2020 is coming to a crashing conclusion soon. Losing twice in a row wasn’t enough to wake the Steelers up or convince JuJu Smith-Schuster that whipping up the opponent before the game may not be the best strategy. That pales compared to the Jet, the New York Jets, the 0-13 New York Jets beating the Rams in Los Angeles.
Christian McCaffery and Kenny Golladay finish the year as myths we remember from last year. The wave of successful rookie quarterbacks have made little sense – no time to practice or integrate into their teams this summer and yet Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jalen Hurts already look like hits.
Rookie running backs started slowly in the one position that should require the least amount of practice and “team time”, and yet the last month have seen them come to life after uneven or disappointing starts to the season.
It is Week 16 and fantasy playoffs are raging across the country. We’re hoping that our players remain healthy (which means two things this year) and they don’t belong to an NFL team that is taking a late season slide.
Heading into Week 16, there’s not much to explore for the rest of the year. Here’s my five most interesting 2021 rookies that I’ll be watching closely. And at the bottom, a listing of the remaining college bowl games and if they contain players that are among the top candidates in their position heading towards the NFL draft in April.
Time to start shopping!
- QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) – Rare that a quarterback projects to be the No. 1 overall pick as of last summer and six months later, he is still expected to be the prize of the draft, even though he missed a few games. Really all you need to know is that he’s started at Clemson for three years. He played in 39 games and the only loss he had was in the 2019 National Championship game. He won the championship in 2018. Fortunately, the Jets won’t get him now that they won a game. Lawrence couldn’t understand what losing a game is like, let alone all of them.
- RB Travis Etienne (Clemson) – The four-year starter is the consensus best back in the draft though once again, it may be the second round before he comes off the board. He’s a prototypical dual-threat back and rushed for over 1,600 yards in each of the last two years but wasn’t overworked like so many other accomplished college backs. Etiene scored as many as 26 touchdowns in a year and caught 44 passes already this season. He’ll be a difference-maker wherever he lands.
- RB Najee Harris (Alabama) – What would the draft be without an Alabama running back? Do you like Alabama-alum Derrick Henry? Well, Harris is a fourth-year player for the Crimson Tide with over 1,500 total yards the last two seasons as the starter. He’s already scored 27 touchdowns this year. Oh, and Derrick Henry is 6-3, 238 pounds. Harris is 6-2, 230 pounds and he runs a 4.45/40. Henry was run into the ground his final year there with 406 touches in 15 games and took a few years to recover. Harris hasn’t rushed the ball more than 214 times.
- WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) – He only played for two years at LSU. He only caught 23 passes as a freshman. He did not play this year. He opted out to concentrate on his NFL career. His only season as a starter was 2019 when he set SEC records with 1,780 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. He didn’t risk any injury this year or worry about COVID-19 impacting his career. He was the best receiver in the NCAA in 2019 and the best in SEC history. Now if he can only land on a team with a good quarterback.
- RB Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis) – Etienne and Harris are the consensus best two backs in the draft (for now anyway) and Gainwell is most often third, though the field naturally spreads out quickly. Gainwell is another back that opted out of the 2020 season after his family had lost four members to COVID-19. His one year as a starter at Memphis saw him run for 1,459 yards with 13 touchdowns plus catch 51 passes for 610 yards and three more scores. He too is a dual-threat but skipping 2020 will drop him in the draft maybe to a good team drafting later in rounds.
- College Bowl games and who to watch:
December 25 – Friday
Camellia Bowl, Buffalo vs. Marshall, ESPN, 2:30 p.m.
Buffalo RB Jaret Patterson
December 26 – Saturday
Cure Bowl: Coastal Carolina vs. Liberty, ESPN, noon
First Responder Bowl: Louisiana-Laf. vs. Texas-SA, ABC, 3:30 p.m.
LendingTree Bowl: W. Kentucky vs. Georgia State, ESPN, 3:30 p.m.
December 29 – Tuesday
Cheez-It Bowl: Miami (Fla.) vs. Oklahoma State, ESPN, 5:30 p.m.
Miami TE Brevin Jordan
Oklahoma State RB Chuba Hubbard
Oklahoma State WR Tylan Wallace
Alamo Bowl: Texas vs. Colorado, ESPN, 9 p.m.
December 30 – Wednesday
Duke’s Mayo Bowl: Wake Forest vs. Wisconsin, ESPN, noon
Wake Forest WR Sage Surratt
Wisconsin TE Jake Ferguson
Music City Bowl: Iowa vs. Missouri, ESPN, 3:30 p.m.
Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Florida, ESPN, 7:15 p.m.
Florida QB Kyle Trask
Florida TE Kyle Pitts
Florida WR Kadarius Toney
Oklahoma RB Rhamondre Stevenson
December 31 – Thursday, New Year’s Eve
Armed Forces Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Tulsa, ESPN, noon
Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill
Arizona Bowl: San Jose State vs. Ball State, CBS, 2 p.m.
Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Army, ESPN, 4 p.m.
Texas Bowl: TCU vs. Arkansas, ESPN, 8 p.m.
Arkansas RB Rakeem Boyd
Janauary 1 – Friday, New Years Day
Peach Bowl: Cincinnati vs. Georgia, ESPN, noon
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
Georgia RB Zamir White
Citrus Bowl: Northwestern vs. Auburn, ABC, 1 p.m.
Auburn WR Seth Williams
Auburn WR Anthony Schwartz
Rose Bowl: Alabama vs. Notre Dame, 5 p.m.
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle
Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson, ESPN, 8:45 p.m.
Ohio State QB Justin Fields
Ohio State RB Master Teague
Ohio State RB Trey Sermon
Ohio State WR Chris Olave
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence
Clemson RB Travis Etienne
Clemson WR Justyn Ross
January 2 – Saturday
Gator Bowl: North Carolina State vs. Kentucky, ESPN, noon
North Carolina RB Javonte Williams
North Carolina RB Michael Carter
North Carolina WR Dazz Newsome
Outback Bowl: Indiana vs. Mississippi, ABC, 12:30 p.m.
Fiesta Bowl: Oregon vs. Iowa State, ESPN, 4 p.m.
Oregon RB C.J. Verdell
Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar
Orange Bowl: North Carolina vs. Texas A&M, ESPN, 8 p.m.
January 11 – Monday
College Football Playoff championship game: ESPN, 8 p.m.