The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Group of 5 Gems

Updated: June 14th 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.

Each year when we evaluate the draft classes of individual NFL teams, it often comes down to the value they find in the middle rounds. After all, it’s not all that hard to identify the next Calvin Ridley, finding the next Michael Gallup is the real test. I don’t think it’s a coincidence then that we typically see the gems from the Group of 5 start going off the board in the third round right as teams are starting to look for players who will return big on their draft capital investment. Sure, the guys from the Group of 5 may not have been 5-star recruits or All-American talents but they produced at a high level on a consistent basis. Today, we will take a closer look at three players who I think will fall into that “safe bet” category of draft pick. Will they be rookie Pro Bowlers, probably not. Will they find an immediate role on an NFL team, definitely.

Jaret Patterson, RB, Buffalo

  • Measurables5090/195
  • 2018 Stats13 games, 174 carries, 978 rush yards, 5.6 ypc, 14 rush TDs; 7 receptions, 62 rec yards, 8.9 ypr, 0 rec TD
  • 2019 Stats13 games, 312 carries, 1,799 rush yards, 5.8 ypc, 19 rush TDs; 13 receptions, 209 rec yards, 16.1 ypr, 1 rec TD

Imagine the Oklahoma drills in the backyard of the Patterson household with RB Jaret facing off against LB James. The twins still face off in practice now that they are starring for the Buffalo Bulls. James may be a key part of the defense but today we are going to be focusing on Jaret who set the MAC on fire in 2019. Patterson set school records last year in rushing yards (1,799) and rushing touchdowns (19). His rushing total was good enough to lead the MAC and to finish 5th nationwide. Patterson is no one-hit-wonder either, his success as a rookie earned him the MAC Freshman of the Year title in 2018. I knew Patterson’s name from my 2019 preseason research but I don’t recall seeing him in any live game action last year so I was eager to jump into some tape.

I watched Patterson’s two available games, Penn State and Charlotte, which coincidentally bookended his season. I came away from my study thinking that Patterson is a well-rounded back who isn’t truly elite in any single area. By virtue of his stocky frame he has the power to overcome defenders and has the agility to utilize a number of specialty moves like a hurdle and spin move. I think he has more to offer as a receiver too, he just didn’t get too many targets coming out of the Bull’s preferred two-back shotgun set. One phrase I wrote down when watching Patterson was “want to.” As in, this “want to” run where he refused to go down without a first down while Buffalo was still within striking distance of Penn State.

Perhaps what will help make Patterson’s draft stock is his ability as a pass blocker. The Buffalo coaching staff clearly trusts him in that role because he was constantly in protection in the two games I watched. He acquitted himself quite well too even though he’s not a big back. He had a number of good blocks against Charlotte but this was by far my favorite. It’s not clear in the gif but you can see him reading the defense looking for his assignment. The player he originally spies twists inside which leaves him to get the blitzing nickel. He shuffles over, sets his feet and flips the corner over his shoulder.

Patterson’s stats are impressive but I would expect that he needs two more seasons to convince scouts that he’s worthy of an NFL draft pick. Although, he’ll have two good chances to make that case in 2020 with Power 5 matchups against Kansas State and Ohio State. Whether it’s 2021 or 2022, keep an eye on Patterson’s landing spot.

Damonte Coxie, WR, Memphis

  • Measurables6030/197
  • 2017 Stats11 games, 21 receptions, 323 rec yards, 15.4 ypr, 3 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats14 games, 72 receptions, 1,174 rec yards, 16.3 ypr, 7 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 76 receptions, 1,276 rec yards, 16.8 ypr, 9 rec TDs

We’ve all heard the cliches of teams dubbing themselves “Linebacker U” or “DB U”, but what about “Dynamic Skill Position U?” I guess that doesn’t really roll off the tongue but it is a nickname that the Memphis Tigers should consider. The player we are going to highlight here, WR Damonte Coxie, is just one in a long list of current and future NFL players — including Kenny Gainwell, Antonio Gibson, Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard and Anthony Miller — who all found success at Memphis under former coach Mike Norvell. New head coach Ryan Silverfield has history as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach, and had two stints with Norvell at Arizona State and Memphis. Hopefully Silverfield will be able to keep the magic alive.

On paper, Coxie’s numbers speak for themselves: he could feasibly finish his career with 250 receptions, 4,000 yards and 40 TDs. To get a better feel for his skillset, I turned to his available cuts and found a special treat: all-22 footage of his regular season matchup against Cincinnati. This type of footage is rare to find for amateur draft fans like myself but it gives a great perspective, especially for receivers. One thing that shows up on the all-22 versus regular highlights is just how physical Coxie is on every play. He reminded me of a skilled heavyweight boxer: constantly throwing jabs to set up a future haymaker and using his size to lean on his opponent to gain leverage. Coxie can catch it all whether it’s one-handed, over the shoulder, in traffic. He’s also quick with explosive feet at the snap that were reminiscent of former teammate Anthony Miller. This endzone angle is all you need to see of Coxie to understand his playing style. He fends off the double team, then makes a lunging catch before absorbing a big collision. As he tries to break away, he has the presence of mind to cut it back past an oncoming tackler which nets him an extra ten yards. He may not have the flat out speed to convert that play into a score but few receivers would have made it as far as he did.

I’ve been a fan of Coxie for over a year now and I hope you’ll give him a close look this season too. I don’t think it’s fair to call Coxie a “sleeper” at this point, he has to be in the conversation on Day Two. I will not be surprised when he ends up drafted higher than some well-known Power 5 names.

Warren Jackson, WR, Colorado State

  • Measurables: 6060/219
  • 2017 Stats: 13 games, 15 receptions, 265 rec yards, 17.7 ypr, 2 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 10 games, 32 receptions, 405 rec yards, 12.7 ypr, 4 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 10 games, 77 receptions, 1,119 rec yards, 14.5 ypr, 8 rec TDs

It’s hard to hide somebody who is 6060/219 but it feels like that is what the Mountain West is doing to CSU standout Warren Jackson. I had honestly not heard of Jackson before I started my preseason research and that surprised me because I was a big fan of the last two star Ram receivers, Rashard Higgins and Michael Gallup. Apparently, Jackson was a big fan of those two also, because the dream of following in their footsteps caused him to change his commitment from Arizona and to ignore other P5 offers.

Jackson defied some of my preconceived notions because I assumed that he’d be a statuesque outside receiver. On the contrary, in the tape and highlights I watched, I saw that Jackson is a versatile receiver who also lines up in the slot and comes in motion frequently. That versatility of deployment is surely to highlight the matchup nightmare he can be — he’s too big for a nickel corner and he’s too fast for a linebacker. His release off the line of scrimmage is good for somebody his size. When he’s against close coverage, he can fight off the defender to free himself. When he has some space in the slot, he can stem inside or out and run a clever route. Jackson is a priority in the red zone where he can high point the ball above anybody on the field. In fact, 12 of his 14 career touchdowns have come from inside the twenty. If he bulks up a bit more he’ll be able to dominate. Check out this play that I found in a 2019 highlight package which perfectly sums up Jackson’s game. Backed up deep in their own end, the Rams take a deep shot. Jackson, forty yards downfield, times his jump well and rips the ball out of the air. He lands, keeps his feet, avoids contact with the colliding defenders and gallops off. None of the pursuing tacklers make it within five yards.

CSU starts the season with a great showcase game: a visit from Colorado. That game is surely going to be easy to find on the dial so I’m already looking forward to tuning in and seeing Jackson create some #DraftTwitter buzz for himself.

 

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.

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