Welcome back to the 19th year of The Gut Check. Old enough to vote, this column is deciding between subletting the Waldman basement, getting its own place, or enlisting in the Marine Corps like his older sister. Fortunately, he's had a steady job for a while.
As long as it stops raiding the fridge and blowing up our kitchen like Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman on a mid-night run blitz, we'll still be cool with him hanging around a while longer. Hopefully, you will as well.
If you're new to Footballguys, I'm an independent scout by trade. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio is entering its 18th year of publication for the 2023 season. The most comprehensive scouting reports you'll find on offensive skill position prospects available to the public, the RSP is one of the two most purchased draft guides by player-personnel employees in the league (scouts and management) according to Alex Brown, SMU's recruiting director, who meets with scouts weekly as a part of his job.
I began as a data guy in fantasy football. I evolved into as deep of a film watcher you'll find in football media who uses process management best practices to create data out of film insights. I'm sharing this because while I study college tape year-round, I use NFL film study to inform my process as a scout.
Match-Up Players vs. Scheme Players: Why Does It Matter for Fantasy?
Much of what I learn, I convert to fantasy insights at Footballguys, especially during the fall when I write my column, The Top 10. One of the prevalent themes of my film study last year in the Top 10 was the development of the terms "Match-Up Players" and "Scheme Players."
Both types of players can deliver fantasy value, but it's valuable to build a roster with more Match-Up Players than Scheme Players because they are less volatile producers when things go wrong outside of their control such as coaching changes, injuries to supporting talent, and level of competition. The more Match-Up Players you can have, the less volatility your roster will likely have.
Match-Up Players have a combination of football skills and athletic ability to generate production without the benefit of specific plays schemed to get them into optimal positions on the field. The best way to explain this in more detail is to discuss what Match-Up Players look like at each skill position:
- Receivers and Tight Ends: Match-Up Players at these positions have the route skills, catch-point positioning, and athletic ability to defeat man-to-man coverage — even against the top defenders who excel at press coverage.
- Running Backs: Match-Up Players at this position routinely minimize losses against stacked boxes (eight more defenders within 5-7 yards of the line of scrimmage), penetration into the backfield, or favorable defensive alignments that overmatch the offensive line's blocking design. And, in rare instances, there are backs who embody the match-up skills found with wide receivers and tight ends of this type.
- Quarterbacks: Signal callers with match-up abilities are especially skilled at the craft of pre-snap and post-snap diagnosis (the 3-4 seconds before the snap and 2-3 seconds after it) of wrinkles that defenses disguise. They also possess a productive combination of management and improvisational ability to create big-play solutions or at least minimize bad scenarios theoretically stacked in the defense's favor.
Match-Up Players have enough physical talent to make every play demanded of them in the playbook. Any physical skills beyond the basic requirement for a starter is a "nice to have," but not essential to become a Match-Up Player.
Scheme Players don't have enough skills mentioned above to create high-end starter production without their team building plays into the playbook that leverage their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. Often, these play designs require the team to marshall a high degree of manpower towards one possible outcome.
Screens, RPOs, reverses, jet sweeps, draws, long-developing misdirection plays, and gap runs like Toss, Power, and Trap are designs that do an easier job of leveraging the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of Scheme Players.
Scheme Players and Match-Up Players represent two ends of the player spectrum. Most players fall somewhere in between these poles and aren't exclusively one or the other. Most Match-Up players can excel on schemed players and a significant number of Scheme Players have at least 1-2 areas where they perform like a Match-Up Player — it's just that their range of versatility to do so is notably limited.
Some Scheme Players will also develop into Match-Up Players as they become more technically sound. Likewise, some Match-Up Players as they age will still have enough skills to function productively as scheme players despite diminishing athletic and technical skills
This week, I"m sharing 10 players who notably fall towards the Scheme Player side of the spectrum. I'm ordering them from 10-1, 10 being the most dependent on scheme and 1 being the least dependent and likely to become more Match-Up in style. These 10 Scheme Players can deliver starter production for you in 2022, but they are volatile fantasy performers and I'd recommend against having too many of them on your roster.
10. Allen Lazard
A fantasy WR4 last year who has become a steady contributor to the Packers' passing game, Lazard is an undrafted big man with build-up speed and little acceleration compared to most NFL starters. He bounced from Jacksonville to Green Bay and gradually earned Aaron Rodgers' trust thanks to his work ethic. He reads coverage well enough to be assignment sound with route options and he has proven he can be on the same page with Rodgers when they have sight adjustments — a vital aspect of contributing to a passing offense with an elite quarterback.
Most fantasy analysts see Lazard for who he is — a fantasy WR4 with WR3 upside based on increased target volume thanks to the departure of Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and an influx of young receiver talent during the past two years (Amari Rodgers, Christian Watson, and Romeo Doubs). However, there are some in the minority who believe Lazard has every-week starter upside this year.
While I agree there's a possibility for this to happen, Lazard has only one Match-Up Player characteristic: Contested catches that come on trust throws into tight windows. It's an impressive skill, but not an unusual one for an NFL wide receiver and quarterbacks are selective about when to aggressively target a tightly-covered receiver.
Most of Lazard's catches will come from schemed plays designed to exploit potential theoretical holes in coverage or test the assignment soundness of a defender or a unit.
Although these examples are two-years-old, the methodology for getting Lazard open hasn't changed significantly. The Match-Up Players in Green Bay's receiving corps are Sammy Watkins, Christian Watson, and Romeo Doubs in this order of refined skills. Robert Tonyan Jr and Aaron Jones also possess a fair amount of match-up skills as receivers. These players, as well as Amari Rodgers and A.J. Dillon, will create enough pressure on opposing defenses to scheme Lazard open for big plays, but heavily schemed plays have a short shelf life of usage during most contests.
This caps Lazard's statistical upside unless opposing defenses begin defaulting to schemes that have a hole Green Bay can repeatedly exploit with Lazard. Even then, it will likely last no more than 6-8 games. The best-case scenario for Lazard is that at least two Packers receivers are performing at an elite level and force opponents to devote more than single coverage to each player. Even so, you're likely looking at Tyler Boyd-like production in Cincinnati with Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase on the outside.
Golladay had two 1,000-yard seasons for the Lions, including an 11-touchdown campaign that made him the No.9 PPR receiver in fantasy leagues in 2019. Although his significant running mates during those two seasons missed periods of time with injury and didn't post consistent fantasy totals, Marvin Jones Jr, Golden Tate, an aging Danny Amendola, and a rookie-year T.J. Hockenson commanded respect from opposing defenses.
It allowed the Lions to give Golladay high-leverage mismatches in the middle of the field for big plays because top defenders couldn't consistently follow Golladay around without the rest of this crew exploiting a hole in the coverage. There are nine short videos in this Twitter thread that show how Jones and Tate ran a lot of clear-outs for Golladay's benefit.
Golladay is no longer just a raw athlete who can catch and handle contact. His route running is competent against zone and off-man coverage. However, he hasn't progressed to the point that he's a dangerous match-up player on the outside against press-man coverage. He's never had a high catch rate during his career, but his 2021 performance of 48 percent is 8 percent lower than his career average.
Some of this was the switch from Matthew Stafford to Daniel Jones—neither quarterback has enjoyed great line play from the teams that drafted him, so blaming pressure as the difference for Jones doesn't stand as an argument. However, Golladay was sixth on the team in receptions and ineffective in the red zone. He did not perform well in man-to-man coverage on the perimeter and this is what's expected from a primary receiver, something Golladay might have been labeled based on the box score but not in his role with the Lions.
Expect Brian Daboll to do a better job of meshing Golladay's strengths with the scheme he brings to New York. If Kadarius Toney and Saquan Barkley play to their potential, Golladay should have more big-play opportunities. Last year, Golladay's longest reception was 36 yards and his average yards per target was 6.9 — both well short of his career average — without Toney and Barkley playing their best.
Golladay's ADP of WR56 places him in the same range as Lazard, Toney, Tyler Boyd, Christian Watson, Jameson Williams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Jakobi Myers, Jarvis Landry, D.J. Chark Jr, and Rondale Moore. The safest bets are Boyd and Myers but they have the lowest ceilings. Landry has a better sweet spot between safety and upside. Chark, Valdes-Scantling, and Watson have more upside than safety and Chark is the safest of this trio. Golladay is about even with Chark on my board as a riskier play but with a higher upside.
For my money, I'd take Moore ahead of all of these options. He will be replacing Christian Kirk's role and his disappointing rookie year was more about underutilization than poor performance. I'll be writing about Moore soon enough.
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