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 5 Cliff's Notes
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points:
- Christian McCaffrey's technical skill and savvy show up in all phases of play and it's why he's a serious MVP candidate and the best back in fantasy football.
- The Vikings are an excellent bootleg and screen team and it's opening up big plays for Dalvin Cook.
- The Texans stacked its receivers in key situations and thoroughly out-witted the Falcons' defense en route to Will Fuller V's 217-yard, 3-touchdown performance.
- The back-seven of Atlanta's defense has been taking bad angles to the ball in the open field during the Dan Quinn era but now, they're easily confused and lax. The unit is so bad that it's creating false positives for opposing offenses.
- Josh Allen's mental game is the final frontier of his development and the odds are against him developing the instincts to elevate his game to a franchise starter.
- D.J. Moore flashed his ceiling against the Jaguars and if he can become a consistent rebounder on the perimeter, he could emerge as an elite receiver.
- Byron Pringle led Chiefs receivers on Sunday as Sammy Watkins' replacement and I share my pre-draft scouting report and thoughts on Pringle moving forward.
- Will Dissily is an excellent fit in this passing game because he's a good seam receiver and the seam route is one of Russell Wilson's best throws.
- Devin Singletary may return to action next week, but Frank Gore is still playing at a high enough level that Singletary's fantasy upside remains limited this year.
- This week's Fresh Fish:
- Cairo Santos missed four field goals for the Titans this weekend.
- Kyle Allen and Gardner Minshew are fumbling the ball too often in the pocket.
- Eric Ebron has gone into a shell after four drops in two weeks.
- Cowboys' left tackle Cameron Fleming struggled to replace Tyron Smith against the Packers.
- When Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander played off-coverage, he bit on everything Amari Cooper threw at him.
For those of you who wish to learn the why's, the details are below.
1. Christian McCaffrey Showcases His Elite GAme
There were a number of NFL scouts and coaches who thought McCaffrey had the skills to become what the league expected from Reggie Bush a decade earlier. Based on the past two years of performances, that assessment is proving correct. McCaffrey is an elite player with a complete game and while Brian Westbrook bristled when he initially heard comparisons drawn between him and McCaffey, he'd be wise to take it as a compliment.
McCaffrey is a workhorse and while he lacks elite power, the Panthers don't worry about him holding up. He's a fanatically prepared athlete. Let's examine the components of McCaffrey's game that would make him a top NFL running back in almost any scheme.
Although he's not a pile-pusher who will run head-long into a defensive tackle's hit and push 300-pounders 3-5 yards downhill, McCaffrey runs through significant contact. He makes this interaction with a backside linebacker in the hole look easy.
McCaffrey's speed is absolutely a calling card. He broke a career-long run against the Jaguars but speed is an overrated commodity that shines the brightest when everything lines up perfectly. An underrated commodity for backs and receivers that is less discussed is the ability to stop fast.
A player's ability to stop fast reveals his refinement with footwork. McCaffrey's ability to stop fast is a special component of his game that shows up in the open field as well as between the tackles.
How fast a football player can stop is often more important than how fast he can run. The McCaffrey Show continues... pic.twitter.com/RPgNfyK0ko— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 6, 2019
Great, subtle adjustment in the crease by McCaffrey pic.twitter.com/QW8H2qsWIj
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
It also aids McCaffrey's level of detail as a route runner. He runs this jerk route as if he invented it. Although this rep below is exactly how a back should run the route, few do so.
Great route by Christian McCaffrey. Watch him sell the route with a complete turn—many RBs wouldn’t have done this and it’s what wins him that one step in the wrong direction from Miles Jack that is the difference between reception and TD reception. pic.twitter.com/y1bvPLKDSk— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 6, 2019
His route-running mastery also aids his open-field work. McCaffrey's moves below could easily be applied to a release against press coverage.
Open-field majesty by Christian McCaffrey.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
His moves are much like a good release by a WR vs press. Three-step hesi, wife stick outside LB’s frame, and perfect hand placement to execute what is essentially a throw-by. pic.twitter.com/i6FP37kBFP
While always a willing blocker, McCaffrey is improving as a technician, timing his approach so he can deliver shots from optimal angles that will protect his quarterback and minimize the importance of his size and strength.
McCaffrey is well-versed at all blocking schemes, he runs routes like a slot receiver, and he's learned how to maximize his strength, leverage, and stamina. I've heard Saints fans say, "Imagine if Alvin Kamara earned McCaffrey's workload?" And no doubt, Kamara is a great back.
However, I think it's equally valid to say, "Imagine if McCaffrey was in the Saints offense?"
2. The Vikings' screen and Bootleg GAme Are the Boosters For Astronaut DAlvin Cook
One of the oldest and successful plays in modern football is the screen pass. The screen and the draw are the two plays also associated with old-school coaches whose offenses seem predictable and behind the times. There's a craft to designing and executing screens in an offense. So far, the Vikings are doing it well.
The bootleg is becoming a staple of the Vikings' offense and Minnesota is integrating that concept into its screen designs. The creativity of its play design is serving as booster rockets for getting Dalvin Cook into space—and we've seen he's as comfortable out there as an astronaut.
Another successful screen because it catches Giants in five-man pressure and only 1 LB in space pic.twitter.com/ElPV363I9u— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 6, 2019
Using two TEs to bait left and work the screen to the right for 23 pic.twitter.com/nwfuJvZyBJ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 6, 2019
The Vikings' bootleg has become so ingrained in the minds of opposing defenders, watch the linebacker anticipate the potential boot and abandon an angle to the ballcarrier in order to cover the tight end.
Whether it's Cook, Mattison, or even Mike Boone or Amir Abdullah, the offensive line's execution of well-crafted screens will generate yards for Vikings' running backs. Keep this in mind if Cook falters.
3. The Texans Stacked Will Fuller V at The Line And Fuller Had a CAreer-Day
More on Atlanta's defense in a moment. First, let's look at two plays that confused Atlanta's secondary and led to big plays at the end of each half.
And the follow-up from stack for Fuller’s third TD and 217 yards. This time the out-and -up pic.twitter.com/R8E4gC8Pga— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 6, 2019
Fuller had a massive game, but don't expect this as a sign of things to come. Houston "got right" against Atlanta but based on the Falcons' defensive track record, I would not anticipate Houston "staying right."
4. The Back-Seven of Atlanta's Defense is So Bad, It's creating false-Positives For Opposing Offenses
Atlanta drafted excellent athletes for its defense during the Dan Quinn era, but the linebacker and secondary have proven mistake-prone, lacking football savvy, and short on technique. The best thing an offense can do against Atlanta is target receivers in the middle of the field and the flats with their backs to the quarterback and heading north-south at the catch-point because Atlanta's back-seven misses a ton of tackles.
The Falcons either fail to wrap or take bad angles. And if that's not the problem, widespread confusion and coverage breaks are a pervasive issue.
The following opponents have scored one of their two best games in five weeks against the Falcons' defense: Fuller, Fells, Coutee, Hopkins Nelson Agholor, A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, T.Y. Hilton, Mack Hollins, Zach Pascal, and Zach Ertz.
Sadly, Atlanta's schedule during its first five weeks included some of the least dynamic quarterbacks it will face. If you're facing an injury or bye-week crisis, taking a chance on fringe fantasy options facing Atlanta could prove productive.
5. Josh Allen's Final Frontier of Development Is the Mental GAme
For all its memorization and layers of theory and technique, the quarterback position is an intuitive one:
One of the significant insights is that decision-making onstage is not conscious. When you begin consciously thinking, the flow of the process stumbles — if not stops altogether. There is a lot of thinking when initially learning a technique or a process, but the subsequent work is designed to train your body to act and react in these complex and layered ways without thinking about it.
Hal Galper, the performer giving the clinic below, states that strong performances get messed up because the performer begins thinking.
It doesn’t take intelligence to be a jazz musican. There’s plenty of proof of that around (laughter). As a matter of face, intelligent people have a terrible problem shutting down their brain and letting their intuition function.
He might as well be talking about the differences between Brett Favre and pre-Andy Reid, Alex Smith.
Just like playing a phrase of music in response to what other musicians are doing is an act of intuition, a quarterback is doing the same thing. His body and mind are his instruments and the decisions are the lines of music. The defense is a lot like what a musician is hearing.
The problem with quarterbacks is that the NFL has been hellbent on too much conscious thinking.
The evaluation process for quarterbacks over-emphasizes the intellect and underrates intuitive play. Josh Allen has a lot of intellect, but his in-game management is lacking because he doesn't process information at the speed of instinct and he lacks feel for unscripted situations when plays break down.
During this weekend's game—the week after he threw three interceptions while trying too hard to be a hero—the broadcast crew retold a conversation that it had with Allen. The Bills' quarterback said that he had to retrain his instincts. This is the problem with many NFL teams when evaluating quarterbacks.
Much of the league believes that playing experience will lead to savvy. This is an out-dated notion. While a quarterback can learn specific responses to situations that were once unfamiliar but straight-forward once you gain familiarity, developing an intuitive game when you're not an intuitive player is unlikely.
Allen is learning to slide and throw the ball out of bounds. These are responses to straight-forward situations that can be defined as "gaining savvy," but they're common sense behaviors. Either the quarterback was never encouraged to recognize these situations or—because they were top athletes and the team's playmaker— they were encouraged to ignore them.
Even after suffering a concussion last week, Allen's developmental timeline as a game manager and strategist remains well behind his physical skills.
Based on my 15 years of scouting quarterbacks, few of them display massive advancement in these areas if they had issues of this type during their collegiate careers. Allen has promising moments but if he continues to show deficiencies in the intuitive and strategic aspects of the game, these mistakes will gradually deteriorate his confidence and his play will experience more disparate highs and lows.
6. D.J. Moore Flashed His Ceiling of potential Against the Jaguars, Can He Get there?
D.J. Moore has a promising overall game. He's built like a running back, runs with excellent contact balance, and he's the best middle-of-the-field route runner on the Panthers.
What DJ Moore has always done well pic.twitter.com/3S0E4tLoX2— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
However, Moore has been an incomplete receiver. He struggles to defeat press coverage and win targets in 50-50 situations on the perimeter. This weekend, Moore made a play that I have never seen him make as a collegian or professional.
If DJ Moore wins these types of targets more often...look out, NFL. pic.twitter.com/WyAKb3ngZd— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
Considering the way Moore approached this target with a bucket-catch technique rather than attacking the ball with active hands (turning to face the ball, thumbs together, and palms facing the quarterback), I doubt that Moore is on the verge of becoming a big-time vertical threat. Still, this play was an encouraging sign.
Keep tabs on Moore's development because if he makes more of these plays, it will be time to consider him an emerging force.
7. DYNASTY WATCH: CHIEFS WR BYRON PRINGLE
For a significant portion of the summer, I had Byron Pringle in my fantasy rankings because of his spring and summer performance in camp and the potential suspension of Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs ultimately cut Pringle and signed him to its practice squad by summer's end. But soon after, Kansas City elevated Pringle to the active roster.
For the past two weeks, Pringle has earn playing time. He nearly scored a touchdown against the Lions, setting up the game-winner with a tough reception over the middle. This week, Pringle led all Chiefs receivers with 100 yards and a touchdown after Sammy Watkins' early exit due to a hamstring injury.
Pringle is worth consideration as fantasy free agent in re-draft leagues if Watkins, Demarcus Robinson, or Tyreek Hill suffer significant injuries. And, there's a possibility that he continues earning more playing time because he's proving capable of getting open, creating a friendly target for Patrick Mahomes II on unscripted plays, and earning yards after the catch.
YAC potential pic.twitter.com/ujnlFLXWpl— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
Doing what he’s supposed to with his shot on the big stage. pic.twitter.com/0NOAhNg2BC— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
You can learn more about Pringle by clicking the links in the final two tweets above. The fact that he's playing mistake-free football is a good sign for future playing time. Because Hill returns next week, it's unlikely that Pringle's future is now unless Sammy Watkins needs a few weeks.
If you can afford a luxury addition, I'd consider him. However, his real future may come in 2020 because Robinson's contract expires this year and Watkins' contract that runs through the end of 2020 has a potential out at the end of this year.
Pringle is an exclusive rights free agent in 2020 and will be cheaper to afford.
8. Will Dissly Is For Real
One of the tougher routes in football is the seam route. Receivers must earn separation early, track the ball well with their back to the quarterback, and not be easily distracted by tight coverage. Known as a blocker when the Seahawks drafted him out of the University of Washington, Will Dissily has surprised as a receiver.
Dissly has shown a knack for the seam route—one of the best patterns that Russell Wilson throws.
If you haven't watched Dissly's games, you can go to our game recaps and find the word "seam" mentioned twice in four weeks. After the recap is up for Week 5, add one more to the mix.
Dissly is earning 46-66 snaps per game since Week 2 and between 4-8 targets per game. The Seahawks' offense will continue getting Dissly involved as a primary option because he's a pivotal part of the ground game and play-action scheme.
Dissly should remain a top-five fantasy option after a hot start.
9. Devin Singletary Returns Next Week, but Frank Gore Limits Singletary's Fantasy VAlue
Devin Singletary tested his hamstring before the Titans' game but the Bills declared him inactive. There will be a lot of excitement surrounding Singletary's return but I'd be shocked if he earns the majority of playing time.
Frank Gore is the best back on the roster and while Singletary will earn playing time, Gore will close-out games and see touches in pivotal situations. He's too advanced of a player to see the bench while the Bills are still in contention for the playoffs.
Like a poker shark, Gore reads the table and the players and then makes the bold move at the right time.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2019
The decision-making savvy, conditioning, and technique of Gore's game will keep him a co-starter with Singletary. With Miami (twice), Washington, Dallas, and Baltimore on the Bills' schedule look for Gore to deliver no worse than RB3-flex value down the stretch.
10. FRESH FISH: Week 5
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: Cairo Santos misses 12 points worth of attempts in a 7-point loss to the Bills.
Santos' mistakes cost the Titans a win in a tightly-contested ball game that matches the offense's desired strategy. Santos had been perfect for the season until this weekend. Look for him to earn a chance to save his job. The Titans cut him.
Let's move onto additional specimens from the fish market:
- CB Jaire Alexander: When asked to play press-man, Alexander looked strong. When asked to play off-coverage, Amari Cooper baited him all day.
- TE Eric Ebron: Three drops in Week 4 and one in Week 5. You can practically see Ebron's confidence shrinking on the field.
- LT Cam Fleming: Replacing All-Pro Tyron Smith is a tall order and Fleming allowed consistent pressure on Dak Prescott.
- QBs Kyle Allen and Gardner Minshew: Overall, they're playing well but their ball security in the pocket has been woeful.
Thanks again for all of your feedback with this column. Good luck next week and may your bold call come true.