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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 57
David Garrard

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!

Successful game planning in the NFL is about understanding tendencies and match ups. The Gut Check will attempt to do with the same with a player that will be in the shadow of the Ryan Fitzpatrick waiver wire hype this week, but may be a great late-season pickup in his own right: Jacksonville’s David Garrard. The fourth-year backup out of East Carolina is statistically an unknown fantasy commodity, but the word on the street about this guy is positive. The Jaguars reportedly opened any preliminary inquiry about Garrard’s availability with the demand for a first round draft pick. For backup with very limited starting experience sitting behind the franchise, Byron Leftwich, the price seems unrealistically high. But The Gut Check is willing to keep and open mind here and explore how potential might translate into fantasy points in Garrard’s impending starts.

The basic profile on Garrard is he’s a quarterback with a strong arm and mobility compared to that of Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb—big, athletic quarterbacks (when healthy) that can break tackles as well as they gain yardage when breaking the pocket. Garrard had enough confidence as a rookie to publicly state he was good enough to take the job from then-incumbent Mark Brunell. The media has warmed up to Garrard over the years, and he’s generally regarded as a quarterback that should get an opportunity to start in the NFL sooner than later.

The Jacksonville backup has had few opportunities to display his skills on an NFL stage, but The Gut Check will analyze the two starts Garrard had in place of Leftwich just a little more than a year ago against Detroit and Tennessee.

2004 Garrard
 Wk Opp  Rush Att  Rush Yd  Comp  Att  Pass TD  Pass Yds  Total TDs  FPts
10 Det 7 42 19 36 2 198 0 22.1
11 Ten 5 34 13 27 0 129 1 15.85
Avg 6 38 16 31 1 163 0.5 18.97

It’s only two games, and the opponents weren’t exactly top tier competition but Garrard’s 19-point per game average for these two starts were 1.5 points over the 2004 baseline for a #1 QB in fantasy football. In other words, Garrard’s stats were on the level of a top-12 fantasy QB.

But did David Garrard perform overall like a #1 QB? Let’s dig a bit deeper into these games to see if there are any clearer answers:

  • Although he was sacked five times in these two games, he only threw one interception. Despite his sack total, Garrard averaged 6.5 yards per rush. This fact should put opposing defenses on notice that he’s a threat to break the pocket when under pressure, and generally makes good decisions when faced with these situations. This places a lot of pressure on a defensive because Garrard can force coverage to break down and improvise a game-altering play.

  • Three of the Jags quarterback’s runs against Detroit were for first downs, and the threat of him running on third down resulted in two key scoring passes to RB LaBrandon Toefield and the 3rd and 8, game winner to Jimmy Smith in overtime.

  • Over half (36) of Garrard’s pass attempts in these two starts came out of the shotgun formation. The Jaguars used the shotgun to give Garrard an easier time making reads and for the line to create bigger passing/running lanes to take advantage of his strengths.

  • Nearly half of Garrard’s completions were to backs and tight ends—higher percentage passing plays for a younger quarterback, but also indicative of the lack of highly skilled receivers outside of Jimmy Smith. The Gut Check believes the dearth of WR talent was the more likely issue, because 30% of Garrard’s completions accounted for first downs in these two games

Clearly, Garrard manages a game effectively. He spread the ball around to different receivers (for the most part), picked good spots to run, and made smart decisions when throwing the ball. It’s worth noting Jacksonville’s receivers in these games were Jimmy Smith, Cortez Hankton, Reggie Williams, and Troy Edwards. Only Smith remains a starter and Reggie Williams sees time, but continues to disappoint and is clearly behind Ernest Wilford and Matt Jones in the pecking order.

After examining last week’s game, The Gut Check believes Garrard exhibits the same strengths from last year and the personnel around him has improved:

  • 75% of Garrard’s completions were to receivers in last week’s game—more balls were completed downfield.

  • The Jags backup continued to display fine skills as a runner with a 10.2 yard per carry average on 6 attempts, including a score.

  • Despite a sub 50% completion percentage, he did start the game 10 for 18. Compared to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 63% effort in Houston, Garrard fizzled out as the game progressed. Yet, Jacksonville had the lead and St. Louis was playing from behind—so running the ball and bleeding the clock was the priority behind his 2 for 8, performance in the final frames.

Jacksonville plays Cleveland, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and (for those of you with week 17 match ups) Tennessee. In terms of most favorable fantasy match ups in points allowed per QB, the Browns, Niners, and Titans are ranked the 24th, 1st, and 6th, respectively. The Colts may be tougher statistically overall, but are in the upper half of yards allowed to a QB as a runner—and of the signal callers they’ve faced, only Steve McNair and David Carr could be considered especially mobile. Garrard at this point has much greater mobility and should be able to exploit the up field push of Freeney and Mathis.

Nor should one downplay the benefit of receiving first team repetitions in practice for the rest of the season. Garrard’s 17.9-point performance was mainly a by product of his running, but last year’s performances with advanced preparation, this years match ups against similar quality defenses, and better weapons at the receiver position should make Garrard a solid waiver wire pickup for those in need.

Look for similar rushing totals as last week from Garrard against the Browns and better passing totals. The Browns statistically have looked good lately, but that’s what happens when Gus Frerotte (erratic), Brad Johnson (conservative), and Tommy Maddox (overwhelmed) are the last three quarterbacks Cleveland has faced this month. McNair put up pretty good numbers and prior to him the Browns had Houston, Detroit, and Baltimore on the schedule—not exactly a cavalcade of elite signal callers. In other words, don’t take the stats for Cleveland at face value. Expect Garrard to get 220 yards, plus scores on the ground and through the air—around the tune of 21 points in leagues that give a point for every 20 yards passing, 4 for passing tds, and 6 for rushing scores.

Indianapolis won’t likely be as good unless Jacksonville falls way behind and Garrard gets some garbage time yardage. Lower expectations here to 15 points with the scoring mentioned above.

San Francisco is a great opportunity the next week—if you find yourself in a bind on championship weekend, Garrard could be that unlikely hero for your lineup. The Niners allow a gaudy 22 fantasy points per quarterback and after a few weeks of reps, Garrard and his corps of receivers should be ready to exploit San Francisco’s defense. Don’t be surprised if Garrard has a 25-point (or greater) outing.

Next week, The Gut Check finds the receivers and backs making the most of their opportunities in the passing game.