The Best of Footballguys Week 5

Matt Waldman scouts our in-season content and shares five must-knows and his takes on each.

You guys have a ton of articles.

This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week.

If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.

1. The top 10: Documenting Changes to the Browns offense

The mission of this column—and a lot of my work—is to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality of football analysis. Football analysis—fantasy and reality—is often dramatized because there's a core belief that it's more important to entertain than to educate.

I don't live by the idea that it's better to be lucky than good. While I want to give you actionable recommendations that will help you get results, I prefer to get the process right. There will be a lot of people talking about how they were right to draft or start specific players. Many of them got the right result but with the wrong process.

The Top 10 will cover topics that attempt to get the process right (reality) while understanding that fantasy owners may not have time to wait for the necessary data to determine the best course of action (fantasy).

Here's an in-depth examination of how the Browns adjusted its offense to maximize Nick Chubb's awesome skills and also benefit Baker Mayfield's play-action prowess in the passing game:

The Mayor of Baltimore proclaimed it "Nick Chubb Day," after he owned the Ravens on Sunday afternoon. Chubb scored three touchdowns, including an 88-yard run that places him first and third among backs with the longest runs in Browns' history.

Chubb is a feature back. Yes, we'll see Kareem Hunt earn playing time when he returns from suspension, but Chubb is the superior talent and barring ludicrous decision-making that the Cleveland organization has a history of, Hunt is feature-back insurance that will only be used in a supporting role to showcase him as trade bait as long as Chubb remains healthy.

Chubb makes a lot of runs look far easier than they are because he's physically not far from Saquon Barkley's athletic prowess while boasting a maturer understanding of how to run the football.

Chubb has already proven a worthwhile receiver despite those who scouting him based on quantity, rather than quality, of his work. He's also a sturdy pass protector.

Chubb and the Browns ran roughshod over Baltimore because Cleveland's staff figured out that, schematically, it's best to maximize Chubb's potential rather than Baker Mayfield, who is not yet equipped to be the centerpiece of the offense. The best way to get the most from Chubb is to use more offensive alignments with Mayfield under center.

In the week's leading up to the Baltimore game, Cleveland used a lot of shotgun—Mayfield's base alignment in Texas A&M and Oklahoma's offenses. However, shotgun is not the easiest alignment for running the football. It's more difficult for offensive linemen to block from a two-point stance of shotgun because they have no inherent leverage against their opponents and they lose the battle as soon as the ball is snapped.

Unless your offensive line is filled with elite talents, running from the shotgun is essentially hoping that your unit will wall-off its opponents and not get pushed backward. Chubb has to work harder to reach the line of scrimmage on shotgun runs and has more decision-making options closed off from him because he's taking the exchange heading east-west.

When taking the exchange downhill—as running backs do when the quarterback is under center—a runner can choose to work in either directional laterally or downhill. In shotgun, that back only has two options before we even see if the defense cuts off another with early penetration thanks to the inherent disadvantage offensive linemen have when working from a two-point stance.

To make matters worse, Cleveland used little misdirection before the snap when in shotgun, which made it easier for opponents to tee-off on the run game, attack Mayfield in the pocket, and it minimized the potential of Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry—two skilled ball carriers. This weekend, Cleveland not only figured how to maximize the potential of Chubb and the Browns offensive line with single-back sets and misdirection but also create lighter defensive boxes with diversified alignment choices and personnel.

Making Chubb the centerpiece also helps Baker Mayfield. Some quantitative purists will argue this point if the production from under center doesn't exceed production from the shotgun, but the threat of Chubb running downhill enhances the believability of run fakes due to the three-point stance of linemen that will place the defense at a disadvantage if it guesses wrong with run/pass.

Mayfield still delivered quick-hitting passes off three-step drops and the play-fakes were more effective. Working from shotgun or pistol works better for Lamar Jackson because he's a true rushing threat with breakaway skill. Defenses don't respect Mayfield's running like Jackson, Russell Wilson, or even Carson Wentz.

It's why shotgun and pistol are predominantly used in Baltimore's offense and Jackson is the centerpiece. Chubb is the most dangerous weapon because he's the most physically-talented and best decision-maker at his position in the offense relative to any other offensive option. Letting him run downhill is like cocking a loaded gun and pointing it at the defense.

Making him run from the shotgun is like cocking a loaded gun, putting in Mayfield's holster, and asking him to make quick-draw, trick shots to protect his offense. He's lucky he still has his toes. And when Cleveland wants to use trick shots, it will be less predictable and more dynamic.

Although the Ravens run defense is more of a paper champion that its prior stats revealed, Cleveland's adjustments are excellent. It will actually give the Browns, Chubb, Mayfield, and its receivers the opportunity to play to their projected fantasy value.

Matt's Recommendation: Chubb will be an elite RB1 if Cleveland continues using him as a downhill runner with Mayfield under center. Mayfield will become more efficient working under center because of Chubb creating more compelling play-action opportunities. Expect fewer sacks and interceptions.

Neither Odell Beckham Jr nor Jarvis Landry will gain a massive uptick in fantasy value but they should each become stronger fantasy WR2s as a result of a more cohesive scheme that has been haphazard until Week 4.

2. Dynasty Trade Value Chart

Dan Hindery's monthly updates are a must-read for the dynasty player. Hindery notes this week that he'll provide two updates in September because of the dramatic changes that occur during the first month of the regular season.

His article goes in-depth with each position, highlighting several players in addition to providing formula-based tables ranking players based on their current and future value. Here's an excerpt on wide receivers that's more strategic than player-specific:

Instead of diving into the value on a few specific players, let’s take a big-picture view of three topics that are interesting and potentially impactful on overall strategy.

DISAPPEARING ELITE?

One of the questions dynasty owners need to ask is whether the truly elite fantasy WR1 is a slightly outdated concept. Looking at the group of wide receivers who had first-round dynasty startup ADPs this offseason, DeAndre Hopkins currently ranks as WR21, JuJu Smith-Schuster is WR38, Odell Beckham Jr Jr is WR24, Davante Adams is WR17, and Michael Thomas is WR7. We are only 25% of the way through the regular season and it is fair to expect the cream to rise to the top over the longer run. Still, the numbers here are concerning if you subscribe to the popular concept of building your dynasty roster around elite young wide receivers. The fact is that Christian McCaffrey has been as valuable by himself as three of these supposedly elite wide receivers have been combined.

In making the argument for a Zero-WR type of strategy in the past couple of years, the case was basically that you could build around a couple of elite running backs and use some of your mid-round dynasty startup picks on solid wide receivers. The theory was based upon a belief that more defenses are better equipped to take away the opposing team’s top pass catcher via scheme. Top teams have responded by prioritizing depth, with at least three or four pass catchers who can offer mismatch potential. If you buy into the idea teams are spreading the ball around more, it means more fantasy viable wide receivers and fewer wide receivers who are going to consistently see 10+ targets every week.

UNDERVALUED SLOTS?

We are dealing with a small sample size but it is noteworthy that at the quarter pole of the NFL season, the top three fantasy wide receiver are each primarily slot receivers: Keenan Allen, Cooper Kupp, and Chris Godwin. It feels like the dynasty community may be systematically underrating the value of top slot options and overrating the big-bodied outside wide receivers.

If you buy into this idea, players like Sterling Shepard, Tyler Boyd, Jarvis Landry, Christian Kirk, Jamison Crowder, and Cole Beasley might be a bit undervalued right now because they don’t fit the mold of what we typically expect a top fantasy wide receiver to look like.

YOUNG SPEED

Along with slot receivers, the other player type that as a group has outperformed expectations are young wide receivers with elite speed. If you were making a list of dynasty wide receivers whose stock has seen a big rise early in 2019, D.J. Chark Jr Jr (currently WR10), John Ross (WR12), Marquise Brown (WR22), and Terry McLaurin (WR23 despite missing Week 4) would be near the top of the list. Even amongst the veterans exceeding early expectations, speed is a common theme. John Brown and Phillip Dorsett are each putting up Top-30 numbers so far. There are all guys who run in the 4.3s or faster.

Some will argue the success of these speedsters is just a small sample size oddity. However, it seems as though NFL offenses are figuring out how to utilize these types of smaller, faster wide receivers to great success. Rule changes, the increasing size of cornerbacks, and the analytics movement are factors arguably contributing to this shift in strategy. Plus, it is a copycat league. If the Chiefs throw for almost 6,000 yards this season with Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman each starting in the base offense, other teams are going to want to try to recreate that dynamic.

Matt's Thoughts: I'm with Dan on The Rise of The Slot Receiver, which Dwayne McFarland detailed at the Rookie Scouting Portfolio site last year. When you spread the field and throw the ball more against defenses that are vulnerable up the seams and in the middle of the field, this is only natural. It's also notable that many of the players that Dan mentioned include options that I've termed "hybrid slots," four years ago when Michael Thomas made his debut.

Thomas, Kupp, Smith-Schuster, Allen, and Godwin all qualified in this respect.

The rise of the speedy receiver sounds great in theory, but you still have to possess skills that aren't teach-able to every track athlete. Has the NFL become more amenable to smaller receivers with excellent skills that include speed? Absolutely, and the spreading out of offenses and continuous changes of rules to make it easier to throw the ball are factors. Will it be as big of a movement as slot receivers? I don't think so.

I'm also not buying the idea of a disappearing elite as much as I'm buying that the first four weeks of the season yield slow starts for many players that will rebound as the season unfolds. Regardless of where I stand on these issues, Dan always presents his ideas well and they are surely worth discussion and consideration.

3. Vegas Value Chart

John Lee is an excellent DFS player and analyst who provides an early Vegas-based snapshot of the teams and positions to target in each week's DFS game slate.

Every week, the first step of your DFS homework should be to examine the opening Vegas odds on all the NFL games for that week. Through some fairly simple algebra, it is easy to derive a spreadsheet that predicts team totals for every game, thereby allowing you to develop a rudimentary gamescript to help narrow down your decisions for the week. Once the appealing (and unappealing) games have been highlighted, it becomes easier to focus upon those games to help build your core of players for that week; the caveat, however, is that the NFL is a dynamic league and anything is subject to change from Tuesday to Sunday...so keep that in mind as the week progresses and always monitor player injuries, weather conditions, and potential roster moves. Let's take a look.

John's chart includes, the odds, game total, team total, and he gives a star-based rating to the passing, running, and team defense for each matchup. Here are his three-star options for Week 5:

3-STARS

Matt's Recommendation: I like the call for Sony Michel because of the price point and what I saw from him against the Bills that tells me that he'll improve with easier matchups for the offensive line. This should be the case against Washington.

4. Game Predictor

Game Predictor is a David Dodds creation that gets more accurate as the season unfolds. Here's how David introduces it:

The Game Predictor is our primary tool to establish how each team will attempt to play their game (rush/pass) that week. It factors in the opponent, YTD data, recent games, critical injury information, home/away situations and more. I believe it to be one of the best simulation tools available on the internet and has been refined since its birth on the mrfootball.com website 19 years ago.

BETTING RESULTS - WEEK 4

  • Spread: 5-10
  • Over/Unders: 9-6

BETTING RESULTS - YTD

  • Spread: 31-30-2
  • Over/Unders: 34-29
I usually wait a month before recommending Game Predictor and increasingly recommend it as we get into November and December. A good example of its potential accuracy is the Rams-Seahawks game (In parenthesis are the actual results)
Teams
PassComp
PassAtt
PassYds
PassTDs
PassINT
RushAtt
RushYds
RushTDs
Score
Los Angeles Rams 25 (29) 39 (49) 287 (395) 1.7 (1) 1.1 (1) 25 (18) 98 (82) 0.7 (2) 23.4 (29)
at Seattle Seahawks 21 (17) 33 (23) 255 (268) 1.6 (4) 0.6 (0) 30 (43) 129 (177) 1.0 (0) 26.1 (30)
Matt's Recommendation: Considering there are only four weeks of data, the score and pass completions look pretty close. We'll see a refinement with other data points within the next four weeks. By Week 8, you will see me talking up this feature more. Still, I want you to have an introduction to its value when considering tiebreakers among players for your starting lineup or potential sleepers for consideration.

5. DFS Roundtable: Favorite Week 5 STacks

Chad Parsons moderates a panel of Footballguys staffers on their favorite stacks for Week 5. I've selected the most commonly mentioned options and the opinions I found most compelling about each.

Phil Alexander: Marquise Brown has turned 258 air-yards into just 71 actual yards over the last two weeks. It wouldn't be surprising if those numbers normalized a bit against a suspect Pittsburgh secondary and you want exposure to Lamar Jackson's ceiling every week in tournaments.

Justin Howe: Lamar Jackson-Marquise Brown-Mark Andrews has some bounce-back appeal. The matchup isn’t particularly daunting, and that stack would account for such an overwhelming chunk of the Ravens passing game. Since Week 2, Brown and Andrews have accounted for 46% of Jackson’s targets and 40% of his yardage. If a shootout erupts, this could be a week-winning stack.

Jason Wood: My favorite stack of the week -- Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz -- wasn't mentioned. The Eagles found their footing last week in Green Bay and will look to get off to a quick start at home against a lowly Jets team. The Jet's only asset is Le'Veon Bell and the Eagles strength is defending the run. If there's an opponent on the schedule that shouldn't expose the Eagles broken secondary, it's the Jets. As a result, I think the Eagles will be able to move the ball at will and that will allow Pederson and the coaches to iron out the kinks; which also means getting Ertz reestablished as the team's best weapon.

Dan Hindery: Will Fuller V V stacked with Deshaun Watson is also an intriguing option. Fuller has just missed some long completions in recent weeks. He was open for what should have been a long touchdown but Watson just missed him. The two should be able to connect for a big play soon. Prior to this season, Fuller was on the receiving end of a bunch of touchdown passes from Watson. With Fuller’s slow start, his price tag has fallen all the way down to $4,500. The matchup against Atlanta looks good. The Falcons allowed both A.J. Brown and Corey Davis to pick up 90+ receiving yards and a combined three touchdowns last week.

Matt's Recommendations: I like the Texans stacks recommended above. If you want a long shot, go for the stack of Watson and Keke Coutee, who will likely start in place of Kenny Stills. The Falcons linebackers and secondary routinely make the Top 10's Fresh Fish list of players or units that fail in some regard. Atlanta's back-end has issues tackling. They take poor angles and miss tackles. A healthy Coutee in the middle of the field could exploit Atlanta's soft underbelly for a bigger game than many would expect from a young player who hasn't started this year.

Thanks again for reading and I hope these insights help you get the most from Footballguys this week and throughout the season.