No Love For These Backs?
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!
In comparison to recent years, the
glut of running back talent makes it a tough year to pick the
best values at the position. A fantasy owner usually has a decent
idea of which backs are at their peak, which backs are on the
rise, and which backs are in decline. When The Gut Check looks
at the list of projected starting backs, there aren’t many
of them Yours Truly views as declining talents.
There’s a lot of talk heading into the preseason about
Willis McGahee, Kevin Jones, Julius Jones, and Steven Jackson—all
backs with outstanding performances to end their 2004 seasons.
These four backs are seen as late first-early second round picks.
So if these guys are potential #1 starters for a fantasy team,
more established names will have to take a backseat in 2005. In
addition, there’s generally a good chance that a first-round
rookie back will put up top-ten numbers.
With a historically high rate of turnover within the top ten
from year to year and a glut of talent at the position, the possibility
of fantasy parity between picks 5-20 is moderately strong. A savvy
owner may decide with the fifth pick, it’s a worthwhile
risk to select a top tier QB or WR over a back such as Willis
McGahee because his chances are good of landing equal, if not
greater performance from backs still available in the second and
The Gut Check will tell you which backs he believes won’t
be giving up their spot in the upper tier, but seem to be losing
some value as the 2005 fantasy season gets under way. Yours Truly
also believes there are backs in 2005 with equal, or better value
than any of these four young studs-in-the-making but early on,
aren’t getting the same love from fantasy owners on draft
day. At least three of these five backs should be available in
rounds two and three if selecting from the middle spots of a serpentine
Not Ready To Pass The Torch Just Yet
Barber has been historically a second or third round pick. This
year isn’t starting off much different with Barber viewed
early on as a mid-second round player. It’s somewhat amazing
that Barber isn’t considered a top five back. Tiki was ranked
fourth for #1 RB consistency—81.25% of his games were #1
RB-quality and 56.25% of his performances were among the elite
on a weekly basis. Although St. Louis, Dallas, Detroit, and Buffalo
weren’t the best offensive lines in the league, they certainly
weren’t as bad as the Giants—and New York’s
line play actually improved from 2003! Similar can be said about
the Giants passing game in 2004. So picking Jackson, the two Jones
backs, and McGahee over Barber is a risk—something savvy
owners sitting at spots 10-12 are hoping will happen!
It’s not like Tiki Barber snuck up on any defenses. He’s
been the most consistent weapon for New York over the last few
years. This may seem debatable when one looks at the previous
five seasons, because there is a pattern of seasons of excellence
alternating with seasons of mediocrity.
|| Rush Att
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What seems to be dictating this trend is the variance in rushing
touchdowns, but the yardage totals from 2002-2004 are consistently
at a desirable level. Additionally, Kerry Collins missed three
games in 2003 and his performance prior to injury was his worst
during his tenure as the Giants’ starter.
The Gut Check doesn’t understand how many expect Barber’s
fantasy performance to drop when Eli Manning should take another
positive step forward, and the Giants get a solid upgrade at receiver
with Plaxico Burress replacing Ike Hilliard. Although Brandon
Jacobs may get the short yardage and goal line looks, The Gut
Check doesn’t see it as much of a concern for 2004. If anything,
an effective Jacobs gives the offense more effective play calling
options in the red zone.
Barber paired with Eli Manning reminds The Gut Check of the 1998
season when Marshall Faulk was the safety net for Peyton in his
rookie year and gained over 2200 yards from scrimmage. Although
Eli is entering year two, he has about half a season’s experience.
This means Barber will continue to be the offensive centerpiece
The Packers’ stalwart RB had his worst season as a starter
in 2004. Many reporters covering the NFL have made the Packers
the popular pick as a team in rapid decline. One of the factors
they cite is the loss of two starters on the interior line. While
the Packers didn’t do much to improve their defense, the
Gut Check believes the offense will be just fine. Green was hampered
with nagging injuries in 2004. As for the questions about the
line, much of what has been written is overblown. Green Bay is
getting back their pro bowl center and both tackles are still
in place. That is the core of the offensive line so adding veterans
to replace the guards won’t be as much of an issue.
Green is the 6th-most consistent #1 RB from 2001-2004 with at
least 50 starts. Nearly 64% of his games are at least as good
as the 12th best starter in a 12-team league. Plus as only three
backs were more consistent as a #2 RB—Green was at least
a top-24 back on a weekly basis 84% of the time. Is Green getting
the similar snub as Curtis Martin in 2002-2003? A heavy workload
back throughout the late nineties that suffered through a couple
of seasons of minor injuries and the resulting consensus mistakenly
pegged Martin as a declining back. Green has dropped out of the
top five this year, and early mocks have him as a late first,
early second round value.
The Gut Check doesn’t like to count on players getting
re-injured unless there is an established, chronic issue. One
couldn’t have predicted Martin’s issues and Yours
Truly has the same outlook with Green—there should be no
expected health issues heading into 2005. Brett Favre as a starting
fantasy quarterback is as good as they come and he’s proven
it regardless of the condition of his receiving corps. For Yours
Truly this means a healthy Green is still at least a top ten fantasy
RB. In contrast, a back like Julius Jones hasn’t proven
he can stay healthy—a message Bill Parcells definitely sent
with the drafting of Marion Barber III and the signing of Anthony
Martin’s fantasy point totals place him fourth overall among
backs in 2004, but his average draft position places him as a
back available in the middle of round two. The guy simply gets
no respect, although he rushed for 12 touchdowns and 1697 yards—his
career high!!! Fantasy owners must expect Martin to return to
his prior totals from 2002-2003—which means they are predicting
injury due to his age. The Gut Check doesn’t like to drop
a players’ value due to injury concerns unless he’s
proven to have chronic issue.
A more plausible reason for his drop is his consistency stats
from 2004. Martin performed as a #1 RB in a 12-team standard scoring
league about 56% of the time—that’s 13th overall among
backs. But 75% of Martin’s performances were at least as
good as any #2 RB—good for 9th overall in this category.
Better yet, Martin was tied with Priest Holmes for 4th overall
in the category of elite performances where 50% of his weekly
performances were good enough that only 1 other back could have
topped him in that given week. Take into account that Holmes missed
half the season and Martin was healthy all year and that’s
an impressive point. What better than a back with great upside
but virtually no downside throughout the season?
With the annual threat/promise of Lamont Jordan gone to Oakland,
Martin is more than ever the undisputed mail carrier. Former Titan’s
coordinator Mike Heimderdinger will provide a more aggressive
passing attack, but it won’t cost fantasy owners that acquire
Martin. In fact, a more vertical system should improve the running
game. The Gut Check believes Martin at least has another year
of #1 RB-production left in him.
Mike MacGregor’s Bay City Backlash Theory
Mike MacGregor believes Jordan is suffering the effects of what
appears to be some Bay City Backlash resulting from Kevan Barlow
not meeting fantasy owners’ expectations in 2004. Many fantasy
owners touted Barlow as a back ready to crack the top 10 last
season, but only a third of his total games were #1 RB-quality
and he was only good enough to start in a standard fantasy lineup
40% of the time—a huge disappointment.
There is a contingent of fantasy owners that appear to draw comparisons
between Jordan and Barlow—both physically talented backs
with power and speed and until recently, biding their time behind
a an established veteran for a starting job—and believe
Jordan has been long over hyped, otherwise he would have beaten
out Curtis Martin for the starting job in New York.
The Gut Check does not share these views. Yours Truly has been
watching Lamont Jordan since he was a junior at Maryland. Here’s
a scouting report on Jordan during his senior year—a down
year due to injury and poor offensive line, which subsequently
contributed to Jordan falling in the draft:
LAMONT JORDAN, Maryland, 5-10, 232, 4.48, 1st-2nd Round. "He's
a master blaster," Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian
said. "He slams it in there." Four-year starter who
rushed for 1,632 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1999, then merely
920 and 11 in 2000. "He has more ability than Tomlinson,"
one scout said. "He can run over people and around them.
You just worry about the off-field stuff. Never shows up for
anything. Doesn't want to work." Made some amends at the
Senior Bowl and workouts. "They hired a guy just to take
him to class every day so he could be eligible," another
scout said. "That's not good. If he was an A-1 guy he'd
be a sure-fire first because on grass he's running 4.4s. He's
got great hands, too."
The profile does sound similar to Barlow, a back with great physical
tools but suspect character, but The Gut Check believes Jordan
is more talented than Kevan Barlow. The anonymous scout rated
Jordan as a greater talent than Tomlinson. Although the Gut Check
believes Tomlinson has clearly earned his reputation, Jordan has
the capability to do it all—breaking the long run, getting
the tough yards, or catching the ball out of the backfield. The
problem for Jordan as a Jet has been Curtis Martin’s ability
to defy expectations and remain a consistently high producer.
He hasn't dropped off like Eddie George.
Jordan has been available for 52 games between 2001-2004—Tomlinson
has started 64 games. Although Jordan hasn’t started a game
during this time, 13% of his performances were at least worthy
of a #2 back—that’s impressive for a player with limited
To further indulge the Barlow-Jordan comparisons, one has to
compare Curtis Martin to Garrison Hearst. Frankly, there is no
comparison—Martin has been a much better back. Hearst has
four 1,000-yard seasons in his career and two seasons with 9 touchdowns.
He also missed two years due to injury. Although Hearst came back
strong with a 1200-yard season, his numbers have declined (partially
due to age, the injury, and Barlow) ever since.
Curtis Martin also has ten seasons of experience. Martin has
never rushed for less than a 1,000 yards and has six seasons with
at least 8 touchdowns. Martin has been more durable and he’s
played on a team that didn’t have near the offensive firepower
the 49ers had with Steve Young, Jeff Garcia, Jerry Rice, and Terrell
Owens. In other words, Lamont Jordan’s situation was only
similar to Kevan Barlow’s on the surface. Now that Jordan
has found his way to the Raiders, The Gut Check believes the new
surroundings will be a significant factor in the former Jet having
a great fantasy season.
Randy Moss is generally the first new component of the offense
that has everyone talking about better things to come for the
Raiders. It’s certain that any coordinator safety even contemplating
the idea of bringing a safety up to cheat the run will be taking
his defense’s life into his hands. While Moss is the most
often stated reason for the Raiders’ promise in 2005, The
Gut Check believes two draft choices from 2004 will serve as the
underpinnings for the Raiders return to contention. Tackle Robert
Gallery and center Jake Grove have the talent to develop quickly
into perennial all-pros. The two, second-year veterans man a unit
that will be capable of mauling opposing defenses.
Al Davis has a “if you can’t beat them, join them,”
outlook to free agents. The Gut Check remembers Jordan in one
of his first opportunities taking a swing pass and blowing through
the Raiders on about a 30-yard jaunt for a touchdown. It was an
impressive display of hands, vision, and speed. Jordan’s
skills are the best of all the backs on Oakland’s roster
in 2004: He has Fargas’ explosiveness; Wheatley’s
power; Zeroue’s lateral movement; and Redmond’s receiving
Raiders coach Norv Turner created an offense for Ricky Williams
that exploited his all-around talents, and Turner has also done
the same for Stephen Davis and Emmitt Smith. Turner will do the
same thing for Jordan. In fact the combination of Collins, Moss,
and Jordan are the perfect complements to Turner’s style
of play: pound the ball and go deep with play action. Jordan won’t
need to be replaced with situational backs so the offense becomes
less predictable and this also gives Kerry Collins more time in
the pocket. Collins is not a great quarterback, but he’s
capable of playing great when he has the weapons.
Here are the Raiders’ running backs combined totals for
|Jordan's Goal for '05?
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If Lamont Jordan equals this combined total, the resulting fantasy
points places him in the top 10 in most years. Considering the additional
off season improvements and Collins now in his second year as the
starting quarterback, the projected numbers make a lot of sense.
It’s important to consider the impact of Zack Crockett
as a goal line option. The Raiders mentioned Crockett would continue
to have this role and last year’s total of two touchdowns
as less than a third of his normal total in the last five seasons.
This means either Crockett could steal a lot of scores if he gets
the opportunities he had in Jon Gruden’s offense, or his
totals remain similar to last year—Turner’s first
Even if Crockett assumes the fantasy role of goal line vulture,
Lamont Jordan is a big play back and should be good for the similar
5-9 rushing scores Wheatley or Garner posted for this offense
from year to year. Yours Truly also believes Jordan should easily
surpass 1100 yards on the ground.
The Gut Check has provided the Minnesota Vikings’ rushing
totals in 2003, when Moss was healthy for the entire year:
|2003 Vikings - Rushing
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The totals would represent elite fantasy numbers for one back,
but Gut Check doesn’t foresee Jordan doing that well. Nevertheless,
it’s worth noting that the combination of Randy Moss and
Joey Porter with Ronald Curry or Doug Gabriel as the slot receiver
certainly rivals Moss’ former stable mates in Minnesota.
These stats indicate Jordan’s ceiling for production is
significantly higher than the 1100-yard total for the Raiders’
backs in 2004. Plus, the Vikings stats don’t even account
for Daunte Culpepper’s rushing yards! Adding Culpepper to
the total would be overkill, considering Kerry Collins will never
be mistaken as a running threat under center.
In The Gut Check’s estimation, the numbers alone indicate
why Jordan should be a great fantasy value. To make matters only
more promising, Jordan has long-wished for more opportunities
and has been hungry to prove himself to the point of frustration.
Jordan will likely enter the season desperately wanting to show
the NFL that he was held back in New York. This is a back The
Gut Check has seen drop past the second round in some early drafts,
although he won’t likely be that great a bargain as the
Best Mid-Round Gamble
The Panthers’ likely starter has all the talent and the
offensive system to surpass any of the backs mentioned here. Foster
has a similar running style to Fred Taylor—excellent vision,
power, long speed, and quick lateral movement. Yet, like Taylor,
Foster has coped with injuries early in his NFL career. This,
the reputation of the defenses in the NFC South, and the drafting
of Eric Shelton, has depressed Fosters’ early value among
The Gut Check sees a lot of positives beneath the surface that
make Foster an excellent mid-round gamble. First, Foster’s
season ending injury had to do with his shoulder, and not the
knee that was repaired with the controversial micro-fracture surgery
in 2002. The Panther’s knee has gone two years without an
issue. Although many people will give Kansas City’s defense
more credit for Foster’s 32-carry, 174-yard start in 2004,
The Gut Check cites the back’s playoff performance in the
2003 NFL Championship game as further evidence of what Foster
can do when healthy.
Stephen Davis is slated to return, but he’s entering his
tenth year coming of extensive rehabilitation from a knee injury.
Yours Truly believes the best-case scenario for Davis is to be
situational relief for Foster. The Gut Check foresees Eric Shelton
as the type of acquisition where the Panthers feel he has enough
talent to develop into a starter, but the financial expectation
isn’t such where he’s expected to compete for the
starting job right away. This is similar to the Jets drafting
Lamont Jordan to back up Curtis Martin. Shelton is more likely
thought of as 2005 insurance for depth in case Stephen Davis can’t
return to form.
This means Foster will get his shot as the feature back in an
offensive system that thrives on running the ball. Stephen Davis
in 2003 was a top ten back in terms of performing to a consistency
baseline equal to the worst #1 RB in 12-team league on a weekly
basis. It’s not stretch to say a healthy Foster could do
the same, but all the factors mentioned should drop him to rounds
3-5 in many fantasy drafts. This makes Foster attractive depth
with great upside, or for those that are more comfortable with
risk, a #2 RB for a team that focused on a top RB, QB and/or WR
These five backs should present better value than McGahee, the
two Jones backs, and Jackson. In fact, the Gut Check believes
McGahee is receiving a bit too much love from fantasy owners.
Although Yours Truly understands that projecting McGahee’s
stats through a full 16 games in 2004 could warrant such a warm
feeling for 2005, the Bills’ starter has yet to play a full
season and will be paired with first year, starting QB. True,
Tiki Barber was a top-five back, but his stats with Eli Manning
as the starter dipped noticeably in comparison to the first ten
weeks with Warner. In the Gut Check’s book, McGahee in the
early half of the first round is too great a risk considering
the players that were much more consistent than the Bills starter:
|Too Much Love For McGahee?
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|| RB #1
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|| RB #4
McGahee wasn’t even a #1-quality RB last year based on
consistency. His #2 RB baseline was significantly lower than the
rest of this group as well. His total fantasy points rate him
in the top ten, but unless your league determines championships
by total points scored, his lower-scoring games could hurt an
owner at the round time. These up and down performances aren’t
what one should expect from a top five back. Drew Bledsoe may
have been ineffective in Buffalo, but Yours Truly is skeptical
J.P. Losman will do much better in his first year. The Gut Check
believes McGahee will improve, but until the quarterback makes
strides, he will not be suitable for such an early selection.
McGahee’s best value would actually be in the range projected
for the other young backs mentioned—end of first to mid-second
round. Since reality dictates here, odds are McGahee won’t
be available that late. The positive for fantasy owners sitting
at the end of the draft order is that a surer thing will be available
for the picking—and possibly two.
When examining the historical average value of the running back
position, the difference in fantasy points between the # 5 RB
and the #15 RB is about the same as the difference between the
#1 RB and the #5 RB. In 1981, 1985, 1990, and 1995 the range between
5th rated RB and the 15th rated RB was narrowed even further.
The Gut Check wonders if there’s a time in the RB career
cycle where the amount of backs entering the NFL exceeds the number
retiring to the point where a glut of quality naturally occurs.
If so, can 2005 follow suit? Yours Truly believes this could be
If so, factoring consistency into one’s draft list could
help an owner better discern value from risk. Drafting an RB at
picks 4-6 that won’t far exceed the performance of backs
that will likely be available at picks 7-25 may not be as wise
a choice in comparison to selecting the most consistent of the
elite receivers or quarterbacks and following up with similar
value at RB in round two, and potentially round three. This all
depends on the how the glut narrows down due to injury. At this
point it’s something worth consideration.