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.
Quick Thoughts on the San Francisco Backfield
For the first five weeks of the season, I covered this difficult (and fluid) situation that has been 49ers' backfield. After watching Elijah Mitchell earn the vast majority of touches upon returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two weeks, it's reasonable to assume that Mitchell will remain the starter for the foreseeable future.
While Mitchell's performances reveal a straight-line runner with limited cutback ability, Mitchell fits the mold of a speed back that Kyle Shanahan values for his offense. With George Kittle on IR, the 49ers also lose a great run blocker on the edge. This places a premium on a runner's speed to reach the edge if the 49ers want to continue employing as diverse of a game plan as possible for its rushing attack.
Trey Sermon showed enough speed to reach the edge — even against unblocked penetration from J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones during his lone touch against the Cardinals on Sunday — but the one area where Mitchell clearly bests Sermon is speed. To Mitchell's credit, he performed well as a pass protector on Sunday, especially when there were second-chance opportunities to help his quarterback in the pocket.
What does this mean for Sermon long-term? My recommendation is to stay patient. A coaching regime burying a talent on its depth chart can happen in the NFL but there are prominent examples of talent eventually bearing out.
In 2013, I showed fans why they needed to remain patient with Le'Veon Bell despite underwhelming production. Nick Chubb didn't earn his opportunity for several weeks and I showed how his on-field play was better than the online conclusions many posited. Ray Rice earned few opportunities during his first season in Baltimore and became an elite producer in Year Two.
These are just three examples. If you're in a re-draft league, Sermon is droppable if you're desperate to add talent to your roster. Otherwise, there has been enough instability with the 49ers' roster in the first five weeks alone to keep Sermon on your roster. He has produced with the limited reps given to him.
In dynasty formats, Sermon is a good buy-low based on his talent, the skill of the 49ers' offensive line, and the high turnover at the running back position in the NFL. He's definitely a talent I'll be holding because fantasy GMs are notoriously impatient. This is understandable, the season is short and careers can be short. However, when a player exhibits skills on film and doesn't earn an opportunity, it's worth remaining patient. While we can make assumptions as to why Mitchell is the favorite option, there hasn't been enough information in light of what Sermon has shown to know definitively why this is the case.
Still, fans and analysts are uncomfortable with that unknown, and the desire to fill the vacuum with a broad take that overrides the good sense of accepting that all we know is that Mitchell is the starter. Until we know more, accepting the discomfort that comes with a lack of information is part of the game — and for skilled fantasy GMs, exploiting that unknown (buying low in dynasty) is a good strategy.
STRAIGHT, NO CHASER: WEEK 5'S CLIFF'S NOTES
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points.
- Justin Herbert is an example of a quarterback who is making "the 3-5 plays that matter" in a game and making a strong case that he's an elite NFL quarterback.
- Kadarius Toney lit up the Cowboys' defense with a display of old and new skills that indicate a promising future for the rookie from Florida. With multiple injuries to the Giants' offense, Toney is the primary option in New York for at least the short term.
- Kyle Pitts had a strong week against the New York Jets due in part to Atlanta playing without two of its best receivers but the way the Falcons used Pitts is worth understanding where he wins and a big part of that answer is inside the numbers.
- Zach Wilson is having the season one would expect from a rookie quarterback in Johnny Manziel-like decision-making tendencies (on-field only) in New York on a team without a veteran backup. Wilson's footwork is a notable problem and it's killing his accuracy.
- You only need to see one play from Rondale Moore's afternoon against the 49ers to understand that his low center of gravity and awesome strength make him a game-changing player for as long as he can stay healthy.
- With David Montgomery out, rookie Khail Herbert's ability to produce in Chicago was no surprise, but his immediate production split with Damien Williams was unexpected — especially earning the all-important role of game-sealing touches.
- Dawson Knox has arrived and he has the athletic ability, emerging skills, and quarterback to become the next elite producer at tight end in fantasy football. Will the Bills' scheme and game plans continue to support a breakout? Are we about to see David Njoku play to his potential? He's a stud athlete but was his breakout against the Chargers an aberration due to the matchup or the sign of more to come?.
- While I've seen fantasy analysts and fans call for the end of Mike Davis' role in Atlanta because they've seen flash plays from Cordarrelle Patterson, there's a reason why Davis will maintain a split in reps with Patterson for the foreseeable future and that's due to what makes a competent NFL ground attack: blocking scheme diversity.
- As forecasted here, patience with Robert Woods was rewarded on Thursday night and should continue to bear fruit.
- Mason Crosby, Evan McPherson, and Tristan Vizcaino headline this week's Fresh Fish for an almost comical number of big misses.
- The Jets defense had a pair of coverage mistakes that led to big plays for the Falcons.
- The officials running the Chargers-Browns contest called pass interference against the wrong team and committed the most damning form of interference that can happen during a game.
- Tyreek Hill had two uncharacteristic drops, including one that lead to a pick-six that effectively sealed the game for Buffalo.
- Taylor Heinicke made two high-risk perimeter throws that revealed that he's still backup material.
For those of you who wish to learn the why's, the details are below.
1. Justin Herbert and the 3-5 Plays that Matter
The best quarterbacks in the game make "the 3-5 plays that matter most" in a contest. This is a difficult thing to track objectively with a team of data trackers. Although these (mostly) entry-level employees lack years of specialized knowledge, a quality management infrastructure and good training could make the difference and that's usually what's missing because of the volume of items these businesses want these teams to track. It's about keeping expenses as low as possible and maximizing profits. If the quality of work happens to be stellar, that's a nice benefit but as long as the quality meets minimum acceptability, most in business management are satisfied.
This is why you won't likely see any widescale football analysis in the future that tries to weigh the value of specific plays and deliver analysis that can compare quarterbacks within these scenarios. Although it's not a refined process, evaluators have long understood that there are scenarios that have elevated value when studying a quarterback:
- Third and fourth-down
- Red zone
- Two-minute offense
- End-of-game drives
These are just four example scenarios and they're often combined with other elements. These are plays that often carry greater weight in determining the outcome of a game — and I call them the 3-5 plays that matter (most). The range of 3-5 plays isn't a scientific determination — it can be more or less, given the contest. It's based on my anecdotal experience of grading hundreds of quarterbacks over the past 17 years.
Unless one team has dominated the other early, most games have a dynamic where the opposing defense has at least 3-5 chances to stop an offense and affect the outcome of the game. The combination of game script, field position, down-and-distance scenario, score, and specific schematic and personnel match-ups give the defense an opportunity to eliminate what the quarterback and/or offense likes to do or limit its execution to the point that the quarterback must transcend these limitations to win the play.
While there's a worthwhile conversation to be had about the momentum swing that can occur when a quarterback transcends the limitations that a defense, this isn't about the idea of momentum. I'm simply pointing out plays that keep drives alive in situations where a defensive stop reinforces or compounds an advantage or creates further opportunity for the other team to draw even.
I've found that in most games, that there are 3-5 situations where a defense has opportunities to paint the offense into a corner, limit the scope of the playbook, and force the quarterback and/or his teammates to do something that transcends the expected schematic outcome of a play to win the interaction. Rookies often have the greatest variance of outcomes. One week, they make 3-5 of these plays, and they are shut out the next.
The journeyman quarterback can make 1-2 of these plays in any given week. The solid starter worthy of a second contract makes 2-3 of these plays. The best make 4-5 of these plays. Of course, it's not strictly about the quantity of the play but the quality because other players can impact the game in a way where the quarterback may only need to make one of those plays to change or reinforce the outcome where another passer may have to make all five of these plays to keep his team in the contest.
At the end of the day, the fundamental point for this, and all good evaluation practice, is whether a player shows the skills (physical, theoretical, technical, and intuitive) to put his teammates in the position to make positive plays. Whether or not the teammate makes the play is not on the player being evaluated.
When I watch Justin Herbert, he's making those 3-5 plays that matter. Here are three from his comeback victory against a good Browns' team.
Some plays require patience under pressure, some require excellent athletic ability, and others require a specific combination of skills. While one of these plays appears fairly routine — the 4th-and-8 conversion — there are many quarterbacks who fail when they have to show patience, placement, and accurate decision-making with intermediate throws in the middle of the field in a situation like this.
Herbert has not only performed to the task this week but also for the past 12 months of NFL games that have included raising the games of two UDFA receivers playing pivotal roles in the Chargers offense in 2020.
2. Kadarius Toney's Sizzler in Dallas
Toney was my No.5 receiver in the 2021 Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication. I compared Toney's style of play and skills to Golden Tate. Here's my elevator pitch for Toney to begin a much more comprehensive scouting report within the publication:
Seeking a big-play receiver with the versatility to play flanker, in the slot, from the backfield and return punts? Toney is the premium option in this class for these roles. He’s rugged enough to execute Jet Sweeps and off-tackle runs, his release-work at the line of scrimmage is skilled enough to develop into an outside receiver, and he’s a natural for the slot.
Toney should have a productive impact as a rookie because of the number of targets he will see close to the line of scrimmage. He’ll also have 90-catch upside as his career unfolds. Although many of those targets will be within 10 yards of the pocket, Toney has enough speed and high-end tracking of the football to deliver big plays up the seam and on deep crossing routes when working from the slot. As an outside receiver, Toney’s best vertical work will be with double moves and play-action passes.
Versatility, suddenness, and physicality are his calling cards. As long as he can play within himself and not get too reckless, Toney has a shot of having a career that earns him Pro-Bowl consideration for his production during a peak period of 3-5 years.
One of Toney's greatest strengths was also part of my greatest concern:
The thing that makes Toney a top prospect is also the thing that could hold him back: His method of movement. Toney plays on the razor’s edge of control. When he’s in control, he’s a dynamic mover with his routes and as a runner in space. When he’s out of control, he has difficulty maintaining his balance as a route runner and ballcarrier.
He’s a violent runner in terms of his cuts and change of direction. When pairing this behavior with his lack of control, his overextension of his legs may lead to injury.
Toney fell repeatedly during spring and summer practices and suffered an injury while doing so. This cost him reps to gain rapport with Daniel Jones and prove to the coaches that he had a firm grasp of the scheme and could be relied upon to execute a game plan at this early stage of his career.
With injuries to Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Kenny Golladay, Toney got his shot to be the primary guy in New York and he delivered, demonstrating many of the traits he shows at Florida and improved stability with his movement that aided his route-running.
However, there's one other nagging issue I had with Toney that also came to fruition on Sunday — the potential for immaturity. I don't scout character in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication. Even teams get this wrong frequently because players mature or regress against the organization's projection of their emotional development.
Organizations often misapply their resources. Teams often ask scouts to collect information and make value judgments that they lack the training to do. A good example is a scout that learns about a player's nightlife habit of frequent a club every night during his college years and makes the value judgment that the player is a partygoer who can't be counted on in the NFL when a scout for a different team goes to the nightclub the play frequented and learned from the staff that he showed up every night at 8 pm, left every night at 10 pm, only drank from the bottle of water that he brought to the club, and there was never an issue with his behavior in the club.
These disparities happen enough for players to get labeled incorrectly.
So it's why I'm reticent with my staff of one to get into the business of character speculation when evaluating players. That said, Toney had some behavioral issues during his career in Florida. Nothing major but enough to have additional questions about him if you were an NFL scout with resources to delve further.
So go be fair, while players with spotless track records throw punches on football fields and get ejected, Toney has some (arguably minor) spots and did the same.
Kadarius Toney's Week 5 journey:— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) October 11, 2021
- 10 receptions, 189 yards and 7 yards rushing
- right next to Barkley when the injury occurred
- head-butted Jabrill Peppers sideline (accidentally)
- threw a punch and was ejected
Now that is diverse utilizationðŸ‘€
Overall, Toney is a must-have option for your re-draft leagues and a strong prospect for dynasty formats. Although we'll eventually see the Giants' starters return to health this year, Toney has the versatility and play-making acumen to cement a role as a high-target contributor if not a starting role.
3. How the Falcons Got the Best from Kyle Pitts
What a difference a week makes. Entering the Jets' game, Pitts was the No.20 PPR fantasy tight end in September. After the Jets' game? No.5.
That's what happens when you're a skilled pass-catcher in an offense missing two of its better options in Calvin Ridley and Justin Gage. Pitts' 9 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown came on 10 targets, his season-high total but not substantially more than his totals in Weeks 1 (8) and 4 (9).
The biggest difference for Pitts' production wasn't as much the quality of the Jets' defense but the way Atlanta moved Pitts around to generate matchups that benefitted him most and give him a top priority in Matt Ryan's progressions. Early in the game, Atlanta tried to use Pitts outside the numbers. Although big, strong, fast, and fluid, Pitts is still a young receiver who isn't a consistent match-up advantage outside with specific routes.
For instance, quick slants against tight man-to-man coverage. Pitts couldn't maintain possession of his first target thanks to difficulty earn a clear position advantage against the cornerback playing tight coverage at the line. However, Atlanta and Pitts found its groove when featuring the rookie in the slot and in-line where he could earn match-up advantages that uses his size, speed, and quickness to his advantage.
Asking a rookie tight end like Pitts to be the main man on the perimeter is a tall order but by strategically moving Pitts around, they go the most from him that they needed with a decimated receiving. Pitt's presence also helped the Falcons leverage production from the rest of the offense.
If the Falcons are wise, they will continue to leverage Pitts in this fashion and get more from Hayden Hurst after Ridley returns. Realistically, expect more extreme swings in production from Pitts before he stabilizes into a top 5-7 fantasy option at his position by year's end. Ride out the lows because we should see weekly consistency down the stretch.
4. Zach Wilson's Wobbly Shopping Cart Wheel
Zach Wilson was my No.6 quarterback in this class behind Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Mac Jones, Justin Fields, and Davis Mills. Even so, rankings suck at delivering real context. Wilson's evaluation score was high enough to reach my minimum requirement for a player with a solid shot of developing into a decent NFL starter.
It means, I didn't hate Wilson's game but I didn't think he was deserving of a top-five pick or even a first-round selection if the NFL operated with less dysfunction. It also means that, given the NFL's dysfunction with quarterback development, Wilson had a stronger chance of failing than many were considering.
After studying Wilson for the past three weeks, it's easy to see that his performances have been a mixed bag. My friend Eric Stoner calls Wilson the Mormon Manziel as an ode to Wilson's career at BYU and flashy traits on the field. Like Manziel, Wilson has the arm, movement as a scrambler, and improvisational skill to create downfield when plays go off-track.
My concern has been and continues to be that I see a lot of icing to his game but not enough cake. Before a quarterback can become a consistently great playmaker he must have a foundation of strong game management and consistency with the mundane plays.
Think of the explanation the Dolphins had for starting Frank Gore ahead of Kenyan Drake a few years ago: They knew Drake could generate a breakaway run on any play but they couldn't count on him to deliver 1-3 yards in situations where they only needed 1-3 yards. Gore couldn't outrun most linebackers and defensive ends for more than 10 yards at that point of his career, but he could still get you the hard yards needed to keep the playbook expanded and defenses on its' heels.
One improvable issue that I noticed during Wilson's college years that Robert Saleh also noted during training camp: Wilson doesn't fully understand that, in college, the ball often travels faster than the defensive back. In the NFL, the defensive back often travels faster than the ball.
This was one of the immediate concerns I had for Zach Wilson’s transition to the #Jets that Robert Saleh reiterated this summer: The ball travels faster thsn the defender in college football but it’s the opposite in the NFL pic.twitter.com/8ymN2oKbGw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 10, 2021
Wilson lacks a refined gage of what is open in the NFL, especially with intermediate and vertical perimeter routes. This is something where he can reduce the lapses, but it will require constant attention throughout his career. Like Matthew Stafford, who still has moments where he forces targets in a heroic fashion that he has no business doing, Wilson's big mistakes as a decision-maker will likely be rooted in lapses with what you see above.
Another area where Wilson, and most young quarterbacks with mobility, must improve is pocket management. Wilson has to train himself to climb the pocket as his first option rather than flushing to his right. Climbing the pocket keeps the entire field open, it requires less movement, and it allows the quarterback to get the ball out with greater efficiency.
When quarterbacks break the pocket to the outside, it forces most of the receivers to essentially start new routes whereas climbing the pocket enables receivers to continue running the original route a little longer.
Wilson had two plays in this game where he could have climbed the pocket. This was the easiest one of the two, but both were situations where climbing was possible and would have led to an optimal result. Wilson also demonstrated questionable judgment once he was outside the pocket. Again, these issues are addressable, but it will take dedicated effort and an internal discipline on Wilson's part to fix them because quarterback development in the NFL is more about gameplan and scheme. Technique and game management will be noted but the improvement comes with a regimen of daily practice sessions devoted to specifically these things. This requires isolated effort.
Another problem with Wilson's game is his accuracy. He makes the "icing" throws, but the "cake" throws have problems. One of the root causes is his footwork. He is not keeping his back foot on the ground long enough to deliver with a solid base. The midline of the back foot also serves as the rudder for guiding the placement of the football.
Because Wilson's backfoot is as wobbly as a wheel on a shopping cart that needs adjustment, the ball veers off-course in situations where the throw seems as simple as steering a cart down Aisle 7 without taking out a shelf of crackers in the process.
Projecting Placement to the NFL standard is an important part of college QB evaluation pic.twitter.com/DRTNNoBoHH— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 10, 2021
Exhibit B pic.twitter.com/dx2wq46nsf— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 10, 2021
Wilson's mind is operating too fast for his body to keep up. Some of this is an acclimation process where he should slow down and the good technical processes he displayed at BYU will return if he doesn't lose confidence during his rookie year. However, the decision-making, pinpoint placement with some of the harder versions of throws show above, and his pocket management needed improvement when entering the league.
The fact that the Jets lack a veteran quarterback with substantial starter experience to mentor Wilson has been a concern for me. The national media rightfully criticized Cleveland for doing this with DeShone Kizer. I'm surprised we haven't heard similar with Wilson, even if more is expected from Wilson.
There's time for a turnaround but the early returns aren't good.
5. Rondale Moore: Just One Look, That's All It Took
It's obvious that Moore is a top wide receiver prospect and a stellar athlete. His fantasy production in an offense that is essentially DeAndre Hopkins plus three receivers good enough to earn a big share in any given week has rendered Moore a high-impact player with his touches but not enough touches to deliver more than WR35 production in PPR formats through Week 5.
Kyler Murray told the FOX broadcast crew during his pregame production meeting with the staff that the receivers understand and accept that some weeks they'll have minimal opportunities and a wealth of targets the next. Still, Moore is a safe bet for high-variance flex production leagues that starter 4-5 receivers and remains a priority because the Cardinals use him as much or more than Christian Kirk as a runner on "schemed" plays designed to go to one option.
If you're not familiar with Moore, the most compelling thing about him is his lower body strength. He has extraordinary leg strength, which makes him explosive off the line and after the catch. However, the most underrated part of his legs is the strength to anchor into a position. This is similar to the ability to stopping fast, which is vital to route running and ball-carrying, but also great when entangled with coverage downfield.
Such good stuff (from Matt and Moore!) https://t.co/8VkYWO1Bs9— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) October 11, 2021
My long-term view on Moore has been to get the most from him while you can. He may have a long career and escape nagging injuries, but he's an unusually built player who couldn't stay healthy at Purdue. While I've heard the comparisons to Steve Smith, Moore hasn't been a proven factor in contested situations. This play above is a good display of his ability to earn a position in a contested scenario, but not one where he makes the leaps over and between defenders that we saw from Smith.
Smith was among the best that ever played the position and Moore can simply be Rondale Moore and deliver excellent fantasy production. You have to know the scheme and gameplan aren't optimal for him right now, but the talent makes him worth holding and using as the ultimate flex-play, game-changer on a weekly basis.
6. Sleeper Alert: Khalil Herbert
One of my sleeper prospects in the 2021 class was Herbert, a player who, in style, resembles a Dalvin Cook Starter Kit.
Herbert's speed, low center of gravity, skill as a finisher, and decision-making as a zone runner were all traits on par with productive NFL contributors, if not lead backs. A late-round value for the Bears, the coaching staff has repeatedly told the media that Herbert has proven reliable, a quick study, and capable of handling everything they seek from a back on the field. That's great praise but given that Chicago has an emerging stud in David Montgomery and the proven veteran Damien Williams, the weight of those words didn't have much bearing until Montgomery got hurt and we saw Herbert in action against the Raiders.
Although Williams started the game and played well, it was Herbert who finished the game and earned most of the late reps in the fourth quarter — a compelling statement from the coaches that they trust and value Herbert based on what they've seen on the field. And what they saw was a lot of what Herbert showed at Kansas and Virginia Tech.
Although the Bears earned a 20-9 victory, this game was still close enough when Herbert earned work that his first- and second-half touches carried import to the outcome. The Bears remain happy with Williams but the two backs offer some contrast in their games. Both have top-end speed but Williams is best-suited to run quick-hitting blocking schemes with one primary hole. He can run the multiple choice of zone schemes with competency but it's not his true strength.
The Bears also appeared to know this because Herbert earned more of the runs requiring him to press and cut back, manipulating defenders whereas Williams earned more of the quick-hitters.
Because the Bears know Williams has a track record as a finisher and proven third-down option, expect Williams to continue earning the red-zone and two-minute roles. However, the split in touches that Herbert earned with Williams, including the game-sealing looks as well as his performance in pass protection, bode well for more touches.
I'd make Herbert a priority short-term addition if you need a bye-week option.
7. Dawson Knox and David Njoku: Emerging or Diverging Talents?
I've written about Knox for the past two weeks. In fact, I profiled Knox and Herbert last week as options worth considering for your team. Against the Chiefs, Knox generated three big plays that illustrated his improved hands, his athletic ability to stretch the middle of the field, and his rapport with Josh Allen.
Knox's work at "Tight End University" (see the link to the article above) and with a vision performance specialist has paid off. He's also in an offense with two field-stretchers on the outside who, unlike John Brown, can run every route in the tree at a high level. Wide receiver Gabriel Davis is a young player with specific skills that can contribute to an offense, but he's not nearly the mismatch that Knox offers because Knox is an excellent in-line blocker as well as athletic enough to play outside like a receiver.
Don't overthink Knox. If something thinks they are selling high on Knox, go get him.
Njoku is a different story. Unlike Knox, who looked at his first two years of work critically and addressed his issues, Njoku pointed the finger at Cleveland last year and demanded a trade despite the fact that he has performed like a raw athlete with splash plays but total unreliability.
Cleveland refused and when the team began winning, Njoku realized he made a mistake. He fired his agent and upped his post-season workout plan. Now, he's looking more like the player he should have been 2-3 years ago.
I'm not convinced Njoku will offer sustainable fantasy production. As with Pitts, Njoku elevated his fantasy ranking considerably in PPR formats (from 32nd in Week 4 to 12th in Week 5). Unlike Pitts, Njoku's seven targets against the Chargers are two more than his Week 1 outing against the Chiefs. Despite 35-50 snaps in Weeks 2-4, he earned no more than 3 targets, including getting shut out in Week 3.
With Austin Hooper still a viable part of this offense, Njoku presents a much higher boom-bust risk profile as a weekly starter. Think of him as the Rondale Moore of tight ends — gifted, in a crowded situation, and capable of huge games — but without the Browns using Njoku in nearly as many schemed plays per week.
This could change and it makes Njoku worth adding to a roster where your TE1 is flagging or you need a better TE2 if you have to carry one.
8. Despite the Prayers of Fantasy Analysts: Cordarrelle Patterson will Not Shake Mike Davis
As they say on Twitter, "How do you know someone doesn't understand running back play without saying they don't understand running back play?" A person's reaction to this play where Mike Davis initially runs into the back of his pulling blocker is a good litmus test.
Apparently, there was a still photo circulating on Twitter before I posted this video that said Davis missed a huge crease and ran into his own man, which illustrates a lack of basic knowledge of how this blocking scheme is designed and executed. Davis actually handled this play well. A skilled runner of gap and zone schemes, Davis gives Atlanta a runner who can operate most of the blocking that offenses use in the league.
And scheme diversity is important with the run game. The best run offenses use zone and gap plays because it keeps opposing defenses guessing. Even so, gap plays are more difficult to execute in today's NFL as the base run scheme in an offense because it often requires a level of physical domination of the opposing defense to run down after down. This doesn't happen much in the league.
As stated over the years, Patterson is one of the best open-field runners I've seen in the past 20 years. I love that the Patriots began using him as a running back. Still, Patterson has limited conceptual talents at the position and it's understandable why: beyond some gadget plays over the years, he's new to the role as a legitimate NFL running back.
As such, he's not a refined zone runner. Zone running requires the back to make a lot more decisions to set up blocks whereas most of the work to open a crease in gap blocking is on the linemen. Patterson thrives on these quick-hitting gap plays where he gets downhill quickly, and then uses his other skills to win beyond the line of scrimmage. He can set up the one crease he's aiming to hit, but that's the extent of his skill.
Because of Patterson's limitations, Davis will remain in his role as the lead back. Despite the criticisms I've heard, Davis has played well despite the lack of great fantasy production when you understand how the runner and his line's play fit together. Wayne Gallman has improved his running as a zone option, but he spent most of his college career in a gap and an option-style system and lacks the refinement Davis has with the zone game.
The 49ers cut Gallman this summer despite having an unproven Mitchell, Sermon, and youthful JaMycal Hasty as the only healthy backs behind Mostert. Expecting Gallman to usurp Davis is unlikely. Patterson's skills as a receiver also allow Atlanta to keep Davis in the backfield also gives the Falcons a lot more options offensively.
Patterson is on his way to Danny Woodhead-like season in terms of usage and production. Davis still has a shot to deliver low-end fantasy RB2 value in PPR. He's currently RB24 heading into Monday night.
9. Robert Woods' Proved He's Fine and Sean McVay Was True to His Word
I told you to relax about Robert Woods. Nothing was wrong with his play. The greatest issue was his lack of pinpoint rapport with Matthew Stafford during isolated routes and an emphasis on getting Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson more targets. Sean McVay told the media before Thursday night's game that they intend to get Woods more involved on a weekly basis and they delivered.
On the basis of this game, Woods climbed 20 spots from 41st to 21st in Week 5's PPR rankings heading into Monday night. Expect him to remain a big part of the offense and increase his status to a strong WR2. If opponents begin addressing Kupp with more game planning, Woods could climb into the top 12-15 territory.
10. Fresh Fish: Week 5
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.
All three kickers missed multiple field goals and/or PATs in key moments. The Crosby-McPherson duel deteriorated into football comedy.
Here's the rest of the list.
- Jets secondary: A pair of busted coverages led to big plays that reinforced Atlanta's lead. The pass defense is a good weekly matchup.
- Chargers' officials: I don't care about the litany of complaints fans usually make about holding fouls not called. The crew covering the Chargers-Browns game called defensive pass interference on a play that was clearly offensive pass interference. It kept a drive alive that was one of the difference-making moments in this game. In this sense, this officiating crew should be charged with game interference and assessed a penalty.
- Tyreek Hill: One of the best receivers in the league, Hill had two uncharacteristic drops, including a ball that went through his hands and landed in Micah Hyde's mitts for a game-sealing pick-six on Sunday night.
- Taylor Heinicke A pair of ill-advised throws on the perimeter showed a lack of recognition of the coverage. He's a Brian Hoyer with a stronger arm — serviceable in an emergency but will eventually get exposed.
Thanks again for all of your feedback on this column. Good luck next week and may your bold call come true.