The Watch List 2021: Week 6 Preview

Updated: October 9th 2020

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

Forgive me for sounding like a cub reporter for the The Tiger, the student newspaper at Clemson, but this week’s entry is going to focus on the nation’s best. Clemson has started the season 3-0 with relatively easy contests against Wake Forest, The Citadel and Virginia. So far they have outscored opponents 127-36, and were never really in danger against UVA even though they did allow the Cavaliers to keep it somewhat close for awhile. The #1 ranked Tigers will face a real test this week when #7 Miami travels to Death Valley for Week 6, looking to protect their own unbeaten start. Since the first three Clemson outings were snoozers broadcast on the depths of your channel guide, many of you, like me, probably haven’t seen too much of the Tigers yet in 2020. I thought it would be good to check in on a few of the key draft eligible players who might make a difference on Saturday night.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

“And that’s the one Marvin, that’s the silver tuna.” I’m not sure why that Home Alone quote was the first thing to come to mind when I was brainstorming a quirky opening sentence that summed up Trevor Lawrence and his place atop the college football world, but hey it works! During his three years as the Clemson starter, I have not written much about Lawrence because frankly there isn’t much for me to say. Lawrence has been the darling of #DraftTwitter since before he even took a snap for Clemson. Back before the 2018 season, I was ready to pencil him in over incumbent Kelly Bryant right away, saying “it’s only a matter of time before we see Lawrence take over at Clemson.” In hindsight, that seems like a “no duh” sentiment and it should have been because Bryant had no business playing over Lawrence to start that campaign. Barring injury, or a self-preservation redshirt, Lawrence will end his career with over 10,000 passing yards, more than 100 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing scores. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence is the all-time leader in passing efficiency in ACC history. This week against Miami, Lawrence will be facing the best and most opportunistic defense he’s seen so far (and maybe until the playoff).

Trevor Lawrence has it all as a quarterback. He has better than prototypical size at 6060/220. His arm is strong and he trusts himself to squeeze it into tight spaces. He’s accurate and doesn’t make many mistakes (a 73:12 TD:INT ratio is good right?). He’s effective as a short yardage runner and has enough juice in those long legs to break off an occasional long run. Check out this first half highlight reel from his last game against UVA where you see him do a little of everything:

In addition to his traits on the field, something else that I was pleased to see this offseason was Lawrence’s leadership off the field. Regardless of your personal opinion on the viability of this year’s college football season amid a pandemic, it was nice to see Lawrence rallying players from across the country. Lawrence has also been a leading voice in the college football world when it comes to equality and social change. Sports Illustrated recently quoted him saying, “I’m not an activist of any sorts, but I do think I have a responsibility to promote equality and help the people I love.”

Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and will undoubtedly be the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s also going to be a first rounder in your rookie draft; even if you’re not playing superflex he’s going to go earlier than you think because somebody will want to build around a once-in-a-generation talent.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

I last wrote about Travis Etienne, currently my favorite college football player, in the Spring when I previewed three potential 1.01 rookie draft picks. In that preview, I gushed about Etienne once again. Over his career, Etienne averages 7.7 yards per carry and has scored 65 total touchdowns. It’s hard to argue with that production, especially when you consider the level of competition he’s facing at Clemson. In six career playoff games, Etienne has nine scores and over 450 scrimmage yards. So far this year, Etienne has earned 315 yards from scrimmage and 3 total TDs. He’s not off to a blazing start but that doesn’t worry me. With a modified offseason and a mediocre opening slate, I would not be surprised if the plan was to ease Etienne into the season until they need him most.

Etienne started his career as a home run hitting speedster. Since then, he’s developed his body and his game and has become powerful at the point of contact. He has also overcame his reluctance as a receiver to be a valuable option out of the backfield (37 receptions, 432 yards and 4 receiving TDs last year). The two snippets below show just how his game has evolved. The first highlight is from his freshman season in 2017 and it shows just how quickly he can accelerate and stride past all eleven defenders. The icing on the cake was the sprinter’s lean as he crossed the goal line. The second play came against Virginia last week; it’s only a sixteen yard run to the endzone but he shows us so much. The clip illustrates his patience, strength and contact balance while four defenders have a chance to stop him.

https://twitter.com/TheHHShow_/status/1312559519390593024?s=20

I think it’s inevitable that Travis Etienne is a first rounder in the NFL Draft in 2021 and a Top 3 pick in your next rookie draft. I hope I luck into a number of shares because I love watching him play and expect he’ll continue to develop into a complete three-down NFL running back.

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

A few months back we did not expect that Amari Rodgers would be the Tigers’ leading receiver. Instead, we assumed it would have been Justyn Ross, however a neck/spine injury has sidelined him for this year (and hopefully only this year.) Through his first three years on campus, Rodgers proved to be a trustworthy complementary target with a career stat line of 104-1,124-8. When I wrote about Rodgers in the Spring, I described him as a “strong and compact slot receiver whose unique 5100/210 body type is well suited to breaking tackles.” I went on to suggest that Rodgers would “have an instant role in the NFL as a reliable underneath receiver and dynamic punt returner.”

Against Virginia, Rodgers had one of the best games of his career, going for 72 yards and 2 TDs on six grabs. His best play of the game didn’t count though: an acrobatic diving touchdown that was ruled incomplete but should have been reviewed. Rodgers showed the ceiling and the floor of his potential versus the Cavaliers. The two clips below will help illustrate my point. At worst, as I mentioned above, he’s a satellite player who can succeed in space, whether that’s on screens or returns. At best, he can use his speed and nimble nature to get open on deep posts and make difficult receptions. I don’t expect him to regularly win contested downfield balls against NFL defensive backs but if he can occasionally stretch the defense to open up options for his teammates he’ll be a key contributor at the next level. I’ll bet Rodgers, likely a late rounder, becomes a fan favorite by the end of the season because we’re going to see a lot of Clemson in primetime and he’s bound to make some memorable plays.

 

 

Jackson Carman, LT, Clemson

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have an eye for scouting offensive lineman. But, you don’t need a scout’s eye to notice Jackson Carman and his gargantuan 6050/335 build. Carman took over as the starter in 2019 and has twenty career starts thus far at left tackle. Phil Steele, one of my most trusted voices in college football, had Carman as the 12th best offensive tackle in the draft-eligible class before the season began. The Draft Network has him ranked even higher at the 6th best in the class. In their scouting report, TDN described Carman as a “road grader in the run game” and said that “no pass rusher is going through him.” Sounds good to me. Dabo Swinney has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the nation and he wouldn’t trust his phenom quarterback’s blindside to just anybody.

Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson

The Clemson defense has been without its two biggest prospects to start the season: Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas. That has left the door open for other guys to make a name for themselves, including graduate linebacker Baylon Spector. Spector is the team’s leading tackler with 20 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.0 sack through three games. He lit up the box score last week against UVA, tallying 13 total tackles. Clemson’s defense has been an NFL factory of late but that usually comes from the edge rushers and secondary. Some of their recent off-ball linebackers like Kendall Joseph and Ben Boulware went undrafted but got a sniff in the NFL as undrafted free agents. Spector may be in the same situation if he can continue to rack up the counting stats this season. Admittedly, I’m also a sucker for a good “human interest” story and Baylon’s younger brother Brannon is on the squad too. He’s a redshirt freshman receiver who had four receptions last week. The Athletic recently had an entertaining profile of the brothers and how they trained together throughout the pandemic. It’s unlikely that either Spector is a viable NFL Draft prospect but I’ll be rooting for them anyway.

 

PS: The Hurricanes offense will be paced by dual-threat QB D’Eriq King and TE Brevin Jordan but we should be paying attention to junior RB Cam’Ron Harris too. It’s been four years since the ‘Canes had a 1,000 yard rusher and even in a shortened season Harris is on pace for 1,140 rushing yards and 18 scores. He caught my eye in their opener against UAB, showing both long speed and power to push the pile. He has an ideal build at 5100/210 and should continue to earn passing game work too.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List 2021: The Battle for 1.01

Updated: July 15th 2020

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

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

 

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2019 ACC Season Preview

Updated: August 18th 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: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson. At just nineteen years old, Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback in college football.  He has a big arm and elite 6060/215 size.  Given his frame, he is also surprisingly mobile.  Lawrence excels in clutch situations, illustrated by his 6:0 TD:INT ratio in Clemson’s three postseason games last year. I don’t believe it’s hyperbole to say that he’s one of the best twenty quarterbacks in America today; if NFL teams had the chance, many would replace their current starter with Lawrence two years before he’s even draft eligible.  Barring a major injury to him or a key Tiger teammate, I expect Lawrence to lead Clemson to another College Football Playoff appearance and pace the Heisman race along the way.

Underclassman to Watch: Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson. The most promising target for Lawrence is fellow sophomore Justyn Ross.  Ross earned national recognition after a spectacular showing in the college football playoff, including one truly unbelievable catch against Alabama.  In those two games against Notre Dame and Alabama, Ross combined for 12-301-3, about a third of his season totals.  He’s the conference’s leading returning receiver from last year and is likely to lead the line again.  He has a huge catch radius, sticky hands and looks like a punt returner with the ball in his hands.  If he and Lawrence progress together as we expect, we could be looking at Ross joining Lawrence as a Top 5 prospect in two years.

Newcomer of the Year: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina. New Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown and new offensive coordinator Phil Longo are moving the team to an air raid offense this season.  They might have just the pilot in true freshman Sam Howell.  Howell, the state’s all-time leader in total yardage, flipped from Florida State to UNC on signing day.  Phil Steele ranked him as the 8th best quarterback in the class while 247Sports had him as the 3rd best dual-threat quarterback.  I watched some highlights and he really is a great rusher, the high school competition couldn’t handle his speed or finesse moves.  It also looks like he can sky the ball – one his his throws went sixty yards on the fly and was delivered inch-perfect.  If Howell can win the job and battle through the early growing pains, North Carolina will return to bowl eligibility.

Coaching Carousel: Manny Diaz, the new head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, operated his own coaching carousel this offseason.  In December, Diaz accepted the head gig at Temple.  It was a positive step in Diaz’s career progression, going from Miami’s defensive coordinator to Temple’s head coach.  However, just a few days later, Miami head coach Mark Richt retired.  Diaz jumped at the chance to return to lead the staff he had been a part of for the previous three seasons.  Diaz has an interesting back story that was captured on a recent episode of Real Sports on HBO (Diaz’s dad was the mayor of Miami from 2001-2009).  I’m torn on how I feel about Diaz and what happened this Winter.  On one hand, I couldn’t envision myself bailing on a job just eighteen days after accepting it; on the other hand, it’s hard to fault somebody for taking their dream job.

Player to Watch

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Travis Etienne may hold the record for the player I have written about the most in my The Watch List series.  My first mention came back in September of 2017 when Etienne was just a freshman on his way to a 766-13 rookie season.  It’s always interesting to see how my initial assumptions about a player hold up and in Etienne’s case my notes from two years ago mirror my notes from two months ago.  Back in 2017, I described Etienne as “the hammer to close out Clemson’s wins” and that he is “undeniably fast and explosive.”  My recent film notes said that he “was not afraid to lower his shoulder and run up the gut” and in my first 2020 mock draft I noted that he “has the speed to outrun just about any defender to the boundary.”

Before I share some plays that showcase Etienne’s speed and surprising power, I wanted to take a closer look at his stats.  In 2017, Etienne averaged an impressive 7.2 yards per carry, which led the ACC.  He bested the conference again last season but improved his number to 8.1 (good enough for third in the FBS).  With averages like that, you would expect Etienne to be a big play threat so I wanted to compare him to the other four backs who are currently in my Top 5.  I also wanted to see if his chunk plays resulted in a higher scoring rate.

  • Travis Etienne
    • Runs over 10 yards: 44
    • Runs over 20 yards: 23
    • Scores every 8.4 touches (!!)
  • Jonathan Taylor
    • Runs over 10 yards: 61 (!!)
    • Runs over 20 yards: 16
    • Scores every 21.4 touches
  • D’Andre Swift
    • Runs over 10 yards: 32
    • Runs over 20 yards: 11
    • Scores every 17.2 touches
  • Trey Sermon
    • Runs over 10 yards: 27
    • Runs over 20 yards: 9
    • Scores every 15.7 touches
  • JK Dobbins
    • Runs over 10 yards: 24
    • Runs over 20 yards: 4
    • Scores every 23.6 touches

After reviewing the stats, I think it’s safe to say that Etienne is the best home run threat in the class.  He breaks big plays more often than the other top backs and more frequently converts them into points.

It’s easy to find highlights of Etienne illustrating my points above about his breakaway ability.  I picked this highlight from Wake Forest because when you watch it on YouTube you can pause it and see just how much faster he is than the fastest defenders.  At one point near the end of the run, when Etienne is crossing the ten yard line, he has a thirteen yard cushion.  That’s crazy for a play that started with him nearly bottled up behind the line of scrimmage.  Before Etienne hits the after burners, he shows his patience and his willingness to follow his lead blocker through a hole.  Once he gets a glimmer of open field, he’s gone.  His track-inspired celebration at the goal line is a reminder that he knows just how fast he is too (he reportedly once ran a hand-timed 4.24 40 yard dash).

Whenever I watch Etienne, I am always pleasantly surprised with the power that he runs with.  He has perfect size at 5100/200 which gives him a low enough center of gravity to stay upright through contact but also to churn forward for valuable yardage.  In this goal line snap, he receives the shovel pass and immediately runs into trouble.  He gets wrapped up at the two yard line, manages to squirm free, and lunges for the end zone.

When you watch the two above highlights it can be hard to square the fact that they are in fact the same prospect.  That’s what I love about Etienne, he seems to be the best of both worlds.  It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, though because there are a few areas where Etienne can improve.  If he wants to be considered a true three-down back in the NFL, Etienne needs to show us that he can be a productive receiver in 2019.  With a career receiving line of just 17-135-2, he’s merely been a dump off option (keep in mind, one of those receiving touchdowns was the shovel pass seen above).  As a pass blocker, I believe Etienne understands his assignments but lacks the strength to hold his blocks for very long.

I expect him to take another step forward this season and show us that he is a complete running back.  When he does, Etienne will challenge for the RB1 spot.

Honorable Mentions

Cam Akers, RB, Florida State: Akers joined the ‘Noles with a ton of hype as an incoming freshman, however much of that potential has been unrealized. Whether Akers has been the victim of, or part of the cause of, Florida State’s disappointments is the question. There’s no denying that their offensive line has been bad but star players sometimes transcend. Akers has shown flashes while compiling nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage, but he was uneven in the two games I watched. He did not pop off the screen like I expected him to. My preconceived notion of Akers was that of a scat back but he may actually be better between the tackles. As such, I was surprised to see Akers succeed in short yardage situations, he was regularly able to get leverage and fall forward to convert. He’s a good receiver so I’d like to see more of him in pass protection to better judge his viability as a versatile third down back. Akers has the ceiling to be a Top 5 back in this class but right now I have a number of other players I am more confident in.

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College: I was critical of Dillon earlier this Summer and took some heat about it on Twitter, including from AJ himself. Dillon is the best power back in the class, however, I felt he was lacking in speed and elusiveness when I first studied him. Some readers rightfully pointed out that the tape I watched (Miami 2018) was after Dillon injured his ankle and fought to finish the season. I found a highlight reel from his pre-injury explosion against Wake Forest (33-185-1) and he definitely was more dynamic and quick. Bruce Feldman recently included Dillon on his annual “Freaks List” so I’m willing to admit that I owe Dillon a more in-depth study this season. One critique still stands: he needs to get more involved as a receiver. He ran a surprising number of routes in that Miami game and did get two receptions, however, those two represent a quarter of his career receptions. Regardless of how he progresses as a receiver, Dillon’s battering ram style will surely find a role in the NFL.

Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson: Higgins is an NFL-caliber X receiver who effectively uses his 6040/200 body in a number of ways. In my notes, I called him the “Curl and Comeback King” because of his ability to box out defenders. His length allows him to outjump defenders and win 50/50 balls. Higgins typically lines up on the line of scrimmage and to the boundary, so he is comfortable along the sideline. I was also impressed by his long speed which is above average for his size. Higgins may play second fiddle to Justyn Ross this season but a 60-1,000-8 season is well within his reach and would set the stage for him to declare early.

 

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: 2020 Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: May 21st 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.

The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday April 23rd. So, why am I bothering to create a mock draft so far in advance? I’ve found that creating mock drafts forces me to create both my positional rankings and my overall rankings. It would certainly be easier to ride the fence but I’d rather start thinking critically about these players now and edit as I go. The usual caveats apply here. This mock draft is a snapshot of my thinking at this moment. We have yet to see the best that many of these players are capable of producing so this list is very much a living document. A number of these underclassmen will decide to return to school and will create a gaping hole in my rankings. Some will be injured or lose their starting role for myriad reasons. Some will grow and mature physically, while others will do so mentally. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about this draft class but there is one thing I am sure of: I have never been so excited to study and write about a group of players!

1.01 | D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia

Swift appears to be the full package. He is a combination back who combines effortless cutting ability with a desire to fight through contact. He is a natural receiver who has great hands and adjusts well to the ball. He has long speed to outrun chasing defenders even if he does take an extra beat to get up to top speed. Jerry Jeudy will give Swift a run for his money so I doubt he’s an unanimous 1.01 but he has my vote right now.

1.02 | Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

Jeudy is an A+ route runner who also utilizes that change of direction to be a handful after the catch. He’s explosive and can create big plays seemingly out of nothing. He can stop on a dime which helps him feint defensive backs both on a route and with the ball in his hands. As of today, we haven’t seen a glaring weakness in his game. Jeudy could be a Top 10 NFL Draft target after two years without a can’t miss wide receiver prospect.

1.03 | JK Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Dobbins has ascended to RB2 in my 2020 rankings. He’s an old school style player who will appeal to NFL scouts. He’s short and compact with a sturdy base. That base and his play strength help him excel in pass protection. He’s a decisive runner who plays with more power than speed. Although, that’s not to say he’s slow, he’s probably 4.45-4.50 quick. Dobbins is also a good pass catcher. I expect him to project as a three-down back at the next level.

1.04 | Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

Etienne has the speed to outrun just about any defender to the boundary before he cuts up field and jets to pay dirt. He’s a fun guy to watch because he’s a seventy yarder just waiting to happen. He has not yet been a factor as a receiver (17 career receptions) but I don’t think he’s incapable, just under utilized. If he shows as a pass catcher this year he’ll solidify his spot in the top tier of backs.

1.05 | CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Lamb’s upside is immense so I pushed him all the way up to 1.05. I originally had him in the 2.01 range but decided I’d rather bet on his potential, now that he’ll be the Sooners’ top target. He has elite body control, easily tight-roping or toe-tapping the sideline. He is a one-hander extraordinaire with hands that are strong yet soft. His long speed is bettered by his long stride. Even though he weighs in at just 189lb he blocks with a tenacity and effectiveness that surprised me. Lamb has an alpha male attitude on the field that I loved. He has the rare combination of opportunity and talent that will help him blossom in 2019.

1.06 | Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado

Shenault is a versatile playmaker who lines up all over the field. In fact, he often lines up in an h-back role and serves as an energetic blocker. He has a thick lower body that drives a powerful running style that can kick into an extra gear in the open field. He fights for extra yardage with above average play strength. Shenault catches the ball with his hands, utilizing great hand placement. Two injuries sidelined a promising 2018 campaign so I’m excited to see what we can do with a full season.

1.07 | Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Taylor leads my second tier of running backs right now. He’s an effective one-cut runner with power back wallop. He rarely goes down on first contact. I did observe that Taylor sometimes stutters too long at the line of scrimmage, so I’d like to see him more decisively select his lane. Like Etienne, he will need to get more involved as a receiver to avoid being type cast as a two-down back. As a Rutgers fan, Taylor is the one that got away. Instead, I have to watch him dominating Big Ten defenses in a different shade of red.

1.08 | Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

Okwuegbunam surprised me in that he plays as an in-line tight end more than I anticipated. He lacks suddenness and explosion in his blocks but at least he has that experience. Okwuegbunam has good body control and tracks the ball well over his shoulder. He’s a hands catcher who uses his fingertips to snag the ball which is a great trait to have so early in a career. Okwuegbunam will start the season as the prohibitive favorite to be the first TE off the board next April, as such he should be atop our fantasy boards too.

1.09 | Trey Sermon, RB, Oklahoma

Sermon is a running back well suited for the zone read offense. He slashes through holes, sells his fakes and gets upfield to block for the quarterback. I think Sermon’s “Football IQ” is very high too. He knows his pass blocking assignments, understands the game situation and runs a variety of routes from the backfield. He has a great stiff arm and doesn’t shy from contact. Sermon should get the lion’s share of the carries in the Sooner backfield this season and if he does he has first round rookie draft potential pending scheme fit.

1.10 | Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon

Herbert was my QB1 last season before he decided to return for his senior year. He retains that mantle to start the 2020 NFL Draft campaign. Herbert has the size that NFL teams covet (6060/233). He has enough athleticism to pick up short yardage conversions and keep the defense honest but he’s certainly not a high volume runner. The biggest knock right now would be his accuracy (59.4% completion percentage last year was a career low). In 1QB RSO leagues, I believe it’s a good strategy to grab your preferred passer here because you get that fifth year option. If you’re playing Superflex/2QB, you’ll need to target him much earlier in the round.

2.01 | Collin Johnson, WR, Texas

Johnson is the biggest of the top receivers in the class at 6060/220. Whether he’s high-pointing the ball or making a full extension diving catch, he uses that long and lean frame to get to balls that others couldn’t. Johnson releases well with quick feet and is an adept hand fighter to get the corner’s hands off of him. He also has excellent situational awareness, I noted many times when he made a smart decision about how deep to run a route or when to protect the ball instead of fight for yardage. If he can add a few pounds without sacrificing his quickness, Johnson will be the best prototypical X receiver in this class.

2.02 | Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota

Johnson, one of the rare seniors in this mock draft, can win from both outside and slot alignments. He has explosive feet off the snap and out of his route breaks. He uncovers well which helps make him a target for the quarterback on most plays, even when the defender is closely trailing him. Johnson shines after the catch where he pairs elusiveness with elite breakaway speed. I may be lower on Johnson than other writers so I owe him a thorough study this offseason.

2.03 | Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU

Reagor is a literal track star: he excelled in the long jump and relay races in high school. He brought those talents with him to Fort Worth where he’s shown off his elite speed and athleticism for Horned Frog fans. What surprised me was how well he wins in the air despite being just 5110/195. He’s nearly impossible to cover, especially against Cover 2 when he can split the safeties on a deep post and leave his man in the dust. He also wins after the catch where his strength and contact balance help him rack up yards. Unfortunately there was no game film to watch so my exposure was limited to highlight reels. Reagor will be a first round consideration if his full game films live up to the expectations his highlights set.

2.04 | Cam Akers, RB, Florida State

Akers is a tough study because of how poor his offensive line play has been both years in Tallahassee. The film I watched of Akers showed that he has a balanced running style with 4.50 speed and more power than I expected. He’s adept at submarining for additional yardage by getting lower than the defender. The Akers I see in my mind’s eye, perhaps from expectations in his freshman season, has more wiggle than I saw. He runs a ton of routes out of the backfield but I didn’t get to see him pass protect much. I’m hopeful that the Seminoles are a better team in 2019 so we get to see how well Akers plays when his team is competing.

2.05 | Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma

Brooks plays larger than his 5110/205 frame, running with an upright and downhill style. He’s a patient runner who waits for his blocks and follows them through the hole. Brooks is not a flashy runner but he’ll get every yard that’s available by powering through defenders and falling forward. He keeps his feet well and can break low tackles. I didn’t get much exposure to his pass blocking and catching ability but what I did see appeared average, at worst. Brooks, a redshirt sophomore, will continue to split touches with Trey Sermon so who knows if he’ll come out early with a small sample size. If he does, keep an eye on him.

2.06 | Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Harris is a big back at 6020/230 and it’s hard not to see Derrick Henry when watching him (the 2s on the jersey and hairs poking out of his helmet certainly help make the connection). He’s a former top recruit but has not had many carries yet in his career due to the depth at the position for the Tide. He shows excellent vision, seeing cut back lanes and hitting them strongly. His size and strength lend some power to his evasive moves. He’s largely a projection at this point but Harris should have plenty of opportunity to show us his skills in 2019 and is likely to creep up my draft board.

2.07 | Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State

Benjamin is fun to watch because of his elusiveness. He has a Swiss army knife’s worth of moves at his disposal: spins, jukes, cuts, hurdles. His feet are dynamic and never stop moving. Benjamin is susceptible to getting tripped up or being caught by his jersey so I would like to see him improve his strength and balance. It could be a one game coincidence but ball security could be a concern as well. Where Benjamin excels is as a pass catcher, he has good hands and knows how to get open. His receiving upside will help increase his value early in his NFL career.

2.08 | Bryan Edwards, WR, South Carolina

Edwards is a powerfully built outside receiver who started his Gamecock career strong in 2016. His numbers have failed to bloom like draft fans had hoped though. He’s still a solid prospect whose floor projects as a reliable possession receiver in the NFL. He has strong hands which he uses to consistently catch the ball away from his body. There was only one game film available, and that from 2017, so I still have a lot to learn about Edwards. I am comfortable putting him here though because I feel that he has a high floor as a prospect.

2.09 | Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Tagovailoa is undeniably talented and his name has been on everybody’s lips for a year. So, why do I have him as my QB2 and so low in my overall rankings? I think we first need to see that Tua can make it through a full season unscathed. He loves to improvise and takes a lot of hits which lead to some wear and tear as the season progressed. As much as we remember his game-winning relief performance in the championship game as a freshman, let’s not forget that he himself was pulled in this year’s championship. He’s now the unquestioned starter and will contend for QB1 if he puts together a complete and successful season. Tua has first overall potential: he is athletic, throws a beautiful deep ball and has impeccable character.

3.10 | Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Higgins uses his length to box-out defenders and win at the catch point. He’s a curl and comeback king, running smart routes and making sure-handed catches for first downs. He attacks the ball with his hands when he comes out of his breaks, not wasting precious moments for the ball to come to him. He has elite separation for somebody of his height (6040). Chances are that you saw a few of Higgins circus catch highlights last year because his concentration helps him snag batted or tipped balls with regularity. Higgins will be catching passes from one of the country’s most ballyhooed quarterbacks, sophomore Trevor Lawrence, so it’s inevitable that we see his highlights all season long.

Honorable Mentions

AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College

Dillon is a big and powerful back, likely the best thumper in the class. He’s rarely brought down on first contact and often dishes out more punishment than he receives. He doesn’t have top end speed (4.60?) but he doesn’t need it for his playing style. Dillon ran more routes than I anticipated based on his number of receptions so I think there is room for growth in that area. Similarly, he needs to improve as a pass blocker. He was hampered by an ankle injury for much of 2018 so I’m excited to see Dillon bounce back and show us he has every down potential.

Grant Calcaterra, TE, Oklahoma

Calcaterra is the lightest TE on my watch list at 221 so we’re likely looking more at a “big slot” than an in-line tight end for the purposes of his NFL Draft evaluation. Regardless, he’s a playmaker with soft hands and is a big play threat up the seam. Oklahoma does have a lot of mouths to feed and is losing another Heisman winning quarterback, so it’s possible we see Calc’s numbers dip this year. Even if that’s the case, I don’t think his draft stock should.

 

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

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

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

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Week 6 Preview

Updated: October 6th 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

#19 Texas vs #7 Oklahoma, 12:00pm on FOX: The Red River Rivalry. I love that they kick this one off at 11:00am local time. I think it gives it even more of a “this is something special” atmosphere. The last time both teams were ranked was 2012 (which capped off a run of seven straight ranked matchups). Oklahoma won that one 63-21 and I fear the 2018 edition will go the same way. OU hasn’t missed a step without RB Rodney Anderson like I thought they might. QB Kyler Murray and WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown are an exciting pair to watch. Brown is averaging 22.7 yards per catch and seems to always be behind the last defender (see below for more on Brown). WR CeeDee Lamb may not be as explosive, but I think he’ll end up being the better pro (he’s no slouch with his stats either, 19-348-5). Texas QB Sam Ehlinger has increased his completion percentage and efficiency this year but the difference in talent (and supporting cast) between he and Murray will be evident.

#4 Clemson at Wake Forest, 3:30pm on ESPN: Uh oh. Clemson fans’ worst fears were realized early in the contest against Syracuse when true frosh Trevor Lawrence went down with an injury. I’m not sure if Lawrence suffered a concussion or just a neck strain as has been reported so who knows if he plays in this one. Either way, it will be a story line to follow. Is it too late for Kelly Bryant to return? Can third-stringer Chase Brice keep the team winning in Lawrence’s absence? Regardless of who is taking the snaps, Clemson’s offense should be good enough with RBs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster to beat Wake, especially when you factor in their dominant front seven.

#5 LSU at #22 Florida, 3:30pm on CBS: I’ve somehow gone five weeks without watching much of #5 LSU so this will be the week I get my fill during an iffy 3:30pm window. I did watch parts of LSU’s matchup with Auburn and was nonplussed with QB Joe Burrow. RB Nick Brossette is 4th in the conference with 481 yards rushing and has 6 rushing TDs. Florida has the third-worst rushing defense in the SEC (172.6 yards per game) so I expect Brossette to pace the offense. As long as Burrow continues to take care of the ball, the Tigers should be victorious again.

#6 Notre Dame at #24 Virginia Tech, 8:00pm on ABC: Rewind a week and it would be hard to believe that the Hokies would be ranked again after a crushing loss to Old Dominion. Va. Tech, however, rebounded with a strong win against Duke with backup quarterback Ryan Willis at the helm. Speaking of quarterbacks, Notre Dame has undoubtedly found theirs in Ian Book. Book has completed 74.3% of his passes to go with 6 TDs and zero INTs. I tend to root against the Irish but having them undefeated is good for the sport.

Fresno State at Nevada, 10:30pm on ESPNU: Before the season started I picked Fresno to lose the division to San Diego State. Now that the Aztecs have lost RB Juwan Washington and won their last three games unconvincingly, the door may be open for the Bulldogs. Fresno features the league’s best QB-WR duo in Marcus McMaryion (1,050-7) and KeeSean Johnson (394-3). I’ll also be watching because I have McMaryion and Johnson on my college football fantasy team!

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Steven Montez, QB, Colorado: Montez is the nation’s leader in completion percentage through five weeks (75.8%). He fell into playing time as a redshirt freshmen and was the full time starter in 2017 as a sophomore, so he has experience. Montez also has NFL size at 6050/235 and is starting to get pub on my Twitter timeline as a potential draft sleeper. If he plays well against USC, Washington and Utah he’ll continue to climb rankings and will deserve further film study if it looks like he’ll come out.
  • Ryquell Armstead, RB, Temple: Armstead earned some buzz way back in 2016 when he rushed for 14 TDs and gained 5.9 yards per carry and was key for a surprising 10-4 Owls’ team. He dented his draft stock in 2017 though when his yards per carry dipped all the way down to 3.9. 2018 is looking more like 2016 so far. After a slow start against Villanova (14 for 31 yards), Armstead has four straight 100+ yard games. He ripped off 171 and 4 TDs last week against Boston College. BC doesn’t have a great defense but Group of 5 backs need to feast in Power 5 games to get attention and Armstead did just that.
  • Andy Isabella, WR, UMass: Isabella crested 1,000 yards last season (1,020) but was overshadowed by TE Adam Breneman in the Minutemen offense. This season, as the primary target, Isabella is stealing the spotlight. He’s currently 6th in the NCAA in receptions (40) and 2nd in yards (647). Worth noting: UMass played in Week Zero so Isabella has an extra game compared to everybody else. Still, the numbers are encouraging. Isabella is a 5100/190 screen receiver who is a converted running back (he has 31 rushing attempts since 2016). He also returned kicks as a freshman. Isabella is likely to find a role in the NFL because of his versatility.

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown

  • Listed at 5100/168  per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Oklahoma State 2017, Iowa State 2018
  • 2017: 13 games, 57 receptions, 1,095 yards, 19.2 yards per reception, 7 TDs
  • 2018: 5 games, 24 receptions, 544 yards, 22.7 yards per reception, 5 TDs

Hollywood is leading the Big 12 in yards per reception and has been a dynamo all season long. He’s more than just a one-hit wonder though. He has four or more receptions and a touchdown in every game this year and has three 130+ yard games. This is his second season as a Sooner; he transferred from a junior college after a successful freshman season (50-754-10 plus two return touchdowns according to his media bio). There is no doubt about his playmaking ability but the foremost detraction of Brown is his size. He’s listed at just 5100/168 on in the 2018 media guide.  After another big game against Baylor (5-132-2), I decided it was time for me to watch some film of Brown instead of dismissing him because of his size.

Since my biggest concern about Hollywood is his size, I thought it would be important to study how he lines up.  He takes a few snaps from the slot and while in motion, so as to limit how easily the defensive back can jam him at the line, but the majority of snaps come when he lined up as an outside receiver.  My uneducated presumption was that he would solely be an inside receiver.  I don’t have tracking data to back up my estimate but I’d guess he lines up outside about 90% of the time.  Head coach Lincoln Riley cleverly deploys Brown when he lines up outside to avoid physical play along the sideline.  Sometimes he carries the route inside before breaking outside, as you’ll see in this clip from this year’s Iowa State game.  He’s the receiver at the bottom of the screen (#5), he drifts inside closely to his fellow receiver and disappears from the screen momentarily.  When he makes the catch he’s heading back towards the sideline with plenty of cushion from the defender.

Other times, as shown in this clip, Brown lines up in a “plus split”.  This alignment puts Brown on the outside to the field rather than the boundary (i.e. the side opposite the hash the ball is on), which gives him more space to maneuver.  On this play the Sooners are lined up on the left hash with Brown inside the numbers to the right.  He has plenty of space to the sideline and you can see his route stem is more diagonal than vertical.  The zone defense has nobody in the space that Brown bee-lines to and he picks up nine yards on a 2nd and 11.

This next clip is from 2017 when the Sooners played Oklahoma State.  This one ended up going for an 84 yard score.  It’s hard to say what was the key aspect of the play, was it Brown’s well-run slant route?  Or was it his breathtaking breakaway speed?  It’s hard to notice but look at the hesitation he gives the corner at the top of the route stem.  That pause, paired with Mayfield’s pump fake, freezes the corner long enough to let Brown catch it freely and jet towards the end zone.  On his way he avoids an ankle tackle while splitting three defenders and out runs everybody on the field.

It’s easy to find big play highlights of Brown so I went into my study looking for other positive indicators.  His route running, speed/agility and awareness are all encouraging.  My favorite play of his was this one from the 2017 Oklahoma State game that showed bits of each trait.  It’s a 1st and 10 from the opponent’s 20 yard line.  Brown lines up in the aforementioned plus-split and keeps his route alive while QB Baker Mayfield is scrambling.  Brown probably runs 40 yards on the route only to gain 9 but it was a good illustration of his awareness and determination to get open.

Even though I loved much of what I saw from Brown on tape, realistically, his NFL Draft stock is going to hinge predominantly on his combine measurements.  Dating back to 2010, there are only three guys who measured in his cohort and were drafted. You’ve never heard of two of them and the third is JJ Nelson. I think Brown will benefit from another year on campus so he can gain more reps on the field and in the weight room.  It is asking a lot but if Brown can bulk up to 185-190 he’d measure similarly to Brandin Cooks.  If he does come out in 2019, I anticipate his immediate upside being limited as a gadget and return guy.  However, if Brown does return and bulk up, I may be all-in next year.  I really enjoyed watching his film.

 


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: 2018 ACC Preview

Updated: August 18th 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:  Cam Akers, RB, Florida State.  According to Vegas, running backs Cam Akers and AJ Dillon have the best odds of winning the Heisman from the ACC.  Clemson QB Kelly Bryant is close behind but I’m not sure he holds onto his starting job so I wouldn’t be putting money on him now.  Akers has 2,000 yard potential while Dillon has 20 TD potential; ultimately I lean towards Akers as he will be playing on a better team than Dillon and should get more national exposure.
  • Darkhorse Heisman Candidate:  Daniel Jones, QB, Duke.  As I have previously discussed in this space, picking a conference’s best dual-threat quarterback is your best bet for predicting the Heisman winner.  I’m a fan of Jones, see below, and think he has 3,000/750 yard upside but he needs to score more.  Last year he had just 18 total TDs and would need to double that to get in the Heisman conversation.  I’m not saying it’s likely, or even probable, but it’s possible.
  • Offensive Player of the Year:  Taquon Marshall, QB, Georgia Tech.  Few players in the FBS will be as valuable to their unit as Marshall to the Georgia Tech offense.  He won’t get the national recognition of somebody like Cam Akers but he’ll put up big numbers and be a CFF darling.  If he stays healthy, Marshall will top 1,000 yards each passing and rushing and will total 30+ TDs.
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson.  Take your pick from the Clemson defensive line.  I’ll go with Lawrence because of the impact he has on the opposing line on every play.  Lawrence had a huge freshman season with 62 tackles and 6.5 sacks but regressed in 2017 to 33-2.0.  At 6040/340, he’s a mountain of a man.  It’s rare to find an interior defensive lineman with the combination of size and athleticism that Lawrence shows.
  • Newcomer of the Year:  Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson.  According to 247Sports, Trevor Lawrence was the top rated recruit in the 2018 class and had a near-perfect grade of 0.9999, the highest I have seen on their site.  Lawrence is huge, listed at 6060, and put up equally big numbers in high school.  His recruiting profile on 247Sports touts a 160:21 ratio with over 13,000 passing yards.  I take high school stats with a grain of salt of course, but that’s just insane.  I am not a big Kelly Bryant fan so I think it’s only a matter of time before we see Lawrence take over at Clemson.
  • Underclassmen to Watch:  The ACC is chock-full of impact sophomores.  Rather than pick one, I decided I needed to mention a few:
    • Cam Akers, RB, Florida State:  Akers will be the best of a talented group of young backs in the ACC this season.
    • Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson:  Etienne is an explosive runner with a long stride.  He gained 766 yards and scored 13 TDs in a RBBC role last season and finished with a 7.2 yards per carry average.  It remains to be seen if he can be as effective with a larger workload.
    • AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College:  Dillon is a 6000/245 bruiser who has a nose for the end zone.  He scored 14 TDs last season and should see 20 this season.  He’s a workhorse back who earned 300 carries as a true freshman and had four games with over 30.
    • Greg Dortch, WR, Wake Forest:  Dortch is an undersized (5090/165) slot and screen receiver who dominated at times in 2017 before getting injured.  Against Louisville he had an incredible 10-167-4 line before falling to an abdominal injury.  He contributes as a rusher and returner as well.
  • Best QB-WR Tandem:  Ryan Finley and Kelvin Harmon, NC State.  Finley is quietly the conference’s best quarterback prospect; meanwhile Harmon should be a first round fantasy rookie pick in 2019.  I doubt many casual fans know their names though because they shared the spotlight last season with draftees DE Bradley Chubb, TE Jaylen Samuels and RB Nyheim Hines.  Finley and Harmon eclipsed 3,500 and 1,000 yards respectively so they are a productive duo.  I have more on these two Wolfpack stars below.
  • Best RB Corps:  Georgia Tech.  It should come as no surprise that a triple option team like Tech would land in my “Best RB Corps” spot.  The Yellow Jackets led the conference in rushing (307 yards per game) and return their six leading rushers from that squad.  The two that catalyze the option attack are QB TaQuon Marshall (1,146-17 rushing and 927-10 passing) and RB KirVonte Benson (1,073-6).
  • Coach on the Hottest Seat:  Larry Fedora, North Carolina.  Fedora has been in the news recently after his curious remarks at ACC Media Day.  Those comments were best summarized by Luke Decock in the Charlotte News-Observer: “This is all ludicrous, of course, the earnest hyperbole a little less dangerous than the willful denial.”  Even if Fedora didn’t put a target on his own back, he went 3-9 in 2017 and hasn’t won a bowl game since 2013.  The Tar Heels are also dealing with “another compliance black eye” after numerous players were suspended for selling team-issued apparel.  A winning coach could withstand most of this drama but not one who suffers another losing season.

Teams to Watch

 Miami (10-3 in 2017)

I was consistently down on Miami last season.  I did not believe they could run the table and kept picking against them during their winning streak.  The wheels finally came off in late November when Miami lost to Pitt, a game I still remember for how frustrating it was to watch, which started a season-ending three game losing skid.  Miami should be in the ACC Coastal running again but what makes them even more interesting to watch are the plethora of NFL prospects they will field.  On offense they will feature RB Travis Homer, WR Ahmmon Richards and TE Michael Irvin Jr (Editor’s note: Irvin Jr. is now injured).  The defense returns its top five tacklers, including first round hopeful safety Jaquan Johnson.  LB Shaq Quarterman and CB Michael Jackson should end with high draft grades as well.  The Hurricanes feature 14 returning starters, including QB Malik Rosier.  I was very critical of Rosier last season and hope that an additional season of experience helps him play more efficiently.  If he does, Miami will end up in another New Year’s Six bowl, as I am currently predicting, with a shot at the playoff.

 Florida State (7-6 in 2017)

I don’t think there is any disagreement among college football fans that the Seminoles will rebound from a demoralizing 7-6 season last year which required them to make up a meaningless game against UL-Monroe just to become bowl eligible.  The question is, just how high do they rebound with new head coach Willie Taggart?  I have gone out on a slimsy (yes, that’s a word) limb and predicted that they will be selected for the College Football Playoff.  Three of FSU’s toughest games (the nationally broadcast opener versus VaTech, Clemson and Florida) will be played in Tallahassee.  I’m also feeling optimistic because I think the offense will be miles ahead of 2017.  QB Deondre Francois returns from injury; if he’s shelved again, sophomore James Blackman now has valuable experience.  The offensive line, which tends to be a weak spot for Florida State, returns four starters.  The largest factor will be the running backs: wunderkind soph Cam Akers and senior Jacques Patrick.  Akers crested 1,000 yards (1,094) and earned 2nd-Team All-ACC honors as a true freshman.  Patrick is a 6030/231 bruiser who added 780 yards of his own.  Both backs had seven scores.  The receiving corps is filled with young and/or unproven targets but the team’s leading receiver, Nyqwan Murray returns.  The defense may struggle as they only return four starters and lost top prospect Derwin James.  One interesting stat gives me hope: per Phil Steele, the last time the Seminoles returned just four defensive starters, which was 2013, they allowed just 12.1 yards per game.  Oh, and by the way, that team went 14-0 and won the BCS National Championship.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Daniel Jones, QB, Duke:  Jones is on my shortlist of candidates for the 2019 QB1 spot.  In my limited study, I noted that he has good anticipation and throws excellently while on the run.  He has above average athleticism for the position and runs with good vision.  There are some areas for improvement, namely his passing accuracy and pocket awareness.  Plus, he could add a few pounds to fill out his 6050 body due to his physical playing style.  His touchdown total decreased last season (16 to 14) while his interceptions increased (9 to 11), which is not a good sign.  He did add 518-7 on the ground which helped keep the Blue Devil offense moving.  I’ll check in on Jones periodically this season.  If he improves nearer a 2:1 ratio he’ll be in consideration for a first round NFL Draft pick.
  • Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State:  This time last year, I was one of many college football fans who was expecting Francois to take a big step forward in 2017.  Unfortunately, that growth was stunted in the Seminoles’ opener against Alabama after he sustained a season-ending knee injury.  True freshman James Blackman filled in and, luckily for Francois, did not do enough to guarantee himself the job for 2018.  I think Francois has the inside track to win the starting job but it’s not impossible to think that Blackman wins the gig in Fall camp.  Francois is tough as nails but is on the smaller side for a quarterback prospect (6010/205).  He has 3,500 yard upside so I am pulling for him and I hope he gets a chance to realize his potential.  I am predicting that FSU will make a run to the College Football Playoff and that hope rests squarely on Francois’ shoulders.
  • Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse:  I loved watching Dungey last season and recall his standout games against Pitt and Clemson.  Sadly, Dungey has a long injury history which has limited him to just 26 career games over three seasons.  He’s not all that prolific or efficient (40:21 career ratio and 131.5 career passer rating) but there’s something about him that I enjoy watching.  He is a true dual-threat quarterback: in a shortened season he still managed 595 rushing yards and 9 TDs.  I’m not sure there exists a universe where Dungey is a relevant 2019 rookie but he’ll be fun to watch in 2018 as long as he stays healthy.
  • Travis Homer, RB, Miami:  Homer started the season as the backup to Mark Walton but took over after Walton went down with an injury.  He had a six game stretch in the middle of the season where he totaled 642 yards and 4 TDs; he also added 12-146-1 as a receiver in that span.  Homer did sputter a bit down the stretch but that middle-season burst is encouraging.  Per DLF, Homer is one of the youngest draft eligible players in the 2019 class which could increase his draft stock if he can enhance his numbers this season.
  • Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville: Our friends at the Dynasty Command Center loved Smith for the 2018 draft before he decided to return to school.  In Volume One of their rookie prospectus they listed Smith as the WR5.  Despite coming back for his senior season, Smith is just 21 years old.  He has elite size at 6040/219 and pairs his big frame with 4.50 speed.  He is a constant deep threat.  Eight of his 60 receptions in 2017 went for 25 or more yards; in 2016, on just 27 receptions, that number was even higher at nine.  A wrist injury caused him to miss time in 2017 but he finished strong with 7-107-1 in the Cardinals’ bowl game.  My biggest concern is whether new starting quarterback Jawon “Puma” Pass can hit Smith downfield with the same frequency.
  • Tommy Sweeney, TE, Boston College:  Sweeney is the leading returning receiver on a potentially ascending BC team.  Last season, he paced the Eagles with 36 receptions, 512 yards and 4 TDs.  The passing offense should improve in 2018 with QB Anthony Brown back under center.  Brown started the year as a redshirt freshman but missed the end of the campaign with an injury; when he was healthy he struggled (11:9, 51.9%) but another year of experience will help.  I have not watched any film of Sweeney but based on his size (6050/255) I expect that he will be able to hold his own as a blocker.
  • Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson:  I don’t have the space, or honestly the expertise, to delve into the Clemson defensive line in this preview.  Suffice it to say that they will be a fearsome group.  Come next Spring, we could see all four of these guys getting first round NFL Draft buzz.  If you don’t believe me, just check out one of many mock drafters who are predicting just that.  Some others are saying that this unit is overrated – let’s ask ACC quarterbacks what they think.
  • Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami:  Johnson is the leading safety prospect according to a number of sources I trust (i.e. Phil Steele’s preview magazine and DraftScout.com).  He’s a former 4-star recruit who decided to stay home and eschew offers from heavyweights like USC, LSU and Clemson.  Johnson became a full-time starter in 2016 and did not disappoint.  He finished with 96 tackles, 4 INTs, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.  The Miami offense prides itself in forcing turnovers and Johnson was an important link in that chain (pun intended).

Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State

Finley is entering his third season as the starting signal caller for NC State.  He transferred from Boise State in 2015 as a graduate transfer.  Finley was granted a sixth year of eligibility because his two seasons at Boise were marred by injuries.  So, he arrived at Raleigh as the rare graduate transfer with three years of eligibility for his new team.  If you’re thinking that Finley must be an old prospect after such a winding road, you’d be right.  Finley is currently 23.6 years old and is the oldest prospect on DLF’s 2019 age table.  Age doesn’t necessarily make or break somebody’s draft stock, but it will be a hurdle Finley needs to overcome in scouts’ eyes.

On the field, Finley has played well but has been more of a distributor than a dynamic playmaker.  He has completed 63.0% of his passes for NC State with a 35:14 ratio over two seasons.  He doesn’t commit many turnovers but he also doesn’t sling the ball around either.  He threw for a career-high 3,514 yards in 2017 but his yards per attempt dropped to 7.4 (sixth best in the ACC).  Finley added a bit on the ground in 2017: 198 yards and 3 TDs.  He’s not the type of prospect whose stats and game logs will garner attention from casual fans.  Instead, Finley will need to impress during film study.

I came away from my viewing of Finley feeling conflicted.  His best trait for me was his awareness, specifically his penchant for fakes of all kinds.  There’s a nuance to his play action and pump fakes that I don’t often notice in other college passers.  He also has a good awareness of the field and situation.  When he scrambles he rarely takes a hit and instead is able to take a track that gets him out of bounds before contact.  This combination of field and situational awareness was perhaps best illustrated by a play against FSU.  The Wolfpack were up eleven late in the game but Finley was in shotgun in his own end zone.  There was a bad snap and as Finley scrambled for the ball, he swatted it out of the back of the end zone for an intentional safety rather than allowing a defender to fall on it for a game-changing touchdown.

Unfortunately the rest of my notes on Finley were less glowing.  He has good accuracy and anticipation on short throws but he’s lacking on intermediate and deep throws.  A number of his deep throws were well overthrown or out of bounds so his receiver had no chance.  Speaking of short throws, many of his attempts are quick screens or slants without multiple reads.  As an athlete he is not quick (maybe 4.75) but he does have functional rushing ability to gain a few yards.  His arm is more confident than strong.  He trusts himself to fit the ball into tight windows but sometimes he lacks the zip or accuracy to get it done.  Right now, I see Finley projecting as an NFL backup with some upside to start an occasional game.  (Film watched: Clemson 2017, Florida State 2017)

Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State

Harmon emerged as a sophomore in 2017, finishing with 69 receptions, 1,017 yards and 4 TDs.  His season started off with a bang when he had a combined 19-235-1 line to start the year against South Carolina and Marshall.  He also had big games against Notre Dame (7-97-1), Clemson (8-155-1) and Wake Forest (8-105).  He has boom or bust capability, shown by a few duds on the game logs: four games under 25 yards.  Harmon exhibits a good mix of speed, size and strength.  I estimate he has 4.50 speed and he’s listed at 6030/213.  While I think Harmon may measure shorter than 6030, there’s no questioning his ability to win the ball in the air.

Put simply, Harmon excels in contested catch situations.  He often high points the ball and is strong enough to survive the defender and the ground with possession.  He’s also adept at catching the ball over his shoulder while in stride.  He’s a powerful runner after the catch who can break tackles and carry defenders on his back for extra yardage.  In the game against Clemson, I noted two spectacular routes that he ran which gave him separation.  It’s a shame there aren’t more full games cuts of Harmon because I would love to see more of his route running because what I saw was great.  He releases well off the line due to his combination of speed and strength.  If I were to nitpick, I would say that Harmon needs to be eliminate some of his body catches.  Sometimes it’s like he jumps too high which causes him to bring in the ball at his midsection rather than away from the body with his hands.

Based on the above size/speed measureables Harmon would be comparable to guys like Courtland Sutton and Allen Robinson.  I think Harmon will project more like Stefon Diggs in the NFL because of his excellent route running ability.  Harmon will be a first rounder in rookie drafts next year but I suspect his stock will fluctuate as he’s not as “sexy” as some of the other big name receiver prospects.  (Film watched: Clemson 2017, Highlights 2017)

Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami

Ahmmon Richards starred as a true freshman in 2016.  He earned freshman All-American honors after finishing the year with 49 receptions, 934 yards and 3 TDs.  His 19.1 yards per reception mark was fourth best in the ACC that season.  Expectations were high for Richards in 2017 as a sophomore but unfortunately injury sidelined him to start the season and again in October and then again in December.  Richards ended up playing just 7 games, totaling 24 catches for 439 yards and 3 TDs.  Encouragingly, he finished the regular season strong, combining for 7-98-2 against Virginia and Pitt.  Richards is a lean 6010/190.  At that size, I’d like to see him flash 4.45 speed which looks probable on film.  Per the Hurricanes, he’s ran a 4.31 and a 4.40 on previous attempts but you always need to question school-reported numbers.

Richards’ tape was frustrating to watch.  For starters, he was often the victim of poor quarterback play from Malik Rosier.  This was especially apparent against Florida State where Rosier chucked some ducks.  Pair that with questionable hands from Richards and you have multiple plays that should have gone for points instead of going incomplete.  Richards often body catches the ball; when it does hit his hands he too frequently let’s it zip right through so I question his hand placement and hand strength.  His play strength in contested situations is also lacking.  He’s not the type of receiver who will play above the rim and win jump balls with regularity.  Where Richards excelled is on shorter routes.  He has an elite ability to get off the line and away from press-man coverage on slants.  He quickly slaps the defender’s hands away and can chop through contact to get open.  After the catch, I noted a few plays where Richards showed his speed, cutting ability and some strength to gain extra yards.  He even had an impressive hurdle against Syracuse which showed his athletic ability.  Unfortunately, my sample size was just ten receptions so I want to see more opportunities for RAC this season.  Richards is a willing blocker whom I saw lay out two Seminole defenders (one was a penalty though).  He lined up tight in a few goal line situations and did not block well then but in the open field he’ll at least be average.  I want to see Richards stay healthy this season and improve the consistency of his hands.  If he can pair average hands with his speed and ability to get open at the line he could turn into a valuable NFL asset.  (Film watched: Syracuse 2017, Florida State 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.  When 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: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • 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