1. Jamaal Williams Update
As I mentioned in last week's Gut Check, the light is coming on for Williams, but will it matter for his fantasy prospects this year? One of the key indicators aside from Ty Mongtomery's health would be his performance against the Ravens defense — a unit that has played better recently but still got steamrolled by numerous teams this year.
If Williams has a big week against Baltimore, he'll be a must-start against the next four units. If not, but he has a similar effort where his play exceeds the limited context of the box score, he'll be a flex-play or spot-start against Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
Williams earned 95 total yards on 22 touches and there's nothing to show you of his running that I didn't share last week. However, his work as a pass protector could be the differentiating factor that either keeps him ahead of Montgomery or propels him ahead if Montgomery continues to struggle in this area.
Here's a fine cut block off a defensive lineman in the first quarter. Although it's the optimal location, you won't typically see a running back throw the cut block at this height that you won't typically see.
While not a great block, the pattern of him satisfactorily handling defensive linemen — especially in this case as the failsafe blocker when the opponent beats the primary blockers — is notable.
When facing defensive backs, Williams has the advantage, Ignore what I said in the video, he's punching well on this play.
Here's a good A-Gap pickup that forces the linebacker to redirect. I'm nitpicking him in the video, but he's consistently handling plays many running backs aren't.
I recorded all five of Williams' pass protection reps from this game on Instagram. Four of them he executed with success and pretty sound technique against all three levels of the defense and from a variety of angles. This is the only one he missed and it wasn't his primary assignment.
None of this seems fantasy relevant to most people, but if Montgomery misses these types of assignments (and he has in the recent past), Williams' steady and effective running, receiving, and blocking could be more important for Brett Hundley's success than we think.
2. here's your notice on Adam Shaheen
If you need a tight end, Shaheen should be on your short list for the rest of the year. Big, smooth, and sure-handed, Shaheen's greatest obstacles for playing time this year were learning the pro game and veteran options ahead of him on the depth chart.
I almost wrote about Shaheen last week but decided to watch another game before featuring him. A week later, I still like what I see as a blocker and receiver. Because Shaheen's development as a blocker is what will keep him in the field, let's begin there.
The quickness to double a man to the inside and square a defender on the outside and open a crease for Tarik Cohen is impressive. The technique isn't fantastic but the physicality and ability to earn good angles are promising and effective.
He also did well working from the line of scrimmage to the edge.
His route running from an inline position is smooth, especially releasing against two defenders.
Like Rob Gronkowski, Shaheen isn't a fast tight end like Vernon Davis, Josh Reed, or Travis Kelce. However, he has build-up speed, and he's notably fluid, agile, and powerful. This diving catch in the end zone is a good example of his athletic ability.
Here's another notably strong adjustment leaning away from the linebacker on the break. I also like the sharp turn with his break.
The Eagles, Lions, and Browns are in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and the Bengals, Lions, and Browns are among the worst 11 teams in tight end receiving yards allowed. Look to Shaheen has a nice insurance policy for deep rosters or an under-the-radar waiver wire addition if you're weak at the position.
3. dede Westbrook's debut
No, Westbrook didn't come close to earning 200 yards in his debut against Cleveland. He had good and bad moments, but I liked what I saw overall. His first catch was a third-down conversion against tight man coverage along the left sideline.
It wasn't the cleanest effort but for a rookie excited to return to the field, it was a good first target. He also took punishment to win this crossing route not much later.
Later in the half, Westbrook dropped a pass that Jabril Peppers might have dislodged even if he didn't lose control before the defender's contact.
He followed up this play with a fumble as the weather turned.
However, he wasn't the only one to fumble during this sequence. Here's T.J. Yeldon on the next play.
What I liked most is Westbrook's ability to rebound with a big play—even if the officiating crew screwed up this call and the replay.
What's most notable about Westbrook's day is that he didn't start this game, Keelan Cole did. If it weren't for Cole suffering rib and ankle injuries in succession, Westbrook might not have earned as much playing time during the second quarter. Cole returned to the game after each injury, but Westbrook flashed the more impressive play on difficult targets.
If there's a player I'd try to buy low in dynasty leagues, Westbrook is near the top of the list despite whatever you think of Blake Bortles and the impending return of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. The fact that Bortles targeted Westbrook on a tight-coverage third-down route is a good sign. Don't be surprised if we see more fireworks with this duo as the season progresses.
4. Corey Coleman's return
I saw a glimmer of sunshine near Lake Erie this weekend when I watched Coleman's return game. While matched up against Jalen Ramsey most of the day, Coleman mostly faced off-man or zone coverage, which opened up shallow routes for the receiver. Even so, the returns were promising.
Coleman's combination of burst, speed, and physicality is an enticing set of skills that should translate into production this year. If we're going to play the narrative game, I'll add the point that Coleman's time spent recovering from hand surgery has probably made him as hungry to play as any player on the roster despite a 0-10 record.
Expect Coleman and Duke Johnson Jr to lead this team in targets during the final six weeks of the year.
5. josh doctson's slow rise
I've seen frustration and skepticism about Doctson's long-term prospects. I think it's unfounded. This is essentially Doctson's rookie year unless you place great value on mental reps and a limited amount of physical reps that were performed with an Achilles injury (ask Richard Sherman about playing with a "heel" injury without enough rest).
Doctson flashes big-play ability almost every week. This grab over the top of a defender was one of two plays where he showed this skill. The other target was a red zone catch that he could not keep in bounds.
Stylistically, Doctson is not as quick as A.J. Green and not as physical as Vincent Jackson but he has a sweet blend of their stylistic assets. He also has the talent to become a primary receiver. The big question is whether he'll have the veteran quarterback to refine his routes with. If Kirk Cousins remains in Washington and the duo work out this offseason, I'd consider Doctson a true breakout candidate.
If not, Doctson still has that potential, but he'll either be overvalued in fantasy leagues or a late-round candidate. The highest value of merit for Doctson remains in dynasty leagues.
6. Chicago's effort to weaponize Tarik Cohen
Watching the Bears turn Tarik Cohen into an afterthought has been one of the most frustrating developments of the season. Chicago used Cohen between the tackles, as a slot receiver, a screen option split wide, and even as a deep threat against the Falcons.
After the opener, Cohen's usage grew progressively more predictable. Jet sweeps, toss plays, draw plays, and wide receiver throw-outs are easy to spot when the offense does little else with the player and any motion involving that player is read like a blinking neon sign advertising its intentions. It's no wonder that the Bears offensive coordinator could cite that Cohen earned double coverage in Week 10 and use it as a reason why Cohen's usage was almost nonexistent.
It just wasn't the whole story.
Fortunately, the Bears used a little more imagination when it featured Cohen against the Lions. It began with some downhill runs, which is important because if a team doesn't use the player in traditional ways, there's no believable grounding to set up the gadgetry.
The Bears also motioned Cohen across the formation before the snap. This seems like a basic thing, but it hasn't been done enough. When they have motioned him, they didn't move him to an area where a receiver could be working downhill in his favor. That changed on Sunday.
The Bears also integrated Cohen and Howard into the backfield so the Lions had to consider both players at the same time. This led to big gains for Howard and should eventually prove productive for Cohen.
Although the Bears didn't use Cohen a great deal between the tackles, the fact that the offense used him from the backfield and did so successfully set up this I-formation misdirection toss for a touchdown.
The Bears have a favorable enough schedule that Cohen remains a worthwhile matchup flex-play every week for the rest of the year. I think this has to do with the Bears improving its usage of Cohen, the emergence of Shaheen, and Mitchell Trubisky's steady improvement as a game manager.
7. Jared Goff's poise is better than you think
You may see some stats that show the disparity of Goff's production against contending teams and also-rans. First, will those analysts provide the same context for all starting quarterbacks and second, how much are dropped passes and fumbles factors into the equation if at all?
When it comes to No. 2, I'd bet very little.
Goff performed better than his box score, just like he did against the Seahawks. He stood in the pocket and hit tight-window throws on pivotal down and distance situations.
This 2nd and 11 is a positive play even if it isn't one in the box score. Goff displays the pocket presence to wait as long as possible in the pocket before eluding the oncoming defender.
The longer the quarterback can stand in the pocket before climbing for flushing, the less time and space the opponent has to change direction and adjust to the quarterback's move. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are well-known for waiting until the last moment. Goff does this well enough to spin around the back side, reset, and give only his receiver a chance at the target.
One of the bigger questions of those unfamiliar with Goff's game at Cal or, even last year, wondered if Goff could handle punishment from a physical defense. Here's another clip of evidence that indicates we should stop questioning his physical and mental toughness.
Three plays later, Goff remains poised despite Barr's earlier plaster job. He maneuvers the pocket with the same poise and patience that he's displayed against less physical teams.
Goff wasn't the problem today. The Rams receiving corps dropped the ball before and after the catch. Here's Cooper Kupp losing the ball at the 1.
Kupp has been one of my favorite rookie receivers from the 2017 class, but I've noted in this column past examples where Kupp has come up short in the red zone. I think he'll grow into a more reliable red zone target, but it has been a frustrating development for a player who even Vikings coach Mike Zimmer labeled as the Rams best receiver this year.
Here's Kupp drop on third down.
In the second half, the Vikings began peppering the Rams with A-gap pressure and I thought Goff responded well, even if he wasn't statistically productive.
The statistically-driven narrative will be that Goff isn't that good because the Rams produce at the same high rate against strong defenses. However, Goff did his job; his receivers and line didn't.
8. A gentle reminder of things you should already know: The RB edition
I presume the points below are things you already knew or were already told. Just in case, here are some gentle reminders:
- Samaje Perine will be the man in Washington for the rest of the season. Look for Perine to average RB2 production down the stretch.
- Leonard Fournette's ankle issue will drive neurotic fantasy owners to distraction, but he's a tough back with a great schedule. Don't overthink him if your trade deadline has passed.
- Jay Ajayi offers big-play starter production, but Philadelphia's red zone role is Corey Clement's. This is a three-way committee with Ajay, Blount, and Clement having fantasy relevance in that order.
- Duke Johnson Jr might be a Pro-Bowl back if he were working in New Orleans, New England, Kansas City, or Philadelphia.
- Joe Mixon and C.J. Anderson are playing better than their box scores. Don't sleep on them next year.
9. thoughts on the Taylor-peterman debacle
The Bills' decision to bench Tyrod Taylor for the rookie Nate Peterman despite a winning record and a shot at the playoffs generated a social media meltdown. Peterman's five-interception debut exploded into a comedy of "I told you so's" among the football community.
There are a lot of layers to this situation. For the record, I think Taylor is better than many portray him. When Sean McDermott arrived in Buffalo, I had no problem with him drafting Peterman, jettisoning Cardale Jones, and then showing reluctance to instantly embrace Taylor as the starter.
McDermott, like most new coaches, has a vision for how he wants to build his team. Whether or not he can successfully implement that vision is a whole other question, but McDermott spent this year getting rid of Rex Ryan's guys so he could build a foundation for his. McDermott never saw Taylor as a match for his offense, but throwing Jones or Peterman into the lineup on opening day would not have sat well with veteran players who believed the team had a chance to contend for a playoff spot.
If Taylor performed poorly enough, McDermott would have a perfect excuse to bench Taylor for Peterson at midseason and give the rookie some on-field development time without losing the veterans on this team. Hindsight analysis that criticizes Buffalo for not trading Taylor this summer or earlier this year doesn't account for the difficulties of trading starting-caliber quarterbacks at any point after minicamp.
As talented as some believe Jimmy Garappolo may be, there was no realistic way he'd be prepared to run a West Coast Offense this year after spending his NFL career in the Patriots' Erhardt-Perkins scheme. I said this weeks ago, and it's why quarterback trades where the passer sees the field immediately is unusual (and difficult) for the quarterback — see Jacoby Brissett.
No team would trade for Taylor unless it needed a starter due to injury and it couldn't find a cheaper option. I don't see how dealing Taylor to begin the season was possible based on the logistics above and the risk of losing this team before the season even began.
Some have opined the staff's failure to build an offense around Taylor. I've had writers tell me the Bills should have maximized Taylor's talents just as the Eagles and Texans have adjusted its schemes for Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson.
It's a good argument and I would like to see it. However, McDermott made it clear that he wants to build this team a specific way. Regardless of the egalitarian appeal of matching the scheme to the talent, there are still some coaches and teams that succeed by forcing the talent to develop its skills to match the demands of the scheme.
I personally like the idea of matching a scheme around Taylor but first-year coaches often believe they must execute major changes during the first 12-18 months of his tenure because they only have another 12-18 months to prove that those his efforts are yielding positive results. If a coach is going to struggle, he better struggle early while making significant personnel moves.
He also needs to maximize his returns from those struggles. Scheming an offense around Taylor could have yielded one of two things that McDermott didn't want to address later:
- A winning record, playoff appearance, and lower picks in the draft thanks to a one-year adjustment to make the most of Taylor, who the Bills wouldn't want to pay as a franchise quarterback and would have to revamp its offense with a young player a year later.
- Keeping Taylor when McDermott, who didn't pronounce Taylor his starter until well into the preseason, clearly didn't believe in the quarterback from the beginning.
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," I provide my weekly short list of players and/or units that could have you chanting "fresh fish" when your roster draws the match-up.
- Buffalo LBs and Run Defense: When the Chargers can pound the ball and not look awkward doing it, you know the opponent is bad. Heck, I could have sworn I saw Keenan Allen running through the Bills defense on a crosser all the way into the Cowboys secondary during Sunday night game.
- Oakland DBs: When rookie safety Obi Melinfonwu is forced to play cornerback, you know how weak this unit is.
- RB Devante Mays: The rookie's debut consisted of two carries and two fumbles.
- QB Brock Osweiler: When Peyton Manning yelled "Omaha! ...Omaha!" I knew something good was about to happen. When Osweiler yells "Omaha!" I'm reminded of Steve Martin's character Ruprecht from "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"
I think this has a lot to do with Osweiler's decision-making in the red zone and when backed-up deep in his own territory. While neither play cost Denver the game, they're big reasons why we have to drop all Broncos skill players a notch or two.
As always, the league is moving fast. Don't blink...
More articles from Matt WaldmanSee all
The Replacements Week 16
The Gut Check No.530: David Montgomery's 2020 Growth Spurt
The Top 10: Week 16