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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 108
Target Practice
9/27/07

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!


With three games in the books, let’s take some early target practice and analyze the conversion rates of wide receivers and tight ends. Hopefully the numbers will reveal who is likely to maintain their production, whose early start is more likely a fluke, and which receivers are worth adding to your roster if they are sitting on your waiver wire.

The table below is a list of the top 40 fantasy receivers according to the FFToday Default scoring system. I have added a conversion percentage (receptions divided by targets) and sorted the results by this calculation. The number to the left of the player is that player’s actually ranking by total fantasy points scored after three games.


Top 40 Fantasy WRs
Player Team G GS Target Rec Yard TD FFPts FFPts/G Conv%
1. Randy Moss NE 3 3 25 22 403 5 114.3 38.1 88%
†18. Wes Welker NE 3 1 24 20 221 1 68.7 22.9 83%
†17. Torry Holt STL 3 3 22 18 210 2 69.0 23.0 82%
†40. Mike Furrey DET 3 3 19 15 155 0 45.5 15.2 79%
†22. Joey Galloway TB 3 3 17 13 249 2 63.0 21.0 76%
†30. Bobby Engram SEA 3 2 17 13 197 1 51.7 17.2 76%
†27. Roddy White ATL 3 2 20 15 237 1 59.7 19.9 75%
†32. Vincent Jackson SD 3 3 18 13 179 1 49.9 16.6 72%
†23. Ronald Curry OAK 3 3 21 15 207 2 62.7 20.9 71%
†36. Amani Toomer NYG 3 3 21 15 163 0 46.3 15.4 71%
†13. Andre Johnson HOU 2 2 20 14 262 3 72.2 36.1 70%
†15. Shaun McDonald DET 3 1 26 18 237 2 71.7 23.9 69%
†21. Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 3 3 26 18 276 0 63.6 21.2 69%
†25. Marques Colston NO 3 3 26 18 185 1 60.5 20.2 69%
†5. Anquan Boldin ARI 3 2 32 22 286 3 92.0 30.7 69%
†20. Laveranues Coles NYJ 3 3 24 16 146 3 64.6 21.5 67%
†37. James Jones GB 3 2 21 14 183 0 46.3 15.4 67%
†19. Brandon Marshall DEN 3 3 26 17 267 1 66.7 22.2 65%
†3. T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 3 3 45 29 260 4 108.3 36.1 64%
†16. Reggie Wayne IND 3 3 25 16 269 2 70.9 23.6 64%
†24. Javon Walker DEN 3 3 30 19 230 0 60.7 20.2 63%
†2. Chad Johnson CIN 3 3 40 25 442 3 112.4 37.5 63%
†10. Donald Driver GB 3 3 32 20 265 2 78.5 26.2 63%
†12. Derrick Mason BAL 3 3 37 23 209 1 72.9 24.3 62%
†26. Marvin Harrison IND 3 3 26 16 223 1 60.3 20.1 62%
†6. Plaxico Burress NYG 3 3 25 15 262 5 86.2 28.7 60%
†7. Steve Smith CAR 3 3 27 16 281 4 84.9 28.3 59%
†28. Bernard Berrian CHI 3 3 27 16 221 0 54.1 18 59%
†39. Dwayne Bowe KC 3 2 17 10 135 2 45.5 15.2 59%
†9. Kevin Curtis PHI 3 3 29 17 302 3 82.2 27.4 59%
†4. Roy Williams DET 3 3 35 20 335 3 92.4 30.8 57%
†29. Deion Branch SEA 3 2 23 13 199 1 51.9 17.3 57%
†11. Braylon Edwards CLE 3 3 27 15 278 3 75.8 25.3 56%
†31. Calvin Johnson DET 3 2 18 10 189 2 51.6 17.2 56%
†8. Terrell Owens DAL 3 3 29 16 329 3 83.4 27.8 55%
†35. Marty Booker MIA 3 3 22 12 159 1 47.1 15.7 55%
†14. Chris Chambers MIA 3 2 39 21 302 0 71.7 23.9 54%
†38. Isaac Bruce STL 3 3 26 14 179 0 45.6 15.2 54%
†34. Nate Burleson SEA 3 1 21 10 156 2 47.9 16.0 48%
†33. Larry Fitzgerald ARI 3 2 32 15 192 0 49.2 16.4 47%

If you haven’t noticed, Randy Moss has truly returned as the best fantasy receiver in football. He’s converting a whopping 88% of his targets and predictably leads the league in touchdowns. As for the Raiders telling the league Moss lost a step, the Patriots deep threat is averaging over 18 yards per catch. Last I checked, only guys with speed consistently average over 14 yards per reception. This information is all obvious, but what isn’t as obvious is what you should learn about reading and listening to analysts with a critical eye—including yours truly.

Randy MossIf you listened to many of the preseason media pundits, including former players who recently left the NFL, who said Moss lost a step then you likely crossed the best fantasy receiver off your draft board at the spot you should have enthusiastically picked him. I understand that no one was sure the Patriots were sandbagging about Moss’ injury and lack of practice time. I also get that Moss’ past few years have been a disappointment. Since these two reasons why Moss wouldn’t be back to his old self have been rejected faster than Jenni Carlson attempting to crash a Gundy family reunion, let’s establish why Moss may have tricked these “experts” into thinking he lost a step.

The most obvious reason is Moss’ tendency to run some uninspired routes when he’s not the intended target or the game is way out of reach. This has long been a valid criticism of Moss’ game, but this is about laziness rather than lost speed. But this laziness has become a long-held media perception of the receiver. They listen to past interviews and watch a half dozen plays during several games where he’s loafing and they harp on the “I play when I want to play,” statement.

As a result they judge Moss’ as a player who lacks the desire to be the best. They don’t say Moss is soft, but they come very close when they prejudge him as a prima donna who doesn’t give his full effort or cares about the team. If you recall, Randy Moss played hurt in several games for the past two years. Like many New England Patriots, Moss didn’t talk much about his injuries and didn’t make excuses although it was clear from the game film that the former Raider seemed a bit off his game when one watched his body language after taking a hit.

Mike MacGregor told me last year that he thought Moss was at the end of his dominance because of his recent injuries. At least this viewpoint was based on something tangible and not an unfair media-held perception of a player that teammates always disputed. Did you ever hear a player say Moss was a team cancer? Last I checked, player after player said Moss was a leader in the locker room and worked hard. I know Moss has done some boneheaded things and this has made him an easy target for media types who are heavy on television hoopla, but light on substance.

Unfortunately it’s just these types of talking heads who fuel inaccurate perceptions of a player. Take Joe Buck, a second-generation announcer who thinks football should be as clean as June Cleaver, (although football’s history of trash-talking and behavior—especially in the 50s—has long been as rough and ready as Joan Jett) rails Randy Moss for his mock mooning of the Green Bay fans. Mind you, this is something the fans actually do to the opposing team as a Lambeau tradition. If anything Moss’ response was clever, but Buck painted him as classless.
But I’m not trying to argue that Moss is suddenly saintly because he’s producing. He’s obviously done bone-headed deeds while in the NFL. The point is all the negatives about Moss’s behavior negatively influences others views of him. Sometimes media analysts act like a bunch of gossiping churchgoers at a Sunday picnic.

What all these people overlooked, which some of the more astute former NFL players—especially quarterbacks—pointed out game after game with the Raiders, was the fact Moss’ quarterbacks did not release the ball with enough anticipation. Aaron Brooks and Kerry Collins held onto the ball too long. The deep passing game isn’t just about receivers getting separation. It’s just as important that the quarterback throws a timely and accurate pass. It’s common sense; if Moss has separation 30 yards down the field and the farthest his QB can toss a pass is 50 yards in the air that means the ball has to leave the QB’s hand with enough time to get to Moss in those last 20 yards. Either the pass has to be thrown with amazing velocity at the last-second, which is not likely, or the QB has to release the ball with enough time to arc a long ball into the arms of his pass-catcher.

Aaron Brooks was known as a quarterback who did not make good decisions. He did not consistently recognize the open man early enough in the route progression and this meant he either had to improvise or throw a ball into tight coverage. Kerry Collins held onto the ball too long. When he would release the football, it was often so late in the route progression that Moss would have to slow down and allow the defensive backs in coverage to reach him as the ball was getting to him. As you can see this isn’t about foot speed as much as it is about the speed of the quarterbacks recognizing Moss was open.

A great example of a quarterback who recognizes an opening and shows excellent anticipation is Marc Bulger. He’s having an off year, but generally his timing is half the reason why Bruce and Holt have remained a devastating receiving corps. You can also attribute this to Mike Martz if you see how well John Kitna throws the deep ball. It’s also the difference between Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart last week—one understands timing better than the other. Just look at the top fantasy producers at this position thus far and you’ll mostly see deep threats with quarterbacks who show excellent anticipation: Moss (Brady), Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Palmer), Roy Wiliams (Kitna), and Anquan Boldin (Warner in last week’s game where Boldin got his).

But the best converters of targets arenít usually the deep threats. Wes Welker, Mike Furrey, Bobby Engram, Amani Toomer, and Jerricho Cotchery are making the most of their opportunities. A majority of these receivers arenít great fantasy plays for you, but they should be considered depth you can use during a bye week or throw-in players on the giving or receiving end of a trade.

The players I would strongly consider for the remainder of the year who are surprises include Roddy White, Ronald Curry, Shaun McDonald, and Brandon Marshall. White has long been a talent, but he hasnít played to his potential. Reports out of Falcons training camp indicated that the light had come on for White this off-season. And so far, it looks like White is getting it done when it counts. As the 27th-ranked fantasy receiver in this scoring system, he makes an excellent #3 WR who is still likely on waiver wires. Ronald Curry is such an excellent athlete and as long as he remains healthy heíll be that second half wonder I discussed in July.

Shaun McDonald is clearly playing the Az-Hakim role in Mike Martzís Detroit offense. The former Ram has experience in the slot in this offense and is making the most of it. This is a case of a perfect fit with player, system, and coach. McDonald may not have great ability, but heís good enough to be a 700-800-yard receiver with 5-7 scores. Iíll take those stats for my 3rd or 4th receiver in a pinch. Marshall, I already talked about Tuesday.

Marques ColstonThere are also players you should hold onto or acquire despite their stock being depressed at this stage of the season. Marques Colston is definitely one of them. The Saints receiver is converting 69% of his targets. The problem is heís averaging just over 10 yards per catch in a woebegone Saints offense. Iím in the minority right now, but I believe the injury to Deuce McAllister will actually help this offense. On the surface this sounds idiotic, but consider the fact that the absence of Deuce should mean more carries for Reggie Bush. This should allow the second-year runner to get into a rhythm.

Remember, running back is an intuitive position. A back has to get into the flow of the game and Bush hasnít really had that chance as a runner. Just think about these TV analysts telling you that Bush has regressed from last year. This is only partially true. Just a month ago, Bush was looking great between the tackles during the preseasonójust like he did last December. The missing component is consistency of touches. If you give up on Bush too soon, I think youíll regret it. Aaron Stecker cannot and will not take McAllisterís place. The onus is on Reggie and Stecker will be the complement.

So how will this make the Saints better? Sometimes offenses get too complicated and they donít establish an identity. The New Orleans offense has been flailing about with plays that donít allow them to set the tone. Look at the difference between Tennessee and New Orleans on Monday Night. The Titans have fewer established skill players, but they set the tone with a limited set of plays in comparison to the Saints. I think once the Saints scale back their offense a bit, youíll see more opportunities for big plays to open in the passing game and this means bigger things for Colston. Ignore what the preseason strength of schedule has been telling youóthe Saints have played two good AFC teams and one up and coming NFC divisional opponent. Prior to the season, youíd say they only played one great team and two cellar dwellers. Again, stop listening to people tell you about quality of opponents from last yearís results and watch the games. The fact Colston is converting on his attempts tells you his performance has been fine, his offense is not. This will change.

Bernard Berrian is another guy to acquire or hang onto. With the change to Brian Griese, Berrian and even Muhsin Muhammad should have better opportunities, which will create more opportunities rather than 3-and outs or 2-and-a-turnover from Wrecks Grossman.

Vincent Jackson may have disappointed early, but heís really the only option Rivers has who wonít be the focus of the defense. The 3rd-year receiver is actually converting on 72% of his targets and is averaging 6 throws per contestóa healthy amount for a #3 option in this offense. Some owners are souring on Jackson because he isnít playing like the breakout candidate people expected, but that was an unrealistic expectation from the beginning. If you have him as your #3 WR in your fantasy corps, feel confident about his chances to help your team.

Then thereís the high-target, but lower converting receivers. Donít lose hope or overlook these guys because they are getting the looks and will continue to get them all season long. This list includes Larry Fitzgerald, Dwayne Bowe, and Isaac Bruce. All three have some sort of issue with the QB or the offensive line. The least likely to continue a decent year is Bruce because the line is a shambles and heís the clear #2 option in St. Louis. Bowe has a shot to remain the primary receiver in this moribund KC offense, so it makes him a decent start as a #3 fantasy WR. Fitzgerald has the best shot to get better because after the Cardinals face their 3rd excellent secondary in 3 weeks, the schedule gets easier and they wonít stop feeding him the ball.

Surprises? How about Derrick Mason and Chris Chambers. They are both getting a lot of looks after changing positions in the offense this summer. It seems like the coaching staffs on these teams knew what they were doing, didnít they?

Iíd cut bait on James Jones of the Packers. Greg Jennings is finally healthy and while Jones has played admirably as a rookie, I wouldnít count on him keeping up his pace unless there is another injury to the Green Bay aerial corps. Iím not as excited about Braylon Edwards, either. I think heís the best candidate to sell high of any receiver currently performing as a #1 starter. The Cincinnati game was basically half of Edwardsí current production. Iím not sold on his offensive situation and I think you can get a more consistent player in exchange.

Looking at the Tight End position, there’s a bit more of an emphasis of number of targets over conversion, because there are only three players out of twenty-five with more than 25 targets in three games. In contrast, there are twenty-five receivers out of forty on the list above with at least 25 targets.

Targeting Tight Ends
Player Team G GS Target Rec Yard TD FFPts FFPts/G Conv%
†23. Ben Utecht IND 3 2 7 7 70 0 21.0 7.0 100%
†8. Alge Crumpler ATL 3 3 14 13 156 1 47.6 15.9 93%
†10. Ben Watson NE 3 3 10 9 75 3 43.5 14.5 90%
†14. Owen Daniels HOU 3 3 15 13 128 0 38.8 12.9 87%
†12. Heath Miller PIT 3 3 12 10 151 1 41.1 13.7 83%
†1. Antonio Gates SD 3 3 33 27 297 2 95.7 31.9 82%
†11. Eric Johnson NO 3 3 20 16 98 0 41.8 13.9 80%
†6. Tony Gonzalez KC 3 3 21 16 167 0 48.7 16.2 76%
†5. Todd Heap BAL 3 3 20 15 165 1 52.5 17.5 75%
†13. Donald Lee GB 3 2 16 12 106 1 40.6 13.5 75%
†15. Desmond Clark CHI 3 3 12 9 125 0 30.5 10.2 75%
†9. Jeff King CAR 3 3 18 13 130 1 45.0 15.0 72%
†21. Alex Smith TB 3 3 10 7 95 0 23.5 7.8 70%
†3. Jason Witten DAL 3 3 21 14 233 2 63.3 21.1 67%
†4. Dallas Clark IND 3 3 20 13 175 2 56.9 19.0 65%
†17. Marcedes Lewis JAC 3 3 14 9 118 0 29.8 9.9 64%
†2. Kellen Winslow CLE 3 3 26 16 271 1 65.1 21.7 62%
†24. Kris Wilson KC 3 3 13 8 43 0 20.3 6.8 62%
†20. Chris Baker NYJ 3 3 7 4 36 2 23.6 7.9 57%
†22. Bo Scaife TEN 3 3 11 6 52 1 23.2 7.7 55%
†7. Jeremy Shockey NYG 3 3 28 15 180 0 48.0 16.0 54%
†19. Vernon Davis SF 3 3 15 8 83 0 24.3 8.1 53%
†25. Randy McMichael STL 3 3 12 6 77 0 19.7 6.6 50%
†16. Bubba Franks GB 3 0 15 7 42 2 30.2 10.1 47%
†18. Chris Cooley WAS 3 3 13 6 54 2 29.4 9.8 46%

A clear example of this is Kellen Winslow. He has converted only 62% of his opportunities—a decent number for a receiver, but on the lower third of the tight end list. Of course, Winslow is the #2 tight end in fantasy football. Dallas Clark is the #4 producer at the position and only slightly better with a 65% score. Shockey is a quality starter and he’s converting at %54 after three games. The only player who is dominant from both the standpoint of fantasy production and targets is Antonio Gates and he has regularly performed like a #1 WR in fantasy leagues.

This is why tight end is generally such a predictable position and one you can generally get a decent bye-week substitute off the waiver wire.

Rookie Scouting Portfolio: Samples for the 2008 Edition

This week’s players are Iowa runner Albert Young and Michigan signal caller Chad Henne. One is likely to be a bit underrated and the other a bit overrated heading into the draft. For a breakdown of their performance in a game situation here is a checklist and profile for each.

RB Albert Young, Iowa

QB Chad Henne, Michigan