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.
- DAndre 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 JaMarr 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.
- This week's Fresh Fish:
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.
My advice: Keep Trey Sermon unless you're in a shallow league and injuries have decimated your running back roster. If your backs simply underperformed in Week 1, consider dropping a receiver, a tight end, or second defense to add 1-2 backs from the waiver wire without dropping Sermon or Mostert. After all, these are more liquid positions in the fantasy market and easier to acquire players of value.
This may seem basic to many of you, but when answering these types of questions and asking for lineup details, I often learn that GMs never considered the above options.
If your waivers don't occur until Wednesday, you'll have time to learn the outcome of Mostert's MRI, which could change the length of Mitchell and Hasty's tenure as contributors. If you must choose between Sermon and Mitchell then the safest thing to do is to roll with Mitchell, the player who has seen the field and produced. However, the presence of Hasty still complicates the matter.
If you must act, then don't think about any of the information above. It's all narrative and speculation and no one truly knows what's the real reason for Sermon's benching and if that will change as soon as Week 2.
If you have the luxury to wait, I highly recommend that you do. While the risk is that Sermon becomes worthless to you in re-draft this year, the potential reward of having a mid-round selection pay off handsomely is worth the downside. The 49ers praised Sermon's progress for most of the summer, so this isn't a Dante Pettis scenario.
For now, the best thing you can do is learn about Mitchell and Hasty.
Mitchell, whose performance was good enough to characterize him stylistically as a "Mostert clone," although lacking the same refinement. Mitchell earned the excellent creases we've seen most 49ers backs earn in recent years who emerged prior to injuries derailing each of their extended shots to remain the bell cow.
To Mitchell's credit, he hit the creases with conviction, showed the burst to get deep into the opening early, and he finished with his pads low and active legs to plow through arm tackles.
Mitchell gives he 49ers a back in the style of Mostert although not necessarily the same level of refinement pic.twitter.com/ccYf3g6CPs— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
While Mitchell either slipped or had to slow down a little more to execute cutbacks in the zone game, the size of the creases that the 49ers open in the run game makes Mitchell's refinement less important at this point.
I'm a fan of Hasty, a good receiver with excellent stop-start movement, who impressed the 49ers last year before getting hurt.
The easiest way to visualize the 49ers backfield is to think back to Shanahan's years with the Atlanta Falcons and picture Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Hasty and Sermon are in the style of Freeman — skilled zone runners with excellent stop-start footwork and agility to manipulate creases and finish strong without a big runway. Mostert and Mitchell as Coleman-like in style. Both hit the crease fast and are ideal for the gap blocking, wide zone, and toss plays.
Don't think of the outcomes for Freeman or Coleman as a point of comparison. Freeman was a far more refined runner than Coleman at the time and it limited Atlanta's expectations for Coleman. The 49ers line is also better, which affords San Francisco the luxury of leaning on straight-line runners with less creativity.
Based on talent, Sermon has the most promise long-term. Short-term, Mostert is clearly the guy when healthy and Mitchell is the best bet to add to your roster as a temporary solution. Hasty is a cheaper choice who has sneaky value because his footwork and receiving skills make him a better red-zone option while Mostert and Sermon are inactive. Hasty might have more versatility than Mitchell, but Mitchell's size and long speed fit the offense well.
- Keep Mostert if in a league with a least 20 roster spots. Otherwise, if you lack great depth, let him go.
- Sermon's dynasty value doesn't change. Unless you have less than 16 roster spots and injuries at running back, keep Sermon in re-draft.
- If you have the space (any size format) add Mitchell as the priority back off the waiver wire due to the talent of the 49ers offensive line.
- Make Hasty your consolation whose range of ceiling-floor has the most volatility due to role.
3. The Film And Data Behind the Question of "Dandre Swift or Jamaal Williams?"
PFF staffer Dwain McFarland is an RSP alum and frequent guest on my podcasts. Dwain does excellent work with player utilization. Based on the opener against the 49ers, Swift had a promising utilization in the passing game that, if holds up throughout the season, bodes well for Swift as an elite PPR performer:
D'Andre Swift was in a route on 68% of the Lions' passing plays today. That is Kamara-esque.— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) September 12, 2021
PPR finishes for backs between 60% and 70% routes and at least 40% of attempts (>50% today) since 2011:
16, 3, 4, 5, 9, 1, 3, 5, 1, 2, 3, 9, 3, 1
Huge season coming.#SFvsDET
Obviously, this appears promising. At the same time, Williams was a near-equal part of the game plan and the context of the production suggests that this backfield will remain an even split between the two that limits both player's fantasy ceilings to RB2 territory.
Williams earned 17 touches to Swift's 19, each tallying 8 receptions. Swift caught 8 of 11 targets and dropped a pinpoint pass. Williams caught 8 of 9 targets and couldn't secure a low-and-away target requiring him to layout fully.
Although Swift earned more yards per catch than Williams, 43 of his 65 receiving yards came on one catch with a huge swath of space to operate.
Here’s what Swift brings that Williams may not. Needs a big runway but when he gets it, he can break it and make an efficient move pic.twitter.com/yboq8eSu47— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
Williams did more with less as a receiver, routinely creating yardage that Swift could not in close quarters.
What Swift doesn’t bring that Williams does. This is a 50/50 scenario pic.twitter.com/7EVuCiLM32— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 13, 2021
Even when looking at the nature of the targets, both receivers earned targets throughout the game and in the same quarters, same game-script scenarios dictated by the scoreboard, and even the same drives. On the ground, Swift earned attempts on plays that relied on his finesse as a cutback runner or gave him a big runway like a draw play. Williams was the lead back when the Lions attacked downhill, the type of plays where Detroit appeared at its strongest.
Additionally, Williams still looked like the best pass protector of the two backs. Although the in-route percentages may ultimately favor Swift if the game scenarios take Detroit out of its game plan to run the ball, the 49ers were up 38-10 late in the third quarter and Williams was still an equal part of the game plan. Perhaps this has to do with easing Swift back into the lineup after his groin injury. However, it's not consistent with what the team said about Williams all summer.
If you need a back and Williams is on the waiver wire, he may have a lower ceiling than hitting the lottery on one of the 49ers' backs, but his floor appears much higher, especially with only one back to contend with in Swift.
4. The Tampa Stack: The Age Cliff Is A Flawed Construct
Jameis Winston had more touchdowns and Dak Prescott had more yardage, but those were the only two passers who topped Tom Brady in Week 1. You know, that old guy who, along with Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, fell off the fantasy flat-earther's age cliff and dragons swallowed them whole.
No, age is a concern for any player. However, we need to approach age on a player-by-player basis or risk selecting ourselves out of fantasy contention as the height/weight wide receiver evaluators did years ago.
Brady's 379-yard, 4-touchdown, 2-interception evening was better than even the stat-line. Leonard Fournette tipped a perfectly catchable target that lead to one of Brady's interceptions and then the second turnover was an end-of-the-half heave for the red zone. If Chris Godwin holds onto the ball in the fourth quarter (see Fresh Fish), while fighting his way towards the goal line, Brady might have had five scores.
This wasn't a dink-and-dunk affair, either. Brady, who played on a knee injury for much of last year displayed greater velocity with his perimeter targets now that he can drive the ball with his cleats in the ground. Only Jared Goff and Kyler Murray matched Brady's six completions of at least 20 yards.
Brady was also the only starting quarterback who didn't take a sack in Week 1. Of course, most fantasy GMs saw Brady as a legitimate starter in every format. That same couldn't be said about Brown and Gronkowski until they spanked Dallas's defense for a combined total of 13 catches, 211 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Brown had 3 receptions of at least 20 yards and 1 of over 40 yards while Gronkowski had 2 of at least 20 yards.
Brown, showed off his wheels, now that he finally got knee surgery that Bruce Arians said Brown needed for the past few years.
The hope is Antonio continues to be Antonio & not AB off the field & find life success..so he can be the dynamic WR he was w/Pitt. Tonight he has shown signs of that. The subtleties of his skill. Changing gears. Slow cooking. Stride changes to create space pic.twitter.com/RCuN4pGMiH— ð—–ð—¼ð—®ð—°ð—µ ð—¥ð—¼ð˜€ð˜€ ð—–ð—¼ð—¼ð—½ð—²ð—¿ (@GorillaMyscles) September 10, 2021
Whether it was zone or man-to-man Gronkowski routinely made plays in tight windows, demonstrating his feel for passing lanes and reliability against contact.
Exhibit B with Gronkowski and TE play. pic.twitter.com/d6U1rWqWR8— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 10, 2021
Whether it's a COVID-impacted season that limits practice time, joining a new team during the COVID restrictions and being unable to fully learn the scheme, or dealing with mental health issues that had legal consequences, it's easy to conflate a player's age with unrelated issues.
Gronkowski may be a little slower but as mentioned in the video above, we overrated athletic ability with older tight ends, who tend to compensate with great craft and quickness. Based on what I've seen, none of these stars have lost enough to be concerned about them as anything worse than weekly fantasy starters. All three still have elite upside.
5. Tua Tagovailoa vs. Mac Jones: A 'Bama QB Divisional Rivalry with Fantasy Upside in '21
Considering that Tagovailoa's rookie year occurred during the height of the COVID pandemic and he was rehabbing a difficult injury upon entering the NFL, you could bill the Dolphins-Patriots game as a matchup between a pair of rookie quarterbacks from Alabama. This is especially true if you view the game from the perspective of a scout because NFL personnel evaluators generally believe it takes 18-24 games to determine a young passer's progression as a pro-caliber talent.
So far, both Tagovailoa and Jones show promise. Tagovailoa won the game, but one could make a good argument that Jones won the battle. I'll show more of Tagovailoa's game courtesy of Jaylen Waddle's debut (below) but one of the plays that highlight his potential as a passer is this third-down beauty to DeVante Parker.
However, one of many reasons that Jones was more productive and looks like the more promising of the two is decision-making. Tagovailoa is the better athlete, but he must mature with how he uses this resource at his disposal. While I've seen some people say this target below was intended for a Dolphins' receiver when I believe it's a clear throwaway attempt, the fact that Tagovailoa paints himself into this corner is the bigger problem.
As mentioned, we'll see how Waddle opens up this offense for Tagovailoa and more positives with the quarterback's game in a moment. Even after viewing those moments below, Jones' debut illustrates why Waddle told the media before the NFL Draft that he preferred to work with Jones.
Even if you believe this was Waddle supporting his current starter, who had more to lose pre-draft than Tua post-draft, the film indicates why there's some substance to Waddle's answer. Jones, who approached 300 yards passing in his pro debut and was a few plays away from a come-from-behind victory before Damien Harris fumbled the game away, has impressed veterans all summer with his preparation and management.
One of the things that stuck out to me from yesterday's broadcast and struck me as something we would have expected from a young Peyton Manning was the story that Jones was learning both the Patriots' offensive and defensive playbooks at the same time. This may be more common than I'm aware, but I've never heard this about a rookie quarterback.
Jones decided to study the team's defensive playbook because it would give him additional knowledge of what to expect from NFL defenses. Considering the versatility of Bill Belichick's defensive game plans over the years, it's reasonable to believe that Jones gained a lot from this exercise.
His decision-making on Sunday, especially on third down and under pressure, shows the same caliber of prospect I saw when I filtered similar situations at Alabama for a review of Jones on YouTube with Mark Schofield.
The Patriots are running a version of the offense that resembles the early days of Tom Brady with Corey Dillon in the backfield, so don't expect recording-breaking rookie numbers for Jones. At the same time, the NFL still requires a heavier amount of passing that will make Jones a capable fantasy QB2 with weeks of QB1 upside. I'm happy I have him on dynasty squads and I expect many of you will be as well.
Tagovailoa may not be as promising of a field general on film, but we've seen quarterbacks with his profile mature past their high-risk growing pains and become dynamic leaders and producers in the league. While he'll continue to be a source of debate until this happens with greater certainty, I'm still optimistic that Tagovailoa is in store for a solid year as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 in fantasy leagues.
Waddle is a big reason why.
6. JAYLEN WADDLE, JAMAAR CHASE, AND DEVONTA SMITH: 2021 EXPECTATIONS
My No.2 receiver in this year's Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Waddle wasn't far from being the top option. Many expected Waddle to be a clone of Henry Ruggs, who entered the league as a dynamic speedster with some skill at the catch-point and in the open field but lacking the technical skill to run underneath routes that would make him an instant primary threat.
Waddle enters the league a far better route runner in this aspect of the game and combined with his superior speed and physicality, he's my leading candidate to be the top rookie producer among the 2021 NFL Draft class of receivers. You've probably seen this well-thrown slot fade from Tagovailoa to Waddle on the weekly highlight reel, but it's a great display of the rapport these two bring to the NFL that makes them a dangerous combo immediately.
While a fine play, I've seen more impressive grabs from Waddle in situations like the above but with the degree of difficulty ratcheted higher. What I wanted to see this week was his work with the ball in his hand. Would the underrated physicality I saw at Alabama translate?
I'm pleased to report it does.
The underpinnings for Waddle's dynamic skills are his breath-taking acceleration and ability to maintain his speed as he changes direction as a route runner and ball carrier. It's also his understanding of something that few rookie receivers grasp this early: When you catch the ball, transition downhill immediately. The faster, a receiver can get downhill, the more pressure he places on the pursuit and the more efficient he can be at gaining yardage.
Young receivers are used to getting away with inefficient playground moves even in the SEC and ACC because of the difference in knowledge, technique, and athletic ability between the highest levels of college football and the NFL. Waddle understands how to transition and makes him just as effective as a short-range receiver as he is a deep threat. Everything I've shared is why the training camp expectation that Waddle is another overrated Henry Ruggs is simply false.
Nifty half motion from Waddle on that TD pic.twitter.com/r58c0DfYm8— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) September 12, 2021
With Parker playing opposite him, his rapport with Tagovailoa, and the fantasy football Cicada (Will Fuller) likely to make an impactful (but likely brief) appearance one day, Waddle is in a position to become a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. A 4-catch, 61-yard afternoon with a touchdown may not seem fantastic, but this was against a good Patriots defense and we'll see this Crimson Tide tandem open things up against less prepared units this year.
Speaking of Alabama receivers, Smith also had a strong afternoon. The big concern with Smith was his lack of physicality. He's a small and thin receiver who struggled against patient and physical man-to-man defenders as a collegian. Although he had a good day against an overwhelmed Atlanta defense, that's perception is not going away. In fact, the way the Eagles schemed Smith, you can see they are playing to his strengths and away from his weaknesses.
You can tell a lot about an offense on third down, specifically on third-and-long (CC: @MitchSchwartz71)— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) September 13, 2021
Outstanding execution from all 11 #Eagles here on this completion from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith #FlyEaglesFly
Tune into #SFvsPHI | Sep. 19th at 1:00 PM on FOX pic.twitter.com/z2ov4rTGc5
As my buddy, NFL.com analyst Chad Reuter said yesterday, when you have a receiver with Smith's profile, you win with him by rubbing the $@#^ out of the defense.
Wrapping up our breakdowns of the #Eagles win over Atlanta yesterday— Fran Duffy (@EaglesXOs) September 13, 2021
While you all wait for the finished product, check out my look at DeVonta Smith's TD against the #Falcons
There's a LOT to like about this play #FlyEaglesFly
WATCH: https://t.co/ozigH2DXqu pic.twitter.com/z6Gnr5IBYE
It's alright that Smith has a notable flaw. As I state below about D.K. Metcalf, with the exception of Jim Brown, no player is perfect. The Eagles are using him well as a free-access receiver as he acclimates to the NFL game. He may have more difficulty getting open against man-to-man coverage this year and I expect opponents to find ways to put the clamps on more often, which will limit his ceiling compared to Waddle and Chase, but there's nothing wrong with a rookie year of 700-800 yards receiving and 4-6 touchdowns.
Chase has had the biggest rollercoaster of a rookie season, thus far. After a year off from football, Chase and an underwhelming camp and preseason for much of August. There were reports that he couldn't separate from coverage and he was dropping the ball daily.
College football and the NFL allow media to attend most practices. This opens plays to public critique and as a result, makes practice sessions more of a performance than the actual purpose of the event. At its core, practice is the processing of working on things that one cannot execute until one can.
However, once there's a public audience, these events become a performance and performers can behave differently. There's also not a lot of technical instruction on positional technique in NFL and college practices. The idea that young players get "coached-up" remains one of the most pervasive myths among the public. Coaches teach to scheme and game plan but players who succeed in the league create their own practice routines before and after NFL practices and hire private trainers to develop these massively important skills.
When a player like Chase has rust from taking a year off and then jumps a level in competition, it's not surprising that the public would need to be patient with his work during practices. However, the prostitution of practice in the upper echelons of the game generates a reactive public atmosphere that leads to panic in fantasy football. And that panic is legitimate because the player also sees the reaction from his audience and feels additional pressure. It can create a downward spiral for a player or it can lead the young man to find solutions quicker. It's difficult to predict.
As an analyst, my recommendation has been to lean on my evaluation and let his track record of development play out in the NFL. After his debut against a Minnesota defense — a secondary I have doubts about but is still a massive bump from Chase's opposition in the SEC — I think we can all relax a bit.
But he dropped the ball in rehearsals and practice.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 12, 2021
Practice is about doing things you can't do until you can do them.
But unfortunately, the NFL has made practice more of performance with media attending. https://t.co/gdqM7cCvJn
before there was 4th and 1, there was 3rd and 16. this is vintage lsu ja'marr chase. soft hands, decreasing his target area to evade tacklers, finishing with force.— John Sheeran (@John__Sheeran) September 13, 2021
looks like it should've been at least 4th and inches. pic.twitter.com/q2RmMyYirB
Ja’Marr Chase ðŸ”¥ CATCH ðŸ”¥— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 12, 2021
Rookies often have good and bad weeks, so I expect Chase to have his ups and downs, but as one of the best receivers I've evaluated, what he did this weekend is more indicative of my expectations prior to August. Chase and Waddle are the class of this strong group of rookie receivers. Both should deliver no worse than weekly flex production with a strong shot of WR2-WR3 value throughout the year.
7. Tyler Lockett Or And D.K. Metcalf: The Early Returns Show Seattle Will Support Both
This isn't earth-shattering information. Lockett and Metcalf were both fantasy starters in last year's offense that generated a lot of criticism after teams played a lot of two-high safeties and stifled the imagination and explosiveness of the scheme. This year's iteration of the Seahawks offense has promising answers thus far.
After Metcalf's emergence as a top producer last year, the easy thing to expect from opposing defenses is coverage rolling over to Metcalf's side in the vertical game and giving the Seahawks easier targets downfield to Tyler Lockett.
Last year, the Seahawks lacked the firepower to stretch the field at more than two receiver positions. With Dee Eskridge and Gerald Everett, Seattle can stretch defenses in multiple ways while moving Lockett and Metcalf into ideal spots for mismatches.
This touchdown pass to Lockett is a great exhibit of tracking the football. It's also a terrific display of pre-snap and post-snap work from Russell Wilson in terms of diagnosis, anticipation, and pass placement.
What makes Russell Wilson great? Yes, terrified c catch by Lockett but this pre-/post-snap work and placement decisions well before Lockett is open by Russ is elite #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/JRHL61hzu7— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 12, 2021
For the first half of the game, Metcalf had little production. However, Seattle illustrated that it had a plan for getting Metcalf involved without asking him to execute hard breaks in the shallow zones.
Nice example of coaches creating routes a WR with below average bend can execute underneath DK Metcalf—again, fine player but no player is perfect (except Jim Brown) and this is one way teams compensate pic.twitter.com/5LcAbNDv4M— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 12, 2021
This touchdown pass to Gerald Everett is also a product of the Seahawks using other receivers to create space for bigger options who can catch an run but aren't as skill as stop-start athletes.
QBs see the field between the OL, not over it. Russ Wilson TD2 pic.twitter.com/i3nRKQcexw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 12, 2021
It's easily a play we could see with Metcalf as the target in future weeks. However, after establishing Everett as an underneath threat, Seattle then used Everett and Will Dissly to stretch the right side of the Colts defense vertically and horizontally, which opened the backside for a touchdown pass to Metcalf.
The result of this scheme and sound execution? Russell Wilson earned 254 yards and 4 scores with only five uncaught targets and Chris Carson earned 91 rushing yards on 16 carries. While I still believe Lockett will be the beneficiary of the opponent's compensation for the threat Metcalf generated last year and lead this receiving corps, I expect Metcalf to finish a close second in receiving production on the team.
Wilson's fantasy totals by year's end may not be much different from last year (top 6-7 at the position, but the weekly consistency should be a lot better.
8. Patrick Mahomes II Had the Throw of the Week Until Kyler Murray said, "Hold My Beer..."
The Cleveland Browns took the Chiefs into the fourth quarter in Kansas City this weekend thanks to a productive ground game, efficient passing, and a pass rush and coverage that forced Mahomes to find secondary targets not named Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill at key moments during failed drives.
However, it's tough to keep Mahomes in check if the offensive line isn't a complete disaster, and this deep shot on the move to throw open Hill was one of the most difficult and exciting plays I saw this week.
Mahomes throws open Hill like it’s nothing… pic.twitter.com/iy9oKlQSr9— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 12, 2021
Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce still figure out ways to terrorize most defenses and earn production that makes fantasy GMs happy. My Footballguys IDP Staff Dynasty squad has this Mahomes-Kelce-HIll stack and even when I don't roll with Mahomes (I started Brady), two out of three will do.
As much as Mahomes makes the fantastical appear commonplace, Kyler Murray's work against the Titans had a pair of "Hold My Beer..." moments.
While we saw a little more shifting in the Cardinals offense down the stretch of 2020 and last week, Kliff Kingsbury's scheme seems far more predictable than expected when he arrived in the NFL. Murray's skills have propped up this system more necessary. If Arizona can figure out how to create quandaries in opposing secondaries without the threat of Murray's freelancing, this unit will be truly elite and not just appear that way on TV.
9. Two-Minute Drill
Here are some quick-hitting thoughts from Week 1 with links to additional video analysis:
- IDP Alert: Seahawks edge defender Darrell Taylor looks like the player I saw with the Tennesse Volunteers. He's a big-play acquisition.
- Rookie receiver Michael Strachan didn't do a lot this week, but he converted on two difficult third-down catches. That's a confidence booster for him and Carson Wentz. Expect more moving forward.
- Colts guard Quentin Nelson looked healthy and played well enough that you should have full confidence in the Colts' ground game.
- There's concern about Damien Harris losing playing time due to his fourth-quarter fumble, but when has anyone accurately predicted the Patriots' ground game? Oh, that's right, me 4-5 years ago when it was a full-blown rotation. Although that was good luck from the past, I'll use it as my bully pulpit to say that Belichick will give Harris another shot this week as the featured back. Harris played well for most of the game.
- I'm surprised more teams haven't used Wham on Aaron Donald. Well, they have and with mixed success. It's not a magic pill but it can still be effective at moments.
- Quintez Cephus remains an intriguing option to me. His lack of top speed gives NFL personnel people and media that ape them a sour face, but he's great at trust-targets in tight coverage. I think he may push his way into the starting lineup on a permanent basis if he can generate greater consistency.
- IDP Alert-Part II: Tampa Bay's defensive pressure package with Jason Piere Paul manning the middle, linebackers LaVonte David and Devin White sugaring the A or B Gaps, and Shaq Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka bookending the tackles is one of the scariest looks you'll see this year. Dallas's offensive line did a great job handling it and the Bucs still managed intense pressure. Expect a lot more success against future opponents and you better get yourself a piece of this combination in big-play IDP leagues.
As always, you'll find a lot more on Twitter (@mattwaldman). I'm heavy on the analysis, lighter on the takes than the average Twitter handle.
10. Fresh Fish: Week 1
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for the weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd loving nothing more than our players to 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: Tennesse's offensive line.
The Arizona Cardinals stuffed the run and sacked Ryan Tannehill five times en route to a blowout of the Titans. With Taylor Lewan still looking stiff in his season debut after returning from an ACL tear, this depiction of Chandler Jones' five-sack, four-TFL (tackle for loss) day looks accurate:
And it wasn't just Jones who had dominant moments along the Cardinals' line
Throw in head coach Mike Vrabel, echoing Arthur Blank's post-trade sentiments about Julio Jones' flagging effort after this weekend's game and it's a rough start for Nashville.
- Micah Parsons: The Buccaneers picked on the rookie linebacker all night. Parsons is known for his blitzing but appeared lost numerous times in coverage.
- Dallas' second level:It wasn't just Parsons. The only linebacker corps I'd rather face with my fantasy assets might be...
- Atlanta's linebackers: Someone dial-up an amber alert because former LB Jessie Tuggle was last seen with this defense in the late 1980s driving out of Fulton County.
- Chris Godwin and Damien Harris: Both made one extra effort too many and lost the football late.
Thanks again for all of your feedback on this column. Good luck next week and may your bold call come true.