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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 92
Second Half Wonders

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 year the Gut Check developed a statistical measurement to spot next season’s potential breakout players at each position. It’s based on one of the more common reasons fantasy owners use to tout a sleeper: a great stretch run during the previous season. Many owners have observed a high level of performance from the second half of the previous season is a good predictor for success the following year. So the Gut Check profiled players that had a significantly better second half in 2005. These were players that haven’t been top tier players lately, or still learning the pro game.

The Gut Check took a sample of offensive skill players that had a statistically significant improvement in production during the second half of a season and then checked to see how well the player maintained this level of improvement during the next season. Beginning with wide receivers sampled from 2002-2004, the Second Half Wonder Theory had some juice. Since last week the Gut Check just finished examining breakout receivers for 2007 I Volume 91, let’s see how it looks when the 2006 results for receivers are taken into account with 2005’s second half studs:

Second Half Wonders: Wide Receivers
WRs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Wayne Chrebet 6.1 9.7 37% 5 52% Hurt
Darrell Jackson 6.3 12.3 49% 11.2 91% Starter
James McKnight 2.8 8.0 65% 4.6 58% Hurt
Koren Robinson 6.8 13.1 48% 7.7 59% Starter
Travis Taylor 6.5 10.1 36% 5.5 54% Starter
Amani Toomer 7.4 15.4 52% 8.5 55% Starter
WRs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Anquan Boldin 7.4 13.1 44% 6.86 52% Hurt
Bobby Engram 4.2 8.8 52% 4.8 55% NS
Az Hakim 1.9 9.1 79% 7.13 78% Shared
Mushin Muhammad 4.4 8.8 50% 14.9 169% Starter
Todd Pinkston 3.04 6.4 53% 5.6 88% Shared
Marcus Robinson 0.9 10.8 92% 7.6 70% Shared
WRs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Drew Bennett 8.3 18.2 54% 7.5 41% Hurt
Antonio Bryant 4.5 9 50% 7.8 87% Starter
Nate Burleson 7.8 12.2 36% 3.2 26% Hurt
Lee Evans 5.7 12.8 55% 7.5 59% Starter
Joey Galloway 2.2 12.5 82% 11.2 90% Starter
T.J. Housmandzadeh 4.9 11.7 58% 10.7 91% Starter
Dennis Northcutt 3.2 8.6 63% 3.7 43% Shared
Jerry Porter 6.1 13.3 54% 7.7 58% Hurt
Donte Stallworth 5.2 8.8 41% 8.5 97% Starter
WRs 2005 % Next Yr Attainment% 2006 Status
Roy Williams 6.2 10.2 39% 10.5 103% Starter
Reggie Brown 3.3 6.9 53% 8.6 125% Starter
Amani Toomer 5.1 8.14 38% 6.8 84% Hurt
Mark Clayton 1.4 8.37 83% 7.6 91% Starter
Total Sample 4.98 10.77 54% 9.25 86%

The two numbers after the receiver’s name are the fantasy points per game averaged from weeks 1-8 and 9-17, respectively. The % column is the percentage increase from the first half of the season to the second half. Next Yr is the average fantasy points per game for the next season. Attainment is how close did the Next Yr numbers approach the production in the second half of the previous year. The Total Sample is only an average of the players that were starters the following year and remained healthy.

The trend remains the same when including the 2005-2006 stats: a receiver that exhibits a significant jump in production during the second half of a season has a pretty high likelihood of maintaining that jump in production if they start and remain healthy during the following year. From 2003-2006 (representing “the following year,” for 2002-2005), 62% of the second-half wonder receivers that were healthy and in the starting lineup for their teams the next year attained at least 87% of their previous year’s jump in production. Seven out of thirteen receivers were over 90% attainment and three exceeded their second half improvement from the previous year—two of those three did it last year. Overall, the second half wonders generally increased their production by 54% of their first half totals. In the following year they maintained at least 86% of their fantasy points per game average.

This should clearly tell you that a second half wonder that is supposed to be a starter the next year should at least produce at 86% of that stretch run production. That’s a great indicator for success. You may not wind up with a top-15 performer but let’s see how the receivers yours truly mentioned for 2006 performed to this theory’s projected rank. With the exception of Toomer, who was lost for the season after an injury, the other three exceeded expectations:

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. Projected 2006* Actual 2006 Projected Rank** Actual Rank
Roy Williams DET 2005 10.2 8.87 10.5 18th 10th
Reggie Brown PHI 2005 6.9 6.85 8.6 35th 21st
Amani Toomer NYG 2005 8.14 7.08 6.8 21st 77th
Mark Clayton BAL 2005 8.37 6.59 7.6 36th 28th
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 87% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

Although only 3 of the 4 receivers produced as worthwhile starters in a 3-receiver lineup for a 12-team league, the 4th was on track to do the same prior to getting hurt. As mentioned, Williams and Brown were the higher profile, mid-round picks and Toomer and Clayton provided undervalued depth at the bottom third of fantasy drafts.

With this in mind, who are the Second Half Wonders from 2006?

Last Name First Name 1st Half 2nd Half % Projected 2007
Projected 2007
Projected Rank
Curry Ronald 3.01 6.30 52% 5.42 6.77 40th
Jones Matt 4.15 7.71 46% 6.63 8.29 30th
Holmes Santonio 4.20 7.54 44% 6.49 8.11 31st
Hackett D.J. 4.33 7.20 40% 6.19 7.74 33rd
Clayton Mark 6.00 8.91 33% 7.66 9.58 16th
Edwards Braylon 7.15 9.03 21% 7.77 9.71 15th

There are six receivers with significantly stronger second halves in 2006 that have a decent chance to build on their production in 2007 due to their role with their respective club. Last year, the Gut Check used the average attainment percentage for the position to project the next season’s production, but this year he’s also using the average attainment for the 2006 receivers. The logic behind this is the fact that breakout players build on their numbers. If one were to strictly use this theory to pick a breakout receiver, Braylon Edwards would be the player with Mark Clayton a close second. Yours truly likes Clayton more than Edwards due to the veteran QB in Baltimore, but Edwards has proven to be a talent regardless of the signal caller tossing him the ball.

Second half wonders at running back have nearly the same probability (63%) as receivers to maintain at least 87% of that production the following year if they start and stay healthy—even higher (72%) if you only expect the runner to attain at least 80%.

Second Half Wonders: Running Backs
RBs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Tiki Barber 14.6 18.3 20% 11.6 63% Starter
Zack Crockett 3.5 8.6 59% 4.4 51% NS
Warrick Dunn 10.3 13.5 24% 11.9 88% Starter
William Green 2.7 14.3 81% 9.5 66% Hurt
Curtis Martin 9.6 13.8 30% 10.6 77% Starter
Clinton Portis 12.4 23.7 48% 21.1 89% Starter
Tyrone Wheatley 2.1 6.6 68% 6.92 105% Shared
RBs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Kevan Barlow 6.4 15.5 59% 9.7 63% Starter
Jerome Bettis 5.1 11.4 55% 12.6 111% Starter
T.J. Duckett 7.7 11.4 32% 8.3 73% Shared
Marshall Faulk 12.2 20.5 40% 9.45 46% Shared
Thomas Jones 2 10.5 81% 12.8 122% Starter
Brian Westbrook 7.7 12.3 37% 15.8 128% Starter
RBs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Tatum Bell 3 12 75% 9.4 78% Shared
Derrick Blaylock 7.4 14.6 49% 1 7% NS
Nick Goings 3.5 17 79% 1.7 10% NS
Stephen Jackson 5.4 10.3 48% 13.1 127% Starter
Larry Johnson 12.5 26 52% 21 81% Starter/Shared
Kevin Jones 6.2 15.8 61% 8.25 52% Shared
Willis McGahee 9.6 17 44% 10.8 64% Starter
Ladanian Tomlinson 16 21.4 25% 18.9 88% Starter
RBs 2005 % Next Yr Attainment% 2006 Status
Samkon Gado 6.95 15.3 55% 3.94 26% Shared
Greg Jones 3.9 9.36 48% 0 0% Hurt
Frank Gore 4.44 8.57 48% 17 198% Starter
Total Sample 7.30 14.49 50% 10.41 72%

Four of the eight players that attained at least 88% of their previous second half productivity average actually exceeded this total over the course of the next season—and it was often a significant increase. Heading into 2006 there were three backs that qualified as second half wonders. None were slated as the undisputed starter heading into camp. But as predicted, Frank Gore got the job and made the most of his opportunity.

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. 2006* Actual 2006 Projected Rank** Actual Rank
Samkon Gado GB 2005 13.49 11.87 3.94 11th 60th
Greg Jones JAC 2005 9.36 8.24 0 UR 21st
Frank Gore SF 2005 8.57 7.54 6.8 27th 5th
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 87% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

Here’s what Yours Truly said about Gore last June:

The most intriguing back on this list is Gore. The Niners’ second-year runner from Miami displayed the kind of explosion as a rookie two years removed from ACL surgery that Hurricane fans and scouts did not witness during his senior season. Gore and Barlow will vie for the starting position, but one has to think Mike Nolan will favor his draft pick if their preseason performances are similar. The addition of future Hall of Fame guard Larry Allen and the return of Jonas Jennings should bolster the offensive line for the rushing attack to improve in 2006.
Here’s a list of 2006 Second Half Wonders at Running Back:

Last First 1st Half 2006 2nd Half 2006 % Projected 2007
Projected 2007
Projected Rank
Bush Reggie 6.49 14.28 55% 10.28 16.37 6th
Williams DeAngelo 4.80 8.68 45% 6.25 9.95 32nd
Jones-Drew Maurice 10.23 17.16 40% 12.35 19.67 4th
Lewis Jamal 8.48 13.96 39% 10.05 16.00 7th
Morency Vernand 3.96 5.64 30% 4.06 6.47 49th
Benson Cedric 5.90 7.58 22% 5.46 8.69 37th
Addai Joseph 10.18 13.06 22% 9.4 14.97 11th

The player that made the greatest jump in production in the second half was none other than Reggie Bush. If you’re still skeptical of the Saints’ RB producing strictly as an RB, the Gut Check counters these totals are not for a point per reception scoring system. Bush had some big games down the stretch of 2006 and proved he was more than capable of running the ball between the tackles once he ran with more patience and discipline. If you’re still not convinced, the Gut Check isn’t going try waking you up. This is a back he’d take the risk to draft at the tail end of the first round in 2007.

DeAngelo Williams is another 2nd year runner yours truly would consider as ideally a #3 RB, but in a pinch he’d draft as his second RB. The Gut Check thought Williams was the 2nd best back in the 2006 draft class. The Panthers may not have the additions the 49ers had to their line, but a healthier unit could set up Williams for a year where he could crack the top 15 backs—not as big a jump as Frank Gore, but it still makes Williams a strong draft day value.

Maurice Jones Drew really needs no explanation. He’s a special back that should garner strong consideration as a #1 RB around the same area one might take the chance to draft Reggie Bush this year. Lump Joseph Addai with the same group. He’s now the official heir to the Edgerrin James-like production one came to expect from a back set behind Peyton Manning. Jamal Lewis will need a dynamite effort from Cleveland’s revamped line to hit these projections, but excellent line play makes anything possible. The Gut Check just wouldn’t count on it, despite the fact draftniks are comparing rookie OT Joe Thomas to Tony Boselli.

Vernand Morency is an intriguing player heading into camp. Nebraska rookie Brandon Jackson has a good chance to contribute and his talent level is on par to Morency when the incumbent starter was drafted out of Oklahoma State. But Morency has more experience with the speed of the game, the Packer’s system (although Jackson played in a west coast attack under former Raider coach Bill Callahan), and has more top end speed. Yours truly believes Morency isn’t likely to make a huge splash as a fantasy impact back, but at the round one can acquire him, he’s worth consideration.

That leaves Cedric Benson, a talented back, but one that will get pushed by none other than the diminutive Garrett Wolfe. Ron Turner already mentioned Wolfe is good enough to be considered the primary back up to Benson if he plays to expectation. What the Gut Check loved about the Northern Illinois back was his effort. As he mentioned in his 2007 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, “Wolfe is pound-for-pound, the best back in this draft.” The issue is he doesn’t have enough poundage to match up with Lynch or Peterson. Yet, don’t be surprised if we see another Warrick Dunn-like back to make good things happen for the second time in two years.

The tight end position has a less dramatic points swing for second half wonders, but their attainment percentage for the following season is higher than receivers and backs.

Second Half Wonders: Tight Ends
TEs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Alge Crumpler 3.4 6.1 44% 4.6 75% Starter
Doug Jolley 3.4 6.4 47% 2.8 44% Shared
Jeremy Shockey 4.8 8.1 41% 7.2 89% Starter/hurt
Jerramy Stevens 2.3 6.1 62% 1.4 23% Shared/hurt
TEs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Jed Weaver 1.8 4.6 61% 2.3 50% NS
Boo Williams 2.1 8.6 76% 3.4 40% Shared
Jason Witten 2.0 4.8 58% 8.4 175% Starter
TEs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Ben Troupe 1.9 3.8 50% 4.4 116% Starter/hurt
TEs 2005 % Next Yr Attainment% 2006 Status
Adam Bergen 1.9 3.13 50% 1.22 39% Shared
Chris Cooley 3.1 8.14 47% 6.84 84% Starter
Total Sample 2.67 5.98 54% 4.26 74%

Three of the five second half wonders that started the next year were nearly as good as their previous year’s stretch run, if not significantly better. Although two of these five tight ends were injured for significant portions of their follow up season, their level of production and games started were high enough to include in this sample.

Last year, the Gut Check had Cooley as the only viable Second Half Wonder at tight end.

Name Team Year 2nd Half Avg. Projected 2006* Actual 2006 Projected Rank** Actual Rank
Adam Bergen ARI 2005 3.13 2.79 1.22 23rd 52nd
Chris Cooley WAS 2005 8.14 7.24 6.84 3rd 6th
* 2006 projected fpts/gm based on attainment research described above with 87% minimum attainment.
** Projected positional rank based on 2005's fpts/gm totals.

This year, the Gut Check projected the Second Half Wonders at the average starter attainment percentage of 107.8%. The only two viable candidates are listed below:

Last First 1st Half 2006 2nd Half 2006 % Projected 2007
Projected 2007 Rank
Stevens Jerramy 2.67 4.34 39% 4.68 15th
Davis Vernon 3.23 5.04 36% 5.44 11th

Jerramy Stevens leaves Seattle for Tampa, but he’ll at best split time with incumbent Alex Smith. The Gut Check believes this projected amount for the UW alum is a top end number for his 2007 performance, barring an injury to Smith. On the other hand, Vernon Davis will be the unquestioned starter heading into his second season with the Niners. Davis’ projected 2007 stats place him just outside of the top 10 tight ends. The Gut Check believes Davis has a chance to produce at a much higher clip, because of his elite physical talents and the fact he missed a portion of his rookie year with injury. In contrast to Stevens, look for Davis’ projected production to be more of a starting point for this tight end with wide receiver speed and kick return man skills after the catch.

Quarterbacks have the best follow up seasons when it comes to attaining their second half numbers from the season before. As mentioned last year, once football no longer feels like practicing organic chemistry in pads, it makes sense a starting quarterback that has made the adjustment to the NFL will continue to improve. This goes for veterans changing teams—just to a lesser extent.

Second Half Wonders: Quarterbacks
QBs 2002 % Next Yr Attainment% 2003 Status
Matt Hasselbeck 9.7 26 63% 20 77% Starter
Brad Johnson 15.2 20.39 25% 18.6 91% Starter
Michael Vick 20 25.7 22% 15.35 60% Hurt
QBs 2003 % Next Yr Attainment% 2004 Status
Donovan McNabb 12.8 21.9 42% 23.8 109% Starter
QBs 2004 % Next Yr Attainment% 2005 Status
Kerry Collins 15 22.4 33% 16.33 73% Starter
Eli Manning 7.5 12.3 39% 18.6 151% Starter
Carson Palmer 13.5 20.4 34% 20.6 101% Starter
Total Sample 12.28 20.57 40% 19.66 96%

Last year’s second half wonders at quarterback either began the season as a back up (Kyle Boller) or soon ceded their position to a rookie (Brad Johnson and Kurt Warner). Therefore the Gut Check does not have any quarterbacks from 2006 added to the sample. Therefore the sample remains the same as last year: Exactly two-thirds of the second half wonders at QB had close to the same, or better, follow up season. Two of the quarterbacks were first-year starters, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer. Although Matt Hasselbeck and Kerry Collins didn’t reach the desired attainment percentages, their fantasy totals made them decent starters—especially Hasselbeck. In fact half of the quarterbacks exceeded their second-half numbers in the follow-up season and were averaging fantasy points that made them quality #1 fantasy starters (Johnson and Manning), if not outright studs at the position (McNabb and Palmer).

2006’s Second Half Wonders has more promise than last year strictly for the fact three of the four candidates enter the 2007 season as the unquestioned starting quarterback.

Last First 1st Half 2006 2nd Half 2006 % Projected 2007
@ 72%
Projected 2007
Projected Rank
Romo Tony 8.45 20.67 59% 14.88 23.36 2nd
Young Vince 11.97 20.54 42% 14.79 23.22 t-3rd
Garrard David 10.07 15.98 37% 11.5 18.05 10th
Leinart Matt 13.07 17.56 26% 12.64 19.84 7th

Tony Romo returns to a potent veteran lineup of skill players. The Gut Check believes the projected stats for the Cowboys’ starter is overly optimistic, but the figures should give a fantasy owner the idea that Romo is a solid choice on draft day. He’ll likely be a bit undervalued on draft day because he hasn’t demonstrated a consistent level of productivity over the course of a season.

The sexy pick will be Vince Young and he was as close to a one-man show in Tennessee as one could get from a productive quarterback. The knock on Young will be the fact he bolsters his scoring with his running skills, but this will come from detractors that view Young in a similar vein as Vick. Yours truly sees more parallels between Young and either McNabb or his mentor, McNair. The big question will come from the running game. Will Lendale White be able to pick up the where Travis Henry left off? The Gut Check has his doubts. Regardless, Young should still improve upon his 2006 campaign, but vaulting to superstar fantasy status is also a bit too optimistic given the Titans dearth of receiving talent at the time of writing this article.

David Garrard has never been a full-time starter and with Jacksonville still committed to Byron Leftwich as their quarterback, he is nothing more than a late round pick with potential value around mid-season.

The most intriguing pick might be Matt Leinart. Arizona should generate an improved running game under new coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former H-back in two offenses known for their ground attack in the 80’s: Atlanta under Dan Henning (Carolina’s current offensive coordinator) and Washington during Joe Gibbs’ heyday. Leinart has the best pair trio of receivers of the four candidates and is the best pure passer. The Cardinals starter may not become the next Peyton Manning, but the Gut Check believes he’ll be the most consistent of the four.

In conclusion, here’s what to consider with second half wonders:

  • Look for players that had a season where their second half fantasy point per game average exceeded the first half by at least 40%.

  • Target the players that had this increase in production and are slated to be a starter.

  • If these starters remain healthy, you can reasonably expect similar, if not significantly better, production out of these players for the coming year.
Clearly there aren’t a lot of gems in this group, but it should give you a more realistic way to project this season’s performance of the dozen skill players that qualified as productive performers down the stretch of 2006.