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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 13 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.
- JaMarr Chase Is Back...What He Teaches Us to Seek from Fantasy WR1s: The hip doesn't appear to be a concern. His technique is teaching tape for what you should expect from a primary fantasy receiver.
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling Is An Adventure with Every Target...Why WRs Like Him Should Never Be Considered More than Fantasy WR3s: Let these techniques/lapses be your ceiling for valuing fantasy receivers.
- The Rookie Scouting Portfolio Pre-Draft/Post-Draft Rookie Guide Pre-Order Period Begins: What it is, why it works, and how to get it.
- QB Anthony Richardson Declares for the NFL Draft: The Florida QB is considered a polarizing prospect. He shouldn't be. He's a good pocket manager with legitimate skills as a field general.
- QB Brock Purdy's Outlook in San Francisco: There's a chance Purdy's run as a substitute starter is limited until the 49ers insert a veteran, but I wouldn't assume it's a slam dunk. Here's what Purdy can offer fantasy GMs if it comes to it.
- Jordan Mason Is Worth Roster Space: Here are two plays that illustrate why.
- Christian Watson Is on A Path to Fantasy WR1 Value: Lessons to learn from his pre-draft scouting report and current play that can help you with other rookie receivers.
- A.J. Brown, D.J. Chark, and Exceptions Making the Rule: Brown is a technically-sound pass catcher. Chark has developed into a technically-sound option but still has lapses that he overcomes. What is there to learn from Chark?
- How the Chiefs Offense Counters Most NFL Defenses Trying to Stop Them: It's rooted in what's called a 1-4 split and we may see more offenses adopt it in 2023.
- Fresh Fish: Players and units that present good matchups that we can leverage for our benefit. This week's candidate dropped a lot of targets.
Let's turn this mother out...
1. JaMarr Chase Demonstrates What We Should Seek From A Fantasy WR1
What makes a wide receiver a potential fantasy WR1? JaMarr Chase's game is a good template for the characteristics that lead to WR1 production.
While speed, quickness, vertical leaping, and agility are all valuable, they are baseline requirements to make the NFL. Starters often have more of these athletic components than backups and WR1s often have more of them than contributors with WR4-WR5 value on fantasy rosters.
Even so, athletic ability is rarely the separation between a fantasy WR3 and a fantasy WR1. What about college production? While statistical data is a layer of information that can be helpful a significant reliance on it is like using diet pills to lose weight. It may do the job short term, but it's not going to sustain you long-term.
Techniques and concepts do a better job of defining that line between a low-end starter (WR3-WR4) and a WR1-WR2 in fantasy football. How a player tracks and catches the football separates consistent producers from boom-bust options.
Don't get me wrong, boom-bust options have value in fantasy football but they rarely attain fantasy WR1 value. Players who know how to position their hands based on the trajectory of the ball and use their fingertips to catch targets have the capacity to exceed the WR3 threshold (see No.2 on Marquez Valdes-Scantling below for more on this threshold).
Even WR1s experience lapses with catching technique, but they are occasional lapses or slight imperfections in contrast to significant flaws and frequent lapses.
The other separator between WR1/WR2s and WR3s is route running. The top receivers often run the greatest variety of routes. They often get moved around the formation and play more than one offensive role (split end, flanker, and/or slot). They also know the techniques to manipulate man and zone coverages.
The best of the WR1/WR2s can manipulate and dominate man-to-man defenders on intermediate routes within the range of 14-28 yards downfield from the quarterback's release point. This range isn't exact or official, I use 14-yard increments to divide up the distance ranges of throws for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (to learn more about the RSP, read No.3 below).
This intermediate range is often the first read in a progression and the amount of time and space required to break open also requires a richness of details to manipulate or counter a defender one-on-one. This range also requires receivers to not only possess the athletic ability to separate but also demand that athletic ability is refined into techniques that make the receiver's movements efficient and productive.
Chase is a masterful route runner. You may think Chase is pushing off in the video below, but as I explain in the audio, these are legal maneuvers that any receiver can work into their game if they choose.
WR3s tend to run a limited route tree and their success with intermediate-range routes against man coverage isn't as high. What you'll find on film is that most receivers who will never transcend fantasy WR3 value lack the richness of technical details in their routes compared to WR2s and WR1s.
The final component I'll mention today (there are more, but these three are simple guidelines) is winning after the catch. There are many receivers who are skilled after the catch, but they have difficulties or limitations with the first two guidelines. If a receiver meets the first to guidelines and can earn YAC, you have a WR1 candidate.
Chase is known for his YAC prowess in the open field, but another telling part about his game—and the games of other WR1s—is that coaches and quarterbacks scheme plays to them in short-yardage situations because they believe the receiver is one of, if not the, best player on the field who can create enough to make the play.
Ja’Marr Chase gets it when they need it. pic.twitter.com/uSnMrTm0Gc— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 5, 2022
Fantasy Advice: We know Chase is a WR1 for the foreseeable future in fantasy football. What is worth knowing is that sound pass-catching techniques, intermediate route-running versus man-to-man coverage, and YAC skills on "must-have" plays are three guidelines that often separate future WR1s from WR2s, WR3s, and flex options.
2. Marquez Valdes-Scantling And the Fantasy WR3 Barrier
I won't draft players like Valdes-Scantling or Gabriel Davis inside of the 12th round of PPR formats. They may wind up on my team as late-round options, trade throw-ins, or waiver-wire bargains, but as a general rule, these wide receivers aren't worth valuing beyond a low-end fantasy WR3.
If you've done the math, you may wonder why I didn't state the guideline's limits to the 8th or 9th round in formats that start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, and 1-2 Flexes. The answer is rooted in the upside of a player and positional demand.
In the first 12 rounds of a draft with the lineup allotment mentioned above, I'm considering 2 QBs, 4-5 RBs, 2 WRs, and a TE. That's 9-10 of 12 rounds right there. So yes, there are at least 2-3 more spots for wide receivers with this guideline and that includes a WR3, WR4, and possibly a WR5.
That being the case, why not consider Valdes-Scantling or Davis as a WR4-WR5? If I can get them as a WR4-WR5 after the 12th round, sure. When drafting inside the 12th round, I'm giving preference to receivers who also have WR1-WR2 potential. While Davis is technically on the cusp of WR2 value right now, his point totals are a clear tier below the WR2s and there are a lot of WR3s grouped tightly with Davis.
More important than Davis' overall point totals is how he and Valdes-Scantling earn points on the field. It's becoming clearer to me that their technical limitations and flaws place a governor on their games — a likely barrier to long-term PPR fantasy WR2 entry.
Davis and Valdes-Scantling are an adventure every time they earn a target. I've shown enough of Davis' lapses this year. Both have elite quarterbacks in offenses that manufacture big-play targets for them. The problem is they lack the prowess to attack the football in a technically-sound manner to optimize their chances.
It’s almost impressive that Marquez Valdes Scantling can have the point of the ball strike the middle of his palm like a mallet striking a GOOOOOOONG pic.twitter.com/kEgAVyb3dS— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 5, 2022
1-of-3 is good in baseball. MVS catches this, to his credit, but the technique leaves you holding your breath. pic.twitter.com/Z1GHz4ssrf— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 5, 2022
The root cause of Marquez Valdes Scantling’s drop vs contact is not tracking/processing the trajectory well enough to earn optimal position with his body AND his hands.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 5, 2022
He will catch the next one that is an easier target. pic.twitter.com/d2MgOYWzVy
It’s amazing that Marquez Valdes Scantling catches the ball with how often he doesn’t track it well. He actually does the hard part better than the easier part. pic.twitter.com/Fnck2NKFkk— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) December 5, 2022
The last point I state with Valdes-Scantling I make in the final Tweet is not sarcasm. When you think about what a receiver has to do to make up for their difficulty with tracking or initially catching the football, it's impressive that Valdes-Scantling can recover well enough to have a starting job with two NFL offenses featuring future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks.
Still, it doesn't make these tall, fast athletes top-notch wide receivers for fantasy football. Low-range starters? Sure. How about as mid-range starters in a great offense having a tremendous year? Sometimes, but not enough to bet on it.
Fantasy Advice: If a receiver doesn't use the correct overhand technique with their hands close together to catch targets with their fingertips and do so without clapping into the ball, it's a simple guideline to cap their value at a fantasy WR3 role.
I had to face this reality in a league this week. I'm 10-3 and just beat the 11-2 team two weeks ago, thanks to a historical effort from Josh Jacobs. Otherwise, this 11-2 team has only lost 4 games with its all-play record and its bench nearly outscores my starting lineups' season-long output. I was legitimately Buster Douglas to his Mike Tyson in Week 13.
My team has Justin Jefferson, but the other starter is a weekly choice between Jerry Jeudy, Devin Duvernay, and Valdes-Scantling. Don't bash my receivers until you understand that this is a Dynasty league where players only have four years of eligibility to be on any roster. Once they enter year five (there is a fifth-year red-shirt exception), they are no longer eligible to play in the league.
If I face the Tyson-like team in the playoffs, I know it will be better to have consistent players with big-week upside than inconsistent options with the occasional big game. So I gave up a second route pick for what's essentially D.K. Metcalf as a playoff rental because he'll no longer be roster eligible at year's end.
While most of you have long seen Valdes-Scantling as a WR3, at best, Davis is a recent option who earned "future WR1" hype and got value as a mid-range WR2 in many formats. The guideline I mentioned above should give you healthy limits that show you where your choices veer into the high-risk territory.
3. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio Pre-Draft/Post-Draft Guide
Everything I share in this column and other fantasy work is either a product of my work with the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP) or it informs the work I do with it. If you're new to my work and have seen my reference the RSP or you've thought about getting the RSP but never have, I run an annual early-bird pre-order discount in December. This year, it runs through Thursday, December 22nd.
The RSP is a pre-draft/post-draft analysis of at least 150 rookies at the fantasy positions of QB, RB, WR, and TE entering its 18th year of publication. I publish the pre-draft every April 1 and the post-draft no later than a week after the NFL Draft.
You can pre-order here. You'll create a login and a password, and I'll email you when the pre-draft and post-draft are ready for download from the site.
The RSP is written with both a fantasy football and real football perspective. If you weren't aware, the RSP is one of the two most purchased independent draft guides among NFL personnel staff (scouts/management) according to my source, SMU's Director of Recruiting, Alex Brown, who meets weekly with evaluators as the essential duties of his job at SMU as well as past gigs at Rice and Houston.
I've also done some low-level consulting in football with my scouting, recently with a known quarterback coach whose clients include NFL players.
I'm sharing this because the RSP is a detailed and unique evaluation process that often leads to a departure from the consensus draft media analysis.
RSP subscribers have reaped the benefits over the years, most recently by exploiting the values of high-profile players who weren't rated as highly by others (links are to sample RSP scouting reports):
- Chris Olave
- Justin Jefferson
- A.J. Brown
- Cooper Kupp
- Dalvin Cook
- Nick Chubb
- Lamar Jackson
- Patrick Mahomes II
- Travis Kelce
- Pat Freiermuth
On the flip side, the departure from the consensus also leads to cautioning my readers of players who may be widely and highly regarded but lack the foundational skills to deliver to expectation:
And of course, there are also plenty of examples of players who are annually drafted late, if at all, who show the skills to contribute, if not emerge as starters that the RSP identifies early. This helps re-draft and dynasty GMs identify value from the free agent pool as well as leverage favorable trades. Isiah Pacheco, Aaron Jones, and Zonovan Knight are good examples from recent seasons.
The RSP is available for $19.95 through December 22nd and $21.95 after that. You get the pre-draft, post-draft, and email newsletter updates throughout the year.
A portion of sales proceeds (over $55,000 since 2012) has been going to Darkness to Light — an organization devoted to training individuals and communities on how to prevent and properly address sexual abuse.
You can go here for details on what you get with the purchase — it's a lot and it's valuable for fantasy GMs.
You can go here to see what others think about the RSP, or ask around, most are pleasantly shocked, and most become annual subscribers. I'm sure you'll find folks who will remember my misses and like anyone in this industry, I have them and will continue to have them.
I will also continue to improve. That's always been an embedded feature of my process by design. It's a transparent process that's in the publication. Here's a sample of some of my evaluation methods.
Fantasy Advice: If you enjoy and value what I do here, on my podcast, TikTok, my site, my YouTube channel, and Twitter, the RSP is the best content I put out. If you prefer to wait until the pre-order discount is over — many tell me they do — I appreciate that as well.
4. QB Anthony Richardson Declares for the 2023 NFL Draft
Anthony Richardson is a polarizing prospect in the NFL Draft community. I do my best not to spend much time listening to what others have to say at this point of the year, but from what little I’ve gathered, the draft public loves his arm, big frame, running ability, and upper-body mechanics.
They’re scared of his decision-making and footwork. They see moments of impulsive decision-making and wonder aloud about Richardson’s readiness to lead an NFL offense in 2023. They fear if Richardson doesn’t earn a quarterback-friendly head coach, the NFL could grind him up and spit him out by 2025.
Most early-round quarterbacks need a staff that will work with their strengths and minimizes demands that play into the passer’s weaknesses. The contrast in coaching styles and offensive planning of Mike McDaniel and Brian Flores illustrates the differences in Tua Tagovailoa’s production.
You could see the promise in Tagovailoa’s game during his initial NFL starts despite the hand-wringing from fans and film analysts who panned the first-round prospect. They lacked perspective.
Richardson, like all early-round quarterback prospects, has flaws. Some of those flaws are overstated, and it has led the public to question Richardson’s readiness. While I have more to watch, the simple answer to his readiness is yes.
I’m going to do multiple RSP Film Rooms on Richardson’s game this year. After studying him against Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee, it’s clear that Richardson has the baseline tools of a strong pocket manager and a cunning field general.
Yes, Richardson has made impulsive-untimely mistakes. Certainly, there can be added weight to certain mistakes, but we tend to overrate the value, penalizing prospects too harshly.
Part of the problem is that evaluators can be guilty of watching these moments more as fans and adding a narrative to the flaw based on the setting of the mistake. The list of quarterbacks labeled clutch players and choke artists at various points of their careers is too long to mention.
From what I’ve seen of Richardson, he’s skilled at manipulating defenders both in and outside the pocket. He also processes many complex scenarios efficiently and hasn’t earned enough praise for doing so.
This week’s RSP Film Room profiles 20 minutes of plays highlighting Richardson’s pocket and field marshall skills — the two facets of quarterbacking that are the most difficult to teach once players reach this level of play.
Fantasy Advice: If we’re going to learn from Josh Allen, Cam Newton, Matt Stafford, or even go as far back as Steve McNair, we must recognize the skills that quarterbacks must have in strong supply before joining the NFL that serve as a foundation for additional growth at the position. It’s not just about the coach or system.
Yes, the system can be a huge factor, but if the quarterback processes defenses at a solid game speed and has legitimate pocket management skills, his growth potential will be more resilient to the environment around him. It’s not a guarantee, but it is an additional layer of value.
Richardson has that layer to his game. If I'm going to take a shot on a quarterback who some label as a potential high-round projection, I like Richardson a lot more than I ever liked Mayfield, Wilson, Lock, Mitchell Trubsiky, or Desmond Ridder.
5. Brock Purdy: Can He Remain the Substitute Teacher?
The short answer? Yes. The detailed answer? It depends on who John Lynch can find and if Kyle Shanahan agrees.
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"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE