Second Half Wonders
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!
Iím a proponent of using second half performances from the
previous season as a predictor of success for the following year.
I call these players Second Half Wonders because when their second
half performances were at least 20% better than their first half
numbers they did as well, if not better, the next season.
Generally, I narrow my list of candidates by searching for players
who last year experienced at least a 40% second-half increase
to their first half numbers. I make an exception if the player
is already a starter for his team because his stats are likely
decent to begin with and the subsequent second half jump wonít
likely be as high (often in the 20%-30% range). This will give
me a small, but strong pool of candidates at each position who
are not always popular breakout candidates youíll find among
other preseason predictions.
Here you can find
examples of Second Half Wonders by position from 2002-2006. Youíll
find that receivers and runners who qualified as Second Half Wonders
had the strongest track record of success because of the level
of turnover among these players compared to the relatively greater
longevity of quarterbacks and tight ends.
Who are the Second Half Wonders heading into the 2008 season?
Beginning with quarterbacks, there were 11 players who fit the
statistical profile for a Second Half Wonder. Three of themóChris
Smith, and Matt
Mooreóall could possibly start in 2008, but they are currently
backups or face serious competition for the top spot. Personally,
I like the prospects of Matt Moore a great deal. Draft analyst
Mel Kiper viewed Moore as a strong prospect and was surprised
an NFL team didnít draft Moore. Heís not alone, hereís a Rookie
Scouting Portfolio sample of my pre-draft evaluation of Moore
at Oregon State.
The Panthers got a bargain when the Cowboys inexplicably elected
not to add Moore to their final roster because they felt they
had great depth with septuagenarian Brad Johnson holding down
the fort behind Tony Romo. In fact, Moore looked good enough down
the stretch that John Fox is comfortable with the second year
QB backing up Jake Delhomme. If youíre dynasty league owner, Moore
is a player to stash away because heíll have a good chance to
start by 2010.
The six most reasonable Second Half Wonders at QB with 2008 breakout
potential are listed below.
Croyle has been named the starter going into 2008 and with a healthy
Larry Johnson, the venerable Tony Gonzalez, and the up and coming
Dwayne Bowe, he has the weapons to be productive. The issues for
Croyle include his offensive line and his propensity for injury.
His second half is also more productive as a result of his limited
time as a starter during the first half. Nor was his second half
anything you would desire from a starting fantasy QB. On the other
hand, new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has a penchant for working
with young quarterbacks. As a proponent of a power running game
paired with a play action passing game, Gaileyís methodology is
a good fit with the strong-armed, but slight-framed Croyle. In Croyleís
draft class only Jay Cutlerís arm was stronger and if the Chiefs
can keep the third-year QB healthy, he should continue to make progress.
But for 2008, Kansas Cityís new incumbent is the least likely candidate
on this list to experience a break out.
Kurt Warner isnít a breakout candidate, but is a player who could
perform at a high level if the Cardinals organization believes
the veteran gives them the best chance to win. When Warner took
over for the injured Matt Leinart, his numbers were definitely
starter material. Although Leinart made a case for being the Southwestern
regionís spokesman for beer bongs, the Cardinals committed a large
chunk of change to see him succeed. That doesnít mean you ignore
Warner though. The Arizona offensive line is improving, but still
a work in progress and Leinart could take a beating. Warner will
continue to be the highly regarded back up fantasy owners can
use in a pinch.
Kellen Clemens and Trent Edwards have the talent and both made
significant strides in 2007. Nevertheless, the two quarterbacks
will likely need another year of seasoning and rapport building
with their surrounding talent to become productive fantasy starters.
Although Clemens has the more established receiving corps, I believe
Trent Edwards has the leadership skills, mobility, and accuracy
under pressure to develop into a future Pro Bowl performer. These
two players should become established AFC starters by 2010, but
in 2008 consider them late round gambles or early season free
The most likely breakout QBs are Tarvaris Jackson and Vince Young.
Jackson benefits from a great offensive line, dynamic ground attack,
and the addition of free agent Bernard Berrian to a young, but
talented receiving corps. Personally, Iím not enamored with Jacksonís
decision-making, pocket presence, and accuracy, but the stats
show heís on track to develop into a borderline fantasy starter.
Vince Young was a candidate last year, but injuries and inconsistency
derailed high hopes that many had for the Madden cover player.
The Titans brought back offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger
who engineered a spread attack that helped Youngís mentor Steve
McNair have an MVP season. I continue to hear about the possibilities
of lots of 2-TE sets due to the addition of Alge Crumpler and
the pre-existing rapport with Bo Scaife, but with Justin Gage,
Justin McCareins, Roydell Williams, Chris Johnson, and either
Mike or Paul Williams the Titans will have a passable spread attack.
This change should ultimately help Young, but very few quarterbacks
perform at a high level immediately after a switch in offensive
philosophies. Look for Young to be good enough to crack your starting
lineup on bye weeks, but youíre taking a huge risk to make him
the man on your fantasy squad.
The most viable Second Half Wonder runners either injury subs
who made the most of their opportunity or veterans experiencing
Grant, Fargas, and Graham have a strong opportunity to maintain
a hold on the starting gigs they earned in 2007. Obviously, Grant
should have a lock on the Green Bay job and will be viewed as
a potential #1 fantasy RB. Right now, Fargas is seen at best as
the guy keeping the starting position warm for Darren McFadden.
The Michigan/USC alum is a hard-nosed runner with speed who won
over his coach Lane Kiffin. I donít think Fargas will just roll
over for McFadden and I wouldnít be surprised if the Arkansas
star plays situational back to Fargas in 2008. Compounding the
problem might be Michael Bush, who is returning from injury. This
makes the Oakland backfield crowded so Fargas is best targeted
as a mid-to-late round depth.
Graham will hold onto the Buccaneers job at least to begin the
year if he can get his contract situation straightened out. Cadillac
Williams is likely a long away from returning to the field, much
less returning to form and Warrick Dunn has a year or two of productivity
left in those legs, he just didnít fit into the Falcons system.
Look for Graham to have the best crack at starting, but Iím doubtful
heíll be as good as he was with the versatile Dunn making his
Selvin Young surprised many fantasy owners in 2007 and the Broncos
cut Travis Henry. This makes the undrafted rookie from Texas the
odds on favorite as the primary back. Heíll have value, even if
Ryan Torain or Ahmad Hall show something in camp that add a sparkle
to coach Shannahanís fickle eye. Iíd consider adding Pierre Thomas
to the mix despite the fact Reggie Bush has recovered from his
PCL injury. Thomas has won over the coaching staff as a definite
contributor, especially with Deuce McAllister aging fast for this
point of his career due to multiple injuries to his knees.
Fred Taylor and Jamal Lewis returned to life in 2007. Will Taylor
to hold off Maurice Jones Drew and remain the primary back or
will age catch up to him. Most savvy fantasy owners will be cautious
about Taylor in summer drafts, but if you can get him as a low-end
#2 RB and pick up one of the rookie runners in a good situation,
things could work out in your favor. Lewis got a new contract
and some will worry if the Browns RB will run as hard in 2008
after his new deal. Iím more worried about Derek Andersonís career
path looking more like Scott Mitchell than Tom Brady. Lewis was
excellent in the second half of 2007 and he will be seen as a
top-twenty pick by many. Although he should get even better line
play and has strong skill players around him, Iím not as sold
on Lewis returning to his halcyon days for an entire season. But
if you can manage to land him as your #2 RB and follow up with
solid depth at the position you could do a lot worse.
Several wide receivers qualify as Second Half Wonders. Adding
to the intrigue is the number of pass- catchers moving on to other
Johnson and Isaac
Bruce and got hot in the second half of 2007, but only the
veteran Bruce will be in a system that heís familiar with. Jabar
Gonzalez, and David
PatteRn all have a chance to start or see significant reps
on Sundays, but their upside is limited due to the presence of
a more established player or a young receiver expected to develop
ahead of them. These are the eight candidates left.
Colston is a no-brainer. The Titans liked what they saw from Gage
to make a new deal with the former Bear. At the very least, he should
be a solid player #3 or #4 WR in fantasy lineups with upside once
Mike Heimerdinger and Vince Young work things out. Sidney Rice saw
a lot more time and targets in the Vikings offense. With a Bernard
Berrian expected to draw attention from opposing defenses, Rice
should at least continue to produce at the rate he did in the second
half of 2007. The rest is up to Tarvaris Jackson. Santana Moss looked
good down the stretch. Mossí return to prominence is in the
hands of young Jason Campell grasping the Holmgern version of the
West Coat offense Jim Zorn will bring to D.C.
Williams, Brown, and Evans have teased fantasy owners thus far.
Garrardís presence may be the difference maker for Williams. Brown
needs a healthy McNabb and more importantly an equally strong
receiver opposite him. Otherwise, I donít see his upside getting
much higher than what he has attained. Evans has the skills, but
stats are linked to the development of Trent Edwards and the addition
of a complementary receiver. The safest candidate is clearly Brandon
Marshall, who was actually a more consistently productive player
than the Bengals Chad Johnson. He wonít be the draft day value
youíll find from the other players mentioned, but he should continue
his second half run of 2007.
Tight Ends with Second Half Wonder production are potential end
of draft bargains.
Pope is a huge target with nice agility for his size. He just
needs to maximize his skills and with Boldin and Fitzgerald on
the outside, he should exploit single coverage. Iím just not sure
he has the speed to compete with outside linebackers at this level.
Scheffler has shown flashes of athleticism to make the big play,
but there hasnít been a big-time TE in Denver since Shannon Sharpe.
Jay Cutler is promising enough to make Scheffler a respectable
starter. Zach Miller and first-year starter JaMarcus Russell will
get to know each other better in 2008, but counting on him as
anything more than a free agent pickup is a gamble. Lewis can
catch, but his role in the Jacksonville has been fairly one-dimensional
to this point.
The players I like the most for 2008 from these lists are generally
the most obvious: QBs Vince Young, and Trent Edwards if Kurt Warner
doesnít get another chance in Arizona; RBs Ryan Grant and
Jamal Lewis; WRs Colston and Marshall; and TE Tony Scheffler.
Still, the rest of the players are often great mid-to-late round
selections or players to remember for the waiver wire.