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!
2008 is in the books for most leagues and despite the title of this
week’s edition, I’m in the mood to look ahead. I don’t
have any definitive answers and they will be liable to change as
more information becomes available, but there’s my early takes.
Will Tom Brady Rebound? I believe
with most teams Brady’s likelihood of a successful return
would be reflected in what the team did with Matt Cassel. He’s
an unrestricted free agent as soon as the curtain falls on the
2008 season and when you Google “Matt Cassel 2009”
you can find articles and forum posts titled “Could Matt
Cassel [wind up with (insert team here)]?”
If it weren’t for the fact that Tom
Brady is the greatest quarterback in New England history and
still theoretically at the top of his game with several years
of good football ahead of him, there would be likely be a huge
sentiment within the Patriots organizations to keep Cassel. Wouldn’t
you think twice about waiting on the return of your starting quarterback
if your back up with no college playing time steps into an NFL
offense and throws for 3600 yards and 21 scores with only 11 interceptions
while completing 63% of his passes in his first season? If rookie
could be defined as first-year starter, Cassel would be rookie
of the year in a landslide.
I’m sure the every team but the Colts and Patriots would
have a potential controversy. You might add the Saints and Cowboys,
but Drew Brees already got bumped by Philip Rivers and Jerry Jones
is a pretty fair-weathered guy so I’m not adding them.
Cassel made excellent progress as a first-year starter, but there
are several things a healthy Tom Brady does better at this stage
of their respective careers. One of them is Brady’s accuracy
with the deep ball. Another is his ability to move in the pocket
and hit the open man. A third is his ability to read a defense.
I would be worried that Brady will be rusty to begin the season
because he has missed a full season of honing his timing with
receivers, throwing the football, losing a season of the game
that would be ingrained in his physical/muscle memory.
Early Verdict: I’m not
expecting a 4000-yard season out of Brady, but I think he can
exceed Cassel’s 2008 stats in 2009. Brady’s excellence
comes from his ability to see the field and make good decisions.
As long as the Patriots can field a semblance of a running game,
I think Brady will be a top 12 fantasy signal caller. I would
anticipate him having some residual issues with the knee or other
parts of his body if the knee begins to bother him, especially
his back – which Bob Thompson did a good job of illustrating
with Matt Hasselbeck.
Does Matt Cassel become a viable fantasy
starter in 2009? You just saw the
stats he’s had after 14 games and it’s understandable
why he’s likely a hot commodity as an unrestricted free
agent. But consider the surrounding talent in New England –
a great head coach, a veteran offensive line, the best deep threat
in the history of the NFL, and a terrific underneath receiver
with skills after the catch. How many teams have this combination
Still there are teams that could provide him elements of the
Pats environment that helped him become a highly successful first-year
Detroit: Placing Jon Kitna
on IR against his will told us long ago that they’re in
the hunt for a new QB. Calvin Johnson has a chance to be a better
deep threat than Moss, but beyond Megatron there’s not much
else here. Kevin Smith has been playing very well without a dominant
offensive line in front of him, but beyond these two players there’s
no stability for the offense system unless the same coaching staff
remains in place. If the Ford family retains Rod Marinelli, this
will be a run-oriented offense that will want to go deep off the
play action pass.
Chicago: Kyle Orton has been
a steadying influence on this offense and Matt Forte could be
the best rookie back in a fine 2008 class. He does everything
well and his quiet demeanor disguises a warrior’s attitude.
Did you see him dominate the Bear’s last offensive drive
in the 4th quarter? One play, he catches a pass in the flat for
a pivotal first down. Not much later, he bounces a run to the
left side and breezes by A.J. Hawk for a big gain. Then he is
met in the backfield by Aaron Kampson on a 3rd down run and runs
over the DE to get the first down. Not to mention he scoring the
tying TD. The problem is Cassel would have to work with young
receivers with little or no experience. At the same time, he’s
pretty good in a short passing attack and he’s developing
into an effective cold weather player.
New York: If Brett Farve retires,
the Jets will be left with Kellen Clemens and a cast of young
quarterbacks with intriguing, but not blue chip, futures. The
skill talent is pretty good and depending on your view of Eric
Mangini, you could say this team appears to be a decent fit.
San Francisco: If Mike Singletary
gets the job for 2009 and bumps Mike Martz, Cassel could be the
type of guy the Niners would try to build around. The surrounding
talent is young, but more experienced than Chicago. The issue
will be the offensive coordinator/system San Francisco adopts.
Minnesota: Strong running game?
Check. Solid offensive mind? Check. Quality deep threat? Check.
Compatible offensive system? Big question mark. It seems to me
if Minnesota decides to pursue a quarterback they are going after
McNabb, who has worked with Childress and won’t need any
Tampa Bay: The Bucs’
Jeff Garcia could stay another year or be at the end of the road.
It could go either way and the system – similar to the Vikings
– is a question mark.
Carolina: If Jake Delhomme
becomes a victim of the philosophy of getting rid of a good player
one year early, the Panthers could be a good match with Steve
Smith and that two-headed running game.
St. Louis: Marc Bulger is a
fine passer when he has time, but he’s frail and gets hit
a lot. A recipe for disaster and this team is ripe for an offensive
Early Verdict: I’m betting
on San Francisco or Detroit. If Cassel winds up in either destination,
I think 3600 yards and 20 scores would be a huge year for him.
I don’t expect him to retain starter status numbers in 2009.
If you do, I think he’ll disappoint.
What Happens to Donovan McNabb?
is at a pivotal point in his career. The Eagles are a competitive
team, but they have major holes and play in a tough division.
If McNabb and Reid remain in Philly, the Eagles brass will have
bought into the idea that the window of contention is still open
for the foundation of this team. Personally, I think it could
go either way. Brian Westbrook is at the point where it’s
50/50 he’ll continue his peak performance or begin to decline.
Brian Dawkins rebounded, but was 2008 a last hurrah of his greatness?
The offensive line is decent and McNabb is still capable of greatness.
The lynchpin is wide receiver. The Eagles did make the effort
to draft a fine player in DeSean Jackson, but he is not the next
Steve Smith – a rugged player capable of making big plays
anywhere on the field due to his balance and surprising physical
style of play. I really have an issue with the type of receivers
the Eagles choose. The most physical player they have is Reggie
Brown and he has difficulty getting open and making big plays.
They need a go-to guy and DeSean Jackson isn’t that player.
He’s capable of coming close, but he will never be a physical
The guy the Eagles need if they keep the current unit intact
is Anquan Boldin. Put Boldin on this team and the Eagles will
be the beast of the NFC at least for a year or two longer. I think
they could extend McNabb and Westbrook’s career if they
made this move and keep the Eagles in contention for a few years.
The Eagles could draft another runner and use Westbrook in the
slot with Boldin in the line up. Kevin Curtis, Reggie Brown, and
Jason Avant become far more dangerous third, fourth, and fifth
receivers if they choose to keep them.
I believe this is part of what McNabb wants to address with the
Eagles’ organization at year’s end. If they don’t
buy what he’s selling, then I think we’ll be seeing
McNabb elsewhere. The problem is Philly won’t want to see
him on another NFC team and the best two options – Chicago
and Minnesota are teams they would have to face in the playoffs.
But let’s say the Eagles decide to let McNabb walk and
he stays in the NFC. The Vikings may be the best match from the
standpoint of Brad Childress knowing McNabb better than anyone
not named Reid, but it would send the message to Tarvaris Jackson
that Minnesota would not longer consider him a franchise player
under construction. I believe the smart thing to do would be to
let Jackson sit, hope he can gain maturity through the difficult
process, and possibly become a spectacular player by observing
a great quarterback at work that will reinforce the things Childress
has been trying to teach Jackson. McNabb will have two strong
runners and a decent big play threat at receiver. His stats will
probably take a slight downturn compared to what he’s done
this year, but with a full offseason elsewhere the change could
be minimal for fantasy owners.
The Bears would be a sentimental pick, but this team isn’t
much different than the Eagles in terms of offensive talent. At
the same time, the Bears might have a bit more room to acquire
talent. I doubt they could afford Anquan Boldin, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh
could be a player they could add to the mix and still get McNabb.
This could make a big difference. Plus, the NFC North is an easier
division and a Chicago team fortified with McNabb could easily
win six of the eight match ups.
If the Eagles try to unload McNabb to an AFC team, I see two
(unlikely) options: Houston and Tennessee. The Texans still like
Matt Schaub, but they could feel he’s a bit too injury prone
and the promise of a McNabb to Johnson combination could elevate
this team into playoff contention. They probably consider Slaton
an up and coming player with Westbrook-like abilities and if they
can get ahead early with a more dynamic offense, the defense can
be more aggressive and take over ball games with a strong pass
I hope Kerry Collins can prove me wrong, but I have the feeling
he’ll be exposed in the playoffs. I doubt Vince Young has
done anything to show he’s matured enough as a football
player to regain the helm. I know the ownership has his back,
but they could decide they are so close to a Super Bowl that blowing
some money on McNabb and let Young watch how it’s supposed
to be done by a guy he may relate better to than Collins –
who was never a threat on the ground.
Early Verdict: I think McNabb
stays and the Eagles bring in Boldin or Houshmandzadeh. If this
happens, put McNabb in my top-five QBs for 2009 and the same for
either of these receivers.
Michael Turner: I hate to say it, but unless he has fewer and
18 carries against the hapless Rams, heís the prime candidate
to experience a drop off in 2009 due to heavy workload from 2008.
Jones: Jones should have 1300-1400 yards and 15-17 scores
by the end of the season. The addition of Alan Faneca really helped,
but the threat of Brett Favre cannot be overlooked. Jones has
had four seasons with at least 1100 yards and this was by far
his best year of the bunch. With Leon Washington nipping at his
heels and Jones entering his 10th season in 2009, Iím thinking
his value will be inflated.
Matt Cassel: New digs will hurt his chances of building upon
a good debut. See what I wrote earlier.
Joe Flacco: The fantasy cognoscenti will be crowning him a sleeper
for 2008. I like the idea in theory, but does he really have the
weapons at receiver to be a consistent fantasy starter? I donít
Bryant: He has been terrific and deserves serious consideration
for Comeback Player of the Year, but the QB carousel run by Jon
Gruden scares me into thinking that Bryant could be working with
a new signal caller. Plus, did you see Bryant get in the face
of Falconsí coach Mike Smith recently? It was that type of behavior
that got him shipped out of Dallas. Iím not convinced heís thoroughly
learned his lesson.
Jr.: Heís playing better and heíll have numbers that will
qualify him as a break out candidate. He could develop into the
next Laveranues Coles, but Iím not convinced he has the route
running skills and hands to make that leap as soon as 2009.
Chad Johnson: Heís too good to suck in consecutive years
unless he gets hurt again or his name change was symptomatic of
an oncoming emotional breakdown.
Donnie Avery: The rookie caught 49 balls for 644 yards and two
scores with a cracked hip. He earned my respect. If he can stay
healthy between the off season and September and the Rams get
quality quarterback play, heís going to be a sleeper.
Benson: Iím probably going to regret staying this, but this
talented college runner may have found new life in Cincinnati.
His yards per carry average is nothing to get excited about, but
neither is the passing game that is supposed to complement the
rushing attack. If Carson Palmer returns to form, I think Bensonís
career could follow the track of highly touted prospects that
disappointed early, but redeemed themselves late. Two examples
I can think of right away include Garrison Hearst and Thomas Jones.
I didnít like his attitude coming out of school, but Iíll keep
an open mind that heís capable of maturing as he ages.
Jones-Drew: Heís better than Brian Westbrook and as a pure
runner, easily a top-five back in this league. If Fred Taylor
walks, he should get the shot to carry load and detractors will
say heís too small not to wear down. Iíll take my chancesÖ
I look for him to rebound from a tough 2008 that included several
injuries to his offensive line, Jerry Porter never seeing the
field, a month-long threat of Matt Jones getting suspended, and
Mike Walkerís knee continuing to act up. Despite all these mishaps,
Garrard cracked the top 10 with a strong finish in the final six
weeks of the season.
Write ĎEm Off
Ben Roethlisberger: I got your attention, didnít I? As
an NFL quarterback he has plenty of life left. As a fantasy starter,
Iím not excited about him any longer. Heís battled
injury and heís tough as nails, but he holds onto the football
way too long for my liking and Iím not convinced heíll
be able to kick this habit because it appears pretty ingrained
in his approach to the game. Iíll gladly take Big Ben as
a starter I can rotate with a more promising QB at the end of
a draft, but if some one else snaps him up as a top-10 guy, good
Reggie Bush: I was wrong about Bush when I touted him as my top-rated
back in the 2006 Rookie Scouting Portfolio (in my defense, Deangelo
Williams was my No. 2 RB and I hit on quite a few others). He
is simply not running the same way he did at USC. Although his
open field runs and reversal of field was on nearly every collegiate
highlight, Bush frequently demonstrated the ability to stick his
foot in the ground and get downhill as a between the tackles runner.
Every analyst in the football-loving Western Hemisphere has speculated
that Bush is not running effectively between the tackle because
has been trying too hard to make big plays in the NFL. This is
the second season in a row heís been placed on IR and as
much as I hope he can pick up where he left off with that 5.8
ypc average he had in his last four games, heís no longer
appealing to me as an upside player. I wonít be stunned
if he improves, but Iím not counting on it any longer.
Ryan Grant: He got 100 more carries and the results show me two
things: the opposition was no longer caught by surprise and he
wasnít consistent. Iíll take him as a No. 3 RB without
hesitation if heís a starter, but that means someone else
is probably going to invest in Grant as a starter.
The Jury Is Out
Maybe this is me re-enacting my hope for Marvin Harrisonís return
to prominence, but notice that Holt was targeted 109 times heading
into this weekend. Last year, he was targeted 150 and 179 times
the year before. This is a player I would love to see the Eagles
try to get on the cheap for McNabb (although I know if itís even
fiscally possible), because he could be a huge bargain on a team
that can protect their QB. Otherwise, his prospects donít look
encouraging on the mess called the St. Louis Rams.
My Demise Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Matt Hasselbeck: He was hurt all year and tried to play through
it. Heíll be as good as new in 2009 and as long as his receivers
stay healthy, heíll be a good fantasy option.
Palmer: Before his season ended, he had two strong games against
decent opponents (the Cowboys and Giants). Heíll be fine and whether
his receivers are Henry, Cinco, or Houshmandzadeh (pick two),
you can count on him to be a starter youíd be wise to take over
his AFC North rival, Big Ben Roethlisberger.
Mendenhall: He talked smack, Ray Lewis laid the smack, and
his shoulder blade broke in half. He fumbled a lot in the preseason,
but he was just a rookie. If the Steelers field anywhere near
the unit they have this year on both sides of the ball, Iíd be
afraid for much of the AFC because this guy will come back with