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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 2'S CLIFF'S NOTES
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points.
- Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense made adjustments after numerous late-August injuries and an awful performance against the Raiders to beat the Chiefs in a thriller and regain the confidence of fantasy GMs. Ty'Son Williams remains a hold for your teams.
- Julio Jones put Week 1's debacle behind him with an inspired performance against the Seattle Seahawks and we can thank Mike Vrabel for setting firm boundaries that helped this team rebound. Jones remains a top option as long as he can remain on the field. All signs were positive that he will.
- Cooper Kupp has the best connection with Matt Stafford of the Rams receivers and Van Jefferson remains a player to watch, but don't dump Robert Woods.
- Cordarrelle Patterson had a performance against the Buccaneers that put the fantasy world on notice. I show why Patterson produced and whether it will continue for him in Atlanta.
- Last week, I said not to sleep on Bryan Edwards. Las Vegas' second-year receiver had the stat-line equivalent of a 40-degree day, but there were mitigating factors beyond the box score that point to an emerging option worth a roster spot in most leagues. On the other hand, Derek Carr is an emerging fantasy force this year.
- Young Runner Roundup: Antonio Gibson and Najee Harris are excellent talents with weekly fantasy value but their upsides were largely overstated for 2021.
- IDP Alert: Grant Delpit was my pick as the best player in the 2020 NFL Draft. His pro debut against the Texans delivered several examples as to why Delpit can still make good on that promise.
- Terry McLauren is an exceptional player — and it includes hands techniques that rarely lead to NFL success. Consider this a tip when researching rookie prospects for future drafts.
- I tried to pound it into your head to stack Tampa Bay's passing game, not just because of Tom Brady's potential for a record year, but so you didn't have to play roulette with the receiving corps.
- Jimmy Garoppolo headlines Week 2's Fresh Fish with his skittish behavior under pressure that he's unlikely to ever grow past.
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
- Atlanta's offensive line.
- Atlanta's linebackers and safeties.
- Colts' goal-line offense in the first quarter.
- Carson Wentz is all heart and that's not a good thing.
For those of you who wish to learn the why's, the details are below.
1. The Ravens' offense and its narrow but successful u-Turn from Disaster
I had legit concerns about Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' offense after their loss to the Raiders on Monday Night Football — and I mean legitimate. The offensive line couldn't earn a push in the run game. Penetration sidetracked most of the running back's attempts.
The scariest thing about the Ravens' ground game was the absence of the usual volume of quarterback read plays due to the lack of rapport that Lamar Jackson had with his new running back depth chart. These read plays routinely earned Jackson gains of 8-10 yards untouched to the boundary between 2018-2020. Not only did it create favorable down and distance situations that kept most of the offensive playbook viable, but it also set up difficult-to-defend run game variations that opened up lanes for the Ravens' running backs. Best of all, Jackson earned chunk plays with his legs without taking punishment.
Without these read plays against the Raiders, the offense was constricted and predictable and the ignorant narrative that Lamar Jackson would be figured out would earn traction for the wrong reasons. But credit the Ravens for making the necessary adjustments to bring the read game back to the field in Week 2 and execute it as if J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were still healthy.
Not only did Jackson and his new backs develop a quick rapport with the read game, but the Ravens also switched Alejandro Villanueva back to left tackle — the position he played as a stalwart of the Pittsburgh Steelers' line. Villanueva had an awful debut at right tackle, which illustrates what most linemen will tell you about the difficulty of playing on the opposite side of the field than they are accustomed to.
Although the Chiefs lack a great defense, it still has capable players in the box with Chris Jones, Frank Clark, and Nick Bolton, as well as a promising secondary that can tackle. If Baltimore performed as it did Week 1, the Cheifs' defense was capable of exploiting the Ravens' flaws.
Instead, the Ravens' were nearly flawless with their run game execution. They routinely used the read game to force the Chiefs to guess whether Lamar Jackson was following two pulling linemen to one side or his backs were earning a 3-on-2 or 4-on-3 advantage in the open space on the backside of the pullers.
Baltimore's run game repeatedly generated easy games for Lamar Jackson just as it had for the past three years.
And another… pic.twitter.com/kQJA15N04t— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 20, 2021
Points for the dismount pic.twitter.com/iKmShbtAgT— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 20, 2021
Ty'Son Williams also ran with the confidence and aggression that he showed during the preseason. Note the difference in ball security and his body alignment as a finisher this week.
The read exchange and misdirection working well to set up pullers for a conversion by TY’Son Williams pic.twitter.com/S0FtIUoblP— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 20, 2021
Based on his performance and the fact that John Harbaugh didn't bench Williams for the fumble, you get the sense that the coaches saw an extra cautious Williams last Monday and told him to relax a bit more. They might have gone as far as telling him that if his playing time won't go away if he fumbles once because based on last week's tape, it's clear that Williams ran as if the ball was his career in his hands.
This week, Williams ran with greater authority and used that free arm to work through contact for stronger finishes. He remained a solid option in the passing game and was one good hit away from a touchdown. Latavius Murray is clearly in the Gus Edwards role and while Devonta Freeman had a strong gain on a misdirection play, Williams heads into Week 3 as flex-play fantasy GMs can count on. If he continues to perform as he has, he could inch his way into a bigger role and generate RB2 value.
As it stands, Williams has gone from a UDFA most didn't know about to a viable fantasy contributor in most leagues. Don't get greedy with your expectations and you'll have a reasoned valuation of a talented young back. If you can get him as part of a package deal as an RB3 value, you're not paying too much.
The rebounding ground game takes Jackson away from the precipice of fantasy disaster. Credit the Ravens for the key adjustments it had to make to save its offense, its season, and your fantasy seasons if you have shares of Jackson on your teams.
2. Julio Jones Tells the fantasy World to relax after Mike Vrabel tells Jones to Get his act together
Last week, Jones dropped passes and missed blocks. Already generating a "the grapes were sour," story from Falcons' owner Arthur Blank this summer, Jones' flagging intensity and presence during practices were on display in Tennessee. When it translated to lackluster effort on the field in the season opener, Mike Vrabel called out Jones to the media.
This put the young Titans on notice that even a future Hall of Famer wasn't above criticism, an important boundary Vrabel set for his players that may not have had a direct influence on the outcome of Week 2's come-from-behind victory in Seattle, but it was a notable display of leadership that this team needed after an awful showing against the Cardinals.
Even without left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Titans' offensive line performed better against a penetrating Seahawks defensive front that had its share of success against the Colts' vaunted unit. Derrick Henry eclipsed the century mark with the help of a masterful breakaway run, he also had a number of gains that kept the offense on schedule as well as earning his own first-down conversions.
Jones was on the field for most of the game, not requiring any series-long or quarter-long breaks that he frequently needed during the final two years of his Falcons' career. That may be coming as the season progresses but if this happens the way it did in Atlanta, Jones will deliver elite production when he's in the game.
Fantasy GMs should have few concerns about Jones as a performer despite a clunker of a Week 1 debut.
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