The Watch List: 2019 NFL Draft Previews, Sleepers

Updated: March 23rd 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 Winter and Spring as The Watch List will preview the top prospects and let you know who is fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

In this installment of The Watch List, we are going to take a closer look at some of my favorite under-the-radar NFL Draft prospects.  These guys are all undervalued right now and I think fantasy owners can find a good return on their investment.  In addition to the four players I’ve highlighted, one at each offensive skill position, I added a few honorable mentions at the bottom.  I am officially suffering from NFL Draft hysteria, so without further ado, let’s get to it!

Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse

  • Measurables: 6040/226 (per Sports-Reference.com; did not participate in the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 226-371, 60.9% completion percentage, 2,868 yards, 18 TDs, 9 INTs, 754 rushing yards, 15 rushing TDs

Eric Dungey made his first impression on me in 2017 when he stole a victory against #2 Clemson and their fearsome defense (278 passing yards, 3 TDs and 61 rushing yards).  Dungey followed up that performance with another plus outing in 2018 (250 yards and 2 rushing TDs).  The local Syracuse newspaper did an interesting multi-piece feature on Dungey where they dug into his “warrior-like persona” and his push back on the “injury prone” label.  The article regarding his injury history was most informative to me because I had already made the assumption that he was injury prone.  However, Dungey and his family question the school’s decision to keep him out of numerous games for a concussion despite him being cleared by doctors.  Dungey did miss most of the Notre Dame game in 2018 with a back injury but thankfully he was healthy otherwise so we were able to get a full-season sample size.

Dungey completes just over 60% of his passes which is just good enough but not ideal.  When I watched his Clemson 2018 game, I thought that Dungey threw with good accuracy and touch on short and intermediate passes, especially on screen/swing routes; he also led his receivers with anticipation.  He can be inconsistent with his mechanics and needs work on his feet.  He often throws without stepping into the pass or off his back foot.  Despite his poor footwork, Dungey showed me that he has a big arm and can place the deep ball well.  On this play, he has the rush in his face, fades away and throws a dime to the sideline.

Dungey also adds a dimension in the running game (35 career rushing yards).  He’s not an explosive runner but he is effective as a power runner near the goal line or in short yardage situations.  Part of that success surely stems from his caution-to-the-wind attitude which rallies his teammates.  He throws well enough on the move to run designed rolls and sprint outs.

Maybe it’s the fact that he wears #2.  Maybe it’s the confident personality.  Or, maybe I’m just crazy.  But, when I watch Dungey I see a poor man’s Johnny Manziel (seemingly without the off-field issues).  If teams can look past Dungey’s injury history, I think they will be getting a solid football player who could have a Taysom Hill like impact early in his career as a short yardage gadget player.  Draft Prediction: Round 5-6

 

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

  • Measurables: 5095/211, 4.47 40 yard dash (per the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 172 carries, 954 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 5 TDs; 21 receptions, 112 yards, 5.3 yards per reception, 1 TD

Mike Weber has had one of the most interesting paths to being an NFL Draft prospect. Two years ago, he looked like he could be the next star rusher for the Buckeyes. And then in 2017 he promptly lost his starting spot to true freshman JK Dobbins. Dobbins played well from the start and Weber battled through a nagging hamstring which helped Dobbins further entrench his leading role. Weber stayed in the mix though and in 2018 he nearly topped 1,000 yards. Then Weber went on to run a surprising 4.47 40 yard dash at the combine (the rest of his combine was lackluster though). You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know what to make of Weber’s draft stock.

His per-touch averages dropped in 2018 but I’m less concerned with that and more encouraged by the increase in volume. Since Weber was playing second-fiddle to Dobbins, much of his usage came when the team was winning. You could spin this as making the most of garbage time or you could spin it that the team trusted him with the ball to seal the victory. I typically lean towards the former but you can pass your own judgment.

The main reason I value Weber is that he’s a well balanced back in that he makes contributions as a runner, receiver and blocker. He has 54 career receptions, topping 20 in his two healthiest seasons. In 2016, his only as the starter, Pro Football Focus gave Weber a pass blocking grade of 88.1. For comparison, only six other backs in this draft class had a season with a higher pass blocking grade. (Full disclosure: he fared worse the last two seasons.) At the combine, he showed that he has speed and strength and that appears on tape as well.

In this play against Washington, Weber uses his speed to turn the corner against the safety and then finishes the run strong.  Finishing strong is something that I saw repeatedly; he’s not one to step out of bounds to avoid a hit.

Unfortunately, the 2018 tape available featured none of Weber’s solid receiving games.  However, in the Washington game we did get a single glimpse at how he can serve as a safety valve and use his downhill running style to pick up a first down.  Not surprisingly, he finishes this run well too.

I’ve said before that Weber is not a “sexy” name and I stand by that. Fans won’t go ga-ga for him after he’s drafted but I feel strongly that they’ll be getting a player who can fill a number of roles in an NFL backfield. If he finds himself behind a shaky incumbent, Weber could be starting come September.  At the very least, I think Weber will be utilized late in games where his running style can wear down a defense and his versatility gives the play caller options without changing personnel. Draft Prediction: Round 4-5

Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State

  • Measurables: 6053/227, 4.48 40 yard dash (per the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 60 receptions, 1,318 yards, 22.0 yards per reception, 9 TDs

It’s becoming harder and harder to call Butler a “sleeper” as his momentum builds. I kept him in this piece as planned though because I still believe he’s undervalued in the fantasy football world.

Butler was the second target behind the similarly-sized Allen Lazard last season, and yet he still managed a 41-697-7 line. This year as the primary option, he improved to 60-1318-9. Where Butler’s 2018 stats really stand out is his yards per reception: 22.0. Based solely on his stats, you would assume Butler is a shifty slot receiver, however he’s really a speedy 6053/227 behemoth with a wingspan that would make a pterodactyl jealous.

Butler has the potential to be a factor in the redzone, although he did not show that much in 2018.  In fact, he caught just 3 of his 60 balls inside the twenty (for 2 TDs).  I’d like to think that that surprising stat has more to do with his deployment and the play calls than his ability.  I was encouraged by how perfect one of those redzone targets looked against Kansas State.  Butler hesitates at the snap, breaks outside and leans into the corner as the ball is thrown.  He uses this leverage to make some space for a back shoulder throw.  Butler goes up with two hands and is strong enough to hold onto the ball as he’s contacted and as the defender tries to swipe at the ball at the last moment.  It was a textbook redzone fade that gives me hope that Butler can excel in similar situations in the NFL.

That’s not to say that Butler can only be utilized in the redzone or as an X receiver.  He lines up all over the field and uses his rare combination of size, speed and strength to create mismatches all over.  He’s a feisty blocker who lacks technique but not motivation.  He uses that same physicality at the top of his routes where I saw him plant more than one defender in the grass.  In fact, defenders seem to hit the ground all around Butler.  One of my favorite highlights of Butler came in the Oklahoma game.  I remember watching this one live and was glad to find a clip online.  He catches the ball in traffic, spins out of multiple tackles and wills himself to the endzone, defenders toppling like bowling pins.

There’s one last clip I just have to show of Butler.  In this one he’s illustrating one of my favorite traits of a wide receiver, what I call “going over and through.”  Butler has such a height advantage that he’s able to reach back behind the corner and secure the catch (he adds a little YAC to this one too).

Butler certainly isn’t a perfect prospect, even if his physique may suggest otherwise.  I noted multiple drops in the Kansas State game and he was also a frequent culprit of OPI.  Despite some small question marks, Butler is currently my WR5.  I believe that he could be a steal in the second round for fantasy owners.  Draft Prediction: Round 2-3

Donald Parham, TE, Stetson

  • Measurables: 6083/243 (per the Senior Bowl; did not participate in the NFL Combine)
  • 2018 Stats: 85 receptions, 1,319 yards, 13 TDs

I have written extensively about Donald Parham since I first stumbled across him a year ago. In fact, I recently included him in my FCS NFL Draft preview. I was going to profile somebody else in this piece until I watched Parham’s highlight reel from the 2018 Morehead State game. The plays he made in that game showed me a facet of Parham’s game that I was not able to see in more limited clip packages from other games. Specifically, I was able to see just how great his hands are. He repeatedly catches the ball away from his body, utilizing his spectacular catch radius to his advantage. Parham does not have great straight-line speed or agility but his stride is so long that he covers ground deceptively well. In this clip, you can see how he gets away from the defender with relative ease after catching the post.

His route running was also more noticeable, although it certainly needs more refinement. I was encouraged by the nuance in this route because it showed a sign of Parham that I had not often seen. The defense is playing zone which he exploits by drawing the linebacker towards the boundary, cuts inside and stops his route in front of the safety. He makes the grab and spins away from contact.  This allows him to pick up an extra twenty yards after the catch. It was an unremarkable play but it showed me that he may be able to succeed from the slot and not just be typecast as a red zone receiver.

Parham does not have the bulk to be an in-line blocker in the NFL. I also believe he lacks the quickness and play strength to beat press coverage and start as an X receiver. So, he will need to find a role as a mismatch-inducing slot receiver. He will most definitely start his career as a situational player but given his unique size that may still be valuable to fantasy owners. I have a feeling that a team will be enticed by his physical potential and grabs him on Day Two, ahead of more complete tight ends. Draft Prediction: Round 2-3

Honorable Mentions

  • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien is currently my QB4.  He has decent measureables, tons of experience and a good-enough arm.  He’ll be a Day Two guy and might become fantasy relevant based on team fit.
  • Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State: According to Pro Football Focus, Jalin Moore is the best pass blocking running back the last two years running.  Moore missed much of 2018 with an injury so he’s going to go later than he would have six months ago.  I expect him to go during the inevitable RB run in the 4th round.  Even though he wasn’t a factor as a receiver, I expect him to earn an early role as a reliable pass protector.
  • Marcus Jones, RB, Gannon: The stats that Marcus Jones put up the last two seasons are incredible: 3,884 yards and 50 TDs.  Granted, that was against DII competition but his highlights are still impressive.  Jones received an invite to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (a low level postseason showcase game) but played out of position at FB.  He finished with zero carries and just one catch.  Sadly, that’s probably the death blow to his draft stock but I won’t give up until I see him in training camp.  I believe.
  • David Sills, WR, West Virginia: I have Sills higher in my rankings than many others.  The reason for that is that I think he will have immediate situational value in the NFL.  A rookie stat line of 25-200-6 would not surprise me and would mean that Sills could be a bye-week option in deeper leagues.
  • Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona: Butler has good size and athleticism.  He excels in the air and in contested catch situations.  I also think he has the right mentality to find success as a late-rounder.
  • Kahale Warring, TE, San Diego State: Warring landed on my radar after he had a great combine.  He ran well (4.70, 76th percentile) and did as good or better in the jumps and shuttles.  He only has 19 career games and 51 career receptions so a small sample size is a concern.  After my limited exposure, he looks like a plus blocker so he’ll get drafted for that on Day Three and maybe his athleticism shines through.

 


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

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