The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, Small-School Sleepers

Updated: May 13th 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.

And we’re back! The 2020 NFL Draft is barely in our rearview mirror and I am already looking ahead to the 2021 draft class. One of my favorite things about the draft is watching Day 3 and seeing where my favorite under-the-radar players land. That’s why I love starting the new draft season with a look at small-school sleepers. The players profiled below are all competing either at the FCS or DII level. Players from the lower levels of college football may be a minority on NFL rosters but every year there are a few who surprise us.

 

Aqeel Glass, QB, Alabama A&M

  • Measurables: 6050/215
  • 2017 Stats: 9 games, 106-219, 48.4% comp percentage, 1,192 yards, 5 TDs, 10 INTs, -48 rush yards, 0 rush TD
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 194-346, 56.1% comp percentage, 2,421 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs, -26 rush yards, 1 rush TD
  • 2019 Stats: 12 games, 273-445, 61.3% comp percentage, 3,600 yards, 32 TDs, 11 INTs, -59 rush yards, 1 rush TD

Aqeel Glass, the soon to be fourth year starting quarterback at Alabama A&M, emerged as one of the top FCS quarterbacks in 2019. At the end of the campaign, he had 3,600 yards and 32 TDs along with a 61.3% completion percentage. He finished 4th in the FCS in passing touchdowns and 5th in passing yards per game. It’s also encouraging to see an annual upward trend in his rate stats, something that we will hopefully see further in 2020.

Glass is a tall pocket passer (6050) who could use a few extra pounds to fill out his lower half (215). The Bulldogs feature a quick-strike offense that is heavy on screens and flat routes. I watched last year’s game against Southern and I think each play has the facade of a zone read or RPO but I’m not sure how often Glass is tasked with the decision himself versus how often it’s a scripted play. When he’s forced to improvise on the run, he shines. His feet are active in the pocket and he shows that he can evade the rush while keeping his eyes downfield, sometimes with a quick rollout or a strong spin move. That can turn into a negative though if he flees the pocket before letting the play develop. In this example play you can see Glass start to read the field as he gives a slight shoulder shimmy pump fake. He spins away from the rushing end and keeps his eyes upfield as he looks to salvage the down. He connects with a receiver who is ultimately walloped so it wasn’t a perfect play; you’d like to see him lead the receiver towards the sideline.

My favorite play of Glass’ was a double fake reverse touchdown pass late against Southern. It was midway through the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs were down by a touchdown. It was a great playcall and perfect execution by Glass. The deft feint is obvious from the broadcast angle but even better on the replay, although it’s hard to appreciate in a choppy gif. Since he fakes on nearly every play Glass is sometimes inconsistent with the quality of his fakes but when he’s at his best it’s a fantastic trait that shows off his situational awareness.

I found a lot to like in Aqeel Glass and am looking forward to checking on his progress in the fall. If he continues to improve, I believe Glass can land on an NFL roster in 2021.

 

Elijah Dotson, RB, Sacramento State

  • Measurables: 6000/185
  • 2017 Stats: 11 games, 87 att, 475 rush yards, 5.5 ypa, 5 rush TDs, 8 receptions, 139 rec yards, 17.4 ypc, 2 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 10 games, 185 att, 1,154 rush yards, 6.2 ypa, 9 rush TDs, 14 receptions, 160 rec yards, 11.4 ypc, 0 rec TD
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 151 att, 742 rush yards, 4.9 ypa, 7 rush TDs, 70 receptions, 702 rec yards, 10.0 ypc, 4 rec TDs

I came across Elijah Dotson’s name on one of my go-to websites, www.draftscout.com, and boy am I glad I did. A two-time All Big Sky player, Dotson’s stats are quite interesting to review. He had a great sophomore season in which he averaged 115.4 yards per game and had a career high with 9 rushing scores. While his rushing totals dropped off in 2019, he flourished as a receiver, totaling 70 receptions and 702 receiving yards. I feared there might have been a position change to explain the drastic jump in receiving production so I had to find some film to watch to get a fuller picture.

I ended up watching the full highlights of Sacramento State vs Arizona State from early 2019, skipping ahead to Dotson’s touches, and a school-produced highlight package from the season. What I watched really impressed me. Dotson runs with a pinball-like momentum that makes him hard to bring down. It’s hard to peg whether he’s a power back or a speedy scat back, but that “somewhere in between” makes him a tough tackle. Much of his receiving production does come out of the backfield, putting my position-change fears to rest, where he runs a number of varied routes; he’s particularly deadly on a wheel route with a well-placed lofted toss from the quarterback. Here he is smoking the Montana defense on one of those wheel routes:

He’s also trusted to line up as both a slot or boundary receiver as I saw him do a few times late against the Sun Devils. There weren’t many opportunities to see Dotson in pass protection but the few glimpses I saw appeared positive. There was a great hustle play where he ended up out of the play and sprinted ahead to throw a helpful block for his receiver. I also loved the way he was able to make defenders miss him horizontally by juking and cutting with his eyes upfield and his pads parallel to the yard lines. Here’s a good example of what Dotson’s role at the next level could look like. He lines up in the slot and comes in motion, the quarterback fakes the quick pop-pass, Dotson catches the ball yards behind the line of scrimmage and manages to stop his momentum before stepping out of bounds. He springs past the first tackler and then makes two more miss before finishing his run with a thump to the cornerback. Even more impressive, this one came against FBS foe Fresno State.

Despite all of the positives I gushed about above, there is one looming concern and that is Dotson’s size. Over the last five combines, just three running backs 5110 and taller weighed in less than 200lbs, and none less than 197lbs: Salvon Ahmed, Justin Crawford, Justin Jackson. (Full disclosure, the next lightest back on that list is Christian McCaffrey at 202lbs but he seems to be the exception on the >5110/<210 list.)

It’s been awhile since I got as excited about a small-school running back as I did watching Dotson’s highlights so I’ve got my fingers crossed for him. I don’t love doing comparisons but while I was looking at similarly sized players from recent combines my mind’s eye likened him to Justin Jackson, formerly of Northwestern and now on the Chargers. Like Jackson, Dotson’s do-it-all skillset might be enough to get him drafted and would be a valuable depth asset for any NFL team.

 

Samori Toure, WR, Montana

  • Measurables: 6030/190
  • 2017 Stats: 11 games, 31 receptions, 553 rec yards, 17.8 ypc, 5 rec TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 37 receptions, 440 rec yards, 11.9 ypc, 2 rec TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 11 games, 87 receptions, 1,495 rec yards, 17.2 ypc, 13 rec TDs

Samori Toure’s bio on the Montana athletics page still shows its prophetic prediction for the 2019 season: “Toure (pronounced TOO-ray) is poised to have his best season yet for the Grizzlies after a strong fall camp.” Toure exploded in 2019, his junior year, finishing second in the FCS in receiving yards (1,495) and sixth in touchdowns (13). Thanks in part to Toure, Montana made it to the FCS quarterfinals last season, the furthest they’ve progressed in a decade. Toure will hope to end his Griz career on an even higher note in 2020.

Toure is a deep threat who has enough wheels to beat a dropping safety or to outrun a tackler after the catch. He tracks the ball well and adjusts well to an underthrown or tipped ball, something that was evident repeatedly on the highlight reels I watched. On his shorter routes he’s rarely brought down by the first tackler. My favorite play of Toure’s shows how dangerous he can be downfield. Nearly fifty yards down the sideline, Toure turns for the ball while effortlessly continuing his momentum by backpedaling. He spots the ball, secures the catch, and manages to drag both feet for an NFL-worthy catch.

It’s too soon to say what Toure’s pro prospects look like but he should be on your radar. Unfortunately for small-school receivers, despite the high volume of receivers being drafted, recent history has shown that only one or two are drafted per year from the FCS or lower. A deep playoff run by Montana could help Toure get some deserved exposure.

 

Zach Davidson, TE, Central Missouri

  • Measurables: 6070/245
  • 2017 Stats: 12 games, 0 rec, 47 punts, 44.3 ypp, 66 yard long, 14 inside twenty
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 11 rec, 239 rec yards, 21.72 ypc, 3 TDs, 42 punts, 42.8 ypp, 64 yard long, 15 inside twenty
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 40 rec, 894 rec yards, 22.35 ypc, 15 TDs, 48 punts, 40.29 ypp, 67 yard long, 19 inside twenty

When I first came across Zach Davidson’s name while I was searching the proverbial haystack for prospects to add to my watch list, it was his size that caught my eye. Then when I looked up his stats and bio, his versatility caught my eye. Not only did Davidson lead all DII tight ends in touchdown receptions in 2019 (15, the next closest had 10), which earned him first team DII All-American honors, but he has also previously earned plaudits as a punter as well.

Predictably, film clips of Davidson’s are difficult to find. Thankfully, Draft Diamonds is doing yeoman’s work this offseason and already has a highlight package available on YouTube. I was surprised to see how many downfield targets Davidson received. Given his size, I expected him to be mostly a short and intermediate receiver. I need to keep in mind that he’s playing against DII opposition, but I was impressed with his speed. The highlights also showed a penchant for winning contested catches. My favorite play was this 78 yard TD. Davidson releases off the line, runs a skinny post, catches the ball in stride 25 yards downfield, outruns the corner to the goal line and carries him for the final two yards into the endzone.

Davidson came into his own in 2019 and I hope we see another standout year from him in 2020. Solid receiving stats, above average size and speed, and his unique ability as a punter might just help Davidson find some draft buzz.

 

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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