The Top 10: Week 14

Matt Waldman's weekly film notebook includes the NFL's NBA offense, Wentz's footwork, a sneak-peek at Garoppolo, two players not to sleep on, Wow Plays, and Fresh Fish.  

1. josh Gordon: playoff asset?

Yes, Gordon looks like a fantasy starter after an 85-yard performance against Casey Hayward and the Chargers. I've seen some Tweets floating around that his performance was "sober" or "good, but not great." From the perspective of the box score, these judgments make sense. 

The film is more promising. As expected, his connection with a rookie quarterback would be the bigger issue than rust. Gordon did strong work when Deshone Kizer could get the ball within a reasonable range of the receiver's frame. 


Perfect attack of the ball by Gordon on the slant

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A rusty receiver's hands would have been sloppy on a target like the one above. The hands wouldn't have been as uniform to the ball.

It's highly unlikely the receiver would have attacked the ball with full extension. Several veteran receivers that haven't missed time should spend the offseason watching this play and developing the same technique. 

Gordon does this in even more impressive fashion on this target up the sideline. Casey Hayward jams Gordon after the receiver slips during the final step of his release footwork. It spoils Gordon's opportunity to use a chop and earn a free release outside the defender.

However, Gordon is strong enough to work past Hayward and Kizer shows the confidence to give his star receiver a chance to win the ball. This is the biggest takeaway fantasy owners should have about Sunday's performance: Kizer showed confidence with Gordon against a top corner in tight coverage, and we should expect more of this in subsequent weeks. 


Well played by Hayward but doesn’t matter and great hands tech by Gordon

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Dez Bryant could take a couple of pointers from Gordon on this play. Gordon's hands are in perfect position, the thumbs are together, and he does a terrific job of extending his arms so his hands are together and meet the ball at the same time. Bryant, and several other good 50/50 receivers, often can't get their hands in this position while making an in-air adjustment.

Gordon won't always, either, but this was a difficult target where Gordon's hands were in synch. The ball didn't bounce off one hand while forcing the other to make a second attempt at the ball. It's these type of ball strikes to uneven hands that often result in drops against tight coverage. 

Hayward had a lot of good moments against Gordon, creating tight windows that Kizer couldn't target accurately enough on at least 3-4 routes. One of them was a low throw that Gordon nearly dug out but couldn't hang onto. However, it's notable that Gordon nearly earned 100 yards in his debut against a top player. 

It's just as important to consider that Gordon opened the field for tight end David Njoku (and whomever the Browns wish to feature on the single side of formations against man coverage). 


Why offenses covet TEs that can be detached from the line. Njoku TD

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Njoku up the seam

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I would anticipate that Njoku, and not Corey Coleman, will be the primary beneficiary of Gordon's return. Coleman will likely earn some big plays, but the Browns offense wants to run the ball and deliver the play-action pass. 

The game plan also features a lot of two-tight end sets. These sets create more issues for defenses that must account for the ground game. It means a linebacker or safety will be aligned over Njoku in single coverage because the formation forces the defense to account for the Browns running to Njoku's side.

If the Browns draw a cornerback over the two tight ends, they'll run the ball (this didn't work out early in the game when Desmond King earned leverage against Seth Devalve and stuffed Isaiah Crowell). If they draw a safety or linebacker, we'll see Kizer look to Njoku up the seam or running the deep post.

As for Gordon, he's automatically the primary receiver in this offense and the Browns moved him around the formation. He lined up outside, in the middle of a trips set, and in the slot. On one of these trips plays with Gordon in the middle, Kizer overshot Gordon on a crossing route breaking up the right flat against a safety. 

Gordon's strength was also on display after the catch.


Gordon for 39 yds

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When it comes to readiness, Gordon is a fantasy WR1 immediately. However, we must factor Kizer into the equation. The rookie made some solid throws throughout the game, but he's still learning how to be a good field general in pivotal moments. 

For instance, a good field general understands his resources and knows when to use them.


Kizer costs his team 30 seconds (Gordon perhaps, too) then throws game sealing INT #Rookieblues

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A wiser, more experienced quarterback throws this ball away and saves 30 seconds. I also wonder about Gordon's part in this play. He jobs back to the sideline and is a secondary reason his team lost at least 10-15 second of that time. These are the type of conceptual issues that we should expect down the stretch. Physically and technically, this pitch-catch combo will author fantasy value for Gordon this year. 

The Packers, the Ravens (with Jimmy Smith hurt), and Bears are a kind schedule for those with an interest in Gordon. I'd expect no worse than WR3 production each week with a small chance of elite WR1 upside thanks to Gordon's skill in the air and after the catch.

2. the Seahawks offense runs the field like showtime  

Russell Wilson reminds me of Magic Johnson. Neither looked like prototypes at their positions but both are technical and creative wizards with tremendous field awareness and poise in traffic.


Wilson pocketbook 7 man pressure and hangs in to draw DPI with throw

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Wilson pocket maneuvering

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Wilson plays QB like Magic played the point

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Well aware of its quarterback's gifts, the Seahawks have created an offense that runs the field like a basketball team. You've probably read this in reference to Jimmy Graham's basketball skills as a rebounder in the red zone, but that's only a fraction of it. 

Seattle runs a ton of pick plays with its receivers. The decision-making with these route combinations is often predicated on the cornerback with the greatest cushion on the side of the field where there's at least a pair, if not a trio, of Seahawks receivers. 


Finding the soft coverage and exploiting it

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Exploiting cushion ll

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Exploiting cushion lll

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These are quick-hitting plays that work well against inexperienced defenders. It also works well against defenders who are returning from injury and lack a season's worth of rapport with their teammates. The Eagles' second qualifies on both counts. 

As mentioned in last week's The Best Of Week 13, Philadelphia's defense is a quality unit but entered this matchup a bit overrated. The Eagles' front four stuffs the run and gets pressure on most quarterbacks, but gave up 71 yards and a touchdown to Cam Newton earlier this year. 

Wilson is a better passer and pocket player than Newton, and the Seahawks offense isn't as tied to the run as it once was.  Wilson isn't a one-man gang, but his skill and his receiving corps — including backs J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis — makes Seattle less reliant on the run and a tough draw for most defenses.

3. (as promised) A follow-up on Kareem hunt

In last week's Top 10 and Roundtable, I advised fantasy owners not to start Hunt unless he was used as a flex. In The Best Of Week 13, I listed eight backs who I would have started ahead of Hunt.

Every back with the exception of Joe Mixon (as I'm writing this, he hasn't played yet) I mentioned who were ranked lower than David Dodds' top 12 (he had Hunt 12th) outperformed Hunt last week. I suggested readers revisit Hunt's fantasy viability after his Week 13 performance. 

I saw progress but still not enough to recommend him as a top-24 fantasy back. Even with Charcandrick West out, Hunt was not counted on for pass protection. The Chiefs preferred to find creative ways to work around Hunt's weakness while still using him as part of the play-action game. 


‪How to use K Hunt on PA but not need him to block‬

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The gameplan included targets to Hunt in space. 


Trying to use Hunt more in space

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Neither of these wrinkles guaranteed Hunt additional volume, and none of these plays had any impact on the quality of the offensive line. It doesn't help that center Mitch Morse suffered a foot injury and will miss another stretch of time this year.

The Raiders gave up 117 total yards to Hunt in the last matchup with the Chiefs. However, this was the third-highest total Oakland has allowed a back this year.  It was one of two reasonably productive fantasy outings Hunt has earned since Week 6. 

Nothing significant happened this weekend to change my view of Hunt other than the statistically decent matchups ahead with the Raiders and Chargers. Even so, it's not Hunt and other RB1s and RB2s that I'm comparing. At this point, my decision tier for Hunt drops to a tier of backs like Mike Davis, Duke Johnson Jr, and any back in the Broncos' committee. 

After all, Hunt is the No. 35 fantasy runner since Week 6. He's a good runner. I always thought so. But so was Chester Taylor behind a terrific line. Maybe he'll be more than that, but he isn't right now and any expectation of it happening in December is looking like false hope.

4. Carson Wentz's drop footwork

I've covered Carson Wentz multiple times this season for this feature. I've referenced his footwork woes from last year. I also noted how the Eagles are using more spread looks so Wentz can hop into a throwing stance and deliver accurate rhythm passes of no more than 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. 

Wentz is a good quarterback with specific qualities that help him achieve great moments. 


Where Wentz excels

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More Wentz over the top

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When its time to break the pocket and fire the ball over the defense with bodies hanging off him, Wentz might be this generation's Steve McNair (although the hits McNair took are now outlawed). Where McNair and Roethlisberger (also a fair comparison for the qualities described above) have the edge over Wentz right now is drop footwork. 

When the Eagles want to use Wentz under center or need him to drop with a set number of steps from the gun, Wentz's setup and throwing stance remains an issue. Here are two inaccurate throws from last night's game that should have been delivered in stride to receivers that had a strong chance of scoring after the catch.


Wentz continued drop -accuracy issues

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Wentz leaves yards, potentially TD, on the field. Drop/accuracy

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It's important to note that this is an issue for Wentz even if a wider stance isn't always a root cause for other quarterbacks' inaccuracies. While it often is, I'm sure you can hunt down some exceptional cases. What matters is that Wentz's inaccuracies have been linked to his footwork since his years at North Dakota State. 

Wentz is the No. 2 fantasy quarterback in leagues this year so it's clear that it's not a significant issue. However, if you want to continue growing as an evaluator of quarterback play for your fantasy drafts, this segment shows that a good coaching staff can take a talented player with truly flawed technique and productively minimize some of those issues.  

If you're seeking an edge, you have to be open to the exceptional and learn why it's exceptional. After all, anyone can play it safe.

5. a sneak peek at Jimmy garoppolo

The potential franchise quarterback of the 49ers made his starting debut against the Bears, delivering a victory on a 26-of-37, 293-yards, 1-interception performance. I think it's important that we maintain low expectations for Garoppolo this year. The offense is scaled back, one of his starting receivers was riding an exercise bike at the gym last week, and Garoppolo is still learning the intricacies of the West Coast System. 

The way I see it, almost anything he does poorly this month can be excused and anything he does that's exceptional should be noted. The problem I'm having with this week's game is that I saw plays that could be noted in either category. 


Garappolo w/3rd near INT in gm

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Is it a good play because he completed the pass, or is it a bad play because it appeared he forced it into a zone of three defenders? Or, is a good display of anticipation and placement to know how long this high-traffic zone would remain open? My gut says it's the third option, but I'll need more exposures to Garoppolo before I'm certain.


Good throw by Garappolo

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Even his Leaning Tower of Pocket Play leaves me puzzled. Can he consistently make accurate throws this way? Other passers do it, but Garoppolo's method is more pronounced on a consistent basis than I typically see. 

Overall, I see a smart quarterback capable of aggressive throws under pressure into tight zones. He had a good game and I'm looking forward to seeing more. 

6. don't sleep on Trent Taylor

If we're going to buy into the Tom Brady influence, we might as well take a hard look at who could be the 49ers potential Wes Welker or Danny Amendola. That player is Taylor, a quick slot receiver with skill after the catch who has been offering a little more than anyone might expect from him since his days at Louisiana Tech. In addition to the catch shown above, here's a display of Taylor's quickness off the line. 


T Taylor the next Amendola/Welker slot man? Yes

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The 49ers staff have given positive reviews of Taylor since minicamp. They weren't the only ones that liked him. While football media were obsessed with Ryan Switzer (a good player) during the Senior Bowl, a scout told me that several teams bombarded Taylor for an interview at the player's hotel on Sunday evening before practices. 

Taylor isn't a small receiver who will deliver like Marvin Harrison but he is capable of moments against tight coverage on the perimeter that will make you wonder if he could be more. Think of him as a quality PPR addition this month and an under-the-radar PPR option in 2018. 

7. don't sleep on Peyton Barber

Barber is a hard-running, agile back with burst and receiving skill that many might compare to Spencer Ware. After studying his tape at Auburn, including an underwhelming box score effort against Alabama, I came away impressed with Barber:

Bad box score games strip results from process. It’s just how I like it. Who cares about how many yards were gained and touchdowns scored if those figures don’t supply any specific context about how that success was attained.

Did the player make bad decisions he got away with thanks to great play from his teammates?

Did the opposition make poor choices that would have paved the way for even a below average performer to experience success?

Was athletic ability far and away the driver for the player’s success in a given situation where the gap in physical skill is far wider from competitor to competitor in the amateur ranks versus the professional game?

Did the prospect win with a technique that lacked professional-caliber execution, but because it is rarely performed in the college game, he was successful?

These are only a handful of the questions that aren’t definitively answered with traditional data.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to see gorgeous displays of speed, power, agility, technical skill, and conceptual acumen for the game.But big plays can often cloud how well we see these things as much as they can reveal them.

I often find that games lacking an abundance of plays that pop off the screen to even the most casual viewer force the analyst to focus harder on projecting the technique, decision-making, athletic ability, and football acumen of the NFL game to what he or she is seeing from the college tape.

What I discover is an appreciation of the smaller details that matter greatly for a player’s successful transition to the next level.

Peyton Barber lacks a wealth of college football experience. He lacks gaudy career stats. And he lacks notoriety that makes him a safe player to discuss in a glowing light.

What he doesn’t lack is a shortage of these tiny details to his game that show up big under the NFL’s magnifying glass. His bad box score performance against Alabama in November provides a wealth of details that matter more than the obvious things that all players must possess on a baseline level to earn a shot in the league.

Barber, like Spencer Ware or Ahmad Bradshaw, may lack the right combination of bullet points to earn an early opportunity for NFL playing time, but I see the details of an every-down NFL talent.

Those details have earned Barber the starting role in place of a concussed Doug Martin and ahead of Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims. Barber made the most of his opportunity, posting total 143 yards against the Packers on Sunday. 

Like many backs who impress during my evaluations, they make wise decisions.


Wise decision by Barber that hasn’t always executed by Martin.

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They also integrate their vision, footwork, and balance into productive play. 


Barber cutback: footwork, balance, vision.

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He's also developed into a versatile option. Although his pass protection was less polished than Charles Sims, I find that Sims likes to deliver a quick peck to the defender and run out the back door. Barber is physical and his trajectory is out-distancing Sims in this department. 

He's also a good receiver. 


P Barber screen for 34

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If Dirk Koetter's head coaching career survives this season in Tampa Bay, Barber could earn a legitimate shot at the starting job. If not, the second-year back has the talent to repeat that Joique Bell-Spencer Ware-Fred Jackson path. The talent is there, the opportunity will be a minefield when considering a strong 2018 rookie class.  

Stay tuned to Martin's availability this month, Barber could remain an asset. 

8. Jamaal Williams will remain a fantasy option

I believe I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: The light is coming on for Williams. He's not as quick or fast as Aaron Jones, but he is proving that he's not a plodder. 


Williams cutback

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His edge over Jones as a runner is yards after contact. Williams is a grinder and punisher, which some coaches find as the strongest match for a play-action passing game because, in contrast to quick-hitting darters like Jones, Williams forces defenses to add men to the box due to the physicality factor. 

At the very least, we'll see Williams as the first option to salt away fourth-quarter leads and as the red zone option. 


J Williams finisher.

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Williams stiff arm

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Williams channels E George circa Tennessee

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Still, I'm nitpicking the differences between Williams and Jones because if Jones runs hot during a game, the Packers would be foolish to go away from him. The true difference between the two that keeps Williams on the field is his pass protection. 

This is a rep against a defensive tackle on a twist. Williams' position, punch, and footwork are excellent. You don't see this from many running backs.


Williams picks up the twist

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Although he does have great speed, his has a stamina to his pace that doesn't let up easily. Backs with that quality include Marshawn Lynch, Marcus Allen, and Walter Payton. Williams isn't in that tier but as I've been saying since this time last year, he's better than many believed. 

He also runs with an attitude. 


Williams to left end

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How much Jones plays down the stretch could be an indication of how much the Packers are warming to Williams.

9. Two Week 13 "Wow" moments

Sometimes I want to share great highlights that don't have a fantasy takeaway or a teaching moment. It seems like an appropriate week to share two of them. Fittingly, the pair of plays that impressed me the most came from rookies. 

Here's a one-handed grab from Evan Engram that reminds me of Tony Gonzalez and Ozzie Newsome. 


E Engram’s gorgeous one handed stab

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If there's a bright spot for the Giants, he's it. 

Alvin Kamara has been so fantastic, that a devy league team I took over this spring that went winless last year won six of its last seven games despite my team not having a quarterback. That's right, Kamara (and come to think of it, Engram) has helped my team deliver several high-scoring weeks in this league and a string of wins despite the fact that I don't have a starting quarterback.

While there's a logical physics explanation for Kamara bouncing off Shaq Thompson's hit for this touchdown, the camera angle helps create the illusion that Kamara pulled a feat more impressive than Zay Jones' levitating from the turf.


Wow Kamara...Wow

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I have Kamara in two leagues. The one above was a case of him dropping far enough that it made no sense for me to ignore his value as a Saint. The other was a re-draft staff league where I tend to adopt a variation of an Upside Down Strategy.  Kamara was my 13th pick. Thanks in part to Kamara, I'm 10-3 against a bunch of sharpshooters on staff.


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.

  • Chiefs Special Teams: With the Jets up 31-30 with 3:55 left, Bennie Logan cans the center and, instead of giving Kansas City the ball with enough time left to overcome a 4-point lead, he gives the Jets 4 more shots in the red zone. Not to be outdone...
  • Chiefs CB Steven NelsonNelson holds Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the end zone with 2:30 left on 3rd down and gives the Jets another 4 downs. When the Jets score a touchdown, Nelson holds Jets receiver Jermaine Kearse in the end zone during the two-point conversion, giving the Jets another shot at the one. New York extends its lead to 38-31 instead of 36-31. 
  • Chiefs CB Darrelle Revis: Perhaps it's not fair because it was his first playing time since last year, but he missed two tackles in the first half and got benched to begin the third quarter. Then again, Revis looked finished last year. I don't particularly find these endings sad for great players. If it tarnishes your view of Revis, you're thinking like a 16-year-old who hasn't lived enough life. Although I value Revis' desire to continue playing even as his career ending is ugly, he's still Fresh Fish.  
  • Raiders LBs vs. TEs: Evan Engram's tough plays on Sunday made the benevolent pirates look better than they are. 
  • Titans LBs vs. TEs: If Tennessee isn't leaving tight ends wide open, they're interfering with them.
  • Giants and Buccaneers run defenses: They have been in the holiday spirit since Yom Kippur. Perhaps they need someone to tell them that holiday is the Day of Atonement. 
  • Tom SavageBill O'Brien is correct, Savage played a good game. His willingness to give DeAndre Hopkins every chance to win the ball is a fine display of 'good' aggression. He also found the scrappy H-Back Stephen Anderson with difficult but appropriate targets. However, Savage is still the NFL quarterback most likely associated the phrase, "_____ _____ throwing it into a crowded area."
  • Jamison CrowderThe Washington slot receiver gets open on a slant at the Dallas five and lets the ball ricochet off his hands into the arms of a Cowboys' defender at the goal line. The next series, Crowder fumbles a punt return and Dallas recovers.  

The film tells a compelling, insightful, and useful story, especially for fantasy owners.