The 2006 All-Below The Radar Team
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!
Some journeys don’t take the expected path to glory. The Gut
Check was reminded of this truth over the weekend when he flew to
Denver to attend his sister’s wedding. His flight was filled
with technical, logistical, and procedural delays—turning
a 2.5-hour flight into an 8-hour grind. Fortunately, he was sitting
next to Adam, a kid from Hudson, Ohio, who displayed an impressive
amount of fantasy football acumen: Michael Vick’s sub-par
2005 completion percentage; why Steve Smith is overvalued in most
leagues right now; and a good argument for selecting Jason Hanson
as your kicker. Adam, if you’re reading this, I hope you had
a good time at your family’s wedding—and I hope you’re
dead wrong about Larry Johnson.
This got yours truly thinking about journeys where nothing seems
to go right in the beginning, but once near completion, it turns
out to be a rich experience. Some of these journeys related to
fantasy football and the other related to an in-flight adventure
the Gut check had at the age of 14—an experience few could
pull off in today’s environment within the commercial airline
industry—at least not without receiving personal attention
from the FBI and jail time. Before the Gut Check lists his lesser-known
talents that just need an opportunity to be fantasy football stars
in 2006, he’ll tell you how he once successfully boarded
a Boeing 727 headed for Atlanta, Georgia as a stowaway.
Several years ago, yours truly was on a plane bound from Denver
to Atlanta when in mid-flight, Hartsfield International Airport
closed due to fog. The flight was diverted to Huntsville, Alabama
and the airline informed the crew that we’d have to remain
in Alabama until the next morning. No big deal, except for the
fact the Gut Check’s dad accidentally left the airport with
the Gut Check’s ticket in his pocket. Most of you reading
this remember a time when the term airport security was
an oxymoron compared with today—these events occurred during
a more innocent era.
This meant the Gut Check was left sitting in the Huntsville airport—a
facility that’s the size of a bus station in contrast to
the Atlanta airport—too young to get a hotel room and without
a ticket to prove he was on the flight in the first place! While
the Huntsville airline employees were collecting boarding passes
from the rest of the passengers, the airline staff in Atlanta
was telling his mom that yours truly was not listed as a passenger
on the flight. This inspired a classic, “who’s got
the kid” argument between his divorced parents which ended
with the Gut Check’s dad telling his freaked out, ex-wife,
“unless he jumped out of the plane, he was on it!”
This degenerated into a John Hughes movie moment when at the same
time, yours truly was on a payphone unsuccessfully trying to call
both of them as they were arguing about their kid’s whereabouts.
Once he hung up the phone, he overheard a married couple deciding
they were going to get their tickets back from the airline and
board an stretch 727 with special radar equipment that was going
to make an attempt to gain clearance to land from the Atlanta
airport despite it being closed. If denied, they’d turn
back for Huntsville. Now the Gut Check doesn’t know much
about commercial aircraft instrumentation from that time—he’s
just telling you what he overheard. The Gut Check decided to follow
this couple’s lead as they took off running toward the tarmac.
Yours truly boarded the plane and there was no flight attendant
at the entrance of the plane. In fact, other than the married
couple there was no one on this huge jet! It was about 2:30 or
3:00 am, but the absence of the flight attendant was key. The
Gut Check made his way to the back of the plane and took a seat
next to those now extinct, hanging closets with the curtains.
About ten minutes later, maybe a dozen passengers board the plane,
including an exhausted-looking flight attendant who begins collecting
This is where the young Gut Check did something that combined
equal parts of foolishness, intelligence, and luck: Since all
the other passengers were seated at the front of the aircraft
yours truly slid down in his seat, waited for the flight attendant
to turn her back to collect tickets, and hid in the hanging closet
behind the curtain until the plane began to taxi down the runway
for departure. Fortunately, the plane was designed where the flight
attendant had one of those portable seats that came down from
the wall and faced the cockpit. This gave the Gut Check time to
climb out of the closet and into a seat as she took hers.
The flight arrived at a barren Hartsfield International Airport
around 3:30-4:00 am and as the Gut Check walked off the plane,
he smiled to the flight attendant. She grinned back a little confused
(they take a passenger count before take off) and appeared as
if she were rationalizing that she just miscounted passengers
prior to departure. Needless to say, the phone conversation he
had with his bewildered mom from the baggage claim was a most
satisfying end to an adventure that he actually forgot about until
the unfortunate events of 5 years ago.
So like the young Gut Check, there are several players that flew
under the radar in this year’s drafts but have the talent
and potential opportunity to become waiver wire studs in 2006.
|2006 All-Below The Radar
|| 1st Team
||L. Suggs/S. Davis
Neither Alex Smith nor J.P. Losman have clearly established themselves
as consistent playmakers. They have the promise (and big contracts)
to have the starting jobs in San Francisco and Buffalo, but if
either falters their backups have the experience and weapons to
be productive fantasy quarterbacks.
These totals don’t look especially impressive, but check out
the completion percentages despite playing behind below average
offensive lines and at best, average receiving corps. Holcomb
got enough playing time to develop a rapport with Lee Evans (although
Losman favored Evans more than Holcomb in 2005, Moulds is gone)
and Antonio Bryant moves onto San Francisco with Dilfer
Along with dangerous deep threats, McGahee and Gore should provide
more balance to the offenses and each quarterback needs this type
of balance to thrive. Neither guy sounds like a potential stud,
but Holcomb proved he could be a gunslinger with decent weapons
in Cleveland and Dilfer will continuously play catch up on a 49ers
squad that still lacks a sound defense.
Haynes’ running style reminded a lot of people at the
University of Georgia of Jamal Anderson: a bigger back that runs
with power but still has the movement of a smaller back at the
line of scrimmage. Haynes is a ‘tweener that has won more
trust from the Steelers coaching staff in each of his first four
years. It took Jamal Anderson three seasons to get a shot as a
major contributor because of his ‘tweener build and late
round draft status. Willie Parker will get every chance to prove
he’s an every down back, but it’s not out of the question
he won’t be able to carry the bulk of the rushing attack.
There are several backs that had 1000-yard seasons but never approached
the same totals again. Here’s a brief list:
Wilson was once one of the Gut Check’s Below
The Radar specials as a rookie with the Falcons in 2004. But
the former West Virginia Mountaineer fumbled away his opportunity
to be the #3 RB behind the talented backfield tandem of Warrick
Dunn and T.J. Duckett. Cincinnati quickly signed Wilson to their
practice squad. Now in his third season, Wilson finally got an
opportunity when 2004 1st round pick, Chris Perry, was placed
on injured reserve. The short, but powerful back led the NFL preseason
with 217 yards and earned a roster spot.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Wilson could
do a fine job replacing Rudi Johnson if the starter goes down.
Remember, Johnson was a 4th round pick who worked his way into
a starting job when most thought Corey Dillon would remain the
main ball carrier in Cincinnati for quite some time. Although
Kenny Watson is also an option, it’s more likely the Bengals
consider him more of a third down, change of pace back. Even if
Watson and Wilson were to share time in the event of a Johnson
injury, Wilson would likely get the 1st and 2nd down carries in
addition to attempts in the red zone.
Cobbs is possibly the most naturally talented runner of the
three-headed Denver backfield. Once one of the most highly touted
backs to come out of prep football, Cobbs displayed a mix of breathtaking
vision and speed when he was healthy enough to see the field at
Arkansas. Throw in the minor off-field troubles and Cobbs became
an underachiever that saw his draft stock plummet. The Patriots
hoped to steal Cobbs when they drafted him in the 4th round back
in 2004, but Cobbs had nagging injuries that kept him out of practice.
He also took too long to learn the playbook, which earned him
a ticket out of New England.
Patriot fans understandably have a poor impression of Cobbs,
but the Broncos decision to sign the runner is at least a validation
of the player’s talent. Maurice Clarett was a talented back
when in shape and focused—Shanahan clearly hoped he landed
a player that would make the most of his opportunity. Although
this gamble failed, Cobbs is a similar talent but without the
baggage. The former Razorback played well enough to make Ron Dayne
expendable as well as make the race for the starting position
a tight one. In Denver, he’s considered a dark horse candidate
to win the job. If he remains a backup, don’t be surprised
if Cobbs gets enough opportunities in the real season to earn
more playing time.
Suggs and Stephen
Davis are both considered highly talented, but broken down
backs. Suggs provided fantasy owners a bit of hope when he was
traded to the Jets before failing his physical. On the surface,
the failed physical adds more to the specter of Suggs as a brittle
player, but there a couple of things about the nature and timing
of the exam process that might be in the back’s favor.
First, the Jets supposedly failed Suggs due to his surgically
repaired knee. A knee that held up just fine when he was on an
NFL playing field since he underwent the procedure as a junior
at Virginia Tech. All of Suggs’ injuries as a pro were not
related to this knee. The Gut Check has two possible theories
as to why New York failed Suggs and sent him back.
Remember, ESPN reported that the physical exam is a subjective
process from team to team—one organization can fail a player
where another might keep him. Intentionally or otherwise, this
leaves the team room to have an “out” as they make
a transaction. It would be silly to believe when an NFL organization
is looking to make a deal for a specific position they aren’t
focused on solely one player—they are likely negotiating
with at least a few other teams at the same time.
With this in mind, it’s quite probable the Jets acted quickly
on Suggs because the deal seemed good but during the consummation
stages received a response from their initial floater on a back
they liked even more—Kevan Barlow. The Gut Check speculates
the Jets could have decided they were confident that they could
land Barlow for a reasonable price and decided they could use
the examination process as an “out” to renege on the
Suggs deal. Considering what we often don’t hear about the
NFL wheeling and dealing until way after the fact, this is a reasonable
possibility. Especially when you consider Nick Saban and the Dolphins
who were scared of Drew Brees’ injury, acquired Suggs off
waivers. True, these are two completely different scenarios in
terms of risk due to salary, injury, and position but there are
certainly other capable backs Miami could have acquired off waivers.
So just as the Dolphins shopped for the best fit at quarterback,
they did the same when it came to a backup runner.
The other possibility could have to do with a player violating
the NFL substance abuse policy. A first-time infraction is kept
confidential, but it would still give a team cause to fail a player’s
physical. Suggs is considered a high character player, so this
theory doesn’t seem to fit as neatly to the Gut Check as
the first. Of course either way, these are two possible reasons
why Suggs was sent back to Cleveland. Due to the Jets explanation,
other suitors of the back probably low-balled their offers with
the knowledge that Suggs would likely be released with the last
series of cuts.
If Ronnie Brown goes down, Suggs could become a hot commodity.
He has breakaway speed, skills as a short yardage runner, and
catches the ball well out of the backfield. The big if has been
durability. Funny enough, most of his issues occurred away from
the field or during the preseason. The neck issue from 2004 was
a questionable one, as Suggs disputed the nature of the injury
report and hinted that he wasn’t one of Butch Davis’
Stephen Davis is regarded as a worn-out runner. He came off an
2004 injury to post some excellent fantasy totals early last season,
but faded down the stretch due to another injury. Now fully recovered,
Davis signed with the Rams and has looked good during initial
practices with the team. His upside is probably similar to that
of his Redskin predecessor, Terry Allen, a back that hung on longer
than expected and served as a decent fantasy plug-in. Consider
Davis as this kind of option if you are in a bind for a runner
and Stephen Jackson goes down.
Johnnie Morant is one of those T.O. hopefuls: a big, fluid athlete
that has the raw skills to become a valuable player as he learns
the position. Morant was very raw out of Syracuse, but he has
made enough strides for the Raiders to depart with Doug Gabriel.
Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry should both be ahead of Morant,
but Porter’s behavior has him out of favor with the coaching
staff and Curry is coming off Achilles tears to the same leg in
consecutive seasons. Alvis Whitted has limited upside, so Morant
might be a guy you want to look for when watching Raiders games
early this season. If he starts earning time, he could be worth
a pick sometime this year.
The Gut Check doesn’t need to discuss Chris
Henry’s talent. The only reason the second year Bengal
is on this list has to do with his multiple off-field infractions
that have earned him a 4-game suspension. Henry has gone un-drafted
in several fantasy leagues and should make a great week two or
week three waiver wire addition if you suddenly find yourself
thin at receiver. Although he’s firmly entrenched as the
#3 WR, the Bengals love using Henry on the outside and Houshmandzadeh
in the slot. In the Bengals offense, Henry can still thrive in
this situation as a cheap fill-in player for a fantasy owner.
Marcus Robinson should have been a late round pick in most leagues,
but if you had an early or mid-August draft, he likely sits on
your waiver wire right now. Despite his health issues early in
his career, Robinson has stayed relatively durable in recent seasons
and should see a lot of playing time as a deep threat and red
zone option due to his long speed, height, and leaping ability.
Andre Davis is like a younger Marcus
Robinson and has shown enough to be considered a viable outside
threat if either Lee Evans or Peerless Price gets hurt. Price
is also coming off three disappointing seasons with Atlanta and
Dallas, so it’s not out of the question that the returning
Bill could underachieve once again and open the door for Davis
during the season. Davis also has a good rapport with Kelly Holcomb
when they spent time in Cleveland.
The Gut Check already discussed Sam Hurd and Devard
Darling in Volume
72 of his column. Both are players that should be easily available
on the waiver wire unless one of the starting receivers in Dallas
or Baltimore gets hurt.
Conwell is a pretty good tight end that has had decent moments
between injuries in his NFL career. When healthy, he’s an
excellent short and intermediate option. Brees will be looking
to the tight end in the Saints passing game, and as teams focus
on Horn, McCallister, and Bush, Conwell should see a lot of single
coverage. Don’t be surprised if the Saints starter has a
surprisingly good year. Many fantasy owners assumed Zach Hilton
would be the starter, but he actually got cut last week. This
means Conwell is probably sitting on your waiver wire.
Mills will be listed as a tight end, but he’ll likely
see time in New England as an H-back or fullback. The Patriots
see him as player with Larry Centers’ skills and hope to
utilize him as such once Mills displays he’s ready. The
rookie out of Tulsa had a lackluster mini-camp but looked much
more impressive when training camp and the preseason got underway.
This is a player you can probably use to exploit your league’s
rules if he sees enough playing time at H-back to warrant a start
as your tight end.