Pitch and Catch Combos
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!
Quarterback-receiver combinations in the same starting lineup—known
as Pitch and Catch Combos—are often seen as a boom-bust
strategy. The Gut Check will examine the consistency of these combinations
versus traditional lineups and profile the best and worst combos
in recent seasons. Due to free agency, there aren’t a lot
of combos of this type in recent years. So the Gut Check will break
down the best combos in recent years as well as taking a shot at
predicting the ones to draft in 2006.
What makes a strong pitch and catch combo? The quarterback has
to be highly productive. Otherwise it makes no difference if his
favorite wide receiver accounts for a significant percentage of
his passing yards and scores because a percentage of a small number
is just a smaller number. We’re looking for receivers on
prolific passing offenses. Pitch and catch combos that our opponents
would be turning off their televisions with disgust because it
seemed the two players were hooking up more often than Wilt Chamberlain
at a bachelorette party.
Here are the top 20 combos from 2002-2005 that fit this description
for at least a 14-game season:
|Top 20 Combos - 2002-2005
|| % Yds
|| % TDs
The percentage columns on the far right describe the percentage
each receiver’s totals account for his quarterback’s
productivity. The quarterback had to at least have 3000 yards passing
and 19 touchdowns and the receiver had to account for no less than
29% of his signal caller’s yardage and td passes.
It’s at this point, you should see there’s a difference
between the pairing of a decent quarterback and a great receiver,
and a true pitch and catch combo that a fantasy owner should seek
in his drafts. Mark Brunell to Santana Moss, Jeff Garcia to Terrell
Owens, and Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith were combos where you
most definitely took the receiver, but could take or leave the
quarterback. The quarterbacks were decent fantasy starters, but
not equally productive at their position as their primary receiver.
Jon Kitna to Chad Johnson in 2003 was a good example of combo
production on both sides of the equation that would do a fantasy
owner good. Kitna was the 9th-rated fantasy quarterback and Johnson
the 3rd-best fantasy receiver. Johnson alone accounted for nearly
40% of Kitna’s productivity. That’s a combination
that any fantasy owner would enjoy watching on Sundays.
The best combo from this period has to be the 2002 version of
Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison. That’s 583 fantasy points
from this combo, and 23 more points than if you had the RB tandem
of Shaun Alexander and Clinton Portis on your squad—the
4th and 5th best Rbs in 2002! Yet the Gut Check isn’t recommending
you change your draft approach to pick QB-WR combos from the same
team in the first two rounds because one example. Manning to Harrison
in 2002 is what the best type of combo can do. The point is the
pitch and catch combo can make your fantasy squad highly successful,
and you shouldn’t avoid it if the opportunity to select
the right one occurs on draft day.
So which is the right one? Judging from the top 20, there
are some names that keep showing up on this list. Manning to Harrison
is obvious—they show up no less than three times on this
list. Brett Favre to Donald Driver appear twice, and Farve to
Walker once. Terrell Owens shows up twice on this list with different
quarterbacks and Drew Bledsoe shows up twice with different receivers.
Will 2+2 add up correctly for Owens and Bledsoe in Dallas next
year? It seems too hard to deny just from this history.
Jake Delhomme also shows up with two different receivers. The
Gut Check believes the presence of Keyshawn Johnson, the development
of Drew Carter, and a rebound year from Kerry Colbert, should
make the Delhomme to Smith pitch and catch combo develop into
a true pairing worthy of a fantasy owner’s attention in
2006. This may be one of the easier WR-QB combinations to acquire
in most drafts, because Delhomme usually goes somewhere after
round 6 or 7.
Another way to locate a good pitch and catch combo is to examine
production for a range of seasons. The Gut Check looked at Pitch
and Catch Combo totals for two seasons and four seasons. It needs
to be mentioned that the percentages in bold in the last two columns
for these two tables are not completely accurate. The quarterbacks
did not complete full seasons during this span of time. Therefore,
the receivers’ percentage of yards and scores to the QBs
numbers are inflated.
|| % Yds
|| % TDs
|03 & 05
If you are looking for the ultimate pitch and catch combos still
playing together, the top three choices on this list are pretty
obvious. These combos are probably easier to acquire in auction
leagues than traditional drafts. The Panther’s duo of Smith
and Delhomme is included on this list because of their 2004 season
lost to injury and 2005 seemed to build upon 2003’s fine effort.
The Carolina tandem mark the beginning of a pitch and catch combo
that a fantasy owner should have an easier time acquiring if he
so chooses. Favre to Driver and Manning to Wayne are probably even
better combos than Smith-Delhomme, because Driver and Wayne are
generally considered #2 WRs on a fantasy team’s starting lineup.
This affords the owner an opportunity to have a #1 fantasy WR in
addition to these receivers that may be #2’s in our leagues,
but #1-A options (at worst) in reality.
The Gut Check threw in Derrick Mason and Steve McNair because
this combo has a strong chance of being reunited in Baltimore
as yours truly writes this column. This pair has the potential
to be a great bargain for a fantasy owner picking them up in the
mid-to-late rounds. If they click in the Ravens offense, they
could have the kind of stretch run Kurt Warner and the Cardinals
receivers experienced at the end of 2005.
|| % Yds
|| % TDs
*Two exceptions with 3-year totals: Mason-McNair
If you are looking for longevity Harrison-Manning is like Rice-Young
in this respect (they broke the 49ers pitch and catch tandem’s
record last year). Holt and Bulger show nearly the same amount
of promise when Bulger can stay healthy. Packer fans haven’t
had to worry too much about health problems with Favre under center.
Donald Driver may not be a highly regarded primary threat, but
he’s highly underrated as both an NFL and fantasy receiver.
Kennison and Green in KC a nice duo that’s generally easy
to pick up with little fanfare, but the Gut Check would be concerned
that Green has more of a pitch and catch effort going with Gonzalez
in many respects. A tandem that is better than their numbers is
Seattle’s Darrell Jackson and Matt Haselbeck. Jackson’s
injury-riddled 2005 deflated their two-year and four-year totals.
Look for these two to be among the top pitch and catch combos
Still, total yards and scores don’t take week-to-week consistency
into account. One way to predict the best pitch and catch combos
may be to find the individuals with the highest Crank Score. Here
are the 10 most consistent receivers and quarterbacks between
|Most Consistent WRs: 2002-2005
|Most Consistent QBs: 2002-2005
Taking all of this analysis into consideration, here is The Gut
Check’s list of Pitch and Catch Combos you would be wise
to consider or avoid for 2006.
Like a Well-Oiled Machine
Marc Bulger-Torry Holt: Scott
Linehan takes over in St. Louis, but this shouldn’t worry
fantasy owners that appreciate the connection between Bulger and
Holt. The biggest issue has been Bulger’s health. Linehan
will likely tinker with the offense or call certain plays in situations
where Bulger doesn’t take as many hits. When able to take
the field, the Bulger-Holt tandem is as good as any in the league.
It’s also a great pass catch combo to pursue, because Bulger
is infrequently drafted in the range of a first-tier stud due
to his durability problems, but he has the upside to make him
and Holt among the most consistently high-scoring (see the Crank
scores above) combos in the NFL.
Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison/Reggie
Wayne: Manning-Harrison is the best pitch and catch combo
in fantasy football, real football, and quite possibly the history
of real football. From 2002-2005, Harrison scored at least like
a #2 starting WR in fantasy football in 75% of his starts—best
among all receivers. Manning is not only among the most productive
fantasy quarterbacks, but he has also never missed a game due
to injury. Reggie Wayne may have started his career as the second
fiddle to Harrison in the pecking order, but he has developed
into option 1-A and made Edgerrin James expendable. The Manning-Wayne
combo has been easier to obtain on draft day, but the past two
years have made it more difficult.
Carson Palmer-Chad Johnson:
Assuming Palmer is ready to play, the Bengals pitch and catch
combo may be better than all three the Gut Check has profiled
thus far. It may also be an easier tandem to obtain because of
doubts about Palmer’s readiness for the season. If drafting
early this summer, it might be worth the risk to acquire them
both. Johnson has among the highest percentages of stats from
a prolific quarterback of all the combos. This pair of players
is one a fantasy owner wants to have at 4pm Sunday or Monday night
when playing from behind and his opposition is out of players
because they ring up the points quickly and frequently.
Brett Favre-Donald Driver:
Neither Favre nor Driver are the most consistently productive
fantasy players on a weekly basis, but the combo’s 2002
and 2004 efforts were among the best pitch and catch totals around.
If the Green Bay offense returns to health, Driver has both the
speed and fearlessness to stretch the field and make the tough
catch across the middle. Both players are considered borderline
#1 starters for owners, so they are also easy to obtain without
losing out on other needs for a starting lineup.
Drew Bledsoe-Terry Glenn: Last
year Terry Glenn accounted for nearly a third of the Cowboy’s
passing production and his running mate was a slow, but solid
possession receiver in Keyshawn Johnson. Terrell Owens has been
the best all-around receiver in the game in recent years and the
most consistent fantasy receiver since 2002. Don’t count
on Glenn taking too much of a backseat to Owens in 2005. Look
at the 2002 Bills quarterback-receivers production. Moulds stats
were greater than Price by only 35 yards and a score. If Bledsoe
can do this with those two receivers, imagine the possibilities
with his favorite receiver (Glenn) and what could turn into his
favorite receiver for this year (Owens). The wise fantasy owner
will anticipate the likelihood of Terrell Owens arrival overshadowing
Terry Glenn’s draft value and act accordingly.
Kurt Warner-Larry Fitzgerald/Anquan
Boldin: Is this passing offense the second coming of The
Greatest Show on Turf or Dennis Green’s Minnesota connection?
Heck, with the addition of Edgerrin James will it be the Colts
of the Southwest? Who cares what the right comparison will be
if they perform like they did last year after week 9 with Warner
at the helm. As with Bledsoe, Warner’s value should increase
in 2006 drafts because of the addition of James and more importantly
his second half production in 2005. Neither combo is probably
for the risk-adverse due to Warner and Boldin’s recent injury
troubles, but in many leagues Warner still may be available late
enough to make him your second quarterback. Pairing Warner with
either of these two excellent young receivers could propel your
team to great heights.
Donovan McNabb-Reggie Brown:
An owner with a sense of perspective will throw out Donovan McNabb’s
2005 season as an anomaly of serious injury and even greater turmoil.
What he’ll take into account is the fact McNabb has been
a top five quarterback from the span of 2002-2005—with or
without Owens. Just a quick tangent—Owens may have demonstrated
toughness and a will to win when he played in the Super Bowl after
coming back too early from a broken leg to be fully healthy, but
it also smacks of being an attention-seeking, media whore. On
the other hand, McNabb snaps his ankle at the beginning of a game
that in hindsight had much less meaning and delivered a sterling
performance. The Gut check believes McNabb’s effort was
truly more heroic than Owens in the landscape of sport. Owens
knew his risks, had time to rehab, and had the Super Bowl as motivation.
McNabb risked making an immediate injury much worse just to help
his team win a game that wouldn’t net him a championship,
possible endorsements, or a place in history. Which effort was
more selfless? You know the Gut Check’s take on that one.
Anyhow, McNabb’s primary receiver will most likely be second-year
man, Reggie Brown. As a rookie, Brown was very productive and
should assume one of the top two spots on the progression tree
alongside RB Brian Westbrook in 2006. Both players will be underrated,
and easy to obtain—for this year only.
New Dance Partners
Drew Bledsoe-Terrell Owens:
Despite the Gut Check’s distaste for Owens’ behavior
throughout the second half of his career, the Cowboys’ new
receiver has been the best in the game. Look for Owens to have
the type of year he had as an Eagle the first time around (77
receptions 1200 yards and 14 scores).
Aaron Brooks-Randy Moss: Talk
about the island of misfit toys! Brooks is a physical wonder with
a terrific arm, but prone to making poor decisions in pressure
situations. Moss is arguably the most dominant deep threat in
the history of football but is prone to making poor decisions
when the ball is no longer in play. Even so, both players were
very productive fantasy threats prior to last year. The Gut Check
was high on the Collins-Moss combo last season, but the games
demonstrated something yours truly did not take into account:
Collins may have a big arm but he can’t throw on the move
like Culpepper. Defenses exploited this weakness in Collins’
game and made the Raiders pay dearly. Aaron Brooks can throw on
the run, and his ability to make a broken play successful with
his athleticism and arm will be the missing piece to the Raiders
offensive woes in 2005. The Gut Check knows this seems perverse,
but he just has this weird feeling the words “Aaron Brooks—AFC
Pro Bowl quarterback” has a funny, but truthful ring to
it in 2006.
Drew Brees-Joe Horn: The Gut
Check believes timing can be a difference between a poor fit,
and a match made in heaven. Brees coming to New Orleans is one
of the best things for Joe Horn. Both Brees and Horn are intense
players with a highly competitive spirit. Horn needed to mature
as a leader and has done just that in recent years. The Gut Check
thinks Horn’s experience with the laid-back Aaron Brooks
has set the table for him to appreciate the leadership and intensity
Brees will bring to the Saints. Horn is like Keenan McCardell
with speed. With Bush, McCallister, and Stallworth keeping defenses
honest, Horn should be in for an excellent year if Brees is healthy
for the opener.
Daunte Culpepper-Chris Chambers:
The Dolphins got Culpepper at a fire sale price. It’s not
likely he’ll be ready until the halfway point of 2006, but
Miami fans have been imagining this type of combo since the team
realized they had a receiver with the physical talent to do great
things, but lacked the quarterback to make it so. Sometime this
year, we’ll get a 2007 preview of what might become the
next, most explosive deep game in the NFL. If you play your draft
right and find yourself with Culpepper at a bargain round and
a solid roster, you could have a great stretch run—especially
if Chambers is a part of said roster.
Steve McNair-Derrick Mason:
If McNair becomes a Raven, he’ll be reunited with his favorite
receivers over the past 3-4 years. Although Mason’s totals
weren’t great in Baltimore, the only thing he lost was a
good quarterback for most of the season. The Tennessee connection
had some pretty good numbers and if McNair stays healthy with
a good running game in front him, he’s one of the more consistently
productive starters in fantasy football. McNair and Mason may
not be the most productive combo, but they’ll be easy to
acquire and at a bargain price they should easily outperform.
Note: The Gut Check isn’t saying to avoid these
players individually, just don’t seek them out as pass catch
Trent Green-Eddie Kennison:
These two are among the better tandems in recent years, but the
departure of Al Saunders and the arrival of Herm Edwards will
mean more ball control and conservative play calling. With Larry
Johnson to wear out defenses, who can blame Edwards for the desire
to keep the porous defense he inherited from spending more time
on the field than absolutely necessary?
Brady-Any Pats receiver: Maybe
Chad Jackson will finally be that primary receiver Brady has lacked
throughout his career, but it won’t likely become a reality
until 2007—the earliest. Look for Brady to have a less productive
season without Givens and the running game’s return to health
with Dillon and rookie, Laurence Maroney.