Visiting the Cattery
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 biggest news of the week has been about the Cowboys and their
injuries to Tony
Romo and Felix
Jones, the jettisoning of Adam
Jones, and the acquisition of Roy
Williams. But the media is already wearing out the Cowboys angle
of this story as you read this column. Let’s focus on the Lions.
Although the Roy Williams trade is an attempt by the Cowboys to
become an dynamic offense that can outscore anyone this year as
a way of counterbalancing their young and green secondary, there’s
not much I can impart to help your fantasy squad for the rest of
the year. In fact, I can sum up what you want to know about your
Cowboys fantasy players in a sentence: Roy Williams will have a
season similar to Chris Chambers after his trade in ’07 (see
last week’s article where I showed the splits on Chambers),
which will mean T.O. and Jason Witten will see a minimal change
in targets and Marion Barber will be able to run wild because opposing
defenses will be preoccupied with the passing game. Any questions?
Good. We’ll talk in due time about my theory that this deal means
T.O. will be S.O.L. in 2009.
The impact on the Lions is the more compelling fantasy story
for owners looking for some mid-season help with their lineup.
Detroit’s decision to part with Roy Williams means several
things for the organization from top to bottom. I’ll break
down what I think this trade means for the team and fantasy owners
this year and beyond.
Burying the Remnants of the Martz Era
Rod Marinelli wants what the last three out of four Super Bowl
champions (Giants, Colts, and Steelers) have in common: a balanced
offense that uses a strong running game to set up big plays in
the passing game and keep their defense rested and in a position
to remain aggressive when they do take the field. When the Lions
parted ways with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, they still
had the offensive players that bought into the pass-happy system,
specifically two of the team’s bigger on-field leaders:
Jon Kitna and Roy Williams.
You didn’t have to be a lip reader to know that John Kitna’s
sideline tirade during the opening day beat-down courtesy of the
Falcons was a plea to open up the offense. Soon after, Roy Williams
complained about the number of opportunities he was receiving
commensurate to reserves like Shaun McDonald. Williams also grew
increasingly frustrated on the field as the season progressed,
culminating with him gesturing wildly to the coaching staff about
an overthrown pass from Kitna.
With the drafting of lineman Gosder Cherilus and runner Kevin
Smith, and addition of veteran back Rudi Johnson coach Marinelli
gave new offensive coordinator, Jim Colletto, the tools to begin
constructing a team to match his vision. Rookie defensive end
is a Justin Tuck-like project that may also pay dividends in a
few years. The biggest issue is that anyone drafted in the Matt
Millen era is not as likely to be a match for the new GM’s philosophy,
even if that new personnel man is aligned with Marinelli and decides
to keep the coach. This uncertainty with the future leadership
of the organization makes it difficult to project the long-term
fantasy value of several players, but there are some we can get
out of the right now.
Regardless, the Motor City Jungle Cats Need
Kitna is done for the year and likely on the outs with Marinelli,
Orlovsky is a big, strong-armed athlete who, if you saw last
week, is out of his element at the pro level. Lions’ fans will
be clamoring for the staff to give Drew
Stanton a shot, and don’t be surprised if they do. The problem
is Stanton is a poor man’s version of Josh McCown; a big-time
athlete who shows flashes of promise couched between poor decisions
from the pocket. If you have even casually followed Josh McCown’s
career, you know that the one-time Cardinal, Raider, Dolphin,
and Panther has never developed the acumen for the game in the
way that progressed him beyond journeyman status. Gus Frerotte
is another player with a similar career trajectory. These are
players that really had to work at their pocket awareness and
still show lapses in judgment that are too costly to remain a
starter for the long haul.
The Lions have struck out on the QB front and they will need
to start over. With the additional picks, it’s possible they can
acquire a young quarterback with promise through an off season
trade or hope a potential stud like Matthew Stafford comes out
this year and is within their reach. Personally, I would try to
loosen the Browns’ grip on Brady
Quinn or the Jets’ grasp of Kellen
Clemens or take a chance on Bills reserve J.P.
Losman, because I doubt the better free agent quarterbacks
will come to Detroit (Warner) or be welcomed back (Garcia). But
for the rest of the season, the Lions will evaluate the quarterbacks
on their roster. You will see plenty of Orlovsky and Stanton and
it will be a mixed bag for the rest of the offense. I’d rather
McCown or take a chance on John
Beck or Matt Moore if they can acquire them.
But Calvin Johnson Has Produced Without a Quality
Starting QB In The Past
More targets but shorter routes are in
store for Calvin Johnson.
Remember how people talked about QB Matt Ryan playing on an offense
without big-name talent surrounding him at the skill positions?
If you never saw Johnson play at Georgia Tech, I’m sure most observers
would agree with me when I say that their star receiver could
have reached 2000 yards and 20 scores if he had a top-flight quarterback
throwing him the ball. Reggie Ball was Georgia Tech’s quarterback
during the Calvin
Johnson era. Ball was frequently criticized for not looking
Johnson’s way enough. He also lacked the velocity to stick throws
in tight coverage which often meant Johnson had to be wide open
or going after a jump ball.
These two situations won’t happen very often in the NFL and this
means the Lions will need to give Johnson an opportunity to gain
yards after the catch on short passes in order to take advantage
of his skills in 2008. I think this will happen. We saw Johnson
score on a crossing route last week and I believe we’ll see more
of those plays, including short hitches, and wide receiver screens.
The upside with Williams in Dallas will be the increase in targets
we’ll surely see for Johnson. The downside is his yards per reception
will likely deflate that initial enthusiasm. Brandon Marshall
saw a lot of short routes like this last year so there’s still
hope for Johnson, who is physical enough to make the most of this
adjustment. If you have a luxury of depth at the RB position and
you’re looking for a cheap deal from a panicking owner, Johnson
might be a nice buy low option at a low risk for you. Just don’t
break the bank to get him, because odds are against him of being
Adoptees from The William Clay Ford Humane Society
Looking for potential waiver wire bargains? I have two strays
for your consideration: Shaun
McDonald and Mike
Furrey. Calvin Johnson may see more targets because opposing
defenses will be licking their chops forcing Detroit to beat them
with the pass, but the second-year receiver will see a lot more
bracketed coverage on his side of the field. The most likely beneficiary
will be McDonald who had a 79-catch, 943-yard, 6-score season
in 2007. At 5-10, 183 lbs., he’s best suited for the slot but
regardless of where he plays, he’ll likely have the confidence
(and the most practice reps) with the two back up quarterbacks
now thrust into the starting lineup. Of course, Furrey had a similar
season in 2006: 98 catches, 1086 yards, and 6 touchdowns. At 6-0,
195-lbs., he’s the most likely candidate to line up in Williams’
old spot. If I were guess which of the two has the best fantasy
production, I will go with McDonald because he’s most likely to
be on the side of the field where he gets a one-on-one match up,
if Colletto uses three receiver sets.
The Liger and the Cub
Hopefully the Lions will employ three receiver sets to run the
football, because it will spread out the defense enough to aid
their tandem of former Bengal,
Rudi Johnson and rookie Kevin
Smith. Both runners are used to playing in three receiver
sets as the sole back in the backfield and these formations provide
the Lions playbook flexibility in a variety of down and distance
situations. A two-tight end, pound-the-ball-down-the-throat approach
will tip the offense’s hand and put the quarterbacks under more
pressure than necessary.
Unfortunately, the Lions have only two poor rush defenses on
their schedule for the rest of the season – next week versus
Texans and December 14 against the Colts. I haven’t changed
my mind about Kevin Smith. I still believe he’s going to
be a fine runner in this league, but the offensive line is still
a work in progress. If you’re skeptical, just take a look
at exhibit A, Rudi Johnson. Johnson has more 1300-yard seasons
than any active player and the Lions system doesn’t differ
radically from the Bengals, but Johnson’s yards per carry
average is deceiving.
Overall, Johnson sports a 4-ypc average (40 attempts, 160 yards),
but his situational stats tell a different story. When the Lions
are ahead and defenses expect the run, Johnson’s average
is 3 yards. When the Lions are behind, Johnson averages 5 yards
per carry. When the team is within seven points or less, his average
is 2.2 ypc on 17 of his 40 attempts. The 20 attempts when the
Lions were behind by 15 or more points resulted in 5.4 yards per
carry. Not that impressive.
Kevin Smith is averaging 4.6 yards per carry on 42 attempts.
When you take out the 50-yard run he had last week, his stat splits
are similar to Johnson when the team is ahead or behind. Keep
the 50-yard run and Smith’s numbers are significantly better,
although I wouldn’t say the sample size is big enough to
make it a quality number to base any arguments in the rookie’s
Neither player is going to be worth much in re-draft leagues.
Smith is talented enough that he could continue to improve as
the season progresses, despite the lack of surrounding talent.
His confidence in his skills despite getting initially benched
for Johnson was also impressive. It didn’t take long for
the Lions to realize they would have to make the situation a time-share
because Smith wasn’t going to give up. In dynasty leagues,
I would remain strong about Smith’s prospects because it’s
most likely the GM will see they have two out of the three pieces
needed in the offensive puzzle in Kevin Smith and Calvin Johnson.
Rudi Johnson is at the end of his career. He’s still capable
of delivering good games, but he’s in the stopgap phase
of his career.
He’s Not a Lion, but He’s Definitely Catty
With Roy Williams’ arrival in Dallas, it begs the question
whether Terrell Owens days as a Cowboy are numbered. Although
Williams’ production in Detroit does not rival T.O.’s
in any stop during his career, their skill sets are similar and
Williams comes without the emotional baggage. Owens plays like
a young, 34-year-old, but he’s still considered a year-to-year
commodity in the NFL. Just look at DE Simeon Rice, who was profiled
on ESPN’s investigative news show, E:60. The former
Cardinal and Buc was one of the dominant pass rushers of his era
and within the span of one year, a shoulder injury combined with
his reputation as a poor teammate has him currently shutout from
Unlike Simeon Rice, Terrell Owens takes practice seriously, but
I’m not sure I can formulate a good argument that a dominant
pass rusher is less valuable than a dominant receiver. Look at
what Reggie White, Bruce Smith, and the duo of Osi Umenyiora and
Michael Strahan did for their teams? Jared Allen may not have
the sack total Vikings fans hope for, but his play has helped
the defensive line get a lot of pressure on the quarterback and
keep this team in games despite an underperforming offense. Randy
Moss is a dominant receiver and he hasn’t done much without
a viable, starting quarterback.
Although every NFL player is one injury away from calling it
a career, older players like Owens are in danger when they suffer
an injury that requires a season’s worth of rehab. They may be
ready for the next season, but they have become too cost prohibitive
for organizations to employ if he doesn’t see the field or provide
instant impact. I believe Roy Williams is Jerry Jones’ attempt
to maximize his team’s strength to outweigh its weakness (the
secondary) this year, but it is also a signal that Owens’ behavior
in the locker room and press conferences is wearing thin. LB Bradie
James said as much last week and unlike Michael Irvin, who was
regarded as a leader, Owens is seen as divisive. Roy Williams
strikes me as a follower and when it comes to the chemistry of
this team that is what they want from a receiver. As we can see
with Tank Johnson and Adam Jones, Jerry Jones has been the last
stop for players. Owens was the first guy on this list we could
cite as an example.
Transactions under the Radar
Anyone else notice Indianapolis’ trade for Bills defensive tackle,
In case you’re new following pro football or just need a reminder,
Colts GM Bill Polian has a knack for spotting talent. McCargo
is a young guy that many scouts felt could develop into a dominant
player at his position. McCargo played on the same line as Texans’
DE Mario Williams when they were at North Carolina State. This
is a good move for the Colts to begin shoring up the middle of
their defense and you always have to start with the front line.
Bob Sanders may have been player of the year and Gary Brackett
has been pretty good, but you want these guys attacking a defense
and it’s a guy like McCargo who can give them the potential to
do just that.
I know it has barely been two months into the season, but I think
Jim Zorn has built up a little equity with his decisions to speculate
that the signing of Shaun Alexander is probably a good move since
the former Seahawks’ quarterback coach signed off on the
transaction. Alexander has been the target of frequent criticism
by former players and media analysts for not running hard or finishing
plays. Who knows why Alexander stopped running with the fervor
that his peers were used to seeing from him; he could have been
suffering from burn out or there his disclosed (or undisclosed)
injuries were worse than what was made public. Still, I have never
seen former linemen or running backs vilify a player through the
press the way ESPN’s crew did with Alexander. Hopefully,
Alexander won’t need to see the field, but in an offense
like Washington’s I could imagine a healthy Alexander feeling
reinvigorated about the game.
Speaking of University of Alabama runners, Kenneth
Darby was signed off the Falcons practice squad by the Rams.
Darby was only behind Alexander and former Miami and Denver start,
Bobby Humphrey, when it came to career yards for the Crimson Tide.
I have frequently mentioned Darby as a player to follow and I
believe much like Derrick Ward, Reuben Droughns, or Mike Anderson,
this second-year runner has a shot to produce if given the opportunity.
He’s not someone to add to your roster unless you’re in a deep
dynasty league looking for a luxury pick.
Shout out to the Dust-off Fellers of Al Anbar
After last week’s column was
posted, I received an e-mail from Rob Surener an army MEDEVAC
helicopter pilot flying Blackhawks in support of the marines in
Al Anbar, Iraq. Rob concurred with me about the way the business
of fantasy football has impacted the game. He talked about his
days as a Sunday Ticket owner driving his friends and family crazy
with the constant switching of the channel. The only cure was
getting deployed to Iraq (way to put it all in perspective, Rob).
Here’s what he had to say about watching football:
There have been several of us who squabble each
week over which AFN (Armed Forces Network) telecast game that
we’ll actually watch. There have been payoffs, bribes, and
the inappropriate use of rank structure to decide between games,
but once it’s decided, we’ll stick to the chosen game.
It has brought back my love of watching football and I’ve
limited myself to waiting until each set of games are finished
to check my fantasy teams. It may have been drastic measures,
but football is fun to watch again!
Rob says his corner of the war has grown much quieter since he
arrived 14 months ago. Get back safely and I look forward to hearing
about you taking in a Packers game at home. I’m sure I speak
for most rational people when I say to you and everyone deployed
in Iraq that we appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made on
behalf of our country. Regardless of whether we agree with the
original plan or its execution, the fact that you step up every
day and put your life on the line so our country can continue
to be a place where we can show our patriotism through open debate
is worth all the respect we as a nation can afford to give.