Who can help you now, who is a luxury addition with the massive upside that's worth adding if you have the room, and who is worth a speculative addition based on the size of your rosters?
Whether you're using waiver wire funds, negotiating a trade, or making a preemptive addition of someone else's trash, this week's Gut Check shares his list of players worth updating the front and back-ends of your fantasy rosters.
Need: Dawson Knox
I mentioned Knox as an emerging option in last week's RSP Quick Game with Mark Schofield. He has some elite athletic traits that make him a favorable mismatch in theory. In practice, Knox needed more work at the craft of his position. This year, he attended "Tight End University," a network of former and current tight ends who study and practice the craft of the position during the offseason, including Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Robert Tonyan Jr Jr.
Knox told the media that he benefitted greatly from the knowledge these veterans shared and the work that he put in to apply the lessons. It's beginning to show.
Mark underscored Knox's value in last week's Roundtable:
"I'll join the chorus of those promoting Knox. Sometimes it is important to see what organizations do not do when it comes to roster construction. During an off-season that saw many clamoring for the Bills to address the tight end position, whether by trade or through the draft, Buffalo stayed pat with Knox. Now, some of that might be due to their reliance on 10 personnel and playing without a tight end, but this past week you saw concepts called for Knox, including his touchdown which came with him isolated to one side of the formation in that "Y-Iso" look. As I said a few weeks ago with Christian Kirk, pay attention to what offensive play-callers are dialing up, and when they are calling plays designed to go to specific players, it is worth noting."
I've found that a player's college tape can often foreshadow what they'll look like in the NFL once they've worked on the details of their game that need to be sharpened for the higher level of pro football. This sounds obvious, but there are many cases where a player's college tape shows what he'll never be able to do despite having success in the NCAA.
Knox's athletic traits and hand-eye coordination were evident at Ole Miss.
The fact that the Bills are putting him in single-coverage situations as a red-zone mismatch is a telling indicator of what they think about his progress as a weapon.
Knox also worked with a vision specialist over the summer to improve depth perception and tracking ability. When you consider the process behind the recent results as well as the strategic usage that Mark noted, Knox has a lot of promise as a sustainable fantasy starter this year and beyond in one of the best passing offenses in football. Expect him to deliver as one of the top 5-7 options at his position for the rest of the year.
Need: Dalton Schultz
Schultz doesn't offer the physical mismatch that Knox provides the Bills. However, he's a skilled blocker who has transitioned from his years at Stanford as a route scientist who ran patterns formulaically to an actual route craftsman who possesses a greater feel for selling routes.
The greatest selling point for Schultz this year is his fit with the Cowboys. The offensive line is healthier and playing better and Dak Prescott has always leaned on the tight and as his primary check-down option in addition to the offense using the tight end on schemed plays to generate quick-hitting constraint plays that counter the intermediate and deep passing game with Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb.
Schultz always had excellent short-area quickness and decent hands when he didn't get confused with how to use his hands when targets arrived at his beltline. As we're seeing, the schemed plays and underneath zones are leveraging Schultz's strengths and it's leading to consistent targets and yardage.
Need/Luxury: Alex Collins
If you have Chris Carson, Collins is a must-cuff option with Rashaad Penny on IR and Collins earning production whenever the Seahawks turn to him. Considering that Carson didn't play the second half of the 49ers' game and now we're hearing from Seattle practices that Carson has a neck injury, Collins is the Seahawks' best and most likely option to replace Carson if the issue costs Carson games.
Collins began his career in Seattle but fell victim to the draft capital mode of operation that's common in the NFL. Despite performing well in camp, the Seahawks stuck with its early-round picks and cut the runner, who wound up leading the Ravens in rushing when Baltimore dealt with injuries. Collins lost the Ravens' gig due in part to early-season fumbles and then a drug-related suspension.
As mentioned in this column and the Top 10 multiple times during the past year, Collins has performed well in spot duty with the Seahawks since returning to the Northwest in 2020. This spring, the Seahawks' beat writers put the public on notice that Collins looked too good to be expendable and it could make for some difficult personnel decisions later in the summer.
Collins's strengths as a runner have always been his footwork. He has quick, efficient feet that help him maintain a solid base to change direction in tight quarters and supporting productive contact balance while doing so. This is something many NFL personnel evaluators overlook while they are too busy obsessing over metrics.
Collins's feet are tied well to what his eyes see and how his mind processes information at the line of scrimmage. It's one thing to have the vision to see what's happening. Most NFL backs have good peripheral vision. The differentiating factor with starter-caliber backs is their understanding of how their footwork ties to the various blocking schemes that NFL teams use. This skill has to be ingrained for the back to execute at the highest level and Collins has obviously worked at his craft enough to deliver starter value when handed the ball.
Collins also catches the ball well as an outlet and occasional target with intermediate misdirection plays. He's no Austin Ekeler, but he's not going to constrain the Seahawks' offense when on the field. He earned a nice gain on a throwback from Russell Wilson this weekend.
If you have Carson, you've already been looking at Collins. If you don't, Collins is a luxury addition for the end of rosters where you want to continue updating your bench with players who could offer immediate and lasting value when there's a need for their contributions or they can give you a puncher's chance at production in any given week and you have to insert the player into your lineups as an emergency start.
Luxury-Speculative: Josh Gordon
I shared this in last week's Replacements about Gordon and it's worth repeating:
I told the Footballguys Staff on Tuesday that I don't think there’s more than one percent of the FF playing population who was around to remember how great Gordon was and would seriously entertain him as an FF commodity beyond a lottery ticket with some extreme personal hope attached to the guy. It’s simply a desire to believe in the exceptional circumstance that makes sports a reflection of life’s magic.
Nothing wrong with that. But that’s all it is despite the fact he was still a capable football player from every exposure I have seen of him between injury and suspension. Gordon is the rarest of rare talents. The stuff writers oversell with other players who were ordinary by comparison. It’s the desire to see that quality that appears magical manifest on the field.
If there’s a felt obligation to warn the small percentage of readers/listeners seriously needing direction about it, then that’s what you do.
I might add him in a league just for the desire to see the slightest possibility of feeling a little of the magical feeling that I once felt about sports on a regular basis.
Has Josh Gordon exhibited a pattern of self-destructive behavior that has made him a tease, at best, in fantasy (and real) football? Absolutely. But there's another pattern worth noting. Gordon continues earning chances with top teams since Cleveland gave up on him: New England, Seattle, and now, Kansas City.
These teams didn't need Gordon but they coveted the possibility of what he could provide their passing offenses. All three teams had elite quarterbacks as well. It took four weeks for Le'Veon Bell to see the active roster in Baltimore despite the Ravens starting two past-their-prime cast-offs and a former UDFA. It took Gordon one week to see the active roster despite the Chiefs having two All-Pros in its passing game.
This tells you that Gordon is in tremendous shape and the impression he's made in practices had to be strong enough that the Chiefs know he can deliver if called upon.
At least in theory, because everything is "in theory" with Gordon when considering his performance potential. If you don't take Gordon because of the odds he has another relapse, it's the only reason — and a great reason — you need to stay away. Most of you should stay away. However, if you try to justify your decision with him being past his prime or his most recent production, you're box-score scouting rather than actually watching what he did in games. I've detailed the film for years here, don't give a dumb reason for a good decision to refrain from Gordon.
That said, if you make the "dumb decision" to add him, the film gives you good reason to take the calculated long shot.
Speculative: Khalil Herbert
Sometimes we need players who can shore up a temporary hole in our lineups. While trades and priority free-agent additions with your allotted budget will fill that hole best, it's always wise to invest in low-cost hedges if you have the room to do so. This doesn't mean you should dump starter talents to make room, but if you have players you know you won't use without multiple injuries hitting your squad, then there's nothing with churning the back-end of your roster for a speculative buy on a player's services who isn't a known name but is one injury away from significant use.
In a fit of sanity during the past week where Chicago retooled its offensive scheme and play-calling, Justin Fields was named the permanent starter in Chicago today. Despite losing emerging stud running back David Montgomery for at least a month, this is good news for the Bears' ground game.
Chicago will continue employing heavy run sets with multiple tight ends and full backs as well as incorporate more zone-read and option looks into its game plan that will open rushing lanes for its running backs. Damien Williams is the starter and an obvious addition for those in immediate need of a back. It also elevates Herbert as the No.2 back on the roster and he earned playing time last week.
Herbert has a low center of gravity and he's a player I described as a "Dalvin Cook Starter Kit" in terms of his style of running. He bends around pursuit angles of defenders at a good clip of speed and when in the open field, he can stretch a secondary to its limits. Herbert broke a lot of tackles at Virginia Tech last year after toiling in a committee with kick returner Pooka Williams at Kansas.
Herbert is one unfortunate play away from earning significant time as either a short-term starter or larger contributor to the Bears' offense. If Herbert performs well during the next two weeks, you can consider him worth keeping for the next 3-4 more as your end-of-roster speculative option. If he struggles, it's more likely the Bears will sign a free agent if Williams gets hurt. Even so, Herbert will still earn reps because he knows the offense.