The Watch List 2021: Week 6 Preview

Updated: October 9th 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 season as The Watch List will preview the prospects you should be watching each week so you know who will be fantasy relevant and worth your valuable draft capital.

Forgive me for sounding like a cub reporter for the The Tiger, the student newspaper at Clemson, but this week’s entry is going to focus on the nation’s best. Clemson has started the season 3-0 with relatively easy contests against Wake Forest, The Citadel and Virginia. So far they have outscored opponents 127-36, and were never really in danger against UVA even though they did allow the Cavaliers to keep it somewhat close for awhile. The #1 ranked Tigers will face a real test this week when #7 Miami travels to Death Valley for Week 6, looking to protect their own unbeaten start. Since the first three Clemson outings were snoozers broadcast on the depths of your channel guide, many of you, like me, probably haven’t seen too much of the Tigers yet in 2020. I thought it would be good to check in on a few of the key draft eligible players who might make a difference on Saturday night.

Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

“And that’s the one Marvin, that’s the silver tuna.” I’m not sure why that Home Alone quote was the first thing to come to mind when I was brainstorming a quirky opening sentence that summed up Trevor Lawrence and his place atop the college football world, but hey it works! During his three years as the Clemson starter, I have not written much about Lawrence because frankly there isn’t much for me to say. Lawrence has been the darling of #DraftTwitter since before he even took a snap for Clemson. Back before the 2018 season, I was ready to pencil him in over incumbent Kelly Bryant right away, saying “it’s only a matter of time before we see Lawrence take over at Clemson.” In hindsight, that seems like a “no duh” sentiment and it should have been because Bryant had no business playing over Lawrence to start that campaign. Barring injury, or a self-preservation redshirt, Lawrence will end his career with over 10,000 passing yards, more than 100 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing scores. Unsurprisingly, Lawrence is the all-time leader in passing efficiency in ACC history. This week against Miami, Lawrence will be facing the best and most opportunistic defense he’s seen so far (and maybe until the playoff).

Trevor Lawrence has it all as a quarterback. He has better than prototypical size at 6060/220. His arm is strong and he trusts himself to squeeze it into tight spaces. He’s accurate and doesn’t make many mistakes (a 73:12 TD:INT ratio is good right?). He’s effective as a short yardage runner and has enough juice in those long legs to break off an occasional long run. Check out this first half highlight reel from his last game against UVA where you see him do a little of everything:

In addition to his traits on the field, something else that I was pleased to see this offseason was Lawrence’s leadership off the field. Regardless of your personal opinion on the viability of this year’s college football season amid a pandemic, it was nice to see Lawrence rallying players from across the country. Lawrence has also been a leading voice in the college football world when it comes to equality and social change. Sports Illustrated recently quoted him saying, “I’m not an activist of any sorts, but I do think I have a responsibility to promote equality and help the people I love.”

Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and will undoubtedly be the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He’s also going to be a first rounder in your rookie draft; even if you’re not playing superflex he’s going to go earlier than you think because somebody will want to build around a once-in-a-generation talent.

Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

I last wrote about Travis Etienne, currently my favorite college football player, in the Spring when I previewed three potential 1.01 rookie draft picks. In that preview, I gushed about Etienne once again. Over his career, Etienne averages 7.7 yards per carry and has scored 65 total touchdowns. It’s hard to argue with that production, especially when you consider the level of competition he’s facing at Clemson. In six career playoff games, Etienne has nine scores and over 450 scrimmage yards. So far this year, Etienne has earned 315 yards from scrimmage and 3 total TDs. He’s not off to a blazing start but that doesn’t worry me. With a modified offseason and a mediocre opening slate, I would not be surprised if the plan was to ease Etienne into the season until they need him most.

Etienne started his career as a home run hitting speedster. Since then, he’s developed his body and his game and has become powerful at the point of contact. He has also overcame his reluctance as a receiver to be a valuable option out of the backfield (37 receptions, 432 yards and 4 receiving TDs last year). The two snippets below show just how his game has evolved. The first highlight is from his freshman season in 2017 and it shows just how quickly he can accelerate and stride past all eleven defenders. The icing on the cake was the sprinter’s lean as he crossed the goal line. The second play came against Virginia last week; it’s only a sixteen yard run to the endzone but he shows us so much. The clip illustrates his patience, strength and contact balance while four defenders have a chance to stop him.

https://twitter.com/TheHHShow_/status/1312559519390593024?s=20

I think it’s inevitable that Travis Etienne is a first rounder in the NFL Draft in 2021 and a Top 3 pick in your next rookie draft. I hope I luck into a number of shares because I love watching him play and expect he’ll continue to develop into a complete three-down NFL running back.

Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson

A few months back we did not expect that Amari Rodgers would be the Tigers’ leading receiver. Instead, we assumed it would have been Justyn Ross, however a neck/spine injury has sidelined him for this year (and hopefully only this year.) Through his first three years on campus, Rodgers proved to be a trustworthy complementary target with a career stat line of 104-1,124-8. When I wrote about Rodgers in the Spring, I described him as a “strong and compact slot receiver whose unique 5100/210 body type is well suited to breaking tackles.” I went on to suggest that Rodgers would “have an instant role in the NFL as a reliable underneath receiver and dynamic punt returner.”

Against Virginia, Rodgers had one of the best games of his career, going for 72 yards and 2 TDs on six grabs. His best play of the game didn’t count though: an acrobatic diving touchdown that was ruled incomplete but should have been reviewed. Rodgers showed the ceiling and the floor of his potential versus the Cavaliers. The two clips below will help illustrate my point. At worst, as I mentioned above, he’s a satellite player who can succeed in space, whether that’s on screens or returns. At best, he can use his speed and nimble nature to get open on deep posts and make difficult receptions. I don’t expect him to regularly win contested downfield balls against NFL defensive backs but if he can occasionally stretch the defense to open up options for his teammates he’ll be a key contributor at the next level. I’ll bet Rodgers, likely a late rounder, becomes a fan favorite by the end of the season because we’re going to see a lot of Clemson in primetime and he’s bound to make some memorable plays.

 

 

Jackson Carman, LT, Clemson

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have an eye for scouting offensive lineman. But, you don’t need a scout’s eye to notice Jackson Carman and his gargantuan 6050/335 build. Carman took over as the starter in 2019 and has twenty career starts thus far at left tackle. Phil Steele, one of my most trusted voices in college football, had Carman as the 12th best offensive tackle in the draft-eligible class before the season began. The Draft Network has him ranked even higher at the 6th best in the class. In their scouting report, TDN described Carman as a “road grader in the run game” and said that “no pass rusher is going through him.” Sounds good to me. Dabo Swinney has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the nation and he wouldn’t trust his phenom quarterback’s blindside to just anybody.

Baylon Spector, LB, Clemson

The Clemson defense has been without its two biggest prospects to start the season: Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas. That has left the door open for other guys to make a name for themselves, including graduate linebacker Baylon Spector. Spector is the team’s leading tackler with 20 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 1.0 sack through three games. He lit up the box score last week against UVA, tallying 13 total tackles. Clemson’s defense has been an NFL factory of late but that usually comes from the edge rushers and secondary. Some of their recent off-ball linebackers like Kendall Joseph and Ben Boulware went undrafted but got a sniff in the NFL as undrafted free agents. Spector may be in the same situation if he can continue to rack up the counting stats this season. Admittedly, I’m also a sucker for a good “human interest” story and Baylon’s younger brother Brannon is on the squad too. He’s a redshirt freshman receiver who had four receptions last week. The Athletic recently had an entertaining profile of the brothers and how they trained together throughout the pandemic. It’s unlikely that either Spector is a viable NFL Draft prospect but I’ll be rooting for them anyway.

 

PS: The Hurricanes offense will be paced by dual-threat QB D’Eriq King and TE Brevin Jordan but we should be paying attention to junior RB Cam’Ron Harris too. It’s been four years since the ‘Canes had a 1,000 yard rusher and even in a shortened season Harris is on pace for 1,140 rushing yards and 18 scores. He caught my eye in their opener against UAB, showing both long speed and power to push the pile. He has an ideal build at 5100/210 and should continue to earn passing game work too.

 

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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