The Gut Check No.352--Week 7: Diggin' In

Stefon Diggs RSP Sample, Mettenberger-to-DGB, QBs to ride, and options I still believe in. 

Welcome to my in-season column. If you're seeking strategic tips, match-up advice, game observations, IDP info, and dynasty advice with a little bit of current "football" events opinion (if anything involving the madness of the NFL commissioner's office actually qualifies) added into the mix then you've come to the right place. Think of the in-season Gut Check column as a department store with a variety of areas: 

  • Re-Draft
  • IDP
  • Dynasty
  • Futures (Rookies and College Prospects)
  • Opinion
  • Wild Side

How much attention each department earns depends on what I observe.

In recent weeks, I've written about players capable of filling bye-week gaps and many of them have the potential to become permanent starters. The names included, Gary Barnidge, Allen Hurns, Willie Snead IV, Marquess Wilson, Duke and David Johnson, Stefon Diggs, Ladarius Green, Jamison Crowder and Dwayne Harris. If any of these players are still on you waiver wire or you're in the market to negotiate a deal that either involves one of these players as an added component to match what you're giving up, read here

RE-DRAFT & Dynasty: Diggin' In

I wrote about Stefon Diggs after the Broncos' game and said I had a gut feeling that the rookie would become a starter by year's end. Mike Wallace compared Diggs to Antonio Brown in terms of the Steelers' route skills, athleticism, and energy. The typical party line for such a comparison from a player after too good weeks is that Wallace is laying it on thick.

The party line is wrong.

The party line are the same people who follow box scores or are concerned about looking back more than are willing to stick with what they witness happening on a football field. We're all guilty of this at one time or another if you play or write about fantasy football.

I'm buying what Wallace is selling, although the two pros I name-dropped in the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio were Odell Beckham Jr and DeSean Jackson:

A versatile player with healthy upside, Diggs can return kicks, play the perimeter, and develop into a slot option. He has good, but not great long speed, short burst, and change of direction. Diggs flashes hand-eye coordination and creativity that veers into the realm of special. How these skills aid his development as an NFL prospect could be fun to watch. 

Diggs sets up defenders with upper and lower body fakes during his stems for effective double moves. He displayed a decent chop move [with his releases versus physical play], but he has to show a lot more as a route runner when the pattern isn't a double move. Diggs has to improve his releases and become more selective with which move he uses in a given situation. He was also confined to an offense where he was either a check-down outlet, running a shallow cross, or going deep--there were few routes in between.

Capable impressive feats of hand-eye coordination, Diggs makes his share of one-handed grabs, even high-pointing targets with his technique while his momentum is taking him away from the ball. Targets in traffic or near the boundary are not a problem for Diggs, either. 

He also can make more mundane catches. While he extends for the ball well when necessary, Diggs often traps targets that don't require extension of the arms.

Quick to turn up field and [skilled] at making the first defender miss, Diggs is a fast-twitch athlete with a repertoire of moves. he can reverse field, stop-start, jump-cut, spin, and layer moves for extra yards. His running style echoes DeSean Jackson.

Larger than Jackson, Diggs finishes run with good pad level and leg drive. He can carry the ball with either arm and sometimes displays good decision-making. At this stage of Diggs' development, he can try too hard to generate a big play.

When returning kicks he sets up blocks with press and cuts, but as a receiver Diggs can get too tentative with his decisions as a ballcarrier. He relies so much on his speed to erase decisions that don't work out and [the NFL won't be as forgiving]. This confidence to extend plays comes from a history of making multiple defenders miss and then outrunning them to an open area.

However, his speed and quickness will no longer be dominant in the NFL. Diggs will need to see ahead and display greater maturity as a ballcarrier, because he'll no longer have the athleticism to beat one man at a time at each moment.

Diggs' ball security needs improvement. He carries the ball loosely from his arm as he changes direction and he tends to carry it under his right arm regardless of his field position. It's a consistency issue more than a [completely lack of technique and awareness].

He displays effort as a blocker to set good angles and he keeps his feet moving after decent hand placement ot shield defenders downfield. He's wiilng to throw a punch with a forearm or shoulder, but he has to develop a more technically sound punch to generate the power and control he needs to turn a defender and drive the man outside the path of a ballcarrier.

Diggs has potential to develop into a receiver who can switch from the perimeter to the slot as needed and deliver big plays when called upon. What will potentially hold him back is maturity as a ballcarrier and the [need to develop] greater physicality as a runner and receiver at the catch point.

If Diggs can win the football against physical play, he has the athleticism and creativity to thrive. If not, he'll have a career as an athletic reserve with a primary role in the return game.

Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Diggs should be available after the third round in most dynasty leagues. He'll offer additional bonus potential for formats that highlight the return game. If he can make steady improvement as a receiver, there's potential for him to become a productive WR2 with big-play ability. 

Diggs' preseason was promising. He was on-time with his breaks, he made catches one would expect from a reliable NFL contributor, and he played at a speed where he appeared comfortable on the field. The Denver game had a number of impressive catches and a consistent display of high effort. Last week against the Chiefs was all the confirmation I needed. 

Diggs tells a story a lot of his routes. What I mean by that phrase is that he knows how to set up defenders with the right kinds of movement at key moments of the pass pattern that baits defenders into reacting in the wrong direction. Good NFL corners need an extra level of convincing and the best way for a receiver to fool these savvier defenders is to have enough variation in their moves that what they do on film isn't predictable. 

So far, I've seen Diggs combine all of these factors into routes in ways that even corners like Sean Smith or Aqib Talib could not handle down after down, including the speed of his stem, accelerating hard into breaks rather than slowing down, head fakes or looking hard in the opposite direction of his eventual break, variation of step length, and multiple moves to successfully work through press coverage.

What has me excited about Diggs is the violence of his movements. This is where this comparison to Odell Beckham Jr (and Wallace's name-drop of Brown) are valid. Diggs is putting it all together and he's worth making an aggressive move to acquire now. 

Even with the struggles that Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings' offensive line have experienced going deep--especially due to these struggles--you should have confidence in Diggs as a future top-24 fantasy producer. Mike Wallace is not a great route runner. Charles Johnson is still growing into his paws. And Jarius Wright is a classic slot receiver. 

Diggs may be the best route runner on the team right now. He'll have his share of rookie mistakes, but his overall skill at winning against single coverage is the most technically sound of the receivers on this depth chart and Norv Turner's offense is predicated on timing. This is why I never understood why the recent offenses that Turner has been running reached for big, technically raw athletes while passing over smaller, technically sound receivers. 

I'm confident this is the one receiver the Vikings offense can claim as part of its foundation for the future. Is he worth a first-round pick in dynasty leagues? I'm not certain analysts in my corner of the football world are ready to go there, but if you believe he has the skills to become a consistent fantasy WR2, I think offering a mid-to-low first as your final negotiation move isn't a bad one. .

Dorial Green-Beckham: Now's the Time

I summed up Green-Beckham in the 2015 RSP with three ifs: "(1) If Dorial Green-Beckham works at his craft, he could have the best career [of this receiver class]. (2) If DGB just shows up and does what's required while staying out of trouble, he might give [Kevin White] some competition [as the one of the best options in this class]. (3) If he works at maximizing the tools his size and speed have to offer as ar eceiver, he will be an elite threat capable of working the entire field."

The two-sentence media blurb on Green-Beckham has often included words like "raw," "developmental," "unpolished," and "unrefined." Compared to what this rookie can become, those descriptions are true. Compared to Kelvin Benjamin last year or Brett Perriman this year, Green-Beckham is far more ready to play and produce that credited.

Like Benjamin, Green-Beckham wins the ball in tight coverage--and had always been superior to Benjamin in this respect. As both Matt Harmon and I have shared pre-draft, Green-Beckham runs more routes than people think and in limited time as a rookie, he has gotten open against man, zone, the intermediate middle, and the perimeter.

Despite my concerns about Marcus Mariota were coming to fruition this year before he got hurt, I like how the rookie has begun his career. But I can't say I'm not a little excited about seeing Zach Mettenberger in the lineup only because he's a more aggressive, downfield passer at this point in his career. Those of you who were playing fantasy football when Internet leagues were still in their infancy may remember the Billy Volek to Drew Bennett connection down the stretch of 2004 where the Titans receiver had a three-game stretch of 40 targets, 28 catches, 517 yards, and 8 touchdowns.

Green-Beckham has that kind of season-changing potential with an aggressive passer like Mettenberger, who showed no compunction about targeting Odell Beckham Jr, Jr. and Jarvis Landry with impunity at LSU. If you're 0-6, 1-5, or 2-4, and you need to make bold moves, going all-in for Green-Beckham or trading for the receiver is a solid move. Mettenberger won't have the 1-step, 2-step, 3-step, and throw training wheels that Ken Whisenhunt has given Mariota, which was a better match for quicker options on the depth chart. Not now.

Now's the time. 

RE-DRAFT For the 2-4 and 3-3 Crowd: WEEK 6 NOTES AND YEAR-LONG IMPLICATIONS

Ride Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown and Zach Mettenberger for as long as you can: After watching the past two weeks of Houston's offense, are there any doubters that Hoyer is the best quarterback on the roster for the job? The difference between Hoyer's lackluster play to start the year and the past two weeks is a healthy Arian Foster. Ryan Mallett is a far better pure passer, but he's not remotely in the same class as Hoyer as a strategic leader. If you melded the best traits of these two players, Hoyer would be a franchise quarterback.

I get why Bill O'Brien tried out Mallett for a stretch, and stuck with him in Atlanta for at least a half with a healthy Foster, but it's clear that Hoyer throws with better touch and placement, reads the field better (despite some untimely, head-scratching decisions), and commands the huddle with more authority. The way Hoyer delivered the ball to DeAndre Hopkins last week is the kind of thing you should continue to see down the stretch. If you're in a league where you can trade a bigger name at QB for Hoyer and a top-24 RB or WR, do it if the need is there.

The same is true of Josh McCown. Although Travis Benjamin doesn't win the ball like Hopkins, his speed and routes give him similar production potential. Plus, McCown actually has a tight end--you know, that off-label Greg Olsen I wrote about two weeks ago--and with Duke Johnson Jr and Isaiah Crowell good enough to keep the Browns a balanced unit, McCown has shown enough that it's worth taking a chance on him as a player to include in a dramatic reconfiguration of your team if you see a dead-end with your current roster.

In theory, Mettenberger only has 3-5 weeks as the starter while Marcus Mariota recovers from a MCL injury. But if the 1-4 Titans somehow win 3 of the next 4 against Atlanta, New Orleans, and Houston, which isn't out of the question--more on that in a second--Tennessee could decide it has a shot at the playoffs with Mettenberger at the helm throwing knockout shots to Green-Beckham in a weak divison where their remaining schedule after that 4-game stretch includes Carolina, Jacksonville (twice), and Oakland.

Houston has proven it's a beatable team and its pass defense has given up big weeks to Blake Bortles and Alex Smith. The Saints defenses young, talented in spots, and clueless right now. And Atlanta is clearly vulnerable while Julio Jones can't reach to full speed without his hamstring snapping like an old, dry rubber band.

Last week, I broached the idea of a scouting lag in the NFL as it would apply to Marcus Mariota. The past two weeks, Mariota's production has floundered and opponents have done a better job of anticipating set plays they've seen from the first 3-4 weeks of film. They won't have that same tape for Mettenberger and Green-Beckham and both options are good enough to go on month-long tear that surprises the NFL.

Coaches rarely want to bench a quarterback due to injury, but a valid exception occurs when the team was losing when the starter got hurt and the reserve--who arguably out-played said rookie this summer--is leading the team back to .500 with a shot to contend for a playoff spot. It's enough of a possibility to consider riding Mettenberger if you're scraping the bottom of the barrel for a quarterback with a middling fantasy team and you don't want to give up your best players for an established veteran.

I still believe . . .

Steve SmithHe's short. He's old. Now he's broken. And he still defends the planet

Michael FloydThe Cardinals are a top offense and fantasy owners need to regard it as such. It means the running back--whomever it is in that given week--and all three receivers are viable options. Floyd has no fewer than five targets in three of the past four games and he's a close second to either Larry Fitzgerald or John Brown in the pecking order.  

He's also tied with Fitzgerald for the lead in red zone targets during the past four weeks. Against the Steelers, Floyd had a second touchdown nullified due to offensive pass interference when he was blocking too early in anticipation of his quarterback hitting his teammate on shorter route. He was also close to catching a third touchdown, but couldn't keep both feet in bounds on a difficult target.

Don't worry about Floyd not earning enough opportunities with Carson Palmer at the helm. The former Bengal quarterback was able to make Chris Henry, Chad Johnson, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh top-36 fantasy receivers when he delivered a top-5 year at his position.  Palmer is the No.6 fantasy quarterback  thus far and Floyd is only beginning to round into form. If you can get him at flex-receiver value, you're winning the deal. 

Ameer AbdullahThis take is weighted more towards dynasty leagues, but I saw signs of life from the Lions offense that leads me to think it's worth hanging onto Abdullah if you can afford him as an end-of-roster stash or you have a weak RB depth chart. One of the things that bothered me about Joe Lombardi's offense earlier this year has been the heavy use of draws and pitches. Last weekend, I saw a few more interior runs as well as some misdirection that included some counter steps.

The offensive line needs this kind of simplicity that gap runs afford. Give Abdullah more counter plays, wind back plays, and some other gap options and I think Detroit may find an antidote to what ails them on the ground.  

Consider...

Robert Woods and Chris Hogan: Even with the possibility of Percy Harvin returning, I think E.J. Manuel has an affinity for both Woods and Hogan. Both options run better routes, work back to the ball, and make tough plays. They have two of the top three target totals this year and even when Tyrod Taylor returns, Hogan and Woods have clearly grown on the Bills' incumbent based on the stats and the film.