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STRAIGHT, NO CHASER: WEEK 13'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.
- Sam LaPorta Isn't Going Away
- The RSP Draft Guide Pre-Order Discount Period Begins
- Malik Nabers: 2024 NFL Draft Rookie WR1?
- Elijah Moore: Flacco Favorite?
- Will We Ever Be Able to Trust Alec Pierce?
- Win-Now: Buy Derrick Henry
- Buy-Now: Tyjae Spears
- Ezekiel Elliott, Playoff Hero?
- Why You Can't Beat Miami's Track Team without an Excellent Front Four
- Early-Bird Discount for the 2024 RSP Begins This Week: What it is, why it works, and how to get it.
1. Sam LaPorta Isn't Going Away
In Week 12's Roundtable panel on players we warned to pump the breaks on labeling them a bust, Footballguys staffer Sean Settle touted Jameson Williams, noting that the Lions don't have a true No.2 receiver and we should "look for [Williams usage to increase] as Sam Laporta comes back down."
I couldn't agree more that Williams shouldn't be labeled a bust. That said, LaPorta isn't losing his stranglehold in the Lions' passing game pecking order as the No.2 option — at least not this year, and I'm not ready to tacitly agree with Sean that LaPorta isn't the true No.2 receiver in this offense.
The No.3 PPR TE in fantasy football heading into Week 13, Laporta's 164.3 fantasy points placed him 21st among receivers and tight ends, only 9 points behind No.16 option Travis Kelce, perennial the No.1 or No.2 receiving threat in Kansas City's offense.
It's not only the fact that LaPorta is TE3 as a rookie but also the fact that there's little separation between LaPorta and Kelce. If you consider that the 24-point difference between LaPorta and TE1 T.J. Hockenson is one 10-yard catch per game in PPR formats, that's also minuscule.
After a 9-catch, 140-yard, 1-TD performance against the Saints, LaPorta now has 193.3 fantasy points — sprinting past Kyle Pitt's for the No.3 spot and on the trail of Mike Ditka (235.6) and Keith Jackson (203.9) for the best rookie season by an NFL tight end in history. Ditka's mark is one I've mentioned for years as one of the least likely to be threatened — until Kyle Pitts entered the league two years ago.
As I wrote in the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio this spring, this year's class was the deepest and most talented I've studied in 18 years of publication.
Three players stood out as options whose skills could translate immediately into strong fantasy production, and the two most likely on my list were Dalton Kincaid and LaPorta.
I spent much of this summer touting Kincaid as that high-end difference maker. Kincaid was TE12 heading into Week 13 and TE6 for the past five weeks. Considering that Buffalo hasn't used Kincaid as a vertical or red-zone weapon and it took them weeks to raise his target share, Kincaid has come pretty close to that high-end projection.
In my position chapter in the RSP, I described LaPorta as having "legitimate skills that could translate immediately and, if featured early for [his] receiving, could be the most production rookie option." In his actual report, I wrote, "I would not be shocked if he's the first tight end in this class to earn compelling production on Sundays."
While it would be reasonable to think along the lines that Sean did with Jameson Williams eventually usurping LaPorta as the No.2 option, Detroit's offense does not fit the traditional definitions with personnel. Amon-Ra St. Brown isn't even a traditional primary option.
While a talented possession receiver who can occasionally get open in the vertical game with the help of play-action and other misdirection schemes, he is not a field stretcher on par with the likes of JaMarr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, or A.J. Brown. Detroit sees Williams as a big-play field stretcher with YAC skills who opens the field for other receivers with his speed.
Even so, Detroit wants to run the football and maximize Jared Goff's time in a clean pocket. They know that pocket quarterbacks win big if they are given time to pick apart a defense. A great way to dictate terms to a defense while maximizing the protection of the passer is aligning with multiple tight ends.
Detroit uses alignments with at least two tight ends on 31.8 percent of its snaps — only Denver, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, Seattle, and Tennessee use multiple tight ends more often.
The only one of these six teams that has an accomplished receiver on LaPorta's level at the tight end position is Kansas City. Like Kelce, LaPorta fits perfectly in this system. He's just good enough of a blocker to seal the edge on perimeter run plays, he runs timing routes on the perimeter with the precision of a wide receiver, and he's reliable over the middle.
However, the biggest thing that people miss about LaPorta when they think of him as a flukish producer is his athletic profile. As I wrote in his pre-draft scouting report, "LaPorta is Evan Engram without the history of flaws as a pass catcher, with five more pounds on his frame, and with almost the same acceleration and short-area quickness. Engram might be 1-2 steps faster, but based on where they win underneath and in the middle of the field, their 40-yard-dash times are the list's important metric in the comparison."
When LaPorta wins in the vertical game, he's usually matched against a linebacker or safety. Even so, let's remember that a lot of teams also graded Engram as a wide receiver prospect.
Although LaPorta catches a lot of passes in the short and intermediate game, that's how the Lions want to operate. They also have success finding LaPorta deep with mismatches against slower defenders.
This is a sure-handed rookie with excellent route skills and agility to make multiple defenders miss in the open field. Say what you want about the speed of Luke Musgrave and the contested-catch skills of Kincaid or Michael Mayer. LaPorta is already on the same page with his quarterback with reading coverage that these other options aren't.
That's one of the most important parts of playing tight end. While you're waiting for Musgrave or Kincaid to become vertical options in their offense that net them a play of 40-60 yards every five weeks, LaPorta is generating these totals — plus 1-2 big plays downfield or in the red zone — on almost a weekly basis.
Unless LaPorta loses his quarterback and offense the way Pitts lost Matt Ryan, expect LaPorta to remain one of the top two receiving options on the Lions this year and next.
2. Pre-Order Discount For the RSP Rookie Draft Guide
Everything I share in this column and other fantasy work is either a product of my work with the Rookie Scouting Portfolio (RSP) or informs the work I do with it. If you're new to my work and have seen my reference to the RSP or you've thought about getting the RSP but never have, I run an annual early-bird pre-order discount that began last Thursday and runs through Thursday, December 21st.
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 19th 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 consulting, recently with a known quarterback coach for his clients Brock Purdy and Anthony Richardson.
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
- Brock Purdy
- Isiah Pacheco
- Sam LaPorta
- Jayden Reed
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 immediately deliver to expectation:
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- Andre Williams
- Knile Davis
- Baker Mayfield
- Zach Wilson
- Drew Lock
- Malik Willis
- Quentin Johnston
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 afterward. You get the pre-draft, post-draft, and email newsletter updates throughout the year.
A portion of sales proceeds (over $60,000 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.