Football Outsiders has a column called Futures. They use it to write about NFL prospects. I named it.
As the namer, I have no problem co-opting it for my purposes here at Footballguys.com. That purpose is to discuss some young NFL players who are showing that they belong in the league.
One day, they may even have consistent fantasy value. Kenny Golladay was once a Futures-caliber candidate. It's why his photo heads this feature.
Here are two players with clips from the season that are worth keeping an eye on down the stretch of this year in redraft and dynasty formats as well as future redraft seasons.
Atlanta expects Devonta Freeman to practice this week and Brian Hill may retain his role as the No.2 back. If he doesn't, it's because Atlanta has reviewed the tape and figured out the superior performer on the field has been the rookie Ollison.
Such a decision will be a difficult one to make because Ollison has only earned limited playing time as a situational back in the red zone. Team advocates for Hill could also argue that Atlanta called a lot of run plays for Hill where the line did a poor job upfront and didn't give him as high of a percentage of downhill, one-cut runs that are the strength of Hill's game.
Ollison has earned more of these plays when in the lineup and out-produced Hill on this ridiculously small carry-by-carry sample. None of that matters. The real argument for Ollison is how he looks running the football in an advantageous setting compared to Hill's work in an equally advantageous setting.
Comparing the two this way, I prefer Ollison and I say this as someone who likes a lot about Hill's game. Ollison earned a 76 on my 100-point Depth of Talent grading scale for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio—a score that indicates the player is immediately capable of starter execution in a limited role if the fit is good with his first team.
Here's my scouting report of Ollison from the RSP publication (available every April 1 at the link above):
Pitt running backs coach Andre Powell has called Ollison one of the smartest players he’s coached in his nearly 30-year career. “He’ll make a fine coach one day if he chooses to go that route,” Powell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Whenever the air goes out of the ball for him, if I had a chance, I’d hire him in a second.”
“He’s not only a tailback but he plays a lot of special teams for us. He’s our protector on punt team. He’s very detailed in a lot of things in his work. And we’re fortunate to have Qadree Ollison as part of this program and a Pitt grad.”
When you watch Ollison play, you can see the intelligence and passion for the game that Powell discussed. He’s a capable runner of zone and gap plays. He has the control of his steps, dropping his weight into downhill transitions and only needing 1-2 steps. Unlike a lot of bigger backs, Ollison runs through wraps to his ankles when working sideline-to-sideline.
Ollison chops his steps through the exchange to read the line and drops his weight accordingly to bounce or cutback. He’s patient on some ISO plays with a fullback although sometimes he wasn’t as patient behind a lead blocker on perimeter runs—working too fast to landmarks.
Ollison flips his hips well enough to bounce outside penetration on various gap plays and then flip them back downhill when he avoided the opponent. In addition to his stride and hips, Ollison can jump cut to access the backside crease.
His head fakes also freeze opponents as an added setup for his downhill cuts. He had success dipping inside-out to freeze containment at the hash and then use a stiff-arm to work around the man for gains of 30 yards or more.
He displayed speed to beat defensive ends, linebackers, and cornerbacks up the sideline for long touchdowns multiple times this year. His 4.58-second, 40-yard speed is good enough to hold maintain separation for gains of 30-50 yards. His hips are flexible and his lateral cuts are strong.
Has the moves and mobility to work into a crease, jump cut away from penetration find the cutback to the long side of the field and take the corner. He had enough speed and stamina to work the defensive back over with a stiff-arm so he could turn up the field.
A powerful back, Ollison breaks arm tackles and extends through wraps and falls forward. He has the pad level to work under direct collisions with defensive ends for an extra yard or two. In short-yardage situations, Ollison can pick his way to an open crease or leap over the top of the line.
Ollison is a second-effort runner. He performs a balance-touch well enough to work through contact against linebackers and defensive ends and earn another 5-6 yards. He also spins off hits.
He secures the ball high, but the elbow can come a little loose as he makes dramatic moves or accelerates into the open field. He uses the sideline arm to carry the ball.
Despite the minor flaws with security, Ollison has only fumbled 2 times in 580 touches at Pitt—a star-caliber rate of 1 per 290 touches.
Ollison diagnosis blitzes well. He has the footwork to slide across the formation to handle delayed blitzes or late pressure. He also spots twists and takes the correct opponent. He squares his body well and delivers an uppercut punch. When cut blocking, he earns the desired height as he shoots through the opponent’s body.
He handles interior pressure with a good push, leading with low pads but he loses some collisions because of a pads-first hit. He gets knocked into the pocket for catching that contact rather than greeting it with a punch. He drops his head too often into collisions with larger defenders rather than punching.
Ollison can catch the ball with contact looming. He uses his hands to make the plays and extends well for targets away from his frame in the flats.
If Ollison succeeds as more than a backup in the NFL it’s because his movement is quicker and more precise than his performances at the NFL Combine. Stylistically he moves with the grace, power, and perhaps the underrated quickness of a big back like Arian Foster.
Much of what I shared above has shown up on tape as a rookie. Ollison earned an active roster spot due to his special teams play and a strong preseason running the football despite a heated competition between Ito Smith and Brian Hill for the No.2 role behind Freeman.
When Ollison earned playing time with the offense, his decisive, one-cut running style helped him get downhill in a hurry, run through traffic, and break explosive plays into opposing secondaries. When Freeman got hurt a few weeks ago, Ollison earned red zone touches and while weighing close to 230 pounds is a factor, it's Ollison's knowledge of how to move that weight around that earned him the role.
And it's a significant thing to give a rookie runner the red-zone role. This is the most important area of the field and it requires trust that the back has great decision-making and reliability with the football. This tells me that Ollison's game is translating fast. So is the tape.
Ollison looks more comfortable behind a variety of blocking schemes than Hill. He's a more decisive back and his athletic skills are just on the border of starter-level measurables at the position. The fact that he thinks and reacts fast on the field helps him play faster than players with better measurables but slower processing skills—and there are a lot of athletic young players with this problem in the NFL.
I can't tell you if Ollison will earn an opportunity again this year but it would be wise to keep an eye on him for the rest of the season as well as this summer. I think he makes a push for the No.2 role this summer—Smith, and Hill be damned.
Here's another rookie "not fast enough" for primetime draft night selection but skilled enough to see plenty of the field. Josh Norman calls Harmon "Baby Huey" because Harmon is a physical receiver who is still growing into his talent—and there's plenty of it.
My No.10 receiver in the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio rankings, Harmon earned an 84.75 as his Depth of Talent Score. This value corresponds with a Rotational Starter—a player that executes at a starter level in a role that plays to their strengths. He was only a quarter of a point away from a starter grade.
Considering the playing time he's earning in Washington, Harmon is earning that mark. Here's his scouting report from the RSP:
If there’s a player who I’ll bet I ranked too low in this class, Harmon would top the list. If you think I felt dirty about Harry earning the No.6 spot, Harmon’s placement is borderline filthy.
It’s what happens when you’re the least explosive player in the top tier of this class. The RSP has standards and there’s only so much “play” one can have within them.
Harmon’s long speed and change of direction are Committee Tier. He wins with his acceleration, his strength, and excellent hand-eye coordination. If you round up—and a round-up has validity with his Depth of Talent Score—Harmon lands in the Starter Tier.
That’s my lame attempt to apologize for not having him in the upper part of spots 6-10. However, I’m not really sorry. He’s a good prospect in a great class and good starters with great fits can out-produce great talents.
Harmon is skilled with releases. He uses his hands well to swipe defenders at the top of his stem as well as off the line in conjunction with a three-step pattern. He also has a four-step pattern working into the slant to freeze his coverage before he begins his acceleration into the break. He also runs the slant with a three-step foot-fire and stutter afterward.
Harmon’s combination of footwork patterns bait off coverage defenders and he’ll often clean up with a wipe or arm over. He uses a chop or shoulder dip with quicker releases and he has a decent swim when he can set it up.
Although he’s not especially quick in and out of breaks, he has quick hands in tight spaces to earn position, and his acceleration is starter quality. He’ll pull away from cornerbacks when he can execute a good release. He also has some nice inside-out manipulations with his stems to set up routes like the skinny post. He’ll even stack defenders after a quick head fake.
Harmon executes effective double moves to get open in the deep game. Although he lacks great cutting ability, he possesses good acceleration when moving in a curvilinear pattern and this helps him sell double moves that often turn defenders around. He actually ran the most thorough double move I saw this year in the college game.
Harmon executes flat breaks and works back to the ball on speed outs. If nitpicking, Harmon can break a little flatter with a sharper turn. He tends to flatten out his turn with his third step of the break. When this step is good, his breaks are flat. It’s not as consistent as it can be.
He works back to the ball well on routes breaking to the quarterback. On routes breaking across the middle, Harmon squares well to the target. He’ll drop his weight into hard breaks and gets his knees over his pads. His turns are sudden with intermediate routes.
Harmon excels at the catch point. He snatches the ball with authority from just about every angle. He’ll catch the ball over his shoulder, pull down the highpoint target, and duck under defenders after making an underhanded, bucket-catch while barreling towards the contact.
Harmon attacks the ball at the earliest window of arrival and his techniques match the location of the target. He’s a tough guy who will take hits to his chest while making a play to the ball and still come down with the catch. He’ll use one hand to maintain position away from the tight coverage and the other for a one-handed grab.
He’ll fade away from contact with back shoulder grabs and still come down inside the boundary. He toe-taps or toe-drags as the situation demands.
When Harmon has any lapses with his receiving technique, he tries to clap onto the ball’s sides. Harmon’s game has finesse, but it’s a savvy changeup
to a baseline serving of physicality. After the catch, he’s strong enough to continue forward through wraps until a second defender can chop him to the ground. He runs through direct hits from cornerbacks. Cornerbacks and safeties hitting him high will realize it was a mistake a split-second later.
He’ll also drop the pads to split defenders, push piles, or pull-through contact. Harmon will also deliver head and shoulder fakes to eliminate direct angles of contact and transform them into glancing shots that he can run through. He carries the ball high to his frame. It’s a little loose at the elbow.
Harmon is more of a reacher than a striker when blocking. However, he squares his opponents and delivers his hands. On occasion, he’ll deliver his
hands with an uppercut motion, but he’s usually too far from the defender to earn power and maintain position with the technique. When he can latch onto a defensive back, that defender is going where Harmon wants him to go.
He works to the whistle even if he misses the first angle to his opponent and has to work to earn a second or find another assignment. Harmon’s most skilled at using the defender’s reach to his own advantage and creating good leverage to push or turn the man out of the play. When he closes the gap quicker with his blocks, he’s tough to stop.
Harmon has the tools to earn a strong career as a possession-plus receiver capable of stretching the field with play-action targets and winning on routes 20-25 yards downfield without the need for trickery. He isn’t a flashy athlete, but his skill, physicality, and hands should translate to starter production.
Terry McLaurin has been one of the best rookie receivers this year but his teammate Harmon has carved out a role that's growing by the week. With plays like these below, you see why.
Excellent job initially securing but somehow needed to turn away from ground to maintain possession pic.twitter.com/gC5gcHR7qw
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 25, 2019
Harmon was inches from a 100-yard day against Detroit and he's probably the most underrated skill player from a rich 2019 NFL Draft class of skill talent. With the trust of Dwayne Haskins and a Week 15-16 schedule that includes the Eagles and Giants, Harmon might be worth adding as an unlikely stretch-run candidate who could deliver you a championship.
He's been sitting on my practice squad in a dynasty league all season. When beat Footballguy Daniel Simpkins in either Week 15 or 16 in that league, Harmon might be the reason.
Good luck, Simpkins.