The Watch List: 2018 Week 5 Preview

Updated: September 26th 2018

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

Games to Watch

  • Syracuse at #3 Clemson, 12:00pm on ABC: Well, it looks like this one will be the battle for the ACC Atlantic. The Orangemen beat the Tigers 27-24 last season so Clemson will be looking for blood in this rematch. Clemson just announced that Trevor Lawrence will be taking over as the full-time signal caller so either coach Dabo Swinney is overlooking Syracuse or he’s so worried about them that he’s abandoning his QBBC strategy.
  • #12 West Virginia at #25 Texas Tech, 12:00pm on ESPN2: This matchup showcases the 21st and 5th highest scoring offenses in the country. Combined they average an eye-popping 94.3 points per game. I’ll be watching the trio of towering receivers that will feature in this one: West Virginia’s David Sills (6040; 19-246-5) and Tech’s Antoine Wesley (6050; 30-511-4) and TJ Vasher (6060; 16-273-3). I’m not a huge fan of WVU’s Will Grier but he’s a quarterback name you should know. Expect an entertaining four hour game with a whole lot of points.
  • Baylor at #6 Oklahoma, 3:30pm on ABC: This one is a potential trap game for Oklahoma. They are coming off a harder-than-anticipated victory against Army and have Texas in the Red River Shootout next week. Baylor’s offense isn’t as explosive as years’ past but they do have two NFL hopeful receivers in Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd. Keep an eye on this one just in case it’s close late.
  • #4 Ohio State at #9 Penn State, 7:30pm on ABC: Ohio State and Penn State both won big last week (a combined 82 point margin). They got there differently though, with Ohio State hanging 42 on Tulane in the first half, whereas Penn State poured it on late but let Illinois stay close early. RB Miles Sanders ended with an even 200 yards and 3 scores for PSU. Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins continued his uber efficient season going 21-24 for 304 yards and 5 TDs. Haskins’ TD:INT ratio is now an outstanding 16:1. I can’t pick against Ohio State, even if they are missing their best player (Nick Bosa).
  • #7 Stanford at #8 Notre Dame, 7:30pm on NBC: Notre Dame’s head coach Brian Kelly finally made the decision to start Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush and the decision paid off. Notre Dame beat Wake Forest 56-27 with Book leading the way (325-2-0, plus 43-3 rushing). As far as I have seen there has been no announcement about this week’s starter but it has to be Book. Let’s see how he fairs against a bend-don’t-break Stanford defense that ranks 10th best in points but 56th in yards allowed.
  • #20 BYU at #11 Washington, 7:30pm on FOX: I think Top 25 rankers are setting BYU up for a fall here by putting them at #20. Their scalp of #6 Wisconsin was impressive but the Cougars don’t have a strong enough offense to keep hanging with top Power 5 teams. RB Squally Canada has played well (322-5) but aside from him the offense is struggling. QB Tanner Mangum has just 3 TDs and the team’s leading receiver has just 129 yards (Aleva Hifo). The defense is the stronger unit (they are ranked 25th by points) and features one of my preseason favorites: DE Corbin Kaufusi. Kaufusi has 21 tackles and 2 sacks so far, including six stops in that big Wisconsin game.  Washington’s offense isn’t great either but it’s led by name-brand guys like QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon:  I’ve been listing Herbert as my QB1 for awhile now and nothing I have seen thus far changes that.  If anything, the injury to Duke’s Daniel Jones (my QB2 at the moment) helps cement Herbert atop the ranks.  Herbert was fantastic in regulation against Stanford, completing 25 of 27 attempts.  He totaled 346 passing yards for the game and added 35 yards on 11 rushing tries.  Herbert is as good of a bet for the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft as we have right now.
  • D’Eriq King, QB, Houston: King is an undersized junior (5110/195) who is unlikely to come out as a quarterback but that doesn’t make him any less fun to watch now.  He came into the season as the basis for one of my favorite stats: he was Houston’s leading returner passer (1,260 yards) and receiver (264 yards).  Houston is off this week so he’s a name to file away for next week when he’ll be facing off against Tulsa on the national Thursday night game.  King has 20 total TDs and is being careful with the ball (62.7% completion percentage, just 1 INT).
  • Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State:  I’ve talked a lot about the Ohio State quarterbacks and running backs in my articles this season but I don’t think I have discussed a single pass catcher for the Buckeyes yet.  Campbell’s 8-147-2 line against Tulane caught my eye because he’s rarely been a volume play in this offense (53 career receptions in 25 games before 2018).  Campbell often gets the ball on screens and jet sweeps but I was pleased to see three promising downfield plays against Tulane.  Late in the second quarter he caught a fifteen yard out after which he had the awareness to get his feet down and get out of bounds.  His two touchdown catches were even more telling of his potential.  Both scores required him to track the ball through traffic and concentrate on a bobbling ball to secure it.  Granted, it would have been better to catch it clean but the fact that he was able to adjust and make the play is great.  Campbell is already halfway to last year’s production and has a touchdown in all four games this season.  I’m starting to wonder if Campbell will be somebody we look back at in a few years and regret that we overlooked.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

  • Listed at 5090/200 per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Georgia State 2018, Navy 2018
  • 2017: 12 games, 130 carries, 1,154 rushing yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 9 rushing TDs; 24 receptions, 226 receiving yards, 9.4 yards per reception, 2 receiving TDs
  • 2018: 4 games, 58 carries, 709 rushing yards, 12.2 yards per carry, 8 rushing TDs; 6 receptions, 124 receiving yards, 20.7 yards per reception, 1 receiving TD

The per-touch numbers that Henderson has through four games are just unfathomable.  When you combine his rushes and receptions, Henderson is averaging 13.02 yards per touch.  I haven’t done the math for other running backs but I assure you, nobody else is close to that.  Henderson leads the FBS in yards from scrimmage with 833 (second place Jonathan Taylor has 648).  What’s that you say?  This must be a case of a small sample size giving us fluke results.  Consider this: Henderson averaged 8.9 yards per carry last season, leading all FBS running backs.  Despite all of the statistical superlatives I just rattled off, I knew I had to take a look at Henderson’s film to make sure this wasn’t fool’s gold.

Henderson is listed at 5090 but runs with an upright style.  He’s a downhill runner who runs with good acceleration and momentum.  In this clip you can just feel his momentum.  It’s as if the field is tilted towards the opposing end zone.  The defenders at the end of the run didn’t stand a chance of staying on their feet.

Since he’s not the biggest, Henderson probably won’t project as a goal line or short yardage back at the next level but that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to fight for yardage.  Against Navy he ran right into the pile, kept his legs moving and found space to the outside for the score.

Against Georgia State, Henderson showed that he can use his smaller stature to squeeze through holes that bigger backs couldn’t.  Take a look at this play as a perfect example.  He stutter steps in the backfield, uncertain where to break the run.  He decides to hit a closing hole, slips an arm tackle, hurdles a prone defender and then stiff arms another defender.  After breaking the second tackle he turns on the jets and gains extra yardage.  In addition to getting skinny in the hole, he also showed that he has good contact balance which is a very important trait for running backs.

My favorite play of Henderson’s came in the middle of the third quarter against Navy.  The Tigers were down and needed a big play on a 2nd and 10.  Henderson delivered.  It was a 78 yard touchdown run but Henderson probably ran 120 yards to get to pay dirt.  He starts off tackle left and speeds through the hole.  He senses space to the right, breaks three tackles, patiently waits for downfield blocks and then outruns the entire naval academy.  The run showcases so many of his attributes that I felt it was a perfect way to end this study of him.

It feels odd to say but I think we need to see Henderson fail before we can truly evaluate him.  He’s playing so well right now that there are a dearth of negative plays on his tape.  It’s like you’re always watching a highlight reel.  In version 1.0 of my 2019 mock draft, I had Henderson as my RB13 and that already feels woefully low.  I’ll need to reevaluate my rankings but I don’t want to overreact just yet.  For now, I’ll say that Henderson is likely a top ten back with the potential to leapfrog some Power 5 names like Myles Gaskin and Damien Harris if he keeps up this production.

 


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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: Independents Preview

Updated: July 23rd 2017

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

Players to Watch

  • Adam Breneman, TE, UMass: I’m not ready to anoint Breneman as my favorite prospect yet, but he’s at least my favorite that you’ve never heard of.  Breneman transferred to UMass from Penn State and made a name for himself in 2016 after sitting out 2015.  He led the FBS in receptions by a TE (70) and was second in yards (808) and TDs (8).  I had honestly never heard of him before my research for this article and I guess that’s what happens when you play on a 2-10 independent team.  As a freshman, Breneman caught just 16 passes but for a solid 12.4 yards per catch.  He’s 6’4″ and 243lb – comparable to Dennis Pitta when he came out of BYU.  Film is tough to come by right now, but the first two clips on his “official” highlight reel are of one-handed catches.  Hopefully those sure hands are borne out when we have some more film to digest.  Maybe  my optimism is misplaced but the potential for an athletic, decently sized TE with good hands is too good to ignore.  Watch for him in early games against Hawaii and Tennessee, broadcasts that should be widely available, and impress your friends with your deep TE sleeper knowledge.
  • Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame:  The first thing that stood out to me about St. Brown, aside from his name, was how long and lean he looked on the field when I watched his film against Miami from 2016.  He’s 6’4″ and 205lb and needs to add 5-10lb before coming out for the NFL.  Of the seven WR who measured 6’4″ and around 205lb at the combine since 2010, all were busts.  If he puts on about 10lb, he’ll measure up with the likes of AJ Green and Martavis Bryant.  ESB has just one year of production and those numbers don’t jump off the page.  As a freshman in 2015, he played predominantly as a reserve with some special teams snaps (I was surprised to see a blocked punt against USC in his 2015 game logs).  In 2016 he transitioned into the lead target and had a line of 58-961-9.  I was not impressed by the film I watched of his against Miami.  Most of his receptions were on screens or short hitch routes.  From what I saw, he does not attack the ball and catch with his hands away from his body.  He’s tall but against Miami his height wasn’t used at all.  In fact, his touchdown catch was a diving catch where he basically trapped the ball against his body while falling to the ground and blocking out the defender.  It was a nice play and maybe a sign of his versatility but at his size he should be going over defenders, not through the middle.  There were three plays that I counted where he was an aggressive and useful blocker, another good sign.  Luckily for ESB, the Irish play a tough, cupcake-less schedule so he’ll have plenty of opportunity to show us what he’s got.  Phil Steele has him as his 14th ranked draft-eligible WR; meanwhile WalterFootball.com doesn’t even have him ranked.  Looks like others are as equally as unsure about his future fantasy and NFL draft stock.
  • Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame: I was really looking to have a prospect from BYU in this preview but nobody really stood out for me.  Instead I decided to go with Adams.  He has two solid seasons under his belt, but neither has been overly impressive.  In 2015 he rushed 116 times for 838 yards and 6 TDs; in 2016 it was 158, 933 and 5.  In 2016 he also added in 21 receptions and 193 yards.  In the tape I watched of Adams against Stanford, I was surprised by how often he seemed to be a decoy, usually by running patterns from the backfield.  He rarely stayed in to block; I counted just one time that he was in pass protection.  The times when he was handed the ball, it was mostly up-the-gut and stuffed; he didn’t show me much speed, bounce or cutting ability.  Speaking of his speed, DraftScout.com has him listed as a projected 4.58 – I don’t see it.  He’d be lucky to get close to the similarly sized TJ Yeldon who ran a 4.61 in 2015.  It may not seem like a big difference but there’s something mental about going slower than 4.60.  I’ll have to watch some more tape of Adams to get a better feel for his athleticism.  With a good 2017 season and about 1,300 rushing yards, Adams will become the fifth leading rusher in Irish history – that will get him noticed.

Storylines to Watch

  • Brian Kelly on the Hot Seat: Kelly is a household name but his record at Notre Dame doesn’t really deserve the recognition.  Everybody knows the Irish severely under performed last year when they started the preseason at #10 but finished at 4-8.  The previous winning seasons should make up for it right?  I’m not so sure.  Kelly is 59-31 overall at Notre Dame, a respectable record for most coaches, but he’s just 2-5 against Top 10 opponents, 11-14 against the Top 25 and 3-3 in bowls.  Losing records against top competition is not the way to curry favor with fervent Notre Dame fans.  Kelly has to start fresh at QB which will make 2017 even tougher (DeShone Kizer was drafted by the Browns and Malik Zaire transferred to Florida).  If Kelly doesn’t win 9+ games and win a name-brand bowl, he should be looking for a new job next Spring.
  • Can Army Repeat 2016: The Black Knights were a surprising 8-5 in 2016 and managed upset wins over Temple, Wake Forest and Navy.  Can they repeat the winning ways in 2017?  My money would be on no based on their past track record.  Before last season, Army had just one winning season (7-6 in 2010) since 1995.  The argument for continued success is that Army returns 12 starters and nearly 85% of their offensive yards, per Phil Steele.  Call me patriotic, but the college football world is just better when Army is winning games.
  • The Return of Tanner Mangum:  Mangum had a good 2015 season when filling in for the injured Taysom Hill (3,377 yards, 23 TDs) but was benched in favor of Hill again in 2016.  Mangum got back under center for the bowl game when Hill was hurt again, but he was disappointing with just eight completions and one TD.  I considered spotlighting Mangum as one of my draft prospects but he will be 25 years old at the start of the 2018 season if he came out after his junior season. That’s likely too old for NFL teams to strongly consider him as their QB of the future, and compounded if he stays for a senior year (he missed his first two years of eligibility for mission work).

Games to Watch

  • September 2, BYU vs LSU: As far as early season games go, this is nearly as good as it gets.  If Mangum has any hope of gaining some draft buzz, a strong start to the season is his ticket.  After LSU, BYU also plays Utah and Wisconsin.  If they go 2-1 in those three games I bet they end up in the Top 25 and buoy Mangum’s prospects despite my concerns about his age.
  • September 9, Georgia at Notre Dame: Another banner early season game finds Georgia traveling to South Bend for the first time in school history.  Georgia should be Top 15 to start the season but I’m a bit worried they will get caught looking ahead to the Irish when the play Appalachian State on September 2.  If the Bulldogs don’t falter to start the season, getting a scalp against Georgia could very well save Brian Kelly’s job.
  • December 9, Army vs Navy: This matchup is always one of my favorite games of the season.  The game rightfully has the spotlight to itself before the bowl games kick off and it usually features some fun-to-watch triple option offenses.  It’s rare you can watch a game and find yourself rooting for both sides, enjoy it.  ‘Merica!

 

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper