The mission of this column—and a lot of my work—is to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality of football analysis. Football analysis—fantasy and reality—is often dramatized because there's a core belief that it's more important to entertain than to educate.
I don't live by the idea that it's better to be lucky than good. While I want to give you actionable recommendations that will help you get results, I prefer to get the process right. There will be a lot of people talking about how they were right to draft or start specific players. Many of them got the right result but with the wrong process.
The Top 10 will cover topics that attempt to get the process right (reality) while understanding that fantasy owners may not have time to wait for the necessary data to determine the best course of action (fantasy).
As always I recommend Sigmund Bloom's Waiver Wire piece which you'll find available on this page, Monday night. Bloom and I are not always going to agree on players—he errs more often towards players who flash elite athletic ability and I err more towards players who are more technically skilled and assignment-sound.
Straight, No Chaser: Week 14's Cliff's Notes
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points.
- The Patriots' offense depends on receivers who can make frequent pre-snap and post-snap adjustments with Tom Brady—often mid-route. In addition to the fact New England lacks a quality receiver whose best fit isn't the slot, Julian Edelman is the only receiver who routinely earns separation and makes the correct adjustments. As a result, opposing defenses can bully Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, daring the receivers to do their job as they apply heavy pressure to Brady. Don't count on New England's receivers or the Patriots winning the AFC championship.
- While the Chiefs were giving Tom Brady a taste of New England's defensive medicine on Sunday, Patrick Mahomes II won while playing with an injury to his throwing hand because he made adjustments to the length and direction of his dropbacks to access passing lines and buy time efficiently under heavy pressure.
- The Steelers exposed Kyler Murray's flaws as a quarterback—sacking him three times in the first 19 minutes and foiling him repeatedly as a runner and passer, especially in the red zone.
- Drew Lock's follow-up in Houston was even more impressive than his debut in Week 14 because he demonstrated additional refinement with his drop-back game and skill to make some difficult throws under pressure. Yet, Lock demonstrated enough rookie behaviors to maintain a sober perspective about his future and a look at Mahomes and Drew Brees are worthwhile points of comparison to explain why.
- The Ravens defense held a sack-a-thon and made Josh Allen its featured guest. The film illustrates how Baltimore confused Allen and his teammates and why this doesn't bode well for the Bills' playoff chances or your postseason fantasy leagues.
- Sam Darnold has a higher long-term ceiling than Mitchell Trubisky but fewer supporting talents to help him get there..
- Kendrick Bourne is one of several players from my November list of fantasy playoff values (including Lock, Derrius Guice, and Anthony Miller). This week, we examine why Bourne's route running and hands have helped him earn the trust of Jimmy Garoppolo.
- Rookie running back Kerrith Whyte shared the FAU backfield with Devin Singletary. He's a far superior athlete to Singletary who had no chance of making the Chicago Bears. However, he's earning a shot to compete for significant playing time with the Steelers this season and perhaps, beyond.
- The proper bird mascot for the Atlanta football team should be the Phoenix because this team has a cycle of dying and then rising from the ashes. Now that the offensive line is getting healthier, I'm betting we'll see Dan Quinn's, and possibly Devonta Freeman's, careers return from the dead in 2020.
- This week's Fresh Fish:
- Phillip Dorsett isn't the only struggling New England receiver but if looks could kill, Tom Brady's glare on Sunday as well as last week's sideline confessional to Josh McDaniels would have reduced Dorsett to grease spot at Gillette Stadium.
- Carolina's defensive front without Kawann Short and Dontari Poe hurts the entire unit, especially against the run.
- After the team declared him inactive the week prior due to mental errors and practice issues, Keke Coutee returned to the field and lost a fumble that former Texan Kareem Jackson returned for a touchdown and sparked a rout of Houston.
- Rookie tight end Dawson Knox is a promising player but he dropped a big-play target and missed a disguised blitz by Earl Thomas.
For those of you who wish to learn the why's, the details are below.
1. The Patriots Offense is getting a bitter taste of its defense's Medicine
New England's defense has been excellent this year because of its ability to threaten or use heavy blitzes while its coverage players communicate with the efficiency of a special forces unit. Although the Chiefs defense didn't use the exact blitz and coverage schemes as the Patriots, Kansas City bullied the New England offense with heavy pressure because it knew that Tom Brady's receiving corps isn't good enough.
Julian Edelman is one of the best slot receivers in football. Mohamed Sanu is an underrated slot receiver. N'Keal Harry's potential, as a slot receiver, is apparent when you turn on his film at Arizona State. Jakobi Meyers is a smart player with skill after the catch who lacks the physical skills to play outside, making the slot his best fit for long-term development.
Phillip Dorsett? Oh, we'll get to him in a moment.
The Patriots lack receivers who can earn consistent separation as perimeter threats and Tom Brady's accuracy against tight coverage is average, at best. Brady and this offense win when it earns at least two-steps of separation on a defender, which is more like "college open" than "NFL open."
This offense is built on earning this massive separation by means of its receivers making pre-snap, post-snap, and mid-route adjustments to coverage that match what Tom Brady sees. All teams expect this from receivers to some degree but the Patriots take it to another level that many receivers cannot hack. It's why we've seen so many receivers of note fail out of New England.
Outside of Julian Edelman, the Patriots receivers aren't earning consistent separation and they're not making reliable adjustments to the defensive coverage. Phillip Dorsett is the most disappointing because he's a veteran with some tenure who has the speed to win outside but he's not on the same page as Brady.
This is the second week in a row where Dorsett has misplayed a coverage and failed to communicate well with Brady.
Been saying this for weeks now for @Patriots offense. Outside of the physical-12 has trust in 1 guy. Edelman. That’s it...and it’s warranted. Watch ðŸ‘‡ðŸ¼ below. @MikeGiardi @patspulpit #SNFonNBC #Patriots @RochieWBZ @BenVolin pic.twitter.com/Vf8mbaUqXg— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) December 2, 2019
When a defense knows that most its opponent's receivers can't get separation early in a route or can't spot the same necessary adjustments as its quarterback—a quarterback who has a great pocket presence but lacking the athletic skill to win with his legs—that defense will win with aggressive tactics.
On Sunday, the Chiefs ran overload blitzes that gave them a man-on-man advantage against one side of the Patriots line and Brady's receivers either didn't or couldn't execute quick adjustments for Brady to find them. The Dorsett route shown above is one example. Here's another:
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones told a blitzed and harried Brady before halftime that the game was over. Although the scoreboard didn't reflect an insurmountable lead, the Chiefs knew this offense lacks the firepower to overcome high-pressure tactics.
Week 16's matchup with Buffalo could prove troublesome for fantasy players who have Brady and Edelman. The Bills limited Brady to 150 yards and an interception in Week 4 and after watching the Chiefs hold Brady to 169 yards, an interception, and a flea-flicker touchdown to Edelman, don't count on Bill Belichick "figuring out," a solution this year because he lacks the personnel on offense to do so.
If you play postseason fantasy football, consider the Chiefs' defensive dominance of the Patriots (and it was clear they were an improving unit capable of at least feasting on weaker offenses) as well as defensive tendencies of the Ravens and Steelers. These three teams are capable of bullying New England's offense and two of them have the offensive firepower to overcome the Patriots' defense.
Don't count on the offensive line to somehow bail-out this team. Matt Bitonti has noted that the Patriots are on its third starting center of the season. Good lines need experienced and skilled centers to make protection calls and work well with the guards. This is not a cohesive or talented unit and it's another leak that blitzing can exploit.
Other than Edelman, and he's riskier because of these offensive issues, I would not have any chips on Patriots players in Week 16 or beyond.
2. Patrick Mahomes II hurt his throwing Hand early and Leaned on His Feet for the Win
On the first pass of the game, Patrick Mahomes II flushed to his left from Patriots pressure and targeted LeSean McCoy in the flat while wrapped from behind at the legs. As the pass fell short of McCoy, Mahomes fell forward, planting his throwing hand awkwardly to the turf and then landing on that hand with his shoulder pads.
Clearly in pain throughout the game, the quality of Mahomes' throws declined to the point that many of his passes had a significant wobble. Despite the challenges of the injury and the Patriots defense—a group that has earned success with heavy blitzes and coverage that communicates with the efficiency of a special forces unit—Mahomes made in-game adjustments to help his team win.
He used his feet.
No, Mahomes didn't become a runner. The Chiefs quarterback made adjustments to his dropbacks that helped him anticipate the location of the throwing lane and time that he'd need to find his first read.
Another adjustment by Mahomes mid-drop pic.twitter.com/TnRNAqtNrb— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
And another vs five man pressure pic.twitter.com/5osP4eORvj— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson exhibit this skill to adjust drops. It's an advanced tactic I seek when grading college quarterback prospects. Few of them possess it when they enter the NFL. Mahomes didn't have a great statistical game but his adjustment to injury and an excellent defense that is known for its high-pressure tactics and great communication in the secondary is one of the most impressive performances I saw this week.
Kansas City's victory over New England places them one game back of the Patriots for a home playoff game. Because New England's offense is staggered and facing a Bills team that could beat them for the division crown in Week 16, the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at a bye week and home playoff game if they can win out. Expect bigger weeks from Mahomes against Denver and Chicago and stay abreast of Kansas City's running back situation if your team needs help.
Kyler Murray is a good rookie quarterback and he has the talent to become a consistent fantasy QB1 for years to come. Despite a strong fantasy season thus far, I chose not to write, "remain a consistent fantasy QB1," because the second year for a quarterback can be a difficult one if the rest of the offense doesn't improve and opposing defenses now have enough tape to exploit the quarterback's weaknesses.
You might have to wait a bit to call Baker Mayfield on this one because he's on the phone with the plumber about his bathroom.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense exploited three of Murray's most significant weaknesses on Sunday, beating the Cardinals in Arizona with excellent defense and a lame-duck (pun partially intended) offense. Murray earns comparisons to Russell Wilson and occasionally to Lamar Jackson because of his athletic ability to break the pocket for big gains and throw the ball on the move.
These are ham-handed comparisons that will get your point across in a noisy bar to folks who watch football for thrills but care little about winning fantasy games. Physically, Murray is quick and fast but mentally, he processes the pocket, pressure, and pursuit at a slower rate than Wilson and Jackson and aggressive defenses can exploit Murray's weakness—especially when Murray is playing behind a struggling offensive line.
Bud Dupree cleanup on Aisle 1...Murray illustrates longstanding flaws from pocket.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
Good young QB prospect. Won’t ruin his development but some teams will be able to fluster him more often if pocket management doesn’t improve pic.twitter.com/n3ZPRojc19
None of these issues make Murray a bad player or will kill his development unless the Cardinals offensive line doesn't improve over the next 2-3 seasons. This problems do separate Murray from the Jackson and Wilson comparisons.
Maybe they won't in 2-3 years, but Murray's navigation of pockets have always been less advanced than Jackson and Wilson because when pressure arrives, Murray most often does one of three things:
1) Climb forward in rhythm with hitches and fires the ball.
2) Takes off as a runner using a dramatic change of acceleration.
Or, 3) Initiates a dramatic escape from pressure with movement that forces Murray to drop his eyes from coverage even if he's hoping to buy time to throw. Too often, the dramatic movements are also forcing him to take more time to reset his feet so he can deliver the football, which costs him opportunities to target routes as they come open.
When asked to assess Murray's fantasy potential this year, I wrote that it was best to view him as a hot-streak fantasy producer for only a portion of the year. I hoped the hot streak would occur late in the season rather than early but it has not happened this way.
Murray is the No.7 fantasy quarterback for the year but since Week 8, Murray has performed as the No.16 passer after ranking 9th after his first seven weeks. For the past three weeks, Murray has been 22nd among fantasy passers, throwing for only 5.23 yards per attempt with 6 total touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
I never expect Murray to possess Wilson or Jackson's pocket and scrambling skills but it doesn't mean Murray can't develop into a fantasy player with consistent top-10 production. He'll just do it differently than those two quarterbacks. He's already a superior to Jackson as an intermediate and vertical passer to perimeter receivers.
Murray might rebound against Cleveland and Seattle if you are in a position to consider him during the fantasy playoffs but neither team is especially generous to quarterbacks this year. Seattle will have a better chance of earning pressure on Murray than Cleveland.
If you're going to use the barroom Wilson-Jackson-Murray comparison, Cleveland's defense had two of its worst weeks against Jackson and Wilson. If you want a finer comparison, look at Marcus Mariota—an athletic quarterback lacking the high-end processing of the pocket and how to run at the NFL level. Mariota had 248 yards through the air and 3 touchdowns. Starting Murray against the Browns is worth the risk because this team is falling apart at season's end and is without Myles Garrett.
Seattle is a different story. The Seahawks limited Lamar Jackson to 143 passing yards. Although Jackson earned 116 rushing yards and a score, Murray is not that creative, dynamic, or willing as a runner. In Murray's first matchup with Seattle, he earned 27 rushing yards and a touchdown but was held scoreless as a passer and limited to 243 passing yards.
You might want to seek a backup plan if you didn't maintain one early in the season after Murray's hot start.
4. Drew Lock's Sparkling Follow-up In Houston
I examined Drew Lock's strong debut in last week's Top-10 and delivered a short-term, long-term assessment:
Expect big plays in the vertical game and some balance at buying time but quick thinking and imaginative throwing in the red zone and other short-range targets. If he continued to display wise decision-making deep in his own territory as well as the red zone, Denver's defense is still good enough to help the offense stay in games. I think Lock will have another good game against Houston in Week 14. If the Lions secondary gets healthy and the Chiefs continue gelling as they displayed this weekend (see below), expect more bust in Lock's boom-bust potential in Weeks 15-16.
Long-term, I've come to the belief that quarterbacks usually require 18-24 NFL games before we clearly see how their potential translates to the field and which major issues are correctable or at least problems that teams can either work around and/or cope with successfully. For Lock, it means we will need to see things that he didn't display on Sunday or consistently enough at Missouri—elevated diagnostic skills of the defense pre-snap and immediately post-snap, refined footwork under pressure where quick and precise movement is necessary for accurate execution, and refined understanding of his limitations with his off-platform play.
Lock's 300-yard, 3-touchdown performance at the Houston fits the positive projection and added more layers of information about Lock's development path. He's showing confidence and proper anticipation with downfield throws and he's willing to attack tight coverage. This isn't new for Lock but seeing examples of him doing so in the middle of the field at the NFL level is.
In my pre-draft scouting report, I've compared Lock's inconsistent performance of technically-sound footwork to a light switch when it should be a constant thermostat. So, it's a positive sign to see Lock showing consistent footwork with three, five, and seven-step drops on plays where pressure isn't an early factor in his decision-making.
As productive as Lock was this weekend, it's notable that the Texans staff told the national broadcast crew before the game that it only based its gameplan off Lock's one game against the Chargers. It isn't unusual for teams to only look at the most recent NFL tape of a rookie or look at the prior starting quarterback in the offense if that rookie hasn't played in an NFL game.
This is why many quarterbacks have strong stretches of production as rookies and then tail off in years two, three, and four.
Don't call Baker Mayfield, he's getting a straw for his wife's lemonade while they're having HGTV time.
Take a struggling defense, give it little preparation for the opposing quarterback, and put them on the field against an opposing quarterback with starter throwing skills, creativity, and new playing wrinkles tailored to him that the defense hasn't seen, and of course the young quarterback will have some inherent advantages.
Drew Lock is a talented rookie who is performing well but if you observe fan and media behavior year after year, even a fool like me begins to notice that we are too up and down about the performance of young quarterbacks. To reiterate, young quarterbacks usually require 18-24 games for us to see how their potential will translate long-term to an NFL field and determine if their flaws are correctable or something that a team can live with.
When an opposing defense lacks enough information to fully identify Lock's flaws and won't go to the college tape, we shouldn't get too excited about Lock. This throw below didn't result in disaster but it led to a loss in the red zone on a third-and-six when throwing the ball away was a safer option.
The next frontier for Lock: maintaining a balanced position in the pocket and not resorting to off-balance throws... pic.twitter.com/UcNN7rykXX— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
This tendency to throw off-balance can lead to inaccurate passes in the flats where defenders have a much better chance of jumping routes and earning big gains when they intercept the ball. Throwing off-balance, something that Lock did too frequently at Missouri and still occasionally for the Broncos, is different than throwing off-platform.
Lock throws off-balance and off-platform too often. Patrick Mahomes II throws off-platform but from a balanced position. When Lock goes off-balance or off-platform, his movements often lack control. When Mahomes is rushed, his efforts still show more control over his process.
An example of an inaccurate off-platform throw from Mahomes that is rushed but still controlled pic.twitter.com/v7uTHU6mwy— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
Mahomes is also more likely to move and remain in a balanced throwing position.
Lock's range with off-platform and unbalanced throwing positions is smaller.
There are signs of hope with Lock's game and they were evident with some great throws he made downfield. This honey-hole shot between the corner and safety up the left sideline is an example of Lock making a small adjustment to get his feet under him while pressure closed on him during his setup.
Still, if we're going to talk about Lock becoming a great quarterback, here's Drew Brees, the standard for pocket footwork on a similar play
Right now, Lock is a talented arm talent with improving footwork on designed plays that remain on-script and some skill for reading the field that will have to get better. Lock got away with some iffy decisions in this game that could have altered the course of this game.
This big play to Noah Fant is a good example. Lock told the media after the game that he spotted the coverage dropping off Fant and delivered a back-shoulder throw. This was a great read and excellent decision to throw the back-shoulder. The execution remained shaky because the placement wasn't far enough inside to prevent the potential for a big defensive play.
Here's another play where Lock fails to consider the zone defender playing deep, which means one of his jobs is to read Lock's eyes throughout the play.
This interception is also the product of Lock not processing the full implications of the coverage.
While the misreads of the field are typical rookie behavior—even among talented rookie quarterbacks like Lock—having a sober view about Lock is important for your future draft strategies in re-draft and dynasty leagues. His gunslinger mentality and arm talent can enable reckless footwork, misreads of situations, and risks that he may continue to employ as other parts of his game mature.
Good result, rookie process for Lock pic.twitter.com/n9NdQhMKSD— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
The type of veteran who still goes for these types of plays pic.twitter.com/d79ZwZv2K3— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
I'm not saying Lock is the next Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, the media buzz will be strong with him for similar reasons it was with Mayfield, Carson Wentz, and Dak Prescott. Many of the same talking heads pushing Deshone Kizer to start in Cleveland after a strong quarter during a preseason game were calling him a bum after six weeks as a starter for a moribund organization that lacked the sense to even have a veteran quarterback mentoring him during meetings and practice.
Kansas City's improved defense will be a test for Lock next week if they use similar tactics that they used on Brady. If interceptions are costly in your league, you may want to look elsewhere. Detroit should be an easier week and a fitting opponent to consider Lock once again as an emergency playoff starter.
5. Josh Allen: Baltimore's Featured Guest at Sunday's Sack-A-Thon
The Ravens sacked Josh Allen six times on Sunday and used various methods to disrupt the Bills offense. Knowing the Bills have limited talents at receiver and more importantly, Allen is still a work in progress as a progression reader (although heading in a better direction, overall), the Ravens sent heavy blitz packages Allen's way. Allen and the young Bills offensive line struggled to handle it.
Ravens bring seven and disrupt Allen. pic.twitter.com/tIpWCVwHRQ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 8, 2019
Ravens get through again...sending seven in red zone pic.twitter.com/RKxEEqWzcD— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 8, 2019
Baltimore also did a good job of disguising blitzes until after the snap.
Because Allen is a good runner, Baltimore also used a tactic often seen from Alabama and Georgia's defenses where they have a defender cover the check-down option while another mirror's the movements quarterback until the quarterback either tries to break the pocket or he moves into a position ideal for the defender to blitz late in the play and earn the sack. Matthew Judon did this to perfection below.
If the Bills offense can do enough to make some plays against the Patriots' blitzing defense and win this division, I'm still skeptical that the team matches up well with Baltimore or Kansas City and could even have a tough time against Pittsburgh if the Steelers make the postseason and the offense somehow has an inspired game.
Mitchell Trubisky and Sam Darnold are not a 1:1 comparison. Trubisky is a far superior runner outside the pocket. However, both are athletic passers with good arms and skills to buy time. Darnold is the more creative player with his arm.
However, Darnold has inconsistent accuracy with difficult-but-makable throws expected from a starter. The physical ability is there, especially when he sees the field clearly. The problem is he doesn't recognize and process coverage effectively at this stage of his game and if Adam Gase's coaching of Darnold in Monday's night's debacle against the Patriots is any indication, the Jets' staff isn't doing Darnold any favors short- or long-term with his development.
Good connection between Darnold and Anderson here for 41 pic.twitter.com/JL7weoFYgZ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
Darnold didn’t stare this down; he didn’t think about the safety watching him from an advantageous position while making a sudden turn and throwing to right side without accounting for safety... pic.twitter.com/Du2yF0DGtr— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
Darnold has top-10 talent at his position for fantasy players. I'm concerned he lacks the support staff to transition to that level of play on a consistent basis because recognition of coverage variations has always been a challenge for Darnold and it's not getting better fast enough.
7. Why Kendrick Bourne May Deserve One of Your Roster spots in December
Deebo Samuel's athletic talent is undeniable. His route tree and usage are still limited so if you're using him in lineups, you're living with the inconsistency of targets based on the gameplan. Right now, you're riding a five-game upswing after enduring a five-game slump.
Odds are likely, you'll still be riding high against Atlanta but buyer beware with the Rams.
Kendrick Bourne isn't nearly as exciting. His targets and efficiency with targets aren't nearly as good as Samuel's in the yardage department. However, he has five touchdowns during the past six weeks, including a pair of scores this weekend against the Saints. Samuel has two touchdowns and only three for the season.
Bourne may deserve one of your roster spots, especially during the final two weeks of the season if you have 2-3 flex spots and you're seeking a reliable pass-catcher with the trust and rapport of his quarterback in an offense that earns a lot of red-zone time.
Bourne may not have great dynasty value but if you're looking to win now and have a large starting lineup format, he has the skills, the offense, and the schedule to earn consideration.
8. Keep an Eye on Kerrith Whyte
I've written about the intriguing evaluation puzzle that is Devin Singletary's game. Singletary's college teammate, Kerrith Whyte is slashing scatback with zone patience and agility who can catch the football. He also has 4.36-speed and a 42-inch vertical leap.
He reminded me of the late Joe McKnight, a talented scatback from USC who had stints with the Jets and Chiefs. Whyte had no shot of making a Bears roster that drafted David Montgomery in the first round, added the versatile Mike Davis on a free-agent deal before the draft as a hedge, and still had the versatile Tarik Cohen. Unless there were injuries, the rules of the hidden advantage of being a high-round draft pick applied to this depth chart.
By the way, Ryan Riddle's article that I just referenced above with that link is a must-read for any serious fan who wants to understand player evaluation, the draft, and player development—all very different things that are often lumped together.
The Steelers added Whyte to its practice squad and after injuries struck this squad, Pittsburgh elevated Whyte to the active roster. For the past two weeks, he's been showing off skills that bode well for him to compete for a roster spot, if not playing time in 2020.
Whyte for 10 pic.twitter.com/CnEU8f2rMD— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
Whyte with easy burst to the edge pic.twitter.com/2ZTNP6o2sP— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 9, 2019
McKnight never had a strong fantasy career in the NFL but Whyte is a more combative and physical runner with better vision between the tackles. If you're in a deep dynasty format, I'd add Whyte when you have expanded roster sizes during the offseason (if you can't get him now). He's a cheap investment with the athletic skills to potentially deliver a much bigger return.
I like what Benny Snell is doing but Whyte is carving out time. If desperate, Whyte's 14 touches for 103 yards during the past three weeks is worth considering.
9. Phoenix Rising: Atlanta's Offense
Let's get this out of the way: Carolina's front seven is awful this year. Losing Dontari Poe and Kawann short upfront while moving to a 3-4 defense that lacks the quality of big men to protect Luke Keuchly and Shaq Thompson has resulted in Carolina's defense becoming the most generous fantasy unit to running backs in the NFL, giving up 1,571 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns, 52 catches, 330 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Carolina's run defense stinks.
Still, Atlanta's first-round pick, right guard Chris Lindstrom was finally healthy enough to start an NFL football game. Given the opponent, he still looked good and the line's performance provided an indication of what a healthy Falcons offensive line and ground game could do in 2021.
RG Chris Lindstrom off to a good start thus far. pic.twitter.com/wlL7oJkRVR— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 8, 2019
Devonta Freeman washed narratives getting smacked around today when you see offensive linemen sustaining blocks to reward Freeman’s ability to create second and third chances. pic.twitter.com/pXmarfqx0h— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 8, 2019
Freeman scored his first rushing touchdown in two years in this game. That's enough for many of you to believe this game was nothing but a brief glimmer of light before Freeman's fantasy career death in 2020. This is possible because there are a lot of young and talented runners that will be available in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Still, from what I've seen of Freeman this year, he hasn't been the problem as much as the offensive line. This week, Freeman's tape showed the quickness and creativity that he can exhibit when defenses can't smother him within the first five yards of the quarterback's exchange point.
Freeman will be a much cheaper option next year—likely an ADP lower than the 10th round—especially if the Falcons draft or add a free agent option with a contract or draft-round that indicates he'll compete for playing time. Even if they don't, the Ito Smith Fantasy Contingent will be out in force once again.
If Atlanta's line stays healthy in 2020, this offense has the tools to rebound and become a top-producing unit through the air and on the ground.
10. FRESH FISH: Week 14
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," I provide my weekly shortlist of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
Special of the Week: Phillip Dorsett
Dorsett has been a Patriot for three years, playing 41 games during this span. Yet, he's having enough issues with knowing when to look at Tom Brady before the snap or adjust his routes immediately after that Brady told Josh McDaniels during the Texans game, "I'm done with him," while explaining how Dorsett missed a signal to run a double move. This week, Dorsett didn't run a blitz-adjusted route correctly and missed an opportunity for a big play.
The Patriots need Dorsett to come through as a reliable option whom Brady can trust but he's a roleplayer in a role too big for his skill. He's not alone. The rest of the receiving corps is doing little to compensate.
- Dawson Knox: A talented young tight end, Knox dropped a deep pass early in the Ravens game and then failed to recognize Ravens safety Earl Thomas's disguised blitz that resulted in yet another sack of Josh Allen. Knox has a lot of near-misses of big plays this year. Next year, it will be a bigger deal if he continues his Fresh Fish candidacy.
- Carolina defensive linemen: Atlanta's 25th-ranked running game for fantasy production looked like a top-10 unit thanks to a 3-4 defense lacking starting-caliber defensive linemen who can free up Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson.
- Keke Coutee: Last month, the Texans declared Coutee inactive due to practice issues and mental errors. When he returned to the lineup for the Broncos game, he flashed his potential as an underneath receiver with big-play ability but also lost a fumble that led to a touchdown return by former Texan Kareem Jackson. Coutee. In 2020, Coutee must stay healthy and ball-out or he's going the way of Bruce Ellington.
Thanks again for all of your feedback with this column. Good luck next week and may your bold calls come true.