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The Gut Check No. 428: From The Gut

From The Gut is a feature that David Dodds and Sigmund Bloom pen during the preseason. Matt Waldman takes a turn as we approach the stretch run. 

This week's Gut Check offers a variety of observations, questions, and gut feelings based on my study of the league this year. Many of these takes will be me working out my own unresolved issues on the page. If some of them help you, I'll be thrilled, but I'm not expecting it. 

Josh Gordon

I've been sitting on Gordon's rights in two dynasty leagues where I have the luxury of a competitive team and roster space. The last time I went after him on a re-draft waiver wire, I went big and, eventually in late December, went home as a result. 

Gordon's recent GQ interview illustrates the common problem with delving into the issue of off-field behavior. Some players with a similar range of issues have successfully worked the system and avoided getting caught for an entire career. Others have made one big mistake, a smaller mistake while trying to grow past their behavior, and transitioned into mature professionals. Then there are those who can't avoid trouble. 

Gordon's candor about the extent of his troubles is a good sign. Returning to the Browns is not. There's enough organizational that projecting whether Gordon will contribute this year is completely unpredictable. 

If the Browns want to unload him, it might make sense to let him play and talk up his recovery so they can get something in return. However, Sashi Brown said months ago that they had no interest in Gordon and were moving on. Considering that Hue Jackson and Brown aren't on the same page, it's possible they won't be about Gordon, either. 

Knowing what we do, I'd only acquire Gordon if I could get him for less than 5 percent of FAAB and on a roster that can afford to hold him. Otherwise, I'd stay away from him in re-draft leagues. 

I'm more optimistic about Gordon in dynasty formats and if he's sitting on your waiver wire, which is unlikely, I'd spend 40-50 percent. While most players might say that any player giving love to Roger Goodell must be stoned, Gordon's situation sounds less like a con job and one of an individual finally realizing he's ruined his early-adulthood. It could be a lost cause, but if Gordon can dominate while drunk and/or high and he's only 26, there are 6-8 years of potential production left—and likely on a team with greater organizational stability. 

Teddy Bridgewater

We have to consider the Vikings record when considering Bridgewater. The team is 6-2 with a combo of Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. I have a difficult time believing the Bridgewater's promotion from P.U.P. is the plan to make him the starter. 

Is it possible he starts? Absolutely. Keenum hasn't set the world on fire and Bradford is brittle.

However, I wonder if the Vikings' handling of Bradford is any indication of its attitude with Bridgewater. Bradford's knee bruise wasn't serious enough in the organization's eyes to keep him off the field until Bradford demonstrated that it bothered him too much. It leaves me to wonder if Bridgewater is physically ready to resume playing and the Vikings are open to testing the young passer if an opportunity arises. 

I'm not saying the Vikings are being reckless with him but it looks more like them thinking, "let's see what we've got with him." At 6-2, the Vikings could clinch a playoff spot and decide to start Bridgewater at the end of the year as an opportunity to give him playing time and save Keenum. Or, Bridgewater could find himself in the lineup in the fourth quarter after Minnesota has earned a sizable lead. 

It's also possible that Keenum struggles mightily and Bridgewater's continued practices are compelling enough to give him a shot.

Re-draft owners need to take a "wait-for-proof" approach. Super-flex formats with two-quarterback lineups could add Bridgewater as end-of-roster depth. I did so two weeks ago in my lone two-QB league where I'm 6-3 with Matthew Stafford, Blake Bortles, and Brett Hundley as my rotation and there aren't any obvious additions from the waiver wire to help my roster elsewhere. 

I believe Bridgewater still has a shot at becoming a decent NFL starter; maybe even a good one. The long-term outlook doesn't seem as bad as the initial fear surrounding the injury. 

Kelvin Benjamin

This arrangement with Tyrod Taylor may work on vertical routes and red zone opportunities, but Benjamin's value as a primary receiver is overrated. At the same time, his skills could open the field more for Deonte Thompson and maybe, just maybe, Jordan Matthews

If I'm right about Thompson, this week and next might be the final two weeks he's available on many waiver wires as a cheap, preemptive stretch-run addition. He's not a great player, but he's serviceable and has a rapport with Taylor that I wonder if Benjamin will acquire this year. 

Kareem Hunt

Hunt earned 36 rushing yards against the Cowboys. This is the same team that allowed at least 115 to C.J. Anderson, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Jones. Despite the low output and the recent trend downward in production, I don't think Hunt has hit a wall or 'got found out.'

The three games where Dallas gave up big days on the ground where the three games it lost. Kansas City was forced from its game script early enough that it couldn't afford to continue feeding Hunt. The Chiefs have enough favorable rushing matchups on the schedule that I'd remain optimistic. 

I have a feeling he'll remain a league-winning addition for most of you.

Malcolm Brown

Despite what I wrote about him yesterday, a second look at the Rams schedule gives me the feeling that his best shot at helping a contending team will happen in Week 16 against the Titans. Even if the Rams go 10-2 after Week 13, the matchups with Philadelphia and Seattle will likely have playoff ramifications in Weeks 14-15. That said, if you have Gurley and don't have quality depth at the position, this is a case where a handcuff is definitely a good idea. 

Christian McCaffrey

Although the Dolphins are tough against the run, backs expose the Dolphins linebackers in the passing game. It means the only truly tough defense ahead for the Panthers ground game is the Vikings and Minnesota's unit has also given up its fair share of receiving production to backs. I have a feeling that McCaffrey has a real chance of finishing the season as a top-10 running back. 

Tyler Kroft

I recommended him in Week 4 and a month later, he's delivered as a top-10 tight end. The Titans, Broncos, Browns, and Steelers are all vulnerable matchups. Unfortunately, his Week 15 matchup with the Vikings is horrific. Then again, I would have said the same about the Jags defense, too. 

Stick a pin in...

Will Fuller V and Amari Cooper. Their fantasy run as starters is over. Fuller no longer as the quarterback and scheme to deliver consistently. Cooper dropped his 10th pass this year and the Raiders are using him from the slot. Something is really wrong and I don't know what it is. He seems sluggish compared to previous seasons and I don't know if that's really my eyes or just my reaction to his play. I suppose there are enough good defensive matchups to keep him on your roster but it's not like he's faced great units outside of Denver. 

Ride the rollercoaster to its finish

T.Y. Hilton's production has been maddening but Jacoby Brissett has steadily improved. Tennessee, Buffalo, and Baltimore could offer more big weeks. While I feel for those of you with him on your roster and you've probably benched him during weeks you shouldn't have, I have a feeling Brissett continues gaining comfort and begins taking more shots with Hilton in ways that are becoming of a primary option. 

Brett Hundley 

There's a clip going around from Ben Fennell of NFL Network that comments on Hundley's behavior in the pocket. 

As much as I like Fennell's work, I have to disagree with him on this one. Quarterbacks in the West Coast Offense are taught progression reads timed with their drop. This is a three-step drop from the shotgun, which is taught as an equivalent to a five-step drop from center.

If you watch the first two seconds of the tape, Hundley looks at the safety in the middle of the field and reads that the safety is in ideal position against Jordy Nelson's post. Pause the tape at the three-second mark, and Hundley is looking at the deep seam by the receiver just outside the numbers. There's enough cushion over top from the defender that it's not an enviable place to throw the ball. 

While this is happening, the shallow zone defender on Nelson is sliding to the sideline to cover the wheel route that Fennell mentions. Hundley's progression reads are inside-out and quarterbacks are taught that they have 1.8 seconds to deliver their first read and 3 seconds total before its time to break the pocket or get rid of the ball (check-down or throwaway). It's three seconds right now and Hundley has seen two reads that are covered. 

If he saw the third read (the wheel route), he'd turn just in time to see the defender peeling off Nelson to attack the sideline. This would require a perfect throw. Could Rodgers, Brees, Stafford, or Brady do it? Yes. Could Ryan or Watson? They don't have the arm velocity to consistently do so with a middle defender closing off that crease and it's unlikely that they'd deliver it on the third read. Wentz doesn't have the accuracy beyond 35 yards and this will probably require a 40-yard throw to let the receiver outrun the inside defender and work under the ball. 

In addition, the deep safety over the middle trips receiver is a yard beyond the goal line looking at the receiver and facing the QB. He has the position to slide off and contest this throw as well. The wheel route is covered. 

None of this is bad play from Hundley up to this point. He also didn't drop his eyes. Between three and four seconds of this tape, his head turns to the sideline and assesses that closing window of the wheel route and again, this isn't bad. 

Where Hundley falters is his footwork. He should have taken a controlled hitch and threw the ball to Montgomery in the left flat or run. However, he did not drop his eyes until he assessed three reads. 

The reason he dropped his eyes is his footwork. Instead of that hitch, he hopped with a large stride and too close to the interior pass rush. Greater control of his feet would have earned him more room to maneuver in the pocket as a runner or deliver the check-down. 

So when you see my friends Ben Fennell and Josh Norris talk about Hundley dropping his eyes on Twitter and use this clip as an example, I don't see what they are seeing. 

Hundley's problems have always been about the footwork. I've written about this when I originally scouted him. He can be too quick and uncontrolled with his pocket movement and that lack of precision in situations where he should hitch puts him too close to defenders in the pocket and forces him to drop his eyes. My friends are looking at the end result, but they aren't looking at the root issue. 

The Packers said that Hundley's footwork had gotten much better, but this was in practice and away from the public eye. Thus far, we're seeing some instances where that footwork deteriorates to the Hundley of old. There's a fine line between urgency and panic. I've seen enough of him to believe it's unrefined urgency rather than panic, especially when the context of this particular example includes three reads and good decisions not to throw any of them. 

Talking with a scout today about Hundley who has a background as a defensive back, he looked at this example upon my request and agrees with the assessment above. I also broached the idea that when we consider the downfield throws Hundley delivered against the Vikings in tight coverage, the ultra-conservative first-half play calls against the Lions, and McCarthy's halftime comments that Hundley did everything as asked, it's likely that McCarthy has had a heavy hand in coaching Hundley not to make a mistake and forgo his best traits for now in favor of protecting the football. 

This scout agreed:

"It's a risk of coaching guys too strongly to 'protect the ball'' they start getting gun shy and it takes some of Hundley's best attributes to the background...There are better examples of Hundley's struggles but that play wasn't terrible."

I think the Packers believed it could run on the Lions and gradually open up the game plan for Hundley, but that never materialized. McCarthy commented to the Monday Night Football broadcast crew that he'd be 'taking the training wheels off Hundley' this week, but it's interesting to me that he put them on in the first place. 

It appears that Hundley's performance against the Vikings is a false positive of things to come because he's been asked to be super cautious. The garbage-time potential still remains, but the high upside that comes with a quarterback who has the confidence and support to attack early won't be there.