Scouting college players

So I was going over players who were historically great rookie draft picks coming out of college, and who were obviously great even in college. These are my prototypes:

At RB, my prototype is Marshall Faulk. I happened to catch a game he played on tv when he was at San Diego State. They ran him to death, putting the ball in his hands on most plays, so the defense had to see it coming, and yet they couldn’t do anything to stop him. He was like an adult playing with 5 year olds. Granted, I think the opponent was Air Force, but still, Faulk did what a great RB should do against an inferior opponent, and made them look silly. We all know the kind of dominance he displayed in the NFL. In the era of fantasy football, Faulk was the first truly great RB.

At WR, my prototype is Calvin Johnson. Most great NFL WR’s come from big college programs like Alabama, but Johnson played at Georgia Tech. What made Johnson and obvious prospect was his QB, Reggie Ball, who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a football. Watching Johnson play against the University of Georgia (a superior opponent), Johnson was catching everything Ball threw, making athletic grabs all day. Eventually, UGA even started triple-teaming him, to no avail. Johnson still beat the coverage. I knew if you gave Johnson even a half-bad QB, he’d still put up numbers, and he did in the NFL, becoming one of the all-time greats, even playing for the usually bad Lions.

At TE, my prototype is Kyle Pitts. Just watching his highlights was enough. He was a man among boys. His first season lived up to his hype, and it’s all uphill from here.

The QB position is the only one where I don’t have a prototype yet. I’ve seen great college QB’s destruct at the pro level. One of the best examples of this was Eric Zeier, former Georgia QB. Granted, he was a touch undersized (6’1"), but his mechanics in college were perfect. He looked like he had enough talent to overcome his size. His first year with Cleveland showed some promise when he filled in for several games as a backup. But his second year, his mechanics were gone. He went from throwing beautiful lasers to wobbly ducks. There was no injury. My only guess was the coaching staff got in his head and messed him up. Even a good QB can be ruined by bad coaching. My only advice at QB is look for a good situation, with a good HC or OC who can tutor a young QB properly. Even a late round prospect can thrive under the right coaching better than a first round QB who ends up with a bad coach (see Trevor Lawrence). Guys like Peyton Manning are the exception, not the rule.


The huge difference between College Football and the NFL is how defense and special teams play. Good college offenses look not much different from NFL ones. But when the undisputed top tier college talents have to step up against NFL defenses, some are not able to process that transition.

That is especially true for QBs. They need to adjust to a new supporting cast, and need to make decisions a lot quicker. In my humble opinion, NFL scouts and coaches are too focused on mechanics and athleticism, and pay too little attention to decision making. But if your shiny new QB releases the ball quickly and repeatedly throws it with perfect precision into the arms of a defense player, it won’t really help your team (both NFL and fantasy). The same is true if they start panicking in the pocket as soon as they feel any pressure. Running 20 yards towards your own end zone before getting tackled isn’t really a smart play, either.

As for college scouting, highlight reels are a good place to start. But they can be misleading. Everybody can put up a few big plays against sub-par defenses. Every-play-compilations tell a much better story. If an RB with blazing speed has a few long TDs on his highlight reel, but when you see the full story, you realize that he kept running into his own o-liners repeatedly or didn’t find wide-open gaps, then you know that guy will struggle in the NFL.

Finally, the landing spot is at least as important as the talent. Pollard and Dillon were intriguing prospects coming out of college, but when they were drafted on teams that had Zeke Elliott and Aaron Jones, you knew that outside of injury scenarios, their fantasy upside would be severely limited for the foreseeable future.

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If you look closely at the highlight reels, you can usually spot things, like great blocking or an easy catch. If that seems to happen on every highlight play, you know this guy may not be all he’s cracked up to be. The key is to watch for things on a highlight reel that tell you this was the offensive scheme, or just a product of the players around him.

For example, looking at Najee Harris’s college highlights, sure he had big holes to run through. But then he was breaking tackles from linebackers and DB’s and turning his runs into big chunks of yardage. That was what told me he’d be a good NFL back.

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All true. But there is some stuff I want to see that you won’t find on highlight reels.

For a QB, that wide open target that he never saw.

For an RB, that open window next to him that he didn’t see when running straight into traffic.

For a WR, that contested catch he didn’t make.

I remember 2019, when scouting a Cardinals rookie WR (I’m not sure anymore if it was Andy Isabella or Hakeem Butler), I saw a few great catch-and-runs that had everybody pretty excited, especially now that the Cards had also drafted Kyler Murray, and Kliff Kingsbury promised an air raid offense.

But then, I noticed a detail: on all those catches, the WR had gained 2-3 yards of separation already. So I watched an every-play compilation, and noticed that every time he didn’t manage to gain that separation, he didn’t make the catch. Also, whenever the QB didn’t throw the ball perfectly, the WR was unable to make the necessary adjustment. So I red-flagged him on my cheat sheet. Sadly, I lost it, but no matter if it was Isabella or Johnson, I certainly didn’t regret to not draft them.

For players like Najee Harris, Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase, there was little doubt that they would shine in the NFL. But for the 2nd and 3rd tier guys, it can help taking a look at the things they can’t do, too.

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As I said before, a college QB can look great, but turn out to be an awful pro. All it takes is a bad coach at the pro level to get into his head and mess him up. Honestly, even in superflex leagues, I’d rather trade for a QB than draft one. It may cost more in draft capital, but QB’s are a crapshoot anyway, with more crap than good.

As for your other points, there are guys on Youtube who give detailed scouting reports, including the factors you mentioned, even with videos to back them up.

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