The Top 10 could be the Top 12 or Top 15 every week. Here are some short points and late cuts that didn't make the featured segments:
- Los Angeles Rams RB Malcolm Brown is a favorite young prospect of mine. I said earlier this season that if I were starting an expansion team, I'd spend most of my budget in the trenches and one of my cheaper additions would be installing Brown as my starter. He's big, strong, and quicker and agiler than most realize. If the Rams continue along this winning path, we may see Brown as a fantasy playoff starter.
- Seattle had nine offensive penalties against Washington and multiple offensive line penalties that nullified big plays, including three during the final two drives of the half.
- The top three priorities on Jameis Winston's preseason worklist were wiser decision-making, improving red zone production, and increasing vertical accuracy. He's 0-for-3 thus far and could be out 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury. Watching him in the vertical game, it appeared that his baseball pitcher's stride into vertical throws is part of his problem. However, a bigger issue is the likelihood that he's overthinking everything and it's got him spiraling into an overanalysis phase that's deteriorating his game right now.
- 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin is just good enough for flex consideration because he has great deep speed and skill to use that speed in his favor on perimeter routes breaking back to the quarterback. Where he's always been inconsistent is targets over the middle. He'll drop more targets than what should be acceptable, but the 49ers are 0-9 and if you're truly desperate, Goodwin is the type of player who gives fantasy owners a puncher's chance for a big play.
- Adrian Peterson's best carries happened behind left guard Alex Boone this weekend. By the way, Peterson's 37 attempts on Sunday were a career high. His 36th attempt was a nice run up the middle that he bent outside but could not extend into a breakaway run. If I were forced to make a call right now, I'd say his long speed has diminished. However, that's a difficult thing to judge about a back on the penultimate carry of a career-high day in volume that would be tops for almost any pro running back. Regardless, the agility, burst, strength, and vision are all still intact and the fact that Bruce Arians said he panicked early in the Rams game and went away from the run too soon is a good sign that Peterson will be the focal point down the stretch.
Roll the tape.
1. The Eagles' offense took the Broncos' defense to the playground
When I think of Carson Wentz as a rookie prospect, I think of his work in the West Coast Offense. When I think of Wentz this year, I think of the incorporation of more spread alignments and plays that don't rely on the precise footwork of drops from center.
The changes have been a great match for Wentz and the Eagles proved it Sunday against a strong Denver pass defense that got taken to the playground with tricky plays and beneficial mismatches. The Eagles use this read-option fake to fool Aqib Talib into thinking he's playing against one of two potions: an inside zone run or a quick throw to Jeffery. Instead, Wentz rolls right and hits Jeffery up the sideline for the touchdown.
Although Zach Ertz was a late scratch, the Eagles had no problem rolling with Trey Bruton, a Jason Wood favorite. Burton, and Brent Celek—who the Eagles dusted off and inserted into the line in two-tight end sets—proved they were worthwhile mismatches for linebackers throughout the afternoon.
The Broncos linebackers have been vulnerable to tight ends, slot receivers, and receiving backs of note for at least the past 2-3 seasons. That trend continued this weekend and there were multiple plays that baited various parts of the Broncos defense beyond the linebackers.
The addition of Jay Ajayi behind the Eagles' athletic offensive line was also a match as good as chocolate and peanut butter.
While they'll beat up on a few cellar dwellers on the remaining schedule, the Broncos are likely done this year. Look for some shuffling of skill talent that may disrupt fantasy owners more than what we've already seen. Brock Osweiler was slightly better than Trevor Siemian in the box score, but he was carrion for the Eagles. Philadelphia knew it could rattle Osweiler and pressured him relentlessly.
Ajayi's stock is up even if the carry counts will be lower than projected as a timeshare with LeGarrette Blount ( and insert your choice of Smallwood/Clement here). Trey Burton and Brent Celek will continue to prove handy for fantasy owners if Ertz misses time later this year. And because defenses can't force Wentz to work from his weaknesses consistently enough, count on top-tier QB1 production down the stretch.
2. Miami's new backfield tandem
Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams fill the void from the Ajayi deal. Prior to the games, I mentioned on two Audible podcasts that Drake, a terrific athlete with unrefined skills as a runner, would be better suited as a perimeter and gap runner and space player, and Williams would be the better inside runner and likely red zone back.
After watching the Raiders' game, neither back dispelled these early assertions. Although Williams ran a 4.45-second 40 at the NFL Combine and it's an impressive time for a 220-pound back, Drake is the more explosive option on the field. This 42-yard run from a gap play through a huge crease showcases the athletic ability that got Miami excited enough to draft him in the third round.
However, I wouldn't get too excited about Drake as a consistent fantasy force this year. He's still greener than the grass he's running on when it comes a lot of the inside runs that the Dolphins use. His footwork and stride length between the exchange point and the line of scrimmage tell the story accurately.
But like a lot of raw athletes, if his team can get him a big crease in a straight line from the exchange point, he has the burst, strength, and second-level agility to create big plays.
These types of blocks happen enough to generate big plays, but not enough for Drake to keep the chains moving and set up the Dolphins offense in favorable down and distance situations. Drake's ball security was also an issue at Alabama and it still appears to be a lingering problem on Sunday night. Watch the end of the 42-yard run show above and Drake exhibits carelessness with the ball at the end of the play.
Drake's lack of ball security bit him earlier in the game when the matchup was still a contest.
Williams' acclimation was not as inconsistent because he has served as the Dolphins' red zone back and two-minute option for the last two years. His touchdown was a great example of what we've seen him do in limited time.
Here's another catch where Williams displays a skill for being a tough tackle in the open field.
And another that was nullified due to a Jarvis Landry holding call, but would have put his total yards from scrimmage well ahead of Drake.
Based on the Dolphins' penchant for flashy athletes, look for the Broncos to force feed Drake with the hope that he'll get smarter as a ballcarrier. He'll do enough to keep fantasy owners excited about his potential, especially when he hits a big play. However, Williams may be the safer bet of this risky backfield duo. If Miami can run more gap plays with Drake that may change, but Williams' experience, versatility, and ball security are a bigger draw for me than a back who is still just as likely to get concussed by the backside of his teammate as he is to break one for 50.
3. Sammy Watkins' production won't be a weekly trend upward
Sigmund Bloom asked me Sunday morning if I agreed that the Giants game would be a Watkins' game, and whether it would serve as a coming out party for his fantasy value down the stretch. I agreed with the first part because the Giants were missing Ja'Noris Jenkins and Landon Collins has been awful as a coverage safety.
Collins misplayed multiple receivers in this game. The appetizer is this 3rd and 33 to Robert Woods for a touchdown. 3RD AND 33!!!
The main course was this deep post to Watkins for a touchdown. Collins tried to disguise his coverage with a shallow alignment and then let Watkins run by him.
While it's true that Goff has had easy throws thanks to the Sean McVay offense, he has also displayed accuracy with the occasional difficult ones. I wouldn't classify this deep post as a throw at the top of the "difficult" category, but Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, and several other starters can't make these vertical plays with anywhere near the consistency of Goff.
That said, this is not the beginning of a fantasy bonanza for Watkins. Don't count on Watkins emerging as an every-week big-play option this year because Goff is a rhythm passer who follows his progressions and rarely forces the ball.
Despite the overstated Cris Collinsworth analysis about him occasionally retreating from pressure, Goff's pocket presence is among the best of the young prospects I've seen during the past three seasons. He waits until the last second to avoid pressure, which earns him greater separation than what he'd otherwise get if he tried to outrun them when they still had time to change direction.
As a result, Goff buys time well, but he's not going to create an extra 4-6 seconds like Wentz, Russell Wilson. or Dak Prescott, who can use that skill to deliver targets behind the secondary. It means that Goff is more of a slave to the progression and traditional scramble rules, which will benefit underneath receivers like Woods and Cooper Kupp (at least until the Rams potentially expand Watkins' role next year).
Watkins is a matchup play for the rest of the year. Houston, Philadelphia, and Tennessee are his best bets for similar production as we saw on Sunday.
4. the Panthers' offense post-benjamin
I take it to mean that Benjamin's slow release off the line of scrimmage and difficulty against press coverage forced Carolina to put Benjamin 2-4 yards off the line of scrimmage so he could get into his routes. While this helped the passing game, his distance from the line of scrimmage also prevented him from reaching defenders and limited his use as a run blocker, hurting the ground game.
Another reason was the emergence of Devin Funchess as a big receiver. Unlike Benjamin, Funchess has fluid agility in the air and when his legs are on the ground. This move also allowed the Panthers to get Curtis Samuel on the field, an important component for where this offense is heading.
Sunday against Atlanta, the Panthers revealed the possibilities for its Post-Benjamini Offense and there were a lot of promising things of note that impact fantasy owners.
The first is Funchess. He'll be the primary option until Greg Olsen returns, and likely the co-primary afterward. I wrote off Funchess too early and it has been a pleasure to see him making technically sound plays that match his athletic ability.
While the promise of Funchess sustaining his production (at least), is a fantasy headliner, the Panthers displayed greater imagination with the ground game in a fashion that actually worked. It all begins with Cam Newton as the Panthers' style of an option quarterback who can pass from the pocket. His ability to run with power and speed forces defenses to honor any threat of him as a ball carrier.
We'll touch on that in a moment because there are still ways that the Panthers tricked Atlanta into thinking Newton wouldn't be the runner. This bootleg with a pulling guard was a fantastic play call. The design of gap play is a single-minded attitude of attacking one area of the line with a pulling lineman.
Some of the best play-action fakes incorporate the pulling guard for this reason. With Newton, the Panthers can use this play-action fake to bait the defense to the gap where the pulling guard is heading, but also give the defense a split-second thought of Newton dropping back only to discover he's running out the back door.
I still remember Steve McNair running this play for huge, game-sealing gain at the end of a tightly contested battle with the Buccaneers. It's only fitting that the Panthers use Newton in a similar fashion. However, the Panthers are doing a lot more than the Titans ever thought of.
Newton ran the option to Christian McCaffrey for a touchdown early on and he delivered a gem of a pitch that was from a greater than normal distance. His skill to pitch the ball this far allows Newton to work closer to the line and create space for the recipient of the lateral.
Touchdown McCaffrey! pic.twitter.com/Z8g9qvrVqF— Panthers Brasil (@panthers_brasil) November 5, 2017
Expect to see similar pitches to Curtis Samuel in the coming weeks because Samuel was used as an option back at Ohio State. Because Samuel and McCaffrey have similar skill sets in this regard, it creates a lot of pick-your-poison conundrums for opposing defenses when the Panthers use one to set up the other with pre-snap motion and misdirection.
This variation of the Statue of Liberty Play is a well-designed example.
Because of this personnel remaining on the field and not only in situations that become predictable, it also helps the Panthers use McCaffrey more often as a downfield runner. The fact that Benjamin isn't clogging up outside rushing lanes may also be beneficial (if what they contended is correct).
The Panthers also gave McCaffrey more opportunities to work downhill but in space with the toss play.
These plays eventually set up the east-west runs that weren't working as well during previous weeks. In fact, the Panthers smartly used McCaffrey as the bait rather than the hook on this reverse to Russell Shepherd, another good space runner with ballhandling expertise (a former stud high school QB).
With Samuel, McCaffrey, and Shepherd all versatile enough as runners, receivers, and arguably passers, it expands the things it can do to confound opponents. Keep in mind that the strength of this Atlanta run defense is its athletic linebacking corps that can run sideline-to-sideline, and Carolina generated a strong ground component after it got past two Jonathan Stewart fumbles during the first quarter.
Of course, this all helps the passing game because it gives Cam Newton play-action opportunities to hit Funchess in the open field in the same manner that Ryan benefits from Devonta Freeman's runner to find Julio Jones.
I don't know if Newton and the Panthers offense is about to take a big step forward for the rest of the year. Atlanta tends to play down to struggling competition. However, Carolina's schedule is easy enough that I can envision this 6-3 team finishing the stretch run with a record no worse than 4-3 and the defenses that I think would be most vulnerable to what the Panthers just did to Atlanta are Miami (Week 10), New York (Week 11), Tampa Bay (Week 16), and Atlanta (Week 17).
While the Saints and Vikings will offer challenges, the Panthers could also be a difficult matchup with these wrinkles. As long as Newton and McCaffrey stay healthy, this offense has a chance to surprise. Newton's rushing makes him a viable low-end QB1 with upside. McCaffrey's climb towards RB1 status regardless of format should continue. And Funchess could emerge as a mid-tier WR2 or higher now that he's the primary receiver on the roster.
5. KIRK COUSINS' STRENGTH IS ALSO HIS WEAKNESS
Kurt Warner said on Sunday that Cousins greatest strength is his greatest weaknesses and that's his belief that he can make every throw. I've been highlighting this for years at Footballguys. That said, Cousins deserves credit for his toughness.
I thought the Seattle would destroy Washington on Sunday. Cousins was missing most of his starting offensive line and receiving corps and they were heading into an atmosphere with a matchup against a terrific defense that would punish him mercilessly.
While the second statement was true, the first statement was not. While the Seattle fan in me points to Blair Walsh missing three field goals and the pre-game scratch of Earl Thomas as likely differences in this game, it takes nothing away from Cousins' performance.
While Walsh and Thomas were reasons Seattle lost this game, Cousins' belief that he could get the ball to his receivers in the face of pressure was the core reason Washington won.
Cousins made his share of mistakes and had some near-interceptions that should have been made, but this is true of many quarterbacks who come out on the winning side of the equation ever week. Cousins survived a tough situation and pulled out a win with the help of great catch from Josh Doctson, who made multiple grabs in this game.
Cousins may never be an elite player, but the fact that he has performed well through this Washington contract situation and now this M*A*S*H* unit of surrounding talent against a talent Seahawks' defense tells me that he deserves a shot to lead an NFL team next year if Washington is dumb enough to let him go.
6. how to contain Tyrod Taylor
Taylor is in the same family of creative passers who can deliver off-rhythm like Wentz and Russell Wilson. Here's an example of Taylor winning after the pocket compresses and forces the Bills' quarterback to scramble and make a difficult play.
However, this play was also an omen of things to come. Wilson and Aaron Rodgers might be the only quarterbacks in the game today who can repeatedly create in these situations and even so, enough of these types of plays will cause them to deliver with deteriorated mechanics and rushed processes.
The Jets were able to contain Taylor in this game by compressing the pocket even more effectively than what they did above. These plays that followed deliver the perfect template for boxing in a mobile passer. It's easier said than done, which is why the Jets defense deserves some love in this week's feature.
We'll see how much Kelvin Benjamin will help Taylor in the coming weeks. My bet? Some, but not enough.
7. star on the rise: Evan Engram
In the 2017 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, I touted Engram for several reasons but one of them was the idea that if he failed as a traditional tight end, he'd fail upward into a primary receiver role. While Engram still has a work to do as an inline blocker, his opportunities to play detached from the line of scrimmage have come due to injuries rather than his limitations.
And it has been a blessing for those who have Engram on their rosters. Engram beat Mark Barron twice on Sunday with his quickness, route stems, and adjustments to the football.
While both of these plays came from the traditional tight end alignment, Engram also earned a score as a wide receiver on a sideline fade that I've been expecting him to earn on a regular basis this year. However, this is the first I've seen. The height he gets with his leap is so much fun to watch.
While not as powerful or the blocker that Vernon Davis is, Engram's receiving chops remind me a lot of what I expect to see from Davis for the bulk of his career. I hope the Giants continue using Engram with imagination when Odell Beckham returns next year. I also hope the Giants acquire a quarterback at least as good as Eli Manning so we can see Engram deliver on his vast promise for years to come.
8. why Ezekiel Elliott is a great runner
There are multiple reasons, but one that always stuck out for me when evaluating him at Ohio State was his ability to anticipate crease openings and work toward them when they weren't apparent. This requires an understanding of the blocking scheme, great timing that's a product of footwork and agility, and confidence.
This tandem block against the Chiefs is a good example.
Clinton Portis was notably good at anticipating crease openings when they weren't there upon approach. While I may not appreciate the off-field behavior, I can appreciate the quality of Elliott's work and hope he matures enough to build upon his great talent.
9. Corey Davis check-in
The rookie receiver made his return to the field this weekend with mixed results. The Ravens cornerback made a fine play on this slant, but Davis could have done more to attack the target.
Still, the good outweighed the bad for Davis. He earned separation against man coverage from Jimmy Smith, who is statistically one of the best cover corners this year.
Davis' best play of the day was a sideline fade with tremendous body control.
With the Colts, Texans, and 49ers on the schedule, Davis will be a solid matchup play as he knocks off the rust and gains Marcus Mariota's trust. While there's potential for greater upside, let's see how he does against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh during the next two weeks before getting too excited.
The flashes of ability are there, but I could say the same for Josh Doctson. I believe in player development because there's a long history that supports the idea that players grow. However, I also believe in giving players a full year on the field to learn lessons that may not always lead to immediate results.
10. FRESH FISH
Fantasy football is a cruel place. We're always searching for that weakest link. While we don't want anyone facing the wrath of Hadley, we'd love nothing more than having our players face an opponent whose game has come unglued on the field.
In the spirit of "The Shawshank Redemption," here is my short list of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
- Blair Walsh: Seattle's kicker was wide left on field goal attempts of 44, 39, and 49 yards in the first half of game. Before this contest, he was 12-of-14 on attempts this year.
- Kiko Alonso: The Raiders targeted Alonso successfully with Jared Cook three times during the first drive of the game and two other times later on. Put Miami's linebacker on your weekly Fresh Fish list when there is a decent move tight end on the Dolphins' schedule.
- Brock Osweiler: When he wasn't throwing across his body or into zones with three defenders boxing out the receiver, his feet often appeared as frantic as the inmate calling for his mommy. Playing quarterback in the NFL is a tough job and Osweiler made that clear on Sunday.
- Jonathan Stewart: He fumbled twice in the first quarter; once deep in his own territory, and the other deep in Atlanta's territory.
- Broncos Linebackers: They couldn't cover a reserve tight end or an old tight end. While I should note that both tight ends are good, it was a big source of Denver's woes.
- Oakland Linebackers: They still can't cover tight ends.
As always, the league is moving fast. Don't blink...