like he is going to block for the bubble screen but instead he bends his run upfield and turns it into a wheel route.  He finds himself in acres of space and makes a fingertip over-the-shoulder catch for a score.

On this next play, you’ll see Rice run another vertical route: a seam.  He is lined up on the line of scrimmage but does not block.  The defense is playing in a zone, however Rice is behind the MLB before he can get to his area of responsibility.  Neither safety is within ten yards and Rice is easily able to find paydirt.

I wasn’t able to observe Rice in any blocking situations so I honestly have no idea how he’ll be in that role.  If he’s able to prove himself as a serviceable blocker, he’ll be very dangerous on plays like those shown above.  Rice is mostly a projection at this point but I’ll keep him on my shortlist for 2020.

Honorable Mentions

Cole McDonald, QB, Hawaii:  McDonald has become a cult hero on #DraftTwitter for the recent news of a twinge-inducing injury complication he played through last season.  He threw for 3,875 yards and 36 TDs and finished Top 10 in the FBS in most passing categories.  McDonald, listed at 6040/205, throws an accurate deep ball and is a rushing threat as well.  He exhibits an attitude and coolness that comes through even in highlights.  It’s early and I have a deep dive yet to do, but my first impression is that McDonald will be a Top 75 prospect in this class.

Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State: Washington may be small at 5070/190, but he’s more than just a space player.  He’s unafraid to run up the middle and take a hit.  He converted 3rd and short more than 50% of the time each of the last two years and has scored 15 of his 23 career rushing yards from inside the red zone.  He has big play potential, and shows that as a kick returner, but he’s more of a complete runner than most players in his cohort.  His 2018 season was cut short by injury and left him frustratingly at 199 carries for 999 yards (and 10 TDs).  If he can stay healthy and cross the 200-1,000 threshold, I’ll be buying him as a late rookie stash.

Cedric Byrd, WR, Hawaii: Out of Hawaii’s three leading receivers last season, Byrd had the lowest yards per catch average (12.3).  So, going into his highlights, I assumed he was going to just be a dink-and-dunk screen receiver.  That’s not at all what I saw.  Instead, I saw Byrd running myriad routes from the slot and winning over the middle despite being just 5090/170.  Byrd made a number of difficult catches so I think he may have a flair for the acrobatic.  Last season’s leading receiver has graduated so Byrd is poised to explode and has 90+ reception and 1,500+ yard upside.

 

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: 2019 MAC Season Preview

Updated: July 14th 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: Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio.  In a recent article for The Athletic, writer Max Olson compiled a list of 2018 quarterbacks who led the FBS in his preferred efficiency metric: Yards Per Play.  The leaders in the stat, Alabama QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, were no surprise.  The third name on the list was unexpected for me: Nathan Rourke.  I expect Rourke to stay atop the leaderboard and put up gaudy numbers in 2019.

Underclassman to Watch: Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo.  Patterson won MAC Freshman of the Year honors in 2018 with an impressive 1,013-14 output.  He’s listed at 5090/195 but looks bigger in highlights because of his play style.  Patterson is difficult to bring down because of his excellent contact balance and his powerful leg drive.  At the line of scrimmage he has shifty and frequent feet which help him pick his way through the trash.  Another 1,000+ yard season seems like a lock since the Bulls passing offense was gutted by transfers and players leaving for the NFL.  The offensive focus will need to be Patterson and his running mate Kevin Marks (6000/200, 845-13).

Newcomer of the Year: Joachim Bangda, RB, Kent State.  I wasn’t expecting to feature a player from Kent State in my preview but I came across Bangda’s name in Phil Steele’s preview magazine.  Steele had Bangda ranked as a “very highly touted” recruit and his 38th best running back of the class (other recruiting services had him ranked 31st, 67th and 69th).  According to a local news report, Bangda originally committed to Georgia Tech but flipped when coach Paul Johnson retired; he also had scholarship offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan among others.  I watched Bangda’s pinned Hudl reel and he appears to be a powerful, angry runner who can break tackles and has ample speed to get the edge.  Incumbent senior Jo-El Shaw may begin the season as the nominal starter but Bangda should end the year with more touches.

Coaching Carousel: Does Jim McElwain’s name sound familiar?  It might because the Internet had a lot of fun at his expense a few years ago when he “had to field questions about whether or not he’d humped a dead shark while naked on the deck of a boat.”  McElwain joined Michigan as their receivers coach last year, partly I presume to restart his career after Florida and partly to get away from the ocean.  This year McElwain finds himself at the helm of the Central Michigan Chippewas.  CMU had an abysmal 1-11 mark last season but had gone to four consecutive bowl games prior.  McElwain should bring a Power 5 recruiting touch with him and right the ship.

Player to Watch

 

Nathan Rourke, QB, Ohio

Nathan Rourke has been immensely productive since joining the Bobcats in 2017.  He easily leads the MAC in touchdowns responsible for (passing + rushing) over the last two seasons with 77 — his next closest competition was Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson who had a total of 51.  Much of Rourke’s offensive impact comes on the ground in an option-heavy offense but he still managed to improve his passing efficiency stats last season.  Since Rourke’s pro scouting report is going to hinge on his passing ability, I wanted to concentrate on that aspect of his game during my film study.

The Ohio passing offense relies on short and quick patterns so it was disappointing to see Rourke’s accuracy match his subpar career completion percentage (57.4%).  I was hopeful that the percentage might have been dragged down by numerous missed deep balls.  In both games I watched, Buffalo 2018 and Bowling Green 2018, Rourke sailed an early pass that should have been an easy completion.  There were also multiple missed short outs.  There were a few short passes that lacked touch too.  Overall though, he did lead receivers well on swing and screen passes.  Rourke’s ball placement improved on targets in the middle of the field where he could better anticipate the receiver’s movement.  On this pass he is able to step up in the pocket and delivery a strike, in stride, which leads to a score.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that Rourke has inconsistent ball placement and touch because there are some moments when he flashes.  On this play, for example, Rourke throws a nice 25-yard back-shoulder touch pass to the end zone which results in a touchdown.

I only saw a few deep passes from Rourke and I believe this was the only one I saw him complete.  He essentially throws his speedy receiver open by leading him towards the middle of the field.  It’s the type of pass he’ll need to complete more of in 2019 in order to fill out his repertoire.

Ohio’s offense features a lot of option which is ideal for Rourke.  He is also quick to evade the pocket and scramble.  As a runner he is patient and elusive.  He does not have much straight-line speed but he is able to plant his foot and burst upfield for bonus yardage.  He’s also not afraid of contact, in fact he often initiates it.  In this clip you can see Rourke’s improvisational skill which makes him a dangerous scrambler.

I had a hard time settling on a final verdict for Rourke.  I have enjoyed watching him so far in his career and I really wanted to see a draftable quarterback.  Ultimately, I think he’s a fantastic college quarterback, however, I think he lacks the polish as a passer to be a true NFL prospect.

Honorable Mentions

Quinten Dormady, QB, Central Michigan: I had never heard of Dormady prior to my MAC research but my interest was piqued because he had such an interesting path to CMU.  He was a 4-star recruit out of high school who 247Sports predicted would land at Alabama.  He chose Tennessee instead and transferred after just thirteen appearances over three seasons.  He went to Houston where he sat behind D’Eriq King and ultimately took a redshirt.  Now he’s likely to be the leading signal caller for the Chippewas.  He has NFL size at 6040/222 but he’s the ultimate wildcard right now.  He could be the reason they upset Wisconsin or Miami; or he could end up benched and buried on a depth chart with two returners and two new signees.  In his Tennessee highlights, Dormady looks like a throwback quarterback, circa 1995, so I’m actually very excited to watch him in the aforementioned Power 5 tests.

Jonathan Ward, RB, Central Michigan: I wrote about Ward a number of times last year because I was expecting him to progress after a flag-planting 2017 outing.  In 2017, Ward had 178-1,024-10 rushing and added 48-470-3 receiving.  The receiving numbers are what stood out to me because you rarely see that production from a college running back.  Ward was ineffective to begin 2018 and then finished the season hurt, totaling just 253 yards on 88 touches.  I’m hopeful he’ll regain his role and rebound in 2019 because he has a promising combination of size (6000/202), speed, power and hands.

Levante Bellamy, RB, Western Michigan: Bellamy is a smaller scat and speed back who returned from a season-ending injury in 2017 to earn first team All-MAC honors last season.  He’s a burner — apparently he ran a 4.32 laser-timed 40 yard dash last season — and it shows on his highlight reels.  At just 5090/185, he shows enough strength to shrug off chasing defenders and does surprisingly well battling through traffic.  Bellamy contributes as a receiver (30 receptions) but unfortunately that aspect of his game was largely absent from the film I watched (he did have one impressive catch on a swing pass though).  Bellamy shared carries last year but will be the unquestioned lead back in 2019 which will allow him to make a name 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.  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.

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