Unlock More Content Like This With a Footballguys Premium Subscription
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE
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.
Why not both?
Whoever said it's better to be lucky than good did not understand the value of the process. Being good generates luck.
The goal of this feature is to you actionable recommendations that will help you get results, but the fundamental mission is to get the process right. It's a rush to see the box score or highlights and claim you made the right calls. Without a sustainable process, success is ephemeral.
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).
My specialty is film analysis. I've been scouting the techniques, concepts, and physical skills of offensive skill talent as my business for nearly 20 years.
The Top 10 will give you fantasy-oriented insights rooted in football analysis that has made the Rookie Scouting Portfolio one of the two most purchased independent draft guides among NFL scouts. This is what SMU's Director of Recruiting Alex Brown has told me based on his weekly visits with scouts during his tenure in Dallas as well as his stints at Rice and Houston.
Sigmund Bloom's Waiver Wire piece, that's available Monday nights during the season, is also a good source of information to begin your week as a fantasy GM. 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
This week, I'll be examining a lot of players who should be on your Waiver Wire Rolodex. Are you young enough to wonder what a Rolodex is? It's the precursor to your smartphone's contact list and after your fantasy drafts, it's wise to build a preliminary list of free agents who have the talent, depth chart spot, and/or offensive scheme to deliver fantasy value for your rosters if and when an opportunity arises.
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points. I always provide bullet points for those lacking the time to see the tape examples and expanded commentary.
- Buried on the Jets depth chart after a regime change, Denzel Mims requested a trade and then showed on the field why he has a future (somewhere) as an NFL starter.
- Rookie Isiah Pacheco has been a preseason darling among the fantasy crowd and based on touches he earned this weekend, it's possible that Andy Reid is crafting offensive packages to his strengths as a runner.
- Eno Benjamin shocked Kliff Kingsbury with his development this summer and, by most accounts, has locked up the No.2 role. His dynamic receiving ability should make Benjamin an upside option for most rosters.
- Chris Evans is an elite athlete with strong receiving chops. He entered the league lacking refinement as a runner but he's making progress. With the Bengal's line, Evans' remaining flaws may not matter if called into duty.
- David Njoku could be one of the top-two receiving options in the Browns' offense, but the trap door with his game is deep enough that David Bell and/or Harrison Bryant could erase Njoku's meaningful fantasy value.
- Vikings' receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is a different type of player than teammate K.J. Osborn but if any of the three starters in Minnesota's rotation falters, Smith-Marsette could be this year's Osborn for fantasy GMs.
- Mike Boone may be the No.3 on the Broncos' depth chart but with the state of running back play in the NFL, he could be a league-winner if needed.
- Fans and media are notorious for thinking that good RB play is mostly instinctive when it's about performing to the speed of instinct. It's an important distinction and it's why the best waiver-wire performers aren't usually the top athlete behaving instinctively.
- Cade Otton won't be starting the season as Tom Brady's go-to tight end, but he could finish it this way thanks to his route skills and underrated blocking.
- Jameis Winston's improvements with technique showed up on film last year, but not in the box score. Healthy and flush with receiver talent, this is the year.
For those of you who wish to learn the whys, the details are below. As always, you'll find a lot more on Twitter (@mattwaldman). I'm heavy on the analysis, and lighter on the "takes" than the average Twitter handle.
1. Don't Give up on Denzel Mims just yet
The Jets' first-round pick in 2020, Mims was the Rookie Scouting Portfolio's No.2 pre-draft receiver behind CeeDee Lamb and just slightly ahead of Jerry Jeudy and Justin Jefferson (the reason why I told readers not to trade up to acquire one of the first three options). In case you missed it, Mims displayed his promise on film during the second half of his rookie year.
Then, as poor-performing organizations frequently do, the Jets changed its coaching staff, which meant a change in offensive philosophy. Robert Saleh earned his reputation as San Francisco's defensive coordinator. With the exception of beginning his coaching career as an offensive assistant in Michigan State's tight end room, his career resume is entirely on the defensive side of the ball.
It's only logical that Saleh would take the most successful offensive scheme he's been around and bring it to New York: Kyle Shanahan's West Coast system. Good coaches have deep knowledge of a scheme or system. The best coaches know when to adjust the system around the talent of their players. Saleh's offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur is in his mid-30s and the Jets is his first stint in this role after working his way up the NFL ladder as one of Shanahan's guys in Cleveland, Atlanta, and San Francisco.
Shanahan is a good coach with a great mind for his system. Most practitioners of the West Coast Offense are system guys. It leads to them using players whose builds or talents are the closes fit for their system's demands at the position. This is logical on the surface.
However, there are occasions when a team has a player with game-changing talent who excels in areas that don't fit the system exactly as drawn up. Rather than make adjustments to exploit that talent, the coach leaves that player on the bench while starting an option who will perform the exact duties of the system but rarely affects the outcome of games.
The rationale for these decisions is also logical — at least on the surface:
- The player who fits the system best should have fewer errors.
- The system player has the physical build or athletic characteristics to do exactly what is designed.
- No design changes are necessary, which makes game planning more efficient.
At the time, West Coast practitioners can earn a reputation for "scheme ahead of players" to the extent that they are accused of behaving like they are operating video game controls rather than working with human beings. When this happens, players cite examples where everyone in the locker room knows there's a player riding the bench who could change games but the coach prefers an aging veteran with limited or diminished talent based on the rationale above.
It's about striking the right balance between optimizing talent versus maintaining system integrity that helps the team as a whole. At this point, no one outside of the Jets' locker room can definitively tell the public that Saleh and LaFleur are in error for not having Mims in the starting lineup. What we know is that Mims, who dropped to the bottom of the depth chart last year after food poisoning led to a hospital stay and massive weight loss before minicamp, has rebounded strongly this summer and has pushed hard for a role both on and off the field.
Mims asked for a trade at the end of the week and, this weekend demonstrated why he's a compelling talent. The video in the link and the video displayed above reveal aspects of Mims' game that make him a compelling contributor for an offense:
- Toughness over the middle.
- A wide catch radius for targets high or low.
- Good use of his length as a route runner to earn optimal position against coverage.
- Speed to stretch the field.
- Variation of pacing to set up man-to-man coverage during his stems.
- A downhill mentality after the catch in traffic.
- Size to break tackles in the secondary.
Corey Davis is a solid veteran but he lacks Mims' speed and he's probably not a long-term answer in the offense. If he can't stay healthy, Mims is the most logical option to replace Davis in the lineup this year. Elijah Moore has the skills to lead the Jets in receiving if Joe Flacco is the quarterback or Zach Wilson figures out how to read coverage well enough to optimize Moore's talents.
Garrett Wilson is quick, fast, dynamic after the catch, and has moves upon moves as a route runner. He's also inefficient with some of his moves, doesn't practice consistent technique at the catch point which has led to drops in training camp, and takes untimely risks as a ball carrier trying to earn big plays. He's Marquise Lee both in terms of upside Lee never attained and that downside Lee struggled with early in his career.
However, Wilson has the draft capital from the current regime whereas Mims only has draft capital from a previous regime. You can guess who will be on the field, deservedly or not. We're about to find out if it is deserved.
Regardless, Mims has the talent to be a good NFL starter and productive fantasy option in New York or elsewhere. Saleh says Mims is staying if he has any say, but that qualifier in his statement is in case the demand is high enough elsewhere that GM Joe Douglas overrules him. Mims' best shot to deliver fantasy production this year is if Davis or Wilson falter and Mims shines as the replacement.
If the Jets trade Mims this year, the odds are lower of him delivering immediate fantasy value because he'll have to acclimate to a new offense. However, his dynasty value could earn a significant bump. Either way, fantasy GMs shouldn't write off Mims just yet — especially when a player responds to the previous year's adversity with a strong camp and then plays well enough to back up his public assessment of his value.
Continue reading this content with a PRO subscription.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE