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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 113
Big Play Artists and Grinders at QB and RB

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!

The two most exciting players for a fantasy owner come from opposite spectrums. There’s the guy who is like a fantasy point slot machine rigged in your favor: On a single play he’ll give you 8-10 points, and often do it 2-3 times in the same game. Then there’s your very own fantasy football point-production line: You simply turn on the television and watch his team feed him the ball in predictably frequent intervals, as he churns out 1-3 points per touch. Whether it’s the lightning strike of the former, or the constant jackhammer of the latter, you’re more often than not going to be feeling great on Monday and Tuesday mornings at the expense of your league if you have enough of these players on your squad.

Who are these guys at the halfway point of the 2007 season? How do we determine the Big Play Artist and the Grinder? Do some of these players possess the best of both worlds? How does Crank Score fit into the equation? Does Mike Krueger really exist or is he a figment of the FFToday Board’s collective imagination? Fortunately, I have answers for 80% of these questions below and I’ll explore the same stat for running backs and receivers in the coming weeks.

The Lamonica School of Big Play Quarterbacks

When the Raiders were actually a dangerous offense, The Mad Bomber, Darryl Lamonica, manned the helm. So we’re labeling this category in honor of the guy who represents the best of the vertical passing game. The criteria I am using to determine these Mad Bombers is yards per completion. Here are the top 49 signal callers ranked by this stat. Note the number to the left of the player is his FFToday ranking by total fantasy points and the Crank Score is only available for quarterbacks with a minimum of four games.

The Lamonica School
Player TM Fpts/G Yds/Comp Crank
3. Derek Anderson CLE 24.3 14.66 52.1
2. Tony Romo DAL 26.2 13.23 56.11
44. Kellen Clemens NYJ 7.4 12.48 N/A
6. Ben Roethlisberger PIT 20.8 12.36 29.64
49. Tim Rattay ARI 6.3 12.31 N/A
1. Tom Brady NE 32 12.28 116.02
10. Donovan McNabb PHI 18.3 12.28 5.22
25. Kurt Warner ARI 12.4 12.26 20.76
41. Kelly Holcomb MIN 11.2 12.17 N/A
4. Peyton Manning IND 22.1 12.05 60.06
34. Tarvaris Jackson MIN 11.4 11.93 -11.36
9. Matt Hasselbeck SEA 18.8 11.92 26.83
14. Philip Rivers SD 17 11.72 16.97
5. Carson Palmer CIN 21.9 11.72 18.78
15. Jay Cutler DEN 18.6 11.72 5.29
23. Daunte Culpepper OAK 15.9 11.69 0
8. Jeff Garcia TB 16.9 11.65 8.44
21. David Garrard JAC 15.7 11.64 5.23
27. Trent Green MIA 14.5 11.61 8.71
17. Jason Campbell WAS 15.6 11.39 11.11
29. Jake Delhomme CAR 22 11.38 N/A
18. Brian Griese CHI 21.6 11.38 51.91
19. Matt Schaub HOU 13.3 11.36 0
12. Jon Kitna DET 17.6 11.35 17.64
35. Josh McCown OAK 15.1 11.23 N/A
43. J.P. Losman BUF 6.9 11.15 -6.88
31. Sage Rosenfels HOU 13 10.96 N/A
45. Kerry Collins TEN 5.3 10.95 N/A
24. Marc Bulger STL 13.1 10.92 4.37
7. Eli Manning NYG 17.6 10.92 11.02
38. Gus Frerotte STL 9.5 10.87 0
36. Matt Leinart ARI 8.9 10.78 -1.78
13. Brett Favre GB 20.4 10.72 41.74
20. Damon Huard KC 13.9 10.65 1.99
42. Rex Grossman CHI 10 10.64 N/A
22. Joey Harrington ATL 12.5 10.42 3.58
16. Chad Pennington NYJ 15.7 10.28 13.48
47. Byron Leftwich ATL 4.5 10.18 N/A
32. Alex Smith SF 9.8 10.02 -9.77
26. Cleo Lemon MIA 18.5 9.9 23.09
37. Trent Edwards BUF 8.8 9.88 -8.84
39. Trent Dilfer SF 9.2 9.85 N/A
48. Quinn Gray JAC 4.2 9.75 N/A
28. Vince Young TEN 11.5 9.43 3.85
33. Kyle Boller BAL 7.9 9.19 -9.46
11. Drew Brees NO 17.9 9.11 15.38
40. David Carr CAR 7 9.02 -8.76
46. Vinny Testaverde CAR 9.5 9 N/a
30. Steve McNair BAL 14.2 8.95 0
As you can see, there are a significant amount of signal callers who average a fair number of fantasy points per game, but are distributed evenly throughout the points per completion ranking. Eli Manning and Drew Brees are both in the lower half of quarterbacks in this stat, but are ranked 7th and 11th, respectively. Both teams have been using short and intermediate routes, although Manning has a respectable 4 scores from a distance of 30 yards or greater. Brett Favre certainly has some huge plays (5 touchdowns from at least 30 yards out—two on Monday night), but his offense is still a west coast-derived system. It’s a bit surprising that the gunslinger has such a low yard per completion average. But he’s one of the most consistent fantasy producers according to the Crank Score and if the Pack can generate a ground game, the play action pass will produce the type of big plays Favre made against the Broncos. I’m just not convinced the Packers found their man in Ryan Grant.

The most efficient vertical offense in terms of yardage goes to the Cleveland Browns. No, I didn’t stutter—Derek Anderson has two big-time deep threats in WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow II and Cleveland has been significantly more successful than the Indy, Dallas, and New England with a whopping 14.66 yards per completion—no one else is even within a yard of them! As a childhood fan that grew up just a half hour from Municipal Stadium, what in the name of Brian Sipe is going on here? Did Romeo Crennell turn into Sam Rutigliano over the summer? Cleveland’s draft picks (Edwards and Winslow) and agent additions (especially the offensive line) are paying dividends. Anderson is just playing lights out football, because that 4th-ranked Crank Score supports the fact that he’s not only making big plays, but also he’s making the small ones to get points from any distance.

Did you notice Big Ben Roethlisberger is up there among the leaders? You say Pittsburgh is a running team? Yep, but a team that can force an opposing safety into the box is also smart to throw it over that defender’s head. The Steelers have one of the best young deep threats available in Santonio Holmes and a crafty veteran who just knows how to get separation anywhere on the field in Hines Ward. I wish I had Roethlisberger on every fantasy squad this year. He’s quietly having a great year.

In contrast, Donovan McNabb has been wildly inconsistent as he’s returned from injury, but he’s the 7th-rated, yard per completion QB (and 5th when you factor out Rattay and Clemens). His receivers have their share of drops, but McNabb’s initial lack of mobility has hindered his opportunity to convert plays that he used to make in previous years. I think his ability to move in the pocket against a young and athletic, Vikings defensive line is a promising sign that McNabb is poised for a strong second half—something I’ve mentioned before.

Joey Harrington, Steve McNair, and Vince Young have been awful fantasy starters. Interestingly enough, each team had a more aggressive option to use in their place in the same way Arizona got more than 2 yards per catch in production from Kurt Warner than Matt Leinart. When you have receivers like Fitzgerald and Boldin and a grind it out runner like James, you better get the ball down field. Warner proved it was possible with the stats. If he can manage to play well through the pain, he’s a promising option. I’m not sure there’s much hope for any Falcons, Ravens, and Titans QBs this season. If McNair and Clayton can establish something, this could change but we all know at this stage of #9’s career, he’s captain check-down. It doesn’t help the o-line is not what it used to be. The light could suddenly come on for Young, but is that something worth waiting for as a fantasy owner entering week 9?

The Mouse Davis Chuck N’ Duck School

The Mouse Davis Chuck N’ Duck School
Player TM Fpts/G Yds/Comp Crank
13. Brett Favre GB 20.4 43.2 41.74
11. Drew Brees NO 17.9 42.4 15.38
18. Brian Griese CHI 21.6 42.2 51.91
30. Steve McNair BAL 14.2 41.5 0
26. Cleo Lemon MIA 18.5 37.8 23.09
5. Carson Palmer CIN 21.9 37.6 18.78
10. Donovan McNabb PHI 18.3 37.3 5.22
2. Tony Romo DAL 26.2 36.1 56.11
24. Marc Bulger STL 13.1 35.5 4.37
9. Matt Hasselbeck SEA 18.8 35 26.83
1. Tom Brady NE 32 34.9 116.02
12. Jon Kitna DET 17.6 34.6 17.64
4. Peyton Manning IND 22.1 34.4 60.06
7. Eli Manning NYG 17.6 32.9 11.02
15. Jay Cutler DEN 18.6 32.8 5.29
17. Jason Campbell WAS 15.6 32.1 11.11
20. Damon Huard KC 13.9 32 1.99
3. Derek Anderson CLE 24.3 32 52.1
8. Jeff Garcia TB 16.9 31.6 8.44
22. Joey Harrington ATL 12.5 31.4 3.58
42. Rex Grossman CHI 10 31 N/A
29. Jake Delhomme CAR 22 30.7 N/A
21. David Garrard JAC 15.7 29.8 5.23
27. Trent Green MIA 14.5 29.6 8.71
16. Chad Pennington NYJ 15.7 29.6 13.48
6. Ben Roethlisberger PIT 20.8 29.3 29.64
14. Philip Rivers SD 17 29.1 16.97
19. Matt Schaub HOU 13.3 28.6 0
41. Kelly Holcomb MIN 11.2 28 N/A
28. Vince Young TEN 11.5 27.8 3.85
32. Alex Smith SF 9.8 27.8 -9.77
23. Daunte Culpepper OAK 15.9 27.6 0
46. Vinny Testaverde CAR 9.5 27.5 N/a
34. Tarvaris Jackson MIN 11.4 27.3 -11.36
35. Josh McCown OAK 15.1 25.7 N/A
37. Trent Edwards BUF 8.8 25 -8.84
36. Matt Leinart ARI 8.9 24.6 -1.78
39. Trent Dilfer SF 9.2 23.5 N/A
38. Gus Frerotte STL 9.5 22.5 0
33. Kyle Boller BAL 7.9 20.7 -9.46
44. Kellen Clemens NYJ 7.4 20.7 N/A
40. David Carr CAR 7 20.2 -8.76
25. Kurt Warner ARI 12.4 19.5 20.76
31. Sage Rosenfels HOU 13 19.3 N/A
45. Kerry Collins TEN 5.3 16.5 N/A
48. Quinn Gray JAC 4.2 15.3 N/A
43. J.P. Losman BUF 6.9 14.5 -6.88
49. Tim Rattay ARI 6.3 13.5 N/A
47. Byron Leftwich ATL 4.5 12.3 N/A
It may not be the personnel grouping of the run and shoot but based on the number of attempts per game the Packers are throwing, June Jones and his mentor—and current offensive coordinator at Hawaii, Mouse Davis would be proud. Brett Favre is the Packer offense. If they go deep into the playoffs, it will have to do with this 3-time (and deservedly a 4th shot if he gets them there?) NFL MVP carrying this offense on his back. I’m not dissing the Green Bay defense, they’re an equal part of the equation, but Favre notice I mentioned one offensive players and a collection of 11 defensive players. You get the point. I have Favre in three leagues, and now that Rod Marinelli has made it a point to run the ball I’m not even thinking twice about leaving Kitna on the bench in the two that he’s my “second” QB.

Look at Steve McNair near the top of this list? Too bad his average points per game do not make him a reasonable fantasy starter. Even I can’t say anything good about the veteran—now I have to resort to making D.J. Nestrick mention something decent about him in order to continue writing columns here—that, and asking him if he’s seen Divine Brown recently.

Cleo Lemon and Carson Palmer are at least close to McNabb in this respect. They are making something out of their chances, but I think Lemon and McNabb are heading in opposite directions—especially with the whispers Dolphins 2nd round pick has a shot to start after the bye week. Palmer should improve because once Chris Henry returns, he’ll make it impossible for opposing defenses to double cover both Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

If you’re looking for an even balance of big plays and frequent opportunities you have to move down to spots 8-15 on each table. There you see Brady, Kitna, and Manning. Still, a player like Roethlisberger who has a great ground attack supporting him is making the most of fewer opportunities. This is probably why his season seems so “quiet” to the casual observer. As most Big Ben owners if they’ll trade him to you for a #3 RB or #3 WR, and I bet you get a different story…

Philip Rivers is a quarterback I wouldn’t mind acquiring through a trade at this point of the season. I’m buying the immediate added value Chris Chambers is bringing to the Chargers offense. Name the last time San Diego had a true #1 receiver? I think Tony Martin during the short-lived, Stan Humphries era of the mid-nineties might be the last time.

Avg. Number of Games per RB x Production
Last Name First Name Year Team G GS Rush Tds Rec Rec Yd Rec Td Fpts
Martin Tony 1994 SD 16 1 0 50 885 7 130.5
Martin Tony 1995 SD 16 16 0 90 1224 6 158.4
Martin Tony 1996 SD 16 16 0 85 1171 14 201.1
Martin Tony 1997 SD 16 16 0 63 904 6 126.4

Chambers is a very similar receiver to Martin—nearly as fast and more acrobatic—and adding him to the combo of Gates and LT makes them a much more dangerous team. I think they are the clear favorite in the AFC West and provide a stern test for any team in the playoffs. One player sometimes makes that big of a difference. Randy Moss certainly does for New England. He opens things up for Wes Welker in the slot, the running game, and the improved scoring proficiency gives the defense an inherent advantage to be aggressive. Chris Chambers to an extent does the same thing for the Chargers. I think Rivers is in for a great second half.

Running Backs

I examined four stats for runners: yards per carry, yards per catch, yards per touch (the sum of both carry and catch) and touches per game. Although Najeh Davenport, Jerious Norwood, Kevin Faulk, and Justin Fargas have great yards per touch numbers, their touches per game are in the single digits—about half of what this should be for a fantasy owner to have more than a bye week use for them. Still, any back on this list with decent yards per touch is worth keeping as depth.

The real deal here is Adrian Peterson. His 17 yards per catch is insanely high—for even a wide receiver. But to me it’s his even more impressive 5.78 yards per carry, because he’s still getting nearly 20 touches per game. This is a lot more than a likely perception due to the fact coach Brad Childress had stubbornly kept Peterson as the #2 RB and limited his touches in games where it seemed obvious that the rookie should be getting the rock All Day.

Ronnie Brown owners won’t like this chart very much. Their back was tearing up fantasy football with 6.27 yards per touch on jackhammer rate of 22.57 touches per game. Speaking of steady doses, look at Brian Westbrook. I so love how people said he’d never become a featured back. The Eagle’s offensive MVP garners Marshall Faulk-like attempts with 24.17 per game. Only Willie Parker tops him in touches per game with a bit over 25 per contest. Wilis McGahee has nearly the same amount of touches as Westbrook, too. But neither of these AFC North backs is within a yard and a half per touch of the Eagles stud.

Player TM Fpt/G ypcrry ypcth Ypt T/Gm
33. Najeh Davenport PIT 6.9 6.26 9.43 6.76 6.43
2. Adrian Peterson MIN 18.4 5.78 17.00 6.67 19.86
34. Jerious Norwood ATL 6.8 5.79 8.41 6.48 9.14
1. Ronnie Brown MIA 18.4 5.06 9.97 6.27 22.57
46. Kevin Faulk NE 4.4 4.68 8.64 6.23 7.00
38. Justin Fargas OAK 5.9 5.74 9.75 6.23 9.43
13. Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 11.8 5.29 9.78 6.14 13.57
4. Brian Westbrook PHI 19.7 4.87 9.86 6.08 24.17
7. Marion Barber DAL 13.9 5.75 7.39 6.04 14.43
45. Jesse Chatman MIA 4.4 5.44 6.64 5.78 6.25
50. Correll Buckhalter PHI 4.7 5.08 7.70 5.63 6.86
29. Brandon Jacobs NYG 11.9 5.63 4.00 5.51 17.20
32. DeAngelo Williams CAR 7.2 5.22 5.79 5.33 10.29
49. Jason Wright CLE 4.8 4.19 9.70 5.23 7.57
42. Laurence Maroney NE 7.9 4.84 18.5 5.20 15.20
43. Chris Brown TEN 7.8 5.26 3.75 5.08 13.00
3. LaDainian Tomlinson SD 17.8 4.44 8.12 5.02 23.57
12. LaMont Jordan OAK 12.1 4.09 9.73 4.93 21.00
30. Kenton Keith IND 8.3 4.78 6.11 4.93 11.57
5. Joseph Addai IND 19.4 4.81 5.29 4.87 23.33
24. Travis Henry DEN 11 4.61 10.4 4.85 20.67
27. Jamal Lewis CLE 9.9 4.65 8.25 4.80 16.50
15. Derrick Ward NYG 11.1 4.44 6.25 4.78 17.86
20. Kenny Watson CIN 10.3 4.72 5.13 4.78 14.29
31. DeShawn Wynn GB 8.6 4.12 8.11 4.74 9.67
28. Kevin Jones DET 11.9 4.39 6.38 4.73 15.00
6. Willis McGahee BAL 13.9 4.38 6.38 4.66 24.29
22. Earnest Graham TB 8.4 4.02 6.79 4.65 13.25
8. Willie Parker PIT 13.3 4.43 7.08 4.61 25.14
26. Sammy Morris NE 10 4.52 5.83 4.60 15.17
35. Julius Jones DAL 6.6 3.79 10.7 4.58 12.57
18. Frank Gore SF 10.6 3.95 8.33 4.48 17.86
10. Clinton Portis WAS 12.7 3.77 8.21 4.4 19.14
36. Fred Taylor JAC 6.2 4.38 4.00 4.36 14.29
16. Reggie Bush NO 11.1 3.77 5.44 4.29 19.86
40. Brian Leonard STL 5.1 3.58 7.17 4.26 11.88
19. DeShaun Foster CAR 10.3 4.02 5.92 4.21 18.43
9. Edgerrin James ARI 13 3.88 9.71 4.13 23.29
23. Thomas Jones NYJ 8.3 3.79 7.07 4.09 20.25
47. Reuben Droughns NYG 4.2 4.08 4.00 4.08 4.88
44. Ahman Green HOU 7.2 3.74 5.38 4.03 15.00
48. Rudi Johnson CIN 8.4 2.98 11.50 3.96 17.5
39. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams TB 10.1 3.85 5.67 3.95 14.25
11. Marshawn Lynch BUF 12.4 3.63 8.09 3.94 22.71
17. Larry Johnson KC 11 3.64 5.33 3.92 23.71
41. Steven Jackson STL 10 3.56 6.60 3.91 21.75
14. LenDale White TEN 11.6 3.69 5.60 3.82 21.29
25. Shaun Alexander SEA 9.1 3.41 5.00 3.53 20.86
21. Cedric Benson CHI 8.6 3.13 7.43 3.50 20.38
37. Warrick Dunn ATL 6.1 3.07 4.33 3.27 16.14

Now if you have to settle for consistent feedings and hope for the best, Marshawn Lynch, LenDale White, Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, and Cedric Benson will get you 20 touches per contest, but they aren’t giving a huge return on investment. They are the fantasy football equivalent of sinking money into a CD at the bank. I don’t know about you, but I want a little more bang for my buck.

Edgerrin James is probably the best of these grinders. He’s at least averaging over 4 yards per touch and he’s getting the ball 23.29 times per game. He’s the quintessential, Steady Freddy #2 RB in fantasy leagues right now. Place his fellow alumni Portis and Gore on to this list as well. They are actually producing more efficiently but getting 4-6 fewer touches per contest than Edge. Reggie Bush is become more of a workhorse as well. Unfortunately, James is the only one mentioned in this paragraph who is playing to his draft value; the other three are performing below expectations at this point. There is hope for all three from a scheduling standpoint, so I’d stick with them.

The guys to watch on this list are LT and Maroney. Both are going to benefit from the increased firepower of their passing attacks. LT is obvious so nothing more needs to be explained about him. As for Maroney I said it previously, and I say it again, if you want a great candidate for an explosive stretch player at RB, acquire Laurence Maroney. New England will continue to run the ball more frequently as teams try to limit Moss and Welker. Maroney’s big-play ability combined with more frequent touches is going to spell a fantasy point bonanza for his owners.

The three most frustrating players on this list are Maurice Jones-Drew, DeAngelo Williams, and Marion Barber III. All three have top-notch yards per touch stats, and their touches per game stats are good enough to use them. The problem is fantasy owners of these three runners know that if they had just 6-8 additional touches per game, they could be elite fantasy runners. It’s a heart-wrenching situation to watch a good player go to waste.

Brandon Jacobs’ numbers are only going to get better. His 17 touches per game are deflated due to his injury. This guy is going to make you happy to watch the Giants if you have him on your roster down the stretch. There’s nothing like watching a big back run through defenders carry after carry and your fantasy total is changing like numbers on an adding machine. Jacobs and Maroney are those two guys this year.

Jamal Lewis could sneak onto this list as well. His touches per game stats should increase in the coming months and he’s producing at a respectable rate. Although it may seem like a tough move to make—trading one of the three backs I labeled as frustrating (paired with another player) for Jacobs, Maroney, or Lewis is a worthwhile risk. You might be able to get a less savvy owner to bite on a deal for Lewis, Jacobs, or Maroney in exchange for someone like Portis, Gore, James, and Bush—and what makes his appealing is that you’ll have to ask for a decent second player in return if you give up the four I just mentioned. It’s a risk, but if you just aren’t the type to sit tight and hold onto what you have then I’d suggest this type of transaction.

Next week, we’ll look at receivers…