The DFS Prospects Bowl Guide series breaks down draft-eligible players in upcoming bowl games, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential.
Earlier this season I put out a piece on the DFS merits of NFL prospect evaluation. It’s important for DFS players to know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. If someone had told you in May to pay attention to Jamaal Williams, Samaje Perine, and Dede Westbrook as rookies, would that information have been worthwhile? Would it have gotten you to subscribe to FantasyLabs? (The answer should be “yes.”)
Keep an eye out for more installments of DFS Prospects Bowl Guide as we move further into bowl season.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Friday, Dec. 22
In a game that could not be any more exciting, probably the second-best team from the Mid-American Conference faces maybe the fourth-best team from the Mountain West at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, ID. This is exactly the type of game in which we’d expect to find a player who has been hyped as a potential No. 1 overall pick.
Josh Allen: Quarterback, Wyoming
Some draft analysts say that Allen is comparable as a non-major conference prospect to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz. That might be true, but the available data don’t support that stance: Allen has great size (6’5″ and 240 pounds), but not every big quarterback from a middling program becomes an NFL starter. Paxton Lynch agrees with me. While Allen has the body of a prototypical passer, he doesn’t have the accuracy. In his three collegiate seasons as a starter (from first to last), Roethlisberger completed 63.3, 63.3, and 69.1 percent of his passes. In his two starting seasons, Wentz had 63.7 and 62.5 percent completion rates. Allen, though, has rates of 49.0, 56.0, and 56.2 percent — and his first season was at Reedley Community College. Think about that: Allen didn’t complete even 50.0 percent of his passes at junior college. Allen doesn’t have great talent around him — Wyoming is 94th out of 130 in adjusted sack rate (Football Study Hall) — so it’s hard to evaluate Allen outside of his circumstances, but his 2017 mark of 6.6 adjusted yards per attempt is not the stuff we normally see from guys who become long-term NFL starters.
A 21-year-old redshirt junior, Allen almost declared for the draft last year and will probably do so this year. It makes sense: Declaring for 2018 is the million-dollar move. Staying in school, though, will give him the opportunity to improve his skills and draft stock. Not declaring now is the 100 million-dollar gamble — if he’s actually a viable NFL prospect. Prepare to be shocked: I don’t think he’s a viable NFL prospect. He looks like the type of quarterback who ends up overdrafted at the bottom of the first round. To quote the Steve Miller Band, “Take the money and run.”
Birmingham Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 23
Texas Tech (6-6) travels to Legion Field in Birmingham, AL, to face South Florida (9-2). Stuckey has some thoughts on how this game might play out.
Quinton Flowers: Quarterback, South Florida
A three-year starter for the Bulls, Flowers has quarterbacked his team to a 9-2 record in head coach Charlie Strong’s first year with South Florida, but if Flowers hopes to play in the NFL he will need to change positions, probably to running back. Flowers is small (6’0″ and 210 pounds) for a quarterback, and his accuracy (57.9 percent career completion rate) is suspect, but as a runner the 23-year-old is in the mold of other recent quarterback-to-halfback converts such as Jerick McKinnon, Denard Robinson, and Keenan Reynolds. In his three years as a starter, Flowers has averaged a running back-like 94.3 yards and 1.08 touchdowns rushing per game. A run-first passing quarterback, Flowers could be selected as a project player on the third day of the draft if he tests well at the combine.
Keke Coutee: Wide Receiver, Texas Tech
A true junior, Coutee doesn’t seem likely to declare for the draft this year, but you never know. In the mold of former Red Raider Jakeem Grant, Coutee is small (5’11” and 180 pounds), but he nevertheless has served as the team’s No. 1 receiver this year, turning 82 targets into 1,242 yards and nine touchdowns after a solid 55/890/7 campaign in 2016 as the No. 2 receiver. With a rushing score last year and kick return score this year, Coutee is a versatile player with some NFL potential as a depth receiver and return man. Unless he burns up his pre-draft workouts with a blazing 40-yard dash, he’s unlikely to be selected before the third day of the draft.
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 23
San Diego State (10-2) and Army (9-3) face off at Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. Although the Black Knights are one of the best rushing teams in the country thanks to their triple-option offense (12th in Rushing S&P+, per FSH), the runner to watch in this game is playing for the Aztecs.
Rashaad Penny: Running Back, San Diego State
Ever since Ronnie Hillman ran all over the Mountain West as a redshirt freshman, the Aztecs have had an unbroken string of studly collegiate workhorses with fringe NFL ability: Hillman (2010-11), Adam Muema (2012-13), and Donnel Pumphrey (2014-16). Unlike his predecessors, however, Penny has legitimate professional potential. While Hillman (5’9″ and 200 pounds), Muema (5’10” and 202 pounds), and Pumphrey (5’8″ and 176 pounds) were all too small to be reliable lead backs in the NFL, Penny is listed at 5’11” and 220 pounds and has the body to handle a full workload. Also, he amazingly has a versatile skill set that his forerunners lacked: He’s not only a capable receiver with 33 receptions since last season, but he’s also an elite return man with seven kick return touchdowns and one punt return score since 2015. For a guy of his size to have the elusiveness and long speed to break that many returns for touchdowns is amazing. To put this in perspective: The last college running back of Penny’s size to have rushing, receiving, and kick and punt return touchdowns in the same season was Penn State stud Larry Johnson in 2001. I probably don’t need to mention that in 2005-06, Johnson had 4,292 yards and 40 touchdowns from scrimmage in the NFL.
Although Penny served as a backup to Pumphrey for the first three years of college, he forced his way into a timeshare as a junior, rushing for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns and averaging 4.8 yards after contact per attempt. As a senior Penny has been an absolute beast, rushing for 2,027 yards and 19 touchdowns, leading all draft-eligible backs with 74 missed tackles forced and 31 runs of 15-plus yards (PFF). In total, over the past two seasons Penny has averaged 131.2 scrimmage yards and 1.54 all-purpose touchdowns per game. Just 21 years old, Penny has the size, production, and versatility to suggest that he could be a featured back in the NFL. As a big-bodied multi-talented non-Power Five runner, Penny has some Kareem Hunt — or maybe even David Johnson — potential as a prospect.
Dollar General Bowl: Saturday, Dec. 23
In yet another battle of powerhouses, Appalachian State (8-4) takes on Toledo (11-2) at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, AL. While some people might be intrigued by Mountaineers running back Jalin Moore (redshirt junior), Rockets quarterback Logan Woodside (redshirt senior), and Rockets running back Terry Swanson (senior), none of them profiles as a future NFL starter. There is, though, one player of interest in this game.
Diontae Johnson: Wide Receiver, Toledo
There’s less than a one percent chance that Johnson declares for the draft — he’s small (5’11” and 181 pounds), just a redshirt sophomore, and ‘only’ a prospect from the Mid-American Conference — but he’s technically eligible for the draft, and I can’t help but talk about undersized versatile receivers any chance I get. A kick returner and reserve wideout as a freshman, Johnson took a medical redshirt last year before emerging as the No. 1 receiver for the Rockets this year, totaling 72 receptions for 1,257 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 33.1 and 46.4 percent of Toledo’s receiving yards and scores. Additionally, Johnson has touchdowns this year as both a kick and punt returner. A first-team All-MAC receiver and returner, Johnson is one of just 11 players since 2000 with 1,000 yards receiving and kick and punt return scores in a season, and that group includes Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, and Jeremy Maclin. It also includes Bernard Reedy and Eric Page — previous undersized No. 1 receivers from Toledo who have done nothing in the NFL beyond return kicks and punts. If Johnson plays on Sundays, he will most likely do so as a returner, but he might have potential as a professional pass catcher.
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.