The mission of this column—and a lot of my work—is to bridge the gap between the 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 give 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 toward players who flash elite athletic ability, and I err more toward players who are more technically skilled and assignment-sound.
Straight, No Chaser: Week 11 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.
- How the Browns limited Josh Allen Early On And Where Other Teams Can Have More Success: Cleveland unveiled a way to limit the Bills' quarterback but couldn't sustain it. What teams might?
- James Cook: How the Bills Used Him on the Ground: The Bills' rookie had his best game of the year on the ground; here's what Buffalo did to maximize his success.
- Deshaun Watson: Does He Help or Hurt Amari Cooper for the Rest of the Season? Excluding the first week back, there's good reason to believe Cooper will at least sustain his fantasy WR1 pace.
- Also, Keep An Eye on Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Bell: Peoples-Jones could be the short-term stretch-run answer during Watson's return, but Bell is the dynasty play for your long game.
- Jamaal Williams Heads Up A Three-Lion Pride: It's not popular for fantasy football, but reliability as a decision-maker takes precedence over athletic ability.
- WanDale Robinson: Inspector Gadget: Can Robinson deliver fantasy production? You bet. Can he become a high-end fantasy starter? Doubtful. He's a limited player. Learn more.
- Russell Wilson Beat the Blitz, But His Team Beat Him: Wilson beat the blitz frequently this weekend and had the best statistical game of his career, but the Broncos are too limited as an offense to help him.
- Jason Kelce Deserves the Spotlight: We think of Jalen Hurts as the centerpiece of the Eagles' offense, but it's actually their center.
- Skyy Moore Alert: There's evidence that this is happening, and it's a good thing for fantasy GMs in need of a wide receiver.
- Fresh Fish: Players and units that present good matchups that we can leverage for our benefit.
Let's turn this mother out...
1. How the Browns Limited Josh Allen EArly ON And Where Other Teams May Have More Success
The Browns' defense is bad this year, but the fact that it limited Josh Allen in the first half makes it all the more notable that there's a path for some organizations to have greater success against the Bills' Pro Bowl quarterback. Don't get me wrong, Allen is too good for opponents to have the right cocktail of personnel and scheme to execute this weekly. Still, if we see Allen have a bad game down the stretch, don't be surprised if what you see below is a big reason why.
The recipe for success begins with edge pressure that gets high enough in the pocket that either hems Allen inside and forces him to climb or only gives him one side to flush. The next component is using a speedy linebacker or rangy defensive back who can spy Allen at the second level and close fast when he begins to flush or climb.
I'm generally not a fan of safety-sized athletes disguised as linebackers for the NFL but Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fits the above criteria well. When Myles Garrett and Jadaveon Clowney were both on the field and getting depth into the pocket from the edges, Owusu-Koramoah disrupted Allen and curtailed his opportunities to extend plays — a massive strength of Allen's game that separates him from many quarterbacks.
The Bills earned a decisive win against the Browns, but Allen only delivered only three rushes for seven yards on the ground. Allen is averaging 48 rushing yards per contest and this is his worst effort on the ground since Week 2 against the Titans when he had 1 run for 10 yards.
While both games were well in hand by the fourth quarter, the Browns made this a contest for over a half, and the notable points below are based on the first half.
The Browns' also limited Allen to 197 yards, his worst passing yardage total of the year, falling 100 yards shy of his weekly average. Cleveland held Stefon Diggs without a catch until late in the first half when it had a coverage bust that left Diggs wide-open in the end zone for Allen's only passing score of the contest.
Detroit has a quality edge rusher in Aidan Hutchinson, but the back seven lacks a player who can disrupt Allen like Owusu-Koramoah. New England might have success with the combination of Matt Judon and a healthy Kyle Dugger. The Jets might have given the Browns some ideas with their defensive effort against Allen and will get another opportunity to do the same. in three weeks.
Don't expect Miami, Chicago, or Cincinnati to limit Allen. However, the 49ers and Cowboys could have a chance to deploy this type of game plan if things work out that there's a game between them in February. Tampa has the speed at linebacker to disrupt Allen if the edge rush can lay the groundwork.
Fantasy Advice: Allen might be a little more up and down prior to the playoffs, but if you can get into the postseason, he should deliver to expectations. If you're on the cusp of contention, New England and New York might be tough enough for you to begin looking for an insurance policy, especially if the weather becomes an additional factor.
2. James Cook: How the Bills Used Him on the Ground
The rookie runner had his best rushing output as a pro against a toothless Browns' run defense. Still, Cook's 11 carries tied his best mark since cleanup duty in Week 2 against the Titans. In contrast to the Tennesse game, Cook earned a lot of his production when it was still a meaningful contest.
Devin Singletary is still performing well, but Cook has earned 5-6 touches per game since Week 8, and his snap count has climbed to about 15 per contest during this span. It's not starter-value utilization, but he's ceding touches to Nyheim Hines, as many feared.
A notable part of Cook's usage on Sunday was the Bills' forcing Cleveland to consider three options at the mesh point.
They also kept Singletary in the game as a potential distraction pre-snap and exploited a Cleveland alignment with a variation of a Counter.
Of course, Buffalo had success against Cleveland's soft edges and interior with plays that generate good runways to the edge or downhill for Cook to glide through.
Cook looks ready to assume the Bills' lead role if Singletary gets hurt and that's worth noting for fantasy GMs heading into the playoffs.
Fantasy Advice: Cook is a solid bench addition, especially if the 7-3 Bills clinch the division and earn an early home-field advantage. This may not be possible based on the play of the Miami Dolphins, but it's still worth considering Cook with December on the horizon.
3. Deshaun Watson: Does He Help or Hurt Amari Cooper?
Amari Cooper has been excellent with Jacoby Brissett under center, which was not what I expected heading into the year. I thought Cooper might deliver low-end WR2 production, at best, until Watson returned. Instead, we've learned that Cooper is not only playing well with Cleveland's backup quarterback, but Brissett has also told us that Cooper is one of the most humble and hard-working receivers he's seen in the NFL.
It shows on the field. Cooper is an absolute technician.
The big question is whether Deshaun Watson can elevate this offense down the stretch. The Browns at 3-7 have remote playoff chances, at best. Still, they have three division games and the Bengals, Steelers, and Ravens are all beatable. Houston, Washington, and Tampa are also beatable.
While unlikely for Cleveland to go 6-0 to finish the year, a boost in scoring would optimize the style of defense the Browns have wanted to play all year: rush the passer and defend the vertical zones.
Jacoby Brissett's 211 yards on the ground is a higher total than most expected and when extrapolating over the course of a season, on par with what we've seen from Watson. Where Watson surpasses Brissett is off-structure plays. Cooper, Peoples-Jones, and Bell (see below) are all capable of making plays in the vertical game on extended plays. All three excel in contested situations, especially Peoples-Jones and Bell on jump-throughs to the target.
The concerns about Watson not being the same player he was prior to his long absence are logical, but I don't believe they will manifest. There will probably be a game or two of rust, but Watson played three consecutive seasons at a high level. He wasn't new to the league, struggled, and then missed time. He's not making a jump from college to pro after a long absence.
Watson is still at an age where he will be at the peak of his powers in the passing game and still athletic enough to extend plays and earn occasional chunk gains. He lacks Justin Fields' legs, but he never had them to begin with.
Watson may not have been at the facility for the first two months of the season, but he spent the entire offseason during the installs and practices. He can still do a lot of work to be ready away from the organization. Many quarterbacks have before and will in the future, especially top passers like Watson who has understood what resources and routines he'll need for at least the past 3-5 years.
Fantasy Advice: Whether you should be alright with Watson as a part of your fantasy roster is one I can't answer for you. "Should" is one of my least favorite words in the English language. If you've decided for whatever reason that Watson will be on your team, expect the potential for 1-2 weeks that are bumpy for the receivers as well as new preferences for whom to target while that acclimation period occurs.
By the fantasy playoffs, I'd expect Cooper to sustain his top-12 value at his position and a potential bump for Peoples-Jones and maybe, Bell.
4. Keep An eye On Donovan Peoples-Jones And David Bell
Cooper isn't the only receiver who is playing well in Cleveland. Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is second on the team in receptions and receiving yardage, has delivered as a capable complement. Rookie David Bell isn't a production leader in the Browns' passing game, but he's making timely catches and showing the potential to become a high-volume option at some point during his career. This was the first of two catches on a scoring drive late in the game where Cleveland almost made it a contest again.
Peoples-Jones could be in store for bigger games with Watson if they use him on deep crossers off play-action, which is something the Texans loved to do with Will Fuller. Bell's work in zone coverage, especially with the way Watson extends plays might hold added value to the tune of 2-3 more targets per game.
Considering that Bell has seen his target totals double from an average of 1.2 per game during Weeks 1-8 to 5 per game in Weeks 10-11, it's possible we see Bell become a bye-week value next month.
Fantasy Advice: Peoples-Jones should have been on your roster for weeks. If you need depth and he can be had as a throw-in with a trade, he could be a suitable choice. Bell is worth monitoring during the next 1-2 weeks to see if he's worth adding with Watson returning to the NFL.
5. Jamaal Williams: Why He Heads Up the Lions' Three-Headed Pride
Williams lacks great juice. This is the common complaint about running backs who are ahead of flashier speedsters like DAndre Swift. While a hard worker when it comes to the physical preparation of the game, Swift still lacks the conceptual feel for running between the tackles at a high level. I've written and produced video analyses about Swift's lapses for the past three years.
Most coaches seek reliability. They want comfort in knowing that a play they hope will get them 3-5 yards will get them 3-5 yards. While it's certainly a welcome sight to see a gain of 30-50 yards, coaches don't want to deal with losses or underwhelming outputs that put them behind with down-and-distance schedules.
Williams gives the Lions the most potential to remain on schedule. This is vital with Jared Goff under center. Goff doesn't extend plays with the frequency and success of mobile quarterbacks and his pocket play doesn't force opponents to cover him as a potential runner.
It means the Lions can't lean too hard on a runner like Swift, who doesn't make the wisest or most disciplined choices.
D’Andre Swift stretching this too far and gets stuffed pic.twitter.com/wtmp3TkoyH— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 20, 2022
Swift has the athletic potential to stretch runs beyond Williams' breakaway capacity, but until he's completely healthy and able to make wise choices, Williams is the lead back.
Swift will split time with Justin Jackson who is Swift's equal as a receiver.
Swift may earn enough touches to help you as a flex, but there is little hope of him becoming a marquee fantasy option in 2022 unless Williams and Jackson get hurt. Even then, Craig Reynolds might wind up with the Williams role.
Fantasy Advice: Value the Lions' ground game for its offensive line. Swift will earn touches on par with what we've seen from James Cook in Buffalo. However, Cook may have more upside with a Singletary injury than Swift with a Williams injury.
6. Inspector Gadget: WanDale Robinson
Robinson's injury may make this segment a moot point for the rest of this year, but let's explore the dynasty ramifications of his game. Robinson earns a lot of buzz for the electric nature of his athletic ability. Fans always get excited about mercurial threats with open-field moves and speed and can earn playing time in multiple spots on the field.
The Giants maximized Robinson's usage this week to the tune of 100 yards of production.
WanDale in the Lions’ zone. pic.twitter.com/cBzKJpjVlt— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 20, 2022
One thing all of these plays have in common: He's not defeating a primary cornerback in man coverage to earn his opportunities. This is the requirement of a primary receiver in the NFL. He's schemed open far more often than he wins tight matchups.
The top 14 fantasy receivers this year as of Week 11 are all capable of winning one-on-one matchups against a primary cornerback. This is not a coincidence. The Giants' receiver with the most skills to do this on the active roster is Darius Slayton. Kenny Golladay should be on this list based on his athletic ability, but his route running has not developed to the extent it should.
This doesn't mean Robinson can't be a worthwhile fantasy option, but based on the buzz he earns, you might want to leverage it to your advantage next year.
Fantasy Advice: In dynasty formats, I'd trade him unless you're seeing legitimate proof that his route running and catch-point skill have graduated to a level commensurate with Stefon Diggs. I have serious doubts this will ever happen. He's more likely to become Isaiah McKenzie with greater production potential than a weekly primary fantasy option.
You should have an opportunity to trade Robinson to those who will champion him and profit.
7. Russell Wilson Beat the Blitz, But...
The Broncos aren't good enough on offense for Wilson to beat opponents. Despite losing much of the top half of their receiving rotation, their lead runner, and endured poor performances from Albert Okwuegbunam and Melvin Gordon, the Broncos have been close in several games.
Wilson has made mistakes — including some high-profile misses that generated more superficial ire from talk show hosts — but the characterizations of his play have been exaggerated beyond reason.
This week, Denver took the play-calling responsibilities away from Nathaniel Hackett and gave them to the youngest member of the Kubiak Tribe. Although the Raiders' secondary isn't a fantastic litmus test for success, the pass rush is a strength of the unit.
Prior to this week, Wilson earned criticism for not checking the ball down enough. This is a common lapse from a playmaker-style quarterback pressing to throw big punches to keep his team in games. Running backs often lapse into trying to bounce or cut back runs where they shouldn't if their initial patience hasn't worked early in a game or early in the season.
This week, Wilson repeatedly beat the Raiders' blitz from the pocket and on structured plays, countering another longtime criticism of Wilson that he forces play designs off-structure and can't win in a traditional pocket setting.
Wilson may not be offering the solutions that the Broncos need to pull games out of their backside, but he hasn't been the reason why they've been in these predicaments at the game's end. Melvin Gordon got cut today, likely for another red-zone fumble and this missed opportunity to pick up a green dog blitz.
While Geno Smith is playing great football, I don't think we'd see him performing as well, with Courtland Sutton as his only notable option. We have an all-or-nothing view of quarterbacking, which is natural when considering it's a difficult position to understand, and we tend to oversimplify everything about it.
Fantasy Advice: Wilson isn't going to rebound this year. I hoped it would, but without legitimate starters at wide receiver, it's unlikely to happen. I am buying this dented can in dynasty formats for 2023 if I'm in a win-now scenario.
8. Jason Kelce Deserves the Spotlight
The Eagles' ground game is among the best in the league. Its ground game executes the most diverse set of plays in the NFL. This is a sign of a good offensive line, and the glue of a good line is its center.
It's well-established that Kelce has always been known for his mobility as a puller, which is an uncommon strength for most that play the position. The Eagles get the most from Kelce and his athletic ability, and there were three plays that stood out this weekend.
Let's look at two of them. The first is not an embedded component of the scheme as much as it's Kelce recognizing an opportunity to contribute. The second play is a different story that we'll get to.
This designed running play for Hurts isn't unusual to see centers pull one gap over and deliver as lead blockers. However, there was also a designed run with a delay where Kelce begins the play in a pass set and then slips into the flat like he's executing a screen.
Although not unusual either, the fact that he was the only one of the linemen used in this nature, giving Kelce a sole responsibility like a fullback, is a testament to Kelce's athletic ability and reliability to use him as such.
Fantasy Advice: When Kelce leaves Philadelphia, keep a close eye on who replaces him because you'll likely see a dip in offensive production from the ground — the running backs and Hurts.
9. Skyy Moore Alert
With Kadarius Toney dealing with a hamstring injury (Giants fans are nodding and laughing, and I don't blame them), it appears Moore is now the Hardman-Toney guy. We know Moore has great short-area quickness that makes him a difficult matchup with safeties, even a good one.
Skyy Moore: 5’10, 195 lbs, 4.41 40, 4.41s 40, 7.13s 3-cone— Scott Spratt (@Scott_Spratt) November 21, 2022
Julian Edelman: 5’10, 198 lbs, 4.52s 40, 6.62s 3-cone
Tyreek Hill: 5’10, 185 lbs, 4.29s 40, 6.53s 3-cone
I'm not sure whether the #Chiefs wanted an Edelman or a Hill, but Moore excites either waypic.twitter.com/PDVw1zyuMQ
He also made a pair of good adjustments to the ball.
Skyy Moore made some big plays last night. He made two catches on 3rd and 7, ultimately going 5-6 for 63 yards. As I said, we didn’t draft Skyy to return punts. He’s going to be an important part of this offense going forward.— Let’s Chat Chiefs (@LetsChatChiefs) November 21, 2022
Travis Kelce will remain the primary option. Justin Watson handles the JuJu Smith-Schuster role with a little more speed for as long as Smith-Schuster is out. Moore's open-field prowess is a little overstated by draftniks, but his skill against tight man coverage on the perimeter has also been understated.
While I'm pessimistic about Moore taking over for Hardman and/or Toney if one of the two gets healthy this year, I'm open to using Moore until it happens. Maybe it never will.
Fantasy Advice: Add him.
10. Fresh Fish
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 love nothing more than for 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.
Special of the Week: Melvin Gordon
A red-zone fumble—one of the multiple fumbles that have disrupted or ended drives—and questionable decision-making as a pass protector cost the Broncos' offense and cost Gordon his job in Denver. He's a good enough player to contribute to a team, but the reaction to his performance was only somewhat surprising.
Thanks again for all of your feedback on this column. Good luck next week, and may your bold call come true.