The Watch List: 2019 Rookie Mock Draft 2.0

Updated: April 13th 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.

In this installment of The Watch List, I’ll be sharing version 2.0 of my 2019 Rookie Mock Draft.  This labor-intensive exercise will soon be worthless once the NFL Draft ends but it’s still a helpful tool for a rookie ranker like myself.  Let’s skip a lengthy preamble and get to it!

1.01 | N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State

Harry has an enticing combination of high floor and high ceiling which has kept him atop my rookie mock draft for the entire season. At various times in his career, he’s shown us that he can do it all – win in the air, manufacture yards after the catch, overpower defenders – and I trust that he will put it all together in the pros. I expect him to earn targets in Year One and be a valuable fantasy asset by Year Two.

1.02 | Kelvin Harmon, WR, NC State

If Harmon fared better at the NFL Combine he would have challenged Harry for my top choice. A disappointing combine, though, isn’t enough for me to forget what I saw from Harmon when I watched him all season. He appears to be a nuanced route runner who has the play strength and body control to live on the outside. Harmon will be a good compromise for owners who miss out on Harry but aren’t willing to take the risk on Metcalf.

1.03 | DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss

Metcalf may go down as the most polarizing player for #DraftTwitter. His upside is evident but so are the question marks. Metcalf is a physical specimen unlike anybody we’ve seen recently. His size, speed and strength are almost literally off the charts. Unfortunately, his small sample size and injury concerns cloud the outlook for fantasy owners. I am very unlikely to own Metcalf in any of my RSO leagues but would consider him more in pure dynasty formats where there is no clock on his development.

1.04 | Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

If I were forced to choose between Butler or Metcalf for my fantasy team, I think I would ultimately choose Butler. I think that is far from consensus and unlikely to happen in many RSO drafts though so that’s why I list Butler after Metcalf in this mock draft. (Side note: I always vacillate on whether these rookie mock drafts should mirror my rankings or what is most likely to happen in a typical league.) In my most recent NFL Draft preview article, I described Butler as “a speedy 6053/227 behemoth with a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl jealous.” I think that perfectly sums up why he continues creeping up draft boards, mine included.

1.05 | David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State

Finally, our first running back! Like Harry has been my top wideout, Montgomery has been my top rusher in the class for nearly two years. Other names have ebbed in popularity since I started writing about this running back class, but Montgomery has always remained constant. Montgomery lacks the long speed to be a breakaway runner but he more than makes up for it with tremendous contact balance that allows him to keep plays alive as he pinballs off defenders. He is also a plus receiver and pass blocker which will help him see the field early.

1.06 | Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma

The Sooners’ diminutive duo of QB Kyler Murray and WR Marquise Brown combined for numerous spectacular plays in 2018, cementing Brown’s “Hollywood” moniker. He’s lightning quick with a Mach 2 top speed – the type of player that friends would need to agree to bench when playing NCAA 14. When I studied Brown earlier this season, I was happy to see that he was not just a quick slot receiver. In fact, according to PFF’s play data, less than half of Brown’s receptions came from the slot (32 of 75). The obvious knock against Brown is his size (5093/166) but a creative offense will find a way to utilize him in space. If a team invests significant draft capital in him you can be sure that fantasy owners will take the hint.

1.07 | AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss

The forgotten man of the 2019 draft class is AJ Brown. I honestly don’t have a good reason as to why he fell from 1.04 to 1.07 since September. It really just comes down to an excitement around Metcalf, Butler and Hollywood Brown that I don’t feel for AJ Brown. If he wasn’t in Metcalf’s shadow, we would be talking more about Brown because he performed well at the combine and put up an SEC leading 1,320 yards in 2018. I believe that Brown will be a fantasy asset whose value is independent of quarterback play because his ability to win in the slot will appeal to both savvy veterans and struggling sophomores seeking a safety valve. As somebody who owns a number of picks in the 1.07-1.09 range, I am secretly glad to see Brown fading in popularity.

1.08 | Noah Fant, TE, Iowa

The difference between Fant and TJ Hockenson for the TE1 spot is minimal. Fant is more athletic while Hockenson is the better blocker. Fant had the better 2017, while Hockenson led the way in 2018. For fantasy purposes, I think Fant makes an earlier impact because he’s more likely to see targets as a rookie. For reality purposes, I’m leaning towards Hockenson because he’s the more complete tight end right now. It’s close and the tie will ultimately be broken by team fit. Counterintuitively, I lean Fant because I think he comes off the board second, meaning he’s more likely to land in a better situation.

1.09 | Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Two months ago we were talking about Jacobs’ rise and how he could emerge as the unquestioned RB1 in this class. I never quite made that jump, although I did propel him to RB2 after his late season dominance. Jacobs ran a disappointing 4.60 at his pro day but it’s important to remember that straight-line speed is only part of the evaluation. I’m currently thinking that Jacobs is drafted first but for our purposes here I’m not ready to have him leapfrog Montgomery until we see just how much draft capital is invested in both players. Both are well-rounded backs who contribute as receivers and pass protectors, but Mongtomery has the much longer track record.

1.10 | Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State

I have been a strong proponent of the “2.01 Rookie QB” in my time playing on RSO. I always figured that, much like in the real NFL, locking up a young starting QB on a team-friendly deal was exorbitantly valuable. I still think that’s the case, but two things have slightly tweaked my thinking. First, my RSO leagues are superflex and I think that is becoming more popular. The most frequent ranking question I get is how to adjust for superflex and I feel that having the first quarterback come off the board in the second round is not as illustrative as it was four years ago. Second, RSO now has a fifth year option for first rounders. I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I’ll save that for my more mathematically inclined colleagues, but my gut feeling is that an extra year of somebody like Mitch Trubisky is worth more than the difference in salary between 1.10 and 2.01. Put another way, the salaries at 1.10 and 2.01 are both below market value for a young and startable QB in many leagues, so you might as well maneuver to 1.10 and get the option.

Haskins emerged as my QB1 once it was clear that Oregon’s Justin Herbert was eyeing a return to Eugene. He’s a solid pocket passer who has the arm strength and accuracy for the NFL. His mobility is limited though which will be a stark difference between him and Kyler Murray (or even Daniel Jones). Haskins may end up as the second quarterback off the board but if I was choosing between him or Murray to be the leader of my RSO franchise, I would make the safer pick.

2.01 | Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma

If Kyler Murray isn’t the first quarterback selected in your rookie draft, I guarantee you that he’ll be taken with the successive pick. There will be at least one Kool-Aid drinker in every league and if that person doesn’t reach for Kyler early in the first, they certainly will once the quarterback bubble bursts to make sure they get him before a run starts. As an RSO owner, I would be okay with Murray at 2.01 but will miss out on him if my leagues value him more highly. If the naysayers are proven right and his body cannot withstand the NFL, your dead cap number at 2.01 will be less than half as much than if you had taken him early. If the yaysayers are proven right and his dynamism and cannon-like arm make for a singularly talented prospect, you’ll have the bargain of all bargains.

A suggestion for RSO commissioners: have a proactive rule in place should Murray (or anybody) decide to quit football and return to baseball during his career. Some keeper and dynasty leagues I play in don’t have foolproof rules regarding players who stop playing but don’t clearly retire (i.e. Marshawn Lynch, Ladarius Green). Since Murray’s case may not be a true “retirement” I think you should address it now to avoid a messy league vote later.

2.02 | TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa

See: Fant, Noah.

2.03 | Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

Henderson has unbelievable per-touch numbers the last two seasons. Over 387 combined touches, Henderson averaged 9.26 yards from scrimmage (3,584 total). I don’t know if that’s a record or not but I’ve never seen production like that sustained over two full seasons. He’s undersized at 5083/208 but he runs with a downhill style that belies his shorter stature. If the traditional stats aren’t enough to sell you on Henderson’s potential, check out PFF’s advanced metrics. He’s their second ranked back in Elusive Rating and first in Breakaway Percentage and Drop Rate. We might all be sleeping on Henderson. (In fact, while writing Henderson’s blurb, I decided to flip-flop him and Anderson. How could I be so impressed with all of his stats and not give him the edge over the oft-injured Anderson.)

2.04 | JJ Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford

I fell in love with JJAW early in the season when he started the campaign on fire (17-408-7 after four games). He’s long and strong which is helpful because he’s not a great leaper. He can still win contested catches due to his play strength and wingspan. He didn’t test at the combine so his pro day was going to be huge and he did not disappoint. Arcega-Whiteside ran a 4.49 forty which far exceeded my expectation. Pro day times are always favorable to a player so I doubt he’s truly that fast but it did make me reconsider what was probably his biggest negative. In my opinion, Arcega-Whiteside has the potential to be a team’s starting boundary receiver but he lacks the athletic upside that some others in the class possess.

2.05 | Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma

If not for his history of serious injuries (ACL, broken leg, broken neck bone), Rodney Anderson would be my RB1. I studied him early in the season and he just popped off the screen. He runs with great momentum, using his power and speed to run over defenders. He’s agile enough to quickly change direction at speed. Due to the small sample size (just 17 receptions in 17 career games) it’s tough to know how talented he is as a receiver. If 2.05 was my first rookie pick of the draft, there isn’t a chance I’m risking it on Anderson. However, if I have a nice cache of draft capital I’m going to take a shot and hope he stays healthy.

2.06 | Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State

I still have not come around fully on Parris Campbell. I fully admit it may be because I am a Michigan fan, even though I try not to let that tint my evaluations. My rebuttal about Campbell was always that he was a one-trick pony and didn’t produce enough to be considered a top receiver prospect. Well, I was quite surprised to see that Campbell ended 2018 with ninety (!) receptions. He did muster 24 of those in the final three contests but I can’t spin that as a negative when I would usually applaud a player for showing up when it mattered most (one of those three games was a 6-192-2 explosion against my Wolverines). When it comes to advanced stats, Campbell stands out as well. According to PFF, he is top five in Yards Per Route Run, Slot Receptions and Slot Receiving Yards. Campbell added a stellar combine performance to all of those great stats. He finished in the 90th percentile or higher in the following categories: 40 yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump. Campbell is definitely somebody that I need to study more closely after we see who drafts him.

2.07 | Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State

After Saquon Barkley left for the NFL, Sanders never really earned the buzz that I thought he might once he became the lead back. I’m guilty of this myself because I didn’t devote any time during the season to studying Sanders. Now, as the NFL Draft approaches, my fellow analysts are starting to remember the promise with which Sanders arrived to Happy Valley as a highly touted teenager. Some have put Sanders as high as RB1 but I’m not ready to catapult him yet until I have a chance to study him more closely. He did put together a solid combine and his basic stats are very good: 1,274 rushing yards, 9 rushing TDs, 24 receptions, 139 receiving yards. Stay tuned.

2.08 | Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

The order of Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs is a tough one. Up until my last batch of rankings, I had Harris higher because he beat Jacobs for touches and had the higher pedigree coming out of high school. Jacobs’ late surge though showed that he just might be the better three-down back at ‘Bama. Harris checks in at 5101/216 so he has middling size to go with mediocre 4.57 speed. Despite never eclipsing 150 carries in a season, Harris has been consistent, managing two 1,000 yard seasons and cresting 3,000 career rushing yards. He’s a good receiver but not a great pass blocker. Best case: Harris is just good enough in short-yardage situations, in the open field and in pass protection that he earns an every down role. Worst case: Harris is just small enough and slow enough to get passed over in his team’s pecking order.

2.09 | Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

Similar to Harris, I think Weber has a wide range of possibilities in the NFL. He’s an all-round back who I think will greatly outperform his draft position. I foresee a narrative where Weber impresses in training camp and earns a spot in the rotation before Week 1. I just recently wrote about Weber for my NFL Draft sleepers article, so check that out for a deeper dive. LINK:

2.10 | Irv Smith, TE, Alabama

Irv Smith has one of the more bizarre “spider graphs” I have ever seen on Mockdraftable (LINK). He’s very small for the position (6023/242, 8th percentile) but quick (4.63, 83rd percentile). He also has short arms so any hope of him punching above his weight as a blocker is unlikely. The knee-jerk reaction is to label Smith as a big slot, but I also foresee him being used in an h-back role. Lining Smith up off the line of scrimmage, or in motion along the line, allows him to avoid getting jammed at the snap. Instead, he is able to use his speed to get open in the flat or to spring up field past slower linebackers.

3.01 | Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

Johnson went the JUCO route out of high school, playing one season each at two different schools before getting an offer from Buffalo (and South Alabama). He was very productive for the Bulls, finishing his career with 133 receptions, 2,367 yards and 25 TDs. Johnson plays bigger and stronger than his 6017/209 frame and ran surprisingly well at his pro day (unofficial times reported were between 4.41-4.50). He’ll be a solid, if not exciting, addition to any NFL offense.

3.02 | Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

Another JUCO transfer WR, Preston Williams excelled in his one season at Colorado State, totaling 1,345 yards and 14 TDs on 96 receptions. He’s a lanky receiver who adjusts to the ball well and has an innate ability to make spectacular catches. Williams is a 5-star talent that some team will get for a discount because of his off the field concerns.

3.03 | Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic

“Motor” Singletary put up fantastic numbers on the field the last two seasons (3,266 rushing yards and 54 TDs), unfortunately, his combine measurables left much to be desired. He is tiny at 5071 and ran just 4.66. He looks faster and stronger than those numbers suggest so we’ll need to see him perform in the preseason before investing much capital in him

3.04 | Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

The catch (pun intended) with Samuel is that he’s been injured far too often in his career so I just haven’t seen enough of him to form a strong opinion. We finally got a full season out of Samuel in 2018 and he did produce: 62-882-11. He’s great with the ball in his hands and also adds a dimension as a kick returner (29.0 career average, 4 TDs) which will increase the chances that he makes an early impact. I wanted to put Samuel higher but I just had a hard time justifying it for a receiver who has a history of injuries and didn’t standout at the combine.

3.05 | David Sills, WR, West Virginia

I’m higher on Sills, for fantasy purposes, than many others. I think he will have an instant role in the NFL as a redzone threat and be deployed similar to Mark Andrews in his debut season. I’m expecting a rookie stat line of 25-200-6 which would have utility during bye weeks.

3.06 | Andy Isabella, WR, UMass

Isabella is beguiling because based on his size (5083/188) you would assume he’s just a dink-and-dunk slot receiver. To the contrary, he finished second in PFF’s Deep Receiving Yards stat and led in Yards Per Route Run. After watching some tape it’s easy to see why he is so successful at the deep ball: he’s fast and tracks the ball incredibly well. I have never seen so many over-the-shoulder catches. So, while he may look like a prototypical Patriot pass catcher, we shouldn’t discount his versatility and upside.

3.07 | Alexander Mattison, RB, Boise State

Alexander Mattison intrigues me like no other mid-tier back. I’ve tried to steer away from comps this year as they can be counterproductive but I keep coming back to Kareem Hunt when I see clips of Mattison play. He’s a powerful runner and a good receiver. He’ll be a fifth rounder with little hype but I think he’s worth a late stash in your fantasy draft.

3.08 | Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky

Snell seems destined to be a two-down back in the NFL. He can succeed in short yardage situations and runs with a bruising mentality. He’s been extremely durable despite a large workload (39 games, 737 carries) which you could spin as a “tread on the tire” negative but I’m not worried because I don’t expect him to be an every down player anyway.

3.09 | Daniel Jones, QB, Duke

Just about every time you read about Daniel Jones, you will inevitably also hear the name David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe earned his quarterback whisperer title working with the Mannings, so I can understand the excitement. Jones is big, athletic, throws well on the move and is smart. He’s going to be drafted higher than you expect, maybe in the first twelve picks.

3.10 | Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin was the ultimate compiler at Washington. He managed to stay healthy throughout 52 career games, amassing 945 career carries and four straight thousand yard seasons. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he was so durable at his size (5091/205) because he’s stronger than others in his cohort (24 bench reps). His smaller stature will mean some teams won’t believe he can be an every down starter but he’s worth grabbing late in your draft just in case.

4.01 | Tyre Brady, WR, Marshall
4.02 | Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State
4.03 | Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
4.04 | Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
4.05 | Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
4.06 | Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri
4.07 | Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame
4.08 | Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State
4.09 | Drew Lock, QB, Missouri
4.10 | Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona
5.01 | Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M
5.02 | KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State
5.03 | Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State
5.04 | Josh Oliver, TE, San Jose State
5.05 | Donald Parham, TE, Stetson
5.06 | Keelan Doss, WR, UC Davis
5.07 | Penny Hart, WR, Georgia State
5.08 | Devine Ozigbo, RB, Nebraska
5.09 | Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis
5.10 | Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo

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

  • Stats:,,,,,,,,,
  • Recruiting:,,,
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks:,,,,,
  • NFL rosters and contract info:,
  • Draft history:
  • Combine info:,,,
  • 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, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: (the media home for FWAA members)
  • Odds & Gambling Stats:

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 AAC Preview

Updated: July 21st 2018

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

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Favorite:  McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF.  Milton thrived under coach Scott Frost last season, throwing for 4,037 yards and 37 TDs.  It remains to be seen how Milton progresses under new head coach Josh Heupel but I assume he’ll do just fine with such a strong supporting cast.  He may be the next in the line of “great college quarterbacks who can’t make it as a pro” but that won’t diminish my enjoyment watching him in 2018.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Ed Oliver, DT, Houston.  Picking a defensive lineman for the Heisman is about as darkhorse as it gets.  Oliver is a beast who will be in the conversation for a top draft pick so it stands to reason he may earn a Heisman vote or two like Roquan Smith received in 2017.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis.  Henderson will have a strong season but will never get the publicity of Milton so I wanted to honor Henderson here while giving Milton my AAC Heisman vote.  Per Phil Steele, Memphis ranks 11th in the nation in offensive line starts returning for 2018, so Henderson will have an experienced line blocking for him.  Add in the fact that the Tigers lose their star QB and WR and we’ll be looking at an offensive attack more focused on the run this season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Ed Oliver, DT, Houston.  I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing Ed Oliver’s name because there is more of him to come in this preview and I’ll be talking about him all season long.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Tavion Thomas, RB, Cincinnati.  Thomas was a highly sought recruit who earned offers from the likes of Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama.  Thomas committed to the Sooners before changing his mind in January.  He was the 17th ranked back according to 247Sports and was #29 per Phil Steele.  Thomas has a shot at emerging from Cinci’s young but crowded backfield.  The Bearcats return two sophomores in Gerrid Doaks and Michael Warren who had 520-2 and 334-1 respectively as freshmen.
  • Underclassman to Watch:  Gabriel Davis, WR, UCF.  The Knights are losing two of their top three receivers (Tre’Quan Smith and Jordan Akins) so the door is open for Davis to take on a bigger role in 2018.  In 2017 as a true freshman his line was 27-391-4.  He has a big body at 6’3″ and 219lb so it’ll be interesting to see if the high volume offense of UCF vaults him into 2020 draft consideration.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  McKenzie Milton and Dredrick Snelson.  I thought about being flippant here and selecting Zach Abey and Malcolm Perry, see below, but I figured I should give some real analysis instead.  Ultimately I chose Milton and Snelson more out of necessity than desire.  The AAC only returns one of its top ten receivers from last year so my options were quite limited here.  That sole returner, East Carolina’s Trevon Brown, will be playing with a new passer this season so I couldn’t go with that tandem.  Snelson is the Knights leading returning receiver; he had 46-695-8 last year.  Snelson was Phil Steele’s 35th ranked recruit in his class so he has some potential and could land on NFL Draft radars as a junior.
  • Best RB Corps:  Navy.  I haven’t had such an easy choice yet in my season preview research.  The Midshipmen return two 1,000+ yard rushers in Zach Abey and Malcolm Perry.  They also return FB Anthony Gargiulo who rushed for 424 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.  Notice that I left off position designations for Abey and Perry because there’s an interesting battle, forgive the pun, between them heading into this season.  They both had starts at QB last year but Perry is the better athlete (Perry played at WR while Abey started at QB).  Reports are that Abey will be moving to WR which we know is not a premier assignment in a triple option offense.  I’ll bet that head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been game planning all offseason and keeping both players on the field at the same time will make Navy even harder to defend.
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Randy Edsall, UCONN.  I don’t really get the allure of Randy Edsall.  He left the Huskies back in 2010 for a five year stint at Maryland that netted him just 22 wins.  Then Connecticut brought him back in 2017 after firing Bob Diaco.  Edsall has a 73-72 career record with Connecticut but the team was dreadful last year at 3-9.  Those three wins were by a combined seventeen points and one of them was over 4-7 Holy Cross from the FCS.  Not exactly a winning resume.  When I researched Edsall for this preview, I was reminded of his recent tirade about paying college players.  While I agree with the idea, going off on that tangent probably isn’t the best way to keep your job with an NCAA member institution.  Neither is suing the school’s Citizen Ethics Advisory Board.

Teams to Watch

 Memphis (10-3 in 2017)

I’m really interested to see what Memphis can do in 2018 after losing so much with QB Riley Ferguson and WR Anthony Miller moving on.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere in this preview, the Tigers have a number of offensive weapons leftover including RB Darrell Henderson, do-everything dynamo Tony Pollard and TE Joey Magnifico.  The Tigers won the West division last season with a 7-1 record.  They return 15 starters from that team and have a favorable non-conference schedule (easily winnable home games against Mercer, Georgia State and South Alabama).  An odd midseason matchup against SEC foe Missouri could end up being the make-or-break contest.  Memphis will easily hold onto the division mantle but a sneaky win against Missouri would catapult them into playoff contention (it would be a better Power 5 win than UCF had last year over Maryland).  Memphis may have the widest range of possible outcomes this upcoming season in the AAC, because of the uncertainty of replacing two huge pieces of the offense, but if I had to bet (and hey I may soon be able to, thank you New Jersey!) I would take the over and pick them to improve on last year’s 10 wins.

 Cincinnati (4-8 in 2017)

What is a Bearcat anyway?  Nobody seems to know for sure, unless you accept this tenuous explanation from the school.  One thing I do know about Cincinnati is that they will be on the come this season.  Per Phil Steele, Cinci returns 78% of their offensive yards, the most in the conference.  They also have a soft non-conference schedule after opening at UCLA.  They have an annual game against Miami Ohio which the Bearcats have won every season since 2006; two weeks later they have another winnable, albeit more difficult, MAC matchup against Ohio.  Between those two, Alabama A&M comes to town which Cincinnati should beat easily.  They get Navy and USF at home which will help them steal a win against one of the higher ranked AAC teams.  The offense features a number of underclassman running backs that could be either a blessing or a curse for head coach Luke Fickell.  The experienced QB Hayden Moore returns but may be beat out by true freshman Ben Bryant.  It may be a big if, but if Fickell can juggle his myriad backfield options, Cinci could surprise in the East and get to eight wins.  Even if that may be a stretch, I like Fickell’s chances of getting to 7-5 in his second season at the helm.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF:  Milton was fantastic in 2017 and should light up AAC defenses again this season, even under a new coach.  Jeff Heupel was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for fellow NFL prospect Drew Lock at Missouri; Heupel also worked closely with NFL quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones at OU.  So, Heupel’s quarterback coach credentials could help increase Milton’s stock.  Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be an uphill battle for Milton as he is severely undersized at 5110/180.  It’s a shame because he has a great arm and makes some of his throws look effortless.  Another 4,000 yard and 35 TD season should be expected.
  • Ryquell Armstead, RB, Temple:  Armstead followed up a promising sophomore season (919-14) with a disappointing junior campaign (604-5).  Interestingly, he had the exact same number of carries in each season (156).  One positive of 2017 was that Armstead got involved with 14 receptions, although for only 75 yards.  Armstead has good size (5110, 205) but needs to show that he can be the lead back and wrest carries away from veteran David Hood.
  • Adrian Killins, RB, UCF:  Listed weights for Killins range between 150-170 but either way he’s light and slight at 5080.  What Killins lacks in size, he makes up in speed.  He offered up some bulletin board material last year leading into the Peach Bowl when he boasted that Auburn hadn’t seen speed like he and the Knights had. predicts Killins speed will range between 4.40-4.59.  After watching some highlights, this one specifically, I’m going to guess he’s safely in the 4.40 discussion.  Killins was involved as a receiver with 25 receptions in 2017; he totaled 959 yards and 11 TDs from scrimmage on 148 touches.  He also has some limited experience returning kicks which is where he could be deployed early in his pro career.
  • Tony Pollard, WR/RB/KR, Memphis:  Pollard is an all-purpose threat.  In 2017 he had 10 touchdowns: 2 rushing, 4 receiving, 4 kick return.  He only had 66 touches from scrimmage but averaged over 11 yards per touch.  He’ll still be behind RB Darrell Henderson in the offensive pecking order but with WR Anthony Miller gone, Pollard will see more snaps.  It’s not impossible that Pollard could parlay his size (5110/200) and versatility into a “Jaylen Samuels lite” draft profile.
  • Justin Hobbs, WR, Tulsa:  Hobbs finished 2017 with a respectable 55-830-3 line on a bad Tulsa team that averaged just 173 yards passing per game.  Hobbs has not showed a knack for finding the end zone (just 9 career TDs in three seasons) but has a redzone worthy frame at 6040/218.  I watched a 2017 highlight package of Hobbs and was disappointed to see how infrequently he used that size to his advantage by playing in the air.  I’ll monitor Hobbs this year to see if he improves in that regard.
  • Joey Magnifico, TE, Memphis:  Here we have another player who stands to benefit from Memphis WR Anthony Miller leaving for the NFL.  You may be quick to counter that I’m attributing too much added production to Henderson, Pollard and Magnifico but you need to remember what a black hole Miller was in this offense.  He had 100+ touches in both 2016 and 2017 that need to be replaced.  Magnifico is listed at 6040/235 which puts him on the smaller side of the last two tight end classes.  Size wise he comps to Evan Engram or Gerald Everett but predicts he’ll be significantly slower.  Magnifico has just 30 career receptions (365 yards, 5 TDs) so this is pure speculation here but he’s likely the best TE in the conference so so let’s keep an eye on him.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Regardless of what source you’re looking at, Ed Oliver is about as unanimous a selection as you’ll find for the nation’s best at their position. He checks in at 6030/290 and is projected in the 4.90 range.  He ran a 4.87 as a high school prospect and in my experience, guys tend to get a tick faster once they are on campus and start training at a higher level. quotes some sick athletic feats as well in the vertical and broad jump categories.  No prospect in 2018, at 290+ pounds, would have a better profile.  Taven Bryan and Kolton Miller would come close, and both were first rounders, but Oliver would have them beat by nearly a full tenth of a second in the 40 yard dash.  Oliver is in the running for the top pick and I’ll bet that some team is going to get tremendous value for him at #2 or #3 after a quarterback inevitably rises up the draft board.  By no means am I an expert when it comes to defensive line play so I’m not going to try and break down his technique but it’s impossible to watch Oliver and not see the impact he has on the game every single snap.  Considering the attention offensive lines pay him, his stats are great: 73 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2017.  I watched a fair bit of Oliver last season so I did not do a new round of film study for this preview (honestly, seems kind of pointless… he’s good), but I encourage you to take four minutes and watch this highlight reel entitled “Absolute Domination” which just about sums him up.

Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis

Henderson is a 5090/200 running back who made fantastic use of his 154 touches last season.  On those touches, 24 of which were receptions, Henderson averaged 8.96 yards per and scored 11 TDs.  In my database of nearly fifty running backs for this class, Henderson led them all in yards per carry, by nearly a yard too.  He also had a productive freshman season with over 700 scrimmage yards and 8 TDs.  As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam in this preview, Memphis has a lot of offensive production to replace in 2018.  I expect to see Henderson’s touches creep closer to 200 and while his rate stats will surely decrease he will still be productive and could be a fast riser.  Henderson uses his squat body type to run with a balanced combination of speed and power, often pinballing off defenders.  He showed me great contact balance and an ability to stay upright, especially while avoiding ankle tackles.  He accelerates well and has a top speed in the 4.50 range, in my opinion.  His hands need some work and he appears to be a hesitant (and inexperienced) blocker but that may improve with experience.  Henderson offers the Memphis offense versatility which they used to create mismatches for Henderson and his teammates.  In one perfect example against SMU, Henderson motioned out of the backfield to line up in the slot.  The linebackers shift and it’s clear there’s some confusion.  Amidst that confusion, WR Anthony Miller splits the linebackers and scores on a touch pass over the middle.  If the defenders were not concerned about Henderson playing out of the slot the touchdown never would have materialized.  If I were ranking today, Henderson probably cracks my Top 20 at the position but I was impressed enough with his power/speed combination to reserve final judgment.  (Film watched: UCF 2017, SMU 2017)

Trevon Brown, WR, East Carolina

Brown was not on my radar when I started researching the AAC for this preview.  He stood out, however, when I realized how few productive receivers were returning to the AAC this season.  Brown finished 2017 with a line of 60-1,069-7 for the Pirates, making him the only one of the conference’s top ten receivers coming back to campus.  His 17.8 yards per catch average led the conference by receivers with 60+ receptions.  Brown had a solid sophomore season in 2015 (41-496-4) but was forced to sit out 2016 after being declared academically ineligible.  Since he’s not a buzzworthy name, there was not much film of Brown to find online.  I was able to watch one full game and a highlight reel package.  His game against Cinci ended up looking good on the stat sheet (9-270-2) but it was buoyed by a huge 95 yard score.  It concerned me that a number of Brown’s best routes went untargeted by the quarterback.  Part of that is likely the fact that Brown lines up almost exclusively on the left and his right handed QB just didn’t have the time or ability to read the full field.  Brown shows strong hands, in fact I did not note a single drop.  He runs a limited route tree but found success on numerous post routes.  On those posts, he used his body to shield the defender while making the catch with his hands.  In general, he has average speed and acceleration but he does have an extra gear when he wants to shift into it making him dangerous after the catch.  It did concern me that Brown appears to be uninterested on plays that are designed to go away from him, rarely did I see him try to sell a route or hold a block when he knew he wouldn’t see action.  I’m hoping that Brown’s upward statistical trajectory continues because he has decent enough size and speed (6020/211, predicts in the 4.55 range) to get drafted as a late round flyer a la Cedrick Wilson from this year.  (Film watched: Cincinnati 2017, Highlights 2017)

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.  Then watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  For top prospects I may add a third game, while for long shots I might only devote the time for one. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen. I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability. If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats:,,,,,
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks:,,,,,
  • Draft history:
  • Combine info:,,
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • 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

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

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