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Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE
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 15 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.
- Trevor Lawrence Is the Story of the Month: If the Jaguars can maintain the foundation it has, Lawrence will be a top-five fantasy QB next year.
- Monster of the Midway: Justin Fields is a one-man gang. Short-term, he's every bit as valuable as Lawrence in fantasy football.
- 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.
- Week 15 Surprises: Mild, Moderate, and Mega-The links between Rhamondre Stevenson, Latavius Murray, and Tyler Allgeier.
- Hindsight is 20/20: Zach Wilson was not the player to bank on based on his season of work, but the Lions' defense was.
- Revisiting Jalen Hurts' Pre-Draft Scouting Report:: .
- Trey McBride's Buy-Low Window: It may not be open yet, but it will be open for a while.
- Dawson Knox's 2022 Was Complicated: The young veteran has a lot left and you should buy into him.
- Jahan Dotson Is Emerging:
- 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. Story of the Month: Trevor Lawrence's Rise
Development is rarely linear. It may appear this way looking back on a player's trajectory over the course of months or years, but it often doesn't appear that way week-to-week.
Take Trevor Lawrence as an example. Last year, Lawrence finished as fantasy football's QB22 after starting 17 games amid the disaster of Urban Meyer's regime.
- 59.6 completion percentage.
- 6.05 yards per attempt.
- 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions
Labeled a generational quarterback entering the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence may have been QB22, a low-end QB2 in Super-Flex formats, but his 12.1 fantasy points per game were 36th among quarterbacks last year. On average, you were better off starting QB2 streamers than you were riding with Lawrence.
The public either expected Lawrence to begin hot or a steady rise in performance during the second half of the year. Either way, they expected a linear shape with his development trajectory. Instead, his value flatlined, and for the first half of 2022, Lawrence was meeting the low-end of fantasy expectations as QB10, averaging 16.2 points per game, completing 62.5 percent of his passes, and managing 13 total scores to 6 interceptions.
But Matt, how was Lawrence meeting the low-end expectations of QB10 if he was drafted commensurate to that ranking?
No one drafts a QB like Lawrence thinking they're getting a QB10. They're drafting him there with the belief that they're earning value. So when Lawrence was only delivering to his ADP, it may be literally to expectation, but it was figuratively below them based on how we really think as a fantasy community.
This is one of the reasons I've seen some folks slow to come around on Lawrence and why his dismantling of the Cowboys' defense on Sunday will be seen as the turning point — even if the data has been ahead of the narrative.
Lawrence is the No.5 quarterback in fantasy leagues this year, but he has plowed his way up the charts during the second half of the season.
Since Week 9, Lawrence is QB5, averaging 23.5 points per game, completing 70.4 percent of his passes, and managing 15 total scores to 1 interception. His yards per attempt are also up from 6.64 to 7.53.
There are two things I'm noticing about Lawrence's game that has changed. First, Lawrence is identifying the easy solutions as a field general.
Last year and earlier this year, Lawrence wouldn't see the easy yards a defense was presenting him pre-snap, or he wouldn't take them because he was too attached to a specific route. What he's seeing from opposing defenses is beginning to sink in.
Second, he's not only learning that quick solutions keep drives alive, but they generate favorable down-and-distance situations that open the playbook and the field for big plays. The recognition of little details and taking what the defense gives him also forces the defense into more binds and leads to easier plays.
As a result, we're beginning to see the plays we expected from a prospect with a generational label:
- Layering passes over and around defenders on the move to his left.
- Finding receivers in tight windows in the red zone.
- Long passes over the defense while on the move.
Fantasy Advice: Keep in mind that Lawrence is delivering top-five fantasy production thanks to a stretch of games since Week 9 that includes the Chiefs, Ravens, Lions, Titans, and Raiders. Only the Cowboys' defense was not among the top 12 most generous units to quarterbacks this year. Five of Lawrence's past six opponents have been a cake schedule relative to the rest of the league.
This is why his performance against the Cowboys, one of the eight stingiest units for quarterback production, was a showcase moment for Lawrence's development.
It's worth a reminder that the Jaguars' skill players aren't superstars. Marvin Jones is in his twilight years. Zay Jones drops more passes than he should. He and Evan Engram are boom-bust cast-offs who have underachieved for much of their careers. Travis Etienne is also a boom-bust option as a decision-maker and still delivers more big errors than he should in any given contest.
Christian Kirk was the only skill player arriving in town who was still in his prime and had a reliable production resume. Calvin Ridley will join the Jaguars next year, and as exciting as he is, he's also a pass-dropper and more of a high-end WR2 than a top-tier WR1. With Lawrence playing the way he is, it might still be worth projecting Ridley near his ceiling of potential in 2023.
Expect the Jaguars to be the division favorite in 2023, with Lawrence earning an ADP in the range of QB5-QB7.
2. Monster of the Midway: Justin Fields Is A One-Man Gang
Justin Fields is also in that QB5-QB7 fantasy range this year and likely next. Although Lawrence lacks a receiver that many would define as a true primary option, or to be fairer to the talents of Christian Kirk, a top primary option, Fields' receiving corps is nowhere near the Jaguars' in quality.
Chicago's best receiver might be Byron Pringle, who missed much of the season and was no better than Patrick Mahomes II No.4 option in Kansas City. Yes, there are still Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney fans out there, but there's not a single receiver in this corps I'd make a priority in the first 8-10 rounds of a re-draft league.
That's the bad news. The good news?
But here's how good Fields was against the Eagles: Philadelphia's defense has the lowest passer rating against it this year. Fields' performance against them earned him a 119.5 passer rating--the second-highest of the week heading into Monday night. He did this without four of his top receivers.
More good news? The Bears' wanted to emphasize the run game headed into this year, and they did it. Fields, Khalil Herbert, and David Montgomery are the three best skill options on the team and Chicago will still have Herbert and Fields in 2023.
Herbert is good enough to take over next year, which allows the Bears to focus more on receiving weapons during the offseason. The factor that may stand in the way might be the Bears' insistence that they don't have to make major moves at wide receiver.
Mooney and Claypool are more like having Marvin and Zay Jones without the Christian Kirk element to tie it all together. The sooner Chicago faces this fact, the sooner this team can become significantly better on offense.
Until then, this offense remains a one-man gang.
Fantasy Advice: Fields, like Michael Vick, will likely provide 700-1,100 yards of rushing to supplement his anemic starter totals as a fantasy passer, and the combined yardage and scores will make him a top option. This is the case for at least the next 3-5 years.
While capable of production ranging from 25-45 fantasy points in a given week, there's a ceiling on his dynasty potential if the Bears cannot give him top weapons in the passing game. While the injury potential for running quarterbacks is often a myth because the public lumps all types of runners together, as Fields ages, his running skills will decline over time.
If you have Fields, know that 3-4 years is an eternity in fantasy leagues. Enjoy you for this time, and if the Bears don't improve Fields' weaponry, it may prove worthwhile to sell high on him at the end of that period.
Either way, buy into Fields with the presumption that he's either going to sustain his value or add to it with better weapons. He's an anchor player for dynasty rosters and likely at a slight discount.
3. The Rookie Scouting Portfolio Pre-Draft/Post-Draft Guide
I'm keeping this from last week. 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. Week 15 Surprises: Mild, Moderate, and Mega
The playoffs are always filled with surprise players. While the preferred stance with fantasy prospects is to start the players that got you to this point, it's not realistic. Most leagues have six seeds in their playoffs and I don't see many teams in seeds beyond the first three that have strong rosters from top to bottom.
The weakest positions for many of these teams are at RB2, WR3, or at the RB/WR flex spot. Three of the Week 15 surprises were running backs.
The mildest of those surprises this weekend was Rhamondre Stevenson. His ability is no longer a question mark, but his health was. There's not much to note about Stevenson that's lesson-worthy on its own, but when you link Stevenson with the next two backs on this list, it creates a valuable picture for the next two weeks when considering the runners I'm about to mention as well as backs who may become valuable but aren't yet on the fantasy radar.
Beyond having a favorable defensive matchup, the factors favoring Stevenson as a productive player are worth using as a checklist for other potential options:
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"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE