The Gut Check No. 430: Dominating The Dominator

Matt Waldman shares his past and present analysis of a draft and two players — Mike Davis and Ricky Seals-Jones — with potential this year and beyond.

"With average team management, we think you have a 70 percent chance of reaching the playoffs," Jene Bramel tells me while we're on a conference call during the final round our Footballguys "OG" Staff League draft in August. He's talking about his team. "With strong team management, we think you have an 85 percent chance of reaching the playoffs." 

"So what does Draft Dominator have to say about my team?" I ask Bramel, but it's actually a rhetorical question. "Your team sucks, but this guy Matt Waldman really likes a lot of your players."

"Pretty much," Bramel chuckles. "How did you know?"

"Because I draft to dominate the Dominator." 

We both laughed when I said that, but I'm still laughing 12 weeks later in this 12-team super-flex PPR league with a 1.5 TE PPR premium. 

Take a look for yourself. This is 20-man roster set-up with lineups of 1-2 QBs, 2-4 RBs, 3-5 WRs, 1-3 TEs, 1 K, and 1 DEF. Here's my team after the draft. The players in parenthesis next to the draft pick are the players I've added in their places:

Matt Waldman's Footballguys 'OG' Staff League Draft

Round Pick Player
1.05 5 Antonio Brown
2.08 20 Dez Bryant
3.05 29 Matthew Stafford
4.08 44 Christian McCaffrey
5.05 53 Delanie Walker
6.08 68 Carlos Hyde
7.05 77 Terrelle Pryor (Kai Forbath) (Packers Def) (Peyton Barber) (Austin Ekeler)
8.08 92 Danny Woodhead (Austin Ekeler) (Robert Woods)
9.05 101 Marvin Jones Jr
10.08 116 Austin Hooper
11.05 125 Blake Bortles
12.08 140 Cooper Kupp
13.05 149 Alvin Kamara
14.08 164 Dion Lewis (Aaron Jones) (Mike Davis)
15.05 173 Travis Benjamin (J.D. McKissic) (Kevin Hogan) (Brett Hundley)
16.08 188 Jamaal Charles
17.05 197 Tarik Cohen
18.08 212 Minnesota Vikings DEF
19.05 221 Taylor Gabriel (Teddy Bridgewater)
20.08 236 Cairo Santos (Ryan Succop)

As you can see, my draft made the Draft Dominator grimace — it often does but I don't pay it any mind.

I selected four rookies, waited well after everyone else to take my second quarterback, and I used a variation of the Upside Down Draft. I also missed hard on Terrelle Pryor. To compound matters, I dropped Dion Lewis too soon and cycled Austin Ekeler on and off and back onto my team.  

Even so, I'm doing just fine.

This team has a league-best 8-3 record, a league-high 1836.9 points, a league-high 764 bench points, and a league-best 73-48 all-play record. Will I win this league? I don't know, but I'm off to a strong start.  

Taking risks like these don't always end with me building contenders, but I continue to do it because I'm happy with the results. I'm sharing this bragging point with you because it's context for my specialty as a fantasy owner and writer: Identifying middle and late-round talents, taking unconventional draft-day risks to maximize that talent and making preemptive acquisitions of free agent talent.

Marcel Reece is a good example.

Fantasy owners have the benefit of hindsight to think of Reece as a fullback-running back 'tweener with excellent hands who had a run of production with the Raiders while starter Darren McFadden was nursing an injury. However, before Reece emerged, he was best known as a wide receiver at the University of Washington.

Reece helped me win a championship in one league and reach the finals in another.

Picks like Reece (and just as importantly, the courage to play those picks when the analysis supports it) can make a good team great. This week, I'm sharing two players many of you aren't that familiar with but have flashed talent that could translate to surprising production for portions of this five-week stretch run. 

Other players who qualify that I've mentioned in previous features include Adam Shaheen, Dede Westbrook, Austin Ekeler, Keelan Cole, Jamaal Williams, John Conner, and J.D. McKissic. If you want to throw Josh Gordon in there because your league-mates have left him for dead, go ahead. 

The duo I'm about to profile is currently on the lowest end of this list. Even so, they still deserve coverage. 

Mike Davis

I added Mike Davis in every dynasty and re-draft format possible last week. Despite the fact that he tweaked a groin and he only managed 18 rushing yards, I'm holding onto him where possible. If he's better in a couple of weeks, the Jaguars, Rams, and Cowboys are a strong trio of playoff matchups where Davis could shine. 

Many of you are skeptical about adding a Seattle running back that is operating behind a subpar offensive line. I don't blame you, but Davis should remain available in most leagues this week and next as a preemptive pick for next to nothing. 

I'm bullish on Davis as a luxury addition because he's a versatile, all-around back who got stuck in San Francisco between the end of the Frank Gore era and the beginning of Carlos Hyde. Here's my scouting report on Davis from the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio

As Lance Zierlein of NFL.com points out, there are two Mike Davises from South Carolina: The 2013 version is a punishing, versatile player with quickness and a wiggle. The 2014 version is a plodder by comparison. I’ll add my own twist to it: Mike Davis is the running back equivalent of Stitch from the Disney film Lilo & Stitch.

If an NFL team gets Experiment 2013, they’ll be looking for another back next spring. If a team gets Experiment 2014, opponents will experience a couple of extra days of soreness after Stitch runs roughshod.

Short, but not small, Davis is a hard-charging runner with a burst that’s in the same tier of big-play threats like Melvin Gordon III, Jay Ajayi, and Trey Williams. He has the feet and vision to dip around penetration and earn positive yards.

Davis runs with a wiggle. Some may misinterpret its meaning as tentative or too much dancing when a wiggle is actually upper body movement that ducks and feints a lot like a boxer, but the feet and hips remain in control. A wiggle is a positive and it makes Davis a slippery player.

When it’s time to lower the boom, he can attack defenders with low pad level and leg drive and spin or dip at top speed. He’s adept at picking and sliding through traffic and bouncing off glancing blows to exploit creases and earn yards that weren’t there.

Davis displays some patience with zone blocking. He often sees a level ahead of the defense and he’ll make cutback decisions based on these factors. The 2013 version of Davis displayed enough burst to reach the corner and get downhill on perimeter runs and sustains separation in the open field.

Fortunately, this version of Davis showed up at the Combine and ran a 4.18-second 20-yard shuttle and a 7- flat three-cone drill. If he stays in shape, expect good work from the rookie in camp. Some beat reporters may even write that he has been a revelation.

One of these reasons will be his work in the passing game. Davis catches the ball with his hands and does a good job setting up the screen game. He catches the ball with his hands. He makes plays with his back to the quarterback and also displays the hand-eye coordination to make difficult grabs with one hand away from his body.

Whether it’s in the pile or the open field Davis has strong ball security that withstands rips. He’ll also carry the ball with the arm that is furthest from the most dangerous pursuit angle that he anticipates.

Davis’ blocking form displays willingness but needs refinement. He’s aggressive, powerful and willing to mix it up with a lowered shoulder or forearm, but he must learn to control his opponent with a punch, strong base, and smooth footwork. At this point, his best work in the pocket on passing downs comes when he’s delivering cut blocks with good form across the body of the opponent.

Even so, Davis’ cut blocks can be too low and he’ll often drop his head into the effort and telegraph his intentions. Although there is a marked difference between 2013 Davis and 2014 Davis, both versions require some amount of gearing down to make a lateral cut. In contrast to the Abdullahs, Johnsons, and Gordons of the class who are physical finesse runners, Davis is a nimble bruiser. As long as he’s in shape, Davis has the upside to develop into a good lead back or starter—and sooner than later.

Mike Davis RSP Film Room w/Ryan Lownes.

Although he flashed the positives he put on tape at South Carolina, Davis couldn't stay healthy or maintain ball security while competing for playing time with the 49ers and he's been biding his time on the Seahawks' practice squad. The coaching staff has been anxious to activate him based on his practice performance and we saw glimpses of 'Good Mike Davis' against Atlanta. 

This red zone run is a good display of his ability to bounce with quickness, jump cut at the edge of a crease, and slash through the reach of defenders in the hole. 

 

M Davis

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 20, 2017 at 6:06pm PST

Although I would credit the design of the play and the execution of the team more than the individual, Davis also lived up to his billing in the screen game. He had a lot of room to run up the flat, but notice the wiggle that he uses to set up the defensive back shooting at his legs. Davis also executes a well-defined break on the screen route that is clearly the mark of a back who ran screens with expertise under Steve Spurrier.

 

M Davis screen pass

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 20, 2017 at 6:28pm PST

When you examine Davis' frame, burst, and power, there are some stylistic similarities to Mark Ingram II. He's a better receiver than Ingram but Ingram has the edge as a decision-maker between the tackle. Even so, Davis' decision-making is not bad at all. 

One lingering issue from my pre-draft evaluation that I saw Davis do last night was load up with the forearm to block a blitzer. While Davis scored a flush hit and stoned the defender, his outlet skills, tough running, and size could potentially make him a back who rarely leaves the field if he learns to punch and control with his hands.

Unfortunately, Davis was just getting warm (and the Seahawks finally attacking those overanxious Falcons linebackers) when he tweaked his groin on this play below. 

 

Davis screen

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 20, 2017 at 7:24pm PST

It doesn't look like much of an injury but based on what we're hearing, it could cost him at least a week. Considering how unhappy Seattle has been with Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls, Davis could easily get another shot based on last night's limited performance. You can probably wait a week before making a call on him as a roster addition. While you do, stay tuned to the newswire on his progress. 

Ricky Seals-jones

Texas A&M had a killer wide receiver corps that included Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, and Speedy Noil. All four have NFL talent. The greatest question for Seals-Jones was his TE-WR 'tweener makeup. At 6'5" 243 pounds, was he a wide receiver, a tight end, or a player without a position?  

Seals-Jones was my No. 4 "big slot" receiver and No. 3 "move tight end" as a scheme-based talent in the 2017 RSP:

Seals-Jones underachieved at Texas A&M relative to his status as a recruit. Studying his game, the individual parts of his game are greater than the sum. If he can correct that issue, there’s a chance he plays closer to his potential.

A big target capable of catching the ball with his hands away from his frame and in stride, Seals- Jones adjusts well to the football. He can adjust to targets at his back hip, make receptions against tight coverage, high-point the ball at the boundary, and make plays with his back to the quarterback.

He’s a fluid athlete and he adjusts his hands position appropriately to the height of the incoming target. Seals-Jones experiences focus drops, because he fails to look the ball into his hands when there’s a lot of open space ahead of him.

Despite the variety of plays he can make as a receiver, Seals-Jones lacks consistency and reliability on difficult but attainable targets. He needs to do a better job of attacking the ball away from his frame on back-shoulder routes and he’s not on the same page with his quarterback on scramble drills.

Texas A&M often used him in a move tight end role. Seals-Jones sets up crossing routes with pacing and stem direction off the line of scrimmage. He works well with his quarterback to get open on underneath routes in the shallow zone. He’ll also push off or brace defenders in tight quarters to earn enough separation.

When releasing from the line, he gets his pads over his knees to sell deeper routes. He also uses that pad level to set up one-step stop routes with sudden turns.

When facing tight man coverage, Seals-Jones has a three-step release and makes effective use of an arm-over technique to earn position past the defender. While his timed speed and acceleration are excellent for the tight end position, his timed agility is below average. On the field, his agility was good enough to spin inside linebackers as well as jump cut, dip, and spin away from pursuit.

He’s strong enough to drag defensive backs for extra yardage if the collision point occurs after Seals-Jones earns momentum. He finishes well against contact, lowering his pads and driving opponents backwards for extra yards while keeping the ball secure under the correct arm. His ball security falters when changing direction and he’ll often carry the ball under his left arm even when pursuit angles dictate the right arm.

Second effort through wraps and open field vision are strengths of Seals-Jones’ ballcarrying. He’s fluid in and out of cuts. Despite his array of moves, Seals- Jones doesn’t string these moves together, and gets brought down by defensive backs wrapping him high, which shouldn’t happen as much as it does for a player of his size.

Seals-Jones is a willing blocker. He’ll set up angles on linebackers, get his pads into the strike on the defenders, and turn the man from the path of the ball carrier. He sustains contact well enough to seal the inside on run plays. Seals-Jones also has the agility to work across the legs of defenders on cut blocks.

Seals-Jones’ greatest area for improvement is his route running. On longer routes, he has difficulty coming to a quick stop after he’s built momentum. His turns on breaks need more snap so he’s sudden with the effort.

Although he has good size, he has to cultivate skills to separate from the line of scrimmage. He displayed a limited number of separation moves and doesn’t always recognize when it’s best to use finesse or power to defeat a covering defender during a route.

His stems are often too short on shallow zone routes, which leave him waiting on the ball and giving defenders time to recover. Unless he moves to tight end, Seals-Jones lacks a notable second gear. If he tightens up his overall game, he could develop into a big slot receiver with occasional success split outside when he draws a favorable match up.

Ricky Seals-Jones Highlights (NSFW)


Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: A late-round stash with huge upside if he proves he can become a high-volume, move tight end or big slot receiver.

The Cardinals used Seals-Jones as a second tight end and slot receiver against the Texans on Sunday to the tune of 3 catches, 54 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Here's the rookie using his frame and work through the position of the Texans' defensive back before turning and high-pointing the ball. 

 

R Seals-Jones

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 21, 2017 at 11:44am PST

As long as a quarterback is confident in placing the ball in a position for Seals-Jones to use his frame, he'll remain a viable option in the red zone. It's an easier statement to utter than to take at face value. However, I sense that Bruce Arians is giving his larger receivers playing time because his backups aren't as adept as Carson Palmer in the timing game. If it means incorporating more 50-50 routes, Seals-Jones delivers along the lines of what Larry Fitzgerald can do at a far more advanced level. 

When the Cardinals used Seals-Jones as an inline receiver, he displayed a quick get-off and a good speed break with a snap of the head back to the quarterback that he didn't always show at Texas A&M.

 

RSJ

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 21, 2017 at 11:48am PST

 Although this next turn wasn't as sudden as we'd see from a perennial All-Pro like Tony Gonzalez, this route in the left flat is quick and sharp enough to create separation.

 

RSJ II

A post shared by Matt Waldman (@mattwaldmanrsp) onNov 21, 2017 at 11:48am PST

Seals-Jones has NFL-caliber wide receiver skills as a pass catcher. His route running is good by tight end standards and should get even better. If he's utilized as the second tight end and split from the formation as a big slot, he's a potential bargain in 1.5 premium TE PPR scoring systems. He'll also see far less attention in the red zone than Fitzgerald, Jermaine Gresham, and Adrian Peterson

The Cardinals draw a tough Jaguars linebacker and safety corps next week but if you can remain patient with him (or add him after a frustrated points-chasing ower drops him next week), the Rams, Titans, and Giants are vulnerable to tight end production. Keep him in mind if your starting tight end has an issue before the playoff run. 

 

 

 


More articles from Matt Waldman

See all

More articles on: Strategy

See all