NFL Film Breakdown: From LA to Indy – What to Expect From the Rivers & Reich Reunion

After 15 years with the Chargers, Phillip Rivers is an Indianapolis Colt and he reunites with Frank Reich who worked with the quarterback as the offensive coordinator with the Chargers in 2014 and 2015. Rivers might not be the quarterback he was five years ago but he is certainly still capable of being a top 10 quarterback in the NFL. His deep ball and arm strength have taken a hit but for most of his career he’s relied on anticipation throws, quick rhythm passes, big receivers that allow him to place the ball accurately on backshoulders, and using his running backs in the pass game. In fact, Rivers targeted running backs 177 times and on 29.6% of passes last year in LA. In comparison, the Colts targeted running backs just 91 times or 17.7% of passes. This isn’t a one year anomaly either. Even when Reich was the OC with the Chargers in 2015, Rivers targeted running backs 25.6% of the time. The Colts rely heavily on their running backs in their dynamic run game as I previously covered but they lacked a true receiving threat out of the backfield with Nyheim Hines being their lead guy with 44 receptions for 320 yards. Part of that is due to the scheme and personnel of the Colts versus that of the Chargers, but it’s still a big disparity between the two systems and their personnel. There are a couple ways where Rivers aligns perfectly with what the Colts do but also a few of these types of misalignments. We’ll take a closer look here at what Rivers’ strengths are and how he might fit into the passing game designed by Frank Reich.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

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Reich definitely tailors his offenses to the personnel he has. When with Rivers in 2015, he designed a lot of short, rhythm passing that emphasized getting the ball out fast and into the hands of receivers and playmakers. This fits Rivers’ quick decision making style and his penchant for throwing to running backs. Lots of shallows, slants, hooks, and flares by the RB and TEs keep the chains moving and allowed for the Chargers best weapons like Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, and Danny Woodhead to get the ball in their hands.

Now, 4 years later, Rivers likes to throw a lot of those same routes to a similar cast in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler. Despite interim OC Shane Steichen not having the most polished and cohesive offensive system after inheriting what Ken Whisenhunt had started during the 2019 season, Rivers was still able to find his comfort zone and rely on his most trusted receivers.

These short rhythm and anticipation throws have been what Rivers has lived off of these last couple seasons. He shows incredible touch and anticipation on deep outs, corners, curls, and backshoulders. And to be honest, he kind of has to. His ball has definitely lost some zip and seems to hang in the air for what feels like an eternity on some throws. Because he can’t push it quite as much anymore, he relies on trusting his receivers to be in the right place and often he’s starting his throwing motion before they even get to their break – something that can take years of reps to develop.

These chemistry throws might take a little while to develop with the Colts’ receivers but here he is again throwing the ball to where his receiver will be before they’ve broken out of their route. The ball is 10 yards downfield by the time the receiver even turns around. These throws are incredibly hard to defend when the quarterback and receiver are on the same page.

While River does do a great job of throwing with anticipation to outbreaking routes, he doesn’t really do it with in breaking routes or based off of defender keys and this is where he can leave plays on the field or where his diminishing arm strength can cost him. Rivers doesn’t read the linebacker in man coverage which opens up a window for the dig behind it. The receiver has leverage but he struggles to get enough on the ball to get it up and down fast enough which allows time for the safety to react for the interception.

Here instead of working from the dig to the post which is wide open after the LB doesn’t drop underneath it, he wants to immediately check down to his running back who falls on the play and ends up getting in trouble and sacked.

Here he doesn’t read the linebacker again as the dig is opening up with space in the middle zone of the field. These are throws he makes consistently and with ease to the outside, but he struggles to do the same anticipatory throws off linebackers in the intermediate passing game.

Part of the reason for this is his penchant for using running backs in the passing game. While they can be lethal and great mismatches, sometimes there is an overreliance and he skips over reads to immediately check down to his running backs.

If he doesn’t love it immediately, he goes to the checkdown. There really isn’t anything between his first and second read. It’s his rhythm throw or anticipatory throw and then immediately the checkdown to a running back or underneath route. Here he looks right at a dig coming open in zone and passes it up to throw the flat route by the running back.

Involving your running backs in the pass game isn’t the worst way to run the offense and Rivers had a career high in yards with Reich in 2015 running that very style of offense. When you can get a mismatch and you have guys like Danny Woohead, Darren Sproles, Austin Ekeler, or LaDainian Tomlinson it can make your offense go. It opens up windows for everyone else and creates yards after catch and open space opportunities with natural ball carriers in the open field. The Chargers this year largely used their running backs as immediate release options where they’re part of the initial designed play versus having them check release for blitzes or help in pass pro before releasing. When your running backs are some of your best players, it’s a great way to get them involved and Rivers does it super well with good touch and decisiveness.

You can compare that now to the very different way that the Colts used their running backs this last year. Now that may change as Rivers arrives and Reich adapts what they’re doing, but the Colts running backs were largely last resort outlets on check releases or used in the screen game. Extremely rarely would the Chargers ever keep their backs in for pass protection because of Rivers penchant for throwing to them and exploiting those mismatches on linebackers and you can see how the Colts differ by running different route types and chipping defensive ends.

They do have immediate releases in the playbook and I’d expect them to use it a lot more with Rivers. Nyheim Hines definitely seems like the guy to get it to with surprising speed but the Colts now have a pretty crowded backfield with Jonathan Taylor drafted out of Wisconsin and added to the mix of Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines.

The Colts ran a lot more intermediate passing than the Chargers did which isn’t entirely Rivers’ forte. Until they drafted Michael Pittman who physically is very similar to Mike Williams in LA – the Colts largest receiver was 6’2” Zach Pascal. The intermediate and play-action / deep game was a lot more effective with the speedier, smaller guys that the Colts have and the shorter, possession, anticipation throws fit the skills of the Chargers receivers who were larger and had more range. The Chargers only attempted 90 play-action shots but on those rivers completed 74% of his passes and had a 113.2 QB rating so expect the Colts to utilize their strong run game to play-action and open up intermediate and deep windows that Rivers can take advantage of despite his previous avoidance of them.

Based on the way things have shifted from when Reich was with Rivers in San Diego to his time in Indianapolis now, he clearly tweaks and adjusts his offense to fit the quarterback he has behind center. Noted by Reich this offseason was that they needed to get more chunk plays off play-action and emphasize concepts and plays where there are higher-percentage throws. Rivers absolutely helps with both of those and can keep the ball moving underneath with his love of running backs out of the backfield, rhythm throws on slants and curls, and some intermediate anticipation throws that can develop on play-action like deep crossers and comebacks. I’m not sure he’ll be able to use TY Hilton’s speed to it’s fullest capabilities and I worry a bit about the deep ball but with such a strong run game and Rivers knowledge and experience and Reich’s ability to tweak the system to match personnel, the Colts may be just fine attacking underneath and in intermediate zones off play-action to sustain the offense instead of having big explosive plays and long touchdowns. Rivers isn’t the quarterback he used to be, but he absolutely should raise the level of play in Indianapolis and give the Colts a chance to win the AFC South.

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Gregory Rousseau: Rock You Like A Hurricane

Gregory Rousseau exploded onto the scene in 2019 and became the best pass rusher in the nation not named Chase Young and did it as a redshirt freshman. He finished with 15.5 sacks (second in the nation) and 19.5 TFL’s (seventh in the nation), but flew under the radar on the national scene because he played on a 6-7 University of Miami team. While he is still as raw as an uncooked steak, Rousseau has plenty of desirable traits that teams will covet in what looks to be a weak edge class. Will he be able to follow up 2019 with another monster season? If he is able to get 14.5 sacks (which will be tough with a shorter schedule), he’ll be the first player in FBS history to have 30 sacks after his first two full seasons. Rousseau looks like a top ten lock at the moment and if he can clean up a few things, getting picked in the top five looks promising.

Positives

Sack Artist

You don’t finish second in college football in sacks by accident. Simply put, Rousseau just knows how to get to the quarterback. Whether it’s his speed, size, or just being in the right place at the right time, he got the job done in 2019 with 15.5 sacks. He likes to use a nifty swim and rip move that is tough for linemen to stop due to his size (more on this later). I don’t think he’s the prospect Nick Bosa or Chase Young were the past two years in terms of technique, but Rousseau has so much untapped potential and skill as a pass-rusher that he’ll be the top edge player in this class.

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Length

At 6-7, 253 pounds, Rousseau is a specimen. At that height, he would enter the league as one of the tallest players and he uses his length to his advantage. He can afford to be a step late or initially misread a play because he can make up that ground quicker with his long arms. There will be moments where it seems the ball carrier is about to break away before Rousseau extends to bring them down. I referenced his swim and rip moves earlier and he’s able to be so successful at that because it’s almost impossible for linemen to keep his hands in front of them. I see Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, both the same size as Rousseau but much heavier, have similar pass rush moves, and have had success at the NFL level. General Manager’s and scouts salivate at arm length and Rousseau has to be a favorite among that crowd.

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Versatility

From the film I watched, I saw Rousseau line up as a 4-3 end, 4-3 defensive tackle, nose guard, and at 3-4 standing outside linebacker. While he profiles best currently as a 4-3 end, also known as a 5 technique in most systems, it’s good to know that he can play all across the line. As he matures and gains more muscle, teams should feel comfortable kicking him inside to a 3 technique on passing downs or even play as a “big end” in a 4-3 under defense. This kind of versatility is important as the defensive line position typically likes to have a steady rotation, keeping those big boys fresh in the 4th quarter. Ideally, if you can pair up Rousseau with a sharp defensive mind who likes to get creative on blitzes, you could see him line up in a variety of ways.

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Quickness

Normal human beings at his size should not accelerate as quickly as Rousseau does. I expected some clunkiness or some awkward movements in his game based on his size, but he moves almost like a basketball player. He has a quick first step and explodes at the drop of a hat. There were also times where he displayed nice wiggle around an offensive lineman, which is something you normally see from a smaller lineman or a linebacker.

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Negatives

High Pad Level

When you’re 6-7, you’re going to have problems keeping your pad level low, which is particularly important for a defensive lineman. When he gets out of his stance he’s almost in an upright position, which is going to get you no penetration. This is a very fixable issue and any good defensive line coach will work extensively with him to improve on his technique. It will take some time to correct this issue, as a problem like this isn’t fixed overnight. Old habits die hard, but this habit has to be nipped in the bud.

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Functional Strength

Way too often, Rousseau gets overpowered. It’s tough to play defensive line at his height and weight (6-7, 253 pounds), so he will need to gain a considerable amount of weight. If he can get to around 270 pounds roughly, he’ll be able to push back and his high pad level won’t be as big of an issue. He’s still young and relatively inexperienced at his position, having played a plethora of positions in high school. Give him time to mature and he’ll grow into his “man body”.

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Conclusion

There’s still a lot of work to be done with Rousseau if he wants to become a complete player. Right now he gets by with size and athletic ability alone, but that won’t make you a superstar in the NFL. At worst, he becomes a pass rush specialist in the NFL and carves out a nice and long career. However, if he gains strength and becomes a better football player, he could become a cornerstone piece on a defense for the decade-plus.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

49ers Fantasy and Season Preview

As a lifelong 49ers fan, I love the direction this organization is heading in. They are finally contenders and have a stacked roster of talented players. Below is a fantasy breakdown of the team, where I might not sound as optimistic in the team, but just goes to show that being the best in fantasy doesn’t mean wins on the field.

BANG BANG NINER GANG!

Quarterbacks

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy G is already one of the more polarizing players in the league despite only being a starter for one full season. It seems like half of the league thinks he has the chance to be an elite quarterback and the other half thinks he’s as useful as a screen door on a submarine. As bad as people thought he played last year, particularly in a run-first offense, he finished with the 14th most fantasy points for quarterbacks. Garoppolo has a strong offensive line and big-play receivers in George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, which helps make his life easier. He was the only quarterback to finish in the top ten in yards per attempt, touchdowns, and completion percentage in 2019 which shows to me he’s a solid all-around option and has a high floor. While he does make some terrible decisions that result in turnovers, 4 of his 13 interceptions from a season ago were a result of drops by his receivers. Some will be turned off after watching the 49ers turn into a heavy run team, but Garropolo finished seventh last year in red-zone passing attempts. Shanahan’s outside zone run game is successful but historically becomes less effective when the field gets smaller inside of the twenty yard line. Assuming this trend continues, Garoppolo will continue to throw for more than 25 touchdowns per season, making him a viable fantasy option. 

Others

In a perfect world, none of the other quarterbacks have to play much, if at all. Nick Mullens is firmly entrenched as the #2 and proven to be a decent quarterback who had some potential in fantasy due to his accuracy and being in Shanahan’s offense. The clock may strike twelve on Beathard’s tenure as a 49er and UDFA Broc Rutter gets to hang around Jimmy Garoppolo during training camp. Maybe he can ask what conditioner he uses.

Raheem Mostert

I know he has requested a trade, but let’s be honest with the fact that he’s not leaving. The 49ers hold all of the leverage here and have no reason to give in to any demands. If anything, Mostert should be upset at his agent for negotiating a terrible deal for him last offseason. On the field, he led all running backs with a 5.7 ypc and has gained muscle this offseason to prepare for what he says is “a 200 carry season”. It finally seems that he’s going to emerge as the lead back in San Francisco and he’s earned that right. Shanahan will implement a running back by committee so that does handcuff Mostert a little bit, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t get most of the carries as long as he is healthy. As a receiver, he doesn’t offer much upside aside from catching the occasional screen pass. He might be the last option of anyone in the backfield when it comes to being the receiving option, but overall Mostert is still the 49ers running back you’ll want to target. He will be more desired in non-PPR leagues, but I like him as a solid RB2/Flex option on your roster.

Tevin Coleman

Shanahan’s dedication to Coleman is actually very admirable. It was clear that he wasn’t the best running back on the roster, but he stuck with him all the way to the Super Bowl. In his first season, he finished tied for first in carries, despite both Mostert and Matt Breida averaging more than a yard per carry more than him. It’s not that Coleman is a bad running back, it’s just that nothing he does stands out. Despite that, you can count on him to be consistent. He didn’t fumble the ball in 2019 and also led the 49ers running backs in catches with 21. He did suffer a high ankle sprain in week 1 which may have contributed to his lack of explosiveness, which would be understandable. However, there’s one role that Coleman has seemingly locked down and that’s the role of short-yardage back, most importantly the goal line back. Coleman saw double the carries in the red zone than Mostert did and was 19th overall in the league in carries inside of the 5-yard line, despite the fact he was sharing snaps pretty evenly and missed a few games with an injury. Many 49ers fans might want Jeff Wilson Jr. to have this role in 2020, but as long as Jerick McKinnon is healthy (big IF), Wilson is unlikely to be active on game days. Don’t count on him to be one of your starters, but utilize him as a safe bench option since you know he’s going to provide you with average production week in and week out. 


Others

I mean this is the year McKinnon is healthy, right? Right? Might be asking a lot, but this organization clearly has some sort of faith in him and he could have a role in the offense. It might be almost strictly as a third-down back or gadget player, but Shanahan will find something for him. Still not worth drafting. Jeff Wilson Jr. is a fan favorite due to the fact every time he touches the ball it seems to be for a touchdown. But, as I said earlier I don’t think he’ll be suited up on game days. If he is, keep an eye out for him in fantasy as what we call a “touchdown vulture”. He runs tough and has shown the ability to catch the ball. One of Jamycal Hasty or Slavon Ahmed has a chance to make the team if the organization decides to move on from one of the aforementioned running backs. Both seem to be Shanahan’s type of runner, but with little to no preseason, it’s impossible to count on them for anything. Finally, there’s Kyle Jusczczyk, the best fullback in the league. Hell of a player, but not a fantasy option. All love though Juice. 

Wide Receivers

Deebo Samuel

I’ll just come out and say that his foot injury scares the crap out of me. He’s very confident that he will be on field week 1, but that will be tough to accomplish. However, since it’s so far out for the sake of this preview I will assume he’s good to go against the Cardinals on September 13th. 71% of his yards came after week 7, where he began to have a more prominent role in the offense across from Emmanuel Sanders. Now that Sanders is gone, Deebo is WR1 and also good for a few carries a game as well. Of his 159 rushing yards last year, 122 yards came in the last five games (13.5 yards per carry), as did two of his three rushing touchdowns.  He’s the perfect dynamic playmaker that Shanahan loves to work with and wants to feature in his offense every week. If he gets off to a slow start this season, do not get rid of him! We don’t know how he will look after the foot injury and it shouldn’t shock anyone if he is a bit slow out of the gate. Also, despite him taking the role as the top receiver on the team, that doesn’t mean he’s the team’s first option. That is and will likely continue to be Kittle for the foreseeable future. The 49ers do only face three of the top ten passing defenses from a season ago and do have six games against teams that were in the bottom ten of passing defenses. As I stated earlier, I think Jimmy G will get better and that helps Deebo. I don’t think you should rely on him as your top receiver or even your second receiver, but he’s a very strong flex option. 

Kendrick Bourne

Now I actually believe that Kendrick Bourne could be a decent sleeper option. He knows the offense, he’s healthy, and he gets red zone targets. With seemingly half of the receiving corps coming off of injuries and the other half being unproven, Bourne is a steady and safe option for Shanahan to trust. He did have four drops last year, which as a fan was incredibly frustrating at times, but he has yet to lose his spot on the lineup. Over the past two seasons, he has 9 touchdowns on 72 catches (12.5%) and this is where his true value lies. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a high volume guy, but he’s a machine on the slant route from about the six or seven-yard line where he and Jimmy have that timing down to a T. No chance I drafting him, but I think come week one he’s starting and if can perform well early, no chance he will lose playing time. He doesn’t have the skill of Dante Pettis or the quickness of Trent Taylor, but he works his ass off and stays healthy.  

Brandon Aiyuk 

By the midway point of the season (if not sooner) Aiyuk will be starting across from Deebo Samuel as the 49ers starting receiver. Put that in sharpie, it’s happening folks. He plays very similarly to Deebo in the sense they have tons of YAC potential, but Aiyuk was a much better deep play receiver in college. He will be used a lot in motion so that will grant him a free release at the line and since the team lacks a true deep-threat, I anticipate Aiyuk becoming that. He might not light it up for the first few games, but it took half the season for Samuel to get consistent playing time. Shanahan says the Aiyuk was his favorite receiver in the entire draft and an innovative player-caller like Shanahan wouldn’t say that if he didn’t have big plans for the youngster from Arizona State. He will get I suspect most of the targets that went to Emmanuel Sanders, who saw about six targets a game. I wouldn’t draft him, but he’s a guy you’ll want to keep an eye on once bye weeks start. 

Others

Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd are two very intriguing options here that I’ll keep a close eye on as training camp starts. Taylor and Jimmy were a great connection down the stretch in 2017 and Taylor was the guy getting a lot of looks on third down. Then a back injury in 2018 slowed him down, with the foot injury in 2019 costing him the whole season. In training camp last year, reporters were calling him the team’s best receiver and seemed destined to have a breakout campaign. I have no doubt if he can stay healthy that he will be the team’s main slot receiver, but you just can’t trust him to play a full season. Hurd became a fan favorite during the 2019 preseason and had all of us salivating at the fact the 49ers finally had a physical receiver that could go up and get the football. But, just like Taylor, an injury cost him his whole season. If he’s healthy, he’ll be used in a variety of ways and line up at multiple positions. Might not be worthy of a fantasy roster spot, but will have an impact on this team. Then you have Dante Pettis, Richie James Jr, Travis Benjamin, and JaJuan Jennings all fighting for probably two rosters spots. I personally think James Jr and Jennings will be the ones who make the roster, but neither would get consideration for legitimate playing time. 


Tight Ends
George Kittle

We all know that the People’s Tight End is one of the baddest MOFO’s in the league. He’s the best tight end in the league and will become a very rich man in the near future. In 2019, despite missing two games, Kittle finished second in fantasy points for a tight end and first in points per game with 15.9 (according to ESPN). He accounted for 22% of the team’s targets, which should increase if he can play a full season and due to the loss of Emmanuel Sanders. One area of slight concern is the lack of touchdowns, logging five in each of the last two seasons. Despite this, he is the fourth most targeted tight end in the red zone meaning that the opportunities are there, he just needs to find a way into the end zone. The 49ers are a run-first team and ran the ball the second-most in the league in 2019, but it honestly helps Kittle. He’s very dangerous in play-action where teams have to respect his value as a blocker. Countless times the team will call play-action and Jimmy will look for Kittle in the flat where he will have room to run. He has the most YAC yards in the league since 2018, so it’s tough to imagine any handcuff that would stunt Kittle’s fantasy years besides an injury. And oh yea if it’s not clear already, #PayGeorgeKittle

Others

Ross Dwelley did have a two touchdown game and has some fans on Twitter, but he’s not a fantasy option. Charlie Woerner will be used as a blocker and has close to zero fantasy value. The train starts and stops with Kittle. 

49ers defense/special teams

The team returns every starter but one from the third-ranked fantasy defense in 2019. Losing Deforest Buckner is a massive loss, but this defensive line should still be able to get pressure at will. Nick Bosa figures to be a contender for DPOY and if Arik Armstead can replicate his ten sack total from last year, it’ll be tough for any quarterback to throw on them. The key to the defensive line I believe is Dee Ford. If he can stay somewhat healthy, they will once again be the number one pass defense in the league. They do have five games against top ten scoring offenses from a year ago, but it balances out nicely with the four games against bottom ten scoring defenses from last year. The only two teams in my opinion that this team struggled against in 2019 were the Saints and Cardinals, who they’ll play this upcoming season as well. The Saints game was a shootout that saw 94 points scored between the two teams, but I am a little more worried about the Cardinals. They had trouble trying to slow down Kyler Murray and his running ability and they only got better with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. Still not enough to be overly concerned as this defense is loaded with young talent, but just something to keep in mind if you draft them. In terms of the special teams portion, you’re probably not going to get too much value. That’s just how the game is nowadays with kickoff returns happening less frequently and punters keeping the ball away from elite returners. 

Robbie Gould

The opportunities will be there for Gould, but will he capitalize. After missing three attempts in his first two years with the 49ers, Gould missed eight in 2019. Despite this, Shanahan still trusted him enough to have 31 attempts in 13 games. With 41 and 34 attempts the previous 

Years, you can almost guarantee that he’ll have more than 30 attempts, where he is only one of four kickers to have that many attempts in every season since 2017. That’s value right there. I optimistically hope he can connect with 90% of his kicks as he did in 2017 and 2018, but even if he hovers around the 80% range, based on his attempts alone he’ll be towards the top in most made in 2020. Here’s one interesting stat I noticed just recently: when long snapper Kyle Nelson returned from his suspension week 8 against the Panthers, Gould went 18-19 the rest of the season including the playoffs. I’m not going to lie and say I’m some sort of kicking expert but that’s an encouraging sign I feel like for Gould’s 2020 campaign.

And just for fun, I did my first prediction for the 53 man roster. I actually feel relatively confident in this list, which means that the final roster will look nothing like this list.

Roster

QB (2)

Jimmy Garroppolo 

Nick Mullens


RB (5)

Raheem Mostert

Tevin Coleman

Jerrick McKinnon

Jeff Wilson Jr

Kyle Juszczyk

WR (7)

Deebo Samuel

Kendrick Bourne

Brandon Aiyuk

Trent Taylor

Jalen Hurd

Richie James

JaJuan Jennings

Dante Pettis

TE (3)

George Kittle

Ross Dwelley

Charlie Woerner

OL (9)

Trent Williams

Mike McGlinchey

Daniel Brunskill

Laken Tomlinson

Weston Richburg

Colton McKivitz

Ben Garland

Justin Skule

Shon Coleman

DL (9)

Nick Bosa

Arik Armstead

Dee Ford

D.J. Jones

Javon Kinlaw

Solomon Thomas 

Kerry Hyder, Jr. 

Julian Taylor 

Ronald Blair

Kevin Givens


LB (5)

Fred Warner

Dre Greenlaw

Kwon Alexander

Azeez Al-Shaair

Joe Walker

DB (10)

Richard Sherman

Jimmie Ward

Jaquiski Tartt

Ahkello Witherspoon

Emmanuel Moseley

Marcell Harris

Tarvarious Moore

K’Waun Williams

Tim Harris

Jamar Taylor

Specialists (3)

Robbie Gould 

Mitch Wishnowsky

Kyle Nelson

PUP

D.J. Reed

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Jevon Holland: No Fly Zone

Jevon Holland might not be the big name right now for the 2021 NFL Draft, but he’s one of the best defensive playmakers in the class. He lines up in a variety of positions in the defensive backfield and makes plays no matter where he’s at. Coming from athletic powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California, Holland made an impact off the bat as a freshman with five interceptions. Then, he moved into an even bigger role starting at safety and in the slot and was named a Thorpe Award semi-finalist (nations best defensive back). He figures to once again be key in the Ducks back end, where he looks to add to the nine interceptions he’s totaled so far in his career.

Positives

Ballhawk

Holland currently sits tied for third on the FBS active interception list with nine, showing that he’s one of the best in the nation at taking the ball away from opposing quarterbacks. Sometimes he benefits from poor throws from quarterbacks and other times he has lock down coverage, either way, he’s taking advantage of the situation. The joke thrown around about defensive backs is that the reason that they are playing there instead of at receiver is that they can’t catch. A dropped interception is a huge wasted opportunity, so when a defensive back like Holland can come down with the ball then it has to be seen as a huge advantage for the defense. Also, being a ball hawk means that you are typically a high IQ player. You know when to turn your head around and locate the football, something that many defensive backs struggle with.

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Solid Tackler

In order to be a good safety (or even slot corner for that matter), you have to be a physical tackler. Holland displays excellent tackling ability. Whether he’s meeting a running back in the hole or making an open-field tackle on the edge, he displays the toughness that most defensive backs just simply don’t have. This will bode well for whatever position he plays (more on that later) as he can be used as a chess piece and not be seen as a liability in coverage or against the run.

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Versatile

Whether he lines up in the slot, at safety, or even as a punt returner, Holland excels. I think his best position in the NFL will be at safety, which will allow him to then come down and guard the slot when the offense goes with three receivers. He may not be as dynamic as Tyrann Mathieu, but he can do a lot of the same things. They’re both football players and no matter what you ask them to do, they’ll do well. I’m not sure if he’ll be a punt returner at the next level, but he did average 15.2 yards per return, which was sixth-best in FBS last year.

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Negatives

Can get flat-footed in coverage

There were a few times that I noticed that Holland could get flat-footed in coverage. He particularly struggled with double moves and could get beat deep. It seems to be a problem of trying to sit or jump on comeback or dig routes before the receiver sprints right bast him as Holland has his eyes on the quarterback. You take the good and the bad with an aggressive defensive back and in a unique defense like Oregon runs, you’re not going to get much help deep if you’re the slot corner. I do believe he has the coverage skills to guard the slot in the NFL, so he’ll need to clean up some footwork to stop this from being a repetitive issue. If an offensive coordinator sees this, they’ll continue to exploit it over and over again.

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Where does he play?

He plays mostly in the slot but projects best at safety. So, one would figure there might be a learning curve for him if a team wants him to become a full-time safety. It’s tough to call this a negative in his game, but something to keep note of. I think another comparison for him would be 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward. Ward started as a nickel corner early in his career before moving full time to free safety. While he can play center field, I think that would be a disservice to his skill set.

Conclusion

While he isn’t getting the buzz he deserves, Holland figures to be a mid to late first-round pick in the 2021 draft. He’s a steady tackler and a strong cover guy meaning that no matter where he plays, he’ll do well. The slot corner position is one of the more challenging positions in the game and the fact that he has experience there is a plus. Versatility is a coach’s dream and Holland is going to make one organization very happy.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Is Derek Carr a Game Manager or Does he Have Untapped Potential?

Since Jon Gruden has come back to the Raiders for his second stint as the head coach, Derek Carr’s completion percentage has shot up 8% where he’s now completing 70% of his passes. Questions have popped up about whether he’s the right fit for Gruden’s offense or if the Raiders will soon move on from the quarterback. While Carr may have some issues, it’s also important to understand the context within which he’s playing. Often criticized for his lack of shots downfield, Carr is actually one of the most accurate deep throwers in the NFL. Since 2016, Carr is the 3rd most accurate in deep passes for targets 20+ yards downfield. Throwing the deep ball isn’t so much the issue as is the frequency with which he throws it. As his career has gone on, his intended air yards has steadily decreased year after year. But is this by design and a manifestation of the personnel and scheme or is Carr simply not a gambler and more comfortable managing the game through checkdowns?

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

USATSI

Gruden’s offense emphasizes ball control, a strong run game, high percentage throws, and getting positive yardage on every play with the occasional shot downfield. Derek Carr executes the underneath game incredibly well. He reads quickly and efficiently and can make accurate throws. It’s not the most exciting, but it is effective. The Raiders ranked 7th in the league in time of possession and when you have a defense that isn’t complete, holding onto the ball minimizes the possessions of the opponent and gives you a better chance to win.

These rhythm and short and intermediate throws are where Carr is at his best. He can drive the ball, shows good understanding of zone space, and can read decisively and efficiently. He understands how to move defenders with his eyes and where that will open up space on his next read. He is especially good at throwing short posts or post sits into zone coverage. He’s patient enough to let defenders flow away from the area he needs to throw to and has the arm strength and touch to fit the ball into tight windows. You see his eyes manipulate safeties to open up areas and he very rarely throws his receivers into trouble – throwing back hip to slow them down or making them settle into a hole.

These are the main things that Carr was asked to do in the Raiders offense this last year. That being said, he did have some issues.

If you’re going to roll with the possession passing, you’ve got to be accurate. Short passes obviously help that cause and lead to Carr’s 70.4% completion percentage in 2019. However, while the Raiders receivers definitely struggled with drops throughout the year, Carr was also inconsistent with his ball placement underneath at times which prevented yards after catch potential.

He has a big issue with pointing his toe and leaving his leg on his throwing motion which limits his hip rotation and ends up causing him to throw behind receivers. Whether it’s a slant or a quick out, these kinds of throws pop up a few times a game and when you’re throwing to running backs or trying to push an offense that needs yards after catch, that’s a big issue. Without bringing his hips all the way around and using his leg to follow through, he gets a lot of horizontal inaccuracy. From a mechanics standpoint, you want to point your toe where the receiver will be and fight to get your hips pointed in that same direction after your follow through. This allows you to generate consistent power and accuracy that stems from your lower body and leads to more consistent throws.

When faced with pressure, Carr often quickly goes straight from his deep read to a checkdown in the flats or underneath instead of progressively going through his intermediate routes down to his outlets. As we talked about earlier, he can throw the deep ball perfectly fine, he just doesn’t throw it often. Instead of going from the post to the curl here, he moves directly to the flare by the running back for a loss of yardage.

Here he misses the dig in the middle of the field once pressure starts to get near him and throws the checkdown underneath. These passes might steadily move the ball but it’s really hard to march down the field 5 yards at a time in the NFL. The Broncos here are running cover 4. As the linebacker responsible for the flat leaves with the running back, that opens a huge space for the dig over the middle. Carr is experiencing a collapsing pocket but there’s a lack of anticipation here which happens frequently when he’s under duress.

Here the Jaguars bring a ton of pressure which means you have man coverage outside. As soon as pressure appears, Carr immediately dumps the ball off to his running back for a loss of yards. If he read the linebacker running to cover the running back and climbed the pocket, he would have seen his receiver wide open on the crosser.

So, he has some faults with anticipation when under pressure but from a pure passing standpoint he has the tools. His mechanics are largely clean aside from his occasional lack of follow through. His base can get a little tight and he can get jittery and bouncy in the pocket but it largely doesn’t impact his deep ball accuracy. He shows really good touch on balls down the field and lets receivers use their already established leverage. He puts good arc on the ball so it’s easier to track, and allows for yards after the catch.

All-in-all, Derek Carr is running what Gruden is asking of him and running it well. The Raiders controlled the ball, were in a number of close games, and were competitive late into the year. Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow emerged as legitimate weapons and Josh Jacobs was an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Now throw in the addition of Henry Ruggs and some true speed on that offense and the Raiders are going to have the most talented skill positions that Carr has had to date. Carr can push the ball downfield and I fully expect to see more shots with the talent the Raiders have. It’s time to open things up in Vegas. Gruden likes to dial it up a couple times a game, and now the personnel match the look of a more explosive and exciting offense that’s ready to challenge for a playoff spot in 2020.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on YouTube for video breakdowns and Instagram@weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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Dylan Moses: The Prodigal Son

The 2016 Parade Magazine National High School Player of the Year had high expectations coming into Tuscaloosa. His high school highlight reel has amassed millions of views and he was offered a scholarship by LSU and Alabama in the eighth grade. That’s quite the legacy to live up too. However, as a sophomore in 2018, he was named a Butkus Award (nation’s best linebacker) finalist and seemed primed to break out as an All-American in 2019. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL just days before the season. In an unexpected twist, Moses announced he was returning for his senior season and becomes the leader on what should be a very good Alabama defense. He was likely to be a late first-rounder in 2020 but hopes to push his stock into the top half of the 2021 first round while also trying to lead the Crimson Tide to a National Championship.

Positives

Tackling Machine

It’s such a simple part of the game, but all good defenses are ones that don’t miss tackles. Moses is a very physical player when meeting a running back in the hole and rarely gives up any ground. Even though he isn’t the biggest linebacker, he will stick his nose in there and not give an inch. He is also known to the lay the wood and come up with a huge hit. Those kinds of plays and that attitude can totally change the landscape and momentum of a game. He makes it known that when you try to go up against him one on one, you will lose and you will wake up with a few extra aches and pains in the morning.

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Athleticism

When he reads the play correctly, he can explode like an elite linebacker. He almost moves like a running back at times. He’s very quick and can also cut on a dime. Now there is some concern about him keeping his speed after his knee injury, but by all reports, he has recovered exceptionally well. In a league where mobile quarterbacks are succeeding more than ever, a linebacker like Moses is a perfect chess piece to counteract that. Use him as a “spy” on defense and he’ll be able to run down almost any player. He would be best utilized as a weak side 4-3 linebacker where he won’t be tangled up with big blockers in front of him and instead have the necessary space to roam and move fluidly.

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Versatile Player

In the Crimson Tide hybrid 3-4 defense, Moses lines up everywhere. He starts at middle linebacker, but plays a lot on the weak side, where he projects best at the pro level. He’ll even line up on the edge and will rush the quarterback from time to time. He is very comfortable and successful blitzing from any spot. There are also moments where he is lined up over a slot receiver (usually a tight end) and will do a good enough job of holding down that position. He might not be elite in pass coverage at this point, but has the tools needed to get to that level.

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Negatives

Slow to disengage from blocks

Moses might play strong when going against ball carriers but looks overmatched at moments against linemen or tight ends. He can get rag-dolled from time to time and be totally taken out of the play. He needs to do a better job of maintaining a lower pad level and using his quickness to break free of blockers. This is the main reason why I think he will be best suited on the weak side as he will not have to deal with blockers as often if he lined up in the middle. Hopefully, he used this rehab process to try and gain some more functional strength so that he will be able to play more physical against bigger opponents.

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Putting it all together

For as athletically gifted as Moses is, he has some moments where I’m thinking “what in the hell is he doing?”. Whether it’s a misread or he’s just pushed around, he’s more athlete than football player right now. Of course, when we last saw him play it was during the 2018-2019 season where he was a sophomore, so it’s possible that he has gotten stronger and increased his football IQ. This isn’t a huge issue in my eyes, but some teams won’t like him if he doesn’t show signs of progression.

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Conclusion

Moses is going to be a starter in the NFL. I have little doubt about that, but will he reach his potential of being an elite linebacker? I’m optimistic but would love to see him put it all together before getting to the league. He should be a first-rounder based on traits alone (assuming he is back to full health), but how high will be dependent on correcting his flaws.

Check other break downs here:

Trevor Lawrence

Justin Fields

Ja’Marr Chase

Trey Lance

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

Micah Parsons: A Monster In the Middle

Micah Parsons came to Penn State as one of the highest-rated recruits in program history and has lived up to the hype so far. While he didn’t technically start as a freshman, he led the team in tackles in 2018 and then followed that up with becoming an All-American as a sophomore. He has the desired frame and rare athleticism that puts him in the mold of former first-round picks Isaiah Simmons and Tremaine Edmunds. There’s really nothing that he can’t do and the more comfortable he gets playing the linebacker position, the better he will get.

Strengths

Athleticism

Simply put, he’s an athletic freak. For someone his size at linebacker, he’s incredibly quick and agile which makes him tough to block. If you try to use a tight end to block him, he’s going to get around him with ease. Then, he has too much speed for offensive linemen to get their hands on him. Not much an offensive coordinator can do to scheme around that. When he gets going downhill and with a full head of steam, it looks like he is shot from a cannon. The first-step agility that he possesses is extremely rare for his position and he claims to run a 4.4 40 time, which I totally believe. He has a pro-ready frame at 6-3, 245 pounds which means he can line up at almost any linebacker position and be a mismatch. Athletically, he compares very similarly to former Clemson and current Cardinals linebacker, Isaiah Simmons, who many called a generational athletic specimen. Those who drooled over Simmons will be feeling that same way about Parsons.

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Pass Rush Ability

Usually middle linebackers aren’t known to be skilled pass rushers. However, as you can tell, Parsons isn’t like most linebackers. He gets off so quickly that if the offensive lineman doesn’t realize he’s blitzing, Parsons is in the backfield before they know it. While he doesn’t have a signature pass-rush move, he does a great job of using his quickness to his advantage. He’ll fake one way and then quickly wiggle past the much slower offensive lineman (usually the guard) to get into the backfield. As a versatile linebacker, no matter where he lines up, he will be able to blitz at an effective rate. I personally think he would fit best as a 4-3 MIKE or WILL, which is essentially what he is now. As he attacks the A or B gap, he has the vision and elusiveness to work around much slower opponents.

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Sideline to Sideline tracking

An incredibly underrated part of any defenders game is their ability to take proper angles to the ball. It’s especially important for linebackers in order to track down ball carriers and this skill can work well for a player who doesn’t have elite speed. Luckily for Parsons, he does have that quickness and speed which allows him to move sideline to sideline. It’s important to not only work hard, but to also work smart and with instinct. Parsons just has the natural feel and nose for the ball that many all-time greats at linebacker have.

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Run Defense

This has already been explained in his previous strengths, but I thought his run defense abilities should get some extra attention. Right now, his ability to stop the run is much better than his ability against the pass (0 career interceptions). He has a nose for the ball and does an exceptional job of getting past blockers and into the backfield. It’s almost comical to see a tight end or a receiver try to block him because it’s so evident that there’s just no way they can stop him.

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Weaknesses

Slow to Diagnose/Misreads

Parsons almost plays like he knows he’s better than everyone else, which will cause him to get fooled sometimes. He plays so aggressive that he can overrun a play or be out of place during an RPO. Yes, I know RPO’s are meant to make the defense wrong no matter what and in particular attacks the linebackers, but it’s too often that he’s out of place or a step too slow. At the college level, it does not backfire too often, but in the NFL where teams run it a lot more effectively, he will have to get better at diagnosing plays. The more snaps and practice he gets, the better he’ll get. But, until that happens it has to be a concern. Also, there will be moments where he gets too far upfield and lets the running back get by. This didn’t happen too often but popped up enough to raise some eyebrows. He will have to control his game and be more disciplined.

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Pad Level High

Everyone knows that pad level is key in football. Parsons too often will be upright and not gain leverage against bigger opponents while just trying to use his quickness. This works more often than not but if he played with this same quickness combined with a better pad level, I’m not sure anyone would be able to stop him. This is a very coachable issue and I don’t forsee it as a major problem in his future.

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Conclusion

Many believe the linebacker position is dying due to the fact that the league is more pass-oriented than ever. However, the NFL is a copy-cat league and as more quarterbacks become mobile, the running game is sure to make a comeback. Because of this, finding players like Parsons who can do just about everything at a high-level is of the utmost importance. I think he can play middle linebacker in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense or weakside linebacker in a 4-3. This versatility has to make him a surefire top-ten pick in the 2021 draft.

Check other scouting reports here:

Trevor Lawrence

Justin Fields

Ja’Marr Chase

Trey Lance

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Why Calvin Ridley Could Have a Better Year Than Julio Jones

Before going down in week 14 with an abdominal injury, Calvin Ridley was averaging 13.7 yards per reception, had 7 targets a game, and was torching corners left and right. While often overshadowed by receiving mate Julio Jones, Ridley is quietly developing into a premier talent at receiver. He has incredibly polished routes, good burst and open field speed, long strides that help him eat up ground, and when defenses focus on Julio Jones he can make them pay. He can struggle with physical corners and press man at times but if you give him space or a clean release he is insanely tough to guard in the open field. He has great speed cuts, can snap off routes, and attacks the ball in the air. The Falcons feel like the forgotten team in the NFC South with the arrival of Tom Brady in Tampa Bay but if you sleep on Calvin Ridley, you’re going to get burned.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

https://rolltidewire.usatoday.com/2020/02/05/will-2020-be-calvin-ridley-breakout-season/

Ridley’s speed allows everything to work. He looks incredibly fast on film. His speed allows him to threaten deep and then snap routes off, speed cut, and create separation to set up comebacks, curls, and digs. Speed is the greatest fear of every defense. The threat of the big play is powerful in any offense and the Falcons have two guys in Julio and Ridley that can take the top off the defense.

Ridley’s speed cuts are out of this world. As we saw, he has the speed to threaten defensive backs deep and make them turn their hips. He can then combine that with rolling into his cuts on deep digs or outs. The speed cut allows him to maintain speed and get to his landmark while the defensive back has to plant and change direction. It creates a ton of separation and opens big windows for Matt Ryan to throw into.

The physical tools pop out on film but what’s really impressive is his route technique. He shows excellent understanding of how to manipulate defenders, get them to turn their hips, and create separation for himself using not only his athleticism, but his mind and game-sense as well.

His most effective technique is to stem defenders the opposite way of his intended route. They have to respect his speed and turn their hips to run with him. As soon as they do, Ridley plants and shows great burst and explosion back the other way. It sounds simple but takes good athleticism, an understanding of the coverage, and shows he has a plan of attack every time he steps up to the line of scrimmage.

Attacking the leverage of the defender is a powerful tool. The shade of the corner indicates the area that they don’t want you to be able to access. So if they’re shading with inside leverage or they’re lined up directly in front of the receiver, they likely want to protect their inside space. So as a receiver, if you threaten that inside space and give them a move to the inside, they’re going to jump to protect it. When a defender is in man coverage, they want to widen the receiver to the sideline so that they minimize the space you have to work with. Ridley consistently does this and with impressive effectiveness. He stems inside like he’s running a slant forcing the corner to attack. He then releases back outside and is wide open down the sideline.

Here he stems to the outside to make the corner turn his hips to the sideline before breaking back inside on the slant.

These kind of examples are everywhere. Whether the defensive back is in press or not. He threatens their leverage and then attacks the space they vacate.

Here again he does a really good job of widening his stem outside away from where he will break. He uses good eye discipline and locks in like he’s running a seam or a deep corner to the side of the rollout. The safety reads that, sees the rollout, and when he starts to move over, Ridley plants to go to a post in the area the safety vacated.

From the slot he’ll push his stem away from his route-side space and create separation for himself as you can see here. The defender moves in with him before Ridley releases back outside and works to stack on top of the defender. If you can stack directly on top of the defender with the DB in a trail position, you have a ton of power as a receiver. The corner doesn’t know which way you’re going, can’t get hands on you, and you have leverage for any ball over the top.

Here’s another example of Ridley working a side hop to widen the DB and create space for an inside release. Once he takes that inside release, though, he knows he has to stack back on top of the corner. If he stays inside, the safety is going to be there to make the play so he widens, works inside, and then fights hard with his speed to get back on top of the defender and create space for the throw.

If there’s one thing Ridley can struggle with, it’s physical corners or his hand usage when defenders get their hands on him. He can get re-routed at times or struggle to remove the hands of defenders – especially later into routes.

Instead of using his hands, he tries to create body lean to get leverage to separate at the top of his route. As a result, he gets washed into the linebacker and thrown off his route.  By using this technique, he doesn’t use his physical tools to their full potential. In this scenario he’s in a strength fight with a DB rather than a race. This slows down the timing of his route and while he may get separation eventually, often it’s too late in the timeline of the play.

Calvin Ridley has the route knowledge and physical tools to be a #1 receiver on almost any other team. His understanding of how to manipulate defenders is impressive for only a 2nd year player going into his third season. He has lethal speed that can threaten teams deep, has speed cuts that create separation, and has the mental game to exploit the position of defenders. With Julio on the field Ridley can dominate CB2s and easily creates consistent separation for himself on all route types. He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, attacks the ball in the air, and shows everything you’d hope for in a first round receiver talent. You can buy into the hype of the Saints and the Bucs all you want, but there’s a snake creeping along in the NFC South and if you don’t pay attention to the Falcons, they’re entirely capable of stealing the division crown. The Falcons are far from a rebuild or reload. They’re ready right now and Calvin Ridley can put them over the top.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on YouTube for video breakdowns and Instagram@weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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Old Faces In New Places

David Johnson, HOU

David Johnson has channeled his inner Shawn Michaels and become the heartbreak kid for the past three years for fantasy owners. In 2017, he was the number one overall player on most pre-draft boards then got injured in the first game and that was all she wrote. Back to back disappointing seasons in 2018 and 2019, he now sees himself in Houston as their presumed lead back. Is this the year Johnson finally gets back on track or will he just disappoint again? I’m willing to bet he has a solid year in a Houston offense that, despite having marginal talent the past few years, has seen some decent seasons from running backs. Duke Johnson, RB2 on the Texans, has only had over a hundred carries once in his career and is mostly used as a pass catcher. Therefore Johnson is going to see a large number of the team’s carries. He also has had some nice moments as a receiver and with the loss of DeAndre Hopkins and his 150 targets, Deshaun Watson is going to have to spread the ball around. During his one great season, 2016, Johnson led all running backs in receptions and receiving yards. I doubt Johnson will ever reach elite status as he did before the 2017 season, but if Carlos Hyde can rush for over 1000 yards with the Texans, I’m ready to assume Johnson can get there as well.

Teddy Bridgewater, CAR

Teddy Bridgewater is a good quarterback, but not an ideal fantasy target. In Minnesota, he finished in the 20’s every season in fantasy points, and even in the five-game stretch a season ago with the Saints he finished 19th during that period in scoring for quarterbacks. He’s an accurate thrower and relies on quick throws to be effective. In fact, outside of the two Steelers backup quarterbacks from last year, no one threw fewer air yards on completions than Bridgewater. He is surrounded by studs like Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson, but as we all know the team is dependent on McCaffrey. They’re going to feed him the ball any chance they get and most likely will put a big dent in Bridgewater’s fantasy total, particularly touchdowns. Bridgewater’s floor is high, but he’s not going to be your QB1 unless something crazy happens. A concerning part of the Panthers offense is that they allowed 43 sacks in 2019 and that was with mobile quarterbacks in Kyle Allen and Cam Newton. Bridgewater can help alleviate those issues with his short passing game but in the meantime, I’m passing on him until I see how this offense operates under new offensive coordinator Joe Brady. 

Phillip Rivers, IND

I like Rivers in Indianapolis and think he’s going to do wonders for this team. That doesn’t mean I’m too high on him in fantasy. The Colts have a dynamic 1-2 punch at running back in Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor and will rely on Rivers to be a game manager. Rivers offers no running ability and is coming off of a season where he threw almost as many interceptions as touchdowns. He was seventh in the league in pass attempts in 2019 and there’s a tiny chance that happens again as he’s most likely going to finish outside of the top half in that category. Besides T.Y. Hilton, the Colts don’t have much experience at receiver and with an unconventional offseason, it could take a few weeks into the season for the passing offense to get in a rhythm. His offensive line is going to be much better in Indianapolis, but the Chargers are a much deeper unit in terms of skill position targets. He’ll be at his best in the short area of the field, getting the ball out quickly. Hilton and Parris Campbell are deep threats, but Rivers finished well below average in throws over 20 yards. I think ultimately Rivers will improve substantially in completion percentage, but see a dip in just about every other statistical category as he becomes a complementary piece rather than the star as he enters his 17th season in the league. 

Matt Breida, MIA

Breida escapes a situation in San Francisco where he was battling two or three guys for touches. Now in Miami, he’s really only battling Jordan Howard. One of the more underrated speedsters in the league, Breida has a 5 yards per carry average for his career and has the potential to increase his catch total with his new situation. While he doesn’t get mention with being one of the fastest players in the league, he had the fastest top speed (22.3 mph) recorded over the past few years and was a home run threat anytime he touched the ball. Jordan Howard has seen his targets and catches decrease every season as he’s been delegated as a pure ball-carrier, opening a big opportunity in Miami. Breida can sneak into that receiving back role due to his quickness and steady hands (only one career drop). There is one big knock against Breida and that is his lack of touchdowns. He only has 10 total touchdowns in his three seasons compared to Howard who has 32 (30 rushing) in his four seasons in the league. Breida will never be mistaken for a bell-cow back, but does well in the opportunities he gets. I do worry slightly about his injury history as it always seems that he’s battling some sort of ailment, particularly in his lower body. Despite this, I think Breida is RB1 in terms of fantasy for Miami and should hover around his career average of 630 yards rushing, but has the upside to double his reception total from last year.


Emmanuel Sanders, NO

Good news for Sanders: He’s not going to be the focal point of opposing teams defenses with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara as his teammates. Bad news for Sanders: He’s not going to be the focal point of the Saints offense with Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara as his teammates. Sanders slides in nicely as a solid second receiver with the Saints and proved last year with Denver and San Francisco that he still has some juice in him. I wouldn’t anticipate a huge drop in receiving yards (869 in 2019), but I don’t think he gets more than that either. Luckily, the Saints are a high scoring offense and Sanders will have his chances to score. He won’t set the league on fire, but I think it’s realistic he’ll get between 5 to 8 touchdowns. If TreQuan Smith can score on 27% of his receptions, I want to believe that a savvy vet like Sanders can carve out a nice role in New Orleans. I wouldn’t count on him to be a starter for your team, but his high floor makes him draftable as your WR3/4. 

Rob Gronkowski, TB

Let’s be honest, nobody has any idea how Gronk is going to look this season. The last time we saw him play, he was a shell of his former self, but still a dominant run-blocker and made a huge catch in the Super Bowl. His injury past is so long that the doctor has an entire drawer dedicated to him, but after taking a season off, in theory he should be as healthy as he’s been in years. Ultimately, he’s one of the best tight ends of all time and the duo of him and Brady have connected for 79 touchdowns, which is the fifth most for a quarterback-receiver combination. While Arians has never heavily incorporated tight ends into his offense, Brady has a long history of targeting that position and one has to think that the offense will adjust to Brady’s strengths. I believe he’s firmly entrenched as the Buccaneers third receiving option after Godwin and Evans and will be Brady’s go-to guy in the red zone. All things being said, with as deep as the tight end group is this year in fantasy, I’m going to say Gronk finishes between TE 7-11 this year. He’ll be a valuable piece in this new-look offense, but with two stud receivers getting most of the looks and an older version of the former WWE superstar future hall of famer, I’m not expecting huge stats this season.  

Austin Hooper, CLE

This offseason, Hooper cashed in big time and is now the second-highest paid tight end in the league. As he goes from one high-octane offense in Atlanta, he joins another in Cleveland littered with big names which I think lowers the ceiling on his fantasy value. He’s a skilled receiver and has seen his yardage increase every season of his career. He was the sixth-highest scoring tight end in fantasy in 2019 despite missing three games. While he’s had to contend with Julio Jones for catches in the past, he has to fend off an even deeper group in Cleveland as it includes two good running backs and another solid tight end with David Njoku. Luckily, Hooper has a high catch rate (78%) and had all six of his touchdowns from 2019 taking place in the red zone (five coming within the ten-yard line). He will more than likely see similar production this year as he did in 2019 which makes him a solid fantasy option. However, as I’ve mentioned previously the tight end fantasy group this year is really solid so just make sure not to reach on any of them. It’s possible what was good for sixth overall for tight ends last season might be fringe top ten this season.

Cam Newton, NE

While I won’t consider Newton to be a lock for the starting quarterback job, I do believe it would take an injury or unforeseen circumstance for him not to be the starter. ESPN predicts a rather mediocre 17 touchdowns, 10 interception season with him adding 358 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. While these numbers may seem low for a player of Newton’s caliber, I actually think this is a good prediction because we don’t know how he’s going to hold up coming off of two major surgeries. He’s never been an accurate thrower of the football and his supporting cast is average but he can still be a scoring machine. Not including last season where he only played in two games, he averaged 7 rushing touchdowns a season. Meaning that while he may not have the speed he once did, he still has the size and the tough running ability to punch it in at the goal line. One advantage that Josh McDaniels’s offense could have for Newton is the short passing game. Newton had his best year in terms of passing percentage in 2018 at 67% yet had an average completed air yards of just 5 yards, tied for tenth shortest. Just two years earlier, he averaged 8.3 air yards on completed passes (second highest in the league), but only completed 52% of his passes. It’s obvious that at this point in his career, he’s not going to be able to successfully push the ball down the field but can get the ball out quickly and to the right receiver. I think the team will use Newton as more of a game manager that will result in more wins, but not necessarily a huge fantasy season. He’s a good buy-low option based on his running ability and an ideal situation in New England.

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Trey Lance: The Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of

Unless you’re a die-hard college football or NFL draft fan, you’ve never heard of Trey Lance. Hell, I had not heard of him until this past April. He plays at FCS (also known as 1-AA) powerhouse North Dakota State who were the FCS champions in 2019. Lance lead the Bison to an undefeated season as a redshirt freshman and was the first freshman to win the Walter Payton Award (1-AA most outstanding offensive player, their version of the Heisman essentially). Lance was a three-star recruit out of high school and did have D1 offers from schools like Boise State and Western Michigan, but went to North Dakota State in the hopes to be a champion. With a rare blend of strength and speed, he reminds me athletically of Josh Allen and Cam Newton. While there’s still a lot to be developed in his game, there’s legit hype around Lance and based on traits alone, he’s going to hear his name early whenever he decides to declare for the draft.

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Trevor Lawrence Breakdown

STRENGTHS

Running Ability

I don’t know what his 40 time is, but Lance is quick. Very quick. If you allow him to get out on the edge, he’s more than likely going to outrun any linebacker and many defensive backs. He has great vision for a quarterback which allows him to find running lanes and follow his blockers. At 6-3, 220 lbs, he’s not afraid to throw his weight around and run through defenders. This is a reason why he reminds me of Cam Newton or Josh Allen. While he’s a little bit smaller than those guys, they are all excellent runners and do a lot of their damage on the ground despite not being freakishly fast like Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. Lance will be dynamite early in his career off of read options and RPO’s. While he does eventually need to learn how to slide and not take as many hits, a huge part of his game is being a physical runner and picking up extra yardage where he can.

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Arm Strength

Another 2021 quarterback prospect with a bazooka for an arm. While I don’t love his throwing motion all the time (more on that later), he’s able to get some distance on the ball and also has strong zip when he needs to put some mustard on the ball. The fact that he’s able to roll-out or sit in the pocket while making a strong throw bodes well for his long-term future and makes him even more dangerous. Due to his mobility, there will be plenty of chances to take some deep shots off of play-action that might not necessarily be the game plan for North Dakota State but will be in the NFL.

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Toughness

He runs the ball with a purpose and often times is the short-yardage back for the Bison. While I think his coaches might hold their breath sometimes when he tries to run over defenders, to me it shows that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. That’s the ultimate sign of a competitor in my eyes. Sure, he will need to slide or get out of bounds more but if he can be used in a similar way to how Cam Newton was used in Carolina, then he’s going to make some team very happy.

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Decision Making

You don’t throw for 28 touchdowns and 0 interceptions without being a great decision-maker. I don’t care what level of football it is, it’s almost impossible to do better than that. In fact, the one turnover he had all season, a fumble, happened in the first quarter of the first game of the season. That means he went 15 games and three quarters without turning the ball over. Absolute insanity.

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Weaknesses

Accuracy

Like many young talented quarterbacks, he has the skill but now just needs to control it. He has a tendency to be a little wild, which is tough to imagine since he completed 66% of his passes. However, he’s in a run-first offense that gives him a lot of chances to make open throws. He overthrows a lot of passes and struggles put enough touch on the ball. This is a common tendency in quarterbacks with strong arms at this age because they’ve always been the best player on the field and could make that throw 9/10 times in the past. When you climb up the ladder and face tougher competition, you won’t be able to get away with missing throws by being wild. For a first-year starter, stuff like this is totally normal but still has to be talked about.

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Mechanics

Lance played baseball growing up and you can see that in his throwing motion. He has a long wind up and a dip motion which is something you can get away at the 1-AA level but can’t in the NFL. He will need a lot of work to shorten this motion while still keeping his strength, but it is possible. If he can spend his first season, and maybe even second season, learning the playbook and working on a quicker throwing motion, that would be best for his development. Look at guys like Tom Brady and Jimmy Garroppolo in the NFL and you’ll never see the ball or their arm drop down when throwing. It simply goes straight back and forward, oftentimes like a sidearm motion a second baseman does when throwing to first. On short and intermediate throws, a more condensed motion will get the ball out quicker or even stop you turning the ball over. To his credit, he doesn’t do this motion every time but it happens more often than not. There have also been times where his footwork can get sloppy and he won’t do basic things like setting his feet or turning his hips towards his receiver and just relying on his arm to make the throw.

Level of Competition

This is an obvious one, but no matter how good you may look, when you play at the 1-AA level people will question all of your success. He looked like a man amongst boys as just a redshirt freshman, but his opponents for the most part are not NFL players. He’s playing against a lot of future bankers, or at best, practice squad level players. It’s absolutely not Lance’s fault, but you have to take it into account. Some may say, “well Carson Wentz played at the same school and is a pretty good player”. True, but Wentz was also at NDSU for five years before getting drafted and spent his rookie season experiencing a lot of growing pains. Lance, in theory, would have just been in college for three years if he declares after the season and not nearly as polished of a thrower as Wentz was. He will get his chance this year though, as the Bison take on Oregon in week 1 (assuming the season happens, fingers crossed) in a must watch game.

Conclusion

Lance’s ceiling is extremely high. In the right system, he has MVP potential. While he still has one more year to develop as a passer, I could also see him having a low floor if rushed to play right away. He’s incredibly tough to scout due to his competition and the fact he’s just more athletic than everybody on the defense put together. Some teams will like him more than others, but the hype around him being a high draft pick is understandable. I don’t think he will surpass Trevor Lawrence, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he cracks the top three in the 2021 draft.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.