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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 6'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.
- Drake London's Buy-Low Window is Closing
- Feeding Kelce: Why the KC's Passing Game Isn't A Fantasy Boon for Its WRs
- Uncaging the Raven: Lamar Jackson in Todd Monken's Offense
- What Jameson Williams Can Do for the Lions' Offense
- Christian McCaffrey: What Makes Him Great and How the Cleveland Browns Limited Him
- Breece Hall: Almost There
- IDP Alert: DE Carl Granderson
- The Misinformed Narratives Surrounding Derrick Henry
- Say Hello to Zach Evans
- Fresh Fish
1. Drake London's Buy-Low Window Is Closing
Bijan Robinson's route gaffes accounted for two of Desmond Ridder's three interceptions against the Commanders in Week 6, but as I told Matt Harmon on this week's Reception Perception podcast, if leverage reading were a quarterback version of Squid Games' Red Light-Green Light, Ridder would be the first passer eliminated. He's not long for a starting role in the NFL, and it means London's buy-low window in dynasty leagues is closing fast.
Although Ridder could start for the rest of the season, London's buy-low window in re-draft formats may be ending, too. Arthur Smith has begun featuring London on more routes with breaks that don't terminate at one spot on the field (hooks, curls, and stop routes).
For a big receiver like London, allowing him to work on the move leads to easier opportunities to generate separation at his size. The routes rely less on suddenness and give London a chance to break tackles with his strength and momentum-generate power.
Ridder has also targeted London more often on routes that require trust throws, and London has come through.
If you remove Week 1's performance for London's 2023 resume, he's this season's fantasy WR17 from Weeks 2-6. Smith is loosening up this offense and giving Ridder a chance to target a wider variety of routes. If Ridder has success, London will be a large part of the equation. If Taylor Heinicke takes over, London gets a veteran journeyman with an aggressive mindset.
It's a win-win for London, and based on the film, that buy-low window won't last long if it's even still open.
2. Feeding Kelce: Why KC's Passing Game Isn't A Fantasy Boon for Its WRs
The seemingly disparate statements are both true: 1) Patrick Mahomes II could support 3-4 fantasy options in the Kansas City passing game if he didn't have Andy Reid as his coach. 2) Patrick Mahomes II wouldn't be the caliber of quarterback he has become without Andy Reid.
If Mahomes didn't have Reid as his first NFL coach, there's a good chance he would have still emerged as a Pro Bowl talent, but Mahomes didn't have experience as a progression-based passer, and it might have taken him more time to develop. If he was forced into the lineup early in his career, he might have also endured a far more difficult acclimation process.
Now that he's had the chance to learn progression-based passing with the help of Reid and veteran quarterback Alex Smith, Mahomes has the skills to support more than two starter-level fantasy components in the passing game. The biggest obstacle is Andy Reid and his version of the West Coast Offense.
Like Kyle Shanahan's offense, it demands a lot of the wide receivers. This has been the case since Reid began his NFL head coaching career in Philadelphia.
From 1999-2012, there were 21 receivers that joined Reid's Eagles as their first NFL team via the draft or free agency. Only three of those receivers developed into contributors who earned one season with at least 800 yards. I didn't count James Thrash's totals in 1999 because Reid inherited the receiver.
- Reggie Brown: 816 yards (2006)
- DeSean Jackson: 912 yards (2008), 1156 yards (2009), 1056 yards (2010), and 961 yards (2011)
- Jeremy Maclin: 964 yards (2010), 859 yards (2011), and 857 yards (2012)
The only veteran free agents to exceed that 800-yard total during Reid's tenure in Philadelphia were Terrell Owens' 1,200-yard campaign and Kevin Curtis with 1,110 yards.
Reid coached 14 seasons in Philadelphia and only had 4 seasons worth 1,000-yard receiving totals from 3 players. Our Walrus-mustachioed friend has finished 11 seasons in Kansas City and has 5 seasons worth of 1,000-yard totals from two players: Jason Avant in 2015 and Tyreek Hill during four of his five seasons with the Chiefs.
Add JuJu Smith-Schuster's 933-yard campaign last year, and you're looking at three Chiefs who've delivered seven seasons of at least 800 yards. This is also a smaller total than expected for an excellent offensive coaching mind with an MVP-caliber quarterback in his prime.
This is not a criticism of Reid's offensive prowess, it's simply a portrait of his system. The Chiefs employ a lot of personnel sets with two and three tight ends. Last year, the Chiefs used 13 personnel (3 tight ends and 1 back) in 9.8 percent of its snaps — third-most in the league behind Tennessee (12.5 percent) and Seattle (11.1 percent).
It's a great way to feed its top option, Travis Kelce.
Kansas City employed 11 personnel (three receivers) only 56.3 percent of the time — the sixth-lowest in the league last year. Reid's offense mixes up personnel enough that it doesn't lean as hard on its receiving corps as other teams in terms of snap volume.
Yet, Reid also demands its receivers learn multiple roles so he can move players around and keep opposing defenses off balance. Although the Chiefs have embraced spread concepts, it's still a West Coast Offense — the most complex offense for quarterbacks and receivers to learn.
Combine these factors with a quarterback who excels off-script and has the mind to make adjustments at the highest level and Kansas City isn't an easy place to excel for young receivers. It takes a certain amount of NFL experience to build a rapport with a mind like Mahomes.
Young receivers have a difficult enough time trusting their quarterback when it comes to pass placement and which direction to turn after the catch.
Perhaps it's time to curtail expectations that Patrick Mahomes II, the Chiefs, and Andy Reid's offense are a potential goldmine for fantasy options not named Travis Kelce and, occasionally, a physically (Hill) or conceptually (Smith-Schuster) elite receiver.
For first- and second-year options, developing a good route tree, defeating press coverage, learning the offense, and reading coverage to Mahomes' expectations is enough. Developing off-script rapport is a whole other category of detail.
Considering that Donovan McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowl passer in Reid's system and the Associated Press 2000 MVP and Offensive Player of the Year without supporting multiple fantasy starters at wide receiver and tight end for most of McNabb's career, it's time to understand and appreciate Reid's offense from afar and without unrealistic expectations.