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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 56
Serving Up An RB Feast

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!

Happy Thanksgiving. With his TIVO set to record the games, The Gut Check will be out in the backyard frying a 24-pound turkey with his pal Zook. Technically his pal is a cat, but he’s more like a truck with feelings and quick story he has to tell. Zook is the 17-lb. enforcer of our neighborhood pet kingdom that blindsides people, pets, and vehicles with the sudden ferocity of Chiefs soon-to-be Hall of Fame linebacker, Derrick Thomas. He may lineup in a four-point stance but he’s been witnessed on two when in pursuit.

Zook once initiated a helmet-to-helmet collision with a car moving down our street at 15-25 mph. The family found him motionless in the middle of the street after a neighbor reported what happened. The Gut Check, only working fifteen minutes from home, makes it there in seven. When he walks in the door, Zook is wobbling around the living room like guy that just got ear-holed on a special teams play. By the time he gets his pal to the vet, he’s completely lucid and sent home no worse for the wear the very next day. The Gut Check wishes he were kidding about this, but the cat has the personality of Dick Butkus on game day.

Fortunately, Zook likes the bird, and the tryptophan turns him into an animal rug for at least 4-6 hours. At least the guests will be safe. Once he does wake up, he can resume giving the kids lessons on form tackling. Other than Zook and his skill at teaching the kids how to hit, tackle, and the difference between the two, here is a brief list of things the Gut Check is thankful for in his life:

  • Frying Turkey at home instead of cooking geese at work.

  • TIVO—so The Gut Check doesn’t feel like a degenerate with the shakes while trying to enjoy family time with two ball games broadcasted back to back.

  • Chocolate cream pie…pumpkin pie…lemon meringue pie…apple pie…

  • Your Truly’s annual membership paid in full to the local health club. See bullet points #1 and #4.

  • The kids are now at an age where they understand sarcasm. Of course that means as a parent you can no longer succeed just playing basic zone or man schemes. You have to learn the zone blitz and the 46. You also have to hone your offensive game and learn how to beat those exotic blitzes. If you don’t get what The Gut Check is preaching to you, you are likely childless, have kids but the diapers are still on, or a decade has yet to pass since the diapers came off. In two out of the three possibilities you will get it eventually. When you do, it’s like going from college to the pros: the speed of the game gets a lot faster.

  • Did Yours Truly mention TIVO? It is great to have a recording of the Reggie Bush vs. Fresno State game. Yes Mike, another Reggie Bush plug. Get used to it.

  • A woman that tells me to rewind the TIVO when she sees The Gut Check watching highlights of Randy Moss or Brandon Lloyd making acrobatic receptions. The same woman that reminds Yours Truly that she drafted LT, Shaun Alexander, and Peyton Manning in her only year playing fantasy football (when LT was in his second season).

  • Thankful that the kind of “Charger” that excites me is a player, not a plate.

  • Thankful the arbitrator enforced the point that Terrell Owens should be held accountable for his unprofessional behavior.

With the pre-meal tradition out of the way, The Gut Check is ready to serve up his take on the second annual surplus of RBs in the NFL: whose status is in question; what makes them valuable to certain organizations; and where they may wind up next summer.

The Headliners

Shaun Alexander — The Seahawks would be crazy to let Alexander go. Here’s some things one would think Seattle is taking into account here (stats listed below and for other backs in this column are available at Stats, Inc.):

  • Alexander averages 5.6 yards per carry in the second half of ball games. The next best RB with at least 100 carries is Edgerrin James with 4.5 yards per carry.

  • The Seahawk RB has averaged 15 rushing scores over the last four seasons, despite the inconsistencies with the Seattle passing offense that led the league in drops last year.

  • 2006 will be Alexander’s sixth season. He’ll be in the middle of the window of time generally regarded as the prime age range for an athlete: 27-30. The Seahawks are a few defensive improvements away from becoming a dominant team. Even without these areas getting addressed, Seattle is a serious playoff contender.

The Gut Check wants you to consider that Mike Holmgren’s teams in Green Bay ran the same offense. The Packers took the next step from contender to Super Bowl team when they had a 1400-yard rusher (Dorsey Levens). The offense is predicated on balance between the run and pass.

If the Seahawks don’t re-sign Alexander, they won’t be elevating Maurice Morris. The Oregon alumnus is a solid back, but is not the dynamic playmaker they need from the RB position to compensate for a good, but not great passing game. The backs in the draft that best suit their offense won’t likely fall to them.

This means Seattle would have to look to the current list of players that may be available. The Gut Check believes it’s highly unlikely Alexander will leave. But let’s play the game and say he does. The two best matches for this team that is approaching its peak opportunity for contention are Edgerrin James and Priest Holmes. The Gut Check would believe James is out of the question, because he’s nearly the same player as Alexander from a talent-fiscal standpoint. On the other hand, Holmes is an intriguing possibility, which we’ll discuss later. With these possibilities, Alexander clearly has the advantage in this negotiation.

Edgerrin James — Forget about Edgerrin James going to Miami. It is the Ronnie and Ricky show in South Florida, and Edge will likely have to wait for his retirement from football before returning to Miami full-time. James may not have Alexander’s breakaway ability—Alexander has 36 runs of 10 yards or more to James’ 24 (still among the best)—but the Colts RB more than makes up for it in the passing game as a receiver and blocker. No back in football has had more first downs this season (James-72, Alexander-70), either. Considering Peyton Manning among the most potent offensive weapons on his own, there’s no doubt James has carried the Colts through the first half of the season.

CBS Sports reported during last Sunday’s game that Indy owner Robert Irsay has made it very clear that Edgerrin James is among his favorite players on the team and considers him integral to the Colts future success. He wants James to spend his entire career as a Colt. The team’s GM Bill Polian has earned a lot of respect for his vision so it will be an intriguing storyline as to how the Colts can keep James yet not lose players that maintain the necessary balance this team has been lacking for several years. The Gut Check believes Manning and a few others will make financial sacrifices to work with the team, because this offense knows better than anyone in the league that continuity is a rare and valued commodity worth maintaining at the skill positions.

Still, this column is about possibilities. So if James is shown the door where does he go?

Minnesota’s coaching staff behaves as if they need a full-time runner. It’s hard to believe Michael Bennett will be back next year. Onterrio Smith is knee-deep in personal-legal issues. And it’s hard to say whether Mewelde Moore or Ciatrick Fason is the answer—especially when the Vikings line is not playing great football. But ownership is determined to mold the team into a respectable organization that returns to quality football. Acquiring James would be a significant statement towards achieving this goal. The Gut Check doesn’t believe James would go for it, though. Minnesota will probably have an eye on yet another RB in the draft to add to their stable anyhow—Yours Truly wishes them luck on finding one that can be the full-time guy.

Baltimore would be a nice fit. James could reunite with the likes of alums Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and instill a higher level of versatility combined into one back rather than split into Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor. It’s doubtful Baltimore will go this route, considering they will likely have a first round caliber RB available to them in 2006.

The possibility of playing with another superstar QB will likely appeal to James and the chances of Brett Favre sticking around for another year or two would be enhanced if the Packers could find a back that could balance out the offense as a runner, receiver, and pass protector. James would generate a lot of excitement in Green Bay, and a healthy offensive with an improving defense could still contend in the NFC North in 2006. The Gut Check would like to see it as a fantasy owner, but the reality of it happening seems pretty short sighted for the Packers.

The two teams I think might pursue James are the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots. Both organizations have a track record for acquiring veterans and both their starters (Davis and Dillon) seem to be slowing down. Neither team has a player waiting in the wings that they are convinced can maintain the same level of productivity—including Deshuan Foster, unless he turns it up a notch or two in the next six weeks. James would likely be interested in playing for two contenders with excellent coaches and strong management that values veteran players.

Jamal Lewis — the one-time 2000-yard rusher has hurt his value a bit with a lackluster effort and questionable comments to the media about it. While the Ravens determine whether they can count on Chester Taylor, teams will be considering whether Lewis is a worthy possibility. The Raven is still among the best short yardage rushers (85% conversion on third and short) in the NFL. A ground it out team such as Carolina would be a good match, and it’s proximity to Lewis’ hometown (Atlanta) would be appealing to the back. Other than Carolina, The Gut Check believes most organizations will be shying away from offering Lewis a franchise back opportunity. This could mean a number of teams looking for stop-gap solutions with potential to prove greater worth will provide a lower level of opportunity than Lewis perceives his worth—New Orleans, Minnesota, and New England.

The Gut Check thinks the best offers could come from the Arizona Cardinals or Philadelphia Eagles. J.J. Arrington is an exciting back, but he’s young and struggled behind a substandard, performing offensive line. Lewis in a 1st and 2nd down role could provide more balance to the offense as they upgrade the line, and still allow Arrington more time to develop as a potential every down back.

The Eagles have Westbrook, but the added dimension of a power runner with breakaway speed not only makes the offensive more unpredictable, but more productive on first and second down. The Gut Check just doesn’t see Lewis’ I-back style as a suitable match for the Eagles West coast alignments.

Best Supporting Actors

Priest Holmes — Holmes is coming off a second straight injury-riddled season and likely to lose even more time to Larry Johnson if he remains a Chief. Since Holmes already got his big contract and his age will be a bargaining chip in any team’s favor, there quite a few teams that could vie for his services. This will make Holmes one of the most discussed fantasy backs heading into 2006.

As mentioned, if Shaun Alexander leaves the Seahawks, Holmes would find Seattle appealing because he’ll be the offensive centerpiece of a team in contention. The Seahawks have a great left tackle for Holmes to run behind in Walter Jones, and a system that emphasizes the short passing game. Holmes could be the ideal 1-2 year replacement on a team that is making a true run for a championship bid.

The Patriots would be another great fit for Holmes. He and Dillon could share time and be a 1-2 punch of aging superstars that are both great at the goal line but complement each other with their individual strengths in down and distance situations. The Patriots would have no qualms about Holmes as a team player, either. Still, Holmes may not be quite ready to split time to such an extent as he has with Larry Johnson—as professionally as he handled the situation this year. If the Patriots feel Dillon has seen better days, they may choose to cut him loose and opt with Holmes but it makes more sense from a team standpoint if they were to bring in Holmes, they’d want to rotate him with Dillon. Both players in limited time could be as good as they once were on their own.

As with the prospect of acquiring Edgerrin James to pair with Brett Favre, the option of Priest Holmes could be just as exciting and a more likely possibility. James will command a longer contract, and won’t be enthused about playing for a team where Favre is year to year. Holmes is more likely to accept this possibility and could also provide a mentorship to a younger back if the Packers opt to draft one. That leads The Gut Check to the discussion of…

Ahman Green — When healthy, Green has all the tools to help an offense. Unfortunately, he’ll have to face the facts that he lost out on any possibility of a big payday due to his season-ending injury. A coach that has faced Green throughout the years—like Dennis Green—could take a chance on him. Arizona’s offense would be complementary to Ahman Green’s talents and he could be brought along at a reasonable pace in a rotation with Arrington and Shipp.

Carolina could pair Green and Foster as a 1-2 punch, but the Packer’s propensity for fumbling the ball might be too much for John Fox who already has that problem with Foster. San Francisco could opt to bring in Green as a co-starter with Frank Gore and let Kevan Barlow look for work elsewhere. Green’s veteran experience could benefit the Niners, and allow them to take a more cautious approach with Gore and use the draft to upgrade the offensive line and secondary.

Talented But Need a Break

Thomas Jones — The Gut Check believes Lovie Smith won’t want to get rid of Jones and isn’t convinced Cedric Benson will be the answer. Smith may want to give Benson a couple of years to prove he’ll be a dedicated professional commensurate with his talent. In that case, Jones could still have a prominent role. Otherwise, Jones will have a difficult time landing anything more than a complementary role in another offense. He’d likely end up in a similar situation as this year: starting in front of a prominent rookie until he’s forced out of the job.

Chester Taylor — Taylor has enough talent for Baltimore to consider him as a step in a new direction for a one-dimensional, Ravens offense. He’s a strong receiver and tough enough inside to be an every down option in an offense that has decent role players to keep him fresh. Even if Taylor doesn’t get the starting job, look for the Ravens to keep him in the same role and cut Jamal Lewis loose.

Travis Henry — It doesn’t look like Travis Henry made a great first impression on Jeff Fisher. It’s hard to say what Tennessee will do with their RB situation. Chris Brown continues to tease, so it’s 50-50 as to the team’s decision on their running game. The Gut Check believes they’ll ride it out one more year with their existing stable. The offensive line is pretty good. The receivers are talented, but young—they lead the NFL in drops in 2005. Once this is shored up a bit, Tennessee could become a more consistent offense and the running game blossoms.

Ricky Williams — Though difficult to believe at the start of the season, it looks like Nick Saban is staying true to his word about Williams. It’s possible Ricky could thrive as a role player and without the extra pressure as the franchise player and maybe that’s the though process behind Saban’s desire to keep him. Yet, it could be Miami’s attempt to enhance William’s market value. If the Edgerrin James situation somehow didn’t work out, The Gut Check still believes Williams would be a good fit in the Colts offense. Williams would also be a very cheap solution and playing for a team that wouldn’t require him to bear all the pressure of their fortunes as he did in New Orleans and initially in Miami.