Dominate Your League
A Footballguys Premium Subscription will give you the edge with lineup and waiver wire advice tailored to your league.
Save Time, Win More with Footballguys.Join Now
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 an unsustainable 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 1'S CLIFF'S NOTES
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points.
- Jameis Winston's five-touchdown performance against the Packers revealed substantive changes within his game that could have a lasting fantasy impact.
- There's a lot of speculation surrounding Trey Sermon's healthy scratch in Week 1. While I broach this topic, if you can't keep Sermon on a shallow roster, I show you why Elijah Mitchell has the potential to deliver satisfactory fantasy starter production as a back in the style of Raheem Mostert, if not matching Mostert's refined skills.
- D'Andre Swift or Jamaal Williams? Which Lions back is the better to have on your roster? While the initial data looks most promising for Swift, the contextual perspective of the film has this as a 50-50 split with maybe the slightest edge to Williams.
- Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Ja'Marr Chase delivered Week 1 performances that reinforced two sets of training camp observations and obliterated another. All three have no worse than flex value in four-receiver lineups.
- The Tampa Bay Stack, prominently featuring a trio of NFL geriatrics — Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski — appear poised to prove that the earth isn't flat and the age cliff is a misunderstood construct.
- Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, a pair of former Alabama starting quarterbacks, began their division rivalry in New England on Sunday. Tagovailoa won the game, but only because Jones' teammate let him down. Neither may offer consistent fantasy starter production this month, but neither are far away from reaching that status.
- Seattle unveiled a new offense modeled after the Rams and there's reason to believe that fantasy GMs may not have had to go "either/or" with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf.
- It's fitting that Patrick Mahomes II would open the season with the throw of the week but it's entirely possible that Kyler Murray successfully topped Mahomes.
- Week 1 is always a notebook chock-full of items. I provide a list of brief insights about the following players
- Seahawks edge rusher Darrell Taylor.
- Guard Quentin Nelson and the Colts' ground game
- Rookie receiver Michael Strachan's promising debut.
- Running back Damien Harris' likelihood of a second chance as the featured back in New England.
- Containing all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald
- The intrigue of second-year receiver Quintez Cephus.
- Tampa Bay's horrifying pressure package that you need a piece of.
- Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt destroyed the usually fine trench work of the Tennessee Titans offensive line.
- Rookie LB Micah Parsons earned a hearty welcome to the NFL from Tom Brady.
- Chris Godwin and Damien Harris tried too hard to become heroes.
For those of you who wish to learn the why's, the details are below.
1. There's A Substantive Foundation to Jameis Winston's Five-Touchdown Day
Since Drew Brees retired, I've been a Winston skeptic. Winston has always been known as an intelligent quarterback with a strong work ethic. He has also been a foolish game manager with sloppy technical skills.
While I had no doubt that Winston was working hard, there were no amount of 1980's-style training sequences you could have shown me with Jay Glazer that would convince me Winston was working on the correct things. Good thing Winston and Brees hit it off last year and head coach Sean Payton is a former quarterback because judging from Winston's performance against the Packers, Winston addressed the root cause of many of his issues: his dropback footwork.
A quarterback's feet are a reflection of how he's reacting to things around him. Joe Montana had smooth, quiet, and fluid feet and his decisions were equally refined with an intuitive flair. Peyton Manning had happy feet, but not in the negative way most regard this term. Manning's footwork was a reflection of the impatience he felt as a hyper-aware and hyper-aggressive field general, who saw the answers pre-snap and could barely wait to execute the throw.
At Florida State and Tampa Bay, Winston's footwork lagged behind his upper body. His eyes saw solutions, but he had not worked on his technique enough for his body to be in sync with his mind. A widely-held myth believed to this day is that most college and NFL coaches develop players when it's uncommon for coaches to teach anything more than the offensive scheme and game plan.
In recent years, many of the best prospects have been taking the equivalent of private lessons with position trainers since middle school. These lessons focus on the physical techniques of the position. One of the fundamental techniques for quarterbacking is drop-back footwork.
Drops set the tone for a quarterback's decision-making in a variety of ways. The process must have an efficient tempo or the quarterback's timing will not match the timing of his routes. Quarterbacks also need to develop good spacing with their drop footwork or they end the drop in a balanced position required for a quick and accurate throw. Even if they drop fast if their spacing isn't effective, they'll still end up taking too much time to set up into a throwing position.
Add pressure to the mix, and sloppy drop footwork can set the foundation for a variety of quarterbacking ills: inconsistent timing with route breaks, poor placement of the football, difficulty maneuvering the pocket efficiently against manageable pressure, and not seeing coverage clearly and accurately.
Winston had all of these issues as a Buccaneer and Seminole. But on Sunday as a Saint, Winston looked like a new quarterback when focusing solely (no pun intended) on this technical foundation of his game.
Good five step drop from Winston pic.twitter.com/RwQnEQdWrP— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
If you’re a young QB and a coach has told you that you need to work on your drops, watch TB vs NO Winston. Those first 3-5 steps make him a different player. pic.twitter.com/abqAjTwcFd— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
Proper footwork gives a passer additional opportunities to see the field quickly and clearly. Because his feet are well-trained, he handles contingency situations with greater clarity. Winston was a turnover machine even as a runner when in Tampa Bay. While it's reasonable to expect Winston have experiences lapses that lead to poor footwork, foolish moments, and turnovers, the marked difference in his footwork extended to the way he broke the pocket as a runner as well as his management of the game.
This is not the worst of Tampa Winston. Wise management here. pic.twitter.com/1Rk7OsXqKq— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
The Packers wilted last year in the heat of early September. They are not a hot-weather team. Still, Winston's massive results had the underpinnings of strong process improvement and those results came without Michael Thomas, Jared Cook, or Latavius Murray.
The wisest conclusion is that Winston has made substantive improvement as a quarterback and while he won't play teams every week that performs as poorly as the Packers, counting on Winston as a fantasy starter despite his limited weapons in the passing game is now a legitimate consideration.
2. San Francisco's RB Soap Opera: What to Do About It?
The 49ers made Trey Sermon a healthy scratch yesterday, shocking just about everyone in the fantasy football universe. The Sporting News surmised that with Brandon Aiyuk potentially dinged, return specialist Richie James out, and the 49ers set to use Trey Lance, the team opted to roll with more active receivers and stick with Mostert and the two reserve backs, Elijah Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty, who played on special teams.
Kyle Shanahan told the Athletic's Dave Lombard that Mitchell and Hasty outperformed Sermon during the preseason and training camp and were easily ahead of the player they traded up to select in the third round. This would make sense if most of the 49ers media didn't report throughout OTAs and training camp that Sermon routinely split starter reps with Mostert and that Mitchell and Hasty weren't portrayed as options competing for the final spots on the depth chart.
The Athletic's Matt Barrows substantiated the same thought last night about Sermon as the firm No.2 to Mostert as the history behind the new report that "Shanahan said there was no firm hierarchy among the running backs. And [speculated] it may be that Mitchell and Hasty, who both have big roles on special teams, gave the 49ers more versatility."
With conflicting reports, this is why the rumor circulating around social media that Sermon (and Aiyuk) missed curfew and wound up in Shanahan's doghouse has life. NBC's Matt Maiocco reports that Aiyuk's performance trailed off significantly during training camp and is still learning how to behave like a professional and Shanahan's reduction of targets and snaps was a message to Aiyuk and the receiving corps.
Any of these explanations could be true or none of them could be the reason for Sermon's inactivity. Unfortunately, we don't know at the moment I'm writing this article. Considering that the 49ers were always targeting Trey Lance and let the media run with the idea that they traded up for Mac Jones, it's likely that the public knows very little about what's happening behind the scenes.
Football fans and media also exhibit a lot of reactionary behavior after Week 1.
Let's take a recent trip down memory lane:
- At this time last year, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was about to become an All-Pro performer who would deliver elite production. That didn't happen.
- Benny Snell had "obviously" outplayed James Conner and would become the permanent starter in Pittsburgh. Obviously.
- Oh, and remember when Nick Chubb was playing special teams three years ago in Week 1 and as part of the coverage team, he let a punt touch him that led to a turnover? Where are Duke Johnson Jr and Carlos Hyde, now?
Throw Mostert's knee injury into the equation — chipped cartilage which will cost him eight weeks — and this entire scenario is a mess for fantasy prognostication.
Continue reading this article with a Season Long Pro subscription.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, ESPN