Tuesday September 16th, 2014

Fact: Terrance West is for real

Terrance West has already taken advantage of the opportunity presented by Ben Tate’s injury. In his first career NFL game, he racked up 100 yards on 16 carries, and grabbed the starting job (at least for now) in Cleveland. He followed up his first career 100-yard game with his first career touchdown and 90 total yards in the Browns’ upset win over the Saints. Isaiah Crowell was involved as well, racking up 54 yards on 11 carries, but there’s little doubt who owns this backfield with Tate on the shelf. In fact, West has likely carved himself out a role in the offense even when Tate returns. After the way he has played, the Browns would be foolish to freeze out the rookie from Towson.

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At 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, West is sometimes labeled a bruiser. He has looked like one this year, earning 2.91 yards after contact per attempt, good for seventh most in the league. However, he has more speed and shiftiness here than you might expect. He has three carries for at least 15 yards. Only four backs -- Alfred Morris, Andre Ellington, DeMarco Murray and Bobby Rainey -- have more. He also has caused eight missed tackles, eighth most among running backs. Missed tackles are different from broken tackles. A missed tackle is when a defender totally whiffs because he has been juked, a broken tackle is when a ballcarrier runs through or over a defender. West is making guys miss, not purely mowing them down.

West has also proven himself as an adept runner behind the Browns’ offensive line. There was, perhaps, no better example of this than on his nine-yard touchdown run against the Saints. West takes a handoff from Brian Hoyer on a run to the left. The All-22 film is not yet available, but here’s the look from the start of the play.

At the snap, the whole line crashes left. West sits patiently behind them, setting up his blocks and waiting for a hole to present itself. Once the line opens up a cutback lane, West shifts to urgency from patience, and cuts up through the hole before it has time to close up. Cameron Jordan just can’t get there in time, as West shakes off his arm tackle and scampers into the end zone.

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West’s performance through the first two weeks of the season is not a mirage. He has also handled the dirty work well, earning a positive grade in pass protection from Pro Football Focus last week. Crowell, meanwhile, registered a -0.7 grade. It’s a shame for West’s owners that Tate will eventually eat into his workload, but he will be a fixture of this offense for the entire season. That will make him, at worst, a potential weekly flex play.

Fiction: Jake Locker is a breakout quarterback

Many in the fantasy community, present company certainly included, expected a lot from Jake Locker and the Tennessee offense against Dallas this week. Instead, they fell flat across the board. Locker passed for just 234 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and didn't lead the Titans to the end zone until halfway through the third quarter. Tennessee finished with just 314 yards of total offense on the day. While Locker improved in the second half, he had a terrible opening 30 minutes, completing four of his 12 pass attempts for 26 yards and an interception.

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Locker was especially disappointing on deep balls. He completed just two of his seven pass attempts that traveled farther than 20 yards in the air. While one of those passes did produce a 61-yard scoring strike to Delanie Walker, it was Walker who did most of the work with a broken tackle and 39 yards after the catch.

The Cowboys did a good job keeping the ball out of Locker’s hands in the first half, as the Titans had five possessions outside the two minute warning. Those first two drives stalled after drops by Kendall Wright and Nate Washington, respectively. You can see in the pictures below where Locker put those passes for his receivers. Both would have moved the chains, but both, through no fault of Locker’s were dropped.

If either or both of those balls are caught, Locker’s day could have been much different. That is not to excuse all of his flaws on Sunday, just to point out that his receivers left some plays on the field.

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Here’s a perfect example of a flawed play from Locker in the first half. Backup tight end Taylor Thompson gets wide open with linebacker Anthony Hitchens in coverage on a nice corner route off of play-action. Locker has a completely clean pocket, allowing him to step into this throw, as we can see below.

If Locker hits this throw, it’s going to, at the very least, move the ball into Dallas territory. However, there’s no one in front of Thompson within 15 or so yards of him. He could easily get this inside the Dallas 30, if not even into the red zone. If he gets a block or makes one guy miss, this could go for six points. You can see just how open he was in the screenshot below.

Unfortunately for the Titans, this ball sailed over Thompson’s head, resulting in a missed opportunity. The good news for Locker is that the plays were there. He just didn’t make them with enough consistency. If his receivers were able to haul in a few more passes they should have, or if he could have hit a couple more open receivers, it could have been a much different story. We may have to pump the brakes on the Locker Train, but there is still plenty of reason for optimism.

Fact: Knile Davis, jewel of the waiver wire

The fantasy grim reaper came to collect in Week 2, and he made off with a haul. None was bigger, though, than Jamaal Charles, who suffered what proved to be a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Chiefs’ loss to the Broncos. There is no concrete timetable for his recovery, but this type of sprain is generally at least a six-week injury. That has made Knile Davis the apple of many fantasy owners’ eye.

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Davis filled in admirably for Charles on Sunday, running for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, and adding 26 yards through the air on six receptions. The Chiefs are not going to re-engineer their playbook without Charles. This will be the exact same scheme and offense that gets the ball in the hands of its running back 20-to-25 times per game. That makes Davis a guy worthy of draining your free agent budget.

However, Davis's starting role in an Andy Reid offense is only part of his value. Charles has missed all or most of three games in the last two seasons. In those games, Davis has averaged a hair more than 27 touches and 97 total yards per game, while hitting paydirt six times.

What’s more, the Chiefs aren’t going to implement a platoon simply because Davis is the backup. Davis played 67 of the Chiefs’ 86 snaps, got 22 of the 24 carries once Charles left the game, and received a whopping, team-high nine targets. They’ve yet to sign another back, and don’t appear to have plans to bring one into the fold. This is Davis’ job until Charles comes back, and that likely won’t be until sometime in November. I’ve been asked many times what percentage of my free agent budget I’d use to get Davis on my roster. My answer? 100 percent. Opportunities to add a player like this without giving up an asset don’t come around too often.

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