The Watch List 2021: Spring Scouting, WRs

Updated: June 7th 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.

The next crop of players featured in my Spring Scouting series all have something in common: they are all slot receivers. Towering outside receivers typically get the love from #DraftTwitter but it’s looking like the 2021 class is bound to have a few studs in the slot. Whether because of injury or a teammate leaving for the NFL, each receiver profiled below is also looking to make the argument that they can be their team’s top target in 2020. Let’s get to it…

Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue

  • Measurables: 5090/180
  • 2018 Stats: 13 games, 114 receptions, 1,258 rec yards, 11.0 ypr, 12 rec TDs, 21 rush attempts, 213 rush yards, 10.1 ypa, 2 rush TDs, 33 kick returns, 20.1 ypr, 12 punt returns, 6.8 ypr
  • 2019 Stats: 4 games, 29 receptions, 387 rec yards, 13.3 ypr, 2 rec TDs, 3 rush attempts, 3 rush yards, 1.0 ypa, 0 rush TDs, 9 kick returns, 16.8 ypr, 5 punt returns, 7.2 ypr

Rondale Moore, as a true freshman, was the most exciting player in college football in 2018. He started 2019 with promise before going down with what was ultimately a season-ending hamstring injury. In his short seventeen game career, Moore has eight games with 11 or more receptions. He only has three games with less than three receptions, and one of those was the game when he got hurt. Purdue has a strong schedule this season — non-con games against Memphis, Air Force and Boston College, as well as a division crossover game at Michigan — so we’re bound to see plenty of Moore this season. To quote Martha Stewart, “it’s a good thing.”

I fell in love with Moore in 2018 when he went off for 12-170-2 in an upset victory over Ohio State (admitted Michigan fan here). In addition to re-watching that performance, I watched Moore against Nevada in last year’s opener. Interestingly, it seems like there was a clear gameplan shift from one year to the next: against Nevada Moore was constantly in motion pre-snap, whereas against Ohio State he was mostly stationary in the slot (except for a key play shown below, maybe not an accident?). Moore is a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. If he’s unable to break a tackle, he’ll submarine the defender to earn an extra yard or two. Moore is a smart route runner who instinctively knows when to bend or break off a route, or when to settle in between zone coverage. Against Ohio State, he was often matched up against fellow freshman Shawn Wade, a corner who will likely be a first rounder in 2021. Check out this route he ran against Wade. Not only does Moore beat him on the out route with his explosiveness but there is a subtle head fake that Moore uses before the top of the stem to unsettle Wade. I love discovering this type of play and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Moore was just a true freshman at the time.

The ultimate Rondale Moore highlight came later in the Ohio State game and guaranteed the W. Moore is sent in motion by the quarterback and makes a beeline for the sideline. He secures the catch as he shifts his momentum upfield, with two defenders in pursuit. Moore slips an ankle tackle, stays in bounds, then lowers the shoulder into the boundary corner and spins out of his bear hug. There was still more to do though, Moore hits the afterburners and angles his way into the end zone away from a last ditch diving tackle. Seven different Buckeyes get within a yard of Moore on the play and none of them could bring him down.

There is just so much to love about Moore’s game that it was difficult to only select two highlights to showcase. If Moore can stay healthy and duplicate even 80% of his 2018 production he’ll be a first round pick next year.

 

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

  • Measurables: 5100/210
  • 2017 Stats: 14 games, 19 receptions, 123 rec yards, 6.5 ypr, 0 TDs, 2 punt returns, 7.5 ypr, 0 punt return TDs
  • 2018 Stats: 15 games, 55 receptions, 575 rec yards, 10.5 ypr, 4 TDs, 39 punt returns, 7.7 ypr, 1 punt return TD
  • 2019 Stats: 14 games, 30 receptions, 426 rec yards, 14.2 ypr, 4 TDs, 18 punt returns, 8.4 ypr, 0 punt return TDs

Amari Rodgers is poised to be the favorite target of Trevor Lawrence in 2020 after the news that Justyn Ross will miss the entire season. Rodgers suffered a preseason injury of his own in 2019, a torn ACL. Somehow, Rodgers was back in the lineup in September and missed just ONE game! His recovery took less than six months which is unheard of. Rodgers, a former Mr. Tennessee honoree and Top 100 recruit, has had flashes of greatness in Death Valley but has yet to be the BMOC. This will be his time to shine and show scouts that he deserves to be a coveted NFL prospect.

I watched Rodgers’ game tape from his 2019 outing against Syracuse as well as some highlight packages. Rodgers is a strong and compact slot receiver whose unique 5100/210 body type is well suited to breaking tackles. In the last two wide receiver classes, only Deebo Samuel compares to his sub-6000 height and 210+ weight. He looks like a punt returner once he gets the ball on a screen so it’s no surprise that he’s also been the team’s primary punt returner, even after a serious knee injury. Rodgers appears to have reliable hands, although I would like to see him attack the ball more often. DraftScout.com predicts Rodgers to have 4.60 speed but I see him being faster than that, maybe even pushing the 4.49 he ran as a high schooler per ESPN. He has a top gear that defensive backs just can’t match, so he’s gone if he gets beyond the second level. On this play you can see the full package that Rodgers will offer in the pros. He adjusts to a bad throw and has to break a tackle behind the line of scrimmage just a moment after securing the catch. He accelerates around the corner, shrugs off an attempt to push him out of bounds, and outruns everybody on the field.

Rodgers was an interesting study because he’s a contrast to the towering outside receivers that Clemson has produced in recent memory. I think Rodgers will have an instant role in the NFL as a reliable underneath receiver and dynamic punt returner.

 

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC

  • Measurables: 6010/195
  • 2018 Stats: 11 games, 60 receptions, 750 rec yards, 12.5 ypr, 3 rec TDs, 2 rush attempts, 9 rush yards, 4.5 ypa, 0 rush TDs
  • 2019 Stats: 13 games, 77 receptions, 1,042 rec yards, 13.5 ypr, 6 rec TDs, 7 rush attempts, 60 rush yards, 8.6 ypa, 1 rush TD, 12 punt returns, 5.5 ypr

Amon-Ra St. Brown has been a “household name” since before he even set foot on campus at USC. He was 247Sports’ 11th ranked prospect in the class, hailing from the football factory Mater Dei, but that’s not why he’s so well known. The (St.) Brown family is football’s answer to the Ball family of basketball: three talented brothers with unique names driven to future stardom by their father. Amon-Ra’s older brothers are Equanimeous (Green Bay via Notre Dame) and Osiris (Stanford). If you haven’t seen the HBO Real Sports segment about the family, I would highly recommend it. Name recognition based on off-the-field factors can be a double-edged sword. It’s nice to be well known but does that raise expectations too high? To know for sure I needed to check out some game action.

I chose to watch St. Brown against Iowa in last year’s Holiday Bowl. The Trojans were worn down by the Hawkeyes defense and lost 49-24, but St. Brown wasn’t to blame, earning 163 of the team’s 260 receiving yards. I had some preconceived “diva” notions about St. Brown (dating back to a bush league celebration in the 2018 Under Armour All-American game), so I was very happy to see how physical and scrappy he is. St. Brown is always getting his hands on the opposing defender. Sometimes it’s hand fighting on the route, sometimes it’s a little shove after the play, sometimes it’s pulling somebody off a pile. I wouldn’t want to play against him, and that’s exactly the point. I was also impressed with how strong St. Brown’s hands were catching the ball, often snagging it far away from his body. St. Brown’s best play against Iowa was a deep over the shoulder grab that landed him just shy of paydirt. I checked some highlights to see if his ball tracking and deep ball skills were recurrent, and they were.

I can see St. Brown having success at the next level as a strong slot, with a height and strength advantage over nickel corners. Given his deep ball ability, I think he could also play a role on the outside as well. Without Michael Pittman hogging targets from QB Kedon Slovis, St. Brown should expect an even bigger share of the offense this season. One thing is for sure, Amon-Ra St. Brown has more than just his name going for him heading into the 2021 NFL Draft process.

 

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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