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 5 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.
- Kenneth Walker Time Run, don't walk, to grab Kenneth Walker off your waiver wire in shallow formats. Spend 80 percent of your FAAB. Details below.
- Darius Slayton: The Consolation Prize In the Walker Waiver Sweepstakes? It's possible. Slayton has a past track record and did enough to impress as a cheap free-agent addition.
- Austin Ekeler: A One-Week Fling Or A Blossoming Fantasy Love Affair? The state of the Browns' defense suggests you enjoy the moment but do you throw caution to the wind?
- Geno Smith Is Hot: Will It Last?: The difference in Smith's production based on the skill of the opposition is notable, but the outlook remains promising.
- Skylar Thompson's Debut: It went about as expected for a rookie quarterback with no real practice reps making an unexpected NFL debut. The tape shows there's hope for him.
- What Did I Tell You About Khalil Shakir? For the past two weeks ago, I told you Shakir's time is coming in the Gut Check and The Replacements. There's fantasy-relevant growth potential for Shakir this year.
- The Best Play George Pickens Made for His Career Happened on Sunday: It wasn't the best play of his career, but it was the best play for his overall development track.
- Treat Him Right: How Arizona Can Optimize Rondale Moore: Moore has the potential to be far more productive in his offense, and the coaches just might be figuring it out.
- Treat Him Right: How Baltimore Can Optimize Devin Duvernay: Duvernay has earned more usage this year in the offense, and the coaches may be realizing he can do even more for them.
- Fresh Fish: Four defenses that should factor into your fantasy decisions on the weekly.
Let's turn this mother out...
1. Run, Don't Walk, To Add Ken Walker III to Your Squad
More than half of the Yahoo! leagues have Ken Walker III as a free agent. Although Footballguys has long been a home for fantasy players who participate in deeper leagues, many of you play in these formats. There is also a wide range of readers-subscribers who aren't familiar with rookies.
Breece Hall gets a lot of love due to his prototypical physical skills and his recent rise in production. On the basis of overall talent, Walker isn't far behind, if behind Hall at all. Hall is slightly better as an athlete, Walker is slightly more refined.
One of those areas where Walker was ahead of Hall as a prospect was pass protection. Hall has the size to become a good pass protector. His effort was in the "artful dodger" territory of prospects. Jonathan Taylor, who has improved this facet of his play, is a recent and prominent alum.
Walker's performance against the Saints was promising. He identified pressure and exhibited skill with cut blocks and effort as a stand-up blocker against a pair of good NFL defenders.
Kenneth Walker vs Pete Woerner: Not optimal but something to work with in pass pro. pic.twitter.com/r1y64n0SOg— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 10, 2022
Yeah, Cam Jordan got the sack but Kenneth Walker made Jordan redirect three times. That’s about all you can realistically ask for from a rookie RB vs a vet DE #Saints #Seahawks pic.twitter.com/nLfa9qZnBQ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 10, 2022
These were difficult assignments for any running back. While Walker has to work on keeping his head up so he can deliver his hands with more power and balance, he moves his feet well and demonstrated knowledge of angles of attack. This is important for fantasy GMs because the less Deejay Dallas and Travis Homer have to see the field, the better for Walker.
Although not known for his receiving process as a prospect because most draftniks and fantasy analysts look at the volume of receiving production rather than actual game film to note skills such as routes, hand positions, tracking, and transitions from receiver to runner, Walker has enough quality of tape to give it equal or greater weight than the lack of quantity in his Michigan State and Wake Forest box scores.
Dallas and/or Homer may initially earn or maintain a role in two-minute offenses, but don't expect Walker to automatically see the bench in the passing game based on what I've seen of him.
Walker is a smart runner who knows how to set up with defenders with patient work toward the line of scrimmage balanced with decisiveness and speed to access cutback lanes.
If want to learn more and you have 20 minutes for a deep dive into Walker's talents, you can check out this RSP Film Room from last year. Otherwise, see below for my recommendation on Walker, if he's available in your leagues.
Fantasy Advice: Spend 80 percent of your FAAB on Walker. Seattle's offense may not remain as hot as it has been (see the Geno Smith analysis below), but there will be enough opportunities for Walker to shine as a fantasy starter in most formats this year. Look at Hall as an example and consider Walker as a roughly equal talent in a better offense.
The 80 percent figure for your bidding budget is rooted in the idea that you need the remaining 20 percent to stream defenses, kickers, and cheap bye-week options out of desperation. If you're generally cheap about the waiver wire and try to save your money, I recommend listening to my co-host Adam Harstad explain why he recommends this strategy in our weekly Film And Data Podcast.
2. Darius Slayton: This Week's Consolation Prize to the Kenneth Walker Waiver-Wire Sweepstakes?
The Packers' secondary is not the barometer for future fantasy success. At the same time, the Giants' passing game delivering 200 yards passing against anyone is a high-water mark this year.
Daniel Jones is a big part of the problem. So is Brian Daboll, whose desire to teach his receiving corps lessons about effort, competition, and preparation may bear long-term fruit for the organization, but it's rough going for fantasy GMs with any draft-day investments in New York's passing game.
Slayton began his career with a 740-yard, 8-touchdown season under Pat Schurmur. The next year, Joe Judge arrived in town and as we know about new coaching regimes, they have "their players," and don't have to be as invested in past draft picks or signings.
Slayton arrived in New York as a talented athlete with a high ceiling but a track record of inconsistency at Auburn. Judge, playing and failing at the tough-guy coaching role, likely buried Slayton early if Slayton didn't demonstrate the veteran-level professionalism that Judge demanded.
Daboll has a similar demand but his communication and execution of his demands appear far more mature. This weekend, Slayton caught 6 of 7 targets for 79 yards, making some impressive plays along the way.
Slayton's best fantasy season to date is a low-end fantasy WR3 value in 12-team formats (33rd among receivers). Although Kadarius Toney's potential return could change the dynamic of the receiving corps, it doesn't appear on track to happen any time soon. Kenny Golladay is dealing with an MCL sprain, and before the injury, he was trying to use his contract as justification for more playing time.
The Giants' next five games are against Baltimore, Jacksonville, Seattle, Houston, and Detroit — all in the bottom half of the league against the pass, and four of the five are ranked 23rd or worse. In terms of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, the Ravens (3rd) and Lions (8th) are the most generous. They also play Washington (4th) twice. The Seahawks are the only team on New York's schedule that's among the 10 stingiest units against receivers.
Slayton plays big and offers the best athletic profile and skill set to approximate a primary receiver while Toney and Golladay remain in the training room and/or the bench.
Fantasy Advice: If you don't land Walker, Slayton will be a solid value. I doubt many will be considering a significant investment of free agent dollars on him, which means you can probably get him comfortably at 7-10 percent of your remaining budget and see how it works out. Considering the quality of the opposition on the schedule, New York will have to throw a lot more than it has.
They began the year with Tennessee, Carolina, a banged-up Cowboys offense, and Chicago.
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