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It's Always Helpful to Look Ahead
Winning a fantasy football championship is about building a table that the trophy or belt can rest upon. The four potential legs you can use for that table are the draft, free agency, trades, and lineup management.
If you excel in one of these areas, you can build it with one massive leg as the centerpiece for holding up your winning squad. If you're competent in all four, you can use them in every corner.
When it comes to building these "table legs," there are so many worthwhile methods. The key is selecting the best materials and having a logical understanding of table design and construction.
This week, we're doing a deep dive on the Bills' Khalil Shakir, a talented and underrated rookie on one of the most explosive passing offenses in the NFL. He's not a priority piece for your builds in re-draft or dynasty formats at this time, but it's always worth being ahead of the curve when it comes to learning about under-the-radar players who have the talent to emerge.
In Shakir's case, his position on the depth chart indicates that time is later. The nature of injuries in the NFL and Shakir's talent indicates that later can arrive far sooner than we expect.
Shakir's Potential Fit in the Offense
Currently, Shakir is at the end of the wide receiver depth chart as the sixth man behind Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, and Jake Kumerow. The order doesn't matter as much as the archetype of the receiver.
There are multiple positions within the receiver position depending on the scheme or situational packages: Split End, Flanker, Big Slot, Small Slot, Wing-Slot Hybrid, and Big-Play Slot.
Split Ends are usually the team's most explosive receiver and often the best at defeating tight coverage at the line. Flankers often run the most diverse route tree and possess skill after the catch. The various slot receivers come into play based on the demands of the coaching staff or the staff matching the role to the most talented receiver with the slot skills to make reliable reads of zone coverage or present matchup advantages for their scheme.
Many teams have players who can play 2-3 of these roles and interchange them to present matchup challenges to the opposing defense. Here's how the Bills' depth chart fits with these roles:
- Diggs can play Split End, Flanker, and deliver as a big-play or small Slot. He's a quick-twitch athlete with great route running who can do everything but box out physical corners on a consistent basis.
- Davis is at his best as a big slot because he lacks the short-area explosion and bend of a top route runner, and he needs a runway to build up speed. Once he has built up speed, he's difficult to bring to the ground. He also has the size to box out opponents and win contested targets. The Bills had the most success with him as a slot player last year, but they can earn advantageous matchups with Davis at Split End (think Hakeem Nicks on an island), Flanker, or the Big Slot (think Kenny Golladay in Detroit).
- McKenzie has the speed of a big-play Slot, but the NFL has used him as a small slot working the shallow zones for most of his career. He probably doesn't match up well at the catch-point or as a route runner with vertical patterns.
- Crowder has shown some big-play capabilities from the slot in the past, but he's an aging veteran and may not have the athletic explosion he once had. If the team is in dire need of a Flanker, Crowder can play that role for a few games thanks to his skills with routes and body positioning at the catch point.
- Kumerow was an Aaron Rodgers favorite who the Bengals and Packers coaching staffs labeled as special teams option, but he has the route skills, speed, and positioning to play Split End or Flanker. Think of him as a quicker Gabriel Davis whose early-career label limited his opportunities for anything more than a cameo role.
This brings us to Shakir. As an athlete and target-winner, Shakir is the closest to Diggs' receiver archetype on the Bills' roster. He has the skills to develop into a receiver who can play Split End, Flanker, or Slot. This gives him more potential ways to earn playing time if injuries create a need.
A quick way of summing up Shakir's odds of earning significant playing time this year is "low, but slightly increasing due to injuries." This is true of most reserves.
Since we're here to learn why some options have the aptitude to hit big if the opportunity arises, let's get into the weeds. Here's why the opportunity for early playing time is low but worth monitoring :
With McKenzie and Crowder in the fold and the Slot requiring a finely-tuned understanding of zone coverage that is often difficult for a rookie to attain, we can probably rule out this path to playing time in 2022. If Davis' ankle gets worse or he suffers a serious injury, Kumerow is the best fit based on his body type, skills, and veteran reliability. However, Kumerow will be out for at least a few weeks with a high ankle sprain and Davis already has an ankle issue.
Reliability is a huge factor for coaches and often takes priority over physical talent when weighing options between two players and one is a young and less proven player. Still, I'd bet that Shakir's training camp and preseason performances would earn him playing time in situational packages with the coaches hoping that he proves reliable and they can expand his usage over the course of time.
If Diggs gets hurt, the Bills might consider an aging veteran, even bringing back Emmanuel Sanders on a one-year deal. If not, they would devote a lot of time to scheme matchups that help Kumerow and Davis (if healthy enough to play if this were to happen) in that role and give Shakir opportunities in situational packages with the same hope that he can prove reliable enough to expand his usage.
Shakir's opportunity doesn't appear compelling on the surface, but his impressive training camp and preseason performances match the belief among many draft analysts — myself included — that Shakir's college tape merited a higher draft-day value than he earned. Good players are often fast risers when they get the opportunity to play.
Shakir's tape indicates he has this potential.
Shakir's versatility to earn playing time in all three roles, his big-play traits, and his productive summer make him the type of prospect whose role could expand quickly in a situation where a starter goes down. This is a 15-minute breakdown with my favorite Bears' Crew, the TTNL Podcast.
The review of Shakir is a 15-minute conversation with various All-22 examples of Shakir making starter-caliber plays at the catch-point, with his transitions from receiver to runner, and his efficiency as a ballcarrier. The podcast is NSFW in terms of language.
The biggest issue with Shakir's tape was dropped passes or targets that he fought. As we've learned over the years, drops are not a sticky stat for receiver success/failure. When digging deeper into a player's film, the process or lapses of the catch process behind a dropped pass is an important factor to consider when projecting a receiver's potential.
Shakir tracks the ball well, has an excellent catch radius, makes acrobatic plays, and wins against imminent contact. The flaw with his process is using the optimal hands' position at the catch point based on the trajectory of the target. You could replace Shakir's name with Courtland Sutton and Diontae Johnson in the two sentences above and they were accurate statements about their college tape.
Correcting a receiver's hand position can be difficult if the hand positions are wildly suboptimal. Quincy Enunwa's interpretative dance moves at the catch point while starring at Nebraska. Enunwa spent daily time working on his positioning before and after practice for a year to correct some of the weirdest behaviors I've seen from a receiver.
Shakir, Sutton, and Johnson's issues weren't this extreme. Shakir's tracking process up to the point of positioning his hands is strong; the positioning is inconsistent.
Drops were not a significant issue for Shakir this summer. He also earned critical feedback from Diggs, who told the media that he has been hard on Shakir because he sees a lot of potential in the rookie.
The Rookie Scouting Portfolio Pre-Draft Report
If you're not familiar with the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP), it is the most comprehensive analysis of NFL prospects at the offensive skill positions (QB, RB, WR, and TE) available to the public. I've been writing this publication for 16 years and it has grown to the point that it has become one of the two most used independent references for cross-checking of players among NFL scouts according to Division I recruiting directors I know who visit weekly with NFL scouts.
The RSP delivers a pre-draft and post-draft guide and I structure it this way so I can deliver real football analysis that is suitable for scouts while still catering to fantasy GMs. In addition to the two publications, readers also receive a newsletter. You can learn more about the publication at my site. Or, you can go here directly to buy.
Khalil Shakir's Scouting Profile
RSP Ranking: WR12
Height: 6-0 Weight: 190 School: Boise State
Depth of Talent Score: 81.8 = Rotational Starter: Executes at a starter level in a role that is playing to their strengths.
The Elevator Pitch for Shakir: The Pittsburgh Steelers may not draft Shakir, but he’s a Pittsburgh Steeler type of wide receiver—or at least a tough AFC North type. Shakir has the speed, acceleration, footwork, and physical intensity of a flanker who can get deep but also be a playmaker after the catch. He has a lot of highlight catches on film but his hands might be the area where he needs the most tightening up of his game. It’s not that they are bad, but there are lapses in technique that could lead to more drops and unforced errors than a player of his ability should have.
This may take a year or two for him to resolve, depending on his awareness of the issue and how much immediate success he has that may distract him from thinking it’s significant enough to focus as much time on it as he might need—especially when considering how often he makes difficult catches. He nearly earned the starter tier despite the problems, which would have made him the fourth-ranked option on the RSP’s board. And if he corrects these gaps with his technique, he has elite upside as a pass catcher.
What this should tell you is that Shakir is a smart pick for an NFL team if the organization investing in him believes he’ll work on his craft to unlock his full potential. And if he does, Shakir could become one of 3-5 most productive receivers from this class—given the theoretical presumption that A) the RSP rankings are accurate to all the variables that we can and can’t account for and B) every prospect in this upper range stays healthy. There’s a lot of Diontae Johnson to Shakir, except Shakir’s inner thermostat is in the “on” position at the college level and there’s a plastic case bolted around it to the drywall that requires a key to change the setting. Johnson’s inner thermostat was more susceptible to outside influences before joining the NFL.
Where is the player inconsistent? There’s a lot of clapping and palm-first catching that’s not tight enough to prevent trapping the football.
What is the best scheme fit? Pittsburgh’s offense from the past 3-4 years—if it remains in place—is a natural fit for Shakir’s talents but they already have Johnson. Cleveland could use a receiver who can deliver YAC and vertical production opposite Amari Cooper. He’d be a slower, but far more complete player than the pipe dream of a pick the Browns made with Anthony Schwartz last year.
If Dallas wants a receiver who can fulfill the Cedrick Wilson role now and usurp James Washington later, Shakir is a strong candidate. New England could use some speed and toughness in one receiver. He’d also work well in the McVay system as a faster version of a Robert Woods-in-training.
What is his ceiling scenario? He could be as good or better than Diontae Johnson with the right fit and quarterback.
What is his floor scenario? He could never fix his catching techniques and he has 3-4 inconsistent seasons that eventually drive his offense mad and he becomes a journeyman with unpredictable outcomes.
Physical: He’s an average-sized receiver but he will drop the pads to finish and he’s a good tackle breaker when dealing with attempts below his knees.
Technical: The sooner Shakir eliminates the clapping and consistently catches with fingertips (he needs to check out the fundamental tennis ball exercises many high school coaches use and Johnson made a habit in 2021 to reduce his drops), the faster his trajectory will be toward weekly production.
Conceptual: He does a good job using pacing variations to set up defenders during his routes.
Intuitive: Shakir has an excellent feel for when to get downhill as a runner and when to seek cutback and bound lanes.
Build: Average size for a receiver, but perhaps below average for a flanker.
Releases: Shakir has an 80/20 weight distribution favoring his front leg within his staggered stance at the line of scrimmage. His hands hang uncrossed at either side of his knee.
He’ll use a hesitation or stick to attack the outside leverage of a defender and if the defender shoots his hands, he’ll counter with a chop or wipe. He combines a two-quick with a stick.
Against off coverage that he’s crossing during his release – a nickel back or linebacker – he’ll reduce his shoulder from potential contact or use a swat if forced to make contact.
He’ll use a wipe at the top of his breaks while turning out of drop-and-pop breaks at the boundary.
On running plays, Shakir will steal a release against man-to-man coverage.
Separation: Shakir has the burst to take an end around to the short edge of the field, cut downhill in traffic, and beat the angles of edge defenders and linebackers either in containment or pursuit. He can gain ground fast on safeties over the top when accelerating up the middle in the open field, nearing taking away their angles if they aren’t deep enough when beginning their pursuit.
Route Stems: Shakir threatens the vertical depth of the field during his stems once he releases from a defender playing tight man-to-man coverage. Against off-coverage, he’ll dive late into his stem to set up out-breaking routes.
Route Setups: Once Shakir earns separation during his release, he’ll attack the stem vertically as part of a stair-step strategy that sets up the break inside on the over route. He’ll widen the stem to set up off-coverage defenders and then make breaks to the inside or run at the defender’s feet and attack outside. He’ll attack the back of the defender when the defender gives it to him.
He’ll play with pacing to set up breaks when facing man-to-man coverage.
Route Breaks: Shakir is a quick and fast receiver who needs to work on his speed breaks with over routes so his break step and drive step are flatter so he’s not drifting out of his break early on. He flattens the break later but if the quarterback targets him at the earliest point of the break his drift can diminish his chances for an uncontested play.
When he earns a sharp break step, his breaks are flat and he makes flat breaks against off coverage when man-to-man doesn’t force him to win at full speed.
Shakir gets his chest and head turned to the quarterback and he runs out the break away from the defender, continuing the movement to additional open space and even signaling to the quarter if the quarter is forced to scramble.
Shakir can snap his turns on breaks. If he punches the sideline arm a little harder, he can execute most of his breaks with excellent suddenness when he chooses to do so.
Zone Routes: He identifies the second-level defender, builds to depth, and throttles down into the open spot.
Route Boundary: Shakir is aware of the boundary when catching the ball on breaks heading towards the sideline but not forcing him tight to the line until well after the catch. When forced to extend outside the boundary for a target, he’ll drag his back foot and lean through the catch point. At the end line, Shakir can fit 2-3 strides in bounds while running towards the end line as he tracks the ball over his shoulder.
Pass Tracking: Shakir can track the ball over his shoulder and extend his arms from his frame to do so. This includes difficult high points with one hand—although the ball strikes his palm and he has to make a second attempt to corral it—see more about his hand positions below.
Hands/Catch Radius: Shakir uses an overhand position to catch targets at numbers level and he adjusts well to targets at his back shoulder or behind his break point. His hands need to be tighter when making these attempts because the ball goes through his hands and if the target arrives above chest level, he has no surface to trap the ball.
When his hands are tight enough you want to see him attack with his fingertips rather than allow the ball to stride the flat of his palms where it can ricochet. And, when his hands are tight enough, he can extend away from his frame in the direction of his break path for the ball.
He needs to work on his underhand framing so he can catch the ball with his hands rather than trap beltline throws. He can make underhand catches with his hands and he’s done so against hard contact, but when he has lapses, he’s prone to trapping the ball. If the target isn’t directly on him, he can let the ball bounce off his frame and into the air.
Position: He’ll turn away from the defender, torquing his frame from the reach of his opponent.
Focus: Shakir can take hard contact to his back when extending for the football and securing the target. He tracks the ball over his shoulder against tight coverage.
Transitions: Shakir displays awareness of open space when catching the ball in traffic and he makes efficient moves to avoid contact and reach that open space. He gets downhill fast and finds ways to turn away from pursuit to get that downhill angle fast.
Elusiveness: Shakir has the vision and coordination to duck from oncoming contact after making an adjustment on the ball away from his breakpoint, still getting downhill and earning positive yards due this his quick change of direction, body control, and vision.
His ducks from contact also help him avoid high wraps and force the defender to wrap lower, which makes the tackle attempt easier to break.
His footwork as an open-field runner is quick. He has a good jump cut and he can transition from a sideline track to a downhill track with two steps and do it at a sharp and sudden angle. His spins are tight and well-timed when he uses them and he uses them well as an elusive move and a transition downhill wrapped in one.
Vision: Shakir spots pursuit and gauges its angle while executing his breaks and catching the football. This helps him avoid the pursuit and efficiently get downhill.
He’s a patient runner who sets up blocks in the open field with presses or presses behind the line of scrimmage to set up cutbacks. He’ll create in open space to minimize pursuit angles as well as set up blockers. He has a feel for the open field as well as working in traffic. He’s not afraid to work into tight creases or push his blockers.
Like Diontae Johnson, Shakir has the athletic and ball-carrying skills to win after the catch or in the vertical game.
Power: Shakir pulls through lower-body wraps and reaches. He’ll drop the pads at the end of runs and generate a push for extra yardage. He uses the balance-touch technique effectively to stay on his feet when pulling through contact.
He keeps his feet moving through contact and wraps. His stiff arm wards off opponents reaching for him in the open field.
Direct Contact Balance: He’ll drop his pads and push through an oncoming cornerback to finish a run.
Indirect Contact Balance: He’ll bounce off glancing shots from smaller cornerbacks and safeties.
Blocking: Shakir extends his hands towards the defender in Man Over Me Blocking. He has to begin with a balanced stance and develop a punch. He also has to judge the speed of a defender’s angle of pursuit better so he doesn’t miss lead blocks on screens. This is also true with blocks at the backside of a play where he begins sliding laterally before he even closes the gap to earn a sustainable position on stalk blocks.
His arms are often too wide when he extends and it’s because he isn’t closing the gap tight enough. He aims for the chest of the defender when he shoots his hands.
Ball Security: He carries the ball close to his chest with his boundary-side arm when on the right side of the field, but keeps the ball under his right arm on plays working along the left flat/boundary. He can take a hit to the ball or the arm carrying the ball and maintain security. On designed runs to the left side, he’ll carry the ball under his right arm.
Durability: He missed three games with an undisclosed injury earlier in his career and a game late in the year with a hamstring.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Draft Shakir. If you can get him in the bottom half of the third round, you got him at a potential value. Considering that he’s neither big and tall nor the fastest option, he might sneak by a number of fantasy managers. When a team drafts him no later than the top of the fourth round—and just based on what I saw on film, the second or third round could be possible—his value will climb. He may not start immediately, but he’s a player with promising skills.
When he begins dropping passes, which is likely early on, buy low on him as long as there are no off-field/coaching issues involved with him.
Boiler/Film Room Material (Links to plays):
Fantasy Recommendation: Also a Gabe Davis Segment
Gabe Davis was the hot commodity all offseason because of his massive output against the Chiefs. The buzz didn't match the logic behind his production.
Understanding Gabriel Davis’ gm in context of the Chiefs Gameplan (audio) pic.twitter.com/myj2jZzv38— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) January 24, 2022
Last year, Davis had two regular-season games with more than 50 yards receiving:
- A 105-yard contest on 3 catches against the Jets' lowly defense.
- A 5-catch, 85-yard, 2-TD game against the Panthers.
Davis earned six touchdowns but reliability was not a part of Davis' production profile:
- Davis only earned more than five targets in three games.
- In the five games where he scored a touchdown, four of those games he had less than 45 yards receiving.
- Davis only caught five passes twice last year.
As mentioned above, Davis was the third option on this offense behind Diggs and Dawson Knox. Yes, he's bigger, stronger, and has more hype this summer. He's still a player who needs to be schemed to earn much of his success. When he isn't schemed open, he's usually a second-chance option on scramble plays due to his size and effort to work to an open area on scramble drills or the recipient of a long-developing vertical shot where Josh Allen can beat the pass rush.
Gabriel Davis was basically the same tonight as he was down the stretch last year in a full-time role.— Dwain McFarland (@dwainmcfarland) September 9, 2022
Didn't demand heavy targets (16% share; 13% TPRR) but saw 100% route participation and hit the TD on a busted coverage.
Diggs 29% share; 30% TPRR ðŸ‘‘ðŸ‘‘ðŸ‘‘
My friend Dwain follows up this Tweet by saying it's not an anti-Davis stance but his best path to payoff is route participation and it's not a great path.
This summer I was open to the idea that Davis could be worth a WR3 value and if all things clicked, have WR2 upside. I didn't draft him in a single league. If Diggs gets hurt, the Bills will need a player who can win one-on-one with a variety of routes. Shakir and Kumerow are the best two options currently on the roster.
Shakir is the superior runner to Kumerow after the catch. Although his archetype is closer to Diggs, Shakir could be a compelling flanker opposite Diggs if Davis falters and Davis's chances of faltering in the No.2 role are palpable.
There's no reason to add Shakir in re-draft formats, but based on what I've seen thus far from the Bills' receiving corps, I'd monitor the health and production of the Buffalo receiving corps and keep Shakir on your list of players worth knowing about, even if they aren't high priority considerations for your waiver wire at this time.
In dynasty leagues, I'd seriously consider involving him as a pot-sweetener in larger formats if someone wants to package players for a deal. I'm skeptical that Davis will ever be what the buzz was for him this summer whereas I'm optimistic that Shakir will outplay his fifth-round draft status like his fellow fifth-rounder teammate, Diggs.
He's a different type of player than Diggs, but he will get his shot to start in the NFL and he has the skills to succeed.
Follow Matt Waldman on Twitter: @mattwaldman
YouTube Channel: RSP Film Room
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