The seeds for some of the biggest stories of Week 3 were planted this offseason, when it was unclear if anyone would like be a season. In this week’s Debrief, I will focus on some of the early decisions that came to us here:
The Bill did not win on Sunday without a trade for Stefon Diggs. Diggs’ four yards on 49 yards and a score against the Rams did not bounce back from the box – three Billion received more yards – but Buffalo could not beat Los Angeles without him. Sometimes, it’s not about the volume of plays, just the quality.
Diggs beat Jalen Ramsey individually for a touchdown in the third and goal from the 4 yard line, reading the field with the same eyes as Josh Allen, even before Allen hit Aaron Donald . The chemistry of Diggs and Allen became remarkable for how quickly it developed. Many of Allen’s best throws this season came out on the structure, which Diggs understands is where his quarterback needs him.
In the fourth quarter, Diggs slowly played Rams corner Darious Williams, waiting until the last moment to reach his hands in a good 23-yard touchdown pass by Allen. With third-and-25 and Bills just 31seconds away from officially placing their biggest lead in franchise history, Diggs found a soft spot in the Rams zone to take 17 yards and turn set up a handle the fourth down.
Diggs ’ability to frequently draw Ramsey’s caliber defenders is part of his value. One day when John Brown left with an early injury, Diggs’ possession opened the door for Gabriel Davis (four catches, 81 yards) and Cole Beasley (six catches in 100 yards). Unlike the remaining Bills pass-catchers or runners, Diggs should be game-plan for the opposition. By three weeks, his numbers (20 gets 288 yards and two TDs) are screaming true No. 1 recipient in a way they rarely do in Minnesota, despite his excellent play. General credit manager Brandon Beane for understanding what this Bills offense requires – and credit offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for having the vision to use Diggs correctly.
During his deal with the Vikings, Beane gave up a first-rounder with a fourth, fifth, and sixth round replacement for Diggs and a seventh, back on March 16. It was a steep price, but the Bills do not need to draft another promising young player to develop. The number of them. They need a proven playmaker who can help their young quarterback reach his full potential today, for a playoff run. These types of players are sometimes hard to bring to Buffalo, and they are harder to find in the draft. Allen and Daboll deserve the most credit for the quick start of the 3-0 Bills of the season, but Diggs is the missing piece of their attack. He must have missed Minnesota.
Trent Williams is NFC’s Cam Newton. Much has been written about how the entire NFL – including the Patriots – did not particularly like Cam Newton. If it was a crime against football to let Bill Belichick snap another French quarterback for the price of a Hoyer, how about the rest of the NFL allowing the most talented, toughest football team to get the worst left tackle for nuts?
The 49ers ’ability to win manually without half of their starting lineup starts at the front. Williams ’ugly run-block has made the highlights, but his pass-block could make him a candidate for Canton one day. By three weeks, Pro Football Focus has been rated by Williams as the second best tack-block tackle in football, ahead of Monday night’s game between the Ravens and Chiefs. Williams helped protect Nick Mullens, starting in Jimmy Garoppolo’s place, in a performance on Sunday where the Giants’ defense was not stop the 49ers offense once.
High-quality left tackles are probably the NFL’s hardest-found asset, outside of a franchise quarterback. The 49ers have been upgraded from retired Joe Staley for the low, low price of a 2020 fifth-pick and a 2021 third-round selection. The 32-year-old is a free agent after the season, but it is worth remembering that 32 is not much older in the legendary left-tackle year.
There is a bigger debate to be had about the effectiveness of trade picks for proven NFL talent. Ram has taken this model to great lengths, with mostly good effects. The 49ers are on both sides of the equation, providing draft capital in Kansas City for Dee Ford while sending DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis. In Williams’ case, the juice is worth squeezing when it does not include a pick that is likely to be in the top 75 choices. Ten tackles have a higher cap figure than Williams does this season, so he is not particularly expensive.
Don’t fall asleep to how wonderful these zombie 49ers are. I don’t care how bad the New York Football Teams are; dominating the two games by a combined score of 67-22 with almost a backup, as the Niners did with the Jets and Giants, was an impressive display of organizational strength. Even with all the 49ers missing, they still have some players left, such as their tackle combination (Williams and 26-year-old right-hander Mike McGlinchey, a first-round pick in 2018) and 23- year-old middle linebacker Fred Warner, a third-rounder in 2018. John Lynch deserves credit for those draft picks and for his aggressive move to maximize the Super Bowl window. Kyle Shanahan also deserves credit for endorsing Lynch for the job of general manager, in addition to cooking up a great offense led by Mullens, the first-round pick in 2020 Brandon Aiyuk and the complaint reinstates Jerick McKinnon.
Perhaps the 49ers have never been healthy this season; I have never seen a team that has been reduced. But with the exception of Nick Bosa (for the year with a torn ACL), most beginners are set to return to the farm. When the 49ers became the “team no one wants to face” in January, remember the early stretch where they managed their schedule despite having every factor explode. Remember also the commodity Lynch released in the NFL draft weekend, when one of the best left tackles in football was available for a song.