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STRAIGHT, NO CHASER: WEEK 12'S 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. After your fantasy drafts, it's wise to build a preliminary list of free agents with 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.
- Dak Prescott's Value Ceiling Is Back...
- ...And Brandin Cooks' Emergence Is a Big Reason Why
- Developmental Progress: Jordan Love-Detroit Part II Is An Encouraging Sign
- Stay Patient with Christian Watson
- Cousins-Like Developmental Bumps: Brock Purdy's Game
- Christian McCaffrey's Greatness
- How the 49ers Foiled the Seahawks' Ground Game
- Zach Charbonnet: Why Efficiency of Movement Matters Most Between the Tackles
- Lost at Sea: Seattle's Passing Game
- Early-Bird Discount for the 2024 RSP Begins This Week: What it is, why it works, and how to get it.
1. Dak Prescott's Value Ceiling Is Back...
The No.1 quarterback in fantasy football since Week 5 and No.3 overall for the season, Prescott looks like the fantasy performer we saw in 2019, but injuries and schematic woes limited that ceiling since. He has been a divisive player during this time because fans are fickle, and more importantly, Prescott's player archetype doesn't fit neatly in one camp.
He's a strong and athletic mover who can create with his legs and has the arm to make most throws, but he's neither a breakaway threat nor an elite technician. He's not a rare field general when it comes to reading coverage, but he doesn't require nearly the amount of concessions with scheming as characterized.
Prescott reminds me a lot of Steve McNair, an excellent pocket passer who could create in and outside the pocket. Prescott lacks McNair's early-career physicality and speed, but he also didn't lean as hard on his body as McNair did to get the job done.
Both quarterbacks are the type that is on the upper end of the tier of passers, just below the truest threshold for elite players: Good enough to deliver elite production with quality surrounding talent but won't come close to that tier of production without it.
These are passers who could generate Hall of Fame careers based on longevity and production — Kurt Warner is a good example — but often fail to do so because their teams usually can't sustain the caliber of surrounding talent to activate their quarterback's ceiling.
A significant factor undergirding Prescott's statistical rebound is the health of the Cowboys' offensive line, which hasn't been healthy enough for a few years. When the line performs well, it affords the quarterback the ability to play with a balance of patience and anticipation because they have a better expectation of when they're in a scenario that requires one or the other.
When a quarterback can have an accurate calibration of when he must throw with anticipation and when he can be patient, it also allows him to do more to manipulate an opposing defense with his eyes, his arm, and his legs. This pump fake against Washington's Cover 2 creates an opening for Jalen Tolbert.
Good work by Dak Prescott to create the open zone for Jalen Tolbert with the pump fake and the placement of the ball. pic.twitter.com/nXj3zecpTW— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2023
When Prescott has to remain in the pocket, he's not facing multiple points of pressure as often as he has faced in the past. This makes it easier for him to maneuver and create within those confines for meaningful, chain-moving plays.
Give Prescott an opportunity to stay in the pocket, and he'll make tight-window throws expected of top passers.
Sweet double up, shed, and peek by CeeDee Lamb and precise placement by Dak Prescott on this two-point conversion. pic.twitter.com/qWBkIs2sUk— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2023
Although the Commanders in these examples are a bottom-dwelling defense, keep in mind Prescott has delivered as the top fantasy passer since Week 5, and what I'm sharing extends to much of his tape this year.
Although the line's performance has been a big factor, the use of CeeDee Lamb in multiple receiving roles — inside and outside — the emerging reliability of Jake Ferguson, and the recent acclimation of Brandin Cooks in this offense (see below) have helped Prescott reach his ceiling of value.
If you're in a win-now situation, congratulations on having a quarterback who could provide another 2-4 years of this value if the quality of the offensive line doesn't take a hit. That's a healthy-sized "if."
LT Tyron Smith's contract expires at year's end. So does C Tyler Biadasz. These are two of the most important positions for quality pass protection and communication/rapport along the line of scrimmage. I'd expect Biadasz to re-sign, but the 32-year-old Smith is a bigger question mark because of his back and his age.
If the Cowboys can adequately replace Smith and keep Biadasz, expectations should remain high for Prescott. If not, he might be a sell-high for your dynasty squad once you learn the outcome of 2024's free agency period.
2. ...And Brandin Cooks' Emergence Is a Big Reason Why
Even if the Cowboys aren't as strong at left tackle next year, Prescott will continue to have a fighting chance to reach his value ceiling because the receiver situation looks good for the next two years. A big reason why: the aforementioned adjustment to Lamb's role in the offense, which allowed the Cowboys to use Brandin Cooks more often inside.
One of the most well-traveled receivers in NFL history, Cooks has the speed of an outside receiver, but he has found his home in recent years as primarily a slot option. It's not a coincidence that the offense really opened up after Dallas gave Lamb a more versatile role with a lot of snaps as a perimeter receiver and leveraged Cooks' inside game.
Cooks may be the No.44 receiver in PPR formats this year, but he is the No.7 receiver since Week 8 and the No.20 option since Week 5. While Lamb has been on fire, Cooks has been far from a wet and moldy log.
Cooks' veteran presence poses a worthwhile contrast to the emerging but still young Jake Ferguson when it comes to reading coverage during a route.
Jake Ferguson and Dak Prescott not on the same page here. pic.twitter.com/Ou8Ay8JoPC— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2023
Brandin Cooks and Dak Prescott on the same page. pic.twitter.com/ILbCOZqkQL— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2023
Cooks' explosiveness and route-running acumen in the middle of the field also allow the Cowboys to design big plays that use play-action, rollouts, and longer-developing routes baked into the mix.
I'm betting there were a lot of fantasy teams that gave up on Cooks too early and a lot of teams in the playoff hunt who've been using Cooks weekly for at least half of the season.