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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 41
Consistency Revisited - Part II: The Crank Sheet

Rookie Scouting Portfolio The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information. This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.

Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic, he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider, or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast as you can!

Last week, The Gut Check broke down the purpose and design behind his Crank Rankings. In essence, Crank Rankings work much like the Quality Game Theory in fantasy baseball—the percentage of games during a season(s) a player scores at least the desired baseline of fantasy points on a weekly basis. Yours Truly takes this theory and creates a weighted formula to provide the fantasy football owner several pieces of information in one score:
  • The quality of a player’s actual (or projected) FPG

  • The rate a player scores like a 1st-string back according to the league average

  • The rate a player has low-quality games that can damage a fantasy owner’s overall team score

  • The player’s value relative to his peers at the same position

  • The player’s value among all positions in fantasy football

Crank Scores are a good resource, but how can one use them in the projection process? The most basic way is to use them as historical data. Crank scores can be added to a draft list in the way an owner references average draft position.

The Gut Check has taken the process a step further. Yours Truly has created a 2005 cheat sheet where he has used historical data to project both fantasy points per game and Crank Scores. Although there are a lot of stats thrown around to derive these projections, The Gut Check is not claiming his draft sheet is a scientific process. A skilled drafting strategy incorporates more than mathematics and statistical research. Recognizing talent before they produce and understanding tendencies of one’s league are just as important. Then there’s luck—the factor we all want to deny exists when we're winning, but are happy to embrace as our scapegoat when we're losing. Luck is the reason why no draft plan is completely formulaic—not even close. But measuring the right information and implementing it into a solid draft format helps.

Here is The Gut Check’s 2005 Crank Sheet for QB, RB, WR, & TE in a standard scoring league. Yours Truly didn’t calculate kickers or defenses. Although this is worthwhile, The Gut Check will presume wise owners will wait well into their draft for a kicker and a bit earlier for a premium defense. For the sake of focusing solely on the skill positions for this feature, the sheet is set up in tiers according to Crank Score. In addition, highlighted and non-highlighted players have specific designations:

  • Players highlighted in green have projected Crank Scores

  • Players with no highlight have Crank Scores from 2004

  • Players highlighted in yellow are designated backups at this time, so they have 2004 Crank Scores higher than many players ranked above them in value

  • Players highlighted in blue are backups and have been given Crank Scores from previous backups for that team and position

Upon first glance, one will notice the Gut Check takes some risks as a drafter and there are some notable differences in player values than one may normally see. So check out the sheet and then the commentary and analysis.

The Surprises
The first two tiers already have players that may seem out of place to even the casual fantasy owner—namely, RB Tiki Barber (3rd-ranked RB) and QB Kerry Collins (3rd-ranked QB). Barber’s numbers come straight from the 2004 Crank Score data and Yours Truly is sticking with them as his projected total. Barber’s Crank Score paired with his ADP of 2.03 reflects he’ll be a value to anyone drafting late in a re-draft, or willing to allow other teams to spend more money on higher profile RBs early on in an auction draft.

The question many should have is whether The Gut Check would draft Barber if he had an early spot in the first round (picks 3-5). The answer is yes, because Barber’s score is better than the other positions in the same tier. Plus, The Gut Check would like a running back in a serpentine draft with a pick that early. Otherwise, the drop off in production is going to be significant. Let’s compare Barber’s 2004 to Edgerrin James and Shaun Alexander’s seasons—two backs most owners would traditionally select this early. In addition, The Gut Check will throw in Donovan McNabb, the QB in the same tier. The impact researching Crank Scores is beneficial:

The Case For Early Barber
 Games  Alexander Barber James McNabb
 Game 1 34.6 26 17.1 33.7
 Game 2 4.5 6.9 24.7 28.65
 Game 3 25.4 21.4 13.9 31.6
 Game 4 21.4 25.6 16.8 16.05
 Game 5 16.7 25.8 21.5 11.05
 Game 6 6.5 23.2 14.1 37.6
 Game 7 32.8 23.1 12.4 18.55
 Game 8 28.0 25.1 17.9 5.45
 Game 9 17.9 22.0 10.0 34.65
 Game 10 15.6 13.1 27.5 30.4
 Game 11 3.9 11.9 12.1 25.2
 Game 12 22.4 3.8 25.6 43.2
 Game 13 18.4 12.4 15.8 17.8
 Game 14 9.6 17.4 15.2 18.05
 Game 15 33.4 18.3 12.7 5.8
 Game 16 15.5 23.6 -0.2 DNP
Total Pts 306.6 299.6 257.1 357.75
Elite Gs 6 9 4 4
#1 Gs 12 13 13 11
#2 Gs 12 14 15 12
#3 Gs 13 15 15 N/A
Subpar Gs 2 1 1 3

Alexander and James have recent ADPs of 1.03 and 1.04, respectively but Barber out performs them in many respects. Look at the difference in Elite Games. This is a category where the player scores enough points in a given week to be considered among the very best performers at their position. These are weeks fantasy owners expect when they draft a player in the first round—monster weeks.

Alexander didn’t disappoint: he had three weeks with more than 30 fantasy points. Barber didn’t have one week with that total. Yet, Barber had at least 18.75 fantasy points for three more games than Alexander. If an owner drafts for consistency, he should get other players that will more than make up for the gap in points if a couple of his opponents players happen to have a great week. A roster of consistent players will more often than not carry an owner to more victories than a couple of high scoring, but more erratic studs. In addition Barber had one less game than Alexander where he stunk up the joint and potentially could damage his team’s chances for a victory. Interestingly enough, James and Alexander just happened to have worse or more erratic performances in weeks 14-16.

Barber and James had similar performances as #1, #2, or #3 RBs, but Barber had more than twice the amount of Elite games. Here’s where the Crank Score determines a significant difference in fantasy points. Barber and Alexander have a negligible point difference and a noticeable separation in consistency. On the other hand, James and Barber are on a similar level of consistency with the exception of Elite games which is another reflection of Barber’s point total actually giving him more value. If Barber can have a season like he did with mediocre performances from his teammates, then he’s a good bet to perform as well with an improved passing game—he’s still the centerpiece of the offense.

The Brandon Jacobs factor is a bit over played right now. While The Gut Check recommends owners to handcuff Barber with Jacobs, the prospect of him stealing carries should only be something one should play to their advantage (the depressed ADP). Jacobs may steal some goal line scores, but Barber had 11 red zone touchdowns last year. Jacobs is slated as the short yardage back. Last year the Giants were 30th in 3rd down percentage, 31st in 4th down percentage, and 25th in time of possession last year. In most cases, a successful Jacobs in these situations affords Barber and the offense more opportunities.

As for McNabb, it’s clear drafting an RB in round one will provide greater consistency, but McNabb is only one of two quarterbacks in the same tier as these backs. Does this make McNabb a better value? Let’s compare McNabb to the top quarterback one tier below, Marc Bulger.

McNabb vs. Bulger
 Games  Bulger McNabb
 Game 1 17.6 33.7
 Game 2 18.25 28.65
 Game 3 29.8 31.6
 Game 4 13.8 16.05
 Game 5 35.15 11.05
 Game 6 21.1 37.6
 Game 7 26.25 18.55
 Game 8 DNP 5.45
 Game 9 23.65 34.65
 Game 10 17.2 30.4
 Game 11 22.35 25.2
 Game 12 30.9 43.2
 Game 13 2.0 17.8
 Game 14 DNP 18.05
 Game 15 15.95 5.8
 Game 16 35.1 DNP
Total Pts 309.1 357.75
Elite Gs 4 4
#1 Gs 10 11
#2 Gs 13 12
Subpar Gs 1 3
One reason for the difference in fantasy points per game between McNabb and Bulger is the Rams QB played in fewer games. Otherwise, the difference isn’t as great. Since The Gut Check doesn’t like to cite injury as a factor into his decisions unless there’s a well-established issue, Bulger’s point total difference from McNabb is negligible. In fact, Bulger had as many Elite games as McNabb, but two fewer games where he let down a fantasy team. Remember, the Gut Check isn’t counting games where an owner knew Bulger wasn’t going to start. Owners should be prepared and have depth for these situations. It is the game-time injuries that force a player from the game that can kill a fantasy team’s weekly performance.

This data shows McNabb’s value to Bulger isn’t as great as the tier separation appears. Additionally, The Gut Check has Kerry Collins rated just below McNabb. Since Collins as a much lower ADP, Yours Truly would rather take Barber, a second back or receiver, a third back or second receiver, and target Collins in rounds 4-6.

Speaking of Collins, this leads to the first explanation of how he projected a Crank Score for a player. This is not a scientific process, but the reasoning should have some common sense. First, The Gut Check considered the basics:

  • Collins had the best FPG average of his career in 2004
  • Randy Moss was traded from Minnesota to Oakland
  • Daunte Culpepper had his best FPG average of his career in 2004

So Yours Truly based Collins’ projections on a combination of the quarterback’s stats that threw to Randy Moss last year, and the one throwing to Moss in 2005.

Projecting Collins in 2005:
2004 G FPG Crank Subpar Elite #1 QB
Culpepper 16 27.78 90.28 0.00% 50.00% 87.50%
Collins 14 18.74 38.1 35.71% 21.43% 42.86%
Projected Scores 23.26 64.19      

These results presume Moss is going to have a great impact on Collins’ game, and why not? Collins has never had a receiver even close to the caliber of Moss. The Gut Check isn’t talking about a 10-pt per game swing, but a 4.5-point per game swing—reasonable projections with the talent surrounding Collins on offense.

Then where does The Gut Check project Culpepper for 2005? The Crank Scores complement his take on the Minnesota QB from Volume 39.

W/O Moss G FPG Crank
Culpepper 5 21.3 37.99

2002-2004 G FPG Crank
Culpepper 46 25.05 80.36

Projected G FPG Crank
Culpepper 16 23.19 59.18

Equally weighting 46 games of stats and with only 5 games of stats isn’t mathematically sound, but the impact is felt more with the Crank Score and not the FPG. This places Culpepper as The Gut Check’s 5th-ranked quarterback on his draft list and makes him over valued in many drafts according to his corresponding ADP figures in recent weeks.

In contrast, The Gut Check has Byron Leftwich, Steve McNair, and Kurt Warner as undervalued prospects with projected upside. Yours Truly took a sample of Leftwich’s games in 2004: a four-week period where the offense began to click, and the three weeks he played after returning from injury.

Leftwich Sample
Last Name Opp Week Rush Att Rush Yd Comp Att Pass Td Pass Yd Total Tds FPts
Leftwich clt 4 0 0 29 41 1 318 0 19.90
Leftwich sdg 5 3 10 36 54 1 357 1 28.85
Leftwich kan 6 3 25 24 36 2 298 1 31.40
Leftwich clt 7 2 3 23 30 2 300 0 23.30
Leftwich min 12 0 0 19 34 1 235 0 15.75
Leftwich pit 13 1 4 16 27 1 268 0 17.80
Leftwich chi 14 4 8 25 45 2 242 0 20.90
                  Avg 22.56

The FPG for these seven games is impressive, but the opponents all had pretty poor pass defenses. According to Greg Alan of and FFTOC leagues, his 2005 NFL Schedule article in Fantasy Football Pro Forecast provides news for Leftwich and the Jags: they have the easiest projected schedule of pass defense in the NFL. If one were to calculate the consistency of this seven-game stretch, Leftwich’s Crank Score looks like this:

Crank Score For Leftwich:
Crank FPG Elite #1 #2 Sub-par
56.38 22.55 28.57% 75.00% 100.00% 0%

As for McNair and Warner, Yours Truly took historical averages of Crank scores for each. A healthy McNair was a top-ten fantasy quarterback for the three years prior to his injury-riddled 2004 season. Using this statistical history as a projection placed him as the 10th QB in 2005—a great value for a player chosen as the 2nd QB for many rosters. Warner’s stats were calculated from 2000-2004 to include his highs and lows as a player and the numbers still placed him as the 11th-rated quarterback. The Gut Check is willing to take the chance on Warner at this level of value because the Giants offense was mediocre, at best. Warner managed the team well enough to keep them in the playoff hunt—credit is deserved here. The Cardinals offense from the receivers, offensive line, rookie RB, and coach possess greater upside than the Giants.

Veteran running backs coming off disappointing seasons also received similar treatment. The Gut Check used 2003-2004 scores for Clinton Portis and Jamal Lewis. This combination of seasons tempered the amount of a rebound the information would project if Yours Truly only used 2003’s information. Portis is still adjusting to a new team and a system about to change—although in his favor, 2004’s stats accurately remain as his starting point with that team. Likewise Jamal Lewis is coming off surgery, leaving prison, and entering a new offense so the Gut Check isn’t ready to proclaim Lewis ready to return to his near-record breaking form.

Deuce McAllister’s best seasons were 2002-2003, and these were the basis for Yours Truly’s projections. Yet based on these totals The Gut Check believes his ADP of 1.05 is a little too high for an offense that has not demonstrated its ability to live up to its potential. Picking McAllister this early in the draft seems more like a boom-bust move. When it is all said and done, all three backs moved up The Gut Check’s RB rankings to 10th, 11th, and 12th.

Second Year Gains
Several rookies (or first-year starters) had promising fantasy games for stretches of the 2004 season. The Gut Check tinkered with historical averages of first year player Crank and FPG scores, and their progression into their second year. Two players with the same progression, but Yours Truly rates vastly different are running backs Kevin Jones and Steven Jackson. Both played 15 games last year, so The Gut Check queried the difference between the average scores of rookie backs that played at least 15 games during the 2000-2003 seasons and averages of 2nd year players for the next year(s).

2000-03 RBs @ Least 15 Gms:
G FPts Crank
2003 9.50 3.75

2001-04 RBs @ Least 15 Gms:
G FPts Crank
2003 9.50 3.75

So the progression is an additional 3.53 fantasy points per game and 15.26 Crank points. The Gut Check added these figures to Jones and Jackson’s 2004 scores to realize his projections for the backs. The average progression bumps the Lions’ second-year back to the bottom of Tier three as Yours Truly’s 15th-ranked RB—still at least 3 picks lower than Jones’ 1.12 ADP but a place this writer is comfortable with him. Jones has a lot of upside, but The Gut Check anticipates a lack of stability at quarterback could impact the entire offensive unit early in the season. Jones might be a good player to acquire in a trade if the offensive struggles occur and Detroit’s rushing attack struggles early—a good reason why Jones makes a better #2 back than a #1 in 2005.

At least Kevin Jones has a coach that is known for running the ball. Steven Jackson on the other hand, still has future Hall of Fame RB Marshall Faulk in the rotation, and a cast of four quality receivers in an aerial show that rivals The Blue Angels. The Gut Check would be more excited about Jackson’s prospects in 2005 if the former Oregon State Beaver were on a team with a coach that establishes the run early, often, and always (i.e.—Cowher, Fox, Parcells, or Gibbs). The same progression of points increases Jackson’s draft status to 27th among backs on The Gut Check’s draft list—in the same company of quality players likely to split time, or work in offenses with anemic rushing attacks in 2004.

Similar progressions were made for Julius Jones, Willis McGahee, and even DeShaun Foster (3rd to 4th season averages). Interestingly enough Jones’ projected fantasy points per game places him among Tier 2 backs, but his adjusted Crank score projection suggests he’ll have some huge swings in performances on a weekly basis in 2005. McGahee, a back with an ADP of 1.06 is seen more as a mid-second round pick on this list which could indicate one of two things: The Gut Check needs more sleep, or Buffalo’s back is significantly over valued in an offense headed up by a first-year signal caller. Yours Truly could use some shut-eye, but interestingly enough McGahee projects closely to Rudi Johnson’s totals from last year. Johnson was taking hand offs with a first-year starter throwing to explosive receivers, too. Although McGahee is a more explosive option than Johnson, The Gut Check likes the fantasy comparison.

Rookie Crank projections were drawn from historical results. Using RBs as an example, The Gut Check queried the average backs that started at least 15 games between 2000-2004:

Basis For The Rookies
Name G FPts/G Crank
Clinton Portis 16 18.08 63.01
LaDainian Tomlinson 16 13.77 39.59
Kevin Jones 15 11.15 24.88
William Green 16 8.5 17.06
Kevan Barlow 15 7.06 10.63
Avg 15.6 11.71 31.03

Since each rookie back with a shot at a starting job in 2005 is in a different situation, Yours Truly took different approaches. Cadillac Williams and J.J. Arrington appear to have the best opportunities to start all16 games in 2005. Therefore he tailored the projections by removing at least one of the backs above from the average. For example, The Gut Check believes Cadillac Williams is a special player that will prove he’s the best running back to come out of this rookie class. Therefore, Kevan Barlow and William Green’s rookie outputs were deducted from the average. As a result, Williams’ projected totals shoot up to 14.21 FPG and a 42.42 Crank Score. Not so coincidentally, these projected totals closely match Michael Pittman’s totals for 2004: 14.75 FPG and a 40.84 Crank Score.

J.J. Arrington appears poised to assume the starting job in Arizona, but should yield a bit more time to Marcel Shipp. The projections for the Cardinals rookie resulted from the removal of Kevan Barlow’s rookie totals from the average. The Gut Check believes Arrington will have a nice rookie year, but like the Cardinals as a whole, will experience some up and down moments.

Notice how some backups have projections that are as high or higher than some starters? The Gut Check would rather keep data that reflects how players performed as starters and place them in the tier just below the last group of starters. Billy Volek and Larry Johnson are examples of backups that have proven quite capable of excellent production. Therefore, Yours Truly highlighted these players in yellow. The blue highlighted players weren’t backups for their team last year, but were provided projections based on the performances of the substitutes on that team for their position in 2004.

Other Observations
The Gut Check believes Ashlie Lelie will complete the transition of becoming the Broncos’ primary threat in 2005. Yours Truly has him ranked 12th among receivers. This should be a reasonable projection—although surprising for many—because the Broncos have made it clear they want Lelie more involved in the short passing game. Lelie has worked hard on this aspect of his development and the result should also improve his ability to get open in the deep game—his specialty.

Carson Palmer is rather low on The Gut Check’s list compared to many fantasy football enthusiasts, but it has more to do with the level of consistency than the point total. Palmer’s projected FPG average is 9th overall, but Yours Truly believes Palmer will have quite a few up and down weeks which could prove maddening for fantasy owners that want to count on him as their #1 QB. Cincinnati has possibly the most difficult schedule of opposing defenses in the NFL—especially against the pass:

  • Baltimore (2)
  • Pittsburgh (2)
  • Jacksonville
  • Buffalo
  • Minnesota
  • Chicago

Minnesota was not considered a tough defense last year, but the off-season acquisitions have changed the league’s perception of that defense. Baltimore may have the best secondary in the last decade with the acquisition of Samari Rolle to complement Chris McAllister and Ed Reed. Brian Urlacher’s return should bolster an underrated Bears unit.

There are many potentially good draft day values at receiver from this list.

  • With and ADP of 5.06, owners are pretty skeptical Drew Bennett will repeat his 2004 season. The Gut Check isn’t of this opinion and has happily selected him in drafts this summer.

  • Reggie Williams and Charles Rogers—two receivers Yours Truly mentioned in his Applying The 3rd Year WR Theory 2005 article—are getting selected far below their projected peers on Yours Truly’s list. Both look excellent in camp and should help take their offenses to another level this season.

  • Lelie, Jimmy Smith, and Isaac Bruce all have 6th round ADPs, which according to the Gut Check’s projections means they can be had at least three rounds later than their peers within the same tier.

The Gut Check isn’t about to claim this is the list to use for standard scoring leagues. Yours Truly will certainly use it as the basis for drafting in many league formats. Yet, the purpose of this cheat sheet is one illustration of the potential uses for Crank Scores with much more on the way. Best of luck to those of you drafting this month and in the coming weeks The Gut Check will explore Crank Scores as applied to the FFTOC fantasy format.