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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 79
In-Season Crank Scores Part I

Rookie Scouting Portfolio 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!

Last week, this column applied Mike MacGregor’s fantasy team stats differential versus the NFL average to explore the frame of reference behind player performance. This week and next, the Gut Check will take it a step further with 4-6 games of Crank Scores. The intent is to use Mike’s data to provide some indication of which player performances might improve, decline, or hold steady. This week will focus on quarterbacks and runners and next week, receivers and tight ends.

If you are not familiar with Crank Scores, Crank is a shortened term for Consistency Rank. It is a concept designed to help fantasy owners identify players that consistently have the best performances on a weekly basis in head-to-head games. For more detailed explanations and the evolution of the formula: Gut Check Vol. 67 (2006), Gut Check Vol. 66 (2006), Gut Check Vol. 40 (2005), and Gut Check Vol. 16 (2004).

As usual, there is a fair share of fantasy surprises to begin the season. The Quarterback position leads the way. The scores in this column are all based on FFToday default scoring:

In-Season Crank Scores For QBs
  Tm G Crank FF Pts Elite #1 #2 Subpar 2005 Projected Rank
Baseline FF Point Values >=23.51 >=18.24 >=14.23 <14.23    
1. Donovan McNabb PHI 5 144.8 30.16 80.00% 100.00% 100.00% 0.00% 1st 3rd
2. Eli Manning NYG 4 94.05 23.51 50.00% 75.00% 100.00% 0.00% 12th 14th
3. David Carr HOU 4 75.23 20.06 25.00% 75.00% 100.00% 0.00% 39th 25th
4. Peyton Manning IND 5 74.12 21.8 20.00% 60.00% 100.00% 0.00% 5th 1st
5. Charlie Frye CLE 5 62.05 19.39 20.00% 80.00% 80.00% 20.00% 37th 29th
6. Rex Grossman CHI 5 61.35 20.45 20.00% 40.00% 100.00% 0.00% NR 26th
7. Jon Kitna DET 5 56.00 20.00 20.00% 60.00% 80.00% 20.00% NR 23rd
8. Drew Bledsoe DAL 4 54.71 18.24 0.00% 50.00% 100.00% 0.00% 21st 10th
9. Michael Vick ATL 4 48.38 19.35 25.00% 50.00% 75.00% 25.00% 9th 22nd
10. Tom Brady NE 5 48.3 17.25 0.00% 40.00% 100.00% 0.00% 4th 4th
11. Byron Leftwich JAC 5 45.96 19.15 20.00% 40.00% 80.00% 20.00% 17th 20th
12. Alex Smith SF 5 43.6 16.77 0.00% 60.00% 80.00% 20.00% NR 31st
13. Marc Bulger STL 5 40.19 18.27 20.00% 60.00% 60.00% 40.00% 3rd 2nd
14. Brett Favre GB 5 36.5 18.25 40.00% 40.00% 60.00% 40.00% 16th 19th
15. Carson Palmer CIN 4 35.18 17.59 50.00% 50.00% 50.00% 50.00% 2nd 5th
16. Kurt Warner ARI 4 33.15 16.58 25.00% 25.00% 75.00% 25.00% 6th 6th
17. Chad Pennington NYJ 5 29.59 16.44 20.00% 40.00% 60.00% 40.00% NR 32nd
18. Damon Huard KC 4 22.33 14.89 0.00% 50.00% 50.00% 50.00% NR NR
19. Matt Hasselbeck SEA 4 21.84 17.48 25.00% 25.00% 50.00% 50.00% 8th 11th
20. Drew Brees NO 5 19.54 16.28 20.00% 40.00% 40.00% 60.00% 14th 12th

While it shouldn’t be such a shocker, Donovan McNabb’s play has been off the charts despite the absence of Terrell Owens and the revolving cast of receivers in and out due to injury. Other than Peyton Manning, McNabb is the only quarterback that is playing up to the Gut Check’s projections thus far. Will McNabb’s torrid pace continue for the season? Yours truly thinks so, but let’s research the quality of competition using MacGregor’s stats differentials.

McNabb and company has faced Green Bay, San Francisco, Houston, New York (Giants), and Dallas. Four of those five teams are among the five most porous defenses versus fantasy quarterbacks at this point of the season. When you rank these defenses based on the past three weeks rather than the entire year, this actually cuts a break to Houston, New York, and San Francisco with respective rankings of 18th, 12th, and 9th in QB fantasy points allowed—they are still fantasy-friendly to QBs but not as bad the more these stats were distanced from their contest versus the Eagles. In fact, Houston and New York’s numbers didn’t include their game against Philly when viewing just the three-week window. This reinforces the Gut Check’s (and probably the general fantasy public not even looking at stats) view that McNabb will continue his MVP-like season.

While the Gut Check is guilty as charged for downplaying Eli Manning’s prospects this summer, a real surprise that has most fantasy owners staring at this QB’s stats in denial is Texans signal caller, David Carr. Yours truly bet you were thinking Rex Grossman, but forget about him for a moment. Carr is playing like the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft with an impressive, 75.23 Crank Score—he has more #1-quality games than Peyton Manning!

So is it Carr or the competition? Based on the fantasy points allowed to QBs, it appears Carr is making strides towards becoming a fantasy stud. While Washington and Philly are among the most fantasy-friendly ten defenses versus quarterbacks, Miami and Indianapolis are in the middle of the pack. When you look at the past three weeks, Philly drops to 15th and Indy drops from 16th to 26th—rankings without Carr’s performance in their data—a clear indication the Houston passing game has improved and on track for more good games. Philly’s three week differential drops from its 15% at a 5-week span, to –1% for the last three. Indianapolis had a 5-week span of 2.3%, but dropped to an impressive –16.2%. Granted, the Colts faced Vince Young last week, and Pennington and Leftwich two weeks prior, but the numbers still indicate Carr is a serious fantasy option. The Gut Check is accepting the fact the Texans quarterback is a good fantasy option.

How about Charlie Frye? The Gut Check believes the Browns quarterback will not continue his early-season success. This actually flies in the face of the stats. Baltimore, Carolina, and Cincinnati all have stronger stats in the points allowed to QB category. But let’s look at the frame of reference behind the stats: Baltimore has faced Jake Plummer, a Marty-Ball-Limited Phillip Rivers, Chris Simms, and Frye. Carolina? Chris Simms, Drew Brees, Mike Vick, Brad Johnson, and Frye. Brees and Vick had good games here. Cincinnati? A rehabbing, Ben Roethlisberger, Damon Huard, Brady, and Frye got their shot at the Bengals—only Brady and Frye were decent performers.

As for Oakland’s defense, does the Gut Check even have to mention how bad they are? Seriously, Frye may have some decent efforts, but despite the stiffer passing allowances from the three teams mentioned above, the competition has been less than impressive overall. Expect the second-year starters’ numbers to drop over the course of October-November. Sell high.

A quarterback that should be passing Frye in the opposite direction is the Rams’ Marc Bulger. The opposing defensive stats for St. Louis’ remaining schedule are deceiving. Other than Chicago’s defense, the rest of the teams have faced some pretty mediocre-bad quarterbacks. Take a look at San Diego’s competition. Are any of those quarterbacks on the same level of productivity as Marc Bulger? Kansas City, San Francisco, and Oakland are all deceptively worse than the stats indicate based on the quality of competition. If you can acquire Bulger, the Gut Check urges you to make the deal now. The same can be said of Carson Palmer. Sit tight with these top guns because they’ll begin producing for you.

As for the runners, the Gut Check’s projections are a bit better—5 of his projected top 10 are actually performing in the top 10—still, there are some definite surprises after the first month of the 2006 season. There are also a fair amount of backs that are producing at a level where it may turn out the Gut Check underestimated their prospects this summer.

In-Season Crank Scores For RBs
  Tm G Crank FF Pts Elite #1 #2 Subpar 2005 Projected Rank
Baseline FF Point Values >=24.48 >=16.18 >=12.00 <12.00    
1. Brian Westbrook PHI 4 92.01 21.65 25.00% 100.00% 100.00% 0.00% 14th 9th
2. Larry Johnson KC 4 87.64 19.48 50.00% 100.00% 100.00% 0.00% 2nd 1st
3. Steven Jackson STL 5 48.21 14.18 20.00% 60.00% 100.00% 0.00% 17th 12th
4. Rudi Johnson CIN 4 47.93 15.98 25.00% 75.00% 75.00% 25.00% 16th 11th
5. Clinton Portis WAS 4 46.06 16.75 50.00% 50.00% 75.00% 25.00% 10th 3rd
6. LaDainian Tomlinson SD 4 43.04 15.65 50.00% 50.00% 75.00% 25.00% 5th 4th
7. Willie Parker PIT 4 42.23 14.08 25.00% 75.00% 75.00% 25.00% 19th 22nd
8. Frank Gore SF 5 38.98 16.24 40.00% 60.00% 60.00% 40.00% 41st 21st
9. Julius Jones DAL 4 32.01 14.23 0.00% 50.00% 75.00% 25.00% 25th 27th
10. Tiki Barber NYG 4 27.9 12.4 0.00% 50.00% 75.00% 25.00% 4th 8th
11. Chester Taylor MIN 5 23.96 11.98 0.00% 60.00% 60.00% 40.00% NR 28th
12. Marion Barber DAL 4 22.05 9.8 0.00% 50.00% 75.00% 25.00% 40th 34th
13. Ronnie Brown MIA 5 22 12.22 0.00% 20.00% 80.00% 20.00% 26th 10th
14. Deuce McAllister NO 5 21.54 13.46 0.00% 40.00% 60.00% 40.00% NR 36th
15. Fred Taylor JAC 5 21.42 11.9 20.00% 40.00% 60.00% 40.00% 27th 23rd
16. Edgerrin James ARI 5 18.85 11.78 0.00% 40.00% 60.00% 40.00% 3rd 7th
17. Dominic Rhodes IND 5 18.54 10.3 0.00% 20.00% 80.00% 20.00% NR NR
18. Tatum Bell DEN 4 18.38 10.5 0.00% 25.00% 75.00% 25.00% 28th 35th
19. Maurice Drew JAC 5 18.29 10.16 20.00% 40.00% 60.00% 40.00% N/A NR
20. Kevin Jones DET 5 14.74 12.28 20.00% 40.00% 40.00% 60.00% 43rd 15th
21. Warrick Dunn ATL 4 14.51 9.68 0.00% 50.00% 50.00% 50.00% 21st 19th
22. Laurence Maroney NE 5 14.11 11.76 20.00% 40.00% 40.00% 60.00% N/A NR
23. Cadillac Williams TB 4 12.49 8.33 0.00% 50.00% 50.00% 50.00% 18th 5th
24. Willis McGahee BUF 5 11.02 11.02 0.00% 40.00% 40.00% 60.00% 22nd 25th

Willie Parker qualifies as a player yours truly underestimated. Although the Steelers back had only one elite game, he’s producing like a top-12 back 75% of the time. Nine of Parker’s twelve remaining opponents are either neutral or negative match ups in terms of current fantasy points allowed to runners (you need to check out the above link to MacGregor’s Strength of Schedule grids—great stuff). This should be cause for concern, but despite the fact yours truly has been initially wary of Parker, three of Parker’s first four opponents—Miami, Jacksonville, and San Diego—are some of the better rushing defenses thus far in terms of fantasy points allowed to runners. All three of these teams have faced decent runners, so it would be difficult to label Parker’s start as a fluke. The Gut Check doesn’t see Parker climbing into the top five, but the Steelers back should continue to hang around the top 10-15 fantasy backs for the remainder of the season.

FFToday favorite, Frank Gore is right at Parker’s heels in fantasy production. The concern was his fumbling problem prior to week five, because that could open the door for Michael Robinson to steal touchdowns from the 49ers starter. This potential vulture of red zone carries may still exist, but Gore demonstrated improvement with ball security during week five. Even if the Niners’ starter proves he’s moved past this problem, he still faces eight teams with neutral or negative match ups for fantasy runners. If Gore produces like a #1 fantasy back in his next three games with San Diego, Chicago, and Minnesota, you’ve found yourself an elite back that you should be confident using as your top RB for the stretch run. If not, consider Gore a decent #2 at best because his early opposition would then be considered a bigger factor for his great start.

The Gut Check had Julius Jones rated 27th in the preseason due to the presence of Marion Barber III, who is producing as a top 12 back in his own right. Jones has outperformed the Gut Check’s expectations, but it is worth noting Parcells frequent use of Barber has been a reason why Jones has no elite games this year. The Gut Check expects this to be a common theme with Julius Jones for 2006. If the Dallas starter is your #1 RB, you’ll likely need a very strong #2 RB in your stable because he’s not likely to have too many huge games. But if one of the Cowboys backs gets hurt, the beneficiary of this bad news will likely be a catalyst for your fantasy team’s increased production. The Cowboys had a fairly tough schedule to begin the season but as you’ll see from the link above, they have some softer defenses ahead. This makes both backs solid plays, and potentially elite fantasy starters if one goes down.

What about the Gut Check’s obsession with Cadillac Williams? Will the Buccaneers runner continue to build off his 111-yard effort against a surprisingly decent Saints defense despite the absence of starter Chris Simms? After his match up with Cincinnati (they allow 44% more fpts from runners than the NFL average), the statistical outlook appears bleak with ten neutral or difficult defenses on the horizon. Bruce Gradkowski is going to have to play like he did in New Orleans—and better—to give Williams a shot at matching or exceeding his rookie production.

Tatum Bell’s performance on Monday Night was labeled a coming out party. What the Gut Check doesn’t understand is why haven’t the Broncos offensive line been given credit for opening van-sized holes in the Ravens defensive front? Bell wasn’t hitting the hold much harder than in previous games—he still hesitated and danced a bit—but the holes were so big, he still had time to cut back despite the fact he’s not naturally a downhill runner. Put Mike Anderson in that situation, and the older, slower runner might have scored on at least 2 of Bell’s runs. The former Oklahoma State star has some good opportunities in the coming weeks, but from games 11-14 he’s not the ideal back for the fantasy playoffs.

One of the bigger questions should be whether the Gut Check’s first profiled player, and top back in fantasy football, Brian Westbrook will continue his high level of productivity. The answer—health cooperating—is a resounding yes. The multi-purpose back has six neutral or good match ups on the horizon and only two difficult opponents until week 15. And that week 15 opponent is a Giants team he pasted for 18.4 fantasy points earlier this year. As long as Westbrook and McNabb can play, these two will remain elite fantasy players for 2006.

A potential sell high candidate might appear to be Rudi Johnson because he faces seven defenses that pose as neutral or difficult match ups, but the Bengals starter faces Indianapolis and Oakland during weeks 14 and 15. Plus, the Gut Check believes San Diego’s rush defense isn’t quite as good as the stats indicate due to the quality of their opponents thus far. They won’t be an easy opponent, but yours truly believes the –54% versus the NFL average is more opponent-driven than the simple stat shows.

Next week, the Gut Check will examine receivers, tight ends, and a few individual defensive players.

Week 5 League Updates

Fantasy Auctioneer Experts Invitational: The Gut Check fell to 3-2 after he chose Cadillac Williams over Fred Taylor and Steve McNair (and the three other Ravens this roster) failed to produce at Mile High. This team is still 4th in power ranking and has a decent 82.3% lineup efficiency. There’s room for improvement, but Carr and Taylor have been relative surprises this year and there’s little question Carr should start every week. This team can contend if Cadillac returns to form.

Projected Starting Lineup: Carr, Jackson, Cadillac, Reggie Brown, Mark Clayton, Horn, Heap, Stover, and the Ravens Defense.

Ironman 3 Dynasty League: Yours truly (team name Out To Lunch) had a 2-point loss in week 4 and now had a 1.2-point loss despite sporting the 3rd-highest point total of the week! The good news is despite having a 2-3 record Brian Westbrook is getting healthier. The bad news, Bernard Berrian has to go it alone as this team’s only healthy, viable receiver now that Larry Fitzgerald is rehabbing a hamstring. Here’s hoping Samie Parker and either Gabriel, Lloyd, or Kelly Washington can help out. Yours truly nearly won this contest due to Walt Harris’ 3-interception game against the Raiders. This week, the Gut Check is leaning towards starting Gradkowski over McNair. We’ll see if this will help or hurt his 82.3% lineup efficiency score.

Projected Starting Lineup: Gradkowski, Westbrook, Cadillac, Berrian, Gabriel, Lloyd McMichael, Lindell, Rod Coleman, Kyle Vanden Bosch, James Hall, Derrick Johnson, Channing Crowder, Julian Petersonl, Karlos Dansby, Walt Harris, Charles Woodson, Sammy Knight, and Glenn Earl.

SOFA Fantasy Auction League: The Gut Check bounced back with an 8-point victory thanks to the combined efforts of LT and Cadillac. The loss of Kurt Warner has hurt this squad. Neither Mark Brunell nor Chad Pennington is playing consistent fantasy football. The best point scorer on the Gut Check’s QB depth chart is none other than rookie, Vince Young—not a great sign, but he may have to roll with it. The Tampa Bay defense is driving yours truly nearly as crazy as old Chucky himself. At this point, the Gut Check is lucky to be 3-2 because his average points scored is 97 per game—2nd worst in the league. Fortunately, the 83% lineup efficiency rating means he can improve. He’s also going to need to do some free agent shopping with this bye week.

Projected Starting Lineup: Pennington; LT; Cadillac; Free Agent WR; Toomer, Michael Clayton; Watson; Akers; Free Agent Def.

MADFAD (Dynasty Contract League w/IDP and Fluctuating Player Values): Finally, a breakout game. The Gut Check was a close second in points this week with the help of Bernard Berrian, Frank Gore, Keith Bulluck, and Jay Feely. Oddly enough, yours truly didn’t start Joey Galloway! He meant to do so, but he must have missed it. This game vaulted the Gut Check from 7th to 4th overall in power ranking and his 3-2 record is still a good starting point for a winning streak.

Projected Starting Lineup: Gradkowski, Westbrook, Gore, C. Johnson, Galloway, Berrian, Shockey, Bulluck, Vilma, Feeley, Vanden Bosch, Umenyiora, Polamalu, and A. Wilson.

Local League (Traditional re-draft and scoring): Another CBS league, the Gut Check is just 10 points off the scoring lead with a 3-2 record, thanks to Greg Jennings, Larry Johnson, and Joey Galloway. He’s still not making the best choices with his number two back—stubbornly sticking with Reggie Bush—and it is holding him back from taking the point total lead. He landed Charlie Frye in free agency last week, but also picked up Bruce Gradkowski for Frye and Favre’s bye week.

Projected Lineup: Gradkowski, LJ, Thomas Jones (or Michael Turner), Joey Galloway, Marques Colston, free agent WR, free agent WR, Todd Heap, Stover, and Ravens defense.

FFTOC: Although last week’s performance was a clunker, the Gut Check is 96th out of 618 entries thus far and still holds the slimmest of leads in his division. He’s in the top 16% of the tourney and only needs to be in the top 33% to advance. As for his lineup, stay tuned for the week 6 installment of the 20/20 Hindsight Column for who the Gut Check picked—expect more big-time studs taking the field for the Hindsight’s A What squad.

Fantasy Football Handbook Expert Mock: The Gut Check thought his team was going to wind up as a running joke, but the joke is on him! His squad has inexplicably moved up to 3rd out of 12 teams! Much of this has to do with consistent production. Yours truly hasn’t had an output lower than 104 points and consistently maintains 112-115 points per contest. Maybe this Crank stuff is working after all…most of his production is owed to selecting McNabb back in May. This league scores off the best player performances from one’s roster, so he’s not even going to project a lineup. You can select the link for the roster to see the Gut Check’s options…