The 2005 All-Gut Check Preseason Fantasy
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!
The All-Gut Check Preseason Fantasy Roster is a fantasy team comprised
of mid-to-late round players or potential waiver wire picks. This
is not a squad of front-runners, but a unit of overlooked, under-appreciated,
and likely overachievers that could benefit your fantasy team in
The Gut Check’s inaugural team performed much like an expansion
franchise—a big-time player, tons of injuries, some promising
moments, and some unmitigated busts
|2004 All-Gut Check Offense
Injuries really decimated The Gut Check’s collection of players.
Leftwich, Gannon, Suggs, Fitzgerald, Calico, and Kris Wilson all
missed significant time due to a variety of ailments. So, as with
any NFL coach willing to cope with the growing pains of his star
talent, Yours Truly has no problem sticking with some of last year’s
All-Gut Check preseason performers. Maybe it was just a case of
prematurely predicting a breakout season. Maybe it had to do with
The Gut Check not having a defense.
With these thoughts in mind, here is The Gut Check’s 2005
|2005 All-Gut Check Offense
|| 1st Team
||Kyle Vanden Bosch
Anyone not mentioned in the breakdown below has been discussed
in previous columns.
There’s a lot McNair and Leftwich have in common beyond
the obvious that both are big, strong-armed, and as tough as they
come in the pocket. The two AFC South quarterbacks played in offenses
that limited their creativity and skills to assess a defense at
the line of scrimmage. Offensive coordinators Bill Musgrave and
Mike Heimerdinger ran schemes that restricted their quarterback
at the line of scrimmage when the opposing defense was in formation
to stop the play. Neither Leftwich nor McNair were given a large
enough range (if any) of audible choices in order to make the
adjustment. As a result, both quarterbacks had to stand in the
pocket and absorb more punishment than necessary.
Enter new coordinators Carl Smith (Jacksonville) and Norm Chow
(Tennessee). Smith employs a vertical passing attack fundamentally
designed around a strong ground game. The aim is to employ play
action passing to keep defenses off balance. Chow runs a quick-strike,
short route passing game that involves every skill position. Both
coordinators have given Leftwich and McNair the freedom to change
plays at the line of scrimmage.
For Leftwich, this scheme should propel the offense to big plays
in 2005. Jacksonville had 28 passing plays of greater than 25
yards in 2004, tied for 16th overall. Leftwich had 27 of those
throws despite the fact he only finished 13 games and played in
an offense that did not capitalize on Fred Taylor’s skills
to employ a play action attack. It is no coincidence that the
play action game was a major reason why Peyton Manning (41), Duante
Culpepper (40), and Jake Plummer (38) led the NFL in big passing
plays last year.
A healthy Taylor, a slimmed down Reggie Williams, and rookie
phenom Matt Jones should contribute to an improved aerial attack.
earlier this month, Leftwich had a seven-game stretch that
demonstrated to the coaching staff their quarterback is ready
assume the responsibility of the offenses production. Last year,
The Gut Check devoted a column to Leftwich,
and mentioned his accuracy at Marshall despite one incredible
game where his receivers dropped several passes. Leftwich finished
the 2004 season with a 60.5% completion percentage despite the
Jaguars receivers dropping the most passes of any team in the
|| Passes Dropped
That’s right, the Seahawks may be better known for this
dubious stat but the Jaguars earned the title. Jimmy Smith and
Fred Taylor dropped 10 passes apiece, and Troy Edwards wasn’t
far behind with 7 dropped balls. Considering Chad Johnson led
the NFL with 14 drops and both he and Smith were among the leaders
in targets, the number isn’t as disturbing. Yet, it’s
understandable why the Jaguars chose to pick a great receiving
back like Alvin Pearman, and a player with reputedly freakish
hands in Matt Jones. Consider the fact that supporting receivers
Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford were both rookies, and this
problem should steadily improve—especially when the play
action attack should afford receivers more separation and Leftwich
Norm Chow’s offensive design will aid McNair’s production
because it will keep the former NFL MVP on his feet. The Titan’s
previous offensive system used three, four, and five wide receiver
sets without giving McNair the ability to audible out of the designed
play. In addition the Titans had only three defensive starters
complete the entire season healthy. The offense was playing from
behind on a frequent enough basis that they led the AFC with 589
passing attempts. As a result, Tennessee’s quarterbacks
suffered more sacks than all but eight teams last year.
Expect the Titans to give a rejuvenated McNair a great deal more
freedom at the line of scrimmage. Although the passing attack
will be predicated on shorter drops and matching routes, the up-tempo
design will allow McNair to spot mismatch opportunities. The result
should be long pass plays or receivers generating big gains from
yards after the catch. A healthy defense should keep the Titans
more competitive in the first half of games, which will prevent
opposing teams from blitzing McNair and company more often in
The Gut Check expects both Leftwich and McNair to outperform
preseason fantasy expectations and make excellent backups for
As with Yours Truly’s signal callers, the backs also have
a lot in common. Both are downhill runners capable of punishing
a team in the second halves of games yet possess enough speed
to break the occasional big play. Both have young, talented, and
explosive runners from big-time college programs nipping at their
heels. And neither was expected to be the 2005 starter, but both
are on track to defy expectations once again.
Mike Anderson has proven all preseason that he’s the better
back, and punctuated his summer performance with a 93-yard TD
run versus the Colts Saturday night—the kind of run fans
expected to see from Bell rather than the some-time fullback.
Until most recently, Anderson was a bargain bin RB in most drafts.
On the other hand, Stephen Davis hasn’t played in a single
preseason game and The Gut Check has been hyping Deshaun Foster
as a mid-round value all summer. But as of this writing, Joe Menzer
of the Winston-Salem Journal reports that Foster
expects Stephen Davis to remain the starter in 2005. Although
Davis is a risk because it won’t be until Thursday when
coaches and fans get to see if the veteran’s knee holds
up, Davis is going late in most drafts. The Gut Check isn’t
counting on Davis to be the force he was two years ago. This means
Foster should see more time, but a starting RB available after
round five is always worthwhile and what Davis appears to be.
Frank Gore and Jarrett
Payton represent talents downgraded or written off due to
injury and opportunities missed to develop further. Gore appears
to have nailed down the #2 spot on the 49ers depth chart and Mike
Nolan has stated he expects the rookie to spell starter Kevan
Barlow during the season. Since the rate of injuries creates a
historically high turnover rate for starting running backs, Gore
is in line for a decent opportunity and makes a good late pick
Payton has nailed down the #3 spot on the Titans depth chart,
by-passing rookie draft pick Damien Nash, and demonstrating improved
physical skills The Gut Check expected from the 2nd year free
agent. Tennessean.com scribe, Bill Wyatt makes reference
looking like a different player from last year—something
Jeff Fisher acknowledges in the article. In addition, Fisher’s
critique of Payton thus far sounds like a coach that expects continued
development. "He has a lot more quickness. Last year when
he came in he was heavier and was stiff and was an inside runner,"
Fisher said. "Because of his flexibility he has now, he's
been able to bounce outside and cut back. At times he cuts back
to soon, so we have to encourage him to press the hole and do
those kinds of things.''
Payton isn’t a player to draft at this point, but could
become an interesting waiver wire option. Travis Henry has been
nicked up and Chris Brown’s history was the reason the Titans
acquired Henry in the first place. The Gut Check believes Payton
will get better with more playing time, something that has become
a greater possibility than most initially thought at this time
Mike Martz recently said Kevin Curtis has developed to the point
where he can contribute on a similar level as his starters. Curtis
had nearly 350 yards receiving in the last three games of the
Rams 2004 season, and surprised many a cornerback with his blazing
speed. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Martz anticipates
making Curtis an active part of the receiving rotation, which
includes giving Bruce more frequent breathers each week. The Gut
Check believes that Curtis in the role as a #3 WR and sometime
#2 WR for St. Louis has the potential to have a season that approaches
Az-Zahir Hakim’s performance in 1999—36 receptions,
677 yards, and 8 scores. If Curtis gets an extended opportunity
to start, he has 1,000 yard potential.
Travis Taylor hasn’t lived up to expectations as a first
round pick, but he’s finally in an offense with a great
quarterback and weapons in the receiving corps to complement him.
If one placed Minnesota’s offense with Baltimore’s
defense, no one would be talking about the Patriots. Taylor was
expected to do as a receiver what Jamal Lewis did as a runner,
put the receiving game on his back. Terrell Owens and Randy Moss
may have this level of talent, but few receivers do—regardless
of round. Reports are Taylor’s summer has been impressive,
and the Vikings are expecting him to make a significant contribution.
Don’t sleep on this guy late in drafts.
The Gut Check has mentioned Antonio
Bryant and Matt
Jones enough lately. Both are climbing up many draft boards.
Make sure you don’t overlook Reggie Williams because Matt
Jones put his amazing physical skills and hands on display last
week. Bobby Engram has not yielded the Seahawks #2 spot at receiver,
and should see a lot of balls from Matt Hasselbeck. As a slot
receiver, Engram amassed 8 touchdowns as a rookie for the Bears
several years ago. The Gut Check knows Engram has a talent for
finding the open spots in a zone and though he is expecting the
Seattle receiver to be more valuable for his yardage than his
scores, 7-9 scores isn’t out of the question. Look for Samie
Parker to present similar value as Engram in total points, but
to have less consistency. This is due to Parker being more of
a deep threat, having less size to compete for red zone balls,
and still developing as a second-year player in the NFL.
The 800-lb Gorilla of fantasy football may be Patriots TE Ben
Watson. No one talks about him, but The Gut Check can tell you
that most long-time fantasy owners are keeping a keen eye on this
guy. Watson has athleticism that rivals the best tight ends in
football. Now that he’s healthy to start the season, Watson
is eager to make an impact. Watson had 6 receptions for 49 yards
against the Packers last weekend and he’ll be the receiving
tight end in two-TE sets this season. Starter Daniel Graham was
on fire to begin 2004, but tailed off quickly. He’s a great
blocker, but his hands have been inconsistent as a pro. Look for
Watson to become a Brady favorite this year. In May, The Gut Check
drafted him in the last round of the Fantasy
Football Handbook 2005 Draft as a high-risk, high-reward backup
to Alge Crumpler. As September approaches, the risk appears a
bit lower, while the reward remains high. Watson won’t be
this year’s Antonio Gates—but he could be this year’s
Jason Witten—still excellent for the owner that is willing
to risk it.
Giants rookie, Justin Tuck is a converted linebacker out of Notre
Dame with excellent quickness and playmaking instincts. His recovery
from a knee injury sustained during his junior year deflated his
draft stock in the eyes of scouts. Tuck certainly won’t
overtake Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora, but let’s not
forget that Strahan is a 13-year veteran. He has shown promise
in camp and the Giants definitely see a future for him Tuck should
see time on the field in 2005 as he’s the only “true”
end behind Strahan and Umenyiora. He’s had some impressive
moments this summer: an interception dropping back into coverage
and against the Jets, consecutive sacks to seal the game. Tuck
could be a precocious talent if thrust into a regular season situation
where production is demanded of him immediately.
Darnell Dockett was a 3rd round pick with 1st round talent. Most
in the media are predicting Dockett as a rising star and future
pro bowler as soon as this year. Yet, Dockett isn’t receiving
the same level of hype among fantasy owners. The Gut Check believes
Dockett flashed a similar potential for sacking the quarterback
from the defensive tackle position as Falcons fantasy stud, Roderick
Coleman. The Cardinals have an up and coming defense that thrives
on aggressive play so look for Dockett rack up nice totals on
a frequent basis for a position that isn’t generally a high
By most accounts, Gerard Warren should have been an all-pro long
ago. The Broncos have been known for their ability to get the
most out of defensive linemen with high profiles but might have
worn out their welcome elsewhere—just ask the Chiefs in
the early to mid-nineties. Warren has been a model citizen in
Denver and The Broncos look ready to take their 3rd-ranked defense
and translate that into production for fantasy owners. Not only
has Warren been cooperative, but among the hardest working players
in camp. Look for Warren to fulfill the potential Cleveland envisioned
from him as a first round pick.
The Gut Check has been watching Karlos Dansby and Donta Thomas
since they were at Auburn. Dansby flashed his pass rushing skills
as a rookie and has demonstrated good range in the preseason.
Look for Arizona to use Dansby off the edge as a pass rusher on
a regular basis—this will result in some big weeks for fantasy
owners. This is a linebacker that should compile at least 5-7
tackles per game with a high potential for points from sacks and
turnovers from week to week.
Donta Thomas took longer to pick things up as a rookie, but came
into training camp more prepared for the rigors of the NFL. Mike
Tice declared the competition for the WLB spot was over before
it barely got started because of Thomas’ play in training
camp. The Vikings are the popular fantasy defense on the rise
due to the influx of young talent in the draft and veteran free
agents still at the top of their game. Thomas will be the beneficiary
and should be a surprise near the leader board in tackles.
Odell Thurman gets a full season as a MLB in a run-oriented division.
Expect Thurman to have some excellent games as rookie, and contend
for the rookie of the year award with the Chiefs Derrick Johnson.
The Texas alum has such special skills that he should still make
a fantasy impact. Expect Johnson on the highlight reel throughout
the year. The same can be envisioned of DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys
rookie had a stat line against the Seahawks last week that included
a sack, interception, and forced fumble. He’s very agile
for his size, and Bill Parcells has a great track record with
defensive prospects. James Harrison has been one of the more aggressive
players in Steelers camp and should be a good value as an outside
linebacker in one of the best fantasy defenses available.
Michael Boley is an exciting prospect that dropped in the draft
due to concerns about his size. Many expected this explosive tackler
to be a ‘tweener that might not have the skills to convert
to safety if teams deemed him too small. Boley has been around
the ball and pressuring the quarterback on a consistent basis
throughout the preseason. This has earned the rookie out of Southern
Mississippi a roster spot behind fantasy stud Keith Brooking.
If Brooking goes down, grab Boley right away—he may blow
more assignments than Brooking as he learns how to be a quality
pro, but his speed and instincts will help him make a lot of plays.
For owners that need corners on their roster, Antrel Rolle is
yet another Cardinal that should experience a nice season for
fantasy owners. Rolle is a sound tackler with good size and is
aggressive to the ball. His speed is a bit of a question mark,
so look for the high-powered offenses of the NFC West to conduct
an NFL baptism by fire on the rookie. This should result in a
lot of opportunities to make plays.
The #2 CB spot in Pittsburgh has been a good place to look for
high scoring fantasy corners, and this year should be no exception.
The competition for the position is between Ike Taylor and second-year
man Ricardo Colclough. The Tusculum University alum is an excellent
playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, but he’s a
bit of a gambler. The Gut Check believes if Colclough earns the
job, he’s a reasonable bet to have a productive fantasy
Mike Rumph is a surprise pick, due to the fact he was toasted
more often than Wonder Bread during his first two seasons as 2nd
round draft pick out of Miami. Rumph has been converted to free
safety and the Gut Check sees similarities between Rumph and Browns
Brian Russell while with the Vikings—a weak passing defense
that affords the FS numerous opportunities to make plays.