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 7 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.
- Sam Ehlinger: Why It Happened, What to Expect from Him, and Parris Campbell: In a two-week span, Campbell became fantasy relevant. Can Ehlinger sustain Campbell's value, and what else does he bring to the Colts that Matt Ryan doesn't?
- McCaffrey-49ers Deal: A Match Made in Heaven Or Kyle Shanahan's Living Hell? On the surface, the 49ers got one of the five best running backs in football and arguably one of the five best overall skill players in the game, but it also raises expectations for Kyle Shanahan that could lead to his undoing in San Francisco.
- Isiah Pacheco: What We Continue to Ignore about Andy Reid's RB Platoons Barring injury or an elite talent, Reid has always been methodical about changing the workload of his running back platoons. Sunday's news about Pacheco earning more work led to a massive overreaction that ignored Reid's history. Here's what to expect moving forward.
- Carolina's Backfield Post-McCaffrey: Chuba Hubbard and D'Onta Foreman looked good. Who looked better and why? Is the rushing attack sustainable?
- It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Baker: The Beginning of the End for Zach Wilson? Wilson was never a top quarterback prospect, and hopes are fading that he'll make the leap.
- What to Make of Tom Brady No, witchcraft was not a factor, but the offensive line, the receiver situation, and the two-high looks from opposing defenses are hurting his production.
- Double Down on Ezekiel Elliott: Sure, Elliott had a strong day against a poor Lions' defense that was touchdown-aided. Here's why you keep going to the well with Elliott, including...
- Dak Prescott's Return Is the Elixir the Cowboys Needed: Prescott won't cure all the Cowboys' ills, but he's a significant elevator of their potential, especially in fantasy leagues.
- Gus Edwards' Return: The Ravens have been a running back carousel for two years. Can Edwards' return stop the carnival ride?
- Fresh Fish: I'm reluctantly giving Kenny Pickett the label this week.
Let's turn this mother out...
1. Sam Ehlinger: Why It Happened, What to Expect from Him, and Parris Campbell
You're going to hear that Matt Ryan played his way out of the Colts' starting role. There's some truth to it, but it's more complicated than that.
People will cite the interceptions. Ryan threw two against the Titans on Sunday. Let's look at them. As you'll see, it's more complicated than it appears. The first looks like a bad throw until you understand how sight adjustments are supposed to work against the blitz and that Parris Campbell failed to make one that leads to a pick-six.
I think Campbell failed to make the sight adjustment here and leads to a pick six. pic.twitter.com/70vuoGp6Pd— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
The second interception is Ryan's fault. It's also an excellent play by linebacker David Long Jr, who baits Ryan into the decision. It's one of those plays where Long's performance deserves more credit for being good and Ryan deserves less criticism for his.
Fans and fantasy players don't like these situations because they aren't simple. The truth isn't always simple.
You'll probably hear the reason for Ryan's benching is that they believe Sam Ehlinger gives the Colts the best chance to win. This sounds odd when considering that Ehlinger is a third-day draft pick from last year who lacks a rocket arm and couldn't get Texas over the hump — all of the superficial things sportswriters love to share — but what Elhinger brings is better suited for what the Colts could not provide Ryan: adequate protection in the pocket.
After speaking with Trench Warfare's Brandon Thorn about the Colts' line last night, his simplest explanation for the state of the unit is that the team misses guard Mark Glowinski and tackle Eric Fisher more than they anticipated when it let them walk at the end of last year. While Ryan has been a good pocket passer with underrated skills maneuvering from pressure, he's not the same player he once was in this area.
The Colts don't see their offensive line getting any better this year, and they likely feel the lack of time that Ryan needs will hamstring the offense. The Colts also have a lot of youth and inexperience at receiver. Ryan's ability to see the field and process information is a strength, but only if his receivers can be on the same page with him. Aaron Rodgers is dealing with the same issues.
This is an athletic receiving corps. If the Colts had a quarterback who could extend plays, they could lean less on the conceptual pre-snap adjustments that are difficult for young/inexperienced receivers and lean into extending plays and letting receivers use their athletic ability to re-route into open spaces.
Another benefit of a mobile quarterback is the potential to design runs that force opposing defenses to account for all 11 players on offense. This makes it easier for the offensive line to create rushing lanes and opens the ground game. With a more efficient rushing attack, the Colts can also generate more one-on-one matchups that benefit the passing game, especially with their athletic receivers.
This is the likely theory behind the pat answer you'll hear from the staff: We believe Ehlinger gives us a better chance to win.
This is also an opportunity to give a young quarterback a mid-year audition. Jalen Hurts and Davis Mills made good on theirs, and both turned half of a season into an extended audition the following season. Bengals' Ryan Finley got one. It didn't work out for him, but it gave the Bengals clarity for their next draft, which led to the selection of Joe Burrow.
The Colts have obviously thought they were a quarterback away from serious contention. Philip Rivers wasn't that player when they had a strong offensive line. Matt Ryan is arguably better, but without an offensive line that Rivers had and missing pieces on defense, it doesn't matter.
The team has that clarity of thought to realize it's time to see if what they liked from Ehlinger can manifest in the regular season before moving onto a new plan in 2023.
When I scouted Ehlinger, I listed the Colts and Eagles as a good fit for his development. He reminded me of David Garrard, the former Jaguars' starter who reminds me also of Jalen Hurts. Funny enough, Senior Bowl Direction Jim Nagy mentioned that Ehlinger reminds him in many respects of Hurts.
You get the picture: Ehlinger is a sturdy and mobile player who can extend plays and earn yardage with his legs. You can find my entire pre-draft scouting report on Ehlinger here, which includes accuracy charting from games and details of every aspect of his tape.
Here's the Elevator Pitch on Ehlinger from that report:
A game-tested, multi-year starter at a big-time program, Ehlinger has improved every year and plays with a physicality and poise that could translate well to the NFL if he can continue to develop his accuracy and improve the speed of his processing so he’s getting the ball out accurately at the end of his initial drop more often.
Carson Wentz thrived for a year or two behind an Eagles scheme predicated on short drops and quick decisions with zone read decisions from pistol and shotgun. David Garrard would have done the same if in this scheme, especially with a far superior deep game than Wentz.
Ehlinger could be a good understudy for a team that wants to incorporate the offensive principles we’ve seen in Philadelphia and Indianapolis. He’s a sturdy runner with good athletic ability. He handles pressure effectively and he’s an underrated off-platform passer.
He’s like a third-day selection if he gets drafted and that gives him a longer window to develop behind the scenes. In 2-3 years, he could earn an audition as a second-contract starter or develop into a valued backup.
Well, here we are, and right on time.
Look for the Colts to use Ehlinger on designed runs that make Johnathan Taylor's opportunities more efficient while leaning more on its athletic ability over its conceptual mastery of diagnostic football.
Expect the Colts to use a lot of passing plays we've seen with Hurts and Trevor Lawrence: schemed plays with bells and whistles to make misdirection look like multiple reads. If Ehlinger proves successful, we should see more quick-hitting open looks for Michael Pittman Jr, open seams and screens for the young tight ends, effective screens for the running backs, and occasional shot plays for all of the receivers.
The biggest beneficiary may still be Parris Campbell, who has emerged during the past two weeks as a viable fantasy option. Campbell has played the Keenan Allen role in this offense as a short-area receiver who the team hopes to get into open space. Campbell is an excellent athlete and after multiple injuries, has proven healthy enough to show glimpses of what made him an early-round pick.
This is a nice schemed look for Campbell pic.twitter.com/Mk2Vqhx8bl— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
Because Campbell's role is largely in the short and intermediate passing game, look for him to sustain a high volume of targets. If the Colts are successful with using schemed plays that involve more athletic play from Ehlinger to set them up, Campbell could sustain his recent success.
Fantasy Advice: Ehlinger's elevation to the starting role helps Taylor the most. The short passing game should also remain successful, which means Campbell is still a viable addition. Pierce and Pittman's values take on a boom-bust hue until we see how this offense changes and what else Ehlinger has become comfortable doing.
Ehlinger's fantasy value is in the mid-range QB2 tier due to the promise of his rushing production for a team that should implement designed runs as well as what he can do outside structure. He's not as fast as Hurts, but he can earn chunks of yardage, and he's a good short-yardage runner who could steal some green-zone attempts from runners. He's worth adding if you can hang onto a struggling starter but want to test the waters of an athletic orchestrator for a team that may optimize his traits.
2. McCaffrey to 49ers: A Match Made in Heaven Or Kyle Shanahan's Living Hell?
It's hard to imagine McCaffrey struggling anywhere. After all, he was in Carolina for five years and much of that experience was with struggling offenses. McCaffrey and the 49ers' offensive line and Kyle Shanahan's run schemes is a heavenly match on paper that at least looks as promising early on.
CMC is in heaven. pic.twitter.com/DV8cPSoJkO— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
CMC is a scheme diverse back of the highest order. Beyond comparison to any recent prospect. pic.twitter.com/jyZRzvDMF4— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
What's not to love? I'm glad you asked. Ok, I posited the question, but roll with me here.
When a team makes a deal of this magnitude, the pressure is on the coaches and GM to win now. They've already been to a Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo so there's no excuse to the fans or within the organization that they can't do it again with him. The defense is arguably better than it was during its Super Bowl run and Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are more developed receivers.
The only thing missing from this iteration of the 49ers from their roster that went this deep into the season was a top running back. Yes, I know all the spreadsheet jockeys hate trading for running backs because their past histories say it hasn't worked, and it's too much to invest for a player where you can get comparable production.
This is where the data guys don't see the entire context of how much a fully-onboarded McCaffrey can wreak havoc on an opposing defense. They see box scores, EPA, injury rates, and draft capital studies.
Coaches and scouts also see how the presence of one back can create multiple binds for opposing defenses because of his versatility which doesn't happen when you interchange running backs based on situation and opponents become accustomed to the tendencies of personnel usage. When the 49ers use Samuel in the backfield, and they should continue doing so, the potential for match-up nightmares that come with flexing McCaffrey as a receiver skyrockets compared to Jeff Wilson, Elijah Mitchell, Danny Gray, or any runner or wide-out currently on the roster.
These extra moments of doubt cast onto the defense translate to an extra second honoring potential assignments that don't materialize and open bigger rushing and passing lanes for the plays that unfold. They lead to blown assignments that lead to chunk plays and breakaway scores.
McCaffrey is a different bird, potentially free from an offense that couldn't optimize his skills — skills that already seem optimized based on past outcomes.
They see him on par with Austin Ekeler, who is a better route runner than any running back in the league until you throw McCaffrey's name in there. Ekeler is on Brian Westbrook's level of potential as a receiver. McCaffrey is on Marshall Faulk's level of potential. He could have been a legitimate slot receiver if he wasn't a top runner between the tackles.
It's funny how Westbrook chafed at the idea of McCaffrey drawing comparisons to him during that draft class, but he liked the Clyde Edwards-Helaire comps. I bet he feels different now.
You didn't see McCaffrey's potential realized on Sunday because his teammates had to tell him what to do for most of the plays. He needs time, as smart as he is. In a few weeks, we'll see greater comfort with the base plays and early reveals of new plays that exploit McCaffrey's versatility.
At least, we should. McCaffrey is the closest thing to Faulk that we've seen this Faulk was in the NFL. His presence should allow Shanahan to stress opposing defenses with schemed plays that are more versatile than what they could do with Samuel in the backfield as well as putting Samuel back there while flexing McCaffrey in Samuel's spot without much drop-off at the receiver position with many of the routes they'll use.
The expectation of 100-150 yards per game as McCaffrey's per-game yardage total from scrimmage isn't unrealistic.
You may not see it for the next 2-3 weeks, but by Thanksgiving, McCaffrey should get work from the slot and detached as a receiver.
If he doesn't, then all eyes will be on Shanahan. He and Sean McVay are the most "system coaches" of system coaches in the NFL. When system coaches err with personnel, they err on the side of not creating for their best players. McCaffrey is capable of becoming that exception to the rule that will demand Shanahan to bend to McCaffrey and fully realize his abilities.
This is different than Samuel's use as a runner — an adjustment of necessity for Shanahan because he needed more explosion from the ground game and was lacking it last year from his inexperienced backs.
Expectations will be at an all-time high for Shanahan to prove that he's an offensive wizard. He just got the best multipurpose player in the NFL on a team with an excellent offensive line and skill talent that has a lot of multipurpose traits but at a level or two below McCaffrey.
If Shanahan proves inflexible on this front and the 49ers lose, the media will blame him regardless of whether the accusations have merit. If Shanahan is the coach I believe he is, he relishes the chance to have this pressure that comes with McCaffrey's arrival.
Fantasy Advice: There's a small but significant chance of McCaffrey's value having a trap door because of the learning curve. However, I'd ignore it for the shot at the fantasy excellence that could happen with his arrival. A more realistic downside is that McCaffrey is as productive as he was in Carolina without added creative elements. The upside? Marshall Faulk Rams era 2.0.
3. Isiah Pacheco: What We continue to Ignore about Andy Reid's RB Platoons
I can show you clips of Pacheco against the 49ers and dive into the nuances of his performance, but it isn't much different from what we've seen of him at Rutgers or the preseason. He's a fast runner who hits a hole hard and fits well in a gap-oriented scheme that, as I mentioned during the first two weeks of the season, is the best attack of two-high coverage with nickel and dime personnel.
The Chiefs want to hit big plays with the run game when they run the ball during the first three and half quarters and salt away leads during the final minutes when they've built them. Pacheco has the blend of speed and power to deliver in this respect.
What he lacks is what we continue to ignore about Andy Reid. It's something I've been detailing every year since Spencer Ware emerged as a lead back down the stretch and became a legitimate fantasy starter until he got hurt and Kareem Hunt took over:
Unless the back is elite in every phase of the game or there is a significant injury to another runner or two that creates a demand for a lead back, Reid is a committee guy at running back. It's his default approach and while he'll change the pecking order of the players throughout the season as individuals improve or decline with their weekly performances, rarely does he anoint a back with a featured workload.
It took Ware several weeks to earn that opportunity the year before Hunt arrived. It took a Ware injury for Hunt to get that shot, and even then, they amended the role to minimize his use as a blocker. They could do it because of their weaponry, which is rare.
Pacheco isn't earning a lot of reps as a blocker or receiver. Even if he's succeeding with a small number of reps, it's vital for the Chiefs to protect the best player in the organization's history, and entrusting this to a rookie running back on a regular basis isn't happening.
Fantasy Advice: Until Pacheco earns these reps, the split among him, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Jerick McKinnon will remain as it was before Pacheco earned the "starter role" in name. Pacheco will get close-out touches and more touches during opening drives. When the Chiefs are heavily favored, Pacheco is worth consideration as a fantasy starter. Otherwise, he's a bye-week flex-play in deeper leagues until he shows he can completely replace Edwards-Helaire and/or McKinnon.
4. Carolina's Backfield Post-McCaffrey
Immediately after the announcement of the McCaffrey trade, readers clamored for advice on D'Onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard, and even Raheem Blackshear. My first response: Don't bother. It will ultimately frustrate you in most formats. Look elsewhere.
I'm sure many of those readers are thinking that they wish they sought their advice elsewhere after seeing Sunday's game. If we're talking about short-term results, I agree that it was good for Hubbard and Foreman, and if Hubbard can't play in Week 8 due to an ankle injury, it could look good for Foreman again.
What about this season's long-term outlook?
Both runners have levels of competence to deliver fantasy production when game scripts are positive. Last week's performance against a Tampa Bay defense that was missing most of its starting secondary and features two overreactive athletes at linebacker was a perfect illustration of the conditions that can work in Foreman and Hubbard's favor.
The best plays for Carolina's backfield came on passing-down scenarios, screens, and/or cutbacks.
Panthers run in a pass oriented scenario for 7 pic.twitter.com/4H0xg7J2Xq— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 23, 2022
Biggest play in first half by Panthers RBs is this screen to D’Onta Foreman pic.twitter.com/1UIruN30aw— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 23, 2022
Cut back on a gap play for 7 by Foreman pic.twitter.com/va0riw8iEQ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 23, 2022
Big play for D’Onta Foreman. 60 yards. David runs himself out of the lane, pic.twitter.com/I0G1yBRiqW— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
Hubbard TD - White overruns it here pic.twitter.com/SRpGfQPkde— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
Buccaneers with reserve DBs and LBs who are overzealous. Cutbacks galore. Foreman killing their lack of run discipline pic.twitter.com/5mdT3BwM6Y— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
Carolina faces Atlanta twice in the next three weeks, Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Denver before the bye. After the bye, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Detroit, a rematch with Tampa, and New Orleans are the stretch run. There are 6-7 teams with favorable defenses for Carolina to exploit, but none of them are likely to be as decimated as the Buccaneers were last week. And all of these teams have better offensive lines to support scoring that can take the Panthers' offense away from run-heavy scripts. Denver and Atlanta's overall offensive incompetence may be the exceptions.
Fantasy Advice: Hubbard's ankle injury wasn't serious, which means you're looking at a committee in Carolina. Hubbard has a more explosive athletic ability and Foreman is a more refined decision-maker and receiver with better power. Considering the looks that defenses provide, Hubbard doesn't need to be as refined of a decision-maker to succeed because of the gap running that works well against these looks.
Both players have flex potential. Lean toward Hubbard, but Foreman is a solid consolation prize. One will have a consistent RB2 upside if the other gets hurt.
5. It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Baker: the Beginning of the End for Zach Wilson?
The Jets bought into a player type that isn't viable as a starter: Drew Lock and Baker Mayfield. They are products of productive college systems. They have NFL-caliber skills but had clear deficiencies as decision-makers, technicians, and leaders for the NFL game.
Being a good leader on Saturday is no guarantee of doing the same on Sunday. We like to think so, but the demands are higher and the pressure is far greater, both on and off the field. Lock and Mayfield are slow processors of information as it unfolds on the field. Neither has refined technical skills to deliver repeatable accuracy at the highest level required when plays don't unfold perfectly in difficult situations.
While still possible that they figure out how to refine their games, the likelihood of this happening is much smaller than it was when they began their NFL careers. They didn't take the best paths to optimize their development. Some of this is their doing. Some of it was out of their control. Much of it they won't realize until their careers are over and they have time and perspective to reflect upon it.
Zach Wilson is heading down this road. Sure, you can attribute facets of the scheme to the lack of use that Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims have seen, but Moore watched his usage decline significantly in Weeks 5-6 under Wilson's offensive leadership in contrast to Joe Flacco.
Flacco averaged nearly 300 yards per contest against teams with legitimate offenses. Wilson faced a pair of rookie quarterbacks making their first appearances in games and a struggling Packers offense with rookie receivers. Flacco turned the ball over more than Wilson, and the Jets lost two of those three games.
Under Wilson, the Jets have won four in a row. It's no coincidence that Breece Hall averaged over 100 yards from scrimmage in those four wins while spending more of his time in a committee with Michael Carter II during those first three weeks.
While there's an argument that Flacco's issues are just as bad as Wilson's, I'm inclined to believe that Hall was the biggest difference. Regardless of the running back situation, Wilson has to do more and be better than he has shown at any point during his young career to put the Jets in contention with the schedule ahead.
This is the case even with James Robinson getting traded to New York, which may explain why he wasn't used as much on Sunday as people expected and the coach's explanation about his health didn't seem to make sense yesterday afternoon.
The mechanics, processing speed, decision-making, and accuracy are all problematic.
You have no argument from me that Joe Flacco isn't the answer to the Jets' woes. However, he may be the best answer they have if New York can have 7-8 wins by Thanksgiving and are in a position to reach the playoffs and Wilson hasn't made significant strides with his game.
I doubt he will. This is worse than what we saw from Mayfield in Cleveland and with a better defense and receiving talent. If the Jets don't want to travel this same road, it will be wise for them to accept the L on the Wilson pick and move forward with a new plan at quarterback in 2023.
Fantasy Advice: Most leagues won't be coveting Wilson as a starter. This is the one case where I would sell low if there's a buyer for his contract in your dynasty league. He may be a good person but he's not a good NFL quarterback and these players can be regime killers in the league.
6. What to Make of Tom Brady
The reasons for Tom Brady's drop in production range from logical to hilarious. Although my friend Dwain McFarland notes that Brady is getting pressured two percent less than he was last year, the source and gravity of the pressure are more important than the quantity of pressure.
In other words, the game charters may discover Brady is earning a high rate of edge pressure weekly, but it never reaches Brady. This pressure may have a low impact because Brady can climb from it and maintain the timing and integrity of the play call. On the other hand, if the pressure is arriving faster or from the inside and forcing Brady to go off-structure, the pressure has a higher impact overall.
From what I've seen, this is what's happening to Brady. This is logical.
What's hilarious is the notion that Gisele Bundchen and Brady dabbled in witchcraft and now Bundchen has cast spells on Brady that is hurting his performance. Apparently, the top of witchcraft is a thing on TikTok, and there are deep rabbit holes of conversation about this theory.
I prefer demon TikTok. They seem to be much less serious about themselves.
@infernumasylum #duet with @cherdleys â™¬ original sound - Cherdleys
Unless you believe in supernatural forces influencing the outcomes of people's lives. Not usually my thing, Most of the Buccaneers' issues you see below have to do with egregious mistakes of concentration or route running or pressure.
Only one of these plays was a Brady mistake. If two of these plays above had the intended outcomes, the Panthers lose this game. This tells you how bad the Panthers are and how poorly the Buccaneers played on Sunday.
Fantasy Advice: Should you give up on Brady? The answer may eventually be "yes," but considering the history of veteran quarterbacks on teams who make adjustments and/or have teammates get healthy and turn things around, I'd try to keep Brady unless you have an excellent performer starting in his place and you can afford to ditch the old man.
7. Double Down on Ezekiel Elliott:
No need to show you film on Elliott scoring twice from inside the five yard-line against Detroit's sieve of a defense. It was what was expected when I penned last week's feature, Doubling Down on Ezekiel Elliott.
[The] continued underestimation of Elliott's game is a mistake, and it's one you may be able to exploit.
Even when broaching this Elliott-Pollard conversation with people I respect in the fantasy or NFL space, it's clear they are missing the guts of what separates top-quality running back play from eye-catching athletes.
I understand why. Many of them are driven more by the factors that only drive production. Quality of performance is as much, if not more, process-oriented as it is results-oriented.
Coaches are more apt to see this than fantasy and analytics-heavy analysts in media.
With Prescott returning, Elliott's efficiency should rise while his volume remains steady. Even if Elliott continues to give up a greater split of red-zone work with Pollard, there's still considerable room for Elliott to move up from his current positional fantasy ranking because of the touches he's earning.
Even Prescott attempts more passes than Cooper rush, we should expect to see Elliott's efficiency per touch increase. There's also a likelihood of a rise in red-zone touches with Prescott's return. And when this happens, Elliott's percentage of red-zone work should increase.
If Elliott continues to earn strong touch volume because of the way defenses are playing opposing offenses in the NFL, more red-zone work makes this a win-win outcome for his fantasy prospects. If Prescott throws more and it hurts Elliott's overall touch volume, the likely gain in red-zone work may not only offset the decrease in overall touches, but it may still increase his per-play fantasy efficiency and overall points production.
Because Pollard (28th) isn't that far behind Elliott (26th) in fantasy rankings, the general public will believe the Cowboys have a committee. They'll also err on the idea that the Cowboys are stubbornly and ineptly using Elliott more than they should.
Everyone can see Pollard is outplaying Elliott.
This is simply not true. What's really happening is that everyone sees speed versus less speed. Most of them don't see the truly valuable skills in the most important contexts of running back play that Elliott possesses.
This knowledge gap provides you with a great opportunity to acquire Elliott at a cheaper price than his likely end-of-year value.
Fantasy Advice: If you need an upgrade at receiver, tight end, or quarterback and can sacrifice a top running back for a good starter at one of those positions with Elliott as part of the deal, Elliott has a good chance of outplaying his midseason value down the stretch.
8. Dak Prescott's Return Is the Elixir the Cowboys Needed
I saw what I expected from Prescott in his debut against the Lions after weeks of rehab. He was slightly off-target with a few throws, even catchable targets that his receivers converted. None of that needs to be seen. This clip underscores what the Cowboys get with Prescott that you won't see as often from a backup.
Good starters not only make adjustments in off-script situations, but they also make adjustments within the script that aren't exactly as planned. The play above is one of those. I'm sure you'll find some from Cooper Rush that fit this description if you dig deep enough. I bet you'll find more from Prescott over the course of his career and with a higher level of difficulty.
Prescott will continue to open up this offense and make it a fantasy-rich resource.
Fantasy Advice: I'd value Prescott as a top-12 QB moving forward and give bumps to Michael Gallup, Elliott, and whoever earns the most targets at tight end Expect Pollard and Lamb to remain stable with their values.
9. Gus Edwards' Return: Is the Baltimore RB Carnival over?
This is another instance where I could show you clips of Edwards running through wide-open creases against a bad Browns defense, but what's the point? The bigger takeaway is Edwards earning the red-zone love that led to a pair of touchdowns during his debut.
Edwards looks healthy, he was making good cuts, he didn't look slow relative to his pre-injury athletic ability, and he out-touched Kenyan Drake 16-11 while outgaining him 66-5.
Fantasy Advice: Drake may still have some big runs that lead to better games than Edwards, but look for Edwards to be the lead back moving forward.
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 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: Kenny Pickett
I feel bad about picking on a rookie. Once I reminded myself that he plays for the Steelers, I felt better almost immediately. My elevator pitch title for Pickett's scouting report was the 3.5 Quarter QB1 of this draft class.
Pickett looks like the top prospect at his position for 3.5 quarters when examining his decision-making, accuracy, pocket feel, and physical traits. It's the final 5-7 minutes of games where all the good equity he built with these traits and skills disappears for moments that cost his team games.
We saw this happen against the Dolphins on Sunday night.
The part you hope doesn’t win out with Pickett pic.twitter.com/GpZjLIwosl— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 24, 2022
These late-game mishaps occurred in college against Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia, and with those 3-5 plays per game that carry more weight. It doesn't make Pickett a future bust, but it may keep his ceiling in the range of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins — players who need a lot of surrounding talent to play winning football.
Thanks again for all of your feedback on this column. Good luck next week, and may your bold call come true.