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 2's Cliff's Notes
The early weeks of the NFL often deliver wild outcomes. From a film-based perspective, this has a lot to do with assignment breakdowns either on offense or defense.
This is the reality of free agent and rookie additions performing with new teammates and schemes for the first time — especially when injuries force a player into a lineup in the middle of a game. Players and coaches usually know who to pick on.
This leads to late-game collapses, surprising performers, and bewildering lows for players we expected to count on as weekly fantasy starters.
The article below will provide expanded thoughts and supporting visuals for the following points as well as thoughts on players who should make a difference for you this year. I always provide bullet points for those lacking the time to see the tape examples and expanded commentary.
- Mike McDaniel Fantasy Head Coach 1.01?: If not, he's on the ascent thanks to a melding of Tyreek Hill, Jalen Waddle, and Mike Gesicki into a scheme that makes Tua Tagovailoa look like Carson Wentz during his second year in Philadelphia.
- Two-And-A-Half Men: The Number of Fantasy Starters Lamar Jackson Can Support in the Passing Game: Jackson is a unique quarterback in the NFL who could deliver fantasy MVP value this year thanks to Rashod Bateman, Mark Andrews, and, depending on the week, Devin Duvernay or Isaiah Likely.
- Boston Dynamics' Secret Weapon Is Nick Chubb: The robotics firm is famous for its kinda cute but moderately disturbing social media videos of mechanical dogs and humanoids dancing and doing tricks. What they haven't told you: Chubb is their advanced model that they don't think society is ready to know about.
- Mike Williams Is a Vacuum Cleaner: The Hoover Bolt-Action 81 is the quintessential "Option1-B" Receiver archetype capable of low-end fantasy WR1 production during the season with a 1-A in the fold and 1-A production when called upon.
- IDP Alert: Pete Werner Is the New Bobby Wagner: A perennial top-10 fantasy inside linebacker, Wagner earned a high volume of tackles, occasionally sacked the quarterback, and made plays in coverage. The second-year Werner is establishing himself in that mold.
- Chris Olave's Time Is Coming: The Saints' rookie had over 350 Air Yards in a loss to the Buccaneers. Once Jameis Winston refines his half of the vertical connection with Olave, we're looking at a fantasy starter.
- Brian Daboll Is My Coaching Hero: Kadarius Toney's September is disappointing, but the way he's handling Toney, Kenny Golladay, and using Richie James is just what the Giants' culture needs. Read on for fantasy advice on all three
- Are You Done Overreacting to Allen Robinson's Week 1? Should You Be? You should be. Robinson's performance illustrates that his career isn't toast even if his weekly production may prove more of an adventure than we hoped.
- Curtis Samuel: When differentiating between Scheme Players and Match-Up Players, Samuel is the Scheme King.
- Fresh Fish: Matt Ryan, Winston, and the Ravens and Commanders' defenses all earn the dubious honor this week.
1. Fantasy Head Coach 1.01? Mike McDaniel
If not, McDaniel is on the ascent thanks to a melding of Tyreek Hill, Jalen Waddle, and Mike Gesicki into a scheme that makes Tua Tagovailoa look like Carson Wentz during his second year in Philadelphia. I liked Tagovailoa as a prospect and I've never been down on him as many were during the first two years of his pro career.
The most superficial point of quarterback analysis that I read annually in the public eye is hyperfocused on arm strength. If a quarterback doesn't have the arm strength to deliver the deep out and deep comeback from the opposite hash with the velocity to keep the trajectory of the target low, fans write off the prospect.
This has to do with years of former quarterbacks-turned-analysts from the 1970s and 1980s earning guest spots on every national and local television and radio outlet and preaching this gospel to these audiences on a daily basis for the past 30 years.
Drew Brees, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Philip Rivers, Bernie Kosar, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Jeff Garcia, Rich Gannon, and Peyton Manning are considered exceptions to the rule despite the list gaining most of its names since 1995 — the cusp of our modern era of pro football. Most of these players have been Pro Bowl players, production leaders, and serious MVP candidates.
Tagovailoa's arm is good enough to win in the NFL. It may not be good enough to carry a team without top weapons in any offensive system —especially one that leans hard on a big arm to make the scheme go — but Tagovailoa's mobility, placement, and understanding of when to be aggressive were all traits he brought to the pro game from Alabama that would only improve as he earned experience.
Tagovailoa is still gaining these experiences. The best quarterbacks in the NFL tend to be at their best after at least 4-6 years of experience despite league ownership wanting to maximize ticket sales by pushing development timelines past their breaking point.
As we saw on Sunday, Mike McDaniel's mind for offense and aggression with personnel decisions are making Tagovailoa's transition easier than it was during the Brian Flores era in Miami where there was a conflict between the coach and management — and management bears the weight of the dysfunction. Although it may seem like any coach would be all-in on pursuing Tyreek Hill, that's not always the case.
McDaniel could have easily seen Hill as a high-cost option with a skill set that's somewhat redundant to what he already had with Jaylen Waddle and the capital given up to get Hill might slow the progress of the build he envisioned. Instead, Miami's new head coach regarded Hill as a must-have component in his offense.
The combination of Hill and Waddle influences opposing defenses to give the pair a lot of cushion on the outside — even in a lot of run-game scenarios. This helps running backs earn the edge on perimeter plays. And you don't want to give the likes of Raheem Mostert a soft edge on a consistent basis.
In case you missed it, Mostert started the game ahead of Chase Edmonds and earned nearly two-thirds of the carries for the Dolphins in this contest, relegating Edmonds to a change of pace and receiving-down specialist. File that away.
The combination of Hill and Waddle creates schematic mismatches where one of the receivers earns two-way-go opportunities in the slot. It's almost unfair to defenders in the middle of the field to guard these explosive receivers with excellent routes and elite stop-start acceleration. This 62-yard gain from Tagovailoa to Waddle on a double move from the slot is a perfect example.
Another way of scheming Hill and Waddle open is using one of the duo as bait. This is especially impactful in the red zone where defenses have to react immediately to the potential of quick-hitting plays that offenses run in these compressed environs. Watch Waddle score on this tunnel screen that, thanks to Hill's presence in the backfield, influences the box defenders to remain in the box while Waddle gets two Dolphins linemen to match up with Ravens' defensive backs.
The presence of Hill and Waddle also forces safeties to shade them over the top and leave holes up the seams for other options, especially Mike Gesicki, who won this well-placed but difficult target at the end line.
Gesicki with the leaping TD grab. pic.twitter.com/epnQrz5X1S— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 18, 2022
It's not all Hill. As we see, Waddle and Gesicki are good enough to command attention without Hill. Waddle is a rising star in his own right who deserves top billing as a young receiver relative to any option you can name, including Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and A.J. Brown. The box score may not tell you this, but the film sure does. Waddle is a terrific route runner with underrated toughness at the catch point and elite open-field ability.
Even if the box score jockeys aren't completely sold yet, opposing defenders know it. It also leads to Hill earning mismatches that can flip the field and the outcome of the game in short order. Ravens defenders who were not quite ready for prime time discovered this reality on Sunday.
What shouldn't be lost in this analysis was Tagovailoa's execution. Sure, he lacked the arm to throw the ball 55-60 yards in the air with pinpoint accuracy to Hill, but neither did most of the quarterbacks I mentioned earlier in this segment. Criticism can be a symptom of the public's reaction to something that they don't understand. When they don't understand why a quarterback isn't performing well, they nitpick the things they can easily see.
They nitpicked the quarterbacks mentioned earlier in this segment until the results were strong enough that the nits were drowned out by cheers because the fact a world-class speedster has to slow down 2-3 steps to catch a target is a basement-level priority among the things that matter about quarterback play.
Hill and Waddle each earned 11 targets and 2 touchdowns, nearly splitting 361 passing yards down the middle. Waddle earned more of the schemed plays, but he is a match-up-caliber route runner who can beat top cornerbacks. Look for McDaniel to interchange these two options when it comes to schemed opportunities.
Tagovailoa delivered six scores and 469 yards with 36 completions of 50 targets, linking up with 9 different receivers. It may have been the Hill and Waddle show, but completions to nearly 10 different options shouldn't be written off. McDaniel's offense sets up a lot of quick-hitters for Tagovailoa to get rid of the ball early and force opponents to gradually climb tighter to the receivers and anticipate the short stuff.
The Ravens' secondary has problems, which one would expect when giving up a 469-yard, 6-touchdown day — 4 of them during an epic fourth-quarter collapse — but don't write this off as the sole reason the Dolphin's passing game performed.
Fantasy Advice: Tagovailoa will at least deliver low-end QB1 value in 12-team leagues. Think of him as a budding Kirk Cousins with better passing-down weapons. Waddle and Hill are candidates to earn top-five production at the receiver position. I'd value them as top-12 fantasy options at the position. Based on usage, Hill will have more boom-bust days, Waddle will be the target leader.
Mostert must have shown enough in Week 1 and during practice heading into Week 2 for McDaniel to install Mostert as the lead back for the ground game. He didn't disappoint on a per-touch basis. He might be a decent buy-low as a part of a larger deal.
If you paired Tagovailoa with Trey Lance, Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, or even Aaron Rodgers, congratulations, you have your lead starter for at least the rest of the month and a promising option for the rest of the year. He'll get nitpicked all year from those who think he's a bad quarterback. You shouldn't care because he's in a good offense with two of the 10 most dangerous receivers in the game today and an offensive mind who, according to Hill, calls the game like it's Madden. Take it!
2. Two-And-a-Half Men: What Lamar Jackson Can Support in Fantasy
Rarely does a player win the game on his own, even if you earn enough production to account for big days at two positions. Jackson's 21-for-29, 318-yard, 3-touchdown performance as a passer and 9-carry, 119-yard, and 1-touchdown haul as a runner illustrate this perfectly.
Jackson was dominant Sunday and his defense was weak enough to blow the game. Not that the Ravens' offense didn't falter at times, but they built a 21-point lead after three quarters. One thing that's worth a rant is the narrative that Jackson is getting better as a passer and pocket player.
His production may be improving but his execution and decision-making have been much better than credited since his second season in the NFL. Last year, Jackson played incredible football despite missing so many valuable weapons during the season. This year, Jackson has better weapons, even if still missing the guts of his ground game.
My top three receivers pre-draft in the 2021 Rookie Scouting Portfolio were Chase, Waddle, and Rashod Bateman in that order. Bateman put on a clinic Sunday against a good Dolphins secondary, announcing his arrival as an ascending talent in the NFL.
After the Dolphins' thoroughly disrupted the Ravens' passing game with its zero-blitz packages in 2021, a healthy Ravens line and skill players were ready this year. Jackson and Bateman served notice on the Dolphins early in the game with this site adjustment on a corner blitz.
When the Dolphins brought the blitz, Bateman proved that he could win one-on-one with Xavien Howard with technically-skilled route running.
By halftime, Howard was paying respect to Bateman's explosion and craft.
While Bateman and Andrews are the most significant parts of the equation, it's becoming clear that these two are opening up the offense for Jackson to support the third option in the passing game. Last week, it was Devin Duvernay who opened this week's game with a 104-yard kick return but suffered a head injury during the game and further opened the door for rookie Isaiah Likely to earn meaningful targets on schemed plays for him.
When Duvernay is healthy, you'll see the targets split between him and likely. You're going to hear more about Demarcus Robinson as if he's a compelling equal to Duvernay in role and function, but Robinson hasn't shown enough during his career to earn that respect from defenses. Duvernay has more match-up components to his game than Robinson.
When J.K. Dobbins and/or Gus Edwards return, look for Duvernay and Likely to emerge more often as recipients of deeper routes off play action like sail routes, the deep cross, and the deep seam. They will deliver compelling flex production more often when the ground game beyond Jackson returns to form.
These examples above underscore the central point: there's enough surrounding talent to help Lamar Jackson become a fantasy MVP candidate once again.
Grandma: Lamar, get another needle ready for me…. pic.twitter.com/p2mUmRmAiw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 18, 2022
There is no more dangerous weapon in fantasy football than Jackson with a competent supporting cast. He has always moved well in the pocket, in contrast to the nearly as mobile but far less efficient Kyler Murray. Jackson's data in the middle of the field has always been strong, and he makes few mistakes. This may be the last year that a part of the public underestimates him.
Fantasy Advice: Jackson is my favorite to remain QB1 all season with a floor of no lower than QB3. If Dobbins returns to form, look out because we'll see even greater efficiency, and the Ravens may even close out leads. Bateman is a legitimate fantasy starter. Expect him to finish among the top 15-20 options at his position this year.
Andrews will stay in the top 3-4 at his position because opponents can't focus on him, and he's running routes in Jackson's wheelhouse. Duvernay is the most likely option to earn big plays covering 25-40 yards in the passing game that aren't going to Bateman and Andrews. He also has YAC potential on screens and leaks from the backfield.
Likely is earning schemed targets, which is a good sign that the Ravens want to incorporate him into the game plan. He's winning in open space but for him to become a top-15 fantasy option at his position, he'll have to win one-on-one and earn the trust from Lamar Jackson that it will happen. Or, he'll need to take over for an injured Mark Andrews in Andrews' zone-beater role.
Even then, I don't see Likely earning elite production if he earns Andrews' role in that capacity. He'll get a bump to a low-end starter.
3. Nick Chubb: Boston Dynamics' Secret Weapon
You've seen the cute but disturbing promotional videos of our future overlords from Boston Dynamics, right?
I have a theory: Nick Chubb is the iteration of Boston Dynamics robots the company doesn't want you to know about out of fear that the human race would revolt before they can build an entire army of them to take over the world. They're testing him in Cleveland. It's a perfect setting: A team with a legacy of bumbling ownership that will prevent Chubb from being too prominent on the national radar because the team will self-destruct. However, this demise only happens after being competitive enough that Boston Dynamics can thoroughly test this advanced model and get several years of quality data.
It's also why Cleveland hasn't traded Kareem Hunt. Boston Dynamics needed a human control variable for its experiment.
So far, the data is promising. the Chubb Robot looks like an elite athlete and makes high-end decisions in complex settings that are spot-on for a human with great processing speed and accuracy for the position. If anything, it's just a little too on the mark. They need to reel it back a bit, just like they did with the robot's balance because if the Chubb model robot stuck this pirouette, the public would be on to Boston Dynamics — the same way they were with the Barry Sanders model and the company had to retire it early.
The Sanders model was too agile within the normal bounds of human athletic ability. You may not have seen the ball-bearings for ankles, but no animate or inanimate object could move that way without them. It's smart that they went back to the Jim Brown model for inspiration. Model No.32 was on the cusp of suspending disbelief and it forced Boston Dynamics to retire the Brown model early because the model's ability to withstand punishment and still operate at peak efficiency was 2-3 years away from raising serious public inquiry.
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