Welcome to Footballguys' Weekly Top 10. Since Week 4, the Top 10 has been free to Footballguys Insiders. All you have to do is register with your email and you'll receive access to this in-depth film breakdown (with a fantasy bent) of the weekend's games.
Among this week's topics, we'll evaluate the return of Josh Allen, the synergy of Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards, the state of Rob Gronkowski's game, Amari Cooper's fit in Dallas, Nick Chubb's hands, the potential of Justin Jackson and Dante Pettis, and a few other items before finishing with some fresh fish.
1. Checking in with Josh Allen
Jalen Ramsey called Josh Allen quarterback trash in a profile done on Ramsey in GQ. The rookie may not have had a game like Baker Mayfield on Sunday but he propelled the Bills to a win and had moments that made Ramsey look like a chump for the characterization.
Allen remains a polarizing prospect but there is room for analysis that falls in between "future stud quarterback" and "unmitigated bust." Allen has specific pocket skills endeared him to old-school quarterback evaluators — namely, standing tall and throwing the ball into oncoming punishment.
There are a few plays from Allen's tape at Wyoming where he shows skill to climb and slide with controlled footwork, but there are so many other exposures where he bolts the pocket or loses all semblance of mature decision-making that it validates those skeptical of Allen ever achieving his upside. This is different than a scenario like Nick Chubb not earning a lot of receptions at Georgia (see No.6 below). Chubb didn't drop the ball and make bad decisions as a receiver, he simply wasn't used a lot. Allen has a mix of good, bad, and ugly plays from the pocket and the bad and ugly vastly outnumber the good.
This weekend, the good Allen showed up. This 75-yard throw to Robert Foster with pressure bearing down might have been the throw of the week.
Hero Mode is short for Josh Allen's penchant for trying to out-athlete the competition with his arms and legs in situations where greater craft and restraint are required. The more that young players like Allen have success with athletic plays, the more it enables them to cross the line and make reckless decisions.
Josh Allen's result is good. The process is a bit worrisome given his college portfolio.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
This is where Hero Mode can get cross the line into reckless choices. This one works out. pic.twitter.com/1DC1CEmA5D
Another completion under pressure by Josh Allen. Placement gives Foster a chance to turn his back to the hitter. But hard to say if that was fully intentional. Good throw but a demanding situation for sure. #Bills pic.twitter.com/HC1oSYpHMa— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
I see more of Vick's negatives in Josh Allen's game than Lamar Jackson's. It's ironic how certain ideas are perpetuated.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
This is a good run by Allen, but he's more apt to drop his eyes and bolt the pocket than Jackson, who is better with controlled movement. #Bills pic.twitter.com/YhcblB8DMH
Allen had a good day but when you examine the decisions he made, few of them required multiple reads, refined manipulation of defenders, or skilled movement to buy time inside the confines of the pocket. Allen's performance was an impressive display of physical skills and toughness. In contrast, Lamar Jackson's recent performances have more conceptual nuggets of value that characterized.
Should Lamar Jackson remain the starter when Joe Flacco is healthy? If solely comparing Jackson and Flacco, there will be valid arguments in favor of Flacco, who has playoff experience a full command of an offense, and the coaching staff knows exactly what to expect from him.
If comparing how the Ravens have performed with Jackson during the past two games, the answer becomes murkier because the comparison also involves the Baltimore ground game with Jackson and Gus Edwards. The pair creates issues for defenses that Flacco never will.
The threat of Jackson as a perimeter runner forces opponents to overplay the front and back-side gaps and this leads to easier play-action opportunities — often because the opponent will guess wrong about the side Jackson rolls to.
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
The threat of this combination on the ground also opens targets in the passing game — and Jackson once again displayed the pocket skill to exploit them.
Jon Gruden didn't have his camp last winter. If he did, he might have learned that keeping Jackson in the pocket isn't as big of a game plan advantage as it may seem.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Lamar Jacksion hits Hayden Hurst on the dig with middle of pocket compressed. #Ravens pic.twitter.com/rr7ZUiRIHl
Can Lamar Jackson flick it like Mike Vick? To a degree, yes? Is he an explosive runner like Vick? Yes.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Could Vick show this, efficiency and control in the pocket?
MAYBE that one year under Andy Reid...maybe.
Lamar Jackson-Vick comps are way too simplistic #ravens pic.twitter.com/xfg7mKuH4N
Jackson threw a pair of interceptions in this game. One was an underthrown route up the sideline that the trailing defender tipped to the safety at the end of the half. The other was the correct read over the middle, but Jackson failed to disguise his intentions and it allowed the linebacker from the opposite hash to slide across the middle and tip the throw into the arms of a teammate.
Overall, Jackson's completion rate belies the positives he's showing as a passer and doesn't tell the full story of how Jackson and Edwards in this option game are controlling the game and creating big-play opportunities.
3. The Potential Stretch-run viability of Justin Jackson
It doesn't mean you should sleep on rookie Justin Jackson, who the Chargers were excited about landing as a draft-day value. There was quiet conversation during the summer that Jackson could challenge Ekeler for playing time if he had a strong training camp.
Jackson injured his hamstring after a few good plays into training camp and missed all but the final preseason game — which is usually the game where guys will play with difficult injuries so they can make the team or at least earn an IR designation with the hope of landing on the practice squad when healthy. Jackson earned a practice squad spot, worked his way to the active roster by the London game, and became a regular contributor on special teams.
Jackson overtook fellow rookie Detrez Newsome on the running back depth chart and on Sunday, he earned playing time in the backfield during Los Angeles' blowout of Arizona. That statement sounds like Jackson came into the game in the fourth quarter and faced a bunch of scrubs after the game was well in hand. The reality of the situation is that Jackson played with and against starters in the second and third quarter before the Chargers extended the lead beyond any realistic attempt at a comeback.
Jackson showcased a lot of the skills he displayed at Northwestern: burst, agility, vision, and indirect contact balance.
Many of you know that I think #Chargers Justin Jackson is an underrated rookie RB. This is a well-blocked toss play.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Still, note the move Jackson puts on the safety to earn another 12 yards on this 19-yard gain. pic.twitter.com/375r6p87ZN
The next run for #Chargers RB Justin Jackson. Misdirection toss right. Good ball security, small through the crease, and pad level to bounce off hit and clean with stiff arm.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Jackson has one of the best arsenals of stiff-arms I've seen. https://t.co/mVg61GMbgl pic.twitter.com/1HIfHQxS0x
This is a pretty run by #Chargers Justin Jackson.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Penetration into the backfield during the exchange and Jackson executes a good jump-stop without jumping too deep.
Cuts back inside and spins through contact with balance touch thrown in for another 3-4 yards. pic.twitter.com/NyqIMLPZrC
I thought Jackson was one of the most underrated rookie runners in this rich class. If you have Ekeler on your roster — or lost Gordon and have room for a high-upside addition to the end of your roster — Jackson has the skills to be a league-winner if called upon to play a key role in this excellent offense.
It's most likely that Jackson earns change-of-pace opportunities. Consider 5-7 touches per game as his floor if Ekeler proves sturdy and productive. If the Chargers want to preserve Ekeler and Jackson continues performing well enough with those 5-7 touches to earn a larger share, Jackson could earn 8-12 touches and become a flex factor sooner than later.
If Ekeler gets hurt or Jackson outperforms Ekeler, Jackson has experience handling the prolific volume at Northwestern as a four-year starter and should be capable of 15-17 touches without a problem.
4. Rob Gronkowski Remains a Must-Start When Healthy
When you take a tight end in the opening rounds of fantasy drafts, your reaction to an injury-riddled season will be filled with doomsday drama for the player. "Is Gronkowski washed-up?" was a topic Sigmund Bloom raised on Sunday morning's Audible podcast with Jene Bramel and me.
My answer was no but I understand how Bloom, someone who touts Gronkowski as an early-pick advantage, had his confidence shaken in Gronkowski's present and future value. Gronkowski's injuries are taking a toll on his body as he ages. He's no longer as dangerous in the open field.
This week against the Jets, Gronkowski couldn't break tackles on crossing routes that he would have pulled through during his athletic prime. However, we're comparing perhaps the greatest tight end in the history of the game to a slightly lesser version of himself, which means that Gronkowski is not washed-up.
He may retire this year because he wants to preserve what he can of his long-term health but if he wants to play until the wheels completely fall off, Gronkowski has a lot left to give to the game. This post route is an excellent display of his long speed to stretch a seam and the hand-eye coordination and toughness to win the ball against contact.
Rob Gronkowski still has the speed to work the deep routes, the mobility to extend in stride, and the concentration and toughness to hang onto reasonably placed targets. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/seABRUjk9m— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Gronkowski still has the quickness to snap turns on routes and if a defender takes a bad angle in the open field, Gronkowski has the build-up speed to pull away for larger gains. As long as the punishment hasn't deteriorated his hand-eye coordination and stop-start quickness, Gronkowski can be a top-five tight end in fantasy football formats for another 3-5 years.
Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates proved as much when they were slower versions of their prime selves. Gronkowski hasn't even reached that end-of-career, diminished athletic ability. It all depends on how much pain he's willing facing right now. If it's enough for him to retire at season's end, good for him. If it's not, Gronkowski may no longer be a wise choice at the top of drafts but he'll deliver as a fantasy TE1 when on the field.
5. The Bears secondary Saves Thanksgiving (And Why Chicago Safety Eddie Jackson Is Good)
The Bears won a close game Thursday afternoon, thanks to its secondary making timely fourth-quarter plays. Second-year Alabama safety Eddie Jackson was always known as a playmaker but the Draft Illuminati nitpicked Jackson's skills to the point that his draft stock wasn't commensurate with his game.
One of the greatest strengths of Jackson's game is the ability to take a great path to the ball and cut off targets. Combine that with his ball-carrying skills and he's a dangerous weapon.
This pick-six below is the second one he's had in consecutive weeks. Notice how Jackson disguises his angle to the receiver so Matthew Stafford has no reticence about targeting this shallow route to tight end Michael Roberts.
Eddie Jackson #ChicagoBears is the playmaker on this defense. Second consecutive week with a pick-six.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 25, 2018
Watch how he disguises his angle to the receiver at the hash and the subtlety of his cutoff. pic.twitter.com/76cHdaHtDo
Jackson has four interceptions and three touchdowns this year and five scores during his two-year NFL career. He's not a dominant tackle compiler, which places his IDP value in Footballguys scoring system as a low-end No.2 fantasy safety in lineups. However, he's fifth among safeties with eight pass defenses and tied for second in interceptions.
As Jackson continues gaining confidence in his ability to disrupt plays with aggressive paths to the ball, he could develop into one of the better IDP safeties in the game.
Kyle Fuller also made consecutive plays in the closing minutes of this game, preventing a tie on one target and sealing the game on the next.
Fuller is the No.3 tight end in Footballguys IDP scoring with 13 pass defenses and 5 interceptions. HIs tackle numbers are also decent enough to keep him in this production tier. He's also not a "pick-on" cornerback; teammate Prince Amukamara is the ninth-ranked cornerback with slightly higher tackle numbers and about half of Fuller's pass defense and interception totals.
The Bears have enough offense to force opponents to throw at them and their playmaking defensive backs.
6. Is the 'Can Nick Chubb CAtch' faux-issue Finally quashed?
Two weeks ago, the Top 10 featured Nick Chubb's receiving skills and discussed the Dirty Little Secret of Broadcast Color Commentary reading bulleted scouting reports without questioning the gap between the paper and their eyes. This weekend's game might be the moment where this ignorant notion that Chubb isn't a good receiver will be permanently quashed — and even when the target providing the central argument might not have been a catch if the review angle was better...
Did Nick Chubb catch this ball? By the letter of the law of on-field call-replay? Yes. If we could presume what happens after he loses control? Probably not, #Browns fans.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Still an awesome display of jumping back to win the ball and hand usage to create 2nd-chance opportunity. pic.twitter.com/gL6INkhJ3n
This is the second time Mayfield has targeted Chubb on a wheel route this season and underthrew the ball. The effort alone is a great display of hand-eye coordination and body control.
This columnist believes there's a wheel route on Chubb's college tape somewhere but in lieu of that exposure, these are two routes that often indicate a running back can catch.
Although Chubb isn't earning Saquon Barkley's reception volume — and likely won't — the type of targets are a telling indication that he's a trusted option. The fact that Cleveland is finally using Duke Johnson Jr as a detached receiver on grown-up routes while Chubb is in the backfield is also a good sign of Chubb's prowess.
Hallelujah...Duke Johnson Jr in the slot running a grown-up WR route! with Nick Chubb in the backfield. #Browns getting its best talent on the field and maximizing usage in less predictable ways. pic.twitter.com/kWsx7cZWAP— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
As discussed here a few weeks ago, the Browns are doing a better job of giving Baker Mayfield straight-forward concepts where he can execute quickly and confidently. This weekend, Mayfield also performed efficiently when the plays went off-script — especially in the red zone.
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Mayfield also made this adjustment on a red-zone pass to Darren Fells for a touchdown in the second half. If the Browns don't hire another coach who comes in and creates a dysfunctional environment to muck up the strides this team has made, Cleveland could be a playoff team in 2019.
Mayfield still faces a tougher schedule ahead, which should be a good test for just how much Mayfield has improved during this stretch with Kitchens and how much of the improvement has been based on the quality of opposition.
7. Where Amari Cooper wins
There was a lot of skepticism about the prospect of Dallas earning first-round value from Amari Cooper. It's too early to put that skepticism to rest, but the early returns are good. Since Week 8, Cooper has been the No.12 receiver in standard fantasy formats and No.16 in PPR.
His 15.9 yards per catch is also above the league average for starting receivers. As my colleague Dwain McFarland discovered, Cooper is a strong short and intermediate route runner who offers some vertical potential.
Although Dallas may have envisioned using Cooper as a vertical threat in the play-action game, Dak Prescott hasn't connected with him in this range of the field despite Cooper earning separation. That's ok because Dallas has learned that Cooper's fantastic skill in the short-range of the field leads to big-play chunks after the catch.
That route by #Cowboys Amari Cooper in the first quarter? Here's a diamond route that turns into a 40-yard TD.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Again, the precision and suddenness of the stops and changes of direction render the Washington DB into jelly. pic.twitter.com/QPPhyx4KUB
The Saints could be a challenge for Cooper next week, but Philadelphia's decimated secondary headline a trio of good-to-great matchups during the fantasy playoffs.
8. Why Atlanta Misses Devonta Freeman
Without its starting guards, it's unlikely that Atlanta's ground game would be a top rushing unit if Devonta Freeman was healthy. However, Freeman's style of play would help because he's a refined zone runner in ways that still elude Tevin Coleman.
A linear-style runner with speed and one-cut skill like Tevin Coleman runs into trouble when he doesn't have the stride variation to create more efficient-patient adjustments.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 25, 2018
A tough play for many backs but especially so for Coleman's style. pic.twitter.com/wcoyv8J0X5
Smith is more like Freeman as a runner but without the same caliber of vision, footwork, and contact balance. If a healthy Freeman were in this lineup, we'd see a lot more gains of 3-5 yards where Coleman is stuffed or limited to 1-3 yards, and it could have been helpful at slowing the opposing pass rush.
Atlanta's decision at running back will be one of the most interesting off-season questions because Coleman's contract is up, Freeman is coming off an injury and has shown some wear-and-tear for the past two years, and the draft has prospects who could fit Atlanta's needs.
I wouldn't be shocked if Coleman's value dips dramatically by this time next year because he's a big-play guy who doesn't earn the hard yards as well as many quality starters. Matt Breida (or this draft class) could squash the idea of Coleman going to San Francisco.
If Melvin Gordon III walks from the Chargers, Coleman could fit there because of a gap scheme in L.A. However, he'll likely remain a committee back. If Freeman returns to form, he could earn another strong season or two with Smith and/or a draft pick behind him. If the prognosis for Freeman isn't good, the Falcons might draft a back a little higher than expected or court a free agent.
My top-rated receiver from this rookie class is Dante Pettis. An injury prevented Pettis from building on his flashy opening week but it shouldn't detract from his long-term potential.
This weekend, Pettis earned a spot in the starting lineup and as the game wore on, it became clear that Nick Mullens saw Pettis as the go-to guy — even if Kendrick Bourne has been starting ahead of Pettis for weeks.
Dante Pettis #49ers.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
Here are a few of his routes from Sunday vs. #Buccaneers.
1. Good release from slot for TD
2. Nice display of hands on two other routes.
3. Flashes of his YAC skills. pic.twitter.com/oALbsnG795
Pettis was also the intended target on a Mullens interception in the end zone. He's a smooth route runner with a good library of release skills. Where he can immediately get better is developing a contingency plan one step ahead of each moment he's facing.
While a player with a different physical makeup and athletic style, JuJu Smith-Schuster is a good player who Pettis could learn from in this respect. Like Pettis, Smith-Schuster is both a slot and perimeter receiver. While a more physical player, Smith-Schuster is almost always thinking one step ahead.
It's central theme with these three plays from the Broncos game.
When you're studying players, the next-level analysis is finding themes within that player's play-to-play behavior.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
A central theme in Juju Smith-Schuster's game is thinking one step ahead and executing fluidly. #SteelersVsBroncos pic.twitter.com/fQ8hAIFIME
One athletic commonality between Smith-Schuster and Pettis is the lack of elite deep speed. However, both have the quickness, double-moves, and "stamina speed" to weave through a defense and maintain their pace for long gains.
That's some "stamina" speed right there from Smith-Schuster.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 25, 2018
May not be track fast but when he reaches his top gear, he can hold it. https://t.co/acuyrlA2y3
Pettis may not be making the immediate splash of Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore, but the quality of his targets is worth noting when considering his long-term outlook. A second-year Pettis in a healthier offense should become an every-week fantasy contributor, and perhaps a starter if he earns an expanded role.
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.
Catch of the Week: Matt Ryan
I'm still picking on the Atlanta Falcons but they're ripe for this feature. Matt Ryan earned the honor last week and he's earning it again this week. Ryan fumbled the ball three times against the Saints — twice in the red zone. One of those fumbles was squarely the fault of Ryan not seeing the field well in the red zone.
As good of a fantasy player that Ryan has been this year, solely blaming the Falcons' offensive line for Ryan's sacks and turnovers is not fair to the unit.
Onto the fish case:
- Calvin Ridley: He allowed a crossing route to go through his hands last week that led to an interception. This week, he dropped three passes and fumbled away a certain touchdown in the fourth quarter as he crossed the five.
- Bengals Defense: Marvin Lewis took over the play calling against the Saints that the game was over by halftime. The same was essentially true against Cleveland — even with former Browns head coach Hue Jackson on the Bengals' sideline! This should tell you how removed Jackson was from day-to-day operations this year.
- Tremaine Brock The Bronco defensive back gave up a 97-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster and he bit on a pair of double moves by Smith-Schuster and James Washington — both slightly overthrown.
- Miami's Defense: The Big Aqua Carpet unfurled at the end zone's entrance on Sunday for Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle, who combined for three touchdown catches.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.