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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, making 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, which is 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 4'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, 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.
- The Bills Didn't Take Miami's Bait...
- But the Bills Baited Tua Tagovailoa All Game Long -- aka "The Big Difference Between College and NFL Pass Defense"
- C.J. Stroud Is the Most Refined Rookie QB in This Class...
- But Give Me Anthony Richardson Every Time
- There Is Still Hope for Justin Fields' Fantasy Season
- What Denver Is Getting Right with Russell Wilson
- Where Jordan Love's Game Falters
- What to Make of Michael Wilson
- Jaleel McLaughlin's Extended Debut
- Fresh Fish
1. The Bills' Defense Didn't Take Miami's Bait . . .
Miami's offense could perform like one for the record books, but the Bills showed on Sunday that the Dolphins aren't unstoppable. Miami's motion of its world-class speedsters late in plays, especially from the wing, has disrupted opposing defenses by forcing linebackers and safeties to abandon their gap responsibilities or get out of position in coverage. This week, the Bills remained disciplined and didn't take the bait.
#Billsmafia stay disciplined on 3rd and 2. S doesn’t overreact to Hill’s late motion and stays on TE. No.91 does great job getting into passing lane on check-down, forcing an inaccurate throw,— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2023
Disciplined defense versus #FinsUp scheme. pic.twitter.com/64wDMQK6OR
Even when Miami scored earlier in the game on this DeVon Achane run around left end, Buffalo didn't overreact to the presence of Hill as the I-Back. This was the first sign that the Bills were approaching the Dolphins' offense with a lot more gap discipline than recent opponents.
Buffalo also got physical with receivers to slow their routes on long-developing play-action passes to disrupt the timing of the offense.
Tony Romo pointing out physical play at line on WRs pic.twitter.com/rWkL2eBYRH— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2023
Although it's likely that Miami will begin to make opposing defenses pay for their gap discipline on running plays with play-action throws to the late-motioning Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Raheem Mostert, or Achane on vertical routes, Buffalo called Miami on their bluff to potentially throw the ball. One reason is TreDavious White, who is good enough to handle Hill one-on-one in certain scenarios.
White could be out of the year with an Achilles injury that he suffered during the game, which could give Miami's offense that advantage in the next matchup, which will likely be in the playoffs. Still, Buffalo gave the NFL the latest template to slow the Dolphins' offense, which provides fantasy GMs a helpful clue about the conditions that could limit the fantasy value of Miami's talents.
Looking at the box score, it's a valuable clue. Tagovailoa still earned 282 yards but only scored once. Achane had 101 yards and 2 scores on the ground with just 8 attempts, but the rest of the runners generated 41 yards on 11 attempts.
Hill and Waddle combined for 7 catches and 104 yards, which is usually a stat line for one of them. Of the eight Miami receivers with catches, only Hill exceeded 50 yards.
Buffalo's game plan and execution to shut down Miami's offensive gluttony was an early-season triumph. I would expect the Eagles (Week 7), Patriots (Week 8), and Jets (Weeks 12 and 15) to have the best chances to replicate the Bills' efforts.
We'll see if they have the personnel to execute like the Bills. I think most of them do, and a big reason behind that is their ability to disguise their looks. More about that below.
2. . . . But The Bills Baited Tua Tagovailoa All Game Long
You probably heard all month about Tagovailoa getting the ball out faster than any quarterback in the league. It's not just Tagovailoa's release motion but also the play designs and his ability to determine the best targets pre-snap.
The pre-snap and early-post games are two of the most important parts of NFL quarterbacking. They are also the two areas that separate the best from the rest when it comes to quarterbacking.
Whenever I broach the complexity and savvy of NFL defenses, a massive part of it is the way defenders disguise their intentions pre-snap. The best NFL quarterbacks either don't take the bait and know defenders are bluffing based on physical tells, or they see the defenders reveal their true intentions at the earliest stages of play after the snap.
The reason many quarterbacks fail to see the post-snap changes has to do with them buying into the disguised look pre-snap and not verifying what they saw during the initial dropback. Tom Brady excelled in this phase of football. Tagovailoa is still a work in progress.
#Billsmafia baits Tua on right side into thinking he has the quick throw, but shut it down and Tua has to go to the opposite side unexpectedly and under pressure—near INT— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2023
Make Tua think he’s going to operate fast and taking it away leads to potential for erratic choices. pic.twitter.com/ECQXDAvMrS
Watch how the #BillsMafia S and CB bait Tagovailoa pre-snap into thinking this short out is the target to attack, only to slam the door shut.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2023
When you think about rookie QB development, it is not just new coverages that trip them up but how pros disguise familiar looks. Vets too pic.twitter.com/0JrkbblkFi
Where I miss watching Tom Brady: Few QBs note early post-snap changes like him.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2023
Tua tricked into thinking both safeties will drop and widen based on pre-snap look. But Hyde drops and narrows and gets INT #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/qHwRj0Meo2
Tagovailoa is a good young quarterback, but what we saw from the Bills above is why NFL scouts often say why it takes 18-30 games to determine if a quarterback is going to stick as an NFL starter. When you're watching young quarterbacks, keep in mind that this mental part of the game can be the final frontier of acclimation.
3. C.J. Stroud Is the Most Refined Rookie in This Class . . .
The current rookie starters at the quarterback position are in the earliest phases of their acclimation and opposing teams haven't compiled a book on them in the way that the Bills have figured out how to bait a young veteran like Tagovailoa into mistakes. We may begin to see efforts to gameplan against the rookies in these specific ways during the next 2-3 weeks and for some of these young players to begin hitting a wall during the next 4-6 weeks.
With this point taken into consideration, one of the most notable things that stands out about Stroud's play thus far has been his confidence in getting the ball out as soon as he recognizes a favorable situation down the field. This is usually the last thing to happen for a lot of young passers because they aren't sure what they're seeing, overthink it, and their games slow down to the point that they make several mistakes:
- They come off favorable looks too early.
- They wait too long with unfavorable looks and come off too late.
- They take too long to get rid of the ball to a favorable target, and the defense recovers.
- They hold onto the ball too long while trying to find a big-play opportunity and take sacks.
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