2021 Dynasty/Fantasy Preseason Wk1 Game Analysis: Ravens 19, Saints 16 (By Ross Jacobs)
--Who starts at QB for the Saints?
Let me be very clear. This is Taysom Hill's (8-12 for 81 yards, 1 TD/0 INT) job until further notice. He is not an elite QB, but he is so much better than Jameis Winston (7-12 for 96 yards, 1 TD/1 INT) it's not even funny. Anyone that tells you Taysom is not a real QB and can't read defenses doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. I guarantee that Taysom is a better pure QB than Winston and that's not including his running ability.
Taysom did have an interception and it looked ugly at first glance, but after rewatching I'm convinced that Ty Montgomery (2-27-0/3) slowed down like he was going to sit down in coverage but Taysom threw it like Montgomery was going to keep running. If he had, Taysom would have hit him in stride and Montgomery could have turned upfield with room to run. Instead the ball zipped right past him into the arms of a defender. There was another near interception that was a little more Taysom's fault as he threw the ball a hair late which gave the defender time to break back on the ball and knock it down. Again he's definitely not perfect but he's easily the better of the two QBs.
Jameis Winston is still Jameis Winston. Shocking, I know. If you give him a clean pocket he is more than capable of throwing nice passes and hitting receivers in stride. Nobody ever claimed he couldn't throw the ball. But just like with Tua, if you muddy the pocket at all he completely collapses and either throws a stupid pass or runs around trying to make a play and nearly fumbles it while taking a sack. There was even a play where Latavius Murray (5-6-0, 1-11-0) took a handoff from Winston and immediately began tripping trying to keep his feet and fumbled the ball at the line. It looked bizarre and the announcers blamed it on Murray's ball security, but on closer inspection it was clear that Winston accidentally tripped Murray on the handoff, likely due to poor footwork, which ultimately caused the fumble. If Winston becomes the starting QB at any point the Saints are going to struggle mightily.
--Ravens WR situation
Some good news for FFM, Devin Duvernay (4-28-0/6) isn't completely dead. I wouldn't say he was the clear focal point as the Ravens were spreading the ball around pretty well, but Duvernay was definitely the most heavily targeted of the available options and they even had him take a jet sweep toss pass. I'd like to see them run a couple tunnel screens though just to get the ball in his hands and let him go. He looks good and could definitely be a good ppr option in most other offenses, but I don't trust that Lamar Jackson is going to get him enough volume to matter. Keep in mind that Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, and Miles Boykin weren't active.
The next best looking Baltimore receiver had to be 2nd year man Jaylon Moore (2-32-0/5). He was open more than once but McSorley kept missing him including just overthrowing him on an endzone toss where Moore had a half step on the defender. He looks and plays bigger than his 5'11” frame.
James Proche (1-8-0/1) looked fine. He's a steady hand. Rookie Tylan Wallace (0-0-0/2) did not look fine. He was struggling to separate. Doubt he makes this roster.
--Other offensive player notes
Ravens 3rd string QB Tyler Huntley (12-16 for 79 yards, 0 TD/0 INT, 7-43-1) might work his way past Trace McSorley (11-18 for 86 yards, 0 TD/1 INT, 4-25-0) before long. He looks like a skinnier Lamar Jackson-lite impersonator. Definitely not as fast as Lamar or as good a passer, but he's surprisingly capable and efficient. I think he'd be fine as a short term fill-in and you wouldn't have to change the offense much at all.
Two young RB's really looked here, one from each team. The obvious star of the game was 2nd year man Tony Jones Jr (7-82-1, 5-38-0/5). I did some digging on Jones and it is very obvious what's going on here, why this guy looks really good, and how he went so under the radar.
Some background: Jones Jr was a 4-star recruit out of the high school powerhouse IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. He was the #14 overall RB of the 2016 class and committed to play for Notre Dame. He didn't play his freshman year, was buried behind older backs including Josh Adams his sophomore year, moved up to the #2 back behind Dexter Williams his junior year, and finally broke out as the lead back in 2019 averaging 6.0 yards per carry on 144 carries for a bad Notre Dame run game. Unfortunately he went unnoticed for the 2019 draft. Now part of why he went undrafted was the numbers, but part of it was he didn't look like a good enough athlete to play in the NFL. I watched some tape. It's clear he had good instincts, vision, and power, but while he was fast enough to do work in college there was no way his speed and agility were going to cut it in the NFL. He was a pretty thick RB and it showed.
The Tony Jones Jr that I saw last night was not thick. He was well built, trim, muscular, and most importantly fast and agile. He's listed near the same weight he was coming out of Notre Dame, but if that's true then he has completely reworked his body and shed fat while building a lot of muscle and gaining speed. He looks sleek and quick for a 220+ lb back. Jones was far faster than he looked in college, planting his foot in the ground and getting upfield quickly. On his 18 yard TD run he just glided around the left end without slowing down and beat defenders that had an angle on him. The guy can play. My one reservation on him is that his hands aren't great. They look good enough, but he isn't a threat to Kamara's role. Jones might end up replacing Murray in the next year though. I think he's that good. Devonta Freeman (6-6-0) is no threat to Jones.
The other impressive RB was Baltimore's Ty'Son Williams (10-41-0, 5-23-0). Much like Jones Jr, Williams is a bigger back at 220 lbs but taller/leaner and also sports some impressive movement skills for his size and the power to drag tacklers. Reminds me of a tougher Dwayne Washington. (I wrote that and then went to see if I could find pro day numbers for Williams. Check this out. 4.48 40-time, 24 bench reps, and a 6.81 3-cone at 6'0” 220 lbs compared to Washington's 4.48 40-time and 6.85 3-cone at 6'1” 223 lbs.) He also has pretty good hands and I see no reason why he couldn't be the power back in a rotation. How the Ravens can find guys like this and stash them on their practice squad while the Dolphins are starting Myles Gaskin on purpose is beyond me.
--Standout Saints defenders
The player that stood out most to me was Saints linebacker Kaden Elliss (8 tackles, 1 PD). He's probably the starting strong side backer but it looked like he was manning the middle here with Demario Davis on the sideline. Not sure I'd want him in coverage too often, but he is a strong, slippery player that's at his best coming downhill and attacking the ball. I thought he looked a touch slow, but then he shockingly chased down Ravens QB Tyler Huntley who is no slowpoke. Impressive. He probably isn't going to pile up numbers on the strong side, but he looks like a typical underrated Saints defender. Will never get the credit he deserves for how good is.
I was a little surprised how good Zach Baun (5 tackles, 1 PD) looked. I thought he might be too limited an athlete to matter, and he definitely doesn't have the kind of sideline-to-sideline speed you'd like, but he can play a similar, if slightly lesser, type game to Elliss and might even take over in the middle in a year or two.
I really liked rookie corner Paulson Adebo as an underrated player from the 2021 draft, and he looked ok'ish here for a rookie corner. He's going to have some growing pains that's for sure. The Ravens really picked on him and although Adebo had good technique and positioning he wasn't really stopping much coming his way. I think he's going to be fine in the long run, but don't expect him to suddenly help Lattimore turn this into a no-fly zone.
Ian Book (9-16 for 126 yards, 0 TD/1 INT) is as advertised, a smart, competent backup QB without high-end tools. He looks a lot like Case Keenum.
--Ravens defensive notes
Never thought Patrick Queen (4 tackles, 1 sack) would become a good player, but he also looked good here. The athleticism was always apparent, but he's really improved his instincts and play recognition. I'm not claiming he's a great player yet, but it looks like he's playing kind of an opportunist rover role and that's going to be juicy for IDP.
Jayson Oweh (1 tackle) had his time in the spotlight during the 2021 draft process for an outrageous pro day workout, but I have to say...it isn't translating yet, just like it didn't translate on his tape. For a guy with that kind of burst and speed on paper, he sure doesn't show it in game. All I saw was a well-built, high effort guy bum rushing the tackle. I'm not going to totally write him off yet as he still has some potentially high end tools and the Ravens are usually good at developing guys after a year or two, but I didn't like my first impression here.
-- by Ross Jacobs
--Who replaces Michael Thomas?
This one is also easy to answer and it's a person RC and I talked about a little before the Chiefs/49ers game. Marquez Callaway is absolutely the first look for Taysom. Three of Taysom's first five passes all targeted Callaway and he caught all three for 61 yards, beating Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters in the process. Humphrey is widely considered one of the best corners in the league so I have to say I'm quite impressed. His ADP is going to shoot up this week. I still don't think he's a star and I highly doubt he comes anywhere close to Thomas's numbers, but he's going to matter for fantasy as a WR2.
The secondary target for Taysom and the go-to target for Winston was former Texas WR Lil'Jordan Humphrey (3-29-1/5). Humphrey is physically imposing on the field and despite not being the fastest guy he managed to make a few plays here. I have my doubts that he'll be able to separate enough against better corners though. His TD was a simple in-route at the back of the endzone, but he looks like he'd make a great jump-ball target.
Michael Thomas is currently unavailable after undergoing surgery recently, and there have been some contentious moments between him and the Saints the past year or so. His absence has opened the door for Callaway in particular to grab a much larger share of the offense, but what to do with Thomas for redraft and dynasty? Will he be back with the Saints? Will he be traded? I had a short chat/interview with RC about it and the transcript of that conversation is below.
Ross: So we all know that the relationship between Michael Thomas and the Saints has been deteriorating since last year for a variety of factors. Most recently Thomas delayed getting a much needed surgery until this summer and now is going to be out until at least 2 months into the season which has rightly frustrated the Saints coaches and management. There were a few reports that the two sides were trying to work through their differences to keep Thomas in New Orleans but I believe you're hearing differently. What's the latest on this story?
RC: I am led to believe this situation may be 'done'...the Saints are done with Thomas, and are trying to find the best way out of it. If they dump him this year, then eat $8M and then $22M next year. I think they'd love to restructure his contract and just ditch him. He has no trade value because everyone sees what's going on with Thomas the past year+ (hurt, mouthy, delayed surgery). The Saints are done with him but have no real way to escape it naturally.
RC: I think you'll see the Saints trade for a WR this season, likely before September/season start.
RC: I believe they'll sign a cut WR veteran if it comes their way too.
RC: Those will be signs that Thomas is done. His career as a top guy may be done. No matter where he winds up.
RC: The Saints may be about to lay a giant egg in 2021, and they just take all the pain in 2021 and try to get into position to rebuild for 2022+
RC: They would trade him, but there are no takers...especially in his injured status.
RC: The Saints are 'stuck' with this problem right now -- but make no mistake, they want out of it.
Ross: They are in a rough spot as far as the salary cap goes. They've been kicking the can down the road for a few years now and if they have to eat a chunk of Thomas's contract that could really set them back a few years. This is a big reason why teams should learn to be more careful about the big contracts they hand out. Signing star players to these kinds of deals can backfire and really hurt your team. If you had to lay odds on it, what do you think is the most likely scenario? A trade, and if so what are the most likely destinations, outright cutting him, or is there a third option I'm not seeing?
RC: If I tried to predict the situation...I'd say the Saints will trade for fallen young WRs before Week 1 (Isabella and/or N'Keal types, but also try and add a veteran WR cut due to $$$)...these will be signs of things to come. Then the Saints are not good 5-6-7 weeks into the season, Thomas is about to come back, so they try and trade him to a contender for a 2nd-round pick...but if the season is lost and they can't find a trade partner, they cut him and just take the compensation draft pick.
RC: The Saints would love an MK Thomas to Urban for D.J. Chark deal
RC: If Thomas is traded for, it will be the Jags...and if the Jags pass, then you know there are issues here way more than we know on MT.
Ross: Interesting you mention that specific trade because that is precisely what I was thinking. I could also see them trying to grab Christian Kirk from the Cardinals.
RC: If Thomas was 100% healthy now, they could move him to other places but the injury has things blocked from any team taking a chance. There will be desperate contenders needing one more piece by Weeks 5-6-7, when he's returning. The next part of this story is getting closer to the trade deadline, but the sign of the Saints being done with MT is what they do at WR the next 3 weeks of trading/signing of them.
Ross: So do you see any path to redraft or dynasty value with Michael Thomas this year? Last I checked he was going around the 6th round in ppr redrafts.
RC: I'd just bow out given his age, attitude, injuries and we don't know where he winds up (but prob JAX eventually with 'Bubble Boy' which is a bad pairing of styles).
Ross: I agree. Too much is unknown at this point. Why get cute? Just take a shot on a more sure bet at that stage. For dynasty you could try to buy low and trade him later if his value bounces back but it sounds like there's a good chance it may never bounce back and Thomas is near done. I wouldn't risk it personally.
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