Welcome to Footballguys' Weekly Top 10. Since Week 4, the Top 10 has been free to Footballguys Insiders. All you have to do is register with your email and you'll receive access to this in-depth film breakdown (with a fantasy bent) of the weekend's games.
Among this week's topics, we'll follow up on the imminent emergence of D.J. Moore and the Panthers offense, young receivers of note, several running backs, three quarterbacks heading in a variety of directions, Washington center Chase Roullier, the Colts' tight end tandem, and of course, fresh fish.
1. Carolina's offense—and D.J. Moore—Is Emerging Before Our Eyes
Last week, The Top 10 profiled the Panthers' red zone offense and why there was room for growth. On Sunday, Carolina did more to integrate the option game into its offensive gameplan — especially with D.J. Moore, who is earning use commensurate with his skills.
Moore, Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, and Curtis Samuel have the ball-carrying skill of running backs and Carolina is becoming emboldened with its usage of these skills from each. McCaffrey and Samuel were running backs in college and understand how to run between the tackles, around the edge, and in the open field. They're both adept satellite receivers.
In terms of function, Newton has been a fullback and option quarterback for many years. Moore has the frame and skill to win out-leverage linebackers in space.
Moore's low center of gravity, stop-start quickness and acceleration make him especially dangerous over the middle because when he breaks the first tackle, he's gaining at least another 10-20 yards. He's not yet a strong perimeter option because he struggles against superior press-man corners and his boundary work on fades and go routes lacks the technique and situational awareness for Moore to thrive at this point of his career.
The Panthers are picking its spots with how it uses Moore on the perimeter. The offense is pleased with him as a slot receiver and finds ways to use him in the intermediate passing game to generate longer gains — and without a go-go-gadget mentality.
Moore runs good intermediate routes where the Panthers use him. Here's an excellent catch of a well-placed throw into coverage on a dig route late in the half that helped Carolina reach mid-field, and eventually field goal range to pad its lead.
Where Moore is the greatest source of offensive unpredictability for the scheme is the option game. When Carolina puts Moore, Samuel, McCaffrey, and Newton in the lineup, the defense has to be disciplined to defend every pre-snap shift, every post-snap motion, and every play-fake and pitch-fake. This pair of plays in sequence against the Ravens is a great example.
The Panthers didn't begin this sequence in the red zone but the offense got there quickly with this work. There are so many hints of potential pitches, throw-outs, keepers, jet sweeps, and reverses embedded into this offense and Moore earned 100 yards receiving by the end of the half — and the Ravens were out of this game by then.
Considering how much the Panthers went to these looks during the first half against the Ravens, it's an exciting indication that more (and Moore) is on the way. If Carolina can further streamline its alignments so its offense runs a variety of these plays from similar looking sets, defenses will have an even more difficult time guessing correctly.
The Panthers are second only to the Rams in rushing yards per game and tied for sixth in the league in rushing touchdowns. With Greg Olsen back, Moore emerging, and even Curtis Samuel beginning to do good work in the short passing game, Moore has been and continues to be an emerging fantasy options worth an investment.
2. Young Weapons of Note
In addition to Moore, there several players worth your attention who could factor into a fantasy stretch-run or a big-game producer late in the year as NFL contenders rest its starters for the postseason. Here are some early candidates who also offer scintillating dynasty upside.
Marques Valdes-Scantling: It's been this writer's thought since April that Valdes-Scantling was the best option of the three rookie receivers the Packers selected in the NFL Draft. Scantling's speed, tracking of targets, and willingness to attack the ball in close quarters are all positives that make it easier for a prospect to build his game.
Aaron Rodgers told the media this summer and as recently this month that Valdes-Scantling has been the furthest ahead of the rookies. This weekend, the rookie delivered an impressive veteran move on Troy Hill that resulted in a long touchdown.
Beautiful rip by Marques Valdes-Scantling that knocks Hill’s arm aside and into an X with the other. pic.twitter.com/kFZsYqeUXV— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
Valdes-Scantling also has the frame to add another 15-20 pounds of muscle that will make him all the more difficult to defend. If there's a late-round receiver in this class with the potential to become a perennial top-15 fantasy option within 1-2 years and sustain it for 5-6 more, he's near the top of the list.
Josh Reynolds: At the top of this list is Reynolds. He was the most underrated receiver prospect of the 2017 NFL Draft because scouts saw him as a big, fade-route perimeter player and undervalued his route running. Reynolds can cut with the skill of a primary threat.
These are the type of routes that most didn't associate with Reynolds' game. The Rams haven't even begun to exploit his perimeter and red zone prowess against tight coverage. In fact, if there was a flaw in the Rams' game plan this weekend, it was targeting Brandin Cooks the way the offense should have been targeting Reynolds.
Reynolds has 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown upside at some point during his career. If he inherits-earns a starting role in this McVay offense by 2020, it should happen.
Jaire Alexander: The rookie cornerback from Louisville didn't shut down Brandin Cooks, but he was arguably the most exciting player on the field in this Packers-Rams tilt because he limited Cooks from what could have been a monster outing in his first week back from injury. Alexander shut down some difficult-to-defend routes against any receiver, much less an option with Cooks' speed.
Alexander also broke up a deep target in the end zone intended for Cooks that the receiver initially caught but Alexander swatted away. Alexander makes this list because if your receivers are facing Green Bay, he's going to factor in less production for many of them.
Tedric Thompson: When the Seahawks lost Earl Thomas for the year, Thompson impressed with his hard-hitting, aggressive play. The safety continued that trend this weekend upon return from a concussion. He knocked the ball loose from Ameer Abdullah on a first-quarter kick return that set up a second score for the Seahawks that built an early lead.
He also nearly picked off a target to Golden Tate where he read the target pre-snap and cut off the pass with veteran skill.
Thomas was the linchpin player in the Seahawks' Legion of Boom and irreplaceable. Thompson is performing well enough with some young emerging talent that the Seahawks defense hasn't collapsed. He's a reason why the Seattle will remain a tough opponent for offenses down the stretch.
The hands' technique flaws with his receiving game at the catch point have not been a significant issue during his limited playing time. If the Broncos manage to trade one of its veterans, which is looking less likely although still possible, Sutton could factor big. If not, look for the Broncos to play out the string with its starters for another month and then we'll see a lot more of Sutton in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Dede Westbrook: Last year, The Top 10 noted the confidence that Blake Bortles had in Westbrook in third down. Last year, the Jaguars only featured Westbrook on the perimeter because the former primary threat at Oklahoma with Baker Mayfield didn't know the slot position.
This year, Westbrook is the main slot option and he was the first name to cross Bortles' lips when the broadcast crew asked him who he likes to target on third down.
The long-term concern for Westbrook's value as a starter is the future of the Jacksonville quarterback position and if the coaching staff prefers taller options like Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark Jr. Short-term, Westbrook has the trust of the best quarterback on the roster and has the greatest opportunity for a wide range of target types.
Anthony Miller: When a quarterback trusts a rookie in this situation below it's a good sign.
If the Bears can win the division, Miller could earn a lot more love later in the year as the Bears rest the likes of Trey Burton, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Tarik Cohen. Even if this scenario doesn't occur, Miller's tight-coverage prowess and ability to play multiple roles make him a player of note.
3. Notes From The RB Circuit
The Lions-Seahawks tilt is a good starting point for this round-robin look at various running backs. If you've been reading this column or watching the Lions defense closely, you know that the unit has a lot more bad weeks than good weeks when it comes to defending the run.
When opposing backs can pick and slide with this much room and frequency throughout the game, it's a bad sign for the run defense. Carson looks excellent. He's playing with a great blend of patience, aggression, and violence and if Carson gets hurt, Davis isn't far behind him. They're both running well enough that Rashad Penny is an afterthought.
Kerryon Johnson and the Lions offensive line earn praise from everyone these days and with good reason. However, the Seahawks defense forced the Lions offense to throw early and leave the ground game behind. Johnson earned most of his big plays as a receiver, and of course, he looked studly doing it.
Kerryon Jonson with forceful stiff arm pic.twitter.com/EwLkkIs1lB— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 28, 2018
One play where he didn't look good is an excellent teaching moment for young or inexperienced fans of the game who don't understand the different blocking schemes. The Seahawks stuffed Johnson on this gap play — a run where fans often expect some type of cutback or comment about him running into his blocks. These thoughts lack knowledge of how a runner is supposed to approach this type of play or the way the play unfolded.
Here's a successful version of a gap play on the next carry.
Johnson hitting this well-blocked gap crease a play later. pic.twitter.com/RYXs04Jhte— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 28, 2018
Doug Martin's consistency has been maddening but he remains a talent. Don't turn your nose up at him because the cool kids' herd badmouth him. If you need depth that you can start, Martin offers the necessary tools for production.
Although the Buccaneers inexplicably went away from Martin as a receiver because it believed in Charles Sims, he was a strong producer as a rookie. Don't let anyone tell you that he's a bad receiver and let them get away with it.
Martin catch and run pic.twitter.com/zUjAZVSJ6l— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
Jalen Richard has more pull in the passing offense and a better rapport with Derek Carr but Martin accumulated enough touches on land and through the air that he should remain a viable option as long as he protects the ball better than he did at the end of the Colts game. Credit to Darius Leonard for the monster strip.
This play aside, Martin was inches away from a touchdown on a dive play and had enough combined yardage for the foundation of a good fantasy week.
As of the moment, we don't know who will take over in Cleveland but with Gregg Williams the interim head coach and running back coach Freddie Kitchens as the interim offensive coordinator despite never holding this position at any level of football. What we know is that Cleveland has a talented ground game with one of the best young backs in the NFL.
This cutback by Chubb from a 30 personnel look is a rare and difficult decision for any runner because it's a gap run (power) to the right and it's rarely recommended for a back to attempt a cutback. However, this situation below was ripe for the cutback and what's more impressive was Chubb's ability to see the penetration working from what's often a blind spot in a runner's sightline — the quarterback's frame, which blocks Bud Dupree during the exchange.
Chubb and Cleveland had a strong start early in this game but the Browns veered away from what was working, throwing unsuccessfully downfield and attempting outside runs rather than forcing the Steelers to commit hard to stopping the ground game and then going to the air. Cleveland didn't stay patient with what worked and when it tried to reestablish its presence, the offense didn't adjust to the Steelers' adjustments.
Kansas City, Atlanta, and Cincinnati are vulnerable to the run, which should lead to good weeks for Chubb on paper. However, the Browns are operating the plane with a student pilot (Mayfield) and an air traffic control tower that lacks play-calling experience on the offensive side of the ball. The adventure continues.
4. Jared Goff Has Special Moments
Jared Goff remains a point of contention among football analysts. Now that the skeptics can't find proof of AAA batteries in Goff's back, the Sean McVay remote control, or the puppet strings that they claimed existed with Goff, they're now left with discussing the ease and difficulty of the throws he's making.
Even a play like below seems to be regarded with the same unreality as if one were claiming the sky was red, green, and yellow plaid.
Special play by Jared Goff. The moment he turns to look at Cooks, 329-plus-lbs of pressure interrupts the program and Goff still has the timing of the route ingrained after avoiding to reset to his left and fire with anticipation and placement. Great play rhythm by Goff. pic.twitter.com/GLoIawReHc— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
Quarterback is the most difficult position in sports. It follows that quarterback analysis is the most difficult in sportswriting. One of the many biases it generates is the inability to recognize special play from quarterback styles that aren't in that analyst's wheelhouse of familiarity or understanding.
Goff isn't remotely on the athletic scale of Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. He leans on his technical foundations. Think of him as Matt Ryan with a better vertical game. The ability to anticipate the break of this route despite a defensive tackle interrupting the rhythm and flow of the process and still complete the pass where only the receiver can catch the target is special.
Does it make Goff a special quarterback? He's closer to that moniker than many believe but for the sake of remaining methodical and conservative about judging quarterbacks, let's say he's a good quarterback who is capable of authoring special moments — not as many as the top echelon but enough that it's becoming more noticeable each month.
5. JAMEIS WINSTON'S BENCHING WAS TWO WEEKS IN THE MAKING
Intelligence and wisdom are not mutually inclusive qualities in life or quarterbacking. There are numerous reports of Jameis Winston's intelligence. We've heard how well he can break down plays and absorb information in a football classroom.
There are numerous examples of Winston's lack of football wisdom. This is what holds Winston back from making the next step from prospect to franchise producer and it could spell the end of his career in Tampa Bay.
Sunday's four-interception affair led to Dirk Koetter benching Winston and the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick entered the game and brought Tampa Bay back from a deficit to make the game close doesn't help Winston's chances to regain the starting job in Week 9. Winston's benching was two weeks in the making.
Here are plays from Week 7's Cleveland game where Winston's wisdom is lacking. These were in this columnist's notes for a potential segment last week but they didn't make the final cut.
Unnecessary...Winston has time to throw away on 1st and 10 pic.twitter.com/bVrAjABTQy— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 21, 2018
The same lack of wisdom was on display this weekend. This play below captures the deadly intersection of a smart quarterback who knows where to go but doesn't have the on-field awareness to account for how things change as he deviates from the timing explained on the whiteboard or performed on the practice field.
Timing and separation have much tighter windows in the NFL. I have no doubt that Winston is a book smart NFL qb; his processing of on-field scenarios lacks consistent enough wisdom at this time. pic.twitter.com/YvW8pnO8RH— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 28, 2018
There's a valid argument to be had about the lack of patience with developing quarterbacks in the NFL and how Ryan Fitzpatrick has spent 13 years making similar mistakes. The difference is that no one expects Fitzpatrick to be anything different than what he is. There's a much higher expectation for Winston and after three-and-a-half seasons, the root issue of his mistakes remains the same.
6. BAKER MAYFIELD'S GROWING PAINS
No one wants to point the finger at Baker Mayfield without risk of being compared to Colin Cowherd or Tony Grossi, two media figures earning significant criticism on social media for valid reasons. Cowherd makes a living saying controversial things and instigating conflict for ratings. He's successful at his job.
Grossi has been caught on tape asking questions that critics believe shows a lack of preparation about his subject matter. Fans believe both figures are against Mayfield. There are also significant quarters of sports analysis who have championed Mayfield as the next Drew Brees.
While I don't believe this is Mayfield's upside, I think he has a chance to become a solid NFL starter if the "zombie" Browns organization doesn't destroy him in the wake of instability that has been the hallmark of this team since the NFL Devil went down to Owings Mills and took the real Browns with him. Mayfield has flaws, makes mistakes, and he's experiencing growing pains that can be compartmentalized to his behavior without pointing the finger at everything else going around him.
This is a bad throw that should have led to a big play for Cleveland.
Cleveland was still in this game when Mayfield throws this interception. Winston made a similar throw on Sunday, but he was accurate.
Good throw by Winston that Mayfield should have hit today that was an INT pic.twitter.com/VFpVWJPzmN— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 28, 2018
Mayfield is also leaving plays on the field in the red zone. Although you'll see highlights trotted out in his defense where he fits the ball into tight windows in the end zone — like the one against TCU last year — there are also numerous instances where Mayfield waits too long or forgoes viable targets. Mayfield should have thrown this pass below.
Although the defender is in position to undercut a lower throw, the outside route is designed to clear the cornerback and give Mayfield room to deliver this target so he leads the slot receiver and the defender has no shot to attack the ball.
This isn't something that Mayfield has to calculate and adjust as the moment unfolds, it's part of the play design. He has to be confident in reading the initial leverage and firing the ball to the spot. Instead, he brings it down and takes a sack.
This is reminiscent of his Oklahoma tape where he wants double and triple confirmation in compressed areas that the receiver is open. This has to improve in order for him to develop into a consistent producer in the red zone or else it will be a significant obstacle in the way of Mayfield fulfilling his promise.
Even the touchdown on the next play is a better catch than throw.
Mayfield TD, Chubb blitz pickup, good touch but placement still dangerous pic.twitter.com/dLADea4cOy— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 28, 2018
Regardless of the issues with the line, the receivers, and the coordinators, these plays are examples of weekly decisions and execution that are squarely on Mayfield. They don't make him a bust or "not good enough," but his game — like most rookie quarterbacks during their first season — is deep in the woods and there are moments where survival is a legitimate question mark.
7. The Chiefs Defense Could Go On A Roll
Sigmund Bloom's Rent-A-Defense feature profiled Kansas City's defense as a multi-week play for fantasy renters two weeks ago:
Kansas City (vs Cincinnati)
A Look Ahead: DEN @CLE ARI - Yes. Yes. Yes. We might be riding the Chiefs D/ST for a while.
Here were my thoughts on the subject from The Best of Week 7:
You may be wondering how the Chiefs-Bengals is considered a top-scoring affair but their defense is a recommended rental. Expect the Chiefs to earn sacks, turnovers, and big plays on special teams to earn strong fantasy totals while giving up a lot of yards and points.
As for the week after, don't let Denver's offense fool you; the Arizona offense spotted the Broncos 14 points with a pair of interception returns and a trick play padded the lead to 21-0, Denver halfway through the first quarter. When a team jumps out this fast and the opponent's offense lacks an answer, the opposing defense is placed in a precarious spot — especially when that Arizona defense was missing starting safety Tre Boston.
Denver's defense is obviously a good pass defense, but its run defense is a doormat against opposition that has a solid-to-good offensive line. The Chiefs can run the football and it reminded Denver as much during the previous contest. Arizona has struggled to muster a ground game all year despite having one of the most talented backs in football.
The Broncos faithful may feel a little better after drubbing the Cardinals, but the Chiefs nearly pulled out a primetime victory in Foxboro and that's nowhere near a demoralizing event for a team with a first-year starter who showed his teammates that he's giving them a chance to win every week.
Although the Chiefs have struggled against the run and they're susceptible to big plays, the unit still sports an excellent pass rush thanks to Dee Ford and Chris Jones. Jene Bramel and I nicknamed Ford, "Wee!" Ford, because of his uncanny skill to bend an edge with the speed of a roller coaster on a hairpin turn. Jones is one of the emerging forces at his position. There's real chance that Justin Houston returns during this three-game stretch.
Buy. Buy. Buy.
The Chiefs sacked Case Keenum five times, forced a fumble, and an interception this weekend and the big-play element of this pressure-heavy unit is delivering.
Keenum makes a delicious horsemeat sandwich that you'd normally find in Italy but the Chiefs' A-Gap food truck offered it at Arrowhead yesterday.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
(PSA: I actually like my horse alive and not as food) pic.twitter.com/1GDvHDm8rc
Rookie Breeland Speaks is also emerging with improved play.
With Cleveland, Arizona, and Oakland, three of the four opponents that Kansas City faces during the next five weeks, keep riding this emerging defense.
8. Welcome Back, Chase Roullier, Adrian Peterson Is Ecstatic
Matt Bitonti's Offensive Line Rankings upgraded the Washington line with the return of Shawn Lauvao and how that meant Chase Roullier would return to center. In Friday's Best Of, I noted how impactful that was.
Roullier's return to center should not be underestimated because he's one of the few centers in the NFL adept at pulling across the formation as a lead blocker or working to the second level of the defense on plays that force him to approach an assignment at an angle. Roullier's athletic ability allows more creativity and unpredictability for his Washington run game.
Roullier's work (No.73) figured mightily in a strong fourth quarter for Adrian Peterson.
Chase Roullier, welcome back. pic.twitter.com/W7qkWsyByK— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
More Chase Roullier— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
Better than cowbell pic.twitter.com/JocVHjrSQB
You know what would make this song a hit? More Roullier!— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 29, 2018
Chase Roullier pulling to open a 64-yard runway for Flight 26 headed for victory... pic.twitter.com/7rlfytwJ0y
Peterson looks like he's just warming up. With the help of Roullier and some vulnerable opponents in Weeks 9, 10, 12, 14, and 15, embrace the running back nursing home.
9. Eric Ebron And Jack Doyle Can Coexist
Fantasy players using Eric Ebron in lineups are nervous about the return of Jack Doyle to the Colts but Sunday was an indication that the tandem can coexist. Ebron scored from this empty set with Doyle in the slot opposite him.
Ebron said Ramsey and the Jags are next with that walk https://t.co/LxcKQyiBCq— Luke Diamond (@ForTheCOLTure) October 29, 2018
We should see more of Ebron split from the formation because Doyle is the better blocker and a savvy receiver against zone coverage. Here are plays from Sunday where Doyle utilizes both skills.
Although they may not always be on the field at the same time, expect enough overlap and split usage for fantasy players to remain satisfied with both options. Ebron's production may dip a bit if the Colts are bent on using receivers like Zac Pascal and Chester Rogers, but Ebron poses a greater threat and with the way the Colts' offensive line is improving, it's more likely that we see the Colts continue its path towards becoming the Mid-West Branch of the Eagles offense.
10. Fresh Fish
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for that weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd love nothing more than having our players face an opponent whose game has come unglued on the field.
In the spirit of "The Shawshank Redemption," here is my short list of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
Catch of the Week: Miami's Linebackers
After the Lions removed the mothballs from Michael Roberts' red-zone game (and put them back in this weekend), the Texans found rookie tight end Jordan Thomas twice for red-zone scores. If that's not a ringing endorsement of the Dolphins as an aqua welcome mat to the end zone, I don't know what is.
Onto the fish case:
- Doug Martin: A fourth-quarter fumble while still in this game will earn a player a spot on this list.
- Ty Montgomery: See above.
- Jameis Winston: The rationale may be debatable but this could be the end of Winston in Tampa Bay.
- Marcus Peters: The Rams cornerback isn't nearly as effective when L.A. is forced to play zone. He's too reactive and undisciplined, giving up massive plays repeatedly.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.