The Watch List 2021: Week 5 Preview

Updated: October 3rd 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.

The 2020 college football season started in earnest last week with the SEC kicking off and things are only looking up for draft fans as the rest of the college football world returns soon. Until then, we’re “stuck” with the SEC for our premier matchups. The centerpiece game of Week 5 is without a doubt the matchup between #7 Auburn and #4 Georgia at 7:30pm on ESPN. Neither team looked convincing in their opening victories so this will be an important game for one of them to get back on track with a statement win. I touched on a number of players from those two squads last week (I see you Seth Williams) so for this preview I am instead going to direct your attention to two Top 10 talents who will be playing earlier in the day. At 12:00pm you should be watching TE Kyle Pitts and Florida face off against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Then at 3:30pm turn to ESPN+ for your only chance at seeing NDSU’s Trey Lance this year. Want to learn more about these two? You should…

 

Kyle Pitts, WR, Florida

Nobody did more for their professional prospects in Week 4 than Florida TE Kyle Pitts. He seemed even more dominant than his 8-170-4 stat line would dictate if that’s even possible. Regular readers will remember that I profiled Pitts in the Spring and predicted he would be a “hot NFL Draft commodity.” Frankly, I thought that would take more than just a single game but here we are. #DraftTwitter is abuzz with “Pitts as TE1” talk and I’m here for it.

So what was it about his outing against Ole Miss that has fans looking forward to his matchup against South Carolina this week? Let’s take a closer look thanks to this perfect tweet from the SEC Network that has a short video including each of Pitts four scores.

https://twitter.com/SECNetwork/status/1309956964403810304?s=20

If you were trying to cherry pick a season-long highlight package that showcased all of Pitts strengths you couldn’t do better than the above video. On the first play you see how Pitts can be deployed as if he is going to block before sneaking out into the flat for an easy score. (Pitts being a serviceable and willing blocker obviously helps with this feint.) On the second score he fights with the press corner off the line of scrimmage and then again at the top of his stem. He maybe pushes off a bit but spins off the defender and locates the well-placed ball and makes the catch as he falls past the goal line. Neither defender had a chance to make a play on the ball, just a perfect connection between quarterback and receiver. On the third touchdown Pitts shows us his speed and separation as he beats his defender down the seam. Like in the second play, he adjusts well to the ball that is under thrown. He lands a stiff arm that knocks the tackler off of him because of his longer reach. Then it’s off to the races, and none of the three DBs gets within five yards of him. Finally, Pitts showed us that he can be a weapon in the red zone. He’s lined up just off the line of scrimmage, runs a middle route against double coverage and beats both defenders in the air. At 6060/240, Pitts can win just about any jump ball.

Pitts literally put on a clinic against Ole Miss and I’m so glad I was tuned in and will certainly be watching again this week against South Carolina. If we were drafting today, I have no doubt that Kyle Pitts would be the top tight end selected and surely in the top half of the first round. Hopefully this Gator keeps chomping all the way throughout the season.

 

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

In a year full of strange seasons, perhaps none is stranger than that of the North Dakota State Bison. The FCS, as a collective, is not playing football this fall, however some of its teams were permitted by their conference to create their own schedule. Some of those teams, like Central Arkansas and Houston Baptist, have benefited from the situation because their early games surely had more viewers than in a usual year. NDSU has just a single game on their schedule and it comes this week against the aforementioned Central Arkansas. Thankfully for draft fans the game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN+ giving us a chance to see superstar quarterback Trey Lance in action once more before he inevitably starts his NFL Draft preparation. To his credit, Lance is apparently going to play in the game and says his focus is on the game and not his future. If he returns to campus next year it’ll be a big surprise.

Lance leapt into the national conversation about halfway through his redshirt freshman season, his first as the starter. He accounted for 11 total TDs through the campaign’s first three games and kept up an impressive pace all season long. He ended with 2,786 passing yards, 28 passing TDs and ZERO interceptions; he also added an even 1,100 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. Lance had a record-setting season and led the Bison to a perfect 16-0 record. The list of his 2019 accomplishments on his athletic department bio has twenty-two bullet points. In case the stats weren’t enough to convince you, take a look at these highlights:

On the field, Lance is a multi-faceted force for defenses to gameplan against. Size-wise he’s listed at 6040/226 and DraftScout.com predicts he’ll run in the 4.60 range (think: Ryan Tannehill). When I wrote about Lance back in May, I gushed about his arm talent saying that “Lance has the ability to uncork the ball with placement.” Outside the pocket, he keeps his eyes downfield and throws very well on the move. When running Lance looks more like an upright running back than a scrambling QB. He’s not afraid to initiate contact and is a high effort player who will sacrifice his body for a first down. (That’s admirable but he’ll need to make sure he keeps himself healthy and avoids big hits.) I can’t wait to study Lance further and get to know him better as a prospect because he could be special. I have not seen that much of Lance yet, none of us really have given he’ll essentially come out as a one-year starter, so take this next sentence with the requisite grain of salt: Lance oozes natural talent, confidence and charisma that has me as excited as I was when studying Patrick Mahomes back in 2017.

 

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: Spring Scouting, QBs

Updated: May 18th 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.

In today’s installment of my Spring Scouting series we’re going to take a closer look at three quarterbacks: Trey Lance, Jamie Newman and Kyle Trask. These three signal callers may not get the headlines of stars like Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields but each has a shot at being drafted next spring so they deserve a deeper look now.

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

  • Measurables: 6030/224
  • 2019 Stats: 16 games, 192-287, 66.9% comp percentage, 2,786 pass yards, 9.7 ypa, 28 pass TDs, 0 INTs, 180.6 rating; 169 rush att, 1,100 rush yards, 6.5 ypa, 14 rush TDs

I’m going to start this piece with a bold prediction: Trey Lance will be the most talked about quarterback on #DraftTwitter this season. It has been assumed for two years already that Trevor Lawrence will be the top quarterback drafted in 2021, but who comes in at QB2 will be the subject of intense debate. You could easily make the case for Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Or you just may fall in love with Bison signal caller Trey Lance. Lance won the Walter Payton Award in 2019, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman, and was the first (redshirt) freshman to ever win the honor.

Let’s start by taking a look at Lance’s numbers. His measurables certainly stack up at 6030/224 (think Joe Burrow’s size). DraftScout.com predicts Lance would run in the 4.67 range which would make him one of the fastest passers in the last three classes who measure 6020 or taller. As far as his stats go, his 28:0 touchdown to interception ratio speaks for itself, as does his 1,100-14 rushing line.

Since I didn’t watch any of him in 2019 I watched a lengthy Trey Lance highlight package featuring each of NDSU’s playoff games. Lance has the ability to uncork the ball with placement. The reel had two plays where he launched the ball fifty yards downfield to hit a streaking receiver. As his stats would suggest, he does not make mistakes with the ball and he uses his speed and elusiveness well. This clip illustrates all three points succinctly and shows how dangerous Lance can be for defenses. He evades the rush, first to his left then to his right, and isn’t brought down by any of three potential tacklers. As he’s rolling to his right he chucks the ball 30+ yards to a wide open receiver who is able to score. Sure, it would have been nice to lead the receiver on his way to the end zone but let’s not get greedy. The fact that Lance was still upright and able to find his receiver while delivering an accurate off-structure throw is impressive.

Coaches, avert your eyes. This second clip is not the type of play you want to see your quarterback making but as a casual fan I loved it. Lance is not afraid to take a hit or fight for extra yards. This dogpile turns into a rugby scrum that lands beyond the first down marker.

As if you needed another reason to get excited for Lance, I’ll remind you that he stars for FCS darling North Dakota State, and is following in the footsteps of recent NFL draftees Carson Wentz and Easton Stick. He’s only a redshirt sophomore so we don’t know that Lance will be joining the 2021 draft class but if he does he’ll be a priority study.

 

Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia

  • Measurables: 6040/230
  • 2018 Stats (Wake Forest): 6 games, 84-141, 59.6% comp percentage, 1,083 pass yards, 7.7 ypa, 9 pass TDs, 4 INTs, 139.5 rating; 64 rush att, 247 rush yards, 3.9 ypa, 4 rush TDs
  • 2019 Stats (Wake Forest): 12 games, 220-361, 60.9% comp percentage, 2,868 pass yards, 7.9 ypa, 26 pass TDs, 11 INTs, 145.3 rating; 180 rush att, 574 rush yards, 3.2 ypa, 6 rush TDs

Jamie Newman arrives in Athens, GA as a grad transfer from Wake Forest. Newman was the starter for the Demon Deacons last season and put up respectable numbers and a 7-5 record. The Georgia quarterback room was once a strength, with the high-potential trio of Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason and Justin Fields, however times have changed. Newman is penciled in on most depth charts as the presumptive starter even without spring ball because the Bulldogs’ other options are unproven.

On the Cover 3 podcast, Tom Fornelli shared some advanced stats about Newman’s play last season at Wake. One of them was that his on-target percentage was one of the lowest of returning Power 5 quarterbacks. On the other hand, PFF had high grades on Newman and included him on one of its top 2021 prospects lists. (Worth noting, PFF did state that Newman’s game grades were significantly higher with standout WR Sage Surratt in the lineup versus without him.) To make sense of these competing ideals I watched Newman’s film against UNC from 2019. I did take note of some inconsistent placement and touch on Newman’s passes, which led to some overthrows and a bad interception. Newman has eyes for the deep ball and that impressed me more than the overthrows worried me. He keeps the ball high and cocked, ready to unleash it effortlessly downfield. On this sample play Newman takes advantage of three defenders reading the flat pass and lofts one deep for Surratt. The throw is maybe a yard underthrown but Surratt is able to keep enough momentum to score what would ultimately be the deciding touchdown.

With all the talk about his arm I did not expect to see Newman playing in a zone read offense but nearly half his touches in that game were runs. He was productive too, gaining 78 yards and punching it in twice. I don’t think he’s enough of a dual-threat for that to make or break his draft stock but it’s surely a bonus. If Newman can helm a reloading Georgia squad to another SEC East title we’ll be talking about his NFL potential come January.

 

Kyle Trask, QB, Florida

  • Measurables: 6050/239
  • 2018 Stats: 3 games, 14-22, 63.6% comp percentage, 162 pass yards, 7.4 ypa, 1 pass TD, 0 INT, 140.5 rating; 5 rush att, -4 rush yards, 1 rush TD
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 237-354, 66.9% comp percentage, 2.941 pass yards, 8.3 ypa, 25 pass TDs, 7 INTs, 156.1 rating; 63 rush att, 8 rush yards, 4 rush TDs

Kyle Trask is a familiar face in Gainesville as he enters his redshirt senior season for the Gators. Trask battled injuries and the depth chart during his first four campaigns and only saw starter’s reps a few games into 2019 when incumbent Feleipe Franks dislocated his ankle. Trask seized his opportunity and led Florida to the Orange Bowl and a 6th ranked finish. Franks has moved on to Arkansas but Trask may still need to fend off the highly touted redshirt sophomore Emory Jones (4-star, 0.9587 composite score per 247Sports). I’ll venture a guess that Trask keeps the starting job but don’t be surprised to see Jones continue to get sub-package touches which may detract from Trask’s final tallies.

The first thing you’ll notice about Trask is his size. I thought for sure his listed weight of 239 must have been a typo so I checked it on the Florida roster itself. Sure enough, 6050/239 it is. Since 2010, only ten quarterbacks have measured as tall and as hefty as Trask’s listed numbers. Ironically that group spans a wide gamut from first overall pick (Cam Newton) to high draft capital busts (Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler) to undrafted projects (Tyree Jackson). To help place him within that rubric, let’s see what some film can tell us.

I watched Trask’s 2019 outing against South Carolina. His final stat line in that game (200 yards, 4 TD and 1 INT) belies what really was a mediocre, at best, performance. Trask’s anticipation, accuracy and touch were inconsistent and tended toward the negative. On the positive side, he is a towering presence in the pocket and isn’t afraid to step into pressure to deliver his throw. He uses his frame well as a short yardage runner and throws accurately on the move. I watched a full-season highlight package to see if those positives stood up over the course of more games and they did. The bottomline: he’s big, has good pocket mobility and somehow makes big plays happen. Here he is embodying that on a key 4th down late against South Carolina where the Gators convert then score the go-ahead touchdown on the next play:

Circle October 31st on your calendar — not for Halloween, but for the Georgia vs Florida matchup in Jacksonville that’s likely to serve as the de facto SEC East championship game. It’ll be a great showcase for both Trask and the aforementioned Jamie Newman to show off their talents in the national spotlight.

 

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