Two players that I recommended throughout the preseason as potential bargain additions to your team were Ravens RB Ty'Son Williams and Raiders WR Bryan Edwards. Both delivered in the box score on Monday night, but as we know, the results don't always have the necessary context to inform us of future reliability.
This week, I'm giving you a coach's film breakdown of Williams and Edwards and my thoughts on what to expect with them as fantasy GMs. Williams' tape analysis also includes some exposures of Latavius Murray as a point of comparison and contrast. I wouldn't sleep on these players and many will be doing so in the wake of Week 2's cycle of reactionary behavior.
First Impressions During Monday Night of Tyson Williams
I share a lot of information on Twitter (@mattwaldman), often providing in-game analysis and answering questions. As is the case with former professional players delivering in-game analysis, there's little opportunity to watch plays with the depth and breadth of analysis when trying to deliver timely information.
My first impressions of Williams while watching him on Monday night:
- He showed a facility with gap and zone plays — both styles of blocking that the Ravens and most NFL teams use.
- He read the position of defenders on blockers efficiently, made the right decisions, and reached the creases fast enough to gain yardage.
- He protected the ball with great technique and perhaps, he was a little too cautious to the point that he wasn't attacking defenders the degree he was during the preseason.
- He caught the ball well and was reliable as an outlet receiver in the flats.
- When he earns a crease into the second and third levels of the defense, he has the acceleration, footwork, vision, and balance to generate big plays of at least 15-20 yards and enough long speed to out-run the pursuit angles of many defensive backs for breakaway gains of at least 30 yards.
- Williams' effort was not an issue with his pass protection, although fans had that instant reaction. The issue appeared to be his understanding of his assignments and the plays appeared more complicated some characterized.
After watching the ground game this afternoon, the coach's tape provided validation to most of my initial thoughts. The only thing I'd amend to the observations from above is my characterization of Williams as a finisher.
Upon Further Review: Williams Was Good Enough to Play Next Week
There were two plays from the game where Williams appeared tentative but upon further review, there were logical explanations for his behavior. One play ended with Williams tripping over the back of his lineman's foot as the Raiders' defender pushed the lineman backward as Williams was working outside of the block. This caused Williams to stumble into the contact where at first glance, it appeared he wasn't making an aggressive attack into the impending contact.
The other play was a fourth-quarter run where Williams took a hard shot from the safety with a 10-yard runway into the hit. At first glance, it appeared Williams saw the pursuit early enough to take a stronger position into the finish. However, the angle of the pursuit was too fast and out of reasonable periphery for Williams to see and his reaction was justifiable.
In fact, Williams bounced off that hit and regained his footing to fall forward. If there's a worthy criticism of Williams in this situation, it's that he was so cautious with the ball that he dropped his head into the contact. Williams did this on a few other runs.
He needs to keep his eyes up so his back doesn't curve at an angle that prevents a strong lean through hits. This is where Latavius Murray was better on Monday night but based on Williams' college and preseason tape, this issue is new to his game and it's likely a product of Williams taking a cautious approach to ball security. Lose the ball early in a game as a young runner and playing time evaporates fast.
Here's what you need to know from the tape if you don't have time to dive into it or want easily-organized thoughts after the viewing:
- The Ravens' offensive line is a different unit from 2019-2020 and didn't perform well in the opener.
- The Raiders routinely earned penetration into the backfield with its defensive linemen.
- Las Vegas' defensive linemen generated a lot of push up front and reset the line of scrimmage.
- Raiders linebackers had clean lanes to penetrate up the middle or down the line in pursuit and end runs before they could begin.
- The injuries to the Ravens' backfield resulted in Lamar Jackson and his new backs having little rapport.
- A rapport between backs and quarterbacks is vital with the zone reads.
- With little established rapport, Jackson and Williams fumbled a read.
- The Ravens used far fewer option-style plays in this game and it shrank the diversity of the ground attack.
- The lack of diversity with the ground game made it easier for the Raiders to read and react quickly.
- Expect this rapport to build over the course of 4-6 weeks, but there will be rough moments, especially if the backfield lacks a stable presence. Williams still has a shot to be that guy but that timeline for more option-style plays, which has been the bread-and-butter of this offense, will increase if Williams falters over the next few weeks.
- Williams' pass protection was not nearly as bad as the reactions you're going to see — many of the ones you'll read will be fantasy football news blurbs gleaned from instant reactions like mine on social media.
- Williams was the only back used as a blocker.
- Even so, he had only three pass-pro opportunities.
- He handled two of the three opportunities effectively when considering the pressure package and assignment.
- While Williams gave up a sack late in the game, the design of the pressure was so good that it deserves more credit than bashing Williams for the late pick-up of the eventual sacker. I break this down in the video below.
- Williams showed more promise as a pass protector than most will characterize.
- Latavius Murray was also decisive running gap and zone plays.
- Murray was more confident with his ball security than Williams so his finishing approach into tacklers was a little better.
Overall, Williams did enough to earn another week as a significant contributor in the Ravens' offense. While he was perhaps a little too cautious with the ball to the detriment of his finishing power, one example was an opening play from inside the Ravens' five-yard-line, which dictates extreme caution and therefore shouldn't be counted as evidence against him.
In Week 2, Williams and Murray will likely split reps. Both earned significant reps during the fourth quarter, so while Murray earned more as the game went along, Williams wasn't as absent as one might think because Murray earned more time as the game progressed.
The real X factor for fantasy GMs is Le'Veon Bell. Yes, you're going to hear the fantasy and football media universes declare en masse that Bell is washed up. He wasn't as bad in Kansas City as characterized in the same way Adrian Peterson wasn't washed up for the 2-3 years media declared as such until he showed that he could still play.
Bell is working into football shape on the practice squad. Murray, Devonta Freeman, Trenton Cannon, and Williams all had training camps to work into football shape. The league likes players to get 2-3 weeks of this type of work before getting them on the field.
It means Williams and Murray are battling for a potential split with Bell by the month's end or early next month. If Bell falters, then the loser of this month's internal competition could re-earn the earlier role they had.
The greater concern is the offensive line and pass protection. I think Bell can deliver as a pass protector and Williams has a head start on Murray in this area and despite what you'll hear, performed reasonably well with limited reps.
If you're playing the odds, the conservative analysis is to expect Murray to win the internal competition and then Bell will get his shot to split time with Murray, if not lead the backfield.
However, Williams has shown enough that if he finishes with greater confidence and he can become part of an expanded run playbook with the option game we've been accustomed to seeing with Lamar Jackson and past starters, he could maintain his hold on the lead role.
Fantasy-Oriented Bottom Line
- Williams is still in a position to have the most to gain and the highest upside in this offense but has the second-lowest floor of the trio.
- Murray is the back with the highest floor but the lowest upside.
- Bell is the back with the greatest volatility of highs and lows.
- Trenton Cannon is Justice Hill with less experience in the offense but more special teams versatility. He's not a factor.
You'll also hear a narrative that the league is figuring out Lamar Jackson. There are 18 players on IR and the offensive line lacks the same personnel it had in the past and is nowhere as good (thus far) as it was during the 2019-2020 seasons.
The line play is making the ground game less efficient because the backs are forced to work harder for fewer yards due to penetration and resetting of the line of scrimmage in the defense's favor early in plays. The lack of experience the backs have with Lamar Jackson in the read game is a vital issue with this system. This is a scheme where running backs matter more than others and when the Ravens can't execute this phase of its run game due to late-summer injuries, it closes off a huge part of the playbook and the offense is limited to spreading the field and more predictable runs that don't leverage Jackson's legs as often or as creatively as it would with the starters it had.
This part of the run game may return as the season progresses, but it's going to be a work in progress and these issues will make the offense more predictable as a scheme and that hurts any passing game and any player running it. Expect Jackson's value to decline as a fantasy producer until the ground game can re-expand its playbook.
First Impressions of Bryan Edwards' MNF Performance
Edwards was M.I.A. for most of the game but showed up big late, nearly scoring the game-winner with an impressive back-shoulder play and run after the catch. If you watched the game with the Manning Brothers and Russell Wilson, then you heard them comment about Edwards not getting open for much of the contest and then somehow making plays in some of the most difficult scenarios one would expect for a wide receiver.
Overall, Edwards displayed things I've seen from him on South Carolina — things he has also done in Raiders practices:
- A wide catch radius and ability to high-point.
- Excellent body control.
- Strength as a runner.
- Efficient transitions downhill to earn enviable angles on the defensive pursuit when he carries the ball.
Considering how much the Raiders targeted Darren Waller, it may appear to most that Edwards' performance was a blip on the radar. However, Derek Carr has stated multiple times in two years that he feels the same strong rapport with Edwards as he had with Davante Adams when they played together at Fresno State.
You don't see quarterbacks repeatedly targeting receivers in unenviable coverage situations late in close games unless there's a trust and feel between the two. This is exactly what Carr exhibited with Edwards. Moreover, Carr waved off multiple play-calls from the coaching staff late in the game and audibled into something of his own conception, so the fact that Carr leaned on Edwards late is an encouraging sign for the receiver moving forward.
Still, you want to see if the Mannings saw the field correctly when talking about Edwards being M.I.A. After all, as great as they are at seeing the game, they are talking, entertaining, and analyzing football at the moment on television and that's different than reviewing it free of those constraints.
Edwards Upon Further Review: Don't Sleep on Him
What I discovered is the Manning's perception of Edwards not getting open wasn't accurate and that's understandable given the setting. My count probably isn't dead-on accurate, but I saw between 25-30 passing game opportunities where Edwards was on the field and in a route. I counted 27 but didn't double-check. Of those 27 routes, he was only the first read on 7 of them. On one of those plays, Carr took a sack and before Edwards' route could break open.
Most of Edwards' routes were not the first or second reads in Carr's progressions during the game, He was the second early on 3 of those 27 routes, catching two of those targets and working open in the end zone on a third but Carr took a sack before he could get the ball off on the scramble drill.
Edwards didn't become the focus of the passing game until late in the fourth quarter and the Mannings simply presumed Edwards wasn't getting open when in fact, he wasn't the primary or secondary option often enough to earn the ball.
The Raiders also spread the field with multiple receivers where it may have seemed Edwards was in the game an M.I.A. but those receivers often didn't include Edwards. John Gruden likes to use multiple tight ends and running backs and there were a lot of plays where Kenyan Drake, Foster Moreau, and Zay Jones comprised empty sets with Darren Waller, Josh Jacobs, and/or Henry Ruggs III.
Edwards was on the field enough to earn fantasy consideration in future weeks, but he wasn't made a priority target until Carr and company needed him late in the game. And when called upon, he came alive.
That's encouraging news and it makes Edwards a sneaky-good pickup in a waiver-wire atmosphere where the reactions to highlights and touches will provide mixed results. The weight of when and Carr relied on Edwards, the nature of Edwards' playmaking in the context of the game, and his productive training camp presents a good case for Edwards earning greater priority in this passing offense.
Of course, the presumption of rationale coaching is a risk, but that term is often based on casual viewing of highlights or making in-game analyses without further review. Considering that Edwards will likely be dropped this week or not a priority selection in many formats, he's a cheap add with a high ceiling.