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:
- Isaiah Crowell's career day against the Broncos. He'll be the topic of this week's Gut Check.
- Keke Coutee displayed the comfort in traffic and a second-straight game with a clutch catch as discussed in last week's Gut Check.
- Jared Goff (who was, is, and still is a "buy") earned a second-half comeback despite losing Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks to concussions during the first half.
In addition to the weekly Fresh Fish, the Top 10 covers a trio of quarterbacks, an emerging force at running back, the greatness of two pass catchers, and a few fantasy options worth monitoring.
1. Patrick Mahomes II II Passes Consecutive Difficult Tests
In addition to shutting down Travis Kelce for a half and Sammy Watkins leaving the game with a hamstring injury, the Broncos took away the bells and whistles of the Chiefs offense that generated confusion for numerous opponents last Monday night. It was the first serious test of Patrick Mahomes II II's ability to create when the scheme broke down and he responded with rare athletic ability and creativity, and underrated poise.
These are all on third down, on the same drive.— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) October 4, 2018
- Broncos get pressure rushing just three, Mahomes scrambles and throws for 24.
- Pressure with four, Mahomes scrambles, pirouettes away from body for 29.
- Basically a superhero throw. Would've been tough catch, but still. pic.twitter.com/A1f2eOqS8O
The Jaguars arguably presented a stiffer test because it has the pass rush to get home without the blitz, corners as skilled as the Broncos, and superior cover linebackers. Telvin Smith Sr and Myles Jack are so good, I expected Mahomes to throw two interceptions because his consistent issue is delivering passes behind his receivers in the shallow zones — especially when he accelerates his delivery to accommodate a heavy rush.
This is exactly what happened with Mahomes' second interception.
Pre-game prediction was two INTs and based on Mahomes tendency to be a little behind crossers and slants when pressed for to@e. Here’s INT2. pic.twitter.com/4mfQwUwnIo— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
Mahomes also delivered on another prediction: He'd overcome the errors for a productive day. One of the most impressive plays of the day was Mahomes spotting a rare blitz from the Jaguars and adjusting the play pre-snap to a screen.
Good pick up of blitz pre snap and Mahomes goes to screen pic.twitter.com/PjlvhSnO7X— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2018
Blake Bortles threw a pick-six to Chris Jones on a screen pass because he couldn't execute under pressure with the vision and patience that Mahomes displays above. However, it's a lot more than patience and pre-snap decision-making that separates Mahomes from the quarterbacks of his draft class — and really, any passer this analyst has studied during the past five years.
The common narrative about Mahomes at Texas Tech, pre-draft, and even now, is that the Chiefs quarterback is a gunslinger whose game can descend into reckless behavior that makes him a streaky player. This was true during Mahomes' early college years.
That characterization of Mahomes' game evolved during his final two seasons at Texas Tech and behind the scenes with his NFL development. You'll still find games where Mahomes makes reckless plays because he didn't account for the location of defenders on pass attempts that few quarterbacks are successful at completing.
Yet during this span, you'll see more plays where Mahomes' behavior is best described as "daring" and "bold" because the throws are difficult but his decisions were increasingly reducing, if not eliminating, the potential for a turnover. This play below is an excellent example of a bold and daring throw without the potential for a turnover — something that Tony Romo notes during his analysis of Mahomes' choice.
The greatest issues Mahomes had on Sunday wasn't the Jaguars defense or reckless plays but a wet ball. His first interception was a pass that slipped from his grip during his release and sailed above his receiver into the arms of safety Barry Church. A wet ball was also the reason he missed Tyreek Hill on deep post during the first half.
Otherwise, Mahomes delivered the ball with patience, poise, touch, and did so with an intuitive skill rarely seen on a football field.
Mahomes is the best young quarterback in football and if he continues to stay healthy and working with Andy Reid, he'll be the best quarterback on football, period.
2. Kirk Cousins Tempts Fate And Wins (This week...)
Speaking of reckless, Kirk Cousins has earned numerous segments in The Top 10 for his reckless nature throughout his career with pressure bearing down. There's a fine line between the courageous and the foolhardy and in the past, Cousins often imagined himself as Brett Favre and Matthew Stafford and stood his ground under pressure, winging targets with odd arm slots but without Favre or Stafford's velocity.
In a perverse way, you have to admire Cousins. He's like the baby chicken hawk in the Looney Tune's shorts.
This weekend, Cousins' tempted fate with three passes in this game and succeeded with all of them.
Fun play all around to Adam Thielen on burst corner with shake to bait CB inside as Diggs helps hold the safety inside.— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
One of Cousins “hero” throws that actually works out. pic.twitter.com/5SAudD4Kzq
Cousins was inches away from a three-interception performance and changing the complexion of this game. His courage and toughness are admirable but if you want to label a quarterback a gunslinger, forget the fact that he's essentially a pocket robot who played in a Big Ten offense and earned the approval of the Shanahans. Cousins is a reckless gunslinger with a guaranteed contract.
Fortunately for fantasy players, Cousins has an excellent receiving corps and a good defense. It gives him opportunities to play aggressive football with extreme prejudice.
Go get 'em, Chicken Hawk!
3. The Joe Mixon Train Has Left The Station
After the Colts game, Mixon became a top recommendation to acquire immediately in fantasy leagues — even after the subsequent injury. This weekend offered more supporting evidence why the Joe Mixon Train has the horsepower to get fantasy players to the promised land.
Mixon comes back to the ball on this TD pic.twitter.com/GS4JujpdBe— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
Although the Dolphins defense isn't a strong unit, it doesn't detract from Mixon's play. He has become a more patient runner, pressing creases tighter to the line. He's also earning downfield targets in the receiving game and demonstrating the maturity to attack the football.
As a talent, Mixon is the total package. As a running back, he possesses big-play versatility. And as a fantasy option, he has a top-10 floor and a top-5 ceiling.
4. What Makes Travis Kelce Great?
Deceleration. That's the answer to the question above. When it comes to assessing the physical talents of receivers and tight ends (and running backs, too), fantasy players spend way too much time on speed. Experienced football coaches and scouts will tell you that for pass catchers, stopping fast is more important than running fast.
One of the biggest differences between a great athlete's first season and his subsequent breakout campaign is his ability to play with greater precision. Learning to decelerate with suddenness plays a significant part in that improvement.
Travis Kelce demonstrated excellent deceleration at the University of Cincinnati. The early phase of his Chiefs career was spent learning when to apply that skill. Here's Kelce on a shallow cross. The difference between this play finishing as a 6-yard gain and Kelce earning nearly 40 yards after the catch is his ability to come to a sudden stop.
Look at the empty space for Kelce once he decelerates and works past Barry Church. It's not about his speed (although it's good for a tight end) because defenders downfield had their backs to Kelce. This space was there until Kelce narrowed the gap to the defenders downfield. He created his chance to reach it with that sudden stop.
For those of you unaware, Jack could have easily been a good NFL running back. Kelce dispenses with two of the better athletes at linebacker with one play. The only way to shut down Kelce is with a top cover cornerback and a lot of teams can't afford to use its resource in this way.
Rob Gronkowski is a better blocker, and Jordan Reed is shiftier but Kelce is arguably the best fantasy option at the position until further notice. It's about to become difficult for opposing defenses to stop him without extreme measures.
5. What Makes DeAndre Hopkins Great?
That everyone knows the ball is coming and he still wins it.
Hopkins may not be the biggest, strongest, fastest, or quickest, but he's great at having a plan that anticipates his opponents' plan. He also runs routes like a good chess player.
When asked, "How many moves do you think ahead?" Capablanca purportedly responded, "Only one...but it's always the right one." Whether Hopkins begins with an advantage or has to win from a deficit, he's consistent at earning the best possible position and attacking the football with good technique and a strong grip.
Excellent placement on over route by Watson to Hopkins, who plays option QB in open field... pic.twitter.com/mJbDEySsSq— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
With Keke Coutee in the mix, Hopkins becomes a "buy-high" option among fantasy receivers, regardless of Will Fuller V's health. Coutee poses a greater threat to defenses because of his skill against tight coverage. And when the hamstring fully heals, Coutee will scare safeties to the point that Hopkins earns even more single coverage.
6. What makes Reshad Jones Great?
No wasted movement. The Dolphins' star safety returned from injury this weekend against the Bengals and made a pair of pass breakups that cost Cincinnati 11 points. Both plays came on targets to A.J. Green and both were excellent displays of patience.
Jones' economy of movement reveals that he understood how the Bengals intended to attack him and when to react. When studying safeties and linebackers, a telling indicator of a patient player who has done his homework is a player who only moves as necessary.
The Dolphins have deficiencies due to injuries at defensive end and its linebacking corps is filled with young and/or reactive defenders in coverage, but Jones' return upgrades this defense enough that it wouldn't be surprising if we see them force teams with younger quarterbacks and or receiving corps into mistakes in the red zone, including the Bears, Lions, Texans, Jets, and Packers — the next five teams on the Dolphins' schedule.
7. The Good And Bad of Dak Prescott
Rookie Scouting Portfolio contributor author Dwain McFarland delivered a comprehensive film and data analysis of Prescott's 2018 season before the Sunday night Texans' game. It's a balanced look at Prescott's strengths and weaknesses that also separates Prescott's issues with those of his surrounding talent.
It's separating the quarterback from his team that's often the most difficult tasks for football fans. This has been true of Jared Goff, who fans excoriated as a rookie and only begrudgingly praised a year later.
It's often difficult to separate the two because fans often consider any limitation or weakness as an accusation that the quarterback isn't good enough to start and win in the NFL. The past two years have shown that Prescott can do both. The bigger issue is pinpointing where his talents can carry a team and where his team must carry him.
Assigning blame is a significant way we analyze quarterbacks — especially turnovers. Prescott threw two interceptions against the Texans on Sunday. One was his fault; the other was the fault of his receiver.
Neither requires an armchair analyst's autopsy of mechanics — everyone has already seen Prescott's flaws when moving from read-to-read or adjusting to pressure and it hasn't stopped Prescott from performing at a high level. A look at Prescott's decision-making and the Cowboys' scheme is a better use of space because it's these factors — regardless of surrounding talent that are greater factors for sustained success or struggles.
We know that Prescott can create with his legs and arm at a high level for an NFL passer.
Where the analysis becomes muddier is the mental game and these assessments are often polarizing when the answer is not extreme.
The next two plays are good examples. Below is a red-zone screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott that the Texans foil.
While the base play is indeed a screen and there's a worthwhile argument that Prescott is simply sticking to the original play, most screen passes have options to veer from the base intent of the play when there's another compelling choice.
This is the case below. Cole Beasley motions across the formation and before the snap, it's clear that Beasley faces off coverage playing inside leverage. This is a quick out for Prescott all day long.
It can be argued in theory that Prescott doesn't take that option for fear of one of his linemen getting downfield too early and it results in a penalty. This argument holds more validity if it were a longer-developing route.
This is is essentially a quick-game route that can be thrown fast enough that there's no way a lineman releases enough to incur a foul. The video also supports this contention because no lineman has released downfield at the point Prescott turns away from Beasley to target Ezekiel Elliott.
Does this play make Prescott a bad quarterback? Of course not, but this and more plays like it are indications that he's not as creative with his pre-snap judgments as some starting quarterbacks who are especially good at it.
It's NOT an indication that he can't make pre-snap reads. Here's a fine pre-snap read later in the game where Prescott notes the slot blitz, the one-on-one with the safety, and makes the play in overtime.
While any fan would like to see Prescott make optimal adjustments in the red zone compared to one at mid-field, the fact that Prescott made the above play in overtime is a positive. At this moment in time, Prescott is at his best when he's executing plays with a variety of layers that trick the defense post-snap more than leaning on Prescott to outmaneuver opponents pre-snap.
The Cowboys are doing this well. The screen game has been one of the phases where this shows up prominently. Here are two plays where coordinator Scott Linehan builds off the success of the first with another that uses alignment and initial setup to remind the Texans of the first big play.
Cowboys screen game. Elliott as the bait Swaim behind unbalanced right side as the hook. pic.twitter.com/sqJGgZR0BS— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
There's also a third play later in the game that uses this two-tight end look to set up a short throw to Blake Jarwin, who earns a nice gain up the flat. Prescott executes these plays well and these are simple directives compared to this multi-layered play in the compressed space of the red zone below.
Cowboys baiting Texans with popular jet sweep, then pitch, then short slant to set up post at end line pic.twitter.com/AwPp1eORJ9— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
His judgment to wait on the post and not throw a laser on the slant is a good display of patience. Yes, it's likely that the slant is part of a double move to the post but there have been NFL starters who've shown this kind if impatience as well.
These plays illustrate that the Cowboys coaching staff is finding creative solutions to generate yardage and that Prescott isn't a simpleton who has been exposed as a fraud. The answer has more layers. Prescott is a talented young quarterback who needs better surrounding talent at wide receiver and tight end that can dictate matchup advantages without resorting to slow-developing plays that put more pressure on the offensive line.
The Texans sacked Prescott late in the game on one of these slow-developing plays — a play fake to Elliott with a second play fake to Tavon Austin on the end-around with a five-step drop. Without players like Jason Witten or Dez Bryant to win one-on-one's quickly, defenses will attack these plays with more abandon, especially late in the game.
The calls for Prescott's starting job and the jobs of Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan will grow louder but this is a restaurant where the customers aren't separating the quality of the food inventory from the cooking and the service.
You can't even make a competent salad if the lettuce is spoiled and the tomatoes aren't ripe.
8. David Moore is not (Yet...) A Thing
Moore scored two touchdowns for the Seahawks. He's a compelling young prospect with good size, speed, and some tape that demonstrates a knack for winning the ball. However, if he's on the Kenny Golladay track, he's just getting buckled into the car.
His touchdowns were good plays but the weight of the credit in both instances should be distributed more to Russell Wilson and Rams cornerback Marcus Peters. The first play was a red-zone scramble drill where Moore worked to his left along the end line and then worked back to his right for a wide-open target.
The second play is the second time of the afternoon that Peters got caught reading the eyes of the quarterback and biting on a shallow move of a deeper route.
9. Seattle's Ground Game Is A Thing
The Seahawks ground game is another story. The Rams gave up 184 rushing yards to Chris Carson and Mike Davis this weekend. Rams gave up a cumulative 292 rushing yards to the Raiders, Cardinals, Chargers, and Vikings during the first 4 weeks of the year—and no individual back from those teams earned more than 80 yards.
Davis' 68 yards was the third-highest total individual effort against the Rams this year. As we've seen, the Raiders and Chargers can run; the Cardinals and Vikings each have a talented running back without a strong offensive line.
Relative to these teams, the Seahawks have both — or at least it's trending fast in this direction.
While Carson was the most productive, Davis was the most efficient — and both often earned strong gains on third down.
3rd and Short has been a successful run down for Seattle today. Good first and second level work by front five... pic.twitter.com/J9m5Lawt05— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 8, 2018
These runs, especially the option reads, led to bigger plays in the passing game. This deep shot to Tyler Lockett is a good example.
Carson runs with a little more physicality than Davis, but Davis is the more agile player with greater wisdom as a finisher and cutback artist. He's also a better receiver. Carson has fantasy RB2 potential even with Davis in the mix for carries. And Davis offers flex and bye-week appeal because of his receiving acumen and use in the red zone.
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: Atlanta Falcons Defense (Until further notice...)
Duke Riley is not a great replacement for middle linebacker Deion Jones and even before Jones was lost to injury, the Falcons linebackers remain notoriously bad at tackling angles. They're athletic but they don't finish the job as often as they should. With defensive tackle Grady Jarrett out against Pittsburgh, the Falcons lacked an opening day starter up and down the spine of its defense.
Here's what a spineless defense looks like against James Conner.
Pin and pull and Steelers get another strong gainer if 30...Conner’s season-best pic.twitter.com/q8GEpt4ohu— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) October 7, 2018
It's not pretty. If your players face Atlanta this month, give serious consideration to active slot receivers, pass-catching runners, and high-volume tight ends.
Onto the fish cases...
- Michael Crabtree: He entered the Browns game with three dropped passes; finished the Browns game with four more,Crabtree%20with%20potential%20game%20winner.%20Third%20drop.%20<a%20href="https:/t.co/SJysdUbdNk">pic.twitter.com/SJysdUbdNk—%20Matt%20Waldman%20(@MattWaldman)%20<a%20href="https:/twitter.com/MattWaldman/status/1049065518924271618?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October%207,%202018%20<script%20async%20src="https:/platform.twitter.com/widgets.js"%20charset="utf-8">" target="_blank"> including an end-zone target for the potential game-winner.
- Quarterback Scouts Who Overvalue Height: Joe Flacco...6'6" Joe Flacco...has among the highest rates in the league in batted passes. He had two against Cleveland.
- Jalen Ramsey: A really good cornerback who talks too much. If he didn't talk, this play wouldn't be a big deal because he had an otherwise solid outing.
- Ben Roethlisberger: He didn't have a horrible day by any means, but these are plays reserved for rookies.
Good luck to your teams next week and may your players stay away from the fishmonger.