Welcome to Footballguys' Weekly Top 10. Starting now, the Top 10 will be 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.
Because there's always a lot to share after a weekend of football, here are some noteworthy items that could have made the Top 10 but didn't:
- Quincy Enunwa began his career with Terrell Owens' strength, YAC, and agility but his hands were an adventure. Enunwa's pass-catching technique is much-improved and that's a scary thought if the Jets can consistently get him into space as it did on a few targets on Sunday.
- Alex Collins has some of the best footwork of any runner in the league, which makes him a dynamic and creative playmaker. However, he has two fumbles after four games, matching last year's total — one of them occurred at the goal line on Sunday night. It's likely that Collins has given Buck Allen long-term security in the Ravens' running back by committee.
- Rookie Keke Coutee was one of my Five Lesser-Known Rookie You Should Monitor In Training Camp but he suffered a hamstring injury that curtailed his camp and he didn't return to the field until this weekend. Considering how much time he missed, Coutee's 10-catch debut is a great sign that the Texans didn't need a healthy August to know what it had in the rookie. Stay tuned for an analysis of Coutee's game in this week's Gut Check for Footballguys Season Long Pro Subscribers.
This week, the Top 10 is a quarterback-heavy edition. There's also a fun segment in this week's Fresh Fish (always No.10 on the list for you newbies) where yours truly encounters a Falcons-Bama Twitter Mini-Mob.
1. insights from Mitchell Trubisky's Six-Touchdown Day
Last week's column revealed weaknesses in Trubisky's game that could be difficult for him to overcome and develop into a top franchise quarterback. What a difference a week makes, right?
Not so fast.
The differences between Trubisky's Week 4 and Week 5 performances include the quality of the opponent, the offensive game plan, and only one immature decision in Week 5 that would have fit with several he made in Week 4.
This decrease in immature decision-making would be positive if the Buccaneers defense created scenarios similar to the ones Trubisky faced last week against the Cardinals. Because this didn't happen, it's impossible to say that Trubisky's judgment in more difficult scenarios has improved.
This is why A) Trubisky didn't perform well last week on the field, B) had a great statistical performance this week, but C) has done nothing to prove that he's overcome the issues that were prominent with his college film. Tampa Bay's defense wasn't good enough to test Trubisky in this manner for two reasons:
- It started a third-string safety.
- It started a pair of rookie defensive backs who are better known as physical players than burners.
Combined with Bears' offensive game plan that confused the Buccaneers' inexperienced secondary with bunch sets, decoys, and double moves, the offense had a great game that is unlikely a precursor of things to come.
Trubisky's first touchdown is a great example of wide-open looks that the Bears generated for much of the game against this overwhelmed Buccaneers' secondary. The out-and-up by Burton is an easy play thanks in part to Joshua Bellamy's (Allen Robinson is mentioned in the video, but it's Bellamy for those fact-checking at home) post that freezes the safety in place.
T Burton TD; Trubisky TD1 wide open pic.twitter.com/OTeuyECSCH— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
Another double move with a slot man—this time, T Cohen pic.twitter.com/bhe9zHSEJG— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
And here's a third trips look with a double move from Burton that leaves the tight end in an open field like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Another double move from bunch trips to Burton pic.twitter.com/waSSerFYQc— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
When the Bears weren't confusing the Buccaneers with trips-bunch and double moves, it created mismatches by splitting Cohen outside and leaving players like Allen Robinson with a rookie one-on-one.
Robinson on rookie DB in slot. Find route; on-time throw. pic.twitter.com/tL89rCIMLu— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
Coach Matt Nagy finally used Cohen as the focal point of his offense, something that seemed logical to do when studying how Nagy used Tyreek Hill in Kansas City. This hasn't happened until this week and even so, Cohen split a lot of that Kansas City role with Taylor Gabriel.
Nagy used some of that Hill flavor with Cohen in the passing game from the backfield. This isn't a bunch-trips look below but the way it functions, it might as well be. The result is a mismatch with linebacker Lavontae David for a Cohen touchdown reception.
Cohen not in the bunch, but a part of it for TD v L David. Trubisky TD 3 pic.twitter.com/ZYyy4fzOir— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
Once an offense has this much success, opposing defenses — especially those with young players reeling from failure — are confused and reactive for the rest of the game. At this point, Cohen becomes a decoy and helps spring a wide-open Bellamy (yes, fact-checkers, I said Allen Robinson again on the video) for the score.
Fresh Fish: Trubisky TD4 with bunch trips setup of screen to Cohen but pump and throw to wide-open Robinson. pic.twitter.com/SwqU1Oyzxz— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
The Bears offense had a fantastic afternoon. However, the Buccaneers didn't test them. Not like the Cardinals or Seahawks defenses. It's why crowning Trubisky as an emerging force is premature. What separates a good starting quarterback from anyone getting a chance to start in the NFL is what was mentioned in this video last week.
Nice throw by Trubisky but it is not what defines a good starter. pic.twitter.com/1izoNBC8GI— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 24, 2018
Keep in mind, Derek Anderson had a 328-yard, 5-touchdown effort in Week 2 against the Bengals during his second season in the NFL. Anderson even earned a Pro Bowl nod. He never sustained those heights. Matt Cassel had five games in 2008 with at least three touchdown passes for the Patriots while replacing an injured Tom Brady but Cassel only had two more seasons close to that first-year production when New England traded him to the Chiefs a year later.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Neil O'Donnell, Blake Bortles, Dave Krieg, Kerry Collins, Tony Banks, and Elvis Grbac have all thrown at least five touchdowns in a game. There's no correlation between touchdowns in a game and long-term production.
Despite the "not so fast," insights from this game in regard to Trubisky, there's reason for optimism. The Bears unleashed the version of its offense that we expected to see earlier in the season. The Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton are mismatches that can be moved around to create a lot of frustration for opponents.
If you have Trubisky (I do in the Footballguys subscriber contest along with Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff) in your fantasy leagues, there's reason for hope but don't get too optimistic until the Bears use this offense successfully against a healthier opponent with experienced and skilled personnel.
Fans know that the NFL is filled with week-to-week analysis that can leave one feeling emotional whiplash. Trubisky gave us reason for optimism but the quality of the opponent shouldn't be overlooked and opposing defenses are notorious for making in-season adjustments after having four weeks of tape from the current season.
Miami should be a favorable matchup for Trubisky after the Week 5 bye. The Patriots and Jets should offer a more telling test. If you can sell Trubisky high for a player like Jared Goff, I'd take that risk.
2. Mariota-to-Davis took a step towards maturation
While Philadelphia Eagles fans have valid reasons to say that the Eagles lost this game rather than the Tennessee Titans winning it because the Eagles gave up three fourth-down conversions on the same drive, Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense put in some impressive work.
One of the notable developments with this new offense is the use of the levels concept — high-low routes within the same region of the field at various depths — and also the mesh concept, which creates natural and legal picks on opposing defenders.
Like what I am seeing conceptually from Titans passing game. pic.twitter.com/n60nYPgfTU— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
There's also designed movement for Mariota with the end game of him attacking deep. Here's a play where he hits Corey Davis with a perfect pass on a deep cross but Davis is just a step shy of the throw because he slows down a step when looking back for the football (a common mistake by young receivers when tracking the target).
Davis, a top prospect, is a great worker and this was a small mistake (and future growing point) in an otherwise excellent game for the young receiver. He and Mariota connected repeatedly this weekend, including this excellent post route with Mariota throwing with pressure bearing down.
Here's another fine double-move from Davis and a mature throw from Mariota that leaves Davis room to adjust inside to the football.
The variety of ways Mariota and Davis successfully beat the Eagles deep is a good sign for this connection. So is the rapport they displayed in one of the games most important moments.
The Eagles aren't yet playing at last year's championship level, especially on defense. However, the crisp execution between Mariota and Davis should not be ignored. Consider this the game where the light is coming on for this pitch-and-catch tandem.
3. Alshon Jeffery is back and just in time
Last week, the Top 10 showed why Carson Wentz is now healthy enough to perform at a high level for the rest of the year. The biggest remaining question for the Eagles offense was its lack of a dangerous perimeter threat.
It's why Alshon Jeffery's return is so timely. Wentz can deliver with pinpoint accuracy as a deep passer when targets are within 35-45 yards of his launching point. However, he'll never be mistaken for Jared Goff in the vertical precision department.
Goff with efficient throw. Aikman needed to watch more tape; Goff can hit them at 65 in stride but Aikman concluded what he said off on short throw. pic.twitter.com/GOWk8RVd6z— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 28, 2018
While Goff is surgical with deep routes at an extreme distance, Wentz is more effective as an improviser at that range by pulling defenses to him as a scrambler and then throwing the ball over the defense's head. Jeffery is the type of receiver who can win in stride but that kind of accuracy is not necessary.
Unlike Brandin Cooks, Jeffery's specialty is rebounding. This is one of the easier efforts you'll see for Jeffery.
Here's one that was more difficult.
Well placed by Wentz after hitch from edge pressure. Fine catch by Jeffery. pic.twitter.com/eiyiuuiUXo— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
The play also displays incremental improvement from Wentz when forced to hitch in the pocket. In the recent past, Wentz would lose a balanced form and spray the ball because of the width of his stance and the location of his back foot relative to the target. This weekend, he was better at keeping a more balanced stance after forced to hitch. Keep an eye on that development, because the better Wentz gets here, the more the Eagles and use him in a drop-back game from center and vary its alignments.
4. as good as it looked: Baker Mayfield's first start
Perhaps the bar has been so low in Cleveland since the Modell exodus to Baltimore that Baker Mayfield's debut has many fans concerned that there's too much optimism surrounding the quarterback's first two performances. However, there were a variety of throws that Mayfield made that reveals he's an instant upgrade for the Cleveland offense — even if you're still not convinced he has elite upside.
Good starting quarterbacks are willing to let their athletic receivers win with their athletic ability. Mayfield exhibits no problem with trusting David Njoku in the flat with this high-point target.
Nice contested play by Njoku and trust-throw by Mayfield pic.twitter.com/vxXpRq94Ng— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
This type of throw will be necessary for the future and in other scenarios that will have a bigger impact on a drive. Mayfield's touch in the face of pressure is also positive. This throw to Duke Johnson Jr in the face of edge pressure is an excellent job of throwing the ball a little early with less velocity on it and results in a first down.
Nice touch by Mayfield pic.twitter.com/842Z9pKA2h— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
A lingering question with Mayfield's game has been his ability to throw the deep post. This route beats two-high and three-high safety looks that are common among NFL defenses. If opponents don't believe a quarterback can split safeties with the post, it makes them a lot more comfortable cheating at other ranges of the field and it can shut down an offense.
Here's Mayfield hitting Daniel Fells for a touchdown where he looks off the left side, pump fakes, and fires to the tight end breaking from the opposite side.
Mayfield post on a line. Good setup with look and pump left. pic.twitter.com/ZDvtbIEvlm— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
The red zone accuracy on passes from center is also a benefit to an offense that wants to run the ball. Using play-action and quick sets to read and fire is essentially in this scheme.
Tyrod Taylor couldn't set up and identify open receivers in the quick game as well as Mayfield and it led to more run-option plays and Taylor extending pass plays beyond the offensive line's comfort level. Mayfield's performances are making the offensive line more efficient, giving the offense more plays, and allowing more in-game strategic development based on this play volume.
Mayfield will make rookie mistakes with coverage reads and likely have moments of immaturity managing a ball game but he's easily a starting-caliber fantasy quarterback in 16-team leagues or a bye-week starter in 12 or 14-team formats when facing defenses like the Buccaneers, Steelers, Chiefs, and Falcons — four of the next six teams on the Browns' schedule.
5. better than it looked: Josh Rosen's first start
Rosen began the first half of the Seahawks game with a 6-of-13 for 50-yard stat line. Based on the plays below, Rosen could have easily been 12-of-13 and with big-play yardage...
Drop by Fitzgerald in end zone. Good throw and patience in compressed area to freeze low of high-low coverage. pic.twitter.com/gdB67JiqY0— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
The one big play Rosen should have made in the first half was a difficult read of a corner route working behind a double-slant route combination where he might have had difficulty seeing the safety's position behind four bodies in the quarterback's initial sight line.
Despite the drops, Rosen kept the Cardinals in this game and with some excellent throws in the intermediate range of the field — often with pressure bearing down.
Rosen takes hit late from twisting DE and hits TE in stride pic.twitter.com/nlB5ltY0J3— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
The difference between Rosen and Sam Bradford is that defenses respect Rosen's mobility. He can work outside the pocket and throw on the move in ways that Bradford no longer can with any consistency. Even with Rosen's receivers dropping passes, the targets were accurate enough that the Seahawks had to respect the threat of Rosen's play-action game and it softened fronts for David Johnson, who authored two of his biggest gains of the year in this contest.
As with most new starters at the position, Rosen will experience moments of confusion and make mistakes that are characteristic and even uncharacteristic of his college tape. Still, Rosen is making life easier for David Johnson and giving the vertical game life.
His best shot at fantasy relevancy will come as a match-up starter and only Chad Williams and J.J. Nelson can deliver as consistent big-play threats. If one of them does, Rosen's production could rise.
6. running rampant: nick chubb
All apologies to Saquon Barkley, a great running back prospect, but I liked Nick Chubb just a little bit more. For many of you that will seem crazy. Welcome to the land of initial responses I've earned throughout my career writing the Rookie Scouting Portfolio, a 14-year-old publication devoted to the analysis of NFL Draft prospects at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end.
Scouting talent is a difficult craft. I've made my share of mistakes and will continue to do so. However, I've been in this maelstrom of "you're crazy" before and come out the other side with many players:
- Liking Marshawn Lynch just a bit more than Adrian Peterson despite labeling Peterson a generational talent.
- Believing that Russell Wilson was underrated and could win from the NFL pocket.
- Showing that Le'Veon Bell was quick enough to start in the NFL despite his 230-pound frame.
- Believing Jared Goff is a franchise talent — even during his rookie year.
Chubb had the highest grade of any running back I've studied in at least five years. The take away isn't that the grade makes him better than Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Leonard Fournette; it's that he's in their league of skill.
Browns fans were skeptical of Chubb after his preseason debut, but running back evaluation is best done when you can separate the signal (technique, traits, conceptual knowledge and wisdom of blocking schemes) from the noise (stats and raw athletic ability).
Part of the noise was the injury narrative: Chubb suffered a rare injury as a sophomore and the consensus believed he hasn't been the same back since. The NFL Combine and last year's tape reveal otherwise. Still, fans aren't likely to believe what they see until they see it in an NFL game.
Here's a taste.
One of those moments where the analyst realizes midstream that “lumbering” was a bad descriptor for Chubb. Note the stiff arm placement. pic.twitter.com/lCNk8bKVT4— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
According to Elias Stats, over 1,200 backs have earned 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. Chubb is the only NFL back to ever earn 100 yards and 2 touchdowns in a game with this little volume.
Chubb may not earn the starting job on the basis of his promising work but he will earn a bigger share of the workload next week. If he continues to perform well — and I believe he will — look for Chubb to become the lead back by season's end.
7. dear mike McCoy: thanks for reading my first David johnson missive
Last week, I jokingly titled a segment about David Johnson's usage, "Memo to Mike McCoy: Use David Johnson Like An H-Back." This weekend, it was clear that McCoy and his staff have similar thoughts. Instead of featuring Johnson solely on screen passes and dump-offs traditional to running back usage, McCoy is splitting Johnson from the formation and giving him receiver routes.
Good active downhill route for D Johnson split wide in 4th Q on 3rd down pic.twitter.com/2dFSYTPAnB— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
These routes diversify the offense, keep the defense guessing pass-run when Chase Edmunds is in the backfield and Johnson is wide, and it maximizes Johnson's skill set as a bona fide threat who can run receiver routes.
Thanks to a young receiving corps and struggling offensive line, Johnson may not have a top-five fantasy season this year but Josh Rosen's game and Mike McCoy's adjustments will keep him a viable starter in most formats.
8. so close, so far away: Sam Darnold and Josh Allen
Two rookie quarterbacks playing for New York franchises. One is close to generating consistent offense. The other is far away.
Here are two plays late in the half where Darnold misses by inches.
On any given throw of this caliber, Darnold and the receiver will connect. These moments will come soon enough. The real concern with Darnold this year and next will be his ability to recognize coverage that's in the area of his receiver but not the primary opponent for the target.
This issue plagued Darnold at USC and plagued him on the two targets above. This will be one of the areas that will be vital for Darnold's long-term growth. Still, the early returns are promising.
The same can't be said about Josh Allen. He represents everything that old-school NFL evaluators value and potentially everything that they undervalue.
Will Josh Allen learn? He’s an elite arm talent. He’s book smart. He’s a strong, quick athlete. The burden of proof that he can be mature and wise as a decision maker is on Allen and it is an assumption with little past evidence to support it. pic.twitter.com/vGTLLhu13F— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
Allen is young and immature and it shows up in the handful of plays that differentiate starters from future free agents. These handful of plays are the real difference makers and most people don't realize this because they get enamored with highlight-reel plays that are displays of rare athletic ability or skills that many NFL wannabees possess.
Here's a good example of immaturity that Allen displayed at Wyoming, repeatedly.
Allen leads target into harm’s way pic.twitter.com/keqzIlE2iJ— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
It's possible Allen will learn and unlock his tremendous gifts. However, it's more difficult to gain wisdom and intuitive decision-making skills than many realize — especially if the player has not shown a capacity for them at a high level.
The Bills offensive line also lacks the talent to support his learning curve, which will lead to more pressure and potential mistakes that become ingrained bad habits.
Allen sacked pic.twitter.com/9LtkiDL4Bj— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 1, 2018
Odds are against most young NFL quarterbacks succeeding, including many profiled above. Based on what each has shown thus far, Allen is in the greatest danger.
9. One week later, the Raiders offense remains "one play away"
Despite a fourth-quarter comeback for the victory against an improving Cleveland Browns squad, once again, the Raiders had several "near-hits" for big plays that could have made this victory less dramatic. It's an important point because fantasy players still seem down on Oakland's offense despite promising signs against tough defenses like the Rams and Broncos.
Derek Carr still concerns me with erratic decision-making under pressure but he is a competent NFL starter. Think of him as a developing Alex Smith-type producer with more reckless tendencies or Kirk Cousins with a bigger arm.
The Raiders are getting big plays and explosive production from a different player every week. It's possible that we look back on the Raiders six weeks from now and can track the rise of this scheme. Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch are must-starts. Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson might be sooner than you think. If Bryant doesn't get suspended, he also has high weekly upside.
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: Me (or Falcons-Alabama fans, depending on your perspective)
Last week, I led off this column with a segment on Calvin Ridley's excellent performance against the Saints, revealing how the Falcons used the rookie to his potential. Ridley was one of my top prospects in the 2018 class. I compared his upside to Marvin Harrison.
Of course, when you're on Twitter, there's little room for backstory or context. I noted two Ridley errors during the game.
After the game, Ridley offered a polite and professional explanation.
Only reason that got away I was tired should of took myself out period I catch them everyday— CALVIN RIDLEY (@CalvinRidley1) September 30, 2018
I congratulated him on a good game.
It happens to everyone. Good overall game!— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 30, 2018
'Bama and Falcons faithful went on defense mode for Ridley as if I assassinated his football character. Bless their mobbing hearts.
Or maybe, bless mine. Sports fans can lose their minds.
Onto the fish cases...
- Falcons Defense: The loss of safeties and Deion Jones has put Atlanta's offense in situations where it's going for it on fourth down in the first half of games. Atlanta is shootout capital of the NFL.
- Josh Allen: He needs to sit before he gets hurt or seriously hurts someone else.
- Alex Collins: Excellent runner but his ball security is costing him what should be a high-volume role.
- Jets Defense: New York could not stop the crossing route and Dede Westbrook had a career day from them. Later, the secondary fell asleep on that steady diet of runs and crossers, and Donte Moncrief snuck behind the secondary for a long score.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.