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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 51
Double Takes

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!

Every year there are players that make the discerning fantasy owner do a double take. This is especially true of dynasty league owners that are always on the lookout for forgotten, or written off talent. There are two players The Gut Check believes will see their careers steadily blossom during the next few seasons. One has all but practically broken out this year. Another is gaining attention for outperforming the guy in front of him on the team depth chart.

The player on pace to break out is WR Dontè Stallworth. The Gut Check has never been a fan of the Saints wide receiver. In fact, Yours Truly has regularly touted Bengals backup Kelley Washington as the better of the two Volunteer alumni. Stallworth is finally doing all the right things to demonstrate he is now the better of the two, and on his way to becoming a consistent, fantasy starter for years to come.

The main reason has to do with Stallworth maturing into a professional. Sheldon Mickels of The Advocate did a piece on Stallworth this summer that details how the fourth-year receiver has demonstrated a commitment to his profession. The Saints receiver changed his diet, conditioning routine, and most importantly, reported to work on time. The article quotes Stallworth admitting to paying enough fines in the past for being late to work that one could buy a luxury automobile.

The Gut Check could spend all night writing about the way Stallworth’s past behavior illustrates how sports is a hyperbolic reflection of society, which we like to both exalt and despise at the same time. All that aside, one needs to realize that Stallworth became a pro at age 21, got more money than most people ever see in 50 years or more of work, and has been given an extraordinarily long leash in terms of training time for his job because of this huge investment.

Fortunately for the Saints, Stallworth has figured it out and demonstrating it on the field. There are a few noteworthy stats that indicate this development:

  • Stallworth made it through an entire season in 2004—his first healthy year.

  • He’s off to a good start remaining healthy for 2005.

  • He’s the 15th-ranked receiver in yards gained with 406 after 6 games.

  • He’s tied for 5th with Randy Moss, T.O., Anquan Boldin, and Joey Galloway for number of catches greater than 25 yards.

  • 20 of Stallworth’s 28 (71%) receptions resulted in a first down—better than established veterans Owens, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Rod Smith.

  • Stallworth is thought of as an athlete that gains yards after the catch, but he’s not a leader in YAC although he is in the top 20 for receptions—and indication he’s getting open on more traditional routes with his 14.5 yard per catch average.
Stallworth has gained more opportunities to be the primary option in the passing game with Joe Horn’s slow recovering from a pulled hamstring, and he has delivered with two 120+ yard games and an 80+, yard contest in six starts. Although he only has one touchdown, a 50% consistency rate as a #1 WR in standard scoring leagues would place Stallworth among the top 10 at his position. If Stallworth continues to perform as he has thus far, this will happen. The absence of Joe Horn and McAllister (injured or just not performing at the highest level) hasn’t hindered Stallworth’s production.

Still, the Gut Check has to reiterate the most impressive aspect of Stallworth’s development is his maturity. This is a player that always had first-round physical tools, but had to learn what it meant to work and stop believing he could coast on his natural ability. This happens all the time. Recently, Michael Smith of ESPN reported that the Lions top pick, Mike Williams had reported late to meetings at least 10 times upon his first camp experience. No matter what they say, most players just don’t get it. Yours Truly has worked with his fair share of employees between the ages of 18-25, and as talented, intelligent, and dedicated as some of them are, there are many more that initially lack the experience and perspective to consistently make the best choices. Again, some players, such as Chad Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are good examples of quickly understanding what it takes. It’s no different in the non-football world…

The second player is Ravens RB Chester Taylor. The Toledo Rocket was nearly lured away to the Cleveland Browns as a potential starting back after sitting behind Jamal Lewis on the depth chart for a few years. Taylor is a back that does everything well, but doesn’t seem to have special physical skills that stand out. Priest Holmes was often seen in a similar light prior to getting his chance in Kansas City. Taylor’s scouting reports mentioned him as a talented prospect at a small school with good vision, burst, and decent power for his size. Ankle injuries raised questions about his durability and the fact he played for Toledo lowered his draft stock. That said, most scouts believed he was an underrated player that could have the talent to become a starter.

There is a lot of buzz about Taylor this week after he nearly doubled Jamal Lewis production with fewer carries in week six. A telling stat that illustrates how Taylor has been more effective than Lewis thus far is the number of gains of more than ten yards both player have in 2005. Lewis has 8 gains of more than ten yards and Taylor has six, but the Ravens starter has carried the ball 98 times to Taylor’s 35.

The Gut Check still believes Jamal Lewis has been slow to recover from his off-season ankle injury and his federally sponsored rehabilitation wasn’t as effective as it could have been in the private sector. Lewis is still a great fantasy talent when healthy, but his performance and Taylor’s subsequent carries reflect a something more than sub-par performance of the line, quarterback, and receiver. There is still a glut of RBs in the NFL, but Taylor could still get a chance to earn a starting job elsewhere after signing the 1-year tender.

Scouting Checklists
This week, The Gut Check provides a sample report on RB DeAngelo Williams. The Memphis senior had one of the least impressive statistical performances The Gut Check has seen from such a highly touted player. Interestingly enough, Williams also scored out as one of the best backs Yours Truly has seen all year.

This is an important point to remember about evaluating talent. Just looking at Cadillac Williams’ overall stats last year would not tell you he’d be the most impressive rookie back in the NFL this year. The Auburn back wasn’t even in the top 10 in rushing last season as a collegian, but his games revealed a back with great talent, toughness, and more versatility that his stats indicated.

DeAngelo Williams will likely lose ground as draft day approaches because of his size and injury history, but he’s very big for his height. The Gut Check has said the same thing about Brian Westbrook, but the difference is Williams outweighs Westbrook by nearly 20 pounds and has as good, if not better long distance speed.

All positives aside, The Gut Check did notice that Williams did not carry out fakes or give full effort on certain pass routes that negatively impacted the play. Taking plays off when the ball isn’t ones hands doesn’t endear you to teammates. At the same time Williams was one of the hardest working players in the team weight room for the last two seasons and he spent and entire college training camp working out as a receiver until cleared for contact. This really helped Williams improve this dimension of this game. Don’t be surprised if Williams drops to the late first-early second round due to questions raised about his level of competition and overall maturity, but he’s going to be an excellent NFL back soon after.