The Watch List: 2019 National Championship Game Preview

Updated: January 5th 2019

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 observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout bowl season as The Watch List will preview every game and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

National Championship Game, Alabama (14-0) vs Clemson (14-0), Mon 1/7 at 8:00pm on ESPN:

Well, here we go again. Alabama and Clemson are building a nice intra-conference rivalry with all of these CFP matchups (the Tide lead the recent series, 2-1). I’ve heard some fans express disappointment that we’re getting such a familiar matchup for the championship but I’m a fan. For me, as an amateur draft analyst, this game is fantastic because of the sheer volume of NFL talent that will be on display. I’ve recently written about a number of these prospects so rather than rehash those players, I decided to spotlight two guys who I have yet to discuss this season: Alabama RB Josh Jacobs and Clemson WR Hunter Renfrow. If you’d like to revisit my previous players-to-watch from earlier this postseason, please check out my Conference Championship Preview (Irv Smith) and Part VI of my Bowl Previews (Clelin Ferrel, Quinnen Williams).  I’ve also provided my prediction and best bets below.  Good luck and enjoy!

Draft Eligible Players to Watch:

Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

Josh Jacobs likely saw his NFL Draft stock rise quicker than anybody else who played last week. In that game against Oklahoma, Jacobs totaled 19 touches for 158 yards and a score. Throughout his career, Jacobs has been sharing the workload with a number of talented backs (currently, the Harris “twins” of Damien and Najee) but maybe coach Nick Saban finally realized that Jacobs was the best of the bunch. It’s impossible to evaluate Jacobs based on his stats because he shared so many touches. His career numbers are: 240 attempts, 1,444 yards, 16 rushing TDs, 47 receptions, 555 yards and 5 receiving TDs. Don’t be the fantasy owner who ignores him because his career stats don’t look great on paper. I was that guy when it came to Alvin Kamara in 2017 and I hope not to repeat that mistake. I’m certainly not predicting that Jacobs will have Kamara’s rise to stardom, it’s far too soon for a prediction like that, but I’m saying that there’s more than the boxscore for fantasy owners to consider.

I first wrote about Jacobs in November 2017 but since then I haven’t watched him too closely, so it was time for a refresher.  I decided to go back and watch Jacobs against Mississippi State from earlier this season. His 20 carries in that game were a career high so I figured it would give me a feel for his ceiling.  On the first play of the State film, Jacobs took the snap from the wildcat and showcased his penchant for lowering his head and surging into defenders.  He wallops the first defender and then shoulders another as he’s being dragged down around the waist.  The run went for a first down but what stood out more was how un-fun it would be to lineup opposite Jacobs.

In addition to his size and power, Jacobs showed an ability to make sharp, quick cuts to get around defenders.  This one near the end zone was particularly eye-catching.  Jacobs sets up two defenders to the outside, plants his right foot and explodes upfield while avoiding much contact.  Without the benefit of the full broadcast, it’s hard to tell if Jacobs scores on the play but either way that cut was a thing of beauty.

I was most surprised by Jacobs’ ability to pass protect.  Perhaps that should not have come as a surprise since Nick Saban trusts him as the passing down back.  Other backs have the desire to block, but I struggled thinking of a back who showed the intelligence in picking up their assignments as Jacobs did.  There were three separate instances against Mississippi State where I noted that Jacobs quickly diagnosed the rush and found his man, even from across the formation.  I chose to highlight this specific play because you can also see Jacobs square up, set his base and prepare for the block.

Due to the small sample size we have for Jacobs, I can understand why fantasy owners may be leery about taking the plunge next Spring.  I however, need no further convincing that Jacobs deserves to move up my positional rankings.  He has a wonderful combination of size, power, agility, intelligence and pass catching ability that will endear him to scouts.  Come May, we will be talking about Jacobs as a potential Day Two NFL prospect and as a second round target in rookie drafts.



Hunter Renfrow, WR, Clemson

ESPN put it best in their recent piece, saying that “Hunter Renfrow is a timeless legend at Clemson.” Renfrow doesn’t project as a big-name prospect like some of the other dudes in this contest, so why highlight him? For starters, that “legendary” status paired with Dabo Swinney’s playful playcalling means that Renfrow will inevitably be featured on a trick play. He played as a triple-option quarterback in high school, was the team’s emergency quarterback while Trevor Lawrence was banged up and kicked a 42-yard punt against Wake Forest.  Once the Wake game was out of hand, Renfrow got some snaps at QB.  Check out the downfield block he makes on this run that helps spring the back for a score.  “Want-to” plays like this is what makes fans fall in love with Renfrow.

While Renfrow’s regular season production throughout his career has been mediocre (about 3 catches for 40 yards, on average), he has shown an ability to show up for big games. Renfrow has played in each of the three CFP matchups versus ‘Bama and has a total of 22 receptions, 211 and 2 TDs (including the last second game winner in 2017). Those stats, against the perennially strong Alabama defense in the seasons’ biggest games, are impressive.

Renfrow will get a crack in the NFL as a slot receiver but he won’t be highly sought in a deep receiver class. He has sticky hands, runs his routes well and is a clutch performer.  While I was looking for highlights of Renfrow, I came across this catch which immediately reminded me of the game-winning catch Cole Beasley made against the Giants in Week 17.  Renfrow breaks off his route to adjust for the scrambling quarterback, heads towards open space to make himself a target, hands-catches the ball in midair and gets a foot in for the score.

Beasley is smaller than Renfrow, so I think a better comparison would be fellow Clemson alumni, Adam Humphries from the Buccaneers. Humphries went undrafted, as did Beasley, which is too a possibility for Renfrow but I think it’s more likely he’ll be a sixth or seventh round guy because of his name recognition.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how Renfrow is deployed in this one.  Running a “Clemson Special” with Renfrow may be too obvious so instead I’m thinking he might be involved in a trick special teams play (in addition to his regular receiver work, of course).

My Prediction:

There’s not much to separate these two teams. They have so much in common: both have underclassmen on offense who are surefire NFL pros, both have stellar defenses led by fierce front sevens, both have championship experience, both have great coaching staffs, and on and on. When I came into this preview, I knew it was going to be difficult to avoid the urge to name-drop all of the potential difference makers. The two guys mentioned above will surely figure into the action but the main draw will undoubtedly be the quarterbacks. Clemson’s true freshman Trevor Lawrence is a herculean specimen who looked, and played, the part from day one. Alabama’s sophomore Tua Tagovailoa is like a jazz musician with his ability to improvise and produce moments of magic extemporaneously. If pressed, I would predict that Lawrence has the better game overall but Tua produces the single most important moment of the game and wins a defensive battle for the Tide.  Alabama 29, Clemson 25

My Bets:

  • Clemson, +5.5
  • Under 58.5

Lines and betting stats courtesy of, as of 1/4.


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:,,,,,,
  • Recruiting:,,,
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks:,,,,,
  • Draft history:
  • Combine info:,,
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, 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:, the media home for FWAA members
  • Odds & Gambling Stats:

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

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